Memories and Loneliness
Asami drove her car slowly into the garage, parked it, killed the engine, and stepped out. She stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do in the once familiar place. All of her tools and the random things that had been stuffed into the space were still there untouched since she'd left. Even her mother's cedar chest still had a fine layer of dust on it. She had thought that perhaps her father might raid it after evading the police. She took a step towards it and stopped, her hand hovering uselessly in the air. She couldn't bring herself to open it yet. She might never be able to. It hurt her just to think of how her father had used her mother's death and memory as an excuse to become the twisted man that he had. It was like she had died all over again, and this time, Daddy wouldn't be there to comfort her and wrap her in his arms.
Her breath hitched in her throat, and it felt like there was a steel bar wrapped around her chest. She couldn't even breathe in the place that had once been her workshop and sanctuary. Too many memories tarnished beyond recognition now. She made a grab for the door knob, tore the door open, slammed it shut behind her, and dashed up the stairs into the main part of the house. She caught her breath and looked around at the small study. She was able to breathe more easily, but the pain in her chest was still there. The books, tables, and other furniture had collected a thin layer of dust. No one had been by to clean in the past two months. It was just as it had been when she last left it. She swallowed and marched through the room with her back straight and her shoulders stiff. She was still a Sato after all even if that didn't mean much anymore.
The rest of the house was in the same condition as the study and the garage, timeless and untouched. She went through the kitchen to take stock of the food and found that the bread and milk had gone bad, but the flour, sugar, and tea were still good. She nodded to herself. She would need to go shopping later. Yes, shopping sounded good. She would need to clean as well and realized that she might need some help with a house this size. But who could she call? She didn't want to resort to one of the maids. They would spread gossip like a bad cold. She thought for a moment as she paused in making her mental list of supplies that she would need. No one came to mind. It could wait for now. There were more pressing matters to attend to.
She went to her room next and stared at her surroundings in as detached a manner as she could manage. The ache of her heart remained, but its constancy had caused it to fade into the background of her mind. She paid it no more attention than she did the newly acquired bruises on her knees and elbows from the great fight. Her sweaty palms gripped the crystal knobs to her closet and opened the double doors smoothly. The hinges didn't even shriek. Her clothes were still in there pressed and washed, smelling faintly of fire lilies. Her hand reached out and grabbed the red cloth of the dress she'd worn the night of gala celebrating the Avatar. She frowned and let it drop. Another thing to deal with for another time.
She spent the next two hours tidying up her room. She had left it in disarray the last time she'd been here, unaware that she would not return for a while. When everything was in its proper place, she glanced out the window and saw the sky streaked orange and pink from a setting sun. Her stomach growled in protest. She hadn't eaten since yesterday afternoon sometime. The thought of coming home, if that was what she could still call it, had consumed her so much that she had forgotten almost everything else.
Her hands came up to the sides of her face as her fingers massaged her temples. She could feel a headache building. Maybe some food would help her.
Asami rummaged through the cabinets in frustration before settling on cooking rice and eating a withered apple. It wasn't quite what she was used to, but she had learned to lower her standards over the past few weeks. It was bland and tasteless on her tongue, but she suspected almost anything would have. Her chopsticks wandered around aimlessly through the last of the rice before she admitted to herself that she didn't have the stomach to eat it and threw it in the trash.
She sat at the table for a while as the sun finally sank and darkness enshrouded the room. The shadows lengthened and grew thicker. There was an oil lamp in the center that she could light, but she found that she had no desire for light. The darkness hid the empty chairs at the table beside her. The darkness hid the dust on the counter and the dirty dishes in the sink. It comforted her in a way nothing else had so far. It wrapped itself around her shoulders like an old, heavy blanket. Her eyelids grew heavy. She found herself yawning and rubbing her eyes to fight off sleep. It took her though as she slumped over and rested her head on a forearm for a pillow.
She awoke several hours later when a cramp began in her back and worked its way up to her shoulders. A groan escaped her lips as she sat up and stretched. She looked around and found that it was still night. The darkness was no longer so innocent. It didn't offer the sweet lie it once had. It just seemed empty now and sad. She could almost make out the silhouette of her mother against the blackness. She shook her head and stood up.
Slow steps took her back to her room. She only slipped off her boots and jacket before sliding under the covers and turning on her side. She blinked a few times as she settled into the soft mattress. It felt strange to not feel the ground or a thin mattress bumping against her hipbone. An hour or more slipped by before sleep claimed again her. Her slumber was restless. Memories kept bubbling to the surface of her dreams, turning them into slow, nostalgic nightmares of the past. She would be playing with her father as a child again, but the toy he held would suddenly turn into a blade that he tried to drive into her heart. Her mother would be cooking in the kitchen like she used to and suddenly catch fire.
When the sun pierced through her linen curtains, Asami opened her eyes gratefully, glad for the night to be over. She sat up tiredly, mentally going over the list she had created yesterday. First things first: food. She found her jacket crumpled on the floor and put it on as well as her boots. She couldn't quite bring herself to return to her closet where that dress waited for her. It was a beautiful thing, but she considered selling it. She had only ever worn it for Mako, and it was a gift from her father as well.
She ran a brush through her black waves and set out the front door. She decided she would take the bike today since it was parked out in front, which meant she could avoid the garage. It was as beautiful as she remembered, sleek and black with a new set of tires to boot. She had never ridden it much because it made her father nervous. Now, it was something she could freely indulge in. It was hard to put much stock in her father's reprimands when he had tried to kill her. She smiled bitterly at the musing as she mounted the bike and popped the kickstand into place. Then she let out a deep breath and started the engine.
The trip to the small convenience store was quick. She went in and out as fast she could, aware of all the eyes on her back as she moved from row to row. People were whispering. She could hear them without quite making out what they were saying. She didn't need to though. It was all about her and Hiroshi. They were probably gossiping about whether the rumors were true. Had he really tried to kill his only daughter? Had he gone insane? Did that make her insane as well? What would happen to her? What would happen to Future Industries?
Asami took it with the same natural grace she had after her mother had been murdered.
People had talked then too and even more openly in front of her as a child. She had passively bared it. This time it was harder though because she understood what was not being said as well. Every unvoiced question and opinion was like a bell ringing in her ears.
She filled her small basket with eggs, fresh bread, milk, and some fresh fruit. She took it to the counter with her shoulders straightened and her chin tilted upward like she had been taught in boarding school. A lady never falters or looks away from her path, she thought to herself as she heard her old school teacher's voice in her head. It was difficult though not to turn around and make some snide remark back. She had to bite her tongue not to snap at the clerk who clumsily rang up her order while trying to sneak looks at her.
"Thank you," she said tersely with a bow of her head as she handed him the yuans and made her way back to the bike. She carefully placed the goods in the saddlebags and zipped away from the place as fast she could. She took a detour and the long way back to the estate not quite ready to go back. She let her mind roam as the landscape blurred around her and deftly dodged a car as she changed lanes. A horn sounded loudly behind her, but she only
gave a wave of her hand in apology.
Soon enough she could no longer avoid going home. She had taken every roundabout and scenic drive she could think of before she inevitably wound up back in her drive way. The bike slowed to a stop as she pulled up in front of the door. She put both feet on the ground and looked up into the intimidating façade of the mansion that she had been raised in. It had not seemed so big and imposing before. It had been welcoming and inviting. Now it loomed over her hungrily, waiting for her to pass through its doors and be devoured by memories that did not comfort her. With a sigh, she took off her helmet and tucked it under her arm as she reached down to unbuckle her saddle bag. She carried it under the other arm with her keys gripped tightly in her palm. She struggled to balance both bundles as she inserted the key in the lock and twisted it. It gave with a groan and the door swung open almost of its own accord.
Asami stood at the threshold with her groceries and helmet, scuffing her boots against the
concrete steps. She had to go back in; otherwise, the groceries would ruin. They needed to be put in the icebox. The young woman stepped across the doorway as calmly as she could, shutting the door behind her and locking it. She made her way to the kitchen and shoved the food into the icebox before taking out an apple-pear and taking a bite of it. The juice dribbled down her chin. She wiped it away with the back of her gloved hand and smeared the remainder of her lipstick across her cheek.
She gave a tentative sniff of the jacket and realized how badly she needed a bath and a change of clothes. Normally, there would have been servants to draw a bath for her and lay out her next outfit, but they were all gone. She would just have to cope on her own for now.
Asami chose her parents' master bath because it was the only one with hot running water. All of the others had to be heated by hand like in the old days. She silently vowed to remedy that as she turned the polished steel handles to let the water run and set the stopped in the drain. She shed her dusty, travel worn clothes as the liquid swiftly filled the tub. Then she cautiously stepped in. Steam hit her face as she sank into the hot water that nearly scalded her as it touched her ankles, thighs, and hips. The water lapped at the edges of the tub and threatened to overflow as she sat down in it and reclined against the cool, smooth back. Her black hair soaked up the liquid and turned into inky curls around her face. She stretched out her arms on the sides and propped her feet up at the end. The steam in the room was coalescing and making everything foggy.
She closed her eyes. Everything was so very quiet. It was disturbing. She should have been hearing the scurrying of maids and servants as they went about their tasks, and her father cursing as he examined some new design or tweaked the problems in a prototype. There was none of that. There was only the faint sloshing of the water as she shifted and her own breathing. Memories flashed like silent movies before her eyes when she closed them. She took a breath and ducked her head under the water. The heat assaulted her senses again as it seeped into the rest of her hair. Air bubbles escaped her lips as she let go of her breath slowly. She stayed down as long as she could if only to hear her own heartbeat drumming in her ears. Some noise was better than none at all. When she came back up, she gasped for air, fingers clinging to the slick rim of the tub. She had not realized she had stayed down so long. The marble arches above her head were blindingly white in the noon sunlight. She studied them for a moment as she regained her bearings.
She reached for the bottles of shampoo and soap surrounding the tub and tossed some carelessly into her hair, working it up into a vicious lather. She had not felt clean in forever. She piled her long waves on top of her head and proceeded to scrub her skin until it turned red. Living with the Avatar, two teenage boys, and three children had given her a newfound appreciation for cleanliness. When the last of the grime was washed from her hair and skin, she let the tub drain and wrapped a robe around her body. The light from the window was bright and intense, and she judged that it was about three o'clock from looking at the position of the sun. A chill ran through her. Night would be coming soon and with it darkness and sleep. There were still bags under her eyes from tossing and turning the night before, and she had a feeling she would do much the same again.
With a frustrated sigh, she rubbed at her right eye with a knuckle and went to her bedroom for a fresh set of clothing. She flipped through the hangers in her closet in disgust. Everything reminded her of father or her mother or Mako. Many of the dresses she had worn on dates with her now ex-boyfriend. Most of the jackets she possessed had been gifts from her father, and several of her favorite blouses had once been her mother's. Finally after several minutes of exasperated searching, she settled on a pair of grey canvas pants, a loose red sweater, and a pair of black slippers. It was not glamorous, but she did not feel like bothering with something more complicated. After all, it was only her in the house now. She didn't even put on her signature red lipstick. Instead, she simply ran a comb through her thick locks and let them dry.
The next few hours she spent tidying the other areas of the house. She tackled the kitchen and then the bathrooms, getting on her hands and knees to scrub off the last of the stains. It truly didn't need to be done. The house was in decent condition, but it kept her hands busy and her mind occupied. Several times when she had slowed down to take a breath, she thought she could see a figure out of the corner of her eye. Sometimes it was the hem of her mother's dress or the point of her father's shoe. Every time she had to shakily force herself to carry on working or risk breaking down in a puddle of tears, which was not an option. She had had her fill of weeping.
The natural light slowly faded as twilight started to descend again. She paused from her current task of reorganizing all of the towels by color to stare out of the window and flip on a light switch. The sounds of the city around her were dying down, and the sound of her own breathing increased tenfold in her ears.
She realized then that she couldn't stay in the house alone for another night. She didn't think she could handle another twenty-four hours of near sleeplessness either, but she had nowhere else to go truly. Tenzin had kindly offered to let her stay at Air Temple, but it was already overcrowded and being repaired. Besides, there were several faces there that she did not care to see right now.
She frowned as a thought came to mind. She could ask someone over here. The estate was big enough for several people, and the furnishings were well appointed and comfortable. She did not think anyone would object, but it might make her seem weak and needy. She chewed her bottom lip as she ruminated on the thought. Who though? Mako was a definite no, and Korra was an even worse option. Things were awkward enough between the two teenagers as it was. There might be someone though.
She went to the phone and put her finger in the rotary. She spun it around to the operator's number.
A polite woman picked up on the other end. "How may I help you?"
"Yes, umm, I would like to be connected to Air Temple Island, please," she muttered, ashamed at the request though the woman couldn't even see her.
"Of course, one moment," the operator said as she connected Asami with a beep to the one phone located at the island.
The young woman waited with fraying patience and a nervous stomach as the number rang and rang and rang. She was on the verge of hanging up when someone answered.
"Hello?" a faceless man asked on the other end.
"Hi!" she said quickly and nervously.
She cursed under her breath at the recognition. "Yes, it's me, Asami. I was just wondering if . . . .if Bolin was available."
The man hummed for a moment as he thought it over. "Yes, I believe he is. Do you need to
speak to him?"
"Yes," she stammered out, clutching the phone against her cheek.
"Give me just one moment. I think I last saw him in the kitchens."
"Of course," she replied, holding back a smile. Bolin's appetite was legendary. He was
constantly snacking and raiding the kitchens when she had been around.
Her foot tapped impatiently as she waited for the phone to be picked back up.
At last, she heard someone lift it.
"Hey Asami," the earthbender greeted her around a mouthful of food.
"Hey Bolin," she said, finding the corners of her lips twitching higher at just the sound of his voice.
She heard him swallow on the other end. "How have you been?"
"I've been. . . okay, I guess. What about you?"
"I'm good. Things are finally getting back to normal at the Air Temple. It's still going to be awhile before the arena is livable again." He took another bite out of whatever he was eating.
"That's great. I'm glad to hear that."
"Mmhmm," he murmured as he continued to chew, and a strange silence settled between them as Asami tried to work up the courage to ask him over.
"Yep," she said nervously.
"So did you want to speak to Mako or something?"
"No," she said automatically, her voice going dead and the smile fading from her face. "No."
"Okay," he said casually. She could almost see him shrugging on the end of the line.
"Well, I guess I'll let you go then. Pema's making dumplings."
"Wait!" She shouted into the phone.
"Umm, I was wondering if you would like to come over to the estate tonight."
He paused for a moment. "Why?" he asked hesitantly as if she were harboring some sinister motive.
"I . . .just . . ." she licked her lips nervously to come up with a suitable excuse, "need some help with the heavy lifting. Dad. . . Hiroshi left a lot of heavy equipment over here, and I thought you might be able to help."
"I can come tomorrow if you want. It's kind of late, and I have no way of . . ."
"I'll take care of the ferry and transportation," she stated.
"Oh okay, I guess I could help you out if you think you really need it."
"Thank you so much," Asami said in a relieved voice, glad the task was done.
"Sure," he said uneasily, "see you then."
He hung up, and Asami dialed the operator again to connect her with the local taxi service
and the ferry captain. The last name Sato might be damaged, but her money was still as good as ever. It took some bribing and coercing, but she managed to make the appropriate arrangements.
Now all she had to do was wait. She stood by the phone for a little while longer, fidgeting impatiently and tapping her fingers on the tabletop. She reflected on their conversation, blushing as she recalled how desperate she had probably sounded to him. What must he be thinking right now? She held her hand to her forehead in embarrassment. "Need help with the heavy lifting? Pfft, I'm as bad a liar as ever," she commented to herself.
After deciding that it would still be sometime before Bolin showed up, Asami headed back to the kitchen to whip up a small snack for him. That might take his mind off of the abruptness of her request and how thin her lie truly was. She went through her pantries three times before settling on making him a bowl of rice and cutting up some fresh fruit. It was plain, but she had unfortunately not inherited her mother's culinary skills. As she searched through the drawers for a proper paring knife, her eyes misted as she caught the faintest waft of her mother's cooking. She could almost hear the boiling of water and the clanging of pots and pans. She blinked several times and then wiped the beginnings of tears away. "No more," she told herself.
She was slicing a moon peach when the doorbell rang. She looked up from her work, dropped the knife, wiped her hands on her pants, and headed towards the door. Her pace was fast, bordering on a jog, and she had to force herself to slow down into a respectable walk as she opened the door for her guest.
Bolin was standing on her porch with a slightly bewildered look on his face. He had lived here with her temporarily, but it seemed it had done nothing to lower his discomfort.
"Hi, Asami," he said weakly as he raised his hand in greeting.
"Hi, Bolin, thanks for coming. Come in," she replied as warmly as she could, trying to embody her mother's careless grace and charm. She wasn't quite sure she managed it, but the young earthbender entered with less trepidation as she stood aside.
He walked past her, his eyes roving up and up into the arched ceilings. He had seen it all before, but he was still amazed at just how big everything was. It seemed even bigger now that there weren't servants running everywhere. They had probably just gone home for the day or something.
Asami led him down a hallway lined with oil paintings of distant landscapes and marble flooring. "So," he ventured, "what was it that you needed help lifting or moving?"
"Oh, don't worry about that right now," she said quickly over her shoulder. She struggled to keep from blushing. "I made you a little something to eat first since I interrupted your meal on the phone. You are still hungry, right?"
"You read my mind!" he said enthusiastically behind her.
She giggled and held a hand to her mouth to stifle it. "I guess all of those telepathy classes my dad made me take paid off."
"Whoa, they really have those?" he questioned behind her.
She looked over her shoulder, quirking an eyebrow at him, and taking in his expression of awe and disbelief. "No," she said, "I was kidding."
"Well then. . . just forget I said anything," he grinned at her sheepishly and ruffled the back of his head with his hand.
"What were we talking about again?" she feigned
She smiled again despite her best efforts not to. They reached the end of the hallway, and Asami turned the handle on an old wooden side door that led into the kitchen. She didn't bother with turning on the lights, but instead lit the rest of the candles from the one she had left burning earlier.
"It isn't Pema's dumplings, but it's the best I could come up with on such short notice. "
She waved her hand towards the plate of fruit and rice.
"What happened to the cooks?"
"Oh, I gave them the day off," she said as she took a seat at the small beat up table she had dragged from a closet.
"That was nice of you." He sat down across from her and picked up the chop sticks to begin devouring the food. He made short work of her rice and started in on the fruit. He took one bite of the moon peach and closed his eyes.
"Does it taste alright?" she asked hesitantly, afraid she had somehow managed to screw up simply picking out a piece of fruit.
"No, no, not at all," he said as he swallowed and licked the juice from his lips. "It's just been a while since I had one of these." He picked up another slice.
"How long?" She leaned forward on an elbow, her dark hair falling over one shoulder.
He rolled his eyes to the ceiling as he chewed and thought. "About eight years."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "Why so long?"
He quirked an eyebrow at her in disbelief. "These are pretty expensive."
"Oh," she said quietly, instantly ashamed and embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I didn't think about it. I just don't . . . I guess," she licked her lips nervously, "I guess I just take stuff like that for granted."
He gave her a huge smile and shrugged his broad shoulders. "It's alright."
"So how did you get that one if you don't mine me asking?"
"Stole it," he said with complete honesty and no shame.
"Things were really tough for you two then." Her brows knit together and her mouth turned down. She just kept digging herself in deeper and deeper.
He nodded wordlessly as he chewed on a piece of apple-pear. "You could say that, but I always had Mako so it wasn't so bad."
Asami didn't say anything to that. She was still unsure of how to approach the subject of Mako. The firebender was still a tender spot for her. She watched as Bolin ate with gusto. He even went so far as to lick the last of the moon peach juice off of his plate. She might have found it funny had he not divulged the story behind it to her. Now, she only saw the haunted reflection of a young boy going hungry on the streets.
"Something the matter?" he said as he put the plate back down on the table.
"No, no," she said as she shook her head vigorously.
"So where is this stuff you needed moved?"
The young woman stood up from the table and took his plate away to dump it in the sink.
"How about I give you a proper tour of the place before we get started? I know you didn't get to see it all because Da- Hiroshi was here, but now we can." She forced a bright smile at him as she finished washing up.
"Sure," he agreed.
Asami finished scrubbing the plate as she listened to the skepticism in his voice. She would just have to give him the best damn tour of his life to get his mind off of her little lie. When the dish was clean, she set it back in the cabinet and led the earthbender out of the kitchen.
As they walked down the hall way, Asami listed off the locations of every single painting and when she had visited them. She watched intensely as his head swung from side to side to examine each one earnestly. After that, she went into a small study and told him of the history of the different pieces of furniture and the small library.
"As you can tell from the scrollwork details on the arm of the chair here, this dates back to the Chin Dynasty in the Earth Kingdom," she babbled on trying to fill up the empty air with her words.
He looked on with mild interest, fiddling with the compass laying on the desk in the corner and idly spinning the globe of the Four Nations.
"That globe," she said, nodding towards said object, "is an antique. It was my grandfather's. It's said that he was a sailor in the Fire Nation Navy and stole that from his captain's cabin."
"Neat," Bolin said in a tired and slightly bored tone.
She suppressed a frown and led them up the grand staircase to the bedrooms. She showed him the guest rooms first. "You can stay in anyone of these," she stated as she swept her arm to the line of bedroom doors.
She bypassed the master bedroom, not sure he would want to see the sleeping place of the man who had tried to kill them both. Finally, they arrived at her room. She opened the door slowly and stepped in. "This is my room. I've slept in here as long as I can remember. You see those windows over there?" she asked pointing across her bedchamber to the long row of glasspaned windows next to her bed. "It has a beautiful view of the bay and on clear days I can see Air Temple Island."
He followed her finger and saw the bright lights of the city shining off of the water. "Pretty," he remarked sincerely, "but Asami, it's getting late. If there is something you need me to do, we probably better start now."
"Just a few more dozen rooms to go," she said as she started to head back into the corridor. "I think we'll head to the gym next. You never got to really use it when you were here."
"That wasn't the reason why you called me over here, was it?" His voice was soft and gentle as spoke.
She turned on her heel and found him with both arms in front of him, one hand grabbing the elbow of the other arm. "Why do you say that?"
He gave her a painful smile that didn't reach his eyes. "I haven't seen anything out of place. Not a single box or a piece of machinery or furniture."
She didn't answer him but let her shoulders sag and her eyes fall to the floor like she had as a child when she'd been caught sneaking out of her bed at night.
"And you didn't give the cooks the day off, did you?"
"No," she breathed, "they quit after my father was found out. I was away, and they didn't want to continue working for a family that had been so . . . disgraced."
"So it's just you in this big house?"
She lifted her head and heaved one shoulder up into a helpless shrug. "Yeah, it is. I'm sorry I dragged you all the way out here for no good reason. It was stupid and childish of me. I just got . . . so lonely the other night. It's so quiet here all the time now. I just wanted . . . a friend with me. I'm sorry again. I'll call you a taxi to take you home if you want or set you up in a hotel." She shook her head in disbelief. "I knew you wouldn't fall for that stupid lie."
"Hey," he chided, "you're not stupid or childish. If anyone is childish, it's me for even falling for that lie in the first place."
"Was it really that bad?" she asked, cringing.
"Oh yeah, it was baaaaad. Like I tell better lies than that."
"Thanks, you sure know how to make a girl feel better," she said sarcastically, folding her arms over her chest and cocking one hip out.
"All part of my charm, Miss Sato," he quipped, beaming at her and brushing imaginary dust from his shoulder.
"I'm sure." She was interrupted by a yawn that was followed by one from Bolin. "You're right though it is getting really late. Do you need me to call you a cab?"
"No, I'll stay here for the night if that's alright."
"Of course," she headed for her bedroom again but paused. "Good night, Bolin, and thanks for understanding. Please don't tell Mako or Korra about this."
"Got it. Good night, Asami."
She nodded to him one more time before opening her door and shutting it gently behind her. Drawing in a deep breath, she pressed her fingers to her temple and tried to clear away the headache that had been building all day. It only worsened when she reflected on her stupidity so she stopped thinking and headed over to the dresser where she kept her pajamas. Her fingertips brushed over the soft silk and stopped on the green pair. Those would be nice for tonight.
She slipped out of her clothes and left them on a pile in the floor. She hopped into the pajama bottoms and buttoned up the blouse. She sighed, took one last look around her room, and flipped out the lights. The blankets rustled quietly as she pulled them back and slid into bed. She grabbed one pillow and pulled it to her chest as she buried the side of her face deeply into the other one. She went through a mental checklist of her chores for tomorrow before allowing herself to drift off into sleep.
Asami was just on the verge of dreaming when the bed dipped suddenly under new weight. Her eyes flew open as her whole body tensed in anticipation. If she just stayed still and silent she might be able to take them by surprise. The heat of another body pressed against her back as the unknown person approached. She timed it in her head before twisting around and throwing a fast punch to their cheek. It collided with a satisfying thud against their flesh and caused a startled yelp.
It wasn't until she was sitting up in the dark and staring at the person that she realized it was Bolin. "Oh, Spirits. Oh, Spirits," she hissed as she stared down at the earthbender lying beside her, clutching his cheek in pain. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she repeated as she reached out a hand to touch his arm.
"Ow, what was that for?" he slurred as he continued to press one hand to his cheek.
"You startled me. I thought you were an Equalist or someone my father sent after me. I had no idea it was you." She winced in sympathetic pain.
"That makes sense," he said as he sat up on an elbow and took his hand from his cheek so she could look at it.
"Let me go get you a cold washcloth." She scooted out of bed and headed towards her private bath on the other side of the room before he could even get a word out. She cursed herself for the umpteenth time that night under her breath as she searched frantically for a washcloth. When she couldn't find any, she looked down at her silk blouse with regret and ripped off a piece. She turned on the water and let it run over the cold material.
Bolin was sitting against the headboard when she came back. She dashed over and jumped onto the bed to press the piece of silk to his cheek. He sighed in relief as the cool compress touched his skin.
"That should keep some of the swelling down," she said as she let go.
"Well, the good news is you have a mean right hook," he smirked at her and then stopped when the pain flared up again.
"Thanks." She sat beside him in her bed when she realized he hadn't told her what he was doing there in the first place. "By the way, what were you doing in my bedroom?"
"I just thought that maybe you might be feeling lonely," he said reluctantly.
If it had been any other man she would have taken it to mean something else, but Bolin was different. He could be naïve and clumsy, but he was an honest person with a good heart. When he said he had done it because he thought she was lonely, she knew he meant it and nothing more. He had not come in there seeking something other than that.
"Do you want me to leave?" He was hunching his shoulders in fear as if she might hit him again because of his answer.
"No," she said simply. He blinked at her slowly and let the silk fall out of his hand and onto the bed. She moved her head to the side and turned his face slowly in her hand to examine his bruise. "Does it feel any better?"
"Y-yeah," he gulped, taken aback by her direct answer and the sudden contact with her.
"C'mon, let's go to sleep then. I'll have a doctor look at in the morning." She flipped the covers back and slipped under them once again. Bolin did the same a few seconds later.
"You don't have to do that," he whispered to her, facing the same direction as her but keeping a safe distance between them.
"I know." She slid back towards him in one smooth motion so that her back was touching his stomach. She could feel the warm, hard muscles of his chest pressing against her and felt a sense of comfort wash over her.
He made a startled noise but quickly quieted.
"I'm sorry," he breathed onto her neck.
"Don't be. It wasn't your fault."
He said no more. Then he slipped his arm around her waist, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world.