NOTE: This is the first draft, it is liable to some change. It's in my interests to post half-finished bits first, since my Fanon has no repute and needs to have constant updates to stay relevant. As I go on I'll try and polish my pieces more and more before each post, but for now I'll settle with publishing a "70-80% complete" version and tinkering with it over a bit to make it "perfect". I'll stamp each one of these articles with a "FINAL VERSION" when that's the case.
They were both still and silent, holding each other's gaze in a way their hands never could. Her face was contorted, quivering in a torrent of mixed frustration and sorrow that she could not express without letting it all out... and though he tried to maintain an aura of calm, he knew she could see the tears forming in his own eyes.
Instictively he stepped back, averting his gaze. As they stood apart, he thought she might break- and after a few seconds, he turned his head up. But when he did, he saw her face was no longer vulnerable or sad- but back to its familiar, beautiful scowl.
"You won't die" she said. "You won't, you'll come back and I'll be here."
"I can't make any promises" he said.
She slapped him, hard, her fingernails tearing throw his skin all the way- leaving a raw, burning scratch on his right cheek. "Don't you DARE say that to me!" she yelled at him. "You WILL come back!!".
"You don't know that" he continued; his tears gone, his face stern.
"I do" she said, grabbing him by the waist and shaking him. He sometimes forgot how strong she was, despite being a good half foot shorter than him. "And you'll remember" she said, drawing him close- "when you're away, you'll remember and you'll be good. You'll come back".
They were very close now. He could feel her breath and she his, their eyes still locked. "I'll try" he said.
"No" she said, her lips nearly touching his. "You will". She kissed him. A warmth passed over him that made the cold drizzle overhead melt away, as if it weren't there. He couldn't see the world around him, hear the sounds of the busy streets just beyond the garden bridge where they stood. Time and space were flattened, and it felt as if the world had been reduced to this one moment.
Pulling away, she looked up at him. "Remember" she said, her hand gently stroking the cheek had hit. "You'll come back, and I'll be right here."
"MAJOR TAKATSU!" a familar voice boomed, shattering his concentration. The momentary happiness that seemed to flood his body drained and his mind lurched back to the present.
Takatsu Osori was leaning over a set of railings on the windswept deck of a Chokwuëkai steam-powered frigate. Walking towards him from the bridge was an eldery, tall and plump man dressed in waist-high gray trousers and a gray woolen short jacket. Over his right brest were a dozen or so brightly colored badges, shining in the morning sun.
"SIR, KWUROIHA-MA'I!" Takatsu yelled, forcing himself to stand suddenly at attention.
"At ease Major" Kwuroiha said, clapping him roughly on the back, "you're always so damn formal".
"Sir, I am at your service sir" Takatsu replied in robotic monotone. "And has anyone ever told you you're too dull and too serious?" Kwuroiha said, laughing "lighten up! let's see that smile!"
Takatsu did not immediately oblige, and could not hide his puzzled look. "Sir, smile, sir?"
"Yes!" Kwuroiha said, "you know now that I think about it, I don't think I've seen you smile." "Sir, I don't have a lot to smile about sir" Takatsu said, "sir, it's cold here sir, shall we move inside?"
"Don't have a lot to smile about..." Kwuroiha repeated, now looking suddenly furious. "You are here, at the behest of your great country and Emperor, to spread civilization to the very edges of this world, and you're NOT WILLING TO SMILE ABOUT IT!" he shrieked.
Alarmed, Takatsu instinctively pulled himself at attention, sputtering "no, no.. not what I.." "HOW DARE you insult our great nation, the trust and respect that it's put in you- the charges it's given to you, the very MISSION entrusted to you that YOU CAN'T EVEN BOTHER TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT?"
Beginning to sweat, Takatsu looked towards the heavens, privately praying that he get out of this with all body parts intact and unbroken. Kwuroiha leened in to bark at him so close that Takatsu could smell his breath. It was stinky, like century egg. He knew this to be Kwuroiha's favourite dish- along with salted fish. A most putrid combination, he thought to himself.
"YOU SHOULD BE CRYING WITH JOY!" Kwuroiha continued, spit flying all over Takatsu's face. "CRYING.. crying w-" and at that, Kwuroiha broke down.
Not in tears, but a fit of gleeful laughter- punctuated by loud snorts and fervent knee-slaps. Takatsu's heart seemed to fall through his stomach. "BAHAHAHA" Kwuroiha bellowed, "SHOULD'VE.. oh should've seen your face". Wiping his eyes, he said "Takatsu... you make it too damn easy".
Frowning in embarrassment, Kwuroiha clapped Takatsu on the back once again and continued, half-laughing: "how do you expect to lead men if you're always looking so dour, seriously, lighten up- it's Morning!"
"Yes sir" Taktasu said, forcing a reluctant toothy smile- which he hoped would suffice. "Hah!" Kwuroiha said, "you need to brush more Takatsu, really now". "What" Takatsu said, feeling at his teeth, "but I did.. twice today already!" He became suddenly very aware of his teeth- lucky his mother had once told him, to be so straight; and began to run his fingers over them, feeling for any specs of food that might be left over from this morning's breakfast.
Kwuroiha began to point and laugh at him once again, Takatsu dropped his hand almost at once, feeling not only embarrassed- but annoyed. "AHAHA" Kwuroiha yelled, "too good Takatsu, too good. They taught you a lot at Oshie Nohamonodan, but you missed out on how to take a joke". Fuming, with his ego punctured and patience severely tested- Takatsu worked furiously to keep his face as neutral as he could.
"I know that look Major, but don't take it so personally, it's all for fun!" Kwuroiha said, his hands at his hips and smile seemingly wider than the ocean out before them. "But yes, let's go inside- not a trick this time! I actually have something I need you to do".
Gesturing him to follow, Takatsu took one last look over the ocean. Never a moment's peace on this ship, he thought. Too cramped, too public, too little to do for most of the day- even for someone as prestigious and renowned as Kwuriha. Trying not to dwell on these depressing thoughts, Takatsu followed him out towards the bridge, hoping he wasn't about to walk in on another comical trap at his expense.
As they reached the bridge, Kwuroiha began climbing up towards the pilothouse. Confused but somewhat intrigued, Takatsu followed. As they climbed up the short staircase leading to its door, Takatsu could hear the excited voices of what sounded like a dozen soldiers inside. When they entered, the soldiers began to shout and point at him. "Sir, you brought him, sir!" said one soldier, his eyes wide and smile- if possible, wider, at seeing Takatsu. The others began to jeer.
"Yes, Private Suzuchi" Kwuroiha said, moving his hands as if to present Kwuroiha as a new product to be sold. "Major Takatsu is feeling a bit tense and riled up, and has agreed to your challenge Huyu". Kwuroiha pointed at a private without his shirt, wearing only his trousers and boots. The man was well-built, with black hair, dark eyes and pale skin. Even from afar, Takatsu could tell he stood a few inches under him- but he looked fierce nonetheless.
"Sir, sorry, sir but what exactly is going on?" Takatsu asked, feeling apprehensive. "Huyu said he could beat you in a duel!" said one soldier loudly. "He said he could outbend you any day" another yelled, "said he's been training for like 10 years or something". "Huyu told me you're not the real Hero of Ikiko, and he heard it was just propaganda!" another yelled.
The others faces suddenly fell flat, and they all looked at the soldier in a mix of shock and reproachment. Realizing perhaps what he'd said, the soldier looked sheepish and mumbled something. "It's not, Private Ito" grumbled Kwuroiha, "but rather than tell you, I'm going to let Takatsu show you why".
Their smiles returned, and Huyu stood forward to speak out. "I can beat you, I had friends in the 33rds and they said you're nothing but a coward and a slink. When Kwuoriha caught me I thought he was going to take my rank and put me under the deck, but he told me I could earn my honor back by challenging you head on." Huyu clapped his fists together, his eyes bright.
"Well, outside all of you" Kwuroiha barked, pointing at the door. The men began to file out, some jumping- others hanging off each other's backs, as if they were kids again. "Sir" Takatsu said, "a moment befor-" "of course! OUT!" Kwuoriha yelled, spitting a short burst of flame out from his fist at a lone soldier who'd stayed near the door to listen. He shrieked and ran out with his fellows. Huyu, who'd lingered behind, passed by them slowly- taking time to stare intently at at Takatsu as he passed him, in an attempt no doubt to intimidate him.
As Huyu slammed the door behind him, Takatsu took a deep breath. "Sir, I am in no position to question your intentions sir-" "no you are not" Kwuroiha said, smiling. "Sir, but is this really a good idea, sir? What if he's hurt." Kwuroiha clapped his hands on his belly, laughing. "He's a damn soldier, Takatsu" he said, "if he can't handle a duel on a ship deck with medics on hand, what the hell are we going to get out of him in the bush". "Sir, I just feel.. it isn't worth this, my reputation. I know my name as do most people, I can't control the minority who sully it. I have heard these rumors before, sir, heard them whispered wherever I walk, everytime I sit to eat in the mess. It doesn't bother me sir, I don't want to injure our soldiers over something so petty."
"Now that I won't have" Kwuroiha said, turning upwards and looking suddenly serious. "You're a hero, Takatsu" he said, poking his chest with his fat index finger. "You're a hero, a damned good hero- and there's a reason I requested you to accompany us on this mission." He looked darkly out at the ship deck where the men stood, some practicing their own waterbending on one another in varying capacities of competence. "The politics of what happened are just that, politics. Us soldiers know what you boys did out there, and the minority down there" he looked pointedly at Huyu, "are a bunch of idiots who need to be put in their place. We're the Imperial Army, we serve our Emperor and we serve loyally together. You need to earn their respect, Takatsu, and you need to start respecting yourself."
Kwuroiha now looked dead serious, no hint of a joke or humor on the wrinkles that folded his ancient, fat bearded face. "If you don't have it, you can't command them- and if they don't have it, they won't be disciplined. If you can't respect yourself enough to fight for your reputation, then maybe Huyu's right in the end" Feeling indignant, Takatsu looked out over at the deck, where Huyu was now sparring with two soldiers at once. "Get out there" Kwuroiha barked, "these soldiers have been bored too long, they need a demonstration to remind them they're never going to be promoted to Major with their work ethic."
Nodding, though still feeling somewhat apprehensive over this, Takatsu descended the opposite staircase and headed out towards the deck.