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Moon Residence · |@Exit] & |@canaryrose] Collaboration
Moon Residence · @Exit
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The rest of the ride saw Jack in his usual silence and An in the backseat with her eyes glued to the monitor in front of her. Bits of cracker and cheese had collected on her worn clothing and the board had almost been completely consumed. Shinobi news was covering her missing day and a half, laying out events as they happened and the effect they had across the entire city. When the newscast got to Li and her statement, An erupted in hysterical laughter.
Roughly half an hour later, the craft began to descend and as they broke through a thin layer of clouds, the Moon residence appeared. It was a large abode surrounded by acres of green land, the exterior of which was very clearly designed modern and lavish as was the norm in the Upper Ring. Walls were tall and straight and alternated between a cloudy gray, black and a dark wood finish. Some of the walls were replaced by windows that stretched from the ground to the roof. Portions of the roof itself were flat and gardened, adjourned with trees and shrubbery that matched those planted in the surrounding grounds. The lawn was cut in half by a brook that wove in between, and sometimes underneath, winding walkways and the garden, and was interrupted at regular intervals by a small waterfall. From the above, it was easy to see the fish swimming around in the various ponds.
There was a path that led from the side of the home out to a platform where Jack put them both down. They landed next to another vehicle. One that An would definitely not have seen anywhere else; A craft that was nearly completely black and was both angular yet sleek. Some of its edges were lined in a thin sliver of gold. It looked rather expensive.
Jack was out of the car first and quickly walked around to An’s side to open the door for her. ”Welcome to the Moon residence.” He said as he helped her out of the vehicle.
An stepped out gingerly, staring at the massive estate in front of her. She resisted the urge to gape or exclaim in wonder, simply standing there with her hands crossed in front of her. She had never been invited to the Moon residence and, until they had entered the inner Upper Ring, had expected they’d be returning to the office. That signalled that this was much too private to speak about there. This was no work matter- it was personal. Suddenly very self conscious, she dusted the crumbs off her shirt. Her hair and dirty clothes, however, couldn’t be taken care of easily. And she was pretty sure she somewhat smelled. It seemed that someone had dragged her prone body across the asphalt at some point.
She had grown up in the Upper Ring, it was true, but her family home was practically a hovel compared to this grand estate. She glanced at the car for a moment in a bit of confusion before turning to Jack again. She didn’t know much about cars. “Thank you. Where is she?”
Jack led her away from the landing pad and up, toward the side entrance of the house on an inclined path that took An over a small bridge and through a part of the garden. It was a short path but it was obvious from just this stretch of the walkway that every inch of the grounds had been meticulously curated; made to feel as if one was somewhere else entirely. There was no Ba Sing Se here. Just the quiet murmuring of water, the sound of the whistling wind threading through branches and leaves and the call of birds somewhere in the sky. The air here was unbelievably clean, even when compared to the Middle Ring. It was fresh and rejuvenating and every breath was crisp and cool.
The glass door that was the side entrance was opened for An and Jack motioned her inside before stepping in himself. Inside, An was greeted with vaulted ceilings and a panoramic view of green, lush landscape and distant mountains beyond the outer wall. Hardwood floors wrapped around a large planter where a tree provided some shade. Toward the center of the room was a sofa and rug and coffee table sitting on top. To An’s right, the room opened up to more living space and a dining room and beyond that, a doorway into the kitchen. Stairs around the corner wrapped around a small tree that led to the second floor and a landing that was visible from the first.
A familiar voice drifted down from above.
”Yes, Daddy. I understand… Just please be careful.”
Jack motioned for An to take a seat on the couch as he moved toward the stairs to fetch her host.
An sat down, her posture board straight. She folded her hands on her lap and gazed at the extravagant living space in front of her. Being in this room felt extremely uncomfortable. She was somewhere she shouldn’t have been, seeing things she shouldn’t have seen. She didn’t wander as Jack went upstairs, although she did barely suppress a giggle upon hearing Vyska call her father “daddy”. Being with Chu Hua for four years had not made her more polite.
She took a deep breath. Even the air in the house was so much fresher- but she had been in jail for the last day and a half, so she was maybe at the wrong point to make comparisons from.
”She’s here?... Thank you.” Vyska’s voice continued to drift down the stairs, her voice somehow still louder than Jack’s despite her whispering.
”No, it should be fi-... Okay, okay.”
After a moment, footsteps echoed from the second floor gradually getting louder until a tuft of blond hair appeared from over the landing edge. It moved toward the stairs and disappeared again, only for Vyska to appear at the bottom. Jack was following behind her.
“Vyska.” An stood from the couch as soon as the young woman’s foot touched the first floor, practically standing at attention. It was far more serious than she usually was, but this was far more serious than her life usually was.
Vyska walked over, keeping some of her composure although it was still obvious she was relieved. ”It’s good to see you… although…” Her eyes drifted across An’s body from head to toe, recognizing the state she was in after more than a day of being away from home and without proper self care. She stopped only a few feet away from her, hesitated for a moment and then stepped up to give the woman a hug.
An's brain short-circuited. She hesitated, but eventually returned the hug, giving Vyska a light squeeze. She noted the hesitation but couldn’t blame her- She knew she didn’t look very clean.
”You look like shit.” Vyska confirmed before stepping away again and releasing An. ”And smell like it too.”
”And I know you’re probably really confused right now about why I paid your bail and had you escorted here and we do have a lot to discuss. But right now, I’m sure you could do with a nice bath and some real food?”
“I…” An looked dazed as Vyska released her from the hug. They didn’t hug. They just didn’t, it was unprofessional. What on Earth was going on? “Thank you. I don’t know- wait, do I really smell that bad?” An gave herself a sniff. It really was that bad. She made a face. “Yes, I’m… well, confused is a gross understatement. A hot shower and a hot meal would be nice, though. But please don’t let me take advantage of your hospitality.” She lowered her eyes from Vyska’s to the floor. Her voice sounded shy, almost chagrined. An hated not knowing things, but she hated being helpless even more. It would be rude to refuse Vyska’s hospitality, though, and she didn’t know what else to do but accept the offer. What she really wanted to do was find out what was going on. But apparently, Vyska wouldn’t do that until she stopped smelling.
”You’re not taking advantage of anything, I promise you. I-...” Vyska shook her head, dismissing the direction the conversation wanted to go and focusing on what was more important. They had time. Enough of it at least for the time being. ”There is a lot going on. For now, let’s get you into something more comfortable.”
Vyska led An up the spiraling staircase and down a hall only a short distance. The interior decor changed only slightly as the open feel of the previous space became more enclosed. The wall on the right became jagged rock as if it had been cut right from the side of a mountain. Soft warm light drifted down from the crevice created between where that wall and the ceiling met. The source of the light could not be seen. Breaking up the long stretch of black stone were a number of bamboo trees. To the left, a heavy looking, wooden door had been cut into the gray wall. Vyska walked up and opened it and ushered An inside.
Inside, the space opened up once again. Large ceiling to floor windows on two sides of the room offered a view of the distant horizon. The central portion of the ceiling too was opened up to the sky where the sparse white clouds were joined by the canopy of trees planted on the roof. A large king sized bed was pushed against one of the windowed walls and opposite the bed was a door that led to a well lit bathroom. Through that door, a glass cubed chamber could be seen with what looked like a slanted roof and a hundred nozzles attached to the surface. Next to the door leading to the bathroom was a cobalt, marbled wall with rectangular shaped outlines cut into it.
Most of the room was colored black and gray including the walls and the bed sheets. Highlights were wooden and there were sparse plants situated around the room to bring in some green and make an otherwise cold looking room seem more alive. Despite the color temperature, a carpet that was overly soft and a personal fireplace that was currently shut off helped to bring in some warmth.
”This is the guest room. Anything in here is yours to use as you please. There are fresh clothes in here…” Vyska moved to the wall and tapped one of the shapes that was cut into it, coaxing the drawer out of its nest. The interior of the compartment was outlined in a soft white light allowing anyone to easily see what was inside. ”Everything should fit.” She said, tapping it again so that it slid shut. ”There is also water in the cooler that is the nightstand. Again, take whatever you need and please take your time. Someone will be outside your door if you need anything else and when you are ready, they will lead you to the dining room where we can eat and talk.”
“...Thank you. I won’t be long.” Once again, An wore a stunned and grateful look on her face, but she at least tried to smother it this time. This “guest room” was larger than the master bedroom in her own apartment, and certainly larger than the one her and Chu shared at her parents’ house. An watched as Vyska closed the door behind her, relieved to hear no click of a lock, and then turned to the bedroom. The bed was calling her name, but she didn’t have time to nap. Instead, she moved towards the dresser, picking out an outfit and smoothing it out on the bedspread before walking into the bathroom and locking the door.
An took a very long, very hot shower. She blow-dried her hair, washed herself, and started to do her make-up. Vyska had her favorite shade of lipstick, which was extremely surprising. But when she was staring at herself in the mirror… It was all too easy for her to cry now, when she was alone. The sobs came, wracking her body as she cried for the first time in a day and a half. She had tried so hard to get Chu and her out alive, but all she had done was maybe save her fiancee’s life and potentially doom herself to decades in prison. It was all so fucked. She was so fucked.
40 minutes after Vyska led her to the guest room, An opened the door to see the face of an attendant staring back at her. “I think I’m presentable now. Could you take me to Miss Moon, please?”
An had changed everything about her appearance. Now, a sheer white collared blouse was half- tucked into sleek black slacks, which in turn were tucked into low black stilettos. The blouse was left half-out, the right side hanging down like an arrow. It was intentional. She had tied her now-clean black hair into a high ponytail and had applied a red lip and a bit of eyeliner. There had been plenty of T–shirts and robes in the dresser, but An had wanted to appear professional. And maybe it helped her to put on that armor. Her eyes were still puffy around the edges, but she had tried to conceal that as best she could with foundation.
The attendant nodded shyly and led An down to the dining room, back down those same luxurious stairs. An had to hold onto the rail because of her heels, but she descended easily and emerged onto the ground floor, following the girl into the dining room.
A table large enough to seat eight had settings for only one. Opposite where Vyska was seated and in front of a waiting chair, from left to right, were the dinner and salad fork, a plate with a black cloth dinner napkin pulled through a golden ring and a dinner knife and a spoon. Above the forks was a smaller plate with fresh warm bread sitting on top next to a small butter knife and a small portion cup holding butter. Above the spoon and knife was a water glass already filled and chilled and next to that, an empty wine glass.
Vyska was sat in front of her own glass of red wine and a laptop that was open and facing her.
The attendant ushered An toward the open seat.
An sat down, seeming comfortable in the fancy setting. “Sorry I took so long,” An said. “The room was very nice. Thank you.”
”Of course. And don’t worry about the time. I’m just happy you were able to make use of it." Vyska clasped her hands together and raised her eyebrows as she regarded her guest. ”What would you like to eat? We can make you anything.”
“Whatever you’d like is… fine,” she said, raising her brows slightly. “I’m not picky.” She felt sweat bead on the back of her neck. She took a sip of the water.
She decided to bite the bullet. “Vyska,” she said, voice dropping. “I’m sorry to be rude, but I need to cut to the chase or I am going to combust. Not- not literally- you know what I mean. I committed a Class A felony twenty-four hours ago after my fiancee turned into a firebender and lit a stadium on fire. I might be being investigated for worse things, too. I should’ve been terminated by the company immediately, not… bailed out of jail and personally escorted to your estate. What is going on?”
Vyska nodded at An and then gave the attendant a signal with her hand. The attendant bowed and left the room, walking through the doorway leading into the kitchen and disappearing. When they were gone, Vyska’s eyes drifted back to An’s. The far off, professional expression having long left her face for something else.
”Did she make it out? Chu?”
Jack appeared in the other room where his figure became silhouetted against the windows. He paced slowly, staring out into the vista of the surrounding grounds, making himself known but otherwise easily blending into the background.
An immediately started sweating more, tightening her hands underneath the tablecloth. So this was what this was about. Of course. Should she play dumb? Should she tell the truth? “I… don’t know.” She left it at that. It was both the truth and a lie. She really didn’t know what had become of Chu after she had left her and Kanna in that tunnel. She hadn’t even let her kiss her one last time. That settled in with an awful regret.
Vyska’s eyes lingered on An for a few moments before they dropped to the wine glass in front of her. She seemed to be tossing something over and over in her head, as if weighing the response she was given. ”I want to apologize, An.” She began, not looking up. ”At the time of me calling you a few days ago, I already knew you had used the tunnels to help Chu escape. And with Kanna. I had the card usage and the footage. What I didn’t know was your plan, but after what we saw on the news, I knew the danger you were both in, so I sent Jack to get rid of the footage and to help you get out.” She bit her lip.
”It was inevitable that the RSF would be at my facility. Mostly for rescue, but I knew there would be others who'd be more interested in finding a reason ‘why’ and I also knew that if they went digging through my records, they’d find a connection to Chu.” She gestured at An. ” Sure enough, shortly after I sent Jack away, a man arrived who I’d never seen before with a badge I didn’t recognize and authority I didn’t know existed. He had me try and contact you, and, well… I half expected or hoped you wouldn’t pick up. But then you did.” Vyska smiled slightly. ”Let’s just say he wasn’t too happy with the ‘I’ll send someone over comment’ but...” Vyska shrugged. ”His instructions weren’t very clear.”
”Luckily, RSF response was slower than expected and Jack told me no one was in your apartment when he got there. But it’s obvious the call stalled you and I’m assuming you wanted to leave.” She paused again, this time her eyes searching for any acknowledgment to what she was sharing. ”And I know what I’m saying doesn’t make any sense. ‘How do I know what you wanted to do with Chu and why would I help you?’, right?”
”Vyska…” Jack had moved a little closer now and was leaned against the wall. His arms were crossed and he was staring at Vyska intently. Vyska only closed her eyes and tilted her head away from him, her face scrunched ever so slightly as if she were trying to squeeze his voice out of her head.
”What’s going on is I need to know… I need to know that if there’s a chance that she’s alive and you can help her, would you? And I need you to be honest with me. You’ve committed a felony, yes. But we both know which of your crimes is greater. One puts you away for a long time but the other will get you killed.”
”Are you willing to die for her?”
An met Vyska’s eyes, a look of shock and horror blossoming across her face. It made sense. They knew. It was clear in her eyes that An knew everything she was saying was true, that Vyska knew everything. She squinted her eyes shut tight for a moment, thinking. Vyska was clearly on her side. Unless this was some elaborate trick- no. No. It wasn’t. An’s brain was working slower than normal, but she still thought she knew how to discern between truth and lies. Vyska was telling the truth. She had done An a favor, true, but she still knew too much. Why had she deleted that footage? Why had she helped her? She couldn’t figure it out.
An opened her eyes, meeting Vyska’s again with a flat stare. “You know I’ve never done anything without a reason,” she said, fingers raising to clutch her water glass. Her hands shook minutely. Would she be willing to die for Chu Hua? It was a loaded question. Would An be willing to die for anything? “Yes,’ she breathed. She almost looked stunned that these words were leaving her mouth. After that, they spilled out, a torrent of emotion. “Yes. I would. I think I’ve already proved that, don’t you? I helped her escape knowing that it would get me killed, and I did it anyways. I love her.” She touched her engagement ring, a white stone adorning her finger. “I love her so much I shot a cop so I could run with her. Does that prove it? I don’t know if she’s even alive, but I would do what I did a thousand times over.”
”Yeah. Well… sometimes things change when the threat becomes very real. Then you start rethink everything you knew about yourself; who you are and what you're willing to do.” Vyska began pulling on the edge the glove on her hand.
”Vyska.” Jack said again, more firmly this time. He’d uncrossed his arms and was now standing straight, his hand already reaching into his jacket.
”She’s been through enough uncertainty, Jack. She needs someone she can trust too.” Vyska answered back. She pulled the glove completely off and revealed the burn injuries covering her entire hand. There were red marks over parts of her skin that had peeled away, mostly across the entirety of her palm and climbing the inside of her fingers. They looked fresh, though how fresh was hard to tell. For someone who would have suffered burns only a couple days ago, the injuries seemed to have healed too fast.
A candle stood on the table nearby. Vyska passed her hand over it and watched as flames poured from her palm over the wick, lighting it. Her eyes darted over to An, measuring her response. Jack watched as well, ready to move the moment An reacted the wrong way.
An didn’t make a sound. Her entire body, though, tensed, as if she was preparing to run at a moment’s notice. Her mouth parted, her eyes widened. It was an involuntary response. Vyska was…
A firebender. An stared at Vyska with a newfound understanding and a blossoming horror. “I see. Well. That’s… certainly not ideal.” Her response was measured, although her heart beat like a rabbit’s in her chest. It didn’t bring everything into clarity, but she finally understood as she looked between Vyska and Jack. Vyska hadn’t helped her because they were coworkers- Vyska had helped her out of a sense of kinship.
An leaned forward, taking Vyska’s burned hand in her own. She turned it over in her unblemished one, examining it.. “You’re like her, then,” she murmured. Her eyes flicked to Jack’s. “Don’t worry. I can’t exactly run to the RSF and tell them our boss is a firebender, can I? I’m assuming copies of that footage still exist somewhere.” It was true- knowing each other’s secrets was like some sort of shield. Neither of them could reveal the other’s secrets without worrying about the safety of their own. “Her burns were worse than this,” An commented, finally releasing Vyska’s hand. “I don’t understand why you’re showing me this, Vyska. Why?” Her voice finally betrayed a bit of fear then, of Vyska or of the consequences of this, she wasn’t sure.
”Because what I’m about to ask you to do is going to be impossible if we can’t trust each other.” Vyska said, still slightly stunned that An had found it in her to reach for her hand the way she had. Jack too had nearly shot the woman, but Vyska had thrown him a hand sign from under the table. Still, his hand was firmly wrapped around the grip of a pistol in his jacket and despite what An had said, his eyes remained glued to her.
Vyska began pulling the glove back over her hand. ”Right now, all I have is Jack… and a clue that might involve you, but I can’t rely on you if I think you’ll sell me out… and I need you. The same way you need Chu. I can get you to her. More than that, I think I have a way to make it safe for you two to be together… but we’re going to need each other to do that.”
An’s heart skipped a beat. “You can trust me,” she said. “You’re right; I could sell you out. Information like that could get me out of this mess. But you know too much about me. And I can’t say I have very warm feelings towards the Republic right now.” Was that too close to treason? An wasn’t sure. “Plus… I think I owe you my life. If you hadn’t bailed me out, I’m sure they would’ve wanted to do more than chat.”
“What is it? What do you need me to do?”
Just then, the attendant returned holding a platter under a cloche. They set it down on the table in front of An and removed the lid, revealing a piece of meat that had been cut into a perfect cube. On top sat a golden, caramelized onion that had been chopped and shaped into a lotus. Underneath the steak, was a small bed of vegetables and a streak of white sauce that smelled of garlic that had been pushed in a wide arc away from the rest of the meal.
The attendant bowed and then left.
”Enjoy the fox antelope and when you’re done, you’re going to help me find the Avatar.”