Smellerbee hates doing laundry.
He knows because of the way she eyes their dirty garments. She looks at them like they have ruined her life. He knows that's what she's thinking because he can read her even better than she can read him.
He knows she hates laundry because she will wear one outfit several times in a row regardless of what the neighbors think, regardless of what the people who could offer them employment think. Maybe she does this because she wants the neighbors to know how much she despises laundry, and how much she despises social norms, and how much she hates this town - how much she hates them.
He knows because when she actually gets around to doing the chore she grumbles under her breath and practically throws the clothes into the wash tub with slapping splashes that cover the room indiscriminately in soap flakes and water, and she swears when her sloppy actions result in soap getting in her eyes. She reminds him of a child throwing a temper tantrum.
He knows she hates it because she tells him.
Fine. She hates doing laundry. He gets it. He would help her with it, but when he does she just yells at him to leave her alone. He would do it himself, but she just sees this as an insult that he thinks she isn't any good at it, or she thinks that he's trying to guilt her into doing it and then they always get into a huge fight. He would do it himself, but he's busy and it wouldn't kill her to pull some of her weight now and again.
No. No. He doesn't mean that. He's just stressed. Her shoulders sag and her eyes fill with concern. She apologizes, and asks what she can do as she pats him awkwardly on the shoulder.
Well, she could do laundry as he only owns four pairs of pants and they all now smell of ostrich-horse.
She begins to shout again.
Smellerbee hates this town.
She hates the way the people smile and greet her in the morning. Or rather, the way they used to greet her. They've given up trying. What's the point if she's just going to huff, and make a face, and utter veiled insults that take them a moment to understand? She hates how vapid everyone is because they didn't realize immediately that she was offering a slight against their weight or their parentage or the fidelity of their wives. She broods over the fact that no one will speak to her.
She hates the way the sun glints off the wheat in the fields. She claims that it's too bright and too hot. She doesn't understand how anyone's life can revolve around wheat. The people walking to the store houses with bundles of the cereal on their backs and smiles on their weary faces - where were they during the war? Were they here – in this field – singing those insipid work songs? Did they ever have to murder a man and feel his blood drain out beneath their fingers? Did they ever watch as their families were burned alive? Did they ever have to run, panting with burning lungs, through the woods because they were being hunted like rabbits? Did they know that fear?
Did they ever feel the pain of hunger when they were on the run – when they were homeless runaways digging through trash bins – when they were scrounging for lychee nuts in the forest and teaching themselves to trap and skin and cook wildlife so that they wouldn't get sick – when they were the wretched poor in Ba Sing Se? No. They didn't. They had storehouses full of wheat and ovens full of bread.
What did they ever do to stop the atrocities? They grew food stuffs to feed the enemy, that's what they did. Pathetic cowards, the whole lot of them.
They sat comfortably here in this village while she suffered. They had no idea. They could never understand.
She vehemently protested, arguing that this is not her natural environment. It's far and away from everyone and everything she knew. It's a world into which a wild child has no idea how to assimilate, how to participate, how to live. But who did she know before they came here? What was familiar to her in Ba Sing Se? That wasn't a home. The only reason she was in the hideout in the trees was because she had lost everything. As much as she denies it, she wasn't happy there. She was just comforted by mutual suffering. It was not a home.
He knows that the real reason that she tries so hard to reject this place and these people is because she doesn't want to get attached. She doesn't want to lose anything else. She just can't do it again.
He sighs. She will never be happy with her life unless she moves forward and leaves the past in the past.
Her face pinches into a scowl and she slaps her hands down on the table, pushing herself up out of her chair. She slams the door as she leaves the house.
Smellerbee hates Longshot.
He can tell. He's caught her glaring at him the same way she glares at practically everything else. He catches her and her eyes widen in surprise and she ducks her head to avoid his all-seeing gaze. She doesn't really hate him; it's just that it's so easy to do.
He was the one who brought her here, to a place where he's fitting in and she is not, to a place that he likes and she does not, to a place where everyone hates her and adores him. She burns with jealousy, loathing him, loathing herself, loathing him again. How could he forget everything that's happened?
He hasn't forgotten. He will never forget. It's not a completion to prove who morns the most, and who has suffered more.
Although if it was a competition he would win hands down. He wonders how she can be so selfish, and then reminds himself that he's better off not falling into her trap of self pity.
She blames him for Jet's death. Why couldn't he have helped somehow? It's a question that he asks himself late at night. It plagues him and her anger makes it worse. But he knows that she only blames him because it's easier than blaming herself.
Then she blames him for not being Jet. Longshot is nowhere near the leader that Jet was. Jet would never have brought her here. Jet would have understood. Jet would have felt her pain. Oh how she wishes that Jet were here, that he was alive, and that Longshot had died instead.
No, no. She didn't mean that! Really she didn't. Spirits, she's so sorry. No, no, no! Why is she so stupid all the time?
She wails and squeezes her eyes shut. She is shaking in misery.
What can he do?
He's tried to cheer her up, but it never works. He's given up and he hates that he's done that. He hates that he's given up on her, but he reminds himself that he hasn't really. He definitely hasn't. He wouldn't. Never.
Maybe someday she'll learn to like this place. If not like it then tolerate it. Someday all her hurts will scab over, and she'll shed her bitterness like a robe, and she'll open her heart again. Maybe one day she'll smile at the women that greet her. Maybe one day she'll make friends – she'll make a home – a home with him. Maybe all she needs is time.
Or maybe he's deluding himself and she is too damaged to ever be whole again. One day she'll snap and something terrible will happen. She'll run away. She'll kill herself. She'll scream something that can never be taken back and will not be put right with an apology and will quietly destroy both of them.
The truth is that he clings to her. He needs her. His façade of quiet reason is already slipping. He can feel himself clutching it like a drowning man. If she cracks, she will take him down with her. If she leaves, she will destroy him.
So he clings to her. After all, who is he if he's not her foil? Who will know what he's thinking? Who will hate him so that he doesn't have to hate himself?