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Poetry credit to William Blake
January 25, 2015
I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall.
part the first | and
The first time you see her, she's wearing strange clothes, the style unfamiliar. They're blue and fur-lined, but not like the fur that rests on your mother's shoulders in the form of a scarf. The other woman's fur is white and poofy; it looks warm and functional. Your mother's should be orange—it came from a tiger monkey, if you can remember correctly (and of course you can). It should be orange and it was until a few short minutes ago, but you don't really want to think about the events that happened in between. So, you don't.
You think about the time she bought it; a travelling merchant had come through the streets and your mother has always loved their stories. This time, she fell in love with the colour; you fell in love with the feeling. Soft and silky, the merchant claimed, and you couldn't find anything to dispute him. Your mother bought it on the spot and, every so often, would wrap it around your neck as you cuddled into her. It always smelled like her, and she made sure to wear it whenever you went out to dinner.
Your father bought you one of your own, and said you looked just like your mother. The baker down the road asked if she was your sister and you laughed because she does look like your sister. And you know he was just being nice, but he's old and harmless and he would always give you a fruit tart whenever you visited, and you'd always thank him with a curtsey and a smile.
You've always made sure to wear yours whenever your mother wears hers, but tonight is different, and your shoulders are bare. It's strange, you think (or you try to) because your scarf is still the same colour as your mother's, even as the fine hairs become matted and sticky, red seeping down into the follicles. Her hair sticks to it, wrapped around her throat like a noose, and you know that your own scarf, pressed deep into her side, doesn't help at all. A strangled cry forces its way out your throat and you look towards the corner of the room where your father is. You remember the intruder striking him across the head, watching as he collapsed in a heap while your mother pushed you further back.
It was only seconds (was it?) later that you were on the floor, the firebender with the trigger-happy attitude looking down at you as her friends raided your home. She raised a fist, a smirk on her face; both dropped as the echo of sirens sounded in the distance. They aren't for you and yet, but it doesn't matter. They didn't hang around after that.
And in the silence afterward that isn't really silent, filled with shallow breaths that choke the both of you, another woman appears, blue eyes soft and mouth curled in a tender smile that seems so out of place and yet so right at the same time because everything about her is so familiar and so calming. Her mere presence is a bayside breeze; ice cream during a hot day. A warm hug. And all you know is how wrong it should feel right now.
It's the first time you see her and she's wearing a blue parka with white fur trimmings. You hate it. You hate it because that's your mother's look and you maybe need to direct whatever you're feeling somewhere else instead of facing the harsh reality that there's a strange, brown-haired and blue-eyed woman standing above where your mother has fallen to the ground, the metallic tang of blood seeping into your very pores and filling your nose. You can feel it stain your soul and carve thick scars into your heart with each cell, each piece of skin that falls victim to its horrifying colour.
And maybe you're angry with yourself, too, because your mother is smiling as though she's trying to hold you together, in that non-condescending 'everything is going to be okay,' and all you can do is shudder and shake as everything convulses because it's not going to be okay. It's not, it's not, and you should be looking at your mother because she needs you, but you can't tear your eyes away from the woman, even as your own tears sting, blinding you.
Your mother whispers your name and suddenly you do have the power to move. The sobs start in your chest and choke you as you try to hold them back, and you want to say her name but you can't. Instead, you grab her hand and hold it to your cheek because you want everything to be false in this moment; everyone dies alone. You can only make half that statement come true—you only have that power—but you're going to use it to make the world a better place for just a little while longer. Because you need your mother as much as she needs you and you know, you just know, that there isn't time to make whole new memories or partake in entire experiences.
So you kneel by her side and nuzzle your head into her throat. Her scent is awash with ash and blood but you can still smell her underneath, just barely. Those wisps of lavender and soap you don't ever want to forget, and that never failed to remind you of her sweet caresses whenever you felt lost.
Her thumb grazes along your cheek for as long as it has strength, and you whisper I love you against her skin one final time. And she just smiles at you, and you know she means it too. The last word on her lips is your name, and it's something you'll treasure forever.
The girl with the white fur settles across from you and touches your mother's heart, and you know she's at peace.
part the second | then
It's at your mother's funeral that you see her again. The woman. She smiles at you, softly, and you know it's supposed to be sympathetic. It doesn't make you feel any better. It just reminds you of what you've lost, who you've lost.
You sit silently at the wake on your father's lap. It's not his presence that comforts you; rather, the generic feeling of another human. You can't help but want your mother, and yet you know that is something that's never going to happen.
You will, in the future, envy those children who don't understand the loss of a parent. You never had that luxury.
Other people move and talk and speak softly about your mother and it's all nonsense and noise.
The brown-haired girl stands in the corner, no fur lining her shoulders, hair in a ponytail, and everyone ignores her as though she is invisible.
The next few weeks are the most difficult as you try to regain some semblance of normalcy. You don't have to go to school and you think maybe you want to because while Mr. Kai, the butler, is nice, he isn't your father, and your real one isn't even there. You want people who can talk to you as you, not 'yes, Ms Sato' or 'no, Ms Sato' or even 'as you wish, Ms. Sato.'
You want to be able to run around and play and pretend as if your heart is in it, even though it feels like it was buried in the earth along with your mother.
And you still see that woman.
She never talks to you, never approaches you. And you find yourself not minding. Her presence is a comfort as your life falls apart in shambles; a father who disappears and a mother who's never coming back. She, this woman, is the constant you need in your life. But, you still know there's something... strange about her. You try not to look at her because that action feels wrong, like you've put the wrong shoe on the wrong foot, or you've accidentally stopped the string with your index and not your middle finger when practising your erhu. Like she's someone who shouldn't be seen (and doesn't that just intrigue you further, because you can see her).
But that's not really a problem because you don't have to see her to know she's there, and she doesn't have to talk for you to know that you've got her attention. She leaves, sometimes, for a few minutes or hours, but she never stays away for long.
And you sort of feel like you should be scared because this strange woman doesn't leave you alone, and yet you're not because she's always giving you a soft smile and you can believe it where you didn't believe your mother's. This woman has the power to speak the truth and truly, everything will be okay. Her smile is small, and eye-contact fleeting, and you think she's maybe just shy. But if she can make everything better for you, you can make it better for her. The thought that maybe you can be friends brings out a soft grin, and you know.
Everything will be okay.
It's in the night before your return to school that you wake, wet and trembling from your very first, but by no means last, nightmare.
Perhaps it should be strange that the sight of the woman, sitting by your fire and reading an old almanac of children's poems, calms you, but you don't really think so. You slide from your covers and move over to her, silent as she. When you take the book from her and flick to the first one, she says nothing, and even as you plop down next to her and begin reading, slowly and hesitating, she remains silent.
You lose track of time, bathed in the comforting glow of both the fire and the woman. Your eyes grow weary with strain and yet you're still reluctant to put the book down and go to sleep. The sensations and emotions that had awoken with the nightmare have long since faded, and yet the memories still plague you.
When finally you do succumb to sleep, it's with a gentle drift, and she shepherds you back to bed. The time has been lost but that doesn't matter because for a moment in time, everything else ceased to exist.
In that perilous space between sleep and consciousness, a thought drags through your mind and you don't have the willpower to stop it as it slides easily to cross your tongue and waft into the delicate air between the two of you.
"Are you a Guardian Angel?"
She pauses for a moment and looks at you, and though she smiles and you're half-asleep, you don't see any sort of joy. You close your eyes because you don't want to see it and continue the question.
You don't want to be alone. Neither, it seems, does she.
"Can you be my Guardian Angel?"
And when she nods, slowly, even reluctantly, you don't mind because you know the nightmares aren't going to come back. You don't mind because her eyes light up with the prospect, for reasons you're too young to realise, and you wonder if that's who she wanted to be all along.
Your return to school is uneventful. You're quiet and reserved, and you sit in the library while your friends play on the swings. They don't talk to you much anymore, but that's okay, because the brown-haired woman has taken their place anyway. You begin to talk to her, and even though she never responds, it still makes you feel better. She nods along and despite the muteness, engages. You read out your homework to her and explain your sums, and everything falls into an easy companionship of pseudo-big-sister-little-sister.
Your life isn't perfect, and this may be the closest you get to happiness. There's a small price you pay after your teacher sees you laughing to someone he can't see, and your father is alerted of your tendencies to talk—seemingly—to thin air. You know that no one else can see her but that's okay because you don't really want to share her anyway. You're made to see a "professional" and made to talk about what you're feeling, and how you're coping. It does absolutely nothing, and it's confusing because, obviously, to you, if they can't fix anything, then there is nothing to fix. You're "all right".
But it's not all right. The months and years move forward and you can feel something happening to you. It's only a little, and it's only gradual, but you can't quite shake the feeling that it's anything but good.
It's only when things start actually going wrong that you become scared.
All the plants in the conservatory die and though your father replaces them, there must be something in the water because they never last long. You try your hand at cultivating a bonsai, and then a simple fern, and the finally a cactus from the Si Wong Desert, and yet even that simple thing doesn't survive.
You give up on that endeavour and resign yourself to your father's factory. Engines don't die in the same way those plants did.
But, you still can't escape completely. Not when your class gets a little baby fire ferret and it's just about the most adorable thing you've ever seen. You pull a number from a hat and think you're just about the luckiest person at that moment because you get to take him home for that first weekend. Your Angel gives you a tight smile and you positively beam.
There's no hint of that smile when you return to school early the following Monday, an empty cage clutched in your hands and tears threatening to spill over because you didn't mean to and everything was okay before it wasn't and you know you did everything right; you know you did.
The teacher says it's okay, but when they get a new ferret and it happens a second time, there becomes an unspoken rule that you're not allowed to go near the class pets. You don't even have to take them home.
The brown-haired, blue-eyed woman that only you can see puts her hair in a ponytail and avoids your gaze for a few days.
A week after that, she vanishes, and the only sign she was ever there is the gaping hole in your heart that leaves you unable to breathe.
part the third | there
When you're sixteen, you fall sick with a fever that seems to last for months; you only have one wish and it never comes to fruition. You only have—had—one friend and it doesn't matter if she was a hallucination or imaginary or something in between. She was yours, and now you don't even know why, of all reasons because even delirious, she doesn't appear to soothe or comfort you. The nightmares return with a passion, intent on getting back at you after being locked away for so many years. This time, there's no girl by the fire to comfort you.
You don't move from your room, weak with fatigue. The doctors can't find anything wrong with you, and your father stays by your bedside for hours on end until he can't bear to look at you any more; you remind him too much of your mother now, lying peacefully in your bed. He tried, and he still visits you when you're awake and up for it. It's when you're still and silent that he can't hope, and you can't resent him for that.
You don't feel anything except the scorching flushes and biting cold that seems to attack your body in turns, leaving you exhausted and unable to eat or sleep. Your very soul cries out for the comfort of the one person who had brought it to you throughout these long years, and yet you don't get any reply. You don't see her again, and even in your dreams, she's warped, something ugly that doesn't deter you, but rather makes you want to reach out and bring her back to you as she was.
When you see someone standing in the corner of your room, your heart almost stops because it's not her, and you don't know why that thought is so painful. Your chest grows cold, icing over as a little devil begins figure-skating across it, leaving deep gouges across the sensitive flesh.
He has dark eyes and even darker hair, a red scarf wrapped around his throat. You wonder for a moment whether it is to stave off the cold seeping into his skin, or to prevent his own natural chill from reaching you.
He takes a few steps forward and you're terrified. You curl and force yourself deeper into your sheets, but nothing helps. Your breath condenses in the air, appearing in tiny puffs one after the other.
There's no comforting smile from him, and though you want to, it's impossible to take solace in the regretful frown. You shut your eyes because you don't know what's happening; you only know that you want it to stop. You want him to go away and you want your friend back.
His footsteps are silent as he moves across your room. You can feel it in the air, a swirling breeze that seems to carry everything good and kind from you, that nothing is well. Nothing is good and this man terrifies you beyond measure because you've felt something so similar from your Guardian Angel. A benevolence that should lend peace but doesn't.
"Please," you murmur, choking, and you wonder if he hears you. You don't know what you're begging for, but that doesn't matter. You just know, somehow, that it's the thing to do.
When he halts, halfway deep into your room, you find the courage to open your eyes, and at once have to shut them again because now you're dreaming. This is a nightmare you can't wake up from but, like all of them, it doesn't matter so much.
Not when your Angel is there.
She stands tall, blocking him from your gaze. In her hand is a strange tool—a sickle, perhaps. It's hard to see in the darkness of the hour, and you don't really care anyway. She glances at you from the corner of her eye, mane of hair moving slightly in a breeze that doesn't exist and leaning forward slightly. She's shorter than the man, but not by much, and you find yourself incapable of looking away.
You're not scared anymore—you can't be, not when she's here—and all you want now is for the man to leave. You'll finally be at peace then.
He doesn't, though. For the longest while, he stands there, she in front of him, the silence deafening. Even your own breaths are hardly more than puffs, and the only thing you can hear is your heartbeat in your ears.
And then he utters a single word and vanishes, and the room warms up and she turns to you, that same soft smile present on her face.
Almost immediately, you're blinded by the thick tears that begin to collect in your eyes. It hurts and you can barely breathe, but this is a good feeling; your heart is lighter than it's been in a long while and you can't keep the smile from your face. You feel more alive now than you have these past few bedridden weeks, and suddenly, you're sobbing, pure unadulterated relief embedded in every tear.
You manage a soft, "You came back," and her answering grin is just about the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. She cocks her head for a moment, and you see her eyes roam up and down your visage. You know your pallor is horrifyingly grey and you can barely sit up without tiring, but you do it anyway just because of the smile it brings to her face.
You pat the spot next to you, offering her a seat, but she shakes her head. You can see the longing in her eyes—she does want to be close to you—and yet refuses. You're confused for as long as you have the strength, but as she pulls up your desk chair and sits close, you find it's good enough. She wants to be here with you, and that's all that truly matters.
You fall asleep with a smile on your face, that single word uttered by the strange man bouncing around your head, unforgettable.
You don't really get better. There's still illness in your body, in your soul, and no amount of medicine helps. Your father has hired the best doctors, tried traditional medicine and acupuncture—even a Spiritual Medium—before it becomes truly apparent (or maybe he just accepts it?) that you'll never regain your former strength.
Your illness has aged your father. It's evident in the white streaks of hair that once were mild strings of grey. He's lost weight, just like you, and he doesn't stay awake so long in the night, reading transcripts and budgets and dossiers.
You'd think that such an evident sign that he wasn't going to last forever would prompt you to spend more time together, but it doesn't. You instead retreat into your room, or the library, and study smaller mechanisms, your Angel ever watchful.
When he passes, three months after your eighteenth birthday, you don't know how to react. You loved him as a daughter loves a father, and yet you never felt close to him. Your relationship was strained and he was distant and you just like to think that he's with your mother, now. Maybe it's a better place, maybe not. As long as he's happy, you can be so too because you're not alone, either.
Maybe that's all it takes to be happy.
part the fourth | were
She doesn't leave your side at all now. When you wake up, she's there with a smile, and when you go to bed she's always in your dreams. She calms you, walks with you through your nightmares; though they don't completely vanish as they once did, but you find yourself not minding at all because she's there, braving them with you.
And you wonder if she ever has any nightmares, if she does indeed sleep at all. What would she dream about to terrify her?
You ask her one night, hours after awaking from from a brief terror that has you clutching at your chest and wiping away tears. You don't even remember what it was about, but that's hardly the most pressing concern. She wordlessly hands you the book of poems and listens intently as you read from it, though you both have them memorised by now. Because she doesn't touch and she doesn't speak, but that has never mattered because she's still there. They speak louder than the gestures that so easily become forced, so easily become empty. You catch her twitching a little from the corner of your eye, and there's nothing you want to do more than clasp her hand and hold it to your heart. But, you don't. You never have and you wonder if you ever will.
You continue to shake even as you read, and it takes a few moments to realise that your pyjamas are drenched in sweat; it's no nerves but the chill seeping into you that is causing you to tremble like a sapling in a summer storm. You wonder if you've caught another fever for a moment, and meeting your Angel's eyes, you can see the conflict within the deep orbs; you can see she wants to approach you but she doesn't.
And maybe it's the first time, or just the first time you notice, but that thought stings a little. You ignore it because you don't want to think about, and you force yourself back into the easy routine. It's not like you could touch her anyway. She's an angel. Right?
Regardless of what you tell yourself, there's a curling in your stomach as she watches you, same as she's always done, and you offer her a shaky smile because you're still feeling a little sick from the dream.
And then you ask about hers, and you're not really expecting a reply because she never actually replies, but then she looks at you, eyes meeting, and you do have an answer.
No eyes filled with so much pain, so much regret, are eyes that dwell in that realm of peace.
You don't fall back asleep after that. Your mind is awhirl and you want to keep talking but you can't because there's something different that you feel, rather than see. Swallowing thickly, a lump in your throat that feels like tonsillitis and hurts like you're being choked, you bite your lip.
"Do... I give you nightmares?"
And you're suddenly six again, looking down at your mother and wanting to believe her smile with all your heart; wanting to believe that it's all okay. And you can't believe that smile because it's been ingrained in your mind as the one people give when they're trying to comfort you, regardless of their own pain.
Because yes, you give her nightmares and she's not even able to share her grievances with you. And maybe that hurts more than your own nightmares because you want to be able to help her. To comfort her as she has comforted you.
And you realise, not with a jolt but with a dawning like a summer sun, that you want her to be happy. You want to be the one to make her happy, and isn't that a strange thought? She's not really real, but that doesn't sit well with you anyway. She's real to you, has been for most of your life. It doesn't matter the technicalities.
But that doesn't mean you can ignore the fact that something has changed, and you didn't notice it at the time because there hasn't been a time, really. It's all just been a culmination of feelings and sensations, honed over a decade, from a terrified six-year-old, looking for an anchor in the most terrible storm, to an eighteen-going-on-nineteen-year-old who has never had anyone else and now never wants to.
But you still push down that little thought, that little feeling. It does no good, and the impossibility of it all is all but overwhelming. You throw yourself into whatever is most distracting, whether it be work or research or even dating. And of course that doesn't work—it only makes you feel worse, and you can't even place why. Everything feels so much better when she's by your side, and it almost hurts when you ask her for some privacy as you go out to dinner with the daughter of a business associate. You've never, ever asked that of her before, and you can't begin to imagine, if it hurts you, what it feels like for her. Maybe you could, if you let yourself watch the way her eyes widened and face fell. Her gaze finds the floor and she nods softly, and you can't really swallow properly because your mind is running with every single reason that she might possibly react in such a way, and you don't like any of them.
That first time, she left with such hesitance that you couldn't stop thinking about her the entire night. Your date was a fiasco, a string of awkward silences and poorly-worded conversation that left you catching a taxi home alone halfway through as your date left, heels clattering on the timber of the restaurant, your mouth open in surprise and confusion spread across your face as you tried to process what happened.
Further attempts are only slightly more successful. You manage to get a second, and then a third day with the same girl, and you think everything's okay. You're twenty-one and have a budding social life. It's all new and novel and fun, you think.
When she leans in to kiss you—an innocent goodnight peck—the only sensation that courses through you is how wrong something feels. Not the kiss itself. You don't have time to dwell in that moment, because, retrospectively, it's a good kiss.
No, instead it's in the way your heart sinks and burns and tears; the lead in your arms that make it impossible to move. Your lips begin to prickle just as she pulls away, and you give her a tight smile that's mostly just a reaction to the numbness that has begun to seep across your face.
You thank her for a lovely night and never call her again.
You stop dating. There's no point. It's like continuing to eat after you're full, or staying awake when you're too exhausted to blink. It's impossible and frustrating and you know it would end in sadness because what you're looking for isn't out there. It's in here, already with you.
And it's stupid because it hurts and tires you and it makes you physically ill, for reasons that are outside your comprehension. Your annual bout of flu worsens each year. You can barely move some days as pure exhaustion takes over each and every cell, and it feels like you're 16 again but worse because this is so slow; what is there to do to help?
You know what it means, and as each day passes, you care less about that and more about your Angel. And you know that she's not quite the Guardian you asked for, or the one you imagined. And you sort of wonder why you didn't understand sooner; perhaps you were too blind, or too naïve? Or maybe you just didn't care.
You still don't.
So, you call her forward, watching her step silently from her ever-watchful position in the corner of the room. You're holding that same anthology of poetry from so many years ago, crushed to your chest like a pathetic shield; the pen is mightier than the sword, so what does that make a book?
She stops short of you, silent as ever, smiling softly. It's evident in her eyes that she doesn't quite understand what you're doing, and for now, you think that's good. Her smile doesn't quite reach her eyes, but then, you wonder if they ever have. That's become just another detail that doesn't matter because she's always smiled for you. And perhaps she would think herself a monster, smiling in her position, or believe you think her such, but that is quite irrelevant, too. You weren't supposed to notice, not her looks, nor the burden she carries with her. It's too late now.
So, you take those last few steps forwards and watch her expression lift slightly, confusion scrawled in the furrow of her brow and the corners of her eyes. There's a fear there, too, as you get too close, but even as she backs away a little, you are there to follow her. The name you've kept tucked inside your heart comes spilling out in a soft whisper, and the way she looks in that moment is indescribable. You don't want to describe it. There is only one thing you want to do, and so, without any hesitation, though you know what your actions mean, you lean up, closing the final boundary that was never meant to be crossed. Not by you, not willingly.
And you think softly, smiling when you press your lips to hers, that everything is worth it for this moment.
But that passes; not the feeling, but the moment. You can feel it, penetrating deeper than your bones and far into the crevices of your soul, this unending fatigue that's more than something bodily, and perhaps you've known it for a while now and you know precisely what it means, but the only thought that you care to entertain is that some things are worth dying for; this one is, by far, the greatest reason of all.
part the fifth | two
The first time she talks to you is what you know to be the final time you see her. It's the only time she doesn't smile. And maybe it's because you're a little older, a little wiser, but you know that all those other times, those other smiles, weren't really real anyway.
Guardian Angels don't exist.
You know that now, but strangely (or perhaps not), you're not as angry as you thought you'd be. You can't be angry, not as she holds out her hand to you, her own face shining with a wetness you've never seen on her features, the light behind her failing to render her a complete silhouette.
And you think that tears don't belong on a face so pure, and that it should be you crying. You wonder if this is how she felt, each time she came to you. Why would she do that if she knew this outcome was the only one that could possibly occur?
And it cuts you, this sight, but you refuse to let yourself cry. The tightness that has formed in your chest builds, forcing its way up your throat as you purse your lips together, held in place by delicate fingers because everything is falling into place and really, everything fell long before that. The stoic woman you grew up admiring, always respected, destined to love, is crying because in life you never get a goodbye, and in death, you only get one, and this is yours.
Because she was never a Guardian Angel at all. You were someone whom bad things happened around, surrounded by death at every corner. They called you unlucky, and though it doesn't help now, you at least can find some small humour in how wrong they were.
You can look at yourself and honestly say you were lucky to survive this long with an Angel of Death on your shoulder.
All this time you thought you needed her, when in actuality, she needed you.
You remain in place as she wipes at her face, collecting the moisture that sits there before trying so hard to give you that last smile. She almost succeeds, and as if it isn't the most heartbreaking sight you've ever seen.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, and at any other time, you might not have forgiven her. The two simple words hold so much more meaning, and now it's you giving a comforting smile that doesn't quite reach your eyes. Not because it's false or disingenuous, but rather, how can you give her such a complete expression at this time?
The first thing she says to you and she's apologising for your life, your death.
So, you take a step forward, only wanting to close the distance a little but instead finding yourself right in front of her. And it's hard to stop there because there's a light that shines behind her and beyond it is something you are drawn to, and it's not even inexplicable. It's the next step, and no one is ever ready to take it. That's what this girl is for. This Angel.
But, you manage to do it, and spirits it's hard. You focus on nothing but her; soft blue eyes that look so lost and so helpless and a quivering lip and the thought that Angels shouldn't cry crosses your mind, fleeting.
You voice that thought because you don't know what else to say. It's easy not being angry, here at the end of all things, and yet you can't help but think back over your life as you do so. How many people died; how many pets and plants; how much Life was drained just so Death could have a home?
But you don't say that. You just look at her with your soft smile and you wait.
You could spend an eternity in here, with her. The light holds no appeal to you because here, in the aether, is something better than your life, and something better than your death. Here, in the aether, is something that you never did, and never will, have in either.
You can see it in those wide blue eyes as she, for the first time, touches you. Her hand is cool but not cold, and you feel as though it should be taking some of your own warmth but it doesn't.
She apologises again, her voice cracking and laced with pain, the words stuttered and pitch scratchy. And it hurts you a little because she's always been able to talk but she's never spoken to you, but not as much as it would once upon a time because you understand everything now. She and that strange, scarf-adorned man, they're the same. And you didn't know at the time what that meant, but now you do.
She never wanted you to hear her voice. Only those near death can hear it. She never wanted to speak because she didn't want to risk finding out if you could hear her. But now it doesn't matter, and she knows that she brought on your passing; you made the decision, but she gave you the choice.
Because you were only twenty-one and you had your whole life ahead of you.
But you don't mind. Well, you do, but that feeling is tucked away in the corner of your head as you gaze at the woman who still can't smile and you smile for her. All your life you were told she wasn't real; all your life you were a talisman of ill-fortune; all your life, you had no one to love you. But that's false.
She's real. It was she who brought Death because she couldn't do much else but...she loved you. Loves you. She doesn't have to say anything at all, but you feel like you have to. You don't know how long you have in this place, nor what the next has in store, but she does. And you want her last memory of you to be a good one. If you have memories to keep, you want yours to be pretty nice, too.
"This is my fault, isn't it?" you say softly, and for a moment your only answer is her horrified gaze. You can see it, below the pain and regret and love, just how wrong she thinks you are, so you press on. "I asked you to protect me from bad—"
"—and instead, I brought it," she finishes. You shake your head and take another step closer, bridging that final bit of distance. She still has those stupid tears and you still have that stupid smile and you wonder for a moment why; you're halfway between life and death with a one-way ticket forward, and you're wasting it arguing with an Angel of Death who really only ever agreed to do one thing for you and that was to guard you.
And you don't care that she knew it would end this way. You don't care that she'd never said anything. How can you, when she has given up her own happiness for you?
No one wants to see the most important person in their life die. You know from experience.
And maybe you were wrong; you thought she'd guard you, protect you. She ended up killing you because you couldn't bear the thought of her leaving. And now she blames herself for it because you were only twenty-one and had years more to become good and great and help others and she took that from you.
But...who's to say that, without her, you would have made it this far anyway?
Life moves out when Death moves in, and yet she is the reason you never came to her earlier.
She doesn't want to hear that, though—can't hear it, you know. So instead, you smile softly at her and lift your hands, arms coming to collect her into an embrace that is still warm, despite everything. And she only cries harder and you wonder how long it's been—years, decades, millennia, aeons—since she last had one. If she last had one.
And you pour as much into it as you can, the good memories and emotions and maybe it's just a little too much for her because she slumps bonelessly against you, arms around your neck as you just hold each other.
"It wasn't supposed to end like this," she whispers against your throat, and you swallow thickly at the words and sensation. No, it wasn't, but it did.
"Nothing ever is," you say instead. "But I wouldn't change anything." You need her to know how much you care, how much she means to you.
And then she's looking at you, eyes heartbreakingly, impossibly wide, an endless ocean of pain and confusion and you know your words don't really change much but you need her to know. She whispers your name, complete reverence etched in every sound, and it only makes everything harder.
The final words you say to her are the first ones she ever heard leave your mouth.
The expression on her face is so heartbreaking that you break your promise, and a single tear slides down your face even as you smile through it.
"I love you, Korra."
The last word on your lips is her name, and it's something she'll treasure forever.
And now the time returns again:
Our souls exult, and London's towers
Receive the Lamb of God to dwell
In England's green and pleasant bowers.
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