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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Foreign
"Bato! It looks like home!"
Her words float upon the air, filling it with air and life.
Her brother intervenes. "Everything's here—even the pelts!"
He surveys the scene: A collection of dead animal pelts covers the walls and floors; ahead, something smells disturbing, almost as if someone had left a cat to rot for a few days.
Or a few years, he adds mentally, scanning the room for somewhere to sit that isn't coated in dead skin. "Yeah, nothing's more comforting than dead animal skins."
He cringes slightly at the great leopard bear rug that is upon the floor. Momo sneaks up to it, and the bat lemur's paws gently touch the massive head. It snaps shut, causing Momo to flee.
He doesn't like it here.
Back at the South Pole, sure, he was foreign, but at least he was a good foreign. Here, he is an intruder, infiltrating the life of the girl he loves . . . and not enjoying what he finds.
He understands that this is—Bato?—a member of her father's fleet.
And he also understands that she might find her father here.
No one seems to be paying attention to him. He isn't sure if that is good—or if that is very, very bad. Either, he cannot help but feel out of place, as if someone has gently taken his life and smashed it to bits, leaving behind the decaying carcass of his friends and family.
Here, it doesn't matter what you do or what you say, only that you are part of the Tribe.
"No way! Stewed sea prunes?" Her brother grabs at the pot, and he manages to identify that rotting cat smell from earlier.
Settling himself next to her, he works up some semblance of interest in the proceedings.
She hangs on to Bato's every word. "Help yourself," Bato says, laughing, and her face breaks into a wide smile.
He can feel the happy radiating from her, so happy like she has never been with him.
He casts his gaze upon his hands. What . . . does she not like my company? Am I—I mean, I don't know anything. Come on, Aang. Let her be happy for once. He can feel her joy and glee, and it painfully crushes him.
He doesn't, doesn't, doesn't, doesn't, doesn't belong here.
He is a stranger.
Barely seeming to remember that he is here, she idly passes him a bowl of the steaming hot liquid, and he cups his hands around it. Food is always good, he assures himself. He cools it with Airbending and tries a small spoonful.
Even the food is nasty, he thinks, and his heart is sinking and breaking, destroying itself into small, tiny pieces like a lyre with the strings ripped out.
He doesn't belong.
Like a fish out of water.
It would die, gasping, in the air.
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