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Chapter Eight: Innocence
The baby's warm brown eyes, rich like chocolate, gaze into his.
"He's so sweet," he whispers, cradling the little tyke carefully, afraid of dropping him or hurting him. The infant squeals and grasps his outstretched finger, placing it into his mouth.
She is watching him, her eyes soft and understanding. He glances at her, and she smiles. "You'll make a wonderful father someday," she admits, holding her arms out to receive the child.
He shakes his head ever so slightly. "Ssh. He's almost asleep." The two-year-old's eyebrows have indeed gone slack, and his eyes were closed.
He can count the infant's eyelashes.
The baby's chest begins to rise and fall deeply, indications of his present state. Moving so slowly so as not to disturb the tyke, he seats himself cautiously on the edge of the log. The others are all deep in slumber.
Except for him and her.
"Aang . . ."
"Ssh," he answers again, absorbed in watching the child. The baby's mouth makes small shapes, Os and Us and upside-down Vs. His chubby hands wriggle in the air, catching butterflies and tiger moths unseen, petting gorilla goats, chasing hog monkeys.
He smiles gradually, terrified of even waking the sleeping tyke with the slight movement of his lips. "He's dreaming. Of what?"
He is holding his own child, one with skin, dark like hers, and eyes, gray like his. His infant gurgles at him, and he offers his finger. The baby's earnest mouth finds it, sucking. He is smiling again, watching him. "Tenzin," he murmurs.
"You make a great father, Aang," she admits, holding her arms out to receive the child.
He shakes his head ever so slightly. "Ssh. He's almost asleep." The tyke's eyebrows have indeed gone slack, and his eyes are closed.
He can count the baby's eyelashes.
He looks up, startled out of his—absolutely wonderful, might he add—daydream. "Katara . . . ?" he starts.
She shakes her head, her expression one of obvious amusement. "You almost fell asleep yourself. You're obviously tired, and no wonder. Here, let me see Tom-Tom. Sleep. Please?"
His gaze slips down at the child again. "In a second, Katara. Ssh. I'm enjoying the moment." He can almost imagine those brown eyes replaced with a stormy gray, the pale skin with a deeper color, the mop of black hair with an arrowhead.
She is laughing. "Your kids are going to love you," she tells him, and he beams. "Whoever it is you have them with." His shoulders fall. "I wouldn't mind having a husband like you, if this is how you act around little children."
Is that good?
Is that bad?
He isn't sure.
He can't say.
And then the question is forgotten.
He is cooing at the child, whose mouth is still sucking on his finger.
Looking at the infant's face, so placid, so peaceful, so pure, he knows that he has never seen such innocence.
Except, in time, his own.
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