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Chapter Fifteen: Silence
He leans against the railing, laughing softly as small currents of air take his nimble paper crane soaring over the heads of the children below. Even at a military camp, there are always the innocent—the wives, sisters, children—the ones who need to protection.
One child in particular giggles loudly and tries to grab at the paper crane, and the others tumble in their pursuits. For that swift moment, all of his troubles seem to lift, and he can finally breathe; he inhales deeply, relishing the sound of mirth echoing.
"Hey, can I talk to you?"
As always when she draws near, he glances up at her, still wearing his usual smile, a half-moon crescent that lights up his entire face with happiness and joy. "Of course," he answers, his gaze shifting to the playing youngsters once more, and he makes a slight gesture with one hand, allowing the crane to rise and fall with the eddies.
"Aang . . . don't do this."
Her words hang like a cloud between them.
The upset cries of the children attract his attention.
Their little toy is no longer floating through the air.
His fingers move involuntarily, but the paper crane refuses to lift; as with all bending, intent is key.
"Aang . . . ?"
The fog in his mind intensifies, obscuring everything he can see and everything he can do.
He cannot escape from the fog.
He cannot escape from his destiny.
He looks away.
He cannot face her, knowing what he will do.
Why won't she understand? Why . . . why does she insist on acting the way she does? Can't she of all people understand his sorrow? His anger? His need to end it?
To end it now, while there is still a world to save?
"Katara, I have to do it," he whispers, terrified that his words will shatter the already frail bonds between them, will turn her from his friend to his enemy. "You know my answer. You don't have to be there."
Yet even as his words float past her, he can feel her fear.
He can feel her grief.
He can feel it radiating from her.
She is shaking her head, shaking it, shaking it, and at the same time she is shaking his heart, shaking it, shaking it. It already lies in the pieces on the floor; why doesn't she simply stamp it out and be done?
"You don't have to do it," she replies softly, her voice so quiet he strains to hear. "Aang . . . it hurts you so much, and that hurts me, too. Please, Aang. Don't cut my soul. Don't."
He struggles to hear her words, for they are barely there.
And then he realizes that she has said nothing, has merely stood there, her face a mirror of his own inner storm.
The silence is so loud . . .
It deafens him.
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