Ten years after the final battle, Aang worries about the future of the airbenders. A surprise shows him that things are never as simple as he thinks, and reminds him about where his powers come fro...
It seemed like he was constantly working to smooth relations, flying to Omashu or Ba Sing Sei, or the Fire Nation's capital to speak to heads of state, or to villages to negotiate agreements between Fire Nation colonists and Earth Kingdom villagers. Still. It was nearly ten years since the coronation of Firelord Zuko, and a thousand little things were still cropping up. Aang thought if he could get everything settled for his next life, he would be doing pretty good. It would be nice if a problem that had arose for a Fire Nation Avatar didn't extend into a Water Tribe Avatar's lifetime.
At least he had gotten time off for his own wedding. And, once the children were born, he was going to make time for things. After all, how could he care for the world if he couldn't care for his own family? He already had plans to take them to each of the Air Temples, telling them about the part of their family they would never know. Katara had smiled at this, and mentioned that if they were going to be visiting the Air Temples as a family -- and how that phrase made him smile -- then they would also have to visit their waterbending cousins, and their family in all nations -- Sokka, and Toph, and Zuko, and Iroh.
Even the Swampbenders, he asked.
Even in the swamp, she had replied with a smile.
Appa landed on the open flagstones of the Northern Air Temple. Teo and his family had been standing there to meet them, clear of the rush of air from Appa's bending. Teo wheeled up. "Glad you two could come!"
"I wouldn't miss the Festival of the Air," Aang said. "Not after we started it."
The Festival had been an old Airbender custom, in the early spring when the winds sang through the alpine valleys near the temples. Young Airbenders -- and the young at heart, as Monk Gyatsu reminded him -- would sail through the valleys, their gliders or sky-bison decorated with ribbons that showed the twisting and turning of the winds. It was a spiritual exercise, one in riding the strong winds, instead of forcing them, but it also was an art, and tremendous fun. The residents of the Northern Air Temple had been only too willing to take it up again, in their own mechanical crafts. Lately, even some outsiders had taken to traveling to the Festival. The Fire Nation even had sent a group of children with kites last year, trying to take some of the sting out of the memories of firebenders in the sky that people on the southern coast of the Earth Kingdom still thought of.
"Are you two going to be flying today?" Teo asked as the two of them dismounted.
"Not me," Katara said. "My stomach can barely take riding sedately on Appa." She patted the bison affectionately, as if to say that it wasn't his fault that she couldn't stomach flying right now. Katara looked all right to Aang. Maybe a little tired, and he noticed she had clutched the pouch of tea Iroh had blended for her when they had found out she was pregnant. Iroh and Kanna had gotten into a bit of a discussion on that matter -- for every medicinal brand of seaweed Kanna had wanted to include, Iroh had refused half of them for adding the wrong flavor to the tea. In the end, Pakku had jokingly threatened to toss everything into the sea and see what floated to the top to settle the matter, and Kanna and Iroh had joined forces to shoo him away from their work area.
"I was planning on at least helping with the opening and closing," Aang said. "But last year I didn't get enough time to watch anything myself, so I was just going to sit with Katara."
"Well," Aditi, Teo's wife, said, "You two are welcome to sit with me and Pao here." She motioned to her daughter, who had been eying them all, especially Momo, curiously. Momo jumped back up onto Appa's back, chittering loudly. Aang remembered that two years ago, Pao, who had just learned how to run, had spent most of the festival chasing Momo around the temple. Momo had never cared much for her after that.
"Pao, pretty soon you'll be old enough to fly in the festival, huh?" Katara asked.
Pao nodded shyly. "We're planning on starting her with kites soon," Teo said. "My father is already making her some. I had to talk him out of adding too many extra features. He's planning on sending Sokka some of the designs."
Katara nodded. "I'm sure the Kyoshi kids will get a kick out of kite-flying."
It took a bit for Aang to settle Appa, letting him rest before the opening ceremonies, and then make sure Katara had been settled in all right. She was sitting next to Pao, a cup of tea in her hands. The pot and a tray was sitting next to her, and a pair of viewing glasses were in her lap. "Where's Aditi?" he asked.
"I volunteered to watch Pao so she could fly this year," Katara said. "She's been missing it, and if I'm going to be sitting here anyway, I might as well be helpful."
"Oh," Aang said. "Well, I guess that's all right. If you don't mind."
Katara shook her head. "It's fine, Aang."
"Just don't catch a chill or anything," Aang said.
Katara gave him a skeptical look. "Aang, I grew up on an ice floe. If there's anything I know about, it's how not to get cold." She smiled at him. "Don't worry so much, all right? I'm not made of porcelain." She tapped the cup, causing it to ring. "I won't break."
"Right," Aang said, leaning in to give her a quick peak on the cheek. "Sorry."
"It's fine," Katara said. "Gran-Gran says Dad was like this when Mom was pregnant with Sokka. The village ended up with enough fish and penguin-seal to last for the next year since she sent him hunting and fishing to get him out of Mom's hair."
"That won't work with me," Aang said. "Vegetarian, remember?"
"Oh, go fly." Katara waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal, but her laugh showed Aang that she wasn't being that serious. It was a bit of a running joke these past months when the two of them were together -- he would fuss over her, and she would tease him for worrying too much.
He returned to Appa's side, and stowed the saddle but leaving the rest of his tack, affixing the Airbender-gold streamers to it. Appa had become a bit fussy about things hanging off his saddle. He hadn't been when he was a kit, but people change when they grew up, even sky bison. Aang had been careful to keep them on items Appa was used to, and made sure they only came on for the festival. He also offered a set to Momo, who had allowed him to fix them to him. "All secure?" he asked the both of them.
Appa bellowed and Momo chittered and both did an experimental loop in the sky, checking to make sure that the streamers wouldn't trip up the movements that both required to fly. Aang had retrieved his own glider, similarly decorated.
"Ready to go?" Teo asked, as Aditi helped him fix his glider to his chair. Both of them were wearing aviator's clothing, goggles pushed up onto their foreheads, and a bit brighter than normal, but still the greens and browns of the Earth Kingdom, with perhaps little patches of other color. Aditi had woven in pink flowers into her braid, and he could see her glider, near the back, had streamers to match.
"Yep," Aang said, unfolding his glider.
A leap and he was airborne. The opening ceremonies, with their crowds of fliers, were pretty sedate. Flying was as effortless as walking for Aang; he let his arms and legs move the glider and the air to keep him aloft in the winds. On either side, Appa and Momo flew, Appa at the even pace that he could maintain for hours, Momo circling around the both of them, showing the agility of a flying lemur that few humans, even airbenders, could imitate.
Being in the air, flying at a steady pace with arms and legs working rhythmically to maintain altitude and his body feeling the wind for changes, gave him time to think. He had flown once in the Festival once when he was a kid, before he had been trapped in the iceberg. Then the crowds had been full of airbender gliders and sky bison, with crowds of wild flying lemurs drawn to the events by the noise and the free fruit left out for them. Now, they had the new gliders and balloons, people Aang himself had welcomed as in tune with the air, but who still were a bit of a change. Even the lemurs were gone. Teo had mentioned last year that the residents kept an eye out for lemurs when exploring below the tree line, but none had been found.
He did a graceful turn, letting himself corkscrew a bit, and bringing the procession back to the place where the spectators were sitting. He spotted Katara in the audience, watching him, and he wanted to wave, if he didn't need both hands for a sudden gust of wind. She had seen him, though, and waved, then pointed behind him, showing Pao where her parents were. Pao broke into a grin and waved as well. Katara had always been a kind person, good at interacting with other people. She had taken to being an aunt quite well when Sokka's firstborn came into the world, and would probably take motherhood just as well.
That was another thing that had changed for him. Airbenders didn't tend to take up with other benders -- for that matter, most airbenders wouldn't even be living around the opposite sex. Aang had never learned how the matter of making new airbenders was sorted out between the monks and nuns -- perhaps at festivals like this, when all four Temples gathered together. But, he had been too young to ask the details of the monks, and it wasn't like he could bring out Yangchen just for his own curiosity. Another tradition lost, but, unlike the airbenders of before, his children would grow up knowing both parents.
Aang frowned, and the glider dipped. If his children were airbenders at all. It wasn't something he had thought about before, as every Air Nomad he had known was an airbender, even a weak one. But, there weren't any records of what happened when two benders of different nations had children. Zuko had promised to check for any children of Fire Nation soldiers or colonists and Earth Kingdom citizens, but he had yet to turn up either an Earthbender or a Firebender. Maybe bending couldn't be passed on when the parents were too different. Then he really would become the last airbender, not just the last air monk.
He righted the glider. Stop worrying when you're flying, he thought. Now, the rest of the parade behind him, only the landing was left. He brought his glider in over the crowd, and landed, Appa and Momo setting down right behind him. "Come on, Appa," he said. "We have to clear the area for everyone else." The bison bellowed in acknowledgement, shifting towards the edge of the clear spot, and settling down with a whuff. Momo landed on his head.
Katara and Pao stepped down the few rows of seats between them and the floor. "Are you all right? That wasn't as neat as your normal flying."
Aang couldn't help but feel pleased that she could pick things out like that. "Just was thinking..." he said.
"About what?" Katara said.
"Can I mention it later?" he asked. "I don't want to ruin the festival."
Katara frowned. "Well, all right. But don't think you're getting out of it. You know how you get when you keep your worries inside."
They both jerked their heads when they heard a screech. Pao, seeing Momo, had apparently tried to chase the lemur down. Momo had leaped into the air and was flying to the edge, Pao in pursuit as fast as her little legs could take her.
"Pao! Be careful of the edge!" Katara said.
Aang spared a glance at the incoming gliders, trying to swerve to avoid the child. Teo and Aditi were still in the air. "I'll get her," he said. Letting the air speed his steps, he ran for the little girl, tryign to cut her off before she got near the edge.
Momo had reached the edge and Pao was leaning out. "Momo!" she called, trying to compel the lemur to land. A gilder was bearing down on the both of them. Momo and the pilot both swerved, and Pao lost her balance. She screamed as she went over the edge.
Aang leaped into the air, following her over the edge. He shifted the air out of his way, trying to fall as fast as he could to overtake the small girl. Some of the other gliders were trying to lose altitude as well, but they couldn't risk dropping like he could. An airbender could pull out of a dive in ways a glider couldn't. Teo or Aditi might try, though, unless they saw him. Maybe even if they did.
Pao was flailing and screaming her lungs out. There was almost a pattern to how she moved her arms, like she was trying to mimic the birds. Aang blinked as he drew near her, Is she really...?
He reached out his arms to grab her and got clocked in the face in the process, but he kept hold. "Pao, can you hold onto me?" he asked, once he was certain he had her pulled close to him. "Hold on tight." Once he felt her arms around his neck, he freed his own hands, reached for his glider and sprung it out, then used every bit of bending he could to stop their fall.
Returning up was slow -- they had fallen a long way -- but they were met by Katara and Appa before they got all the way up. Katara helped pull them onto the bison's back. By the time the four of them had returned to the temple, Aang was happy to pass off Pao to her grateful mother.
"I don't know how we can repay you," Teo said.
Aang smiled. "No problem. I mean, I wasn't going to let a kid fall."
"Still," Teo said. "Pao's our special little girl."
"She may be more special than you think," Aang said. "Teo, I thought I saw her airbending to slow her fall."
All of them -- Katara, Aditi, Teo and anyone in earshot -- just paused and stared at him. "I don't think I have any Air Nomad family," Teo said, looking at Aditi.
"Me neither. I had a couple of Earthbending cousins that died in the war," she said.
"I don't know," Aang said. "Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I don't think I could have caught her if she wasn't slowing her fall somehow."
"Aang," Katara said. "You told Teo and the Mechanist and the people here that you thought of them as the heirs to this place. Maybe the temple is recognizing them as their own sorts of heirs."
Aang paused. "The temple and the mountains and the skies. We do get our powers from where we live. Maybe it's not a matter of which country your ancestors came from, but where your heart lies."
"Avatar," Teo said and Aang turned, noticing the change of address from his name. "I would appreciate if some time you would spend some time with the children, then. See if this is true."
Aang nodded. "I would like that, Teo."
It would mean what he thought was lost wasn't; it, like his family, had merely been transformed. He wasn't the last airbender, merely the last of the old meeting the first of the new.
I'm old enough that ages 12 to 16 seems very young, and I'm not that good at picturing characters years older. It is perhaps ironic that two of the post-finale stories I've written are next-generation, then -- darn plotbunnies.
As for the ships, I don't have a strong preference*, so I stuck with the traditional ones, since the canon does some of the work of developing the ship for me. About all I knew was that Aang was old enough to be married and expecting his first child, and knowing that s/he might not be an airbender, and even if s/he was, s/he wouldn't be raised like he was.
* Okay, I lied. I am a fan of Sokka/Suki. And... well, Sokka romance in general, and Sokka in general. But, I don't care all that much about who Aang and Katara end up with as long as they continue to be awesome. Let it be said that my ship of choice is Cast of Avatar/Awesomeness.