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|B2 Chapter Twelve: Reflections|
The small ferry slipped quietly along the bay until it reached the dock of Air Temple Island, and it's passengers disembarked. Jinora had hoped to reach and enter the island quietly, but so overjoyed were the Air Acolytes to see them that they set off fireworks in honor of the returning heroes. In Republic City, people from all walks of life went out onto balconies and patios to watch the brilliant display. It was soon suspected, then confirmed, then reported by the media that the Avatar had returned to Air Temple Island and the fireworks turning night into day over the island soon found fraternal twins in the fireworks set off from all quarters of Republic City.
Nanaki honestly and sincerely appreciated the celebration in her honor, but she herself found no cause to celebrate. She learned of the total death toll from the Unbelievers initial attack, including one of the three teenaged airbenders she had met. The brave soul had fearlessly given his life saving a dozen Air Acolytes from the assault. Nanaki spent some time collecting wildflowers from the side of the island and went to the graves, where she distributed the flowers and sat at the graveside of the brave boy in meditative silence for the better part of an hour, showing her respects and giving her apology.
As dawn crept softly over the land in her silver shawl, Jinora took a seat at her favorite chair under the awning in the courtyard. The sky overhead was grey and black of cloud, hiding the blue and promising snow in the very near future. Jinora took a sip of her hot tea and took in every detail of the courtyard, and remembered.
Her father, Tenzin, had been sixty-three years old when he left the world as he had walked in it, quietly and without making a fuss. One evening after dinner he kissed his wife Pema, and his children-twenty-five year old Ikki, eighteen year old Meelo, and thirteen year old Rohan, Jinora was not visiting that night-went upstairs to bed, and never came down again. The grief was too much for Meelo, who by this time had developed a closer relationship with Tenzin than the rest of the children had, and he could no longer stomach being at the temple. He left for the Southern Water Tribe after the funeral, where he would remain for the rest of his days. A little over a year later the tragedy with Tozi occurred. Ikki severed all ties with the family and disappeared with her husband into the depths of the Fire Nation. Eight months after that Pema, her heart irreparably broken, had followed her husband and great-grandson.
For many long years Jinora and Rohan alone kept the temple and were the resident Air Nomads. Rohan finally left also, traveling the world as an ambassador of peace until he was tragically killed in a riot in the Earth Kingdom. One by one Jinora watched her friends slip away to the hereafter, until a bright spot of light appeared in the form of Kah-Pa and his wife and infant son and took up permanent residence on the island. Very shortly after that time Avatar Korra's era came to an end. The night before she died, Korra had asked Jinora to go to Ba Sing Se, certain that the Avatar would reincarnate there. Jinora had agreed.
The old Air Nomad's slow stroll down memory land was interrupted by soft movement and a settling beside her. It was Nanaki, with her own hot mug of tea, greeting her warmly. Jinora chuckled. Avatar Korra had been right, as she had been right in so many things. Jinora patted Nanaki's hand.
"Time flows downhill, and the Cycle renews," she said, only chuckling again when Nanaki looked at her curiously.
Jintaro shivered in the wintry evening chill and drew his pea coat closer around himself. He stayed quiet and out of the way, watching whilst Tu'uri with a saint's patience drilled Nanaki on levitating water from the nearby hot springs and shaping the floating masses into perfect spheres. Nanaki, his daughter. His daughter, the Avatar. Training to save the world.
If Jintaro had been asked at that moment to describe the amount of pride in Nanaki that he felt, he wouldn't have the words to be able to adequately measure the levels. But with that pride came a profound sense of loss and regret that he had mistreated her so badly for the past eight years, eight years, especially in those times when she had needed him the most. All the adjectives he had used for her: disappointment, contempt, disdain, and even dislike-he now turned on himself and magnified tenfold. He should have been a better father. He should have been a better man. Noriko would be utterly ashamed of him.
When he met the woman whom would become the mother of his children, he was a twenty-two and had recently entered college to earn his degree in communications. He saw her at a frat party and was swept away at once by the elegant and eloquent economics major, with her acres of black hair and midnight eyes, and the smile that revealed one crooked eye tooth that didn't detract from her beauty but rather enhanced it, making her seem somehow approachable and down to earth. Noriko Himaia had laughed at his febrile efforts to flatter and impress her, calling him a clod before vanishing into the crowd. He was hooked when he saw her, he was reeled in when she turned to look over her shoulder at him and smiled.
Jintaro left that party determined to make the woman his wife. He asked her out, she refused. He asked again, she refused again. Every effort he made was rebuffed with twinkling eyes and that crooked toothed smile, as though she were testing his resolve. He sent her flowers and candies. He turned up at every social event he thought she might be at, and he even surprised her completely by changing his major to economics for no other reason than to be able to claim the seat next to her in classes and lectures.
Still she refused his requests for a night out until he convinced a friend whom worked in the Dean's office to get him into the room while the man was away. Jintaro hijacked the school's public announcement system and broadcast all over campus a love poem he had written for her, causing her to burn with embarrassment. That act got him suspended for three weeks, and when he returned to campus it was to find her waiting for him with her smile and a very romantic dinner. Looking at Nanaki now he realized just how much she resembled her mother and chided himself for never having noticed it before.
One year and seven months after that first dinner, Noriko consented to become Mrs. Kenji Jintaro. They were a happy couple, always glad to see each other and rarely quarreling. Two years after the wedding, their union was further blessed by the arrival of Otoshi and Nanaki. When it became clear that Nanaki could bend, as could her grandfather on Jintaro's side and her great-grandmother on Noriko's, Jintaro was beside himself with joy. He secured a formidable;e teacher for her when she began walking. How amazed that teacher had been, not to mention the proud parents, when Nanaki took to earthbending as if it were an extension of her own consciousness. It was clear that she was a prodigy, a fact that Jintaro touted to all of his friends and co-workers.
It had been Noriko, one evening in bed whom has cuddled against him and in a whisper asked him he, too, thought that might not Nanaki be the Avatar? To this day he deeply regretted making her frown and turn away when he scoffed at the idea. Then came the time that his beautiful wife was taken from him by the very daughter that Noriko had firmly believed would prove to be the Avatar.
"You were right, sweetheart," he murmured. "I'm sorry I didn't listen."
He saw that Nanaki and Tu'uri were laughing together now, joyous in their game of swirling long tubes of water around each other in figure eights. He had a lot of making up to do to his daughter, he knew that. Now was the time, before she was faced with the end of the world.
Yi and Akytreu were sharing quality time in Yi's room ( door wide open, as every adult on the premises insisted) playing a game of Concept, where one player names an object or person and the other player must define that thing in one word. Akytreu was the sly one whom propped himself up on his elbow next to his love and said the word Nanaki. It gave Yi pause.
For Yi, all of this was surreal. The revelation that he best friend was the Avatar had not only turned Nanaki's life upside down, but Yi's as well. Thinking over everything Yi was surprised that she was still sane. In a matter of weeks she had gone from being a straight C student with a small fan base of celebrity because of who her grandfather had been, considering a spot on the cheer leading team, and being relieved that she had passed the acne stage without a single outbreak to dodging firearms and psychotic anti-Avatar zealots, exploring a Fire Nation city, and now back on Air Temple Island as Nanaki prepared to plunge headlong into her destiny. She even had a boyfriend!
Se could remember as distinct as if it had happened five minutes ago the day she met Nanaki at the opening semester of Ninth Year. Yi had sauntered in with her 'crew', and had almost missed the tiny church mouse seated in the very back row. As unofficial greeter of New Kids, Yi had gone over and attempted friendliness. But the strange girl with her hair in buns and little round glasses had seemed frightened of her, so Yi had eased off. She hadn't thought of the girl again until a few days later, when she happened on a trio of popular girls enjoying themselves harassing and taunting Miss Church Mouse. Yi had stepped in, and the friendship was struck. Over the months to come Yi had learned what Nanaki's home life was like, and pity mingled itself into the friendship.
Yi had known what the other girls were saying, of course. But she was fascinated by Nanaki. Her new friend was brilliant, erudite, creative, and imaginative even though she was terrified of, well, everything and Yi truly envied Nanaki's ability to do marathon fifteen hour sleep stretches. As the year progressed Yi's circle slowly melted away until all that Yi had was Nanaki, and Yi wouldn't have had it any other way. So the answer she came up with to Akytreu's word was: Brave.
At breakfast the next morning Yi was confounded all over again. She watched Jintaro personally fill Nanaki's plate for her, listening with rapt attention as the Avatar gave her observations of Crescent City and the Fire Nation, not noticing Commander Kozin's bemused expression. Jintaro asked questions, clarified points, and laughed whenever Nanaki giggled. Not six months ago this was the very same man whom wouldn't even look up when Nanaki came home from school and said hi to him.
Her gaze drifted to Otoshi. She watched him eat, this..now that he had lost so much weight, cute she had to admit; this boy that had once been Nanaki's personal Inquisitor. Not a day passed when he wouldn't have said something vile to Nanaki in hopes of hurting her and making her cry, or ruined some of her possessions, or knocked her down. At yet there he was at every training session cheering Nanaki on, clapping when she succeeded in a difficult bending task, consoling her when she failed it, and always encouraging her.
Yi was very pleased that Nanaki finally had the family she deserved which included Jinora as a surrogate mother. She really was, and it did her soul so much good to see Nanaki smiling and laughing with them. She only wished she could be free of the fear chewing on her insides about what would happen if Nanaki failed.
The Avatar knew the others discussed her when she wasn't about but she had no inkling the depth of topics, debates, and observations that centered around her even among those that weren't part of her immediate family and team. At time, the chats were about Nanaki's physical changes. Her intense and vigorous training regimen had sculpted her body from an average one to the lean, hard build of a warrior; the kind of body that is the wet dream for many a young man. Indeed many of the male Air Acolytes gave her more than an appreciative glance when she happened by and the two airbenders Kin and Saza—15 and 16 years old respectively—took to avoiding her not out of malice but so that their meditations wouldn't become cluttered with untoward thoughts and mental imagery.
Nanaki's fit look also provided Akytreu endless supplies of ammunition to use against Yi on those few occasions when she would compare herself to the Avatar physically and become insecure. More than once Akytreu found himself face down grinning, chi blocked, for taking the teasing one step too far.
As often as not the discussion would be about the jumpy, easily spooked young woman Jinora had found in a humble teashop and compare her to the strong woman that had taken her place, the woman with proactive determination, dedication to her duty, and her adamant stance on always doing the right thing. They spoke in admiration of Nanaki the Avatar, and how she had done such marvelous things that half a year ago Nanaki would never have considered doing such as the time she snuck away from the island without a word to even Yi and went to Republic City.
There she had called a news conference to openly declare herself as Avatar and giving her word to do all that she could for each of the Nations in that capacity. But especially they talked about how she had pleaded with the Unbelievers in earnest to stop their protests and marches and promising that she wasn't their enemy but was, instead, their Avatar too. How much more respect and admiration she garnered from everyone on the Island when in this she was largely successful with all but the most ardent Unbelievers giving up the crusade and returning to their families, their jobs, their lives.
But through all the magnificent physical and mental changes of the Avatar, Nanaki remained herself. She was humble and demure, refusing to bask in her own glory or let her status go to her head even on the night that Commander Kozin stood up from his place at the dinner table, lifted a glass in her honor, and declares that he would no longer give lessons in firebending because she no longer needed them. He had declared her a master proudly and one that surpassed even her tutor because she could generate and redirect lightning whereas Kozin himself could not. Nanaki had merely blushed and smiled, stood to bow to Kozin and thank him for his efforts with her while everyone clapped, then changed the subject.
She did the same two months later when Tu'uri declared the Avatar a master waterbender at breakfast. Such displays of modesty ingratiated Nanaki to everyone around her. She was charming, beautiful, likeable, and nothing was ever about her own accomplishments. When called to the carpet for those great feats she managed, it was always because she had great teachers and examples to live by, never because she was the Avatar.
But in the still quiet times, when Nanaki was allowed time to herself, she was still the scared little girl that had once lived in Ba Sing Se. Whether practicing the meditation techniques taught to her by Jinora, or reading in a corner of the courtyard enjoying no company but Yakkara's, or soaking in a hot bath she was constantly devoured by remorse for the lives that had been taken, or given, in her name. She was frightened by the confrontation with Himaru that she knew to be inevitable. She didn't doubt that she could take the old man down quickly and without injuring him but would that be enough to deter him from future attempts? Would she be able to stop him in time? What if the answer to both those questions was no?
She spent a great deal of her alone time thinking about her mother, and wishing that she was here now to be talked to and taken comfort in. She sought solace and advise from the dream voice in her meditations and always came out of such sessions disconcerted and concerted that the voice never replied. The main questions she asked, both of herself and of the voice were would she have the strength to do what had to be done if Himaru proved to be indomitable or if she would have the knowledge of what it meant to be the Avatar so that she could stand strong as others before her had done?
As if knowing her thoughts, Jinora appeared in her room one evening just after Nanaki had begun to meditate. The old Air Nomad slipped silently into the room, dour and serious. Nanaki started to ask what the matter was but Jinora spoke first.
"Nanaki, it's time you learned what it means to be the Avatar. You have to become intimately familiar with your own history and the Spirit World in order to connect to the spiritual aspect of being who you are and to master the Avatar-State. Are you ready to begin?"
Nanaki got up, poured them both a cup of hot tea, and invited Jinora to sit down with her on the floor.
"I'm ready," she said, and she meant it.
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