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|The Avatar and The Crane|
December 9, 2013
This is an entry to Agent Slash's 'Holiday-themed Oneshot Comp.' The holiday used is New Year's Eve.
The Avatar and The Crane
Black velvet sky stretched out across the mountaintops, staining peaks and valleys with its resting shadows, inking the day out one gentle brushstroke after another. Stars murmured distantly in luminescence and a warm breeze lulled slowly by. The persistent symphony of nocturnal insects became almost background, reeling into a soft fade that, if it were to cease, the night would feel incomplete without it.
Aang sat on the arrow of Avatar Yangchen, feeling the rough carvings press against his soft skin. He breathed in the humid night air, tasting its distinct organic palette; the leaves, the grass and the sun-blenched soil. He could taste the area's history; almost picture it over the blacks of his vision. The monks that revered the land as sacred, meditating against a backdrop of rosy sunrise, bison and other wildlife roaming the gardens happily.
Though all of that was long gone, Aang somehow felt close to it. Maybe visiting the temples was what did it, or maybe it was something else. Something the universe was trying to tell him. Either way the Avatar could not shove aside a growing pang inside him. It was a feeling that played with him only slightly through his years as a child. But as he grew older and bottled it away to focus on greater issues the feeling had built up, welled up against his barriers to a painful level.
It was a feeling of loss.
And it was somehow immeasurable to him. But Aang wasn't alone, was he selfish to think so? He had Katara and Sokka, Appa, Zuko, Toph and Momo; he had many people he loved around him. But not an airbender. Nor a monk. Not even a single tether to his culture. It had burnt away almost one hundred and twenty years ago, and there were no signs of a phoenix coming triumphantly from the ashes. All that was left of his culture was him alone and his memories, of which were sadly fading like the migrant crane into the evening sky, a thin slither of white against a suffocating backdrop of black.
Aang's eyes opened quickly, hot tears brimming in them. He watched the crane ahead as it glided up over a mountain. It was almost hypnotic and Aang felt it vital to not lose sight of the lone bird. He needed to keep his eyes on it. The crane continued its midnight exodus across the ocean's horizon, its majestic wings stretching out upon the twinkling stars. Slowly it became smaller and smaller until finally it vanished, stabbed out of sight by the cruel dark world.
Aang gasped, eyes flitting about. He had to find it. Surely it was still about. He saw it! No, just a distant cherry blossom. Wait, there! Up above him! But as his blurry vision came to, all he got was a sight full of stars. His breathing became manic as his fingers dug into his tunic and soon it became obvious his attempts were futile. The crane was gone and it was never coming back. Not even a look back. It was gone and there was nothing he could do to get it back.
Then Aang cupped his face and did something he hadn't in a long time. Cried. Tears streamed down his face in silver cascades from the moonlight and his straight posture gave in to a defeated slouch. All he wanted was to have it back. As the pent up emotion poured out in sobs Aang could feel an emptiness claw at him from the inside. It wasn't the emptiness monks had taught him to achieve through meditation, it wasn't enlightenment; it hurt. Like hot daggers in his back Aang could feel his heart burn and blood boil. Again he let out more cries, ignoring the tears that drenched his red face.
"Aang?" came the soft voice of Katara.
Quickly Aang wiped his face, sniffed up his misery and sat back straight. He didn't want to cry in front of her. He didn't want to appear weak.
"Were you crying?"
He also didn't want to lie to her.
"Yes," he sighed, slumping back into his stomach.
"Why?" Katara huffed a laughed. "It's New Year's Eve, Aang. And look at everything you've achieved this year! The start of Republic City, people from all nations living together. Look back at everything you've done, Aang, you're incredible! What could you possibly be upset about?"
Aang stood up and walked over to his wife, lunging onto her and embracing her limply. His heart still hurt and he could barely speak without choking on his tears.
"I..." Aang whispered into Katara's ear, trying to swallow down the sobs, trying to form the sentence. "I'm alone."
Katara lifted Aang from her chest and looked at him. Her eyes were now watery too – she hated seeing Aang so distraught, so wasted.
"I have done so much," Aang continued, thinking back to his achievements as they appeared almost pointless. "But I can't bring them back."
"My people! The airbenders!" Aang screamed out over the cliff.
The Yangchen carving stood earthed under his trembling feet, her expression lifeless and stone-cold. Could Aang even call the airbenders his people? There were no people to lead, to represent. If he wasn't one of them then who was he? A waterbender? The Avatar? He didn't feel like the Avatar. Though the world was at peace, he wasn't at peace with the world. And wasn't that what the Avatar was supposed to be? Divine? Enlightened? At peace?
But Aang could never be at peace. Not when there was one issue he couldn't resolve. He had failed as the Avatar but at that moment, as he fell to his knees onto the stone, he didn't care much as his role as the Avatar. He was a human, and he could feel himself shattering right before his wife. Everything he had grown up with, his entire childhood was dead and done. He just wanted to pull it all up from the grave, to have it all there like nothing ever happened. But no. Each breath, each tear – none of it would do the job. Suddenly he felt Katara wrap her arms around him and bring her lips to his ear. Her breath was warm and sweet.
"Aang," she laughed, sucking down tears too. "It's not over."
Aang looked up at his wife dubiously, eyes puffy, cheeks stained. A smile was wide set on her chin, her cerulean eyes gleaming with a happiness she just could not contain. But why? How could she smile at a time like this?
"No!" Katara laughed, shaking her head.
She hoisted her husband up and intertwined her fingers with his, staring excitedly into his eyes.
"Aang," she said, gnawing on her lips through a brief inhibition before continuing assuredly. "Aang, I'm pregnant!"
"What?" the Avatar croaked, unsure if his ears were deceiving him.
"There's still hope, Aang! We're having a baby! It could be an airbender. Your airbender."
Slowly a mass of crystal tears dribbled down Aang's cheeks. The burning returned to his heart but this time joy was infused. As he spotted the snowy crane soar over the temple behind Katara Aang laughed to himself. How could he have been so foolish? How could he have given up so easily? It seemed whenever he was drowning in a sea of remorse, or fear, or negativity, Katara was always there to pull him out and take him in.
He wasn't alone. And even less alone in a few months. He looked into his wife's bright eyes and smiled.
"No, Katara," he said. "I don't care if it's an airbender or not. This is our child."
He took his wife's hands and continued.
"Ours. This is our legacy together. The airbenders don't need to be my people anymore, our child will be my people. They will be my culture. I can't believe this, Katara. Katara, I love you."
Quickly Aang planted his lips on Katara's and the two shared a kiss as the New Year's fireworks started their fiery display in the sky. As Aang sat with his wife atop the Yangchen statue and watched the fireworks light up the murky night he no longer felt saddened by the unattainable years of his past. Instead he looked forward to what the new year would present. A new member to Team Avatar, a new legacy, maybe even a new airbenber? Bender or not Aang no longer felt alone in the world. And as the crane once again made its way into the unforeseeable distance the Avatar finally felt at peace with the world. He finally felt whole.
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