I do not own Pokémon or Avatar the Last Airbender. Warnings for mentions of canon genocide.
Chapter Summary: In which Zuko contemplates if the Air Nomads were trying to kill all non-Airbenders. (And the Avatar reveals himself to Zuko's Great Frustration.)
(The Southern Air Temple)
Walking onto the main deck with Fletchinder perched on my shoulder I am bemused to note that the airbender is either a morning person or just disgustingly cheerful all the time. Unfortunately I think it is the second. I'm used to morning people, most firebenders are, myself included, but I'm not used to people so continuously and naively enthusiastic. The last one must have been, oh Agni, Ty Lee.
Shuddering at the thought of another Ty Lee I turn my attention to the Airbender's companions as Fletchinder launches himself off my shoulder to take an aerial view of the ship. The Water Tribe girl is awake and eating the breakfast that the cook had provided with a look of deep suspicion but the Water Tribe boy is still asleep in his sleeping bag. Judging by the way the airbender is bouncing around him I don't think he'll stay that way for long.
I was right. Sokka sits up with a yelp as I approach talking range.
"Morning." I alert them to my presence. Katara gives me another suspicious look, Aang beams, "Zuko" and Sokka looks at me before attempting to jump to his feet with a yelp of "Fire Nation!" but trips over his sleeping bag incased feet and falls face first onto the deck. I smirk. Katara glares then asks sweetly, "Sokka, are you alright?"
Sokka looks at me and groans, "Oh, it's just you." I let the comment pass; his reaction to seeing me before remembering the events of the last two days was too funny for me to hold it against him. "I'm fine Katara." he grumbles, untangling himself from his sleeping bag.
Bluntly I ask Aang, "Do you want to go up there with just those two or would you like me to go with you?"
Aang looks startled.
"Err, what?" squawks Sokka.
Katara glares. She does that a lot; at least at anything Fire Nation, she's all smiles for Aang. "You have no right to enter Aang's home."
"I've been there before." I point out with a shrug. Everyone looks dumbfound so I explain. "Wild Pokémon often appear in remote places and there are few places more remote then the Air Temples. Sure they're not easy to access but it's nothing that would deter a sufficiently determined person."
"But there are Wards to keep out Pokémon." Aang protests.
"Yeah," well obviously, everywhere had Wards like that, "but the Temple's on top of a mountain. There's nothing to stop you from climbing the mountain to get there. I mean some of the cliffs are incredibly sheer and finding the Temple itself is a challenge but if you go in a small groups and bringing the right equipment you're not even that likely to die. Half the problem is insuring you have enough supplies."
That got me three really weird looks. Honestly, what did they expect? I'd needed to visit the Air Temples, so I did. Even when I think I understand people it turns out I don't. I shrug, "So am I going with you or not? I've never ridden a Sky Bison before." I slant a glance at Aang. "Plus I'm sure you could explain some of the architecture, I just didn't really understand some of the monk's choices."
"Oh... I'd have to bring two people as my escort. Uncle gets worried when I wander around on my own." I look at the sky bison. "Appa would be fine carrying six people, right?"
Aang puffs up, "Appa's great. He can carry six people easily. Can't you buddy." He pats the bison. Pausing, he seems to actually slow down and think for a moment before he smiles again. "Sure you can come with."
I turn around waving over Tadaaki and Hyousuke, the firebending and non-bending soldiers who will be accompanying me on this trip. They are my most trusted crewmen and I'd told them what I might be doing the night before so they were already prepared.
A quiet, fierce argument has broken out behind me as I make my way over to Lieutenant Jee, my ship's caption. "I am going to the Air Temple with them. We will probably be gone for the whole day so the men can spend some time off the ship if they like. I trust you to use your own judgment in how to deal with anything that might turn up in my absence."
"Yes, sir." he raises his hands; one curled into a fist and held just below the palm of the other which is held straight up, forming the flame in acknowledgement.
I made my way back over to the three youths, it seemed that Aang has won their brief argument from the way he smiles and Katara glares. Sokka has found breakfast and is too busy eating to pay much attention to anything else.
"Everyone, climb on Appa." Aang calls happily as he casually airbends himself onto the bison's head. The two Water Tribe teens are closest so they scramble on first. I glance at the setup and then lunge myself easily up the bison's side and into the saddle. My two escorts exchange a look before gamely, although with much less dignity, making their own way up.
"Everyone ready?" Aang asks from where he is sitting on the bison's head with the bison's reins in his hands. I make sure I have a firm grip on the saddle which is a good thing because the next second Aang calls, 'yip-yip' and the bison lurches, then pushes off, tail slapping as he takes to the sky.
We raise surprisingly quickly, the bison turning and making his way towards the mountain range. The Water Tribe boy gives a whoop of excitement before falling silent with a slight blush but I don't think my escorts are nearly as excited as the kids are to be flying, they look rather tense.
Fletchinder soars alongside us for a moment and I smile before Recalling him. Wards could sometimes be a little tricky and while after a hundred years of no-one living in the Air Temples the Wards should have dissipated I don't feel like chancing it in a place that had been so soaked in violence at the very end. Death to violence, murder or self-sacrifice, especially were no-one had payed due respect to the dead could do strange things to Wards.
Flying on a sky bison wasn't really like anything else I'd ever done before but the view was magnificent. Hopefully some day I'd be able to fly on one of my Pokémon like this.
Aang is talking as we flew up the mountains, "The Patola Mountain range We're almost there!"
I nod absently trying to place the view from sky bison compared to the view on foot. We hit the clouds and go through them and way too close to the mountain. Everyone else is rather tense except for Aang but even in the unlikely event that it turned out that he can't steer properly then the sky bison should be smart enough to keep us from crashing.
We fly over a tree covered ridge and suddenly the Temple is visible. Sometimes I'd wondered if the Air Nomads had deliberately tried to kill any visitors but I think I just wasn't something they'd thought about. "There it is. The Southern Air Temple."
"Aang, it's amazing." Katara exclaims and I have to agree with her, if nothing else the airbenders had lived in breath-taking buildings.
"We're home, buddy!"Aang calls to Appa and I felt a twist of regret. He sounds so happy. "We're home."
Appa goes into a gradual dive, landing in a flat, clear, snow covered spot. This high up and close to the South Pole it is cold. Aang doesn't seem to be affected by it. For that matter he didn't seem bothered wearing only his normal clothes at the South Pole. Perhaps Airbenders have a trick to deal with the temperature?
"Come on!" Aang exclaims jumping off Appa, a small twist of airbending lightening his landing. "There's so much to show you!"
I slide down the side of Appa and roll off while Sokka and Katara scramble down. One of my escort might have groaned something that sounded like 'teenagers' as they got off with a bit more of a thump. Armour is heavy, but worth it.
Aang has run up the path while Sokka and Katara run after him. I follow at a jog, listening to the thud of footsteps as my escort follow me. No use in exhausting myself running everywhere, the three make enough noise that it is easy to follow them.
"So that's where my friends and I would play airball," I round the corner that Aang's exited voice issued from behind to see him pointing at the many tall poles that made up a stadium and had baffled me slightly when I first saw them. "and over there" he continues "is where the bison would sleep, and…"he trails of sadly with a sigh.
"What's wrong?" Katara asks but I am pretty sure I already know.
"This place used to be full of monks and lemurs and bison. Now there's just a bunch of weeds." he looks around sadly, "I can't believe how much things have changed."
"There might still be a few flying lemurs around." I offer, "I think I saw some on my trip through here and that was only a year and a half ago."
"Oh," he looks at me with big hopeful grey eyes, "You think so."
"Probably." I shrug slightly uncomfortable with such a look directed at me. I nod at the stadium of poles, "So you played airball on those? I wondered if they were for some sort of training when I saw them the first time."
"Yeah!" he brightens immediately and starts to ramble on about how to play. It sounds like it was a game played by airbending. Which made sense; I think all of the nations have at least one game that can only be played with your element. For the Air Nomads who were said to be all benders, the only nation without non-benders, it made sense that bending would see a lot of casual, everyday use. In fact the Temples can be rather dangerous to the unwary wanderer or just extremely difficult to navigate and I don't think all of that comes from damage to the Temples. I also don't think it is deliberate but the Temples were built with the expectation that everyone in them would be an airbender so they can cause trouble for those without the ability to bend air.
Aang has moved to the other side of the path with Katara but I notice Sokka moving closer to me. Curious, I wave for my escort to go ahead, "What are you going to do when Aang finds evidence of the Fire Nation invasion?" he asks me quietly.
I hmm and continue after the rest of the group as I consider my answer. "I don't think he will find any."
He gives me an incredulous look. I respond with a small shrug, "As I said, I've been to this Temple before. There is surprisingly little evidence that the Air Nomads were attacked. After a hundred years it is hard to tell what damage comes from time and neglect and what might have come from a battle. The weather has worn away any ash marks so things look for the most part like the Air Nomads just up and vanished one day."
I pause, considering, before adding, "There were a few skeletons and sets of armour lying around some parts of the temple when I first came here but it seemed disrespectful to leave them scattered around like that." I grimace, "I collected them and held a funeral ceremony before cremating them and scattering the ashes on the winds. Hopefully that would help settle any restless spirits tied here from a lack of proper sending. I couldn't tell the Air Nomads from the Fire Nation often so I had to do them together."
He looks thoughtfully at me but nods and we move to catch up with the rest of the group. Aang is standing in front of a monk's statue. "Hey guys!" he calls happily, "I want you to meet somebody."
I look the over the statue in interest as Sokka asks the obvious question, "Who's that?"
"Monk Gyatso!" Aang explains proudly, "The greatest airbender in the world. He taught me everything I know." He looks at the statue, thoughtful and sad before bowing to it in respect.
Raising my hands I form the flame, one hand help upright, the other hand in fist placed below the palm on my first hand, and give a small bow of in respect. I recognize that rather distinctive pendent from one of the airbender skeletons. There had been a lot of dead Fire Nation soldiers around him and if he had been a teacher-mentor along with capable combatant that only made him a more honourable bending master.
Katara places a hand on Aang's shoulder, understanding in her tone, "You miss him."
"Yeah." the airbender sounds downcast as he walks away but I couldn't blame him. I would handle losing Uncle badly.
Curious Katara looks after him, "Where are you going?"
"The air temple sanctuary. There's someone I'm ready to meet." That rouses my own curiosity and I follow him up the steps. The other four start after us. I've seen the Air Temple Sanctuary doors before but I hadn't tried to open them. I know they require airbending, like the ones on Crescent Island require Firebending, to open.
Katara moves past me, "But Aang, no one could have survived in there for a hundred years."
Aang sounds hopeful, "It's not impossible. I survived in the iceberg for that long."
While that's true I doubt there is anyone alive in there but I am curious as to why he thinks he should be opening the Sanctuary does to meet someone; I don't think it was something people normally did.
"Good point." Katara admits.
Aang looks hopefully at her over his shoulder, he sounds excited again, "Katara, whoever's in there might help figure out this Avatar thing."
The Water Tribe siblings gave me and my escort suspicious looks but I just frown. Sokka pushed at the door, eying me warily as he asks Aang, "I don't suppose you have a key?"
"The key, Sokka, is airbending." Aang says, seemingly oblivious to the strange tension that had overcome the two Water Tribe. I watch in interest as he takes a deep breath, spread his arms and thrust them forward, sending air into each of the tubes in the door. I hadn't seen him do any complicated airbender before and it was interesting. He must have done it right for the door swung open.
"Hello?" Aang calls with a hand to his mouth, "Anyone home?"
No answer and the three advanced slowly in. I indicate my escort should wait at the door while I follow them inside.
"Statues? That's it." Sokka sounds rather disappointed but this was about what I expected.
"Who are all of these people?" Katara asks. I could tell her they were past Avatars but I am curious how much they would figure out on their own.
"I'm not sure." Aang sounds pensive. "But it feels like I know them somehow. Look! That one's an airbender."
"And this one's a waterbender." Katara points. "They're lined up in a pattern: air, water, earth and fire." They all seem to have forgotten that I am in the room with them.
"That's the Avatar Cycle."
"Of course. They're Avatars. All these people are your past lives, Aang." That again. I frown. Why did they think Aang is the Avatar?
"Wow! There are so many!" Aang exclaims before wandering further among the statues.
Sokka at least sounds sceptical, "Past lives? Katara, you really believe in that stuff." although unfortunately about the wrong thing.
"It's true. When the Avatar dies, he's reincarnated into the next nation in the cycle." She moves over to Aang who has stopped to stare at one of the statues. Grabbing his shoulders she shakes him, "Aang! Snap out of it."
It seems like the statue's eyes had gleamed with a spark of white light for a moment. Unfortunately I very much recognized who it depicted. While I might have dismissed the gleam as a trick of the light from another statue I viewed that statue with much suspicion.
"Huh?" Aang sounds daze which was strange but Katara distracted me with the question she asked, "Who is that?"
I frown in distaste but Aang's answer jerks me out of my thoughts, "That's Avatar Roku. The Avatar before me."
Sokka had clearly heard that as he walked over, "You were a firebender? No wonder I didn't trust you when we first met."
Katara however asks a question I am more interested in, "There's no writing. How do you know his name."
"I'm not sure. I just know it somehow." I look at Aang. He cannot be the Avatar.
Seems like Sokka doesn't have much patience for spiritual matters. "You just couldn't get any weirder."
"Why are you all talking like Aang is the Avatar?" I demand, finally sick of listening to them. They startle quite badly, Aang's jump was impressive but I wasn't in the mood to entertained by their reaction.
"Zuko," Aang hesitates for half a second, glancing at his friends, "It's because I am the Avatar."
I cross my arms and stare flatly at them, "You can't be, the Avatar vanished a hundred years ago. If he's still the same incarnation he'd be over a hundred by now."
Aang looks sheepish and guilty, "I am the Avatar. That's why no-one as seen the Avatar for the past hundred years, because I was frozen in an iceberg."
"No, no, no. You can't be the Avatar." I put my face in my palms. He cannot be the Avatar. "Why are you even telling me this?"
"Because I don't want to lie." he sounds so earnest. "I run away a hundred years ago and abandoned my responsibilities when the world needed me. Well the world needs me now and this time I'm not running away."
I groan. "Leave."
"What?" Aang is confused.
I glare at them. "If you really are the Avatar then leave. Now." They still looked confused. Frustrated I snarl out a lick of flames. They flinch back, Sokka reaching for his club. As calmly and clearly as possible while I am holding onto the edges of my temper I tell them why. "I told you the Fire Lord banished me with an impossible quest. That quest was To. Capture. The. Avatar."
Breathe. "So. If. You. Are. Really. The. Avatar. Then. You. Need. To. Leave."
"If your job is to capture the Avatar then why are telling us to leave instead of trying to capture us right now?" Sokka asks, suspicious, hand on his club.
I strangle down exactly that urge and flex my fingers to keep from accidently creating fire daggers. "Because I try to be a good person or at least an honourable one. And you're children. The Avatar is a child." I feel something heavy settle over me. "I welcomed you as my guests without deceit. It would be wrong to attack you while you believed yourselves under my protection."
"So leave." I know I sound more exhausted, tired, sad, resigned then I should. "I don't want to do this but I am loyal to the Fire Nation. For the sake of the Fire Nation I must capture you. My honour demands it. I searched for two and a half years for something I never believed I'd find and now you stand right before me."
"So run, Avatar. Run. Because I will hunt you until the ends of the world if I have to and I won't stop. Don't waste this chance and don't betray it. I am supposed to capture you alive to take to the Fire Lord. My orders say nothing else. So run, hide, be careful because I will not be the only one hunting you once the world knows of your return and many will be much less honourable then I."
"Zuko." Aang takes a cautious step forward but Sokka stops him. "Aang, I think we should leave him be. It's costing him a lot to let us go like this and we shouldn't throw that away."
I breathe, in, out, in as they leave the room then snarl and snap a wave of fire through the air. The Avatar, if they weren't delusional, had been right there before me, ripe and ready for me to take and I had let him go. He was a child and he had trusted me and it would have been so easy. It was the right thing to do but how it burned to let a chance to return home slip right through my fingers.
Lips pressed together in a thin line I stalk out of the sanctuary. Breathe. I look at my escorts, "We will to have decide exactly what we will tell people before we leave."
Tadaaki and Hysousuke will lie for me. They are deathly loyal. No-one will learn that I willingly let the Avatar go unless he or his friends tell someone.
"But for now I think we should work on how we are going to get down the mountain in good time." Grimacing I remember the thin bridges and sheer drops. Perhaps the worst danger was the sheer distance you needed to traverse to leave the mountain range. If all Air Nomads couldn't fly I'd think this place was a deliberate death trap but no, it's accidental, we are just the unlucky visitors who can't airbend themselves out of trouble if we slip.
By some miracle – Alright, it was less a miracle and hiking through dangerous terrain to get out from the Air Temple's Wards, sending Fletchinder to fly back to the ship once we were clear of the Wards to check if there were any Wards between our mountainous location and the ship. Then careful use of Kirlia's Teleport combined with our familiarity and connection to the ship's Wards. - we make it back to the ship by dusk.
Tadaaki and Hyousuke both have a an arm wrapped around me, the other holding one of Kirlia's hands as I carry Kirlia while gripping their forearms. Appearing in a huddle while I hug my Pokémon isn't a very dignified way to return to my ship but it is the safest and easiest way for Kirlia to Teleport all of us. My frown combined with the unexpectedness of our return method keeps anyone from laughing.
Tadaaki and Hyousuke disentangle themselves from me and I place Kirlia gently on the deck, "Thanks for the help Kirlia. Do you want to stay?"
He shakes his head, "Kirlia." "Tired." and the fading white glow of a Pokémon Recalled.
Satisfied that my Pokémon as been cared for I turn to address the crew who has been gather on deck since we Teleported back, "The Airbender opened the Temple sanctuary and told me he is the Avatar. They fled when they learned my mission is to capture the Avatar. We will be following them until we capture the Avatar unless we find some proof he's not the Avatar."
Hyousuke, Katsu, Isuma, Akio, Kouki and Tadaaki are lined up in front of me.
"We are refreshing our knowledge of Pokémon Types today followed by Pokémon sparring." Ideally Pokémon battles are done with sound strategic and tactical knowledge of Pokémon. Despite being the youngest person on board this this ship I have the best working knowledge of Pokémon. "Hyousuke, which Pokémon Types do Airbenders form Match-Type Chi-Bonds?"
"Flying Types and Ghost-Types, sir."
"Correct. Katsu, which Pokémon Types do Waterbenders form Match-Type Chi-Bonds with?"
"Water-Type and Ice-Type, sir."
"Correct. Akio, which Pokémon Types do Non-benders form Match-Type Chi-Bonds with?"
"Normal-Types and Fighting-Types, sir."
"Correct. Isuma, which Pokémon Types do Firebenders form Match-Type Chi-Bonds with?"
"Fire-Type and Electric-Type, sir."
"Correct. Kouki, which Pokémon Types do Earthbenders form Match-Type Chi-Bonds with?"
"Ground-Type and Rock-Type, sir."
"Correct. Tadaaki, what which Pokémon Types are the universally Neutral-Type Bonding Pokémon?"
"Bug-Type, Dark-Type, Dragon-Type, Fairy-Type, Poison-Type, Psychic-Type, Steel-Type, sir."
"Correct." If they had gotten any of that wrong I would have been concerned
I smile, sharp and dangerous, "Choose a single Pokémon as if you were anticipating battling an Airbender."
The space between us lights up sparking white as we Call our Pokémon. The anticipatory glee of a Pokémon ready to test their strength and cunning against a worthy opponent thrums through my Chi-bonds as the glow die down before me. Today's training will be fun.
In case you were wondering I don't currently plan to have any pairings in this fic. Not to say for certain that none will happen; just that I don't have any planned, if they do turn up they won't be a major focus and that it is highly unlikely that any would occur between a semi-OC and a major character.