Republic City shined as beacon in a dark world.
Personally, Aang had always thought that motto was a bit on the dramatic side. Zuko had come up with it, of course. His mother's acting heritage had clearly been purified into pure theatrical tendencies inside him. And Sokka had been less than helpful, happy to submit bad joke after bad joke after bad joke as the city's proposed motto. His memory of those founding years was a little fuzzy given how exhausted he was at the time, but if he remembered correctly, Aang had given in to Zuko's idea simply to shut Sokka up. Still, he would have preferred something a bit more understated.
That wasn't to say it wasn't true, however. Quite the opposite. Aang had, had the idea for Republic City – or, at the least, the idea for what it could become – seven years into their stay at Ember Island. In the wake of the Hundred Year War, things had been moving…slower than Aang had wanted. He attributed that mostly to childish naïveté and partly to his lack of involvement on the world stage. He'd been away too long. In truth, he could have left Ember Island years earlier than he did, but he would admit he had grown complacent. A selfish part of him had wanted nothing more than to renounce the world and retire at the ripe age of thirteen. Had he not done his part?
Toph had told him no: resoundingly.
Ty Lee had encouraged him to follow his heart, wherever it may lead.
Azula had promised to follow him, regardless of the fact that she legally had to.
In the months that followed, Aang and Azula's travels throughout the Earth Kingdom built, altered and nurtured Aang's dream. A year after they left Ember Island, the two of them met Zuko on Roku's Island to discuss their idea for a new Nation, free from the ignorance, bigotry and racism that the world had yet to shake off. Zuko had agreed, eager to get his people back to a place where they could be trusted.
A year after that, Aang had called a meeting of all the world leaders on Kyoshi Island. They came without question, eager to hear what the Avatar had to say. Umi, the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe had arrived first, with her two boys, Unalaq and Tonraq in tow. Zuko had arrived after that with a Pregnant Mai on his arm. Then Sokka, the veteran Chief of the Southern Water Tribe and finally King Kuei of the Earth Kingdom. Only, it was Azula they listened to.
It had come to be known as the New Day Summit in the years since and it had lasted four days. Azula spoke for the entire time, outlining their plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations to a group of initially very skeptical world leaders. Zuko had, of course, been the first to agree, followed shortly thereafter by Sokka. Surprisingly, King Kuei had been the next to agree, even agreeing then and there with Azula's proposition to donate Earth Kingdom lands to the new nation. It had been Umi who had taken the longest to be swayed and, ultimately, the wide eyed innocence of her youngest son, Tonraq had swayed her hand. Avatar Aang had famously said only two words in the entirety of the Summit, happily allowing Azula to helm the entire discussion.
"Thank you," he had said very sincerely to the four of them.
Now, years later, Republic City shined as a beacon in a dark world.
And the pride and joy of it all – in Aang's eyes at the least – was Air Temple Island. He and Azula had designed it to the 't' years ago. It was the first building they had designed for the new city but it was the absolute last to be constructed. Aang selflessly insisted the more important buildings – the Police Headquarters, the Hospital, the City Hall – be constructed first. But when it was done, it stood as the only fully staffed and fully operational Air Temple left in the world.
The rest of them were active now, it was true – Aang had been sending would-be Air Acolytes to the various temples for years now – but they were far from their former glory. Much work still needed to be done to them – in particular Southern and Eastern Air Temples – before they could be considered fully operational. Thus, Air Temple island stood now as the last true remnant of a nearly extinct culture.
Aang could not be more proud of it. From the stone garden to the meditation rooms to the Airbender Artifacts he had salvaged from the various Air Temples, he considered it to be truly perfect and he counted it among his greatest accomplishments. Though still occasionally called away on the odd Avatar mission, he had mostly retired from his duties as Avatar. Most of his life was now centered in Republic City and, for the first time since he was twelve years old over a hundred years ago, he had a place he truly felt at home in.
It was the epitome of peace, contentment and tranquility.
Or, that is to say it, it was the epitome of peace, contentment and tranquility on any other day save today. Today, all of those were shattered by the high, ear-piercing screams of pain emanating from a room nearly halfway up the Temple. The windows had been thrown open to allow a better, more comfortable airflow into the room, but they had the unintended consequence of allowing those selfsame screams to be broadcasted to the whole of the island. They curled out of the window and down into the courtyards below, interrupting meditations and games, attracting the undivided attention of all who resided on the island.
Strangely, those screams were not met with fear, anxiety or worry. Most, instead, displayed happiness and genuine excitement despite the obvious pain whoever it was, was feeling. One could hardly blame them, however. They had been waiting for this day for many, many months. Today, if all things went accordingly, was the day Avatar Aang's children would be born.
When the sharp-eyed women of the Island began to notice and recognize the signs of pregnancy in the Avatar's long-term partner, there had been many conflicted feelings passed around. On the one hand, they were ecstatic for the lonely Avatar, that he may finally have a family again. And that was not even counting the very high possibility that one or more of his children could be born an Airbender! Yet, it was the mother that conflicted them – some of them at any rate. The former Crown Princess Azula – she had not had the title in years but most still referred to her with that deference – was a point of great contention in the world. By and large, most people were ready and willing to forgive and, at the very least, forget in regards to her past crimes. But there were those – who had been most scarred by the atrocities her father had committed – who would never forgive, and despite the circumstances of their partnership, they were nonetheless obstinate that they would never accept Azula as the Avatar's equal partner. Never mind the fact that he clearly did.
Out of loyalty to their Avatar, the Acolytes of the Island had kept silent on the matter and each and every one of them had offered their sincere congratulations to both of the newly expecting parents. Before long, however, Azula's pregnancy was a bulging obviousness that could never be hidden, and the news broke worldwide in a matter of hours. There were few times where Aang cursed the onset of modern technology, but he had truly hated the creator of the radio for a time following the announcement. Air Temple Island had been flooded with letters and telegrams, describing to him in explicit detail exactly what they thought of the whole situation. Most went unread, but they were annoying nonetheless.
Time progressed and as Azula's stomach grew so too did the attention. Republic City's best healers came and went at all hours of the day, delivering a variety of mostly useless updates and doing little more than annoying the expectant mother. In fact, the only genuine article of importance had come from Katara herself when she'd acquiesced to Aang's desperate request for her to look Azula over. The Waterbender had still not forgiven Azula for her past crimes and she had certainly not forgotten, but she was professional enough in her trade and loyal enough to Aang to set aside her emotions when it came to the former Princess. Not to mention the years of experience she had, had working with the woman during her tenure as Republic City's Chief Healer.
The verdict had been positive. Azula was perfectly healthy as were the children.
Katara had actually managed to leave the building before the truth of her words had really sunk in. Aang and Azula were having twins. Perfectly healthy, very heavy, morning-sickness inducing twins. Aang himself thought he'd be sick when he'd first realized just what that meant. All the responsibility of the world on his shoulders paled in comparison to the idea of being a father – let alone a father twice over at the same time.
Katara had, of course, been flagged down by the two of them for further information which she had given with a lighthearted laugh, but she had afterwards returned to the South Pole where she was needed. She had promised to return a week or so in advance of the expected due date, but that had been two months ago and neither Aang nor Sokka nor Toph had heard anything from the Waterbender. Some bridges, it seemed, were hard to cross.
When the resident healers proclaimed she was no more than a week off from delivery, private and urgent missives had been sent out across the world to their closest friends and family. Sokka and Toph were already in the city, of course and eager to see the newest member of their family. Suki was also there, having retired a few years earlier and settled into life at Sokka's side. Ty Lee arrived shortly thereafter, her own band of circus munchkins in tow. They had taken up residence at the base of the temple and Ty Lee was seemingly in love with the atmosphere. Mai had reluctantly agreed to stay in the Fire Nation, surrendering to Zuko's greater right as a brother to be there. Of course, the Fire Lord had yet to arrive – a world leader can't exactly pack up and go whenever they please – but it comforted Aang to know he was on his way. And whether she admitted it or not, Aang knew it also pleased Azula to know her brother would be there.
Of course, judging by the speed things were going now, it seemed he would be late indeed to the party.
Another earsplitting scream rent the air and Aang winced from his position outside the birthing room. He had been pacing a hole in floor for some time now whilst Sokka lounged comfortably on a chair beside the door, watching him with glee. Aang had always been a skittish guy, of course, but Sokka had never seen his old friend like this.
Not that he didn't sympathize. He and Suki had opted to have only one child, much like Zuko and Mai but the hours his wife had spent in labor were some of the most frightening he could remember in his life – and that was saying something.
"You know you'd probably relax more if you just joined me for a cigar," Sokka commented, waving the tightly rolled item in question in front of the Avatar's eyes.
Aang paused only briefly enough to give his friend a withering look. "You know I don't smoke, Sokka," he told him and then kept pacing.
He was right about that. In the few moments during Suki's labor that Sokka had not been at her side, he had spent the entire time trying to get Aang to join him and Zuko for a cigar, as was tradition. The Airbender had stubbornly refused, citing a dozen different reasons why the offensive objects were bad for your health before Toph had bended a muzzle on him and taken the cigar herself.
"Don't monks use all kinds of herbal methods and remedies?" the older man questioned innocently in a tone that was very far from innocent. "What about that stuff you use to meditate?"
"It's incense!" Aang cried, seemingly affronted by the thought that he would ever indulge in anything of the sort.
"Is it?" Sokka countered.
Aang opened his mouth to respond, but the momentum of his reply was thrown violently off course by the sudden flinging open of the door. The brief opening allowed Aang a none too pleasant glimpse of the woman he loved that was accompanied by the all too clear sound of how much pain she was in. Then the door closed and Toph was left standing there, agitatedly rubbing at her temples as she tried to soothe a migraine away.
"Sokka," she snapped. "Your turn!"
Sokka fumbled the unlit cigar he had been holding in surprise. "What!?" he cried. "No!"
"She doesn't like me!" he squeaked.
"Now!" She stamped her foot and bended him out of his chair. He yelped in pain, glared witheringly at her and slipped into the room. She gave a terrific groan. "That should really be you, Twinkles."
Aang threw his hands about helplessly. "Tell her that!" he snapped at her, gesturing wildly at the door.
Weeks ago, Azula had firmly put her foot down. Aang was not to enter the birthing room at any time. She refused to have him present. For this reason or that – she had given different ones to different people – she was determined not to have him near her. Anyone else was welcome – indeed, Toph had been requested – but he had been forbade. Aang had been very hurt by her decision, but, as was his way, he had attempted to rationalize it, failed and then forgiven her anyway whilst denying his own pain.
Only Toph knew the truth. That Azula was terrified like she hadn't ever been. Terrified first and foremost of the procedure, the pain and the dangers. Terrified of children and being a parent and the legacy her own had left her. Terrified of how like her the twins would be. Terrified of failing Aang.
The Avatar sighed. "Sorry, I'm…I didn't…sorry."
"Oh, grow a fucking spine, Aang," Toph scoffed. "And a pair of balls wouldn't hurt either."
"Thanks, Toph," he commented dryly. "That's…helpful."
"Cry me a river, Twinkles. Stop blaming me for you being a pussy and get in there!" She continued to rub vigorously at her temples, wishing away a headache that would not leave.
Aang sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose and counted to ten. Toph was and always would be his best friend in the world but time had served only to lessen her patience for his more…pacifistic tendencies. Besides, he knew she wasn't really angry at him. Well, that wasn't true. She was angry with him – she was always angry with him on some level for something – but she was projecting much more than that onto her frustrations. Aang knew seeing Azula like this was only serving to heighten her anxieties regarding her own upcoming delivery.
No one knew who the father was, not even Aang – although he suspected she had confided with Azula about it, the both of them were nonetheless tight lipped where the situation was concerned. She had begun to show not long after Azula and the healers estimated that she had become pregnant only a short month after the former crown princess. Aang had thought the two of them had been close before, but they had become glued at the hip throughout their pregnancies. Aang found it very amusing and very cute – a sentiment that had nearly gotten him lynched by the two of them when it was expressed.
Now Toph had to sit through hours of picture perfect examples of what she'd have to undergo in a few short weeks. And she'd have to go without the support of someone like Aang in her life as the father – whoever he was – was completely absent. Aang knew she was terrified – even more terrified than Azula – but she would never admit it. She didn't even like admitting that she was pregnant. Aang was fairly certain that her parents still didn't know. The news of Republic City's very single police chief being pregnant likely would have been bigger news if it had not been announced in the shadow of the Avatar's own pregnancy scandal. As it was, the news had not even made the papers, and Toph was personally thankful.
Aang briefly considered offering her the small comfort of assuring her that her labor would likely be less strenuous as she was not carrying twins but thought better of it. If there was anything Toph hated, it was being told the truth of why she was angry.
Which left him with the unwelcome task of playing along to her frustrations – no easy task when he was, himself, riddled with anxiety.
"She shot a bolt of lightning at me when I tried to go in earlier!" he countered.
Toph rolled her eyes. "Please, I've touched doorknobs with more oomph than that lightning had. She's really not in a position to argue, Twinkles. Just go in."
"I'd really rather not upset her right now, I'm sure you understand." Aang's very dry response was, unfortunately for him, undercut by a very poignant scream from his laboring partner.
Toph leaned on her hip and raised an eyebrow at him. "Annoying though you may be," she assured him, "I don't really think you can upset her any more than she already is."
Aang's response was again cut off by the sudden opening of the door. Sokka exited with much less grace than Toph had, practically sprinting out of the room as if chased. He slammed it shut behind himself, leaning heavily on it and breathing hard.
"You okay over there, Sokka?" Toph asked dubiously, her upturned eyebrow directed at her older friend.
"I'm not going back in there," Sokka replied with a heavy breath. "Aang, your girlfriend is a monster."
"Thanks?" Aang replied slowly.
"That's not…why would that be a compliment?"
"All the press we've gotten? You kinda just learn to take…well, everything as a compliment."
Sokka barked a short laugh. "She's spitting fire."
Toph let out her own uproarious and short lived laugh. "Can't take a little teasing, Sokka? Do I need to step up my game? I thought you'd have a tolerance by now."
"No, I mean she's literally spitting fire," he snapped. "I was trying to tell her to breathe and she did. At me!"
Toph and Aang snorted simultaneously.
"Yeah, laugh it up!" Sokka shouted vitriolically. "Your turn, arrow boy."
"You know I can't," Aang began only for Toph to cut him off.
"Shut up, Aang," she snapped. "Sokka, move!"
For once, he didn't question her, moving out of the way of the door in an instant.
"Listen, Twinkles," Toph cut him off again, "I know this whole 'having a backbone' thing is new to you but you're gonna have to be the man in the relationship for once because all of her energy is kind of wrapped up in pushing out your little rugrats. So shut up, stop complaining, get your ass in there and hold your girlfriend's hand!"
Sokka piped in. "I wouldn't actually do that, I think she broke a bone," he commented, idly rubbing at his own hand.
"Sokka," Toph told him in a sickly-sweet voice, "you were doing very well at not talking. Keep it up, okay?"
"Spirits, I thought you were cranky before you were pregnant," Sokka grouched.
"Go and get me a damn drink, Sokka, before I throw you off the island!"
"I was just –"
Sokka sprinted away down the hall, disappearing around the corner in record time.
"You're very good at that," Aang told her.
Toph rounded on him in an instant. "Don't think I won't throw you off the island too, Twinkles. In there. Now."
Taking a leaf out of Sokka's book, Aang decided not to argue and, though full of trepidation, slipped inside the birthing room.
The screams had died down in the intervening minutes, replaced instead by a series of quick, heavy breaths. The nurses and acolytes were flitting around the room in a tizzy as the chief healer of Republic City knelt at Azula's propped up feet, speaking urgent commands and instructions to anyone who would listen – particularly Azula. It seemed the father to be had entered the room at the crucial moment.
Aang was at her side in an instant, his presence seemingly accepted as fact by most of those in attendance – although he received a few questioning and disappointed looks from more than he would have liked. He took a firm hold of her hand and she looked up, apparently notice him for the first time. If she'd had the energy, he imagined she would have glared. As it was, she could only spare him an irritated glint in her eyes.
"I told you I didn't want you here." She didn't snap. Snapping would have required quite a lot more effort than what she did which was more of a frustrated slur.
He smiled at her lovingly and brushed a stray lock of hair out of her eyes. "How could I stay away?"
She rolled her eyes. "Toph made you."
He slumped. "She's become very bossy since she got pregnant."
She summoned up enough energy to sound surprised. "Become?" she echoed dubiously.
He laughed. "Wells he's become more bossy."
She huffed and Aang knew it was a different, more conscious huffing than all of the others she had been doing since he entered the room. "You're lucky I'm too tired to bend at you," she whispered as threateningly as possible.
"I was kind of banking on it," he told her, a large grin on his face.
Seized by a sudden pain, her grip on his hand tightened into a vicelike grip and she screamed. He squeezed her hand all the harder and refused to show any discomfort.
"Moment of truth, ma'am," the healer told her. "The first one's coming now. I need you to push."
"Almost there," Aang told her.
"Oh, you shut up!" she groaned at him. Then she squeezed his hand, pushed and screamed.
The firstborn was a screaming baby boy with a thick tuft of black hair on his head. He was small and helpless and beautiful and Aang loved him like he had never loved anything. The healer cradled him softly but urgently. She passed the young one off to the closest acolyte to be cleaned and then refocused her attention on the laboring Princess.
"Eager beavers these ones," she commented. "The second one doesn't want to be too much younger."
"Agghhh!" Azula screamed. "Bastard!"
Aang didn't know who that was directed at – himself or the child – but he chose to shoulder the burden. Smiling at her, he dared not speak, but his empty hand had traveled to her shoulder where he squeezed supportively.
"Push, ma'am," the healer instructed.
Azula's entire body tensed and, truly, this scream broke Aang's heart. It was broken and full of pain and not a sound he ever wanted to hear her make again. But it came with its own reward. The younger of the two came willingly into the healer's arms. This one had raven hair too and was marginally smaller, though it cried all the louder to make up for it.
"A girl," the healer said in wonder.
"What?" Azula demanded.
"It's a girl," she said again. "One boy, one girl. Considerably rare."
For the first time, Azula smiled up at him, a combination of true relief and abject joy. "Bring them to me?" she requested.
Aang silently told her he loved her with the biggest smile his face had ever produced. He squeezed her hand again and left to gather their children. The boy quieted in the crook of his arm, but the girl screamed on, stubborn as her mother. Cradling a babe in each of his arms, he returned to her. She took the boy into her arms first, tears in her eyes as she cradled him and ran her fingers down her face.
"You can name this one, I think," she told him.
When they'd heard they were having twins, a great debate had arisen regarding names. Azula had put her foot down when it came to the name 'Bumi', refusing to raise a son with such a foolish sounding name. Eventually, she had leaned on the fact that she did not want to name her son after a man she had assisted in overthrowing and imprisoning. Aang had relented at that but outright refused to entertain her notion of 'Sozin'. Likewise, they had come to an impasse regarding girl names. Aang was quite found of Kaia, but Toph had ruined that, informing Azula that, that name belonged to Katara's grandmother. Aang had spent quite a while in the doghouse for the suggestion and the discussion of names had been tabled since then.
Now, they were unexpectantly given the opportunity to name both a girl and a boy, and Azula was right. It was only fitting they do the individual honors.
Aang toyed with the notion of teasing her for a moment with his first choice for a name but dismissed the notion. She had been through enough today and, really, it wasn't fair of him to antagonize her when she was physically incapable of responding as she was wont to do.
"Tenzin," he decided. She looked up at him and smiled in approval. An Airbender name, firm and strong. Aang had thought long and hard on the heritage he hoped – no, needed – to pass on. A future for the Airbenders had long weighed on him, and when Azula had told him the news, he had been elated. Now, though, looking at his son, he could care less if he was a Bender or not.
"And this little angel?" he asked her, showing her their still screaming daughter.
Azula reached out tentatively and brushed her thumb over the bottom of the girl's foot. She stopped screaming then, if only for a moment and locked eyes with her mother's who were now welling with tears.
"Ursa," she whispered.
Aang was very happy he was the Avatar and not just another Airbender. He didn't think he could give up these worldly attachments for any amount of enlightenment.