Chapter Three: The Avatar Returns

The Southern Water Tribe prince and princess insisted in rewarding Aang despite his clear reluctance to help them. He had ordered Appa to land at what he felt was a safe distance from the city and had quite irritated Prince Sokka, who wanted to be dropped off straight-away at the palace.

"Do you actually expect us to walk all the way from here-"

"Sokka," his sister shushed him and with some concern pointed out how cautious, even fearful the airbender seemed. He kept looking about, glancing up at the sky above and towards the horizon all around with a weary sort of alarmed alert as though he expected something terrible to appear.

Sokka's frown deepened and Katara almost punched him when he loudly observed, "Is someone after you or something like that?"

Aang, whose name they didn't even know for he refused to tell them, immediately reacted badly to Sokka's question. Before the prince could even raise his hands to defend himself, Aang airbended a gush of wind which knocked the other teenage boy out of Appa's litter to land on his backside on the hard cold icy ground.

With a panicked light in his gray eyes, the airbender asked Katara to get off his bison. His eyes widened, becoming even more alarmed when she refused to and insisted once again that she and her brother wanted to help him.

"Katara, never mind about helping him!" declared Sokka furiously, almost slipping back down just as he had just pushed himself up to stand. "He's made it clear he doesn't want our help!" Katara ignored him.

"Please. Let us help you. If someone is really chasing after you, we can offer you sanctuary in our tribe." Much to both royals' shock, tears welled in the airbender's eyes at her words.

"Sanctuary?" he repeated, his voice strained to the breaking point with hope and his glazed eyes seemingly unable to leave Katara's face. Quickly, she nodded and promised they would protect him. Even Sokka seconded her words when he finally realized just how fearful for his life the airbender was.

They had to wait until it was dark for the airbender, he had given his name as Pippin, refused to have his bison, whose name was Opsi, move closer to the city while it was still light out. Much to Sokka's annoyance, they had to sneak into the city and into the palace grounds under the cover of darkness to find room for Opsi at the Royal Stables which also housed other flying bison belonging to the Air Nomads who served the Southern Water Tribe Royal Family.

Katara barely was able to keep Pippin from running away with Opsi when he spotted the other bison.

"We won't let anyone know you are here," declared Katara in a strong reassuring tone while holding on tightly to the airbender's right arm with both her hands.

"... And just how are we supposed to explain about Opsi?" complained Sokka, turning nonplussed when Katara told him that they would just say they had found the bison floating around aimlessly in the South Pole Sea with no rider.

"That does happen occasionally, you know."

At this, Sokka nodded slowly and Aang (Pippin) with a confused expression hesitantly asked Katara, "What do you mean that... it happens regularly that bison are found riderless?"

While Sokka stared at Pippin with much suspicion, Katara, though surprised as well by his question, calmly answered, "Well, most Air Nomads are mercenaries... and sometimes get knocked off their bison or get killed while doing their... preferred line of work."

Aang blinked at her explanation while Sokka grumbled at him, "You just -can't- get any weirder. You're an airbender. How could you possibly not know that?"

"Same as how you didn't immediately think of the most obvious excuse we could give for finding Opsi," Katara answered her brother, in lieu of Pippin, who had turned his attention to the other flying bison in the stables.

"Pippin is just tired and isn't thinking very well right now," she said.

"Katara, I know... that I agreed that we help him, but we don't even know how he and Opsi got frozen in that berg in the first place, because he won't tell us."

"He will tell us when he's ready to tell us so just stop bothering him, Sokka. By the way, he has to stay in your room-"

"WHAT?"

"- or in my room."

Sokka's eyes bulged out at the very idea. "... Let's just put him in his own room!"

"The servants would know about Pippin if we get him his own room."

Aang, known to them as Pippin, tried to put in a word. "It's okay. I can just stay with Ap- Opsi here at the stables," but Katara pretended not to hear him and just continued a staring contest with her older brother until finally very reluctantly with a lot of muttering and complaining, Sokka agreed to let the airbender stay in his room.

"But just for tonight. Tomorrow, we get him his own place somewhere in the city."

"Agreed, Sokka," Katara immediately replied with a beaming smile and annoyed Sokka further by saying, "I'm so glad I have such an understanding big brother."

His eyes narrowing at her jibe, Sokka retorted, "Can't believe that I now have to babysit your boyfriends."

But that taunt no longer worked on his sister, whose satisfied smile widened into a mischievous grin as she turned away from a very bothered Sokka to grab the surprised airbender's right hand, tugging Aang to follow her towards the palace.

Aang slept very badly that first night as did Sokka, who just wasn't keen on the idea of letting another boy sleep in his room, even though Aang was sleeping on the couch and certainly not in Sokka's bed. Much to the prince's increased dismay and irritation, just as he had finally fallen asleep, he was suddenly and violently shaken awake by none other than his sister who at the same time was yelling about him losing someone called Pippin.

"What? What?"

"Sokka, you idiot! He's gone!"

"... Who's gone?"

Giving her brother a very irritated look, Katara suddenly grabbed Sokka's arm and dragged him bodily out of bed.

"Ow!" Sokka had landed painfully on the floor on his tailbone.

"Pippin's gone!"

However, Aang hadn't gone away. He was still in the palace, in the Royal Library specifically. Unable to sleep though desperately weary, he had decided to focus his attention in understanding why Katara and Sokka thought that his people, the Air Nomads, were mercenaries when they certainly weren't.

Not even an hour past midnight, while pouring over scrolls in the dim flickering light of a lamp he had borrowed from Prince Sokka's room, Aang made the unbelievable discovery that somehow, impossible though it may seem, a hundred years had passed since that fateful night when his teacher Monk Gyatso died in his arms.

A hundred years... Sheer disbelief coursed through every fiber of Aang's being and he found himself, almost in a panic, rechecking the scrolls he had just perused and confirming that what he had thought he had read was what really had been written. Still, it would be some time before he could even slightly accept the fact that he and Appa had been frozen and asleep in an iceberg for a century.

Gentle hope all of a sudden and once again slightly lifted the shroud of pain, misery, guilt and even anger that Aang had to bear since that day he and Gyatso had to flee from the Southern Air Temple and when his old teacher finally had revealed to his young pupil the terrible unfair burden he had had to bear as the Avatar.

I am very sorry, Aang. I did all that I could possible to conceal your identity. But we have no choice now... now that they intend to incarcerate every Air Nomad child around your age in order to locate the Avatar.

... My friends-

They will be all right, Aang. I have left a letter for the other monks to find, informing them that you are indeed the Avatar so that the other children should be left alone. ... They will now only hunt us.

... Where will we go now, Monk Gyatso? To the other nations?

No, Aang. We cannot. There are far too many in the Earth Kingdom who will hunt you down, and the Fire Nation will be the same and perhaps even worse. Even the Water Tribes will be pressured to capture you should you visit either poles. We've no choice but to go into hiding. However, don't worry too much. I have already thought about where we'll be hiding well ahead of this day. I have been looking forward to retiring on a certain very pleasant tropical island northwest of here.

Recalling how his dear departed teacher and guardian would maintain a cheerful disposition even though the situation was very dire, a small fond smile of remembrance came over Aang's face as he quickly looked through scrolls for recent information about the Avatar. Hope only bloomed stronger within Aang when the only Avatar-related information he could locate was a legend about a mystical bender known as the Avatar who was said able to master all four elemental bending arts.

... No one knows about me in this time... The thought was like the most wonderful panacea for Aang, who after years of evading capture and imprisonment finally felt that he had a real chance to be truly free and happy once again.

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End Chapter Three