Foreword: Written on a total Friday Whim with nothing else to do.
Soundtrack: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Cyberbird.

Cycling Through

Avatar Aang was born to the Western Air Nomad, Shura, and the Northern Air Nomad, Heng. The two met and courted during one of the annual Flying Bison races centered at the Northern Temple, and their son was named Aang because both agreed that it was a nice, airy sort of name. After he was born, Aang was taken from them, as was Air Nomad custom, and given to a middle-aged man named Afiko. Afiko took Aang to the Southern Temple, Heng and Shura politely bid one another good-bye and never spoke again.
Aang was raised in the South, seperated from both parents, because that was how things were done. The Nomads practiced and largely enforced a strict seperation of the genders and a detachment from material concerns like family. Aang didn't even know what the word parent meant until he was six, and by then, he had attached its meaning to an elder named Gyatso without either knowing it.
Aang actually had a full head of hair until he was seven. Then he had his head ritually shaved and the Airbending tattoos--mark of his mastery over the element--were put into place with ink, needles and ritual precision by all five of the reigning elders at the Temple. Aang lost two of his baby teeth from biting down on a piece of wood to try and not scream, and the whole process left him bedridden and in pain for three days.
Aang met Bumi and Kuzon when he was eight. Both were princes, in their own ways; Bumi was the son of Omashu's King, Kuzon was the son of the new Fire Lord, Sozen. They all got together in the city of Omashu during talks to try and head off war; the rulers brought their children and Aang was the closest thing the Nomads had to royalty at the time. He didn't find out why for two years, but when he first met Bumi and Kuzon, that didn't matter. All that mattered was seeing who could go the fastest on Omashu's mailing system, who could eat the most melons and who could hold the straightest face when explaining why all the local girls had their skirts blown up at the same time from an unexpected gust of wind, dust or heat.

Aang won every single time.
Aang met his parents when he was nine, and the experience is still disconcerting to him a hundred and three years after the fact. His father, Heng, was the overseer of the annual Bison races. It was the first time Aang ever attended them, and for reasons still unknown to him, he was the guest of honor. His meeting with Heng was short and little different from his meetings with other senior Nomads; Heng treated him with the respect owed to a Master and then some, but remained completely void of any emotion when dealing with him. He didn't even notice when Aang tried to call him Father.

Aang's meeting with Shura was at the opposite end of the spectrum; completely awkward, somewhat disrespecting and emotional on so many levels that Aang has only recently realized it. She was the first person to hug him, and much to the protests of Afiko and the other elders from every Temple but the East, Shura tucked him in to sleep one night and kissed him on his forehead. Aang never actually called her Mother, but now he wishes he did.
Aang learned he was the Avatar at the age of ten. It was then that almost everything clicked into place. It was also then that Gyatso gave him his Glider. He was smiling that day, and Aang has always wondered whether or not the smile was one of happiness or sadness. With Gyatso, it was always impossible to tell.
Aang fought his first true battle at the age of eleven. Though he was ranked as a Master, his actual skills at Airbending were--and still are--incomplete. His opponent was Afiko, sour that Aang had been goofing off too much and out to prove that he still had a ways to go.

Aang defeated him, but only because Gyatso forbid Afiko from using lethal techniques.
Afiko became an elder when Aang was twelve. Immediately, he pushed for Aang to go to the Eastern Air Temple. This was because he truly wanted to ruin Aang more than anything. His ties to Gyatso strengthened him, but Aang was, at his core, an increasingly attention starved little boy who had never dealt with girls in any meaningful way. The Eastern Air Temple was almost entirely populated by women, with exception to one heretical man.

What Afiko didn't ever figure out was that Gyatso was a step ahead of him; he wanted Aang to have to deal with women, because Aang was the Avatar and he was going to have to do it eventually anyway.
Aang went missing when he was twelve. Xiang, the sole man at the Eastern Air Temple, was devestated, because he and his wife, Shun, had been intent on adopting the boy and raising him as their daughter, Malu's older brother.
A year after Aang went missing, Afiko left the Southern Air Temple and visited Fire Lord Sozen with a proposal. He met Kuzon there, and Kuzon swore to kill him if his proposal went through.
When the Fire Nation commenced its genocide on the Air Nomads, the only dissenter of any meaning was Prince Kuzon. Heedless of the cries of his uncle and ignorant of the birth of his brother, Azulon, Kuzon stormed into Fire Lord Sozen's throne room and challenged him to an Agni Kai. It was two years after Aang went missing, and Kuzon was a fourteen year old trying to topple the entrenched leader of a newfound superpower.

Kuzon failed in Agni Kai. His uncle, Zaio, and Afiko were both among the witnesses when Sozen burned the boy's left arm off. Beaten and dying, Kuzon's last plea was that the Fire Lord spare the Western Air Temple. He looked directly into Afiko's eyes when he spoke, then had his face blown off.

A month after Kuzon died, Afiko woke up one night, screaming and in pain with visions of Roku blazing through his head atop a furious red dragon. In a panic, he dashed to the Fire Lord's chambers, threw himself to the floor and seconded Kuzon's plea.

Where he did not listen to Kuzon, he did listen to Afiko.
The Western Air Temple surrendered after only two days of siege. Shura herself walked out the doors, descended the mountain and handed over her glider to Afiko as a personal show of submission to the Fire Lord.

The other Temples were not so fortunate; the Northern Temple was abandoned before the fighting could get fierce. The Eastern Temple was decimated from top to bottom; Xiang was the first to die. Shun hid Malu in a cave at its base, then joined her husband. Only the Southern Air Temple tried, and succeeded, in holding out.
Monk Gyatso was the last Airbender of the Southern Temple. In the middle of the fighting, he tried to spirit away all the children, only to watch they and their bisons burn wholesale. He tried to lead the other monks in a futile push to save the boys, only to have them all die around him. When he was alone, all he could do was fend off every attack aimed at him, slowly working his way back to a small safehouse near the Temple grounds. Once inside, he barricaded the door and finally cracked.

Gyatso cried for the first and only time when he was seventy-six years old. Then he wiped his eyes, stood up and spoke: "I am glad you are not here to see this, Aang."

Then he began to gather electricity to his fingertips and made his last stand, surrounded by Fire Nation soldiers.
In the aftermath of Afiko's genocide, those few surviving Air Nomads left the sky and tried to go underground. The Fire Nation responded with its only secret weapon: The Western Air Nomads, forced into servitude and held in bondage with the lives of their children and surviving loved ones on the line. One by one, they hunted down their former compatriots--even former lovers--and killed them.

Shura and Heng's final meeting was a wordless example of this; Heng opened a barn door and Shura greeted him with a kiss that sucked the air out of his lungs and imploded them. He died without so much as a scream. Shura cried all the way home, where she was ultimately forced to wed Afiko in a largely staged ceremony.
Afiko had six children, all of them daughters. The only one that mattered--the only one he cared for at all--was the youngest, a darling little girl named Irah. Afiko tried to turn her into an assassin, Shura tried to turn her into a compassionate, wise young woman with high morals and keen insight.

Somewhere in between the two extremes, Irah became a woman who was compassionate and insightful, but blindly devoted and painfully naive. She was wed to Prince Azulon the day she turned thirteen, becoming a Fire Nation noble and inheriting all the trappings that came with it. Afiko died two days later, the air ripped out of his lungs. Shura vanished at the same time, and was never seen again.
As the years went by, the Northern renegades died away, one by one, all of them either childless or dying too soon to pass on their knowledge to their children. In the end, only the Westerners remained intact, secreted away from the world at large with their daughters raised up into weapons of absolute last resort and their sons generally dispersed into the populace, ignorant of their birthright.

Only Malu survived, cold and alone in that cave at the base of the Eastern mountain range. She went home after a few years, buried as many bodies as she could and slowly but surely went insane, until all she could do was sit in the Avatar Chamber and mutter things to the statues. One day, she began speaking to spirits.
Irah lived through one childbirth and died with the next. Prince Iroh was born with a gust of wind and Prince Ozai was born clutching a massive blood clot in each hand. Azulon never quite forgave him for it.
War dragged on. The Airbender blood diluted into the Fire Nation, and some Firebenders began to demonstrate the ability to increase the power of their flames exponentially, turning them blue. Some rare souls even boasted of the ability to use lightning. Iroh was the first of the royal family to perform this, followed by Ozai a year and a day later.
When Lu Ten died, Iroh retired and went on a pilgrimmage. He eventually sought out the rumored Ghost Witch of the East, and with her aid, ventured into the Spirit World. When he finally returned, he was a sobbing mess and Malu's face was gone. He burned her dead body and scattered the ashes into the wind, begging forgiveness with every clumped handful he could throw.
By the time Aang finally returned to the world at large, he had no less than fifteen nephews and nieces, as well as their in-laws and children. He still doesn't know this, and he probably never will.
Zuko doesn't like to admit it, but he does have one unique talent that Azula lacks: He can Bend smoke. He has only used this ability a few times. The first time he ever performed it resulted in the death of a small bird. When he tried to pull the smoke out of its lungs, he simply set the animal on fire and had to watch as it burned to death from the inside out.

This is partly why he loathes and envies the Avatar; Aang's air is pure. Zuko's smoke is tainted. When he lies awake at night, staring up at the ceiling or the stars, Zuko thinks that this is the most accurate philosophical metaphor he could ever create for comparing himself to the Avatar.
To date, the only Firebender in the past hundred years who was thoroughly mourned by anyone but his own people was Kuzon. Bumi personally created a small monument in his likeness, built atop the highest point in the city of Omashu. When the Fire Nation took the city and began building a statue in the likeness of Ozai, Kuzon's memorial was one of the first things to be destroyed.
Aang misses the days when all he had to worry about was getting caught with Kuzon and Bumi, peeking up girls' skirts and trying to avoid the awkwardness of being a prodigal genius with no parents. He misses the days when he and Appa were champion racers and Afiko was just a guy he occasionally threw jelly-topped cakes at from halfway across the Southern Temple. Most of all, he misses the days when he could go anywhere in the world and feel at home, with Gyatso guiding him and holding his hand every step of the way.

Today though, Aang has Katara and Sokka. He has Toph and Momo, and Appa is still with him too. Today, he has Roku guiding him.

Aang looks at Zuko sometimes and sees a shadow. Sometimes it's a shadow of himself, sometimes it's a shadow of Kuzon, and sometimes it's a shadow of something all together different. Every so often though, he'll spot an improvement; Zuko grows, Zuko thinks, Zuko wonders and questions himself, and every time he does, he gets just a little closer to the point where Aang thinks he'll be able to call the deposed Prince his friend.
Aang wonders sometimes, how his new friends--and enemies--would get along with his old ones.

He likes to think that the young Bumi would try to flirt with Toph and get smacked for it while Zuko laughs at them both. He likes to think that Katara and Sokka would get along with everyone while Gyatso, the old Bumi and Iroh joke and make cake. He likes to think that Roku would protect him from Afiko. He likes to think that maybe, Ty Lee would've been a nice girl to meet if she had lived at the Eastern Air Temple, Mai would have been Kuzon's kind of girl and Azula would butt heads with Kyoshi and lose.
Aang also wonders--sometimes, and only when he's the only one awake at night, staring up at the stars--what his mother would think of him now.

In the end, he likes to think she would approve.
Because in the end, Aang is just cycling through.

Author's Note: WELL! That came out of nowhere. Long story short: Whole bucketload of theories went into this one, many of which can be found-ish at the Avatorials Livejournal community. Feel free to go give 'em a read.

I tried to stay consistent with what's known in the canon, but I do admit to taking a few liberties here and there. Hope you enjoyed, and feel free to leave a review.