Author's Note: Text in italics are flashbacks. I would like to thank all of my reviewers for the positive feedback on this story. And I'd like to thank Effie's Head for making Aang's world come alive for me. You must read...go...read Effie's work. There will be more to come...Enjoy!
'It's all right, my precious one. I'm here with you.'
Soft fingers caressed his cheek and he felt a light kiss on his forehead. Aang blinked and found himself looking into a pair of grey eyes. He saw a smile much like his own, brightening a lovely young face.
'You'll be all right. Always remember, my angel that I'm here with you. I will always be with you.' She began to grow fainter, becoming transparent.
"No, please don't go…" He tried to find his voice. "Please don't go!" The boy felt tears on his cheeks and a panicked feeling came over him.
Aang awoke, afraid and disoriented. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, sweat sticking to him, his whole being shaking with panic. How long had he been unconscious? His eyes darted over the room and he realized that he was still in the prayer chamber, stretched out on his stomach on the pallet. There was no one in the room and he wondered where the monks had gone. The room was bright with sunshine and the heavy incense smell no longer hung in the air, instead it had been replaced with the fresh smell of spring air coming in from outside.
He felt horribly nauseated and he tried to roll over onto his side, but a stabbing pain suddenly coursed through his body and he cried out. It was times like these, when he was sick and frightened, that Aang probably felt the need for a mother most of all. Despite never knowing his family, he still had the same needs as any other child for comfort and affection. Some of the other boys were still in contact with their families, many times he had heard them speak of their mothers, and he had seen the women who excitedly hugged their sons when it was "Family Day" at the temple. He couldn't help but imagine a gentle feminine face smiling at him, holding him close, and singing softly in an effort to comfort him. Instead it was Gyatso who rushed into the room at the sound of his cry.
"Aang, it's all right. I'm here." The child smiled weakly as the elder monk felt his forehead and gently wiped his face with a cool, damp cloth.
"Much better." The monk said. "Your fever has broken. We were worried there for a few days. We honestly didn't think you would become this ill, but thankfully we were prepared for it just in case."
"How long have I been asleep?" Aang managed to croak out. His voice sounded hoarse, unused, and exhausted. "Was it a long time? Did Monk Suji finish my tattoos?"
"A few days. It took Suji three days to complete your tattoos and you slept for three more days after that." Gyatso once again wiped the damp cloth over Aang's round face. The boy tried to move once again and it was at that moment he became aware of two things: a sticky, cold substance on his head and the bandages wound tightly around his body and limbs.
"What is this stuff all over me?" The boy made a face. "It's sticky and uncomfortable. And it smells."
"It's to help with infection and helps your skin heal faster. Trust me you will appreciate it before long. Now, let's see how those tattoos look." The elder monk said with a smile. Aang watched as Gyatso unwound the bandages that covered his right arm and hand. When he could see the skin finally exposed, he panicked. It was awful! The skin was red and irritated and the tattoo was not the bright blue color he was expecting, instead it was a sickly purplish color. Aang was horrified. Did his entire body look like that? What had they done to him? He felt tears sting his eyes and he tried to blink them back.
"It…it looks awful." Aang whispered. The visions he had of winding blue markings elegantly decorating his frame, the looks of envy from he had imagined getting from his friends when they saw him, it was all shattered by the realization that he was covered in an ugly bruised mess of lines and arrows. Tears of disappointment spilled down his cheeks.
"Aang, I know it looks bad right now, but everything will start looking better as you heal. Trust me. When I went through the process, I came out of it about fours shades of purple and horribly swollen."
Gyatso nodded and smiled. "You'll look and feel better in a few days."
The boy managed a small smile in return as a wave of relief washed over him.
Gyatso had been right. Within a few days the look of his skin improved and he could see the blue color emerging from behind the bruised flesh. After a few days of lying in the prayer chamber to heal, he had been moved to his room and his excited friends eagerly clustered at the foot of his bed, all of their eyes widening with awe as Aang showed off every inch of his tattoos.
"See!" An excited Aang was standing on his bed, wearing nothing but his underwear, turning around so every line and arrow could be seen. The younger boys giggled at the scrawny almost ten-year old, unable to fully understand the significance of the markings. The older boys, especially the ones nearing the age to be initiated, stared at the tattoos with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.
One of the younger boys pointed at Aang's back and the tattooed line running down the length of his spine and disappearing into his underwear. "Look, I bet it's on his butt."
The comment sent the younger initiates once again into a fit of giggles. Aang shot them what he thought was his best menacing glare.
"It is not." He said, indignantly. "If it was, I couldn't do this…"
Aang flopped onto his bed, landing hard on his backside. The younger boys stopped giggling. The older initiates pushed the younger ones out of the way and began questioning him, wanting him to divulge every aspect of his ordeal.
"Were you nervous?"
"Did it hurt?"
"Did you throw up? I bet you did."
"Did you cry?"
"Who was there? Was Monk Suji there? I heard he's mean."
"Are you naked when they tattoo you? I bet you are. Oh I couldn't lie there like that!"
Aang smiled and shook his head. Gyatso had warned him that there would be questions. Aang himself had asked those very same questions and he could see the frustration in the eyes of his friends at his refusal to answer them. He himself had felt that frustration. But it made him feel older to know that he had such an important secret to keep, that he was now a part of a great tradition.
The young Avatar had indeed felt a change come over him that day, he suddenly felt different, wiser, much more so than the boys surrounding him. He felt like a Master Airbender. He had known during his examinations, the eyes of the Council trained on his every move, that he was worthy of being called a Master. The placement of his slightly narrow feet, the position of his body, the extension of his arms down to the tips of his fingers, all speaking to his skills as an airbender.
Aang had passed, no negative marks. He had heard the murmurs of the Council behind him as Gyatso led him out of the Council Chamber.
"Yes…there are certainly no doubts now."
At that time he had not understood what doubts they were referring to. But he certainly knew now.