A/N: I remember the good old days, back when FFnet didn't take FOREVER to load my chapter and never screwed up for no reason. D:
Anyway, I tried out a different writing style in here, just for laughs. I think I'll stick with my old style, as it takes a whole lot less effort on my part, but I really think this came out rather well. (I'll probably change my mind later, but I like it for now).
I wrote this whole thing out longhand first. I've found that writing it out longhand, while it takes a while longer, makes the stories come out better. That explains why I've been through four notebooks in the past year.
This story was inspired by the song "Nature Boy".
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
I was sitting in the darkness of a lone corner with a smoking pipe in my hand and a pint in front of me when he came through the tavern door. Dressed in a long robe of orange with a hood shadowing his face, he attracted only one glance from the drunkards and was taken by them as a lowly traveler like the rest of us. But I knew better.
I watched through narrowed eyes with a dark curiosity as he made his way through the ocean of brawls and bar arguments to the bar itself, where the bartender set aside a grimy rag and took up an empty cup much like my own. The robe-clad man leaned forward and conversed briefly with the bartender before the bartender bowed low and fetched the man a frothy pint and a paper bag. Once the man had taken up the two items with a word of thanks, he paid, turned, and scanned the room.
To my immense surprise, I found the man standing before my table in the blink of an eye. It were as if he'd manipulated the air around him and glided over to my silent table with a grace that I had never seen. I looked up at him and blinked in surprise.
"Mind if I sit?" His voice was gentle, though tinged with a rough edge common around this Earth Kingdom town.
If I nodded, I cannot say for sure, for my memory failed me then. The man sat down across from me with his purchases and a long sigh. When he lowered his hood, I saw in his eyes an unquenchable exhaustion. He had been through much. An old pendant hung around his neck with the symbol of the Air Nomads, and on his head was the mark of a master Airbender.
Finally, after he took a long drink from his pint, I found that my silence could not be continued.
"You are the Avatar," said I, peering at him through a curtain of pipe smoke.
With a nod he replied, "That's me."
Such awe I had never experienced in my life. Before me sat the Avatar, peering around the bar with some amusement and lots of interest. His age did not seem to make a difference in his sense of humor – he could not have had many more than six decades, but the trials and troubles of his life made him look older and wiser. As a child, I had been told the magnificent tales of this man's youth; how he had defeated the great Fire Lord at the mere age of twelve, how he had traveled with the most unlikely of companions to create and maintain peace amongst the four nations. Over land and sea he had traveled, bonding great friendships and making hope.
I put out my pipe in respect for his beloved air and watched as he opened the paper bag that the bartender had given him. Surely the Avatar would have ordered something grand and expensive! No. My eyebrows rose in surprise as the man exposed a simple pastry, for that simple delight was the least expensive item on the menu.
The Avatar settled back in his uncomfortable chair and tucked into his snack. Many questions flashed in my mind, each more difficult to suppress than the next. This chance of a lifetime was too much to allow me to keep from speaking.
"With all due respect, Avatar Sir," said I, nervously moving my pint aside with the back of my hand, "All my short twenty years I have been told of your epic adventures. Are the tales true?"
A fleeting smile crossed the man's prematurely aged features. He raised his pint to his lips and took a long drink before answering my inquiry. "Some are true," he answered, setting his mug on the table and peering around the room. His kind eyes lingered on a brawling pair of men before turning back to me. I saw in his eyes both kindness and something else that I could not recognize. "What's on your mind?"
If I had been expecting anything, it was not the casual friendliness with which he addressed me, a lowly peasant. I had been expecting somebody like my king – a man who thought himself superior and acted as such; the equality of the Avatar filled me with a warm comfort. So the Air Nomads were as free as I had always heard!
"Did you really traverse the entire country at the age of twelve with only a handful of companions?"
He nodded and responded, "Three human friends, my bison, and a lemur."
Eyes wide with fascination, I continued my oncoming barrage of questions. "The warrior, the Waterbender, and the Blind Bandit?"
Another nod from the Avatar. "Yes," he answered. He leaned his elbows on the table and smiled, as if a memory were passing through his mind. "The best friends that I could have ever asked for."
"And is it true," nervous as I was, my need to ask these questions was insatiable, "that you assisted the current Fire Lord to reach his throne? Fire Lord Zuko?"
"I don't think 'assisted' is the right word," the Avatar said with a small chuckle. "It was more of a nudge in the right direction."
"And Long Feng?"
The first look of bitterness crossed what was once a rather cheerful expression. "A fool if there ever was one. If you ever heard that I tried to help him after the fall of Ba Sing Se, that is a myth. If you heard that his actions were for someone other than himself, that is a lie."
One of many thoughtful frowns to come came to me then. In the eyes of my family, Long Feng had always been a name of little honor. Some saw him as a war hero, for he helped to bring down the rule of the Fire Nation, but my grandfather had always told me of his greed. The downward curve of my lips, though, was for another reason; I had always wondered what had come of the Avatar's supposed infatuation with his Waterbending friend.
"And is it true that you married the Waterbender? The peasant?" A wince then rose to my face, for I had used lightly a word of much severity – and in front of the Avatar!
But he did not look upon me with scorn. Instead, he smiled a sad smile that broke my heart and answered, "Yes. We got married just a few years after the war. We lived happily together and raised our children as one, until…"
He did not need to finish his sentence, for the tale was legendary. Many a storyteller had retold the account of that fateful night, far off in the distant Southern Air Temple. A group of loyalists to the late Ozai found the Avatar's place of dwelling and killed his beloved wife under the shadow of a moonless night. When the man now sitting before me – far younger then – awoke at the sound of the Waterbender's gasping breath, he found his newly dead wife silent by his side and her killers fleeing from the Temple. Enraged by the injustice, the Avatar fell as many of the killers as he could capture.
I realized then that I had been staring for quite some time and averted my eyes elsewhere. If the stories were true, then the Avatar fled to the Spirit World and made a valiant attempt to get his wife back, but the Spirits would not allow it. With a broken heart, he returned home and journeyed to the South Pole to break the news to his friends and vacationing children.
My puzzlement and wonder I could not hide as I stared into the depths of my amber-filled pint. "So many adventures…" I felt the words leave my lips in hardly more than a whisper. I looked up at Avatar Aang, at his kind face and sad eyes that had clearly once been filled with a child's wonder and hope. "Surely, Sir, you must have learned a century's worth of lessons and knowledge. Please, tell me, what is the most valuable piece of knowledge that you have learned?"
Upon his face I gazed as he lifted his glass and finished his beverage. He rose to his feet and pushed his chair to the table before giving me a deep bow of respect and courtesy.
"My friend," he said in the same serene tone, "Of all the things I've learned through my travels, troubles, and adventures, the most important lesson is one that any man can learn." I waited with bated breath and found myself shocked when he said simply, "Just to share the time I did with the only woman I love was worth everything. To love and be loved in return is the greatest gift of all, and the most valuable piece of knowledge I have ever known." He bowed yet another low bow and put his hands together in his orange sleeves. "Thank you for having a drink with me. Your company has been most enjoyable."
In a blink of an eye, he was gone as swiftly as he had arrived.
Once the tavern door had swung shut and the dust in my mind had settled, I let my body lean forward against the table. My hands, which acted of their own accord, gripped my pint and brought it to my lips. As I drank, I pondered about the loving wife I had argued with and left tonight in order to escape to this bar, the words of the wise monk, and the sound of a widower's cries piercing the night in an empty temple.
A/N: I didn't give the narrator a name because... I don't know. I liked him better without one. xD
I also debated throughout the entire thing whether or not to have Katara die, and in the end I decided to. It made more sense that way.
Thanks for reading!