A/N: Yes, we have finally reached the end. I wanted to get this up sooner, but my life has become so stressful lately that all I have time to do is work and sleep. But this weekend I was free and I really wanted to get this up before the Season Three Premiere (5 days, baby!). So, after several hard weeks, a total in complete breakdown in public, and a whole lot of brain farts, I present to you the epilogue of "Soul Search"! And yes, I do recycle names from story to story.
I also must award credit where it is due. Thanks to BlackBlur and someone else (I feel awful, but I can't remember who you are!) for getting my brain thinking on this epilogue.
Warning: I am about to throw a lot of information at you. I tried not to be influenced by certain other epilogues whose names I won't disclose in the respect that people really didn't like because it sounded more like fan fiction than published work, but okay. Anyway, I'm really glad to have this over with now, and I hope you like this ending to what turned out to be a well-received story! Thank you all so much!
On a final note, I would like to dedicate this last installment of the story to libowiekitty, in hopes that she feels better from whatever is obviously bringing her down! You have my prayers, friend.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
The day was not a particularly good one for a stroll, but the six children—one of which was too young to do much more than point towards the front door and whimper in his mother's arms—nevertheless dragged their tired parents out into the gloom and up the winding Ba Sing Se road. Late afternoon had settled upon the city, as had a number of ominous storm clouds. The weather did not seem to dissuade the children at all, though, for they had long since been promised that this walk in particular would come.
"We're here!" Upon arrival, the youngest of the girls, a petite little thing of six with messy pigtails and bangs that covered all but the very tip of the arrow on her forehead, let out an excited exclamation.
The third child, the first boy for the parents, rolled his blue eyes. "No, Amaya, we're not. We just stopped here because mom can't walk very far with a baby inside her," he replied sarcastically.
Amaya put her hands on her hips in defiance of her big brother. She was young, but not too young to recognize her brother's less-than-admirable attempt at sarcasm. "I thought you were just too stupid to know," she said hotly, valiantly attempting to seem like a 'big girl' to her brother, who often wouldn't let her play with him and his other 12-year-old friends in the neighborhood.
"That's coming from the girl who painted an arrow on her forehead this morning and couldn't get it off," chuckled a nine-year-old Kiyodu. Being the middle child (exactly the middle, now that his mother was pregnant again, as his older brother had pointed out earlier), he was more soft-spoken than his three older siblings and even Amaya, who desperately refused to have her little voice overshadowed by the older children. Unlike Amaya, however, Kiyodu's quiet nature made him a better listener, and this enabled him to earn his recently acquired arrows at an early age.
As Amaya argued with her brother about who was "stupider", the eldest children, one an Airbender and the other a Waterbender, respectively, stopped chatting about whatever they had seen earlier that week in town and turned to the argument. The older of the two, age sixteen, called out to her little brother:
"Be nice, Sokka!"
"Yeah," cut in a 14-year-old Mye. "And don't practice your "new sarcasm" on Amaya."
Meanwhile, the proud (though very much exasperated) parents watched unfold what was sure to be an argument. Aang raised an eyebrow and shot a sidelong glance at his wife, who adjusted Wei on her hip and sighed.
"So much for a peaceful walk," Katara groaned, but she was smiling.
Aang walked around to Katara's other side, placed a light kiss on her cheek, and pried the child of almost two from her arms. "Come on," he said, lifting Wei up so that the child was on his shoulders. Wei let out a small squeal of delight at being in his favorite spot—it was really the only place where he could look around and see everyone from above—and grabbed his father's ears. Aang winced. "We've got a bit of a climb, and they'll figure it out that we've left them sooner or later."
Nodding, Katara turned and the pair began climbing the somewhat steep slope of the grassy hill. As they walked, she casually asked if Aang had invited Lena to join them on the stroll.
"I asked her this morning, but I think she wanted to give us some family time," Aang replied.
A small smile graced Katara's lips. "She's a good kid," she said. "I'm always thankful that we've had her help, especially after Mye was born and I couldn't do as much work around the house with two kids."
Shortly after Katara and Aang had returned from the Spirit World, Aang ran into that little girl that he had met in the hospital that first day. After a quick consultation and explanation with his wife, the couple had invited the homeless eight-year-old with the broken arm to live with them. Lena had agreed shyly, both humbled by the Avatar's kindness and excited at the prospect of having a place to live. From there, Aang and Katara provided her with education and housing in exchange for some help around the house, especially once Katara became pregnant with her third child. Then, once her assistance was no longer a necessity, Lena used the education that she had been granted to get a job in the History department of Ba Sing Se University and move out of the house, though she still often stopped by to lend a hand when it was needed and refused to accept any pay that Katara attempted to give her.
A low rumble of thunder sounded off in the distance, bringing the children back to the realization that they had limited time for their excursion. All five of them began chasing their parents (and Wei, who still sat on Aang's shoulders) up the stone-flecked hill, passed them on the way, and waited, apprehensive, at the crest of the hill for them to catch up. Once the parents did so, the group of eight continued to walk until they reached their destination.
Katara lowered herself quietly to her knees, and her children crowded around her so that they could look, too. Her fingers traced the face of the stone, loosening the dirt and vegetation that had accumulated since the last time they had come to visit. A small, sad smile rose to her face.
"Hello, Sokka," she greeted. Aang's hand found her shoulder and gave it a small squeeze. Wei squirmed now, and his father lowered him to the ground so that the young one could see. Then Katara addressed her children. "This is my brother and your namesake, Sokka." She added this last tidbit to her eldest son, who nodded eagerly and gave the old boomerang in his hand a squeeze. "He died so that I could live, and have all of you."
Now Amaya looked at the gravestone, confused. "But I don't see him anywhere. Where did he go when he died?"
Katara laughed and patted the ground in front of her. "He's right here. And next to him is our friend—"
"The Blind Bandit," the eldest daughter cut in, brushing her hair back from her eyes and momentarily revealing a blue arrow (genuine, unlike Amaya's painted one). "Toph Bei Fong."
"That's right," Aang replied with a nod and a small smile, much like Katara's. "We named you after her, Toph, for the friendship we had," he told his eldest daughter. "She was my Earthbending teacher; a rocklike, independent woman with a knack for nicknames. Toph used to call me Twinkletoes because I was light on my feet as an Airbender."
At this, the children all laughed at the humor of the name. When the moment passed, however, and a respectful silence fell on the family again, Kiyodu piped up quietly, "How did she die?"
"Well, it's sort of a complicated story that I don't even know all the parts of," Aang began, "But she died at the same time as Sokka, so she could be with him forever."
Katara, whose vibrant eyes did not leave the two headstones, added, "She loved him so much that she couldn't bear to live without him."
Amaya turned to her father. "I want to meet them someday."
Aang reached down and ruffled her already messy hair. "Someday you will, but not for a very long time, Amaya."
The two older girls, who were old enough to understand the implication that their father had made, shared a quick glance before turning back to their parents. A louder clap of thunder sounded overhead, causing Amaya to jump in surprise and grab her father's arm. Katara turned back so that she could see Aang from her spot on the ground.
"We should be heading back," she said to him. "It's going to rain soon, and I want to have a Waterbending lesson if that's the case."
The only two Waterbenders in the family, Mye and Sokka, shared an excited look and half of a happy dance at the prospect of having a Waterbending lesson. Neither were Masters yet, though Mye, being the older of the two, had a vastly greater amount of skill in the art.
Aang watched his two excited children and laughed, "I think that's a great idea. Here, why don't you all head back to the house, and your mother and I'll catch up in a bit."
The children nodded. Toph proceeded to begin shepherding the younger children down the graveyard's hill while Mye scooped up little Wei and propped him on one hip. Then the two sisters began down the hill themselves, talking quietly about whatever happened to be on their minds.
A chilling gust of wind blew by, accompanied by thunder's growling undertones.
Katara and Aang remained.
Finally, Aang slowly lowered himself to his knees beside his wife and placed one hand on the ground.
"It's always hard to come back," he muttered. Whether he was talking to his wife or himself, he wasn't sure.
Katara nodded in response and scooted closer to him as another gust blew. "I always wonder if we could have stopped it and saved them both. We did everything we could, but it wasn't enough, was it?"
"I don't know." He paused thoughtfully. "I think that, usually, doing everything we could isn't enough; the war, for example, cost us more lives than we'd hoped. But this time, I think it was." When she turned and looked at him, he added, "I mean, when we went back to get the weapons that we left behind, they weren't at the gates anymore. They'd moved on to bigger and better things."
"Just like us," Katara said. Her eyes dropped down to her swollen abdomen and she couldn't help but let a reluctant smile reach her face.
"Yes," Aang responded, reaching out and placing a hand on her stomach. He could almost feel the love and life radiating from within. Katara and he looked up at the same time, saw each other, and understood exactly what the other was thinking. They had been together long enough to be able to do such things. Aang leaned forward and softly kissed her before he breathed, "Just like us."
Yet again, the thunder boomed through the air—louder this time, though, and they both jumped in surprise. Then, laughing at their silliness, Aang Airbended himself to his feet and bent over to assist Katara to hers as well. It took her a few seconds, as standing up was quite a feat during the end of a third trimester, but when she did, he couldn't help but stare into her eyes for a little while. Everything that he had ever done, everything that had ever happened in his life, had brought him to this, and her smile was enough to reassure him that every cost had been worthy of paying.
A drop of rain on his cheek caused him to blink in surprise. Then, out of nowhere, the sky opened up and rain began to pour over the city in buckets. Aang quickly pulled Katara to his side and raised a hand up over his head, Waterbending a sort of umbrella over them.
He slipped his free hand into hers and smiled. Everything would be all right in the end. "Come on Katara, let's go home."
And so it was then that Aang and Katara turned away from the graveyard and began towards home. A light gust of wind blew by the side-by-side headstones, skittering the autumn leaves, and the graveyard was silent.
A/N: Yes, that's a lot of kids. They just like making babies, okay! But little does poor Katara know that she is carrying twins! Ahahahaha! I hope the whole naming kids after people thing didn't strike you the wrong way, as I myself don't usually like it when people do that, but I felt that it was necessary for this story. Also, I'd like to mention that I named a character (ickle Wei, to be exact) after the guy who delivered me Chinese food at work and got me started on this epilogue. Thank you, random stranger!
Anyway, now a special thanks to the people who reviewed this story. As you already probably know, I don't ask for reviews, but I still love to read every one and respond when I can, so thanks to the following people (if I missed your name by accident, my sincerest apologies!):
A Saphire Rose, Aangsfan, Aangs fangirl1214, Aangxxxkatara, AtLAfanatic, Avvygirl, BlackBlur87, Cobweb the Dictator, Coeus, DuHSPaZZiNGFeL, Justcallmewolfy, KaTaAnGfOrEvEr, Katara2102, Kichigai Hi, Killerpenguin55, Kumori Doragon, Libowiekitty, Lily Dragon, LiveInThaskyE, Mist of the Waterfalls, PsicKat, Ron Weasly girl, Sakae Kashiwagi, SaraHeartsKataang, Snows Of Yester-Year, Summer Sweetheart, TTAvatarfan, Tokkalover, Twilight Rose2, Vanille Strawberry, firreflye2, hikari-aozora, i-embrace-OCD, intricate designs, justicar347, kataangfan22, metro.max, music4ever159, shutupandlisten987
That's about it. Thanks again, so much, for reading!