A/N: Well here it is, the last chapter and the epilogue. I'll save any comments for after the story. I hope you enjoy it.
"This is bad." Zuko said to Sokka as the two stood apart from the crowd. Aang was no where to be seen, and the crowd had gathered without even needing to be summoned when the elder had ordered all the village's unmarried young women to come to his tent the next morning.
The crowd of parents and young men that gathered in front of the pavilion looked more dangerous by the moment. The girls ranged in age from barely thirteen all the way up to grown young women who should have already been married if not forbidden by the elder to do so. "Outrage" seemed to be the word murmured most among the people who were gathered.
When the elder emerged from his pavilion, carried by Gou, the crowd burst into a cacophony of voices all trying to be heard at once. Pleading fathers and boyfriends competed for the elder's attention with wailing mothers and scared young girls.
"If Aang's smart he found another iceberg." Zuko whispered.
"Please everyone settle down!" Ouga shouted above the din. "This is supposed to be a joyous occasion. We can finally return home, and our exile is over."
"We ARE home!" One older man shouted back. "You're the only one left who was even born in the old world and even YOU can't remember what it was like there. THIS is our home now and I do NOT want some kid showing up to take my little daughter off to who knows where."
"Why do we have to return?" Someone else ranted. "Why can't we stay here?"
"This is not our home." Ouga countered. "We must go back to where we came from, to our ancestral home or our people will disappear forever and our world will be lost."
"Why should we care if THIS is our world now? Any number of the villages we have seen would take us in." Some woman said looking around at her neighbors for support.
"Please, everyone just listen. I know this might seem to be frightening, but our world and our avatar need us." The elder pleaded with the mob.
"Now? After one hundred years, they need us now?" Yuu said with a sneer from the pavilion.
"Get back in the tent." The elder commanded the rogue. "Your words are nothing but poison. Gou, put me down and go tie him down again."
Zuko looked at the large young man who stayed rooted to the spot. "I want to hear what he has to say elder."
Everyone seemed to go quiet as someone openly defied the elder. Yuu seized his moment to step into the clearing with the young girls. "My words are poison? Let me ask you elder, what is more poisonous, telling people what lies outside their village or telling them they have to give up their children?"
People in the crowd started looking from one to another, and Zuko could feel the situation getting worse down to his toes. He'd addressed enough people in his lifetime to know when popular sentiment was running against you. Right now the air nomads were about as amicable towards the elder and Aang as Katara's tribe had been the first time he'd met them.
"Someone said that one of the villages we'd seen would take us in. And you're right, they will. This world has all kinds of wonders that the elder has been hiding from you for years. He forbids us to mix with these people, he tells us they are not our own. I tell you that they are just as human as we are and their way of life is more comfortable than living in tents, and scrounging for food. Some of you have already talked to some of them. Some of you have seen the wonders they have in store. The elder would have you turn your back on all these things to have you go back to a way of life that none of you were born to. He clings to the old ways and says that we should too, but why? So he can feel more at home in his old age? I have been out there; I know where to go and who to talk to. Follow me from here and leave the elder to his avatar." Yuu recited.
A rumble of assent rose from the crowd and Zuko decided it was time to step in before things got further out of hand. "I have something to say."
"Another one of the elder's lackeys…"
The torrent of flame that shot up from Zuko's hand towered over the village. It was the most fire he could possibly channel at once. If he had brought it down on such a tightly gathered group of people every one of them would have been fried to a crisp instantly… and they knew it.
"I see that enough of your traditions have remained intact that you realize what that display means." Zuko said raising his voice. If Yuu wanted to parade around like a statesman, he would show him what a real statesman was capable of.
"You're… a firebender." Ouga whispered in dread.
"Yes, I am a firebender. Not only am I a firebender, but I am Fire Lord Zuko, the direct descendant of the man that started the war that drove you all here." Zuko said as he stepped into the clearing. People cowered back from him while others looked ready to kill him. "I see in you fear. You are afraid of a world you have never known. All you have ever heard are the things that the elder has told you about your world. My people once made war on your people, but now I stand before you to atone for the crimes of my ancestors. On our world, the war is over. Aang ended that war. It raged unchecked for one hundred years until he managed to stop it by confronting my father and ending his reign of terror. Together the avatar and I have tried to rebuild what was lost. Before traveling here to find you I commissioned craftsmen to go and rebuild the temples of your people. In one hundred years, things have changed greatly on our worlds as they have no doubt changed on this one as well. I challenge each of you with this question. Both worlds here are effectively unknown to you, would it not then be wiser to return to a world unknown to you in which you belong and in which your people have a history than to venture into a world in which you are strangers having no place?"
"And what about these girls?" Yuu shot back acidly. "Is this homeland of ours so great that you would expect these people to give up their children for it? What about those of you who love some of these girls? Is your homeland worth losing them?"
Gou set the elder down on the ground and walked to where one of the young girls stood. He then stepped in front of her and turned to face the elder. "I will not give up Maya."
The crowd began to growl again as Yuu once again gained a following. He stared at Zuko in triumph. "Besides, what use are the words of an ancient enemy who claims now to be our friend. Perhaps this avatar is nothing more than his puppet meant to carry us and our women back into slavery."
"ENOUGH!" Several voices bellowed in unison.
People fell away faster than they had from Zuko's pillar of fire when that voice echoed across the camp. Armies had faltered at the sound of that terrible sound, and it seemed to reverberate up through the very blood of all the people gathered there in a sort of ancient memory imbedded into each person's soul. It was the sound of an angry avatar.
Aang stepped through the crowd as people backed, and even crawled away from him in absolute terror. Aang floated into the clearing and even Yuu trembled at the sight of his tattoos glowing and the wind making him hover a few inches off the ground. Somehow the idea of 'puppet' didn't seem to hold much weight anymore.
"Gou!" The avatar snapped as if reprimanding a delinquent. "You claim that you will not leave Maya. Will you then face me for her? Will you stand before me and defy my will for the woman you love? How far are you willing to go to protect her?"
Gou looked like he was going to be sick. He looked back at Maya ready to burst into tears and with a shaking step moved forward. "Yes, I will face you for her. I will die before I let anyone else have her."
For her part, Maya looked like she was ready to either clobber Gou for blatant stupidity or suffocate him with kisses. Obviously, in love those two…
Aang hovered before Gou for a moment before he touched the ground and his glow faded and he was once again just Aang, a young boy with a goofy smile. "Good, I was hoping you'd say that."
Gou stood there trying to figure out whether or not he was going to be turned to cinders at any moment. Since Aang had stopped glowing he was beginning to look more resolute by the moment.
"Everyone please listen to me." Aang said calmly as he looked around at the crowd with the earnest look of a young man who genuinely wants people to understand and to be nice to one another. Considering the alternative, people were quite receptive. "My name is Aang, and yes I am the avatar. I know a lot of you don't want to believe it, I know I didn't when the monks at the air temple told me. But I am, and I am here to bring you all back home. I have also been given the task of being the father of the next generation of airbenders, a task which I cannot perform unless I have children with a young woman who is an airbender. I am however not going to be able to fulfill my obligation to the world."
Zuko looked at Aang like he was out of his mind. He'd just crossed time and space to come to a different world in order to give up?!
A relieved murmur passed through the crowd as Aang looked around at the young girls assembled. "You see, like many of you, I have already fallen in love with someone that I intend to spend the rest of my life with."
Zuko followed Aang's gaze over to Katara, whose eyes were downcast and who was blushing heavily. "But Aang, your people…"
"Katara, I love you and I can't betray what I feel for you by allowing this to continue any further. I am not going to marry any girls from this village." Aang pronounced.
A cheer went up from the villagers, and Gou looked ready to hug the young boy on the spot. Aang then turned to address the mob.
"However, there is one stipulation to all of this." Aang mentioned. Everyone tensed as wariness took hold on the suspicious nomads who had become untrusting of outsiders. "All I ask is for some of you to return with me to our world. A new generation of airbenders must be born to continue the avatar cycle."
"But the elder said you needed to have children with the girls in this village for that." Gou said slowly.
"Not if I train some of you to be airbenders." Aang countered. Gasps resounded through the crowd. Villagers began looking at each other in confusion, as Aang let his words sink in. "In order to stop Fire Lord Ozai, I had to bend his energy to remove his bending powers. I can also unlock the power from within the souls of those who are not benders. If you return with me, I can give you this power and our people will be restored. And I will be free to marry the woman I love. That is, if she will have me."
Everyone looked at Katara. Zuko wasn't quite sure but it sounded like Aang had just proposed. Katara was practically glowing. "Yes Aang. Yes I will."
A collective 'Aww' escaped the crowd and villagers began to talk and whisper excitedly. For once Zuko began to relax. It looked like the kid had somehow managed to squeak by once again.
"I wonder when Aang's going to mention the head shaving and tattoos all the airbending monks have." Sokka whispered as he leaned over to Zuko.
"Zip it." Zuko murmured under his breath.
"Good idea." Sokka agreed.
"You did it Aang." Katara said as she grabbed the young boy up in a hug. "I don't know how many of the villagers are going to actually return, but if even a few return you'll be able to keep your duty and not have to marry any of them."
The two had returned to the elder's tent, while the elder discussed the return with other members of the village. "Yeah, I was up all night in the spirit world talking to the first avatars. Apparently, it isn't the first time that one of the four elements faced extinction. Some of them had even talked to the same lion turtle that taught me how to stop Ozai. It took all night to find what I needed and learn it."
"It was a night well spent then." Katara beamed. "As soon as the villagers sort out who is going to go and who is going to stay we can get back home so that you can start training and I can start planning."
"Planning for what?" Aang said as he yawned loudly and started looking for a place to lie down.
"For our wedding of course, you did propose to me after all." Katara said with a blush. Aang's breath suddenly caught in his throat, and he looked like a flock of army ant-birds had flown down his throat. "You were being serious when you said you wanted to marry me didn't you? You weren't just saying that to win over the crowd were you?"
Katara hadn't meant for it to, but her voice carried a little bit of threatening edge to it as Aang seemed to cringe. "Of course I want to marry you Katara. I've loved you since the first day we met."
"Good." Katara said happily giving her new fiancée a broad smile. As her grandmother had always told her, marriage was often like fishing. When you found one you intended to catch, make sure the hooks were well secured. Aang finally seemed to relax, though he perhaps looked a little bit troubled. Not exactly the troubled as in 'How am I going to lead these people home', or 'How am I going to teach all these people airbending', but rather the 'My God, what have I done' type of troubled that all young men feel when they realize they've just decided to permanently change their lives.
Katara smiled and tried to put him at ease. "You know if it had meant giving up my bending powers in order to fulfill your destiny, I would have done it for you. I would have done whatever it takes to help you."
Aang chuckled and then looked deeply into Katara's eyes. "I don't know if I could have asked that of you. But you know there is something else. We will need all the airbenders we can to restore my people, and I did find that it is also possible to change someone's element."
Katara stared at the boy in shock. All her life she had channeled water, and now he was saying that she could be changed to channel air? It was Katara's turn to suddenly wish she had kept her mouth shut as the 'Oh my God what have I done' expression undoubtedly crossed her face as well. Instead she managed to squeak out, "What would you have to do?"
"All I have to do is place my hand over you heart and forehead and bend you energy until it aligns with the element of air." Aang explained with a need in his voice that told Katara exactly what he wanted to hear her say.
Katara sighed inwardly. She had said it, and what was more she had meant it. She had prepared herself all this time thinking that she was going to have to share Aang with countless other girls while he fathered his race. She had prepared herself to endure almost anything. "I won't do it for your people Aang; even if they become my people too. But I will do it for you."
Aang blushed deeply. "I'm glad to hear you say that." Katara noticed a thin trickle of blood coming out of his nose then. "Open your blouse so I can touch your heart."
"Well I hate to see you go old man." Jiraiya lied jovially as she slapped Iroh on the back.
"Yes, Iroh, I wish you could stay." Tsunade said as if on the verge of tears.
"I wish I could stay as well. I must return to my own world though." Iroh said wistfully staring into the Hokage's eyes.
"Uncle, we need to be going. Now." Zuko reprimanded the old man. He looked like he was going to be sick.
Hinata waved at her new friends as they prepared to leave. The alien travelers were headed back to finish preparations for their journey back to their world. Nearly all the airbenders had decided to return. Even Yuu was going back, since staying would mean being taken back here to be tried for his involvement with Orochimaru.
"Is Hinata waving at me?" Toph asked Katara.
"Yes, I am." Hinata admitted. "Force of habit, sorry."
"You guys take care." Naruto added as the odd collection of people he'd found departed.
"So Tsunade, about this Iroh, what exactly were you up to while I was away?" Jiraiya asked.
"Why would you want to know?" Tsunade retorted primly. "It's not really any of your business. But if you like we can talk about it over drinks back at the tower."
"Wonderful, I could use some good sake." Jiraiya agreed falling into step behind Tsunade; most likely to stare at her rear while she walked.
"Actually, I was thinking of some tea instead." Tsunade replied s she turned around to capture Jiraiya's arm with her own and pull him forward to walk next to her. Some might have thought it romantic, unless one pointed out that Jiraiya wasn't going to see anything walking beside her and with one arm pinned he wasn't about to be groping anything either.
"I bet they did it." Naruto whispered next to her in revulsion.
"I'd rather not think about it too much." Hinata remarked. The idea of Iroh and Tsunade seriously grossed her out. And speaking of couples she'd rather not see… "So where's Sakura?"
"Tenten said she'd been working very long hours at the hospital lately." Naruto said looking toward the direction that Neji had been dragged by the weapon master.
Hinata nodded looking around at the now empty street where she and Naruto were standing. Since it was the last few moments she was going to have with him before she had to start worrying about Sakura butting in, she tenderly took his hand and got ready to steal a kiss.
When Naruto's arm stiffened, Hinata looked up to see him looking down the street. Hinata followed his gaze to where a very angry looking Sakura was watching him while he held hands with Hinata.
"NA-RU-TO!" Sakura growled as she charged forward. The pink haired girl barreled toward Naruto at top speed, with her teeth gritted and she looked ready to kill.
She's going to punch him again. Hinata realized as the violent kunoichi rushed her boyfriend.
Hinata was not about to have Naruto get punched just because she had wanted to hold his hand and she was about to sort Sakura out concerning the whole punching business right now. Hinata pushed Naruto aside and settled into a fighting stance to defend her man, and most importantly, her claim on him.
It therefore came as quite a shock when she was grabbed roughly by Sakura who she now realized had her eyes closed and her lip crashed hungrily into her own. Several things went rampaging through Hinata's mind all at once. Here are a few of them.
I AM NOT GAY!
Wow, apparently she reads Jiraiya's books too.
Is that Kakashi-san over there with a camera?
Is that strawberry lipstick?
Naruto-kun, you better not be getting any ideas.
I'm glad Neji isn't seeing this.
This is just like the time Naruto accidentally kissed Sasuke.
Oh no, that memory is getting me excited!
I AM NOT GAY!
She's using tongue!
I AM NOT GAY!
Why won't my body move?
How do I get myself into these things?
Dear Lord, please don't let my father see this.
I wonder if Naruto finds this… exciting.
That had REALLY better not be a video camera Kakashi-san!
Akinori, please don't look at me like that.
Even the RABBIT has a nosebleed?!!
Man her chest is as flat as Naruto's?
Okay, her chest isn't quite as flat and muscular as Naruto's?
They are rather soft though.
I AM NOT GAY!
When Sakura finally broke the kiss, the two of them stood there in shock staring at each other. "I guess we're even now." Hinata said in a daze.
A strangled noise brought the attention of both girls over to where Naruto stood on trembling knees. The young ninja shook uncontrollably as blood dripped from his chin from the massive nosebleed he was allowing to flow unchecked.
And then finally, Naruto fainted.
A/N: As I've said before, this was a back-burner project that I wrote in response to a cross-over challenge. I don't really consider this my best work, but it has been rather enjoyable to write. I hope that all of you enjoyed it despite the places where it departed from the history of the Naruto world and the Avatar world since I started writing it before the end of the series, and the before we learned about the Uchiha clan in Naruto. Be seeing you guys! A.A. :)