Chapter II: Love Never Ends
LES: This is the continuation I never thought I'd make for "Endless Love". Kataang holds my heart, but I still like the idea of Aang having a romantic interest pre-iceberg. And that's how Shanti came into being during "Endless Love". This story, rather than talking about how Aang and Shanti met and then skimming over their romance, is going to go into greater detail about their romance. Story begins immediately after Aang finds out about his identity as the Avatar.
Aang sat on one of the Temple's many balconies in a daze. All around him monks, novices, bison, and lemurs went about their business, but Aang could not concentrate on them because he was so deeply lost in his thoughts.
It seemed that it had been years ago, but it was really only an hour, when the Head Monks called him into the sanctuary and told him the biggest news he had ever received in his twelve years. He was the Avatar, the newest in the long line of Avatars that stretched back thousands of years. He was the next Master of all the elements. He was the next protector of balance. He was the next diplomat of peace.
Aang didn't want to believe it, but the moment he found out, it had felt right, like part of his identity had fallen into place, and all he needed was to hear confirmation that he was the Avatar in order to accept it.
Aang gazed at the stone under his fingers, and then out of curiosity, began to apply pressure to the stone, willing it to change its shape in any way. To give proof that he was the Avatar by being able to Earthbend. Nothing happened.
Aang gave up with a sigh. He should have known that nothing would happen. He was yet to be trained in Earthbending, and none of the other Bending arts were quite like Airbending. Airbending was the only form of Bending that could be used without will, like when an Airbender sneezed. It would take time and training before he could Bend the other elements as easily as he did Air.
"Aang?" A voice spoke behind him. Aang didn't look around at who it was. He could tell who it was by his voice.
The young Airbender drew his knees up to his chest. "Oh. Hello, Gyatso."
The old monk sighed heavily and walked over to stand beside his young charge. "I know this must be difficult for you to accept. I tried to tell them that you were not ready to know, that we should wait until you were the proper age of sixteen. But they would not listen to me. Twelve is too young an age to carry such a burden."
"I… Gyatso, I don't want to be the Avatar!" Aang confessed.
"Unfortunately, that is something we cannot change." Monk Gyatso said.
"The Avatar has to spend his whole life as a servant to others, a servant to the whole world." Aang continued. "People are going to look to me for mediation and advice. But giving both requires wisdom, and I don't think I have that yet."
"Aang, you will not be asked to take the role of diplomat at such a young age. The world will understand your youth, and give you the time necessary to train in the other three elements and being the Avatar." Monk Gyatso said.
"Then why did they tell me now?" Aang asked.
"The monks are worried." Monk Gyatso said honestly after a moment's hesitation. "They fear a war is on the horizon, and they want you to receive as much training as possible before that time."
Aang buried his face against his knees as sobs tore through his body. "I don't want any of that!" He cried between sobs.
In a rare moment of true parental concern, Gyatso placed a comforting hand on Aang's shoulder. Almost immediately, Aang turned into his old mentor and began to cry heavily into his robes while the older man embraced him.
"I don't pretend to know the future, Aang." Gyatso said as Aang continued to sob against him. "But I'm sure that everything will turn out all right."
"Gyatso." A second voice spoke from the doorway. Aang quickly pulled away from his mentor, wiping his eyes with his sleeve to get rid of the tear tracks down his face. It was one of the other Head Monks, a thin, wiry man whom Aang never really liked.
"Taro." Gyatso greeted, bowing slightly.
"Our guests have arrived. We need to go greet them. Oh, and you should bring the Avatar too." Monk Taro said as he walked away.
The Avatar. Aang thought to himself. Is that all I am now? Just the Avatar?
Gyatso placed a hand on Aang's thin shoulder. "Are you all right, Aang?"
The young Airbender nodded wordlessly, and followed Gyatso without complaint.
When they got down to the courtyard where honored guests of the Temple arrived, Aang saw that the Head of the Order was all ready greeting a small family of Air Nomads.
What really shocked Aang was that it was a small Air Nomad family. The true nomads of his culture often travelled in large family groups for safety, but this family only had three individuals. Two adults and a young girl, probably their daughter, travelling on a single Sky Bison.
As they got closer, Aang was shocked when he realized that he recognized the young girl! It was Shanti, the young girl he sat beside over two years ago when he heard the legend of the Avatar! And, judging by the look on her face as he approached, she recognized him too, which shocked Aang considering the last time he had seen her, he was covered nearly head-to-toe in bandages.
"Ah, good, you've arrived, Monk Gyatso." The Head Monk, a man named Satoru, said as Gyatso walked up with Aang. "Shall we speak privately?"
The two nomads glanced at each other. "Our daughter?"
"I'm sure Master Aang will be happy to look after your daughter while we conduct our business." Monk Satoru said.
"A good idea." Gyatso agreed. "Aang, stay and keep Shanti company while we talk."
"Okay." Aang said as the monks and nomadic parents walked away.
The two pre-teens shifted their weight nervously when they were left alone, and then finally, Shanti spoke. "It's good to see you again, Aang. I missed you during the Fall Equinox festival for the past two years."
"Oh, yeah, I've sort of spent the last two years travelling the world, so I was at other Temples during the festival." Aang said. "But it's good to see you too."
Their eyes met briefly, but Shanti quickly adverted her gaze. "Your tattoos look a lot better now that they are healed."
"Oh, um… thanks." Aang said.
"I really like them." She continued.
Aang wasn't sure how to respond to that, save for a blush.
The two nomadic parents glanced at each other, completely shocked by what they were hearing. "But… they're only twelve." The mother said.
"Exactly." The father said. "And I thought their identities were not supposed to be revealed until they were sixteen. It's been that way for thousands of years."
"Unfortunately, special circumstances have made it necessary to reveal the Avatar's identity four years early." Monk Satoru said. "Gyatso…" The monk turned to the other monk at his side. "You are the closest thing that Aang has to a guardian. Will you consent your approval?"
"It has been ordained by the Spirits." Gyatso replied. "If Aang is willing, I will give my consent."
"He will be willing." Monk Satoru said. "And do you give your consent on behalf of your daughter, Shanti?"
"They are too young." The father said firmly. "They don't come of age for another four years."
"I assure you, it will be a betrothal only." Monk Satoru said. "The ceremony won't take place until after Aang has become a fully realized Avatar, and that's at least ten years off."
The parents sighed. "Well, if you are sure that Shanti is the one… we give our consent."
The meeting ended and the adults found Aang showing Shanti around the Temple, showing her sights that she hadn't been able to see during her trips to the Southern Air Temple during the Autumn Equinox festival.
"Shanti, come here." The nomadic mother called, and Shanti gave Aang a sad look before she went over to her mother, and the family walked away together.
Gyatso stood by Aang. "So, what do you think of Shanti?"
"She's, um… very nice." Aang replied truthfully, gazing up at his mentor in confusion.
"Good. Walk with me." Gyatso said, leading the young Airbender through the familiar cloisters of the Air Temple. "Do you remember the legend of the Avatar?"
"I remember it." Aang replied. I definitely remember it, seeing how it's my legend.
"Good. Then you'll remember about the Avatar's lover?"
Aang slowed to a stop, staring at the ground. Gyatso paused and gazed back at his young charge, waiting patiently. Finally, Aang looked up at him. "Shanti?"
Gyatso nodded. "Shanti is the reincarnation of the Spirit of Peace, just as you are the reincarnation of the Spirit of the Planet. She is the one you are destined to be with. And her parents were here today for a very special reason." Gyatso handed Aang a small, wrapped object.
The young Airbender took it and unwrapped it. It was a bracelet, an orange silk ribbon with a pendant with the Air Nomad symbol on it. Aang stared at it in shock. He had heard of objects like this, but he had never seen one up close. "This is a… betrothal bracelet!"
"Yes, it is." Gyatso said. "It was prepared for you after we found out your identity as the Avatar, knowing that you would need it one day. That day has come."
"You want me to… ask Shanti to marry me?!?" Aang gasped, being more animated now than he had been since he found out about being the Avatar. "I can't… I'm only twelve! I barely know her!"
"I can assure you that you will grow to love her." Gyatso said. "The love you have inside you is strong, the love of the most powerful of Spirits for his true love, now in mortal form. The bond shared between you can never be broken. And just because it is not there right now doesn't mean that it won't grow." Gyatso glanced ahead. "Ah, here they come now."
Aang looked ahead. Apparently, Shanti's parents had also given her the 'walk-around' while they explained things to their daughter, and they had planned to meet here. Aang felt his palms go sweaty around the betrothal bracelet in his hand as Shanti approached.
He glanced at Gyatso, who nodded his encouragement, and Aang slowly approached the girl, feeling like he was shaking his arrow tattoos right off from sheer nerves.
He froze in front of her, did nothing for a few seconds, and then began to stutter. "Um, Sh—Shanti, I, uh... W—what I mean is…" Eventually, Aang seemed overcome with nerves, and simply thrust out his hand holding the betrothal bracelet and said in a single, almost unintelligible breath. "Shantiwillyoumarryme?"
Shanti gazed at the betrothal bracelet for a moment, before she took it out of Aang's hand. "Yes." She said simply, tying it to her wrist.
And their fate was sealed.
The next days were the hardest for Aang as news of him being the Avatar, and word of his engagement spread. As young boys will often do, they began to tease Aang, mostly behind his back, but some brave souls did it out loud.
Soon, you could barely find a quiet corridor in the Temple where no one could hear a novice singing "Aang and Shanti sitting in a tree…" for the millionth time. The monks stopped it when they could, but children had long developed the skills necessary to keep their mischief quiet from their elders.
Needless to say, Aang was miserable. All his old friends alternated between treating him like some God in the flesh, and teasing him about his engagement to Shanti. The monks were worse. None of them even called him by his name anymore, only referring to him as 'The Avatar'.
What surprised Aang was that his only constant source of comfort (Gyatso was often busy with Temple business) was also the source of his shame. Shanti had initially been curious about Aang being the Avatar, and asked him a lot of questions about it, but when she saw how distressed the news made him, her curiosity died down and she did whatever she could to support Aang when the other boys teased them.
Eventually, Aang discovered that Gyatso was right. It was getting easier to spend time with her. He did look forward to the time spent in her company. And he even began to treasure the small moments spent with her more than any other part of his day.
They practiced their Airbending together, and Aang marveled at how well they moved together. It was like they could read each other's minds without even realizing it and the monks often commented on their perfect sync, despite Shanti not being nearly as gifted an Airbender as Aang.
Aang began to teach her more advanced Airbending then she could learn under her parents, and she quickly improved. She wasn't anywhere near the level of a master, but she learned to hold her own in mock-Airbending fights against the other Temple novices.
They went flying together. Of course, Shanti was a nomad, so she flew all the time on a Sky Bison. But she had never been on a glider before, and Aang was more than happy to take her on his.
Flying with more than one person on a glider took an enormous amount of concentration, and the monks had expressly forbidden novices from trying it. More than one novice had been hurt in similar accidents before. But Aang was a Master Airbender, and he could summon the concentration necessary to keep the glider airborne even with an extra passenger. After all, most Masters could handle one extra passenger. Some could even handle two extra passengers, which Aang could do.
The only problem is he had never done it with a girl before.
It wasn't until she was in the specially designed harness that Aang began to realize the mistake he was making. I have never been this close to a girl before! Aang thought, beginning to sweat.
The harness would bind Shanti so that her back was to his front, allowing her to also hold on to his handholds and wrap her feet around his legs, and for a reason he could not fathom, he began to grow extremely nervous at the thought.
Shanti, however, seemed to have no problem with it. With a few deft motions, she strapped them together and asked Aang if he could finish off; which he did with his fingers shaking.
Once they were bound together safely, Aang opened his glider and, all the while trying to calm his painfully beating heart, took to the air.
Shanti cried out, as most do the first time they go on a glider-ride. Gliders were very different from the Sky Bison in the fact that it was only the Bender's skill that would allow them to stay airborne. Any lapse in concentration could send the glider, and the Bender, plummeting towards the ground.
Without really realizing what he was doing, Aang took one hand off the glider and wrapped it around her waist. "Don't worry. I've got you." He said to assure her that he was in perfect control.
Shanti glanced back at him, a smile on her face. "I'm not afraid." She called over the wind that Aang was Bending to propel them. "I'm excited! This is even better than riding on a Sky Bison! Just you and the wind! It's amazing! This is what being an Airbender is all about!"
"Yeah." Aang agreed softly. Having a girl this close to him was intoxicating, and even worse to have that girl pressed up against him, completely dependent on him, with her smell filling his nose. She smelled like a summer breeze and moon peaches.
"Um, Aang? Are we landing all ready?" Shanti asked. Aang snapped out of his daydream to see that he actually was taking her down, but not on purpose. His lapse in concentration was decreasing their lift.
"Oh, no. Sorry." Aang apologized, soaring back into the sky.
They flew together until it was nearly dark, and only then did Aang bring them in for a landing. Landing was hard enough as it was, and it was even trickier with a passenger. But Aang managed it coming in as slowly as possible without losing lift and then twilling his staff above his head to provide just a little bit of lift that allowed them to touch down softly.
As soon as they were down safely, Shanti unstrapped herself from Aang, and turned around to face him. "Thank you for taking me gliding. I really enjoyed it."
"You're welcome." Aang said, shifting his weight nervously. "I suppose it's the least I could do, considering that we're gonna get married after I master the elements."
Shanti's eyes fell down to the ground. "You know, Aang. At first, I resented this… well, there's really no other phrase for it… arranged marriage. I know that you're the incarnation of the Spirit of the Planet and I'm the incarnation of the Spirit of Peace, and that we've supposedly been lovers for thousands of years. But, well, I'm sure I don't have to tell you." Shanti said. "But that's changed now. I'm looking forward to the day that you master the elements and we can get married."
Aang froze in shock where he was. "Shanti…"
Once again, Shanti was really close to him. Except this time, they were face to face. Aang felt a blush color his face, and Shanti also had a blush on her face. But she was also more assertive in this moment.
"We're young." Shanti said simply.
Aang cleared his throat. "Yeah, we are."
"But our relationship isn't. We've been in love for thousands of years, over a thousand different lifetimes." Shanti finished.
"Aang, I really care about you. I want you to be happy. And I know that you'll have a very tough life as the Avatar. I can tell that you are worried about the future." For the first time, Shanti met his eyes. "I don't know what the future holds, but I want to be the one to make you happy. Aang, I think… I'm falling in love with you."
Without waiting for his reply, she leaned into the boy and pressed a chaste and inexperienced kiss to his lips.
Aang froze, completely unsure of how to respond to her in the situation. He had never kissed anyone in his life, and now here he was! With no warning, his brain shut down, and he couldn't even begin to think of responding to her kiss.
Fortunately, when Aang's mind shut down, it allowed the Avatar Spirit to well up inside him for the first time. His eyes and tattoos began to glow, not with the violence of an uncontained beast, but with all the glowing passion of a lover. Under the influence of all the Avatars before him, Aang began to eagerly return her lip-lock, gradually coaching her through the kiss.
They held tightly onto each other as their lips moved against each others, marveling at the feelings of completeness that surged through them, the feelings of eternity.
Eventually, the two young Airbenders pulled apart, and Shanti gasped when she opened her eyes and saw Aang, complete with glowing tattoos. When he opened his eyes, they were glowing too, but they quickly returned to their normal grey, and his tattoo's glow faded to the usual sky blue.
After a few moments, they embraced, holding each other tightly against each other. Shanti ran her hand across Aang's back as he wrapped his arms around her waist, and her fingers drifted up to his neck to caress his bare skin. "Wow." She breathed. "That was some first kiss."
Aang laughed breathlessly and buried his face against her hair. "Shanti?"
"I'm falling in love with you too."
Aang ran through the Air Temple, tears streaming down his face. People called out to him, but Aang ignored them all and continued running. He reached his room, slammed the door shut, and fell down on the bed, sobbing bitterly.
It figured that being told he was the Avatar would be the best and worst thing that ever happened to him. It was the best thing because it allowed him to meet Shanti, whom he was falling more and more in love with each passing day. But, at the same time, it would tear him away from everyone else he ever loved.
Aang knew that eavesdropping was wrong, but he hadn't been able to help himself. He had been gliding past the Head Monk's sanctuary when he heard them mention 'The Avatar'. He was a twelve year old boy, and the Head Monks were talking about him in secret. Of course he would listen in. But, a few minutes later, he wished that he hadn't.
The monks Satoru and Taro wanted to treat him like some machine, like he was 'just the Avatar' and not a twelve year old boy. Aang was glad to see Gyatso defending his need to grow up as normally as possible, being the Avatar aside. But neither monk Satoru nor monk Taro would heed Gyatso.
And then monk Satoru passed down his judgment.
"You and Aang must be separated. The Avatar will be sent away to the Eastern Air Temple to complete his training."
At first, Aang could feel no emotion besides shock. And then it came crashing down on him all at once. Tears of confusion ran down his face, and he had fled.
Now he lay on his bed, crying. It seemed that as soon as he began to grow used to the idea of being the Avatar, his entire world had come crashing down on him. He would be sent away from Monk Gyatso, the only one who treated him like a twelve year old boy and not just 'The Avatar'. Monk Gyatso was the closest thing that Aang ever felt to having a father, and to lose him would be like losing a father. And then there was Shanti.
She wouldn't be able to come with him to the Eastern Air Temple. They were engaged, but couples were not allowed to travel together until they were married. He had somewhat resolved himself to being apart from her during the years he would spend mastering the elements, but he thought he would have a few months more with her, at least, until he had to leave on his Avatar journey.
Shanti was the only thing that made being the Avatar bearable, and he didn't know what he'd do if he lost her so suddenly.
There's only one thing I can do. Aang realized. He lay there for several more minutes, afraid of what he was going to have to do, but he eventually made up his mind. He had no choice. If he had to leave on the Avatar journey, it would be on his terms, not theirs.
He got up, wiped away his tears unsuccessfully, and then grabbed a blank scroll, brush, and ink. He sat down and wrote a note, addressing it both to Monk Gyatso and Shanti.
The monks want to send me away. I can't bear to let that happen, not when things are so confusing anyway. So I've made up my mind. I've decided to start the Avatar journey. I'll work every day to master the other bending disciples, and I'll Master the Elements as fast as I can. One day, I'll come back a fully-realized Avatar and they won't be able to send me away.
I'll miss you.
I just want you to know that I love you with all my heart, and it hurts me more than I can say to leave you now. I wish I could have seen you one last time, kissed you one last time, but if I did, I fear I would not be able to leave. I will make this journey for you, and I promise you won't have to wait ten or twelve years for me to master the other elements. I'll do it by the time I'm sixteen and come back to marry you. I promise.
With all my love,
Once Aang finished the letter, he rolled it up and set it on his pillow. Shanti was supposed to come visit him soon, so she would probably be the one to find it. He felt more tears run down his face, and he hesitated. Standing on the precipice of change was more difficult than making the decision. For a moment, he was trapped between going and tearing up the letter and rushing to Shanti for comfort.
But his decision was made. Aang grabbed his glider, and took off out the window before he could stop himself.
No one stopped him. After all, it was a common sight to see gliders at the Air Temple. He quickly flew to the Sky Bison's stables to get Appa.
The monk in charge of looking after the Sky Bison looked up at Aang's entrance. "Good afternoon, Avatar. Going out on a flight?"
"Yeah." Aang said simply, hiding his face from the monk to avoid questions as he went over to Appa. As always, Appa could sense that his Master was in distress and followed the boy's lead without complaint.
"Well, be careful and don't stay out too late." The Monk said. "It looks like there's a storm brewing."
"I'll be careful." Aang promised. Once he was out of the stables with Appa, Aang leapt onto Appa's head, and took the reins. "Yip-yip." At Aang's command, Appa took to the sky.
Appa growled in concern, and Aang gently scratched behind Appa's large ears. "I'm all right, Appa." Aang lied. "South. To the Southern Water Tribe."
Aang was dreaming of her again. It was the second day since he left the Southern Air Temple, and he could not stop thinking about Shanti, or dreaming of their kiss. He longed to turn around and go back to the Southern Air Temple, but knew that going back would just make it harder on himself. Seeing Shanti again would be his reward for becoming a fully realized Avatar. Aang swore to himself that, rather than taking three or four years each Mastering the elements, he would do it by mastering one element a year. Of course, doing so would mean that he would be the youngest fully realized Avatar ever, and the one who mastered the elements the fastest, but Shanti was worth it. He would work tirelessly until he could see her again.
He dreamed of her lips against his. Of his rather botched proposal, and he swore to re-do it when he saw her again. However, his dream came to an end because of a warning growl from Appa, which woke Aang up.
He gazed around tiredly, and then gasped. They were heading right into a large and dangerous-looking storm. Before Aang could react, or Bend a safe path through the storm or find a way around it, they were engulfed by the storm.
In a panic, Aang took Appa's reins and combined his Airbending power with that of the Sky Bison in an effort to calm nature's fury. Perhaps a fully realized Avatar could calm such a storm, but Aang couldn't do that yet.
The storm only got worse as it became a typhoon. Lightning blinded him, thunder deafened him, and the chaotic winds made it difficult to tell up from down.
No mortal, however, could stand up to the Spirit's fury, and Aang and Appa were cast into the ocean. Appa tried desperately to keep himself and his master above the water, but he was all ready tired from flying for two days straight, and did not have the strength left.
Together, they sunk beneath the waves.
Shanti… Aang thought as he lost his grip on Appa's reins. I'm sorry.
That was the first thing that Aang noticed. It was cold, freezing. But, somehow, he was alive! He was no longer sinking into the ocean's depths! He could feel his own heart beating in his chest, and his precious air filling his lungs. And, for a moment, he didn't care that he was cold. All that mattered was that he was alive.
Someone was holding him in a reclined position. Perhaps someone had rescued him from the ocean. He was probably close enough to the Southern Water Tribe when he had his accident to be saved by one of their Waterbenders.
He slowly opened his eyes, blinded for a moment because of the sun's glare on the snow, but then his vision started to clear. He gasped.
Shanti! He thought, thinking that she had followed him and pulled him from the traitorous sea. But, no… his vision became sharper and he realized that he was, indeed, in the arms of a girl, but it wasn't Shanti. It was a Water Tribe girl, perhaps only a few years older than him.
It wouldn't be for many days that Aang would discover that he had been trapped inside an iceberg for one hundred years, and that everyone he knew and loved, including Gyatso and Shanti were long dead. He would find comfort from the loss of his people in his friend, the girl from the Water Tribe, just like he once found comfort from Shanti about being the Avatar.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
LES: Holy hot dogs! Fifteen pages long! Even though I'm Kataang through-and-through, I really enjoyed writing this story. Once again, it's because I see AangxShanti (Shaang) as Kataang in disguise. And about the Avatar State-powered kiss? Well, I've all ready done orgasmic Avatar State in Duty vs. Love, so I might as well do an Avatar State make-out. LOL!