A young boy garbed in a light orange poncho grinned madly as he sprinted across the courtyard of the Fire Nation palace. His twin sisters followed in his dust trails, wailing as they went.
"Tenzin!" shouted Kya
"Wait up!" shouted her twin, Yi-Lin. Their brother laughed giddily. No one could catch him, except for his dad of course, and he wasn't playing. A hundred yards behind them at the courtyard's entrance where Appa the sky bison lay sprawled out in the sun, their parent beamed at them as they gathered up the family bags. Most of their joined possessions hung from the saddle. Because of the constant political pressure, as well as Aang's nomadic nature, they didn't have any permanent home. Instead they travelled the world, visiting old friends, settling disputes, and teaching the kids.
"Won't be too long before this one's helping them make trouble," Aang said. He lovingly nuzzled the one year old girl in the sling on his shoulder. Since becoming parents, he and Katara had become experts on child transportation, and had used such slings to carry all their offspring when they were young. Katara smiled.
"This one too," she said patting her bulging stomach. "The way their jumping around in here they have to be energetic little airbenders, just like their daddy." Aang's hand joined hers on her belly.
"Their? Twins again?" he asked hopefully. When the girls had been born the Avatar had been overjoyed. Not only had two new airbenders been brought into being, but the young couple's family had nearly doubled in size. A large family was what they wanted. The more the merrier.
"Has to be with all the kicking. Probably boys this time though, no girl could be this rowdy before they were even born yet."
"Toph could've been," Aang remarked. "She is the queen of Omashu after all; you have to be pretty tough to get that title." They both laughed. After the death of King Bumi, their blind friend, being the most powerful living non-Avatar earthbender, had been crowned queen of the ancient city. Surprisingly to everyone, her friends, politicians, and especially her parents, she turned out to be a wise and just ruler. Sure, her policies were strictly enforced, and her judgment swift, but she was fair. "Tenzin'll be thrilled. He's wanted a baby brother, and he may get two."
"Don't get his hopes up too much," Katara warned. "He'd be really disappointed if we promised him a brother and he got another sister." Secretly Aang hoped their next children would be male. He had no problem with girls, he loved his daughters with all his heart, and it was just that every family could only take so much femininity. The two men of the family could use some company in the 'area of manliness,' as Sokka called it.
When they'd crossed the courtyard and arrived at the palace doors they were greeted by a guard who bowed deeply and swung open the doors.
"I've already let the children inside Lord Avatar, Lady Katara. The Royal family has eagerly awaited your arrival." Aang returned the bow.
They passed into a large circular antechamber that stood adjacent to the throne room. The red-black-gold walls were lined with unlit torches and doors that led deeper into the palace. The children were nowhere to be seen, but their loud laughs and giggles could be heard.
"I think they've set up a trap, dear," Aang whispered to Katara mischievously. "We may be in danger."
"Charge!" yelled a child's voice right on cue. From the throne room burst a troupe consisting of the three young airbenders and two others. The first was a nine year old boy dressed red who looked thrilled to be heading an ambush. The second, a girl about Tenzin's age with meek golden eyes took up the rear, desperately trying to keep up. They leapt as one at the adults legs. As supposed to attacking their victims, they hugged them, being careful to harm Katara's stomach or the infant on Aang's back.
"Lu-Ten, Irah!" said Aang gleefully. He lfited the royal children into the air and spun them around; resulting in more squeals and giggles.
"Up to no good again, eh?" Aang asked the young fire prince. Lu-Ten smirked.
"Always Uncle Aang, always." Katara gave each of them a warm hug and let them tentatively feel her baby bulge.
"You have more babies every time you visit, Auntie Katara," said Irah sheepishly. Aang and Katara shared a glance, faint traces of a blush spreading over their cheeks.
"They do, don't they? It's great to see you all again." Firelord Zuko entered the chamber smiling broadly, his arms spread wide in welcome. He stepped forward and embraced his friends.
'Wow,' thought Tenzin. 'There sure is a lot of hugs today.' He looked to his mother. 'Well mommy's here, so that makes sense.'
"How've you been up to, Sifu Hotman?" Aang asked, giving his former fire bending teacher a brotherly slap on the back. The kids laughed and Zuko fumed at the mention of his 'beloved' nickname.
"Why don't you guys go off and play while we catch up?" Zuko told his children.
"Okay!" they said in unison. Lu-Ten sprinted off down a hallway and the girls followed. Irah grabbed Tenzin's hand and dashed off after them, both of them blushing profusely. Katara beamed at their pink faces. Her little boy was growing up. Zuko led them into the parlor where servants brought them some of Iroh's famous Jasmine tea. It wasn't as good as the real thing, but it was good nonetheless. Aang laid down his sling on the sofa beside him, propping his tiny sleeping daughter against a row of cushions.
"So what have you been up to, Zuko?" Katara repeated her husband's question, sipping at her tea gingerly. Zuko shrugged.
"You know the usual, meeting with diplomats, trying to stabilize the economy, keeping Mai from murdering 'Zutara' playwrights." The three of them gave off a collective shudder. Since the phenomenal success of 'The boy in the iceberg', an entire romantic subgenre had emerged centered around Zuko and Katara. For some reason the theatre-going people of the Firenation, mostly bubbly teenage girls, had become obsessed with the idea of the two being locked in a passionate romance that bridged the rift between the nations of the world.
Stories had even been written suggesting that the two had been engaged in a lustful affair for the entirety of both their marriages and that most if not all of the avatar's children were Zuko's by blood. This wasn't true of course. No matter how romantic their relationship was perceived to be, Zuko could never betray his friends trust, let alone sire four, soon to be five airbenders. In response to these plays and scrolls, Aang was awkwardly complacent, Zuko and Katara were confused and a bit revolted, and Fire Lady Mai was enraged.
"Those are still around?" Katara asked incredulously. "Six years of marriage to Aang, and nearly as many children with him and people still think I'm secretly pining for you?" Zuko shrugged again.
"People are crazy."
"Where is Mai anyway?" Aang asked noting the absence of Zuko's wife.
"Oh Ty Lee's visiting and she dragged her out shopping. She didn't seem to happy about it, she doesn't like shopping much." He sipped his tea and gave a contented sigh as he inhaled its rich and earthy aroma. "I'd ask what you two have been doing, but it's rather obvious." He gestured to the sleeping girl. "Dear Agni, you just keep having more kids. Trying to build an army to take me down, Aang?" he asked with a satirically raised eyebrow. They all laughed.
"This won't be the last, will it? At this rate it seems like you're going to prove the council wrong. In a hundred years they'll be thousands of airbenders around." Aang's face fell a bit. Mention of the council always brought back bad memories.
Years earlier the Earth Kingdom council had wanted to force a harem of nearly forty women on him in order to repopulate the Air Nomads as quickly as possible. This alone infuriated Aang, but what truly angered him was that they wanted to forbid him from marrying Katara due to her waterbending, which would theoretically cut their chances of producing an airbender in half. Thankfully, this was avoided thanks to the moral and political support from Zuko and Toph. He was glad that his friends had stood by him in his refusal to break moral code. Polygamy had been forbidden in the three great nations for centuries, and even longer among the Air Nomads.
Zuko noticed his friend's uncomfortable expression and hurriedly moved to change the subject.
"Hey there's a new show in town, you want to take the kids? Lu-Ten and Ira both loved it." Katara narrowed her eyes.
"It's not a play is it?"
"No, it's dancing and juggling, a street show. Come on you'll love it! That and the kids are probably getting restless; there isn't much for kids to do around here except chase turtleducks and fire bend, if they can." As if the spirits had been listening, there was a loud explosion, the quacking of turtle ducks, and the excited shouting of Tenzin.
"Wow 'Ten, that was awesome!" All three parents groaned. It was a bad idea to leave bending children unattended for an extended period of time.
Continued in Part 2