A Silence in Winter
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.
Warnings: AU-ish, Speculation, Spoilers up to the finale
AN: For AtLA Land's writing challenge. Prompt was "Nation Switch."
Piandao never tells a soul. His dark complexion is from his mother, but his father has the greyest eyes imaginable, and he almost thinks that he sees the storm clouds rolling across the surface. He doesn't know where he was born, the colonies perhaps. All he remembers is traveling. Always traveling. Always staying one step ahead.
He has no friends but his parents; they never stay long enough in one place. It never occurs to him that the games he plays are actually training. He doesn't learn the truth until one cold winter night when he's eight. His mother has just died of a sickness, and he storms down towards the ocean to keep from seeing his father cry. The beach is silent in the dark, and the wind rips at the shore but barely even makes his hair flutter. Snow and sand whirl around him as he paces the waterline, but the reality of it doesn't sink in until he's had time to cool off. To realize in his unrelenting horror that the air dancing at his fingertips has a very damning cause.
It's a bitter insight once tasted and painfully obvious when he stops to consider. All the pai sho pieces slide into a pattern that makes him weak at the knees, and he's only fortunate that it's so ridiculous no one outside their family ever even entertained the possibility. Otherwise, his life would've been a different story altogether and a much shorter one at that. His father just swallows hard when Piandao purposefully calls a breeze a week later, but they never speak that fatal word aloud. His father just increases the intensity of their games and adds archery to the mix.
But then, his father doesn't come back to their campsite one night. Piandao is ten, but he wanders the hills and trees for hours searching. For his efforts, he only finds a torn and bloody piece of his father's cloak and obvious signs of a scuffle.
Piandao doesn't know what to do afterward; he's still too young to travel on his own and has no way to earn an income. He tells the orphanage that his parents abandoned him for his lack of abilities because having known firebenders in his line gives him protection. He never even hints at the truth. He just locks away his gift – curse – behind so many iron doors that even he forgets sometimes. Better to be thought of the as jittery boy who can't sit still than to have the truth known, but some things refuse to be hidden. The truth always will out.
Piandao takes up swordsmanship only because it gives him focus; it tames the wild winds inside of him, the itch to always be on the move, to something more manageable. That and his skill with a bow is a tad too suspicious, but he's too good at this as well. It's too easy to dodge opponents when he feels the vibrations in the air before they even move. When every breath they take is a song in his heart and the sky itself watches his back.
He's conscripted into the Fire Nation army and climbs the ranks without trying. But that makes him more nervous than proud, and he leaves before they can promote him too high to ever back out. Piandao travels after that, wandering wherever the wind blows and acting on whim alone.
A pai sho game in Gaoling takes him down a road he never even dreamed to travel, but it brings him true purpose and the closest friendships he's ever had. Piandao doesn't tell them though. He's held onto the secret too long to let it go so easily; he trusts them with his life, but this isn't the same. This is bigger somehow. And if he's brutally honest with himself, he doesn't want them to view him differently. He's hidden what he is his entire life, and their jokes about his almost monk-like lifestyle still make his stomach squirm.
But sometimes, he goes outside and calls forth a breeze to ruffle his clothes. Other times, he cools himself off with a slight flow of air. Once, he even dares snuff out the candle Jeong Jeong just lit when his back is turned and innocently smiles afterward. Out of all of them, out of everyone he's ever known, Jeong Jeong has come the closest to the truth, and Piandao almost thinks that he knows and is just waiting for verbal conformation. Perhaps even for permission.
He doesn't get it. Not for many years.
It's fitting that he joined the Order of the White Lotus. Separation is a lie after all. Four nations. One world. And air is all around them, and maybe their victory is a sign that it's time to give voice to the words with the most need to be spoken.
Their camp has finally quieted down after their well-earned celebration. Some of their forces are in the city, but many are still out here, mostly those with the need to be away from prying eyes. The grass crunches beneath his feet like snow as Piandao approaches a tent set off to the side and slips within. It's late, far too late for the boy to still be up. But he is, just as Piandao knew he would be.
Piandao offers a small bow that earns him a sheepish smile in return before settling down on the floor. The boy is clearly surprised to see him; they probably haven't even exchanged more than three words since Sokka brought him back. But there's something about him that makes Piandao think of his father. Maybe it's the eyes; perhaps it's just his imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, he's glad not to be alone in this anymore.
Piandao takes a deep breath; air gives him courage as it always has. And then, he lets his spirit fly free.
"Avatar Aang, I have a favor to ask."
AN: Inspired by the scene in the finale where the old masters line up and every nation is represented but air.