A/N: This is MY interpretation of why Aang dies so young (66) and why none of the GAang are alive when Korra's story begins. It should be noted that I wrote this when Bryke trolled us by stating that NONE of the original Avatar gang would be alive during Korra's story. :/
The Ties That Bind
It's been years since they've all been together like this, just the five of them, and it doesn't seem right that this news is what brings them here. They've all gone their separate ways—some journeying together, some not—have lived and loved, have children, and have grown old. But for the little things that have changed some things have remained the same; like Aang's smile and the bond that was forged between them some fifty-odd years ago.
"I have spoken with all the Avatars before me and we all agree that it is my time."
Katara immediately folds her arms beneath her breasts and turns away in tears. Everyone else looks down at their feet in mind-numbing shock, not sure how to respond. What words can be had for news like this? But Toph is not so easily deterred.
"You all agree?" She takes a bold step forward. "We'll that's fantastic, Twinkletoes. I'm happy that all your past lives have reached a consensus on your death."
"Toph—" Sokka puts a comforting hand on the Earthbender's shoulder but she quickly shrugs it off.
"No, Sokka, I want to know!" She stares unseeingly at Aang, who is sitting peacefully on the mat as though meditating. "Why have you given up?"
"I haven't given up, Toph." Aang shakes his head; the pain is evident on his face. "This is my fate."
"Fate, shmate." Sokka wipes his nose with the back of his hand. "You've died once. What's some more dying going to stop you?"
Now it's Zuko turn to try to placate them, but Toph has Sokka riled up and there's no turning back now. How do you come to terms with a best friend dying? How can you stand back and let him die without fighting? How?
"You're just not trying hard enough!" Toph voice wavers and her bottom lip wobbles as she curls her hands into fists. "You're the Avatar. You saved the world when you were twelve! You reinvented Energybending!"
Her words die off in her throat and suddenly there's a thick, heavy silence hanging in the air, daring anyone to broach it.
"That's the problem."
Everyone turns to look at Katara. They've all expected her to be the one to lash out with her cold anger and tell her husband not to give up, but aside from Aang she is the calmest, the most resigned. She's the one who lives with him, loves him. She knows more than anyone that Aang is fighting, has been fighting ever since he stopped the Fire Lord fifty-four years ago.
"When Aang bent Ozai's energy, his own energy, his life—"
"My life became tied to his," Aang finishes with a sad smile.
Clarity suddenly takes hold and everyone is stunned. Katara is on her knees beside her husband, crying silently into his shoulder. He gently rubs her back and whispers words of love and encouragement into her hair.
"My father?" Zuko is aghast at the implications and takes a hesitant step back before stumbling into the wall.
"Zuko, there's no way you could've known," Aang says gently. "No one could've. I certainly didn't."
"Your father's dying?" Sokka asks Zuko, his voice somehow small and meek, disbelieving.
Zuko nods dumbly before staggering forward and dropping to his knees, kneeling before Aang in humble obeisance. "The doctors say he hasn't much time. A few days, maybe a week . . ." He's blinking back tears as he reaches out to take Aang's hand. "I'm—I'm so sorry, Aang."
The Avatar lets go of his wife and folds the older man into a hug. "Don't be, Zuko. It's not your fault." He pulls away and gives the Firebender a reassuring smile. "If given the chance to go back, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't change a thing.
"I have lived a rich, fulfilling life with wonderful friends who I can call my family—in this life and the next." His smile widens and he suddenly looks twelve again. "I regret nothing."
They are all on their knees before him, enveloping each other in a tight embrace. Through their tears and their sorrow and even their laughter they make word on their vow given long ago; to remain in the hearts of each other until death—and beyond.
It rains the day they cremate Aang.
The heavens themselves seem to open up and weep, their treacherous tears having come too late. Many come to pay their respects, dressed in mourning colours and sorrow. A breeze blows through and the crowd seems to sway on their feet, devoid of weight.
Aang is gone, and they are all very much alone.
Sokka is standing off to the side. His face is scrunched up and he is determined not to cry or, at the very least, not to cry too loudly. Zuko stands silently beside Katara, their faces identical with loss, while Toph blindly looks forward with a muted sort of anger.
When the eulogies are given and the speeches are over, Zuko puts a hand on Katara's shoulder. His eyes seek permission and she nods her approval, bringing a handkerchief to her face. He takes a step towards the funeral pyre and quietly says his goodbye before lighting the wood. Heads fall in silent mourning. There will be no sky burial for the Avatar. He will be burned into ash and dust and stored as a relic in the temple—forever honoured, forever remembered.
Zuko's knuckles are taut, white as snow as he harnesses the fire and directs a seemingly never-ending flame at the pyre. He allows no other to assist him and does not stop burning until it is done. Even as the sky opens up and the rain threatens to hinder his efforts, he does not stop.
Katara silently bends the water around them, shielding Aang from the elements, and the ceremony continues. Hours later the ritual is complete and goodbyes are exchanged. The air buzzes with sympathetic murmurs and anecdotes and the guests swarm over to Katara with their condolences. Each is determined to prove, as if such a thing needed proving, that they knew the Avatar and respected him.
A light breeze sweeps over, soft as a whisper, and it feels as though Aang is with them, speaking to them. Everyone has left, including the children, the wives, and the husbands. Only four remain, united in their grief.
Katara lives to see her third grandchild be born and then makes the arduous trek alone to the South Pole. She wants to revisit all the places she and Aang had travelled but it feels wrong to go without him. Instead she goes back to her childhood home where she spends her time entertaining the children with stories of her adventures with the Avatar.
A very young girl named Korra listens raptly and then matter-of-factly informs Katara what she would have done if she were the Avatar. Katara instantly likes the girl but soon becomes tired and weak and it is too much for her to continue. The children are sent away and she retires to bed.
She feels cold but unafraid. Sokka is with her at the end.
"Don't cry," she says, wiping the tears from her big brother's eyes. "I'm ready to be with Aang again—to see Mom and Dad and Gran-Gran."
Sokka sniffles and squeezes her hand. "Give Mom a kiss for me and tell them all I'll see them soon."
"Not too soon," she says as she closes her eyes.
He leans down to kiss her forehead. She doesn't wake up.
Sokka passes away seven months later in his sleep. His funeral has one of the largest attendances in the entire world, let alone the South Pole. When Toph gives the eulogy there's not a single person who isn't laughing and crying at the same time. He was a true leader and no one can say that he won't be sorely missed.
His last words to Suki before rolling over in his sleep were 'I miss Momo'.
Zuko is leaning against a tree, idly throwing chunks of bread at the swimming turtle ducks. The last few years have been lonely and hollow, as though something vitally important was missing. He struggles daily but carries on not only for the sake of his nation but to uphold the legacy of the Avatar. He cannot fail him.
But even Zuko can't ignore the burning pain of his heart and his conviction to linger on slips away with every day that passes. He throws the last piece of bread into the water and looks up at the sky. The clouds seem to be smiling down on him, reminding him of simpler times.
He smiles back.
"Time for one last chase, Uncle," he whispers with fond reminiscence, before closing his weary eyes. "I'm coming for you, Aang."
Sixteen long years have passed since Aang's death and Toph feels his absence like a void in her soul. Her dearest friends are dead and gone and she sometimes questions why she's held on for so long. She can hear them calling to her—has heard them calling for years. The Earthbender has always been wilful and stubborn, though, and she cannot leave until her work is done.
But the ties that bind her to her friends are too great, too strong for her to resist. She must leave the rest up to her daughter now. Her swan's song is almost at its end and she wants nothing more than to see her friends again.
It is time.
"You win, Twinkletoes," Toph says, taking her final breath. "I'm ready for the next adventure."
Korra fights with everything she has, gathering every last screed of strength with each element at her disposal. The Equalists outnumber her but she doesn't give up—she will never stop trying as long as she has hope.
Suddenly a large boulder whizzes past her face and hits one of her attackers, knocking him to the ground. Korra turns to see a short, stocky Earthbender smiling up at her. The second Equalist attacks him from behind. Before he can make his final strike a tall Firebender takes him out with precision and then helps the shorter man to his feet. They back up towards Korra, forming a protective triangle.
As the Equalists advance, the fight becomes a waltz, beautiful and impressive. But as quickly as it has begun it ends. Their adversaries retreat, disappearing into the stands and out of sight.
Korra jerks forward, trying to follow them with her eyes, but they are too fast and blend into the crowd. She considers going after them but the Earthbender is already beside her. He stares at her agog while she folds her arms beneath her breasts. Turning to look at the Firebender, he ducks low and covers the side of his mouth with one hand while pointing at her with the other.
"The Avatar!" he whispers loudly.
The Firebender shakes his head and the shorter man straightens his spine before offering Korra a good-natured smile.
"I'm Bolin," he says, and then gestures grandly to the tall man standing in front of them. "And this brooding guy here is my big brother, Mako."
Korra looks from Bolin to Mako and a sudden familiarity tugs at her heart. An image of five friends laughing together flits through her mind and then vanishes as suddenly as it had appeared. Déjà vu, she reasons and, despite herself, she drops her arms and smiles.
"Hi, I'm Korra."
Author's note: Yeah, so I believe that the GAang are spiritually connected and share lifetimes together, like soul mates. Sure, sometimes they won't cross paths, but they are all conscious of the fact that they are linked. Incidentally, the reincarnation of souls doesn't have to happen upon conception or birth. Sometimes a soul can be reborn in a child or an adult, especially if he or she had a near-death experience. So don't discount Bolin and Mako being a member of the GAang in their past lives.
Trivia Fact: Since Aang's character is fashioned after Tibetan monks, it is interesting to note that the Buddhist monks there have what is called a sky burial, in which the corpse is exposed to the air to be eaten by sacred vultures (no part of the body is wasted). However, since Aang was a master and the Avatar, he would have been cremated and his ashes would have been stored as a relic in a stupa (or the Airbending Temple he was raised in).