Chapter 1 - The Longing
They loved their new Avatar as much as the Avatar whose statue graced Yue Bay and continued watch over the new spirit portal whose affect on the next 10,000 years of human and spirit interactions was unknown. But at least there would be a mankind to witness those years because of her and it was itself a beacon of hope and unity. The President's decision to rebuild a modern downtown away from the sacred portal site was a wise one.
Korra and Asami had gone to the spirit world quietly virtually unannounced after Varrick and Zhu Li took off on their honeymoon in his world-girdling yacht.
But life for the busy Air Family was pretty much back to normal. Or so it seemed, as Pema called out her usual gathering call, "Time for dinner, everyone!"
At dinner, Jinora was mostly quiet, which was normal, mainly because of Meelo and Ikki's domination of conversation. Rohan still wasn't talking much yet, and it was fun to watch him try to contribute and help. He was a very cute boy.
After dinner everyone scattered to their own activities. Meelo made a beeline to the art room and closed the door. He did that a lot lately.
Ikki had bounded off somewhere with Rohan and all they heard was the waning trail of her one-sided chatter with him. Tenzin shook his head in amusement, "That poor boy will never learn to talk if his sister does all the talking for him."
Pema smiled, "Yes, dear. But she sure is a good air bending teacher to him. He responds better to her than anyone else, including you," she snickered, commenting about the toddling air bender's recently discovered talent.
Jinora anxiously sought out and went for a walk hand-in-hand with Kai, who was waiting impatiently for her just outside the residence, and they quickly went over to the training area for some seclusion. Tenzin could still see them. Unlike dinner, her conversation was animated, but they could see him cuddle her in his arms, followed by a hug and kiss, much to Tenzin's dismay. Before he go could intervene and break up the affection, Pema scolded him, "Leave them alone, dear."
Tenzin raised a thick eyebrow, "That's what I am afraid of, Pema."
Pema gave him a stern look, "Tenzin, they are no different than your mother and father at their age and no less in love than they were then. And besides, they're cute. Get used to her going to him first for the rest of our lives dear."
"I know. I know."
Tenzin got up from the table, kissed his wife, and stated, "That was a good meal, Pema, but it's time for me to address the evening classes at the lecture hall. I could be late. We're going to start the discussion series on why the air bending spontaneously came back to balance the world. And why it selected bad people as well as good, and people who don't even want the skill. And why some nations never experienced air benders suddenly appearing. Just leave the light on. We invited several spirits to join us to give us their perspective on what happened. Bumi got that to happen."
Pema's eyes gleamed at Tenzin, "Yes dear. I'm very excited for you. This is the first lecture ever with spirits. I know how much you've wanted this to happen."
As he passed by the young couple he deliberately interrupted their affection, "'You coming, Jinora? This is your favorite subject."
"Sure Daddy! Come on Kai, let's go!"
The couple held hands tightly, and almost skipped along together, but Tenzin said nothing.
The spontaneous reappearance of air bending discussions went late, and Tenzin was exhausted, but intellectually satisfied at the direction and conclusions that were reached so far, and looked forward to next week's class. As he went by Meelo's room, he noted the bed was empty.
Meelo had been acting strange lately. He was impatient and moody, and he didn't have much appetite, just playing with his food. He spent a lot of time alone. As near as Tenzin could tell, he wasn't going through 'the change' prematurely. It was something else.
Tenzin had been ignoring Pema's admonishments the past several nights to talk to his son about his strange hermit-like behavior. She'd said, "Tenzin. Talk to your son. I don't want to handle this one."
Something happened out there in the Earth Kingdom to Meelo with his sisters in their search for Korra that was different, deeper, and longer lasting. He knew that time to talk was now, and knew where to go.
Tenzin heard activity in the art studio and saw the light on underneath the door. He opened it without knocking.
Meelo had a shocked look on his face, and tried to quickly cover or put away all his work. He air bent many of the pictures into drawers or behind things. Papers flew everywhere and the place was a total mess.
The studio was covered with all varieties of drawn or painted images of only one girl, with long pretty curls, straight cut bangs, and in the detailed paintings of her, wore long a green outfit. She was truly beautiful and her eyes and smile were absolutely captivating. She looked to be about 12 and in nearly every drawing or painting, she had a basket full of yellow orange flowers. There were so many compositions of her in all media - chalk, charcoal, pastels, oils, inks, and pencil. There was even one started in macaroni noodles. There were so many pencil drawings, and some were only details of her eyes, or hair or face, or delicate hands. His son was an extremely talented artist, but this exceeded all bounds of his output of truly quality work.
But the massive amount of work on this single girl was disturbingly obsessive. He made a quick scan for nude paintings of the girl but saw nothing. That was a subject he truly wanted to avoid, but he couldn't rule anything out.
Despite the shock of all this, Meelo had amazing art talent that even his Grandfather Aang would be truly impressed and even jealous of. There was no question from whom he got the art talents genetically. Tenzin couldn't even draw a stick figure.
Tenzin asked sternly, with arms crossed, locking eyes with the boy, frozen in the middle of the studio caught surrounded by his art of an Earth Kingdom girl, "Meelo what is going on here? And why are you not in bed?"
"Um, not a thing Dad. nothing at all. This is my... um… portrait class homework with Huan. I'm behind on the projects, so I'm… uh… catching up."
Even without Lin's truth detecting sense, Tenzin knew Meelo as lying like a lazy basset-sloth napping on a porch on hot summer afternoon sun.
Tenzin raised an eyebrow, "All of the same girl, Meelo? Surely, Huan would want you to explore multiple human subjects to draw. What's going on here?"
"Uhh," he lied again, "this was supposed to be an in-depth multi-media study of a single subject," but scuffed the ground with his hands behind his back, not meeting his father's gaze.
Tenzin's brow fretted, and he asked kindly but firmly, "Meelo, please tell me the truth of what's really going on, son. I will understand."
"I'll try Dad. It's… uhh… complicated."
Tenzin asked, "Are you feeling well, son? You really are not yourself lately. At all."
Meelo tried to cover up his heartache, "Sure Dad. I'm always feeling great. I feel juuuust fine."
His fake smile belied very sad eyes underneath those enormous thick lashes.
Tenzin confronted him, "You and I both know that isn't the case right now."
Meelo sighed and was very crestfallen, and being challenged to tell the truth allowed him to unload. He sat down on the studio floor aided by a cushion of air, "Yes Dad, it's true. Not for a while, actually."
His father joined him cross-legged on the studio floor, making sure he didn't tear or sit on a portrait of the pretty little girl. In fact he picked up an ink and pencil drawing of her, admired it, and asked, "These are all very good, Meelo. You have such a talent. Let's make this easy shall we? Son, tell me about this beautiful girl. Is she imaginary? Or real?"
Meelo cast admiring eyes toward the image and his dad understood a lot instantly, "Uhh… She's real. Very real," he said, hesitated for a moment, but asked boldly, "Dad I need to talk to you about girls. Not my sisters. I know all too much about them."
Tenzin clarified, "What kind of girls do you mean?"
"You know. Real girls."
"Your sisters are real girls."
"Well, I'm stuck forever with them. I didn't get a choice."
"You know what I mean, Dad, like you're stuck with Aunt Kya."
"I get it son," the boy was blunt but still had a way with words.
"I mean 'real girls' like in 'I want to be around a special girl more than anything'. You know, like when Jinora and Kai go and smooch all the time kind of 'real girls'."
Tenzin's eyebrow raised all the way up, "What do you mean 'smooch all the time'? How come I never see that?"
"They're really good at avoiding you. Jinora uses her spirit sense to sense you, Dad. They stop or go hide and kiss out in the gardens. Oops…" he realized he just blew their cover.
Tenzin turned a deep shade of red. He immediately thought of a lecture for Jinora about misuse of gifts of the spirit. In extreme discomfort, he blurted out to his son, "This isn't about them; this is about you. Aren't you a little young to talk about being attractive to women? You're nine."
"Nine is old enough to know about boys and girls liking each other. Or think they like each other, or want to like each other. I'm so confused, Dad. This is why I need to talk to you. This is about one boy and one girl. Me. And a girl I met when we searched for Korra."
"Slow down, boy, slow down. That's a lot of different things. But you can always come to me about that stuff."
"I know I know. You say that to Korra all the time."
"Well it's true son. You can ask me anything."
Buoyed in confidence with that promise, Meelo stood up and struck a pose of a hip socialite, and asked, "So, Dad, am I a ladies' man? Do I have what it takes to be a good looking, suave, and debonair 'hit' with girls? Everyone thinks air benders are cool now, especially with our awesome wing suits and us saving everyone and doing good deeds and stuff!"
Tenzin smiled, "Well that's not really something that we air benders seek in life, son. That's very self-centered, Meelo. We seek to find a kindred spirit to share a life together equally with a woman who shares our view of life, and not be drawn by simple physical attractiveness. Good looks are fleeting."
Tenzin heard a 'harrumph' from the hallway. It was Pema - she just was 'passing by' to check on them for a moment. Pema explained, "Don't mind me, boys, I'm just doing chores! I'm always behind with this busy family, and late night is the only free time I have looking after Rohan all day."
Both 'boys' rolled their eyes at Pema. She just wanted to know if they were all right. And what was really going on. She'd been there awhile.
Meelo got a very serious look and crossed his arms at her well-meant but unneeded intrusion, "Mother, this is a man to man talk, if you please."
Tenzin bit his lip at his precocious son to stifle a laugh, but Meelo took the words right out his mouth. Only he could get away with that with Pema.
Tenzin quickly added, "Beauty is fleeting except for your mother's timeless good looks!"
Meelo knew his dad was trying to recover, "I thought so Dad. I will take that as a 'yes' I am a ladies' man."
He made a smooth dance move and finger-combed his hair like a socialite would, and snapped his fingers and held a pose.
Pema chuckled at her son's behavior, "Well when you get older, probably, son. You are quite handsome. You're just cute now."
That is not the answer Meelo wanted, "I get that a lot," he complained, thinking of the elderly woman who pinched his cheek. It still hurt just thinking about it.
Pema lilted, "I'm going to bed now boys, have a nice chat. Turn out the lights when you go to bed. And put the lid down, please… Tenzin… you'd think after nearly two decades of marriage you'd learn. I darn near fell in the other night, dear."
With Pema safely out of earshot they continued their conversation. They exchanged looks of 'well… she meant well…'.
"So what do you think, Dad?"
"I think you are too young to have a girl friend."
"What if I tell you I already have one?" he smiled proudly.
Tenzin just shook his head, "OK, son, where is this going?"
"There was this girl. The girl in the pictures, Dad. She's an Earth Kingdom girl. A flower girl. I met her when we were looking for Korra. She was um… really nice. She didn't make fun of me when I um… exaggerated some things. I was nervous. I told her she was beautiful."
Tenzin smiled, "Was she?"
"Yes, Dad. Very… but Ikki made her leave because we had to keep searching. She gave me a flower."
"I think I understand now what this girl has to do with your… umm… fascination with this young girl in the pictures."
Meelo pleaded, "Dad. I want to find her. Meet her again."
With Meelo, there was always a catch or an angle.
Tenzin said sadly, "But I don't plan to be in that part of the world anywhere near the swamp for some time, son."
"Well Dad I'm old enough to go back there by myself."
He was right. He and his sisters already proved they could travel the world like their grandfather, and Tenzin asked, "Why?"
"I need to find her. I want to see if she likes me. She sure seemed to."
Tenzin wanted to say yes but needed to test his son's resolve and maturity with this responsibility of solo flight, "Hmmm. I don't know Meelo. You and your sisters had a real challenge on your last trip. And that was with three of you."
"Dad, it's different now. Kuvira's people are all gone now. The spirit vines are not attacking anymore. And besides your father traveled the world at my age alone. Before all the awful stuff happened."
"Please, Dad. I never wanted anything so much in my life – well… except my blue tats – and you already trusted me go with Ikki and Jinora. I'm a much better outdoorsman without dragging my sisters along. They just slowed me down."
"All right. You can go," he agreed even he knew he'd have a hard time explaining to Pema why their second youngest could go on a solo journey.
They hugged, "Thanks Dad."
"What's this pretty girl's name?" Tenzin asked.
"It's an unusual name. But a nice one. She does look like her namesake 'angel spirit'. You should be able to find her. If she wants to be found. Only do what she is comfortable with, Meelo. Do not make her feel pressured by you searching for her. To some people, that is called stalking, which is very bad. Mind everything she and her parents tell you to do. Be a gentleman please. You represent the Air Nation wherever you go son."
"Yes dad I know. I'm Aang's grandson."
"And can you dial back your ego a little. And bodily functions."
All morning long the following day Meelo was all aflutter about going to find Tuyen. They were all gathered in the family's living room. Pema thought searching for his female friend was cute.
Ikki teased Meelo with her best sing song voice, "Meelo's gonna go find his girlfriend and get all smoochy smoochy!"
"Ikki! Be kind to your brother," demanded Pema.
Ikki whined, "Yes Mother, but she's really pretty. I saw her. Meelo is going to want to kiss her. And how come Meelo gets to go on a trek and I don't?"
"Well, Ikki. Think of one and we might just let you."
Her eyes went wide, "Oh… well… Really? Umm. Let me think about that, Daddy."
Everyone had a really good laugh. They'd never seen Ikki speechless in her entire life. Jinora bit back a grin. She was sitting on one of the cane mats on the floor reading one of Katara's old journals alongside Kai. She was leaning against him. The 14 year olds were happy to just be in each others' company, and reading Katara's journals was a convenient excuse to be close while around her parents. They wanted her mom and dad to leave so they could steal some kisses in between reading. The children knew that too. And so did her father.
"A little distance please, kids," Tenzin scolded.
Jinora was indignant, "Dad. I'm fourteen, almost fifteen. I know how to behave around my boyfriend," and in fact scooted a little closer in defiance.
The term 'boyfriend' had been another long family discussion not even a week ago, but Kai had been so gentlemanly and gallant asking permission to be her boyfriend to her parents they couldn't say no.
"Some days I think I will never get used to being parents of teenagers and pre-teens."
"Well you wanted at least four, Tenzin, and they don't stay babies forever," Pema smiled.
"Well that was before the balanced spirit world made new air benders and we were going to have to create all the new air benders ourselves."
"Now you tell me dear!" she laughed. She hadn't told him yet she was carrying their fifth child.
Meelo spent almost a week hovering over his drawing table adding lettering to all the art he had drawn of her in full length robe converting the art to posters. His tongue stuck out in concentration. The stack of pictures got bigger and bigger and he was about ready to go.
Pema went in one day to bring her son a snack and a tea, "What are you doing so busy in here son?"
"Well I only know her first name and she didn't tell me where she lived. I have to find her by putting these posters up all over the town to get her to come to me."
"Have you ever thought of just going to the market and just waiting to see if she shows up? If she sells flowers she might be there every day."
"Oh. Well no I didn't mom. Great thinking."
"Well at least you have these posters to hang if she doesn't. So there isn't any waste. Besides if I was Tuyen I would be flattered that you went to all that trouble to meet again. And she'll love your art of her, dear."
The big day came.
Meelo hugged everyone goodbye, and his mother handed him a bag of food. He had his sleeping roll, a spare glider suit, and some more traditional air bender yellow and orange clothes.
"I hope you learned your lesson from last time little brother," cautioned Jinora.
"Yes Jinora. I won't waste any food. Love you Mom and Dad... see you later."
His parents hugged each other as they watched him rise into the sky on Pepper.
"He's getting so grown up, Tenzin, our little boy. Off to find the one he called 'the girl of his dreams'. I'm glad we're brave enough to let him go, even though I'll really worry about him."
Tenzin explained, "We have to let him work this out, Pema dear. Maybe she feels the same about him, wondering if she'll ever see him again, or maybe not. Or maybe she has a boyfriend already. What better way to find out than to let them finish the conversation they started. He'll learn a lot about girls and growing up. And no matter what we'll be here for him when he gets back."
Pema reflected fondly, "There might be something there, Tenzin, I was barely 16 when you won my heart. Your mother was in love with your 12 year old father at only 14 herself. It just took a year to figure it all out."
Tenzin scoffed, "16 is not nine. Or 14. Or even 12. They're a long way from boyfriend and girlfriend Pema."
"We'll see dear," she smiled and kept waving as she slipped her hand into Tenzin's, something that would never get old.