Chapter 8 - Endings and Beginnings
They enjoyed their week of getting thoroughly acquainted in Zuko's private cottage, and taking in the sights and sounds of the resort island by dressing incognito in Fire Nation clothing that Zuko's staff had conveniently left them. Zuko's people had thought of everything, including a turban to cover Tenzin's cranial tattoos.
They took in the revised Ember Island Players decades long-running summer theater play about the Gaang fighting against Ozai and Azula and the once malevolent Fire Nation, and laughed most of the way through it, thinking it was really cheesy, until they got to the parts about Tenzin growing up as a sour-faced serious boy with a sharp temper.
"You? Sour-faced and serious? A temper? Never!" teased Pema. Tenzin just rolled his eyes.
She was laughing until they showed the just-added scene about their romance, showing Pema as a fragile, pouty airhead. Then it was Tenzin's turn to laugh. Until Pema bruised his ribs with an elbow jab.
They had some great meals, especially the dinners, although people got a little curious at two vegetarians in a nation of "meatatarians".
And there were of course the nights on the beach. They joked that being together in a real bed was going to be a major disappointment, and then exploded in laughter knowing it wouldn't be. But just to certain, one night after being intimate, Pema led Tenzin tenderly by the hand from the beach to their bed just to prove that it was so.
With Tenzin laying exhausted, tangled up with her after a second time, feeling all of his 33 years, Pema ran her finger along his cranial and spinal tattoo, touching all the chi points along the way, causing him to shiver, and teased, "What's the matter, old man? Did I wear you out?"
Realizing that their bantering games now applied to this aspect of their lives, Tenzin raised an eyebrow at his new bride, caught her by surprise, causing her to yelp, and teased, "An 'old man', huh? I'll show you just what an 'old man' is capable of."
And to her total delight, he did.
At the end of that third session together, it was Pema's turn to lay utterly breathless, but managed to beam a very satisfied smile up into her husband's loving eyes. When she finally caught her breath, she poked his nose gently and whispered, "See, Tenzin? I told you I should take my chances with an older man."
The two hugged even closer and never let go the remainder of the night as they slept.
Finally, it was time to go home and continue their studies and teaching, and build their marriage even stronger than it already was.
They returned to Air Temple Island with cheers from all the Acolytes and walked to their new home, modified from one of the spare guest quarters. They went to join his parents for dinner. When they sat, they were shocked. Normally strong and fit 65 year old Aang was starting to look frail. Certainly they must be mistaken. But when he walked, he walked with a cane.
At the end of dinner, Katara said seriously, "Children, we need to talk."
They were stunned learning of Aang's accelerated aging. Katara told them bluntly he had at most a year left. It could only be the lasting effects of the Avatar State stasis for a hundred years. Everyone conveniently forgot he was really 165.
In bed that night, Pema and Tenzin had a very serious conversation.
"Tenzin. We can't wait. Your father needs to know before he leaves us that there are more air benders," the words stuck in her throat.
"But Pema, think of what Mother said to you. What about the risk to your health?"
"Didn't you tell me once of your conversation with your father about grandchildren?"
He cast his eyes down, "Yes. But he told me it doesn't matter."
"It does matter to me, dear. I want him to die happily. I never got to say goodbye to my parents. Or say thank you. We can with your father. A baby would be a 'thank you' to him for the love he has shown us."
Tenzin was very insistent, "Listen to me Pema. This matters to me too. This is not worth risking your health or a baby's. Soon we will have a funeral pyre blazing over the bay that my siblings and I will have to light. I don't want to have to light a second one. Or a third."
He let the words hang for effect. Pema was shaken with the harsh possibilities. Tenzin was right. So was Mother Katara.
"All right Tenzin. You are right. But I have to talk to him about this."
She kissed him long and deep, so happy this man and his family cared for her so much. They said goodnight, but neither could sleep.
Tenzin breathed a deep sigh of relief and gave a silent prayer of thanks. It was bad enough to lose his father far sooner than expected. But to lose her or his child - or both – in addition to his father would be too much for him to bear. He shuddered, and lost it for a moment.
Pema felt that, and asked, "Tenzin?"
"Oh dear spirits, Pema. I know you've already experienced this, but the thought of life without my father…"
She caressed his face tenderly and her voice quivered, "I know, dear. There is nothing in life that prepares adult children to care for elderly parents, much less how to accept them…departing."
The next day, after class, she sought out Aang in his study. He was so frail that it shocked her. He was such a strong man hardly more than a week ago. She could hear his labored breathing.
"Father? Do you have time?" she asked tentatively.
He smiled weakly, "I like that Pema. You said 'Father' – not 'Father Aang'. You are one of my daughters. I have three now with you, y'know. You're the youngest. I always have time for you. At least in the time I have left."
His memories were getting as frail as he was.
"Y'know I'm a grandpa, right?"
She wasn't sure who was in control of this conversation, but it sure was the subject she wanted to talk about.
"Well then, you shouldn't worry too much about making me a grandpa again. I can tell you now that it'll take longer for you make a baby than the time I have left to see her, dear."
She sat stunned at his candor of his own impending death. And then thought happily, "Her? A girl?"
"Besides, you'll hurt yourself or the baby if you rush things. You're sixteen, right, sweetheart?"
"Seventeen, Father. Nearly eighteen."
"Yeah, wow, how about that. Time flies, dear. Time flies."
He continued, "You know my son Tenzin is the luckiest man on earth in having you, don't you? You're a natural Air Nomad. You have the heart for it, Pema. When you do have babies, dear, they'll all be air benders. If things were different, you would have been one heck of an air bender yourself. No one has come through this program like you, Pema. Not even your parents. And I've done this for over 40 years."
She blushed, but said softly, "Thank you Father, for teaching me and my parents before me. I do truly feel like an Air Nomad girl."
He drifted off a bit, then said, "Oh, my apologies Pema, what did you come here to talk about? I interrupted you."
"Well, umm…Father. That's OK. I think you covered it."
"Have a wonderful day dear. And in case I forget, and I might, have a wonderful life. Love that son of mine; make me proud as a spirit when you are both ready for a family. There's no rush. Remember, I will get to meet all your children before you and Tenzin will. You two have all the time in the world. My time is about run out."
He rose wearily, relying heavily on his cane, and reached out and hugged his daughter-in-law tightly. A stream of tears ran down her cheeks. And his.
"I love you Father. Thank you so much for being my father when I lost my real one."
"I love you too, Pema. Well, he was a fine man, dear. I will certainly tell him what a wonderful daughter you have become."
After she departed, a tall young air bender emerged from behind the curtain, and said, "Thank you, Father."
"My pleasure. Our secret, son. She's wonderful. I wouldn't want to lose her either, my boy."
Barely seven months later, it was the saddest week in Republic City history, as the family, friends, the City, and the World mourned the loss of the greatest Avatar in history. There was only one thing left to do, after all the goodbyes, speeches, honors, and memorial ceremonies. According to the ancient rites of the Air Nomads, the widow and three children of the Avatar stood holding the torch that would light his enormous pyre and to stand watch through the night. Behind them stood Pema, and the families of Kya and Bumi, all huddled together and sobbing. They were inconsolable. They were otherwise alone. This day was for family only.
The four touched the pyre with the torch. Whipped by unusually strong winds over Yue Bay, the flames quickly rose high above Air Temple Island, consuming both the sacred sandalwood and the remains of Aang. It was if the collective souls and spirits of the long-departed Air Nomads assembled together one final time in the winds to bring their long-lost son home to them.
As the family watched silently, unexpectedly, they began to hear the wailing of Air Nomad funerary music from across the expanse of the great City, but for today played on Tsungi horns. Only one person yet alive could play an Air Nomad Dhorra horn, and he could not bear to play it. It caused the previously sad but poised children and Katara to lose their composure completely, and they hugged each other desperately as the flames rose higher still - as if aided by the music played in Aang's honor.
Recovering somewhat, they were able to look up, and watch the ashes rise skyward, wafting and swirling in the winds. Then subtlety, the ashes began to coalesce, and created a pattern. It was unmistakably the clan symbol of the three swirls of the Air Nation that formed and hung in the air. They were awed.
Bumi could hardly utter the words, "Nice touch Tenzin. That is beautiful."
Katara squeezed Tenzin's arm, "Yes, son, that is a wonderful honor for your father."
He could feel Pema's praising smile from behind them.
Tenzin choked on the words, "It isn't me doing that."
They fell to their knees, and Kya could only gasp, "Oh, Father!"
The ashen Air Nomad clan symbol disappeared in the winds back into unrecognizable patterns that quickly moved across the bay driven toward a small deserted island to the northeast in between the City and Air Temple Island. They all watched astonished as the ashes started to fall to the small island, and kept falling as the sacrificial fire continued to burn.
Tenzin dared to whisper to his siblings and his Mother, and pointed, "There. Right over there. That is where his Memorial goes."
Six and a half years later, Tenzin flew in one night from a long Council meeting to greet a happy looking Pema.
He suspected something special when she hugged him fiercely and kissed him harder than a normal welcome home.
"Tenzin? Guess what?" Pema absolutely glowed.
He figured out what, as they'd been trying for weeks, but couldn't resist the gamesmanship, "Oogie has a girlfriend and she's having calves?"
"Close but not quite, silly. It's us!" grinned Pema.
Tenzin could not resist drawing this out further, "We're having calves? Didn't your mother teach you anything?"
She kicked him playfully, "No Tenzin. Be serious. We're having a baby! We're pregnant!"
Tenzin was ecstatic. He lifted her high above him, and twirled her around aided by an air bending swirl.
"Our baby, Pema. How wonderful!" Tenzin cheered.
They spent the rest of the night talking and giggling about babies, baby rooms, baby clothes, parenting and how happy Katara would be. After the pair had a late night devotion of thanks about the coming baby, they said goodnight. Tenzin lay awake for a long time, thinking first of being a father and then about his father now several years gone.
The next day they told Katara, who was visiting them, taking a break from almost three years of training Avatar Korra at the South Pole Order of the White Lotus training facility. Katara was overjoyed, and asked them all about their plans. His mother was always so amazing. She was a grandparent several times over from his older brother and sister, but made Pema and Tenzin feel like they were giving her a first grandchild.
The next few weeks were kind of chaotic for this experienced married couple who also found themselves suddenly pregnant. The first few weeks were no fun at all, as she was sick continuously. Morning sickness turned to all day sickness, and she could barely keep up with her studies. Tenzin did everything he could to make her comfortable, and she appreciated all that he did.
Then the cravings started, and they were crazy. It wasn't easy to satisfy them, even by the loving husband Tenzin was. First Pema insisted on curried seaweed and syrup. Next she wanted barbequed tofu and jelly squares. Another night the request was tempura squid and strawberries. Yet another evening Pema craved bubble tea and hot sauce. Every night was something different. Invariably, Tenzin would have to fly all the way over Yue Bay, and to opposite ends of the city to find the markets to get them. He learned quickly, and loudly - often confronted with "The Look" - that when Pema wanted her cravings, she wanted them immediately - at every time of day or night.
After about the twentieth time out of the house, an exhausted Tenzin asked Katara, "Mother, were you ever like this?"
Katara rolled her eyes, and grinned ear to ear, "All the time, dear. It was the worst with you. I guess it's 'pay back' time, son."
Then late one night in the seventh year after Aang's passing, after an interminably long Council meeting, Tenzin flew home to an anxious Pema. He didn't have to ask as she glowed, "Tenzin, it's time."
He scooped her into his strong arms and ran with air-bending enhanced speed to awaken Katara, who was sleeping in the guest quarters. She was staying with the couple on a "baby watch" leave of absence from training Korra at the South Pole. The old mid wife set to work immediately.
After a long night of labor, a newborn baby's wail pierced the calm, crisp October skies over Air Temple Island. Katara presented a very healthy baby girl to the smiling new mother to nurse at Pema's aching bosom. The entire family celebrated quietly for a few minutes, enjoying the newborn making cute little sucking noises.
An exhausted, sweaty, an unkempt Pema looked up at an equally worn out Katara, "Mother, thank you so much for midwiving for me. I love you."
"My pleasure dear. I love you too." Katara smiled and straightened some of the wild strands of Pema's pretty brown hair.
"It's been longer than we expected, but she sure was worth the wait," observed Tenzin, as he gently embraced his wife and softly touched his new baby daughter.
"Are we going with the name we discussed Tenzin?" smiled Pema.
"Absolutely, Pema. Jinora: 'essence of victory'. Because this has been a real victory for all of us. Including Jinora."
"Do you suppose Father knows?" asked Pema, knowing that seven years after his death, it didn't hurt any of them so much to talk about Aang, especially on this happy day.
Katara mused, "Oh I'm sure he does."
Tenzin queried, "Spirit journey, Mother?"
She smiled, "No dear, not recently. I just know your father. He was probably so busy playing with Jinora before she came to us that he lost all track of time."
Pema chimed in, "Yeah, knowing him he would have been playing the marble game all this time."
Tenzin laughed, "Spirits! If he was doing the marble game all this time, if I were Jinora, I would have gotten here a [i]lot[/i] earlier."
Both women scrunched up their faces and punched him playfully. Tenzin just rolled his eyes.
They watched their newborn girl nurse. Pema rubbed her cheek as Katara instructed her to encourage Jinora to drink more, and then touched her soft, tiny nose. That startled the baby, who drew back, wrinkled her nose, inhaled, and then sneezed. It was no ordinary sneeze. Its force knocked a flower vase to the floor, and dislodged a tapestry. The crash frightened Jinora, who started crying.
They laughed heartily, while Pema comforted Jinora.
"Well," said Tenzin, "I guess that settles that question!"
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