The village was small, close to the Earth Kingdom's Northern border. The area's resources had been depleted by mining operations during the war, and most of the village's inhabitants had left for richer lands years earlier. Only the old, the poor, and those too set in their ways to leave remained. The village was dying; the houses would fall into rubble, ground to dust under the weight of neglect and age.
The house Aang had been looking for sat at the very edge of the village, close to the encroaching treeline. Though the gate was broken and the paint peeling, the lacy yellow curtains wavering in the open windows gave the house a cheery touch. As Aang came closer, he could make out the sound of running water, and clattering dishes.
Aang's breath caught. For a moment, he stood unable to move.
And then he stumbled forward, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste. He left dust whirling in his wake, wind whipping at his heels.
He rapped at the door, too fast, too hard for politeness. The sounds from inside the house stopped, and in the long minute it took for the door to open, Aang worried that she wouldn't answer at all. He was too old to squirm in place, but Aang's feet beat a worried tattoo against the stone walkway.
Aang had practiced what to say to her during the long flight with Appa, but looking into her face, Aang's carefully constructed speech crumbled to dust against his tongue.
Age had left her looking impossibly tiny, heartbreakingly frail. She had the same warm skin tone as most of the Earth Kingdom's people, but the shape of her eyes and the slant of her cheekbones brought to mind the people Aang had long thought lost to him.
Though her eyes were faded, her voice was still strong. She snapped her dishtowel, and aimed a stern glare at Aang's chest. "Young man, I don't have time for foolishness. If you have nothing to say--"
Aang jumped. "Um? Hello!" He cleared his throat, and steadied his hands. "You're Kimi? Mihn told me about you."
Mihn was an Earthbender, and a member of the resistance. She had been part of a squad sent in to maintain order after the fall of the Fire Lord. She had debated, Mihn had admitted, saying anything to Aang at all: "I'm not supposed to know this," she'd said, "but I think you can help her, Avatar Aang."
Kimi huffed. "Well then, come in. And call me Grandmother. Everyone else does--my name sounds odd after so many years."
"Grandmother," Aang echoed, and followed her into the house.
She led him to the kitchen, and showed him a seat. Grandmother poured two mugs of tea, and set one before Aang without asking. Aang took a polite sip, and gave Grandmother time enough to settle herself before launching into the subject that had led him across the length of the Earth Kingdom in search of her.
"Mihn said--she said that you're an Airbender," Aang said.
Grandmother jerked back in her seat. Her face took on a grey tinge, and Aang worried that he'd been too blunt--that he'd strained her heart, or made her choke on her tea, or, or. Aang started to rise, panicked, but Grandmother waved him back to his seat.
"That girl," Grandmother said. Her fingers curled around her cup. "There are no Airbenders, boy. You'll certainly find none here."
"Please," Aang said, "please don't be afraid. The Fire Lord is gone, and can't hurt you. No one is going to hurt you. Just. . . *please,* I have to know if it's true!"
"Finish your tea," Grandmother said.
"You don't understand," Aang said. "I--" he stopped, and stared at Grandmother's set expression. Aang took a deep, calming breath. He called up a delicate breeze, brushed invisible fingers against Grandmother's face, set grey curls tumbling against her cheeks. "*I'm* an Airbender," Aang said.
Grandmother's breath rushed out of her.
"Please," Aang said.
"I promised mother that I'd never tell anyone," Grandmother said. She touched trembling fingers to her lips. Silence grew between them, nearly intolerable. Finally, Grandmother spoke. Her voice was very soft, and very slow--she sounded as if every word hurt. "She was very young when the others died. She was afraid of being found--of being killed--her entire life."
"Will you tell me?"
Grandmother shook her head. "I don't know anything," she said. "Mother tried to forget, I think. She didn't speak of her people, or of her life before coming to this village. She didn't want to tell me about the Air Nomads at all; wouldn't have, if not for--"
"If not for you being a 'bender," Aang said, gently.
Grandmother snorted. "Party tricks," she said, "that's all I've ever been capable of."
Aang reached across the table, and clasped Grandmother's hands. "And. . . your children?"
"I'm sorry, boy," Grandmother said.
Aang swallowed hard, and closed his eyes. "It's okay. I'm happy to have found *you,* Grandmother. I thought I was the last--the only one left in the world. I'm glad someone else survived," Aang said. "I'm so, so happy."
Grandmother grew very still. "Who are you? I never asked--your name, boy. What is it?"
Aang smiled, and scrubbed at his eyes with the palm of his hand. "Aang," he said. "I'm the Avatar."
"You were *there,*" Grandmother said. She rocked forward. "Mother never told me about her--*our*--people. There's so much I don't know, so much that I've never understood." She laughed, eyes wet: "there's an entire part of myself that I've never known."
"I have a lot of stories," Aang said, smiling. "And we have time."
"I'll make another pot of tea," Grandmother said.