The Eastern Temple sat before him, the bases of its three great pagodas shrouded in clouds. Aang stood for a while on the cliffside of the mountain facing the temple, as if studying it, though his eyes did not quite focus on the slanted rooftops or overgrown gardens.
Aunt Wu had once told him he could shape his own destiny like he had the clouds. If only life worked like that—at least, his life. No matter what he did, it seemed like he ended up walking in the grooves laid out for him, anyway. She had just told him that to make him feel better about not hearing what he wanted. Embarrassment rolled in his chest like an iron marble, cold and heavy. A hundred years ago, the monks planned to send him here, to the Eastern Temple, and he'd run away that night. When he'd come to meet and learn from Guru Pathik during the war, he ended up running from that, too. All the times he tried to subvert his destiny of learning to control a power he had never wanted to be saddled with, and he was back again.
Aang let out a lengthy exhale. How much time could have been saved if he hadn't tried to force things? How much frustration could he have avoided if he'd listened, instead of just heard?
A spin of his hand snapped his glider open, and he launched himself into the air, curling with the currents toward the temple's middle pagoda. He would learn to be better.
The winds took him to a gazebo with a broken roof near the midway point of the temple, where he alighted upon the ground. It sat off-center in a garden left to its own devices over a century, with vines reaching up and winding around the structure. It looked at Aang as if the plants themselves had caused the damage to the gazebo's roof, rather than an attack. Then again, it'd been a hundred years; it was difficult to really tell for sure. Aang wandered through the garden. On the way here, he'd been ready to fly straight to Pathik and start up his spiritual training again, but now that he'd actually arrived, he couldn't quite will himself to go look for the old guru.
Rhododendrons and junipers grew lanky and wild, several types of flowering plants all entwined together beneath wide rhubarb leaves: saffron, ginseng, and tsi-tog. He tread gently between and around the sprawling leaves and flowers, absorbing the quiet. Even with no traditional spaces cleared for meditation, Aang knew he would have no trouble doing so here; it still was peaceful.
It wasn't long before he came upon a stone bench only half-covered by a flowering plant he didn't recognize, so he perched on the other half. A breeze stirred the garden around him and he closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath of the fragrant air.
"I wondered if I would see you again," a familiar voice came from nearby.
Without opening his eyes, Aang smiled, though it was a little wan. "I've come to finish my training."
A long pause followed. Aang slowly blinked his eyes open and saw Pathik standing beneath a weeping cherry tree a few spans away, his face tilted up as if he were studying the flowering boughs.
"An untended garden has beauty, but things that grow wildest will strangle out those that require a gentle hand." Pathik lowered his gaze to Aang sadly. "You left my guidance unfinished. I can no longer help you."
Cold gripped the bottom of Aang's lungs; he felt the ghost of pain through the scar on his back. Curling his hands into fists in his lap, he ignored the hot prickling at the corners of his eyes and met Pathik's gaze with a fierce determination.
"I'm the Avatar. I've mastered it before, and I will again."