Author’s Note: In which there are flashbacks and Spirit World travels but not all that much action. Also, in which we get proof that enigmatic talking is a side-effect of old age and not just Iroh’s shtick. Huh! Go figure!
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***The Avatar and the Firelord***
– Aang’s dream-
Roku appeared in front of Aang through a wall of fire, his usual benevolent smile in place.
“Aang, it’s time you and your friend Zuko learned my history with Fire Lord Sozin. You need to understand how the war began, if you want to know how to end it. Meet me on my home island on the day of the summer solstice.” With these words he disappeared.
-End of Aang’s dream-
Aang shifted on Appa’s saddle.
“Okay Roku,”, he mumbled before rolling over.
A flock of birds looked curiously as an abnormally large cloud moved fast towards an island. Inside the cloud the Avatar bended air and water together to keep up their camouflage. Seeing the island up ahead he called to the rest of the group.
“There it is. That’s Roku’s home.” Katara looked over the edge confused.
“But there’s nothing here,” she said. They landed and Toph was the first to jump off the saddle, curious about the place where the previous Avatar had lived. The vibrations sobered her mood.
“Yes, there is. An entire village. Hundreds of houses. All completely buried in ash,” she explained. Indeed the entire island was covered by a thick layer of solid magma.
The gang found a plateau and Aang hurried to take his meditating stance. Zuko followed him hesitantly.
“So, explain to me again why I have to do this?” he asked. Aang opened an eye and shrugged.
“Don’t know,” he said cheerfully. “But Roku said you have to be there so I guess it’s important.”
“But how I’m even going to cross into the Spirit World?” the prince exclaimed. “You are the only one who can cross in and out without a problem.” Aang slumped.
“Well…” he began uncertainly. “I guess if you concentrated reaaaaaaaally hard…” Zuko gave him a look.
“As stupid as it sounds, Aang is right, Zuko,” Lia interfered before the boys could start arguing. “Crossing over in Spirit form is basically very deep meditation. Iroh managed it. You can do it too.” With a deep breath and a final nod the two boys returned to their meditation. Aang’s tattoos and eyes began glowing but Zuko gave no sign that he had followed his airbending friend.
“Did Zuko cross over too?” Katara asked Lia. The redhead closed her eyes, concentrated and then flashed a brilliant smile.
“He did it!” she smiled, proud of her student.
Inside the Spirit World Zuko and Aang found themselves atop of a mountain, scanning the clouds around them. A growl was heard and Fang appeared, with Roku riding him. The old Avatar smiled down at the two youngsters as the dragon hovered in front of them.
“Come, boys,” Roku said kindly. Aang climbed behind him eagerly, Zuko following him a little apprehensively. Being in Sprit form felt strange to him. Like a very important part of him was missing. Plus a very old, very powerful person was in front of him (and he didn’t mean Aang). The airbender didn’t seem to share his inhibitions.
“Where are we going?” he asked curiously.
“To visit my past,” Roku explained with a smile. “Our shared past.” As Aang smiled back, Zuko dared a question.
“And why am I here?” he asked respectfully.
“Because some parts of this story are important to understanding your legacy too,” the old man said.
The scene shifted to a courtyard. With a pang of longing Zuko recognised it as a part of the Fire Nation Palace. Two young men were sparring, using some quite impressive firebending. Zuko frowned, as he looked closer at the two men. They seemed familiar. The taller man took a few steps back to avoid an attack and ended up tripping over a root. His friend stood over him smiling.
“Looks like I win again, Roku,” he said, extending a hand to the fallen man. The young Roku chuckled.
“Are you kidding?” he asked as he took his friend’s hand. “The tree root did all the work.” He patted his friend on the back. “Nice work Sozin.” Aang turned surprised to Roku.
“You were friends with Fire Lord Sozin?”
“Back then, he was just prince Sozin, and he was my best friend.” The two boys shared an astonished look.
As Sozin and Roku left the courtyard, a young woman passed by the door. Roku instantly blushed and stared at her with a dreamy expression. Sozin shook his head exasperated and nudged his friend.
“Say something to her,” he urged. Roku made a move towards the woman but didn’t manage to utter a word. Embarrassed beyond belief he slumped to the ground. Sozin sat next to him and the two of them started to talk as the memory faded.
“Love is hard when you’re young,” the older Roku remarked.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Aang sighed.
“Don’t worry,” his past life assured him. “It gets better. Now come with me. We have a party to attend.
The scene shifted to a large celebration. Lanterns were lit everywhere and people were laughing and having a good time. Two figures stood out at the top of a staircase.
“Wait,” Aang said confused. “Whose party is that?”
“Sozin and I shared many things, including a birthday,” Roku explained. They watched as the two friends walked down the stairs. Roku noticed the young woman from earlier just as she looked away blushing. Blushing himself, he tripped on the stairs and Sozin had to grab him to avoid an embarrassment. Suddenly the crowd went quiet as a group of Fire Sages appeared. Sozin walked down the last steps, concern evident in his expression.
“Did something happen to my father?” he asked. The Head Sage moved forward.
“No, prince Sozin. We are not here for you. We are here to announce the identity of the next avatar.” Whispers ran through the crowd in new-found excitement. The Sages bowed. “It is our honour to serve you, Avatar Roku.” The young man could only watch in shock as everyone, including his long-time friend, bowed before him.
The three Spirits returned to Fang and started flying through Roku’s memories again. Soon another familiar place appeared.
“Hey, we’re almost at the Southern Air Temple!” Aang said excitedly to Zuko.
“This was the first stop on my avatar journey,” Roku explained. They watched as a group of young airbenders were instructed. At the end of the line, young Roku was airbending his long hair at the face of a young monk.
“It was the place where I was trained to master airbending and also where I met an old friend of yours, Monk Gyatso,” the older Roku explained.
“No way!” Aang exclaimed incredulously.
As Fang flew gracefully around the mountains, they watched the young monks do an airbending exercise on their gliders. Zuko watched amazed, having only seen Aang in action when it came to airbending. Roku brought Fang closer to the mountainside, while his younger self called out to his friend.
“Hey, Gyatso, you want to see a new glider trick?!” he did a double loop and looked at the young monk expectantly. Gyatso just laughed.
“Check THIS out!” He called before flipping his glider and standing on top of it.
“He’s air-gliding!” Aang exclaimed a little jealously. “I can’t believe I never thought of that.
“A good thing you didn’t,” Zuko remarked. Gyatso had lost his balance and although Roku caught him before he fell to his death, the added weight threw them off balance and sent them crashing in front of the rest of the students.
“That’s amazing,” Aang said smiling. “I can’t believe you were friends with Monk Gyatso just like I was!”
“Some friendships are so strong, they can even transcend lifetimes,” his previous life said fondly.
The background surrounding them faded to reconstruct itself to the glaciers of the North Pole. Roku was standing on a small iceberg looking older.
“After my years mastering airbending, I travelled to the Northern Water Tribe,” the spirit-Roku explained. “Waterbending was especially challenging for me.” He remarked as his younger self was knocked in the water, unable to block his master’s attack. Zuko winced sympathetically, having been at the receiving end of one too many waterwhips. “In time though, I mastered it as well.”
The scene faded again and an Earth Kingdom mountain replaced it. Roku was a grown man now, as he practised earthbending.
“I moved on to the Earth Kingdom. My Earthbending master, Sud, was uncompromising, stubborn, and blunt…” the two earthbenders raced each other uphill. “…and a lifelong friend.” Sud stopped satisfied at the top of the mountain, confident he had finished first, to turn and see Roku already there, sipping his tea. Zuko stifled a laugh at the scene that reminded him so much of his uncle.
The next scene Zuko recognised as the Fire Nation Palace throne room. Roku entered cheerfully, his travels having made him a fully-realised Avatar. His friend also had moved on.
“Sozin!” Roku greeted with a smile. “Or should I say, Fire Lord?”
“Customarily, my subjects bow before greeting me,” Sozin began sombrely, before breaking to a smile, “but you’re the exception.”
“After all these years he was still my friend,” Roku said to the two boys. A wedding ceremony appeared before them. “And a few months later, he was my best man.” A beautiful young woman was standing next to the young Roku.
“Roku, it’s that girl who didn’t even know you were alive!” Aang said surprised.
“Ta Min,” Roku said with a fond smile. “I was persistent. When love is real, it finds a way, and being the Avatar doesn’t hurt your chances with the ladies, either,” he winked to his next incarnation.
The three of them watched the reception and then the banquet. Zuko was trying to memorize as many details as possible, his mind already on Katara. The younger Roku and Ta Min were thanking their guests when Sozin approached them.
“Excuse me. May I borrow him for a moment?” he asked Ta Min. She raised an eyebrow.
“It’s not very traditional, but ok.”
The two men went to the balcony, in search for some peace and quiet.
“What’s on your mind?” Roku asked his friend worried.
“I’ve been thinking hard about the state of the world lately,” Sozin said seriously. Roku shook his head incredulously.
“Sozin, it’s my wedding. Have a cookie. Dance with someone. Lighten up,” he tried to lighten the Fire Lord’s mood.
“I know, I know, but just hear me out. Right from the start, I was destined to be Fire Lord. And although we didn’t always know it, you were destined to be the Avatar. It’s an amazing stroke of fate we know each other so well, isn’t it? Together, we could do…anything!” Sozin said.
“Yeah…” Roku looked at him hesitantly. “We could.”
“Our nation is enjoying an unprecedented time of peace and wealth. Our people are happy, and we’re so fortunate in so many ways,” Sozin continued in an almost delirious way.
“Where are you going with this?” Roku asked suspicious.
“I’ve been thinking,” Sozin explained, “We should share this prosperity with the rest of the world. In our hands is the most successful empire in history. It’s time we expanded it.” Roku took a step back, horrified at the idea.
“No. The four nations are meant to be just that: four.”
“Roku, you haven’t even stopped to consider the possibilities.”
“There are no possibilities. This is the last I want to hear about this,” Roku stalked away angrily.
The spirit Roku looked at the youngsters sadly.
“That was my first real test as the Avatar. Unfortunately, it was many years before I learned that Sozin had gone ahead with his plan, despite my warning.”
They were transported back the Fire Nation throne room. A middle aged Roku burst through the doors enraged.
“I’ve seen the colony, Sozin. How dare you occupy Earth Kingdom territory?” The Fire Lord regarded him coldly.
“How dare you, a citizen of the Fire Nation, address your Fire Lord this way? Your loyalty is to our nation first. Anything less makes you a traitor.” Roku’s eyes narrowed.
“Don’t do this, Sozin,” he warned. “Don’t challenge me. It will only end badly. It’s over.” With a disappointed look he turned to leave.
As the Avatar turned to leave saddened, Sozin leaped from the throne furious and sent an enormous blast of fire to his old friend. The room was filled with smoke and when the air cleared Roku was nowhere to be found. Sozin looked around, alarmed. Roku suddenly appeared behind him through the floor. He blasted the Fire Lord away with air and before he had time to stand in his feet again, Roku had earthbended him inside an earth pillar in the middle of the nearly-demolished throne room. Roku airbended himself in front of his old friend.
“I’m sparing you, Sozin. I’m letting you go in the name of our past friendship, but I warn you, even a single step out of line will result in your permanent end.” Without another word, the Avatar left.
Fang drifted away from the scene, his passengers’ spirits low. Their next destination was a small volcanic island that seemed eerily familiar.
“Sozin and I didn’t speak or see each other for 25 years after our battle. I spent most of my spare time here at my home,” Roku continued his story. Suddenly the volcano in the middle of the island began erupting. A much older Roku rushed out of his house with his wife.
Below them the townspeople were running away, panicking. Roku took the lead, bringing them to safety, when lava started spurting out of the volcano. The Avatar paused for a moment and then motioned to Ta Min to go on without him. Assured that everyone would safely be soon on the boats Roku turned to face the destruction. A landslide was approaching the city. Roku bended the earth to change its course. He created a channel, sending the lava to meet the sea.
“This is amazing, Roku. You’re battling a volcano, and you’re winning!” Aang exclaimed amazed. His older counterpart shook his head grimly.
“Unfortunately, my success didn’t last, Aang. There was no way I could do it all. Battling the elements was hard enough. I had to do it while I could barely breathe. The poisonous, volcanic gasses were overwhelming.”
The real Fang appeared and tried to approach his master. Roku waved him away.
“It’s all right, Fang. Get out of here, I’m fine,” he choked. As soon as the dragon obeyed, Roku’s eyes flashed and he entered the Avatar State. He managed to pacify the volcano, but a second crater erupted a little further away. Zuko nudged Aang suddenly.
“Look!” he said pointing in the distance.
“Need a hand, old friend?” Sozin’s voice called. He was approaching on a blue dragon.
“Sozin?” Roku called surprised. The Fire Lord landed next to him.
“There’s not a moment to waste,” he said grimly.
The two men continued their efforts to put out the volcanoes. A rumble passed through the ground and Sozin lost his footing. Roku bended a shelf of earth underneath his feet, saving his life. Before either of them could say anything another wave of ash appeared. They turned to run.
“Don’t breathe the toxic gas,” Roku called, bending the air around his old friend clean. Another wave of gas erupted in front of him and caught him by surprise. The old Avatar fell to his knees. He turned towards Sozin and held out a hand, weakly asking for help. Sozin’s face was set in stone.
“Without you, all my plans are suddenly possible.” His dragon landed in front of him and he mounted. “I have a vision for the future, Roku.” With these parting words he left. Aang and Zuko watched in horror and disbelief as lava came down and engulfed Roku and Fang.
A blinding light appeared and the next thing they knew they were flying over a field in the Spirit World.
“Where are we?” Zuko asked confused.
“The Spirit World,” Roku explained, “where I met a good friend of yours.” A familiar redhead was talking with the Roku of the memory.
“That’s Lia!” Aang exclaimed surprised. Roku nodded.
“With her help I was able to watch over my loved ones, even after I crossed over. I had the chance to see my granddaughter to grow up to a beautiful young woman and marry the second grandson of my once best friend.” The two teenagers looked at him and then at its other astonished.
I’m Avatar Roku’s great-grandson! Zuko thought in disbelief. Below them they could see Lia, appearing a little younger and a lot more care-free, sneaking out to watch over the Fire Nation palace.
“She watched over you Zuko without me asking her to,” Roku explained softly. “But I’m glad that she did. I didn’t want Sozin’s influence over my great-grandchildren.”
“She was banished from the Spirit World because of me,” Zuko said guiltily. He couldn’t help but think it was his fault. They were back at the field where they had first arrived. The ancient Avatar put a hand on the firebender’s shoulder.
“Do not feel guilty. You have helped her as much as she has helped you.” He turned to Aang. “Make sense of our past Aang and you will bring peace and restore balance in the world.” With these words he disappeared, leaving the boys alone. With a start, they woke up in their bodies.
The two boys only gave a brief recount of what they have seen, still dazed from the revelations. After they finished, silence reigned for a few minutes.
“You mean, after all Roku and Sozin went through together…even after Roku showed him mercy, Sozin betrayed him like that?” Katara finally asked her voice full of disbelief. Toph seemed to share her sentiments.
“It’s like these people are born bad.” Zuko hung his head at that, ashamed that one of his ancestors was the reason Avatar Roku had died. Aang shook his head.
“No, that’s wrong. I don’t think that was the point of what Roku showed me at all.”
“Then what’s the point?” Sokka asked confused.
“Sozin was just as much Fire Nation as Roku and Zuko, right? If anything, this story proves anyone’s capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord
and the Fire Nation have to be treated like they’re worth giving a chance. And I also think it was about friendships.”
“Do you really think friendships can last more than one lifetime?” Toph asked softly. Aang took her hand and blushed a little.
“I don’t see why not.”
Katara took hold of Toph’s other hand, with Zuko and Lia following them.
“Well, scientifically speaking, there’s no way to prove that…” Sokka began. Lia rolled her eyes.
“Oh just shut up and hold hands Sokka!” she said. The boy didn’t turn but his hand shot to grab hers. With a laugh they all looked at each other. Some friendships may not last, but theirs would surely would.