Aang gave people the benefit of the doubt. Good dwelled within everyone. Some required help to bring it out. That was his job as the Avatar.
And there was a lot of buried good in the Fire Nation to bring out.
It didn't escape him that his naturally cheerful disposition could be harmful. It could blind him. He'd refused to see how twisted Jet was, even after Sokka's warnings.
Still, Aang chose to believe in the best residing within others.
So he decided the girl hailing fire from the above chute was just doing what she'd been taught in an era of war. (If he hadn't sworn off firebending forever, he would have been enthusiastic to learn how she made it blue!).
And she was better at it than Zuko.
It wasn't only the Fire Nation that was misguided, though. The Northern Water Tribe had attacked Appa on sight. And that crazy Earth Kingdom general had attacked them as well. Each act of violence born from desperation to end the war. The problem was fighting and the solution was more fighting. That was all the people born into this world knew: Fighting. War. Loss.
Aang knew better. He hailed from a different world. After he defeated Fire Lord Ozai (Aang shivered), he and Bumi, as representatives of the past, could show this new world how things were meant to be. How each culture could thrive in harmony and cooperation, not domination and strife.
Like every soldier that attacked him, Aang knew he and the girl could have been friends a hundred years ago. Aang could have been friends with all of them, as he had been with Kuzon.
Well... maybe not Zhao, but even then Aang would have tried!
As she chased him down the chutes of Omashu's mailing system, Aang didn't detest her. He didn't want to hurt her. If not for the war, she could have been a perfectly nice young lady. Perhaps she was in her free time?
Even if she had refused to trade the governor's son for Bumi… And tried to incinerate Aang before discovering his identity.
He sent a soft gust of wind at the latest in a long line of pursuers, hoping to deter her. Maybe knock her off balance. She clapped her hands together and broke through with manicured nails.
He caught a good look at her expression and... even as he clung to believing in others... The smirk of cruel amusement did give Aang some doubts. He'd seen a lot of rage and fury directed at him, but never anything like that.
It almost seemed he, the Avatar, was the problem. No matter how he abided the air temple principles of live and let live, his presence inspired violence. He managed to help people, but Aang couldn't ignore the trail of destruction following as the Fire Nation hunted him. Kyoshi Island. Hei Bai's scorched forest. The North Pole.
Gyatso's corpse rotting in the Western Air Temple.
The world would not remain that way. It wasn't the legacy he wanted to leave behind. Aang wanted peace in his wake. He couldn't answer the violence with greater violence.
As he passed under a tunnel of wooden beams overhead, Aang saw the opportunity he always searched for, to end matters peacefully. He swung his staff. An arc of wind cut the beams like paper. A technique he would never use against a living creature.
The pillars tumbled onto the path. She would have to abandon the pursuit.
Seeing an empty cart clear the debris, Aang breathed a sigh. Hopefully she hadn't been hurt too badly.
Then she shot up and threw a blue wave, forcing him to duck. He looked at her with fear. She was a persistent one. Reminded him of Zuko.
Monkey feather, was he dealing with that all over again?
In the end, nothing Aang did stopped her. A boulder burst from the smooth surface of the chute to save himself and Bumi. Her face expressed the surprise he felt. The firebender avoided the collision by abandoning the cart. She landed smoothly.
He would have offered her a jaunty wave except he realized Bumi could still earthbend!
Azula watched with calm ire as the Avatar escaped with the king. A cold sting festered in her stomach. The crown princess had never experienced such a thing.
She had lost both the valuable hostage and her opportunity to capture the greatest threat to her family's rightful conquest.
In her mind peered the face of her father, a visage of savage disappointment. Zuko's clumsy failures frequently invoked it.
Azula would not be the target of Fire Lord Ozai's scorn, not ever. She was the perfect instrument of his will, that would never be cast aside. The perfect princess who would bring him honor and glory.
So how had the Avatar managed to slip from her grasp when he'd been in striking distance? That was suitable when it happened to Zuko, but she the pride of the Fire Nation.
Though she had not anticipated the Avatar's presence in the exchange. And it was her first time encountering the lost art of airbending after all…
No. Excuses were befitting her worthless brother. She would defeat the Avatar in their next encounter. And she still had to track down the errant members of the royal family. So much for a good princess to accomplish.
She proceeded down the chute at a leisurely pace. They would be long gone by now. The Avatar's nimbleness in fleeing was a well accounted, unending source of frustration for the army.
Azula contemplated her new enemy, the last airbender. She recalled the diligent study passed down her royal bloodline from her great-grandfather, free of the propaganda that kept commoners in line.
It remained their birthright and duty to hunt the Avatar. Some had thought him long dead. Father certainly didn't think Zuzu had any prayer of succeeding. But the airbender had finally surfaced. Perhaps she would thank Zuzu for his legwork when she had them side by side in chains.
He was a boy. A child, all of twelve. Yet his tattoos belonged only to an airbending master. The youngest age Sozin recorded had been seventeen. She concluded the Avatar to be a prodigy. Even Azula, gifted as she was, had not become a master until recently, when she mastered the art of lightning.
It explained why the Avatar seemed capable of earthbending already. Zhao's report hypothesized he had searched for a master in the North Pole. She had expected proficiency only in airbending and waterbending.
Although... Azula did not banish the possibility that the king had bent the earth. Otherwise, wouldn't the Avatar would have done so earlier? If that were the case, that he had not begun earthbending, it was crucial to capture him quickly.
He could easily disrupt and destroy many of her country's ambitions. Two saving graces prevented this.
Firstly, he could still be snuffed out before reaching his full potential. Even if he could attain mastery of four elements before Sozin's Comet returned, his was still a child. He could be dealt with before his power matured. This would be aided by his second fault.
The Avatar was weak. He didn't want to harm anyone. He would rather flee than confront. Avoid and evade. He had the power, yes, but not the will to hone and exercise it as needed. Only the royal family had both.
He was… merciful. It would be his undoing.
As she neared the ground, Azula paused. She blinked her golden eyes and took in the bizarre sight of the ancient earthbender rolling up toward her, still encased in his metal coffin. As inferior as the other elements were, Azula was reluctantly impressed with the feat. She supposed with age came experience.
She did not brace herself or prepare for a fight. Azula was always prepared to strike, and preferred it not be seen coming.
He stopped by her feet. The imprisoned king gave her a smile gaped by age. "Good evening, Princess. If you'll pardon me, I'm on my way up. May I offer you a lift?"
She pierced him with her stare, wondering what gambit he could be playing. She detected not a trace of deceit.
"You did not escape with the Avatar?" Azula demanded.
"Well, it wouldn't be much of a surrender if I did, would it?"
So some earthbenders are reasonable? "No, I suppose not."
"Care to join me?" he asked again.
She stared down into his eyes, one glazed with blindness. With an inward shrug, Azula stepped over his face, planting her boots on the metal box.
They rolled up the chute.
It suited her to have an earthbender at her feet, serving a purpose to her, one higher than himself. By decree of Sozin this was the natural order.
She would have thought an earthbender alive before the conquest would be the most stubborn of all. Yet he knew his place. He must have realized the inevitability of defeat. Subservience was preferable to death.
Those who refused to learn this would perish in ashes.
As she considered the merits of having earthbenders carry her palanquin, the king spoke up.
"So, what brings you to Omashu?" he asked as one might a traveler.
She smirked. "Omashu is dead. This city is New Ozai."
"New Ozai?" The king cackled. It did nothing to impede their trek. "That's a good one! Your father must be proud."
She examined her pedicure. "He has every reason to be."
"I have a feeling that I owe you my thanks for arranging this trade, Princess. An old man doesn't get to see his friend very often." As they came upon the fallen wooden beams, the king swept away debris from the Avatar's failed tactic.
Azula had more or less inserted herself after the governor offered the trade, but saw no benefit in correcting him. Instead she found an interesting thread to unravel.
"A friend of the Avatar's, are you?" she asked.
"Oh yes, Aang and I go waaay back. Before the war, you know?"
She smirked as she processed how this information might be useful. "I'll be sure to tell him you said hello when next we meet."
He laughed. "Go easy on Aang, he's not used to having girls chase after him. He's still at that weird age."
She frowned and contemplated singeing his facial hair. "Are you insane or senile?"
"I am definitely one of those things. But I can't seem to remember which."
Azula drummed her fingers on her thigh. This entire debacle seemed out of sync with the Avatar at the center of it. Kidnapping a baby didn't suit his psychological profile at all.
"Perhaps you can search your memory. I'm not acquainted with any air nomads, but is it their custom to snatch babies from their cribs?"
She hadn't expected the former king to laugh. Everything seemed to roll of his shoulders. It disconcerted her. People hid information and feelings to guard themselves from harm. Bumi hid nothing, yet still seemed untouchable. What a strange old coot.
"I can't imagine the adventure that lead little Tom-Tom out with the exodus. You'll see. If I know Aang, and I do, that baby will be returned safe and sound before you know it!"
"Is that so?" she asked herself quietly.
"Sure is!" He had excellent hearing for an elderly man.
They reached the top of chute. Ty Lee, Mai, and contingent of guards awaited her.
"Here's our stop, Princess."
She regarded him with a raised brow before jumping off. The king righted himself.
"Wow, you can earthbend with just your face?" Ty Lee said in admiration.
The relic nodded proudly. "This mug ain't just for show!"
"I didn't know that was possible!"
Mai approached Azula's side. "I think she's found a kindred spirit."
Azula smirked. "You men," she pointed at the earthbender, "return the prisoner to his suspension."
"I didn't know he could still earthbend. Should we do something about it?" Mai asked. A reasonable question.
"No," she answered after a moment. She couldn't appear too ready to answer any question. She needed Mai waiting for her response. "His surrender is genuine. He could have escaped with the Avatar if he chose. Besides," she continued, walking away, "he could only bend because he's on the ground."
Mechanical noise tickled her ears as the crane lifted him high.
"Okay, bye ladies! Travel safely and don't take rock candy from strangers!"
"Bye, King Bumi," Ty Lee said as she waved. "What a nice old man," she said to the group.
Mai said her goodbyes to her distraught parents and they were ready to depart. Though each girl came from substantial wealth, none required many possessions. Mai had her nail polish and weapons. Ty Lee her pink cloths. Azula her headpiece.
The royal procession relished their last opportunity and honor of carrying her. Ty Lee teased Mai about the prospect of seeing Zuzu again. It would be delicious to watch their awkwardness amplified by his circumstance.
A hunch continued to tug at the princess. She decided not to ignore it. Her instincts were reliable.
The palanquin halted immediately.
"What's the matter, Azula?" Ty Lee asked, large grey eyes peeking at Azula's peripheral.
Azula ignored her. "Take us back. Mai, have your father prepare rooms for Ty Lee and myself."
"Don't tell me we're staying after all," Mai said in her even-tempered tone. Only close friends could detect her dread at the prospect of remaining within New Ozai.
"I have a private matter in the city that requires my attention. We shall leave in the morning."
There was no argument of course. Azula's word was second only to her father's and he wasn't present, save for the giant statue looming over the city. She'd have her own someday.
Azula waited on the rooftop, alone with the dead of night. From her perch she spied the governor's residence; it stood out as the only building with the sleek style of her country. Dusk camouflaged her against the dark roof tiles.
It was a hunch that the king's words might hold more truth in them than he realized. If it turned out she was wrong, no one would know. She couldn't have Mai and Ty-Lee seeing her look foolish. They would lose the fear that kept them under her control.
She spotted him, flying over the home of New Ozai's governor, Mai's baby brother strapped to his chest with a harness. Ignorant that he himself was being observed, the Avatar spied down, perhaps at Mai offering a handkerchief for her sobbing mother. What else would a mother be good for?
The Avatar jumped down. He rose a moment later, the harness empty.
He could have fled then, but the Avatar stayed a moment, watching what was no doubt a heartwarming reunion of parents and child.
A lovely last sight.
Azula swirled her arms, separating the positive and negative to summon and guide the cold-blooded fire. The white x of the harness made his back the perfect target.
He looked down, then, catching the shadow of sparks she created. The Avatar spun just as she released the lightning.
Stone tiles shattered in every direction as her power struck. Gravity pulled the Avatar down from his jump. For a moment their eyes were level. His wide and startled with fear, hers narrowed with anger and frustration.
He fell from sight. She heard the snap of his glider, then watched as he flew away. She considered another attack, then dismissed the notion as a waste of energy. His speed was too great and her lightning unable to cover the distance. Father's would have.
He vanished before she could have generated enough power. Wind carried the baby's cries through the night.
I have two major problems with this awesome series. First the romance between Aang and Katara. I found it dry, ironically. It's the only aspect of the show that was 'good for a kids' show'. It was typical love at first sight. Boring. It was mostly Aang crushing on Katara. They talked about it once after Aang kissed her. She was confused, then the war was over, she wasn't.
Could have been done much better. I was left feeling that a super true romance for the main character had to get in the story. I don't feel this way about any other couple.
I might be biased though, as I just don't like Katara as a character... But she has some great sarcastic lines. Still, a story devoted to Aang or Katara with different people has to start at before the series finale. After that, it looks like one two timing the other. That's why I started at their first encounter.
Azuulaang is the most fascinating pairing to me. How it comes about, through character development for them both. The dynamics in it. It has a dangerous appeal.
However, I feel the danger is often understated. For the convenience of this odd couple to be together, it is overlooked how truly sick Azula is. In her mind, genocide and conquest are things to be proud of. That cultural outlook has conditioned her mind from birth. It must be addressed. That is one purpose of this story.
Secondly, I don't like how Aang never overcame his nature of running. And was rewarded for it. There is a perfect moment in the second season where this should have stopped, but it didn't. Aang never had to make the choice of killing Ozai or finding an alternative. An alternative found him. I think energy bending is cool an all, but the way they never built up Aang's 'thou shalt not kill' dilemma, until the last four episodes, was weak.
Those are the concerns of this story. Please tell me what you think.