Aang watched Zuko from his perch in the trees, perfectly still so he wouldn't draw the Prince's attention. He was meditating in a clearing, sitting under the waning light of the setting sun. Zuko was not as powerful a bender as his Uncle or sister, but he was a skilled warrior and was rarely taken by surprise. His eyes were always watchful and he was capable of taking in a wealth of information in a very short amount of time. Aang and Sokka had made a game of trying to surprise Zuko and so far neither had been successful—and both had been injured at least once by the irritated Prince. But this time, Aang was sure...
"You can come down from there," Zuko said sounding exasperated. He tilted his face up to look at the Avatar. "I heard you coming from a mile away."
Aang sighed and floated down to sit next to the older boy. "How do you do that? I thought the wind could cover my tracks."
Zuko gave him that arch look he was so good at, dark hair that had come loose from his ponytail blew across his cheeks by the aforementioned wind. "Your clothes are built for speed but not stealth. You flap around like a giant pennant...a giant orange and yellow pennant."
"I suppose so, but this outfit is an antique. I can't get rid of it now."
The innocent logic drew a reluctant smile from Zuko. "Then it should be hanging on a wall instead of getting torn up by you. Now, did you want something or can I get back to my meditating?"
The Avatar's big gray eyes studied Zuko's face frankly. "Is that what you were doing?"
"What's that supposed to mean? I wasn't napping."
"I've never seen anyone meditate with a frown before."
The distinct smell of smoke tickled Aang's nose as Zuko glared at him. Things were often set on fire whenever Zuko's hackles were raised, less often nowadays but there were still those times—especially when Sokka was in a particularly suicidal mood.
"I don't focus on my facial expressions when I meditate. If I happen to be frowning, I assure you it's an accident."
"I doubt it. It means you're not having serene thoughts and your face shows that. What do Firebenders meditate on anyway? Explosions? Bonfires? Really big barbecues?"
Two jets of smoke blew out of Zuko's nose as he released an irritated breath. "We focus on our breathing, on the beating of our hearts," he answered from between clenched teeth. "We center our emotions so that we don't lose control of our fires when we bend. Then, we follow the path of energy in our bodies, finding the exit points of the fire. Over and over, we do this so that our control of the fire is absolute."
Aang blinked at him. "Wow."
The smoke was now visible.
"Seriously, Aang," Zuko said evenly. "Shouldn't you be practicing with Katara? She'll come after me for using up her time when I already had my session with you this morning. I don't need to be soaked in filthy river water just because you can't keep your schedule and I get the blame."
"She's helping Sokka clean some fish he caught," Aang answered, not to be deterred. "We're taught differently in the Air Temple. First, you clear your mind of your thoughts and your bad feelings. Every time you breathe, you let out the bad air and fill up on the good air. You focus on the light in yourself so that when it's time to take to the air, you don't take anything heavy with you."
"That method helps Airbenders, but not Firebenders. We rely on our emotions, Aang. Fire needs fuel and the only place you'll find that is in the darker part of your nature. It's all well and good to be an upstanding citizen, but it's your ability to control the other part of you that will make you a powerful Firebender. You can't tell me you're thinking happy thoughts when you're shooting fire out of your hands, can you?" Zuko pointed out.
"No," Aang replied carefully. "But I'm not thinking especially angry thoughts either. I think about protecting the people I care about, of defending people who can't stand up for themselves—I suppose they're angry in a way, but the root of it isn't. Do you only think of hurting people, Zuko?"
Even as he said it, Aang wished he could take the words back. Zuko looked as if he was about to snap but he reined in his anger, his amber eyes going from fire to ice in seconds.
"Just because you're looking at your reasons from a different perspective doesn't mean that you aren't thinking of hurting people too," he said with a dangerously quiet voice. "It's the nature of fire to destroy and you'll have to make your peace with that. If you want to defeat my father, you have to learn that you can't hold back and not be afraid of your power because you'll always have the other elements to balance it out. Not everyone is so lucky."
"You have balance," Aang pointed out. "I shouldn't have said what I said because it wasn't fair. You're teaching me Firebending even though you know that bringing me back to the Fire Nation will put you back on the throne with less trouble than fighting for it would bring. You're careful with your bending because you know how dangerous it could be. There are other ways to bring balance, Zuko, and I'd say you're as steady as they come."
Zuko was still frowning but the smoke had stopped curling in the breeze and his fists were no longer clenched on his knees.
"My Uncle's told you that bending lightning is the most disciplined form of Firebending because it takes a steadiness of spirit and emotion; I can't bend lightning, Aang," he said calmly.
"It seems to me you have to be a little bit unsteady in the head to be able to bend lightning, Zuko. I mean, think about who can and tell me if they're models of steadiness."
There was a beat of silence and then Zuko chuckled. "Now there's logic I can get behind."
Aang grinned. "If I learn how to meditate angry, will I be able to shoot fireballs?"
As quick as Zuko's smile came, it left. "I don't meditate angry," he groused at Aang.
"Fine. If I learn to meditate with mild irritation, will I be able to shoot..."
"Shut up, Aang, and meditate any way you want. But please, just shut up."