Disclaimer: Avatar and its characters are not mine, and probably never will be.
A/N: One of things I love about Avatar is the destiny message, of reincarnation and the fates that transcend lifetimes. Aang and Zuko's friendship by the finale just felt so right to me. So I figured, why not take it a step further eventually? Why not heal the greatest wounds of the past?
Avatar Roku could hardly see through the smoke. Through sheer force of will, he continued to make the sweeping hand motions that would keep the liquid earth and raging fire from smothering him. But his lungs were old, like the rest of him…he couldn't keep it up much longer.
He could see Fang darting and diving behind the screen of poisonous gas and roiling soot. The dragon was valiantly trying to get through to him, but the heat and lava interfered with even his efforts.
The ground lurched as the huge mountain spat another rain of rock and flame skyward. Roku ducked and covered his head with his hands, calling on a combination of earth and airbending to deflect the falling missiles. He had to stop this, save his home, save the island.
But the island had other ideas.
Over and over, Roku called on the strength of his past lives, both mentally and through the Avatar State, to help him stem the destruction. But over and over this monster of nature defied him. And it began occurring to him more strongly that he could lose.
But at least he would die at the heart of fire, in honor of his original nation. And he would die doing the duties of an Avatar. He stumbled to his knees, almost ready to just let the end come. And that was when he heard the voice.
"Need a hand, old friend?"
He never thought he'd hear that voice again.
The Fire Lord sat, ancient and white-haired, on the back of his huge dragon. His face was set, but here he was, offering help. Roku knew it would be foolish to refuse it. Perhaps here was the crisis that would at last make peace between them.
Having Sozin there was a blessing from the spirits. His firebending prowess was formidable, and between the two of them they began to drive the relentless lava flow back. More than that, it fed Roku's morale; there was a part of him that was so happy to be working side by side with Sozin again.
But perhaps he became too confident.
Roku never saw the torrent of poison fumes that erupted below his feet. They caught him full in the face, and he lost sight of his friend behind the deadly cloud. Suddenly his lungs did not want to work. He needed Fang to rescue him, to fly him out of this choking nightmare. Or Sozin. Sozin had a dragon too. He could carry them both to safety.
Instinctively, Roku stretched out his hand when he saw the Fire Lord's silhouette reappear. He waited for the firm, reassuring clasp of Sozin's weathered hand. The shape of Sozin's dragon loomed out of the smoke. So close…
"Please…" It came to him that he shouldn't have to be begging for something so simple. But some intuition was warning him now. He heard Fang bellow somewhere high above, his roar lost in the din of crashing rocks and blazing fire. Sozin gazed down at him, his face revealed by a hole in the smokescreen, his eyes cold and emotionless.
"Without you, all my plans are suddenly possible."
Roku knew it, then and there. The one thing that Sozin would abandon him for. The one thing he would kill for. His ambition.
He watched with a kind of resigned disbelief as Sozin left him, mounting his dragon and rising about the smoke. The last thing he saw was the flat, indifferent glance Sozin threw his way, before he was gone.
The betrayal, so awful and yet at the same time predictable, sapped the last of Roku's strength. Through his watering, failing eyes he saw Fang dive toward him, loyal to the last. With the last of his breath, Avatar Roku murmured a goodbye to Ta Min, fixing her lovely face in his mind. A warm, scaly darkness that smelled faintly of burnt fire flakes enveloped him, and he felt a last wave of pride and affection for Fang. And his last conscious prayer was to wish luck upon whoever his spirit now chose to enter. To the next Avatar. He or she would surely need it.
And then everything went black.
Avatar Aang could hardly see through the smoke. The earth rocked and lurched beneath his feet. He held his glider lengthwise for balance, sweeping it back and forth to keep the choking fumes from him. He couldn't even see the miniscule white dot that was Appa circling high above the erupting volcano.
Aang yelped in sudden surprise and pain as lava bubbled up almost beneath his feet, threatening to scorch his skin and singe his orange nomad's robe. He hopped nimbly backward, keeping cool pads of air beneath his feet, loose rocks avalanching under him. With a single sweep he cooled the next wave of lava, squinting his eyes against the falling ash. Maybe he could erect an earth barrier…
The explosion of a gas pocket next to him threw Aang off his feet, sending him tumbling sideways with a grunt of pain. He gasped to regain his knocked out breath, and realized it was becoming difficult to get enough oxygen. That definitely wasn't a good sign.
"Aang! Are you okay?"
The smoke parted with a rush, the lava bubbled and divided as Fire Lord Zuko came racing toward him, his head down. He too was breathing in shallow pants, but he seemed to be handling it better.
"M'fine, Zuko." But Aang accepted his friend's hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
"That robe's going to be more black that orange when we're through here," Zuko shot him a small grin.
"I know. Don't you keep some sort of timer on this thing? Why did it pick now to erupt?"
"I'm a Fire Lord, not a fortuneteller. I didn't see the big 'imminent destruction by volcano' warning cloud."
Aang couldn't help grinning at Zuko's reference to Aunt Wu. "So, any strategies in mind? Where's Ryu, anyway?"
As though he had heard the young Avatar mention his name, the huge red dragon materialized out of the smoke, rolling a massive boulder with his front paws. Zuko's animal guide set the rock firmly in the path of an incoming river of lava, forcing the molten stream to divide around it and cool. The dragon snorted proudly.
"Nice work," Aang told Ryu.
"You're the one who's dealt with volcanoes before," Zuko said. "You tell me how we stop it."
Aang thought hard, numerous strategies flashing through his mind. Finally, the most obvious and simple one came to him. Ask Roku.
Aang closed his eyes, and as he could now consciously do, he summoned his past lives. In an instant, Roku stood before him, his ancient eyes already knowing what Aang wanted to ask.
Do not stop it, Aang, the firebending Avatar intoned.
Huh? That wasn't the answer he had expected.
This island holds many terrible memories, Aang, as you know. It has served its purpose…it is too volatile. I don't want anyone else to suffer my fate. Let it burn itself away; no more people live there. Perhaps there will be a new island here someday, from the lava of the old.
Now Aang smiled as he understood Roku's reasoning. He came out of his trance…and gasped as he realized it was intensely painful to breathe. He took deep gulps of air, using airbending to try and clear his throat and lungs. But even that wasn't helping. He gasped to a confused and concerned looking Zuko, "Roku…wants…out…Let…it…burn…new island…someday."
Apparently this garbled explanation was understandable to Zuko, or else he was feeling the strain and wanted out too. The Fire Lord waved one arm to signal Ryu, and the dragon obediently came to rest beside them. With an ease born of practice, Zuko hooked a hand over Ryu's foreleg and pulled himself onto the creature's neck. Appa could not get this close to an erupting volcano, so he was still circling high above.
Aang made to follow Zuko, when his foot hit an uneven spot and he stumbled and went down on his knees. He gasped on reflex and inhaled a massive lungful of ash, and then couldn't gasp anymore. Panic seized him.
He spoke without thinking, automatically, instinctively reaching up his hand. "Zuko…"
Smoke blinded him. He thought he could dimly see Zuko's outline…but fear rushed up in him. Someone, something from the past, inside him, was afraid. Someone was remembering this scene, replayed again…please, not again...
And then a warm, powerful hand, grimy with soot and slippery with sweat, wrapped itself around his smaller one. With a crushing grip, someone hauled him forward and up, throwing an arm around his shoulders to keep him from falling again.
The Fire Lord had come back for him.
Zuko coughed in his ear, "Won't leave you behind, Aang. The Avatar and the Fire Lord, remember? Besides…Katara would murder me."
He practically shoved Aang across the dragon's back, and then leaped up himself.
Aang clung to Ryu's thin body and held on as they swept upward, out of the heat and choking air and into the cooler, fresher sky beyond. After a few moments, Aang dared to take a deep breath, and was rewarded by a clean gulp that washed at least some of the ash from his throat. He sat up slowly, feeling filthy and tired, but somehow satisfied.
"Well," said Zuko, as he guided the dragon in a graceful circle around the volcano. "I guess that's the end of that landmark."
"Maybe not," Aang croaked, surprised at how rough his voice sounded. "I talked to Roku. He said maybe someday the lava would form a new island when it cooled."
Zuko nodded thoughtfully. Then he said abruptly, "That was where Roku died, wasn't it? Where my great-grandfather Sozin left him to die."
Aang was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "Yeah. It was." And it all clicked together in his head, as he knew it must have done in Zuko's.
The Fire Lord turned slowly to face the Avatar. For a few silent moments, they stared at each other, gold into gray, coming to grips with the strange and powerful thing that they had just unwittingly reenacted. Then Aang grinned, and Zuko smiled crookedly back, and the moment was acknowledged and then ended.
Appa roared a greeting as he swept up beside them, his brown eyes looking almost relieved that Aang was safe. With a graceful leap, Aang crossed from dragon to sky bison, leaning over the saddle to pet Appa's fur affectionately. "Don't worry, buddy. I'm just dirty. Nothing a few licks won't clean up, right?" Appa groaned in agreement.
Aang looked down one more time at the smoking, fire-gushing mountain, rapidly consuming the crescent-shaped island. Soon it would be completely demolished. But the lava had to go somewhere, and it would probably mound up into a new land formation. Roku was probably right. And it made a nice kind of sense, Aang thought. Starting over. Starting over with something right…with friendship and loyalty instead of betrayal and ambition.
A thought came to him.
"Hey, Zuko!" he called over, above the rushing wind of their flight. "I thought of something! A name for that island, when it gets remade. It could be a new landmark. It's called Crescent Moon Isle now, right?"
"Call it Phoenix Isle."
Zuko looked over at him with a strange, startled expression on his face. Then he nodded, just once.
Phoenix Isle. Where new beginnings rose from the dark ashes of the old.
The Avatar and the Fire Lord headed back towards the mainland, tiny flakes of ash swirling around them in drifting patterns that rose and fell with the breeze.