AN: I wanted to explore what the world would have been like before the war, but really, why have an Avatar fanfic without any of Avatar's characters in it? So I decided to look at a world where everyone exists (or existed), but the war never happened.
BTW, this sort of thing is the proper meaning of AU; those stories where the cast is in a modern high school or whatever are properly called AR (alternate reality). Just so you know.
The World without the War
In Which Our Stage is Set
142 years before present
"The Avatar is here to see you, sire," the soldier said.
Firelord Sozin gestured for him to be let in, and stroked his graying beard as Roku entered. "Ah, Roku, long time no see. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"The 'colony' you established in the Earth Kingdom. What are they calling it? The State of Sunshine? Cute."
The Firelord shrugged. "If the Earth King's paying so little attention to his vassals that he lets them fight amongst themselves, I am of course going to take whatever actions I deem necessary to protect the Fire Nation's trade and other interests in those parts of the Earth Kingdom where it has interests."
"And of course this has nothing at all to do with your dreams of global domination," the Avatar said sarcastically.
"So, what are you going to do? Tell me the four lands are meant to be separate, and trash my throne room to make your point?"
"That was my first instinct, but cooler heads in the form of my wife prevailed, so I'm going to try to make you see reason," Roku said.
"I'm the one who's not seeing reason? That's rich," Sozin retorted. "You've become a slave to 'the balance' at the expense of common sense! Look at the way the rest of the world lives! The Air Nomads are too busy contemplating their navels to interact in the real world, the Earth Kingdom is a loose affiliation of vassal states kept from shattering only by the fact that the territory ruled directly by Ba Sing Se is a hundred times as massive as that of even its largest vassals, such as Omashu, and has a proportionally larger population and military, and the Water Tribes are twin packs of misogynistic morons who need to be taught a serious lesson by somebody!"
"I know. And I don't like much of that any more than you do," Roku said.
"Then…why won't you help me?"
"Because people have the right to self-determination, even if it means that they make stupid mistakes and cause themselves a lot of grief. The world is not and is never going to be perfect." Roku half-smirked: "Not even the Fire Nation." Then he was serious again. "Let's say you were to invade, oh, the Northern Water Tribe, as everyone in the world seems to agree with the summation that Water Tribesmen are complete assholes. You send your armies in and force them to stop treating their women like property, all well and good. What does it prove? It doesn't prove that you're right any more than the fact that Chin the Conquerer managed to conquer most of the Earth Kingdom proved that he was right. All it proves is that when the Fire Nation can't get the rest of the world to do what it wants them to do, it resorts to military action.…"
The discussion went on for many hours, and when Roku left, the sun was low in the sky, but he wasn't sure he had gotten through to his old friend.
30 years later
Roku coughed, his vision blurring. He was dying here on this volcano. "Go. Save yourself!"
"Not a chance," Sozin said. They were fighting a mountain. And losing, of course; it was a mountain; it would win in the end. But the longer they fought it off, the longer the inhabitants of the island would have to flee.
Many times, over these last three decades, Roku wondered at Sozin's sincerity at having agreed to not invade the Earth Kingdom. Wondering if he was just waiting for Roku to die so he could make his move. I guess I'm finding out; too bad neither of us will survive the experience.
That night, the Avatar spirit left Roku's body and searched for a new host. It had a very specific criteria; airbender (this time), male (this time), and a fetus of a certain age. To young, and there would be nothing there for a soul to hold onto; too old, and the native gooey mass of spirit energy would have already congealed into one. One month later, a baby was born. A baby who would later be given to the care of the monks of the Southern Air Temple. A baby named Aang.
12 years later
Firelord Azulon felt the power of Taru's comet singing through his veins, a joyous choir of angelic spirits who want to burn, burn, burn! Too bad, almost, that there was no one to fight. When Azulon succeeded his father, he had learned that Sozin had predicted when the comet would show up—right down to day and time—but the information had been classified, just in case. About a year ago, realizing that it wasn't going to matter, Azulon declassified it. After all, his father should get the credit for this. Predicting the comet was a big deal amongst firebenders. In fact, the way Taru had gotten the comet renamed in his honor in the first place was by predicting it, but his formulas had been long since lost. But, apparently, Sozin had reinvented them. That means it's "Sozin's Comet," now, I guess.
Thousands of miles away, at the Southern Air Temple, a young boy also felt the pull of the comet, and was confused by it. After all, he was an airbender, not a firebender. He flew laps around the Temple, trying to burn off this strange excess energy he felt, while Monk Gyatso watched, frowning slightly. He had no idea what effect the comet would have on a twelve-year-old boy who hadn't been told yet that he was the Avatar.
84 years later
Avatar Aang lay dying, surrounded by friends and family. There were tricks that could extend an Avatar's life, but Aang had chosen to forgo them. After all, the whole point of the Avatar cycle, as opposed to having the Avatar be some immortal spirit on a mountain somewhere, was so that the Avatar could live as a human, with all the loving, hating, and mistake-making that implied. And all the dying that implied, as well.
"I will miss you, old friend," Firelord Iroh said, gently patting the Avatar's hand.
Aang grinned lopsidedly. "It's not like I haven't done all this before. Or that I won't be back."
"Well, hurry back," Iroh said. "I expect to see a young waterbender around the royal palace sixteen years from now."
"And to be hitting on her two years after that, no doubt." Aang chuckled, coughed, and closed his eyes. A few seconds later, he stopped breathing.
6 years later
"You already gave me one of these manuscripts one of the times you were in here before," Wan Shi Tong said.
"Oh, did I?" Zhou asked. "Damn! Sorry; it's hard to keep track."
"Since you have such an obvious thirst for knowledge, I suppose I can let it slide," the giant owl spirit said. "It's more the thought that counts, anyway."
"That is deeply appreciated," Zhou said, and it was; he was running out of things to give Wan Shi Tong. He made his way deep into the library. He'd learned many things over the past few months (like the identity of the moon spirit, which was interesting, yet useless; after all, he wasn't at war with the Water Tribes last time he checked), but sensed that something that would truly help him was in here somewhere. It was just a matter of finding it.
Zhou unpacked his supplies at his "base camp." He didn't intend to leave the Library any more frequently than he had to, as every time he did, it cost him another book or parchment or something. He continued searching through the archives where he'd left off when he went to go to the nearest town and get another week's worth of food and water. Late the next day, he found something of immense promise. Ideas immediately began to flow through his head. But how would he arrange things exactly right, he wondered? He remembered something he'd read earlier, and went back to the proper scroll, rereading it with new eyes.
Yes; this will do quite nicely. A bit byzantine, perhaps, but no plan is perfect.
Of course, he'd have to wait for Sozin's Comet, but hey, that was only a decade away…