A/N: Okay, this one-shot was just too beautiful for me not to post. Furthermore I'm surprised no one else has reached this very same conclusion about Zuko's family. When the man says that there isn't a single normal person in his bloodline, he damn well means it. Just what am I getting at?
Just keep reading. All the answers are in the fic.
Note: I take a lot of liberties with what I read in the Promise. I mean A LOT of liberties. I kept the dialogue and the actions word for word, but I added a little more to the beginning of Aang and Roku's conversation. Rated T for cursing and mentions of extremely awkward situations, some of which are sexual in nature. Also rated for Roku being an extremely twisted old man, as you will soon see. Perhaps not as twisted as Azula or Ozai, but certainly not innocent either.
There is also implied Rozin (Roku x Sozin), so if you don't like, don't read. In my opinion they might just be one of the most well-thought-out pairings the Avatar fandom has to offer. Even left as just friends, those two have a shit-ton of feels.
However, in spite of my fondness for the pairing, Roku is going to get BURNED in this fic. I don't hesitate to deeply shame and humiliate the characters I hold near and dear to my heart. Roku is no exception. Come to think of it, Sozin doesn't escape unscathed either. Or Iroh for that matter…
…On with the fic!
It is one of life's unfortunate truth's that you can't pick your family. It was unfortunate because if it were possible to do such a thing, Aang would have strongly recommended to Zuko to disown great-grandpa Avatar Roku immediately.
As in, as soon as freaking possible.
Seriously. Aang would tell him to dump the fucker and latch on to his uncle for all it was worth. And when Zuko demanded to know why he should abandon the one thread of his lineage that isn't tainted by Fire Lord Sozin's dishonor (because he most definitely would ask…as sure as former General Iroh would have his Naked Iroh Time at precisely four-thirty every Thursday afternoon without fail) Aang would just give him a dire, solemn expression that was more appropriate at a funeral and say…
And hopefully Zuko wouldn't ask any more questions. Aang really didn't want to have to explain to his friend just how twisted and senile his great-grandfather truly was…is…whichever. The young Avatar was also fervently wishing that the dead would just stay dead and let the living handle things for a change.
Fat chance. Roku could be as persistent as an old dog with a bone in its mouth, especially regarding the whole Hundred-Year-War fiasco. Restore balance, correct my mistakes, yadda-yadda-yadda. It was always the same thing with the old bastard, and it was this very thing that made Aang (who is totally on board the love-and-forgiveness train) realize that an old dog won't learn new tricks, that a leopard-buffalo can't change its spots, and that a miserable, washed-up fuck of an Avatar won't stop harping to kill his own great-grandson.
Was Aang surprisingly and almost uncharacteristically bitter about this? Perhaps. But then, if you had, had the week that he had—almost culminating in the almost cheerfully cold-blooded murder of a very close friend of his, all while most of his other friends and acquaintances were giving him the thumbs up—maybe you would have a bit of a stick up your ass, too.
And Roku was there every step of the way, shoving that stick just as far as it could go. Keeping him awake at night. Haunting his dreams and disturbing his meditation sessions. Pestering him with questions like, Hey Aang? Didja kill Zuko yet? Well, you better get on it, you little scamp! And then he would come back…night after night, endlessly lecturing him about balance and harmony and this and that and fuck knows what else. It was a wonder Aang hadn't snapped like a twig under all that pressure.
But what really topped the icing on the cake was the conversation he had, had with Roku mere days after the Yu Dao drama had finally died down.
It was surprisingly cool for a summer's night, but Avatar Aang was unfazed by the unseasonable weather as he perched on the roof of the Jasmine Dragon and got into lotus position. Quite frankly, he was way overdue for a nice, relaxing, mind-numbing trance. It had been days since he had been able to meditate for the sheer joy of it…without having to consult his past lives in a tiny rock-sundae shell; all while his friends were risking their lives to separate two armies hell-bent on slaughtering one another.
Oh, yes, Aang was looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet. If he didn't take a breather soon, he'd probably wind up like Zuko. The poor bastard was still sleeping off his near-death experience back at Yu Dao…not to mention months of sleeplessness and paranoia over his would-be assassins. And the worst part about all of that was the fact that Zuko's feelings were completely and totally justified.
A year ago, Aang would have poo-pooed the newly-crowned Fire Lord had he complained that the entire world was out to get him. Now, though…after finding out that his past life, Avatar Roku, was in fact Zuko's great-grandfather…and upon making the realization that the old man still wanted him to send the boy into an untimely grave…well…
At least Zuko wasn't a whiner…well, not as much as he used to be. Now he was more of a bottle-things-up-until-you-end-up-leading-heroic-and-near-suicidal-missions-of-honor kind of guy. Seriously, knowing that one of the past Avatars wanted you dead (and said Avatar being your own flesh and blood besides) would upend any sane individual.
Not that Aang actually bothered to sit Zuko down and tell him any of this. There were some things better left unknown, right? And anyway, everything turned out all right in the end. No one had died, the Earth King had withdrawn his forces and General Mak of the Fire Nation had agreed to do the same until an agreement could be reached. Nothing could possibly go wrong now.
It was over. It was finally over.
"I can worry about that stuff later," he grumbled, breathing out through his nose and trying to clear his mind. "Right now, I just need to find my center, aaaaaaaand…" He inhaled again, closing his eyes. His tattoos glowed a bright blue as he shut out the sounds of the summer night around him.
Everything was dark…calm…quiet…
Oh, you have GOT to be shitting me.
Reluctantly, the young Avatar opened his eyes and found himself sitting opposite Roku…motherfucking Roku. The monk felt a surge of frustration at having his alone time interrupted.
"Hey," he snapped. "I was kind of in the middle of something."
"Meditating. I know. And I have come to have a talk with you, Aang. This is important."
Wonderful. Whenever Roku had something "important" to tell Aang, it usually meant that the shit was really about to hit the fan. The last important thing he had come to tell him (besides the whole kill-my-great-grandbaby thing) was "By the way…SOZIN'S COMET!" So, naturally, the last Airbender was none too thrilled to hear such an announcement from the previous Avatar. No matter how innocent it sounded, it was always bad news, guaranteed.
Well, whatever it was that the old fart was selling, he wasn't buying.
"With all due respect, Roku, I'm not really mentally prepared to have this conversation now," Aang pointed out, grasping desperately for a loophole. "I haven't really been able to meditate peacefully in days, and…"
"Aang, please. The reasons don't matter. You need to listen."
Oh, great. Roku was in one of his decisive moods. How peachy for everyone.
Well, at least he wasn't about to be the harbinger of untold destruction on to the world like he had been back during the Winter Solstice last year. No, more likely he was just here to lecture Aang's ear off for not doing the right thing and brutally killing one of his dearest friends and companions.
This was almost as bad as that time when the past Avatars were throwing that post-war Spirit World orgy, and Roku had gotten completely piss-faced (and yes, Spirits can consume alcohol, but unfortunately Aang had forgotten the mechanics involved with the process as it was too fucking creepy to watch). The hammered geezer had much wisdom to share with Aang that night…of the unwanted variety; namely that he and Sozin sort of had a "thing" going before he had met Ta-Min. And by a "thing," he had apparently meant something ridiculously kinky involving ice cubes and women's pantyhose.
Please, for the love of the Spirits, don't ask.
"I know you feel as if the situation in Yu-Dao has resolved itself," Roku continued. "But really, it is only a matter of time before things get out of hand again. This state of peace is merely temporary, a calm before the storm…for there can never be balance or harmony if the four nations aren't kept separate from one another. You know this."
He breathed a sigh. "I thought I did…but…Roku, you saw what I saw, right? We'd be uprooting too many lives to remove the remaining Fire Colonies…separating families…and anyway, what's the harm in it? So Yu-Dao isn't Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation. So what? Can't people just live their lives in peace? There's been too much fighting already."
"Aang," Roku said in a warning tone of voice. "You must take decisive action to preserve this peace."
"And I did. I protected the colony. My friends and I initiated further negotiations between Earth King Kuei and Zuko. We're all on the same page now...except for you!" The younger Avatar clenched his hands into fists and glared at the old man. "Didn't you see how happy Sneers and Kori were? And what about Kori's mother and father? If they can bring two different cultures together…live in the same house for all these years without killing each other…don't you think—"
"It wasn't meant to be this way. It isn't natural."
Aang was kind of miffed that Roku was being so narrow-minded about all of this. And what was unnatural about wanting to be with the ones you loved, regardless of their race? Katara had been right…this wasn't just the future of some colonists…it was the future of a new kind of world, one he really, really wanted to live in. Besides, he had an idea of some cross-cultural experimentation he planned on doing with his lovely Water Tribe girlfriend in the future, and he definitely was intrigued by the possibilities.
"What, and getting down on your knees and practically begging me to slaughter a beloved family member of yours is more natural? Or that thing you did with the ice cubes?"
Roku's eyes widened and his voice dropped to a melodramatic whisper. "We don't talk about the ice cubes…!"
"Seriously?" Aang cried, his voice almost cracking in disbelief. "That's the part that skeeves you out the most? The thought of anyone else finding out about your sexual preferences? Not the part about you very adamantly persuading me to kill Zuko? Your great-grandson, Zuko? Cripes, you weren't even this vocal when I had my doubts about killing Ozai…!"
Roku didn't say anything. He didn't have to. But it didn't stop the crotchety bastard from narrowing his eyes at the monk, as though he were an unruly, upstart brat. This made Aang sigh and feel really, really old. He was currently relearning the life lesson (as his past lives did before him) that there was just no getting through to some people, and that to continue arguing would be like trying to have an intelligent conversation with a member of one of his fan clubs. Or a brick wall.
Slowly, Aang opened his eyes and shook his head. "I'm not like you, Roku."
And thank the Spirits for that.
"Aang, you are me."
"Yes," the monk strained impatiently, squirming at the uncomfortable reminder. "But…to ask me to end your own great-grandson…!"
"For the sake of the world!"
More like for the sake of your crumbling legacy, old man. Like I don't know you're just trying to live again through me. Not happening. Seriously, Roku prattled on and on about making up for his mistakes just a little too much to be considered healthy, even at his advanced age.
Lucky for him he had never told anyone the real reason why Sozin went on his great march of civilization. After all, the man had only gotten the idea after Roku gone and announced that he was getting married to someone else…and a woman, just to add insult to injury. As a matter of fact, Roku was the one who had gone and said during the seventh round of drinks at the bachelor's party, "You know what you need, 'Zin? A project to take your mind off of things. Something time-consuming and challenging…like pai-sho. Or Genocide."
Of course, the Fire Lord chose the latter as a means of expressing his unrequited desires. And Roku could reasonably say that he didn't remember giving Sozin the idea (or the maps of the Western Earth Kingdom) in the haze of the morning hangover that inevitably followed.
And this—the very drunk Roku had adamantly assured Aang during that Spirit World orgy—was the real cause of the Hundred Years War. Damn, could those dead people drink.
Anyway, apparently this was the one thing Roku and Sozin had in common. They both felt a dire need to over-compensate for their regrets. And they were both selfish pricks who didn't care how much destruction was left in the wake of their "over-compensating." Aang had kept all of this quiet, not out of kindness or respect for his past life, but out of sheer embarrassment.
It wasn't even the fact that Roku and Sozin were both guys. The monks had been generally open and accepting of homosexuality, so Aang wasn't really fazed to hear about their brief romance. Actually, they were kind of a cute couple, and if it weren't for the whole watching-the-world-burn thing Aang would totally approve. The world needed more love in it.
But that wasn't what the world got. Instead, it had gotten the Hundred Years War, all because Roku couldn't hold his liquor for a damn. Roku claimed that it was his indecisiveness that caused the world to burn and loudly urged Aang not to follow in his wishy-washy footsteps…but even if that was the case, Aang liked to think he could be decisive without killing all of his friends and family…that he could resolve conflicts without resorting to senseless violence.
His teachings were all he had left of the Air Nomads…well, that and a magical, logic-defying sky bison. He wasn't about to throw all of that wisdom away for the bloodthirsty ravings of a functioning alcoholic who liked to tape ice-cubes to his nipples.
Sure, Roku did have a point somewhere. The Avatar must hold the world above his own nation, his own friends…even his own family. But the world wasn't just made up of large tracts of land…it was made up of people. And so Aang had learned from Roku's mistakes after all. In contemplating the world, he would not be so callous towards the people who lived in it, and more importantly, who had to live and suffer with his decisions.
"When you told me to contemplate the world," Aang said. "…what did you expect me to picture in my mind? A map? Some floaty cosmic energy?"
He paused, letting his words sink in. Roku's brow creased deeper with his heavy frown, clearly sensing where this cryptic question would lead. The last Airbender felt a stab of frustration when the only reaction he got for it was a sigh of greatly-tested patience as he waited for Aang to make his point.
"You know what I actually did see?" the monk challenged. "Katara, Sokka, and Toph. I saw the Kyoshi Warriors and the White Lotus Society, the monks who raised me. And I saw Zuko." His stern expression quickly hardened into a glare when he saw not a lick of remorse in the old Firebender's eyes. "I don't know how to "contemplate the world" without first thinking of the people I care about."
There was a pregnant pause and a blank expression on Roku's face.
"Including Zuko," Aang added, in case the previous Avatar had yet to catch on.
Oh, he did. He just didn't care. Crusty old fuck.
"By refusing to take decisive action, you continue to put the world at risk!"
Aang almost lost it at that point. He really did. Decisive action? Decisive action…?! What does he think I've been doing this entire time? Penguin-sledding? Jerking off on Appa's saddle? WHAT? Seriously, he had stood between two armies, two spirits-damned armies, held them apart at arm's length, and verbally bitch-slapped the Earth King for…well…overcompensating. For almost starting another giant world war. Just like Roku and Sozin.
It was all so completely ridiculous, because if you really sat down to think about it, Zuko never actually did anything wrong. Aang will be the first one to admit that he had been a little too quick to blame the new Fire Lord for the near-renewal of the war. In his own defense, he had been under a lot of pressure himself to see the Harmony Restoration Movement through and to restore balance to the world, so much so that he didn't realize what he had come so close to destroying in Yu Dao.
Plus, it had all snowballed out of control once Zuko had pulled out and Roku started giving Aang these nightly "helpful suggestions" about how important it was to fulfill a promise to a friend and emotionally unstable, extremely fatalistic young monarch. Especially if that promise was the sweet, sweet abandonment of death.
Um, how about NO? Even stressed and sleep deprived, Aang could say without a shred of doubt that it was the most stupid thing he had ever heard. He had no idea where the fuck his own brain had been when he had even made that promise to Zuko.
Seriously. What the hell had he been thinking?
What Aang really wanted to know was why Roku was so dead-set on killing Zuko for defending a town of colonials, and leaving Earth King Kuei, the real aggressor in all of this, completely unscathed. It made absolutely no sense unless…
…unless Roku just wanted Zuko dead. Plain and simple. Aang's eyes widened.
Whoa. Zuko really wasn't kidding all those times he complained that the Spirits were out to get him.
It was literally true.
Aang knew then that he had to end this conversation immediately…before he said something he couldn't take back. Something about Roku taking his decisive actions and decisively shoving them up his decisive old ass. And then he could decisively go fuck himself.
He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. Easy, Aang, he coached himself. Be calm and patient…and forgiving…just like Monk Gyatso taught you.
"It's a new kind of world," he said finally, opening his eyes and looking almost sad as he met the gaze of his former mentor. "There's no getting around risk."
And there was one big risk he knew he had to take. Sure, it might come back to bite him in the ass a few years down the line, but Aang was going to have to chance it. He was a fully-realized Avatar now and it was time he started trusting himself to figure out the difference between right and wrong…just like Zuko finally learned to do when he decided to defend Yu Dao.
Too bad Roku didn't impart that same kind of trust in his young successor. "Aang—" he began urgently, but the monk cut him off.
"Avatar Roku, you taught me so much. I couldn't have become the Avatar I am today without your wisdom. But everything's so different now. It's not like when you were alive…" You're a stubborn, senile old man with an ice cube fetish. "I have to figure this out on my own."
The words felt like an unnatural chill on the summer night air.
"Goodbye," said Aang, turning away as Roku's figure crumbled into a hazy blue mist.
The final exclamation of the former Avatar was snuffed out like a candle. The wind carried the final remaining traces of his mentor away, and good riddance. How was that for decisive action?
Regardless, Aang couldn't feel any complacency in his triumph, no joy or smugness, or even relief. Well, okay, that last one was a lie. Aang was definitely relieved to finally be rid of Roku. But at the same time, as he snapped the wooden token bearing the carving of the Fire Nation insignia off of his meditation bead necklace, all he could feel was a crushing, overwhelming sense of grief.
A single tear trailed down the side of his face as fire consumed the token, and he made no move to wipe it away as he watched it burn. He had just said goodbye to a very important part of himself, to the man who was influential in shaping the young man and Avatar that Aang was today…
…the man who was at least halfway liable for the Hundred Years War, and who almost started another one by giving Aang such shitty advice…i.e. to slay the one functioning heir to the throne of the Fire Nation and (thereby) sending said nation into a spiraling abyss of political turmoil, which would undoubtedly result in massive casualties in the civil war that followed. Not to mention the fact that war had a nasty habit of spreading…like some kind of weird fungus.
Still, Aang grieved. Just like you would grieve at the funeral of your grandfather, the sleazy one who liked to feel up the women not even half his age and rant endlessly about "the good old days," while showing off his bedsores to whatever unfortunate relative happened to be in the room. Like you would for the elderly person at the very top of the list to be sent away to a nursing home located in another state.
This lasted for about a few minutes longer before Iroh showed up.
"Aang! Guess who just woke up?"
Aang's eyes snapped open, mourning period over and fresh smile on his face. "About time! How's he doing, Iroh?"
The Dragon of the West, now a humble tea-maker, smiled fondly up at the boy. "Why don't you come in and see for yourself?"
And in that briefest of moments, Aang was grateful that Zuko had at least one good, sturdy, normal, relatively trustworthy family member to fall back on. Even if said family member did like to indulge in Naked Iroh Time every Thursday at four thirty in the afternoon, without fail. After all, nobody was perfect.
Maybe it was time he started to accept that about himself. Sure, by some standards he might be considered a "flawed Avatar" due to his inability to relinquish his emotional attachments and the people he cared about. And by other standards he might be flawed due to the fact that he was the reincarnation of a guy like Roku.
But still…maybe it was these flaws that made people human…that made the world beautiful…that made…
"I have tea on the stove," Iroh added, waggling his eyebrows.
…the best damn tea on the face of the planet.
A/N: This fic has the potential to be much, much longer. But I thought that in the event that it doesn't really sell with the readers, I should leave it entirely in Aang's perspective for the first chapter so that I can keep it a nice, neat little one-shot if need be.
However, if people seem to like this, I see no reason why I shouldn't continue this…into the next chapter, which will feature Aang's immediate conversation with Zuko and the young Fire Lord's misguided desire to seek out the one piece of his lineage that wasn't chock-full of evil (i.e. Roku's) by finding his mother. Aang, obviously, will have to fumble for reasons as to why this is a terrible idea.
And, of course, there are other members of Zuko's family who need the spotlight. Azula…Ursa…Iroh (again)…and Fire Lords of the distant past. Family ties will be explored and dissected as Zuko journey's to find out just what happened to his mother.
All of that, of course, depends on what you guys think of this, the potential prequel or prologue or whatever you want to call it. So I need feedback. Consider this a shameless attempt at self-advertising and plea for reviews. I really don't care what you call it as long as it gets me some results.
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