Aang sometimes dreamed of Iroh. The wily, wise dragon. The man who taught Aang that it is better to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.
Moving forward was much better than running away. You don't solve any problem by running away from it.
Problems are patient. Problems don't just vanish. Problems just wait.
You always come across them again.
Many many moons ago...
Aang cringed and flinched his way through the first monsoon season after the war. The firenation monsoonal storms were legendary. Plump raindrops fell, hard and heavy, on the hot roofs. Thunder boomed and lightning sizzled the sky. Every crack of lightning made Aang jump. He got jumpy. Getting jumpy made him get snappy. He couldn't sleep for the noise at night. He was tired all the time. Being tired all the time made him angry.
This snappy, angry, tired person wasn't like him at all.
Katara fussed over him all the time, nagged him to get some sleep. He found her fussing annoying. For the first time it made him feel worse and not better. They had a fight about it. She told him she only fussed because she cared, because she worried, because she loved him. She did love him, but not in the way Aang once hoped she would. He didn't want her to love him the way she did now - like he was an idiot kid who couldn't take care of himself and needed to be tucked in for naps. He felt all grown up and too old for that now.
He told her he could sleep if it wasn't for the storm that was always raging. It was just the stupid lightning, all the time. It kept him awake. It reminded him of bad things.
It reminded him of pain, death, fire, advice he should have listened to but ignored.
Azula and the crystal catacombs. If you leave now, you wont be able to go into the Avatar state at all. Failing everyone. Again.
Ozai, standing over him, laughing over the fate of his peaceful people, while a firestorm raged. Redirecting the bolt and feeling the crackle and the hum of that incredible power. If you make a single mistake – it's all over. I know you're scared – but you'll have to do this. I wouldn't ask if you didn't need to.
Aang was twelve years old.
He didn't want to die. But he didn't want to kill anyone either.
Zuko was the only other person he knew who had been struck by lightning and lived. Zuko tried to talk to him about the lightning. Zuko didn't like to talk about it, but he tried anyway – because he could see Aang was upset...and probably because Katara asked him to. Aang had always wondered about that. Did they talk about him when he wasn't there?
You know Aang, Katara thinks that's just...oh what's the word... it's got a psycho in it.
I'm not psycho!
No, oh no – I wasn't saying that.
It sure sounded like it!
Here have some calming tea.
Do you think I need calming tea because I'm a psycho!
No, I think you need calming tea and a good night's sleep because you're an over-tired pratface right now.
…. fine, I'll have some stupid tea.
...Psychosomatic! That's the word!
It means that it's all in your head. You really think it twinges – and so it does.
Zuko are you saying that yours doesn't twinge or hurt at all?
I think mine hurts differently to yours, buddy.
Look Aang, I know this is bothering you...and you know...if you need to...we can talk...about it...if we really have to...
No, It's okay Zuko. You don't have to talk. Thanks anyway though.
A long long time later, Aang realised what Zuko meant by hurting differently. Aang first thought the difference was about remembering the hurt. The hurt and the memory of hurt were two different things. Aang carried both. He remembered every second of that terrible plummet. The flashing of the green crystals as he fell past, helpless. The ground rising to meet him and he, for the first time in his entire life, felt powerless to halt his descent. The world getting dark and filling with the one overpowering thought; I Don't Want To Die. I don't want to die. Idontwanttodie.
Everytime the lightning crashed, Aang remembered that moment in painful clarity. Zuko claimed he didn't remember the lighting at all. That made their hurts different.
Aang thought that because Zuko didn't remember the lightning, that he would be less haunted by it. But he didn't realise that Zuko was just haunted in a different way. Zuko had been hurt by lightning too, but not in the usual way. Not in the way it hurt Aang. Aang had been hurt by his enemies. The two people who had shot lightning at Zuko were his father and his sister. Lightning from people who were meant to love you no matter what– that would hurt differently.
Hurting differently didn't mean that it hurt any less.
Iroh had taken Aang for a journey up into the rumbling mountains. A little holiday is good for your mental well being, Avatar Aang.
There were pictures drawn in the sand. They discussed the illusion of separation. Lightning bending was really just separated chi coming back together – did Aang know that? Lightning was just firebending technique. Just a tool. In and of itself, it was nothing to be afraid of.
There was nothing special about Ozai and Azula – they were just damaged people who had practised firebending until they perfected it. Just mad people with lightning. They were not fit to wield it, not really.
They had hurt Aang with their lightning, but that didn't have to weaken Aang. He could use what he had learned from the experience. He could turn that hurt and weakness into a strength.
Aang had defeated Ozai. He would defeat his fear of lightning, Iroh was sure.
He was a brave young man.
That day Aang came back down from the mountains unafraid of lightning.
There were many reasons to love Iroh, but Aang would always love him for that day. For his patience and kindness. For "It's just a technique. A technique which you can master", stick-figure drawings and the sea of chi.
Aang wondered if Iroh's spirit had any more pearls of wisdom for him, hidden in that vast ocean of chi.
That night they talk. It is late. They are the only two people left awake in the temple. Aang found Hiro watching Kuzon sleep from the doorway of the boys dorm. He invited Hiro to join him for a cup of tea - knowing how successful this request would be.
Hiro is like and unlike Iroh at the same time. Things that a different; he is younger, his hands are calloused, he knows little of the spirits in this life. Things that are the same; his fondness for proverbs, his fondness for tea and his warmth, which shines right out of his eyes. Aang unburdens himself to this veritable stranger and likes to imagine that his is once again having one of those deep and philosophical talks with Iroh.
You have difficult decisions Avatar Aang.
What would you do if you were me?
If I were you Aang, I fear I would not show your restraint and mercy. For what he did to my sister..to my nephew...I would fill his bones with hot lead.
Do you think he deserves to die then?
Perhaps he does...he is a terrible person. He has done horrible things...but remember that he has hurt people I love very much, so it is only natural for me to wish to hurt him back. Take my words with more than a grain of salt.
Do you think I should kill him then?
I think you are right not to be so eager to deal out death and judgement. Men like Chin do that – hand out death like it is their right to decide who lives and who dies. What gives them that right? They think that violence and agression gives them power. They need to kill to feel important. They will never realise that there is infinitely more power and reward in granting life and helping things grow and flourish.
What should I do?
It is not my place to tell you what to do Avatar Aang. Only you can decide that...
I imagine your job must be a bit like being a gardener for the whole world. Your entire life is about helping things grow in harmony. The garden you preside over is a lovely place. You do your duty well. Sure, you must pull a few weeds now and then – but I think that is the only way to give the delicate flowers a chance to blossom.
Thank you Hiro.
So this little chapter is really more Aang development focused and looks at how he begins to confront some of his problems head on. Considering the year Aang had, I actually think it would be likely that he would have some sort of PSTD - especially given how jarring this battle-ridden year would have been given his peaceful upbringing. When all the chaos has died down, and his duty wasn't overwhelming him and he had time to actually think - I reckon Aang would be very bothered by all the events of the past year. Aang would find the lightning from the monsoonal storms to be a very painful and triggering reminder of the crystal catacombs and how he would have died if not for the spirit water (and technically did die for a bit there).
One of the recommended treatments of PSTD (though there are many and everyone's experience is different) is to gradual expose someone to possible triggers of the trauma and to help them put that trauma in context and given them a more balanced picture. Iroh would have done this for Aang in the mountains, by helping him understand the technicalities of lightning and gradually exposing it to him and teaching him that it is a natural phenomenon and bending tool - not something inherently evil. Also reinforcing lightning re-direction for him would have made Aang feel more empowered to stop the lightning, should he ever come up against a lightning bender again. Iroh, by getting Aang to admit that he has a problem and needs to try and overcome it - would have given him a big nudge in the right direction. Exposing him to lightning and working with him to overcome his phobia is a very direct approach to dealing with this problem. The direct approach worked well in this case, and I would like to think that Aang woul learn that sometimes beating around a problem or avoiding it and ignoring it is not productive. (Avoidance tendencies and increased irritation are both symptoms of PSTD).
I also like to think that at some point Aang would grow out of Katara's mothering and try and assert his own indepence, and so a bit of that is happening here. As Aang grows up, he'll want to be treated more like an adult. Katara consistently mothers him in the show (Even in SC she is playing the mother role to him) and eventually this disparity in how Aang would wants to be seen and treated by her (as an adult) and how she views and treats him (as a child) would come to a head. But I will explore how Aang feels about this more deeply next chapter. Also next chapter will be lost more Sassy!Old!Toph! (as she is awesome).
Til then lovelies.