Chapter 1: Question
She was laying at a padded wall. The room muffled all her sobs, all her cries, all her angry screams and curses. A dim light gloomed from the ceiling but it was no fire, which brought some light to her room, only some sort of shiny crystals.
And no sun.
Nothing what she could bend to free herself, nothing what might fuel her inner fire. A fire which once had burned so hot and bright. Now it was almost gone. Stamped out by the feet of her own family, almost suffocated within the dust and dirt of the Earthkingdom. Instead of burning down this dirt with the comets help, its dust had covered her bright fire and water and ice had cooled it down until it couldn't burn bright enough anymore. All these elements had beaten her inner fire, leaving it not enough air to burn on so mighty and bright.
And now she had no chance left to break free. She couldn't even turn her fire against herself to end this misery, her shame, her failure. It was doomed to die a slow death, to flicker on, until all what was left to fuel it, would have burned out, until her helpless tries would have taken the last bit of air, her fire would need to burn along. She could feel it with every breath she took, how her defeat was choking her. Not only mental. They had forced a mask on her face, which covered her mouth and nose. It made breathing difficult and it prevented her from burning her out of this place with her fire-breath. Her hands and feet were bound toward her back, so she couldn't direct her Chi the right way to break the door or even some of the bindings, which forced her to stay in this misery. She had truly lost. Her Nation, her family, her friends, her grace, her dignity. And now she was about to loose her fire and with it herself.
And so Azula cried again. She could feel, how her tears started to put out the last gloom of her fire. A fire, she would never see again.
Azula didn't know how long the Fire Sage had watched her. She didn't know why he had come to her and observed her fire dying. She didn't know who he was, cause his face was hidden under the hood of his cape. She stared back at him, broken, with swollen red eyes.
The Sage seemed to hesitate, as he recognized, that she was finally aware of his presence. But something in her eyes let him made a decision. He took a step forward and placed a hand at the mask, which covered her face. She tried to get back from him, but the bindings ended her attempts, instantly. She turned her head harshly and frantic to free herself from the grip of the Sage. None of the contacts, she had received during her stay in this room had been pleasant or helpful. None of them had brought her hope, comfort or had eased her pains. She screamed in rage and panic, fighting hopelessly against the bindings and tried to twist and crawl away from him.
But suddenly she stopped.
The Sage had let her go. Azula was shocked and surprised at the same time. Never before had a person respected her will, since she was here within these walls. The Sage took a few steps back from her. She recognized, that he had made fists with both hands. The way he was standing in the room showed signs of grief, sadness and frustration and this confused her deeply. But she wasn't sure, because his face stayed hidden for her eyes. So she did something, which had brought her only pain and misery during her stay here. She dared to ask him.
It seemed to her the question, which would hold up the most possible directions for answers and the chance to get the most important answers. The Sage tended his head to his left side a bit. Azula was sure, that he was thinking about her question. He seemed to think about an answer, but to her frustration he didn't gave her one. Instead he nodded for himself and took place in the lotus seat in front of her. He grabbed in his robe and took out a candle. The Sage placed it between Azula and himself. He lighted up the candle with a deep breath and a motion of his left hand.
The warm shine of the candlelight drove away the gloomy green light of the crystals. It was a small flame but it burned quite and steady, without a flicker. Azula felt the rhythm of the flame, controlled and peaceful. She saw the comforting light and even this little flame shared its warmth with her.
She didn't know, how long she had watched the candle. She didn't know how long the Sage had observed her, watching the candle, but now she was sure, that this candle was the answer. And the answer, she had seen in the shining light made her furious. She took control over the flame and tried to direct the fire toward her bindings, but the Sage was faster and prevented the fire to reach her. Then she tried to blow the flames at him, but he also was able to stop this try. She realized, that she was defeated again and with an soul-splitting scream, burning down the candle in a bright flame within seconds.
The green and gloomy light of the crystals returned to the room. The Sage stood up with a sad sigh and headed towards the door.
“My highest compliments for you.“
The sarcastic voice of Azula made him turn around.
“Showing me, how my own fire is dying here by showing me the beauty and life of a burning flame for the last time. If roles would have been switched, I would be very proud of myself for having such an idea. Well played, Fire Sage.“
Her voice was strong, but it couldn't cover her tears from falling. But the Sage just shook his head. Azula’s eyes widened in surprise and fear as he rushed to her. Before she had a chance to fight his grip again, he had grabbed the mask and had burned the leather bands, which had fixed the dreadful thing before her face and took it away from her. The metal started to glow in his hands until this part of her misery was molten to a grotesque sculpture. He let it fall on the ground in front of her and walked to the door.
“They will put another one on my face.“
Her voice was desperate. The Sage stayed a moment within the doorway.
“No, they won't“
She wasn't sure, but if she had ever heard his voice before, she didn't remember. But she could hear the controlled rage and anger in his voice. And this confused her.
“You haven't answered my question. Why?“
He didn't turn around, but he hesitated in front of the door.
“That is the right question for a start.”
And with this words he left her cell.
Chapter 2: Lighting Up
Azula was surprised, as she woke up the next morning. She was sure, she might have had hallucinations again. But the rest of her old mask was still lying on the ground. Her fire was still weak but it had got back some air to burn on. The staff had also changed her bindings. She still couldn't bend, due to the way her arms and legs were fixed, but it was less humiliating and painful for her and it left her more space for movements.
She wasn't sure, if this would be a good sign or not. She knew that her hallucinations had become worse in the asylum up to a point, when they suddenly had disappeared. They had left her, when she had surrendered herself in her desperation. They had left her, when she she had started to pity herself. They had left her behind with nothing but anger, grief, sadness and pain. Even her hallucination had left her alone and weren't willing to be with her in her weakness and shame.
So why did this Sage has visited her?
And why did he had showed her a candle?
This riddle started to puzzle Azula. Once she had loved solving riddles. It had been a long time, since she had to solve a riddle. For a moment she felt it. Her fire. Every time, she tried to find a plausible answer for her question, she could feel it burning a little bit brighter. Maybe she could keep it burning this bright until he might show up again. So she kept focused on this question in order to keep her fire burning.
The Sage didn't returned during the next days but some other things had changed since his visit. First of all he had spoken the truth. No one forced a mask on her face again. And the staff treated her better and were more patient with her, even if this made her more dangerous and difficult to handle. Still Azula didn't know why he had done this for her, but she was sure, that the Sage had ordered them to treat her better. She couldn't understand, why he seemed to care for her. None of her family did. None of her former friends, simply on one. She was a failure, so why should someone care for her and her fire. Every time she thought about his possible reasons, she came back to the suggestion she had already thrown at him.
At one morning, the Sage was back again. Azula hadn't recognized, when he came in, which worried her about her own health and sanity a bit. Normally no one could sneak at her so easily, but obviously she hadn't woke up, as he has entered her cell. He was siting on the floor again in lotus seat and seemed to meditate. The hood was also covering his face again.
“No room-service? I had expected breakfast.“
Azula gave him a sarcastic smirk, as the Sage lifted his head a bit. He kept quiet but for a little moment she could get a short view on a part of his mouth behind the shadow from the hood and she saw a little smile rushing over his lips. This finally caught her interest. She sat up on her bed, the new and only part of furnishing in her cell. It was brought to her after his last visit. She observed the Sage and spotted the heavy leathern bindings beside him. And then she released a surprised gasp, while she watched her own ankles in disbelieve. She also hadn't recognized that her legs were free, because her arms were still bound.
Tears started to roll down her cheeks, while she observed her legs and feet move freely. He had fueled her fire again a bit. But she didn't understood why. Azula looked at him in disbelieve. Then she stood up and kept standing a while on her own feet. She tried some easy moves and steps, only to recognize how long she must had been bound up. Her legs were weak and wobbly, but she could manage to walk some steps towards the Sage. He was still sitting on the floor, but he offers her to take place in front of him. She tried to sit down, but after had been bound up for so long, her legs couldn't hold the weight of her body good enough, as she attempted to sit down. Azula lost her balance and might had been fallen, but instantly the Sage was at her side to hold her.
She hadn't seen, how he got up so fast and Azula had no clue how this could be even possible. She was nearly sure, that it must had been impossible to get up from the lotus seat fast enough to do so. To surprised to protest, she let him help her to sit down. The Sage took seat again, like before. Then, like the last time, he took a candle out of his robe and placed it between Azula and himself. The gloomy green disappeared as he lighted up the candle and both stared to observe the little flame burning.
Again the light brought warmth to Azula. She missed her own bending. She missed her own fire. The power and the heat of the flames. The raw and wild nature of the fire. She closed her eyes and even this little candlelight gave enough heat to focus on, to warm her up inside. She focused on her breath and matched her breathing with the rhythm of the little flame. She could feel it burning like a little heartbeat. And it shared its life with her, its warmth, its light. It comforted her and soothed her. She had never recognized this aspects of fire so clearly and pure before.
Both must have been sitting on the ground for a long time, cause the candle was nearly burned down, as Azula opened her eyes again. Sadness and frustration came to her. It was a cruel gift for her to get shown the beauty and energy of fire again, in order to remind her, that it was only there to burn out. Why did he done this to her? Her face showed signs of anger and grief.
“Now I'm sure. This is torture, isn’t it? An extra punishment. Well, I can make things easier!“
Azula leaned forward and blew out the candle. The gloomy green light returned. She didn't want to, but she started to cry, as she turned around to hide her face. She recognized a sigh after a while and suddenly the warm heartbeat returned. As she opened her eyes again, she could see, that the gloomy green light was replaced by a cold but fascinating blue. She turned around in disbelieve and relized, that a new candle was placed beside the old one, burning with a blue flame. She was speechless. She just stared at a fire, of which she thought it was only burning within herself.
The Sage shook his head. Azula thought he only want to disagree, but due to his sigh he seemed to be sad about her disbelieve. He created a orange flame within his left hand and the flame switched its color from orange to blue at a deep breath of him.
Azula watched the flame with open mouth. The blue light shined in her golden eyes. This power. She had never expected to meet another person, who could share such a power. Someone who could have matched her own, as her fire had burned bright. The Sage stood up and walked slowly beside Azula and knelt down. She could feel the raw power of his flame near her hands and the heat of his fire. The heat went hotter and suddenly her hands were free, too. The bindings were burned by the Sage and Azula put her hands in front of her face to prove herself, that she wasn't dreaming. The Sage gently touched her hands and Azula winced back. But he started a second try, even more careful and gentle and this time she let him do so. He directed her hands in front of her belly and placed her left hand with its palm up on the palm of her right hand. Then he took his blue flame between his own hands and placed it on hers like an blue burning orb. The flame started to flicker and swirl and Azula’s breath was hard and strained. She couldn't believe it. But suddenly the connection was there and for a brief moment both, Azula and the Sage were controlling the flames together. A burst of light and warmth flooded through the cell. For a tiny moment the flames sparkled and shined within all colors of the rainbow. They were bursting out of the bright glowing orb surrounding the Sage and Azula. She could feel, how the Sage was protecting her from the flames, which were leaking out of the orb, how he carefully gave the fire a way to shine and to warm up the room, without consuming both. She has never seen such a beauty before, she had never felt such a power of hope and such a love for life. The light drove away the shadow of the hood, which had hidden the face of the Sage. Azulas mind went blanc. She knew that face. But this only doubled the riddle for her, why he was doing that for her.
Chapter 3: Baffled
The Sage stood up leaving the blue flame burning within Azula’s hands. The Princess shared baffled looks between the flame, she was controlling in her hands and the Sage, who had put his hands on the hood of his cape. He lifted the cover with a slow move. The face of a late teenage boy appeared with a bald shaved head and a blue arrow tattoo. Aang watched Azula observantly. She was completely confused. Aang wasn't like she was. He wasn't the kind of person, who wanted to hurt or humiliate someone, so why did he came down here and helped her to find hope? It didn't make sense for her. It seemed, that he also had seen her questions.
“I felt your fire dying. I couldn't let it die. It's still in danger, but I'll try to help.“
He gave her a warm smile, but she still didn't understood.
“But why? I'm your enemy! I tried to kill you!“
Azula was even more confused, as Aang’s face started to show signs of grief and sadness.
“You're wrong, Azula. You're not my enemy. And you've not only tried to kill me, you have killed me. The fact, that I came back to life was a miracle.“
“No, you're wrong! I am your enemy! The fact, that I killed you, proves me right!“
She jumped up but the long time, she had to stay in her bindings gave her less strength and control she needed to keep standing. Aang was at her side again to prevent her from falling and guided her back to her bed. Almost everything in her was protesting against this mortifying weakness, but she could feel it. She could feel his inner fire burning for the first time, as he helped her to take seat on her bed.
“No Azula. You're wrong, definitely. You're not my enemy. You never was. You have taken the role of being an enemy, but I'm sure you never was my enemy.“
She started to shiver at his words and she didn't knew why. To her surprise she got hugged by him to stop her from shivering. Aang used his firebreath to keep her warm. And this warmth comforts her, like the candle did first. But his fire was much brighter and warmer and Azula got a hint for the first time, what might happened if this fire would get out of control. What might happened, if he really would start to think, that she might be a threat or worse, an enemy. But she wasn't convinced, yet.
“But where is the difference?“
Her tears were falling again as he faced her desperate look. She didn't saw it. It didn't matter for her, so why did he came up with it?
“The difference lies within the reasons, why you pick up a role. The reasons defying the fact, if the role of an enemy also let you become the enemy or not. And I'm sure that in your case your reasons for playing this role didn't have turned you into my enemy. All you have to do, is to find out these reasons and accept them for yourself. Then you have a chance to see it for yourself.“
Her look was even more confused. But somehow his words gave her hope. It was a silver lining. Something that was able to fuel her inner fire again.
“You're Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation. You're one of the strongest and smartest persons I have ever met. You'll figure it out, I'm sure. And I'll continue to help you, if you want me to.“
He stood up and gave her a hopeful smile. Azula’s face showed a flicker of sadness. He was about to go, but he had brought her warmth and hope again and she didn't want to be left alone without these new discovered warming fire. Someone cared for her and even if she didn't understand why and especially why Aang was this person, she was afraid to loose this fire.
“They'll bind me again.“
Anger flashed over his face for a sudden moment but then he shook his head with a serious look.
“No, they won't.“
She felt a rush of anger rising in her.
Azula blasted with a quick punch a hot fireball only inches beside his cheek at the wall. She released a surprised gasp, cause Aang hasn't even jerked a bit. He had trusted her and her abilities. He had trusted her, that she wouldn't hurt him. He made a sigh and rubbed his forehead.
“No, they won't, unless you try to hurt them.“
She looked at him with surprise. She still couldn't believe it, that he had stayed cool at her blast. He gave her one of his warm smiles again.
“It's good to know, that you're willing to fight again.“
But this smile was slowly replaced by a worried look.
“But keep in mind that the staff might not react so cool like I did.“
This reaction has caught her off guard, but she nodded at him and so he finally reached the door.
“This is a bad idea, you know? A big mistake in fact. It's stupid to trust me and to leave me here with the capability to bend.“
Her voice made him stop. He turned back to her and frowned.
“I know.“ But after a short break he watched her with a determined look. “But I was wrong with my judgment more than once in my life, so I hope, I'll be wrong this time too.“
“Compassion is, what makes you weak, Avatar.“
It was a threatening sound in her voice but also deep hidden in it some sort of sadness and resignation. Aang didn't miss that. A mischievous smile came to his lips.
“Do you really think, I'm weak, Azula?“
She was caught off guard again and rolled his words in her mind for a while until she shook her head.
Aang was about to go when her words made him stop a last time.
“But I think you still don't know, how strong you really are. And this can be even worse.“
He tended his head to one side and nodded at her.
“In that case both of us will have a lot to think about. Until next time, Azula.“
He covered his face with his hood again and left the cell after he has given the staff a signal. Azula stayed behind in her cell. She lighted a fire in her hand and watched the blue flames dancing. He had brought her her fire back. Her ability to bend again. He had trusted her, when no one else did. She could use this chance to escape as soon as possible. But then she feared, she wouldn't solve the riddle, why he cared for her. Why he tried to help her. To say he did this because he's stupid and weak made it too easy. It wasn't this easy. She had to search for answers. He had mentioned the role, she had played during the war and that the reasons were the key.
What was his role in this?
This question caught her interest even more. Maybe he wasn't also an enemy, like her father had told her. Due to the things, Aang had done for her now, he didn't seem to play the role of her enemy. It seems to her, that he never wanted to play the role, but he was forced to play it during war.
But which was the role he wanted to play?
And what did this role let him become?
Azula knew, that she had to think about a lot of questions, she might dare to ask him, when he would show up next. And she hoped, this visit would come soon.
Chapter 4: The Elements of Life
It was the next morning, when Aang returned. He came with her breakfast. Azula greeted him with a simple nod and he gave her the tablet. She observed Aang while she was eating. He had taken place on the floor again and it seemed that he was meditating. He still hadn't answered her question. Why did he do this? If he wasn't her enemy, what else could he be. But it seemed, that he had decided to avoid direct answers. She would have to ask the right questions and would have to listen carefully to find out his reasons.
Aang took out a candle again from his robe and lighted it up with a blue flame as soon as she was finished with breakfast. It still surprised Azula, that he was able to create blue fire. She took seat in front of him and focused on the candle.
“Have you ever seen fire as the element of life, Azula?“
This question came out of nowhere for her. She had planned to ask him more questions, but this act from Aang was unexpected.
“Fire is the element of power. That's what I was taught.“
Aang smiled at her answer and shook his head a bit.
“I haven't asked you about your former lessons. I want to know, if you have ever seen fire as the element of life?“
Azula was annoyed about his question. She had learned the classifications of the elements long ago. Her teachers, her uncle and her father had given her these instructions over and over again. The Avatar should knew better. Why did he asked her such a stupid question?
“So you want me to believe, that water is the element of death? It's the logical consequence, because water and fire are opposing elements.“
Her voice was a bit angry and obviously annoyed. But her eyes widened in surprise, as Aang nodded at her.
“I wouldn't deny your classification.“
He recognized her confusion and chuckled a bit, but his look returned to a serious one.
“Have you ever been outside in an ice desert at a blizzard? A burning and warming fire means life out there. Have you ever seen a tsunami crushing a town? Could you imagine being alone in the ocean, forced to swim for your life, only to know, that you wouldn't ever reach land, feeling the cold of the water crawling under your skin? I know that water could be the element of death.“
She opened her mouth to protest but instead she shut it again. She had never thought about water this way. He continued with his explanation.
“But water is the element of life at the same time. No life could exist without water, but also no life could exist without fire. It would be a freezing dark and cold world without the sun fueling the fire, which could be found in life.“
Azula watched him with a new interest. Why did he came up with this? And how should this help her to find the role, she wanted to play? But her new interest had convinced her to think about his former question again.
Had she ever seen fire as an element of life?
She closed her eyes. She could still feel the candle burning, steady and without a flicker. Like a little... heartbeat. She opened her eyes and her excitement let the flame grew higher for a second. She watched him with a victorious smile.
“In fact twice. I have seen it as an element of life. The first time was, when I was a little kid, when I managed firebending for the first time. I remember how warm, comforting and beautiful my fire was. It shared its strength and its life with me.“
Aang nodded with a warm smile. Azula wasn't sure, but it seemed, that her joy was warming him.
“And the second time was... was...“
She hesitated. She had felt it as he had lighted up the first candle in her cell. And even more yesterday, as his fire had warmed her and had comforted her. But she wouldn't show her weakness again. How had it happened, that she had forgotten the beauty and the life, her fire had shared with her, that every fire was able to share with her. Azula’s face was sad and she stared at the burning candle.
“The second time was much later.“
She expected, that Aang would push her further, but he didn't. He simply nodded at her again.
“Life needs all the elements to exist. Without the fire and the sun we won't have a place to live. No plants would grow, no animal could exist. But without water, this world would be a hot and dry place. Without the earth no tree could set roots and nothing would have any substance but only earth would just exist without any changing, only hard and solid. And without air no life would exist, because all living creatures are breathing and need air to live, but only air is insubstantial, with no ground, no rest, rapidly changing with no chance to settle down and let things just be.“
Azula knew what he tried to explain. She had heard similar lessons from her uncle and she had always discarded it. But now she dared to take a closer look on it. Aang had showed her a long forgotten aspect of her element, so a closer look on the other wouldn't hurt, in her opinion. She thought about his explanation and closed her eyes. Aang kept quiet and waited, what her next step would be. She was rolling some new questions in her mind.
“So if life needs all elements, does that mean every element need all the other elements, too?“
She saw Aang beaming at her as she opened her eyes again. It was obvious for her that he would agree to this suggestion, but she was curious, how he would argue about that.
“Every element is perfect for itself. But every one of them are perfect extremes, always searching for dominance. They could tolerate two other element at their side but also two of them are completely opposites. The balance between all elements is the tricky part. Only if all elements are balanced, life could exist. They are soothing and moderating between each other and are also setting absolute limits to stop each other. If one element gets lost, then all balance will be gone. Life would end.“
Azula frowned at his explanation. This was a bit too much of her uncle, in her opinion. But somehow it was also different. Nevertheless it wasn't an answer, why he cares for her. She stood up and Aang did the same.
“I haven't expected another answer from you, Avatar. Far to obvious, in my opinion. But I have to admit, you have chosen an interesting way to share your so called wisdom with me. Until now, I have heard nothing, I haven't learned before.“
She crossed her arms before her chest. But Aang nothing more but shrugging shoulders, to her surprise.
“Then what about this. How could a fire burn, when there is nothing left to burn? When any substance is gone? When the fire had consumed everything? How should it burn on?“
This question caught her off guard. She watched him with a lack of understanding. Suddenly he took a fast step in her direction and gave her a hug. She felt his warmth again and this bright fire, which was burning in him. He whispered in her ear, as his head was close at hers.
“Or how could a fire burn on, when there is no air left?“
Her eyes widened, as the hint, he had given her, reached her mind. A slight sadness and bitterness had been in his voice. She understood the reference and for the first time she started to watch the history of her Nation from a new point of view. Aang released her from his hug and walked back to the door.
“Until next time, Princess.“
Chapter 5: Lighting A Fire
It took weeks until Aang returned. He was suddenly there, one morning after breakfast. He wore the robe of a Fire Sage again, as he entered the cell. Azula noticed, that he gave her a observing look but after a little moment he caught her off guard again.
He bowed a little before her to greet her with respect. It was only a little gesture, a slight movement of his head and torso but this level of respect was something she hasn't seen or heard for a long time. She didn't know why, but she gave back this gesture of respect and also bowed a bit.
She offered him to take a seat at one of the chairs at a table. During the last weeks she had received more parts of furnishing for her cell. Two chairs a table, a closet and a bookshelf had been placed within her cell. Of cause not all at once, but all these things were brought to her step by step. She was allowed to wash and dress herself on her own again and even if the staff was nervous about her new freedom, both sides had accepted this quite agreement, they seemed to have made with Aang and so the trouble has been reduced to a minimum. And she had got some books for her to read again. To give the fire in her mind something, what could fuel it again. Aang had taken seat and had lifted the hood to share a warm smile.
“You look better.“
She heard a true joy about this fact in his voice and also his face showed nothing but honest relief and happiness. He had cared for her and he had still worries for her. Azula still didn't get it, but it was comforting and confusing for her at the same time.
“I know.“ She hesitated a bit. “But I don't know, if I feel better.“
Aang frowned a bit, but he nodded.
“You still haven't found your role. The role you really want to play“
She frowned back at him. She has thought a lot about her role. And a lot about his role. She was sure, that he wanted to convince her, that her role could be another one, than she had played during the war. But could she really play another role? Was she really able to change? And wasn't his try only another scheme to force her into a role, he would find useful for him? Like Ozai had done with her?
“You want to convince me, to join your side, Avatar. To take a role, that would be useful in your opinion and more pleasant for you. Like my father did.“
She had a dangerous flicker in her eyes. She wanted to provoke him, but she hadn't expected his reaction. He smiled at her. A open and happy smile.
“You're coming back. That's a good sign.“
Azula was confused and angry and Aang noticed that.
“When was the last time, you have trained your bending skills in the sun?“
Her mind went blanc at this question. She didn't got a chance to think about it, because Aang stood up, covered his face with his hood and went to the door.
“Guard, the Princess will train outside under my observation.“
Azula saw the door opened and a obviously worries guardsman approached.
“Are you really sure about this?“
Aang just nodded at him and the guardsman bowed before him.
“Of cause, Fire Sage.“
Azula’s eyes widened for a moment in surprise. Obviously Aang hadn't told the staff, that he wasn't just a Fire Sage. But why? The guard was about to hand Aang some bindings for Azula but he pushed them back. It brought an amused smile on Azula’s lips to recognize the fear of the man. It comforted her to know, that she still got this certain touch. To her surprise it seemed, that Aang had guessed her thoughts and she could see his smile again. Both were walking through the corridors and a long way and many stairs later they had reached an iron door. Aang laid his hand on the handle, but suddenly he took a step back and offered Azula to open it. Her heart was beating fast and loud in her ears. She touched the door with shaky hands and after a deep breath she pushed it open.
The sunlight blinded her for a moment and so she held one of her hands up against the sun. She took some careful steps outside until she was standing in the middle of a trainings place. She smiled happily. Azula turned herself to the sun and closed her eyes. She spread her arms wide to welcome the light, the warmth and the life, the sun shared with the world. And now the sun shared this blessing gifts also with her again. It reminded her of Aang’s fire but his one was yet different at the same time. She wasn't sure if Aang really knew, what power laid within himself. Aang had taken seat at the side of the trainings place, as she opened her eyes again. He was in the lotus seat again and has set up a new candle in front of him.
“The brightest flame burns quickest, so the first lesson in firebending I got was to gain control of the flame. The task was to feed the fire, to control it, so that the flame could burn long and save.“
He lighted up the candle with a snip of his fingers and a blue flame burned quite and steady. Azula watched him focusing on the flame.
“You haven't trained for a while, so take your time. Feel the warmth and the power of life of your fire again.“
Azula watched at him for a second and then at her hands. But then she took a basic stand and focused herself on her breathing and on the warmth of the sun. And then she did her first punch. A bright blue flame flew forward and she watched the fireball flying with a beaming smile on her face. Then she got back in her basic stand and started a kata. Her muscles weren't as used to the training as they were before so she stayed at the basics, to get used to the movements again and to gain back her agility. Only minutes later she was deep within her training, only focused on her firebending. The bending, she had missed so much.
Chapter 6: What Fire Could Cause
Aang had observed her training for a while, when he finally started to speak to her again.
“The fire is the element, which can be created by the bender himself. But the danger is, that it can also consume the bender and everything with him. But what most firebender forget is, that this fire could not only be found in firebenders, no it can be found in every living creature. But only the bender has the luck to fuel a external flame with this fire. But this means he has also a great responsibility. The emotions are linking this inner fire with the ability to bend and they are able to fuel the fire. Raw emotions are the greatest danger for a firebender. They are capable to break the control of the fire and let it run wild. A fire running wild would burn as long as it has consumed absolutely everything, leaving nothing left to fuel it ever again.“
Azula heard Aang’s lesson, while she was practicing. She was annoyed from him. He still hasn't answered her question and he still avoided to go back to it. It seems to her, that he was playing with her. She remembered her own fire dying within the cell until he had come for her. She also remembered her battle with Zuko. A fire running wild.
“Or you can put out the fire, violently. Throwing tons of dirt on it, drowning it in water or freezing it with ice.“
Her voice had bitterness in it, but it was also an sarcastic reference to her situation.
“As a final option, when all hope is fading and this fire is about to consume everything. It was the last desperate try to save as much as possible to give a new fire a chance to burn again one day.”
Aang’s voice had suddenly a little warning touch. Azula noticed, that she seemed to have hit a touching point. She still continued with her kata but suddenly she made a quick turn, blasting a big fireball at Aang. This time she had targeted his head, but he deflected her attack with a quick move of his left hand. The Avatar was on his feet, faster than she had expected, but she kept on blasting fire at him. He dodged two other strikes and also answered her actions with two hard blows of blue fire. She managed to block his strikes easily, but she did a surprised gasp, as she recognized, that the power of his blows had pushed her back several meters. She saw the lines, her feet has left in the sand of the trainings place. Aang was in close range and she tried a firekick to his head, but he simply blocked it and kicked her other leg away under her body. She lost balance and right the next moment she was laying on the ground and Aang on her back, pinning her down and twisting her hand and arm painfully up to her neck with one hand, while he was holding a dagger out of a hot blue flame near her face. Her eyes were widened in panic and fear. She had expected that this power must be hidden within this boy, but to feel this energy, this heat and to see his fire suddenly burning with so much rage had caught her of guard. He leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“Or you can suck away all the air to suffocate the fire until it dies.“
It was an almost uncontrolled rage and a flicker of hate in this quote and this fact shocked Azula. She started to worry, what might happened, if his fire would run wild.
“Do you think, you're the only one, who has to live with his mistakes? Do you think, I have no hate to struggle with every day? No pain, no bitterness, no desire to take some sort of revenge?“
His threatening hissing in her ear let her panic grew. The blue flame at her face got bigger and hotter. She squeezed her eyes shut, breathing hasty in panic. But suddenly she felt a wet dipping at her cheek and the heat was gone. Aang had let go his grip and stood up. The tear, he has dropped on her cheek had rolled down to her lips, leaving a salty taste in her mouth. Aang was walking back to the place, he had sat before. He took a look at he candle, but the candle was gone. Only a dark spot was left.
“Training is over.“
His voice was full of bitterness. He turned back to the door, where they had entered this trainings place and left her behind. Azula didn't know why, but his resignation and sadness leaves an awkward hole in her chest. Her look was empty and she felt like she had put out a warming fire for no reasons. She didn't even recognized the fear and nervousness of the guards, who took her back to her cell. She finally started to cry, as her door was locked. She knew, that Aang wanted to give her a chance to find her right place. But she still didn't know why. And she didn't know why he had chosen this strange way. And to make it all worse, she was sure, that she wouldn't find her role without him. But she had pushed him too far. She had lost control. She had allowed her raw emotions to fuel her fire. She hadn't listen. She had warned him, that this would be a bad idea, but he was able to control her fire, he could match her. But it seems that he didn't want to control her. He had tried to give her back the control her fire again. She cried even heavier. She realized, that she was about to stamp out her fire for herself.
Chapter 7: When Lightning Strikes
Azula refused to eat the next day. And the day after the next one. At day five she felt really weak and dizzy. She barely left her bed. She got more and more thin and bony. Her skin was pale and it was cold all the time. Her face showed more and more of her skull with every day, she refused to eat. At day eight, she didn't even recognized the staff, who had brought her the lunch. But someone must have brought her a tablet, like all the other days, cause it was set up on the table as usual. Suddenly her eyes opened wide. It was not set up as usual. A candle was placed by her meal, ready to be lighten up. She checked her room, but she was alone. With almost all of her last strength she managed the way from her bed to the table. A letter was placed by the candle. She took it with cold shaky hands:
You and I knew, that my idea was a mistake. But the Azula I know was never afraid off to prove someone wrong, even herself. What role do you want to play? Don't give up searching!
She watched the candle with tears in her eyes and with a motion of her hand she lighted it up. The flame shared its little warming life with her. She pressed her eyelids together and the hot tears were rolling down her cheeks. She took seat with wobbly knees and started to eat. She did it slowly and she stopped many times to read the little note over and over again. He still cared for her. He still hadn't give up hope for her. How could his fire burns so strong, that it was able to share its warmth with her, even when he wasn't around? How could he still have the strength to fight for her? Why did he still tried to help her, beside the fact that she has killed him once?
“Because that's his role!“
No, not only his role. That was what he really wanted to be. He was the Avatar. No, he was the kind of Avatar he wanted to be, with all the positive and negative aspects. And because it was his choice he could find the strength to fight on, when others would give up. Azula stared at the candle. He had found his role and this fact gave him strength. She suddenly understood. He was never really her enemy. The war had forced him to be her enemy. Her father had forced her to be his enemy. The question for her was, would Aang force her in a different role or would he leave her a choice. She continued her meal with the head full of thoughts. The hope had returned. She didn't know when he would show up again, but she would wait for him. This time she would be prepared. This time, she would listen more carefully.
Two weeks later, a guard showed up in her cell after breakfast.
“The trainings place is ready for you.“
Azula lifted an eyebrow. She heard the nervousness of the man.
“Is the Fire Sage here?“
She hoped, that Aang would wait for her on the trainings ground. The man shook his head. Azula saw, that he must have felt most uncomfortable.
“The Sage hasn't returned since his last visit. He had only send the note for you and had ordered to prepare the trainings ground every day, as soon as you would be strong enough again to continue with your training.“
Azula smirked and shook her head a bit. He was confident enough to be sure, that she would pick up the fight again, because of his letter. When did she had become so predictable. She stood up and nodded at the guard.
“Well, fine then. Lead me to the trainings place, please.“
She had trained for three hours. Her body was sore and aching. Her muscles were burning and she was out of breath. She was completely exhausted and after a last forceful punch she felt down on her knees struggling to gain back her breath. She had never felt so happy and satisfied. The air was still filled with the flavor of fire and sulfur. But she had still one thing left to train.
She got back on her feet and focused on her breathing. Then she started to make wide circles with her arms to separate her Chi. She felt the electricity tickling up her spine, buzzing and humming the way to her arms and her fingers. Blue little flares started to dance around her fingertips. Her eyes started to search for a target, but suddenly they found the dark spot, the candle had left at her last training. The candle, Aang had burned down, as she had freed his rage.
A vision flashed before her eyes. For a short moment, she could see her arm darting at the Avatar down in Ba Sing Se. She saw her lightning hitting him. She saw him falling. She knew, that she had killed him.
A wave of anger swapped over her. Anger about herself.
And shock. She was shocked about herself. Shocked, that she nearly, no, that she had killed the only person, who seemed to care for her now.
And she felt guilty.
And grief about everything she lost. About her family, her friends and her Nation. About how she had treated other persons fire.
The raw and twisting emotions took over for a second. She lost control of the energy. The Chi flowed back together before her and exploded right in front of her. The shock-wave punched her back and she crushed into the wall of the trainings place. Her world was black as her limp body hit the ground with an awful cracking sound.
Azula heard a painful scream from the distance. It sounded familiar but strange at the same time. She tried to focus on the direction, but the screaming came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
She tried to move her head but she couldn't. Or did she only thought, that she couldn't? She wasn't sure. But the painful tortured screams only increased, every time she tried to move.
Azula tried to open her eyes. She was a bit angry with herself, that she hadn't tried it before. She managed to open a small slit. A persons face was near her. It looked familiar too. She heard the screams nearer and clearer. They started to hurt her. She could hear the pain, within these screams. She could feel the pain. It was her pain. And it was her screams.
Azula began to panic. She had done a bad mistake during bending a lightning. She had hurt herself in an accident. The pain burned within her and she screamed louder. She couldn't believe, that this was already possible but she managed to intensify her screams. The pain was overwhelming. Broken bones, ruptured muscles, punctured organs, burned nerves; never had a pain felt so real for her before. It seemed to her, that the pain wanted to squeeze the life out of her. She started to cough blood between two screams, and she could feel her lungs filling with it. Her screams turned into a gurgling sound and she felt her remained working muscles cramping. All she wished now, that the pain would fade, that this would be over soon.
She felt her strength fading. She felt her fire dying. Her resistance started to get weaker. There was not enough air for her fire anymore. She recognized the person again. The eyes of the person had started to glow. And the big arrow on his forehead too. And then the pain faded.
She instantly regretted, that she had woke up. She only had some fuzzy visions in her mind what had happened, but she felt so much pain. Less intense, than in her vision, but still heavy and far too real to deny, that her visions must have been reality. But she also felt, that someone was holding her hand. She turned her head to the side and she found Aang. He was sleeping on a chair, while his head was resting at her side on the bed and he was still holding her hand during his sleep. Azula started to cry, silently. The final thing she could remember was, that he had used his full power. He must have used it to help her. She stroke with her thumb over the back of his hand. A smile rushed over his face during his sleep.
“He's got almost killed, while he has tried to save you.“
Zuko’s voice was the last thing, she had expected. Her eyes searched for him, but they wouldn't have found him, unless he stood up from a couch and walked to her bed. She tried to speak, but she was still to weak. Zuko shook his head and Azula could see the worries in his face.
“Save you breath. Just listen and let me talk.“
He took place on the other side of her bed. Azula’s eyes widened. This was her bed. Her bed in the Palace. This was her room. She started another try to ask a question, but Zuko just stroke her gently over her head to sooth her.
“Yes, you're back in your room. Katara and I have brought you and Aang back here with Appa. He was on the way to visit you, as your try to bend lightning went wrong. He had used his healing abilities to help you, but he was about to loose you. He had finally used his Avatar-state to heal you and to keep you alive until Katara and I have arrived. Katara had managed to do the rest. He had collapsed after this and was out for three days. We almost thought we had lost him, but he recovered.“
Azula turned back to Aang and her tears were falling again. She had to recover soon, so that she could finally get some answers. And to say thank you. Zuko gave her a kiss on her forehead.
“Sleep well, Azula. I'll look later after you again.“
He was about to walk out of her room as he stopped and turned back to her.
“He has sacrificed almost everything for you, Azula. What he has done for you had cost him Katara. She had broke up with him, because he has continued helping you. I don't know how he had managed this. We all had given up hope for you. I had given up, too. You were so furious at my last visit, that I never tried it again.“
Zuko gave her a warm smile and left the room.
The shock hit her again. In her whole life she had never found a person, who had done such a sacrifice for her. He would have sacrificed his life and he had sacrificed his relationship in order to help her. She felt the fire in Aang burning. And she started to believe, that it was burning for her. Cause she had to admit, that her fire was burning for him. It had started burning for him, at the day, as a Fire Sage had entered her gloomy cell. She was sure about her new role in life now. Her role was at his side. She managed to touch his cheek, gently and Aang opened his eyes. She smiled at him and he smiled back with tears in his eyes. He stood up and bowed down to give her a hug, but she he placed her hand on his neck and pulled him down to press his lips on hers. His eyes widened for a moment but then he returned her kiss. He placed carefully his forehead on hers.
“I feared I had lost you. But I'm glad, that you proved us wrong.“
Azula smiled at him. She could fell her fire burning brighter. She managed to whisper to him.
“Thank you, Aang.“
Weeks had passed and Azula was still weak on her own feet, but she made progress. Aang was permanently at her side. He observed her progress, he aided her, when necessary, he reminded her to have patiences, when she was to eager and he took her returning edgy mood with a warm smile.
And she loved him for this.
She hadn’t talked about his visits until one evening, after a long and exhausting day. Katara had checked her healing progress. Aang and Katara were still friends, to her surprise. Every time it was a painful sting in her heart, when the waterbender hugged Aang to say goodbye, but she had recognized the angry flicker in the blue eyes of the girl, when Azula kissed him. This fact and the truth, that she has saved her life too, had convinced Azula to call it even. Maybe it was also helpful, that the waterbender seemed to be closer to her brother during the last days. She would bet her new regained life, that Zuzu hadn’t any clue, how Katara was watching him. She chuckled for herself, while she was rolling these ideas in her mind. This held up the opportunities for many interesting days. Azula decided, that he needed some hints from her. She still didn’t like Katara but she was sure, that both might give a good match. Aang had taken seat on her bed and she had laid down beside him and placed her head on his lap. He gently stroke her hair and she could feel his warming and comforting fire burning.
“I understand it now.”
She hadn’t watched him in the eyes. She had stretched out one of her arms and has lighted a little blue flame in it. She let the burning blue ball dancing over her fingers, like someone would have done so with a coin. Aang smiled warm and continued stroking her dark hair.
Azula kept watching her flame.
“How did you know, that my fire was dying?”
Aang’’s smile faded. He focused on Azulas flame and the shine of it was reflected in his eyes.
“Do you remember our fight in Ba Sing Se?”
Azula jerked a bit at this quote. Of cause she did. This memory had nearly killed her. And it hurt her even more today, to know, how she had felt, back in these days, when the lightning had hit him. But she hadn’t to answer. Aang kissed her gently on her forehead.
“Sorry, of cause you do.”
He took a breath before he continued.
“I’m not sure, but I think this lightning has somehow… connected our spirits and souls.”
Azula turned her head and watched him with a questioning look. But Aang didn’t seem to recognize this. His own look was still focused on her burning flame.
“From this day on I could feel you. Not permanently, and mostly, when I was dreaming, but after the war has ended, I started to focus on these feelings.”
Pain rushed over his face and Azula felt her chest tightened.
“And these feelings were full of pain and fear. All the feelings, you were forced to ignore and you were forced to push aside. I saw visions of your childhood, of your fights and of your days in these cell and I felt your pain. If I think back, I have felt this pain right at the moment your lightning had hit me. It was overwhelming, but it was also something, my spirit could get a grip on.”
He had tears in his eyes but he smiled at her.
“Without this pain, I think my spirit would have been gone. I would have died and Katara couldn’t have saved me.”
He kissed her, as also Azula got watered eyes.
“Some things might have a deeper reason in life. Without your pain, I would be dead. How could I have let you down, when you have suffered all these pains for me? And even not? How could I have give you up without loosing myself and the person who I want to be?”
Azula sobbed and snuggled closer to Aang. Both watched her flame burning quite and steady for a while.
“And so you decided to show me my fire again. You showed me the sides, father had tried to hide away from me.”
Aang also lighted up a blue flame in his hand. He brought the flame close to Azulas. The color of his flame was a bit deeper, than hers, but it burned as quite and steady like her fire now.
“Yes. Like emotions fuels your fire could a fire also fuels your emotions. Most firebenders love their fire and I have never met a person before, who loved her fire so much, like you do.”
He focused on his breathing and matched his breath with hers. Then he brought his hand with the flame in contact with Azulas hand and both flames floated together as one. Like in the cell this new flame shined in all colors of the rainbow and the shining light filled the room. But this time it was a controlled fire, burning bright but save and strong.
“Katara broke up with you, before the trainings day with me?”
It was a touchy question, but Azula had to know. A shadow rushed over his face. Azula took her other hand and pulled his head down to give him another kiss. He smiled again as their lips parted.
“She was the only person, who knew, what I tried to do. I had no secrets before her about this. She had finally ended the relationship after my third visit. It was too much for her to carry. After that it was harder for me to get up every day. But your progress has helped me to go on.”
Now Azulas face was darkened by a shadow. She remembered her provocation at the training. He had sacrificed his love to help her and she had made him believe, that he had thrown away this love for nothing. But he guessed her thought.
“No need to be sorry. Your healing wasn’t finished at this point. And I knew, that you would press some of these buttons sooner or later.”
Her eyes watered again. She had understand, how he could find this strength, but it was still astonishing for her. What he had given up for her to help her. What he had risked to save her. She took a look to the bright colorful flame in their hands and then back to him. She smiled warm at him. She could feel their fire burning for each other. A fire, more beautiful than everything she had ever seen before.
“Do you now know, how strong you really are, Aang?”
He lend down for another kiss. Azula felt their hearts beating.
“Thanks to you, yes I do now.”
So, I hope it was a nice one. I have played with some own ideas around the elements and some ways to build up an more winding plot in this one. It wasn't my first story, but my first try to work with an (hopefully) not so obvious plot in a story. And a first try definitely, to focus less on dialogues and to bring up an romantic scene at the end. Thanks for reading.