Zuko arrives in the past. Things are explained to him.
A/N: This idea originally came to me about two months ago as a random plot bunny that kept nagging me to write it. It eventually turned into this.
Oct 14, 2010 Update: Edited for grammar errors, and made a few minor tweaks to the content. Still pretty much the same chapter.
Chapter 1: Arrival
Zuko groaned, and looked around. He was currently lying face-down on the floor, though he wasn't sure how he got there. He pushed his hands against the floor, slowly helping himself up. That was much better. He really didn't want anybody walking in on him like that.
Zuko looked around, taking note of his surroundings. He was obviously in the Fire Nation palace, though the architecture looked different from before. He shrugged it off, figuring it happened when he was gone. True, he did stay here briefly after Ba Sing Se, but he was too focused on other things at the time to pay attention to anything else. Ozai probably did it when he was banished, and he just didn't notice it until now.
His hands reached down to his waist, and he was relieved that his duo dao swords were still in their normal positions. He had to be careful in here, just in case someone was hostile towards him.
He thought back, trying to remember exactly what happened and how he got here. He frowned, as the little he was remembering only served to confuse him even more.
His father was planning to burn Ba Sing Se to the ground, while Azula was supposed to be crowned Fire Lord in his place. Zuko and the group went their separate ways in order to do their own parts to save the world. But, what happened to everyone?
Azula...she did something. But what? Zuko had a feeling that something significant happened in that Agni Kai, but he just couldn't remember what it was. He frowned, but the only thing that came to him was Katara. Right, Katara was helping him fight Azula.
Why couldn't he remember what happened? And why was he back in the palace stuck on the floor?
He needed to knew who won the war. If it was his side, he was safe enough in the palace. But if his father and sister won, then he needed to be prepared to fight his way out of here. Though none of those scenarios explained why he was stuck on the floor. If Azula won, she would have just killed him, instead of dumping him here, where he could possibly escape.
His musings were interrupted, however, when he felt himself being knocked to the floor yet again. Annoyed, he got back up once more, and turned around to glare at the one responsible for his predicament.
It was a teenager who looked to be around his age. He had the typical Fire Nation look of pale skin and black hair. He also appeared to be a palace servant judging by his outfit. It just figured that a servant would be the one to knock him over.
“Sorry for knocking you over,” apologized the teenager. “I was just in a hurry to attend to my duties, and wasn't paying attention to where I was going.” Figures, thought Zuko. The teenager just had to try and apologize. That teenager didn't recognize me though, he thought. That should make it easier to get out of here.
“Well, watch where you're going next time,” snapped an irritated Zuko. “This is the second time I've been knocked to the floor!” He hoped the servant would just leave him alone, so he could get out of here.
“How did you get on the floor before?” asked the servant. No such luck, thought Zuko. Out of all the servants in the palace, this just had to be one of the more talkative ones.
“I don't know!” yelled Zuko, completely frustrated with the situation. “I was just there when I woke up, and have no idea how it happened! And then you just had to show up, and knock me down there again!”
“Sorry...” said the palace servant. He sounded timid now, afraid. “I didn't mean to, and it won't happen again, mister. Though I'm sure there's a reason why you were there.”
“I'm sure there was! But I have no idea what it is, and this whole thing is confusing! Just leave me alone, and let me have some peace!”
Unfortunately for Zuko, however, this servant wasn't the sensible type that would have ran away as soon as he started yelling. Instead, this teenager seemed to think that it was his job to help Zuko out however he could. This only served to make Zuko even more irritated.
“Come on. We're going to find out why you're here,” said the cheerful servant. Zuko inwardly groaned. Today was going to be a long day.
“I don't need to know why I'm here!” yelled Zuko again. “I'm fine just getting out of here, and back to where I belong! If you want to help me, you can at least tell me what happened.”
“What did happen?” asked the palace servant, cocking his head to one side. “What do you mean by that?”
“The battle!” yelled Zuko. “Who won? Whose the Fire Lord now? What happened to the Avatar? What about...” Before Zuko could continue, however, the servant interrupted him.
“Well, that explains it. I think you hit your head or something when you fell,” said the servant, as if the answer was obvious. “Because you aren't making any sense right now. That's it. We're taking you to my quarters, because you're obviously not okay.”
Zuko muttered complains, saying he was fine, but his protests were ignored. If anything, the servant seemed to take them as signs that Zuko really wasn't okay, and needed medical attention. This was turning out to be a really bad start to his day.
Now that the servant was finally quiet, Zuko had some time to calm down. He now felt bad for yelling at the poor teenager earlier, even though he never got his questions answered. His temper might have improved ever since he joined the Avatar, but it was one of those things that he had to consciously control. If he wasn't careful, his temper still surfaced.
Apparently this whole situation was enough to make it show. Just great.
Just as promised, the servant boy did end up dragging Zuko to his quarters. As soon as they got in, he forced Zuko to lie down on his bed. Zuko, not in the mood to protest, just went along with it, even though he was still confused.
Finally, his first instance of good luck managed to show up. The palace servant that dragged him here asked someone else to figure out who Zuko was. Zuko really didn't like that idea much at all, since he still wasn't sure who won the war. However, as always, his protests ended up falling on deaf ears, and the boy went through with his original plan anyway. Just great.
The door to the kid's quarters finally opened, and a Fire Sage stepped through. Zuko groaned, not in the mood to deal with a Fire Sage right now. He only hoped that this sage had some answers that actually made sense.
“I've been waiting for your arrival, traveler,” greeted the sage, taking a good look at Zuko. The sage then turned to the palace servant, and said, “you can leave us now. I'll take care of your friend from here.” The palace servant obeyed, and left the room.
“He's not my friend!” yelled Zuko in protest.
“Of course he isn't,” said the sage. “Though I'm surprised that you don't know anything about your situation. I would have thought the spirits explained everything to you.”
“Well, obviously they didn't!” snapped Zuko, getting frustrated again. This time, however, he was at least attempting to control his temper. “What in Agni is going on here?”
“There is no easy way to say this, young one, so I will just say it,” began the sage. “For unknown reasons, the spirits have decided to send you into the past, to sometime before you were born.”
Shock coursed through Zuko. That wasn't possible, right? Though he also had to admit that he knew very little about spirits, and what they were capable of. That was his Uncle's specialty, not his. The topic was never talked about in the Fire Nation for some weird reason that Zuko never understood.
But really, time-traveling? That...was one of the craziest things he'd ever heard. It even topped that incident in the colonies, in which he accidentally managed to damage important Fire Nation equipment in his search for the Avatar.
Of course, Zhao was convinced that he did it intentionally. He didn't. It wasn't Zuko's fault that he thought the Avatar was hiding in that military base.
But that search for the Avatar seemed like it happened a lifetime ago. Yet, if this sage was telling the truth, those events never actually happened yet. It was a hard concept to wrap his mind around.
Exactly, how far in the past did he manage to go? Well, assuming this wasn't a trick, but Zuko honestly didn't think it was. There was simply no way that the Fire Nation would go through all this trouble just to trick him. It simply wasn't their style. The Fire Nation generally preferred the direct, aggressive approach.
Yet, his mind was having trouble processing exactly what the Fire Sage had told him. This didn't seem possible at all. However, it did explain why he ended up on the floor of the palace, and the servant's weird behavior earlier.
If it was true, his brain would process this whole situation eventually.
“Um...exactly how far into the past did I go?” asked Zuko. “And how long will I be stuck here?” He might as well figure out how bad his situation was.
“I do not know,” said the Fire Sage. “The spirits haven't told me exactly how far in the future you came from. I know you were sent here, because the spirits have need of you here. I have no idea what they want with you though.”
“Well, they never told me what I'm supposed to do either,” replied a frustrated Zuko. “They haven't told me anything, actually. I just appeared here, with no idea what happened.”
“Yes, that is rather unfortunate. I had assumed they would have at least explained the time-travel part to you. The first one, however, is easily explainable. The spirits must have thought that you'd do your task better if you had no idea what it was.”
“That isn't helping. At all,” replied Zuko. How was he expected to do something if he had no idea what to do? The whole idea was crazy. This Fire Sage was crazy. “So, what am I supposed to do now? I don't have anywhere to stay, and don't even know why I'm here.”
“Fortunately for you, I am not the only one who knew you were coming. For some reason, the spirits instructed me to tell the Fire Lord everything about you. As a result, the two of us have spent the past week discussing exactly what to do with you.”
And my bad luck strikes again, thought Zuko. Out of everyone the spirits could have involved with this, why did it have to be the Fire Lord? It was too early for Ozai to have the throne, but Azulon could easily have it. He was in power for a large portion of the war.
He shivered, and started freaking out. Azulon thought he was a failure too, to the extent that he ordered Ozai to kill him. He really, really didn't want to go meet with Fire Lord Azulon, or any other one for that matter. They all either hated him, or started pointless wars.
His uncle didn't count, since he was never actually a Fire Lord. It seemed like the few nice ones in that family were the ones that got their birthright revoked.
“Who is the current Fire Lord?” asked Zuko. He was pretty sure it was Azulon, but there was no harm in checking his suspicions.
“The current Fire Lord would be none other than Fire Lord Azuki,” replied the sage.
Zuko gaped, open-mouthed. That was not the answer he was expecting. Azulon, yes, or even Sozin. But...he had never even heard of that particular Fire Lord.
“Uh...whose Fire Lord Azuki?” asked Zuko, revealing his ignorance. Now that he thought of it, pretty much all of their history lessons ended up covering the stupid war. They never talked about anything before the war, or most of the Fire Lords before Sozin. Zuko never thought of it before, but that seemed odd.
“Well, I can't tell you much, if you don't know who he is,” replied the Fire Sage. “You'll just have to find out when you meet him yourself later. He's currently in an important meeting with some nobles, but you'll get a chance to talk to him later today. We'll explain everything to you then.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” said Zuko, though he didn't like it. He only hoped that meeting was almost over. Back at home, war meetings could literally go on for hours at once.
If Zuko was honest with himself, he really didn't want to meet the Fire Lord at all. But it appeared he had no choice in the matter, because the spirits got him involved. Zuko was really starting to hate the whole spirit thing. It just seemed a little too convenient. There wasn't actually any proof that the spirits actually told this Fire Sage everything, and they never did this stuff back home.
Except, if this sage was telling the truth, Zuko was stuck in the past for an unknown length of time. If that was true, it was enough proof that something spiritual was going on here. Zuko didn't think the whole situation sank in yet, which would explain why he was still so calm. He fully expected to have a panic attack once it finally did.
To Zuko's annoyance, the sage refused to explain anything else until they could talk to the Fire Lord. Zuko understood that in a way. But he was still frustrated with the whole situation. He wanted answers now, not whenever the stupid Fire Lord finished his stupid meeting. He had made this fact rather clear to his sage companion. Unfortunately, it didn't help him actually get some answers.
It was one of the most frustrating situations he had ever been in.
Right when Zuko was about to lose his patience, a servant finally entered the room. He announced that the Fire Lord was ready to see them. This, of course, caused a mixed reaction in Zuko. On one hand, he wanted his answers. He had to go see him to get those answers. On the other hand, he was nervous about meeting with an unknown Fire Lord. He always had bad luck with Fire Lords, and he didn't expect that to change anytime soon.
He ended up trailing behind the sage to the throne room. He knew his way around the palace already, but it was amazing to see how much different it looked in the past. The general location of the rooms remained the same, but the actual atmosphere and architecture was different. It looked far more inviting than it ever had in the future. Or what was his past. This time-traveling thing was way too confusing.
They made it into the throne room without too much trouble, and Zuko took a moment to look around. Gee, the throne room went through far more changes than the rest of the palace.
There was far more red and gold around than Zuko was used to. It was bright, but that made the room look more inviting. His eyes then glanced to where the Fire Lord was seated, only to notice that the famous flame that separated him from his audience was non-existent. Zuko wondered when that was actually added. It just didn't seem like the throne room without the famous flame.
Though that should also make things easier, thought a relieved Zuko. Without the flame, this looked like a completely different room. Zuko had way too many bad memories of this place. This would help to separate those memories from his current situation.
“I suppose we shall start with introductions,” began the Fire Lord. “I am Fire Lord Azuki, while this is Fire Sage Kazu. Welcome to the past. The two of us have spent the past week talking about what to do with you, and we have managed to come to a decision. But first, what is your name? The spirits have neglected to give Fire Sage Kazu your name.”
Zuko hesitated for a second, wondering if he should give out his real name or not. He was in the past, so at least nobody would recognize him by his scar. His name also didn't follow the traditional naming scheme the Fire Nation royalty used when naming their first-borns. His mother ended up naming him. She thought his name suited him, though Zuko had no idea why she chose it.
He didn't know what to think of that, at first. It made him wonder if his father disliked him from the start. That feeling was made even worse when Azula ended up being named after their grandfather. Now he was actually relieved his mother gave him a unique name, instead of being named after a previous Fire Lord. He really didn't want to be named after somebody who started this stupid war, or committed some other manner of atrocities lost to time.
“It's Zuko,” he replied at last. It would actually be a relief to use his real name here. Things were going to be hard to adjust to here, so having this one constant would be comforting.
“That is a nice and unusual name you have there, Zuko,” said Kazu. “It's nice meeting you though, and I'm sorry about the waiting earlier.”
“It's fine,” said Zuko reflexively, though he still wasn't happy about having to wait for so long.
“Now down to business,” continued the Fire Lord. “First off, we have agreed that it would be in our best interests to keep this time-traveling thing a secret. We're the only three that know about this, and we want it to stay that way, if at all possible. Fire Sage Kazu knows because the spirits informed him. Spiritual matter are in Kazu's jurisdiction, but the spirits, for some reason, wanted me to be informed of this as well.”
They probably told you, because we're related, thought Zuko. He kept his mouth shut though, and just continued to listen to the adults.
“Zuko, I will tell you this,” began Fire Sage Kazu. “Time-traveling has actually happened before. It's rare, but not unheard of. I'll have a more in-depth talk with you about it later though, since it might help you understand your situation more.”
“Well, I'm fine with keeping it a secret,” said Zuko, since it looked like he was expected to say something. “The only issue is that servant boy from earlier. I might have said some things to him earlier that made me look crazy, because I had no idea what was going on at that time.”
“What kind of things did you say to him exactly?” asked Kazu. “We still might be able to salvage the situation. Though it's also possible that the spirits wanted him to help you with your quest.”
“Um...” replied Zuko, trying to think back. What he came up wasn't good. “I told him I was on the floor, and had no idea how I got there. I also asked him questions that I think made no sense in context of this time period.”
“What sort of questions?” asked Kazu. “We might be able to just tell him that you knocked your head on something, and got confused.”
“Um...I asked him who won the battle, who the Fire Lord was, and what happened to the Avatar,” replied Zuko. Gee, he must really think I'm a nut, since the Fire Lord is obviously right here.
“Yes, it sounds like we'll have to tell him you got confused earlier,” replied Kazu. “The only battles going on right now are the usual Earth Kingdom territory disputes, which is nothing unusual. Fire Lord Azuki has been in power for a while. As for your third question, the current Avatar was born into the Fire Nation, but he or she hasn't turned sixteen yet, so only the sages know who he or she is.”
That was confusing, thought Zuko. He never heard of any Earth Kingdom territory disputes before. Then again, they were being taken over by the Fire Nation back home. That really didn't leave much room to fight over territory.
It was also way too weird to hear about the Avatar in that way. And what was so important about sixteen anyway? Aang was twelve after all, and he ended up doing his Avatar duties just fine. Well, except for his aversion to killing, but Zuko thought that was more of an Air Nomad thing, than his age.
“Yea. Definitely go for the confused option,” replied Zuko. “It shouldn't be that hard. From what you just told me, it sounds like this place will be harder to adjust to than I thought it would be.”
“Do I even want to know what happened in your time?” asked Kazu.
“No, you don't,” replied Zuko. “My time sucks. Trust me on that one.”
“Well, I'll talk to him later about you, then,” replied Kazu. “Though if, by any chance, he does manage to put the pieces together, you can tell him about this. I don't want you working too hard to keep this a secret, and it's also possible the spirits wanted your new friend to know. Just...don't go talking about major events that happened in the future with him.”
“That's fine,” replied Zuko. “I can do that. I'm not even sure if we'll even talk again anyway after the way I yelled at him earlier.”
“You might just be surprised, Zuko,” replied Kazu, as if he knew something. “Though we need to get back on-topic. Fire Lord Azuki and I had a chat over your living arrangements earlier. We wanted you to be with someone who knew about your situatiaon, just in case something popped up. Staying here with the Fire Lord would raise too many questions, so we decided that you can stay at my place. Well, if you want to.”
Zuko did want to. After everything that happened, he wouldn't want to stay in the palace anyway. His brief stay in it after the capture of Ba Sing Se just brought home exactly how much he had changed. That lifestyle just didn't suit him the way it used to. And at this point, Zuko would take any living arrangement.
“I'm fine with it,” replied Zuko.
“What, no protests? Wouldn't most teenagers complain that they want to live in the palace instead?” asked Kazu, confused. He really did look puzzled.
“Yeah, well, I'm not a normal teenager,” replied Zuko. “My father saw to that.” His left hand reached for the scar on his face, and brushed against it. It was still there, which was just his luck.
“What about any family you have here?” asked Kazu. “I'd expect some time-travelers to want to stay with their relatives instead.”
One of my family members is sitting right in this room, thought Zuko. He was finding himself amused at the very thought. But nope, he honestly had no intentions of revealing his relationship to the Fire Lord, or staying in the palace.
His father and grandfather had already rejected him. His sister had also shown him that she could care less about him. He had always been different from the rest of them, taking more after his mother. These differences only increased after Ozai banished him, resulting in who he was now. He liked the person that he had become, but he knew it also wasn't what was expected of Fire Nation royalty.
It was one thing if Fire Lord Azuki hated him without knowing who he was. It would be another thing entirely if he rejected Zuko, after knowing they were related. And Zuko knew that he would do that if he ever found out about this. He was just too different from the rest of them.
“Nope,” he admitted. “I...had bad experiences with them at home. I'm fine just staying with you.” Zuko could actually be himself here, with no expectations, and he was going to enjoy every minute of it.
He had a feeling that his time stuck in the past would turn out to be very interesting.
Post A/N: There is a good reason why Zuko was sent here, but it won't be revealed until Zuko himself finds out about it.