Spoiler Warning: If you have not seen "The Day of Black Sun" Episodes, ("The Invasion "and "The Eclipse") yet, you may want to wait to read this story!
Fanfic based on the series Avatar the Last Airbender. This story is my version of what takes place after Season Three's "Day of Black Sun". It is told strictly in Zuko's perspective. I do not own Avatar or its characters. This story is a fanfic for entertainment purposes only.
The First Step
Zuko had followed the flying bison for nearly three days over land and sea before it reached the coastal bluffs and turned inland, eventually ascending the steep sloping sides of a mountain to what appeared to be the ruins of an ancient Air Nomad Temple.
Though he had tried to hide his pursuit of the Avatar in the small balloon, using the clouds drifts and the glare of the sun against his back, he still wasn't sure they hadn't spotted him. But the fact he hadn't been attacked as yet, was a positive sign. Zuko knew his first encounter with the Avatar after they had fled the Fire Nation Royal Palace, following the failed invasion attempt during the eclipse, wasn't going to be an easy one. He didn't relish trying to explain himself or convince the Avatar of his intentions in a defenseless single air balloon thousands of feet up in the air.
So Zuko followed and waited until the bison finally descended. Landing the balloon quite a distance away from the Air Temple, he concealed it behind a grove of tall trees. If his plan didn't work, the balloon would probably be his only means of escape off the mountain.
Collecting his broadswords and the few meager supplies he'd brought, Zuko slowly made his way through the dense foliage and up the steep grade towards the temple. Along the way he had a lot of time to think about what he was going to say, but he hadn't yet come up with a plausible plan that would allow him to get close enough to the Avatar before he and his friends attacked.
A few hours later he crested a rise and looked down on the ruins of a garden which stretched out to the edge a sheer faced cliff. There he spotted the Avatar with his friends. He recognized the two Water Tribe siblings, Katara and Sokka, immediately. The others he did not know: a tall Earthbender about his own age, a short boy wearing an oversized helmet, and a young teenager in some sort of wheelchair contraction. After a few minutes of conversation, Sokka and the others started to leave, but his sister lingered behind. The Avatar seemed distracted, staring up at the vast stone walls of the temple, half collapsed and overgrown. Katara walked over and placed a hand briefly on his shoulder as if in reassurance or understanding before joining the rest of the group. Soon the Avatar was alone.
Zuko continued to observe him from his position on the rise. Eventually the Avatar walked over to a stone platform in the center of the gardens and sat down cross-legged, placing his hands on his knees, palms upward in a meditative stance. He was bare-chested and sat with the warming sun to his back. With no one else in sight, it appeared this would be Zuko's best opportunity to confront him.
Making his way silently down the narrow path, he stopped at the edge of the clearing. Taking a deep breath, he hardened his resolve and took his first steps towards what he hoped would be a better chapter in his life.
He was perhaps twenty feet away, when the Avatar suddenly opened his eyes, and with surprising speed was on his feet in a defensive stance. His eyes widened and his mouth opened almost comically as he recognized the intruder. Zuko couldn't help the wiry smirk on his face in response. But an instant later, the Avatar's face closed over, his eyes narrowing into angry, wary slits.
Zuko stood still making no move to advance or retreat, keeping his arms loosely at his side. His eyes focused intently on the Avatar. "We need to talk."
The Avatar glanced quickly around the clearing as if looking for more invaders.
"I'm alone if that's what you're worried about."
"How did you find us!" he demanded.
"It's not important. But why I'm here is."
Suddenly, without warning the ground beneath Zuko's feet was thrust upward at an angle sending him sailing backwards in the air. He landed heavily on his shoulder and quickly rolled over and back into a standing position, instinctively withdrawing his broadswords. A boulder was immediately hurled at him and he had to act swiftly swinging his arms around to deflect the blow with a sharp clang of metal.
"We know why you're here!" His attacker shouted.
Zuko spotted the girl off to the side. It was the blind Earthbender named Toph. He hadn't seen her with the group earlier. It had been stupid of him to forget about her. But before he could get another word out, a second rock was catapulted towards him forcing Zuko to deflect the attack once again. The Avatar moved quickly to the right sending a blast of wind which hurled him into a low lying stone wall. Zuko grunted angrily as one of his broadswords was knocked from his hand.
With his temper beginning to flare, Zuko rose slowly to his feet. Another air blast was sent his way and Zuko produced a fire shield to block it. "I didn't come here to fight you Avatar. I came to try and bring an end to this war!"
From a nearby fountain in the garden, the boy withdrew a stream of water freezing it into a sharp ice wheel. The Avatar stood before him, muscles tense, eyes narrowed, distrusting. "I don't believe you! This is just another trick to trap me and hurt my friends! But you're not going to get a chance to do either, not this time!"
He advanced, but to Zuko's amazement was stopped by the Earthbender. "Wait Aang! As weird as this sounds, I think he's actually telling the truth."
The Avatar's brief hesitation was all Zuko needed to make his move. To everyone's surprise, the remaining broadsword clanked to the ground at Zuko's feet. He kicked it away out of his reach.
The Avatar stared at him oddly. Zuko pressed the advantage. "You asked me once that if we had known each other a hundred years ago could we have been friends."
The Avatar's mouth turned downward into a deep frown. Zuko could see the mistrust he felt and couldn't blame him. The last time the question had been asked he'd been blasted with a jet of fire for an answer.
Zuko's jaw tightened finding humility harder to swallow than his uncle's tea. Not quite able to meet the Avatar's stare, he looked slightly off to the side and sighed. "In truth, I don't really know if that can ever be a possibility," Zuko confessed, then looked back at the Avatar with determination in his voice, "But I think it's time we put our differences aside and try to find an end to this war."
Several tense seconds passed between them. Finally, slowly, the ice wheel started to melt and dropped into a puddle of water next to the Avatar's feet.
But just as Zuko thought he was making a little headway, he spotted two figures entering the garden. Even from a distance he could see the water tribe idiot's mouth dropping wide open. But it was the girl's reaction that put Zuko on the defense once again, preparing for yet another battle.
And it came fast! Water appeared suddenly out of almost thin air and ice daggers were hurled towards him. He ducked quickly, but not before one grazed his bicep. Zuko clenched his teeth.
Angrily he spun about as her brother advanced yielding a black sword in his hands. But to his surprise the Avatar stepped between them. "Katara! Sokka! Wait!"
They stopped short and Zuko stood motionless.
"What's he doing here?" Sokka demanded, thrusting the sword angrily at Zuko.
The Avatar looked back at him. "He's says he's wants to talk."
"Talk!" Sokka shouted unbelievably. "Talk about what?"
Next to her brother, a pair of intense blue eyes bored into Zuko's own golden ones with hatred as sharp as the ice dagger that just cut him. "How can you even think that we would want to listen to anything you have to say? After all you've done to Aang, to us, to our families!"
"I know," Zuko replied quietly. "Nevertheless, I intend to stay until I've said my peace."
The Avatar scratched his head, not quite sure what to do next. "Maybe I should at least hear him out."
"Are you are crazy?!" Sokka snapped back. "You can't trust him any further than you can spit!"
"Actually Sokka, an Airbender can spit pretty far. And I didn't say I trusted him, only that I wanted to hear what he has to say."
"And the rest of us don't get a vote in this?" Sokka heatedly replied. "Why don't you go back to the hole you crawled out of Zuko? Or better yet we'll let Toph make you a nice deep one here so you can rot away in it, just like my Dad is doing right now!"
"I had nothing to do with that."
"Liar! You and the rest of your scum family had it all planned. It was a set up from the start!"
"I can see there is no way I'm going to convince you at the moment. Perhaps Avatar, it would be better to have this conversation with you alone first."
"No way are we leaving you alone with him!" Katara interjected.
"You've got that right scum bag! If you have anything to "say" to Aang you can say it in front of us!"
Though Zuko was trying his best to control his temper, there was a limit to how far he could be pushed. He was beginning to wonder if this had been a mistake. "Are your friends always this stubborn?"
"Stubborn!" Katara's temper flared. "Why you wrote the book on it, as well as being the most arrogant, self-centered, untrustworthy, lying creep around."
Zuko clenched his fists feeling the heat rising in his hands. "I didn't come here to fight you, but don't push your luck either."
"Why? You think you can take all of us on and win?" Katara countered.
The Avatar held up his hands. "Guys…slinging insults at each other isn't going to get us anywhere."
"I agree!" Sokka took several steps forward towards Zuko.
Seeing the smoke rising from Zuko's clenched fists, the Avatar placed his hands on his friend's chest. "Sokka stop!"
He looked angrily down at his friend but held his ground.
The Avatar looked at Zuko for several long seconds. "All right, Zuko. I'll talk to you….alone."
"Aang you can't be serious!" Katara argued back. "He's probably just trying to lure you away from us into a trap. For all you know there are probably a hundred Fire Nation soldiers just over the rise waiting for you."
"I don't think so."
"But how do you know that Aang?" Katara implored, placing her hands on his shoulder with concern.
"I don't," he replied softly. "But as the Avatar, I have to take the chance." He gently removed Katara's arms. "I'll be fine."
The Avatar picked up his staff and popped it open into a glider. "I'll talk to you, Zuko, but I choose the place."
Zuko looked suspiciously at the Avatar. "What to you have in mind?"
"Let's just say you're going to have to trust me as equally as I'm going to have to trust you, agreed?"
Zuko eyes narrowed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the contemptuous smug look on Sokka's face and clenched his jaw in determination.
"All right Avatar."
As Zuko retrieved his broadswords from the ground, both Katara and Sokka tensed up ready for another fight. But and to everyone's surprise, he calmly walked over and handed them to Sokka. "I'll be back for those when I return with the Avatar safe and sound. Try not to lose them."
Sokka glared angrily back.
"Then hop on and hang on tight!"
A few minutes later Zuko was in for the most terrifying ride of his life. Holding onto the top of the glider, the Avatar took him on a spiraling ride straight up the side of the Air Temple. He then banked sharply and plummeted down into the deep valley below. Zuko was sure he going to deliberately crash him into the raging canyon river below but at the last second he pulled up even to the rapids and followed the snaking canyon, banking sharply to the left and right as he negotiated the narrow passages. Eventually the glider shot straight up again along a sheer face mountain side before landing effortlessly on the small flat pinnacle at the top.
While Zuko tumbled to the ground glad to feel solid earth beneath his feet, the Avatar stood before him grinning. With a flick of his wrist the glider retracted back into the staff.
Zuko got slowly to his feet trying to find his stomach he left on the last three hundred and sixty degree turn they'd made. With somewhat shaky legs, he walked over to the edge and looked down to the thousand foot plunge below. "Nice view," he remarked dryly.
The Avatar turned his back to Zuko and stared across the valley at the ruins of the Western Air Temple. On his bare back Zuko saw a huge scar, what remained of Azula's attack, he surmised, in the caves beneath Ba Sing Se. The mark was now his legacy, like his own, which he was now forced to bare.
When the Avatar spoke, his voice was solemn. "A hundred years ago, the Western Air Temple, like the others, was alive with my people. Now this is all that remains of the Air Nomads besides myself."
"I'm sorry. I wish I could change the past Avatar, but I can't."
He sighed deeply, "Neither can I." He then turned away from the site and sat cross-legged, resting the staff loosely across his legs. "You wanted to talk to me. So talk." There was hardness in his voice which Zuko hadn't heard before, but recognized it as one who's had to grow up fast.
Zuko sat down in a similar position facing the Avatar a few feet away.
But now that he had the Avatar's attention, suddenly it became difficult to know just where to start. For so long ,he had pictured the boy before him as his enemy.
The Avatar waited patiently and Zuko realized he wasn't about to make this easy for him.
"For more than three long years, I've done nothing but hate you…" Zuko began slowly. "But I've realized the person I've hated the most is myself."
The Avatar's eyes widen slightly at his confession.
Slowly he began to talk. He told the Avatar about the Agni Kai with his father, Firelord Ozai, and the terms that would free him from his banishment. About his quest to find him and the growing hatred he felt being thwarted at each turn. During those days, Zuko admitted, he'd thought little about anyone except himself and his lost honor. But after three years of banishment and being a fugitive of the Fire Nation, it became harder and harder to deny the truths he'd begun to see with his own eyes.
But even then he hadn't been ready to admit the Fire Nation had done anything wrong. After the fall of Ba Sing Se and his return to the Fire Nation, he tried to deny his conflicting emotions, telling himself he'd done what was right for his Nation, for his people…for his father. And everything seemed to be going well and in his favor: his people had praised his return, his father had forgiven him and his honor had been restored. Yet the anger he'd carried with him for more than three years still remained and he realized he could no longer deny the truth or live with the lies he'd been raised to believe.
"I was taught the Fire Nation was the supreme of all the nations and it was our duty to share our prosperity with the rest of the world to make it a better place. That our expansion was not about conquering the other nations but rather to unite them to bring about peace and prosperity through a single leadership, a supreme leadership, a Fire Nation Leadership." Zuko laughed with contempt. "How surprised was I to find the world didn't quite see it our way. The truth of the matter was the world hated and feared the Fire Nation and with just reason. Those that opposed our divine plan were simply eliminated, for the good of the whole, we were taught. Amazing how such incredible lies my people turned into truths to fit their own purposes and justify our own policies.
The Air Nomads were the first to experience this and all because my Great Grandfather, Firelord Sozin, knew the next Avatar to be born would be an Airbender. It didn't matter that they were a peaceful people. But they had posed a threat to his divine plan and their extermination became a justifiable loss."
He read the grief on the Avatar's face. "I'm sorry for what you've had to suffer from the past, but I now know what I need to do to try and make things right."
"And what's that?"
"To stand against my father and to try and bring about peace. I came here in the hopes of putting our differences aside and to join you. But whether you choose accept my offer or not my destiny will be the same. But defeating my father alone won't bring an end to this war."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that if there is any hope to change the way my people view the rest of world, it is to have a leader willing to fight for peace."
"So that's why you are here? To make a deal with me and help you become the next Fire Lord?"
"Would you prefer my sister, Azula?" Zuko asked.
Zuko shook his head. "No, I'm here because I'm tired of living the lie. I'm sure if I would have continued to be the perfect son and done all the things I was told to do without question in the name of the Fire Nation and my father, I would have eventually succeeded as the next Firelord. But my father is strong, healthy and powerful and certainly not ready to step down anytime soon. But I don't think the world has another thirty years to wait for change.
He plans to eliminate what little resistance is left when Sozin's Comet returns. He's already begun a series of war meetings to plan out his next strategies. If he's ever going to be stopped, you're going to need my help as much as I need yours. It's as simple as that."
"But what about during the invasion? If you wanted to join us, why didn't you help us then? Sokka's father and many other brave men risked everything for me. Now they are prisoners and who knows what's going to become of them."
"I didn't know about it until it was underway."
The Avatar looked skeptically at him.
"It's true that my father and Azula knew about the invasion, but they didn't see fit to enlighten me. But the signs were there, I was just too wrapped up in my own confusing emotions to see them."
Zuko paused. The Avatar turned his head away looking at the clouds off in the horizon, deep in thought.
"I can see why you don't want to trust me. I've done nothing to prove otherwise to you. Nevertheless, I'm asking you to believe that I'm speaking the truth to you now."
Grey eyes regarded him quietly.
From a fold in his belt, Zuko removed a small object. It was a relic from long ago. "This once belonged to my Great-Grandfather on my mother's side."
The Avatar looked down and the object resting in Zuko's palm, recognizing it immediately. "Avatar Roku's headpiece." He thought it had been lost when Roku had perished.
"Where'd you get that?"
"It was given to my by someone who felt I could make a difference. I still don't know if I can live up the expectation, but I'm determined to try."
The Avatar got up and walked over to the edge of cliff again, holding his staff loosely in his fist. Zuko knew he'd given him a lot to digest. He remained quiet for a long time and Zuko waited patiently watching as the sun sank a little lower.
Finally he spoke, "I guess that's all any of us can do, to keep trying." He turned to look at Zuko. "And if there is any way to stop this world before it destroys itself, then as the Avatar it's my job to try too." He gripped his staff tightly. "All right Zuko, I'm willing to take a chance with you, but I can't guarantee my friends are going to be very keen on this idea. Frankly, they hate your guts. You're going to have to earn their trust and mine. Time will tell if you're speaking the truth."
Zuko nodded. "Fair enough, Avatar."
"And it's Aang."
"My name. It's Aang."