Actions

Work Header

Appa and Momo Screwed the Timeline

Chapter Text

Momo wasn’t surprised to be here again.

Sure, in the beginning he was incredibly shocked to be back at the Southern Air Temple again, the origin of his home. But that was after he recovered from the shellshock of being violently flung back. After seeing three of his young conspiracy of tall weird lemurs die from the big-scary-metal-floating thing-that-should-not-have-been-able-to-fly.

And after the very air, filled with oppressive red overpowering the soft soothing blue, sent Momo into an agitated panic, overriding his pain at seeing his family all die again leaving him alone.

The panic didn’t fade when he caught a flash of multiple people that all felt like Aang, glowing and muttering amongst themselves. Just when he was about to fling himself at the other-Aangs in distress, to make sure that at least one of his family member was okay, he was violently flung backwards into the void.

And woke with a shriek and nearly fell off the cliff… next to a familiar gray building and his family peach tree.

He frantically looked around for his tall fumbling conspiracy-that-can’t-fly-except-for-Appa-and-sometimes-Aang, warbling and shrieking in equal measure. He searched through all of the rooms, all of the buildings, every single mountain peak within 20 miles. And when he came back to his origin, he was quiet.

He slumped next to the peach tree he woke from and softly chirred to himself, resigned. If only he could cry like his biped family.

He caught the scent of an even older member of his family – the family he had before he met his wonderful humans-who-were-his-giant-lemurs.

He sniffed, ears raised in curiosity, and found his father curled at the base of the tree, the brown marking on his face grayed with age and completely still. His familiar scent was tinged with the smell of the decay that was starting to set in despite the thin air and the cold.

That’s right. There had been one other flying lemur besides Momo. But Momo hadn’t seen any other after his father went back to the earth, his time in the air done. And that was nearly ten seasons before he saw Aang, Katara, and Sokka at the Temple.

At that thought, the lemur’s ears fell flat again in distress and he chirred quietly, trying to soothe himself. He didn’t want to be alone again.

He left his father’s corpse by the tree without a second thought. He had already mourned for him years ago and he would not go through that again. He had another conspiracy of tall lemurs to mourn.

He headed inside the Temple, slowly walking to the cracks that he easily squeezed through. The joy of flying escaped him. His tail dragged on the floor of the room full of what he now realized were stone Aangs.

He looked up at the face of a wizened old man, gentle but stern. He tilted his head, still chirring to himself for comfort, and crawled up the base of the statue. He curled up into a tight ball and fell asleep. Maybe this was a nightmare and he would wake up to see his family all together again. Appa, the gentle wall that guarded their group. Aang with his flighty happiness and freedom. Sokka with his humor and smarts, Katara with her matriarchal care, Suki with her fierce protection, Toph with her solid but crass presence, and Zuko with his warm fingers, sneaking in extra treats.

---

The days passed in a blur. Most of the time Momo slept deeply. Nothing roused him or caught his attention. He still slept right at the feet of old-man-Aang-that-didn’t-have-arrows. Other times, when he actually felt hungry enough to lethargically pick some moon peaches from the trees, he would chirr to himself and chitter subduedly to the statue that became his sole living spot.

The one-sided conversation would be brief, describing the bugs he saw that he had no energy to catch, telling the statue the peaches were good for him to eat, or that he hadn't flown today again during the brief time he was awake.

Momo ignored the uneaten peach that he placed on the statue’s shoulder, closest to the stern stone mouth.

Still, Momo slept curled in the nook between the previous Avatar’s feet.

---

“The balance is gone. Avatar Aang has died and the cycle is broken.” Old-man-Aang-without-the-arrows. Momo screeched, desperately trying to reach him before the dream forced him away and he woke up.

“The other bonds are gone. His bending masters and friends have also perished during this war.” Tall-and-fierce-face-painted-Aang murmured, looking resigned and less fierce.

Female-Aang-with-arrows flashed her eyes, blue shimmering to gray, at the frantic Momo, with a calm, shrewd look in her gaze that reminded Momo of Sokka. “Not all of the Avatar’s bonds have perished.”

Dark-skinned-with-wolf-fur-Aang barked a laugh, “Well, this will be interesting. I can’t believe we’re going to use a lemur and a–” Momo shrieked again, still not getting closer to them despite his frantic flying, “–to save the world.”

Momo wailed, not wanting to wake up before he reached his Aangs-that-were-not-Aang but as always, the four-plus-incomprehensible-number of gazes flashed–!

And Momo woke frantically, flapping in an ungraceful tumble off of Old-man-Aang’s foot. Momo hissed in agitation at the old man and the three statues right next to him, angry that they sent him away, and stomped out of the room to get more fruits for him to eat. He wasn't hungry, but he knew that he needed to eat to be able to survive the mourning, without his family to pull him out of his fugue.

He lost more weight. This time the loss hit him so much harder than losing his father had. The mourning lasted much longer. He had had so many more members in his conspiracy than just his father. From eight members down to just one. Not much of a conspiracy any more. Just a lonely little lemur.

Momo looked at the fruit tree bearing his namesake and slumped, anger leaving him like a slippery eel-beetle slithering out of his paws. His ears drooped like a limp blanket and his tail dragged on the floor like a lifeless rope, gathering dirt and mud when he crawled over the slushy puddle.

He curled up at the base of the tree, any desire to eat just to live leaving him, and slept.

---

There was a clatter of noise that Momo was vaguely aware of. It took a long time for him to wake – so long, in fact, that a metal foot nudged him none-too-gently. He blinked awake.

If he had the energy, he would have screeched in alarm at seeing the red-helmet-with-a-white-skull face, but since he had none, he only slumped further into his weary little ball. A deep voice called out something. He was about to go deeper into sleep, without any hope that he would wake from this potentially fatal encounter, but a scent entered his nose and tickled his memory.

Zuko.

He blinked his half-lidded eyes at the approaching gold. The human was younger, his angry-burn-scar much fresher-looking, and with that patch of long fur at the back of his otherwise bald head, but it was one of the members of his conspiracy of tall lemurs.

He was alive!

Momo chirred softly at him, trying to lift his ears in happiness.

The angry gold eyes softened a bit before hardening and the younger – younger? – younger Zuko bit out a command to the other human and the soldier walked away.

Once Momo was alone with his human, Zuko knelt down right next to him. He looked him over, in what must be a sorry sight. Weak, covered-in-dirt-and-dried-mud, fur matted from weeks of self neglect.

Momo didn’t care. His family was back! Sometimes he wished he could express human joy by crying, but now he made do with soft delighted chirring, and he reached out to Zuko with weak arms, his head cocked to the side.

Zuko murmured something and leant down to pick him up, and cuddled him into the crook of his arm. Momo snuggled in happily.

Finally, he felt warm.

---

Zuko had been banished for six months now, and had spent four of those chasing a mythical legend. First he searched the Western Air Temple.

It was a disaster.

Seeing a bunch of skeletons, most of them little children younger than himself, younger than even Azula, made him lose his lunch. It didn’t take much of a master detective to know that this was not a fight. It was a wholesale slaughter, plain and simple. The air benders had no chance of survival here.

It was a dishonorable kill.

Zuko quietly kept that treasonous thought to himself and grimly buried the dead. If they were Fire Nation, they would have been burned and Zuko would have held a light for them to find their way to Agni. But the idea of firebending made him queasy. Even the thought of holding a candle with a small flickering flame sent cold chills running down his back, making him stumble in weakness.

His uncle hovered by his side with worry when Zuko insisted that he was fine, stop bothering him! But the hovering did not abate as Zuko knocked his shoulder into doorways. Or stumbled because he misjudged a step or missed a crack in the floor.

His uncle got particularly close whenever Zuko was standing or walking close to the edge of the cliff. It didn't help that Zuko sometimes suffered from vertigo from his damaged ear, or that his field of vision was limited to his right side. The unevenness of his hearing also did not help with his balance. Neither did the sudden intense ringing that sometimes dragged out for hours on his left side, leaving him distracted and bumping into walls.

Aside from some snapping and a few angry diatribes, the rest of the exploration of the Western Air Temple went by without incident. Only a few scrolls were found.

While en route to the Southern Air Temple, the bandages came off.

“Give me a mirror,” Zuko said nervously. Iroh sighed deeply, his face anguished at the sight of the deep scar marring the face of the Banished Prince, and Zuko almost didn't want to see how bad it looked.

Kangfu the healer just grabbed the mirror and handed it to Zuko.

He took a deep, bracing breath and peered into it.

It looked bad.

It was bad. The scar was horrible and it spanned the left side of his face, his eyebrow permanently burned off, his lids melted nearly shut to an eternal scowl, and his ear like wax that had been under the blistering sun for too long.

The large scar was shaped like a hand.

Bile rose up in Zuko’s throat and he gagged, dropping the mirror. A waste basket was shoved into his hands just in time for him to vomit into. After finishing with a few painful dry heaves, he sat up straighter on the infirmary bed shaky and pale, but he set his jaw to show his determination.

“Sir, I need to check the state of your eye and hearing.” The healer spoke after giving Zuko a moment to get a handle on himself.

Determination fled, leaving behind the barely concealed fear. He nodded in consent and steeled himself.

“Follow this finger,” Kangfu commanded, moving his index to the left. Zuko had no problem moving his eyes to follow the finger to his own right. Then the doctor moved to his right, and Zuko lost sight of the finger moving to his left field of vision all too soon.

His heart stuttered.

“Cover your left eye and tell me when you can see the finger, and let me know when you stop seeing it.” Zuko immediately let the healer know he could see the finger and told him when it left his vision.

“Now cover your right eye.”

Zuko covered his right eye and immediately dropped his hand and breathed in deep.

“Prince Zuko…”

“I can't see.” Zuko's tone was flat. “Just...light and darkness.” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply again. Even now, when trying to meditate to stop himself from freaking out, the candle flames remained steady, just flickering slightly in the natural drafts.

There was a pause and with a strain that Zuko barely noticed, his uncle turned to Kangfu with a genial smile. “Perhaps we should try the hearing?”

Without further ado, Kangfu started the hearing test. Zuko's hearing on his right was exceptional, as always, but the left…?

“Now for the left: tell me if you can hear it. Cover your right ear and let me know if you can hear the clicking.” Kangfu held up the clicker. It was normally used to train the komodo rhinos – the closest thing to a hearing test device they had in this sorry excuse of a ship.

Zuko plugged his right ear and the world devolved into a muffled whooshing noise. His heart sped up at the unusual sound, nothing like the clear crispness of his usual hearing. He saw Kangfu move the clicker out of his view on the left side and forced himself not to flinch on instinct. He stared at the healer and waited.

If only he could stop hearing the whooshing noise, he could concentrate on the hearing test.

Kangfu's lip twitched downward.

There! There was a barely muffled click, it sounded really off, but a click. “I hear one click.”

He saw Kangfu bring his arm down and motioned him to uncover his ear, “Sir, that was Prince Iroh's loud clap. I've been clicking for a minute straight.”

Zuko's stomach dropped and he breathed again.

A warm hand landed on his right shoulder. “Prince Zuko…”

“Some sight and hearing may come back, but I will not give you hope that you will regain full use of them. I’m sorry sir,” Kangfu interjected when Iroh trailed off. Sounding neither sad, sympathetic, or encouraging. Just a matter of fact.

Zuko appreciated that.

“I’m going to my cabin,” he whispered through gritted teeth. “Do not disturb me.” He shrugged the comforting hand off his shoulder and stormed off. Fortunately, his uncle didn't follow.

Deep inside, though, Zuko wished that his uncle would follow him.

---

In the days and weeks that followed, journeying towards the Southern Air Temple, Zuko’s mood took a darker turn. He snarled, he shouted, he postured, and he abused the little power he had left as the Banished Prince on the sad little ragtag group on board the Wani.

What little sympathy the crew had for their Prince evaporated faster than a summer dew drop in the Si Wong Desert. Their only respite came on the rare days they docked at Earth Kingdom colonies to resupply – and to gather any information Zuko could find relating to the Avatar and the Air Nomads.

What little scrolls they had managed to retrieve from the Western Air Temple, Zuko read fervently, over and over until every word was committed to memory. Including the parts about Flying Bison and Flying Lemur care.

Then there was a longer stretch of empty ocean before they reached Whaletail Island, the final stop before they reached the Southern Temple.

Now Zuko religiously trained himself to compensate for his shot equilibrium. First he found the lower ranked soldiers. Much to his humiliation, he got knocked down over and over again until he finally started beating Pikeman Kazuto.

Under Uncle Iroh and Healer Kangfu’s careful watch, Zuko started getting better at lessening his stumbles, compensating for his blind spot, building up his basics again.

Soon the Wani docked at the base of the Southern Air Temple, where there once had been a small village full of nonbenders. The Air Nomads used to come down here to trade, according to the old maps, because only the airbenders could reach the Temple itself.

“I would recommend taking a small team with you, Prince Zuko. It is a treacherous climb up to the Temple.”

“I managed with the Western Temple!” Zuko snapped and Iroh gave him a wry look.

“I don't know how my poor heart survived the encounter, dear Nephew. Your balance was worse than it was now and you climbed down on a rope. No, if the vertigo should strike again, you would leave this poor old man without his loving nephew to play Pai Sho and drink tea with?”

Zuko scowled at the guilt trip but relented, allowing a small team of soldiers to come along, even though it would slow him down. Two firebenders and two nonbenders came with Zuko and they all bore with mutinous glares Zuko's sharp commands and shouts for them to hurry up. Among them was Lieutenant Jee, huffing and mumbling about impertinent brats under his breath.

Aside from a twitch of his head towards to the right, Zuko made no indication that he had heard the angry mutterings.

This time, when they reached the top, they found more Fire Nation skeletons scattered among the Air Nomads. It was a more equal death on both sides than the senseless slaughter of the Western Temple. But Zuko now knew that there was no Air Military. The monks and nuns practiced pacifism.

They didn't eat meat for Agni's sake!

Zuko shoved the treasonous thoughts away and they spent their time burying the dead Nomads, where Zuko helped, and burning the Fire Nation skeletons, which he took no part in.

He still couldn't stomach the thought of being near intentional Firebending just yet. He was getting better, he could hold a candle in his hand while meditating, but he was still unable to connect with it.

Besides, should they receive a proper funeral rite? They murdered all of the Air Nomads, a voice hissed in his mind.

Zuko scowled and violently shoved that unwanted voice away.

After finding every single body they could for now, they scoured the Temple for the elusive Avatar, Air Benders, or even just scrolls and relics. Anything at all.

Zuko was glaring at a door that could only unlock with air bending when he heard a shout for his attention.

Giving one lost glare at the door, he turned away to see what Han Shu had to show him. As soon as he stepped outside, he saw the soldier nudging a dirty brown matted rag with his foot.

Only, the rag opened its eyes and dull green met his gold.

Strange. It felt like a tingle going through his very being, his spirit.

His spirit knew this pitiful creature.

It was a second or two before he realized that this was a flying lemur, dirty and matted and pathetic as it was. And he didn't like that Han Shu just... nudged it, like a child poking at it with a stick.

“Han Shu, go investigate the rest of this Temple. I'll take care of this lemur.”

“I thought those things went extinct.”

“Well, there's one left at the very least.” Zuko deadpanned. “Now get back to work!” he finished, snapping at the soldier.

The man gave him a crisp salute that simmered with something close to pure loathing and did an abrupt about face, walking away without actually stomping as Zuko would.

Once Han Shu was out of earshot and sight, and Zuko had made sure that he was truly alone, he crouched down to the lemur. It had not moved at all from its spot at the base of the peach tree. The dull green eyes brightened a bit and the creature softly chirred at him.

“What a sad creature you look,” he murmured. Whether it was to himself or to the lemur, he wasn’t sure.

Then it reached its little arm to Zuko.

And Zuko was an animal lover at heart. He couldn't deny what it was plainly asking for. Zuko gently picked it up.

It was…. alarmingly light. Zuko could feel the individual fragile bones under the matted fur. The lemur practically melted into a purring ball in his arm.

He walked around the tree to see a corpse of another lemur, half decayed and half mummified, on the other side of the tree and looked down at the living one in his arms. “Miss your family?” he asked the creature softly.

Big green eyes bored into his soul and the lemur chirred, lifting its arm weakly to place its paw on his chest.

"Yeah, me too buddy. I… I miss my home.”

He looked out at the cloud covering the mountains with distant eyes, absent-mindedly petting through the matted fur. The lemur's purr grew louder in contentment.

“Let’s…. let's just go. I don't think anyone is here. They wouldn't have let you starve nearly to death in mourning if there was anyone here,” Zuko murmured, clutching his precious bundle in his arms more securely. He looked down at the corpse again and added, “After we bury your… family. It's the least I can do after–” After my family probably drove your kind to near extinction.

He swallowed. There was no ‘probably’ about this. This was a fact. If his people, if his family hadn't decided to attack the Air Nomads, the Flying Lemurs most likely wouldn't be down to just one member of an entire species. What an incredibly lonely and heavy burden that was to carry.

He wondered if the lemur knew about that. Knew that it was most likely the very last of its kind.

He buried the dead lemur right at the base of the peach tree, with the other lemur watching from inside Zuko's bag. When he had packed it he had thought that he would be spending more than a couple of nights in the Temple. But the very presence of the weak lemur had convinced Zuko that there was no one here. At least, no one living.

Zuko decided to name the lemur Momo, because he found him under the peach tree.

---

No Momo! I don't want to eat your peach, you need to eat it first, and eat as much as you can!” Prince Zuko fussed over the chirruping lemur, who kept offering him a fuzzy fruit with bite marks in it. Momo was insistent that the boy eat something as well.

The others, besides Jee, took to wearing their face mask nearly constantly to hide the amused grins that they would have been yelled at for showing. Jee stared at the flames of the campfire, but he was unable to hide the tiniest of smirks at the sight even though he refused to look directly at it.

After Han Shu stomped towards Lieutenant Jee to snarl about the uptight Prince, they had looked around the Temple some more. But they were only able to gather a couple more scrolls and journals before they were abruptly told to head back to the ship.

After respectively burying and burning the dead of course.

Jee interrupted the order. “We still have more ground to cover, sir. We were expected to stay up here for at least a week.” He braced himself, fully expecting to have flames spat at him, figuratively if not literally.

But to his surprise, Zuko clutched his bag to himself tightly but with more gentle care that the older man had never seen from the teen. “There is no one here. And…” – and Jee had to blink here, for the Prince actually shuffled his feet – “Well–” His face colored and he snapped, “I got a sick lemur here, so we're going back to the ship!”

Jee blinked in mute shock and nodded. Zuko nodded and turned sharply, heading back to their little makeshift camp to pack up more of their supplies.

For a moment there, Jee was painfully reminded that Prince Zuko was just a thirteen-year-old boy.

And they only went a couple of hours down the mountain before they had to stop and make camp, but Jee could see that the addition of the lemur drastically changed the dynamic of Prince Zuko with the rest of this small crew. Grudgingly, they saw the awkward teenager under the biting snarls – the kid was a huge mother hen to the sickly animal.

And they saw that the kid was actually using the lemur as a barrier between himself and the crew members. And suddenly it was obvious that the kid held himself away from the group not because he believed himself above the others, but because he was still so fucking terrified of the fire – and the lemur was a distraction to keep his mind off it.

The kid was still a giant royal pain in the butt, but Jee was starting to see the child under the mask. He had had several hours to observe him, and more and more of the Angry Prince had cracked with each chirrup of the lemur – named Momo, of all things.

“You said that was a Flying Lemur, right?” Li asked. “I can't say I can see how it can fly.”

Zuko glared at the older man but scratched Momo's back and side, the lemur weakly raising his arms for Zuko to get that itch. Then the teen gently helped Momo lift his arms higher to softly pinch the membrane and pulled it out, showing the rest of the crew that the lemur was, indeed, sporting wings that would allow him to fly.

Han Shu snorted. “Then why didn't it fly away as soon as it saw me?”

Prince Zuko didn't stop scratching the lemur, whose eyes were closed in bliss, as he answered. “Flying Lemurs are social animals. They're always with someone, if not with each other then with another companion. That's how I knew there's no one else alive in the Temple. Momo was in deep mourning after the last of his conspiracy of –”

“Wait, conspiracy?” Kazuto blurted but then ducked his head, his mask not quite hiding a definite blush.

Zuko sharply huffed out a sparkless breath. “A group of lemurs is called a conspiracy. Now shut up!”

There was the brat again. Even if the volume was reduced to a hiss because the Prince didn't want to risk scaring off the poor animal.

Prince Zuko scratched under the matted fur, more flakes of dried mud falling out. That lemur probably needed to get spot shaved to remove the matting. It would look embarrassing wandering around with a few bald patches, but the fur would grow back. Eventually he continued. “I saw the last member of Momo's conspiracy dead right next to him. He was most likely mourning the loss of his family member and fell into deep depression. The problem is, there was no one left to pull him out of it or take care of him. The Air Nomads’ core Philosophy is Freedom, that all Life is Sacred, and they practice Pacifism.” His breath hitched at the last part, like he immediately regretted saying it.

Jee nodded and didn’t call out the words that sounded incredibly close to treason. It made sense. He had seen the bodies too. “So what are you going to do with it?”

“Him,” Prince Zuko answered, looking pale but relieved. “Momo's a boy.” He stopped preening it and tried to get it to eat more of the fruit, but the lemur just shivered. The Prince looked at the cold animal helplessly, and at the crackling flame of their campfire with trepidation.

He sighed, took off his collar guard and chest plates and belt, and stuffed the grateful lemur right into his shirt.

Loud purrs erupted from the bulge on his stomach. The Prince blushed and scowled and once again the rest of the crew were intensely glad that they were wearing their masks.

Jee, however, smirked broadly and unrepentantly directly at the embarrassed boy in front of him.

---

The water had turned a murky brown and yet the lemur still relaxed further into it, only the eyes and upper face showing.

It was a shame, but Zuko had ended up cutting the matting out of Momo's fur. Despite the bald spots, however, Momo was purring in contentment. Zuko couldn’t help but smile – in the privacy of his cabin – at the soothing noise. Smiling pulled on his scars, but the pain was worth it, seeing the lemur absolutely living the life right now, after the hardship he had experienced. He picked up the lemur from the bucket of dirty water and gently transferred him into another bucket full of fresh water, lightly steaming with glorious heat.

After fifteen more minutes of luxurious hot bath, Zuko pulled the relaxed lemur out of the tub and toweled him dry. Momo sleepily raised his arms to Zuko, telling him that he did not want to sleep alone, and Zuko lifted the lemur to his shoulders, where the skinny, fluffy, and slightly damp body curled around his neck, the tail curling protectively and possessively around his collarbone.

Zuko looked down at the sleeping lemur, still softly purring, and then at the candles at the meditation table. The flames flickered softly.

Zuko sighed and sat down. He thought… he thought he was ready to try to connect with the flames. The calm purring was his constant companion as he breathed with it, and he smiled when he felt himself connect with the flames without any further panic.

Thank you, Momo, Zuko thought, and settled deeper into meditation.