Author Note

So...where do I start in apologizing?

I'm seriously shocked and a little sad with myself on how long I let this story go and not continue it for people who ACTUALLY love it. It wasn't fair at all for me to do too you. Everyone has sent me such wonderful reviews and in response to it I don't load up a new chapter. But Fear not, I will try to mend my habit. I'm currently working on the Nanowrimo 2013 Event so I don't know how frequently I can load the next chapter up. Heck, I'm looking for the old notes I have for this story to figure out where it was heading. But I will at least type a small segment for you to read until I get my feet back on the ground.

I'm So Very Sorry.

:(

Caress of Fire

Chapter 9

"This really is my first time making tea Iroh." Alex tried to balance herself as the ship rocked once more as he calmly heated up the tea pot she carried at the handle. So she wouldn't burn herself and this way it just made things a bit easier. The cook was too busy making lunch to let her in earlier. So it had to be done this way.

"Stop worrying, you are such a worry wart child." He gently scolded her as he steadied a cup so that she could pour once the tea finished steeping.

"Tea bags is what I prefer." She mumbled. "Mushy green leaves...is another story."

Iroh took a sip and winced behind the porcelain cup, but Alex didn't catch it. So when Zuko came in looking far too unhappy. She poured him a cup as well. Its fine to be nice once in awhile, even towards mister moody like him.

He didn't look, he just grabbed it and took a sip. Only to spit it out across the floor and wipe his mouth in disgust. "This is too sweet!" He saw her holding the teapot and looked down at his cup. "I could make better tea then this." He pushed it back, away from him.

Alex could feel some heat creeping up her neck.

"Prince Zuko, this was her first time making tea." Iroh scolded lightly.

"She might as well serve me sugar and hot water."

Slamming the teapot in the middle of the table she leaned over at him, her right eye just starting to twitch. Insults may have been a bit light, but she wasn't going to keep hearing it from him. "You're full of crap Zuko! You don't even lift a finger around this ship!" she poked at his chest hard, "Not a SINGLE thing AT ALL."

"A prince doesn't do chores." He scoffed, pushing her hand away and rubbing just under his collarbone with a wince. The bruises from freeing the Avatar were fading, but still hurt. "Uncle have you heard anything about the Avatar?"

Iroh folded his hands into the folds of his sleeves, "Nothing so far Prince Zuko. But we are still searching for any clues."

Zuko looked ready to break something, and instead watched as Iroh pulled out another red teapot and began to heat the water beneath it while urging Alex to sit down as well. "I'll show you the secret of making the perfect tea Alex."

Seen that she wasn't going anywhere, she sat down on the empty end of the table in the small iron chambers. "I think the Captain is waiting for me upstairs for training."

"You won't get in trouble if you're with me. Now sit." He opened the top and dipped a silver large ball inside that smelled faintly of tea. "Everyone just calm down, relax. Think about the things that make you happy."

"Smacking Zuko would make me happy." Alex grinned over at him while raising her hand, touching the palm of it. "Right here, on this spot."

"Tying you up at the tallest point of the ship would make ME happy."

Alex tried to stand and grab him, and he brought his hands up ready for her. But Iroh smacked them both on the head with his fan. "Enough. Your tea is getting cold!" He made it sound like it was the most tragic thing that could ever happen to someone.

Grabbing her tea, Alex tilted it slightly to gently blow along the surface to cool it. While Iroh took a sip for himself without any hesitation and sighed in bliss. "You see Prince Zuko, a moment of quiet is good for your mental well being."

Zuko looked dubiously at his cup, before about to take a sip. Only for the ship to suddenly rock with a great force. Alex on the other hand, couldn't stop from laughing as hot tea splashed all over Zuko's face. It didn't burn him, but it certainly pissed him off as he slammed open the door and ran out.

Close behind him Iroh and Alex followed while she was trying her best to control her laughter. The look on his face when it happened was priceless!

As they reached outside, Alex could see some of the soldiers running around frantically as this giant furry weasel-like creature boarded the ship. She had never seen anything like it, and on its back looked to be a rider.

The moment Zuko arrived, he walked right up to them without hesitation. Playing it safe, she stood a bit closer to Iroh. The woman on the back of that beast was beautiful and she had a whip in one hand. If Zuko wasn't careful, he was probably going to get whipped by her. That would have been funny, unless...he was into that sort of thing. Alex gagged slightly at the thought. Masochist? Zuko? Ha!

"We're after a stow-away!" The woman responded, her black hair whipping around her pale shoulders as she sat back in her saddle.

"Their are no stow-away on my ship!" Zuko shouted.

She didn't listen, she allowed the monster to rip apart the top part of the boat and Alex watched as it pulled free a man and become instantly paralyzed by the creature's tongue. The man slid across the floor before the strange woman got her hands on him.

"He's paralyzed." Zuko looked a bit stunned himself.

Lifting the man up with ease and tossing him like he weighed nothing over the back of her beast. She passed them all a grin, that felt a tad bit seductive. "Only temporarily. The toxin will wear off in about an hour. But by then he'll be in jail and I'll have my money."

"How did you find him on this ship?" Alex asked out of curiosity and the woman shrugged, before petting her monster along its furry side.

"My Shirsu can smell a rat a continent away." She made it sound like it was no big deal.

This world keeps getting stranger and stranger for Alex to even accept this. She couldn't help but stare at the large damage on the boat that this woman's Shirsu left behind. Were they even able to head back out to sea with this kind of damage?

"Well, I'm impressed." Iroh had this strange look on his face as he said that. The woman didn't wait on them, but jumped back on her pet and whipping that whip of hers the Shirsu bolts off of the damaged ship and off onto the docks.

Iroh was still stroking his beard while still holding that smile. "Very Impressed."

"Uncle Iroh?" Zuko also noticed the look and he didn't appear to be comfortable by it either.

During all the commotion, something from Zuko's pocket fell off to the ground. Rolling close to her feet, Alex moved to pick it up as she felt Calcipher circling around her ankles purring for attention. Where he came from, she wasn't sure. Picking up the necklace, she looked at the blue stone and the smooth carving. This was too pretty to belong too Zuko.

Before she could look it over longer, it was snatched right out of her hands by Zuko, who without even saying thank you. Stormed off.

"Jerk." She muttered while rubbing at her hand where the strap had slapped against.

. . .

Pulling on his cloak, Zuko ignored the heated look Alex gave him as she walked past his cabin. Getting led by the Captain, he wasn't looking too thrilled himself as he was listing about still doing some training as the damages were getting taken cared of. Zuko didn't worry about it, they had the money for the damages to be fixed.

What that woman did to his ship, he could care less. But that creature she came in on, it was going to be useful in finding the Avatar.

Stuffing the water bender's necklace into his pocket, he never once realized that he was being watched from afar.

. . .

So for some reason, without her even realizing it. She was now forced to stay on this ship while Zuko and Iroh decide to go on a little trip in finding the woman. She wasn't sure why, but it sort of bothered her. Couldn't she come along as well? And what the hell was up with Zuko and that necklace? Not like it belonged to a ex-girlfriend or something.

Now that made her feel a little uneasy. Probably was something she ate as she watched some of the men tried to piece the broken ship together while fire bending. This was going to take forever!

If Metal bending existed, it would have been the most useful thing right now to fix something like this.

"Something on your mind Alex?" Kouji somehow had snuck up behind her and she jumped, looking a bit sheepish as he leaned against the railing of the ship. Just a tad bit closer then usual. She could already start to feel the heat of his body close to her's.

"N-no. Nothing. Just thinking about stuff is all." She rubbed the back of her head while she felt Calcipher shift uneasily against her shoulder. He had perched himself ever so carefully on the rail with great balance.

"Well if there is anything that I could do to help, then I am always at your service." Kouji bowed a bit, his shadow just starting to eclipse over her own.

Still a bit shy at how close he was, Alex moved to grab Calcipher who almost smacked the healer's hand away when he tried to pet him. A little concerned by this odd reaction, she scooped the cat into her arms and watched as Kouji already made a break for it to his own chambers looking a bit grim.

Everyone seemed to be a bit unease today. But the Captain, Lieutenant Jee wasn't going to let her skip out on another session of self defense. In fact, he had her cornered as she tried to make her own get away just around back once she saw him stalking over to her.

"I see you Alex, think you could get away from me huh?"

She quickly dropped Calcipher and tried to look innocent, "Well good evening Lieutenant Jee! Didn't see you coming." She awkwardly leaned against the railing, "I uhh, see you guys have to fix that hole huh?"

"Miss Alex I need you do twenty hot squats and ten sets of fire fists." In his hands he had his famous wooden bamboo sword that he used on her. Since she couldn't bend fire, other means of getting her motivated had to be taken into consideration.

Zuko's recommendation.

"You guys have the strangest names for training." she got into position while folding her hands against the back of her head. "Why can't you say squats and punches?"

He slapped the end of his sword against the metal ground.

"Now!"

"One Hot Squat...Two Hot Squat...Three Hot Squat..." The boat rocked for a moment and she lost her footing. It didn't slip past him.

"You must have a strong stance." He tapped the tip of the bamboo split sword at her ankles, "Strengthen it. Again!"

After a grueling hour of training, where she knew that every bruise and hit she took in the name of learning. She would be feeling first thing tomorrow morning, Alex couldn't wait to take a bath and try to relax. What was strange, was that Zuko and Iroh weren't back yet. The idea of a hot bath soon became the last thing she wanted to do.

Feeling Calcipher's presence against her shoulder she looked over at her window. Usually no one would check in on her right now..slipping out shouldn't be a problem.

. . .

Holding onto the back of his Uncle for dear life was humiliating, but the woman Jun wouldn't let up. Her beast was relentless in finding where the avatar was and it wasn't looking for any rest at all. If he could own such a creature, then finding the avatar would be the easiest thing.

But when it tried to attack him earlier while he was getting frustrated, the idea of it turning on him that easily was more of a threat then a gift. Uncle Iroh seemed to be having the time of his life. Zuko couldn't see the fun in this at all. He just wanted to find the avatar, get back on the ship and go home. He would have to convince his father why they should let Alex come into the fire kingdom as well, and live in the palace with them.

Wait.

Why would he take her to his home?

He should just get rid of her once this journey was finally over. Not like he was going to miss the threats and the sharp tongue she had whenever he pushed one of her buttons in getting angry. A quiet, peaceful life back in the palace with a woman who didn't have as much energy as Alex by his side is what he wanted. No surprises, nothing.

She better not be doing something stupid back on the ship.

. . .

Alex watched the rocking waters from her open window as she tried to climb up. But it was so hard, there wasn't that much space and holding Calcipher with one arm wasn't helping her either. The cat just kept struggling like he didn't want to be carried. Slippered shoes weren't giving her enough friction against the metal surface.

The sad excuse of a lump that was supposed to be her sleeping in the cot looked pathetic with the pillows she shoved under the covers. If anyone decided to check on her and shake it, then it would be all over.

Somehow Calcipher slipped out of her arm and she watched her furry companion drop like a rock into the water before. Oh shit. Shoving herself free, she took a dive herself. The water was a bit murky, and it was hard to see because of the salt, so when she kicked her feet against the current to go deeper. It was the sight of a large golden eye that pushed her back.

Calcipher was now a dragon again. His mane floating in the water as he moved in a serpent-like fashion. She only had a moment to grab for it as he pushed himself like a missile through the current and to the surface. Away from the boat and safe in the woods, Alex coughed up some salty water while still clinging onto him.

"Crap..how'd I forget." She wheezed while pushing her face against his mane. "Dragon."

He turned his head and looked at her curiously. She waved at his concern when he nudged at her cheek with his nose. Warm air brushing across her face. But it still didn't help pushing the evening chill back, since her clothes were completely soaked.

Crossing her arms across her chest, she shivered as a strong breeze struck them. Something glinted in the dragon's eye and before she had any warning, he unleashed a blast of fire at her.

Alex used her arms to cover her face and waited for the burn.

It didn't happen, just a warm heat that surrounded her. Touching close to her clothes and hair and yet nothing burned off. Her clothes were still intact and as this small fire vortex that started shift into a multitude of colors. She looked at in awe. How could fire be this beautiful?

Soon the magic was over and completely dried, it was time to go. Climbing on Calcipher's back, she held on and feeling the muscles of the dragon coil beneath her legs, he practically flew across the grass, the knuckles of his giant clawed feet barely grazing the floor as he started to fly. But he flew low and out of sight and still staying in the thick of the woods.

This was awesome! If she wasn't so worried about getting caught, she would have asked him to fly higher while she screamed at the top of her lungs. But this was as much freedom as she was going to allow herself.

She just didn't realize that it was going to take her so far as to a small slummy-looking inn with drunk people spilling out on all sides.

Why did Calcipher take her here?