Title: Hearts of Fire
Author: Dorri
Summary: While aboard Zuko's ship Katara tries desperately to find what truly lies behind the mask, while Zhao gathers a fleet to seek out the Prince and eliminate him once and for all. Lessons are learned and choices are made in times of hardship
Pairing: Zuko/Katara
Rating: T (for language and violence)
Disclaimer: I don't own Zuko, Katara, Aang, Sokka or any of the fabulous characters of Avatar. They all belong to the brilliant writers, Michael DiMartino and Brian Koneitzko.


Chapter I
And Everything Went Black

Aang steered Appa towards the small, lonely island that sat quietly in the calm ocean just half a mile in front of them. The sun had already set many hours ago, but the moon, which hid behind a cluster of clouds, managed to shed some light to guide the way to their destination. Appa let out a loud grunt as they approached the island, feeling relieved to know that he would not have to do anymore flying for the rest of the night.

When the bison's feet touched land both Katara and Sokka awoke with a startle. They looked up lazily towards their companion.

"Sorry, guys," said Aang as he patted Appa on the head. "We'll camp out here tonight."

"Fine by me," said Sokka as he yawned. He was in desperate need of rest as it was, and trying to sleep on a large bison that kept making swift turns every so often was not his definition of 'rest and relaxation.' His stomach growled loudly and he moaned as the hunger pains gave him a painful reminder that he would have trouble sleeping tonight if he did not get something to eat. "So hungry…need food…" he said, a little too overly dramatic. He didn't need it that badly of course, but dramatic displays were always one of his strong points.

"The only thing you need is that extra stomach taken out," said Katara. "You're hopeless."

Sokka made a face at her playful 'insult.'

"Well I can't help it. It's been at least twelve hours since I last ate anything."

"We're all hungry, Sokka. You're not the only one," said Katara. "And it's only been eight hours, Sokka," she corrected, ignoring her brother's sarcastic "Oh, excuse me" reply. "You're not going to perish in the night," the waterbender added jokily.

"There's probably food on the island," Aang chimed in, "but we might want to wait 'till morning to go looking. We don't know what lives on this island. It'd be too dangerous to go wandering off in the dark."

"That's a good idea. We might as well make camp and get some sleep," said Katara. She and Aang unloaded the sleeping bags from Appa's saddle and began unrolling them on a flat area of sand, far enough away from the tide. Sokka did not like to go to bed on an empty stomach. He didn't like doing anything on an empty stomach, much to everyone's annoyance, but instead of arguing or complaining about it like he normally would when he did not get anything to eat, he decided to go ahead and make a fire to keep everyone warm, and then try and salvage some sleep while dawn was still a few hours away.

0ooooooo0

Zhao lowered his telescope as he saw the flying bison make its land, a smirk planted on his face. The island was still a good distance away, but he had to take his time. Finding them even after making an arrival would still take time seeing as though he did not see their exact landing spot, but Zhao didn't mind. He felt too confident to let impatience tamper with his mood.

The ship had remained at a fair distance from the flying bison in order to remain unseen, being aided by the dark of night. "The Avatar will soon be mine," Zhao whispered into the dark. His smile widened as he turned to face his crew. "Slow the engine down a bit! I don't want them to hear our approach."

The ocean was completely calm. Almost dead, as though the ship was gently slicing through ice that bent easily to the ship's will. It would indeed give Zhao the advantage of staying hidden. Without the waves slamming against the hull it would certainly do nicely for a silent approach. That and the fact that the moon was constantly being swallowed up by thick clouds, therefore the light could not reflect off the vessel. Most likely the children would be asleep by the time they made it to the island, and then the Avatar would be as good as his.

0ooooooo0

Katara awoke first the next morning like she usually did. As her eyes fluttered open, she was greeted by the faint light of the rising sun, and a pinkish hue that painted the sky, as well as the ocean and the leaves of trees.

She felt her nose tingle slightly as she smelt the smoldering fire. She saw that Aang and Sokka were still asleep. She decided to let them sleep a few more minutes and go for a walk to stretch her muscles. Normally she would have started breakfast, but they still needed to stop at a market since they were out of food. If Sokka were awake, he probably would have suggested trying to find a bird's nest so to swipe the eggs, but Aang, being the animal rights activist he was, would never hear of it. Katara was more in the mood for vegetation anyway.

Katara opened her water skin to take a drink of water but realized with disappointment that it was empty. Dying of thirst, she stood up and made her way into the woods, hoping to find a fresh stream where she may quench her thirst.

As she made her way into the woods she noticed a few bushes with a large amount of red and green berries inhabiting them. She lifted the front of her dress and started plucking the small fruits, knowing that they would make for a nice snack later on. She was not sure if they were edible or not, but she had a feeling Aang would know. She could tell that he had traveled a lot and might know whether or not the berries were poisonous. 'If he doesn't know then Sokka can be the one to determine that' she thought with a smirk. She circled a few more bushes, and started on her way to find a creek.

0ooooooo0

Zhao whirled around as the sound of rustling leaves came into earshot. He pressed himself against a tree behind and brought his head around to scan the forest for the source of the sound. He smirked as he saw a female figure dressed in blue Water Nation attire trudging through the forest, apparently in careful search of something.

"One of the Avatar's companions," he breathed. "Perfect." As he watched the girl step into a clearing, Zhao followed after her, careful not to make too much noise as he walked through the fallen, dead leaves.

0ooooooo0

After a few minutes of impatiently searching the forest with no results of any other source of food, Katara came into a clearing where she saw the waves gently spill onto the white sand that stretched as far as her eyes could see, but upon finding this, her eyes came to rest on the Fire Nation ship that was currently resting on the shore. Her eyes widened in shock and the berries she had collected fell to the ground with several soft thuds. The first thing that came to her mind was Zuko, but she quickly acknowledged that the ship did not look like Zuko's. This ship was twice the size of Zuko's and its frontal design was different as well.

Her heart started racing. She could feel her hands trembling and her heart about to leap out of her chest as it continued to accelerate. Her eyes wandered the beach, but it seemed the ship had been deserted, but it could not be determined for how long.

Katara backed up slowly, preparing to turn and flee back through the woods and to the camp to warn Aang and Sokka, but then felt herself back into something, and it didn't feel like a tree.

"Hello," said a deep, masculine voice. Katara turned around sharply and was greeted by a tall man wearing fire navy armor. He was already advancing towards her, and he looked surprisingly pleased to say the least. He wore a small topknot and had dark sideburns that covered both sides of his face. She knew she had seen him in the Fire Nation temple a couple weeks back but even then she remembered seeing him somewhere before but she could not put her finger on exactly where.

Katara quickly shook herself out of her thoughts and broke off to the left to run back through the woods, but the firebender took off after her and grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her back towards him. She unwillingly whirled around to face him, feeling him grasp her other wrist and holding them both firmly, and painfully. "Where's the Avatar?" the man asked calmly.

Well, talk about déjà-vu.

Katara pulled against the man's painful grip, desperately trying to free herself. "Let go of me! I'm not telling you!" Katara ceased her struggling as she received a hard slap to the face, forcing her head to jerk to the side. She blinked away her tears, and slowly turned her head back towards the man, sending him a malicious glare. This did not provoke the man in the least, but she certainly was not going to show the man fear.

"I'll ask you again, and this time, I expect an answer. Where is the Avatar!" the man shouted impatiently. "I know he's here with you!" Katara narrowed her eyes and spat in the man's face. He jerked back and wiped the trail of saliva from his face with disgust. She momentarily smirked at the man's disgust but then noticed his face growing red with anger. She watched in horror as he drew his hand back and prepared to strike her again. Shutting her eyes, she braced herself as his hand started to move forward.

She waited and waited for the painful strike but it was never received. Curious as to why she still had not been struck, Katara opened her eyes to see that Zuko had prevented the slap. "You!" the older man shouted. Zuko drew his hand back and struck the man across the face, sending him to the ground. Losing her balance, Katara fell back onto the sand, hitting her head against a stone. What events followed afterwards, she did not know, for everything went black.

TBC…


A/N: First Avatar fic, hot dog! I know this chapter probably resulted in some confusion, but things will be straightened out in the second chapter, so just hang tight!