Cover Art image "Obligatory Zutara Fluff" by Doozigitis

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar or its charactors - or else Zutara would be a reality!

The Road to Ba Sing Se

It had been a mistake to enter the village, but they had been days wandering in barren wastelands before coming across what seemed like a safe haven. It didn't take long to realize their mistake. They had only been in the market for minutes when they noticed the wanted posters with their pictures on them: wanted by the Fire Nation as both prince and bandit, and with a scar that he couldn't hide to give him away. They heard murmuring amongst the people and then a shout, "There they are; there's the two fire nation criminals!"

Zuko looked to his uncle and they knew that they had to run and fast. They hopped on their ostrich-horse and started to escape. The Earth Kingdom soldiers were on them immediately and with no chance to water the animal, he did not know how far they would get. As soon as they left the village the landscape again became barren and coarse. He could hear the animal panting under their weight. He yelled back to his uncle, "I don't think the animal is going to make it much further. We are going to have to make a stand and fight if we have any chance of surviving this!"

"I know." Iroh replied. "See if we can make it to those rocks. We may find cover amongst them."

"Or certain death if they can bend!" he yelled back. He pushed the animal on until it finally collapsed underneath them. "Let's run! We have a little distance between us and them. Maybe there is a place we can hide." Zuko yelled as he helped his uncle up. The ostrich-horse had trapped Iroh's leg beneath him in the fall. He helped his uncle out from under the animal but as he helped him stand Iroh let out a yell of pain.

"My leg; I think it may be broken. I can't run anywhere."

"Then I'll carry you. We have got to get to the cover of those rocks."

"I am too heavy nephew. We will never make it."

"We've got to try." He replied and lifted his uncle onto his back. His uncle wasn't kidding about being heavy. The weight was staggering but he was determined not to be caught.

He ran for the rocks but the soldiers were upon them in minutes. They hid behind a big boulder only to have it lift itself into the air and come crashing down beside them. "Earth benders." He cursed. "Uncle, where can we go? We're trapped here. We must fight."

His uncle muttered to himself and then he replied, "There are at least twenty soldiers. Even together we may not be able to escape. This is familiar ground for them. They have the tactical advantage over us."

"But we have the superior skill. I will not die at the hands of the Earth Kingdom. I will not die in shame!" He yelled at his uncle. And then with fury in his heart he unleashed powerful shots of fire from his fists. The blast knocked several men from their animals, but the remaining men focused their energy on him and caused the earth to shake beneath his feet. He fell to the ground but quickly recovered. The soldiers came rushing forward and he met their charge with a spray of fire. Immediately rock flew up to shield the men. Zuko let out a yell and them jumping over the wall of rock he landed in their midst and began to fight. Using all his skills as a fighter and a bender he fought them off. But his uncle had been right, there were too many men for him alone to battle and with his uncle injured he had no choice but to retreat and try to drag him to safety. He created a fireball around himself as a diversion and leapt away from the fighting. He ran to his uncle. "We must try to escape. I will carry you if I need too, but we need to leave now."

Zuko," he replied, "There is no where to go. We are out of options and besides I am far too heavy for you to carry over this rocky terrain. We must surrender."

"Never!" he yelled back. "I will not surrender."

"Then you will die." came the reply from one of the soldiers. Where had he come from thought Zuko? How could I be so distracted that I didn't see him coming? The soldier pointed his sword at Iroh. "We only want him. You are of little consequence."

"I will not let you take my uncle. He is an old man. Leave him be. Take me. I am the Prince of the Fire Nation. I am sure that my father will pay handsomely to get me back." He bluffed.

The soldier laughed in his face. "Ah the infamous banished Prince Zuko. I find it highly unlikely that your father would pay to have you back, other then to kill you himself. We would be doing him a favor if we were to kill you now. What happens to you is of no matter to us. But General Iroh is an enemy to our people. His victories for the fire nation came a great cost to the people of the earth kingdom. He will come with us to Ba Sing Se to stand trial for his crimes against our people." The soldier went to bind Iroh's hands when Zuko let out a yell and lunged for him. He had barely moved when the earth started to crumble beneath his feet. "You are a foolish young man. Don't you know to check your footing before you attack? The ground here is very unstable both below your feet and above." In an instant he could feel rocks and debris fall on top of him. The crushing force buried him within minutes. He could hear his uncle call his name and then all was silent and dark.

"Prince Zuko, time is short, wake up."

A young girl's voice called to him in the darkness. Where was he and who was she? Slowly he opened his eyes and before him was a beautiful girl. She had dark skin like the water tribe race, her hair was pure white, and her eyes were the bluest he had ever seen. She looked vaguely familiar to him but he couldn't quite place her.

"Who are you?" he asked.

She smiled a sad smile and replied, "I used to be known as Yue, but that life is over now. I gave my life back to the moon spirit so that it could live."

Suddenly it became clear to him; she was the girl from the North Pole. She had been with the Avatar when he had come across him in the Spirit Oasis. He had barely noticed her at the time. All his attention was on the prize before him. All he had to do was eliminate the water tribe girl that traveled with the Avatar and the boy was his. He had done it too. The Avatar was finally his and he would be returning home soon if it hadn't been for the blizzard. But things had changed. He had lost the Avatar again and then Zhao had killed the moon spirit. He hadn't known at the time, but his uncle had filled him in on it during the three week trip on the open ocean after the battle. He remembered his uncle mentioning the girl and how she had sacrificed her life for the sake of her tribe, for the whole world for that matter. Zuko had been amazed by her bravery. But if she had given up her life those few short months ago, why was she here with him now? In fact he wondered where exactly here was. The past few days became a blur to him and he couldn't remember much of anything.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"You are caught between the living and the dead Prince Zuko. Your body has been gravely injured. Without help you will surely die."

"But I don't feel anything. How can I be so close to death if I don't feel any pain?"

"Your spirit and your body have temporarily disconnected themselves. If you stay like this too long you will sever the bond forever." He looked at her in confusion. So many questions came to his mind, but before he could ask any she cut him off. "As I said earlier time is short. I have a message to relay to you. The time is drawing near to end this war. The Avatar grows in strength and knowledge every day. He has learned three of the elements and only needs to master fire bending before he is ready to face the Fire Lord. But all the wisdom and skill of the ages will not be enough if he has to do it alone. He will need the help of his friends, but most importantly he will need the help of someone who knows the Fire Nation intimately. Getting to the Fire Lord will not be easy, but with your help he could do it."

"My help!" Zuko exclaimed. "Why would I help him destroy my own father?"

"Zuko you know it must happen. You have witnessed the destruction and the loss caused by the Fire Nation first hand. You yourself have been banished for defending your people. What kind of leader sacrifices his own people to satisfy his need for conquest? You knew at a young age that your father was wrong, that this war was wrong. You must help Aang defeat him or all will be lost."

"You ask too much. I cannot play a part in my father's death."

"The world needs you now as much as it needs the Avatar. Defeating the Fire Lord is only a part of the changes that must come. The world has been in turmoil for a hundred years. Wrongs have occurred that will not be easily forgiven. It will take a strong leader to bring the Fire nation to the peace table. And it will take a leader who understands the cost of war and the need for peace and harmony amongst the nations. You will be that leader Prince Zuko. You must help the Avatar bring about peace."

"How can I be that leader? I'm just a banished prince, remember. My father revoked my birthright. Without the Avatar I can not return home with honor and I will not be able to regain my throne."

"Your people will stand with you if you help the Avatar restore balance. You are a man of honor, you have always been. Now is the time to show the world what you are capable of."

"I cannot do it. I need to do as my father asks of me. I need to find the Avatar and return him to the Fire Nation."

"If you return the Avatar to your father he will destroy him and the hopes of the world will die with him. You cannot do that. Search your heart Prince Zuko. You know what you must do." She paused and looked at him with tears in her eyes. "You must return. There are forces here that would rather see you dead. Return to the living and remember what I have told you. Trust in yourself. You know what the right thing to do is."

Suddenly he felt a crushing weight upon his chest. Pain enveloped his entire body and he cried out from it. "It's ok," came Yue's soft voice, "My friends are here to help you. Trust in them and believe in yourself and all will work out."