Title: Illusions
Pairing: Eventual Sokka/Zuko
Rating: M
Warning: Violence, Language, sex and other nasty things in future chapters. It gets very, very dark later on, so if you have a weak stomach, don't read.
A/N: I'm in the mood for some drama, and who better than Zuko to be part of that drama? He's like, the definition of drama. ERM, and before anyone asks, yes, these soldiers don't know about the alliance between the Avatar and Zuko, so...yeah, Earth Kingdom soldiers are awesome like that. They'd probably still capture Zuko even if they knew, anyway, I guess. XDD Oh well.
Extra: Remember how I started this ...maybe...two years ago? Yeah. Edited this chapter a little bit due to an ignorant reviewer. They had some points, but failed to get them across in a mature manner. Honestly, who reviews the very first chapter of a two year old story of an admittedly mediocre writer and expects to be taken seriously? Well anon, you got your wish. I will give this chapter a slight update, since you couldn't be bothered to read the whole story.

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Chapter one: Paranoia

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Zuko tossed in his make-shift bed and closed his aching eyes, body shivering against the harsh winter winds. Had he known the temple weather was akin to that of Alaska's at night, he would have taken up Aang's offer to sleep inside of one the few undamaged temple rooms. Unfortunately, after loosing a particularly long sparring session the Avatar needed time to rest his lightly burnt shoulder, and Zuko didn't want to deprive him of a suitable place to recover.

He shook his head in miserable regret and nuzzled into the thin blanket, shivering madly. The location and weather definitely wasn't doing it for him. No matter how far his mind wandered, or how long he waited, the cold never failed to awaken him. And from the looks of things, there wasn't a damn tree in sight that he could use for fire wood. Scowling as yet another onslaught of biting wind lashed up his vulnerable arms, he threw the blanket aside and irritably began searching the temple walls for some sort of burnable material.

None. Absolutely-fucking-nothing. Not even a twig.

The prince ran a hand through his water speckled hair and eyed the Avatar's bison wearily. There was no way the creature would give him a ride. He was a fire bender, one that had injured the poor beast multiple times in the past. It could probably remember ever little injury Zuko had every put it and its friends though. The mere memory of his attacks made him wince, inviting speckles of red shame onto his usually pale face.

He pulled his eyes away from the resting bison and stared at the grubby stone by his side, fingers slipping down its smooth, aged surface. And then he paused, an idea popping into his head. There had to be a forest somewhere up top, right? If he could recall correctly, on one side of the cliff there was a great spanse of shrubbery and trees. Even if he couldn't find anything suitable to burn, he could at the very least locate something better than a paper thin sheet to sleep beneath.

Zuko shuffled over to the rope he had left lying on the ground, picked it up, and threw its hooked end as far as he could over the cliffs side. He tugged the rope experimentally a few times, and upon finding a reasonable amount of resistance, began to climb.

It took him a good five minutes to reach the top; after all, he was rather tired and climbing in the dark would never be an easy task. With one last heave he pulled himself up on to the rocky surface and looked around the darkened skies. There wasn't a single tree in sight. Zuko raised a hand up level with his face and created a small ball of fire on his palm, watching with mild interest as it burned and flickered brightly against the moons gentle light. He reluctantly pulled his eyes away and began to search for some wood.

A few times during his journey rocks caused him to stumble or yelp, but other than that, the exploration was relatively uneventful and quiet, only his slow breathing audible in the sullen air.

Gold eyes squinted against the darkness, searching with little avail for any sign of grass or trees. Finding none. How long had he been walking now? Would he be able to get back to camp? He hadn't thought of that before making his decision.

Zuko blinked wearily and yawned once more, a hand coming up to rub at his uninjured eye--

SNAP.

He tensed. Someone was in the desert lands with him. Slowly, hesitantly, he turned and glanced behind him. Nothing. He looked to either side. Nothing. And finally he looked back to his front, his flame flickering lively as he tried to make a figure out of the darkness. Nothing. Perhaps he was mistaken. This wasn't the first time his paranoia had gotten the best of him.

Shrugging his shoulders, Zuko resumed walking in search of wood, feeling uneasy despite his mental reassurance. He should have dragged that water tribe boy along. Thought he was a powerful fire bender, he didn't enjoy taking walks alone, in the dark, with the feeling that his every move was been shadowed. He was certain no one in existence did, which just made him all the more paranoid about further exploring the vast field of darkness.

A shiver ran up his spine as he nervously glanced around. "…Is uh…" He cleared his throat. "Is anyone there?"

Silence.

He furrowed his brows before setting off again.

Something hard abruptly caught him around the throat and he yelped, hand, along with the flame, coming to scrabble at the offending object. He winced when his fingers met with rock, scratching weakly, feebly, doing little more than damaging his nails as he tried to fight his way out of the restraint. "Dammit…" The attackers were nowhere in sight! How was he supposed to defend himself if he couldn't even see?

Zuko jerked his head from side to side, regretting it moments later when his neck was forcefully pulled backwards.

"Whoever you are, let me go!" He demanded, struggling against the rock with such fever that small tendrils of smoke began to drift from his nose. "I have no business with you."

Or at least he hoped not.

"Oh? I think you do, Prince Zuko."

Zuko's eyes widened a touch, but he quickly shook off the surprise and turned his head, feeling bruises forming against his otherwise unmarked skin as he struggled to locate the owner of the voice. He couldn't quite see the face of his attacker, but judging by the armor he wore it was an admiral, and a smart one at that. He'd known not to be foolhardy. Not to attack Zuko from the front. It was clear he had dealt with Fire Benders in the past.

Zuko growled, flames licking the ground in a failed attempt at intimidation. "No, I don't!" He lifted his arm and sent multiple fireballs in the mans general direction, aiming blindly. It was only when he heard a pained grunt that he grinned, pleased, and lowered his hands back to the stone slab around his neck so he could resume his struggles. If he managed to free himself, perhaps he could find his way back to the camp and warn the avatar.

Fingers dug blindly in to the rocks surface, slipping this way and that, finding little purchase. They had obviously prepared for his retaliation. The stone was thick, durable and refused to crumble beneath his feverish attacks. He clawed at them to the point of bloodying his fingers, but the make-shift collar refused to budge.

Panic flared as footsteps entered his hearing range.

"Don't come near me!" He screeched, hands coming to life with uncontrolled masses of fire. The footsteps continued advancing, and he realized after a moment of adrenaline induced concentration that there was more than just one pair. Oh, no. No. This couldn't happen. Not to him. He couldn't get caught - not after everything he had been through.

He desperately spun his arms and sent out a wave of flames; three loud yelps confirmed his beliefs. He was surrounded. Well and truly surrounded. He only hoped there was less than five, because in his current state, he wouldn't be able to fight off more than that.

Something cold was tossed onto his back, and he came to the conclusion after a moment of shivering uncontrollably, that it was water. He swore and turned his shivering arms behind him, attempting to aim a ball of fire at the enemy, only to feel two pairs of calloused hands jerk his arms up and against his back, efficiently trapping them there.

"Release me!" He hissed, grimacing heavy as something cold cut into his already water slick wrists. He assumed it was manacles, but made no effort to look. Was there really any point? He'd only end up hurting his neck again.

One of the attackers sauntered in to his view and frowned at the sight of the disheveled prince, a single rock sitting lifelessly in his palms. Zuko couldn't help but feel a little pride at spotting the burn mark on the mans hip; even while held down he was able to defend himself.

The man bent down and placed a hand over the slab around Zuko's neck, tightening it with the little rock. "Walking in to the desert alone when you know your face is familiar among millions of Earth Kingdom soldiers?' He laughed cheerfully, earning a heated glare from the prince. "And to think I thought you'd be smart. Pity."

Zuko felt the hands loosen and the rock tighten mercilessly around his neck, slowly cutting off his supply of oxygen. He rasped, struggling weakly as small white dots began to cloud his vision.

"If you ask nicely, I may release you," He heard faintly, but made no attempt to obey. He instead began to struggle again, blinking rapidly in an attempt to rid himself of the tiny white lights blocking his vision. He could feel his heart thumping madly against his ribs, his head starting to pound, and adrenalin flooding through his veins. Yet, he stayed silent, refusing to give into pitiful begging. He had done that too many times in the past. He wouldn't go through the humiliation again.

Contradictory to his show of confidence, he couldn't help but be reminded of what was at stake. He still had to get back to the avatar and help him defeat the fire lord; he couldn't die now, not now. Loosing everything he had worked for to such a simple and pathetic death was not an option. He wasn't even sure there were any options. Nothing was presenting itself, and by now he was starting to get desperate.

Zuko squeezed his eyes shut and ground his teeth, struggling to breathe through his nose. He was getting weaker, his fingers slipping from the rock and on to the ground, motionless. He felt his life starting to ebb away and his eyelids becoming heavy.

A quiet whimper fell from his lips as the man finally released his neck, allowing him to slump and land messily in the dirt, breath coming out in ragged, desperate gasps.

"Stubborn, aren't you."

Zuko blinked and closed his eyes, unable to keep them open any longer. He was just so tired. He could barely even move.

He was only partially aware of the hands tying his feet together, and as such, he made no attempt to protest. "Nngh…" He grumbled unintelligibly. In an attempt to awaken himself, he wriggled weakly against the dirt. "Let…let me go." He demanded, or would have, had his voice not come out as a hoarse groan.

The admiral simply smiled and bent over, lifting Zuko up by the back of his jacket, watching him dangle for a few minutes before shoving a hand under his knees and bending them. After a few moments of shuffling, Zuko noticed the man was carrying him bridal style (or at least in an embarrassingly similar way) and made an unmistakably indignant sound.

"Grab the ostrich-horses," The earth bender yelled to his fellow soldiers. "I have him."

Zuko would have blushed had it been anyone else, but instinct took favor in this case and he growled, kicked his feet, and attempted to shimmy out of the mans powerful grip. There was no way in hell he'd let someone carry him in such an undignified way, he was a prince—an ex-prince, yes, but still—A prince!

What would, well, anyone think if they saw him in such a position? He was been treated like a peasant! A woman!

Growling, he leered up at the Admiral.

"Let. Me. Go." He ordered once more, voice a little stronger now that his throat had recovered from its abuse. The man responded with a broad grin and proceeded to pull him tighter against the armor plate on his chest, hoping to embarrass him even further.

"You're obviously not aware of the position you are in, dear prince. We have captured you," The admiral said, stopping only momentarily to look over a large, metal carriage. Zuko wasn't sure why they had it, or how they had known he would eventually wander out in to the open, but quite frankly, he wasn't concerned. His mind was far too focused on finding some route of escape.

"Obviously, or I wouldn't be saying 'let me go', now would I?" He shot back snarkily.

The man glowered at his words and he felt himself being pushed up against the carriages side, the bumpy surface digging in to his back and his face pressing dangerously close to protruding bits of metal. Taking advantage of their close proximity, he chanced a look at his captors face. He was facing an elder, experienced Admiral. Had he not felt the mans breath on his cheek he would have commented with something rude, but, considering his position, he decided against it.

"While you're with me I'd advise you hold your tongue, I have no qualms with teaching you a lesson," he hissed. Zuko felt himself shiver at this, but nevertheless, he continued to glare. "So, will you be a good little boy and come nicely?"

"Do you know what I think of your 'threat'?"

Zuko licked his lips and spat at the Admirals face, smirking when his expression twisted into one of loathing. The grip on his jacket tightened, hands shaking with what he assumed was anger, and he watched with a mild sense of amusement as the admiral growled like a kicked animal and wiped a hand across his face, ridding himself of all traces of saliva.

The metal ground up against his back, naked bolts cutting in to his traditional fire nation jacket as the man swore and shook him angrily. "You little fucking brat." He felt a hand digging in to his gut, pressing there in such a way that his breath gathered and caught in the back of his throat. "I hope you enjoy my company, because I'll be the only one you'll see while imprisoned." Zuko simply narrowed his eyes and shifted uncomfortably. "Perhaps then you can learn respect." He felt the hand pull him back and thrust him forward, right in to the cages middle. "Until then, enjoy the little freedom you have left, prince."

With that the door closed, leaving him slumped up against the cages wall, eyes lowered.

He had really gotten himself in to a muddle this time.