I have not forgotten this story! And to everyone whom I did not respond to, I'm even more apologetic. Life has just been so hectic. In summary, I wrote a 64 page thesis, graduated with second honors last semester (which for me is phenom), got a job a month after graduation, and am now living on a couch and relatively homeless, though I do have a paycheck! Whew. I'm still here though and I really think you'll like this chapter.

Special thanks goes out to my beta, WritingSchizo101! Her life has been pretty topsy-turvey as well and I appreciate all her work so much! *hugs*

Next chapter will hopefully (fingers crossed) be out in a few weeks. It's been written for months I just haven't finished my own edits before I send it out to my beta.

Please, please, please tell me what you think! Questions, comments, rotten tomatoes, just click the little review button and tell me what you think, good or bad. I really hope you enjoy it!

And no, I don't own anything or anyone in the Avatar-verse.

The Prince's Slave:
Chapter Thirteen

Fire burst across the sky as the sun rose, casting burnished red and gold hues over the prince's anchored ship as the small scouting boat made its way towards the shoreline. Zuko and Iroh were on board, the prince fully confident that today he would capture the Avatar, once and for all.

"We must be careful, Prince Zuko." Iroh looked up at the temple, towering high above them as his nephew anchored the boat. "The Avatar may be only a boy, but he is the Avatar."

"He's on my turf now, Uncle. He won't escape me."

Sooner or later, Zuko would have to learn to plan beyond the "I'm going to capture the Avatar" phase. Tactical thought was crucial for any leader—but the prince's determination and persistence often caused him to overlook the long term. The old general shook his head slightly as Zuko led the way up to the temple, knowing that the youth's focused drive on proving himself to Ozai would only bring him trouble and further grief. Iroh would follow him as far as he could but eventually Zuko would turn down a path that he had to walk alone.

"The Avatar! Where is he?" Zuko's sharp interrogative brought Iroh back to the matter at hand as they entered the temple doors.

"Prince Zuko! You received our messenger hawk so soon?" The High Sage appeared surprised.

"I am here for the Avatar, not your questions. Where is he?"

"We have been looking for him, my prince, but—"

As Zuko and his uncle approached the Fire Sage, a loud explosion rattled the temple foundation. The sage turned, startled, his face ashen. The acrid scent of scorched metal reached the room. "No! It can't be! The Avatar must have opened the doors!"

The Fire Sages ran off, Zuko and Iroh in quick pursuit. The sages reached the singed doors of Roku's "The Avatar is inside! Open the sanctuary doors!"

"How could he have gotten in?"

"Look at the scorch marks! Quickly, open the doors before he contacts Avatar Roku!"

"A...a lemur? We've been tricked! Close the doors again!"

"Now!" An olive-skinned boy shouted, jumping out from one of the pillars. He, another Fire Sage, and the lemur yanked the robes over the sages heads, distracting them. "Aang, run for it!" The boy looked around, confused.


"I'm afraid the Avatar won't be doing anything." Zuko said coolly, stepping forward, the tattooed boy's arms twisted behind his back.

"Sokka!" The Avatar cried out, struggling to pull free from the older bender. The Fire Sages caught hold of the lemur and the Water Tribe warrior.

"You're coming with me." He said coldly, dragging him towards the stairs. However, the tattooed youth quickly flipped, knocking Zuko down with a gust of air before diving towards the closing towards of the sanctuary.

"Go, Aang!" Another boy yelled triumphantly—presumably Sokka—while being held captive by one of the Fire Sages.

With an elated grin, the youth catapulted himself with a gust of wind into the closing doors. They shut tight with a groan of finality.

"Dammit!" Zuko yelled, throwing blast after blast of flames at the sealed doors. "Get these doors back open!"

The Fire Sages sent another volley of fire towards the lock—but nothing happened. "I am sorry, my prince. The doors are sealed by a stronger power—Avatar Roku does not want us within." One of the sages murmured apologetically.

"No! They. Have. To. Open!" Each word was punctuated by a stronger and stronger fireball, with Zuko's temper teetering dangerously on him being out of control. Iroh kept a sharp watch on his nephew.

"You're too late now. Aang is safely inside," Sokka crowed.

"He'll have to come out sooner or later," Zuko replied icily, "And then we'll see how safe he is."

"You won't take him. The Fire Nation may have taken most of my tribe, even my mother and my sister, but you won't get the Avatar. You're all going down." The boy replied stubbornly, eyes blazing with a look that had become all too familiar to the Fire Prince.

A sister? Dammit. The odds were looking more and more likely that this was Katara's brother, something Zuko had been praying wasn't really the case. He made a mental note not to kill the peasant—no matter how much he really wanted to do so. Killing Katara's brother was the last thing he needed right now.

"Keep him quiet," he snapped and turned to Sage Shyu. "Why did you help the Avatar? Why did you betray the Fire Lord?"

"It was once the sages' duty to obey the Avatar before any other earthly power. It is still our duty, even if some have forgotten those old ways," Shyu replied quietly, glancing back at his fellow sages.

"Your duty is to the Fire Nation, not to a child." Out of the shadows of the outer sanctuary stepped Zhao. "It would seem that your priorities are confused."

"Zhao." His good eye narrowed, the other a scarred slit, suspicious eyes gleaming dragon amber. "What are you doing here? You have no business in the Fire Nation."

"Please, Prince Zuko, allow me to help my nation. I received the hawk the Fire Sages were sending to you and then I spotted your ship. My only wish is to assist my Crown Prince."

"Very well. Stay back and out of my way."

Focusing on the sanctuary doors before him, Zuko took no notice of Zhao and the raging look of determination on the exiled commander's face. He did not see the nod that the older man gave, allowing two of Zhao's men to catch him completely unawares. They grabbed his arms, yanking him away while another pair grabbed Sokka. "What are you doing? Let me go at once!" Another pair of soldiers had Iroh captured. Weak, old man, Zuko thought angrily.

"I'm sorry, Prince Zuko, but I will be the one to capture the Avatar. I will be restored to my former place. And you...well, it was a valiant effort that sadly ended in your death." Zhao's eyes glittered with hunger and a touch of insanity. "Tie him and the Water peasant to that pillar." He ordered before turning his burning gaze upon the remaining Fire Sages. "And you will share his fate if you try to help your little prince."

Zhao faced the sealed doors of the sanctuary. "When those doors open, unleash all your firepower," he ordered his men. "He will not escape us."

With a deafening crash, the doors of the sanctuary burst open, followed by electric blue rays splashing over the outer walls of the room, momentarily blinding Zhao and his soldiers, along with their captives. When they could again see, the specter of Avatar Roku towered in front of them, his eyes blazing with the same destructive blue light. Zhao's men sent a wave of fireballs at Roku, who bent the attack back upon his opponents in a swirl of ghostly robes. The fire struck the column to which the four were shackled and broke it, consequently breaking the chains which bound the three benders and Sokka.

A tangelo-hued column of lava erupted through the center of the temple, spraying the dusky sky with flecks of charcoal while droplets of magma rained down upon the island and the coastline below.

"Forget the Avatar, Prince Zuko! Run!" Iroh called, glancing worriedly at the fearsome image of Roku. The prince cursed under his breath as he saw the traitorous sage and the Water peasant escape, then followed Iroh down the stairs as the world crumbled around them.

"We must hurry, Prince Zuko. Roku is taking the whole island down!" Pillars of fire shot up through the floors, the thick smell of burning wood and pungent smoke permeating the air around them, making it almost impossible for even a firebender to breathe.

Narrowly escaping the imploding temple, Zuko glanced up at the sky, dappled with ash, just in time to see the Avatar and his friend fly off on the bison. The prince clenched his fists, nostrils flaring, and continued the hazardous trek to the shore. He would capture the Avatar sooner or later.

She was living a nightmare. The island was barely visible from the smoke and the raging flames—and the father of her child was on that island. She hadn't come this far to let her child be fatherless. The pain and sorrow of growing up without a parent was a trial she had no wish to inflict on their baby. It had been hard enough to lose her mother, but it would have been worse to have never known Kya, never witnessed her kindness, her bravery, her strength. Zuko was not the ideal father but their baby needed him—Katara needed him.

A stinging sensation came over her eyes and nose, her vision blurring with tears she couldn't hold back for much longer. Her arms wrapped tightly around her abdomen as she tried to meditate and calm down. Worrying herself sick was not going to help anything.

I am...I am water over a...stone. I am water...over...shit.

Meditation was not an option either, so long as her mind refused to focus on anything but Zuko's safety. All she could do was watch the remains of the island and her future burn—and hope that she hadn't lost him.

An hour later, she was jerked from her unquiet reverie.

"Prince Zuko!" The ship's captain, Rizolen, called out as the two figures emerged from the smokey waters on the scouting boat. The small vessel was hoisted up and the royal pair disembarked, covered in ash and soot. Katara waited in the background, having suffered numerous anxiety attacks as she and the crew watched the island erupt. But here he was! He was alive! He was in front of her once more, covered in black soot but alive and whole.

The scarred prince glanced up and met his Waterbender's terrified blue eyes. "Uncle, please direct the captain in the direction of the Avatar," he ordered as he broke away, moving towards Katara. He grabbed her hand and pulled her below deck, determination gleaming in his golden eyes as he shut the door behind them. Once they were out of sight, he pulled her close, wrapping her sylphlike figure in his arms. She felt the light scrape of his scar on her cheek as he lowered his head, and she inhaled his smokey scent, fighting back tears of relief. Standing ever so slightly on tiptoe, she tilted her head up to meet his and their lips met, sending shock waves through both of them.

"Don't scare me like that again," she whispered once they broke their frenzied kiss, closing her eyes as she felt his hot breath tickle her neck. "I was so afraid—so afraid you wouldn't come back this time."

"I'm back. I'll always come back to you, sweet." he murmured. The question in his mind was, however, would she come back to him once she discovered that he wasn't merely hunting the Avatar, but also her brother?

"I know." Her trusting, azure eyes swept up to look at him. He couldn't surrender his quest for the Avatar but how could he betray those eyes?