Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar. Or anything affiliated with it besides the Black Skies Saga (the thing you are currently reading, fyi). And I'm not even sure I own that anymore, because of all the readers who threaten my life and wellbeing if I don't keep writing. (Not that I mind, really, because it means that you really like my work. And I'd rather not stop writing this, if you haven't already noticed.)
Author's Note: This is the requested sequel to Everything For A Price. Which makes no sense unless you read 'Drawn to the Blackest Skies'. Booter-Freak, thank you for the idea of shameless advertising.
Because of my utter lack of creativity (I use it all actually writing the chapters) I'm not going to give the chapters any titles this time around. Unless I somehow think of something really cool to put there. But don't expect one every chapter.
Forgive me if I was a little vague in the last chapter of EfaP. Yes, Zuko was knocked out by none other than Sokka. The soldiers didn't arrive until after our favorite Prince was already out cold. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
Worth Fighting For
As she opened her eyes, Katara found herself in the chaotic confines of a dream.
"This has nothing to do with you!" Zuko snarled, throwing his fist down in fury. Angry flames spiraled down after his hand, tearing through the air in a fierce wave.
"It has everything to do with me!" Sokka shouted, advancing in spite of the fire.
"You pathetic fool! What right do you have to order her around? She's not your servant!"
"No, she's my sister! And you! How dare you force yourself on her? You're nothing but an animal!"
"Come on, guys," Aang said, trying to lower the boys' fists. Niether paid him any attention, trying to shove past him to attack one another. Murder was in their eyes, and Aang seemed just short of panic.
"What are you accusing me of, you sick—"
"You think I'm sick? What do you call what you were trying to do?"
"I really think we can work this out," Aang pleaded, now using his staff to keep Zuko away, while trying to shove Sokka back. He was sweating, though from alarm or from the suddenly fiery air was uncertain.
"I wasn't doing anything!" Zuko raged. "Only a twisted mind like yours could even imagine something so—"
"Twisted? I'll show you twisted, you freak! I'll twist your stinking head off!"
"Hey!" Katara interrupted suddenly. As bizarre as this was, there was no way it could be a dream. Sokka and Zuko both froze in silence for an instant, but before Katara could say another word they lunged at each other, violently throwing Aang aside in the attack. Katara dashed to the Avatar's side.
"Are you okay, Aang?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said meekly, casting a worried glance at the two fighters. "Should we risk trying to stop them?" Katara nodded, her face hardening into a resolute grimace.
"You grab Sokka and I'll get Zuko," she instructed.
"Are you sure?" She nodded again. "Then let's go."
Together they rushed into the fray. Aang hooked his staff under Sokka's knees, toppling his friend, then pinning him to the ground before he could return to the fight. Katara jumped in front of Zuko, grabbing his wrists.
"Zuko!" she cried, failing to suppress the alarm in her voice. "Calm down! Calm down..." his skin was still unbearably hot, but she didn't let go. He stopped thrashing against her grip, though his golden eyes were still locked on Sokka, set in a furious glare.
"Aang? What exactly is going on?" Katara asked. The other two boys weren't in any condition to explain things. Aang looked uncomfortable.
"Well...Zuko was sleeping...a lot closer to you than he should have—"
"Are you kidding?" Sokka demanded. "He was all over you! He was practically—"
"Listen, you lying—"
"That's ENOUGH!" Katara said sharply, cutting off both of them. She tried to regain her composure. "Aang?"
"Sokka saw it, he got mad, they started fighting, and...then you woke up. That's it." Katara heard the sharp intake of breath as the fighters prepared to start shouting again.
"Thank you, Aang," she said hastily. "Now, the two of you aren't going to kill each other, right?" There was no response. "Right?"
"That remains to be seen..." Zuko muttered.
"Just try it!" Sokka taunted.
"That's enough! Stop it, both of you."
Zuko nodded grudgingly.
"Sokka?" Aang pressed. Sokka grunted menacingly.
"As long as he doesn't pull anything like that again..." he muttered.
"Close enough," Katara sighed, releasing Zuko's wrists. Her hands smarted as cool air rushed onto her skin, and her palms looked rather raw. She made a mental note to avoid touching Zuko when he was angry. Though, if this morning was any indication, that would be often.
Zuko had only been with the group for one night, and it became increasingly clear that he and Sokka wouldn't get along. The only thing they shared was their protective tendencies towards Katara and their mutual loathing of each other.
This made things no easier.
Flying wasn't an option within the borders of the Fire Nation. News of Katara's escape had spread quickly, and every Fire Nation soldier was employed to search the skies for the Avatar, the banished Prince, and their female companion. Sokka, Zuko pointed out smugly, was never mentioned. Their only remaining option, then, was to walk. And the first destination was the nearest port town, where Iroh would most likely have come looking for his nephew.
The march was a difficult one; all of them had suffered injuries during the fight against Zhao's men, though Zuko and Katara had sustained the worst of it. Zuko was determined not to complain or make any indication of weakness, forcing himself to out pace Sokka. Sokka, not to be topped, lengthened his own stride, while Aang and Katara jogged to keep up. Consequently, the entire group covered a vast distance by nightfall, though they were all completely exhausted.
Katara dropped her heavy pack and rolled her shoulders, trying to ease the stiffness from her spine. Sokka and Zuko had somehow decided that they couldn't walk any more, and had all but collapsed on the ground, declaring that this was a perfectly good spot to make camp. Katara only laughed and unpacked the food, giving generous portions to the boys. The meal was eaten in exhausted quiet, the silence interrupted only with a few mumbled words.
The absence of any kind of punching, kicking, or shouting made it quite peaceful, in Katara's opinion. As the sky began to darken, Zuko lit a meager pile of firewood that had been gathered from around the campsite. Meanwhile Sokka and Katara unrolled their sleeping bags, and Aang made himself comfortable on the ground. Sokka crawled into his bag and fell almost instantly asleep, and shortly after, Aang's breathing steadied and slowed. Katara sat up, watching them, not yet ready to go to bed. How long had the three of them been apart? She had missed them so dearly, and seeing Sokka and Aang again...it was like a dream.
Steady hands wrapped around her shoulders and began kneading them, working away the soreness of the march. She sighed and leaned into Zuko's touch, moaning softly. This was exactly what she needed. It was everything she could wish for: surrounded by friends and family, kept safe and warm in the dark peace of night.
Katara woke to a dull pain in her abdomen, just as the sky was beginning to pale. Despite the ache in her side, she was extremely comfortable. And so warm...she buried her face in her bag, hoping to get another hour of sleep before she had to endure another trek. She opened one sleepy eye to survey the campsite once more. Sokka and Aang were still asleep, the former snoring peacefully. The fire had faded to a few embers, still glowing like golden stars, casting subtle light on her sleeping bag, several yards away.
Katara started awake.
That's not possible.
Her eyes sifted through the shadows, adjusting to the meager light. Surely enough, that was her bag in the distance. And the thing covering her...
I can see why Sokka was so mad yesterday, she thought fondly. Zuko was laying beside her, his arms wrapped around her waist, keeping her close and safe, surrounding her with heavenly warmth. Yet as good as it felt, there was no denying the fact that it looked...suggestive. She knew already that Zuko hadn't intended to do anything so incriminating. She had seen him fall asleep that night, at least two yards away from her. She had drifted off sometime later, and...she sighed. Both of them had most likely rolled in their sleep. She'd always had that problem, though the tight sleeping bag usually kept her from going too far. Reluctantly she scooted out of Zuko's arms, careful not to wake him. He stirred as she escaped his grip, making some indistinct sound, reaching for her in the depths of sleep. She smiled down at him and smoothed his hair before she repositioned herself a safe distance away.
Another day of walking took them to a nearby port town. Appa and Momo were left in a clearing, not far from the outer limits of the city. Sokka had crafted the plan: short, simple, and easy. Nothing could go wrong. They neared the docks, Sokka and Aang lagging behind to give the 'new couple' a chance to say their goodbyes in privacy before Zuko returned to his uncle's ship and left them alone for all eternity.
Sokka was quite proud of this plan.
Aang wasn't exactly as optimistic.
"Um...Sokka?" he said, pulling the older boy to the side. "I think you should see this." Sokka raised an eyebrow and glanced over the Avatar's shoulder, his eyes going suddenly wide.
"So... do you think your uncle will be too upset?" Katara asked.
"He'll get over it by the time he eats something," Zuko mused. His eyes searched Katara's face as he listened to her quiet laugh. He wanted to memorize every detail of the girl. Katara's giggle faded into silence, and even the noise of the surrounding crowds seemed to dim around them.
"Do you promise you'll be safe?" she asked at last.
"Within reason," the Prince mused. Katara smiled and hugged him, burying her face in his shoulder. Zuko ran gently across her back, bowing his head, inhaling the scent of her hair.
"That's enough. You can save the goodbyes for later." Zuko's eyes snapped open, suddenly wrenched from the moment by Sokka's annoying voice. Katara backed out of his arms, a blush beginning to rise into her cheeks.
"What?" she asked.
"You're not going anywhere," Sokka said. He pointed importantly at the docks. Surely enough, Iroh's ship was waiting in the harbor.
And it was crawling with Fire Nation soldiers, none of them familiar.
"Take a look at this," Aang said, handing Zuko a rolled up piece of parchment.
The Prince stared at the paper grimly.
It was a notice of bounty.