Twelve: Blackmail

"So what's the plan?" asked Iroh.

Zuko stared out at the quiet beach of the island from the deck of his ship, hands folded behind his back. "A plan?" he replied, a bit absentmindedly.

Iroh sighed. The older man walked forward until he stood at Zuko's side. "The girl. Katara."

"Katara," said Zuko, in the same slight tone.

Iroh said nothing this time.

"Well," said Zuko, and he sounded firmer now, like he'd come back to earth. He turned to face Iroh. "What do you think?"

"I think," Iroh said slowly, carefully, "I think the best plan would be to take her to a nice little port in the Earth Kingdom, maybe put down some money to rent a small place in a good neighborhood there. She stays. We leave."

Zuko didn't say anything; and then: "She can't stay with us." It wasn't a question. More like a statement of realization.

"That's up to you," said Iroh, "and her."

"No," said Zuko, "she can't stay with us."

And having said this, Zuko strode away from his uncle, taking the stairs down into the depths of the ship.

---

Katara groaned out loud as she leaned back in the tub, propping her feet up on the edge. Wonderful heat, blissfully clean water and soap! Actual soap! She could almost feel the dirt and grime sloughing off her body in thick pieces. She shook her head slightly, combing her fingers through her hair.

A sharp knock on the metal of her door brought her out of her reverie. She started to answer, her voice coming out wispy and soft from the warm relaxation of a true bath—she wrinkled her brow at herself before sitting up straight, clearing her throat, and answering with a firm "Yes?"

"It's Zuko."

She squealed before slapping a hand over her mouth. Towel! Where was the goddamned towel! Bubbles and foam slipping down her form, Katara leapt up and out of the tub, but not before one foot caught on the edge and she fell, hard, onto the metal floor of her room. She made a sound that was a combination of a grunt and shriek as she hit the ground, pain exploding in her chin and forearms.

"Katara? Are you alright?"

"Yes!" she managed to work out of her bruised jaw, lifting herself off the ground by the hands "Yes—just one second—hold on one second—"

"Are you sure you're fine?"

"Yes! I'm sure," she squeaked, deciding to completely forgo the towel and pulling on her old blue dress again—she had to force herself not to whimper as she felt the dirt and mud caking her clothing slide across her newly clean skin. She wiped her face dry using her sleeves, grimacing as grains of sand scraped across her cheeks, and patted her dripping wet hair down.

"Okay! You can come in!"

The door slowly opened as a slightly apprehensive-looking Zuko appeared behind it. She watched his face as his eyes took in the scene.

There appeared to be more water on the floor than in the actual bathtub, which still had a few lonely-looking bubbles clinging to its metal sides. Liquid soap was seeping slowly out of a bottle without a cap. Katara stood in the middle of the room, wet hair stuck to her face and soaking the back of her old dress, water droplets still dripping down her legs and arms. A perfectly dry towel sat innocently folded on the cot in the far corner.

"Yeah?" Katara asked a bit breathlessly, using the back of one hand to push a strand of hair out of her face, "What did you need?"

"Uh—I—um," Zuko tried not to stare as Katara's dress clung closely to her damp body. He picked a spot on the wall above her head and stared fervently at it. "I, uh, I was talking to my uncle and we were wondering what you thought, uh, of this plan we had, this plan that—um, about what, what—"

"About what we should do now?" Katara supplied.

"Yeah. Yeah, that."

"You can come in," Katara said, and he complied, shutting the door behind him. It made a very loud noise, he thought to himself. Very loud. Echoing. Ringing in the room. Her room.

"So what's the plan?" she asked, sitting down on the cot, picking up the towel and rubbing at her face frustratedly.

"My uncle thought that you'd want to be reunited with the Avatar as soon as possible. He had this idea that we could drop you off at some Earth Kingdom port, give you some money for a short rent while you contacted your friends."

"Your uncle thought of this?" Katara asked softly, not really looking at him—looking more at a spot on the wall above his head.

"Yes. Yes, he did."

"Well—what do you think?"

"What do I—What do I think?" he asked, surprised.

"Yes," she said, and this time she did look at him. "What do you think."

"I think it's a good idea of my uncle's."

"Is that it?"

He was terribly confused now. "Is—is what it?"

"That's—that's all there is to it?" she was pressing him for something—for something, he didn't know what. It was getting kind of frustrating; what the hell was she talking about?

"Yes. That's it." he said shortly. He thought to himself that he didn't like to be pressured.

She stared at him for a few seconds before breaking eye contact, turning away to rub furiously at her wet hair with the towel. "Sounds good to me," she said, voice gone a bit colder. "Now, if you don't mind, will you let me finish up in here?"

He stood there, trying to think of something good to say. Giving up, he left the room, closing the door behind him. As he walked down the dark hallway, he couldn't shake the distinct feeling that… that he could have done something else. Something more.

---

Katara lay on her cot, facing the wall. Zuko was right. This was all there was to it. This was the end. She'd go back to Aang and Sokka, and Zuko'd go back to being Mr. Angry Fire Nation Prince. It was a role that suited him—he did it very well.

And I do Miss Awkward Avatar Sidekick quite well too, Katara thought angrily to herself.

Those were the parts they'd been born to play. A few days on an island meant nothing.

She shrugged the blanket higher over her shoulders and turn her face into the pillow, fighting down an insane urge to cry. The tightening in her throat, the dense pain in her chest—it was all crazy. What the hell was she tearing up for? She wasn't sad! She was angry! She was angry, and the one thing she wanted to do most in the world right now was grab Zuko, pull his face down to her own and—and just, just—

Hit him! Katara screamed silently. I wish I could—I wish I could just hit him!

Katara was grateful for the soundproof walls of the ship as she finally broke into great heaving sobs.

---

The sky above was bright blue without a single cloud when Katara stepped out onto the deck the next morning. She pulled the blanket tighter around herself—the air was still chilly and a stronge breeze blew across the ship, tangling up strands of her dark hair that had escaped from her customary braid.

"Why good morning, Miss Katara," a cheerful voice came from behind her.

She turned to see Zuko's uncle standing by the railing, hands tucked up in his sleeves. "Good morning to you too," she answered softly.

"We're just getting ready to set sail," he said, turning to look out at the island.

"Oh—already?" Katara asked before she could think about it.

"You wanted to stay longer?" Iroh asked, one eyebrow raised slightly higher than the other as he turned back to look at her.

"No, no, I just—well, no, it's good that we're leaving, I just—well, honestly," Katara clutched her blanket tighter, "Honestly, I don't really know what I'm talking about."

Iroh was silent for a few seconds before he replied, "Well I do."

"You do? You do—you do what?"

"I do know what you're talking about. It's a beautiful island."

It was Katara's turn now to look out across the bit of ocean that separated the ship from the island. She could see a few soldiers on the beach lugging a large crate of what looked like coconuts across the sand.

She smiled briefly. "Yes. It is a very beautiful island."

"Such a shame—it's uncharted, so there's a good chance we won't ever be able to find it again."

"No," said Katara, "No, that's a good thing."

"A good thing?" Iroh inquired.

"Yes. It should remain untouched. Perfect. New."

"Mmm," Iroh nodded now, turning to look at the island as well, "It'd be a real shame if the tourist industry managed to get their grubby little hands on it."

"A real shame," Katara echoed.

"Yes. So I hope you'll forgive me when I sell the coordinates to the next travel agency we find when we get to a port," Iroh gave her a look, and there was a definite gleam in his eye.

Katara stared, shocked and confused. "Wait—what?"

"I'm saying I could get a good price from a tourism company for the location of prime real estate such as this," Iroh said, "Unless you'd be willing to strike a deal with me."

Katara's mouth dropped open and stayed that way for about a minute.

"Katara?" asked Iroh, a bit anxiously, "Are you alright?"

"Let's back up," she said, shaking her head a bit, as if to clear her thoughts. "Is this some form of—of blackmail? Are you trying to blackmail me into something, Iroh?"

"Is it working?" Iroh asked, a bit hopefully, "Do you feel obligated or threatened yet?"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "I feel disappointed, Iroh."

"Oh." His face fell.

"Here I thought you were such a nice man, and then you make such a lame attempt at—at blackmailing me? I don't know what to think anymore!" In truth, Katara was more than a little amused.

"Well anyway," she continued, "I'm still curious to hear when the 'unless' part of your threat was."

"Here's my original plan," Iroh said, brightening up a bit, "I will sell the location of this precious, beautiful little island to some money-grubbing organization unless..."

"Unless...?" Katara prodded him on.

"Unless you promise to keep in touch with my nephew."

"Your nephew—oh, you mean Zuko?" Katara gave Iroh a very surprised look. "You want me to keep in touch with Zuko?"

"Yes!"

"But—but why?"

"Because," Iroh said, beginning a slow walk towards the hatch that led below decks. Katara followed him, still suspicious. "Because I think you're good for him."

"I'm good for him," Katara repeated flatly.

"Well…" Iroh said, shrugging one shoulder, "It's your decision."

"You're very bad at blackmail, Iroh," Katara said, and couldn't help a small smile.

"I guess I'm just not cut out for the darker side of life," Iroh gave her a soft grin back.

Darker side of life. Katara looked at him for a second—Dragon of the West, fearsome General of the Fire Nation Army and brother of Lord Ozai, killer of a thousand innocents and conqueror of cities—"I'll think about it, Iroh," she said.

He gave her a slight bow. "Thank you."


A/N: I'm really sorry that this chapter sucked so much. Thanks again for the reviews! Your comments are all much appreciated.

OH WAIT PS--Check out this really great story called Frostbite, written by BlueAugust. You won't be disappointed. Search it up and read it.

... yeah, if the dickheads running this place haven't got a move on and DELETED IT FOR PLAGIARISM ALREADY. Come on.