Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. It owns me.
Summary: Two injured souls, two uncertain paths, two nights of searching for answers, and only one blanket. ZukoSong.
The Spear and the Shield
Chapter One: Down Came the Rain
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A drenched Zuko let out a frustrated curse directed toward the storm. A flash of lightning and a boom of thunder followed in reply to his insult. He glanced out the window of the ramshackle house and saw the rain pouring in the fierce wind. Even as he watched, the rain became perceptively heavier. He could hardly make out the forest that surrounded the hiding place or the ostrich horse tied up just outside.
When he entered the village he had tried to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, his face wasn't exactly inconspicuous and he had been quickly recognized as the one on the wanted posters. Several bounty hunters had heard the news and decided to capture the fugitive to make some easy money. It didn't take long for them to notice that Zuko was no easy target. Several bruised faces, broken bones, and singes later he had escaped to an abandoned home in the mountains with barely a scratch. What Zuko hadn't realized until his vision began to blur was that the kunai that made the scratch had poison on the tip.
But even more importantly, he was stuck with her.
He turned his amber eyes to the young woman sitting quietly on the dirty floor. Song looked neither angry nor scared. Zuko was grateful for this; he doubted he would be able to tolerate a whining girl at a time like this.
A fresh wave of sickness caused the former prince to lose his balance. Song was beside him in an instant to keep him from hitting the floor. He thought she would buckle under his weight, but she was stronger than she looked. She brought him slowly down until he was seated and leaning against the wall for support.
"Let me see your wound," her voice was soft, but there was an underlying firmness to it. She reached for his bloody arm and he instinctively pulled away.
She remained silent, but the look in her eyes was enough to tell him that she wasn't pleased with this behavior. He hated being nursed. Even when it had been his own mother he could hardly stand to be treated like a helpless child. He hated to be seen as weak or vulnerable. His stubbornness was quickly compromised when his vision blurred again. Damn. Why wouldn't the room stop spinning?
Song reached for his arm again, and taking his stillness as permission, she began to roll up his sleeve. Her hands were soft and gentle and she tore a piece of her own dress to clean and wrap the cut. She continued to examine him, looking at his eyes, checking his pulse, and placing a hand on his forehead. The intimacy was unfamiliar, and unable to stand her closeness any longer, he pushed her hand away. "I'll be fine," he insisted.
"Your pupils are dilated, your pulse is rapid, and you have a fever. I don't think that qualifies as 'fine.' I think you were poisoned with jimsonweed."
Why did he not like the way she said that? "Jimsonweed?"
"It was only in a small dose, not enough to be fatal, but you'll be sick for quite a while. There's a plant that could alleviate the symptoms, but…" her gaze moved to the storm outside the window. "I don't think I'll be able to find one with the weather like it is."
He would have been surprised by her expertise if not for his memory of the place where they first met. Her knowledge of medicinal herbs was expected considering her work at the clinic and in his case it was now a blessing – ironic, but a blessing.
When he first saw Song in the village he could hardly believe his eyes. Zuko hadn't predicted that she would come looking for him, much less for her to boldly demand the return of her ostrich horse. The only thing more surprising than her actions was his. He hadn't expected to be speechless. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine coming face to face once again with the young woman whose kindness he had betrayed. Or that he would risk his life to save her.
It had stupidity on the bounty hunters' part. When they stormed into the small tavern they saw Song grab his arm just as he had turned to walk away. The wrong conclusions were drawn, and being blinded by greed, they sought to capture the fugitive and his companion. Had he been a split second too late the knife would have pierced Song. He didn't know what possessed him to protect her, much less drag her along as he fended them off and made his escape.
She stared at him for a moment, he could feel her gaze burning into his side, but he couldn't bring himself to look at her again. His cheeks burned just thinking about it. Song finally stood and began a search of the rickety little house, what she was looking for even Song wasn't quite sure of. Anything to help keep them warm.
Her search was relatively fruitless; only a few rusted pots, some worn clothing, and a single dusty blanket seemed to be useable. She shivered and tried not to think where the blanket had been all these years, not to mention who or what might have used it, but it was better than nothing.
She shook the dust out and placed the blanket around his shoulders. "You should get some rest," she broke the awkward silence. "I'll keep watch."
"I don't think anyone would be stupid enough to try and find us in this weather." He still wasn't looking at her, but knew she must be freezing without a blanket of her own. "What about you?"
Song smiled slightly. "I'm not the one that's sick and there's only one blanket."
"You'll be sick next if you sleep in those wet clothes in the cold all night. Take it," he demanded. "You need it more than I do."
"Why are you being so stubborn? And why won't you look at me?" His behavior had reached beyond annoying. "Is it guilt? Is that why you can't look me in the eye?"
She could have sworn he was blushing. "It's not that…"
"My dress?" Song repeated. What? Was he the fashion police?
Understanding clicked as she looked down to see that her dress was indeed, practically transparent when wet. Her face turned bright red as she crossed her arms in vain hope of covering herself. He handed the blanket back to her, which she angrily grabbed. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
Zuko couldn't think of a response that wouldn't end with her getting violent. Honestly, he didn't need anymore injuries, so he remained silent.
She made a frustrated noise and positioned the blanket until it covered them both. Song was careful to make sure her body was fully hidden under the cloth. She was well aware of the inappropriateness of the situation – no – the complete absurdity of the situation, but she was willing to compromise as circumstances allowed. It was going to be a long night.
Zuko wasn't sure what to make of this turn of events. She was being surprising kind considering she was sitting next to a thief. Her thief. He wondered briefly if this was all some kind of nightmare. Yes, that must surely be it. He wasn't injured and poisoned, he wasn't a fugitive being chased by greedy bounty hunters, he wasn't with Song, and she definitely wasn't lying next to him so closely. On second thought, this was too damn strange to be a dream.
To hell with it, he couldn't stand this anymore. "Why did you come looking for me?"
She shifted a bit. "Why did you steal the ostrich horse?"
"That's why? You came all this way just to ask me that?"
"I'll answer your question if you answer mine."
He suddenly realized she wasn't quite as sweet as he remembered. How was he supposed to answer her? Zuko decided that lying would be useless at this point. He might as well tell her the truth.
"I needed it."
"To run from the Fire Nation?"
Damn she was perceptive. "I guess you saw the poster too."
"It wasn't long after you left with my ostrich horse that I saw it. So your real name is Zuko?"
He nodded. "Your turn. Did you come all this way just to get it back?"
Song paused for a moment, her deep brown eyes shifted to the floor. "That ostrich horse belonged to my father. When our village burned down he was only thing that survived. It's the only thing I have left of our old life before the Fire Nation. When you stole it my mother told me to let it go, but I couldn't. I couldn't understand why you would steal from us after everything we had done for you. You stole more than an animal; you took a piece of my past and I wasn't ready to let go."
Zuko shifted uncomfortably. Why couldn't the poison have just killed him?
She sensed his tension and continued on regardless. A little guilt would do him good. "I wasn't truly angry until I saw the wanted poster and discovered who you really were. I felt like such a fool for trusting you. I had to get him back; it had become a matter of pride."
For the first time he felt they had something in common. He could understand pride, it was the one thing he wasn't ready to let go of yet. And yet he had to. He was a fugitive of the Fire Nation with no means of support. A common thief. Seeing what he had become had hurt him more than he would ever let anyone see, not even Iroh. As she said, it was a matter of pride.
"So what's stopping you?" He asked.
She raised a brow. "Stopping me?"
"In my condition you can easily take the ostrich horse and leave. So why haven't you?"
"What makes you think I'm not waiting for the storm to pass?"
Zuko was getting seriously annoyed with this question game of theirs. Why couldn't she just answer the damn question?
"If that was your plan you wouldn't have wasted your time tending to my wound just to leave me here to die."
This silenced her. Zuko took a little comfort knowing that he had her cornered.
"You saved my life. I'm just repaying the debt. I don't think I could sleep well knowing that I owed you anything."
So that was it. Song felt responsible for his condition. He opened his mouth to tell her how stupid her logic was, but immediately closed it again. Zuko wasn't ready to press his luck just yet.
"You don't owe me anything. Now go to sleep." With this final declaration Zuko turned on his side away from the girl.
There were so many unasked questions, but Song decided to wait until morning. He needed the rest and her own exhaustion was catching up with her. She lay beside him, her shoulder and hip just barely brushing his. But her troubled thoughts would not afford her a decent night's sleep.
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Author's Notes: That's right. I have brought the cliché that is the Blanket Scenario to the Avatar fandom. Its unoriginality makes me cringe, but for some reason the idea for this fic beat me over the head. Repeatedly.
And me-obviously making it a challenge didn't help.