Since I abandoned "The Invasion of Black Sun," I'm considering turning this into its own fic. I've already got some good reviews (although a few more reviews would be nice) so it just might be possible.

Don't worry, frozenheat, I wouldn't abandon "The Life of a Monk." I like that one. I'm just waiting until I finish "Aang, Katara, and a Plan" to continue it.

I don't own Avatar.

The Trade-Off

The flight to Lake Nuo went by quickly. Aang sat on Appa's head in silence, straining to get there as fast as possible without exhausting the bison. Sokka and Toph (who was terrified of these high speeds because they didn't have enough money to buy a new saddle yet) sat on Appa's back, arguing no less.

"I can't believe you're supporting his decision!" Toph shrieked at the Water Tribe warrior.

"It's not like we could stop him anyways. I mean, look at him, he's determined to do this."

"Even if I could look at him I'd think this is stupid. Aang's the Avatar. I know they have Katara but we can't just let the world's last hope for peace rot in some cell!" Toph continued to yell. Aang was doing his best to ignore the two of them.

"Yes, we can. Look, I'm all for saving the world, but my dad told me to protect my sister, and right now, she's the one rotting in some cell. So yes, I can let him go through with this."

"Ughhh!" She groaned. She would have punched him if she could see him. "You're not getting it Snoozles! If we give them Aang to get Katara back, then we just lost the war! Everything that we've been working towards for the past few months means nothing. And with him out of the way, we're easy targets. We're enemies of the Fire Nation; they won't hesitate to track us down and kill us. It doesn't matter if we get Katara back 'cause she'll just end up dead like the rest of us."

"Well then what do you suggest?!" Sokka yelled.

"Ambush them! Find where they're keeping her, start a fight in the middle of the trade or something but we just can't let them have Aang!"

"Azula's smarter than that," Toph and Sokka both turned their attention to Aang, who had decided to keep quiet until this point. "She'll outnumber us. By a lot. If we fight, we'll have no chance. The trade is the only way."

"We don't even know if Katara's still alive!" Toph argued. Sokka's face became horror-stricken. He hadn't even considered that yet.

"She's alive," Aang assured. "They want me, not her, and they'll want me to be cooperative. They know that I won't be if they kill her."

Toph realized that, for the first time, she had lost an argument. With a groan of resignation, she lied down onto her back. "You know that you're practically committing suicide, right?"

Aang's features hardened and he refocused his attention ahead of him. He could see the shore of the Lake. There were many people dotting the ground to the far north. "Yes."

Katara gazed up at the sky; warm, sticky trails of tears on her face. She saw Appa in the distance, approaching rapidly. Her only thoughts were focused on the boy coming to rescue her by giving himself up to his enemies. A few more tears rolled down her face.

"Aang…" She whispered.

"The Avatar cares for you," The Fire Nation princess approached the waterbender. "Enough to make the ultimate sacrifice to save your life," She glanced at Katara. "It's a shame you'll never see him again."

Katara bit her lip to try and keep from crying any harder. The entire time she spent in the Prison Hold, she kept her silence and refrained from showing any extreme emotion. It was easy enough; they didn't do anything to her, although they really could have spared a little more food, but now as she watched the boy she loved flying towards her to throw away his life only for her to keep living on, it was too much for her to handle.

Azula's mouth curved into an amused smile when she heard Katara's crying intensify. "Don't worry; your friend's death will be quick; virtually painless." Lying is so much fun…

Katara sniffled. "Do you really expect me to believe that?"

"No," The Princess easily replied; the same amused smile on her face. "Actually, death would be a luxury compared to what we have in store for him."

The Princess watched as Katara's eyes grew wide open, only to be filled with more tears. Azula's amused smile became replaced with one of pride. She had obviously become a master of evoking emotion, something that would be necessary to put her plan in full effect.

A bit of a whimper from Katara told the Princess that the Avatar had landed.

"You know, it really is a shame," Azula's smile became amused once more. "You two would have made a cute couple."

Aang effortlessly airbended himself off of Appa's head and turned around to face the bison.

"Goodbye, buddy." He said with a sad smile as he gave his pet a last hug.

Toph and Sokka, who had climbed off of the bison, walked up next to him. Momo was perched on Toph's shoulder.

"Stay with Toph, alright Momo?" Aang asked as he scratched the lemur behind its oversized ears.

With what sounded like a sad squeak and chirp, the lemur's ears drooped and he obliged to the command.

"I guess this is it." Sokka finally said. Aang could have sworn he saw a tear in his eye.

"Yeah," Toph added. "Hey, hold out in there. We'll find a way to get you out."

Aang smiled, but he doubted that.

"Do you want us to tell her… how you feel about her?" Sokka asked.

Aang's smile faded away. "No."

Sokka nodded. "We'll see you around." Sokka said in a friendly tone.

"No," Aang handed his staff to Sokka and turned to face the Fire Nation soldiers standing less than one hundred yards away. "You won't."

Aang began walking.

Katara forced her tears to stop spilling out; she would have to face Aang soon.

"You're lucky to have someone who cares for you so much," The Princess told her. "I'd dare to say he loves you."

"What would you know about love?"

"Only that it's a weakness; that it clouds your judgment, like what is happening to the Avatar right now. Thousands more will die in the Fire Nation conquest because he values your life more than anyone else's," Azula looked at Katara. "That is either love or determination. And I highly doubt the latter."

She's lying. Katara thought bitterly. All she does is lie…

Azula saw the Avatar begin to walk in their direction. Another proud smile came to her face.

"Walk towards your friends," The Princess commanded. "If you stop to talk to the Avatar, we'll kill them all."

Swallowing a lump in her throat, Katara nodded and slowly began to move towards the others. Her eyes came to rest on the boy approaching her on her left side. He was looking directly at her, his eyes hard and focused. It was obvious that he knew what would happen to him.

Aang released a sigh of relief when he noticed that Katara wasn't limping or cut up or bruised. She seemed fine; her clothes were a little dirty, but that was it.

They were finally reaching a talking distance from each other, and Katara couldn't find any words. Every time she opened her mouth to say something she would choke and have to fight back more tears.

"Are you alright?" Aang asked; desperation in his voice.

Katara found her voice. "Yeah, I'm fine. I-"

"You sure?" They kept walking at a steady pace, overlapping each other's paths, forcing them to look behind themselves to face the other.

"Yes, I'm sure. Aang-" She cut herself off when she saw that there was already some distance between them. "Don't go…" She whispered, her tears now freely falling at a rapid pace.

The rest of the walk went by rather quickly. The tears kept coming, even as she reached Sokka and Toph.

"Are you okay?" Sokka asked as soon as she reached them.

Katara nodded and wiped away her tears, but found than new tears had already taken their places.

"How could you let him go?" Katara didn't direct the question at anyone in specific, just anyone who could have kept him from leaving; Sokka, Toph, the Spirits… anyone.

"Aang wanted to go," Toph clarified. "He wanted to get you back. He wouldn't stop for anything."

Sokka looked at the beautifully carved antique staff in his hands. It was Aang's lone possession, and one of the last things tying him to his past. It would mean more to her than to anyone else…

He gently placed the staff in Katara's hands. She looked it over, and the only thought that would come to mind was Aang's smiling face and energetic attitude. A fresh wave of tears emerged as she clutched onto the staff harder, as if it were the last of Aang she had to hold on to.

Azula smiled again, except now it was a smile of pure satisfaction. The Avatar walked up to her, closing his eyes, and patiently holding his hands out to her. A soldier placed iron cuffs on his wrist.

Now wearing a smile of complete psychotic joy, she held his cuffs up by the chain, and pulled the Avatar closer.

Placing her mouth next to his ear, she whispered, "Whatever you were expecting to happen to you, I promise it will be at least ten times worse."

Yeah, all that violence will start next chapter, so please continue patting your heads and rubbing your stomachs.

I'm afraid that I didn't get Azula's personality down right. It's the first time I've really ever included her in a story. If you couldn't tell by now, she's going to be a very important character, so I want her to be as IC as possible.

Reviews are still appreciated.