Chapter 5: Alluring Solitude
The stars were the only source of light in the carriage. Zuko and Amaya had fallen asleep, unknowingly resting on each other for support. Iroh smiled fondly at the two. The tension between them had long faded, and they had felt comfortable enough to enter slumber. Perhaps, if they are to carry on like this…they may be able to develop a bond… Iroh thought as he continued to observe them.
Amaya stirred, opened her eyes and blinked. She looked down, and then up.
" EEP!" She jerked backwards, causing the prince's head to fall forward onto the seat. Zuko groaned from the cushions. He propped himself up on one arm whilst rubbing the side of his head with the other.
" Ughhh…what?" Zuko blinked blearily at Amaya. Her eyes were wide, arms raised in a defensive position.
" What's wrong with you?" Zuko asked. But she continued to stare, a red tinge creeping its way past her shocked expression.
" I believe it's the realization that you two were sleeping on each other." Iroh suggested with a snide smile.
" Psh" Zuko rolled his eyes. " Like I would be able to fall asleep near her." He accented the last word as if it were a terrible insult.
" Then how do you explain your head falling into the cushion?" Iroh inquired, holding up a hand to silence Amaya, who had her mouth open, eyes narrowed, ready to engage in verbal conflict.
" Exactly." Iroh smiled, " Now look, we've arrived."
Both Zuko and Amaya looked out their window, craning their necks past the gardens and orchards, to get a better view.
" It's just as I remember it." Zuko sighed, gazing at the ivory towers.
Amaya gasped as she entered through the main door, the inside, if possible, was even more extravagant than the outside. She looked around at the intricately carved metal furniture, the crystal knobs, detailed rugs, and many other things, all bearing the fire nation insignia.
" Close your mouth before you drool on the rug." Zuko remarked, brushing past her.
" Can't you ever be nice?" Amaya questioned, following him.
" Sure I can, just not to you."
"Yeah? And why is that?" She gave him a defiant glare.
" Cause you're as annoying as heck." He replied, walking faster.
She quickened her pace to keep up with him. " That's your excuse?"
" Excuse? No. That's my reason." Zuko said, starting up the marble staircase. " Why are you following me?"
Amaya shrugged, " I don't know where else I would go."
" How about to hell?" He sneered.
" You're despicable." She retorted fiercely.
But before Zuko could think of a smart reply, his uncle Iroh came into the scene holding, a cup of tea.
" Zuko, I'm glad I caught you. Listen, Amaya will be staying in your room."
" WHAT? WHY? There's at least a hundred rooms in the palace!" Zuko exploded.
" I'm well aware of that, Zuko." Iroh said as he sipped his tea.
" Well then why does she have to stay in my room? Can't she stay with the servants or something?" He said irritably.
" You know what? He has a point, I can just sleep in an empty room." Amaya cut in, " Or better yet, you can let me go home."
" No Amaya, I'm afraid I can't let you do that. You're going to stay in Zuko's room, for now at the least, or until the servants can prepare you a room of your own." Iroh said sternly. " And you, Prince Zuko, will allow her."
" Fine." Zuko said through gritted teeth, knuckles white from clenching the banister to restrain his anger.
Amaya, who had been standing between the two firebenders, rolled her eyes and started to climb the stairs.
Zuko followed; jaw twitching from temper. Does he derive some sort of inane pleasure from driving me against my will? He thought as he reached the top of the staircase.
" So, where's your room?" Amaya's voice sliced his thoughts.
He made no effort to answer; instead he pushed past her, and stalked off into the fire-lit hallway. After passing three metal doors, he stopped in front of the fourth one, unlatched the handle, and pushed it open. Zuko let out a small smile; it looked exactly the same as he left it. The servants had obviously done a good job of cleaning it, for, there was not a speck of dust on anything, it seemed as if he had never left. As if time itself had made an exception for that room, and decided not to take it through the years. He took a deep breath of the familiar cinnamon-musk scent.
" Feels nice to be home at last, doesn't it?" Amaya said softly.
" Well it-" Zuko stopped himself in mid-sentence, " Yeah, yeah it does feel nice."
She smiled up at him- a real smile. His head began to whirl; his eyes became blurry. Some vague images clouded his mind. A beach, sandcastles, and the ocean.
" See, you can be nice." She said, still smiling.
" You keep thinking that." He said finally. Then he shook his head.
The Next Morning:
Zuko wearily opened his sleep-fogged eyes, and looked around the room, wondering what woke him. After failing to find a source, he turned the blame towards his internal clock, and proceeded to rise from the bed. But as soon as he tried to turn over on his side, he found that he couldn't lift his left arm. He glanced over at his left and nearly jumped.
Amaya was asleep, and she was using his arm as a pillow.
Zuko quickly racked his mind of last night's events.
"There's only one bed." said Amaya.
" I see you've developed observational skills." Zuko said dryly.
She chose to ignore that comment. " Does your Uncle really expect us to sleep…on the same bed?"
" Knowing his sick and twisted ways, yes. Why? You want to sleep on the floor? Cause if you do, I have absolutely no objection."
" How about we divide the bed in half?" She suggested suddenly.
" Woman, you are not going to ruin my perfectly good bed, I haven't slept in it in years, and I intend to do so with it in one piece."
" Dolt, that's not what I meant, I mean like you sleep on one side, I sleep on the other. That way we don't have to make any contact."
" Whatever. I suppose a few feet is the farthest I can get from you at this state. Just make sure you stay on your side. I wouldn't want to catch any of your insanity."
" You make sure you stay on yours, I wouldn't want to catch any of you pig-headedness." She scowled.
They stood glaring at each other for a few seconds, until Amaya broke the silence.
" What am I supposed to wear to sleep?"
" How am I supposed to know? Wear that. It's what you wore last night."
" I can't wear this," She replied in an appalled voice. " It's uncomfortable." She finished as she pinched a section of her dress to show him.
" Women…always have to be 'comfortable'. Always have to whine. When do they shut up?" Zuko muttered under his breath.
" What was that?" Amaya asked sharply, eyes flashing.
Normally he would have told her exactly what he had been saying. Partly because he didn't like her attitude at all. And partly because he enjoyed pissing her off. But not now, he was tired. It had been a long day, and in his eyes, she was the only obstacle between him, and a good long nap.
" Just take one of my old robes." Zuko said wearily.
He opened a drawer and pulled out a black silk robe and threw it at her. It hit her square in the face.
" Nice reflexes." He sneered. Mocking her, that would be something he could do no matter how tired he got.
She didn't say anything, just held it up to see if it was long enough.
" Could you…not watch while I change?"
" Trust me, I never intended to." He replied as he turned around.
Amaya blinked, she didn't know whether to be insulted or satisfied with his answer.
She decided to just pretend as if it never happened. After she slipped on the robe, she turned around and saw that Zuko had changed too. He was shirtless, her eyes ran over his chiseled abs, taking in every inch. That's enough, she thought as she mentally slapped herself. But somehow Amaya found herself unwillingly impressed.
Neither of them spoke to each other again as they took separate sides of the bed and went to sleep.
Zuko gave a sigh of relief. Nothing had happened between them. Well, nothing more than a few random quarrels.
He looked down at Amaya's sleeping figure. A few strands of her long hair rested on her face, moving along with her breath. He brushed them away with his free hand. Then suddenly jerked his hand away from her face. What am I doing? He questioned himself.
At the sudden flurry of movement, Amaya was apparently jostled awake. As she lay still, stiff as a board, staring at a half-naked Zuko who was inches away from being in a very suggestive position, all thoughts seemed to disappear from her mind.
" Wh-what?" was all Amaya could utter.
" You were sleeping on my arm." Zuko said in a clipped tone, avoiding her eyes.
" Oh…I'm sorry." Amaya replied, sitting up awkwardly.
" Great, now it's asleep." He muttered as he slid off of the bed.
Amaya was left there alone in the room, wondering exactly what had happened.
A Few Hours Later:
A fine way to be woken up, his overruling pigheadedness hovering over me. Amaya thought as she plucked a random leaf off a hedge. It was her first day in the palace, and Iroh had been kind enough to show her the way into the gardens. At least, one of them. At one point during her walk she had decided that it would take at least 6 months to explore every single one of the 17 massive gardens surrounding the palace.
But now she was thinking of only Zuko. Prince Zuko the brat. At this point, she would do anything to escape this prison that Iroh was keeping both her and the pinhead in. Zuko was like a wet cat in a very small cage. Angry, messed up, hissing, and prone to biting.
And yet, and yet she had still found him intriguing. At least, more intriguing than any other boy in her life. There was just something, about him that was so different. Maybe it was the way he carried himself, maybe it was the way he talked, or maybe his eyes. His eyes. His gorgeous eyes, they were certainly his best trait. Almost good enough to balance out his hot-headedness. Almost.
Zuko, she thought. She had known there was something special about him since they first locked eyes. He looked so confused, surrounded by all those girls. And she had felt eyes boring into her. It was a fatal mistake when she turned to look at him.
Yellow eyes were a minority in the fire nation. They belonged to mainly firebenders, cold, shrewd, calculating, and empty. She did her best to avoid the gaze of these eyes. But Zuko, his eyes, they weren't yellow, they sparkled with something more. They were golden. Golden eyes that held a special look in them that seemed so familiar.
That was another part she didn't understand. As far back as she could remember, she had never met someone quite like him. Sure, there were the impatient, temperamental boys. But none of them quite matched Zuko. And just as sure as she had been that no one in her life was quite like him, there was an eerie familiarity that she experienced with him. His name slid out of her mouth as if she had said it a million times before.
And he- what was that noise? Amaya turned her head to search for the source. An odd, grunting sound came from behind a tall hedge.
Pushing past the leaves, she found none other than Zuko. He was in a bare patch of land, obviously practicing his firebending. A thin film of sweat glistened on his chest and arms as he spurred into various bending forms.
Her eyes traced over his every movement. Every kick, spin, punch, it was like poetry. The blazing elegant arches that erupted from him. Amaya was too mesmerized in it all to notice that the fire was getting larger and larger with each new move from Zuko. She sat there, flames reflecting in her eyes, as Zuko launched a jump-kick spin that produced a ferocious ball of fire. Watching it get closer, closer, and then a crackling in her ears.
" AAH!" She screamed, throwing her arm up to block the fire.
Zuko's head snapped around.
" What the hell?" He grimaced as he saw her, " Oh, it's you. What're you doing here? Spying on me?"
" I wasn't spying on you," Amaya replied, " I was looking around."
" Looking around? That's got to be the most pathetic excuse I've ever heard. Admit it, you were watching me fire bend." Said Zuko in a pompous voice.
" What is with you? You act like you're so high and mighty and--"
She broke off when he began to stalk towards her, a menacing gleam in his eyes. She was almost frightened. Almost. He towered above her and she looked blankly up at him, waiting for his next move.
" Show me your hand." He demanded. She cocked her head. This was not what she expected.
Amaya thrust her palm up at him. " Happy now?"
" Not that hand."
She stared at him.
" Well, come on, you. Show me the other hand."
She went on staring, not daring to move her right arm. Not moving a muscle at all.
" Can't, can you?" he asked. " I saw where my flames landed. I'm not stupid. Half of your arm's been burned."
" It is not." She protested fiercely. " Go back to training."
" Yes it is," he insisted. " You're in pain right now, I know."
" You're wrong." She gritted her teeth and threw him a glare. One of her hardest. He didn't even blink.
" Give it here."
" Give what?" She asked, bewildered.
" Your arm, give it to me" He commanded.
" Oh, sure, let me just cut it off my body first. Can you go fetch a knife?" She scoffed.
" You know that's not what I meant." He snapped. And with that he grabbed her arm, making her wince in pain.
He turned it over roughly until he found what he was looking for. A large red mark that started from the side of her palm and ended near her elbow.
Zuko held her arm that way as he sat down and rummaged around his pockets. Amaya didn't dare try to free herself from his grasp.
" Hold still." He ordered as he took the cap off a small bottle. He then began to smear a pale wax-like balm over her singed skin.
" What are you doing?" Amaya asked in a soft voice. There was no point in raising her voice anymore, not when he was so very close.
" What do you think? Now stay still or I'll break your damned arm off." He said irritably. But his touch was almost gentle.
" Why are you doing this?" She asked, bewildered.
" You want a scar running down the length of your arm?" He sneered, ripping the sleeve off his shirt.
" No, not really."
" Then I suggest you shut your trap and let me finish." Zuko replied as he began to wrap the wound, checking it every few seconds to make sure it was tight enough.
When he was done he tied a knot at the end of the cloth, securing it tightly. She turned her arm over and looked at his handiwork. She had to admit, he was good. Whatever he had put on her arm had eased the pain of the burn. And he had done a neat and tidy job of bandaging. He must have done this before. She thought as she ran her fingers along the silk cloth.
Amaya looked at him while he studied her arm. Then he smirked, obviously proud of what he had accomplished.
" Zuko?" She said suddenly.
" What?" He asked absently, as he twirled the cap back onto the bottle.
" Thank you." Amaya said softly.
Zuko looked up at her sharply, not sure what to say. As soon as he met her eyes, he regretted ever doing so. The look in her eyes startled him, it was so full of sincerity that it almost hurt. He wished she would stop looking at him like that.
He stood up, dusted himself off and extended a hand toward her.
She stared at it.
" Well are you going planning to sleep there tonight?"
She shook her head as a reply, and took the offered hand. He pulled her up, somehow with a little too much force than intended, as if he hadn't expected her to be so light or to come so willingly. He stumbled backward and took her along with him. She slammed against his chest and they both tried to regain balance. And control.
She didn't dare move.
He didn't budge either.
Amaya felt her breath catch in her throat as she stared into his golden eyes. She forced her gaze to turn toward a random pile or grass and brushed her hair out of her face. Then she rolled off, muttering an indistinct apology.
Zuko had a very peculiar look on his face as he got up. The two met eyes again, Amaya's heart pounding wildly. He suddenly turned curtly and began walking away. She heard nothing more from him as he disappeared behind a wall of hedges.
He always seems to be walking away from me, she thought as she picked herself up. She shook her head, trying to clear it of the fog.
She could still feel his heart beating.
Aw I just wanna thank everyone who reviewed my story during my...ahem..temporary hiatus. I really do appreciate everything you guys have to say ( with the exception of flames). So please keep on reading my story and reviewing. I can only hope that this chapter is good enough to make up for your wait.