Title: "Lady Behind the Fan"

Summary: A young lady from the court of the Fire Nation must balance duty, honor, and love to find herself and her prince. Arranged marriage, court intrigue, and one flying bison served together for one not-so-typical romance.

Disclaimer: I in no way own or claim Avatar: The Last Airbender as my original work. It is the property of its creator (Mike DiMartino), Nickelodeon, and Nickelodeon's parent company. I am in no way receiving any compensation for my work and it is written for the sole purpose of recreational enjoyment. In short, I'm just borrowing the characters for a little bit. I promise to put them back where I found them after I get done playing with them.

Author Notes: Thank you to...well, no one. No one beta'd it and I'm not getting some gold statuette for it. That's depressing. Anyway, this is just a prologue to test the waters a bit. Don't rip off my original characters or I'll rip you up (sorry, I just like my intellectual property to remain as such--mine). As always, I'm tickled with any review and I don't particularly mind flames. They make me laugh. A lot.

Prologue: What News Have You?

"My lady! My lady!"

A soft patter of feet and a swish of fine silk accompanied the shout of a woman. Inside her private apartments, Lady Etsu did not even spare a quirk of the eyebrow at the sound. She simply tucked her feet more firmly beneath her and continued her writing, her hand steadily and gracefully moving the brush across the page.

"My lady!"

The door to her room banged open, revealing a lady of the court, disheveled and gasping for air. She collapsed at the threshold in an awkward kneel, her forehead touching the floorboards. "My apologies," she wheezed, looking up at the seated woman. Clutching at a stitch in her side, the lady gasped, "But Prince Zuko has broken the barricade!"

The brush hesitated for the merest second before continuing its elegant path. "Firmly close the doors, Kohana, and extinguish all the candles," Lady Etsu murmured, not turning away from her task, "and do be quick about it."

Kohana nodded dumbly, causing more locks of hair to escape her hair ornaments and adding to her disheveled appearance. Still breathless from her run, she shut the doors and locked them before blowing out all of the candles. The room plunged into semi-darkness, with only the moonlight creeping through the windows. Kohana knelt again, watching the silhouette of Etsu put away her brush and finally turn towards her.

Though only a small portion of Etsu's face was in the moonlight, Kohana was struck by the distress in her eyes and the tightness of her mouth. Etsu came forward and knelt in front of Kohana and grasped her hand. Without the light of the candles and the ever-present eyes of the court, the aloof, glacial lady melted into a young, anxious woman, her hands trembling. "Come now, Kohana, Firebender spies cannot hear us if we give them no flame to eavesdrop through," Etsu whispered into the darkness, her voice sounding a bit strangled, almost as if she didn't truly believe what she was saying. "What news have you?"

"Prince Zuko was pursuing the Avatar and he decided to run the blockade in order to capture him. Now, as my lady knows, Commander Zhao—"

"—that dishonorable sycophant—"

"—was in charge of the blockade and he ordered shots to be fired at the Avatar's flying bison, which missed and fell towards Prince Zuko's ship—"

"—he knowingly fired at the Crown Prince? —"

"Yes, my lady. Prince Zuko's ship was struck, but he made it past the barricade. Commander Zhao followed his damaged ship and arrested him—"

"What?" Etsu sucked in a breath, her eyes going wide. "They'll charge him with treason!" Etsu buried her face in her hands as she cried, "This would've never—"

Kohana laid a placating hand on Etsu's shoulder. "All is not lost. Prince Zuko escaped from the commander, as did the Avatar. But Commander Zhao will be at court tomorrow, my lady, bringing a group of traitorous Fire Sages with him." Kohana bit her lip, waiting for a response as she stared at Etsu with her head in her hands. Hesitatingly, she prompted, "My lady?"

Etsu abruptly removed her hands from her face and straightened her posture, her neutral gaze in place. She went to her desk and struck a match, flooding the room with warm light as she lit a candle. "Rouse me at an hour before first light, Kohana, I wish to greet our esteemed commander." Etsu's voice resumed its usual serene tone. "I must be in attendance at the Fire Lord's court early tomorrow morning, so both we and Yuri must be in full court clothes." Etsu's face suddenly hardened in the flickering candlelight. "You are dismissed, Lady Kohana."

Kohana bowed her head to the floor before backing slowly out of the room. "May the fire of the stars protect you, my lady," Kohana intoned formally as she exited the room, shutting the door behind her.

"And may they protect you, my lord prince," Etsu whispered to her empty room.