it's a dangerous game

They move together across the hall, in and out: their shadows in the lamplight shift along the wall, the curve of his swords counterpoint to the flutter of her sleeves.

Zuko is naked to the waist and sweating. His two swords are alive in his hands, woken by the kiss of steel against steel, the danger of this fight. His hair is long enough again now to be tied back as it should be, but a few strands have come loose and dangle down on the left side of his face. His sight is worse on that side in any case, so it's not a new handicap. Uncle has always told him that he must take care not to expose that side as a weakness, that a competent opponent will use it against him. Uncle has told him so many things.

He moves, the pivot between his two blades; he leaps and swings and brings them both around and down.

Mai is fully clothed, and as cold as ice, as calm as a candle in temple. She doesn't dance the way that Zuko does; her movements are bare necessities, quick and essential and precise. The hand up. The hand down. A spray of knives between her fingers to block a cut. A wrist-snap and a riposte of hurled steel. Sinking down, turning, rising again without shifting a step.

Zuko spins and brings the blades down as she falls to her knees, and they clash above her throat, a hair's breadth away from cutting flesh. They form an exact angle, as neat a pair of edges as she has ever seen. She looks up their length to see his face as he stands above her, the flush on his cheeks.

One arm is extended before her; the other, behind, balances her.

He looks down between the hilts of his swords to see her face, pale and composed. He feels the edge of steel against the bare flesh of his stomach, where she holds the knife so close that it already grows warm from the heat of his body.

For a moment, a very long moment, neither of them moves, too consumed by the kiss of steel to want to let it end.