Disclaimer: I don't own ATLA or the lyrics to the song "Matches to Paper Dolls" by Dessa.
A/N: Written for the Zutarotica Winter Challenge on lj. Thanks to cupid-painted-blind for being an awesome and very thorough beta! Don't hesitate to leave a review!
ETA: jesterry has drawn some beautiful artwork for this story. You can find the link to it in my profile.
If you're asking, I can't say no
Just one more chapter, our book won't close
He didn't belong there. He was a stranger, a wanderer, a vagabond, who found himself in a village rife with mistrust. He had only the worn, dirty clothes on his back; the villagers perceived a threat and retreated inside their straw huts. It was not often that a villager met someone from outside their hamlet, and when they did it was hardly amicable.
The man stumbled and staggered past huts, intent on only one thing. He was starved and dehydrated and desperate. He collapsed in the center of town and cried out in a raspy, crackling voice.
"Please," he said. "Please, I mean you no harm. I just want some water." He coughed once, and it rattled his lungs and scratched his throat; he tasted blood and knew it was the cough of a dying man.
"Here." A pair of gentle brown hands appeared in front of his face holding a bowl. "Drink this."
The man obeyed and took greedy gulps, nearly choking on the precious water offered to him.
"Slow down. You'll drown yourself."
The man did as he was told, and looked up at his savior. He was met with vivid blue eyes and long brown hair. A woman, he realized, a beautiful woman whose brow was creased with worry.
"It's okay," she said. "Come with me."
He tried not to lean on her too heavily, but he was too weak. He did not want to go with her, not really, but neither did he want to spend the night in the middle of the village.
"I have a mat you can sleep on," she said.
"It's okay," he murmured. "The floor is fine."
She said nothing, but made a sound of disapproval.
She wrapped one of his arms around her shoulders and led him inside. The hut was small, only one room, but the man liked it— he felt as if he could relax here, be comfortable here. The woman bent down in the corner, with a flint rock in her hand; she struck it several times, but failed to start a fire.
"Let me," he croaked. He extended his arm towards her, and she backed away. A small flame issued from his fingertips and caught the kindling alight.
The woman's eyes widened. "You… you know fire?"
He nodded, unable to meet her eyes.
"Good," she said, then grinned. "I know water." She waved an arm and a stream of water rose from a nearby jug. "I think we will get along just fine."
They sat in silence for a time, the woman cooked some sort of game over the fire and the man occasionally sipped water from a cup. The aroma of roasted meat filled the hut and the man's stomach grumbled ferociously in response.
She set down a bowl in front of him, and the man found he couldn't wait any longer. He shoved morsel after morsel into his mouth, the juice running down his fingers, his chin, his neck. The woman gazed at him, curious.
"How long has it been?" she asked.
"What?" he said, his mouth still full of food.
"How long have you been without food?"
The man shrugged, swallowed. "I've lost count."
"More than a week?" she asked.
After a thoughtful pause he nodded slowly. "Yeah, more than that."
The woman began arranging a mat on the floor, adding a blanket to it. "Here," she said. "You can sleep here."
The man looked around the room. There was no other mat. "Where will you sleep?" he asked.
The woman shrugged. "I don't mind sharing."
The man felt heat rising in his cheeks as he realized what his host was saying. "Oh-I… The floor is fine."
The woman only shrugged again. "Have the blanket then." She tossed it to him before he could object. Then, without warning, she moved her hand to direct the water over the flames in the corner. Absent of fire the room was pitch black; the moon had long since vanished behind thick clouds, and the man only heard soft rustling as she lay down on her mat.
Silence descended, but neither guest nor host could fall asleep. A long time passed without either acknowledging the other's wakefulness until finally the man could stand it no longer.
"They don't know, do they?" he asked. The silence resumed in the wake of his question, and the man thought maybe he was wrong, maybe she was sleeping. But she broke the quiet in a hushed voice.
"No," she murmured.
"They would hate you if they knew," he said.
"Then why do you stay?" The man turned onto his side in order to face the woman, although he could not see her in the dark.
"I have a husband here."
The man tensed. "But—"
"He is gone, hunting," she said. "Most of the men are. They won't be back for days."
"He doesn't know?"
"No," she replied. "I like it when he's gone. I can practice."
"I've heard that in the west they praise it," the man offered. "They have kings who know fire."
"Then you're traveling in the wrong direction," she said with what sounded like a small smile. "You could be a king."
"No," he told her. "It's too late for that."
They lapsed into silence again. The man felt the first waves of sleep wash over him, but heard a dissatisfied sigh beside him as a cold breeze blew in from the smoke hole in the roof. The man was suddenly overwhelmed with guilt, and the strange fire inside of him grew hot, too hot for a blanket. He slowly made his way nearer to the woman.
"Here," he whispered as he put the blanket over her. "I don't need it."
"It's okay," she said. "We can share."
This time her offer didn't seem so strange. He crawled onto the sleeping mat next to her. "You're very warm," she told him. "Are you feverish?"
The man shook his head and replied, "I've always been like this."
"Maybe that's why you know fire," she murmured. Her hand slid to his belly. "It burns inside of you."
"I don't know," he said. He took her hand in his own and returned it to her side. "Maybe."
Despite his firm replacement of her hand, it returned to his person as she drifted to sleep. Soon she was curled next to him with one arm wrapped around his torso.
"Thank you," he whispered, long after she had fallen asleep. The woman made no response, except to hold to him tighter. His hand came to rest on her waist and he burrowed his face into her thick hair.
It was in this position the men of the village found them, charred and burned like the rest of the town. Only two had survived, a woman and her infant. She told the men of a stranger who had wandered here several nights ago, and of the ferocious men who had followed and razed the village to the ground.
Fight fire with fire but the fire won't fight
We just fly these circles like tired kites
Seafarers, traders from the south, always arrived this time of year— it was a sight the young man had yet to see, and he wished to very badly. That season he had agreed to work at the pier; the islands had just unified, and declared Caldera to be the capital due to its great harbor, one large enough to anchor dozens of ships at one time.
He had signed up to work on the docks, hoping to catch a glimpse of these strange people, the Southern Water Tribe. They had blue eyes, he'd heard, eyes the color of the sky, and skin dark as earth. Their exoticism was unparalleled and it was often that the women were referred to as the most beautiful, the most sensual… and the most elusive.
"There! On the horizon!" the foreman yelled. "It's Water Tribe, all right. They should be here by nightfall."
The dock workers erupted into action, readying the pier and sending word to the local merchants. The Water Tribe was a generous customer.
"You, boy," the foreman called, motioning to the young man. "You're to help with the unloading tonight. Talk to Goro; he'll tell you what to do."
"Yes, sir," the boy replied.
It was hours before the Water Tribe ship was close enough to dock, and the boy thought he would go crazy in anticipation. He tried to keep himself busy, running errands for Goro, preparing the ropes for the incoming vessel and sharing jokes with the other men. But it wasn't enough; the boy could barely contain himself.
"First time seeing a Water Tribe ship, eh?" Goro asked.
The boy nodded. "Yeah." He anxiously fiddled with a latch on a nearby crate. "Is it true what they say?" he asked suddenly. "About… about the, um…"
"The women?" Goro finished with a smile. "That's something you'll just have to see for yourself."
The sun had just set when the Water Tribe vessel docked. There was much yelling and confusion for the boy as he was ordered about here and there, checking ropes and moving cargo. He was kept quite busy, and barely caught a glimpse of the people aboard. He saw only men at first, but they did have dark skin, darker than the boy had ever seen before, and they spoke with strange accents. Some of the dockhands seemed to recognize the foreign sailors, and gave them a hearty pat on the back, but none could stay to chat. The foreman was barking orders at everyone and the boy thought his back would break from carrying so many heavy crates to and fro.
"That's the last of it," one of the Water Tribe men said. He seemed to be the captain, and the boy wondered if he could bend water. With a wave of his hand, the captain gave his crew shore leave and the foreigners rapidly disembarked, disappearing into the crowds of Capital City.
The boy was disappointed as he did not see a waterbender, nor woman, among them. From his position on the dock, the boy could see the captain clearly, and wondered why he did not leave with the rest of his crew. Suddenly he motioned behind him; his lips moved, but the boy couldn't hear what was said.
Without warning water rushed back, as if the tide had receded, only it was far too late in the evening for such a movement. Another person, with the same dark skin and hair, appeared next to the captain and the boy realized he had finally seen what he had been waiting for.
She was beautiful, even at a distance. The boy caught the blue of her eyes as she surveyed the city before her. She hugged the captain and glided down the gangplank, the older man following her.
The man headed toward the foreman's lodge, and the girl wandered into town. The boy trailed behind her, not trying particularly hard to remain unnoticed. The merchants and traders were yelling to attract attention, holding up flashy wares so they could catch the light just so and some of them had children to wander the streets, biting into a delicious juicy fruit to entice others. She stopped at a stall displaying various jewelry and trinkets. The keeper was about to close, but changed his mind when he saw the Water girl approach. He leaned over his counter and smiled widely, showing all of his yellow teeth.
"See anything you like?" the vendor asked her, giving her a lecherous leer.
"No," the girl replied firmly. She walked on without another glance.
The boy still followed behind, unconsciously closing the distance between him and the foreigner. He became lost in her blue clothing, her strange gait, and the long brown hair trailing down her back. The way it shone in the lantern light made him want to reach out and touch it…
"Are you going to follow me all night?" Suddenly the rich brown hair gave way to icy blue eyes, glinting with suspicion and anger.
"Uh-" The boy tried to regain his composure, but was completely disarmed at the sight of her face so close to his.
"I know you've been following me since I left the ship," she said. "What do you want?"
"N-nothing," he stammered. "I was… I was just curious."
The girl was close, so close, but the look in her eyes was fierce. For the first time since he saw her, the boy felt something other than wonderment.
"What? Never seen a waterbender before?" she asked, hands on her hips.
"No," the boy admitted. "I haven't."
The look on the Water girl's face softened a bit, and she relaxed slightly.
"Oh," she replied. "Well now you have." She turned on her heel and began walking away.
"Did you hold the tides back all by yourself?" the boy asked suddenly, hoping for more of her attention.
She stopped, but didn't turn around. "Maybe."
"If you did then that was… incredible," he said. "You must be a powerful bender."
Slowly, the girl turned and focused her blue eyes on his golden ones. "You think so?"
The boy nodded. "Do you think you could show me more?"
The waterbender regarded him for a moment, as if deciding whether or not he was worthy of seeing her bend. "Okay," she said. "But I want something in return."
"I want to see a firebender."
The boy smirked. "I'm sure we can find one."
The two of them walked to a beach, not far from the harbor. They were careful to maintain their distance with each other, but would sneak glances when the other one wasn't looking.
"Is this okay?" The boy motioned to the small patch of beach they stood in. The ocean gently lapped at the sand while reflecting the moon's glow.
"This is perfect." She walked into the shallows and began moving her arms, slowly at first, then faster. Water rose from the ocean, moving into tendrils that danced around her body. She had five, at least, all moving around her, almost like a pentapus. The tendrils rose higher and higher, and the waterbender raised her arms. Suddenly all of them became sharp and hard, and were flying towards him. He barely had time to move before they landed in the ground with a deadly thud.
Hesitantly, the boy reached out and touched one. It was cold to the touch, and reminded the boy of something he had seen only a few times in his life during the cold months. "Ice," he breathed. The boy continued to touch the icy weapons, and the warmth of his hand slowly melted them.
"I want to see a firebender now," the girl demanded.
"You've never seen one?" the boy asked, still focusing on the ice.
"No," she said. "That's why I came here. I've heard they can produce fire in the palms of their hands."
"That's true," the boy replied. "Some can even breathe fire. Like the dragons."
"Do you know someone who can do that?" she asked, clearly astonished.
The boy nodded. "Yes," he said. He finally looked at her, meeting her eyes and grinned. He took a deep breath, and turned once again to the ice. Bright orange flames issued from his mouth and melted the waterbender's weapons completely.
"Me." He tried to face her once again, eager to see the look on her face, but found he could not move his body more than a few inches. He looked down and realized he had been frozen in place.
The waterbender giggled. "Try melting that, firebender."
The boy lit his palms and quickly obliged, but as soon as he was free he was met with another torrent of water. He used his fire to cut through it, and sent a blast towards the girl. She dove out of the way, and threw a whip of water toward him. It knocked him over, but he quickly regained his footing and issued more blasts of fire her way.
She blocked each one with a wave of water, and then sent more pointed ice toward him. He dodged just in time, but one ripped his shirt sleeve, and the boy responded with a kick that swept fire over the sand.
The girl retreated deeper into the water, then raised both her arms. A mass of ocean water rose behind her and before the boy could respond, the wave was crashing over him, knocking him to the ground and pinning him there.
"Had enough?" she asked.
"For now," he growled. The girl laughed in response.
"You have some seaweed in your hair," she told him.
He scowled and pulled it out.
"You shouldn't have challenged me tonight," she continued. "It's a full moon. That's when my bending is the strongest."
"How was I supposed to know that?"
The girl shrugged.
"Well, if you had challenged me when the sun was out I could've beat you," he said. "Firebenders get strength from the sun."
"Fine," she replied. "Tomorrow, same place, noon."
The boy watched her walk back to her ship, a tiny smile on his lips.
He was there at noon, warming up, practicing his katas and stretching.
He was bending down, touching his toes, when he felt a cool wetness splash over him. He instantly straightened.
"Morning, firebender," the Water girl said with a grin.
She beat him again, and again, and again. No matter what time of day or night, full moon or no, she always won.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," she told him one night as they sat on the beach.
"Oh," the boy replied. "You weren't here for very long."
"My dad-the captain-wants to stop in the Earth Kingdom before we go home."
They sat in silence, each one wondering if the other was wondering the same thing.
"I'll come back."
"Will you come back?"
They spoke at the same time, and blushed.
After a pause the boy said, "When?"
"Next year." She gave him a small smile.
Tentatively, as if he were approaching an agitated hogmonkey, he inched his hand towards hers. When his fingers brushed her skin, she looked at him and widened her smile. She wrapped her dark fingers around his lighter ones.
"I know it's a long time," she whispered. "I have something for you to remember me by."
And she leaned into him, close, close enough to feel his breath on her face. Before he could register what she was doing, her lips were on his. They were soft and full and tasted like the sea; he thought he had never tasted anything so divine, so perfect, and his heart beat so loud in his chest he thought it would burst through his skin.
She broke the kiss far too soon and whispered her goodbye. The boy felt a cold emptiness unfurl inside him, and stalked away to begin counting the days until she returned.
She never did.
Tried sweet talk, tried dynamite
But I sleepwalk back to the battle site
They spent the day resting. And waiting.
"Do you think-"
"You should get some rest," he said.
She had led him through empty halls, using his mumbled directions as a guide. They found themselves in a bedroom, with a large bed in its center. She laid him down on crimson sheets and told him to go to sleep.
But he didn't.
And she didn't either.
"So should you," she replied. They lay next to each other, a foot apart, not unlike the time they slept on Appa while searching for his uncle.
He sighed. "They'll be okay," he said. He said it softly, and she didn't know if he was talking to himself or her, or both. "But there's nothing we can do right now. We should sleep."
She had locked the bedroom door behind them, even though she hadn't seen anyone else in the palace. Azula was still chained, the fire sages watching over her. She had cried and screamed until she passed out. He, the Fire Prince, had watched it all; she was unable to pull him away. The fire prodigy's cries rang throughout the courtyard, but he didn't flinch; his arms remained at his side, fists clenched and breathing shallow. He looked so pained that she almost thought he had been hit by another bolt of lightning, but his heart was still beating so she did nothing. She watched it with him, this grotesque display of too much power and too great a failure. She had a hard time looking at the face of her enemy, but he didn't blink once.
When the fire princess had collapsed under the weight of Sozin's Comet and her own insanity, the prince finally stirred, as if coming out of a trance, and allowed her to lead him into the palace.
Long minutes ticked by before either of them spoke again.
"It doesn't seem right," he murmured.
"This… this ending," he said. "I thought-I was prepared to kill her. I thought it would be the only way."
"I…" She began, turning on her side to face him.
"But what's out there right now, chained up, that isn't my sister." He brought his hand to his chest, grazing the lightning wound only hours old.
She took his hand in hers.
"It's not fair," she said. "It's not fair that we're here, and Sokka and Suki and Toph are there and Aang is…"
"He's there," the prince replied. "I know it."
Hadn't she said that to him just hours before? She wondered when their roles had been reversed.
"Do you think he-"
"He'll do what has to," The prince said with a finality that silenced her. "We all do."
He turned away from her, careful not to reopen his wound. She did the same, and after a while she heard him snoring lightly, something he did when he was utterly and completely exhausted. She tried to relax and fall into blissful unconsciousness, but thoughts of her brother and friends, and Aang, plagued her mind.
She didn't recall ever falling asleep, but she woke to a gentle nudge on her shoulder.
"Wake up." A raspy voice tickled her ear, and she tried to swat it away. "C'mon, I have food."
She opened her eyes to a pair of golden ones hovering over her face.
"Aren't you hungry?" he asked.
"Hmm…" she rolled over and shut her eyes.
"It's noon," he said. He gently turned her toward him again. "I have some food."
She saw him clearly now, and he was holding a bowl in one hand. Her eyes drifted to his chest, where his injury was. He had a different shirt on, but it was left open around the sensitive area on his chest which was now covered in bandages.
"Where did you get that?" she asked, reaching out to gently finger the white wrappings.
"The healers in the palace," he replied, his voice low. "They wrapped it for me."
"It's okay," he said. "Everyone here thinks… they don't mind what happened to Azula. They're glad, even."
"I see," she responded.
"Here." He pushed the bowl of food toward her. "Eat."
She was hungrier than she had thought, and quickly devoured the sticky rice and fruit. The prince watched her discreetly as she ate, careful to maintain a reasonable distance from her on the bed.
"How are you feeling?" she asked when she had finished.
"Good," he said. "Thanks to you."
She looked away quickly. "It's my fault though," she said. "I shouldn't have run out like that, but I thought-"
"It's not your fault," he told her. "Don't ever think that."
She released a breath, unaware she had been holding it. She felt a little more relaxed, a little more complete, knowing he didn't blame her.
"So where are we anyway?" she asked.
The prince blushed before answering. "It's my bedroom."
She raised her eyebrows. "It's big," she said.
"Huge," she added. "And all to yourself?"
He shrugged. "Azula liked to come bother me. She'd only leave if I got Mom to…" He trailed off, unsure how to complete his sentence. He felt a hand cover his on the bed sheet.
"It's a nice room," she said. "A little too red, though."
The prince smiled slightly. "You get used to it." He reached his arms behind his head, stretching casually against the headboard. He made an admirable attempt to hide his chest pain, but she noticed anyway.
"Let me see," she said.
"It's fine," he replied. "The healers looked at it."
"Hmph." She crossed her arms and leveled a glare at her companion. "Let me see. I want to make sure."
The prince sighed in resignation and pulled off his shirt. As he began unwrapping the bandages, she reached for her waterskin; it hadn't left her side since last night.
"Is there somewhere I can fill this?" she asked. The bag was nearly empty and wouldn't have been much use in a fight, but she hung onto it like a security blanket. She liked sleeping near it; with the waterskin on one side and him on the other, she felt safe.
He motioned to a door across the room. "There's a bathroom in there."
When she emerged from the bathroom (which was enormous as well) the prince's torso was completely bare and he was leaning impatiently against the headboard.
She knew what he looked like without his shirt; he'd trained shirtless in front of her countless times. But in a bedroom, on a bed-his bed, no less- his semi nudity took on a whole different meaning.
Nonsense, she scolded herself. You're here to heal, not to ogle.
"Lay down," she commanded. He obliged, and she kneeled on the bed beside him, pulling out a tendril of water.
She ran her water covered hands over his chest, letting the liquid sink into his wound.
"How does that feel?" she asked. Her fingers brushed his abdominal muscles, whether by mistake or on purpose, she couldn't say.
"Better," he breathed.
"Good." She made to move her hands away, but he caught one.
"Thank you." He brought her hand close, and pressed it against his face, against his scar.
The prince turned his head, nuzzling her open hand, but still looking right at her, right into her eyes. His lips grazed her palm and she gasped. She could almost see him smirk in response. With a sudden tug to her arm she fell over him, her mouth centimeters away from his.
"I owe you so much," he whispered.
Then he kissed her.
And it was good, so good. Not like Aang's kiss, so eager and amateurish, but deep and honest and… familiar somehow. She felt one of his hands slide along her waist, gripping her tunic. The heat from his body seeped into hers and she thought she was melting. Firm lips pressed against hers, a warm tongue over her teeth, inside her mouth, and seemed to delve deeper still. Her lips moved with his in some instinctive rhythm and she knew if she wanted, this could go on forever.
"Your highness!" a voice called through the door. "An airship has returned; Phoenix King Ozai has been defeated!"
She couldn't have been more excited to see Aang again, alive and with her brother and friends. He was the triumphant Avatar, come to whisk away his forever girl and live in the wake of his glory. They cried and hugged and celebrated. The war was over, just a bad memory; the past should stay past after all. And she was almost sure, nearly positive, everything was how it was supposed to be.
Everything was a blur after the prince's coronation, and months (years) later she awoke one morning wondering if the path fate had lain before her was the one she was supposed to take.
We forgive and forget and give into attraction
This whole thing depends on amnesia and magnets
"Servant girl," he called, "Bring the tea."
She set the tray carefully (he liked it a certain way) and entered the parlor. The servant girl put down the tray, poured the tea and left all without making eye contact. She was good at her job, so good she often went unnoticed when walking the halls of the house— but today was different, and she'd be lying if she said she didn't feel her master's eyes linger on her as she walked away.
Her family had worked for his for generations. Her father was the stable hand, her mother was the cook, and her brother was apprentice to the blacksmith. She was just a maid, one who fetched and served and remained invisible to all.
That had changed when she turned seventeen. There was a fire; it started in the stable and spread across the fields until bright orange flames licked the walls of the manor house. The west wing-the servant's quarters- was ablaze within minutes, and it was only luck that placed the servant girl in the wing opposite, turning down the bed for her master. She tried, and so did the master, to save the rest (her family); she cried and screamed and pounded the doors until the master wrapped his arms around her tightly and pulled her away.
They moved to the city after the funeral. It was a surreal experience for her; the master allowed her to ride in the carriage with him, although whether it was out of pity or solidarity she didn't know. They didn't speak during the journey, but watched each other out of the corner their eyes.
"Servant girl," he said. She appeared promptly to remove the tea tray, but her master's hand on her own stopped her. "I'm having company tonight," he continued in a low voice. "Inform the kitchen. And make sure you're presentable."
"Yes, Master," she replied. She tried so hard, but failed to keep her hand from trembling as she left with the tea.
They both knew, she and the master, that this tension would soon break, bringing the world crashing down on their heads. It wasn't right to be looking at each other the way they did; it wasn't proper to accidentally brush his fingers when handling the tea, or stand close enough to smell his peppery scent, or even smile at him with a tiny curl of her lips. What was it that she felt when his pale skin came into contact with her peasant's tan? She couldn't bring herself to dwell on it; this city house was full of gossip and she loathed being its subject.
She donned her nicest dress (blue with a satin sash), and she pinned her hair with pewter clips, brown curls falling around her face and onto her shoulders. She was certainly presentable, what some may even call pretty, but still only a servant. Spirits help her lest she ever forget that fact.
The master's guests were all high society and proper and perfect examples of what a man (or woman) could achieve if born to the right family and bred with the right ideals. The servant girl both envied and hated them, but it was hard to say why. Maybe it was the way they hardly paid her notice when she announced dinner, or the way Lady Fei Yen hung on the master's every word.
The guests retired to the parlor after dinner; the servant girl dutifully poured tea and lit pipes, intent on ignoring the way the master's eyes followed her across the room. The world seemed to stop as she bent to light his pipe; she was hesitant, but he took her hand in his and guided it toward him. His eyes were bright as they peered into hers and the servant girl felt as if he knew something, something secret, about her.
The moment passed and the servant girl left the room, finally able to breathe once she entered the corridor to the kitchen. She leaned against the wall, her right shoulder rested against the wooden panel as she tried to regain her composure.
"You do look presentable," a voice breathed from behind her. She felt him at her back, the master (her master), and she knew it was over. They had both given in a long time ago.
His hands were at her waist; his mouth was at the crook of her neck and his lips brushed her skin as he spoke.
"Beautiful, even," he whispered. He pulled her body against his, his arms completely encircling her. "You have to know," he said. "You have to know what you've been doing to me."
She wanted to ask him, but then he showed her by spinning her around and kissing her hard on the lips. One of his hands slid up her body, over her breasts, and wrapped itself in her hair. His lips moved against hers; she opened her mouth and his tongue swept inside.
He pushed her back against the wall and deftly untied her sash with one hand. She gasped when she felt his fingers part the folds of her dress and brush against her bare stomach. He had begun kissing her neck, his lips trailing down the column of her throat while his hand inched upward to caress her breast…
Lady Fei Yen stood in the doorway, her finger pointing accusingly at the servant girl. The girl tried to pull away but the master held her close and glared ferociously at the intruder who quailed slightly under his gaze.
"Lady Fei Yen," he said through gritted teeth, "get out."
"My Lord, this wench has obviously bewitched you." Lady Fei Yen regained her poise as she spoke, dropping her finger and staring pointedly at the 'wench'. "She must be punished at once; she will be imprisoned for this."
The servant girl was still in the arms of her master, her face buried in his chest, and she desperately bit back frightened and confused tears(it wasn't supposed to be like this). She had often dreamt of the possibilities, the freedom to do what she pleased with the master; but none of her dreams had ever ended like this.
"I believe I told you to get out," the master replied tersely. "Tell the rest to leave too," he added. "You are no longer welcome here."
A long moment of heavy silence drifted by before Lady Fei Yen turned away, her skirts gathered in her white-knuckled hands.
Neither the master nor the servant girl could move for a long time, each aware of their transgressions and completely unable to stop them. The servant girl let loose silent tears that collected in the master's shirt until the house became empty. He gathered her in his arms, holding her to his chest as if she were his bride, and carried her to his bed.
They lay next to each other, the master curled around her as if protecting her, shielding her, from the scandal that was sure to ensue. They slept the way lovers do, with his arm curled around her and his face buried in her curly brown hair, breathing in unison and fit together like one half of the same whole.
The city guards came in the middle of the night. They broke down the door, tore it off its hinges, upturned furniture, smashed china, entered the bedroom and ripped the blankets off the master and his servant girl. A guard reached for the girl, pulled her up by her hair (her beautiful hair) and dragged her out the door. She screamed and cried for her master, the nails ripping out of her fingers as she desperately clung to the doorway, leaving behind streaks of glistening crimson on the mahogany frame.
The master could do nothing but watch, restrained by men who told him he was enchanted, under the spell of a wench only intent on growing his seed to better her station. But he could barely hear them over her cries ringing in his ears.
The next time he saw her, her arms were tied behind her back and her dress was tattered and dirty, stained with her blood. Her hair hung limply around her face, lacking its attractive curl and shine. Her skin was ashen, no longer that warm brown the master was fond of looking at. She was led onto a large platform in the center of the city, the most public of places in order to announce her most disgraceful transgressions. Bewitchment, prostitution, lewdness, general wickedness, those words were thrown at her, but she had no use for them. She knew what she had done. And she was no more wicked for doing so.
She was made to kneel to receive her punishment. The black bag was placed over her head and the executioner bent her forward until her neck rested on worn piece of wood, one that had been cut just so for the placement of a human throat. She heard a yell, a sharp metallic whistle and then…
His punishment was to watch.
We've been lovers and strangers and friends who get angry
Made mistakes and amends and brief moments of magic
He really, really didn't want to be there. It was his friend's fault; they had talked him into it, and some friends they were. They had disappeared into the fray as soon as they'd arrived.
This place was like some parody of a nightclub, all dark corners and strobe lights with music so loud he could feel the bass thrum through his chest. He meandered his way through the crowd, all sweaty, drunken bodies, hoping to find his friends or a quiet corner. Or a stiff drink.
Someone had had the bright idea (it was a university, there a lot of those floating around) to turn a condemned residence hall into a rave. All attendees were made to slip through a broken chain link fence, give the password to the guard by the door and then enter, wary of any broken glass.
He snorted in disgust as he heard the telltale crunch of glass shattering under his shoe. There were too many hallways, too many people and too many doors in this place. Most of the doors were only hanging by one hinge; those that were still intact were shut and locked to give a horny couple some privacy in their rundown dorm room of choice.
He couldn't be sure, but one (or more) of his friends might be behind one of those doors.
He finally found a keg, filled a red plastic cup to the top, and continued his exploration of this deathtrap of a nightclub.
Turning a corner, he encountered what looked to be a dead-end with only abandoned dorm rooms peppering the hall. The last door on the left burst open and a girl with a short skirt stumbled out, looking very angry and very confused.
"Fuck you, Jason," she yelled. She had a tiny purse in one hand a blue plastic cup in the other. "I'm not that drunk."
The unwitting observer would beg to differ; the girl tottered in her high heels, and leaned against the wall to stay upright.
"I'm not making that mistake again!" she said, motioning wildly with the hand that held the cup. The observer was quick to notice that no liquid spilled out.
The object of the girl's frustration, Jason, emerged from the room while hastily trying to zip up his pants.
"You know what?" he sneered, approaching the girl. "You weren't that great a lay anyway. Now your friend Jenna? I bet she knows how to take a dick."
The girl shoved Jason away from her, losing her balance in the process.
Jason chuckled maliciously. "Have fun getting home tonight." He stepped over her and brushed past the other occupant in the corridor, taking no notice of him.
The girl struggled to stand, and the observer took pity on her.
He reached down to take her hand. "Let me help you," he said.
"I don't need your help," she replied, her vicious tone dampened by her drunkenness. He pulled her up, heedless of her words, and she leaned against the wall like before. Her blue cup was on the floor, but she didn't seem to notice.
He sighed. "You can't even stand up straight. How much did you have to drink?"
"I don't know," she said derisively. "Too much? Not enough?" She kicked at her blue cup, but missed and nearly fell down again.
"Whoa." He reached out to grab her before she could topple over. "Maybe you should go home. Do you have a ride?" he asked.
"That asshole was my ride," she told him. She sighed. "Do you have anything to drink?"
"No," he lied, tossing his half empty cup aside. "Come on, let me call you a cab or something."
"No," she said, then mumbled something else he couldn't catch.
"What was that?"
"I said," she continued, over enunciating her words (which only made her slur worse), "I don't have any money."
"Oh, well I have some." He dug in his pocket for his wallet. "You could-"
"What, you want to fuck me too and then leave me some cab money?" She straightened up from her lean and took a few wobbly steps. "A twenty on the nightstand so you can feel a little better about screwing some drunk girl you met at a party?"
"No!" he protested. She kept walking, keeping one hand on the wall to steady herself. "I just want to help! You could borrow some money to get home."
"Fuck off," she said, brushing past him. She made it a few more feet before she fell again, and this time he didn't catch her. She managed to catch herself with her hands, but cried out in pain when she hit the floor.
"Are you okay?" he asked, rushing to her.
"Fuck!" She held out her hand; blood was pouring from a gash on her palm.
"It must have been the glass." He put one arm around her waist in order to help her up, and took her wounded hand in his. "We need to clean this, and make sure there's no glass left in it."
"It hurts," she whimpered.
"I know," he said gently. "Let's go find some water or something." He walked with one arm still on her waist, and she leaned against him trying her best not to trip on her own feet.
They tried a bathroom first, but the water had been disconnected long ago. He took her to a dorm room with an old bed frame and box spring still in it. He sat her down on it and left, promising he'd come back as soon as he found what he was looking for.
He didn't think she could get into much more trouble; she could barely walk and looked minutes away from passing out. He wandered into the main party area (what had once been the common room) and headed straight for the collection of alcohol.
He was in luck, but as he reached for the bottle the designated guard of the booze grabbed him. It looked to be some freshman peon, rushing for a frat.
"What do you think you're doing, man?" the frat boy asked, slurring his words.
"Listen," he told the frat boy, "I've got the hottest chick upstairs, but I need a little social lubricant to get things started, you know what I mean?"
An idiotic smile crossed the frat boy's face. "Yeah, I know. But the brothers are going to kill me if they find this missing."
"Tell you what," he said, reaching for his wallet, "here's a twenty for your trouble. Go buy another bottle."
"Thanks, man," the boy said, pocketing the bill.
The other man snorted; the frat peon wouldn't realize it was only a dollar until morning.
He began heading back to the dorm room when he took a wrong turn and ended up in a small construction site. It looked long abandoned, but there were still some tools and plastic sheets laying around. He made to turn around when a yellow object caught his eye, a flashlight; he checked to make sure it still worked then took it with him. It would be useful for checking her wound.
He found his way back quickly, hoping she hadn't fallen asleep; he opened the door and found her sitting exactly where he left her. She gave him a shaky smile and he promptly sat down next to her on the bed. Opening the bottle he took her cut hand and said, "This is going to sting a little." He poured the contents of the bottle over her wound and she sucked in her breath sharply.
"What is that?" she asked after some of the pain had dissipated.
"Vodka," he said.
"Save some for me then," she told him. She reached for the bottle with the other hand. He pulled it away from her.
"You've had enough." He put the bottle down well out of her reach and switched on the flashlight. Bringing her palm close to his face, and examine the gash under the glow of the flashlight.
"I don't see any glass in it," he said, clicking off the flashlight. "I'm just going to wrap it up."
"With what?" she asked. He grabbed at the hem of his shirt.
"With this," he replied simply, and tore a strip of fabric from the shirt.
"Oh," she said stupidly.
He wrapped her hand and tied it tight; some of her blood had already stained the fabric. "That should do until you get home."
She sighed. "I don't think I can go anywhere right now. I'm too dizzy."
He gently rested his hand on her shoulder. "It's okay; you can sit here for a little bit."
She nodded slightly. "Will you sit here too?" she asked softly.
"Sure," he replied.
They remained in silence for a while, passing the time by thinking about the other, and whether or not any of this was actually real.
He noticed her eyelids begin to droop and knew there was no way she'd be able to go anywhere for a few hours at the very least. And even then it was a risky move. He stirred, trying to stop his arm from falling asleep, and also drawing her gaze. Her eyes couldn't seem to focus entirely, but there was something behind them, something pained or sad or guilty. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but was cut off by screaming sirens outside.
"Oh shit," she breathed.
He came to life as well. "Come on," he said. "We've got to get out of here."
She shook her head. "I don't think I can." Her hands gripped the box spring and she swayed to one side. "Just go. I'll be fine."
"No, come on," he said again. He placed his hands on her upper arms and pulled her up, but she couldn't support her own weight and fell down again with a thump, taking him with her.
He remained on top of her for a long moment, trying to fight off the wonderful feeling of her breasts against him and her hair tickling his ear. But he remembered himself before he crossed any lines and stood up again.
"Please," he tried again, but it was no use. She had passed out cold on the dingy box spring. "Fuck."
For a very small amount of time he contemplated leaving her, but knew he couldn't. She didn't deserve it. No one deserved that.
Sighing, he delicately situated her so she would be more comfortable, then sat next to her waiting for the cops to find him in what might be the most comprising position in which he had ever been.
He heard all the shouts and the ensuing stampede on the other side of the building. It was only a matter of time, he thought. He could only hope that when she awoke she would remember what happened and be able to get him out of this mess.
He leaned against the bed frame and waited, and waited, and waited. He stifled a yawn, then another one and another until his eyelids got heavy and fell, sleep finally overtaking him.
She opened her eyes, but shut them again immediately. The bright light was doing nothing to help her headache which was threatening to throb inside her head until her brain turned to mush. She yawned and tried to get comfortable again, but her bed was unbearably hard, and smelled terrible. She rolled over and encountered something else hard, but this thing was warm and smelled surprisingly nice. She forced her eyes open again and gasped.
He was awake already, looking at her with amused curiosity.
"You're still here," she said.
He smiled gently, barely turning up the corners of his lips.
"So are you."
And I know it's madness to play these odds
It's like giving matches to paper dolls