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Zuko walked along the many corridors to his quarters with Katara in tow. The guardsman still had her arms locked behind her as he pushed her forward. Zuko glanced behind him and made eye contact with the water bender. She glared viciously at him. Zuko frowned and continued down the hall.
When they reach his quarters, Zuko pushed the door open and stood to the side as the guard forced Katara through the doorway. Zuko shut the door behind him.
"Here," he said as he took the ropes from the guard, so that he was now the one restraining Katara. "You may leave, thank you for your help," the guard bowed to his Prince and left the room. The sound of the door shutting was echoed in the silence of the room.
Zuko unsheathed his steel dagger from his belt a cut the rope around Katara's wrists. She immediately pulled her arms back down, her elbows and shoulders popping from the awkward position.
Zuko was completely speechless. He had never intended for Katara to be a slave, let alone his slave. However, come to think of it, he had never intended to sign the document that would allow her death. Conflicting emotions tore at his insides.
Katara waiting for the abuse that she was sure would come. She waiting for the pain of the prince's burning hand. However, neither came. She turned cautiously and saw Zuko rubbing the back of his neck. He stopped when he noticed her gaze which quickly turned to her usual glare. He opened his mouth to say something but the inexistent words were caught in his throat.
What was Mai going to think? They were engaged and his father gives him a personal harlot. Not only that, but one who would probably poison her own lipstick just to try to kill him. Zuko looked into Katara's eyes and remembered the naïve kill he had fought so many times during the war. She had been so young and full of life. Now she was hateful and lethal as ever.
Katara glanced around the room—taking everything in. The walls were dark paneled wood with landscape paintings of the Fire Nation decorating them. There was a couch and two chairs in the center of the room with a table in the middle of them. The back wall had red silk drapes hanging over a doorway. The left wall had two doors while the right wall had only one. The floors were a light marble but mostly covered with an elaborate rug. There were no windows, the only light coming from the candle chandelier that hung from the high ceiling.
Zuko noticed the girl studying the room with a mixture of awe and disgust. To say the least, it was a strange expression.
"Through that door," Zuko pointed to the first door on the left, "is the closet. The one next to it is the study." Zuko put his hand on her mid back and turned her slightly. "Through that door," he gestured to the door to the right of the room, "is the bath and behind the curtains is my bedchamber,"
A rush a heat coursed through Katara as she thought about his bedchamber—a place she would probably be forced to spend most of her time in. She shuddered at the thought.
Zuko ignored the tingle that traveled up his hand from touching her and studied Katara. He felt a wave of pity for her, but he would never allow her to see that.
Katara turned and faced Zuko. Once again, she glared at him. "So," she said and crossed her arms over her chest, "what now?"
Anger built up in Zuko's chest at the tone in voice. She had no right to talk to him that way. She was a slave; he was the master. She had overstepped the line of commoner and royalty many times during the war but this was far different. He owned her now. But then again, he wasn't so sure if he liked that. Most men would be thrilled to own a woman as beautiful as the one who stood before him. Yet, when he looked at her he felt . . . guilt?
Zuko hid his emotions behind a mask of sarcasm and smiled at Katara. "Are you not a servant?" he said, "Oh wait!" he laughed, "You're not even that! You're just a mere slave."
Katara met his mockery with a look that could turn a man to stone. Zuko's smile dropped and he grabbed her chin roughly.
"Your eyes are to always be at the ground," he pulled her chin downward for emphasis.
Katara yanked her head away but didn't raise her eyes to meet his.
"What would you like me to do, my lord?" she said cynically.
Zuko smirked. "Go wash that stuff off of your face, use the wash basin in the bathroom. Then, the closet needs organized—see to it."
Katara didn't bow or even acknowledge Zuko, but, instead, turned and walked around the furniture to the bathroom.
"Oh, and don't try water bending. I'll be ready for you." Zuko snapped his fingers and a flame hovered above his thumb. Katara rolled her eyes. As if she would be that stupid to try that now. It would be a better idea to try once he was sleeping. Katara continued to the bathroom.
"One more thing," Zuko said, Katara looked at him but avoided his eyes. He pulled a metal key out from his robe and walked to the only door that led out of his quarter. He locked it and stashed the key within his robes. Katara's chest tightened.
Mai hadn't seen Zuko for hours and was beginning to worry he had forgotten about her. Certainly he wasn't still in audience with his father. The sun was already setting and the Fire Lord had requested him during the morning hours. Zuko was usually back in her company by now . . .
Mai walked at a slow pace to Zuko's room. Once she reached the familiar wooden door she turned the handle, it was locked. That was odd. Mai hesitated for a moment and then knocked. No answer came. She knocked again and then put her ear against the door and listened for movement. Mai released the breath she didn't know she was holding when she heard the shuffling of feet.
Mai stepped back from the door and listened to the key slide into the lock and turned. The door opened and Mai was relieved to see Zuko standing before her. However, irritation quickly took over as she noticed he was dressed down—as if he had been relaxing. He wore only a one-layered, loose fitting robe and his hair hung around his face.
He's been sitting around all day?! He said he would come find me! Mai thought angrily.
"Mai!" Zuko said, surprised to see her. She crossed her arms and gave her an expecting look. "Oh!" The morning rushed back to him. "Mai, I'm sorry, I completely forgot!" He said sincerely.
"How could you forget? Just look at you!" She waved her hand over his lazy attire. Zuko looked at her with confusion. Mai rolled her eyes. "You have obviously been lounging around."
"I was actually working on some documents regarding the Earth Kingdom prisoners," Zuko said defensively. He had duties that she was well aware of.
"Please, all you ever do is work. Work, work, work! What about me?"
Zuko refrained from rolling his eyes. "Well, let me make it up to you now, come in," He stepped aside and Mai walked past him. She sat down into one of the plush chairs and relaxed into its soft cushion. Zuko sat down on the couch across from her.
"How are you going to make it up to me?"
"Um . . . how would you like me to make it up to you?"
Mai rolled her eyes again—it was practically a trademark move of hers. "I don't care,"
Zuko sighed. "Why don't we go eat a late dinner together?"
Mai thought about it for a moment then agreed. Zuko smiled and excused himself to the closet. Mai lounged on the chair and waited for to make himself presentable. She daydreamed for a minute but saw movement toward the back of the room.
A dark skinned maid stepped out from behind the silk curtains that hung in front of the bedchamber. Mai was on her feet the moment she recognized the disgusting bender. The girl looked up in surprise and recognized the other woman, revulsion contorted her features.
Mai attacked the water bender.
Zuko immediately realized his mistake when he heard the sound of a brawl. He rushed out of the closet half-dressed and saw Mai and Katara on the ground. Mai was atop the slave. She was throwing punches that were being blocked with equal speed.
Suddenly, Katara eyes hardened and Zuko knew he wouldn't be able to stop her. Katara was a warrior by blood and at the moment she forgot she was a slave by law. Her hands shot up and wrapped around Mai's pale throat and forced as little space between them as possible. Mai started struggling as she fought to breathe.
Zuko crouched behind Katara's head and grabbed her wrists. He heated his hands to a scorching degree. Katara's eyebrows puckered and she hissed at the pain but didn't let go of Mai's throat.
"Stop!" he yelled ferociously, but she didn't. His hands got hotter and Katara cried out in pain. Her hands loosened just a tiny bit but it was enough for him to take advantage of. Zuko yanked her hands away and Mai gasped for air. She tried to stand up but fell backwards. Katara flipped onto her stomach and scrabbled away quickly. She curled up in the corner of the room.
"Mai!" Zuko cradled his fiancé in his arms. She had passed out but was breathing evenly now. He picked her up and headed straight for the door. He turned and looked at Katara. A second ago she was a killer, now she looked like a small child.
"If you dare move from that spot I will wring your throat in my hands."
Katara stayed in that corner the entire night.
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