Zuko read for the first time in years. He hadn't bothered to pick up a story book since his mother had mysteriously vanished after his grandfather's death. Tonight, however, after the Water Tribe woman was sent to the tower, he felt rather lonesome. He had blamed it on his tiredness. The Fire Lord felt tired beyond his years, a fatigue that crushed his bones. He could still see her cold stare, the hate and the anger boiling within those blue orbs of hers.
The firebender had turned to reading to calm his temper, one of his mother's favourite books in his hand. The darker woman's voice laced every word and Zuko groaned inwardly.
Lihua's naked body was nestled beside him. Her dark hair sprawled over her face and shoulders, her breathing steady and deep. She slept peacefully, her head against his side and her body still radiating heat from the night's activities. The young man feared her had been too rough a lover tonight, but his anger needed to be vent. The love of his life was dead and with her their child, his mother was gone, Azula was in the Earth Kingdom and even though he had company very night he felt he had no one except his uncle.
And then there was the Tribe's woman. She had lost those she loved as well. She was as lonely as he. Perhaps his uncle was right. Perhaps they were more alike than what Zuko would've liked to believe.
The Fire Lord's eyes run over the words once more, his thoughts diverting him from the book. His mother had once loved reading "Love Amongst the Dragons". When he was a child she used to take them to see the play every year on Ember Island. He wished she was here to tell him what to do. He wished she had been there when he was banished and once again when he regained his honour. He wished she had been there when he fell in love and when he had asked Mai to marry him. He wished she had been present at his wedding and the most joyous moment of his life, when his wife told him they were welcoming a babe into this world. He wished she had been there when Mai, the love of his life, passed away trying to birth his stillborn child. He wished she was here now, as he faced the duelling feelings inside him. He was the Fire Lord, he was supposed to bring greatness to the Fire Nation and dispose of all those who defied him. But he found comfort in those blue eyes. And he wasn't sure if he should harbour the feeling or if he should simply kill it off.
Katara had been asleep when the doors to her darkened cell had open. Two robust looking soldiers came forth and grabbed her by her upper arms, their gloved finger biting into her skin painfully. She tried to pry her arms away from them but it only caused their grip to tighten. Would she be punished further? Had the Fire Lord decided she should be taught a lesson?
The men dragged her out of the cell and through the damp halls, the echoes of the prisoners dancing in the air around them, the odour still as sickening as it had been when she was taken as a prisoner.
The Tribe's woman moved speedily, as the two soldiers pushed her along, trying to keep up the pace. She was tired and hungry and weary but Katara had never been one to give up.
They pushed her into a dark room. The walls were lined with wood and there was a bench and a bucket in the middle of the empty space. Two female soldiers rounded her, and as roughly as they deemed worthy of such a lowly person, they stripped her and dragged her to the bench. One of the women much taller than the waterbender pushed her into a sitting position on the bench as the other retrieved the bucket. She shrieked when the icy water met her skin, pushing her thighs together and placing her arms around her torso to keep herself warm. The two soldiers snorted in amusement and threw a bar of soap against her chest. Her mind was still reeling and she barely caught it.
"Clean yourself you filthy harlot!" She heard one bark and gave them a glare. She kept her head high as she did what she was told. Once she was finished another onslaught of freezing water was thrown at her. The women pulled her up and dried her off with a towel. She was escorted, completely naked, through another set of corridors, their pace hurried but much slower than that of the male soldiers. The two females did not touch her, and Katara walked her hands and arms covering as much as they could to keep some of her dignity.
I should be used to this by now.
Madame Zhu was waiting for her at the end of the corridor, a small frown upon her features. Her entire demeanour was completely composed though. The waterbender looked at the floor in front of her, unable to look the woman in the eyes. Zhu nodded at the soldiers and she heard their steps getting farther from them.
The matron looked at her disapprovingly.
"What were you thinking, defying the Fire Lord like that? You are lucky he kept you alive!"
The Tribe's woman kept quiet, biting her tongue not to lash out. He was the one that deserved to be in that cell. He was a criminal and she would not let him be without payment.
Two girls about her age moved around her and placed a sari around her body, covering her for the first time since her bath. Katara thanked them silently but the other females pretended not to notice.
"I don't even know what to do with you anymore. It is unlikely the Fire Lord will summon you again and if Lord Sheng finds out about this..."She trailed off, anger settling onto her face. "What use does a concubine have, if no man wants to use her?"
"I'm not an object one can just use!" Katara cut, her throat dry.
The old matron just frowned but said nothing. They walked in silence, back to the female quarters. Katara had never felt quite welcomed there, but now, with all the stares and not so discrete whispers between the other inhabitants of the space it felt as if she was an outcast. Up until that point, the fact that she was at least somewhat attractive had kept her in somewhat good standings with the other females here. Now, after what had happened she could see very amused faces, surely content she was no longer going to be the mother of the Nation's heir. Others were appalled, not believing someone would disrespect the Fire Lord and live.
She walked to the room after an hour of listening to Zhu screaming at her. What would happen to her if she wasn't able to leave this place?
It was not as if he was unaware of palace happenings. Iroh had always been above average when it came to intelligence and he had long learnt that these halls had eyes and ears sharper than any man would ever have. Eyes and ears, he thought, that proved to be very useful to him. He had immediately known about the evening's events. Zuko had always been hot headed and his actions did not surprise the Dragon of the West. But the man also knew of the Fire Lord's kind side, a side that would never severely punish a woman. So Katara sat in front of him, very still and very quiet, the wind dancing in her hair. She held a tea cup in her hands, near her lips, but her gaze was distant, pensive.
Iroh had found amazing value in this woman, one he hoped Zuko would not shy from.
The parchment lay on the middle of the table, rolled up and ready for her to conceal it. But the young woman did not reach for it.
For a long while they just sat there quietly, sipping their tea, the silence much better companion than the other.
When the tea had gone cold, the girl refused Iroh's offer to reheat it. Instead she stood and nodded.
"The only reason I'm doing this again, is out of respect for you, General Iroh."
The man liked her honesty. Perhaps one day Zuko would love it too.
"All I ask of you is patience. The Fire Lord is not as bad as it seems at first."
Her demeanour changed. Katara's body stiffened, her jaw locked and her faraway look became angered.
"I do not wish to get to know him." She grabbed the parchment. "But I will do as you instructed!"
His uncle had told him during breakfast that he would send someone with his response. What Zuko hadn't expected was for the crazy old man to send the Water Tribe woman after the nights events. He knew the Dragon of the West was aware of the disrespect he had been victim of. So why in the spirits' name had he sent her of all people?
The girl bowed deeply, a curtsy far more graceful than it had been when she had arrived at the harem.
The Fire Lord frowned at her, but nodded nonetheless.
Katara looked at him straight in the eye but he did not see anger or hate. Her eyes held amusement and a flick of mischievousness he found rather uncomfortable.
She stepped closer to his desk and like other times she produced the parchment from her cleavage. He watched, interest peeked as she moved her hand between her mounds and extended it to him. He grabbed his uncle's response and felt the warmness of her body. She smiled slightly at him and he couldn't help but stare.
Of course Zuko had never been one to just let grudges go.
"I hope you learnt your lesson!" It was more of a warning than an actual desire. He expected her to lash out at him, to fight him like she always had but the Water Tribe woman only smiled openly.
"I have my Lord. I had a lot of free time to think tonight. I realised all I want to do is serve you the best I can." Katara rounded his desk. "I have no experience my Lord, and even though I know a concubine's place is serving her master, I feel I will be rather displeasing for Lord Sheng. I wish to learn, my Lord. Learn how to server you better." The waterbender tried to keep the malice from her words as best as she could. She had been truthful when she told him she had had time to think in her cell. She had thought of a plan to escape and end the war. A plan far better than to jam a knife on his chest. Of course she would have to make a few sacrifices if it was to work. She needed to avenge her mother, her father, her brother and Jet. She was still going to kill the Fire Lord, she would just do it painlessly and when he was least expecting. She wasn't stupid. Killing the Fire Lord like she had previously planned, when her head was still hot, would only place his sister on the throne. She needed to end his line.
So she would play her cards right. And Lien was going to help her.
The young firebender stared at her. He wasn't sure where she was getting at.
"Am I allowed to tell you a story tonight?"
It took him all of five minutes to register what she had asked. He frowned.
"Who told you I still want your company?" He shot up and she was right there, standing in front of him, her petite frame something he wasn't really used to. Fire Nation women were taller. They were also lankier. The woman from the Tribes, however, was curvy and quite pleasing to the eye. That's what his court men had been saying since the party. He had no wish of bedding her. She was from the tribes. Would his father bed her?
He probably would, Zuko thought. Ozai had a liking for pretty girls and this peasant in front of him fit the part. And Ozai would love to break down a woman from the treacherous Water Tribes. Perhaps, Zuko thought, he should indeed use her. Make her want him, use her as a symbol for the tribes to see he could be merciful, that even one of their own desired him, welcomed him as its master.
Would his father approve? Would this be what a true Fire Lord would do? Was this why uncle had brought this woman here?
"You may come with Lihua tonight."
The snow had covered the entire land. It had fallen for over a week and the poles were now white once more. The resources were scarce and the few men that had been left behind to keep the women safe were now on their hunting trips. One week without sustenance was far too much for the women that had given birth recently, or the toddlers that needed the fat to survive the harsh weather of the poles. The Southern Water Tribe was on the verge of extinction, much like the air nomads had been a hundred years ago. The constant Fire Nation raids had brought their numbers down significantly and drove the game away, and so the men needed to go deeper and deeper into the icy tundra to bring some food back home. Everyone else's survival depended on it.
The young tribes' man was talk and well built. Years of hunting and fighting off the invasion had made him a very muscular man. His upper body was protected by a thick parka, his tiger-seal skin boots making it easier to walk on the snow. He was tired but he could not give up. It had been days since he lost his group, and the strong wind that graced the pole had almost erased his companions' tracks. He had to keep on moving. If he stopped he would either die of hypothermia or he would be hunted down by some famished animal. His steps were now wider. He was far too tired to walk as fast and as steadily as he had before. He could feel his nose freeze and with a gloved hand he closed his hood further to protect his face. He kept on moving forward, following what was left of the footprints. The likeliness of them belonging to a group other than his were scarce, for the number of small tribes living within the south had reduced.
His vision was beginning to blurry when he tripped on something. He yelled into his hood, the sound muffled by the fur. He was sure his foot was broken. He looked down to see a block of ice. Its shape was very unusual and something seemed to be frozen inside. Languidly, he raised his hand to wipe the block of ice to have a better look.
As soon as his blade cut through the frozen water his awareness was no more.
Katara traced her index finger around the Fire Lord's fireplace. The marvel was beautiful and she was lost in thought.
Lihua was running late and the waterbender was left waiting as the young ruler served himself a cup of Litchi Liquor.
He took a sip from the crystal cup and walked to his sofa. He sat down and kept drinking unhurriedly, paying no attention to her. She walked to the large table near the bookcase and saw a book.
"Love Amongst the Dragons?" She inquired. The blue eyed maiden had never heard of such book.
"It was my mother's favourite." He answered absent minded.
Katara nodded. "My mother used to tell me old folk stories. We don't exactly have books back at the Southern Water Tribe."
The man turned to look at her, placing the cup on the table next to him.
"They were usually Water Tribe tales but sometimes I got to hear Earth Kingdom lore..."There was a brief pause. "Even Fire Nation lore." The girl walked to him. "I used to love listening to her. Her voice comforted me. She smelled like spring." Katara smiled. "I miss her."
He looked at the fire. His voice was purposely rough.
"What happened to her?"
"The Fire Nation took her from me." Her voice was quiet. The waterbender was trying not to break. Not in front of him.
"I'm sorry." There was silence for the longest time. "That's something we have in common." Her eyes widened. She hadn't known his mother had died. Suddenly she felt very sorry for him. The tribes' woman knew all too well the pain of losing a mother.
She kneeled in front of him and thumbed his hand. Zuko looked at their hands together. It somehow made him feel more at peace. He missed the small caresses his wife used to offer him.
Her blue orbs met his. "I can read it to you if you wish, my Lord." Her tone was low, subtle.
He drew closer to her. She leaned forward her hand resting on his knee.
"I do not wish you to mother me." His voice cut through her. But she was no longer the same woman she had been months earlier when she had arrived. She had now grasped her propose, formed her plan and she would not rest until it was completed.
"Perhaps then you'd have more use for me as a lover?" She purred, slightly licking her lips.
Zuko grasped her chin rightfully. Katara could not pretend he wasn't hurting her. She flinched.
"I would not dare defile myself with your dirtiness." His eyes pinned her in place with the fury within them. "Although I do believe Lord Sheng would be gravely disappointed if I sent him a woman who cannot please him." The Fire Lord pushed her up, his hand falling on her neck. They kept looking each other in the eye. Katara's heart was racing and she felt like she could vomit. She wanted to run, she wanted to go back to Ryu, and she wanted to wrap herself in his arms. But she could not. She needed the Fire Lord to start bedding her. She needed him to want her. Her plan depended on it.
The waterbender broke the stare first, her eyelids fluttering shut while she leaned forward to kiss the man.
Zuko's grip on her neck tighten. His own plan needed to be fulfilled. He would show the tribes he could control them, he could own them. He wasn't Ozai. He was no fool. It would be far easier to get the tribes to surrender if they saw he was a good leader, if one of their own, pained by life, one who had fought against the Fire Nation had accepted him as her true leader, her true master. If he needed to sacrifice his body for it then so be it. It couldn't be worse than receiving his scar. He was doing what the Fire Nation needed and this woman was somewhat attractive.
Their noses touched and Katara could feel the Fire Lord's breath on her face. It smelled like alcohol. She twitched her nose at the odour but did not back away. She could feel her heart throbbing in her ear. Her lips ghosted his and an electric charge jolted up her spine. Suddenly she wasn't as weary, wasn't as stiff and the waterbender felt his lips pressing fully against hers. His hand fisted her topknot and Katara tilted her head back slightly, a small gasp escaping her lips. She licked his lower lip and the man groaned. She could feel the heat rising up in the room as well as her cheeks. Her hands clenched around his knees and he slightly arched himself from the sofa to press his lips wholly against hers.
She tentatively bit his lower lip. It had worked when Jet and she had made out. He would always go wild at that. But the Fire Lord proved to be far more controlled than Jet had been. He pushed away slightly, cupping her face, only to bring his mouth to cover hers again. The woman slightly parted her lips and in an instant his tongue was inside her mouth, massaging hers. Her body leaned further onto his, and by this point she was almost sitting on his lap. The room was spinning and the air was stifling and Katara found she couldn't breathe. The waterbender broke the kiss, a very audible gasp leaving her lips due to her out of breathiness. Her eyes were half lidded her mouth tasted of Litchi Liquor and there was a buzz in her ears. The man looked at her surprised, something clouding over his eyes, before he composed himself and frowned. The tribes' woman smoothed her skirt, her cheeks heavily tinted and her body slightly shaking. She opened her mouth to speak when the door drew open.
"My Lord, I am ready." Lihua said with a smile.
Katara had run through the halls aimlessly. Her head was spinning. This was what she wanted. This was part of her plan. Why did it feel so wrong?
As soon as she stopped she threw up in a nearby vase emptying the contents of her stomach. Her breathing was heavy and painful, and she once again emptied her stomach into the vase. She leaned against the wall, wiping her mouth on her sleeve.
"Katara, are you ok?"
Ryu's voice was beautiful in her ears. She jumped into his embrace, holding him tightly.
"Oh, Ryu!" She started bawling and the man did not know what to do. "Ryu please, take me away from here."
He took her to the servants' quarters and after she freshened up for a while in the bathroom Katara returned to his side. She kissed him passionately and the servant boy was only too happy to meet her enthusiasm.
"Do you think I'm a good person?"
"You are the best person I've ever met" He reassured her smiling brightly.
She held tightly to him, kissing him from time to time.
Zuko had given Lihua what she wanted. He had made love to her to the best of his ability. But his mind kept racing towards the water tribe woman and for the first time he wished he wasn't there with Lihua. He lay now, looking at the ceiling and the recollection of that kiss kept replaying in his mind. Perhaps using the southerner as he had planned wasn't going to be so bad after all.
I'm so sorry this took so long. I've been really busy lately and I will keep this AN short. I just hope this chapter was worth the wait. I am racing to get this up so thank you all for the lovely reviews and rest assured this has not died. It will just take longer between chapters.
SERENExNightmare- Thank you so much for your support. I'm happy you like it :D Well that's part of her plan. But she will see it won't be that easy. But you should just wait to see how things turn out. I'm determined to make this fiction a bit different from the usual concubine ones. I hope you stick by it.
Boothandbones4ever- Thank you so much. It makes me immensely happy. I hope you stick by this even though it might take longer to update.
Demonic angel123- I'm really honoured you used my story to procrastinate on your paper xD I am so glad you liked it enough to read it.
PissMeOffAndDie- This is such a funny pen name xD Thank you so much for your kind words. Usually I feel a bit self conscious when I submit a chapter. I am deadly afraid native English speakers will start reading and then be put off by the blatant murder of their language, so it really boost my confidence to hear that. I am trying to make the characters as 3 dimensional as I can. It's fun but I will admit it is also hard. I will probably bring drunk Zuko back.
RSK- Once again thank you so much for the art. I am sorry this reply to your review will be so short by like I said I am hurrying to get this chapter up. Don't worry about the escape attempt. I do have a plan for it. About her mood swings, I just feel Katara would have a hard time pretending all the time. It's just not her character, so she is still learning how to keep her real self to herself. I will speak more about Katara's adaptation on the next chapter. I do hope you won't take the kiss here as a display of affection. It wasn't. It was two people going through with their plans. I will address this further on the next chapter as well. I hope you liked this one though.
Tenko- I agree. I'm keeping Lihua the way that she is. Usually people go for the "Usually is in love with a bitch so it's natural that he falls for Katara instead. Because the other sucks" I don't want this here. Just because he is going to feel something(whatever it is) for Katara doesn't mean it's the other women's fault. Thank you for sticking with me. I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint.
Seward907- You will see that in a bit. It was more Iroh's idea though. After she spent the night in the cell no one believes that anymore. Their Lord would impregnate someone he sent to jail. Thank you so much for your love. It means a lot to me that you keep reading. Hoping this one doesn't disappoint.
Anon- This has not been abandoned. I love this fic and I'm sticking by it. I will take longer to update though. Sorry for that. I hope you keep reading.
Crazycookiepie-Thank you so much for your kind words. It makes me extremely happy to see you are enjoying it and it leaves me immensely grateful for you to think that I have some talent. I hope this did not disappoint.
Soul93- It's fine. I loved that you reviewed. It's better than nothing I hope you also liked this chapter.
9- Here is your update :D I didn't want him to choose. People can love more than one person in their lives. I think that the concept of soul mate is rather grim. If we lose our soul mate then we will never get a chance of being happy and immensely in love? I just can't believe that. So he loves both. For their similarities and their differences. I hope you liked this chapter as well.
14- Here's the next chapter. Hope you enjoyed. :D