Author: Retad, aka Zukogetsnone
Challenge: biweekly - geography lessons
Warnings: this one's dark, folks, but things do get a bit hot...
My father was a farmer and actually grew acres upon acres of sunflowers. My memory of those fields did a bit to inform this fic.
They were so damned cheerful and yet, in a way, kind of creepy, too. Their giant heads, sunshine-splashed petals framing heavy pitch-black centers that hid a myriad of seeds closely packed and seemingly aching to yield forth their rich oil to the careful harvester. Oh yes, the brilliant contrast of primary yellows and greens, off-set by black eye-spots, against the blue of the sky? What could be more cheerful than a field of sunflowers?
In theory, conceptually, the cheerful aspect of this image should have lifted the heart of any observer.
However, what they don’t tell you about a field of such flowers, as opposed to a bouquet, is the height the stems can attain, sometimes taller than any full-grown man, with stalks as thick as a young woman’s arm. They don’t tell you how overwhelming it can feel to be surrounded by thousands of blank, black eyes in an unremitting stare that is pitiless, devoid of intelligence or awareness. In fact, not cheerful at all. Just lonely.
But such a field is an excellent place to hide.
If you have the stomach for it. For those stark, swaying plants and their inadequate shadows. For staying perfectly silent, ignoring the voices seemingly inches away calling to one another about signs of your presence. For the thrashing noise of rough armor against drying leaves, the occasional flash of steel as a frustrated soldier decapitates a particularly tall and offensive stand.
Hours passed and the azure of the sky deepened to plum, cobalt and finally black pinpricked here and there and awash elsewhere with stars and a faint sliver of new moon. No color was left in the field, just varying shades of gray falling into inky black.
His back ached from holding the same position for so long. From time to time Zuko would stretch one limb or another to ease the pins and needles sensation of his deadened extremities and ensure he would be able to act on a moment’s notice.
A few feet away lay the girl, knees drawn up and hugged against her chest. He had wanted to reach over and pull her to him throughout this long vigil, because he really didn’t trust her to stay quiet. And discovery of one meant discovery of both.
So he had wanted to cover her mouth with one hand and hold her limbs still against him with the other. Just to be sure. It had nothing to do with wondering about the softness of her lips or feeling her warm length against his. Nothing at all.
Besides, he was annoyed with her. If she hadn’t recognized him as the thief of her ostrich-horse, calling attention to him as such on the outskirts of the market such that the Earth Kingdom soldiers became involved. If she hadn’t then taken it into her head to run after him as he fled, he wouldn’t have had to grab her arm and pull her from the path of the oncoming boulder the soldier had bended to stop him. It was her fault they were even interested in him at all, yet then the soldiers seemed to think they were together and pursued them both! So he had to pull her along, because he owed her that much. Because, to her he really was a thief.
Would they really search for hours for a mere thief? The question had gnawed at his consciousness for a while now.
“I think they’ve either moved on or given up,” he said shortly. “In any case, they’re gone and we can go now, too.” He sat upright and reached out a hand to help her stand. They moved from the deep shadows cast by the taller stalks of sunflowers into a more open area where the soldiers had beaten down a swath in their search.
“I’m sorry,” she raised her eyes miserably to his, “I was just so startled to see you again. I just wanted to talk to you–”
“I admit, I took your beast. I needed it.” How could he confess why he had felt a sense of entitlement without betraying too much, more than she would have wanted to know? “I’m sorry if it – if I caused you difficulty.”
“I understand desperation. If you had just asked…” She searched his eyes for something, then turned away, and he knew she hadn’t found what she was looking for. But in the darkness what could she have seen anyway?
She sunk down on the ground again, oblivious of the bent and broken flower stems around her. Perhaps he should have left her there, but instead he knelt beside her.
He refused to consider her words, choosing instead to just look at her. He could just make out the faint luminosity of creamy skin peeking out from her loose collar, a missing button on her sleeve allowing an extra glimpse of forearm – what was it with these Earth Kingdom girls to wear so much clothing! Absolutely maddening when he remembered the more relaxed fashions of his home. But then, what good was his memory, anyway? And it did no more good to think of - was it Song, yes, that was the name – in terms of gauging her attractiveness than to worry about her opinion of him.
Except that he did not want her to turn around later and set the soldiers on him after all.
This time when he stretched out his hand he covered hers as it rested on her knee, and he looked her in the eye with all sincerity.
“I truly am sorry. Can you forgive me?” It took no great effort to pull the customary harsh note from his voice. Song was pretty and gentle, and really did not deserve more pain at his hands.
She didn’t pull away, and the worry lines in her face cleared as she smiled in response. He felt emboldened to squeeze her hand gently, and shift himself so they were closer, much closer. He forced himself to relax, and noted a corresponding slump in her shoulders. He smiled. Her eyes darted a quick look at his face, then fell to her lap, and her free hand absently pushed stray locks of hair behind her ear.
“I- of course. It’s forgotten, really,” And Zuko felt her fingers flutter beneath his hand.
Slowly, as if he weren’t aware of what he was doing, he drew his thumb along hers. At first she seemed to ignore it, but then she nudged her thumb against his. So he picked up her hand and brushed the back of it first against his cheek – the unscarred side – and then whispered “Thank you,” lips ghosting against her fingers. Then he turned her hand palm up and pressed a kiss on her wrist, lingering briefly and then enfolding her hand in both of his.
Song didn’t pull away, and her sharp intake of breath at the touch of his lips was easy to read as encouragement.
By now Zuko was feeling a bit dazed. His encounters with the other sex to date had been largely noteworthy only for the sense of frustration he was left with. In those hours spent hiding and waiting, he certainly had not expected this particular meeting to evolve into an opportunity work on his skills at charm. But he also remembered her warmth to him on their previous meeting. It seemed that at least some of that warmth still lingered. He would be mad to walk away now. This, whatever it was he was doing, was working for him!
Just take it slow, pay attention, and do what feels right.
“Song?” He hesitated, then still holding her hand with one hand reached with the other to mimic her earlier gesture of pushing her hair behind her other ear, gently, with one long finger. She turned her head slightly, to rest her cheek against his palm.
Leaning in to kiss her couldn’t have felt more natural, and if he missed, catching the side of her upper lip first, he corrected swiftly, forcing himself to keep his touch gentle, to caress rather than crush. A pulse began to thrum heavily throughout his body, and if she spoke he didn’t think he would be able to hear, so he pulled back abruptly, a shallow breath giving a moment’s calm. He continued to cradle one side of her head, and she didn’t move, although her free hand now clutched his forearm, and her eyes were wide as they gazed into his.
“Li, I think…I mean, oh!” And this time her lips sought out his, and with a low moan he pulled her close against him.
The name should have jarred his sensibility, but he had already reminded himself that he had given her a false name, although his memory had fallen short as to which one. And reality insisted that names didn’t matter, just her touch, her hand in his hair, the faint scent of green tea and mint that clung to her clothes, and the slick wetness of her tongue against his teeth.
Shifting slightly he pulled her sideways onto his lap. As he trailed kisses across her eyelids, murmuring nonsense, “Sweet, sweet Song, lovely and giving…”, he brought one hand up to her ear, gently stroking, savoring the smoothness of her skin as he brought his thumb down to the knot of fabric within its loop holding her tunic closed above her breasts. Now his lips were on her earlobe, her near arm around his shoulder and fingers still entwined in his hair while her other hand played across his jawline like a blind man memorizing a favored statue. The loop slipped easily over the knot as his mouth sought its way down her neck, tasting the hollows beneath her clavicle.
Her hands tightened on his head, and with superhuman discipline Zuko abandoned his lips’ progress downwards to return to the slight pout forming on her mouth, sensing hesitation on her part.
Take it slowly and pay attention. To her, not the rock-hard erection painfully yet exquisitely confined against her thigh as she unconsciously ground her hips against his lap. At least, he assumed it was unconscious on her part.
Tongues touching and moist heat permeating every fiber of his being, Zuko’s mental vision was overwhelmed when Song suddenly sucked hard, her tongue entwined around his possessively. Leaning backwards he rolled slightly, till they were both lying on the sunflower stalks, a rough bed of broken petals and hard seed heads that neither was even faintly aware of.
But Zuko couldn’t help but become aware of a blade’s edge against his neck that simply could not be dismissed as Song’s fingernail. At least, not considering that he could account for both of Song’s hands at the moment, and neither was anywhere near his neck.
“Prince Zuko, son of Firelord Ozai of the Fire Nation. I arrest you on behalf of the Earth Kingdom for crimes against humanity in your father’s name.”
As his brain connected the meaning of the words with the cold steel against the back of his neck Zuko learned new definitions for the words frustration, humiliation, and yes, patience but, oddly enough, not anger. At least, not after looking into the eyes of the girl beneath him as the glaze of lust left them and pain took its place.
“Now, ‘Li’, now it is forgotten. Now you owe me nothing.”