Night Duty - Chapter 2
"No." Ming shook her head. This had to be a dream. She didn't just become a prisoner in the most inescapable cell in the Fire Nation. But squeezing her eyes shut and opening them only made her headache worse. The Dungeon still came in loud and clear. "No! That fucking jackass!"
Uttering more choice curse words, Ming struggled to get to her feet while her captive--ha!--audience watched on. A minute later, she still wasn't vertical. Whoever tied her had made sure she wasn't going anywhere fast. A thick length of rope bound her wrists to her hips, another holding her legs together at the ankles. It was hopeless, but she continued to wriggle. No way was she giving up. Yeah, it'd be the smart thing to do, but her pride didn't want these strangers to see her on the floor, helpless and vulnerable. It wanted them to know she was still in charge.
In a last ditch effort, Ming bent her knees and brought them under her while digging her forehead into the mattress. Pain sliced between her shoulder blades as she arched her back, the wound from Chang like a hot dagger.
"Damn it!" Pride conceded. She slumped belly-down on the mattress, which she noted smelled like a dog badly in need of a bath.
Only the five star treatment at Prison Tower.
She gave into a laugh of temporary insanity. Laughed until tears stung her eyes.
At the sound of a clearing throat, she turned her head toward her prisoners--now her new cell mates. The chestnut-haired water tribe man was advancing towards her, an expression of cool determination upon his chiseled face.
"Not again." Instinct took over. Ming rolled to her back and spun, bringing her feet in front of her and kicking a large fireball at the man. The move tapped all of her strength, hurt like a sonofabitch... and didn't do a thing to stop him. He easily dodged her attack by stepping to the side without a falter to his stride.
Ming tried to scoot away as he closed in, but all she gained were futile inches. Exhausted from the pain, she dropped her head to the mattress only to miss it. The back of her head hit the metal floor with a loud clunk.
"Fuck!" she bit out through gritted teeth. "I'm so quitting after this."
The man stopped, eyes as blue as lapis regarding her not with the hatred or apprehension she'd expect from her enemy, but concern. Had to be a trick of the light. "I'm not going to hurt you, although if you keep that up you are most likely going to hurt yourself."
Now he tells her. "Figured that all out on your own, huh?"
He laughed, and it was almost... sexy. She must have hit her head harder than she thought.
"Need a hand getting up?" he asked.
Ming considered it, but then remembered what the female prisoner had said. The disgust in her voice. She's a fire bender. "Huh-uh. Nice try, but this won't to work. Just because I'm stuck in here with you guys doesn't mean we're all of a sudden best buddies. I'll get up on my own." Eventually.
"If that is what you wish. I only want to help. Nothing more." He held his hands out in supplication. Large hands, she noted. Then again, everything about this man seemed huge and intimidating. Of course if she could get up off the floor...
Ming looked around, counting four young females among the many dozens of men. Despite that one had voiced their hatred of all things fire bender, the girls seemed far less threatening than this six-foot-forever water tribe warrior. "Fine, then. Have one of them help me up."
He grinned then. As sexy as his laugh. "You'll fare much better with me. They're not as gentle as they appear."
A few chuckles from some of the men. A "damn straight," from one of the girls. It aggravated Ming that she was clueless as to what was so funny. Aggravated her that she was so out of her element. So out of control. "Does this help include untying me?"
"Maybe. All depends on if I can trust you." He edged closer, keeping a wary eye on her feet. When he reached the edge of her mattress, he crouched next to her. Up close, those baby blues were breathtaking. "You tell me. Can I?"
Ming didn't know how to answer. She'd never been asked that by a man before now. Trust implied a closeness she'd never shared with the opposite gender save her father... and General Iroh, and that had been for a few short weeks.
If this blue-eyed, brown-haired--and now that she got an up close and personal, extremely attractive--water tribe man was asking for trust, maybe he didn't view her as lowly as she assumed.
"Will saying yes get me out of here?" she instead asked, testing him in case she was wrong.
"That also depends," he answered in a smooth drawl that hinted at long, hot nights beneath silk sheets.
Ming licked her lips. "On what?"
"If you can trust me first." The warrior reached for her, the predatory gleam in his eye unmistakable.
Sex... he wants sex.
Ming stiffened, bracing for another attempted rape. But this time it wouldn't be an attempt. If she couldn't escape Chang, how could she expect to hold off a prison hold full of lonely men? And while being tied up like a gift?
Instead of putting his hands where they shouldn't be, the warrior slid one arm under her knees, the other behind her shoulders, and scooped her up into his arms like her one hundred and thirty pounds were nothing to him. She tried to ignore how good he smelled as he headed towards a pair of mattresses in a corner of the hold, both laden with blankets and pillows.
So that's why he'd picked her up. This was where it would happen.
She renewed her struggles, squirming and kicking. Anything to keep him from reaching his destination. "No! I won't let you do this."
Her tactic worked because he stopped. "Do what? Make you more comfortable? That mattress was the thinnest and smelliest one in here."
The words sucked the fight right out of her. She expected the warrior to throw her down and have his way with her, not make her more comfortable. "You're lying. I know what you want to do to me."
The man leveled a stare on her so intense Ming swore he was looking right through her. "You damned hotmen. Always thinking we're the bloodthirsty barbarians, while you raid, rape, and burn everything in sight."
"I'd never stoop as low as to take advantage of a woman," he went on. "Especially not one who was tied up and wounded. Something I can't say for your countrymen. Neither can you, considering how you arrived through that door."
Too scared to ask what he meant, Ming kept quiet as he continued across the hold. Like she was a flower in danger of wilting, he set her on the mattress. It was indeed much more comfortable and far nicer smelling than the other one.
Keeping good to his word, he didn't touch her, and instead ordered one of his men to bring food and drink. Ming's neglected stomach rumbled in agreement. Had she really been in here for two days without eating or drinking? And without anyone looking for her? Or had they?
She was about to ask when a raven-haired tribesman even more towering than Blue Eyes appeared with a ration of plain rice and water on a tray. His entire left arm was wrapped with a vicious burn scar that looked recent, undoubtedly a souvenir from a fire bender.
Ming didn't realize she'd been staring until the warrior cleared his throat. She shifted her attention away, only to have it captured by his eyes. Deep indigo, like the darkest night. Incredible.
"You're... hurt," she said to him. Well, duh.
He frowned, as if her observation displeased him. "We're all hurting, my lady."
Wonderful. A guilt trip.
The dark warrior handed the tray to Blue Eyes with a slight bow. The respect wasn't lost on Ming. Blue Eyes must be the leader here.
Ming wasn't sure what to make of the realization as he settled next to her on the mattress. Close enough to catch his scent again. Undeniable maleness mixed with the outdoors. Prisoners shouldn't be allowed to smell so good. So manly. So--
"Since you won't let me untie you, I'm going to have to do this for you," that sultry voice interrupted her thoughts. He grinned as if knowing the direction they'd taken and lifted a cup of water to her lips.
Ming glared at him over the rim of the metal cup. "I never said I wouldn't let--"
"Shhh... just drink. I know you must need this."
For a moment, her thirst retreated as self-conscience struck. Being tended to like a child was not on her things-to-do-on-a-Friday-night checklist. The feeling didn't last long because then the first drop of water touched her mouth. Keeping her gaze on Blue Eyes, she parted her lips.
Ming sipped at first, trying to remain ladylike, but with each swallow her thirst intensified. Soon, the water wouldn't come fast enough. Frustrated, she moaned into the cup.
"More?" he asked, his voice husky.
Blue Eyes obliged her by tilting the cup, but tipped it too far. A small amount escaped her lips and dripped down her chin. Ming didn't care if she looked like a heathen. She downed the water like a woman possessed, guzzling until it was gone.
He pulled the cup away and glanced down to where the cool liquid had trailed down her neck and between her breasts. "You're wet."
A simple observation but the way he said it...
Not good. Thinking of a prisoner that way would only get her fired. "My fault. I was going too fast. I didn't know I was so thirsty until... oh--"
Blue Eyes ran a calloused fingertip along the line of water from the valley of her breasts to her chin, collecting the runaway drops. Taking his finger into his mouth, he sucked off the liquid in a slow, sensual display.
"Water is very precious around here," he explained casually, though there was nothing casual about the ache blossoming between her legs.
Okay, now she was wet.
Yet Ming couldn't help wishing that she were water, just so she could be precious and lickable. Before she did phenomenally something stupid--like beg the man for another cup of water just so she could see where else she could manage to spill it, she decided to state the obvious. "So I take it you're not a water bender or else you'd be out of here by now?"
"I've wished it many times, but no. I'm not." He set the empty cup on the tray. "And you don't have to worry. No one in here is. A few men on my team were, but they're imprisoned elsewhere. You wouldn't happen to know if they're still here?"
She narrowed her eyes. "You know I can't tell you that."
"I didn't think you could. Or would. But they have wives. Children..." He shrugged broad, muscular shoulders, laid bare from the sleeveless, midnight blue tunic he wore. "I just need to know if they're okay."
Ming felt a stab of guilt at being so haughty when the man sounded like he was genuinely worried. "There's sections in this prison I don't have access to. And even in the places I can get to, the warden's tight-lipped about who's behind the bars. I didn't even know all of you were down here to begin with." It dawned on her then. Fire Lord Ozai had been lying. "You're prisoners from the failed invasion, aren't you?"
"'Failed' is what they're calling it?" he said, a twinge of sadness in his voice.
She immediately regretted the question, though by all rights she shouldn't. If he was the leader in here, he must also have been the leader of the invasion. Possibly even the one who'd planned it. "Only in rumor. The Fire Lord hasn't publicly acknowledged that we'd been attacked."
"And he probably never will. How convenient for him to be able to bury his discrepancies."
Often, Ming had thought the same of the royal family, but she wasn't about to voice that here. Identifying with a prisoner... a huge no-no.
Still, she couldn't help wanting to know more about this man and his dilemma. Silly, but there it was. How much had Blue Eyes been told of his future? Had it been explained to him that all he and his men could look forward to were these metals floors and walls? Or, if he was lucky, a one way ticket to the luxury accommodations aboard the Boiling Rock?
Did he know that no one had ever left the Dungeon... not while they were still breathing?
Ming decided to let him live in ignorance. There was nothing she could do to change his circumstance. "I shouldn't have told you that."
"I'm glad you did, even if the truth can't be changed. Not from in here." He smiled at her again, but it looked forced. From the tray, he plucked a chipped porcelain bowl full of rice and a wooden spoon. "Hungry?"
Her stomach grumbled at the first smell of rice. "Starving."
"I'll try not to spill all over you this time." He lifted the first spoonful to her lips.
If he did, I won't complain. Not if he was going to clean her up the way he had with the water.
A blush rose to his tanned cheeks, and she wondered if he'd read her mind. He fed her without a word, serving her the stale rice like it was the finest meal. After she managed to down few spoonfuls, curiosity got the better of her. "What did you mean earlier when you said 'how I arrived through the door?'"
"When I heard your scream that night..." His lips pulled thin. "I'd heard screams like that before. I knew something horrible was going on outside. Then came the thunder. When it got quiet, I thought it might be a prison break gone wrong."
"It wasn't," she said softly.
"I know." He spooned another lump of rice. "Found that out when that jerk opened the door and tossed you in with us."
"He had you already tied up, but your clothes..." He looked down at her uniform, which prompted Ming to do the same. Other than being ripped and singed from her tussle with Chang, everything looked in place. "We had to re-dress you. From the waist down."
Ming's throat tightened around the mouthful of rice. She choked it up. "He didn't. That bastard! Tell me he didn't."
"I can't say for sure, but it looks like all he did was take off your shorts and underwear."
"'Looks?'" Her stomach twisted.
Another blush. "One of the women looked at your... examined your... uh..." Unable to finish, he gave a nod down to the 'uh.' "Miksa believes you weren't violated. She wasn't a hundred percent sure, but said there was no... semen inside you."
Oh, Agni. Then what had that twisted fuck, Chang, done to her?
"Do you remember anything?" He scooped another spoonful of rice and brought it to Ming's lips.
The talk had killed her appetite. "All I can remember is the attack. I managed to get away but he shot me with lightning and... after that I blacked out."
"I see." His face turned hopeful. "You guys can do that? Make lightning?"
"Only the really good benders can. I'm not one of them." And why the heck did she just tell him that? Not like she could win any Agni Kais like this, but still.
"I saw what he did to your back. There's nothing 'good' about that." He waved the spoonful of rice back and forth.
She shook her head. "No. I'm done."
"You need to eat."
"I don't want to eat. I want to leave." She was cranky, in pain, suffering from a bad case of TMI, and now mortified beyond belief that a hold full of men had seen her naked ass.
Blue Eyes set the bowl down with a clatter. "I can't let you do that."
"Because I need your help... to escape."
Ming's laughter echoed off the metal walls, coming back at her in a loud cackle. "You're joking, right? There's no way you could escape this place."
He gave her a crooked grin. "Don't underestimate the ingenuity of a desperate water tribesman."
"Ingenuity or desperation won't help you. This cell is designed to be inescapable. The walls and ceiling are inches thick. The door is even thicker with hidden hinges on the outside. The air ducts are nothing but holes the size of a hand. And only two people possess the key."
The grin deepened. "And that would be...?"
Ming opened her mouth to answer, but realized she'd forgotten who it was she was talking to. "That is none of your business."
"We saved you," he countered.
"No, you kept me here, when you could have... should have alerted one of the day guards of my situation."
"How am I supposed to know who guards that door?" Blue Eyes waved a hand toward the entrance. "How could we know that the man on the other side of it wouldn't do the same thing to you as the other one did? Or worse? All we ever see of the outside world are the trays of rice and water that are shoved under that door, which, need I say, is not often enough."
"You should've thought about that before you invaded my city."
He got in her face, gentleness gone from his expression. "I was just returning the favor you savages have committed hundreds, if not thousands of times over. I regret nothing."
Ming immediately recoiled. The entire hold fell silent, all watching with varying expressions of disgust on their faces. It all equaled hate. Hate for the Fire Nation. Hate for her. She'd never even left Capital City, for Agni's sake, never mind fighting in a war Ming hadn't once believed in. "Look, just because I wear the wrong colors does not mean that what's going on with you is my fault. I'd love nothing more than this war to be over and gone, if only to keep people like you from being so damned discriminating all the time. We're humans just like you."
Must have been the right thing to say because the fury drained from his face and his voice gentled. "I know... I didn't mean to upset you. Spirits, I didn't expect this conversation to go this way." Shoving both hands into his hair, he blew out a shaky exhale. "I don't blame you for the war. Or my present situation. It's just... this wasn't supposed to happen. Being locked up in here was the last thing I expected."
She just stopped herself short of offering up words of comfort. Feeling for him was dangerous territory. "And I didn't expect to be assaulted, nearly raped, then tossed in here to become your bargaining chip either."
"Look, you're not--" He bit out a few curses and took another deep breath. "If we wanted to barter for our release, we would have done it days ago. Besides worrying for your safety, I kept you here because I wanted you to leave here awake, and with no misconceptions of the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom peoples. Regardless of what your Fire Lord has told you, we are not evil."
"Neither am I."
He gave her another one of those killer smiles. "I'm beginning to figure that one out."
The answer surprised her. As did the smile she gave him in return.
No! Not good! She'd been awake for no more than an hour and this man was her enemy. She didn't know a thing about him, his crime, where he was from... not even his name.
Yet the next thing she found herself saying was, "Ming."
She swallowed hard. "My name is Ming."
Blue Eyes studied her as if trying to figure out her game plan. Like she had one. But she didn't see a reason why she couldn't give him at least her name. From where she sat, bound and helpless, she was the prisoner--not him. Unless the cell door was opened (something never done except for in an emergency) she could be here for an indeterminable amount of time if he decided to keep her here. He wielded full control of her destiny. Which meant she had no choice but to try to become friends.
"This is the part where you give me your name," she said when she realized he hadn't.
With a smirk, he repeated her words from earlier. "That is none of your business."
"So I've been told on many an occasion." Blue Eyes held her stare for a moment longer then grabbed the remainder of the rice. "Please, will you eat some more? I want you to."
"How can I refuse?"
He glanced at the ropes and winked. "Right now, you can't."
Blue Eyes fed her in silence. The rice tasted like paper, but her hunger had returned and soon the meal was gone. Setting the empty bowl back on the tray, her captor stifled a yawn. Ming mirrored one of her own.
Since sunlight never graced the Dungeon, she knew better than to ask the time of day, but presumed it must be near bedtime. The conversations throughout the hold had lessened to subdued whispers, the prisoners now settled in their own respective sleeping areas.
Except one. The raven-haired warrior from earlier. Arms crossed over his chest, he leaned against a steel support column, watching her and Blue Eyes as if waiting for something. He gave a slight nod in their direction but said nothing.
"He's anxious now that you're awake. We all are," Blue Eyes whispered.
She turned her attention back to him, still in shock over his proposal. "Because you think I'll help you escape?"
"Because we have hope." Blue Eyes patted the mattress. "Here, you need to get some more sleep while you have the chance. I've decided to let you leave in the morning. I'll let the guards know about you when breakfast arrives."
Relief and disappointment struck at the same time. She should want to leave. Needed to leave. Her wound needed medical attention, her parents were probably sick with worry, and she had to talk to Poon about Chang, if she still had a job after not showing up for two days.
But despite all that, Ming wanted nothing more than stay in hiding--here--for a few more days. Or a month. Away from reality.
Not wanting to examine her strange feelings, she settled down onto the mattress. Had to be the fatigue screwing with her brain. Sounded good. And the proof: she yawned again the second her head hit the pillow.
She tossed and shifted to get comfortable, not easy considering she was trussed up like a pig. The question she meant to ask earlier still haunted her mind.
"Did anyone come looking for me?" she asked, looking over at Blue Eyes as he squeezed on the mattress next to her.
He propped up on an elbow. "That's the strangest part of all. No police came in to question us or drag us off for private interrogations. Not even an inquiry through the door when the meals were delivered. I'm guessing they have no clue you're in here."
"Oh." Ming tried to sound unconcerned when it bothered her that she very well could have fallen off the face of the earth.
She fidgeted again, deciding to lie on her back. The position hurt because of her wound, but was better than being on her side, laying on her arm. As she stared at the metal ceiling, Blue Eyes' words sunk in.
"No one misses me." Saying it aloud only cemented the reality further.
"No family or husband waiting for you?"
"There's my mom and dad, but..." Ming shook her head, more at the tears that threatened than her words. "No, nobody else. I'm not married."
Ming swore she heard him mutter, "Good," under his breath.
"Here. Let me help you." Blue Eyes reached for the rope at her hips, loosening it enough so she could reposition her hands in front of her. "You shouldn't be on your back."
After he tightened the rope again, blessedly looser than before, Ming rolled to her side and found herself inches from a V of bared, tanned chest revealed by his tunic. One copper nipple peeked from the hemline. So close. She was overcome with the urge to suck it.
"Thank you." Her voice sounded high-pitched to her own ears.
Not seeming to notice, he brushed away a stand of hair that had fallen over her forehead. "When we get out of here, I'll take care of that asshole for you."
Ming closed her eyes as he continued to stroke her hair, enjoying his touch--and his threat, even if it was an empty one. "Still think you're escaping?"
"I don't think. I know."
She laughed. "Desperate water tribesman, right?"
"You have no idea how much," he whispered. "Good night, Ming."
The last thing she saw before sleep claimed her was Blue Eyes get up and drag the other mattress next to hers, fitting them together to make one large bed.
And the dark warrior who continued to stare.