This is not likely to end well. At least not for him.
Yes, he had suggested that Katara and Mai spend some time together, get to know each other better, bond, have conversations about the proper care of concealable weapons, trade massages in front of him while he was trying to read...
Well, maybe not that last one.
That last one was most definitely not his idea. And it is wrong. It has to be wrong on some level. On several levels, even.
Zuko tilts his head a bit to the left, shifts the financial analysis he’s supposed to be reading to cover for the motion, and proceeds to scold himself some more inside his head because it is not proper to stare. All the while praying his attention goes unnoticed by the two ladies in front of him. As much as he wants them to stop because it is wrong and he has enough trouble on his plate as it is, he doesn’t want them to stop. Ever.
He wants them to stay here in this room with him, just the three of them and the dappled sunlight filtering through the windows. He wants Katara to stay in his palace so that longing doesn’t drive needles into his gut every time he reads one of her letters. He wants Mai to reach for his hand and run her fingertips over his knuckles to remind him that he’s not alone, that she cares. He wants to watch them sit very closely and whisper secrets to each other as though they were little girls playing on the grass. He wants to hold both their hands and kiss their wrists and their shoulders and their mouths.
And he wants to not feel like a pervert for thinking these things.
Mostly he wants to stop thinking these things because it just hurts more when Katara leaves, and Mai clasps her hands under her wide sleeves, and he has to go back to hard-faced councilmen whose sole purpose seems to be to lay in wait for their chance to pounce on him and tear apart everything he’s built.
His eyes catch on Mai’s gown, open at the neck and lowered just enough for Katara’s hands to work at her muscles, it’s all very decent if a bit too intimate, but then they’re all friends in here and none of them is one to judge, so really, Zuko shouldn’t be quite as transfixed as he is by it all.
Then, because she loves to mess with him at any given chance, Mai lowers her gown past her shoulders and smirks at him. Of course she'd catch him staring.
Zuko clears his throat, shifts his position back into a semblance of respectability, honestly endeavors to stop looking, and gets sidetracked from his noble goal by the way Katara flips her hair off her shoulder. A knowing smile slides into place on her face and suddenly Zuko's stomach fills with sparrowkeets flapping their wings around (whether it is embarrassment or expectation, he can’t tell).
And then, then she looks up at him through her lashes , blue eyes brimming with insinuation and Zuko’s mouth goes as dry as a Ba Sing Se summer.
He'd suspected Mai's intentions. He knows Mai, and he knows about Ty Lee (and about that seamstress girl that would sometimes drop by Mai's rooms without any kind of sewing tools, or dresses, or anything) and of course he knows Katara's kind of hard to miss in that sense, so he hadn't really bought the excuse of the neck kink Mai had mysteriously developed some time after lunch.
'I think I may have slept in the wrong position', she'd said, and Zuko knew this to be a flagrant lie because Mai sleeps on her back all the time and is rather fastidious about her pillows precisely to avoid such mundane inconveniences as a stiff neck. So yes, Zuko would say with a great deal of certainty that he'd known to expect something like this from Mai.
But, Katara? Over-protective-Sokka's little sister Katara? The Avatar's former paramour Katara? That Katara?
He’d known what Mai was up to and so he’d accepted Katara’s invitation to have tea with them in her room. He’s here to protect Katara’s innocence. And his hide, really, because should there be a fall out of any kind between these two women, he’s pretty sure the world as he knows it would blow up on his face. Clearly he’d been his usual pessimist self because Katara practically jumped at the opportunity to get her hands on Mai, not that he could blame her (he’d done some jumping himself, back in the day), but still, her enthusiasm was unexpected.
And maybe that should have been his first clue of her –uh… interest.
On the heels of that thought, Zuko's brain comes to a screeching halt because if they were seducing each other, or whatever it is they’re doing, they would be doing it in the privacy of their own rooms. Or at least not in front of him and even then, Mai would not be looking at him quite like that and, dear Sages, Katara’s blushing and pressing closer to Mai and…
No. This is wrong. And a bad idea all around. And likely not even happening at all because Zuko is pretty sure he’s awake and this kind of things only ever happen in his wildest, well, some of his wildest dreams. Luck is just not a part of his life.
Unless it’s bad luck. Which is how he knows this if going to be trouble.
Mai shifts so that she's facing him more fully. And right. Composure. He coughs, clears his throat again and reaches for his tea cup but kind of misses because Katara's hand isn't massaging anymore, its motion is more of a caress at this point (back and forth. Back and forth. Her other hand is not visible to him but his mind supplies a wealth of possible locations for it) and the contrast of her dark fingers against Mai's pale shoulder is entirely too distracting. He's only human.
'Zuko?’, Mai's voice takes on a pitch he knows all too well and his blood simmers a bit. 'You look kind of tense. Maybe you would like Katara to help you with that? I assure you, she works wonders with her hands'.
Obviously Mai’s been taking lessons from Katara, because the amount of innuendo she manages to sink into one single word has his skin tingling in entirely inappropriate ways. Her eyes gleam with mischief and Zuko has no doubt whatsoever that this will not end well for him. Were they joking with him?
'Er', he says.
'Oh, he knows', says Katara and this tone he's never heard before. Suddenly he begins to seriously question her presumed innocence. Especially when she adds that 'Mai's right Zuko, you do look like you need some loosening up'.
Zuko maybe chokes a little on his reply because Katara's blush is truly a work of art and he finds himself really, really wanting to go over to her and press his lips to her cheeks, see if they feel as warm as they look under all that pink.
'Maybe we could help him with that', suggests Mai, her darkened eyes are set on his, beckoning him before she turns and locks gazes with the woman behind her and as Zuko watches, her hand guides Katara's down across her stomach, over her hip, her thigh, their intertwined fingers sliding gently, slowly over smooth skin his own fingertips burn to taste again, until finally (finally!) they reach their goal at Mai’s core.
Katara presses down with her whole palm.
Zuko's pants become severely uncomfortable.
Mai’s slightly breathless ‘yes’ has Zuko looking up to find Katara's hair obscuring her face as she buries it into the crook of the other girl’s neck. He has no trouble imagining her mouth worrying at that spot that makes Mai squirm and arch her back.
And this is how he knows with absolute certainty that they've done this before.
Oh, damn it all. They'd planned this. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering all the evidence. But it still sends a thrill down his spine, because they’d planned this.
In a probably inelegant and most likely too eager move, Zuko's there. Tangling a hand in Katara's hair, wedging a thigh between Mai's legs, crushing his lips against Katara's smiling mouth, and groaning as Mai presses her now fully naked chest against his (of course she isn’t wearing chest wrappings, she’s scheming like that).
After all, who is he to ruin their plans?
Suddenly Katara's pushing away from them, sending dread splashing over Zuko's mind for a delirious second, until she begins to undo her sash and Mai's hands go to work on his belt. The smile she gives him reminds him of all the reasons why she's one of the people he trusts the most on this world, he smiles back and cups her face in his hands, her lips taste like promises.
Katara's hands tugging at his outer robe feel like possibilities.
And at this point, Zuko’s brain takes a hike and quits trying to comprehend what’s going on. All that matters is that the only two people he knows for sure care about him in the entirety of the Fire Nation are here, pressing their warmth and affection onto his skin and his soul.
A part of him fears he may never recover.
In the end, as Mai reaches for Katara and the water tribe girl sandwiches herself between them and he tastes the skin on the back of her neck, he knows this might still not end well for him.
Well, besides the obvious.
He knows Katara cannot stay forever, she’ll have to go back to Republic City, or the South Pole of wherever else her duties (or the Avatar) call her; Mai will still not be his Fire Lady, even after this.
He knows himself and right now he's wanting things he's not likely to ever get, things that have little to do with the squirming mess of desire they become on the sun-warmed floor and a lot to do with the gaping, ever-hungry hole in his chest where he stuffs all his hopes, that throbs with need for the three of them to stay like this, together, entangled and giggling and fearless.
He wants with an intensity that frightens him, that he never allows himself to feel because he can’t afford to.
He knows this will not end well, but Zuko can’t help himself, he allows them to crack him open and nestle beneath his skin because they planned this and Mai’s careful hands, Katara’s tender mouth, the combined weight of their offerings tell him, whisper into some secret place inside his bones, that this is them, that he has borrowed his own way into their muscles and sinews and now they, the three of them, are finally one single entity, breathing and beating and whole.
For however long this lasts. However high the price they’ll have to pay afterwards. They are whole.