Chapter 3: Moonlit Reminisce
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of the characters there within, they are all property of Nickelodeon.
A soft tapping awoke Mai from her dreamless sleep. Forgetting where she was, her arm tensed and a serrated blade shot into her open palm, though she relaxed when a familiar voice called to her from the darkness.
It was whispered very softly. The raven-haired girl ignored the call, now wishing nothing more than to fall back into her slumber, but she had all too soon forgotten just how persistent the owner of the voice could be.
"Mai." the whisper came a little louder and the tapping a little stronger.
Just mime sleep, eventually she will get bored and…
"Mai!" A light push found Mai with her eyes open in the darkness.
"What is it Ty Lee?" Mai whispered back, blinking sleepily; her eyebrows were furrowed in slight irritation.
"Could I speak with you about something?"
There was a measured pause in which the dark-haired girl weighed her options. All of them needed their rest for the journey that was ahead and Mai was finally able to slip into a more easy sleep without the constant jostling of the tank. She and Ty Lee were lucky to be stopped at all to have a proper sleep. It made Mai question again just how precisely the princess' mind worked.
With no leads on where the avatar had fled to, they were stuck in the forest; at least until sunrise. Now the three of them slept in the silent tank…or at least some of them tried to.
Mai wanted to snatch what sparse winks of sleep she could before they were on the chase again, but Ty Lee's voice held a note of plead in it and Mai's conscience was prickling at her sense of duty to aid her companion…no matter how tired she was.
"What do you want to talk about?" the raven-haired girl asked softly in the darkness.
"Could I talk to you…outside?" Ty Lee inquired, having deftly moved to the side of the vehicle and opened the door a crack. The moonlight struck Mai's eyes and she shut them quickly, willing a rising anger away. Her eyes adjusted and she groggily propped herself up to an elbow, throwing a sharp glance over at the princess who still slept on her left. Azula even looked angry in her sleep. Her eyebrows were pressed together in a frown and her lips held no semblance of anything pleasant. Her breathing was steady and deep; the princess was indeed asleep.
Mai looked back out into the open night before her and of the hopeful Ty Lee hovering at the edge of the doorway. The governor's daughter sighed and silently pushed herself up to stand, stepping gracefully out of the vehicle and into the open. The brisk night air shocked some of the drowsiness out of Mai, but fatigue still itched at her eyes. Ty Lee quietly shut the door most of the way behind her, not daring to make any more noise that might rouse their leader, and turned to face Mai. She moved forward a step and froze.
"What's that for?" Ty Lee pointed at the blade that was still being held by the darker-haired girl. Mai numbly drew her attention to it and silently slid the weapon back into its holster on her elbow. "Don't those things ever poke you when you sleep?"
Mai turned to look at Ty Lee with crossed arms and a grim expression that said: "Did you roll me out of bed to ask me that?" The acrobatic girl giggled softly and rubbed the back of her head. "Sorry, I was only curious..."
"What is it you wished to discuss?" Mai interrupted, inclining her head slightly and feeling a wave of drowsiness seize her despite the crisp night air. She tilted her head back up to clear it.
Ty Lee gave her a bright smile, taking care to tread closer to the river. She gave a silent gesture for Mai to follow, and too tired to argue, the other girl complied. Still, the dark-haired girl dimly noted that they were putting distance between themselves and the tank that held a slumbering princess. Ty Lee stopped under the cover of a tree; finally giving her full attention to the girl she had so insistently prodded to speak to.
"It's been a while since we've all been together, hasn't it Mai?" Ty Lee said almost dreamily. Mai nodded, exhaling a sound of affirmation, absently folding her hands inside her long sleeves. "We haven't seen each other since we were kids…then we all went on our separate ways. How have you been Mai?"
Mai blinked once. This was not at all what she believed the acrobatic girl to have summoned her in the middle of the night to discuss, but with the combination of the crisp night air and short walk, Mai felt some of her alertness returning to her. The governor's daughter answered, shrugging vaguely:
"Bored, unimpressed, generally disconnected with the world; you know, the usual." There was a pause. "And how have you been? What convinced you to leave the circus?" Mai asked, her curiosity piqued, though she could have guessed what, or whom, convinced Ty Lee to leave. The other girl dropped her gaze to the grassy ground.
"I love the circus, I feel so at home there and everyone is very nice. They are like a family to me. Well, when Azula came with talk of a mission, I…I refused her at first." Ty Lee cast a nervous glance at the war vehicle then gazed back at Mai. The dark-haired girl stared at her blankly. "Azula seemed all right with it at first, but then she attended my performance that evening…" the pink-clad girl drew a figure on the ground with her toe, "it didn't go so well."
Mai nodded her understanding. The princess had a fierce determination to seeing that her goals were reached. With a deceivingly warm smile and honeyed voice, Azula would cruelly twist any knife, wreck any havoc, pull any stop to having her will be done. She was a goddess and all else were her humble servants. Mai could only imagine what Azula had done precisely to change the acrobat's mind.
"So, here I am now," Ty Lee stretched both her arms out to present herself, only to drop them back to their sides at her companion's vacant expression. "But you, Mai; you seemed more than eager to join us."
The shuriken specialist turned her gaze toward the heavens. The stars seemed brighter away from the lights of the city. The darkness enveloped her like the comfortable quilts of her bed; she was at home here. She inhaled a deep breath of air filled with the scent of pine needles and earthy river water.
"I am so happy to be out of Oma…New Ozai. Nothing interesting ever happened there. Father was always concerned with work, Mother was caring for Tom-Tom; I would be left to my own devices. Father did have a firing range built for me, but it's not quite the same as a living target." Mai flexed the fingers of one hand, the familiar urge to call forth a blade tugged at her awareness. The Fire Nation was more renowned for supplying creatures to practice with…but those were not quite the same either. "If I thought the Fire Nation had been boring, then New Ozai was positively tedious. I surely would have lost my mind…It was a liberation when you and Princess Azula showed up."
Ty Lee nodded slowly, gazing at Mai wide-eyed. Usually Mai was not much of a conversationalist, but those long months in the fallen Earth Kingdom city must have given the dark-haired girl quite a story to tell.
"You know," Ty Lee ventured cautiously, "we will eventually run into Zuko." She watched carefully for Mai's reaction, but the only hint to the other girl's discomfort was a slight rise of her eyebrows. "What will you do when we see him?"
Silence reigned in the darkness as Mai stared idly at the toes of her shoes. The governor's daughter comprehended fully what Ty Lee was asking: Would you go against Azula to protect the boy you had affections for as a youth?
An image of the young prince blazed across her mind's eye and her heart quickened. His face was soft and handsome and he wore a rare smile. She had clung hopelessly to the scant memories; it had been so long ago…She wondered what he must look like now.
"I…I am not sure." Mai replied honestly, not seeing Ty Lee's mischievous grin.
"You could always blow him a kiss…"
Mai's eyes shot to her, easily staggered by the scandalous comment, cheeks turning pink. This resulted in a giggle from the acrobatic girl.
"Oh Mai, you really are so cute; I can't believe you have been crushing on Zuko for so long now. That is so romantic. It's like the love that can never be but there is a small ray of hope…" She sighed dreamily, clasping her hands beside her cheek. "You will invite me to the wedding, right?"
The dark-haired girl's light blush had become a deep red.
"Ty Lee," Mai shushed her heatedly, "you embarrass me."
The acrobatic girl's grin only widened, but she did fall silent at Mai's plea.
"Are you missing your family yet?" Ty Lee gasped suddenly. "Do you ever wonder what happened to your little brother? I hope he's all right." Concern washed over Ty Lee's face as she clasped her hands before her. "I would feel just awful if anything bad had happened to him."
Mai unconsciously traced a hidden stiletto she had sheathed at the tank with her fingertips. In stark contrast to Ty Lee, Mai's expression had not changed at the mention of her younger sibling.
"No, I haven't thought of my family."
Mai's eyes narrowed slightly as she remembered their adversaries standing across from the three of them on the platform high above the city to commence the hostage trade. The boy holding Tom-Tom appeared very gentle with her brother and the Avatar himself did not seem the type to harm a child. There was a genuine moment of apprehension that had thrust through Mai when she saw her brother and the boy holding him slide toward the edge of the platform, but they had stopped just before slipping over it. She had sought to retrieve him but the waterbending girl had stood in her way. Even so, she did not feel any distress on her brother's behalf; he would be safe. "I think my brother was in good hands. I do not believe the Avatar would have seen any harm come to him."
Ty Lee nodded, consoled, and the two girls fell silent.
Mai's light amber eyes studied Ty Lee closely. The latter girl met her eyes for a brief moment before she dropped her gaze, a sad frown present on her features.
"You seem displeased to be here." Mai stated quietly; her mind whirling with calculations at Ty Lee's hesitation.
"Oh no, it is so good to see you and Azula again, my childhood friends; and on an adventure as grand as this." The girl said cheerfully, though Mai could still see a sadness hovering over the acrobat's face. "I just…can't think why Azula would need us for her mission."
Again, Ty Lee looked sheepishly for some form of approval from Mai's features, but the other girl had already turned her gaze out over the river; brooding.
"I suppose it was worth consideration from our Academy days. The three of us made a skillful, proficient team." Mai suggested with a slight tilt of her head toward the tumbling waters.
"Of course," Ty Lee supplied quickly, waving her hand at the conceivable deduction though not entirely convinced, "but doesn't Azula have soldiers and ships and whatnot at her disposal? Why summon us?"
Mai's brow furrowed in contemplation for a moment.
"Soldiers would be rather slow moving, difficult to account for, supply and house. Ships would only be useful at sea and in wide, deep rivers. The objective is to pursue and capture a small group of roving people and to have an army behind you is unnecessary. With just the three of us traveling, it is more efficient and thus more effective. And besides," Mai turned her head to look at Ty Lee, "we are her friends."
The other girl appeared slightly deflated as she considered the reasonable explanations Mai had provided, but made no rebuttal. A sudden thought occurred to the raven-haired girl.
"Why do you not simply ask Princess Azula of her intentions?"
Ty Lee looked as though Mai had just socked her in the stomach. The idea that had been hovering dimly at the edges of Mai's perception had suddenly come into focus. This was why the acrobatic girl had woken Mai in the middle of the night, to discuss what Azula had planned for them without the princess' knowledge of it.
Ty Lee's words confirmed Mai's suspicions.
"Well, I…I did not want to upset Azula."
Mai shook her head lightly.
"You should not behave that way; are we not all friends? Do we not laugh and fight and argue as friends do? We may have been a little rougher as children, but we are more mature now. We should support one another in times of tribulations and give comfort in times of need..."
Ty Lee's eyes had a shimmer of unspent tears in them. "We are still friends, aren't we Mai?" she asked almost inaudibly. The question shocked the raven-haired girl, shocked so much that her eyes had widened and her arms had slipped from their rigid fold at her chest.
"Of course, Ty Lee." Mai said softly and the pink-clad girl launched herself into Mai's startled embrace. Mai numbly patted the latter's back. Just what exactly had Azula done to convince Ty Lee to join the quest? The governor's daughter had hoped that her words would have calmed the acrobat and the issue would have been resolved at that.
"Sometimes I wonder if Azula even likes me." Ty Lee sniffled quietly beside Mai's ear. Mai was at a loss of words. "There are times when I just feel like we are just being used, only to be tossed aside when our purpose is met. Why else would she have called us out of the blue?"
On the other side of Ty Lee, Mai stared fixedly ahead, a frown creasing her brow. So, the chipper acrobatic girl had arrived at the same conclusion Mai had the day Azula's was carried into Omashu. It had seemed a little odd at first why Azula had come with talk of a mission; and Mai had accepted her proposal on the grounds that she had just reviewed to Ty Lee: boredom, friendship, longing. However, as the day progressed, Mai could not help the feeling that her loyalties were being tested. Even now as the three of them journeyed together, the princess had been nothing if not bent on achieving her goal; and her treatment of Ty Lee seemed to have depreciated even more than in their younger years. Yes, Mai could be as cold as Azula at times, but not nearly as heartless.
Even so, it was not their place to question the princess' intentions. Mai would just do as she was told and if it came a time that Azula would leave them when she was finished with her mission, it was just as well. At least it got Mai out of New Ozai and away from her family to stretch her independent legs for a little while. The governor's daughter was ill affected by the princess' manipulative ways, but she had forgotten how Ty Lee was more sensitive to such controlling behavior.
"I feel like you are the only friend I have left." Ty Lee whispered through a choked sob. Mai felt her throat constrict. Unable to put any thoughts into words, she hugged Ty Lee a little more tightly, knowing instinctively the action would comfort the other girl. "What would Azula think of me like this?" the pink-clad girl giggled softly, but Mai had no answer for her.
Unfortunately, assistance came in a most disastrous way.
"Not talking about me are you?"
Azula had appeared in the darkness before the two girls, eyeing them like a great cat that had just found some juicy prey. Ty Lee immediately released Mai, whose expression had returned to neutral, and swiftly rubbed her eyes dry to face the princess. Though Mai appeared lax, her muscles were tensed; the pair of them was in a great deal of trouble.
The moonlight lit a pale, somewhat smirking face that held a treacherous danger behind glaring golden eyes. One impatient hand held her hip, the other pulled at one of her auburn bangs; her rigid stance seemed an impossible barrier between them and the shelter of the tank. "What are you two doing up and out of bed so late at night, especially after arguing that we stay? Did not the both of you insist on recovering sleep?" Azula's hard gaze shifted between Mai and Ty Lee.
"We were discussing tactics, princess Azula." Mai bowed respectively to their leader. Azula crossed her arms over her chest.
"Oh?" the princess did not seem entirely convinced with this story. "This could not wait until morning?"
"Yes," Ty Lee continued for Mai. "I was trying to show Mai a different combat move I had just remembered and I did it incorrectly. I just felt so bad about hitting her that I had to give her a hug."
Azula's eyes shot to Mai, but the raven-haired girl had already turned her surprised gaze to an impartial one, and met the princess' golden eyes. Ty Lee almost never told lies. She shrugged indifferently with a stiff rub to her stomach.
"Ty Lee can deliver a good kick."
The princess studied the both of them for a moment, from Mai's offended gut to Ty Lee's lively, slightly guilty smile. Azula smiled at the both of them.
"Well then, since we are all rested enough to practice new maneuvers, I believe we are more than prepared to be in pursuit again. I had the guards scout the area while we slept and we now have a heading. Let's go." She stood back in a mock gesture to allow the other girls passage through the trees to the tank. Ty Lee obeyed immediately; Mai was a little slower to follow. Those golden eyes were boring into Mai, a veiled threat seemed to be lurking on the shadows of the princess' face, but she turned to follow Ty Lee as the girl passed. Just as Mai entered the frame of trees Azula had been standing in a moment before, the princess spoke.
"Oh, and Mai, I believe this belongs to you."
As quickly as Azula could summon lightening from her fingertips, a metallic streak glinted in the moonlight as it flew across the clearing and embedded itself in a tree just as arms length from Mai. The raven-haired girl's eyes scoured the blade, the same that had killed an offending insect earlier, and then her eyes shot to Azula. The princess flashed Mai a predatory grin, her golden eyes glinting just as Mai's blade had a moment ago.
Those poisonous words once again slithered its venomous track into Mai's mind.
See how easily I could kill you?
The temporarily stunned Mai soon dropped into a humble bow of gratitude for the princess' kind gesture of returning her blade to her.
"My thanks for its…safe return."
She heard the retreat of the princess' light footsteps and she stood once again to watch her pair of companions go. Without glancing at the blade, she freed the stiletto from its wooden sheath in one sharp movement and hid it back within the confines of her robes.
Troubled times lay ahead and not just for the nations at war. Hopefully this turbulent alliance would hold until their goal was achieved with the three of them for the better.
Mai set her jaw as she picked her way back to the tank, she would be ready when the time came.
A/N: It is COMPLETED! (literally punches the clock) Yeouch, that hurts!
Randomness aside, this was really the bit I intended to post from the beginning and thus the length is well...lengthy! It took forever because I'm actually in the process of moving, but I finally got the chance to hop onto my computer and finish it up. (Lots of revising) There was still more I could add, but I didn't want to overwhelm anyone (especially myself, HAHA!) I wanted an explanation especially for Mai's actions on Tom-Tom at the hostage trade, and I truly believe she thought her brother in safe hands, or that she was capable of taking her brother back by force, all the while careful of Azula's critical eye. Mai's a smart one, she is! I hope I gave an interesting, if brief, fill about Ty Lee and Mai's relationship. Mai sometimes seemed irritated by what Ty Lee says and does, too happy about things in general; but they are still friends. That's my take on it anyway.
At any rate, I hope you all enjoyed the last chapter for this story and will keep an eye out for the few other Avatar story idea's I have.
Please review, I deeply appreciate them!