Katara had never been so happy to hear his voice in her entire life.
Mai's eyes flew briefly to the open door, and in her split second of distraction, Katara head butted the girl, causing her to draw back in surprise. Katara then used her strong lower body strength to buck the other girl, causing her to release her hold on her arms. The moment her hands were released, she punched Mai in the face and then threw her back several feet with a yell.
Zuko, surprised and confused, jumped to assist Katara to her feet; never taking his eyes of Mai.
Mai glared jealously at them both. It did not pass her notice that Zuko went to the water tribe girl first, and that killed her. She spat blood onto the floor and grimaced.
"Mai... what were you thinking?" Zuko asked, his lips curled into a frown.
Mai snorted and glared at him, quietly nursing her injuries.
"You two deserve each other..." She said cynically, turning her head and refusing to look at him.
Zuko frowned. He didn't have time to deal with this, and he knew he couldn't let her go. Mai was a smart girl; she had no doubt discerned their intent to escape based on the way Katara was dressed. Even if she hadn't, he couldn't let her free – she'd no doubt go straight to Azula with news of the fight, who, in turn, might begin to realize something was up.
He strode across the room and grabbed her arms to restrain her. Mai struggled briefly, but she was no match for his strength. Zuko looked at the silk sheets on his bed and sighed. He hated to destroy them, but he had no option.
"Katara, take the knife and cut that sheet into strips."
Katara noted his intent right away, and nodded in response.
She made short work of the sheet, rapidly handing Zuko strip after strip, which he used to bind and gag Mai.
"I'm sorry about this Mai," Zuko said softly. Katara noticed something flash in Mai's eyes and her eyes opened wide with realization.
'She's in love with him. And she thought I was in her way,' Katara thought. This was followed by a snort. 'How absurd.' she said to herself mentally.
Yet had she a mirror, she would have seen that her cheeks were flushed bright red even as she thought it.
Aang rolled around the ground, clutching his stomach. He was groaning loudly; interspersing his groans ever so often with a loud scream.
Iroh rattled the bars to their cell, calling loudly for the guard.
"Help! The Avatar is really sick in here. I think he's dying. You need to help!"
The guard with the bandaged arm came running; his lips curled into a scowl. Being that he was injured, he was left to guard the prisoners by himself while his commanding officer joined the fight. And now, the prisoners were trying to pull one over him. He might not be the smartest man, but he wasn't a fool either.
Aang groaned loudly again. He was only partially acting; he still felt quite nauseas from drinking the night before.
"He-lp meeee... so... much... pa-ain..."
"Guard, I think you need to come in here and check him out. If he dies, Princess Azula won't be happy."
The guard snorted loudly.
"What do I care what Princess Azula wants. She gave me this! " He said, showing them the arm.
"But.. but he's the Avatar! Surely, you do not want to let the Avatar die! You do know that if you do, his reincarnation will be charged with avenging him."
Aang shot Iroh an incredulous look. The guard noticed the silent exchange and in response, Aang began rolling on the ground and wailing louder than ever.
"Oh... the pain! The paa-in!"
"Listen kid; drop the act. You hate Azula... I hate Azula... and she should know better than to leave a wounded guard with a grudge such as myself alone in charge of both the Avatar and the Dragon of the West. How about you quit that caterwauling and in exchange, I'll let you guys go."
Aang perked up instantly and smiled at the guard.
In response, the guard unlocked the cell and stood to the side.
Aang happily exited first, bowing briefly to the guard as he did so, followed by Iroh, who also bowed.
"You have our heartfelt thanks and appreciation. You are a brave man," Iroh said.
The guard beamed.
And then Iroh knocked him out with a swift strike to the temple.
Aang frowned at the older fire bender.
"Was that really necessary?"
"Do you think Azula would take it on his word that we disabled him and escaped?"
Aang considered that briefly and then shrugged, conceding the point.
"I guess... let's try to get out of here without hurting anybody else though, okay?"
Iroh regarded him silently for a moment and sighed. There were times when the boy reminded him of how Zuko used to be, before the banishment.
"We can only hope, Avatar."
Azula allowed Ty Lee to pull her out of bed, groaning to herself. She had never, ever intended to drink last night; not past that first necessary sip to prove that the drink was not poisoned. And here all hell was breaking loose, and she was nursing the worst hangover of her life.
How did she lose control of the situation? The purpose of her visit had been to lure the Avatar into a false sense of security. She wanted to break him; to make him her tool. He was powerful... and she wanted that power for herself.
Instead, she somehow allowed the boy to charm her, she realized with a frown. That fool peasant boy had the audacity to kiss her... and she had let him.
Azula pulled her hair back into a queue and grimaced. Ty Lee handed her a change of clothes, and she grabbed them from her roughly; methodically changing as if the girl wasn't even in the room. The gears in her mind were turning at a rapid pace as she considered this newest turn of events. There had to be some way to salvage this...
... and then it hit her. She could make the Avatar fall in love with her. A cruel smile began to form on her face as she thought of it. Love made fools of even the most powerful... and the Avatar was obviously attracted to her, so her work was halfway done. All she had to do was appear to be genuine... to show a little more consideration, and perhaps even trust. She'd hook him in no time!
The only thing that worried her was that the Avatar had beaten her in this game once already. With a shrug, Azula neatly brushed away the pesky thought. It wouldn't happen again.
Ty Lee was looking at her warily; no doubt alarmed by her abrupt change in mood.
"The palace is under attack, you say?" Azula said with a grin.
Ty Lee swallowed and nodded.
"Good... that will work out well..." She muttered to herself.
Ty Lee looked at her as if she was losing her mind, but Azula ignored the girl.
"In fact, I think that will work out perfectly. We'll join the fray, but first, we need to make a trip to the dungeons..."
A/N: I hope this was worth the wait; action scenes are not my forte, so I hope I handled this well. More action next chapter (of course)...
And for those of you who didn't see my blurb, anonymous reviews are disabled due to one particular reviewer who decided to turn my review board into a forum to bash other people and my story. I hate this, because at the end of the day it costs me reviews and we authors LOVE reviews... but at the same time, I hate trolls...