Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
Azula and Ty Lee,
If you managed to get your hands on this letter, then it means that the messenger hawk Zuko stole from the military outpost we were hiding out at for a few days is the genuine thing and not some young chick that just started training. And if that's true, then I don't feel like a total idiot for practicing my writing before I started this.
Yes, I had to practice writing again. Yes, I know my handwriting is still horrible compared to what it used to be. Accept it.
Zuko and I left the village a few weeks ago and we've been on the road ever since. No one pays us much attention and we keep to ourselves, so I doubt we'll end up back in the hands of the Fire Nation anytime soon. However, the way Zuko has been thinking lately, I somehow doubt we'll be enjoying this quiet life for much longer. Summer is coming to an end, and with its end comes Sozin's Comet. And of course, we all know in our little group that the Avatar is nowhere near ready to face Fire Lord Ozai in his current condition.
Zuko wants to find him and train him in the art of Firebending. He probably won't receive a warm welcome, but his heart's in the right place… which is more than I can say for his brain sometimes. I will, of course, accompany him. I have no intention of returning home or continuing to Iroh by myself. And to be honest, everything seems much easier to endure with Zuko by my side.
Yes, I realize that this means I'll sooner or later come face-to-face with Ozai himself. No, I haven't figured out what I'm going to do yet when I see him. I suppose I'll have to figure it out when I finally see him.
I have no intentions of getting in contact with my family, so please don't let them know I've written to you. To be honest, I'm hoping to avoid them altogether until the war ends.
So yes. This is my way of letting you know I'm still alive.
Reading the letter for perhaps the third time since receiving it, Azula quietly suppressed a smirk before folding the paper and sliding it into her desk, leaning back in her chair. The slope of the hand might have been a bit shakier than she remembered, but the tone was exactly the same as it had always been. Mai could still be unsure of herself and the path she was walking, but through it all she was still Mai.
It was comforting to know her father hadn't destroyed that, among other things.
"Reading Mai's letter again?"
The amused tone of Ty Lee's voice made Azula smile even as the acrobat slid easily from behind her, trailing a hand along the princess's shoulder in a greeting. "Can't help it," the dark-haired girl replied easily, leaning back in her chair slightly. "After seeing her the way she was for so long, it's comforting to know she's almost back to normal."
"Oh my, Azula." Ty Lee laughed. "You almost sound like you care."
"Careful, if anyone outside the palace knows it'll be a disaster."
Ty Lee laughed again, and Azula smiled.
"You're all sweaty."
Amused, Zuko hurled the old towel he'd been using to rub his face after practicing with his broadswords; the days were slowly but surely cooling down as summer neared its end, but it was still warm enough for him to work up a sweat. Foreseeing his action, Mai easily sidestepped before sending a stiletto flying into a nearby tree, smirking with satisfaction as the small blade hit its target dead on.
It had taken her a shockingly long time to become skilled at her art; what had come to her freely in her animal state of mind during her first days of freedom had grown difficult with her sanity restored. She'd picked it back up quickly enough, but it had taken time and patience to get her stilettos flying true to their target again.
She had the scars on her fingers and palms to prove it.
Pausing for a moment, Mai retrieved the towel and threw it back to Zuko, who caught it in one hand; she walked easily to the tree and pulled the stiletto loose, twirling it between her fingers idly as bits of bark rained down to the grass below. He expected her to go back to her training—she'd been following a strict ritual since her memories had returned—but she surprised him as she sat cross-legged on the grass, seemed to think for a moment, and flopped onto her back, rolling easily onto her side and tucking her hand beneath her cheek.
Concerned, Zuko lowered his swords and walked to her, sitting quietly next to her; after a moment Mai shifted slightly, and her head rested comfortably in his lap, her hand gripping his knee tightly. He covered it with his own, and felt the tension singing through her body like blood. "Mai?"
"… I really don't know what I'll do when I see him."
Mai's voice was soft, low; she closed her eyes and shuddered briefly, and Zuko gently stroked her hair, narrowing his eyes in concern. "Mai, if you want to go on to Uncle—"
"No." Here, at least, she was certain; here, she had no doubts. "I'm not running away from him, Zuko. Not after all this. I don't know what'll happen when I see him, but know I can't run away from him. I won't run away from him."
"If you do that, he wins."
There was a moment of silence; Zuko sighed heavily, and Mai opened her eyes, tilting her head slightly to look up at him. "Zuko?"
"It's something you need to do. I get that." He smiled down at her. "So, I won't ask you about it again." He shrugged, running his fingers through her hair. "I trust you, Mai."
For a long moment she stared up at him; her eyes softened, and she smiled slightly.
"Thank you, Zuko."
They gazed at each other for a few minutes; then, in a leap of faith, Mai gently lifted her hand and touched the back of Zuko's neck, pulling his head down. Their eyes closed as their lips met.
It was a chaste kiss, nothing like what they'd done before in the course of their relationship; Mai was still figuring out her own boundaries. And though it was chaste, nothing but skin, the warmth was there, the love, the emotions.
That was all that mattered.
They parted quietly, wordlessly; Mai sat up and scooted closer, leaning back and resting her cheek against Zuko's as his arms wound silently around her waist, and they sat that way for a long, wordless moment.
Mai still didn't know what she'd do when she saw Ozai.
But in the end, he hadn't won.
That was all that mattered.
And so that's it. The story's done. Over. No more.
I realize that I didn't tie up all loose ends here (Mai meeting Ozai), but the main focus on this story was Mai finding herself again; and she does. So there.
For some reason, I loved writing this chapter. Even if it's short.
Thank you to all who reviewed and read. And, for the last time... read and review, please!