Azula positioned herself in the underground throne room to await the Avatar, should he find their hidden city (that is, if he was still alive). The Fire Lord was in a small chamber not far away, surrounded by guards. Close, but not somewhere easily found. It was all set, every minute of the eclipse mapped out.
When Toph, Aang, and Sokka burst through the metal doors of the throne room, Azula was slightly surprised the waterbender wasn't with them. One less person to fight, she thought. Of course, her plan wasn't really to fight them. All she needed to do was distract them – keep them occupied until the eclipse was over. She knew it would be an easy task. And it did work quite well, especially with the added distraction of a pair of Dai Li agents.
In fact, by the time they realized her intentions there were only a few minutes of Black Sun remaining, but Azula knew that she could not give them any chances to find the Fire Lord. Her Dai Li agents had been somehow decommissioned along the way and she could no longer fight, but she was far from powerless. As Azula watched Sokka's retreating back, she pulled out her final – and most powerful – weapon: the Kyoshi warrior.
"So, Sokka's your name, right?" She said. "My favorite prisoner used to mention you all the time." Sokka froze, one name echoing through his mind.
He turned to face the Fire Nation Princess.
"She was convinced you were going to come rescue her," Azula spoke in tones of mock empathy. "Of course, you never came, and she gave up on you." Her words pierced Sokka, setting his very soul aflame with icy fire. Tears filled his eyes and fell. He released a mad, wild yell and charged at Azula.
The princess smiled and said quietly, "Come and get it." She withdrew a concealed blade, but Toph had heard her mutter and could feel the movement of her hand as she readied her weapon. Toph struck Azula's wrist with a rock, pinning her against the wall. Azula grunted and dropped the blade as she hit the rock, smiling. She'd gotten what she wanted.
Sokka reached the princess an instant after she struck and pushed her shoulder against the wall and brought his face close to hers.
"Where is Suki?" Each word was bursting with his rage and his pain.
Azula smiled but gave no other response. She had struck his weakness. He had no defense against his own heart.
"Where's Suki? Answer me!" Azula was delighting in his agony. She didn't say a word. Yes, that's it, foolish boy. Ask me again. Ask me until the end of the eclipse. Go ahead. It won't do you any good. Aang moved foreword and placed a hand on Sokka's shoulder. He knew how he felt. When Katara had been put in jeopardy by the Earth Kingdom General, and when he, Aang, had burned her, it had cut through him like a knife. He knew that Sokka was going through the same thing. But he also knew that interrogating Azula was useless, and that they had to find the Fire Lord as soon as they could.
"Sokka, she won't talk," Aang said. Sokka returned his attention to Azula. He didn't want to hear that it was useless. He wanted to know where Suki was. She was all that mattered to him.
"Where are you keeping her?" He thundered. Azula's grin only expanded. He couldn't make her tell him. She knew it. And she loved it. And she knew that he wouldn't leave. Suki had been right. Sokka wouldn't forget or abandon her.
When Azula felt the sudden increase of energy that meant the eclipse was over, she exclaimed, with a false air of surprise, "Oh! Sounds like the firebending's back on!" She kicked, expelling fire, knocking Sokka backward. She was able to break through her stone bondage, but rather than fight she decided to leave so that she might visit a certain prisoner. She told them where the Fire Lord was (knowing that the information was useless to them now) before bolting away.
What Azula didn't know was that Suki had an escape plan.
Suki had spent the Day of Black Sun preparing. If the Avatar didn't defeat the Fire Lord, she at least wanted the victory of her own freedom. She knew that the Day of Black Sun would be the perfect day to escape – it was likely that most forces would be concentrated on protecting the Imperial City from invasion, rather than on keeping prisoners inside. The problem was how she was going to escape.
Suki still had faith in Sokka – she didn't think he'd forgotten her or that he didn't care. But she couldn't stand to wait anymore. She had an opportunity, and she wouldn't waste it.
She had considered every method of escape, but could not devise a conceivable plan. After an hour of contemplation, in a fit of rage and despair she released a small roar of frustration and grabbed the bars. Her anger and burning desire to get out seemed almost powerful enough to burn through the wood of the bars.
And she knew how to escape.
Azula arrived at the prison slightly breathless, but under the eyes of the guards and the prisoners she didn't show that sign of weakness. She walked steadily and stood tall, commanding respect. When she stepped before Suki's cell, the warrior was ready for her. Or, at least, she had been ready, but Azula's news stunned her.
"I saw your dear Sokka today," Azula told her.
Suki's shocked eyes found Azula's. Her escape plan was driven from her mind. Sokka had been near . . . what happened to him? Azula seemed to read Suki's mind.
"Oh, don't worry. I didn't hurt him. In fact, he, the earthbender, and the Avatar had me cornered when I couldn't bend." Suki's eyes narrowed. Azula sounded pleased with herself – never a good sign. "I asked him if he wanted to know where you were," Azula continued. "But he just continued to press me for information about the Fire Lord. It was almost like he didn't even care about you anymore." Azula gave Suki a look of fake sympathy, fully intending Suki to recognize it as false – a look of victory.
As Azula told her lie, Suki's anger boiled fresh and raw inside of her. She knew that the time to put her plan in action was now – now was the moment to fight, even though tears were streaming down her face.
"I don't believe you," she said with quiet strength.
"Well, it's true," said Azula. Pathetic girl. You're as predictable as your precious Sokka.
"I don't BELIEVE YOU!" Suki screamed, and as she said it – before Azula had time to react – she had reached through the bars and seized Azula's arm. Suki pulled as hard as she could, bringing Azula crashing against the wooden bars. She crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Within seconds, however, she was awake again, glaring into Suki's eyes. Azula realized that she was gripping the bars against her will – she looked at her hands and saw that they were both clutching a single bar a few feet apart – Suki was holding Azula's hands there. Azula would have been ale to pull free, but she could not yet quite feel her legs – half of her power was gone. She was at Suki's mercy. She hated it.
Suki squeezed Azula's hands against the bars harder as she said, "What really happened?" Azula remained silent, her anger rising. "Tell me!" Suki shouted, squeezing harder. "You're in no position to refuse, Azula." The indignity and shame of being held like this and then – worst of all – addressed like some common village girl made Azula roar in fury. Fire exploded in her fists. Which was exactly what Suki had wanted. You're not the only one who can manipulate people, Azula.
Suki released one of Azula's hands and pulled the conquered princess into the bars one more. Azula (who was now unconscious on the ground once more) had burned the wood to the core. Perfect. Suki broke the bar easily and fit through the gap and ran as fast as she could down the corridor. Prisoners flocked to the fronts of their cells and whispered words of encouragement, or else begged her to free them, as well. But Azula would be regaining consciousness soon, word would spread of an escape, and there would be guards searching for her. But she made a promise to herself that she would not forget the rest of the prisoners.
Suki didn't know the way out, so she began searching, always careful to avoid guards. She found herself wandering through one dark passageway after another, treading lightly so as to minimize the sound of her footfalls, when she saw a guard unconscious on the floor. She thought, perhaps, that someone else had escaped. Maybe she could follow in their footsteps. She approached, careful to step around the freshly bruised guard. Beyond him there was a door, leading to a room where a prisoner had once been held in a cell with metal bars. They had been ripped apart entirely, leaving an enormous hole through which the captive had walked to freedom. But which way had the captive gone? She left the room and continued down the hallway.
Suki moved slowly, looking for some sign of the prisoner's escape route. Her years of warrior training had given her a keen eye for detail, and on the floor she noticed a small red smudge. Blood. Perhaps the prisoner had cut himself when breaking throughout the bars? That would make sense . . . so she continued in the direction of the blood. Not much farther down the hallway there was another red spot on the ground. She moved faster, as there was only one direction to go in.
She did eventually come to a divide – there were two ways to choose from. The trail of blood had long since run out. Now was the time for her to rely on herself. She took several steps down one hallway, paused, and then headed back. She did the same in the second hallway. The second, the one on the left, had felt slightly cooler. She took this as a sign that it could be the way out – how else would there be a breeze in these tunnels? She heard distant footsteps and darted foreword. There was no time to contemplate further or worry that she had made the wrong choice.
She rounded a sharp corner and found herself feet away from a guard. Without a second thought, she aimed a roundhouse kick that connected with the side of his skull, sending him reeling. Suki seized the opportunity of his weakness and grabbed both of his hands, holding them behind his back, and then she wrapped her other arm around his throat.
"Where's the way out?" She snarled in his ear. She could feel his pulse quickening and his breath coming in fast, frightened gasps.
"It's that way," the man said, jerking his head foreword. Suki had guessed right. Liberty was near. "Straight ahead." The man closed his eyes, afraid of what the desperate escapee would to do him. Suki threw him to the floor with force enough so that he couldn't grab her. She was around the next corner before he was even able to pull himself up to his knees.
As she rounded yet another sharp corner, Suki could at last see a light – but the exit was guarded by two men with spears. So they're not firebenders . . . she thought. She retreated behind the last curve before the final stretch of hallway. She had to get past them somehow . . .
Suki let out a piercing shriek that echoed down the hallway. The footsteps of a single guard came running. Just as he rounded the corner, Suki threw all of her weight into a round kick at his ankles, which sent him crashing to the floor. She seized his spear and held it over his throat. His eyes moved rapidly from the tip of the spear to Suki's face.
"You will not move from that spot," she said with ferocity. The man nodded, terrified. Keeping the spear pointed at him, she peered around the corner. The second guard had his back to her. She shot the first guard a final, fiery look before taking rapid, silent steps toward the exit. She had approximately six feet of space between herself and the second guard when the first shouted, "Look out!" The second guard turned and pointed his spear at Suki, but she was quicker. She batted his spear away with her own and then launched herself foreword, crashing, shoulder first, into his armored chest, knocking him to the ground. He looked at Suki with the same frightened awe that his companion had.
Suki burst outside and the sunlight seemed to explode in her face, nearly blinding her for a moment. She was on the side of a mountain – the prison had been carved into the rock. Judging by the magnitude of the prison (she had heard it whispered that it housed a thousand prisoners – including those of maximum security such as General Iroh) and the rough mountainside opening, the true entrance was elsewhere. This opening, she knew, was most likely to provide ventilation and an entrance and exit for guards in this area.
Suki immediately took off to the left to get as far away from the guards as possible. She moved swiftly up the mountainside, headed for a battle she could see taking place at the summit. The invasion. She recognized the massive bison that was flying through the air as Appa. Surely that meant that Aang, Katara, and Sokka were nearby, too? She moved with new determination. The terrain was rocky, though not unmanageable, and she used her body and the spear she was still carrying to cut rapidly through the small amount of vegetation present on the mountain. Steadily she made her way up, though she did have to stop several times to catch her breath. Prison had taken its toll on her.
Suddenly, the invasion force began to retreat. What's happening?
The rebels, halfway down the mountain, were grouped around Katara and Hakoda, but Suki couldn't see because Appa was in the way. She carefully approached him and looked out from behind one of his massive front legs.
There he was. For the first time in months. Suki could see the face of the person she had missed above all others. Sokka was so near . . . but Suki knew that now was not the time for a reunion. She hung back so that he wouldn't see her.
Hakoda told Sokka and Katara to take the other young rebels and fly away on Appa so they could be safe. With a stab of pain, Suki realized that the adults were going to be arrested and imprisoned. Maybe one of them will end up in my cell, she thought. She wanted to tell them to flee, to not allow themselves to be captured, but she knew that since they were in the heart of the Fire Nation they wouldn't get far. She kept silent and out of sight.
There were sorrowful goodbyes as children parted from parents and friends from friends. Everyone found a place on Appa's saddle (except for Aang, who was seated on his head, reins in hand) while Katara and Sokka said goodbye to their father. Just as Katara moved to mount the bison, Suki stepped forward.
"Katara, I'm coming with you. But don't let Sokka know I'm here yet," she said softly, glancing up at Sokka, who was already seated on Appa's back. It took Katara a moment and a double take to realize who this girl was.
"Suki? How did you –"
"Not now," Suki said urgently. "Let's just go."
The pair seated themselves on the crowded saddle, Suki carefully keeping herself out of Sokka's range of vision. Katara, after healing a burn on Suki's hand, placed a supportive arm around her. Katara's compassion and understanding were far more healing than any bending. Several of the others looked at Suki quizzically, but she averted her eyes. They had to focus on getting to safety. She didn't want to distract the group. She would not bring attention to herself.
Aang announced that they would go to the Western Air Temple, and at his words Sokka leapt onto Appa's head and sat beside Aang, and they quietly discussed plans on what to do next.
Suki stared blankly at the center of Appa's saddle, where no one was sitting. When we land, I'll talk to him, she thought. Not here . . . not now. When we land. The truth was, she didn't know if she was ready to.
Several of the young survivors took to quiet conversation. Katara only spoke to answer any questions directed at her, and when Toph asked, "Katara, who's the new –" Katara just shushed her. Suki was thankful for it. She didn't feel comfortable speaking to an audience yet.
"What happened to you?" Katara whispered to Suki
"I'll tell you later," Suki whispered back. Everything was too raw and fresh. She didn't want to talk about it yet. And before she did anything else, she wanted to talk to Sokka. She had to hear from him that Azula had been lying.
When they reached the temple, everyone dismounted quickly and entered the temple, eager to get food and rest and to find out what they would be doing next. Finally, Katara and Suki were the last ones left.
"Do you want me to help you down?" Katara asked softly. Suki could see Sokka, a look of contemplation on his face, sitting against one of the temple walls, staring but not seeing.
"I'm fine," she said, and she clambered down from the bison's back and started moving toward Sokka. Katara followed several steps behind her.
Twenty paces separated Sokka and Suki. She froze.
Could she do this?
Katara, sensing Suki's hesitation, stepped foreword.
He cut his sister off.
"Katara, I'm going back."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm going back tonight. I let them keep her locked up this long. Now I have to get her out." Sokka didn't move his eyes from the spot on the floor he was staring at, but his face was set with determination. As Katara realized who he was talking about she took a step foreword.
"Sokka, you don't have to –"
"Yes I do!" Sokka stood and looked at his sister, not even realizing there was someone behind her. "She's been in prison for months waiting for me. I can't make her wait any more. I owe it to her. Azula told me that Suki gave up on me. And she was right to. I let Azula keep her locked up all this time when I should have done something to get her out."
"But, Sokka –" he stopped her mid sentence, placing his hands on her shoulders, his voice breaking.
"Katara, I can't lose her. I can't lose anyone else. I let Yue go –" there was the briefest of pauses as he bit back his emotions. "I can't lose Suki, too."
Suki, tears spilling from her eyes, flew at Sokka and threw her arms around him. Despite her sobs, each word was perfectly audible as she said, "You haven't lost me. I'm right here."
It took Sokka a moment to realize what had happened. His arms collapsed around Suki as every tear he'd wanted to cry over her broke free.
"I'm so sorry – I wanted to find you, but I couldn't So many things happened and I couldn't look for you – I wanted to – I thought about you every day. I never, never forgot about you or stopped caring. I wanted to find you so badly, but I . . . I'm so sorry."
His words were healing.
"It's okay, Sokka." She smiled gently to herself. It felt so good to be back in his arms. "Don't worry about me. I'm here now. I'm safe now." She held him tighter for a moment, but then he pulled away just slightly. His arms were still around her, but his face was far enough away so that he could look into her eyes as he spoke.
"But, Suki, I should have come. I could have come if I'd tried hard enough. I shouldn't have let anything stand in the way. I knew you were in trouble but I didn't do anything. Suki, I let you down. I almost lost you to the Fire Nation. What if –"
She kissed him.
When they broke apart, they looked into one another's eyes for a moment before Suki smiled and said, "You talk too much."