Fool for Love
the sacrifice made
should not be done in vain
It was full night when Haru slipped from his bedroll and silently made ready to leave. Absolutely nobody was going to like this, especially after the lecture Katara had read Sokka and Zuko about sneaking off. Granted, it had been a very confusing lecture, with nobody certain if she had been praising them or scolding them. Still, Haru had the feeling she would not approve of the mission he had set for himself.
When the escapees had shared their tale with the rest of the group, the earthbender had been deeply affected by Prince Zuko's description of Lady Mai helping them get away with their lives. To turn on someone as terrifying as Princess Azula for love… it appealed to the romantic in him. And though the prince tried to hide it, Haru could tell that he deeply regretted leaving her behind.
He had tried to justify it, though everyone admitted he'd had no choice, saying that Mai's family was too highly ranked for the noblewoman to be summarily executed. Haru could see the guilt eating away at him internally, though Zuko was well aware that to have returned to rescue her would have been to make her sacrifice meaningless.
"Going somewhere, Angelface?"
Haru turned his head to see Toph staring blindly at him. "Maybe," he said, moving closer so their upcoming conversation wouldn't wake anyone else.
"Gonna rescue Firebreath's ex?"
The long-haired man flushed. "I'm not that transparent, am I?"
Toph snorted rudely. "Your heart started racing the moment Firebreath said they probably wouldn't kill her. You started planning then."
Haru sighed. Despite the continual beatings the younger bender referred to as 'training', he had made no headway in either metalbending or seeing with his feet, leaving the girl incredibly frustrated with his progress. Certainly he couldn't detect heartbeats like she could. On the other hand, his fine control was better than ever, leaving him to assume that he and Toph were simply wired differently. "Are you going to stop me?" Even on the extremely unlikely chance that he might be able to beat her, the ensuing noise would surely wake up the rest of the camp.
"Why?" Toph asked him. "Why would you do this for someone you've never met, who'd probably kill you as soon as she'd look at you?"
Haru considered the question for a moment. "Because I understand doing foolish things for love."
She caught the tone in his voice that he'd so desperately tried to hide. "Katara?"
"It doesn't matter," he said softly. "I'm her friend. And nothing more."
"Do you think this will impress her?" Toph's voice was heavy with scorn.
"I'm not doing this for her!" Haru snapped. "And I'm not doing it for Zuko, either."
Her sightless eyes bored into his for a long moment, then she sighed. "Don't keep the bison. We'll need him later."
"I know," Haru said, bowing to her. "I won't be back, probably."
Haru walked calmly to the six-legged beast and carefully climbed aboard. "Yip, yip," he said quietly, and Appa took off.
True to his word, as soon as Haru landed on a different island, he sent Appa back to the others. However, he was not able to get away without the overlarge bison bestowing affection upon him and thus made his first stop the nearest stream so he could wash off bison spit.
His second stop was a place where he could get some new clothes. Wearing the green clothing of his homeland would raise more than a few eyebrows, and the key to this new mission was blending in. It took him several hours before he managed to find a place to snatch a new outfit. Eyeing himself critically in the stream he'd been following, Haru decided that red was assuredly not his colour. And that the Fire Nation topknot didn't suit him at all.
Sighing, he got to his feet and then eyed his bare toes. Getting shoes was not going to be easy. So he would worry about them when it came to that. He returned to the home he'd stolen the clothes from, left payment, and then continued following the stream. Sooner or later he would come to a town, and then the real work would begin.
Or, he admitted to himself that night, you could just stumble across something suspicious by sheer dumb luck.
The suspicious thing was a large metal building, half-underground — and guarded by Dai Li.
On spying one of the elite earthbenders, it had taken all of Haru's self-control not to lash out then and there and strike down the traitor where he stood. Caution, he thought. Getting caught or killed will not help your plan at all. She might not be here… but a place like this has to be important.
But how was he to get in?
Carefully, he circled the building, avoiding the patrolling Dai Li agents, trying to find some way in that wasn't guarded. And then he saw the vent. It was high up, probably to keep people from using it as an entrance or exit, but it was the only feasible way inside. If he could fit.
Haru suddenly smiled.
The sound of tearing metal rang through the compound, and a small group of Dai Li agents ran outside to see what had caused it. The cover to the ventilation shafts lay crumbled on the grass, heavily dented in the middle as if a stone had been rocketed into it. Red cloth fluttered at the corner of the opening, as if it had been torn; the Dai Li promptly sent a man up there to investigate.
None of them saw the shadow slipping into the building through the door they had used.
Pleased by the success of his ruse, Haru padded silently through the building, keeping to the shadows wherever he could. The danger level had just skyrocketed, and he was aware of every small sound around him. However, thanks to years of hiding his bending, Haru was more than able to move without even the faintest whisper of sound. Stealthily he moved from room to room, seeking any information that might tell him where he might find Lady Mai.
It was luck that led him to the locked room; listening through the door, he could hear pacing within. It wasn't loud enough to be a man, which meant there was a woman behind that door. His green eyes narrowed, and he quietly retraced his steps to find a set of keys. This was not an easy task; Princess Azula had brought her pet earthbenders back to the Fire Nation with her for a reason, after all. He eventually gave up after he located a stockpile of small projectile weapons, including a pack of senbon. He took that pack with him and returned to the room, where he slipped the package under the door.
The pacing stopped.
Haru held his breath, poised to flee… and then he heard scraping in the lock.
His gamble had paid off; the woman was a prisoner. He kept to the shadows, lest any Dai Li come patrolling down the hall, but the woman was swift and soon the door swung open, revealing a teenage girl with long black hair loose around her shoulders and wearing prison garb in a deep red. Her eyes were suspicious, and she held one hand at the ready with three senbon clenched between her fingers. Twice lucky — this could only be Lady Mai.
Haru stepped into the light, empty hands raised. "Hi."
Her eyes flicked over him and narrowed further. "Why?" she asked him quietly.
"Later," he promised, gesturing down the hallway.
She shook her head. "Ty Lee first."
The earthbender blinked, confused. "What?"
"Ty. Lee. First." Her tone brooked no argument, and Haru nodded. Why hadn't Zuko told them the other girl had been taken as well?
Maybe he didn't know, said a small voice in his mind.
Haru followed Mai warily — he couldn't be entirely certain that this wasn't an elaborate trap of some kind. Or maybe being imprisoned once already had made him paranoid. Nonetheless, he kept pace, as the trap might also have been laid for her.
They crossed to the opposite end of the compound, where there was another locked door. With Haru serving as lookout, Mai knelt in front of the door and got to work on the lock. After several minutes, the door swung open, revealing a second teenage girl. This one was chained spread-eagle, with the manacles on her wrists each going to a side of the wall while her feet were locked firmly to the floor. She looked up, and a smile spread over her face. "Mai!"
"Shh," cautioned the other girl as she slipped into the room.
Ty Lee obediently lowered her voice. "You brought me a present!" She gave Haru an appreciative glance that made the earthbender flush and quickly return his attention to the hallway.
Mai only sighed in response. "Locked away to rot and you're still thinking about boys." He could hear the senbon scraping in the locks as she worked to free her friend.
"I need to stay entertained somehow," Ty Lee informed her, earning a second sigh as one manacle opened. The soft banter continued until the younger girl was unlocked, which was when the escapees discovered a big problem — the acrobat had no feeling in her hands and feet and could barely move. Haru left his post to join Mai in chafing the younger girl's wrists and ankles, trying to restore circulation. Ty Lee toughed it out, biting her lip against the pain so she wouldn't betray their escape with noise.
At last, the noblewoman was ready to go, and the three teenagers trooped out carefully. They made it halfway to the door before six stone hands came flying out of nowhere, a pair catching each of them and trapping them to the walls. As the escapees re-oriented themselves, three Dai Li agents stepped into view.
"It would appear we have a rat infestation," said one of them, crossing to Haru and gripping him by the chin with strong fingers. He raised the boy's head, turning it this way and that to study his face. Snarling, the young earthbender jerked away and tried to bite the offending hand, but the agent had fast reflexes and withdrew. Haru followed up by kicking at him; when the man leaped away he strained against his stone restraints and shattered them.
Before the Dai Li could react, Haru raised his arms and opened his fists, and the stone hands trapping the noblewomen shattered. Both of them sprang into action at once, Ty Lee lunging for the man on the right while Mai let fly with her senbon at the one on the left.
"Earthbender," breathed Haru's opponent.
"Traitor!" Haru snapped back, and then Ty Lee was behind the agent. Three rapid strikes, and he joined his comrades on the floor. "Go!" the boy ordered, and he and the girls ran, all attempts at stealth abandoned. More Dai Li tried to stop them, but their primary advantage — earthbending — was unavailable thanks to the metal surrounding them all, and Haru was more than capable of dealing with their hand-shaped rocks.
Between his bending and the girls' fighting skills, the elite soldiers were falling, and freedom was in sight —
A chain wrapped around Haru's neck, stopping him short. Choking, he clawed at the metal cutting off his air, but couldn't get his fingers underneath. Ty Lee began to turn back, but he barely managed to choke out, "Go!" before his air was completely cut off.
He fought desperately to escape the deadly hold, dropping heavily to one knee as his vision started to go dark around the edges. A boot slammed into his back, forcing the chokehold even tighter and driving Haru to both knees.
No! he thought, scrambling for a handhold on the chain. No! I can't die here! I won't die here! I can't…
His killer hauled back on the metal links and pushed down on Haru's back. Green eyes widened as sparks began to explode in the ever-increasing blackness.
He was going to die.
Finally, he accepted the inevitable and fell into darkness.