Title: Love and Fear
Character(s): Mai, Azula and a short appearance from Ty-Lee
Word Count: around 3250
A/N: The days after the "Day of the Black Sun" were the darkest in Mais Life. In this time she was forced to make her own decision between love and fear. Set before "The Boiling Rock" with slight spoilers to later episodes.
This was originally the second story I wrote, but I had to stop, because I did not know how to end it. But now I have found a fitting conclusion. So here it is.
Crossposted from arielen to avatar_fans and avatarfic.
Acknowledgments: Avatar:The Last Airbender was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko; copyright for this property is held by Viacom International, Inc.. I own nothing.
In the days and weeks after the Eclipse a brooding atmosphere hung over the Firenation's capital. It was, as if the volcano was going to erupt.
The people walked in fear and anger through the heavily guarded streets, spitting insolences against the captives, which were forced to clean up the mess of their so called invasion. Everyone knew, that more was going to happen in the nex months. Because Sozin's Comet would give Firebenders the power to take full revenge and finally win the war against the Earth Kingdom.
Mai sat on the balcony, staring straightly at the working men, her fists clenched around a scroll. Although her face was like a mask, her eyes gleamed in a hidden fire.
Why have you done this to me and your people? You are such a fool Zuko. You're mad with the ideas your uncle planted in your soul. You're no better than this idiots down there.
She groaned quietly.
And you're still a filthy coward, because you didn't come to me and speak to me about your worries and your careless plan. You're really a traitor and I hate you for that pathetic foolishness. If you will die now, I will shed no tear for you.
She looked at the palace once again and feeling the anger brooding in her chest. The Firelord hadn't appeared in public since the day.
The rumours told that he was busy, planning the next steps of the war, but some of the servants and people on the streets also whisperd that Firelord Ozai had been attacked in the time of the eclipse, while firebending was impossible and was suffering still from some injuries. But the last suggestions weren't spoken in public, because no one could say, if they were really true and who had dared to threaten the Firelord, except the intruders or one special renegade Firebender, who broke out of prison on that day.
I will tell my father the truth, before I leave. He should know what really happened in Ba Sing Se, when we fought against the Avatar and his friends.
Mai was one of the few people which knew more than just rumours and suggestions. She looked at the scroll one last time and than decided to hide it in her sleeve again. This letter was a dangerous secret. This written confession could not only condemn the author but also herself. Although she could not say what had happened in detail between father and son, she could imagine some. And she knew, that Firelord Ozai hadn't been pleased of Zukos visit. Like Azula, he demanded absolute loyality and obedience from his people – with no exception.
She remembered how Azula had visited her and Ty-Lee shortly after the attack, speaking about her fight against the Avatar and his servants – one of the Watertribe peasants and the Earthbender girl. She was the hero of the day of the eclipse, stopping them to reach her father, while Firebending was impossible.
But meanwhile, the Princess then told with a sardonic smile, little Zu-Zu had finally shown his true nature and became a full blown traitor, when he slipped in the Firelords chambers and confronted his father like a whining coward. And after the moon had set the sun free again, he had fled instead of facing his father's punishment. Maybe he had run to his uncle and escaped with him.
So little Zu-Zu is not only a failure again, but a traitor, too. And I think, this time father will show no mercy. My little brother will be hunted down and will be punished like any peasant, royal blood or not.
You should forget him Mai. He has not only betrayed the Firelord and the Firenation, but also his family - and you.
Azulas words rang in her mind since then.
Whenever she thought about them, her mind could not speak in another way. Zuko was a damned fool and Azula was right: He had to face the fate of a traitor.
She took a deep breath.
But her heart felt otherwise.
She remembered the last few months with Zuko at her side. He was once again the prince, whom she had loved since her childhood. Other than Azula he had tried to build a friedship of love and trust, although she hadn't shown him much of her real feelings in all the time. He had been gently and caring – sometimes in a very helpless way – but that had helped her to smile once again and see the brighter sides of life. In his presence, she never had been bored and often happy.
I began to think, that he truthfully loved me.
But on the other side, he hadn't trusted her enough, to tell her about the things which tormented him since Ba Sing Se. Although his father restored had his position as a prince and accepted him at his side again, he seemed not so happy as he should have been.
He had never spoken about the disturbances in his soul, neither in the time they had spent alone nor on the beach at Ember Island. She only got to know that he was angry and ashamed about himself, but not why.
"Why you haven't trusted me more?" She whispered. "I love you more than you think, and I would have followed you…"
Mai stopped and shook her head. No that wasn't right. She would never follow such an insane idea, because she was a realist, not an idealistic dreamer. She knew her loyalities as a true citizen of the Firenation, and her family, because her deeds would have been reflected on her parents and brother.
Does that matter now, after we received word from New Ozai?
He was on his way back to the Firenation with his family, to face the Firelords wrath and sentence. Her father already had lost his honour, because on the Day of the Black sun, old and insane King BumI had freed himself from his prison and conquered old Omashu back.
With his powers only the Earthbender drew the Firenation out single handed. This was a shame, Firelord Ozai would not let go unpunished.
Mai knew, that her days as a Noble could have come to a end, and there was only one person who could save her from the fate of beeing banshed, arrested or killed – Azula.
Her best friend.
Her only friend right now.
It was better to focus her anger on Zuko, if she would like not lose everything, she was used to. Azula was right, she should forget him once and for all, because he had thrown away everything, what existed between them, when he left without facing her.
Whereever he had gone, it should not matter to her anymore.
And if he had run after the Avatar to join him, then he should die with him...
She stopped her thoughts with a silent cry, because they hit her like one of her daggers right now. One part of her was terrified, about her cruel wish, but then the cold side of her mind was on the winning side.
Enough! I should no longer waste my feelings and thoughts on that jerk, that damned idiot.
For a moment she considered to throw the scroll in the fire and let burn to ashes.
It was better to keep her as an reminder of her own foolishness, to trust someone. Love has made her weak.
In this moment a servant entered the room and bowed. "Mylady, I apologize to disturb you, but I have a message for you. A Messenger Hawk deliveredd it some minutes ago." He showed her a little scroll.
Mai looked at the man and hid her anger and turmoil under a cold mask, while she took the letter out of his hands. "You can leave," She ordered calmly and waited till the man was out, while her thoughs swirled like a storm.
Could it be a Message from …
As she looked at the seal, her hope dropped. It was only from her Uncle, the Warden of the Boiling Rock. He was the only one who liked her as she was, without demanding a good behavior and full obedience.
But why he had send her a letter now, although it was her turn to write him back?
Mai opened the seal and began to read.
"My dear niece,
I hope you feel better after all, what has happened in the capital. When your father arrives, I will also come to speak in his favour before the Firelord, although he did not deserve it.
I think, I have an argument, which Firelord Ozai cannot resist and show mercy to your family in return.
In my hand, securely imprisoned in one of the cells of The Boiling Rock, is a very precious prisoner for our lord, but also for you.
I assume, you know whom I mean. Because I have not forgotten your last letter.
I do not know how and when the traitor, who was once Princeof the Fire Nation, infiltrated The Boiling Rock, but I will find out, when I interrogate him. Maybe it has to do with the remainders of a War-Baloon, my guards found near the shore of the Prison and which was hidden in the Water.
Your Zuko is trapped here, my love.
And if there is a way for you to come here, I will allow you to speak with him alone a last time, before I hand him over to the Firelord.
Mai felt confused. Her head swirled, when she realized, what the message meant.
She could see Zuko again, spit her hate in his face, tell him how much he has broken her heart and than leave him to his fate with a could smile. Maybe she could show him, how she hates him now and make an end to their love once and for all.
But also she could take him in her arms again, tell him how much he matters to her and that she still loves him, no matter, how disappointed she had been.
"No, that would never happen!"
The scroll slipped out of her hands, while she got on her feet and walked through the room, pacing like a cat.
Become calm and cold again, Mai. That is not the way you handle such things. Do not let yourself go in that way. He had hurt her and deserved punishment, not her…
Then she paused and took a deep breath.
There was only one way to get to The Boilinig Rock easy and fast. Because of the Invasion the security measures were strenghend and only a few people could demand what they want, especially to go where they liked to.
One of them was Azula.
By now she was with her father in one of the many war councils with his generals, because now she was the fully installed heir. Since the arrival of Sozins's comet was only weeks away, the preparations for any strike they would plan on the Earth Kingdom would have come to a new stage. So she was the one to act.
Maybe I should go to my best friend straight away, and tell her the news from my uncle. Then she must grant me one favour.
After Mai had made her decision, she turned around to pick up the scroll, which had fallen near to the seat. But it was gone.
A grim smile appeared on the girl's face for only a second, then she became emotionless again, while she looked at the curtain, who moved, although there was no breeze. Then she sat down quietly.
She decided to watch the workers again.
Okay then. Come to me, I will prepeared.
"You would have told me about the letter of your uncle, wouldn't you?" Azula looked down at Mai who sat on an chair like an interogated prisoner. She behaved as always, trying to show no emotions, but her eyes told otherwise.
"Yes, I would. But one of your damned pets stole the letter, before I could come to you myself and bring you the good news!" Mai looked up to the Princess and answered with a strong but calm voice. "I thought we were friend, who trust each other? Why do you let your Dai Li agents spy on me?"
She met Azulas cold gaze eye to eye.
The Princess did not even flinch. Then she suddenly smiled with the dangerous attitude of a predator. "Did I? Oh Mai, you must not see ghosts in the shadows, because there are none. I only send them to protect you from harm in this day. You see, there are many dangerous people outside this walls."
"To protect me? You know my fighting skills!" Mai snarled.
But Azula only smiled and continued calmly in her speech. "I know your abilities better than you think. Maybe my agents should protect you for yourself, not to do such foolish things like my brother. I know you are a loyal citizen to the Firelord, but there are still other bonds, I remember." Azula stated coldly. "I like you to much, to loose you to foolishness and weak emotions like love."
"Oh, trust me, I am over with this jerk once and for all. I need no help.", Mai laughed bitterly, although she was angry about Azulas behavior.
But she didn't show it, because she had learned the rules in dealing with the Princess very well. Azula was always right, she was the one to decide and everyone else had to obey. She had seen how the Princess once had taken revenge for disobedience in school.
"Good. You are a smart girl, Mai but I never unterstood, why you fell in love with this whining fool of brother."
Because he his everything you are not.
Then Mai pushed away this thought and the still brooding feelings inside her.
"I will not make such an error again. But what will you do now?" She tried to change the subject of their conversation.
"As matter of trust and friendship, I will consider no punshment for your uncle, although he informed you, that he had caught and imprisoned Zuko, at first but not us."
Azula sounded friendly now, but she wasn't. Cruelty and distrust lay in her eyes, and Mai could feel that the Princess longed to harm someone or something. In former times she had killed turtle-ducklings, now she needed bigger prey.
A cold shower was running over her back.
This was one ot the moments the Princess woke her deepest fears. She had seen how easy and without a second thought Azula had destroyed hopes and lives from her childhood plays up to the years in the academy. And in the last months, when they were on the hunt for two certain traitors and the avatar.
From now on she must act very cautiously. One false word and the other girl would turn the back on her or strik her down.
"And so, what will you do now?" She asked quietly. "Order my Uncle to deliver the Traitor to you, immediatly? Or –"
Azula looked at her, then she suddenly smiled broadly.
"That was my first I am not so cold hearted, that I will interfere in such a sweet little love affair.I know you would like to see poor little Zu-Zu one last time. I think I will grant you that wish."
She paused for a moment. "I like to find out, how fast my new warship is, and how much I can relay on my crew, which maybe important in the upcoming war. So it is no problem to set course to the Boiling Rock and to catch the package myself."
"Yes, that would be fine!" The third girl in the room, who hat watched the scene by now jumped on her feet and went over to Mai.
"No, stop that, Ty-Lee!" She fought against the hug of her other friend, because it was to much. Didn't the girl even realize what really had happened in the last minutes? Sometimes Ty-Lee was so silly and stupid.
And one of this moments was now.
"You will see Zuko again, and …," The other girl said with an romantic tone in her voice, but Azula cut her sentence short.
"… then we will take the prisoner back to the capital again – in chains." The princess straighened her neck and swung her hair back with an arrogant gesture. "He will face the right punishment for his treason. And that will not be banishment anymore. He will die a painful death."
Ty-Lee's eyes and mouth widened. "Do you really mean…"
"Azula always means, what she says, that you should have learned by now!", Mai answered coldly and looked to the pincess, who watched them carefully. "I will see forward to his punishment, but at first, I will show him, what he has thrown away. He will suffer pain and shame."
Despite the turmoil in her soul, she remained cold and calm on the outside. That was something she had perfected in the last years like the skill in using her knives. Azula took the bait, and she would go to the Boiling Rock, that was all, what mattered now.
When we meet eye to eye Zuko, I will find out, how much you have betrayed my love and why … and how much I still care for you. Only then I can turn my back on you and leave you to your fate, without another thought. Or I will …
She stopped and decided not to think further. It was dangerous now, to loose herself in emotions and foolish thoughts, especially in this moment.
She once again looked at Azula and suddenly the storm inside of her disappeared. Something changed in her mind at that moment, because whatever would happen at the Boiling Rock, she would never fear Azula and her cruelty again.
Something special gave her the strengh to see Azula in another light: The weight of the scroll in her sleeve reminded her, why she could not forget Zuko so easily. Now she unterstood, why her love hadn't told her anything. She realized, that other than his sister he cared for her and tried to protected her from the wrath of his family.
And now it was her turn to help him – if she was strong enough and if he had not changed completely in the weeks after his disappearance.
"Then let's go." Azula ordered, after she had finished her quiet examination on Mai. "We have no time to loose, because other trials wait for us in the future as the punishment of a pathetic traitor."
That is right, Mai thought and followed her companions. We have decisions to make, and the most important is mine. I have to choose one last time – between love and fear.
A/N: Please have mercy, if there are to much misspellings and errors. I am not a native speaker and still a novice in writing stories in a language I have learned in school more than 20 years ago. So be gentle and helpful if you like to write something about the little story. I would be happy. And I confess, I was and will never be good in writing rhymes (neither in English nor in german)