Disclaimer: So if I don't say that I don't own Avatar, whoever Mike and Bryan hired or whatever person decides to do it for free will track down my identity and try to sue me? Seriously?

Submission to Zai Week, Day 3

Mai was sitting at the desk in her private quarters of the underground bunker, penning a letter to her parents in Oma-, pardon, New Ozai. Though, it was a lavish bunker; it nearly looked like her house above ground. She hadn't been expecting any visitors so when someone came bursting through her door, a knife automatically flew from her hand. Fortunately, her boy had good reflexes, dropping low in a crouch to dodge the blade that embedded itself into the stone wall.

"Zuko, what is wrong with you? Do you have a death wish?" she stood from her chair and walked towards him. He was still kneeling on the ground, and she could see that he had a pack on his back as well as his dao swords.

"What's going on?" kneeling in front of him, she put her hands on either side of his face, mindful of how sensitive he was of his scar, and forced him to look at her. "Tell me."

He looked up, meeting her eyes.

"I have to go."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's wrong, Mai. The Fire Nation, the war, my – the Fire Lord, it's all wrong. The world isn't supposed to be like this. The Fire Nation is supposed to be so great, but they all hate us. And they should."

"So you're going to banish yourself this time? That's supposed to fix it?"

"Not exactly that," he glanced away before he met her eyes again. "I'm going to teach the Avatar firebending. So he can defeat Ozai and end this war."

She was quiet a moment as she took all of this in.

"Why should it be you? Why do you think you're the one who's supposed to do this?"

"I know it because Avatar Roku was my great grandfather."

He paused a moment to let the implications of that sink in. If one were to believe in all the lure of spirits and the like, that the Avatar was supposed to keep the nation's in balance, then the war would be wrong. The world was out of balance, therefore the spirits were not pleased. With one ancestor being the cause of the war, and the other failing in his duty to prevent it, the line of Sozin is held accountable. Within the last two generations, there have been two children born. Ozai was wholly for the war; Iroh was not. Azula was wholly for her father, for the war; it would seem that Zuko was not. The line of Sozin messed up the world. The line of Sozin needed to fix it.

Mai removed her hands and sat back, looking stunned.

"You can't do anything the easy way, can you?" she mused.

"That would be boring," he teased.

She arched a brow and sent him a look.

"Apparently, I'm a bad influence on you. All right," she stood up and moved to the wardrobe on the opposite side of the room. "Guess I'll pack up then."

"Wait, what?"

She pulled the doors open and looked at him from the mirror hanging on the inside.

"What did you think you were going to do? Come in here, break the news, and I was just going to give you a kiss good bye and send you on you way? You should know better."

She grabbed a bag and quickly shoved two pairs of changing clothes and every blade she could into it. Then she took a pair of pants out and threw them back in the wardrobe to make room for her sai.

"Mai, you can't come," he'd walked over to her while she'd been packing.

"You're not leaving me."

"You don't –"

"You," she stood up and glared at him, "are not leaving me behind, Zuko. Not again."

Zuko sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

"It's not safe for you to come with me! I'm actively going against Ozai on this. This," he pointed to his scar, "is what I got for speaking out against something his general said. You're not coming."

"If you think you're doing something chivalrous or some crap like that, you can forget it. I can protect myself and you're going to need someone to protect you, too."

He tried to turn away from her, his frustration clear, but she caught his hand.

"Please, Zuko."

Zuko stared at her in shock. She sounded like she was going to cry. Mai always had a handle on her emotions. That isn't to say that she didn't feel them, she just didn't express them. Yet at this moment, she was on the verge of tears. Because of him.

He pulled her into his arms and held her tight. She held on ever tighter.

"You can come. But there's something I need to do first. Meet me at the ship yard. I'll be there soon."

She leaned back to look him in the eye.

"If this is some sort of stupid trick to make sure I stay here, I swear I will hunt you down and make you regret it."

He smiled at her.

"It's not. I promise."

It was taking too long. She'd been here waiting for him too long. Something happened. He got caught. He wasn't really coming here. He's hurt. He's… he is not dead. Nothing happened to him. He didn't get caught or hurt. He told her to come here and he will.

Mai tensed when she heard running feet coming her way. A knife dropped into her hand and she waited. Moments later, Zuko dropped from the roof of the building above into the alley she was in and landed in a crouch. He was breathing heavily and looked very shaken. Knife still in hand, Mai glanced quickly around before she sank to her knees in front of him and put a hand on his cheek.


He was looking at the ground, trembling.

"I'm okay. We have to go."

He stood, grabbed her hand, and started running again. They could hear the noise of the battle raging in the capital city all around them and constantly weaved through the streets and back alleys to avoid getting caught in it, often doubling back. A ten minute run took fifteen minutes shy of an hour to make. Once they reached the air ship yard, they easily 'commandeered' a small air ship and sailed away.

By that time, the battle was over. The invasion force had been apprehended but they could see the Avatar's air bison in the distance ahead of them and followed. Too soon, it was out of sight though.

Zuko sent flame into the balloon to light the coal so it could power itself for a while and sat on the stool next to it after he adjusted their course. He let out a sigh and leaned back against the low wall of the balloon. Mai was on the floor next to him and leaned her head on his thigh.

"We made it," he said, relief clear in his voice.

"You doubted your plan that much?"

"I've made a lot of plans over the years. They always blow up in my face in one way or another. Yeah, I doubted."

"Well, if you had gotten yourself caught, I suppose I'd have to come and rescue you."

"You'd do that?" he forward so he could see her face.

She raised her head enough to give him a profile. With an indifferent look on her face, she said,

"Nah, not really. I'd totally let you rot."

Then she smacked him on the leg.

"Of course I would. Do you realize that I would die from boredom without you around?"

A smile formed on his lips.

"You'd die without me?"

The palest, barely there blush tinted Mai's cheeks ever so slightly.

"From the boredom, Zuko."

"Okay," he said and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Shut up," she told him, a smile working onto her face.

"So what was so important that kept me waiting for you twenty minutes?"

He stayed silent longer than she appreciated. Was it that hard a question? She slid a glance her way, and he was looking away from her and his face was telling her that he was wishing she'd asked him anything else. She narrowed her eyes at him, as if that would give her the answer. He did something stupid, dangerous, reckless, or all three plus something else.

"Um…I went to talk to the Fire Lord to tell him the truth about what happened in Bah Sing Se, what I thought of him, what I intended to do and then he said something about my mother so I stayed to hear what he had to say until the eclipse passed and he told me so she could still be alive then he fired lightning at me because, you know, the whole treason thing, but redirected it back at him but only at the base of the throne so it didn't hit him, it just exploded."

He paused to take a breath since he'd said all that in basically one. He was about to continue but hesitated when he caught the glare Mai was sending him.

"You idiot! That's the stupidest thing you've ever done!"

"I think Captain Jee and Uncle Iroh would disagree with you on that one. I wasn't done though," he told her hesitantly. He didn't think it was possible but her glare became even darker. Sighing and taking a deep breath, he continued to explain a little slower.

"After I got out of the bunker, I went to get Uncle out, but apparently, he busted out by himself. He was long gone by the time I arrived. I really messed up with him, Mai."

He looked so sad that Mai felt her anger ebb slightly. She stood up and wrapped her arms around him, and he put his arms around her waist. They held each other for a moment before Mai stepped back and slapped him upside his head.

"Ow! What was that?" he yelled, clutching his head.

"Consequences. When you do something stupid, bad things happen, Zuko."

"Nothing happened but you slapping me!"

"Because that is the consequence for doing something stupid, even though you got away with it. If it all goes terrible, then you get it right there, but if you just get off perfectly fine, you'll get cocky, sloppy, caught later on, and then dead. And you are useless to me dead."

Zuko stared at her a moment, pouting although he probably didn't know it.

"What?" she challenged.

"I'm thinking that I'm probably pretty lucky that you're only slapping me once for all of this."

"Oh, you'll get the rest later. Don't worry."

He scoffed.

"I'm going to leave myself at the mercy of three people who I've been chasing around the world for the past year, one is a master airbender and the Avatar, the other a temperamental master waterbender, and her brother. They have every reason to hate me, not trust a word that comes out of my mouth, and kill me. And she says, 'Don't worry'."

"Fine then. Worry if it makes you feel better. Or we could do something productive like figure out how we're going to sell this."

Zuko leaned forward, put his hand to the fire, and gave it another blast.

"Easier said than done."

"I'm sorry that I attacked your village, threatened your grandmother, hunted you from one end of the world to the other, sent those pirates after you, and Jun, and – "

"Enough already!"

"See? I told you so."

"We are so screwed. I swear I can hear the dead airbenders laughing at us from the spirit world."

"Zuko, I can't do this. I just can't."

"Mai – "

"No, you don't understand what you're asking me. It's not happening," Mai crossed her arms and turned away from Zuko. They were in a small clearing where they'd landed the balloon. Zuko was sitting on a large boulder as Mai made a fuss. Zuko sighed and dragged a hand through his hair. He stood up, walked to Mai, put his arms around her waist, and propped his chin on her shoulder.

"I do understand, Mai. I really do. But in order for them to trust us, they have to see us as non-threatening. In order to do that, you can't have your knives on you."

"Well, in order for you to not be a threat, we'd have to tear your lungs out," she grumbled. "And I feel naked without my knives."

Zuko didn't comment as he'd just gotten a mental picture and was slightly distracted. He turned his head just a little and kissed her neck.

"No," she told him firmly.

Two kisses, a third trailing up to her jaw.

"That's not fair, Zuko."

She tilted her head, exposing her neck. He backed off slightly and turned her around.

Mai had just enough time to mutter 'Jerk', before his lips were on hers. It was a few minutes later before they separated.

"Fine," she panted and moved out of his arms. Zuko smiled slightly. "Oh, shut up and turn around."


"Because I need to become unthreatening," she held up her hand and made a gesture for him to turn. He rolled his eyes but obeyed. He stared at the forested area around them while he listened to the rustling of Mai's clothes and the occasional clink of metal. The thought of the steel flying at his face kept him firmly facing away from her and banished thoughts of taking a quick peek.

"You can turn around now."

He did and saw Mai frowning as she straightened her sleeve and a large pile of kunai, stilettos, daggers, a pair of sai, senbon needles, and other sharp, pointy things.

"Where do you keep all of that?"

"You will never know. Now help me put these away all my nice, save-our-lives-from-the-angry-peasants weapons that would so help us when they attack us."

"They're not – well, they might…they probably will but it won't be lethal."

Great job, Mai. Now he looked worried again, panicked even.

"So doomed," she muttered too low for him to hear. Then she said louder, "I'm sure everything will go great," and even she was impressed with how much that obvious lie sounded like the truth.

Please let me know of any mistakes you spot. Or just review if you don't see any :)

Mai's awesome. It's because of the knives and super-icy chill composure. And she can take down benders when she isn't one. Seriously, who pins people to the walls with knives and DOESN'T cut them? That is too cool, but they should totally make another season or something that's keyed to an older audience that shows, I don't know, actual blood and war type things. Like in Vathara's Embers. That story is beast! I'll stop rambling now.