Characters: Mai, Naruzi (the warden of Boiling Rock), Zuko, Azula, Captain Mizao (OC)
Word Count: 900+ words
Summary: After the Comet passes, Mai returns to the Capital and Zuko. But he's not the only loose end she needs to tie up.
Three days after the Comet departed, Uncle Naruzi gave Mai the key to the guest bedroom. She did not say a word to him, and he did not apologize to her. He had been following orders, after all, even if Azula had likely not intended such a comfortable house-arrest for her "traitorous" friend.
But Uncle Naruzi wouldn't leave his favorite (and only) niece in the Boiling Rock. As warden, he knew the prison was no place for improper young ladies who liked to use knives. Nor, after a bit of wheedling from Mai, was it a place for improper young acrobatic ladies. Thanks to his influence, Ty Lee wound up at the Capital Prison while Mai cooled her heels in his home for the last few weeks of the war.
Zuko did not try to rescue her. Mai wasn't certain if she was disappointed with him or annoyed with herself for even wishing for it.
The day after Uncle Naruzi gave her the key, Mai went down to the armory and strapped on her weapons for the first time since her attack on the Boiling Rock.
"You're certain about this?"
"Yes, Uncle." Mai examined the edge of one of her knives, then reached for a sharpening stone.
"He isn't worth it."
Her glanced slipped sideways, taking in his scowl. She really should not have raged in that letter to her uncle. He had always done a much better job of protecting her interests than either of her parents. "That's for me to determine."
"A note is no way to end an affair. He's a fool and a traitor," Uncle Naruzi spat.
"He will be Firelord in a week," Mai said levelly, and that was the end of the discussion.
"You need some help with that?"
Zuko sounded so delighted to see her again, and Mai revelled in the feel of his arms around her. Part of her wanted to ask about the bandages around his chest, but she could make a guess.
Azula had written her a letter the day of the Comet. Mai kept it tucked inside her clothing even now. The words in it burned with anger, bitterness, and something Azula probably didn't even realize was despair. Firelord Ozai had abdicated. Azula would be crowned as Firelord that very noon.
Mai knew the other girl better than she would have preferred. She was careful as she embraced Zuko, trying not to lean too hard against him. "What happened to your sister?"
Zuko paused. Then he gave a little chuckle. "You know, I thought it was Ty Lee who was going to ask me that. But she didn't say anything. Just asked if it was okay if she joined the Kyoshi Warriors."
"Of course! Why would I stop her from doing what she wanted?"
Why, indeed? Mai decided to find Ty Lee later and speak to her about her little decision. "What about Azula?"
"Captain Mizao of the Imperial Firebenders has her in hand." He rubbed her back. "You don't have to worry about her. She can't hurt you."
Mai snorted. "I'm not worried about her hurting me, Zuko. I want to know what you're going to do with her."
Zuko blinked, looking momentarily taken aback. "I... hadn't really decided yet. I think Katara and Aang could find some way to help her..." He trailed off, staring at her. "Um, Mai?"
"You," she said, not unkindly, "are an idiot."
After Zuko's coronation, Mai politely removed herself from the celebrations. She caught Captain Mizao's elbow on her way out. It only took a polite request for him to escort her to Azula.
She expected to be taken to the Capital Prison. Instead, the man led her down to the lava tunnels below the palace itself. The air was stiflingly hot; the Capital Volcano still lived, though the Firelords soothed it to gentle sleep.
The captain opened a cell for her with a bronze key and stepped back out of the way. The two guards did not move at all as the door swung open, and Mai did not insult them by acknowledging their presence.
Azula looked terrible.
Hacked off bangs hung in her eyes, sweat sheened her skin, and her hair clung to her skull. Her hands were unconsciously curled into claws, and sparks of blue fire spilled from her mouth with each breath. Her eyes were fever-bright and wide, and her expression was- Too much. It was the expression of someone completely out of control, and it was alien on Azula's face.
Mai stared at her and saw exactly how Zuko could think she needed help.
Zuko was such an idiot sometimes.
Azula's eyes snapped to her, then she tipped her head back and shrieked. "Traitor! How dare you come here, why is it never Father, where is Father, why is it always you or Zuko or Mother?"
Mai waited until the babble quieted, then crossed the room and knelt in front of her former friend. She did not smile. "Zuko wants to help you, Azula. After everything that's happened, he wants to help you."
Tongues of blue flame licked from Azula's mouth with each breath now. Her eyes seemed even wider as she stared into Mai's own.
"I think he should kill you and be done with it."
Azula's breaths came quicker and more shallow, almost panting.
"But it's a time for changes, the Avatar says." Mai reached up and cupped Azula's cheek, feeling the sweat and grunge that Azula would never have allowed before. "It's a time for mercy." Now she smiled. "Like the mercy he gave to Ozai."
"You're not going to die, Azula. You're going to stay with my uncle. He'll take good care of you." Mai leaned in close, so the fire of Azula's breath scorched the ends of her hair. "And," she said softly, "You will never hurt my Zuko again."