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Even Footing

Title: Even Footing
Rating: G
Characters/Pairing: Mai/Zuko
Words: 1,034
Summary: “So what was that for?”
Note: I have no idea where this came from. I haven’t seen the Western Air Temple yet and I seriously doubt that this happened, but the slowly growing ‘shipper in me wanted to see this. As for Mai pulling a Ty Lee here, I figured that if Azula could do back flips and carry knives just as well as either of the girls in Day of Black Sun, then they must have had some sort of cross-training, even if only on an informal scale.

The first time he saw her again, he was prepared for a fight. Even then he couldn’t block all of her blades; three of them catching his right sleeve and trapping him against a tree. She moved faster than he had ever seen her during her training drills – she hated having an audience, which was why he had taken to quietly observing her without her knowledge, even though she openly admired him during his morning routine – and she was at his side before he had time to blink, her fist hitting his left arm hard enough to sting.

He glared at her. Obviously Ty Lee wasn’t the only one who knew how to block a bender’s chi flow. The slap that followed was enough to turn his head, the side of his face stinging from the blow.

“That,” Mai said quietly, her breath stirring his hair near his ear. “Was for leaving me with just a note.” She didn’t give him any time to say anything before her lips were on his, pressing hard enough for him to feel her teeth against his mouth.

“So what was that for?” he asked, nudging her nose with his. If absolutely necessary, he knew that he could keep her preoccupied long enough for him to get in a couple of good kicks. A blow to the back of the head would knock her out long enough for him to escape and cover his tracks.

He hated the thought of hurting her, but he’d be damned if he led his sister to the Avatar.

Her fingers brushed over his cheek, her nails a faint prickle on his skin. “For still being alive so I could hit you.” Her eyes softened and she briefly pressed her face against the curve of his neck before stepping away. “I had orders to kill you on sight.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

She looked away before reaching out with her left hand to yank her knives from the tree. “You don’t listen, do you? I said I had orders.” Her voice was as sardonic as ever, but there was a brittle edge to it.

That was when he finally noticed that she had attacked him using only her left arm. Once he was freed, his hand shot out and grabbed her right wrist, pushing the material of her robe up her arm.

She jerked her arm out of his grasp, but not before he saw a glimpse of blistered skin. “Azula doesn’t have a need for defective weapons and decided to cut her losses,” she said simply, the miniscule flaring of nostrils and slight trembling of her lips the only clues that she was in pain. “She left me for dead.”

“She’s not usually that sloppy.”

Mai stared at him, her face set. “It’s a mistake that she’ll pay for later.”

“So what will you do now?”

She tilted her head. “I did not spend all this time tracking you down for nothing. Where else do you think I’m going to go?”

He eyed her. It could be a trap. There weren’t any lines that his sister wouldn’t cross, even if it meant hurting one of her allies just so he would believe that Mai had indeed been cast aside. Azula knew how he felt about Mai and would use that to her own advantages. Like she had done at Ba Sing Se, she could easily send one of her own to the enemy camp and take it down from the inside. From her little display, even if they took away all of Mai’s knives, she could still fight with her fists.

Then again, it wasn’t like Mai to tip her hand, especially if she had skills that Zuko hadn’t been aware of. Was that her way of letting him know that she was being honest with him? She had never been much of a liar, preferring to bluntly state the truth instead of weaving pretty deceptions, and she had never really been able to hide her true feelings from him especially.

“They don’t trust me as it is,” he told her, his senses on hyper alert for anyone in the trees nearby. “It wouldn’t look good if I suddenly showed up with someone that had tried to kill them before.”

She took a breath. “No, it wouldn’t.” Her eyes shifted away from his face, settling somewhere near his chin. “But it wouldn’t hurt to have someone around that didn’t hate you either, right?”

She sounded hesitant, unsure of her place. He went through her previous words: defective weapon, you don’t listen. The carefully disguised hurt at being tossed aside like some unwanted item was genuine, as was the relieved look she had given him earlier. He watched as she met his gaze again, her chin defiantly tipped upward. The momentary weakness was gone, stony determination in its place.

“But if you don’t trust me, I’ll go.” She reached out and smoothed the rip in his robes her blades had caused. “I wouldn’t trust me if I was in your place.”

His hand came up and circled her fingers. “I know someone that could help heal your arm.” Katara probably wouldn’t like him asking her, and he knew that her brother would put up a fuss. The confrontation was a headache that he didn’t want to deal with, but it would show them that he trusted Mai enough to let her stay. It could backfire on him in a big way, but it was a gamble he was willing to make. “It’s going to be late when we make it back to camp.”

She tugged her fingers free, the faintest traces of a smile on her lips. “Then we’d better get going before it gets too dark.” She followed, habit from following his sister had her standing a few steps behind and to the right of him.

He paused and stepped backward so that they were standing side by side. Lacing his fingers through hers, they resumed their walk, this time on even footing. The brief squeeze he gave her palm was meant to reassure, to let her know that he trusted her.

Zuko smiled when he felt her squeeze his hand back.

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