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Detours [3/? FF:ATLA] 
12 Dec, 2011
Title: Detours
Chapter: Two
Fandom: Avatar: the Last Airbender
Rating: PG
Genre: General/Romance
Word Count: 3,142
Characters/Pairings: Mai, implied Mai/Zuko, Mai/Jee, and Mai/Katara

It is Mai instead of Zuko that is banished to scouring the world for the Avatar, and she does things slightly different than the hot-tempered prince.

Chapter three revolves around the Blue Spirit episode.

Mai/Jee pairing (and thus some May/December elements. Haha, "May/Mai"). And, beware of season one spoilers revolving around "The Blue Spirit" episode. Also, hints of Mai/Zuko, also known as Maiko. Mai/Aang elements present in this.

Mai watches over their maps, their talk of possible directions and feels oddly… welcomed. The feeling confuses her because it would mean that she had been unwelcomed before, but she never has noticed such a thing.

It is boring work, despite their eager tones that suggests they are close. Mai almost wants to snuff out their excitement because it makes her so nauseous. Almost, but before she can reach that level, someone else does it for her.

"Admiral Zhao has ordered that no ship moves in or out of the area," relays the courier from the ship that is much larger and much nicer than hers.

She is vaguely aware of the thick vein that throbs in Jee's forehead, but Mai is only interested in Zhao's new title.

"Admiral?" she repeats, remembering that he had just only turned Commander on her.

"Yes, ma'am. He received the letter of promotion only last night." Mai nods , thoughtfully tapping her chin. The Fire Lord, she thinks, must be confident in Zhao's abilities.

"And he has frozen this waterway?" she reaffirms, glancing at the map for their location.

The courier nods.

"For how long?"

"Until a certain, dangerous fugitive is apprehended."

"What?" hisses Jee in outrage. Mai holds out a hand to silence him.

"Thank you for this information," she tells the courier who nods his bow and leaves for his own bigger, nicer ship. Jee doesn't remain silent for long.

"He's trying to capture the Avatar before we do! Which means he's found something to his advantage and doesn't want us to get in the way of his shiny new accomplishment." Mai doesn't look at Jee and only watches the retreating courier ship.

"Why is it that a mere courier has a better ship than I do?" Mai muses aloud as her response.

"Well, your model has been out of commission for two years now," answers Iroh in the same contemplative voice.

"Are you not listening?" Jee yells, cutting across their conversation.

"Yes, lieutenant, I heard you perfectly well. What I did not hear, however, was your suggestion on how to solve this problem."

Jee fumes but says nothing.

"Go on, I'm listening, because as far as I can tell, there is nothing we can do."

Jee grumbles something about practicing and leaves for the deck.

She isn't naïve enough to ignore the truth in Jee's words. She had underestimated Zhao— apparently he did consider her as a threat. But what could she do about it? Except wait until Zhao captured the Avatar, dooming her and her crew to a banished life on the sea.

While that promised a peaceful future— if Jee somehow drowned in it— Mai had to admit to herself that it was rather boring. Mai didn't like boring very much.

Mai finds herself in her dark cabin, fingering the rusting clasp of some old, forgotten box. Not forgotten to her, though. She remembers when Zuko gave it to her. The mask inside is an ugly thing, she believes, painted with some metallic, blue paint.

"I want you to have these," he says with an awkward inflection to his voice. She peeks curiously at the chest's contents, instantly knowing that the Dao swords were useless to her.

"Why?" she asks, keeping her voice even. Zuko gives an awkward shrug. Everything about him, she notices, is awkward.

"You can use them on your… trip."

He refuses to acknowledge her banishment, even though he cannot possibly know why she is exiled. If he does, he would be offended by the gesture, but does not show it.

"Thank you," she says because she feels obligated to express gratitude. "But I can't use the swords." Zuko attempts an awkward smile.

"Uncle knows how. He can teach you." Mai only nods, wanting to say so much but unable to do so.

She settles, instead, on giving him a quick embrace— blushing while doing so— before running off like the embarrassed, infatuated teenager she is.

It was the last time she had seen the prince. But, as she picks up the hideous mask, she believes his gift will prove quite useful.

Except for the swords. She regrets never asking Iroh to teach her.

Mai feels dangerous, but anyone who is bold enough to don this grotesque mask should be dangerous. Nevertheless, she also feels wild and free, two untamed highs that seize her chest with a newfound sense of self.

She is no longer Mai. She is the Blue Spirit, and the Blue Spirit worries not about the fastidious decorum of her youth.

She is unhindered. She is unhinged.

Her silence and abilities at stealth prove in her favor as she sneaks into the fortress undetected via a poorly searched caravan delivering supplies. Her usual choice of billowy robes has been exchanged for clothing that clings and will not rustle when she moves. Because it clings, Mai has taken extra precautions to ensure evidence of her womanhood remains undetected.

She pauses only to contemplate the grated bars that ward what could only be sewage water. She wrinkles her nose, takes one last fresh breath, and easily squeezes through.

It is easy work to scale the sentry paths, probably because all the guards are distracted by some speech of grandeur Zhao is giving. Mai mostly ignores his arrogant words, until that is, he boasts of having captured the Avatar.

She doesn't pause or change course. Zhao would never make such a claim if he didn't have something to back it up with, which means Jee was right. In either case, Mai still needs to get inside the stronghold tower.

She takes advantage of the fact that there are practically no guards standing about and quickly finds herself inside the control tower. The corridors are long and narrow here, making it nearly impossible to hide. When she thinks she is getting closer to the Avatar's cell, she passes a door marked 'Weapons and Ammunitions.' A quick glimpse inside informs her that the room is full of explosives.

Beside the door there is a sign, she notes, that reads 'in case of emergencies.' Below it is a water spigot, and below that is a bucket hanging from a hook.

Fire Nation fortress usually means firebenders, and firebenders typically mean fire.

She turns the spigot on and nearly jumps at the loud creak its rusted bolts give. The bucket begins to fill— rather noisily. Anyone nearby would surely hear it.

Mai keeps the water running and hides out in the room full of explosives. Soon enough, a guard comes to inspect and puzzle over the running water. He turns the tap off, and then Mai seizes him.

She quickly renders him immobile, pinning his limbs to the inside of the explosives' door with some stilettoes, and threatens him with his own spear.

"Please!" he wails.

She silently pulls out a wanted poster of the Avatar to show him.

"He's down there," the guard answers, pointing with his eyes.

Mai drops the poster and runs, leaving the guard trapped in the room. She turns back only to get the bucket of water.

She pauses just before another intersection to peek around the corner. Sure enough, there are four more guards standing vigilantly before a thick door. She pulls away before they can see her and backs a few feet, setting the bucket down. She procures a small knife and scrapes it across the wall.

The noise successfully alerts the guards, and she hears them sending one of their own to investigate. When he rounds the corner, she is ready for him.

The spear is quickly yanked from his grip and whacked against a precise spot on the back of his head (a trick she learned from Ty Lee). The man falls to the ground, unconscious, with only a small grunt.

The remaining three nervously murmur amongst themselves after hearing their companion fall. They decide, and Mai hears two pairs of feet approaching this time.

The first one is easily dispatched by flinging a few shurikens to anchor him against the wall. The second immediately prepares a defensive stance in response. At the first hint of a flame, Mai soaks him with the bucket, leaving him blinking and stunned. She uses the bucket again to knock him unconscious, and turns the corner for the last one.

She sees him reaching for a horn, but hurls a knife to send it flying out of his grasp where shattering against the wall. He turns toward her then, taking another stance, and Mai instantly hits the ground to avoid a wave of fire.

She reaches out with a leg to drag his feet out from under him. When he falls to the ground, she quickly binds him with some chains hanging in the rafters, and turns to the cell door.

She is surprised— and disappointed— with how easy the lock is to pick.

Then, she finds herself standing before the Avatar who is chained at both hands and feet. She silently contemplates him for a moment, intrigued with his youth and remembering that she had only glanced at him before in the forest glen.

"Wh-who are you?"

She can't speak, but approaches him with a dart to pick the locks on his chains. He screams as she draws closer, and Mai resists the urge to slap him. Once he realizes that she is freeing him though, he finally quiets.

"Are you here to rescue me?" he asks once the chains fall.

She merely makes a motion for him to hurry and leaves the room.

"I'll… take that as a yes." Behind the mask, Mai rolls her eyes and checks their surroundings. Behind her, she hears the Avatar pausing to look at his fallen guards, and then she hears him exclaiming something about melting frogs and his sick friends. Impatiently, she jerks at his collar and drags down another hallway.

They quickly get outside, and Mai doesn't hear Zhao's speech any more, which means that the guards and sentries were returning to their posts. Well, at least it would make things more exciting.

She nods towards a rope she had used earlier to scale one of the walls. Taking the hint, the Avatar begins climbing it first. They are about halfway up when a sudden alarm of horns and percussions erupts the night.

"There! On the wall!" says a guard.

Her rope is cut, and Mai braces herself for the ground. Fortunately, the Avatar's airbending cushions their fall, and they land, unharmed. She looks around, thinking fast, and points towards the series of gates that lead out of the fortress. The Avatar takes the hint, and the two of them dash for the exit.

"The Avatar has escaped! Close all the gates immediately!" she hears Zhao's voice across the sirens. Several obscenities directed toward his lack of manhood race through her mind when the Avatar takes the lead.

"Stay close to me!"

And she finds it slightly irritating that she has no choice but to trust him.

He runs ahead and with a huge air blast, knocks away the first line of the Fire Nation soldiers. Mai tries to follow but is stalled when the second line comes to replace them, all pointing spears at her.

She is used to battling odd numbers, and easily combats several with a simple slew of shurikens. However, they quickly circle around her and it is all Mai can do to not be overwhelmed. She doubles on a sai and a commandeered spear to ward them away.

She doesn't panic— panicking would be bad— but she does wonder briefly if the Avatar has forgotten her.

She jumps to avoid being stabbed in the ribs, and suddenly the soldiers in front of her have disappeared. She turns around to see that the ones behind her have vanished as well.

Mai turns back around to see that the Avatar that has come to her aid. Then with a blast from his own commandeered spear, he sends her flying through the air. She lands on a sentry wall with waves of soldiers coming at her from either side. She holds up her sai and spear, but before they can reach her, the Avatar has her again. With his legs wrapped around her.

She wants to struggle and kick and scream but doing so would cause her to fall a hundred feet to the ground. Instead, she waits until they land on another sentry wall before extricating herself from him.

There are soldiers there to greet them, and before she can begin to fight them back, she sees that the ones on the ground have ladders. The Avatar busies himself by sending air blasts down the ladders to keep them from ascending. Meanwhile, Mai wards off the oncoming forces already on the wall.

Before it could become monotonous, the Avatar thrusts a ladder into her arms.

"Take this!"

Then he pole-vaults himself off the wall.

"Jump on my back!"

Mai wants to decline, but seethes over the fact that he has given her no time to do so. She jumps while he is still in range.

"Give me the next one!"

Mai does so, and the Avatar shifts the two of them onto it as the first ladder crashes to the ground.

They are almost at the last sentry wall when some loathsome firebender sets fire to their ladder. The fire climbs the ladder quickly, forcing the Avatar to jump early— too early. His hand barely grazes the wall.

Mai tries to hold onto the edge, but lacks the strength to pull them both up.

So they fall.

And just as Mai's body straightens its tensed muscles from hitting the ground, there are firebenders ready for them. The Avatar airbends a protective shield to protect the two of them from the flames.

The onslaught is interrupted when Zhao arrives.

"Hold your fire! The Avatar must be captured alive." The order was Zhao's own mistake. Mai pulls out her secret weapon— a dagger. A very large dagger that she was quite proud of. And before anyone can stop her, she has the dagger against the Avatar's throat.

Zhao locks gazes with her— though Mai wonders if he can see her eyes. There is a long, frozen silence as she waits for Zhao to respond. She feels the Avatar trembling beneath her grip.

"Open the gate," he orders slowly.

His next-in-command— some fat colonel— protests, but Zhao quickly silences him. Soon, Mai is slowly backing her way out of the fort, holding the Avatar's life as hostage. She wouldn't kill him of course; that would just be counterproductive. Still, Mai has always had a penchant for bluffing.

When they're close to the treeline, Mai still does not turn her back. The last she had seen of Zhao was an unsettling smirk on his face.

They edge closer and closer to cover, and Mai is about to release her grip on the Avatar when she hears a sharp, unnatural whistle.

Then, everything goes black.

It is daybreak as Iroh hums to himself the remnants of music night. His company is a granite statuette with bright ruby eyes. He pats its head before pulling out his tsungi horn for some early morning practice.

Two marvelous purchases, indeed.

The tune he is recreating is one of Jee's— a stirring love song from the previous night. Iroh relishes in the chords but despairs that the instrument cannot recapture the lilting voice of the lieutenant. That man, Iroh thinks, should not have been a naval officer. Music is his calling. Such a waste.

As he begins the second refrain, Iroh is approached by its very composer.

"Oh, lieutenant!" he greets. "I was wondering if you could sing that piece again for me— the one from last night."

But Iroh can instantly tell the man's mind is elsewhere.

When Mai comes to, her head hurts, and it takes some struggling to open her eyes. She stifles a panic as she tries to remember where she is at but is unsuccessful with both. Her mouth tastes gritty, and her lips feel cracked. When she finally opens her eyes, she sees a wide facing staring back, merely inches away.

The Avatar.

She is startled, but does not show it and glares instead, the panic easing itself away.

She should be grateful, she supposes, that it is the Avatar staring at her instead of Zhao.

"I know you! You helped save us from the pirates!" His enthusiasm makes her head hurt more.

"What happened?" she asks, sitting up. The Avatar explains with his hands.

"You were shot with an arrow— to the head! And then you blacked out, and I carried you to the forest before Zhao could reach us. I would have taken you back to our hideout, but I can't carry you that far without my staff."

Mai arches an eyebrow, and he suddenly becomes defensive.

"Oh no! I didn't mean it like that! It's not that you're a heavy person, not at all! It's just I'm not a very strong person…"

Mai smiles at his explanation.

"I'm Aang, by the way." He holds out his hand and grins. After hesitating a moment, Mai takes it.

"I'm Mai."

"How did you find me? I mean, how did you know that Zhao had me?"

"When he's proud of something, Zhao's not very quiet about it."

"Why did you save me, exactly?"

"Well it wasn't doing me any good to have you locked up in that fortress."

"Have you been following us?" Mai looks at him pointedly.

"You certainly do ask a lot of questions." Aang clamps his hand over his mouth.

"I'm sorry." Mai rises, dusting her pants off.

"I should be going. Now that you've escaped, Zhao might close the waterways again." She turns to leave, but he calls out to her.

"Wait!" She stops and looks over her shoulder to see him fishing through his pockets. "In case you're ever in any trouble, use this." Aang holds out something for her. Curious, Mai reaches for it, and he drops a bison whistle in her hand. She inspects it.

"What's this?"

"My flying bison can hear it, and it'll take us straight to you. Consider as thanks for saving me."

"Useful," Mai notes to herself, pocketing it.

They go their separate ways, and around noon, Mai manages to relocate her small steamboat anchored in the cover of some reeds. As she gets the engine started, she thinks of nothing else other than ridding herself of the dirty and uncomfortable clothes of the Blue Spirit and taking a very long and relaxing bath.

However, once she reaches the spot where her ship was docked, she stares, a wild fury slowly growing within her.

Her ship is gone.

She responds accordingly by cursing her mutinous lieutenant's name thrice, and then three times more.

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