A/N: I'm terribly sorry for the long wait but I had so many different ideas for how this chapter to go so it took me a while to decide what felt right. Anyway this is the last chapter, the next being the epilogue. Wow it sure has been a long run but I'll get all gushy and emotional next time so enjoy! Review! Favorite! Subscribe for the conclusion! Tell your friends!
"Azula, Azula, AZULA!" someone shouting her name and banging on the cell bars roused her from her unusual peaceful slumber. She would have snapped at them if she wasn't so exhausted. Sleeping wasn't something she did much of anymore because the nightmares and constant visits from her mother in her mind kept her up, not that that helped her avoid them. Turning her head to face the voice she opened her eyes lazily seeing a hooded figure from outside her cell. For a moment she thought that death had finally come to claim her until her visitor spoke again.
"Ugh there are too many keys, I really wish I could metalbend like Toph right now."
"Sokka?" Azula asked sitting up on the bed. The tribesman looked up at her with a small smile still fumbling with the key ring. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"What does it look like I'm doing, I'm rescuing you. By any chance do you know which key it is? I suppose not," he replied concentrated on trying every key on the lock.
"I'm very well aware of that, I'm not an idiot. But why? Have you lost your mind or did my seduction techniques," she said jokingly "compel you to free the murderous nutcase?" the last words came out bitter and strained.
"Look Azula, I'm pretty sure you know that I don't think of you like that but we're under some serious time constraints right now so could you like hold that thought until after we're fleeing the nation?"
The slight panic in his voice was almost imperceptible but it did not go unnoticed by her. She could not understand his motive for freeing her. Had he actually lost his mind? Maybe it brought his some sick satisfaction of being a hero to the suffering. Or he wanted to run away with her into the sunset. Very unlikely. Whatever his motive was freedom was at her fingertips and it made her uncertain. Going back to a world that wanted nothing to do with her, a world that no longer has a place for her was unsettling. What was she to do, become some sort of merchant, a peasant? She had finally become accustomed to her cell, readjusting to life outside would just be bothersome and inconvenient.
"Cut the hero act Sokka, I'm not going anywhere," she said hugging her knees to her chest looking at him intently.
"Yes you are. Once I find the stupid key. How many cells are there here it's insane." He didn't bother to look at her and it made her angry, not being listened to.
"I said I'm not leaving, there's nothing left for me out there. So stop fiddling with those noisy things and get out of here."
He didn't say anything at all this time still trying the endless string of keys.
Azula had had enough of his nonsense, waking her up and causing a ruckus. "Didn't you hear me?" she got up from her bed to face him. "Get out of here!" she shouted knocking the keys out of his hands. They feel to the floor with an echoing clatter.
"Damn it Azula!" his eyes were a mix of anger and fear. It made her pause for a second. "The guards probably heard that. Here stand back, I'll try to pry it open with my boomerang. If I hit it at the right angry I might be able to-"
"Would you stop for a second and listen to me! I'm not going and unless you have a convincing reason as to why I should flee the nation as you said you should leave." She was inches from him, hands grabbing tightly onto the bars.
He took a few steps back from her and raised his boomerang over his head. For a split second she thought he was going to hit her with it until she heard a loud metallic next to her.
"They're going to." CLANG.
"KILL YOU." CLANG.
With the last hit the gate swung open and Sokka was already in the cell with her his hands grabbing her arms at her side holding her closely.
"And there's no way I'm letting anyone do that." He started at her intently with his piercing blue eyes. "Now let's get out of here," he said tugging her forward by the hand. She let herself be led for a few steps but then froze.
"I- I can't."
"Why can't you? Why can't you let me help you, I can fix you if you would just give me the chance."
She looked at him with venom in her eyes ripping her hand out of his. "Fix? Fix? I'm not some machine that you can redesign so it'll work better Sokka. I'm a monster and no one can help me, no one can fix me as you so eloquently put. And maybe," she stepped back in front of him closely, "I just don't want to be fixed."
A smug smile crept on his lips and it infuriated her. She was ready to slap him across the face when his lips crashed down on hers. Strong warm arms wrapped around her waist holding her close as she gave into him. The kiss was short and passionate and it made her head spin and insides flutter.
He pulled away, a wider smile on his lips. "I knew that would snap you out of it. There's nothing I can do to make you better than you already are. Now," he reached into the bag hanging from his back and took out a cloak identical to his and handed it to her, "let's get out of here."
Azula briefly fought back a small grin but failed as she pulled the hood of the cloak over her head. Sokka grabbed her hand and lead her out to the corridor. She hesitated for a moment looking back into her now empty cell. In that brief second she saw a flash of her mother's face smiling back at her from the cracked mirror. She didn't have enough time to react because Sokka broke into a jog and she was dragged down the hallway. It was a longer stretch than she had remembered, not that she was completely aware of her surroundings when they brought her in.
They came to a stop and Sokka signaled her to be quiet before he peered through the corner. His hand squeezed hers tightly as he came to face her and pull her in the other direction.
"The guard's not there so I'm guessing he's patrolling the gates. We're going to have to find another exit."
"Or we could fight our way out," Azula suggested looking over Sokka's shoulder.
"Just the two of us against what, a troop of fire nation soldiers? I'd rather not get burnt thanks."
"We don't have to fight physically. With the both of us strategizing a diversion and escape there's no possible way we could fail." Sokka was one of her biggest concerns in her conquest for power. She could overpower almost everyone with her bending but his strategic skills were quite impressive and not something her enemies usually possessed.
Sokka looked dubious for a moment before accepting that it was most likely their best chance out of there. "We don't seem to have much of a choice. So what should we do? Maybe we could break up and-"
Her hand involuntarily tightened around his at the mention of being separated. Sokka seemed to notice this and pulled her into a quick hug. "Don't worry; I'm not leaving you behind." He let her go and reached for his bag fumbling through its contents. Finally his hand emerged with a small firework. Azula looked at him in disbelief to which he just shrugged and said that he liked to be prepared for any occasion.
"I'll light this up and throw it into one of these cells then I'll wait in front of the one we left open and I'll call the guard over. That should give you enough time to get away safely. There's a small pub not too far from here 'The Badgermole', we'll meet up there."
The plan was brash and filled with flaws but it was all they had on such short notice, and she has seen his crazy plans succeed in the past. She was still worried of course; they didn't just pick any solders to guard the notorious fire nation princess. These were cold blooded killers "reformed" after her father's fall. Once they suspected him of something he would be a dead man. And the thought of going back to the outside world terrified world. To go into society and live as a commoner was something she would never in her life expected to do. But she didn't have much of a choice as Sokka slung his bag over his shoulder and started to turn around. Panic surged through her veins and she launched herself at him hands grabbing his face and forcefully kissing him. He resisted for half a second before giving in to her.
"I'll meet you out there, promise," he whispered as he touched his forehead to hers. She nodded at him before letting go and walking in the other direction to hide in the shadows.
After a few minutes of hiding in the shadows she saw a flash of light accompanied by a loud bang and the smell of gunpowder. In a matter of seconds not one but three guards raced down the hall towards where Sokka was. Perhaps he had overdone it because there was a strong burning smell tickling her nose. This was her chance to get out of there, but something glued her to the spot. It was confusing and frustrating; normally she wouldn't waste a single moment thinking about someone else, not caring about leaving them behind. A couple of months ago she would be halfway out of Ba Sing Se by now, but the thought of bearing it alone out there, bearing it without him was too painful.
She had hesitated enough she decided, after all this was the plan they had agreed on. Down the corridor she ran as silently as she could, seeing the exit at a distance. There were no guards outside, which would explain why she saw three rush past before. Figures Sokka would know that and make a bigger ruckus to attract all of them.
Freedom was so incredibly close she could taste it. It teased her as she hovered around the entrance her guilt still holding her back. Her constant faltering was going to get her caught and quite possibly killed at this rate and Sokka would go down with her. All of her fears doubled as she heard the sound of footsteps and arguing voices approaching behind her.
Without another second to spare she dashed outside. The outer court was barren except for some bushes at the wall near the large gate that led to the city. The guards would surely come out there with Sokka in tow. Suddenly she realized they would surely give him a beating. This might be an Earth Kingdom prison but her brother had insisted on Fire Nation soldiers in a sad attempt to make her feel more at home. Even after the war these soldiers were ruthless and violent, it was how everyone in the Fire Nation was raised and the tensions were still high so having a chance to vent out their frustrations on a water tribesman was too tempting to let go.
She ducked farther into the bushes as the guards came out dragging Sokka by his arms. He was feebly trying to fight them off which she found odd. She hadn't seen him the day of the eclipse as he led the invasion troops but she heard of how he took down soldier after soldier with great agility, surely a couple of not so armed guards wouldn't be much of a problem for him.
One of them grabbed him by the arms holding him still while the other two took turns hitting him in his stomach, his face even a couple of shots to his groin. Azula had to choke back a shriek when she saw a trail of blood run down his lip after a solid punch to his jaw. He wasn't making much noise and then it hit her that he was stalling to give her enough time to get away. She was well hidden so he shouldn't know that she was still in the courtyard. She had hesitated and now he's going to pay the price for it, especially when the guards find here still there.
She leaned to rest her back against the stone wall when she felt something poke her butt. It was a rusty, sharp steel pipe. Almost on pure instinct she grabbed it and lunged out towards the clearing. She was quite skilled in hand to hand combat but weapons weren't exactly her forte, especially not long sword or spear like ones. But she had seen Sokka wield his during the eclipse so she had an idea of how to wield it and she was very perceptive.
Without giving herself a chance to hesitate again she grasped the pole with both hands and lunged forward. Not giving the guards a chance to notice her presence she hit the first one forcefully behind his head eliciting a groan and a furious look in her direction.
"Azula, get outta here!" Sokka shouted, now kicking and squirming around trying to get out of the guard's grasp.
"I'm not leaving without you!" she shouted back shoving the end of the pole into the second soldier's stomach. As he doubled over the guard holding Sokka loosened his grip a bit giving the tribesman a chance to break free and draw his boomerang.
"I was going to meet up with you later! Why don't you ever listen?" Sokka grunted out while fighting the guard that had sheathed a knife.
"It looked like you needed some help," Azula replied turning around to face the first guard now heading towards her. She scanned her brain for those chi blocking lessons Ty Lee had given her some years ago. Her bubbly friend had made it look so easy, so effortless that Azula had practiced multiple times in her room to master the technique perfectly. Once the soldier was close enough her body shifted into auto pilot hitting the necessary pressure points and was rendered useless, his arms limping to his sides almost comically.
To her left she could see Sokka still dealing with his guard so she turned to face the guard behind her who was getting up from the ground. Deciding to use the same technique again she let him come to her only shifting to cover Sokka's back. When he came into range she noticed he had a knife too but she noticed too late only having enough time to dodge it. So accustomed to having her own back and not covering anyone else she didn't notice that the knife gashed Sokka's arm until she had incapacitated the guard.
She whipped around to find him clutching his left arm with his other hand, waving his boomerang around with his hurt arm. The injury didn't seem to hinder his movement much but she could see the pain in his face from the corner of her eyes. The steel pipe was too far from her now but she noticed his sword sheathed on a belt around him. In a single movement she pulled it out and knocked the soldier's knife out of his hand giving Sokka enough chance to zonk him in the head hard enough to knock him out cold.
"Thanks for that," he said struggling to put his boomerang back into his bag. She took it from his hands and used it to tear a strip of her shirt that she used to wrap his injury. She did the best she could but it was lose and twisted in all the wrong ways. He chuckled and reached his good hand for the makeshift bandage.
"Here, let me help." He then proceeded to expertly tie the cloth firmly around the gash with one hand. Azula felt a bit useless and a quite guilty about it.
"I have never understood how commoners do things like that on their own," she said still observing the bandaging with intense curiosity.
"Maybe I could show you sometime," Sokka said with a small smile. Azula tried to ignore the effect his smile had on her.
"Let's get outta here," she said reaching for his good hand and starting to walk towards the front gate. They were about to cross through it when another guard, a woman, appeared from around the corner right in front of them. Azula kept her grasp firm around his and bent her knees slightly preparing for another fight, but the guard looked at her with what seemed like relief.
Sokka had his boomerang already in his hand ready for battle. "We'll put up a fight," he warned but the soldier raised her hands slightly trying to appease him.
"I mean no harm," she said taking a step backwards. She then directed her gaze at Azula and bowed much like everyone used to before her fall. "Princess it is a relief to see you full of life once again."
Azula was confused and the guard seemed to notice this because she continued talking. "I'm the commander of this facility overseeing your imprisonment. I was also one of the guards that watched over your uncle when he was imprisoned. I asked for this assignment especially to make sure they wouldn't treat you too harshly."
"Some help you were, we got beaten by your subordinates just a while ago!" Sokka exclaimed, clearly still resentful about earlier.
"You are not the princess, I am here to insure her safety," the commander replied sharply, staring daggers at him.
Sokka opened his mouth to snap back but Azula interfered. "Why are you so concerned with my well-being? I'm sure it's considered a traitorous act now."
The commander pulled her gaze back to Azula. "You're still a princess, both in blood and in the eyes of your nation. You've also been misguided and been given burdens much too great for such a young person. I only wish to serve and protect you to my fullest extent."
"Then I guess you know about the Earth King's verdict?" Sokka asked.
"Yes, I have been informed," she replied sadly.
"You said you're going to protect Azula to the best of your abilities, right?"
"Also correct tribesman." Her tone became more respectful, as if she noticed that he genuinely cared about Azula.
"So I suppose you have to help us escape for her to avoid her fate?" Azula felt him pull her slightly closer.
"It is only just."
"Then you have done your princess a great service," Azula said with the regality of a true princess.
The officer then stepped out of their way letting them pass through the gate to the outside. Once outside Azula turned around letting go of Sokka to face the woman.
"I thank you Commander for your kindness. I hope my escape doesn't bring you much trouble."
"It's only what's right Princess, it has been an honor serving you," the commander said with another low bow. Azula gave her a slight not and turned to walk away. As she took Sokka's hand again she heard the commanders' voice again.
"You're a lot like your uncle, you share the same strength. Not everyone would have survived alone in a cell when their nation turned their back on them."
"I wasn't alone," she looked at Sokka and thought of her mother. "And I see that neither was he," she said glancing back at her.
A smile spread on the woman's' lips. "He talked about you often, he really cared about you."
Azula turned her gaze forward again starting to walk away. With a deep breath she left behind the prison she had been in and said loud enough for the woman behind them to hear "I know."