Author's Note: What follows is my planning document for this story, before I began any other writing. Even though I intended to do a lot of improvising, for the fun and challenge of it, I still wanted to get the general shape of the story set ahead of time, and brainstorm some idea for scenes. I didn't try to define arc, I just speculated how Mai would finally get together with Zuko, since I knew that whatever the real ending was would be determined by the details of the story.
For people interested in how I plan my stories, there's a visible evolution between what I have here and what I actually wound up writing. The early premise is pretty much the same, as are Zuko and Mai's initial mindsets. Things go off the rails starting with Ty Lee's role, which happened while I was writing the actual chapter that had her first appear; Ty Lee refused to play her part, and had other ideas about how she could be a good friend to Mai., namely by trying to keep Maiko from happening. Azula's secret fascination with romance appears in these notes, but not to the degree I wound up portraying, and the whole subplot with Azula hiring Jin was improvised.
One of my favorites elements of the story- Mai's family, in the form of her Mother and Tom-Tom- doesn't appear anywhere in these notes. There are acknowledgements of Mai's family and how they influence her, but having them appear was an idea that didn't occur to me until I began writing. I think the story wound up a bit overloaded with meddlers, to the point where Ty Lee and especially Iroh wound up underutilized, but I'm really glad I brought in the mother and little brother. I think they have more relevance than Iroh, and Tom-Tom was a great "prop" for otherwise straightforward scenes. When things got serious, he could always be a source of lighthearted comedy.
There are also acknowledgements of the war and the occupation of the city in these notes, but an in-palace assassination plot turned into a less organized rebellion in the Lower Ring. Jin's appearance was part of that, and I think she served as a better face than an original character would have, while also being relevant to the romantic main plot. I always had the idea that it was ridiculous for these romantic shenanigans to be the main focus of a story, while more historically relevant things were going on the background, and I'm really glad I had the opportunity to have the people of Ba Sing Se say so to Zuko's face.
It's immediately after the fall of Ba Sing Se. The world thinks the Avatar is dead, and the Fire Nation believes it has won the war. (Quite a few Earth Kingdom partisan fighters are getting ready to disabuse them of that notion.) Azula is overseeing the Fire-izing of Ba Sing Se. Iroh is in jail. Zuko is moping. Ty Lee is doing whatever it is Ty Lee does. Main, meanwhile, decides to claim Zuko as her boyfriend. To do this, she decides on a "Death by a Thousand Cuts" plan. She's going to wear Zuko down until he breaks out of his moping long enough to kiss her. She of course tells Ty Lee, because Mai wasn't paying all that much attention when her mother was imparting seduction tips and it makes sense that Ty Lee would know about these things. Ty Lee is skeptical of the approach, but her suggestions of just being more direct are shot down, as Mai believes that Zuko would just rebuff her out of stubborn contrariness and a general tendency to mope. Ty Lee knows to back down. For now.
Mai informs Zuko that they will be taking tea together. Zuko, not realizing the significance, goes along with it, to awkward and humorous results. Later, Mai arranges for them to have dinner together. More awkwardness results. Somewhere in these Mai conversationally updates Zuko on her family in Omashu. Zuko, not used to small talk, just winds up listening.
Ty Lee gets frustrated. She ambushes Zuko and tells him Mai's intentions. Zuko is surprised, and reveals that he's not even sure if he should go back to the Fire Nation.
MORE ON ZUKO'S GENERAL STATE OF MIND: He's aware that he didn't capture the Avatar. Azula killed him with Zuko's early help, which may kind of be close enough, but he's afraid that Ozai won't see it that way. Rather than confront his fears and test his theory, Zuko would rather mope and stay in Ba Sing Se. (Later, he gets the idea that he could rule it for the Fire Nation, and use his experience to do right by its people and the Fire Nation both. Mai doesn't fit into this, because she's not her own person in Zuko's eyes, belonging to either her family or Azula.)
Later, Mai pulls Zuko into another get-together. They go to the zoo?
Zuko goes to Iroh for advice. Iroh tells him that he preferred Jin to Azula's gloomy compatriot.
Another date: Upper Ring? Mai learns that Zuko appreciates her irreverent attitude and snark.
Zuko goes to Azula to inform her of Mai's intentions and get some advice. Azula is surprised, but fine with it. She figures she could break and earn the loyalty of any girl who tries to marry Zuko, but since Mai is already broken and loyal, that's less work for her. Then Azula realizes that she, too, has a Royal Duty to get married, and decides that this is the perfect opportunity to learn about courtship.
Later, Azula gives Mai a fake performance review using info taken from debriefing the Dai Li spies who have been watching Zuko. Azula tries to get advice from Mai, and realizes that Azula is taking notes and not really focused on the performance evaluation. Azula has to back off or be embarrassed.
Someone tries to assassinate Administrator Joo Dee, and Zuko saves her. Zuko realizes he could rule Ba Sing Se instead, and that would remove Mai from his life.
Another date, where Zuko ties to break it off.
Mai goes to Azula for help. Azula decides to test Mai to see if she can figure it out on her own?
Mai demonstrates somehow that she truly wants him, and somehow gives him the courage to face his father.
The story ends with the boat scene from 'The Awakening' from Mai's POV, demonstrating how she works to keep Zuko from sinking into despair and fear.