A/N: I've only recently watched Avatar the Last Airbender so this is my first foray into this fandom. Bear with me.
Maiko is my beloved OTP, my tiny gothic children, my precious emo warriors, and they as a couple do not get nearly as much love as they undeniably deserve. This is me adding to the efforts of those beautiful people trying to restore balance.
Warnings: implied sexual situations - absolutely nothing graphic - and I haven't read the comics so if this goes against any of that canon, oops. I do know a little of what happens in the comics and one or two things might be mentioned here, but for the most part the comic storylines don't exist.
Pairings: Mai/Zuko, Katara/Aang, Sokka/Suki, Toph/Zuko/Mai BrOTP. There will be no none zero nada romantic Toph/Zuko/Mai. Zilch.
Timeline: post-series, pre-comics
Disclaimer: I do not own the masterpiece that is ATLA, and I got the story title from a song lyric of Love Me Dead by Ludo. There is a song mentioned in this story called In All My Dreams I Drown from The Devil's Carnival. This is NOT a song-fic.
Summary: Mai and Zuko had the weirdest, most twisted, darkest romances the Gaang had ever seen. Ty Lee thought they were sweet. Everyone else thought they were disturbed.
"If you ever break up with me again, I'll slit your throat."
They - the Gaang, Mai, and Ty Lee - were having dinner at the Fire Palace. Zuko had insisted his new friends and his old friends spend some time together to get to know each other more. Ty Lee had been a delight to all (except Suki, when the acrobat would hit on Sokka). Mai had been aloof.
Her face did not change at her pronouncement.
Everyone turned to the Firelord and (most likely) future Firelady. Ty Lee was as smiley as ever; Toph was smirking; everyone else just stared.
Zuko turned to Mai and leaned in close to her. He leaned his forehead against her head and solemnly said, "I'd burn us both to death before I tried to leave you a second time."
Ty Lee sighed dreamily. Toph let out a loud laugh stuffed and her mouth with another helping of roast duck. Everyone else silently tried to come up with ways to excuse themselves.
Mai cracked the tiniest of smiles.
Sokka was a ladies man. He knew it. Everyone knew it. People only laughed at him in jealousy when he pointed it out.
He never really 'tried' to get girls to like him, not in the way a lot of guys he knew tried - by lying and changing their personalities. Sokka was funny. He was smart and charismatic and a warrior. He didn't need to change. He had a natural pull.
Zuko was also a ladies man. Sokka knew it. Girls all over the world knew it. The only people who didn't seem to know it were Sokka's friends, including Zuko himself.
Sokka could understand how Zuko didn't know. The Firelord wasn't in the same category as Sokka. Sokka was fun and approachable; Zuko was dark and brooding. He had that 'mysterious bad boy' thing going on that women seemed to love. Tortured soul. Guilt-ridden hero. Chicks dug that. Chicks were also often too intimidated to hit on that. What few weren't, quickly discovered that the whole 'angsty tortured hero' thing wasn't as attractive up close. Even if it was, Zuko was actually a huge dork. He was socially awkward, he couldn't tell a joke to save his life, and he could spend hours ranting about how terrible the Ember Island Players are.
Knowing all of this, Sokka was only slightly surprised that Zuko had managed to maintain a steady relationship. He was very surprised at how messed up that relationship was.
Zuko seemed the type to go with awkward handholding, shy kisses on the cheek, and private attempts at declarations of love.
He did not seem the type to passionately - publicly - kiss his way up Mai's arm as the knife-thrower calmly conversed with an uncaring Toph.
"The only way to get your parents to understand your power is to show it," Mai said, not even twitching as Zuko's lips made their way over her shoulder and up her neck.
"I did do that," Toph said, equally un-twitching. "I took on the entire Earth Rumble line-up by myself and won and my dad still said I'd been given 'too much freedom' and needed 'closer watching for my own good'."
"In that case, you need to destroy their house."
Toph seemed to think on it as Zuko finished his journey to Mai's other hand and made to kiss each individual finger. He was stopped by a knife being held flat against his cheek, pointing towards his good eye. Zuko turned to face his girlfriend, the blade staying pressed to his face.
"I felt like it."
Zuko moved his face closer to Mai's, their noses touching.
"Are you going to cut me?"
"Are you going to choke me?"
It was then that Sokka noticed Zuko had snuck his hand to Mai's neck and was gently squeezing - not enough to hinder breathing, just enough to show he could. Mai breathed heavily through her mouth, bringing her lips closer to the firebender's. Zuko's thumb stroked her cheek.
An earth tent formed around them.
"No one wants to see that," Toph said to no one in particular. "Especially me. I'm gonna go stand on wood for a few hours."
"Hours?!" Suki yelled as Toph exited the room. Sokka decided that Zuko didn't need to know he was a ladies man.
"That's nothing," Ty Lee said. "I once didn't see them for three days."
Katara dropped the scroll she'd been reading a ushered a blushing Aang out of the room.
Sokka wondered if the monks had ever taught him the facts of life.
Katara was... disoriented. When she first met Zuko, he was a monster; an irredeemable monster who wanted to destroy her home and turn a child over to a sadist. As he chased them, her perception of him got worse. He was cruel, he was imposing, and he had a way of wording things that could make her skin crawl.
Then he joined Team Avatar, revealed himself to be the most insecure person she had ever met, helped end the Hundred Year War, and invited everyone to stay in his palace.
His palace which held his rather extensive collection of playwright manuscripts.
Every single darkly dramatic thing he'd ever said while chasing them and the darkly dramatic way he'd said them was ripped straight out of a play.
"You rise with the moon. I rise with the sun." Love Amongst the Dragons
"I need to restore something I've lost. Perhaps, in exchange, I can restore something you've lost." Outside the Walls of Ba Sing Sei
"I'll save you from the pirates." Escaping Sagano Forest
Zuko was a theater nerd - no, the theater nerd. All those things he'd quoted? They weren't just favored lines he'd remembered. He'd memorized the plays. All of them.
Katara couldn't believe he'd ever frightened her. There was literally nothing frightening about him. She thought she had his personality pinned down.
And then she learned: creepy...
"He said, 'now, hush love, here's your gown. There's the bed, lanterns down'."
Creepy was a whole other matter.
Zuko and Mai were lounging alone in a spare study, singing to each other. The song they'd picked was something disturbing about not wanting to go to sleep because they drown in their dreams. It was from an even more disturbing musical called Koh's Carnival, which was about a bunch of people held captive by the spirit monster Koh. The captives are forced to lure people in to watch their shows and make them react so Koh can steal their faces, all while keeping blank faces themselves lest they become his victims instead.
Katara was sure if she allowed herself to imagine it in the right way at the right time after dark, it would give her nightmares.
It was Mai's favorite play.
"The Captain howled 'heave ho, heave ho' and tied me up with sheets. 'A storm is brewing in the south'."
"'It's time to go to sleep'."
Zuko's voice was a lot deeper that Katara would've imagined, and she hated the way her skin crawled as it had all those many months ago.
"'Captain! Captain! I will do your chores. I will warm your cot at night, and mop your cabin floors'."
Zuko and Mai's relationship was not a healthy one. Katara wasn't sure the two older teenagers even knew what a healthy relationship was, but they were so grotesquely in love...
"'I'm begging you, please wake me up. In all my dreams I...'."
Mai, who had wrapped herself around Zuko in theme with the song, removed her hands from his chest, revealing bloody scratches. Zuko pulled his face away from her jaw, smugly admiring the dark teeth marks he'd left behind.
Katara was the mom friend. She knew it. She accepted it. Eventually. As much as she wanted to interfere and try to get the gloomy couple to see other people - people who wouldn't feed their darker traits - she decided to leave this one alone.
Better they kept each other occupied than inflicting their special brand of romance on an unsuspecting new love interest.
Suki first met Zuko when he lit her village on fire. Suki first met Mai when the Fire Princess and her friends attacked, imprisoned, and impersonated the Kyoshi Warriors. Those were not the best ways to start an acquaintanceship, and some of the worst ways to begin a friendship, but she liked to think she had accomplished friendship with Zuko, and for Zuko's sake she would like to try to accomplish that with Mai.
It was hard, though, trying to forgive the Fire Nation woman. Suki was able to understand Zuko's motivations - his desire to return to his home, to be loved by his father, to regain the respect of his people - even if she knew he'd gone the exact wrong way about it. Mai, on the other hand... All Suki knew about Mai's reasoning was that she was bored. Ruthlessly hunt down four kids, including two twelve-year-olds? Blame the boredom. Infiltrate and destroy an entire city, home to thousands of refugees? Boredom. Fighting a bunch of guards so a bunch of prisoners could escape? Suki didn't know, but it was probably boredom.
Boredom is probably what got her to agree to attend the group picnic. Or perhaps it was the location.
"You didn't say this would be in a graveyard!" Sokka screeched. Suki grabbed his hand in an attempt to comfort him.
"I thought all of you would appreciate the opportunity to desecrate my great-grandfather Sozin's grave," Zuko replied, spreading a blanket over the warmongering Firelord's resting place.
"Woooo!" Toph cheered, kicking at the base of the elaborate headstone. "Who's the best now, Firelord Sucker?"
"Toph, stop that," Katara said as she helped Aang set out the food. "Also, would you please earthbend some weights over the blanket corners in case it gets windy?"
"Uuugh, fine." Toph reluctantly weighted the blanket and sat down with minimal damage to the headstone.
Conversation was slow and usually consisted of bad jokes from Sokka about Toph telling them when various deceased Firelords started to spin in their graves. Eventually, Aang realized Toph was actually spinning what remains were still intact and Katara demanded a new subject.
"Didn't you two have your first date here?" Ty Lee asked Mai and Zuko.
"Yeah," Zuko answered. "I showed her the graves of our history's most dangerous female Firelords and then we sparred on that hilltop."
"I won," Mai interjected.
"Yeah, you were straddling me. I feel as if we both won." Hearing that, Sokka held his hand up for a high-five, which Zuko only slightly reluctantly gave.
"Whatever makes you feel better." Mai smirked up at the Firelord. "And then we had our own picnic in that clearing over there." She gestured vaguely to an empty spot several graves away.
"That spot's reserved for me and my future wife," Zuko informed them candidly.
"Just imagine it," Mai said in a tone that - for her - could almost be called wistful. "Rotting away together for all eternity, free of war and famine and disease. No duties, no responsibilities, no visitors but the worms and the maggots." She sighed. "How utterly dull."
Zuko smiled. "Let's never die."
"Agreed, but if I die anyway, I'm dragging you down with me to keep me entertained."
Suki decided an acquaintanceship was just as well.
Aang was a monk. He believed in treasuring every life no matter how small, forgiveness, and not judging others.
Zuko and Mai made that last one very hard.
They also made 'appreciating love in all forms' very hard, but that one, Aang was able to manage. He was so happy for them, happy they had found such a strong love in each other.
Their love was very weird.
He didn't like to think it - and he absolutely refused to say it - but they were so. weird. All they did was kiss anywhere but the lips and talk soulfully about killing each other rather than being separated.
Killing. Each. Other.
When Aang asked Ty Lee if they'd always been like that, she sighed happily and said yes. Mai had convinced Zuko to try dual swords. Zuko had given Mai her first throwing knives. Zuko had a shawl made for Mai that looked like a spider's web. Mai had a cloak made for Zuko that looked like it was lined in human hair. Mai killed something. Zuko skinned it. They both painted each other with the blood.
"But their auras are so bright when they're together!" Ty Lee would coo when the Gaang would look to the couple like they weren't sure whether or not they should run away. "I hope I find a love like that one day." And then Sokka would inch even further away from the newest Kyoshi Warrior.
A few days into their stay at the palace, Sokka convinced Toph and Katara to build a pool in the courtyard. He then promptly threw a pool party. Toph stayed out of the water for obvious reasons. Zuko and Mai stayed out of the water from an "allergy to fun", if one was to listen to Sokka.
When the couple thought no one was paying attention, Aang noticed Zuko forming a small flame in his hand and running it slowly across Mai's exposed skin, leaving intricate patterns in its wake. He never burned her, only giving her a mild tan that would wear off in a day or so, but Aang found the image disturbing.
They were clearly enjoying themselves, so Aang just ignored it, though he distantly wondered if Mai did the same to Zuko with her own weapon of choice.
He also took to hanging out with the two separately, but that was unrelated.
Toph was having the time of her life. No parents, no rules, no one nagging her to "take a shower, please, for the good of us all, for the sake of the children, please".
No one suspicious of the greatest prank she'd ever been involved in.
It had been a month since the war ended. Toph - as the only one who didn't want to touch base with her home - was invited to stay with Zuko in his palace. Having no better offers ("I wouldn't be able to see at the South Pole! What is wrong with you?" "There is no way I am going anywhere with that peppy flippy chick."), and having come to consider Zuko a good friend, Toph said yes. Before the rest of the Gaang left, Sokka warned her to watch out for when Zuko was around Mai. He told her their romance had a tendency to get a little... odd.
Toph eagerly awaited the oddness.
"Got any threes?"
"Go fish. Got any sevens?"
"You're cheating somehow."
"You're a sore loser."
"YOU'RE BOTH DULL!"
Mai and Zuko turned to look at the earthbender.
"What's wrong, Toph?" Zuko asked, concerned. Mai simply raised her eyebrow. Toph couldn't see it, but she knew.
She could sense it.
"I was told you two got all creepy and gothic and blood-vow-y when you got together but you're so. dull," Toph complained, flopping back onto the stone lounge she'd made herself.
She was feeling supremely ripped off.
Things had seemed promising when the couple had greeted each other, perfectly synchronized as they dramatically wound one arm behind the other's head to hold their foreheads together, breathing deeply for a few seconds before releasing each other as if nothing had ever happened.
Things were delightful when Toph was invited to a council meeting to act as a lie detector and Mai starting pinning down people who spoke out of turn.
That was as interesting as things got.
Life as Firelord and Firelady-to-be of a previously warmongering nation was so time-consuming, the two spent what little free time they had winding down from their various stresses. There was no disturbing romantic gestures, no violent kisses, and nothing to entertain Toph.
Ripped off was a gentle word for it.
"Who told you that?" Zuko asked.
"Sokka's never seen us together before."
That was when Toph had realized; the watertribesman played her. She swore revenge. Zuko offered assistance. Mai offered an idea.
Toph loved Mai.
"So how scared is everyone?" Mai asked as she changed into her nightclothes, uncaring of her audience. ("Toph can't see anything, Zuko. And you've seen everything. Now let me get out of this stupid ceremonial robe.")
"Extremely," Toph answered joyfully. "I overheard Snoozles and Suki trying to come up with reasons to leave early."
"To be fair, that might be because anytime Ty Lee talks about how romantic we are, she starts eyeing Sokka," Zuko interjected.
Ty Lee's assistance had been a wonderful bonus.
"What about the other two?" Mai asked.
"Twinkletoes is sticking it out and Sugar Queen's not leaving him here alone," Toph said.
"I think we should tell Aang."
"I feel bad."
"I feel gassy, but I'm not lettin' one rip in your room."
"And I appreciate that," Zuko assured her vehemently, "but I still feel bad. He's forcing himself to stay out of respect for our friendship. And I like our friendship."
"Well this is what friends do," Toph insisted. "They mess with each other."
"Even if I believed you, I-"
"Let's tell the Avatar," Mai said, her voice inflectionless and firm. "And then let's swear him to secrecy and start messing with the waterbender even worse."
Toph really loved Mai.
"Aang would never agree to that."
"He would if we told him it was a friendly prank. Which it is."
"Zuko." Toph felt Mai drape herself over the Firelord's back. "Are you getting uncomfortable with all the PDA?"
"Then let's do our big finale and come clean."
Toph could live with that.
The next morning, the Gaang found Zuko and Mai sleeping while wrapped in each other's arms. In a casket. In a hole. In the graveyard.
It took hours for the Fire Nation teens and Toph to explain their ruse, but only because they had to chase down the rest of the fleeing Gaang first.
Toph was never going home.
A/N: Ah, my precious troll children. I'm not quite satisfied with the ending but I like it enough and I can't come up with a different one.
Read and review, please! And if Toph has a nickname for Suki, please tell me because I can not for the life of me remember one.
1. Zuko and Mai never painted each other with animal blood. That was a lie Ty Lee told to help Team Troll freak people out.
2. I had Zuko and Mai greet each other in that odd way because Zuko is very much the drama king and would totally do that shit and Mai would go along with it because normal greetings are boring and she thinks Zuko's dramatic ways are cute. They did not do this greeting in public because PDA makes Zuko feel awkward and Mai doesn't like other people to know she has emotions. Toph only knew about it because mere walls cannot stop her awesome might.
3. After re-reading the Katara section, I can see where some of it might seem a little bash-y. I love Katara. She's awesome. She's brave. She can kick some major ass. She's also a fussy, at-times-overbearing mom friend who tries to help people even if they don't really need help. I love that her character has flaws. I'm not trying to bash her. I'm trying to make sure she's not a boring, mistake-free caricature.
4. Why was boredom-hating Mai playing Go Fish? She's basically the Firelady. She has been doing all the Firelady duties so Zuko will have less to worry about. Firelady duties are not boring, but they are exhausting. When she finally gets some downtime, she wants to do something in no way requires physical or mental exertion, and she can still be entertained by Go Fish. There's no stress, but there's competition and cheating and snarky comments and spending time with Zuko that doesn't require treaty discussions. Let her play Go Fish. But don't tell anyone or she'll deny it.