Author's Notes: This is, frankly...kind of ridiculous considering we know absolutely nothing about the nature of Mai and Zuko's relationship, but I think she's kind of completely awesome and one guess is as good as another so I wrote it anyway.
She was born for him.
Her mother explains this when she is six years old and has heard the word "bethrothed" enough times in conjunction with her own name to care what it means. Mai stares at the work in her mother's hands, at the careful stitches and the gleam of the embroidery needle as it disappears into the fabric again and again, and listens to talk of honor and marriage and duty.
Mai is young enough to ask whether he belongs to her as well.
Her mother's laugh is rueful and she tells Mai to value him as if he does.
Her family moves to Fire Lord Ozai's court when she is ten and they dine with the royal family three times a week.
Prince Zuko is shorter than she is and eats with exacting care, eyes constantly darting to the head of the table where his father sits. The Fire Lord rarely looks at him.
General Iroh is jolly and kind, and every once in a while distracts the prince with a joke or a story. Princess Azula, tiny and dainty at her father's right hand, scowls and never joins in. Mai doesn't laugh either. Giggling is unbecoming.
At the beginning and end of every meal, Prince Zuko pulls out her chair for her and calls her "my lady" in practiced tones.
She bows and says, "thank you, your Highness," as though he has done something she could not have done herself because she understands obligation.
When he is eleven and she is twelve, he brings her a flower while she stands in the courtyard. He grips it tightly in his fist and thrusts his arm out towards her.
"You like flowers," he says and it is not quite a question.
She traces the tip of one finger around the red edges of the bloom and meets his eyes.
"I like them when you give them to me," she says and smiles.
He smiles back.
Every three days there is a bouquet of peonies left on her pillow.
He does not retrieve or deliver them himself (it would be beneath him), but it is enough all the same.
She grows and the seasons change and so do her concerns: the hang of her robes and the lacquer on her meticulously filed nails and the perfectly straight edge of her inky fringe, how to move silently and quickly and properly fletch a dart. There is a tedium to it all, though, and she wants for more change.
She is Azula's companion because anything less would be an insult (she is to be queen after all), and the bond becomes genuine enough. There are few others worthy of association with them anyway.
Mai lies about where the flowers come from and responds to Azula's sporadic mocking of Zuko with impassivity; it has become a common state for her.
Ty Lee thinks it's dangerous, but Mai knows that Azula has never needed anyone else to be amused by her jokes.
When she is fifteen and he is fourteen, her parents do not allow her to attend Zuko's Agni Kai because they know who he will face.
She creeps into the arena long after everyone of her station has been seated and watches, alone, as he begs for his father's mercy.
Mai is unsurprised by the outcome. She has watched Zuko beg things of his father all his life, she certainly did not expect the Fire Lord to start heeding him now.
There are no more flowers after that.
He does not say goodbye.
She knows that he is ashamed. She knows that he should be.
For the first time in her life, suitors call and Mai is polite and cold and bored. She hates the sight of flowers and tries to pretend that she always did.
Late at night, she thinks about the vastness of oceans and continents and a hundred years. She does not have the luxury of hope, or the desire for it. So she casts a thousand might-have-beens from her thoughts.
She dreams them anyway.
She stares at his dark, cropped hair, at where his queue used to be. Her stomach twists and everything is different, so much is lost.
He meets her gaze and her eyes burn. A muscle works in his jaw and his stance loosens just a fraction.
Azula laughs. Mai readies her blades, narrows her eyes, and tells herself that she owes him nothing.
She is old enough to know that she is lying.