Disclaimer: Avatar belongs to Nick and the lyrics for "What Hurts The Most" belongs to Rascal Flatts.

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What Hurts the Most

It was raining. Why was it raining?

Dazed and disoriented, Prince Zuko slowly braced himself on his broad swords, scanning the dark battlefield with narrow eyes. His unscarred eye throbbed where an enemy's flaming fist had made contact, and for that he had paid dearly.

Where the hell was Mai?

I can take the rain on the roof of this empty house

That don't bother me

I can take a few tears now and then and just let 'em out

I'm not afraid to cry every once and awhile

Even though going on with you gone still upsets me

There are days every now and I again I pretend I'm okay

But that's not what gets me

"Mai!" His voice all but roared over the steady pounding of rain. "Mai! Where are you? Mai!"

She had fought alongside him in battle, but he'd lost track of her in the insanity. She'd been knocked from his side, separated, forced to fight for her life away from him. He had to be sure she was all right.

He thought he heard her; a whisper of his name, caught by the breeze; he turned, completely soaked in rain and trembling, and saw her lying there.

Embedded deeply in her side was a single assassin's knife.

"MAI!"

What hurts the most

Was being so close

And having so much to say

And watching you walk away

And never knowing

What could've been

And not seeing that lovin' you

Is what I was trying to do

He didn't run. It would not have been wise for Prince Zuko to run at the sight of a knife buried in the side of his only companion. He could see it in her pale silver eyes—she didn't want him to run to her. But he came, gently falling to his knees next to her. "Mai…"

Blood darkened the grass beneath her body; her face was pale, her breathing fast and raspy. She was trembling, but despite this her fingers weakly closed over his wrist. "Zuko." Her voice was barely a whisper. "Get it… out."

"What?"

"The knife. Get it… out of me. I want it… out." Mai shuddered in pain. "And… if you don't get it out… I'll do it… myself."

Because he knew she'd do it, he shook his head and gripped the knife handle. "I'll get it, Mai," he whispered.

It's hard to deal with the pain of losing you everywhere I go

But I'm doing it

It's hard to force that smile when I see our old friends and I'm alone

Still harder

Getting up, getting dressed, living with this regret

But if I could do it over

I would trade, give away, show the words that I saved in my heart

That I left unspoken

Mai closed her eyes. "Thank you."

His hand trembled; determinedly he held it still until he steadied, before tightening his grip on the knife handle. Taking a deep breath, he pulled.

Mai's whole body stiffened in shock, and a choked whimper escaped her as the knife slid soundlessly from her side. Blood gushed from the wound onto the grass, and Zuko moved to stem the wound.

"No, Zuko." Her voice was soft. "Don't. It won't make any difference."

What hurts the most

Is being so close

And having so much to say

And watching you walk away

And never knowing

What could have been

And not seeing that lovin' you

Is what I was trying to do

"What do you mean?"

A soft laugh escaped Mai. "I'm no fool, Zuko. I'm dying." She shifted her body, hissing in pain. "I must ask you something… you told me once… that you would grant me any request, because I helped you and Iroh… did you mean that?"

"Yes." He kept his eyes trained on hers. "I keep my word."

She nodded, bringing her hand briefly to her side; when she pulled it away, it was dark and slick with blood. The sight seemed to make up her mind.

"Now I ask you to kill me, Zuko."

"WHAT!"

What hurts the most

Was being so close

And having so much to say

And watching you walk away

And never knowing

What could have been

And not seeing that lovin' you

Is what I was trying to do

"Please… Zuko…" She exhaled heavily, coughing. "This is… my request… either I can bleed to death… which will be slow and painful… or you could kill me… quickly… I cannot be healed…"

Zuko knew this even as his mind spun; Mai had lost a lot of blood, she would die before he could even get her to a village. Swallowing hard, he gently rested his hand on her cheek. "This is what you want?"

"Yes." Mai closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of his hand against her cheek, warmth against the cold. "This is what I want."

There was a lump in his throat, a sharp ache in his chest, but Zuko nodded, slowly pulling his hand away from Mai's cheek. It began to flame. She opened her eyes, tilting her head back so she was gazing at him, and a small smile flickered across her face.

"Make it quick, Zuko," she murmured. "I'm not good with pain."

He leaned forward, brushing loose strands of black hair out of her eyes with his free hand; she closed her eyes at his touch, and he leaned down to gently brush his lips against her forehead. Tears streamed down his face to mingle and dance with the rain.

"Goodbye, Mai."

Not seeing that lovin' you

That's what I was trying to do

The End

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My first attempt at angsty Maiko... I guess it turned out pretty okay, it was just an idea I've had for awhile that wouldn't go away, so I decided to write it down...

Read and review, please!