Shoot the Moon
Note: This story was written for erraticxthought on livejournal for the first round of fic exchange at the kindoflikeyou community, which is a community dedicated completely to Mai/Zuko fiction. The first round yielded over 60,000 words of Mai/Zuko goodness, two of which were written by myself (the other is Running Interference). The challenge with this story was to come out with a reconciliation story between the two beyond what was offered in the show's canon.
Description: The breakdown hadn't been in their inability to love one another, but the fact that neither had ever said anything to indicate that they ever wanted more. After the war, Zuko fears that he's changed too much to mend things with Mai. Mai/Zuko
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar, nor the characters, nor the universe in which they live. I make no profit from the creation of these fan works, nor do I seek to do so. Please don't sue, etc, etc.
She would come.
The papers had been signed for her immediate release and return to the capital. It could only be a matter of time before she came to him, to see him face to face as they had been in the Boiling Rock. It would be foolish for Zuko to think Mai might be immediately forgiving; more so to believe she might even welcome him as the hero the rest of the world saw him as. He knew better and so he paced his study, periodically looking out his window to the enormous courtyard where he would be crowned Fire Lord before Spirits and man alike. A leaden weight sat heavily in his stomach, constantly reminding him that Mai would likely want to speak with him, likely to remind him of her fury with his betrayal; likely to remind him that he could never be with her again.
It was only when he finally managed to quell the nervous squirming of his innards and flopped himself without dignity into a nearby chair that a small, young servant girl scuttled in the room and quietly asked if he was at all prepared for visitors. He stiffened awkwardly and nodded, pushing himself up and out of the chair stiffly as he began to pace the room again. When he heard the door open once more, he counted a few breaths before turning and coming face to face, not with Mai, but with a bemused Aang.
"Oh," Zuko murmured, straightening his robes quickly and gesturing to a chair. "Aang, please… please sit down."
The Avatar nodded and lowered himself into the wooden chair, his own clothing hanging off him in such a way that indicated to Zuko that it was not a precise fit for the teen, but close enough that Aang had insisted it would have to do. He had firmly declined any offers from Zuko's Royal tailors to make him a set of suitable clothes for the upcoming coronation and series of parties in both his and the new Fire Lord's honor. Similar offers had come from both Water Tribes and throughout the Earth Kingdom, but Aang had been politely insistent that only the clothing made by and for his own people would be suitable replacement for the shredded apprentice's garb he had worn for the last year. Zuko had tried to assure his tailor that it was nothing personal, that the Avatar simply had customs he wanted very much to uphold, but found it was simply one more diplomatic problem he would have to set aside in lieu of much more trying issues. Clothing, he thought frankly, was simply not important enough to him.
In all honesty, Zuko might have foregone clothing entirely if it meant that the majority of these issues would simply vanish long enough for him to sort out his own feelings. His relationship with Mai, for one, was one thing he did not wish to chalk up to a casual loss of the war. On the other hand, however, he was eternally haunted by the notion that while he was very much in love with Mai he was also not the same person she had apparently fallen in love with. Rather, the war had changed him irreversibly, and he wondered if she was still such a wonderful fit for him after he had been betrayed by blood and nation at thirteen, only to betray the same in turn three years later. The brief interlude of their romance between his exile and his treacherous departure on the day of the eclipse was only a small amount of time—barely more than a few months—to account for the abyss that now stood between them. They had been unsure of one another, still tentative in their affections, barely allowing themselves more than might be acceptable in both their interactions and their feelings.
No, things had changed, and both Zuko and Mai with them.
Realizing that he had left Aang staring at him quite blankly, Zuko shook off his stupor and apologized quickly for the absence of his concentration.
Aang shook it off and furrowed his brow over his steely eyes. "Zuko, I'm a little worried about you. Are you sure you're getting enough rest?"
He waved a hand impatiently, though whether it was to indicate that he was getting sufficient sleep and nourishment or to wave off the notion that he could imagine taking rest enough to recuperate himself, Aang didn't know.
The frown deepening into Aang's brow, the young Avatar launched into a brief explanation of the diplomatic duties being demanded of the both of them, how they could be appropriately divided, and whether or not these duties were legitimate or the bullying pressed upon the both of them by seasoned diplomats from around the remaining three nations.
Zuko nodded slowly, attention drifting away from the topic at hand rapidly, and Aang stopped abruptly with a sigh.
"I suppose all this can wait until you can think clearly, Zuko," He didn't move his eyes from his friend. "Would you like to talk about it at all?"
For a long moment, Zuko wondered if he could manage to avoid involving anyone more than himself and Mai in this situation. Considering how far things had gone and how bad they had appeared to be at the Boiling Rock when Zuko left Mai there at the mercy of Azula and her personal guard of firebenders, it was seemingly inevitable. He sighed in resignation and tried to rearrange papers on the desk.
"Ah," Aang began, but stopped again. "Uh, what's wrong with Mai?" Their conversations had included mention of the girl in the past, but this was the first Zuko had indicated that not all was well between them.
"I… think I've changed," This elicited a stifled laugh from Aang, and Zuko shot him a dirty look. "You know what I mean. I'm afraid I've changed so much that she won't want to be with me anymore. There was the mess at the Boiling Rock, and how I left… I don't know how that's changed how she feels about me." Zuko resumed his pacing.
"How can I be sure I'm the same kind of person she wants to be with? How can I be sure that she's the same person I'm in love with… or at least the person the old me was in love with."
Aang caught his arm as he swung past the chair and stood up. "Zuko, you don't have any doubts about yourself, do you?"
He shook his head hesitantly, and then with more feeling. "No… No, not at all."
"Then don't worry about it. Don't undercut yourself and all the growing you've done for the sake of who you were."
"But that's the person she fell in love with."
"And she's probably not the same person you fell in love with," Aang looked weary, if only for being the sole voice of reason. "Talk to her. See whether you still have feelings. If you love her, it… probably won't matter." He stood and gave Zuko a warm smile. "Let me know how it goes."
After Aang was safely out the door Zuko slid down into the vacant chair with a long sigh. He couldn't wipe away the afterburn of Mai's face as he left her behind once again. It was the closest he'd ever seen her come to her true feelings for him, the closest they had come to revealing the depth of their emotion since returning to the Fire Nation. The portion of the summer he had spent with her before the failed invasion seemed a lifetime away, just one more thing across the abyss between them. Everything about that time with her seemed too muted, too reserved for the people they had suddenly become. He rubbed his face in frustration at the futility of it all.
He leaped to his feet at the sound of someone clearing their throat behind him. Whirling around, he came face to face with Mai and he rushed to mask the flood of emotion he knew would show all too clearly on his glass face.
"Mai…" He murmured, stopping himself before anything foolish came out of his mouth.
"Don't look so surprised to see me, Zuko. You signed the papers for my release." Her voice was cold. She took a step toward him and he gripped the chair behind him.
"I wasn't sure that you would come." He lied. She saw the lie on his face and her face darkened.
"You knew I would come," She told him, stepping past him to sit in the chair behind his desk. "We have too much unfinished business to take care of."
He turned to face her, frowning at how quickly she had taken control of the situation. "I didn't think you wanted to see me again after… after what happened."
Mai barely stopped her face from contorting in rage, but she took a deep breath and controlled herself. "Of course I didn't want to see you. But I thought I should at least thank you for finally thinking of me long enough to sign my release."
Zuko thought to tell her that he had also released Ty Lee, but wondered if it might be inappropriate. He decided to keep silent.
"I'm not jealous of what you did, Zuko. It was a very noble, wonderful thing to betray your family for the sake of your country… for the sake of the world." He flinched visibly, and she raised an eyebrow. "That's what it was, Zuko."
"You did the same thing in turning on Azula."
She glowered at him over the desk. "I did that for you, not for naïve ideals."
"It's not naïve to hope for peace," He started to argue, but lowered his eyes to hide his expression instead. "I'm not the same person I was before I left, Mai. Not even the same person I was before the Agni Kai with my father. I can't be disinterested and…" He threw up his arms. "I've changed so much that I can't be the person I was before, Mai."
If she was taken aback by the free swirling of emotion he displayed, she didn't show it. She slammed her palms onto the desk and stood abruptly. "I've changed too, Zuko!" She cried, dropping the mask of calm to reveal her fury. "I'm not angry about what you did, I'm angry that you left me behind to do it. I'm angry you didn't trust me to tell me face to face, that you didn't ask me if I would consider going with you!"
He stared. "I couldn't ask you. How could I ask you to do what I did?"
"But I did it anyway!" Composed debate was abandoned as she swung around the desk to stand close to him, peering up into his eyes with something Zuko didn't recognize in her. He had seen it before in Aang, in Katara, even in himself, but never imagined he could see the vehement passion for belief in Mai. "You only ever had to ask me, and I might have done it. Had you ever shown me that you cared half so much as I cared for you, how much I loved you, then I would have never hesitated a moment to stand beside you!"
Zuko was astounded, Mai had never once let on how much she really cared for him. If she had, would he have asked her to go with him? He knew he couldn't have, still would never have asked her to expose herself to more danger than he was worth. He had presumed that asking her would have made her angry. It was just so ridiculously futile, no matter how he looked at it. "Mai…" He reached for her, but she slapped his hands away.
"Don't touch me!" She cried, but threw herself into his arms anyway.
He held his arms away from her, rolling his eyes heavenward. "Mai, I… What do you want me to do?"
"I don't know, Zuko." Her voice could be heard from his chest. "I thought I could come here and make my point, and leave you again, but… Seeing you makes it hard to keep my resolve to stop loving you."
"I don't want you to stop loving me," He finally loosened the lock on his arms and took a step back from her to meet her eyes properly. "Mai, I loved you more than I could bear to show you. I thought you were the one who didn't love me as much as I love you. I thought that if you didn't love me so much, you would never consider putting yourself in so much danger just for… me."
She stared for a long moment before shaking her head. "You idiot," She told him, closing distance between them again and jerking his head down to meet hers with a sudden collision of lip to lip. When his shock wore away he snaked arms around her waist to pull her closer still, but she resisted him, breaking away to meet his eyes instead. "You fool… I would have followed you anywhere, I loved you so much."
His heart sank. "But you wouldn't now."
She frowned, realism setting in. "I thought I wouldn't, but I don't know now. I'm a different person than the one you left here, and you said you're not the same person I knew before… any of this. I don't know whether we've grown apart, or if things could be… better than they were." She bit the inside of her lip. "I can't settle for the way things were."
He breathed a sigh of relief and offered her a reconciliatory smile. "I can't either."
She relaxed into him and they stood still for a long moment before her eyes opened with a sudden realization. "So... all this time we've just been misunderstanding each other, right?"
He didn't think it was quite as simple as that, but nodded anyway. "Well, yes. I thought you were too frigid and emotionless to really love me, and you thought… well, for whatever reason that I didn't love you. I suppose had we known that we might not have been in such a mess."
She peered up at him, as though looking for something in him. "So, just to be clear, you do love me, right?"
He pushed away the desire to laugh and tightened his grip on her. "A lot of things have changed besides you and I… More things than I could hope to know, but I don't think that's changed."
"Answer the question, Zuko." She stared fiercely up at him, but the glint of humor was there. "No more ambiguity."
"Yes," He sighed in relief with the word, hoping it could make right all the things that had gone wrong between them; the futile groping in the dark for the truth they had doubted for long enough. The tension between them broke and they both felt a piece of themselves relax. "And just to be clear…" He started, but stopped when she rolled her eyes at him.
"Yes, I do."