with a strawberry on top

"We need to consider some other way of settling our disagreements," Zuko said.

He'd planned to start with I have to find another way of arguing with you without fighting so much, but then he'd remembered what Iroh had said about 'non-offensive word choice' and some other stuff that had mostly gone right over his head at the time but now seemed to perhaps make sense. Less use of 'I'. That was one of the things. Avoid 'aggressive verbs'. Stuff like that.

"Oh," Mai said coldly, sharpening one of her knives. She was sitting in the middle of the devastated room, casually ignoring the broken furniture, ripped cushions, and drifts of smoke.

"Mai." Zuko walked towards her, then stopped as she pointed the knife at him. "It's, um, perfectly healthy for us to disagree at times."

"Especially when only one of us is right," she said, with enough emphasis to make it clear which one of them she meant.

He spread his open hands and tried not to bristle. "But it's not fair to the servants to keep on destroying our bedroom. I thought you liked that sofa!"

Mai glanced down at the battered leather sofa. "I do," she said a little more softly. "I suppose -- perhaps we could talk a little more."

"We could have cake," Zuko said. "With strawberries on. We can talk while we're having a snack. That should cut down on the possibility of," screaming knife attacks and flamebursts, "us escalating things physically."

"It could be done," Mai said.

Then she pared a fingernail, just to show that she wasn't giving in and that the concession was just temporary.

Zuko let her.


The cake was a huge red and white thing, dripping with icing, rich with cream, smothered with strawberries. It was large enough for Ty Lee to have hidden in it. (Zuko had in fact prodded it with a knife just to check that she wasn't hiding in it. It'd spoil the moment to have her jump out and yell, "Surprise!")

"This is more like it," Mai said, disposing herself on the couch beside him. She reached out and plucked a strawberry off the cake with one of her knives. "Open wide."

Zuko very nobly didn't say that he'd just been planning to do the same thing to her and it was totally unfair of her to steal the idea. He opened his mouth and let her feed him the strawberry.

Then a bit of cake.

Then another strawberry.

Then another bit of cake.

Then -- "Mai," he said plaintively, "can't I do that too?"

"No," Mai said firmly. "I get to feed you strawberries."

This wasn't fair. He tensed his muscles, prepared himself, and with a single movement rolled over, trapping her beneath him. A smoothly outflung finger collected a strawberry, dripping with white icing. "Open wide," he said.

"No," Mai said through gritted teeth.

"Yes," he snarled, poising the strawberry above her face.

"No!" she snapped. Her thighs clenched. She pivoted at the hips, tossing him across the table, then dived after him in a hail of white icing. Bits of strawberry spattered around her in a scarlet halo as she landed on his torso. She lashed out behind her with a spare knife and speared a strawberry on it. "You will eat this!"

He shoved his strawberry in her face. It smeared redly across her lips.

She jammed her strawberry deep into his mouth as he opened it to laugh.

He thrust upwards, rolling her sideways, and then the cake collapsed on them.

Not that that stopped anything.


"You're right," Mai said afterwards, sprawled across him in nothing but white icing. "The cake was a good idea."

"Perhaps we could take turns feeding each other the strawberries," Zuko murmured, licking his lips.

"Perhaps we could," she agreed.

---