Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar the Last Airbender...or DO I??? --cue dramatic music--
A/N: This was just a little idea I got while reading some Maiko fics the other day. Mai is always so disenchanted with the world around her--her life of luxary bores her, and it made me wonder what she would think of all those Disney fairy tale cliches. This is a one-shot told in third person through Mai's POV, as she sits in her jail cell in the Boiling Rock and reflects on her past. Please, RxR!
Mai had never liked fairy tales much. Not even as a child.
It might have been the excruciating hours spent reading to her younger brother, Tom-Tom out of a bright and cheery picture book. Or it could have been hearing all this bilge about true love, pure-hearted princesses, and unrealistically happy endings. It just turned her stomach. It was like that sunset she saw with Zuko--too much like the sunset out of her window right now. Vomiting orange and pink tresses into the clouds with abandon, far too ostentatious for a ball of flame that was about to vanish into the darkness of night.
She removed her gaze from the window. Her eyes were met instead with the sight of bleak walls, a stiff cot, and a locked door. And inexplicably, just like that, she felt an eerie sense of justice filling her. Things were in balance again. Everything was as it should be. She closed her eyes and laid back onto the uncomfortable bed, a slight sigh escaping from her thin lips.
"There really is no fathoming the depths of my hatred for this place," she might have said. And she had every right to say it.
Mai was alone in her cell, a dirty, humid, squalid place that stank of stale piss and rotten eggs--the sulfur from the volcano undoubtedly. But it was right. She had committed a terrible crime--betrayed her princess--all for the sake of another traitor, the man she loved, and a disgrace to her people. Now she was in disgrace too. Her uncle never visited once since her imprisonment. Neither had her mother and father. She had nothing to distract her from this empty silence except her own memories. And it was only right.
Zuko had left. That was right. He had seen his life for the sham that it was, and finally threw off the shackles of his father and sister. He said it was his destiny to teach the Avatar firebending. Mai didn't believe in destiny any more than she believed in true love and its indomitability. After all, look at where she was now. It was right.
Spirits only knew where Azula was. Mai hadn't seen her since that day of the prison uprising. And it was right as well. For years tracing all the way back to her days at the Royal Fire Academy for Girls, she had been subjected to the child monarch's twisted little games that were almost equivilent to psychological torture. And yet they said that princesses were supposed to be kind and pure of heart, with a total peace of mind due to their clear conscience. If Azula's lightning was any indication, she most definitely had peace of mind, but not from a clear conscience.
But she had had a taste of her own backstabbing ways. She had been betrayed by her closest companions. And it was right.
Mai felt a drop hit her in the face. Opening her eyes, she looked distastefully up at the ceiling. She didn't want to know what it was seeping from the floors above. Her uncle hadn't even given her a private cell. No, she was with all the other traitors and criminals, just where she belonged.
She felt no guilt at this realization. Only the irony. This was the way things were supposed to be. She knew that now. And this was coming from the girl who spat upon the notion of destiny. It was all so strange, but so right. There was bitterness in her eyes, but as always she wore a mask of indifference. It was only proper, after all, for one of noble blood.
Noble blood. Mai knew more than she cared to know about the nobility. It meant high society get-togethers, stiff dresses, flawless grace and etiquette. It meant hours and hours of practicing her walk and learning to sit up pin straight in her chair. It meant her mother and father force-feeding her propaganda that would shape her into a model citizen while Azula tried to knock an apple off of her head with firebending. All of the honor of the Fire Nation. All of the lies. All so sickly and colorful like the dying sunset.
Mai hated it. And that was saying something because most of the time Mai was just bored. It was the safest way to show her disenchantment. If she had flared up at every little thing, gotten emotional every time Azula thought up a new game, she would have ended up like Zuko--with a scar on her face and obsessively hunting for her honor somewhere in the South Pole. What did she care for honor? All she wanted was for the mask to come off. She wanted people to be honest with themselves, just for once in their sordid little lives.
It was fortunate that she had neutrality hammered into her at a young age. Because one of the first things she learned was that it didn't matter what she wanted. Because in the end, no one cared about what she wanted unless it meant fulfilling their own wants. And it was never in anyone's best interests to be honest in the Fire Nation. Even her indifference was only mildly acceptable in her mother's eyes.
She could still hear her reproaching her back in Omashu.
"Mai, your father was appointed governer. We're like royalty here. Be happy, and enjoy it."
But Mai wasn't happy. She knew that the only reason her father was promoted was on the whim of the Fire Princess. They were treated like royalty only because the soldiers lived in perpetual fear of Azula. And Azula only wanted to reassert the fact that she was stronger and had more power and control than Mai could ever dream of. Lies came naturally to her, like breathing. And all of this was just another lie.
It was one of the only reasons she appreciated her mother. Neutrality was her most important virtue. It was her shield. She could remain utterly unmoved by the most compelling of arguments. She could look at a situation cooly, rationally; she could unwravel the little threads that poked through with one of her slender knives until it all fell to pieces. At the very least, she could listen to Zuko's fancible farce of a fantasy about honor and justice and keep a straight face. At the most, she could stand alongside Azula, almost as an equal--but not quite; Azula always made sure of that--her mind untouched by the poison in the sadistic girl's words.
To Azula, Zuko was just another tool to control her playmate. But Mai knew better. Zuko was a prince in every sense of the word. It was comical, his awkward attempts at chivalry and generally at doing the right thing. It was...to say the least...interesting. He was always doing what other people wanted, trying to capture the Avatar to earn his father's love, all while humbly wearing that scar on his face. He even tried to figure out what Mai wanted because, strangely enough, she was what he wanted. Not to use, but to love and protect. It was so sweet it actually made her a bit queasy.
It was a creepy thought. Zuko was every bit like the story book princes. He was her Prince Charming. And Spirits, was he bad at it.
The brief flicker of mirth died immediately. He was gone, trying again to do the right thing. Somehow he had gotten it in his head that "doing the right thing" involved leaving her a cold, insensitive letter--even in her own ears--with all the emphasis on destiny and honor. Even after he had carelessly broken her heart, she had tried to protect him. And now she was all alone.
And it was right. Mai didn't bother to think wistfully of a happy ending. This was the end of the story. It was obvious as she curled up on her side and tried to drown out the sound of Ty-Lee's sobs from the next cell over. It was grating, and almost haunting.
For once Azula hadn't gotten her way. Her childhood toys had reached out and bitten her. And now they were put back into the smelliest corner of the toybox. Locked in the dark. Justice had been served for once. But there was no happy ending forthcoming.
After all, Destiny was a bitch.