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Mai can't remember when she first truly noticed Zuko. But somehow, she sees through the bluster to the gentle boy beneath, and from that time on, she is captivated. She tucks away those feelings in the corner of her heart, hoping against hope he will notice her, too. Under her cold demeanor, though she'd die before she'd admit it, she has a romantic heart.
But he is exiled, and branded a traitor, and she forces him out of her thoughts. He seems forever unreachable, and so she moves forward with her life (but she still sees him in her dreams).
Then he returns home, a hero, and that secret hope of so long ago is fulfilled when he kisses her for the first time. She could dance, if she were a dancing kind of girl. She doesn't want to notice how much he's changed during his years in exile; she pretends not to see the sadness and guilt shadowing his eyes. She wants him to be the Zuko she remembers, the Zuko she sees when she's sleeping.
And at times, he is the Zuko she remembers, and she means it when she tells him, "I love you."
Everything is going so well, so perfectly. So when Zuko suddenly disappears, breaking up with her by letter (she's still a little bitter over that), her world collapses. She vows to kill him the next time she sees him.
As fate would have it, they meet again at Boiling Rock, and he locks her in a prison cell. How romantic.
When, for the first time in her life, she truly defies Azula, Mai is inwardly both terrified and elated at the strength of her feelings. She never thought she was capable of such love. For Zuko's sake, even after he has hurt her so much, she will risk bodily harm and possible death (because Azula is, after all, quite cruel when she is angry).
And when Zuko kisses her, after Ozai and Azula have been defeated, her heart could burst from the happiness. She's always been afraid to show her emotions, but Zuko is breaking down those walls. Like one of the cliché heroines in Ty Lee's romance scrolls, she wishes for the moment to last forever.
So when she catches him staring at the water bender who is hand in hand with the avatar, an unreadable expression on his scarred face, she ignores the unsettling feelings his look raises.
Because Zuko is hers, and she can't, and she won't lose him again.
They're just friends, so it's fine when Zuko leaves her side to speak to Katara.
The way they stand so close to each other, the way they talk so softly as though they aren't surrounded by crowds, the way she smiles, the way he tilts he his head as he looks at her.
It doesn't mean anything.
Katara touches a gentle hand to Zuko's shoulder, and when he looks down at her, the expression in his eyes is so fierce and loving. He's never looked at her like that.
She feels her heart breaking.
I've always liked Mai, despite being a hardcore Zutarian. I think because she reminds me of Kikyou, it's easy for me to sympathize with her. And so this little drabble came about.