Because between the two, Zuko was the hopeless romantic.
Mai used to think there could not possibly be anything more boring than being a governor's daughter. She was not too proud to admit when she was wrong. Concerning this anyway. Being Fire Lady surpassed realms of boredom that governor's daughter never even approached. Sure there was the occasional, pathetic half-arsed assassination attempts, but the people never lasted long enough to break a sweat. A year into the 'era of peace and love', and they were already sloppy. Mai would get embarrassed for them.
She praised Agni as she finally, finally, got away from those harpies. That is, the wives of the nobles. They were a bunch of gossiping, petty, fake, smile-in-your-face-stab-you-in-the-back hippo-cows. Except Soo Li. She was nice. She was young and so very naïve. Mai absently wondered how long that would last. The girl, for she was younger than Mai, was not accustomed to life at court, nor how vicious the other women could be with their poisoned words wrapped in honey. Mai decided to have a private chat with the girl, help her out a bit.
She stopped in her tracks.
Since when am I so nice?
She shuddered. She really needed to stop hanging around Katara and Suki so much. They were a terrible influence on her.
Continuing on her way, she went through one of the halls that opened to the outside. The sun was setting. A small frown creased her forehead slightly. She'd actually spent her whole day with them. The only times she'd seen Zuko were this morning when he literally fell out of bed to get dressed. She'd promptly rolled over to get a few more minutes of sleep. He'd kissed her cheek before he left. The other time, he was across the courtyard among advisors, she on the other side with the harpies, er, ladies. He'd seen her, smiled, and waved. The 'ladies' had cooed over how handsome he was –I know – and how brave he was to go against his father –I know that, too – and something else that she just nodded to. She thought she might have heard him yelling to Sokka about getting the food right? She wasn't sure. But as it was, he was probably still in a meeting so she probably would not see his back until tomorrow morning when it started all over again. They'd barely seen each other over the past week.
She sighed heavily. Sleeping alone sucked. She couldn't believe that she was pining –oh, she hated that word – over her own husband.
Slipping into a depressing funk, she trudged to their bedroom, an annoyed scowl replacing her usual mask of indifference. But a bouncing pink…pink cartwheeled to her from the opposite hall and practically strangled her in a hug.
"Mai! It's so good to see you again!" Ty Lee greeter her in usual Ty Lee fashion.
"Ty, air," she replied hoarsely.
"Oh," Mai stepped away from her and drew in a deep breath. Then shot her friend a glance.
"Didn't I just see you a week ago?"
Ty Lee waved that away.
"That was only for a couple days! No time to catch up. So how's everything?"
Mai continued walking and Ty Lee fell into step, or skip, beside her.
"Oh, no, it's not. Something's bothering you! Come on, Mai, tell me!"
"I'd rather not."
"But Mai, we're best friends! You're supposed to tell me what's bothering you and I'm supposed to listen and give you advice to help you. That's how it works!"
She considered a moment before she decided it couldn't hurt and she actually missed her friend.
Mai grabbed Ty Lee's arm and pulled her into a parlor on her left. She flopped on a plush cushion because she'd been gracefully situating herself with 'the dignity befitting her station all day'. She folded her legs and leaned back on one arm and rested the her other hand on her thigh, fiddling with the knives through the clothe of her robes.
I love my mother.
Ty Lee fluidly sank to the floor.
"So what's up?" Ty Lee leaned forward, big grey eyes shining with excitement.
Mai glanced away a moment, pressing her lips into a firm line.
"It's Zuko, sort of."
"More like the lack of him," she looked back at Ty Lee. "He's still really busy, you know? And I am, too. This whole thing is exhausting."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, he's in meetings all day every day. I have to deal with dignitaries' wives and servants and things. I don't get to see him or talk to him. When he comes to bed, I'm already out or when I come to bed he is. We share the same bed, but I miss him, Ty."
"Well, you knew it wasn't going to be easy."
Mai rolled her eyes.
"Nothing is ever easy with that boy. It was hard before and lately, it's gotten harder. Sometimes I'm just so tired of it."
"No! Don't be silly. Of," she waved a hand vaguely, "Fire Ladying."
Ty Lee smiled.
"Okay, then, Fire Lady, let me tell you something. I have seen you two from the beginning of this love match all the way 'til now. And yeah, it's been hard for you two. But you know what, it's just gonna be a whole lot better down the road. As bad as it's been, it'll be that good. Put up with it and deal until then."
"You really believe that," she still sounded doubtful.
"I do. I'm sure everything will get better. The war's only been over for little more than a year. It's not going to be easy just like that," she snapped her fingers.
Mai looked at her friend, wondering when she'd gotten so smart and surprised at how serious she sounded.
"You know, Ty Lee. You're a lot smarter than you let people think."
"I don't think the boy's could handle a pretty face and a beautiful mind," she teased.
Mai allowed herself to smile a little.
"You're probably right."
"You're kinda great, Ty."
"I know, right? I'm like your bra!"
"Uplifting and supportive!"
Mai looked at her friend a moment.
"You're too much."
Ty Lee laughed and hugged her friend.
"I know you're laughing on the inside," she assured her.
"Dying," Mai told her as Ty Lee strangled her.
After talking a while longer, the two left the room headed in opposite directions. Ty Lee bounded around the corner. She skipped along until she heard a voice call her.
"Hey, you talk to her?" Sokka asked.
"Of course. Zuko's ready on his end, right?"
"Better be after all he made me do," he grumbled.
"You mean supervising the food?"
"I mean not letting me eat any of it!" he cried, throwing his arms up in the air.
"Well, let's go get something now!" she looped her arm around his dragging him away. "I'm thinking fire pepper steak!"
"A girl after my own heart."
A short while later, a chambermaid came up to Mai. She bowed.
"Fire Lady Mai."
"The Fire Lord requests the honor of your presence in his private study."
She folded her arms.
"He made you practice that didn't he?"
The young girl shifted nervously under her gaze.
The girl fought a losing battle with a smile.
"What is it?" Mai questioned.
"If I may be bold, milady?"
"He was very anxious and it was very cute."
Mai smiled at her.
"Thank you," she nodded to girl who bowed and they both continued on her way.
Mai schooled her features as she glided through the halls. Maybe Ty Lee was right. Maybe she was getting a sample of the good to come. She hurried her pace, going just under a jog. She went around the corner before his study and didn't bother to slow down as she came into view of the guards posted near the door. She stopped in front of the door, taking the time to straighten anything that had come askew. Satisfied that she was not a mess, she opened the door. And her jaw promptly dropped
Zuko was dressed casually as he leaned on his desk. The curtains were drawn and the only light came from dozens of candles placed around the room on most every flat surface. On a low table in the center filled with several of her favorite fruit tarts. Zuko walked over to her and took her hands.
He moved his hand up her arm to her neck and kissed her. She, of course, kissed him back. They pulled back to breath and Mai noticed that the candles, the flames, seemed to draw the same hurried breaths that he did.
"Zuko, what is all this?"
"I feel like I haven't seen you for days. So I thought we'd, um, have a date?"
"Yes. I had Sokka make sure the chef made all of your favorites. And the candles are those scented ones you like. But if anyone asks," he drew her over to the table," this was a private, strategic meeting concerning foreign policies."
She arched a brow.
"Only way they'd get off your back, huh?"
He sat down on the mound of cushions and pulled her onto his lap.
"It worked. I swear they didn't give Ozai this much trouble."
"Hm. You just might have to set someone on fire first."
"I'm considering it more and more everyday," he smoothed a hand along her cheek. "I don't want to talk about work."
She kissed his hand and wrapped her arms around his neck. His arms went around her waist and he leaned back.
She leaned her forehead against his.
"You're very wonderful."
"I'm so glad you noticed," he teased.
She kissed his cheek.
"Tell me more about myself."
She pulled back to look him in the eye.
"You," a finger rested on his nose, "are one hot babe."
He laughed at that one and she smiled hearing it.
"And then I run out."
"That'll do," his golden gaze drifted down to her mouth. Well, everyone knew what that meant. She obliged him.
"I have really missed you," he told her while they were taking a brake.
"I would miss me too," her back was to his chest as she ate a cherry tart.
"I'm sorry, Mai."
She turned to look at him.
"For not being around as much. This is hard for me and I know it has to be for you, too. I just –" he didn't get to finish that thought as Mai shoved the rest of the treat into his mouth.
"Shut up. It's not your fault so don't apologize for it."
"But Mai, I –"
"No, I don't want to hear it, Zuko. I knew what it would be like when I agreed to this whole thing. You make as much time for me as you can. And years and years and years from now, we'll be with each other so much, we won't be able to stand each other. It can only get better from here, right?" Yes, she was aware that she was adlibbing Ty Lee's speech, thank you.
Zuko stared at her in much the same way she'd stared at Ty Lee except there was something akin to maddening desire, burning love (bad pun), and abject adoration thrown in.
"I know, right?"
She leaned back against him.
"I'm like your bra."
For a while, he didn't say anything. Mai managed to eat three tarts in several dainty bites before he said,
Agni, he made it so easy sometimes.
A/N: I am of the firm belief that Zuko planned that whole picnic while watching the sunset thing. He probably had to talk her into it. I'm kinda Mai-centric, aren't I? I find her character easier to get into than Zuko's. Because she's a girl? Maybe, I don't know.
Other pairings are subject to change. If you see Ty Lokka romance or friendship is up to your own interpretation.
I don't think they had bras, more like wraps or something, but details, details.