"Hold still," Mai said. Zuko held obediently still, scared to move a muscle as his fiancée trailed her fingers over the muscles of his chest. "It's not fair. I could work out forever and never get muscle like this."
Zuko grinned. "It's just a gift."
She pushed his shirt off his shoulders and examined those, too. Zuko felt a little like a horse at a fair as she probed his muscle with her fingertips, squeezed his shoulders in her hands. He squirmed. "I said, hold still. I'm inspecting the merchandise."
"The merchandise?" He said, scowling, and she laughed in his face.
"Yes. I have to make sure that you're up to par with my high standards." She leaned down and kissed his lips. "Don't worry. So far, so good."
"I'm so relieved." Zuko scowled up at her from where he was flat on his back on the futon, arms spread out helplessly like wings. "Considering we're already engaged."
"Don't get too worried. You've always impressed me before." She grinned. "Now, Ty Lee, she's harder to impress, if I wanted a second opinion…"
"Don't you dare," he snarled, "Parade me half-naked in front of Ty Lee."
"It wouldn't be half naked," Mai assured him, eyes gleaming wickedly, and he stared at her in horror.
"You wouldn't dare."
"I would, but I wouldn't share either." She pressed her fingertips into his shoulders once more. "Nice shoulders. I approve."
"Glad to hear it. I feel like a fruit tart."
"Mmm. I could make a joke about eating you up, but I don't want you to start blushing." Zuko blushed, and she laughed, opening his shirt a little further down. "Still looking good. You might be worth the full purchase price, Fire Lord Zuko."
"Hey. Who's paying for who, here?"
She leaned down and nipped at his throat, teeth leaving a little red mark on his skin. "I'm paying, silly. That's what a dowry is. Purchasing a husband. That's why I like it. It's kind of like paying for a horse, and it means I can do whatever I want to you." She poked his chest. "Good reason to behave."
"I'll behave," Zuko said meekly. "I know exactly how many knives you carry. All the time."
"I remember that." Mai smiled, fondly. "That was a good game." Zuko blushed again, and Mai laughed. "You're cute when you're modest."
"I'll show you modest," Zuko snapped, and pulled her down hard, kissing her fiercely even if it was hard to be demanding flat on his back. This really was a compromising position. How had he gotten himself here, anyway?
Oh yeah, Mai'd put him there. He let her go, and she went back to examining him. "Chest looks nice. You could work a little on your pecs, though. They're not perfect."
"Yeah, not perfect. I'm just saying, room for improvement." He looked up at her, knees braced on either side of his hips.
"You know, I could throw you on the ground if I wanted to."
"You don't want to," she informed him. "You like this too much. That's okay, I like it too. It's actually kind of…sexy."
"You say that like it's surprising." At least she wasn't sitting on him again. She seemed to like how uncomfortable that particular position made him. "I thought that's why you were marrying me."
"I'm marrying you because you're the Fire Lord, stupid." Mai brushed her fingertips against his cheek and kissed him again. Then she moved her hands down and pulled the sash around his waist apart, letting the robe fall open to bare his entire torso.
"Oh right, I forgot." She seemed to have paused, and Zuko frowned at the ceiling. "What, something wrong with my six-pack?"
Her fingers this time were light, and he lifted his head, staring, then followed her arm down and found her fingertips resting on the livid scar against his solar plexus. She seemed…shocked.
Disturbed, Zuko sat up and pushed her hand away. "You knew I was hurt," he said, flatly.
"I didn't know how badly. I haven't seen you naked since the bandages were taken off. It looks awful."
That stung his vanity. Just a little. "Yeah, thanks. Something else that has room for improvement?"
"That's not what I meant." Mai looked down at him, her face serious. "I didn't realize how close you came to dying. And I didn't know it was lightning."
Zuko grimaced. "It was Azula. What else would she use?" It still twinged, sometimes. He still felt dizzy if he stood up too fast. Katara was good, but she wasn't a miracle worker. Healing would take time, but time was something he didn't have. The Fire Nation needed him to be strong.
"What happened?" Mai asked, sitting down on his stomach, her hands easing his shoulders back down. "I never heard the whole story. Just that you and Azula were fighting and the Waterbender – Katara – brought her down after she shot you."
Zuko shifted uncomfortably, and Mai laid a hand over the scar. Her palm barely covered the whole thing. "That's basically it." He didn't want to talk about how Azula had cheated, fired lightning at Katara instead of him. Didn't want to talk about how it felt to be electrocuted by his own sister, no matter how crazy she was. Didn't want to talk about how close he'd felt to dying.
"She said you saved her. Is that what happened?" Mai seemed determined. He knew that face.
"Katara? Yes, that's what happened. Azula shot lightning at her. She was supposed to be fighting me. I thought I could redirect it. I was wrong."
He was surprised when Mai smacked him. Hard. "You idiot! Do you realize how angry I would have been if you'd died? How- I'm going to have to thank that damn girl next time I see her because of you!"
Zuko narrowed his eyes. "Is that such a problem?"
Mai crossed her arms. "She's friendly. Way too friendly. She and Ty Lee get along. She'll probably give me a hug."
"Terrible fate." Zuko looked down at her hand, still resting on her scar, and moved it up to his chest, where she could feel his beating heart. "I'm not dead."
"I know that, you moron." She pulled her hand away, traced the outline of his scar again. "It looks like the Avatar's. You two match." She sounded…unhappy. Zuko frowned. Girls were so weird.
"Except his is on his back. Come on, Mai, I thought we were discussing my suitability or lack thereof as your future husband."
"I changed my mind. You're safe." She frowned. "You should get a tattoo, or something."
"Ty Lee got one. Someone sticks an inked needle into your skin to make a design."
"Why would I ever want to do that?"
"You could cover it up. Make a sun, or something." She poked it, and Zuko made an 'oof' noise. Sometimes he wondered if Mai knew her own strength. "So it wouldn't show as much."
"I don't mind it showing," Zuko said, soberly. "It's a reminder. I survived."
"Yeah," Mai said, fiercely. "Barely. You're lucky I'm marrying you. I'll be there to make sure you don't do anything else stupid." She prodded him again, fiercely. "And just so you know, if you get yourself killed, I will murder you. You still have a lot to make up for, and you haven't even started."
"Yes, Mai," Zuko said meekly, though inwardly he was very confused. Girls. Maybe Katara could explain it. Of course, the last time he'd asked, she'd just looked at him, scoffed, and said that it was so obvious even he ought to be able to figure it out.
It was not, he thought, obvious at all.
"Now," Mai said, and shoved him down, resting her elbows on his chest. "Fruit tarts, handsome, and make it snappy." She regarded him for a few moments, and then grinned, unnervingly wickedly. "And we'll see what else I can examine."
Zuko couldn't help it. He blushed.