This story takes place during the Celestial and Elemental Avatar story, but further in a point I've gotten this point the stories takes place after The Beach but before the Day of the Black Sun. Idea and additions came from DarkShadowRaven and Burning Truth.
It was a few weeks prior to the day of the Black Sun. Ozai would fall and the tyranny that the Fire Nation was bringing upon the world would soon end. Naruto noticed the terrain was familiar. Sure enough it was one of the villages known for their tourism so Naruto proposed a small vacation. From Earth Soccer to Pai Sho many games were being played.
There were games where if you tossed silver pieces into cups you win prizes.
Ty Lee had dragged Azula off to get their faces painting while Katara and Yue went to get something to eat. Everyone was off during their own thing and soon met bat the food stand. Ty Lee and Azula, much to the latter's annoyance faces were covered with white face paint and other designs. Suki was fiddling with her new pendant she won from one of the games.
Aang, Yue, and Katara were water bending the water in the tub of water they got to make an ice sculpture for the Ice sculpture contest while Sokka just ate food. While everyone was doing there own thing Naruto noticed Mai was sitting off to the side. Naruto smiled as his eyes fell upon the gloomy girl. She might have thought she was anything special, but to Naruto she was beautiful. Her skin which was pale and flawless. Her shiny, long black hair which she had in low pig tails not to mention even if she didn't have Ty Le's assets she was a beauty in he own right.'' It was a shame that usually a scowl or an expression of neutrality adorned her face.
''So Mai...what did yo do today?''
''Nothing really...walked around mostly.''
Naruto blinked at this, ''...for eight hours?'' He finally got to asking.
''Leave it to Mayiee!'' Azula squealed as she felt her thigh pinched. She received a meek sorry from Ty Lee who was only stopping the princess from starting yet another verbal argument with the Gloomy girl.
''Come on Mai were on vacation. Just cut loose and have a bit of fun.''
Mai gave Naruto a bored look. ''Fun...that's unexplored ground for me. I don't know how to have fun,'' Was her emotionless reply. The others shared a look at this and felt a bit guilty by the fact that after all this time they never made the effort to help Mai out of her shell.
''Well maybe we can find something that you can enjoy doing Naruto,'' Katara suggested.
''We have a few more days. I'm sure we can show you how to have fun by then,'' Aang optimistically added.
It turned out that trying to teach Mai how to have fun was like trying to convince Aang he needed to kill. It just wasn't going to happen. Mai hardly bat an eye lash at having her face painted. She didn't get joy out of riding any of the animals. No excitement from playing any games that required precision as they were more or less child's play. So after spending the day unsuccessfully trying to get the girl to have fun they all retired to a In for the night. As luck would have it they were in just in time for the yearly story teller. Once a year the story teller from a few villages over traveled to this village during the holidays and told tourists stories he heard when he was a boy. Just as the story teller started telling his story Mai yawned and began nodding off to sleep.
''This story is called...The Promise of a Lifetime.''
Mai awoke with a yawn and stretch. She wasn't sure how long she was asleep, but it was definitely one of the most peaceful. She made a motion to stand up and fell forward. With a groan she stood to her feet and then shrieked. Her hair...her body...she had been transformed to say the least. She was a little girl again? Probably no older then five or six. ''Naruto if this is one of your ideas of a joke...'' She threatened but got no answer. She walked outside and began looking for Naruto. She noticed the town looked different, newer to say the least. Suddenly a bunch of kids ran up to her, shouting to her. The kids reminded her of the Gang but they were different. The Blond that reminded her of Naruto lacked whiskers and had deep crimson eyes. That in itself was strange, but oddly familiar. The girls who reminded her of Azula and Ty Lee had opposite hair schemes. The dark skin children consisted of one white haired boy and two girls, both with black hair instead of brown.
''There you are Mezera, we've been looking everywhere for you.'' The blond haired boy stated.
''Who are you? And whose Mezera?''
''You're Mezera silly and I'm Nazuki? Are you ok?''
''Yeah...sure,'' Mai replied unsure on what to decided to play along until this dream ended.
''Well why aren't you playing with us?'' The white haired boy asked.
''Playing? Playing is for children. I'm too old for that.''
The kids started laughing at that.
''Your only six silly.'' Nazuki responded.
''I don't know how to have fun.''
''Come on, it's natural. How can you not know how to have fun?''
''This is just a dream!'' She snapped at the boy. ''I nodded off doing that story. I'll prove that now by waking up.'' She pinched herself and nothing happened. ''What?'' I'm not that really that deep of sleeper? What's going on?'
Splashing herself with water didn't work. Wishing sometime impossible like a dragon appearing didn't work. Screaming out to startle the others in the waking world didn't work. Nothing seemed to work. Eventually Mai made way to the roof of one the houses. She was definitely going to wake up. The shock of the fall would be enough to wake even the heaviest of sleepers. She then dove overboard.
''Mezera!"' Before Mai hit the ground the little boy threw himself under her. They collided and Mai groaned in pain. She hadn't woken up? She looked at her arm and noticed a bruise. ''I-It's...this isn't possible.'' She thought massaging her arm.
''Mezera why did you do that? That was dangerous.''
''B-But it can't be real...'' This time she voiced the thought.
''Mezera if this was just a dream...why are you in such a hurry to go back? Why not stay and have fun while you can?''
Mai scowled at the boy, ''Idiot...what good would come from this? Not like I'll remember anyway...leave me alone,'' She said as she walked away.
''Mezera wait up...please don't be mad. Don't you like me anymore?'' The boy asked sadly.
Mai stopped and sighed. She was dissociative sure, but she didn't get kicks from hurting children.
The boy grinned at her. ''Yep!''
''Like I said I don't know how to have fun.''
Mai, unsure of this situation decided to talk to the boy. ''My parents didn't raise a child. They raised an heir. I was to be perfect and obedient. I lived for their expectations. I wasn't allowed to do what I want. Even before I became friends with my friends, they were chosen for me. That's all I ever been.''
''Well what's stopping you from changing now? You never mentioned them before so you're not with them right?''
''It's too late...too late to change who I am.'' Then suddenly Mai recognized something in Nazuki's eyes. Something she often seen in a certain cerulean eyes boy.
''You have time now...you should do things and have precious memories to remember. ''
Mai nodded, no longer scowling. The boy reminded her so much of Naruto, but he wasn't Naruto; he was his own person, Nazuki.
''So come on let's go play with the others.'' He said taking her hand and leading her to where the others were waiting.
Mai couldn't believe the feelings she was experiencing. It was...fun to say the least. Playing all sorts of kid games which consisted of Hopscotch and marbles. Nazuki even began teaching her how to draw. In Fire Nation only certain classes focused on creating art. Mai spent a lot of time being tutored on how to write, but to never draw. Her first attempt was a bit rough, but the children helped her all the same.
''We got a surprise!''
Mai had just came back with the colors the other requested that she personally got and when she returned there was a hand craft bracelet in her space. ''We hope you liked it.'' Touched, she gladly accepted as the children all nosily pointed out their contribution. Eventually Nazuki asked her something,''Mezera...you're not our Mezera are you?'' The perceptive boy asked.
Mai sighed and fiddled with her bracelet. ''No...I'm not...I know just about as much as you do.''
''Well then...Mezera...do you miss your other friends.''
Mai started reminiscing about the others. Her heated arguments and spars with Azula. Even if they didn't always get along they could count on each other to have the other's back. Crazy as hell with a hatred of small animals, specifically rats. You could always count on her burning something down. Free spirited Ty Lee who would sooner friend an enemy and invite them over to tea then kill. The girl wasn't as dim as most people believed; just a kind girl who wanted to make friends. She too caused a lot of trouble with her sticky fingers.
Then there was Zuko, dear drunken Zuko who seemed to hate the world almost as much as she bore with it. Mai always wondered what could have been if a certain fox hadn't charmed her.
Last but not least was none other then Naruto. She didn't know where to start with that Lecher. Many of times she nearly had to take off his head for stealing glances at in opportune times. Even if she would never did admit it, those glances made her feel wanted, attractive even. Mai snorted, her? Attractive? In her mind she was as plain as they came. Though Naruto didn't seem to care about that. The boy was like a ray of sunshine. Energetic and smiles one moment, fierce and deadly in another moment. Mai had to repress a shiver at that. ''I...do.'' It haven't even been a day and she missed them. Ever since the first time they were separated it left a big gaping hold in her heart.
''Are these people your precious people?''
''My what?'' She responded, a sense of Deja Vu clouded her senses.
''Your precious people? Would you do anything to protect them? Do they mean the world to you.''
''Do you want to wake up? Return to them and go back to your old self or stay here with us and live your life as a kid?''
Mai gave him a look of confusion. He knew out to get her out of here? But then...why wasn't she jumping at this chance. On one hand she could return to the others, on the other she could continue and stay here and know what it's like to be normal. No more having to be strict and proper. No more having to live in a time of war. No more having two-third of the nations hate her because hailed from Fire Nation. On the other hand that meant she would never see her family or friends again.
''Here!'' Nazuki handed her a paper and a box of crayon. ''The choice is simple...draw what your heart wants.''
Taking the objects and pausing a bit she over to a seat and started drawing. At some point she notices that she is alone with empty space, she looks at her drawing but sees nothing but blackness. Was this what her heart truly symbolized? Nothingness? Her hand started shaking. Her lip started quivering. She hated this feeling. This abyss of nothingness that defined her person. Was this what everyone saw her as? Just then a hand placed itself on her shoulder. She looked up and gasped.
''It's ok...'' Naruto said soothingly, literally appearing out of nowhere. ''Think hard Mai...what did you learn?''
It took her a moment to respond.''Where am I? How did I get here?''
''It's a dream Mai-chan, and I'm just a part of that imagination I'm afraid. There is more in your heart then you'll ever realize. Because unlike most you value every sensation and feeling. It's just because the way you were raised makes it difficult to express it. So I ask again, what did you learn?''
''I thought they were worthless. That in a world such as ours they served no purpose, but having fun and a childhood isn't meaningless. They shape who we are and what we grow up to be. It's also the only dream that ever remains as you grow old.''
As Mai finished her answer the landscape began to change. The blackness that covered her picture crumbles away and reveals a picture of her, Naruto, Ty Lee, Zuko and Azula when they were kids on a picnic.
She looked back at Naruto and noticed that he was gone, in fact she was back at the village. It was then she noticed Nazuki was at the base of a tree. She walks over to him. Sadness etched across her face.
''What's wrong Mezera?''
''I...I have to go now. '' She said sadly.
''Don't be sad. Don't think of it as us splitting up. What you learned here will always be a part of you and I'll always be with you and vice versa.''
The two of them made a promise to look out for each other. Nazuki gets out a sharp rock and carves a heart in the tree with their initials in it. She is happily and smiles at him. Mai walked back to the table to see Naruto waiting for her.
''I have to go now huh?''
''It's almost time...'' Mai started feeling sad again. In response Naruto picked her up and placing her on his lap at the table.
''Though there's no rush...take your time. You'll only get to be kid again once right? When your ready let me know.''
Mai nodded as she grabbed the crayons and starts to draw again this time about Nazuki and their friends, Naruto joins her. Everyone soon went Hazy.
Mai came too only to notice the storyteller was finishing up her story.
'A dream...like I thought from the beginning, but yet I feel...'' something familiar seemed to reach out to her. She noticed that the giant oak tree outside illuminated by the moon felt familiar. She feels a small weight on her hand and sees the bracelet. She runs out the door and started looking around the oak tree until she found the familiar markings of M + N on it, proving that it wasn't a dream. She went back to ask the story teller about the initials on the tree to which he responded those were the initials of the founders of his village Nazuki and Mezera. The story said that the two grew up, married, and moved away to start their own village with their family. Nazi and Mezera were there names. The ones who made a promise of a lifetime under that tree to always be together and have fun. After hearing the explanation something in Mai changed.
''Mai you wanted to see me?'' Naruto asked as Mai asked him to meet her by the Oak Tree early in the morning.''
''I wanted to say thank you. For all you done...for never giving up on me even when I gave up on myself.''
''Promise me...that we'll always be together...that will always look out for each other no matter what.'
''I promise Mai...'' He replied as she picked up a rock. The two carved their initial above Nazuki's and Mezera's initials. The two of them embraced, Mai's arms wrapped around Naruto's neck and his around her waist as they kissed. Passion rolling off the two of them and what felt like an eternal bond forming as well.
''The others are waiting,'' Naruto said as the kissed ended.
''Well, we shouldn't keep them waiting. Come on, something tells me your attempts this time around might work,'' Mai said as she made way into town.
Naruto started following after her and stopped. He looked at the carving as the image of young Nazuki formed in front of it. The form then altered slightly to have cerulean blue eyes and whiskers before morphing back into it's original shape and disappearing. Naruo then continued following after Mai, ready to start the new day.