Prompt #1: Beginnings

A Secret

If any of their friends were asked, "What was the beginning of Mai's and Zuko's relationship?" all would answer, "the fountain incident" and in a way they would all be correct. Agni knows, Ty Lee told the story to everyone, every chance that she got.

"It was so cute!" she would exclaim. "Zuko rescued Mai and they both tumbled into the fountain. You should have seen their faces."

Mai would roll her eyes and Zuko would blush while Katara and Suki oohed and ahhed.

"They've heard it a hundred times already, Ty Lee," Zuko would declare with a frown.

"Good romance never gets old," the newest Kyoshi Warrior stated with confidence.

Mai patted Zuko on the back and whispered something in his ear. He nodded and gave his lover a sweet smile and suddenly they were gone, in their own world of recollection. They remembered a different beginning, one that neither Ty Lee nor Azula saw. It was a special, private moment and one of the sweetest of their lives; no matter that it happened when Zuko was nine and Mai only eight.

It was Princess Azula's seventh birthday and her friends, Mai and Ty Lee were sleeping over. Prince Zuko, her brother, who had turned nine a few weeks earlier, wasn't invited to participate.

"Girls only," Azula had told him as she shut her bedroom door in his face.

He just caught a glimpse of Mai, Azula's quiet friend, the one who always managed to capture his interest though she rarely spoke. He gave her a cheerful smile and her round cheeks reddened.

Hours later, close to bedtime, the three girls snuck out of the large bedroom and tiptoed down the hallway to the kitchen. There was leftover cake and lots of cookies to eat as well. Zuko was there already, sitting on a stool and munching on a crunchy cookie while Ursa sipped a cup of tea.

"Look who's here," Ursa smiled warmly.

"We want cake, mother," Azula declared.

"Manners, Azula," the woman corrected.

"We want cake, please."

The kitchen staff was gone for the night, so Ursa cut thick slices of cake and served them to the girls.

"I'm going to see your father in his office for a few minutes. Behave," she ordered and then left the kitchen.

"Aren't you having any cake, Zuko?" Ty Lee asked sweetly.

"Uh, uh," he replied and stole a look at Mai.

She was taking tiny bites of her cake and a little bit of icing was stuck on her thin pink lips. Zuko wanted to reach over and wipe it off but was far too shy. Besides, Azula would torment him mercilessly. At seven she was already a master.

"Why don't we play a game?" the princess suggested in a sugary voice. "Ty Lee, you're on my team. Mai, you're with Zuko."

"What kind of game?" Mai asked warily.

Her narrow gold eyes got narrower and she looked down at her plate as if it could give her answers.

"Oh, nothing special, just hide and seek, but in pairs."

"Hide and seek is boring," Mai stated and took another bite of cake.

"It's my birthday so you have to play what I want. Besides, I'm the princess."

"Fine," Mai agreed unwillingly.

"Ty Lee and I will hide. You and Zuko have to find us."

"You're not going to jump out and shoot fire at us or something, are you, Azula?" Zuko asked.

"Of course not, dum-dum; why would I do that?"

"Because you're a brat," Zuko muttered under his breath.

Mai heard and gave him a quick look. Her lips were squished together as if she was trying hard not to smile or laugh.

"Now, you and Mai go in there," Azula ordered, and pointed to a small and plain wooden door.

It stood open and there was nothing but blackness on the other side.

"That's the servants' corridors," Zuko stated. "Why do you want us in there?"

"So you can't see anything," the princess replied.

She pulled Mai by the arm and pushed her toward the corridor's entrance. Mai's face was pink again. The thick fringe of black hair that covered her forehead was damp with sweat and tiny tendrils of loose hair clung to her graceful little neck.

"I don't…"

Azula gave her another push forward, this one much harder. Mai stumbled forward several feet and was almost in complete blackness.

"Your turn, Zuko," Azula said. "I'm going to close the door so you can't see Ty Lee and I leave."

The prince gave the princess an angry glare but walked into the corridor voluntarily. Even before he heard the sound, he knew that Azula would lock the door. But Mai was in there and he wouldn't leave her alone.

"Why does she always do stuff like this?" the prince moaned.

He made a small fire in the palm of his hand, a basic firebending move and one he could handle more than adequately. Mai was a few feet ahead of him leaning against the cold stone wall.

"Are you scared?" he asked her.

"No," the little girl scoffed.

Zuko reached out with his free hand and Mai grabbed hold.

"There's another entrance somewhere," he stated. "We'll walk to it, okay?"

She nodded and they strode along in silence.

"Azula's not a very good friend," he said after a few minutes.

"I don't mind," Mai replied.

"Why? She's so mean."

"I get to come here."

Zuko looked at Mai's face, still slightly flushed and very pretty.

"You like the palace?" he asked.

"Yes," she said and held on tighter to Zuko's hand.

He understood and squeezed her hand in reply.


A/N: a teeny tiny second entry for the same prompt

Beginnings

Every day, when Zuko woke up and looked over at Mai, he was slightly surprised, just for a moment. Then when the fog cleared from his brain, he realized that, yes, he really was that lucky. Mai was his and each day was like a new beginning, beautiful in its possibilities.

Mai knew Zuko so well. She could predict most of his actions and most of his words and that was comforting. But once in awhile he surprised her and she looked at him anew. Those moments were like beginnings. She loved them both, the old and the new.