Prince Zuko, son of the Fire Lord and hier to the throne of the greatest empire of all history, was hiding in a linen closet. He sat with his back to the shelves, his knees curled up to his chest and his arms crossed on top of them. Resting his chin on his arms, he scowled at nothing.
He hated the beginning of spring. It reminded him of when his mother left and he couldn't help but compare all the smiling couples to foggy images of his parents actually happy.
He hated how his uncle was twirling around the palace, hanging garlands of flowers and hiding pouches of colored confetti in his sleeves to be tossed into the faces of unsuspecting victims. Uncle took any excuse to celebrate, surely enough, Zuko would be forced to attend some ridiculous dinner and he just wasn't in the mood to watch his uncle hit on servants and blabber on about flowers and turtle-ducks in love. Thus, the linen closet.
Startled out of his sulking by the sound of approaching footsteps, Zuko sat up quickly and hit the back of his head on the shelf behind him. He yelped, a little out of pain, but mostly from the shock of the offending shelf's existence. He held his breath as the footsteps paused.
He leaned against the back wall, as if trying to merge with it or become invisible, and kept his unblinking eyes on the curtain separating him from the hallway and willing it to stay closed. he footsteps began again and Zuko let out a sigh of relief. Whoever it had been was going to let him stay hidden. It probably wasn't Uncle anyway; they weren't singing.
Light from the hallway washed over Zuko as a neatly bandaged and perfectly manicured hand pulled back the curtain.
"Hey!" Zuko shouted at Mai, then remembered he was supposed to be hiding. "What are you doing?"
Mai stood holding the curtain, exposing his hiding place to the world, with one eyebrow raised behind her thick bangs. She ignored his question and rolled her eyes.
"You're really bad at hiding. You know that, right?"
Zuko huffed and scowled at a pile of towels, avoiding Mai's eyes. She sighed.
"What are you doing in here?"
Mai let the curtain fall and, after spreading out a sheet from the shelf on the closet floor, lied down with her hands behind her head.
"Sounds like fun."
"Weren't you doing something?"
"I was. But your uncle found us. Do you wanna hang out with him and Ty Lee today?"
"Oh. Yeah. I guess not."
Zuko was glad that Mai was staring at the ceiling. he was blushing and couldn't stop fiddling with his hands. he was suddenly very aware of his movements.
He wondered if Mai could hear him breathing. Was he breathing too loudly, like a crazy axe-murderer? He tried to pay attention to the rhythm of his breath, but found it increasingly difficult to do so while he was paying attention to it and trying not to scare Mai away with his crazy axe-murderer breathing. He tried to stop breathing all together, but gave in to the increasing tension somewhere between his eyes and nose.
He needed to focus on something else.
He began to pat out a beat on his legs with the palm of his hands. Mai turned her head to look at him, this time both eyebrows raised, but said nothing. He stopped immediately and crossed his arms firmly to keep them still.
Mai rolled over onto her stomach and rested her cheek on her hands, laid palms-down on top of each other. She closed her eyes and Zuko could see the thin, painted black lines just along the top of where her eyelashes met her eyelids. He wondered if she liked wearing make-up or if her mom made her wear it to try to get noblemen to think she was pretty and want to marry her. Zuko didn't like that. He got the sudden urge to shove these noblemen who thought Mai was pretty and wanted to marry her only because of her looks and bloodline. He thought Mai would still look pretty if all the make up in the world exploded or something, but there was so much more to her than that. Zuko felt his face prickling and wondered how red he was turning.
"So..." Mai opened her eyes and blinked at Zuko a few times, as if she had almost been asleep. He stuttered and almost blushed again at the mental picture he had of all his thoughts (which were apparently, in his mind's eye, a grey vapor) being sucked out of his head. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to Mai, but he was just so bad at it. "What happened to your fingers?"
Mai lifted her hand to inspect the bandages around her middle and ring fingers. They were fresh and a clean white; Mai didn't like to be dirty.
"I cut myself a few days ago."
"You did what?" Zuko's voice was filled with concern, and it was apparent to Mai that volume control was not one of the prince's strong suits. "Why would you do that? What ever problem it is, I'm sure it's not that bad-"
"At training, you idiot."
Zuko babbled an apology and Mai stood up and sat down next to him, he fell silent as he noticed their hips were touching.
Zuko felt Mai's head rest on his shoulder and slowly let his head rest on top of hers. He willed his hand to move to Mai's and watched it almost maybe twitch a little. He took a deep breath (hopefully, not sounding like an axe-murderer) and tried again. His hand moved a couple centimeters, but thankfully, Mai understood the gesture and slid hers underneath his, lacing their fingers together.
Maybe spring wasn't so bad after all.