A/N: This was written for my atlaland bingo card filling in the space of "arranged marriage." I threw a Maiko interpretation.

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Warnings: This is a few years post-canon, and... well, I've somewhat developed Mai here.

By: Nuit Songeur

"Well, I already knew that," Mother said dismissively when Mai announced her engagement with Zuko. The scowl that never seemed to leave Mai's face when she was around her mother deepened.

"You could at least afford some happiness for me," Mai said. "I'm marrying the Fire Lord, the most powerful man in the Fire Nation. I'm going to be the pretty noble wife you've always groomed me to be."

"It doesn't surprise me," she said, handing Tom-Tom who was now five to his governess. "I always knew you would." The words didn't hold the victorious excitement that Mai was expecting, and that bothered her.

"What do you mean? Sure we've been seeing each other for a while now but that was never definitive." Mother gave her that condescendingly sweet smile Mai hated so much.

"Oh, dear, it's always been definitive," she said, lightly grasping Mai's shoulders. Mai's ocher eyes narrowed.

"I don't understand. What are you talking about?" Mother's smile grew sickeningly patronizing.

"Why, dearest, you've been betrothed to Zuko ever since you were born. It's been an agreement between Ozai and your father for years. Ozai didn't even nullify the arrangement when Zuko was banished, and your father thought it best not to bring up the matter of the exiled prince to him." Mai's eyes were wide, shocked as she slowly began backing away from the one that had been the oppressive figure all her life.

"An arranged marriage? No one ever—"

"There was no need to tell you," Mother interjected, unwittingly turning away to reapply her makeup. Mai stared after her numbly as an inexplicable chill began creeping over her body.

"Surely any arrangements of Ozai were broken once he was imprisoned and Zuko was crowned."

"Nonsense, Mai," Mother said, dabbing something on her cheek. "Your father settled this matter with Fire Lord Zuko not too long ago." Mai felt her fingers grow cold and stiff.

"But Zuko never told me anything about this," she pressed, almost desperately. Mother gave a noise of impatience.

"There was no need," she repeated. Mai turned from her mother and left the room. She walked almost in a trance to her own bedroom where she shut the door behind her and locked it.

Mai felt inexorably trapped. She thought... she thought by protecting Zuko in the face of Azula, choosing treason over safety, that she had broken from her mechanical, predetermined life that would always make her subservient to others. She didn't want to serve others. She didn't want to be a doll that did the bidding of another person. She wanted to be Mai and do what Mai wanted to do. Thus, she had picked Zuko over Azula.

But now, even that seemed predetermined. It was as if her Fate was written by someone else for her and had already planned that. She was making the decision someone had already arranged for her. Marrying Zuko wasn't her decision. It belonged to her parents. And now Zuko.

The war had been over, and Mai had believed that she was free to lead her own life. But now... now she knew there was always someone there to dictate her life, and that as long as she was Mai the Fire noblewoman, she would always fall into the hands of others. She couldn't stand that; Mai hated being trapped.

Zuko ran a hand through his loose hair, for what seemed like the fifth time, and sighed, tossing a now well-read scroll he'd discovered that morning. A candle on his desk illuminated the words on the discarded letter.

Zuko, I'm sorry, but I hope you understand. I'm leaving the Fire Nation.

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