A Story of Mai and Zuko
Avatar: The Last Airbender is the creation of Michael Dante DeMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Mai sat at her vanity, silent as she brushed the ebony fall of her hair, the fine silk of her crimson nightgown caressing her comfortingly as she moved. She gazed into her mirror, ignoring her reflection, instead watching her paramour, sprawled out on their bed, clad only in black sleep pants and propped up on pillows as he perused a letter from the Avatar. A thoughtful smile played across his mouth as he absently traced the scar marking his sculpted torso. Zuko looked relaxed, serene, showing no hint that six hours ago he had evaded death by a hair's breadth.
Mai set down her brush as a shiver coursed through her. She closed her eyes, sighing inaudibly, annoyed that her nerves were still shaken while Zuko seemed impervious, more irritated than scared or angered by the attack. She opened her eyes and watched him in the mirror as she replayed the attack in her memory.
Years of exile had ingrained into Zuko certain habits that dismayed his councilors. Use to unrestricted freedom, he left the palace to explore the Capitol as often as his duties would allow, disdaining a palanquin in favor of walking, accompanied only by Mai and a token bodyguard of four soldiers, who kept a discrete distance from their lord. He found these walks relaxing, and enjoyed watching and mingling with his people. To Mai the walks were boring, but this boredom was offset by the enjoyment she took in being in Zuko's company, in the feel of her slim hand in his large, strong one as they traversed the city's streets.
It was amazing how quickly boredom could transform into terror. They had made a circuit of the Capitol's main shopping district and were returning to the palace when the assassin made his attempt, lunging from an alleyway they passed too close to, his long dagger flashing in the afternoon sun. Mai pulled away from Zuko at the first hint of movement, a brace of throwing daggers falling from her sleeve into her hand. But as she readied to fight a sickening realization jolted through her – there was nothing she could do to stop this. The assassin was too close, too quick, and was using Zuko as cover against her. His blade would strike home between Zuko's ribs before her knives could stop him. It was inevitable.
But both Mai and the assassin had underestimated Zuko.
Zuko swayed backwards, letting the dagger thrust skim pass him by a scant inch, then, with a motion that seemed almost casual, seized the assassin by the wrist and twisted. A sickening, wet crack sounded out. The dagger clattered on the cobblestone street as the assassin howled in pain, clutching at his right arm, his wrist broken, his elbow dislocated. Then Zuko blurred, lashing out with the heel of his palm. The assassin dropped, blood pouring copiously from his crushed nose. The Fire Lord stepped back from the fallen man and assumed a bending stance, glaring down the alleyway, ready to strike at the slightest hint of movement while defensively screening Mai.
All this happened within the span of three quick breaths.
Their bodyguards converged on them, their faces white with fear and rage. "My lord!" one of them cried out. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Zuko answered, his voice calm. He flowed out of his active guard, into a casual but alert stance. "Two of you check the alleyway." He glanced down at the assassin. "Is he dead?"
A bodyguard knelt down to examine the man. "No, my lord. He lives."
Zuko grunted neutrally, as if uncertain to be pleased or disappointed with this news. He scanned the crowd that had started to gather in the wake of the violence. "Someone fetch the local warden," he ordered. Citizens scurried off to obey as his men re-emerged from the alley. "Clear, my lord."
Zuko nodded as he turned to Mai. "Are you alright?" She stared at him without a word for a minute, until he started to fidget from her silent, intense regard. She did not trust her self to speak, so she nodded. But her nod was a lie – she was not alright. For the first time in her life she was grateful for the stoicism her parents had forced upon her. It was the only thing keeping her from devolving into weeping hysterics, and even with it, it took all her will to stay in control. If Zuko had been but a fraction of a second slower... No, it did not bear thinking. With deliberate, slow motions she sheathed her knives, then lunged for Zuko, grabbing him in a ferocious embrace, burying her face in his broad chest, seeking comfort, reassurance, in holding him. Alive. He's alive. She shivered uncontrollably, and Zuko murmured to her, stroking her back, his hand and his body steady and sure.
Mai sighed again, and with a shrug banished the last remnants of her fear. Zuko was alive. That was all that mattered. She turned on her seat to look at him directly. He had finished reading Aang's letter and now reclined on the bed, one hand pillowing his head, the other tracing abstract flame patterns in the air. She smiled at the sight and joined him in bed, cuddling up next to him, nuzzling at his neck. Zuko smiled at her the way he almost always did when she initiated love-play – a goofy grin of pleasant surprise, as if part of him still could not believe she was interested in him in that way. She suckled on his earlobe, nipped it gently, heard him hiss in appreciation. "I forget, sometimes," she murmured.
He looked at her curiously. "Forget what?"
"That you are more than you seem." He arched an eyebrow in silent inquiry. Mai shifted, draping herself on top of him, staring directly into his golden eyes. "When you are with me, you're so gentle. You act like such a hopeless dweeb that I forget that you're actually very dangerous when you want to be. When you need to be." She considered him thoughtfully. "It's a little scary," she confessed. Zuko looked stricken, opening his mouth to apologize, to tell her he never meant to frighten her, but she silenced him with a finger to his lips. "And very sexy." She cupped his face between her hands and kissed him.
They had no more need for words for the rest of the night.