A/N: First things first: you should all check out Princebender, our shiny new Jeeko tumblr. There's fic, art, music, various questions and answers, and lots and lots of NSFW content.
In fact, this chapter is a response to an anon who prompted "Mai and Jee getting along (or even discussing Zuko)." Hope you like it, Anon!
This is postcanon and contains Mai/Zuko. Also basically an expression of all my headcanons, so beware of fanwank.
"It must be quite an adjustment."
Jee jumped at the proximity of the unfamiliar voice. It was as if she had just appeared out of thin air. He turned to face her—
"Lady Mai!" He bowed hastily. "I didn't expect to see you here. Ever." The guardhouse was not a place fit for a young lady of breeding at the best of times. Its current state of disarray was rather embarrassing, but very little could be done at the moment.
"I came here so we could talk without making a royal event of it," she said.
Jee didn't know what he had been expecting, but it certainly wasn't that.
"Of course, my lady. My office isn't as chaotic, if you don't mind…"
"Not at all." She gave him a smile that didn't seem to stretch her mouth like a normal smile. He wasn't sure what to take from it. The rest of her face was smooth and blank, betraying nothing of what went on behind her sharp-looking eyes. Damn it, it had taken him long enough to figure Zuko out…
He indicated the way with his cane. Lady Mai's hands remained tucked in her sleeves as they walked. Jee didn't feel too self-conscious of his limping, laborious gait these days, but he did now. The young lady kept pace with him, too slow to be natural for her.
"It is an adjustment," he said to break the tension that might have been only in his mind. "My lady."
"Twenty-five years at sea, seven months in an ice pit up north, and now we have you building a new Royal Guard from scratch," she said, once again with no discernible inflection. "What did you do to deserve this."
"I wonder that every day, my lady." Jee showed her into the office. He winced inwardly as he noticed afresh the half-emptied crates, the unorganized papers on his desk, the ceremonial helmet hanging off the back of his chair, and the cups of room-temperature tea dotted about the room. "I'm afraid I don't entertain much."
Lady Mai's chuckle was quiet and smoky. "Zuko's office is worse." She perched on a crate. "Please sit down. I hope your leg isn't hurting you."
"Thank you." He sat, unconsciously trying not to look too relaxed. "I've gotten used to it."
"Broke it in the Siege. More specifically, a waterbender broke it by tossing me off a bridge. Then I was a prisoner, and it didn't heal right." He rubbed his thigh. "It's better than it was."
"Oh." Lady Mai's eyes flicked to the side, briefly, and Jee could have sworn he had seen something like uneasiness beneath her cool mask. As if she thought she should express some sort of sympathy, but wasn't sure what would be appropriate. But then she looked up. Once again her face was a closed book. She gave Jee a long stare from beneath her bangs, and then reached one long white hand up to flick an invisible speck of lint from her robe.
He fought the urge to fidget as the silence grew. It seemed that the Firelord and his beloved were equally gifted in the art of conversation.
"I'm sorry we weren't able to talk before now," she said at last. "I was looking forward to it. Zuko's told me a lot about you."
The back of Jee's neck prickled slightly.
"Good things, I hope."
"Yes, lots of them," she replied, suddenly sounding very earnest. "You're one of very few people in the world he likes, let alone looks up to."
"Oh." When had Zuko learned to express himself so easily? "He told me about you, a little. He never liked to talk about his life back home. I think he didn't want to get his hopes up, in case he never got to go back."
There was one time that Zuko talked at length about his home. He spoke quickly, like he was anxious to get it all out. Jee hardly dared breathe in case it made him stop. The kid had even shown him a handful of dark, smudgy photographs in glass that he had brought to sea, mostly of his family, but there was one of a sour-looking young girl whom he called his best friend.
"That sounds like him." Her cheeks went a little pink and she looked to one side again. "He also told me… about the two of you. How you were… together."
What could he say to that?
"…Oh." Jee cleared his throat. "Well, I guess that's true."
"I don't mind," Lady Mai said immediately, her eyes widening a bit. She always looked so aloof in public, perhaps even cold, but now the image cracked a little and she looked more like a seventeen-year-old girl. "I mean, it's not uncommon, right? When you spend that much time stuck on a ship together?"
"No. It's not uncommon at all."
Of course, what went on between him and Zuko was a little different (or just more convoluted) than just two shipmates shacking up in the absence of other options. Jee wasn't sure he could describe what exactly the rapport between them was. He was about eighty-four percent sure that it was over, though.
When the Fire Nation and Northern Water Tribe (finally) exchanged prisoners, Zuko found him in the crowd and gave him a big, strong, warm hug. It was all a bit surreal, but even through the pain in his leg and the elation of going home, it felt more like a hug between old comrades and not former lovers. That was the last time they had touched. It had been months. And somehow Jee found that he didn't mind.
"I guess I just wanted to say thank you. For looking out for him." Mai's hands returned to her sleeves, and the icy stare returned to her face. Apparently she had showed enough of her youth and humanity for one day. When she spoke again, her voice was very dry. "You taught him a lot of very useful things."
Jee grinned. "Glad to know he's still putting them to use." She replied with a quick flash of a smile.
"Oh, he is. You're a good teacher, Captain."
She was easy to like, he decided. As long as she decided to like you first. He didn't want to be on the receiving end of her displeasure. It was fortunate that she didn't seem to be jealous or overly-possessive, as if she had any reason to be. Zuko adored her. That much was obvious every time he looked at her.
"Thank you, my lady."
"I can tell you're a patient man."
"You have to be patient to simply put up with Zuko, let alone teach him how to trust people again. And you did it." Mai didn't smile, but her eyes seemed to crinkle a little at the corners. She stood up and turned to leave. "I'm glad he had you. That he still has you."
She left. Jee pushed himself up with his cane and started down the hall.
The Firelord still had him, indeed. And that was why it was time to get back to work.