I've decided that I am going to write a one shot series about the ATLA characters. Because I find them fascinating. They'll all be Modern AU, guidance councelor style.
Installation #1: Mai.
The young lady across from him sat slouched in her sofa chair, inspecting the chipped paint of her nails with a carefully neutral expression. Like a grainy photo from generations ago, she was a smattering of stark black – hair and nails and clothes – and muted white – hands and face and neck. The only true color had pooled in her thin red lips and narrow silver eyes. He had to soak in her overall appearance before he recognized her. Quiet, a good if not unenthusiastic student, he had never seen her in his office beyond the swift, blurry weeks of class scheduling.
Now, he was not scheduling any classes.
"Mai," he grunted, leaning forward and taking care not to steeple his fingers. Too often, he had been told it made him seem pretentious. "You're a good kid. You get good grades, typically stay out of trouble. Why, then, did your teacher catch you with a concealed weapon?"
Refraining from eye contact, the girl splayed her hands on her lap, palms up. He caught a glimpse of scars on each before he quickly snatched them away and tucked them into her wide sleeves. "I like knives," she murmured. Her voice was husky and reluctant, as if she spoke less at home than she did in school.
Eyes flickering from her dark attire to the edges of her sleeves where scarred hands drowned in ebony fabric, he couldn't help but ask, "Do you harm yourself with them, Mai? It is more common for girls your age than –"
He waited for her to continue, but she seemed disinclined to relinquish any more information.
He cleared his throat. "This is a serious issue, Mai. Were you planning to hurt anyone? It doesn't need to come down to that, Mai. We have a strict policy when it comes to bullying. You can always come to us if someone is harming you in any way."
Searching the girl's expressionless face for any reaction, he mentally ran through the concealed weapon checklist. Self-harm, bullying –
"If there was a bully, they would be hurt before anyone caught me with a knife."
The sentence was the longest he had ever heard her say at once, and the subtle threat had him shuddering.
"How's your home life, Mai?"
Abruptly, the girl straightened into perfect posture and crossed her ankles with subtle grace. "I understand," she said, "that you're using my name excessively because you want me to feel more at ease, but it just sounds creepy." Her tone and expression remained apathetic, but he – board-trained to read body-language – caught her slight discomfort and ran with it.
"You're deflecting," he accused. "I'll ask again; how's your home life?"
"Fine." Her eyes trained themselves on a college poster hanging high on his office wall. "I get everything I want. As long as…" She faltered, as if realizing half-way through that she didn't want to reveal her thoughts any further. "… I behave."
Leaning far enough to fall out of his chair, he steepled his fingers. "What happens if you don't behave, Mai?"
"I don't. Nothing ever happens."
"Do you feel smothered? Is that why you brought a knife to school?"
"The girl made an exasperated noise somewhere between a sigh and a groan. "No, I feel bored." The easy inflection on these words made him believe they were accustomed to coming from her mouth. "There's no point to anything."
For a long moment of silence, he inspected her face, tracing the sharp lines of her jaw and the steep slope of her nose. Other than the slightest tightening around her eyes, the young lady seemed completely impassive. "Do you feel powerless, Mai?" he asked, recalling the brief lessons he had on apathy in his rudimentary psychological education.
A muscle in her jaw twitched. "No."
He couldn't tell if she was lying or not, so he took a leap. "You do realize the severity of this situation, don't you, Mai? The possession of a concealed weapon can result in any multitude of punishments. Even expulsion." Admittedly, that was a bit extreme, but he continued nonetheless. "You need to be honest with me, Mai. Do you feel powerless?"
"No." This time her teeth clenched and her brows furrowed infinitesimally.
"Then what do you feel, Mai?"
"Nothing!" she nearly shouted. "I feel nothing. I don't feel anything."
The weight in those words made him take pause. Their inflection – all at once soft and loud and heavy – gave them a meaning he couldn't quite make out. "What do you mean by that, Mai?"
Her head lowered, bangs concealing her eyes as they trained on her lap. Fingers twisted her sleeves, impossibly pale at the knuckles. "Leave me alone," she whispered.
This is what happens when I try humor. It becomes angst. FAILURE. But I still like it well enough. Thoughts?