Young and Hopeless
When not referred to as, that friend of the princess, Mai is often known as, that girl who never smiles.
She's quite content with that, in fact. It gives her an intriguing sort of quality, though that isn't necessarily why she does it. For her whole life, she has never abandoned her state of being, well, unimpressed. She doesn't have expectations for things to make her laugh and smile and experience an onslaught of undesirable emotion. Her parents oppressed her, told her not to show emotion.
And so she doesn't. Being hard to impress is actually kind of fun. Or at least not boring.
Here she is, ten years old, and sitting on a rock. It's a very uncomfortable rock, and cold despite the broiling heat. The summer stench makes her noise crinkle a little, and she is gutting a fire lily absentmindedly. She isn't paying the slightest lick of attention to her friends' conversation.
It would probably bore her to tears anyway.
"Oh, look, Mai!" Ty Lee exclaims, yanking on her friend's pasty arm. "It's Zuko!"
Mai blushes slightly, a rosy pink against her pale skin. She hopes he didn't hear that. Ty Lee is possibly the most embarrassing person Mai has ever met in her entire life, especially when it comes to Prince Zuko.
He takes one look at them and Mai averts her eyes.
Later that night, Mai is sitting, all alone, her legs crossed, waiting for Ty Lee and Azula. She's always the one left behind, because she would be so boring. Only two can do this Mai, and you wouldn't like it anyway. Obviously.
Then, Zuko comes creeping up, surprised to see her. She raises an eyebrow.
"Looking for something, Prince Zuko?" she asks softly, slowly standing up.
"Not really," he says, scratching his head awkwardly. "You look gloomy."
"Would you like me to change that?" Her words are laced with venom.
"What if Ichanged it for you?" Zuko suggests and Mai shoots him a doubtful look.
"Try," she offers mockingly, leaning against the warm wall.
"Okay, joke... joke..." He is silent for a moment, thinking intensively. "Here's one: So, there are two fire gummies in the spicer, and one fire gummy says, man it's really hot in here, and the other fire gummy says, aa, a talking fire gummy."
Zuko laughs rather pathetically, as if tempting her to do so. She is, as usual, unimpressed.
"You're so funny, Zuko. I can't contain my mirth," she says sarcastically and Zuko looks perplexed.
"Who says mirth?" he asks laughingly and she sighs.
"Good night, your highness," Mai says, starting to turn away.
He grabs her arm and she turns back to him, quite viciously.
"I'll pick you flowers," he offers. "Will that make you smile?"
Zuko draws her over to the window-seat, pointing at the pretty fire-orchids. Mai sits down on the soft cushion, contemplating it.
"Flowers are gross," she says but the prince is not deflated. "Bugs pee on them."
Zuko shrugs. She is enjoying this a little too much for her own taste.
"What makes you happy?" he asks, setting his feet up on the cushion next to her.
"Being left alone," she replies without missing a beat.
Zuko stares at her for a moment, his lips pursed. His sheer focus on trying to make her smile almost makes her lose the game. He finally, suddenly, leans forward and pecks her on the lips. Mai blushes so brightly that it embarrasses her.
Her heart suddenly flutters, her body suddenly warms, but she doesn't smile. Both of them are silent as Mai plays with her hair.
Suddenly, Ty Lee comes bounding into the room, glances at them and coos, "awwwwww!"
"What's going on?" Azula has an amused smile on.
Zuko pauses for a moment.
"There's something wrong with your friend's face," he says and Mai rolls her eyes.
Azula seems to understand instantly.
"It's useless," she says casually, "I try to make her smile all the time."
"When have you ever tried to make me smile?" Mai asks doubtfully and Azula sighs regally.
Zuko scowls and crosses his arms.
"I will make you smile if it's the last thing I do." If only he had turned around to see her minuscule grin as he left.
She remembers why she thinks he's cute.