Disclaimer: I make no claim to dis.
A/N: Today, ladies and gents, is the fanfiction birthday of one BlueFoxtrot A Samba! As such, I've written a one-shot in honor of her, in the fandom she introduced me to, of the couple she convinced me was better than all others involving these characters. Hope you like it, girl.
(And for your RL birthday as well, sorry I'm pulling doubles on you. This is like giving someone who was born in December a Christmas present you actually bought for their birthday but just held back till Christmas. But still: hope you like.)
There aren't many people who can recall the exact moment they fell in love. Much less the exact moment they fell in love for the first time.
She remembers that it was the sixth month, and that the gardens of the Fire Palace were awash in bright colors of orange and pink. She remembers being hot and feeling far more flustered than she usually did.
She remembers Zuko and Azula, and she's pretty sure Ty Lee was there too, hanging upside down in a tree. And if it seems like half of her memories start that way, then what of it? They were her friends, her people. She spent most of her life with them.
With two of them, at least.
Mai remembers being nine, and meeting Prince Zuko for the first time when his mother introduced him to his little sister's playmates. He didn't like them, she could tell by the look on his face; he thought they were just like Azula.
(And maybe they were a little bit, but only in the way all little girls are just like each other.)
She remembers feeling sad because the young prince never smiled, even though she herself rarely smiled at all.
And then she remembers what happened next, with Azula and the apple and fire and something knocking her hard backwards into the fountain. And she was soaking wet and embarrassed because Azula and Ty Lee were laughing at her, and then, suddenly, not so mad, because Prince Zuko, just for a second, angry as he was and yelling, turned his head and she caught it. The barest hint of a smile, hardly there at all.
(That's not when she fell, though to hear Ty Lee tell it, it's when she knew she was going to.)
She knows that she was twelve. She knows she was twelve because he was thirteen, and that was the age he was when everything went to Koh's lair in a handbasket. He was thirteen and she was twelve, and both of them grew up much too fast after that horrible day when he challenged the general.
But the time Mai is remembering comes before that day and that disastrous war council, and it's only her and Ty Lee and Azula playing in the garden again and then Zuko comes out of the palace looking like someone just kicked his lizard-pup.
Azula gives Mai and Ty Lee that wicked grin that is so endearing on her uncle but means something totally different on her pretty little face. It promises fun, fire, and maybe even a chance for Mai to indulge that little crush Azula knows she's been harboring. It's an expression to be feared.
He comes, of course. Not because he particularly wants to be tortured for the amusement of his little sister, but because he's feeling vulnerable, and for anyone to want him around at all feels to him to be an inexplicable miracle.
She remembers becoming much more interested in her friends' activities than she had been previously. She remembers Zuko blushing when he catches her staring, and thinking it odd that he would be embarrassed when it was she who was staring.
Azula offers him an apple, which he eyes distrustfully but takes, eyes sliding sideways to Mai before slipping away again. She remembers wondering if he was thinking about the same thing she was. Apple. Fire. Fountain. Smile. Probably not.
(Except that he was.)
Mai remembers Azula asking Zuko if he thought Ty Lee was pretty, and struggling to keep an impassive face when he stammered out that, yes, he guessed so, yeah, she was.
She also remembers Azula asking next if he thought Mai was pretty. She remembers that his face drew closed sharply, and that all of a sudden, Prince Zuko didn't want to play anymore.
(You protected precious things in the Fire Palace. Especially in the gardens.)
There aren't many people who can recall the exact moment they fell in love.
He gave Azula his vulnerability. He gave her his red face and his kicked lizard-pup look. He'd give her Ty Lee and the little acrobat's relative prettiness. He gave Azula anything she wanted, because it was easier that way.
But he wouldn't give her Mai.
During an unremarkable moment, in one of many beautiful gardens, surrounded by completely insignificant plants, observed by the same people with whom she spent nearly every day of her life, Mai fell in love with the Prince of the Fire Nation.
She's only twelve, and he only thirteen, but she knows-deep, deep in her bones, deep in her chi-she knows that she's in love, and she'll always love him and only him, and if he won't have her, then no one else will.
Mai remembers all of this, just like she remembers the week that follows, of war councils and planning and Agni, that awful Agni Kai.
She spends the next three days following his banishment throwing knives at anything moving in her field of vision, and even Azula knows not to test her right now.
She decides that she doesn't love him when he's sent off to find the Avatar or die trying, because she knows she'll never see him again.
Mai is wrong, though, and she does see him again. And he's so very different, and yet just the same, and this time she's fifteen years old-nearly grown-up-and she isn't so shy anymore. Before she knows it, he's hers-as Azula always promised, even when Mai gave up-and they're all on their way home to the Fire Nation.
He's kind of a mess now, more than he used to be even, and she actually found that to be a little surprising. He's a mess, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and she finds herself wanting to fix him. It's only when he's back in the Fire Nation, with the sun beating down on him, dressed in reds and golds and not a hint of green anywhere on him that he relaxes.
He always was nervous around her, and that hasn't changed. Mai discovers that she finds it endearing, despite the aptitude for annoying tendencies.
Azula and Ty Lee think she's got everything she wanted. Zuko is back and he's safe and he's hers, and isn't that what she wanted? Well, yes.
But something is missing.
And then one day, an unimportant day, in the middle of a commonplace dinner, surrounded by servants and generals and politicians and very important people that neither of them care a wit for, Zuko turns away from someone he has been making necessarily polite conversation to, locks eyes with Mai, and smiles for the first time since they arrived in the Capital.
(She falls. Again.)
Some people, not many, but some, can recall the exact moment they fell in love for the first time. They are few and far between. There are even fewer who can recall the exact moment they fell in love with the same person-for the second time.
A/N: A little disjointed, a little tense-switch-happy. I hope you like it, though, Blue.
And everyone else, of course. ^-^