Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The Orange Flame
Dreams. They were normal. They occur in us human beings every day. But in Mai's situation, dreams (or should I say, haunting ones) were rare. The figure was still. Completely still. So still that for once, Mai was apprehensive of the stillness itself, a feeling she had never endured in her entire lifetime.
There were flames…flames everywhere. They were dancing around the silhouette, which moved in a fluid motion and gracefully tackled the air with flying cinders and extending harmonies of flames. The spotlight shone only on the silhouette, which seemed so familiar to her. But there was only one thing that reminded her of someone she always wanted to forget.
There were cackles. They came again and again and finally subsided, but the figure continued the bending sequence, raging on through the Dance of the Dragons. Suddenly, the familiar figure held its arm out towards her. She saw its eyes. And she was swept away. What was it that made them so familiar? Just as she was about to take the figure's hand, she shot her eyes open. She didn't gasp. She didn't pant. She didn't think over her dream. She frowned. She stared daggers at the ceiling. And she did the unexpected…she trembled. After a long while, the fire princess had returned to haunt her sleep.
"This looks very pretty on you, Mai!"
The soon-to-be Fire Lady hardened her hues in disgust as she stood before the mirror and contemplated Ty Lee's words. It was a very unusual experience for her, especially when she glared at her reflection with a cold stare. The mirror itself seemed to be surprised to see her this way, despite the fact that it was the day of her wedding with Firelord Zuko. Surrounded by approving glances and squeals of delight from the female members of "Team Avatar", she took a long look at her attire. From the advice received from the Kyoshi warrior to even the toughest of earthbending prodigies, she didn't find anything convincing so far.
Her impatient expression was adorned with heavy makeup, ranging from dark eyelashes to crimson painted lips. Her cheeks tinted with radiance unable to compare to those of a porcelain doll. She was wearing a long wedding dress embroidered with crimson pearls and luxurious amber gemstones. A tinge or gold glistened throughout the silk fabric, encasing her jewelry. All was very elegant and fitting to be consisting of royal authority, but the longing of simplicity shone desperately among her eyes.
Despite such preparations for her wedding, she craved to have her own choice. There was only one thing, if not everything, that truly bothered the bride...her skirt and veil draperies were both orange. Pure, brilliant orange barely giving way to a mixture of mahogany red.
"I guess." She muttered under her breath.
"It looks very nice on you." Mai's mother interjected. "This is one of the most exquisite of dresses in the entire Fire Nation. It was made from the finest tailors in the country."
"I think orange is a cute color." Ty Lee said. "Even though my aura prefers pink."
"It's also made from emeralds and the best of other precious stones." Suki added.
"Are you serious?" Mai asked nonchalantly, earning a stiffled snort from Toph in the process. "Do you even realize that I look awful in this?"
Katara smiled encouragingly. "Mai, there's nothing to be self-conscious about. You look very beautiful."
"I agree with Sweetness." Toph said. "Your heartbeat is going crazy."
"I am not self-conscious. The color is just...ugh!" Mai answered in a flustered manner.
"The fiery orange color represents commitment in the marriage." Her mother said sternly. "It is an ancient Fire Nation custom, originating even before Avatar Roku's time. Not to mention it has been in the family for several generations to be passed down. It's now yours, and you should be proud of it."
"Right." Mai said sarcastically. "Like we actually need a certain color to represent commitment in marriage. Is this thing even washed?"
The earthbender nearly choked on another vivacious giggle as Mai's mother sighed. "It's your wedding day, dear. Please be happy. We can't say no to tradition."
There was an awkward pause as Mai continued to narrow her eyes at the wedding dress she wore. Her arms were crossed in an irritant fashion. Although she hated the color orange to the core, she knew she didn't have the heart to neither disobey her mother nor accept something so…frustrating. She sighed again with boredom as her mother left the room, exchanging a silent glance with the others.
"Well, now you all know I'm not the best person to rely on during your weddings." She said.
"But we all know Zuko will be pleased." Suki said, smiling. And poor Mai could only blush.
The Fire Nation palace was filled with bustling activity. From decorative pillars to feast arrangements, there was not a single obligation was left out in the list of things to do. Every servant was kept occupied, whether it was attending to guests or straightening up anything out of order. And of course, the inscrutable feeling of worry sparked in Mai's midnight orbs when she knelt before the palace pond, still staring at her reflection.
Just the thought of finally becoming Zuko's wife left her thinking in endless directions. She was happy, and she already expected herself to be happy. She was marrying the man she loved. She was getting the opportunity to relive the childhood memories she had shared with him right near this very pond. It was just the color of orange she clearly despised. She may not be the liveliest person in the world, but she was still a woman.
"It took me forever to find you."
A sudden splash of the water jolted her out of her musings. She noticed the image of her fiancé rippling within the reflection of the pond, the steadiness interrupted by the small pieces of bread floating towards a group of approaching turtle ducks. She turned to face Zuko, whose facial expression displayed an aspect of frustration and nervousness. A small smile spread across her face.
The former fire prince, although as stressed and angered as he was from all the pandemonium, smiled back. His robe was slightly rumpled, as if he had fiddled with it infinite amount of times. His hair also seemed to be a mess. But overall, the Firelord looked as if he was only glad to see her here and escape the nervousness of what would take place very soon.
"Is the mighty Firelord nervous?" she asked, amused.
He stiffened. "No. Why would I?" he stated.
He knelt next to her and accompanied his bride with a light peck on her lips. He seemed taken aback for a moment, as if studying her expression and finding it undecipherable to compare it with her dress. Of course she looked gorgeous, but even he couldn't hide his chuckle when he realized she was wearing the color she hated most. What was most ironic was that the Fire Lady hated the color of true flame.
"Someone looks beautiful."
She frowned again. "Like I actually feel that way."
Zuko continued to laugh from the irony, for once avoiding seriousness. "I can see that."
Mai didn't return the firebender's laugh. This was something incomprehensible for anyone to understand. This was not some kind of party. This was the most important day of her life, whether she seemed that way or not. It wasn't like she was one of those girls who dreamed of perfect weddings all the time. Still, why wear the ugliest color on wedding day?
"Orange really is the most awful color." She admitted. "It's too bright and reflective. It doesn't suit me at all."
He shrugged. "I just don't know why you hate orange so much."
"I just do…It's not my kind of color. Plus, it reminds me of her."
Silence overcame them as he realized that "her" meant Azula. Zuko never really went in depth with his girlfriend's former friendship with his sister. But even he knew that it was something that Mai never wanted to talk about. Why, he had been with her since his childhood. Why would he hesitate to realize her discomforts?
Mai hated everything that controlled her. From her parents' neglectance to the world's oblivious nature in general, she despised anything that took advantage of her needs and wants. Whether directly or indirectly, there were so many things in this world that prevented her from expressing herself…everything except Zuko. When she was with him, she forgot her insecure lifestyle and focused on him and his smile-provoking words. She felt like she could relive her life just the way she wanted to when she was with him.
He moved forward, firmly wrapping his arm around her. "I may not be good with advice like Uncle, but I can definitely say that she's not in our lives anymore."
She nodded, still containing that subtly defined frown. The Firelord placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "You know, as much as you hate it, it looks really good on you."
Mai leaned on his shoulder, her arms hugging him and her head lying on his chest. For a moment, she felt realization spark within her as she studied his heartbeat. The imagined the many moments she spent with him. The images of flames roamed in her mind, leading her to reminiscing over his firebending.
She could feel the dream coming back to her mind. The silhouette figure, the bending sequence, the familiar golden eyes. But she didn't need another moment to waste in order to figure out the mystery owner of the silhouette and the flames. Besides, it was Zuko's flame that was orange, not Azula's. The silhouette's eyes exposed the final secret, and the Fire Lady finally relaxed to see that it was her boyfriend in the first place. And for the first time in her life, she gained the opportunity to describe Zuko's personality through color. And that color turned out to be orange.
She sighed. "Whatever. As long as you don't hate me again."
"I never hated you. And I never will. I'm not the idiot I was back then." He assured her. "Trust me on that."
"Yeah…but whatever happens, you're my idiot." She teased. And with that, she closed her eyes briefly and buried her head on his shoulder, laughing and savoring the last of their moments together before the marriage.
There was a pause of intensity as the moment of truth unfolded before the four nations. The two lovers found themselves staring into the other's eyes with trust and passion. The Firelord saw himself conducting an unusually mischievous grin. He grasped Fire Lady Mai's veil drapery and lifted it to reveal her face. The palace roared with applause as the couple smiled and faced the world. He squeezed her palms with reassurance, enthusiastically claiming the first few moments he would spend with his wife.
"I guess orange isn't so bad anymore." Mai whispered at once.
Zuko raised his eyebrows. Somewhere within his smile, however, there was an undiscovered radiance. "But I thought you said orange was the most awful color."
"It is." She retorted with a fixed expression while trying to hide her smile. She softened her gaze and directly made eye contact. "But I like it anyway."
And although it was too subtle to notice, there was a twinkle in the Firelord's eyes.