Title: Lightning Shows
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Summary: Tonight, we make up our own legends.
Mai didn't notice the master of keys smirking, nor did she mind the kitchen staff giggling. When Li and Lo snickered as she entered her chambers, however, she scowled, her hands on her hips.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
Lo shrugged. "What are you doing here?"
"The princess is in the dungeons," Li observed.
"The circus girl is still in the Earth Kingdom," Lo tacked on.
"So," Li continued, "the only person who needs you here is--"
"Zuko," Mai said.
"Fire Lord Zuko," Lo corrected. "He is the Fire Lord now."
"So?" Mai asked.
Li and Lo circled around her as the exited. "So who are you?" they asked.
Mai frowned as they pulled the doors shut, and then it hit her, right through her ribs.
Fire Lady. She stiffened and pushed the title away. Yeah, right.
Her father's imprisonment, she expected. He hadn't been a general--he relied even less on fire bending than she did--but he had been a strategist of a different sort, a politician and a bureaucrat. He hadn't been cruel, but he hadn't been kind, either.
He clutched her hand when they came to take him to prison; she kissed his cheek, because he was her father, after all. "Be good, Mai-Mai," he whispered, the childhood nickname slipping from him without thought.
"Yes, Father," she said, nodding. The soldiers were only a little rough as they pulled him away.
After they took her father, her mother broke down, and that, Mai didn't expect. Zuko asked the palace healer to tend to her, but Mai tried not to think about it. She tried not to care.
That night, Tom-Tom toddled around Mai's chambers, dragging a stuffed tigerdillo behind him. Mai poked at his plate of cabbage dumplings as she sat in front of the fireplace. "Tom-Tom," she called, "aren't you hungry?"
"Ma," he said, then he tucked his thumb into his mouth.
Mai sighed and patted him on the head. "Sorry." She'd forgotten how to hold babies in general, and this new, walking, squirming Tom-Tom was an altogether alien creature. "Eat something?"
Tom-Tom handed Mai his tigerdillo, then crawled into her lap. "Mai," he named her.
"That's me," Mai said, and she didn't even scowl when he tugged on her hair.
They retained her family estate, and Zuko found her there a week later. He was trailed by a squadron of palace guards and assorted nobility, and he looked almost sheepish in his royal robes. Mai tugged on one of the gold-shot sleeves, her nails catching in the thread.
Zuko waved the royal entourage to the next room, and then they stood in the entrance hall, alone.
"I missed you," he said, a blush heating his cheeks.
"Really, Fire Lord?" she asked, just to watch him twitch. She took pity on him, though, took pity on his restless hands as they clenched and unclenched. She leaned against him, twining their fingers together, and when he shivered, she pressed her lips against the line of his jaw.
Zuko caught his breath as he drew back, and then his arm was wrapping around her waist, pulling her back for a kiss, her tongue darting across his mouth, all cinnamon and saffron.
She gripped the neck of his robe when she finally broke away, her cheek pressing against his throat, then his shoulder, as they both gulped air. "Zuko," she said, "don't you have royal things to do?"
"Yeah," Zuko replied. She looked up at him, and he smiled. "Actually, that's why I'm here."
Mai watched as his blush returned, and with it, her suspicion rose. "Zuko, you aren't here to--"
"Yes," he said. He stepped back and caught her hands in his. "If that's okay with you. I mean, I hope you don't mind. I mean--"
"You're really bad at this," Mai observed.
"That's why I brought one of the court poets," Zuko said. He turned to the room where the guards waited. "It's supposed to be part of a ceremony, so maybe we should call--"
Mai tugged him back. "Later," she said. "We can do the poetry later."
Zuko swallowed. "Okay." He bit his lip. "Okay."
"Zuko," Mai said.
"Would you marry me?" Zuko blurted out.
Mai laughed. "I--"
"It wouldn't be for a while," he interrupted, "and it wouldn't be a festival like, well, like my mother and father had. But the court astrologer said there was something about alignment and we should do it soon, or otherwise we'll be starting the rebuilding after the rains, and Uncle Iroh thought that might not be appropriate--"
Mai thumped Zuko in the stomach. Just a little.
He wheezed for a minute, and she stroked a hand over his cheek.
"Zuko?" she said.
It was flattering that he looked so surprised, and then so pleased. "Really?"
Mai looped an arm around his. "Probably." They started walking, following the palace coterie. "I'll have to hear the poem first."
The wedding was somber, in respect to everything from the impoverished royal coffers, to the stern faces of visiting dignitaries, to the strained, recently stripped fisheries, but Mai had never been one for fireworks and feast before, and she didn't see the need to make a fuss about them now.
Her wedding robes were pristine, though not ornate, with dragons stiched into the hem in silver thread. Her mother had roused out of her gloom long enough to fasten copper combs into Mai's hair, and loop gold bobs over her ears.
"Thank you, Mother," Mai whispered, the powder on her face making her skin feel stiff.
Her mother looked at her, a fleet and long-missed smile flashing bright. Then Ty Lee threw her arms around both of them, and Mai thought this was better, and less terrifying, than fireworks.
The priests' song wove through the ceremony itself, an atonal chant Mai didn't remember. The Avatar presented the cup to them, a sunny grin splitting his face, and his feet hovering a distinct measure above the floor.
"Show-off," Zuko muttered as he took the cup.
Mai laughed aloud, and when the priest startled, Zuko laughed, as well.
The Avatar flipped over in the air, and above them, water, fire, and a string of jet pebbles arched, and Mai realized this ritual hadn't been sung since before the war began.
"Mai," Zuko said, his voice pulling her into the present. She looked up at his widened eyes, and then to his hands before her. She took the cup from his grasp, and sealed their vows with her sip.
A/N: Title and summary adapted from Fatima Lim-Wilson's The Beginning of Things. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.
Originally posted here.