Monday, February 14th, 2011 12:47 pm
Title: Even Ghosts Can Go Mad
Pairing: Mai/Zuko (Implied Zutara)
Rating: PG
Words: 850-ish
Summary: Mai may have died that day at the Boiling Rock, but she never left.
Notes: Here is my decidedly unromantic valentines fic. :D This was prompted by [livejournal.com profile] attackfish  way back in my art prompt meme, and was haunting my hard-drive (HA!). So I decided to give it a quick polish and post (mostly because I sorta hate valentines day).
****



"Because I love Zuko more than I fear you."

Mai's voice came quiet. Quiet but full of steely determination – nearly passionate.

Azula took a step back as if in surprise. Then, the princess' lip curled.

"Then you should have feared me more."

Azula's paired fingers swung in a graceful arc, and Mai thought she heard Ty Lee shriek, "Azula, no! Stop!"

Then Mai's whole world was shattered in bright white heat.

But no pain.

 *****
 

"You're pacing again," Mai intoned, from her seat atop the fine ebony-wood dresser.

Zuko paid her no mind. Hands clasped behind his back, the Fire Lord continued to make his steady, now well-worn path around and around his room.

She let out a heavy sigh. "You don't actually expect to accomplish anything like that, do you?"

Zuko halted mid-step and whipped around, startled, staring right at her. Or rather, through her. Mai looked back, impassively. She'd been through this song and dance too many times to be hopeful. And so, apparently, had Zuko for he resumed his relentless pacing.

Mai sighed again, crossing one long semi-transparent leg over the other.

There was a soft knock at the door and a servant bowed in a young man – bald, with a blue arrow gracing his forehead. The Avatar had grown from the young boy Mai always pictured. He was as tall as Zuko now, with no sign of stopping.

It seemed everyone was growing up, while she remained the same.

The Avatar greeted Zuko with a hand-clasp and a wan smile. "Katara's with Iroh now. She thinks... there might be a chance."

Zuko's shoulders sagged in relief. "Thank you," he said. "I couldn't stand to—to lose him too."

Distantly, Mai wondered if he had ever worried for her this much – if she had ever been in his thoughts at all.

****

The wash of Mai's displeasure flickered the candlelight, washing cold air over the romantic dinner.

The couple hardly noticed, however. Zuko had eyes only for her, and Mai clearly saw how he nervously clasped his hands in his lap. One leg bobbed in a way fit more for an anxious school boy than a Fire Lord.

Then again, the Water Tribe girl always had that affect on him.

"This is not her place. It's mine," Mai whispered as Zuko finally gathered his courage and bent on one knee.

The candles went out all at once as Katara said yes.

 *****

The baby was crying again.

Surely, there were wet-nurses for this sort of thing, servants who were trained to handle a newborn's delicate needs. But the Fire Lady wouldn't hear of it. And neither, apparently, did Zuko.

Mai glided soundlessly at his back as he made his way down the hall to the nursery, hissing, "This was supposed to be my child. My life!"

Zuko stopped at the cradle and bent to pick up the still wailing infant, murmuring in its ear, turning his back upon the rich red curtains which thrashed and twirled as if caught up in a gale.

There was no wind. Nothing but the wailings of an unseen ghost.

                ****

The Avatar's eyes were bright with the power of the Spirit World. They were the most vivid thing Mai had remembered seeing in… since she was alive.

"You can't stay here anymore," he said.

Mai's upper lip curled and a stack of scrolls flew from the Fire Lord's fine writing desk to clatter against the opposite wall.

"This should have been my home," she countered. "I died for him and he didn't care. He never came back for me."

"Zuko moved on," the Avatar corrected gently. "He grieved for you, but he had to follow his path. And so must you."

"NO!"

"Mai," the Avatar said, and gestured to the room. "Look around. You're killing him."

And suddenly it was as if a vale had been lifted from her eyes. She noticed for the first time the broken state of the room – curtains torn and patched from where they had been ripped over and over. No servants dared come to the Fire Lord's quarters anymore to clean. A fine layer of dust had settled upon once gleaming furniture. The Fire Lady and her children long fled for their own safety.

Perhaps it was the way of the dead not to notice such changes.

"Zuko?" she asked, and was ashamed as her voice quavered. She would have never stood for such weakness as a living girl, but that had been a long, long time ago.

"He only wants you to be happy," the Avatar said. He had grown tall and broad, she realized, with laugh wrinkles along the corners of his eyes. "You aren't happy here, Mai."

She hadn't known true happiness in life, either, but had glimpsed fleeting moments of it… with Zuko. Maybe out there, beyond, there would be something better. Maybe in another life, another time... it could be different.

The girl who had become a shade nodded once to the Avatar. And turning, walked from this world into the next.


~Fin~



Monday, February 14th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)

Aww, this was sad. It was good though!

Monday, February 14th, 2011 09:09 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's decidedly unromantic. In a way it's almost poetic, the way that Mai can't leave Zuko even in his death. A little sad towards the end, where she realizes what she has been doing, but eventually she finds peace, and it seems to be implied that he will too. I really liked it.
Monday, February 14th, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness. So sad. SO SAD.

Yet I love this. I'm so adding this to my Memories.

I love the hints given that he was very upset by Mai's passing, but his being able to move on. And how you didn't just outright say, "MAI'S DEAD AND IS A SPIRIT." You showed us instead of telling us. I can see this playing out in my head like some kind of Avatar episode or even a movie. There was true feeling in the piece. Instead of telling us about the rain, you allowed us to feel it for ourselves.
Monday, February 14th, 2011 10:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, oh so very sad, and so very very good. I'm not a fan of Zutara, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment of this story one single bit. It's poignant and beautiful and I loved it.
Monday, February 14th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)
Can I just say that I remembered this prompt from that meme a while ago from your description and I thought "Wait, she's posting THAT? She must hate valentine's day" just as I got to the part where you mention precisely that.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 01:01 am (UTC)
That was the perfect anti-Valentine's day. It's much more in the spirit of the original story-- heartbreakingly sad story with the tiniest bit of sweet to go along with the bitter, as compared to pink hearts and red boxes of chocolates and the ridiculously over-priced roses.

I really like the way that Mai notices the changes in the Avatar more than the differences in everyone else, and how many times light/brightness were important.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 04:12 am (UTC)
MAAAAIII poor, vengeful thing! I like this, even though it's decidedly not pro-Valentine's-y! Also, I LOVE it when people write Aang growing taller than expected :)
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 06:36 am (UTC)
Oh, so sweet and sad. Poor Mai, not noticing the effect she has, poor Zuko, haunted for all those years. This was so good.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 02:45 pm (UTC)
I know I already commented on ff.net, but I thought I would be more eloquent here.

Basically, what is said above me is true. It's romantic in a way that makes one think about the heart, about how things can change and love can be soured. Even though, in the end, Mai's bitterness is suddenly replaced by a sense of shock and shame at what she was doing, in the end, it's that poisoned love that makes her see she really is killing Zuko.

For someone who isn't fond of Mai, I think you wrote her really well here. It's realistic and precise, bittersweet and sorrowful, and the kind of romantic that can be found in the best of fairy tales.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
Pardon the pun, but that was hauntingly beautiful.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
Why do all of these kind of fics just assume Zutara? Wouldn't Ty Luko have been funnier? :D

In any event, nice little tale. Mai works well as a bitter ghost, and Aang's solution was kind of heartwarming.
Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
DAMNIT. Why weren't you in my head when I was writing this? Ty Luko would have been _perfect_.

Ah well. Glad you you liked it! :D
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
I love this fic. It is very atmospheric. But I have to agree... why not Ty Luko (or is it ZuLee? :P) Because I'd think that Ty Lee had far more romantic potential for Zuko than Katara did but maybe it's just me...