Her face was contorted with a disgruntled expression, her eyes filled to the brim with boredom. The chair she was sitting in was stiff and uncomfortable; the people sitting around her were old and snooty. Gossip filled the air as noblemen and the wives of the noblemen chatted away.
“Did you hear about Princess Azula? She ran off to the circus with a contortionist!”
Mai would have laughed at this comment, had she not been raised with such high emotional restrictions. Princess Azula did not run off to the circus with a contortionist, but merely went to the circus to drag Ty Lee away once more. The things wealthy women said these days.
“Did you hear about Prince Zuko?” Mai perked up at the sound of his name.
“No, what did he do?”
“It’s not what he did, it’s what he has to do.”
“Apparently the Fire Lord is insisting that he find wife, and soon.”
“So that’s why Lord Iroh held this party,"
“Yes, he’s hoping that Prince Zuko will choose his wife tonight."
“I should find my cousin, from the Colonies. I believe he and his daughter- who is of marrying age- are here,”
“Well, you better hope she’s pretty enough.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Prince Zuko has turned down every woman brought to him!”
The nobleman wife with the cousin in the Colonies stared at her, presumably having the thought that Mai knew why.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment,” Mai said, getting up from her chair, “I need to, er, freshen up.” Her mother, who had been sitting next to her listening intently at the conversation, nodded blankly.
Leaving the vast ballroom, and turning the corner to the washrooms, Mai found herself sitting on the ground across from another person.
“Prince Zuko,” She replied, getting up and smoothing her robe. She noticed a necklace in his hand, a red jewel in the middle. It was a faintly familiar piece of jewelry- she recalled seeing it on one person quite some time ago.
“So, who have you chosen?”
“What- oh, the betrothal necklace. No one, yet.” Zuko replied awkwardly.
Of course- Mai recognized it now. It was his mother’s necklace; the one Fire Lord Ojai had given her when he proposed. It must be a Royal tradition.
“I’m sure you’ll find someone,” Mai replied mildly irritated with both him and the situation.
“Well, Uncle is trying to introduce me to every girl of marrying age at this party.” Zuko said, smiling weakly.
Mai, too, forced a smile upon her face and nodded her head, preparing to turn back around.
She looked at him, slightly exasperated.
“Please don’t make me go back in there.”
"What? Are all the women you have met so far dreadfully boring?" Mai asked, sarcasm dripping off the ends of her words. "Are you afraid that the rest of them will be just as bad?"
"No." He muttered.
"Then how do you suppose I help keep you away from going back into the ballroom to meet more women?"
"You could wear the necklace,"
Mai sighed. "If I were to do that, it would impose that we were getting married."
"Yes, as a matter of fact it would." Zuko said, almost slyly.
"And I would have to want to marry you." Mai replied, a certain dryness in her voice.
The prince closed his mouth, his face turning a deep shade of red in foolishness. Apparently he couldn’t be as suave as the Avatar.
“Zuko, you left a clichéd note on my bed when you left to join the Avatar. When you returned a month later, you thwarted your father. Two more months after that, we stand here.”
He opened his mouth again to say something, but was hesitant. “I’m … sorry?” Zuko was slightly shocked to see Mai acting like Azula. Yes, she was apathetic, but never was she really like this.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, my mother is waiting.” Mai said, turning to stride past him.
The prince, however, did not want to excuse her, and took hold of her arm.
“I’ll be needing that.”
“Wear the necklace,”
“Please let go of my arm!”
“I love you.”
Mai stopped struggling to lose hold of his grip.
Zuko smiled. The Avatar my have the ability to bend all four elements and swoon a girl two years older than him, but he probably couldn’t get an angered, impassive girl to stop in her tracks and blush fervently.
“Let go of my arm.” Mai said, ignoring the burning in her face.
“Do you love me?” Zuko asked, trying to think of what the Avatar would say in this situation.
“Let go of my arm,” Mai repeated irritably.
“Answer my question,”
She kicked his shin with the heel of her shoe. The prince yelped in pain and immediately let go of her arm.
Smirking, Mai backed away and watched intently as he tended to the red mark on his left leg.
“I take it you’ve been learning from Azula while I was gone.” Zuko said harshly.
“I had nothing better to do. Besides, I’m sure Fire Bending wasn’t all you and the Avatar did. There’s no way you could be this charismatic on your own.” Mai replied hotly.
Regaining himself from his anger, Zuko spoke. “May I ask why you won’t wear the necklace?”
“Honestly are you that stupid?” She asked, receiving a confused look in return. “Zuko, I am only fifteen.”
“And I just turned seventeen. But what does age have to do with this?” He questioned, befuddlement still written all over his face.
“I won’t be of marrying age for another three months!”
“Then in three month we shall get married,” Zuko said matter-of-factly.
Mai groaned in exasperation. “But the necklace, Zuko. I still can’t wear it.” How does it come to be that the Prince of the Fire Nation, soon to be Fire Lord, doesn’t even know the rules of marriage for his own nation?
She turned on her heel to walk away, until he spoke once more.
“As prince of this nation, I say, may the rules be damned!”
Whirling back around to look at him, Mai gasped. No one of royalty- not even nobility- should ever utter such a word as the last one emitted from Zuko’s mouth. Words such as the one Zuko said were only spoken amongst peasants and those unfortunate enough to have been engulfed by Dragon Whisky.
Ignoring the fact that he had just used such a lowly word, the prince continued. “I say wear the necklace, and forget what the rules say.”
“The Avatar must have taught you a lot,” Mai said, trying to excuse what Zuko was saying.
He didn’t reply, but instead walked over to Mai and quickly clasped the jewelry around her neck. She slapped his hand away, but he alternatively persisted on keeping it where it was, in order to make sure the necklace remained clasped.
The red jewel stuck out awkwardly against her pale skin and black clothing. It, however, matched the color of her face and the color of Zuko’s hand where Mai had tried to remove it from her neck.
Wordlessly, Mai walked past Zuko and back through the doors to the ballroom. His newfound suaveness and charisma had broken her barrier- that had hardened in their time apart, many thanks to a certain cruel princess.
She sat back down in the stiff chair next to her mother, the snooty noblemen wives still gossiping. A disgruntled expression came back to her face, and boredom filled her eyes once more.
“I heard the Avatar’s best friend often wears dresses and makeup!” The lady with the cousin from the Colonies said.
The two women stopped talking, howbeit, when they noticed Mai had returned to the table. Their eyes widened and they stared in disbelief at the necklace around Mai’s neck.
“Lyla, how old is your daughter?” The other woman asked, mildly suspicious of some sort of scandal happening.
Mai’s mother awoke from her listening trance, but didn’t respond in time.
“I am fifteen years of age.” Mai answered in her usual monotone of a voice. “Why do you ask?”
The two women gasped. “But you’re wearing the royal betrothal necklace! How can that be when you’re only fifteen?”
“Prince Zuko and his charisma have a sudden dislike for rules.”