Title: Flower from the Ashes Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender Author: devilinthedetails Genre: Romance; Drama; Angst; some Fluff as well. Characters: Mai; Zuko. Author's Note: Written for the "Language of Flowers" Challenge from @Mira_Jade in the Mini Games event. My assigned flower was the protea. Flower from the Ashes “You never tell me your secrets,” Zuko exploded to Mai as they strolled around a path encircling a pond in one of the Royal Palace’s many gardens. Turtle ducks paddled through the water, rippling and ruining what should have been the pond’s placid surface. “You’re one to talk.” Mai made a scoffing noise deep in her throat but kept her face a blank stone from which even an earthbender wouldn’t have been able to shape meaning. She was proud of how little her expression revealed as she watched the turtle ducks begin to squawk among themselves, flapping their wings and ruffling their feathers as if to mirror the human argument occurring around them. The tension of the human world reflected in nature. The garden not a place of refuge from the world and nature, but a confrontation of it, a reminder of its fundamental fractiousness and disharmony. “You don’t share with me the political problems you’re facing—the problems that trouble you until you’re broody and angsty—even though I’ve been raised around politics since I was born and could help you.” “I share my feelings with you, and that’s more than you do with me,” Zuko snapped, tearing a steamed bun and tossing the pieces into the pond. They’d come out here to feed the turtle ducks together, Mai remembered, not to argue, but that had changed like the wind off the ocean with Zuko’s sudden surge of temper. “I never know what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling. You never let me into your mind and your heart, and that hurts, Mai. I don’t even know your favorite flower because you’ve never told me.” She loved him. She thought she’d made that clear in a thousand words and deeds. She’d told him that she didn’t hate him when he remarked that she looked beautiful when she hated the world. She’d saved him from Azula when he escaped from Boiling Rock Prison. She’d warned him to never break up with him again, and his smile when she’d said that could have melted her icy heart if it hadn’t already been melted by his mere presence. She couldn’t find the words to express any of that—her mother’s strict education in manners and the etiquette instruction at the Royal Fire Academy for Girls had focused on how to suppress and conceal emotions rather than express them—so she responded to the smallest, most manageable charge. The one that she believed would be easiest to deflect. “Why would you want to know my favorite type of flower?” Her mother had schooled her in the symbolism of flowers—explaining that it was something a well-bred lady of the Fire Nation would be expected to understand or risk appearing the fool at court—but she couldn’t imagine that would interest Zuko. “It’s the principle.” Zuko scowled. “I think you’re keeping another secret from me.” Mai’s tone was so arch only he would know she was teasing, but only he would ever have to know that she was. He was the only one she ever wanted to tease. She stepped up to stand at the edge of the pond beside him, dropping pieces of her own steamed bun into the waiting mouth of a hungry turtle duck. “My favorite type of flower is the protea flower.” “The protea flower?” Zuko sounded surprised. “Why?” “Because it’s a symbol of courage, determination, and transformation.” Mai gazed into Zuko’s eyes, willing him to understand that she was speaking of him and of their relationship that she hoped would endure through every challenge and overcome every obstacle. “With good reason. It’s a hardy flower that not only grows but thrives in hot, dry soil lacking in vital nutrients. Most impressively, it can even survive wildfires, emerging to flower time and time again from the ashes.” He was looking at her as if he didn’t comprehend her true meaning, so she reached up to stroke his scar. “It’s perseverance in the face of adversity reminds me of you.” “I’m your protea.” Zuko’s arm slipped around her waist, drawing her closer to him as he grinned down at her. “I would never put it in such sickeningly sweet terms.” Mai tilted her head so it rested in the slope where his shoulder met his neck. “You may if it makes you happy.” The next morning, he came to her chambers bearing a vase brimming with pink-and-white protea bulbs. Tucked amidst the flowers was a scroll with careful, curling characters in Zuko’s hand reading: “You are my protea, and I will share all my political problems with you.” The words were simple, but they made her beam with the memory of yesterday and the promise of reconciliation. “Your clumsy romantic sentiments should nauseate me.” She kissed him lingeringly on the lips. “They don’t."