Iron Will (2017-08-17)

A/N: More of that Fire Nation!Tetsuki AU

Perhaps, if it was just the three of them, it wouldn’t have worked. Azula’s abrasiveness and Mai’s negativity and Ty Lee’s desperate, failing attempts to hold them together dissolving with every passing snide and dark remark.

But you are there.

And you are not quite sure what you bring to the group, what missing component it is that you intrinsically have and contribute that makes it work so beautifully, but it does.

And instead of just drifting apart, only coming together when the Fire Lord sends Azula on her mission, bonds long frayed and ready to snap, leaving is deliberate. Is a choice. Is just the first step in a plan to make sure that when the time comes, the four of you will be stronger than ever.

///

For a while, you serve in the court as Azula’s attendant. Which seems like basically a glorified servant, but which your grandparents are ecstatic about–what an honor, they exclaim, their halfbreed heiress getting so close to royalty.

It works, for a while. You learn some things: what games are played amongst high society, political dealings and tangled schemes, and the power of below the stairs rumors, the lifeblood of the court.

But it’s not enough.

“I’ll become useless to you,” you say to Azula one night, after you’ve reported the most important secrets to her. You’ve seen her use even the most innocuous misconduct to bust a would be captain down to helmsman.

Your reports help, but they’re not vital.

“As useless as a pampered, pedigree catowl,” you finish, because this has been on your mind for a while and better to admit it now while you still have the self-awareness to do so than to have it thrown in your face months later.

“I’ve never know you to be a coward,” Azula responds, pausing mid brush and staring down your reflection, “If you want to leave me, you can just say so.”

I’m not leaving you, you don’t say. I could never leave you, you definitely don’t say.

“You don’t need me here,” you say, instead, because that is safer, “But one day you will and I need to know that I won’t be the anchor dragging you down when that happens.”

One month, she demands, doesn’t ask, and you are both relieved and disappointed; still, you take the time you are given and prepare.

Azula’s enemies are not here. Or, at least, not any that are a real threat to her, they’re out traveling the the world.

You need to do the same.

///

Zuko was always going to be a problem.

You knew this even before you noticed Mai’s persistent crush on him, the blatant way the Dragon of the West preferred him over Azula.

Before the Agni Kai.

“He’s incompetent,” Azula scoffs, dismissing the notion, “and soft.”

And normally that would be enough to convince you, but this is for Azula and for her, you are tenacious.

“It doesn’t matter that he’s not as skilled or smart or even if he wanted to be a tea server in Ba Sing Se! He is still the firstborn, and male at that, there will always be members of the court who would rather see him succeed your father than you.”

There are still whispers of discontent, after all, thinking Iroh ought to be restored to his rightful place over Ozai.

You will not have the same happen to Azula.

///

When you leave, Azula gifts you with a houndsnake. Its black and green diamond patterned fur is beautiful, of course, but you appreciate its sharp fangs and paralytic venom sacs far more.

And the way that, after a curious sniff and lick, it coils around your shoulders placid and ready to strike anyone who comes too close.

There’s one unfortunate cretin who will be spending the next week in the hospital for daring to assault the attendant of the princess–never mind that it’s her last day.

Houndsnakes are not native to the Fire Nation archipelago, nor are they a common creature in pet stores.

They are loyal and dangerous and not at all useless.

It is the nicest compliment Azula has ever given you.

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