Hey folks another new post from me to you, hope you enjoy. For those interested a few details such as pairings and the like will be found at the Author's Note at the bottom of the chapter.
Heads up, this is a multi-cross story with the main focus being Naruto and Avatar the Last Airbender. That being said most of these crossovers are simply using characters as I hate using OC's. You'll see them as the story progresses more.
Last note before getting to the story, for those interested I am part of a community on discord that is always looking for new members. Hosted by AizenTheGoat a link can be found here → /pdGZjn9h
On to the story then.
The most basic fact of life is that it is based on force. From the moment a person was born their life, no matter how they tried to ignore the natural driving factor, was centered around force. Even the fact of birth itself wasn't free of that basic fact. What person chose to be given life? Not one. They were each and every one of them forced into it.
That was the reality that the bastard child of Iroh, the Dragon of the West, was forced to contend with for as long as he could remember. His earliest days weren't filled with palaces and finery like that of his half-brother and cousins. Instead it was filled with army camps, marching boots, men and women barking commands over the heads of a force of soldiers continuously on the move.
Naruto had lived his whole life surrounded by the reality of life. Force, Power, Strength, Determination. Endurance above all. That was life. When he was four and his mother died, cold and alone in the camp and suddenly a man and older boy came to take him away from there he almost wept. Not for the mother he hardly knew. She'd been too busy with her own battles to raise him herself, leaving it to servants and slaves, but for the camp. For the world he understood.
It was like his heart knew instinctively he was being taken to a place he would despise. The capital. More specifically the Royal Palace of the Fire Nation.
The time he spent there changed him. Made him stronger in a different way. Even as a little child he could see the same facts of life he knew being simply utilized in a more veiled fashion. Even among his so called family he came to understand force better than he likely would have on the battlefield. It was not always who was the most powerful fighter that had the most power.
The truth of life was Force and Power, and Consequences from the exertion of Force and Power. Anything else was simply added dressing to pretty up the experience. It was a morbid set of thoughts, but as his father all but ignored him now that he was 'safe' in the care of his aunt and uncle, and his brother had no interest in him to begin with, Naruto began to realize his place in life was one that was lesser than who he was surrounded by.
By all accounts he was no prince. Iroh acknowledged him as his son, but not an heir, even after Lu Ten. He was less than his younger cousins. His station in life was nothing. He was not a servant but not noble. He was not heir to the throne but not of common birth. An outsider. An afterthought.
It wasn't until he was ten did he realize that perhaps being an afterthought among most around him was useful. It allowed him to realize that despite Force being the most basic factor of life, the second most basic was Choice. Even a slave had a choice if they were willing to suffer the consequences. Even a Prince's bastard had a choice if he was willing to face the risks.
So Naruto took to training. Breaking himself, by his own choice to make himself something. The only two he connected with, Zuko and Azula joining him. Never comparing to him though. It brought a sense of pleasure to him to see the distaste on Ozai's face as his attempt at creating superior children by marrying the descendant of an Avatar fell flat in comparison to a boy born of his brother and a low level captain. The second prince couldn't bear it and often stayed far away from his children and Naruto as Ursa, Ozai's wife, watched over them.
Naruto also took pleasure in the look of interest from the Fire Lord Azulon as well. Unintentionally it seemed, Naruto had begun to actually become something. No longer the afterthought he had been born and reared as. Just as unintentionally Naruto acquired his first friends. Or rather realized he had friends in his cousins.
Zuko was decent enough company when he wanted to be. Naruto had grown to take a rather easy going outlook on life, simply believing a person made a decision and had to live with it. So he simply chose to be genial to people around him, even friendly. It seemed better, more useful, than being bitter and resentful. Zuko however was different. He shied away from his own decisions and his own consequences. Something that irritated Naruto as well as his closest friend. Azula.
Azula was Zuko's younger sister and despite the age gap, Naruto's closest friend. He wasn't sure how it happened honestly. Perhaps it was because he was the only one that had been there when Ozai pushed her too hard in training, or when Ursa focused on her emotionally open first born. Whatever the reason, Azula adored Naruto. He similarly adored her. She modeled herself after him at times, though she also took plenty from her father whom she also idolized. It left her an odd mix of cold and even cruel to those she disliked or simply didn't care for but extremely loving to her closest ones.
As time progressed things in the palace eventually changed. The shift was sudden and violent. A simple message it felt had changed everything. A single letter and suddenly Naruto was an only child, Iroh was disgraced and returned after abandoning the greatest siege in history, and Azulon was dead. Ozai sat on the throne of the Fire Lord.
In the few weeks before his father's return, things grew extremely tense for Naruto. Ozai had little care for him but still considered him as a blemish on the Royal Family. Ursa was gone, one of her last acts being to practically break her own daughter without even knowing it. Simply calling Azula a monster in the making while arguing with Ozai had ruined any remaining relationship the two could have had. Not that it mattered now with Ursa missing and Ozai on the throne.
Naruto stayed away from attention as best as possible. Zuko had become little more than an irritating, snivelling, whiner since his mother's disappearance. So Naruto simply avoided the boy. Azula on the other hand had begun acting almost as Naruto's eyes and ears throughout the palace, and by extension her two little friends Mai and Ty Lee. He admitted to feeling like he was using her to her face and Azula had giggled saying that if he was using her she didn't mind and that it was better if he was using her than someone else. That Naruto had to agree with completely.
Still it made him realize that he wasn't the only one who realized how unsafe this palace and the capital itself was. Azula truly understood him better than any other member of their family could.
When Iroh finally returned, he actually spent time with Naruto. He was warm and kind and suffocating. It took two weeks before he realized he was nothing more to the old man than a shadow. Overcast entirely by Lu Ten he would never be anything but a replacement to the man for his only true born son and it burned worse than any injury he had acquired while training.
Naruto wasn't sure what drove him to it. Maybe a simple childish need to act out. Maybe simply because he wanted his father to prove to him he actually saw him, Naruto, and not an echo of the dead boy on the other side of the world. Either way, a few punishments that meant nothing, a night without dinner. Being grounded to his now lavish quarters. Nothing.
That is until the true punishment came. Silence. Simply being looked over once again. A sick twisting sense of comfort in the return to normalcy mixed with the bitter realization that he had been so easily replaced settled into his stomach. Iroh comforted Zuko as best he could. Iroh forgot Naruto as best he could as well.
So Naruto did the same. He ignored his father to his best ability. The deep sighs he got in response to his short answers when forced to interact simply drove him further away faster. Once more, the only ones Naruto could be close to were Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee. The four of them playing as children, and Naruto slowly pulling the one person that understood him best away from her father that was just like his own. Only looking for a puppet.
For the next several months things fell into this new cycle of normal. Iroh would greet Naruto in the mornings, Naruto would greet him back and they wouldn't speak to each other again all day. Naruto never noticed that Iroh easily made out the cold looks he would shoot the man out of the corner of his eye. Naruto would spend the day either training alongside Azula or simply enjoying time with Azula and her friends. Then Naruto would have a brief interaction with Fire Lord Ozai as he returned a tired Azula to her quarters. Ozai would nod at him with a strange look in his eyes and Naruto would return to his own quarters never bothering to check to see if his lazy and slowly fattening father was even within his own. The next day he'd simply awake and do it again.
Eventually though that routine changed. It seemed that Iroh had enough of the cold relations with his son and had collared him into a large breakfast. Naruto had tried to make excuses and slip out of the occasion, he could already tell he wasn't about to enjoy whatever conversation his father had in mind. Unfortunately for him Iroh was especially determined to talk and he couldn't escape the man's clutches.
Naruto practically steamed in agitation as he sat silently across from his father. The General gorged himself on the various breakfast foods while Naruto had finished eating a hearty helping already. They hadn't even spoken since sitting down to the meal and Naruto had hoped to work with Azula on a specific move set today that she was struggling with. Well not so much struggling with it as she was the queen of all perfectionists and wanted to not just master the move but refine it to a point no one else could achieve. Not even he could.
"Why am I here?" Naruto asked finally, his short fuse getting the better of him. Iroh sighed at Naruto as if he had failed some sort of test.
"To eat breakfast of course." Iroh replied.
"I have eaten breakfast. I have training to do with Azula." Naruto said as he began to stand only for a frosty look to appear in the general's eyes and freeze him in place.
"It is rude to leave the table of a superior without being given permission, Naruto. You should always retain your etiquette even among family." He said while plucking a small fruit off his plate and popping it into his mouth.
"Very well, may I be excused from the table. I would like to go and train with Princess Azula." Naruto said stiffly.
"You may not, we have matters to talk about." Iroh replied coolly, never looking up from the food spread before him.
"Would you at least tell me what it is you want to talk about?" Naruto forced out rigidly, barely managing not to growl at his father's games.
"Yes, your upcoming trip." Iroh simply said, finally looking up to his son to see confusion spread across the boy's face.
"Trip?" Naruto asked. "I didn't request to go anywhere. Where did you hear I was going away?"
"Oh I didn't hear it, I said it." Iroh replied now focused entirely on his son.
"You…what? You're sending me off? Why?" Naruto's temper flared back up now that his confusion was turning to indignation.
"The palace is not a good place for you-" Iroh began to explain only to inwardly cringe at his own words when he saw his son's eyes widen in outrage. The boy all but snarled at his father.
"I see, it is unbecoming of you to keep your dirty laundry for all to see. Where am I going, General? Some far off little village to become a farmer, or maybe to the colonies under a fake name so I can't taint your honor any further." Naruto growled.
Iroh sighed once more, what Naruto said was fair. It did seem that way, not that Iroh truly cared what people thought about him having an illegitimate son. The boy's mother had been golden haired and a true follower of Agni like himself. She had understood him even if they hadn't loved one another. Everything Naruto said though, it was how other nobles handled their 'mistakes' in the form of bastard children. Hidden away or cast aside to minimize the stain they could leave on their honor.
"Naruto I-" Iroh began but seeing the look in his eyes, one he recalled a lifetime ago on a much younger face in the mirror.
"No, I'll be sending you where I trained prior to joining the officer corps of the Army. You're going to the same place where I became the Dragon of the West" Iroh calmly explained.
That brought his son up short. He wanted that opportunity but he also didn't want to leave the palace. The few friends and people he knew cared about him were here. Not to mention he had no way of knowing when it was he could come back home. He hadn't really thought of it that way but the palace of the Fire Lord had become his home sometime and he realized he would miss it, or rather who lived here with him.
"How long?" He asked as he stood fully ready to end the conversation. He knew he had no choice in the matter so he wouldn't bother to argue anymore.
"As long as it takes. As long as you take." Iroh said as Naruto grunted in annoyance at the vague answer and swept out of the room.
Azula had not taken the news well. He hadn't expected her too, but it was still nice to have someone furious like he was at his father's decision. After a brief but very intense training session she had demanded he return as soon as possible and that he come back much stronger or she would have to tutor him herself when he returned. He mostly laughed her off. He was stronger than her after all and she had just gotten a reminder of that fact immediately prior.
When it came time to see him off though, she had made sure to catch him away from everyone. Not even Mai and Ty Lee had been included as she tightly held onto him and cried into his chest. Naruto was a bit startled by her acting in such a way but simply comforted her to the best of his ability. They understood each other better than anyone else could.
"I'll be back as soon as I can Azula, you know I will." He softly said as he rubbed her back and held her close in a hug.
"I'll be all alone while you're gone, Naruto." She cried quietly.
"Not quite, Ty Lee adores you Azula. Keep her close and give her the same love you give me. She'll be loyal as long as you do and you'll never have to be alone." Naruto said.
"What about Mai and Zuko?" She asked.
"Some people, Azula, you have to be careful around even if you care for them. Don't hate them or throw them away but, they aren't like us and they aren't like Ty Lee either." Naruto said. He had his own issues and reasons to dislike Zuko, but he wouldn't let his bias influence Azula's relationship with her brother.
"Okay." She replied not fully understanding what he meant. Still she'd do as he asked. After all, Naruto was the only one that liked Azula for Azula. Well him and Ty Lee.
"I have to go, so hold down the fort till I get back. Get strong too so we can spar then." Naruto said as he kissed her head and separated.
Most of the royal household saw him off. Iroh, Zuko, and Ursa stood together. Mai was near to them as well while Ty Lee and Azula stood away from them. Naruto couldn't help but feel relieved Ozai wasn't present. The man sparked something within him. Like a warning bell. Naruto watched the docks and continued till the ship had sailed far enough that the whole of the island had disappeared from view.
He wouldn't return for two years, and much like his father had wished he would be a changed person. Unfortunately for Iroh, Naruto's changes would not be what he desired. He would return emboldened and more ambitious than before. Changed indeed, from someone who simply wished to be considered worthwhile and of value, to someone who wished to stand atop his own destiny and have a hand in the fate of the world.
Naruto's return was met with even less fanfare than his departure. The only ones there to greet him were his father, Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai. Even then Iroh was needed for a war meeting. It seemed that though he didn't serve as a field commander any longer he still weighed in on the overarching strategy of the war. So soon they set back into a routine at the palace with Naruto having rejoined the family.
Soon enough it was just him and Azula once again as she filled him in on things from around the palace. Iroh and Zuko had grown much closer, and the crown prince had taken to begging his father and uncle to attend the strategy meetings. Something Naruto found humorous, Zuko wasn't what he considered officer material, but maybe seeing the actual leaders of their war effort at work he would change.
"I should also be trying to begin my career with the military soon. I'm no use to anyone around here." Naruto said as he walked with Azula through the expansive halls of the palace. She'd grown in the last two years he was away and so had he. Naruto was two years older than Azula but was already tall for his age at fourteen.
"That's not true. You just got back. If you run off to fight, I can't come with you for two more years." Azula said, giving him a putty look causing him to snort slightly.
"I'll talk to my father tonight about joining, Azula you're a princess, things are different for you than me. I have to prove myself. Even if I'm a bender." Naruto said.
"I have to prove myself to my father almost every week. He's testing me on my bending all the time. I know what you mean." She tried.
"You know better than Zuko. He just whines to my father or the servants enough and he gets whatever, you have to work for it. That's true but it's still a bit different, I know you are just being difficult because you don't want me to go away again."
"Well I don't." She crossed her arms getting the older boy to laugh and pull her in for a surprise hug breaking her walls down and causing her to giggle as well.
They continued like that for some time. Close to one another just enjoying the presence of the other. Sadly Azula's smile slowly fell off her face. She really didn't want him to go. The last two years had been hard on her. Thoughts of her mother's words haunted her. She didn't want to be a monster. At least not to her family. She just wanted their attention and love.
Naruto had been right about Ty Lee, thankfully. Without the acrobatic girl to ground her, Azula was sure she would have started losing herself. Instead Azula had taken a chance to tell her about what happened with her mother and she had been shocked for the bubbly girl to become furious at the mere thought. The only other one she had seen react to her mother's words like that had been Naruto. Not even her father had disputed Ursa's claim that she was becoming a monster.
From that moment on Ty Lee had become her closest friend and confidant. Barring Naruto once he returned of course. Initially She had planned on trying to bridge the gap with Zuko and talk with Mai as well. However if Naruto had hit the nail on the head with Ty Lee, who was to say he wouldn't with them as well. So she did her best to show her love for them, but it grew harder every day. It didn't help that Mai had very obviously developed a crush on Zuko and Azula's elder brother was far too caught up in himself to care.
She was waiting for the chance to tell her 'I told you so.'
"You'll be safe right? And write to me?" She asked, mentally kicking herself for sounding so weak. She wanted Naruto to always see her as strong and capable, not longing after his return like some sort of….well princess.
"Of course. Who else would I write too?" He teased.
"Well, you do write to someone now." She said remembering he was sending letters off somewhere since his return.
"Ah, yeah, Should have known you'd notice that. Those are going to where I trained the last two years. Trust me, I will take you there sometime, I think you'll blow them out of the water. Plus the person I'm writing too reminds me of you and Ty Lee. Like a mixture of the two of you. You'd really get along." Naruto explained himself.
His words piqued her curiosity. She wasn't particularly interested in going out and making lots of friends like some people her age, but she was interested in meeting someone that Naruto said she'd get along with. He was usually right on these sorts of things after all. Not that it mattered right now. No doubt once he asked Iroh about joining the military the old General would be elated at the idea and immediately pull strings to get him into the ranks. Probably in some position in his chain of command like Lu Ten before he was killed at the siege of Ba Sing Se.
The two teens eventually went their separate ways, Naruto disappointed he missed his father somehow but deciding to corner him in the morning to ask about joining the army. Azula, unlike Naruto, actually ran into Iroh before bed. Her bedchambers were near to her elder brothers and Iroh was seeing Zuko off to bed it seemed. She always felt annoyed on Naruto's behalf that her uncle felt more need to tuck in and say goodnight to Zuko than his own son.
"Uncle." She greeted cooly.
"Azula, what are you doing out at this time? The sun set hours ago." He spoke in his normally friendly tone but there was a hint of suspicion below the surface that stung at her. As if she were some delinquent slinking off to cut open kittens or kick puppies. The gall of the old man.
"I was with Naruto. He's only been back for a short while and I wanted to spend some time with him. Bring him up to speed. He told me he wanted to talk to you but he probably already went to bed."
"Ah, well tomorrow after the strategy meeting I'll catch up with him myself. Whatever he wants to talk about is surely important if he was going to try and catch me before bed. Sadly preparations for tomorrow took a bit of extra time. Your brother will be attending his first session in the morning." Iroh explained.
"Ha! You think that's wise Uncle? Zuko can't keep his mouth shut from whining to save his life." Azula squawked, very amused by the thought of Zuko of all people quietly observing and understanding a military strategy meeting. She'd hidden inside a couple times before watching from the shadows. The meetings were extremely dry and boring but she also knew they were highly important to the war effort.
"You really should show your brother some respect. He is a good person and tries very hard to please everyone including you." Iroh scolded frowning at the scoff he got when he mentioned her. "Besides, he is of age now. It is time he took part in military matters. It's expected."
Azula nodded to the man's words. Zuko was only a few months younger than Naruto. She supposed her cousin had been right when he said it was time for him to start his career. Still, Azula cared far more about Naruto joining than Zuko. Not only was Naruto far more important to her, what exactly he would be doing in the military was in question unlike the crown prince.
"Goodnight Princess." Iroh said, interrupting her thoughts. He turned to slowly make his way to his quarters.
"Yes, goodnight, General." Azula said. Iroh froze as Azula's footsteps slowly quieted and the girl turned around a bend in the hall. She had sounded so much like Naruto when he referred to him by his rank or titles.
Iroh felt sadness trickle into his heart as he thought of the distance between him and the two children. One of them was his own son. Only remaining son. The other was a little girl with no-one but Ozai to act as a role model. He knew he should do something for them. They needed a parental figure. Anyone but Ozai. But he had to focus on Zuko. He was the crown prince. The next Fire Lord. The best hope for the White Lotus to finally end this pointless conflict. To try and save their world from endless fighting and death.
With those thoughts and a self assured determination he headed off for bed. The next day was going to be a very busy one.
Azula was a curious girl. That led her to slipping into places often that let her learn things she probably shouldn't know as a twelve year old princess. Of course the fact that the things she wasn't supposed to know about were pretty much dangling in front of her made it impossible for her not to sneak into restricted areas and eavesdrop.
That of course was why she was now rushing to find Naruto in the training areas. What she'd just watched go down in the strategy meeting held by her father was some prime gossip she needed to share with him. She found him exactly where she knew she would, running through his newer forms he had picked up on his trip. He was smoother and more animalistic in the way he moved than the typical fire bending styles taught by the different masters here in the capital. It reminded her of Iroh's but even then Naruto's had a more bestial element to it. Faster, more agile and more brutal.
For a moment what Azula had to tell Naruto left her mind as she watched him go all out. Or what she presumed to be all out. Since his return they hadn't gotten a chance to truly spar. Her studies kept her busier than she would like. To see him now, controlling an inferno, keeping the fire alive as it danced around him and engulfed the training ground as if were a living dragon, she was mesmerized.
She had known she and Naruto were the two sides of the same coin. His firebending was like battling against the heart of a wildfire. A massive torrent of roaring flames. Hers was like a precise jet of flame. An intense blade of hissing fire. To watch him directing and maneuvering a wall of fire many times taller, wider, and thicker than she had seen others do before, Azula was starstruck.
She sat there watching as he practiced. Naruto kept a furious pace. As if he was surrounded by an endless swarm of opponents being swept aside in the storm of fire he had at his beck and call. He incorporated more short circular punches than the usual firebending styles she knew. Each thrust of his fist reaching out with a gout of flame as if it was the paw of a giant predatory cat. Sweeping across the ground like he was clearing a path through a horde of Earth Kingdom soldiers already.
Eventually though, his workout drew to an end in an explosive fashion. Like a tidal wave the flames crashed down on the other side of Naruto before he snuffed them out with a sudden yank of his arms backward toad his chest. The sudden silence of the training area after that act made Azula's ears ring. She realized she held her breath in the final moments of the show as the only sound was her cousin's heavy breathing as he walked over to the large water barrel and dipped himself up a hearty swallow of water before dumping a second ladle over his head to cool down faster.
"Just going to sit and watch Azula?" Naruto called out with a grin as he glanced over to the pillars where the younger girl still stood stock still.
Rather than respond at once Azula slowly made her way toward him. She looked back and forth between the smirking Naruto and the steaming and smoking stone of the training ground in poorly restrained awe. When she reached him she noticed the stone wasn't the only thing steaming. Naruto himself had thin trails of steam lifting off of his head and body wherever he had dumped the water on himself a moment before. Now she understood why he preferred to train without his shirt. Something she was doing her best to ignore at the moment. She was far too well bred to have a crush of course.
"So that's what you learned while you were away?" She asked.
"A little bit of it." He answered with a chuckle.
"Are you going to teach me?" She asked, pouting at the teasing smile that slipped onto her cousin's face.
"You want me to teach you one on one Azula?" He asked. "But I thought you were the greatest Fire bender of our generation? What could I ever teach you?"
"Ha ha." She sarcastically replied. "Seriously, when are you going to teach me all of that?" She asked again.
"Probably never." He said simply getting her little jaw to drop in shock at his blunt answer...and the fact that he was telling her no. He hardly ever told her no.
"I won't teach it to you but someday I'll take you to where I learned it and you'll find your own way." He smiled as the shocked look turned to a slick grin on the girl's face.
"Promise that you will." She demanded.
"Such a bossy princess you are becoming." Naruto teased.
"Naruto!" She whined.
"You don't need to beg or whine like that, Azula. I said I would do it so I'll do it." He said as he wrapped an arm over her shoulder causing her to fight off a blush, just barely.
"Still, promise." She pouted, causing the boy to roll his eyes.
"I promise on Agni's blessing of my bending that I will take you to the island. Now tell me why you are out here so early. Shouldn't you be in your classes right now?" Naruto gave her a knowing look causing her to actually blush this time though she didn't look even marginally apologetic.
"Well I ran into your father last night on the way to bed." She began.
"Huh, what was he tucking in little Prince Zuko?" Naruto joked though Azula could see the flickering pain and resentment in his eyes despite his mocking tone. She decided to push past it. She didn't want one of the three people in the world she cared for to hurt. It made her hurt too.
"Well he said he had an early morning strategy meeting. I found out all the high generals were attending and so was my father. Your father decided to take Zuko too." She internally grimaced expecting to see more hurt in the boy's eyes but instead she saw only acceptance.
"I suppose he is of age now. Just like me." Naruto grunted.
"Right, well I, being as elusive and stealthy as usual," she began only to squawk when a finger jabbed her side tickling her.
"It's true!" She growled.
"Oh, I know it is, I just wanted to see if I could pop that big head you were getting." Naruto laughed as the girl stuck her tongue out at him.
"Can I please just tell you what I came to tell you? Or maybe you don't want to hear it? Maybe you want me to run along back to my classes like a proper Princess rather than your sweet loving cousin come to bring you news." She took on a posh high and mighty lily in her voice causing Naruto to snicker.
"Forgive me, oh very wise and benevolent Princess Azula. Bestow your great news upon this foolish knave and tell him all the dirty details about how Zuko made a fool of himself in front of your father...again." Naruto said, breaking his side hug to mock bow to her.
"Your tone could use some work but I do love the grovelling." Azula said with a giggle.
"Well, go on." Naruto urged, wanting to get back on topic.
"Hmm, well since you did ask nicely. Zuko spoke out of turn and insulted the honor of High General Bujing. Father demanded that Zuko participate in Agni Kai." Azula informed him.
Naruto was stunned for a moment but soon got over it. "That's harsh, even if he is of age now. Bujing could be beaten by him though. He is more of a strategist and never was all that good at bending from what I heard."
"You heard that from me…" Azula said hotly.
"Yeah it was a pretty decent source. I got connections like that. You really should take notes from me, Azula." Naruto teased getting a light playful punch to the shoulder.
"Alright, alright." He said through laughter. "So when is it?"
"Tomorrow, are you gunna go." She asked.
"Well, honestly it's just two above average benders, one that's an old man throwing fire around, but I guess it'll be a big deal with Zuko being prince and all." Naruto said thoughtfully, getting a laugh from the girl.
"We can stand together. I'll even bring Ty Lee...Mai probably wouldn't have any fun." She said.
"Yeah she crushes pretty hard on your brother. No need to be around her when she is extra broody." He replied.
"Come on, you pretty much skipped most of your classes already so let's go get something to eat. I'm starving." Naruto said as he pulled a shirt on and Azula followed after him on the way to the kitchens.
Naruto and Azula had a meal together and spent their afternoon together but had to separate afterward. The princess was intent on collecting Ty Lee and having her spend the night at the palace so that she could go to the Agni Kai first thing in the morning with her and Naruto.
Naruto on the other hand had tried to catch his father for the rest of the evening. He had plenty he needed to discuss, from him joining the military, to the Agni Kai, and even to ask what exactly could Zuko have managed to do to get Ozai to order an Agni Kai. It seemed too far for any father. Even the poor father that Ozai was. Zuko was his heir after all.
Sadly, he couldn't seem to corner his father anywhere. He never returned to his chambers. He wasn't at Zuko's, and neither was Zuko so they were most assuredly together wherever they happened to be at. By the time he needed to head back to his quarters and get some sleep he was quite annoyed. He never could find them and so had to go to bed a second night having failed to talk with his father about joining the army.
When morning came however, he was all but yanked out of bed by his little cousin and her friend and forced to bathe and dress in his finest clothing like they had. They pushed and prodded him through breakfast and were among the first twenty people present at the arena to watch the duel.
Slowly the stands filled with people. It wasn't everyday that a crown prince of the Fire Nation participated in an Agni Kai and against one as lofty as a High General no less. Naruto wasn't Zuko's biggest fan, he knew that was only partially due to clashing personalities. He wouldn't admit out loud that he felt like Zuko had essentially stolen his father from him.
That being said, he didn't wish harm on him. Thankfully almost all Agni Kai were a battle to yield and not death. Especially in one against the Royal family. Again the fact Zuko was crown prince also made that even more unlikely he would be truly harmed.
That all being said, Naruto couldn't help that Zuko wasn't the underdog against Bujing. The general was older than Naruto's father and uncle put together and, as Azula had told him, wasn't a particularly well accomplished bender in the first place.
Iroh joined him, Azula, and Ty Lee in the stands. Naruto nodded to him but was a little confused at how grim the older man looked. Did he really not believe in Zuko that much to beat some old man? True Zuko wasn't a spectacular bender like the rest of the Royal bloodline all seemed to be. But once again Bujing was positively ancient.
"General, your charge will no doubt win, why so glum?" Naruto asked. Iroh glared at him, surprising him slightly.
"I am in no mood for your sarcasm son." He said flatly and turned to the arena.
"Sarcasm?" Naruto asked. He was about to retort venomously when Zuko walked out onto the arena and took his position facing away from his opponent.
It was while Zuko was kneeling facing away from his opponent that Naruto saw the reason for his father's anger. Fire Lord Ozai strode out arrogantly onto the dueling grounds and the crowd silenced.
"Wait, I thought you said he offended General Bujing? What the hell is the Fire Lord doing there?" Naruto asked. Azula looked as bewildered as him.
"No, Zuko spoke out of turn at the Fire Lord's strategy meeting and thereby tainted his honor. Not Bujing." Iroh said with a sigh. He felt somewhat bad for snapping at Naruto after realizing he was not in fact being sarcastic or hateful toward Zuko.
His mind focused on the fight though. The fact that his brother was willing to do this to his own son.
"Maybe father just wants to make a show of things?" Azula asked curiously.
Iroh glanced at the three children beside him and realized how poor his relationship with them had become. He assumed not only that they were excited to see Zuko crushed and humiliated. Instead all three looked genuinely concerned for what Ozai would do to his son.
"No, Azula, your father…" He trailed off. He couldn't just tell a child that the father she idolized was a monster. She'd think he was lying and it would spiral out and nothing good would come of it.
As the duel began and they watched Zuko realize just who he was fighting, Iroh grimaced as the boy threw himself to his knees, refusing to fight Ozai and begging for mercy.
"Coward!" Naruto hissed. "He is stepping on the Fire Lord's honor even more. He'll make whatever Ozai has planned even worse."
"Be silent son." Iroh growled. He fought tears as he watched Ozai humiliate Zuko before the whole capital.
"You will fight for your honor." Ozai boomed.
"I meant you no disrespect!" Zuko cried. "I am your loyal son."
"Rise and fight, Prince Zuko." Ozai insisted as he continued forward steadily.
"I won't fight you." The prince replied.
"You will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher." Ozai snarled and flame engulfed his hand as he reached forward for his son's face.
Iroh looked away as the blow came. Unwilling to watch the boy he was closest to as a father figure be burned. Naruto watched on, along with Azula and Ty Lee. Both girls cringed at the sight while Ty Lee cried. Azula solidified her intent to please her father at any cost while Naruto came to his own realization about the ordeal.
As servants carted off Zuko to the healer and the Fire Lord stalked back to his lair, Naruto silently watched Iroh go off after his cousin. He didn't feel the normal resentment toward his father for doing so. He could understand he was needed there with the prince now more than ever but still Naruto felt a sour taste enter his mouth at the thought of Zuko's actions.
Zuko cowered away from the consequences of what he had done. He grovelled and pleaded and honestly it disgusted Naruto. He refused to ever end up like that. He was a boy born without honor as a Royal bastard. Whatever glory and honor he gathered to his name in his lifetime he would never let it be trampled so easily. If only Zuko had fought, shown that underneath his weak appearance he was a true Fire bender at heart, perhaps he wouldn't be laying on a cart bound for the healers now.
One thought came to Naruto though as he finally began to leave the stadium followed by Azula and Ty Lee. Zuko didn't deserve the throne. Someone like Zuko was far too weak to keep the interests of the nation at heart. No matter his intention.
In the days following the fight, not that it deserved to be called as such, Ozai declared Zuko had shown shameful weakness by refusing to fight. He was banished before his burn had even fully healed. Naruto had expected as much, even if Ozai seemed to be coming down rather harshly on Zuko. He couldn't help but agree that Zuko's own shameful actions had put him into this position.
When Naruto had finally gotten a chance to speak with his father about joining the army, he found the man packing. Iroh had been somewhat somber about leaving but had told him how much Zuko needed him. How he was the crown prince, and he needed guidance for his harsh journey ahead. Naruto had simply nodded and agreed. Zuko did need Iroh more than he did.
He didn't need Iroh at all.
That had been the last he saw of his father. The next few days were a confusingly fast and chaotic series of events. Zuko and by extension Iroh were banished. Azula and her friends graduated on to the Royal finishing school and were required to stay in the dorms and Naruto had made a formal request to his uncle to use him in the army for the glory of the Fire Nation. The day after he said goodbye to Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai, Naruto found himself shipped to the Glowing Sands. A series of islands used as the primary training ground for the army Fire Benders.
The training was brutal, and the conditions were terrible. Each recruit was put under extreme duress, beaten, starved, run ragged. They were repeatedly deprived of the necessities for survival and forced to forage on the island. Still, Naruto thrived in this environment. It wasn't so different from his own training with the Sun Warriors that his father had sent him to. That felt like it was so long ago now though.
After eight months at the Glowing Sands, Naruto was transferred into a unit of Firebenders being cycled into active duty. He should have known Ozai never wanted him to return from the war. The man had always considered Naruto a blemish, much like how he now considered Zuko. In seeing the handling of his cousin, Naruto had forgotten that his birth alone was considered nearly as shameful as Zuko's actions.
So, it was on orders from the FIre Lord, something that Naruto had no doubt Ozai had made sure he was made aware of, that Naruto was placed as Corporal in the Thirteenth Jaguar Company. A unit of new recruits and combat fatigued veterans used to frequently soften the enemy's lines for the true attack from fresher units.
The Thirteenth would see continuous combat right on the front lines with the Earth Kingdom, and so it held the highest casualty rate of any Fire Bending unit in the military. Naruto didn't complain once though. He was finally in control of his own path.
The Fire Nation was meritocratic to an extent. More so than any other nation in the world. A peasant with skill, talent, and dedication could rise to nobility through the army. A Prince's Bastard like Naruto...he could do so much more.
Ozai hoped that Naruto would die on the battlefields of the Earth Kingdom.
Instead he would create a figure that would come back to haunt him for the rest of his life and reign as Fire Lord.
Alright so that is the end of the first chapter. It is a bit more in line with a prologue, I know but still the groundwork must be laid. Next chapters are going to show our boy's time in the army in the brutal battlefields of the 100 years war. So please stay tuned.
For those who absolutely must know pairings at the onset of a fic, and if you missed it in the tags I will list the pairings Naruto has with revealed characters. Sadly, for you, I won't spoil any characters yet to be revealed.
Naruto-Harem (Azula, Ty Lee, XXXX, XXXXX)
There may be more, there may be relationships that don't last, and there may be some that are ended by deadlier means. You'll have to read to know I suppose.
Anyway, thanks for Reading, Till Next Time.