Title: adage
Fandom: Avatar
Characters: Mai/Zuko, Azula
Rating: PG
Word Count: 519
Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for The Boiling Rock
Summary: There is an old Fire Nation adage - the nail that sticks up is quickly hammered down. Mai thinks of it often, as a reminder to keep her mind busy.

Mai does not watch him leave.

It is dawn, and she stares at her wall imagining that she can see the boat setting off from the harbor into the gray mist of the unknown, none brave enough to mark its passage. She imagines that she can see the ship's disgraced passenger, face forever destroyed in a flash of fire and melting flesh that nobody will ever speak of but those who witnessed will always remember.

She wishes she were brave enough to watch him go.

There is an old Fire Nation adage – the nail that sticks up is quickly hammered down. Mai thinks of it often, as a reminder to keep her mind busy.

She may be young, but she is a sensible girl, and sensible girls do not think about disgraced princes. Every memory and regret is packed away behind a blank face and a cool stare, only allowing herself a vague, bored dissatisfaction. Anything else will incur consequence.

Mai tells herself that if only he had listened and known his place, if only he had kept himself in check, he would be here now, and things would be better. She wishes, wistfully and without any real substance, that he could forget his pride and make his amends, and things would be better.

She knows that she is lying to herself.

She does not dare to hope. That, too, is dangerous.

At dinner that night, her mother gives her a strange, curious stare, but Mai keeps her face carefully blank. She has her mother's wellbeing and her father's and uncle's career to think of, and she will not imperil those with dangerous hopes.

She is just another nail, and unlike him, she dares not stick up.

Mai's eyes lock onto the moving gondola, as it nears its destination, and she imagines that she can see a pair of gold eyes and a long shock of dark hair.

At least this time, she can watch him leave.

This is suicide, and she knows it. Azula is already stepping off of the second gondola, Ty Lee close behind, confusion and anger – cold, cruel, uncontrolled anger – shining clearly through her eyes.

"Leave us alone," she demands, and she is obeyed. Her eyes lock on Mai. "I never expected this from you."

Mai looks up at her princess and her friend.

"The thing I don't understand is why. Why would you do it? You know the consequences."

Mai knows them all too well. All her life, she has lived with them.

She is done living a life of fear and consequence and lies.

"I guess you just don't know people as well as you think you do," Mai says, and there is a bitter taste of triumph at finally speaking out, at living unafraid. "You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you."

The anger overtakes Azula, and she readies her attack.

"No, you miscalculated! You should have feared me more!"

Mai raises her blade.

She is no longer just another nail. This time, she dares to stick up.

She faces her princess and her friend, ready to be hammered down.