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All You Have is Fire

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"You were brought to the Fire Nation as a recruit for the army since you had thoroughly impressed on my soldiers, but once here, you murdered one of our highest ranking soldiers like he nothing more than a mere, untrained, whelp whilst you yourself had sustained no injuries. Not even a scratch." Fire Lord Azulon spoke, his voice carrying throughout the large council room. Before the fiery dais were three figures; two men wearing royal armors as well as golden crown pieces, and the third being a young boy, eight years of age, and wearing simple Earth Kingdom scrubs, "You have been nothing more than a nuisance, albeit, an impressive one, but what use have I for a pawn that will not do as it is told?"

"I'm nobody's pawn!" the boy spits hatefully, "Let alone some pathetic, old man who hides behind walls of fire like a coward!"

"You dare speak to me in such a manner!?"

"Oh, I dare."

Fire Lord Azulon sneers, brow creasing in rage, "For that tongue of yours, you will be put on the executioner's block! Guards! Take him to the holding cells!"

The two crowned men watch as guards come from seemingly nowhere and grab the child, who begins thrashing once their fingers clamp down, shouting and spitting insults that would make even a sea-hardened sailor blush from ear tip to ear tip. When the doors close with an ominous bang, one of the crowned men steps forth with a quick and graceful bow, his movement capturing the attention of the man at his side and the Fire Lord himself:

"If I may be so bold as to speak Father, but perhaps we can mold the child into a worthy guard. Instead of trying to force him into our armies. Just think of it, the boy will be a fine defender, one befitting that of our family's stature."

"Are you daft!?" the man at his side snaps, springing to his feet, fists clenched and eyes glowering, "He'll murder us all in our sleep! From our Father to the lowliest servant!"

"Iroh, I know you sympathize with children, but that boy is a murderer. Ozai is right in his apprehension, that child will kill us all if given the chance."

"You are missing the point as well, Father," Iroh trudges on, a carefree smile slipping in place, "We've had adults trying to confirm the boy to our ways, to our army, an army which he's no doubtfully had a traumatic run-in with. Why not try a different route? Say, someone without blood on their hands ~ ?"

The reigning Sovereign looks contemplative as he eyes his eldest son, "Go on."

"Father!" Ozai shouts, "I cannot believe you are listening - !"

"Another child ~ !" Iroh interrupts gleefully, earning a glare from Ozai, Iroh turns his gaze to his little brother, a playful gleam twinkling within his eyes, "Such as, I don't know, young Prince Zuko ~ ?" he turns his gaze back to their Father, "The two seem to be of the same age group, they're both boys, I'm sure they'll find some common ground for a friendship to blossom. The Earth Kingdom boy is alone in a place he has little knowledge of, and if Prince Zuko befriends him, the boy will have a reason to stay loyal to our family. The child has already proven that he is an excellent fighter, just imagine if he were to protect that which he cares for. Our family will be the safest it's been in years ~ !"

The near-silent crackling of the flames is the only source of sound coming from within the throne room, beyond the large doors though, there are muffled creaks and quiet booms echoing from deep within the palace.

"You have a valid point, Iroh." Fire Lord Azulon utters, hand stroking his beard, Iroh positively beams, "Very well. I will give the Earth Kingdom peasant this one chance." the old royal's gaze flicks to Ozai, who's gaping at the two of them, "Ozai. Fetch Prince Zuko immediately - ,"

"You can't be serious, Father!" Ozai exclaims, expression scandalized, "What if the orphan peasant kills my son?!"

"Do not interrupt me!" the Father chastises heatedly, "And it will not come to that, for Iroh will be supervising their little play date. Now go!"

Ozai's frown deepens, but bows before their Father nonetheless, "If you wish, Father."

Both Fire Lord Azulon and Iroh watch the youngest firebender leave the room until all is silent, it is seconds before Azulon turns his attention to his eldest:

"You may fetch the child, but if this does not work as you hope, Iroh, the child will be executed and you will be held in contempt. Understood?"

"Understood, Father." Iroh bows respectfully, "Thank you, Father."

"You may go."

Straightening up, Iroh offers his Father a wily grin before he turns on his heel and exits the council room, shutting the doors, he is surprised to find Ozai scowling at him with arms crossed – placing his hands in his sleeves, he gives his brother a bright smile, not letting his sibling's demeanor affect him in the slightest. After all, pouting/skulking seemed to be his normal go-to mood.

"Ah, Ozai ~ shouldn't you be fetching my darling Nephew?"

"What do you think you're going to achieve with this little stunt, Iroh?"

Iroh looks thoughtful for a moment, "Hmm ~ I can't seem to think of anything at the moment." he grins innocently at Ozai, "Why ~ ? What is it you think I'm trying to achieve, dearest Brother of mine ~ ?"

Ozai snarls, "Just know, that whatever it is you're doing, won't work."

The older Prince watches his brother stalk down the hall, "Of course, Brother ~ !" he shouts after him merrily, "I'll keep that in mind ~ !"

oOo

Screaming, the wild-haired boy throws a wooden bucket at the bars of his cell, only for it to bounce off harmlessly. Enraged, he stomps towards the iron bars and begins shaking the cell door, causing an ear-grinding rattling sound, a sound that echoes throughout the prison:

"Hey!" he shouts, "Let me out!"

Nothing.

"I know you can hear me!" the boy bellows at the top of his lungs, "Let me out! Let me out or I'll slit your Fire Nation throats!"

Silence.

Screaming, the boy pushes away from the bars and goes back to pacing angrily in cell – the cell is by no means homey, it's small and it's dank; the prison reeks of B.O and other unsavory odors; his clothes are becoming damp from the amount of sweat he's working up, as well as the hot and humid conditions, his unkempt brown hair is even fluffier. It all adds to his anger, he swipes a tan-skinned arm over his forehead in an attempt to relieve himself of the rivulets of sweat. It's for naught, and it makes his hair stick to his forehead in an annoying manner. Letting out an annoyed groan, the boy plops onto the hay piled into the corner. The miserable, wild boy goes by the name of Jet, and Jet had just lost his family some time ago thanks to the Fire Nation burning his village down. And as if things couldn't get any worse, they brought him here in an attempt to force him into their dumb army – so far, the only good thing that came out of all of this is the fact that he managed to soak up that stupid soldier's lessons before turning it on him. With a few added touches of his own personal knowledge. Successfully killing his first soldier. A highly decorated one at that, what a prize.

"This is stupid!" Jet finally rages, "I hate you! I hate all of you! I hope you all die in this miserable crater!"

Chuckling catches his attention, startling him enough that he sits up so fast that his head spins, his eyes are soon locked onto a lightly rotund man standing before his cell with his arms in his sleeves, Jet frowns, the man before him was one of the men that had been in that throne room with him. The golden flame sitting happily atop his head only cements the fact.

"What do you want, Fatso?"

The man only laughs a full-bellied laugh, ruffling Jet's nerves, "My ~ ! What a fiery spirit you have, I am sure you will get along just fine with my Nephew ~ !"

What?

Jet narrows his eyes, "What are you talking about?"

"My name is Iroh," the man says instead, "And I have come to give you what you want."

"I don't care what your name is," Jet spits, "I asked a question, and what I want is the Fire Lord's head on a silver platter, which I don't see."

"No, I cannot give you my Father's decapitated head." Iroh shakes his head in amusement, Jet bristles once more, he was being serious and this weird-smelling man just laughs at him, "But I can off you freedom."

"You're – letting me out?" Jet's brow smoothens a tick, "Wait – what's the catch?"

"Well, technically I'm not setting you free; I'm just letting you out of that cell, I'm sure it is bound to be better than staying cooped up - ,"

"Then I'm not leaving this stupid cell!" Jet snaps, interrupting Iroh and rolling onto his side, "What's the point of leaving this hole in the wall if I can't do anything!?"

"You can make friends - ,"

"I don't want friends."

"Well, unless you want your chance at freedom, you might want to give it a shot."

Jet blinks, slowly sitting up and staring at the older male as if he were crazy, which he might be, "Are you suggesting I escape?"

"Who? Me?" the man gasps dramatically, "I would never suggest such a thing to a prisoner!" Jet rolls his eyes at the man's act, "So, what do you say, give it a try?"

The wild-haired boy frowns at the ground, on one hand, he would get out of the cell and when the opportunity was right, he could escape, on the other, he could rot in here and wait for his death sentence. Get it over with. But he had plans, plans that don't involve dying – he looks up at Iroh:

"Fine. I'll do it."

oOo

"You know what you're supposed to do, right Zuko?"

"Yes, Father." Zuko nods, "I try and sabotage this boy's attempts at friendship."

"You don't try." Ozai hisses, causing Zuko to flinch, "You have to. We cannot let this plan fall through. That dirt-loving barbarian cannot be trusted."

"Y-Yes, Father." Zuko gulps, he hesitates, "I understand not trusting some Earth Kingdom commoner, but – why do we need Uncle Iroh to fail?"

Ozai glares at Zuko, the seven year old tensing instinctually, "Just  do  as you are told, I tire of your ridiculous questions."

"O-Okay."

That had been a few minutes ago, in which there still has been no sight of his Uncle, or this kid that he's supposed to keep from making friends with. Plucking at the grass out of nothing better to do, Zuko tries calming his nerves despite his Father's angry aura washing over him in waves – even the family of turtle-ducks won't get any closer to him with his Father there, practically burning holes into the yard. Contemplating how he was going to go about making this kid mad at him, Zuko feels a sense of loss – he's always wanted a friend, a friendship his parents didn't force upon either of them, he was – a little tired of having only Azula as company.

Movement captures his attention, turning, he spots his Uncle making his way over to them with some scruffy looking kid in tow. All Zuko can do is blink, not entirely sure what he'd been expecting, but it most certainly wasn't the earthly colored peasant standing at his Uncle's side – his eyes, his skin, his hair, everything was the shade of dirt. The boy in question seems to be regarding him just as well.

Ozai finally stands before Iroh and the child could come any closer, "You better hope nothing happens, or you will regret it, Brother Dearest."

"Oh, nothing will." Iroh smiles, Ozai only sneers and walks away. Iroh turns to his Nephew who is now looking uncomfortable, "Well hello, Prince Zuko, how have you been ~ ?"

"Um – good?"

"Good to hear ~ ! This is our newest guard, he won't tell me his name so I just call him Lion-Heart - ,"

"That's not my name." the boy hisses.

"Well, you won't tell me your real name."

"Because I don't want to, and I'm not a guard."

Zuko blinks but Iroh continues as though nothing happened, "As I was saying, hopefully you two will get along, perhaps you can show him around the place a bit."

"Uh – okay," Zuko watches Iroh gingerly push the boy forward, the child only glaring back at his Uncle in retaliation. The boy was a bit – rough, surely it wouldn't be too hard for Zuko to get him to hate him. Iroh turns to leave and a twinge of fear strikes his chest, "Wait. Aren't you going to stay?"

"Oh no, I must get going, but I'm sure you two will be just fine ~ ."

Both boys watch Iroh leave the yard while humming some tune, one Zuko was pretty sure was a mushy love song, pursing his lips, Zuko plucks at the grass again, he knows little to nothing about the boy or the Earth Kingdom – maybe that's for the best, his Father wanted him to dissuade all attempts at friendship after all. Sighing, Zuko stands, noting the way the boy flinches so suddenly:

"Uh – hi?" Zuko offers an awkward little wave, the boy only glares at him, biting his lower lip, Zuko uses his hand to rub awkwardly at the back of his neck, "I'm – my name is Zuko, Prince of the Fire Nation, and you are?"

"I'm not telling you anything, Fire Nation trash."

Zuko's eyes widen for a split second before a burning anger takes over, "Jerk!"

"I'm not a jerk!"

"Yes you are!" Zuko hisses, "You were mean to my Uncle and you just called me trash!"

"You all deserve it!"

"What did we do!?"

"You're all Fire Nation, that's what you did!" the wild-haired boy snaps, "All Fire Nation people are bad! I hate them and they all deserve to die!"

"I don't – that – we are not bad! And we do not deserve to die!" Zuko scowls, "And that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! You can't hate someone because they're from the Fire Nation!"

"I can and will."

"What did the Fire Nation ever do to you!?"

The question causes the boy to snap; he practically charges Zuko to the ground, shocking the young Prince and leaving him floored, "THEY DID EVERYTHING! They raided my village, beat the people who tried to defend their families, their homes! They killed my people! They raped the women and burned my home to ashes!"

"I – they," Zuko's gaze falls to his lap, "No – they wouldn't do that unless you were, harboring criminals or something as bad - ,"

"Oh, wouldn't they?" the boy questions nastily, "Not a single one of us were criminals. We were farmers. I lost EVERYTHING because of the Fire Nation! I lost my friends, my house, and my parents! All in one day! And you know what makes it all worse!?" Zuko shakes his head numbly, heart beating a mile a minute, "They shipped me here to force me into their dumb army! I don't know where I am! Who anyone is! And now I'm forced to play nice with some snot-nosed Prince!" Zuko sucks in a breath, ready to defend something, "No, you know what, I don't care anymore! I don't care if they kill me! If they hang me! Chop my head off! I'd rather be dead than spending another second here, any day!"

"I – w-wait, w-what are you talking about?" Zuko all about whispers, he can't move his arms or legs, "Why – why would they kill you? You're only a kid."

"Didn't Daddy-Dearest tell you?" Zuko shakes his head, "I killed one of your soldiers, and it was fun. My favorite part was watching him choke on his own blood, I liked watching the blood pour from his throat."

"Wha - ?"

"He deserved it y'know," the boy jeers tauntingly, "The guy was nothing but a filthy, firebending pig."

SMACK!

The tan-skinned boy's head snaps sharply to the side, a single, small red print blaring angrily upon his cheek, eyes wide in shock. Slowly, he touches the stinging patch of skin before looking at the Prince who's shaking with uncontained rage, yellow eyes livid with anger and fair features twisted into a scowl.

"What right do you have to talk like that!?" Zuko shouts, "You're just as much of a monster as the guys who burned your home down! You're just as much of a pig to the family of the soldier you murdered!" the boy is silent, "I know what those guys, who burned your village, did was wrong, and I know you're mad, but you can't take it out on the rest of us for that! We're just as human as the rest of the world! We have feelings, we have families, jobs – whatever, and, and I may not like what you did to that man, or what you said, but don't want you to die, because you're human too and you have a life!"

Silence.

Finally, the boy asks, "You think I'm a monster?"

"Yes." Zuko huffs, "But you're still just a kid, you can get better."

More silence.

The young Prince sighs, reaching out, he grabs the boy's sleeve, "C'mon, let's just sit by the pond and wait until Uncle Iroh comes back."

The boy doesn't move so Zuko gently tugs on the boy's sleeve, leading him towards the tree beside the pond. This is where they sit for the next three or so hours in complete and utter silence until Iroh arrives from whatever business he'd been conducting:

"So, how did it go?"

The Earth Kingdom boy opens his mouth to reply, but Zuko beats him to it, "Good, I want to play with him tomorrow too, Uncle." both Iroh and the boy look at Zuko incredulously, the Prince only looks upon his Uncle with bright eyes, "Please Uncle?"

Iroh lights up, "Of course, Prince Zuko. I'll make sure to bring him back around the same time ~ !"

"Okay." Zuko looks to the boy, "Bye, Lion-Heart."

The boy looks away, refusing to meet his eyes, "Bye."

Iroh only smiles at the interaction, too happy to notice Zuko's somber mood, too relieved knowing that the boy would not be executed at such a young age. Meanwhile, Zuko watches the duo leave, when his Mother comes out to sit with him, he finally asks the question that's been on the tip of his tongue:

"What does rape mean?"

Chapter Text

"Where did you learn that?" she had gasped,

Zuko blinked, unsure if what he'd said was bad, "I – a boy, he told me some Fire Nation soldiers had  raped  the women in his village - ."

What his Mother had explained to him that day had left the young Prince sick to his stomach, unhinged, and perhaps a little worried for the boy dubbed Lion-Heart who had witnessed such atrocities before his village was razed – but the raven-haired boy could no longer think on such things while he was waiting for his Uncle to drop off his companion. Noticing the family of turtle-ducks swimming closer and closer to the grassy edge, a small smile stretches across Zuko's lips, without a second thought he digs into the basket containing food his Mother had persuaded him into bringing along for the boy and himself, grabbing a hold of a freshly baked loaf. He tears a piece off and gingerly tosses it into the water where the turtle-ducks descend upon it with wriggling tails.

Giggling to himself, the Prince tears off more bread, but before he can cast it into the water, he spots a baby turtle-duck sitting at his side, staring up at him with beady brown eyes, blinking, Zuko places the piece of bread before the bird hybrid, and just like that, the rest of the family waddles out from the pond in a miniature wave of feathers and shell, to stand before him, all eyes trained on him as well. Waiting.

"Ah ~ Prince Zuko!"

Startling violently, the Prince whips his attention towards the source of the voice, subconsciously aware of the turtle-ducks making a quick escape for the safety of their pond – back to the intruders at hand, his Uncle and Lion-Heart are standing side by side, the latter peering at him curiously, most likely having seen, what his Father calls, moment of weakness.

"My apologies, Nephew," Iroh begins with a grin, saying he was anything but sorry, "But I had to accompany young Lion-Heart here to meet a few of his teachers. I'm sure he will be a fine guard one day."

"Yeah," Zuko murmurs, plucking blades of grass that grows before him, "I'm sure."

"Right then," Iroh continues as he gingerly pushes the wild boy forward, earning a glare from said youth in the process, "I must be going young ones, I have business to attend to, so play nice ~ !"

The same as the day before, both boys watch Iroh leave the garden until he is well out of sight, only then does Zuko turn back to the turtle-ducks to continue feeding them, that is, until he realizes that the boy still hadn't sat down. Nibbling on his lower lip, he casts an unsure glance at Lion-Heart, who happens to be staring intently at the pond.

"So," Zuko begins awkwardly, "Are you going to sit down or - ?" Lion-Heart plops down in his spot, he's a good five feet away, by now it's pretty obvious to the Prince that the boy isn't going to speak, but he figures he'll try anyway, "Are you going to tell me your name?" silence, just as expected, "Okay. I guess I'll just keep calling you Lion-Heart." more silence, sighing, Zuko figures he'll just do all the talking, "So uh," he reaches for the basket, "My mom had me bring this out here for us, if you're hungry, you can have whatever you want. I just took the bread, unless you want the bread?" Zuko offers the loaf, Lion-Heart merely glares at the opposite end of the garden, "Okay, I'll just have it." he tears a piece from the loaf and continues feeding the turtle-ducks, "Sometimes, my mom and I will sit out here and watch the turtle-ducks. It's nice, calm. I don't have to worry about my dad or sister - ," Zuko hadn't realized he'd said that until he feels eyes on him, looking up, he meet's Lion-Heart's gaze, eyes widening as his mind catches up with his mouth, he looks away, "Err – I mean – well, uh, you probably didn't know that I have a sister." he changes the subject to his sister, "Her name's Azula, she's – she can be mean, she's uh, two years younger than me I think? Anyway, just watch out for her, she'll get you in trouble if you do something she doesn't like. And, now that I think of it, I should probably tell you about my family huh?" Lion-Heart isn't even looking at him, he's playing with a singular blade of grass, but Zuko talks on, "Well, there's my Grandfather, Fire Lord Azulon, I – really don't know much about him, but he's the father to my Uncle and my dad, I think you already met him actually. And I think you already know about Uncle Iroh, he's the one who brings you here, he's funny, but he drinks a lot of tea, I don't think he ever gets sick of it. Then there's my dad, Ozai, he's uh – strict, but he teaches me about things I'll need to learn before I take the throne, both my dad and Uncle are Princes. Oh, and there's my mom, Ursa, she's nice and really pretty, she wasn't from royalty though, I don't know much about her side since no one will say anything, not even her – and then there's Azula, my little sister, but, I already told you about her." Zuko mulls over his train of thought before picking up again, "Oh! And there's also my cousin, Lu-Ten, he's a soldier in the war, sometimes I miss him, he's usually the only one who plays with me – well, that isn't a girl."

And so the hours go, with Zuko talking about whatever crosses his mind and Lion-Heart merely sitting there, pretending not to listen as he eats whatever the Prince had brought in the basket. Oddly enough, the sun was beginning to set, and somehow, Lion-Heart had scooted a little closer so he was about four feet away, of course, the young Prince hadn't noticed for his attention was divided between talking and watching the family of turtle-ducks.

"Oh, and I don't think I told you, but I'm seven." Zuko pauses, "And I'd ask you how old you are, but I don't think you'll - ,"

"Eight."

"Huh?" Zuko turns his head to meet Lion-Heart's gaze, but the other is looking at the ground once more, "Eight?" the boy nods, Zuko opens his mouth to say something when another boisterous voice cuts in:

"I'm sorry boys, but I got caught up in some official business." Iroh chuckles, "So, how was your day ~ ?"

"Good, can you bring him again tomorrow?"

"Of course ~ ," Iroh beams, he turns to the silent boy, "Alright Lion-Heart, it's time to go ~ ."

Lion-Heart nods in confirmation as Zuko rises to his feet, the young Prince reaches out for the basket only for a tan hand to stop him in his tracks, blinking, Zuko watches the Earth Kingdom boy as he places some of the contents they'd taken out, back in, before handing the entire thing over to him.

"Thanks." Zuko's a little bewildered, but he pushes it aside as he grabs the basket, "I'll see you tomorrow Lion-Heart."

Lion-Heart whispers a mumbled, "Yeah."

oOo

Sneaking a look around the corner and in to the kitchen, Zuko watches the cooks scurry back and forth in an attempt to get the dinner prepared in time for the royal family, looking down at the basket, the young Prince steps out from around the corner, but before he can so much as step one foot within the busy kitchen, a cook stops before him, seemingly out of nowhere, making him jump back. Wide yellow eyes look up in silent questioning – it was an elderly woman with graying hair tied back in a topknot, she looked weary, but kind nonetheless – Azula always said the woman was secretly a witch who was just trying to fatten him up so she could cook him and eat him up, thus gaining her youth back.

Zuko knew Azula lied, a lot, but the thought was still disconcerting all the same.

"What are you doing here young Prince?"

"Uh, well - ," Zuko looks to the ground shyly, "Here's the basket back."

"Oh, thank you young Prince." the woman smiles as she gingerly takes the wooden basket, "Now, off you go dear ~ dinner will be done soon."

Nodding, Zuko spins on his heel and hurries down the hall trying to keep his footsteps as quiet as possible as to not alert anyone else to his presence, especially his Father, whose been in a pretty foul mood ever since dinner last night when Uncle Iroh had happily shared the news about the young Prince and peasant's growing friendship – Zuko was pretty sure he was the only one who saw the metal bending in his Father's overheated grip, followed by the disapproving look sent his way. Shivering at the thought, Zuko sped up the pace, basically running down the halls – all he had to do was get to his Mother's and he would be safe from his Father's ire for the time being, but as it was, luck was against him. Turning the corner, he bumps into someone a lot taller than him, staggering back, Zuko looks up only to catch his Father's cold stare, the little Prince swallows the squeak that threatens to escape from his lips and bows before his Father respectfully.

"F-Father! I – I didn't know you were – I'm sorry! I didn't meant to - !"

"Stop your incessant babbling, Zuko," his Father spits, causing Zuko to tense, "I have no time for your nonsense, seeing as you failed to get that boy executed. My patience with you is thin as is."

Zuko falters, his Father knew about the execution and still wanted him to get the boy in trouble, he looks up, "But – I – they were going to kill him - ,"

"And your point being?"

"He's just a kid." Zuko can't help but gape, "He's only a year older than me."

"He's just an Earth Kingdom brat!" Ozai shouts, causing Zuko to flinch, his head snapping back down, "He he has no place in the Fire Nation, let alone the Fire Nation palace! He's a peasant who has no right gallivanting about the gardens with royalty!"

"Yeah but - ,"

"You've seen firsthand how utterly savage he can be! He's like a feral animal that must be put down!" Ozai barrels on, "You are a Prince! You are better than him! You can't show compassion for those weaker than you! Life is only kind to those who are strong!"

"But I – he's still alive, even after his home was burned down, wouldn't that make him strong?"

"It was dumb luck." his Father hisses, "He's already proven he can kill without a second thought, and now he will be trained by the top non-bending weapons masters we have to offer, he will become our personal guard which means he will have access to the palace and every room it holds. He will take what we offer and use it against us, he will murder us all while we sleep and we will have you and your compassion, your weakness, to thank for the downfall of the royal family, of the Fire Nation itself." Zuko thinks he feels his heart drop, "Azula would have never done such a thing, she would have done as she was told without second thought." Zuko only swallows the lump in his throat, "Your kindness will be your downfall Zuko."

"But - ,"

"Enough." Ozai snaps, "You have already wasted enough of my time."

With that, Zuko remains silent as his Father side steps him and continues on his way. Staring at the ground, Zuko fights the urge to call out after his Father, exhaling a little shakily, the young Prince changes his course for his room, his mind a whir with thoughts he'd rather not think of:

Would the boy really kill them all?

But he was so young, he was no older than Zuko.

But he'd already killed a man, a high-ranking soldier at that, and said he liked it.

If so, was all of what his father said really going to happen?

Just because he wasn't like Azula?

Azula who was like their father in every way; she wouldn't have shared random knowledge with the Earth Kingdom boy like they were friends, she would have done as their father said. Sighing, Zuko pushed open his door and shut it, walking towards his bed, he fell face first on the red silken sheets causing the pillows to become askew and blankets ruffled, closing his eyes, he decided he'd think about all of that tomorrow when he had a little more energy.

Chapter Text

Fault-finding eyes watch the sword master go through and explain the more complex maneuvers. Jet's mind already noting the possibilities of a takedown as well as perfecting it by adding his own flair to the mix. It had been eleven days since he'd begun his training with the teachers, whom of which were reluctant to give him lessons due to both his heritage and social status, but oh how it was worth the criticism and doubt when he got to see the looks on their pompous faces once he passed their teachings with ease – the young Earth Kingdom boy had soaked up all they had to teach him, all he needed to know about swordplay and arts to defeating his opponents. These lessons extending as far as how to subdue a firebender with just his weapons. If things continued on the way they were, he would surely be ahead of the schedule he'd set for himself.

"Your turn."

Without missing a beat, Jet rises from his spot upon the grassy field and takes the teacher's spot. Standing before the man, the young boy imagines cutting him down where he stands, just to get rid of that infuriating look of disgust he wears, wooden sword or not. Turning his gaze towards the palace wall, he concentrates on nothing in particular as he glides through the motions, the wooden sword cutting through the air with just as much intent to kill as a real one.

Finishing off the move with an added flair meaning to taunt the older male, Jet turns mocking eyes upon his teacher who looks torn between glaring and remaining stoic faced.

"There is nothing more I can teach you."

Jet smirks, "As if there was anything you could teach me to begin with."

The tanned boy resists the urge to laugh out loud at the scowl darkening his teacher's face:

"Ah ~ hello!" Jet frowns at the familiar voice calling out to them, "How goes training ~ ?"

"Well." the teacher steps forward, bowing in way of greeting, "He's learned all I can teach him."

Jet stops listening and stabs the end of the wooden sword into the dirt before sitting next to it with his back turned on the adults, he takes to glaring at one of the many palace windows, in fact, he'd forgotten about the young Prince. Prince Zuko who had slapped him during their first meeting, who called him a monster, who said he didn't approve of what Jet did to the soldier but didn't want him to die either. Prince Zuko who talked to him as if they were equals, who looked at him as though he were just like any other person instead of Earth Kingdom trash – brought him food as though it were no big deal. The soft-hearted Prince who had a love for turtle-ducks.

Perhaps he could make the young boy's death as quick and painless as possible.

"That boy makes me uneasy, General Iron." the sword-master mutters, both adults looking at the hunched over child, "There are days when he is quiet, watching me like an animal waiting for me to let my guard down. Then there are days when he spits foul words and threatens like he is possessed by an evil spirit."

"It is the days he is quiet that you should be on your guard, Chun."

"General, I am being serious!"

"As am I." Iroh laughs, "But do not worry; a feral heart needs but a compassionate soul."

"I do not understand G - ,"

"It is time we see the young Prince before he gets too impatient, Lion-Heart ~ !"

Both Iroh and sword-master Chun watch the boy rise from his spot on the ground, dust off his pants, and walk past them with little acknowledgement. Already knowing the path to the gardens. Chun gives Iroh a see what I mean look, but the old General merely smiles and bow politely.

oOo

"Sword master Chun informs me that he has no more to teach you." Iroh states thoughtfully as he follows a few steps behind Lion-Heart through the palace halls, "Perhaps it is time we start teaching you about the royal family and their possible enemies."

"I don't care about the royal family or their stupid enemies."

"But you must or - ,"

"Why don't you take your friends and go somewhere else?"

"Aww – don't you want to play with us, Big Brother?"

"No!"

Brows pinching at the absurdity of hearing the soft-hearted Prince yelling, Jet pushes the door open and steps out into the shade of the walkway's roof, followed shortly by Iroh. Near the tree, the Prince is frowning at three girls he's never seen before, each wearing different clothing and hairstyles – and that's basically all Jet can see, considering their backs are facing him. Although, neither party notices their arrival.

"Why not ~ ?" the same girl asks, faux sweetness woven into her tone, "Want to keep the peasant all to yourself ~ ?"

"He's not a peasant and no – I just don't trust you."

"Why, Zuzu!" the girl proclaims, sounding scandalized, "I'm hurt. I really am. But you know ~ the moment you let him live, was the moment he became a Fire Nation slave. So, he belongs to the whole family, and not just you."

"He isn't a slave Azula."

Jet frowns, his fingers itching to wrap around the Princess's throat.

"Oh Brother, I wouldn't expect you to understand. What with you treating him like our equal, instead of a commoner, or well, your equal."

Jet can see Zuko's brows knit and his fists clench, just as the young Prince is about to retort, Iroh brushes past Jet and steps out into the light. For once, he figures he might as well keep his mouth shut and follow the old man's lead:

"What is going on here?"

"Uncle Iroh ~ ." the Prince turns on her heel, face the picture of innocence, "Zuzu and I were just talking, he won't let us play with him and his friend."

"I see." Iroh hums, he looks down at Jet, "What do you think, Lion-Heart? Shall we let the girls stay?"

"No." Jet spits without a second thought. Taking pleasure in seeing the Princess's expression falter. "They're a bunch of girls."

"But I - ,"

"Come now Azula," Iroh gently leads the Princess towards the palace, her two friends following after them, "I'm sure there's plenty of other places for you and your two friends to play at."

Watching the doors close, Jet hears Zuko huff after a while, craning his neck, he sees the Prince making his way towards the shade of the tree. Instinctively, he follows as the soft-hearted boy sits with a pout, amber eyes trained on the family of turtle-ducks swimming within the pond.

"Your sister?" Jet finally speaks.

Zuko blinks, shocked eyes looking at him almost quizzically, it soon passes though as the boy turns a glare to the pond, "Yeah."

"And the two girls?" Jet sits an arm's reach away from the Prince.

"Her friends." Zuko sighs, "I don't know much about them, but they're pretty weird."

"How?"

"The girl in the pink, her name is Ty-Lee and she's always so happy every time I see her, no matter what, she's happy, even when Azula is being mean. And the other girl, Mai, she's just so quiet, she hardly speaks and sometimes I forget that she's there." Jet stares at the pond, its silent until Zuko speaks again, "You know, this is the most you've talked to me since the day we met." Jet blinks, watches the black-haired boy look at him seconds before a rather flattering shade of pink dusts his cheeks and quickly looks away, "I mean – I don't mind that you never talk, it's just – I thought I'd point that out since - ,"

"Jet."

"Huh?"

"My name," Jet explains, "My name is Jet."

"Jet?" Zuko looks at him, so he nods, when the Prince looks to the skies, Jet begins to expect a mocking comment from him. "I don't think I've met a person named Jet before – I like it." he did not expect that, "Does this mean you're going to talk more?"

Jet finds himself saying, "Depends."

"On what?"

"How well you keep a secret."

"A secret?" Zuko repeats, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't want anyone else knowing my name."

"Why?"

"Just because." Jet snaps, "I don't want no one else to know and you gotta keep it a secret or I'm not talking to you anymore."

Thinking his threat was perfectly legitimate, Jet watches the young Prince go through severl motions, each showing clearly on his face, until he nods:

"Okay, but, what if there are people around?"

"Then you keep calling me Lion-heart."

"Okay."

Silence.

"Do you think you're better than me just because you're a Prince?"

"I – no? I don't know?" Zuko draws his knees to his chest, gaze concentrating upon the pond's waters, "I know I'm supposed to, and I know that others do, but I don't really care."

"You're so different than you sister."

"I know." Zuko sighs, "My dad keeps reminding me, he thinks I should be more like her – he says I'm weak."

"That's stupid." Jet declares, "He's stupid."

Zuko glares at him, "But maybe he's right." he looks back to the water, "Azula's a lot better than me at, pretty much everything, especially firebending. When I was born, they weren't sure I was going to even be a firebender."

"You're a – firebender?"

"Yeah. Why?" Jet glares at his lap, with how kind the Prince is, he forgot what he was. "I'm sorry."

Jet spits, "For what?"

"For what happened to your village. I – I didn't know Fire Nation soldiers do that kind of stuff."

"Well – they do."

"I – when I take the throne I'll make sure nothing like that happens to anyone else."

Jet blinks, looking to the Prince, "Really?"

"Yeah, I – it isn't right, what they're doing."

Looking at his hands, Jet wonders if he should rethink his plans, "Okay, well, you wanna do something? All we do is sit around all day watching turtle-ducks."

"You never really said anything." Zuko states as though that made it obvious.

"Well, now I am ~ let's do something ~ !"

"Like what?" Zuko asks, peering up at the boy who gets a wicked grin crossing his features.

SUNSET

"Look ~ !" Zuko smiles, holding out a tan turtle-duck, "It looks like you ~ !"

"It doesn't even look like me!"

"Does too!" Zuko huffs, holding the duck to his chest and turning his back on Jet.

The fact that the Prince seemed to be offended on behalf of the turtle-duck had Jet laughing a genuine laugh that was until water was splashed in his face, spitting out the water that managed to make it into his mouth, he levels a look at the Prince through his wet fringe, the latter holding back his own laughter:

"You just made a big mistake."

"Oh yeah?" Zuko challenges.

Grinning, Jet tackles the Prince into the water, both boys laughing as they fall into the water, sitting back still laughing, Jet watches as the other boy sat up still grinning, but this time his hair was free from its tie. Feeling his face drop, Jet takes in the soft-hearted Prince's image; pale skin, cheeks flushed pink, smiling and laughing, soaked hair sticking to his skin – the tan boy felt something within his chest shift in a way he couldn't explain. The Prince was rather – pretty for a boy. Sitting back on his rear, he watches the Prince swipe his inky black hair from his forehead before opening his eyes, eyes that shone rather bright, a rather pretty color.

"Well now ~ ," Iroh's voice broke through, both boys turned to see the General standing with his hands in his sleeves, "It looks like you two had a fun time ~ ."

"Yeah we did ~ ," Zuko smiles, Jet goes back to frowning.

"As much as I hate to ruin such a wonderful moment, it is time we go Lion-Heart."

"Of course." Jet rolls his eyes, clambering from the pond with the Prince on his heels.

"See you tomorrow?"

Jet looks to the Prince and he still has that strange urge to smile, he nods, "Yeah."

oOo

After having his dinner delivered to his cell, they still wouldn't let him out, Jet moved to the hay piled he'd chosen of the ratty old looking bed, lying on his back with his arms pillowing the back of his head, he stares up at the stone ceiling, most of which seems like a gray blur within the dark of the prison. Thinking back on the day's events, his mind instantly picks out the moment during the play fight he and the Prince had in the pond, the emotion, or at least the wild boy assumes it's an emotion, had come from virtually nowhere, and without reason. Rolling on to his side, he buries himself deeper within the pile of hay; maybe he was over thinking things and it was merely the first moment of contentment he'd had since he'd been dragged here.

Whatever it was, it was over now and it wouldn't affect him or his plans:

Learn all he could about the Fire Nation. Get close to the royal family. As soon as they let their guard down, take them out, starting with weakest to strongest – which means the Prince?

His train of thought falters, somehow the thought of killing the Prince doesn't seem right.

Okay, start with the strongest to weakest.

Fire Lord Azulon seemed like an easy kill, he was an old man, but Prince Ozai and Zuko's mother probably slept in the same bed, which meant they'd be harder to kill as one would most likely wake.

So weakest to strongest.

It was more logically sound but –

The Prince.

Okay. Maybe he could start off with the Princess, Fire Lord Azulon, then the mother, and then Ozai.

What about Iroh?

Him too.

And Zuko?

He'll have to go too, save him for last.

Or?

Or maybe he could convince Zuko to leave the Fire Nation with him, he could show the boy the Earth Kingdom and they could be friends – Jet stops his traitorous mind. The entire family will have to go. No one can be spared. Closing his eyes in determination, he tries his best to ignore the thought plaguing the back of his mind. Lingering like a bad dream.

Chapter Text

Months have passed since Jet had been unwillingly brought to the Fire Nation, and while it hasn't lessened the hate the Earth Kingdom boy feels for the Nation or its people, he still finds himself meeting with the soft-hearted Prince and playing for hours on end, such as now, chasing the younger boy in a game of catch Jet was close to grabbing a hold of the other when he stopped suddenly, Jet stopping a second later, for you see, spending months on end with the Fire Nation Prince allowed Jet to key in on his movements which meant he knew what the boy was going to do when he was going to do it. Intuitive one would say. Following Zuko's line of sight, the tanned boy felt a frown tug his lips down, standing with her hands on her hips and that infuriating smirk she always wore was Princess Azula. Just like Zuko, she was wearing heavier layers of clothing, it being the winter season and all.

"Hello Zuzu." she croons, the Princess reminding Jet of a cobra-lion ready to strike, "I see you still haven't tired of your little peasant."

Both boys wear similar frowns at this, the only difference being Zuko's arms crossed over his chest and Jet's hands clenched into fists at his side, "What do you want Azula?"

"Mai and Ty-Lee are out right now and I'm just looking for some entertainment," she drawls airily, checking her nails, "And who better to keep me entertained than my fool of a Brother and his dirty pet, the Earth Kingdom orphan."

"Entertain yourself." Jet snaps, "We're not your playthings."

"No, I suppose you're not." hums Azula, "You're much too rude; then again, I don't blame you for your behavior. After all, I heard your parents were killed. I guess they died before they could teach you anything worthwhile – such as respect for those higher than you."

"Azula - !" Zuko snaps, Jet shoves past Zuko to loom over the Princess, the girl faltering momentarily.

"No, you're right." Jet snarls, jabbing a harsh finger at her shoulder, "I wasn't taught to respect those higher than me, but what I was taught was to respect those who deserve it. Not some puffed up little girl who thinks she's better than me and everyone else just because Daddy gives her everything she wants just because she's too pathetic to do it on her own."

Azula flutters her eyelids a handful of times before an angry snarl crosses her face, hungry flames erupt from her fists, Zuko gasps at the suddenness of it all, but Jet doesn't so much as flinch, having been taught much about firebending.

"You don't get to talk to me like that you stupid orphan!"

A flaming fist swipes at his head, Jet slips under the flames and kicks the Princess's feet out from underneath her, before she has a chance to retaliate or even blink, there's a heavy weight on her chest, knees digging painfully into the crook of her arms and two hands wrapped around her throat in a vice grip. She can't move her arms so she bucks under the weight in an attempt to move the Earth Kingdom boy – he doesn't move an inch. She can only watch in fear as the boy tightens his hold on her neck, leaning his weight onto the balls of his hands, pressing against her throat. She can't breathe, she can't move, all she can do is watch and listen to her pulse thrumming in her ears:

"Jet!" Zuko shouts in panic moving to help his sister, "Jet! Let go!" he grabs a hold of the boy's shoulders and tries dragging him off, "Jet, she can't breathe!"

Jet's only vaguely aware of Zuko rushing off, he leans until he's nose to nose with the girl, he wants so much to crush her throat, he wants blood, instead, he speaks in a grave voice, "Listen here Princess, it's you who doesn't get to talk to me like that. Unlike the rest of this pathetic Nation, I'm not afraid of you or your family. I've already killed and I'm willing to do it again, I don't care if you are just a kid," he tightens his hold, he can feel her pulse thrumming, "I'll kill you without a second thought."

"Lion-Heart!" a pair of voices cry out.

A strong pair of hands lifts Jet from the Princess's body, he's soon being carried away from the gardens – he watches the Princess sit up with a hand rubbing at her throat and Lady Ursa at her side, along with a concerned Zuko. Azula's eyes meet his one more time before the doors shut behind him.

"What were you thinking!?" Iroh scolds, he's the one carrying Jet, "If Prince Zuko hadn't gotten to me and Lady Ursa in time, you could have killed Princess Azula!"

"Who cares?" Jet hisses, "And Zuko shouldn't care either – she's always mean to him, he's too – too forgiving!"

"They're family." Iroh sighs, "Of course he's going to care. Zuko is – the young Prince is kind, he has a sense of what is right and what is wrong."

"Still." Jet frowns, "And put me down! I don't need you carrying me!"

Inhaling a calm breath, Iroh places Jet on the floor, kneeling before the boy he places a hand upon the eight year old's shoulder, "That was a stupid thing to do Lion-Heart, my Brother will hear of it and he will want you executed, and my Father may go along with it this time."

Miffed, Jet pushes Iroh's hand off his shoulder, "I don't care."

"Well you should. You're still young and you have a long life ahead of you."

"Who cares?"

"I do."

"We're not friends, and we're not even related."

"And I'm sure the young Prince will care, as well as Ursa." Iroh goes on to say, Jet's features soften an inch, "Not all of us are heartless Lion-Heart. I'm sure Prince Zuko is an example of this."

Jet looks away, "He still told on me."

"Because he believes in what's right." Iroh watches the Earth Kingdom boy scowl harder, he sighs as he stands, "Come, let's get you back to your cell."

oOo

"He nearly killed my daughter!"

"It was in self defense; Prince Azula tried to attack him with firebending."

"That doesn't justify anything!" Ozai snaps at his brother, he looks to their Father, "I told you it was only a matter of time before he tried to kill us!"

"As usual brother you are missing the point." Iroh hisses, he looks to their father as well, "Why would he suddenly attack us after he's done so good after all these months? Why would he play with Prince Zuko, a firebender, like they were friends if he was just going to kill us off?" silence, "It's because Prince Zuko hasn't tried to attack him with fire as Princess Azula had done! Yes he's training with firebenders to take firebenders down, but each and every one of his teachers say he still flinches! He still has a legitimate fear of fire and those who wield it!"

"This is why we should get rid of him!"

Iroh levels a glare at his brother, "You can't just throw fire at a problem and hope it goes away!"

"Enough!" Azulon booms, both brothers stop their arguing, "Guards. Gather the children and bring them here immediately. We will see what they have to say about this."

Four muffled echoes of yes Fire Lord Azulon can be heard followed by the thudding of boots and clinking of armor. The three man wait in a tense silence, both Iroh and Ozai glaring one another down, before anything can get any more heated than necessary, the doors soon barge open and the three children are escorted into the council room. Both Prince and Princess treated gently while the peasant boy is in shackles and chains, eyes wild, he struggles as he's pushed forward.

Iroh frowns, "Why is the boy in chains?"

A guard bows, "He was resisting Prince Iroh."

"Enough, he is here and we may begin." Fire Lord Azulon interrupts, "We will start with Princess Azula."

Azula steps forth, a roll of gauze wrapped around her neck, she looks irritated so of course Jet can't resist, he offers a lupine grin, eyes narrowing hatefully on the girl:

"Nice necklace you got there Princess."

"Don't talk to me." she hisses underneath her breath, resisting the urge to scratch at the wrappings, "I was wandering the palace alone since my friends weren't available. Bored, I had gone to see my brother and Lion-Heart - ,"

"Oh, so it's Lion-Heart now." Jet sing-songs, chains clinking, "What happened to calling me orphan ~ ?"

"I told you to shut it."

"No. You told me not to talk to you."

"Enough!" Azulon barks, Princess Azula bows her head in apology, Jet rolls his eyes, "Continue."

"I had hoped they would let me play with them, but Lion-Heart was being mean as usual, so I got mad when he started saying things and told me he shouldn't talk to me like that." Jet snorts causing Azula to glare at him, "And before I knew it, he was trying to kill me."

"Yeah – no." Zuko sends him a look, a look Jet ignores, "Half of that's bullshit."

"Well then, by all means, let us hear what you have to say Lion-Heart." Azulon frowns, "You may begin."

"I'll begin when I want." Jet grumbles under his breath.

Zuko elbows him and hisses, "Lion-Heart."

"Fine, whatever," Jet growls, he glares at the Fire Lord, "So, Zuko and I were playing when Azula came out of her cave acting like she owned the entire place - ,"

Ozai interrupts, "She is the Princess, she may act as she pleases."

"And," Jet continued, glaring at Ozai, "Since she's always acting like a bitch,"

"Watch your tongue!"

"I'll do what I very damn well want!" Jet retorts angrily until Zuko digs his elbow into his ribs again, growling heatedly, Jet returns to his tale, "Since she's always acting like the Princess she is, I wasn't too happy to see her ugly mug. When Zuko asked her what she wanted, she said we were to entertain her since her friends were gone while insulting me and her brother. I told her she could shove it, that we weren't her playthings. And of course, her being the brat she is said I was right, that I was too rude or whatever to be a plaything," he glares at her, she glares back, Zuko feels smothered, "Then she brought up my parents, saying she couldn't blame me for not learning any manners since they were killed before I could learn anything! Of course I'm going to be fucking angry! I told her she was right, my parents didn't teach me anything about manners or shit like that, but they did teach me to respect those who deserve it!"

"Then you called me pathetic!" Azula hisses from Zuko's right side.

"Yeah, so you called me a stupid orphan and then tried to burn me alive!" Jet snaps back from Zuko's left, "Anyway so on reflex I took her down since I was taught firebenders don't do so well up close and personal - ,"

"By choking me!"

"Well what the fuck did you want me to do!?" Jet hisses, "Stand there like a moron and let you kill me!?"

"So you try to kill me!?"

"Better you than me!"

"That's enough!" Fire Lord Azulon shouts, he glares at the two bickering children, "It sounds like you're both to blame! But we still have Prince Zuko to hear from." he turns his gaze upon Zuko, "Now let's hear what you have to say."

"Well," Zuko starts shyly, "He pretty much covered it - ,"

"Tell us your side Zuko." Ozai growls, Jet glares.

"Alright, well, we were playing when Azula came out, I had asked her what she wanted, she told us to entertain her since Mai and Ty-Lee were gone, Lion-heart told her to entertain herself. She called him rude and brought up his parents, he got even madder and I was going to tell her to stop but Lion-heart pushed past me so he was close to her, he told her he didn't respect people who didn't deserve it and called her pathetic. She got mad and fire came from her fists, she tried to hit him but he ducked, and I don't know what he did exactly, but he took her down. His hands around her neck and his knees on her arms, she couldn't move and he was so angry, I – I was scared, so I tried getting him to stop but he wouldn't listen, I tried pulling him off but when that didn't work I ran off to find uncle or mother."

"This is true." Iroh speaks, "Zuko was the one to get us, when we arrived, Lion-heart was choking her, I managed to pull him off and take him to his cell."

Silence.

"You were scared?"

Zuko shrinks under his father's words, "Yes."

"Did it occur to you that you can firebend?"

"N-no – not really," Zuko murmurs, "I was just – I was panicking."

Ozai opened his mouth to continue only for Jet to step forward, hand up in a halting motion, "Okay, no, that's enough, alright. At least he did something you dick! Your precious little girl can be a major bitch sometimes, no, scratch that! All the time! But he still cares for her! That's because unlike you he knows what's right and what's wrong, he has honor! More than you'll ever have!"

"I see," Fire Lord Azulon rumbles, cutting off Ozai, "I respect your spirit, you will not be executed Lion-heart, in fact, it appears as though you will be a fine addition to our security detail, I only hope you learn some self-restraint for if this happens again I will have you executed. You need to learn some restraint as well Azula, not everyone will bow before you. Now, everyone is dismissed, I am done with this nonsense."

oOo

"I was scared."

Sitting on the ratty old cot for once, Jet's glares at his hands, his fingers curling to form a fist – things were getting too tangled, too blurred for him to successfully pull off his plan, he needed to do something, and he needed to do it now. Rising to his feet, he moves to the cell door, his eyes are cold as he looks up and down the walkway, he sees nothing, hears nothing, reaching into the seam of his shirt, he pulls out a pin and begins working the lock.

"Monster."

Hearing the muffled click of the lock, he opens the door just enough for him to barely slip out, the lights having gone out some time ago, he uses the shadows as his cover and begins making his trek towards the palace. Sneak in, sneak out, kill whoever sees me. Entering the palace through an opened window near a tree, he lands on the carpeted floor with an indistinct thud, he stays crouched, listening to the silence – he hears light breathing. Quietly making his way towards what appeared to be a bed in the dark, he touches the sharpened tip of a crooked rock with the pad of his pointer finger, it's no blade, but it's sharp enough to piece skin, especially when force was applied. It's when he's standing at the person's bedside that he's able to make the vaguely distinct features of the young Prince. Zuko, weakest to strongest. Licking his lips, he raises the stone above his head as the Prince rolls onto his back, his arms droop to his side and his mouth opens slightly when he sees it, just barely in the darkness, he can see twin trails of tearstains. Frowning, he shakes his head and raises his arms once more, tightening his hold on his makeshift dagger, he thinks he's going to plunge it into the Prince's neck when a rush of thoughts plague him:

Why was he crying?

Why does it matter?

Swallowing the apprehension beginning to swell his throat shut, Jet quietly curses and tosses the rock out the window before sitting heavily on the bed, the vibration waking the young Prince who instantly becomes startled:

"Who's – Jet? Is that you?"

"Yeah," he sighs, "Hey Zuko."

"What are you doing here?"

"Couldn't sleep." he lies smoothly, "You – I hate you."

"What did I do now?" Jet can hear the frown in Zuko's voice, "Hold on, let me light a candle."

"No!" Jet grabs what he thinks is Zuko's wrist, he feels the Prince's warm skin, his pulse, "I – just let me talk, I – I don't think I can do this if the lights are on."

"Um, okay?" Zuko pulls his wrist from Jet.

"I – I hate you because you're – you."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You're a good person and – damn it, I hate the Fire Nation I really do, but you – you're different. You're nice, you're not like your sister or your father. You know what's right. You're understanding."

"Well I don't understand what's going on now."

Jet feels a smile tug at is lips at this, "What I'm getting at is I like you, you're like a dog."

"Gee, thanks."

Jet grins at the sardonic reply, "And well, if I'm going to be your bodyguard, I want to be friends."

"You want to be friends and my bodyguard?"

"Yeah, you're too nice, who knows what you'll get yourself into." Jet can feel the heat of Zuko's frown and laughs, "But really, it's not like I have anyone to go back to, but here, I have a friend, you. And, you're a good person, the kind of person who knows when to stop me when I get like that ever again."

"Oh, okay." he hears Zuko shuffle awkwardly, "What now?"

"Well, I guess I go back to my cell now, huh?"

"Or we can talk a little longer," is Zuko's sheepish suggestion, "Since you couldn't sleep and stuff."

"Okay, scoot over, this bed is comfortable."

"I said we could talk, I don't want you sleeping in bed with me."

"I'm not going to sleep with you, I just want to rest my back against the wall."

"You smell." Zuko huffs but moves anyway,

"No one told you to smell me." Jet says as he rests his back against the wall, "Besides, I don't smell that bad."

"I didn't smell you, and my bed is going to smell." Zuko states, "That's how bad you smell."

"You're such a girl."

"Am not, I just know how to take care of myself."

"Fine, tomorrow I'll take bath, happy?"

"No."

Jet can hear the smile in Zuko's voice, he smiles as well, pushing his shoulder against the Prince's, "You're such a liar."

Later when Zuko warns him that he can feel the sun rising, Jet bids his friend goodbye and exits the same way he came, when he's safely in his pile of hay, he's allowed a blissful hour of sleep until Iroh comes to take him to training. Despite having stayed up all night, he does pretty well, perhaps a little sloppy. But when he's brought to see Zuko and Iroh leaves, the two boys smile sleepily. Drifting off under the tree.

 

Chapter Text

Jet: 9 + Zuko: 8

Kuo, a Fire Nation assassin for the royal family, circled and studied his latest student with a critical eye; his student was a young Earth Kingdom boy, definitely different than his usual students, whom everyone referred to as Lion-Heart. Wild eyes and a wilder heart, the boy was certainly a quick learner in the arts of killing and survival. The boy was certainly impressive, but he had no self-restraint. None knew the boy's real name, except for Prince Zuko, when one asked the wild boy for his real name, he would snap out a barbed retort and watch the asker with shifty eyes – the sound of pattering footsteps reached Kuo's trained ears, snapping from his musings, he spots the young Prince. The only one to get much out of the vindictive child.

"Lion-Heart!" the young Prince shouts, said boy spins on his heel, "We're going to the markets ~ come on!"

The bright grin that lights up Lion-Heart's face momentarily dazzles Kuo, that is, until another voice speaks, "Now, now Love," it's Lady Ursa, "We mustn't interrupt their lessons. It's very rude."

Kuo smiles as the Prince pouts, "It is quite alright Lady Ursa, if the Prince so wishes, I can let Lion-Heart go early."

The Prince practically beams as he turns to his mother, "Can he ~ ?"

Ursa smiles, placing a hand upon her son's shoulder, "If that's what you want, Love."

The young Prince turns to Kuo with a bright smile, 'Yes ~ !"

"As you wish, young Prince." Kuo bows deeply, before he can tell Lion-Heart he is free to leave, the boy zips over to the Prince and the two are running off with grins on their faces, Kuo moves to stand next to Lady Ursa, "I have to admit," Kuo begins, "I was rather surprised to see Lion-Heart smile a real smile. The ones he usually gives out are ones of mockery and malice."

"I was surprised as well, but it is nice to know he smiles at all." they're watching the boys, Lion-Heart is gestures animatedly while the Prince hides his giggles behind a hand, "I think it's nice that both boys are friends despite their differences, and I must admit, it is cute watching them follow each other around."

Jet: 10 + Zuko: 9

"Why do you chew on that stupid wheat?"

"It's not stupid." Jet huffs, "Besides, it calms me down."

Both boys are sitting underneath their favorite tree when Azula and her friends approach:

"We're bored." Azula states, "Entertain us."

"I'm pretty sure we've been through this before," Jet hisses, his eyes flick to Mai and Ty-Lee, "Don't you guys have your own place?"

"Yeah, but Azula doesn't want to go because - ,"

"It reeks of poverty." Azula interrupts fiercely.

Jet arches a brow, "Seriously?"

"Does it look like I'm joking?"

Getting to his feet, he manages to slip past the bickering children and stands next to both Ty-Lee and Mai, "Why did you guys really come here?"

"Because Azula likes Lion-Heart ~ ." Ty-Lee chirps.

Neither Azula nor Jet hear.

Mai sighs, "We weren't supposed to tell you."

"Oh yeah!" Ty-Lee covers her mouth, "Oops ~ my bad!"

Zuko makes a face, "Azula likes Lion-Heart? When did that happen?"

"Well since you know she likes him, I guess it's okay if I tell you ~ it happened after he hurt her, she was angry and complaining that Lion-Heart wasn't scared of her, that he was rude and stuff but then she said he was really brave and she respected him for it ~ she had this really cute blush when she said it too ~ ," Ty-Lee gushes, wrapping her arms around Zuko's, "So now every time she sees him she gets so embarrassed afterwards and says stuff like he should respect her because she's a princess but she blushes when she says it, oh, and she doesn't want to come to our houses because she won't see Lion-Heart if she does."

Zuko's mildly surprised neither Jet or Azula didn't hear Ty-Lee, "Right – does she know Lion-Heart doesn't like her like that, or at all?"

"How do you know he doesn't?" Ty-Lee huffs,

"Because he would tell me if he did," Zuko feels an odd sense of uncertainty after he says this; he shakes his head and removes his arm from her hold, "I don't even want to think about this. Its – it's just wrong. Lion-Heart!" the brunette looks at him, "Let's go – I'm kinda hungry."

"Alright." Jet shoves past Azula and follows Zuko.

In the halls of the palace, Zuko finds himself fidgeting as Jet rants about Azula, feeling a spike of jealousy, he blurts out, "Do you like Azula?"

"Zuko, did you not hear what I was saying?" Jet frowns, "I can't stand her; she's mean!"

"I mean - ," Zuko pauses, "If you did, would you tell me?"

"Yeah I would, hell, you'd be the first person I'd tell if I thought I did," Jet states, "I tell you everything, why?"

"I don't know, it's just, I was wondering since you guys always fight. Adults say kids are mean to each other if they like each other."

"Well, whoever says that's stupid, besides," he throws an arm around Zuko's shoulders, "You're the only person I need in my life right now."

Jet: 11 + Zuko: 10

Jet's walking with Zuko and Ursa when they pass the garden the boys usually play when Azula comes up to the railing and looks up at her mother with bright yellow eyes, wide and innocent, Jet's instantly suspicious:

"Mom, can Zuko and Lion-Heart come play with us ~ ?"

"No!" both boys reply instantaneously.

But of course, Ursa manages to coax both boys into being kind and playing with the girls, so here he was, watching with a bored expression as Azula goes about explaining what they were going to do as she places an apple atop Mai's head. She soon sets the apple on fire. The sight of fire snaps Jet back to the present as Zuko runs towards the girl, full speed, and practically tackles her into the fountain. Both Azula and Ty-Lee start laughing; Jet is not amused. Especially when Ty-Lee claims both Zuko and Mai look cute together. Humiliated. Zuko quickly storms off, wet and angry, he yells about girls being as he passes his mother and disappears into the palace, Jet's still frowning when he turns to the girls:

"That wasn't funny." he says before he takes off to track his friend down.

The girls watch him leave, until Ty-Lee turns to Azula, "Hey, maybe we could get Lion-Heart and Zuko to go on a double date with you and Mai, Azula ~ ."

Azula hisses, "Be quiet."

Jet: 12 + Zuko: 11

"She's gone." Zuko says one night as Jet steps into his room after not seeing each other all day.

"Who, Azula?" Jet snorts, he falls onto Zuko's bed, "Good riddance I say, I never liked her anyway."

"No," Zuko sounds stressed, "Not her, my – my mom."

Jet hears the near whine in the younger boy's tone, he sits up to look at his friend better, "What?"

"I – first Lu-Ten dies, then my grandfather, and – and my father is Fire Lord now," Zuko's shoulders shake, "A-and she's gone."

"Wait," Jet frowns as everything soaks in, the prominent being Ozai is now Fire Lord, "Is that why everyone was gone today?" Zuko nods weakly and Jet feels hate begin to weigh his chest down until a strained hiccup escapes the young Prince, "Hey, no," the tanned boy opens his arms, "Come here."

The older boy is mildly surprised when Zuko crawls out from under the covers and allows Jet to hold him, the shock vanishes as he feels Zuko's body quake followed by tears soaking his shirt. Sighing quietly, Jet buries his nose in Zuko's usually neat hair, he rubs the Prince's arm soothingly, the action causes the firebender to bury his face in Jet's shirt and cry louder – Jet feels his heart break.

"Hey, come on Fire-Bird. Things aren't all that bad; I'm still here and, what about Iroh, he's still around – somewhere."

When Zuko speaks, it's muffled, "He's coming back but, with my father as Fire Lord, he can have you killed – I don't want that."

Pursing his lips, Jet lies down, pulling Zuko with him so the Prince is lying with an ear pressed against his chest, "If it makes you feel better, I'll try and behave, I'll stay out of his way okay?"

"Okay." comes the quiet reply,

"Do you want me to stay with you tonight?"

"Yeah."

"Alright," Jet holds Zuko closer, "I won't go anywhere."

Jet: 13 + Zuko: 12

Dragging the unconscious man towards the council room, Jet falters momentarily upon seeing Azula, Iroh, and Zuko kneeling before the dais, regaining his composure, he continues on as the man stirs. Dropping the man before the three, Jet tries to ignore the inquisitive look in Zuko's eyes:

"Found this guy trying to get into the palace," Jet begins, "He had a map of the palace, an X marking the room of each of the royal family."

"And what was the man planning to accomplish with this map?"

"He was planning to assassinate each and every one of the family members; I confiscated the map, five vials of poison, and a dagger." Jet states, the man begins rousing, "What shall we do with him Fire Lord Ozai?"

"Take him to the holding cells, we'll interrogate him later."

"Of course." Jet bows and is about to knock the man out again when Ozai speaks again,

"Wait," Ozai keeps his brother and son in his peripheral, "Kill him instead." he judges Lion-Heart's expression, both Iroh and Zuko are startled, "Now."

Fire Lord Ozai watches the Earth Kingdom boy blink momentarily before a malicious grin snakes across his lips, he produces a Fire Nation dagger from his belt, he twirls it almost playfully. The man is now groggy as his eyes scan the room before landing on the weapon. Iroh rises to his feet and Ozai already knows what the man is going to say:

"Brother, surely - ,"

He's cut off as Lion-Heart plunges the dagger through the back of the man's neck. Iroh looks shocked, Zuko wears a horrified expression, Azula seems impressed, and Ozai hums approvingly as the boy wipes the dagger clean.

"I'm impressed," Ozai begins, "Guards, get rid of the body. Everyone is dismissed."

Exiting the council room, Jet is blindsided by an angry Zuko, "What was that!?"

"I just followed Fire Lord Ozai's orders."

"But – Uncle could have thought of a better use for the man!"

Jet opens his mouth to reply when Azula cuts in, neither boy having noticed her, "He did what was necessary, Zuzu."

Zuko looks between the both of them before storming off, shouting over his shoulder, "You're both insane!"

Azula turns to Jet, a smirk in place, "I'm impressed Lion-Heart, not many would do something like that."

His only response is to walk away, calmly heading in the direction Zuko had disappeared – when he finds the Prince, he's in his room lying on his back:

"Fire-Bird?" Jet closes the door, "You okay?"

"Go away."

"Look, I did what I had to," Jet begins, "If I didn't, your dad would have had my head." Zuko remains silent, eyes closed, "I – I've been good."

Zuko sits up with a sigh, "I guess, I just – I don't know."

"Are you mad?" Jet ventures,

"No, I'm just exhausted." Zuko situates himself so he's lying on the bed; he pats the spot next to him, "Lay with me, I don't feel like going out."

"Okay." Jet moves, he lies beside the Prince, they're face to face, Jet fights the heat rising to his cheeks.

"Just – if you're going to do something like that again," Zuko grabs Jet's hand, looking at it as if expecting to see blood, "Could you give me a warning first?"

"I – yeah," Jet finds himself liking the contrast between their skin tones; he thinks he might be in love, "I can do that."

Jet: 14 + Zuko: 13

Everything crawls to a stop, his eyes widen in horror as the fire makes contact with Zuko's face, his mind racing through different emotions and what-ifs, the prominent being horror which quickly turns into rage as he turns his attention on to the man who'd produced the fire, he moved to attack, to do something, revenge, when a hand grabs his shoulder, forcing him to stop. Looking back, he sees the sorrow filled eyes of Iroh who shakes his head. Gritting his teeth, Jet turns to see Zuko's crumpled form, all alone, the smell of burned flesh making him sick and sending his mind through a loop as old memories flash through his mind's eye – when everyone clears out, both Iroh and Jet hurry to Zuko's side.

Jet watches Iroh gently scoop Zuko up, "Is he going to be okay?"

"It's – it is nothing life threatening." Iroh assures, "But – we will not know how well he will be able to see, or if he will be able to see through his left eye at all."

Later that night, Iroh and Jet stand before Ozai, Iroh managing to wrangle up a crew for the Prince and Jet seeking permission to go with the now banished Prince:

"Why do you want to go?" Ozai eyes him critically, "You have been a valuable asset to our detail."

"By all means Fire Lord Ozai, nothing happens here." Jet begins, "You and your daughter are safe behind these walls, but Prince Zuko will be traveling the world, a world where anything can happen. Bandits. Pirates. Assassins."

"It is excitement you seek then?"

"Yes, and it is also my job to protect the royal family. Prince Zuko will need the extra protection."

Ozai studies him before turning away, "No."

Jet feels his impassive mask fall, "But sir - ,"

"I said no. Now go, you are not needed here."

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Jet turns on his heel and storms out of the private room – in the young Prince's room, Jet struggles with the feeling in his chest; he can't place it, can't describe it, but in simple terms it feels like the world is empty. Jet spots Zuko's pale hand, without thinking, he reaches out and covers the younger boy's hand with his own, he rests his chin on the bed, simply staring up at the comatose boy. Gingerly opening the door, Iroh is rather surprised to see the Earth Kingdom boy's fingers entwined with his nephew's, he feels a smile tug the corner of his lips, approaching the two, he lays a hand on Lion-heart's shoulder, the young boy startles but his hand never leaves Zuko's.

"I have talked with my brother," Iroh begins, he watches Lion-heart lay his head back down, "And he is allowing you to accompany us."

The boy lifts his head, eyes wide, "Really?"

"Yes, if there is anything you want to bring, you must do so now."

"I - ," Lion-Heart looks to Zuko, "I don't need anything, I'm fine with what I'm wearing and all I got is my weapons."

"Very well." Iroh watches the boy, "Perhaps you should rest."

"I don't want, or need, it."

Iroh turns on his heel and makes for the door, "Love is truly a wonderful thing."

"What?" Jet turns, but Iroh is already out the door.

 

Chapter Text

Sitting with his back pressed against the cool metal of the ship's tower, Jet is sharpening his shuang gou whilst Iroh sits lotus style in front of a small table, the old firebender playing some sort of tile game with a tantalizing kettle of warm tea sitting on the corner. If Jet were any colder he'd ask for a cup, but instead, he pulls out a cloth and begins polishing his beloved blades. Both men were currently keeping the young Prince company as he stands at the bow of the ship, a spot he'd taken up after he'd been forced to eat breakfast. The day had started out normally, or as normal for Jet as it could be when one has an angry Prince shouting at him to get his lazy ass up – Jet had been a little more than ticked at having been awoken in such a rude manner, especially since he'd gotten little to no sleep thanks to the huffy Prince starring in his midnight dreams, but he quickly got over it since he wasn't the only one the Prince had rudely awaken.

That, and Jet may or may not be harboring a little crush on the Prince.

Eyes darting towards Zuko's still form, Jet sighs and places his swords at his sides, "Hey Zuko," he calls out, the Prince tenses at the use of his name being said so familiarly, "Sit down. Relax. You're starting to make me anxious; we're not going to find the Avatar with you standing there like some creepy ass statue."

"You aren't funny, Lion-Heart." the Prince deadpans, but he still doesn't move.

"I wasn't trying to be funny, but it's nice you think so." Jet grins as Zuko clenches his fists, "Why don't we have a sparring session?"

"I don't want to." the weapons are beneath me goes unsaid, but it's there.

Jet sing-songs, "It'll calm you down ~ ."

"I don't need to calm down!" Zuko finally snaps, "And I don't want to!"

Jet surrenders, "Just saying."

"He is right, Prince Zuko." Iroh begins, he moves a tile, "You must relax. Why don't we all play a rousing game of pai-sho and have a steaming cup of calming ginseng tea?"

"I said I don't need to calm down!" Zuko shouts, he turns his glare on Iroh, "I don't want to spar! I don't want to play pai-sho! And I don't want any calming tea!"

As soon as the Prince turns his back on the two, Jet frowns and pulls a dagger from his boot, he begins sharpening it as well; it's a rather bitter feeling knowing the angry boy was once a kind-hearted child – just then, a bright bluish beam shoots into the skies, the energy casts the surrounding area in a faint blue light, Jet soon feels the pressure in the atmosphere change followed by a sudden gust of wind that rustles his clothes and the two Princes' hair. He hears Zuko mutter something under his breath before he turns to the two:

"Did you see that?" Jet gives a curt nod while Iroh moves another tile, "That's got to be him! Helmsman, set a course for the light!"

"Prince Zuko, it is probably the celestial lights," Iroh reasons, "We've been through this before. You mustn't get your hopes up so soon."

The sixteen year old growls but turns to look to the horizon once more – Jet feels a cold feeling start in his chest, he pulls his face mask up over his nose and tugs his hood on, the black poncho combo provides him with some warmth, but it's only so much. Putting his cloth in the waistband of his pants, he hides his dagger in his boot and stands, stretching his arms over his head, he stoops down and snatches his swords. Clasping them into their rightful place at his hips, he's about to head inside where it's warm when Iroh speaks:

"Where are you heading off to, Lion-Heart?" he says it loud enough that his voice will carry to Zuko.

"Well, unlike you firebenders, I can't act as a personal fireplace. I'm going inside where it's warm."

"Don't start trouble with the crew," Iroh warns good-naturedly, Jet only gives an impish grin and stalks off into the hull, Iroh continues his game, "I only hope he doesn't mess with the chefs, last time was a complete disaster. Peppered sweets. Salty teas. Bleh-h!"

"I – should probably go with him." Zuko states a few seconds later, he hadn't been fond of his pork dumplings tasting sickeningly sweet, and his tea salty.

"Perhaps you should." Iroh watches Zuko walk across the deck and into the tower, he smiles and places a tile upon another.

Zuko walks through the ship's narrow halls with an ear open for any sounds of a Jet-nature, but so far, all he can hear are the usual creaking and groaning of the ship as well as the hardy laughter of the crew. Thinking back on the sugary food, Zuko frowns and makes a quick turn for the kitchens.

"He better not be doing anything stupid." Zuko hisses under his breath, he looks into the dark of the kitchen, thinking it odd, he brings a small ball of fire to life in his palm, as he steps into the room he doesn't notice the shadowy figure pressed near the wall until his whole world spins and he's slammed into the wall, he feels a cold blade press against his throat, he can only glare at the offender.

"Gotcha." the figure purrs.

The Prince frowns as the blade is taken away from his neck, "Not funny Jet."

Said teen pulls his facemask down to reveal a roguish grin, "Come on Fire-Bird, you gotta loosen up." Jet steps back with a flourish, "You also gotta up your guard that was way too easy."

"How can I loosen up and up my guard at the same time?" Zuko snorts, he brings the lanterns to life, bathing the two in light.

Jet shrugs, "I manage."

Zuko rolls his eyes as he moves to the herbs and spices, "We don't need another Jet."

"I didn't mess with the food," Jet states, watching Zuko check the goods, "Besides," he grabs the Prince's hand and spins him around, pulling him close, the embarrassed heat in Zuko's cheeks has Jet grinning wider, "You know you wouldn't mind if there was another me, you love me too much ~ ."

"Don't." Zuko stresses, he pushes away from Jet and dusts himself off, "You know I hate it when you do things like that. We aren't kids anymore."

"You think that's gonna stop me?"

"No."

It's a day later when they finally reach their destination and Jet's mildly surprised he wakes up on his own rather than having someone, Zuko, wake him up, swinging his legs over the edge of his cot, he begins his morning routine – fastening his cowl/poncho just right, he heads out for the deck but stops upon seeing Zuko's door open, curious, he pokes his head in and spots the Prince getting dressed in his armor. Ready for the day, ready for a fight. Crossing his arms over his chest, he rests his weight against the doorframe and watches as one of the servants place a helmet upon Zuko's head much like one would crown a Prince.

When Zuko passes, he finally acknowledges Jet's presence, "Lion-Heart."

"Prince Zuko." Jet says as he follows Zuko out of the room and down the hall, "Why didn't anyone wake me?" Zuko opens his mouth to retort but Jet holds a hand up, "And don't bullshit me either, you may be older but you still suck at lying."

Zuko sighs, "I didn't want anyone to wake you because I want to face the Avatar alone."

"You're taking a group of men with you. Look, I know this is your honor on the line but you're my Prince and it's my job to protect you," Jet places a hand on the Prince's padded shoulder, "Both as your bodyguard and friend."

"I don't need you holding my hand." Zuko growls, smacking Jet's hand away, "I can handle this on my own."

"I'm not holding your hand." Jet snaps, trailing after Zuko, "That's your Uncle's job, I'm helping you."

"Fine." Zuko turns to glare at Jet, "But you jump in when say you can."

Jet offers a manic grin, "If it's all the same to you Prince, I'll jump in when think it's necessary."

Used to seeing Jet's darker side, Zuko exhales smoke through his nose and continues walking, he doesn't have time to argue with the stubborn boy – Jet watches the Prince and group of soldiers as the hatch hisses open and the village is revealed to them. Jet can't help but blink in surprise, when Zuko had said pathetic little village he had kind of assumed it was an actual village and not just some campground – he catches Zuko's I told you look, Jet can only offer a sheepish smile as the Prince leads the group off the ship.

What happens next is kind of funny, in a sad, pathetic sort of way:

A Water Tribe kid tries rushing the group but Zuko kicks his weapon away followed by another kick that sends him flying into the snow. From the shadows of the entryway, Jet watches the group proceed only to stop before the small group of women and kids. As Zuko questions them, Jet notices the boy is making his way towards his weapon, without thinking, Jet rushes out of the ship; his cowl covering the lower half of his face and shading his eyes. The boy grabs his weapon and runs screaming at Zuko, the Prince turns just as Jet slides forward and sweeps the boy's legs out from under his body, as the boy falls back, Jet pushes his body upward, his back hitting the boy's and sending him flying towards the crowd, he straightens up, his height and appearance striking fear into the villagers. He looks to Zuko who gives him a curt, barely there nod. Water Tribe takes this moment to toss a weapon at them, both move in time but Zuko glares at the boy and tosses a fireball at him, the kid dodges so Zuko shoots another, Jet brandishes his twin swords ready for a fight, he hears the crowd gasp.

"Let me." Jet says, Zuko narrows his eyes but nods.

Smirking, Jet steps before Zuko, Water Tribe runs at them again but this time Jet is up – using one of the hooks to catch the end of the spearhead, he twists his body so the staff is forced from the kid's grip and pivots around his torso, it swings back and smacks the boy upside the head, as the boy falls Jet sheathes his weapons, he twirls the spear experimentally before pressing the tip of the spearhead against the kid's throat. Jet thinks he hears the sound of something cutting the air seconds before he hears a clang followed by Zuko's grunt. Despite what he was taught, he takes his attention off the blue-eyed boy and sees Zuko fixing his helmet, the flames that spring from the Prince's fist show that he's angry, but before he can so much as move he's bowled over and the spear is taken from Jet. This snaps his attention back to the world beyond Zuko, he glares at the crowd, pulling out his shuang gou his eyes zero in on the newcomer; the kid is brightly dressed but he's got a distinct blue arrow on his head.

"Looking for me?" the kids asks,

"You're the airbender? You're the avatar?" Zuko begins, the snow on his being melts, "I've spent years preparing for this encounter. Training, meditating. You're just a child."

"Well you're just a teenager."

Zuko shoots fire at the airbender, the flames, Jet notices, come a little too close to the villagers, their screams dredge up old memories, but his devotion to Zuko is stronger, after all, the Prince never truly injured someone in such a manner – the airbender stops suddenly.

"If I go with you, will you promise to leave everyone alone?"

It's a childish request Jet thinks but he sees Zuko nod and just like that, men grab the Avatar and Jet takes his staff, he returns to Zuko as the Prince turns on his heel, somewhere behind them, Jet can hear a girl:

"No, Aang!" so that's the airbender's name. "Don't do this!"

"Set a course for the Fire Nation!" Zuko shouts so Jet can't hear what Aang says, "I'm going home."

oOo

"This staff will make an excellent gift for my father," Zuko says, Jet tries not to snort at the mention of Ozai, "I suppose you wouldn't know about fathers, being raised by monks. Take the Avatar to the prison hold and take this," he shoves the staff at Iroh, " - to my quarters."

Jet follows Zuko out of habit more than anything else before he breaks off from the Prince and heads for his room, he's heard rumors floating around amongst the crew about his and Zuko's relationship - rumors that would be frowned upon if they were true. Entering his room, he shuts his door and lies upon his cot where he stares at the metal above. Rumors Zuko wouldn't take too kindly to if he heard them. Sighing, he closes his eyes and throws an arm over his eyes, he's still got his cowl masking his features but that's minor compared to the hard on starting to come to life.

BANG!

The loud noise startles Jet from his half-sleep.

BANG!

Another forces him to his feet and out into the passageway in time to see Aang sprinting from Zuko's room, it's obvious to any that the Avatar is trying to escape, Jet gives chase with little thought.

Climbing the rungs of the ladder with an unnatural speed, Jet bursts into the control room in time to see Aang near the railing, gritting his teeth, the older boy tosses his dagger at the boy's only mode of transportation as its wings spring forth. The dagger slices the wing of the glider causing it to wobble and dip, realizing it won't be enough, he runs out onto the deck and launches off the railing and latches onto the airbender's ankle, he hears Aang shout out in surprise. Grabbing his sword, Jet slices at the ruined wing causing them to fall from the skies.

Jet rolls to his feet with practiced ease and snarls at the kid, "I can't let you leave."

Just then they hear a roar, both look up in time to see something flying towards them, Aang shouts out in excitement:

"Appa!"

A fireball zooms at Aang from nowhere but the kid manages to dissipate the flames and jump back, Jet spots Zuko in time to see two more fireballs hurtling towards the airbender. Moving forward, Jet manages to hook the kid's staff and pull it away, the monk gasps but Jet is already swinging his other sword for the kid's legs. Aang jumps up onto the railing just as Zuko sends another blast of fire at him, this time though, it hits its target and sends the kid falling into the water. The flying monster gets closer and Jet can hear that girl from earlier screaming for the fallen boy. Jet angles his attention to the kids drawing near when a large water funnel erupts from the water's surface, once the bender is on the ship's deck, Jet notices that the Avatar's eyes and tattoo are glowing seconds before the water slams into him and sends him crashing into the ship tower, the back of his head makes contact with the metal surface.

He blacks out for a moment.

Opening his eyes, he thinks he hears talking, pushing himself up, he spots the two Water Tribe kids, one running for the Avatar's staff and the other with the Avatar. Growling, he forces his body to move, he can't let them escape. Spotting his swords lying nearby, he makes a dive for them just as the men get to their feet.

Fixing his hold on his swords, he makes a run for the Avatar, he cares little for the Water Tribe kids. It's the Avatar Zuko needs. But as Jet nears the large animal, the water beneath him suddenly freezes and he's sent skidding into the fluffy beast thanks to his earlier momentum. The animal makes a rumbling sound before it opens its mouth and sneezes, the force and the ice below force Jet across the floor and smashing into the wall at an awkward angle, he thinks he hears the Water Tribe boy laughing but he ignores it in favor of reeling at the sight of green snot covering him head to toe, he lets his right shuang gou go but it doesn't drop, its stuck to him thanks to the disgusting slime. A disgusted shiver runs up his spine.

"Shoot them down!" he hears Zuko.

Looking up, he sees both Iroh and Zuko move through a firebending stance simultaneously before shooting a large bolt of fire at the fleeing group, it's an impressive sight and Jet can see the raw beauty in it but the Avatar deflects it, knocking it into one of the snowy cliffs like it were a ball, the explosion that follows causes an avalanche that jars the ship as it's covered in the stuff. Pushing himself to his feet, Jet moves to stand next to Zuko:

"Good news for the Fire Lord," Iroh speaks as Zuko forces himself to his feet, "The Fire Nation's greatest enemy is just a child."

"Dig the ship out and - ," Zuko falters upon seeing Jet, Jet can see Zuko's bright amber eyes look him up and down before making a disgusted noise and taking a large step away from the older teen, there's a nauseous look on his face that rubs Jet the wrong way, "What happened to you?"

"I don't want to talk about it." Jet growls through his facemask, he still sees Zuko staring, "Although I hear it's good for the skin, why don't you try it?" he smears some of the goop on Zuko's face causing the younger to squawk indignantly and smack his arm away,

"Jet!" Zuko snaps as he swipes at the stuff, "Disgusting!"

"At least you're not covered in it." Jet hisses, Zuko gets the gist of it and frowns at the snow burying the front part of the ship.

Chapter Text

"Ugh – even after eleven showers, I still feel that disgusting slime!" Jet says as a way of greeting his grumpy sovereign, "Hey, I did get all of it didn't I?"

The Prince turns his head, Jet being on his left, and eyes the other; Jet can't help but puff up a little underneath his gaze, "Yeah."

"Great ~ !" Jet beams, facing the horizon, "So, when are we getting to this port of yours?"

"Soon."

"How soon?" the taller teen asks, "I feel like this tin can's gonna fall apart any second now."

"We'll get there."

"Ooh ~ someone's a little angry." Jet teases, elbowing the Prince, "What's the problem now my Princely Pain in the Ass? Is it that time of the month again?"

"Shut up!" Zuko finally snaps, his eyes are livid – they remind him of the time the Prince had slapped him, it certainly feels like it, "The Avatar is alive and has escaped me! I don't have time for you or your antics right now, Lion-Heart!"

Watching the grim-faced Prince stare out across the vast oceanic horizon, Jet glares at the waves washing up against the hull of the ship. The other teen was going to lock himself back up within his own world as he'd done many times before when his hope of finding the Avatar had worn thin. As Zuko's friend – only friend really – he was going to make sure the volcanic Prince wouldn't hide from them (him specifically) or neglect his own well-being. He understood what it was like to be driven near the edge by a single minded purpose. Mentally preparing himself, he grabs Zuko's arm and spins the Prince until he's facing him, Zuko looks equally surprised and angry, Jet can feel the eyes of the crew watching them in silent tension for no one dared to touch the moody teenager in such a manner unless they wanted an earful or a fireball to the face:

"I've stayed at your side for years, through thick and thin. And I've allowed myself to overlook certain attitude problems because I care about you, but that does not mean you can talk to me like I'm one of your servants." Jet snarls quietly, he's close enough he can feel the heat radiating off the Prince, "I'm your friend and as your friend I'm looking out for you whether you like it or not. We're equals in this and I'm not going to let you push me away. Got it."

Zuko remains silent, eyes wide in shock before he huffs and looks away, "Fine," he growls irritably but Jet can see something soft in his eyes, he thinks he's going to make the biggest mistake of his life until Zuko speaks again, "Whatever you say, Lion-Heart."

"Prince Zuko!" the helmsman calls out, Jet pulls away with a rush as the spell is broken, Zuko only looks up at the sound of his name not realizing how close his first kiss was about to be stolen by his self-proclaimed friend, "We're nearing the harbor!"

"Finally." Zuko mutters, he walks away from Jet, "I'll fetch Uncle Iroh."

"You do that." Jet grumbles, he leans against the railing of the ship, ears picking up on the sound of footsteps approaching him, too heavy to be Zuko's, he sighs, "If you have any problems, you can tell Prince Zuko yourself. I'm tired of playing the go-between."

"It isn't that," Jet realizes the man is one of Zuko's firebenders, "It's about what you did," Jet arches a brow, "Not many would be brave enough to go against or dare touch the Prince unless they wanted to be thrown overboard, or worse, condemned to cleaning duty."

Jet snickers, "Yeah, well what can I say ~ I'm a glutton for punishment."

The man chuckles, "It would appear so."

The Earth Kingdom teen pulls his hood and secures his facemask when he spots the two Princes exiting the ship's towers, he fixes the article of clothing so it obscures the view of his eyes, he stands idly by as both Zuko and Iroh stop at the front of the ship, he spots some of the men nodding their approval of his recent rebellion against the Prince – it's no secret upon the ship that he was the only one to really go after the angry Prince when he was raging and come out virtually unharmed. Some small hopeful part of Jet liked to think that Zuko held some kind of soft spot for him, as in, more than friends. The hissing of the walkway's release captures his attention, double checking to make sure he had his hidden daggers within the sleeves of his cloth bracers, he follows the two firebenders off the damaged ship. Trailing behind Zuko, Jet can't help but stare at the way Zuko's armor hugs his slim abdomen – twirling the wheat stem he'd swiped from the kitchen within his mouth, he finds his thoughts taking a shameful turn for the worst – his poncho wasn't long enough to hide his crotch region as he felt the familiar tingling of an erection begin to start, until he hears someone speak:

"Captain Zhao."

"Its Commander now." hums the aforementioned man, Jet narrows his eyes at the suspicious man, "And General Iroh, great hero of our Nation."

"Retired General now." Iroh states cordially, "And congratulations on the promotion."

"Of course and thank you," Zhao counters, his eyes finally land on Jet, "Ah, and this must be Lion-Heart. My, it has been quite a while since we last met."

"Sure has," Jet frowns, "Ever since your top-knot had mysteriously been cut off if I remember right. I see its grown back."

"It has." Zhao replies in ill-disguised disdain, he looks to the Princes, "The Fire Lord's brother, son, and son's pet are always welcomed at my harbor. What brings you here?"

Jet bears his teeth, Iroh steps forth, he gestures towards their ship, "Our ship is being repaired."

"I see," Zhao rumbles, "That's quite a bit of damage."

"Yes," Zuko starts in a little too quickly, "You won't believe what happened. Uncle. Tell Commander Zhao what happened."

"O-oh right, I will do that." Iroh fumbles, Jet wants to smack himself, "It was incredible," the elder firebender begins before leaning towards his nephew, "What? Did we crash or something?"

"Yes." Zuko emphasizes,

Jet decides to save the two and steps in, "We came across a rather large sea serpent while we were traveling in the arctic seas, we managed to take it down but not before the ship had sustained some damage."

"I believe I was asking the Princes," Zhao narrows his eyes, "Not their bodyguard."

"And I believe you aren't a part of the royal family." Jet growls threateningly, "No one would care if I were to - ,"

"Lion-Heart!" Iroh snaps, Jet growls heatedly but his eyes never leave Zhao's, "That is enough!"

"I believe a member of the royal family has given you and order, Lion-Heart." Zhao begins mockingly, "You mustn't play favorites amongst your charges, that is, unless, Prince Zuko has been more generous in showing his gratitude."

The seventeen year old charges past the two sovereigns, a dagger in hand and pressed firmly against the Commander's throat, "You're sick."

"Am I?" Zhao smirks, "It wouldn't be too far a stretch. You two were always glued to each other's side – it truly is a shame you hadn't taken to the Princess, the Fire Nation would have been unstoppable. Instead, you're loyalty has you stuck wandering the world in search of some myth that no longer exists."

"That's enough!" Zuko shouts, Jet tries not to flinch but Zhao picks up on it, "I am the Prince and I will not be insulted in such a manner, Commander!"

"I apologize, Prince Zuko, I merely lost myself." Zhao's eyes are still trained on Jet a second longer before they flit to Zuko, "Allow me to make up for my rudeness by offering a drink."

Zuko growls, "Sorry, but we have to go."

Jet sheathes his dagger and is ready to follow when he hears Iroh speak, "Prince Zuko. You must be the bigger man and show Commander Zhao your respect." Iroh's voice lowers, "All three of us would be honored to join you." Jet watches the two men walk away, he feels a muscle spasm, "Do you have ginseng tea by any chance?"

Following the two men angrily, he can hear Zuko's frustrated growl behind them and the telltale sound of fire being summoned.

oOo

"And by year's end, the Earth Kingdom Capital will be under our rule." some time during their war talk, Jet had gravitated towards the weapon's rack, doing his best to behave after receiving a lecture from Iroh, "The Fire Lord will finally claim victory in this war."

"If my father thinks the rest of the world will follow him willingly, then his is a fool."

A surge of pride shoots through Jet as he expertly stops the twirl of the spear he was playing with, the feeling is short lived when he sees Zhao sit beside Zuko, "Two years at sea have done little to temper your tongue. So," Jet's grip on the wooden pole tightens when he sees the older man lean closer to the Prince, "How is your search for the Avatar going?"

Gritting his teeth, Jet uses the wooden end of his spear to knock over the weapons rack, the same one Iroh was currently browsing.

CRASH.

All eyes in the room, minus Zuko's, fall on Iroh as he slowly steps away, "Eh – my fault, entirely."

Zhao meets Jet's glare, a knowing look in his eyes, Zuko finally speaks, "We haven't found him yet."

"Did you really expect to?" Zhao snorts, turning from his glaring contest with Jet, "The Avatar died a hundred years ago, along with the rest of the airbenders." Zuko's expression changes minutely, Zhao seems to pick up on it, "Unless you've found some evidence that says otherwise."

"No." Zuko stresses, turning away from the man's imploring gaze, "Nothing."

"Prince Zuko, the Avatar is the only one who can stop the Fire Nation from winning this war. If you have an ounce of loyalty left, you'll tell me what you know."

"And if you had an ounce of loyalty," Jet starts irritably, "You wouldn't be questioning your Prince."

"Lion-Heart." Iroh warns, taking the spear from his hold.

"I don't know anything other than what we've all heard." Zuko growls, glaring momentarily at Jet and Iroh before meeting Zhao's eyes, "It's like you said, the Avatar probably died a long time ago." he stands and Jet feels a weight lift off his shoulders, "Come on Uncle, Lion-Heart, we're going."

They start for the door when a soldier slips through and the guards block the way with their spears, on high alert, the wild teen grabs his shuang gou and stands at ready, his eyes switching from guard to guard then to the man that had just entered.

"Commander Zhao, we've interrogated the crew as you've instructed," Jet growls as he hears the man's words, "They confirmed that Prince Zuko had the Avatar in custody but let him escape."

"Now, remind me again," Zhao hums, he draws near but Jet stays put, weapons crossed warningly, the man relents but he's smirking, "How exactly was your ship damaged, Prince Zuko?"

After delivering a couple bruises, a few broken noses, and a split lip later, Jet's held securely in place as Zuko's forced to recount the tale, which in Jet's opinion, needs a little more work:

"So a twelve year old boy bested you and your firebenders," Zhao frowns, "You even have Lion-Heart here at your disposal. You're more pathetic than I thought."

"I underestimated him once!" Zuko hisses, "But it won't happen again!"

"No it will not!" Zhao snaps, "Because you won't have a second chance."

"Commander Zhao," Zuko begins, "I've been hunting the Avatar for two years and - !"

"And failed!" Zhao sweeps his arm outward, a trail of fire following, "Capturing the Avatar is far too important a task to leave in the hands of a teenager. He's mine now." Zuko shouts as he lunges at the older man only to be stopped short, "Keep them here."

The trio watches the Commander make his exit, once the tent flap shuts, Zuko kicks over the small table that held the cups and the tea, Jet is released and all is silent until Iroh raises his cup and speaks:

"More tea please."

oOo

"All I'm saying is I could kill these guys and we'd be outta here quicker." the guards tense noticeably and Jet throws in a sinister grin, "It's been a while since I'd killed last."

Zuko scoffs, "I doubt it'd be faster since they already heard what you're planning to do."

Iroh sighs, "I truly worry about you two sometimes."

The guards remove their spears from blocking the entrance just as Zhao steps in, Jet perks up, "Hey look ~ the Commander has finally decided to grace us with his presence!"

Zhao narrows his eyes but he otherwise ignores Jet, "My search party is ready, once I'm out to sea, my guards will escort you back to your ship and you will be free to go."

"Why?" Zuko spits, "Are you worried I'm going to try and stop you?"

"Of you?" Zhao laughs, "No, my only real challenge is Lion-Heart here but you have him whipped like a well-trained tiger-dillo."

"I'll show you - !"

"Don't underestimate me Zhao!" Zuko interrupts Jet's outburst, glaring the older man down, "I will capture the Avatar before you!"

"Prince Zuko," Iroh stands, "That's enough."

"You can't compete with me. I have hundreds of warships under my command, and you, you're just a banished Prince; no home, no allies. Your own father doesn't even want you."

"You're wrong!" Zuko snaps, "Once I capture the Avatar, my father will welcome me home with honor and restore my rightful place on the throne."

"If your father really wanted you home, he would have let you return by now, Avatar or not." Jet knows how this will go down, "In his eyes you are a failure and a disgrace to the Fire Nation."

"That's not true!"

Then Zhao said something none, not even Jet, dared say to Zuko's face, "You have the scar to prove it."

The guttural growl that escapes the Prince awakened something in Jet, something carnal, "Maybe you'd like one to match!"

"Is that a challenge?"

"An Agni Kai." Zuko growls, "At sunset."

"Very well." Zhao straightens up, "It's a shame your father won't be here to see me humiliate you." he turns, "I suppose you're Uncle and friend will have to do. And please, keep your pet in line."

Jet watches as Zhao and his guards exit the tent, he turns to Zuko but Iroh speaks up:

"Prince Zuko, you remember the last time you dueled a master?"

"I will never forget."

"Hey," Jet sidles up beside Zuko, "I'm sure you'll beat him."

oOo

They're allowed to ready and talk with Zuko before they're led to an open rectangular building where Zhao awaits their arrival, Jet watches as the two kneel in a familiar fashion to Zuko's original Agni Kai, Iroh gives the teen one last piece of advice while Jet gives him a simple thumbs up.

"I refuse to let him win." Zuko growls as he turns, the cloth falling from his shoulders.

Both participants are facing one another, both in firebending stances, but its Zuko who makes the first move, each burst of fire he sends at his opponent is blocked almost too easily in an almost showy fashion:

Iroh shouts beside him, "Basics Zuko! Break his root!"

After this is said, Zhao begins firing back, each blast stronger than Zuko's own, pushing the Prince back a step, Jet feels a familiar coldness creep over him as the final blast knocks the Prince flat on his back, Jet panics, his entire body is tense.

"Fire-Bird!" he steps forward, hand on the hilt of his sword but he's stopped by Iroh.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, he watches as Zhao shoots a burst of fire at Zuko, he hears his friend gasp – time slows as it had when it had been Ozai firing the shot – at the last second he pushes himself up and swings his legs outward, successfully surprising Zhao. Jet can't help but grin. Now on his feet, he sends wave after wave of fire at the man's feet forcing him to step back, the final wave pushes the man back. Zuko stands before Zhao in a firebending stance:

"Do it!" Zhao shouts.

A burst of flame erupts from Zuko's fist, at first, Jet thinks the Prince may have burned Zhao, but as Zuko straightens up, he sees the smoldering blackened spot beside the man's head. As the two share words, both Jet and Iroh near Zuko in time, for Zhao tries to hit Zuko as his back is turned. Both teenagers watch as Iroh shoves the defeated firebender back, Jet's hand subconsciously holding Zuko's arm as he tries to rush at the other:

"So this is how the Great Commander Zhao acts in defeat. Disgraceful." Iroh frowns, "Even in exile, my Nephew is more honorable than you. Thanks again for the tea, it was delicious."

As they're exiting the arena, Jet still can't bring himself to stray too far from Zuko who finally speaks, "Did you really mean that Uncle?"

"Of course." Iroh hums, "I told you ginseng was my favorite."

"Hey!" Jet huffs, "I was the first to tell you that you had more honor than anyone else!"

Zuko only rolls his eyes, "You're the first to say anything."

"And what is this Fire-Bird business?" Iroh teases, Zuko looks horrified.

"It's Zuko's nickname," Jet blinks innocently, "I thought you knew."

The look Zuko gives him lets him know he's going to get so much flak because of that, Iroh only hums knowingly:

"It is a pretty cute nickname ~ ."

Chapter Text

Herded into a dark, musty room by his teacher, Jet had been about to demand for a reason as to why he'd been brought to the holding cells when he had no business being there, but when the lights flickered to life, what he saw stayed his tongue. In the center of the cold cobblestoned floor knelt a man, he was bound and gagged, his shirt was ripped to shreds, barely hanging on by mere threads, his muscles quivered, his flesh bruised and cut, there was blood, both old and fresh smeared across his dusky-colored skin. The knees of his pants were dirty from kneeling on the cold floor and the waistband was coated crimson in some spots, blood having soaked into the fabric. He looked battered, physically broken and stitched together in a crude remake of his previous state – for a moment, a single ignorant moment, Jet wonders how long the man had been here.

But when their eyes meet, the child realizes that this man is an Earth Kingdom soldier. The defiant spark in the man's eyes disappear for a split second once he notices that Jet is, in fact, just a child – the surprise disappears once the soldier's eyes fall upon Kuo's hand resting upon Jet's shoulder, the other hand snaking over his shoulder and producing a blade from nowhere:

"Kill him."

The whispered words chilled the room, or so Jet believed.

"Kill him, Lion-Heart."

Choking on the ball in his throat, he finally removes his eyes from the soldier's and stares at the knife in Kuo's hand, the blade held so delicately, almost taunting in nature. Hesitantly, he reaches out and takes the weapon by the handle. The man begins wriggling in place, thrashing his head from side to side, jaw working away.

Jet shuts his eyes, clinging to the blade, holding it close to his chest – he doesn't want to do this, he's killed before, but the blood that he'd spilt was Fire Nation blood. Not his own people. This soldier before him was just doing his job, out on the battlefield. Why did they have to take him prisoner? Did they have more?

"Lion-Heart." Kuo says, his voice cold, flat, "If you ever want to see young Zuko ever again, you'll kill this man."

Is it him, or is it getting harder to breathe?

"He was sniffing around the town, asking questions - ,"

"Fire Nation scum!"

Jet staggers violently, bumping into Kuo; he stares wide-eyed at the soldier now glaring, not at him, but at Kuo.

" – we found him stalking the eastern part of the palace."

Jet tightens his hold on the dagger – Zuko's room was located in the eastern sect.

"He's Earth Kingdom!"

"Everyone you loved is gone because you weren't willing to do whatever it took to keep them safe," Kuo's words sink into his mind, he wonders if he hadn't been out playing with the kids, ignoring the faint smell of smoke, that he could have warned someone, "Now is your chance to prove that you are stronger. Smarter."

"Leave him alone!"

"Prove that you'll do whatever it takes to keep your friend alive."

Zuko is his friend, he cared for him and vice versa – the Prince was all he had now, he looks up and meets the Earth Kingdom  assassin's  eyes once more, if this man had gotten into the palace, he could have found Zuko, he could have killed him. Zuko was worth  more  than some stranger's life.

Shakily crossing the distance between him and the would-be assassin, Jet fumbles with the knife to get a better hold – the man looks at him, he understands what is coming, but what he doesn't know is that Jet's  friend  is the Prince of the Fire Nation. Instead, the man  smiles  at him, eyes going soft as if saying he  understood  what Jet was doing:

"Listen kid," the man says, Jet feels his heart jump to his throat, "The war will end, and when it does, the Fire Nation will fall and you'll be free."

Shutting his eyes and gritting his teeth, he slices at the air – he hears the splatter of blood, the grotesque sound it made, accompanied by the horrid smell of a man held prisoner for too long, nearly made him wretch.

oOo

In the dark of his cell, Jet sits and replays the events of today over and over in his mind: the warmongers of the Fire Nation were impressed with his  unwavering loyalty  towards the crown, killing that man even though he hadn't wanted to – clenching his jaw, he runs his fingers through his hair, over and over, grabbing fistfuls and pulling until it hurt before releasing and going through the same process, he's sitting alone in his cell, and each time he closes his eyes, he sees the almost  serene  expression of the man before he'd murdered him, he hears his voice telling him everything will be okay, he feels the blood, viscous and hot, he smells the musk.

All of it unsettles him – flashes of the moment replay over and over, every time he closes his eyes.

Tears begin to stream down his cheeks.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry.

I'm so sorry.

It's not my fault.

It's not my fault.

It's not my fault.

"It's his fault." a voice croons.

Opening his eyes, he looks around bewildered, there is no one, he sees no one, getting to his feet, he pads over to the bars of his cell and looks out – he can still see no one. Frowning, he turns around and scans his empty cell for movement:

"If he hadn't been caught, you wouldn't have had to kill him. You did the Earth Kingdom a favor by killing one incompetent assassin – he would have killed our friend."

Jet's back slides down the bars until he's sitting on the cold floor and hugging his knees, he ducks his head down and stares into oblivion, whispering a faint, "I guess."

The next morning, Jet is brought into the same building, same block, same bloodied room. In the center of said room, he sees a different man, bulkier than the last and a defiant spark in his eyes,  this  man was a soldier. Kuo hands him a double-edged sword. The boy holds it up to the light, inspecting it's edge, watching it gleam within the dim lighting. It was perfect. Letting out an annoyed sigh, he stares at the man now scowling at him.

"You shouldn't have been caught."

Jet says as he swings the blade – staring at the rapidly cooling body, he tiptoes his way around the blood and picks up the head, taking a moment to really look at the man before he turns on his heel and shoves both sword and head at the assassin.

It had all been a test.

"Don't waste my time with this anymore."

"Oh?" Kuo questions, sheathing weapon and now wrapping the head up, "Losing your nerve?"

"No." Jet barks, he feels heat creeping under his skin, "These men were prisoners meaning they weren't talented enough to evade capture." he bypasses Kuo, "There's no sport in it if they're captives."

oOo

Entering the garden where he and Zuko usually meet, Jet is surprised to see that he's the first one there. Walking towards the tree, he decides he'll pass the time with a few forms, but as he draws near the pond, he catches a glimpse of his reflection. Absently, he peers at his image – there is blood splatter on his clothes, flecks on his skin, his hands covered in grime. Startled, he falls back on his butt. But he can still see his face. Scowling, he punches the surface of the water causing ripples to distort his image. The fluffy little family of turtle-ducks swim away. Looking into the water once more, he sees that he is normal.

Laughter drags his attention away from his inner turmoil, glancing up; he spots Azula and her two friends. Rising his feet, ready to defend himself if necessary, he growls at the three girls:

"What do you want?"

Azula looks at her nails, "Oh nothing, I just came to tell you that Zuzu no longer wants to see your face anymore," Jet narrows his eyes, "Apparently word of your  opinions  on our prisoners spreads fast." she looks him directly in the eyes and smirks, "You  scare  him."

"Bullshit!" Jet snaps, the thought of Zuko afraid of him makes his blood run cold, he grabs her collar and drags her closer, "You're nothing but a liar!"

"I'm not lying." she says, unfazed by Jet's anger or treatment, "Just ask Ty-Lee, she'll tell you."

Jet turns his attention to the girl, but once his eyes meet hers, she seems to shrink under his heated glare, and that just – irks him. Snarling at the trio of girls, he shoves his way past Azula and Mai, he was going to find Zuko himself.

Opening his eyes, Jet finds himself staring at the metal wall of his room, swallowing the dry feeling at the back of his throat, he sits up and scans the surrounding area – he feels dysphoric. Lost. Forcing himself past those feelings, he slips out of bed and takes to staring at his bare feet, he doesn't really feel like dressing. Rising to his feet, he fixes the waistband of his pants before heading out of his room. Noticing Zuko's closed door, he realizes that he'd woken on his own, frowning, he wonders if the Prince had gotten any sleep at all since he'd left him to his meditating last night. He moves onward.

Yawning, he stretches his arms high above his head, taking a moment to enjoy the heat of the midmorning sun. Letting out a satisfied groan, he shakes his body. There are only a few men on deck as of now, the others somewhere upon the metal vessel – he watches the men go about their jobs in lethargic wonder, that is, until a mean smile slips across his lips. Cracking his knuckles, he figures it's about time to repay the traitors for outing them to Zhao. With a swagger in his step, he approaches the men with an easy smile:

"Are you guys doing anything?"

The Earth Kingdom teen notes the tension shooting through each of the men like an arrow, "N – no."

"Great." Jet grins easily, "Gather the entire crew and meet on this deck within ten minutes."

"The entire crew?" one of the men pipes up, "But – Prince Zuko will not approve."

"Let me worry about him ~ now go on."

Watching the men leave with hesitant salutes, he lets the easy smile fall from his face, allowing for a darker expression to take up residence – none of the men knew how bad things could have gotten if Zuko had taken just the slightest misstep on that damnable port.

oOo

Going over the map with his Uncle, Zuko starts to pick up on the feeling that they weren't moving, the ship that is, he looks to his Uncle, half expecting the man to tell him that he'd changed course for whatever inane reason, but the old firebender seemed just as curious about the sudden stall.

"Have we reached port already?"

"No," Zuko trails off, he stares hard at the map, "That's impossible – someone's stopped us!"

Tearing out of the room, Zuko storms towards the control room where he expects his helmsman and navigator to be – opening his mouth, ready to chew someone out, he pauses. There's no one there. Frowning, he walks towards the wheel and inspects it, behind him, he can hear Iroh entering the room.

"There's no one here." Zuko murmurs, "I don't - ," movement on deck captures his attention, peering out the window, he spots the entire crew watching a fight. "Lion-Heart."

Twisting his body out of the way of the incoming fist, he grabs the guy's wrist and throws him over his body, hearing his opponent land with a heavy and satisfying thud. Pivoting on his bare heel, he closes the distance between him and his fallen target and presses the heel of his foot upon the man's neck. There's a few seconds where the man stares up at him with terror in his eyes, he's bruised with a split lip, Jet can only grin.

"What is going on!?"

A familiar voice rages. The crew of men, thirty years of age and older all hurry to get out of the Prince's way, parting like a water for a waterbender. Instantly, the animosity he'd held for the crew melts into something sweeter as Jet spins on the ball of his foot to greet the angry teen:

"Why hello Prince Zuko ~ fancy meeting you here. I thought you were meditating."

"I was reading the map until I realized that no one was steering the ship." Zuko hisses, he scowls at the crewmen, "What are all of you doing out here in the first place!?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jet grins, "We're all just having a rousing sparring session. Is that really so bad?"

Zuko's eyes land on him once more, "It is when you incapacitate my men."

"No-o-o!" both teens and the crew turn to Iroh, the man is kneeling at someone's side, "Anyone but the cook!"

Zuko pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to ignore his Uncle's sobbing, "Lion-Heart. We need to talk."

Jet opens his mouth to reply but Iroh cuts in, "Why!? Oh why!?"

Gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, Zuko turns his tantrum on his Uncle, "Uncle! The cook will be alright!" said cook groans, "See!" he turns to the rest of the crew, "The rest of you! Go back to your stations now or I'm going to throw you overboard and make you swim to the port!"

That kick-starts the injured crew into scrambling back into the ship, a few of them even helping Iroh carry the cook inside. Letting out a long suffering sigh, Zuko begins walking towards the bow with Jet trailing him shortly after. Resting his arms upon the railing, Jet makes sure his upper half is on full display for the Prince since he'd gone without a shirt. He stares into the waters below and lets out an overly dramatic sigh.

"Am I being dumped?"

Zuko wears a mask of confusion, "What are you talking about?"

"You said we need to talk." Jet reminds, he meets his sovereign's gaze, "That's practically the universe's code for pack your bags. Do I have to return our anniversary gifts?"

"Wha – no! We're not - !" Zuko knows he's as red as his scar, "That's not - ! Just listen! Zhao knows that the Avatar is alive and out there! We need to stay one step ahead of him!"

Silence.

"Okay-y-y. So what's the plan?" Zuko looks away, Jet sighs, "You don't have one do you."

"No."

"I'm sure we can come up with something." Jet mumbles.

Resting his chin on the palm of his hand, he takes to staring glumly at the vast ocean – the silence that begins to sprout between them seems to make the firebending Prince uncomfortable for he starts shifting in place. The movement catching Jet's attention and causing the older teen to now stare at his friend. Even with that off-putting scar taking up half his face, his friend was still a work of art, with that smooth expanse of porcelain skin – he wonders just how soft the firm skin was, if it was as hot as the element he commanded, or if it was just warm enough that it wasn't overly scalding. Biting the corner of his mouth, he shifts a little. There's that familiar stirring again.

Then he gets an idea:

"That's it!" Zuko turns to face him, "Quick! What do you think about me!?"

"Uh – you're a good friend?"

"That's good to know, but not what I meant. I mean, what do you think about me appearance wise?"

"Oh. Um – you're very – tan?"

Jet deadpans, "Honestly?"

"What!?" Zuko snaps defensively, Jet resists the urge to face-palm. Zuko sighs, "Fine. I think you're tall and – not too bad to look at."

Even though he asked for it, he still has to will away the blush, "Okay, now think about that Water Tribe girl the Avatar hangs out with. Not only is she female and about our age, but she's still naïve. Just send me in and I'll talk her up. Lead them into a trap where you'll be waiting."

"What makes you think she'll fall for you?"

"Oh please ~ I'm a strong, tall, charming, handsome man - ,"

Zuko interrupts, "You're only 17."

Jet ignores Zuko, "No one can resist me."

"And if they recognize you?"

"How will they when I'm always wearing my cowl whenever we see them?" Jet pushes away from the ship's railing, "Besides, it's not like I talk to them. I'm pretty sure they won't be able to trace me back to you."

Zuko purses his lips momentarily before sighing, "Very well."

Jet grins, "Don't worry Fire-Bird ~ I'll come back."

"I'm not worried!"

"If you say so ~ !" Jet sing-songs, slinking out of Zuko's range before the Prince decides he might like to try and take a swipe at him.

oOo

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Dropping from the bar he'd been using in his exercise, he swipes at the sweat accumulating at his hairline, this makes his fringe stick up at odd angles, "Come in!"

The door swings open to reveal Zuko, "Jet."

Pleasantly surprised, Jet grins, "Zuko."

The firebender steps into the room, shutting the door behind him, Jet smashes the rising interest before it can gain fire, "I've received word that the Avatar is on Kyoshi Island, and we should be there by tomorrow afternoon."

"Okay," Jet jumps up, grabbing a hold of the bar and begins his pull-up set, "Was there something else you needed?"

"Yes." Zuko stares at Jet's bare chest, "When we arrive at Kyoshi Island, I want you to stay behind."

"What!?" Jet's fingers slip but he still manages to land gracefully and stands to his full height, already glaring at his friend, "What do you mean you want me to stay behind!?"

"Just do as I say."

"No! Do you realize how long it's been since I've had a proper fight!?"

"I just want you to be safe!"

It slips out without meaning to and it shows on the fire wielder's face, but it gets Jet to pause, his anger already melting from his body – he takes in Zuko's livid, embarrassed expression before sighing, reaching out, he pulls Zuko into an embrace. A sweaty one, but the Prince doesn't move, in fact, he's as tense as a board. They stay like that, Jet trying to smooth Zuko's ruffled feathers (because he feels like a major ass) and Zuko trying to make up his mind between punching Jet and continuing their argument (because he's still pissed). Eventually though, Zuko relaxes as best as he can.

"You sweaty." he murmurs.

Jet chuckles quietly, "Well I was exercising before you so rudely interrupted me."

"It's disgusting."

"Yet here you are."

"If you still want a proper fight, we can spar after I come back from Kyoshi Island."

Jet sighs, but he holds onto his friend tighter, "Okay."

oOo

Watching Zuko and several other men exit the hull of the ship, Jet can't help but pout, he really was angry that he'd been forced to stay behind, but after last night and their tender little moment, he just couldn't bring himself to disobey his friend. Beside him, Iroh is watching the group as well.

"Aren't you going with them?"

"No." he sulks, "His Royal Prissiness ordered me to stay behind."

Iroh gauges the Earth Kingdom teen's disposition because it really wasn't like Lion-Heart to stay behind while Prince Zuko went off on one of his escapades – the elder firebender realized something must have happened last night to make stubborn, hot-blooded Lion-Heart to listen for once. Allowing a warm smile to light up his features, he pats the moody teenager's shoulder and gingerly leads him away from the railing:

"Why don't he have a game of pai-sho with the remaining crew members."

"I don't want to play pai-sho."

"Come now, Lion-Heart." Iroh hums, "You shouldn't worry about Prince Zuko, he'll come back to us."

Muttering unintelligibly under his breath, Jet glares at the ground but up and follows Iroh into the tower – later, when the Prince returns completely soaked from head to toe, Jet has to bite down on his tongue to keep himself from commenting. Still guilt-ridden and really, really wanting that sparring match with the Fire Nation Prince.

 

Chapter Text

Raring to have the first decent fight he's had in a while, Jet is about to take his place on the opposite side of the ship's deck when someone tugs him back by the tail of his cowl. Throwing a scowl over his shoulder and all but ready to start throwing curses, and fists, his words die once he sees who it is, taking a step back so the neckline of his cowl no longer chokes him, he places a closed fist upon his cocked hip.

"Please don't tell me you're backing out."

Zuko shakes his head, "No, that's not it."

"Then what is it?"

"I want you to use these."

Curiously, Jet watches Zuko pull a decorated scabbard from behind his back and hold it out to him as though it were the most precious thing the Prince had ever held. Feeling his brow tic, the earthen teen gingerly grabs on to the glossy sheath – Zuko was going a little overboard with this whole keeping you safe thing he's got going on for him as of late. Besides, something this nice feels almost foreign in his hands of all people. Especially when he sees that he's already mucked the gloss with his fingerprints.

"This – looks vaguely familiar."

"These are the broadswords that hang in my room."

"I – then why are you giving them to me!?" Jet asks, expression dumbstruck, "These are yours! And they're too much for me; I wouldn't feel right using them!"

"Jet," Zuko murmurs, he places his hands over Jet's own and pushes the scabbard towards him, "Please." Jet resists the urge to grind his teeth, he swears to God or whoever is out there that Zuko knows his weakness, "It would make me feel better."

Fuck.

He can't believe how tame he's become the past few days, "Fine."

"Thank you."

"Yeah, yeah."

He isn't pouting, he swears he isn't. Placing his newly acquired swords against the metal wall, he removes his cowl and drops it unceremoniously in a heap beside the sheathed weapons, grabbing the scabbard; he secures it to his back and starts making his way to his side of the deck – Jet knew how to use broadswords, but he was mildly miffed that the Prince touched him in such a tender way. Pulling the swords from their home, he stares his friend-turned-opponent down, twin fire daggers shoot from the firebender's fists. Truth was - he makes the first move - he was touch starved.

Ducking under the fire dagger that swooshes over his head, he swipes at the Prince's legs, Zuko manages to get out of the way. Back when they were kids, he'd had enough contact thanks to Ursa, Iroh, and Zuko. Swinging the broadswords for Zuko's neck, Jet's surprised when the Prince holds his arms up, the swords bounce harmlessly off the firebender's metal bracers. Ever since Zuko had been banished, with Iroh and Jet following after him, he refused to touch or be touched. Zuko uses his position to move towards his core, Jet tries to step back only for the Prince to step on his foot, keeping him in place. But there were those rare moments. Jet drops his swords and wraps his arms around a mildly surprised Zuko, if he's going down; he's taking his friend with him. When Zuko allows it.

Taking the brunt of the fall isn't nearly as bad as he thought it would have been, especially when he's rewarded with a clearly flustered Zuko lying atop of him. Contrary to belief, this hadn't been about getting close to the Prince or impressing him, it had been about stretching his muscles and making sure his skills as a swordsman hadn't dulled, but this is a nice turn of events.

Jet leers at his friend wrapped within his arms, "Hello there, Prince Zuko ~ ."

Zuko's blush intensifies, "I thought you wanted to spar!"

"Mind not yelling in my face?" Jet hums, he manages to roll them over so his head lies upon the Prince's chest, body weight keeping him from moving, "And I did. Still do. But I realized there was no way I would be able to escape with you so close, sure, I could've fallen and got back on my feet a second later, but you would've been on me before I knew what was going on." he snakes his hands around the younger's midsection, resting his chin on his chest, "So I decided to take you with me."

"So neither of us wins."

"Exactly ~ ." Jet grins, "At least, that's what my teachers taught me. I don't win, but I don't lose either."

"Right." Zuko frowns, he shoves at Jet's shoulder, "Now get off of me."

Jet moves so he's nose to nose with Zuko and purrs, "Make me, Prince Zuko."

There's an odd feeling beginning to stir in his chest – he figures it's just Jet's weight smashing him, constricting his chest with pressure or something, but it sets an unknown feeling within him on fire and it warms him, he feels safe. It feels – good.

"Fine," Zuko smirks, he wraps his legs around Jet's hips – the surprised look on Jet's face is priceless, "I guess we'll both be here for a while, Jet."

Jet swallows the lump in his throat, he's getting hard. And he doesn't have his cowl to hide behind. Fuck. Abort! Abort!

"My oh my ~ ," both teenage boys look up into the faces of Iroh and three crewmembers, "Is it possible I'm looking at my future in-law right now ~ ?"

"I swear it isn't what it looks like," Jet begins frantically as he rolls off Zuko, he closes his legs, "I – we were sparring."

"We're only friends." Zuko hisses, he's entirely red, "So get your dirty old minds out of the gutter!"

"Ah-h-h ~ ," one of the men begin anyway, "The bedroom spar ~ that's quite the intense battlefield."

Both boys blush brighter – Zuko lets out an exasperated sound and storms into the ship with flames trailing after his fists, Jet only hopes this doesn't scare his friend away for long.

oOo

It has been three days and two nights since that embarrassing fiasco on deck, but that didn't stop some of the men from making ridiculous romantic gestures at him or Jet whenever they were in the same vicinity as each other. It didn't stop the shame Zuko felt when he thought back on that warm, fuzzy feeling he'd experienced when the older teen moved closer, so close the Fire Prince could feel his cool breath wisp past his lips, so close he could see the flecks of green in his friend's mischievous eyes. There it was again. That stupidly soft feeling again. Letting out a groan, he turns on his side to stare at the Fire Nation banner hanging beside the bed – how can he face Jet now that he feels ashamed of liking the way their bodies were pressed flush together, and how Jet's weight held him down?

And to think, Jet is only next door – that really shouldn't make his body all tingly like this.

Lying on his back, he stares at the ceiling of his room, his heart begins thrumming faster and his breathing becomes short, childishly, he looks down at himself. Realizing with horror that he was becoming aroused by the thought of his best friend, gulping, he lies on his side once again and curls in on himself – he hasn't really done things like that, his mind always focused on finding the Avatar and redeeming his honor. Sure, he's thought about kissing once or twice, but it was always with Mai or some other pretty girl. Has it ever given him the rush it does when he thinks of Jet?

Shutting his legs as tight as he can and closing his eyes, he tries to will his arousal away, he's the Prince of the Fire Nation; he can do anything he sets his mind to – images and imprints of his best friend/bodyguard flash across his mind. The feel of his skin, how warm it is, how firm his muscles are. The feel of his hair, soft yet unbelievably wild. His crooked smile and dark humor. His voice. Agni no. Shakily, he sneaks his hand to his waistband.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Spell broken. Zuko hurriedly sits up before remembering his little problem, placing the blankets over his lap innocuously; he lets out a shaky breath.

"Come in."

"Zuko."

"Uncle." Zuko watches the older firebender close the door, "Is something wrong?"

"Eh-h-h, in a manner of speaking." Iroh moves to sit at the table, "It's Lion-Heart."

"Lion - ," the weight of what he'd been about to do before his Uncle knocked hits him, he frowns, "What's wrong with him?"

"He knows that you've been avoiding him." Iroh begins, "He thinks you hate him and won't stop sulking. In fact, he just lies around the ship in various places – literally. A couple of the men nearly threw out their backs after tripping over him."

Zuko feels his face twist up in confusion, "That doesn't sound like him."

"I know, I wouldn't have believed it either if hadn't been one of the men who tripped over him!" Iroh states dramatically, "You best talk with him Nephew, or the men will throw him overboard."

"They can't do that!" Zuko snaps, problem forgotten as he jumps to his feet and storms towards his door, "He's a member of the royal guard!"

Iroh watches his Nephew slam the iron door, once in the clear, the retired General smiles to himself. Mission accomplished.

Sure, carrying spices seemed like a pretty easy task, but in reality it was heavy as fuck, muttering venomously to himself for being suckered into the task by Iroh, he stops and fixes his hold on the wooden box before continuing once again – or, he would have if someone hadn't grabbed his wrist and tugged him after them. He watches, with something resembling dismay, as the box falls to the floor and the spices roll out. All that hard work, and for what!?

He turns to the perpetrator, "What do you think you're doing!?"

"I need to talk to you."

It's Zuko but that doesn't matter. The spices. "In case you didn't know, I was busy with something."

"That can wait! This is important!"

Only then does Jet realize Zuko is shirtless, and he himself in a state of dressed down. What it must look like to anyone who sees them – and with the rumors of him and Zuko circulating like wildfire on the little vessel?

Jet snatches his wrist from the other teen, "If it's so important then you can tell me now."

Zuko stops, refusing to meet his gaze, "It is important. But – it's also private."

"You realize everyone thinks we're an item now, right?"

"Who cares!?" Zuko shouts, Jet blinks, "You're my friend! My only friend! They can say what they want and it won't matter! What matters to me, what care about is what you think! I – I want to know if we're alright."

"Of course we're alright," Jet frowns, "What made you think we weren't?"

"I - ," Zuko pauses and takes Jet in for the first time; the other isn't sulking at all! "Uncle."

"Iroh?" Jet arches a brow, "What did the old man say?"

Zuko blushes and looks away, "Nothing. It doesn't matter now."

"Should I pay him a visit when everyone's sleeping ~ ?" Jet grins, "Poison, or my personal favorite ~ blade?"

Zuko watches Jet twirl the dagger expertly, half wondering where he got it from, he sighs, "No. Never. I'm just – I'm just a little tired."

"Want me to walk you to your room?"

"I'm not a girl!" Zuko snaps heatedly, Jet holds his hands up, the firebender deflates and bites on his lower lip, "Can I – lay with you, in your room?"

Jet reels back in shock, "My room?"

"I mean – you don't have to, but, I don't know!" Zuko spins on his heels to cover his blush, "I just thought - ! Like when we were kids!"

A kind smile crosses Jet's lips, he reaches out and slips his hand into Zuko's, the moody Prince turns to look at their hands with surprise in his eyes, said eyes meeting his own. Jet's smile softens even more, he gently tugs on Zuko's hand, gingerly leading the younger in the direction of their rooms.

"You never have to ask with me."

Zuko hurries to walk by his side, "I know, but – I mean we're both older, so I thought - ,"

"I've changed?" Jet supplies, he lets out a soft chuckle, "I could have had so much more back in the Fire Nation, being the Fire Nation's greatest weapon, but I left it all so I could follow you." he squeezes Zuko's hand and looks at him, "I promised I wouldn't go anywhere."

They reach the room at a leisurely pace. Zuko tucks himself under Jet's chin, allowing his childhood friend to wrap his arms around him – this thing they had, it was soft. Neither had to fight or worry about the other's wellbeing. Zuko grabbed onto Jet's shirt, his best friend. How could he think of such impure thoughts about his beloved ally when said teen was such a good friend to him?

Chapter Text

Tending to his newest charge, an ostrich-horse which he named Kailao, Jet listens to the men playing the instruments he never knew they had – apparently there was a music night that happened every so often, where was he and how did he not know of such an event? Did Zuko know there was a music night? He'd have to talk to Iroh, or possibly Zuko, about this fabled music night – it wasn't that he wanted, or even knew how, to play an instrument, he just found his life was lacking in the music department, surely listening to a couple of songs wouldn't hurt anyone. Humming along to the music filtering down into the stables, even if he knew little to nothing of the song being played, he watched the ostrich-horse eat the pile of grain from the palm of his hand. Everything was so utterly peaceful.

"Lion-heart!"

The instruments made an unholy scream. A string may have broken. And Jet's ostrich-horse startled rather violently, its clawed foot kicking the bucket of grain and sending grain flying everywhere. Sprinkled in grain along with some komodo-rhinos, Jet takes a calming breath and runs his hand through the wild mop of brown locks he calls hair. A little bit of the feed is free, but he knows there's more. He feels grain slipping down his back and settling at the waistband of his pant where it creates an insatiable urge to throw his clothes off and scratch.

"Lion-heart," looking up from his ruined clothing, Jet sees Zuko in the stable doorway with a few other men hovering behind him, "I need you to come with me and a couple of men. My Uncle has yet to come back and I fear something may have happened to him."

"By all means, Prince Zuko." Jet swipes at the grain sticking to his arms, "I'm sure your Uncle is fine, he probably just slept in or something, hell, maybe he's on his way right as we speak."

"Regardless." Zuko growls, the men that had followed Zuko watch as he grabs Jet by the shirt and pulls him close, "It is your duty as a member of the royal guard to preserve the lives of all members of the royal family. My Uncle included. Now, I need you to come with me. Immediately."

Jet sighs, "At the very least let me change into something not covered in grain."

The Fire Prince lets out a low growl as his supposed bodyguard passes him by, the air surrounding him becomes heated and the fully armored, fully grown, adult soldiers subtly take a step away from the angered teenage boy – 15 to 20 minutes later, the two teenage boys and their small entourage are heading into the nearby forest. Zuko and the Fire Nation soldiers on their favored steeds, the komodo-rhinos, while Jet is riding alongside the Prince on a simple ostrich-horse. Albeit, a magnificent ostrich-horse.

Zuko casts his friend a side-glare, "I can't believe you're wearing that."

"Hey, at least I'm wearing something." Jet retorts heatedly, still fixing the wrap on his left arm, "Besides, this is a precautionary thing. I thought you of all people would, and could, appreciate that."

The Prince can't help the scoff that escapes his lips, but despite this, he watches his friend situate the band securely around his midsection, the outfit the men had scrounged together just didn't seem right on the wild haired teenager. It was too simple for the Prince, even though he wasn't the one wearing it, and it was too thin. It offered no protection. At all. The worn, sandy colored fabric looked as though it were ready to rip at the seams, the pants looked stiff, and the shoes looked uncomfortable – and the wrap, what was the point of it?

The air became dense with heat, the humidity pulling the Prince from the train wreck that was his friend, if the outfit had been up to Jet, it would probably be a mismatch of armor and obnoxious colors that clashed with one another. Jumping off his komodo-rhino, Zuko makes his way through the bamboo trees, the men and Jet following his lead – no one is here.

"Uncle?" the firebending Prince calls out; Jet draws closer to the hot spring, "Uncle! Where are you!?"

A soldier speaks up, "Sir. Maybe he thought you left without him."

"Doubt it," Jet mutters, he stoops down to snag a blade of grass, "If that were the case, he'd still be here."

"Exactly. Something isn't right here." Zuko scans the area, his eyes landing on the hot spring his Uncle had been, "Look at these pile of rocks."

A different soldier draws near, "It looks like a landslide, Sir."

"Land doesn't slide uphill." Zuko murmurs, "My Uncle's been captured by earthbenders!" he turns to the men, "The rest of you, go back to the ship! Lion-heart, come with me!" he heads towards their mounts, "We're going to track these men."

That had been a while ago or possibly a day ago. He'd lost track after slipping into unconsciousness for the 5th time. Yawning, Jet leans against the strong neck of his ostrich-horse, simply watching the Prince as he slips out of the saddle and walks towards what appears to be a sandal.

Zuko appears to sniff at the footwear before reeling in disgust, "Yup. That's Uncle Iroh."

"Did you really have to smell it to know that?" Jet grouses lazily as Zuko hurries back to the komodo-rhino beside his ostrich-horse, "That could have been anyone's sandal; people lose their shoes every day. Who's to say that someone hasn't been here before?"

"You know as well as I, that Uncle isn't very fragrant."

"Really?" Jet hums sleepily, he clicks his tongue causing his ostrich-horse to follow beside the giant lizard-like beast, "I think he smells like tea. Jasmine tea to be exact."

"Well then. Next heat wave I'll have you spend the day with him." Zuko says almost heatedly, "Tell me what you think of him then."

"Why are we even talking about what Iroh smells like?" Jet sighs, fighting his keep his eyes open, "Not only is it weird, but it's creepy. Shouldn't a couple of teenage boys be talking about things like – what girl we wanna fuck or comparing sizes?"

Zuko splutters, his face beet red, "First of all: you started it. Second: what girls do you know on the ship? And third: compare the size of what?!"

Jet mock gasps, "How scandalous, Prince Zuko!"

"Jet!"

YAWN!

"If you're so tired, why don't you go back to the ship!?"

Jet forces himself upright, rubbing at his eyes, "I never said I was tired."

"You don't have to." Zuko keeps his eyes on the multiple ostrich-horse tracks; "It's in your voice. The way you talk. And your demeanor. Also, not to mention the fact that you yawn every 5 seconds."

Yawn. "Not true."

"You literally just yawned."

"Only because you keep talking about it!"

"Of course," Zuko rolls his eyes, he leans to the right in his saddle to inspect the tracks – Jet has half a mind to push him, "How could I be so insensitive?"

The Earth Kingdom teen snorts, "You're such an ass."

Apparently, something catches Zuko's attention for he turns to look over his shoulder, Jet following his lead, only at a much slower pace, he sees a large, fluffy beast flying through the skies – at least he hopes there's a giant, furry monster, otherwise he'll have to take his friend up on that offer of returning to the ship.

"Did you see that?" Zuko asks,

Jet cranes his neck, "Was it a humungous, white-furred monster flying through the skies?"

"Yes."

"Then yeah," Jet enjoys the popping of his joints, "I saw it."

"That's the Avatar's bison."

Jet watches Zuko pull on the komodo-rhino's reins, he frowns, "What about Iroh?"

"I - ," Zuko pauses, he looks back in the direction they were following.

Jet turns Kailao in the direction of the Avatar's monster, "I'll go after them. You go after your Uncle."

"Jet, you're in no condition - ,"

"Listen." Jet snaps, "We were planning to send me in sooner or later." his expression turns simpering, "Besides, I probably look pretty pathetic right now – it'll lower their guard."

Zuko sighs, "Okay. Be careful."

Jet nods, "You too, Fire-Bird."

Both teenage boys head in opposite directions. Clicking his tongue and snapping the reins, Kailao and his rider speeds off into the forest. Eyes cast skyward, Jet manages to keep an eye on the sky bison while his ostrich-horse weaves in between the various trees dotting the landscape, it seemed pretty easy, because how hard would it be to follow a large, flying cow that sheds like crazy? Pretty hard if you're on land and surrounded by an army of trees, for the tree leaves create a thick canopy allowing no light in and successfully hiding the Avatar's pet from view.

"Great." Jet growls, turning his attention up ahead, he spots what seems to be a random wall.

Narrowing his eyes, he slows Kailao to a calm amble before stopping completely, jumping from the saddle, he approaches the stone wall and presses a hand flat upon the cool surface. Above, a roar can be heard. Shrinking in on himself and pulling out the dual broadswords Zuko had given him, he looks to the skies and spots the Avatar descending just beyond the wall. Blinking, he quietly sheathes the weapons and listens. Beyond the wall, he can make out the distinct sound of multiple voices, looking to his ostrich-horse; he begins to remove the reins and bridle. Pulling Kailao's head to his level, Jet looks the animal in the eye.

"Back to the ship."

The hybrid animal gives a quiet huff and takes off for what Jet figures to be the direction of the ship – the men knew what to do once Kailao reached the vessel without him. Quietly circling the wall, he finds what he assumes to be the entrance into the small village. Barely five steps inside the village, he spots the Avatar's bison along with his target, the Water Tribe girl.

"Hello!?" he calls out, she turns only to blink her large, blue eyes in shock, "I hope you don't mind, but I'm looking for a place to stay."

"Oh!" she fiddles with something, "I - ," Jet draws closer, "I'm not from around here. I'm – we're, my friends and I are helping the villagers."

Jet is just an arm's reach away from her when he hums thoughtfully, "I kind of thought you weren't from around here, what with the Water Tribe get up, but it wouldn't hurt to ask." he offers a kind smile, "Mind if I ask what you're helping the villagers with?"

She turns somber, "There's a spirit that's been terrorizing this village. It took my brother, Sokka."

"A spirit?" Jet ponders, he sits upon the wooden porch of the large building, inside, he can hear people talking, "Isn't that a little – extreme, for a bunch of kids?"

"Oh no," she toys with her braid, sitting beside Jet, "We're traveling with the Avatar, he's the bridge between both the spirit world and ours."

"The Avatar – nice." he eyes the large fluffy monster and vice versa, "I guess that's why you're so far from home."

Silence.

"What about you?"

"Me?"

"Yeah, aren't you a little too young to be traveling on your own?"

"I - ," Jet pauses, then sighs, "Truth is, I have nowhere to go. The Fire Nation attacked my village, killed my parents and anyone else who was unlucky enough to get in their way, I was only a kid when it happened, but it wasn't enough that they took my home and parents from me, they decided to take away my freedom as well."

"What do you mean?"

"After they burned my village, they decided to make me a slave. I only recently escaped." Jet toys with the strap of the scabbard, "It wasn't easy, but here I am. The last of my village's people."

"I know what you mean; the Fire Nation took my mother from me. Destroyed my village and took all of the waterbenders. I'm the only one left."

"I guess we have a lot in common then, huh?"

She blushes, "I guess we do."

Jet smiles, "You never told me your name by the way."

"Oh, my name is Katara."

"I'm Jet." he looks down the town's main road and sighs, "I should be going."

"I thought you needed a place to stay?"

"I do." Jet stands, "But I need to keep moving or else the Prince's pet will find me and send me back to the Fire Nation."

"The Prince?" Katara pauses, "Wait, do you mean Prince Zuko?"

"Yeah, you know of him?"

"Of course!" she snaps, her anger directed at said Prince, "He's always chasing after us everywhere we go!" Katara looks up at Jet, "Wait, you said his pet?"

"Lion-heart." Jet says without missing a beat, he trains his expression to look grim, "The Fire Nation's greatest weapon. They say he killed a man when he was just a kid. They call him the monster of monsters. No one knows his real name, what they do know is that he's loyal to Prince Zuko and Prince Zuko only."

"Lion-heart." Katara murmurs, "So that's his name. He ruined Aang's glider and nearly killed him their first meeting, not to mention that he was about to kill Sokka as well."

"Charming guy, isn't he?" Jet laughs dryly before sighing, "And lucky me, I get the honor of being his sole target. So far, I've been able to stay one step ahead of him, but I get the feeling my luck will only last so much." Jet starts walking, "It was nice meeting you Katara. Hopefully we'll meet again someday."

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5.

"Wait!"

Jet turns, "Yeah?"

"I don't know, this might sound crazy but - ," she looks at Jet, " – maybe you can come with us."

"Are you sure?" Jet tilts his head, "Having the Prince and Lion-heart chasing you guys doesn't sound very appealing."

"I know but if they're both together, then we'll know where they are and – you'll be safer with us."

"That does sound nice." he smiles, "Alright. You've convinced me, and don't worry. I'll watch your backs."

Katara smiles beautifully, "Great! I - ,"

YAWN!

"We can talk more after you get some sleep."

"No – I'm good." Jet yawns again.

Katara gives him an unimpressed look, "Sleep, I'll make sure you're safe."

Jet smiles sheepishly, "Thank you. You've done so much for me already."

oOo

CRASH!

BANG!

ROAR!

Eyes flying open, Jet makes a hasty dive for his broadswords – once his fingers wrap around the handles, he scans the area only to see Katara and the villagers gathered at the windows, suddenly, he remembers where he is and what he's doing, or rather, what he's supposed to be doing. Exhaling heavily, he grabs the strap of the fancy scabbard and forces himself to his feet, dragging the weapons after him, it's night by the looks of it which means he's only spent a handful of hours away from Zuko, but he's ready to give in and run back to the Fire Nation ship with his tail tucked between his legs and failure branded upon his forehead. Is there such a thing about relapsing from time spent away from a person?

"Jet!" looking up at the sound of his name, he sees wide-eyed Katara, smiling and happy, "Come on, let's go introduce you to Aang and Sokka ~ !"

He literally woke up, it's too early – or late? – for this game, "Lead the way ~ ."

He's led out past the townspeople and towards two boys talking with one another, one in obnoxiously bright colors and the other in blue, he can already distinguish who's who, but he smiles anyway:

"Aang, Sokka, this is Jet and he's coming with us."

"Great ~ !" Aang smiles bright, "Nice to meet you Jet ~ !"

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!" Sokka cuts in, "Who decided this!?"

"Aang just did and I asked him to come along." Katara smirks.

Sokka glares at Aang who shrugs, "Two against one."

Sokka groans, "Fine. Welcome or whatever."

Jet remembers the warrior before him, "Thanks."

The group is approached by the villagers, "Thank you for what you've done. I only wish there was something we could do to repay you for your kindness."

"Actually," Sokka speaks up before Aang can reply, "We can use some supplies since we've got an extra addition," he narrows his eyes and Jet before turning to the village leader, "And some money."

Apparently Katara picks up on Sokka's disdain for Jet, she smacks him lightly, "Sokka!"

"What!?" Sokka huffs, "It's true!"

"We would be honored to help the Avatar and his friends ready for their journey."

The group watches the villagers leave to gather the supplies, Aang turns to the other three:

"I think it's good that we have another person with us."

"What are you talking about!?" Sokka exclaims, "We barely know the guy!"

Jet can't stay his tongue, "Why are you so against me coming along!?"

"Because I barely know you!" Sokka snaps, he looks Jet up and down, "What do you even bring to the table!?"

"Jet was a slave for the Fire Nation until recently! He escaped and now he's got this Lion-heart guy chasing him!" Katara snaps, interrupting both boys, "I'm sure you remember Lion-heart since he was the guy who was about to kill you until Aang distracted them! So Jet doesn't need you questioning him about his trustworthiness!"

The two siblings glare at one another until Aang sheepishly parts their attention, "Um guys, we have a problem."

"We sure do." Sokka growls.

"I know how to talk to Avatar Roku, we need to reach his home on a crescent shaped island by the winter solstice, but - ,"

"It's in the Fire Nation." Jet finishes,

"How do you know where it is?" Sokka asks suspiciously,

Jet rolls his eyes, "I was a slave in the Fire Nation since I was a kid, I've learned a thing or two about the Fire Nation."

Chapter Text

Jet would admit that he's often wondered what it would feel like to fly through the skies like the various birds he's seen flit and flutter through the skies, like the lovesick sparrowkeets that resided within the palace's garden, but now that he's been soaring through the skies with the others for a solid 5 or so hours with little room to stretch his muscles properly – flying is becoming more of a monotony than a novelty. At least back on the ship, he'd had enough room to practice his forms or bug a certain moody Prince. Propping his elbow upon the saddle's edge, he lets his head loll; lazily studying the patterns on the large bison tail until something on the water's surface catches his attention. Sitting upright, he attempts to get a closer look by squinting his eyes – his heart does this weird falling/soaring thing once he realizes just what he was looking at. Someone sits at his side:

"What is - ?" Katara trails off once she spots the ship, she turns to the others, "We've got company!"

"And it's gaining fast!"

Now Jet may be loyal to Prince Zuko to a fault, but that did NOT mean he was okay with being shot out of the skies by said sovereign – a large ball of fire shoots through the skies, sailing in a large arc. The sudden veering of the bison has Jet's gut churning uncomfortably, he clamps a hand over his nose, the smell that wafts past his nose doesn't make it any better. Here he thought the bison and the komodo-rhinos smelled funky.

"Guys!" Aang calls out, "We've got a problem!"

Crawling towards the front and settling to Katara's left, Jet feels his blood run cold – upon the water's surface before them are dozens of Fire Nation vessels patrolling the borders of their territory. He looks over his shoulder, eyes concentrating on the Fire Prince's ship, surely he wouldn't be dense enough to try and follow them into Fire Nation territory.

"If we go north, we can go around the Fire Nation ships and avoid the blockade." Aang looks over his shoulder at them, "It's the only way we'll all be safe."

"Aang, there's no time!"

"We have no choice!" Jet adds, he doesn't really care if the Avatar makes it to the island but he hopes their entering of Fire Nation territory will sway the Prince from giving chase. A voice in the back of his mind says the Prince will do otherwise. "We have to run it!"

Aang lets out a frustrated noise, "This is EXACTLY why I didn't want you guys to come! It's just too dangerous!"

Katara gives an encouraging, "And that's why we're here."

If he's here, he might as well sell it, he gives Aang a reassuring grin, "We'll make it."

"Let's run that blockade!" Sokka says boldly.

Aang looks between all of them before nodding, a determined glint in his eyes, "Appa! Yip, yip!"

The bison falters before flying at a faster pace, the sudden change jarring Jet and so it's instinctive when his arm wraps around Katara's slim abdomen to keep himself from falling flat on his ass, but when she gives him a shy look, eyes wide and a flattering shade of red painting her cheeks, he plays it off as intentional. From the girl's other side, he can feel Sokka's eyes burning holes into his skull. More balls of fire shoot from the blockade, and Katara may or may not have pushed closer into his side – Zuko is STILL chasing them. They begin swerving, dodging the exploding flames. Sokka literally pushes Jet from Katara as they start putting out small embers on the bison's shaggy fur, Jet glares but holds his tongue, when this was over and he was able to return to the Prince's side, he was going to CHEW HIM OUT for doing something so stupid! He glances at the blockade once more – that's IF the thick-skulled Prince didn't get himself caught!

The group flies higher into the skies and beyond the cottony clouds, using them as coverage, but the attempt to hide from the sights of the Fire Nation appears to work both ways for dozens of fireballs burst forth from the clouds. Fire scatters, embers explode, and smoke clouds their vision. Jet keeps a strong hold on Katara to keep her from falling, the Water Tribe girl not minding in the least, at least until one of the flaming objects explodes before them - it shakes the group and the bison struggles momentarily to regain its bearings, while everyone seems none the worse for wear, Sokka loses his grip, Katara rips from Jet's side and tries to catch her brother's hand, but he's too far away.

"Sokka!" Aang shouts, he turns Appa around, "Hang on!"

Emerging from the clouds and heading back into the fray, Jet's eyes flick towards the Prince's vessel, once they catch Sokka and are heading for a collision course with the blockade, he realizes the ship has been hit. Zuko will be alright - he mentally assures himself as he turns to concentrate on his predicament. Aang destroys the flaming rock, some charcoal like substance coating Jet's features – nearing the blockade, he spots ZHAO of all people, hiding his face, he watches and waits to see what befalls the banished Prince. Zuko makes it as well – Jet knows something's going on.

oOo

Running the sharpened edge of the broadsword along the stone he'd squirreled away on his person, Jet feels the familiar sensation of someone staring at him AGAIN. Letting out a low, undetectable sigh, he flicks his concentrated gaze to the so called Water Tribe warrior, the other teen watching him with clear cut suspicion in his narrowed gaze. Stuffing the sharpening stone away in the seam of his sleeves, a place he's come to store random things away since he was a child, he expertly collects the swords and sheathes them in their glossy scabbard.

"Something wrong, Sokka?" he asks amiably, best keep his language in check.

"Katara told us you were a slave," Sokka begins, Katara shoots her brother a look but it goes ignored, "Mind telling us about your time in the Fire Nation?"

"Sokka!" Katara hisses, "He doesn't need to - ,"

"That's alright Katara," Jet smiles tiredly, he looks to Sokka, "Where do you want me to start?"

"Start when you were captured."

Jet nods, he's got to alter his life a little but keep it as close to the truth as he could since Sokka was already on high alert, or at the very least, suspicious of him and his motives:

"I was 8 when the Fire Nation attacked my village, they killed my parents and anyone else who stood in their way. While the remaining adults and whoever else ran, I stayed behind and tried to fight the soldiers – the men were so impressed with my bravery, they captured me and sent me to the Fire Nation." Jet sighed, "They tried to force me in to their army but when I refused, they decided to send me to the holding cells. I don't know how long I was there, but when I was finally let out, they told me that I was going to be a slave – I guess it wasn't so bad, but I hated the Fire Nation for what they've done to me and my family." he toyed with the leather strap of his scabbard, "I was able to escape when I was traded to Prince Zuko and his crew, the Prince mostly ignored me, but Lion-heart was a right bastard – sorry – used the crew for training that injured most men."

"Tell me about this Lion-heart guy." Sokka interrupts.

"I heard the guy was trained from birth by all the greatest warmongers and assassins the Fire Nation had to offer, he's had and surpassed all of his teachers which makes him a master in stealth, survival, weaponry, and combat. He's a member of the royal guard which is why he's traveling with the Princes." Jet meets Sokka's gaze, "And if I were you, I'd avoid the guy at all costs, I heard rumors, dark rumors that say he ENJOYS killing those who cross the family, that he LOVES fighting, and with what I've seen on that ship, I'd say they're true. They're all monsters."

Katara puts a comforting hand on his, he smiles at her, Sokka starts up again, "If this Lion-heart guy is all that, then how did YOU escape? And those swords, do you know how to use them?"

"I picked up a thing or two by watching the guy practice, but I'm not sure if I'm able to beat him, and I'm not looking to test my luck." he murmurs, training his voice and appearance to come off as somber, "I managed to escape by sneaking away, to take them on, especially the Prince AND Lion-heart, would have been suicide. Besides - what makes you think I've escaped?"

"What do you - ?"

"The guy's been tracking me since I escaped." Jet tries to hold back his anger, but this kid keeps asking question after question, "Last night was the only time I was able to get some real sleep."

Sokka opens his mouth again but Aang interrupts, possibly sensing Jet's discomfort, "I guess that explains why we haven't seen him with Zuko those times we've met."

Silence.

"We're here!"

Descending and landing upon a clearing, Jet watches the others jump from the saddle before he follows, he looks to the tall building looming over the island – if he remembers right, there are Fire Sages within that building and they're sure to realize who he is, they're sure to ruin his cover. He shakes his head and backs a step or two, this captures the attention of the trio, Katara and Aang move to his side, helping him sit upon the rocky ground.

Jet places a hand to his head as though he were fighting back a headache, "If it's okay with you guys, I – I think I'll sit here and wait."

"Why?" Sokka snorts, "Scared?"

It was meant to be a teasing gesture, but Jet laughs self-deprecatingly, "Pretty pathetic huh?"

Katara glares heatedly at Sokka but kneels at Jet's side, "Don't worry, you can stay here."

"Yeah ~ !" Aang smiles kindly, "This won't take long ~ !"

"I'm sorry I can't be much help right now, but I'll make it up to you later, I promise."

"No, that's okay." Katara soothes as she and Aang stand, "We'll be back soon, okay Jet?"

Jet smiles, warm and kind, "Thank you, Katara."

Seeing the small blush signals that he's doing something right, "You don't need to thank me."

Sokka makes obnoxious kissy sounds/faces which earns a red-faced Katara smacking him upside the head, Jet gives them a wave and once they're out of sight, he sighs and turns to the large bison that stares at him. It makes him feel uncomfortable and a little threatened.

He rubs the back of his head, "I'm going to take a walk." it makes a low rumble, "Yeah."

Wandering around some hardened lava, he spots a small ship, boat, whatever, nearing the island, frowning, he dives behind some rocks and peers around the edge, eyeing the ship as it pulls onto shore. Steadying his breath, he grabs a hold of the broadswords' handles, watches as the person jumps from the deck and onto the black sand, he smirks as sneaks closer, silent as he pulls the weapons from their sheath. Once he's close enough he sweeps up behind the skulking figure and places a blade dangerously close against the person's throat:

"What's a pretty face like yours doing in a place like this ~ ?"

Zuko bats at Jet, "Aren't you supposed to be with the Avatar?"

"I am." Jet sheathes the weapons, he turns to look at Avatar Roku's temple, "They're inside, but if I go in and the Fire Sages recognize me, my cover will be blown. And if you want the Avatar, we can't have that now can we."

Zuko looks at the temple for a second or two before turning to his friend, "Do you have anything on the Avatar?"

"Nothing of use," Jet looks back to the Prince, "They're just a bunch of soft kids with a lot of tender moments, I mean sure, Sokka might be suspicious but I doubt he thinks I'm Lion-heart."

"And why is he suspicious?"

"Because I'm hitting on his sister."

Zuko sighs, "I better get going."

Jet grabs his wrist, "But what are YOU doing here?"

"I'm going after the Avatar." Zuko frowns, confused, "Or did you forget?"

"I'm not the one with memory problems." Jet tugs Zuko back, "You're not supposed to be in Fire Nation territory remember, if they catch you they'll clip your wings Fire-Bird."

"I know that." Zuko hisses, pulling away from Jet, "Uncle already told me the same thing."

"Yet you're still here."

"I'm chasing the Avatar, I'm sure my father will understand."

"Zuko - ,"

"Don't."

Exhaling steadily, Jet runs a hand through his hair and stares at his bristling friend, "Fine. Just – be careful. You remember where we're meeting up, right?"

"Yeah." Zuko rasps, "You sure you'll get them there?"

"Yeah, but don't worry about me." Jet pats Zuko's shoulder, "Worry about you." Zuko nods and walks past, Jet turns to watch his friend leave, "I'm being serious!" he shouts, "Be careful!"

Returning to the bison, he sits upon the ground and lies on his back, his hair is starting to get as fluffy as the bison's fur, he sighs low, tired, and annoyed.

"I hate this heat."

Appa rumbles in agreement and that's the last thing Jet hears before he shuts his eyes and succumbs to sleep – chattering wakes him, before he can fully open his eyes, the island rumbles. Startling awake, he watches Momo fly in circles before heading towards the temple, getting the gist of it, he climbs atop Appa and grabs hold of the reins, shouting a quick yip, yip before they're off, following the flying lemur to a large hole in the temple. He spots the three kids and maneuvers the giant monster closer.

"Need some help?" Jet calls out blithely,

"Jet!" both Aang and Katara call out happily.

The trio of kids clambers into the saddle and Jet pulls on Appa's reins, once they're flying away from the island, Jet makes his way to the saddle and rests comfortably, listening to Katara and Aang recall the happenings within the temple.

Chapter Text

"Hey Sokka, can I see the map?"

"Why, do you need to stop somewhere?"

Jet sighs, "Yeah. Kind of – there's just something I'd like to see."

Up front, Sokka grumbles but relents, "Fine. It should be in my pack if you look."

Nimbly, Jet moves to kneel beside what he assumes to be Sokka's pack and begins digging around the various objects within until the tips of his fingers brush against a paper-like material. Grabbing what he hopes is the map and not some pinup, he haphazardly tosses the bag next to the others and unrolls the map, smoothing it out before him, his calculated eyes scan the diagram until he can determine where they are – the map is outdated, but it'll do. As he's about to smooth the opposite edge of the map down, Katara beats him to it and puts her weight upon the other half of the portrayal.

"Thank you."

With a free hand, he creates an invisible path to the area he'll meet up with the Prince and just as fate would have it, its north.

"What are you looking for?"

"I just wanted to see if we were anywhere near my hometown." Jet whispers, "I know it's been abandoned and is probably nothing more than ash, but I - ,"

Katara places her hand over Jet's, their eyes meeting, "You still want to see it."

"Yeah – I do." Jet flips his hand over to hold onto hers, "I hate the Fire Nation for what they've done, and it's probably stupid but I want to remind myself that I don't have to be afraid of them anymore. That I'm free." he gives her hand a gentle squeeze, "I want to remind myself that I'm stronger than I was back then."

She smiles, warm and kind, "It's not stupid at all, and closure is important. We'll make time to visit your hometown, and we'll be there for you if you need us."

Moving his other hand to cup Katara's cheek, he runs his thumb over her soft skin in calming circles, his dark chocolate eyes concentrated upon her features, she really is pretty with her wide, blue eyes and cool, dark skin, highlighting a beautiful, warm blush – her features soft compared to what he's used to seeing. And something traitorous tells him that he could fall for her if things were different, if he weren't so blindly loyal, no, if he weren't so in love with the Fire Prince.

"You've done so much for me since we've met," Jet says, voice soft and vulnerable, "I feel like saying thank you is - ,"

"Y-You don't have to thank me for anything."

"Katara." Jet holds her gaze, "You've given me hope and that's something no thank you will ever cover. You've given me hope that the Fire Lord will be defeated and the Avatar will restore balance to the world. I owe you so much more than words can express."

Katara wills her heart to stop beating so loud, "I-It's nothing. Really – Jet."

"It is." he draws closer, their breath ghosting over one another's lips, "You're a really amazing person, Katara."

They're about to close the 5 inch distance between their lips when the map rips from their hold, the sudden movement startles both teens in to a mad scramble in an attempt to grab a hold of the paper. Jet's fingers barely brush against the edge of the paper but it's too far and it flies out of his reach – both boy and girl watch he paper flutter innocently down to earth before they turn to one another with amused smiles of their own. The Earth Kingdom teen gives the Water Tribe girl a good natured pat on the shoulder before moving towards the front and delivering the news of the lost map to her brother.

With the distracting teenage boy and his secretive smirk gone from her personal space, Katara places a hand over her chest in an attempt to get her heart to slow back down to its normal pace and concentrates on Aang who's pacing back and forth with a fear in his eyes, she blushes bright, in that instant with Jet, everything else had fallen from her thoughts and worries – she felt mildly guilty despite nothing being wrong.

"What!?" Sokka shouts, "You lost the map!?"

Katara can barely hear what Jet says but she knows he's talking, especially when Sokka mutters something heated and distinctly vicious until her brother snaps his attention to Aang and Jet slinks away, he doesn't return to her side and that makes her feel vaguely disappointed but she resists the strong urge to move to his side as she doesn't want to appear clingy – or desperate.

" – and I haven't even tried waterbending yet!" Aang's shout catches her attention, "How am I supposed to master all of the elements when we've lost the map!?"

"I'm pretty sure a map won't help you master any of the elements." Jet speaks from his side of the saddle, "Its paper."

"Jet's right, Aang." Katara pulls her friend into a sitting position, "And I can show you some of the stuff I know."

"Really ~ ?" Aang perks up, "You'll do that ~ ?"

"Of course," Katara smiles, she and Aang crawl towards Jet's side of the saddle and look over the edge, "All we need is a steady source of water."

"So what?" Sokka snorts from the reins, "We just need to find a puddle for you two to splash around in?"

oOo

"Nice puddle."

Overhead, Appa flies past the group and lands in the center of the water body with a huge splash – Jet thinks the bison's got the right idea and begins walking towards the rushing waterfall, but not before seeing Aang in his underwear and that is not on the list of things he's ever wanted to see. Setting a hand in the water to test the temperature, he shrugs and slips his scabbard off and places it against the shore, far from the water lapping at the bank. According to the map, they were only a day or so away from the spot he and Prince Zuko had agreed on meeting at, which meant he'd soon be with his friend once more. Jet pauses to stare at his distorted reflection. Okay. Yeah. Commander Sideburns was probably right:

You have him whipped like a well-trained tiger-dillo.

Thinking of the egotistical firebender only succeeds in making himself angry, untying his sash and shucking off his shirt he drops the articles upon the scabbard. Maybe he can talk Sokka into sparring with him to get rid of the edge. Toeing off his shoes, he reaches for the waistband of his pants when a particularly loud splash catches his attention, looking up, he sees Aang and Katara across from him, Katara with an extremely bright-red face and Aang looking extremely concerned for his friend – he smirks, the girl has taste, he'll give her that. Removing his pants, he tosses them with the rest of his clothes and steps into the water, at least his underwear provides a little more coverage than whatever it was Aang was wearing.

Wading towards the waterfall and well aware of a pair of bright, blue eyes upon his well-toned back, he wonders if Zuko misses him at all or if he just doesn't give a flying turtle-duck. The thought is certainly a little depressing. Slipping underneath the strong pressure of the waterfall, he runs his hands through his hair. But Zuko must care about him since he confessed that Jet was important enough to him that he cared what he thought or said. Gods. He feels like an animal waiting for scraps from its master.

Whipped.

A voice similar to Zhao's teases poisonously.

So fucking what!?

Jet mentally snaps at the voice as he begins furiously scrubbing at his arms – he'll show Zhao the meaning of whipped if he ever gets his hands on that egotistical bastard. Just because he misses his dear friend he's come to love since they were young doesn't mean a God damn thing, it simply means they're good friends. Friends who sleep together. Jet's member twitches and he mentally berates himself because he did not mean it like that!

When he exits the water, he feels mildly better but now he's in need of some relief – physically and sexually, he wonders how Sokka is able to stand being around his little sister and some kid monk without relieving himself. Slipping his pants and shoes on, he grabs his shirt and shrugs it on. Jet secures his sash and situates the scabbard on his back just as Aang creates a large wave that sweeps down the river, washing over Appa and Sokka. The tawny teenager would have laughed at the Water Tribe boy's misfortune if their supplies hadn't been washed away as well.

oOo

Resting against the doorframe with Aang and Katara on the other side, Jet scans the many docked ships in hopes of seeing the familiar steel vessel he's been calling home for the past three years. There is none. Forcing himself to look away from the sea, he reminds himself that he'll be reunited with his friend again in a few days, give or take.

Sokka emerges from the shop, "Okay, so we've got three copper pieces left from the money King Bumi gave us."

Aang jumps to his feet and pulls out a whistle, "Make that two copper pieces, I just couldn't say no to this bison whistle ~ !"

Both Jet and Katara are unimpressed with the whistle, moving past the two younger boys with the roll of his eyes, he leads the small group. Passing the various stalls, Jet spots a wooden ship with some scrawny man dressed in green hollering something to passer-bys, and he'd be more than content to walk on by but the man manages to get Aang's attention – he knows for a fact that there's nothing upon the ship that will interest him, nothing he wants or needs.

"You guys go on in." Jet says, "I'm going to take a walk."

Katara stops, "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Suit yourself." Sokka shrugs; Katara casts him a final glance before following her brother.

Once the trio of kids disappears into the ship, Jet turns from the sea-weathered ship and continues on in the direction they had originally been walking. And as he walks, he daydreams of a metal ship with flames flying proud, of an angry teen with an angrier scar, of a rotund man who smells of tea and speaks in proverbs, and of a woman who'd sacrificed herself for the safety of her son, and as he looks around at the many people dressed in a variety of colors, he knows that he no longer belongs upon Earth Kingdom soil – not when his heart and mind belong to a piece of the Fire Nation. Pulling himself from his thoughts with a frown, he smothers the thoughts in his head.

"Come on, Jet!" Katara shouts as she drags him after the other two,

"What happened!?" Jet asks, now keeping pace with the waterbender,

"I don't know!" Sokka exclaims, "We were just browsing and suddenly BAM they start wanting to kill us!"

The four turn down one of the many streets, and running was never Jet's style so as he looks behind them and gauges the amount of enemies, he feels his heart thrill – it's been so long since he's been able to cut the flesh of an opponent. He stops and spins on his heel, producing the broadswords with expert precision.

"You guys go on ahead, I'll catch up with you later!"

"What? Jet!?" Katara stops,

Aang pulls her along, "He'll be okay Katara, come on!"

Slipping into a swordsman stance, a malicious smile crosses his lips and his eyes darken, the pirates slow to a stop before him, all with varying degrees of shock and amusement:

"Normally, I'd give you a chance to leave with your lives." Jet begins, voice low and spiteful, he caresses the blade against the other, "But it's been oh-so long since I've been able to spill an ounce of blood."

That is the only warning the men get when the teen charges them, steel singing and screaming, dark eyes shining with a sickened frenzy – on the walk to their camp, Jet hums a little song to himself. There's blood splatter staining his shirt rather grotesquely.

"Jet ~ !" Katara exclaims happily but stops upon seeing the blood, "Jet! Are you okay!?"

"I'm fine," Jet smiles contently, he turns to Sokka, "Any ideas on why they attacked you guys?"

"Yes." Sokka huffs, Katara shrinks in on herself, "As it turns out my crazy sister stole some waterbending scroll!"

"Really?" Jet blinks, he turns to Katara before grinning, "Nice ~ ."

Both Aang and Katara beam, Sokka lets out a sound that resembles choking, "Don't encourage them! We nearly got killed by a group of pirates over some stupid scroll just so she can learn some fancy splashes!"

"Well we're all here aren't we?" Jet counters with an easy smile, "And Aang does need to learn more waterbending moves."

Sokka splutters and stomps before throwing his hands up in the air grumbling about benders and psychos, Jet casts both Aang and Katara an approving smile which seems to make the two puff up proudly. That night he sleeps peacefully, dreaming of a pretty raven-feathered bird singing a soothing lullaby to a child of fire, as he nears consciousness, the sound of Sokka squawking about something or other awakens him fully. Blinking sleepily at the slowly brightening sky, he turns to look at the other two males – he's nowhere near ready when the glinting of an arrowhead racing for his heart forces him to roll out of the way and dive for his swords. Deflecting two more arrows with his broadswords, Jet spins on his heel in time to see a burly man shoot a few arrows at him but it's too late to move for a net wraps around him and he's pulled to the ground, being dragged away alongside Aang with some man grabbing his weapons with dirty, grubby hands.

"Where are you taking us!?" Aang demands as Jet struggles in his net.

"We're trading you and your friend for the waterbending scroll the girl stole." Aang's captor speaks, "I believe you know of the Prince."

Jet stops his struggling, he feels both Aang and Sokka's gaze on him, "You mean Prince Zuko?"

"Yeah, that's his name!"

Allowing his body to relax and fall limp, he goes silent and remains unmoving and quiet for the rest of their journey, refuses to struggle or offer a biting remark as they tie him up. Apparently Sokka seems to worry for him, what with the glances he kept sending his way:

"Don't worry." Sokka whispers to him, "We'll get away."

"I'll never get away." Jet murmurs as they're forced to walk.

At the riverside, Jet feels his heart soar and gut twist once he sees the Prince, he swallows hard once their eyes catch and forces himself to look away, he spots Katara tied up beside Iroh, she gives him a glance that says sorry, and he remembers that he's supposed to be afraid of the Fire Prince, not excited to see him – Zuko steps forth:

"Hand over the boy with the arrow and the Earth Kingdom peasant, andyou will get your scroll."

"Hand over the scroll first." the Captain grouses.

Zuko frowns, "I believe we've already been through this before."

The Captain gestures for the man holding Jet to go forth, but before Jet can take a step, Sokka speaks up:

"Are you really going to trade the Avatar and a trained assassin for a measly waterbending scroll?"

Jet whips his head towards Sokka, "What - ?"

"What are you doing Sokka?" Aang asks nervously.

"I'm sure the Avatar and the Assassin will go for a lot on the black market."

"Shut your mouth peasant!" Zuko snaps.

"Yeah Sokka, you should really shut your mouth."

"All I'm saying is the Fire Lord will pay a lot. Enough to set you guys up for life. And who knows, maybe you can use the assassin for killing and stuff, maybe people can hire him from you ~ ."

"What are - ?"

"Keep the stupid scroll!" the Pirate Captain shouts, "With the reward we'll get for the Avatar and the profit of a hired assassin, we'll be able to buy 30 of them."

Zuko growls, "You'll regret crossing me."

Hearing the telltale sound of fire racing for them, Jet elbows a pirate in the gut and grabs a hold of his knife – smokes go off and Jet frees himself of the ropes. He wants to see the Prince. Traversing the smoky battlefield, he cuts the throats of pirates and soldiers alike, he exits the smoke cloud and spots another, he sighs before charging in. Dodging spears and bursts of fire, he spots the familiar swish of a ponytail. Zipping forward, he grabs a hold of the Fire Prince's wrist and tugs him close. Seeing the surprised look in those gold eyes and a light blush, Jet feels time slow and his body relax, he offers a weary smile – Zuko still has that ridiculous waterbending scroll and it honestly makes Jet want to laugh, what will the Prince do with a waterbending scroll?

"If I were you, I'd burn that scroll."

"You think so?"

"I know so. It'll set the Avatar and his little friend back."

Zuko smirks and the scroll begins to smoke before going up in flames, the Prince appears to mull something over before letting out an annoyed sigh, "I – you. Just – hurry and get the Avatar to the rendezvous, I'm – tired of these games."

I miss you.

Jet blinks at the Zuko-like admittance but before he can form a coherent thought, he grabs the back of the Prince's neck and pulls him close, planting a chaste kiss to a pair of warm lips that taste smoky. Within the three second peck, the dying embers within his chest turns to a pillar of smoke, reigniting into a tame candle's flame – the possibility of growing radiating from the fire. Pulling away from the fire he's come to long for, he sees a red hue scorched into the Prince's fair skinned cheek.

"What was - ?"

"For good luck." Jet grins before shoving his friend out of the smoke.

Escaping the smoke and the fighting, he finds Katara and the others at the boat, the others give him a relieved smile – he feels lighter, the fleeting kiss enough to hold his demons at bay.

Chapter Text

With eyes trained heavily upon the trio talking happily amongst themselves, Jet surreptitiously maneuvers Aang's glider closer and closer until he's able to puncture the paper-thin fabric, the incision is hardly noticeable unless one were to look long and hard at the glider, but long enough to create a few issues for the airbender if he took to the skies. Snatching the recently bought map, he stuffs it within his shirt and smoothes his clothes out. Grabbing the leather situated to his casually worn scabbard, throwing the strap over his head, he situates the sheath momentarily before jumping from the bison's saddle and landing with expert silence behind Katara:

"My hometown isn't too far from here," he begins, keeping the right amount of despondence in his voice, "Can we - ?"

"Of course we can." Katara assures gently, "I promised you that we would make time, and I keep my promises, Jet."

"We could go now ~ !" Aang beams as he jumps to his feet, he falters a second later, "Wait, where's Momo?"

Within the surrounding forest, they can hear the shrieks of the lemur. Aang takes off for the direction he heard his pet with Sokka gesturing for the other two to follow, without protest or hesitation, Jet allows himself to follow and be led by the crock of a warrior – staring at the oranges and reds of the forest, the brunette gives himself a moment of respite and retreats into his mind. According to the map, they were only a handful of miles away from the rendezvous point which meant he only had to trudge on for a few more hours before he was able to finally breathe, to stand in his rightful place at the Prince's side.

The Prince seems to have taken extra precautions to keep you loyal.

Prince Zuko would never sell himself if that's what you're getting at, Zhao.

I bet you get off on the scraps of attention he tosses your way, how pathetic can you get, Lion-heart?

"Jet?"

Visibly startling from his inner battle with the Zhao-like voice in his head, he swivels his attention to the worried waterbender currently looking at him with a clear-cut concern in her wide, blue eyes.

"What?"

"Are you – okay?"

"Of course, why wouldn't I be?"

"Well," Katara fiddles with her fingers, "Ever since we escaped Prince Zuko, you've been – spacing out a lot."

"Have I?" Jet blinks, he casts his gaze to the backs of Aang and Sokka, "I – haven't really noticed."

"Listen Jet," Katara places a gentle hand upon his arm, the tawny boy stops along with the girl, "I – I'm really sorry I got caught by Zuko, and those pirates. I should have known Zuko would catch up to us sooner or later. I put all of our lives in danger for some stupid scroll that we never got back. I was selfish. And I told you that you never had to - ,"

A startled squeak escapes Katara's lips as Jet's own smooth over hers, her heart hammers in her chest and she wants to pull from the unexpected action, but the way that his lips press and soothe hers makes her melt, closing her eyes, she allows and trusts Jet enough to lead. Cupping her jaw gingerly with one hand, Jet uses the other to tangle their fingers together – back when they were about to kiss before, he'd intentionally let go of the map in some desperate attempt to save his first kiss for someone special. Not that Katara isn't special, in fact, she's a really amazing person and Jet could definitely see himself settling down with someone like her, someone who could calm his demons, who could talk him down, but only if he wasn't so hung up on a fair-skinned Prince. The very same one he'd given his kiss to instead, subsequently stealing said royal's first kiss in the process.

Although the Prince would never look at him the way Katara does – he won't go starry-eyed, he won't crack a smile whenever Jet is near, and he won't look at him like he was something worth paying attention to. Zuko, despite being banished, was still a Prince of the Fire Nation and therefore expected to follow rules and traditions, there was no place for Jet's kind of love, and if that was so, and he knew it was, why was he still holding out?

I'm a glutton for punishment.

Removing himself tenderly from Katara's personal space, Jet has to applaud himself as he didn't run like he'd wanted to, instead, he rests his forehead against hers and closes his eyes, refusing to acknowledge the lodging of his heart.

"You don't need to apologize about anything, it was an honest mistake." he starts, "But we should get going before Sokka gets suspicious and comes looking for us."

"Yeah," she murmurs breathless, voice dazed and reverent, "You're right."

"I'll give you some time to yourself."

With that as his parting words, Jet follows after the direction Aang and Sokka had disappeared to – finding both boys, he sidles quietly up to Sokka's left and watches the Avatar lower a trap which seemed to hold the missing lemur. Feeling eyes on him, he sends a quick glance in the Water Tribe boy's direction before returning to watching Aang, if there was something Sokka needed to say, then he best come out and say it, Jet was too exhausted to play these games.

"Done kissing on my sister?"

"Yeah, you don't have to worry about me anymore."

Sokka narrows his eyes, "And what, I'm supposed to believe you?"

Jet finally turns his gaze to Sokka, Aang helping two other animals, "Sokka, it hurts that you still don't trust me."

The ponytailed boy rolls his eyes exaggeratedly before moving to help Aang open the trap, just then, Katara makes an appearance with a small smile in his direction, he offers one to the best of his abilities, even as Sokka goes on about there being Fire Nation nearby – he feels numb while he watches the trio gather up their things, he concentrates on the strange pounding of his heart as they begin talking about leaders and whatnot – this feeling that was chewing at his heart was at the forefront of his mind. It was new. It was rare. It hurt but it felt so good.

Bumping into Aang snaps him out of prying at his own brain, looking past the airbender, he spots an entire patrol of Fire Nation soldiers gawking at them, their eyes startle with realization – they knew who he was. This was proven by the way the man with a black eye-patch approaches the group, his eyes trained specifically on Jet. The man opens his mouth to address him, he doesn't think much beyond his own pain when he flicks his wrist upward, the wraps loose enough to send his dagger flying. Everything falls silent, all eyes trained on the dead man with a dagger buried between his rolled-back eyes, Jet soon feels all eyes fall on him, their weight heavy on his shoulders.

"Jet - !" Sokka is the first to splutter, "What the – what in Spirits' name was that!?"

There's a pain in his heart, so it's easy to convince the others when he whispers, "I can't go back there."

They leave it at that, Aang and Katara even going as far as to help him fight off the soldiers – not even the blood dancing across his blades makes him feel any better. Snuffing the final survivor, Jet stares listlessly at his weapons. A hand grabs his shoulder and spins him around until he's face to face with Sokka, the younger boy looking up at him with utter disdain. Jet doesn't even flinch, Zuko's were more volatile.

"What was that!?" Sokka shouts, "We could have run! We didn't have to kill them!"

Run.

Why?

Just run.

"Why!?" Jet explodes, the silence he gets in return forces him to realize that he'd just yelled aloud – staring at their shocked expressions, Jet uncharacteristically curls in on himself, "I'm tired of running, of everything."

"Jet," Katara reaches out to him,

He doesn't mean to flinch, but he does, he steps away from the trio, shaking his head, "Just – leave me alone."

oOo

Giving the black cat-owl a gentle scratch behind the head, Zuko ignores the bewildered looks his men send him once they see his kind action towards the animal, gingerly shooing the animal into flight, he watches it soar past the branches with a red ribbon tied to its leg – turning to the small group, he notices the way they collectively tense, he does his best to force down the harsh words threatening to spill from his lips. According to his Uncle, his temper has been getting a bit unbearable as of late, so instead, he lets out a small huff of fire:

"You know what you're supposed to do."

The men startle and scramble to do as they were instructed – Zuko turns back to the surrounding forest and takes to staring sluggishly, he doesn't care if they catch the Avatar today or tomorrow, hemisses his friend and Avatar be damned, he was getting Jet back.

oOo

Staring at the black cat-owl that had landed directly within his path after he's failed to acknowledge it for 5 minutes straight, he spots the red ribbon on its leg along with what appeared to be a note. Brows drawing together, he kneels before the creature and holds his hand out until the animal walks closer. Pulling on the tie, he watches the red ribbon fall from the bird's leg and pool at its feet. Taking the note and the ribbon, he waves the animal away. Standing tall, he unrolls the parchment and reads what is written, he pauses and rereads the letter:

Come back.

Short and straight to the point. There was nothing about the Avatar, nothing saying that he was ready. Clenching the note and ribbon in his hand, he lets out a steady sigh – he may not be able to dote on Zuko the way he would like, but he obviously meant something to the Prince.

Whipped.

I know.

The bushes to his left begin to rustle and shake, the familiar grumbling of Sokka complaining accompanying them, Jet fights the renewed smirk, things couldn't be more perfect – Sokka emerges from the bushes with a victorious breath, the expression quickly leaves the boy's face as he spots Jet staring at him. An ashamed look taking over his features.

"Jet? What are - ?" he shakes his head and takes a sheepish step closer, "Listen, about me blowing up at you with the soldiers, it was unfair. And as much as it pains me to admit it, Katara's right. I don't know what you went through, and probably never will. After all, I came from some small village in the south, and sure, my village was attacked by the Fire Nation too, but not to the extent that yours was. I mean, you lost both parents and everyone else." Sokka falters, rubbing the back of his head he shyly hands Jet his dagger, "What I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry – sorry for all the attitude I've been given you, and the distrust, you've done nothing to earn it, but I mean you were kinda hitting on my sister, and you know, as her brother, I'm supposed to protect her, and you were this stranger who had her weak in the knees, so - ,"

"Its fine, Sokka, I get it," Jet offers a grin as he takes the dagger, "I really do, and, I'm sorry too."

"Sorry for what?"

"You're sister's a pretty, little, thing," the Earth Kingdom teen pulls out his blades, "But Prince Zuko really needs the Avatar." Sokka doesn't have time to question Jet as two blades swipe at his neck, the Water Tribe boy barely managing to duck under the razor sharp blades, he quickly scrambles backwards as Jet straightens himself out once more, "I only hope you know that it's nothing personal, I'm sure you would have been an adequate warrior, given a decade or so."

"What are - !?" Sokka notes the dark glint in Jet's eyes, his stance eerily familiar – Sokka stares up his own spear to glare heatedly at the cloaked man, he can't see much of the man's features but he can see those eyes of his, dark, malicious, and glinting with a child-like excitement. Sokka gasps, "You're Lion-heart!?"

Jet blinks like he hadn't expected Sokka to say such a thing, they stare at one another with Sokka's heart beating loud in his chest and Jet contemplating something, it's only when the grin slips back into place that Sokka realizes he should have used Jet's moment of silence to make a run for it – he watches the older teen lean forward until they're face to face with an inch between their noses, with the other teen so close, Sokka doesn't see Jet handling the dagger.

"Sokka, I told you to avoid Lion-heart at all costs. There are rumors, dark rumors that say he enjoys killing those who cross the royal family, that he loves fighting." the blood-lusting teen buries the dagger into the other's thigh, Sokka opens his mouth to let out a cry of pain, but a hand covers his mouth, muffling the sound, "You wouldn't stand a chance in hell against him, you're just a subpar warrior and I think it's high time you take a break." he twists the blade which earns a whimper, "And don't worry, Aang and Katara can do just fine without you holding them back." Sokka glares at him through tears, "Did I hit a nerve?"

"Lion-heart, sir!"

Jet growls, eyes snapping to three or four soldiers now standing to his right, "Just give me a second."

"But Sir, P-Prince Zuko ordered that n-none of them are to be killed."

Sneering, Jet pulls the blade from the wounded boy's leg, promptly wiping the blood off on Sokka's shirt, "Fine."

Twirling the dagger expertly, he slams the blunt end of the weapon against the back of Sokka's skull, the soldiers watch in horror as the boy falls over, the main soldier flinches as Lion-heart shoves past him, a warning look in his eyes. The men watches the dangerous teenager skulk away before looking to the unconscious boy, the soldier who'd spoken out against Lion-heart moves to the kid's side and checks his pulse, it was still beating strong. The three other soldiers look to one another before one finally speaks:

"Why did you do that?"

Another adds, "If Lion-heart finds out that you were lying - ,"

"He won't." the man tending to Sokka stresses, "Lion-heart won't question Prince Zuko, and were we really supposed to watch Lion-heart slit some poor kid's throat?"

A soldier murmurs, "Better him than us."

"Just help me!"

"I can't believe Prince Zuko wants to bring that maniac back on board."

"It isn't like he's been any better."

"Yeah, but at least he hasn't tried to kill us yet."

"So long as Lion-heart has his master in his sights, he won't do anything to any of us."

oOo

Nearing the edge of the Fire Nation campsite, Jet is surprised to see the dead bodies are gone, taking a step out into the open, he spots Katara sitting upon a log, her back facing him, and she appears to be toying with something in her lap. Eyes scanning the area almost cautiously, he draws closer to the Water Tribe girl – she startles when she feels his hand touch her shoulder, but she smiles at him with a puppy-like adoration once she realizes its him, she hops to her feet, a warm smile in place:

"There you are, Jet ~ ." her eyes peer past him shortly before returning to him, "Where's Sokka?"

"Sokka?" Jet blinks innocently, "I thought he was here with you guys, come to think of it, where's Aang?"

"Well, you guys were taking a while to come back and he became worried, so he went to find you guys." Katara frowns thoughtfully, could this be any easier? "And well, Sokka had gone to find you, he wanted to apologize for what getting mad at you for earlier."

"You talked to him, didn't you."

She blushes, "Is it that obvious?"

"Sokka doesn't seem like the type to apologize on his own." Jet is about to press a kiss to Katara's lips when he spots a pinkish object in her hand, he pulls back, "What's that?"

"Oh ~ !" she presents the object to Jet, "I made this for you ~ I hope you like it."

Taking the hat, he inspects it only seconds before it goes up in flames, he lets out a surprised sound and jumps from the ruined gift – both he and Katara look up to see Prince Zuko glaring at them, a smoking fist falling back at his side. Katara instantly pulls a stream of water from her water-skin and slips into a defensive stance, it falters minutely when soldiers step out from behind the numerous trees surrounding them as well as the tents.

"How did you find us!?"

"I had some help." is all Zuko deigns to say, there's an unsettling look in his glare, "Now where is the Avatar?"

"I'm not telling you." Katara frowns, "So why don't you leave!?"

"Oh I'm not leaving until I have someone leaving with me." Zuko snarls, eyes flitting to Jet, "So how about it?"

"Leave him alone!" Katara snaps, standing in front of Jet, "Haven't the Fire Nation tortured him enough already!?"

"Wait!" Jet shouts as Zuko's fists become engulfed in crackling fire, "Don't hurt her! I'll go with you!"

"Jet," Katara stresses, "Don't - ."

Something heated flashes in Zuko's eyes, he growls, "Drop the act and get over here, Lion-heart!"

Jet's mouth drops open in shock, he had not expected Zuko to snap so easily, but he offers a leer and sidesteps the stunned waterbender to take his place at Zuko's side – he notes, with a hint of a buzzing sensation, that the Fire Prince's body relaxes immediately once he settles in at the firebender's left. The Prince gestures for some men to come forward, one holding Jet's clothing, another holding his boots, and the final holding Jet's beloved shuang gou.

Katara seems to snap out of it, "Jet - ? You – You're working with Zuko!?"

"Afraid so, Snowflake ~ ." Jet grins as he hands the map to Zuko before stripping himself of his shirt and sash in one fluid movement, "But for what it's worth, I really did mean it when I told you that you were an amazing person. Pretty too."

Zuko's fire devours the map greedily, the suddenness surprising the already tense soldiers and Jet as well but he doesn't let it falter his movements as he continues ridding himself of the unbearably itchy clothes – apparently, Katara sends a tendril of water at them, but Zuko reacts quicker and a wall of fire springs forth, providing a barrier for them.

"What are you waiting for!?" Zuko snarls at the others who weren't holding Jet's gear, "Get her!"

Once Jet's dressed in his usual clothing, he sets his favorite weapons on either side of his hips, as the men disperse, he sees the crew tying Katara in chains to a fairly sturdy tree trunk. Her eyes meet his for a moment, but that's all it takes for Jet to see the hurt and betrayal in her large, blue, eyes. He would feel bad if he hadn't felt the brush of Zuko's hand against his or the weight of Zuko's body leaning against his, or the warm breath that ghosts past his ear as Zuko whispers:

"Come with me."

Jet swallows, "Lead the way."

They're soon out of sight and hearing range – oh Spirits! He's done something to finally piss Zuko off enough to kill him! He needs to do something, he won't be a koala-lamb to the slaughter! Fire! Whatever! The Earth Kingdom teen is snapped out of his panic induced thoughts with Zuko's shoving him viciously against a tree trunk, the bark digs uncomfortably through his clothes, but before Jet can let out a hiss of distress, a warm mouth presses against his, fingers bunching the front of his cloak. Eyes popping open, he goes cross-eyed as he attempts to get a glance at the Prince. Oh. Melting between Zuko and the tree, Jet snakes his arms around Zuko's lower back and pulls him closer. A gasp escapes the firebender. Slipping his tongue inside he feels the heat surrounding Zuko's body grow stronger, but when a shy tongue rubs against his, he loses track of everything beyond their mouths. Mind clouded with lust, Jet grabs the Prince's ponytail and gives a vicious tug, holding Zuko's head back, this earns an angry hiss but Jet attaches his mouth to the skin below Zuko's jaw and begins nipping. Suckling at the smooth skin and licking at the pinpricks left by his teeth, Zuko shivers and melts, body growing hotter – neither want to depart, but once a shaky fire escapes the Prince's lips, the fire licking at Jet's hair but not catching, they finally pull away. Both panting and, in Jet's case, hard.

Zuko touches his lips softly before a deep red sears his features, "I – that was a replacement for that pathetic kiss you gave me before."

Jet licks his lips, he can still taste the smoky flavor from Zuko's own lips, "Okay."

When they return to the campsite, everything is still intact and the men are milling about, eyes trained on the forest surrounding them – Zuko walks past the men as they stand at attention, the Prince gives them a flippant wave and they continue keeping watch. Jet continues following Zuko around like a lovesick jackal-kit, at least he does until Zuko finally realizes that he has no intention of leaving his side anytime soon, so with a flustered snap to do something more productive than trailing after him, Jet huffs before deciding to pester Katara, the girl only glaring at him in way of a greeting:

"You really are pretty," Jet hums conversationally, "Hopefully you'll find someone who looks at you the way you looked at me."

Katara blushes fiercely before snapping her glare to the ground, "I never looked at you a certain way."

"Oh please," Jet drawls, he leans until his breath caresses her ear, she shivers involuntarily, "Lying doesn't suit you, Katara."

Her blush intensifies, she swings her attention back to Jet, "I thought you hated the Fire Nation."

"Oh I do," Jet rests his back against the tree, arms crossed over his chest, he scans the area for any traces of a certain bald-headed monk, "I have no love for the Fire Nation, but for the Prince," his eyes fall upon Zuko who seems to be snarling something to a soldier, "I'll risk it all."

Katara looks mildly confused before frowning, "So everything you told us was a lie?"

"Not all of it. Everything I said about my life was true up until the becoming a slave part. No, I killed a soldier, got sentenced to execution, got bailed out by the Dragon of the West, met Prince Zuko, and started training to become a guard for the royal family. This is where the Lion-heart tale comes into play."

"But if you hate the Fire Nation, why don't you hate Zuko?" Katara scrutinizes, "He's the Prince of the Fire Nation."

"So he is – but I was alone in a place I knew nothing about, he made it bearable."

The waterbender opens her mouth to bite out a retort only to stop when she sees a soldier come running into the camp, even Jet watches, keeping his eyes on the man as he runs up to Zuko and relays something to the Prince. The royal listens to the man before his eyes meet Jet's, he gestures for the Earth Kingdom teen to make his way over. Like a well-trained animal, Jet leaves Katara's side without so much as a good-bye or a glance.

"The Avatar was seen coming this way." Zuko starts, placing a cloth in Jet's hand, a faint blush beginning to appear as soon as their fingers brush against one another, "I hope you're ready."

"'course I am." Jet grins, heart fluttering as he toys with the thick, red cloth, "Although you might wanna hide."

Chapter Text

Tugging with a little more force than was necessary on the gag, a slow, impish grin creeps across Jet's lips once he hears the annoyed growl rumbling within the waterbender's throat, stepping back, something moving from tree to tree in his peripheral captures his attention. Cocking his head to the right as to get a better look, he hears a slew of muffled nothings coming from the bound girl, turning his gaze back to Katara, he presses a finger to his lips and gives a mischievous wink – Katara makes an affronted noise. Turning from the restrained waterbender, Jet watches Aang land with all the light-footed grace of an airbender, although a slight draft does ruffle Jet's clothing. Taking a step forward as to greet the younger boy, Jet trains his expression into that of relief.

"Aang!" he starts, relieved, "Thank the Spirits you're here!"

"Jet!? What's - ?" Aang pauses, eyes trained on Jet's clothing, "Where did you get those?"

"That doesn't matter!" Jet snaps frantically, he turns to Katara, "You gotta help me free Katara!"

"Oh! Right! Of course!" Aang rushes past Jet, unknowing of the malicious grin, "How did this happen?"

"I don't know," Jet begins, producing a dagger from his left cloth bracer, "I came back not too long ago and found her like this, and I didn't want to hurt her by accident, so I waited for you or Sokka to come back. Except, Sokka hasn't come back and I don't know where he is."

"Sokka said he was going to look for you," Aang began, fingers working on the simple knot, "He was going to apologize to you."

Jet hums, "Oh really?"

"Yeah - ," Aang finally removes the gag, a small part of him wondering why Jet couldn't untie something so simple, "There ~ got it!"

"Aang!" Katara shouts, eyes wide and trained on something behind him, "Look out!"

"Huh?" Aang turns in time to see something speeding through the air, yelping, he jumps out of the way.

THUNK!

A terrified, high-pitched squeak escapes Katara as the blade sinks into the bark beside her neck, Jet produces another dagger hidden in his right bracer, he twirls the pointed tip on the calloused pad of his index finger before throwing it into the air and catching it by the handle. Aang hurries to remove the weapon from Katara's personal space until he hears a blade slicing through the air, stepping in front of his tied friend; he creates a dome of air that sends the knife flying harmlessly to the ground.

"Come now, Katara ~ !" Jet calls out playfully, "You ruined the surprise ~ !"

Aang stares at Jet, eyes wide with confusion, "What – Jet?! Why are you doing this?!"

The Earth Kingdom teen produces his hooked swords. Aang realizes just who Jet really is, but Katara voices the answer for him, "Aang! Jet is Lion-heart! He's working with Prince Zuko! They're - !"

Multiple balls of fire shoot at the airbender's feet, Aang jumps back and manages to create another dome of air just as more torrents of fire are shot, once the fire dissipates, he spots several dozen masked soldiers. The child-monk is allowed a split-second view of Jet and Prince Zuko, he watches the Prince's mouth move as he talks with the other teen, observes Jet's dark amusement morph into something else as he turns to the sovereign and replies to whatever the Prince had said – streams of fire start again and his view is blocked. The two are friends, that much is obvious seeing as how they interacted with one another, and that's when it dawns on him: to divert Jet's attention, he has to get to Zuko. The fire dies down again and his view on the two teens returns. But to get to Prince Zuko, he'd have to bypass a bunch of fire wielding soldiers and Jet successfully. And even if he somehow manages to do that, he'll have to get Zuko to cooperate.

"Aang!?" Katara begins, "What are - !?"

Shutting his eyes and inhaling a shaky breath, he holds the air within his lungs before exhaling steadily, reopening his eyes, he sends a large, powerful, wave of wind zooming for the firebenders surrounding him and Katara. The wind knocks the men off their feet, sending some flying or skidding across the ground, Jet falls to his knees but manages to stay in place as he digs his sword into the earth – Zuko, the stubborn boy he is, fights against the wind. Aang sends another powerful gust at the Prince who lets out a yelp as he loses his footing and slams into a tree, there's a millisecond where Jet's attention is diverted, this gives the boy hope that this will work. Grabbing Jet's dagger from the ground, he runs, jumping into the air as Jet rises to his feet tossing, yet another, dagger at him. Aang barely manages to brush past it with only a nick to his bicep, it stings, but he manages to make it to Zuko who swipes at him with a flaming fist, the airbender dodges and sweeps up before the taller boy and places the weapon to his neck – this isn't something Aang does, and its shown in the way his hand trembles, he hopes he never has to do it ever again, but it gets him the desired effect for Zuko looks at him mildly surprised, the fight leaving him, not only that, but Jet halts as well.

Zuko snarls, fire escaping his mouth as he glares down at the boy, "What do you think you're doing?"

Aang gulps and whispers to the Prince, "I'm sorry, Zuko, but please don't move."

Behind him, he can hear a vicious snarl escape Jet, Aang looks over his shoulder and can't help but feel mildly afraid of the look in his former traveling companion's gaze – its wild and vengeful. Promising a slow death if Aang were to somehow mess this up for the audacity of holding a weapon to the Prince, or injure him instead.

"Let him go." Jet snarls, "I'm only warning you once!"

"You want your friend!" Aang begins, "I want mine! Let Katara go and tell me where Sokka is!"

Aang watches the soldiers back off, their eyes trained solely on Jet – that can't be a good sign as far as things go, but he hears Jet growl something that sounds a lot like an explicative before moving to free Katara. Once the chains fall to the base of the tree and Katara's feet, Jet grabs the girl roughly by the upper arm and yanks her forward, the forceful pull nearly making her trip over herself, and Jet either doesn't notice or just doesn't care as he continues on as if nothing happened. The tawny Earth Kingdom male glares hatefully at Aang, the sight of it hits Aang rather painfully, it reminds him that he's using a friend, a loved one, against him. This isn't what the monks taught him, and it makes him feel ashamed – so ashamed that he's half tempted to just let Zuko go.

But Aang continues, "Where's Sokka!?"

"I wouldn't know." Jet scowls, "But last I saw him, he was just west of here." he jerks his thumb in the direction, "Just head that way."

Aang nods before turning to Zuko, "Give me your word that you, or Jet, won't attack us."

"Until next time." Zuko spits, "But you have my word, my honor as a Prince."

"Thank you." Aang turns to Jet, "We'll trade on 3, and no funny business!"

Jet snarls, "Just hurry up!"

"1 – 2 – and 3!"

Aang releases the Prince and does his best not to flinch when Zuko sends him a look over his shoulder, but moves on nonetheless, Jet shoves Katara once again, the girl stumbling ungracefully until she rights herself and begins straightening her clothes, sending Jet one last glare. Both the waterbender and firebender pass one another, staring each other down as they pass. Once Zuko is safely at Jet's side and Katara at Aang's side, the two turn their attention to their friends – Jet studies Zuko:

"You okay?"

"I'm fine." Zuko sighs irritably, "Let's go."

"What?" Jet blinks, "But the Avatar – he - !"

"Lion-heart!"

Jet reels at the harsh tone of voice, but nods – Aang watches the Prince lead the firebenders away, watches Jet send him and Katara a vicious stare that makes him cringe. They watch until they disappear into the distance, once they're gone, Aang falls to his knees and tries to control his shaking, Katara kneels beside him:

"Aang?"

"I – I can't believe I held a knife to someone's throat."

"Aang," Katara gingerly touches his shoulder, "It wasn't your fault, Jet – Lion-heart forced your hand."

"I – I guess you're right." Aang allows his waterbending friend to help him to his feet, "But I'm never touching a weapon ever again."

"You won't have to, but at least now we know how to strong arm Lion-heart."

"No." Aang shakes his head, "I – we shouldn't."

"Why?" Katara frowns lightly, "J – Lion-heart wasn't afraid to do the same thing."

"Yeah but – I don't know, it's like, when Jet looked at me – I saw, I don't know what I saw, but it looked like a scared little kid."

"Maybe it's an Avatar thing."

Aang made a frustrated noise, "Never mind. Let's just – not try and use Zuko against him again. There's darkness in Jet that shouldn't be bothered."

"Okay, come on." Katara gives him a light nudge, "Let's go find Sokka."

oOo

Finally able to listen to the music the men played, Jet was happily aware of the fact that Zuko hadn't left his side since they'd gotten back from their expedition, granted, their failed expedition, but the young firebender didn't seem too hung up on that fact, instead, having his attention diverted to the covering of the fairly small love-bite located underneath his jaw. The Prince had been absolutely horrified when he'd been questioned about its existence, enough so that he'd practically sped towards the showering area and stared in red-faced embarrassment at the dark purple-reddish colored mark – of course, Jet didn't make it any better by laughing at the poor firebender which earned a rather painful punch to the shoulder.

"I'm getting tired." Zuko grouses irritably,

Jet knows what Zuko wants, but he wants to hear Zuko say it, "Then go to bed."

Silence.

"I – come with me."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Prince Zuko, I hope you'll forgive me when I say that I want to stay here and - ,"

"I WANT YOU TO SLEEP WITH ME!"

Everything falls silent. The instruments squeak and stutter, the men gawk and spit their drinks in each other's face in shock, even Iroh is surprised enough to let his teacup drop from his hold. Zuko, having realized he hadn't used his inside voice, blushes furiously and the men begin whooping and giving congratulations to the two youngest members of the salty ol' crew.

As the Prince exits, he shouts, "I DIDN'T MEAN IT LIKE THAT!"

Snickering, Jet rises from his seat, "Calm down you old pervs. I just gotta go tuck the Prince in bed."

Iroh lets out a boisterous laugh which quickly spreads and pushes Zuko's words to the back of everyone's mind – slipping out of the mess hall; Jet makes his way for his friend's room. Knocking, once, then twice, then three times, he opens the door and saunters into the room, shutting said metal door in the process. Spotting the embarrassed, fire-wielding Prince sitting upon his cot, Jet moves to sit beside him:

"You're not dressed for bed." Jet begins, "So I'm guessing you wanna talk for a bit?"

"I – you told them your name?"

"Of course," Jet began removing his cowl, "It was either that or come up with some fake name I probably wouldn't answer to."

"And that Water Tribe girl," Zuko frowns, "Did you – like her?"

"Katara?" Jet slips out of his shirt, "Yeah, like I said, she's pretty. Big blue eyes, soft, feisty - ,"

Zuko clenches his teeth, "If she's so pretty, why didn't you stay with her?"

Jet peers at Zuko in surprise, the Prince was certainly cross, "I don't - ," he then grins, "You're jealous ~ !"

"Wha – no! I – why would I be jealous!?"

Grinning, Jet throws his arms around his friend's neck and uses his weight to pin the flustered firebender to the bed, Zuko snaps and shouts at him, struggling to get out from under Jet before finally giving up. Jet manages to kick off his boots and snuggle against his friend's chest. Zuko lets out an annoyed sigh, but hesitantly rests his hands upon Jet's back.

Chapter Text

Frowning at the table, Zuko had refused to explain to his Uncle why Lion-heart wasn't allowed inside the room or why the jilting bastard was currently waiting outside looking very much like a kicked polar bear-puppy – ever since that stupid storm fiasco where Jet had spoken against him about his treatment of the crew, he'd told him that he couldn't treat the men like they didn't matter, the jerk even had the audacity to throw his words back in his face, claiming the men are as human as he is, that they have feelings, families, and dreams. Zuko had flipped and tossed Jet out of his room, promptly slamming the door in his face. But he'd relented and accepted Jet's words, except, instead of Jet being proud of him or his usual antics, the traitor began spending time with the crew who accepted him into their fold with open arms. He'd abandoned him! He didn't come to his aid when he felt he was losing everything! He didn't even know he'd been out all night until he came back tired and worn out from freeing the Avatar from Zhao's clutches!

Only then did he realize that he'd been ignoring him, and oh-h-h how he tried apologizing to him, tried making it up to him, but Zuko rebuked him each time he tried to win him over, he wasn't going to accept the bastard back into his good graces just like that! He wasn't some push-over!

Iroh places some tea before Zuko, snapping the Prince out of his state of being, "See Prince Zuko," he begins as Zuko takes the cup, "A moment of quiet is good for your mental wellbeing."

BANG!

Anger resurfacing, Zuko sweeps his tea-sodden hair out of his face, slamming his hands on the table he pushes himself to his feet and storms towards the door, throwing it open, he spots Jet with his shuang gou out and ready, a bewildered expression on his face. Sneering, the Prince storms down the hall with both Jet and Iroh following after him – when they reach the top deck; he sees some large, furry beast crawl over the edge of the ship with some woman in the saddle:

"Get back!" the woman snaps, a whip in her hand, "We're after a stowaway!"

Zuko is equal parts annoyed and fascinated, "There are no stowaways on my ship."

The beast lets out a grating roar before it rips the metal from the deck and tosses it in his direction, he ducks in time, looking over his shoulder he turns back to the woman and her beast as it sticks its head within the hole it'd just created. Seconds pass before a frightened man comes scurrying out – Zuko definitely needed to talk to the men, or Jet since he was usually the one to pick up on these things – the animal whips the man with its tongue, immediately, the man falls limp. And isn't that surprising.

Zuko breathes, "He's paralyzed."

The woman jumps from her saddle and grabs the man by his shirt, "Only temporarily. The toxins will wear off in about an hour, but by then, he'll be in jail and I'll have my money."

Zuko steps forward, "But how did you find him on my ship?"

The woman pats her steed, "My shirshu can smell a rat a continent away."

And if that isn't noteworthy, then his Uncle's avid interest in the woman, who is probably half his age, is.

oOo

"Stay out here."

"What?" Jet blinks at the hand in his face, he smacks it out of his field of vision, "Why!?"

"Because I said." Zuko hisses, Spirits, Jet can't believe he's still pissed at him, "Or would you rather go back to the ship."

Clenching his teeth, Jet casts his glare to the right and mutters, "I'll wait out here for you until your business is done, Prince Zuko."

Zuko doesn't say anything, just turns and enters the seedy building, Iroh on the other hand, pats Jet's shoulder, "I'm sure he'll come around."

The Earth Kingdom male has to bite down on the inside of his cheek as to not say something caustic to Iroh's back. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he scans the surrounding area, there's plenty of grass, but being outside a place like this, who knows what's been spilled on it, so with nothing to satisfy his habit, he rests against the wall and chews on the inside of his cheek – he's about to blow a gasket when the trio come walking out of the building, Jet pushes himself from the wall, his movement capturing the woman's attention, she gives him a dry look:

"Oh look, you even brought Bushy-Boy with you."

Jet sneers, crossing his arms over his chest, "Clever, how long did it take you to come up with that?"

"Enough." Zuko snaps, he pulls something from his sash and Jet has to do a double-take because, isn't that Katara's necklace? "I need you to find someone."

The woman is going to say something, but Jet can't help but blurt, "How long have you had that?"

Zuko turns to Jet, "What does it matter?"

"What does it - ?" Jet runs a hand over his face, before growling, "Why do you even have it!?"

"I thought it would have been useful!"

"Useful!?" Jet snarls, "The only thing that piece of jewelry is useful for is kindling!" Zuko gives Jet a sardonic look that causes him to bristle, "What!?"

"I thought you would be against burning anything belonging to your girlfriend."

"She isn't - ! One kiss doesn't make her my girlfriend!" Jet jabs Zuko in the chest with his index finger, "And like you're one to talk! You still have her necklace! For Spirits knows how long! Gods, that night you were jealous! You could have been jealous because I had her!"

"I wasn't jealous!" Zuko snaps, steam escaping his mouth, "And I could care less about her or anyone else for that matter!"

Jet reels, Zuko's words hurt, but he's angry as well, "So what does that mean for me!?"

"Nothing! It means nothing for you! I – UGH!"

"Trouble in paradise?"

Iroh remembers the woman, but he laughs, "They have been going through a – rough patch, as of late."

The woman makes an amused sound, "Figures. That Nephew of yours is a little too pretty."

"Will you help my Nephew find this monk the owner of the necklace is traveling with?"

The woman snorts and turns to leave, "Doubt it, I have better things to do with my time than - ,"

"We'll pay your weight in gold."

She stops, turns and pokes his gut, "Make it your weight and we've got a deal."

Iroh laughs boisterously, "You got it ~ !"

The woman snatches the necklace from Zuko's hold, the Prince turning his attention to her with a loud hey; she brings the piece of jewelry to her shirshu's nose and hops into the saddle along with Iroh, Zuko's hesitant but slips in between his Uncle and Jet.

oOo

They come upon some old Earth Kingdom ruins, the place oddly awakening the inner child in Jet, but they spot some elderly woman picking some kind of green vegetation with a white cat at her side, the cat hisses at them, the feline's owner stands to greet them – Jet likes cats, they're independent and a warm, fluffy ball of mystery. Much like the Prince sitting in front of him.

"Out for a bit of fresh air, are we?"

Zuko speaks up and Jet is fairly glad the Prince doesn't shout or anything, "We're looking for someone."

"I hope it's not Miyuki," the woman says, turning to her cat, "Miyuki, did you get in trouble with the Fire Nation again?"

The cat meows at the elderly woman before hiding behind her dress, maybe the cat did get in trouble with the Fire Nation, just not them, but then again, the old woman was certainly off her rocker and the cat was probably doing nothing more than throwing its cat attitude around. The dangerous lady, June her name is, turns to them:

"The Avatar's been through here, let's keep moving."

When she cracks the whip and the shirshu jolts forward, Jet can't help it when he latches onto Zuko's hips out of pure reflex to keep himself from falling off the beast, of course this doesn't matter to the Prince since Jet had dared to touch his royal, Princely body, so he gets an elbow to the gut.

oOo

Their next stop is some small town, albeit, a fairly nice town, where they succeed in terrorizing the residents before the beast stops at some random building with yet another old woman standing before it, Zuko's always been short of patience, and temper, so it doesn't take long for him to start asking questions – Jet can't help the sigh that escapes his lips, this earns a glare from the Prince before he turns back:

"Why are we stopping?"

"Because the girl must have spent a lot of time here."

Zuko growls and reaches for the necklace, Jet doing his best not to look at the firebender's ass, "We have no time for this."

He watches the impatient sovereign jump from the saddle and move towards the front of the shirshu, stuffing the necklace to the thing's nose, and nearly getting whipped. Sure, the Prince looked pretty damn fine when he did that twisting dodge maneuver, but Jet's still annoyed and pretty ticked at the Prince, so he snickers nastily – Spirits, he was so damn petty. The old woman he'd seen near the building soon approaches them, or more like, Iroh as her attention is solely trained on the old war General, and oh God, they're going to flirt.

"Care to hear your fortune, handsome ~ ?"

Called it!

Iroh, the sport his is, offers a kind smile, "At my age, there is only really one big surprise left, and I'd soon leave it a mystery."

Deep.

The Fire Prince climbs back on, Jet catching a mild grimace on his face at what he's just witnessed, and yeah, Jet would feel pretty uncomfortable, or more uncomfortable, if it were his Uncle that flirted with women. Not that Jet had anything about old people getting it on – okay, he was going to stop thinking now.

oOo

They burst through some wooden doors, and Jet has to admit that the place smells pretty fragrant for an out-of-the-way place; the shirshu lets out a shrill sounding roar in the direction of a lone trail leading into the surrounding pine forest. June pulls on the shirshu's reins, getting it back under her control, none of them have to ask what this means for she speaks up a second later:

"We're getting close."

By now, when the shirshu charges onward, Jet no longer has to awkwardly cling to Zuko or Zuko needing to steady himself by reflexively placing his hand upon Jet's thighs – speeding through the forests, Jet takes in the Earth Kingdom scenery. And to think, he could have still been a member of the Earthen country if he'd only turned tail like the rest of those who ran. The shirshu jumps onto a dirt path where he spots both Katara and Sokka, but no Aang. Apparently Zuko realizes this too for he jumps from the saddle and approaches the siblings, Sokka holding an arm before Katara, and really, Jet can't help himself once he sees that the wound he'd inflicted upon the Sokka is no longer there, or bandaged for that matter, he leers at the siblings:

"I see your wound's healed Sokka ~ how long did that take?"

Sokka's eyes flit from Zuko to Jet, almost in surprise before his glare hardens, "That's none of your business Lion-heart!"

Jet wants to play, he slips from the saddle and produces his dagger, "I can give you another if you want ~ ."

"Stay away from him, Lion-heart!" Katara snaps, a hand on her brother's shoulder.

Jet mock-pouts, "What, no more Jet ~ ?" he watches a blush spread through her face, he grins, "Why don't you trustme anymore, Katara?"

Katara opens her mouth to reply, but apparently Zuko's had enough, "Where is the Avatar?"

Sokka glares at Jet a second longer before turning his glare to Zuko, "We split up, he should be long gone by now."

Zuko growls, "How stupid do you think I am?"

"Pretty stupid." Sokka says, his facial expression remains neutral until, "Run!"

Jet bolts after them but stops once the shirshu's tongue zips past him and strikes the two Water Tribe members, he can't help but frown at the wasted opportunity, June clicks her tongue and the shirshu walks towards the two, Jet can hear it sniffing at their packs while June explains that it's sniffing out another scent. Zuko stops beside Jet, both teens watching the animal until some things fall from one of the siblings' pack, the beast has its new scent but Jet turns to Zuko:

"What do we do with these two?"

"We take them with us."

"Right-t-t. Unless you're planning to sit on my lap," Jet looks back to the shirshu, "How do you plan to fit all of us on that thing?"

"We could tie you to its underside, or better yet, make you run."

Jet chuckles dryly, "You really know how to charm a person, Prince Zuko."

Some of the fight leaves Zuko as he sighs, "We'll tie them up with the baggage."

Jet watches the Prince and his Uncle tie the two siblings up, June turns her attention to Jet, "You wounded that Water Tribe boy?"

"Yeah," Jet grins, remembering the moment where he could have slit Sokka's throat, "Could have killed him but circumstances called for a rather merciful card to be dealt."

June smirks, "You could use that talent of yours for mercenary work."

Jet arches a brow, "Now there's a thought ~ ."

"Lion-heart, we're going!"

"That's if your boyfriend will allow it."

Jet rolls his eyes at the insinuation tossed his way but follows Zuko's order nonetheless, and once he's seated, they take off for the temple – breaking through the wooden doors once more evokes the screams of the women, slipping from the saddle; he rolls effortlessly to his feet and produces his shuang gou. Rising to his feet, he scans the area; the only people he can see are those women, so with a derisive smile, he decides they must know something of Aang's whereabouts, but so they won't run ~ he launches his right shuang gou at the closest woman. The dagger-like ending snags her sleeve and embeds itself within the wall behind her, he stalks towards his caught prey as the other women scream and flee, while some stand in place, watching him approach – he thinks he hears Katara shout after him, something about leaving the women alone, but she's quickly admonished by the Prince.

Using the crescent guard of his left sword, he places it to the woman's neck, the woman turns her head away, "You wouldn't happen to know where the Avatar is, would you ~ ?"

The woman glares at him, "You're nothing but a vile demon, I won't tell you anything!"

Jet blinks thrice before sneering, he presses the guard closer to her neck, "Please Sister, I implore you to share what you know."

The woman's upper lip pulls back but a loud boom captures Jet's attention, looking back, he spots the group on the ground with June quickly hopping back onto her shirshu, with a growl, Jet snatches his shuang gou back and pushes the woman towards the others before turning his attention back to the others just as Appa blindsides June and her shirshu. Running towards Aang, he tosses his knife but the kid spots him at the last second and brings up his staff, the sharp weapon digging into the wood of the glider – Aang looks at the blade before looking to Jet in time to dodge the swipe of his swords with a yelp. Kicking Aang's feet out from under him, Jet brings the ends of his swords down on the boy, before it can maim the child, he's greeted with a blast of air to the gut that sends him into the air. Twisting his body to right himself, he lands deftly on his feet beside Iroh who holds out a bottle of – perfume?

Glancing between the small ceramic bottle and the Prince's fight, he shrugs and accepts the bottle from Iroh, if Zuko needed him he'd yell besides, it was no fun if he couldn't taunt anyone – Sokka. Jet watches Iroh move to June's side and wake her, curious, Jet removes the top of the bottle and sniffs at the flowery smell, lavender, wrinkling his nose, he promptly dumps the stuff out:

"That was very wasteful, Lion-heart."

"I don't like lavender." Jet frowns, "Besides, it's not like that's the only bottle."

"Perhaps I wanted that bottle."

"Then why did you hand it to me?"

"For you to take a small whiff."

"Oh please," Jet rolls his eyes, "Who in their right mind likes lavender?"

"Well then, what would you like?"

"I don't know," Jet's brows draw together, "Maybe something – flowery?"

"Lavender is a flower."

"Not that kind of flower, more like a panda-lily or an ash-rose."

"Let us see if they have either one."

"Are you suggesting we steal perfume?"

"I would never suggest the theft of another's possession."

Jet watches Iroh walk towards some bottles, "Pf-ft. Liar."

Walking along the wall and pretty much ignoring the fighting that's going on, they locate a few bottles of perfume, Jet spots a rather enticing pinkish bottle and reaches it for it, popping the cork and sniffing at the light flowery scent, Jet believes that he's just found his ash-rose. Iroh nudges his arm, looking at the old man, he looks to the battlefield where he sees Aang and Zuko fighting around some well. The sight is interesting enough, but Jet doesn't see why - :

"It looks like Prince Zuko may need your help."

Oh.

Handing the bottle to Iroh he quickly locates his shuang gou and makes a run after the two other boys, nearing the well, he watches a large sprout of water shoot into the air, oddly enough, Jet finds himself looking up to see Zuko falling back to earth. Cursing under his breath, Jet takes a few steps back until he's directly under the Prince, he's only mildly surprised when he actually catches Zuko without buckling under the weight. The firebending teenager looks surprised, eyes wide and trained on Jet, but the surprise quickly dies and a blush rises to take its place – Zuko begins wriggling in Jet's hold:

"Let me go!"

Not needing to be told twice, Jet lets Zuko fall, the latter yelping as he does, jumping over Zuko, he moves to chase after Aang when Appa steps in the way causing Jet to backpedal a few steps until he feels the ground shake, looking over his shoulder, he manages to dive out of the way of the shirshu's tongue. Glaring at June, Jet turns his attention to the surrounding area when he spots the Water Tribe siblings setting something up, he chucks his shuang gou at the ceramic pot Sokka was moving, the suddenness of the weapon startles the women and even Sokka, but Katara turns her glare on Jet who runs for them. The women spill the perfume, and really, he should have seen it coming, he's soon hit with a large as all hell perfume wave that sends him crashing into someone just as the shirshu strikes – his muscles feel like they've fallen asleep, and Gods, now he has the taste of perfume in his mouth.

The Avatar and his friends make a quick escape while the person, hey someone's underneath him, moves to get up – Jet finds himself propped up between the person's legs, his back resting against – Zuko?

"Uncle?" Zuko begins, and wow – he sure was close, "I didn't see you get hit with the tongue."

Jet is able to see Iroh with June lying atop of him, the old man puts a finger to his mouth and shushes his Nephew – smooth for an old man.

Chapter Text

Starry skies, warm weather, and mollifying music makes for a calming Music Night which Jet was currently attending, it almost makes the past couple of days worth it. The teenager sitting alongside the older men as they played 'Four Seasons for Love', a song that was rapidly becoming a favorite of his thanks to the beat of the drum that seemingly awakens something primal deep within his core. Letting his lids drift shut, he focuses solely on the beating of the drum – it is because of this that he hears an out of tune sound. Reopening his eyes, he scans the men sitting around the small fire, they're in perfect sync with one another, even the dancing duo. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he spots two masked soldiers approaching with someone behind him, once they draw closer, they part to reveal Zhao. Jumping to his feet, he narrows his eyes on the man while the sound of Lt. Jee's lute being plucked out of place announces the newcomers' appearance. Iroh steps up beside Jet.

"Admiral Zhao," the old General begins cordially, bowing in respect, "To what do we owe the unexpected pleasure of your visit?"

"I am recruiting all able-bodied men for a venture to the North Pole."

Jet bristles, "Which means you're taking the crew."

"I am." Zhao smirks, turning his attention to Jet, "But of course, Lion-heart, you're welcome to join as well. Sadly, not many Fire Nation soldiers hold the same fabled tenacity as you when in battle. I would love seeing if truth lives up to rumor. And General Iroh, I do find myself in need of a General if you're willing to join a worthy cause. Surely the both of you will be more productive in a realbattle rather than," Zhao scans the small ship, "Wandering the seas with a temperamental Prince."

Jet bears his teeth but Iroh holds him back, "We are humbled by your offer, Admiral, but we are content where we are."

"If that is your decision."

"It is." Jet snarls, "Now get off the ship."

"Oh, but Lion-heart," Zhao begins airily, "Shouldn't Prince Zuko be notified of the whereabouts of his crew ~ ?"

"He will be once you get off the ship and out of sight!"

"Lion-heart!" Iroh snaps, "That's enough!"

Jet growls but turns his glare to the deck, "Yes, Sir."

"Admiral Zhao is a guest upon this ship and will be treated with respect."

"Yes, Sir."

Iroh turns to Zhao, "We would be delighted to show you to Prince Zuko's chambers, Lion-heart, if you will lead the way."

With a quiet snarl, Jet brushes past both men and starts making his way towards his sovereign's sleeping chamber, behind him, he can hear the two men converse about something or another – mainly Zhao's victories. Of course that would be a way to keep the man from making rude comments about anyone else, the vain, side-burned, Fire Lord's lapdog! Knocking thrice upon Prince Zuko's door, Jet twists the handle before entering the dark room, he thinks he hears Zhao let out an amused noise but he forces himself not to snap, and instead, moves to stand beside Zuko with Iroh stepping into the room soon after.

"For the last time. I'm not playing the tsungi horn and I'm not going to listen to the men play their instruments."

Jet whispers, "It's not that."

"No, it's about our plans." Iroh begins tentatively, "There's a bit of a problem."

Zuko looks to his two allies, "Like what?"

Zhao finally steps into the room, "I'm taking your crew."

Zuko's reaction is instantaneous, he jumps to his feet, "What!?"

The Admiral steps closer to Zuko but Jet steps forward as well, eyes trained on him with a clear-cut aggression in his stance, Zhao merely glances at him in his annoyingly holier-than-thou look before turning his attention back to Zuko who was still glaring at him.

"Prince Zuko, please control your pet or send him outside."

"He stays Zhao." Zuko snarls, "Now tell me what is this about taking my crew!"

"Honestly, Prince Zuko," Zhao continues, ignoring Zuko, "How do you expect Lion-heart to strengthen his skills if you force him into pretending to be your friend?"

Jet turns absolutely livid, he shoves past Zuko and storms up to the Admiral – actually posing a threat, "Shut the fuck up! Admiral or not! I will kill you if you continue belittling Prince Zuko! Banished or not, he is still our sovereign! You have no right or authority higher than his! Now say your piece and leave!"

Zhao growls but concedes, "I've recruited them for an - ," he pauses, seeing a pair of broadswords – Blue Spirit. He wants to comment on it, but he can feel Lion-heart bristling with a rage only firebenders were known for, a threat hanging heavy in the air," – an expedition to the North Pole. Where I will be capturing the Avatar."

"What!?" Zuko shouts, "You can't - !"

"I've said my piece." Zhao says, cutting Zuko off midsentence, he looks to Iroh, "General Iroh, my offer to join the mission still stands." he turns his gaze to Jet, "You as well, Lion-heart. You are a fine soldier, loyal to a point and just as lethal."

"I will escort you out." Iroh says.

The elder firebender gives both teenagers a pointed look before he follows the Admiral out and shuts the door, all is silent, and once the sounds of muffled footsteps fade away, Zuko turns to Jet with an unreadable expression, he opens his mouth a couple of times before frowning:

"What was that?"

"I lost my temper okay!?"

"Oh really?" Zuko sneers, "What makes this time different than any other?"

"I – he's taking your crew!" Jet snaps, "Not only that but he thinks he can say whatever he wants about you!"

"So you're only mad because he's taking your friends?"

"I didn't – that's not," Jet lets out a frustrated groan, "That's so far from what I'm saying that it actually hurts!"

"Then what is it!?" Zuko shouts, "It can't be the way he speaks to me! You've never reacted so – defensive about it before!"

"I have!" Jet snaps, "But each time I do you tell me to shut it! And like a fool, I listen!"

Zuko growls, "There's something else! Tell me!"

"There is nothing else!"

"Jet!"

"I don't - !"

"Don't fucking lie to me!"

Jet pauses, heart beating faster and body feeling limp, "I – I just didn't like the way he was insinuating that I'm friends with you because you ordered it."

Zuko stares at Jet, the latter feeling himself hating it, "So – you pity me?"

"What?!"

"Is that it!?" Zuko's eyes flash, "You think I can't make friends! That I'm lonely!?"

"No! No, no, no!" this was going downhill fast, "That isn't – I don't pity you!"

"Then why do you stay with me!?" Zuko bellows, Jet reels, feeling raw, "I heard Zhao! He offered you and Uncle a place in his mission! But you declined! I knew Uncle would, because he's blood! But you! You're not! You have no reason to stay here, and I know Zhao would have given you anything you wanted! I can't offer you anything! Like you said! I'm banished!"

"We're friends - !"

"No!" Zuko turns from Jet, "I can't – he's right! How can you expect to improve yourself when you hang around me all day!?"

Jet spins Zuko around to jab the Prince's chest, "No one! And I mean no one can force me from your side if they tried! I don't care if they offer me all the riches of the world, an entire kingdom, or even my parents! I'm. Not. Leaving!"

"Why!?"

"I fucking love you!" Jet's heart was racing faster, Zuko's mouth dropping open in quiet surprise, Jet swallows in an attempt to moisten his mouth, "I – and don't ask when I did, because I don't know, what I do know is, it's been a long time coming – I, if I had to place a time, I'd say when I was 13, or maybe the final months of my 12th year, I don't know and I guess it doesn't really matter. I stay because I love you, I want to see you happy, to succeed, and, I don't really care if you love me back, I mean, it would be nice, but that's not the point – I don't want you to think I'm forcing you into anything. And – please say something before I say something even more stupid and embarrass us both."

"I – I don't," Zuko felt a heat creeping up into his features, he sits upon his bed, "Leave."

"What?"

"Leave!"

Startled. Hurt. And hesitant, Jet pivots on his heel and makes for the door, shutting the metal separating the room from the rest of the ship, he heaves a shaky breath before pushing himself off the door, perhaps he can wrangle Iroh into teaching him how to play pai-sho, and preferably with soothing cup of Ginseng tea. The next night found Jet standing on the deck alongside Iroh, both males watching the crew gather in a formal group.

"Good luck ~ !" Iroh shouts, waving at the men who bow before leaving, once they're out of sight, Iroh turns to Jet, "Perhaps we can convince Prince Zuko to take an evening stroll with us, he's been so quiet since Zhao had informed him that he would be taking the crew."

All day, Jet hasn't seen hide or hair of the moping Prince, and while it hurt to be pushed aside so thoughtlessly, he knew Zuko needed some space, some time to think things over – that didn't stop him from worrying ceaselessly about his friend, if they were friends at all after last night. Drawing closer to the Fire Prince's room, Jet watches Iroh gingerly push the door open before sticking his head into the room, his words are muffled and Jet doesn't mind terribly, but he can hear Zuko's angered tone as he snaps something at his Uncle, it falls silent before Iroh sighs and mutters something else. More silence. The old General looks to Jet with a look, silently asking Jet to do something. But at this point, Jet doesn't think he'll be any better at coaxing Zuko out of his shell, especially since Jet had a hand in scaring him into it.

"I will wait for you on deck."

Jet purses his lips before shaking his head, "This might take a while, go ahead without me." he moves to Zuko's door, "I'll catch up with you."

Watching Iroh nod and leave, Jet resists the urge to run after the man, to run as far away from the Prince's room as he possibly could, instead, he takes a steadying breath and knocks three times, his signature knock announcing that he was coming in. Pushing open the door, he peers into the dark room before spotting the Prince's pale skin, hesitating, Jet steps into the room:

"Zuko?"

"Leave."

"I – just want to say I'm sorry."

"For?"

"Last night."

"Jet," Zuko sighs, he sounds worn and weary, "Please."

Without another word, he leaves the room as quietly as he came, unaware that as he crosses the deck he scares some intruders – he felt like a complete and utter fuck-up, but in all honesty, he couldn't be blamed as Zuko was the one pushing for an answer, Zuko couldn't be blamed either. Or maybe, they were both to blame. He was barely reaching the outskirts of the town when a loud explosion goes off, the aftershock ruffling his cowl, eyes wide, he spins on his heel, he can see the ship on fire. His heart sinks.

Oh Gods no!

"Zuko!"

oOo

Following Iroh through Zhao's ship, Jet kept his features neutral, even if he wanted to scream until his voice was ragged and torn, although Zhao didn't rub it in that Zuko was deceased and no longer flung thinly veiled insults his way, he was now ordering him around nonstop! Each time he did, Jet spit out the same retort over and over, hoping the man would get it through his thick skull – he was under General Iroh's command. Still didn't stop the guy. Perhaps he got enjoyment out of sending Jet to do menial things, but each time he did, there was always someone in the room. The bastard was showing off. Iroh soon stopped, Jet copying his actions:

"The plan is working perfectly, Zhao doesn't suspect a thing."

The soldier beside them removes his faceplate, "Neither of you had to do this."

"Nonsense. No Nephew of mine is going to stow away on a ship without some backup."

"And I promised that I would watch out for you."

"Just don't start following me around."

Jet can't help but crack a grin until a noise at the end of the hall captures their attention, the humor evaporating as quickly as it had been created.

"Stay hidden until the North Pole and the Avatar will be yours. Good luck." once Zuko is out of sight, Iroh gestures for Jet to follow, "Now we must deal with Zhao as he has called on us."

Jet can't help but groan, "Do I have to, the guy's driving me crazy, it's always: Lion-heart do this or Lion-heart do that."

Iroh chuckles, "I understand, but I've been hearing that you are becoming a legend within the Fire Nation army."

"Great-t-t." Jet rolls his eyes, "That's just what I wanted."

"Devil of the Fire Nation." Iroh says dramatically, using his hands for flair.

Jet laughs as he elbows Iroh's ribs, "Better than Dragon of the West, eh ~ ?"

Iroh laughs as well, the two quieting once they enter the control room where some men stare before quickly averting their attention once receiving a dirty look from Jet, the duo move to the outside balcony where Zhao stood with his hands clasped behind his back:

"My fleet is ready. Set a course for the Northern Water Tribe."

Chapter Text

Stepping out onto the balcony where both Iroh and Zhao stood, Jet did his best to suppress his annoyance as he listens to the Admiral going on and on about how lucky the old General is to witness his going down in history. Clearing his throat, he captures the attention of the older males – Jet sees Iroh's neutral expression turn to that of exasperation once he sees the stubborn Earth Kingdom native still wearing his old clothing, which is in no way useful for North Pole expeditions, and it shows if one were to look at Jet's arms where one would see goose-bumps. Zhao on the other hand, looks mildly surprised to see him standing there.

"I have finished those tasks you asked of me, Admiral Zhao."

"Ahead of schedule," Zhao hums; Jet guesses that explains it, "You may have the rest of the day to prepare yourself for battle."

Jet bows shallowly, "Yes, Sir."

Spinning on his heel, he beats a hasty retreat before Zhao changes his mind and makes him do something else – half naked, sweating, and blood rushing through his veins, Jet pushes himself to his feet. Placing his hands on his hips, he concentrates on his breathing before jumping and latching on to the metal bar that had been installed in his temporary room not too long ago. The sweaty teen had gone to his room where he began working out for five hours straight, he hadn't known he'd been in there that long until Iroh came in asking if he wanted to join them for lunch, to which he promptly declined but asked if he could bring something to his room.

10 – 11 – 12 – 13 – 14 – 15 -

Bang, bang, bang, bang!

The knocking itself was impatient and loud, the sound grating on his nerves, dropping from the metal bar he stalks towards the door, and he swears if it's Zhao, he's going to punch the bastard in the mouth. Throwing it open, he glares at a lone soldier who then unhesitatingly pushes his way into the humid room.

"Hey!" Jet snaps grabbing onto the guy's shoulder, "What the hell do you think you're doing!?"

"Shut the door!"

Recognizing that voice, he sheepishly does as ordered, locking it for extra measure, "Do you have a plan?"

"Uncle had asked me the same thing." Zuko says but doesn't elaborate, "So, how are you?"

Jet can't help but laugh, "How am I? I'm not the one who cheated death."

Zuko pauses, "Jet, listen - ,"

"No." Jet frowns, amusement draining, "Don't hide behind that stupid faceplate."

Silence.

Hesitantly, Zuko reaches up and removes his stolen helmet, "Jet, I – you know I can't like you the way you like me."

Jet sighs, running a hand through his hair, "Fire-Bird, do us both a favor and stop beating around the bush. It's insulting."

Zuko's fists clench a second before relaxing, the Prince purses his lips, "I don't – love you."

Jet smiles, he knew it was coming, "See ~ ? Was that so hard ~ ?"

Yes.

Zuko's mind whispers, "That's all really."

The firebender watches his friend chuckle, and even though he was smiling, there was no heart behind it, "Wow Fire-Bird, you really know how to charm a person."

Zuko feels a little ashamed, yeah, that was probably lame, "I – should get going."

"Wait."

Stopping, Zuko watches Jet reach out and grab his wrist, he does his best to calm his heart as the taller boy gingerly pulls him closer, to the point of where their bodies were pressed together, he watches in mild surprise as Jet leans forward and presses a whisper of a kiss to his lips – his heart does a weird flutter while he closes his eyes. Soon, too soon, Jet is pulling away, Zuko following after cool lips until Jet steps back, the shame in Zuko grows hotter. Stepping back as well, Zuko can't hide the blush that creeps into his face, Jet only offers him one of his trademark smirks.

"What was - ?"

"For good luck."

It's a mockery of their first kiss, Zuko purses his lips, realizing that he was trying to imprint the feel of his friend's on his, Zuko nods at Jet before slipping the helmet back on and leaving the room. Later, as he's ready to descend and doesn't see Jet, Iroh explains that Zhao has been ordering him around nonstop since they arrived, Zuko accepts the explanation, but really hopes it isn't because Jet is avoiding him.

Toweling off, Jet pulls his underwear and pants on followed by slipping into his boots, sitting on the wooden bench, he stares at the floor for a second or so before sighing. Getting to his feet, he grabs the towel and slips it over his bare shoulders. Exiting the shower rooms, he starts walking to his room – he'd missed the time to see Zuko off, but he could always tell Iroh that Zhao had him running some ridiculous task or another. Rounding the corner, he stops just shy of bumping into a soldier, stepping back, he scowls once he realizes that it's the bane of his existence. Dramatic much?

"Lion-heart," Zhao greets, he's got a paper in his hand, "How are you faring?"

Jet narrows his eyes, "Why?"

"You have not been your usual plucky self as of late."

"Oh I don't know, Zhao." Jet sneers, "Maybe it's because Prince Zuko has passed to the Spirit World, so please excuse me if I'm not spitting insults left and right, otherwise I'd be more than happy to raise a little hell on this rusty tin can of yours."

"There's the Lion-heart I know." Zhao chuckles as if he were talking with an old friend, "Tell me. How does it feel to have the one thing you loved ripped from your hands?"

"I wouldn't know." Jet frowns, crossing his arms over his bare chest, "I was taught to kill, maim, and torture. I wasn't taught to love."

"Ah yes, that's right." Zhao smirks, "And that's what I like about you, but honestly Lion-heart, did you not notice the way Prince Zuko looked at you?"

"A lot of people tend to look at me." Jet deadpans, "In fact, I find myself looking at a lot of people. Eyes are funny that way."

"It was disgusting." Zhao continues, "So soft and vulnerable. What sovereign in their right mind would yield to another?"

"Is there a point to all of this?"

"There is." Zhao hands the paper to Jet, "I received this message from a messenger hawk, and it's directly from the Fire Lord himself."

"So talk to Prince Iroh about it."

"I can't, for you see, the Fire Lord has ordered that you return to the palace."

Jet takes the paper, "For what reason?"

"It didn't say, but how embarrassing it will be when Fire Lord Ozai asks after his firstborn only to hear that you've failed in protecting his son, I guess you aren't as talented as you'd like to think." Zhao mocks, "Poor, stupid boy. He trusted you with his life and you let him down, and in such a tragic way – tell me, how was he?"

"Did Prince Zuko reject you?" Jet jeers, a wicked smirk spreading across his lips, "Is that why you're always mocking him? Just to get him to look at you? I bet you get off on every scrap of attention he sends your way, tell me, do you have to pay for sex? Pretend its Prince Zuko?" Zhao strikes at Jet, the latter dodging underneath the fiery fist and dancing around the corner, "Admiral, how could you have gotten your rank so quickly? You show no intelligence at all, or did you do Fire Lord Ozai a little – favor? How scandalous!?"

Zhao rounds the corner but no one is there, gritting his teeth, he swears he's going to make the brat pay – making his rounds, Zhao enters the medical room where he gathers a cloth and dabs some chemicals onto it. Exiting the room, he knows everyone should be asleep, even Lion-heart. As much as he would love to watch the boy slaughter some of the snow savages and paint their snow red, he couldn't stand anyone lesser making a fool of him. Coming upon the lethal adolescent's room, he holds his breath and hopes the door won't creak or squeal. It does neither. Slipping into the room, he lets his eyes adjust to the dark before spotting the bed which had its mattress missing, frowning, he scans the area until he spots a dark mass lying in the corner with clutter acting as landmines. Clever. Trekking through the mess, he nearly sets off a sound or two before he makes it to the figure, he grabs at the shoulder only to feel his hand press into nothing, shocked, he pulls at the blanket. No one!

"What are you doing, Admiral?"

Zhao tenses once he feels a blade pressing against his neck, "What does it look like?"

"Hmm-m-m." Lion-heart rumbles, "I'd say you were going to kill me."

"Wrong."

"Am I?"

"You are."

Zhao spins, hitting the blade away from his neck, watches Lion-heart jump back, producing another knife, the Admiral realizing the teenager was dressed and ready to kill – unless he sleeps in his outfit, and really, who does that? He comes back to the present when a knife is sent hurtling for him, bringing up his arm, he feels the weapon bounce off his metal bracer, but as soon as he lets his arm drop, he sees Lion-heart mid-jump. Diving out of the way, he hears an indistinct thud, he turns to see Lion-heart standing upon the table, he can feel those dark eyes on him.

"Why aren't you firebending?" Lion-heart inquires, "Afraid of something?"

"Not quite."

The Admiral throws a pillow knowing the boy will slice at it, once feathers are flying through the air, he rushes forward, cloth ready, the move earns him a knife buried in his arm, but he's got the cloth placed over the brat's mouth. Watches as Lion-heart's glare loses some of its strength before his eyes finally close. Zhao keeps the cloth in place for a few seconds more just in case the boy is faking. Satisfied, he pulls the cloth away and sets it on fire, watching it turn to ash before slinging Lion-heart's arm over his shoulder in a way that mimics a passed out drunk. Peering out into the hall, he half carries, half drags, the boy to two guards, both of which looking mildly startled. Zhao puts on an exasperated mask and a fake sigh:

"Apparently someone drank too much." he starts, jostling Lion-heart in a gesture, "The Fire Lord has sent word that he wants Lion-heart to return to the palace," he hands the limp body over to the men who look like the unconscious body will awaken and kill them all, which may be a possibility, "Make sure no harm befalls our friend here, I'm sure I don't have to tell you what will happen if it does."

"We'll get right on it, Admiral Zhao."

"Good."

The next morning when General Iroh asks of Lion-heart's whereabouts, Zhao lies through his teeth, telling the old General that said teenager had wanted to go ashore with the soldiers, and therefore was with some of the men awaiting his word – a look had crossed the old legend's face, but nods, the man knowing of Lion-heart's inability to sit still for too long if separated from Zuko.

oOo

Moaning, Jet opens his eyes but his vision is bleary and his mind is fuzzy, blinking a couple of times until his vision clears, he finds that he isn't in his room, but somewhere else, turning his head to the left, he spots some medical equipment. Frowning at the out of place objects, he pushes himself up only to hiss, a hand moves to his temple and begins rubbing at it in frustration, he shuts his eyes in hopes that it will boost his concentration – what happened? His eyes fly open, that son-of-an-ashmaker knocked him out!

Letting out a frustrated roar, he moves to get up only to see a group of men rush in, when they see him in his disheveled state, they look mildly startled, Jet shakily slips off the berth and reaches for the closest one, grabbing the front of his armor and pulling him close until they were nose to nose, he hardens his glare as he hisses:

"Where is he?"

The man squeaks, "W-Who?"

"Zhao!" Jet shouts, shoving the man away, "Admiral fucking Zhao! I'm going to kill that son-of-a-bitch once I get my hands on him! So where is he!?"

"I – Sir," another man starts, "Y-You drank too much and had passed out, the men who brought you here said that you were needed in the Fire Nation. Fire Lord Ozai's orders."

Jet blinks, "Passed out? How – how long was I out?"

"An entire day sir." the man speaks a little stronger now that Jet's calmed, "We're nearly at port."

"You're lying!" Jet shoves past the group, storming through the hall where everyone stayed clear of him, once he was out on deck, he realizes the man was telling the truth, they're pulling into port, "Fuck." he gasps a second later, "Zuko."

oOo

He'd failed miserably, not only did he not capture the Avatar but the Avatar and his friends saved him, frustrated and tired, he spots his Uncle not too far from him, as he stands, he pauses, his tired mind confused when he doesn't see Jet. Once Iroh draws closer, Zuko can make out the somber look written across his mentor's face – he feels his heart drop and his blood run cold, the exhaustion draining from his body. Swallowing hard, he opens his mouth but nothing comes out, trying once more, he lets out a weak:

"Where's Jet?"

Iroh looks mildly confused and surprised but seems to know who Zuko is asking for, this making Zuko realize that he'd just slipped on the name thing, but he doesn't really care as of now because where was his friend?

"I do not know, Prince Zuko." Iroh begins, voice grave, "Zhao had said that Lion-heart had gone ashore."

"What - ?"

"But – I hadn't seen him."

If Jet had gone ashore, then he could still be alive, he was an excellent fighter, he could take on some waterbenders, he wouldn't die, but even if he hadn't died, the Northern Water Tribesmen were likely to capture him and hold him as a prisoner and then kill him. Could they go back? Find him? But what if – no, that thing, the water spirit had purged all Fire Nation from the snowy land, and while Jet wasn't Fire Nation, he stilled worked with them and Aang knew that, so – would the kid do that to him? Would he drown – no, he already did, he'd seen Zhao dragged under by the thing, dragged under the icy waters. A hand flew to his mouth, his eyes watering as he imagined the same fate befalling his friend, strained hiccups were escaping and shuddering gasps – he wouldn't survive that! It was too cold! Zuko was able to make it because of his firebending, but Jet? Gods he wasn't even wearing proper winter clothing!

Zuko felt sick to his stomach.

Legs giving out, he feels Iroh rush forward to hold him up, the two firebenders falling to their knees, when he feels his Uncle's warm arms wrap around him, he can't help but bury his face in his Uncle's shoulder and start crying, Iroh even joining in with silent tears of his own – eventually though, Iroh pulls away, wiping at his tears.

"Nephew – we can't stay here."

Zuko only draws his knees to his chest and hides his face amongst his arms.

"I will make a raft."

Iroh sniffles before moving on with his task, Zuko feels fresh tears pricking his eyes, he curls in on himself:

I fucking love you!

I – just want to say I'm sorry.

A sob wracks through his entire body, Jet had apologized for admitting to loving him – he wants Jet back.

oOo

Being called into the throne room 5 minutes after he entered the palace, Jet is ushered to aforementioned room where he's shoved into, glaring at the bastards, he walks towards the fiery dais where he spots someone kneeling before the wall of fire. Jet stops beside the person, realizing that the person is a girl, kneeling at girl's side, he casts a curious glance to her – he pauses. It's Azula. What the hell?

"Iroh is a traitor, and Zuko is a failure." the Fire Lord begins, "You and Lion-heart will hunt them down and bring them back."

Wait – what?

Chapter Text

Lying on his stomach with his arms pillowing his head, tired, amber irises stare deadened at the seemingly calm, midnight, sea surface with nothing but the waning moon to guide their pathetic sail – the young Prince is familiar with the feelings of loss, hopelessness, and a slew of other dark and depressing emotions, but none quite rivaled the feeling of losing the person who felt like his other half. Yes, he'd felt this way when his mother had mysteriously disappeared with nothing but, what felt like, a dream to give him a clue as to what happened to her, yet it didn't feel quite as pronounced as now, for back then, he'd had Jet there to act as an emotional buffer; the older boy staying with him until the sun rose, simply talking with him, and soothing him – Jet who's hair was always so ridiculously fluffy thanks to the humidity, who smiled and laughed for him even when Zuko was being especially moody, who trusted him enough that he delegated the Prince with his heart.

His heart ached – he'd thrown that trust back in his face, but despite the hurt, he still smiled and laughed for him.

And now, his warm eyes and warmer smiles were gone, dragged away to a place Zuko couldn't follow or hope to get him back from. Fresh tears spring to life. Sniffling, he curls in on himself and dips the tip of his index finger within the water, feeling just a little closer to his deceased friend. He hated himself. He hated Zhao. He hated his Father, his family, his nation. Everything. But most importantly, he hated the Avatar – the Avatar was the one to take his friend away. Everyone may have pushed Jet to that point, but it was the Avatar who struck him down. Thinking of the kid's wide-eyed innocent outlook on the world and everything in it greatly angered him – desolation, grief, and a rage far stronger than before swirled and burned within his heart – he didn't care how old the Avatar may look or may actually be, or whenever the next one would be reborn, he was going to take him down, and he was going to make it as painful as possible. Forget honor. Forget his Father. Forget his Nation.

Sitting up, he prods his Uncle, "Uncle. Uncle, get up."

His Uncle snorts noisily and flails a little before sitting up, tired eyes falling on Zuko, "Wha - ?"

"Get up." Zuko reiterates, moving to the back of their small driftwood-made-raft, "We're going to reach land."

"Really?" Iroh looks around but sees nothing, "Nephew, perhaps you have been out in the sun too long, I see nothing."

"No." Zuko shakes his head, he looks to his mentor with a determined glint in his eyes, "I'm going to get us there."

Iroh blinks, "How?"

"Man the sail," Zuko slips into a firebending stance, "I'm going to use my firebending to propel us."

"Zuko, I don't think - ,"

"Just humor me!"

Stunned, Iroh moves to the makeshift sail and grabs a hold of the ropes, he looks over his shoulder to see his Nephew staring at him, an unsettling air about him. Once he gives the youth a nod, Zuko turns around. Iroh knows there's something off with his beloved relative, but before he can contemplate on the sudden change, he's stunned once more, enough so that he nearly loses his hold on the ropes. Instead of Zuko's usual red fire, a stream of fierce, hungry looking blue fire shoots from his fist, far larger and far angrier than his fire before. And Zuko either doesn't notice, or just doesn't care, as he seems to have his mind set on something, on a single-minded goal, but with the sudden development in his fire's hue and its sudden tenacity, whatever he has in mind is not that of friendly intentions.

oOo

Bored. Jet stares at his reflection in the mirror of his old room, the one they'd given him after he proved himself to the Fire Lord, the person he sees in the mirror doesn't look like him in the least bit, for the stranger is wearing armor similar in design to the Fire Nation's, to someone of importance within the land of fire. The armor is made of sleek, black metal with a black cuirass, black shoulder-guards with gold bordering, black vambraces with some odd knife-projecting-contraption underneath (Jet feels like he'll lose a finger or two if he uses it), black tassets with gold bordering (he feels like he's wearing a dress (there's also a foot-long rectangular container on the left-thigh tasset which stows a newly made bow that folds in on itself)), and black greaves. Underneath the lovely pieces of midnight armor is a plain, black, long-sleeved shirt, a pair of black pants, and black boots with golden buckles. Even the tie to his stupid topknot is black with gold outlining it. The armor/uniform/whatever is custom made, and apparently the people who'd been tasked with the job obviously went overboard, what do they think he's going to do? Invade Ba-Sing-Se?

Looking out the window which shows the rest of the godforsaken crater, he turns away from the sight of the beautiful city and the stupid mirror, walking to the door, he exits his room and begins wandering the halls he only vaguely remembers, he makes it to the garden, to his and Zuko's tree where he feels a near uncontrollable urge to tear everything apart, a deep rooted need to create chaos hidden within his body, but a memory keeps him from acting, moving towards the tree, he stares at the ground before kneeling, almost religiously. He hates Zuko, he hates him just as much as he still loves him. Someone is behind him:

"I figured I would find you here of all places."

"I feel ridiculous. Is the topknot really necessary?"

"If you're going to travel with me, I want you to look the part."

"What's the point of polishing the armor when it's going to get scuffed and bloodied anyway?"

"Are you telling me that you plan on killing Iroh and Zuzu?"

"No." Jet rolls his eyes, he turns to face her, "You know what I meant." he inspects her for a moment, "What do you want?"

"Still an uncivilized Earth Kingdom orphan, I see." Azula mock-sighs, "Did life at sea teach you nothing?"

"Life at sea's taught me plenty, but I see you're still the dainty, little, Princess I hoped I would never see again." Jet counters, he can't believe Zuko wanted to come back to this, "You still haven't told me what you want though, are we ready to go, want me to kill someone, or are you here to confess your undying love for me?"

Azula scoffs, "Get over yourself, I would never settle for some common street-rat."

"Thank the Spirits. I didn't want to have to break your heart by telling you that I'm incapable of loving someone." Zuko made sure of that since the ass still has his heart. "Then again, it doesn't seem like you are either. Man, I feel bad for the poor bastard who catches your attention."

"Love is a weak and useless emotion. There is no need for it on the battlefield where it can be used and extorted, and I'll sooner die than fall head-over-heels for some pawn that has nothing of use to offer me." Azula explains, a bite to her tone, "And it isn't like the person who catches your attention is any better off."

The teen feels like he's missed something, instead, he shrugs, "Whatever you say, Princess. So, are we leaving or-r-r?"

"Yes." she turns on her heel, Jet follows, "The ship, the crew, and the course is all set."

"See, that's all you had to say." Jet says, moving past the Princess, "There was no need for the back and forth banter."

A hand seizes his shoulder and spins him around to stare at an offended royal, "You walk behind or beside me. Never in front unless I say otherwise."

Jet smacks Azula's hand away, "If it's all the same to you, Princess Azula, I'll walk where I very damn-well want to walk." he can't stop the jeering smirk that creeps across his lips, "Besides, there isn't much of a view from the back."

He thinks he may see the ghost of pink dust the girl's features, but it shuts down a second later, "You will treat me with respect."

"I'm not afraid of you." Jet hisses, "In case you don't remember, I don't respect people who think they deserve it. They've got to earn it."

"You may not be afraid now, but you will learn to be soon."

"Geez." Jet snorts, "And here I've been wondering why no one's been courting you. You are the Princess of the Fire Nation after all."

Azula frowns, "Enough! The longer we stand here fighting, the further Iroh and Zuzu get!"

The mention of Zuko has Jet's heart soaring and sinking simultaneously, feeling sick to his stomach, he nods at the Princess and gestures for her to lead the way, he hears the girl scoff but otherwise takes the lead – he was divided. He still wanted so badly to see the Prince, broken heart or no broken heart. Yet he also wanted to run, to run as far away from the Prince as he possibly could and hide in the deepest, darkest cave he could find, like some scared little kid. How could he still love someone who'd hurt him? And if he were to reunite with Zuko, wouldn't things be more than a little awkward? Did it matter? What was more important? Zuko or his sanity?

"Men. Show Lion-heart to his sleeping quarters."

Coming to, he watches two armored men approach him respectfully, with just the slightest hint of caution belaying their respect, people were stills cared of him. Good. Let them be scared. Jet gestures irritably for the two men to get on with it, some nearby soldiers tense, but do nothing more than watch carefully, he merely watches the soldiers turn and lead him to his room. Later that night, he has a familiar dream that sets off a want and longing in his chest – he's atop Zuko, inside him, they're moving, nice and slow, each touch filled with warmth, love. Zuko clings to him, arms wrapped around him, gasping and moaning silently. When they finish, it's a tender moment, Zuko hums contently as he curls against Jet, the latter wrapping an arm around him. He sees a future with the boy at his side.

oOo

"Nephew."

"What is it, Uncle?"

"Are you feeling well?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've been – different as of late."

"I'm still, shocked, about my friend's death."

"I know, but, it's toxic for your mind, heart, and soul to hold in your emotions."

"I don't care." Zuko murmurs, Iroh is going to say more, but Zuko speaks again, "Land."

Turning to face the direction his Nephew was looking, he sees that there is indeed land, but the moment to crack open his Nephew's cold shell has slipped through his fingers. Three weeks at sea had done little to tamper any of those caustic emotions, barely putting a dent in anything. He missed their friend as well, but apparently the younger firebender felt it more strongly than he did – sometimes, Iroh wonders if there was something more between his two wards. If so, that would be 10x more painful than losing a close friend, he should know as he has lost both before. A day after their arrival, they came across a resort where Iroh had tried coaxing his hurt Nephew into doing the same unwinding as he was, but all he got was a quiet grunt and the turning away of his Nephew's face. What made things worse was the fact that today was the day of the Prince's banishment – although, Iroh had a feeling that it wasn't what had the Prince so downtrodden.

oOo

Hearing racket upstairs, Jet hurries up the stairs until he emerges from the doorway leading out to the upper deck, he pauses when he sees Azula fighting with another firebender, one with the same hue as hers (if a little darker), but once he sees the familiar swish of a ponytail, he can tell that it's Zuko, he takes a step forward but pauses, he knows firebending is brought on by emotions, and he has to wonder what it was that had the Prince so, cold. Zuko manages to roll to his feet when he spots a dark figure in his peripheral, taking a quick glance, he nearly freezes, the guy standing at the doorway is in dark armor and a topknot, he looked so similar to Jet that he almost thought it was his friend, their eyes locked from the distance, apparently, his hesitation costs him as the air begins crackling, Zuko turns away from the apparition in time for his Uncle to intervene and shoot a blast of lightning at a nearby cliff, his Uncle manages to send Azula falling off the edge of the ship before grabbing his wrist and forcing him to run, Zuko sends one last look to the stranger before following willingly after his Uncle. Jet takes a step forward, wanting to chase after Zuko, but his other foot remains in place, a part of him still scared of the Prince, and when he does move to the ramp, the two are long gone.

Chapter Text

Beads of sweat trace paths across heated skin; he dodges a quick jab followed closely by another, stepping into his sparring partner's personal space. A fraction of a second passes where both combatants meet one another's eyes. Driving his fist into the man's gut, Jet takes a quick step back out of the man's swinging range and watches him double over, large hands flying to his stomach in an attempt to alleviate the pain, but surprisingly enough, the man is still standing after such an underhanded hit like that – he certainly is sturdier than most and Jet appreciates that. The man rights himself in time to see Jet's heel flying for his jaw; he spins out of the way and sends an open-handed chop for the teen's unguarded side. Jet brings his arm down, the hand connecting just above the bend of his arm, bringing his forearm up, he traps the man's arm and grabs a hold of his wrist, twisting it behind him, kicking the back of the man's knees causing the bulky man fall heavily to his knees.

"Why is it that every time I see you, you're always so disgustingly sweaty?"

Jet releases his sparring partner, doesn't bother glancing at Azula, "Please tell me this isn't a social call."

It's only been a week, but apparently that was enough for rumors of his supposed relationship with the Princess to circulate and catch like wild fire, the rumors stating that Jet's constant mockery was a way of attracting the Princess's attention, that their banter was them flirting with one another, and there is a potential spark there, one that Jet would explore if he hadn't known how nasty Azula could get. There was no way he was going to forget or forgive her constant bullying of soft-hearted Prince Zuko – especially when he could vividly remember Zuko crying to Ursa, the young Prince sobbing about not understanding why Azula was so mean as he was only doing what he thought was right. Poor thing.

"Something on your mind?"

Jet comes to, he sees the annoyed look on Azula's face – his sparring partner is gone, "Uh yeah, you could say that."

"I hope it was worthwhile seeing as how you completely ignored me." Azula narrows her eyes, "So please, share whatever is on that decrepit mind of yours."

"Are you sure you want to know?" Jet moves to a nearby bench where he grabs a canteen of water, "I could be thinking about two girls getting it on."

Azula's nose wrinkles, the action reminds Jet of Zuko, "I very much doubt that, and if that were the case, you would be erect."

Jet chokes on the water and fights the urge to hide himself from view; he feels like he's losing some sort of game, "Just tell me what you want."

"You and I are weighed down by the royal procession." Azula starts, her eyes tracing Jet's face for any giveaway, "Therefore we will continue without the dead weight."

"Right," Jet snorts, he uses the water canteen as he gestures between the both of them, "And you expect us to capture both Iroh and Zuko alone?"

"Of course not. I know of your – fondness for my brother," she says, face scrunching at the thought, "So we will be enlisting the help of some old friends of mine."

"You have friends?" Jet can't help but blurt jeeringly, "Color me surprised." he can feel Azula's glare on him, his mind working in overdrive to guess at the names of these supposed friends, he pauses, "Wait – you don't mean Ty-Lee and Mai? Do you?"

"The very same." Azula hums, Jet tries to crush the surge of animosity that swells at the thought of the dour girl Azula hung out with, "Something wrong?"

"No," Jet offers a lecherous grin, "Not at all ~ I can't wait to see how they've filled out."

It isn't Mai's fault that Zuko likes his partners of the feminine gender.

Azula sneers at the lewd gesture Jet makes with his hands, "Remember that you are under my rule, I will not tolerate debasing of any kind."

"Unless it's you right ~ because I can think of so many things I could do with that little lightning bending you've got going on."

A look of anger, disgust, and something bordering on something dangerously close to self-consciousness flashes through Azula's livid eyes, she snarls at him before pivoting on her heel and making for the exit. Jet feels like he's just won. Satisfied with himself, he sits upon the bench and takes to staring at the metal ceiling overhead. If he were to use that line on Zuko, the Prince would turn a lovely shade of red and trip over himself as he tries to argue with Jet, which is never a good thing as the Prince never wins once he's flustered and tripping over himself. Unless the little bastardtouches him and looks at him with those trusting golden eyes. A small smile crosses his lips as he thinks of his moody friend, unaware of just how much he affected the Princess whom of which held a frustrated hand to her chest in a vain attempt at calming her fluttering heart.

oOo

"Are you sure this is the place?"

"I'm sure." Azula replies, "I never make mistakes."

"Right, of course. What was I thinking?"

The Princess glares at the snarky boy, but other than that, she remains silent as she decides to concentrate on finding Ty-Lee and not on the proximity of the tall, tanned, and suddenly noticeably handsome adolescent at her side. But try as she might, she couldn't ignore the bravado coming off Lion-heart in waves. After last night, and the vulgar comment he'd tossed her way, she hasn't been able to get her traitorous heart and mind under control – her mind often wandered to scenarios where she would touch the tanned skin, marvel at his physique, wondering how it would feel to be entrapped within his arms, meanwhile her heart flutters and does something unpleasant when she thinks of these things, like now, her heart beats faster in the presence of the over-confident and self-righteous boy. These thoughts and feelings were disgusting. Soft. Weak. Like Zuko. But perhaps that was why their Uncle, Mother, and even Lion-heart favored him over her, perhaps they looked at Zuko and saw someone who was weak and needed protecting – something didn't set well with that theory, but she refused to think of anything other than that being the drive behind their noticeable interest in her wimp of a brother despite her being stronger and more talented.

"Wait," Lion-heart starts, bringing her from her thoughts, he looks to her, "How the hell am I supposed to know what she looks like?"

"Just look for a girl about my age dressed in shades of pink and a noticeable braid."

"Thank you, Princess Azula," Lion-heart sneers, that's another thing she hates about him but it attracts her as well, he wasn't afraid, "Thanks for the tip, I'll just go around grabbing random girls while shouting 'Ty-Lee is that you!?' in their faces, I'm sure that'll work out well, it might get me a few slaps in the face and probably a quick tour of the local jail, but hey, how could I refuse to trust our Princess, what with the amazing description she'd given me."

"Fine." Azula frowns, "I'll look for Ty-Lee, and you stay out of my way."

Lion-heart snorts, "Fine by me."

They continue walking once more. Azula is the proud, pure-blooded Princess of the greatest Nation in the world, the strongest Nation, she is clever, quick, sharp-minded, talented, and precise, she is perfect, and she is also very beautiful. Men should be falling over themselves to gain her attention, to have her hand in marriage, and she, the coy and innocent woman they think she is would turn each and every one of them down But, they don't see her that way. They're all afraid of her, intimidated. And that's fine by her, that means they're weak and they have no place at her side, yet thereis one who isn't afraid of her but he isn't all too interested in her as he should be, no, he'd threatened and cursed her – she'd seen him fight, he was cruel, quick, talented, and vicious. A perfect companion to her own skills. They could be unstoppable. They could rule together.

But the idiot held a soft spot for her weak-minded brother, she'd seen them playing in the garden, they were smiling and laughing, roughhousing as boys did – Lion-heart had the advantage against her useless brother and still Zuko fought back, unaware that he was losing as he still had hope that he would win, it had been pathetic and Azula had lingered, hoping to see Lion-heart crush her brother's hopes of a win, but what happened next had both surprised and angered her. Lion-heart had willingly relinquished his control and allowed Zuko to pin him to the ground. Zuzu had been happy and even rejoiced in his victory, Azula would have figured that Lion-heart would have been annoyed as he'd let Zuko win, but instead of annoyance, he had this dopey little smile and a painfullyvulnerable look in his eyes, he trusted her brother with his life, even going willingly along when he'd been banished, his loyalty to her brother was annoying, and he still felt that way. She knew he wouldn't do anything to hurt Zuzu, which is why they were even here in the first place.

And for this, she wanted to destroy Lion-heart, to show him that he would gain nothing if he continued being loyal to her dead-end brother:

"Azula?" a familiar voice calls out, the Princess turns her head to see a girl in pink quickly rise to her feet only to fall to her hands and knees before jumping to her feet and hugging her, "Azula ~ it's so good to see you!"

"Hello Ty-Lee," Azula hums pleasantly, she watches her friend step back, she watches Ty-Lee's eyes flick towards Lion-heart, her eyes widening, "I'm sure you remember Lion-heart."

"Of course ~ !" she beams, Azula watches Lion-heart offer a friendly smile and open his arms, allowing Ty-Lee to throw herself at him, "Wow ~ you're really tall, and so handsome!"

Lion-heart leers at the girl as she steps back, "And you've certainly grown ~ I always thought you were pretty before, but now, you look breathtaking."

The blush that crosses Ty-Lee's face as Azula feeling territorial, "Please Ty-Lee, don't let us interrupt – whatever it was you were doing."

Azula watches Ty-Lee slip into a rather flexible move, she knows Lion-heart is appraising her friend's body, she feels the need to snap at the boy, these feelings she was having towards Lion-heart were nothing more than a nuisance – Jet drifts off as the two girls start a fairly friendly conversation, but every once in a while, Ty-Lee's eyes would drift towards Jet and a small blush would form whenever she noticed that he was checking out her figure. Yeah, he may love Zuko but that didn't mean he couldn't look at others, besides, it wasn't like he and Zuko were going steady or anything. He was a free man. Gods, he really should stop staring, he was beginning to feel like a creep – Azula starts walking away, jerking Jet back into the present.

"I look forward to watching the performance tonight," Azula says, she turns to Jet, "And how about you, Lion-heart?"

"No," he shakes his head, he was hoping to hide away in his room until they found Zuko, "I'm good."

"Very well." Azula continues walking, throwing a few parting words over her shoulder, "I will see you at the show Ty-Lee."

oOo

Why does he hate us?

He doesn't hate us.

Why didn't he call for us?

He didn't know it was us.

Why does our friend hate us?

He doesn't hate us.

Why does Zuko hate us when we love him?

Jet shuts his eyes and hangs his head in defeat, running his hands through his hair, he pulls on handfuls until it hurts, he'd been carefully avoiding the particular memory of Zuko yelling at him to leave, he didn't want to think about the only person in the world he's come to love shun him for something as inconsequential as an accidental confession, he knew it wouldn't go over well, but he didn't think Zuko would abandon him completely. Tears begin to well within his eyes before falling, he feels so alone. They were friends!

Why!? Why!? Why!?

Jet's demon cries in his head over and over again, how can Jet avoid thinking of such a thing when the monster inside was screaming?

Chapter Text

Walking on the opposite side of the stupid palanquin Azula feels the need to use, Jet glares at every little thing that catches his attention, he clenches his fists, digging his nails into the flesh of his palm, they're in this dreadfully dull city for one reason and one reason only, and it upsets him tremendously. Even if he despises the Prince for leading him on, he can't stand the thought of anyonebut him having Zuko, he doesn't care if Mai knows she's the object of Zuko's affection, he'll make sure the girl doesn't so much as think of the firebending Prince while in his presence or else there'll be hell to pay.

"What's wrong, Lion-heart?"

Jet glances over to Ty-Lee, "What?"

"Your aura is so – menacing," Ty-Lee explains, that doesn't help Jet's confusion but he gets what she's getting at, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong." Jet scowls, turning his gaze to a column of smoke, "I just hate this place and I these people."

"Why?" Ty-Lee smiles uneasily, she glances around, "I think it's nice ~ we also get to see Mai again."

"Great," Jet jeers mockingly, "That'll make my day."

The nimble girl watches the tanned boy as he takes to glaring at the scenery once more, his aura flickers like a wildfire but before she spoke up, it had been orange-reddish with a healthy dose of red, but at the mention of seeing Mai once again, his aura had turned to a scary black with sickly looking, cloudy red smeared amongst the black canvas. It was obvious that he didn't like Mai, that he had a problem with her, but she didn't think it was this bad – she hadn't realized she'd been staring until Lion-heart snaps his attention to her, she notes that there's a smidgen of dark green surrounding his chest region. But she doesn't pay this any mind as her eyes are glued to his, she can see something staring out, it's angry and hateful. Almost demonic.

"What?"

Ty-Lee purses her lips, she whispers, quiet so the others won't hear, "You don't like Mai, do you?"

"Of course I like Mai." the way he spits her friend's name says otherwise, "She's great. Amazing. She's a big ball of fun."

The girl doesn't like the way Lion-heart's dark aura seems to flicker towards her as if it wants to swallow her whole, for a second, she wonders how anyone can stand being so close to the intimidating boy, but she pauses, turning her head away from the evil aura festering around the tall boy. Even the man closest to Lion-heart's aura seems uneasy. Now she remembers why she always avoided Lion-heart when they were younger, his aura had been a powerful, muddy red back then but then it blossomed into a beautiful bright pink and a lovely shade of light blue once he met up with Zuko whose aura, had been more often than not, calming pastel colors. Their auras had twirled and danced with one another – they had adored each other. Like an epiphany, she realizes the reason behind his apparent hatred for Mai. Lion-heart knew that Mai liked Zuko and he didn't like that.

She doesn't even know why she speaks to Lion-heart, "Does this have to do with Zuko?"

The reaction is instantaneous, his aura erupts into a mix of colors, there were shades of red, shades of silver, shades of brown, then all black, "Of course not!"

The way his aura flies for her has her flinching, but the horrifying black color dies down into a pale gray with a hint of dark blue, she realizes that he feels bad for snapping at her.

"Ty-Lee!" Azula snaps from the palanquin,

Ty-Lee flinches once more, "Yes, Azula?"

"Don't bother Lion-heart; I need him to stay focused."

"I'm sorry, Azula."

That was another thing that bothers her, Azula likes Lion-heart because of the dark thing inside him, but she also wants the kind of attention he'd given to Zuko, last night, they'd spent the night talking about boys and how to get their attention, namely Lion-heart's, although it had been kind of adorable watching Azula try and flirt with Lion-heart, even if it came out all wrong and left Lion-heart both confused and mildly disturbed. Up ahead, she spots a familiar pasty aura, she looks towards Lion-heart and sees whatever color, no matter how little, had been smothered and replaced with a deep black – standing before them, Jet can see a gloomy looking girl, he doesn't have to think twice or for very long to know just who it was that was waiting for them, he notices Ty-Lee sending another curious look his way but doesn't say anything, doing as Azula had ordered and leaving him alone.

Once they draw closer, Jet stands back in favor of talking with the girl, he simply watches the girls go through the usual formalities before he promptly loses interest and turns to glance at the various stony buildings and columns of smoke, he feels his anger for the Fire Nation kick up a notch, and if it weren't for the fact that Azula could get him closer to a reunion with the Prince, he'd have escaped the very first chance he'd gotten. But other than that, the place was quiet and rather boring.

Much like Mai.

His demon-self sneers hatefully, Jet does his best not to smirk. The Earth Kingdom teen is brought from his dark musings once he feels eyes on him, turning; he spots the three girls looking at him, as if they were expecting him to say something:

"Well?" Mai prods,

"Oh, I'm sorry." Jet drawls, doing his damndest to keep the malice from his voice, "I kind of zoned out, you're voice does this weird droning thing." he watches the girl narrow her eyes for a fraction, its minor but he still catches on to it, latches onto it like a disease, he smiles spitefully, "I hope you weren't expecting a hug. I can't waste my time on someone who can't so much as work up the nerve to show a little backbone, or, much of anything."

Mai glares this time, Ty-Lee looks nervously between them, and Azula seems darkly amused, "I see you've grown into a jerk." Mai says, voice monotone yet cutting all the same, she isn't quite angry, but she's close, "Why are you hunting Zuko, I thought you two were inseparable."

Jet bristles and Ty-Lee wants to interfere but Azula interrupts, "Come now, Mai. This is a joyous reunion; let's not waste it fighting with one another."

"Right." Mai agrees, but her glare on Jet never wavers or vice versa.

oOo

The day starts to progress in a kind of blur for Ty-Lee after they reunite with Mai, what with Lion-heart's overwhelming black aura, Mai's bored tones that only spiked if Lion-heart took a nasty jab at her, and Azula's seemingly dark amusement in watching the two take potshots at one another. She felt smothered between the trio of overbearing auras. More so by Lion-heart for whenever she thought of teasing Mai about Zuko, she would stop short and quickly change the subject, feeling Lion-heart's dark gaze on her. She didn't even know why she was afraid of the boy in the first place, but she had the distinct feeling that if she were to go against him, he would not be merciful, he was like – Azula, in a way. And in that respect, she supposed the two were perfect for each other, but he's hateful, hates everyone enough to want to kill them. Not like Mai's hate.

And the only person who could coax Lion-heart from his darkness was the very same one they were hunting.

Ty-Lee startles from her reverie once the fighting starts, both she and Mai running after the two Water Tribe members – a part of him feels mildly annoyed at how easily it took for Mai to change her mind once Azula spoke, but he knows he would do the same thing if Zuko were to ask something of him, although he and Mai probably had different reasons for obeying the sovereigns. He watches Ty-Lee and Mai charge towards the Water Tribe siblings, he sees no reason to help, it just wouldn't be fair, eventually though, he draws closer for a better view of the show, and he has to say, Katara has definitely improved in her waterbending. Slipping behind some poles, he watches Appa fly in and use his gigantic tail to send both Ty-Lee and Mai flying through the air, he promptly laughs, cruel and jeering, but how could you not? It was pretty funny, but apparently the sound catches the attention of both Katara and Sokka, the latter stepping forward, holding is boomerang high above his head in what Jet supposed was a menacing manner, he offers an easy grin and holds his hands up in surrender – he'll admit that he kind of likes these kids, even if they had annoyed him from time to time while he was traveling with them:

"Jet!?" Katara splutters, "What are – where's Zuko!?"

Jet feels the grin fall, "I don't know."

She seems to pick up on his mood, "What happened?"

Jet doesn't want to talk about it, but he finds himself saying, "I – we got separated."

"Right!" Sokka interrupts abruptly, "Like we're supposed to believe that! He's probably hiding somewhere close by, waiting to jump us like last time!"

"Get over it!" Jet snaps, he feels his inner demon stirring, "It was never about you in the first place! Look! That bastard, Admiral Side-Burns, drugged me or whatever the fuck he did and shipped me off to the Fire Nation!" he looks to Katara, "Do you think I like hanging out with Psycho-Princess, Gloom-n'-Doom, and Circus-Freak!?"

"Apparently not." Sokka snorts, "I have to give you credit on the names though, I gotta remember those."

"Copyright them, I don't care." Jet rolls his eyes before sighing, he hates Zuko, he really does, "I know you guys hate me, and hey, if I were you, I wouldn't trust me either. But you gotta believe me when I say that I don't care about capturing the Avatar. All I want is to find Prince Zuko and Iroh before these girls do."

Katara seems to have softened, if a little, "Why?"

"I grew up with Zuko and Iroh practically raised me, they're the closest things I have to having an actual family – a place where I belong." Jet doesn't know if he's doing this because he still wants to be with Zuko, or because he wants to capture the Prince, but he knows Katara is close to breaking, so he looks to her, "I'll give you guys anything you want, just please at least tell me you've seen them." he looks to Sokka, "Hell, I'll even let you stab me if that makes you feel any better."

"Tempting," Sokka drawls, "But no. C'mon Katara, we've wasted enough time."

"Sokka wait," Katara begins, Jet feels hopeful, "I'm probably making a huge mistake but, I believe you."

"What!? Katara!"

"Sokka!" Katara snaps, "You know what it's like to be separated from loved ones, I say we give him a second chance."

Sokka grumbles before sighing, "Fine, come on."

Whatever he was trying to do, works, Jet offers a sheepish smile, "Thanks."

Once they're in the air, Katara begins explaining everything that happened to them at the North Pole and Jet offering up what had happened to him, eye for an eye, and tale for a tale:

"I guess that's why we didn't see you there, huh?"

"Yeah." Jet sighs, doesn't know if his heart should sink like that or not, "So – you have no idea where he is?"

"No," she shakes her head, "Sorry."

"That's alright," Jet looks at the passing buildings, "I'll offer you what I know about the girls." once he's sure both siblings are listening, he starts, "Azula is the Princess of the Fire Nation, Zuko's sister, she's cunning with a cruel streak, she's an accomplished firebender who can shoot lightning from her fingertips. Ty-Lee is one of her friends, the girl in pink, always happy and as you've seen, she can block your chi to prevent you from moving, or bending, I'd say it's best to keep some distance from her. Mai is her other friend, the gloomy chick, sighs a lot and knows how to fight with knives, but it seems you know what you're doing." he says, offering a smirk to Katara, "Seems like you've improved."

"Yeah," Katara blushes, "We found a waterbending teacher in the North Pole."

"Cool."

"If we cross Zuko, we'll tell him that you're looking for him, that's the least we can do. Or - ?"

"Or?" Jet blinks, "What?"

"Maybe you can come with us. That will be a lot faster than trying to somehow reach you."

Jet shakes his head, "No, I have to make sure Azula doesn't hurt him or Iroh if we find them."

"Oh."

"As thanks, I'll try to sabotage the Princess's attempts at capturing Aang."

"This is so weird." Sokka says from up front.

"Okay." Katara nods dutifully.

"Can you drop me off somewhere?" Jet asks,

"Why?" Katara blinks.

"So they don't suspect a thing." Jet grins, "Just freeze me to any old surface, I'll get out."

Later, when he regroups with the girls, he's subject to various degrees of staring, he arches a brow at the trio and does his best not to shiver – he's surprised he can still feel his feet:

"What?"

Azula frowns from the palanquin, "Where were you?"

"Chasing after the Avatar's friends after your friends failed to do so." Jet spits, "But of course you wouldn't know how hard it is for a non-bender to get free from ice."

"Really?" Mai drones, "Because it looked like you were hanging back."

"Don't start with me Sunshine." Jet snaps, he notes the glimmer in Azula's eyes at his anger, "I thought you two could handle it. But apparently not."

"Enough." Azula snaps, both Jet and Mai glare at one another, "Lion-heart is right though, I've assembled you two here because I thought you could handle things like this. I'm sure I don't have to remind any of you that I hate being wrong. Now, we've got another task at hand."

Jet crosses his arms over his chest, "Like what?"

"The capture of the Avatar."

Jet frowns, he doesn't like the idea of Azula capturing Aang when Zuko couldn't.

He hates us.

The demon whines.

He doesn't hate us.

Jet counters.

We love him.

We never stopped.

Chapter Text

"Can you sit still?" Mai frowns upon Jet moving for the 39th time within the past 10 minutes, "You're starting to annoy me."

"I'm surprised you know what annoyance feels like." Jet jibes, shifting once again, "And no, I can't. Unlike you, I can't sit in one place like I'm some sort of propped corpse."

"I don't see how anyone can stand you." Mai glowers, hinting at Zuko which Jet does not appreciate, "You're such a nuisance."

"Careful Mai." Jet growls, "You're ruining your dead-inside look." Jet soon smiles nastily, "How do you expect to attract Zuko's attention if you blend in with the background?" he picks up on a split-second emotion so he continues, "Did Azula ever tell you that Zuko thinks you're boring, that you're nothing but a big blah?"

Mai's eyes flash, there's hurt in there, "Shut up."

Jet's smile widens, turning crueler, "She didn't, did she?" Jet was lying through his teeth, simply knowing the emotionally stunted girl wouldn't ask Azula if any of this was true, he laughs at her, "Oh, you poor thing ~ !"

Said girl suddenly jumps to her feet and with a knife in hand, she makes to slice Jet's throat open. Jet brings up his forearm causing the knife's razor sharp blade to bounce harmlessly off his metal bracer, bringing his foot up, he manages to plant his foot against her stomach and kick her away from his space viciously. Mai manages to hold herself upright with minimal damage, but she glares at Jet all the same, she's beyond angry and Jet drinks in the sight, absolutely loving the idea that he'd just won. Flexing his fingers, he grins, leveling a look at the enraged girl and outright taunts her.

"I win."

"What's going on here?" Azula's voice demands, she looks between Jet and Mai, a thought forming in her head, she growls, "Lion-heart, I told you - !"

"Oh spare me," Jet rolls his eyes, interrupting Azula whose eyes flash heatedly, "I wouldn't dream of touching Mai. She's so dreadfully dull."

Ty-Lee looks between the three with a nervous look in her eyes – ever since they'd picked up Mai, Lion-heart has been especially nasty towards anyone who catches his attention, his target mainly being Mai, and although Azula knows that Lion-heart holds a particular disdain for Mai, she hasn't been doing a thing to quell the hate between them. Of course, Lion-heart always verbally attacks Mai once Azula or Ty-Lee are nowhere in sight or hearing range, so Azula doesn't truly know how terrible he can get. Ty-Lee only knows this because she'd walked in on Lion-heart saying something particularly mean to her friend, and while she'd wanted to help, she couldn't help but stand frozen in fear at the wicked tone in his voice, he was worse than Azula. Movement from Mai catches the girl's eye, she's sheathing one of her knives – had Mai tried attacking Lion-heart?

"Good." Azula speaks, she's tense, most likely angry judging by her aura, "The Avatar is in sight and I do not need unwanted consequences. Do you understand, Lion-heart?"

"Yes, Princess." Lion-heart bows shallowly, "I understand."

Ty-Lee gets the feeling that Lion-heart doesn't particularly care so she decides to get Mai away from him, "Come on Mai ~ let's do each other's hair!"

Mai sighs but follows anyway, anything to get away from Lion-heart right – when they finally across the Avatar and his friends, Jet watches the girls saddle up the basilisks, he only watches with a bored expression plastered across his face:

"You three go on ahead," he begins, "I was ordered to capture Zuko, not the Avatar."

Mai looks like she's going to say something, but Ty-Lee hastily interrupts, "We won't take too long ~ !"

Jet shrugs, "Take as much time as you want."

Of course, whatever happened didn't last long and they were back at it – the next day, they stop at a river with bundles of wet fur stuck to rocks, Jet rests lazily against the entrance to their mode of transportation and simply watches the girls gather near the river and talk amongst themselves. Jet scans the area and spots the trail of fur taking a rather sharp right, he frowns because that in itself is odd that the kids would suddenly change course without reason, it didn't look like there was some sort of fight. Finally Azula stands, turning and addressing all of them:

"The Avatar is trying to give us the slip." she says, "You three go after the bison. I'll go after this trail."

Jet jerks at this, "You're kidding me, right?"

"I know how much you and Mai love spending time with each other," Azula smiles wickedly in amusement, "So I, being the generous Princess I am, will allow you two to work together."

And just like that, Ty-Lee finds herself stuck between Lion-heart and Mai's grudge match once more, it's uncomfortable and the nimble girl refuses to acknowledge the fact that Princess Azula may know of how badly Lion-heart treats Mai and is amused by all of this.

oOo

It didn't take too long for the trio to find the Avatar's bison, especially since it was a huge, white monstrosity the defied gravity, up ahead, Jet can see a fairly large river separating, one the Water Tribe siblings were planning on using to separate them. Frowning, he snaps the reins of his mount forcing the basilisk to run faster, Appa descends closer to the land, standing on the saddle, Jet positions himself and just before they reach the water, he pushes off and manages to grab a hold of the bison's fur. Using it like a ladder, he quickly scrambles up the side and produces his swords, the two Water Tribe siblings gasp in surprise but before any of them could make a move, Appa promptly crashes, sending the three flying – landing in some nearby bushes, Jet struggles to sit up as Katara and Sokka celebrate, until the basilisks run across the water. Huh, Jet didn't know they could do that. Struggling once more, he finally gets out of the stupid brush in time to see the four entangled in a fight, he pauses, he could continue working alongside Mai and Ty-Lee or he could play Judas and help Katara and Sokka. Bringing out a knife, Jet looks at it contemplatively – so many options, so many outcomes.

Narrowing his eyes at the glinting of the knife, he spins, using his momentum to toss the blade at a faster rate, it snags his target's pant leg forcing them to stop in their tracks, tearing the stupid tie out of his hair he tosses it callously away. Taking up his shuang gou, he steps forward. Mai narrowing her eyes on Jet instantly as the Earth Kingdom native grins, hefting his swords, the gloomy girl rips the knife from the ground and her pant leg, tossing it aside. Her fight with Sokka forgotten, the Water Tribesman watching on in confusion. Apparently Ty-Lee notices their sudden standoff and jumps away from Katara and runs to stand between both Mai and Jet with her hands held out in a pacifying manner:

"Wait you guys!" she starts, glancing nervously between Mai and Jet, "We shouldn't be fighting each other!"

"Ty-Lee," Mai frowns, knives at ready, "He's a traitor."

Ty-Lee gasps and turns to Jet, Jet only chuckles, "In order to be classified as a traitor, I'd have to be loyal first."

"Figures."

Mai shoots a barrage of daggers past Ty-Lee, the girl letting out a surprised squeak, Jet swipes the projectiles out of the air with his sword before dashing past Ty-Lee and going straight for Mai's throat, only the girl is expecting it as she brings up her knives. The two clashing in sparks of metal on metal.

"You guys!" Ty-Lee shouts.

The curvy girl yelps once ice encases her feet, freezing her in place, her eyes flick towards Katara just as the waterbender sends out another strike of water, this time freezing Ty-Lee's hands in place. Frowning, Ty-Lee struggles with the ice momentarily before giving up with a pout and glaring at Katara.

Katara hisses, "Can't get me now."

Jet swings at Mai's stomach but the girl is quick, she dodges and throws another volley of darts, Jet dives out of the way, rolling to his feet, he spins, sending a knife flying for the girl, Mai moves but is stopped by Sokka who swipes at her with his club. Ducking underneath, Mai jumps out of the way and ends up near Katara who sends out a water whip for Mai's feet, the noble woman stumbles back, ultimately nearing Jet who wastes no time in slamming the blunt end of a dagger against the back of her head. Jet smiles maliciously as the girl falls with a dull thud.

Ty-Lee cries out, "Mai!"

"Oh don't worry," Jet scoffs, "She's fine." he turns to the siblings, "Azula's going after Aang. If we hurry, we can help him."

"Right."

Both siblings nod decisively and the trio quickly boards their flying bison and set off, leaving an unconscious Mai and a frustrated/struggling Ty-Lee behind.

oOo

Jumping off the bison alongside the Water Tribe siblings, Jet follows them into the small, deserted town until a prone figure laying on its back catches his attention. Stopping, he peers curiously at the body, the person is dressed in Earth Kingdom robes but their skin is noticeably pale with a shock of black hair, and what appears to be a peculiar mark over their face:

"Jet what are - ?" Katara pauses upon seeing what Jet was looking at; she smiles softly and gives him a gentle nudge, "Go."

"I - ," Jet remembers the fear of seeing Zuko once again, he backs up into Katara, "Princess Azula - ,"

"We'll take care of her," Katara assures, she pushes him forward, "Now go see him."

Nodding numbly, Jet watches the girl run into one of the buildings before he turns his attention back to the seemingly unconscious figure, hurrying to the person's side, Jet feels like his legs are made of jelly and once he's standing beside the person, his fingers loosen and his swords drop, it's Zuko, his legs buckle and he falls to his knees. Raising a shaky hand, he reaches out to touch the Prince's scar – he looked so different than before, but he's still so – a blast of fire forces Jet to jump away from Zuko. Pulling out his knives, he stops upon seeing Iroh, the two men recognizing each other at the same exact moment; Jet opens his mouth to say something until he's dragged into a crushing hug, the sudden action catches him off-guard so he remains tense, unsure of what to do – behind them, Katara smiles at the heartwarming sight before turning her attention back to Azula.

Iroh finally speaks, his voice sounding thick, "We thought you were dead."

"What?" Jet blinks, he still feels like everything is moving in slow motion, "Why would - ?"

A quiet groan has them parting and turning to Zuko, both dropping at his side – Zuko lets out another pained noise, slowly blinking his eyes against the light. Once his vision clears, he sees his Uncle looking down at him and – Zuko falters, Jet was looking down at him as well. Zuko feels his brows scrunch as he opens his mouth – was he dead? Did his Uncle die?!

"Jet?" Zuko rasps as both Jet and Iroh help him sit up, his eyes glued to Jet who offers a sheepish smile. No, he wasn't dead and his Uncle wasn't dead and Jet wasn't dead. He wasn't dead! Zuko felt a prickling sensation at the corner of his eyes, inhaling shakily, he promptly punches Jet in the mouth, "I thought you were dead!" Zuko nearly screeches as he stumbles to his feet, he watches Jet get to his own two feet, hand over his mouth and glaring at him, "Where were you!?"

"Where was I!?" Jet shouts, voice muffled thanks to his hand, "I - !" he hesitates upon seeing something in Zuko's eyes, he sighs, "We'll talk later, okay?"

Jet watches Zuko nod slowly. Grabbing his swords, Jet and the two firebenders move to help Aang and his friends against Azula – later once everything is settled, Jet was going to give Zuko such a hard time for punching him in the mouth. Running from the Avatar and his friends, Azula lets out a surprised gasp as she bumps into something and is sent stumbling into a corner. Looking up, she spots the Avatar's group closing in along with her brother and uncle – her eyes fall upon Lion-heart who has his bow out and an arrow trained on her, her attention flicks from him to her brother. She realizes with a startling understanding that Lion-heart had been using her to get back to her brother, her worthless brother. Clenching her teeth, she holds her hands up, absolutely refusing to dwell on the odd pangs of her heart.

"Well, look at this. Enemies and - ," her eyes fall on Lion-heart as she spits out, "Traitors, working together." he'll pay for choosing her foolish brother over her, "I give up, I know when I'm beaten. A Princess surrenders with honor."

Her eyes study each and every one of them, and of course Lion-heart is smart enough not to tear his attention away from the enemy, but Iroh wasn't entirely paying attention, he should know better.Shooting a burst of flame at her worthless Uncle, Zuzu's satisfying cry tells her that she's made a direct hit; she's prepared for the onslaught that comes. Watching the place where Azula had stood practically explode in a plume of black smoke, Jet turns his attention to Zuko who's already at his Uncle's side. Dropping his bow, he follows after Zuko and kneels beside the old man. Reaching out, he gingerly moves some of the singed clothing and studies Iroh's wounds as the others draw closer. Katara is the first to step forward:

"Zuko, I can help."

Keyed in to Zuko's every move, he notices the tension in the firebender's body and knows what he's about to do before he does it, snapping his hand out, he grabs Zuko's wrist causing the emotionally disturbed boy to glare at him with a fearful heat, but Jet holds his ground, he moves his hand down Zuko's wrist and interlocks their fingers:

"She can help." Jet assures, Zuko's glare softens and he nods jerkily, Jet turns his attention back to Katara, "Go ahead."

Zuko moves gingerly around his Uncle and situates himself at Jet's side, eyes zeroed in on Katara's every move as she pulls out a strip of water and places it to Iroh's wound, Zuko tenses once her hands start glowing but relaxes when Jet gives his hand a gentle squeeze. Positive Zuko wouldn't go I-want-to-burn-the-world on the Avatar's group, Jet moves to get up and gather his weapons, but a hand clasps around his wrist, Jet looks down but Zuko isn't looking at him, his eyes glued to his Uncle's form, Jet looks to Aang who looks mildly surprised at the action he'd witnessed. Jet sits back down.

"Hey."

Aang looks up, "Yeah?"

"Can you get my weapons and bring them here?"

"Oh yeah, sure ~ !" Aang smiles tiredly, "Come on Sokka, let's find Jet's weapons."

"Are you sure?" Sokka says but follows the boy anyway, "He could be planning to kill us as soon as we do."

Aang looks back at the group and can't help but smile softly at the two older boys sitting side by side, "I don't think he will."

Once Katara is done and Jet straps his weapons back in place, both Jet and Zuko watch the waterbender bend the water back into her water-skin.

"Well?" Zuko asks impatiently,

Katara does her best not to frown, "He'll be fine. A little sore, but he'll make it."

Zuko swallows and turns his attention back to his Uncle, Jet looks to Katara and nods, "Thank you."

Katara nods back, "You're welcome."

"Now, you guys better get going. We'll take it from here."

"Are you sure?" Katara asks, "We could - ,"

Obnoxious kissy sounds catches her attention, both Jet and Katara glare at Sokka while Toph snickers, neither Aang nor Zuko are amused.

"Go." Jet reiterates to Katara, "We'll be fine."

Finally Katara concedes and the group says their goodbyes.

Chapter Text

Leading the ostrich-horse by the reins, Jet tries not to concentrate too much on the ever present silence beginning to weigh heavily on his shoulders, if Zuko wanted to talk to him, then he'd have to be the one to break this uncomfortable silence, but currently, the Prince was sitting upon the ostrich-horse with his unconscious Uncle propped up against him.

"What's that?" Zuko asks,

Jet looks up at the sovereign, following Zuko's line of sight, "I – it looks like an old house."

"We'll stop there, see if anyone's home."

Silently following Zuko's order, Jet gingerly tugs on the reins and begins walking towards the abandoned wooden hut – handing the reins to Zuko; the tawny teen leaves the firebenders at the edge of the forest and creeps closer to the dilapidated shack's window. Peering inside, he sees nothing but dust and a caved in roof, no one's lived here for ages. Relaxing, Jet gestures for Zuko to bring the ostrich-horse closer. Retaking the leather reins, Jet ties it to a nearby piece of wood and turns to help the Prince with his relative. It's a little bit of a struggle, but both teenagers manage to get the supple man in their hold and carry him inside where they place him upon the dusty floor.

Watching Zuko as he situates his Uncle, Jet finally turns and is about to exit the hut when Zuko speaks up, his voice soft and weary:

"Where are you going?"

Jet looks over his shoulder, half facing the Prince, "I'm going to get rid of some of this armor."

"Oh – okay."

Lacking hesitation, Jet continues on his way, moving towards the edge of the cliff where he begins removing the shoulder-guards, he throws them over the ledge, peeling the cuirass from his torso, he drops it and simply watches it fall until he can see it no more, fumbling with the stupid tassets, Jet pauses with uncertainty – should he get rid of the bow and arrows as well? What's the point of keeping them?

With a shrug, he chucks the tassets as far as he can followed by the bow and the arrows, once the undesirable pieces of armor are gone, he sits upon the dusty ground and pulls out a knife from the left ballista-turned-knife-carrier. Placing the knife before him, he removes his vambraces and slips his arms out of the sleeves of his shirt, half naked; he takes the knife to the sleeves and begins cutting them off at the seams. Before long, he's got two black sleeves wadded up beside him, pulling on his shirt, he reveals a roll of linen and begins wrapping his forearms up, tying it off, he replaces his vambraces and sighs. Bringing a leg up, he rests his chin on his knee and takes to staring out over the setting sun. Behind him, he can hear the crunching of dirt, looking over his shoulder he sees Zuko approaching, turning back around, Jet glares at the scenery. What was with the royalty and creeping up on him? First Azula, then Iroh, and now Zuko?

"Jet?"

"What?"

"Can I – sit – with you?"

"Go ahead." Jet mutters, "I don't care."

Zuko purses his lips but sits on Jet's left with some kind of black cloth and a knife between them, "I – thought you were dead."

"No shit." Jet scowls, he doesn't bother looking at Zuko, "You told me that yourself after you punched me in the mouth."

"I - !" Zuko sighs, gaze turning to his lap, "Yeah, I should – I'm sorry for that. I – didn't mean to do it, it just happened."

"Great excuse," Jet spits, glaring at Zuko, "When I punch you in the mouth, I'll tell you that I didn't mean to, it just happened."

"I'm sorry okay!?" Zuko snaps, now he's glaring at Jet, "What is it you want me to do?!"

"How about letting me punch you in the mouth!?"

"No! I'm not letting you punch me in the mouth!"

"Then you can fucking forget about apologizing to me!"

"Well it was either that or I kiss you in front of everyone and make a fool of myself!"

Jet falls silent while Zuko turns his face away, "So your pride is more important than me being alive?"

"No! That isn't what - !" Zuko jerks his attention back to Jet, "I – if Azula saw she would - !"

"She would what?!" Jet spits, jumping to his feet and glaring down at the flustered teen, "Tell Daddy-Dearest!?"

"No, that's not – ugh-h-h!" Zuko lets out a frustrated shout and yanks Jet down, their lips slamming together painfully.

Spooked, Jet rips himself away from Zuko and stares wide-eyed at the other, a hand hiding his mouth from Zuko's view, "What are you - ?! You don't - ! You can't just - ! You don't get to do that to me! Not after – you don't love me the way I - !"

"I do like you!" Zuko shouts over Jet's babbling,

"Wha - ?" Jet blinks before narrowing his eyes, "No, you don't get to make fun of me for - !"

"I'm not making fun of you!" Zuko snaps, jumping to his own two feet, "I really do like you the way you like me! I just – as a Prince – I couldn't! Not unless I wanted you to get hurt because something always happens to the people I care about in the stupid Fire Nation and I didn't want anything to happen to you because I couldn't stand the thought of losing you!" Zuko swallows the lump in his throat, "Not like – at the North Pole. I thought you died and because of that I was blaming myself for your death. Telling myself, that if I told you how I felt – then maybe something would have turned out differently. I hated myself. And I hated the Avatar because I thought that he killed you – I thought he might have dragged you under the water just like he did to Zhao and – I was so angry and it hurt so much - !"

Zuko stops once he feels Jet pull him forward, "It's okay – I forgive you."

Stunned, Zuko hesitates before burying his face in Jet's shirt, wrapping his arms around the taller boy and grabbing onto the back of his shirt, Jet is here and he's alive. Zuko can't help the tears that spill and ruining Jet's shirt. Feeling Jet's hand cup the back of his head, fingers entangling themselves in his hair, doesn't help him at all for it only makes him cry harder. Melting at the sight of his Prince crying into his chest much like he did when his mother had disappeared, Jet gingerly pulls back, Zuko refusing to let go. Cupping Zuko's chin, he coaxes the younger teen to look at him.

"Hey now," Jet whispers softly as he uses his other hand to wipe away the tears, being extra mindful of the scarred side, "No more of that, Fire-Bird." he leans forward and gives Zuko a tender kiss, "I always hated seeing you cry when we were kids, I always thought something so beautiful shouldn't have a reason to cry."

Zuko's entire face goes red and Jet laughs as the Prince, well ex-Prince really, separates from him, "Why would you say something like that?!"

Jet grins, "Well we are dating now aren't we ~ ?"

"I - yeah! But - !"

"Then I don't see why not." Jet hums as he pulls the firebender into an embrace, "You won't regret this, I swear. I'll be so good to you Zuko, you'll see."

Hearing the sweet sincerity in the voice that could sell a thousand lies to a thousand different people, Zuko angles himself so he can look up into his friend-turned-boyfriend's eyes, almost immediately, he regrets doing so for when their eyes meet he sees a deep vulnerability in them with a warmth the ex-sovereign has never seen for all the time he's known the teen before him – Jet has followed him for 9 years, and has loved him for 5 of those years. The Jet before him wasn't the one he was used to seeing, the Jet he knew was snarky and angry at the world. This Jet was sweet and wholly trusting. This Jet was in love. Suddenly, Zuko isn't too sure of himself or the kind of power that's been willingly handed to him. Jet places a quick peck on Zuko's temple, the action sending Zuko's heart racing and blood rushing to his face. Embarrassed, the firebender buries his face in Jet's shirt. Hearing Jet laugh, even if it's at him, Zuko feels his body begin to feel light – right then and there, he decides that it doesn't matter if he makes a fool of himself, he loves Jet just as much.

Reaching up, Zuko tangles his fingers in Jet's mess of hair, their gazes instantly connecting, "I love you, Jet." his heart skips a beat, "I love you so much."

Jet smiles so goofily as he places a quick, gentle kiss upon Zuko's scarred cheek, "I love you too, Zuko."

Melting, Zuko allows himself to be subject to many affectionate touches and various adoring kisses that kissed nearly every inch of the firebender's face, from his forehead to his chin and everything in between, meanwhile Jet relishes in the almost constant physical contact between them, the many cuddle-fests, and Zuko's shy kisses. As night falls, the two finally separate from one another's embrace and sleep independently, or they do until Zuko slowly blinks awake, his vision blurry is blurry at first, but he eventually finds himself staring into the core of their small, but cozy, fire. Sitting up, he glances to his Uncle's still unconscious form then to the slumbering figure of his boyfriend - he fights back the smile that threatens to take over. Biting his lower lip, he quietly moves to Jet's side, the earthen boy showing no signs of waking any time soon, but once Zuko touches his bare arm, he startles rather violently. A hand flies out and grabs Zuko's wrist, the firebender suppressing a yelp as he's flipped over the once slumbering body and laying flat on his back with a knife pressed to his throat, Jet blinks momentarily before the haziness of sleep leaves his eyes. Recoiling from the ex-Prince, Jet quickly removes himself from Zuko's personal space and sheathes his weapon:

"What the hell?" Jet hisses quietly, watching Zuko sit up, "I could have – I don't – what is with your family and sneaking up on me!?"

"I didn't sneak up on you." Zuko retorts just as quietly, "And I was – well, there's something important I have to ask you."

"It must be if you're willing to chance a knife to the neck."

Zuko bites his lower lip self-consciously, "Well, you know that we're going to Ba-Sing-Se, right?"

"Yeah?"

"And well, I was – I don't know," he feels his face heat up, "Maybe I – we could," he can't help but shrink in on himself, "Fool around."

Jet is only momentarily confused before he realizes what it is Zuko's asking, his entire face glowing bright red, "Um – moving a bit fast, aren't you?"

"Yeah but – I don't know, I thought, maybe if I was going to lose – have a first time, then I'd rather it be in some peaceful forest than a crowded, dirty city."

"Oh, okay – well – okay." Jet rubs at the back of his neck, "What – how do you wanna do this?"

Zuko dips his head sheepishly, "However you want to."

"Okay – are you sure?"

"Yeah – I'm sure."

"Alright," Jet leans reaches out, cupping Zuko's jaw only to stop, he glares at Zuko, "If we do this and you leave me, I'm going castrate you."

Zuko smacks Jet's hand away, returning the glare, "What do you think I am?"

"I think you're beautiful," Jet starts, taking Zuko's face in both of his hands, "And I know people do stupid things when they see something pretty."

Letting Jet kiss him, Zuko pulls away, "I hope you don't think we're doing this in front of my unconscious Uncle."

"What?" Jet grins as he stands, pulling Zuko up with him, "He's out cold, I don't think he'll hear a thing."

"It's still wrong." Zuko snorts.

"Well then," Jet begins leading them outside, "I guess we'll just have to take this outside."

Outside, the stars shine bright within the midnight sky and the moon offers enough light that the two love-struck teens are able to see one another once their eyes adjust to the dim lighting. Taking Zuko's hand, Jet begins leading the way through some of the trees, he doesn't know where he's going but he doesn't particularly care so long as he has his sovereign at his side. They walk through the woods until they come across a small, grassy clearing with rays of moonlight shining through the treetops and fireflies flitting to and fro – Jet spins Zuko so the firebender is facing him and pulls him close so they're chest to chest, placing a hand upon Zuko's hip, he offers a cheesy grin.

"May I have this dance ~ ?"

Zuko arches his good brow but nods, "You know how to dance?"

Jet shrugs as he takes the lead, "For some reason, they felt that it was a skill I needed to learn."

A low hum of acknowledgement escapes Zuko as Jet twirls them in lazy circles, their movements slow and considerate – twirling Zuko, Jet smoothly brings the Prince in close intimately, he meets Zuko's gaze and finds both amusement and a calm contentment in his firebender eyes. Smiling softly, Jet cups Zuko's jaw and places a sensuous kiss upon the other's lips. Making an approving sound, Zuko wraps his arms around Jet's neck and returns the kiss. Sneaking his hands underneath the Earth Kingdom rags Zuko had appropriated from somewhere, Jet feels hot skin against his fingertips. Both boys pull away to look down, Jet cups Zuko's chin and coaxes him to look him in the eyes, he has to ask again.

"Are you sure you want this?"

"Yes," Zuko breathes, "I'm sure."

Nodding, Jet and Zuko move in for another kiss – he mumbles against Zuko's lips, "Gonna have to take our clothes off for this to work."

Zuko snickers into their kiss shortly before they pull away, "You think?"

Grinning at the sarcastic retort from Zuko, Jet turns on his heel and begins undoing his metal vambraces, finding, what he deems, a suitable spot, he drops the forearm pieces and slips out of his shirt in one fluid move. Snapping the article of clothing out, he lays it out on the grass before him, turning away from the makeshift cover he freezes once his eyes fall upon his sovereign shimmying out of his own uncomfortable shirt with a catlike grace, and apparently, Zuko's sensitive to staring since he looks over a fair-skinned shoulder and glances at him – the sight he makes has Jet's body catching fire and a tingling sensation start in his groin. Short of breath, Jet opens his mouth to call out to his boyfriend:

"Hey," he rasps instead, Zuko moves so that he's half-facing him, "Come here."

The ex-Prince turns back around, his arms wrapping around himself almost self-consciously until he spins around and starts walking towards Jet at a slow pace, reaching out slowly as to not spook Zuko, Jet gingerly grabs Zuko's hand and maneuvers the firebender into sitting upon the makeshift bedding with his legs on either side of Jet's body, leaning forward, he kisses Zuko, the latter wrapping his arms around his shoulders as Jet lays him down so he's on his back. Separating himself from Zuko with a smack, he looks down at the boy he's come to love. Grabbing Zuko's leg, he removes his boot, placing an innocent kiss upon his ankle that has Zuko momentarily tensing – this isn't them, they both know that, but neither cares to stop as Jet does the same process with Zuko's other leg. Placing the boots beside his vambraces, he hovers over the heated body. Hooking his fingers within the hem of Zuko's pants, his eyes flit to the firebender's one last time, silently asking if he still wanted this, when he received no negative response, he continues, slowly pulling his pants down and trailing kisses down his leg, from his inner thigh to his calve. Zuko throws an arm over his eyes, the motion catching Jet's attention, pulling away from his gentle ministrations he stares at Zuko worriedly.

"You okay?"

"Yeah," Zuko chokes out, "This is just – embarrassing."

Jet leans forward so he's face to face with Zuko, despite the Prince hiding his eyes, "We can stop if you want."

"No," Zuko shakes his head, Jet sees the boy's Adam's Apple bob as he swallows, "I just – you're," he inhales loudly, "You're so – gentle."

"Of course." Jet murmurs, removing Zuko's arm away from his eyes, "I love you, Zuko."

Zuko swallows hard, Gods, he was going to cry, "Just – please do something."

"Are you - ?"

"I'm going to punch you in the mouth again if you ask me if I'm sureone more time."

Jet snorts, rolling his eyes as he sits back on his heels, "You're so romantic."

Annoyed with his boyfriend's attitude, Zuko wraps his legs around Jet's waist and grabs onto his shoulders and yanks him forward causing the taller boy to stumble a little, his hands planted on either side of Zuko's shoulders. Sliding his hands along Jet's shoulders, up his neck, and into his messy hair, he pulls the brunette in for a messy kiss which Jet eagerly returns. Brushing his hips against Jet's, Zuko feels a thrill rush through his body when he feels Jet's lips part and a low growl vibrate against his own mouth, watching Jet sit back and yank his pants down, the ex-Prince zeroes in on Jet's hardened prick. Arching his spine off the ground, he successfully captures Jet's attention – propped over Zuko on one hand, he dips his head and catches his soon-to-be lover's lips in a kiss. Jet knows he should do something to make this easier on Zuko and himself, but he wants this to be memorable.

"Ready?"

"Yeah."

Kissing Zuko again he guides himself to the tight entrance and begins pushing, Zuko tries to move away but Jet keeps him in place with gentle kisses and reassurances that it will feel better – he rocks himself slowly, until, inch by inch, he's buried to the hilt. It's weird and the burning sensation, while unpleasant, begins to soothe and soon he feels full, licking his lips, Zuko meets Jet's gaze and nods. Kissing Zuko's forehead, he pulls out and pushes back in, listening to Zuko inhale sharply, a quiet oh-h escaping the firebender's lips. Slowly picking up the pace, Jet feels a high coming on when he hears his lover whimper and choke back moans.

"Jet - ," Zuko gasps, nails clawing at Jet's back and body writhing, " – faster."

Doing as told, Jet is rewarded with the sight of Zuko arching his body off the ground and erotic noises filtering from his boyfriend's mouth – Zuko gasps, his body shivering, and inner thighs quaking seconds before he comes onto his own stomach. Jet follows shortly, spilling inside. Both boys go limp, breathing heavily as they try to catch their breaths. Rolling off of Zuko, Jet feels Zuko curl up against him, wrapping an arm around Zuko's shoulders, he places a kiss upon his temple and mumbles:

"I love you."

He hears Zuko's tired voice reply, "Love you too."

Chapter Text

Licking his lips, Zuko realizes that his legs feel pretty cold compared to the rest of his body, mind still muddled from the left over sleepiness, he sits up to investigate the reason as to why his legs were cold. But upon sitting up, the blanket falls from his torso and pools over his groin area, he realizes with a start that he's completely naked. Flustered, the ex-Prince finds his boots, underwear, and pants sitting neatly at his side. Grabbing them, he hurriedly dresses and is in the process of tucking his shirt in, which had been the supposed blanket that covered him, when the rustling of some nearby bushes sets him on edge, forgetting his shirt for a moment; he faces the noise with his hands poised and ready to attack.

Jet stumbles out of the brush only to pause when he sees Zuko in full firebender stance; he holds his hands up, "Are you really going to kill your boyfriend?" Zuko rolls his eyes and continues fixing his shirt, "What'd I do?" Jet hums, wrapping his arms around Zuko and resting his chin upon the other's shoulder, "Knock you up?"

"No," Zuko swats at Jet's hands as they get in the way, "You left me in the woods, sleeping and completely naked."

"Hey now," Jet pouts as he spins Zuko around, "You weren't completely naked, I covered you with your shirt."

"Like that's any better." Zuko mumbles as his eyes rake down Jet's bare chest, he pauses, "Where is your shirt?"

"You were laying on it and I didn't want to bother you since you looked pretty comfortable." Jet explains, "So I went to go check on your Uncle for you, he was dreaming about something since he kept mumbling in his sleep. I'd say he's close to waking up."

"Then we better get back before he wakes up," Zuko says, watching Jet move to grab his shirt up off the grassy ground.

Jet starts situating the shirt lapels, "Are we – you, going to tell your Uncle about us?"

"I - ," the firebender pauses, he hadn't really thought about that since he'd been too caught up in Jet, "I don't know."

"Zuko," Jet murmurs, the ex-Prince looks up as Jet cups his jaw, "Just know that whatever you choose, I'll support you."

Embarrassed, Zuko pulls sheepishly away from his boyfriend and begins walking towards the direction of the abandoned hut with Jet trailing after him in companionable silence. Finding the hut, Zuko can see his Uncle's unconscious form and is about to enter the house when a hand grabs him by the wrist and pulls him back for a quick kiss – pulling away with his lips parted, Zuko feels his mind go blank and his heart start to do stupid things hearts shouldn't be doing. Biting his lower lip to keep himself from smiling, Zuko shyly gives Jet a quick peck on the cheek before he turns and hurries inside the dilapidated building with Jet grinning goofily after him. Inside, the brunette sits upon the dirty floor and takes to watching his love dig around inside Iroh's pack before pulling out some things that Jet realizes are things used for making tea. Realizing what Zuko was going to do, Jet smiles at the thoughtful action and moves to start the fire while the firebender starts measuring the tea leaves as best as he can and pouring some water within.

The two manage to get everything together and sit in silence beside one another:

Jet kisses Zuko's jaw-line, the ex-Prince blushing, "You're so cute."

Zuko rests against Jet, letting his head rest against Jet's shoulder, "You really think he'll wake up?"

"Of course," Jet presses a kiss to Zuko's temple, "The second he smells the tea, he'll be up in no time."

"I'm being serious." Zuko snickers, humor evident in his voice, "And I'm not as good at making tea as he is."

"I'm sure its fine." Jet hums, Zuko angles his head so he and Jet can kiss properly, "Don't worry, Love." he kisses Zuko's nose, "I'm here."

Zuko scoffs, "That's where most of my worries come from."

The enticing laugh that comes from Jet makes Zuko join in a soft laugh of his own, he reaches out and turns Jet's head towards him and places a kiss upon his boyfriend's lips. Jet lets out a pleased noise that has Zuko throwing a leg over Jet's legs and settling comfortably in his lap. Their innocent kiss turning into something passionate and becoming a full blown make out session – Zuko exhales breathily when Jet thrusts his hips into his, their groins brushing against one another. Sighing happily against Jet's lips, Zuko holds his lover's face in his hands and places another kiss on his lips.

"I love you." Zuko whispers huskily.

"Love you too, Fire-Bird."

Zuko meets Jet's gaze and offers a small smirk, "I hope you still don't think we're doing anything in front of him. Unconscious or not."

Jet pouts until Zuko gives him a chaste kiss, Jet huffs, "You're such a tease."

Zuko kisses Jet's forehead, the two only peeling themselves away from one another when they hear a pained Lu-Ten coming from Iroh, both teens immediately move to the old man's side and look down at him, watching his face crease momentarily:

"Uncle?" Zuko calls gingerly, Iroh opens his eyes, the man looking from Zuko to Jet then back, "You were unconscious."

Jet watches the old firebender sit up surprisingly easy, and apparently Iroh is just as surprised so Jet spoke, "Katara healed you."

"The Avatar's waterbending friend?" Iroh asks voice raspy, Jet nods, "Remind me to thank her if we ever meet again."

"Will do."

"Azula did this to you." Zuko says, bringing the conversation back to what happened, "It was a surprise attack

Iroh sighs, sitting against the wall of the hut, "Somehow that is not so surprising."

"Here." Zuko pours a cup of tea and hands it over, "I hope I made it to your liking."

The older male casts a glance to Jet who offers a simpering grin, as Zuko moves to pour another cup for Jet, the dusky teen turns his attention away from his boyfriend in time to see the look that crosses Iroh's expression once he takes the first sip.

"Mmm – good." Iroh shudders and now Jet is weary of the little teacup Zuko hands him, Iroh chugs the drink and makes a sickened sound, "That was very – bracing."

Pursing his lips, Jet gives Zuko a thankful smile before taking a steadying breath and down the entire thing, doing his damndest to not let a single bitter drop linger on his tongue for too long. Swiping at his mouth so he won't taste the liquid on his lips, he sets the cup beside his knee and does his best not to cringe too noticeably at the taste that was still left behind despite his best attempt – he promptly watches Iroh throw the tea over his shoulder and out the window when Zuko turns to pour himself a cup. Jet sets his cup down only to catch Zuko's attention, the firebender holds out his hand and Jet hesitantly relinquishes his cup. Once his cup is refilled, Jet stares at the steaming, hot liquid in the little mug, he thinks of following Iroh's little trick but decides against it as Zuko had tried his best.

"So Uncle, I've been thinking." Zuko starts as Jet swallows the tea whole, "It's only a matter of time before I run into Azula again, and I'm going to need to learn more advanced firebending if I want to stand a chance against her." Jet promptly starts hacking, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah - ." Jet starts another coughing fit, "Too hot – burnt my tongue."

Zuko sighs and takes Jet's cup from him and sets it aside before turning his attention back to his Uncle, "And – I know what you're going to say Uncle, that she's my sister, and I should be trying to get along with her - ,"

"No." Iroh interrupts, placing his cup on the floor, "She's crazy and needs to go down."

Jet can't help the snort that escapes him, "I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so."

Iroh laughs, "It is good to have you back, Jet."

"Jet?" Jet mouths almost stunned, "How do you - ?"

"Zuko has let your name slip once or twice." Iroh says, "Or would you prefer that I keep calling you Lion-heart?"

"I - ," Jet pauses, he'd rather have Zuko be the only firebender to know his name, but with his relationship with Zuko, Jet figures he might as well get on Iroh's good side, so he shrugs, "I don't mind, call me whatever you want." Jet grins, "And no, I'm not flirting with you."

"How about Fan?" Iroh chuckles, both Jet and Zuko look confused, "It means lethal and it is also a name that I think suits you greatly. If we are going to Ba-Sing-Se, then it is important that you have a name other than Lion-heart or Jet."

Jet frowns a little, "But no one really knows my real name anyway."

"Oh?" Iroh speaks quizzically, "So you want everyone to know your real name?"

"I - ," Jet sighs, "Good point."

"Now," Iroh turns his attention to Zuko, standing as he does so, "It is time we resume your firebending training."

When the two firebenders begin their talk of firebending and what fuels the fire or whatever it is, Jet grabs his shuang gou and makes for a quick escape for the outside where he sits near the ledge of the drop off and starts sharpening his swords and knives. He's finishing his third knife when he hears two sets of footsteps approaching, looking back, he spots the two sovereigns walking towards the drop off as well. Squirreling away his sharpening stone, he ties his shuang gou down to his hips and stands, his bones popping pleasantly. Feeling in the mood for a little show, he starts moving a little ways away, he listening to Iroh explain something about energies and separating them before he goes through some moves Jet had seen Azula use – he knows what Iroh is doing and what is going to happen seconds before he sees the lightning start and crackle around him before he shoots a shock of lightning at the skies.

The thought of kind-hearted Zuko using something called cold-blooded makes Jet feel vaguely sick to his stomach. Crouching, he observes Zuko's form as the Prince imitates Iroh's movement, all seems perfect, but as he thrusts his fingers outward, something goes wonky and the air before Zuko explodes. The miniature blast sending the Prince sprawling back.

"Zuko!" Jet calls out, but before he can move, he sees Iroh hold a hand out with a stern look in his eyes.

Chewing on the inside of his lip, he settles back into his crouching position and watches Zuko get back up and try again – the air was beginning to smell like the inside of a powder keg by the young firebender's 12th attempt. Iroh had retired to sitting underneath the shade of the abandoned house and Jet was beginning to feel pretty useless sitting there and watching Zuko try over and over. But after the 13th attempt, Zuko lets out a frustrated noise:

"Why can't I do it?!" he reminds Jet of the times when Zuko put on an annoyed or angry front just to keep himself from crying when they were kids, "Instead of lightning, it keeps blowing up in my face! Like everything always does!"

Screw what Iroh says, Jet gets up and quickly moves to Zuko's side, helping the Prince up as Iroh speaks, "I was afraid that this would happen. You will not be able to master lightning until you have dealt with the turmoil inside you."

Zuko snaps, turning away from Jet, "What turmoil!?"

"Zuko, you must let go of your feelings of shame if you want your anger to go away."

Jet tenses at those words, but before he can wonder if he was a part of these emotions, Zuko brushes their fingers together, when Jet meets the sovereign's eyes and sees them soften, he offers a small smile. Almost instantly, it disappears as Zuko remembers that his Uncle is present and a lot more perceptive than they are at being discreet.

Zuko turns away to hide his blush, "But I don't feel any shame at all! I'm as proud as ever!"

"Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame."

"Well," Zuko starts, Jet just wants to hide Zuko away from the world, "My life has been nothing but humbling lately."

"Tell you want," Iroh begins almost conspiratorially, "I'll teach you a firebending method that not even Azula knows," both Jet and Zuko look at Iroh curiously, "'cause I made it up myself."

It was an endearing moment to see Zuko smile softly but Jet sighs, "Why don't you guys take a little break?"

"That sounds like an excellent idea." Iroh hums happily, "It appears to be the time for lunch! I shall make the food!"

With that said, the old man hurries back inside the broken down hut leaving the two teenagers to one another's company – feeling eyes on him, Jet turns to see Zuko staring at him, Jet can't help but sigh again because the look in Zuko's eyes is annoyed.

"What?"

"Why did you do that?"

"Do what?" Jet asks as he moves to sit on the ledge.

Zuko follows, "Demand we take a break."

Jet pats the spot next to him, Zuko sits, "Because we haven't really eaten all day and I sure as hell wasn't going to cook."

Zuko pouts and it almost makes Jet want to steal a kiss, "I guess."

Jet sets his hand over Zuko's, "I love you, Fire-bird."

"19."

"Huh?"

"That's the 19th time you said that. 35 if you count yesterday."

Frowning at his boyfriend, Jet watches Zuko turn to stare at him from underneath his lashes; Jet can't help but grin and quickly dip his head forward to steal that kiss he wanted. Zuko makes an indignant and flustered squawk, the firebender tries to reach out for Jet who hurries to his feet and makes a beeline for the woods all the while laughing with a red-faced Zuko on his tail – inside the hut, Iroh hears Jet's laughter and stands to see what the boys are doing when he sees Jet grinning wide with Zuko chasing after him. Iroh smiles fondly as it reminds him of the two boys' childhood.

Chapter Text

"I love you."

"I love you, Jet. I love you so much."

Apparently, any emotion that doesn't directly deal with anger or rage puts quite the toll on the Fire Prince if his snoozing was anything to go by, his body resting heavily against Jet's back with his arms wrapped around his stomach region and his fingers interlinked and resting comfortably upon Jet's stomach. It was cute. And Jet would probably worry about Zuko falling off the over-burdened ostrich-horse, if it weren't for the fact that said teen was clinging to him like a baby koala-sloth. Wanting to stretch his legs out, Jet pulls on the reins and directs them to the left of the path – Iroh wasted no time in hopping off their poor steed and finding himself a place to sit, this left Jet to wake Zuko.

"Hey Fire-Bird," Jet pats Zuko's outer thigh, "Time to get up."

This resulted in the sleeping Prince to mutter under his breath before his arms tighten around Jet and he buries his face deeper into the back of Jet's shoulder – the firebender was outright cuddling him, and Iroh knew as he was smiling slyly with his eyes closed pleasantly and his fingers interlaced and resting upon his ample gut. The man reminded Jet of a sleeping owl:

"Zuko," Jet squeezes Zuko's knee, the latter choking out a yelp, jumping, and scooting away from Jet all in one go.

"W-What was that for!?" Zuko choked out irritably,

Jet only grins, "Time to get up, Sweet Prince."

Zuko's face scrunches, "Don't call me that." he looks around, "Why are we stopping?"

"We're taking a quick break, y'know, stretch our legs and whatnot."

The Prince is obviously displeased, but he slips off the ostrich-horse anyway with a grumbled, "Fine."

Getting off the ostrich-horse himself, Jet stretches his limbs out before sighing contently and patting the animal's neck, the steed straightens itself and makes its weird ostrich-horse noise, its eyes trained on something behind him. Spinning on his heel, his hands land on the handles of his swords, Zuko's already in a firebending stance, and Iroh sighs as he stands.

"What is it now?"

On cue, five komodo-rhinos burst from the foliage and surround them – Jet's eyes flit from one man to another, each brandishing a different weapon, when his eyes fall upon the final man, he feels his mind stutter to a halt. The man looks familiar, he's Fire Nation – he's eight years old again with tears streaming down his face and people running from the fires, despite his mind telling him to run, he's frozen in place, watching in horror as his life goes up in flames, just then, a man with the sides of his head bald and black hair pulled back with red feathers adorning them seems to appear from nowhere. When their eyes meet and the man smiles at him, he can't stop the rage that bubbles in his chest and poisons his mind. Screaming, he runs for the Fire Nation bastard and tries to killhim despite being a child. He doesn't succeed, but he does succeed in impressing the guy. He's captured and sent off to the Fire Nation.

"Ah, what a pleasant surprise." Iroh starts, "Colonel Mongke and the Rough Rhinos."

"If you are surprised to see us, then the Dragon of the West has lost a few steps."

The Earth Kingdom native's mind is still lethargic, but he's acutely aware of what Iroh had just said – the old General knows these guys and now he knows the names of the men who'd burned his home to the ground, and they know him. A thought occurs. If Iroh had known these guys, then does he know that these men are the exact same men who'd killed his parents and shipped him off to that godforsaken crater? And he never told him?

And as hate poisons his mind and infects his thoughts, a small part of his sanity reminds him that how is Iroh supposed to know about the men who'd ruined his life when he'd never opened up much to the man as Zuko was the only – did Zuko know these guys?

"You know these guys?"

The rasp in Zuko's voice calms him minutely, enough to clear the rage clouding his mind. Zuko doesn't know them, but Iroh does.

"Of course, Colonel Mongke and the Rough Rhinos are legendary - ,"

Legendary?

Something within him shatters. He doesn't give Iroh the chance to say any more, spinning on his heel, he swipes for the old man who looks momentarily startled but dodges his blades effectively, and Jet thinks he hears Zuko shout at him, but he can't bring himself to care for the Prince – he wants blood. He's going to swipe for Iroh again when an arrow lodges itself in the ground between the two. Following the arrow's projection, his rage finds a different target until Zuko shoots a small burst of fire from his hand and sears a hole in the man's bow, subsequently breaking his string.

Jet trusts Zuko.

Turning his attention to the others, his eyes fall upon Mongke. Their eyes meeting simultaneously and a look of recognition flashes across the firebender's eyes before he shoots a burst of fire at Jet, the teen rolls underneath and throws a knife for the man. It's blocked effortlessly. Anger spikes through his veins. Gritting his teeth, he holds tighter on to his shuang gou and charges the man directly – it's stupid on his part for Mongke shoots wave after wave of fire bolts at him, some he can't dodge effectively, but he's so angry. Zuko on the other hand is currently facing down the masked man with the explosives; he jumps out of the way of an explosion. Rolling to his feet, he's poised to attack when a pained roar catches his attention. Head swiveling towards where he'd seen Jet last, he sees the teen drop his right weapon seconds before a blast of fire hits him directly in the chest and sends him falling heavily onto his back.

Horrified, Zuko is going to run for Jet when an explosive is thrown between him and the other, it goes off, sending Zuko flying back. Dazed, the Prince places a hand to his head. His vision is blurry and seeing doubles. He hears his Uncle's muffled shouts before he's grabbed by the arm and lifted to his feet, his Uncle is standing before him, the Rough Rhinos are nowhere to be seen but there are two rider-less komodo-rhinos milling about.

Jet!

Eyes immediately falling upon Jet, Zuko feels his heart soar while sinking, without a word he shoves past his Uncle and moves towards his friend, boyfriend, and slides on his knees to stop at Jet's side, he reaches out but stops and pulls his hand back when he sees the angry red and flaking skin of his chest and – his left hand. Swallowing hard, Zuko feels tears come to life:

"U-Uncle!" Zuko cries, almost immediately, Iroh is at his side, "J-Jet – I don't know, we need a doctor!"

"Get him to the ostrich-horse," Iroh tells his Nephew, "I think I know someone who can help not only him, but us as well."

The elder firebender watches his Nephew nod his head shakily before he reaches out and gingerly brings the unconscious teen into his arms – Iroh can't help but notice the way his volatile relative was handling the injured boy, which brings him to the question he's wondered since they first thought the youth was dead. Was there something more between them?

oOo

Mouth uncomfortably dry and body aching, Jet slowly blinks his eyes open only to flinch when the blinding sun shines into his eyes, turning his face away from the light, he feels the person behind him shift anxiously. Forcing his lids to part, he sees nothing but sand everywhere, they're in a desert. His eyes move upward to see Zuko staring worriedly down at him, Jet takes a deep breath only to wince at the pain that shoots throughout his body.

"Hey," Zuko says, his voice soft as he moves a hand to gingerly rest upon Jet's forehead, the touch comforting enough to make Jet push into his lover's hand, "Take it easy, you've been hurt pretty bad."

"I - ," he pauses, remembering the fight between him and Mongke.

"How is he?" another voice rumbles in front of him, he remembers that Iroh knows those bastards.

Moving his head, he sees the broad back of Iroh, he shouts and tries to move away from the man but Zuko is behind him and trying to keep him still. In a last ditch attempt at gaining some distance between himself and the Dragon of the West, he leans all of his weight to the right and ends up toppling off the ostrich-horse alongside Zuko. As he falls, he falls on his right forearm, there's a split second where he wonders why his entire forearm is wrapped in gauze until he feels an unbearable pain shoot through his arm and straight to his chest, the pain in his chest then shooting throughout the rest of his body. He lets out a pained scream and attempts to grab his arm in an attempt to alleviate the pain, but before he can, he feels someone wrap their arms around him and a hand petting his hair – swallowing hard, Jet slowly rests his weight upon Zuko's shoulder and shakily raises his good hand to cling to the back of Zuko's shirt. There's a decent amount of space between their bodies, enough so that his injured arm can rest comfortably between them.

He wants to ask question after question, but Iroh speaks first, "We're here."

Pulling away, both boys cast their gazes to a rundown village made of sand where the seedy residents stare them down, Zuko doesn't fluster as he normally would have if they were caught doing something relatively couple-ish, instead, he meets their stares with a caustic glare. Iroh slips off the ostrich-horse and moves to the two boys, and Jet flinches. His jerky movement not going unnoticed by the two firebenders. So Iroh stops where he is and watches as Zuko helps Jet to his feet,

"Come, I believe we'll meet my friend here."

"Here?" Zuko spits irritably, "In the middle of nowhere?" he glares at the sandy residents once more, "All I see are crooks!"

"Then we will fit right in." Iroh says gently, his eyes flit to Jet before he leads the way.

Zuko scowls at his Uncle's back, Jet doing his best not to rub at his arm, "It could be worse."

"You're hurt." Zuko starts walking, Jet at his side, "It is worse."

Jet opens his mouth to reply, but quickly shuts it when he can't really think of anything better to say, so with a shrug, he and Zuko follow Iroh into a nearby building – the trio unaware of a couple of men stalking after them. The three males find an innocuous place to sit, the chairs creak under their weight and Jet swears to whatever God is out there that he'll personally raise hell if his chair broke. Rubbing at his right shoulder, he tries to ignore the pulsating of his forearm. Zuko's knee brushes against his in a way that would read nothing more than an accident, but Jet looks to his right and sees the Prince looking at him, his face almost reading stoic – if it weren't the little details such as the subtle quirk of his lips, the tension in his jaw, and the mild twitch of his eyebrows, or,eyebrow.

"You okay?" Zuko murmurs,

"Yeah," Jet says, digging his thumb into the muscle of his shoulder, "Just fine."

"Don't lie to me." Zuko mutters, his eyes trained on a boorish man when he drifts too close.

Jet sighs, "I swear I'm fine, it's just – annoying."

Zuko's eyes flit back to him, Iroh speaks, "Ah, I believe we found our friend."

Both teens look in the direction of Iroh's friend, both mirror the annoyance they feel, but Zuko is the only one willing to speak of his displeasure as Jet isn't quite sure if he can bring himself to say something to Iroh without flipping:

"You brought us all the way out here to the middle of nowhere just to gamble on a game of pai-sho?"

"I don't think this will be a gamble."

Biting back a retort, Jet stands at the same time as Zuko, the Prince accidently brushing against Jet's forearm, the taller teen lets out a pained hiss that has Zuko jumping and staring at Jet with wide eyes. Jet would think it was cute if it didn't annoy him. As he smiles, he gestures for Zuko to go first – they're crossing the shady room when a voice catches his attention, he doesn't know why it does as there are many who're talking, but when he looks to the owner, he sees two men dressed in Earth Kingdom garbs. One looking like the men around the place, and the other looking like he belonged more in some sort of fancy court. Their eyes meet his and he can't help but wonder if they're a – thing.

Sitting on Zuko's right, as the Prince had claimed the left seat, Jet can't help but roll his eyes as he knows what Zuko's doing, the old man Iroh claims is their friend starts to talk, and they're using the wizened-secretive talk that makes his mind drift, and drift it does. He thinks of life, of what it would be like to be a bender, of the Rough Rhinos and how great it'd be if he'd killed Mongke, and finally, he thinks of the two men sitting side by side.

"What are you old gasbags talking about?"

Jet comes to – and would you look at that, Iroh and his friend made a pretty flower.

"I always try and tell you that pai-sho is more than just a game."

"That's it!" Jet turns to the voice and sees those two men approaching, "You three are coming with me!"

The old man steps before the other two, "I knew it! You three are wanted criminals with a big bounty on your head!"

Jet starts because what the fuck?

"What the fuck?" he blurts unintentionally,

Zuko glares at his Uncle, "I thought you said he would help us."

"He is." Iroh assures, "Just watch."

God – Jet isn't sure he can fight if things go to hell.

"You think you're going to capture them and collect all that gold!?"

Almost immediately, Jet understands what the man is doing when the others in the bar start to stand, mutterings of money being heard and weapons being brandished. The fancy-pants man mutters something to his cohort, but whatever it is goes unwanted as the rough-looking man continues walking towards them. Two men with swords step in his way, the man kicks them out of the way, and of-fucking-course they're earthbenders. A hand grabs his good wrist and tugs him along, and before he knows it, they're outside and running for a different part of the area.

As they enter another building, Jet realizes that Zuko's still holding his wrist, and as much as he'd love to have the Prince holding on to him, he feels as though the firebender is only doing so because he feels that Jet can no longer protect himself. Gingerly snatching his hand back, he sees the surprised look on Zuko's face. Jet forces himself to smile.

"It is such an honor to meet such a high-ranking member of the Order of the White Lotus." the man bows before Iroh, "Being a Grand Master, you must know so many secrets."

"Now that you've played pai-sho, are you going to do some flower arranging?" Zuko hisses, both he and Jet following the two old men to the back of the flower shop, "Or is someone in this club actually going to offer some real help?"

"You must forgive my Nephew," they stop before the door, "He is not an initiate and has little appreciation for the cryptic arts."

And what do you know; they've got a secret knock and even a passphrase, Jet's already annoyed enough as is so he thinks he's going to sit this one out, he moves to a nearby flower that catches his attention, leaning forward, he sniffs at the scent, it's light and flowery, it reminds him of spring and a freshness. He hears the door slam and Iroh saying something before Zuko lets out an annoyed growl and moves to stand beside Jet who offers him a quizzical glance.

"Members only."

Jet can't help but grin, "Guess you're not old enough for them."

"That's not funny." Zuko frowns, "They slammed the door in my face."

"Here," Jet says, grabbing a flower, "Smell this."

Hesitantly, Zuko leans forward and sniffs at the flower shortly before Jet removes the flower and gives him a kiss – the blush that crosses Zuko's cheek has Jet grinning at the flustered Prince who slaps both of his hands over his mouth.

"I – why'd you do that?"

"Because I wanted to." Jet places the flower back, "And you make it too easy."

Silence.

"I thought you were mad at me."

Jet pauses, "I'm not mad at you."

"Then why - ?" Zuko falters, a look of concentration emerging, "Why won't – why are you acting different?"

"I'm not acting different." Jet spits, he moves away from the Prince in hopes that Zuko will drop it, but the firebender follows after him, "I'm still the same. It's you who's acting different!"

"Me?" Zuko gawks at Jet, "What have I done?!"

Jet spins on his heel and steps into Zuko's personal space, "You're acting like I'm made of glass! Like every little thing I do will break me! Like I can't take care of myself! In case you didn't knowPrince Zuko,I can take care of myself!"

"You're hurt!"

"But I'm not broken!" Jet shouts, Zuko grits his teeth and glares at Jet through glassy eyes – of course, he immediately feels bad, "Fire-Bird, this isn't the first time I've been hurt, and it won't be the last - ,"

"That's not the point!" Zuko yells, Jet's anger resurfaces, "You're – you've been burned and it's going to scar and - !" Zuko swallows before wetting his dry lips, "And when people see it, they're going to look at you differently, like you are broken - ."

Jet sighs and reaches out with his good hand and cups Zuko's jaw, "Look, I don't care if people think of me like that; the fact that I'm still willing to fight proves otherwise. But – if you start looking at me like that, it's going to kill me, okay?"

"Okay," Zuko murmurs, placing a hand over Jet's, he moves his head so he can kiss Jet's palm, "I'm just – I don't know what I'm doing anymore. I don't know how I'm supposed to act and – you and Uncle are all that I have."

"Same goes for you." Jet murmurs, moving his left hand down from Zuko's jaw, over his neck, and down his chest where he grabs at the lapels and pulls him forward, Zuko half-heartedly digs his heels in before he rests his head against Jet's left shoulder, "Besides, it was my fault."

"How?"

"I was fighting stupid." Jet sighs, "I let my emotions control me."

Zuko tenses before pulling away, he looks up at Jet, "Is he – Mongke, the man who – y'know?"

Jet closes his eyes, "Yeah."

"But – why did you attack Uncle?"

"I – he knew them."

"That's all?"

"Yeah, yeah." Jet reopens his eyes to stare at Zuko's unimpressed look, "I know, it's stupid, but I couldn't think straight."

Zuko bites on his lower lip, "Right." he then glares at Jet, "Don't do it again."

Jet grins, "I'll do my best."

The firebender rolls his eyes but leans on the tip of his toes and catches Jet's mouth in a kiss that deepens once Jet returns the action eagerly, and they really shouldn't do anything more than that, but Zuko can't help the little moan that escapes his own mouth when Jet drives his hips into him with something prodding him. They break apart for air, both panting into one another's mouth, Zuko swallows, licking his lips, and heart beating fast.

"We shouldn't."

"I think we should."

"You're hurt."

"We'll be careful."

"Someone could walk in."

"We can hide."

"Someone could hear."

"We'll be quiet."

"Jet - ,"

"You can ride me."

The thought has him faltering, they shouldn't, they really shouldn't, but oh dear Lord, Jet was too much. The 16 year old fights back the whine threatening to make itself known, closing his eyes; he lets out a defeated sigh.

"You're impossible."

Jet kisses him, "That's not a no."

"That's because it isn't."

oOo

Morning finds both Jet and Zuko sleeping propped against the wall with their legs tangled with one another and Zuko's head resting upon Jet's left shoulder, Zuko being on Jet's left. Zuko feels something prodding at his foot, waking, he sees his Uncle staring down at them with an amused twinkle in his eyes, the younger firebender can't fight the blush that rises to his face when he realizes that his Uncle's friend is peering at them curiously. All Zuko can think of is how glad his that they're wearing clothes – him and Jet, not his Uncle and that man. And okay, that was enough. Embarrassed with his train of thought and the position the two men saw him and his lover in; he scowls at the amused old men.

"Is your stupid club meeting over?"

There's a bite to his tone, but Iroh's smile only widens in amusement – Zuko feels an annoyed tic develop, digging his elbow into Jet's arm, the latter wakes with a start, his eyes falling on Zuko then moving to the old man, and finally Iroh. Realizing they weren't in any kind of danger, Jet yawns obnoxiously as he arches his back, this turns out not to be a good idea as the burn upon his chest presses against his shirt and causing him to wince, well, the parts of his shirt that wasn't burnt.

"What's going on?"

"Everything is set." Iroh says with a smile, he forgives Jet for his attempt at attacking him, besides, how can anyone stay mad at the boy when he's glued to his Nephew's side like some lovesick pup and vice versa?

A man soon enters the flower shop while Jet and Zuko get to their feet, "I've got the three passports for our guests."

Jet frowns, "Passports?"

"We are heading to Ba-Sing-Se." Iroh answers, "It will be safer there, and we will be able to hide in plain sight."

The old man adds, "Refugees arrive there every day so they will not notice three more."

The man who'd entered with the passports hands them out, Jet looking at his, he's still a little peeved that his name is Fan. But what Zuko says next pushes the minor nuisance to the back:

"Why does it say that my sibling is Fan?"

"It does?" Jet blinks as he leans over to read Zuko's, "Where?"

Zuko points at the row of letters, "Here."

"What?!" Jet soon looks at his own and quickly locates the row, "Hey, mine says that Li is my brother!"

"Is there a problem?" Uncle Mushi asks pleasantly – deceptively, "Or would you rather it say that you two are married ~ ?"

"I – no!" Zuko scowls, entire face turning red, "That's not what I'm getting at!"

Jet rolls eyes, "What he's trying to say is that we look nothing alike."

"Exactly!" Zuko agrees snappishly, "No one will believe that we're brothers!"

Iroh only smiles, "They will."

"How do you know?!"

"If someone asks, you can say that a parent was unfaithful." the young man who gave them their passports said, "Like, say the father was unfaithful and had a woman on the side, or that your original parents left each other for different people."

Jet notices the clenching of Zuko's fists so he immediately shrugs, "Sounds reasonable."

"And we can always say that you were sick as a young child to give you an excuse for the pale skin."

Zuko snaps, "I am not pale!"

"Oh please," Jet snorts, he wants to cross his arms but he can't because of the stupid burns, "Now you're just looking to pick a fight." Zuko snarls at him, letting Jet know that he'd hit the nail on the head so Jet grins, "And just so you know, I'm the older brother."

"Why do you get to be the older brother?"

"Because I'm a year older than you, and taller."

Zuko's glare intensifies but their back and forth is interrupted when the man who'd entered speaks, "We may have a problem now, there are two men looking for you three."

Jet frowns, both Iroh and Zuko moving to look out the door's hatch, he turns to the old man, "Is there any way you can smuggle us out?"

Chapter Text

Stepping into the large, crowded cavern, Jet cranes his neck to watch the two earthbenders bend the door shut behind them with an ominous sounding rumbling. It probably shouldn't make him so on edge, but it does, it makes him feel as if he's trapped, as if his freedom has been taken from him. Stuck. Looking around, he sees many other refugees ambling about or simply camping out, and it bothers him at how many people there are, and he wonders if it bothers either Zuko or Iroh with how many lives have been ruined by their Nation. The Nation they ruled, or once ruled as the case may be. Chancing a glance at the two sovereigns, he sees that Iroh has adopted a haunted look in his eyes and Zuko is doing his best not to make eye-contact with anyone, so Jet figures they must feel a little unnerved by it all. Or Iroh is at the very least, since Zuko usually does his best to avoid coming into contact with anyone – other than Jet. He feels so loved.

They take their place in a nearby line when Jet feels someone step in line behind them, their presence doesn't bother him, but it does bother Zuko as the firebender suddenly tenses up even more than he'd already been. He thinks about brushing the backs of their hands together as to calm the Fire Prince, but Zuko is on his right and Jet is pretty sure just the slightest touch would rile his burn and start that stupid pins and needles feel all over again. Letting curiosity get the better of him, Jet casts a surreptitious glance over his shoulder, pretending as though he were looking at the rest of the cavern and manages to get a decent look at the two strangers. Both appear to be male, one taller than the other and both wearing mismatched clothing/armor, the tall one is wearing a bamboo hat with a quiver of arrows strapped to his back and a bow over his shoulder, the smaller one is wearing what appears to be eyeliner with two red smears on their cheeks and a band in their wild, fluffy looking hair – the smaller one doesn't have any noticeable weapon, but Jet knows the kid is armed.

"What're you looking at?" the small one growls irritably.

Jet blinks at the boy's rude attitude before he offers an easy-going smirk, somehow catching Zuko's attention, "Oh nothing, I'm just wondering if one of you is going to stab me in the back and take my place in line."

The boy frowns, "What makes you think we'd do that?"

"You guys are looking pretty dangerous."

The boy snorts, "And you don't?"

"What? These?" Jet asks innocently, eyes wide as his left hand falls upon his shuang gou's handle, "Why these are just for show, I would never hurt a fly!"

"Okay, Hot-Shot," the boy rolls his eyes, an amused smirk on his lips; "I get it. The name's Smellerbee, and this here is Longshot."

"The name's Fan," Jet says without slipping on the name, he gestures towards Zuko who tenses even more, "This is my brother, Li." Zuko glares at him, but he ignores it and starts to introduce Iroh who seems fully interested in meeting new people, unlike his wallflower of a Nephew, "And this is our Uncle, Mushi."

Zuko mutters out a quiet hello while Iroh fully gives the two his attention, "Smellerbee is quite the unusual name for a boy."

Smellerbee frowns instantly, "Maybe because I'm not a boy! I'm a GIRL!"

Ooh bad call.

"O-oh!" Iroh stammers doing his best to backtrack while the girl glares at him, "I – I mean it's a lovely name for a lovely girl."

"Hey now," Jet starts, plastering a good-natured grin on his face, "Don't take what our Uncle says to heart, me and Li have been wondering for years now when he was going to finally go senile."

"Oh please," the girl snorts, "Like you didn't think I was a boy too."

Jet holds his hands up in the air, "You got me."

Smellerbee snorts at Jet's antics but doesn't do much more than that, as soon as things smooth between Iroh and Smellerbee, Jet begins asking the two of their adventures and how they came to where they are now. It's fascinating to say the least to hear from teens their age that have lived on their own since a very young age, especially when Jet could easily picture himself as someone like these two. Hell, who knows, maybe he would have met these guys and become a leader of sorts for the outcasts, for those that have had a rough life thanks to the Fire Nation – but one look at Zuko and that notion goes flying out the window. Would he have ever met Zuko in another life? And if so, would Zuko even bother with him? But more importantly, would Jet have loved him the same way he does now?

"So, what about you three?"

"Huh?"

"Why are you guys here?"

"Fire Nation," Jet says, he tries to ignore the flinch coming from Zuko, "Same as everyone else."

"Does it have to do with the burns you two have?"

"You hold nothing back, huh?"

"That's none of your business."

Both Jet and Zuko look to one another as they'd spoken at the same time, still looking at Zuko, Jet opens his mouth to speak when Iroh steps in, placing a hand on both boys' shoulders. When they look at him, he gives them, what Jet would call, wise-old-man smile and gives them an encouraging squeeze of the shoulders.

"Perhaps you two should take a little walk; it will do you some good."

"But - ,"

"Okay," Jet smacks his good hand to Zuko's shoulder, "Come on Li, let's see what trouble we can find."

Zuko sighs in a defeated manner and follows after Jet, "Must you?"

After hearing Jet's I must! Iroh turns to the two who are looking at him with quizzical, if not suspicious, stares:

"Forgive me," Iroh starts, "But I've seen those two boys struggle through life due to my brother's hand, and since they have been under my care, I have tried my best to keep them – happy, more or less. And bringing up old and new scars will only rile both brothers as they are very protective of one another."

"Okay, but – they don't look anything alike."

And thus Iroh goes through the tale of the two brothers, keeping the tale as close to the truth of their lives – by the time both Jet and Zuko come back from their little adventure, things are silent, awkwardly so but there is an understanding amongst the group. Once they reach the passport checker and all things are in order, they board the ferry with Jet sending a questioning glance to Zuko who nods subtly before both go their separate ways. Finding himself a nice spot to brood and wait for Jet's rundown of their transportation, glaring into the cup of disgusting gunk they'd handed him and called lunch, he becomes aware of Iroh settling in beside him after having disappeared to Agni knows where.

"After all of these years, I never once thought I would return to the place of my greatest military defeat," he dons a straw hat with a ridiculous flower in the band, "As a tourist ~ !"

"Look around." Zuko hisses, glaring at his Uncle, "We're not tourists – we're refugees."

"Speaking of refugees," Iroh starts before Zuko can take a sip of the sludge in his bowl, "Where is your brother?"

"He's taking a look around the ferry," Zuko says, now debating on whether or not he should chance a sip of the green liquid with questionable looking chunks floating upon the surface, "Making sure we'll be safe for a while."

Iroh sighs in that disappointed sigh of his that grates on Zuko's nerves, "Nephew, we are safe. There is no need for Fan to search for anything that could be a potential hazard to us or the ferry."

"How do you know that?!" Zuko shouts, throwing the bowl of slop into the water out of annoyance, he soon registers the other dirty passengers staring at them, he lets out an annoyed sigh, "If it makes us feel better, then why won't you let us do what we want?"

Iroh sighs again, but his Nephew does have a point, "Very well, just find Fan before he gets into trouble."

"Alright."

Stalking away from his Uncle, Zuko does his best to keep his expression neutral as he scans the various faces upon the boat, he sees those two from earlier, but they're not the one he's looking for, but it's when he's walking along the walkway, a door to his left suddenly opens and something grabs him and pulls him into the dark, cramped space with the door closing before he can see the person who would dare touch him, let alone drag him into some dark closet.

"What do you think - !?"

"Shh-h-h!" comes the hissed response, "Someone might hear you!"

"I don't – Jet?" Zuko frowns into the dark, "What are you doing?"

"Um hiding," Jet snorts, "What else would I be doing?"

"What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything. Yet." Zuko can hear the grin in Jet's voice, "But listen, while I was searching the ferry, I came upon the Captain's kitchen and let me tell you, the food there is a hell-of-a lot better than the slop they fed us."

"You dragged me into a closet just to tell me that?"

"No, there's more – so while I was on my way back to you guys, I thought, what if we liberated some of the good stuff for ourselves, and the rest of the refugees since it'd be pretty weird if we were the only ones eating actual food."

Zuko sighs, "How good was the food?"

"The kind only a fat, happy king would enjoy."

Silence.

"Alright, but if we're to get enough food for every single one of the refugees, don't you think we should have someone on watch to give us a heads up if a guard is, I don't know, coming our way?"

"This is exactly why I was thinking of recruiting both Smellerbee and Longshot for this crazy little quest of ours."

"Can we even trust them?"

"They're refugees, and by the sound of it, they haven't had a decent meal in ages. Of course we can."

"Okay, but if something goes wrong and we get caught. I'm blaming everything on you."

"Aw Babe," Jet grins, resting his forehead against Zuko's, "I'd hug you right now if it didn't hurt like hell."

"Then it's a good thing you can't."

"Fuck it. You asked for it, I'm hugging you."

Zuko instantly backpedals, but he can only go so far before his back is pressed up against the wall, "Jet, don't you dare!"

"I'm sorry, but who is this Jet you speak of ~ ?"

"Jet!"

"Fine." Jet huffs before he places his good hand against the wall next to Zuko's head, he leans forward, "If you won't let me hug you, then how about we do something else instead ~ ?"

Zuko blushes, "Jet – we're supposed to be brothers."

"Spirits Zuko, it's not like we're actually brothers." Jet rolls his eyes, pushing off the wall and resting his back against the opposite wall, "Besides, I enjoy watching you ride me."

"I hate you."

A crooked grin crosses his mouth as he slides down the wall until he's seated comfortably upon the floor, before him, he can hear Zuko's clothing rustle before he feels the firebender's presence near him, over his lap to be exact as Zuko is now reaching into Jet's pants.

"Y'know – if you hated me," Jet breathes as Zuko spits into his palm and lubes Jet's arousal, "You wouldn't be doing this."

"Just shut up."

oOo

"So what do you guys think?"

"If it gets all of us better food, then we're in."

"Great ~ !" Jet beams at both Smellerbee and Longshot, "I knew I could count on you guys ~ !"

For Zuko, the I'm right and you're wrong smirk sent his way by Jet was a little too much, so doing his best, he tries to ignore the silent challenge and listens in on the plan they'd made in the closet with the two giving their own input, or in Longshot's case, his own silent changes. Once everything is set and everyone knows their parts, the four set off once night falls. Looking around the corner, Zuko does a quick sweep of the platform before turning to Jet and Smellerbee and nodding, their footsteps are silent, even Smellerbee's, although not on the same level as Jet's. Hearing Jet force the lock is the only sound made before the two boy slip into the kitchen – and true to Jet's word, the food is a lot better than the scraps they'd been fed at dinner. Stacking the bowls together with his swords and tying them off, Zuko looks up in time to see Jet staring at him with a crooked smirk before he mouths show off, Zuko feels the intense urge to stick his tongue out at Jet.

"Guard's coming!"

Quietly running out of the room with their spoils, they stand near the railing of the platform where an arrow embeds itself upon the railing, sending their packs down with them following shortly after, they escape with a successful heist – after sending Zuko away to sit with Iroh, Jet hands out the rest of the food on his own. A part of him enjoying the thanks he gets, it feels nice, helping others out. Storing the burlap bag away, he returns to sit beside his brother and indulges both Smellerbee and Longshot of how he'd come across the food in the Captain's kitchen.

As the lights go out and Jet is sure everyone is asleep, he scoots his way closer to Zuko and snuggles up behind the firebender who turns around and places a ginger kiss upon his lips:

"It was nice, y'know."

"What was?"

"Helping these people."

"I guess."

"Oh Li, you have much to learn."

This time Zuko does stick his tongue out at Jet.

Chapter Text

"I can't believe I saw my Uncle flirting with that woman."

"Our Uncle," Jet reprimands with a teasing smile, "And besides, Mushi was young at one point."

"But still – she was – her voice was nasally and she was – crabby."

"That sounds an awful lot like someone I know," Jet hums, toying with Zuko's hair, "And I still love them despite their flaws."

"Excuse me?" Zuko hisses, tone offended as he smacks Jet's hand away from his personal space, "First off, my voice is not nasally and second, keep your hands to yourself."

"But Li!" Jet whines, almost draping his body over Zuko until he remembers his injuries and opts for squishing Zuko's cheeks together, causing the firebender's mouth to pucker like a fish's, "I just love my baby brother so much!"

The scowl Zuko gives him contrasts greatly against the silly look in such an absurd way that Jet starts laughing pretty loudly at his faux-brother, his laughter not once faltering even as the embarrassed/angry teen slaps his hand away pretty harshly. As Jet starts to calm himself, he fights the urge to bring Zuko in for a kiss, especially when he spots both Smellerbee and Longshot approaching them. Plastering on his best people-person smirk, he gives the duo a wave while Zuko refuses to do anything that shows that he acknowledges the two as he's still pouting prettily.

"Hey guys," Jet greets charmingly, "What's going on?"

"Nothing really," Smellerbee speaks for both herself and Longshot, "But when we saw you two, we just had to come over and see what it was that had you laughing like some crazed madman."

Jet grins at Zuko who glares at him, "Don't you dare."

Jet's grin falls dramatically, he turns to Smellerbee and Longshot, "Sorry guys, but Li here is being crabby."

"I have no problem with admitting that I'm crabby."

"Oh? Like that woman with the nasally voice, right?"

"I swear to God that I will kill you one day."

"Yet here I remain ~ !" Jet crows throwing his hands up in the air and capturing the attention of bystanders, Zuko snarls something particularly nasty under his breath before he storms away, most likely going back to his Uncle. Once his love is out of sight, Jet chuckles, "Really, he says that so many times that it might as well be a term of endearment. So, what are you guys doing once your inside?"

Longshot shrugs while Smellerbee speaks, "I don't know. Just live I guess, find work most likely. What about you?"

"Same thing I guess." Jet frowns, the idea of working in some place day in and day out doesn't sit well within his mind, "Or maybe Mushi and Li will work while I run rampant through the streets of Ba-Sing-Se, who knows?"

Smellerbee snorts, "God forbid they actually let you do that."

"Yeah," Jet guffaws, "By the time Li actually lets me do that is the day this war ends."

Smellerbee blinks, "You don't think the war will end?"

"I - ," Jet sighs, running a hand through his hair, "It's been going on for a century now. Who's to say when it'll end?"

"The Avatar." Smellerbee states, "He's back you know, we met him a while back when he was in the forest we were traveling through at the time." she says, Jet can't help but key in on her features, "His friend was hurt pretty badly, but he was okay."

"Oh?" Jet murmurs mechanically, brow arching curiously, "Did they say what happened?"

"I think they said something about running into the Prince of the Fire Nation and his guard-dog, Jet or Lion-heart, his name is."

Jet was instantly thankful that Iroh had persuaded him into using an alias, even if the name is fairly stupid, "Right. Look, I know the Avatar's back and all, but I heard he was just a kid. And yeah, maybe he'll kill the Fire Lord and restore peace to the world or whatever destiny's got in store for him, and maybe he'll fail, get himself killed and the war goes on – I really don't care so long as I have Li in my sights and nothing more happens to him."

"You're his brother. Not his keeper." Smellerbee frowns, "There are things you just can't stop."

The fact that she sweeps a hand over her eye in a mock imitation of Zuko's scar has Jet bristling, his hand twitches for his shuang-gou but before his fingers can brush against the weapon's handle, the rumbling of stone catches his attention. Looking over his shoulder, he spots the incoming train, Jet turns back to Smellerbee with Longshot now standing protectively before the girl, and the two boys' eyes meet before Jet sneers and leaves the two with a muttered later thrown over his shoulder. Finding both Iroh and Zuko before the train could fully stop, Jet spots a discarded cup with a spilled liquid pooled about it and the smell of tea lingering in the air.

"Butter fingers?"

"No." Zuko hisses through gritted teeth.

The firebender gives him a look that tells him that he'll tell him later, giving a nod, Jet watches the stone train stop before them.

oOo

Having checked out their ridiculously small apartment and gathering a few decorations to make it seem homely, Iroh, Jet, and Zuko stand before a man named Pao, each wearing an apron over their clothing, or in Iroh's case, still trying to tie his as the strings are too short to come together. The man, Pao, steps back and takes in the appearance of his three new workers with a pleasant smile, for the shop owner, he was glad to know that Mushi hadn't been lying when he'd said that his nephews were handsome young lads, as the two boys would surely attract the female populace which in turn would bring in more money as women usually had groups of friends.

"Now you three officially look like tea-servers." Pao says happily, "How do you feel?"

"Ridiculous."

"Awkward."

"Is it possible that you have a larger size?"

Both Jet and Zuko turn to Iroh while Pao smiles, "I have some string in the back. Here, have some tea while you wait."

Jet peers into the steaming cup before glancing at Zuko's cup, "You want mine?"

Zuko levels an annoyed look at Jet, "I don't even want mine. What makes you think I want yours?"

"Just asking." Jet bites out, "No need to get pissy with me."

"Well maybe you should think before you say something stupid."

"Oh that's just rich coming from the one who never thinks things through."

"That's enough you two," Iroh scolds, "This is our first day on the job and I will not allow us to get fired all because you two are having a spat. As you may need reminding, we need the money." he takes a sip of his tea only to spit it out, catching both Jet and Zuko off-guard, "This is nothing more than hot-leaf juice!"

"Uncle," Zuko begins, exasperated, "That's what all tea is."

"How could a member of my own family say such a horrible thing?!" Iroh exclaims dramatically, Zuko frowns while Jet snorts, Iroh grabs the teapot as well as Jet and Zuko's cups, "We are definitely going to need to make some changes around here!"

Jet reclines on a nearby bench, "Please tell me that we don't have to work right away."

"Nope," Pao says as he enters the dining area with two strings in hand, "You three will work later tonight, for now, I'll be giving you the rundown of what goes on, what to expect, what customers are not tolerated, and where things are located."

But as cruel as fate is, Iroh had taken it upon himself and made it his sole mission to make the dingy little teashop as welcoming and appropriate as he could, after drilling some tea-making lessons into both teens' heads, only to run off with Pao in tow to run some errands and buy a few things for the shop – Jet certainly hopes Iroh is using Pao's money rather than their meager allowances.

"It's almost time for us to start working." Zuko hisses irritably from his place behind the counter, "We've been here all day!"

"What have you got to complain about?" Jet snaps from his position at one of the tables, his vambrace and bandages sitting on the table surface, he holds his burned forearm up to reveal red angry skin, blisters, and clear liquid coating the burns, "You're not the one who has to work with a fucking burned arm!"

Now Zuko's no stranger to burns, but Gods, "Shouldn't you cover that up?"

"Why?" Jet sneers, grabbing a clean roll of gauze, "Sick of looking at it already?"

"No," Zuko snaps, "In a place like this, it could get infected. And it doesn't look very sanitary."

"I guess you would know, huh?" Jet says meanly, "After all you've got a gigantic scar covering up half of that pretty face of yours. But poor, unloved Prince Zuko, you were so doped up on painkillers that you couldn't even feel your face."

Zuko blinks, wide-eyed, before scowling viciously, "Fuck you, Jet."

Jet outright laughs, "You already have, Princess."

Nostrils flaring, Zuko spins on his heel and disappears into the back, leaving Jet to silently clean his burn with tears of pain welling up within the corners of his eyes. God, he should apologize to Zuko. After wrapping his arm up and managing to slip into his vambrace, he forces himself to his feet and makes for the kitchen area where he spies Zuko standing at the sink with his hands stuffed into soapy water, water that shouldn't really be steaming like that.

"You know you shouldn't be doing that."

"So what?"

Jet snaps, "Someone could catch you."

"It's just hot water, idiot."

"What is - ?!" Jet bites his tongue and holds his breath before sighing heavily, "Look, I came to apologize, for what I said earlier."

"I don't want to hear it." Zuko spits, the water starts to boil, "Now leave me alone."

"Just listen, I - ," Jet sees the water start broiling, he grabs Zuko's arm and pulls him away from the water, "Stop that!"

SMACK!

"Don't you dare touch me again!" Zuko shouts, "Now get out of here and leave me alone!"

Jet blinks, he can feel the skin of his cheek heat up, "What is wrong with you!?"

"What's wrong with me?!" Zuko starts, "You have no right asking me that! Not after what you said! I don't care if you're here to apologize to me, I won't hear it and I sure as hell don't want it! Now leave before I get angrier!"

"You're always mad!" Jet barrels on, "No matter what we're doing! Or where we are! You're always acting like some pompous Prince! And in case you forgot Prince Zuko, you're no longer royalty! You're a disgrace! No one wants you!"

Tears spring to life in the firebender's eyes, "Leave."

"Zuko - ,"

"We're through." Zuko rasps angrily, he points to the door, "Now leave, me, alone." Jet reaches out but Zuko snatches a plate from the sink and tosses it at Jet who ducks as it shatters against the wall above him, "LEAVE!"

Heart cracking, Jet takes a step back, eyes trained on Zuko's expression before he spins on his heel and leaves the kitchen, but before he can really exit the establishment, both Iroh and Pao burst through the door with some boxes in their arms. Luckily neither men tries to hand them off to him, not even Pao who'd been having him doing various chores before, but when the man's eyes flit to Jet's bandaged arm, he realizes that Iroh must have told the Earth Kingdom man about his wounded arm.

"Fan," Pao starts, "Please wipe the tables down once more before we open."

"Okay."

"Li ~ !" Iroh calls out, "Be a good Nephew and help me store these in the backroom ~ !"

Jet watches Zuko exit the kitchen, he doesn't look like he's been crying, in fact, he looks more pissed than he had before, the 17 year old isn't sure if that's a good thing or not – when things slow down and Zuko has yet to talk to him, let alone look at him, Jet feels panic take hold of his heart. So when they get the okay from Admiral Pao, a name Jet had given the man, a name in which Pao had happily accepted, the three leave for home. As they're getting into their separate futons, Jet tries again:

"Zuko, I'm sorry."

"Leave me alone."

Chapter Text

Shortly after their breakup, Jet had understood that everything he'd said to Zuko had been greatly uncalled for and most definitely crossed a line or five, and therefore he knew that the firebender, who was prone to fits of anger for long periods of time, would need some space and some time to himself, and so Jet, like the good boyfriend he is, or thinks he is really, gives his precious Fire-Bird all the time and room he could possibly want, even after Iroh had smothered both him and the Prince in paternal affection that one day – but all of that had been a total oftwelve days ago! And now it was driving Jet crazy! Did Zuko want him back?! Did Zuko want him to leave and never come back?! What did he want?! How was Jet supposed to know when the other hasn't bothered to talk to him at all!?

Slamming the tray onto the counter with a force that makes the teacups rattle, he manages to attract the attention of the entire teashop, Zuko included, but when their eyes meet for the briefest of seconds, Jet sees concern in the other's eyes as well as insecurity – and that's when it hits him. Perhaps Zuko hasn't done anything because he's unsure of himself and where they stand, anddamn if that doesn't pull at Jet's heartstrings since the young Fire Prince could be pretty self-deprecating when he wanted to be. Blinking with this new revelation, Jet can't help but smile at the thought, Zuko's timidity was both adorable and heartbreaking, enough so that he wants nothing more than to pull the firebender into a kiss and make him feel like he's worth every breath he breathes, and right in front of everyone currently idling within the shop.

He doesn't.

But he could.

So when their scheduled lunch-break rolls around, Jet makes sure he's the first out the door so neither Iroh nor Zuko know what he has in mind/store for his beloved. Of course, his sudden departure earns curious glances from both Princes:

"Li?" Iroh starts, "Is there something wrong between you and Fan?"

"No." Zuko frowns at the look his Uncle gives him, "Why?"

"It's just," Iroh chooses his words carefully, "You two are usually attached at the hip is all."

Zuko can't help but fluster at the fact since yeah; he was pretty lonely without Jet, "Just because we're friends - !"

"Brothers." Pao interrupts, coming from seemingly nowhere.

"Brothers can be friends too!" Zuko snaps irritably, doing his best not curse out his boss, "Anyway!" he turns his attention back to his Uncle, "It doesn't mean we have to spend every waking second together!"

Silence.

"Perhaps Fan has recently acquired himself a new lady friend."

The scarred teen swears to Agni that he's going to kill the nosy old man, he looks to his Uncle, expecting the man to feel something similar to disbelief, but to the young Prince's dismay, his Uncle wore a thoughtful expression!

"Yes ~ !" Iroh finally exclaims, beaming excitedly – he had no right to do that, "Why didn't I think of that ~ ?!"

"Uncle," Zuko growls between gritted teeth, "No."

"Now all we need is for Li to find himself a nice girl to make an honest man out of him ~ !"

Gods, Zuko throws his hands up and storms into the kitchen, "Ugh-h!"

When Jet returns from the marketplace, he makes sure to hide his gift for Zuko behind his back, at least until he finds the firebender scrubbing irritably at some dishes, his face scrunched into an annoyed grimace. And with everyone seemingly gone for now, Jet can't help the grin that stretches across his face. Feeling overall giddy, he approaches the tense boy and gingerly wraps an arm around his chest, his hand resting upon Zuko's chest, pressing his body comfortably against Zuko's, he lays his chin upon a tense shoulder – before Zuko can really open his mouth to say anything, Jet beats him to it by presenting a bouquet of red ash-roses with little candied treats arranged amongst the stems.

Cliché?

Damn straight, but classics were appreciated every now and then, especially now when he feels Zuko's body temperature skyrocket as he gently takes the elegantly arranged bouquet from him. Zuko half-heartedly fighting the light, airy feeling beginning to build and swell within his chest.

"Jet," Zuko breathes, body relaxed now, "What are you doing?"

"Once I realized that you weren't going to make the first move, I decided that I would." Jet explains pleasantly, placing a quick peck onto Zuko's cheekbone, "And I know this won't make up for what I said, but it's a start – although, if I'm to be perfectly honest, this whole twelve days without you has been punishment enough, so, I'd really love it if you let me come back."

A pleased sigh escapes Zuko as he rests his weight against Jet so they're slumped against one another in a lazy embrace, "Of course."

Smiling, Jet wraps his other arm around Zuko and holds him tighter, and while Jet would have loved nothing more than to spend the rest of their break like this, Iroh promptly walks in and ruins the moment. The old man's voice stutters to a stop once he sees them in the rather compromising position that spoke volumes of unspoken affection, the compromising position in which the two teenagers quickly break out of.

Finally Iroh asks, "Should I come back later?"

And while Jet smiles easily enough, he'd love nothing more than to throttle the old man, even if Zuko's flustered countenance is so worth them getting caught, "Don't worry, it wasn't anything like that."

"Oh?" Iroh challenges, a focused glint in his eyes that reminds Jet that the man is experienced, "It sure seemed like it to me."

"Nah," Jet waves him off, "Li here was just helping me. I met this really amazing person earlier this week and I really want to make a good enough impression on them."

Meanwhile Zuko was currently jealous of Jet's ability to lie.

"That's great news ~ !" Iroh says, the man immediately forgetting what he'd walked in on, "Who's the lucky young lady ~ ?"

"Actually," Jet begins, if he and Zuko are going to be together, he wants to test Iroh's reaction beforehand, "It's a guy."

The way Zuko looks at him in shock sells the lie before he turns to gauge his Uncle's reaction as well, both teens watching as the news finally sinks in and Iroh's thoughtful reaction soon turns to that of pure joy as he beams brightly:

"Well then, you'll have to bring him around some time ~ I'd love to get to know this young man!"

"What?" Zuko blurts unintentionally just as Pao walks in.

"Fan! I need you to work the tables!"

Grinning, Jet gives Pao a mock-salute, "Yes Sir, Admiral Pao, Sir!"

Gawking at his Uncle who watches both Jet and Pao leave, a content smile gracing his old features, Zuko opens and closes his mouth several times, his mind working on finding something to say, until finally he settles on a stuttered sentence that just comes off wrong, making him sound like he was bothered by it.

"Uncle – you don't mind that Fan is with a – boy?"

"Of course not ~ ." Iroh smiles at him, "If Fan finds love and happiness in a young man, then so be it, so long as he is happy then I am as well. After all, with times being what they are, love is considered to be quite a treasure ~ ."

"Oh." Zuko can't help the pinching of his brows, "Okay."

"Why?" Iroh scans his Nephew's perplexed expression, "Does it bother you?"

"I – no! No, not at all!" Zuko shakes his head, "I just, I don't know. Doesn't it disgust you?"

"Not at all, love is a precious thing, Prince Zuko." Iroh says sagely, leveling a look at Zuko, "Despite his interest in a person of the same gender, he is still the same boy we've known since he was eight years old."

"But – the Fire Nation," Zuko struggles to get his words right, "They frowned upon it."

"Truth is," Iroh begins, "Only your father disapproved of such things."

"What?"

"Were you so narrow-minded in your search for the Avatar that you forgotten about the crew and their support of yours and Lion-heart's relationship?"

"I - !" Zuko pauses, remembering the crew's cheers, "Oh – I hadn't."

"See ~ ?" Iroh smiles, patting Zuko's shoulder supportively, "I hope you will not treat him any different."

"I won't but – if it were me,"

"The only ones who would disapprove are your father, and perhaps some Generals, and the young ladies." Iroh says, his smile turning gentle, "And if it makes you happy, then they have no say on the matter."

Frowning, Zuko thinks on his Uncle's words before sighing in agitation and shakes his head to rid himself of the troubling thoughts before moving to the forefront of the teashop. With an influx of customers, Zuko takes his spot behind the counter and takes to watching, or scowling, at the customers – until his eyes catch Jet chatting amicably with some of the female customers, a charming smile in place with honeyed words dripping from his lips. The Fire Prince can't help but smile at the wonderful sight his boyfriend made. And if it didn't bother his Uncle that Jet was apparently interested in a guy, then would it be safe to say that he wouldn't mind Zuko's interest in – well, Jet – seeing as how he didn't really find other males all that appealing or noteworthy.

Two hours after the lunch rush finds both Jet and Zuko milling about behind the counter with Jet doing little things to annoy the Prince, such as untying his apron or slipping something down his shirt – after Jet unties his apron for the eleventh time, Zuko gives up and turns to Jet with an almost-frown that doesn't so much as affect the taller teen for he actually grins in the face of Zuko's annoyance.

"Don't you have something better to do than undress me?!"

The shouted question has Jet reeling, eyes wide and innocent, a couple of patrons choke or cough making Zuko realize that he's yet to master his inside voice. It's especially embarrassing when said customers approach the table to pay for their drinks, their eyes averted from Zuko as he takes their money. And the light blush dusting his cheek soon envelopes his entire face once Jet starts laughing at him for his slip up. Cursing Jet colorfully, he grabs a nearby tray and shoves past the laughing teen to gather the stray teacups left behind on the tables. Once he's gathered the errant cups does he finally spot the girl with twin braids sitting in the same spot she's occupied for the last couple of days. Suspicious and now on high alert, he approaches the counter where Jet is watching Iroh situate some of the dinnerware:

"We have a problem," Zuko speaks quietly, catching Jet and Iroh's attention, "One of the customers is on to us." Zuko watches his Uncle get off the step ladder, once he's sure his Uncle is listening, he continues, "Don't look now, but there's a girl over at the corner table, she knows who we are." and what do they both do? They both look! "What did I say?!" Zuko hisses, "Don't look!"

"You're right, Zuko." Iroh starts coyly, "I've seen that girl here quite a lot. It seems to me she has quite a little crush on you."

"What?!" both Jet and Zuko exclaim in unison.

"Thank you for the tea."

All three turn to see the girl Zuko was talking about, Jet takes in her appearance while Zuko quickly takes the girl's money and turns away, the firebender silently hoping that she didn't hear what they were talking about, or simply hoping that she would just go away, either one would work. But of course, the world hates him.

"What's your name?"

Zuko feels his heart hammer against his chest as he turns to face the girl, "My name's Li." he hears Jet snicker and glares at the teen who pretends to play with his bandages, "My Uncle, Brother, and I just moved here."

"Hi Li," the girl greets warmly, "My name's Jin. Thank you, and," she looks away, a small blush forming on her cheeks, "Well, I was wondering if you would like to go out sometime."

Zuko's mind promptly freezes as he stares wide-eyed at the girl before his eyes slide to Jet who was now staring heatedly at his bandaged arm, the firebender returns his gaze to the girl, technically he and Jet were dating again, but of course he couldn't tell her that, everyone thought they were brothers, and if he were to say that he was already seeing someone, his Uncle would demand to know who this person was – he didn't have to worry for long as his Uncle scoots into his personal space, the old firebender beaming as he says:

"He'd love to ~ !"

What?

"Great ~ !" Jin smiles, "I'll meet you in front of the shop at sundown ~ ."

Oh no.

Zuko's eyes slide back to Jet who looks vaguely affronted by Zuko's sudden date while Iroh wraps a friendly arm around his Nephew and resting a hand on his shoulder, a happy grin etched onto his face. Scowling at his Uncle, he promptly removes his relative's hand from his personal space and storms into the back.

oOo

Lounging around the kitchen entrance while both firebenders fussed over Zuko's appearance, the main point of argument being his spiky hair, Jet thought back over the course of the week, he should have realized that someone was bound to take an interest in Zuko, but he'd only really ever saw the Prince as his and felt that others would know this somehow but now, he looked into the room and had to do a double take, now Jet knew otherwise. Biting on his lower lip to keep himself from making any kind of sound resembling a laugh, Jet struggled to get his mouth back under control and to stop smiling crookedly – but once Zuko glared at him, all bets were off. Laughing at the pouty firebender, Jet couldn't stop until he was doubled over.

"Shut it or I'm leaving you again."

Instantly Jet falls silent, choking back on his laughter, "S–Sorry."

Iroh soon exits the room with a proud smile on his lips, "Doesn't he look strapping, Fan ~ !"

Oh God. "Y-Yeah, sure does! Look, I'm gonna head out and meet with some friends I met on the ferry, I'll be back later, okay?"

He's making for the exit doing his best not to laugh, "Oh, Smellerbee and Longshot?"

"Yup, those are the ones!" Jet says, hurriedly escaping, "Don't wait up!"

Once the door closes behind him, he laughs as quietly as he can into his hand before he hides in a nearby alley. Yup, he was totally going to spy on his boyfriend. When Jin showed up, Jet listened to her compliment Zuko and Zuko's half-hearted complaint about the girl messing up his hair that his Uncle took 10 minutes to fix. Shadowing the duo to a restaurant, he made sure to stay on Zuko's left as to avoid detection, once the two found a table and ordered, he listened to the busty girl attempt to start a conversation with the firebender who answered with clipped remarks, Jet feeling pride in knowing that he was the only one Zuko talked to in length. But when the waiter came over and asked Zuko if he and his girlfriend wanted desert, Jet felt his nails dig into his palm, the pain easing only when Zuko shouted at the man, proclaiming she is not my girlfriend! This of course, resulted in everyone at the restaurant to stare at him until he awkwardly started a conversation with Jin, and Jet blames everything that happens after to be Zuko's hormones acting up – even though it was rather amusing, Jet couldn't stand to watch any longer and made a quick escape for home, surprising Iroh.

"Fan, you're early!"

"Yeah," Jet shrugs, "They weren't home."

"Well, perhaps you would like to join me for dinner."

"Sure," Jet moves to sit opposite of Iroh, "I've got nothing better to do."

"Not even spending time with this mysterious boyfriend of yours ~ ?"

"Here's the thing," Jet began sheepishly, he decided that he'd set Iroh straight, "I don't have a boyfriend, well, I do, but – he's." Jet sighs, shoulders slumping, "It's Zuko. I – I've loved your Nephew for a while now and well, it's – we didn't tell you because - ,"

Iroh places a hand upon Jet's wrist, causing Jet to stop his random babbling, "Are you two happy?"

Jet swallows, "Yeah."

"How happy?"

"Happier than we've ever been."

Iroh chuckles as he retracts his hand, "Good, but to be honest, I should have known. I felt there was something, but I didn't think it was this serious."

"So, you're not mad or anything?"

"Of course not ~ you make Zuko happy and he makes you happy." Iroh says before he gives Jet a deadpan stare, "But if you break his heart or hurt him in any way, all bets are off and I willmake you suffer."

"Don't worry," Jet grins, "I've been good to him so far."

"And I will make sure to keep the young ladies from both of you."

Chapter Text

The world couldn't have been more perfect than it was at the moment, with the clear blue skies, a peaceful murmur coming from the streets, and the warm morning sun gifting the world with wonderful warm rays, rays that shine through the window of a particular apartment room, bathing two love-struck teenager lying upon a single futon, their limbs entangled lazily and eyes locked on one another's. Teenage love at its finest. Things couldn't have been better – propped on his left elbow beside Zuko with his left hand tangling its fingers within the firebender's short locks, Jet's burns having healed a little more, the Earth Kingdom native focuses on the gorgeous sight his Fire Nation love makes, with eyes that shine golden within the sunlight, fair skin that radiates, and that beautiful sleepy smile – God, he couldn't be more in love with anyone else on this great, green earth.

"You're so beautiful ~ ."

Zuko chuckles, soft and breathy, "So you say."

"You don't think so?" Jet hums, not bothering to hide just how in love he is with this boy, "Because I do."

"I never said that," Zuko murmurs, hand cupping Jet's cheek, "And I know you do. But I'm pretty sure a scar - ,

"Stop." Jet places a kiss upon Zuko's forehead, their eyes meeting when he pulls back, "Don't you dare say what I think you're going to say. Not when I love every inch of you." he follows through with a peck to Zuko's scarred lid, the firebender tensing, he pulls back so they're nose to nose, Zuko opening his eye once Jet is away from his scar, "I love every part of you Zuko, even the parts you hate." seeing the cute little blush that spreads across his boyfriend's cheek, chuckling, Jet rests his chin upon Zuko's chest, looking up at the boy, "What's wrong, Fire-Bird ~ ?"

"You're - ," Jet can see the Prince chewing on his lower lip, "You're too much."

"I just can't help it ~ ." Jet snakes his arms around Zuko's body, "I'm in love with the most wonderful person in the word ~ ."

Sighing, Zuko runs a hand through his hair and settles for staring at Jet, "I am too, but you don't see me acting like some clichéd hero in those ridiculous romantic tales that Uncle loves so much."

"To each their own ~ ." Jet presses a kiss to Zuko's collarbone, "Besides," he hums, "You don't seem to mind it when I act like some clichéd hero in those so-called ridiculous tales. In fact, I think you secretly love the acts of love I bestow upon you ~ ."

The deep blush on Zuko's cheek gives him away, "I do not!"

"You're so cute ~ especially when you think you can lie to me."

Huffing, the firebender turns his face away from his companion, "Are we doing anything today?"

"I don't know." Jet murmurs, allowing Zuko to change the subject as he presses his ear against Zuko's chest to hear the beating of his heart, "But I'm pretty comfortable where I am now, so-o-o."

Zuko tangles his fingers within Jet's hair, "That's because you're not the one being used as a human pillow."

"Not like you're complaining."

"I am now."

"Fine," Jet pouts, he meets Zuko's eyes, "What do you want to do?"

"Anything besides laying here doing nothing all day."

"Oh ~ ?" Jet grins lasciviously at his lover, "Anything ~ ?"

"Anything." Zuko affirms, a small mischievous smirk playing on his lips, "Although, if we're going to do that, I suggest we wait until later tonight when everyone is indoors, well, unless you want to be accused of incest."

Chuckling, Jet pulls himself off of his lover, "Alright then," he places a kiss upon Zuko's nose, "Let's go out."

Smiling, Zuko wraps his arms around Jet, "Okay."

Giving his boyfriend a big smooch, Jet grins, "I fucking love you."

oOo

"I can't believe you told Uncle about us."

Currently, the two teenagers were sitting upon a stone bench within the Ba-Sing-Se lower market with a bag of warm, freshly baked sweets, something which the firebender seemed to refuse to share as he had it on the other side of him and away from Jet. Of course Jet couldn't blame him, the sugary treat was delicious, and with Zuko's sweet-tooth, this was like a field day for his taste buds.

"Yeah well - ," Jet starts only to become distracted by Zuko's pink tongue lapping greedily at the cinnamon coating the treat, "I didn't want to share."

Arching his good brow and glancing curiously at Jet, Zuko turns his attention back to his treat and takes a bite out of the small doughy sphere after he'd practically licked all the cinnamon off the one side, but as his teeth sink into the sweet delight, warm icing spills out of the center and dribbles down his chin. Not really expecting the icing to spill out, the firebender brings his other hand up to prevent the gooey mess from falling upon his clothes. Tongue flicking out and cleaning the sweet mess from his chin, he's unaware of Jet's current state until the taller boy swallows rather loudly. Looking up from the mess that was the sweet delicacy, Zuko sees a faint blush coloring Jet's cheeks, his pupils dilated, and lips parted. Horrified realization hits the Fire Prince like a tidal wave once he understands why Jet was so flustered, embarrassed, Zuko promptly stuffs the half eaten treat into Jet's mouth, sufficiently surprising the other who slowly begins to chew on the delicious piece of dough.

"Stop it." Zuko hisses.

"What?" Jet's voice is muffled as he's talking with his mouth full, "What'd I do?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about."

"Hey," Jet begins defensively, "I can't help it. Especially when it literally looked like someone just creamed in your mouth."

Choking on his own breath, Zuko glares hotly at Jet with a bright red blush scorching his cheek, "What's wrong with you?"

"Wait!" Jet grabs Zuko's wrist as he rises, taking the bag of sweets with him and continues walking, ultimately making Jet fall onto his stomach on the stone bench, "Li-i-i!" Jet whines childishly, "I'm sorry!" he somehow manages to wrap his arms around Zuko's waist. The two teens unaware of the amused looks from those around them, "I was only joking! I swear I can change!" he gives Zuko the wide puppy-dog eyed look and a ridiculous pout, "Just give me one more - !"

YELP!

Jet promptly releases Zuko and ends up falling off the bench, only barely managing to catch himself, when he hears Zuko laughing at him, he glares at the firebender who'd poked him in the ribs, his most sensitive spot – some of the people in the crowd chuckle good-naturedly as they know both teens to be Mushi's teenage Nephews.

"I'm going to get you for that." Jet hisses mock-menacingly.

Zuko actually grins playfully, "That's if you can catch me from down there."

Grinning, Jet leaps at Zuko, the firebender dodging effortlessly, there's a split second where Jet meets Zuko's eyes before the latter promptly spins on his heel and takes off into the crowd with a smile. Rising to his own two feet, Jet takes off after his boyfriend. The crowd of the lower ring citizens only seeing two teenage brothers playing.

oOo

"Those were for both of us!"

"You were taking too long."

"It's not my fault you were cheating!"

"I wasn't cheating. You just didn't think to find me on the roof of the teashop."

"Well if you're going to be that way then I demand we get more!"

"So long as you're paying."

"You're so mean."

"You're so childish."

The accusation the firebender hurls at him is only validated when Jet purposely sticks his tongue out, causing Zuko to snicker at his companion just as he crosses the threshold to the pastry shop they'd gotten the delicious little treats from earlier. And as they approach the section of the wooden shop where they'd discovered the treats, Jet finds himself stopping in his tracks immediately once he spots Smellerbee behind the counter, she doesn't see him yet. The girl's words ringing loud within his ears. Gritting his teeth, he does his best not to react anymore than he'd already had, he hurries to Zuko's side, the Fire Prince completely oblivious to his presence as his attention is taken by the tantalizing sweets.

"How many do you think we should get?"

"How many did we have last time?"

"Ten I think."

"And you ate the last six by yourself?"

"Like I said," Zuko looks highly offended, "You were taking too long!" Jet sticks his tongue out, "I swear I'm going to bite your tongue off."

"Kinky ~ ."

"Ugh-h."

"Can I help you guys?"

Both Jet and Zuko look up to see Smellerbee watching them almost curiously, Jet straightens up, noticing the way her shoulders square and her jaw tenses:

"Didn't know you worked here."

"Only during the afternoons."

"We'll take a dozen of these." Jet gestures to the doughy treats.

Watching the girl gather the treats into a bag, Jet feels Zuko's eyes on him, but he keeps his gaze on the girl, so when she places the bag on the counter and Jet gives her the amounted money, the dusky-skinned male is all too eager to leave. But as they turn to exit the shop, Smellerbee finally speaks.

"I'm sorry – for what I said, back at the station."

Jet stops, he could keep on walking but with Zuko watching him - he sighs, "It's okay."

oOo

Nestled against Jet's side with said teen's arm wrapped around him, a thumb rubbing his bare shoulder, Zuko is about to fall asleep when a thought occurs to him – he and Jet had spent the entire day together, never once parting from the other's side. They'd awoken together, and now they were going to sleep together. It was odd for the Prince, to know that he'd spent so much time with the other teen and had yet to tire of his presence, of his touch. Perhaps that is just love. Letting the thought rest, Zuko curls in on himself tighter and is about to sleep again when he feels Jet's body turn towards him, his other arm draping over his waist and pulling him close. There's nothing out of the ordinary and Zuko allows his mind to drift, but when he feels something prodding at his hip – the firebender's face finally heats up once he realizes just what it is and shifts a little, a fire catching in his groin.

"You awake?" Jet breathes into Zuko's hair.

"I am now." Zuko murmurs.

Jet kisses Zuko's forehead, "Should I let you sleep?"

Zuko cups Jet's jaw and plants a kiss on his lips, "No."

Pulling himself up, Jet hovers over Zuko, their lips glued to one another's with Zuko wrapping his arms around his neck, his legs pulling up and situating on either side of Jet's hips. Balancing his weight on his knees, Jet slips his tongue into Zuko's mouth, their tongues twirling and rubbing together as he grabs his lover's hips, angling them upward to brush their clothed erections together. Moaning into their open-mouthed kiss, Zuko hooks his legs on Jet's waist, turning his face away from Jet and giving the other access to his neck. Licking his lips, Jet takes the silent offer and begins sucking on pale skin, listening to Zuko's breathing pick up.

Zuko pants, "Something wrong?"

"No," Jet rumbles, tongue licking a path up Zuko's neck and to his good ear, "Why?"

"I don't - ," Zuko squirms, hips lifting, " – know, I just. You and Smellerbee."

Jet pulls away, earning a whine from Zuko, "Babe, there's nothing wrong and there's definitely nothing going on between me and her."

Zuko sits up, lips pursing, "Oh."

"Oh?" Jet mimes, "You sound disappointed. Were you hoping for a threesome?"

"What?!" Zuko startles, "Gods no!"

"Good," Jet grins playfully as he leans forward, lips brushing against Zuko's, "I'm not looking to share you with anyone." his hand snaking into Zuko's pants and grabbing the base of his erection, the Prince's mouth drops open, legs spreading, "Especially when I get to see you like this," he kisses Zuko's ear, "So hot ~ ."

Moaning quietly, Zuko slams their lips together once more in a flurry of teeth and tongue, their mouths swallowing up moans and curses. Pulling back, Jet pulls Zuko's pants down and leans between the firebender's thighs, instantly taking the teen's hard-on within his mouth. Tongue licking and swallowing.

"Jet – I," Zuko cuts himself off with a low whine, "Please."

Pulling off with a loud pop, Jet catches Zuko's lips in a sweet kiss before he sits back, spitting into his palm and lubing himself up, hooking one of Zuko's legs over his shoulder, Jet guides himself into Zuko, the latter gasping, back arching off the futon. Despite not being in sexual contact with either, Zuko is still fairly loose. Sinking deeper, Jet hovers over Zuko, eyes tracing over the Fire Prince's features, when Zuko realizes this, the faint heat of his cheek turns a deeper shade. He turns his face away from Jet's gaze, throwing an arm over his eyes.

"Don't look at me."

Chuckling breathlessly, rolls his hips, "What am I supposed to look at then?"

"I don't know," Zuko murmurs, voice husky, "Anything but me."

"Fire-Bird, I hope you'll forgive me when I say no." Jet gently grabs Zuko's arm and coaxes Zuko to look at him, Jet smiles, "Not when I want to see all those cute, obscene, little faces you make when I fuck you just right."

"Just – do it."

Pressing a kiss to Zuko's lips, Jet situates himself on his knees and begins a gentle rhythm, his hands running up and down Zuko's body, exploring and feeling every inch of skin he can find. Bending forward, Jet creates a trail of kisses leading up the Prince's toned torso, up his chest, and straight to his lips. Taking the time to savor the feel. Everything is sweet and tender, each touch fueled by passion and driven by an intense adoration. Worship. Half an hour later when the two finish, leaving their bodies sensitive to one another's touch, Jet relishes within the feel of Zuko settling in at his side – the knowledge of knowing the Prince trusted him enough to do these kinds of things is not lost on him.

"You're so cute."

"Go to sleep, Jet."

"What?" Jet pouts in mock-offense, "No good-night kiss?"

Languidly, Zuko plants a kiss on the corner of Jet's mouth, "G'night Jet."

Smiling sweetly, Jet curls around Zuko, arms holding tight, "Love you, Zuko."

"Love you too, Jet."

Chapter Text

"You need different clothes."

The comment was sudden and therefore caught Jet off-guard, "Why?"

"Because," Zuko's face scrunches, "You're – those girls keep staring at you."

"So do you ~ ." Jet grins, Zuko gives him a deadpan stare, "Hey, you're the only reason I wear this."

"Yeah well," Zuko starts haphazardly cleaning the dishes, "I'd prefer it if I were the only one who got to see anything."

Smiling, Jet takes the dish Zuko hands to him and starts drying it – the Prince had gotten a little better with swallowing his pride and saying what was bothering him, well, at least when it came to just the two of them seeing as how Zuko was still painfully socially awkward around others. But Jet really wouldn't want him any other way.

"If it makes you feel better, we'll go to the market after work and I'll find something that reveals less skin."

"Okay."

"Fan!"

Jet sighs, "I'll be back, Love."

Giving his boyfriend a quick peck to the temple, Jet exits the kitchen area and is soon given a kettle of tea by Pao and is ushered into the sitting area where he is immediately flagged down by one of the many female patrons. The amount of women in the shop was definitely going to blow Zuko's jealous streak sky-high. Plastering on a charming smile, the seventeen year old strolls leisurely towards the table of teenage girls and refills their tea while they bat their lashes at him, one even asking to touch his bicep – yeah, he definitely needed a change in clothes. Politely excusing himself, he makes his way towards the counter with the money in hand when he spots some rich looking man stand and start walking towards Iroh. What happens next is a pleasant and unwanted surprise. Jet rests his elbows on the counter and takes to watching the show, with Zuko appearing not long after. Pao tries to keep Iroh by offering him pointless titles while the nobleman who'd approached Iroh offers sweeter deals. It's obvious what Iroh is going to choose. As Iroh hands Pao the teakettle, Jet feels a little bad for the man – just a little.

"Did you hear that boys ~ !" Iroh exclaims happily, "We're getting our own teashop ~ !"

"That's right boys." the nobleman starts, "Your lives are about to change for the better."

While Jet offers a false, enthusiastic smile, Zuko mutters a dry retort and exits the teashop without so much as a backwards glance, and while Jet would like nothing more than to follow the moody teenager out the door, he figures the Prince needs at least some time to himself, so instead, Jet stands behind the counter and begins counting the money while Iroh apologizes on behalf of Zuko, some of the female customers even muttering about rude behavior, the upper-ring man brushes it off, saying that he was young and brash once. Jet only rolls his eyes.

"Do you think there's any way I can convince you or your brother to stay?"

Looking to his right, Jet spots Pao standing beside him, "Sorry man, not interested."

"What about - ?"

"Li won't be either."

"Very well," Pao sighs miserably, "You three are free to go."

Nodding, Jet removes his apron and lays it over the counter, making for the exit before anyone can stop him, but as he throws the door open, he nearly collides into the moody Prince he was about to hunt down. Zuko blinks momentarily, simply staring at Jet's chest before he tilts his head back and their eyes meet, the firebender opens his mouth to say something before shaking his head and taking a step back, stepping forward, Jet closes the door behind him, blocking off the patrons' view of them. Gesturing for Zuko to follow, Jet rounds the corner and down a fairly secluded alley where he sits upon fairly large, sturdy box.

"Where were you going?"

"Nowhere." Jet hums as Zuko hoists himself to sit on the box as well, "I was going to look for you, but here you are."

"Yeah," Zuko murmurs, "Here I am."

Jet frowns worriedly, "Something wrong?"

"No. Yes – I just, I don't want to stay here all my life." Zuko sighs, "I don't want to work in some stupid teashop, I don't want to serve anyone, I don't want to constantly interact with these low-class morons."

"Hey," Jet murmurs, bumping his shoulder against Zuko's, "We're one of these low-class morons now."

"No we're - ,"

"Well. You aren't, but I am." Jet sets his hand over Zuko's, "I was born to a dirt poor family, remember."

"I – but you're so much more than these people." Zuko buries his nose against Jet's neck, "You're so much better than everyone else."

"Thanks Love," Jet presses a kiss to Zuko's shaggy hair, "And we don't have to stay here, we could always leave, just you and me. We could explore the world, experience all there is to experience. Don't get me wrong, I like Iroh, I really do, but he's not exactly as spry as he used to be."

Zuko falters, "You'd – really leave Ba-Sing-Se for me?"

"Yeah," Jet whispers, "I'd do anything for you Zuko, you should know that by now."

Closing his eyes, Zuko decides to speak about what he'd found, "The Avatar."

Jet's mind promptly freezes, "What about him?"

"He's here in the city," Zuko says quietly, pulling the flyer out of his shirt lapel and showing Jet, "He lost his bison."

"I - ," Jet scans the paper, he doesn't want to see Zuko run himself into the ground for some stupid kid, and call him selfish, but the Fire Nation wouldn't exactly approve of their relationship, "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to find him." Zuko sits upright, pulling away from Jet, "But first, I need to find the bison."

"Okay." Jet breathes, he feels like he's sinking, "I'm with you."

Zuko smiles at him, but later, when they find Iroh at the apartment packing what little belongings they had and Zuko reveals the news to Iroh, the old man isn't too thrilled with his Nephew's plan. When Zuko storms out of the apartment, Jet leaves a second later, going in the opposite direction of the angry Prince.

oOo

How long had it been since Zuko had the flyer?

And where was he supposed to start in finding the group?

Wandering the streets, Jet doesn't exactly pay attention to where he's walking until he something catches his eye, looking up, he spots the very same poster Zuko had plastered everywhere upon the wall of a building. Nearing the notice, he reaches out and runs his fingers over the parchment, it still feels damp which means that the flyer was recently put up. Following the trail of posters, he comes to an open area where a canal runs through the area with a minor rock wall, one rock being larger than the others flanking it – and before said large rock is a girl dressed in blue with a familiar mismatched hairstyle. Stepping out of the alley he'd been in, he cautiously approaches the girl.

"Katara?"

The person in question turns, and sure enough it is Katara, the girl seems to not recognize him at first before her face lights up and she's running to him, throwing her arms around his neck, the suddenness throwing Jet off balance and causing him to stumble, his hands hesitantly resting on her waist.

"Jet, it's so good to see you ~ !" her eyes instantly falling onto his bandages, "What happened?"

"I uh - ," Jet stares at his bandaged hand, " – got into a fight with a firebender, and lost."

Katara blinks before frowning, "It wasn't Zuko was it."

Jet can't help but snort. The most damage Zuko has done to him was punch him in the mouth, "No, it wasn't Zuko. It was – someone else. Anyway, what are you doing here? Where are the others?"

"They're - ," she pauses, "Wait - ," the waterbender pulls away, "If you're here, then that must mean Zuko is too."

"Yeah, so what?" Jet snaps defensively, she frowns before Jet sighs, "Look, we're just looking to start over. Away from the Fire Nation."

It's mostly true.

"Okay, well - ," Katara falters, biting her lower lip before sighing, "We're looking for Appa, we were told he'd be here in Ba-Sing-Se, but - ,"

"But Ba-Sing-Se is a big place."

"Exactly."

"Well I'll keep an eye out for any clues."

"Great ~ we can use all the help we can get."

"If I do find something, how can I reach you guys?"

"We live in the upper-ring."

That's all he needs really, "Okay."

oOo

Slipping underneath the blankets, Jet is ready for sleep when he hears the window shutters open followed by nearly inaudible footsteps moving deeper into the room, careful not to disturb him. Knowing full well who it is, Jet lets out a noisy sigh causing the person to tense:

"What're you doing?"

"I uh – was going to sleep?"

"Obviously." Jet frowns, he sits up, "What I meant was, what were you doing?"

"Oh." Zuko begins removing his outer apparel, "I was looking for leads on the Avatar's bison."

"And?" Jet pulls his blanket back, allowing Zuko to crawl underneath, "What'd you find?"

"He's in a chamber underground," Zuko murmurs quietly, "Underneath some lake called Lake Laogai."

"Earthbenders?"

"Dai-Li."

"Great." Jet sighs, he wraps an arm around Zuko and pulls him down so they're lying face to face, "What're we gonna do?"

"Thing is," Zuko curls up, tucking his head underneath Jet's chin, "I was hoping to do this alone."

"Why?" Jet whispers, fingers running up and down Zuko's bare spine, "Think I'll make too much noise?"

"No – I just don't want anything to happen to you."

"So you think I'm helpless."

"No." Zuko presses a kiss to Jet's Adam's Apple, "I won't be able live with myself if you get hurt because of me."

"And I won't be able to live by myself if you get hurt because I'm not there to help you."

Jet feels Zuko smile softly, "I love you."

Smiling himself, Jet presses a kiss to Zuko's hair, "Love you too."

Zuko feels something prodding him, he sighs, "Really?"

"Not my fault you're gorgeous." Jet murmurs sleepily, he feels Zuko shift, the Prince's hands venturing to his pants, Jet grabs Zuko's wrist, "No. You don't have to," he promptly yawns, "And I'm too tired to think about doing anything."

"You don't have to."

"You'll be doing this alone."

Zuko presses his lips to Jet's throat, "So long as I get to touch you."

Jet shivers involuntarily, "Fuck – since when were you so forward?"

"Since I saw those girls groping you."

"What – there were no girls groping me." Jet frowns, mind instantly falling to the moment with Katara, "What girls?"

"The ones at the teashop. Specifically the one who was running her hands all over your arm." Zuko clarifies, maneuvering their bodies so he's straddling Jet's hips, "I don't like people touching you."

"Is that so?" Jet smirks, resting his good arm behind his head, "Oh, and just so you know, we never went to the market."

"I know." Zuko breathes, running his hands up Jet's torso, "We'll just have to go tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Jet hums, "Are you sure you'll be up early enough to go?"

"What makes you think that I'll be the one tired?"

"I don't know." Jet shrugs, or as best as he can, "You're usually the one who conks out after sex."

"Are you challenging me?"

"Maybe. Who knows?"

Zuko catches Jet's mouth in a kiss, his hand venturing past the other's waistband and into his underwear – waking the next morning, the fire wielding Prince finds himself nestled safely against Jet's chest, the taller teen's arm draped over his ribs and chin resting upon the top of his head. Comfortable, the fair-skinned teen snuggles deeper into the warmth his sleeping boyfriend offered, unaware that said boyfriend was currently awake. Jet knew where the Avatar's bison was, now all he had to do was get the information to Katara and her friends without Zuko becoming suspicious.

Chapter Text

Watching Jet fuss and be an overall headache for the owner of the clothing shop they'd found and Jet has been browsing for the past fifteen minutes, Zuko rests against the wall beside the door leading into the shop and allows his mind to wander, wondering if it really is as simple as leaving Ba-Sing-Se. There was no one to tell them otherwise. They could leave it all, they could do whatever they wanted and go wherever the wind took them with no worries of the throne, a Nation, or honor. Or even the Avatar. It could just be them and the world around them. They could do it. There really were no worries of whether or not they would be happy as Zuko had come to realize that so long as he had Jet he is content. Truly happy. And there is no doubt in his mind that Jet would be just as happy as there wasn't a second that goes by without the older boy's constant declarations of love.

They could.

"Here!" the woman's scream snaps him out of his reverie, "Just take this and go! Free of charge!"

"But what if I wanted the other one!?" Jet exclaims as the woman continues shoving him towards the entrance.

"I don't care! Out!" the woman shouts, voice laden with frustration. Zuko doesn't blame her for losing it, "Just get out and never come back!"

The shop owner slams the door shut behind Jet and his free clothes, "Geez." the tanned teen mutters, "Rude much?"

"You deserved it."

Jet pouts, "Aren't you supposed to be my loving brother?"

"Loving. Yes." Zuko says as he pushes off the wall and begins walking down the street with Jet trailing after him, "Supporting your bad behavior. No."

"Well then." Jet sniffs haughtily, "I'll remember that next time you pitch a fit."

"Yeah," Zuko rolls his eyes before he catches sight of the missing bison poster, his mind taking a turn, "You do that."

Jet spots the Missing Appa flyer that seemed to catch Zuko's attention, "Are we going to talk about it?"

"What's there to talk about?"

"I don't know." Jet shrugs, "Maybe, how you plan to get inside an underground cave?"

"Chamber."

"Whatever." Jet frowns, "It's still underground."

"It doesn't matter." Zuko sighs, "I'll find a way."

"I don't want you doing this without a plan."

"I'll be fine." Zuko meets Jet's gaze, "I always am."

"Yeah, yeah. We know you're like a fucking cat. Nine lives and shit. But - ," Jet stops, shoulders drooping, " – one day I'm afraid you'll go where I can't follow. And fuck, where will I be then?"

Zuko remembers how he'd felt when he thought Jet had been dragged under icy waters, "I won't."

"Good." Jet murmurs, he doesn't look convinced but he does move on, "That's all I ask."

They could leave – he could give it all up for Jet. The power. The responsibility. The titles. The throne.

"Do you – really think we could make it on our own?" Zuko whispers, "Out there?"

"Of course." Jet casts a glance at his somber companion, "We both can take care of ourselves. If we need something we can always steal it, and if not, I've been taught about everything there is to know about surviving in the wild. I know for a fact that we can make it."

"I – do you; still want to leave with me?"

"Yeah."

They can.

"Okay, we – at the end of the week. We'll leave. Just you and me."

"Are you sure that's what you want?"

"Yes. I'm sure."

"Okay." Jet offers a soft smile, "At the end of the week then."

It'll be okay, he'll have Jet with him and nothing but all the time and freedom in the world with zero responsibilities and no one to disappoint – so why did the thought still frighten him?

"I - ," Zuko feels his knees become weak and hands shake, "I need some time to myself." he turns without Jet getting in a word edgewise, "I'll see you – sometime later."

Stopping again, Jet watches the Prince turn off some random street and disappear into the crowd, "Okay. Later then."

Sighing, Jet runs his good hand through his hair and continues on his way knowing that because things seem to be going well didn't mean everything would be alright – loyalty is what kept him at the Fire Prince's side and love is what strengthened the bond, but despite his clear-cut devotion and adoration for the sovereign, he felt that it was his job as both a friend and a lover to keep any and all nuisances, big or small, from affecting Zuko's overall wellbeing. This is why he currently stood before a fancy looking house dressed in his new clothes. Toying with his awkward sleeve, he raises his fist to knock on the door to the Avatar's house when said door opens and a hand grabs him, pulling him into the building and slamming him up against a wall with the cold bite of a blade being pressed against his neck. Gritting his teeth at the force of the impact, he glares at the person opposite side of the blade, half expecting to see Sokka, but who he sees instead surprises him more than it should.

"Smellerbee?"

"Fan?"

"Jet?!"

"Jet? Who's Jet?"

"Who's Fan?"

"That's Jet!" Sokka exclaims, rudely pointing at Jet, "Who's Fan?!"

Smellerbee frowns, "He's supposed to be Fan."

This was going to go horribly wrong.

Fuck.

Smacking Smellerbee's hands away from him, Jet glares at the girl before fixing his clothing. The Avatar and his friends slowly lowering their guards with Katara being the first to approach him.

"Did you find anything?"

Sokka interrupts, "What?!" he shrieks, "You knew he was here and never told us!?"

Katara seems to legitimately be confused, "I thought I did!"

"No! I – that explains why you were acting so weird the other day!"

"And why your heart was racing." some little girl adds.

"Oh God!" Sokka bemoans, he glares at Jet dramatically, "You better not have done anything to my sister!"

"Get your mind out of the gutter." Jet snarls, already fed up with this drama, "I found someone and I'm not looking to mess it up with them."

"What?!" both Water Tribe siblings exclaim in unison.

"What?" Jet frowns defensively, he can't help the heating of his face, "What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing!" Katara blurts instantly, "It's just - !"

"You're not exactly the loving type." Sokka finishes before Katara smacks him.

Katara smiles at Jet, "We're happy for you, we really are." the little girl Jet doesn't know snorts causing the waterbender to glare before turning back to Jet, "She must be really pretty."

Jet thinks of Zuko waking beside him in the morning and smiles, "Yeah." he immediately blushes realizing what he'd done, "Look, I know where Appa is, do you guys want my help or not!?"

"Yes!" Aang all but shouts, cutting everyone else off, "Where is he?!"

"He's in an underground chamber." Jet starts, noticing the way everyone seems to falter, "Underneath some lake called Lake Laogai."

"Are you sure?" Katara asks.

"Yeah." because why would Zuko lie? "Why?"

"Because - ,"

Smellerbee rages, "Because that's where those Dai-Li bastards tried brainwashing Longshot!"

Brainwashing?

"What?" Jet frowns, "Why?"

"They were trying to lead us off course." the little girl says, "To some island far away from here."

And Zuko was going to go in there alone?!

Jet steps forward, "I'll help."

"No offence Jet," Sokka starts, "But you're not exactly the trustworthy type."

"Look, I live here now and I'd like to know who's behind all of this."

"Well," Katara looks to the others, "He's helped us before."

"Yeah!" Sokka snorts, "When it benefitted him!"

"Well," the little girl starts, "He hasn't been lying so far."

Smellerbee's brows knit, "How do you know?"

"When someone is lying, their body gives off a noticeable reaction." she then shrugs, "I can just sense these things."

Okay-y-y.

Aang steps before Jet, catching his attention, "Alright Jet, you're in."

oOo

"So this is Lake Laogai?" Jet murmurs.

"You know," Sokka starts up, "It's pretty nice once you get past the whole reason we're here."

Jet glares at Sokka just as the little girl speaks, "There's a secret entrance nearby."

She leads the group a little further along shore and earthbends a strip of earth leading to an ending with a rock porthole, as soon as she removes the earthen lid, an ominous sound reverberates through the dark causing Momo to fly away. As the group descends down the ladder rings, Jet notices the air becoming colder, staler. When his feet finally touch the floor, he looks upward only to see nothing but pure darkness. And to think, they were under an entire lake with a bunch of bastards who brainwashed people for a living.

Gotta find Zuko.

Following after Longshot with Smellerbee at his side, they pass multiple stone doors, one even opened wide enough to show a Dai-Li agent dictating rehearsed lines to a bunch of motionless women. Spirits. This place was messed up. Subtly maneuvering his way to the back of the group, he spots an opening up ahead leading into a dark area. Fixing his grip on his shuang-gou, he follows, waiting patiently until the person before him enters before he slips away, heading off down a nearby hallway.

oOo

Exhausted and still reeling from his decision to cut the bison free, Zuko finds that he wants nothing more than to lie with Jet and sleep for Spirits knows how long – hearing the clang of metal and rumbling of earth, both he and his Uncle press against the wall of the hall. Inching closer towards the corner, the younger firebender peers around the edge only to feel his heart drop and blood run cold. Without thinking twice, or even thinking at all, Zuko runs out to join the fight with his Uncle quietly calling after him and most likely trying to stop him. Running two of the Dai-Li through with his swords, he sees Jet blink owlishly at him before he dodges in time to avoid a rock gauntlet thrown at him.

When the fire of his Uncle joins in the fight, Zuko knows things will be over quick.

Scowling heatedly at his boyfriend as said boyfriend kills the final man, Zuko finally speaks, "What in Agni's name do you think you're doing here?!"

Looking up from the agent he'd just killed, Jet frowns, "I came here looking for your dumb ass! What were you thinking coming here on your own!?"

"Save it!" Zuko snaps, now he just wants to lie in his own bed and sleep for Spirits knows how long, "Uncle already lectured me and I don't need to hear it twice. Let's just go!"

Frown deepening at the harsh attitude coming from Zuko, Jet looks to Iroh who gives him a look that probably meant he should know, but Jet was too annoyed to really try and decipher what it meant, so with an annoyed huff, he follows dutifully after the two firebenders all the way back to the entrance Jet had initially come through with the Avatar's little posse – stretching out underneath the warm sun's rays, Jet turns to watch both Nephew and Uncle.

"It's time to let it go."

The sixteen year old stares at the grinning, blue mask, his teeth clenching momentarily before he drops the creepy thing into the water, watching as it sinks deeper into the lake with Iroh placing a hand upon Zuko's shoulder. Feeling like he'd missed something big during his little quest to find the hot-headed Prince, Jet coughs awkwardly into his fist, successfully capturing the attention of both firebenders and ruining what atmosphere had been built.

"We should uh," Jet falters, feeling out of place, "go, before those Dai-Li bastards stumble across us."

"Right." Zuko murmurs, he pulls sluggishly away from his Uncle, "Let's go – I, I need some rest."

Watching Zuko walk past him, Jet casts another glance Iroh's direction before he follows after his worn-down love.

Chapter Text

Noticing Zuko's slowing movements and sluggish steps, Jet takes it upon himself to keep close to the stalling sixteen year old as his Uncle currently seemed too over the moon with what decision had been made underneath that cursed lake. When Zuko stumbles against him completely on accident, and so unlike himself, Jet gingerly removes the scabbard from the firebender's grasp, with no fight on Zuko's side, and straps it onto his back – he would be lying if he said he wasn't scared out of his mind with the Fire Prince's current predicament as it seemed that his body was giving out on him. Spirits, that wasn't what was happening right now, was it!?

"You did the right thing." Iroh says as soon as he closes the door to their apartment, "Letting the bison go free."

So that's what happened – that didn't explain why Zuko looked as if he were going to collapse soon.

"Uncle? Jet?" Zuko wavers, his vision blurring and head swimming, he holds a hand to his head, his entire body feeling awkward and skin too tight, "I don't – I don't feel right."

Keying onto Zuko immediately, Jet watches with horror as the firebender emits a low groan before he topples over, knocking over a nearby pot and sending it crashing to the floor alongside him. The firebender falling with a loud thud.

"Fuck!"

"Zuko!"

Both Iroh and Jet run to Zuko's side with Jet falling to his knees and pulling the fallen Prince onto his lap, running his hand across Zuko's forehead to brush his hair from his face, the earthen teen has to pull away as the unconscious boy is burning up. More scared than he's been in his entire life, Jet looks to Iroh, holding Zuko close:

"What's going on?" he demands, "How did – why is he burning up?!"

As Iroh reaches out to touch Zuko's forehead, Jet unintentionally flinches away from the older man with his hold on his beloved tightening. When Iroh meets his eyes, Jet feels mildly ashamed and forces himself to relax, cautiously watching the older firebender press a hand to his Nephew's forehead.

"He has a fever."

'I know that." Jet snaps – he didn't, but he was terrified, "I – what do we do?!"

"Stay here." Iroh rises to his feet, eyes locking with Jet's, "I will fetch his bedding and a bucket of water."

Biting down on his tongue to keep himself from spitting another barbed retort, Jet only nods and turns his attention back to Zuko's unconscious form, running a hand across Zuko's forehead and cheek. Already forgetting that Iroh was still there, watching the exchange before hurrying off to fetch the needed supplies.

"You'll be okay." Jet says, "It's just a fever. You'll be okay."

A soft groan escapes Zuko, straining to open his eyes, "Jet?"

"You're okay." Jet pulls Zuko closer, holding tighter, "I'm here. I've got you."

"Don't leave."

"I won't."

That had been yesterday and it was nearing noon, rubbing at his eyes and yawning widely, Jet shifts a little uncaring of the curious glance Iroh sends his way. After yesterday, the firebender had tried getting him to sleep, but Jet didn't want to risk it as Zuko might awaken.

"You should sleep."

"I don't want to."

"He will be fine."

"He always is."

As he begins to nod off, he hears Zuko shuffle, immediately perking up, he watches the pale teen roll onto his back, his eyelids fluttering open to reveal hazy amber eyes. All the while Iroh dips a rag in some cool water.

"You have an intense fever." he places the cloth upon Zuko's forehead, "You're burning up and this will help cool you down."

"I - ," Zuko rasps before coughing, he tries to sit up only for Jet and Iroh to coax him to lie back down, "Thirsty."

"Here." Iroh begins as he offers Zuko a ladle of water, "Here is some clean water." Jet helps Zuko sit upright, "Stay underneath the blankets and sweat this out."

Feeling Jet's touch makes Zuko want to fall asleep again, but his thirst keeps him from doing so, taking the ladle of water from his Uncle he tilts his head back and downs the liquid before throwing it over his shoulder. Rolling out of Jet's hold, he reaches for the bucket and chugs the entire thing, not caring that he was getting both himself and his futon wet. In fact, the water felt nice. Satiating his thirst for now, he tosses the empty bucket aside and lies back down, turning to face Jet as his Uncle situates the blanket back over him.

As soon as Iroh is sure Zuko is asleep, and won't be able to hear or remember, Iroh turns his attention to Jet.

"You need to sleep."

"I told you I didn't want to."

"You don't want to, or you can't?"

Jet glares at Iroh, "What if he wakes up?"

"He will understand."

"No." Jet turns his attention back to Zuko, "I want to be here for him."

"Then sleep alongside him."

"Wha - ?"

"Sleep alongside him." Iroh repeats, "If he wakes while you sleep, you will be in his immediate sight."

That did sound so much better than sleeping in another room without Zuko.

"Fine."

Throwing off his shirt and shoes, he slips underneath the cover and curls around Zuko's burning body, the Prince immediately snuggling up against him – Iroh smiling at the adorable sight. When Jet begins to come to, he hears Iroh talking and can feel Zuko's body rumble as he responds to whatever Iroh had said. Jet thinks he smells tea, but he can't be sure. Next time he wakes up, it's due to Zuko suddenly sitting upright with a scream escaping him and scaring him.

"Hey, hey, hey!" Jet grabs Zuko's shoulder, the Prince touching his scar before slumping against him, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Zuko murmurs tiredly, he buries his face within the crook of Jet's neck, "Just a nightmare."

oOo

"Would you like some jook?"

"Sure."

Iroh pours a bowl for Jet and hands it off, "Where is Prince Zuko?"

"Sleeping." Jet says, watching tendrils of steam rise from the dish, "Why?"

"It is getting closer to noon." Iroh explains, "Usually he is not one for sleeping in late."

"To be honest," Jet starts, "He's been acting – different."

"How so?"

"He's more – I don't know." Jet sighs in frustration, "He's actually smiling and more – not himself."

"I have noticed this change." Iroh murmurs thoughtfully, "Perhaps he's still fevered?"

"Morning."

Both Jet and Iroh turn towards the younger firebender who'd just entered the dining area, yawning and carefully rubbing the sleep from his eyes with his arm. Bringing the bowl of jook to his lips, Jet takes a small sip, eyes trained suspiciously on Zuko as he approaches Iroh – it isn't that he doesn't like Zuko smiling or being happy; it's just, this is a little weird and way too out of character for him. And yeah, Jet may be a little scared.

"What is that smell?"

"It's jook." Iroh stirs the pot deliberately, "I'm sure you wouldn't like it."

The two older males cast each other curious glances as Zuko bends towards the pot and takes a sniff, "Actually," Zuko starts, taking the bowl from the counter, "It smells delicious." he holds the bowl out towards his Uncle, "I'd love some."

Jet arches an incredulous brow and gives Iroh a see what I mean look, Iroh nods warily, "Now that your fever is gone," Iroh turns his attention back to Zuko, taking Zuko's bowl and filling it with jook, "You seem different somehow."

"It's a new day." Zuko sounds like he's going to laugh, he takes the bowl and moves to sit beside Jet who does his best not to tense up, "We've got a new apartment, furniture, and today's the grand opening of your teashop." he presses a tender kiss to Jet's cheek, "Things are looking up."

Jet is officially scared.

The rest of the day continues on like that, with a way too chipper Zuko and a mildly disturbed Jet, Iroh being of no help as he seems to fully approve of this new Zuko. So when Jet sees Katara and Momo being greeted by the two greeters, he's half tempted to let Zuko see her in hopes that it would snap him out of whatever mood he's in, but instead, he hastily directs Zuko's attention to a nearby table and hurries to Katara's side:

"Jet?"

"Hurry." Jet hisses pushing Katara out the doors, "Outside before he sees you."

"Wha – wait!" once they're outside, the girl directs an angry look at him, "You left us to fight off a bunch of Dai-Li!"

Jet snorts, "You guys are still alive, aren't you?"

"Well yes," Katara frowns, "But that doesn't excuse it!"

"I had something else to tend to. Besides, if it's any consolation, I had to fight off a bunch of Dai-Li by myself."

Katara continues looking mad before sighing loudly, "I guess. How's the tea?"

"The Gods' gift to mankind if you believe the people here."

"Sounds great." Katara says, Momo chattering in response, "I'd like a cup."

"Sure, what kind would you like?"

"Jasmine."

"Alright. Mind keeping your friends away from here?"

"There currently not here but yeah, I'll do my best."

"Great."

Unbeknownst to the two there was a stray Dai-Li agent watching the interaction and listening in on their conversation, hearing and connecting the dots just enough to understand what was truly going on and take his findings to Long-Feng who'd ordered he follow the Water Tribe girl.

Chapter Text

Feeling sick to his stomach, Jet steps off the carriage after both firebenders are out and watches the carriage leave before turning his attention to the palace itself. It's fairly intimidating and Jet has to appreciate that.

"Here we are, at the threshold of the palace." Iroh says as they being walking, "But I had always thought that I would have been here as a conqueror. Instead, we are here as the Earth King's personal guests. Destiny is a funny thing."

Jet rolls his eyes, because if they're going to start talking about destiny, he was going to turn around and go home – entering the palace, they're met with a very becoming woman who smiles kindly and gestures for them to follow. Taking in the ornate décor and tapestries, Jet starts to wonder what kind of man the Earth King is as he's never really heard that much about him, or seen him for that matter. The woman opens a door to a fancy room where three seats are already made and a table set before them with a throne at the head of everything.

"The Earth King will be with you shortly."

"Thank you." Iroh bows kindly.

Watching the woman until she disappears around a corner, Jet turns his attention back to the two firebenders as they settle into their seats with the one of the left of Zuko open. Obviously Jet's spot. Pursing his lips, Jet rubs at his sleeved wrist, beneath it is his bracer and hidden dagger. When Zuko looks at him curiously, Jet offers a small smile:

"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather stand."

"Come now Fan," Iroh starts, "We are guests."

"Exactly." Jet frowns, "No offence Uncle, but why would the Earth King ask for us personally just for some tea?"

"Maybe he heard about it from one of his servants," Zuko supplies, "There have been a lot of customers."

"Still." Jet knows he shouldn't be annoyed with Zuko, but this fake-cheer was really bothering him.

"We will be okay." Iroh hums, "Relax, you are no longer Lion-heart."

Frown deepening, Jet moves towards the seat beside Zuko, the feel of his armor beneath his stupid robes calming his nerves only so much. He only wished he would have been able to smuggle his shuang-gou in as well. When the second turn to minutes, his gut begins twisting, his fingers itching to grab one of his daggers. And apparently, the Earth King's absence is affecting Zuko just as much for the Fire Prince shifts in his seat and the familiar twitch of his lips gives away his annoyance – the almost scowl lightening Jet's mood oddly enough.

"What is taking so long?"

"Maybe the Earth King overslept?"

"I told you this was suspicious."

A door to their right slides open and two lines of Dai-Li enter the room, seemingly gliding across the floor as they circle around the trio, Zuko shifts even more in his seat, maneuvering himself a little closer to Jet.

"Ah, Lion-heart." a familiar voice croons, Jet tenses and Zuko jumps to his feet, "Always one step ahead of Zuzu." the girl moves to stand before the throne with her hands behind her back, she flashes a daunting smirk, "It's tea time."

"Azula!" Zuko snaps, "What are you doing here?!"

"Have you met the Dai-Li?" Azula asks instead, earning the clenching of Zuko's fists, "They're earthbenders, but they have killer instincts that are so firebender. I just love it."

Rising to his feet, Jet clenches his hidden dagger while Iroh stands with a cup of steaming tea in his hand, "Have I ever told you how I got the nickname, Dragon of the West?"

"Oh please," Azula drawls, "I don't have time to hear any of your anecdotes, Uncle."

"It's more of a demonstration really."

Before he can reveal his dagger, Jet is surprised when Zuko grabs his wrist and tugs him behind Iroh just as flames spew from the older firebender's mouth and forcing the Dai-Li men to shield themselves from the fire. Bursting a hole in the door with a ball of fire, Iroh hurries them along the hall with the Dai-Li shooting slabs of earth at them. Bits of rock exploding and littering the ground. Seeing a dead end, Jet is about to stop when he notices the crackling of electricity begin to spark around Iroh's hands shortly before he shoots the lightning at the wall, bursting yetanother hole in a wall. Jumping out the hole in the wall with Iroh, both males land safely in separate hedges, Iroh's being completely destroyed underneath his weight while Jet's holds – if a little smashed.

"Come on!" Iroh shouts, Jet looks towards the entrance where he spots Zuko staring down at them,

"Zuko!" Jet shouts, his blood running cold, "Don't you dare!"

Iroh seems to catch on to what is about to happen just as Zuko speaks, "No! I'm tired of running; I'm going to face Azula head on!"

Watching the Prince turn and disappear into the building, Jet grits his teeth while Iroh slaps a hand to his forehead.

"I swear I'm going to kill him."

"Hurry." Iroh takes off with Jet following shortly after, "We must find help."

"Who's going to help us?!"

oOo

"This is ridiculous."

"They will help."

"How are you sure?"

"I'm not."

Jet frowns at the firebender knocking on the door to the fancy building, it only takes a few seconds before the door opens and that blind girl begins to speak while both Aang and Sokka are heard freaking out about something or other from inside the house. Iroh and the girl, who Jet doesn't know the name of, seem to be on good terms, so that's great. But when they start with pleasantries, Jet lets out an annoyed growl that Iroh hears and causes the Dai-Li agent to tense as Jet is the one holding a blade to his throat.

"May we come in?"

Apparently they're given the go ahead as Iroh steps into the building, Jet gives the Dai-Li agent a final glare before stepping into the fancy home, eyes falling upon the scaffolding holding the house's ceiling.

"What's going on?" Sokka instantly questions before his eyes land on Jet's bandages, Jet having discarded his stiff, fancy robes, "And what happened to you?"

"Doesn't matter." Jet frowns, "And – we need your help."

"Our help?" Sokka guffaws.

Jet scowls. Iroh takes the initiative to speak, "Princess Azula is here within Ba-Sing-Se, she has captured my Nephew."

"She must have Katara too!" Aang exclaims before sobering, "Okay, we'll help one another to take down Azula and save Katara and Zuko."

"Whoa! Hold on!" Sokka shouts, he moves to stand beside Aang, "You lost me at and Zuko!"

"I know how you must think of my Nephew," Iroh begins, "But believe me when I say that he has good within him."

Sokka frowns, "Come back when he has good on the outside as well."

"We don't have time for this." Jet snarls, he steps towards Sokka, both Aang and the little girl tensing, "Azula has Katara and who knows what she'll do to her, and as much as I hate to say it, Azula is a talented bender. None of you will stand a chance against her." he levels a look at Aang, "And unless you've mastered firebending, you might as well let her have your little friend. Who knows, maybe she'll be merciful and skip past the torture and straight to the execution."

"Lion-heart." Iroh frowns, "That's enough."

Jet casts his glare to Iroh then back to Aang who now has unshed tears in his eyes, Jet sneers, "I'm only telling you what'll happen. That's just the kind of person she is. What use could she have for a waterbender?"

"Harsh." the little girl mumbles.

"Okay – you're right." Sokka growls, glaring hard at Jet, "I don't like you or Zuko, but Katara is my sister and I'll do anything for her. Even if it means teaming up with you."

Iroh gestures for the kids to follow, "We brought along someone who can help."

Exiting the house, Iroh leads the group to their tagalong, the girl earthbending the man into standing up as Jet approaches to yank the gag from the man's mouth; Jet presses the tip of his dagger underneath the man's jaw.

"Talk."

The Dai-Li agent does so without much more prompting from Jet, "Azula and Long-Feng are planning a coup; they're going to overthrow the Earth King and take control of Ba-Sing-Se!"

"Where are they keeping my sister?!" Sokka demands.

"In the crystal catacombs of old Ba-Sing-Se, just underneath the palace."

Jet knocks the man out with the blunt end of his dagger, "Why don't you take a rest?"

"We've got our destination." Aang says, "Let's go."

oOo

"I'm sorry I yelled at you earlier."

"It doesn't matter."

"It's just – that for so long, whenever I imagined the face of the enemy, it was your face."

"My face," Zuko murmurs, fingers touching his scar, "I see."

"No, no. That's not what I meant."

"It's okay." Zuko lets his hand drop, "I used to think this scar marked me, the mark of the banished Prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever." he thinks of his original plans to leave Ba-Sing-Se with Jet, "But lately, I've realized that I'm free to determine my own destiny. Even if I'll never be free of my mark."

"Maybe you could be free of it."

Zuko's eyes widen in surprise, he turns to face Katara, "What?"

"I have healing abilities."

Zuko frowns, mentally berating himself for getting his hopes up, "It's a scar. It can't be healed."

The waterbender's movement captures his attention, looking in her general direction; he sees her pull out a string with some sort of blue vial attached to it. She holds it out for him to see.

"This is water from the spirit oasis in the North Pole." she starts to draw closer, "It has special properties so I've been saving it for something important. I don't know if it would work, but we can try."

Feeling something in the air shift, Zuko closes his eyes and allows the waterbender to touch his scar, the very same one he'd been ashamed of for years, the very same one he's only allowed Jetto touch without him tensing. The pads of her fingers press a little more allowing Zuko to feel the mild warmth seep into his ruined skin, her touch is soft – kind. As he begins to understand why the girl before him captured Jet's attention, the wall beyond them suddenly implodes. Creating a billowing of dust and causing the two to part. Before the air can clear, Jet bounds towards Zuko and throws his arms around a startled Zuko, burying his face against the Fire Prince's shoulder.

"Fuck Fire-Bird," Jet whispers quietly, "You scared me."

Katara watches the scene with both surprise and confusion before she turns and spots Aang, "Aang ~ !"

Looking up at the sound of the Avatar's name being called, Zuko feels his heart drop and his mind begin to race with a thousand different questions, he's about to ask Jet what's going on as the taller boy pulls back, but before he can, Iroh envelopes him in a hug, confusing Zuko even more. Both Jet and his Uncle had been with the Avatar. Casting his gaze back to the Avatar, he sees the kid send him a glare. Narrowing his eyes, Zuko pulls away from his Uncle.

"What are you guys doing with the Avatar?"

"Rescuing you." Aang emphasizes, "That's what."

Growling, Zuko attempts to go after the brat when his Uncle stops him, holding him back, Iroh turns to the two reunited friends, "Go on and rescue your other friends."

What?

Watching the Avatar bow respectfully before running off, Zuko looks away, feeling confused and – betrayed.

"We need to talk."

"Why?"

"You are at the crossroads of your destiny." Iroh begins, Zuko notices Jet roll his eyes, "You are not the man you used to be. You are stronger, wiser, and freer than you were before. And now it is time for you to choose – it is time for you to choose good."

The ground rumbles and before Jet or Zuko can react, Iroh is encased within the glowing crystal. Directing his attention towards the source, Zuko spots his sister and two Dai-Li agents, Jet immediately reaching for his shuang-gou he'd obviously equipped before finding him, but before his fingers can even brush against the leather handles of his weapons, he's soon trapped within the same crystal.

"I expected this kind of treachery from Uncle," Azula sneers, her gaze flicks to Jet, "And Lion-heart subsequently. But Zuko, Prince Zuko. You're a lot of things but you're not a traitor. Are you."

Zuko frowns, "Release them immediately."

"It's not too late for you Zuko, you can still redeem yourself."

Iroh warns, "The kind of redemption she offers is not the kind for you."

"Don't listen to her." Jet snaps when he sees Zuko's posture shift, "She lies remember!"

"Be quiet and let him decide," Azula hisses, "Before I have the Dai-Li muzzle you two as well."

Zuko immediately tenses, "Leave them alone."

Azula returns her softened gaze to Zuko, "I need you Zuko, I've plotted every move of this day. This glorious day in Fire Nation history, and the only way we win is together. At the end of this day you will have your honor back. You will have Father's love. You will have everything you want."

"Zuko." Iroh starts, "I am begging you, look into your heart and see what it is you truly want."

Azula raises her hand, the two Dai-Li agents leave, "You are free to choose."

oOo

Staring the girl and the Avatar down in case either make any sudden movements, a large ball of fire explodes between them, causing both firebending siblings to back away, the Dai-Li shielding their eyes. When the dust clears and settles enough for anyone to see properly, Zuko sees his Uncle in full firebending stance with Jet standing off to the side with a look of utter confusion etched across his face. When their eyes meet, Zuko sees shock war with the confusion – as if he didn't understand why Zuko was on the other side.

Iroh shoots fire at the feet of the Dai-Li, forcing them away further, "Go!" he shouts, "Take Lion-heart and go!" Zuko feels his heart drop, "I will hold them off for as long as I can!"

Jet holds Zuko's gaze as he nods in a jerky manner before he starts to back away slowly, Zuko's blood runs cold, he holds his hand out towards Jet:

"Wait!"

Jet pauses, he sees Zuko's outstretched hand and stares a good few seconds before he takes a step towards his lover.

"No!" Iroh snaps, startling Jet, "Go with the Avatar and his friend!"

Swallowing hard, Jet turns away from Zuko and takes Aang from Katara, allowing the girl to use both hands to create a large funnel of water that lifts them towards the exit – seeing Jet leave him behind, Zuko feels tears prick his eyes before rage takes over. Fully intending to shoot them down, Zuko is stopped by his Uncle who shot a blast of fire before him, the dirt and smoke forcing him to shield his eyes. When he looks up, the water is gone and his Uncle surrenders. Glaring at his Uncle, Zuko turns away – both Jet and his Uncle betrayed him. His Uncle forcing Jet to leave, and Jet doing so without much of a fight.

Chapter Text

Heart breaking in the face of being left behind; Zuko feels tears prick the corners of his eyes and so many mangled and torn emotions crying for attention, their voices making his head swim and his mind slow – he doesn't know half of these newfound feelings, but there is one that he familiarizes himself with. Hate. Allowing himself to drown in the cold rage, his fists catch fire and he steps forward, fully intending to shoot the trio down. A blast of fire erupts before him, the dirt and smoke forcing him to shield his eyes. Waving the debris from his vision, he feels a desperate sort of mania begin to spread throughout his body once he sees the water funnel is gone, along with its passengers. His Uncle surrenders. Heart turning to stone, Zuko levels a glare at his traitorous Uncle before turning away, not the least bit affected by the man's disappointed look – both Jet and his Uncle betrayed him!

He promised he wouldn't leave.

He said he loved him.

"Aren't you cold?"

"I've got a lot on my mind." Zuko murmurs – after the fall of Ba-Sing-Se, Mai had come to him and he'd let her, "It's been so long, over three years since I was home. I wonder what's changed – how I've changed."

A yawn interrupts him from his self monologue, reminding him who he was with – that the person he was currently standing alongside with underneath the full moon was someone with soft curves and a softer body.

"I just asked if you were cold." with Jet, he would muse aloud and the older boy would listen, either offering comfort or just outright teasing him, "I didn't ask for your whole life story." Mai is not Jet and Jet is not Mai. He'd have to adapt to her entire being, "Stop worrying."

Allowing the girl to coax him into a chaste kiss, he feels nothing behind it, he probably should as Mai is a pretty girl and actually likes him for who he is rather than what he is not, like Jin who'd fallen for a down-on-his-luck refugee by the name of Li, he probably should wrap his arms around her and pull her closer as if he were trying to fuse their bodies together, deepen the kiss, dosomething besides standing there doing nothing – then again, he should have done a lot of things in his life that he didn't do. Why start now?

She pulls away, eyes locking with his, "Goodnight."

The Fire Prince doesn't bother with watching her leave or offering her a goodnight as well, even if he'd wanted to, she turned away before he could get a word in edgewise. Looking to the moon hovering within the midnight sky, he feels a deep discontent begin to weigh heavily upon his shoulders – waking the next morning; Zuko finds that he's uncharacteristically cold, so in an attempt to gain some heat and ward of the chilly air, he burrows underneath the blankets and rolls over hoping to siphon some heat from – his eyes snap open to stare at the empty spot beside him. There is no warm body to be found. Balling his hand into a fist, he shuts his eyes and mentally punishes himself for expecting Lion-heart to be there, sleeping beside him in some ridiculous position that looks like it would hurt when he awoke. The cold seeps into his skin and settles deep within his bones.

He did right by his Nation!

Throwing the sheets off, he practically runs out of bed and sets about his morning routine. Meeting his Sister and her friends within the kitchen/dining area of the ship, he locks eyes with Mai for a handful of seconds in which the usually stoic girl offers just the barest of smiles, she really is pretty, beautiful even, but as the word crosses his thoughts, his traitorous mind brings up various memories of him and Jet, the prominent being him wrapped up in Jet's arms with the taller boy telling him how beautiful he is, how so in love he is – it shouldn't hurt, especially since Jet had betrayed him.

"It isn't your fault, Brother."

Zuko reels, eyes instantly meeting Azula's, "Huh?"

"It isn't your fault," she repeats, "Uncle and Lion-heart betrayed you."

That's what Zuko has been trying to convince himself of, he knows what they did, that if Uncle hadn't been so adamant about Jet leaving with the Avatar and his little friend, that the older boy would be here with him, and if Jet loved him so much, he wouldn't have left – Zuko mentally cringes. That didn't sound right, even to him.

"Lion-heart was a little scary," Ty-Lee starts, her eyes wide and hands clasped together in a frightened manner. This catches Zuko off-guard. "I mean, he's handsome but he was a little – his aura was just so dark."

"He was annoying." Mai frowns, she sighs, "How did you manage living with that?"

"I – don't understand." Zuko frowns, he's only known Jet for his ridiculous antics and charming personality, "J – Lion-heart isn't that bad, I mean, at first yeah he was always trying to start a fight – but,"

"Oh, he didn't tell you?" Azula hums, a sharp edge to her tone, Zuko shakes his head slowly, he and Jet hadn't really talked about anything else beyond each other, "I suppose he wouldn't, his savage behavior isn't exactly something to be proud of. Let's see, where should I start?" she appears to mull the question over, "For starters, he would constantly belittle my authority in and out of public, he was crude, and he would constantly pick on Mai, he said some very mean things to her."

"I - ," Ty-Lee hesitates, pursing her lips and twiddling her fingers before looking at him from underneath her lashes, "He knew she liked you," Zuko blinked, wide-eyed, "I think he was afraid of losing your friendship."

Azula lets out a rather derisive snort and the two begin a debate for the reasonings behind Lion-heart's behavior, with Mai's own personal input here and there, as rare as it was – the Fire Prince fights back the sigh threatening to escape past his lips. He'd made the biggest mistake of his life. And it really was too late to fix it.

oOo

Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock.

"Jet?"

It's Katara. Ever since he'd joined them, the waterbender has been doing her best to ensure that Jet feels welcomed, that he eats and sleeps at regular intervals, that he'll hopefully regain at least some feeling back within everything below his elbow during their healing sessions – and really, all those healing sessions have ever done was smooth the scars over, make them look as though he's had them for years rather than a month or two. Just another thing the Fire Nation has taken from him. But he is Fire Nation in a way. Yeah, he was born on Earth Kingdom soil to a dirt poor family, but the Royal Family took him in and raised them as a Fire Nation Citizen, albeit in assassination. He claimed to hate the Fire Nation, yet he hadn't realized that he was Fire Nation.

His soul on fire, raging with hate only possessed by a firebender, his heart captured by the crown Prince, his body and skill set used by the Royal Family, his life lain on the line for Prince Iroh and Prince Zuko - Jet's mind has never been particularly kind, but for the first time in his life, he absolutely hated himself:

"Jet?"

"Come in."

The metal hatch swings open, the hinges creaking and squeaking, and Jet hates himself all the more for thinking of the pathetic little ship the Prince had been given, for thinking of it as his firstreal home – his attention is dragged from his self-loathing to the dangling water-skin held before his eyes, looking up to the owner, he sees Katara offering just the barest of smiles. She knows this is all for naught, but that doesn't stop her from hoping.

"I was thinking we could do a quick healing session before we all went out to eat."

"Katara," Jet frowns but relinquishes by removing his top and allowing the girl to shed his bandages, "I know you want to help and want me to feel again, but I'm pretty sure me driving a dagger through my hand without so much as flinching means - ,"

"No. Please – just, let me try." the girl removes a flowing strip of water from the pouch, Jet remains silent, "So, have you felt anything?" Katara asks in hopes of drawing something out of Jet, "And please don't tell me you did the whole dagger thing again, it was scary the first time, I don't think I can handle a second."

Jet sighs, "No. I can move my hand and roll my wrist, normally, but I can't feel anything. And no, I didn't do the whole dagger thing again."

"Okay." Katara concentrates on the water beneath her hands, she can sense everything in its rightful place but it appears, dead, she purses her lips and draws her water back. Jet really won't be feeling with his right hand again. The thought scares and disturbs her. She manipulates the water towards Jet's chest, instantly noticing the way the boy flinches as soon as the cool water touches his skin, she feels her heart lighten. "How about your chest?"

"Yeah - ," Jet nods, discomfort creasing his brows, "A little too much."

"That's good ~ !" Katara beams, this time, she senses everything to be very much alive, she smiles brighter and pulls her water from his skin before setting it back within the sack, "It's healing better than your arm – you really don't know how long it was before your wounds were seen by a healer?"

"No," Jet shakes his head, with Katara's help he begins wrapping his agitated burns, "I was out cold according to Z - ," Jet pauses, "According to Prince Zuko, he and General Iroh couldn't find any healers nearby, but when they did, the worst was over."

Katara watches the teen pulls his shirt on, she fiddles with the bandages to be wrapped around Jet's forearm and hand – everyone's noticed the way Jet falters or gets this glazed off look whenever someone so much as mentions the Prince or asks about his past. And for whatever reason, Katara feels that it's her fault Zuko didn't join. All in all, she hates how bitter the Fire Prince has reduced this beautiful boy, made of one disaster to another, to.

"Well," Katara starts as she begins wrapping the gauze around Jet's forearm, "We're all going into town to get something to eat, if you want to come, but I was kind of hoping that you'd talk to Aang."

"Talk to him about what?"

"He thinks he failed the world because everyone thinks he's dead."

"Okay-y-y?" Jet frowns, watching Katara's lithe fingers fix the wraps, "What makes you think I understand what he's going through?"

"Because you feel like you've failed Zuko."

Jet's eyes darken, he turns his glare away from Katara, "I didn't do anything."

"I know you hate to talk about him, but could you?"

Jet grits his teeth, concentrates on the fact that he should feel Katara's fingers on his arm but can't, on the fact that he couldn't control himself and is now living with the consequences. He still doesn't see how whatever he's going through and what Aang is dealing with is the same thing, but maybe it's just Katara hoping for something that Jet hasn't thought of or dared to hope for. "I don't know."

And just like that, Katara knows that's all she'll be getting from Jet, especially now that he refuses to so much as look in her direction. Sighing quietly, she continues working on Jet's bandages until none of his scarred tissue is visible underneath the off-white wrappings.

"Do you still want to join us for dinner?"

"Yeah," Jet shrugs, doesn't even look at her, "Sure."

Chapter Text

There are so many voices, literally, there are a lot of people on this ship he has little to no idea about, but apparently, they all know of him and his deeds. Either through Fire Nation reports or the Avatar and his merry band of benders, and Sokka. Neither resource leaves much room for debate on his sudden good side. Hakoda, the man who appears to be in charge of this massive caste of misfits, hates him because it appears the Water Tribe siblings ragged on him and their past encounters – he isn't sure if he should be annoyed or not.

Some of the people will offer awkward smiles while others go out of their way to hate him, he doesn't care either way, he wants nothing more than to disappear off the face of the earth. He wants to be alone. And oh how he hates just how much his relationship with Zuko screwed him over, more so than the Prince as Zuko had no problem leaving him behind, and looking to shoot them down. Yeah, he saw that. Guess he was nothing more than a stepping stone for the firebending Prince. Love is horrible. He knows this, but Katara hasn't gotten the memo as she's still fluttering about him, hoping to catch his eye – he would have thought she would be a little more cautious considering the last time he pretended to have an inkling of an interest in her, he'd stabbed her and the other two in the back, but apparently, him choosing the Avatar over Zuko erases all past deeds in her eyes. Or maybe he's reading too much into it and she simply feels sorry for him. Gods, he doesn't know anymore and that frustrates him.

Hate. Hate. Hate.

Aren't they supposed to be going out to eat?

Some of the others have already disembarked on their little journey to find food while others mill about the deck, if no one came to get him, he was going on his own, he didn't need anyone to hold his hand – especially since he wouldn't be able to feel it if they did. He snickers at his own joke. Just as he's this close to leaving the ship, he spots the odd monstrosity that is red on blue – he really doesn't think blue goes with red, but what does he know about colors and fashion, he spent most of his years wearing monochrome.

Katara approaches him with Hakoda, Sokka, and Toph in tow; she smiles at him, warm and soft, "Ready to go?"

"Yeah," Jet nods, he can feel Sokka's suspicious gaze on him, can practically see the tension in Hakoda's stance.

Now, he's glad no one on the hellhole of a ship fears him, but their suspicious stares and glaring is more annoying.

"Great, let's - ,"

"Jet?" everyone turns to see Aang looking meek, he's using his staff for support, "Can I – talk to you?"

"How about later?" Sokka says, the when everyone's here goes unsaid.

"It's important."

"Well then," Katara says, of course she's going to jump on the chance, "If it's important, go ahead."

"Katara." Sokka hisses, but he goes ignored.

"We'll bring both of you something back."

"Thank you." Aang says, tired smile in place, Jet only nods.

oOo

In the end, it hadn't been Jet or Katara that had planned this little chat with Aang, rather, it was the monk himself that had come to the older boy just as he was about to leave the ship for the town, much to Jet's chagrin as his stomach continuously rumbled, but the fact that the airbender had looked so – unlike himself with the long face and dim lit eyes, that the assassin had half-heartedly relinquished his visit to the nearest food stall and followed the kid to his room. This brings Jet here, currently sitting upon the floor of Aang's room with his back pressed against the metal wall closest to the door in case things get awkward:

"What's this about?" Jet finally asks after Aang's fifth attempt at a casual conversation.

Now Aang may not be acting like himself, what with the forlorn expression tugging at the edge of the kid's features and the self-hate hidden within his eyes, but Jet wasn't here to babysit, and he sure as hell wasn't going to sugarcoat anything just because the kid feels bad. Besides, Jet was pretty hungry.

"Right, well – when you were traveling with Zuko," Aang begins, rubbing the back of his neck while Jet fights the urge to clam up. The bastard obviously felt he was nothing significant if he hadn't so much as lifted a finger. "And he was looking for his honor, or something like that, I – did he ever find it?"

"What?" Jet snorts, cruel amusement lacing his tone and a jeering smirk spreading across his lips, "You looking for your honor now?" he sees the kid blush bright red. Of course. The seventeen year old rolls his eyes. "Spirits. Look, truth be told, Prince Zuko never lost his honor in the first place, he just – thought he did."

"But - !"

"Don't interrupt." The non-bender hisses, Aang flinches but remains silent, "The Prince stood for what he thought was right, by trying to save a couple lives, but the warmongers who raised me didn't agree, no, they didn't care if they were sacrificing a bunch of fresh-faced kids, they wanted to win this war." Voice heavily laden with pessimism, "Now, the man who burned half his face off, declared him a disgrace, and kicked him out of his home when he was just thirteen fucking years old, should have been the one to lose whatever honor he had left, but the fact that the Fire Nation is so ass-backwards and stuck in their ways means the guy's still living the high-life."

Aang stares wide-eyed at the tidbit of information revealed to him, "So – I don't, what about you?"

"Fuck if I know," he wants to silence the voices within his head, "I never really cared about honor."

"No, I mean – you're always, how do you feel about Zuko? Don't you feel like you failed him?"

"I don't know – look, the whole world may think you're dead and you feel like you've let everyone down, but the fact that you're here and alive means you're doing alright. You haven't let anyone down, not your friends at least. So when you show the world that you're alive, people will realize that you're still in this for the long haul. Besides, everyone's allowed a little time off every now and then."

Silence.

Until Aang suddenly launches himself at Jet, wrapping his arms around the older boy's neck, causing Jet to tense incredibly, his hands immediately reaching for his daggers – which weren't there. It's when he feels somethingbegin to soak his shirt does he realize that Aang isn't attacking him, or trying to, but is hugging him instead. In a teary, emotional manner.

"Thank you, Jet."

"Let go - ," Jet murmurs. When he hears Aang sniffle, he begins to feel extremely uncomfortable. "I'm not Katara."

This gets the airbender to release his hold on Jet and recoil, face red and laughing awkwardly, but smiling once again, looking more like himself than he'd been a handful of minutes ago – and it's not like Aang's little crush on Katara wasn't all that well hidden, if it was meant to be. Maybe Katara didn't know. Surely she wouldn't be batting her eyelashes at him if she knew – she didn't seem like the type of girl.

"Thanks again, Jet." Aang says, bringing Jet from his random thought bubble, "I'm really glad I could talk to you."

"Right," Jet gets to his feet, stretching his arms and legs, "You can thank me by letting me have your food."

Aang laughs, "Sure thing ~ !"

oOo

This is wrong – or so others will think if they see him, he's not entirely sure he can tell the difference between right and wrong anymore, not when his chest aches so much nowadays or an unseen force weighing his shoulders down. Let's not forget the niggling at the back of his mind that tells him, day in and day out that he's made the biggest mistake of his life back in Ba-Sing-Se. City of Mistakes. But that's beside the point seeing as no self respecting Prince would mope about within the room of an Earth Kingdom orphan turned assassin, an Earth Kingdom assassin who'd obviously betrayed him and the Nation that had taught him practically everything he knows – but he's tired of trying to convince himself that Jet was the one who betrayed the other, he's still a little sore about his Uncle, but he understands that he's the one in the wrong this time. Especially since everything within Caldera reminds him of those he's lost, funnily enough, those he lost are the ones who cared for him, and home had become the place within the arms of a boy who was like his very own personal sun.

Warm on some days, brutal on others.

Shutting his burning eyes, he breathes in the smell of clean linen one last time and pushes himself up, exiting the room in favor of relocating to his Father's office where he kept documents on everything within the Fire Nation. He just wants to go home. They're eating, minus Aang who'd stayed outside, when a man haggard looking man comes up to their table, he's sweating and his eyes are shifty, it would be disgusting if Jet didn't know the man was this way because he was scared of him – actually, no, it was still pretty off-putting. Before any one of them can speak, the nervous man thrusts a rolled up paper at him and proceeds to fidget nervously in place.

All of this is weird. People know who he is, but none have made a move to actually arrest him, not even some guards he and the others have spotted within the marketplace. If he remembered correctly, he was a wanted criminal, traitor, whatever the Fire Lord deemed him – shouldn't people be jumping at the opportunity to turn in a serial killer to make themselves feel safer?

"Who's this from?" he finally asks.

The man jumps but stutters out an answer anyway, "A friend of yours."

Jet frowns, he has virtually no one beyond Zuko, and Iroh he supposes, "What did they look like?"

"I – I don't know, they – they were wearing one of those h – hooded robes." Jet frowns, the man hurries to tack on another piece, "But they were male! I can assure you that! Their voice was very rough!"

"I didn't know you had any friends." Sokka teases.

"I didn't either." Jet's frown deepens as he begins to unroll the parchment.

"Do you think it's - ," Katara falters, "Him?"

Jet,

I know what I did back in Ba-Sing-Se was wrong and (words scribbled out (more words scribbled out)) I miss you okay, I just (words scribbled out), I want to be with you again (words scribbled out) but I understand if you don't want to see me, or – yeah. I don't know, respond, or don't if you don't want to. I just wanted to let you know that I still love you.

Zuko.

Zuko.

"Well," Sokka blurts fairly loud, "What does it say?"

Jet glares at the brash Water Tribesman but turns his attention to the now-apparent messenger, the poor man visibly tensing in an alarming fashion, Jet concentrates on the man's every muscle movement. The note was so cringe worthy that no one other than Zuko would write something so lame, so there was no doubt that it was Zuko, but the man could have read it and Jet knows that no one within the Fire Nation could be trusted. Not even Zuko himself.

"Did you read this?"

"N – no, Lion-heart – Sir!"

"If I found out that you read this I will - ,"

"Calm down," Toph interrupts, "The guy's telling the truth. Also, you're scaring him."

"I know that." Jet hisses.

Katara finally asks, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Jet starts to make his way for the door, "My friend wants to meet up."

"What?!" both Water Tribe siblings exclaim.

"I don't think that's - ,"

"That's crazy!"

"I'm going to meet him." Jet says with finality, there are more protests flung his way, but Jet gestures for the messenger to follow, "Come with me, I've got something for you to deliver."

"Y – Yes sir!"

Both Katara and Sokka watch the flap close behind Jet and the messenger before Sokka finally speaks:

"Did Jet just abandon us?"

"He wants to see his friend again," Toph belches, "What did you expect?"

Katara waves her hand in front of her face, her other hand covering her nose, "For him to stay?"

"Well," Sokka pipes up once more, "It was bound to happen sooner or later."

"And who knows," Toph starts again, "Maybe Twinkle-toes will finally have a firebending teacher."

Chapter Text

Earlier that day, he'd received a letter from the same messenger he'd sent out to find Jet – yes, he'd sent some man to scour an entire town he'd heard rumors of Jet, Lion-heart's, whereabouts trickling forth from, but as half-baked as the plan had been, it yielded results as now he had a response. Sort of. The letter in question was a scroll with a torn piece of a map secured on to the center of the paper with the word here written beneath in sloppy, hard strikes, and after many hours of scouring the maps within the palace library, he finally found the location, which in itself made little to no sense, for if the Avatar was as alive and well as he suspects, then wouldn't it be better for them to hide elsewhere than within the Fire Nation? The very Nation which, if Zuko remembers correctly and he's sure he does, is currently celebrating the supposed death of said boy?

Could they have something planned?

Or perhaps Jet had gone his separate way – but that made even less sense than the Avatar's group hiding out within the very land that wants them all captured, or killed. In the end, it doesn't matter as he finally has Jet's location. Taking a steadying breath, Zuko turns to leave the library, that is until he spots Mai standing in the entryway, her arms crossed over her chest and a small smile playing across her lips, and it's then that Zuko remembers that he's technically in a relationship with another person who isn't Jet.

" Mai," Zuko blinks, surprise written within his tone, "Mai," he starts again, hating the way his throat closes, "What are you doing here?"

" Well," Mai starts, there's a small upturn to her lips, "I heard from a couple of the servants that you were in here for most of the morning, so I just had to find out just what it was that had you so preoccupied for so long. And in the library of all places."

She's beautiful and amazing, and makes Zuko feel guilty, "I was – planning to visit a few places within the Fire Nation."

" Oh?" she starts walking towards the table he'd been hunched over for several hours straight, "Anywhere special?"

" Uh," he turns back towards the table, "Ember Island, maybe – it's been a while."

Mai makes a hum of acknowledgment, "With or without the royal procession?"

" Without I think," Zuko frowns, "It really has been a while and I, and I just need some time to myself, to see what's changed."

It's all a lie – despite Zuko having been gone for two or so years, he's still terrible at lying, but she allows her smile to widen a fraction more as she places a hand upon his jaw and coaxes him into a kiss. For once it's soft and tender, more than their usual kisses which consist of Zuko standing as stiff as a board with awkward, jerky movements. She feels him press his lips against hers and lay a hand upon her waist, pulling her closer than he's ever done since they've been dating. When they pull away, the look Zuko gives her breaks her heart – she knows he's going to search for Lion-heart, after all, she's noticed that the WANTED posters of said teen have suddenly disappeared. Azula has too, but she doesn't bother, claiming that if Zuko wants to ruin his life for some orphan, then so be it, Ty-Lee thinks it's a nice gesture. And Mai, Mai just hopes Zuko knows what he's doing:

" I hope you have a good time."

Zuko smiles an actual smile that's both soft and rare, his hand still on her waist, "I hope you'll have just as good a time."

Mai rolls her eyes, a snort playing on the tip of her tongue, "With how dull this place is, I doubt it."

And with that, Zuko can't help the dry laugh that escapes his lips – they could have been something in another time and in another place, Mai is beautiful, she's amazing, deadly and graceful, she's everything Zuko could possibly want in a possible love interest. But Jet's ruined him. Ruined him in ways he never knew he could. Jet's shown him a softer side, a more caring side, a side that didn't involve anger, but he's also pushed him beyond his normal levels of emotion and physical being – both he and Mai could have been something and it kills him.

Zuko pulls her back in for a hug, "Thank you."

Returning the unexpected hug, Mai begins to feel as if this will be the last time they'll be able to stay like this, to hold one another like this, and if she holds him an extra second longer, then no one has to know – that night, when a messenger shows up at her family's house with a letter specifically for her, she knows her suspicions were correct: Zuko is searching for Lion-heart.

But despite her knowing her now ex-boyfriend's intentions, that doesn't stop the break in her heart when she reads the letter left for her.

oOo

At the end of the day, it had been Katara who had been the most against Jet temporarily leaving the group to meet up with Zuko, and even though she'd given her best argument and even went as far as to bat her pretty blue eyes at him, it didn't work, especially since he was currently sitting high within a tree that overlooked the sandy shores. With a leg dangling over the edge of a branch, his fingers absently tearing apart a perfectly good leaf before throwing it over the edge and plucking another, his eyes scan the sandy shores as well as the vast ocean beyond it – and try as he might to convince himself that he didn't care whether the Fire Prince showed or not, his heart still beat to the tune of rejection and disappointment.

As the seventeen year old reaches for another victim/leaf, he spots movement upon the sandy shores, sitting upright, he squints his eyes in an attempt to get a better look at the person – they're obviously Fire Nation if he red clothes are anything to go by. Male. Black hair and pale skin. And gee, that leaves – just the entire Fire Nation!

Knowing he'd have to get a closer look, he nimbly jumps from his perch and lands safely upon the forest ground – walking along the beach, Zuko finds a particular worthy looking spot to sit and wait, and maybe play in the sand, but before he can reach for a nearby shell glinting underneath the noon sun, he feels a blade press against his neck with something curving around the front of his throat. The sharpness of the blade causes him to tense.

"You tried to shoot me down."

Uh-oh.

"You – saw that?"

"More or less." the blade doesn't waver, "I hope you're not expecting a kiss."

No, he hadn't been thinking anything of the sort, but a kiss would be nice right about now.

"No." he says instead, "Not really."

"Why are you here?"

"To - ,"

"Wait." Zuko can hear the frown in Jet's voice, "Let me rephrase that. Why did you want to meet?"

Needing to see Jet, Zuko twists his body a little and cranes his neck, he feels the blade's edge bite into his skin, but that doesn't matter once he sees the cold indifference in Jet's countenance – Jet looks the same, his hair's a little longer though and his clothes are shades of red and gold, obviously Fire Nation, but it's Jet, or rather, Lion-heart at the moment.

Zuko meets Jet's eyes, "It's as the letter says."

Jet's eyes narrow and his lip pulls back to reveal gritted teeth, "You try to shoot me down and now you come crawling back to me because you, all of a sudden, miss me?" the older teen barks out a bitter, vicious laugh, "Forgive me Prince Zuko if I don't quite believe the tale your selling."

"Jet," Zuko tries, voice softening, "You and I both know that I can't lie to save my life." the blade nips his skin, this time it draws blood, "I really did miss you, I just – I finally had everything I wanted and – none of it was what I wanted. Not – anymore at least."

Silence.

Sighing, Jet removes his sword from Zuko's neck and sheathes it, "Don't think this means I forgive you."

Zuko offers a small sheepish smile before his eyes glance beyond Jet, the smile disappears and a look of confusion takes over, "I thought – you were with the Avatar."

Of course this is the wrong thing to say for Jet instantly tenses, his fists clench and his eyes narrow:

"Why?" Jet snarls, "So you can kidnap him? Kill him once and for all?"

"No! No, no!" Zuko mentally backtracks, "I just – I was wondering if they were here with you!"

"No." Jet hisses, "They're not. Disappointed?"

"Not particularly." Zuko smiles, soft and wistful, "Otherwise I wouldn't be able to do this."

Jet is surprised when his sword is knocked away and Zuko grabs his shirt. His first thoughts are all reminders and notes of how to take Zuko down, that is, before he finally realizes what the other is doing – and wow, Zuko's lips are softer than he remembers. Allowing his eyes to drift shut, he raises his hands to place them on Zuko's back – until he catches himself and forces his body to pull away from the other's welcoming warmth.

"No - ," Jet mouths, he can't help the way his heart hammers or the way his mind immediately imprints the picture Zuko makes, lips a shade darker, glossy with spit, and eyes half-lidded – he needs to speak louder, otherwise this will progress a lot farther than he'd suspected, "Don't."

Yeah. He isn't speaking loud enough. Hands cup either side of his face and he's pulled in for another kiss and Spirits how he missed this, his mind tells him to stop, tells him that he shouldn't be letting this happen, that he shouldn't let Zuko in that easily – but Zuko is making these needy little noises and Jet may or may not have jerked off to memories of those sounds back when he and the others were on that God forsaken Fire Nation Navy ship. God. Who was he kidding?

Growling, Jet wraps his arms around Zuko and pulls the other closer until their bodies are pressed flush against one another, hooking his foot behind Zuko's ankle, he manages to trip the firebender up and watches him fall back with a surprised yelp. Jet doesn't give him much time to assess much of his surroundings as he instantly crowds over him, his fingers fiddling with his pants before becoming frustrated with the drawstrings and tugging hi pants down aggressively, he feels his cock spring free, feels it bounce, but his eyes are drawn to Zuko, the Prince is biting his lower lip, eyes half-lidded and drawn to his arousal. Grabbing Zuko's leg, he yanks off one boot, then the other, and proceeds to pull his pants and underwear down and over his legs, the Fire Prince isn't all that bothered by what was currently happening considering that he's sporting a matching erection. Licking his lips, Jet grabs Zuko's legs and pulls him closer until he's situated between his thighs – when he presses the head against Zuko's entrance, he half expects some resistance. When he's met with none, he feels a deep seated anger flair and his jealousy spike monumentally, his eyes flick upwards to meet Zuko's, he sees the embarrassed blush.

"I see someone's been busy." Jet snarls, he's already pulling back when Zuko's fingers wrap around his upper arm.

"I – it isn't like that," the Prince says, Jet frowns, because really what else could it mean? "I - ," Zuko bites his lips, "I missed you and – so I uh,"

Blinking at the revelation, Jet feels an excited grin spread across his lips, the thought of Zuko fingering himself to thoughts of him makes his erection all that more hard. Planting a hand besides Zuko's head, he guides himself once more and pushes in, making it agonizingly slow, he watches with a possessive pride as the younger teen's mouth falls open, his body tensing, and his hips rolling. Angling Zuko's hips off the ground, he starts a languid pace that has Zuko wriggling in place, allowing the Prince to get used to the intrusion, to the pace, before he slams his hips against the other, the force jerking Zuko's body – the wanton moaning that comes from Zuko encourages him even more.

The sex is rough, it's needy, it's explosive – and when Jet realizes that he's screwing Zuko on the beach where anyone could find them, recognize them, he can't help but come before the firebender, burying himself as deep as he can, his eyes glazed as he watches Zuko work to get himself off, either not noticing or not minding that Jet had literally finished inside him. In fact, it seems to get him closer to the edge.

"Here." Jet rasps, he wraps his own hand around Zuko's and the two begin working to get Zuko closer, "Let me help."

It doesn't take long before Zuko's own climax washes over him.

In the aftermath, both teens try catching their breath, although Jet is first, when he pulls out of Zuko, he notes that some of his sperm spills out and that makes his member twitch, but he doesn't follow through, instead, he stuffs himself inside his pants and watches Zuko, the Prince taking his lovely time as he sits up, only to wince when he sees the mess made on and in him.

Zuko sighs, "At least the ocean's close by."

Jet watches the sovereign – it doesn't feel right, he looks away, "I'm sorry."

Zuko looks up, but Jet isn't looking at him, "For what?"

Jet turns and situates a deadpan stare on the Prince, "What do you think?"

Zuko purses his lips and looks at his lap shortly before closing his legs, "I didn't mind."

"Of course you didn't." Jet sighs, he runs a hand through his hair, he'd come here to meet with Zuko and maybe make him work for his trust, instead he ends up screwing Zuko on the beach – but when Zuko looks up at him from underneath his fringe, Jet realizes that he's gotten even prettier, wait, handsomer? Beautifuler? Is that even a word? "Zuko, you – you left and tried killingme, I came here to – I don't know the reason why I came here in the first place! Vindication? A fight? To screw you on the beach?" Jet runs his hands over his face, "Thing is, I can't just forgiveyou like what you did didn't hurt me, but I see you and – and that's it. I see you and everything you've done is forgiven and fuck, how is Iroh!?"

Zuko seems to shrink in on himself, "In prison."

"See!" Jet shouts, gesturing towards Zuko, "Did you even try to get him out?!"

"I – n-not entirely." Zuko curls even more, "I mean I talked to him - ."

"Of course." Jet sighs, "But because I fucked you and got off faster than I ever had with my own hand, I don't care!"

The Fire Prince fixes his long vest to at least cover his lap; he looks down at his hands, "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to stay." Jet sighs, falling back into the sand and staring at the blue skies, he feels Zuko lay beside him, feels the Prince cuddle up to him and God it hurts how much he wants to just roll over and hold the firebender, "But I don't – I don't know what that means for us."

"We could just be friends."

The simplicity of such a suggestion is so far out there that it has Jet laughing louder than he's laughed since he's joined the Avatar's group.

Chapter Text

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sokka had asked.

"You know how dangerous they are together." Katara said.

The Water Tribe siblings had been in the right to be cautious, anxious, given their past encounters, but both were coming from different prospects. Katara thinking Zuko had been the catalyst for all the bad deeds he'd done, and in a way, he kind of was, and Sokka, the guy never trusted Jet to begin with, he'd masked his disdain with humor and lame one-liners, but with both Jet and Zuko in the same breadth of space, he seemed to think Jet would snap. Toph had been silent, and really, what could she say – she'd never faced both Jet and Zuko when they were doggedly chasing the group down, doing what they could to get Aang. But Aang, no older than thirteen, looked upon both Jet and Zuko like he were centuries older than his appearance suggested, his murky brown eyes boring holes into both teenagers, looking at them with eyes that saw more than anyone on this earth could, and finally said with no lingering hesitation "It'll be okay".

That had been the single longest minute of his life, and maybe it was the finality in Aang's voice that set up the snowballing of anxiety beginning to untangle itself within his gut, twisting his insides, and poisoning his blood. Or those all-seeing eyes. Or maybe it was the simple fact that things were not okay in Jet's little world. And really, what had he to worry about?

The Prince, Zuko, his friend, lover, boyfriend, enemy still loved him, enough to come crawling back on hands and knees, apologizing and forsaking his own country, his own blood. Azula will be coming for him. Was Zuko even a Prince anymore – if he forsook his people, his family, his titles, did that mean he was no longer Fire Nation? But he'd never spilled blood, so he still belonged?

Things were – hard, they were different, Jet's own thoughts were muddled, and he knew anxiety didn't need logical reasoning to start digging it's thorns into one's skin, but he still felt ridiculous getting worked up over something as mundane as identity crisis. Of course Zuko was still Fire Nation, that was where he'd been born and raised, he still had ties to the place. And Jet, he had nothing tying him to the Earth Kingdom, no possessions, his family was dead, his village had been burned to the ground, he'd been taken from the land and brought to another. Like some exotic plant, taken from the earth and relocated in another patch of land. He was practically raised by the Fire Nation. But did that mean he was Fire Nation?

No. It shouldn't. But he'd killed countless Earth Kingdom soldiers enough to deem himself disowned, he killed for the Fire Nation, or rather, for the Fire Nation Prince, who was still Fire Nation, a firebender no less. He'd loved the Fire Nation Prince. He'd given his body, heart, talent, and soul to the very land he'd hated – hates. So does that make him Fire Nation?

No.

He isn't Fire Nation.

And he isn't Earth Kingdom.

If he's from nowhere, does that mean he's nothing?

He felt alone.

"Jet?"

The teen jumps so suddenly that he manages to kick up some sand, twisting his back to look at the intruder, he sees none other than Zuko, the firebender had never left his side, had followed him around like a lost puppy. Something that Jet would do. Things are different and he isn't sure he likes the change – of course, it's natural to despise change.

"Y – yeah?" he hates how his voice chokes off, throat dry, he watches Zuko sit beside him.

Zuko is different, he's twitchy, his eyes are always on Jet, always in close proximity, looks at him with open adoration, Jet knows that when Zuko's fingers twitch, that the other wants to reach out and touch him – and maybe Zuko is the catalyst for everything Jet has done. Had he ever done something for his own sake? His own will? And - ?

"Jet, Jet!" there are familiar eyes in his vision, wide with panic, "Jet, breathe!" he registers hands cupping his face, "In. Out. One. Two. One. Two. In. Out." apparently he's doing something good for those pretty eyes soften, "Okay." Zuko murmurs, "You're okay. It's okay."

"No!" Jet rips himself from Zuko's hold, startling Zuko, Jet jumps to his feet and catches his distorted reflection in the waves lapping at the sand. All he can see is Fire Nation red. "No! It's not okay! I'm not okay!" he turns to Zuko, thoughts whirl past him – Fire Nation. In another life? What could he have been? Could he have done something? Stopped something? "What have you doneto me?" he asks in a broken voice, he sees confusion and pain of a breaking heart setting in Zuko's features, "I – I was okay before y you. What did you do? I can't – it was you, I was going to kill you and your family that night, I – I should have done it! Maybe – maybe things would have been different?!"

"What?"

But Jet doesn't hear Zuko's question, the firebender's voice muted from the hell that is his mindscape, a mind that was never kind, "Maybe – maybe I wouldn't be, have been, so – so Fire Nation. Maybe the war would have ended. Maybe I could have had a home to return to. M – Maybe I would still have a place I belonged!"

"Jet!" Zuko stands, Jet freezes, "What are talking about!? What do you mean you were going to kill me and my family!?" it's Zuko's turn to stop in his tracks, a mix of horror and realization creeping across his face, "Wait – you mean, that night you were in my room - ," he stares at Jet, his eyes becoming a vivid inferno with betrayal and anger, "That was the real reason you were in my room!? To kill me!?"

"Oh fuck you!" Jet shouts, he feels ugly, distorted, his skin burns from where the red cloth touches his body, "You should have known! You should have known!" he's becoming hysterical, "I should have known! Fire Nation - ! Fire Nation are full of liars and murderers! Nothing good comes from the Fire Nation! I – I should know!" he stabs his thumb painfully against his chest while chokes up, his eyes feeling hot and skin 10x too small, "I'm a product of how evil the Fire Nation can get! I - ! I've killed so many for you! For you I've spilled blood of innocents! Of men trying to protect their country! The very same country I came from! I betrayed my family! My kinsmen! For you!" Jet glares at Zuko, whose shoulders begin to lose the tense edge they had earlier, then snarls, "Fire Nation scum. But hey! It's okay! Because I am too!" tears flow freely, he gestures with his arms in a loosely wide arc, "I don't have a home! I have no family! Nothing that ties me to the Earth Kingdom! And God do I hate the Fire Nation – but they raised me! They raised me! Taught me everything I know! Gave me everything I am now!" he chokes, "Gave me you." his shoulders slump and he feels a cold creep over his skin and bury itself just beneath the surface, "It's okay because I'm Fire Nation too – even if I don't want to be."

Heart in his throat, Zuko forces himself to look smaller as he approaches Jet with tentative steps – he'd always assumed that Jet was okay, that Jet was untouchable – cupping Jet's face in his hands, he gingerly brings Jet forward, letting their foreheads rest against each other. Jet was right, his eyes begin to water, he should have known. He could forgive Jet for past misgivings. Jet didn't kill him, he's still here, his family is still alive – more or less. Jet has kept him safe for nine years, almost a decade now, has loved him. Jet stayed strong, even when Zuko couldn't, even when Zuko yelled and went off into one of his moods. Jet stayed.

"I - ," Zuko falters, what does one say, what does one do in a situation like this? It – it was always him on the receiving end – had Jet really been that bad off? And he tried to shoot him down in Ba-Sing-Se? "I'm sorry." he whispers, tears falling down his cheeks, "I'm so sorry." he really was no good, he opens his eyes and stares at Jet's closed ones. It's weird to see him cry. Has he ever cried before? "I didn't know – and I'm so sorry for that, but, I know for certain that you're not Fire Nation." Jet opens his eyes and Zuko's heart both melts and breaks, his eyes are amazing to look at, but they're red rimmed and seeing him so hurts. Zuko trails his thumbs over the trails of tears. "You're – you." he gently wipes Jet's eyes, "You're amazing, smart, and talented. You were even before you got to the Fire Nation. And you're strong, loyal, and Agni I'm so sorry I've never noticed." Zuko brushes Jet's fringe back, exposing his face a little more, and presses a soft kiss to his forehead, "You may not be Earth Kingdom, or Fire Nation, but that shouldn't matter, you're you, you don't need to be anyone else. You're alive and you're unique. You're your own person. And I could go on about how beautiful a person you are," Zuko pulls back and allows Jet to stand to his full height, "But I – we both know I'm not very good with words."

Watching Zuko take a step back, a small, awkward smile playing on his lips, the speech was a little roundabout and both knew it, but Jet caught on to what Zuko was trying to get at:

Own who you are.

Offering a tired smile, Jet registers the fact that he's glad the others aren't around before he pulls Zuko into a tight hug, one that allows him to feel every contour of Zuko's body, to feel his warmth, and the heavy beating of his heart. Holding onto him a second longer, Jet relaxes his arms enough to let Zuko look up – there is someone who cares, who loves him.

No matter what he is.

"Thanks Fire-Bird," the thought of smiling makes him tired, "Guess I needed that, huh?"

Jet leans forward, about to kiss Zuko when the Prince startles him by pulling away, his initial thought is that the Gaang is back and has caught them in such a compromising position, but when he sees no one, he blinks curiously at Zuko who smiles softly, eyes tight and tired:

"Only when you're ready." Zuko gives Jet a gentle pat on the chest where his hands are resting, "I don't want you to feel like you owe me anything, or rushing into things. Not everything will be the same and I want you to feel comfortable."

"I don't feel like I owe - !"

"Jet." Zuko's stern voice cuts him off, "I'm willing to wait for you. It's the least I can do." he toys with Jet's fingers after his hands slid down Jet's arms, a small smile in place, "Spirits know you've done so much more for me." he looks up, "I want to take care of you too."

Jet simply stares at Zuko, watching the firebender toy with his hand, content to just touch him, to be near him, he feels – at home. Better. He leads them to sit down in the sand with nothing but the sounds of lapping water soothing the silence. Looking into the water's rendition of him, he decides that things could be a little better.

"I could go for a change of clothes." Jet doesn't look, but he knows Zuko is looking at him once the other teen stops playing with his fingers, he finally meets Zuko's curious gaze, cracking a smirk, "And maybe you. The entire Fire Nation has been abuzz with how their handsome Prince has returned from his triumphant victory over Ba-Sing-Se."

"I - !" Zuko pauses, most definitely not pouting, "What's wrong with my clothes?"

Jet waves his right hand in an eh manner, "Too pompous."

Zuko is definitely pouting, hands recoiling from Jet's own, completely scandalized, "Is not!"

Chapter Text

"Mind helping me?"

Turning to face Zuko with both ends of his sash held in one hand, he gives Zuko an imploring look, one the Fire Prince can't really ignore. Zuko, for the most part, rolls his eyes, a small smile playing on the edges of his lips, and moves to tie Jet's black obi. And it's odd to think that even after all that's happened, that as they share an intimate space, Jet still finds it's fairly easy to lose himself in their little world, to forget the kids currently tottering amongst their ridiculous cave/home ensemble:

"I don't know why you're asking for my help," Zuko says as he loops one end under the other and tugs opposite directions, "When we both know I still need help attaching my armor."

Jet scoffs and lolls his head back, enjoying the stretching of his neck muscles, "I still don't understand why you royals need all that armor. Little pieces here. Worthless pieces there. Not like you guys go anywhere beyond the palace – and don't get me started on those ridiculous robes. They look like dresses. Do you were garters and corsets underneath tho – oof!"

Looking down, Jet's mildly surprised to see Zuko's face several inches in front of his own, face twisted into a snarl with brows drawn together; the Prince is still holding the ends in a tight grip that slowly gets tighter and tighter, constricting Jet's midsection and making it fairly hard to breathe – he was never one to back down though.

"They are not dresses." Zuko hisses, the entire menacing effect ruined by the splash of pink coating his cheek, he tugs on the obi's ends once again making Jet wheeze a little. Both teens unaware of their now audience. "And you know damn well we don't."

Jet grins breathlessly, "'s cute how you have to stand on your toes just to r - reach eyelevel."

That statement alone starts an intense staring contest between both friends, Jet grinning unashamedly and Zuko bristling to make himself look bigger:

"Should we – step in?" Sokka murmurs to the others, "Or something?"

"I don't - ," Aang starts before one of the older members move, instantly catching his attention. It's Zuko. The firebender finally letting his tight grip loosen, allowing Jet to suck in a breath of air, and continues tying Jet's sash like nothing happened, "No, I guess?"

They're still tense though, anxious and ready to act, all except Toph who'd lost interest fairly quickly and went on with her own business; after all, she had no qualms against either. Seconds after Zuko tucks the ends into the sash and smoothes it down, he thumps his head against Jet's chest and, apparently, says something that they can't quite catch, but Jet, he hears loud and clear and begins laughing.

Like actual, swear-to-the-Spirits, laughing. And not because of some ill-fated spectacle, but because of light-hearted amusement brought on by something innocent. And it wasn't one of his cruel, nasty laughs, or one of his condescending, mocking sniggers – it was real. And the sight he made, it was amazing, to see him lose that razor's edge, to see that hateful, jaded mask light up into something that makes him look fresh, young. Handsome. The weirdness factor is upped when Jet, eyes sparkling and grinning so wide that it looks like it hurts, throws his arms around Zuko and practically snuggles the guy, like it isn't the same snarling Prince, whose as cuddly as a boarcupine, with a temper that's a mile-wide, and replies to whatever it was that was said.

All in all, it's weird to see the two former villains acting like any other person their age would, to see them acting so friendly with one another – although, Aang recalls seeing them interact amicably during their attack back in the forest. It was just weird.

"No." Sokka starts, tearing both Aang and Katara's attention away from the two friends who are now talking like normal people, "They are not allowed to do that."

"What?" Katara's brows knit, "Be friends?"

"No." Sokka stresses, he turns to his sister and friend, "They're not allowed to – to act like they're actual, living, breathing, feeling human beings. It's - ! It's too weird!"

"Well," Aang smiles sheepishly, "They're human too. In the end, we all are. Even the Fire Nation."

"No, no, no, no." Sokka shakes his head and covers his ears with his hands, "Don't make things harder than they already are! I refuse to believe anything you're saying!"

Aang shares a look with Katara and shrugs, Katara sighs, "Sokka, you can't just - ."

"Nope!" Sokka turns his back on Katara and begins walking away, "Can't hear you! La, la, la!"

Katara sighs once again, "He's such a horse-mule sometimes."

"Uh-h-h?" Aang blinks, "You mean stubborn, right?"

"That's exactly what I mean." Katara huffs, her composure slackens, "What did you think I meant?"

"N – nothing. Nothing." Aang blushes, rubbing the back of his head, setting his gaze resolutely on Jet and Zuko, "But – you have to admit it's kind of weird. Seeing Jet laugh, and Zuko being – cuddly."

"Well I think it's adorable." Katara says, her face twists a little before backtracking and tacking on, "Jet laughing. Not Zuko being cuddly, now that iskind of weird. The jerk is as cuddly as a feral tiger-dillo and with a temper as mean as one too."

Aang feels something in his chest twist uncomfortable, "You think Jet's laugh is – adorable?"

And since he's watching Katara's face, he sees the burning red flare across her cheeks and how her eyes widen noticeably before she turns to look at him, he notices how her body language tightens and becomes defensive, he – noticed the way Katara stares at Jet. He's noticed. But he always hoped that he was overanalyzing, over-thinking his friend's, crush really, behavior towards their oldest team member.

"Well – I mean of course," Katara sputters, face burning bright, "You'd think so too if you were a girl," she turns back to Jet and Zuko, or more accurately, Jet, Aang can't help the fact that it's jealousy tugging his lips downward, "He's just – different."

"Katara." Aang frowns, he can't ease the creasing of his brows, "He hurt Sokka and used you."

"I – he did all of that because Zuko told him to." Katara defends, she turns her annoyed blue eyes on him, "And back in Ba-Sing-Se - ,"

"Zuko didn't tell him to hurt Sokka." Aang retorts, both he and Katara are facing off now, "Katara. You remember what Sokka told us. Jet was going to kill him if it weren't for those soldiers showing up and telling him that Zuko didn't want any of us dead. Jet was going to kill Sokka because he wanted to, and he still would havekilled Sokka, even with those soldiers there."for some inane reason, he can't stop the words spilling from his mouth, "It was because of Zuko saying otherwise that stopped him. And you know Jet wouldn't have come with us if General Iroh hadn't ordered him to, he didn't come with us because he wanted to, he was distant on the ship and he was mad, he made it clear that he didn't want to be there."

"You weren't even conscious when Jet came with us." Katara hisses, Aang is a little more than surprised that no one has noticed their standoff, and even if they did, it seems they were willing to watch what would unfold, "How would you know what he felt and what he did?"

"Because Jet said as much."

Katara reels, eyes wide in surprise before her anger returns tenfold, "Why do you even care!?"

Aang surprises himself by raising his own voice, "Because you're my friend and I care about you and I don't want you to get hurt!"

If the others haven't noticed their argument, they certainly have now, Aang can feel all eyes on them and the tension, which had originally been shared between both benders, spreads beyond their own bubble to the others and stifles the air in the cave. And for some reason, Aang looks at Jet who's now watching, expression cloudy – Katara's scoff brings his attention back.

"I can't believe you!" she starts, "I already have an overbearing brother! I don't need another! And let me tell you what!" she stabs her pointer finger into his chest with enough force that it hurts, making him wince, "I can handle myself!"

With that said, she spins on her heel and storms out of the cave, all the while rambling angrily incoherently, Aang watches her go, with Sokka sending a quick look his way before running off after his sister, leaving him with the remaining members. All is silent, awkward and tense, when someone finally breaks the silence, much to Aang's relief.

"Trouble in paradise?" Toph blabs, Aang hears a huffing noise come from his right where both Jet and Zuko are, he isn't sure who made the noise, but he knows that he wishes the silence were back, "What happened? Sugar-Queen looked pret-ty steamed."

Jet snorts, "I'm more surprised that Aang can actually yell at somebody."

Aang sighs wearily as Toph utters I'm not, "I don't want to talk about it guys."

Aang knows Toph is going to say more, he even sees the brash earthbender opening her mouth, but apparently Jet beats her to the punch:

"'kay, whatever."

The fact that Jet lets something like that slide has Aang blinking wildly, turning his head to face the older boy, because usually Jet would jump on a chance like that to tease and torment someone, he did it plenty of times back on the hijacked navy ship, enough so and so meanly that it often caused rifts and wrinkles between members on that boat – but when he sees Jet's attention taken up by Zuko once more, already forgetting the whole thing, he's once again, amazed by this new side of Jet, but this new side is apparently what Katara likes.

And oh great, he's gone and made himself annoyed again.

"Any of you hungry?" Toph asks.

"Sure am." Jet nudges Zuko's shoulder, grinning, "You?"

"I could – go for something to eat." Zuko murmurs, he's been a little awkward around them, "But what about the Water Tribe pea – uh, siblings?"

Jet's grin turns catlike, "What were you about to say ~ ?"

"N – nothing. Shut up."

"You were about to say peasants ~ ," Jet sing-songs, "Weren't you ~ ?"

"I was not!" Zuko shouts, "I was going to say people!"

"Then why did you correct yourself, hmm ~ ?"

"Because it sounded weird!"

"I can tell you're lying ~ ." Toph joins in, "Your heart is racing ~ ."

"I – only because of L – Jet!" Zuko flusters, "It's his fault!"

"Oh-h-h," Toph drawls teasingly, "Do you like him ~ ?"

"N – no!"

"Of course he does." Jet throws his arms around Zuko and pulls him close, obnoxiously rubbing Zuko's head and making his hair stick up at odd angles, Aang can't help but chuckle, "He loves me ~ ."

"I – I do not!" Zuko rips away from Jet and glares at him, then Toph, "I don't love him! My heart is not racing! I wasn't going to say peasants! I'm not lying! And I'm leaving!"

As Zuko begins to storm out of the cave, Toph cackles and Jet panics a little, rushing after Zuko with apologies on the tip of his tongue. Aang is smiling at the entire absurdity of what has happened, but it soon disappears once Sokka and Katara reenter the cave. Both wearing matching expressions of confusion.

Sokka points his thumb over his shoulder, "What's got Prince angry-brow angry?"

Toph shrugs, "Beats me."

"We were all just talking about going out for lunch," Aang says, "Want to head out?"

"Sure ~ ," Sokka grins, "I've been craving meat all day!"

"Pf-ft. What are you?" Toph grins, "Pregnant?"

"I didn't mean it like that!" Sokka squawks.

Aang notices how Katara doesn't bother looking in his direction.

Chapter Text

They're exiting the cave altogether when Aang manages to spot both Jet and Zuko side by side atop a small sandy mound, the Fire Prince apparently having calmed down enough to let Jet ease into a friendly conversation, if their private smiles were anything to go by – just seeing both Jet and Zuko, two different people, so at ease with each other, knowing that they're friends makes Aang feel oddly tranquil. Tranquil enough that he smiles, even when Jet smiles brilliantly with usually-dark eyes shining bright. Something Katara apparently likes about him. But the feeling of the world being at peace crashes down all around him when movement catches his eye, turning his head, it's apparent that he isn't the only one that spied the two older members of their group – he sees Katara holding a hand to her mouth, covering what must be a beautiful smile, her own eyes shining bright with adoration.

It both hurts and grates his nerves.

He turns away from the waterbender and stares absently at the sand beneath his feet, jealousy rearing its ugly head, plaguing both his heart and mind, leaving him feeling horrible.

"Hey!" Sokka suddenly shouts, snapping Aang from his horrid feelings, "I found them!" beside him, Toph mumbles something about being blind not deaf before Sokka shouts once more, "We're heading into town for some grub! You two coming or what!?"

Jet turns back to Zuko, nudging him with an elbow, when he turns back, it's with a lopsided grin, "Lead the way, Horse-tail!"

Toph snorts obnoxiously loud, Katara stifles a laugh behind her hand, and even Aang has to smile:

"It's not a horse-tail!" Sokka squawks, "It's a wolf-tail!"

Jet chortles for the pure sake of riling Sokka up, Aang notices Zuko tilt his head away from Jet enough so that their eyes meet, he watches Jet look mildly surprised before he offers a sheepish grin. Later, much later, he will learn that Jet had been silently scolded by his unimpressed sweetheart.

oOo

They're wandering the streets of the little town they'd found themselves in when Aang spots a lovesick man buying some pretty flowers for a lady. It's sweet. It's romantic. It leaves Aang shyly toying with the idea of he and Katara in their shoes, he wonders if she'll be embarrassed or thrilled – he turns his head towards his friends, eyes gravitating towards the waterbender whose walking side-by-side with Jet, talking about her home and her Gran-Gran, childhood memories, personal things really, things that should be shared with people who haven't broken her heart in such a horrible way, so when he notices both Jet and Zuko faltering, Zuko turning away and rubbing the back of his head whilst Jet offers a grimace of a smile, Aang soon remembers that both Jet and Zuko had attacked her home, he frowns, mood dampening even more so – he still doesn't see why she's telling Jet any of the things she is.

They come across a noodle-shop that has barely started to bustle, it's pretty standard, the building appears well-kept and stable. It's decent. But that doesn't stop Jet from scanning the area and immediately picking a table that is cozy in the corner, leading the way, and for a moment, Aang wonders why he's moving like someone is holding onto his arm, until his eyes travel down his arm and to his hand where his index finger is linked with Zuko's own – it's odd but the airbender assumes that Jet's instincts as Zuko's guard has kicked in.

In a way, it has.

As they draw closer and closer to the table, he notices Katara angling for a seat next to Jet, so he hurries to snatch the seat next to her, or, where he's sure she'll be. Sitting quietly, the twelve year old subtly sends a quick glance towards Katara, but his eyes get stuck on the sight of Jet pulling out the end chair and gesturing grandiosely towards the seat. A wicked smirk playing on his lips:

"A seat for my Prince ~ ?"

Zuko simply rolls his eyes and takes the offered seat, "You're still not funny."

Jet only chuckles quietly, he pushes Zuko in and pats the firebender's head in a teasing move, "Only because you don't seem to have a sense of humor." the sword-wielder moves to the opposite side of the table and takes his own seat, "It seems things never change ~ ."

Deciding to take Jet's initiative of gentlemanliness, Aang awkwardly pulls out the chair next to him and offers a sheepish smile for Katara, the girl wearing a mildly disappointed look as the seat she originally thought Jet was going to sit is taken by Zuko, the Prince seemingly knowing this somehow and scooting away from her a little, in what Aang is sure was supposed to be a subtle move, she only sighs and takes a seat next to Avatar-in-training, offering an awkward smile of her own. The group of kids order their meals, Aang's consisting of noodles and vegetables, Sokka's holding noodles and meat, lots of meat, while the others have a decent variation of both, although Zuko's has added spice to it:

"The last time we were in a restaurant," Toph starts, feet kicked up onto the table, "Jet here scared most of the patrons with his resting murder-face."

Zuko stares disgruntled at her feet on the table, "It happens."

"Especially since most of the Fire Nation believes those ridiculous rumors about me." Jet chimes in.

When their meals arrive, they all waste no time in digging in, until Jet distracts Aang by throwing a chopped up carrot at Zuko, the orange vegetable bouncing harmlessly off of Zuko's fringe covered forehead and into his bowl, Aang can't stop the laugh that escapes at the way Zuko's nose wrinkles up in offense, it's like a confused and angry ferret-fox kit, before grabbing the aforementioned carrot and throwing it back – although Jet manages to catch it in his mouth, even going as far as showing it off by holding it between his teeth and wriggling his eyebrows ridiculously. This gets Katara to giggle.

"So Jet," Sokka starts after finishing most of his meat, "Didn't you have a girlfriend?"

Aang thanks the Spirits for Sokka, even as Katara frowns at the subject.

"Sure did," Jet starts as he begins piling the vegetable on a napkin,

"What are you doing?" Zuko frowns.

"Removing the vegetables."

"Why?"

"Because I don't like them."

"Why didn't you just ask for a bowl without vegetables then?"

"Dunno." Jet shrugs, he smiles at Zuko, "Wasn't thinking at the time."

"What happened to her?" Toph asks, getting them back on track, "Your girlfriend?"

"Well, she's in Ba-Sing-Se and I'm here." Jet says, "I think it's pretty obvious we broke up. I don't think a long distance relationship would work out all that well." he moves the noodles around with the ends of his chopsticks, on the lookout for vegetables, Jet soon looks up, seemingly staring at Zuko, but the adoration and love in his eyes suggests that he's looking past his friend, "She was beautiful though and there was nothing I didn't love about her, she was amazing and she was kind, but the Fire Nation had hurt her – and that left her, jaded." no one notices the red beginning to creep up Zuko's neck, "I told her as much as I could about my past, how much of a monster I really was," Jet smiles softly, looking to the table, "But that didn't stop her from loving me, and Spirits, I would have done anything to keep her safe, to keep her happy."

"Aww." Katara coos, a single hand placed over her heart.

"Wow." Sokka snorts, "You've got it bad man."

"Oh yeah, Sokka." Katara huffs, "I distinctly remember you asking about Suki while we were on Kyoshi Island."

"Katara!" Sokka yelps, "You're not supposed to tell Jet about that!"

Jet only sniggers, "It seems you're as whipped as me, man."

Sokka opens his mouth to retort when Zuko speaks, "Can we – stop talking about relationships?"

"Why?" Sokka asks, "Never had a girlfriend before?"

"It's not that." Zuko snaps before sighing, "All of this talk just – makes me uncomfortable."

"It's making me a little uncomfortable too." Katara admits, Sokka grins impishly and goes to say something until Katara glares at him – Aang knows why, but all of this talk of the older boys having relationships makes him feel a little better, makes him feel like he's getting advice. So he asks anyway:

"Did you have someone?"

"Well - ," Zuko stares across the table at Jet before turning away, "I did – but I broke up with her before coming here, I – she was a childhood friend."

Jet grips his chopsticks with enough force to crack the wood, "Was it Mai?"

Zuko hunches in on himself, the others assume out of shyness, but it was out of shame, "Yeah."

"No offense." Jet begins, voice suddenly filled with malice, "But I never liked her. Or your sister."

"Apparently." Zuko suddenly bristles, "You tried to kill both of them."

Aang notices Katara begin to tense at the mention of Jet's past murder attempts.

"Your sister was asking for it." is all Jet says as he digs around in his bowl.

oOo

They're wandering the markets where a few of the local school kids happen to come up to Aang, talking and laughing with him like they've been friends forever, apparently the Avatar had somehow gotten himself enrolled into the local school system – she was my childhood friend growling, Jet digs his blunt nails into his scalp. It shouldn't bother him. It really shouldn't. The Prince, Zuko, made his choice, he left her for him. He was the better choice. But the words kept ringing around within his skull, soaking into memory and conjuring up images of both Mai and Zuko cuddled up on some fancy-ass couch while planning out their future, making promises, whispering words of love to one another. It tears his insides up. And it really shouldn't.

But it's there, festering like a wound turning septic, and it won't go away.

His legs carry him towards Zuko, who happens to be looking over some wares that had caught his eye when Jet grabs his wrist and turns him around so they're face to face. People are watching, they know who he is, they know who Jet is supposed to be, they're whispering behind hands, murmuring to one another. Sooner or later, someone will find out that Zuko is the Prince. Swallowing hard, he gives a little tug and gestures for Zuko to follow, he lets go of the Prince's wrist – he's hung up on the idea of Mai and Zuko together after Zuko had tried to kill him.

"When?" he speaks, quiet so no passer-bys will hear.

"What do you mean when?" the corner of Zuko's mouth pulls down a smidge.

"You and Mai," Jet elaborates, he can't stop his mouth from running nor the growl that begins to inject itself into his tone, "When did you two get together?" Zuko's expression sours, "Was it after you tried to kill me?"

"I didn't try to kill you." Zuko hisses, he still doesn't change pace, they're still glued to one another's side, "And what other option did I have? She asked and I couldn't say no, Azula would have found out, she would have - you're the one who left first and I – we weren't together."

"So a replacement then?"

"It isn't like that."

"Oh I think it is." snarls Jet, "And for your information, you shot fire at me when I was literally miles above the ground! If that had hit, do you know that type of fall would have killed me!"

"It isn't like that!" Zuko shouts, finally reaching his boiling point, "And I swear to Agni I wasn't trying to kill you, I just - ! I wasn't thinking! I was panicking!"

"So what?" Jet snaps, "Your answer to something that scares you is to just throw fire at it!?"

Zuko stops, he remembers his Uncle saying something along those lines, but to his Father. Was he starting to become like him? Did he want to be like him?

No – no he didn't.

Looking around, he realizes that they're on the verge of entering the beach, the divider between the town and the sandy shores – and there are people currently watching, talking amongst themselves. He's supposed to be in hiding, there are people who know about Jet as Lion-Heart, and the fact that he's wearing all black doesn't help. Black was known to be Lion-Heart's colors. The color of death.

"Hello?" Jet calls, voice tense.

Looking up, Zuko sees the taller boy is scowling, face marred by anger, eyes filled with pain. All at once, he realizes just how bad the Fire Nation had hurt his friend. How much he has hurt Jet. It didn't matter that they weren't together as a couple, they still hurt each other.

"I'm sorry." Zuko murmurs.

Jet recoils as if he'd been slapped, "What?"

Zuko meets his gaze, "I'm - ,"

A pair of lips collide with his own, the force smashing their lips together unpleasantly, teeth clinking, hands are holding tightly onto the lapels of his outer-shirt – he doesn't get much time to process what's going on when those very same lips pull away, a thin string of saliva keeping them connected, his vision filled with dark brown eyes.

Jet growls, "You don't get to do that."

Chapter Text

"Follow me."

And it isn't like Zuko has much of a choice, especially since Jet is holding his wrist in a vice-like grip and already leading the way down the sandy slope of the beach. Confused, and curious, the Prince looks around at the faces of the beachgoers now going about their business, apparently having lost interest when they realized that there would be no fight. Huffing in annoyance at the simplicity of them all, the firebender Prince turns back around and simply lets his friend lead the way – that is, until he realizes that they're leaving the general area of the beach population and going – going where exactly?

"Jet?" Zuko finally speaks up, as far as he knows, there is no designated beach spot where they're heading, "Where are we going?"

"You'll see." is all Jet deigns to say, his voice cold and cut off.

Not having what Jet is trying to sell, Zuko digs his heels into the sand and rips his wrist away from Jet – this finally getting his friend to stop and look at him.

Zuko now demands, "Where are we going?"

There's an odd flash in Jet's dark eyes, but it's gone in a second, he reaches out so suddenly that Zuko is honestly surprised that he didn't take a step back from the abruptness of it, hands grasp handfuls of his shirt and yank him roughly forward until a pair of lips smash harshly against his own. It's painful and it takes a stupidly long moment of Zuko staring cross-eyed at Jet to realize that his friend is kissing him – mind aflutter, he settles on closing his eyes and allowing himself to kiss back. Reaching up, he cups Jet's jaw lovingly, the gentle touch making the tension melt from Jet's entire body.

But when the need for air becomes too great, Zuko pulls away, clearly expecting Jet to do the same and not go straight for his tie. Grabbing a hold of Jet's wrists, he pulls them up and keeps them safely between their chests.

"Don't."

"Why?" Jet asks, he looks up to meet Zuko's gaze, there's something dark there, "Is it because of Mai?"

"No." Zuko moves his hands and interlocks them with Jet's own, he loves the differences he sees, "It isn't that. Jet, you still aren't ready."

Jet rips his hands away from Zuko, "You don't get to tell me when I'm ready or not! I've been ready since I first understood that I loved you more than a friend should!" We're better than Mai. "I'm better than Mai will ever be!"

The look of shock that crosses Zuko's face tells Jet that he's said too much, "Is that what this is about!?"

Jet looks away and glares at the tropical vegetation, embarrassed with his outburst, "No!"

"Jet." Zuko growls, he grabs Jet's wrist again, "Look at me."

"No." Jet mumbles.

"Jet." Zuko cups Jet's cheek and guides the taller teen into looking at him, when he's sure he has Jet's full attention, Zuko lets his expression soften, "I'm here with you. Mai is – she's pretty, but I don't, I couldn't ever like her the way I love you. Even she knows that you're more important to me."

Jet frowns, "What are you talking about?"

"When I was leaving, I told her that I was heading for Ember Island – but I don't think she believed me." he presses a kiss to Jet's palm, "After all, she was the one who told me about your bounty posters and was the one who helped me remove the bounty from your head."

"Oh." Jet murmurs, "I didn't know that."

Whether he was talking about the bounty or Mai helping Zuko remove it from him was unclear.

"I love her," Zuko goes on to say, Jet tenses, "But not the way I love you. If I could, I'd marry you right now."

Jet lets out an amused snort, smiling tersely before sighing, "Shit." he lets his head fall onto Zuko's shoulder, "Why am I like this?"

"It isn't your fault." Zuko murmurs, gingerly wrapping his arms around Jet.

Jet rips himself away from Zuko, "It is!" he shuts his eyes and presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, "I indulged those bad habits!" Jet hiccups and a few angry tears slip past his hands, "I had to do so many things I didn't want to! I – I couldn't deal with it in the end! I was weak! And then this – this voice talks me into thinking that it was everyone else's fault! That they deserved whatever I did to them! Zuko, I'm not right! I'm not right – something is wrong! People just don't start hearing voices in their head randomly!"

"Hey," Zuko pulls Jet back into a hug, holding him tighter, he doesn't know what to do about the voice but he does know what he can do to help Jet, "Everything will be alright. You and I will help end this war, we can make up for all the wrong we've done." Zuko reels back to fix Jet's fringe and rest his forehead against the taller boy's, "I'll be there for you, I'll help you and make everything up to you." he softly wipes the tears from his friend's eyes, "Besides," Zuko offers a soft smile, "Something so beautiful shouldn't have a reason to cry."

Jet blinks, wide-eyed and confused, but it gives way to amusement and a laugh startles from him, he hunches over and rests his head upon Zuko's shoulder, body shaking with laughter, "Fuck. You can't do that. You don't get to do that."

Zuko chuckles, "But it's true."

Jet's still laughing when he wraps his arms around Zuko, holding him tight as if to thank him, "Oh fuck ~ can I just, can we be together again?"

Zuko snuggles Jet, "If that's what you want."

"I do." Jet nuzzles Zuko, "I really do."

"Then yes."

"Great."

"Only," Zuko trails off as he pulls away to look Jet in the eyes, "If you can do one thing."

"Uh?" Jet's brows knit, "Sure, what is it?"

Zuko actually grins, "You gotta catch me first."

"Wha - ?"

Then Zuko takes off running, yelling over his shoulder, "Gotta catch me first!"

"Hey!" Jet shouts, running after Zuko, "No fair!"

But it doesn't matter if it's fair or not, Jet is feeling better than he has in a couple of days and is with the person who makes him feel that way – laughing, Zuko looks over his shoulder and sees that Jet is actually beginning to gain on him, pulling out his short swords, he chops a nearby bush down, the tropical vegetation falling onto the path, he hears Jet let out a cheater as he's forced to jump over the thing. Zuko only laughs in retaliation. It goes on like this, Zuko doing little things to stop Jet, that is until he realizes that he's nearing the cave the group had made their home base in and the four kids are outside, now currently staring him with varying degrees of surprise, and then, in Katara and Sokka's case, suspicion, and yeah, the fact that he had just come running out of nowhere with his weapons drawn was a little odd:

"Zuko?" Aang starts, "Why are you - ?"

"Gotcha!"

Zuko yelps as a body slams into his side and he's tackled into the sand, his swords go skittering across the sands from the force, but when he sees Jet's wild and carefree grin, he can't help but laugh despite their audience – Aang and the others had begun to wonder where Jet and Zuko had gone off to when they realized they weren't with the group anymore, and when they returned to the cave to find them still gone, the harmless wondering turned into alarm. But they hadn't been talking about what their choice of action may be when the subjects of their concern appeared in the form of Zuko bursting around the corner of the large rocks with both of his swords in hand, looking a little scruffy with hair a mess and cheeks red from exertion, not to mention the heaving of his chest like he'd just ran around the island:

"Zuko?" Aang begins, "Why are you - ?"

"Gotcha!"

Jet shouts from nowhere and bodily tackles Zuko into the sand, both boys falling onto their sides and kicking up sand, the sudden rough treatment startles all of them into standing up, ready for whatever was going to happen, but when Zuko suddenly starts laughing, a dry and unused sound, their caution gives way to complete and total bafflement. The bafflement soon giving way to something that is just beyond confusion when Jet sits up and throws his hands into the air, a large victorious grin in place and yelling:

"I win!"

Zuko's laugh dies down into a chuckle, "I say that doesn't count."

"Oh?" Jet is still grinning, he's looking lively, that menacing feeling no longer trailing him like a sickness, "And what was all that back there?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Zuko sniffs, crossing his arms, but he's still playful and that's just weird.

"Here, let me remind you." Jet says, he begins counting on his fingers, "You were cutting trees and bushes down to block the path, you caused several clouds of steam, and you even burned the leaves of the trees and bushes."

"Tactics."

"Bull."

"Fine. I guess I'll give you the win."

Jet lets out an overdramatic sigh and flops onto his back, landing atop Zuko's belly, the added weight causing Zuko to let out an oof.

"Ugh – now I'm so tired from winning."

"Get off!" Zuko shoves at Jet, the latter refusing to budge, "You're heavy!"

"Don't blame me. Blame gravity."

Zuko snorts.

"Um - ," Katara starts, unsure of what to say.

"Okay!" Sokka throws his hands up, "This is weird!" he points at both Jet and Zuko who are now staring at them, "You guys are weird! I'm going inside where things make sense!"

Everyone watches the upset Water Tribesmen enter the cave, Jet snorts and cups his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice, he's currently upside down and still lying across Zuko's stomach:

"I can still see you!"

"Shut up!" Sokka's voice echoes from the cave.

Jet snickers, Zuko pokes his arm, "There's a rock digging into my spine."

"Ugh-h-h." Jet whines, shutting his eyes, "But I'm so comfortable!"

"I don't see how." Aang tilts his head to the side, "That looks uncomfortable."

"I will have you know," Jet starts in a matter-of-fact tone, "Zuko is actually very soft."

Zuko rolls his eyes and manages to push himself up into a sitting position, Jet rolling off and falling on his stomach atop Zuko's knees, a weak huff escaping the taller teen, "Unlike you," Zuko starts, reaching behind him and grabbing the rock that was digging into his skin, "I had a - ," he trails off when he sees that it's, in fact, a seashell, "Seashell stabbing me in the back."

"Now I'm uncomfortable." Jet says, "You have very boney knees."

Zuko stuffs the seashell into Jet's shirt, "And now you have a seashell in your shirt."

"Hey!" Jet sits up and begins flapping his shirt.

"What were you guys doing in the first place?" Katara asks.

Zuko opens his mouth but Jet beats him to it, "Racing."

"Huh," Katara hums, "Okay."

Aang smiles, "Sounds like fun."

"It was," Jet says, "But Zuko's a cheater."

"I am not!"

"Well," Toph finally pitches in, "Zuko was technically the first one here."

"Nope." Jet denies, "He didn't make it into the cave."

"Neither did you." she points out.

"But I win because I stopped him from making it into the cave."

"What?"

"Makes sense." Aang offers.

oOo

When Aang wakes up in the middle of the night to relieve himself, he sees a massive lump near the back where Zuko had been lying. Curious, and wondering how the firebender had gotten so many blankets, he approaches as quietly as he can, Momo opening his eyes and lifting his head, Aang presses a finger to his lips and gestures for Momo to be quiet. Silently, he approaches the heap that begins taking form, once he's close enough, he sees that it's not a giant pile of blankets, but Jet who had dragged his sleeping bag towards Zuko's and set it at his side:

Aang lets out a quiet, "Huh."

But not quiet enough for Jet startles awake and soon Aang yelps, finding himself flat on his back with a dagger to his throat, his shout waking the others, Zuko included. When the firebender produces a flame big enough for everyone to see, they all take in the predicament Aang had accidentally gotten himself into.

"What's going on?" Katara asks, mild alarm in her voice and already in a waterbending stance.

Aang watches the cloudiness of sleep disappear from Jet's eyes and return to normal, and soon enough Jet comes to, he blinks a couple of times before he jumps to his feet and away from Aang, stepping closer to Zuko.

"I didn't mean to." Jet says in way of defense, "It just happened."

"Oh really?" Sokka challenges suspiciously, he has his club, "Prove it."

"How?" Jet hisses just as Zuko says, "He's done the same thing to me."

"Really guys," Aang starts, finally getting off the ground, "It was my fault."

"Well, okay - ," Katara relaxes, "If you say so."

Jet frowns, already finding something wrong, "What were you doing over here in the first place?"

"Oh," Aang flushes in embarrassment, "I just – I thought Zuko had found some extra blankets, and thought it wouldn't hurt to take one, but when I got closer – I realized it was you."

Jet narrows his eyes, his fingers toying with the dagger's handle, "Right. Okay."

"Weren't you on the opposite side though?" Toph asks, "What are you doing by Zuko?"

"Sleeping." Jet shrugs easily, "It's just habit to stay at his side, I was his guard after all. Or guard-dog if you ask the Fire Nation."

Zuko is getting back into his sleeping roll, "Certainly acts like one."

"Hey," Jet puffs, turning to look down at Zuko, "I resent that."

Zuko only rolls over, back facing Jet, "Uh-huh."

Huffing, Jet lies back down and hides his dagger underneath his roll where it'd been in the first place, facing the others, he falls asleep – the others following their lead and letting sleep take them as well. Aang, now having forgotten why he'd woken up in the first place goes back to his own spot and settles down for a good night's sleep

Chapter Text

Sitting beside Jet with his head resting upon the taller teen's shoulder, Zuko watches his boyfriend sharpen his dao swords, his movements slow and calming:

"You don't have to do that, you know."

"I know." Jet murmurs, he slides the sharpening stone up along the sword's edge, "But I want to."

The firebender smiles and settles deeper against Jet's side, wrapping his own arms around himself and closing his eyes. The warmth emanating from Jet is soothing, and as the Prince is beginning to drift off into sleep, Aang comes bounding into the cave, shouting at the top of his lungs:

"I NEED PARENTS!"

Katara is the first on her feet, "What?"

Aang runs to her and puts his hand upon her shoulders, "I need parents!"

"But – you don't have any."

"Exactly!"

Jet sets his stone aside, "Why do you need parents exactly?"

Aang turns to him, expression bright, "Jet ~ you can be my dad!"

"Uh-h-h, no thanks." Jet grabs his polishing cloth, "That'd be too much work."

Toph snorts and Aang lets out a whine before his eyes fall on Zuko, "Zuko, what about you?"

Zuko's nose wrinkles, "Why do you want us to pretend to be your parents?"

Jet butts in, "Which is what I asked."

"Well I uh – got into a fight at school. I guess." Aang murmurs, Zuko's lips pull down into a frown but the airbender cuts in, holding a hand up as if to calm Zuko, "But it wasn't a fight! There was this popular kid and he just started swinging his fists around!"

"Did you beat him up?" Jet asks.

"Doubt it," Toph snorts, "He's a pacifist."

Jet huffs, "Well I would have."

Zuko snorts, "That's you."

"Anyway," Aang says trying to steer the conversation back on track, "I kept dodging, which is why I said it wasn't a fight, and I don't know, his own force took him down, and well, a headmaster appeared and thought I was the one who started it. And he wants to meet my parents!" Aang rushes to Zuko's side, sliding on his knees and clasping his hands together, "So-o-o?"

Zuko unconsciously presses himself closer to Jet in an attempt to get some distance between him and Aang, "So what?"

"Will you be my father?"

"You're on your own."

Aang's face falls, "But - !"

"Plus he's the Prince." Jet adds, "Someone's sure to recognize him."

"Guys!" Aang groans, "You're no help at all!"

"Aang, calm down." Katara placates, "Sokka and I will help you."

Sokka lets out a weird gargled sound, "We will?!"

"Yes." Katara narrows her eyes at her Brother, "We will."

"Fine." Sokka sighs, "But we need disguises." Sokka begins moving towards his sleeping roll, "And luckily I have a wonderful disguise in mind!"

"While Sokka gets his disguise together, Toph," Katara turns to the earthbender, "Mind helping me?"

"Yeah, sure." Toph pushes herself up, "I've got nothing better to do."

"Great ~ !" Aang grins, "And I'll just – well, I'll just wait here!"

Watching the two girls disappear, Aang glances at Sokka who is still messing with something then moves to sit opposite of Jet and Zuko, the two sitting side by side, Zuko having settled back down and fallen asleep whilst Jet inspects his work:

"Hey." Jet speaks up.

"Yeah?" Aang answers.

"About last night," Jet starts, sighing and setting Zuko's sword down, "I'm sorry."

"Oh – it's okay." Aang smiles sheepishly, "Really. I shouldn't have been snooping."

"It's a habit." Jet continues, "So if I were you, I wouldn't be doing anymore late night snooping."

"R – right." Aang offers an awkward chuckle, "I'll keep that in mind. No more snooping for me. No sir." he manages to maintain eye contact with Jet until Zuko shuffles, Aang blinks, "Is he asleep?"

Jet looks down at Zuko, "Yup."

"Oh."

Aang continues watching the sleeping firebender snuggled up against Jet's side, the right side of his face buried against Jet's side and scar on full display; he begins wondering if they've always been like this outside of battle, like yesterday, they were like any other normal teenagers. They were actually adorable friends. Smiling, Aang is unaware of Jet currently watching him with a wary expression.

"Ta-da!" Sokka shouts suddenly, "My disguise is complete!"

Jet frowns when he sees Sokka's disguise, "Why?"

Sokka starts stroking the fake beard, "All old guys have facial hair!"

"That is true." Aang nods.

Jet rolls his eyes, "Of course."

Katara finally steps out, "Done ~ what do you guys think?"

Aang offers a smile, "You definitely look different."

Sokka slides up to his Sister and wraps an arm around her; he puffs his chest out, "How do we look?"

Jet snickers, "Ridiculous."

"Oh yeah!?" Sokka deflates, "Well, I'd like to see you in this disguise!"

"Not gonna happen." Jet stows Zuko's weapons into their scabbard, "It looks scratchy."

Sokka opens his mouth to retort when Aang cuts in, "Guys, we gotta go before we're late."

"Okay." Katara is holding her fake belly as she walks, "We'll be back. Bye Toph, bye Jet."

Jet watches the trio leave before he finally speaks up, "She forgot Zuko."

"Well he is sleeping." Toph says, "Plus I think she's jealous."

Jet arches a brow, "What do you mean?"

"Look at him." Toph gestures to Zuko, "I bet you 50 gold that she secretly wishes she were the one snuggled up at your side, or have you not noticed her awkward flirting?"

Jet frowns, "I've noticed."

"And?" Toph prods, "What are you going to do about it?"

Jet shrugs, "Nothing. I'm not interested."

"Right. I'm sure she'll get over it." Toph says as she gets to her own two feet, "I'm going to take a walk."

"Okay."

"You and Sparky need anything?"

"We're good."

"Okay then," Toph waves half-heartedly, "Later losers."

Jet only snorts and starts working on his own two swords – when all is silent except the ocean and the sound of birds, he feels Zuko shift at his side:

"You should set things straight with Katara."

"I know." Jet sighs, setting his sword down, "But I'm hoping she'll figure it out herself."

"Why?"

"So I don't end up on the business end of a water whip."

"You can't pretend to be oblivious forever." Zuko murmurs as he moves to sit up properly, "I don't think she'll give up on you," he presses a kiss to Jet's cheek, startling a blush out of him, Zuko smiles softly, eyes half-lidded, "Especially when you're so adorable."

Jet chuckles and presses a kiss to Zuko's forehead, "Aww ~ you're making me blush."

A quiet and breathy laugh escapes Zuko, the firebender reaching out and cupping Jet's jaw, leaning upward, he presses a kiss to his boyfriend's lips, feeling Jet smile into the kiss before returning it, hands grabbing at Zuko's leg and dragging it over his lap. Smiling, Zuko pulls himself up and sits properly upon the taller boy's lap, Jet setting his hands upon Zuko's hips.

Zuko lets out a little moan and pulls away from Jet, wrapping his arms around his neck and resting his forehead upon Jet's shoulder, "I love you."

Jet lets his hands trail up Zuko's back, wrapping his arms around him and resting his chin on Zuko's shoulder, "Love you too, Fire-Bird."

Zuko chuckles breathlessly, "Haven't heard that one in a while."

"That's because we have an audience."

"Never stopped you before."

"Oh?" Jet smirks, he pulls back to meet Zuko's gaze, "You want me to lay on the cute nicknames?"

Zuko feels his face heat up, "No, I'm just - ,"

"I always loved messing with you."

"Bastard."

"No, I'm an orphan."

Zuko snorts, "Loser."

"Ouch. Right in the feels." Jet smiles as Zuko starts laughing, he reaches up and cups Zuko's face in his hands, "Would it be cheesy if I said I feel like a winner when I'm with you?"

"Stop." Zuko presses his hand against Jet's face, "Just stop."

Jet grins, grabbing Zuko's hand and placing a kiss to his palm, "Spar with me?"

"Okay."

oOo

It's about time for dinner when Toph arrives, having brought some meat kebabs for them and is nearing dusk when the siblings and Aang arrive. At first, neither Jet nor Zuko pay any mind to their loud conversation within the cave, but when Sokka starts shouting does Zuko finally stop and Jet starts listening. Besides, it's kind of hard not to when they talk so loud.

"Should we check up on them?"

"Yeah," Zuko grabs his shirt, "After all, we're traveling with them."

"Right." entering the cave, Jet sees the Water Tribe siblings still wearing their disguises, "What's going on?"

The others turn to look at him, Toph excluded, that is until Katara sees Jet's topless form and looks away with a small blush playing upon her features – Jet doesn't like the look Toph sends his direction. Sokka drags his attention away from the blind earthbender:

"Aang wants to throw a dance party for a bunch of his classmates!"

"Cool." Jet murmurs, "Go for it."

"What?!"

"I see nothing wrong with it - ,"

"No." Zuko says, entering the cave, he throws Jet's shirts at the back of his head, "I don't do parties."

"Well," Aang trails off, "What about a vote?"

"Fine." Sokka huffs, "All in favor of not doing this party raise your hand."

It's only him and Zuko.

"All in favor of doing this party raise your hand." Aang says. He, Katara, and Jet all raise their hands, "Great ~ it's settled then!"

Zuko glares at Jet, arms crossed over his chest, "What?"

"You do realize there will be no alcohol or - ," Zuko's nose wrinkles, "Sex, at this party right?"

"I do." Jet tosses a roll of bandages at Zuko, "I just wanted something to keep the kids busy."

"Why?" Zuko starts wrapping Jet's chest, hiding the burn from view, "What are you going to do?"

"Watch the stars with you." Jet says matter-of-factly.

Zuko moves to stand in front of Jet, fastening a tie, a small smile playing on his lips, "Of course you are."

Jet smiles at Zuko, until his eyes flit behind the Prince, "Hey Katara."

Zuko tenses but pretends he's fixing Jet's bandages, "Hi Jet," her eyes land on his burned forearm and his newly fixed bandages, "How is it? The burns?"

"It's good." Jet strains, "Well, as good as any burn can be."

"I'll help the others." Zuko says, immediately leaving the vicinity.

Katara bites her lower lip then meets Jet's eyes, "Want me to help with your arm?"

"Uh – sure."

Jet watches the waterbender as she takes the wrap and grabs a hold of his arm, he notices her thumb swiping across the surface of his skin – his heart shouldn't hurt when he realizes that he'll never be able to feel with his right hand anymore. He'd gotten over it.

"Does Zuko know?" Katara asks, "About your arm?"

"It hasn't come up."

Over Katara's head, he can see Toph looking in his general direction – Jet frowns:

"Katara, there's something I want to say - ,"

"This is ridiculous." Zuko says, his annoyed tone distracting Jet.

"I'm with Prince Grump." Sokka says, he's situating a candle atop a rock, "This all seems a little silly."

"Only because neither of you know how to have fun." Jet teases, he hears the others laugh.

"Hey." Sokka snaps, "I know how to have fun."

"And your type of fun involves fighting with people." Zuko jabs, "So I wouldn't be talking."

"He got you there!" Sokka turns to Zuko, hand in the air, "High-five man!" Zuko only stares at him in a bemused fashion, "Or not."

"Either way," Jet starts, "It's too late now."

Katara taps his shoulder and hands him his bandages, "Here."

"Thanks." Jet sets it down at his foot and grabs a hold of his shirts, "Now Prince Zuko, if you will do the honors and light this place up."

Zuko rolls his eyes but gets into a firebending stance, shooting small bursts of flame at the wicks of the candles and lighting the place up in a warm glow. Jet straightens his clothing out and wolf whistles, fanning himself off:

"Is it me, or did it just get hot in here ~ ?"

Zuko gives him a deadened stare while Jet grins, Sokka gags, "You two are gross."

Zuko blinks at Sokka incredulously, "I didn't even do anything!"

"I know but - ," Sokka frowns, "You're the Prince, or something, can't you order him to stop?"

"Believe me." Zuko sighs, "I've tried."

Jet slings an arm around Zuko's shoulders, "Besides, it's just harmless fun."

"More like flirting."

"Wait, if people can recognize Jet and Zuko," Toph starts, "Won't they have to wear disguises too?"

"Nah," Jet waves her off, "We'll be out back."

Katara's face twists in confusion, "Doing what?"

"Telling ghost stories around a campfire and eating sweets."

Aang smiles, "Sounds like fun."

"Now don't get scared you two." Sokka teases.

"The only thing that scares me is that dead rat on your face."

Toph busts a gut laughing.

oOo

Exiting the cave and find a perfect little spot in the sand with the gigantic boulders creating a cozy semi-circle around them, Jet watches Zuko sit in the sand, hugging his knees to his chest and eyes staring out at the ocean. Sucking on his upper lip, Jet moves to sit beside Zuko.

"We should have brought a blanket or something."

Zuko only smiles and leans against Jet, resting his head on his shoulder, "I'm good."

Smiling, Jet rests his head atop Zuko's, "Okay."

If there was one thing Jet hated most about the Fire Nation, it was the humid conditions, the stifling weather making his hair fluff up like it used to when he was first brought to Caldera. Shutting his eyes, he realizes that he could just fall asleep right now, sitting with his love and listening to the chirps of crickets and the soothing waves of the ocean.

"Jet?"

"Hmm?"

"The – voice," Zuko tenses, "When did that start?"

Jet feels his chest hollow out, "Do you really want to hear about that?"

"Yes."

"Why?" Jet's face twists, "It's nothing important. I haven't heard it in a while."

Lie.

"Because you're important to me." he feels Zuko nuzzle against him, "And it'll be nice to get it out."

"Zuko," Jet sighs, "It's – the voice has been there since I was eight. I don't think talking about it will help."

"It can't hurt to try." Zuko murmurs, he takes Jet's hand in his own and begins playing with his fingers, "How often do you hear it?"

"Not often." Jet honestly thinks about all the times he's heard it, "Just – when I feel intensely about something. Like I told you before about those Earth Kingdom men I killed." he watches Zuko toy with his hand, "The first Earth Kingdom man I'd killed was an assassin, he was sniffing around your part of the palace, I didn't want to, but my teacher told me that the man would have killed you without a second thought, and I remember thinking you were more important to me than some random stranger, so I took the blade and approached the guy. And the thing is, he didn't fault me, he thought I was a prisoner doing what I was told to protect a friend – he didn't know my friend was the Prince of the Fire Nation."

"I'm sorry."

"No." Jet squeezes Zuko, "Don't be. After I killed him and was put back in my cell, all I could see was his face when I closed my eyes, hear his voice assuring me that the war would end and that I would be free. He didn't know a thing about me. I – I don't remember much, but I do remember feeling so fucking horrible that I began wishing I had died in the fire that took my parents." Zuko squeezes Jet's hand, "I don't feel like that anymore, don't worry." another squeeze, "And then, there it was, it just spoke. I was confused at first, thinking someone was outside my cell or somewhere on the walkways, but there was no one."

"And what did it say?"

"It said that it was the man's fault for being caught, that if he hadn't been caught, I wouldn't have been forced to kill him. It said that I was doing the Earth Kingdom a favor by killing an incompetent assassin, that the man would have killed you without a second thought. I didn't argue with what it was saying because it was right on some level." Jet moves to bury his nose within Zuko's hair, "After that, killing the men had been easier. The voice convincing me that others deserved what I did to them. That it was their fault somehow."

"I - ," Zuko pauses, "Did I make it worse?"

"What do you mean?"

"I – had you out there, fighting Earth Kingdom soldiers and sailors. People."

"No. I honestly hadn't felt bad when I was with you." Jet smiles wryly but Zuko can't see it, "You made everything better. In fact, the only time you made it worse was when you left me for long periods of time."

"Guess I have to stay at your side at all times, huh?"

Jet snickers, "Looks like it."

Zuko chuckles, "I don't mind."

"You know I'm too young to get married right."

Zuko snorts, "And I'm not?"

"Still. I think you're moving a little fast there."

Zuko lies on his back to stare at the stars, "You're lucky I love you."

Jet smiles he turns and hovers over Zuko, "I guess I am." he kisses Zuko, "The luckiest guy in the world."

Zuko blushes but he smiles nonetheless, reaching up, he tangles his fingers in Jet's hair and pulls him back down for another kiss – Jet sighs, breathing against Zuko lips:

"What I wouldn't give to take you right now."

"Pervert."

Jet laughs and lays at Zuko's side to gaze at the stars, "You know, I do wish we had sweets."

"I miss those warm cinnamon buns back in Ba-Sing-Se."

"That you ate all by yourself."

"I told you that you were taking forever to find me!"

"That's because you're a cheater!"

"I am not!"

"Guys!" someone shouts, "Guys! We got to go now!"

Zuko instantly sits up, "What did they do?"

"I don't know." Jet hurries to his feet, "Come on."

Running back towards the cave, Jet spots the Gaang all piling onto Appa, he grabs Zuko's wrist and tugs him into their direction. Reaching Appa, Jet laces his fingers together and tosses Zuko up, the firebender landing gracefully in the saddle before reaching down and grabbing Jet's hand.

Jet nods at Zuko, "Thanks." Zuko nods back, Jet turns to the others as Aang flips the reins, "What happened?"

"The headmaster found out about the dance party." Aang explains, "They were trying to apprehend me."

"I knew the party was a bad idea." Sokka huffs, Zuko humming in agreement.

Jet rolls his eyes but settles back once they're safely in the skies; he sits beside Zuko, "How did it go?"

"It was fun ~ !"

Chapter Text

"The water looks disgusting."

"Looks fine to me."

Zuko levels a blank look at Jet, whom of which had his head tilted back, neck resting upon the saddle's short wall with eyes closed – in short, it meant the guy wasn't even looking at the water like Zuko was.

"You're not even looking."

"Not all water is going to be up to your standards, Prince Zuko."

Glowering at the taller boy, Zuko turns his attention to Aang as the airbender hops onto the saddle, completely covered in what looks like disgusting muck:

"Eh – guys?" Aang starts, the Avatar looking down at himself, "I think the river's polluted."

Jet lifts his head in time for Aang to create a massive blast of wind that sends the sludge flying through the air, coating each and every one of them in the horrid mess. Hacking, Jet can hear Toph spitting out the muck and sees Zuko's amber eyes shining compared to the mess – seconds later, another burst of air clears them of the offending slop.

Zuko takes this time to hiss underneath his breath, "Told you."

"I guess that explains why I can't catch a fish around here," Sokka starts, he turns to them, fishing hook between his index and thumb, "Because my fishing skills are usually off the hook ~ !"

This startles a laugh from Zuko.

Blinking at Zuko in genuine surprise, Jet sees Zuko is just as shocked and twice as mortified, Sokka on the other hand, lights up like a child getting a present for no reason whatsoever. Toph only snorts:

"Too bad your skills aren't on the hook."

The other three laugh, and usually Jet would love to join in at Sokka's expense, but the fact that Zuko had laughed at a completely ridiculous and corny joke made by the Water Tribesman was both adorable and annoying. Adorable because apparently Zuko had, well, a lame sense of humor, and annoying because Sokka had made him laugh without meaning to.

Sokka puffs up, "Well Zuko liked my joke!"

"That doesn't surprise me." Toph huffs, "His humor is as dry as the desert."

Another round of laughter from the three younger members.

"It's okay, Zuko." Sokka sighs, "We're just misunderstood."

And of course Jet sees the way Zuko blinks at the comment before a shy, imperceptible smile twitches across his lips – Jet frowns, feeling something heavy creeping into his chest and curling around his heart.

"It looks like we'll have to go somewhere else to get some food." Katara says, eyes following the roll of paper that crosses in front of her, "Assuming that'll fit into Sokka's master schedule."

"Hmm." Sokka hums thoughtfully, blue eyes roving over said schedule, "It's doable, but that means only two potty breaks today."

"Hey." Aang starts, "Maybe we can get food there!"

Looking to where Aang had pointed, Zuko can feel his stomach roil in disgust at the thought of what kind of food they had there, and yeah, he may have been on the road with his Uncle and then on his own, but at least he had better food than what this place looks like it had to offer. And it may not even be much considering the fact that they're in the middle of a polluted river – unless they had excellent trade, which he doubts. Honestly, he doesn't even know why Jet doesn't care more about how good food or water is considering he had the best growing up alongside him. Or maybe that was just a Jet thing.

oOo

Watching Aang cover his bison in camouflage, Zuko turns to Sokka, "What is the schedule for?"

"Oh." Sokka looks genuinely surprised, "That's right, you weren't – well, it's basically how much time we have until the invasion."

"Invasion?"

"They're planning an attack on the Fire Nation on the day of the eclipse." Jet spits, arms crossed over his chest.

"And you're with us." Sokka snaps at the taller boy before turning his attention back to Zuko, "The eclipse is basically the day when all firebenders lose their bending – uh, even you."

Zuko frowns, "For how long?"

Sokka opens his mouth but Aang cuts in, oblivious to their conversation, "Come on guys ~ let's go!"

"Not long." Jet says as he nudges Zuko forward with his shoulder, "Come on."

Jet knows Sokka is staring him down as he leads Zuko away – nearing the edge of the cliff, Zuko sees all the muck surrounding the sad little village. Pursing his lips, he presses against Jet in an attempt to comfort himself.

"I don't feel anything." Toph says, but she does feel Zuko's movement, "Where is this village?"

"It's in the middle of the river." Sokka points out.

"Sure is!" looking down, the group sees an old ferryman, "My name's Dock. Mind if I ask who you all are?"

"Um - ," Katara looks to each and every one of them, then back to the man, "We're – from the Earth Kingdom Colonies."

"Ah ~ Colonials." Dock says, "Hop on. I'll give you a ride into town."

Keeping their heads low and angled towards one another, both Jet and Zuko take the front of the small boat, the others having had suggested handing them a couple of black cloaks, but Zuko had refused, claiming that it would have made them even more noticeable and suspicious.

"Why do you guys live in the middle of the river?"

"Because we're a fishing town," Zuko about gets hit with the slop covered pole until Jet yanks him down at the last second, "At least, we were until the factory moved in." he's got a headache, "That's where the Fire Nation makes their metal." the firebender stares at the mucked up water, "Moved in a couple years ago and started gunking up our water." he swallows hard, "Now our little village is struggling to survive."

"Hey," Jet whispers, he presses his shoulder against Zuko's, "You okay?"

Zuko nods a little shakily – the thought of the water's inhabitants suffocating beneath the surface reminds him of too much all at once, "Yeah."

Feeling Zuko press against his side, hand holding onto his fingers and squeezing painfully, Jet lets his own weight rest upon Zuko in return, oblivious to the looks they were getting from the other passengers:

"I hope there's nothing wrong," Dock says from the back, "To have the Lion-Heart visiting our little village."

"Nothing at the moment." Jet offers a disarming smirk, "Just visiting the sites. Wanderlust can be a bitch."

Dock chuckles heartily, "And your friend there?"

"He gets sick easily."

"Ah-h-h I see." Dock says, "Boat sick, eh?"

"Something like that."

oOo

Being the first to get off the raft, Jet turns to Zuko and holds a hand out, but when he sees the hesitation in his boyfriend's eyes, he lets his shoulders go lax and features soften:

"Hey," Jet starts again, watching Zuko look up, "What's wrong?"

Zuko shakes his head, "Nothing. I'll just, wait here."

"You sure?" Zuko nods, Jet bites the inside of his cheek, "Okay. We'll be back as soon as we can."

Zuko nods again and Jet sighs, pulling back, he looks to the others and gestures for them to lead the way.

Aang shouts before they leave, "Thanks for the ride!"

All is quiet amongst the group, with the occasional sympathetic noise from Katara, until they're a good distance away from the docking area. Only then does Toph finally ask what had been on everyone's mind:

"What was that about?"

"It's - ," Jet pauses, he's not too sure himself, but that isn't going to stop him from defending Zuko, "It's nothing you need to worry about."

"Really?" Sokka asks, voice speculative, "That didn't look like nothing."

Jet full on glares, "I said it's nothing. Meaning it's none of your business."

"Who cares?" Katara asks crisply, all eyes turn to her, "I mean – he should feel bad."

"Katara," Sokka starts but Katara cuts him off.

"Just look at this place!" Katara exclaims, "These people are suffering and his people are causing this! These people are sick and they're starving! And he doesn't want to face any of this because it makes him feel bad?!"

"Katara." Aang says sternly, but just like what happened to Sokka, he's cut off, but by Jet this time.

"You don't know him!" the sudden boom of Jet's voice catches the attention of a handful of lingering villagers, he jabs a finger harshly against her bare shoulder, learning close until their noses are an inch apart, he hisses, "He has his reasons for doing what he does, reasons you don't understand because you don't know him, so what gives you the right to judge him, to talk about him like that?"

Katara blinks, "Jet - ,"

"He made the choice to join up with us and he hasn't done a single thing remotely suspicious. All in all, he's better than the rest of his people." he straightens up, hearing whispers of Lion-Heart, "If you guys need me, I'll be back at the dock with my friend."

Aang watches Katara's shoulders slump, he offers a kind smile, "Why don't we just get what we came for?"

oOo

Returning to the docks with a stiff and hurried gait, Jet only slows and stops in his place once he sees Zuko sitting near the edge of the raft, looking into the sludge-infused river. Letting the tension melt from his body, he smiles tiredly and approaches his boyfriend, making sure his steps are heard over the quiet din of the sickly village – he watches as the Prince looks up from his musings of the water to meet his gaze.

"Where are the others?"

"Getting the food."

Zuko's brows pinch, "Why aren't you with them?"

Jet chuckles quietly as he maneuvers himself carefully to sit beside Zuko, "They can be a bit much sometimes."

The Fire Prince smiles and Jet presses their shoulders together, relishing in the feel of the warmth exuding from his beloved's body. Resting his head against Zuko's, he rolls his neck and ducks downward, his nose burying within the crook of the Prince's neck. Skin soft and warm.

"There isn't a day where I can survive without touching you."

Jet can feel Zuko's pulse flutter, "What about when you left me for the Avatar?"

"Don't say it like that." Jet's voice is muffled but Zuko can feel the smile, "But technically I was ordered to leave and – maybe I should have fought harder to stay at your side." he presses a butterfly kiss upon firm muscle, "What I meant was, there isn't a day where I can go without thinking of you."

Zuko snorts, "Even when you sleep."

"Always on my mind, babe."

The sovereign huffs but turns to bury his own nose within Jet's hair, Jet's fluffy hair, he shuts his eyes and remains silent for a full minute before he speaks about what's been on his mind:

"There's a lot of water. Don't you think?"

"Water does make up pretty much everything."

"Don't you think it's a – little scary?"

"Never really did." Jet slowly lifts his head, Zuko removing himself from Jet, "Why?"

"I just - ," Zuko looks at the murky water, "Memories."

Jet purses his lips at such a troubling answer but straightens them out and presses them to Zuko's perfect cheekbone, the scarred side, but Zuko doesn't flinch, "You're okay. And I'm okay. We're both here. Together."

"Yeah." Zuko whispers.

Unbidden memories of ice, snow, and watching a man being pulled to his death deep within icy waters rise to the forefront of his mind. They stare at the water moments before the others return.

oOo

Hearing rustling, Jet's eyes snap open, hand flying for the blade he'd hidden underneath his bedroll – he sees Katara fixing what looks to be a bush into her sleeping roll shortly before she covers it with the roll's blanket. Narrowing his eyes, he sits up when the girl turns the corner of the large outcropping of earth, looking to Zuko's sleeping form, he watches and waits for any sign of movement, making sure the Prince doesn't wake before he takes off after the girl.

Rounding the corner, he sees her gathering what looks like a hooded robe:

"What're you doing?"

His voice is low, quiet enough that it won't wake the others, but loud enough for her to hear – Katara startles, a quiet eep escaping her. Spinning on her heel and stuffing the cloak behind her back, she sees Jet staring at her with suspicion in his eyes, his arms crossed over his chest.

"J – Jet! I was just - !" her eyes dart to the ground before flicking back up, she offers a sheepish smile, "Going for a walk."

"I don't even need Toph to tell me you're lying." Jet says, voice curt, "Try again."

Katara sighs, shoulders slumping, "I want to help those people out." she looks towards the village and shuts her eyes, "They're sick and nobody, not even their own people care."

"If that's a reference to Zuko - ,"

"No!" Katara starts, "No it's not!" she watches Jet's eyes narrow, lip curling into a sneer, "I'm sorry about that, by the way, I didn't – I know I don't know him as well as you do, but I just – I don't understand how he can see them suffering and not do anything about it."

"You're right." Jet spits, "You don't understand." he watches her shrink in on herself, he sighs, "But what is one night going to do for those people?"

She looks up, bewildered, "Huh?"

"You heard me." Jet moves towards a nearby bush and begins pushing aside a few leaves until he finds what he's been looking for, picking out a berry, he tosses it her way, she manages to catch it in the dark, "These berries will turn your tongue purple. Give some to Appa and make it seem like he's sick. That'll give you a few more nights to help them as much as you can."

"I - ," she's blinking rapidly, her chest swelling at the knowledge that Jet was willing to help, she rushes to the tall boy and wraps her arms around him, "Thank you, Jet."

Jet tries not to tense up, letting his hands hover in the air awkwardly, "Just – don't do anything stupid."

"I won't ~ ," she says, cheeks hurting from smiling so wide, "I promise ~ ."

The waterbender pulls away, smiling up at the boy and his now crooked smirk, the same smirk he'd had back before he betrayed them – one that promised the answers to all of your questions, one that promised untold adventure. Without thinking, she surges forward, pressing her lips to Jet's. It's chaste and warm. It's like diving into cold water, the feeling of your breath being taken away and your chest being pressured. It feels amazing.

Except, Jet isn't moving.

Pulling away once more, she stares wide-eyed at Jet who looks, for a lack of better wording, shocked – that is until he gets himself under control. He shakes his head, his shaggy hair shaking with his movements:

"I just got done telling you not to do anything stupid."

"Sorry."

Jet sighs, he waves her off, "Just go."

She nods and hurries away from his sight, her heart racing a mile a second at the thought of what she'd just done, he hadn't pulled her close, he hadn't reciprocated, but he hadn't pulled away either. She was definitely picking up on some mixed signals. Shaking his head, Jet turns and makes his way back to where the others are sleeping, finding his spot beside Zuko, he settles down and falls asleep.

Chapter Text

Eyelids fluttering open to the rays of oranges and yellows shooting across the skies, he begins scanning the surrounding area from his spot upon the dirt-covered ground, or what little he can see beyond the lump that was Jet – zeroing in on the sleeping face of his boyfriend, he takes a moment to let the warmth of being near someone he loves so dearly flood his veins and prod him into smiling just the smallest of smiles. One would consider Jet's face almost peaceful if it weren't for the slight scrunching of his brows.

He's simply breathtaking – Zuko promptly bats his cheek like a playful saber-moose-lion cub, the action startling a snort from the once sleeping teenager who instantly makes a grab for his hidden weapon, his hazy brown eyes clearing into a lighter shade and falling upon the smirking firebender. The startled teen looks around, but upon realizing there is no danger to be seen, the corner's of his mouth pulls down into a frown:

"What the fuck?"

His voice is rough, hoarse with sleep and what sounds like confusion intermixed in there.

"You looked so peaceful."

"So you decided that I needed to be woken up?"

"If I can't sleep in during the mornings, then neither should you."

A smile stretches across Jet's lips as he rests his weight upon the hand closest to Zuko and reaches over with the other to push the firebender's dark fringe aside, "Says who?"

Zuko smiles softer, reaching a hand up to cup Jet's cheek, "Says me."

"Alright." Jet chuckles quietly as he rises to his feet, "If that's the case, then let's work on your hand-to-hand."

Zuko groans and shuts his eyes, "Says who?"

"Says me." Jet prods Zuko's waist with the toe of his boot, "Now come on."

oOo

Waking to the sight of a few clouds overhanging their makeshift camp, Katara immediately directs her attention in the direction she'd last seen Prince Zuko, the others and Jet may believe Zuko meant well but she couldn't be too sure – he'd turned his back on them once, he could do it again. Just like Jet a voice in the back of her head says, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Aang. Shaking her head, she decides to check up on Appa.

"Hey Appa," she greets quietly, rubbing the bison's upper lip, "How are you doing? Mind showing me your tongue?" the bison makes a deep rumbling noise before doing as asked, Katara pulls his tongue out. It's definitely purple. She smiles brightly. Jet has changed she thinks happily, mentally challenging the Aang-like-voice. "I think you could use a bit more purple."

Moving towards the bush Jet had picked the berries from, she inspects it before kneeling down and pushing aside some branches and leaves until she finds what she's looking for.

"Yes ~ !" she celebrates quietly, picking as many as she can, she returns to the bison and holds out the handful, "Alright Appa," she starts, "I'm going to need you to act sick, you got that?" Appa rumbles and opens his mouth, allowing Katara to deposit the berries on his tongue, "Thank you, Appa ~ you're the best."

Another rumble.

oOo

Having found a relatively secluded spot overlooking the disgusting river and the rinky-dink town, Jet watches Zuko wipe away some sweat that was beginning to roll down his temple, his hair is clinging to his skin, he's hunched over and panting, a little battered, a little dirty, but he looks amazing regardless.

Jet bends his knees and brings his fists up once more, "Ready?"

Even from this distance, he can see Zuko's frown, "I'm ready."

Hunkering down, Jet allows a smirk to make itself at home before he rushes forward, it's as he's a good five feet in front of Zuko does something catch his attention, his mind immediately registers it as a threat, but Zuko doesn't look, in fact, he takes it as an opportunity and grabs Jet's wrist, the touch startling him back into their fight, but by then, Zuko has swung him around, kicking the back of his knee, and pinning his wrist to his back, pressing on the awkward angle.

Jet glares over his shoulder, but Zuko only smirks, "Bowing before your Prince, how kind."

Jet opens his mouth to retort, but Aang interrupts, "Guys, Appa is sick."

Zuko lets up on the pressure and lets Jet go free, but damn if he wasn't an all or nothing guy, Jet swings his leg, swiping Zuko's feet right out from underneath him, the latter yelping as he goes down, falling flat on his ass.

Zuko glares at him, but by then, Jet is standing, dusting his hands off and replying with, "And what are we supposed to do about it?"

Katara steps forward, "We're going back into town to find some medicine."

"So are you two coming or what?" Toph asks.

Jet shakes his head before Zuko can even say anything, "Got too much work to do." he jerks a thumb in Zuko's direction, "Prince Zuko needs some more brushing up on his hand-to-hand."

"This is a little ridiculous." Zuko hisses from the ground, "Who in the Fire Nation will know how to fight like you of all people?"

Jet simply pats Zuko's head like one would do with a polar bear-dog pup, "Gotta be ready for everything, and it's not like you knew everyone in the Fire Nation."

Zuko crosses his arms and definitely does not pout, muttering under his breath, "It's not like I'm going to be taking on the whole Fire Nation army all by myself."

"Well, alright - ," Katara trails off.

"We'll pick up something to eat." Sokka says, before adding on an afterthought, "But if you guys happen to find something, anything really, better, feel free to share."

Jet narrows his eyes, "I highly doubt we'll find anything out here."

Aang waves, "We'll be back."

oOo

After seeing the entire town faring better than yesterday, Katara couldn't help but feel like she were walking on air the rest of the day, her heart fluttering with the knowledge that Jet had a hand in this – with the help of Toph, Katara separates the water from the earthen sludge and maneuvers it to flow into the large pot settled above a small fire Zuko had a hand in creating, the flames appearing to fluctuate in a calm manner, as if breathing. Although taking in to account that a firebender was in their midst, it wasn't too hard to realize that it was simply following Prince Zuko's own intake.

A low chuckle captures her attention, her eyes immediately landing on Jet who was sitting with his body angled towards Zuko, a cup in hand and using it to subconsciously cover his smile, a smile she knew had to be there with the way the fire created a sparkle in his eyes, a smile she found herself desperately wanting to see, enough so that she was almost tempted to lower his cup.

Hiss-s-s-s.

Hearing and seeing steam rising from the fire, Katara realizes that she's letting the stream of water fall into the fire, blushing from her little blunder, she quickly redirects it back to its original destination – she hears that familiar chuckle once more, but it has taken on a different tone:

"Everything all right over there, Snowflake?"

It's a nickname she hasn't heard in a long, long time – back when Jet revealed that he was on Zuko's side, back when he'd been the first boy she's ever kissed. She doesn't register anything beyond the frantic beating of her heart and Jet's presence, which means she doesn't see the way Aang flinches, the way Sokka groans, Toph's silence, or the way Zuko glances at Jet.

"I'm – I'm fine, just, tired is all."

"I wonder why."

And his voice is what gets her, smooth and teasing, he's obviously in a good mood.

"Please tell me there's nothing going on between you two again." Sokka groans, throwing his head back, "I don't want to know you're making out with my little sister again!"

Zuko tenses and the fire flares, Jet rests heavily on the hand closest to Zuko, shoulder brushing against the firebender's as he waves Sokka's statement off with the other hand, "Don't worry. It's nothing like that."

"Yeah, Sokka." Katara's willing her blush away, "We're just friends."

Sokka huffs, "Doesn't seem like it."

Jet snarls, "I said don't worry."

"Excuse me if I don't feel particularly safe when you say that."

"Excuse me if I don't particularly care what you feel."

"So the village didn't have any medicine," Aang says loudly in an attempt to dissuade the two boys, "I mean we could go again tomorrow and see, but so far it looks like he'll have to get better on his own. What do you think, Toph?"

"I think that's a great idea, going in to town." Toph directs the attention to Zuko, "Are you going to come with us, Sparky?"

"Uh," Zuko thinks about the water surrounding the place and the sad looking people that inhabit the town, "No, I think I'll stay here again – and I think I'll go to bed early."

"Here," Jet starts, he's about to get to his feet, "I'll go with you."

"No." Zuko pushes him back, Jet blinks in surprise, "I can get there on my own just fine."

"But - ,"

"Good-night everyone."

The Fire Prince sends him one last glance, giving Jet enough time to catch that familiar spark in his eyes that gives away his anger. Sucking on his lower lip, he allows himself to remain still as he and the others watch Zuko leave for their sleeping area.

That night as he approaches their claimed area, he notices a sizeable gap between his and Zuko's bedroll, the Prince sleeping with his back facing him. Feeling dread fill his chest, he slips underneath the cover and stares at Zuko's back, refusing to move even as he hears Katara get up and head for the town.

Waking up the next morning, he sees that Zuko is gone and that both Katara and Aang are awake, feeling the dread that had filled his chest create a pit in his stomach, he sits up. Immediately feeling tired all of a sudden.

"Morning ~ !" Aang calls out.

"Good morning, Jet." Katara says a second later.

Jet only closes his eyes, he feels sick, "Where's Zuko?"

Katara answers, "I think he's practicing some firebending moves."

"I don't think you should bother him," Aang starts; Jet grits his teeth and glances in his direction, "When I asked if I could watch, he told me to go away and leave him alone - along with everyone else."

Jet feels his lips curl into a snarl, practically ripping the cover off the roll he gets to his feet, "I'll talk to him if I damn well feel like it."

Aang bites the inside of his cheek but decides to let the older boy do as he wants, "Well, tell him that we're heading into town after we wake Sokka and Toph."

The angered teen ignores this.

Nearing the spot both he and Zuko had claimed as their sparring ground, he hears the sounds of flames shooting through the air, angry and hungry. And for a moment he falters, wondering if he should really be bothering Zuko, but when he hears the crackle of fire, the thought is pushed aside and he steps forward:

"I'm beginning to think you like having me chase after you."

Zuko thrusts a fist forward, a large spray of fire shooting forth, "That's what you think."

"Is this about last night?" Jet frowns upon receiving nothing but the swooshing of fire, he growls, "I don't see why you're so upset about this, you know there's nothing going on between Katara and I. All those things Sokka said was just Sokka being – Sokka."

Zuko throws his fists down and turns to glare at Jet, "I know nothing's going on between you and the waterbender! It's just - !" he lets out a loud groan, hands moving to grip at his hair, "I thought you would have said something to her by now!" he sweeps his arms in a wide arc, "I don't care if you tell her about us or not! It's just; the least you could do is tell her you're not interested!"

"I was going to!"

"But?"

"But I got distracted and I hadn't really – thought about it since."

"Jet," Zuko hisses, "Why is this so hard for you to do?"

"I don't know." Jet shuts his eyes and runs a hand through his hair.

"Do you like her?"

"What?!" Jet's eyes snap open, "No, of course not!"

"Then what is it?!"

"I don't know!"

But he does know, on a subconscious level rooted deep within his own insecurities and fears – as of now though, he's too wired to even bother giving himself a self-diagnostic.

"Look, I'll – I'll tell her," he lets his shoulders relax and meets Zuko's gaze, "When we leave this place. I'll tell her I'm not interested in her the way she is with me. Okay?"

Zuko narrows his eyes but nods, "I'm holding you to that."

Chapter Text

The morning after Jet is surprisingly the first to awaken – blinking a couple of times, he brings the heels of both of his hands to his eyes and rubs in frustration. Annoyed and tired. Blinking some more, he turns his head to the left and spots Zuko still fast asleep, although a twitch here and a twitch there foretold the firebender's own awakening. Sitting up, he scans their makeshift camp and realizes that not only is Katara gone, but Aang as well.

Curious.

"Jet?" a bleary voice murmurs, glancing over his shoulder, he sees Zuko staring at him, "What are you doing awake?" he pauses, tired mind seemingly thinking his statement over before asking in a more awake tone, "What time is it?"

Jet snickers, "Don't worry, you didn't sleep in." despite them having worked through their spat last night, there was still a slight hint of hesitance on both sides, "I just happened to wake up early."

The Prince narrows his eyes, "That's a surprise." he sits up, stretching his arms over his head, "Are you sure you didn't just stay up all night?"

"Hey now," Jet huffs, "I can wake up on my own."

"Yeah," Zuko levels his gaze on him, "But that's usually later on in the day."

Jet resorts to sticking his tongue out in response, earning an eye-roll from the newly awaken firebender – they're starting their morning routines and cleaning themselves off with a damp rag, cupping their hands together and splashing their faces with handfuls of water when Toph finally wakes up, the rumbling of her rock-tent opening giving her away. She stands tall, stretching her arms over her head and yawning loudly. Once done, she smacks her lips together and approaches the large clay pot, simply dipping her hand in and using her hand to wipe at her armpits, sniffing once, then shrugging and walking away. Both Jet and Zuko glance at one another – Toph obviously notices their little interaction:

"Unlike you birds around the bird-bath, I don't see a reason to spruce up."

Zuko's nose wrinkles in mild disgust and Jet shrugs before inhaling loudly, cheeks puffing out with air and dunking his head into the water, his hands gripping onto the rim of the pot, his behavior earning a startle from the firebender who now watches the other teen and the slew of bubbles that begin breaching the water's surface. After a handful of seconds, the firebender scowls at the weapon-wielding teen hogging the water and presses a hand upon the basin's side and lets a little fire warm the water – soon enough, Jet pulls himself up, throwing his head back and sending water flying everywhere. Some liquid landing upon Sokka's face, causing the Water Tribe boy to finch a little.

Jet hisses, glaring at Zuko through sopping hair, "What the hell?"

Zuko only frowns, "You were hogging the water."

"So you decide to cook me?!"

"I wasn't cooking you." Zuko hisses, he then smirks, "I was boiling you."

Frowning, Jet slaps at the water, splashing Zuko and effectively dampening his clothing – the firebender yelps and stares down at his now wet clothing before sneering at Jet and splashing him back. This starts an all out splash war. Soon both boys are drenched and looking like drowned rats, Zuko looking more miserable than he has any right to be, his expression only darkening when Jet shakes his head from side to side, sending droplets flying everywhere.

"Jet!" Zuko snaps, shielding himself.

Behind him, Toph is shielding her find of berries, and behind Jet, the water definitely rouses Sokka this time from his slumber as he sits up, sputtering and hissing, his sudden awareness to the world capturing the attention of the other three:

"What is wrong with all of you!?"

Toph questions him around a mouthful of berries, "What's wrong now, Drama Queen?"

"This!" he throws his arms out wide, "All of this! I can't go one," he holds one finger up, "One day without being awoken by yelling. The ground suddenly shaking beneath me. And water falling out of nowhere!" after his tirade, he notices that it's only Jet, Toph, and Zuko, turning back to his Sister's sleeping bag, he reaches out and touches the small mound, his hand surprisingly dipping into it easily, "Wha - ?" throwing off the covers, he realizes that it's not Katara, but a lump of vegetation, he reels, turning to the others, "Where's Katara?!"

Jet stares through dripping bangs, Zuko looks mildly confused with steam rising off of him in waves, and Toph continues munching on her newfound snack before adding, "Twinkle-Toes is missing too."

"And Aang is missing too!" Sokka shouts, jumping to his feet, "Where is - ?!"

BELCH.

Zuko's face twists into disgust, "What was that?"

Toph promptly spits a loogie, "Get over it, Sparky."

"You're offending his princely constitution." Jet says.

"I wasn't - ," Zuko pauses when he sees Toph lick her lips, a purple tinge to her tongue, "Uh, your tongue is – well, it's purple?"

"What?! Now Toph is sick?!" Sokka shrieks, he gets to his feet and rushes to Toph's side, "Toph. Mouth, open, now!"

Toph frowns, "Why?"

"Your tongue." Zuko reiterates.

Sighing, the earthbender does as asked, feeling Sokka hovering before her and inspecting her apparently purple tongue with Zuko wearily approaching, peering over Sokka's shoulder while Jet continues drying his hair and combing out a few tangles.

"It is purple." Sokka murmurs, he straightens up, hand cupping his chin, "How do you feel?"

Toph shrugs, "Fine."

Zuko frowns, "Nothing at all?"

"Nope." she pops the p.

"Then how can - ?" Sokka trails off once he sees the bag of berries she's holding, he gasps, lighting up as it all fits together, "The berries!" he turns around to look at Zuko who seems to hesitate upon seeing the look upon Sokka's face, "Appa isn't sick!"

"What?"

"Appa isn't sick! I bet Katara's been feeding him these purple berries!" Sokka turns his attention towards the village, "And I bet she's the one helping those villagers too!" he lets out a frustrated shout, "I can't believe her!"

The Fire Prince leaves the boy to stew in his outrage, returning to Jet's side and checking on his now soaked bandages.

oOo

After shushing Aang, they turn around the corner of the large outcropping of earth only to come face to face with the others, finding that everyone was up and about, her eyes flitting from one to the other before landing on Sokka's disappointed look:

"Oh – hi Sokka," she looks to Aang shortly, "We were just – on a morning walk."

"Oh really?" Sokka grits, tone disbelieving, "A morning walk?" he has her roll and starts emptying it of the grass she'd managed to bunch together and stuff inside before dropping the sleeping bag itself, she shuts her eyes knowing he's going to lecture them. "I know you're the painted lady! I know you've been sneaking out late at night! And I know you've been lying about Appa and feeding him purplizing tongue berries!" he promptly points to Toph who has the bag of berries and sticks her tongue out revealing it's purple nature, "Katara," Sokka starts once again, "What you did put our whole mission in jeopardy." he turns away from them, crossing his arms over his chest, "We're leaving right now."

Katara looks to Jet who's watching Zuko as the firebender seemingly dries out his shirt manually, he glances her way and offers a shrug, for a split second, she wonders why Jet's clothes appeared to be soaked but dismisses her curiosity once she hears Sokka snap at Aang, the airbender offering a quick excuse.

They begin gathering their stuff, Jet and Zuko already having finished their packing seeing as how they didn't have much other than their clothes, their weapons, and their bed rolls. During this time, Zuko is still drying out Jet's clothing. When they stop their actions, it's because they all hear a whirring mechanical sound coming from the river Heads up, they all move towards the edge of the cliff where they spot a group of Fire Nation soldiers speeding towards the wooden village.

"What's going on?" Toph asks, settling at Aang's side.

"Fire Nation soldiers are heading towards the village."

Sokka turns to his Sister, "What did you do?"

"I kind of – destroyed their factory."

"You what?!" Sokka shouts, catching the others' attentions.

Katara turns on her Brother, "It was your idea!"

"I was joking!" Sokka shouts, "I also said to use Spirit magic and made funny noises!" he slaps his palm to his forehead, turning back to Katara, "Did you even think this through!? The army's going to blame the villagers! They're heading there right now to get revenge."

"Well," Katara challenges, "What was I supposed to do?!"

"Leave!" Sokka states, "Do nothing!"

Silence.

"No!" Katara advances on her brother, "I will never ever turn my back on people who need me!" she stands up, "I am going down to the village and am doing whatever I can."

They're all watching Sokka who suddenly gets up and goes after his sister.

"We're going to end up helping, aren't we." Jet mutters to Zuko who shrugs.

Minutes later:

"I'm not sure we should be thankful that we're not needed," Jet starts beside Zuko, the two sitting on the moss covered rocks while Toph slams the large rock onto the ground, "Or annoyed."

"The Painted Lady is a Water Spirit." Zuko says, "I doubt fire will help – or killing."

Jet mutters grumpily, "I do more than kill."

When all is said and done – they all gather upon the boat, Sokka getting them across the mucky river, the sounds of cheering and hollering getting louder and louder the closer they got until they're standing on the same dock. Jet leans towards Zuko, using a hand to cover his mouth as he whispers to the Prince:

"Should we really be here?"

"It's not like there's a bounty on us."

Jet frowns when the people turn angry and betrayed at the big reveal of there being no Painted Lady, "Still doesn't seem right. I mean, what if word gets back to Azula, won't she track us down or something?"

"I - ," Zuko blinks, "I hadn't thought of that."

"That's a great idea!" Dock exclaims, "We'll clean the river!"

Zuko grimaces, "I'm not cleaning a river."

Despite his declaration, the firebending Prince finds himself on one of the many boats scouring the river, fire seeping through his clenched teeth at the disgusting muck they fish out of the water. Snorting to himself, Jet turns away from the miserable sight Zuko makes and zeroes in on Katara, swallowing, he takes a deep breath and approaches the girl. Once close enough, he places a hand upon her shoulder causing the girl to falter and water to fall from the stream she'd been bending, earning a few shouts from people who'd been underneath it:

"Mind if I talk to you?"

"O – Oh," Katara's blushing, "Sure thing, Jet."

Gesturing for Katara to follow, he stops at the edge of the dock knowing full well that this is the absolute worst place to break the news to a waterbender, a waterbender surrounded by water, but he feels eyes on him and he knows that he has to go through with it. Flexing his hands, he turns to the girl, fully prepared to go for an unexpected swim:

"Katara," Jet starts,

"Jet." Katara murmurs.

"I – know about your feelings towards me."

Katara blinks rapidly, wide-eyed and anxious, a bright red blush lighting up her cheeks – she begins toying with the end of her sleeve to the Painted Lady outfit, "And?"

Now Jet normally wouldn't care what happens to him, or what others think, but he knows he has to travel with her after this and things were going to become awkward, "And I'm sorry – I like you, but now in that way."

"What?" he hears her whisper, she looks heartbroken, "But I thought - ,"

"You're an amazing girl," Jet starts, "A great fighter and an even greater waterbender, but I just, I can't really like you the way you want me to."

"I – I don't understand. I – if you knew I liked you, why didn't you say anything sooner?" Katara murmurs, Jet can see tears beginning to spring up in her sad blue eyes, "Why?"

Chewing on the inside of his cheek he feels like he's on thin ice, "I kind of hoped that if I didn't react or show an interest in it, that you would, I don't know, move on to someone else."

"Move on?" Katara mimes heatedly, now she's glaring but the tears are still there, unshed and glistening, "Move on to who?!"

Jet feels pinned beneath her glare, "Uh – Aang?"

The second the Avatar's name slips from his mouth, he knows he's made a mistake, it shows in the way Katara turns livid, "What's that supposed to mean!? I – you – why would you flirt with me if you didn't like me!? Was it all a joke to you!?"

"No!" Jet shouts in an attempt to disrupt her train of thought, "No! I may have done a lot of things in my past, but I would never play with someone's feelings, especially if I have to travel with them for Spirits' knows how long!"

Katara jabs her finger into Jet's chest, "You've done it before!"

Jet narrows his eyes, growling, "When have I ever?"

Hearing their shouts, everyone had become still, even some of the people on the river were floating listlessly – realizing things were about to go very bad for Jet, Zuko asks for the rower of the boat to bring them back to the dock. Aang and Sokka ready to help if need be. For who, they weren't quite sure yet.

"Of course you wouldn't remember!" Katara snaps, "Back in the forest! Remember that!?" she sees the recognition light up in Jet's eyes, "You – you pretended to like me and – you made me care for you! You were my first crush!"

"That's not my fault!" Jet snaps, knowing full well that she was right but refusing to admit anything aloud to her, "I didn't make you do anything! You did that all on your own, Snowflake!"

Katara frowns, "Is there someone else?"

Jet narrows his eyes at her sudden whisper, "What makes you say that?"

The Water Tribe girl spots movement beyond Jet's shoulder and recognizes it as Zuko, her eyes snap back to Jet and glowers, "Nothing."

It doesn't make sense. Of course it doesn't. But as Jet opens his mouth to demand an explanation, he's hit square in the chest by a sudden burst of polluted water and knocking him into the dirty river. There are various cries of shock and surprise, even a few giggles from the girls. Breaching the surface, Jet gasps before he spits out a bunch of muck, coughing and hacking – a shadow falls upon him, looking up he sees Zuko leaning over the edge, offering a hand.

"You brought it upon yourself."

"Yeah, yeah." Jet growls, "Just get me up."

Aang and Sokka both flinch when they see Katara hit Jet with a water funnel before storming away, there are exclamations of surprise and a few giggles from the girls. Sokka muttering a yikes. But sure enough, Zuko is helping Jet back onto the deck, Aang turns his attention to Katara:

"Katara?"

Katara simply brushes past him, "Not now, Aang."

oOo

Sitting with the others around the campfire, Aang notices how Katara refuses to acknowledge Jet as a whole, but despite this, it seems that it doesn't faze the older boy – at first, Jet had remained silent, looking guilty, and staying near Zuko, but that gave way to him cheering up and going on about his day. Minus the obvious space he gave the waterbender. It confused Aang, wondering how Jet could go on as if he hadn't just broken a wonderful girl's heart. Or how Katara's eyes will still fall upon Jet, lingering for a good ten seconds, looking like he was the single most amazing and terrible person, looking sad before turning to indignant fury.

And it wasn't like Katara didn't know what she was doing, she knew she kept watching Jet far longer than she should after him breaking her heart, but she had been so sure that she loved him and that he had at least felt an inkling of attraction towards her in return – but now, each time her eyes fall upon Jet, she sees the way Zuko looks at him, so warm and soft and vulnerable, and she knows she shouldn't hate Zuko for what Jet had done, but it's hard not to when he's sitting so close to the boy she'd cared so deeply for, when he's the one who gets to have all of his attention, when he's the one who makes him smile. It's so hard not to when jealousy begins clouding her mind.

When she feels tears begin to come alive, she stands abruptly and mutters a quick excuse as she makes for a quick escape to the river – once safe and hidden from their eyes, she kneels at the river's side, placing her hands into the water and watching the liquid flow past. She just couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that Jet had been the one to suggest the berries and making it seem like Appa was sick, or the fact that he'd apparently kept her secret until Sokka found out for himself, and he'd definitely flirted with her!

But – maybe he was just being nice.

She didn't really know him beyond what he chose to show her, not like Zuko who knows all of his secrets and vice versa if Jet's standing up for him was anything to go by. They'd been friends for a long time. Did that mean Zuko knew that Jet didn't like her and still kept quiet? Did they laugh at how Jet had her wrapped around his finger? Did Zuko not know?

Which brings her to her next set of questions – was Zuko in love with Jet as well? Did Jet know? Was that why Jet refused her advances? But if that were the case why were they so rough with each other?

Love was supposed to be tender, like Jet had been with her – she didn't even know Zuko that well, how was she supposed to base all of this off of two complete strangers?

Beginning to doubt herself, and giving herself a headache in the process, she shuts her eyes and lets the tears flow free, until she feels someone wipe it away. Opening her eyes with a startled noise escaping, she looks up, coming face to face with a woman in white, her hair long and dark, her skin white with red streaks painted here and there, as well as a gold crescent moon upon her forehead. She knows exactly who this is. Gasping, she stares wide-eyed at the apparition.

The woman smiles, soft and kind, "Thank you."

When the woman disappears into the mist, she smiles tiredly, the knowledge that she'd helped out an entire village turn its luck around and cleansing the river water making her feel better than she'd been before.

Chapter Text

Narrowing her eyes on the messenger currently kneeling before her out of honor and fear, the Princess lets her lips dip down, "You may go."

The messenger flinches only to realize his mistake; he bows deeper in an attempt to hide it, "Thank you, Princess Azula."

"No," Azula starts, watching the messenger's shoulders tense, "Thank you for bringing this information to my attention."

The messenger bobs his head and hurries to his feet, keeping his head low and shoulders hunched as he makes for a speedy exit – keeping her eyes on the entryway, she rises to her feet and crosses the distance from the chair to one of the opened windows, the window overlooking one of the many gardens. One Lion-Heart's teachers favored due to there being more environmental components.

The young Fire Princess often snuck away from her own teachers to watch Lion-Heart's lessons, to fulfill the sudden need to see the boy, and each time she saw him in his own world, he became even more beautiful in her eyes, his movements were fluid, each strike meant to kill, his wit and unending rage made her heart flutter. She knew there was something wrong with her, something seriously wrong, for each time she saw the boy, her heart would beat faster and her body would heat up, she always felt the need to be her best during these times.

She never told a soul especially when Ty-Lee had told her that she had a crush on Lion-Heart.

Emotions like that made a person weak.

Emotions such as the ones Lion-Heart often showered her Brother in, the laughter, the smiles, the inside jokes.

Something clicked and everything made sense – Lion-Heart loved her dumb Brother and it seemed the feelings were reciprocated, or perhaps Zuzu was blind to it. She should have known. The stupidly soft smiles Lion-Heart often gave Zuko, the lingering touches. Not even Ty-Lee was like that with either her or Mai. Feeling bile rise within her throat, she scowls at the garden, the wooden panel beneath her hands becoming charred from the fire being fed directly into it.

And to think Mai had been so happy to have Zuzu back.

oOo

Mmm, hello there ~

You're so beautiful ~

You have pretty eyes ~

I love you.

They were words from a person who cherished the recipient.

They made her insides feel reduced to nothing but slush and her knees weak.

They made her feel like she were the only one worth a thing in the eyes of the speaker.

They made her feel exposed in so many good ways – it was a dream but the problem with this was the fact that it was said in Jet's voice, the very Jet who had broken her heart, not only once, but twice. The very same Jet who she was still upset with and was currently unaware of the look Zuko was giving him.

"I still don't see why we have to stop here of all places." Sokka gripes, "It's a simple beach town."

"A simple town with a clothing and fabrics store." Jet corrects, Zuko helping himself to the mouth-watering sight that is Jet's back. Tanned skin pulled taut over toned muscle, every dip and curve attempting to seduce embarrassing whines from his throat – the Prince currently unaware of a pair of very annoyed blue eyes on him, "Unless you want me to walk around half-naked."

Sokka's nose scrunches, "I'll pass."

"Besides," Toph starts, "That might prove distracting to some people."

Zuko breaks his gaze and takes to staring at random buildings in an effort to hide the blush coating his cheek while Katara stares wide-eyed at Toph, a scandalous expression slapped across her face. Toph laughs at their shamefully obvious thirst.

Jet shrugs, shoulders rolling deliciously, "Who's to say I mind ~ ?"

Sokka groans in disgust, "Are you always this flirty?"

"No." Jet answers.

"Yes." Zuko answers at the exact same time.

"It's called being playful."

"It's called flirting." Zuko deadpans, "And it happens anytime you're looking to start something."

"Oh?" Zuko internally curses the smirk shaping Jet's lips as the latter throws an arm around his shoulders, bringing the Prince close to warm, tantalizing skin, "And what am I trying to start ~ ?"

Zuko swallows hard, ignoring Toph's quiet snort, "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Jet's eyes fall to Zuko's lips, having watched his mouth form words, and when he speaks, his voice comes out as a hoarse whisper, "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Prince Zuko."

"Okay!" Katara snaps, fed up with watching Zuko go weak-kneed at Jet's actions and her own heart for flipping out at the sight of Jet's gorgeous back, "Are we going to continue looking for this clothing store, or are we going to stand in the middle of the street all day?!"

"Yeesh." Toph huffs, "What's gotten into you?"

"Nothing!" Katara huffs, fists clenching at her sides, "I'm just tired of this heat!"

"Lucky for you," Jet starts, he pulls away from Zuko and gestures towards a sign, "We're here."

"You mean we were - !? I - !" Katara shuts her mouth with a click, storming past the others and into the building which indeed held clothes and fabrics. "Stupid heat. Stupid Jet. Stupid clothes."

Jet snickers, watching Katara stomp into the building, "Fascinating."

"Alright, alright." Sokka herds the group into the shop, "Remember, we're on a schedule people!"

Aang sighs, "A schedule that's been shot out of the sky."

"Hush Lover-Boy," Sokka snipes, still pushing the group into the stone-made building, "Don't think I didn't see you sneak off to look at some gifts for a girl I really, really like."

"I didn't - !" Aang starts until Jet cat-calls, "No-o!"

"Hello! Hello! Hello!" a voice greets, soon there are two people in front of them one male, one female, bowing deeply, the man continues speaking, "What a surprise ~ receiving not only Lion-Heart's custom, but Prince Zuko's as well!"

Zuko takes a small step back, "Uh-h-h."

Jet steps forward as if he were shielding the Prince, "I need some new clothes."

"Of course ~ ," the man hops up, "Come right this way ~ ."

"And you my Prince?"

Said Prince jumps at the sudden voice of the woman now standing, "I - ," he falters when an idea suddenly springs forth, he tenses, "I may have something in mind."

"What might that be, Prince Zuko?"

"Uh-h." he looks back at the others.

Toph sighs, "We'll give you some space."

As soon as they disperse, Zuko turns to the woman, "There is someone who caught my eye."

The woman's eyes practically light up, she gasps, "I know just what you're looking for ~ follow me." she maneuvers the shop with grace, all the while staging a whisper, "Is this a promise, or a betrothal?"

"Uh – both?"

The woman giggles, "Alright." she approaches a wooden counter, walking behind it, she pulls out a polished wooden container, opening it, she reveals several golden hair pieces with red veils and jewelry, "Some of my finest pieces ~ ."

Zuko blinks, scanning each one, "You make them?"

"Uh-huh." the woman nods, "Definitely worth it to see love blossoming and hearing everyone's very own love story."

"Right." Zuko bites his lower lip, "So they're all different?"

"Yup ~ each and every one is unique!"

Scanning the multiple designs, one finally catches his eye; he picks it out, "I'll have this one."

"Excellent choice ~ of course I think each one is perfect, but that's just me, I made them after all." the woman chuckles and starts wrapping them up, "Ah~h~h, I'm sure she'll love it, my Prince."

"Yeah," Zuko trails off, heart suddenly working double-time.

Doing this, taking the first step, made life feel so much newer, and he knew Jet said he was still young, but, it felt right to have someone forever at your side, the very same person you loved unconditionally. Unbidden, an image of him waking to Jet in a warm comfortable bed comes to mind. Smiling, he's unaware of the world until Aang speaks up.

"What's that?"

Zuko does not squeak, "N – Nothing."

The Avatar opens his mouth to question him further, but Zuko makes a quick escape.

oOo

"Finally ~ ." Jet sighs, everyone looks up at his reentrance, "I feel better ~ ."

Looks better too Katara's traitorous mind supplies, Jet is still wearing monochromatic colors but with a touch of gold bordering, the clothes are definitely made for warmer weather. On the opposite side of the futon the group was sitting upon, Zuko feels a little more than territorial when he sees the deep v of the sleeveless top and the one bare arm. Just so much tanned skin on display. For some reason, Katara pops up at the back of his mind, looking over, he sees that he's not the only one thinking these jealous/possessive thoughts for the waterbender girl meets his gaze at the same time. Both benders narrow their eyes before turning away.

"Anyone up for food?" Aang asks.

There are murmurs of assent, that are quickly interrupted.

"No! No, no, no!" Sokka steps in front of them all, "We're late!"

"Late for what?" Jet asks, frowning.

"The schedule." Sokka snaps, "Just for this trip, we'll have to make do with our current supplies."

"But that's not even enough for Momo!" Katara exclaims in disbelief.

"Too bad." Sokka huffs, "We'll just have to ration it out over the three day period."

Jet opens his mouth to snap a reply when Zuko beats him to it, "I've had worse."

Both Jet and Sokka stare at Zuko in disbelief before Sokka beams, proud of himself, "Great. Let's get going!"

Jet frowns, jealousy tugging at his heartstrings, "Great."

As they're walking away from the clothing shop's entrance, Jet begins to hear what starts to sound suspiciously like music, standing taller, he turns his attention towards the direction he was sure the sounds were coming from. When he looks over at Zuko and sees that the smaller male is currently hearing the same thing he is, Jet grins, the action catching Zuko's attention for the second their eyes meet, Jet sees the look of abject horror begin to etch itself across the Fire Prince's facial features.

"No."

Jet only grins wider, he grabs Zuko's wrist, "Come on ~ !"

"Wha - ?" Sokka watches Jet drag Zuko in the opposite direction of where they were headed, "Guys! Come on!" he watches as the others share looks before they're taking off after the other two, "The schedule!"

"The schedule can soak!" Katara shouts back, the giggles of Toph and Aang carrying over.

Watching them disappear into the crowds, Sokka groans, face-palming before he follows with a much less excited gait.

Approaching the source, Jet sees that it's a festival of sorts with what appears to be a hometown band at the front, the music is lively and confetti is constantly falling from the skies, there are people laughing, cheering, and having an all around good time, kids run between people, chasing one another, giggling and having the times of their lives with various sweets held in their little hands. Turning so he's standing in front of Zuko, his grin taking a softer edge, he notices that his boyfriend is currently trying to shrink in on himself.

"Jet," Zuko murmurs, head bowed, "Someone might - ,"

"Hey," Jet grabs Zuko's chin, "Who cares?"

Zuko looks at him, "But – okay."

Jet bows deeply and presses a kiss to Zuko's knuckles, the latter rolling his eyes with a fond smile playing on his lips, Jet suddenly twirls Zuko causing the firebender to stumble over his own feet and fall into Jet's side, Jet laughs and spins them around:

"Wow." Toph says, her sudden stop halting the others, "Look at your ex-stalkers."

Their eyes follow to where Toph is pointing and true to her word, they see both Jet and Zuko with bright smiles spinning one or the other, twirling around each other, their bodies perfectly in-sync as they spin, flip, and dip. They never lose touch with one another unless it was to spin and they never stop for long unless it was to dip. The dance is fast paced and appears to have need of strength to hold one another up, but it looks fun nonetheless.

"Whoa." Katara murmurs, she can't really find it in herself to be too annoyed with their constant touching and private conversations, she elbows Aang who can't tear his gaze from the sight, "I guess your Fire Nation dance moves were out of date."

"Yeah," Aang says in awe, "I guess."

"Who knew Jet could dance?" Sokka is gesturing dramatically at the duo. Zuko promptly drops Jet on a dip, the latter landing with a fairly loud oof – the two stare at each other, both in shock before Jet throws an arm over his eyes and howls in laughter followed by Zuko who falls to his knees at Jet's side, his laughter more subdued, but loud enough for the group to hear. "And that's that."

oOo

"I'll admit," Sokka says once they're back in the skies, the moon beginning to rise, "That was fun."

"I know how to have fun." Jet huffs, "'s not all about warfare."

"Yeah, yeah." Sokka waves Jet off, "Night weirdoes."

"Night beanpole." Jet sneers, Sokka promptly flips him off.

When the last of the younger members fall asleep, Zuko settles beside Jet, the two getting as cozy as two love-birds huddling together for the night. The firebender rests his back against the saddle's wall and takes Jet's hand in his own and begins playing with the flesh, when he shifts, he feels his gift for Jet prod his ribs, he tenses:

"Jet?"

"Hmm?"

"I have – something, for you."

"Oh?" Jet turns his head towards Zuko, burying his face into the crook of Zuko's neck, "I didn't know we were going to be exchanging gifts, I would have gotten you something."

"I – no, we weren't, but I – I had to."

"Alright." Jet purrs, "Show me."

Shaking, Zuko reaches into his shirt lapel, but once his fingers brush against the red paper wrapped gift, he chickens out, instead, he turns his body towards Jet, grabs the tanned boy's chin and presses a kiss to his lips. Jet blinks but smiles and tangles his fingers in Zuko's hair, pulling the other deeper into the kiss. When they pull away, Zuko is looking down at Jet who's wearing a ridiculous smirk, propped on his elbow.

"Damn. Best gift ever."

Zuko snorts and buries his face in Jet's shirt, "I love you." he says after a minute of silence.

Jet wraps his arms around Zuko, holding him tight, "Love you too, Fire-Bird – even after you dropped me."

The firebender laughs quietly but says nothing more, his breathing evening out and body becoming more lax, when sleep finally claims Jet, a pair of eyes open, the person having heard every little thing the two had murmured to one another.

Chapter Text

"Wow." Katara whispers, "This is amazing to watch."

"It kinda makes you realize how insignificant we are."

"Eh." Toph shrugs it off, "You've seen nothing once, you've seen it a thousand times."

Just then a comet sparks and instead of shooting across the skies like the rest, it's now falling to earth with a trail of blue flames tailing it, the group sits up, watching the bright blue fire ball.

Sokka voices what the girl is missing, "You've never not seen anything like this."

They watch the comet fly overhead, a loud whistling announcing its presence causing Appa to rumble, each and every one of them stands, turning around in time to see it land somewhere beyond the valley. The impact causing a bright blue explosion that has them shielding their eyes, a fire starting in the distance. Jet is genuinely interested in what had just happened:

"We should check it out."

Aang is second to follow, "Let's go."

Clambering atop Appa, the group settles into the saddle with Aang at the reins, the airbender calls out yip, yip and they're soaring through the placid night air. Their little night show having been forgotten. Nearing the crash site, they're confronted with a billowing tower of smoke with fires circling the base, beyond that, there's what appears to be a small town sleeping in the distance.

Katara is the first to bring them up on the situation, "That fire is going to destroy that town!"

Aang tugs on Appa's reins, making them descend, "Not if we can stop it!"

Landing, they all jump off, with the exception of Katara who takes up the reins, she gestures towards the water they'd all seen earlier, "There's a creek over there, I'll bend the water onto the flames!"

With the snap of the reins, she's gone. Aang turns to Toph, "Toph, lets create a trench to keep the fire from getting any closer." he then turns to Zuko, "Zuko, you keep the flames from getting any bigger than they are now. Extinguish them if you can."

Zuko nods, "Right."

Watching the group of benders leave, Jet stoops down to pick up a particularly long piece of grass, Sokka frowns, "Wait!" this gets the benders to stop, all eyes falling on him, "What are we," he gestures between him and Jet, the latter popping a hip out and crossing his arms over his chest, "supposed to do?"

"Uh-h-h," Aang spots Momo flying past, eyes following the lemur, "Keep an eye on Momo."

With that, they all leave once more, Jet spots Momo flying towards them, landing upon Sokka's shoulders, placing both hands upon the Water Tribesman's head, tail curling around his neck.

"So what?" Sokka calls out, "I'm just a lemur sitter?" Sokka sighs and pats Momo's head, "There, there. Feel better?"

Jet watches the pouting teen before voicing his current question, "What were you going to do with a club in the first place?"

"I don't know!" Sokka huffs, "Anything! Something? Everything!?" he side-eyes Jet, "Why aren't you upset? You're the one who wanted to check it out, yet here you are."

Jet shrugs, "Sure I wanted to take a look, didn't mean I wanted to look for the sake of saving lives."

Sokka scowls, "What are you even doing here?"

Jet twirls the piece of grass, "It started with the Fire Nation - ,"

"Ugh!"

Both Aang and Toph split the earth, pushing the fire closer together, the collision sending sparks of fire outward, instantly catching in the grass. Both Jet and Sokka manage to snuff out one each, Momo doing the rest – Zuko sweeps both arms outward, bringing his right hand above the other, circling both in different directions and pushing them downward. The effect dampening the fire's output. Katara sweeps in overhead, a large ball of water floating after Appa and dispersing a spray of water. Toph is stamping out the fire with a block of earth. And Aang takes up some water:

"Jet. Sokka. Get out of the way!"

Jet moves with no problem, but Sokka sighs, stooping low and picking up Momo, "Right. Moving out of the way."

Standing at a safe distance, Jet watches Sokka moving slowly just as Aang brings the ball of water in front of himself and blows it forward with a large gust of air. The water crashing over the earth and mowing down Sokka who lets out a shout. The water bubble bursts. Soon flakes of snow are falling from the sky.

"Wow." Zuko murmurs, now standing at Jet's side, his eyes cast towards the skies.

"What?" Jet asks, he's holding a hand out, letting snow fall upon his palm, "The snow?"

Zuko tenses before turning his signature frown on Jet, "Yes, the snow!"

Jet grins, "It's not like you haven't seen it before."

"Before I wasn't able to enjoy it!"

Aang dusts off his hands, "Good work everybody."

Both Jet and Zuko oblivious to the one person watching them curiously.

oOo

They're sitting at a wooden table in a quaint little restaurant, both Katara and Jet still keeping distance from one another using the others as buffers to keep the air from getting awkward. Aang sits at the table, setting his tray down first:

"These people have no idea how close they were to getting toasted last night."

"Yeah," Toph starts, "The worst thing about being in disguise is we don't get the hero worship anymore." the earthbender rests her elbow on the table, cupping her cheek with her own hand, "I miss the love."

"Uh," Zuko hesitates, "I don't think any of you would be worshipped all that much here."

"Oh boohoo," Sokka starts, catching everyone's attention, "Poor heroes."

"What's your problem?" Katara asks, "You've haven't touched your smoked sea-slug."

"It's just - ," Sokka looks back at them, "All you guys can do this awesome bending stuff. Like putting out forest fires, and flying around, and making other things fly around." he turns back around, "I can't fly around, okay? I can't do anything."

"Neither can Jet." Zuko says awkwardly, Jet glares, "And he's managed just fine."

"Yeah but Jet is – he's different." Sokka says morosely.

Jet frowns, "How am I different?"

"You're – you may not have bending but everyone knows who you are and what you're capable of. You're a master at – everything weapon and hand-to-hand related." Sokka starts off, the unfiltered praise surprising Jet, "Everyone hears the name Lion-Heart and they instantly think about this dark, invincible, Spirit-like persona. And you said it yourself; I'm a subpar warrior at best." Sokka sighs, "Compared to you, I must look like a joke."

"I - ," Jet shuts his mouth; he opens his mouth once more but shuts it with an audible click.

"That's not true!" Katara states with a little too much emphasis, sending an icy glare Jet's way before turning her gaze back to her sullen Brother, "Besides, no one can read a map like you ~ !"

"I can't read at all ~ !" Toph exclaims.

"Yeah," Aang jumps in, "And who keeps us laughing with sarcastic comments all the time."

"You got Zuko to laugh without even trying." Jet finally says.

"Yeah ~ !" Aang beams, "I mean look at Katara's hair!" he grabs the section hanging over her shoulder, "What's up with that?!"

Katara immediately snatches her hair back, holding it close, "What?! What's wrong with my hair?!"

There's an embarrassed blush making itself at home on the girl's cheeks while covering her hair with her hands, eyes looking around in paranoia while Aang tries to explain himself and assure her that nothing is in fact wrong with her hair – the interaction is as adorable as it is awkward.

"Look," Sokka starts, bringing their attention back to him, "I appreciate the effort you guys. But the fact is, each of you is so amazing and so special, and I'm – not. I'm just the guy in the group who's regular."

Katara takes a seat beside Sokka, "I'm sorry you're feeling so down, but I hope you know that none of us see you that way." she then perks up, placing a hand upon Sokka's shoulder, "I know something that's going to make you feel better."

Sokka finally looks at his Sister, "You do?" moments later he's clapping his hands together in excitement, eyes bright and smile wide, "Shopping ~ !" they watch him run off down an aisle, "Maybe a little something to reinvigorate my battling ~ !" Zuko and Toph are standing near the mouth of the aisle when Sokka picks out a pair of nun-chucks, "Hey how about these ~ !?"

Both earthbender and firebender proceed to watch the Water Tribesman swing the weapon around, making ridiculous noises and saying funny words until one of the nun-chucks smacks him atop the head which Zuko winces at, temporarily knocking him down, but not before managing to knock some spears and over and onto himself. The noise making both Toph and Zuko flinch.

During the trip to another aisle, Toph disappears leaving only Zuko to bear witness to Sokka's search for the perfect weapon. It's both embarrassing and – endearing. And Zuko can't help but hide a smile behind his fist when Sokka plays around with a pair of dual swords.

"Uh – Zuko?"

"Hmm?"

"Can you – help me?"

"With wha - ?" Zuko's words die out when he turns around to find Sokka lying on the floor and a chain wrapped around his entire body, "How did – never mind."

After freeing Sokka, Zuko realizes that maybe he should keep his eyes on the Water Tribe teen at all times, and this is how Jet finds them:

"How's it going?" Jet asks,

"Good?" Zuko tries, he turns to look at Jet, instantly forgetting his personal resolve to keep an eye on Sokka at all times, "Did you find anything?"

"Nah." Jet shakes his head, "Besides," he pats his own shuang-gou, "Nothing can beat my old pair."

Zuko stares at the blades a second longer before meeting Jet's eyes, "Is there polisher and sharpening stones here?"

"I - ," Jet blinks, "I don't know."

"We should find some."

"Our blades are very important."

"Do you think he'll be alright on his own?"

"I'm sure he'll be fine." Jet says, "Besides it's not like you're his mom."

With a final glance cast Sokka's way, they turn on their heels and start scouring the aisles and shelves for any kind of blade polisher, cleaner, and sharpening stones.

oOo

After Sokka leaves to find Master Piandao, the three younger members are back at camp and lying flat on their backs, staring at the blue skies above and refusing to move in an attempt to keep cool. Who knew the Fire Nation could be so hot?

Aang finally breaks the silence, "Where's Jet and Zuko?"

"Last I saw them," Toph says, "They were in the weapons shop looking for something."

Katara frowns, "They can take care of themselves."

"Yeah but - ," Aang trails off, "They're still our friends."

"Friends?" Katara huffs, shutting her eyes, brows furrowed, "I don't remember that happening."

Toph snorts, "Because you're too busy hating both of them."

Katara snaps, "I am not."

An hour passes when both Jet and Zuko return to the solemn silence of the camp, until Aang springs up from his place on the ground, his eyes big and bright as he beams at them both:

"Hi guys ~ where were you?"

"Town." Jet says, he moves to his and Zuko's side of the camp, "We needed a few things."

Zuko looks around and finally notices that they're missing one, "Where's Sokka?"

"He's training with a Master." Toph says, still lying on her back.

Aang adds, "Master Piandao I think was his name."

"Piandao?" both Jet and Zuko say at the same time.

Katara sits up, narrowing her eyes at them, "Yeah, do you guys know him?"

"He was our teacher, too." Zuko explains.

Jet snorts, "Guy hated my guts."

Katara huffs, "I'd believe that."

"That's so amazing ~ !" Aang starts, "Do you think Sokka will be as good as you guys?!"

"Depends on how many lessons he has."

"I've had multiple teachers." Jet shrugs, he bumps Zuko's shoulder, "Come on, let's get this stuff sorted out."

"Okay."

Katara watches the two sit on Jet's bedroll as they sift through the stuff they'd mysteriously bought, she sees Jet toying with something in a package before nudging Zuko, a crooked smile on his lips, the Fire Prince looks at Jet with confusion before his eyes fall to the package and his eyes light up before taking whatever is in the package, a shy smile on his face – she frowns.

"Quit glaring at them." Toph speaks, "No matter how hard you stare, they're not going to burst into flames."

Katara huffs, turning away from the two friends, "I wasn't staring."

"Ri-i-ight."

Katara shouts, "I wasn't!"

Another hour passes and they fall asleep – Zuko is glued to Jet's side, Jet's arm thrown over the firebender, a lock of Jet's hair tickling his cheek. Jet huffs and swipes at the strand.

"Hmm?" Zuko murmurs sleepily.

"Think it's about time I get a trim."

"Why?" Zuko hums, he runs his fingers through Jet's hair, "I like it."

"My neck is sweating and the humidity isn't helping."

Toph suddenly sits up:

"Sokka's coming ~ !"

Both Aang and Katara sit up immediately, Jet and Zuko pulling away from one another, on cue, Sokka comes walking up the pathway wearing completely different clothes than the ones he'd left in.

"Hey guys, what are you doing?"

The three younger cry out, Aang and Katara sweeping him into a hug, "Sokka ~ !"

Katara pulls away to look at her Brother, "We missed you so much ~ !"

Aang steps back, "Say something funny!"

Sokka looks lost for a moment, "Funny how?"

Both Aang and Katara burst out laughing while Jet and Zuko finally make themselves known to the little group, Sokka eyes them both for a moment before looking to Aang and Katara, then Toph:

"What's their deal?"

"I don't know." Toph turns away from Sokka rubbing the back of her head, "They missed you or something." Jet sees the blush rise to Toph's cheeks as she shrugs, "I didn't care."

"Thanks," Sokka says, "That warms my heart. Anyway, I need some help."

oOo

Helping them move the meteorite up the hill and to Piandao's home, they stop in front of the doors which Sokka bangs loudly on until the man shows up at the door. Said man's eyes soon fall on the group, immediately spotting both Jet and Zuko:

"Prince Zuko?" he says, "Lion-Hearts?" he looks to the others, "What are you all doing here?"

"They're my friends, and these are my other friends." Sokka says, Aang, Katara, and Zuko bowing respectively before Piandao. Piandao bows as well, Sokka turns to the meteorite, "Do you think we can make a sword out of a meteorite?"

Piandao studies the rock before saying, "We'll make a sword unlike any other in the world."

When Sokka starts making the sword, he removes his shirt and starts shoveling coal into the furnace, Jet can't help the slight pang of jealousy that rises when he sees Zuko watching with curiosity, he brings a hand to his mouth:

"I think you need a little more meat, String-Bean!"

Zuko promptly elbows him in the ribs, Sokka giving him the finger, "Jet!"

"I see you two are still attached at the hip." Zuko startles and turns around meeting Piandao's eyes, Jet moves at a much lazier pace. Piandao takes in their appearances and can still see their child like features in the two young men before him, his eyes fall upon Zuko's scar and the obvious scar on Jet's chest, "Minus a few dings of course. How is your Uncle, Prince Zuko?"

"Uh-h," Zuko falters, "He's – in jail."

Piandao frowns, "Why?"

Zuko murmurs, "Treason against the Fire Nation."

"I see." the Master swordsman stores this information away, he turns his attentions to Jet, "And what about you Lion-Heart, are you still the rampant little boy I once taught?"

Jet smirks, "More or less."

Piandao looks between the two boys, takes in their body language, "I think you've mellowed out."

Jet frowns, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Piandao only hums, turning his attention to Sokka, "I know what young love looks like when I see it."

"Wait - ," Zuko flusters.

Jet hisses, "That's none of your business."

"Don't worry." the man says, "I won't tell a soul."

Jet bears his teeth at the man and drags Zuko away from the swordsman.

Chapter Text

Having been invited to stay the night while Sokka finishes up his sword, the group sits in a large dining room decorated with fine drapes and polished woods. And ever since Piandao told them that he knew the nature of which their relationship took, Jet's suspicious eyes had never left the old man's form, eyes constantly watching his every move and tensing when the man's fingers so much as brushed against the handle of his own weapon – Zuko understands Jet's suspicious nature regarding their old teacher and is fine with staying near the dusky teen's side until further notice, content to let Jet do his own thing so long as it wasn't anything stupid.

Piandao puts his soup spoon down, taking a napkin and dabbing at the corners of his mouth, "So, Prince Zuko, Lion-Heart," Jet's entire body turns rigid, "Have you two kept up with your practices?"

"Yes." Jet spits before Zuko can so much as offer a rebuttal, "And I don't see why you care."

Toph murmurs a whoa-a-a while Aang and Katara cast confused glances in each other's direction.

"I care because my teaching would have been for nothing."

"In case you forgot, you only taught me a few lessons before you left." Jet growls, grip on his eating utensils tightening, "I don't think you have room to worry about your teaching having been for nothing."

Piandao lets his lips dip into a subtle frown, "You were violent."

"What did you expect?!" Jet snaps, slamming his utensils onto the tabletop. The room is tense, everyone left in quiet suspense, eyes wide. "I was taken from my home! I was forced to work with ash-makers!"

Toph lets his words sink in, lets the dots connect; Aang's initial response is shock, but that is overruled by the waves of concern washing over him; Katara is just shocked, her mouth agape; and Zuko is frozen in place, shock clear in his amber eyes.

Piandao finally speaks, "Some good did come out of it, did it not?"

Jet blanks, his mind working overtime to catch up to the present until finally realizing what the old man is hinting at – he stands suddenly, lips pulled back into a snarl, pouring his hate and spite into his next words:

"Fuck you."

As he's leaving the table, he hears Piandao sigh as if put upon, as if Jet were nothing more than a nuisance, "I suppose I was wrong. You're still the temperamental child you were all those years ago."

And Jet loses it, his mind shifts into overdrive, memories come flooding in of his family, the fire, the Fire Nation soldiers looking down on him, everyone spitting at him. The fear, the hurt, the hate smelting into something tangible in this very moment – he spins on his heel, vaults over the table, and attempts to tackle the older man, but Piandao moves and grabs Jet's shoulder, he spins them around and slams the snarling teenager into the hardwood floor. Being pinned does nothing to stop his anger, he snarls and snaps, spitting insults and tries his hardest to get at the other man, fingers itching to be covered in blood.

This Jet startles the others, he's like a feral animal that would sooner rip your throat out than cuddle, an animal that calls for the blood of anyone and anything standing in his way. This Jet is the one Aang had seen when he'd held Zuko hostage, if only for a fraction of a second and much more contained than this one that seems all too real.

"Lion-Heart!" Zuko barks, voice edged with a vicious lace. Jet tenses, realizes what he's doing, the Prince rises and moves towards the two men. "I've got him Master Piandao."

Piandao nods and lets up on his grip only for Zuko to haul Jet to his feet and drag him out of the room.

Toph breaks the silence, "What was that about?"

Piandao straightens himself out and gestures for another bowl as his previous one was upended, "That was a glimpse into the past – but he does appear to be tamer."

oOo

Zuko throws Jet into the room they'd been given, a room meant for the both of them as Piandao had said, the Prince is glaring at his lover with all the righteous anger he can manage, the latter not daring to peek a glance at his beloved, knowing full well he'd done wrong.

"What was that?"

Jet sits on the bed, turning away from Zuko, "Leave it alone."

Zuko glares a little while longer before he takes a deep breath and approaches the bed, "Jet," he sits beside the other, close enough to feel the warmth radiating from his body and rests his forehead against his boyfriend's shoulder, "If you're hurting – I want to know. I don't want you to suffer alone anymore." he presses a kiss to Jet's jaw, "Otherwise that was really uncalled for."

Jet sighs, feels tears beginning to spring to life, "It – he reminds me too much of the past. Memories. Feelings. Smells." he turns his head and nuzzles Zuko, "I just want to forget it all."

"Then let me help."

The taller boy smirks, maneuvers Zuko into his lap and meets his gaze, "I know what you can do."

"Jet." Zuko starts, he knows this problem won't go away simply by having sex, but he doesn't know what else to do – he definitely doesn't want to think of his Uncle right now. "What did you have in mind?"

Licking his lips, Jet grabs Zuko's hips and rubs their groins together, a little gasp escaping Zuko, "It's been a while since I was able to touch you, to hold you ~ not with the kids around."

Zuko purrs, fingers tangling in Jet's hair and giving a tug, the taller teen hissing, Zuko presses his lips to Jet's Adam's apple, "They're not here now ~ and we have all night." the firebender licks a stripe up Jet's skin, the latter shivering in delight, "I want to take care of you ~ lay back for me?"

"Of course ~ ," Jet grins, he props himself on his elbows, watching Zuko stand and start removing his sash, "Anything you want, Love ~ ."

"Anything ~ ?" Zuko hums as he slips out of his shirts, he kneels between Jet's legs, eyes never breaking contact, he rests his hands on Jet's knees, trailing them upward, "You know what I want."

"Done."

Jet begins untying his tie, letting it fall where it may and lifts his hips up, pulling his pants down with Zuko's guidance – the Fire Prince's eyes become half-lidded, he licks his lips and leans forward, grabbing the base of Jet's cock and guides the head closer to his mouth, letting the tip of his tongue lick the swollen head, tonguing at the slit. Hand gripping and squeezing the base, he milks what little precum he can before swallowing the shaft, taking as much as he can and using his hand to cover what his mouth couldn't. Jet moans above him, hand reaching down and tangling his fingers in Zuko's hair, nails raking over his scalp, the sensation is pleasant and the Prince lets his boyfriend know this when he moans, the noise causing his throat to vibrate.

Jet mewls, "Fuck baby ~ so good."

Zuko pulls off with a quiet slurp, licking his reddened lips and stares at Jet for a moment, fingers idly trailing along spit-coated skin, "Would you ever let me?"

Jet purrs when Zuko toys with the bulging vein underneath, "Let you what?"

Zuko's fingers trail to Jet's inner thighs, "Take charge."

"I - ," Jet hesitates, he thinks about it and he knows, loves, and trusts Zuko enough to allow it but the thought of losing control – is too much. "I don't – think I can do that, right now."

"Okay." Zuko hums, he doesn't press, instead, he leans forward, rubbing his cheek against Jet's dick, "You're so big."

"You like it ~ ."

"I do ~ ." Zuko coats his fingers in saliva, but as he reaches behind himself, Jet stops him, "What?"

"I got a little something for that."

Zuko pulls away and watches Jet stretch, reaching for the nearby stand – when Jet returns he's holding a small glass jar of what appears to be massage oil.

"Wha - ?" Zuko reaches out, takes the jar in hand and stares, "Where did you get this?"

"I figured Piandao gave us the go-ahead to fuck around since he put us in the same room, so I took a little something-something from his washroom."

"I - ," Zuko pauses, thinking over this and shakes his head, "Never mind."

He pops the cork and takes a quick whiff; it's a little flowery but whatever, it's better than spit. Coating his fingers in the stuff, he reaches behind himself and presses the first finger up against his entrance, he bites his lower lip and adds more pressure. One finger slips in, easy enough. Adding a second finger he lets his mouth drop open, almost there. A third makes his mouth drop open, a little gasp flying free. The stretch feels too good to not acknowledge – he rolls and swivels his hips, thrusts his fingers in and out, loves the feeling, gets lost in it.

But he's soon brought back by a breathless fuck uttered by Jet, whom of which he just so happened to have put a show on for – Jet is hard and he's stroking himself, having taken some of the oil and smeared it over his dick, pupils blown and mouth parted.

Jet is beautiful.

Zuko shuts his eyes and whines, he feels wet and his gut is boiling, "Sorry."

"No need to apologize."

Zuko stands on shaky legs and crawls over Jet, straddling his hips, "I need you."

Jet pushes himself up, lifts his hips up as he holds his boyfriend down, his dick slipping between Zuko's ass, head brushing against the entrance in ways that makes their blood sing, "I'm right here."

The Prince purrs, rubs himself against Jet as the formerly known Lion-Heart makes shallow thrusts until the head catches and slips in, Jet moans and Zuko gasps. The firebender's mouth falls open when he feels the slick sensation of the head brushing deliciously against his inner wall, feels himself filling up until Jet bottoms out. They sit in the dark, face to face, arms wrapped around each other, with nothing but the sound of their heavy breathing to keep the silence at bay.

"You okay?" Jet asks, Zuko nods, pressing kisses to Jet's skin.

Zuko lifts himself up, loving the weight of Jet's hands on him, and lets his body drop, impaling himself on his lover, both moaning in unison – licking his lips, Zuko keeps Jet's hips in place with his thighs, he rests his hands on Jet's shoulders, lifts himself up, and falls back down, finding a steady rhythm that reduces Jet to wordless sentences.

The scarred teen leans forward and kisses Jet, Jet eagerly returning just as good as he gets. They kiss, never getting tired of each other's mouth. They touch, mapping every little detail of skin. They turn desperate, feeling like they could melt. Zuko's rhythm turns frantic and soon he's bouncing with Jet a slurring mess, growling and oh-so close to release, until Zuko stops everything and just rolls his hips.

It takes a fairly long moment for Jet to realize Zuko isn't doing anything but circling his hips, he tries to lift his own hips but the firebender has him kept firmly in place:

"What're you doing?"

Zuko smirks, a purr on his lips, "What do you think?"

"Teasing." Jet growls, frustrated.

Zuko chuckles, "Maybe not what you think."

Snarling, Jet wraps his arms around Zuko and tosses him to the side as he bucks his hips, the Prince letting out a surprised yelp seconds before he's facedown in the sheets, ass in the air. Jet presses against him, rubs the head of his cock against Zuko's entrance, watches Zuko tense in response – without warning, Jet pushes in, grabbing Zuko's hips he starts a quick and fervid pace. Each thrust making Zuko's hips jolt, the Prince buries his face in the bed and moans loud and unabashed, willing to let anyone close by hear him and what Jet was doing to him, what Jet was making him feel. Leaning over Zuko's body, mounting him, Jet rests his chin on Zuko's shoulder, presses kisses to the firebender's cheek and ear, a stream of curses and praise leaving his lips each time Zuko pushes back to meet him.

When Jet comes, he keeps on fucking the Prince down and dirty, listening to the noises the younger makes until his back arches deliciously and comes. A low keening noise escaping the proud Prince.

Grinning lazily, Jet watches his own come trickle out and trail down Zuko's thighs, he finally rolls off of Zuko to lie at his side, the Prince letting his body fall to the bed. They meet each other's gaze and Jet smiles, reaches out with his hand and holds Zuko's scarred cheek in his palm.

"I love you."

Zuko smiles, eyes tired, "Love you too."

Still smiling like a love-struck loon, Jet scoots closer and throws an arm over the small of Zuko's back, shielding him from the world as they fall asleep. The next day, the two accompany the others to Sokka's little ceremony. Piandao giving an uplifting and inspirational speech that makes Jet sneer every once in a while:

"I'm sorry Master." Sokka starts, "You're wrong. I am not worthy. I'm not who you think I am, I'm not from the Fire Nation – I'm from the Southern Water Tribe. I lied so I could learn swordsmanship from you." Sokka holds the sword back up for Piandao to take back, "I'm sorry."

Piandao frowns then turns, "I'm sorry too."

The man swipes at Sokka, the latter dodging in time and pulling out his own sword to block the blow. The others stand, ready to help, but Sokka holds his hand out to them, "No, this is my fight. Alone."

The following fight is interesting – but Jet loses interest halfway through, fights were no fun unless you were actively participating in them. When Sokka is thrown to the ground with Piandao holding his sword to him, the others jump from their place and move to help their fallen friend, but Piandao does not attack and instead speaks, addressing the group:

"I think I'm a little old to be fighting the Avatar."

The group eases, "How did you know?"

"Oh I've been around a while, you pick things up." Piandao takes the towel from his servant "Of course I know from the beginning Sokka was Water Tribe. You might want to think of a better Fire Nation cover name. Try Li, there's a million Lis."

Jet elbows Zuko with a grin on his face, Zuko glares at the teen and elbows him back, albeit harder, the action makes Jet laugh. In the end they're given a pai-sho tile, the white lotus tile, both Jet and Zuko trade looks over the group of kids.

Chapter Text

Having come across a large crater housing a body of water, the group had stopped and decided to make the secluded area their private campsite for the upcoming night – the others were already doing their own thing, Jet and Zuko not excluded as the Fire Prince was tending to the former Lion-Heart’s bandages, the firebender taking a look at the scar across his boyfriend’s chest.

“Do you really need these anymore?”

Jet watches Zuko, “Not really. I just – keep them on to keep them on.”

Zuko misses the hesitation in Jet’s voice, he sits proper and meets Jet’s gaze, “If you don’t need them then you should get rid of them.”

Jet flexes his right hand, he feels nothing, “Guess you’re right.”

Unwrapping the gauze around his right hand and forearm, he can feel Zuko’s eyes glued to his arm as bit by bit he reveals the scarred tissue beneath. When his hand is freed for all to see, he brings it eyelevel and stares at the scarred skin, thick and ugly, all feeling gone forever – his heart shouldn’t sink like it does, like it always does every time he looks at the hideously marred skin, mangled and disgusting, he’s tired of forgetting that it forever looks like this, he’s tired of the same emotions playing over and over on repeat, running around in circles within his mind, thoughts chasing one another in an eternal chase. He’s weak. He wants to rage. He wants to tear the world apart and break its inhabitants.

“They deserve it.” he thinks bitterly, “No one is innocent.”

His thoughts are interrupted and he’s pulled back to present reality by pale fingers wrapping around his wrist and a hand grabbing his own, blinking away the afterimages of the world on fire, of his home burning down, he stares at Zuko as the Prince pulls his hand down and rests it in his lap, one hand cupping the back of Jet’s hand and the other toying with his fingers. Moving and curling them – Jet laments not being able to feel this.

“What’s this?” Zuko’s middle and index finger run along the odd patch of skin that doesn’t quite fit with the rest, he brings Jet’s hand closer to his face, eyes narrowing in concentration. He flips Jet’s hand over and sees the same thing on the palm side, he looks up at Jet from underneath his fringe. “Jet?”

“Um - ,” Jet remembers, of course he does and he isn’t proud of it, “I – I stabbed myself?”

Zuko’s eyebrow shoots up and his eyes widen, his mouth dropping, “You did what?! When did this happen?!”

The taller of the two can feel the eyes of the others on them, he pulls his hand away from Zuko’s hold, “It’s fine! I’m fine! Katara patched me up!” he stares at the water’s surface, he whispers more to himself than his companion, “I didn’t feel anything.”

“It isn’t fine!” shouts Zuko in disbelief, the look of utter shock adding to his tone, “You don’t just – do that! Wait – what do you mean you didn’t feel anything?”

“It means what it means.” Jet mutters with a shrug, fingers flexing, “I can’t feel anything.”

“Jet.”

“Every never ending below my elbow is dead. I can move my wrist and my fingers just fine, I guess I can count myself lucky on that, but I can’t feel.”

Zuko’s eyes fall to the scar on Jet’s chest, “What about your - ?”

“My chest is fine. A little too sensitive at times, but fine.”

The Prince sighs, “I don’t care if you can’t feel or not. You don’t just do that. At least I don’t want you doing that anymore, I don’t want you hurting yourself.”

Jet chuckles, somber and self-deprecating, “Can’t help it.”

“I can’t leave you alone, can I?”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Zuko grabs both of Jet’s hands, Jet tries not to flinch at the contrast between his scarred hand and Zuko’s smooth skin, “I’m just – sorry I couldn’t be there for you when you needed it. You were there for me and I just – I couldn’t return the favor. I was selfish.”

“It’s fine. You were going through some shit too, besides, I didn’t help myself by hiding it.” Jet reaches out and moves Zuko’s hair out of his eyes with his left hand, “You just being here is good enough for me.”

Feeling his eyes sting, Zuko huffs and smacks Jet’s hand away rather than pushing into it as he would have liked to do, “Sometimes I wonder if you think too highly of me.”

“Of course.” a small smile etches itself across his lips, “You’re the world to me.”

“That doesn’t mean anything – I’d like it if you made me work to earn your forgiveness.” spits Zuko, he doesn’t mean to be annoyed or for his tone to slip but Jet’s words were getting to him. “You always forgive me too easily – it makes me feel like I’m not doing anything, like I’m messing up somehow.”

“Life’s too short to stay mad.” Zuko opens his mouth to retort but Jet continues, “Yes. I’m aware of the irony in that statement.”

Letting his muscles relax, or rather forcing himself to, both he and Jet smile at one another, lost in their own world where no one else but each other existed – at least until Sokka blundered his way into their little planet, completely breaking the atmosphere and startling the two sole occupants.

“Hey Jet!” the Water Tribesman starts, “I just had an idea!” he sits next to the two older boys, “What if you and I sparred!?”

Jet can’t stop the kneejerk reaction he has to Sokka, especially after the lanky teen seems to be getting close to good terms with Zuko, “Are you sure?” he jeers, “I don’t want to be accused of trying to kill you by your sister.”

Yes. Jet is aware of the look Zuko sends him.

Sokka isn’t deterred. The blue-eyed boy frowns, “I’m not that bad. In fact I think I may have found my own style. My own groove. And I want to test it out against other styles of fighting, and since you’re the only one here who knows more than enough fighting styles to be fair, you’re my man!”

“Calm down.”

“Relax.”

“It’s okay.”

There’s a nudge coming from his right. Zuko. “No harm in humoring him.” the Prince says, Sokka lets out an indignant squawk, Jet tries not to feel betrayed and bitter, tries to fight back the jealousy surging to the forefront of his mind as insecurities and toxic thoughts begin to kick up, “I’ll be here.”

“What?” Jet asks sardonic, voice laden with toxicity, but he’s already pushing himself to his feet, “Tired of me already.” he doesn’t see Zuko’s expression, but he can feel it heavy on his back, “I get it. I know when I’m not wanted.” there really is no reason for the sudden hatred spilling into his veins, he gestures for Sokka to follow, “C’mon String-Bean, let’s see what you got.”

Amber eyes watch with heavy emotion as both dusky colored teens move away to a more open space – Zuko doesn’t know what to make of Jet’s emotions or his reasoning behind it, but when has emotions ever been felt out of any sane thought. The Prince was out of his depth here – he had about as much emotion as an active volcano. Motion catches his attention, turning towards the source, he finds Toph plopping down next to him, she stretches her legs out and rests heavily on her hands, her head angled to the side.

Both remain silent until Zuko can no longer take it:

“Uh – hi.”

Toph remains silent a beat longer before speaking, “So, when are you going to give that present of yours to your boyfriend?”

Zuko’s entire face burns bright, “E-Excuse me?!”

“You’re excused.”

“I - ! Wha - ?! H - ?!”

“Use your words.” Toph says, but her chin is dipped towards her chest, hiding a small smile, “And you might want to keep it down unless you want the others to hear.”

“I - ,” Zuko flusters, “How did - ? Jet isn’t - ,” Zuko was at a loss.

“A little better. But Sparky, the fact that you knew who I was talking about gives you away.” Toph feels Zuko’s heart flutter, her smile widens, “When we left that little town to go clothes shopping for tall, dark, and apparently handsome, I overheard you two being lovey-dovey with each other when you two thought everyone had fallen asleep. I mean, I had my suspicions, but that confirmed it.

Zuko swallows hard, “I don’t - ,”

“Don’t worry. No one else knows, I mean, Katara’s becoming suspicious, but as far as she knows your attraction to Jet is one-sided at the moment.”

“Um – right.”

Toph tilts her head in Jet’s direction, the tormented teen currently snarling at Sokka who looks more or less irritated, “So what was that about?”

“I don’t know.” Zuko is still uneasy about Toph having heard what they thought was a private moment, but is more than willing to talk his current predicament out with someone who will hopefully know what to do. “I – things were fine.”

“Define fine.”

Zuko let out a frustrated huff, “We were talking about – things, and I think we may have resolved something but then Sokka came over and asked to spar with Jet and he did a complete turnaround.”

“Sounds like a complicated guy.”

“He is!” Zuko about raises his voice but strangles the sound, instead, he lets small sparks of fire escape his mouth, “Even when we were friends there was always this whole other layer to him, like he wasn’t telling me everything. I even learned that he was going to kill me and my family not too long ago. I just – I don’t understand. At all. I was never a people-person, that was always him, so this whole me trying to offer emotional support is new to me and I feel like I’m doing nothing, he says it’s fine but I don’t know whether to believe him or not.” sighs Zuko, “And he has the nerve to call me complicated?”

“You’re both complicated.” Toph states, “You may not have realized it but you also did a complete turnaround, you went from being suspicious of me to ranting about your boyfriend.” Zuko opens his mouth but Toph holds a hand up, “I’m not done. When I met your Uncle, he told me a little bit about you and it sounds like you grew up in a pretty complicated home. You had to adapt to that environment so simple things tend to go over your head – just allow yourself to feel, don’t over think, don’t fight it.”

“Fighting is all I’ve ever done.”

“But you don’t need to fight with Jet. You don’t need to do some grand gesture to show Jet that you’re there for him, for me, just knowing someone is there is enough.”

“Oh.”

Toph punches Zuko’s shoulder, she hears a startled yelp and sees Zuko reach up to hold onto his throbbing shoulder, “Let him know you’re there for him and no one else.”

“Why did you punch me?!”

“That’s how I show affection.”

Zuko’s brows furrow but he says no more on the subject.

“Does your Uncle know?”

“My Uncle?” flusters Zuko, “He – he knows.”

oOo

Night falls and everyone is asleep, everyone except for Zuko who can’t quite find a comfortable position to sleep in, instead, his eyes search the night sky, simply marveling at the beauty it offered. Turning his head to the right, he finds Jet lying on his back, mouth parted slightly, his chest rising and falling, the motion lulling Zuko’s thoughts to a calm quiet – Jet is beautiful, he deserves none of what has befallen him. Turning onto his side to face Jet better, he reaches out with a tentative hand, the tips of his fingers gingerly brushing against Jet’s cheek, the skin cool from the night air and smooth, trailing his fingers towards the taller male’s jawline, he traces a faint scar, small and hardly noticeable, something the man had gotten during their journey out on sea.

The Prince watches Jet’s eyelids open almost sluggishly, he watches the dusky teen become more aware of the world, he watches Jet’s throat bob as he swallows.

Jet asks, voice raspy. “What are you doing?”

“I love you.”

Jet reaches up and grabs his wrist, he pulls the hand away and turns his head to look at Zuko, he still looks tired and now a little lost with himself, unsure of what to do with Zuko’s sudden declaration, but here in the dark of night, shrouded by shadows with only the stars at their witnesses, he could care less of the others – for the first time since they’d left Ba-Sing-Se, he wonders if they can still leave, just the two of them. Jet then brings his hand to his lips and presses a kiss to his knuckles.

“Love you too, Fire-Bird.”

Smiling, the Prince pulls his hand from Jet’s hold and reaches out with both arms, maneuvering the older boy into an embrace, he buries his nose in the other’s wild hair. The feeling of his chest wanting to explode grows. Love. This is love.

“Jet.” Zuko breathes, he hears Jet hum, “I love you so much it hurts, I can’t – I don’t understand these feelings half of the time, or at all, but – I know that I don’t want to let you go. When I said I would marry you if I could, I thought nothing of it, but then I started giving it some thought.” his heart is pounding, his chest swelling with emotion, “And now I can’t imagine a life without you.” he swallows the lump in his throat, “I know you said you’re still young, we both are, but I - ,” he feels Jet pull away, propping himself on his elbows to peer at Zuko who sits up and stares at the rocky ground, “After the war is over, I’d like for you to be mine,” he bites his lower lip, throat feeling like it was swelling shut, “As my husband.” he hears Jet make a strangled noise, he shrinks in on himself, “I already bought a gift and everything. I just. Couldn’t give it to you because I was scared.”

“You’re a Prince.”

“I know that. But – I’d give it up if it meant I could be with you. We could travel like we originally planned to do in Ba-Sing-Se. Just you and me. No one else.”

“The gift.” Jet says, he feels like the surrounding air is trying to suffocate him, “Where is it?”

“You – you know what happens if you accept it, don’t you?”

Jet nods, voice leaving him. Flexing his fingers, Zuko reaches over to his pack and immediately comes into contact with the piece he’s wanted to give to Jet. Pulling the object from his satchel, he holds it in his lap – he jumps when Jet reaches out to take the red wrapped gift from him, he ducks his head and watches Jet from the corner of his eye, watches the taller teen unwrap the gift only to stare at the pieces.

“Fuck.” Jet finally curses; Zuko tries to not let his heart sink.

“What?”

Jet chuckles a little, almost bashful, “My hair’s not long enough, you know.”

“So that means - ?”

“Yeah.” Jet smiles, legitimately smiles, something pure.

Feeling his heart swell, Zuko throws himself at Jet, wrapping his arms around the other, both falling over from the force, Jet laughing until Zuko smashes their lips together, the firebender cupping his fiancé’s face in his hands and kisses him harder until air becomes a necessity again.

“I love you.” Zuko whispers, short of breath, “I love you.”

Holding Zuko in his own arms, Jet is smiling up at his future husband, his insides feeling warm and fuzzy, old wounds healing with each whispered proclamation of love coming from Zuko. Zuko is his. They have a future together. This kind of happiness can’t be explained; no matter how many times a person tries, no matter how talented the person is with words.

“After the war.” Zuko says, voice filled with emotion, “After the war we’ll get married.”

Jet presses their noses together, “Now I have a reason to help end the war.”

Zuko snuggles up against Jet, “So do I.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the night had been peaceful as both boys had finally fallen asleep, wrapped tight in one another's arms – when morning came, both Jet and Zuko rose with it as waking earlier than others was a small boon since it left the two newly minted fiancés some time for each other without the rest of the world to watch their every move and judge every little word uttered between the two of them. Like now: Zuko is smothering a wide smile in Jet's shoulder as the latter lifts him up and spins them around, brave and carefree.

What had led to this event had been the second when Zuko had dodged an incoming kiss from Jet who simply couldn't let that stand, resulting in the two chasing each other around until Jet had finally caught him.

Jet holds Zuko tighter and presses his nose against the fair-skinned boy's, the two closing their eyes and basking in the warmth and feel of the other, their chests threatening to explode from the amount of joy and love radiating from their bodies. Indescribable and powerful. They stay that way for a handful of precious moments, trying to wrap their minds around the fact that the person they were holding on to would be the person that would be there for them from now on.

Jet breaks the silence with a reverent whisper, "You don't know how much I love you right now."

And those words warm Zuko all over, their eyes opening at the same time to stare each other down, the firebender searching his fiancé's eyes for something before the sovereign smiles, gooey and sweet – everything they've done leading up to this moment is worth it.

"And I love you." Zuko whispers back, "I just wish I was better with words just so I could tell you just how much."

The dusky teen smiles just as gooey and vulnerable, "You can't weigh love with words that are easy to speak."

Just show me by spending the rest of our lives together ~

Once the war was over, they would start their lives together as more than sovereign and revered guard, as more than childhood friends, and that both scared and thrilled them. The idea that they would have someone that would see them through it all, be with them through it all, to see them at their worst and best, and to share everything they had. But that is what they'd been doing from that start, isn't it?

It really wouldn't be too much of a stretch or dramatic change between them, they weren't going to suddenly change into someone completely different than what they were just because they were married, they would still be the same, they would just have a title or two slapped on them and that would be it, and that's what settled their fears for the moment. As it was, they would need plans for when that time the war would end came.

"Any ideas on where you want to go?"

Zuko opens his eyes once more, "No."

"Me neither." Jet hums because honestly, they've already seen the world in their journeys, "Maybe we could ask Aang, he's a nomad, I'm sure he's bound to have heard of something, or at least have an idea."

"If any of the areas he's heard of is still around." Zuko murmurs, "Which reminds me, I'll have to start teaching him firebending soon. That's what I signed on for, wasn't it?"

Jet snuggles Zuko closer, "Do it some other time."

Zuko snorts, amused, "When?"

"I don't know." Jet admits, "But any other time than now. I want to spend some time with my fiancé without the kids getting in the way." he then hums, "Why don't we just pick a random direction and keep walking until we come across something?"

A gagging sound brings them crashing down from their own little place in the clouds to see Toph now sitting up, her hair a complete bird's nest, and making a show of vomiting. And despite Zuko having told Jet last night of how Toph knew about them being more than just friends, he still tensed and readied himself for something to happen.

"I know that I said it was cute," Toph starts, "But this is ridiculous, you guys are just so – gooey."

Jet places Zuko back onto his feet, "How long were you up?"

Toph gets up and walks towards the water, "When you guys were chasing each other around." she dips her hands into the cool liquid, "I can feel the vibrations coming from the earth, remember?"

"Right."

Jet grins, "Guess that means messing around is out of the question."

Zuko makes to jab him in the ribs with his elbow, but Jet catches his fiancé's arm before it can connect.

oOo

Having been loitering around the messenger hawks and checking a stray piece of mail every once in a while, Azula is pleasantly surprised the second she gets her hands on a piece of parchment that delights her and lights that spark of ambition in her gut – the letter claiming that an outpost had spotted the Avatar who'd previously been thought dead.

As she leaves the area with the letter turning to ashes in her tight fisted grip, her mind is already whirring, coming up with ideas and plans for the Avatar and the traitors, because not only would she be able to track the Avatar down and finish him off once and for all, but she would most likely come across Lion-Heart, and by extension, her brother – her brother who failed to kill the Avatar and knew it so he had run away, leaving a broken hearted Mai and returning to the side of a sexual deviant who was as traitorous as her brother – her nose wrinkles in disgust.

A sexual deviant she'd harbored feelings for and even attempted to flirt with.

Was she hung up on him?

No.

Was she lying?

No.

Did he hurt her feelings?

No.

No matter what Ty-Lee said about first loves being the hardest to let go of, she was not hung up on him because he had been her first crush, or love, it was because he had used her in a successful attempt at finding her brother. It was a simple matter of pride because no one used her for their own gain without paying.

No matter how much Ty-Lee was convinced of Azula lying about it, she wasn't, he had betrayed her for her pitiful brother and that was a deal breaker no matter how well their personalities lined up with one another.

No matter what Ty-Lee thought about her feelings being hurt, they weren't, she simply didn't have feelings, and it didn't matter that Lion-Heart loved her unbearably weak brother – that Lion-Heart favored Zuzu.

There was nothing wrong with her.

Emotions were weak.

Useless.

Like her brother.

She was nothing like Zuzu.

She was better than poor little Zuzu who had their mother wrapped around his little finger.

oOo

"I know we've been traveling with Jet and Zuko for a while now," Sokka starts, they're packing up, ready to leave for Roku's home after the Water Tribe siblings and Aang woke, "But is it me, or is it still weird to see them feel something other than anger or some variation of it?"

"They're human, Sokka." Aang starts, "Of course - ,"

"I know, I know, I know!" the lanky teen flaps his hands in an attempt to shut Aang up, "But it's weird and they're acting weirder than usual! Like – this all feels so domestic and it's weird!"

Toph snorts, "Jealous?"

"No!" Sokka squawks, "It's just – I can't be the only one weirded out!"

"Well," Katara starts to add, "They are acting different today."

The earthbender retorts with a quick, "We all know your reason for being interested."

And the waterbender flusters, "That's old news! I'm over it!"

Toph makes a disbelieving noise that serves its purpose in riling Katara up even more, meanwhile a good distance away, Jet leans closer to Zuko so that their shoulders are pressed firmly against one another's and whispers whilst his hands continue the motion of sharpening his blades:

"I think they're talking about us."

"You think?"

Jet sits back up, grinning at Zuko, "I do."

Zuko meets Jet's gaze, his own hands stopping their work, "I can hear them from here, Jet. I know they're talking about us."

"Wanna give them something else to talk about ~ ?"

"Like wha - !?"

The Fire Prince is cut off the second Jet leans over and presses his lips to Zuko's in a sloppy kiss, a kiss that is obnoxious and overly dramatic with whatever seriousness that could have been scrounged up dashed by Jet grinning into their kiss, Zuko can do no more than glare, going cross-eyed in the attempt – in the distance they hear quite clearly, Sokka's squawk and Katara's exclamation of shock, Aang's surprised gasp, and Toph's silence.

The tanned boy pulls away laughing as the fair prince hisses his disapproval at him.

"You two are - !" Sokka points accusingly at them, "You two are involved!?"

Jet raises a lazy brow at Sokka, daring him to say something to set him off, "Something wrong with that?"

"No, of course not!" shouts Sokka, gesturing uselessly with his hands as he tries to form words and articulate his sentence, "It's just – since when?!"

Jet grins a Cheshire smile, "We're actually engaged."

Sokka repeats, "Since when!?"

"Wouldn't you like to know."

Zuko sighs, "We've been together since the day after you guys helped my Uncle, I think." Jet is pouting at his ruined fun of messing with Sokka, "And last night is when we, uh – promised to marry."

Sokka frowns, "Aren't you guys a little – young?"

Jet crows, "Never too young for love."

"But," Katara falters momentarily, brows furrowed, "Don't you think that's a little fast?"

"Why?" Jet tilts his head imploringly, "Think you can convince me otherwise?"

"No!" the waterbender immediately declares, "But – I don't know, I don't want this to be a mistake."

Zuko narrows his eyes, "A mistake?"

Katara's eyes widen, her hands flying to her mouth as she backtracks, "No! I didn't mean it like that! I just meant - ! I know we haven't gotten along - !" Toph coughs, Katara glares at her but continues attempting to defend herself, "I know haven't given you two much of a chance," she amends, "But I don't want something like this to be a mistake between you two! It would seem wrong!"

Zuko takes in her words, his shoulders slumping as he glances at Jet who is now watching him with impassive eyes, like he were readying himself to be rejected – the firebender looks away, chewing on his lower lip before he speaks, his words loud and clear, "I've made a lot of mistakes in my life," he looks up to meet everyone's eyes, "And this doesn't feel like another one of them: Jet's been by my side since we were kids and I honestly can't think of a future without him there, most likely doing something stupid, but there at my side nonetheless."

Katara watches as the two boys smile at each other, their expressions smoothed out and soft, looking like just another pair of normal teenagers in love – the look Jet was currently giving Zuko was leagues different than the one he'd given her when she thought he liked her, and it hurt because just then she comes to the realization that she never stood a chance at capturing Jet's attentions with Zuko already having been in the picture. And Jet, despite his flaws, was devoted and a person who loved with all he had, never giving the person less than they deserved – the picture they made was heartwarming, enough so that it loosened the hold that jealousy had on her heart.

"They're beautiful." she thinks as she says, "I wish you luck then ~ ."

"But," Sokka interrupts, "I thought you two had girlfriends before?!"

"I was talking about this fool the entire time."

But Zuko ducks his head, "I did." Jet snorts at this, "I uh – it was stupid but she asked and I honestly thought that I wouldn't see Jet again so I agreed. It was nice, but in the end it started to not feel right."

Sokka narrows his eyes, "So you like men and women?"

"Yeah?"

"Isn't liking men forbidden in the Fire Nation, though?"

"Yeah." Jet answers for them, "But we figure we'll just get hitched somewhere else."

Aang blinks, "Somewhere else? You mean you're not going back to the Fire Nation?"

"Nope." Jet says as Zuko shakes his head.

"Oh." Aang then brightens up, "Maybe I can officiate your marriage ~ ! I'm a monk after all ~ !"

Both Jet and Zuko blink in surprise, the Prince speaking for them this time, "We were actually planning to get married after the war then travel a bit."

"Come on ~ !" the airbender jumps to his feet, positively beaming, "I can do it now even ~ !"

Toph frowns, "I thought we were leaving for Roku's place."

"I know but we still could!"

Aang watches their former enemies glance at one another unsurely, he really doesn't want to press them too hard if they do say no to his offer, but a marriage really is an amazing thing to see and be a part of – Katara steps up beside him and places a hand on Aang's shoulder.

"I agree with Aang." she's smiling and it surprises Aang because Katara had been sour towards both Jet and Zuko, "If you two are sure that you want this, then you might as well start soon, right?" both older boys still look unsure, "And by the sounds of it, your wedding was going to be a little underwhelming. Weddings are meant to be celebrated, especially if they involve royalty ~ and what's better than having the Avatar personally officiating your marriage during a war?"

Toph makes a disgusted noise, "It sounds too romantic to me."

"And that what makes it better!" Katara defends, she turns back to both Jet and Zuko, "Who knows what will happen in the future ~ you don't want there to be regrets! Even if - !" she pauses, her demeanor becoming a little more sober, "Even if somethingdid happen, wouldn't you have wanted those days leading up to it to have been spent with each other as more than fiancés? To have made it to see your promises of your own wedding coming true?"

Jet ruins the atmosphere by blurting out a loud, teasing, "God you are so sappy!"

Katara's face flushes with embarrassment, she puffs herself up and places her hands on her hips as she glares at a laughing Jet, "Well excuse me for wanting what's best for you guys!"

Jet says through laughter, "Since when!?"

"I don't know." Zuko says the second he spots the nearby water becoming restless; he offers the waterbender a sheepish smile in an attempt to calm her, "If something did happen, I wouldn't want the aftermath to hurt too much. Also I don't think I'm much of a royal now, having left the Fire Nation for the second time now."

"Damn." Jet says conspiratorially, "I could have been a Prince."

"And that would have been a disaster."

Jet smiles, pressing his forehead against Zuko's, "Says you."

"Servants will have quit, the palace would be a wreck, you'd write up contradictory laws, Caldera would be flooded, and you'd somehow manage to make firebenders into waterbenders."

Jet purrs, "You know me too well."

Sniffling draws everyone's attention towards Sokka who is swiping at his eyes, the Water Tribesman sniffles once more, waving away their stares, "I've got something in my eye – that's all."

"Alright, alright!" Toph shouts, getting to her feet, she causes the earth underneath Sokka to rumble and fling the lanky boy forward, Sokka yelping as he lands. "Enough of the tears and the feelings, let's get going!"

Everyone gathers their things and secures them to Appa's saddle – Katara uses this moment to approach Jet, her hands clasped in front of her. Swallowing her pride and past emotions, she meets Jet's eyes and sees the teenage boy is looking at her with those dark eyes of his.

"I'm - ," she hesitates, "I'm sorry for putting you in such an awkward position, before. I didn't know you and Zuko were – together." Katara takes a deep breath to steady herself, "If I'd known, I wouldn't have - ,"

"It's okay." Jet interrupts, "It's more my fault than yours. I – knew that you liked me during the time after what happened at Ba-Sing-Se, but I - ," Jet frowns and runs a hand through his wild hair, "I needed the confirmation that I was still likeable – even when Zuko returned, because – I have issues okay?"

Katara blinks at Jet but nods, accepting his words, "Okay."

Jet offers a small grin, "Friends?"

Katara smiles and hugs Jet, "Friends."

Jet is tense, but he eventually wraps his arms around her, "You're a strong girl, remember that Katara."

"You better not be hitting on a betrothed man, Katara!" Toph's teasing voice shouts down to them, "Jet's off the market!"

Katara rips herself away from Jet to glare up at Toph, "I'm not hitting on him!"

Toph cackles at the heat behind Katara's words and Jet just laughs as he climbs up Appa and sits comfortably at the Fire Prince's side, the two settling in like a pair of birds perched upon the same branch, snuggled close.

Chapter Text

Finding a small town to scrounge up a few supplies on their meager allowance, Jet, Zuko, and Toph stay behind with Appa and Momo to keep an eye out and hold the fort down. Toph had been asking both Jet and Zuko questions about their history and what they had gotten up to before and during their time chasing Aang and the Water Tribe siblings – Jet is telling Toph about the time Iroh had been abducted and how he and Zuko traveled days nonstop to find him when Toph suddenly stops him with the gesture of her hand, her other hand pressed flat against the earth.

"There's someone coming."

Jet rises to his feet and reaches for his shuang-gou, "I'm guessing it's not the others."

Toph raises as well, eyes narrowed and brows knitted, Zuko slips into a firebending position, "No, it's not. Whoever it is, they're alone."

There is silence throughout the forest, as if the animals and whatever else inhabitants were waiting to see what happens next with bated breath – some bushes rustle nearby, Jet and Toph launching into action with Toph uprooting the earth beneath the intruder and Jet grabbing the person by their wrist and flipping them over, the person lands right in front of Zuko with a flaming fist directed right at their face only to recoil once the firebender realizes it's a lanky boy about their age. The boy groans, head lolling until his eyes land on Zuko, the stranger's face goes lax with recognition, his mouth dropping open in surprise – the surprise is short lived though for Jet digs his knee sharply into the teenager's chest and presses the bladed guard of his sword against the guy's throat.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?"

The teenager's eyes widen even more once he gets a good look at Jet, his skin turning paler than it had been originally, "M-My name is Akiro and I'm just a delivery boy!" Jet narrows his eyes warningly so Akiro continues, searching for the right words to keep himself from meeting a quick demise, "Th-This is a short cut I take when I have to deliver mail here! I swear I didn't know you were here!"

"But you know who we are." growls Jet, "Don't you."

Akiro nods as best as he can with Jet's blade nipping at the skin of his throat.

Just one wrong move and his head will be gone.

Toph huffs, relaxing after the initial shock, "Let him go, he's telling the truth."

Jet's lips pull back into a snarl until Zuko speaks, "Lion-Heart."

"He knows where we are." Jet spits, pressing the blade uncomfortably into the boy's skin, "We should get rid of him."

"Lion-Heart." Zuko barks, "Let him go."

With a guttural growl, Jet gets off the boy, "Fine."

Akiro immediately scrambles to his feet and takes off running faster than anyone has ever seen, even rivaling Aang when he uses his airbending to make himself run faster – Jet smirks as he sheathes his weapons and Toph starts howling with laughter, holding her sides as she doubles over, Zuko frowns, honestly not seeing what was so funny about the whole ordeal:

"Oh man! That was awesome ~ !" Toph howls, "You – You scared the pants off of him! Did you see how fast he ran away ~ !?"

Toph continues laughing and joking about it with Jet up until the others return, the three blinking at the scene before looking at Zuko who happens to be tending to the fire and shrugs. Aang sits beside Zuko, smiling obliviously at the mirth shared between Jet and Toph, Sokka sets a bag upon the forest floor and crosses his arms over his chest, staring at both Jet and Toph suspiciously, and Katara starts sifting through the bag and pulling out several contents.

Aang still smiling, says, "Seems like you guys had fun ~ ."

Toph's dying laughter picks up with vigor as she starts cackling once more, delving into the tale of Jet scaring the ever living daylights out of the unfortunate delivery boy who'd stumbled across them – Aang and Sokka trading concerned glances with one another as it all sounded like Jet had actually meant to harm the delivery boy while Katara and Zuko are just as bemused by the prospect as they had been previously.

"Um, Toph?" Sokka starts, "Jet really would – kill someone."

"Not without reason." Jet corrects, grinning, "I assure you."

"Oh! Like that makes it any better!" sneers Sokka, "Thing is, don't egg him on like that!"

"Don't worry about it." Jet rests up against Zuko's side, "I've got Zuko here to keep me in line."

Said Prince huffs, "Like that's ever stopped you before."

Jet's caustic grin melts into a sweet smile as he presses a kiss to the Prince's lips, both Aang and Katara coo at the cute couple while Toph and Sokka gag in a ridiculous and childish manner, earning a flustered glare from Zuko.

oOo

Doubling over with his hands on his knees, Akiro straightens up and bends his back, looking over his shoulder just in case Lion-Heart was lingering somewhere nearby, the delivery boy sighs and immediately heads straight for the town's local soldiers – having finished their less than grand dinner meal, the group settles in for the night, and as much as Jet would have loved to sleep snuggled up with Zuko, it was hot as all hell, their clothes had been sticking to their uncomfortably sweaty skin and his hair ridiculously fluffy from the humidity, so he lay a good foot away from his Prince.

Lucky Zuko and his firebender quirkiness.

Toph sits up suddenly and shouts, "Someone's here!"

Seconds later everyone hears the whooshing sound of something flying through the air, a net is seen wrapping around Zuko and an unseen force pulling him into the dark, the others cry out for Zuko and Jet's heart just about stops beating because: no, you can't take him – his body must have been on autopilot for he snaps back when a dagger leaves his hand, the weapon glinting in the dying campfire light and disappearing into the dark.

Thud.

A flash of fire and something going up in ashes is seen in the dark of the forest before twin blades catch fire to reveal Zuko backing away from whatever unseen enemies were in the dark, Jet doesn't relax until Zuko is safely at his side, only then does he feel confident enough to pull out his own swords. As he does, the entire area lights up to reveal firebenders surrounding them in a circular formation. A man dressed in a more extravagant uniform than the rest steps forward, indicating that he was the one in charge, and starts to speak in a tone similar to the ones Jet has heard from his teachers, haughty and declaring at he was nothing more than scum beneath their shoes.

"I was hoping to avoid a fight with the infamous Lion-Heart." Jet crosses his shuang-gou, eyes narrowed and snarling like a feral animal, the man only sneers at the action, "I heard so many tales about you and many of us wanted the prowess you possessed, but apparently power comes at a cost. How sick can you be to kidnap the Prince you swore to protect?!"

Zuko frowns, "What are you talking about?"

"Whatever this lunatic has been telling you are lies, Prince Zuko." the man says, "The Princess only wants you back safe."

"Bullshit!" Jet snaps, "The Princess could care less!"

The man draws himself up, making himself look bigger, "You're delusional! Seeing danger where there isn't!"

Jet snarls and lowers his body, everyone waiting for the other to make a move – one of the soldiers shoots a blast of fire and the entire area falls into an all out battle, flashes of fire lighting up the area and sounds of elements being tossed back and forth echo loudly. Ducking underneath a stream of fire, Jet sweeps up close to the head soldier, snarling as he tackles the man to the ground, both grunt but the man's eyes widen a second later as Jet has just driven the sharpened hilt of his sword into the man's throat. Narrowing his eyes at the man and making sure he was dead, he stands and looks over his shoulder only to pause.

Night skies, the haunting glow of fire, smoke twisting and reaching towards the skies, people screaming, running, he's crying.

His heart drops.

Kuo is sneering down at him, there's blood on his hands, soaked into his ratty clothes, he can smell it, copper and overbearing, there are eyes, all different, look up at him with varying expressions, some are defiant, some are confused. They flash and they blend together, he can no longer remember their faces. Just an endless sea of greens and browns.

His hold loosens, his swords clattering to the ground.

Zuko, Ozai, fire, smoke, and the horrifying stench of burning skin, fear and unshed tears. The world falls away.

His knees give out and he falls, the fight is over and everyone is checking on each other when they notice him.

It hurts, they're doing their jobs, they're men fighting for their homeland unlike him, he's a traitor, but dear gods does he love Zuko, beautiful – pain, Jet is dying little by little with each clash of their weapons, with each venomous barb sailors and soldiers alike spit at him. Blood, Earth Kingdom, traitor. They had Zuko. He used his Earth Kingdom heritage to trick them, he snuck in, found Zuko, killed them. So much blood. It hurts but Zuko is okay, thankful.

Shut it down, don't think, you're fine, you love him.

Forgive me. Please forgive me.

I'm sorry.

Please.

Stop.

Jet.

"Jet." he feels a weight on his back and tenses, "It's okay, we're safe now."

Jet lifts his head and sees Zuko, alive and well, "I - ," he glances at the man he'd killed, still lifeless and of no threat, his attention is immediately snagged by wriggling movement, it's the rest of the men, he feels cold hate creep through his veins, "We need to kill them." the men stop wriggling and look at him with wide eyes, desperate and defiant, he stands and starts walking towards them, "They know we're here."

"Jet!" Katara shouts, she immediately places herself between Jet and the men, unafraid, "We don't need to kill them, we just need to leave them here and run away before more people come looking!"

Jet snarls, lips pulling back in a sneer, "Move Katara."

Aang steps up, adding his body to the list of things Jet needed to get past, "She's right, Jet." Jet's eyes narrow and Aang gulps, below the surface of the fog in his eyes, the airbender can see that thing in Jet that he'd seen so long ago, "Things – we do things differently, we don't kill people, we don't need to kill them."

Zuko places a hand on his back, "We'll leave you to take care of them then." he turns to Jet, "Get our things." Jet is still tense, like he's going to charge past them any moment, but he relents and nods stiffly. Zuko watches his fiancé and sighs, he turns to the others, "We can't keep traveling with you guys if we're going to constantly run in to towns. Azula knows I'm gone, she knows I left to find Jet, and she's told lies to get me back."

Aang's shoulders fall, 'What are you saying, Zuko?"

Zuko sighs, "Jet and I will find our own way to the rendezvous, it'll – it'll be much easier if it's just the two of us. We're going to try and avoid the major towns and that will take a while, we can't ask you to deviate from your path just for us."

Aang looks like a kicked polar bear-puppy, "Okay."

"But we'll see you guys there, right?" asks Sokka, "Because we need you and Jet for that extra edge against the Fire Nation."

"We'll be there."

Sokka beams, "Great ~ !"

Jet hisses, "Should you really be talking about this in front of Fire Nation soldiers?"

Sokka frowns but lets it slide, Aang sighs, "I guess this is bye."

"For now." Zuko assures.

Jet steps up beside Zuko, "Ready."

Katara stands before the two and wraps her arms around them, "Be safe."

Both boys are tense for entirely different reasons, "We will."

Toph punches both Jet and Zuko.

Momo climbs onto their shoulders, chattering at the two of them, Appa licks all three.

oOo

"Maybe," Jet starts the night after they left; both he and Zuko are sitting around a small campfire, "Maybe we really are too young." Zuko looks up and Jet knows Zuko knows what he's talking about so he keeps talking, "You're sixteen and I'm seventeen. It just seems unfair in a way – can you really picture yourself stuck with me for the rest of your life?"

"Are you saying you want to – break up?"

"No, I don't want to."

Chewing on his lower lip, Zuko turns his gaze to the fire – he has a feeling about what it is that's bothering Jet and he doesn't know what to do about it, he was told once or twice that bottling it up was a bad thing to do so it's pretty obvious about what he has to do, but the execution still feels lacking, like he's missing something, like he's failing. Shutting his eyes, he decides to just go for it, and if he fumbles along the way, at least he tried.

"This is about last night, isn't it." all is silent so the firebender opens his eyes to see Jet sitting stiffly, staring at him like he'd just told him that he were the Avatar himself, "I know what you're like, I grew up with you and you're more than enough for me. Even with whatever it is you're dealing with, I know you struggle and I want to help. So – talk to me, tell me everything."

It could have just been a trick of the flickering firelight, but for a split second, Jet looks like he's going to fall apart at the slightest breeze, "Even if you've heard it?" he whispers, Zuko nods, "From the beginning?"

Zuko offers a strained smile that doesn't feel natural at all, "Where else?"

Jet smiles tired and defeated, "Okay."

It was a warm summer afternoon with the sun setting over the trees, he's playing with the other village kids in a tall grassy field when one of the kids shout, drawing everyone's attention towards the treetops where they see fumes of smoke rising like a monstrous nightmare, dark and ominous – fear freezes his blood and adrenaline kick-starts his legs into action, he's running and everyone races for their homes. Breaking through the tree line, they see fire spread from house to house, consuming everything in its path and spitting out ash and smoke, there are people running and screaming, he hears his friends cry and call out for their families as they run on shaky legs into the inferno. But Jet, Jet sees his own house perfectly from where he is, the roof already caved in and nothing but a burning and blackened husk – he hears a woman scream, it sounds unholy and desperate, it catches his attention, he turns his head and sees several soldiers dragging a woman away from the raging fires, she's kicking and screaming, begging and sobbing, alternating between pitiful wails and banshee like screams. They find a place a safe distance away and his heart sinks because he knows why soldiers would take an interest in a woman.

Why is this happening?

They weren't bad people, they were a simple hard-working village, the woman screams and he turns away, he's only a kid and there's nothing he can do except stand there and watch his world burn while crying, he's terrified. It's then that he spots a Fire Nation soldier that seems to stand out amongst the others, Mongke, his back straight, tall and proud, he smirks at him and something snaps, it curdles and turns vile, the adrenaline kicks back in and rage takes over, his body moves without his acknowledgement and he's charging towards the man yelling, he slams his tiny fists against the man's armored torso – Mongke just laughs at him as well as several other soldiers, they mock and guffaw.

The rest of the soldiers want to kill him, but Mongke has a brilliant idea, instead he grabs Jet by his thin wrist and lifts him off the ground, showing him off like he was some sort of prize as he says: meet the Fire Nation's newest soldier.

Men tie him up, their treatment harsh and the binds harsher.

They ride through the forests, day and night, travel along the roads and he sees firsthand the destruction they leave in their wake and it makes him sick, but it fuels his anger. It only makes them laugh, his anger, they claim that he's a riot. It's when they finally reach the seashore do they haul him onto a gigantic metal ship and deep within the hull where they throw him in a cell – in this cell he cries and he screams, he does this until his voice is hoarse, eventually giving out. Sometimes the soldiers would come down and poke and prod at him until their interest in him dies down. Food and water is scarce during this time, only for good boys they say, and Jet was anything but. There were times where he would get sick to his stomach, tired of the waves rocking the giant metal tomb.

Losing track of days and nights are easy, the dull metal hull his entire world now, and it kills him because he knows that he is no longer in Earth Kingdom territory and only getting farther and further away with each second that passes, it's then that he revisits the past few days: his parents are dead, his friends are gone, his home was burnt down, and he was being taken to the Fire Nation to be used as fodder. What did he have to look forward to?

Sometimes, he thinks that it would be much easier to just end it all, to bite down on his tongue and drown in his own blood, but when he thinks about it, he imagines the aftermath and it sickens him because the soldiers would probably just laugh and joke about how weak he must have truly been. It's his pride and stubbornness that keeps him alive, that kicks in, so he perseveres with the solemn promise to make them all pay for what they have done, to make their lives a living hell. Eventually, the ship stops and soldiers come down to his cell and yank him forward, he stumbles and he trips over his own two feet but they have no sympathy, simply ushering him along – everything is a blur of colors because the world is suddenly so bright and it hurts his eyes, but he finds himself in a line of other boys, most of them look Fire Nation but there are some who look like they come from different lands.

He's defiant from day one and becomes accustomed to the harsh punishments he receives.

One night, weeks into the training being drilled into him, he realizes that he's not making much of a difference so he decides to go a different route: he falls in line despite how much it makes him grit his teeth, he listens and he learns, soaking up all their instructor had to teach them, and he's like this for a few months before he can no longer take it and decides to make his first move. Under the cover of night, he kills the instructor and he relishes in it, it makes him feel so alive but it's short lived when soldiers rush in and apprehend him, he yells and he struggles, fighting them the entire way until he's thrown in to the back of a carriage and being relocated, he watches buildings pass, he watches them start to become bigger and fancier. When the carriage stops and men start to unlock the door, he flings himself away from the door snarling and spitting like a caged animal, forces the men to enter the carriage to grab him and drag him out. This is the first time he sees the palace.

Brought to the cells where he's forced to wait several days, days he passes by screaming profanities and threats, until some guards bring him to the throne room where he meets the Fire Lord and his two sons for the first time. Later that same day, he meets the kid Prince and gets a slap in the process.

Zuko ducks his head, looking genuinely ashamed, "Sorry about that."

"Well it worked in the end, didn't it."

Night seems to be the best time for his mind to work overtime and he starts to scheme, coming up with a plan that will not only give him his chance to escape but will also get rid of the Fire Nation royal family. Yet as days progress, he hits a snag because Prince Zuko is different than the rest, he's confusing and contradictory, making him feel something akin to happiness for the first time in months and making him want things – but night falls as it always does and his mind convinces him again that he must kill the family, so he escapes from his cell and creeps into the young Prince's room with nothing but a sharpened rock, all notions of murder fly out the window though the second he sees dried tear streaks on Zuko's face. Something in him changes again and he can't bring himself to harm the Prince, so he tosses his weapon out the window and sits on Zuko's bed, effectively waking the Prince.

"You really were going to kill us."

Jet reaches out and rests his hand over Zuko's, "I wanted to be free." Jet sees uncertainty in Zuko's eyes and pulls him closer, propping the Prince's back up against his chest, arms wrapping around Zuko, "Why don't we sleep for now?"

Jet is relieved when Zuko settles deeper against him and hums a tired, "Okay."

They fall asleep with surprising ease, Jet feeling just the tiniest bit lighter, but when morning arrives, it all comes crashing down and he feels vulnerable – Zuko is already up and moving around, somehow having slipped free from Jet's hold:

"Get up." Zuko says as he shoves Jet's pack at him, already packed, "And tell me more."

Jet huffs, Zuko presses a piece of dried meat into his hands.

Kuo is ruthless, the first time he meets Jet he brings him past the cells and deeper into the prison, down into the dungeons made of metal where an acidic smell hits him like a well placed punch, he remembers stumbling away from the smell but Kuo pushes him forward and keeps him walking until they stop in front of a cell door. Inside is a man, the first test he passes with flying colors – the guilt creeps up on him during the night and tears him apart, leaving him floundering in the sea of his own memories until a voice comes from the fog and steadies him, he clings to it like a life line, allowing it to soothe his frantic thoughts. After that, the executions are easier and the potshots taken at his soul smoothes over, he learns to ration out his smiles, he learns to carry himself, he learns how to show the perfect façade of being in control.

The years pass relatively normal despite a few bumps here and there, involving Ursa's disappearance, he's so wrapped up in his own lies that he legitimately believes that he is in control, that he has the power to keep himself going – until Zuko's first Agni Kai. And for the second time in his young life does fire threaten to set his world ablaze once more and Jet is indescribably terrified and praying over and over, begging whoever will listen: please don't take him, don't take this person, I've already lost so much, just please leave him alone. The days following the Agni Kai, Jet is listless, refusing to leave Zuko's side – so when he stabilizes so does Jet and his world, something shifting again, his worldview curling in around the drugged Fire Prince and holding him in the center.

When Zuko is banished, he follows and he waits, but when the Prince is fully alert he is no longer the same and it's confusing, but that's okay because Zuko is here and he's alive, nobody took him, he's okay and he's  here . But it begins to hurt when Zuko forces himself through days and weeks, fervid in his mission to hunt down the Avatar for lost property, it scares him because there are days where Zuko goes days without food, days where he forgets to sleep or take care of himself. But Zuko is here so he must be okay – until one day Zuko is no longer there. Earth Kingdom sailors had taken him, had taken Jet's world. Blind terror forces Jet to continue with his actions, using his own Earth Kingdom heritage, his looks, to trick the sailors into getting him close to Zuko. And the second his eyes fall on him and sees that he's okay, that he's alive, does his rage take over, he frees Zuko and he fights. There's blood and in the end of it all, he stares at his hands in horror because he's just killed Earth Kingdom men and it was different, unlike the men in the past who may have been Earth Kingdom once but had been Fire Nation prisoners, these men weren't captured and there was no one to tell him of what their crimes may have been because the only thing they had done was attempt to protect themselves, to end the war, and Jet had ended their lives for a selfish reason. It kills him, but he hears Zuko's voice, he looks up and sees the Prince, bloody, but still alive and thanking Jet – that voice in the back of Jet's mind returns, telling him that the men deserved it. And Jet, weak to its soothing purrs, lets it calm his turbulent mind and smiles at Zuko, because who wants to deal with something so heavy?

Killing becomes easier, it becomes  fun . Why think when you can just go with the flow, live for the now?

Life becomes easier with little care in the world, but he keeps a careful eye on Zuko because the Prince is starting to spiral and unravel and Jet will fight to keep them afloat because the Prince looks to him when he can no longer find the spirit to continue, he fights to become the pillar of strength Zuko needs – even if it's a lie, but no one needs to know that he's sweeping his troubles underneath the rug. His act is good enough that he creates this unimaginable persona that looms over him like a dark cloud of smoke and earns him the title: Monster of the Fire Nation. Monster: something to be feared, something with unimaginable power and strength, unwavering – none of it is him, but Zuko believes it, in him, so he owns up to it as best as he can.

Jet had been fighting for so much longer than him, even fighting for both of them when Zuko was close to giving up – swallowing the lump in his throat he attempts to wipe at his eyes as subtly as he can while Jet continues with the deeper meanings to his side of their tale. It hurts. Everything seemed like it had been his fault in some way, shape, or form. Maybe they were too young. Maybe they needed time away from each other. But that was hard when they were constantly at each other's side.

"Are we - ?" Zuko swallows; he feels Jet's eyes on him, "Are we – unhealthy?"

Jet stops so Zuko does too, his face angled towards the floor, he feels Jet's thumb swipe at his cheek, at a tear he hadn't realized had escaped, he lets Jet tilt his head so their eyes can meet, Jet smiles somber, "Can you really blame us?"

The sun is already halfway past noon; they'd been walking for a while, "What do you mean?"

"War changes everyone." Jet goes on to say, "If I hadn't been brought to the Fire Nation, do you really think I would have just sat in the Earth Kingdom doing nothing? After witnessing what I did at such a young age?" Jet watches Zuko a moment before pressing his lips to Zuko's forehead in a chaste kiss, "Why don't we look for something to eat?"

oOo

It takes a few more days until they reach the waterfront and surprisingly only a handful of moments until they successfully capture a small ship for themselves and set sail for the rendezvous point. During their time on the water, they alternate between arguing, playing around, sparring, getting cozy with each other, and telling tales: Jet is recounting his tale of how he felt those days after Ba-Sing-Se, talking everything out surprisingly lifting a lot off his shoulders and strengthening their bond, when they spot an odd fog approaching at an unnatural pace, unnatural for fog anyway. Getting to their feet, they ready themselves for what could possibly be a fight, but when the fog clears and reveals none other than Hakoda of all people – Jet groans because honestly, the guy wasn't his biggest fan.

Both teenagers watch the Water Tribe ships slow to a halt, the lead ship pulling up beside them with both Hakoda and Bato on deck:

"Lion-Heart?" Hakoda calls, brows creased, "Where is - ?" he pauses when he sees Zuko, then glares at Jet, "What are you doing?"

"Hey don't worry about it; he's on our side now." Jet offers a grin and makes a show of introducing Hakoda and Zuko, "Prince Zuko, may I introduce Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribe, father of Katara and Sokka. Hakoda, may I introduce Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, newly minted traitor and runaway."

"Lion-Heart." Hakoda scowls, "This isn't funny."

Jet smirks, "I'm not trying to make it funny."

Bato interrupts, "Where are the kids?"

"We ran into some trouble on our way to the rendezvous," Jet gestures between him and Zuko, "Turns out we're pretty famous."

Zuko chooses now to speak up, "With us being wanted by the Fire Nation we couldn't put the others at risk so we separated, going our own path in order to avoid being noticed. We couldn't ask them to change their course just for us."

Hakoda makes an indistinct grumbling sound before he sends a wooden plank over, bridging the gap between the two ships, "Get on."

Jet mock salutes Hakoda before setting off to help Zuko gather their meager possessions – once on board, Zuko immediately feels out of place as the people on board are now staring at him and muttering to one another, the looks they give him are one of distrust and the looks he'd seen the soldiers give Azula. They probably expected him to be just as vicious.

"Prince Zuko." Hakoda greets, standing before the teen, "I heard you were chasing the Avatar."

Zuko ducks his head because he now realizes that these people are Aang's friends, "Once – but no longer."

Hakoda looks between the two boys no older than his own son, already scarred and jaded – he wasn't one to turn away potential allies and he wasn't going to turn these boys away, but they were dangerous and still an unknown. Last time he'd seen Lion-Heart, the boy had been unhinged and disassociating with the world, violent and short fused, and of course he'd heard of Prince Zuko.

"Alright." Hakoda finally says, "Just don't do it again."

The Prince seems to relax, "Okay."

"Unfortunately we don't have enough room for both of you," explains Bato, "So you'll either have to share a cot or one of you will have to sleep on the floor until we reach the rendezvous point."

Lion-Heart only grins, surprisingly light-hearted and mischievous, "We'll make do."

Both Water Tribesmen watch Jet and Zuko disappear into the dark of the ship; it's only seconds before Bato speaks:

"Looks like Lion-Heart got a new accessory."

Hakoda snorts, "Probably stole it from somewhere."

Chapter Text

"Were you able to locate everyone I told you to find ~ ?"

"I did." Hakoda assures his son before his brows knit in concern, "But I'm a little worried Sokka." they turn to look at the boat he'd just stepped off of, "Some of these men aren't exactly the warrior type." they watch the two swamp benders before he speaks once more, "Is it me, or are those fellas a little loose in the leaf hat?"

Bato walks by at that moment, "I just wish they would wear pants."

Another one of the swamp dwellers speaks up, scratching his belly, "Pants are an illusion, and so is death."

Hakoda makes a face, just then Prince Zuko and Lion-Heart walk of the ship side-by-side talking to each other, Hakoda's expression worsens when he sees Katara light up and start calling to the two boys and runs towards the unusual pair to give them a rather large and friendly hug, he can only cringe as he watches his daughter fawn over the two teenage boys.

"I'm also a little concerned about dereliction." Hakoda lowers his voice to keep Katara or the two boys from overhearing him, "I find it odd that Lion-Heart is a completely different person from the one I saw last we met."

"I'd be suspicious too." Sokka nods in understanding, "But as it turns out, he just missed his boyfriend."

Hakoda's head snaps towards Sokka, "Boyfriend?"

"Yeah." Sokka bobs his head, "I'm sure you know the guy beside them is Prince Zuko, if not then there really needs to be introductions, and they're dating. And you see those weird ornament-looking things pinned to Jet's tie, well, it's a betrothal gift, they're going to be getting married once this is all over." Hakoda blinks, Sokka oblivious to his father's bewilderment, "Aang and Katara wanted them to have the wedding earlier for some sappy reason or another, but things got in the way and well, now it looks like they'll be having their wedding at their original set time."

"Jet is - ?"

"Lion-Heart's real name."

"And your sister isn't - ?"

"Nope, they've just become her favorite couple. I think she's just living vicariously through them."

"Oh."

At that moment, Jet and Zuko walk by talking with one another and looking like the rest of the world couldn't touch them in their own little bubble. It has Hakoda seeing the two in a new light, he turns to Katara who is now walking back to them, his daughter only smiles at him.

When everyone gathers in the appointed area for them to go over the mission review, Jet and Zuko are dragged up to the front with the rest of team Avatar, both Aang and Katara claiming that they're part of the group so they're welcome to sit up front with them. This just proves to be a bad place for Jet to be for when Sokka walks out onto the earthbender made platform and trips, sending his papers scattering, everyone sees the way Jet slaps a hand over his mouth in an attempt to smother the laugh that was threatening to bubble out, they also see how Zuko elbows him to keep him quiet. It works, for a few seconds because the laughter returns and grows throughout Sokka's fumbling which in turn makes Jet's laugh louder causing Sokka's speech all the worse.

Zuko sighs and shoves Jet upward; he turns to the others and mutters, "Sorry."

The entire invasion force then watches the two leave before turning back to Sokka and tuning in to his now confusing speech – once they're a good distance away from the ragtag group of people, Zuko turns to Jet and all but scolds him on his behavior and terrible manners, of course Jet takes it all with a grain of salt before he works his magic and manages to deflect the firebender's anger elsewhere.

When the meeting concludes and people start getting ready, Hakoda dragging Zuko to the side and catching him up on the plans for the invasion, Jet is wandering amongst the soldiers when he spots Katara approaching him, her shoulders squared and jaw set, a frown tugging her lips down.

"What is wrong with you?"

Several pairs of eyes turn towards the duo.

"Plenty of things." Jet says dismissively, "Take your pick, Snowflake ~ ."

Katara lets out an annoyed growl, "You completely embarrassed Sokka."

"He didn't need my help with that." grins Jet, annoying Katara even more, "He did that to himself."

"You didn't make it any better by laughing at him like that in front of everyone!"

Jet sighs, head lolling to the side, "Zuko already lectured me on manners and why what I did was wrong, so I'd rather skip this soon-to-be reprimand." he starts to walk away, waving her off, "If you'll excuse me, I have to find a certain firebender and make sure no one tries anything, I still don't trust these people."

Katara lets out a frustrated snarl and glares petulantly at Jet's retreating form, she hears him laughing at her and oh how she wants to water whip him, but she ultimately lets the guy go as she knows nothing she could possibly say will shame Jet enough to look even the tiniest bit sorry and actually mean it.

oOo

"I ever tell you just how much I hate the ocean?"

Zuko glances at Jet, "No?"

"Well now I am." Jet says, he's staring into the blue depths as the ships carry them towards the Fire Nation capital. "We've spent so much time on the ocean that I'm genuinely getting sick of it." he leans forward, resting his arms atop the ship's topside fencing, one arm over the other, "Sure, it was fun to run around on deck when it was storming, nothing like the kick of adrenaline pumping through your blood, but now I'm just sick of it."

Sokka huffs as he passes them by, "I wonder about you sometimes."

Jet waves a flippant hand, "You wouldn't be the first."

Sokka glares at him – the time comes when they're closing in on their first hurdle, the Gates of Azulon, the waterbenders whip up the fog cover on command but it doesn't work as well as it had with the previous run-ins with the Fire Nation navy. As Hakoda herds everyone under deck and into the subs, Jet starts to feel claustrophobic, a lot like he did when they first arrived at Ba-Sing-Se's refugee ferry port.

The sub only serves to make him feel worse.

When they breath the surface for more oxygen, Jet grabs onto the back of Zuko's neck and pulls him close, pressing their foreheads together, he knows they've caught the attention of several others, but he doesn't care, not when Zuko is looking at him with those confused puppy-dog eyes of his.

"If anything happens," he starts to whisper for only Zuko's ears to hear, "If you get into a tight spot, run, leave the others and come find me, then we'll leave."

Zuko's eyes widen in surprise, "What - ?"

Jet steps closer, "You're more important to me than this invasion."

"I - ,"

"Please."

Zuko searches his face before shutting his eyes, "Okay."

Jet smiles, he knows the idea doesn't sit well with Zuko, but it was okay, he lifts Zuko's chin and presses his lips to the firebender's in an innocent kiss, one Zuko deepens when he wraps his arms around Jet and pulls him closer, holding him tight. When they pull away, Zuko looks at him with reverent eyes:

"You're the single most important person in my life, and I hate how scared you make me sometimes."

"Hey," Jet says as he watches Zuko step back, "If we actually win this, we'll be getting married."

Zuko smiles, soft and vulnerable, "Can't wait."

They're ushered back into the subs by Sokka who surprisingly doesn't make a smart comment about their little moment. In the subs, Jet watches Zuko wander off towards the group of soldiers where he is to stay in the center until the forces meet foot soldiers where he is then to move to the front, Zuko takes a deep breath to steady himself, readying himself to face his own people.

"Jet." tearing his gaze away from Zuko, he sees Sokka staring him down, "Are you sure you're up for this?"

Jet offers up a wild looking smirk, his claustrophobia returning with a vengeance, crooking one eyebrow he says, "Shouldn't you have asked this before we all set off for the Fire Nation?"

"I'm just asking." Sokka narrows his eyes, "You've proved to be flaky in the past. You're erratic at best and back-stabbing at the worst. This mission is important; it could finally end this war."

"You're thinking I'm going to sabotage this."

A torpedo fires behind them.

And Jet starts to wonder if Sokka had somehow overheard what he'd said to Zuko.

"There's a possibility of it, that's all I'm saying." he moves on, "Where do they have you?"

"At the back. I'm going to be covering the rear."

In that moment, Jet realizes exactly why they set Zuko in the center of a group of soldiers, not only to keep their only firebender from hitting any snags but so Jet doesn't get the chance to pull something funny – like taking Zuko and ditching them, after all, they won't meet any foot soldiers until they're a fairly decent distance into the thick of the battle. Biting on the tip of his own tongue, he attempts to keep his expression neutral, his right hand clenching, not that he can tell.

Sokka then grins, "Let's just hope your reputation scares off some of the soldiers."

Jet grins right back, the thought is more than enough to stop his ire from growing.

Someone shouts for them to get ready, he doesn't know who it is, but he listens and moves to the back – heart pounding harder the second the doors open and the group starts moving, Zuko attempts to keep his legs from buckling underneath him. It's nerve-wracking knowing that he was going up against his own people, his own nation. Everything becomes a kind of methodical chaos and soon Fire Nation vehicles start to roll out, fire shooting at them, their own vehicles taking the blasts for the troops. It isn't exactly the foot soldiers they were expecting, but it's still fire they're dealing with, so when their own tank gets halted he pushes to the front of the group and diverts a fire blast away from them, Jet runs past him, dodging a blast or two and hops on to one of the vehicles, Zuko swears he's going to kill Jet himself – looking through the slot, he sees two Fire Nation soldiers looking at him with wide eyes, grabbing two explosives from the belt they'd equipped him with, he tosses them through the small opening and makes a quick retreat, watching as the two soldiers hurry to scramble out of the vehicle and making it out just as it explodes, sending them flying and landing ungracefully, none the worse for wear it seems.

His lip curls in distaste, lucky, he turns just as a ball of fire is sent his way, before it can connect with the target, namely himself, the fire is split down the middle and in front of him is Zuko, the firebender sending a returning fire blast.

Zuko snaps, "Pay attention!"

"I wanted to watch the fireworks."

Zuko whirls on him, "Jet!"

Jet rolls his eyes, "Fine."

Seeing an incoming torrent of fire, he tackles Zuko out of the way, both falling to the ground then stumbling to right themselves – he finishes blowing up another vehicle and jumps away from the wreckage, turning, he comes face to face with a group of foot soldiers, both parties pause upon seeing the other.

"L-L - ,"

"It's Lion-Heart!" a soldier finishes for his comrade.

Jet watches wide-eyed as the soldiers throw their weapons down and clasp their hands together, holding them out for Jet, the small group giving up. He looks towards Zuko, wondering if he's seeing this too, when he meets the Fire Prince's eyes, he sees the other shrug.

oOo

Climbing on to Appa and heading back in to the fray, Sokka flies over the forces and lands in front of them, Appa knocking over a nearby Fire Nation war vehicle. Jumping up, he moves to the back of Appa's saddle and cups his hands around his mouth:

"Listen up everyone, I want the tanks in wedge formation!" he even gestures the formation with his arms, "Warriors and benders in the middle! We're taking that tower and heading for the palace!"

As Sokka heads back towards the front, he pauses a short second when he spots both Zuko and Jet, not only had Jet given up all pretenses of following their desires of having him at the back, but he is literally laughing as he makes short work of the Fire Nation soldiers, covered in what looks to be spots and splashes of blood – he shakes his head and continues, he definitely wonders about the guy now.

Pulling back with Jet following, the two fall in line with the rest of the soldiers and follow the path forward with the Fire Nation losing ground. Rapidly approaching the wall to the guard tower, some of the men pile barrels of explosive jellies on to one of their vehicles and sends it straight for the wall, the resulting explosion creating a hole in the barrier that they use to get through. The Fire Nation's losing ground now more noticeable to the forces.

A handful of moments finds Zuko throwing bursts of fire at the firebenders across the way, most of which are dissolved before they can actually do any real damage, just like the fire they throw at him – it was a stalemate, one Jet wasn't too happy about if his griping was anything to go by. After another one of his fire attacks are batted to the side and vice versa, he lets out a frustrated shout and sits with a heavy thump beside Jet, the fire sent their way dissolves against the metal of the tanks.

"This is ridiculous!" Zuko snaps, "We're getting nowhere!" he throws his arms out in a frustrated motion, "They keep deflecting my fire! We might as well be playing catch!"

Jet snorts, "I'd pay to see that."

"Is that Aang?!"

Both boys look up towards the skies at the mention of the Avatar, the duo getting to their feet and approaching the others just as Aang lands:

"Please tell me you're here because the Fire Lord turned out to be a big wimp and you didn't even need the eclipse to take him down."

"He wasn't home."

Zuko feels his heart stop, his entire body tensing, he'd forgotten all about the safe-house – Jet notices Zuko's sudden demeanor, but he isn't the only one for Toph speaks calls attention to it.

"You're hiding something."

The others blink at her sudden interruption of Aang, confused and wondering who she's talking to until their wandering eyes fall on Zuko who tenses even more, Sokka gets to his feet, eyes pinned on Zuko.

"Zuko?"

The firebender flinches, now Katara rises to her feet as well and Toph takes a step forward, Jet steps in between them, weapons already drawn. The small area surrounding the group soon falls victim to a stress filled air; all eyes pinned on their Fire Nation companion.

"Zuko," Aang starts, he and Hakoda are the only ones still sitting, "What do you know?"

"I – Azula, might have known about the invasion."

Silence.

Sokka breaks it rudely, "And you didn't say anything!?"

When they see Zuko look away, he loses it and shoves past Aang, starting to storm towards Zuko until a Jet-shaped force rams into him, sending him falling to the hard ground, the air knocked from his lungs as Jet had jammed his elbow just below Sokka's sternum. Sokka is aware of his sister at his side, but all his attention is on Jet and vice versa.

"That's your only warning." Jet snarls, he takes a step back crossing his swords, his eyes flitting from Sokka to the others, "One wrong move and all bets are off."

Zuko reaches out to stop Jet, "Jet - ,"

"He willingly withheld important information and you're protecting – what am I saying, of course you're protecting him!" Sokka snaps as soon as he gets air back into his lungs, he starts to get to his feet, "I bet you knew something too! You guys could have said something this entire time, but you didn't!"

Jet snarls, "Like you would have believed anything I could have said!"

"I - !"

"Enough!" Hakoda shouts, he watches the children turn towards him, he meets Zuko's gaze, "I'm sure you had a good reason for keeping this from us, but now is the time to tell us because if we go down, we all go."

Zuko sighs, hunching in on himself, "I know what we're doing to the world is wrong, but this is my home and these are my people. I wasn't even planning to help at all, but I knew it was expected." Hakoda nods in understanding, "And I thought – I thought it wouldn't matter if Azula knew or not since everything was already planned, I thought it would all work out."

Sokka growls, "So you decided to not tell us a single thing?"

"I didn't even know what any of you had planned!" Zuko snaps, he's glaring now, "I was just told when it was going to happen and that it was already planned, that was it! I didn't even know the details of the invasion until earlier today!"

Sokka hisses, but Aang interrupts, "Do you know where Fire Lord Ozai could have gone?"

"Yes." Zuko takes a deep breath, "There's an underground bunker where he and everyone else will have gone, it was made for times like these. There's an entrance in the palace, but Azula must have already set something up in case you guys do get there."

"We'll deal with that when we get to it." Aang says as he stands, opening his glider as he does so, "We'll need to know where that entrance is."

Zuko opens his mouth but Jet steps in, "I'll go with them."

Zuko startles, "Jet, no."

Jet smiles a lopsided smile, "It'll be fine."

Sokka glares at the two of them before he lets out an annoyed groan, "As much as I hate you two right now, it would be easier to have Jet with us."

"Then I'll come too." Zuko insists.

"No." Sokka says, "We'll need you here with the rest of the troops for when the solar eclipse ends."

Hakoda approaches Zuko and sets a hand on his shoulder, "I know it's difficult letting your loved ones go, but you have to trust in them to come back."

Zuko stares at the man before he shuts his eyes, "Okay."

Jet grabs Zuko's hands and presses their foreheads together, "I promise I'll be back."

Zuko can only nod, watching with a heavy heart as Jet climbs Appa with both Toph and Sokka, at the Prince's side is Katara, the waterbender placing a hand on his upper back. The two watching the flying bison lift in to the air when Zuko asks:

"Why weren't you at my throat?"

"Because Jet's with us and I know you wouldn't put him in danger."

Zuko thinks of all the times in the past he'd done exactly that and feels his heart break, Jet truly was his most important person and he really did hate how much Jet scared him when he did things like this – Aang lands at the entrance of the palace and looks up in time to see Appa landing not too far away. Approaching his long time friend, the monk pets Appa's muzzle as the others jump off, Jet immediately running into the palace with Sokka and Toph close on his heels.

"Be careful buddy."

Appa roars and Aang turns to follow the others.

"You better not leave us like you did in Ba-Sing-Se." Sokka hisses as they run through the halls of the abandoned palace.

"Yeah," Toph huffs, "Not one of your best moments, and I barely knew you then."

"What can I say?" Jet says, he starts to slow when he recognizes the hallway, "I'm a selfish person. Here."

Toph breaks through the passage entry with ease, Sokka telling her how much he loved that they added her to the group. Leading the group into the dark and deeper underground where lights start to fill the tunnels with an eerie orange glow, they pass a Fire Nation man who practically glues himself to the wall when he sees them run by.

"The Fire Lord's chamber should be up ahead."

Coming across the door, they stop outside for a short moment.

Aang takes a deep, steadying breath, "I'm ready. I'm ready to face the Fire Lord."

They watch him burst the doors open with a powerful gust of air, but inside the chamber isn't who they expected or wanted. Azula is sitting on the makeshift throne, checking her nails.

"So, you are alive after all."

Outside the palace, Zuko trundles up the mountainside beside Katara and Hakoda, his eyes glued ahead and waiting for the palace to come in to sight – he starts to feel a subtle cold sensation start to creep up over him, a little alarmed at the odd sensation, he looks up in time to hear the Mechanist telling everyone to put on their special eclipse glass, and when he does so, he looks to the skies and sees the sun beginning to disappear behind the moon, he starts to feel empty and it's unsettling.

"Wait guys, stop attacking! Don't you see what she's doing? She's playing with us, she's not even trying to win this fight!"

"Not true." counters Azula, "I'm giving it my all."

"You're trying to keep us here and waste all our time!" Toph exclaims, point a finger at Azula.

"Um, right. I think your friend just said that genius." Azula jeers derisively, "And since you can't see, I should tell you," she rolls her eyes as she says, "I'm rolling my eyes."

Toph growls and takes a step forward, "I'll roll your whole head!"

But Sokka stops her by placing a hand on her shoulder, "She's just baiting you again."

"Okay," Aang murmurs, glancing at each of them respectively, "So what do we do? Just ignore her?"

"We don't have a choice, we just have to get out of here and find the Fire Lord on our own somehow."

"If I remember right there should be - ,"

"Are you sure about that, Lion-Heart?" Azula interrupts smoothly, "For all you know, my father could be at the other end, or even the other side entirely."

Jet's mouth twitches, teeth clenching, Sokka herds them away. "Come on."

"It's a trap." Azula sing-songs, "Don't say I didn't warn you."

"Ignore!"

"So, Sokka's your name right?" Azula starts again, "My favorite prisoner used to mention you all the time; she was convinced you were going to come rescue her, but of course, you never came and she gave up on you."

Sokka attempts to charge past them but Jet catches him by the arm and pulls him back, "Ignore her!"

Sokka only growls, glaring at Azula, "Where is she!?"

"We don't have time for this." Jet snarls, he shoves Sokka ahead of the group, "We've got to find Ozai."

Sokka pauses, a retort heavy on the tip of his tongue, but he swallows it down and starts leading them back on track, behind them, Azula narrows her eyes and throws her blade at Jet's turned back, the weapon is batted out of the air by a piece of earth with Toph following it up by cuffing Azula's wrists to the wall, the three boys stare wide-eyed at this.

"She can't hurt anyone now." Toph says, "Let's go find that Fire Lord."

Running from the bound Princess, they start searching through several of the rooms Jet thought Ozai would be, but each one ends with the same result – as they're exiting one of the rooms; a blast of blue fire stops them in their tracks. Falling in to defensive positions, they see Azula smirking at them from down the rocky hallway.

"We've got unfinished business, Lion-Heart."

Aang sends a blast of air for Azula, the firebending Princess dodging in time and sending another wave of fire their way, Toph blocks it with a wall of earth, Sokka lets out a frustrated growl:

"The eclipse is over."

"I could still face the Fire Lord - ,"

"No." Sokka meets Aang's stare, "It's too risky, we need to get out of here."

"I know a way," Jet says as he starts heading down a nearby hall, "Follow me."

A blast of flames nip at their heels, behind them is Azula, Sokka looks in time to see blue fire heading straight for his head, yelping, he ducks and covers his head with his arms, keeping them there when another torrent of fire flies over his head. Toph builds a wall of earth to separate them from their pursuer, but it crumbles seconds later, the two Dai-Li agents are back and at the Princess's side, Toph lets out an annoyed growl and continues running with the others. The earth before them rumbles and a wall cuts them off from their escape, this time Aang creates the earthen barrier as Toph breaks a sizeable hole in the wall before them, they manage to slip through just fine, but both walls fall and more fire is shot their way – Jet shuts his eyes, maybe they should have brought Zuko along. Stopping in his tracks, he spins on his heel, throwing one of his daggers towards the enemies. It's dodged.

"Jet!"

"Go! I'll hold them off!"

"What?" Aang stops, "But what about - ?"

Azula looks amused and it irks Jet, "So Jet is your name, is it?"

Jet bares his teeth at the Princess, "I said go."

"But Zuko - ,"

"Zuzu's here as well?" Azula hums, "I'll have to pay him a visit after I'm done with you four."

Jet sends another dagger flying through the air, it's blocked by a wall of earth this time, Jet turns around and shoves the three forward, "I said go!"

Aang searches Jet's face and sees two different things warring within him, air leaving his chest; he creates a wall of earth between them. They're still conflicted but they start to move when they hear the clang of metal on earth. Returning the way Jet had led them through, they manage to reach the surface and run for the outside of the palace where Appa spots them and lands, Sokka and Toph immediately climbing up on to the saddle. Aang looks back towards the palace entrance – should they wait?

Shouts from Fire Nation soldiers decide their course and they take to the skies.

Drawing closer to the invasion forces, they see Fire Nation airships rising over the palace.

Sokka lets out a shaken, "Oh no."

But in that moment, Aang can't find their sudden arrival all that threatening when his mind was plagued with Zuko's reaction, his thoughts preoccupied with what he was going to tell Zuko – Zuko who was standing beside Katara and looking up at them with relief, relief that was going to be crushed. Hopping off Appa, Sokka starts to tell them that Zuko was right and Azula did know and that she did have something set up, ready for them, during this, Aang keeps his gaze on Zuko who is looking between them and back to Appa's saddle like he were hoping he could see Jet.

It hurts.

"Where's Jet?" Zuko finally asks, Aang flinches and the other two look away, he hears Zuko choke on his own breath, he hears the pain in his voice as he says, "He's still in there?"

"Azula was after us." Aang starts, each word constricting his own airway, "She had a couple of Dai-Li agents with her. They were starting to corner us when Jet forced us to leave."

Zuko sounds near hysterical when he repeats, "Forced?"

Sokka takes this as his turn, "He saved us, Zuko."

"Saved? I don't - ?" Zuko turns away from them and starts walking towards the palace, "I have to get him."

"Zuko," Katara grabs his wrist, "You can't."

Zuko rips his arm away from Katara, "I can't just leave him there! Azula is - ! She's going to - !"

The pain he feels within his chest worsens when he sees the misty look in Katara's eyes, it just makes everything all too real, she takes a step forward, looking like she were going to hug him, but he steps back, not wanting her touch because he feels as if he'll break if she does.

"We'll find a way to get him back." Aang says, "I promise you that."

oOo

Carried in to a cell by the two Dai-Li agents, Jet is forced to sit in a stone chair where his wrists and ankles are restrained by rock cuffs, his head held back by a pair of stone hands. Azula is there suddenly, standing before him with her hands behind her back.

"Do you think Zuzu will come for you?"

Jet narrows his eyes, relaxing his body.

"Does he know that you're a deviant?"

Jet keeps silent.

"It doesn't matter now, I suppose." a light starts to spin around them in a large circle, "You're going to forget soon enough."

Chapter Text

Furious green eyes stare up at him, lips twisted into a nasty snarl that would look more appropriate on a feral animal, the Earth Kingdom man's face worn with both age and the horrors of a lifetime filled with war. The man is a prisoner from the failed invasion, from what he had heard, the adults had given up without so much as a fight just to let the younger members of the invasion forces time to escape. The nameless soldier appears to act like Jet had personally done something to him, and well, with the body count he's racked up, it's not entirely possible that he'd slaughtered someone the man knew.

"I would ask for any last words." Jet starts, he's eyeing his blood stained knife. "But it seems like all the prisoners have taken to calling me a coward or even their favorite: traitor." he meets the captured soldier's gaze. "So I'll just assume that you and the rest of the people on my list will say the same and not waste our time on pointless chatter. I hope that's okay with you ~ ."

Walking around the man, still toying with the dagger in his hands, he stands behind the man, looking down at him and taking in his posture. The man, like the rest, sit with their backs straight, chest puffed, and chin tilted upwards in both defiance and pride. Jet respects that, even if it is foolish. Placing a palm atop the man's head, he humors himself in giving the man an almost calming scratch to the head, he leans forward, the knife in the other hand and presses the cold edge to the prisoner's throat, his heart speeds up and feels a thrill shoot throughout his body. Tightening his hold on the knife's handle and the man's hair, he presses the edge harder into the man's skin, and with a sharp tug, he breaks skin and cuts deep, blood beginning to spill out in small torrents. Letting go of the man, he watches the body go limp then fall with a deadened thud, blood beginning to blossom across the metal floor – taking a moment to stare, he absently wipes his bloodied weapon against the leg of his pant and leaves the room.

Not all prisoners from the failed invasion had been sent here, the majority of the invasion forces were sent to other holding across the Fire Nation after they'd been processed and sorted, and Jet was just fine with this as he wasn't looking to be soaked in blood for days, sticky and gross, oh and the copper smell. Approaching the next holding cell, he notices the two armed guards flinch upon seeing him, looking down at himself, he sees that his clothes aren't exactly in pristine condition and his hands aren't all that clean either. With a crooked smile, he gestures towards the iron cell door with one bloodied hand, he says in an amiable tone:

"Mind getting the door?"

One of the men flinches once more upon seeing his bloodied hand, but the door is opened by the man's companion and he's allowed inside, he pats the guard's cheek, the one who'd flinched, in thanks and walks into the room. The second he's within the room, the door shuts with a hurried bang. Jet can only laugh, they couldn't be more obvious. In the middle of the metal room is another man, another prisoner from the invasion force, his head is hanging limply, his greasy, dirty hair hanging in front of his face, arms cuffed behind his back and kneeling on the hard metal floor.

The man doesn't look up, doesn't bother to acknowledge his presence.

Jet frowns and starts tapping the tip of the blade against the metal doorframe, he calls out, "Hey." the man looks up, moves like it takes all his strength, beaten and bloody. Jet just grins. "You're awake. Perfect." he moves deeper into the rank smelling cell, "Normally, I hate finishing other people's - ,"

"The Prince."

Jet pauses, "What?"

"What about the Prince? Your Prince?"

It's almost an accusation, one Jet doesn't quite understand, so instead, he laughs it off, "The Fire Nation has no Prince, not since Fire Lord Ozai was made, well, Fire Lord." he kneels before the man, grinning as he looks him in the face, "They must have beat you senseless, Water Tribe. Did they get what they wanted from you I wonder?"

"The Prince was distraught, leaving you behind." the man says, the smile Jet had sported is wiped from his face and replaced with a slight frown. "If only there was a way I could tell him – that his worries are for nothing." the Water Tribesman meets his eyes, "His beloved ally has betrayed him."

Gritting his teeth, Jet rises, ready to yell at the man when he pauses, he stares at the man, deep in thought for he had realized that he had been about to deny the man's accusation of him betraying some make believe Fire Nation Prince. There is no Prince to betray.

Instead, he spits out a hissed reply, "The Fire Nation has no Prince, get your facts straight Water Tribe."

Mature blue eyes look up at him almost curiously, Jet doesn't like it, doesn't like the searching look or the way blue eyes dart all across his face, it feels intrusive and he was never one for another's criticism of his person, but the man rasps out a weak:

"What have they done to you, Lion-Heart?"

It startles Jet enough that his head jerks back and nearly shouts, "Nothing." but he feels the walls starting to close in on him, boxing him in, unseen cuffs restraining him, taking his freedom away. It's crushing. "No one's done anything!"

The man continues staring at him, his eyes turning sympathetic, Jet starts to back away, bloody fingers pressing against his temple. There are phantom flashes, ghostly touches, haunting feelings, things that make him feel like he's lost at sea with no land in sight. It hurts and it's uncomfortable, so he pushes it down and covers it up with other thoughts and feelings, such as what he'll do later after this is over: oh how nice it will be to wash off the blood caked onto his hands and clothes, and let's not forget the soothing ritual of cleaning his blades properly. Glaring at the bound man, Jet approaches and drops to one knee, he grabs the man's disgusting feeling hair and yanks, forcing the warrior to bear his precious throat.

"We all saw it." the man wheezes, Jet pauses a moment. "The way you looked at the Prince – like he were the sun itself, dazzling and powerful, how you worshipped him with each and every action you took, the tenderness in which you treated him – as only lovers would."

Jet's heart thuds against his chest, his eyes widening in outrage, hearing the blasphemy the man spews, he pulls on the man's hair harder, the Water Tribe warrior hisses, his back now bending to accommodate the force:

"I would never love a man."

But the man's traitorous mouth grunts, "The kiss you two shared the day of the invasion, for all to see."

Yelling wordlessly, he thrusts the knife into the man's gut and twists, watching with cold, indignant fury as the man starts coughing up blood, leaning closer until the tips of their noses nearly touch, "Be grateful, Water Tribe." he growls, "I would like to do so much worse than this, but I've got a schedule and I can't stand the sight of you." shoving the man away from him in disgust, he gets up and leaves, storming out of the cell when he pauses and turns to the two guards who immediately straighten up, he snarls, "Leave him to bleed out. I want him to suffer."

The two guards salute and he turns to continue on his way – as soon as Lion-Heart is well out of sight and hearing range, they turn to look inside the opened cell where they see the bloodied wound located on the man's stomach. Cringing, one of the guards shuts the door. They aren't the first to feel Lion-Heart was a tad too cruel, even towards the enemies of the Fire Nation.

oOo

"Look."

Both Azula and Mai turn to see what it is that has their pink-dressed friend as pale as a spirit when they see him, down the halls a way is Lion-Heart: shoulders squared, fists clenched, and stomping their way. Upon closer inspection though, it's revealed that the male is covered in splotches of blood. Azula hears Mai make a disgusted noise as she mutters "gross" under her breath, so Azula takes the initiative to greet Lion-Heart.

"Hello, Lion-Heart."

The Earth Kingdom male looks up, for a short moment he appears to be displeased before he bows, showing the respect that was due from him for so long. "Princess Azula."

"What has you looking so miserable?"

"A prisoner." he says, his answers so easily forthcoming, "But he is dealt with and I would like to clean up."

"A prisoner?" Azula hums, her tone drawling. "From the Avatar's failed invasion?"

"Yes, Princess."

"Pay them no mind; they are simply a bunch of mindless twits."

"Of course, Your Highness."

"You may go."

Lion-Heart bows once more, "Thank you, Princess."

The three girls watch Lion-Heart, or as Azula now knows, Jet, get up and leave. Once he's well out of earshot, Mai speaks: "You're not worried they'll say something to bring his memories back?"

"Why Mai," Azula starts, humor evident, "It almost sounds like you're worried about him."

"I'm not." assures Mai, "But I would rather not deal with him once he remembers everything."

"It won't happen." Azula waves her concerns off, "I've taken extra precaution against that, he won't even remember Zuzu himself if he were to come face to face with him. And even if he does," she shrugs, "I could always have the Dai-Li take him in for another session."

One extremely  long  and boring session.

It had taken the span of six days for them to crack open Lion-Heart's memories, even then, she was sure that he was holding back on some things as there was a surprising lack of anything of the intimate kind of settings between he and her brother – his devotion to her brother had to be placed somewhere though, when they'd tried for a blank slate, he'd broken through the brainwashing and had injured several Fire Nation guards, so they had set his attention on protecting the royal family, i.e. her father and herself while wiping all traces of Iroh and Zuko from his memories.

"I'm off." Azula says, she waves a dismissive hand at her friends, "You can see yourselves out."

Once the Princess is out of sight, Ty-Lee clutches her hands together and follows after Mai, whilst Lion-Heart had been scary before – this was different. Even he didn't deserve something like this.

"Do you - ?" Ty-Lee looks around before she cups her hand to her mouth and whispers, "Do you think we should do something?"

Mai sighs, "About what?"

Ty-Lee looks around once more then says, "About Lion-Heart."

Mai meets her worried gaze with a bored expression, "What's there to even do?"

"Well - ,"

"And why should we bother?"

Ty-Lee looks down at her twiddling fingers, "Because he's Zuko's friend, he must mean a lot to him if he - ," she notices Mai tense and bites down on her tongue, she'd been about to say if he left you to find him, "We just have to remind Lion-Heart about Zuko and once he gets his memories back, he can escape."

"And what?" Mai snorts, "Help the Avatar defeat the Fire Lord?" she sees Ty-Lee flinch and sighs, "You know that's what he'll do, and that's if he doesn't do something stupid the second he gets his memories back."

"Still." Ty-Lee pushes on, "You know this is wrong."

In the bathing area, Jet strips and immediately steps into the warm waters, the things the prisoners had said came rushing back to him, each one calling him a traitor, a coward, and looking at him like he'd betrayed them, he had assumed that it was because he was Earth Kingdom like the rest of them and was working for the Fire Nation, but after that last man, a Water Tribe man no less, he wonders if he's missing something – but there was no Fire Nation Prince, not since Ozai had become Fire Lord, he wasn't a deviant as the only time he'd ever kissed someone was Katara and that was because he was helping some Fire Nation admiral hoping to catch the Avatar. Plus he'd been in a comatose condition for months now, only waking days after the invasion was over.

But thinking about it was giving Jet a headache and he wasn't looking to deal with it.

So he pushes it aside and buries it in the dark.

Chapter Text

A phantom hand wraps around his wrist and pulls him forward tenderly, he’s tugged into an unseen body where arms snake around his back and hold him close, he feels a weight on his shoulder and soft discombobulated whispers brush against his ear, soft and soothing, a feather light kiss is pressed to his temple – it’s obvious that this is nothing like the nightmares he has where he feels unseen forces holding him down and static screaming in his ears, he does not feel the fear he usually does, or the need to run away. The Earth Kingdom man is sure that if he wanted to, he could pull away and the invisible entity would let him go without a fight, it radiated warmth and safety, he was in as much control of whatever this was as the unseen being.

A buried, hidden part of him wanted that feeling to last, he wanted to wrap his own arms around the soothing being and bury his face into their shoulder, it made him long for something he’d never thought or cared a lick about.

Opening his eyes, he feels a sting of regret at doing so and a yearning for those phantom touches to be real – something within him cries out mournfully, brining on a great sense of despair and loss, he almost wanted to fall asleep once more so he can chase that dream down. But he decides that it was due time that he wake and start the day, he begins collecting his clothing and armor, the warrior then starts his morning routine – he’s sheathing his shuang-gou when he hears the door to his quarters open, the light from the hall bathes the room in the same reddish-orange glow. Looking up, he sees Princess Azula walking into the room with her arms folded behind her back, her eyes scanning the room as if scrutinizing his cleanliness; Jet straightens up and bows before the royal.

“Princess Azula.”

“Are you doing anything today?”

“Nothing of import, Princess.”

“Good.” the girl checks her sharpened nails, “We caught wind of where the Avatar and his friends have fled to, but we aren’t sure as of yet, I have a plan that will not only allow us to accurately pinpoint their location, but provide some interesting results for a project of mine as well. And you will be the centerpiece of it all, any objections?”

“None at all, Princess Azula.”

“Excellent.” she starts to turn, “Report to the cartographer room once you’ve finished, whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Yes, Princess Azula.”

When he hears the door to his chambers close, he finally stands from his bow, unaware that the Princess was currently standing just outside his door with a pensive expression – she finally had Lion-Heart where she wanted him, obedient, but he lacked the usual fire, and that was something that needed to be fixed.

oOo

“Someone should talk to him.”

“It has been two days since we arrived.”

Toph murmurs, “I can do it.”

Aang doesn’t answer as he and the others watch the sullen firebender from afar, the airbender wasn’t particularly confident with approaching the older boy with the shame of letting his loved one get captured choking him up, pursing his lips, he looks from Zuko and turns to the others currently crowding around the fire, a fire that was made by Sokka:

“Well, whoever goes, it can’t be me.”

Katara seems to brace herself, squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, “I’ll do it.”

Sokka tries to stop her by grabbing her wrist, but she smacks his hand away and continues walking, she hears her brother whisper-shouting at her to come back and talk it over with the rest of them before deciding on her own, but she was not one to be deterred from the decision she’s already made, she approaches Zuko’s sad looking form and crouches beside the firebender, the firebender who would normally tense or lean towards Jet for comfort and support, the firebender who doesn’t give her so much as a cursory glance.

“Zuko?”

When she reaches out to touch his shoulder, he tenses, and rasps out a quiet demand:

“Don’t.”

Biting her lower lip, she lets her hand fall back to her side, “Jet will be okay, we’ll get him back.”

“But – you don’t know that.” Zuko breathes, “He’s already crossed Azula once and she isn’t the type to forget and forgive, she’s - ,” the black-haired teen appears to be in pain as he says, “She’s the type to rid herself of those who are useless to her.” Katara hears a quiet sniffle, “And Jet is useless to her, he won’t listen to her, he’ll defy her at every turn, at every chance he gets.”

The waterbender feels her shoulders fall, she doesn’t know what more she can say that would make him feel better, after all, she knows nothing of Zuko’s sister which means whatever she could possibly say would be baseless, and as much as she wants to reach out and hold him, to let him know that she’s there, she knows that he isn’t the type to do something like that with someone he doesn’t know well enough.

“I – I know what it’s like to lose someone you love, so I know how you’re feeling, all I can say right now is wait and believe that Jet is okay.”

Zuko whispers, “And if he isn’t okay?”

Katara swallows hard, “We’ll wait until we know for sure. But we can’t sit around all day doing nothing; we have to keep moving, for the sake of the loved ones we’ve lost, and ourselves.”

Silence.

Zuko finally sighs, “I know what you want me to do, what all of you want me to do. You want me to teach the Avatar firebending, but, the thing is, I can barely create a small flame anymore, I can barely feel the warmth of my own fire.”

Katara feels her heart drop, “What are you saying?”

Zuko holds himself tighter, “I can’t teach the Avatar firebending.”

“W – wait, what if – what if we somehow kick-start your firebending?”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” she looks over her shoulder and sees the others are still watching from the same place they were sitting, “What if we tell the others, see what they have to say about this? Maybe Aang will know something about this?”

Zuko stares at her a moment, then shrugs, his movements lethargic, “I guess.”

“Alright.” she stands, dusting her clothes off, “Come on, we’ll figure something out.”

“For the Avatar’s sake, and the world, you should hope so.” Zuko says as he gets to his feet, “I don’t know of anyone else who will help.”

“We’ve pulled off the impossible before; we’ll find a way to help you.”

oOo

Jet is walking the halls of the palace, having just come from the meeting with Azula and talking over her plan, it was definitely interesting, but he couldn’t help but feel like he was missing a few pieces of the bigger picture. Whatever, he’ll just trust in her judgment. Up ahead, he spots Ty-Lee in front of his door, frowning, the Earth Kingdom male approaches the girl dressed in pink.

“Ty-Lee,” he hears her squeak in surprise, “What are you doing?”

“N – nothing!” she hides something behind her back, “I was just – looking for you.”

Jet arches a brow, “Really?”

“Uh-huh ~ !”

“Here I am.”

“Yes, there you are - .” she seems hesitant, her lips pursed, she ends up looking away, and toys with whatever it is she is hiding behind her back, “I uh – I just wanted to give you something, something special, I thought you might like it and – I don’t know.”

Jet blinks at her odd behavior, immediately suspicious, “What is it?”

Ty-Lee bites her lower lip and slowly reveals a package wrapped in pink paper, Jet blinks once more, head tilting as he attempts to get a better idea of the object’s shape, the pink wrapping was done hastily and crinkled, almost like Ty-Lee were afraid that someone would walk in on her at any moment. Hesitantly, he reaches out and takes the package from the girl’s hold, it feels like pinks, but he isn’t sure and won’t be sure, not until he opens it.

“Well, I gotta go, don’t let anyone know I gave that to you! Or that you have it! Bye!”

Jet watches the curvy girl beat a quick retreat, looking around the hall, he sees no one and he doesn’t feel the familiar itching of someone watching him, looking back at the package, he opens the door to his room and steps inside. Making sure the door was locked tight, he locks it and moves towards the table closest to the window, setting the package upon the table’s surface and listening to the light crinkling of the paper as he does so, he moves to the window and closes it, returning to the table, he stares at the package, reaching out, he starts to unwrap the object – whatever it was, Ty-Lee didn’t want anyone to know that she had it in her possession, and that it was now in his.

Tearing the last piece of pink paper off, he’s greeted to the sight of – jewelry. Jewelry. Ty-Lee gave him jewelry.

Frowning, he lifts up a piece of it and holds it eyelevel: the thin, silver branches twining outward feel like they’ll break within his hand if he so much as adds the smallest bit of pressure on it, the branches are decorated with small, golden blooms decorating them, at the ends of each silver branch is a thin chain of silver, twinkling with pretty green gems, the very top and very bottommost branch holding a silver veil with gold sprinkled into the fabric, unlike the other branches holding the silver chains.

Holding it up higher, he tilts his head, examining it closely; he sees the teeth of a comb, which means that it’s meant to rest within the hair.

Huffing, he grabs the other half and carries the pieces towards the mirror residing in his room; he studies it a moment and realizes that the pins are meant to pierce an up-do, something he doesn’t have.

“Why in Agni’s name would she give me something like this?”

Jet moves back towards the table and sets the pieces back on the paper with unwarranted gentleness, he heads back towards his bed and reaches for the drawer of his bedside table, opening it, he digs around the odd knick-knacks he’s collected since he’d woken until he finds what he’s looking for, a tie. Gathering his hair, he starts to tie it in a ponytail – wolf-tail a phantom voice hisses indignantly, he pauses, almost looks around to see if he’s not alone, but continues. Fixing the tie a bit, he turns back towards the jewelry and returns to stand in front of the mirror. Staring at the piece, he starts fixing it into his hair – once he’s got both settled, he looks at his reflection, and stops breathing altogether: the starry night skies, Fire-Bird, phantom touches, I love you.

Remembering where he is, he pulls himself from the dark of his mind and looks at his reflection, the silver branches curl forward, like horns the silver chains and emeralds twinkling with each move he makes, the veils look rather flattering on him, framing his face perfectly, reaching up, he grabs the end of the veil and rubs the fabric between his fingers.

“I promise I’ll be back.”

Feeling sick to his stomach, he reels from his reflection and turns his back on the mirror, he hunches over, one hand over his mouth and the other resting on his stomach, his heart is beating irrationally fast and his breathing is heavier, like he’d run a mile or more. Shutting his eyes, he ignores the ache in his chest as the previous feelings of longing he’d felt earlier that morning returns with a vengeance. Tearing the hair-pierces from his hair, he holds them away, wanting to throw them across the room, to watch them shatter, but something stops him from doing so. Growling, he stuffs the pieces underneath his bed and backs away, memories clawing at the edges of his mind.

“What was she thinking?” he asks underneath labored breath, his shaking hands holding his head.

Chapter Text

Kneeling before the Princess within one of the many gardens located upon the palace grounds, Jet waits in patient silence for his sovereign to speak, for when he had arrived, Azula had been standing underneath the shade of a tree, her hands clasped behind her back and her eyes locked intently on the pond before her, she had appeared to be deep in thought and he hadn't wished to disturb her, for not only would it be rude, but she was the Princess and was allowed to do as she wished.

"Do you know why I've summoned you, Lion-Heart?"

Jet keeps his head bowed, "I assume it has to do with your plan regarding the Avatar."

The Princess lets out a low hum, "Correct, I've got within my possession a prisoner worth their interest, and knowing the traitor they have amongst their group, he will divulge the information he has about the Boiling Rock Prison if it means it's useful." Jet doesn't know that she is looking down at him with a stern, contemplative look, "You are to leave for the prison immediately, you know what you have to do when you meet up with the Avatar's friends."

"I understand, Princess."

Silence.

"Stand." Azula demands and Jet does as asked. "Look at me."

Once again, he does as he's told and their eyes meet, her eyes flicker back and forth between his own pair like she's looking for something within his eyes, but Jet finds he could care less what she sees or what she's looking for within his eyes because he's currently hit with the knowledge that the Princess is beautiful, devastatingly so – his thoughts are interrupted when she reaches up and cups his cheek with her hand, he tenses upon contact as he's not used to such tenderness from anyone, she's still looking into his eyes as she steps closer, pulling a desire out of Jet that urges him to lean forward and press a kiss upon her plush, painted lips, and it looks like she would very much like to do the same since her eyes flick from his eyes to his own lips, but she pulls away, as she does, she digs one of her nails into his skin and scratches his cheek. The tanned male can feel the skin stinging and knows there are small beads of blood popping up from the thin cut, he can feel it, light as it may be.

"We can't have you looking like you weren't harmed." she stares him down, "You're dismissed."

Jet bows, doesn't bother to comment on what had just transpired, "Yes, Princess."

And Azula watches him go with an unwavering expression, her eyes boring holes into the broad back of Lion-Heart.

oOo

The arrangements are made and he is set to arrive on time with the other prisoners at the foot of Boiling Rock, there he would be treated like the rest of the prisoners, as it stands, he's being outfitted with normal prison garbs and the heavy-duty manacles seeing as how he's been labeled as a high-risk prisoner. The men he's traveling with don't treat him as a prisoner as they're privy to the Princess' plans, no until they touch land: Boiling Rock.

Suited up in his shiny new accessories, two men grab his arms and hustle him out of the war-ship and he's handed off to a group of men he assumes are the prison's guards who then proceed to force him to walk up a trail leading to the top, his arms are cuffed behind his back with biting metal, the insides of the cuffs have dull studs that would only break skin and cause harm should he struggle too much, his ankles are chained and weighed down with heavy metal, and to top it off, he's been given a thick cloth gag to keep him from speaking. Reaching the platform, he's pushed into a gondola where he sees a handful of men already cuffed and dressed in the same inmate clothing he is, he watches several of the men stare at him like they're sizing him up, he pulls his lips back as best as he can around the cloth gag and snarls, the sound emanating from deep within his throat, his eyes narrowed in a silent challenge. A guard shoves him further into the transport, making him stumble a little over the chains around his ankles. Another guard takes up his right, the two tense and ready for any and all possible act of escape, or struggle, from him.

As they're crossing the boiling water below, Jet can feel a pair of eyes on him, he scans the people in the room and sees a pair of blue eyes, looking at the owner of said eyes, he sees that it's a Water Tribesman who looks vaguely familiar to him, he sees the man give him a slight nod, like they were old pals – Jet narrows his eyes, he assumes this man knows him, or knows of him.

The gondola finally stops at the prison, he's the first escorted off, the guards keeping a tight hold on his arms that would surely bruise later on, and attempting to maneuver him towards the exit, of course, he struggles against them and puts up a fight, but their grips tighten, he growls behind the gag and attempts to elbow the guard to his right, it doesn't work, but he's not going to make this easy on any of them. The Warden sees him, eyes narrowing whilst his guards tense, balking at the sight of him dressed in chains and metal:

"As much as I would like to make it clear whose boss," the Warden says, "We can't risk you attempting to fight back or stir up trouble. Guards, take him away, and make sure to outfit him with something a little more – cozy."

"Yes, Sir!" the guards are quick to say as they drag him away from the rest of the prisoners.

The teenager hears one of the guards back on the platform snap at one of the other prisoners, completely unaware of the pair of eyes that had been on him the second he had stepped out of the metal contraption they call a gondola – they lead him through the halls, he can hear dozens of voices as he's getting sorted, here he finds that getting outfitted with something cozy mean having a metal collar with dull studs much like the ones from his previous manacles with an "o" ring in the front that has a heavy metal chain hooked to it and leading down his front, it splits two ways, both chains leading to a new pair of manacles similar to the previous pair, but heavier, he's still got the same pair of cuffs and chains linking his ankles to one another. It does make it a bit hard to go through sets, but he understands that his lack of mobility is required, he blames this entirely on the Fire Nation's gross exaggerations of him.

The door to his cell rattles, the guards having brought him here and threw him in, he immediately stands from where he had been sitting on the hard cot, the metal door opens and reveals a rather small guard standing in the entryway. Despite the guard's height, Jet tenses, especially when the guardsman enters the cell and shuts the door behind him, but then, the guard does the strangest thing and lifts his visor to show his face, a face Jet immediately recognizes.

"Sokka?"

The guy in question grins, "Hey man, long time no see ~ ."

Jet blinks, he honestly hadn't expected to be approached so soon, let alone by Sokka, "What – what are you doing here?"

"Well, we're here to free some friends of ours."

Jet arches a brow, "We're?"

Sokka grins like he's gotten Jet the best present ever, "Yup ~ Zuko is the one who told me of this place, he's here and it's a good thing we stayed longer or we wouldn't have found you. You should have seen him, he was so happy to see you." Jet opens his mouth, but Sokka holds a hand up, "Now, now, I know what you're going to say." Sokka attempts to mimic him in a sleazy tone that sounds nothing like him, "Zuko shouldn't be here, it's dangerous, he could get caught and taken back to his sister, or worse, killed, or even take me to him, I need to see him, it's been so long and I just want to hold him in my arms." Jet frowns, he wasn't going to say any of that, but Sokka just grins at his expression like he thinks it's exactly what Jet was going to say. "But Zuko is fine, I mean, they did find out that he was Prince Zuko, but they just threw him in one of the cells, I don't think they're planning to do anything with him, and I can't smuggle either one of you to the other's cell, it would be suspicious, so you'll just have to wait for your reunion."

Prince Zuko?

The niggling at the back of his mind when he'd first heard the name Zuko becomes stronger, it rings and echoes within is head, white noise in the form of fuzzy voices scream in his ears, flashes of faint images burn his eyes, and it becomes too much for him.

"Out." Jet hisses, Sokka gawks at him, "I said get out!"

Sokka splutters, then gets himself under wraps, he frowns at Jet, "Jeez, I forgot how much of a jerk you are."

And with that, Sokka leaves, but Jet doesn't care for the parting jab sent his way or the other's disappearance, his entire being is overwhelmed with invisible phantoms, he sits heavily on the edge of the cot and curls in on himself, his elbows resting heavily on his knees, and his fingers buried within his hair, he hears voices, not quite sure if it's real, or just his imagination. Grabbing fistfuls of his hair, he shuts his eyes and grits his teeth, he attempts to will the pain away, his skull feeling like it were splitting in half as obscure voices, memories, and touches fill his head to the brim.

"The way you looked at the Prince – like he were the sun itself, dazzling and powerful, how you worshipped him with each and every action you took, the tenderness in which you treated him – as only lovers would."

"The kiss you two shared the day of the invasion, for all to see."

"What have they done to you, Lion-Heart?"

oOo

Jet isn't released from his cell, the guards claiming that he's too much of a danger and needs time to acclimate, which is bullshit and he's fine with that, he just doesn't like how easy it is for Sokka to enter his little piece of hell with that name just at the tip of his tongue, but he does have a mission that requires he play nice with the Avatar's friends, so he pushes his discomfort aside and listens to Sokka as he tells him of the plan both he and his father had come up with. When Jet asks about where they're heading to after they escape, Sokka doesn't say a thing, just looks at him and tells him that he can't say just in case someone is listening, which Jet accepts. After Sokka leaves, he thinks more on Zuko's name and the feelings that come with it, almost curious as to why the headaches always came when his name was mentioned or even thought of, the pain varying on the amount of times the name was spoken, or how deeply he thought of the owner of the name: Prince Zuko, of the Fire Nation, was he born out of a secret affair Fire Lord Ozai had?

Jet hisses when a sharp pain shoots through his skull, so he lets the thought drop – he's napping when he hears the familiar rattling of his cell door, but when he wakes and looks towards the exit, he sees that no one is there and dozens of other prisoners are rushing past his door. Realizing that this was the beginning of Sokka's plan in motion, he gets up and leaves his cell, the heavy chains and manacles making it hard to move any faster without stabbing himself. Stepping out onto the courtyard, he looks around at the faces he sees as he walks, he finds the others in the center of the yard, or rather Sokka as he doesn't recognize the other two:

"Jet, there you are!" Sokka says, he immediately hands him a single key, "This is to your fancy jewelry!"

Jet narrows his eyes, snatching the key from Sokka, "Fuck off, Sokka."

As Jet is removing the manacles and heavy chains from his person, he hears Sokka mention that Zuko is missing to the other two, his body acts on the sudden impulse to hunt down this Zuko without thought, and it's as he's turning on his heel, ready to do just that, when someone stops him and pulls him back. It's Sokka.

"I know you want to find him, but we can't separate now, we have to stay together."

Jet frowns, but he allows it, confused by his own desire to look for Zuko and completely overlooking the third man that approaches the group. When the riot starts, the group moves towards a prison wall and out of the fighting, Jet is a bit startled when someone rushes past him and stands in front of Sokka, the two talking like they know each other, apparently, there's a snag in their plan – then the newcomer's eyes fall on Jet, and Jet feels the world fall out from underneath him, there's a pang in his heart, and he feels a series of emotions he can't sort out amongst the chaos, or ever.

The person whispers with reverence, "Jet."

Jet feels his heart beat faster, now realizing just who this person is, but as he goes to reply with something, Sokka interrupts and they have no time to talk afterwards. Not until they're in the clear. Not until they're in Princess Azula's stolen war-ship. Not until they're on their way towards the Avatar's hideout.

"Jet," Zuko breathes, the two a good distance from the rest onboard, "Hi."

Jet studies Zuko a moment, his heart beating in his throat, "Hey."

The firebender looks awkward for a moment before he reaches out with a hand, Jet immediately tenses at the movement, but doesn't move to pull away like he's done to the others who'd attempted to touch him, he still flinches though when he feels the warmth of Zuko's palm on his face. Judging by the hurt look in the other's eyes, he had noticed Jet's reactions to being touched, unaware that Jet is currently fighting with himself to stay still and not panic as he reaches up with his own hand, wrapping his fingers around Zuko's wrist, holding said wrist like he were afraid that just the smallest amount of pressure would break bones, he presses his face into Zuko's palm in a jerky manner, hoping it doesn't look as weird as he feels it is – unbeknownst to him, the others, minus the prisoner they'd picked up, are smiling at them. The move must have been okay as Zuko offers a small smile that warms Jet's insides, he feels a thumb caressing his cheekbone, the soft touch making it harder to breath, those warm, kind eyes breaking his ribs.

The taller man doesn't know how long they stand there, facing one another and simply studying each other's features, but he finds that he doesn't mind in the slightest, at least, until he's hit with a startling realization: those eyes remind him so much of Princess Azula's which he'd gotten a good look at those few days ago as they stood underneath the shade of a tree, in fact, there were several similarities between this boy and the Princess, so much so that they could be related, and this brought him back to his previous thought of this guy being the product of a secret affair between Fire Lord Ozai and some unknown woman.

Prince Zuko.

Your Prince.

Beloved.

Fiancé.

Jet startles at the last thought, he legitimately jumps away from the firebender and shoves the bile back down when he sees the alarmed look on the other's face, especially when he sees the concern etched clearly onto his handsome features. As he takes a step to help Jet, Jet holds out a shaking hand to stop him in his tracks, his other hand clutching at his head, he knows he's breathing hard.

"No – I, I'm fine – just," he shuts his eyes tight and wills the pain away, "Memories."

He doesn't see the look of devastation on Zuko's face, "Oh."

After that, Zuko keeps his distance, and a minuscule part of Jet wants nothing more than for him to return to his side, it's foreign and he doesn't understand this longing for the warmth and softness the other exuded, Zuko was nothing like Azula – when they land and they're greeted by the others, Jet flinches away from their touch as well, he's not used to gentle, but his eyes still follow Zuko as he disappears inside the temple. There were questions he had, and he knew that asking them would certainly bring suspicion upon him; this meant that he would have to gather answers in a round-about way. They show him to his room, which is also within the temple, and he settles down for the night, too tired and much too confused with all that has been thrown at him.

Chapter Text

It was not the reunion Zuko had imagined he would have with Jet, he had envisioned it to be a little more heartfelt and all eager touches, not that he wasn't any less relieved to have his fiancé back where he knew he was safe and could see him, but the stilted way the older teen had reacted to him was unexpected. It especially broke his heart when he saw the look on Jet's face when he pulled away after getting lost within his own head, and the way he'd held a hand out to him, as if to keep him back, to keep him from touching him, crushed him more than words could say, and Zuko couldn't forget the way Jet had assured him in a shaky voice that he was fine, that it was memories that caused him to pull away.

The firebender couldn't fathom what he must have gone through to make Jet flinch away from the simplest of contact, so he had given Jet space and allowed him some time to breathe. The feelings in his chest worsened when he came to the conclusion that Jet must have lapsed back into those memories he was held prisoner because both he and Azula shared the same blood, which mean there would be a resemblance between them – Jet was one of the last people he wanted to hurt.

"Zuko?"

Looking up from his now empty bowl of stew, he sees Katara looking at him with her wide, blue eyes filled with concern, her features were soft, and she was leaning forward, towards him as if what she was about to say was something only for the two of them.

"Yes?"

"How's Jet? Have you talked to him?"

Zuko purses his lips and looks away from her imploring gaze, "Not yet."

The waterbender sets her own bowl aside, "May I ask why? I thought you would have been glued to his side the second you all stepped off the warship, you were so sad when he was gone, and now that you have him, you're acting - distant?"

"It was only yesterday I got him back, Katara." Zuko spits, glaring at the group's healer, "How would you know that I've been acting distant?" the Fire Prince sees the girl open her mouth and immediately stands, "I'm going to bathe, make sure you keep the fire going. And, give this to Jet."

Meanwhile, Jet starts to stir, blinking blearily as he stares at the stone ceiling overhead until his tired mind catches up to the here and now. Recalling how lost he'd felt yesterday with the arrival of Zuko, he allows himself time to gather his wits and put his walls up before he addresses the others, it would take quite a lot out of him if yesterday was anything to go by. Taking a deep breath, he pushes himself up and slides out of the bed he'd been given, slipping the prison shoes on because no one else has a spare change of clothes for him, he exits the room and starts for the bathing room Aang had introduced as their main one. Once in the room, he stares at his reflection in the mirror, running his fingers through his wild hair, he combs it back and ties it off with the tie he'd gotten from Katara last night the second she saw his hair, once that's done, he turns on the tap and watches the water slosh and fill the basin, cupping his hands, he dips his hands into the basin and splashes cold water onto his face, the cold waking him up – feeling fresh and ready to start the day, he looks at his reflection one final time and leaves the room.

Exiting the air temple and walking out onto one of the many overhanging platforms, Jet sees the others sitting around a single small campfire, a pot hanging over the small flames, almost simultaneously, the group turns to face him, making him pause in his steps.

"Good morning, Jet ~ ." Katara greets, "We still have some food for breakfast if you want any ~ ."

Jet grins as he approaches, he takes the bowl from her hand, "Thank you, Katara."

As he settles between her and Aang, she speaks once more, "That reminds me," she turns and grabs a hold of something dark, she presents it to him, "Zuko told me to give you these once you woke up, they're spares of yours, we've also got your pack."

While Jet takes the offered clothing, Sokka speaks up, "I didn't know you bought spares." he doesn't give Jet time to answer when he lights up, "Hey! Now that Jet is back, maybe Zuko's fire is working again! You know, since his emotions were drained or whatever!"

Aang responds, "He's always had his fire, Sokka, it was just – weak."

"My point still stands."

Jet sets his bowl in front of him, having not taken a single bite, "I think I'll get dressed now." he stands, "And possibly look around for a bit."

"Oh." Katara blinks.

The blind kid finally speaks, "You didn't even touch your food."

Jet shrugs, "I'm not all that hungry."

Sokka clasps his hands together and makes obnoxious kissing noises at the Earth Kingdom male, "I bet he's going to go look for his moody fiancé."

Jet feels his heart race, he notices the blind girl smirk, and then the girl that had escaped from prison with them slaps Sokka on the arm, "Knock it off, Sokka, I think it's cute."

Swallowing hard, Jet starts to feel sick to his stomach and turns, leaving the group behind, but as he's walking, he can still hear Sokka talking, not to him, but to the others, he was just that loud:

"I bet he and Zuko will be making out in the next few days."

Someone must have smacked him while shushing him, but Jet has already heard and it gives him even more to think about – Azula had told him that these people were to not be trusted, that they would lead him astray, but wasn't it a bit much and rather pointless to try and make him think he not only dated and loved, but was the fiancé of Zuko? Should he play along? Make them think he was actually who they thought he was in the past? And who were the Earth Kingdom kids he'd seen the night they returned from the prison?

Shaking the thoughts from his mind and worsening his headache in the process, he starts to strip and slip into the clothes that had been given to him, the clothes that were apparently his, the clothes that Zuko had wanted Katara to give to him – why couldn't the firebender do it himself? If they were really as close as they had been, then wouldn't he be doing his all to be with him?

Another wave of pain hits, prompting him to drop the thought entirely and decides to do what he'd said he was going to do – the temple walls feel familiar, like he'd been there before in another lifetime with someone else, an old man who smelled of tea and a boy who'd lost his home. Before he can think further on it, he hears the rushing of water in his ears, at first he thinks it's his imagination, but with each step he took, the sounds got louder. Wanting to investigate the source, he follows the sound until he enters a large room with colored-tile murals and fanciful stone molding, there are several stone benches tucked against the walls, the floor is also decorated with colored-tiles that make swirling pictures, there's a hole in the ceiling that looks more like it had caved in rather than made, water spills through the opening as well as the sun's light, the water falls into a large, circular, stone bath imbedded within the floor, and underneath the falling water is a figure. The person's back is to him, allowing him to get a long and good look at a muscular back, his eyes travel down a dipped spine, landing on a toned behind, and down a pair of strong legs, the person turns and steps out of the waterfall, only to pause when they notice Jet standing there, this gives Jet enough time to take in the person's appearance and realize that it's Zuko, the sight he makes creates a desire to mar pale flesh with marks, to run his fingers through dark hair, to hold the exposed firebender in his arms – realizing that he was giving Jet quite the view, Zuko feels his face heat as he hurries towards the tub's stone walls and snatches his towel up, wrapping it around his hips and leveling Jet with an embarrassed look:

"How long were you standing there?"

Jet tilts his head and seems to let his body melt, "Not long." he starts walking towards the tub, each step he takes making Zuko's heart beat faster, "But that doesn't mean I didn't see a thing." Jet takes a seat on the wall of the tub, now Zuko knows they've seen each other without a stitch of clothing on, but that doesn't stop his body from burning, "Come now, there's nothing to be embarrassed about, you're handsome, you've got a nice body, flaunt it."

Zuko realizes the water is starting to sizzle when Jet's eyes follow the steam upward, "I'm – I'm not going to flaunt anything!" he splutters indignantly, "Now turn around so I can get dressed!"

The Prince sees Jet roll his eyes, but turns anyway, "I already saw you, I don't see why." Zuko exits the warm water and dries himself off with his firebending, once he's fully clothed, he hears Jet, "Can I look now?"

"Go ahead." Zuko mutters as he starts to walk out of the room, he doesn't want to be around Jet out of fear of bringing back painful memories, even if it seems like he'd like to forget yesterday even happened, "The tub is all yours."

Zuko hears footsteps following him; he feels a mix of delight and dread, "What're you doing?"

"I'm going to help the Avatar with his firebending stances."

"I heard it's been pretty tough so far."

"Yeah," Zuko mutters, "You can say that."

The Prince frowns as Jet starts to chatter about whatever crossed his mind, there was something different about him, about them, it felt like there was an invisible wall between them, and while it seemed like Jet was attempting to break through this wall – it felt wrong. Like he was forcing himself, like he was urging Zuko to do the same and gloss over his little panic attack last night on Azula's warship, like looking at Zuko didn't bring back painful memories that should remain forgotten. And knowing, and loving, Jet as much as he did, he knew that's exactly what Jet was aiming to do, to bury it and let it fester, to let it rot and poison him until it became too much and he broke, adding another tally to his already full plate.

While it was something Zuko would have gladly gone with a month or so prior, he now knew how Jet held onto these things and refused to play along – realizing the firebender wasn't really responding to him, he looks towards his companion and sees his eyes are glazed over, meaning he was deep in thought. Whatever it was the firebender was thinking of appeared to be rather troubling, judging by the expression on his face, but since he was so deep in his own head, this gave Jet time to study him, and he realized, that he really is handsome.

Finally, Zuko seems to snap out of it and slows to a stop, Jet stopping alongside him, when Zuko looks at him, Jet feels the world fall away again, leaving just the two of them:

"I'm going to be teaching Aang firebending, considering that you just got out of Azula's clutches," he pauses, looking unsure of himself, "I don't think its best that you accompany me."

And Jet feels so many things at once upon hearing that: indignation, distress, offended, bewildered, and so much more, but all those emotions were summed up into one word, "What?"

"I said - ,"

"No, I heard what you said, I just – why?"

"Do you really need to ask?"

Jet frowns, "Apparently I do."

Zuko sighs, he looks both annoyed and pained, "Yesterday, you couldn't see the look on your face when you pulled away from me. You looked – scared, hurt. When you told me that you were remembering things, I realized that you'd been dealing with Azula and that seeing as she's my sister, the resemblance between us is there. I don't – I don't want to put you through even more stress just because – I just don't."

Jet blinks, can't believe what he's hearing, can't understand what he's hearing, "That's why you were - ," Jet frowns, remembering what the others said, "I thought you would be happy to have me back? So what if I have to go through a little bit of pain just to - ?"

"No, Jet!" Zuko snaps, Jet startles at the sudden raise in the other's voice, the firebender takes a deep breath and calms himself down, "I don't want that for you. I don't want you to force yourself, I love you too much to let you ever do anything like that. I don't want you suffering, I want you to be happy, and healthy, and if that isn't with me then – then I'll accept it."

"No." Jet snarls, he takes a step into Zuko's space and glares down at the firebender, "You don't get to tell me what to do and how to feel, this is my life, not yours and I can do whatever I want with it! If that means staying with you, then you can't change my mind!"

"That isn't love, Jet!" yells Zuko, he's now scowling at Jet, eyes bright with emotion, "It may be your life and I may not be able to tell you what to do, but it's my life you're attempting to force yourself in! And if I don't want you in - !"

The Prince is cut off when he feels Jet grab the lapels of his overcoat and drag him close, smashing their lips together in a painful mockery of a kiss. It's messy and it kind of hurts, but the feeling of Jet close and so warm has him melting into it regardless of the execution. Letting his arms wrap around the taller boy, he shuts his eyes and returns the kiss, his hands wander up to Jet's hair and tangles within the strands, pulling Jet's head closer – he'd missed him, he really did.

When Jet pulls away and Zuko sees the look in his eyes, he knows there'll be trouble on the horizon, but for now, the Earth Kingdom man turns on his heel and storms away in petulant silence. The Fire Prince knows that it'll be painful to be apart after just finding one another, but he knows it's the right thing to do, even if Jet doesn't see it.

"Hey, Zuko ~ are we going to practice yet?"

Zuko startles at Aang's chipper voice, twisting, he sees the Avatar standing on a nearby platform, "Uh," Zuko looks back in the direction Jet had disappeared, "Yeah, sorry for the wait."

oOo

"I'm so stupid! What in Agni's name was I thinking!?"

The pain Jet had felt when he heard the firebender alluding to him not wanting Jet in his life had been too much, he had thought they were comfortable with each other and then the dumbass goes and says something like that? And what was that talk of love and how he loved Jet too much to force him into doing anything? And let's not forget how Zuko had gone and said Azula was his sister like it was the most obvious thing in the world, he even knew of the similarities between them and pinned it on why Jet had reacted the way he did, which was true but he didn't need to know that, so what was going on?! Someone was lying to him, but who was it?!

In due time, he would figure it out, but right now he had to do something about the horrid twisting in his chest, and he knew exactly how he was going to take care of it, and it involved a certain stubborn firebender who thought he knew what was better for Jet than Jet himself – Jet spots Katara first, he storms up to the waterbender.

"Katara, where's your brother?"

Katara blinks at him, "Sokka?" he mustn't be hiding his emotions very well if the look on her own is an indication, "I know he can be a bit – much from time to time, but I don't think – what did he even do?"

"Nothing, I just need to borrow his sword."

"His sword." Katara purses her lips, her hand coming up to toy with her bottom lip, "Well, last I saw him he was still sitting around the campfire."

Jet started heading in the direction, "How long ago?"

Katara was following him, "About a few minutes ago. Jet, why do you need Sokka's sword?"

Jet feels his upper lip curl back in anger, "I need to settle something with a certain firebender."

"Zuko?" Katara questions incredulously, "What did he do?"

The male didn't answer, didn't think it was any of her business in the first place, he hurried his steps and finally stepped out onto the platform the group had their breakfast that morning. Sure enough, he spots Sokka sitting with the blind earthbender and the girl from the prison. Frowning, he starts making his way towards the Water Tribesman, up until Katara steps out in front of him with her arms spread, as if Jet couldn't just walk around her.

"Move out of the way, Katara!"

"Not until you tell me what's going on!"

Their shouts capture everyone's attention, even the strange children he'd seen around the temple, they're all getting to their feet and watching them with cautious expressions, Jet feels himself bristle as he scowls down at the brazen waterbender.

"I don't need to tell you anything."

Katara scowls, but Sokka speaks up, "What's going on?"

Jet looks past Katara and at her brother, "Sokka, give me your sword."

The blind girl is the one to ask, "What do you need his weapon for?"

These guys are too much, they're too nosy, "I just need it, okay?"

"Jet," the prison girl speaks, "I'm sure Sokka will lend you his sword if you just tell us what you need it for." she looks to Sokka, "Isn't that right, Sokka?"

Sokka looks hesitant, but he nods, "If you tell us what you're going to do with it."

They won't budge and he needs that sword, growling, he finally relents, "Zuko's being an idiot and thinks he's doing the right thing by, I don't know, breaking up with me?! He thinks that because Azula is his sister that all I'll see when I look at him is her, then he went on about how he couldn't do that to me because he loves me too much, but if he really did why would he leave?!"

This gets Katara to lower her arms, her expression softening, the others look just as sympathetic, until Sokka speaks, "But – what did you need the sword for?"

"Cause I'm going to beat some sense into him?"

The blind girl murmurs, "You're going to show him you're not helpless."

Jet startles, he's not sure that's what he had in mind, but – it sounds about right. In fact, he doesn't even know why he's taking this whole thing so personally, but the others seem to understand and get why he's feeling the way he is – so, what does that mean for all that Azula had told him? There was no way they could keep this charade up for so long, especially since he was in a supposed coma for several months, or could they? What would they gain? What would Azula gain if she really was the one lying?

"I think Sokka should give him the sword." the prison girl says.

"What?!" Sokka shrieks, turning to the girl, "Suki, I love you, but that's insane!"

"Think about it," Suki says, she's looking at Sokka, "Zuko thinks it's his fault that what happened to Jet, and now that he's got him back, he's afraid that he's going to lose him again. I say we give Jet the sword and let him prove to the Prince that he can still fight."

"I'm with her." the blind girl agrees with a nod, "Besides, this is kind of – sweet."

Sokka groans, "Not you too, Toph! Katara, talk some sense into them!"

Katara wilts, "Well - ?"

Sokka groans once more, "Fine, whatever." the Water Tribesman moves to his stuff and grabs his scabbard, he tosses it to Jet, "Just don't break it or anything."

Jet just nods and pivots on his heel, keeping his stride quick, the others trade glances with each other before they trail after Jet, none of them wanting to miss what was going to happen – finishing their last set, Zuko offers Aang the smallest of smiles.

"You're getting better."

Aang beams, "You think so ~ ?"

"I do." the fire wielder pauses when he spots Jet storming towards them, behind him he can see the rest of the group, Aang sees his hesitation and turns. "Is something wrong?"

"There is." Jet snarls, startling Zuko, "You think I can't handle myself, well I'm going to prove just how wrong you are!" he removes a sword from the scabbard, "Get your weapons!"

Zuko looks between Jet and the rest, "You're just going to let this happen?" they whistle and pretend like they weren't just following Jet, the Fire Prince frowns, "Fine." he turns to the stone he'd set his swords on, brandishing his own two swords, he walks back to his previous spot, "If I win, you're going to have to listen to what I said and stay away."

Jet stands at the ready, "And if I win, you're going to let me do what I want."

Zuko narrows his eyes, "Fine. Anything goes?"

"Anything goes." Jet confirms.

"Very well. Aang, starts us."

"Um - ." Aang looks unsure, "Okay, uh – go?"

Zuko's swords catch fire and Jet flicks an arm out, a single dagger slicing through the air, Zuko redirects the small blade to a nearby column where it remains stuck in the stone, turning, he sees Jet charging him. The metal of the swords clash and clang, small sparks fall to the ground. The taller manages to push him back, losing his footing, Zuko dances out of the way of Jet's blade, but Jet is quick and follows up with a swipe, he manages to knock one of the dao from Zuko's hand, the harsh reverberations of the hit stinging the firebender's hand. Flexing his hand, he sends a burst of fire at Jet, this manages to get some room between them, yet Jet is already crossing the distance, moving his remaining dao to his dominant hand, he meets Jet's strike with a blow of his own – he gets a vague recollection of their training session on the deck of Zuko's old ship, he remembers what Jet had told him, and knows that Jet is going to pull every dirty trick he can, not all of which Zuko as seen, he's only seen a few, but those were with Jet's shuang-gou.

Knowing that he's going to have to get distance between him and Jet once more, he exhales fire, hearing Jet curse as he takes several large steps back. Taking the chance, he hurries to where he'd last seen the other half of his sword, but before he can grab it, something landing between him and his sword is another, so close to cutting him. Instinctively reeling from the threat, he turns in time to get tackled by Jet, right then, he knows he's going to lose the fight.

Jet pins his legs, twists the wrist to the hand still holding the dao, and pins both hands above his head with one hand, he leans forward, a hand wrapped around his neck, Zuko struggles, but he feels a pressure on his neck, it isn't dangerous, but it's a warning.

"Yield."

Zuko feels indignation swell within his chest, he inhales, but Jet stops him from breathing out fire by pressing his own lips to Zuko's, this startles the firebender enough that his fire dies down. When Jet pulls away, they stare at one another.

"Mine."

Zuko licks his lips, "Yours." Jet grins, Zuko sighs, "I yield."

Sitting up and removing himself from Zuko's space, he stands; he can hear the chattering of the others but can't make out what they're saying for all of his attention is on the sweating firebender still lying flat on his back with eyes closed – he may not know who was lying, but he knows what he feels, every time he looks at the fire wielder he feels his insides melt and swell.

"You know," Sokka starts, loud enough for Jet to hear, "I expected that to last longer than it did."

Jet flips him off, Aang speaks, "Well, Zuko had been training me before this started."

Sokka hums, "Guess you're right."

Jet turns his attention back to Zuko, "Well?"

The tan-skinned man hears the firebender sigh, "Well, what?"

"I want you to say it."

"Say what?"

"You know what."

Zuko grits his teeth, "You won, I don't get to tell you what to do."

Jet tries to smirk, but it comes out softer than he'd wanted, "And I want to be with you."

The blush on Zuko's face makes him laugh.

Chapter Text

It's sometime late at night that something calls Jet back into the waking world, a world where he lies on his back, curious in a burned out sort of way about what it was that had woken him from his sleep, blinking drowsily and staring into the dark, up at the stone ceiling he knows to be there but can't see. That same something that had dragged him from his slumber urges him to his feet, whispers to him in a discordant chorus as he walks the cold halls barefooted, lulls him when he emerges from the insides of the temple and steps out onto one of the many platforms, the one he stands upon being the one the Avatar's group had taken to sleeping on, as if there weren't perfectly acceptable rooms inside. Strolling towards the group circled around the dying campfire, he hears that whatever it is hiss as him once he stops near the slumbering Avatar, dead to the world around him and lost in dreamland, unaware of Jet absently staring down at him – there's a muffled sound deep within the temple that manages to bring the tawny, young man from his drained musings, blinking, he scans the others to make sure none have woken before he turns on his heel and heads back to his room, unaware of the blind earthbender having woken up upon feeling his footsteps approach.

Tired, Jet rests a hand on the stone doorway, stopping in his tracks when he looks down the quiet hall, to the last door where he knows Zuko to be residing in. Peering in the direction of his empty bed, he feels a sudden pang of loneliness hit him, weighing him down. With little thought, he moves through the dark, approaching the closed door at the end and pushes it open a fraction, the room is rather warm compared to the rest of the place – Jet idly wonders if the firebender bends in his sleep. But that warmth is what soothes his muscles, pulling his consciousness back into the comforting embrace of sleep, it allows him to relax as he slips through, quietly closing the door behind him as he picks his way across the room.

The firebender wakes when he sits, "Who – Jet?"

Something old and forgotten within Jet swells at the sleep-addled rasp in the other man's voice.

Zuko twists his upper body to get a better look, "What're you doing?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jet murmurs, not daring to raise his voice any higher in fear of breaking – something, "I couldn't sleep, and your room's a lot warmer than mine. So move over, I'm sleeping with you."

Jet hears a yawn from the other, "Fine."

Just barely can he see the other's silhouette shift and move closer to the wall, waiting for the firebender to get comfortable, he ducks under the covers and immediately relishes within the warmth the other had created by just being alive, feeling the dark-haired male so close, he rolls onto his side and reaches out, wrapping an arm around Zuko who tenses momentarily, before he relaxes and melts in Jet's hold, allowing the taller to pull him close. The little interaction was so foreign to him – cuddling, it was something he'd never thought he'd do, for the better part of his life, it seemed like all he's known is war and bloodshed, that the thought of anything but was unthinkable, that the thought of the war ending was rather scary as it left him wondering about what the future after held, yet here he was, traveling with a group who were friends with the one thing that could end the war, and not in the favor of the Fire Nation.

The intimacy he'd experienced earlier that day with the young man in his arms made him – feel, it filled his chest with nameless emotions, and head with thoughts of domesticity of all things, and a lifetime promised to one another. It was such a bizarre thing, making him question his life and all that he's done for the sake of war – but Zuko snuggles closer, inadvertently burying Jet's nose in his hair, he finds it odd how easy it is to fall in line with the sleeping firebender, like they were meant to be, the only thing Jet can think of to sum up what he feels is love.

Waking the next day, Zuko feels at peace, the reason for this sudden calm is immediately known the second he opens his eyes and sees Jet fast asleep, content to lie curled with Zuko whose body runs hotter than most, like all firebenders. Gazing at Jet's sleeping face, the Fire Prince feels warmth envelope him and a small smile tilt the corner of his mouth upwards, the desire to feel closer to Jet overwhelms him, but he stays as he is, satisfied with simply enjoying the warmth coming from the other's body, happy to feel him near, breathing, and very much alive.

"'s going on?" Jet rumbles suddenly, voice laden with sleep.

Zuko murmurs, drowsy in the warmth they create together, "Nothing."

Jet hums wordlessly and stretches his body out before throwing an arm over Zuko, pulling him close, and rests his head upon Zuko's, closing his eyes as his fingers absently trace small circles on the firebender's back. Like this, they're content to lie tangled with one another, uncaring of the world beyond the closed door, until someone knocks on said door and a voice comes through:

"Zuko?"

It's Katara.

"Is Jet with you? He isn't in his room."

The aforementioned teenager grumbles a bit and curls closer against Zuko, head resting underneath Zuko's chin.

"Yeah." Zuko calls back.

"Oh - ," Katara seems to falter a moment, "Sorry!"

Zuko doesn't know what conclusion she seems to have come to on her own, but he isn't going to bother explaining that they weren't doing anything, instead, he wraps around Jet, holding him close, while Jet himself is marveling at how cushy everything seems to be in that exact moment. Having peaceful mornings was something that had never happened to him before, as far as he remembered, he thinks he would remember feeling like he did currently. And being held in someone else's arms sure was something, especially when he knew that said person loved him, and what a wild concept that was to him!

But why did it all feel so natural to him?

Shouldn't there be awkwardness on his part?

For a moment, he considers chasing that train of thought, but lets it slip as it would disrupt the rare calm he was feeling, so he allows his mind to drift back to a state of being between sleep and wakefulness, not caring that he was in the arms of someone he was supposed to be enemies with, and that said enemy was currently rubbing his back in soothing motions – until something pings at the back of his mind. It makes his body tense and joints lock, now wide awake and feeling like he'd been doused in cold water. His dreams back in the Fire Nation – he'd dreamt of an unseen being holding him, treating him tender, the feeling he got from that thing matched the feeling he got around Zuko.

The thoughts that came with that sudden epiphany, as well as the questions, were too much for him, his mind was crowded and that familiar ache in his skull returned with a vengeance.

More than half of him wants to rip himself away from Zuko and run from the feeling of fear knocking the wind from him, a type of fear that threatens to choke him with every shaky breath he takes, but he forces himself to stay where he is, even if the firebender's touch burns him, despite seeing no fire in sight, even if Zuko is now worried about the cause of his sudden tension. Instead, he pulls himself from the warm embrace as calm as he can manage, even meets concerned eyes with a steady gaze, and is proud of himself for when he speaks, there is no sign of a tremble.

"As much as I'd like to lie in bed all day, I'm going to get ready for the day."

"Um - ," Zuko hesitates, "Okay?"

Attempting to keep his pace slow and even seems to take every ounce of his concentration, he's definitely not ignoring the burning of Zuko's stare, but once he's out of sight and hurrying away from the room, and the fluttery feeling of another's love, it means nothing – it's ridiculous, he thinks as he's strapping his sleeve in place, for someone to be afraid of something like feelings, they were harmless. A mess is what he is, and a liar.

Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath until it feels like his lungs are about to burst, holds it in his chest for a few seconds, then releases the air in a huff. Reopening his eyes, he stares himself down in the reflection, the shades of red he'd worn previously are replaced with shades of black.

Wasn't it odd that he couldn't remember most of what he'd done before he'd woken from his coma? Or was that normal?

Shaking his head at his own thoughts and ridiculousness, he pushes away from the wash basin and heads for the exit, only to come face to face with the person he definitely wasn't running from.

Wasn't it weird that there were such uncanny similarities between Zuko, and Princess Azula?

"Jet?"

"Yeah?"

Zuko peers up at him with familiar eyes, "Are you okay?"

So many similarities, yet Princess Azula would never ask about his wellbeing, "Yeah, I'm fine."

The firebender stares at him a moment longer, searching him, absently, Jet starts to wonder how he got that scar, or how he himself got the scars marring his body. No one had explained a thing to him, just told him that he'd finally awoken from a coma, before throwing him back into the fires of war. Finally, Zuko moves on and passes Jet, Jet releasing a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, before he too moves on to meet with the others. But the second he steps out onto the platform, he sees that all eyes are on him, a suspicious glint in their eyes that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, that doesn't mean he can let his uneasiness stop him from getting along with the group, so he trudges on ahead, and as soon as he sits, Sokka speaks:

"How was your night?"

Jet arches a brow, "Fine?"

"Oh?" the way Sokka says this one word has Jet on high alert, "Not too – strenuous?"

"Sokka!" Katara shrieks in horror, she slaps her brother's arm then gives Jet an apologizing look, "I'm so sorry about him, I just – I told them where you were when they asked, and Sokka, you know him, he immediately jumped to a conclusion, one that should be private."

"It's fine." Jet says, even if it feels like it isn't, he levels a look at Sokka, "Why? Interested in my fiancé, Water Tribe?"

"N – no!" Sokka splutters.

"Sokka!" Suki admonishes in fake shock, "When were you going to tell me?!"

The others giggle at Sokka's backpedaling, the blind earthbender tilts her head in Jet's direction.

"Seems like there'll be a competition for your hand, Sparky ~ ."

Jet's gut doesn't drop like a bag of rocks, while his heart attempts flight, when he hears Zuko's voice.

"What?"

Suki is still giggling as she says, "Sokka's decided to challenge Jet for his place as your fiancé ~ ."

"I'm flattered," Zuko begins, he's got the beginnings of a smirk forming on his lips, it makes Jet – proud, "I never knew you felt that way about me, Sokka, but I'm sorry, I can't let you do that, for you see, I only like you as a friend."

The others fall into fits of laughter.

"Besides," Zuko says over the laughter, "Jet would kick your ass, no problem."

Jet grins at this, leaning into Zuko's side, "Damn right I would!"

"Hey!" Suki huffs dramatically, "Are you saying that your boyfriend is better than mine?!"

Zuko rests his head on Jet's shoulder, Jet rests his head atop Zuko's, he can hear the grin in Zuko's voice, "I am."

"I demand a duel, Your Highness!"

"To the death?"

Suki looks thoughtful.

"Suki, no!" Sokka warns.

"Definitely."

Zuko hums, still playful, "Jet?"

Jet hums back, "I'm up for it."

"As much as I'm up for watching a good fight," one of the Earth Kingdom boys says, "But I've got a question."

Aang blinks, wide-eyed and innocent, "About what?"

The mustached Earth Kingdom man looks directly at Jet, "Your real name is Jet, and you're Earth Kingdom – in my village, we often heard tales of Lion-Heart from the Fire Nation soldiers, the tales they told seemed fantastical at times, enough so that some of us believed this Lion-Heart was just a story, I was one of them. But then, I met Katara and learned that you were real, that some of the tales told about you were real."

"Haru - ." a small Earth Kingdom boy starts.

"No." this Haru says, "You know about the stories, you even seen what happened, I heard your friend Pipsqueak talking about he and his friends had to patch Sokka up, apparently Lion-Heart had gotten to him – when I learned that you were a real person, I couldn't help but wonder, what made someone do the things you've done, what are you getting in return that makes it all worth it? What was your reasoning?"

And all Jet can do is stare at Haru, the look in the other's eyes, the restrained anger he sees burning bright – it was all too real to be a joke, or some fabricated lie.

Katara speaks, "Jet, you don't have to answer."

A part of Jet feels like laughing, they're mistaking his silence for something else, but as he goes to respond, he's cut off by Zuko, the firebender sitting straight, no longer touching him.

"It was my fault."

All eyes are now on him.

"Jet was my guard." Zuko sets his bowl down, "When I was banished from my home, I was told that capturing the Avatar would be my redemption, my way home, so I scoured the world without stop, Jet was just doing his job."

Now Jet feels like he's drowning.

Haru makes a perplexed frown, "And now – you two are to be wedded? I thought the Fire Nation didn't - ?"

"They don't." Zuko interrupts, "But we had planned on just – traveling the world, some more."

"Okay." the boy in the wheelchair says, "I've just got to hear about you guys, you know, aside from the rumors. If it's okay with you guys, of course."

Zuko looks to Jet, a silent question in his eyes.

Jet shrugs, "Go ahead."

"Okay, um – we met when we were kids, Jet had been brought to the Fire Nation, I think my Uncle kind of adopted him because he wanted Jet to be a guard, and he didn't want to at first, but when we started to get along, he accepted his role. We grew up together, then I got banished, both he and my Uncle stayed by my side – even when I didn't deserve it. And now – here we are, I guess."

"Wow." the blind girl says, "Amazing summary."

And Jet kind of had to agree, it just opened up so many more questions, instead, he says, "Right. I'm going to take a walk with my lovely, lovely fiancé. Zuko?"

"Sure."

As soon as they're out of sight, he decides that he's going to get some answers to his questions, one way or another, and the best source at the moment was the one currently walking beside him. Someone is lying, and as the day progresses, it seems like it isn't Zuko. These tales the others tell about him, about them, it's all too real, and he's even heard of some of those tales about him from the guards in the Fire Nation palace, he's even heard whispers of a Prince from the servants when they thought no one was around, and then there was that thing Ty-Lee had given him and the emotions the jewelry piece brought on.

If he were to believe these people, then Zuko was the Fire Nation's Prince, and Princess Azula was his sister, Jet was his personal guard by the sounds of it, they were even friends before they decided to move their relationship beyond the realm of friendship, that relationship then developed enough to where they decided they would marry, it sounds like they were planning to elope. Had Zuko decided to give up his title as Prince for him? Who would run the Fire Nation if the current Fire Lord was to be overthrown? Would Princess Azula take that title?

While he had been back and forth on the idea that the Princess had lied to him, he still couldn't quite bring himself to actually believe it, but that Haru guy seemed to dislike him for actions he can't quite remember, that kind of hatred wasn't something born from nothing, especially since he seemed like a well-meaning guy.

"So ~ ," Jet starts, making his tone sound light and flirty, "You think I'd win against Sokka ~ ?"

Zuko doesn't seem to pick up on his tone, just shrugs and says, "Yeah, you've done it before."

Jet feels himself grin, "Is that one of the many things you love about me ~ ?"

This makes Zuko duck his head, shoulders hunching up to his ears, looking shy, "I – I don't know? Yeah? Maybe?"

"Maybe?" hums Jet, "What do you like me ~ ?"

"W – well, Um – you're stubborn."

"That's what you like about me?" Jet deadpans.

Zuko blushes, "So what if it is?!" he lets out a growl, red-faced and continues, "Anyway – you're stubborn, when we argue it gets ridiculous because neither one of us wants to give in first, you care too much and take on too much responsibility that isn't yours to begin with, you made sure I was okay before taking care of yourself, things that were my fault, you took on as your own, you're devoted, loyal, stupidly so, you never left my side even when I deserved it. You're – charming, I'll admit, you know your way around words, you're confident and it shows in the way you move, you're talented, and you're smart. You make me feel so – so soft, so vulnerable that it's scary and makes me want to run, but knowing that it's you makes it easier for me to bear because I trust you, you've seen me at my lowest, you've seen me through my stupidest mistakes, and you were still there, patching me up. You make it so easy to love you, and I know I'm not the only one who finds it easy to love you." Zuko offers up a small smile, "And there was the way you treated me, my life was rough when my mother disappeared, my father and sister could care less about me, Uncle tried, but it wasn't the same. You didn't see any of us as royalty, you treated me like any other person, like a person, but soon I became the person you wanted in your life, for the rest of your life, and – I was, am, someone who doesn't need it, but you treated me so gently that it hurt worse than any physical hit, you treated me like I was something worth more than the world, you looked at me like I was all that mattered. You're strong, able to take a hit, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and keep moving. You're also beautiful, handsome, breathtaking, I look at you and realize just how lucky I am to have someone like you in my life, even if you tease me about being a terrible liar, it – it makes me feel so much more than I'm capable of explaining."

Jet feels lost, small, even as he says, "I – feel the same."

Zuko peers at him from underneath his fringe, "Yeah?"

The taller feels his own face heat up, "I – yeah, it – yeah."

The dark-haired firebender shuffles closer, the two having stopped in the middle of a hallway, Zuko moving slow and giving Jet enough time to move if he so wished, but instead of taking the chance to ditch, he watches, feeling the world fall away – the kiss is gentle, sweet, and heartbreaking, as much as he would like to think it was done without his knowing, he's fully aware of wrapping Zuko up in his arms and holding him close, returning the kiss. When they pull away and Jet gets a chance to see Zuko looking charmed, and the words are out before he can stop himself:

"I love you."

Chapter Text

Funny how earlier that day, Jet had been uncertain of his relation to Zuko – but after the firebender had revealed what he loved about Jet, now he couldn't quite keep himself away, drawn in by some invisible force, always having to be near the fire-wielder, always had to be touching him, whether it was a light brush of the shoulders, or holding hands, it didn't matter, so long as he had the firebender in his sights.

"Hello, Handsome ~ ."

A surprised noise escapes Zuko when Jet grabs his hand and twirls him out before pulling him back with a gentle tug, the firebender tripping over his own two feet and bumping into Jet's chest. Their eyes meet and Jet has never felt so weak in the knees, as he does looking into a pair of amber irises. Grinning, Jet turns them and dips Zuko, the pale-skinned male tense and uncoordinated with the movements he's thrust into, as proven by the way his fingers dig into the meat of Jet's shoulders so he won't fall.

"J – Jet?!" Zuko splutters, face turning a dashing red, "What are you - ?!"

Another shocked sound rips itself from Zuko's throat when Jet pulls him back up and against his chest in one quick movement, nose to nose, the taller sees the other's eyes search his face a moment before his expression turns sheepish, a shy smile beginning to paint his lips. Smiling himself, Jet moves forward with Zuko copying his movements, they meet halfway in a chaste kiss – their kisses were always as enchanting as the previous, and just as thrilling, making his blood sing and his heart flutter, the feelings he gets from spending every moment with the firebender is a gift, one he didn't know he'd ever wanted until that moment.

It was safe to say that he was addicted to this silly, little, thing called love.

An annoyed groan rips their world apart, "Really, guys?!"

Both Jet and Zuko pull away from one another to look at Sokka, the Water Tribesman is tending to the care of his weapon, looking at the two of them from underneath lashes with one brow arched in obvious judgment.

Sokka sighs, "It isn't like I'm not happy you guys have – worked things out, but, I don't know, it just seems like you're both as mushy as you were before. Worse even!"

Zuko starts to puff up, "Like you and Suki don't have your moments!"

Jet buries his nose underneath Zuko's jaw, grinning as he says, "Don't mind him, Sweetheart, it's just you," he trails the tip of his tongue up the side of Zuko's neck, relishing in the way the firebender's temperature rises, and nips at the flesh, "And me, that's all that matters."

"Gross!"

"I don't know," says Suki, she's helping Aang and Katara carry the food they'd foraged, "I think they're kind of cute like this, in a not so life-threatening kind of way."

"Yeah, Sokka." Aang chirps, "It's always nice to be reminded that love is still alive and well ~ ."

Toph huffs, "So long as they don't start fooling around where we can see them, it's all good."

Jet's grin turns lascivious, hands falling to Zuko's hips and purrs in the firebender's ear, "Now there's an idea worth considering, Sweetheart, say, sometime today ~ ?"

Zuko blushes, ducking his head and attempting to hide his flustered face.

"Spirits, Jet!"

Katara.

"Get a room!"

Toph.

"There are kids present!"

Sokka.

Jet sticks his tongue out at all of them.

The firebender gently extracts himself from Jet's hold, the latter allowing it and choosing to stick by his side as the former helps with maintenance of their camp, offering off-handed quips that draws amused or annoyed puffs from Zuko. As he's watching Zuko and Sokka laugh, he is hit with the feeling that he's the outsider and his only connection is the firebender – the feeling of loneliness is batted to the side by the soft smile Zuko sends him, it uncoils the tightly knit feeling of dread in his gut. When night falls and their bellies are filled, Zuko somehow convinces him that sleeping where the others are is best, while it does give him an opportunity for – something to do with his mission, he'd rather keep the firebender away from the rest, but he finds he cannot deny Zuko something as simple as sleeping where the others stay, so they set up a couple of bedrolls and pillows, Jet forgoing his and laying it on the ground before setting Zuko's atop it, using it as padding for Zuko's bedroll.

Once settled, Jet falls asleep with a warm body pressed against his front.

An explosion and the shaking of the temple wakes him, his own body reacting all on its own accord by covering Zuko and holding a dagger at the ready, a couple more explosions rock the temple, Jet curls his body over the firebender to protect him from the falling debris. Their eyes meet amongst the chaos, and Zuko looks determined, determined for what is lost on Jet, the dark-haired male slips out from underneath Jet just as the others start to get to their feet, Aang shutting the large shutters – this jumpstarts a war inside his head.

What did he just do?

What was Zuko planning on doing?

More explosions rock the foundation causing more debris to fall, a particular large piece of the ceiling falls, time seems to slow, but Jet is fully aware of the way his heart threatens to beat out of his chest and the cold chilling his body as Zuko races towards Katara and tackles her out of the way in time – at least he hopes so, the way his heart races is ridiculous, even as his body stands, ready for action, to protect.

Toph and Haru create a tunnel, the blind girl telling him to hurry as several of the others run through, but Jet's attention is focused solely on Zuko who is staring resolutely out at the rising airships, Jet tugs on Zuko's wrist, unaware that he had grabbed him.

"Come on, we need to go."

The look Zuko sends him makes him freeze, the firebender pulls from his grasp.

Someone shouts behind them, "What are you doing?!"

"Go ahead, I'll hold them off. I think this is a family visit."

Someone shouts at Zuko and all Jet can do is watch the firebender run towards the explosions, towards a seemingly endless chasm – he doesn't even take a step when someone touches his shoulder and pulls him back.

"He'll be okay." the person assures.

Absently, Jet helps Aang and Sokka pull on Appa's reins, Katara joining them not a second later – before he knows it, they're on the bison and flying out of the collapsing temple, and the world becomes clear when he spots Azula of all people – he feels a weird mix of emotions, especially when he spots Zuko on a rising ship, he must move forward because someone grabs his wrist and tugs him back, the tall male feeling helpless when he sees red and blue fire shooting back and forth at one another, his view ruined when balls of fire are being shot at them. Aang pulls hard on Appa's reins and it sends them flying vertical, forcing the passengers to hold on tight lest they fall into the foggy crevice below.

They swing by when both firebenders shoot fire at one another at the same time, creating a large blast of fire that sends both flying, Katara is the one to grab Zuko because while Jet absently reaches out for Zuko, his eyes are pinned on Azula's freefalling form.

"She's – not going to make it."

Zuko's voice startles him, making him tear his eyes away from the Princess.

Zuko then mutters, "Of course she did."

The way the male firebender words it makes Jet feel – a strange mix of concern and being offended on behalf of the Princess, the way the firebender turns away from the Princess' direction with a troubled look on his face, and lips turned downward, he feels like he's missing something important.

They're an hour or so away from the temple when Zuko attempts to hide at his side, the sudden touch from the firebender startles him enough that the others notice, even Toph who cannot see, Zuko immediately pulls away from him with wide, searching eyes, looking him over as if he'd physically hurt him, staring at him with those eyes of his.

Dipping his head, embarrassed for losing himself, he murmurs, "Sorry."

But when he goes to wrap an arm around Zuko, the firebender pulls away sheepishly, "Me too."

The ensuing silence is – awkward, to say the least.

Feeling worse than he had previously, he keeps to himself and stares out at the endless field of clouds, by the time they find a place to settle for the night, Jet has twisted his thoughts in impossible knots – the others are designating each person a job, conspicuously leaving both Jet and Zuko free of such things, something the firebender attempts to weasel his way out of, but to no avail, his parting jab at the ground had been:

"Toph can't even fish!"

But they're left to their fate.

"About earlier - ,"

"Don't." Zuko interrupts with a sigh, "I get it, I really do. Azula must have done – terrible things to you, it isn't your fault we share - similar traits."

Jet lets it fall at that, but it feels wrong.

When the others return, they know something is up but cautiously skirt around it, tents are set up, a fire started, and food cooking, when Aang attempts to break the awkward silence:

"Wow camping ~ it really does feel like old times, doesn't it?"

"If you really want it to feel like old times," Zuko starts, "I could uh, chase you around for a while and try to capture you."

The others laugh, but Jet is just confused.

After dinner, the other five start to get ready for bed, but Jet's attention is focused solely on Zuko, the firebender seems to fiddle with his hands a moment before he sighs and gets to his feet. Shutting his eyes, Jet urges himself to stand and follow the other, but his body stays rooted to the spot stubbornly, clinging to the ground like a life-raft, terrified of facing Zuko despite the fact that the firebender made him feel things he's never felt before. The earth underneath him starts to rumble, and suddenly, he's tossed aside, he hisses at the sudden pain blossoming in his thigh.

"Just go!" Toph orders.

Deciding not to incur another bruise, or what's sure to be one, Jet gets to his feet, rubbing at his thigh as he does so, he finds Zuko's tenet and is about to call out to the firebender when the flap suddenly opens, soon he's face to face with the person who scares him more than anyone or anything else on this world, Princess Azula included.

"Um, Zuko, hey."

"Jet, hello."

"Uh, can I – come in?"

Zuko's lips purse, but he nods and backs into the tent with Jet following, they sit face to face in silence, Jet feels – he can't describe it, ashamed, embarrassed, angry, thrilled, and terrified. And Zuko doesn't look any better, his expression tense and eyes downcast.

"I'm - ," Jet starts,

Just as Zuko says, "Jet - ,"

They both stop, staring at one another.

"Go ahead." Jet says.

"No, you speak first."

Jet sighs, "Zuko, I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I hurt you, I can't – help how I react, it was - ."

"Jet, it's okay, there's no reason for you to apologize about something you can't help."

"But - ,"

A hand covers his, "I understand, okay?"

Jet meets Zuko's eyes, "Do you?"

"I have to," Zuko smiles helplessly, almost painfully, "Even if I don't, I'll be here, waiting for you until you're ready to talk."

Staring at Zuko, searching his face for any hint of deception, even if the firebender has given him no reason to hesitate, Jet lets his body take control of itself and surges forward, grabbing Zuko's face and slamming their lips together. The surprised squeak Zuko makes only fuels his sudden desire to touch and feel. Moving to stand on his knees, he pushes the firebender down by the shoulders, lips still attached, when a hand grabs at his right deltoid, he forces himself to pull away, allowing a small breadth of space between their faces.

"What?"

"What are you - ?"

Jet lays his lower half against Zuko's, muttering, "Isn't it obvious?"

"Are you sure?" whispers Zuko.

"I'm sure."

"Okay."

The word is nothing more than a quiet exhale, hands roaming over warm skin, he ignores the part of him that feels a sense of familiarity, he ignores it when he's holding himself up with shaky arms, dripping sweat, breathing hard, and nestled between Zuko's thighs with the firebender's arms wrapped around his neck, one hand tangled within his hair, he ignores it, until his breathing shudders and muscles quiver with words of love leaving his mouth in quiet breaths.

The brunette doesn't dream, until he does:

"Stop."

Zuko's voice echoes within the endless, dark void.

Turning towards the direction he  thinks  the source is coming from, he does indeed see the firebender, he's standing near the ledge of a rocky cliff overlooking a dry forest of trees. At first his mind doesn't register the dark blot hovering beside the dark-haired teen, but it moves, and when it moves, it moves with confidence paired with a dangerous grace, a heavy  feeling  surrounding it that orders the most basic instinct of his fight or flight to flee, to flee and never look back.

Zuko swipes at the mass, "Stop it."

Paired with the feelings he got from the dark mass and Zuko's words has him tossing a small knife, one he'd used  earlier that day?  it flies through the air and pierces the figure, he hears the thud of the weapon burying itself in its target, he even thinks he hears a body fall startling awake, he finds himself staring at the cloth ceiling of their tent, body drenched in a cold sweat, before something had woken him, he could have sworn Zuko looked surprised to see him there, as if he didn't see him to begin with.

Speaking of – he turns and finds the firebender snuggled rather contently in their weird nest of blankets and pillows, where in the Spirit World the others had these stored was unknown to Jet, but beyond Zuko is an unusual lump with his knife sticking out of it.

Feeling a sudden spike of fear, his mind uselessly dredging up images of the dark mass in his dreams, he slowly sits up and peers cautiously at the foreign lump – it's an animal, with white wool that was rapidly turning red. Confused, and the tiniest bit terrified of his own reflex, he reaches out and over the firebender, grabbing the animal and hurrying out of their shared tent, absently glad that he had put his pants back on after last night's activity – carrying the animal away, he stops what he feels is a good distance away and sets the animal down, his legs giving out on him for some odd reason, forcing him to sit and stare at the evidence of his nightmare, he – he must have killed a curious animal, one that must have been bothering Zuko which prompted the sudden dream, this also addressed something that had happened yesterday at the Western Air Temple, his body's immediate response to the attack had been to shelter Zuko with his own, that same dagger in his hand ready to defend the – the Prince.

"Damn it."

Grabbing the dagger from the animal's corpse, he hides it within the bushes and starts for the camp. Once he lies at the firebender's side once more, Zuko stirs, eyes opening sleepily in a charming manner, and the way dark hair falls over the pillow is a sight Jet finds he rather adores.

"Hey." Zuko smiles, his voice raspy with sleep.

Jet reaches out with a hand, cupping Zuko's jaw, "Hey."

"How long have you been up?" Zuko murmurs.

"Not long."

"I had a weird dream."

Jet wills his body to not tense up, "About?"

"I don't remember, I just know it was weird."

"Same."

Chapter Text

Fixating on the reflection in the water, Jet doesn’t really think of much in that moment, content to sit and stare at the person glowering back at him, he’d come across this little pond some time ago and he wasn’t looking to abandon it just yet. It was quite there, it gave him the feeling of being the only person left in the world, and that left him feeling – serene.

“There you are.”

Jet doesn’t bother to look, knowing full well that the resident firebender was already approaching, while he had hidden himself away in this little slice of solitude, he didn’t mind sharing it with Zuko – he can see the firebender settle on the grass beside him from within his periphery.

“I was wondering where you went off to.”

Jet feels the smile spread across his lips, “Miss me?”

Only when he feels Zuko lean into him, can feel his warmth start to seep through his clothes, does Jet turn to watch his companion settle comfortably against him.

“If I said I did?”

Jet buries his nose in Zuko’s hair, closing his eyes as he murmurs, “I’d say: you’re so adorable.”

Zuko hums, resting his head on Jet’s shoulder, “And I would say: only you would think that.”

Cupping the fairer male’s jaw, he presses their foreheads together, “You’re also beautiful.”

The firebender purrs, “I wouldn’t be talking.”

Smiling, Jet presses their lips together, his chest swelling with emotions too strong to contain – he could stay like this forever, sitting snuggled up beside this boy dearest to him.

“I found them!”

A voice shouts from behind them, Zuko tenses at the same time as Jet, the couple turning to look at the one who’d shouted, Toph, the girl’s head is turned in their general direction, and not a minute later, the others arrive, but with their arrival the feeling of being the only two on the planet disappears.

“Zuko!” Sokka calls, “We need your help!”

Aang sounds sheepish, “I tried doing those moves you showed me and I – well, I keep setting things on fire! I don’t meant to, but I don’t know what I’m doing wrong?!”

Zuko sighs; he turns to Jet and presses a kiss to his cheek, “I got to go.”

Jet smiles, feeling warmed by that single kiss alone, “I’ll be here until I start to miss you.”

This gets a beautiful smile from the firebender, Jet watches him stand and leave with the group of kids converging around him as they usher him away from the scene, and to whatever mess the Avatar had made. Staring after the group a moment or two, he turns back to the pond and gets the sudden and deep feeling of loneliness, the silence no longer comforting. As he starts to think of leaving to find the group, some nearby bushes rustle. Ridiculously enough, his first thought is of the animal he’d killed earlier that morning, even if he’s nowhere near the vicinity he’d dumped the body – his thoughts are derailed soon when this, well, it kind of looked like a bear?

But not?

It was small, glacier blue, beady eyes, weird antennae on top of its head, little, tiny, fluffy wings on its back that surely couldn’t lift the creature any higher than an inch above the ground, kind of translucent, and, well, glowing?

Jet can just feel his eyebrows raise to his hairline, “A – spirit?”

The spirit just cocks its head to the side, reminiscent of a polar-bear-dog pup, and keeps on staring at him like it were curious about his presence, like he was the unusual one here. Never before had he seen a spirit, but then again that must be one of the perks of traveling with the Avatar, seeing a stray spirit every now and then – suddenly he feels as if something is being pulled out of his own body, as if he’s being pulled out of his own body, startled, rightfully so, he stumbles away from the spirit, immediately drawing his hidden knife as he does so. It won’t do much in the grand scheme of things, especially against a spirit, but it was more on instinct and reflex than an actual attempt at using the weapon. Now staring at the thing with a sinking feeling of dread, he turns, ready to run from the scene, but within the split-second he blinks, the spirit is in front of him and now – bigger? And meaner looking?

It stands on its rear legs and uses its powerful front paws to push him to the ground, he hits the ground hard, his shoulder definitely going to be bruised, the spirit keeps him pinned with its weight and Jet doesn’t know enough about spirits to question this, he attempts to get out from underneath the thing when it lowers its face towards his, and the way its neck moved was so unnatural, Jet did not like it one bit, the spirit presses their foreheads together, eyes locked – he’s transported to a black void, with him standing in the center of a spotlight, a familiar sight that he’s only ever seen in his nightmares, backing up with his eyes flitting every which way, he turns, ready to run, only to stop when he’s in a different place altogether.

A familiar place.

Kuo, one of his many teachers is supervising him, the child him, during one of his training sessions, his child-self concentrated whole-heartedly on the task at hand, but what catches Jet’s attention is a familiar figure standing in the background, only when he concentrates on the form does he realize that it’s Zuko, but younger and scar-free, he’s standing at Lady Ursa’s side, Azula’s mother.

Before he can contemplate the scene any further, the world spins and he’s elsewhere:

The dining room within the palace, back in the Fire Nation, he’s standing tall, a little older than the last vision, alongside Kuo, he gets the sense that he was sneaking around when Kuo had found him, inside the royal family eats, but Lady Ursa is not present, Jet is witness to seeing Fire Lord Ozai, Princess Azula, and Zuko, a little older as well, sitting at the table, he’s confused, the Fire Lord and the Princess know Zuko?

Their voices are muffled despite him standing right there, until they aren’t:

“She was born lucky, you were lucky to be born.”

The look on Zuko’s face, devastated, crushed, the smirk the Princess sends his way, and the sudden anger that courses through his body is hot, blinding, the intense urge to tear the Fire Lord down is unbearable his younger self looks furious, and is ready to charge in, but Kuo’s hand grabbing his shoulder is what stops him from doing anything.

The scene shifts.

Younger Jet, slightly older than the last, is cleaning his weapons whilst Zuko, slightly older than the last, lies in the grass they’re talking, but their words aren’t quite coherent, but something catches younger Jet’s attention soon enough, and he’s immediately filled with an intense sense of rage that could only be classified as hate, when he sees what it is that has his younger self feeling such a strong emotion, he sees the Princess of all people.

For what he feels like isn’t the first time, he contemplates assassination, but keeps it to himself as he knows Prince Zuko wouldn’t like where his thoughts stray, especially when it involved his family.

And this doesn’t make sense, the Princess is the Princess, he’s loyal to the royal family, why would he consider such a thing? Are these visions even real? Or are they dreams?

The world blinks out and he’s watching himself, perhaps a few years younger, going through several sets with his shuang-gou on the deck of a ship, obviously Fire Nation, small in comparison to the ones he’s seen in the docks. The ship is docked, at what seems like nothing but a vast winter wasteland, snow and ice as far as the eye can see. His younger self isn’t left alone for long as he sees someone storming up the bridge, upon closer inspection, he realizes that it’s Zuko, and he now has that scar, both he and his younger self watch the firebender storm by, not deigning to say a thing to him, another form catches his attention, both he and his younger self turn to look at an old man, unfamiliar and somber, the old man shakes his head when young Jet looks at him.

Jet feels a great concern for young Zuko.

“Looking for the Avatar.”

“Doomed to fail.”

“Never going home.”

“Banished Prince.”

Jet doesn’t bat a lash when the scene changes once again.

This Jet is the same age as him, wearing different clothes and a topknot of all things, he’s sitting in a metal contraption, accompanied by Mai and Ty-Lee, Ty-Lee is looking nervously between he and Mai, Mai is glowering at him while he himself smiles crookedly. The impression he gets from this scene is annoyance, anger, and jealousy. Soon, the Princess enters the room, and those emotions shift, but not for the better, they turn bitter, hateful, trapped.

The vision swaps with another:

The background is dark, but he can see himself crouched on the ground, fingers gripping at his own hair, and he’s muttering to himself, his voice verging on that of panic, he’s still wearing that armor he’d seen in the last vision, so he can only assume he’s somewhere during that vision’s timeline.

“You’re okay. You’re okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.” his vision-self mutters almost manically, breathless, “It’s okay. Everything is okay.”

The feelings impressed upon him aren’t ones he wants to feel, to think on, and luckily he doesn’t have to when the scene changes, this time they’re in a city, an Earth Kingdom one by the looks of it, he sees himself looking at jewelry pieces, he’s dressed differently this time, and now he’s got bandages on his right arm and chest he’d never had those before? Are those covering the scars he’s got now?

“We could do it.” his vision-self thinks, the words etching themselves into his mind, “We could run away together, just the two of us out in the world.”

He gets the sensation that he’s talking about Zuko.

Blinking, he finds himself on another ship, this time Katara is sitting in front of him, she’s attempting to heal his arm the scar looks somewhat fresh, so it must have happened sometime before the last scene.

This Jet is miserable, angry, hurt, and sorely missing Zuko.

Jet sees the way Katara looks at him, filled with concern and something else.

Another change.

They’re sitting on a beach, staring at the starry skies, their words are muffled.

Change.

There’s a battle going on, he’s keeping tabs on Zuko as best as he can while they fight through Fire Nation soldiers alongside alongside the invasion forces. Almost immediately, his mind brings up the memory of the Water Tribe man he’d executed, asking him what they had done to him.

Change.

A bright light sweeps across his vision, he feels his mind tearing in two, he hears voices, he can’t see anybody, he doesn’t know where he is, he knows someone is there though. Why can’t he see them? Who is there? Is Zuko okay?

Something snaps in place.

He feels like he’s drowning.

He can’t breathe.

Why can’t he breathe?!

Gasping, he throws the spirit off – he remembers everything, he remembers the invasion, being captured, growing up with Zuko, Prince Zuko, Princess Azula’s big brother, Spirits, he despise her, her and her father, he’d nearly killed her before. Gripping at his head, he attempts to rid himself of the headache coming on: violent and painful.

So many feelings, negative, elated, confused – he didn’t like it.

Things were so much easier under that brainwashing.

But he wouldn’t give it up if it meant forgetting Zuko, again.

Azula always lies.

Spirits, he was here to kill Aang.

Realizing that he’s breathing hard, he immediately runs from the spirit, runs away from himself – the first person he runs in to is Zuko, thank Sp – thank Gods:

“Zuko,” he breathes, wrapping his arms around his firebender, his Prince.

Zuko chuckles and presses into Jet, “Miss me ~ ?”

“I did.” he buries his face in the crook of Zuko’s neck, “So much.”

The Fire Prince lets out a cooing sort of noise that he would deny should Jet comment on it, fingers tangling in Jet’s hair, both men content to stay entwined like that, as he’s holding on to Zuko like his life depends on it, it dawns on him:

“We were going to get married.” he says, breathless and amazed.

“We were.” Zuko hums.

“I’m your fiancé.”

“You are.”

“You’re my fiancé.”

“I am.”

“I love you so, so much, Fire-Bird.”

“I love you so much too, Jet.”

Jet turns Zuko to face him and smashes their lips together in a deep kiss, one that involves way too much spit and too much tongue, he’s pressing into Zuko with enough force that the firebender’s back is beginning to bend backwards, but he’s not the least deterred, his hands cupping Jet’s face and pressing their lips together with just as much force, Jet’s arms wrapped around him, pulling him as physically close as they can get – he manages to drag out a moan from his fiancé before they’re interrupted.

“Gross!” Sokka shouts, “Really?!”

Jet lessens the pressure, flipping Sokka off.

“Look!” Aang shouts suddenly.

The two pull away to see what it is the monk is pointing at, but when everyone turns to see what it is that has the airbender so excited, they see no