attackfish: Jet and Zuko fighting in the teashop, text "Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics" (Jet Juko TDL quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
Disclaimer: If I owned Avatar the Last Airbender, Jet would have lived to cause trouble for everyone. And you know he would be trouble.

Summary: When Zuko and his uncle brought Jet home from under Lake Laogai, they had no idea he was a firebender, or just how deep his hatred for the Fire Nation really ran.

Warning: Jet has some pretty messed up ideas about rape victims that are mentioned in passing.

Author's Note: Written as part of [livejournal.com profile] atlasecretsanta, for [livejournal.com profile] suzukiblu. Yes, I know she ran a meme with firebender!Jet, but when I started this way back in what, November? December? she hadn't started it yet, only written a commentfic fill about it and mentioned she liked the idea. Finally finishing this means that I can now go read the fills for that meme. (Seriously, this was due on Christmas Eve, and it's now August, just over eight months later. That's really pathetic. Bad Fish.)

This follows the drabble, "Rising Steam".



Yesterday's Flame



His breath was hot in his mouth.  He drew in gulps of air as Smellerbee knelt beside him, doing everything he could to keep his eyes on Longshot’s.  If he was going to die, he was going to be there for every moment he had left.  He was going to stay awake.  He was going to stay awake.

The heat from his breath blew up over his face, steaming in the dank underground.  Smellerbee drew her knife and tore his shirt off him, waving the heat away from her face.  “Shhh,” she soothed.  It hurt to breathe.  The tiny movements of her fingers sent pain racing through his body.  The greenish darkness blurred, and the quiet buzzed and cracked around him, and he swore there were voices in it.  As he closed his eyes, he could even pick out the words.

“Do you even remember the way out of here?”

“Do you?”

“I was too busy keeping track of you."

“Shut up!”  The second voice hissed, and Jet recognised it, but he barely heard Lee’s poisonous, treacherous next words as his footsteps drew nearer in the hall.  “Somebody could hear.”

~*~

Jet blinked his eyes.  Reddish late evening sun fell over the walls and floor.  “What...”  There was carpet and a futon underneath him, and a blanket on top of him, but it wasn’t the abandoned cubbyhole Smellerbee had found for them when they came to the city.  He tried to move, and a moan bubbled up from his chest.  “Where...”

The man with the hot tea who called himself Mushi bent over him.  “Keep still.”

“You!”  The yell came out strange and soft, strengthless and not really a yell at all.  Beside him, he heard a soft rustling and breathy whimper, and at first he was afraid it was him.  He twisted around to it, and the rush of pain sent him collapsing back onto the futon, gasping and shaking.  It was too hot, too closed in.  They had captured him, and...  He pushed the blankets down.  Dark, ugly bluish bruises mottled the flesh over his ribs, rising jerkily with his breaths.  “Let me go!”

“Uncle...”  Jet heard the whimpering voice again, almost silent, but this time Jet recognized it.  The firebender who called himself Mushi bent over the boy who called himself his nephew and stroked his fever damp hair.

The screen slid open.  “Jet!”  Smellerbee sprinted to him and knelt down at his side.  “You’re awake!”

“What’s going on?” he demanded without preamble.  Smellerbee’s face fell and Longshot moved up behind her to give him a pointed look.  Jet ignored both.  He had to.  “They’re Fire Nation spies!  We have to get out of here!”

“Jet, calm down.”  Smellerbee pinned his hands to the futon beneath him.  “They’re helping us.”

“They’re Fire Nation!”  Every time he tried to yell, the pain in his chest strangled the words and let them out only as puffs of air.

“You can’t even move.”  She refused to let go of his wrists, but she stroked them with her thumbs.  “Jet, just-”

“You need to keep still,” the firebender murmured, nudging Smellerbee out of the way.  He pressed a cup into Jet’s hands and pressed Jet’s fingers in around it.  The clay was cold against his skin.  The firebender picked up a teapot from the hearth.  “Hold it steady.

The tea’s warmth poured into the clay of the cup and into Jet’s hand.  He breathed out, the heat stinging his lips.  He dropped the cup, but the heat wouldn’t leave.

“Uncle, where...”  The firebender who called himself Lee’s words ended in a coughing fit, his shadow spilling over Jet as he sat up and hunched in on himself.  “Where are you?”

Mushi put a hand on his nephew's shoulder and pushed it gently until he lay back down.  “I’m right here, Zuko.”

“So, what’s your name?” Jet growled.  Zuko thrashed.

“Lie down, Nephew.”  Mushi’s eyes flicked to Jet’s, but he didn’t answer, didn’t otherwise acknowledge his question.

“Azul-”

Mushi put his finger to his nephew’s lips.  “Shhh.”

“But she’s here...”  His forehead was slick with sweat, and Jet swore he could feel the heat radiating away from his skin and pouring into the floor beneath them both.  It wasn’t fever.  It was fire, and it was burning Jet.

“Who’s Azul?” He demanded, lurching off the futon and yelping hoarsely.  He wheezed in pain and lay on the floor until Smellerbee and Longshot moved to help him back under the covers.

~*~

It was night.  Mushi bent over a candle and cupped his hand around the flame.  The puff of air out of his mouth extinguished it and sent smoke curling into the air around the wick and into his beard.  Jet’s eyes glittered in the darkness, catching the moonlight creeping in around the shutters.  In the shadows, with the sun sunk below the horizon, the lines of the man’s face were heavier, the danger more present but more secret, disguised in the absence of their element.  The bright, crackling energy that pulsed through Jet during the day spilled away, and the night stripped away his ability to pretend he was on top of the world, that he could take on anyone, that he wasn’t hurt, trapped, and weak.

Beside him, the man who said his name was Lee, but whose uncle, if that was his uncle, called Zuko lay still and calm for the first time since Jet had woken up in the firebenders’ den.  Skin slick with sweat, but cool to the touch, and slack with sleep, the man’s arm pressed into Jet’s shoulder, above the bruises and the broken ribs.  Jet shoved it away.

~*~

Jet sat up, with an awkward, foreign deliberateness, and didn’t try to stop Longshot from propping him up and holding him there as the firebender called Mushi wound the strips of cloth around and around his chest.  Humiliation and helplessness made sweat spring up on his face and arms, and down his back, making the cloth slip against it in Mushi’s hands.  Smellerbee lifted his arms up and out of the way, her hands clasping his. 

Mushi tucked the end of the bandage back inside itself and patted Jet’s unblemished shoulder.  “I was wondering if you had anywhere to go after you were back on your feet,” the firebender murmured.

Jet’s eyes flashed and his teeth clenched, the tention running down is body until every bruise throbbed as one with it.  “You think I’d tell you?”

The firebender raised his hands and smiled indulgently, placatingly, as if Jet were a little kid, and Mushi was just surrendering to some childish whim.  The world narrowed into two pinpricks of fury.  “I was only asking, because if you did not, I was going to offer that you and your companions stay here.”

“We have somewhere,” he spat.

“It’s only,” the old man’s voice quavered, “That I just opened this teashop, and It would be so much easier if I had another tea server-”

Jet recoiled, his hands yanking themselves out of Smellerbee’s grip as she watched his face intently.  He fell back onto the futon, and the air whined through his teeth.  He gasped and waited for his mouth and lungs to do what he told them to again.  “I would never help you-”

“Oh come on, Jet!” Smellerbee burst out, unable to contain herself any longer. 

“We have our own place.  I’ve got a job!”  Jet glowered.

“Oh yeah, an abandoned grain warehouse and a job hauling crates for anyone you can convince to pay you.  If you don’t take it, I will, and Longshot can decide whether he’s going to come with me, or stay with you so he can take care of you.”

“He wouldn’t leave,” Jet hissed.  “You’d be alone.”  And he wouldn't have to take care of Jet, he wanted to say.

Smellerbee folded her arms across her chest.  “He owes you.  He might stay.”

You owe me too, Jet wanted to say.

The door to the other room slid open.  Holding a bowl in one hand, the firebender boy stepped through, glancing at his uncle.  When Longshot followed on his heels, Jet stopped being able to hear with rage.  The heat rose from his belly and poured into his mouth, scorching his throat as it rose.  “Not a natural sickness,” he drawled.  “Yeah, sure.  I bet you had some sort of horrible Fire Nation plague, and you knew it when you came, and we’re all going to-”

“Then why am I fine now?” Zuko snapped, twisting his head in Jet’s direction.  Then he froze, and his fingers clenched around the bowl, bleaching them a dull yellowish gray.

Jet knew what stopped him.  It’s what always stopped everyone.  It was bad, getting that angry, stupid getting that angry, so angry he couldn’t hide it, so angry that it burned away his charisma, and repulsed the people he should be able to wrap around himself.  So angry that he could feel the burn on his lips and tongue and inside his cheeks for days after, and food tasted like dust.

“You...”  Zuko choked.  His unburned eye narrowed to match the burned one.  Blood filled his face until it darkened to match his scar, and he couldn’t get the words out.  “You hypocrite!  You...  You-  I’m a firebender?  What are you?”

“What are you talking about?”

Smellerbee went ashen under her strips of facepaint.

The old firebender looked down at him, inscrutable.  “It would work better if you tried to lie about that while you weren’t firebending.”

“I can’t firebend,” he snarled.  “I’m Earth Kingdom.  My parents are Earth Kingdom.” 

The firebender, Zuko, laughed, ugly and mirthless laughter, almost too soft for Jet to hear over the buzzing rage in his ears.

“I’M NOT A FIREBENDER!”  The tongues of flame leapt out of his mouth and off his teeth, and hovered in the air in front of him, until even he could see them burning.  “I’m not.”

Longshot came over and put a hand on his shoulder.  Smellerbee put her hand over his on the futon, and neither looked surprised.  He felt cold, and emptied, and the fire blisters were already forming on his lips and tongue.  He could barely taste the salty, raw skin.  There were always Fire Nation soldiers everywhere, and only one way good, really good, honest, Earth Kingdom families had firebending sons.  “No one did that to my mother.”  His mother had never been weak.  She couldn’t be.  She was never pathetic-  She was nothing like the women he’d seen after Fire nation raids, red-eyed and lost, babbling and afraid.  His mother had been...  He was just like her.

~*~

Jet sat cross-legged in front of the candle, back too straight, eyes clenched tightly shut.  The flame on the candlewick jumped higher when he breathed out, like it was clawing its way out of him, and every time it rose, the sick creeping wrongness spread over his skin.  It was evil, and now that he had given it a name, it wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Are you coming with us, Zuko?” the old man who called himself Mushi asked mildly.

Zuko glanced sharply at his uncle with Jet’s friends, in their nice clothes, and down at his own every day clothes, before staring at Jet’s back so hard Jet could feel it without opening his eyes.  “Someone has to stay here to watch him.”

Someone had to stay there to keep him from falling over, and keep him from burning the apartment down, and... “I’m going,” Jet hissed, forcing himself to his feet.  The candle flame winked out, but the sun was shining, and nobody needed it.

The old firebender gave them both a long look.  “Get dressed.”  He smiled at Jet, like he liked him.  “Borrow something of my nephew’s.”

Zuko grabbed his arm and hustled him into the bedroom, a dark look on his face, the creepy, happy mask he wore around his uncle evaporating the moment once they were out of sight.  “I’m not going to carry you.”  He shoved a robe into Jet’s arms.  “If you fall down, I’m leaving you in the street.”

Jet’s whole body ached.  “I’m not going to leave you alone.  Whatever you’re planning to do to the Earth King, I’m going to stop you.”

~*~

“What’s taking so long?”  Zuko’s voice broke the stillness, and Jet’s head snapped up, the teacup in his hand clanking down onto its tray.

Mushi turned to his nephew, or the man he called his nephew.  Jet wasn’t even sure it mattered anymore.  “Maybe the Earth King overslept.”

The gilded door opened, and when Jet saw the Dai Li agents file into the room, his breath caught in his throat.  Suddenly this wasn’t a good idea.  Suddenly, he could see the stone chair and the stone cuffs, and the lantern that ran on it’s tiny track.  They surrounded them, and Jet longed for his swords back at the apartment, or just that he was at the apartment instead of there.

“Something’s not right.”  Zuko’s voice was so soft, so unsure that Jet just wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled and the fire came pouring out.

But the door didn’t close after the Dai Li, and Mushi and his nephew’s eyes were on the girl in green who followed them inside and Jet could hear the air sucked into Zuko’s lungs, harsh and afraid.

She stood in front of the agents and smiled a strange horrible smile that lit up her face and her eyes.  “It’s tea time.”

“Who are you?” Smellerbee demanded, reaching for the knife that wasn’t there, left at home with Jet’s swords.

Zuko found his voice again.  “Azula!”

“Have you met the Dai Li?  They’re Earthbenders, but they have a killer instinct that is so Firebender.  I just love it!”  Her smile narrowed into a cold smirk.  “I see you’ve been making friends too.  Aren’t you going to introduce me?”

Mushi idly picked up a cup, the tea sloshing around inside.  “Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname the ‘Dragon of the West’?”

“What!”  It took a moment to realize it wasn’t him who had yelled.  Longshot’s eyes were wide, the thick band of his eyebrows jumping up and apart on his forehead.  Zuko stared for just a second before he managed to pull his eyes away and back to the girl he had called Azula.

“Your new subordinates don’t even know who you are, Zu-zu?” She smirked, folding her hands in her sleeves.  “How far the- well you’ve never exactly been mighty, have you.”

“Subordinate!”  As Jet yelped the word, Mushi- General Iroh, downed the cup of tea.  Fire thundered out of his mouth in a thick, hot plume as if he really were a dragon and not a squat old man.  That old man had once broken Ba Sing Se’s outer wall.  He was-

The Dai Li ducked down behind their stone hands and they ran, pushing their way past the agents, and through the wide, fancy doorway.  Jet dropped the tea set, wheezing, squinting his eyes against the automatic, unwilling tears threatening to pool in his eyes as each step pulled against his ribs.  Zuko fell behind him and blasted fire back through the tea room door at the Dai Li and Azula, and fingertip-sized rocks shot through the air, biting deep into the plaster walls as they missed their targets.

The old general pointed his fingers and twisted his arms around, the air around them crackling and smelling hard and burned, metallic.  The hair on the back of Jet’s neck leapt to attention, his stomach cold and clenching in some nameless atavistic way.  The lightning ripped its way out of the general’s fingertips and exploded the wall in front of them outwards in a hail of plaster dust and splinters.  He leapt through and landed on a bear shaped topiary and righted himself as Smellerbee and Longshot followed.  Zuko and Jet hovered at the edge, not looking at each other.  “Come on,” the general yelled to them both.  “You’ll be fine.”

Jet clutched his ribs with one hand, and thought about the thundering agony of the rock hitting his chest, and the lingering pain, and the air going into him never quite seeming like enough, and Butterball’s face as she died with her own rib in her lung, years ago, back in the forest.

And about what it was like standing there with no swords and no friends.

Zuko glared at the man he called his uncle as he spun back around, hands filling with fire.  “No. I’m tired of running. It’s time I faced Azula!”  He walked towards her, slowly, each step deliberate and echoing in the corridor, and Jet hung back in the dust clouds, unable to speak, unable to leave, and desperate to know what was going on.

“You’re so dramatic.”  The girl in Dai Li green cocked her head and glanced sideways at Zuko.  “What, are you going to do, challenge me to an Agni Kai?”

Zuko balled his hands into fists, and glanced back into the shadows, at Jet.  “Yes! I challenge you!”

She brought her hand up to wave at him dismissively.  “No thanks!”

Both Zuko’s hands came up as one, and the fires coalescing between them into a roiling ball, hot and rippling the air, but it just crashed into the slab of stone the Dai Li had bent up from the palace floor and shattered into sparks on the air.  The gloves pinned his feet to the floor, and he stumbled, and the hand that hit the ground found itself trapped there too.

Crouching within the cloud of dust and clutching his ribs, Jet watched the Dai Li launch the rock gloves again, and watched them yank Zuko’s arms behind his back.  In the moment after the stone hands snatched his arms up to slam them together behind his back, but before the rock that had pinned Zuko’s wrist to the floor fell away, Jet waited for Zuko’s arm to pull out of its socket, or for the bones to break, or for him to start screaming in pain.  But the Dai Li pulled the rocks away so smoothly, and so mechanically that Jet just kept waiting.

And then, Jet was moving.  He ran until it hurt, and then realized it was only a few steps.  The Dai Li looped their arms under Zuko’s trapped ones and yanked him away, their eyes glittering from under their helmets.  Something hard and cold lodged itself in Jet’s stomach as the dust cloud fell away, all of the heat inside him seeping out through his hands. And suddenly, the only weapon Jet had was the fire, burning hot and sharp with his fear.

The Dai Li turned.  Two more agents rushed forward.  Their stone hands shot through the air and wrenched his legs out from under him. He tried to stop the sharp cry that left his throat as he hit the ground, but he could feel ribs grind against his lungs the bruises on his chest, and the hallway spun around him.  His breath came out shallow and loud as the two agents clasped his wrists behind his back and fused the stone around them together.  One of the agents peered into Jet’s face, his lips pressed tight.  He tipped Jet’s chin up from where it had fallen against his chest and turned it to the light streaming in from the hole Mushi (no, not Mushi, the Dragon of the West, General Iroh) had blasted into the outside wall.  “Hey, you recognize him?”

“Wait.”  The other agent glanced down. “Yeah, wasn’t he with the Avatar when he broke into the Lake Laogai complex?”

Jet squinted his eyes, then closed them with a grimace.  As they hefted him upright, he barely noticed his body wriggle and slump in their grasp without him telling it too.  His head lolled to the side and the hallway tilted again.  The agents kept talking, but Jet stopped listening.  It didn’t matter what they were saying.  The game was up, but if there was one thing Jet had learned in the woods, it was that it didn’t matter that the game was up.  The game could be so up that blood was leaking all over the ground and the person losing it was just waiting to fall over dead, and they could still do damage.  They could still make someone else hurt.  It wasn’t ever really over until the breath stopped coming.  “There is no war in Ba Sing Se,” he gasped.  The laughter erupted out of him, and he choked on it.

The Dai Li agents holding Zuko paused in the corridor and waited for Jet’s pair to catch up.  Through the haze and the exhaustion clouding his mind, Jet gazed at the other firebender as the distance between them shrank and Jet’s feet dragged on the floor.

Zuko’s good eye was wide as Jet gazed back at him, and he thrashed against the Dai Li’s grasp for just a second, but the agents had too good a grip on him.  The whole time, he kept his eyes on Jet.

Then he dropped.

Zuko let his knees buckle, and his feet leave the floor, and the agents fumbled, their hands sliding along his arms as he fell.  He rolled out from under their feet, yanking at the cuffs around his wrists and ankles, but they just picked him back up and gripped his pinned arms tight.

Jet thought about just how much he had liked Lee when he had met him on the ferry, and how much he hated Zuko now.

“Why didn’t you do something?” Zuko snapped as soon as they had him level with Jet again.

Jet blinked, and then blinked again to clear away the fuzziness at the edges of his vision.  “Well, maybe if you’d given me some warning!”

“Shut up, both of you,” one of the agents holding Zuko jerked his shoulders back and forth until his head wobbled on his neck, but Zuko ignored him.

“What are you talking about?” he snapped.  “You were looking right at me!  I thought you knew.”

Jet snorted weakly and looked away.  Th Dai Li hustled them along the corridor and down a flight of stairs.  Jet let the silence stretch between them, and panted his way down the steps, but at the bottom, he turned back to Zuko.  “So you’re uncle’s really the Dragon of the West.”

“Yeah.”

“So what does that make you?”

The agent who had first recognized Jet snickered.  “Seriously?”  He grinned underneath his helmet.  “You really don’t know who he is?  Seriously?”

Zuko shot him a black look.  “I’m the Firelord’s son, okay?  Happy now?”

Jet swallowed and closed his eyes, breaths shallow.  “And that girl?”

“His sister,” the agent cut in helpfully.  “His little sister.”

Jet could hear Zuko clenching his teeth.

~*~

“You’ve got company.”  The Dai li agents tossed Zuko down into the pit first, and Jet listened as he bounced off the stones on the way down.

“No don’t!” he yelled, but their arms propelled him down into the pit.  The walls of the shaft hit his body over and over again as the wall above slammed shut.  Jet could feel his bones popping and separating under the muscles of his chest, and he screamed raggedly.  He landed on something soft, and it took him a moment to realize it was Zuko, and he was trying to shove him off.  Jet tried to help, but nothing wanted to move.  He just flopped, limp.

“Jet?”  Katara leaned over him.  He thought vaguely that he must have been knocked unconscious, because he didn’t remember closing his eyes, or rolling onto the slick ground, but there he was opening them to look up at her.

He coughed, and blood spattered his lips, gurgling in his throat.  It felt like something was sticking out of his chest, and like he was drowning.  He lifted his hand up to touch the place where it felt like something was rammed through him, but there was nothing there except pain.  He realized with a burning rush of fear and fury that he was dying, and it made him need struggle harder, like death was a pit he was falling into, and if he could just grab the side, he could climb out.  “Ka-”

“Shh.”  She pulled something out of her tunic.  “I completely forgot about this last time.  I...”  She laughed unhappily.  “I guess you wouldn’t be this badly off if I remembered.  Sorry.”

“What is it?” he asked raggedly, the words slow and almost airless.

“Don’t talk.  I need to concentrate.”  She uncorked the vial, and the water inside pooled in the air between her hands.  Those hands shuffled forward until they hovered over his chest, and the clear, blue light that poured out of the water dispelled the sickly crystalline green of the cave around them.  Jet drew shaky, deep breaths, and his lungs expanded to fit them.  Katara’s brow was furrowed when he could focus his eyes on her, and she held her hands steady over the blue-black and yellow stains over his ribs.  He could feel the agony ebbing away, and with it, the safe, protective numbness that had accompanied it.

“How long is this going to take?”  Zuko’s feet splashed in the thin layer of water over the stone floor, arms swinging anxiously as he paced.  He kept curling them around himself and clutching before letting them fall to swing again.

“Sit down and shut up!” she snapped.  “It’s not like we’re going anywhere until he’s I don’t know, maybe not dying anymore.  I don’t even know what you two are doing together.”

“Wait,” Jet began, before breaking off in a fit of coughing.  But no blood came out.  That was an improvement.  “You two know each other?”

It felt like he had been asleep.  It felt like everything had been on hold, and now it was all rushing into him at once.  And he remembered gray, fuzzy pieces, the teashop, and that girl, the Fire Nation princess, and the Fire Nation prince who wouldn’t sit still.

“He’s only been chasing us since the South Pole!”  She tried to laugh, but it came out more like a snarl.  “I mean, we just can’t get rid of you, can we?”

Zuko flushed hard.  “Yeah, I’m good at my job.”

“Your job?  Your job is destroying the world’s last hope for peace and freedom!”  The water sloshed around her fingers, and Jet grunted, alarmed.  “Good plan getting yourself thrown in here with us, by the way.  When Aang shows up to rescue me, you can finally have him in your little Fire Nation clutches.  You’re a terrible person.”

“You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”  Zuko hunched his shoulders and sank down against the wall onto the wet floor.

“I don’t?” she yelled.  Her voice bounced around the cave, distorting her words menacingly.  “You’re the Fire Lord’s son. Spreading war and violence and hatred is in your blood!”

Katara’s fists clenched, and Jet brought his hand up to get her attention.  “Katara, the water!”  Sparks flickered against his teeth, the sudden rush of air into his body fanning them into flames.

She yelped, and the water bent away from him.  Jet coughed and turned over to prop himself up on his arms.  The flames sputtered and died as he brought up a hunk of mucus and spat it out.  “Really?” she hissed in shock, and the water splashed down to the ground, mingling with the slimy pools between her feet.  “Really Jet?  You hate the Fire Nation?”

“Yeah,”  He staggered to his feet.  “I do!”

She clutched the empty vial like she was going to throw it at him.  “You’re going to tell me this isn’t some plot you two cooked up to capture Aang and the Earth Kingdom in one fell swoop?”

“No!”  The muscles danced over Jet’s face, too flabbergasted and appalled to settle on an expression.  The pain was gone.  He had never felt the absence of pain before, only its presence, and it had never occurred to him that it was a separate sensation all its own, and not merely a lack, but she had washed the pain away so suddenly that his mind couldn’t keep up with the shock.  It lingered in his muscles and skin, a faint ghost throbbing in time to her words.  With the air filling his lungs, sparks and tongues of flame danced at his fingers, and he shook his hand as if he could dispell them.  “I’m not Fire Nation.  I’m not!”

Katara’s narrowed eyes looked him full in the face before flicking to Zuko and back to him.  The tightness around them eased, and she shook her head sharply.  “What’re you doing with him then?”

They glanced at each other, the Fire Nation prince's eyes narrowed sullenly.  "We found him under Lake Laogai."

"What were you doing under Lake Laogai?"  Katara turned to him and drew herself up to her full height.

He tucked himself further into the shadows.  "Look, I don't have to tell you anything."

"I'd like to know that too," Jet said loudly.  "And I'd love to know what you were doing in Ba Sing Se, working in a tea shop if you're the Firelord's son."

Katara's hands fell to her sides.  “You were working in a teashop?”

Zuko nodded stiffly.

“You aren’t here to capture Aang?”

He shook his head, and rested his chin on his arms.

"Yeah, but you'd grab him if you could, wouldn't you," Jet sneered.

Zuko's jaw jumped.  "Leave me alone."

"Yeah, I think you would," Jet continued.  "I think you'd take him, and take Ba Sing Se, and once there was nowhere free from the Fire Nation, anywhere in the world, then maybe, maybe you'd stop, but I don't think so.  What I don't get is why you want it so much."

There was nowhere free of the Fire Nation, anymore.  It had its hooks even inside Jet.  Zuko saw that.

And he saw the frightened woman that Jet’s mother must have been, and the frightened child Jet would be later, and that village on the plains with Sela protecting the son he had just saved, protecting him from Zuko, and the hollow place inside him that thought that perhaps his father and his nation were wrong, that this war wasn’t the right thing, that it hurt people and dragged them down, and left nothing good behind it, grew a little wider and gnawed away at his certainty.  "I don't want Ba Sing Se!" he hissed, his teeth locked together in a brittle grimace.  "I just want to go home."

"Then why don't you?" Jet spat.

Zuko was pacing the cramped cave floor before he even noticed he was back on his feet.  "I can't, alright?  I can't!"

"You can't go back unless you capture Aang, can you?"  Katara turned her head and examined him out of one eye.

Zuko shivered, nodding.  But it wasn't true anymore.  He couldn't go home even if he brought the Avatar.  And even if he somehow did, Zuko didn't know what he would do.  Finding him, when no one had seen him for a hundred years had seemed easier back then than trying to hold him alone did now.

She had her fists balled, like she was ready to fight him.  "You can't have him, you know that, right?"

Glaring at her, he kicked one of the rock shards littering the floor into the cave wall.  His fingers found his scar.

"How'd you get yourself kicked out anyway?" Jet asked, lips twisted and spread in a cruel grin.

Zuko covered up most of his scar with his hand.  "That's none of your business."

Jet's grin widened almost imperceptibly as he cocked his head.  "Did you give yourself that scar?  Is that it?  Is that why they kicked you out?  You were just too stupid, even for the Fire Nation?"

Zuko lunged for him and had his hands twisted in the robe he had lent the other firebender before Jet could try to stop him.

"Hey!"  The musty water from the puddles scattered over the cave floor shot up and lashed his arms.  He dropped Jet and fingered the welts popping up from the blows.  Jet's feet caught him and he barely swayed before he had righted himself, and they both turned to look at Katara, the water coiled around her arm.  "Stop it both of you."

Jet held his hands up with a charming smile.  "Hey, he attacked me."

Katara shot him a sour look.  "That scar's a big deal, isn't it?"

Zuko didn't move.  He could still smell arena's the incense and the dust from the banners overhead.

A tiny smile flashed across her face and vanished.  "Maybe you don't have to keep it." 

"Are you crazy?"  He rubbed it with the palm of his hand, and he couldn't even feel it.

"The water that I had in that vial," she began, putting her hand on his arm.

“You just used the last of it on him.”  He scowled.  “I guess that’s a little more important than  a scar anyway.”

“You bet it is!” Jet howled. 

“Yeah,” she acknowledged.  And he swallowed, because for a moment, washing away the mark of his failure and his father’s scorn had sounded like going home.  "But there's more of it.  It's from the spirit oasis at the North Pole."

The word sat trapped in his throat while the silence stretched between them, until he finally forced it out.  "Why?"

The wall shuddered.  Before Katara could even think of an answer, the stone crumbled and exploded in on them,  Zuko coughed the dust out of his throat and stared.  Bits of rock and debris rained down around the forms of his uncle and the Avatar, obscuring them, and he blinked, but they were still there when he opened his eyes.

Katara ran past him and wrapped her around the Avatar.  "Aang, I knew you would come!"

"Nice of you to drop by," Jet said, voice oily.

Zuko brushed past him irritably to confront his uncle.  "I don’t understand. What are you doing with the Avatar?"

The Avatar narrowed his eyes over Katara's shoulder.  "Saving you, that’s what."

Jet smirked.  Zuko thought better of attacking the Avatar and went for him instead.  His uncle's hand came down on the collar of his robe and gripped it tightly.

The young Avatar gazed at them, brow furrowed.  "Jet?"

"This is the young man I was telling you about," Iroh said, smiling slightly.

"Wait."  the Avatar's eyes bulged.  "He's the firebender?"

Jet flushed, and Iroh watched him push his shoulder back, and held his hand up to stop him.  "Your ribs!"

Katara held up the empty vial.  "I healed them."

"But..."  The Avatar looked at him, and then at the vial.

"I'll explain later."  Katara hugged the Avatar one more time and grabbed his hand.  "But we've got to go before somebody shows up."

Tugging his hand away, the Avatar put them together and bowed to Iroh before running to follow her down the tunnel.

Jet opened his mouth, but Zuko spoke first.  "Why, Uncle?"

Jet's mouth was still opened, but neither of them paid any attention.  "You are not the man you used to be, Zuko."  Iroh murmured, as Zuko stammered a disagreement.  "You are stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been. And now you have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It’s time for you to choose. It’s time for you to choose good."

Jet sputtered with laughter.  "Yeah, like he's-"

The stone above them rumbled.  Zuko didn't have time to fire a retort at Jet.  Instead, he pushed his hand down on the the other firebender's shoulder.  "Get down."

"What are you-"

"We don't want anybody to know you're alright!" he hissed, glancing at his uncle.  Iroh nodded quickly.

Jet glared.  The ground buckled, pitching him off his feet.  He collapsed as a fence of crystals rammed the old general into the cave wall and pinned him like a butterfly-beetle.

Jet stared at the gapping hole in the top of the rock wall.  The Dai Li on either side bent a platform crashing out of the rock face, and the Fire Nation princess who had them thrown down there just stepped on it, sure as an archer taking aim.  The platform slid down the wall, grinding the bumps and ridges on the rock into dust.

She advanced on her brother, arms stiff at her side.  "I expected this kind of treachery from Uncle, but Zuko, Prince Zuko..."  Her eyes searched his face.  "You’re a lot of things, but you’re not a traitor, are you?"

Zuko's fists clenched.  He rounded on his sister, and shouted, "Release him immediately!"

"You're both idiots," Jet gasped at uncle and nephew both, pushing himself up on one hand.  "She's not going to let him go."

"Silence!"  She spat.  Her fire scorched the air in front of his face before crashing into a puddle of water, pooled at the corner of the cave.  Jet sank back against the stone as she continued talking to her brother.  "It’s not too late for you Zuko. You can still redeem yourself."

Iroh struggled against the glowing crystals holding him to the wall, and held his hand up to Zuko as best as he could.  "The kind of redemption she offers is not for you."

"Why don’t you let him decide, Uncle?"  She let her eyes narrow and her teeth bare in a snarl.

~*~

Jet picked up a rock.  "Why should I get you out?"

The old Fire Nation general pushed against the crystals encasing him.  "We have to stop her!"

He raised one eyebrow.

Iroh widened his eyes.  "She doesn't want to capture the Avatar like Zuko.  She'll kill him."

"You don't care about that," Jet sneered.  "You're afraid she'll kill your nephew."

The Dragon of the West hung his head.

Jet threw the stone and the crystals exploded into thousands of pieces.

~*~

Iroh burst out of the tunnel, his fire arcing down between the figures fighting below.  Jet barely had time to register the size, the huge open cavern and old ruined fountain in the middle, with the Fire Prince and the Fire Princess fighting Aang and Katara together before he started running, and he felt a bitter, sharp sort of vindication, that this, this was what the Fire Nation was.  They were liars, couldn't be trusted.  He had always known he was a good liar.

The flames hissed on the air.  Zuko had whips made of fire, and he swung them at Katara, who had whips of her own.  Jet remembered those whips.

He skirted the cavern wall, and tried to keep track of the battle as the old general faced his nephew.  It was a very strange fight, watching them try not to hurt each other, Zuko trying to escape, and his uncle pinning him down, distracting him, and keeping him out of the fight.  But Jet's real attention was on the Fire Princess and her Dai Li.  She had said they were more like firebenders than earthbenders, he remembered.  He longed for his swords.  He could feel the battle swinging against them, and he had no way to stop it.  When he saw aang bend a tent of crystals around himself and stop fighting, he wanted to kill him, let another Avatar come, one who had what it took to do what needed to be done.

He kept moving.  The Fire Princess wasn't far from him anymore, her hole body focused on Aang's tiny crystal fort and the glow rising from it.  Light fled the cavern in bursts.  Fire filled Jet's hands.

The crystals burst apart, and the Avatar rose into the sky.  The Fire Princess swept her fingers around.  Sparks gathered around them, and cold, sour dread filled Jet's stomach.  He leapt for her, and his hands, the fire still licking at his fingers, wrapped around her body.  The sparks fizzled out.  Her furious scream filled the cavern, bouncing off the walls in the eery darkness as she swiped at his eyes, her strange, horrible blue fire pulsing around her fist.

The whole cavern shook.  He rolled out of the way of her fist just in time as a miniature tornado smashed her into the wall.  He stared at the Avatar, not really Aang anymore, but some terrifying, incandescent thing.  Boulders rained down.  Crystals flew through the air like darts.  Jet kept rolling and crawling low against the floor until he found himself crouched behind a pile of shards of crystal and bits of rock.  It was almost as if the flashing lights of the Avatar's power flashed inside him, beating like a drum.   He peered over the edge of the rock pile, taking in Dai Li trying to bend the fling stones away, making their bodies small, Katara, bringing her hands up to keep them back from the clear, safe air around her, the Dragon of the West holding onto his nephew, the two of them pressed to the ground, faces hidden.  A wall of raw stone shot up from the ground around the general and his nephew, trapping them.  The Fire Princess lay slumped against the curved wall of the cavern.  Her hair tangled in her face as she pushed herself to her feet and began her strange rapid dance, two fingers of each hand cutting the air around her and birthing new electric sparks, but as her head raised, ready, a bar of bright, glittering green crystal rammed into her throat, pinning her to the stone, impaling her.

Azula's head fell.

Her chin slumped onto the crystal spear.  A hush came down over the cavern.  The stones stopped falling, and the steady, nauseating glow of the crystals returned.  In the air above them, the Avatar stopped blazing with light, and fell slowly, as if though water, down, down to the ground.

As Jet stood up, head spinning, the Dai Li surged forward.  He started forward, but before he could, the basin of the old water fountain in the center of the old underground city erupted.  The water swirled and rushed for the Dai Li.  Katara held Aang up on his feet as her arms brought wave after wave of the water at the earthbenders, and at Jet.

The water broke around the column of stone imprisoning Iroh and Zuko, and Jet threw himself into the shelter behind it, eyes wide and amazed.  This was what he could have done to the colony village in his forest.  The Fire Nation could have been washed away just like that.

~*~

There was a heavy pall settled over the Avatar's apartment.  Aang sat cross-legged on a mat, staring at the rushes, but not really seeing them at all.  Katara's hand came down to rest on his shoulder.  "It's okay, Aang."

"No it's not," he said.  "I killed somebody."

"Aww, it's no big deal," Sokka exclaimed, holding one arm up.  "You killed tons of people at the North Pole."

Aang moaned, sounding sick.

"Sokka!" Katara threw an plum-apple at him.

"What?"  He bounced up to his feet, almost knocking Jet over.  "It's true.  I mean, so yeah, you killed Azula, big deal.  She was trying to kill us and conquer the world.  We always knew you were going to have to kill the Firelord, this isn't any different."

Aang turned grayish, the sweat beading up on his brow.

~*~

The whistling bounced off the corridor's iron walls.  Zuko held back a groan and rolled over, pulling his head low as if he thought he could plug his ears with the tops of his shoulders.  He listened to the footfalls grow closer and closer to his cell door, hoping it was a guard, and not his uncle, which was a hopeless wish, really, and he knew it, and-  The footsteps stopped in front of his cell, and the whistling petered out.

"Go away, uncle, I don't-"

It wasn't his uncle's face just beyond the bars of his prison door.  It was Jet's.  "So they've finally got you where you belong."

Zuko rolled his eyes with a huff.  "Leave."

"Aww, that's not nice."  Jet grinned at him, and rested the palm of his hand lazily on the metal door above his head.  "I just thought you might want some company."

Zuko turned his back.  "I don't."

"What would I tell your uncle if I left you all alone just after you left your sister?"  Jet shrugged.

Zuko spun around with a cry, his arm swinging up and out to throw fire in Jet's smiling, jeering face.  But it didn't come.  Only a thin trail of smoke and a few weak sparks fluttered out.  They floated away and disappeared.  When Jet started to laugh, Zuko shouted out as if the smoke itself hurt, and he thrust his arm out and kicked his leg up to summon more fire, but it didn't come.  But as Jet smirked at the Fire Prince, his own fire was there inside him, sparking dangerously, hungry and murderous in his hands.

 

Date: 2011-09-10 01:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] weirdlet.livejournal.com
That's just- all kinds of awesome and oh-shit in one.

Date: 2011-09-10 02:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Thank you! This was the fic that would not be written for so freaking long. I'm glad the finished product passes muster.

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