A Chance Encounter
. helium lost .

Author's Notes: This fic has actually been sitting on my hard drive since June, but only the first two paragraphs; I decided that it was about time to finish it up. ;) I came up with this idea immediately after browsing through some trading card sites and immediately fell in love with it.

It wasn't exactly stealing, Kinto thought as he led the emu-horse laden with goods away from the village. It was more of… a little clever planning, some trickery, and, of course, some practical joking. Really, he was more just borrowing stuff that people wouldn't need, stuff that they wouldn't know was missing. When people are forced to eat noodles with spoons, they don't automatically think that someone stole all their chopsticks. They just think that the chopsticks—yes, all fifteen pairs of them—managed to get lost in the drawer, or fell behind the cabinet, or something similar. After all, what kind of person goes around stealing chopsticks?

And the bed sheets. People don't think that other people go to their houses and steal bed sheets. When a bed sheet is missing from the clothing line, it most likely got blown away by the wind, not stolen by some traveling prankster. Hence why Kinto had five bed sheets bundling up his other goods: ordinary porcelain bowls, a few small bags of apples and oranges, a couple of bags of rice and grain, some pots and pans, some candles, a couple pillows…

Once he felt that he was a good distance away from the village, Kinto stopped and dismounted from the emu-horse. He still wasn't quite used to these creatures: They had a very awkward, jolting gait, radically different from the smoothness of the boat rides at the North Pole. He tethered the emu-horse to a tree and patted it on the beak, opening a ("borrowed") bag of grain for it to eat. He sighed and laid the bundle beside the tree, nestling it snugly between two protruding roots.

All this hard work left him tired. He yawned and lay down against the bundle, making sure that the pillows were beneath him. It was a clear, warm day, with a gentle breeze blowing from the east; the road was empty, and he could see for miles around on all sides—there didn't look to be anyone coming any time soon. He yawned again and stretched—a little nap couldn't hurt.

He folded his hands across his stomach and closed his eyes. In an instant, he was asleep.

It was a scene of havoc and destruction: For almost a mile, a trail of unconscious Fire Nation soldiers could be seen, their armor askew, dazed expressions on their face. All evidence seemed to point that they had been ambushed and assaulted by a highly well-trained army of Earth Kingdom guerilla fighters: there were stray boulders and craters littering the road everywhere.

All the evidence, that is, except for one odd fact that could not be overlooked: Every soldier had a bright red mark on his left cheek. At first glance, it could be assumed that some new disease had overtaken them.

But a closer examination revealed that that mark was, in fact, shaped exactly like a pair of lips.

Further along the road was a small figure pulling back on the reins of a ferocious-looking mongoose-lizard. Slung over her back was a sack bulging with goods (presumably looted from the soldiers), and hanging from her hip was a small pouch that clanked with every step of the mongoose-lizard. She shielded her eyes from the sun and peered down the road. She could make out the faint outline of a village, and… hmm…

She smirked as she squinted to make sure that her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. It was definitely what she thought it was—some stupid traveler sleeping beneath a tree, humongous bundle of goods displayed out in the open for any level-headed bandit to steal. She lowered her hand and reached into her pouch, pulling out a small tube. She uncapped the tube, then twisted its bottom, revealing a stick of a red substance that she rubbed over her lips. She rolled her lips against each other and pursed, then recapped the tube and put it back into the pouch.

She dug her heels into the side of the mongoose-lizard and urged it forward. It was time for the Kissing Bandit to make an appearance.

Kinto's eyes snapped open the instant he felt his bundle shift beneath him. He was greeted with a large pair of green eyes, which widened. Almost as a reflex, Kinto shot a bunch of frost daggers at whoever it was who was attempting to steal his stuff, but the figure was quick and took two quick steps back before raising, with a loud rumble, a wall of earth that his daggers couldn't penetrate.

He caught a glimpse a moment later of the mongoose-lizard that was waiting idly by the side of the road and narrowed his eyes. Fire Nation soldiers? Not a good sign… But that figure didn't sound like it was wearing heavy armor, either.

The figure lowered the earth shield to reveal a stunning young woman with long, shiny brown hair and plump, bright red lips. Kinto lowered his guard—just a girl. He inspected her up and down, then noticed that she was wearing Earth Kingdom clothing.

"You're not from the Fire Nation," he said matter-of-factly, relaxing and standing up straight.

She placed a hand on her hip and looked him over, noticing his blue, fur-lined clothing. "You're no Earth Kingdom peasant, either."

He smirked. "Very observant, aren't you?" She opened her mouth to retort, but he interrupted her before she could begin. "Now, if I were you, I'd keep away from my stuff—unless, that is, you want to die a very uncomfortable death."

She raised an eyebrow. "Your stuff? Who do you think you are, acting all high and mighty?" She looked him over again. "One glance at you is all I need to know that you're no noble, high-strung, justice-bound man either. You and I are the same, kiddo—now, if I were you, I'd hand over all my loot nice and easy so as to avoid, say, getting your head crushed in with a huge boulder."

He laughed. "Like hell—I'm not handing over all this."

She grinned. "Well, I warned you."

With that, she quickly jumped into an earthbending stance, her feet spread wide apart, and pushed her hands through the air. The earth shook as a huge, cracking crater formed beneath Kinto's feet; he quickly jumped away before he could fall into the chasm. With a few quick movements of his hands, Kinto tossed a frost spear at the girl, but she jumped up an almost inhuman height and dodged it, landing behind him. In one fluid movement, she flung the bundle over her shoulder and dashed toward the mongoose-lizard.

Once she reached the lizard, she turned back and pressed her lips to her hand, blowing him a kiss.

"The name's Jojo, the Kissing Bandit—and don't you forget it." She tossed the bundle onto the mongoose-lizard's back, but as soon as she did so, she fell to her knees, clutching at her stomach. Trembling, she felt herself beginning to feel waves of nausea before she began to dry heave. She heard footsteps behind her and weakly looked up.

"The name's Kinto, Prankster of the North—and no one messes with my stuff." He smirked, hands still making small movements in the air; the churning in her stomach increased slightly as the dry heaving got worse and threatened to turn into genuine vomiting. "Now, hand back my stuff."

She laughed softly, then winced and, summoning all her strength, pushed through the air and caused a pillar of earth to jut up from the ground and knock him off his feet. Caught off-guard, Kinto's control over her broke as he toppled onto the ground.

"You wish."

Panting, she stood and looked down at him; he returned her gaze defiantly, a cold glint in his eyes. A few moments passed between them, silent except for the sound of both of them breathing heavily. She placed one hand on her hip, brushed a strand of hair out of her face, then reached out another toward him and grinned. He looked at her suspiciously.

"You know, if we worked together, we could make a great team. Now, me, I don't like to share, but that waterbending skill of yours could come in handy. And…" She winked at him. "You're pretty cute, if I do say so myself."

His suspicious look faded away into another confident smirk as he pushed her hand away and got up. He brushed the dirt off of his clothes, then crossed his arms over his chest as his smirk turned into a full-fledged grin.

"Sounds like a plan."

Author's Notes: :D Well, I hope you liked it—as always, leave me some feedback! I love reading your reviews. :) Expect a fic around the same length about Malu and Afiko sometime in the near future, too. :) The TCG characters need more love!