He approached the small, greenish building cautiously. There were two ways to do this. One, the obvious one, would be to march in and cause as much fuss as possible. That way, hopefully someone would call for help and his prey's secret would be revealed. Not to mention, if he caused a fight, they may lash out and he'd have a few extra witnesses. Of course, there was the other way. The subtle approach. Watching customers file in and out, he chewed on a straw of wheat and mulled it over for a moment. How sure was he really? As he considered this, he remembered a little something from the past. Fire… and death. He bit hard on the straw and scowled at the ignorant little patrons, how silly they would look if only they knew who was really serving them tea. He dropped a hand to his waist and brushed the sword handle that rested there. Subtlety was not an option.
Inside the tea shop, a different boy boredly poured yet another cup of tea for yet another dreary civilian. If this was the life he'd wanted, he'd have given up fighting long ago. He dumped the tray, a little too heavily, on the side and went to collect empty cups. As he did so, the doors banged open. This caught his attention, none of their docile customers would deliberately bang doors around like that. He stared at the intruder, a flash of recognition running across his face. He knew this boy. And he would not have pinned him down as one to stop by for a hot cup of tea.
All set to storm over and declare the two of them the enemy, something suddenly stopped him. He had met the gaze of one of them, the younger one, about his age. His hands hesitated over his dual swords, caught for a moment between his options. He stood wavering, seeing two people in the eyes focused back at him. He looked in the right and saw nothing but a cruel, twisted firebender, hiding out in a place he wasn't welcome, just looking for where to strike next. His hand clenched around the sword handles. Then, he looked at the boy's left eye, marred with a scar. His fingers unclenched as now he saw a victim. Someone who had been through the same things he had, endured the same trials, suffered the same pains… This was the person he had seen first, when he had spotted him on a boat. Just another refugee, someone with first hand experience of the war. Someone he could relate to.
His hand hovered over a tea bowl, unable quite to leave the eye line of the traveller. Why was he here? And more importantly, was he dangerous? He wasn't certain if his uncle had been caught out at the station or not, but if this boy knew their secret he could get them arrested, thrown out of the city or perhaps even killed. He was not one to take chances. Making up his mind, he took a few steps towards the doors, where the boy still stood. He had not moved an inch. Curious.
Why was he coming over here? He couldn't let him get the upper hand! He now moved forward, also, taking long strides. The two boys met in the centre of the room, eye contact still kept, both twitching over concealed weapons. For a long moment they let that be it, no words, until one broke the tension.
He hadn't expected to hear his name come from the boy's lips. It threw him somewhat, but only for a second.
"Li. I came to…"
Cutting in, "I know what you came here for."
Again, this shook Jet a little. He would have expected more fear, or anger, maybe even begging. Li acted so nonchalant, as if he didn't care who knew his dirty little secret. That upset Jet, he should be ashamed of being a firebender.
"Then why aren't you scared?" he hissed, once again touching on his weapon.
Noticing the flicker of Jet's hand, he continued. "If you wanted to cause a scene you'd have done it already." The boy's expression softened somewhat, "Maybe we can talk about this?"
Jet's automatic reaction was to challenge this - cause the fuss he'd intended, he could still get away with it. But there was some glimmer in Li's eyes, something that said 'you can trust me on this'. And so, with a sigh, he agreed. He let himself be led to a storage room at the back of the shop, away from listening ears. Whether he liked it or not he had chosen the subtle approach.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Jet turned on him. Pushing him up against a wall and pinning his arms so he couldn't try anything.
"Say it Li. I want to hear you say it!"
He squirmed, turning away from the face pressed up against his. Uncomfortably close. Usually in this sort of situation, he would use his firebending against whoever dared to violate him like this. But, seeing as that was what had got him here in the first place, it didn't seem so smart.
"To start with, you can stop calling me by that stupid name," he snarled through gritted teeth. "My name is Zuko."
Jet frowned. "Why bother lying about your name," he paused, "Although I suppose you have lied about more important things." With that, he tightened his grip on Zuko's arms. The momentary rage Zuko felt was washed away by relief that Jet didn't know who he really was. No use making extra trouble for himself.
When he didn't reply, Jet pressed again, "Say it!"
"Fine. If you'll let my arms go."
"Do you think I'm stupid, firebender?"
Zuko was once again tempted to lash out, but once again something held him back. He looked up and met Jet's glare. "If I wanted to attack you I would have done it by now."
Jet thought about that. He couldn't see any reason why holding Zuko's arms would impair his bending. The swords were the only problem. Zuko watched as Jet mulled it over. He knew that Jet would have figured out by now that he was armed. If nothing else, he would have given himself away when he moved. Anyone with experience could see it. What mattered was if Jet trusted him to drop them or not. Seeing as they'd just got past the point of potential murder, his case wasn't going to look good.
Surprisingly enough, he saw Jet's expression lighten. Perhaps he would be alright after all. He almost allowed himself to return the warmth, before he felt Jet's hands dive down to his hips. Stunned for a second, he felt himself be clawed over, until, satisfied, Jet drew the weapon from Zuko's clothing. He dropped it and kicked it back across the floor, lingering momentarily before dropping his hands to his own sides and pulling away. Zuko was highly agitated to see a smile creep onto the boy's face, mockingly. He didn't see anything funny about being manhandled. Just to emphasize this, he shoved Jet even further away from himself, causing him to trip over the sword and fall.
"What do you think you're doing?" he shouted. Jet looked up at him. He stood up and brushed himself off, returning to his former stance, once again looking down on Zuko.
"I wasn't going to let you go armed, was I?" he spat. Zuko narrowed his eyes to meet the new glare.
"You could have let me drop my own weapon."
"Why would I trust you? You're nothing but a liar! AND a firebender."
That was enough. There was no way Zuko was going to be talked to like that any longer. Before Jet knew it, he was pinned against the opposite wall, with Zuko's nails digging into his arms and his snarling face less than an inch away.
"Alright," he whispered, "I am a firebender." Before Jet had a chance to reply, Zuko slammed him against the wall again, causing boxes of tea leaves to shake around them. "But you still have no right to treat him like this."
Interested now, Jet stared long and hard at his companion. He had expected to regret his decision to be subtler, half thought he'd wind up dead - sprawled out on the tea shop floor. This reaction was… interesting.
"What do you mean?" he hissed, feeling Zuko's grip loosen and then retighten on his arms.
"I'm not just some faceless firebender." Impulsively, Zuko's hand went to his scar. "I'm a human being, like you." His voice softened by the end, obviously lost in memories Jet did not understand. He did know one thing, however. Zuko hadn't just meant that they were both 'human beings', that that was their only trait in common. When he'd touched his scar, he had really been saying, 'we're both victims'.
Without really realising it, Jet's now free hand went to touch the one holding his left arm. Zuko noticed before he had the chance, and quickly snapped Jet back into defenceless position, holding back both his hands again. Jet decided not to let his mind wander again. For what seemed like a long while neither knew what to do next. Jet no longer thought Zuko would attack him, or wanted to do likewise. Zuko was almost certain Jet posed no threat, but couldn't quite make himself let him go. In the end, he settled for evening the ground.
"Drop your swords."
"Don't you want to take them from me?" Jet asked, in a manner not completely innocent. Zuko frowned.
"No thanks." Jet shrugged as best he could. Zuko loosened his grip on Jet's arms, ready to leap forward if he tried anything. He didn't. Jet carefully put his swords over by Zuko's, before returning to lean against the wall. Zuko folded his arms and surveyed Jet. In the short time he'd known him, he had only really thought of Jet as someone who, through no fault of their own, had to be avoided. Perhaps if he had been the humble refugee Jet had assumed, they could have got on. But there had been no place for that - Zuko had to worry about anyone finding out his secret, and besides, why make a life for himself when he could be leaving any day? Now things were more complicated. Jet both knew and, oddly, seemed to have almost accepted it. Why was that?
Jet watched as Zuko poured over him, lost in thoughts he could not read. What was he going to do? Would he decide that it was too risky having his secret out after all and make a move to attack? It didn't look that way… but what else could he do? Scar or no scar, a firebender was still the enemy. Jet had learned from experience that they always ended up hurting you in the end. And yet, he had known Zuko for a while now, had trusted him at first, even wanted him in his group. Zuko had never once tried anything. Perhaps he could be forgiven…
Once again, Zuko watched Jet lose focus. He saw whatever decision he'd been trying to make dissolve on his face, and saw a new expression appear. Not something he recognised, but he knew enough to know he wasn't going to lash out. He stayed still, curious about Jet's change in mood. Jet stepped away from the wall, Zuko tensed, ready just in case this was a ploy. Jet's face stayed unreadable and he leaned closer to Zuko, reaching out with one hand to hold his shoulder…
"What are you doing?"
Jet snapped back. He realised what he'd been about to do, frozen with one hand hovering awkwardly close to the firebender's shoulder, a little too close to him for comfort. His eyes fearfully met with Zuko's. Zuko answered with a glare, and hurriedly stepped away from him. He stared hard at the floor, unwilling to look at Jet again, feeling very, very uncomfortable. Jet stayed frozen, blinking, but unable to move from his position.
"I think you should go." Zuko muttered.
"LEAVE!" he shouted, sending an involuntary stream of sparks towards the doorway with a stabbing motion.
Jet felt his hands drop. He slowly picked up his swords and, dejectedly, slithered out the door, briefly glancing to Zuko before shutting it behind him. As soon as he was gone, Zuko let the shiver he'd been suppressing run through him, pulling his arms up around himself for support.
He almost wished Jet had burst into the shop and attacked him as he'd pictured.