A/N: This chapter was supposed be up a week or so ago. I've just been really busy. Anyway, it's a long chapter so forgive me. Thanks to Evalyd Yamazaki and RandomReviewer for the reviews and to those who added this story to their favorite/alert lists.
After Jet and Yilin had questioned Mao about what had happened and about the Fire Nation soldiers, they had taken the kid home. Luckily his home was only five minutes away from the inn so the stop wasn't out of their way. The two then made their way back, trying to take each turn with caution. It wasn't until they were near the inn that they decided to talk.
"Why didn't you tell me you could earthbend?" Jet asked.
Yilin shrugged. "When I first met you I didn't want to bring attention to myself," she replied. "And I would have told you tonight but we were... 'kinda interrupted.' " Now that she thought about it, if she had been willing to show her earthbending then maybe the Freedom Fighters would have trust her more. After all, that was the best proof to show that she wasn't Fire Nation. Too late for that now, she thought. She looked at Jet and continued.
"Back in Yuyinshi, before it was taken over, I was the leader of the King's Protectors. So fighting was something that I had to learn. I had a great earthbending master so I learned a few tricks from him as well."
Jet smirked. "Just a few, huh?"
She smiled a little. "Okay. Maybe I learned more than a few."
They finally reached the inn and headed inside. They passed the receptionist desk and made their way up the stairs. "Is that why they want you?" Jet suddenly asked. "Because you were the leader?"
They reached the second floor and nearly ran into Smellerbee and Longshot. The two Freedom Fighters seemed glad to see them.
"Where were you two?" Smellerbee asked. "We didn't see you anywhere in the inn and we were about to see if you ran into any trouble outside."
Jet smirked. "It was nothing we couldn't handle."
Longshot frowned. Just from Jet's expression, he knew that Jet and Yilin had gotten into some altercation with Fire Nation soldiers. And the only reason Jet seemed so happy was probably because those soldiers had been thoroughly beaten. His eyes went to Yilin. Did she take part in the fighting as well?
Jet looked at Longshot's eyes. "I'll explain what happened once we get inside our room," he said. "I rather not have people overhearing us."
The group was sitting inside Jet's and Longshot's room. Smellerbee and Longshot were sitting together on one of the twin-sized beds. Yilin was on the other while Jet sat in the only chair in the room. Jet started to recount the events that had taken place outside, Yilin making comments wherever necessary. Jet did her two favors as he told the story. One, he didn't mention that she could earthbend. And two, he didn't tell Longshot and Smellerbee that she was wanted by the Fire Nation. He had no idea how much she had appreciated those two things.
"Are you sure that was a good idea?" Smellerbee asked.
"Were we supposed to let those soldiers have their way?" Jet asked. "The kid missed curfew and they were going to beat him up for it." He had left out the part about Mao yelling a few insults at them. To him, that didn't hold much significance to the story because it didn't justify soldiers attacking a twelve-year-old. But knowing Smellerbee, she would have thought otherwise.
Jet continued. "The kid mentioned that some soldiers are staying at a section in town. Maybe if we-!"
Smellerbee immediately shook her head, already sensing where this was going. "We can't, Jet. We're supposed to lay low and stay out of trouble, remember?" If it was something small, then she probably would be okay with it. But it wasn't a small-scaled scheme that Jet was cooking up and that was her problem. There were too many risks and honestly she didn't want a repeat of last time.
Jet was about to say something but Longshot put a hand on his comrade's shoulder. Whatever Longshot's eyes had said was enough to stop Jet from getting carried away. Somewhat anyway – Yilin could tell that the Freedom Fighters' leader was not done dwelling on the topic yet.
"It's getting late," Jet said. "We can talk tomorrow."
Everyone else agreed. Goodnight's were said and the girls left the boys' room. They crossed the hallway and after using the key, entered their room. Quickly they slipped into the pajamas. Smellerbee got into her bed and Yilin blew out the candles. She climbed onto her bed and collapsed. It was then that she realized that her body was sore from fighting. She was not going to enjoy waking up tomorrow.
Yilin turned her head and faced the general direction of Smellerbee's bed. The room was too dark to see the girl's face but her silhouette was still visible. "What is it?" There had been concerned in Smellerbee's voice and it had the earthbender a little worried.
"Jet didn't do anything rash outside, did he?"
"He didn't... Why'd you asked?"
"Sometimes Longshot and I worried about him," Smellerbee responded after a while. "We don't like the Fire Nation either but Jet's hatred... it's a lot stronger than ours."
Yilin didn't comment. Instead, she thought back to when she and Jet had defeated the two soldiers. She hadn't thought much about it then but now something told her that he wouldn't have cared if she had buried that soldier alive. In fact, he probably would have supported that decision. Figuring that Smellerbee was better off with a clear mind, Yilin kept that theory to herself.
"You know," Smellerbee suddenly said. "There used to a lot more of us than just me, Longshot, and Jet."
"Yeah. But after one of Jet's schemes failed, most of us left. What happened that day, it wasn't one of Jet's proudest moments so we usually don't bring it up."
Yilin's eyebrows furrowed together. "It was really that bad?"
"It was," Smellerbee replied. "The only times we even bring are when Jet might get himself into a lot of trouble and even that's mean of us."
Yilin didn't want to pry but she couldn't help asking the small Freedom Fighter what had happened that day. She really wanted to know. Maybe she was hoping that the story would give her some consolation about what she had done. But she wouldn't explain her reasons to Smellerbee. After what seemed like an eternity, Smellerbee filled her in.
It was the next day. The group was already up and eating breakfast in the inn's small dining hall. Their plates were filled with the same thing, add or take a few things. Their meals compiled of sausages, scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, and fruit wedges. Their drinks were either orange juice or apple juice. The meal was decent; there was nothing to complain about. Jet thought about bringing last night's topic to the forefront now but believed that wouldn't be a good idea. So he decided to choose something else to talk about.
"You've been looking at me for the last few minutes, Sanyi," Jet said before drinking some of his apple juice.
Yilin could feel her face turning red. She had been caught but still the girl tried to act as if she had no idea what he was talking about. "Really?"
Longshot and Smellerbee exchanged looks. They weren't completely sure what was going on.
Jet smirked. "You have actually."
Yilin reached for the syrup as nonchalantly as possible but having Jet's eyes on her was making her feel awkward. She poured the syrup on her pancakes, trying to act as if she didn't notice. However, that little charade didn't last long. "I wasn't looking at you," she insisted, her green eyes back on him. "I was lost in thought."
"Sure you were."
"What are you hinting at?"
He gave her an all-knowing smirk. "The real reason you were looking at me."
Yilin was not going to argue because she would only lose. She knew that she had been looking at him but not for the reason he was thinking. All she had been thinking about was what Smellerbee had said last night about Jet. Despite having most of his followers abandon him, he hadn't lost his determination. It was an admirable trait. But at the same time, she could understand why Smellerbee found it destructive.
Yilin took another peek at Jet and this time met his dark eyes. Jet gave her knowing smile, averted his gaze, and went back to eating his breakfast. Before she could try to explain herself again, the doors to the dining hall were slammed open. Three Fire Nation soldiers walked into the room. Their presence was enough to hush the inn customers and the soldiers were well aware of the fact that they commanded the attention. They stopped in the middle of the room. The guy in the center, the shortest of the small group but probably the most arrogant, had an oh-so-familiar poster in his hands.
Yilin looked at Jet again, this time as a plea of help. Jet whispered under his breath,. "Longshot, lend Sanyi your hat from a minute?" Longshot found the order strange but didn't question it. He untied the knot at the bottom of his chin, took off the hat, and passed it across the table to Yilin. Yilin quickly put it on.
The short soldier took a step forward, separating himself from his fellow men. "Last night," he began, waving the poster around, "two soldiers were attacked by two individuals. We believe that they are hiding at this inn. One of the attack soldiers identified one suspect as the girl on this poster. Has anyone seen her?" No one answered in the dining hall. The man frowned and started walking slowly by each table, his two lackeys trailing behind him. Yilin tried to keep her head low.
"No one?" The man reiterated. He stopped by Jet's table and held the poster up for the group to see. Only two people really bothered to look. "Have you seen this girl recently?"
"No we haven't," Jet said, buying time for whatever shock Longshot and Smellerbee had to wear off. This wasn't exactly the way he had wanted them to find out but there wasn't much he could do about it.
The man looked at Jet before his eyes settled on the only member of the table who hadn't bothered to look. "What's wrong with your friend there?" He demanded, nodding toward her. "She doesn't know she's in the presence of a highly-ranked Fire Nation soldier?"
There was silence at the table for a brief moment. Nobody dared to say a word and nobody dared to move. Suddenly Jet said, "Sanyi, there's no point in being rude. You should greet them."
Yilin lifted her head enough to look at Jet but his eyes were elsewhere. What was he thinking? Didn't he know that once they recognized her, it was game over? Jet clearly wasn't... She sighed, weighing her options at the moment. There was no real way to out of this.
"Well?" The soldier said, his brown eyes narrowing.
Yilin finally turned toward the man and tilted the hat on her head, revealing her face. She saw the look in the soldier's eye. "Hello, sir."
What happened next even had Yilin startled. Jet, Smellerbee, and Longshot took hold of the table and flipped it onto the short soldier. Juice was spilt as glass shattered and silverware clattered. The breakfast went flying through the air before landing on the floor and the soldiers. The soldiers stood back, partially in disgust and partially in shock. Now the Freedom Fighters had room to maneuver. Longshot got up, took an arrow from his quiver, and notched it on his bow. Then he drew his bowstring back and fired. The arrow hit one of the soldiers in the shoulder.
"Go!" Jet yelled, unsheathing his hook swords.
"Come on!" Smellerbee urged Yilin. The two girls took off running. One of the soldiers ran after them. Jet quickly hooked his sword around one of the man's ankles, and pulled, tripping the fellow. Smellerbee and Yilin made it out to the hallway, Jet and Longshot a few paces behind them. When they finally made it outside the inn, they saw several more soldiers. However these soldiers seemed clueless about the situation; they didn't even give chase as the group dashed past them. Moments later, the teens heard one of the officers yelling at the soldiers to get them.
"Any bright ideas, Jet?" Smellerbee asked, over her shoulders.
Jet thought for a second. Then he said, "Two streets from now, we're going to turn right. Then we're going to pass three more streets and make another left. On our left side should be an alley."
"That's sounds pretty far, Jet," Smellerbee said. They passed one street.
"Trust me on this," Jet said. "Yilin, you're going to have to seal the alley off from the main road."
Longshot's eyes widened. He had noticed that Jet hadn't said 'Sanyi' but 'Yilin' instead. For the first time since she had met him, he spoke in front of the girl. "You knew about this Jet?"
Jet realized his error. "I'll explain later," he said. "Turn here now!" The group made a sharp right and nearly ran into a shopping elderly couple.
Although Yilin could hear the foot patter, she still had to look back. There were at least eight soldiers determined to catch up, pushing a few bystanders out of their way. Even though the muscles in her legs were feeling tight, she couldn't think about slowing down or taking a breather. The Fire Nation was known to commit terrible crimes to the enemies and she was already wanted. They could throw her in prison and later execute her if they wanted to.
Jet grabbed her wrist and pulled into the next turn. "We almost lost you for a sec."
Yilin looked back and saw that the soldiers were being held up by a merchant who had decided to pull his wagon of cabbages in front of them. "Sorry," she said.
"Don't worry," he told her. "You're still with us."
He pulled her into an alleyway where Longshot and Smellerbee were already waiting. Yilin frowned. The surroundings looked very familiar but she couldn't place where she had seen them. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind and planted her bare feet in the ground. She started to concentrate. Her hands moved up and the earth moved with it. Soon her earth wall stood a story tall but it didn't match up with the four-storied buildings on either side. Still she stopped bending for a moment. Just then the soldiers ran by. Yilin sighed and leaned against the wall. Just in time too.
The soldiers were gone and she looked at Smellerbee and Longshot. "Please don't blame Jet," she said. "All of this is my fault. I was going to tell you the truth. Really. I was." She saw Longshot looked at Jet and then back at her. For the first time, she understood what he was saying with his eyes. "He—!"
"I found her wanted poster yesterday in town," Jet interrupted. While he appreciated Yilin trying to help him out, he wanted to explain himself to his comrades. "I asked her about it and she told me the truth. I would have filled you and Smellerbee in but I thought it would be best if Yilin did it."
"Again I'm sorry," Yilin said. She approached Longshot and took off his hat on her head. "Thanks," she said, holding it out for him to take. With a nod, Longshot put it back on his head and tied it underneath his chin.
Yilin then turned around and looked at Jet. His eyes were already on her. She looked away. "So what do we do now guys?" Although she had made the question out to everyone, she had really meant to ask Jet. Still, she didn't want to seem like she was depending on him. He had done enough for her already.
Before anyone could speak, a fourth-story window opened. To Jet's and Yilin's surprise, the kid from last night, Mao, stuck his head out. Jet called out immediately. "Hey!"
The kid looked down and his eyes lit up. "It's you two!" Now Yilin knew where she was.
Jet, Longshot, Smellerbee, and Yilin had been invited into Mao's quaint apartment by Mao and his mother Ling. The Freedom Fighters, Yilin, Ling, and Mao had taken seats in the living room. Then the four teenagers explained their present predicament. Mao and his mother had been more than happy to accommodate them into their home. They just had to get a few more things such as extra food. Mao had gone outside to get those things while his mother tended to them.
Ling eventually came out of the kitchen carrying a tray of tea. She set it on the living room table. "Mao's been telling me about how two people saved him last night," Mao's mother, Ling, told the group as the reached in for a cup. "I don't know how to thank you."
"It was no problem," Jet replied.
"But surely there must be something I can do for you."
Yilin shook her head. "It's bad enough that we're imposing on you. Trust me, this is more than enough."
Smellerbee sipped some of her tea. It was jasmine tea with a hint of lemon. "So how long have the soldiers been here?" Smellerbee asked.
"About six months," Ling said. "There wasn't much resistance – most if not all our earthbenders went to war." Her brown eyes landed on Yilin. "My son mentioned that you were that wanted earthbender. I'm pretty sure your poster was all over town yesterday but they all seemed to have disappeared."
Smellerbee looked at Yilin, finally making sense of the fire, and Yilin quickly looked away.
Ling picked up the empty tray and glanced at Longshot, who had remained quiet the whole conversation. The mother smiled at him. "You don't talk much, do you?" Longshot shook his head and the mother softened her expression. "I'll be in the kitchen," she told the group. "If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask." She then left, leaving the Freedom Fighters and Yilin alone.
Not too long after the apartment door opened and Mao stepped in. In his hands were a few grocery bags. He dropped them on the floor for the moment and joined the group in the living room. "I got news for you guys," he announced proudly. "For now, the soldiers have given up there search but they alerted everyone in town about how 'dangerous' you are and stuff."
"Thanks, Mao," Jet said.
The kid grinned. "No problem!"
Yilin smiled a bit. "I still can't even get over that your name is Mao."
Mao looked at her. "Really?"
She nodded. "I know someone else named Mao. He's a great earthbender."
"Better than you?" When she nodded her head, the kid coked an eyebrow. "I don't know. That's kind of hard to believe."
Ling popped her head out of the kitchen. "Mao, I need you in here. Bring the groceries too."
The kid sighed. "Coming mom," he said. He picked up the bags and disappeared into the kitchen.
"It's not going to be easy getting out of here, is it?" All eyes landed on Smellerbee.
After a moment - "Who said anything about getting out?" All eyes automatically shifted toward Jet. The leader went on. "If anything, we should be trying to liberate this town. We're Freedom Fighters. It's what we do."
Yilin caught Smellerbee and Longshot exchanging looks. Smellerbee spoke for Longshot. "There's only three of us, Jet."
"Four if Yilin joins us," Jet corrected, his brown eyes on the earthbender.
"Still," Smellerbee interrupted. "The four of us are not enough to take out a full platoon of soldiers."
"Then we'll just recruit more Freedom Fighters."
After dinner, Jet to the roof of the apartment complex and lied down, his trademark piece of wheat by the corner of his mouth. He needed some time to himself to think. He knew who he wanted to recruit – kids around his age. He couldn't imagine an adult wanting to follow his command. Plus teens had this vigor and a sense of pride that most adults lack. The only question that remained was how he was going to convince them to join his cause.
He heard footsteps and tilted his head to the side; Yilin was walking toward him. Thinking back, Jet remembered how quiet she had been during the conversation. She hadn't chimed in once to defend him or back Longshot and Smellerbee up. It made him wonder if she even wanted to be a part of the group.
"Hi Jet." Yilin sat down next to him.
"Hey." His eyes returned to the night sky. "There are a lot of stars out tonight, huh?"
"Yeah. There is." She hugged her legs against her chest and wiggled her toes on the roof. "Jet, if you don't mind me asking, where do I stand with the group?"
"I can't speak for Smellerbee and Longshot."
Yilin frowned a bit. Then she took a deep breath. "Fair enough... Where do I stand with you then?"
Jet sat up. He brought one knee up and put his arm across it. "Whatever you feel is right, Yilin." Jet didn't know what else to say. He had seen it in Longshot's eyes this morning. She was an uncertainty. She had her own problems to worry about and most likely in her mind, her own affairs outweighed theirs and the town's. So he would give her the option – them or herself.
Yilin bit her lip. "Smellerbee's question..."
"What about it?"
"The problem is that people here have no reason to trust us, right?"
"Why not get someone from town to vouch for us?"
Jet turned and smirked at her. "You really are something."
"I want to be on good standing with you, Jet," she admitted and then quickly added, "And the others too."
"Well there is something I need help with tonight."