A/N: This story was originally posted on y!gallery and AFF.N because it does contain sexual content. This content has been stricken from the story for its release on FF.N, but can be viewed on its mirrors.
When Jet sees the scar on another refugee's face, he is both appalled and drawn. It's a really ugly scar, taking over half the man's face and distorting one eye and ear. All red and brown and broken. He isn't sure why but all he can think about for five minutes straight is that he wants to touch it. He's pretty sure the guy would not approve of this. He stands like there's a pole up his ass and an apple under his chin to keep his face high. The old man he travels with is quite a bit more relaxed and it's pretty damn obvious they're close. Father and son, maybe. Right ages for it, even if the old guy is really old. Jet's met some pretty kick ass old people, so he wouldn't put it past the guy to be able to kick his son/relative/companion's ass. Not that he could beat Jet, of course. Jet is the shit.
It is while staring at the young man's face and his horrific scar that Jet finds himself walking over and talking with them. The two claim to be refugees from some tiny little farming village but Jet smells a foul. The scar guy can't lie his way out of a water jug if his life depended on it. And he sure as shit doesn't move like a farmer. Jet pegs him as some kind of soldier or soldier in training. Maybe even a bodyguard to some royal punk. The guy, introduced as Li, certainly has the grim expression of a body guard. Whatever the real story, Jet doesn't feel like prying. Not yet anyway.
They have fun on the ship, at least. Li is… Well, frankly, Li is fucking hilarious. The guy has absolutely no social skills. And he isn't all that bright, either. Jet's pretty sure by now that Li had been a bodyguard. The guy is pretty much useless for anything else. He sure as hell can't take a joke. But that just makes Jet have more fun messing with him. He likes the way Li blushes when he's pissed off and how he gets so frustrated he can't even talk anymore. Li probably would never be able to bluff anything. He's a living tell. Jet, of course, takes advantage of this and beats him mercilessly at any betting game he can remember. They don't play for keeps, of course, but it's pretty damn funny how pissed Li gets at his constant losses. He doesn't get it and that just makes it even funnier.
It's funny enough that Jet is almost okay with Li saying no to joining him. Almost. It's still a huge disappointment. Jet heads back with Smellerbee and Longshot and wonders about what could have been.
Settling into Ba Sing Se is… okay, so Jet doesn't really settle so much as stop killing people. A promise is a promise. He still moves around way too much and sleeps on rooftops more than in the tiny apartment he shares with Smellerbee and Longshot. Jet just can't deal with the confinement. Everything is too small here, too cramped. The refugees are packed like pickled fish in a jar. Jet has to get out so he roams the streets restlessly, looking for something to give his life meaning. There are no Fire Nation to fight here and he's not really allowed to protect anybody. There are soldiers for that, badly trained as they probably are. They didn't live through the school of hard knocks that the Freedom Fighters did.
He's wandering when he finds Li again. Bitchy, awkward Li. Jet doesn't know what started it but he has fun watching Li flush and grumble at his uncle Mushi. He figures out pretty quick that they're working there and, okay, so Li serving tea is probably the funniest thing on the planet. He's so stiff and holier than thou and so not a servant. Li's getting the idea that the kid was probably some kind of noble before the Fire Nation trampled on everything. Of course, thinking about what all Li must have lost is kind of a downer. So Jet doesn't. Instead, he stops staring through the window and walks right in. He doesn't have much money but it's at least enough for some tea. Smellerbee might kill him if she found him wasting money like this. It wasn't as if they could just live off the land anymore.
And that's how it starts. Li's suspicious, of course. There are definitely some secrets hiding behind that scar of his, but he lets Jet worm his way in as a friend anyway. Mushi seems rather approving of it. Jet doesn't really know what to do with the old guy but hey, any guy who sneaks him a tea cake here and there is all right by him.
It's after two weeks of near daily visits between side jobs that Jet realizes maybe he's a little too interested in Li. He's started dropping by the shop or Li's apartment just to glance in the windows to make sure Li and Mushi are still there and breathing, when he doesn't have time to chat. The roof of Li's building becomes the one he roosts in most often. It's safe, somehow, and Jet wonders if he's going soft for wanting that. But maybe it's okay to go soft. They're safe in Ba Sing Se and they're not supposed to be fighting anymore. It's someone else's job.
But he's restless. Ba Sing Se is so slow and steady, even in the refugee district. He's itchy and irritated and there's nothing to take it out on. Picking fights with Li, Longshot, or Smellerbee is absolutely not happening. They're all just as stressed. It's like they can feel something is going to happen, something big. Something Jet wants to dread but he doesn't. He can't stand this simple life much longer. Even getting under Li's skin and annoying his sensibilities isn't much of a balm, funny as it is. Besides, Li's getting a bit off his high horse as time goes on and he's an awkward kid instead of the pissy noble he once was.
When the big event comes, it comes quietly. No one expects the Fire Nation's quiet infiltration. That's not how Fire Nation does things! But suddenly, the city is overrun with soldiers coming out of the woodworks everywhere. As he's fighting, Jet wonders if his wish and need for something to change caused this. Then he realizes he doesn't really believe in fate and watches a neck break while he slings his hook violently and Li slices through bodies at his side.
Li stays absolutely still and quiet while Jin carefully cleans out the burn across his bicep. He stares off at nothing, as if pain doesn't really register. As if nothing really does anymore. He's been that way since the Fire Nation overran the city and they started fighting nearly a month ago. Jet thinks maybe it's because Mushi has been missing since the city fell. Li doesn't seem right without him and Jet wonders about the story behind that. But right now, he's more concerned with his new Freedom Fighters.
It seemed right to put the group back together again after the invasion. There were Fire Nation soldiers to fight and people to save and… It feels good to have a purpose again, even if it's pretty shitty for Ba Sing Se. Jet's in his element when he's fighting and planning and killing. He knows maybe there's something cracked in his head but as long as he's got something to do and someone to protect, he could care less about the soul searching.
Jin secures the bandages on Li's arm with a smile but all he does is grunt something approaching thanks and she leaves as he draws his clothes back over his torso. Li doesn't much care for showing off his body and seemed even more uncomfortable doing it in front of a girl. Not that Jin is as much of a girl as some of ones they've rescued. She even volunteered to stay and help. Some of the refugees had been ferreted out through the sewer system but most of them are still captive in their districts, watching Fire Nation soldiers march through the streets. Jet doesn't envy them. He'd have gone stir crazy.
"Jet," Li says without looking at him as he secures his belt. It's kind of crazy that he can fight so well in his voluminous clothing, but he does. Of course, it's been slashed and burned and ripped all over the place but he stubbornly mends it, or gets Jin to. Li's crazy sentimental sometimes. Jet waits until Li finishes and looks towards him. There's always something uncertain about the way Li looks at people, even more than the awkward way he speaks. "The supply run. Can you lead it?"
"Getting cold feet, huh?" Jet teases with a grin and watches Li's brows bunch of with indignant denial. "Yeah, I can do that. Got something better to do?"
Li hesitates and then looks away. "..I'm going to watch a few patrols-"
"You're going to look for your uncle."
It's ridiculously easy to tell when Li is lying. Jet doesn't mind it happening, mostly because he always knows so it doesn't matter either way. Anyone else, he might actually get a bit pissy about it. But he's pretty sure even Li knows no one believes him.
"Do you have a problem with that?" Li bites back defensively and Jet can only grin around the bit of wheat at the corner of his mouth.
"Not unless you get yourself killed before the next mission," he replies as he leans against the doorframe, folding his arms over his chest. "You're part of my team, Li, not some lone swordsman. Don't forget that."
Li flushes with embarrassed annoyance. He slides a hand into his tunic and Jet's pretty sure it had closed around the Lotus tile Li refuses to admit he has. Everyone knows about it but he's stubborn. And maybe Jet likes how stubborn he is.
"I won't forget," Li mutters almost too quietly for Jet to hear. And then he stomps away like a little kid and Jet resists the urge to laugh until he's gone. Even with the world like this, at least Li's still hilarious to rile. Or maybe Jet finds it even easier to enjoy it now. He certainly feels more secure waiting for the next fight.
While Li's gone to search wherever he hasn't thought to look yet, Jet gets the guys together and readies for the raid. It's not an important one, nor should it be too hard. If anyone gets injured, Jet might have to laugh his ass off at them. Laughing, he's found, takes the edge off.
The raid goes fine. And Li's still not back. Jet and Jin do a headcount before she goes off to total up the new supplies, mend things, or whatever else she does when she's not right there at his side. Jet's never really been interested in her. She's a good ally though, and she keeps their hideout nice and neat. A week ago, he caught her with a few of the guys sitting around - one even with his head in her lap - while she told stories about princesses and rampant mooselions and Earth Kingdom heroes. So maybe she's got uses he didn't think about.
Jet stays at the only window they don't keep boarded up. He stares out into the night, noting the faint edge of light on the horizon. Li's not back yet. Jet knows he shouldn't be worried yet - sometimes he's gone for days between raids - but he is. Because Li's an idiot. And defensive. And stubborn. And-
It's about then that Jet realizes he's half way through the window. So he decides to go anyway. He checks the places he knows Li sometimes goes but they're empty. Actually, the whole district is empty. Li's starting to get worried and then he realizes how stupid he is and turns around.
Li doesn't even move when the door to the Jasmine Dragon opens. He's kneeling on the floor of the dining room, hands resting on his knees and swords on the floor at either side. He stared towards the kitchen past the broken doors. There are scorch marks everywhere and all the tables and chairs lay in piles of pieces. Sometimes, Jet forgets how hard Li and Mushi had been working to make a life for themselves. And sometimes Jet forgets how much it hurts to not know if the only things you have left are still there.
"Li-" he starts, then watches the tension build up in Li's shoulders. He didn't mean for that, damn it, but it was Li's fault for staying out all night and-
"Sorry," Li says. His voice is rough and raw and Jet is seriously terrified he might have been crying. And that is way more than he can deal with. Li's head lowers, shaggy black hair falling around his face. "I thought I might get some firewood, but..."
Yeah. Jet gets it. He looked around, wondering just what to say, and finally centers on walking over to touch a scorch mark on the wall.
"We'll get them for this, Li. I promise we'll get them. And we'll find your uncle," he vows as he spreads his fingers over the mark. "We'll destroy the whole Fire Nation if we have to."
Li makes a sound that doesn't sound good at all but when Jet looks back, he's getting up to his feet and sliding the dual swords back into their sheath. His face is still bothered, brows set tight and jaw clenched, but he doesn't say anything. Jet wonders if the hurt of what had happened to his Uncle's tea shop would fade at all when they find the man.
If they find him. Jet is just enough of a bastard to keep Li's hopes up that they might. Sure, Mushi was a kickass old guy, but that's nothing to fully trained, young Fire Nation soldiers. The guy hadn't a chance in the world. But Jet doesn't tell Li that. He lets Li live in the fantasy that Mushi might still be alive and waiting. Jet knows better; Li doesn't seem to care.
"Lets go," Li says and Jet catches a clear glimpse of his face. No tears, thank fucking god, but definitely pain. Resolve. Uncertainty. Everything Li.
"Yeah," Jet mumbles and follows Li out of the tea shop. As he stares at Li's retreating back, Jet decides to try to find something Li can smile about.
Days are both too slow and too fast. It just depends. The daylight hours are spent sleeping and being as quiet as possible. Fire Nation patrols more thoroughly in the day, when the sun gives them strength and courage. The fresh faced, still over-confident kids did the night patrols. Makes it easier to break up the ranks but the younger ones are more likely to do something stupid.
"You should have dodged," Li snarls out as he rips cloth from the edge of his tunic, wrapping it tight around Jet's leg. "How are you supposed to fight now?"
Jet just grins. It's going to take more than a heavily bleeding calf to slow him down. He'll fight until the day he dies. 'Bout time Li sees this first hand. "Aww, I knew you liked me."
Li just glares at him. "I could have gotten out of that just fine on my own. You should have dodged."
Jet waves it off and then curls his fingers around the hook swords again. He hadn't really thought of the consequences when he shoved Li out of the way of a crumbling wall. Maybe Li could have gotten out. Jet hadn't been ready to take that chance. Li was a damn good fighter and Jet would hate to have to replace him.
"How many left?" he asks instead of giving any kind of apology or explanation. They're still in danger right now. That can wait. Li straightens a bit and glances over the edge of the half gone wall. Jet's eyes trail over his long, white throat. Li is so pale and that dark hair just makes him even paler. It isn't that Jet really cares about looks, but damn if that doesn't make the girls at the hideout go nuts. He can kind of understand it. Besides the scar, Li is almost pretty. Not that he looks like a girl or anything – the guy is fucking ripped – but he's definitely a lot less gruff looking than most of the guys that have stayed behind. The girls have decided he is a soul in need of some good love.
Jet is of the mind that Li just needs to get laid. Period.
"Twelve," Li says. "They aren't heading for us. Too busy with Longshot and the twins. Poi's giving them trouble- Wait. Ping just bit one of their ankles."
Jet grins. He loves it when his Freedom Fighters hold their own. But this is enough of a rest. Time to get them all out of here in one piece.
"Help me up," he mutters and Li looks back, staring at him incredulously.
"You're kidding. You're staying here," Li says firmly. Jet gives him a dirty look but Li's not budging. "Jet, you can't even stand on your own with that wound. It's suicide!"
"Don't think for a second that it's your call."
Li's gaze falters. He's quiet a moment, almost contemplative, and then he nods.
Jet really should have expected it since Li never agrees with his craziness, but he's honestly surprised when the hilt of one sword smashes against the back of his head. Jet reels for a few seconds, staring at the grim boy, and then it's dark.
When Jet wakes up, he's fucking pissed. Not only does his head ache and his leg burn, but that stupid fucker dared take him out of a fight! Jet's got half a mind to kill Li himself. It's only a partial balm that his is the only serious injury from the raid.
"Where the hell is he?" Jet snarls at Smellerbee when she comes in to check his leg. She doesn't even have the decency to look guilty about the whole thing. He can hear Jin serving out dinner to the others, which is probably why she's not in here being glared at instead. Women.
"Out," Smellerbee says and calmly starts unwrapping his calf to clean the wound and make sure Jin's stitches are holding. Jet's pretty sick of this damned mutiny.
"He better stay out," he snaps. "Anyone who can't follow my orders doesn't deserve to be called a Freedom Fighter."
Smellerbee's hands pause. She slowly looks up to his face, her own not the least bit amused.
"Maybe you should start giving orders that make sense," she says as her lips twist unhappily. "Jet, you could have bled out if you'd kept fighting."
"I've had worse," Jet grumbles and Smellerbee rolls her eyes. She knows better. But Jet's still pissed off about Li. "I swear, I'm gonna kill him."
"You are not," she says calmly as she wraps his calf up again. She's probably right. But he's definitely going to punch that stupid face of his.
Li, wisely, stays out of his way for a few days. Jet doesn't see hide nor hair of him and he's pretty sure he knows where Li is hiding out, but the girls and kids band together to keep him inside where it's safe. At least the others don't go out on another raid until he can walk again.
A week later, his calf hurts but the herbal poultices and salves keep it manageable while speeding his recovery. Jet can walk without a staff, though he's pretty sure the limp is going to persist for another few weeks. Jin says he's lucky to have healed this much with as often as he aggravates the wound. But Jet can't stay still. He just can't. And there's a certain scar faced bastard he needs to deal with.
Sneaking into another district to track Li down is definitely not happening so Jet waits until Li comes back for the evening meal. He's sitting out on the steps of the hideout when Li comes out from around one of the apartment buildings. Li doesn't notice him at first but when he does, he goes still. Jet wonders why he's not happy about that hesitation. After a few moments, Li's mouth turns into a hard line and he makes determined steps up to the hideout. Jet thinks he might just pass him and go in, but Li doesn't. He stops a few feet away, hands fisted at his sides as he tries to stand tall and strong.
"I'm not apologizing," Li snaps, immediately defensive, and Jet finds it kind of hilarious when he should just be pissed off. Li sounds like a kid.
"Yeah, well, that's what you think," Jet quips back. He's not about to let Li have his way. Give someone an inch and they'll take a mile, after all.
"It was the right decision," Li says stiffly and his body's tensed as if he's gearing for more than just a spat.
"It was my decision, you bastard. Mine!" Jet's pretty sure Li has the higher ground in this but damned if he's going to admit it. "You had no right to take that from me!"
"You have a duty to fulfill!" Li snarled back at him hotly, his eyes blazing with anger. "What do you think happens to these people without their leader? If you're going to get yourself killed, do it after you get them out of the city!"
Okay, so maybe he has a point. But it still makes Jet mad and he's mad enough to ignore his leg and punch Li in his stupid, scarred face. Li jerks back a step or two, then reaches up to wipe blood from his lip. It doesn't make Jet as happy as he thought it might to have split his mouth open, but he does feel a little better.
"Are you done?" Li's pretty pissed off. It's so obvious, but he's trying to rein it in. Maybe Mushi was a better influence than anyone thought.
"For now," Jet says. They go in and Jim gives him the dirtiest look for hurting her man meat, but Jet ignores her. He's got other things to think about.
For the Freedom Fighters, knowing the date is just as important as being prepared for battle. The Fire Nation is ridiculously easy to predict and their patrol patterns are simple enough even the youngest kids can remember. Dates become valuable data, as they know exactly which platoons are patrolling which district areas every day. They tailor their raids to this strict timeline, knowing just who to send and when for the most damage and fewest casualties.
Jet can't read to save his life but he knows numbers and he's got a few characters under his belt. Enough that he can read the schedule, anyway, and he's memorized it anyway. He's even starting to recognize the characters Li and Gao, who claimed to have been on the Terra Team before the city fell, had written down painstakingly. Gao's handwriting is messy and rough but Li's has an almost prissy quality. Jet's pretty damn sure he was a noble by this point. You don't spend two months with a guy without figuring out his station,
But at least Li doesn't act like a noble most of the time. He's aloof, yeah, but awkward and clumsy as hell. And Jin keeps giving him mooneyes Li's got no idea what to do with.
Jet can admit to himself that he watches Li a bit too much. It's not that he's still mad about the whole knocking-him-out incident or that he suspects some foul play. He just… watches. Li doesn't notice but Li's too damn busy brooding to notice much outside battle. He sits in their open window a lot, holding the Lotus tile in his hand and rubbing his thumb over the flower. Not knowing what became of Mushi has to be killing him. Ping tromps over to try and pull Li into the pebble game he and the other kids are playing but Li politely waves him off. Jet's not sure why but Li does his best not to get involved in any more than the battles. Maybe some bad memory from his home.
As Tycho starts up an off key song with the little ones, Jet decides to quit pussyfooting around and strolls over to join Li at the window. The other boy stiffens but he didn't leave. Things have been pretty tense between them and Jet is kind of sick of that.
"So, big day tomorrow," Jet says casually. Li looks back out the window and stuffs the tile back into his tunic.
"Not really," Li mumbles. He's nervous and Jet knows playing a bad prank on him right now is a bad idea, but he's so tempted.
"Yea, guess not." He's not sure what to say now. Jet chews on a bit of wheat, contemplates a while, but it's Li that breaks the silence.
"We could smuggle everyone out of the city tonight."
Jet blinked a bit and then he realizes what Li's just said and glares at him. "I am not giving up this city. We'll take Ba Sing Se back from those bastards and chase them back to their own country. If they get that far."
Li suddenly looks very uncomfortable, but he always does when Jet starts getting vicious. Jet's pretty sure even with how vicious Li can get in battle, he's still not totally okay with killing people. Jet lost that years ago.
"Hey, you know I won't ask-" Jet starts but he's cut off as Jin saunters up to them.
"We need some more water for tonight's dinner," she says and the way she looks at Jet, he's pretty sure she's trying to get him out of the way. Well. It isn't as if he planned on saying anything worth it. So he shrugs and he gets up, ignoring Li's faint panic when Jin takes his seat.
It's not to hot outside so Jet kind of enjoys the walk. He doesn't go out alone much, unless someone's having an angst fit and needs to be tracked. But just for himself? There's always shit to do.
He gets Jin's water but then he figures maybe he'll give her a little while longer to get in Li's pants. Not that Jet thinks she's smooth enough to get the job done but hey, he can wish her luck anyway. And Li could seriously use it, if she manages. Which she won't.
The district is quiet. Jet easily avoids the current patrol. Of course, they're busy sitting around a bar and joking while a few terrified girls serve them. Just a few months ago, Jet would have attacked without thinking. But he knows better now. He reads their faces, memorizes them to make sure he kills each and everyone one of them later, then goes on.
It's only minutes after getting past the soldiers, Jet comes upon a bounty board. He's amused to see his own face and the rather impressive bounty on his head. He can make out the characters of his own name but the rest of it is indecipherable. Gao's on there too, which makes Jet crack up, but when he sees Li's scar, he goes very still.
Jet has imagined what Li's life might have been once, but he isn't expecting this. Li's hair is drawn into a single ponytail, the rest shaved completely. His expression is hardened, angry, and Jet's seen enough Fire Nation uniforms to recognize the neck and shoulders of one.
Li is Fire Nation. Li is a Fire Nation soldier. Suddenly, Li's yellow eyes, scar, and a thousand other things make a shitload more sense.
Jet can't get back to the hideout fast enough. The poster is crushed in his hand and his heart hammers in his throat. He can already see Li slicing down everyone in the hideout and leaving none alive to run. He can see blood spill over the floor and flames rip the place apart as Li walks around with a smoldering torch in both hands. Oh spirits, he's going to lose everything…
But the hideout is still there when he darts from rooftop to rooftop and then slides to the ground. He doesn't care. He knows the carnage is there, waiting for him to find it. And Li will be laughing at him above the roar of the fires.
There's a hush as Jet bursts through the doors. More than a few of the others jerk up with their weapons, ready, and then there's confusion all around at Jet's frenzied expression.
"You Fire Nation bastard!" he snarls out and then sees Li standing between him and Jin sitting in the window. His hand is on his swords. Jet attacks before he can think about anything else.
Jet's not really sure how long he ends up fighting with Li. Seconds pass achingly slow as they slash and parry and whip about each other in a dizzying dance. Jet's never fought anyone who can keep up with him this well and even though he knows he should hate this and focus on that hate, he can't. He can't because this is Li, with those awkward looks and getting flustered and sucking at lying and-
Blood spills from Li's cheek as he jerks back, something finally landed. Li is panting, his chest heaving, and his eyes were bright and alert. His grip on the dual swords hasn't wavered, haven't dropped an inch. He's ready to start again. But Jet's not. If he does, he knows he's going to rip Li to pieces. And for some reason, he can't stand that.
"GO!" he bellows. Li takes a step back, his brows tight as regret flashes over his face. He's so damn easy to read Jet can't stand it anymore. "GO!"
Li doesn't wait another moment. He sheathes the swords and then he's gone, disappearing into the alleys. Jet wishes he could feel triumphant about this. But he doesn't.
Even after shoving the poster into their faces, the others don't seem all too pleased with him. Gao takes it from him finally and Jet doesn't see it again. Which is good. He doesn't think he can stomach the sight of Li's face.