Zoe's hands were clenched into fists under her robes as she walked beside the Fire Lord, arguing in low voices, down the corridors of the palace.
"You don't have to take a million guards Zuko. I'm just saying I think we would need a few-"
"Not when we are going in secret and under cover! That way no one even knows who we are; my people still think I'm at the palace and only those closest to me will know where I actually am!"
"Well someone has to be in charge while you're gone anyway-"
"Uncle will be."
"People are going to work out that you're gone. And they will trust you less for deceiving them."
"Look, turning up to where Min says my mother is with a whole load of Fire Nation guards won't set up a good look."
Zoe opened her mouth to retort once more, but closed it when a pair of oncoming footsteps rounded the corner. Silence fell as a very tall, sallow looking man with a long, gaunt face and high cheekbones strode slowly past them. His eyes flicked to look at them as he past and he bowed his head momentarily for Zuko, and then continued on.
"Who…was that?" asked Zoe once they were well out of ear shot of the man.
"Azula's mental health specialist." Snapped Zuko, his voice clipped.
"He's…kind of creepy." observed Zoe, hugging her arms across her chest.
"Well look what he has to work with. It probably rubs off on him." Zuko sighed and Zoe glanced at him; he looked tired.
"When are we planning on leaving?" she asked.
"End of the week if this trouble in the city gets fixed."
"But, it is getting fixed, isn't it? It all seems to be cooling down."
Zuko glanced at Zoe; he hadn't told her that he was going to find out who this blue spirit person was. She would force him to take her with him, and he was not going to do that. It was too dangerous.
"Yeah…" he muttered, looking away.
They stopped walking, having finally made it to Zoe's bedroom where Zuko had insisted on taking her to. Zuko swooped down and placed a kiss to Zoe's lips tenderly.
"Goodnight." He told her, "I'll see you in the morning." Zoe nodded glumly and opened her door, but Zuko frowned and held her back before she entered. "Aren't you going to ask me to come in?"
"Well it doesn't seem like you want to." replied Zoe, looking at him over her shoulder.
"I have work to do…that's all."
"See? You can't come in. So why ask?"
"I like it when you ask."
Zoe sighed, "Well I have work to do too, but if it will make you happy: won't you come into my bedroom, my dear?" she asked sarcastically.
Zuko scowled at her, and then rolled his eyes. He moved behind her and placed his lips to her cheek briefly, then her neck, and then he hesitated, eyes closed and heart pounding. But, he had work to do tonight; he couldn't get distracted. He pulled away. "I'll…see you in the morning." He said quickly, pulling back.
Zoe shook her head bemusedly and walked into her room, "Don't work too hard." She told him sternly, and then closed the door.
Zuko rocked back on the heels of his feet, and then dropped forward again, breathing deeply. Quickly he turned away from Zoe's closed door before he could lose himself and enter, forgetting his duties tonight. Moving briskly, he found his way to his own chamber (very near Zoe's) where his black gear was set out on his bed. He had already told his servants not to bother him this night. As swiftly as he could he undressed and put on his black attire.
He had managed, with great difficulty, to track down another blue mask, finally having found it in a dodgy mask seller's stall at the back alley markets. He strapped his Dao blades to his back, checked himself over once, and then jumped out the window as sleek and silently as a shadow.
He set off to his destination immediately. He and his Uncle had done their research and knew that tonight a ruffian named 'Caleb' planned to make a 'visit' to one of the finest weapon merchants, a merchant who held Zuko in great esteem. From the looks of all the previous encounters; this was a certain target for the 'blue spirit'.
And so he waited. Atop the tiled roof he perched, his eyes scanning the road below. Then, he heard footsteps.
A burly looking man accompanied by two others was walking down the street below. "I dun' know Caleb." One of the thugs was saying, his voice echoing in the dingy, empty lane. "This blue spiri' 'as bin everywhere…'e could be following us right now…"
"Don't be stupid Kurk. The blue sprit ain't real. Just some stupid ploy of the 'Fire Lord' to try n' scare us off. Well it won't work." replied the large man in the middle. They came to a halt and Zuko leant forward, watching as the man easily ripped the door blocking his way from the hinges.
There was a shout from inside, and the men entered, drawing weapons. Just when Zuko was wondering if he and his Uncle had been wrong, and the blue spirit wasn't going to show, his heart jumped to his throat as a lithe black figure flipped round the corner and into the shop.
Heart pounding in his chest Zuko quickly jumped across to the other roof, hurrying over to the middle where there was an opening that allowed him to see in.
Everything was silent. The three men stood in the centre, staring at the blue spirit who was at the door way. The scared looking merchant stood at the back off his shop, watching the on goings nervously. Suddenly the blue spirit drew a sword.
Just a sword. Not duel blades. Zuko frowned; they hadn't done their research very well if they were really trying to impersonate the Blue Spirit.
Who ever the person was, they seemed to be trying to talk the thugs out of their plans. But, it clearly wasn't working as all of a sudden the thug's leader Caleb had grabbed the closest thing to him, as it happened that was a club on display, and thrown it with frightening strength at the blue spirit.
But, this spirit was clearly not an amateur; he or she…Zuko decided it was a 'he', dodged the attack easily and soon was running at the thugs with attacks of his own. Zuko watched with interest. He was good with a blade; something about the technique reminded him of Sokka…and Aang. That was strange. But, he had a lot of weaknesses. Many times he spotted an opening in which he could have disarmed him and had him on the floor. His footwork was quite good, but his defence needed work. However, it was enough to detain the three meddlesome thugs.
They were shaking and had somehow become tied to a chair in the commotion.
Zuko leant forward, listening intently as the blue spirit began to speak.
"…even think about disrupting and causing havoc in this city again and the blue spirit will not show you mercy." The voice was a girl's voice; a very, very cold, malicious girl's voice. But, one that struck a bell in Zuko's head.
The spirit sliced away the rope that bound them to the chair in one swift movement. "Now leave this place and this city and don't even think about returning!"
The thugs stood up, scattering and tripping toward the door and in a second they seemed to be pushed out of it by some invisible force. Zuko's eye brow rose higher beneath his fringe.
The blue spirit bowed to the shop owner, apologizing for the mess, but then leaving as she had 'further business to attend to'. Zuko followed her along the roof tops as she whipped round the corner and down an ally. She was running fast, very fast and Zuko sped up. Finally he had his chance to confront her at the bend of the next ally.
He leapt from the guttering and landed with a soft thud right in front of the, 'blue spirit'. Now that he was closer he could see that her mask wasn't very good. More of a hastily crafted impersonation of his own.
She came to an immediate halt, her chest heaving; beneath the mask her eyes were wide.
There was a moment of still silence as they stared at each other, and suddenly, Zuko bent into a mocking bow, his eyes glinting through the mask.
His copy cat suddenly drew her sword, slinging it in front of her in a quick flash of silver.
Zuko mirrored her actions, pulling his duel swords from their sheath and jumping into a fighting stance. His eyes ran along her blade; it was a sleek, silver katana. Very elegant, and one he had seen before. His suspicions grew even further and he narrowed his eyes.
In the blink of an eye he was on the attack. His swords slashed out, two halves of the same whole moving in synchrony, slicing through the air as sleekly as the wind itself. His opponent blocked his attacks, but only just, and Zuko continued relentlessly. She was good; he actually felt pressured to keep his focus, but he remained in control of the fight. He was the offensive while she was the defensive. He drove her to the end of the ally where they met a solid, stone wall.
Then, finally, he saw the opening he knew would come. With his right hand he flicked his sword up and the blade slipped accurately between the hilt of her sword and her hand. In a heart stopping moment her sword was flying away from her and clattering to the ground three feet away.
Without hesitation Zuko grabbed the fake blue spirits wrists and pinned her to the wall. After a moment of heavy breathing he pulled off the mask.
But, he was not surprised by the face he had revealed.
"So." He said mockingly, "the 'blue spirit'."
"Let go of my arms, Zuko." snapped Zoe, huffing in frustration.
But, Zuko's grip tightened. "What the hell do you think you've been doing?" he snarled, "do you know how dangerous this is? How idiotic?"
"I can take care of myself Zuko!" hissed Zoe, "I was just trying to help you. And in case you hadn't noticed; it's working!"
"Take care of yourself? Oh I can see that, that's why I have you pinned to the wall right now!" spat Zuko in response. "Say I was one of those thugs. I could rape and beat you and then leave you in the dirt to die!"
"You're completely over-reacting! Those thugs have no chance against me." Snarled Zoe, her eyes flashing furiously, "I could have stopped you pinning me here with my bending except that I didn't want you to know it was me!"
"Oh so it's better to lie to me?" Zuko's grip was almost crushing her wrists by now. "Lie and sneak off at night? Putting yourself in reckless danger for no reason?"
"There is reason!" replied Zoe, for some reason tears began to well up behind her eyes. "I wanted to help sort out these problems in the city that you were so worried about…so that…so that we could find your mother sooner!"
Zuko struggled for a moment with the sudden rush of warmth that swept over him and the unrelenting anger, spurted from worry that was swirling within him at her recklessness.
He sighed furiously, "Why do you have to do such stupid things?" he snarled, but his grip softened. Zoe bowed her head. "I'm sorry for getting so angry." Zuko said finally, though his tone suggested that he wasn't done with his fury. "Why didn't you tell me what you were doing? Then I could have come and known you were safe. I could have helped."
"You're so busy already…" mumbled Zoe, "you didn't need more on your plate."
Zuko released Zoe's wrists finally and placed a warm hand on her cheek instead. She lifted her head and Zuko saw the tears shining in her eyes. A feeling of guilt washed over him. "Thank you, Zoe." He said softly, "It means a lot to me that you would do this for me. But, I wish you wouldn't put yourself in danger like that."
"Zuko, I wasn't putting myself in danger." Said Zoe softly, looking directly at the glinting eyes from two holes in the blue mask that covered Zuko's face.
Eyes that were now narrowing at her words while his hand became increasingly hotter on her cheek. "Don't try to underestimate the danger, Zoe." He hissed.
"I'm not. You're underestimating my skill." She replied haughtily and Zuko's hand flared. He moved his hand from her skin quickly, but she still felt the immense heat.
"Are you, or are you not disarmed and stuck down the end of an ally right now?" he snarled quietly, his hands clenched into tight fists.
Zoe glared at him in the darkness. Then very suddenly, she jumped in the air doing a high arc over Zuko's head. As soon as she landed, she sent a gust of wind directly at his back and before he had a chance to think: he had collided, face on, with the wall.
Zoe sped off down the ally, picking up her sword on the way, bringing it out in front of her as Zuko turned furiously to follow.
"Am I, or am I not now stuck at the end of an ally with an over-protective, arrogant fire bender attempting to pin me down?" she called to him and Zuko could tell she was very angry despite her steady words.
"Zoe." said Zuko. His voice, though quiet, echoed around the dim ally. "I know that you can fight and take care of yourself. But, anyone can be snuck up upon, outnumbered, anything."
"I haven't been yet!" snapped Zoe while Zuko sheathed his swords, but she kept hers in front of her.
"You could be. You're so over-confident!" said Zuko, exasperation entering his voice now and he walked slowly toward Zoe. "And that's what's going to get you killed! It's like you think your sword-proof! Fire-proof! It's dangerous for me to be out here alone too! It's got nothing to do with how skilled you are!"
Zoe sighed in annoyance. "Look, OK! Maybe it was a little reckless, but it was a risk I was willing to take."
Zuko's hands clenched. "I don't want you to take risks for my sake!" he snarled, "I couldn't live with myself if you…" his voice cut off and Zuko turned to glare angrily at the wall. Zoe's sword arm lowered, an uneasy feeling of guilt washing over her.
"I'm sorry, Zuko…" she said finally, sheathing her sword.
Zuko sighed and pulled his mask off finally. He walked toward Zoe slowly, battling with the strong emotions welling inside him. "You're the one thing I can't live without, yet you are going to be the death of me."
He wrapped his arms around her waist and crushed her to him. Zoe nearly gasped at the tightness of his embrace; she hadn't realised just how much she had scared him this evening.
"Can I take you home now?" he whispered in her ear and a small shiver ran down her spine.
But, she shook her head. "I have some jobs to finish."
Zuko clenched his jaw, but knowing there was no way to change her mind he said, "Can the two blue spirits work together?"
Zoe grinned into his chest, and then pulled back. She pushed her mask back onto her face, "They most certainly can."
Hmm yes Zoe is rather stupid and over-confident...I felt it important to make sure you guys know that...There were a few important things in this chapter, I wonder if you spotted them..
Anyway, THANK SO MUCH AGAIN FOR THE REVIEWS! I'm talking to every single person that has reviewed this story! And another big thankyou to those that have been reviewing for a long time now! You guys are so wonderful. Gosh, you guys just make my day. Sorry I haven't had a chance to reply to them! I'm just a bit busy atm...hence the delayed update (sorry about that) Anyway, do review, I love your reviews! They are seriously what make me keep writing! THanks so much!
OOh and readingfromphone, lol your review came as no name again! Thank you so much for reviewing, haha, for a bit there I thought I lost you and you didn't like my stories anymore! But, I did a little happy dance when I saw you reviewed! Sucks that you lost your phone for a week! Anyway, thank you, thankyou!