Written for Droolovacocoa as part of the first Annual Jetko Exchange on LJ.
This is a modern college AU, with no bending.
Finally, the characters listed are Jet and Zuko, because this is a Jetko fic, but it's told through Smellerbee's POV.
Jet, who has hated coffee all his life and will vehemently extol the comparative virtues of any other drink, has become obsessed with a coffee shop. He does his homework there. He goes there before class. He goes there after class. Sometimes, he goes there instead of class. What's more, he doesn't seem at all ashamed of his sudden turnaround when confronted on it, merely smiling enigmatically and murmuring, "Coffee's not so bad…"
Smellerbee, obviously, can't let that rest. There's no way. So she follows Jet one day to a small coffee shop just off campus, and slips in to a seat next to him at his corner table. He's got one of those little coffee stirrers in his mouth and is humming along to the music on the radio (he normally only likes loud rock, not acoustic anything), and doesn't even yell at her for following him there.
"It's about time you showed up," he says instead, grinning at Smellerbee. "Isn't this place awesome?"
It's not so bad, Smellerbee supposes. The heating is just right and a relief from the snow outside, and the atmosphere is busy but still fairly relaxed. Mostly, it's an average coffee shop, and she has no idea why it would induce Jet to do such a complete 180.
Then she sees the waiter.
He's wearing a black apron and a scowl, with messy hair that he flicks out of his eyes in an irritated manner, taking orders on a little black notepad. He's pretty handsome too, or would be if it weren't for the giant scar taking up half his face. Combined with his grumpy expression, that makes him kind of scary looking, but it's not what's got Smellerbee staring.
No, that would be the way the waiter spots them, rolls his eyes, and stomps over to yank the coffee stirrer out of Jet's mouth. "Quit chewing on those!" he snaps. "If you want one, order a coffee!"
Jet settles back in his chair, stretching his arms over the back, and smirks wide. "Why, hello, Zuko," he drawls. "And how are you doing this lovely afternoon?"
Zuko scoffs. "None of your business, Jet," he grumbles. "Just order, would you?"
"What did you cook today?" Jet asks, grin edging towards indecent. "Those muffins yesterday were really delicious. Give me whatever you made today – and get her a coffee, would you?" He jerks a thumb at Smellerbee, and the waiter stomps off without bothering to reply.
Jet leans out into the aisle to watch him go, leering eagerly, and Smellerbee just has to sigh. "Really, Jet? Is that what this is all about?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Jet says, as he watches Zuko duck behind the counter to retrieve a slice of banana bread. He is not very convincing.
Still, Smellerbee doesn't realize just how tedious this is all going to be until Zuko returns to their table with the banana bread, some cream cheese, and not one but two drinks.
"Here," he says, plunking the second cup down in front of Jet so roughly that the contents slop over its sides, and dropping a stirrer directly in the middle. "I made you coffee. Drink it and then get lost, the other regulars get really mad that you take the good table all afternoon. You hardly even order anything."
Jet picks the stirrer up, licks it very thoroughly clean, and then pops it between his teeth, never breaking eye contact with Zuko as he does so. His gaze is soft and his smile knowing as he says, "Thank you for the special service, Zuko."
Zuko's cheeks tinge pink, and he quickly says, "It's not free!" before retreating back behind the counter to start preparing other orders.
Jet sighs fondly, sips his coffee, makes a disgusted face, and takes a bite of banana bread before sipping his coffee and grimacing once more. He keeps his eyes locked on Zuko the whole time.
"Just please don't take this stalking act any further, okay?" Smellerbee grumbles, then snatches her coffee and leaves because it's obvious Jet is going to be absolutely useless about this.
Of course he doesn't listen. Or rather, he does – just well enough to realize that he can take his stalking act to a whole new level, but not well enough to remember that Smellerbee was specifically asking him not to.
She realizes this when she finally gives in to his nagging and joins him in signing up for a martial arts class for the latter half of spring semester. Kung fu isn't really to her tastes, and she honestly intends to drop it after the first class anyway, but she agrees because Jet's being a pill about it, and he's promised to give her a ride to watch Longshot's archery match after.
So she goes to the first class with Jet. She's being a good sport. And how does Jet reward her?
By smirking widely at their teacher, who stumbles through his introductory speech, and finally abandons it altogether to snap at Jet: "Spit that gum out! Do you want to choke on it when I'm throwing you to the floor?"
Smellerbee thinks Jet may have actually choked on his gum then and there, speechless for once. Zuko realizes the double-meaning behind his words (Freudian slip, anyone? Smellerbee thinks) right away, and his face turns a deep red as he sputters to explain that he meant Jet was going to be his demonstration partner for today, that was all, so he'd better just stop smirking and spit that gum out right now so they could get to the lesson!
And as if that weren't bad enough, Longshot's practice doesn't start until half an hour after their class ends, so Smellerbee has nothing to do but sit around being forced to listen to Jet flirting.
"So you're a black belt, huh? You must be really good at kung fu, to be teaching classes already. How long have you been doing it?" Jet's words are fairly innocent, but the tone is just dripping with sleaze. Smellerbee doesn't blame Zuko for his slight shudder.
"Firstly, we don't measure skill with belts in kung fu. That's for an entirely different martial art – the sash is just part of my traditional uniform. There are only three main levels of skill: beginners like you, disciples – which I am – and masters. My uncle is a master; this is his dojo, so I've been learning since I was little. And finally, if you really cared about learning kung fu, you probably would've known all this already, so why don't you just quit now and stop distracting me during classes?" Zuko starts off calm, but by the time he's done with his little lecture, he's flat out ranting – quite loudly too.
Jet just waggles the pen he's got in his mouth up and down, curling his tongue around it suggestively. "Couldn't keep your eyes off me, huh?"
Zuko throws his hands up in the air and storms out of the room, but not before blushing yet again. Smellerbee has sympathy for him, but really, it would be better if he'd just give up and bang Jet already so that they can all get back to business. Jet's little obsessions never last post-intercourse. He just isn't the type to date, Smellerbee knows.
So when the end of the semester rolls around and Longshot texts Smellerbee in the middle of her History final asking her if she's willing to go on a double-date with Jet and his new boyfriend, she just rolls her eyes and agrees. She doesn't think anything of it, at least not until it's time to meet up and Longshot tells her to go to the coffee shop just off of campus. Even then, all she does is wince at Jet's crassness, to go flaunting his new boytoy right in front of (what must have been) his last boytoy. He makes a loyal and worthy friend to her and Longshot, but Jet is an absolute dick to the rest of the world.
Smellerbee is still thinking this as she sits down and snuggles in next to Longshot. She stops thinking it when Jet arrives and sits down opposite them, with a weird look on his face. It's eager and nervous at the same time. For once Jet's got nothing in his mouth, and he starts drumming his fingers rapidly on the table and glancing jerkily around the shop.
Smellerbee is just about to inquire about his lack of boyfriend, when Zuko makes his way over to their table and hands Jet a coffee stirrer.
"Here," he says casually. "Go ahead and appease your oral fixation already. I'm just gonna go clock out and then we can head out."
Jet takes the coffee stirrer in silence, and his smirk is a little lopsided as he leans out into the aisle to ogle Zuko's butt. The ogling actually looks more habitual than anything. And Jet doesn't put the coffee stirrer in his mouth, but just turns it over and over in his hands before tucking it carefully into his pocket as though it's something much more delicate than a little piece of plastic.
Smellerbee turns to Longshot. "What the hell?"
Her boyfriend just smiles. His expression clearly tells her, Jet really likes this guy. Let's support him.
"But – but he was hitting on him weeks ago, there's no way he can still be into him –"
Smellerbee, Longshot's serious gaze admonishes. Can't you tell? It's different this time.
When Zuko returns a minute later, sans apron, Jet suddenly stuffs the coffee stirrer in his mouth as though he's been chewing on it this whole time. The way he sneaks it back into his pocket as soon as Zuko's not paying attention is all Smellerbee needs to see to know Longshot is right as always.
She looks at Zuko critically after that. Just what is it about this coffee shop waiting, kung fu disciple that's got Jet actually caring for the first time?
Whatever it is, he'd better not break her friend's heart. Or he'll find out the hard way that no martial art is a match to Smellerbee's fury.
Over the next several months, Smellerbee finds herself warming up to Zuko. He's kind of weird – the huge scar is intriguing, for one, and he seems constantly torn between being a jerk and being a dork. The first is a little annoying, but understandable given that he's interacting with Jet whenever Smellerbee runs into him. The second is just plain adorable. He almost makes Smellerbee wish Longshot were prone to nervous babbling, though one glance at her boyfriend sends that notion flying. He's perfect the way he is; she wouldn't trade his silent understanding and support for anything.
Jet, though, is seriously digging this Zuko guy. He loves it when Zuko's a jerk to him (seriously loves it. He gets really turned on by making Zuko mad) and whenever Zuko does something really inadvertently dorky Smellerbee's best friend gets this… well, it can't be described as anything other than a mushy look on his face. And this happens fairly often, because Zuko acts pretty darn dorky when he's flustered – and Jet just loves to fluster people.
They meet Zuko's friends, a weird if enjoyable bunch. Smellerbee really gets along with Toph, who seems to act like some weird combination of little sister and buff older brother to Zuko; the first time the tiny blind girl met Jet, she promised him lots of pain if he ever "made Sparky weep like a little girl, which is totally how he cries 'cause he's a wuss". That pretty much sums up how awesome she is. Katara and Aang are an almost sickeningly cute couple, as are Zuko's best friend Sokka and his girlfriend Suki.
Actually, Smellerbee gets to witness the extremely memorable event of Jet getting jealous when Zuko introduces Sokka to them. The two of them are so friendly and touchy-feely and have some really pathetic in-jokes and everything, so Jet gets all prickly and sulky, and tries to grope Zuko in public just to prove a point (Zuko about breaks his hand).
Luckily, Sokka and Suki are very prone to PDAs of their own, so Jet doesn't take long to learn he has nothing to be jealous about. It was still pretty funny to watch him bristle, however.
Zuko doesn't talk much about his feelings for Jet, but Smellerbee watches carefully and she sees lots of little hints. For all he grumbles, Zuko's a pretty attentive boyfriend. He's constantly showing up with little treats, 'leftovers' from whatever he made at the coffee-shop that morning. Including days when he's off work. He even has picked up on what sort of things Jet prefers to chew on (Jet must always have something in his mouth) and seems to hand him a straw or coffee stirrer or pencil whenever Jet starts absently chewing his lips.
Jet always suggests that Zuko take a slightly more personal approach to helping out with his oral fixation. Often he waggles his tongue suggestively as well, or makes obnoxious kiss noises. Zuko, not a guy inclined to PDA, just rolls his eyes and tells him to shut up, sometimes with an added shove on the shoulder, always with a ridiculous blush.
Jet saves everything Zuko ever gives him, hardly chewing them at all, though no one else seems to have noticed. Well, except Longshot, but he notices everything.
So – yeah, Smellerbee is starting to relax. The summer's getting hot, things are going well, and Katara and Sokka have invited them all to spend some time at their beach-house to celebrate not having to study until fall. Smellerbee is looking forward to the sand, the surf, and the seeing the shirtless bodies of the various very attractive boys she is friends with (what, can't a girl just look?).
Of course things have to go wrong.
It starts with a trio of pretty girls on the beach. One flirty, one grumpy, and one sadistic, they seem to know Zuko quite well, even if he doesn't appear to want much to do with them.
"Zuzu, I've missed you," the sadistic girl croons. Jet snorts, and Zuko shoots him a glare. Smellerbee sides with Jet here; that is pretty funny. But the humor dissipates fairly quickly when the sadistic girl speaks again with a cruel smile.
"Then again, it's not like we get many chances to see each other, what with you being disowned and all. How is poverty treating you, brother? Don't tell me you can't even afford a haircut now."
Jet, who is very fond of Zuko's messy hair and often tells Smellerbee how much he likes to run his hands through it despite her total lack of interest in the subject, bristles indignantly.
"Who's this, Zuzu?" he asks, because he might be a protective boyfriend, but he's still a dick too.
"Shut up," Zuko mumbles. "Jet, Smellerbee, Longshot, um, this is my sister Azula. And her friends, Ty Lee and Mai."
The grumpy girl raises a sardonic eyebrow. "Just Azula's friend now, am I?"
"Ah – um, well, uh, yeah. She's my ex-girlfriend too, I guess," Zuko says awkwardly. Jet squints menacingly at her upon hearing this, which she ignores.
The encounter ends shortly after that, but it only serves to open up an apparently huge can of worms. Jet wants to know why Zuko's been disowned, Zuko doesn't want to tell him, they end up in a huge fight: it's fairly predictable, really.
Less predictable is the information let fly during the fight: that somehow Zuko's dad is responsible for the scar on Zuko's face, which is why he's living with his uncle now. That Zuko's dad doesn't know about his son being gay, and that Zuko has no intention of telling him. Zuko, in fact, plans to study and work hard to get back in his father's good graces so he won't be such a 'disappointment' to his father, and when that day comes he intends to say goodbye to Jet for good.
Jet obviously calls bullshit on all that crap, but since he's Jet and he's got plenty of his own issues about big rich heartless business moguls like Zuko's dad has turned out to be, he does so in the most painful way possible. Zuko is borderline grumpy most of the time, sure, but that's the first time any of them have seen him really mad.
Smellerbee didn't hear the whole argument; that's their business, but when things start crashing into the walls she and Longshot venture in to make sure everything's alright. And they find Jet holding Zuko by the collar, slammed up against the wall, hissing in his ear about being "a worthless little coward".
Smellerbee has seen Jet get like this before. It used to happen a lot back in the orphanage. And usually, the best thing anyone can do is just to get out of his way until he's had enough time to calm down. To do otherwise can be really dangerous.
But as soon as Jet calls him that, Zuko just explodes.
All of a sudden, he's moving almost faster than Smellerbee can see, a flurry of kung fu stuff or something, and Jet winds up lying on the floor, groaning and cradling his arm. Which is fairly impressive, as Jet is no stranger to fights, and can usually more than hold his own, especially when he's in one of his moods. But Zuko isn't even stopped.
"Screw you, Jet," he says bitterly, and stomps out of the room, leaving Smellerbee and Longshot to pick up the pieces.
And there are a lot of pieces. For starters, Zuko apparently broke Jet's arm, and none of them have the funds to pay for that kind of crap. Even if they're doing pretty well now, it's not like they're ever had insurance in their lives. So that's the primary concern.
Luckily, it gets resolved pretty easily. Toph shows up in the ER, waving a credit card around, and covers all the costs. Jet hates her for this, obviously, and swears that he doesn't need her pity, but the girl just levels a cloudy glare in (mostly) his direction.
"I don't pity you, you dumbfuck," she snorts. "Actually, I want to break your other arm myself! Sure, Zuko's dad is an asshole, but you can't just tell him that! I'm only here so Sparky doesn't start to get all guilty and try to cover the costs himself. Remember, that 'spoiled little rich boy' is disowned. He doesn't have any more money than you do."
Then she turns and leaves, head high. Her cane whacks hard into Jet's foot on the way out, and no one believes for one second that it's accidental.
So at least that is resolved. And according to the doctors, it was a clean break, and shouldn't take more than five weeks or so to heal. That's assuming Jet takes care of it like he should, of course, but Smellerbee and Longshot are both fully prepared to bully him into doing so.
The next problem, of course, is less of a fiscal issue and more of an emotional one. As soon as the whole deal with the hospital is over and Jet has come back home to the tiny apartment they all share, he shuts himself in his room and doesn't talk to anyone for the longest time. Smellerbee's not positive, but she thinks he might have been crying in there at one point.
All she knows for sure is that she finds Jet's sweet and yet really creepy collection of coffee stirrers and other stuff Zuko's absentmindedly handed him to chew on in the trash. She takes it out and hides it, not really sure why. After all, she's extremely pissed off at Zuko herself. Sure, he might have his own issues, and Jet might not have handled things well, but that's not important. Jet is Smellerbee's best friend, and she's always going to be on his side, and Zuko has reduced him to moping around the house in a cast.
Hell no, Smellerbee's not going to let that stand.
She's greeted at Zuko's address by a somewhat portly old man with a kind smile, who somehow manages to get on her good side despite calling her a charming young man. She's not sure how or even when it happened – this geezers's even more charming than Jet can be, and that's saying something. It's a shame he's on Zuko's side.
"I need to go beat up your nephew," Smellerbee admits, blowing on her tea to cool it off.
Iroh just chuckles. "Many people have wished to do so in the past. My nephew finds it easy to make enemies and difficult to make friends, I am afraid."
"I was his friend," Smellerbee growls. "But not anymore."
Iroh arches an eyebrow at her, and for some reason she just ends up telling him everything. She even tells him all about Jet's past in order to explain just how important Zuko obviously was to him, and how much this must be hurting him. Normally she would never tell anyone that. She eyes the tea suspiciously.
Then Iroh starts in. He gives her Zuko's backstory, and Smellerbee's anger becomes harder and harder to maintain the longer he talks. By the time he finishes with, "…and so Zuko longs for nothing more than to have his father welcome him back home," Smellerbee is fully sympathetic.
But sympathy just isn't enough. "I feel bad for him," she says, "but Jet matters a whole lot more to me. And he just stomped all over Jet. I'm not going to let him get away with that!"
"Yeah, well, I think the two of them are both idiots," a sardonic voice speaks up out of nowhere. Moments later Toph rounds the corner. "I'm tired of eavesdropping, pour me tea."
Iroh smiles and hands her the cup he has already poured. "What a lucky old man I am, to share tea with two such delightfully outspoken young ladies."
Toph grins at him, but then turns to Smellerbee after a rough slurp of tea. "They're being idiots. It's up to us to make them stop. You in?"
And Smellerbee thinks for a moment, about that seriously disgusting mushy look Jet gets when he watches Zuko sometimes, and how she's never seen him smile like that before, never seen him that happy before.
She nods. "But if they don't get their acts together soon, I'm still beating Zuko up."
Toph toasts her with a teacup. "Perfectly understandable."
The first problem Smellerbee faces is that she's never set anyone up with anyone else before. Let alone Jet. Before Zuko came along, she'd always thought Jet was incapable of focusing his affections on any one person, so why would she have even tried?
Plus, Jet's mad and miserable and in pain right now. Smellerbee doesn't want to make him feel any worse, and she's pretty sure talking about Zuko would do just that. But she doesn't really see a way to get them back together without talking about Zuko and calming Jet down – mopey as he is, if Zuko showed up right now begging to be taken back, Jet would slam the door in his face. He's got too much pride for these sorts of things, and it will be hard for him to admit that he's made mistakes too.
So Smellerbee starts off small. Crafty, annoying little things designed to make Jet want to mention Zuko first. She drinks coffee all the time. The apartment reeks of the stuff – when it doesn't stink of burnt baking, the inevitable result of Smellerbee's attempts to make the usual treats Zuko typically supplies (she does really miss those, they were delicious). And, when she thinks she can get away with it, she leaves the TV on martial arts movies.
And it works! It definitely works. Jet's temper has gotten shorter since Zuko broke his arm, since he hates being in any way reliant on someone else, and now it gets even more strained. Every time Smellerbee takes a slurp of coffee, every time she watches some bearded old guy beat up a bunch of young thugs to save his future disciple, Jet gets noticeably grumpier. Smellerbee knows Jet's going to crack soon.
What she doesn't expect is Longshot to be the one to cause it.
Usually, Longshot is very subtle. But his setting up an easel in the center of their small communal space, along with a huge blown-up photo of Zuko, can't be described as anything but blatant. He even sets all these things out right in front of Jet.
"What are you doing?" Jet asks dangerously, receiving nothing but a brief glance in response.
"Um, you remember Longshot's art class?" Smellerbee leaps in, eager to support her boyfriend, not to mention prevent Jet's impending rage if possible. "It's an assignment. He has to draw something with the theme 'contrast.'"
It's obvious why Longshot chose Zuko for that; the 'contrast' between the scarred and unscarred sides of his face is undeniable. Still, there were plenty of other options he could have used, and Jet clearly knows it. He gets a very scary look on his face, and Smellerbee thinks for a minute that he is going to explode.
Instead, he slumps down pitifully in his seat and moans miserably, dropping his head into his hands. "Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it, fine I miss him. You don't have to be such assholes about it!"
Smellerbee tries not to be too obviously excited in front of Jet, but she can't resist giving Longshot a giant silent smooch because this is exactly the chance she's been waiting for. He smiles, then picks up his pencil and starts to draw, leaving the rest of the conversation up to her.
Smellerbee crouches next to Jet, putting a careful hand on his shoulder. "We're not trying to be assholes about it, Jet, just… We want to talk to you. Did you really have to break up?"
Jet shoots up, furious. "What the hell was I supposed to do?! He's being a fucking dumbass! He was planning on it anyway, this is just sooner rather than later!"
"I know that! And obviously that's not something you can just take, but..." Smellerbee struggles to phrase things right. "Jet, I've never seen you as happy as you were with Zuko. And I don't think you should give that up so easily. There's got to be something else you can do, right?"
Jet doesn't say anything for a long time. But when he does, Smellerbee knows she's done it. She's going to be able to get him back with Zuko, even if it takes some time.
Because he says: "I don't know what to do, Smellerbee. Okay? I don't know what to do."
It's the first time Jet's ever admitted that. He's always been their leader, always in charge. He's the reason they are where they are now. He's always known what to do. But this isn't about their little group, this is about Jet's happiness, and he's stumped.
Smellerbee grins. "Then it's our turn to take charge."
The solution that eventually gets worked out is pretty awkward. Smellerbee and Jet sit side by side at a booth in the Pao Family Diner, facing Zuko and Toph across the table. Jet is chewing violently on the straw for his lemonade, glaring out the window. Zuko at least seems to feel pretty bad, but his dorkiness is acting up again so he can't seem to form any coherent words. Toph probably would get things started, but she's ears-deep into some sort of pot-pie that has all of her attention occupied. It's up to Smellerbee.
"Jet's sorry," she says, snapping Zuko's attention to her. Jet's as well, unfortunately.
"What?" he snaps. "No I'm not! I haven't done anything wrong!"
Smellerbee glares at her friend. "Jet, you said you'd let me do this."
He grumbles, and spits some straw pieces out of his mouth before continuing to sulkily mangle the small piece of plastic.
"Jet's sorry," Smellerbee resumes, "about saying the stuff he said about your dad. And you. And probably your mom too."
Zuko's jaw is tight. "My mother was an excellent woman."
Jet rolls his eyes and scoffs. Smellerbee elbows him. Toph shifts a little in her seat (still engrossed in her meal) and Zuko eyes her warily before he speaks again. Smellerbee reflects that there has probably been a lot of threatening going on for him to react like that. Knowing Toph, that's not much of a surprise.
"But… he was pretty mad and, um, it's not like I didn't do stuff I shouldn't have too." Zuko glances at Jet's cast, which has been on prominent display this whole time in a typical Jet guilt attack. "I… I'm sorry too."
It would have been better if Zuko said that to Jet himself instead of directing it at Smellerbee, but whatever. They're boys.
And Jet may think he's being subtle, but Smellerbee knows he's just looking at Zuko's reflection in the window. Judging by the way Zuko is staring off and on at Jet in return, it shouldn't take too much more intervention from Smellerbee before they get back to humping and such. Whatever they did when they were dating. From the way Jet tells it, there was a lot of humping and such going on, though Jet is prone to exaggerating and Zuko doesn't seem like the nookie-all-the-time type. Then again, neither does Longshot. People surprise you.
But anyway, all Smellerbee has to do is to get them to meet talk a little bit and then the romantic violin music – or maybe porn music, this does involve Jet after all – will probably start of its own accord, she's sure. Whichever, it'll rapidly turn into the sort of scene Smellerbee does not want to have to witness, and she'll be able to leave. Neither of them really want to be broken up, that much is obvious.
Smellerbee is just wondering how best to get some sort of conciliatory conversation going, when Zuko swallows hard and says, "Um, Smellerbee, Toph, could you – could you leave us alone?"
Jet chokes on his straw, spewing tiny bits of plastic all over the table. Smellerbee's eyebrows raise up high. Zuko's never been very confident, at least not when it comes to dating Jet. He's been more embarrassed than anything else, really. At least in public. It's kind of weird that he's being the mature one now. But hey, Smellerbee's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Sure!" she agrees quickly, and hustles Toph and her pot-pie across the room to a different table. She can no longer hear what's going on, but she can see, which might be necessary if Jet starts to run or attack Zuko or do some other stupid thing.
He doesn't though. For a long time, Jet just hunches in his chair and stares out the window (at Zuko's reflection) while Zuko leans forward earnestly and blushes a lot and talks for nearly ten minutes with frequent pauses to run his hands frustratedly through his hair.
By the time Zuko's done speechifying, Toph has finally reached the bottom of her dish, and lets out a belch that can probably be heard on the other side of the city. Heads turn all over the diner – even Zuko's, but not Smellerbee and so she's the only one who notices the expression on Jet's face.
It's kind of just broken. His mouth is this wavery little line, his eyes bright and focused completely on Zuko, and nowhere in his face can Smellerbee find any trace of Jet's usual confidence or smugness or anything really but a deep, deep vulnerability.
And for a moment, Smellerbee wants nothing more than to bundle Jet up and take him far away from Zuko. It's pure madness, letting him stay near someone who has so much power over him; Zuko could break Jet. Why the hell is she letting her best friend become so vulnerable?
And then Jet answers that question for her, with a blinding smile before he rounds the table to catch Zuko in a kiss. Most of his grins are very deliberate, 90% smirking or lewdness or careful charm. Even among his friends Jet is careful with how he rations out his real smiles, and Smellerbee hasn't seen him really grin more than a handful of times, in all the years she's known him. It's no surprise – Jet has issues, that's why he always has to be in control, the same way Longshot still almost never says a word, and Smellerbee herself (the most adjusted) is kind of a bitch to most people she meets.
She doesn't love her friends any less for their faults. That's just another part of them, and so an extra level of meaning is added whenever they let their guards down. Longshot last spoke to Smellerbee three years ago, when he told her, "I love you." She'd known then just how much he meant it, in the same way she knows just how much Jet loves Zuko now. He probably hasn't said it yet, but it's there. Smellerbee can tell, and she is so happy for Jet because she thought this was something he'd never have.
Happy for him, but also started to get a little grossed out. That kiss is getting less and less PG over there. Maybe that should be a sign that Zuko feels the same way or something, since he normally hates that sort of stuff, but it really doesn't make Smellerbee any happier about seeing his hands cupping Jet's butt while they lean over the table in a hideously sexual way.
…Well, okay, maybe she is a little happy to see it. This will fuel a daydream or two, and it certainly answers some of those nagging questions about Zuko's bedroom preferences. Why, just look at them go! Smellerbee thinks she might be blushing.
She's not sure whether she's more relieved or disappointed when Jet and Zuko's little porn show gets cut short by their eviction from the premises (they may actually have been permanently banished, probably because of the way Jet was trying to take off Zuko's shirt).
While the passion in their relationship is clearly still there, Jet and Zuko get tested on their commitment fairly soon. Or Zuko does, anyway; Jet's commitment isn't really in question at this point – when Smellerbee returned his creepy Zuko-gift collection, he only pretended not to recognize it for five minutes before squirreling it away in his room once more.
But Zuko's emotional involvement is less clear, at least until Azula turns up at Iroh's (the gang's default hangout spot when they're feeling lazy) one afternoon, with Mai and Ty Lee in tow. All three are just as sadistic, grumpy, or flirty as they were before. Ty Lee coos at Sokka, despite Suki being right there, Mai sits in a corner and levels a glare at Aang and Katara (who must just be too happy for her to bear), and Azula offers Zuko the chance to go back home.
"Father has a lot on his plate lately, what with the merger and all," she murmurs, examining her very shiny and sharp fingernails. "He's decided family is important, and he wants to let you come home and attempt to make yourself useful once more… Well, once you clear up any little indiscretions that won't suit the public eye."
The glance Azula flicks towards Jet is unnecessary; everyone knows what she's saying, and they're all watching Zuko for his reaction. It doesn't take as long as expected.
"You're a liar, Azula," he snaps, with hardly any hesitation. "That's all you do. Dad couldn't care less what I do, and he certainly doesn't need my help. I'm not going to go home, not if it means giving up Jet."
Jet grins smugly, though Smellerbee definitely notices the relieved edge to his next words. "You tell her, Zuzu."
Azula ignores this comment, choosing instead to berate her brother about his foolish life choices. "How do you even expect to support yourself in the future, Zuko?" is a major point of hers, and it has Zuko (major still undecided) a little bit flummoxed.
He's not backing down, he just doesn't have any answer better than, "I'll figure something out!" and while that sounds perfectly reasonable to Smellerbee, it doesn't get very far with Azula. And everyone else in the room is sort of paralyzed by the sibling battle, unable to jump in as they all normally would.
So Iroh comes to the rescue, with his casual, "I was hoping Zuko would take over the dojo, actually. There is no one I would rather have it."
Everyone jumps. None of them even saw him arrive, but he seems relaxed and calm despite the shouting going on in his living room. "I was thinking of retiring and starting a tea-shop in a few years," he admits with a grin. "I'm thinking of calling it the Jasmine Dragon. Or maybe the Tea Weevil! But, no, that's just stupid…"
Zuko (rather gently for him) directs the conversation back to where it should be, with a formal bow at his uncle. "I would be honored to take over the dojo after you retire," he promises, sounding like he really means it. Smellerbee is impressed by his solemnity and sincerity.
Jet, she notices, is just looking at Zuko's butt when he bends over.
Azula looks lost for words, and maybe even a little hurt. Still, she opens her mouth to argue even more – but then Mai speaks up.
"Let's just go, Azula," Zuko's ex-girlfriend says dryly. "It doesn't look like he's going to change his mind. Listening to you guys argue is so boring."
Ty Lee jumps up from where she was standing on her head across the room. "Yeah!" she chirps. "Let's go shopping!"
And then both girls herd Azula out of the room. It's all rather anticlimactic, really, except for the way Zuko is staring happily at Iroh and Jet is trying desperately to catch his boyfriend's eye so they can sneak away and do inappropriate things (which is actually pretty normal, anyway).
It's been just over half a year since Smellerbee first entered this coffee shop, following determinedly on Jet's trail. Except for that first double date, she hasn't really been here since as it's not in the area she usually hangs out, but she and Longshot were going for a walk today when Mother Nature decided to snow all over everything way too early in the year. It's October! Smellerbee isn't ready for this kind of cold!
So they burst inside, she and Longshot, dropping their linked hands in favor of wrapping them around warm coffee mugs as soon as possible, and sinking into the deep, warm, cozy couch against one wall.
The coffee shop is much more crowded today than it was either of the other times Smellerbee visited, probably because of the crazy weather, and that's her only excuse for why she doesn't notice them at first.
Jet and Zuko, sitting squished together at Jet's corner table, huddled together on one chair with a single scarf wrapped around both their necks. Jet's kind of leaning his head on Zuko's shoulder a bit (something he normally never does because he hates to admit that he's shorter) as he devours a muffin, and Zuko is laughing into his coffee, obviously on his break or whatever since he's still wearing his apron. Actually, given their seating arrangements and the scarf, it looks sort of like Jet just lassoed him as he passed by, and Smellerbee really wouldn't be very surprised.
Zuko holds the coffee up to Jet's lips, forcing him to take a sip. Jet does so, only to gag exaggeratedly, and they laugh together in a way that makes Smellerbee feel like she's intruding just watching, and she forgets all about her frozen toes because really, everything just seems right in the world at this moment.
"You see them?" she whispers, leaning back into Longshot. He wraps his long, warm arms around her and rests his chin on her head, and she can feel him nodding. She can't feel him smiling, but she knows he is.
Smellerbee reaches up to lace her fingers in his, the same way Jet and Zuko are doing under their table.
And she smiles too.
Some small notes: kung fu because it's what firebending was largely based on in the show. Pao Family Diner because Jet and Zuko fighting in the show basically ruined that shop and would have both been totally banned if not for Iroh. Speaking of, Iroh's line about what to name his teashop is pretty much a direct quote. ...And that's it, I think!