This was written for diftcxs's dare at Promptbending, which was to write a short story in which Jet meets Zuko again and learns the truth about "Lee's" identity. If you would like to join in the Truth or Dare game yourself (or any of the other challenges), you can find the link to Promptbending on my profile. Cover art is credited to theAsh0, who was kind enough to draw me this amazing picture for my little one-shot. You're the bestest!
Oh, and I should probably warn that there will be some blatant one-sided Jetko going on here, so by all means don't read if it makes you uncomfortable.
Soundtrack: Seven Devils – Florence + the Machine
The Taste of Ashes
It was a face that had haunted him. One side flawless, almost painfully handsome, with skin as pale as moonlight; the other a twisted, scarred mess, half-sealing one of the boy's gold-coloured eyes into a cat-like slit, leaving no lashes or eyebrow to soften the skewed features. Jet had been fascinated by the strange mix of ugliness and beauty—drawn to the pain etched into the disfigured flesh like a moth to a flame, wanting to touch, to caress, to discover just how deep the scar went and if it had twisted up the other boy's soul as well, just like the Fire Nation had twisted up his own.
But then Jet had seen the old man bending his tea, and everything had changed. Then all Jet had wanted was to forget; to blot it all out so that he wouldn't have to see those golden eyes anymore; so that he wouldn't have to feel his blood burn with unsettling attraction, painting images in his mind that left him aching with want and need. It was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. So Jet had buried his attraction under hate. He had let the flames that the Fire Nation had ignited inside him when they murdered his parents flare with white intensity, searing through his veins like poison, consuming and hot, and demanding revenge. Hate was safer. Hate was easier.
Except Jet had not been able to forget. Even when it was over; even when the boy with the scar was gone and his own mind had been invaded and changed, telling him that there was no war in Ba Sing Se, a part of him had still remembered. A part of him had still been haunted by pale gold eyes. Fire Nation eyes. Then the fog clouding his mind had faded and it had all come rushing back in painful force. Then he realised that he was still burning from the inside out, being consumed by memories of a deadly dance with dual blades and a lithe, angular body pressing into his, not in passion, but in an attempt to subdue and destroy. It had been months since that fight outside the teashop, and Jet would still wake up desperate to relieve the itch; to try to ease the flames that licked at his insides, so toxic and confusing—so unbearably wrong that he began to loathe himself even as he loathed the boy who made him feel this paradox of hate and lust.
So when Jet saw that face again, he was sure that he had to be dreaming. Sure that this was just another nightmare trying to rip to shreds the last of his sanity. But the vision did not fade. The boy with the scar was right there, standing only a few feet away, looking so pale and beautiful, so ugly and mesmerising. His black hair was longer, half covering his scar, and he was dressed in simple Earth Kingdom clothes that didn't quite disguise the high quality of the cloth. Apparently, the little tea server had moved up in the world.
As if drawn by some magnetic force, Jet found his feet taking him closer until he could see that distinct shade of gold that coloured the other's eyes. Until he knew with sick certainty that he was indeed looking at—
"Lee," he breathed, almost wistful yet bitter at the same time.
The boy in question glanced up from his brooding observation of the Lower Ring, fire-tinted gold eyes colliding with brown. "Jet?" he questioned, furrowing his brow and taking a step forward.
Jet didn't remember pulling his hook blades out from their sheath, but somehow he was gripping the hilts. "You've got some nerve showing your face around here, Fire Nation scum!"
Lee held his hands out in an appeasing gesture. "Jet, you don't need to do this. The war is over."
"So you finally admit it, then," Jet spat in triumph, though his stomach felt like it was being eaten away by something toxic, making him feel sick and hollow. Somehow, it wasn't so satisfying to have Lee confirm that he was indeed Fire Nation.
The other boy just gave a despairing shake of his head, as if he wasn't sure what to say to make the situation better. That was when Katara and the little earthbender girl appeared.
"Zuko, there you are!" Katara exclaimed, stopping beside him. "We've been looking everywhere for you."
Jet's blood turned cold. "Zuko?"
His voice had all attention snapping towards him, and then Katara was throwing her arms around Jet and telling him that she was so glad to see him. They had thought—they had thought—well, that didn't matter now, because Jet was alive, and the war was over, and everyone was okay. Everyone was safe.
Jet barely heard her, let alone noticed when she released him. He was still staring at Lee—no, Zuko—as if seeing the boy for the first time. Of course, he had heard the rumours. Everyone knew about how the banished prince of the Fire Nation had joined the Avatar and his friends to help end the war; how the prince had been crowned the new Fire Lord and had sworn to do all in his power to bring peace to the world.
"You," Jet said in a voice that trembled far too much for his liking. "You're the Fire Lord, aren't you? You're Fire Lord Zuko."
Zuko averted his face, black hair slipping free to hide his mismatched features. "I am."
A hysterical laugh bubbled in Jet's throat, but the sound got choked by the hard lump that formed a second later. All of this time. All of these months he had touched and hated himself, writhing in longing and twisted need, and it had all been for a boy who wasn't just Fire Nation. No, Lee just had to be the Fire Lord himself.
"I'm sorry," Zuko said, meeting Jet's eyes with those lamp-like irises, so intense and bright. "I had no choice but to pretend I was a simple refugee. I had to protect my uncle."
He opened his mouth to say more, perhaps to point out that it was Jet's own fault that he had got captured by the Dai Li and had been brainwashed; that 'Lee' had only ever been trying to live his life as a tea server with that fat old man, Mushi. But then Zuko just shook his head and remained silent, and Jet didn't bother to bring the matter up either. There was no point. Because Jet was well aware that he had never been able to leave 'Lee' alone; that he had ignored Smellerbee and Longshot's warning for the sake of appeasing his own mad obsession. Unlike the others, Jet had never been able to forget, to forgive—to stop feeling that fire burning inside him, urging him to kill, to touch.
But it didn't burn now. He was cold and hollow, staring at the boy who had consumed him from the inside out. Staring at the boy who was both beautiful and ugly, and feeling like his world was crumbling apart as the truth reverberated over and over in his head. Lee was the Fire Lord. Lee was the Fire Lord. Lee was the Fire Lord.
Vaguely, Jet was aware of Katara inviting him to come back with them to the tea shop in the Upper Ring. All of the rest of their friends were there, and she was sure they'd be happy to see him. Even Le—Zuko said that Jet could come. But Jet couldn't. He just couldn't. Because this was all wrong, even though it was supposed to be right. Even though Zuko was supposed to be 'good' and had clearly earned Katara's trust. The toxic fire had burned for too long inside Jet, and though the flames were nothing more than dying embers now, he just felt sick and like he was disintegrating where he stood. As if everything that made him who he was had been melted away, leaving him nothing more than an empty shell without thought or feeling.
He watched the trio leave to meet up with Zuko's girlfriend and the rest of their group, swallowing back the taste of ashes on his tongue; the bitter dregs of a fire that had consumed him body and soul, drawing him into a world of obsession and hate. A fire that had started with the death of his parents and had ended with a boy with pale gold eyes.
The colour still haunted him.