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Million dollar question.

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So Jet'd been talking to Aang last night about past lives and karma and all that sort of thing. Aang was really into that sort of thing. Jet liked to think that sort of thing was all a load of bullshit. Of course he didn't say as much to Aang. He wasn't that much of a bastard.

But it had to be bullshit.

Otherwise he must have done something spectacularly awful in a past life, to have to suffer though stupid-face Zuko in this one. Was Jet some sort of maniac killer who beat nuns over their heads with a frying pan, kicked puppies, literally took candy from babies and was a total dick to children in his past life?

Stupid Zuko, with his stupidly tight behind.

Honestly it was like he went to a hypnotising school where someone taught him how to hypnotise people with his arse. What a freaky power. It was probably part of his evil plot to do something evil by arse-hypnosis and...

No. Jet had to stop thinking like this.

He knew he had to stop thinking like this. He knew thinking like this wasn't healthy or productive. It was paranoid and crazy.

Jet didn't want to be that paranoid crazy guy any more.

It was the whole reason he was here.

He was going to put this stupid thing well and truly behind him.

He was going to actually, and properly apologise.

Again.

-o-

He was waiting in front of the Jasmine Dragon, in the early morning light. He knew Zuko always got up at sunrise to do a million sit ups, or whatever, and he normally came back right before breakfast. Today was no exception. He rounded the corner, saw Jet, narrowed his eyes and squared his shoulders. He looked like he was just going to try brush right past Jet without saying anything. Jet offered the seemingly innocuous phrase of "hello Zuko."

"Fuck off arsehole" was instantaneous and angry reply. "You are the last person I want to see right now."

"It's not like I spend all my time hoping to see you again either!" Jet fired back instantly and defensively. Then he felt the need to add a scoff and a "Pfft, as if."

Zuko pinched the bridge on his nose and it looked like he was counting under his breath. After about ten seconds he looked up and sighed (in that annoying way of his) "What are you even doing here?"

"June needs to see you." Jet replied simply. That was mostly the real reason. June wanted to talk to Zuko and since Jet had lost the competition yesterday, he was designated messengerboy. But then Mai had wanted to do all Zuko messages (because she was still stupid fond of the pratface)...then Jet said... then she'd whack him and...anyway, now Jet was here.

"What? Again?" Zuko asked, impatiently.

"I am sorry. What again is not an acceptable response. She wants to know what time your free." Jet said, trying his best not to be snide and failing.

Zuko ran his hands through his hair in what was either thought (most unlikely), exasperation (more likely) or a shameless attempt to disconcert Jet with his attractiveness (highly likely). "I don't know! Tell her half past never!" Zuko said angrily.

This struck Jet as a little odd. Zuko and June mostly got along pretty good. Jet couldn't take an answer like that back to June and Mai. He'd be pinned to the naughty wall for sure. "I can't say that to June." Jet replied. He felt he was being remarkably reasonable about everything. "You've got to give me a proper time."

For some reason, this request just set Zuko off. He got really stroppy and turned around and shouted at Jet. "I don't know when okay! So can you just, for once in your life, shut the fuck up and go away and leave me alone!"

Woah. What brought that on?

Jet looked at Zuko a bit closer. He seemed really distracted this morning. There was something really off about him. Jet had never seen him this pissed off – and Jet had done heaps of things to deliberately piss him off. He'd once made it his life's goal to ruin things for Zuko and he'd never succeeded in upsetting him this much (and he wasn't even trying to upset him this morning.) No, something had happened. Something worse than all the shit Jet had done...and Jet had gloated about shagging his sister to his face!

Jet wasn't worried, exactly. He certainly wasn't concerned. Pfft, as if. He just wanted to chill Zuko out, so he could get a meeting time out of him, apologise quickly and get the hell out of here. An Angry Zuko was not a Fun Zuko. It certainly wasn't an easy Zuko to deal with, and Jet wanted this conversation to be as easy as possible. Jet tried to think about how Dr Wang got him to calm down when he got stressed.

"I'm sensing some anger." Jet observed, trying to imitate Dr Wang. Zuko shot him this incredulous, irate look. A look that said no shit genius. " Listen, I've had a lot of therapy you know..." Jet trailed off as they both remembered what happened with the sausages after one of Jet's therapy sessions. "What therapy has taught me is that you've got to ask yourself what are you really angry about?"

"I'm angry about the fact that you're still talking." Zuko sassed back. Touche.

"Would it help if I told you to calm down?" Jet offered helpfully.

*"calm down" is universally known as one of those phrases that just sets already angry people off and ranting, like a red flag to a rhinobull. Nothing gets someone to blow their gaskett quicker than an ill-advised and patronising "calm down." Jet did not consider this before uttering this deadly phrase.

"AAAAARGH!? FUCK NO! DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME TO CALM THE FUCK DOWN!" Was Zuko's (not entirely unexpected) reaction to being told to calm down by Jet.

"Dude..." Jet started in a surprised and aghast tone. Zuko was scary mad right now. After a brief pause Jet continued "Are you... like... at that point of angry where your brain is going to boil in your head and you'll explode everywhere and we all die?" Jet sounded both fascinated and horrified at this prospect.

The sheer ridiculousness of this statement succeeded in distracting Zuko from his angry explosion. He looked at Jet liked he'd grown a second head and asked "What?" in a gobsmacked tone.

" Well you know...Mai said that I had to chill out around firebenders, especially you ….you know how you've got that rare disease. If I make you angry enough...your brain boils in your head and then you'll spontaneously combust and take everyone in the near vicinity with you – including me."

Zuko looked a bit flabbergasted at this explanation. Perhaps he felt embarrassed about Jet knowing about his weirdo medical condition.

Fuck, how many lucky escapes had Jet had?

Why did Zuko never say back off or my head will explode all over you like woah!

Well...Mai had said that exploding head disorder was a bit of an embarrassment in the firenation and nobody liked to talk about it... Oh no, and now Jet had gone and made it worse by letting on that he knew!

Well, no heads were exploding on Jet's account. He was only out to screw himself over, but Zuko's head exploding here would screw everybody. It was up to Jet to diffuse this situation and save the upper ring from a most unusual death.

"Here – take this" Jet said as he reached into his back pocket for his smokes. Well... technically they weren't his smokes, they were June's smokes. But whatever. He was sure that she would understand when he explained the situation to her. She might even be thrilled that her smokes had be used to save the city. Zuko took it, turned it over in his hand and sniffed in disdain, before looking at Jet with no small amount of bewilderment.

"It's just a smoke. And that's a really good brand too." Jet explained.

"Well I don't smoke." Zuko replied, in that annoying superior way of his.

"Why not?" Jet asked.

"It kills you idiot. They're so bad for you." Zuko replied, still in that superior tone.

"C'mon, live a little. The assassins after you or your brain boiling in your head is going to kill you long before a few smokes will." Jet said with a slight jostle of the other boy's shoulder.

It was a stupid and fatalistic reason, but Jet reckoned he had a point. If Jet were in Zuko's shoes and had that many assassins after him, and had nearly died that many times, he'd take to smoking and drinking everyday (the good smokes and finest whiskey – obviously). If Jet was in Zuko's sucky situation, he'd try to get as much living in as he could... before it was too late.

"It'll relax you. It'll take the edge off." Jet offered more softly, as he took out his own smoke and lit it. He inhaled softly. That was better. Jet felt a bit calmer already. Smokes helped calm him down like nothing else. It was like chewing on his long grass stalks, but better – more soothing.

Smokes were a new thing he was trying (in absence of the grass stalks) and he liked the feeling they gave him. June didn't mind him bumming them off her so much, when it helped keep what she referred to as "his crazy" under control. Also he looked really badass with a smoke in his lips. Chicks dig guys with smokes after all.

"Fuck it" Zuko said with a big sigh and a slight shrug. He stuck the smoke between his lips and lit it with his firebending. Jet felt his lip curl in distaste and he made a little disgusted noise like "urgh". Zuko gave him a questioning look.

"Must you do that filthy habit around me?" Jet sneered.

"What? You gave me this!" Zuko said, taking the smoke out of his mouth and waggling it at Jet, before replacing it.

"Not the smoking – the other one. The disgusting sludge monkey one." Jet clarified.

Zuko made a rude hand gesture towards Jet. Two little flames popped out of his long fingers and he spat "Bite me, Jet."

"Ooh, kinky. I'm game if you are." Jet replied cheekily with a delightfully wicked grin, just as Zuko was taking his first drag. Zuko's eyes widened in alarm and he spluttered loudly and started coughing these big wracking coughs.

"Woah. You've really never smoked before." Jet observed as Zuko got his coughing under control. "You do it like this..." Jet demonstrated. "You breathe in a little...now hold it just a sec, and then breathe in again until you feel it here." He finished with a quick tap to his upper chest. Zuko copied. Smoother this time, only a slight cough and a big grimace. He was a quick learner.

"There – feel better?" Jet asked.

"No. This is awful. It taste like arse." was Zuko's reply. Well then! What an ungrateful, uncultured dolt. This would be the last time Jet would waste the good smokes on him. Jet had to work damn hard to pilfer these smokes.

"Just give it a go and stop bitching okay... They totally chill me out and you know...they might help." Jet sassed back. Zuko raised his good eyebrow in an expression that said Since fucking when have you ever wanted to help me? But he didn't vocalise that. Instead, he miraculously managed to keep his bitching under control, and they both just leaned against the teahouse, watching the city waking up and smoking.

"Why are you even doing this?" Zuko said mistrustfully after a few beats.

"What?"

"Being...not a complete and utter arsehole to me? " Zuko said simply.

"Self preservation." Jet said quickly with a smile. " I'm entirely motivated by selfishness, you know. It's just so we all don't explode when you head goes boom."

"Ah, that explains it." Zuko said. The corners of his mouth quirked in amusement.

There was another pause. Jet felt a bit antsy and awkward. He had something to say, and fuck it, this would be a good time to say it. But conversations like this were always as awkward as fuck with
Zuko. He didn't know if Zuko got that he was joking before, about the selfishness thing. Pratface probably took him seriously, because he was just an awkward lump of social ineptitude.

"Nah... like...fuck it... bad shit went down between us alright... And I dunno..." Jet began.

Bloody hell, why was this so hard!

He'd never had this much trouble apologising to a chick.

Well, granted he'd never apologised to a chick...except for Mai and that was just because it was the only way to get off the naughty wall.

"Look... its like a peace offering... or what-the-fuck-ever.... just fucking smoke it and chill out and say we're cool now so I feel like less of pratface." Jet said with no small amount of disgruntlement.

Zuko gave him that completely bewildered, are-you-growing-a-second-head-look that he had, before the ghost of a smirk slid over his face. " I dunno, you are a pretty big pratface. It'll take a lot more than one smoke." Bastard was taking the piss – now of all times!

"Well... you're a...you're a...a stupid, snotty, slutty strumpet, with terrible hair – but I'm polite about it and don't mention it." Jet retaliated, trying for that same superior tone that Zuko always pulled on him.

Zuko responded by blowing smoke all in Jet's face.

"Did you just blow in my face!?" Jet couldn't keep the vague awe from his voice. That looked so badass.

The bastard did it again in response. It was worse the second time, because he blew in a way that was much much sexier than Zuko probably ever intended it to be.

"That's just rude, you know!" Jet blustered, indignant.

Zuko rolled his eyes, looking nonchalant and accidentally sexy again. The inadvertent sexy really bothered Jet. He used to think it was all part of some evil plot. Like being clueless and shy was an act that Zuko was putting on. But there was no evil plot. That was just Zuko. Clueless, shy and stupidly sexy.

"Well, you are the polite one out of the two of us." Zuko replied sardonically. The little ghost of a smirk was back. Jet had nearly forgotten what a sarcastic fucker Zuko could be. He'd forgotten how much he liked that about him.

See Jet actually liked all these things about him... but that wasn't Zuko's fault. It wasn't his fault that he made Jet feel this way. He'd never done anything wrong. It had taken heaps of crazy, months of therapy, and many many beratings from Mai before Jet could finally admit that.

There was a small silence between them again. But this was a less hostile silence and that was a promising sign. Jet knew he owed Zuko an apology – a big one. He just needed Zuko not be a pratface about it.

-o-

"Hey Zuko...do you..."

"No."

"What!? You can't just answer no before you've heard the question!"

"I'm pretty sure my answer is no to any question you want to ask me."

"What happens if I was going to say do you want a million dollars?... you've just turned down a million dollars!"

"Do you have a million dollars?"

"No – but that's not the point."

"Wait... the million dollars isn't the point. What is the point?"

"Look I don't know any more. You confuse me."

"You confuse yourself."

"I was just going to ask you... shit, fine, okay...I was a bastard to you and I can admit that now, so you know, do you think we can just say water under the bridge -"

"Water under the bridge?"

"Like...fuck you, you are really going to make me say it aren't you? …..Oh fuck it, fine! Here you go... here it is... my very last shred of dignity. It is all yours pratface...

I'm sorry for being an arsehole to you...

And for stalking you...

And ruining you dates with that hussy with the big boobs...

And for throwing rocks at your head all the time...

And hitting you with sausages...

And perving on you in the bath..."

"You perved on me in the bath!?"

"Like whatever. Lets not focus on the little details - I did heaps of crazy shit... But I don't want that any more. I don't want to be that crazy guy... I don't want to be stuck on you any more... I don't want to be stuck... and I'll be stuck if I think you hate me, because I get weird when I think I have an enemy...and I actually am sorry for all that crap now. So I need you to say we're cool and it's water under the bridge...so I'm not stuck."

"Yeah – fine – whatever- we're cool."

-o-

Now that he'd apologised and been forgiven, Jet didn't quite know where the conversation should go. "You know- we've been civil to each other for more than five minutes. Weird huh?" he observed, mostly just for something to say.

"Really weird" Zuko agreed.

And it was weird. Too weird. They'd spent too many months beating each other and calling each other names to suddenly start "making nice" now.

"Oh this is too weird. We can be cool – but that doesn't mean we have to be nice about it. You're an assface." Jet said lightly and without his usual venom.

"What – I just forgave you jackass!" Zuko sassed back.

"Doesn't mean you're not a dickhead." Jet replied with a slight jostle of Zuko's shoulder.

"Well you're still an annoying motherfucker." Zuko gave him a little push back.

"Slutty Strumpetshagger." Jet said, feeling his smile get all big and his heart get all light.

This was what it felt like: apologising, absolution, letting go of something bad and destructive. He wasn't weighed down by all that hate any more. Not his own, not Zuko's. They could tease each other because it was what they did. It was the only way that they knew how to talk to each other. But there wasn't any bitterness or resentment in their exchange of insults this time. It was a refreshing and warming feeling, like the first rays of sun on his face after a long winter.

Jet had fallen in a big hole when he first got to Ba Sing Se. He'd hit rock bottom. Well he'd gone past rock bottom and found humiliation oil. But now he could finally see a way out of that big hole. He could see that it was never as deep or as wide as he imagined. There had always been a way out of that dark place... He had just been to blind to see it.

-o-

They swapped insults a bit more, until Zuko noticed the time. " You're such a crazy jerk." He muttered finally, with a slight shake of his head, before he pushed himself off the wall and stubbed out the rest of his smoke. He was leaving.

"Where you going, arsehole?" Jet asked quickly, also stubbing out his own smoke.

"I have shit to do nosy bastard! Not all of us can spend out life mooching off the dangerous ladies." Zuko fired back without malice.

"Dangerous ladies?" Jet said in genuine confusion.

"That's what June's thinking renaming her business. " Zuko explained. "Oh tell her 4 o'clock will be fine for me." he offered as a after thought. Right, Jet had originally come to ask what time he was free. But now he couldn't concentrate on that at all.

"Dangerous ladies? She never told me." Jet said, feeling a bit disconcerted.

"Well... she probably thought you take being referred to as a lady...you know... the wrong way." Zuko said with a lame attempt at sounding consoling.

"Well is there a right way to take that?" Jet demanded.

"Maybe, if you ask nicely, she'll change it to dangerous ladies and associate." Zuko suggested, while trying to suppress a smile.

"I'm more than an associate, I'm awesome. It should be Jet and the dangerous ladies!" Jet spluttered, a bit indignant. Zuko burst out laughing at that, and doubled dared Jet to actually suggest that to Mai and June.

Jet gave him a slight shove and said "Oh stop taking the piss and get outta here ! I thought you had shit to do" He imitated Zuko's voice for that last bit. He knew how much that annoyed him.

"I do – I am very busy and important" Zuko replied with a slight shove back.

"Well stop slacking off, you lazy bastard!" Jet advised, with a rascal smile.

"Go fuck yourself Jet" Zuko said, but there was almost a playful tone in his voice now.

Jet had been told to go fuck himself many times by Zuko, and his witty response was always "I already did!"

It wasn't at all a witty response, but it made Zuko chortled to himself as he walked away. Jet started heading off in the opposite direction, feeling all light and free for the first time since leaving the forest.

-o-o-o-


notes:

This little peice is a companion peice to the stalking series as a little epilogue to Jet's obsession. It takes place the morning after Zuko and Katara's argument. I wanted to show how Jet would start to move past his troubling obsession and into a healthier mindest. Part of that was Jet swallowing his pride, admiting that he was responsible for his own actions (if only to himself) and apologising to Zuko.

The first draft of this had much more Mai - because I wanted to show how she was a calming influence on Jet, but then I felt that this story stood much better if it was Jet making all these decisions of his own accord.

I wrote this mostly because I want a much better future for Jet than either mysterious death at age 16* or never being able to move on past his mistakes, hatred and faults. I see him riding off into the sunset with Mai and June, learning from his mistakes and growing into a better person - while still retaining his sass.

* Jet is such a fun character with so much potential that I never understood why Bryke killed him off screen the way they did. Any theories - because I have none.