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08 November 2008 @ 03:54 pm
 
Uhhh... I've noticed that this fic hasn't had much Jetara lately. >.> Sorry 'bout that. I'm not sure if there'll be much in the next chapters, so if you guys would prefer I not post it due to irrelevance, just tell me.

For now, I'll post my most recent update:

“So,” Sokka started, eyeing Jet as they walked down the street, trying to strike up a conversation and release some of the building tension. “You, uh... Aren’t chewing a piece of straw anymore.”

“Nah,” he said, shrugging. “The owner of the teashop didn’t like it – said I might get pieces of grass in people’s food. I guess working there for so long broke the habit.”

The silence returned, disturbed only by the sound of their footsteps. The entire group was headed toward Lake Laogai, where Zuko claimed he was taken for brainwashing and had seen Appa. Everyone was sceptical at first (what idiot would trust the word of their sworn enemy?), but Toph assured them he was being truthful and they had no need to worry – he cared more about getting revenge on the people who had messed with his brain than capturing the Avatar.

For the moment, anyway.

Eventually, they reached a lake, where Zuko insisted he was taken underground despite no signs of an entrance.

“Relax,” Toph said, wiggling her bare toes in the dirt. “I can feel the place he’s talking about.”

To prove her point, she leapt in the air, landing in an earthbending stance and raising a small bridge of land out of the water. Sliding of the stone covering, the group peered down the hole, greeted only by darkness.

“I’ll go first,” Zuko decided after a moment of silent staring. “In case there’s any danger.”

Rolling her pale green eyes, Toph caught the firebender’s wrist before he could climb down. “No offense or anything, Sparky, but I think it’d be best if I go first. You’ll be too busy fumbling around in the dark to notice anything.”

With that, she climbed into the hole and began the careful descent down the ladder, soon swallowed by darkness.

“Did.... Did she just call me Sparky?

“Congratulations,” Sokka said in a less-than-pleased voice, clapping him roughly on the back. “You’re one of the team now.”

As the others followed their blind leader, Jet crossed his arms, asking no one in particular, “Why didn’t I get a nickname?”

“She’s known him longer,” Katara said, taking him by the arm and leading him closer to the hole. “Don’t worry – no one’s excluding you.”

He grumbled something, but followed her nonetheless.

When they reached the Dai Lee’s underground base, Zuko took the lead, able to see thanks to strange phosphorescent crystals that lined the base of the walls, emitting an eerie green light. As he crept down the corridor, glancing around at the stone walls and many doors, he murmured, “It’s all starting to come back to me.”

“Do you remember where Appa is?” Aang asked anxiously, walking daringly close to his temporary ally.

“I think so...” he said, pausing to get a better sense of where exactly he was in the strange place. “I think... he was in that room down there," he pointed to a door several feet away. Glancing at Toph, he asked, “Do you feel anything in there?”

Moving closer, she placed a sensitive hand on the door, concentrating hard on the space beyond. “There’s definitely something big in there, but it’s hard to tell what.”

“Alright, you guys get your bison. I’m finding the leader of the Dai Lee and taking care of my own problems.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Katara said, catching his wrist before he could hurry away.

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t trust you! For all I know, this is just another trap.”

“I don’t sense-“

“Toph, believe it or not, your ability to detect lies probably isn’t fool proof,” the waterbender snapped irritably.

“Well, what do you suggest we do?”Zuko growled, struggling to remain patient. As much as he liked the girl, she never ceased to infuriate him. Sometimes (well, most of the time) he wondered what the hell he had fallen for in the temperamental, stubborn, paranoid girl. “If there’s a guard in there, I doubt he’ll let you take back your bison without kicking up a fuss, and the Dai Lee are sure as hell going to be protecting their leader. We need to take care of both at the same time if we want to get out of here alive.”

“Fine – we’ll split up.”

No way,” Sokka immediately protested. “I don’t want anyone left alone with Angry Freak”

“You mean Sparky,” Toph corrected him, leaning against the door and listening to the argument with interest.

“Sparky, Angry Freak, whatever. It’s all the same.”

Crossing his arms, Zuko frowned and said, “Wait, I thought you said I was part of your team now – doesn’t that earn a little trust?”

“Only in Toph’s eyes – er, feet. Whatever,” shaking his head in frustration, he gritted his teeth and growled. “Look, the point is, letting someone run off alone with you is a stupid move. I’m not falling for anymore tricks.”

“It’s not a trick!”

Stepping out from the back of the crowd, Iroh placed a placating hand on both boys' shoulders, looking back and forth between them. “Now, there’s no need for hostility. Let’s settle this matter like the mature young people we all are.”

“I’ll go with Zuko,” Katara volunteered, suspicious gaze never leaving the exile.

“I’ll go, too,” Jet said, reaching for the hilt of one of his swords. “If he starts any trouble, I can handle it.”

“I will accompany my nephew as well,” Iroh smiled. “The rest of you should handle your bison.”

“Aw, no fair,” Toph pouted. “You guys’ll get to have all the fun.”

“Is invading an underground base to take out the leader of an elite, secretive army your idea of fun?”

“Hell yeah!”

The prince spared her a curious look, then turned and wordlessly continued down the hall, Katara, Iroh, and Jet following close behind. Behind them they heard the blind girl’s continued grumbling and the sound of a door being opened and closed. The short distance left to reach his own destination seemed forever away, the tense worry of being caught growing with every second the other group was in the room with their bison.

“This is it,” he whispered, stopping in front of a metal door identical those around him. Taking a deep breath, he grasped the hand and yanked it open, bracing himself for...

... For nothing.

The room was empty, complete blackness. Lighting a small flame on his palm, he tried to see if his enemies were hiding in the shadows, noting that the ceiling must have been very high – he couldn’t see any of it, no matter how large he grew his flame. Still, there was no sign of the enemy. Stepping into the room and letting his fire shrink back to its original size (the flames had been sparking dangerously close to his hair), he couldn’t help the uneasy feeling that settled into his stomach.

“This better not be a trap!’ Katara hissed, voice echoing through the hall as her hand reached for her waterskin.

“It’s not, I-“ he abruptly cut off, eyes widening slightly.

“What? Can’t think of a good enough lie?”

“There’s no echo.”

What?”

“If the room’s empty, there should be an echo, but-“

“There is none,” a familiar voice finished for him, sending a chill down his spine and memories flashing through his mind.

“Long Feng,” he spat bitterly.

Crystals flickered to life on the ceiling, glowing brightly and revealing twenty or so Dai Lee agents clinging to the rocks high above, and an equal number on the ground, all prepared to fight at a single command. At their head stood Long Feng, smirking.

“Hello, prince Zuko,” he greeted, letting his eyes travel over the other members of the group. “So nice of you to bring your friends along. Now I can fix all my problems.”

“What’d we ever do to you?” Jet demanded, speaking for himself and Katara.

“Oh, you’ve done plenty and only threaten to do more,” Long Feng said, beginning to pace in front of his small army. The Dai Lee’s faces remained blank, cold as stone.

“What are you talking about?” Katara asked, bewildered. “We’re trying to help this city!”

“Well, you’re far from successful. You see, this city prides itself on impenetrability and a utopian society. People come here for happiness and safety, to forget the war and know only peace. But you”- he shot Katara a glare – “You and that crazy Avatar come here searching for your bison and an army, spreading word of the Fire Nation’s threat everywhere you go, striking fear and panic into the hearts of our citizens.”

“Fear and panic is better than-“

Silence!” he bellowed. “You disobeyed direct orders from agent Joo Dee, pester the Earth King for meetings so you can discuss this ridiculous war, and shatter what I’ve worked so hard to maintain. And you” – he turned on Jet – “bring deep-rooted hatred for the Fire Nation into these walls, ranting about their misdeeds and your heroic acts against them, creating unease and prejudice among my city’s people. You start fights and encourage vigilantes, with no regard for peace or order. You care only for your selfish revenge.”

“There’s a war!” Jet protested angrily, grip tightening on his hook-swords. “People are dying, people are fleeing to this very city, and the Fire Nation is coming! If you keep pretending every thing's perfect, the entire city will be destroyed!”

“I’m well aware of how close the Fire Nation is,” the Dai Lee’s leader assured, gaze landing on Zuko, than sliding over to Iroh. “All of you are destroying this city’s careful balance, and I think it would be best if you leave before I make you do so forcefully.”

“We’re not leaving until we have the Earth King’s support,” Katara said firmly.

“And we’re not leaving,” Zuko said, speaking for his uncle as well. “We’re refugees, just like everyone else.”

“Oh, don’t worry prince Zuko. You and General Iroh are welcome to stay,” Long Feng said, smirking dangerously. “Zuko, the Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai.”

Something in the exile’s posture changed – he stiffened, standing at attention like the army of earthbenders spread out before him. His eyes changed, too, pupils seeming to dilate and becoming duller, lifeless, like the eyes of a puppet. When he spoke, his voice was devoid of emotion.

“I would be honoured to accept his invitation.”
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