"Who would have thought after all these years, I'd return to the scene of my greatest military disgrace. As a tourist!" Iroh turned and grinned at his nephew.
Zuko did not look amused. "Look around. We're not tourists, we're refugees."
It had taken some work, but after all their misadventures throughout the Earth Kingdom, they had finally managed to get onto a boat headed for Ba Sing Se. Zuko had initially been concerned over the need for a passport, but thanks to Iroh's…friends, (Zuko was still annoyed that his uncle was keeping him in the dark about whatever that was) it had proved to not be an issue.
And now they were on their way, but Zuko still wasn't particularly satisfied with their situation.
Trying to distract himself from unpleasant thoughts, he tried eating some of his rations, only to immediately spit it back out in disgust.
"I'm sick of eating rotten food. Sleeping in the dirt." He leaned onto the railing and closed his eyes. "I'm tired of living like this."
"Aren't we all?"
Zuko turned to see who had spoken, and found himself looking at a young man who looked about his age, with dark brown hair and a confident, slightly cocky expression on his face.
"My name's Jet, and these are my freedom fighters, Smellerbee and Longshot." Jet gestured at his two companions.
"Hey" said Smellerbee. Longshot nodded silently.
Turning back to face the sea, Zuko muttered "Hello."
"Here's the deal." Jet said, walking closer. "I hear the captain's eating like a king while us refugees have to feed off scraps. Doesn't seem fair, does it?"
"What sort of king is he eating like?" asked Iroh curiously.
"The fat happy kind." Jet replied.
Iroh expression changed to one of hunger, and he began drooling slightly.
Turning back to Zuko, Jet asked. "You wanna help us liberate some food?"
Zuko looked down at his bowl of sludgy food. He knew that getting better food wouldn't solve his problems, but at least it would be a start, and it would be better than just moping. He threw the bowl over the side of the ship.
"I'm in." he said.
Jet gave a satisfied smile.
Later that night, they made their stealthy attack. Zuko, Jet, and Smellerbee were at the bottom of the stairs, hidden in the shadows, and waited for the guard to pass. As soon as he was gone, they quickly moved up the stairs and onto the upper floor, and headed to the kitchen. After double checking to make sure no one was around, Jet stuck the tip of his blade into the kitchen door and wedged it open, making a small clanging noise. After verifying that no one was inside, they got to work. Using his hook swords, Jet cut down a bunch of hanging meat and collected it into a bag, while Zuko carefully gathered up some rice meals and put them into another bag. Their labors completed, Jet and Zuko exchanged a look of satisfaction.
I'm not sure what kind of person Lee is, Jet thought, but he seems reliable, and we seem to make a good team.
"Guards coming!" Smellerbee whispered.
Without any hesitation, they quickly but quietly fled from the kitchen and ran to the edge of the railing. They looked down, where they saw Longshot waiting for them. As soon as he saw them, he fired an arrow with a rope tied to it onto the railing, and within seconds the bags and the 3 young robin hoods slid down to safety.
A short time later, Jet passed the fruits of their efforts around to some of the other refugees. Zuko, Smellerbee, and Longshot settled down next to Iroh, and began to enjoy their meal.
"So." Iroh said. "Smellerbee. That's an unusual name for a young man."
"Maybe it's because I'm not a man." Smellerbee said irritably. "I'm a girl." Abruptly she got up and stalked away.
"Oh, now I see." Iroh said, looking apologetic. "It's a beautiful name for a lovely girl!"
Longshot got up and walked after her.
Iroh and Zuko had gone back to their meal when Jet walked back to join them.
"From what I heard, people eat like this every night in Ba Sing Se." Jet said. "I can't wait to set my eyes on that giant wall."
Jet had heard rumors about Ba Sing Se's massive walls all his life, but he never thought he'd actually get to see them one day.
Though, he thought grimly, the circumstances which led me to going to Ba Sing Se were not the most ideal.
"It is a magnificent sight." Iroh said quietly.
"So you've been there before?" Jet asked.
"Once." Iroh said seriously. "When I was a…different man."
"I've done some things in my past that I'm not proud of." Jet admitted quietly. "But that's why I'm going to Ba Sing Se. For a new beginning, a second chance."
"That's very noble of you." Iroh said. "I believe people can change their lives if they want to. I believe in second chances." He glanced at Zuko meaningfully.
Jet pondered what the look could mean.
Zuko was alone at the helm, staring ahead into the fog.
He wasn't sure what to think. He still hated the idea of going to Ba Sing Se, and hated the fact that he would probably never be able to fulfill his destiny now. But still, the previous night had been…nice. It had been pleasant to be working with someone else, knowing that they trusted him, and he them.
He knew that he could count on his uncle, but he was family, so that bond was just natural. Being able to rely on an outsider, that was a different matter entirely.
Still, he thought grimly, the last time I tried to open up to other people, it didn't end well. If I try to befriend Jet, will it end any differently?
He heard someone come up behind him, and out of his peripherals could tell that it was Jet.
"You know, as soon as I saw your scar I knew exactly who you were."
Zuko glanced cautiously at Jet.
"You're an outcast. Like me. And us outcasts have to stick together. We have to watch each other's backs, because no one else will."
Jet glanced down at the water.
Zuko relaxed slightly.
"I've realized lately." Zuko responded. "That being on your own isn't always the best path."
Even if things don't work out, Zuko thought, perhaps it's still right to try. In all the uncertainty of my life right now, at the very least it would be nice to have a friend, even if for only a little while.
They shared in a quiet companionship as the massive walls of Ba Sing Se loomed into view across the murky waters.
Authors note: I always thought it was incredibly clever how they reintroduced Jet in Season 2. The dynamic between Jet and Zuko was really interesting, and had a ton of potential. Which was why it really pissed me off when they threw all that potential down the toilet in the very next episode, and ended up reducing Jet into little more than a cheap plot device that was disposed of as soon as he wasn't needed any more. So this story is going to be what I think should have happened instead.