Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book of Water: Jet :: Meeting
"Sai! You're early!"
A figure at a distance responded to the name. A lanky teenager with long black-hair rose from his sitting position on a boulder and stretched stiff limbs. A katana hung from his belt with hard leather greaves covering the shins and forearms. A crew of teenagers in patched armor led by a spiky brown-haired teenager at the front of the pack jogged up to the meeting spot.
"No, you're just late," the companionless person corrected and hefted one of the many stuffed sacks from the ground. Once the group got closer, the red and black covered swordsman hurled a bag towards the leader. With expert reflexes, the bag was easily caught and slung over a shoulder.
"Smellerbee was taking a while to get ready, for some reason." The mash of youngsters behind their leader snuffled their laughter when the only girl in the Freedom Fighters glared at them.
The dark-haired teenager smiled and ruffled the girl's messy hair, ignoring her blush.
"Jet, don't make excuses," he jokingly reprimanded and gestured to the guerilla fighters to begin taking the bags behind him. There weren't that many, but each was filled to the brim with varying scavenged materials: cloth, shoes, cups, soap, candles, and towels and more. Sai knew that the objects would go unnoticed in Gaipan, the Earth Kingdom village nearby he was currently stationed at. He had gone through the dumpsters and washed the stuff in a stream before putting them in bags.
While the Freedom Fighters hauled the goods, Jet approached their supply partner out of earshot of the others.
"You know...you're welcome to visit the hideout," Jet said in a low voice while casting a conspiratorial eye over the Fire Nation soldier's face. Both teenagers were relatively of the same height, but Sai knew that he was taller and while neither was intimidated by each other, the black-haired one didn't want to lose Jet's trust. Sai grimaced. He's been putting off the invitations, but didn't want to seem suspicious about it.
"I told you that I'd like to," he said in a hushed tone. "Honestly, I want to see the hideout, but if the soldiers back in town found out about it, I don't want to be a liability."
It was logical reasoning in Sai's point of view. As much as Sai was willing to help the guerilla fighters, he also wanted to maintain loyalty to his soldiers. He didn't want to risk the Freedom Fighter's secret base, but also disliked keeping secrets behind his men's backs. Sneaking out food and supplies twice a month was stressful for him.
And I'm interfering enough with this universe already, he thought sullenly.
Jet smirked, oblivious of the thoughts that ran across his partner's mind.
"Come on, you don't have anything special happening today, do you?" The Duke exclaimed, his helmet tilting precariously towards the right.
"Well…," Sai began and shook his hand in a so-so motion.
"That settles it," Jet decided and wrapped an arm around Sai's shoulder, dragging him with his team. The rest of the fighters stationed themselves around their leader, leaving no escape options for the Fire Nation soldier. Since he preferred his own personal space, Sai's hand kept straying to the hilt of his katana as a source of reassurance against the close proximity of bodies around him.
The other indication of Sai's discomfort was the light smile that grew tighter and tighter as they got closer to their destination. He was nevertheless curious about the secret hideout. He's always wanted to go up in a tree house. Even though there was an inner voice that screamed for him to leave the situation, Sai went along with the group.
The zip line to the treetops definitely made the trip worth it.
Sai hummed in agreement as he took in the view above the trees. Flicking the blade of wheat grass in his mouth, Jet noted that their Fire Nation smuggler was being more quiet than usual. Sai had a reserved disposition in general, however right now he seemed more moody. Jet opened his mouth, intending to ask Sai what was bothering him when The Duke came forward.
The Duke ran up to the group, yelling excitedly, "Jet! Sneers spotted a campsite with a huge load of boxes, with only about twenty soldiers!"
Jet turned to Sai, with a mockingly regretful look on his face. He said with a humorous apologetic tone, "I'd invite you to join, but…"
The Fire Nation soldier shrugged understandably, unperturbed by the irony of the statement.
"Can't blow my cover," Sai agreed with him. "I'll wait up here?"
Jet nodded and headed for the cables. "Give yourself a tour, there's a lot to see. We'll be back soon."
"Don't be too overconfident," he called out as Jet and the team jumped from the trees. The only response was a grin before they landed on the ground. Following The Duke's lead, the guerilla fighters disappeared into the forest. Once they were out of sight, the pleasant expression slid off Sai's face.
Even though sacking Fire Nation camps was something the Freedom Fighters did on a regular basis without his assistance, Sai was still bothered by it of course. Those soldiers were from his own country yet it was one the agreements he and Jet had settled on: Sai would provide whatever supplies he could get his hands on, Jet wouldn't terrorize the townspeople, only groups of soldiers, and lastly, Sai wouldn't reveal Fire Nation activities unless it directly affected them. Jet at first had objected to the last part, so it wasn't until Sai had to put the details into perspective where if their situations were reversed that Jet considered it. It took some time, but Jet reluctantly agreed to after Sai said that he couldn't be held accountable for whatever they would do to Fire Nation soldiers. Sai only hoped that they didn't take lives, but Smellerbee so far has assured him that all they mostly inflicted were concussions. Longshot's aim was so good that he could shoot arrows to disarm rather than physically harm. Most of the Freedom Fighters' weapons lacked hard metal, although Sai was mainly concerned about Jet's tiger hook blades with the razor sharp edges at the handles.
As an attempt to distract himself from his worries, Sai crossed a bridge to another tree platform, meeting and greeting people along the way. Surprisingly, a lot of them already knew that he was their secret supplier from town. Sai wasn't worried about his identity being exposed. This particular crowd of teenagers and kids knew how important keepings secrets were. They were living on a secret base hidden in trees after all. Sai was more relaxed with the fact that everyone was at ease with him, a person of the Fire Nation.
If only they knew how close I am with the capital, he thought sardonically. Jet and the team didn't even know Sai's full identity. After zip lining through the trees for an hour, Sai settled in with the refugees, talking amiably. He wanted to wait until the Freedom Fighters returned from their little party so that he could give an official goodbye instead of leaving without a word to the leader.
When almost three hours of socializing, Sai excused himself to retreat to a more quiet area to review the information he had just gleaned from the band of young refugees. No doubt everyone up here adored and admired their leader. The good news was that Jet lately seemed to think highly of Sai, something that was flattering, surprising, and reassuring at the same time. The bad news was that Jet was still unhappy about the Fire Nation occupation in Gaipan, which meant the rebel leader has yet to be satisfied with their current situation. The recurring observation troubled Sai. The small Earth Kingdom village inhabitants were actually, dare he say it, content with the Fire Nation soldiers. Under Sai's authority, the villagers and soldiers have been getting along relatively well for the past year. However Jet wasn't under the same impression and was still convinced that anyone remotely affiliated with the Fire Nation was evil.
The sound of rope whistling through the air woke Sai from his contemplations and he headed over to meet the returning vigilantes. What he didn't expect however, were newcomers.
He heard them before he saw them because-
Sai flinched and quickly scanned the area, searching for a Fire Nation soldier in the trees. Sai was confused until he saw a tanned teenage boy pointing at him with a decorated blue club in the other hand. The stranger screeched a war cry before attempting his first strike.
"Take this!" The boy swung at Sai's head, but in one fluid motion, the Fire Nation smuggler ducked and grabbed the attacking wrist. Twisting the joint and tripping him with an ankle hook, the boy fell to the ground with the strange club clattering harmlessly next to him. Sai let go of the attacker's wrist once Jet and the rest of the group got closer.
"Sokka! Are you alright?"
Following the Freedom Fighters were two other newcomers Sai didn't recognize. A girl with similar dark skin coloring and blue clothes went up to the boy on the ground. The boy clutched his wrist and groaned, glaring up at Sai. The girl, maybe his sister, also looked reproachfully at him, but with less aggression.
"He's Fire Nation, what's he doing here? I thought your base was safe?!" The boy shouted at Jet.
"Sai is one of us," Smellerbee snapped.
"He's our Fire Nation spy," Jet clarified with a chuckle. The three newcomers echoed Jet's word.
"I'm more like their supplier from the Fire Nation town nearby," Sai explained and held out a hand for the tanned boy. As Sokka took the hand at an arm's length, Jet began the introductions.
"Sai, meet Aang, Sokka, and Katara. We ran into them during our raid."
Sai lifted a brow when Jet made a subtle glance towards the third introduction, but held out his hand to the rest of them.
"Sai, Fire Nation soldier from the nearby town Gaipan," he said shortly. "Sorry about the fall earlier," he added to Sokka. The Water Tribe boy looked surprised to receive the apology. The surprise most likely stemmed from the weeks they've had Fire Nation soldiers chase them. Such apologetic words were unexpected.
"Uh, it's fine?" The corner of Sai's mouth twitched when Sokka's voice cracked. Sai thought that the entire situation was amusing. It helped that he was at least a head taller than all of them.
Katara and Sokka eyed the older teenager warily while Aang grinned widely. The airbender was excited to have finally met a person from the Fire Nation who wasn't after his head. The group altogether headed to the largest treetop platform. Katara and Aang quickly integrated themselves with the kids their ages and sat down at the dinner table, but Sokka withdrew to the side. Jet walked away at someone's request, leaving Sai in the company of the Water Tribe boy.
Sokka asked dubiously, "So how did you end up helping Jet and the Freedom Fighters?" Aang swooped down next to Sai, interested in the story.
"We actually met the same way you and I met, only instead of you swinging your club at me, Jet had his hook blades," Sai responded, frowning at the memory.
Sokka visibly brightened. "Jet got thrown to the ground?"
Sai chuckled. "No, we were at each other's throats for several minutes before the rest of his team intervened. We ended up talking and coming to an agreement." Sokka sulked at the difference of the outcome while Aang was impressed that the soldier from the Fire Nation was able to resolve the fight peacefully, even making a deal at the end of it.
"Just like that?" Katara had overheard the last part and was slightly astonished. She didn't think that Jet would so easily make a deal with a person from the Fire Nation. He seemed to hold a strong grudge against all Fire Nation people, although his relationship with Sai contradicted that.
"It was rocky at first," Sai admitted and reached for a cup of lychee juice. "A lot of trust issues and suspiciousness from their part, which is perfectly understandable, but it worked out in the end."
"So how are the villagers? Are the Fire Nation soldiers treating them bad?" Aang asked.
Sai choked on his drink. "You guys think we're oppressing the villagers?"
The benders exchanged looks. "We thought, you were?" Katara said with hesitation. Before Sai could respond, Jet appeared and tapped Sai on the shoulder.
"Going to talk to this guy for a moment," Jet interrupted with a smile. Katara smiled back while Sokka's face soured. They watched the two older teenagers separate themselves from the crowd.
"You know, Jet said that they were going to 'free' the Earth Kingdom village from the Fire Nation," Sokka noted with suspicion. His frown grew deeper as he watched Jet and Sai talking at a distance in quiet voices. Katara and Aang uneasily reflected on Sokka's words because Jet's story didn't seem to quite match Sai's reaction.
"Are you staying?" Jet asked and flicked his heads towards the dinner table. Some kids were setting up plates, eating utensils, and dishes. Many were already seated. The food smelled tempting, but Sai has already overstayed his time limit. If he was gone any longer, soldiers would be asking where he had gone.
Sai shook his head regretfully. "There's a crew with a royal message coming tonight and all soldiers have to be there for the announcement."
Jet scanned Sai's face. For all the trust they've built for the past year and a half, Jet overall was still a cautious guy despite his bravado and confidence. Sai briefly wondered if Jet was like this was only with him because he was Fire Nation.
"Are you going to tell us about it?" The undertone of a challenge was heavy in his question. Sai broke eye contact and observed the kids laughing and talking merrily in front of them. The guerilla fighter was testing him and was expecting a 'no', which was what Sai would usually say. However it was different this time.
"Actually, I probably will be. We haven't received a royal message before, ever. So it's going to be something important," Sai confessed and rubbed the back of his neck to relieve some tense muscles. Jet's eyes widened for a moment, indicating his surprise, before lowering them.
"Something big," he concluded and leaned against the wall next to Sai. He chewed on his blade of wheat thoughtfully before clapping a hand on Sai's shoulder.
"Thanks for today, man," he said. The two walked together to the cables and Sai gripped a handle, getting ready for the drop. However before Sai could say his own goodbye, Aang burst into the scene.
"Sai, you're leaving already? Aren't you staying to eat?" The smuggler smiled at him because the airbender seemed genuinely disappointed in finding out about his absence.
"I'll be back," Sai responded with a questioning expression towards Jet.
"You're welcome anytime," Jet said confidently.
"Then I'll see you hopefully again," Sai told the airbender.
As she helped someone carry dishes to the dinner table, Katara examined the Fire Nation smuggler curiously. He had a sword and wore none of the signature red and black armor, but that didn't mean he wasn't defenseless. His speech was clear even though he spoke bluntly. Katara personally thought that despite the lightly tanned skin, he gave off an air of a noble rather than a common soldier with his sharp features and sophisticated mannerisms.
And good-looking, Katara noted with a slight blush as she watched him and the leader of the Freedom Fighters discuss something privately. The contrast between the two older teenage boys was somewhat striking. Whereas Sai had a refined appearance that was unquestionably attractive, Jet's features were more ruggedly flashy, and that added to his charm. Katara tore her gaze away before her mind could go any further into admiring the two. She jabbed Sokka with her elbow to prevent him from glaring at them though. When Aang was nowhere in sight, she glanced around.
"He said he needed to go to the bathroom," Sokka replied while smacking his lips, distracted by hunger. He was much too eager to start eating. Katara rolled her eyes at her brother, silently hoping that there would be enough food for Aang left on their side of the table if Sokka continued eyeing all the edibles like that. Distracted by unpleasant thoughts of a bathroom system inside a hideout up in the trees, she didn't notice Jet and Sai leaving and tried chatting with Smellerbee sitting opposite of her.
Right when Sai walked through the village gates, his duties began once a Fire Nation soldier approached him.
"Sir, the letter from the Fire Nation capital arrived with a group of straggling soldiers," the soldier reported while holding a sealed scroll. "They came about an hour ago, saying that they were delayed because of an attack by those teenage vigilantes this morning." Sai lifted a brow and took the scroll. He didn't think that the Fire Nation group Jet had attacked would have been the same one that held the royal message.
"Tell their captain that I'll meet with him at Yoon's restaurant in fifteen minutes," Sai responded and waved away the soldier to relay the message. Sai was reluctant to unravel the scroll since letters from the capital were never completely a pleasant occurrence. Ignoring that he was in public, Sai made a 'tsk' sound, audibly showing his displeasure as he read the contents of the scroll.
It was an order for him to move on to 'conquer' the neighboring towns and to unify the area and ultimately, to build a pinnacle fortress as a future Fire Nation strategic point. More soldiers and another general were going to be sent for the project.
Sai didn't want to do that. Managing the number of soldiers right now was troubling enough, but more conquering? Sai decided to think about it later and tucked the scroll into his waistband and headed over to his favorite and only restaurant in the village.
Sai stepped inside the humble structure, pausing to inhale the hearty smell of dinner, and called out for the owner and chef of the eatery. "Yoon! I'm going to need two duck and potato gruels in about fifteen minutes, is that alright?"
An old, middle-aged man's head stuck out the door of the kitchen, jumpy at the sudden call.
"Sir! Are you meeting someone?"
Sai nodded. "I wanted to discuss some matters over dinner with a captain, may we have the meeting here?"
Immediately setting out to please the Fire Nation serviceman, the owner dashed over to a secluded table and began wiping it with a damp cloth. "Of course! Of course! You must want a table with some room, right?"
"Thank you, I'm sorry about the late notice," Sai apologized. The owner raised his hands defensively, shaking his head.
"None, none at all! It is always a pleasure for you to eat here. Your food will be ready shortly," the man replied quickly and hurried to the kitchen, shouting orders to his workers along the way. Sai chuckled lightly to himself at the older man's antics and relaxed into his chair, popping his neck. He hasn't eaten Yoon's food in a while and was looking forward to it. Sai was glad that he and the restaurant owner were on good terms with each other. Before the Fire Nation's arrival, the village of Gaipan had mostly been under the leadership of the aged Yoon. Befriending the restaurant owner had been one of Sai's best decisions when they had first come into the town.
In less than ten minutes, a ruffled captain with a goatee, an eye patch, and full hard armor walked into the restaurant. Sai stood up in greeting and gestured for the man to take a seat. The captain took off his helmet, sitting down with confusion written on his face.
"Captain Han. I'm here to speak with the general?"
A corner of Sai's lips upturned. "You're talking to him."
The captain squeaked in embarrassment and banged his knee against the table as he bolted to his feet, bowing at ninety degrees. "Oh! Uh-I, um, I'm very sorry, sir, I didn't mean to disrespect you. I was just not expecting you to appear so-"
"So young," Sai finished for him and laughed aloud. The sound relieved the tension in the captain's soldiers as he sat back down. "It's fine, you're not the first."
The captain fidgeted in his seat, the redness hasn't left his face yet. "Sir, out of curiosity, may I ask how old you were when you became general?"
Sai absently tapped the surface of the table. "I believe I was promoted on my fifteenth birthday."
The older man balked at the answer. "Fifteen," he muttered and then his eyes lit up. "Oh, I've heard of you when I was still in the barracks! Sir, you studied under the Dragon of the West and you're the youngest in history to gain the rank of a general!" He said excitedly. Such a military figure was a legend among foot soldiers.
"I was third youngest and promoted to fill in an empty spot once the High General himself retired," Sai corrected him and his easygoing smile suddenly turned cold. The general folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "And speaking of age, I heard you and your men were ambushed by a group of youngsters?"
The sudden turn of conversation caught the captain off-guard.
"Ah-yes, sir," he stammered, his voice growing smaller as he explained. "It happened this morning. Three travelers with peculiar clothing had distracted us when the group dropped from the trees and took over. After tying us up, they took all of our weapons, supplies, and the four crates of blasting jelly we were supposed to deliver. I was incapacitated the moment we were ambushed and was informed by my men of what happened after waking up," he finished sheepishly. Captain Han's voice shook while voicing the humiliating account.
"Distracted by three travelers with peculiar clothing," Sai repeated slowly. The captain couldn't meet the narrow eyes of his superior and the palms of his hands began to sweat when the young general stayed quiet. The silence reigned until bustling, robust Yoon trotted over to their table with two, steaming bowls at hand.
"Your meals, sirs," the owner said, unfazed by the anxiety on the captain's face.
"Thank you, Yoon," Sai said gratefully and looked pointedly at the mustached man. "Aren't you going to thank the owner for his food?"
The captain cleared his throat. "Thank you for the food," he managed, but didn't touch his food. The man salivated when the delicious aroma reached his nostrils. He couldn't recall the last time he enjoyed a decent tasty meal on a table after weeks of traveling on ground. The one thing that was holding him back, however, was the intensity of the general's gaze. Captain Han regretted having a laid back demeanor during his first words with the teenager and mentally scolded himself for turning lax once he had discovered that the general was younger than him. Despite the young age, the general was still a general with all of its authority.
"Captain Han, what about your men? Were any of your soldiers injured during the ambush?"
The captain blinked. "No sir, no one was seriously injured. Only minor concussions and bruises miraculously."
Sai nodded in a satisfied manner and motioned for the older man to begin eating.
"Then it wasn't a complete loss," Sai said and turned to his own bowl of soup. The captain sat still for several seconds, bewildered at the reversal of the tense atmosphere until the words finally sunk in.
He considered the safety of the soldiers as a part of the report, Captain Han realized. And at that thought, the captain cheerfully helped himself to a good meal.
The next morning was a mess. Sai blinked the sleep out of his eyes as he listened to a soldier's report about an incident regarding an elderly Fire Nation man. He wanted to go back to his room and sleep the day away, but this was a problem.
"So they just robbed you?" Sai questioned the old man. "Anything else?"
Elder Gazu rubbed his hands and his voice trembled. "I bumped into a large fellow and fell to the ground. One was going to kick me when another stopped him. The person who helped me called their leader 'Jet'."
Sai bit back a groan as he continued listening to the old man's account. The young general finished up the questioning, thanking the man and got ready for a day outside the village. He was going to have to visit Jet today.
Sai held a hardened expression the entire way to the hideout. Once he was pulled up into the trees, Sai asked for directions to Jet's room and knocked on the wooden frame of the entrance.
Sai flicked the curtain aside and walked in. Jet grinned in greeting and was sitting on a log shaped as a stool.
"Sai, nice to see you visiting. You got that message for me?"
"Yeah, you're not going to like it," Sai said curtly. "But I wanted to talk about something else first."
Jet lifted his eyebrows. "What is it?"
"Why did you jump on that old man this morning?"
The leader of the Freedom Fighters rolled his eyes. "Oh come on, Sai, you know the deal we made. We'll raid whoever we want and you won't spill."
"Jet, he was just an old man," Sai retorted. "His name is Gazu and he was making his way back to Gaipan after a visit to one of the other neighboring villages. He was harmless, so why did you rob him?"
Jet stood up. "The Fire Nation are out to get us and you're worried about an old man?"
"The Fire Nation are not 'out to get' you guys," Sai said in exasperation. "It's one thing if you're after a group of trained soldiers, but targeting only one person from the Fire Nation, an elderly man at that, isn't going to get you anywhere."
"They're all the same," Jet shot back. "The Fire Nation are all evil and we have to get rid of all of them from this place."
"Then I'll have you know that the royal message states that we've been ordered to move to the next town," Sai said tightly. Jet jumped to his feet, enraged.
"You're taking over another village? You said you were stationed here?!" The volume of the rebel leader's voice rose.
"I am stationed here, but it's changed now. I can't do anything about it."
Jet narrowed his eyes at Sai's words and grinded the blade of grass between his teeth. Jet hated the Fire Nation. He's always has and has hoped before that Sai would join his Freedom Fighters in the future, but now….He has barrels of blasting jelly, a waterbender, and the Avatar in his hands. With the information Sai has given him, Jet knew that he couldn't allow the Fire Nation soldiers to live any longer. He's tolerated their existence far too long for Sai's sake.
"They need to be stopped. Take your choice, Sai. It's either us or the Fire Nation." Jet said 'Fire Nation' as if it was the worst thing in the world. Dark brown irises bore down light amber ones. The tension was thick in the air and both teenagers knew that this was a question that has been hanging over their heads from the first day they've met each other.
"Jet, you know I can't turn my back on my homeland," Sai said cautiously. Regret pricked Jet at the loss of a potentially great addition to his team, but he shoved the pointless feeling down. Sai was no longer a friend if he was going to make that choice.
The Fire Nation general was at first taken aback at the terse dismissal, but Sai exited the room without another word. The swordsman would have left the hideout within the next few seconds however he caught Katara and Aang eavesdropping behind a corner. Sai only dipped his head and stalked off when the two benders waved weakly
Aang and Katara hurried after the Fire Nation smuggler.
"We're sorry for overhearing, but what was that all about?" Katara asked. They had only caught the end snippets of the heated conversation and Katara felt uncomfortable that Sai was leaving on a bitter note.
"Yeah, we heard your voices from outside the walls," Aang added.
Sai breathed deeply and reigned in his composure. "Jet attacked a Fire Nation citizen this morning, which was uncalled for. We agreed that he would only pick on soldiers, not old men traveling alone." Sai didn't want to talk about the latter half of their fallout.
"But Jet said that old man was an assassin sent to kill him," Katara defended. Sai directed a sharp look at the waterbender.
"Did he really? Because the old man that I know Jet attacked has a bad case tendonitis in the right knee and can only walk properly if he has a cane," Sai said sharply. Aang and Katara reeled at the opposing evidence. "If you're going to get facts, get it from more than one source available," Sai bit out and continued walking. Katara clenched her fists and stood her ground in front of Sai.
She fired, "Oh yeah? Well, what about your Fire Nation plan to burn down the forest?"
Sai lifted a brow. There was no plan to burn down the forest. The forest was an abundant natural resource full of hunting game, wood, and plants for the townspeople and Fire Nation soldiers. It'd be a huge waste to burn it down. "There is no plan," he said as though what Katara had accused him of was preposterous.
Katara's indignant expression faltered. "But Jet said.."
"Again, get your information from more than one source, it'll save you a lot of future embarrassment," Sai repeated brusquely. "He most likely said that just so he could get you two to do something for him. Let me guess, he asked for your help in filling up the reservoir above the valley so that it could fight back the flames of our 'fire'?"
Aang widened his eyes. "How'd you know?"
"Even after more than a year of me talking to him, Jet never got over his hatred for the Fire Nation. The four crates full of blasting jelly from the group they raided yesterday while protecting you guys probably got his gears turning. I've been suspecting that he's wanted to wipe out the Fire Nation soldiers stationed here for good," Sai remarked grimly.
Katara placed her hands on her hips, questioning, "Wait, how will filling up the reservoir 'wipe out' the Fire Nation soldiers here?"
Sai rubbed his chin. "Right, I forgot to mention that the river is currently dammed to control the amount of water running through the valley."
Aang gasped. "The Earth Kingdom town is at the center of the valley, isn't it?" Sai nodded.
"And he's needs blasting jelly to…," Katara concluded and stepped backwards when the realization hit her. "Jet wouldn't do that. He cares for that town!"
"Maybe he would and maybe he wouldn't, but I'm not taking chances," Sai said. "I have to go back to Gaipan to warn them."
Katara and Aang stayed at their spots as the Fire Nation soldier left, feeling unsettled from the conversation.
"Do you think Jet would really do that?" Katara asked Aang.
Aang looked down. "I hope not," he admitted. "We can only find out by asking Jet." Katara agreed. She wanted to get to the bottom of this.
"We need to find Sokka and talk to Jet."
That same day, Jet set out his plan to the Freedom Fighters. They were unopposed to removing the Fire Nation from the area, however one person came to mind when Jet told them they were going to take out the Earth Kingdom village.
"But Jet, Sai lives in Gaipan!" Smellerbee protested. Pipsqueak and The Duke looked equally as agitated. They didn't want to hurt someone who's been helping them for more than a year now. Sai has always been nice, contrary to their normal image of a Fire Nation soldier. Longshot hid his expression under his wide hat while Sneers munched on jelly candy, standing in the sidelines of the exchange.
"Smellerbee, he lied to us," Jet growled. "He's not just a soldier, I followed him to the edge of that town today, and he's not just any soldier, he's a high ranking officer."
"What do you mean?" The Duke asked.
"He's a Fire Nation general," Jet answered in a dark tone. "Meaning he's been playing us all along. Sai has been spying on us this whole time."
Shock spread through Freedom Fighters. Discovering that someone you had hoped was on your side, secretly against the Fire Nation, but actually wasn't, was devastatingly jarring.
"On my signal," Jet sternly reminded Longshot. "Sneers, go with Longshot. The rest of you take two of the barrels over to the reservoir. We need to free the hot water trapped underground to fill up the reservoir by planting the jelly inside the dirt."
"I thought you said that the two benders were going to fill it up," Smellerbee asked.
Jet grimaced. "Katara and Aang tried waterbending, but couldn't. Katara said they haven't had enough training to be able to waterbend water they couldn't see, so we'll have to free the water ourselves. I told them to stay up in the hideout for today."
"I dunno, Jet, this feels a bit too much," The Duke said in slight hesitation. "Won't the townspeople get wiped out too?"
Jet softened his expression and laid a hand on The Duke's shoulder. "Sacrifices have to be made if we want to get rid of the Fire Nation for good," he reassured them. "Now let's move. The faster we get the reservoir filled, the sooner we can blow up the dam."
The first indication that set alarm bells ringing in Sai's head was the first explosion that came from above the valley.
After the second explosion, Sai knew that Jet was up to something with the blasting jelly. He mentally cursed himself for not checking on the reservoir before returning to the village. Sai didn't know what the explosions meant. Did Jet blow up the dam? What was the second explosion for then? Did Katara and Aang end up helping Jet in filling up the reservoir?
The villagers were still in the middle of getting ready to leave and Sai worried that they were going to be out of time if those two explosions had been for the dam. Slinging his sturdy traveling pack over a shoulder, Sai strapped on his sword belt with his katana and stepped out to meet his soldiers, finding a commotion at the front gate.
Sokka's preteen voice cried among the rowdiness of the crowd. "You have to believe me!"
"What's going on here?" Sai barked and sent a deadly stare of 'Keep quiet or else' at Sokka. The Water Tribe boy wisely closed his mouth and allowed a soldier to explain.
"Sir, this person walked in claiming that the dam is soon going to be blown up by the rebel forces, but we heard those two explosions just now and we don't even know if it was the dam-"
"Those two blasts you just heard were to blow up the ground up the valley to release water underneath to fill the reservoir. The next explosion is definitely the dam," Sokka interjected, desperate to give reason. "You have to believe me, you guys have a little more time until the reservoir fills up, but this town will soon be flooded once the water level is high enough."
"And how can we trust you? For all we know, you could be their spy, stalling and giving us false details," the soldier retaliated.
"Enough," Sai snapped. "Take the boy to the village gate," he told another soldier. He couldn't let Sokka witness what authority he held within the town and waited until he was sure Sokka couldn't hear what he was saying.
Elder Gazu stepped forward from the crowd and turned to Sai. "Trust the boy. He was the one who prevented me from getting hurt this morning." All eyes turned to Sai for the final decision. Sai sucked in a breath and pinched the bridge of his nose, mentally listing priorities.
"Tell the everyone that we have to leave. Now," he ruled against the cries of the townspeople. "Take only your most precious and necessary possessions because we need to move fast. The rebel group took blasting jelly from their recent raid so I don't want to the risk the possibilities. I'm going to try and prevent the explosion at the dam."
Captain Han from nearby paled at the order, urging, "Sir, you have to let more soldiers come with you-"
Sai cut him off. "No, what I'm doing requires only one person. Besides, that's not priority. The villagers here need all of your help to pack up their belongings and move to the next town. I'll meet you there once the flood is over."
"Sir, what if-"
"And if I'm not back, then I'm placing my second-in-command colonel in charge of our troops from now on. The new wave of Fire Nation soldiers arriving will be led by a general, so until then, our colonel will be in command. Captain Han, I'm ordering you to relay this to the colonel," Sai finished with a tone of steel. "Now move, we don't have time."
The captain's face pinched, unhappy at his general's self-declared sacrifice, but obediently barked instructions to his fellow soldiers.
Sai went over to Sokka. "Let's go," he said and headed for the forest. Once the village gates were out of sight, Sai commented, "Nice timing, by the way. And thanks for showing up, we were able to have a better grasp on the situation."
"Jet's crazy!" Sokka babbled. "When we tried to talk him out of his evil plan, he attacked us! Katara and Aang have been trying to delay the flow of the water, so I went ahead with Appa to warn the town. We need to stop Jet from blowing up the dam!"
"Who's Appa?" Sai questioned.
"Our flying bison," Sokka replied as though it was the most obvious answer.
"If you say so," Sai muttered and restrained himself from gaping at the large, furry mammal. Sai climbed onto the furry bison after Sokka and held on tight as they flew up the valley.
"Take me down to the other side of the dam, I'll stop whoever supposed to light the blasting jelly." Sai pointed to a spot near the dam. The Fire Nation's soldier's stomach tightened when he saw how much water had already built up on one side of the wooden structure. Sokka nodded and quickly snapped on the reins. Just as the bison's feet touched the ground, Sai jumped off the saddle, tucking into a roll.
"I'll come back," Sokka promised and took off. Not wasting a second, Sai dashed towards the dam, spotting two red barrels placed at its center. Just when he took another step, intending to push the barrels to move them away from the dam, an arrow at his feet stopped him in his tracks. Sai looked up, scanning the trees until he found the expert bowman camping on a thick branch.
"Longshot," Sai called out. "What are you doing?"
Longshot verbally didn't answer and notched a second arrow to his bowstring, aiming for the Fire Nation soldier. The action said enough for Sai to understand.
"Longshot, you know I can't let you fire these barrels," Sai said slowly. "You have to let me move them."
The bowman didn't move from his position, arms still stretched and ready. Longshot's eyes flickered to a figure behind Sai and a crunch of gravel warned Sai of the person behind him.
The red and black clothed swordsman whirled around and dodged Sneers' wooden bat aimed for the head. Sneer steadily held out the weapon to Sai's chest.
"Sorry it had to come to this," Sneers said and began a series of sharp whistles. Sai lunged forward, hand raised to cover Sneers' mouth, but only succeeded in cutting off half of the signal. Sneer swung the bat again, forcing Sai to step back and remove his hand.
To his dismay, Sai heard an answering whistle rip through the forest. Too late, too late, Sai's mind rang out. Longshot took out flint stones to start a fire spark on an arrow wrapped with flammable grass.
"Longshot, please, we're talking about an entire town full of innocent Earth Kingdom citizens!" Sai's voice strained under the shout. "You can't sacrifice the town just for Fire Nation soldiers!"
Sneers grunted as he aimed for Sai's head again. Sai growled, pulling out his katana. He chopped the wooden bat in half and knocked Sneers into a daze with a sharp rap to the forehead. Sword in hand, Sai immediately sprinted for the barrels.
Too late, too late, Sai's mind rang out as he heard an arrow shoot faster than his feet could.
The last thing Sai remembered before running for the barrels was the heat, the deafening blast, and then a wall of solid freezing water slamming into him.
"Colonel! We found this in one of the streams from the flood." The colonel turned around and froze when he saw a sword in a soldier's hands. He took the unsheathed katana by the handle with shaky hands.
"Colonel," the soldier started cautiously. "This belongs to the general. You don't think…"
"Tell the men to search the waters," the colonel rumbled. "Now. The general would have survived somehow, we must find him."
The soldier bowed at the command and left. The colonel shifted on his feet restlessly. Losing the general would deliver a huge blow to the soldiers and villagers alike, politically and morally. He had been the bridge between the Fire Nation colonizers and Earth Kingdom villagers. For both people's sake, the colonel lamented at the possibility of losing the young general.
Sai doubled over, coughing up water and gasping. His throat and lungs felt inflamed by the intrusion of water. Someone handed him a blanket, which he accepted gratefully. His body was already racking with shivers from the cold.
"What happened?" He asked in a gravelly voice.
"The dam blew up and we found you floating in the water," Katara said, concern overflowing in her words as leaned over him. "Are you okay?"
Sai's breath rattled as he leaned against a tree trunk. "You guys saved me."
"Well, we don't make a habit of saving Fire Nation soldiers," Sokka joked weakly.
Aang sat down opposite of Sai. "I'm sorry about the town. We could have done more to stop Jet, but we didn't."
Sai huffed. "You've warned us about the flood. It was more than I could have asked you guys to do for us," Sai acknowledged. Sokka's shoulders straightened at the latter part of Sai's response.
"Oh yeah, are you someone important? Because back in town everyone listened to what you were saying," Sokka pointed out.
Katara lashed out at her older brother. "Sokka, now is not the time to interrogate him," she scolded.
Sai held out a hand in defense. "No, he has a right to wonder about it," he agreed.
"Then what are you?" Aang asked.
"I'm just a colonel, which isn't the highest rank, but on the field it can be," Sai lied. He felt his heart growing heavier with each word he said next. "We have a general, but he relays commands to colonels who are in charge of individual towns." The group of three relaxed at Sai's confession. They had been worried that it was something much more drastic. Jet had insisted that Sai was a high ranking officer, a general even, and that he had been a spy from the Fire Nation. Jet's words had made the siblings and Aang doubt Sai in the beginning, so they were now glad that they didn't let Jet deter them from preventing the flood.
"So, what are you going to do now?" The airbender wondered aloud. Sai sighed and began to wring the water out of his clothes.
"We received an order that we're supposed to conquer another town, but…," Sai paused. "I don't want to do that."
Sokka was bewildered. "Why not? I thought all Fire Nation soldiers liked to invade and destroy?"
"It can be pretty dull after a while," Sai responded sarcastically and sagged his shoulders, his eyes fluttering shut. "But it's not what I want to do. I can't find it in myself to just invade another town," he murmured. "I could leave the Fire Nation army now, my katana got swept away so the soldiers down the valley would conclude that I've drowned if they can't find my body in the next fifteen days." Sai's mouth tilted downwards when thinking about his sword; his katana had been given to him by his sword master and Sai had treasured it deeply. "There are other colonels who could replace me and no one would care."
A lie, Sai thought tiredly. A complete stinking lie, but these three didn't know that.
"Why don't you come with us?"
Everyone but the Avatar paused at that.
A disbelieving Sokka waved his hands around in exasperation. "Uh, Aang, did you just ask a Fire Nation soldier to join us?"
"Sokka, Katara! I think Sai's the one!" Aang exclaimed. "Avatar Roku told me that someone from the Fire Nation would help me in the ways of the Avatar in the physical world!"
Sai tilted his head and then straightened his spine in rapt attention. "You talked to Avatar Roku?" He demanded. It troubled Sai that someone in the spirit world had been talking about him.
"Of course he can talk to Avatar Roku, he's the Avatar," Sokka cried out.
"Avatar," Sai echoed.
Aang rubbed the back of his bald head and chuckled. "Oh right, I never told you huh? I'm the Avatar."
Sai shook head disbelievingly and then paused at another thought. "What happened to Jet and the Freedom Fighters?"
Sokka grinned. "Katara froze that jerk to a tree with her waterbending and the rest of his team scattered."
Sai smiled at the girl. "Very impressive," he complimented warmly. "So you're a waterbender from the Northern Water Tribe? You've come a long way."
Katara looked down to her hands. "I'm the only waterbender from the South," she contradicted softly. Sai winced at his lack of forethought. The Fire Nation navy had captured all of the Southern Water Tribe's waterbenders about twenty years ago, if his history was correct. Asking her if she was from the South or North probably reminded her of bad memories, maybe her deceased mother.
"A flying bison, a waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe, and judging by your nomadic clothes, an airbending Avatar," Sai listed as he counted off his fingers. "What pleasant surprises. Is it really alright for me to join?"
Traveling with the Avatar didn't sound bad at all.
"I'd like you to," Aang piped brightly.
Sokka groaned and slapped a hand over his eyes. "Yes. Let's have a former Fire Nation colonel join us," he said in mild aggression.
"If Aang wants you to come along, I don't see why not," Katara reassured him warmly.
It would beat returning to the Fire Nation capital anyway, he thought.
I do not own anything of ATLA.