Somehow I woke up before Zuko this morning. I yawned and sat up, looking around. Iroh was gone, I don’t know where he went. But there is tea made at the fire, so I gently place a hand on Zuko’s shoulder.
“Zuko,” I said softly.
He jolted up, looking around, “What? What’s wrong? What happened? Are you okay?” he searched my face and hands, looking for any signs of me being hurt.
“Zuko, it’s okay, I’m fine. Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” I chuckled to myself.
His face relaxed, “I wasn’t scared,” he huffed, stretching. “I was just making sure nothing was wrong, that’s all.” He side eyed me.
I smiled warmly at him, “Well thank you Zuko, I appreciate your concern.”
He rolled his eyes at me and looked around, “Where is my uncle?”
“I do not know, he was gone when I woke up. But he made tea,” I motioned towards it.
Zuko got up and went over to it, pouring two cups and coming back over, handing me one before sitting back down. He yawned and then took a sip.
“You seem tired this morning, is everything alright?” I asked him, hiding behind my cup.
“I stayed up late after you went to sleep to make sure that guy didn’t come back.” I could tell he was still upset about what happened by the way his voice changed when he mentioned the man.
I nodded silently and we finished our tea.
Iroh came strolling back into the camp not too long after, greeting us with a grin. “Ah, good morning my nephew and Mara,”
“Good morning Iroh,” I greeted back, bowing my head.
Zuko grumbled at him in response. I raised an eyebrow at him, but he didn’t look at me. “Where were you?” I could sense the annoyance in his voice, making me cringe this early in the morning.
“I went for a walk and meditated. What, did something happen while I was gone?” he looked from Zuko to me, then back to Zuko.
Zuko blushed, “No, nothing happened.” He sounded defensive. I hid a smile behind my empty cup and avoided eye contact with Iroh.
“Well, we should probably get going, if we hurry we can get to Full Moon Bay by sundown.”
We all nodded and packed up, then continued on our journey to Ba Sing Se.
I looked out on the water as we emerged out onto the sea from the bay.
“Who would have thought after all these years I’d return to the scene of my greatest military disgrace as a tourist?” Iroh grinned and put on a straw hat with a flower on it.
I giggled, but Zuko wasn’t amused. He had been very quiet since we got to the bay, and I could tell something was bothering him.
“Look around. We’re not tourists, we’re refugees,” Zuko growled back.
“Well, it could be worse, you could be in a fire nation prison,” I offered, though I’m not sure I helped at all, because I got a look from Zuko in return.
He took a sip of the soup they were handing out on the boat, and immediately spit it out over the side. “Ugh!” he made a face that radiated disgust, “I’m sick of eating rotten food, sleeping in the dirt. I’m tired of living like this.”
So that’s what’s been bugging him. He doesn’t like living like a commoner, being treated like one. Being treated like one of us. I opened my mouth to say something, but a voice behind me sounded before I could.
“Aren’t we all?” the deep voice sent chills down my spine.
We all turned to see a tallish guy, presumably Earth kingdom, but he wasn’t wearing normal Earth kingdom clothes. They looked more like makeshift armor. He had dark hair that went past his eyebrows. He also had some kind of plant sticking out of his mouth. I made a face and glanced at Iroh, who shrugged his shoulders.
He took on a sly smile, “My name’s Jet, and these are my freedom fighters, Smellerbee and Longshot.”
“Hey,” Smellerbee greeted.
Longshot nodded to us.
“Hello.” Zuko responded and turned back to the water.
“Here’s the deal,” Jet continued, stepping closer to us, “I hear the captain’s eating like a king while us refugees have to feed off his scraps,” he came even closer. “Doesn’t seem fair, does it?”
Jet looked me up and down, and gave me a smile. I crossed my arms, not smiling back.
“What sort of king is he eating like?” Iroh asked.
“The fat, happy kind.”
Iroh started to imagine the kind of food the captain had. I could tell that he was hungry, we all were.
“You wanna help us, liberate, some food?” he paused before saying liberate, as if to substitute it for steal at the last minute.
I looked to Zuko, waiting to see what he was going to do. He stared down at his rotten soup and then threw it out into the ocean.
I rubbed my forehead nervously.
“What’s the matter princess? Too much for you?” Jet stepped up to me, looking me up and down again with a smirk. I could tell the way he said it that he meant more than the stealing the food part.
I furrowed my brows angrily at him, standing up straight. I was about to say something when Zuko stepped partially in front of me, cutting off his view.
“Don’t talk to her that way,” Zuko growled deeply, clenching his fists.
“Hey man, relax,” Jet put his hands up innocently, but keeping the smirk on his face, “It was just a joke,” he looked at me and winked.
Zuko clenched his jaw and started for Jet. I grabbed his arm tightly, trying to hold him back. It’s a good thing Zuko didn’t continue to fight against me, because he definitely would have won. Without changing his body position, he turned his head back to me. I shook my head no at him, and whispered, “No Zuko. Not now, not here.”
Zuko turned his head back to Jet, with a look on his face that said he was lucky I stopped him.
Jet tongued his cheek, still looking at me. “We’ll meet you back here when it gets dark. I hope you know how to fight.”
“Trust me, I do.” Zuko growled.
Jet raised an eyebrow at him, and then turned and strutted off.
I shivered, “That guy gives me a really bad feeling.”
“Yeah, I don’t like him either,” Iroh added.
Zuko turned back to the water in silence.
The sun had just gone down when Zuko grabbed his bag and took out his dual blades, putting them across his shoulder.
“Zuko,” I started softly, “I don’t know if this is a good idea. What if you get caught?”
He turned to me, putting a hand on my arm, “Don’t worry Mara. I’m more trained than some kids. If anyone is going to get caught it would be them, not me.”
“Mara is right, this isn’t a good idea,” Iroh’s stomach growled audibly.
Zuko gave him a look, “We need to eat. The only way we are going to get edible food is by helping these buffoons. After that, I’m done with them.”
I sighed and nodded to him. “Well, here they come.”
Zuko followed my gaze to see the three of them walking up.
I stepped back to where Iroh was, behind Zuko. They made their plan, and then once it got dark enough, they headed out.
I was pacing when they got back, carrying three large sacks of what I assumed was food.
“You’re back,” I smiled at him.
He immediately went over to me, not stopping until he was inches away from me. He tucked a stray piece of hair behind my ear, “I told you I would be okay.”
I blushed and looked at the ground. When I looked back up, I saw Jet behind us, watching with a smirk on his face. I glared at him. Zuko felt my sudden mood change and followed my gaze to Jet, who was leaning up against a post trying to look cool. Staring at me with sultry eyes that made me shudder in disgust. I felt Zuko stiffen, straightening his back and it almost seemed like he puffed out his chest. He turned and stood right in front of me, blocking Jet’s view.
Jet raised an eyebrow and messed with the weird plant that was still sticking out of his mouth, before pushing off the post and untying one of the bags of food. Once they were done passing out food, we set out our mats to sit on. The original circle was me, then Zuko on my left, Iroh, Smellerbee, Jet, then Longshot on my right, but Jet made Longshot switch places with him so that he was sitting next to me. This prompted a glare from Zuko, and I shifted uncomfortably away from him. After a few moments he got back up to help someone.
“So, Smellerbee; that’s an unusual name for a young man,” Iroh blurted, breaking the silence.
“Maybe it’s because I’m not a man, I’m a girl!”
I almost choked on my tea at the exchange, trying not to react too much. Smellerbee got up in a huff and started to stalk off.
“Oh, now I see! It’s a beautiful name for a lovely girl!” Iroh called after her.
I grimaced and looked at Zuko, who had a similar look on his face. Longshot got up and went after her. He grabbed her shoulder, but didn’t say anything, he just stared at her.
They were too far away to understand what Smellerbee was saying, but it looked like they were somehow having a conversation without him saying a word.
“What just happened?” I asked, dumbfounded at the odd group of kids.
Iroh and Zuko both looked at me and shrugged.
Jet walked back over and crouched down next to me. “From what I’ve heard, people eat like this every night in Ba Sing Se. I can’t wait to set my eyes on that giant wall.”
I could feel him looking me up and down from the side, but I refused to acknowledge him.
“It is a magnificent sight,” Iroh responded.
“So you’ve been there before?”
“Once,” Iroh looked to the side, “When I was a different man.” He seemed genuinely regretful for what happened there years ago.
“I’ve done some things in my past that I’m not proud of. But that’s why I’m going to Ba Sing Se, for a new beginning, a second chance,” Jet said.
“That’s very noble of you,” Iroh said back, “I believe people can change their lives if they want to. I believe in second chances.” Iroh looked at Zuko for this, and he looked back at him. Even though it was not directly spoken, we understood what he meant. I glanced at Jet to see his reaction, I could tell he didn’t understand what was happening. I’d like to keep it that way. Who knows what would happen if he found out the truth.
Jet nodded and then looked at me, “Where are you from?”
I shifted uncomfortably, “Southeast Earth kingdom.”
Zuko shifted so that he was closer to me, putting a hand on the ground behind me and leaning on it. I hid a smile by looking at the ground.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” I could tell Jet was still talking to me, so I looked back up.
I shrugged at him, then mumbled, “Not to you anyways.”
Zuko heard me and laughed softly.
“What?” Jet asked, not hearing what I said.
“Hmm? Oh nothing.”
He gave me a weird look but then looked to see where Smellerbee and Longshot were. I looked over at Zuko and grinned, who had a small chuckle.
I yawned loudly, making eye contact with Iroh as if to ask him to help us out of this conversation.
Iroh smiled at me and yawned as well, “I am so tired. It’s probably best if we get some rest.” He thought for a moment and then laughed, “Hey! That rhymed!”
I laughed as well, but not at his rhyme.
“Yeah, we should try to get some sleep.” Zuko turned away from Jet, trying to signal him to leave.
“No worries. Looks like Smellerbee and Longshot have set up over there.”
Zuko and I looked to see that they weren’t too far away from us. I gave Zuko an annoyed look, who then grabbed my blanket out of my bag. It was getting a bit cold, the water chilled the air once the sun went down. We decided to sleep under the blanket instead of on top of it like we did in the desert.
Jet got up and walked over to his group. He sat down over by them, but to where he was closest to us. Zuko switched me places, making it so that he was shielding me from the gaze of Jet. I smiled gratefully at him.
“Hopefully we’ll arrive at Ba Sing Se sometime tomorrow,” Iroh spoke up, also settling down.
“Yeah, hopefully,” I shuddered at the thought of being on the same boat as Jet for more than that.