Jet's waiting for him when he gets out of work, leaning against a wall, looking like he's trying to appear nonchalant. He doesn't see Zuko at first, and for the briefest moment, while he's staring at the ground, he seems achingly vulnerable. But then he looks up and sees Zuko and his usual knowing, twisty grin is back, with that ridiculous bit of straw at the side of his mouth, like a mask.
Zuko's fingers are stained with tea and he's tired and aching but there's no more work for 36 hours and he's sick of staring at the same teacups and the same kinds of faces, sick of being polite, so he goes, without a word. Tonight, he’s got itchy feet.
In one of the many little squares of the city there's a band playing, a bunch of guys and a girl with a mismatched collection of instruments. Jet's got a bottle of umeshu, too sweet and a little sharp under that, and the two of them swig inelegantly from it, sitting together on the edge of the fountain and still not saying a thing. The crowd moves back and forth in waves and pulses, people heading for noodles or home or out, but there's dancing too, and a handful of what seem to be regular fans shouting along with the songs. Jet nudges Zuko with his shoulder, an affectionate gesture, or just a friendly punch, or half an invitation.
They sit and watch at first, but then Jet stands up and grabs Zuko's hand and drags him into the midst of the crowd as the little band starts up a fast, exciting tune and a few shouts of delight go up. Zuko tries not to tense at a hand in his own, this boy pulling him into a dance; it's still so new and unexplored and he's unsure, despite himself, despite who he is and the confidence he should have. He does his best to let the tension go; the plum wine helps, and his blood beats in his head almost in time with the music. He lets himself be spun and dipped and pulled in closer for a sticky, liquor-tasting kiss.
The music is loud and the wine seems to have done something to his head because he doesn't care about all the people around them, pushing up against them, crowding them in. Somewhere in the back of his mind there's a feeling of what if someone sees, what if someone recognises -- but he can barely hear it over the band and the people.
"I can't stay," he finally manages between open-mouthed kisses. "I'm supposed to be -- mm --" but the rest gets swallowed up in another kiss. Hands snake over his shoulders, into his hair -- it’s getting so long now -- and he's dimly aware of how closely they're dancing now, and he can feel Jet pressing up against him and, oh.
A fight breaks out on the other side of the square. The band play a punctuated chord, jumping in the air in unison in time with it. Zuko kisses back through a wide and unintentional smile.
The song finishes and the plum wine is finished too, and when did that happen?
Jet’s place isn’t far from the square at all, so they leave behind the cheering crowd and slip down a side street. They pass a cart selling sticky rice cakes and Zuko buys six, nearly dropping half his money as he pays, not caring, and they eat them as they walk. His head is spinning and he doesn’t care about that either.
Jet is renting a tiny room in a big complex, with laundry hung across balconies and families out laughing and arguing despite the late hour; it looks like a noble family lived there once, maybe. The two of them steal across the courtyard, stealthily like thieves though nobody is paying them any attention anyway, and then they’re upstairs and fumbling to open the door.
They only make it halfway to the bed, which is something of a feat given how small the room is. They end up sprawled across a pile of their discarded clothes, the two of them half on the floor and half on the futon.
Zuko thinks, through the haze, that maybe now is the right time, and between kisses he manages “I want to, I want you to,” but he can’t even get the words out properly. Another thing he’s failed at. He pulls away, suddenly so annoyed and humiliated that he could kick something.
Azula’s face comes into his mind for a tiny moment, and he feels even worse -- for her to be laughing at him now, for her to be here, intruding on a moment as secret and private as this one. “You’re not allowed to --” he begins, and then instantly realises with utter horror that he was about to say You’re not allowed to like my sister more than you like me. All this effort to be someone else, and wasn’t he just getting used to this life? And he almost threw it all away.
Jet is still wearing a hazy, heavy-eyed smile but he’s frowning a little too. “I’m not allowed to…?”
“You’re not allowed to laugh at me,” Zuko says, frowning back properly, and pushes himself up on his hands, shoves his hair out of his face, and wriggles a little clumsily, but determinedly, down Jet’s body. He pushes Jet’s remaining clothes out of the way as he goes, maybe rougher than he needs to be, but he’s drunk and clumsy and it wouldn’t be right to be delicate anyway, and if he’s a little rough then maybe he can squash down all the embarrassment and awkwardness in his head.
His face is burning but he looks up through the hair in his eyes, and there it is again -- Jet looks so vulnerable, and full of wonder, his eyes dark and his mouth a little open. Nothing happens for a moment just long enough to be awkward. Their breathing seems very loud in the tiny room, and Zuko can hear his own heartbeat again.
Jet does smirk a little, then, and Zuko feels a wave of annoyance, but one of determination, too. “I said don’t laugh!”
“Get on with it, then,” Jet says, and any trace of tenderness is gone again, and surely Zuko imagined it before.
He frowns deeper, and breathes. He knows how these things go; he grew up sheltered and advantaged, yes, but then he grew up early. And he’s heard things, and read things, and thought things as well, late at night with his fingers in his mouth to stop himself making a noise.
Still. There’s the theory, and there’s all his instinct, and there’s actually doing it. But he’s never failed without at least trying first, so he props himself on his elbows, lowers his head, and with a final breath, takes Jet’s cock tentatively into his mouth.
He isn’t sure what he expected. It feels strange, unfamiliar, but not unwanted. Jet is silky smooth and doesn’t taste of anything, maybe a little salty, clean. Jet’s hand is in his hair, not pulling, just resting, playing, stroking -- guiding him by tiny measures to go a little deeper, and he tries, though he knows how clumsy he must be. His head rushes with blood, spins, pounds.
He remembers something he heard or read or imagined once and swirls his tongue, then pulls back to add the lightest graze of teeth. Jet hisses, a tiny sharp intake of breath; pulls back, and pushes himself up to rest on his elbows.
Zuko pulls back completely and looks up again. “No?”
“No, but,” Jet tries. “It’s good. You’re good, you’re so good, Li, come here,” and Zuko crawls back up for another kiss, just quickly, because he’s enjoying doing this, and that’s a surprise too. He’d always thought people did this to each other only to receive it in return, but he’s so hard, desperate to be touched, aching, just from what he’s been doing. Jet’s hands are on his face, in his hair, on his arms, then pushing him downwards again, and he really must be far gone because there is nobody else, nobody at all he would allow to put him on his knees like this.
He’s awkward and he knows he can’t be up to much, can’t be the best Jet’s had, but still it doesn’t take long, with his mouth and tongue and hands. Jet’s breath is coming in short little bursts and gasps and then he’s pushing up into Zuko’s mouth, pushing him away too and grasping at him all at once, his body arching. Zuko gets away quickly enough that he doesn’t end up with anything in his mouth -- he might have got through half a bottle of umeshu, but there’s a line, still --
He sits up, wipes his fingers on the edge of the blanket as delicately as he can, tries not to look at Jet, lying there naked and obscene. The room feels colder, suddenly, and he is a volcano at its centre.
“Come here,” Jet says, and pulls Zuko towards him and into his arms, lazily, bonelessly. This time when Jet kisses him it’s one of the sweetest things that’s ever happened to him and he really must be drunk, or maybe it’s because he’s so turned on, nearly shaking with it, desperate and hot. Jet’s hand moving down his body, under his remaining clothes, is an almost painful relief. Within moments (and he’d be embarrassed at how quick it is, if he had any room in his head for it) he is coming hot into Jet’s hand, biting his tongue, gasping, speechless.
The world is quiet again, save the sound of heavy breathing, blood slowing.
Jet can’t get words out either. He’s breathless and open. I did that, Zuko thinks, I did that to him.
Zuko wakes with the sun and curses it; he’s thirsty and drowsy and his head is starting to complain, though less than he might have anticipated. Maybe he’s still drunk.
Jet is still sleeping, curled around himself as if he’s protecting something, his hands crossed like he’s holding his swords, scowling even in sleep. A lock of hair has fallen across his face and Zuko has to fight the urge to push it out of his eyes; he doesn’t want to wake Jet, and more than that it would be far too intimate a gesture. He settles for staring a few moments longer than he might if he were being watched in return, then pushes himself up and out of the too small bed and to the window to feel the sun playing across his skin and into his blood.
The city is waking, though still lethargic and slow.
He doesn’t know when it happened but Ba Sing Se has been changing him, has changed him, and he didn’t even notice it happening. He’s still angry, but he’s tired too, and half the time his feet itch with longing to be out in the world again, and the rest of the time he feels more and more inclined to be here, in Jet’s arms. He’s sick of tea, he’s sick of spending all day on his feet and ending up nowhere, he longs to be important again -- but more and more he finds himself thinking he could be important here instead. Maybe this is where he’s supposed to be.
There’s a stirring in the bed behind him.
“It’s too early,” Jet says. “Come back to bed,” and Zuko does.