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Kensei enjoys some respite from his troubles at the Jasmine Dragon but Je's appearance makes short work of that when he provokes Kensei into a fight. Upon returning home to the Lower Ring, Kensei finds that he must deal with the unpleasant consequences of his actions.
Mae and Ken sat at her usual table near the back of the Jasmine Dragon. Mae seemed to be enjoying her own beverage, but Kensei had never cared much for upper-class food. And yet, the tea did have a sort of calming effect on his emotions, which had all been in turmoil for the past few days since he had walked out of the Jasmine Dragon after his confrontation with Firelord Zuko.
"You shouldn't blame yourself," said Mae, setting down her tea, "There was no way any of us could have known that someone like that Bonebender would break into the teashop." She took his arm in her hand and turned it over, "Besides, thanks to your little accident the other day, you know exactly where he's going to strike next."
Kensei looked at her smiled a little. It was hard not to. When he had met her at the Teashop earlier, she had been wearing even more green that she had before and all of that green practically lit up the room, in spite of a fact that a rainstorm raged outside. Ken smiled back a little, because he knew it was more than that.
"How is your father doing?" he said.
Mae started in her seat, taken off-guard.
Ken looked away. "I'm sorry," he said, taking his hand away from hers, "That was a personal question."
Mae caught his hand before he could get much further. "No," she said, "It's just that I-I suppose I haven't talked about him in awhile. Usually when I'm at home, he's all I can think about, but when I'm away or with-with friends-sometimes he's the last thing on my mind. I know, that sounds horrible, but it's not always easy."
Ken nodded. "I know," he said, "When I first put on the mask-I was worried about everything-the Dai Li, Je, Ibaru's gang, the box. Kageshiko. Then, it all went away-just like that!" he snapped his fingers, "Suddenly I wasn't Kensei the street thief anymore-I was the Blue Spirit. I was free to do anything and go anywhere I wanted. I was just-me-without any sort of cares or responsibilities."
"It must have been terrible, though," said Mae, "When your sister was captured."
Kensei nodded. "Yeah," he said.
Mae smiled sadly, leaning forward. "I-I suppose next you'll want to know how it happened," she said softly.
Kensei leaned in closer. "How what happened?"
"What happened t-to me and my father," said Mae.
"Listen, if you don't want to-"
Mae put a finger to his lips. "I think I need to," she said, "I haven't really talked about this with anyone since it happened-I tried talking about it with Je once, but-"
Kensei let out a small chuckle, "But he's Je," he said.
The girl nodded. "It was a few years ago," she said, "after the War. You see, when the Fire Nation took control of the city, he was one of the few that actively resisted-he was an Earthbender and he and a few others fought against the Dai Li until the Avatar defeated the Fire Lord. But there were consequences." She sucked in a breath, "The Firebenders came in the middle of the night-I don't know how they even got in the city, but they did-there must have been close to half a dozen of them. They said they were going to kill us and they set our house on fire. Father told me to run and gave me to one of his guards to carry out, and then he tried to buy us some time, but by the time the city guard showed up, most of the house had been destroyed and the Firebenders got away. They found my father barely alive underneath a wooden beam. There were burns all over his body and so they had to send for Waterbenders who knew special healing arts, even then, he never fully recovered."
The two were silent for a long time.
"Hey," came a cry from the door, "What's going on here?"
Ken and Mae released let go of one another's hands and stared at Je as he made his way over to their table.
Mae stood up. "Je," she said, "What are you doing here?"
The young guardsman jabbed a finger at Kensei, "What's he doing here? That's the real question?"
Kensei stood up and put a hand on his sword. "We were just talking," he said, "That's what friends do."
Je glanced from one to the other, "Friends, huh?" he said, his gaze settling on Kensei "Last time I checked, friends don't let friends double-cross each other."
Mae glared at him. "He's telling the truth, Je," she said, "Unlike you, Ken actually listens when I talk to him-he doesn't just talk about himself and his job."
"At least I actually have a job!" Je sneered.
Ken's hand tightened on his sword, "Watch it," he said.
"And what's more, I have an important job, Mae," he said, "My job is to protect you from people like him."
That did it for Kensei. Before anyone could take another breath, his swords out and aimed for Je's shoulder, but the guard brought up his spear just in time.
They stood there for a few moments, steel against steel. All around them, the patrons of the Jasmine dragon had stopped midway through their afternoon tea to stare, while some of them simply paid for their service and fled out the door.
Je glanced briefly at the burns on Kensei's arm. Ken seized the chance and extricated himself from the block and rolled to the side just as Je swept his spear to the side, upending a nearby table.
Kensei readied himself for another strike, but before he could move, a flash of lightning movement swept him off his feet in a white daze while he heard Je cried out and his weapon clattered to the floor.
"That's enough," Mae cried out, "Both of you!"
Kensei opened his eyes in time to see Iroh standing over him and Je with a slightly amused expression on his face as he surveyed the carnage that had once again been inflected on his establishment.
Je tried to stop Mae as she stormed out into the rain, but Ken knew that it would probably be wiser just to lay there for a while.
After helping Iroh clean up his shop after the fight, Kensei decided to head straight home. The stone streets were slick and overflowing and Kensei was practically drenched before he had gone even a few blocks towards the Inner Ring gates. Other than that, the walk back was uneventful, until he got home.
"Kage?" he said, climbing up to the second floor of the house. Kage was nowhere to be seen-but he was fairly certain that she didn't have work on that day.
Kensei practically ran through the ran until he reached Jon's stall. When he asked the sandwich maker where she had gone, Jon grunted and pointed to a pair of guards on duty about a block away from his stall. Ken understood at once and went racing in the direction of the Lower Ring garrison.
"You have to let me see her," Kensei said between breaths.
The guard on duty at the front of the garrison shook his head. "I'm sorry, kid," he said, "Je said that no-one's allowed back there near the prison cells."
"But she's my sister, for crying out loud!" Ken insisted.
"Is there some sort of problem, Ken?"
Ken reeled about to face Je as he stepped inside flanked by two of his men, a small, triumphant smile shown on his face. "Whatever happened in the teashop was between you and me, Je," said Ken, "You have no right to hold my sister here."
Je shook his head. "I have every right to hold a suspected arsonist in custody," he said, "It's my duty to protect the city."
"Suspected arsonist?" said Ken, "She's only nine years old!"
"When we were trying to put out that fire in the Middle Ring, someone saw a small girl matching your sister's description perched on a rooftop nearby," said Je, "Not only that, but they also saw her escaping with the Blue Spirit."
"Are you trying to say that I'm the Blue Spirit," Ken said, "Because I'm not, and my sister had nothing to do with that fire."
"Maybe I am," said Je, "But one thing's for sure; this is the part where you explain to me why you have a list of kidnapping victims burned into your forearm. Explain to me what a Firebender was doing in Ba Sing Se."
Kensei brought his hands to his swords, remembering when Je had caught a glimpse of them during the fight. He should have been more careful. Maybe Zuko and Kage had been right-maybe he should just give the whole thing up and walk away.
Kensei released his swords. "I can't," he said.
Je cocked his head. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I can't tell you about any of those things. I'm sorry."
"Oh really?" said Je, "Because so long as I don't have any proof to the contrary, your sister is under arrest for involvement in kidnapping, arson and possibly treason."
Kensei stood there, head bowed, shaking with anger and shock and a thousand other emotions. "I'm sorry Kage," he whispered, "I'm sorry."
"Not a chance," said Zuko, looking out into the sunset outside of the window, "I'm not about to blow this operation just because you can't take care of your kid sister."
Kensei punched the stone outer wall of the tea shop, startling Ron who stood nearby. "So you'll risk exposing yourself and setting everything on fire when it involves fighting the Bonebender, but you won't lift a finger to help an innocent little girl in jail?"
Zuko put a hand to his face. "Look," he said, "Right now, the city guard thinks that I'm just some rogue Firebender or arsonist involved with the kidnappings. If I just show up at the jail and break out your sister, then you and your sister will be in even bigger trouble because Je and the guards will know that we're connected somehow and that doesn't do anyone any good-least of all the people who are being kidnapped."
Kensei turned around. "You're friends with the Avatar, right?" he said, "That's got to count for something over here in the Earth Kingdom."
Zuko gnashed his teeth. "That's even worse!" he said, "I'm not even supposed to be here, officially. Just think of how it would look if one day the Firelord just happens to show up at the Earth King's doorstep unannounced and asks, 'oh, by the way, will you free this one guy's sister from jail?'. And besides, if the Avatar gets involved, then the bad guys will vanish like shrinking violets and we'll never get who's behind this."
"We know who's behind this," said Kensei, "It's that-that Bonebender guy. If we find him and the puzzle box, we can stop him."
Zuko shook his head. "You mean Ban," he said, "Ban's just hired muscle-he specializes in thievery, torture, extortion and assassination, but at the end of the day he gets paid by the highest bidder-that's who we're looking for. If we can find them, then we can prove your sister's innocence."
"I wonder how he knew I had the box back in the first place," said Kensei, "He must have been watching us the first time I came here with it."
Zuko shook his head. "Ban wasn't even near here that day," he said, "I was tracking him all that day and he stayed mostly in the Lower Ring."
"But, the only people who knew what was in it were you, me, Iroh, Kageshiko and-" Ken's eyes widened, "and Mae."
"Mae Ron Gal?" said Zuko, "That makes sense, considering who her father is."
Kensei took a step forward. "Mae had nothing to do with this-and even if she did."
Zuko held up his hands. "I'm not saying anything-yet," he said, "Although Tsen does have the motive-He used to be an expert Earthbender, but I've heard that his injuries were so severe that he lost the use of his legs and couldn't even walk-much less Earthbend. If anyone had a bone to pick with Firebenders or Fire Nation supporters, it would be him."
Kensei nodded. "Mae was probably forced into this then," he said, "We have to do something-we have to help Mae!"
Zuko nodded. "We will," he said, "Once Ron and I catch Ban and the Dai Li get a confession out of him, they'll be able to arrest Tsen."
"And it'll clear Kage's name!"
"Exactly," said Zuko, "Meanwhile, I need you to law low. Right now, you're the only other person who has the list. If anything happens to the original, we can't afford to lose you."
Kensei shook his head. "I'm not staying here," he said, heading for the door, "It's my fault that my sister got into this and I'm going to help get her out. I'll go talk to Mae."
The Firelord blocked his path. "I can't let you do that," he said.
"Firelord or not," said Ken, "You can't stop me."
Zuko nodded in Ron's direction.
The Earthender reacted by stomping his foot on the ground, causing earthen coils to erupt beneath Ken's feet, attempting to ensnare him.
Kensei was just a hair faster and leapt to the side. Then he rebounded off of the opposite wall and bowled past the Fire Lord towards the exit.
"Idiot," said Zuko, when he had righted himself.
Ron glanced over at the counter top where the boy had left his mask and his swords.
Zuko rubbed his chin for a moment, an idea suddenly forming in his mind.
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