Three days later…
The retired Fire Nation general, the banished prince, and the fully-recovered bounty hunter stood just beyond the Earth Kingdom town's city gate, saying their goodbyes. Fortunately for all of them, the townsfolk had been too engrossed by their haunting tale of Werehorses to identify the wanted travelers. Iroh turned out to be a pretty good storyteller himself, and had earned the three enough money to put Jun back on her two human feet.
"Well, Uncle Lazy, it's been a pleasure," Jun shouldered her rucksack and saluted languidly. "Thanks for everything."
"What will you do now?" The old general asked. The bounty hunter raised a shapely eyebrow and tossed her hair back.
"Are you kidding me? There's a mythical beast wandering around somewhere out there. It might be the last of its kind. Do you have any idea how much money that could fetch?"
"But you don't have your Xirxiu. How will you find the Werehorse?"
"The old fashioned way," she smiled. "Hey, it found me, didn't it? It's only a matter of time before I catch him."
Zuko, who had not said one word to the bounty hunter over the last three days, suddenly spoke up. "Jun. I have a proposal. Join me and my uncle and help us catch the Avatar."
The woman smirked. "Join you? You two barely have enough cash to feed yourselves. Why would I join up with you?"
Zuko bit his lip in thought, calculating the risks of revealing himself. "Do you know who I am?" He asked lowly.
Jun inclined her chin. "Yeah. I know. The banished fire prince. Ozai's boy. But that hardly impresses me." She scoffed.
Zuko ignored her slight. "When I bring the Avatar to my father, my exile will be over and I will be restored to my throne. When that happens, I can make you one of the richest and most powerful women in the Fire Nation." Zuko paced toward her, arms outstretched invitingly. She narrowed her eyes, lips twitching. "You could be a duchess. A lady of the court. Whatever your heart desires."
Jun sucked in her cheeks and appraised the young man from beneath her thick black lashes. She smirked and touched his scarred cheek, leaning in close.
"Would you make me Fire Lady?" she whispered huskily.
Zuko stiffened in shock. She curled closer to him, purring. "She's still too pretty for you, you know. That water girl. Though I can see why you like her."
The prince recoiled in disgust. "That peasant means nothing to me," he spat. And neither do you…
"Whatever," Jun waved, the moment gone. The bounty hunter looked him over once more. "So that bald monk you were after was the Avatar, huh? Good luck with that."
"So you won't join us?"
Her lips tightened into a thin line. An almost sad look crossed her face. Was that… pity? She looked away, into the sky.
"Some bounties aren't worth it," she said quietly. "One day you'll that figure out."
Zuko bit his tongue and snorted to himself. I didn't need her anyways.
He wrinkled his nose in disgust as Jun leaned down and pecked his delighted uncle on each cheek before turning on her booted heel. She marched into the woods, tossing her black mane behind her.
The two Fire Nation renegades started in the opposite direction.
"So you don't remember anything about the incident?" Iroh asked again.
Zuko growled. "For the last time, no. I have some memories of you finding me in the clearing. I remember seeing Jun as a horse that first night after my bath… and that's all."
"Hmm. Well, maybe it's a good thing you don't remember." Iroh tugged on his beard as they walked up the path heading east. He decided it would not be a good idea to tell his nephew he had deliberately stalled their pursuit of the Avatar to give the youngsters the head start he had promised them after they had agreed to help save Zuko from the Werehorse's curse. In fact, he felt it was prudent not to mention any encounter with the three where the outcome wasn't successful. It would just put the prince in a foul mood.
Of course, Zuko was no fool.
There were a few minutes of silence as they walked, and Iroh could sense the suspicious twist of a question forming on his nephew's lips.
"You never did tell me how you cured me and Jun. How... exactly... did you manage to catch two rampaging horses on your own and force feed them healing water?"
Iroh grinned nervously. "Luck and skill, Prince Zuko. I'm not the doddering old man you think I am." He quickly turned the subject. "Say, I'm a touch peckish. Do you still have that apple you found?"
Zuko frowned, his hand darting to his pocket where he had been keeping the fruit. It was the oddest thing to wake up holding, but he knew it was important somehow. "I was saving it for later."
"You've been saving it for three days." Iroh arched an eyebrow.
"So I like apples," Zuko snapped. "I'm saving it for a special occasion."
"Like... when you meet your girlfriend again?" Iroh teased.
"She's not my girlfriend!" Zuko cried. "Will everyone stop calling her that?"
"Nay," Iroh laughed.
Well, thanks to the plot bunnies for making me write this oh-so-strange tale. I know some of you are probably thinking that Zuko as a horse was a little OOC for being all cuddly-wuddly with Katara so quickly, so I'm going to A/N the explanation.
Animals don't hide their emotions well: think about how a dog acts when he knows he's done something bad, even though you haven't stepped in it yet. As Werehorses, both Zuko and Jun were slaves to their primal instincts; hence kissses, hugs and nuzzles for Katara (assuming Zuko has deeply seated feelings for the Water girl a la obsession with their duel); and in Jun's case, severe jealousy a la stomp her to death (I'm using creative license for the crack pairing. Bare with me.)
Thanks to all the Zuko-is-a-horse supporters out there who hijacked my brain and threw it to the plot bunnies. This story is all your fault.
You haven't heard the last from me! Stay tuned for The Longest Night, more drabbles, and hopefully, one day, some day, a real non-Avatar novel!