Chapter Eleven

Their sleep, however, was not destined to be uninterrupted. Deep into the night, when the fire created by the poor, mangled tree had died down, the sound of music drifted into the clearing.

Zuko, with the many haunting memories of music night on the ship, awoke immediately and bended a fireball without thought. Katara, slower off the mark, struggled to awaken.

Zuko was by her side in an instant, dispelling the fire he had conjured. His hand, still warm from the flames, clamped over her mouth.

"That's a Tsungi," He hissed in her ear, "it's a Fire Nation instrument."

She pulled his hand off her mouth. "It doesn't really sound like one. It's too deep – it sounds more like an Earth Kingdom instrument."

"Trust me, I know what a Tsungi sounds like." Zuko shuddered slightly, "It has to be one of them."

"But who would be playing one out here?" In the darkness of the moonless night, their eyes met, slight flickers of fear in them. "We defeated those rhino guys, right? They couldn't come back – not from that." Zuko caught the slight catch in her voice at "that", and grimaced. Guilt, great. The last thing he needed to deal with now was helping someone through the emotional mess that was the aftermath of their first killing.

Not that he was terribly good with the whole 'guilt' thing, either. Maybe he had better leave that talk up to Iroh; he always seemed to know exactly what to say in such situations.

"Look! A light!" Katara hissed, pushing him away from her as she scrambled to her feet. Once again as her fingers left invisible burn marks across his skin; Zuko wished he had his shirt on. Well, not the one he had leant Katara, because that would be even more awkward. Maybe a spare shirt. Why hadn't Sokka given him a spare shirt anyway? The stingy guy.

He hauled himself back to reality in time to realize that Katara, unaware of the side-tracks Zuko's mind was wandering down, had started heading towards the light, barely visible through the trees.

"Wait, Katara!" He said, scrambling after her. Why on earth did that girl have so much trust in people? Why wasn't she heading in the exact opposite direction of the light? Surely that was the sensible thing to do!

"It might be Aang and Sokka, looking for us." She said when he caught up with her.

He grabbed her good arm, and turned her around to face him. "Why would they be playing a Tsungi? They probably don't even know how!" She checked at that, frowned, and then rubbed at her eyes.

"You're right," she started to say, but was interrupted when Zuko made what was scarily close to a purring sound.

"Say it again." He ordered.

"You're – " Katara, having grown up with Sokka, caught on remarkably quickly "an idiot who occasionally has a good point to make."

Zuko's smile vanished and was instantly replaced with a scowl. "Anyway," he said rather gruffly, "this is where we employ something you and the Avatar seem unfamiliar with: tactics."

Katara opened her mouth to retaliate, no doubt to reply "Yes, you were employing a lot of tactics when you were drifting on that raft the other day," or some such but Zuko was in full commander mode, and plowed on.

"There's no disguising where we come from, and that we're in trouble. However, there is also no point in letting them know that they're helping an exiled prince. Too many people would use that to their advantage." A pause, and with a sour twist to his expression he added, "And I suppose they would see some use in you, if they knew you were the Avatar's companion." It was the closest he had ever gotten to acknowledging her importance. Out loud, that is. Internally, he considered her an extremely important person: after all, she had saved his life, and was his rescuer, and thus by tradition was the single most important person in his existence.

Not that he would ever say that to her.

"But we need food," Katara said, "and bandages." Her arm, still not fully healed, had had to be left unwrapped. They had no clean clothes, and nothing to bind it with. And although she had not complained, the strain of the pain from it made her seem paler, and less certain.

"Which is why we're going to pretend we are travelers, and our goods have accidentally caught fire. That will explain our strange clothing, and the burns on your arm. Hopefully they will be able to treat your wound." But unless they had a waterbender who could heal with them, or Katara managed to figure out how to heal herself completely with only one arm, she would have scars there for the rest of her life. Burn scars. Zuko tried not to think about that too much. "My name will be Lee, and you can be Jun. Try not to talk too much."

The glare she directed at him dispersed any notions of weakness. In the darkness, he smirked. This was the Katara he knew.

"Come on," She said, and stalked through the forest, straight towards the mournful sound of the Tsungi.