Zuko and his crew made their escape to the crash site of their ship, under the assumption that it was so obvious and stuck out like a sore thumb it would be the last place the conniving Azula would think to look for them, since it was the first place logic would dictate to check, and Azula was too smart to think Zuko was that dumb. Once there, some of the troops went back into the ship for supplies they'd left behind.
Zuko, meanwhile, stood up to address the troops. "I'm certain you're all aware of what just happened," he called out. "Azula's conniving has worked against Uncle Iroh and I. We are now classified as traitors to the Fire Nation. Whether it was Father's will or a trick on her part, we are all now on the run."
"Where do we go then, Prince Zuko?" one of the troops called out. "What are your orders?"
Seeing the murmurs of agreement, Zuko realized the entire crew intended to follow him into treason, and the fierce expressions on their faces indicated they'd fight the whole Fire Nation to protect him. He was rather touched by the show of loyalty...loyalty he felt he needed to dispel, or at least redirect. "I'm a traitor," he explained, "not a Prince. Not anymore, anyway. I don't have the authority to give you orders anymore." Seeing the pugnacious glares, he relented. "I can only offer suggestions."
Once all were listening, he continued. "All of you have two choices now. Risk the Earth Kingdoms, or the Fire Nation soldiers."
"If we're captured by Earth Nation, we'll face certain death!" one of the soldiers called out.
"If we're captured by Fire Nation, we'll face Azula," Lieutenant Jong countered.
Dead silence greeted that statement. "Earth Nation it is, then," the vocal troop replied meekly, a chorus of agreement meeting his words.
Zuko did his best not to show his amusement at that response. Before he could speak again, however, Lieutenant Zhin exited the ship with several of the troops, carrying large bundles of drab brown cloth. "They came out okay!" he called out as the cloth was distributed.
"What's all this?" Zuko asked.
"Zhin noticed your preference for discreet investigations," Jong explained. "Last Earth Kingdom port, he bought up Earth Kingdom outfits in peasant colors for the entire crew, in case we wanted to sneak in. He got them tailored well, so they'd look uncomfortable - like the only thing available to throw on - but actually be quite comfortable when worn. He even got an all-covering cloak for Cadence."
"That was good thinking," Zuko replied. "And rather fortuitous." He turned back to the crew. "Since we're going to be trying to avoid the Fire Nation, we'd best split up into groups of no more than five. Each group should head their separate ways. If you want to be extra safe, try to make your way to Ba Sing Se. With these clothes, it will be easy to disguise as war refugees."
"And you, sir?" the talkative troop called out as many began changing their outfits for disguise purposes.
"It's likely the only place I'll be safe from Azula," Zuko replied evasively.
It wasn't long before everyone had changed outfits, stowed everything Fire Nation related in the crashed ship, and parted ways. Zuko then turned to Iroh and Cadence. "You two should get going too," he replied. "Ba Sing Se's probably a good destination for you as well."
"What about you?" Cadence asked worriedly.
Zuko shrugged. "Azula's primary focus is me. If I end up dead, she's the only one who can become Fire Lord after Father. While anything you might tell Father could be problematic for her, it will be a minor thing if she's able to finish me off. So I'm going to make sure she's on my trail, and my trail alone. I'm going to set off alone. After all, even if I do this..." Reaching up with a knife, Zuko severed his topknot. "There's not much I can do to hide this." Lowering his hand, he pointed to his scar. "So I'll just make certain I'm the one who's followed." He bowed. "Uncle, Cadence, thank you both for all your help. I hope we meet again someday. But if not...know that my love and concern go with you both." Turning, he shouldered a pack of supplies and headed out into the wilderness.
Iroh and Cadence watched him go for a time. "So, Cadence, what should we do?" Iroh asked softly.
"Didn't Uncle Ozai ask us to look after Zuko before we left on this journey?" Cadence inquired.
"Indeed he did," Iroh agreed.
"Well, Father...has he told us anything to the contrary yet?"
Iroh grinned widely. "No, Cadence, he has not."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Grinning widely, Iroh shouldered his pack, picked up Cadence, and headed off after Zuko, making sure to stay just far enough behind that Zuko wouldn't notice them, but close enough to keep track of his trail.
Zuko had walked as far as he could before the sun began to set. Once it was nearly fully down, he'd set up camp and curled up to sleep. He was awakened the following morning to the scent of cooked food. Sitting up quickly, he saw two more bedrolls laid out, and Lieutenant Jong cooking breakfast.
"Good morning, Zuko," Jong greeted blandly. "Hungry?"
Zuko frowned, knowing Zhin couldn't be far behind. "What do you two think you're doing?"
"Just following orders," Jong replied blandly.
"But I told everyone to make their separate ways to Ba Sing Se!" Zuko snapped out.
"That wasn't an order," Zhin countered as he returned to the camp from his watch. "You said yourself that you didn't have the authority to give orders anymore, and it was all suggestions and advice."
"Then whose orders are you following?" Zuko demanded angrily, struggling to hold his temper back. He'd been trying to protectthese idiots!
"Yours," Jong replied. "The last orders that, by your own words, you had the authority to give us."
Zhin smirked at Zuko's confusion. "You told us to watch your back."
Zuko stared at them both for a long time. "...nothing I say is going to change your minds, is it?"
"Nope," Jong confirmed. "And don't think of trying to run away from us. The troops are still close enough for a signal if we need more to keep you safe."
"After all, we still have authority to give orders," Zhin added with a joking grin.
Groaning, Zuko buried his face in his bedroll. Still, he was also hiding a smile. Them being so devoted to him like that felt...nice.