Katara was contemplating shoving the Avatar back inside the ice burg that she fished him out of two years ago. Really he owed her - a minor detail he often forgot when he set his mind to something. Like today with this bright idea of racing down the canals of the Northern Water Tribe City.
The elders have long since stopped considering her an inferior girl not worthy of learning their water bending traditions as long as she practices them with honor and respect. Katara had a good feeling that racing down Main Street on a block of ice at dangerous speeds somehow reflected badly on that understanding. But did Aang even think about how his impulsive behavior reflected on her, or her father? Of course not. Then again she had never mentioned it to him.
Could have, many times, probably should, sometime in the distant future, she thinks to herself setting her feet firmly to the edge of the canal looking up to her bouncing best friend watching him position himself for the starting signal. Anyways, Aang makes a fantastic excuse for all of her juvenile behavior, he is her responsibility and with him being Avatar they get away with so much more than she ever did on her own. That is why she lets him lead the way, and that is why even though he started the argument about air vs. water with the intent to rope her into this race, she let him. Because no matter how much trouble he gets them in, Aang would never let her burn alone. Aang will always be there at her side protecting her, as she will be for him.
Katara takes a deep breath through her nose before slowly breathing out through her mouth calming herself. This was going to be cake, Aang never had a chance, air against water, please his air scooter was fast but her surf board was faster.
"Ready, Katara, Aang?" Sokka shouts from the closest bridge ten feet from their starting point. Both nod looking expectantly at the older boy. "Okay no bending on each other, got it. No cheating! This is a five mile stretch Momo is waiting at the finish to declare a winner. Between the two of us will keep you two honest."
"Says the boy that stole the rest of the seal jerky on the way to the Earth Kingdom last spring and then blamed it on Appa!" Katara yells at her brother.
"Hey I still claim my innocence, and you have no proof." Sokka squeals.
"Except the seal blubber that was cascading down your chin." Aang shoots back offended by the insinuation of possible fraudulence.
"Hey! You two are enemies right now, no teaming up against officials."
"Sokka!" Both yell hoping to get on with it before Chief Anook gets word of what they are up to.
"OK! OK! Jeeze. On your marks, get set go!" Sokka shouts watching in wonder as his sister and her best friend blur by at amazing speeds.
Katara did not hesitate running full out to the edge of the sidewalk before launching herself into the air. Her feet hit the water, arms formed her surf board and her body pulling a strong current to guide her all simultaneously. The air dropped a few degrees around her as she speed along the water's surface pushing herself to go faster to twist and turn her body to give her the advantage over her terrain. As they speed on a few canoes bock her way but were easily avoided with a simple maneuver- catapulting her out of the water and over the obstacle. She knew they were neck and neck she could see Aang in her peripheral vision and tell he was having as much trouble avoiding people as she was canoes.
Then all the sudden a fish merchant and his cart comes into view the space between the wall and the cart is too slim for Aang to speed through but before Katara even thinks to point this out Aang spins up the wall over the cart and out of the way. Katara lets out a sigh of relief before pitching forward landing hard on top of someone. Her surf board shatters against the side of the canoe and she hit her head on something very solid and sooth all because her eyes were on Aang and his display of air bending. She should have been watching where she was going not watching the Avatar.
"Oh! Katara! Are you okay?" A familiar voice asked from behind her. Katara would know that voice anywhere having been acquainted with the Northern Water Tribe princess since she was twelve.
"I think so?" Katara answered beginning to pull herself off whoever she landed on when her head began to spin and her body sway.
"Or not." Two strong arms wrapped around her waist to steady her before pulling her up in their lap. This voice was smooth, quiet and very masculine.
"I'm sorry." Katara reached up to touch the knot already forming on her forehead assessing the damage.
"You'll make it worse." The male holding her stated pulling her hand down and cupping her face in his own big ones. His palms were warm though the skin was rough, once more Katara looked up hoping the dizziness had passed to meet the guarded stare of two golden eyes.
She heard his breath hitch as his eyes wondered along her face. As he examined her she examined him. He was very handsome, and younger than his voice suggested. He couldn't be any older than her brother, but he held himself like a man. His arrogance was written in the angular position of his chin and the straight balance of his shoulders. He was frowning, as if he found something particularly displeasing about her so she simply frowned back to prove she wouldn't be intimidated. This only made his eyes narrow forcing her to acknowledge the burn scar that took up a fourth of his face, circling his left eye and fanning up to consume his ear then right up into his hair line. It gave Katara the impression of a hand print, and she wondered if someone deliberately did this to him or if it was an fire bending accident. She could tell by the metal plates of his uniform that he was Fire Nation military which obviously meant they finally arrived to discuss a treaty, a month late and the day of Yue's sixteenth birthday.
"Is she okay, Prince Zuko?" Yue asked clearly worried as she watched the fire nation prince exam her friend.
"She might have a concussion." He states pulling Katara to her feet and steadying her with one hand. She watches in fascination as a small flame ignites and dances gracefully in the palm of his other hand. "Follow the flame with your eyes." He commands and she can't help but obey her eyes never leaving the fire as he slowly passes it across her face. She can feel the warmth but is not scared. She knows he will not burn her not in front of Yue- that would resolve nothing between their people. Then the flame goes out and the scar on his face seems to stand out more distinctly against the pale of his skin.
Instinctively she calls the water wrapping it around her hand in a glowing glove before reaching up to touch the boy's face. He flinches back before she makes contact and hears her name being called from above. Her hand drops- the water splashes on the deck of the canoe and she spins looking up to watch Aang jumping down into the canoe, the sudden movement makes her dizzy and darkness consumes her as Aang lands at her side his arms surrounding her before the world fades to black.
Aang pulls Katara up in his arms positioning her with ease against his blue parka so her head laid against his shoulder while one arm wrapped around her waist and the other under her thighs. She weighed no more than a child and fit comfortably against his chest. "What happened?" He asked patiently, looking at Yue clearly ignoring the fire nation boy.
"She fell on top of Prince Zuko, I think she hit her head against his armor. You should take her to Yogoda." Yue answered clearly concerned.
Only then does Aang look at the Fire nation soldier. "I am sorry if our race interfered with you time with Princess Yue. Please excuse us, your highness." His tone is polite but hard, startling Yue, she had never heard Aang with such ice in his voice.
"It's…" Zuko starts but is interrupted by Yue.
"Will she be alright for tonight?"
"Only Yogoda can answer that. But I know how much it means to Katara to honor you, and Master Paku. If she his conscious she will be there." Aang states jumping up performing a back flip on to the sidewalk, Katara perfectly secure in his arms the whole time.
That is when Yue notices the boy waiting on the side walk uncharacteristically solemn. His wolf tale immaculately in place, his boomerang secure in its holster on his back. His shoulders are tense and his mouth hard, he is worried about his sister. Yue watches him wishing she could wrap her arms around him to ease this worry, then he turns his blue eyes on her and she can't help but blush. He nods once in acknowledgement before following Aang and an unconscious Katara from her canoe and though Prince Zuko of the fire nation stands beside her she feels just as lonely as she always does when the Southern water tribe children leave her every summer to return home.
Zuko knew the look on Yue's face it was one he had been acquainted with since childhood every time Lu Ten would leave with Iroh on whatever campaign they were assigned, leaving him all alone with his sister and father. His mother his only companion, but not even she could protect him from Azula.
"Would you like to return to the palace?" He asked, if only to break the uncomfortable silence and her awkward staring after the group that just departed.
"If you want." She answered quietly. It had been the same since he arrived two hours ago. Anything he wanted, yes if he would like to the see the city she would be honored to accompany him. She had no opinions, she was gracious, hospitable and utterly boring. It was only when the strange girl, Katara, got hurt did he see any emotion or sign of individuality from this Water Tribe princess. He wondered why a group of peasant children meant so much to her. Then something clicked in his head. Something he had not realized because he had been in such shock.
"The girl is a water bender." He voiced out loud, his surprise clearly caught the princess' attention. Perhaps her assessment of him was similar to his of her. Both raised with a set of rules to hide any kind of individuality. "A female, water bender, in the Northern Tribe, not only a healer but a bender too?" Because even a foreigner caught the perplexity of this single fact.
Yue's eyes narrowed on him, he saw for the first time judgment in her eyes and knew she was far more clever than she let on. "Katara is of the Southern Tribe. She is their last bender, born fifty years after the southern raiders massacred their benders. It was our duty, to our sister tribe to train her, and send aid to their people." She stated, clearly justifying her tribe's decision to go against thousands of years of tradition for this one little girl.
"The boys they were her brothers." He states but the question is there.
"Sokka is." Yue answers roughly.
"The boy with the bandanna. The one that caught her?" He tried to clarify.
"Why does it matter?" Yue asked a defiant bite in her tone.
"I'm just trying to understand, who these children are and what importance they hold to the tribe."
He watches Yue bite her lower lip in apparent anger. He made her angry and a small part of him is pleased by this. Perhaps she does have fire, perhaps he could marry this girl as his uncle wishes.
Then the cold mask is back on and she is staring at him, her features schooled to appear bored.
"Chief Hakko's children are honored guests here as are you. They will be protected while in the city. We own them much." She answers without answering anything. Zuko now finds himself frustrated.
"Chief Hakko's children. The girl, Katara, is the Southern tribe's princess, her bother is older - the one on the sidewalk, the one you were staring at." He watches her blush again and he suddenly understands. He came here to woo her to marry the northern water tribe's princess but she is already in love with this Prince Sokka. That could complicate things. "You know why I'm here." he asked through gritted teeth feeling more compassion for this girl then he ever felt for anyone in his life.
"I understand what your presence means. The duty to my people means I will honor them by securing peace no matter the personal cost to myself." Yue declares emotionlessly.
"And make a miserable and bitter Fire Lady for it." Zuko predicts watching her closely for any sign to her thoughts.
"The Northern Water Tribe and the Fire Nation seem very similar, what you call honor we call duty and to me they seem to mean the same thing. What I want and what I must do very rarely line up to be the same, I have learned to sacrifice I have learned to do so graciously and without resentment. I will marry you if that is what my father wishes, I will move to the Fire Nations, I will be a dutiful wife, but I will love Sokka and only Sokka until the day I die. Surly this cannot be significant to you. You have been here for a very short time but already I see that you scoff at the very notion of love, there is no girl at home you would prefer over me if you were allowed such a choice?" Yue asked, the conversation asking more from Zuko than he had ever gave.
He thought on this a moment, of Mai and how she blushed anytime he was near. She was cute enough and who his sister and mother would have chosen for him, but would he had chosen Mai for himself? He doubted it, like the girl before him she was simply without luster, shiny on the outside and dull on the inside.
"No. There is a girl that I probably would had married if it were not for the treaty between your people and mine, but she would had been my mother's choice not mine."
"We are interchangeable, to you?"
Zuko felt like this question was a trap. "This offends you." He states not denying it, because he thinks perhaps it's true.
"No, I just find it terribly sad. Sokka may never be mine, but I know I will always be his."
"That brings you comfort? To love a man you can't have, that I find terribly sad."
"But you don't love at all, I dare say you not even particularly fond of anyone, or anything."
"I'm very fond of my swords."
"I bet you even sleep with them."
"I think its fortunate I can't love, I'm able to think clearer without distractions, and there will never be the disappointment that I can't have someone I love. This makes me strong."
"Can't, no. You can. And when you do fall in love it will hit you hard."
"Woman, like you said, are interchangeable for me. I do not see anything that would cause me to act as Lu Ten does when we are near Kioshi Island."
Yue looks confused.
"There are a band of warrior women who defend their land. Lu Ten is smitten with their leader."
"Suki? How could he possibly know Suki?"
"You know these girls?"
"Only from stories. Suki is one of Katara's best friends, she trained with them for a whole season after she mastered water bending. They stop by the island on their way here and on their way home every year."
"You speak of her often and without meaning to."
"No the water bender the love of your life's sister. You thought you would be her sister too someday, this also breaks your heart."
"At least I have a heart to break." Yue snaps.
Zuko smirks. "Perhaps I should get to know this family, they mean so much to you. How old is your sister-in-law? Is she marriage age? Perhaps I should ask uncle if I could have her then you can have your Sokka."
In an instant Yue's face is bright red, she is furious.
"Stay away from her!" Yue screams at him.
"Why? She is pretty, a princess and very interchangeable." Zuko is pushing hard now, he has no intention of making good on his taunts but to see Yue this upset over something anything, is humors to him especially after her taunts on him being heartless.
"She is fourteen. Still a child. You will leave her alone..or.."
"Or what, your highness? Fourteen, perhaps for the sake of peace they'll make an exception and let me have her two years early. What do you think?" His grinning enjoying every minute of watching Yue so worked up. Her face red, tears in her eyes and her fist clinched, she's holding a lot of it back, he wonders what it would take to get her to hit him. She looks like she is really considering it. Then she takes a shallow breath and the flush disappears from her face, she flexes her fingers and a calm eerie smile stretched her lips up and over her perfectly white teeth.
"Perhaps you should talk with your Uncle Iroh about this before you bring it up to anyone else." The tears are still in her eyes but her expression says that she knows something that he does not.
"My Uncle told me I would marry a water tribe princess, he wasn't specific on which one." Zuko responses grasping thin air and knowing it.
"He sent you to the Northern water tribe with a peace treaty on their princess' sixteenth birthday, I would have thought it was kind of obvious on which princess he meant. Doesn't take a man of logic to figure this one out." He was trying to understand how she was able to turn the conversation back in her favor when she insulted him. Perhaps this girl was apt to be the next fire lady.
"Doesn't matter either way; you, the water bender, the girl from home anyone of you would be suitable, a woman does after all only serve one purpose."
"I only have one purpose, I do not know the fire nation girl you speak of so I cannot defend her, but Katara will change the very fabric of this world, she was born with a destiny." Yue stands, and Zuko realizes the canoe has been tethered to a dock. He had forgotten all about their driver who was now helping Yue out of the boat. "If you will excuse me prince Zuko I would like to check on my friend before the celebration tonight. I trust you can find your way to your rooms." Then she left without a backwards glance and Zuko was left with the impression that he had finally somehow offended the Northern Water Tribe Princess. This thought lightened his mood considerably.
Katara felt cold. She flexed her fingers and immediately the water was called, small waves danced up from the waiting pool she was submerged in covering her almost naked body. Her goose bumps felt immediate relief, her body temperature adjusting the water to warm her up. She heard a single sigh of relief and knew she had to be in Yogoda's healing hut submerged in the healer's pool.
She sat up to an audience. Master Pakku stood next to the door his scowl deep and hard as his eyes meant hers, he nodded once then turned and walked out.
"You would think from the way he fussed when she was unconscious he would act a little bit more relieved to see she's fine." Sokka stated walking over and wrapping a heavy parka around his sister. "Are you ok? I heard you ran into the fire nation prince, and he was so hideous you fainted. Next time could you try not to swoon over royalty, it's not good for the warrior persona the southern tribes have spent centuries to achieve." Katara's response to her brother's humor was to push him into the waiting pool she just emerged from. He came up spluttering, pulling his wet parka up and over his head before grabbing a towel off a nearby shelf, mumbling the whole time, how his sister certainly didn't share his humor, and that needed to be remedied.
Katara stepped off the platform and into Aang's waiting embrace. He used a water bending maneuver she had taught him to dry her off, ignoring Sokka's shout of injustice, then stepped back and began to hand her the clothes she had been wearing prior to her accident. Aang stood there looking smug but remained silent, no doubt the irritated look she shot him when he handed her, her boots intimidated him to hold his tongue. She knew he wanted to gloat, he felt as though he won the race, Katara did not share this opinion and as soon as the fire nation was out the front gates she would be demanding a rematch.
This was how Yue found them. Aang grinning at a glowering Katara and Sokka in his underwear drying himself off all the while complaining loudly about benders and their lack of respect for superior warriors of steel and stealth. She must have made some kind of sound for all three turned to look at her, she let herself in standing in front of the door unable to tear her focus from the almost naked man by the healing pools.
"Yue?" Katara asked, pushing past Aang, who was suddenly over taken with a bout of uncontrollable laughter. "Grow up!" Katara shouted at her friend this seemed to only make him laugh harder. She chanced a look over her shoulder to her brother who for unknown reasons was flexing and posing in different bodybuilder poses, poor Yue's face was completely scarlet and she seemed to of forgotten her reason for her visit. Katara kindly took Yue's arm and lead her out of the hut and into the fresh air. "Boys." Katara mumbled shaking her head at their juvenile antics. Pulling a dazed Yue along until they reached the west palace courtyard. She led Yue to an ice bench and then made herself comfortable beside her friend. "So," Katara began. "Is there something I can help you with, Yue?"
Yue seemed able to shake herself from her stupor and smile warmly at her friend. "Yes, I love you, so I want you to know how much it would honor me for you to perform tonight at my birthday, but I do not feel as though it is the right time to show case your talents in front of the fire nation. I would like it if you stepped down from the performance and instead sit with me at my father's table."
Katara could read her friend well, there was a reason for this request, one that was tearing her friend in two. "Did you father ask you to put this to me, or Pakku?"
The look of honest shock on Yue's face was enough to know she was not being lead. "No, neither, my father of Pakku, would disgrace you so. They both honor you as a surrogate daughter. Surly after all this time you know this."
"Then I don't understand why you ask this of me. Is this because of today, with the fire nation prince? Was he angry?" Katara asked trying to figure out Yue's motives.
"No, the opposite, actually." Yue whispered.
Still Katara heard her. "What do you mean the opposite?"
"I know no one has spoken with you of certain expectations of the fire nation and a certain duty to my country, but I think I can safely guess you understand the implication of the Prince's arrival on my sixteenth birthday. It was not accidental."
"No. I did assume as much. That an arranged marriage could possibly be a term for the treaty that we would all like to see pass. But, Yue you could not serious think your father would allow you to marry the fire nation."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Chief Anook would never allow it."
"Katara, my tribe is not like yours. We have customs that the southern tribes do not practice. I will have an arranged marriage. I have known this one fact my whole life. My father would give much to achieve worldwide peace, even me."
"Well you know your father best I suppose."
"Yes I do.
"An arranged marriage…"
"To the fire nation no doubt.."
"Well I can see your mind is set."
"It is…I will do anything to protect my people."
"I just hope you're not too disappointed."
"Of course not…I…mean…It will be hard…but…"
"He snores you know…"
"Sokka. I hope you're not too disappointed that you have to marry Sokka."
"They came to an understanding this morning shortly after the fire nation arrival. Your engagement will be announced this evening, act surprised, ok?"
"Katara? But how?"
"I was there in the meeting. Your father would never let you live in the fire nation. You are too precious to him, Yue." Katara states like it is common knowledge before Yue flings herself into her friend's arms crying. Katara holds her stroking her hair while the princess weeps.
Katara agrees not to perform and yue asks to see a bit of it now. So Katara shows her. Zuko cannot hear anything said as he hides on top of a surrounding building watching the pair. Particularly Katara's performance. He is in awe for the first time over anyone's bending besides his own or his sister's. He finds that he respects this girl for her obvious dedication and hard work to master her gift. He hears the boys coming and decides he should go.
Katara tells aang that she has decided not to perform and he is upset very disappointed, but he some what keeps it to himself. The ceremony starts and Katara sits next to Yue, Zuko is on her other side and se is next to her father. On the opposite side of the king is Lu ten. The performers start and they are to the part that she is supposed to come out but it is just aang that emerges and then she is flung out of her chair and in the middle of the floor being held by aang. "I told you I was not performing, Avatar." She growls at him.
"It wasn't me. But since I have you here care to dance?" He tells her motioning over his shoulder to the balcony where paku stands with his other students banging on a drum. He nods at her and even from this distance she can see the small smirk on his lips. This is the first time she thinks perhaps he has been greatly influenced by herself and the avatar.
This is all the persuasion she needs as Aang wraps an arm around her waist and takes her hand in his. Together they match the tempo the drums beat for beat and they display their water bending skills. At one point Katara freezes ice to the bottom of their boots so they can glide across the ice in a graceful dance. Their acrobatic skills are tested and all who sit watching are in awe of their talent, well all but one.
There are a pair of golden eyes that can't seem to tear his gaze from the performance. Zuko has never seen anyone move the way these two are, as if they were one. Its breath taking beautiful and seems incredibly intimate. His fingers are gripping the table and he doesn't realize until Yue puts her hand on top of his that he has left giant holes in the wood.
"Are you not enjoying the entertainment?" She asks removing her hand from his. The look of utter disgust on his face makes her fearful of Katara's choice to perform.
"I find your entertainment completely inappropriate." Zuko growls.
Yue looks confused back out at her friends then back to the fire nation prince, she clearly does not see what he means. "Do you not dance in the fire nation?" she asks trying to understand Zuko's assessment.
"No." Is all he says his glare still fixated on the performance.
Yue has no response for this so she too turns her attentions back to her dancing friends.
Aang's hands are on Katara's waist and her hands are on top of his they are sliding backwards when Aang picks Katara up and throws her in the air. She spins three times landing gracefully her arms spread as she calls forth a hill of ice meeting her halfway between air and ground, she slides down and around the back of the audience around behind the royal table, Zuko is tempted to reach out and touch her again, before checking himself, he hides his clinched fists under the table ashamed that he cannot stop staring at the little water bending girl. Yet he is not the only one in awe- all eyes are on her as she collapse the ice as quickly as she builds it coming down to finally meet the ground. She performs another spin on one foot and even from Yue's seat the northern water tribe princess can see the glare Katara gives the Avatar whom simply smiles and shrugs before the drums come to their final note the performers meeting once more ending as gracefully as they had begun. Everyone is clapping having clearly enjoyed their hard work. Master Pakku's students have put in to prepare for Yue's birthday. '
Chief Anrook stands giving a beautiful speech in tribute of Yue's birthday then welcomes everyone. Then once again the music starts and Katara is standing in front of her friend with an out stretched hand. "Dance with me, your worshipness?" The playful smile on her lips and the eyebrow raised makes Yue giggle, "Now that I'm sixteen I'm not supposed to put myself on display." Yue answers blushing at the whole ridiculous custom.
Katara puts a finger up to her lips, "shhhh. Who said anything about displaying well anything? Not me. I won't tell, you won't tell, well he might tell." Katara states pointing over her shoulder to Aang who waves enthusiastically. Again Yue giggles.
"It is fine daughter, go enjoy your party," Chief Anrook permits with a wink.
Zuko doesn't know what to say, he is completely offending by the water bender's complete lack of respect for the culture she was born in. Yet he cannot stop staring at her. When she came over and sat on the edge of the table he thought he would melt his chair from pure shock. Her attitude and manors were completely lacking. She was unlike any princess he had ever meant, for all her station and birth she acted no better than a peasant.
He watched Yue practically leap from her chair and be pulled onto the dance floor by the little water bender. The girl bends over giving Zuko a view to scowl at while she freezes ice to Yue's boots. Then they are holding hands standing as the girl slid backwards pulling Yue along helping the Northern water tribe princess keep balance. The whole interchange was ridiculous. Katara was an awful influence and right then and there Zuko decided she would never be permitted to enter the fire nation palace. Yue would be a respectable Fire Lady and not allowed to have such colorful friends.
Yue was having the time of her life. Katara was a great teacher and in no time Yue had the hang of what Katara and Aang called skating. She wondered why none of her ancestors had thought of this but then she realized not one of them had as much creativity in their whole blood line as the Southern Water tribe princess had in one strand of hair. Katara was teaching her how to turn, and Yue was having a hard time paying attention, her thoughts linger on Sokka and where he could possibly be she hadn't seen him since the feast began and every moment since she found out that their marriage would be announced tonight she had spent worrying how the fire nation would react.
"Yue! Shift your hips." Katara instructed pulling Yue out of her worries. Yue did just that turning around on her own and running into something very solid.
"Ooops. Sorry." She apologized looking up into her beloved's face. Sokka was there holding her smiling down on her, she couldn't even remember what she had been so worried about moments ago as he took her hand in his, "do you mind if I take over this lesson, Katara?" He asked for the sake of being polite in front of Yue. Katara's knowing smile stretched across her face as she skated backwards to give the two some alone time.
She found Aang entertaining the children with animal ice sculptures and with just fluid motion on her hand she made the Koi- elephant squirt water all over her dearest friend.
The kids all laughed making the game more fun and the look on the Avatar's face priceless. "That's for using Air bending in front of the fire nation." She told him when he turned around realizing she was there. "No one noticed except you and Sokka, everyone else just thought I was really strong, or that you're really small." He said while he took fake measurements with his hands then compared his results to his own stature. "Yep must be that I am super strong." He stated as he proudly showed her his scrawny arms.
"Oh of course that's what it must be, my big strong man. " Katara said in a gooey voice before switching to a very matter of fact one when Aang's eyes glossed over. "Will you dance with me Sokka stole my dance partner."
"Yes! That's why you found me as a boy-cicle, so I can be forever your indebted dance partner. And you can be my penguin sledding Sensei." He told her pulling her back on to the dance floor. That was when they heard the arguing.
The voices came from a small area off to the side of the dance floor it was private but the raised voices ensured it wouldn't remain that way long.
"You don't dance with one man when you are promised to another." A deep and strongly familiar voice said. Katara's feet lead her over to find a very angry fire prince shaking a very scared Yue.
"Let her go." Katara stated her tone had a dangerous edge to it.
The Prince turned around his eyes clashing against hers. "Keep walking, this doesn't concern you." He growls, his eyes narrow in on her.
"I told you to let her go. Now I suggest you listen to me before you start a war that you can't possibly finish. Particularly in the situation you're currently in." She calmly states.
Zuko looks at her like she is a bug on his shoe, "And what position in that?"
"Two fire nation Princes all alone in the middle of The Northern Water Tribes, one of which is man-handling their only princess. Please tell me how that could possibly end well for you and your cousin." Katara is the voice of reason and Aang is her right hand man ready to act if need be. But the Prince lets go of Yue and Katara wraps her arms around her friend looking at the prince like he was a piece of gutter scum before leading her friend back the party, Aang hover protectively over the water nation princesses.
Zuko is left alone in his private little nook, his fingers gripping his hair hard as he tries to explain to himself what just happened. Lu ten would chalk it up to jealousy, but Zuko didn't think it was as straight forward as that. What did he care if Yue danced with her Sokka it had actually been sweet to witness, to watched as they clumsily tried the ice on their feet dance, neither of them as graceful as the couple before them. That was when he noticed they were missing from the dance floor, the water bender and her friend. He had gotten up from his seat not even realizing it as he scanned the crowd for them, that was when he saw them playing with the children making ice animals and laughing.
Yue touched his shoulder and he just snapped. Grabbing hold of her and almost starting a war over what? He still could not explain what was happening inside him. He took a few minutes to focus on his breathing just as his uncle had taught him to get his anger under control then calmly he walked back to the royal table where Lu Ten sat in conversation with Chief Anrook.
"Ah there he is." Lu Ten shouted. Zuko's heart burning in his throat as his face pales in fright, did they tell on him? "Zuko come here, Chief Anrook has expressed the wish to see some fire nation dances."
"Then you can show him. I don't dance." Zuko sounded rude, he realized this after the words were said. Not to mention Lu Ten glares at him.
"I am no dancer, cousin. Perhaps you can teach the Princess." Lu Ten suggested and Zuko understood his cousin's game. Having just scared Yue there could be no harm in trying to calm the waves.
"If you wish I would be happy to dance with Princess Yue." Zuko concedes.
"My daughter has requested to sit a few out. She is not feeling well at the moment, but I do have an idea… Katara!" Chief Anrook calls the water bender's name before Zuko can react and suddenly she is standing there beside the king his arm around her shoulder.
"I don't know if you two have meant Chief Hakkoda's charming daughter, Princess Katara of the our sister tribe in the South. She performed in honor of my own daughter this evening, they are very close the two of them, like sisters. Katara is well traveled and she perhaps knows a few fire nation dances of her own, she has spent some time in the colonies and BA sing se."
Zuko is watching her as she smiles sweetly at the king and Lu Ten.
Lu Ten looks at her like he has seen a ghost, "How is your leg, your highness?" She asked him as he gawks at her in recognition. His mouth opens then closes like a koi before he finally answers. "Healing nicely." He states but there is more there in his unspoken words.
"I am happy to hear that. You must be more careful around the yuenagi -next time you may not be so lucky."
"I will keep that in mind next time I visit Kioshi" He tells her with a smile that does not reach his eyes.
"You two know each other?" The king asks looking enthralled by the possibility.
"We ran into one another over territory dispute on a small Earth Kingdom island." Lu Ten stated off handedly.
"Fascinating, Great things this kid will accomplish make no doubt of that." The king boosted over the girl as he took another drink form his goblet.
"I have no doubt of that." Lu Ten agreed.
Zuko was not there the day Lu Ten tried to take over Kioshi Island, but he did remember a water bender in his cousin's retellings. Lu Ten however had left out the notorious water bending master that single handily defeated him was a child.
"Would you dance with my cousin, Prince Zuko?" Lu Ten asked as politely as he could give the circumstances.
"I would be honored if Prince Zuko would dance the Graceful Flame with me." She states and suddenly she is all poise and manners and Zuko fells a bit of fear when she offers to dance with him.
The Graceful Flame in a very slow and close dance. Zuko suddenly has no desire to touch the girl standing across from him. This little girl, he has a gut feeling is far more dangerous than Azula could ever be.
"I think the formal steps will serve us best," She is telling him as they take their stance.
The formal steps are far more complicated and Zuko hasn't performed them since his mother taught them to him nine years ago.
"Do you plan on leading too?" He snaps, his hand hovering inches from hers
"No, unless you don't know the steps." She states her blue eyes hold a challenge while her lips held a smile.
"I didn't mean to hurt her." he blurts out. It was the closest thing to an apology she was going to get.
They wait while a beat picks up, Zuko is keeping count in his head as they silently perform the first sequence of steps. Circling right hands a breath a part, the foot work is simple enough.
"But you did." She tells him. Her tone accusingly as they circle again now both hands palm to palm. "Didn't mean to, doesn't count for anything, your highness. Your temper is out of control you are a threat to everyone until you learn to manage it." She tells him matter of fact- it is advice that he has heard too often in his life.
"You sound like a fat old man" He bites out whishing he was anywhere but in the Water tribe dancing with this girl.
She smiles widens reaching her eyes and she is so very pretty in that moment Zuko finds he hates this girl more than he has any right to. "Do you have one particularly in mind or should I just use my imagination to complete the insult?" She asks. He hopes she is not expecting an answer because she is not getting one. He has a feeling she already knows far more about him than he does her and decides to remedy this.
"Where did you learn to dance the Graceful Flame?" His watching her closely. Her smile softens as she looks down and a small blush rises to her cheeks. He suddenly doesn't want to know the answer to his question.
"A fat old man, taught me when we shared his home for a time." Her voice is kind as she remembers her teacher fondly.
He glares at her. He has had enough talk of fat old men for an evening. So he decides on a safer line of questioning.
"You have traveled much?" He asks his eyes wondering the curves of her face as he tries to memorize it.
"Yes I have." She answers doing a full turn around him, then placing a hand on his chest over his heart. He hopes she cannot feel how fast it is beating.
"Why?" He asks when she is once more facing him.
"I like the adventure." She tells him with a smile, and he knows there is more to her travels than seeking thrills- she doesn't come across as an adventure.
"It seems odd. That a girl your age would travel alone. Yue says your father rarely accompanies you." He is digging for more than a single sentence answer. He swallows hard his hands move from his sides to rest on her hips as they perform the next string of steps.
"I'm hardly alone, I have Sokka, Aang and another friend that tags along. My father has more pressing concerns like rebuilding our tribe, from the ashes." She looks him right in the eye when she says this and he finds that he suddenly feels inferior to her, a feeling he has only ever felt in his sister's shadow. This water bender looks at him without fear and in the eye her attentions not once turning to the scar on his face. This somehow makes him hate her more.
"Why do you travel so much then, why not stay home to help your father?" He ask searching for a weakness, she has to have one- no one is as fearless as she lets on.
"By traveling I am helping my father. How else would we be able to rebuild without alliances?" She asks like he is a simpleton.
"Are you building an army against my Uncle?" He is shocked and disappointed how far off he has misjudged this girl.
"No. Why would I do something stupid like that?" She is too close now her arms wrapped around his neck he can feel her breath on his lips and suddenly he wonders if he kissed her would the sudden pain in his chest let up. "Your uncle is one of our allies. Earth King Iroh, helped free Ba sing se from the corrupt. He has just began to rebuild it. He has a long road ahead, I do not fear the direction of the Earth Kingdom- it's the future of the fire nation that concerns us all." She tells him., he can't seem to catch his breath.
"I am the fire nation's future." The force behind his statement is lost when her hand returns to his chest her palm once more over his heart.
"I know. And you are filled with a rage you have no idea how to control, so tell me again how that should comfort me." She asks, he is having a hard time forming an answer, her blue eyes and soft touch is distracting. He finds he is concentrating more than he ever has to before just to be mindful of his own actions.
"I am not my grandfather." his words are an oath, a promise.
"I look forward to you proving that. You can start by apologizing to Yue and pulling your name off the list for her would be suitors." Katara tells him, her own heart hammering in her throat. She prays he cannot tell how nervous she is as she wades into this dangerous conversation.
"I need this alliance. I will marry if it is the only way to achieve peace." His tone is gentle as he angles his head his lips hot on her ear.
"I am offering you another way, Prince Zuko. Think about it. I would give you a speech about marrying for love and not duty, but something tells me, you wouldn't understand my words if I tried." She tells him. He leans back and is reminded of a similar conversation from this morning. Suddenly he wonders if she is going to offer to take Princess Yue's place as his bride.
"Still you're talking." He states now amused. He was beginning to think she was a different breed, now he could see it, she was exactly like the rest of them. Manipulative.
"Yes, because I am willing to offer you the one thing you want most in this world in exchange for my friend's happiness." She is bargaining with fire nation royalty. He is shocked because he realizes she has no intention of offering herself in exchanged, He finds himself somehow disappointed.
"And how could you possibly know what I what most." He can't help but ask.
"I've seen you look at your reflection. Didn't take me long to read what was written on your face." She has ventured to a place no one else would dare to go with him and he is offend.
But then the look on her face is too serious for her to have meant insult. Those eyes too innocent to stay mad at.
"No one can restore that…I was told it wasn't possible." He growls.
"Well then I'm a little no one, from nowhere offering you world peace at a price you can afford. Deal can't get much better than that." She tells him and suddenly he takes it all back. This girl is like no other, she is insane.
"Does the chief know what you're attempting?" He asks wondering if she was doing this solo or she had the support of her tribe.
"Yes. I am to offer you this alternate deal, so that when Yue's betrothal to my brother is announced, things don't get too hot." She tells him.
"Why you. Why isn't the king offering this to me?" He has a feeling the answer to his question has more to do with her pretty eyes than her healing abilities.
"Because your cousin made is clear a marriage was what was expected. But this is not a negotiation between the Water nations and the Earth kingdom. This is an issue between my people and the fire nation, you are the one we need to make peace with. A marriage to a woman you do not love would solve nothing. An unhappy marriage to a woman you do not like could mean more pain for my people and a war with new allies that you would have no hope to heal from. We want peace, not another reason to despise you. I am the only one who can offer you what you really want."
"How do I know you're telling the truth? That you could heal, me?" He asks lost in hope and in awe of the child before him.
"You don't but I can, out of the two of us I would believe me. You can't even tell yourself the truth. I on the other hand, if anything, am a little optimistic but not a liar. A turning of the moon is all I need to make good on my end. It has to be done when the moon is full at its highest, so you have some time to consider, my deal. A treaty is to be signed before I work, I don't trust you." She tells him, the music is on its last bar.
"You will." He bows.
"A girl can dream." She tells him curtsying, before turning to walk away. He grabs her arm before thinking better of it. Pulls her close, his nose is on her cheek and lips on her ear.
"If you fail, and it's not possible, I will hold you responsible." He warns her.
She pulls back looking him in the eyes once more the strength he sees there is breathtaking, "So will my nation. And I will accept the consequences." She promises, the weight of her statement heavy in those blue eyes. Slowly his fingers uncurl from her arm as he frees her.
"Thank you for the dance, Prince Zuko." She says before walking away. This time he lets her. Suddenly torn between the hope of her to succeed in her promise and want of her failure.