His hold on her arm was painful, and the pace at which he pulled her along made it difficult for her to form words, so instead she formed ice. Hurling a snow ball from the ocean to the back of his head one handed was an accomplishment, one that he seemingly did not appreciate, but he stopped even if his hold did tightened. The look Zuko was giving her was one of annoyance, "What was that for?" He demanded, pulling her closer to him, his rage dancing recklessly in his golden eyes.
"Who's Azula?" It was a question Katara had been waiting for the right moment to ask but like so many other things the timing had never seemed right at least not until the beach when his eyes flashed and his body coiled, just as it had in the swamp when he first screamed the name.
He looked surprised, his shock softening his eyes as he looked at her and his shoulders just slightly relaxed. "My sister." He told her in a whisper that sounded like he was confessing a sin.
"Your little sister, the one you spoke of before?" She asked while attempting to twist her arm out of his grip. His hold loosened but he did not let go of her as she adjusted her arm.
"The one and only. She cannot be trusted, we need to leave tonight." He told her turning around and once more pulling her after him.
"Why can't she be trusted? Will she try and hurt Aang?"
She did not see the way Zuko's jaw clenched at her words. "No just me, and anything I care about." He assured her.
He lets go of her when they reached the house Aang and Toph still on the beach playing a game that consists of Toph sand bending something extraordinary and Aang knocking it down with air bending. They looked to be having fun.
Sokka was jogging towards them reaching the house just as Zuko and Katara did.
"We have to leave." Zuko stated in a no nonsense tone, too bad he was talking to the group in front of him.
Toph laughed, and Aang looked frustrated. "No way, Sparky. We like it here, we're staying until the alliance council date with Iroh and Lu-Ten. Until then you have to teach twinkle toes to cook."
"Cook?" Zuko looked confused.
"Firebend." Katara translated.
"No. We can go to the palace for that. We are not safe here." Zuko stated a little too melodramatic even for him.
Sokka, Toph and Aang looked to Katara for further explanation. "We ran into his sister on the beach."
The three of them laughed.
"Please tell me Sifu Hotman that you are not afraid of all girls." Toph asked with a hearty chuckle.
"I just meant your sister, and her two friends. Nice group of girls, the locals were eating sand by the time we were done with them." Sokka declared making Zuko roll his eyes, because it sounded like something they would do.
"They invited us over for dinner. Their having smoked walrus-ham!" Sokka squealed.
"No, we are not going, we are leaving." Zuko stated more forcefully. Katara was looking at him like he was crazy.
"What time is dinner?" Katara asked Sokka who put his arm around his little sister and lead her into the house as he described in detail how the volley ball game with them went, not bothering to answer her question- Aang bounced along behind them clearly enthralled by the play by play recap.
Zuko could feel the smoke escaping his ears, when a small hand rested on his shoulder. "Face it Sparky, we're not going anywhere except to a dinner party with your sister." Toph's girly laugh echoed around him as he stared after them wondering how he was going to protect Katara from Azula.
Azula was blushing. It was strange and creeping and Zuko couldn't help but wonder what she was plotting. Because in all their lives, Zuko, has never seen Azula blush, let alone show emotion- that would make her human.
They arrived at Azula's beach house right before dusk, Katara brought dessert, a concoction from her tribe called ice cream and handed it to Azula as they walked in after giving his sister a one sided hug. Azula looked shocked, then Sokka complimented her hair and she blushed. The water tribe sibling simply walked by without another word like their behavior was not strange. But then in the water tribe perhaps it wasn't.
Toph followed with a respective bow and Aang with a shy wave, leaving Zuko standing in front of his sister with nothing to say. "You look healthy and it seems your mission went well." Azula was the first to speak.
Zuko shook his head. "No. My mission was a failure." Zuko corrected. Azula looked over to Katara with purpose.
"Oh, please, ZuZu, you don't have to play dumb with me. She's beautiful and she has manners." Azula is back to herself laughing at his expense as she holds up Katara's dessert. Luckily her voice was low enough that none of the other's heard her.
"She is just a healer, their princess was already engaged. An alternative offer was made."
Azula laughed, "I take it back you really are stupid, Zuko. Accepting a peasant girl over a princess, but then engaged is not married."
"Don't…I'm not marring anyone. She is going to heal this mark of shame." He all but growls pointing to his face.
Her brows furry together. "Shame?" The one word was spoken with more force than inquiry.
"You really are a dumdum." She tells him turning away and walking to her guests.
Ty-Lee and Mai were in the other room entertaining Katara and her family, well Ty-Lee was entertaining them while Mai leaned against the wall looking bored.
Ty-Lee was standing on her hands and Aang was watching in fascination, like he was trying to figure out how to do it, and Toph had that look that Zuko became familiar with, that she wanted to do something that would cause trouble. Katara must have seen it too because she walked over and put her arm around Toph, who did not shrug her off.
"Azula!" Ty-lee exclaimed walking on her hand over to her friend. "This is Sokka, Aang, Katara, and Toph! Toph is a Bei-Fong, Sokka and Katara are from the Southern water tribes and Aang- you'll never believe it, his the Avatar." Ty-Lee made the introductions before flipping over and standing up right on her feet.
"Delighted." Azula states eyeing each with purpose. Zuko walks over to stand on the other side of Katara, this he notices caused Azula to smirk.
"Well, welcome any friends of Zuzu's is a friend of mine." Her words are inviting while her tone was condensing.
Zuko watches Katara's eyes narrow in response.
"We will have dinner here, and then I thought we could go to a party that some of the locals are throwing afterwards." Azula announces like true hostess.
"The kids from volley ball?" Sokka asked surprised.
"Yes. One of the boys caught Ty-Lee's eye." The comment was innocent enough but the tone was again insulting.
This was apparently something Zuko's sister excelled at Katara concluded.
They were ushered into a sitting area, Azula, Ty-Lee, Mai and Zuko on one side of the table while the others sat across from them. Zuko sat across from Toph and next to Azula. He was still trying to figure out what game his sister was playing well into dessert.
Everyone praised Katara's ice cream, even Azula though not so much in words but in actions when she asked for a second bowl.
Zuko finished his hardly tasting it, he would not be able to relax until they were safely back at his house. He could only sit and watch as Azula mentally cataloged each of the children across the table from her.
"My brother tells me you are an accomplished healer, Katara." Her words were far from a question but she apparently wanted answers as she waited for the water bender to respond.
"I am. I learned in the Northern Tribes."
"Yes, it seems to be the only thing they are willing to teach their women." Azula says.
Katara's eyes flash as bright as Azula's lighting. "The chiefs of the tribe do have a more traditional mind set of gender roles, one that I seem to be redefining."
"I see you have been redefining my bro…" Azula's words cut off mid-stream and she begins to choke quite diligently on her own saliva. The imposing threat of his sister seems to evaporate at the reminder her own mortality.
"Are you okay, Azula?" Ty-Lee asks from beside her and Zuko looks from Azula to Katara whose eyes are locked on his chocking sister. Just as Azula's face turns red her wind pipe seems to clear. Zuko notices Katara's attention turns to her food.
"You should not eat and talk at the same time. Some accomplishments take quite a bit of practice." Toph hits the smugness perfectly and Zuko is shocked to find that his catty sister will not bully her dominance over this group as easily as she does everyone else.
Azula looks angry and he can practically see the wheels in her head turn trying to work out what just happened.
Apparently Toph and he are the only ones to have realized what just took place.
The tension brewing is thick and even Mai seems to be on the edge of her chair waiting for something.
"Anyone what to see my space sword?" Sokka asks standing up to drawn it only to trip on his own feet and fall face first into his unfinished plate of food.
Everyone is laughing as Sokka rights himself a noodle stuck to his forehead that he slurps it into his mouth with flare.
Zuko realizes not for the first time that Sokka has impeccable timing.
As they walk the beach sometime later on the way to the local party Azula had mentioned, Katara and Aang are side by side, Aang chattering bouncing along as Katara stares out to the ocean in deep thought. Sokka has roped Mai into a conversation about steel and weapons and Mai surprisingly seems to be dominating the conversation. Azula is walking behind them apparently eavesdropping when she comments on the temperature levels for forging. Ty-Lee is ahead of all of them, and Zuko is walking along side Toph who has a hold of his arm as they bring up the rear.
"Do you love her?" Toph whispers the question and Zuko don't even try to pretend like he doesn't know to whom she's referring or why she is bring it up now.
"I don't know. It was a kiss. Just a kiss." He tells her knowing his lying. Toph's lips pucker in response and he knows that she knows his lying.
"You don't deserve her." Toph tells him.
"I know." He admits and for the first time he sees one of Toph Bei-Fong's real smiles.
"Don't forget it." she threatens.
"I have a feeling you will remind me." He concedes understanding all too well what she is saying. She hits him, and he smiles.
It doesn't surprise Zuko that two boys have tried to make a move on Katara before she reaches the punch table, what does surprise him is that while Aang is standing right beside her he seems completely clueless and doesn't seem to mind when one boy leads Katara out on the dance floor.
Mai had become a wall flower and Ty-Lee is surrounded by a group of local boys. Zuko looks around to find Toph examining a water melon with one of her ornery expressions and Azula is arguing in a corner with Sokka looking at the water tribe boy like he is a fool.
Zuko would not dispute the fact.
He nudged his way over to Katara throwing his arm around her and giving the boy dancing with her his meanest glare. "She's single." He says gruffly nodding in Mai's direction.
Katara looks at him like he is the one insane.
"I was dancing with him." Katara points out with a smile.
"Dance with me instead." His already husky voice has dropped an octave and he can't explain why.
Her smile drops from her face and she looks to his mouth before looking back into his eyes. "I thought you didn't dance, Prince Zuko." She is teasing him. He smiles in response.
"I didn't not until you." He tells her his words smoldering as he sweeps her up in his arms. There are no words as their bodies move to the music. He doesn't know how long he has her in his arms, never long enough but the dance floor has gotten crowded and he looks up to see where everyone is. He does not recognize anyone, and when a body slams into his and Katara is pulled from his arms he feels that fury return. But Katara is suddenly back at his arm and the music changes tempo.
"Mosh pit." Katara tells him grabbing onto his hand and pulling him out of the house into the night air. The moon is high, it's light sparkling on the ocean's surface and it is quiet.
Katara giggles when she spots her family and his a few feet away.
The rest of their company is on the beach, with a large Pi Sho board formed in the sand.
"No one ever beats me! You cheated!" it's Azula that is screaming and a blast of blue fire rips along the beach, even at their distance Zuko can see Sokka dodge the blast with ease.
"Never? Have you ever considered that most people let you win," Sokka shouts as Azula throws another blast of fire at him.
"Why would they do that peasant?" She asks with venom and denial. Sokka just laughs like she is his own personal clown.
"Because they are afraid you'll set them on fire." He bravely answers like it's the punch like to her existence.
"Why you insignificant pest!" She screams her body stance becomes angular and the sequence is one that Katara is familiar with. The waterbender is running to her brother's aid as Zuko watches his sister conjure lighting.
"Don't" Katara's scream is carried and Azula looks up her eyes filled with angry tears.
The ocean is a master water bender's playground, Katara form the waves of the ocean peaking and surrounding the fire nation princess.
Zuko watches as Azula's eyes widen and she sees the wall of water looming over her, she shakes her head as if clearing it and she stands down, the lighting not getting a chance to form as she hangs her head. "I suppose you could have a point, Sokka." She concedes. Katara lowers the water running over and hugging her brother.
"And I thought you were scary when mad." Sokka jokes to his sister and Katara laughed with little humor before he pushes her head down on his shoulder and give her another good squeeze.
Zuko watches Azula watch the siblings and he wonders if she is thinking what he had the first time he saw them affectionate towards each other. He shakes his head and looks up to watch the two walk away arm in arm, there friend following. It seemed they had enough fire nation for one night.
Zuko stays behind his own anger having burned down to embers. "You could have hurt someone." He tells her as she sits on the sand watching the ocean.
"No one has ever beaten me at Pi Sho. Last time I played Uncle it was a draw." Azula states in a steady voice. Zuko looks around to see they are alone, even Ty-Lee and Mai have left.
"There is a first time for everything." He rationalizes, once more trying to channel what he thought Katara would say.
"Do you think he is right?" She asks looking up at her brother, the emotion in her eyes make him hesitate with the truth.
But Zuko decides now is not the time for lies. He wants to build bridges between them.
"Not at first, but perhaps over time." He tells her and the silent engulfs them as he sits next to her, as she processes everything.
"His a bigger dummy than you." She states with a big sigh.
"I know." Zuko agrees, because it's true Sokka is the smartest idiot he had ever meant.
"She is powerful." The whisper is a sinful confession. Zuko looks at his little sister in shock. She never said anything good about anybody particularly other's bending.
"I've never seen the ocean like that, I was scared for the first time in my life. Between my lighting and the water, I would..." Her voice trailed off.
"They are..." He starts to try and explain it but he find he can't how they care so much for each other, how they defend and protect each other.
"I see it." She concedes. "Do you think that we could...ever...I mean..." Azula is vulnerable and Zuko is not the same person he was months ago, he hardly considers making her pay for all the awful things she has ever done to him.
"We could. If you and I, If we could be friends." Zuko tells her meaning it. Truly meaning that if she was willing to abandon the rivalry of their childhood then he was.
"I want to trust you, Azula. You're my sister." He tells her honestly.
"I don't want the throne. If you can believe anything I say, Zuzu, believe that. Perhaps once I did, but when father was dethroned and Uncle named you heir for your loyalty, I realized that I was free to make my own path, and that a throne in hind-sight looked more like shackles then opportunity."
"So what do you what Azula, what would make you happy?" Zuko asks truly hoping he can give it to her.
"I want the fire nation colonies." She tells him. "There are riots in the streets families being torn apart because some think the fire nation doesn't' belong there, and while we could pull out every fire bender in the colonies you would still be looking at ripping families apart. I meant a family who had a fire bending child and also an earth bender. There is hope that even after the destruction Sozin's dream for a peaceful united world could be achieved. Not in blood and fire, but from the ashes of destruction. Mother always taught us to find the silver lining."
"How would you unite the people, Azula? More violence?" He asks without a hit of accusation.
"I am a people person, Zuko. There has been enough violence, don't you agree?" Zuko simply looked at her the thought of mentioning what just transpired between her and Sokka wavering. He decided against it. "So you want to be a fire Nation ambassador?"
"I could do it." She said like he was doubting her.
"As long as you don't set things of fire." He reached over and tweaked her nose. She looked up at him with a confused expression.
"You're in love with her aren't you?" Azula asked after a moment of silent gawking.
"You're the second person to ask me that tonight." He tells her.
"If the fire nation is inherited by a water bender will you still love her?"Azula asks and he can't help but smile.
"You would! The colonies will pave the way for your unorthodox decision. I can help you." She looks up at him like she means it like she wants nothing more than to save families especially her own.
"Why? Why would you help me be with a water bender? I thought you told me I should marry Mai." His confused.
"Her fire is as blue as mine." Azula states like it explained everything.
"But she's a water bender."
"And she's a peasant, but your taste in women is not worth discussing, not if you love her."Azula is shaking her head. "Dumdum."
He nods the smile still plastered on his face.
"Oh did I not mention she is in fact a princess, of the southern tribes. Not that it matters."
"Well it's something, at least. The other princess was a non-bender which is why the fire sages even considered it."
"It's a brave new world, Azula." He tells her like none of it bothers him. He has made up his mind, who knew that it would be Azula that would unknowingly talk him through any concerns he had over the future of him and Katara. The idea of a water bender inheriting his ancestor's legacy has only convinced him that any future of him and Katara would be one filled with hope.