Sokka's voice was full of relief as he swept his sister into a hug. "You're okay."
Over his shoulder, Katara watched the officials drag Ozai away. After the lightning, magic had still flown fast and hard. Her heart still raced slightly from the fear of trying to protect two novices facing their powerful father.
She glanced at Zuko to see him watching her. She blinked slowly, a movement of thankfulness and trust. With a short nod from him, they both went back to staring after the fallen prince of the Winter Court as Zuko retreated deeper into the protective personal bubble of his uncle.
"Don't let anyone touch you," she had hissed when it was over, when Aang and the first set of nobles barged in. "Not until Prince Iroh arrives. Ozai has friends."
There hadn't been time to say more, not without risking a paranoid reputation. Still, Iroh wouldn't mess with memories, and he wouldn't let anyone who would near the only malleable witnesses.
She would worry about trials and politics later. Now, now was the time to sink into her father's hug and be a little girl again.
My father took everything from me.
That was Azula's old game, finding his favorite toy, then book, then homework, and making it vanish. It shouldn't be a surprise that his father turned out to be better than either of them expected.
Beneath his hand, Azula's shoulder twitches slightly as she shifts, settles. Only one other noble has tried to get close, and Uncle promised to explain why he navigated them away from the stranger later.
Zuko's memories were swirling, trying to organize the mess left behind by a would-be angry god. He both remembered and didn't remember Uncle, and apparently confidence in his own recollection was another thing to add on the list of things Ozai stole.
Azula relaxed as the icy gold eyes of their father are finally dragged from the room. She leaned a little into her brother.
Well, not everything. But close.
Wine glass held to her chest almost like a shield, Katara surveyed the dancefloor from her place at the side.
The guests of honor were dancing again, a simple but fast waltz. The siblings made a stunning pair, and clearly their few months of rushed lessons had paid off, for the few errors in step were minor and could easily be blamed on their height difference.
(Of course, Azula getting to attend a ball at such a young age was highly unusual, much like most things surrounding the pair to be honest. But it would be an even more serious social gaffe to celebrate only half of the returned Fae than it would be to have a child at a ball. Besides, Iroh seemed to have restricted Azula to dancing only with family or old, married Fae - despite a few young males' attempts otherwise.)
All rumors said they were adjusting well, and that Zuko's prediction was right: Azula was already running circles around the less talented politicians
Katara emptied her glass, handing it off to a servant with a thank you as the song wound to a close. She hesitated before reaching for another glass. The stories of what happened seemed to have scared some of the more timid Fae away and she had barely danced. She would not, however, let good hospitality go to waste.
Another's hand intercepted hers before she reached the glass. Zuko smiled, eyes dancing with mischief and a silent invitation to dance as a slow waltz began to play.
Echoing his smile, she followed him out onto the floor.
He had barely lead them through a first pattern before he was speaking. "Well, this seems awfully familiar, doesn't it?"
Katara tossed her head, a haughty, teasing expression in her eyes. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Be that as it may," he replied, an eyebrow raised. "It is nice to dance with you, for real. You are a graceful partner, and I am perplexed that you don't dance more often."
"I'm impressed by your studies, but you can drop the act. No one else is listening."
"Oh thank God. Though I am a little disappointed; I practiced what I was going to say for a good fifteen minutes. You would not believe the rules for conversation Prince Iroh made me memorize."
She chuckled. "I would, actually."
"Right! Queen, of course you know the game and are even better at it than I am."
"Oh, are the masses of throne hungry heiresses getting to you?"
"There are so many! How can there be so many?"
"Imagine them trying to figure out how to throw themselves at your uncle."
He drew back from her, proper dance hold be damned. "No. I refuse to think about that, even though I know realize it's true." He settled back into the correct form, perhaps holding her a bit closer than before. "You and your brother both have a talent for finding the exact right thing to say to offset me."
"Ah, you've met Sokka."
"How could I not? I am the guest of honor, after all."
She could get used to this, drawing smiles and blushes alike to his cheeks, and perhaps that flashy annoyance if she told enough puns. There was that familiar pang as she remembered the throne she held and the one he could claim.
"I may as well ask," she began, sweeping her feelings under a rug once more. "Do you have any questions I could answer?"
"Have you ever played with my memories?"
"What? No. I only would have, only could have, if your father hadn't interfered. But I doubt taking your memories away would have stuck, now that it all has come out." She pressed a sense of honesty through their connection and met a stone wall. "Good. Someone has trained you about that. Don't let someone you don't know touch you without that wall. Keep your secrets."
"Being heir to a throne is terrifying."
"So is holding one."
The song ended, and the crowd burst into scattered applause while couples re-sorted themselves. Katara was swept up by her father after a slightly awkward parting from Zuko. She didn't see him again - except out the corner of her eye - until she was absorbed in talking magical shop with Aang and Haru.
She felt the music change, and glanced over to see Zuko headed her way. She had already started turning to him, a hand extended easily picked up by his, by the time he closed the distance and asked her to dance.
"Another slow waltz?" she asked, tucked into his arms and following his lead. "I have seen you dance the faster movements, so I know you can dance well. Why not with me?"
"I'm not quite good enough to dance fast without thinking about it, and I'd much rather think about conversation with you."
Zuko smiled. "Can I ask another question?"
"Why didn't you try to stop me from breaking out of the dream? You very easily could have."
Katara hoped she wasn't blushing. "It wouldn't have been right. I wasn't supposed to be there anyway - I intended to shore up defenses from an attack and actually unlock your sister's memories, with permission of course, for something she said made me wonder. Regardless, you pulled me in, so I had to play along. Entice you to stay without being obvious. Even if I had known, I would have broken the dream sooner trying to keep you focused on me."
"For tricksters, you care about rules."
She grinned playfully. "The best tricks are played when you fly directly in the face of the rules, after all. Look at you, a lost heir sweeping in at the last second, stopping what might have boiled into war and throwing out another claimant. Your father didn't play by rules he should have, and he's paid for that. I think your sister will have far too much fun making the rules work for her."
Zuko smiled back, "and for her alone."
His grip subtly tightened around her, and the two let the natural turn of the waltz pull them closer. Katara risked smiling up at him, but in that moment his eyes were locked ahead, deftly navigating them through the other couples.
"You know your floorcraft."
"I don't really think waltz should be a full-contact sport."
"Oh?" Her eyebrow was raised flirtatiously to match her tone, and he flushed pink.
"It's- it's a human term for sports where people run into each other and sometimes they get hurt and it's kinda violent but also fun - of course dance is a full contact sport in the sense that for some dances you need to be close-"
"Zuko, Zuko I'm sorry. I was teasing. Relax."
The music faded away as they came to a stop, something between them pulled tight. She slipped out of his grip like water, though his fingers curled slightly as if he wished to make her stay. She pulled away all the same, retreating. The night was ending, and she'd dance the final song with her father, as she always did when Sokka managed to save his third dance for Suki, and then vanish away to the Labyrinth, alone. Zuko was still faintly pink, and there seemed to be words on his tongue that Katara didn't want to hear. Now that the song was over, now that the spell was broken, she just wanted to be alone to put herself together.
A debutante swooped in to grab Zuko, and Sokka snagged his sister's arm. "So why do you look like someone just killed Momo?"
"Someone killed Momo?"
"No! No, why would anyone kill Momo? You just look like all the wind got taken out of your sails, when not thirty seconds ago you were having the time of your life with that handsome new prince. As your older brother, I have to worry."
"Shouldn't you be beating him with a stick for having touched me?"
"It's a fine line I walk between 'you are too good for him to even look at you' and 'he ought to be banging down Dad's door with a marriage proposal already the ungrateful slacker.' Tell me what's up."
Katara glared at Sokka. "No one will let him bang on Dad's door, not when he's in line for a throne, and the Labyrinth will take her heir first."
"You know how long we live for, right? You don't have to be worried about this right now."
"Yes, I do, Sokka, because I don't have the luck of an ice cube in Hel of having someone look at me the way you and Suki look at each other."
Sokka pulled her against a nearby wall. "If this is jealousy, Katara get over yourself because you won't improve your luck this way. If this a moment of weakness, let me get you champagne. But, listen-" He broke off to smile. "You're not always watching when others are looking at you."
Questions leapt into her lips, but before she could voice any, he tucked her arm through his and pulled her towards the dance floor. "Come, this is the penultimate number, and we should spend it dancing."
The waltz was too fast to talk much through, and Sokka kept deflecting her questions as if he had the affinity for water she did. Then the song ended, and he left her there to whisk Suki into the new pattern. Katara shoved her irritation down, slipping out of the way of Iroh leading his niece forward. Ready to just twist home and prepare a messy prank for her brother, Katara almost jumped out of her skin when a hand touched her arm.
Cautiously, it trailed down until it lightly held her hand. She turned, half-afraid of who she'd see.
Zuko bowed slightly when her eyes met his. "May I have this dance?"
"It's the final song."
"We've already danced twice."
"Will you dance with me again?"
"You know what you are asking?"
"I have a healthy uncle and younger sister, and the issue of succession hasn't been figured out, if that's what you're referring to." His fingers curled around hers.
Something twitched in his eyes, and he pulled her close to him. "Do you want to dance with me?"
Her other hand came to rest on his shoulder, and he swept them into the final dance. Her thumb fingered the gold trim on his shirt as they spun down the edge of the dance floor. She kept her gaze politely over his shoulder, just high enough to watch his back while avoiding the livid gazes of less tactful young Fae.
"I've learned I have to think very far ahead, now."
She just tilted an eyebrow at him.
"And alliances are important."
"As are heirs."
"I'm not asking you to marry me. That's not how mortals work. Just to get coffee, you know?"
"You know; we clearly have something - I pulled you into a dream after all. But that's not what a relationship can be built on, and definitely not one ruling a kingdom. I just want to get to know you."
"And to prove the point you basically proposed using court etiquette?"
"May have been a tad hasty, but yes, I guess so."
"Well then, I shall gladly get coffee with you. But if your uncle or my dad makes us wed to silence rumors and scandal, it's your fault."
He huffed with laughter. "If they do, then we'll have to really do something to merit rumor and scandal."
"Besides turn up and claim the throne after a whole life away?"
With a smirk, he took them around a tight corner in the dance. "A shotgun wedding would allow me to turn that tongue from sarcasm to much more delightful purposes." Before she could berate him, he added, "I cook rather well. Nothing is more enjoyable than a home-cooked meal."
"You put on the court mask when you flirt, you know. You ought to take it all off for me some time."
Light smiles teased their lips as they danced on, eyes meeting more often than not, stretched between two places and half-decided already to build themselves a third.