"My mother told me I look like a melon on an arrow today."
Katara held her laugh in admirably. She supposed the Fire Nation as a whole would be surprised by Azula's pregnancy. She left for the South Pole barely showing and came back at eight months pregnant. Azula's slender frame looked overloaded with her pregnancy so far along, while the rest of her held hardly any extra flesh.
"I know you're worried about getting back into shape, but it will probably take you just a few months to trim up again."
"I just want to be able to see my feet again," Azula responded with a sigh, trying to look over her belly to judge her shoes.
"How are we going to raise a boy anyway?" Azula asked her.
"Just like we're raising Ana. Bumbling along."
The carriage rocked and slowed. Katara helped Azula out of the high step as much as Azula pulled a nasty face. Three women in elaborate robes waited for them in the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Girls. They all bowed low.
"Fire Lord, Fire Lady. What an honor."
"Hello Lady Fan," Azula responded. "Are you still teaching history?"
The elder most of the women smiled and lowered her head again in a bow. "I'm still aspiring to your dedication to the subject, Fire Lord. I have certainly never had as dedicated a student as you. Please, come see how the school has changed." Fan's eyes flickered to Katara. "Fire Lady, have you seen our school?"
"No, Lady Fan."
"Come along," Azula said with mild impatience. "I have an appointment at the third hour this afternoon."
Lady Fan, who had been about to say something else, nodded. "Of course."
Their tour took them through the airy library, open classrooms, sparring arena, musical room, and even to an area preserved for brewing tea and performing tea ceremonies. The girls that were there were of all ages from four to sixteen. Their curious looks were hidden beneath their lashes for the most part. They seemed to be on their best behavior.
"Have you added the tea ceremony for suicide?" Azula wanted to know, looking around the tea brewing room.
One of the other ladies, Lady Lai, responded with wide-eyes.
"She's joking," Katara said.
"I wasn't," Azula snipped. She sounded like Ursa in that moment. "It's a traditional ceremony."
"When was the last ceremonial suicide conducted in this country?"
Azula pursued her full lips. "Twelve years. It's tradition," she reiterated.
"Not for little girls who aren't you. I don't even want to have to explain that to Ana."
"Fine," Azula responded dryly. She turned to Lady Fan. "What sciences do you have on your class list?"
"Mathematics and geology are in our core. We offer financing, literature, and history of both world and Fire Nation."
"Physics?" Katara asked.
"Ah, yes. I suppose Lady Laza has mentioned it to you. Yai will be glad to take on a student as enthusiastic and talented as Lady Laza."
Azula's look of surprise made Katara giggle. "Lady Laza does love her physics. She talked circles around me about it one time."
"Laza?" Azula clarified. "Our Laza?"
"Laza daughter of Tazu," Lady Fan confirmed.
"Little sneak," Azula muttered. As they approached the courtyard, Azula stopped them. "Lady Fan, while I'm pleased to see a more educational curriculum is in place, I am here mainly to ask you if my daughter, Ana, will be respected here as a Fire Nation princess. That doesn't just mean by instructors."
"Princess Ana is a Fire Nation Princess, Fire Lord. Disrespect is not tolerated from any girl." Fan's smile was a ghost on her lips. "Even you, Princess."
Azula regarded the woman and nodded vaguely before turning away. Katara nodded her head, knowing she wasn't supposed to dip into a full bow. "Thank you for opening your school for us."
"It's an honor to us, Fire Lady. If you have further questions or would like to see more of our school, please contact us. We are here at your disposal."
In the carriage, Azula was quiet. "What do you think?" Katara finally asked.
"It's not a bad school. And despite my own failures at it, it will be good for Ana to deal with other little girls socially and to deal with other teachers than her tutor at the palace. We will supplement her lessons, of course. Their teachings in science are still deficient and Fire Nation history is passable at best—world history deficient." Azula glanced at her. "If you're comfortable sending her there."
"We can see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, we'll find something else."
Azula nodded, probably surprised by the thought of not having to get it right the first time around. "Yes. I suppose so."
That night in bed, Katara draped an arm over Azula's side. Azula couldn't sleep on her back anymore because of the pressure the baby put on her abdomen. Ana had taken to talking to Azula's belly when she saw the baby moving. She'd asked more than once what the boy's name was. "I know you think it's bad luck, but we should talk about names."
Azula took a long breath. "You know Iroh had a son."
"You and Zuko have talked about him." Katara found Azula's hand, and they threaded their fingers together.
Azula sighed. "He died during the siege of Ba Sing Se. At the end of it, in fact."
"A stray arrow. It wasn't even during a battle." Azula was silent for a long moment as she considered that, and Katara guessed the shame and anger that Azula attached to that death. Azula would probably think he deserved a better death. "Lu Ten was a…" She paused. "He was always kind to me."
Katara realized where this was going. She reached out to gently rub Azula's rounded belly. "You want to name our son after him?"
"Is it considered an ill omen?" Azula asked Katara.
Katara shook her head. "We like to do it. A long time ago we used to think the spirit of the dead would find their new life in the so named baby, but it's just a custom to honor our ancestors now. I was hoping… If we had a girl…"
"We would name her after your mother, of course."
Katara had to kiss Azula for that. "Lu Ten is a good name." She paused. "Who was Tozin named after?"
"It sounds nothing like Sozin," Azula muttered.
"Sure it doesn't."
"The graphemes are far different. Mai had a grandfather named Tozin. He was well-respected by everyone know knew him, and he was perhaps the only person in the family that Mai actually liked. It's also the name of a man in a legend that Zuko's fond of."
"What's the legend?"
Azula turned to meet Katara's eyes with some humor in her own. "About honor, naturally. A family had two sons. The first inherited the family title and money. The second son, Tozin, enlisted and worked from the lowest rank to become enacting general for a massive victory over an attacking army. He returned home from his years at war to find his brother had squandered the family name and money and had cast his honored parents out of the household. Tozin challenged his brother to Agni Kai, killed him, and restored the honor to his family name."
Of course the siblings killed each other; it was a Fire Nation legend. "Tell me something: is there any legend of the Fire Nation that doesn't involve siblings murdering each other?"
Azula considered that for a long moment. "Well, there was Olana and her brother—"
"You and Zuko really are the first to share the throne, aren't you?"
"Overtly," Azula replied. "The number two suggests imbalance and unease. Equality between two is so difficult—impossible some would argue—to achieve. So a great many people are still nervous about how we'll manage to do this without destroying each other or the Fire Nation."
"It's a new age."
"Yes. A new age."
"Who will take the throne after you two?"
"Tozin is the eldest and most likely, but Zuko and I are working that out. If the current trend continues, we'll have to beg any one of our children to take the throne from us. Little infant Izumi is as likely as any other of our children."
Katara laughed and tugged Azula's hand. "You're going to retire. You know that right?"
There was a letter on the vanity in their closet the next night. Katara glanced back at the opening to their room, but she could only see Azula's bare feet on the bed. Azula's distinctive script spelled out Katara's name, and it was dated several months prior—they may have been honeymooning at the time. She paused to crack the wax off of the letter. Surely this was left for her to read.
As I write, I remember the feel of you inside me—your tongue in my mouth and your touch drawing my pleasure out. I made a mess when I came, and you cleaned me with your mouth, then let me taste myself on your lips. You murmured in my ear about all the ways we should be together, messy, gentle, harsh, loving, restrained, public…
I want you still though you're asleep. I could burrow into the sheets and taste you, make you dream of me until you wake to find me under the sheets, moving against you. You will pull on my hair and groan, ask me to touch you everywhere, kiss you everywhere. When we finish, we will restart once more.
I want you again. I think I will wake you. Wherever you are now, come find me so that I can taste and pleasure. If I'm not there, touch yourself and think of me.
Katara walked out of the closet, flushed with her pulse high. She waved the letter at her wife, who sat in bed. "You tease!"
"No, not teasing. Come here," Azula said. Katara shivered as she stripped from her clothes and settled in Azula's lap.
"Is the door locked?" she asked, already a shaking mess.
"Yes." Azula's wicked fingers massaged her, then gently pressed inside. Katara rocked on them, thinking of those words, thinking of when she would be able to touch Azula like this again. She yanked Azula's robes opened and squeezed one of her breasts. Azula grunted and cupped Katara's hips, dragging her closer.
Her belly was definitely in the way, but it didn't matter too much, especially not when Azula told her to turn over.
Azula massaged her back, then reached between her legs. "Relax. Take your time."
Katara gulped and took deep breaths, gasping on and off, nearly in meditation with Azula's touches. Her orgasm built in waves, especially with Azula easing off when she was close. Finally, Katara built into a moaning mess, lifting herself up and rocking frantically against Azula's touch. When she shuddered and came, Azula worked her through a second orgasm almost immediately after the first. She lay gasping with her legs opened while Azula's fingers played with her gently. She rarely came more than once, and there wasn't another in her. Katara rolled over to watch Azula lick her own fingers clean.
"Enjoy this," Azula said. "I may not want to do this for a while."
"That was worth waiting for," Katara mumbled, sinfully relaxed. "I wish I could return the favor."
"I bet you do," Azula responded, pulling a face to suggest that was the last thing she wanted in that moment. "I love you. That was lovely. It may be awhile before we do that again."
"That's alright." Katara sighed and decided to sleep in her current position. She murmured as Azula stretched out next to her.
Katara had twenty students in her new waterbending school, with fifty on the waiting list. She'd ended up doing first-come-first-serve, despite the money practically thrown at her for openings from wealthier families from the North. She had one student that had traveled all the way from Ba Sing Se. Azula told her to consider taking a few of the wealthier offers on, but Katara couldn't in good faith bump a student out for money alone. ("Consider the endorsement," Azula suggested but hadn't pressed more.)
She had a lot of ideas about how to give lessons and what to teach. The things that did or didn't work sometimes surprised her, but she'd known all along it would be an experiment.
She was deep into a lesson—soaked from sweat in the humid afternoon and from the water flung about by her students—when a messenger rushed through the water and ice without a thought to his own safety. He caught Katara by the arm and leaned close to deliver his whispered message.
Katara ran past him and out the door, missing her students' murmurs of shock and that her assistant instructor, Harraq, shouted, "Just a moment. Everyone drink some water, and we'll get started on the next exercise."
The palace loomed large within a few minutes, and Katara leapt out of the carriage before it even slowed. She was running upstairs, noticing that all the staff seemed similarly rushed. She burst into the medical office and back into the birthing chamber, where Azula surveyed her with wide eyes.
"I would think you of all people would realize you didn't need to rush here."
"How are you?" Katara leaned close to kiss Azula, who pulled away with her mouth twisted in disgust. "Go bathe and then come back. You stink."
"Of course you're fine," Katara muttered. She glanced at Kota, who nodded in agreement.
Five minutes later, Katara returned to find Azula received her much more amicably this time.
"I'm apparently fairly dilated. My contractions are five minutes apart, and I'm beginning to dislike this experience a great deal."
Katara washed her hands again and reached inside Azula. She was, indeed, nearly full dilated. She felt the baby's head close to her cervix. She was farther along than expected.
"I never want you to do that to me again," Azula said with a horrified expression as Katara withdrew her hand.
"Sorry, habit." She got up and washed her hands once again.
"Not with me," Azula responded. "That was entirely too impersonal."
Now that Katara looked, she saw her wife had broken some blood vessels on her cheeks, and her hair was limp from sweat. She looked tired. The next contraction supported that. Azula bared her teeth and groaned, shifting restlessly, trying to take deep breaths and rocking forward in her pain.
"Do you feel like you need to push?"
"I don't know!" Azula snarled. And thus the waiting game between contractions began. Katara had never felt her patients' pain as keenly as she felt Azula's. Azula shoved her away at her offer to hold her or massage her. She was solely focused on her labor, and Katara felt helpless. Later she realized it would help her become a better midwife to be on this side of the situation, but right then, it was agonizing.
Finally, Azula accepted her hand if only to squeeze as she pushed. She gasped and snarled at the doctors who told her to wait after the baby crowned. Katara looked in a mirror provided by one of the medical staff to see their son's head—with a thick cap of black hair—in Azula's vaginal canal before Azula snarled, "Take that away!"
It only took one more contraction before the little boy was delivered into the world. Katara took her hand from Azula, pretty sure something had been sprained during that last squeeze, and she watched with bated breath as her son shifted and raised one arm, then took a deep breath as the cord was tied off and cut.
Joy. Pure joy and awe...and they had a new baby boy. Their son. Katara hovered as he was bathed, her heart pounding and tears blurring her vision. Two arms, two legs, two ears, two eyes, ten fingers, ten toes, a beautiful wrinkled face… He was beautiful and dark skinned with thick black hair and dark blue eyes.
He gave one quiet newborn cry during the whole process. Azula watched his every move through the birthing room like a hawk, then she took him onto her breast, cradling him close. Katara didn't have to tell her to offer her bare skin; she pushed her tunic aside and settled him against her skin. His mouth found her, and he suckled. Azula looked at him with wide eyes. She stroked his cheek and touched his hair ever so gently.
Azula turned those wide eyes to Katara, and they both abruptly grinned at each other like idiots with tears in their eyes.
"Hello, Lu Ten," Azula told her son softly. She looked to Katara for confirmation. "He has blue eyes."
"All babies have blue eyes," Katara responded softly. She sat carefully beside Azula, and they both looked down at him happily.
"He's perfect," Azula said. And then she continued, "With pimples and a cone head."
"You're so unromantic," Katara retorted softly. "Good job, Momma."
"We have a baby," Azula said as if in shock. "We did this together." Abruptly, she turned a sharp glare to Katara, who was surprised to see that sharp expression so immediately after her soft happiness. "Don't even think of asking me if I want to do this again."
Katara laughed. She knew better than to ask for something she wanted when Azula would say 'no'. "I think we'll have our hands full. Can Ana visit?"
"I want to be cleaned up and go back to my own bed." Azula abruptly winced and began to push again. The afterbirth was delivered intact, and Azula accepted the help of the staff to clean her up and redress her. Katara gently took Lu Ten from Ling, the royal physician, after his exam. She carried her baby son out to show the royal family, all gathered outside the medical offices. A few minutes later, Azula was carried out by staff, and the whole throng of them marched upstairs to Azula's apartment.
After that wonderful task, Ana was fetched from lessons. She walked back into the bedroom with her hand tucked in Katara's. She brightened and reached out to Azula. "Momma!"
"Hello, my dear. Did you meet your brother?"
Ana looked back at Lu Ten dubiously. "He's squishy looking."
Azula laughed. "You were too when you were his age." Katara gently settled Lu Ten against Azula's chest after pressing a kiss to his tiny cheek, and Azula allowed Ana to climb up on the bed with her. A giant dragon head nuzzled the curtains aside. Perhaps Azula had called her dragon. Rakka snuffed at the edge of the bed with her body half in the apartment. The great dragon sighed happily when Azula's fingertips brushed her snout. Katara glanced at her family all settled there, completed by a dragon, and climbed up too.
Just a treasured moment of quiet shared between them before time would start moving again, faster than Katara wanted it to go. Just one more step on their journey together.