"'Nothing will happen, Korra!'" Korra scowled, imitating Tenzin's deep voice while bending water into the metal pot she was holding. "'It's just one day! Nothing could possibly go wrong! You're being paranoid, Korra!' Yeah? Who's paranoid now, Tenzin?"
"I don't know anything about babies!" Bolin wailed. He was in charge of ripping the old sheets into strips. "I mean, I have a pretty good understanding of how not to make one by accident, but that's it!"
Korra threw a fireball into the stove and set the pot over the flame. She barely heard Bolin. "'Nothing will happen, but if it does, just call our doctor who conveniently happens to be out sick today.' What kind of terrible doctor gets sick when her patient is about to have a baby?" She dropped the scissors into the bubbling water. "People die from having babies all the time!"
"They do?" Bolin asked, his green eyes widening. "Pema is doomed! The baby is doomed! We don't know what we're doing!"
Mako entered the kitchen. "Calm down, both of you," he ordered them. "Babies are born all the time without anyone dying. The other midwife will be here within an hour. Besides, if worst comes to worst, I've done this before."
"What?" Bolin's jaw dropped. "When?"
"It's a long story," Mako said. "When I was working at that restaurant the first time-"
Ikki shrieked from the next room. "Help! Somebody, help! My mom thinks the baby's coming out right now!"
Mako bolted out of the room, and Korra and Bolin exchanged a look and crept after him. Pema had slid out of her birthing chair and was squatting over a blanket. She had also discarded most of her clothing, which made Korra and Bolin glance awkwardly at everything in the room except her. Ikki was hiding behind a stool, peering over the top of it through her fingers. On Pema's left, Meelo stood on a chair and wailed into her ear, half-dangling from her hair. On her right, Jinora sponged her mother's brow with a damp cloth.
Pema, her cheeks and nose flushed pink, looked up at Mako. "I don't think this baby... is going to wait for the midwife," she panted. "You've really done this before?"
"Yeah," the firebender said.
"Great." She blew out a deep breath. "Me too."
"I can see the baby's head!" Ikki shouted, then burst into tears. "I'm not ready for the baby to come out yet! I can't handle this much responsibility and I don't like how babies are born. Was I really born like that? Because it's really gross and I don't think anyone should ever have to-"
"Alright." Mako pulled himself up to his full height, instantly flipping on his bossy big brother mode. "Bolin, get the younger kids out of here. Play with them outside but make sure they stay safe. Korra, hold Pema's hand and do whatever I tell you."
Korra ran to Pema's side, nearly tripping over Ikki in the process. Bolin dragged a screaming Meelo and crying/babbling Ikki outside, and the room instantly seemed more peaceful. At least, it seemed that way until Pema groaned loudly.
"This baby is definitely coming out now," Mako said, stripping off his jacket and scarf. "Korra, get that blanket ready." He crouched in front of Pema, his hands under her.
Pema screamed, her hand crushing Korra's. Jinora winced but didn't pull away.
"Remember to do your breathings, Mom," she said. "You're an expert at this. Just breathe in and out."
Korra watched, her eyes widening to her forehead as the baby's head emerged from Pema's body. When Naga had had polar bear puppies, they'd been tiny compared to their mother. This baby's head was bigger than both of Korra's fists put together. Something so huge could not possibly be meant to come out of an opening that small. Mako, completely unphased, wiped bloody, snot-like gunk away from the baby's face with his bare hands.
Pema reached down, panting hard as her hand joined Mako's under the baby's head. "Support the head!" she gasped. "You have to... have to... be careful with the neck."
"I know," Mako said. "I've got this. You just worry about your part."
She took a breath, then gave a long yell, like a warrior running into battle. Out popped the shoulders, one, two. The world's youngest airbender blinked its fish-like blue eyes in the sunlight as it squirmed into Mako's waiting arms. Thanks to the excellent lighting in the room, the blood and slime covering the baby actually glistened. Korra's stomach warbled uneasily. Mako didn't even seem to notice that the goop was getting all over his shirt.
"Good job," he said, resting the infant on Pema's naked bosom. "Now for the easy part."
"The easy part?" Korra asked. "You mean this isn't over?"
Pema rose and collapsed backwards into her chair, her feet resting on the end. She kissed the baby's head as it started to squall. "Korra, could I please have that blanket?" she asked. She sounded as exhausted as she looked.
"Sure." Korra helped her drape the soft blanket over the baby, careful not to touch anything but the fabric.
"What an ugly baby," Jinora said, her tone incongruently sweet. "I'm sure she'll never amount to anything." She kissed her mother's cheek.
Pema smiled and pressed her oldest daughter's face to hers. "What a good big sister you are," she said. "You're right. I don't think this baby will be important at all. What a shame. She'll probably end up a criminal."
"She seems like the criminal type," Jinora agreed. "Or the stupid type. Totally useless."
Before Korra could ask them what on earth they were talking about and why they were so cheerful about it, something else caught her attention. Something else was emerging from Pema's body. For a moment, Korra thought wildly that it must be twins. But no. Something that looked like raw, bloody meat plopped out, still attached to the shiny grey cord.
"W-what... what is that?" Korra asked, swallowing hard. "And why does it look like a bloody jellyfish? Is that supposed to happen?"
"It's the afterbirth," Mako said. Although his tone was matter-of-fact, he looked slightly pale. "Of course it's supposed to happen. That's how the baby ate while it was inside Pema. Can you get me the twine and scissors from the kitchen?"
"I am so never having children," Jinora said grimly.
"Right there with you, kiddo," Korra said. Dark spots blossomed in front of her eyes, blocking her vision and taking away all sensation of her legs.
When Korra opened her eyes again, she was lying on the floor, and Ikki and Meelo were staring at her.
"Korra, did you fall asleep?" Ikki asked. "You fall asleep at really weird times. My mom said one time you could sleep through anything but I didn't believe her until just now."
Meelo dive-bombed Korra for a hug, knocking the wind out of her. "I don't like babies," he said.
"Meelo just decided he doesn't like babies because he can't be the baby of the family anymore," Ikki said. "I like babies but I don't like how they're born. I don't remember Meelo being born because I was at Aunt Kya's house. I don't remember being at Aunt Kya's house, either, though."
"Babies are scary," Meelo said.
Korra hugged him, patting his bottom comfortingly. "I understand," she said.
Meelo rested his little chin on her shoulder.
"Korra, come look at the baby," Bolin called.
She stood up carefully, setting Meelo down. "She's not still gross-looking, is she?" Korra asked, suddenly wary.
"No," Pema laughed. "She's all cleaned up now."
Korra joined the crowd around Pema and the new baby. The littlest airbender was swaddled in a fresh blanket, sucking away at Pema's nipple.
"I guess she is kind of cute," Korra said. "She kind of looks like Master Katara. Hey, maybe she'll grow up to be an awesome waterbender!"
"Korra!" Bolin and Jinora chided her in unison.
"What?" she asked.
"You're only supposed to say bad things about a new baby so the mean spirits don't take it away or do bad things to it," Ikki explained. "If you say things like, 'hey, that baby looks cute!' or 'I think this baby will be an awesome waterbender,' mean spirits will come and steal its face."
"Oh," Korra said. They didn't have traditions like that in the Southern Water Tribe. "In that case, this is the dorkiest-looking baby I've ever seen!"
Mako smiled, and everyone else giggled.