July 21st, the 2166th year of the age of the Avatar
Zuko rubbed his temples in an attempt to banish the heard of ostrich-horses that were stampeding across his skull. If someone had warned him how difficult this job was, he would've been more insistent that his uncle take back his birthright. Unfortunately, the retired general was wiser and cleverer than his nephew and had successfully convinced the teenager to take the throne. Zuko noted that he had yet to exact revenge for that.
He dropped his hands to the desk and tried to read the proposal yet again. The idiotic, traditionalist captain advised requiring all residents of the Fire Nation, who were not native, to carry identification papers at all times. Zuko seriously considered setting it on fire. Instead, he moved it to his "when hog-monkeys fly" pile. The scribes would take those and write appropriate, polite, responses.
He sighed tiredly and picked up the next proposal in the pile.
Someone knocked on the study door. "Come in," he said absentmindedly. A young servant girl entered and curtsied. "What is it?" he asked impatiently. He didn't mean to be short with her, he was just busy.
"Forgive me sire, but Lady Katara has gone into labor."
Zuko's head snapped up. "What?"
The girl blinked, but before she could respond, the Fire Lord had leapt out of his chair and sprinted out of the room. She followed, at a more normal pace, and entered the corridor just in time to see her ruler trip as he attempted to round the corner without slowing down. She giggled as he got his feet under him again and took off again. The servant girl pitied the person who got to tell him that men were not allowed in the birthing room.
General Iroh found his nephew pacing outside the infirmary doors, through which a woman's cries of pain could be heard every couple of minutes. Zuko's face contorted in anguish every time, and Iroh knew the young husband was thinking about his aunt, who had died delivering Lu Ten.
"Would you like some tea, Zuko? It'll help calm your nerves." He gestured to the servant behind him, who poured a cup and handed it to the general with a bow.
Zuko shook his head, but Iroh pressed the cup into his hand anyway.
"She'll be fine, Zuko. The pregnancy has gone smoothly thus far, her delivery is right on time, and Katara has the gift of healing. She will heal herself as the delivery progresses without even realizing she is doing it."
Zuko seemed to relax a very little. Katara cried out again, and he looked at his uncle with a guilty expression. "I did this, Uncle. It's my fault she's going through this pain…"
Iroh laughed at that. "And she had nothing to do with it, I suppose? It takes two, Zuko. And she helped her grandmother deliver plenty of babies in their tribe, so this is nothing new to her. She knew this was the price, and she still wanted a baby. Your baby." He smiled. "She chose to honor you by bringing your child into the world. She chose. So try to relax, and feel honored and loved by a beautiful woman who wants to raise a family with you."
Zuko managed a weak, appreciative smile and took a sip of his tea.
Uncle Iroh had long since fallen asleep, but Zuko was painfully aware of every cry and scream from his wife and the babble of voices from the midwives, instructing and encouraging their Queen.
The Fire Lord had sat there for near nine hours, leaving only when nature called and having meals delivered to him, when a new sound suddenly joined in to the noise in the next room—a baby crying.
Zuko leapt to his feet, sending his half-finished dinner crashing to the floor, waking his drowsy uncle. He hurried to the door and pulled desperately on the handle, knowing it was still locked.
"Ah, it would seem the child has come," Iroh said mildly. He stood and stretched, groaning. "Sleeping in a chair seems to be a bad idea for a man of my age, Zuko."
Zuko wasn't listening to his uncle. He was banging on the door, threatening to burn it down if they did not let him in that instant. Finally, the stern old midwife opened the door and shouldered her way out, closing the door without letting him in.
"I want to see my wife."
"In a moment. Lady Katara—"
He glared at her and stretched himself to his full height, looking very intimidating and like a man who knew he was in charge. "You dare defy me?"
She matched his glare. "In this instance, yes I do. My duty is to the well-being of Lady Katara and the child, and if I believe that you will cause more harm than good, I can disallow you from entering this room. I have stood up more husbands than I can count who thought that their position gave them a right to whatever they wanted, and I will do it again, may Koh take my face if I lie."
Zuko deflated. "Can I see them? Please?" he said, sounding very much like the seventeen year old he was.
A wry smile appeared on her weathered face. "Lady Katara is exhausted. You have ten minutes. And there is a fair amount of blood, but don't panic, that is normal. General Iroh, if you don't mind, the Queen is very tired…"
"I understand. I will visit tomorrow. Or later today, I suppose. Give her my love, Zuko."
The midwife nodded and opened the door, standing aside so that the Fire Lord could enter this time.
The first thing Zuko noticed was the smell. It was far from pleasant. The second thing was that the sound of the crying baby had disappeared. Was that good or bad?
His gaze found Katara, a few assistants still cleaning up supplies and bloody towels around her bed. He rushed over and hugged her tightly, kissing her and trying not to cry with relief.
He looked down. A tiny form with a mop of dark hair was cradled in his wife's arm, making soft cooing and sucking sounds as it nursed. He stared at it in complete and utter shock.
"It's a boy."
A boy. He had a son. This tiny human was the crown prince. He looked so…fragile. It was hard to believe that he would rule the Fire Nation.
Zuko sat down on the bed next to her. "Could I…"
"Hold him?" She laughed. "Of course!" She detached his little mouth from her breast and held him up for Zuko to take.
"It's easy. Put your arms like this…" She placed him into the very uncertain arms of his father and slipped her hands out. "Mind his head. His neck isn't strong enough to support it yet."
Zuko caught himself grinning like an idiot, but he couldn't stop. Then he noticed something that scared him. "His head! It's all…weird." The top of his head was too narrow, almost like a cone.
"The bones in his head haven't fully formed. And as he was born, they sort of moved around. They'll go back soon."
"That's not bad, is it?"
Katara smiled. "It looks strange, but it's completely normal. And he's a bigger baby, so it was sure to happen."
Zuko looked up at his beautiful, young wife. Her hair was plastered to her sweaty forehead and her eyes looked ready to fall into slumber. The guilt that Iroh had tried to put to rest returned. "I'm sorry, Katara."
She looked confused. "For what?"
"You…you spent all day…and it's my fault…"
"Oh Zuko." She smiled and cradled his face affectionately in a slender hand. "It was a small price to pay for our beautiful, healthy son. We both want this. And I love you both so much."
He managed a smile.
"But you can forget about getting anywhere near me for a while," she said, grinning teasingly. "Just because it was worth it doesn't mean I want to do it again right away. I'm sorer than I've ever been." She took her son's little hand in her own, and he gripped her finger.
Zuko was still smiling at his son. "He has blue eyes," he observed. The crown prince screwed up his blue eyes and began to wail. Zuko's face filled with panic.
Katara laughed softly and held her arms out, smiling with affection at the both of them. "He's still hungry. Little piggy." He quieted as he latched onto his mother's breast.
"What should we name him?" Katara asked.
"Umm…" To be honest, I haven't really thought about it, Zuko thought.
"All right, my lord." The old midwife approached, ready to battle Zuko again. "Lady Katara needs to sleep."
"Could I sleep here?" he said, looking at her pleadingly.
"No. You may come back later. One night won't kill you."
Zuko sighed in defeat, kissed the foreheads of his wife and son, and promised to return early the next morning.
Instead of heading straight back to his chambers for some much needed rest, Zuko stopped at his study and picked a few history scrolls. He was going to find a name for his son that had never been owned by a psychopath. As he leafed through them, he found he could not wipe the grin off his face. He had a son.