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Learned Skills

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Having two babies within three months may have been the stupidest idea either of them ever had.

Not, Katara acknowledged, as she lay flat and quietly prayed to any benign spirit who was listening that Lutaa would stop crying and go back to sleep, without needing Katara to get up, and without waking Ta Min, or anything else, that they had done it on purpose. She was just increasingly of the opinion she should have done something really decisive to make sure it didn't happen.

Like going back to the South Pole for a year.

Lutaa could not possibly be hungry. Which meant she was awake, if anything, out of spite. And it meant that Katara could hear her father laughing at her from continents away, because Hakoda had far, far too many stories of what a difficult baby she'd been, even if he did counter them with being sure to say what a wonderful person she'd grown into.

She was tired beyond the dreams of tired. And her baby was still going to need her to get up, and if she didn't do it soon Mai was going to need to get up, and they would (tomorrow morning) both talk about seriously reconsidering this "being raised by royal nurses is what went wrong with Azula anyway" thing, if carefully not where Ursa could hear.

Katara didn't realize she'd felt anyone get out of bed until Lutaa's crying changed from absolutely furious to just sort of generally petulant, and then coughed and hiccoughed into just mewling sounds and disgruntled squawks. Katara opened her eyes in the darkness, blinked, and then pushed herself up on her arms.

Mai was blinking herself awake (or at least, eyes-open), with a line of confusion between her eyebrows. And on the other side of Mai, the bed was empty.

They looked at each other.

By unspoken agreement, they got up. Katara swung her legs down over her side of the bed, catching herself in mid-yawn; Mai rolled over, pushed herself up on her hands and knees, and stepped down with considerably more grace. Because, well, you'd have to break Mai's leg to get her not to be graceful. And Katara wasn't sure even that would work.

Katara had to find her robe; out of the covers, the room was actually kind of cold. Mai was already at the door to the nursery when Katara came to join her; that meant that Katara could already see the posture in Mai that was in other people staring-while-blinking-a-lot by the time she was leaning on Mai's shoulder.

Zuko didn't actually notice them. The baby up against his shoulder took his whole attention. Part of Katara's sleep-fogged brain remembered that less than - well, four months ago, Zuko had still been trying to figure out how to take Ta Min from Mai without letting her head flop around.

Now, with his hair sleep-mussed and half-dressed from sleep (the same sleep that made Katara think he must be cold, before remembering that this wasn't ever a problem he had), he shifted Lutaa easily from his shoulder to the crook of his arm, and when she started to fuss, he shhhed her, rocking her carefully and close until her eyes closed again.

Then he brought her up and bent his head to kiss the top of hers, before he managed - managed, actually managed - to put her down without waking her up again, and stepped back. Stepped back carefully, without touching the side of the cradle, without making a sound until he backed right into Mai.

Or at least, Mai's hand, stuck out in front of her to make sure he didn't hit her face with his shoulder. He even managed not to yelp in surprise.

When he turned, Mai was holding a finger to her lips. Katara wondered - would have to find a way to ask - if Mai saw the same thing in his face that she did, right then, that would have made her lean forward to kiss him if she hadn't been so utterly, totally exhausted.

The same transfixed, transported light of accomplishment, pride, and quiet, radiant joy. The kind of look he didn't get very often.

Mai kissed him on the cheek, leaned over to kiss Katara on the cheek, and then turned and went very decidedly back to the bed, wrapping herself in the blankets at the far side - where Zuko had been sleeping before. Katara might have mirrored her, except a yawn caught her right before she could: instead, Zuko kissed her temple, and would have taken the other outside edge of the bed, except that she pushed him over into the middle.

If they were really, really lucky Lutaa might sleep all the way until Ta Min woke up hungry with, or slightly before, dawn.