Zuko has a feeling something is up when he steps onto the dock and he’s nearly knocked into the harbor by a blur of…something…flinging itself full-force at him. For a moment he remembers to be worried that this is some sort of improbable and incredibly strange assassination attempt but when the blur settles and he realizes that he’s feeling arms around his waist, holding on for dear life, he lets down his guard.
“I missed you,” the blur that Zuko now recognizes as his wife mumbles into his shoulder. He’s a little shell-shocked – he wasn’t expecting her to meet him – but he smiles softly, moving his arms from their startled paralysis at his sides to encircle her waist. Katara nuzzles against his neck. “I missed you, I missed you, I missed you-“
“I was only gone for a week,” he chuckles, privately wondering what’s going on here but too happy to see her to question it. “But I missed you, too. I’m glad to see you feeling better.”
(Even though it had been a short trip, one she’d been meant to accompany him on but had chosen not to when she’d come down with something the week before, he truly had. He could’ve used her assistance, and her conversation, and the pillow he had to cuddle with as he fell asleep in her absence – because, though he’d never admit it, he’d grown so used to falling asleep with her in his arms that he could no longer drift off easily without something there – was a rather poor substitute.)
“I’m still not feeling fantastic, but I’m doing better.” She leans back a little to look him in the eyes, and her smile is radiant and he almost falls into the harbor for the second time in five minutes. “How was Omashu?”
He groans, and that’s all the detail she needs. Linking her arm through his, the Fire Lady laughs and drags her husband (followed by a retinue of guards whose prying eyes she doesn’t seem to notice) to her waiting palanquin.
To Zuko’s surprise, Katara isn’t very chatty on the ride back to the palace. She’s clearly happy – to see him, probably, but he can’t shake the feeling that the smile on her face isn’t just for him – but a little nervous, too, wringing her hands in her lap. He takes one of them in his, both to still her and to feel her skin against his (something he never gets sick of after several years of touch starvation), and massages circles on the back of her hand. “Are you all right?” he asks, flipping her hand to trace the lines of her palm.
Her breath hitches and for a moment, when he glances up in surprise at the sound, she looks suspiciously close to teary-eyed. “Of course I am,” she says shakily, holding out her arms to him in a universal gesture for please hug me, NOW, or I believe I might cry. And as a wide-eyed and incredibly confused Zuko takes folds her into his arms, he finds himself at a total loss.
“Are you…” he’s almost afraid to ask. Something’s definitely going on here. What am I not understanding? “Is this about whatever you came down with last week?”
“I’m okay,” she says with a watery smile, sniffling. “It’s nothing bad. Don’t worry, I didn’t get sicker.”
He’s too relieved to notice that she doesn’t outright deny it. “Good.” He lets her snuggle up against him and his heart would be melting right now if Katara wasn’t crying for some unspecified reason of which he remains completely unaware.
(It still is, a little bit, but…this can’t be good.)
Zuko is starting to be very worried about this.
Usually, he’s the earlier riser. He’s up at sunrise nearly every day, so he’s a little taken-aback when he opens his eyes to find Katara’s side of the bed empty, gone with no evidence that she was ever there but a person-shaped impression in the satin of their sheets. “Katara?” he calls groggily, rubbing at his eyes. “Where’d you go?”
She pads back down the corridor from their washroom when she hears Zuko’s voice. “Here,” she calls back softly; though there’s no one but him to wake up in this wing of the palace, it feels wrong to raise her voice in the quiet hours of the early dawn. She tries to smile reassuringly as she slides back under the covers and snuggles up to her husband, sleepily clinging to his neck, but he can’t help but notice that her expression is a little pinched. The relief on her face when she finally lays down is obvious, even though she’s nearly asleep.
“Are you still not feeling well?” Zuko asks, pushing a tendril of hair that escaped her braid overnight behind her ear. “Do we need to call-“
“No,” she mumbles sleepily. “’m fine.”
She drifts off after that, and even a few hours later when they have to wake up, she won’t get out of bed. It’s not like her to sleep in – she’s normally so industrious – but her eyes are heavy, and she looks miserable at the idea of starting her day. Zuko can’t bring himself to protest that she has meetings to attend (she does) or that there are documents to review (there are), but it worries him all day. She’s clearly not over her illness and the fact that it isn’t gone makes his stomach twist.
When he returns to their rooms that evening after an exhausting workday to find her passed out in the same clothes she wore to bed last night, he wonders if she’s moved an inch all day.
Zuko shakes his head. There’s definitely something she’s not telling me, he thinks as she sheds his robes and gets ready to join her in sleep (if he even can). It’s a thought that only feels like a dagger to the heart when she unconsciously presses herself closer to him, so trusting she’s drawn to him even as she sleeps.
He can’t let anything happen to her.
It has been four days of this now, and Zuko is definitely worried, and Katara won’t let him call in a doctor. One minute she’s burrowed in his arms like her life depends on it and the next she’s yelling at him, and he’s really on the verge of a nervous breakdown now-
“For the last time, I’m fine!” Katara snaps, turning her back to him. She’s been acting out-of-character lately, but this sheer, unadulterated rage is new. “You do not need to call the doctor, I’m not dying, and you’re not helping by worrying about me all the time!”
“How could you possibly expect me not to worry?” he yelps. “Are you kidding me? You’ve been” – he starts to tick off her symptoms on his fingers – “crying, sleeping badly, getting mad at nothing, sometimes not waking up at all, running off without telling me why, looking sick, eating almost nothing and then going and eating weird things at weird times – Katara, you’re not fine. And I can’t just sit here and watch you get sicker anymore.”
She hangs her head. “There’s a reason I’ve been running off,” she says quietly, seated at the end of their bed and looking…defeated. It’s not a look she wears often and Zuko’s already-frazzled brain has yet another item to add to its list of Things to Worry About now. “I’m…getting nauseous a lot.”
“And that’s supposed to make me feel better?” Zuko’s face blanches. “You’re sick and you didn’t tell me?”
“This is exactly why!” she protests, throwing up her hands. “It was only ever going to freak you out, and I was waiting for the right time, and honestly, I kind of hoped you’d put two and two together but clearly you’re too dense to-“
“You’re really sick, aren’t you?” Zuko feels like the room is spinning. “Something’s-”
Katara crosses her arms, her defeated expression turning to one of…amusement? Zuko is rather confused – in an instant. “No, Zuko, I’m not sick,” she says, and he’s pretty sure she’s laughing at his expense. “I mean, yes, I am. I mean, feeling sick. But I’m not gonna die.”
“Then why won’t you tell me what’s actually wrong with you?” Between the information he’s just received and her latest sudden mood swing, Zuko is at wit’s end.
“You really haven’t figured it out yet?” she smirks, and, crawling to the other side of the bed where he stands, she sits up on her knees to stand at his eye level and loops her arms around his neck. “I’m not dying, Zuko. I’m pregnant.”
Zuko blinks a few times to make sure he’s not dreaming (or…hallucinating – it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing he’s ever experienced), and when he opens his eyes again, Katara’s still there, her blue eyes huge and level with his, waiting expectantly for a response.
(Expectantly. Zuko almost laughs at the fact that he’s so addled he’s making accidental puns now.)
“That makes so much more sense,” he says, breathing a long sigh of relief. Now he really is laughing, partly out of the delight that’s managed to seep through the cracks of ‘I need to process this’ and partly out of sheer relief, because she’s okay, and this is good. “So you’re okay?”
Katara rolls her eyes and pushes her nose against his. “Yes, idiot husband, I’m fine.” She leans in to steal a fleeting kiss. “But check back with me in seven months and I probably won’t have the same answer.”
Then it hits him like a ton of bricks, and his eyes are moist and he’s laughing and crying all at once and all he can think to do is reach down to lift her legs, scooping her off the bed and into his arms and pulling her closer than close. He doesn’t spin her (because he will not be a walking cliché…or, realistically, because his arms are trembling and he’s terrified he’ll drop her even though he does this often), but she gives a delighted little yelp of surprise as he cradles her to his chest, pressing kisses to every exposed surface of her face.
“Someone’s happy,” she teases, and he just kisses her.
“I am,” he says after they finally break apart. “Katara, I…” the lump in his throat won’t let words pass by. “I can’t…I’m sorry, this…I love you.”
He sets her back on the bed and she flops against the comforter, pulling him down with her. They’re laying parallel on the comforter on their backs but Zuko flips on his side to get a better look at her. (An awed smile overtakes his face, and he concludes that whoever it was that decided pregnant women glow was really onto something.) Katara notices, and reaches out to ruffle his hair.
“Aww,” she mutters, moving closer. “You’re cute when you’re speechless.”
They’re silent for a moment, lying there to let themselves take it all in, and then Katara takes his hands and sets them against her still-flat stomach. Zuko feels like he should say something, at first, but the thousand emotions running through his mind won’t let him. And that might be for the better, he realizes.
Words aren’t enough for this moment.