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Zuko wakes with his arm curled around Katara, his fingers splayed over the bare skin of her belly as it rises and falls with her sleeping breaths.

None of this is unusual—he always sleeps and wakes with her tucked against his chest, and he’s fairly sure she has never risen earlier than he has in the entire time they’ve been together. That’s pushing ten years now, through medical school and residency and Zuko’s graduation and finally, finally the settling of both of them into steady jobs, him with his uncle’s company and her with a primary care practice not far from their apartment.

They both work a lot, but not nearly as much as they used to when they were both in graduate education, and he likes these slower mornings when he gets to drink in her lovely form under the sunlight. Lately, he has been finding his touch lingering on the flat planes of her stomach, thinking about what it would be like if that were...different.

He’s almost embarrassed by the way the idea has consumed him for the last few weeks. It’s not that it’s anything to be ashamed of, he tells himself, it’s just...should he really find the prospect so incredibly appealing?

He blames Sokka. That works almost all the time, and in this particular instance, it really is his fault. He and Suki had visited recently, their sweet six-month-old in tow, and while Katara cooed over his little face and Suki hovered close by, Sokka had slapped Zuko on the shoulder and whispered, “So, when are you going to knock her up, huh?”

Zuko had choked on his beer, which distracted the girls for not one second from the tiny swaddled object of their affections, and turned an incredulous stare on Sokka.

“I think,” he had said hoarsely, “that you’ve become too comfortable with me dating your sister.”

Sokka had shrugged cheerfully. “It’s been a long time. I’ve accepted it. Now I need a playmate for that little rascal, so you two better get to it.”

And he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Yes, of course his brave, kind, smart, strong Katara would be a phenomenal mother. Of course his uncle has been pestering him for grandchildren since he hit puberty, his efforts only escalating when it became clear Katara was here to stay. Of course he figured they would get to it eventually, after many long conversations and careful spreadsheets and money saved, not to mention tears shed over both their losses, over learning to be a parent with rather less of an example than either of them would want.

What he had not figured on was how Sokka’s somewhat lewd phrasing would turn his mind toward the mechanics, toward spilling himself inside her, knowing she would be opening that most intimate part of herself to him. Filling her up, claiming her as his, and then watching her belly swell with their child and her breasts grow heavy with milk—he finds the whole prospect unspeakably erotic. Something primal within him is set free, something that yearns to plant his seed deep within her womb.

And so now, he lingers over her abdomen and tries to figure out when she last had her IUD replaced, and how long it lasts, if she has an old co-resident at the OB/GYN office who could get her in quickly, and if she would be creeped out if she knew how often he thought about all of those things.

***

A few days later, as they are relaxing over the scraps of their dinner with their glasses of red wine, Katara checks her buzzing phone and gives a gasp of delight. “Look!”

His heart jerks in his chest when she shows him the new picture of their nephew from Suki. Not because the picture is anything special—the little guy is cute, but he looks the same today as in the photo from yesterday—but because Katara’s face shines with joy, and he thinks for the first time about giving voice to his desire.

“Kat, have you ever—” He sounds surprisingly husky, and he stops to clear his throat. “Have you ever thought about…” He gestures vaguely toward the phone, too embarrassed to continue, ready to retreat at a moment’s notice.

But a curious thing happens. A blush flares high on Katara’s cheeks, and she drops her gaze to the table while her teeth worry at her lower lip.

It’s uncharacteristic for them both. He remembers—vividly, in fact—when they were first together, younger and not as busy, and he had touched and tasted and loved every part of her as often as he could. She was always feisty at first, but he knew how to pluck her every string and have her sweet and pliant under his hand. It is a rare thing for him to bite back his wishes, just as it is a rare thing for her to look so shy so fast, and it throws up a flag in his mind.

She still won’t meet his eyes, so he rises from his chair and crosses the kitchen to her. “Sweetheart, come here.” He pulls her up by the hands, gentle and slow, and she goes, but with her eyes fixed on the floor.

He leads them to the couch and sinks down, bundling her into his lap. With his fingers under her chin, he tilts her face up. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I—um—you’re asking—are you asking if I—if I’ve thought about having children?”

He presses a kiss to her temple. “Yes.”

“Have—um—have you thought about it?”

He grins and kisses the corner of her mouth. “I asked you first.”

“So?” Her eyebrows are arched as if to provoke him—there she is, his fiery little kitten.

“Answer me.” He nips at her jaw and throat, relishing in the shiver that ripples through her body.

“Or what?”

It’s a challenge, one he gladly accepts. In a heartbeat he has swept her up and thrown her unceremoniously over his shoulder, making for the bedroom as she releases half-hearted protests. “Put me down!”

He does, splaying her out on the bed and making quick work of her clothes. Soon she is bare beneath him, her beautiful body arching into him while he flicks his tongue over her hardened nipples. “Well?” he hums against her flesh.

“Well, what?” she gasps. He gropes at her breasts shamelessly and then strokes down her stomach, unable to stop himself from imaging that which has consumed him for weeks.

“You never answered me.” He lets his fingers graze her folds, delighted to find her already wet and hot.

She whimpers, the pitch shifting abruptly up when he slides one digit into her, then another. He pumps in and out, slow and steady, while she grinds her hips desperately against his hand.

He pulls away without warning. She whines. “Do as you’re told,” he rasps. Oh, how he lives for this moment when she looks up at him with those blue eyes blown dark with desire, when she decides he has won the challenge and gives herself over to him as his very favorite prize.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” she whispers.

“How much is a lot?” he whispers back, rewarding her compliance with a slow stroke over her clit.

“Since—ah—since I finished residency.”

It’s a startling admission; she’s been out for almost three years. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She chews her bottom lip again, so he leans down to do it for her, letting it drag slowly through his teeth. “I didn’t know what you would say,” is her oh-so quiet reply.

“Kat,” he scolds, a little hurt. “You can always tell me what you’re thinking. You never have to hide from me.”

“I know. It’s just—I didn’t want you to feel pressured. You didn’t sign up for kids.”

He is taken aback. “What do you mean?”

“I—I just assumed,” she stammers. “You never, you know, brought it up.”

He drops his face to her shoulder with a groan. “I never brought it up because you never brought it up.”

She laughs with a breathless, cautious joy that makes his heart soar. “So, you—you do want—?”

He nibbles at her skin. “Yes. With you, yes.”

She clutches his shoulders, pressing herself into every inch of him she can reach. “Zuko, Zuko, Zuko,” she murmurs, like an incantation, like a prayer. “I want you, I want—I want—”

He crooks one of her knees over his elbow and pushes his aching cock into her with a single smooth motion. “Tell me,” he orders between thrusts that make her gasp. “Tell me what you want. You know I’ll give you anything.”

“I want to have a baby,” she whimpers, “your baby—”

He doesn’t hear the rest of what she says over the roar of his heartbeat in his ears, over the flood of sensation that accompanies the most powerful orgasm he’s had in he doesn’t know how long. It takes several minutes for him to come back to himself, blinking the lights from behind his eyelids, and then another minute to muster the strength to roll off her.

She is watching him with those blue, blue eyes. He’ll be damned if he leaves her wanting.

He reaches between her legs to rub her clit, baring his teeth at the way her hips buck up into his hand. She is soaked, and he registers that it is not just from her own arousal but also from his come spilling out of her. Fuck, does that short-circuit his already-fried brain. He tries valiantly to focus on her, his sweet Katara writhing on his bed, and he intensifies his ministrations until she cries out and flutters under his touch with her own release.

They stay tangled together, panting, for some time before Katara turns her head to look at him. “So, um,” she starts. “Did you, um, want to talk about it?”

***

He is restless all day, incapable of sitting still or not checking his watch every five minutes. Making it through eight hours of work is torture; waiting for her at home is worse. He checks the time every minute now while he paces, cursing her steadfast dedication to her patients because today it means she won’t leave work early, cursing the traffic that he is sure is keeping her from him. The only bright spot is that she does have an old friend from residency who is an OBGYN and willing to see her late, after she is finished at her own clinic. Still, another half-hour and he curses that girl, too, for taking so long.

Finally, finally he hears her key in the lock. As if he had locked it behind himself, as if he had put the span of another second between them.

“Hi, Zuko,” she says when she gets in the door, and her face is drawn and tired. Her demeanor hits him like a bucket of cold water; his hunger for her evaporates, replaced with concern.

“Kat?” He reaches for her, gently, not at all like he has been imagining over and over for the last twelve hours.

She buries her head against his chest. “IUD removal is often uncomfortable for the patient,” she says in her doctor voice.

“The patient is you, my love,” he reminds her. “What happened?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. I’m just sore.”

He winces, feeling guilty for being the proximal cause of her pain. “Sit down; let me make you some tea.” He herds her to the table, pulling her bag from her shoulder as she goes, and then busies himself brewing her favorite jasmine blend. While the tea steeps, he returns to her to press a kiss to her unruly hair. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

“‘S not your fault,” she mumbles. “It just happens.”

“Still,” he protests, “you’re hurting, and I hate it. I never want to see you in pain.”

She tips her head back to look at him, smiling so fondly it makes his heart clench. “You’re so good to me, Zuko.”

He drops a kiss on her forehead. “You deserve it.”

Her tea should be ready by then, so he brings her the steaming cup and pulls a chair so close their knees bump when he sits down. She tells him about her day in between sips, then asks him about his, and he tries to remember something—anything—that he did at work that wasn’t imagining her naked and trembling beneath him, begging him to fill her up.

He sends her to bed soon after that, and he himself is crawling under the covers with her scarcely an hour later. Even in her sleep she snuggles up to him, tucking her head under his chin. He thinks about how perfectly she fits in his arms, how she slots against him like she was made to be his.

Almost against his will, his mind drifts to how she might feel in his embrace when her flat tummy grows round. He tries to stuff down the flare of arousal that the idea brings with it, and he is mostly successful, but it stays lodged in the base of his spine, a little flame that hasn’t gone out since it first was lit some time ago.

***

Katara is still a little sore the next day and the next, and she seems to feel better over the weekend but gets called in to see one of her patients who’s been admitted to the hospital, because of course she does, because the Spirits must want Zuko to spend as much time as possible half-hard and unable to think about anything besides her.

Monday, they both go back to work, Zuko trying desperately to focus on his actual job so his own uncle doesn’t have to can him. A little after lunch, though, that goes out the fucking window, because that is the point at which his sweet little kitty Kat feels better—so much better that she has enough energy to be a tease, which he finds monumentally unfair, considering all his energy is currently being spent trying not to jack off under his desk.

K: Do you remember telling me you never want to see me in pain?

He considers this an odd first message for one o’clock in the afternoon.

Z: Yeah, a few days ago. Why? Is everything okay?

K: Oh, everything is great. I was just thinking, that’s not totally true, right? You spanked me just last month, and you seemed to enjoy inflicting pain then.

His stomach bottoms out. What is she getting at?

Z: I guess I wasn’t counting a little pain as long as we both liked it. You did like it, right?

K: I loved it.

It dawns on him then that she might be keying him up on purpose.

K: You know I love it when you’re rough with me.

His breath goes shallow and unsteady. Before he can answer, she adds:

K: By the way, I feel much better today.

K: Just so you know.

He mutters a few choice words, then glances around to make sure no one has heard him.

Z: Careful, Kitten, or I’ll make you leave work early.

K: Go ahead. I have patients all afternoon, so I’ll have to disobey you.

Z: Sounds like you want to be punished.

K: I want whatever you want to do to me.

He has to take several long, slow breaths to keep from totally losing his mind.

Z: What I want to do to you is fill your pussy with my come over and over until you’re carrying our baby, until your tummy grows and your tits are full of milk. You want that?

It is the filthiest text he has ever sent, and for a split-second he wonders if he has gone too far, but she answers right away.

K: Yes, sir.

***

He pounces on her as soon as she gets home. She gives a breathless laugh in response that turns into a moan when he pins her against the door, the hot, hard length of him digging into her flesh. “Oh,” she gasps, “oh, Zuko—”

“You’re a filthy little tease, you know that?” he growls. “You were being my sweet slut on purpose today, weren’t you? Riling me up with those texts because you want to get fucked.”

She is making needy sounds that go straight to his cock. He bites roughly at her throat, exposed when she tips her head back against the door. “Answer me,” he commands. “You want me to fill you up, to make you mine, to breed you?”

The words fall out of his mouth without conscious thought. Again, he wonders if he has gone too far, an apology forming on his tongue, but then she goes slack against him, her eyes rolling back.

“Yes, yes,” she babbles, “yes, Zuko, please—”

He notes then that she is wearing a dress and wonders if she planned this down to the letter. Regardless, he hikes up her skirt, rips off her flimsy underwear, and shoves his fingers into her. “What do you say?” She is practically dripping; he crooks his fingers inside of her and rubs at her clit just the way she likes. “Yes, what?”

“Yes, sir,” she whimpers, rocking greedily against his hand. “Please, Zuko, please.”

He can’t take it anymore, so he gives her what she asks for. He fumbles with his zipper, his hand shaking with need, and frees his length from his pants and boxers. He pulls his soaked fingers from her pussy and lines up, using his other hand to hitch one of her legs around his waist, and then he plunges into her like he has been wanting to for what feels like an eternity.

She nearly screams, high and breathy, and he kisses her hard to swallow the sound. He drags back, slams in again, and works his hand under her other thigh to wrap it around him. This is his favorite, holding her up against a wall, because she arches so pretty when he does it, and he loves knowing he is the only thing supporting her. He grits his teeth against the urge to spill within her right away, determined to bring her to pleasure first; mercifully, she must be as desperate as he is, because in no time she is clutching at his shoulders and screwing up her face and then spasming around him. He lets her release trigger his, groaning at the way her clenching walls milk his cock.

“Fuck,” she wheezes after, leaning her sweat-damp forehead against his shoulder. He makes a noise of agreement while he carefully unhooks her legs and pulls out of her, setting her back on her feet. She looks up at him, contentment written lazily across her face.

He leans down to kiss her. “How are you, sweetheart?”

“Good,” she mumbles sleepily. “How was your day?”

He gives her a wolffish grin. “It was fine, until you decided to torment me.”

“Yeah, you’re obviously suffering,” she rolls her eyes.

“Don’t sass me.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

His spent cock gives a twitch that borders on painful. “Fuck, Katara,” he chokes. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Her blue eyes glitter like ice. “I’m just saying,” she purrs, “medically speaking, conception is unlikely to occur after just one incidence.”

“Medically speaking, hm?” The sight of her, ravished and smirking and begging for more, nearly takes his knees out from under him. “What would be your recommendation, Dr. Kanna?”

Her nimble fingers start to work on the buttons of his shirt. “Why, of course we should repeat the procedure.”

***

Zuko doesn’t get much sleep the next few weeks, but he hardly minds. Katara has always gone down sweet and easy under his hands, but the idea of trying for a baby seems to break her brain as much as it does his, because she melts into his arms the second he touches her. And, oh, does he touch her.

Only once or twice does she make it more than a few steps into their apartment before he is on her. Today, though, she lets herself in and thrusts a piece of paper into his hands before he can get them on her. He takes it, blinks down at the blocky text.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a serum pregnancy test.”

He squints at the paper, then at her. “I thought you had to pee on a stick.”

She actually rolls her eyes at him. “This is a lab test from my clinic. It’s much more accurate.”

All of his blood had headed south in anticipation of her arrival; now that she wants him to use his actual brain, he is finding it very difficult. He tries to remember how to read, looking back at the paper. There’s a name at the top. “This is your name.”

“Yes,” she says, as if to a kindergartener.

“This...is your lab result. You did your own lab at your own clinic?”

“Yes. It’s much more accurate.”

“You already said that.”

“Well,” she grins, “you seem a little slow on the uptake today.”

“Of course you would run your own lab,” he mutters, scanning down the page. He sees hCG 45 mIU/mL at the bottom. “Kat, sweetheart, I’m not a doctor. Please don’t make me interpret lab results.”

“Zuko,” she says, and something in her voice makes him look up at her. “I’m pregnant.”

He drops the paper.

“You’re pregnant,” he says.

“Yes.”

“A...baby.”

“Our baby.”

“Is...in you.”

She puts a delicate hand over her lower belly. “Yes.”

Her eyes are blue like the ocean; there is a roar in his ears like the waves; he tastes salt on his lips like the sea. He realizes he is crying, and he would be embarrassed except she is, too, and smiling up at him through her tears, her face open and joyful and adoring and he goes to take her in his arms but is suddenly nervous, hyper-aware of the tiny little life growing in her body.

She gives a watery laugh at the hesitant flutters his hands are making over her. “It’s okay,” she says. “You won’t hurt me, or him.”

“Him?”

“I just have a feeling.”

He touches her, carefully, sliding his hands around her waist. “You promise I won’t hurt you? Either of you?”

“I promise.”

He draws her close, cradling her to his chest, and his tears seep into her hair, and he knows it’s not possible but he would swear he feels a whispered pulse against his stomach that is suddenly the metronome for his own heartbeat, and he knows it will be for the rest of his life.

***

Zuko can’t think about it without tearing up for close to a week. It’s too soon to tell anyone, of course, but he practically vibrates with the knowledge. They are going to have a baby; Katara is going to have his baby; his gorgeous, wonderful Katara is nurturing a life inside herself.

He catches her often with her hand on her still-flat tummy, smiling down, and one night in the kitchen she grabs his hand and places it over her own.

He feels joy, affection, love—has felt those things since he found out—but with his fingers laid carefully over her flesh he feels something new, a fierce stab of possessiveness that leaves him reeling.

He kisses her, gently at first, but she opens up for him so willingly, tangling her hands in his hair. He has held her close, has laid his lips softly in hers, but he hasn’t had her since the news. Suddenly he is hungry for her—starving, in fact, and he nips experimentally at her mouth. She molds her body to his in response, gasping when he trails kisses and bites down the column on her throat.

“Kat,” he whispers into her shoulder, “can I—can you—is it safe for—”

“Yes,” she whines, “yes, yes, please—”

He rucks up her shirt and sinks to his knees so he can keep going, down through the valley of her breasts to plant kisses over her stomach. She grabs the counter behind her, moaning when he nuzzles at her clothed thighs.

“Zuko—oh, fuck, will you—“

“Ask nicely,” he teases, unsnapping her pants and letting them pool on the tile along with her panties. He returns to mouthing across her thighs, now bare and trembling. The scent of her arousal crashes over him like a wave; he will gladly drown in it.

“Please, Zuko—touch me, taste me—oh—“

He obliges her, licking slowly up her entrance, sucking languidly on her clit. Steady strokes of his tongue have her writhing, rocking her hips against him, fevered pleas tumbling from her pretty mouth. He cannot, will not deny her, not now, not when she is so submissive and responsive and good, so he works his fingers into her and flicks his tongue against her clit and greedily drinks down the rush of moisture when she shudders through her release.

He sits back on his haunches and wipes his mouth, gazing up at her heaving chest, zeroing in on the taut dark skin of her tummy. He is suddenly very, very conscious of his erection trapped in his slacks, but he isn’t sure—can he—?

Katara knows what he is thinking, because of course she does, because she is stunning and brilliant and maybe she is the one who follows his orders but who are they kidding, he is in the palm of her hand, has been for almost a decade. She strips off her blouse, pops the clasp on her bra, and turns around to bend over the counter.

His brain goes totally offline.

She looks over her shoulder, her back arched, her hips thrust out invitingly, and murmurs, “Please, Zuko, please fuck me—haven’t I been good for you?”

He scrambles to his feet and frees his throbbing cock, sliding it between her folds with a groan. “Of course you’ve been good for me, Kitten, you always are—” He swallows, hard, and tries to remember how to form coherent words. “Are you sure it’s safe?”

She pushes back against him, drenching his length. “Yes, sir.”

He swears and thrusts into her; she is so hot and wet and tight around him that he almost loses it right then and there. “Spirits, fuck, Katara, I can’t—” He can barely speak, dizzy with desire, driven totally insane by the idea that he is going to spill into her already-fertilized womb, by the idea that she wants him to.

If he is struggling for words, she is more vocal than usual, whimpering, “Yes, yes, Zuko, you feel so good—you always take care of me, always give me what I need—oh, Zuko, want you to come in me, want to feel you, please—”

It is almost embarrassing how soon after that he is seized with his orgasm, but Katara doesn’t seem to mind, making low hums of satisfaction as he catches his breath with his hands on her sweat-slick skin. “Come here,” he gulps, turning her around by the shoulders, “come here, sweetheart, are you alright, did I—”

“I’m good, I promise.” She twines her arms around his neck and leans her forehead against his. “Really. Stop worrying. I’ll tell you if and when things need to change.”

He cradles her to him. “Are you sure?”

She grins. “I am a doctor, Zuko.”

“You’re not an OBGYN!” he protests.

“No, but I did talk to my OBGYN, and you may be surprised to learn we did cover this in medical school.”

“Fine,” he grumbles. “You’ll tell me the second I need to do something differently, you hear me?”

“Yes, sir,” she murmurs, pressing a sweet, soft kiss to his lips. “I love you, Zuko.”

“Love you too, sweetheart.”

Chapter Text

Katara is just as perfect at pregnancy as she is at everything else. This comes as no surprise to Zuko, who watches her push through morning sickness into the second trimester with something like awe, and into the third trimester with something like rapture.

He feels awful for her in the first trimester, he really does. Her nausea isn’t terrible, but she looks at least mildly queasy the entire time, and other than their scorching tryst in the kitchen she mostly spends those few months popping Zofran at work and lying very, very still at home. He brings her ginger ale and crackers; he strokes her hair; once, he says he is sorry, and she fixes him with a glare that is downright murderous.

“Don’t say that! I’m not sorry, not for a second--if this is what it takes to carry our little guy, I’ll do it gladly.”

In response, Zuko thinks he will never stop being impressed by her, not as long as he lives.

The first trimester is too soon to tell anyone; since all their family is elsewhere, it’s not too hard to keep it a secret. Still, he suspects his uncle has figured it out, asking always if anything special is going on and why Zuko sounds so happy on the phone. He is equally sure that Suki will ferret out the truth; she doesn’t miss a thing, and Katara has been FaceTiming with her and their nephew twice as often as usual since she came home with her lab result.

At the very beginning of the second trimester, just as Katara is starting to glow and the nausea is starting to recede, a trip comes up at his work. It shouldn’t exactly catch Zuko by surprise--he travels regularly to inspect existing sites or plan new ones--but he is completely blindsided by how loathe he is to get more than a dozen miles away from her and their growing little one.

“I’m canceling the trip,” he tells Katara the night before he is scheduled to board a plane.

“You are doing no such thing.” She is putting away dishes, and if he watches very closely, just as she bends over and the light renders her top the slightest bit see-through, he can catch a glimpse of the subtle swell of her belly. He finds it very challenging to do this and listen to her at the same time, and he can’t not do it--his eyes just snap there as if magnetized. It has gotten him in trouble more than once. “Zuko! Are you listening to me?”

“No,” he says earnestly. Before she can raise her voice, he catches her around her still-narrow waist and sinks to his knees to press a gentle kiss below her bellybutton. He can feel the righteous indignation bleed out of her body as she slips her fingers into his hair. “Kat, what if you guys need me?”

“We’ll be fine,” she answers, her voice gone as soft as the rest of her. “We don’t want you to stop everything just for us.”

“How could I not?” He leans his cheek against her midsection and feels, not for the first time, the little heartbeat he knows is, physiologically speaking, not possible to feel this way. And yet, he would swear by it, the tiny rapid flutter that makes his own heart race in sync.

“Zuko…”

He looks up, startled, to find her crying and scrambles to his feet. “Kat, sweetheart, what is it?”

“It’s nothing,” she sniffles. “I’m just over-emotional and hormonal and you’re really, really nice, you know that?”

He laughs and kisses the tears off her cheeks.

“Please go on your trip,” she says. “It’ll be fine. Please.”

“Well,” he sighs. “Since you asked nicely.”

***

Zuko loves the second trimester. The second trimester is when it is safe to tell people; the second trimester is when the curves of her belly and breasts become less-than-subtle; the second trimester is when her hormones shift and she is no longer nauseous and is in fact very, very hungry.

He becomes aware of that particular information a few weeks in when she calls him during lunch, while they are both at work. His stomach lurches when he sees her name on his phone; she never calls during work. What if something has happened, something terrible?

“Kat, what is it? Are you okay, is the baby okay?”

“Everything is okay,” she sniffles, which does absolutely nothing to convince him.

“Why are you crying, then?” he demands.

“Because,” she huffs, “I am chock full of hormones and overly emotional--I’ve explained this already.”

He pinches the bridge of his nose.

“And because, um, I may have, uh, gotten caught by my office manager giving myself an ultrasound, so now she knows and we need a plan to tell people and I don’t know what to do now.”

He bites his lip to keep from laughing, because she still sounds upset, but really, of all the ways to give notice for maternity leave… “You were giving yourself an ultrasound?”

“I just wanted to see him,” she whispers, and his heart floods with affection for her, always whip-smart and headstrong and so, so sweet beneath it all.

“Right,” he says, as though this is perfectly normal. “So your office manager knows, and you don’t want it to get out before we tell our family ourselves.”

“Yes, exactly. Because, remember, my office manager’s daughter goes to school with your secretary’s son, and I think they’re in different homerooms but either way--”

“Right,” he interrupts, before they can get that far derailed. “So, why don’t we invite Sokka and Suki to come up this weekend, and we’ll FaceTime in your dad if he doesn’t want to make the flight, and we’ll tell Uncle next week when he visits our office here?”

“Oh,” she sighs in relief. “That all makes sense. Let’s do that.”

“I’ll text Sokka, okay? Do you have patients right now?”

“Yes. Right. Patients. Okay, I’ll see you at home, okay?”

“Okay. Love you both.”

“We love you, too, Zuko.”

Once she is off the phone, he laughs to himself, picturing the look on her office manager’s face, which is funny until his mind fills in the rest of the picture--Katara with her dress hiked up, all that bare skin on display, watching the little heartbeat on the black-and-white screen--and he is suddenly lightheaded with wanting. She hasn’t felt well, he tells himself, and she is far more miserable than he is; a few furtive moments to himself in the shower is nothing compared to the tired look that has been on her slightly green face for the past few months.

She is, admittedly, looking a lot better now. And this phone call, this very Katara-esque fretting--it is the sort of call he used to get when she was in school, when she was stressed and overwhelmed and needed him to take her apart, to put her in that fuzzy headspace where all that mattered was her body and his and the way her eyes glazed over when he told her how good she was.

As if she can read his mind from across town, she sends him a string of texts:

K: I do want to tell our family. I’m just nervous. I didn’t want you to think I didn’t want them to know.

K: Because I do want them to know. I’m just an over-emotional pregnant lady right now.

K: At least I’m not nauseous anymore.

K: I do feel a lot better. Just so you know.

K: Obviously you already knew that because you always bring me crackers when I’m nauseous, and you haven’t done that in a couple of weeks.

K: Thank you for that, by the way. And thank you for talking to me just now.

K: I just wanted to know I wasn’t crazy.

He grins at the overload of information, imagining her chewing at her lip, imagining how she would be chattering nervously if this were an in-person conversation. He knows exactly the look on her face, exactly the thing she is getting at, even if she doesn’t know it yet herself.

Z: Anything else you wanted?

***

It’s a new thing, Zuko waiting for Katara’s indication that she is up for sex. He is used to reading when she needs it--when her anxiety ratchets up, when she looks at him desperately--or acting on his own desire, knowing she is nearly always receptive. With her not feeling well, he is unsure, hesitant, not to mention that he is no longer willing to throw her over his shoulder or press her against the nearest hard surface.

Today, though--today she has given him the signal loud and clear, and he waits in the bedroom for her to get home, already hard in his khakis, itching to his hands on her. He hears her open the door, hears her drop her bag and kick off her shoes, strains to catch the quiet pad of her bare feet as she looks for him.

“Hi,” she says when she finds him.

“Come here,” he says, watching with no small amount of satisfaction the way a shiver ripples over her. She is lovely as ever, her hair a wild mane of curls, her body hidden in a loose flowing dress of the sort she has taken to wearing until they are no longer keeping her rounded belly a secret. Her dress is the same blue as her eyes, and it is pretty the way it skims her curves, but he would much rather see her without it, and he tells her so. “I’m going to take your clothes off.”

“Okay,” she breathes, drifting to him.

“You’re feeling better?” he asks, almost conversationally, as he draws down the zipper at her back.

“Much,” she says.

He pulls the fabric over her shoulders and lets it pool at her feet. She steps out delicately, and then he is practically salivating over the luscious swell of her breasts and the curve of her tummy.

“You’re up for this?” he asks her quietly, wanting to be sure. “It’s safe, you’re okay, he’s okay?”

She nods rapidly.

“It’s what you want?” He has never, ever done anything he knew she didn’t want, but it has rarely been this explicit a conversation in a few years--they know each other inside and out, know what is off limits and what isn’t, but he has to be sure.

“Please,” she whimpers, and his cock throbs in his pants. “Please, I want you to…”

She falters, but he knows the end of that sentence. “You want me to take you,” he murmurs, slipping his fingers into her hair and pulling her face to his. “You want to go down for me,” he says into her mouth, tasting her, biting at her lips. “You want to be my good Kitten; you want to do as you’re told.” He draws back, takes in her dilated eyes and pink cheeks. “Isn’t that right?”

While she tries to form words, he reaches around to unhook her bra and cups her swollen breasts, loving the way she moans quietly, and then not-so-quietly when he pulls at her nipples.

“Answer me,” he prompts, sliding one hand down to yank off her panties and stroke the wet heat between her thighs.

“Yes, sir.” She is breathless already, and he fucking loves it.

“Good girl,” he murmurs. “Get on your knees.”

She sinks down immediately, tipping that gorgeous face up to look at him, licking her lips, and he nearly loses it right then and there. A stunning woman on her knees like this would go straight to any man’s cock, but it’s not just the pleasure, not just her very talented mouth opening up for him--it’s the trusting way she flutters her eyes closed and parts her lips, the way she chooses to cede control to him even though she is smart and fierce and unyielding in every other aspect of her life. He has seen her go to war for her patients, stand up to senior doctors when they were wrong, chew out anyone who deserves it--him included. She never, ever gives up control--except here, with him, because she does not want the burden of being in charge constantly, because she knows he will make her feel good and wanted and safe, and it blows his mind every single time.

No way he’s going to last long in her lovely mouth, that’s for sure. But this is the easiest way to put her in the right headspace—something about being on her knees seems to do it for her, and he doesn’t have any complaints about that. He unzips his slacks and feeds her his cock, tipping his head back in bliss when she swallows him down without hesitation. “Spirits,” he rasps. “Fuck, you feel so good.”

She hums her happiness; he feels the vibrations all the way up to his teeth. She is curling her tongue around him, flicking it over the head, and he shuts his eyes tight against the urge to spill down her throat. It’s only a few minutes before he is pulling her off his cock and jerking his head toward the bed, following close after her once he has stripped out of his clothes.

She mewls when he arranges her on her side facing him and strokes slow fingers over her center, dipping them in, making sure she is open and ready. He knows she is when she starts to dig her nails into his biceps, her eyes unfocused, and he leans in to swallow the sounds off her lips while he guides himself to her entrance.

“Zuko,” she gasps when he slides home, and he lives for the sound.

“Yeah?” He doesn’t know if he’s asking or just talking.

She answers, though, “Missed this.”

“Yeah,” he chokes. He will never deserve her, never ever, and he’ll never stop trying to. “Yeah, I missed it, too. Worth the wait, though.”

They move together, slow and easy, Katara clinging to him with her face buried against his throat, her breath hot on his collarbone. “You’re so good,” he croons into her messy hair, brushing kisses against her forehead, reveling in the hitched whimpers she is pouring into his skin. “You’re my good girl, you know that? Want you to feel good, want you to come for me, can you do that, do as you’re told?”

She is nodding feverishly, gasping when he reaches between them to coax her release from her, and he groans when his own follows shortly.

Lying tangled together, tasting the sweat on her hairline, he spreads his palm over the swell of her belly and thinks—this is different, he can’t be rough with her, can’t get her out of her head that way—but this works, too, because she will still follow orders, and now she is sighing sweet and soft at the gentle tracing of his fingers over her skin, and he tells her, “I’ve got you. I love you.” And she says it back.

***

The third trimester brings mixed blessings.

Katara’s back aches; so do her feet. She wakes them both up a dozen times in the night to pee--just getting out of bed is a process now that she is walking for two. She never complains, because of course she doesn’t, but Zuko does occasionally hear her murmur, “Any time you want to come on out, buddy…”

Zuko wishes he could take some of the discomfort on himself--all of it, really. He hates to see her collapse at the end of the day, propping up her swollen ankles; he hates the worn-out look on her face. He hates that this makes her job harder, that the long hours on her feet are suddenly much, much worse.

There is good, though. There is the baby shower their family throws them, Iroh crying for the entire afternoon; there is the armload of hand-me-down onesies Suki and Sokka deliver one weekend. There is the front-pack Katara’s office chips in for, joking that she can strap the baby on and come back to work anytime she feels up for it.

There are the evenings Zuko spends working out the knotted muscle between Katara’s shoulder blades, evenings that always seem to end up with the two of them curled together, each with a hand splayed over her belly, waiting anxiously for a tiny kick. They are tender nights, the last of their quiet life as just the two of them, and Zuko tucks them away to cherish forever.

Then there is the moment, just a few weeks before Katara is due, when Zuko finds her looking down at herself in dismay.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, and then he catches sight of her and can’t speak for a minute.

“It’s not uncommon,” she says in a wavering voice, moving to cross her arms over the wet patches on her shirt. “Sometimes a woman’s milk comes in early. It’s not even really milk, it’s called colostrum--”

“I know,” he says faintly. “I read the book.”

He does remember reading this, and thinking nothing of it. Now, though--now that he actually sees her, what he thinks is how full she is--because of him, for him, and oh. How…enticing.

“What?” she asks, watching him watching her, though she goes to him when he stretches out a hand.

“Nothing. Nothing, I just…” He curls his hands around her waist, moves one up cautiously, slow enough to give her time to pull away. She doesn’t; instead, she is perfectly still while he caresses her through the damp fabric. More fluid weeps out, and with it, a whimper that he knows very, very well.

He peels her out of her shirt and bra, enraptured by the heavy curve of her breasts and the shuddering moans he is drawing from her with every touch. “Gorgeous,” he whispers, thumbing at her swollen, leaking nipples.

She gives a breathless laugh. “I’m the size of a barn.”

“Hush up,” he scolds. “You’re not. You’re stunning; you carry this perfectly, like everything else you do.”

Whatever she was going to reply melts into a whine, high-pitched and needy, when he pulls her against him and brushes his lips over hers.

“What is it, Kitten?” he murmurs, leaning in to suck at her throat and kiss across her collarbone. “What do you want?”

“Zuko,” she gasps; he doesn’t know if it’s an answer or a plea. He suspects it’s both. Regardless, he gives her what he knows she is asking for, easing her onto the edge of their bed and sinking down between her legs. He is gentle but relentless with his fingers and his tongue, hiding a smirk behind her thigh when he tips her over the edge in no time.

She pulls him onto the bed with her, and he takes her into his arms, and then he chokes out a groan because she has shoved her hand into his pants to stroke the length of him. “Kat,” he wheezes, “you don’t have to--”

“Hush up,” she tells him, and now she is the one smirking, and making no such effort to hide it.

Maybe he pretends he is the one in charge; maybe he is the one who calls her his pretty little pet. But he is just as much under her control as she is under his, if not more, a fact that is readily apparent to him when he spills in her hand in even less time than it had taken him to make her come.

“I love you,” she purrs with that self-satisfied grin.

He can’t begrudge her that, or anything else. “I love you, too,” he pants. “So fucking much.”

***

The baby has Katara’s eyes. If there was ever any doubt that he would hold Zuko in the palm of his chubby little hand--and there wasn’t--it vanishes into the depths of blue the first time Zuko cradles his tiny body against his chest.

“Hi,” Zuko whispers to his son, and then his throat closes up and he blinks away tears because he can’t possibly look away from the sweet scrunched-up face peering up at him.

Katara puts her hand on Zuko’s shoulder. “You okay?” she asks, half-amused, and he leans into her touch.

“Yeah,” he tells her when he can speak again. “Yeah, I’m perfect.”