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Deep Burn

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Katara had her nose half-buried in Representative Jiashe’s proposal for new trade routes in the South Sea—updated according to the Earth Kingdom’s requested vessel traffic regulations—when a discordant knock on the door jerked her back to earth.

“Come in.” she called, trying not to sound stern. She had specifically requested not to be disturbed this evening, but she didn’t want to scare off any of her personal attendants with her ire. Especially not after it took her weeks just to get them to stop treating her like some royalty.

A single rap against the wood sounded, followed by a sharp voice that said, "Open the door for me, my hands are quite full.”

Katara sighed.

She got to her feet and crossed the room. Azula was on the other side of the door, a tray with two cups of steaming hot tea in her hand. Katara looked askance at her.

“I can't even pay you a visit without you getting suspicious?” said Azula. She rolled her eyes when Katara didn't budge. “Fine, I came because one of your servants confided to me that you asked to be undisturbed again—”

“—hounded them for information, you mean.”

Azula ignored her playful goading.  “I knew you’re planning to stay up until dawn to work, and I know based on experience that it will do more harm than good for someone with a demanding lifestyle such as yours.”

“So you’re here to tell me off?”

Azula made an annoyed face. “I came to intervene, obviously.”

“Did you spike that tea with some sleeping draught or something?” she asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the doorframe.

“Will you just let me in?”

With a grin, she backed away and circled back to her chair behind her wide desk. It was littered with paperwork of various kinds, a stack of unread letters on one side. She cleared a space for Azula to set the tray in.

As soon as her hands were unburdened, Azula fell back to a nearby chair. Katara picked up Jiashe’s proposal again and traced the part where she left it. All the while, she felt Azula’s eyes on her.

“You’re just going to watch me work all night?” she said, not tearing her gaze away from the proposal she was reading.

“I was going to persuade you to come to bed with me.” said Azula, likely grinning. “But that would take some effort and my head hurts something fierce after trying to dissuade Zuko from giving in to another one of those useless vanity projects that a group of nobles are pestering him for.”

Katara snorted. “How’d you manage that?”

“I told him that the outrageous expense it would cost us could instead be used to help struggling peasant farmers in less developed villages. I even had to improvise a plan for that on the spot.” When Katara peeked at her over the parchment she held, she saw the self-satisfied smile plastered on Azula's face. “He gave in, of course. Kind, sweet Zuzu’s urge to help his people outweighing his desire to placate some pathetic irate nobles in the end.”

“How cunning of you.” Katara placed Jiashe’s proposal on top of the neat pile on one side of her desk. She grasped the warm cup of tea with both hands and brought it to her nose—the soothing scent of Jasmine filling her lungs. She took a sip.

Azula reached for the other cup. “Everything going well in the Council?” she asked. She didn’t effectively hide the tinge of concern there, which made Katara’s mouth twitch.

“All is fine,” she replied. “I just feel like—it’s nothing, really. I’m just being... Everything is going along smoothly, all things considered.”

Her girlfriend, ever the eagle-eyed one, wasn’t fooled. “Obviously, there's something troubling you. Tell me.” she asked in that demanding tone of hers that slipped out of habit.

Katara leaned back against her chair. “I just want to start making positive changes. I have all these plans, but all the other representatives are busy going on about trade and securing contingencies for future security threats for the four nations, which are all important, of course.” she let out a long-suffering sigh. ”But I wish we could do more.”

Azula regarded her carefully, brows furrowing as she mulled over her words. Katara took a long sip of her tea. Airing her frustrations out made her chest feel a bit lighter, she had to admit.

“The council is still at its infancy, is it not?” Azula said at length. “It is normal that you have yet to take great strides in philanthropic endeavors. The most you could do at this stage is to plant the seeds for your ideas. Start at the smallest and most attainable one. Draw up the plans for your proposed project, have some people whose expertise you might need to go over them. Once you’re confident enough, take it up to the council. There will be some objections, I am sure, but you have to bear all of it and take notes. Find some way to appease all sides to get the votes without having to compromise your vision. Go through it one step at a time and eventually, it will all come to fruition. With your stubborn persistence, I have no doubt you can achieve it.” A smirk touched her lips. “Honestly, you should have a separate committee for this. Something to consider in the future, perhaps.”

It was so Azula to offer a thorough advice in an attempt to comfort her. Her chest swelled with affection just as her mind took her words in, organizing the information she had just gathered to be acted upon and considered.

Jiashe’s proposal and all the other bureaucratic documents that needed her attention didn’t feel so important all of a sudden. She had time tomorrow. Showing her gratitude to her girlfriend was her prime concern now.

She rose from her seat and walked around her table, her pace tantalizingly slow. Azula looked at her with the full awareness of her intentions. She arched one of her sharp eyebrows, smoldering eyes following Katara. 

She sank down to Azula’s lap, pleased at how she fit perfectly there. She leaned down near Azula's ear and pitched her voice low. “Your counsel is appreciated, but I think work would have to wait for now.”

“Thank Agni, I thought you were going to keep at it until—”

Katara smothered the rest of that sentence with a searing kiss.