"Thanks again for letting me join in on this meeting," Bolin said exactly one month after joining Kuvira's army, taking a seat in Kuvira's meeting room.
His boss offered a warm smile and took her seat in the middle of the width of their ovular table, between Baatar Jr. and Varrick.
"You've certainly proven yourself. I'm happy to expose you to anything you'd like to learn about," Kuvira answered.
Bolin smiled. "Hope I can measure up."
Baatar Jr. passed a set of papers over to Kuvira. She scanned them and said, "We ready to start?"
Varrick put a finger up. "Give us thirty seconds. Zhu Li, meeting tea!"
Zhu Li was gone before Kuvira could say the first word of, "I might as well promote Zhu Li to corporal with the amount she already knows about the inner circle."
"It's your army, Miss Metal Maiden," Varrick said.
"Don't call me that," Kuvira said, not even glancing up from her papers.
Zhu Li returned moments later and set a cup of tea down in front of Varrick, silently taking a position standing behind Varrick.
"As we all know, we're four states in rebuilding the Earth Kingdom," Kuvira said, "and are going to be negotiating to add Shixi tomorrow, completing the stabilization of Ba Sing Se and the states immediately surrounding it. However, the last two states have proven to be…uncooperative. We have every right to spill blood if need be, but obviously, going in, getting a signature, and arresting some stray bandits is the ideal route. We're still a small operation by all accounts," she glanced at Varrick, "although Varrick has shown me some fantastic designs to tease that number out. For now, though, diplomacy is on our side." Bolin raised his hand. "Bolin, you're free to speak without raising your hand."
Bolin lowered his hand and tucked it into his lap. "What do we know about Shixi? Do we know they'll be as uncooperative as the other states?"
"Based on geography, we can assume similar groups of bandits made their way in."
"What about their governor? Does he have a reputation?"
"What they do have is the biggest iron ore mines in the Earth Kingdom," Varrick said. "And, if they're not complete idiots, they'll use that to their advantage. They know how much we need it."
Kuvira raised a brow. "So much that you think they'd risk losing our protection and guaranteed eradication of the bandits?"
Varrick shrugged. "If I made millions of yuans, I wouldn't mind letting the people I don't even see wait with the bandits longer to keep the money in my pocket. Shixi's capital hasn't been sacked like with Lijiang, so he has less pressure to give in."
Bolin looked to Kuvira, and caught the exact moment her stony expression screwed into wide-eyed, blanching horror. She then stood up, turned around, and darted out of the room.
"What'd I do this time?" Varrick exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air.
"It's not you, Varrick," Baatar Jr. answered. "She's convinced her calendar is perfect, but she's off by a week. She'll be back in five."
Understanding flashed across Varrick's face, and he nodded. "Gotcha. You know, Kuv's an excellent leader—I mean, way better than Raiko—"
"Everyone's better than Raiko," Baatar Jr. commented.
"—and all, but you gotta admit, there are no female leader problems, and then there are female leader problems."
"I'm telling you, this is going to take five minutes, and she'll kill you if you mention it for another second."
Bolin would admit it—most everything these four talked about in their inner circle meetings didn't make sense to him. He was still learning about politics and diplomacy and technology, but this conversation made absolutely no sense to him. It was if they were talking in code, or about something that happened before Bolin got into the army. He glanced around the room, unsure if or when he could speak up. No one in the room was necessarily intimidating, especially not with Kuvira in the room, but he could feel his private status as if he were painted bright pink.
"Where'd you get five from? From my experience, it's a solid ten minutes. Fifteen if it was unexpected," Varrick said.
"Sir, you've never spent more than twelve hours with the same woman," Zhu Li said.
"Ooh, you say that, but you forget about the Anana incident."
"She was pregnant and went into labor, sir."
"She was not pregnant!"
He had to ask…
"I thought Kuvira just forgot something on her calendar," Bolin said.
Everyone's gazes snapped to Bolin, bewilderment clear as day. Varrick was the first to start laughing.
"Ah, kid, you're cute!" Varrick said, slapping Bolin on the back. "You really think Miss World Leader would leave us to put something on her calendar?"
"So…what's she doing?" Bolin asked, sinking in his seat.
Back to the stares.
"Bolin, she's on her period," Varrick finally said.
Bolin bit his inner cheek, hoping none of them could tell how little that helped him. Of course he'd heard of the expression, that girls were "on their period," but no one had, well, bothered to explain it to him. Mako certainly hadn't. Korra and Asami never talked about it. Even Opal, with them dating for several months, never mentioned it.
"Bleeding hog monkeys, you don't know what a period is, do you?" Varrick said.
Forcing on the lamest smile of his life, cheeks bright red, Bolin nodded. Varrick, Zhu Li, and Baatar Jr. exchanged a look. Baatar Jr.'s eyes landed on the papers and stayed there, Zhu Li shrugged, and Varrick started staring at Bolin, as if looking at Bolin could answer the biggest questions of the universe.
"Is it…an orphan thing or…?" Varrick said.
At that moment, Kuvira returned to the meeting room, stony faced and immediately telling Varrick to keep talking about the iron ore.
Bolin set his eyes on her, hoping for some clue. She didn't look different, really. She wasn't wearing different clothes or anything. She didn't look sick.
"Before we get to that, though," Varrick said. "Your private over here desperately needs your leadership and guidance."
Kuvira's gaze landed on Bolin, a scowl forming on her lips. Bolin sunk deeper into the chair. "I'm not interested in pranks right now, Varrick."
Varrick put his hands up, palm forward. "Oh, it's no prank. Bolin honestly needs you."
"He doesn't know what menstruation is."
Bolin swore Kuvira could've had shot daggers out of her eyes she looked at Varrick with such an enraged expression. "I'm here to dig a nation out of chaos and suffering, not give Bolin the sex talk."
"It's a talk about iron," Varrick said before high tailing it out of the room so fast Bolin could swear he straight up disappeared.
Zhu Li was gone with Varrick, and Baatar Jr. slipped out with just as much speed. For a moment, Bolin tried to not make eye contact with Kuvira, who was now fuming.
"We can just talk about the iron ore," Bolin said. Kuvira didn't smile. "Or I could just leave."
Bolin stood up, but Kuvira put a hand up, stopping him. "Sit." He did as told. "Is Varrick serious?" Bolin nodded. "How old were you when your parents died?"
Kuvira exhaled. "None of your girlfriends talked to you about this? Opal hasn't?"
Bolin shook his head. "I…only know the term."
"Do you know what sex is?"
Bolin blushed. "Yeah."
"Who teaches you about sex but not menstruation?"
She looked away from a moment. "Understandable." Kuvira hesitated. "Okay, I'm going to give this to you as concisely as I can, and you will never tell a soul that I'm the one who told you all this. Got it? No one knows. If anyone asks, you said you always knew. Don't even tell my idiots of the inner circle." Bolin nodded. "All menstruation is is the shedding of a nutrient-rich coating of blood on the uterus when an egg is released but not fertilized. Happens once a month from the time a girl is between twelve to fourteen until middle age."
"How much blood is shed?"
"Technically, not much. A couple tablespoons' worth over about two to seven days."
"Are you…weakened by it?"
"Women lose more iron than usual, but otherwise the symptoms are more pain than a weakened state."
"Lower abdomen and back."
"Depends on the woman, time in her cycle, and often it seems random. It ranges from mild to debilitating."
"I swear I've never seen Korra or Opal out every month…"
"Then they probably don't get severe cramps. It's not that unusual."
"What about you?"
"Don't ask about me."
Bolin hesitated, trying as hard as he could to not think about the fact that he was talking to his boss about female biological functions. "Is there…anything else?"
"Physical symptoms are only half the animal. Fertile females also go through…emotional cycles that correspond to this process. Girls tend to get overly weepy or angry in the week before and the first few days of menstruation."
"You said it was only a week at most."
"The bleeding." She paused, crossed her arms. "You'll hear boys joke that girls only have one good week because the monthly cycle is one week ovulating, one week PMSing, one week bleeding, and one week off." Bolin stared, lost. "Ovulating is when the egg is released, which can hurt too. PMSing is short for pre-menstrual syndrome, when girls get emotional."
"So…are the girls really upset?"
She put a finger up. "Big one: don't assume that any woman you encounter is upset because of PMSing. Even if they are PMSing, their emotions are still valid. If you're being an asshole and she gets really mad, she's only mad because you're causing problems."
"What do you do, then?"
"Be really nice to her."
"How do I know which week to be super nice?"
He spared a moment to look to Kuvira, and they made eye contact. He'd caught glances of her squirming or blushing, but looking now, there was nothing more than a…dare he say, gentleness to her expression. "So…how do you catch all the blood?"
"Feminine hygiene products. Sanitary napkins and tampons. One's just a sort of pad put in the seat of underwear and the other is sort of a cotton cylinder," she showed a few inches between her index finger and thumb, "that goes directly inside a woman to absorb the blood."
"How does it stay up there?"
"They fit snugly."
Somehow, through this entire awful conversation, this was the one thing that horrified Bolin.
"How do you get them out?"
"There's a string at the bottom."
"What if it doesn't come out?"
Kuvira took a deep breath. "Then it gets infected and you die."
Bolin's eyes widened. "What if Opal dies?"
"She won't die, Bolin. No one actually has that happen to them."
"Can I ask her to use the first option?"
Bolin clasped his hands together. "Is that it?"
Kuvira shrugged. "I got everything I need to say, unless you don't understand birth control either."
Bolin's ears went red. "No, ah, Mako got that too."
Kuvira leaned back in her chair, arms crossed. "Any more questions?"
"I know you said not to ask anything, but…is there anything I can do for you? Varrick and Baatar Jr. seem like they're being jerks about it."
Kuvira cracked a smile for the briefest moment. "Baatar's just awkward, and Varrick's an ass about everything. Basically, don't bring it up, try to not pick this week to show off how much of an incompetent fool you are, and I'll be doing my best to keep a level head with the governors as well as you guys."
"I don't think it'll be too much of a problem. You're good at hiding your emotions."
Kuvira rolled her eyes. "Don't speak until we meet with this iron ore master." She stood up. "I think we're good, then."
Bolin stood up. "Thanks."
Kuvira smiled. Like, actually smiled for the first time since the first time Bolin had seen her that day. "Happy to help." They walked out of the meeting room together, even though Bolin realized five steps in that he had to go in the opposite direction. "Just uh, don't mention it."
Bolin blushed. "I won't."
He followed Kuvira until she got to the door to her quarters. "One more thing."
"Pull out, even if you're wearing a condom. Baatar's self worth is currently balancing on him producing the first grandchild."
Bolin couldn't tell if it was meant as a joke, even after Kuvira entered her quarters laughing.
Well, at least that was still awkward.
As he made his way back to his room, Bolin brushed by Varrick.
"Did she kill you?" Varrick asked.
Bolin smiled a little. "She was actually really nice about it."
A/N: Yeah, super awkward one-shots give me life, so...this happened. (and I think the Bolin-Kuvira dynamic is untapped gold) Hope everyone enjoyed!
Note: This is currently a one-shot, but it will probably fit into a larger Earth Empire fic I plan to write in the coming months, so if you dig the style of this, feel free to click author alert or follow me on Tumblr (thewittywriter) for updates. :)