Tough

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar the Last Airbender

There wasn't enough rice. Katara had checked and no matter how she split it up there was no way the rice that was barely enough for her Toph, Aang and Sokka was going to stretch to cover The Duke, Teo, Haru and more recently Zuko as well.

It might have been okay had there been anything to add to the rice but there wasn't. No meat, not even jerky, no vegetables, no spices, nothing. Katara was hardly a nutritionist but she knew that living off rice especially white rice wasn't good for you, they refined it somehow. That's what Haru said they took all the good stuff out, made it taste and look better but it wasn't good for you. You needed other foods to balance it.

After some very careful calculations and fractions worked out on her fingers Katara figured out that they had enough Rice to last them two weeks, if she cut everyone's servings in half and only ate one meal a day. Of course she hadn't factored several outside influences into her calculations. Zuko had said that the Fire Nation was humid in the summer, most rice went moldy within a week or so, either that or bugs got into it. There was a saying he said: if you got bored in the country you could entertain yourself by picking maggots out of your rice. Upon hearing it the others had fallen about laughing and gagging while The Duke looked up his face slightly green.

"Jet told me the wiggly ones were extra protein!"

He threw up on the floor.

Katara had cleaned it up while Zuko led the poor boy away to lie down explaining that once the maggots were in your stomach didn't mean they stayed there forever and ate away at your insides, apparently The Duke had seen something similar happen to a hog Monkey Sneers had kept as a pet. Making Katara wonder once again about the type of life the Freedom fighters had actually lived, beyond the tree houses and flying foxes.

Katara ate what would, had he not been feeling ill, The Dukes bowl of rice that night. Despite her insistence that he should stay in bed until his stomach felt more settled The Duke had refused to stay in his room alone after dark, something about his mouth being dry and not being able to spit at ghosts.

"Spit supposedly wards off evil spirits"

Zuko explained.

"Evil spirits? This is an Airbender Temple there aren't any evil spirits here!"

Teo said.

"Yeah I'll bet the Airbenders make the sissiest spirits ever you got nothing to worry about"

Toph waved a hand.

"They could be mad"

The Duke whispered

"Why would the Airbender Spirits be mad? I mean they seemed like pretty laid back kind of guys right Aang"

Sokka asked.

"Easy as the breeze in spring time"

Aang agreed.

"He's here!"

The Duke cried pointing at Zuko.

"They'd be mad because he's here!"

Everyone turned to Zuko who looked down at his bowl of rice in shame eventually after a few minutes of heavy silence Aang spoke.

"Hey you got nothing to worry about, I'm the Avatar, the great bridge between the worlds remember? If any of the Spirits get mad I'll sort it out. And I'm sure they'd understand about Zuko being here"

Katara gave The Duke a bowl of water to take to bed with him that night in case his mouth got dry. He was back to his normal self by the next morning. Eagerly shoveling his rice into his mouth he had finished his bowl just as Katara handed the last of it out.

"I'm still hungry!"

He said picking through the few grains sticking to his bowl and checking them to see they weren't moving before putting them into his mouth. Katara was just about to hand him her bowl, last meal, dinner yesterday next meal, breakfast tomorrow, When Zuko gave him his. Which didn't help her situation any, now she was compelled, honor bound if you would, to offer him hers, out of decency of course. She wanted to scream at him but instead,

"Here"

She held her bowl out to him. Zuko looked past her, his gaze lingering for a second on the cooking pot behind her, completely devoid of rice and shook his head.

"I can't today is…a holy day I'm supposed to fast."

He said.

"Really what day is it?"

Toph asked with a hint of smugness.

"The uh, ascension of Agni. It's very important in the Fire Nation you wouldn't have heard of it in the Earth kingdom"

"Agni ascended? To where?"

Aang asked. Everyone peered at Zuko.

"What do I look like a Fire Sage? It's a holy day and I have to fast okay that's all!"

He said pushing the bowl of rice back to Katara and storming off to meditate.

Oddly enough, the next day was also a holy day. Meaning that there was a mouthful more rice for everyone. It was on the third day of Zuko's fast that Katara confronted him. She had been stirring a pitiful rice congee that was more congee than rice when Zuko strolled in fresh from training, his shirt draped over his shoulders and sweat trickling down his forehead. He grabbed the bowl by the edge of the fountain and dipped it into the clear water. There had been a few protests about drinking from the fountain at first especially as Sokka had said that 'Toph's foot water' was unfit for human consumption. But Aang had explained that the fountain was irrigated and therefore the water that had been used to heal Toph's feet had long been washed away down the cliff somewhere.

"If the water wasn't flowing the fountain'd get all scummy like a chakra pool"

He said. Even though they didn't grasp the simile everyone got the general jist of what he was saying. So the Fountain had become a communal watering hole with everyone coming and going throughout the day dipping clay bowls in and out of the water taking a drink and going on their merry way.

Zuko was just about to put the bowl he had used down once again on the rim of the fountain when another bowl was bought down in its place. A bowl filled with steaming rice congee and attached to a brown hand. Zuko looked up to meet Katara's gaze.

"I'm fasting…."

He began but the waterbender cut him off by rolling her eyes.

"What? I am! It's the ascension of Agni! The Fire Spirit…"

"I know how the Fire Nation feels about Spirits!"

Katara said bitterly remembering a white fish with a black spot on it's head flailing in the cruel hands of admiral Zhao.

"You're not fasting. You think you're being a big man going hungry so everyone else can eat? Well you're not being big you're being ridiculous and we don't you're your pity"

She yelled all but throwing the bowl of congee onto the exiled prince at the last moment her brain reminded her that food was short and she couldn't go around throwing it at people whenever it took her fancy.

"Oh I think I'm being big? What about you huh? "

At this point Zuko broke off into a high girlish voice that almost matched Katara's.

"Oh no I'm not eating this week I'm on a diet!"

" What? I am on a diet it's important to keep healthy you know"

"You passed healthy about a week ago. I mean look at you, your leggings don't even fit anymore!"

"What makes you think you're in any position to be noticing things about my leggings? And what about you? I can see every notch in your spin, and all your ribs!"

"What makes you think you're in any position to be noticing things about my body?"

Zuko said the slight mocking tone in his voice infuriating Katara.

"Oh well excuse me Mr. I'll-just-take-my-shirt-off-and-walk-around-for-a-while-like-it's-no-big-deal"

She rolled her eyes.

"This may come as a shock to you but up here men can take their shirts off without the fear of being frozen. And for your information I was training earlier, you know that thing you don't have the energy to do anymore because you insist on being a martyr!"

Katara slapped him.

Or at least she would have if she her legs hadn't given away beneath her halfway through the motion causing her to slump forward her hand that had been aiming for Zuko's cheek splaying out in an effort to break her fall and landing in Zuko's chest as he caught her. Katara felt her cheeks redden, not in embarrassment, oh she was far to low on energy to be anything other than cranky. All she felt was anger as she formulated a plan to blame her entire situation on the exiled prince. It was quite simple really, if her hadn't swung into their lives in the air temple, there would have been more rice, at least enough for her to have a meal at least once a day and then not only would the current argument have been postponed but she wouldn't have had a sudden dizzy spell bought on by a lack of nutrient. It was all Zuko's fault. Stupid Zuko.

Zuko. Who was currently easing her onto the rim of the fountain and pushing her head into her lap.

"Sit like that until your head stops swimming"

He said. How did he know it was swimming? It was at that moment that everyone else in the temple decided to enter out onto the balcony their pleasant chattering stopping at the sight of Katara sitting on the fountain rim bent over her lap and Zuko sitting next to her one hand on her back.

"Uh what's going on?"

Sokka asked.

"Katara stood up too fast"

Zuko said standing up.

"Should be fine now"

He moved away. Katara eased herself up and amazingly she did feel all right, the feeling of vertigo that had overcome her had suddenly dispersed. The feeling of anger however hadn't she grabbed the bowl of congee.

"Hey! You forgot your lunch!"

She cried angrily there was no way he was leaving without eating.

"Fasting"

Zuko called over his shoulder in an infuriating tone that made Katara once again want to throw the bowl at his head.

"You know this holy day seems to go on forever"

Sokka commented.

"Maybe it's a week long thing, you know to emulate Agni's suffering or something, the monks used to do stuff like that all the time. Course they all went a little loopy after a week or so"

Aang said

"Must be"

"How long 'till he goes loopy then?

Teo asked.

"Give or take a few days"

Aang shrugged. Katara wanted to scream.

STORY NOTES

Wiggly ones: it is a general rule in my family that one must never complain about bugs in their food as this will always result in my father explaining how they're simply extra protein, don't worry we're not expected to eat them, it's just a joke

Inside out: Maggots actually do eat live flesh as well as dead. Why do you think lambs have their tails docked, so droppings won't get caught in them atracting flies to lay their eggs there, when they hatch the maggots will eat the lamb inside out. This actually happened to my sisters rabbit, it was tragic.

Spitting: In rural china it was believed that spitting warded off evil spirits, small ones, you couldn't spit at Koh and expect him to leave you alone.

Rice: White Rice today is enginered to have the nutriants that is removed from it in the shucking process added back in but in ancieint times this would not have been possible making white rice an incomplete food source.

Holy days: Many festivals throughtout the world especially religious ones include fasting.

Dizzy: If you stand up to fast your vision will usually fade out for few vertigo filled momnents to over come this siit down with your head in your lap for at least a mainute, it will also help prevent to headache you'll invertably get, or at least thats what works for me.

Anyway tell me what you thought I accept critisim just please be constructive and polite.

I apologiuse for my poor spelling and punctuation