"ZUKO!!!!!!!" came the enraged feminine voice.
"What?" was the surly reply.
"You know darn well WHAT!" Katara shouted.
"Sorry, Katara, I really don't," Zuko replied lazily.
"The dishes!" Katara screamed.
"Zuko..." said Sokka, realizing where Zuko was headed.
"What is it Sokka?" said Zuko, turning to the water warrior.
"You might want to...go along," Sokka whispered, throwing Katara a wary glance.
"Why?" said Zuko, perplexed.
"ZUKO!!! Are you even paying any attention to me?" Katara screeched.
"No. Did you want something?" was the bored reply.
With a strangled sob, Katara raced out of the camp in the direction of the nearby river. She was on her monthly cycle and extremely emotional.
"What's her problem?" said Zuko, rolling his eyes.
Squinting at the Fire Prince questioningly, Sokka replied, "Didn't you have a sister?"
"Uh, yeah, but she's hardly normal. She was, and still is, sick, twisted, sadistic, and most certainly not normal," Zuko replied.
"That may be true, but didn't she ever...get...emotional...?" Sokka tried helplessly.
"If you're asking if she ever acted like Katara is now, then the answer is a resounding 'no'," said Zuko, still wondering what was going on.
"Okay Zuko. Here's the deal. Women have this...thing," started Sokka awkwardly. Really, a guy shouldn't know so much about it, except, they were traveling, and it was hard not to...know stuff.
"Woman's thing?" responded Zuko.
"Yes, a 'woman's thing'," said Sokka. "They, well, I don't really know what goes on, but women can get really emotional and...crazy...at a certain time of the month. Every month," said Sokka.
"Really?" asked Zuko, intrigued. "What happens?"
"I just said I don't know!" said Sokka, embarrassed.
"Oh. I know! I'll go ask Katara-"
"NO!! That would be EXTREMELY bad!" cried Sokka, throwing an arm out to stop Zuko from going to find Katara.
"Did you already forget what happened just over dishes?" responded Sokka, incredulously.
"Oh. I guess she's a little...touchy," Zuko said, grimacing.
"Seriously," said Sokka. "Don't go after her. Avoid contact whenever possible for the next week. I mean, don't offend her, La help us, but, just stay out of her way, okay?"
"Yeah, alright," said Zuko with a sigh.
But as the day wore on, he kept his eye on Katara. She seemed the same. She fidgeted more, seemingly uncomfortable to sit or stand the same way for too long at a time. She rubbed her lower back a lot, and sometimes her abdomen, too. That night, she was restless; tossing and turning into the wee hours of the morning. She got up at dawn, and went to the river. She took longer than usual to get ready. At breakfast, she asked if there were any more apple-grapes. Why would she want apple-grapes? wondered Zuko. But Sokka's warning was still fresh in his mind, so he silenced the thought.
"You ready, Zuko?" she asked, coming up behind him.
"For what?" he said quickly.
"To spar, of course!" said Katara cheerfully.
"Uh, I have to go ask Sokka something first," said Zuko, who hurriedly stood up and went in search of said warrior.
He found him cleaning his boomerang-thingy, while Toph flicked small pebbles at him and laughing when he couldn't find the source.
"Sokka, I need to talk to you right now," said Zuko anxiously. "Privately," he added, spotting Toph.
"Yeah, what's up?" asked Sokka.
"Um, well, Katara just asked if we were going to spar today, and I sort of...panicked. Is she...able to do that, still? Even with her woman's thing?"
"Well, I don't know. As far as I know, she's never had to bend during her woman's thing. But she wouldn't offer if she couldn't bend, so I guess it's okay," reasoned Sokka.
"Alright. Sparring couldn't hurt," said Zuko, and he returned to Katara by the campfire.
"You ready?" he asked, heading in the direction of the river.
"Come on!" said Katara, skipping ahead of him. She was in another mood swing.
When they got to the river, Katara walked up to the waterline and turned around to face Zuko. Zuko walked to the other side of the clearing and faced Katara. They bowed to each other, and got into fighting stances.
Zuko, uncertain because of Katara's condition, waited for her to make the first strike. Realizing Zuko was prepared to wait all day, she rolled her eyes and brought a large wave to crash into him. Zuko was astonished at how ferocious it was. Usually, they started off slow. But two could play this game. He sent a few quick punches of fire at her, then dropped to throw a kick. Katara jumped out of the way, and sent ice daggers at Zuko's chest. He quickly melted them, and made a few sweeping motions, sending waves of fire at the waterbender. Katara summoned a wall of water to block the sweeps, then sent it at Zuko, then froze him to the tree he crashed against.
Dang, she's strong, thought Zuko. Wonder why...
He quickly melted the ice and sent more fire Katara's way. She extinguished the flames, and sent huge jets of water at Zuko. Then, before he had time to send fire back, she built up her water whips and sent them at Zuko. One made contact with his side, and he grunted. Not about to be outdone, he built up his own fire whips and sent one at Katara. She hit it out of the way with one whip, and sent the other to finish Zuko off. It knocked his knees out from under him, and Katara froze him there. Zuko melted the ice, and sprang back up.
With a look of dark anger at being outsmarted, Katara stood up straight, and brought her hands together, and squeezed her eyes closed, concentrating very hard. She opened her eyes to stare directly at Zuko, and made a small gesture with one hand, moving toward the other, with a wicked smile on her face. Suddenly, Zuko's knees bent and he was kneeling. Katara walked forward, the same evil smile on her face. She twitched her finger, and Zuko's hands were pinned behind him, as if with invisible ropes. Very strong invisible ropes. He looked into Katara's face and realized what was happening.
"Bloodbending? That's low," Zuko said through his teeth.
Katara was close enough to hear. When what he said registered, she gasped, lost her concentration, and Zuko was free. Katara turned and walked away, to sit on the bank of the river. She was horrified that she had used her bloodbending again. And not even in a real battle, she thought. In a sparring match. With Zuko. She started to cry silently.
Here we go again, thought Zuko, seeing Katara's shoulders shake with silent sobs.
He walked over and sat beside her. She turned her back on him.
"Katara, please talk to me. What's wrong?" he said, concerned yet still wary of the possibility of another swift emotional change.
Katara didn't even turn around. She just shook her head and continued crying.
"Come on, Katara. You can tell me," Zuko pleaded. For emphasis, he gently, carefully, placed one hand on her shoulder.
She turned to look at him, her eyes red and swollen, tears on her cheeks and more coming from her eyes.
"Zuko, I used bloodbending," she whispered, disgust creeping into her voice.
"So what?" asked Zuko, not seeing what the big deal was.
"Bloodbending! It's a horrible, monstrous thing, and I swore that unless I or one of my friends was in mortal danger, I would never use it again!" cried Katara.
Zuko remembered the feeling, just minutes ago, of utter helplessness, shuddered slightly.
"See?" Katara said, hiding her face against her sleeve. "Even you are disgusted by it. I hate it! I HATE IT!!" sobbed Katara earnestly.
"No! Katara, it's not that. Look, I know you...don't feel well. How about a drink of water to calm down? Then we can talk about it," he said in an attempt to be reasonable.
Katara shook her head. He sighed, and scooted closer to Katara. He put his arms around her, and rubbed his chin against the top of her head in a soothing manner.
They sat like that for about half an hour before Zuko felt Katara's muscles start to relax again. How so many tears could be cried by one person Zuko would never know.
"Better?" he asked softly.
Katara, not trusting her voice, simply nodded, and put her head back on Zuko's shoulder. It seemed to be a perfect fit.
"I'm sorry you had to see that...experience that," whispered Katara, referring to the bloodbending episode.
"Katara, I'm okay. Honestly, no harm done. You're going through a lot right now, and you simply forgot. It's okay. No one is perfect..." babbled Zuko. He decided he really liked the feel of her in his arms and her head on his shoulder. Even if his shoulder was now considerably wet with her tears.
"...thank you, Zuko..." said Katara, taking a deep, shuddery breath.
They stayed that way until Zuko's stomach growled, very loudly, reminding them of lunch and the rest of the gang.
"I suppose we should head back now," said Katara, slowly sitting up straight and stretching languidly.
"Yeah.." said Zuko, stretching his arms above his head.
He stood up and stretched again, then held out a hand to Katara. She accepted his hand and he pulled her to her feet. They looked in each other's eyes, understanding, then walked back to camp, dropping hands when they got closer.
"How about lunch everybody?" said Katara, moving to the fire.
"It's about time!" whined Sokka. He started, remembering Katara's unstable state belatedly. He looked carefully at her, but she only laughed and started working. Not believing his eyes, he walked over to Zuko, grabbed his arm, and walked out of hearing range.
"What do you mean?" asked Zuko, confused. He thought a happy Katara was better than an emotional, screaming one.
"I mean, she's...normal. What happened?"
"Oh. We sparred," said Zuko, traces of humor in his voice.
"That's all you did?" Sokka still couldn't believe it.
"Well, we talked, too, but yeah. That's all we did," said Zuko, still laughing slightly.
"You must be some sort of miracle worker or something," said Sokka, slinging his arm around the Prince's shoulders. "Before, when she was...yeah...not even Toph dared say anything lest they get...reprimanded. And here you are, able to calm the beast, when you guys don't even like each other!" said Sokka, his arm still around Zuko. He started back toward camp, shaking his head. "It's just unbelievable. Never thought I'd see the day...You and Katara..."