Notes: This is basically a love letter to the pro-bending arena and bending in general. Korra and the brothers just fought off an Equalist attack, and even if they're sore and bleeding, they're riding a wave of euphoria.
The arena shined just before them. They had been traveling through the city streets with pain shooting through every pore, gazing up between the skyscrapers to follow after that golden glow that popped between the black silhouettes. Once standing before the long boardwalk that led to that famed building, they all breathed a sigh of relief. They were home and aching and ready to return to the world they knew.
The pain had equalled accomplishment. A long battle had been won and their wounds proved it, bleeding cuts caked with dirt and blooming purple bruises and welts shining like medals under the beads of sweat sparkling on their skin. Metallic iron in their mouths from bloody lips, heavily panting, sucking in deep breaths that rushed down their saliva slick throats to expand their cracked rib cages.
Bolin liked the taste of blood in his mouth-it made him feel like a metalbender, like maybe, after everything he had done that night, he was a step closer to that impossible dream. Sharp and cool but living, and even with the multiple fissures in the delicate bones of his feet, he had never felt more connected to the world. He never wanted his body to break from the earth again.
He said as much when they trailed up the stairs and into the glowing arena. The city was dead, not a single soul mingling outside on the dock, and his words bore through the air and met with Korra's raspy laugh.
"Welcome to the earthbending club, Bo," she said.
Mako cracked a smile, feeling his bottom lip split open again from the weak healing his skin was trying to perform. He pressed the cut between his teeth and tasted blood and felt peeling, chapped skin rasp against his tongue. He was proud of his brother-proud of all three of them, and even though they had technically just fought a battle, in something akin to a war, he had never felt so young. He felt eighteen and reckless and didn't worry about a single thing, because even though his baby brother was stomping through the streets leaving a trail of his own blood in his wake, Korra could heal him. Mako had something to fall back on and he could find the time to run his tongue over his lips and bite them idly until they were fresh and raw and smoothed over into something new.
He did this as he led the way up the stairs to the attic. His body moved with a lazy swagger, shoulders swaying and back relaxed, and it made Korra smile stupidly every time she lifted her head as she followed behind him. He was usually never so obviously cocky, always cool and calm and collected but she saw the way he swirled the pads of his fingers together, feeling the lingering heat and testing to see if the lazy friction alone was enough to set fire to the air. Because he had never felt so alive.
She felt like she knew the brothers now on some new level that she never knew existed, and it was all tied to bending somehow. She tried to pinpoint why she could notice those details about Mako, or how she knew Bolin was slapping his feet against the stone steps just to revel in the vibrations, but she quit and decided it was special. It was a simple enough explanation for the time being, but a word completely loaded with spiritual implications that made her head buzz with excitement. They were something special.
The second Mako's body heaved against the apartment door and he stepped inside, he let out a gutteral, happy moan, tipping his head back and sighing heavily. Korra shoved him out of the way to get inside, and Bolin tumbled in after them, feet still slapping away as if trying to dig himself back to the earth through the arena.
"I call shower first!" he shouted, loudly and with a childish, teasing glee.
"Ass," Korra called back to him as he walked to the ladder where his lofted bedroom was, to get a fresh change of clothes.
Mako chuckled. "We can just use the gym showers."
"Oh!" Bolin's head popped up from the edge of the railing above them, white teeth and brilliant green eyes sticking out against the grime covering his skin. "Can we turn on all the showers again and make a sauna?"
His brother nodded, smiling. "You know it."
Bolin barreled down the ladder, hissing through his clenched teeth at the wounds that ached as he did so, but never once considered the possibility of slowing down. He had his bundle of clothing fisted into one hand, and he bounced on his heels as he waited for Mako to get his own change of clothing.
"You need something to wear, Korra?" Mako called down to them.
She lifted her head and saw a patch of his red scarf through the beams as he moved about the loft. "Yeah, if you don't mind."
"Not at all."
Seconds later a ratty tank top and black shorts were tossed over the loft railing and landed on Korra's head. The thin, worn fabric instantly clinged to her sweaty forehead and when she breathed in a sigh, it smelled like the locker rooms. Bolin laughed at her and she pulled the clothing off to hold it in her arms, smiling at him.
They loudly marched down the stairs when the thought struck Bolin, heading the group, and he froze in mid-step, unmoving as Korra and his brother knocked against his back.
Ignoring their words of protest, he said, "Guys, we're the only people here."
Korra tilted her jaw and dug her chin into a bruise forming on Bolin's shoulder, but the boy just shuddered against the dull ache. "Well, duh, it's probably one in the morning," she said, her words muddled from her braced jaw.
"It's like this every night, Bo," Mako replied, his breath ghosting across the tip of Korra's ear.
"No, no, you guys aren't getting it," Bolin said, and he leaned back on the heels of his feet into the pair behind him. With Mako leaning forward, they stayed balanced together, Korra in the middle like a pillar. "This whole arena is our's. I mean, I know where the keys are, we could get into any room down here. We can do anything."
Normally, these words and ideas wouldn't touch Mako with that glimmer of epiphany that flashed across Korra and Bolin's eyes, but this time, he could still feel embers burning in his palms and begging for kindling. And the way Korra's back tensed against him and Bolin rolled his shoulders was fuel enough, because he felt like acting his age.
Korra twisted her head around, pressing her cheek against his brother's back to grin at him out of the corner of her eye. She treated the arena like a temple, golden and shining, and worshiped at its violent altar. How she of all people could get easily wrapped up in myths and worship made him want to laugh, so he did.
"Showers first, then we'll...we'll have some fun," Mako said, the words sounding a bit foreign on his tongue.
Bolin rocked forward with a yell, Korra stumbling against him and gripping his shoulders just in time to steady herself, keeping Mako's weight from knocking them all down the stairs. They all straightened up, laughing, and the rest of the walk down to the showers was far louder than before.
Their voices echoed all around the arena like whispers from spirits or ghosts, calling out to them from darkened corridors that should have placed irrational fear in their hearts-but tonight they were winners against the unknown threats in the city's back alleys. They weren't just three teenagers, two of them poor and placed in the arena with nowhere else to go, as if they were intruders. They were invincible, they were the Fire Ferrets and the Avatar, and Bolin still stomped his soles against the ground to shake it and Mako's heart still beat in his chest like a living, breathing flame, and Korra fell somewhere in between. They were young and nothing could touch them.