He awoke with a start, clutching his side as he sat up too quickly. The pain surged through him as if a knife had been plunged there. He winced, but allowed it to subside slowly as he gritted his teeth. It had been a week since he had acquired this battle scar, but even with all of the expedited healing his good friend the Avatar, Korra, had provided, it still hurt to bend the wounded muscles beneath it. Still, Bolin knew himself well – persistent was his middle name. Whatever life seemed to throw at him, he'd make lemonade out of those lemons and chuckle whole-heartedly as he drank it merrily. Though this scratch was deep, it could not and would not hold him down.
He looked around at his surroundings. How different the large gazebo looked in the dead of night. It was more peaceful than usual. The calming sea breeze and the soft crash of waves below would help his healing, he heard Korra say once in passing to a worried Mako. They had created a sleeping quarters for him, complete with as many blankets and pillows as were necessary, as well as a small space for Pabu to sleep. The little fire ferret, Bolin observed in the bright full moon's light, was still curled up fast asleep about a foot or so away from him on its own personal pillow. But why had he awoken to suddenly at an ungodly hour such as this? And was it really ungodly, or had his sleeping schedule really been that messed up? Looking to his left, he saw what could be the only answer.
Illuminated like a kind spirit in the moon's light sat Korra on the steps leading up to Bolin's resting quarters. He couldn't believe anyone else would be awake now, much less visiting him. He had told Mako, Asami, and Korra many times he'd be all right now, and complimented Korra's great work in patching him up, if not too flirtatious while at it. Something was not right though.
"Korra?" he finally spoke to the unmoving figure.
She turned around frantically, as if she had been lost in thought. She never expected anyone to be up at this hour, especially Bolin who should have been resting off his injuries.
He got up from his seat slowly, the pain racing up to his brain again. He ignored it in the best way he could, got to his feet, and walked over to her, hunched over to appease the pain and with a limp he didn't intend to show her.
"You should be sleeping! Don't get up, you'll hurt yourself!" Korra demanded in vain, seemingly angry with him for no reason that Bolin could understand.
He ignored her and replied, "Nah, I'm fine, I'm fine."
He sat back down next to her on the stairs, slowly but surely as not to awaken the hoards of pain that he knew were ready to punish him. Once settled he looked her in the eyes. Though her expression was a scowl for disobeying her, he playfully gave her his best, goofy smile. It was the ticket to hiding his pain, and made anyone on the receiving end believe he was all right. However, it didn't work this time. Though it dissolved Korra's angry visage, she was still not at peace, and turned away from him, her feelings turning to sadness. Bolin also noted how she wasn't sitting as she usually did, usually spread apart in a manly sort of way, legs far apart from her body and each other, constantly giving her an air of confidence he could never get over. But now, she sat curled up with her knees to her chin, as if shielding herself, and her arms wrapped around them, locking them in place. Her eyes were bright in the moonlight, but they expressed a lonely feeling Bolin could feel being aimed squarely at him.
"Hey, uh, are you…okay?" he asked, trying not to insult her. He knew well by now that any suggestion of Korra being weak in any way usually shut her down. He fully expected her to brush it off and deny it, just like she always did whenever he defeated her in their Earthbending sparing matches. It did not happen often, but when it did, Korra always challenged him again and made sure she was the victor. She was never to be taken lightly or to be underestimated. Her opponents were never to think they had the upper hand, not for a second. It was this and many more wonderful qualities of her, in his opinion, that his admiration of her only grew since they first met.
However, she answered with a sigh and admitted, "No. Not at all."
This shocked him, but Bolin decided to continue the conversation. He was hoping he could help her get rid of the dark cloud that seemed to stalk her since last week. He had noticed this same gloomy presence every time she came to heal him, and every time he watched her practice her new found ability to Airbend. "So, what's wrong?"
She sighed again, probably kicking herself for admitting it at all. He could tell that part of her wanted to get it off her chest, but another part of her probably wished that she had admitted it to Tenzin instead. He figured that might have been a better idea, so he was ecstatic he was the lucky one to hear her out.
"I've been thinking about last week," she began. "Not a day has gone by that I don't think about it or wish that it didn't happen."
Bolin nodded, and although he could guess what it was all about, he inquired further. "What about last week? We did good!"
"No, I didn't!" Korra corrected him, looking him square in the face, as if trying to forcing him to change his perspective. "I was so stupid. We were being attacked and all I did was make things worse! They got away!"
Bolin searched his thoughts for a moment, and then countered with, "Yeah, but now they know you're a force to be reckoned with. Isn't that something? I mean, the Avatar State is like, completely intense! You showed 'em whose boss!"
"No. All I did was show them I'm an immature Avatar who can't control myself," Korra argued. "I bet Amon is thinking of a way to get me to hurt you, Mako, and Asami…again."
Bolin sighed, unable to make her think differently. He ran through the events again in his mind. In fact, just like Korra, he could not get himself to forget what happened either. They were chasing the chiblockers and Amon through the empty streets of Republic City after having infiltrated yet another weapons factory. But instead of fighting right there in the factory, Amon thought he could escape. Now the fight was brought to an open area somewhere downtown where more chiblockers had joined to protect their wonderful, thought-inspiring leader. As he and the rest of Team Avatar, as they called themselves, took down one chiblocker after another, Bolin could see Amon watching closely. The team had become much more experienced in fighting them since last time they fought, and not one person from Team Avatar fell to chi-blocks or jolts of electricity.
But they had gotten tired from the chase and the fighting, and it seemed as though Amon's legion was endless. Soon, Mako and Asami were knocked out, thrown from where they stood back to back, and landed with hard thuds on the cobblestone street. Distracted, Bolin and Korra went to run to their aid, only to be shocked with jolts of electricity. Bolin remembers sitting up, groggy, holding his head, and witnessing Korra get up on her feet to fight. But it seemed hopeless. They were surrounded. Mako tried to shield Asami as the enemy slowly closed in. Bolin watched as Korra became stressed, an expression of hopelessness overcoming her. She plopped down on the street, and began to meditate. And then, in a flash of light, she began to glow.
At the time, the rest of Team Avatar did not know that this phenomenon was actually Korra's Avatar State, apparently forced in a time of extreme stress and urgency, as Tenzin would explain to them when they returned to Air Temple Island. Korra yelled loudly, and her power expanded across them in a powerful whirlwind of debris. The chiblockers backed off, scared of what she could be capable of. Bolin remembered watching as Amon and his army fled. With the danger gone, Bolin expected Korra to calm down, but that was not the case. Instead, she just seemed to become possessed by the ability, her arms and legs stretched out, her head arched backward, eyes glowing a piercing white. The wind around her seemed to form a bubble around her, as rocks traveled around her like planets to a dangerous sun.
A few meters away, Bolin, Mako, and Asami watched in horror. Mako held Asami close, trying to shield her from the flying debris that hit them. Looking closely, Bolin noticed tears streaming down Korra's face, things he did think were possible. His initial response was to get up and help her, though how he would do that was a mystery; he could not sit back and watch her suffer. Mako grabbed his shoulder and yelled above the wind, "Are you nuts? Stay away from her or you'll get killed!"
"So we're just supposed to wait it out?" Bolin yelled back, and Mako returned a worried nod.
Bolin could not take that as an answer. In time he would feel a sense of accomplishment. It would be the first time Mako was scared, and he, Bolin, the younger, dependent brother, had a plan. Against Mako's wishes, Bolin got up and shook his brother's hand away. Approaching Korra cautiously, he shielded his eyes from the flying sand and rocks. He was hit a few times with rocks, but he persisted and walked on, ignoring the pain. After all, at that moment, all he wanted was for Korra to be herself again. This Avatar State Korra was not the girl he knew or loved.
"Korra!" he called out to her, but she could not hear him.
Not really knowing what to do, he grabbed her foot and pulled her down. She was incredibly light; he had truly expected her to be unmovable from her spot. However, Korra, in the state she was in, did not recognize Bolin as an ally. As he pulled her down, she swiped at him with an overpowered hand. Seeing this, Bolin quickly bolted himself into the ground, covering his feet with rock, and wrapping his arms around Korra, taking the brutal force of her attack head on. She jabbed him in the side, right under his ribs where he now tried to rub the pain away as he sat next her.
He remembered pulling through the pain and holding her close to him, whispering to her that the danger had passed and she could calm down. Slowly but surely, she came to her senses. With a job well done, Bolin collapsed from her assault and exhaustion. He had passed out from the excruciating pain, and vaguely he remembered Korra screaming for him to wake up.
It was certainly an experience he'd rather forget, and as he rubbed his nagging side where she had tried to kill him, he could not find an ounce of hate in his heart for her. All he could do was stare at her in the way he always had, with undying loyalty and a strange love.
"So, what if he is?" Bolin finally spoke, speaking of Amon. "We can't expect any less of the guy. But you can always one-up him! You can get better at this Avatar State stuff and turn his whole, dumb plan against him."
"You make it sound so easy. I hate to say it, but I'm afraid. I'm afraid to be like that again. When I was like that, I couldn't control myself. I watched as I hit you and couldn't do a damn thing about it!" Korra answered, in such a defeatist mode it made Bolin uneasy. She was not acting like herself. Fear, helplessness, hopelessness, defeat? These were not Korra traits.
"Yeah, well, I didn't have to try and get you out of it either. I got hit but that was a risk I was willing to take."
"Why? Weren't you scared? I could have killed you! You could have died!"
"Oh, I was scared," Bolin admitted without difficulty. "I was terrified, and so were Mako and Asami. But…it was more important to me that you were okay. I didn't want to see you like that."
Korra's face contorted into a visage of confusion.
"But, why?" she pressured.
"Because!" he started off strong, but then lingered. "Because…"
He looked up and away from her pressuring eyes, tapping his index fingers together in thought about how he should put this. Was it really not obvious to her by now? They had been through a lot, and it even occurred to him that between any other member of the team, he and Korra had clocked many more hours together. Yes, it was true many of those hours were spent training and becoming better Earthbenders under former Chief Bei Fong's advice, but that was still quality time he always had enjoyed. And he always expressed his feelings in a way he thought was more obvious than a dark cloud on a sunny afternoon sky. But, if she insisted…
"It's because I…I care about you," he decided to not come off too strongly, even if what he said now did not quite express how he felt at all. What he said still made Korra perk up, her eyes wide with surprise and she was silent. Surely she could not argue this.
"I don't like seeing you all down on yourself or about anything. It's very unlike you," he continued. "You're so strong and independent. You showed those guys who was boss, you did. They ran away with their tails between their legs."
He paused, seeing Korra had lowered her head and her gaze had shifted to the ground beneath the steps. However, a smile had crept onto her face. It was small, but smiles were something Bolin was accustomed to finding. He took advantage of it.
"And did I mention you were pretty?"
Korra's smile widened and a small laugh escaped her.
"Hah! I made you laugh! I win," Bolin exclaimed, sitting up straight and putting on his grin of success, figuratively patting himself on the back.
"You always make me laugh," Korra corrected him. "Especially when I need it the most."
"That's what I'm here for. I'm your feel-good one-man army," Bolin responded, flashing her a grin and flexing his right arm. Suddenly his side was not hurting anymore. That, or he did not feel it.
"So," Bolin continued, lingering on the word. Korra looked up and focused on him.
"How would you like to go out to dinner with me, kinda like a date-thing," he asked, not letting his sudden nervousness get the better of him. H e was cool and smooth about it, like he always was. He knew how to get what he wanted, contrary to popular belief.
"Okay," Korra agreed, her smile was there to stay. "But, maybe after you're completely healed."
Bolin sighed, and said, "Deal."
Looking down at the pebbles and sand beneath his feet, he did not realize Korra get closer to him until she touched his far cheek and planted a small kiss on the other. He could feel his face heat up and his body become tense. He was cool under his own accord, but he never expected this. Not in a hundred years. He was speechless, but a wide, dreamy smile spread across his face as he watched her walk back to her own sleeping quarters.
"You know what," he called to her, "Make it for tomorrow! I feel better already."