dedication: to Lenny for not giving up on me yet. also all you guys, because shit, let's be santa.
notes: so I was listening to music in the car again…
notes2: I SWEAR THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY.
title: sweater song
summary: Dead Avatars destroy the best of us. — Bolin/Jinora.
Korra dies like doused fire flickering out of existence and into smoke, gone before any of them can blink. It's fast, too fast—they bring her body back, and she's bent and broken in places that should not be bent and broken. Her spine doesn't look right. She's all quiet, and everything is wrong.
Korra dies, and the whole world changes.
Jinora remembers the blood all over Mako's hands, remembers the way Bolin shakes. Remembers the way her father goes white in the face and clings to her mother.
Jinora is eleven, and she understands death.
Ikki is eight, and doesn't. Her sister is quiet for once, slipping around the adults to touch Korra's arm. Jinora watches as her sister calculates, measures—she rocks back and forth on the tips of her toes. The adults talk over their heads.
"Why isn't Korra moving? Is she okay? Why is she so cold? Mommy, why isn't she moving?"
Everyone is quiet and horrified. Pema kneels down and pulls her sister away from their Avatar, whispering fast and urgent into her hair.
But Jinora knows that voice.
Her mother is trying to make it easier.
It isn't, though.
Jinora dips her head down, clenches her hands into fists at her sides and presses her lips together. She knows what comes next, she knows how this goes, because she's read books and she knows what happens when people die.
They're going to put her on a boat and send her out to sea. That's how the Water Tribes say goodbye. All the Nations were different, but the Southern Water Tribe—they send their dead back to the ocean.
She stands between Mako's haunted eyes and Asami's stuttered breathing, perfectly still. Maybe she'll wake up. Maybe this is just a dream. Maybe it will be alright. Maybe Ikki won't be screaming and the skies won't be frozen and the Spirits will give her this—maybe the world will go back to spinning properly on its axis.
She doesn't realize she's crying until big hands brush against her cheeks and wipe the hot wet tears away. Bolin looks down at her, shoulders trembling.
Jinora buries her face in his stomach. She sobs once.
It breaks the levy, and Air Temple Island grieves.
That was ten years ago, and no one is over it yet.
Reublic City is a warzone on the good days and a wasteland on the bad—no one is safe, but the ferry doesn't run anymore. Air Temple Island is isolated, which is good if only because isolation presents its own sort of security. After all, the last Airbenders in the entire world live on this little rock in the middle of the ocean.
"I have to go."
"Are you crazy?!"
"We still haven't found the next Avatar, Jinora. I have to go," he sighs, frazzled. "No one else would blend in."
She wants to argue that he wouldn't blend in either—he's so pale, too pale, anyone from the Earth Kingdom would know right away that he doesn't belong, but—but—
But his eyes are green, and that alone is passage through the Earth Kingdom (or what's left of it, anyway).
Jinora winds her fingers convulsively into the hem of her shirt. "Can't you send someone else?"
"There isn't anyone else," he says gently. "I'll be back."
"That's what your brother said, too," Jinora replies, and Spirits, she hates herself sometimes. Because that's a low blow and they both know it. She stares at the floor; the grooves in the wood are old and worn deep from a thousand pairs of feet, soft and inoffensive.
Staring at the floor is easier than facing up to what she just said. Jinora cringes into herself, flinching away from her own spite with her shoulder up to her ear as she turns an inch away.
Bolin breathes out through his nose.
Then suddenly he's in close, chin plunked on top of her head; he loops around her, and he's so, so big—she feels eleven again, hiding her face in his stomach to block out the image of a dead-sister Avatar and a horror-stricken family.
Sometimes, Jinora misses Korra so much it hurts.
"It won't be long," he murmurs into her hair. "I'll write. Promise."
"Don't get hurt," she says into his chest. Everything hurts and she's blinking back tears because—because—because she's lost so much; she can't lose him, too.
"This winter's going to be cold," Bolin says.
"Hold on to this for me, will you?"
Bolin slides his jacket off and drapes it over her head. It settles there easy around her face, and she peeks up at him, wide-eyed. Bolin's jacket was Mako's jacket, once, stretched and patched and worn soft, and no one ever touches it.
"I know you hate the weather," Bolin grins. "You'll be okay until I get back."
Jinora looks down, tucks her hair behind her ears and pulls a ribbon away—
—his lips hot against her cheek for the barest second as she scrabbles at his wrist—
And then he's gone. The door closes behind him, and it hurts, it does. Air is her element. She's supposed to be the one who leaves.
But Jinora doesn't.
She doesn't even have the chance to say goodbye. Her hair is in her eyes, strangely-lopsided and she brushes it away, fingers slow and methodic.
He's got her hair-tie around his wrist.
Jinora breathes in, and smiles with her eyes closed.
The window is open and the air is cold.
Things could be worse, she thinks.
But a month goes by.
Jinora watches the season change with Bolin's jacket wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Things begin again and again. By the third week, the scent of his cologne's all but disappeared, but she doesn't take it off. It is armor, and it is armor she needs.
Republic City is all glass-shatter edges, and she needs all the padding she can get.
But the letter never comes.
She tries not to let it get to her.
Instead, she submerges herself in books; ancient tales of knights and princesses and Fire Lords and Water Tribe peasants who fell in love when they shouldn't have. She submerges in lore and myth, drinking the words down 'til she chokes on the letters, 'til she dreams of letters—in her dreams, they wage wars with punctuation, and when they bleed, they bleed ink instead of blood. It spills all over the canvas of her nightmares, and Jinora wakes up sweating and shaking.
Those are the nights she slips into Ikki's bed. Her sister is a dizzy mess of guerilla fighter most of the time, but the nighttime is still the time of little-girl things, and they whisper back and forth about dreams and dancing on the wind.
The past is a topic that they don't touch.
They talk instead of sleep, and when the sun comes up, Jinora watches her sister skate across the water on wide slats of solid air.
Neither says goodbye.
Jinora pulls Bolin's jacket tighter around her shoulders, and goes back inside.
notes3: it is 2AM don't you dare judge me.