To say that Korra was irritated would be a colossal understatement. This whole night had been a nightmare. She wasn't one for all of this. The itchy dress, crowded ballroom, stiff greetings with people whose names she forgot before they even left her presence. And then there were the questions. The seemingly never-ending avalanche of questions being thrown her way. "How are you feeling Avatar Korra?" "How did you escape?" "Did you speak to Amon?" "Do you know the whereabouts of Tarrlok?" Tenzin did his best to ward off some of these questions, but there were still enough of them to annoy her.
I mean this was supposed to be a celebration! She had contacted the spirit world after all. She had also escaped not only a dangerous bloodbender, but Amon and his equalists as well. So why did she feel like celebrating was the last thing that she was doing; or that she wanted to do for that matter.
"I'm going to sit down for a bit… I'm feeling a little nauseous", she whispered to Tenzin, who raised an eyebrow but nodded his approval after an exaggerated pout on her end. It wasn't a complete lie. The constant talking, bright lights, and moving had given her a slight dizzy feeling; but mostly she was just tired of the mindless chatter she'd been a part of for the past two or so hours. Okay it wasn't completely mindless. It had just been… repetitive. Repetitive and stressful.
As she made her way back to her table she saw Bolin struggling to adjust his bowtie. She found this sight more humorous than she ought to have. It was nice to see some familiarity among the strangers she had been talking to all night. She maneuvered her way through the rest of the crowd, shaking some more hands, answering a question or two, and posing for a picture. She finally managed to escape and waltzed over to her friend.
"Having a little trouble there?" she asked with a smirk.
Bolin, having had all of his concentration consumed by this darn bowtie, looked up with a start nearly falling backwards in his chair. Korra, chuckling, grabbed one of his flailing arms before he fell completely.
"Scare you, did I?" Korra questioned him trying to stifle back the rest of her giggles.
Bolin's cheeks begin to flush. "Me? Nooo. It's just that uh… my bowtie was too tight so I tried to loosen it up but I undid it completely and I've never had to tie one before and Mako tied mine tonight and I can't find him anywhere so I tried to do it myself and I think I almost got it but then…" Bolin's little rant drifted off as Korra bent down and started to fuss with it herself.
"There." She said smoothing out his shirt with a smile. "It's not perfect, but it should hold the rest of the evening. As long as you don't keep fiddling with it."
Bolin looked down incredulously. He had been trying to get the bowtie to stay for a little over an hour now, and Korra came along and fixed it in less than a minute.
"Thanks! I didn't think you'd know anything about that" Bolin looked at her with grateful eyes as she got up to sit in the chair next to him.
"I watched Tenzin show Mako earlier. Where did you think he learned how to do it?" she asked with a small knowing smile.
"I, uh, didn't really think about it." Bolin told her as he scratched his head thoughtfully. "Boy, you guys sure have been great to us. I mean giving me and Mako our own rent-free room on Air Temple Island! Who woulda thought? Even Pabu is living it up. He's practically doubled his weight feeding off of Pema's dumplings alone! In the attic we mostly ate cabbage. It's nice to have some filling dumplings once in a while. My favorite kinds are…"
Korra found it hard to concentrate on what her earthbending friend was saying. Her mind was clouded, and it had been ever since her encounter with Tarrlok, Amon, and the spirit world. She could hardly eat a breakfast without zoning out now. How was she defeated by one man? She was the Avatar. Bloodbender or not she should have won that match. If she wasn't thinking about Tarrlok, it was Amon. How many times was he going to come this close to catching her? What happens when her luck runs out? Why did she feel like she couldn't do anything right? That question only led her to thoughts of airbending. How was she even supposed to call herself the Avatar if she couldn't airbend? Questions. She couldn't escape them; even in her own mind. She had gone through little to no breakthroughs back at home with Tenzin. Every time she tried to meditate if her thoughts weren't preoccupied by any of those problems, they drifted off to Mak- Korra snapped back to reality as Bolin started to gesture wildly.
"So then a huge wild dragonmoose jumped out at me! But he was no match for BOLIN. I fought him with my bare hands!" he said while imitating a wrestling move.
"Great story, Bo," Korra said giving a hearty laugh, happy to have a distraction from her brooding thoughts. Bolin beamed; completely unaware of the fact that Korra had spent the vast majority of the conversation lost in her own thoughts. Even the smallest compliment from Korra was enough to get his heart pumping. But they were just friends and she had made that clear enough. Time to change the topic.
"Thanks! Mako actually tells it loads better than I can," he admitted sheepishly. "Speaking of which, have you seen him tonight? I lost him almost the moment we came in."
There was yet another question Korra didn't want to have to deal with, but another one that she had too been wondering about.
"Oh he's probably just, you know, off with Asami", she told him trying not to let the hurt in her voice show. She stole a quick glance at him to see if he had noticed. She didn't think he had.
Bolin hadn't because he had been too preoccupied thinking about the night they found Korra. Why had he told Asami about the kiss? Mako would have told her sooner or later. He had no place in this. Not that the kiss meant anything anyway. Korra and his brother were just friends too, right? Not that he believed any of this, but Mako had tried to make all of these points very clear when he found out that Bolin had told her. Bo didn't mean any harm to his brother, Asami, or anyone else for that matter. He was just never a very good liar, and was a sucker for a pretty face. So when Asami came around asking questions… what was he supposed to do?
The brothers hadn't really had a chance to work things out yet. It had been last week, the night they found Korra, when Bolin told Mako about his conversation with Asami. Korra was set to rest in her room for the night and Bolin's conscience was weighing heavily on his shoulders. Mako had seemed angry at first. They had a small argument but the events from the night had worn them out and neither one wanted to continue. They fell asleep and when Bolin woke up Mako was gone. Since then Mako had successfully been avoiding Bolin and Korra the same.
Korra noticed the lack of Mako around too. She vaguely remembered him being there when she woke up on Naga. His soft embrace had made her feel safer than she had felt since arriving at Republic City. Throughout her short recovery the night she came back, she thought she saw him there by her bedside. Pulling up the blankets around her when she got cold, stroking her hair, whispering that everything would be okay. But by the time daylight came and she woke up, she realized it had only been a dream. The disappointment that overcame her with that realization had formed a huge lump in her throat at the time, and she felt it coming back up as she thought about it now.
Bolin glanced over at Korra, surprised to see she looked as if she were on the verge of tears. He then realized that they had been sitting in silence for the past 15 or so minutes, lost in their own separate worries. He didn't know what was on Korra's mind but he knew he wanted to get her to forget it, even if it was just for tonight. This was her night to relax. Any problems they had could wait until morning. He looked around the building they were in and had an idea.
Bolin put his hands on his knees and jumped out of his chair.
"Get up. We're gonna have some fun", he said with a mischievous smile and offered his hand out to her.
Korra looked at him skeptically. The lump in her throat began to disappear. Fun. She seemed to have forgotten what the word meant. Bolin looked at her expectantly wiggling his fingers as if to remind her it was still there. Fun. She took his hand and he pulled her up to her feet with ease.
"What kind of fun, Bo?"
Bolin looked around to make sure nobody was listening. He leaned in close to Korra's ear and when he was sure nobody was around to hear he whispered
"Hide and Go Seek"
Korra erupted into laughter. Hide and Go Seek? This was Bolin's idea of fun. She hadn't played that since she was just a little toddler back with Naga at the water tribe.
Bolin's eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Don't you want to play? You seem really weighed down recently, and this 'party'" Bolin gestured backwards with his thumb. "Doesn't seem to be cheering you up any. Come on, it'll be great!"
Korra's eyes were still smiling as she considered his suggestion.
"I mean, unless you're scared." He added on with a smirk.
"Oh you're on" she declared with a grin. Bolin knew just what to say to get her to accept. She had never been one to turn down a challenge.
Bolin, still holding onto her hand started leading her to a glass door that lead out to the courtyard. Korra was giggling like a schoolgirl. Bolin slowly opened the door, as to not draw any attention to themselves. He led Korra out and looked over his shoulder one last time to make sure they weren't seen, and then shut the door behind her blocking out the loud music. Smiling he walked over to Korra who was looking around the atrium. He joined in her awe.
"Wow…" he said in a whisper.
"This is beautiful!" she exclaimed.
Bolin nodded in silent agreement. They took a few minutes to walk around and admire the architecture. There were tall rock column arches every 20 or so feet that provided support for the second story. There were also huge marble benches scattered randomly throughout the open area, with large potted plants on either side. In the center of the huge square was a pool big enough that a baby elephant-koi was swimming carelessly around in it. There were also huge statues of various past political figures, including Avatar Aang. Plenty of great hiding spots Korra noted.
She and Bolin walked to the far end of the opening and up the stairs. The second story was just a walkway around the perimeter, hardly big enough for two people to walk side by side without bumping into each other, looking over the opening. There were dozens of doors on either side of the walkway.
Walking back down the stairs Bolin began to talk, eager to begin, "Okay now that we've scoped out the place I think it's time to establish the rules."
"Rules?" Korra asked arching an eyebrow. "What do you mean rules?"
"Oh you know. Like uh… no going back inside of the ballroom! And ummmm… no peeking. You have to count to 30 with your eyes shut tight." Bolin exclaimed.
Korra gave a friendly roll of her eyes. "Okay okay, are we done with the rules? I wanna play already"
Bolin struggled to think of anything he wanted to say but couldn't think of anything. "Alright," he said grinning. "Let's do it. I'll start counting."
1… 2… 3…
Korra ran off in the opposite direction of Bolin's counting. She already had her hiding spot in mind. She quietly climbed up a statue of an earthbender holding a bowl over his head.
15… 16… 17…
She was at least 15 feet in the air by the time she crouched into the bowl. There was no way Bolin would find her up here.
26… 27… 28…
She started to smile to herself as Bolin finished his countdown. She slid down deeper into the bowl making sure her head wasn't visible over the edge; it was a tight fit.
"READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!" The booming voice bounced of the empty walls.
Korra wondered if anyone inside would hear him. She doubted it as even without the band playing, the voices of the people talking at once would be loud enough to-
"Gotcha" whispered Bolin as she saw his eyes poke up above the rim of the bowl.
"B- b- but… how did you find me so quick?" she asked obviously upset, infamous pout starting to form on her lips.
Bolin let out a laugh as he offered a hand to help her out of the cramped hiding spot.
"I should have mentioned I'm practically a professional Hide and Seek player", he said with a smug look. "Oh and there was this little hint."
Korra looked to where he was pointing. Hitting her forehead with her palm she grabbed the ribbon of her dress that was hanging over the side of the bowl. Reasons like this were why she preferred her normal getup to these fancy clothes.
Bolin started giving out a (very manly) giggle. Korra looked up at him, a smile already starting to pull at her lips. Full blown laughter was soon emitting from both of them. Korra still squished in her bowl, and Bolin, now, sitting on the earthbender's head. Korra beginning to calm down from her laughing fit, looked up at Bolin who was still laughing that great laugh of his. She was happy that he had suggested this. She knew Tenzin would be furious if he found out that she had dipped out of a party thrown in her honor at all; let alone for a children's game. Yet the way that she felt right now with Bolin, was enough to make that future chastising seem miniscule.
It wasn't until Bolin gave a nervous cough did she realize how intensely she had been staring at him. She felt color rise up in her cheeks. She suddenly felt very self-conscious sitting in this silly position.
"Do you, uh, mind helping me ou-out of here?" Korra stammered trying to clear her throat that apparently had dried in the last 5 minutes.
Bolin looked at Korra suspiciously. What had happened that would make her look so flustered and in a hurry to get away from him? Nevertheless he helped her scramble out of the bowl.
Korra did want to get away from him. She had tried this with Bolin before and it didn't work. She was the one that broke his heart; so why were these feelings just deciding to arise now? Bolin was staring at her now. Oh Agni he knows what she's thinking.
Bolin looked at Korra. She was tensing up again. He sighed. He was disappointed that he couldn't get her to forget her Avatar duties for even an hour and have fun.
Korra looked up as Bolin sighed. Her thoughts began racing. 'Spirits. He's going to lecture me now. Tell me that he no longer thinks of me that way. That way. What is that way? Do I think of him in a certain way? No. Just a friend. A friend that has been there for me when a certain brother of this friend wasn't.'
Ah, so this is what it's all about. Bolin being there for her when Mako wasn't. Mako, who only wanted to get to know her once he found out she was the Avatar. Mako, the one who not only didn't return her feelings, but rather pushed her away when she told him how she felt. Mako, the one who ran threatened to cut her from his life when she told him the truth about his girlfriend's father.
And then there was Bolin. Bolin, who had started talking to her before he found out who she was. Bolin, who forgave her even after she broke his heart. Bolin, who stood by her side no matter what she was going through. Bolin, who was standing in front of her right this second trying to cheer her up. Bolin, whose eyes she was falling into.
Bolin was staring at Korra now. He was used to her getting lost in her own thoughts, but this felt different. She wasn't staring out into the distance. She wasn't looking through him to some other world that existed purely in her head. She was looking at him. Not just at him but into his eyes. And as much as his head told him this was wrong, he stared back almost hypnotized in the vast oceans of blue he was looking into.
Korra's sudden realization was overwhelming. How could she have been so stupid? So… cliché. Of course a reckless, stubborn teenage girl would go for the older, brooding, handsome jerk. She saw Bolin as a sidekick. A real life comic relief. She never even stopped to actually consider a future with him. Her heart was tugging at her, telling her she didn't really feel this way. But for once she decided to listen to her brain. 'Bolin is perfect.' It told her. 'Notice how much more relaxed you are around him.' That was true. Around Bolin she seemed to forget all of her troubles and worries. She had fun.
The two of them had been staring at each other with the absence of sound for a few minutes now, however, neither noticed. They were both swirling around in their own thoughts.
All at once a turtle-duck hopped into the large pool in the middle of the courtyard with a splash. The abrupt noise made both parties jump slightly as they came crashing back to reality. Korra and Bolin both flushed and turned away from each other.
After a few seconds, true to his nature, Bolin was first to try to relieve some of the tension that had been building up between them. "Sooooooooooo, uh, is there something um," Bolin tried to think of the right words to say while rubbing the back of neck. "Something you wanted to talk about? I mean I know I promised a good time but you, uh, just looked very um… lost in thought there for a second. I was just-"
Korra cut off his babbling by pulling his head in close to hers. She looked up at him one more time as if to ask permission and he permitted it by gently placing his lips on hers. They stayed like that for a few seconds. Bolin then wrapped his muscular arms around her waist and pulled her in closer to him. Korra decided to take it a step further. She slightly parted her lips and brushed his with the tip of her tongue. He responded back to her in the same manner. Feeling his tongue collide with hers filled her stomach with butterflies. Soon they were both exploring every inch of each other's mouths with a strong need for each other. Then he stopped. So suddenly Korra was still making the motions in the air as he pulled away. Her eyes popped open as she closed her mouth and blushed.
Bolin, obviously flustered, seemed to look everywhere except Korra.
"I- I'm sorry Korra. I shouldn't have done that. You're obviously not thinking straight. I mean, Mako is the one you love, right?" Bolin asked with a nervous giggle.
This was one question that Korra happened to know the answer to, and she answered him by embracing him with a kiss. Although it was more tender and cautious than the first, Bolin got the message. Smiling he lifted her off the ground in a hug.
The couple twirled around in courtyard laughing, completely unaware of a figure looking at them from the balcony above. The figure turned around, red scarf flapping in the wind, and walked back into the room he wished he hadn't come out of. He watched as his now ex-girlfriend wiped the running mascara off of her cheeks.
"I hope you're happy with her, Mako" she said with a sad smile, oblivious to what he had just seen outside. With those words she walked out to the hallway leading to the ballroom, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
Sitting alone with his head in his hands and hot tears streaming down his face, Mako thought about what he had just seen.