Tenzin guided Mako and Korra across the docks and onto the ferry, guiding the crates they were carrying with light Airbending taps. The sun was hanging high above their heads as they finally slid the crates onto their respective pallets on the ferry. "That's the last of the supplies for Air Temple Island," said Mako. "Except for Bolin's."
"Right here," said Bolin, carrying Pabu in one arm and a small cloth bag in the other. "And I've brought lunch for everyone." he said cheerfully.
Korra sighed. "Bolin, what were you doing back there? We could have finished fifteen minutes ago. My arms are killing me." She flopped down next to the crate she had just loaded onto the ferry. "And how is all this stuff so heavy?" she asked Tenzin I thought the Acolytes grew everything on the island."
"Not all - we need other raw materials to stay functioning. And we have three, very hungry new members on the island."
"Oh, come on Mr. Tenzin," said Bolin, "We can't have had that much of an impact."
"Bo," said Mako, "Last night you ate more Tofu than the airbending kids do in a week."
"Fine," said Bolin. "You want me to help?"
Bolin set down his groceries and walked over to the box Mako had been carrying. He picked up his brother and threw him onto the box, then lifted the box and moved it across the ferry, to where the excess cargo had been loaded for storage. "There," he said as he placed Mako's box on top of a second box. "Happy?"
With a huff Bolin stormed towards the stern of the ship. How dare Mako accuse him of being lazy. And in front of Korra and Tenzin! Sure, Mako was older and traditionally had to do the majority of the work and make the majority of the decisions, but that didn't mean Bolin was incapable of doing anything. If he had just been given a chance a couple more times, then maybe-
A hand touched his shoulder. Bolin turned to see Korra's blue eyes looking up at him. "Hey," she said, "You alright?"
"I'm fine," Bolin said, although his tone betrayed him.
"No, you aren't," she said.
"Yes, I am. Mako and I are always like this. It's fine."
Korra sighed. "Whatever. And hey," she punched him in the arm. "That was pretty cool, how easily you lifted the box. You're pretty strong, Bolin."
That comment sent Bolin on a daydream that lasted the remainder of the ferry ride. He imagined, simply, that Korra forgot about Mako and and started pining after him. And slowly, he'd take her in and show her how good of a person he was and then they'd-
Somehow, he was carrying three boxes and walking alongside Jinora when he came to. They were alone, and she was asking him a question. "Sorry?" he asked.
"How long have you liked Korra?" She asked.
Bolin almost dropped the boxes. How had she known? Did he accidentally tell her? Was he talking in his day-dreaming? How...
"You wear your intentions on your face like a giant sign," Jinora said.
And now she can read minds! He thought. "Uh," he said aloud, "How do you figure that?"
"By the way you looked at her as she walked off the ferry. With Mako."
"Geez, you're really perceptive, you know that?"
Jinora smiled. "Thanks. I've been practicing."
She held up the book that she had been holding. 'The Mind of Humanity'? What's that about.
"It's about people," she said, tucking the book under her arm again. "People and how their minds work."
"That sounds like complicated stuff."
"It is. It's one of the hardest books I've ever read. But it's so good. It's like-" And here Bolin noticed that Jinora was turning into the ten-year-old that she actually was. "People are bound by rules. The same rules for everyone. They govern our behavior, and they can be used to predict future behavior."
"Predict people. That sounds a little like mind-reading. Hey - did you use that stuff on me?"
"What? No. You're just easy to read. But this book has a lot of rules that help. There are so many things that are obvious now, because of the book. But I don't get to see a lot of new people because I can't go off-island by myself, so I can't test this stuff out."
At that moment, a smile came over her. Not an evil smile, but a smile of one who just intercepted a brilliant idea. Bolin knew that smile, and knew the power it held. "Hey," said Jinora, "Why don't you try out this stuff?"
"Me?" They had reached the drop-off area, and Jinora guided Bolin behind a tree after he had set the boxes down.
"Yeah," she said, looking eager and talking more quickly. "You like Korra. But Korra doesn't like you back. This book talks about how to get people to like you, or, a better way to put it: the book talks about how to get people to realize that they like you. What if we see if my book works?"
"Eh, I don't know." Bolin stretched his arms. "Don't a lot of books that claim they can do stuff like that turn out to be full of baloney?"
"Sure, but this one's backed up by science and research."
"Even if it is," Bolin said, "Wouldn't that be mean to Korra? Manipulating her like that?"
"It's not manipulating," Jinora protested.
"It's getting someone to be how you want them to be. That's manipulating."
"Fine. But even if it is, no one walks away unhappy. You're happy because Korra likes you, Korra's happy because she'll stop chasing Mako because she'll start chasing you, and I'll be happy because I'll get to see if my book works or not. Please?" And Jinora looked at him with pleading eyes.
Bolin sighed. "I need to think about it. This sounds really risky. I like that we're friends."
"It is. But I like this kind of risky - not physical risky. Mentally risky." She smiled to herself. "Give me an answer by dinner, okay?"
A nod. They shook hands and went their separate ways.
Bolin spent the next several hours helping the Acolytes around the temple, digging drainage ditches and thinking. He did like Korra enough, but he wasn't sure that he wanted to start any 'relationship' they might have with him manipulating her into it. That seemed wrong. He also thought about how strong and smart and pretty she was. She was an amazing girl, one that most guys would kill to date.
And she was being wasted on Mako.
Bolin raised an eyebrow as that thought floated through his head. He followed it. Korra was wasting her time with Mako. Mako obviously liked Asami more than Korra, otherwise he would have broken things off with her by now and started being with the Avatar. And they were both suffering from it - Mako was being tortured by her allure and the allure of Asami pulling on him at the same time, and Korra was stressing out over something that wasn't hers to 'take'.
If Bolin made this move, he would be helping both of them.
And maybe this could go further. Bolin could maybe help her out with her Avatar problems, as well as alleviate some of the stress that came with being the Avatar.
"I've decided," he said to Jinora after cleaning up and meeting her at dinner, "That I want to try."
Jinora clapped her hands and opened the book. She had annotated a chapter and had with her some notes scribbled on scraps of paper. Bolin found her script adorable. "Alright," she said, "Here's how we're going to do this..."
Korra pulled at her bicep again. It was still strained from carrying that extra box two days ago, and her healing was generating a less-than-speedy recovery. She cursed her arm for not being strong enough, then went back to her stretches.
Her stomach growled. The sun was high in the sky, and Korra expected that one of the Acolytes would be calling lunch soon. In fact, she could probably intercept what was cooking from where she was sitting. She sniffed the air. Sea prunes.
Immediately, Korra' memory went into overdrive. She was little, no more than five, and her mom had given her her first batch of stewed sea prunes. She fell in love with the dish, and it became a weekly thing for years. When she was in the compound, her mom would send her some whenever she could. It was a godsend and a letter from her parents without words. Korra could always tell how her parents were doing by the contents of the sea prunes. Who on earth was making that food, the mana of her childhood, her home? She got up and ran to the dining hall. She stopped at the door, dumbfounded.
Bolin, with an intensity usually reserved for teaching Pabu new tricks, was stirring a pot that was littered with the purple fruits. Her mouth watered and her stomach begged her to steal the pot and consume it all. Bolin didn't have a cookbook or anything - he was making the stuff from memory? "Bolin," she said, her voice cracking slightly as more memories of the South Pole came back to her.
He turned. "Hey Korra. It's almost ready." He mixed a bit of seaweed into the pot (Just like mom used to), and took it off of the stove. He poured a bowl for each other them, and handed the other to Korra. He watched as she took a sip. She sighed and leaned against the counter. "Spirits," she said, "Now that's good food. Bolin, how on earth did you learn how to make this?"
"A magician never reveals his secrets," he said, winking. "But I did have help, yeah. I just wanted to do something nice for you. I figured, what's the one thing Korra probably needs right now?: A piece of home. Is it good?"
Korra nodded, restraining herself from shoveling the entire bowl into her mouth. "It's amazing. Thank you so much." She set down her bowl and hugged him tightly. "This means a lot to me."
"No problem," he said. "You can go ahead and eat now - I can see how hungry you are." He smiled.
Korra sat down and began to scarf down her bowl as Bolin fixed himself a sandwich. It was only after the fourth bowl that Korra was able to pull herself away. She waved goodbye as she went to take a nap while Bolin preserved the rest of the dish. He started to whistle to himself.
"So I'm assuming it went well?"
Bolin almost dropped the pan he was cleaning. "Geez," he said, turning around and facing a smiling Jinora. "You Airbending kids are stealth masters, you know that?"
Jinora bowed. "Why thank you. So how did it go?" She jumped up to the counter, assisted by a small puff of air.
"It went well. She seemed to enjoy it. Y'know, I actually didn't have any of this stuff." He took out a clean spoon and sipped some of the stew. Immediately, he gagged and dropped the spoon onto the floor. "Oh man," he said, coughing, "It's horrible!"
"The book I pulled the recipe from said that it was an acquired taste."
"Yeah, no kidding. So now what?"
"Now we keep going." she said, thinking to herself. "I'm going to go talk to Korra, gain some information for the next part. Stay handsome, big guy." She hopped off of the counter and made for the girl's dormitories.
Bolin rolled his eyes as he kept scrubbing the pot. She was a crazy kid.
Korra was dozing off, her belly full of happiness, just as there was a soft knock on her door. She groaned. "Go away," she said, her voice thick with a desire to just sleep.
"It's Jinora," said the voice on the other side of the door.
Korra sighed, then got up and opened the door. It was Jinora, looking... confused? That was weird. "What's up?" asked Korra, crossing her arms and leaning against the door frame. "You alright?"
"Yeah," she was clutching a book to her chest, like always. "I just had a couple questions. It's about this book I'm reading - I thought it was about something else, but it's about mushy love stuff instead." She stuck her tongue out.
"So why don't you just stop reading it?"
Jinora shrugged. "It got kind of interesting after a while. But I need your help understanding something."
"Alright. I'm not much of a reader, but shoot."
"Well, the main character's a girl, and she a pretty, popular girl that everyone likes. She's kind of like you actually," she said thoughtfully. "Anyway, my question is: What do girls find attractive in guys? Like romantically."
Korra was slightly thrown off by the question. "You're asking me? Jinora, I grew up in a compound. I don't know anything about guys. Why don't you ask Asami?"
"I already know Asami's answer - someone like Mako, right? Otherwise they wouldn't be going out."
"Well, I guess."
"I just want a second opinion. You have to have some idea of what you like, right?"
"Great! Now what is it?"
Korra thought about it for a moment. "Well," she started, "The guy should be taller than you. But not crazy tall. A little bit's enough."
"And I think the guy should be strong. Both physically and mentally. I respect guys that can hold their own. And he needs to be sweet."
"Like, he needs to not just be a brute. He needs to be able to have emotions and stuff, y'know? He needs to care about what's happening around him. I hate it when the guy in the story doesn't care about the girl. But he needs to be tough, too. He needs to know how to stand up to the girl when he's right. I respect that."
"Yeah, okay. What about specific physical qualities? For example The main guy the girl's interested in has green eyes."
Korra smiled. "I like green eyes. You don't get to see a lot of green in the South Pole, and there's something about them, I don't know."
"Wait," Jinora said, "Didn't you just describe Bolin?"
"What?" Korra said a little too loudly. "No I didn't?"
"I think you did. He's taller than you and stronger and really nice and has green eyes. That what you said you like."
"Well I- You- He's not stronger than me! Go away!" And she slammed the door in Jinora's face.
Jinora smiled to herself as she walked back to the dormitory. "Success," she said to Bolin, who was getting ready to practice earthbending before his session with Korra. "The seeds of doubt have been planted."
"Okay. Anything interesting?"
"Actually, just be yourself. She's doing some of the work now. Don't let it on that you're playing any tricks or anything. Be charming and patient, and she'll be in your arms in no time."
Bolin nodded, slipping off his shoes. "Got it."
Over the next few days, Bolin bent over backwards to adhere to Jinora's plan. Cooking lunch became a daily occurrence, each time some traditional South Pole food, and a couple times some traditional Earth Kingdom food to mix things up. By the second week, she was helping him cook, adding in some twists that she said her mother did when she was a kid.
Bolin also nearly killed himself in their earthbending training sessions. He pulled every trick he had ever seen in the pro-bending circuit, as well as some new ones, and he almost always beat Korra in their sparring matches. Korra said the first couple times that it was because earth was her least favorite element, but slowly the annoyance of losing constantly got to her, and again, by the end of the second week of Bolin and Jinora's 'experiment' the two of them were performing a ballet of earthbending daily. Even the Air Acolytes started to watch the impressive display that the two presented whenever they went head to head.
Jinora had warned Bolin not to poke around for signs that what he was doing was working, that they would present themselves, often unexpectedly. Bolin took her words in faith.
Korra and Bolin were having a particularly heated match on the first day of the third week. The majority of the Acolytes, as well as Tenzin, Asami and Mako, and Pema, were watching as Korra laid into Bolin. Bolin took all of her hits, and dealt some of his own. After a while Korra's hair was down, and she looked pissed. "When did you get so good?" she shouted at him.
Bolin shrugged, dodging the pellets of rock she had shot at him. His demeanor changed when he taught Earthbending – he became more serious and like a teacher. "Widen your stance a little," he said. "I could easily knock you to the ground right now."
"Then why don't you?"
Bolin was about to say something, but then he remembered what Jinora had said. He shifted his foot and a pocket of earth came up from behind Korra and hit her in the leg. The force of the impact broke her stance, and that's when Bolin let loose. He started barraging her with rock after rock, quick attacks that he knew she had trouble defending against. She held out, but she started to slip, and Bolin knocked it up a notch. Soon Korra was on her knees, in a turtle stance, holding her forearms up to her face and letting the rocks hit her. Bolin had her.
Until Korra dispelled his attacks with a blast of heat. She started hitting him back with fire and earthbending simultaneously, yelling with each attack. She was angry, Bolin noted.
But she broke the rules of the one-on-one training Mako and Bolin had set up. She wasn't allowed to bend outside the element being focused on.
So Bolin took her attacks, using some of the traditional moves Korra had taught him to take the blows with minimal damage to himself. He waited.
The barrage lasted a couple minutes, and by the end Korra was burnt out. Bolin took this change and, with a few deft moves, knocked Korra over and pinned her arms and legs to the ground with rocks. His last move launched him and landed him over Korra, one knee on her chest, fists pointed at her.
Korra's blue eyes were filled with anger, still, but also... respect? Bolin disregarded it. "You know better than to do that," he whispered, leaning close. "We're done for today. I'll see you later."
He stood up and released Korra. She stood up and brushed herself off, panting. "What the hell was that?" she cried after him. "Bolin!"
Bolin didn't say anything, just kept walking away. He looked briefly over at Jinora. She gave the tiniest of nods.
Mako met up with Bolin as he was taking off his sparring gear. "Hey," said Mako, "What happened?"
"She was complaining about not being challenged by me a couple weeks ago, so I've been making her lessons more difficult. She hasn't been taking it too well."
"Huh," he said, "Maybe I should do the same. But man, that was some insane earthbending."
"I've been on a roll for a while. It's been good." And he smiled at his brother. "I've been feeling good, y'know? About everything."
Mako nodded. "Well, good job, bro. Finally showing the Avatar that she's not the best at freaking everything."
"Sure. Just don't mention this to her. She doesn't need it."
"Alright, fine." Mako left, dodging something. "Oh, hey Jinora."
Jinora returned his greeting and ran in to hug Bolin. Bolin motioned Mako to leave. He did.
Bolin held Jinora at arm's length. "Was that good?"
"Good? That was fantastic! That could not have gone better."
"Because she- ah, if I tell you I might ruin it. I'm just going to say that I think we're close here."
Bolin smiled. "Good. And hey, thanks so much for helping me here."
"Helping? Bolin, you've been doing most of the work without me telling you too. You're wooing her all by herself."
"Still, you helped."
"I did, I guess," she said, "Oh, and fantastic Earthbending, by the way. Where did you learn those moves? You were like a pro-bending master!" She imitated a couple of the punches he had done. Bolin laughed.
Jinora stopped, realizing what she was doing. She composed her self. "We're close," she said, her voice calm. "You're close, I mean." She ran out. Bolin sighed and dried his face off with a towel, then headed off for the showers.
Korra was brushing Naga when a knock came from the door. She set down the brush and opened the door. Asami stood in front of the doorway. "Hey," she said, "Can I come in?"
Korra nodded and let her in. She went back to brushing Naga's back while Asami sat down on Korra's bed. "Are you okay?" she asked after a couple moments.
"I'm fine," Korra said neutrally. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, you seemed a little angry during the sparring, and-"
"You were there?"
"Yes, along with almost everyone else on the island."
Korra didn't respond at first. She honestly didn't feel like talking about it. "But Bolin," Asami said, and Korra stopped brushing Naga's hair.
"What about Bolin?" Korra asked.
"He's gotten really good at Earthbending," Asami said, "He wasn't even that good during the normal Probending season. I don't know why, but ever since he moved to the island he's gotten fantastic."
"Whoop-de-do for him," said Korra. "Why don't we just make him the Avatar, then?"
"See?" said Asami, pointing, "I knew there was something wrong. What's up between you and Bolin?"
"Nothing," Korra said quickly. "We're just friends."
"I didn't ask what your two's relationship constituted, but since you brought it up, yeah, how are you and Bolin doing? It feels like you two have been spending more time together than usual."
"Have we?" Korra asked, even though she already knew the answer. Yesterday, he had said he was going to the markets to pick up some supplies for Pabu and Korra had asked if she could tag along. He said sure, and they spent a couple hours just messing around in the pet store. It was great, she admitted.
She regretted admitting that, even if it was to herself.
"Yeah," Asami continued. "It that becoming a problem between you two?"
"No, not at all. Bolin's great. He's pretty great." She didn't know what else to say.
"Mm. Okay then. It seems like you aren't going to say anything to me, so I'm going to drop it for now. But there's something here, Korra. I can sense it, and I will find out." Asami stood up and left the room.
Korra sighed to herself. Naga looked up at her and whined softly. "No, it's okay Naga," she said, hugging the polar bear-dog's muzzle. "I'm just a little confused right now. I kind of wish something big was happening now so I could take my mind off of him. But there isn't. So I don't know what to do."
She wished that something of that nature would happen. This confusion in her head was starting to get on her nerves.
"Jinora, I think I want to stop this experiment of yours."
"What?" Jinora exclaimed. "Why?"
"Well, look at Korra." Since the incident at the sparring arena the day before, Korra had been avoiding Bolin. At meals, at sparring practice (She couldn't make today's session because of a 'previous commitment'), even in the hallway she'd try to get out of his way as soon as possible. "I don't think she's happy right now."
"Well we haven't seen if this worked!" said Jinora.
"But it has, Jinora! Don't you see it? She's avoiding me in the same way she was being weird around Mako when they kissed."
"Don't mention I said that to anyone," he hissed. "Anyway, she's acting the same way. Your book worked, Jinora, but I was still right in saying this was a bad idea."
"But she likes you now. Wasn't that the goal?"
"Yes, but only if she was happy. She's obviously not, so I'm stopping. She's my friend first, and I don't want to hurt her anymore than I already have."
"Fine." said Jinora. "I guess I should say thanks for trying it out, at least. Most people don't like to listen to crazy ideas like that, much less try them."
"Hey," said Bolin, bending down to her eye level. "It's fine. You're a smart airbending kid. And I actually enjoyed hanging out with you as much as we have. Can we stay friends?"
Jinora thought it over, then nodded. They shook hands. "It's been a pleasure working with you, Mr. Bolin. Whoever ends up falling for you is a really lucky girl."
Bolin walked away from the tree they were standing under and up to the girl's dormitories, where Korra was getting ready for bed, most likely. He was going to go and apologize to Korra for everything he had 'done' to her. He wasn't going to indite Jinora - she was just a little girl looking to have some fun, and she got it, it seemed. He was going to say it was all him, and that he was sorry, and could they please stay friends.
A knock on her door. "Just a moment," came her voice from the other side. Bolin was surprised to find that he had stopped idolizing him like he had done when they first met. Huh, he thought, so I've learned something from all this.
The door opened. Korra stood there in pants and her bindings. Her hair was down and gorgeous, yet Bolin didn't make any reaction. The training he and Jinora went through had seeped into his subconscious. "Can we talk?" he said, his voice neutral and maintaining constant eye contact, never deviating to her body. Stay in control.
Korra looked confused, then nodded. She let him in, and he leaned against the wall next to her door. "Look," he said, "I-"
"No," she said, "Me first."
"Because I think I know what's going on here, said Korra, "With all of this." She motioned at him.
"What do you mean?" Jinora's original plan was that, if Korra got suspicious, deny everything. Let her believe that what she was feeling was genuine. Even though that was off, Bolin didn't think spilling everything now was a good idea.
"I mean you! You've just... transformed into someone different. I mean, you're the same funny, sweet Bolin I met a few months ago, but now you're just..."
"Korra, I'm exactly the same."
"No you're not. Have you looked at yourself lately? You've gained muscle. You look fantastic. Your bending is so powerful I'm surprised you're not a certified master. You can cook my entire childhood! When did you become so... so..."
And she stopped, blushing and holding one hand behind her head. Bolin noticed how her muscles gracefully curved around her body. She truly was beautiful.
"I think what I'm trying to say is that I have feelings for you," she said. "And I don't know why they came about now, but I have them, and I need to stop denying them because it's starting to hurt and-"
As she was saying this she was slowly walking closer and closer to Bolin. What was happening, he thought to himself.
"I know that you have feelings for me, the same ones you had back during the regular pro-bending season. That's why you've been doing all of this. And you're fantastic, Bolin, you really are. I-" Her face was now inches from his own, and he could feel the warmth and strength radiating from her body. Bolin tentatively put his hands on her hips, and she put her hands on his own. "I want to try this." she said. "Yes, I want to try this."
Bolin couldn't take it anymore. "No," he said, pushing her away.
Korra's smile faded. "What?"
And he explained everything. How she was right in that he did still like her, but that he was doing everything that he had done for the past two weeks to manipulate her into liking him back. And it had worked, and he was ashamed of what he had done, and that he was sorry and understood if she didn't want to be friends with her anymore.
Korra stood in front of him in silence. Bolin thought that she needed some time to think about what he said, so he started to make for the door.
She grabbed his arm. Bolin felt the strength and grace in her hand, and stopped. "What?" he asked.
Korra pulled him in for a hug. Bolin felt the air in his lungs being forced out, and he hugged her back. He broke the hug, holding her at arm's length. "What was that for?"
"That was for being sweet and honest." She punched him in the arm. "And that was for trying to play mind games with me."
"I don't understand," he said, rubbing his arm.
"Bolin, you're a great friend. And even thought what you did was kind of mean, I think it was sweet how much you were willing to do for me." She blushed. "But now I don't know where I lie with you. So... can we be friends until I figure this out?"
"Korra," said Bolin, "We could be friends forever, and it'd make me the happiest person in the world."
Korra hugged him again, and Bolin could feel the beginnings of an excellent relationship coming on.
Jinora was probably going to be pretty disappointed.