Oh the City Lights
By L. M. Boulevardes
The question is not why, Korra wants to say, but rather why not?
Once-upon-a-time, there were things in Korra's life that made her feel safe. Granted she didn't feel threatened terribly often, but when she did she knew exactly what to do and who to turn to. She knew that when she was upset her mother would make her favorite dishes and her father would let her have the best skins, no asking required. She knew that she could go to Katara's house and talk with her mentor or sit in silence with her or practice some particularly destructive waterbending. She could penguin-sled, or ice-skate, or take a ride on Naga. She loves, loves, loves the feeling of winter brisk chapping her face and slicing her hair. Korra had nothing to fear because fear was never chronic.
It's not like that in Republic City. In Republic City, you look out for yourself. You don't have family and friends like you do in the Water Tribe because there are too many people here; you can't possibly know everyone. Back home, every house is intimately familiar. It's true that she was kind of isolated from the others, having to go Avatar train and whatever, but still. She never would have been arrested in the South Pole. They would have thanked her for her service there. There's a part of her that will never forgive Lin Beifong for that, petty though it may be.
Yes, going to Republic City is a plethora of changes and she doesn't really know how to cope. Tenzin and Pema have their hands full with the children; she can't imagine burdening them with her silly problems at a time like this. Lin is obviously out of the question – she would just huff and yell if she even bothered to listen at all.
She very well might just tell Korra to go home and talk to Tenzin, which would do nothing but lead her back to square one. As for her friends, she doesn't think they'd know what to do. They would tell her it was too bad, that they were sorry and was there anything they could do? No, she thinks, there isn't anything they can do and it's not their fault that that's so. There's nothing they can do because she can't even articulate what it is she wants.
Korra only knows one thing she wants, and that's to master airbending. She wants it like she's never wanted anything else in the world, she wants it even more than she wants to defeat Amon. Amon, it's easy to argue, is really someone-else's responsibility. The army should take care of him. That's their job, isn't it? To protect the citizens of Republic City? And fine, to be perfectly honest she doesn't care either way, but telling herself lies makes it easier to get up in the morning. She dwindles her mind until airbending is her only thought, her heartbeat singing be the leaf. If she can master airbending, everything will be okay. She will be herself again, Korra who can do anything.
Be-the-leaf, be-light-as-a-leaf. This, this is how it begins.
Well that's not entirely true. It also begins with the new vegetarian diet. Korra's never really eaten fresh vegetables. Tenzin thinks she's being stubborn, but it's really just that the South Pole doesn't exactly have a long growing season. Most of her diet was meat, with some sea-plants tossed in for variety. Her body has never been exposed to anything like this before and initially it's not happy.
She can't get full no matter how much she eats, and the high fiber content upsets her stomach so in the end she actually doesn't want to eat anyway. Korra had always understood her body, but after that everything got mixed up. Suddenly she and her body began speaking different languages. She doesn't know hungry from full now and it's terrifying.
She loses control in other ways as well. She feels it in her training when she can't pass the panels, when she can't access whatever it is that would let her airbend and finally, finally be a true Avatar. Her legs don't go where she tells them to. Her bending falters and she finds herself making stupid mistakes, like dropping the ball of water she's holding, or getting sparks when she's trying to make a real flame. She doesn't tell anyone about this. It's not important, really; she'll get better soon enough, and until then why should anyone be worried?
Tenzin is worried.
He gives her extra meditation work. She hates it, but she reminds herself that she needs to do this, this is what is necessary to save Republic City (and she does want to save Republic City, doesn't she?). It's hard to clear her mind though. She thinks of her parents, and Mako, and the fear she felt when Amon was so easily able to take her down. Watching Pema cook noodles one night, she wishes that she could be like the sieve in Pema's hands, everything unnecessary flowing out and away.
"What's wrong with you?" Meelo asks when she picks at her food rather than eating it. She glances over at him, suddenly jealous of his innocence and jealous that he's a child and jealous that he can airbend and she can't. She throws her fork down.
"I'm going to my room. I'm not hungry," she snarls. If Pema and Tenzin exchange looks of concern, well it's not like she cares anyway.
She fasts to get better at meditation. Technically, there are rules are fasting; she would like to state for the Lin-Beifong-Official-Record that at first she really did follow them. The rules are simple: Never abstain from water. Never fast for more than twenty-four hours. Never fast more often than once a month. There's nothing complicated or confusing about it, Korra's just an extremist. Oh, and since everyone is probably wondering – no, it didn't help.
Korra's lips twitch as she silently mouths the words over and over again. She likes to push limits, to prove to everyone that she's smart and strong and capable. She would set herself on fire just to see how long she could burn. She likes to do the things that others can't, or won't, or haven't. She has to, she's the Avatar following Aang. Aang who defeated the Firelord and mastered the elements at twelve.
If he could do that, why can't she learn airbending at seventeen? She has it in her, right? This is happening because she's not trying hard enough or working hard enough. Tenzin was right, she shouldn't have joined the Fire Ferrets; she should have stayed on Air Temple Island and worked. Secretly, she sometimes wonders if she even deserves to be the Avatar. It's not as if she's been doing such a great job at it.
So if the books say twenty-four hours, she'll do thirty-six. And if that doesn't help, she'll do forty-eight. She'll do it every week, every couple of days, because she needs to do this and not just for herself. She needs to do it for the world and the city who need their Avatar. She needs to do it so Tenzin won't regret letting her come and stay with him. She needs to do it so she won't walk around feeling like the most incapable Avatar ever.
She fasts and fasts and fasts, and even when she's not fasting she doesn't eat much. It's a game she's playing with herself, you see, and it's terribly fun because there's a new challenge all the time. How many ways can she tell Pema she's not hungry? How little can she eat on any given day? In a week? She starts to feel superior to all the eating-people around her. Look how strong the Avatar is, look at her will and dedication! The Avatar, our Spiritual Leader who wants for nothing and needs for nothing! She is all mind, she is cerebral, and like the plants she can feed on air alone.
Korra lays in her bed at night and falls asleep to the lullaby of her growling stomach. Then in the morning, she gets up and looks in the mirror. Her flesh is burning away to reveal her angry, jagged bones. She loves the way they look, like they're weapons of war. She's destroying what would hold her down, cutting away that excess so she can be weightless and be like air. Light is beginning to emerge in all these new little places now, another thing she likes. It streams through the new gap between her thighs and dips into the deep hollows of her collarbones. Stunning, really. Her hipbones thrust forward in a challenge, and even her cheekbones are starting to sharpen. Her spine – oh, her spine! So many rocky nubs like a chain, like gnashing teeth. She develops never-healing bruises on the inside of her thighs where her knees knock against each while she's sleeping. Their force thrills her. Her bones, her lovely bones that will protect her like armor so that there will be nothing to fear anymore.
Oh yes, now isn't it wonderful?
Of course, there are problems with her new, um, lifestyle.
She comes to this insight when she goes out for lunch with Mako, Bolin and Asami. Bolin hears about a new restaurant that specializes in spicy Fire Nation cuisine, and he's dying to go. Korra has a fleeting (and chilling) thought that that isn't right – she's the one who's dying.
They go by late in the afternoon, before the dinner service starts but after the lunch rush. The restaurant's in the border part of town where you're no longer afraid of getting mugged, but you only live there until you get enough money to move. The restaurant is done in typical black and red colors with gold touches. They sit on scarlet pillows around a black wood table and Mako indulges Asami with a bending trick. He pinches the candle flames into a ferret, lifting it into the air where it shimmers before dissipating.
"Hey! Careful, it's dark in here," Bolin grumbles. Asami is still giggling and cooing like a small child. She's absolutely enchanted.
"That was incredible," she breathes. Bolin makes a noise of complaint, gesturing to the extinguished candle. They're the only source of light in here. Korra doesn't mind, personally. She's had a headache all day and the sun hurt her eyes when they were walking over. In here, there's less to see and feel, letting her temporarily muffle the noise in her mind.
Mako still isn't paying attention to his brother, so Korra growls and lights the candles herself. She waits for the inevitable blast, the one that always happens when she bends while angry, but it never comes. She knows from the way her stomach twists that this isn't a sign she's getting better with self-control. Mako blinks and she wonders if he's noticed. Later, she tells herself that she's just being paranoid.
"Thanks, Korra," Bolin says. Mako rolls his eyes. Bolin looks like he might say something else, but the waitress shows up and everything is forgotten. Korra's last to order and makes her decision based on the first thing she sees when she looks at the menu. She wasn't able to read it without feeling something like panic start to creep into her veins.
"I'm so excited!" Asami gushes. "My dad never let us eat Fire Nation stuff. I hear that they make the bread fresh to order. I swear, there's almost nothing better than fresh hot bread." She gets a dreamy look in her eye and Bolin laughs.
"Got some competition," he teases, elbowing Mako's side. "Doesn't he Korra?"
She glances up, somewhat annoyed.
"Yep." She returns to staring at the table. Part of the Game is deciding when she wakes up how much she's allowed to eat that day. If she meets her goal or eats less, she wins. If she overeats, she loses. There's no penalty for losing, because what could be worse than her current situation? She's pretty sure having to be herself is enough of a punishment.
"Um, have you not been sleeping or something? I made a Mako-joke. We like making Mako-jokes. They're funny. And so easy," Bolin sputters. Asami pats Mako's hand before turning to Bolin.
"Maybe Korra just realizes that it's not true," Asami playfully taunts. She smiles and when she turns her head her black hair ripples and shines.
"Korra's a good friend. Apparently it's my own brother I have to be careful of," Mako says. He's smiling though and she knows he doesn't really care. Asami's there, so that automatically means that all is right in the world. Things won't be all right in Korra's world until she figures out what she's eating and how much she's lying. Guilt pricks and she pushes it aside with the excuse that it's an Avatar thing they Wouldn't Understand, so why worry everyone for no reason? Yes, why worry anyone ever about anything?
"Um, Korra? Going to say something here? You're really quiet. It's kind of unnatural. Isn't it, Pabu?" Bolin says. The fire ferret sticks his head out and gives a small nod. Now Asami and Mako are looking at her and she's saved/not saved by the food's arrival. Her friends dig in and within minutes they're chattering enthusiastically about the flavors! and the taste! and the difference!
Korra cuts her food into pieces and moves them around her plate without eating.
"Korra, try this!" Asami shoves a fork in her mouth before she can protest. She knows her reflex should be swallow but it's overridden by her mind screaming no no no. The bite sits in her mouth and she can taste the creamy, fatty spinach sauce and the crumbly cheese underneath. Everything orders her to get rid of that right this second. If she eats, she'll gain weight, and if she gains weight, what will protect her? Her ribs will be gone and she'll be vulnerable. She gags and spits the food out, barely grabbing her napkin in time. Her friends stare.
"Spicy," she mutters. "I'll get something when we go back." Asami's face wrinkles with worry.
"No, we'll get you something else. It would be rude to let you starve. Besides, you could use the nutrition – you've lost weight," she comments. Korra hunches her shoulders and pulls her stomach in. "I mean, your clothes are falling off." She glances down and has to concede that perhaps Asami is right. About the clothes thing, not the needing-to-eat-more thing. Food is flesh and flesh is weight and she'll never fly weighed down to the ground like that.
"Nah, it's fine." She waves them off with a flick of her wrist and toss of her hair. Then she talks and talks and talks until they leave so everyone will stop looking at what she's (not) eating.
Bolin and Korra walk outside while Asami and Mako wait for the bill. He makes no attempt to hide his actions as he reaches over to try her dish. Asami watches, biting hard on the inside of her cheek.
"Not spicy," she says before he even has a chance to speak. He nods. She exhales. "She was being so weird." Asami crosses her arms, long hair falling around her face like a curtain as she replays the scene. Mako touches her shoulder.
"She probably feels bad about the money, but you know Korra, too proud to ever say anything," he assures her. Asami fails to look convinced.
"She's skinny, Mako."
"She has a lot going on in her life, I'm sure it's stress. We'll definitely keep an eye on her though." He wrings his hands and she knows he's much more concerned that he's letting on. She gently takes them in hers and tries calm the storm swirling in her chest in which concern and envy fight for dominance.
"You're a bad liar," she whispers. He sighs.
Korra doesn't sleep that night. Instead she practices in the training room and does laps around the complex. Food is energy, so if she puts energy in the way to get rid of it is to take energy out. Around sunrise she returns to her room where a black mist descends over her eyes. When she wakes up, she's on the floor next to the bed and Jinora is shaking her insistently.
"What happened? Are you hurt?" she asks, her child voice and big eyes making Korra wince in guilt. Jinora shouldn't be seeing this. It's wrong. Wait, no, she meant embarrassing. There is nothing wrong with what she's doing.
"Nothing's wrong, obviously I just rolled out of bed," she assures the younger girl. "Go tell your dad I'm going be a little late, I still need to shower." Maybe twice, actually, given how bad she smells. She gets up, blinking hard to make the black spots in her vision go away.
"And eat breakfast," Jinora says. Korra trips and then scolds herself for doing so.
"Yeah. Right. I'll do that. Because I always do that," she laughs. Jinora gives her a sad look.
"You don't, though. You never do." She slips out the door and Korra is left thinking that she's going to have to see Mako today and ask for his Biggest Jerk award because she just beat him hard. Leaning against the wall, she wishes she were tiny already so she could just float away.
Ikki's birthday comes two weeks after the disastrous lunch and it comes very much against Korra's will. She is not interested in the celebration or the presents or the food or any part of it at all. Noise makes her (now frequent) headaches worse and she just doesn't have the energy to be cheery. She doesn't want to socialize. She wants to stay in her room and be left alone. Winter has come now to Republic City, and when it's cold like this it's hard to breathe, forget about all the other stuff that goes into celebrating.
Wind howls outside and Korra really can't believe how cold it is. She asks Tenzin over and over again what's the temperature, what's the temperature? He always lies for some reason and tells her it's warmer than it has to be. She grew up in the South Pole; she's endured much worse cold that Tenzin reports, so there's no reason for her to feel this way. Something else is going on because what she's feeling right now is unbearable.
"the cold that has somehow gotten in underneath your skin and is getting colder and colder inside you. It isn't an outside sort of cold; it's a cold that gets into your bones and into your blood and it feels like your heart itself is beating out the cold in hard bursts through your entire body," (1).
She drags herself to the main dining room and puts on a smile like everything is fine. If the others notice how many blankets she's draped over her shoulders in or how violently she shivers, they don't say anything to her. They don't even say anything when she refuses to eat Ikki's birthday dinner. They let her go to bed early and even though she knows this can't mean anything good, she can't work up the energy to care.
When she wakes up in the middle of the night, she feels like she's going to tear her skin right off her body. There is only one thought, and the thought is Eat. Whatever it was that has been allowing her to put it off and hold back is angry now and demanding retribution. Pay your debts, Korra, pay for your borrowed time and I'll-eat-later's. This, Little Girl, is Judgement.
(""at some point, the body will essentially eat of its own accord in order to save itself. Mine began to do that. The passivity with which I speak here is intentional. It feels very much as if you are possessed, as if you have no will of your own but are in constant battle with your body, and you are losing. It wants to live. You want to die. You cannot both have your way. And so bulimia creeps into the rift between you and your body and you go out of your mind with fear.") (1)
Cake, she thinks. Cake/cake/cake/cake/cake. She giggles for no reason she can think of then goes to the kitchen, for once without the trails and tails of sweaters and blankets. She finds leftover cake sitting on a counter and notes somewhere that it's the first time in months that she's been able to look at something like that without fear. Korra doesn't bother with a plate; she grabs a fork and begins eating, shoveling big chunks into her mouth even when her stomach starts saying stop stop stop no more. Her brain overrides like it does every time and says no no eat Korra eat and eat and eat. She goes until the whole thing is gone – she even licks the icing off the plate.
Once the frenzy dies down several things happen. The first is that she's supremely uncomfortable. All her insides are distended and she can feel the cake literally weighing her down. Her skin is hot but she's cold, suddenly aware of the chill of the tiles beneath her feet. She wants to exercise but she can't imagine moving right now if for no other reason than the fact that her fat/heavy/clomping footsteps would wake everyone up. Besides she feels nauseated and embarrassed and kind of like she might even cry. Spirits, how is she going to undo this? She hugs her arms around herself, half-wishing Amon would show up and just kill her now.
She forces herself up and stares at the sink below, polished stone throwing back her reflection while her insides twist and rage like a storm (like the storm Aang was lost in?). She presses her hands against her swollen belly, cringing when she sees how far it sticks out. Oh Spirits that's disgusting. Korra moans softly, hating herself a little more as each minute passes. Think, she orders herself. It takes (in her opinion) longer than it should have, but she finally remembers.
She remembers in the South Pole, when she lived at the compound, the sentries would sometimes get drunk when they thought she wasn't paying attention. She remembers more importantly that sometimes, when someone got too drunk, he would stick two fingers down his throat until it all came back up.
Just this one time.
It's harder than it looks. It must take at least ten minutes given how many times she gags and can't keep her fingers there anymore. Her nails scrape the flesh and it hurts more than she would have thought which makes her just that much more determined. She stabs and stabs until she succeeds and all the (sinful) cake comes spewing up. There's the small problem of it getting all the vomit all over her hands and face and the sink and well, everything else, but who cares? The cake is gone and she feels safe again. Korra uses her waterbending to clean up then tiptoes back to her room, where she strips down and stares in the mirror, searching for any weight gain.
Feel for her bones. Count her ribs. Check the gap between her thighs. See how far she can wrap her thumb and index finger around her wrist. Examine the thrust of her hipbones.
Ignore the cold. Ignore the fur growing all over her body. Ignore the hair that falls out when she takes a bath or shower. Ignore losing her cycles (she didn't like them and doesn't miss them, she hated bleeding once a month, it made her feel like she was dying). Keep the checks, though. She starts doing them every day, first thing when she wakes up and last thing before she goes to bed.
She just wants to be light, light-as-a-leaf.
"Korra, you're scaring us," Pema whispers at breakfast the next day. Korra blinks.
"Sorry, I was sleepy and I haven't showered yet – "
"That's not what she means." Tenzin's voice is horrifyingly gentle. She's pretty sure Tenzin being gentle with her is a sign of some kind of impending apocalypse. She puts her spoon (prop) down. Mako, Asami and Bolin are all making a point of not looking at her and she understands that they're all together on this. Her face burns awfully. "You have to start eating. There will be no negotiation about this." Ah, there's the Tenzin she knows and hates(loves)!
"This isn't necessary, I'm not starving myself or anything," she scoffs. "How stupid do you think I am?" She glares at all of them for good measure. Mako is the only one to hold her gaze and she can hear him thinking I don't believe you. Too bad. If he wants to argue, he'll have to shout.
"You've lost so much weight though. And we never see you eat," Asami points out. Bolin nods.
"We just care about you and want you to be healthy. I mean, how else are the Fire Ferrets going to win their second championship next year?" he says. His brightens when he sees that he's managed to coax Korra into a smile.
"Definitely." She pinches the inside of her thigh to remind herself that there's a gap there and as long as she has that she's safe. "Really, thanks for your concern, everyone, but I'm doing fine. I'm sorry to worry you." The best way to get around being a bad liar, she's discovered, is to simply get really good at talking around the undesired truth.
"Excellent. So you won't have a problem joining us for meals or eating with us," Tenzin challenges. She does another sweep of the table to read the others' positions. Pema is quiet but her eyes are steely; she'll enforce this rule because she thinks it's for the best. She's a mother, she wants the best for all her children and Korra is her child now. Bolin looks relieved, as if to say oh-good-thank-the-Spirits-everything-will-be-fine-after-this-good-work-team. Asami's face shows no such certainty. She's scared (Korra almost feels bad). Mako doesn't believe any of it and she wants to know why he's not saying anything (because it's true, she has no intentions of really eating).
"No," she laughs. She stretches her lips into a smile and she thinks her teeth might rip up the seams (and what-oh-what will come out then?). She sticks her spoon in her oatmeal and brings a heaping spoonful up to her lips, making a show of licking it clean. The room relaxes like letting the air out of a balloon.
She eats all the oatmeal then goes to her room and cries for no reason she understands.
When dinner comes, she's prepared. She waits for the sun to go down and then begins her laps around the complex. One-and-two-and-three-and-more . . .
Light Korra be light.
She's getting better at this. Slip a hand under the table, hold a bite her mouth. Spit it out later. Hide it in her napkin. Give it to Pabu. Take small portions, but lots of them. She is master of her universe even though she is un-master of everything else (failure). It gives her a thrill to get by all these so-called loved ones and she's still in the Game, still winning. Oh, the delight!
Korra is doing So Well that Pema and Tenzin decide she can be trusted to feed herself. Trusted enough for them to go away for a day, at least. They're visiting Pema's mother to introduce her to the new baby. Before they leave Pema gives Korra a list of what she's supposed to eat and when she's supposed to eat it then kisses her forehead and the Avatar has to stop herself from jerking away because the touch is too intimate.
In the morning Asami finds Korra staring at her Pema-Mandated eggs and blueberries. She looks so lost and helpless, distress evident in her every movement. Asami watches her push the food around her plate, her hands shaking the entire time. She tries to bring a bite to her lips, but she can't do it. She puts the fork down and pushes the plate away. Asami can see that Korra hasn't yet decided she isn't going to eat, but hasn't decided that she will eat either. She decides that this is probably a good time to make her presence known.
"Hey," she says softly. Korra glances at her.
"Hi." The Avatar is considerably less enthusiastic. Asami chooses to ignore this and helps herself to a muffin. She sits down and Korra jerks away like the muffin's going to give her an infection.
"Nice morning, huh?"
Korra doesn't respond. "No?"
"I can't do this." Korra stands up and Asami drops her muffin. She scrambles to her feet as Korra turns to walk away and grabs her arm, pulling her back (it terrifies her how easy it is and how thin and bony Korra's arms are).
"Come on. We're doing this." She leads her to the table where Korra reluctantly reseats herself. Asami pushes the plate forward and hands her the fork. "Just one blueberry. Just to start, don't think about the whole thing," she advises. It's like when her grandmother was dying and had no appetite. She learned how to be patient, how to sit with the old woman and coax her into taking that next bite. Korra eats the blueberries without too much trouble. Asami does a mental victory dance involving copious amounts of glitter. Korra takes a bite of the eggs, swallows, and starts to cry.
Asami watches a rain cloud open out and drown her mental party.
"What's wrong?" She puts a hand on Korra's back, rubbing circles like her mother did for her when she was a little girl. Korra cries harder and it sounds like she might be saying something, but it's hard to tell with the way she's blathering and carrying on. "Sorry, what was that?"
"The leaf, the leaf, got to be light. . ."
"I can't do this. I'm not eating it." Another effort to get up, another round of Asami pulling her back down.
"You can. You will."
So Korra eats all the eggs and cries the entire time. When she's done, she goes to her room and leaving looks at Asami like she's offering an apology. Asami doesn't know what she would be apologizing for and that terrifies her. "You have a problem!" she shouts. Korra does not stop or turn around.
"A problem? Yes, eating is definitely a problem. Got to stop eating." (1).
"Often, a person will be anorexic for a while, then they will discover bulimia, and they will think that they are cured of anorexia" (2).
Asami's meddling really pisses Korra off. The babysitting continues and now people want her to talk about her feelings. Korra will not be doing any such thing and decides that the best course of action going forward is to throw up all the time.
She hates it. Throwing up is so much worse than starving. When she was starving she felt light and free, like she was stronger than anyone (but still light enough to float away). Now she's entangled with (dirty) earth, constantly thrown between her Safe Body and her Fear Body, the one she occupies after each meal she's forced to eat. Throwing up constantly is a messy, nasty business that requires lots of showers and lots of laundry and a bad taste that lingers in her mouth and never actually goes away.
She also starts fainting a lot more for some reason which drives her crazy. Tenzin and Pema take this as a sign to feed her even more and ironically that part isn't so bad because it's easier to get up a lot of food than a little. One day Bolin catches her but all she has to do is cry and he caves like a sandcastle.
"Bo, seriously, I promise I won't ever do anything like that ever again. I have the flu or something so it was coming anyway, it was only a matter of time. I just didn't want to sit around feeling gross and nauseated, you know?" she says, blinking teary eyes at him. His face softens even though he still looks uncomfortable. She makes a note to herself about never assuming it's late enough to purge in the kitchen because who-would-be-here-at-this-hour? She hiccups and oh yeah, that seals the deal. What a clever girl she is.
"Fine, I won't say anything. I'm – we're – just worried about you." He clasps her hands in one of his and she delights in her own smallness. Bony too, she thinks. Gorgeous. Bolin hugs her, or he starts to but then yanks back. "Spirits, Korra, I feel like I'm going to break you." He touches the side of her face and runs his thumb over her too-prominent cheekbone.
Look. Look at what I've done. Look what a Good Girl I am, I'm good at/for something, don't you see? She can't airbend and she can't defeat Amon, but she can make herself so tiny that maybe one day, she'll just disappear all together.
"I know what you're doing in there. You might as well let me in."
She unlocks the door anyway. He doesn't react to her appearance; vomit-stained clothes, vomit-stained face and hands. She closes the door behind him then sticks her fingers back into her mouth and continues throwing up. He watches. "Why are you doing that?"
"Leave me alone." She spies the bright tomatoes and knows that it's over. Flush the toilet, get rid of the evidence. Korra turns on the tap, washing her hands and rinsing out her mouth.
"I meant, what does vomiting do?"
She turns around and moves to slap him but he catches her wrist with ease. He doesn't fight her; he mostly seems tired. "Please," he whispers. "You have to tell me something. Because I'm so confused. I don't understand why this is happening and I can't stand to watch you kill yourself!" He grabs her shoulders, shaking her. She whimpers.
"Get your hands off me!" She's kind of surprised when he listens. For a moment, they are silent. "I need to be light," she whispers. He furrows his brow.
"Like not-heavy. For airbending. And defeating the Equalists." She makes a gesture that's supposed to look airbending-y and she's pretty sure it fails. He pulls her in, resting his forehead against hers.
"Four months is long enough. You're going to die," he says desperately. She shrugs. Who cares? "That's it? What's wrong with you?"
"I'm an awful Avatar, that's what wrong with me!" she screams. "Wrong question, Mako – how about we try what's right with me? Oh wait, nothing. I can't even feed myself right." She kicks the toilet then yelps in pain.
They wrestling, they are on the ground and she's crying and her tears are everywhere. They are on the ground and Mako is holding her against his chest and she is sobbing, her brittle nails digging into his arms because she's afraid that if she lets go for even a minute, he'll leave and she'll be cold and alone and not-safe. "I can't lose you. So you have to stop," he says. Her throat tightens and the acid burns. The L-WORD hangs unspoken in the air. "Please, if not for me than any of the other people who care about you?"
"Like you cared enough to say something any of the other times?" she barks. He flinches. "You knew I wasn't working with them." He face is hard and she wonders if she's managed to lock him out again. Fine, let him; she can keep secrets too.
"No one's going to change you. You have to want to change," he replies. She opens her mouth to reply. He cuts her off. "That's how you stop getting in Agni Kais that don't matter." He doesn't offer more information but she knows that this must be some piece of his past. It's a photo-shot of his anger when his parents died and left him all alone with a brother to boot.
"I don't know how to stop," she admits. He grips her tighter.
"Maybe we can figure it out?"
She sees a glimpse of Jinora's brown eyes watching through the door.
"I don't know if anyone can figure it out, Mako, but I guess we could try." She would really rather not, however. It sounds exhausting.
"No one's asking you to do anything other than try, you know." His strokes her hair and doesn't say anything when it falls out.
She can still see Jinora watching. New Game: how many ways can she tell Jinora don't be like me? She bites her nail, feeling his heartbeat against her back reverberate throughout her body. She wants to tell him that she doesn't know how to try, that she only knows how to fail or succeed. Maybe he would get it; then again, maybe he wouldn't.
Try, he says. It's stupid, really. But there are big brown eyes watching her, and she thinks well, maybe I could.
(1) - Marya Hornbacher, Wasted
(2) - Terry Sandbek