I sat down to write some Borra in response to a review over on "Heart of Malachite" asking for more Borra. I started writing and then I couldn't stop. Due to the length of it and how cute I think this is, I decided to upload it as a freestanding story instead of as a chapter on HoM. I make several references to stories on HoM and "Family, Malady, and the Aftermath". If you're interested in what exactly I referenced, feel free to PM me.
This is more like the beginning of borra rather than outright Borra.
Wings of a Crane
The perfectly square pages were crisp and thin, perfect for folding. Smiling to himself, he set to creasing the paper in half diagonally. It was nearly 10 in the morning, the morning breeze lingering before the sun commenced sweltering.
Bolin's home in the city grew cold and empty over the years, as his children made their own lives and set out to leave a mark on Korra's land. It grew bigger and bigger with each departure, yet he continued there peacefully with his wife of many years, basking in her company uninterrupted for the first time since the birth of their eldest.
Yet he did not sit in the yard of their former home– small as it was, it still held a charm– no, now he sat in the shade of a sturdy chestnut tree.
After selling the cozy home in the city, he and his wife searched for place to rest. The kindly realtor led them to many homes– beautiful and cozy in their own way– but he chose this particular home on the outskirts of Republic City, resting on the mountainside of the dark mountain– witness to Korra's kidnapping– and basking in a large, plentiful yard.
Bolin's fortune piled on at the Arena easily paid for the home. But the unexpectedly expected death of his wife so soon after the negotiations ached. So Bolin planted a garden in remembrance, one currently thriving before the chestnut tree and the stone table and bench bent to life before it.
Thrice, he plucked plump tomatoes and dug robust sweet potatoes from the garden. Thrice, he smiled at its flowers and leaves. His life quieted, silent as a rock.
Wrinkled, rough fingers finished the creases and the folds, revealing an expertly made paper crane. He set it down before him, admiring his work in silence and a delighted smile. He turned from the angles of paper to the chestnut beside him.
Bolin's mind drifted to many, many years ago: a time in childhood, hazy with the fog of time. A strange black smoke curling from the fireplace and a frightened Mako, clutching to father's arm as mother doused the fire. A blackened chestnut transformed to charcoal at the whim of a budding firebender. This yard, when first observed seems like an ordinary yard, decorated by a nut-bringing tree and a varied garden, along with a small birdbath to side, crafted in such a way that a fireferret seems to be bathing along the birds.
It was all a crypt. A tranquil cemetery, a memorial to figures gone from the physical world, currently dancing on stars in the spirit world. Tears sprang at Bolin's eyes, building and building, readying to skip past control and down his cheeks.
Quickly, Bolin dried his eyes with his will and a sleeve. Zhi, his housekeeper, appeared at the other end of the stone table, looking concerned and a little frightened. Traditional by choice, she still dressed in the color of her nation, refusing to dress in even a dotting of blue, orange, or green. She was a young woman, working her way through school. Bolin regarded her as a semi-daughter, much younger than his living children, yet fitting perfectly into what had been his family before its gradual crumbling.
"Bolin, a guest came to the door, so I told her you were unavailable, like you said–" Zhi ceased speaking, as the aforementioned guest had ignored the boundary of his stone fence and gone into the house anyway, now emerging from the backdoor, looking annoyed.
Korra dressed in ever more traditional southern-water tribe furs, despite the season's name. Her hair remained silver, refusing to fall into the white-gray combination atop Bolin's scalp. She held more spirit, energy, and youth than the rest of Team Avatar, despite the toll her spirit sustained after the loss of Mako.
Bolin smiled, a rare dazzler lacking melancholy. He dismissed Zhi, telling her to get back to the homework he knew she was doing instead of dusting the library (as she claimed). Korra moved to settle across him, crossing her legs in a semi-meditative position on the cold bench.
"Where have you been," Bolin asked. He remembered the aftereffects of the funeral, her avoidance of the City and multiple travels around more and more corners of the globe. He neglected to ask her how she found his address after so many years, assuming that Asami handed her a card decorated in the curly handwriting he knew so well.
"Traveling, avatar stuff. You know." she shrugged, cheeky. "What about you, Bolin? What have you been up to?" her face took a sad turn, "Asami told me about–"
"I've been making paper cranes." he started, picking up the delicate paper. It was a soft baby green, printed over in delicate gold designs. Korra's blue eyes narrowed in on it, temporarily losing themselves in a memory.
"Mako told me, your mother used to make little animals out of paper for you to play with," she said, a sadness creeping into her voice. Bolin cleared his throat: the yard still lacked two more funerary items, memorials– though a wrapped package in his favorite chest contained a well-worn, faded scarlet scarf and a delicate jade hairpin. He didn't like to think about something so long ago, something so lost to his memory.
"I– yes. But this one, this is a crane. She loved to make these for the kids, when they were small." Bolin struggled to keep his wounds and griefs in check, a crying settling into his voice.
Korra stared at the crane, taking it from his hand. "Show me how to make one," she suggested, uncomfortable with his tears. No matter what happened, to either or both of them, or to other people, she was still uneasy when he cried, even in the times that he cried alongside her.
He gestured at the small stack of square papers, varying in background colors and designs. Korra chose a red one with gold flames swirling along it. After admiring it, she looked at him, lost already.
"Fold it in half twice carefully, so that there's four squares," he said, as he showed her with a random pink paper decorated with golden flowers. He went through all the creases necessary before the folding, keeping his eyes on the delicate paper in his wizened hands.
"Like this?" he looked up, across. She had a quizzical, semi-embarrassed look on her face. The carefully crafted sheet now had hard-creases (which was fine) that were slightly off-center (not a good idea). Bolin froze.
"That works," he lied. He continued with the steps, helping her with the more complicated moves, until they both had a square base with four appendages pointing upwards. The lines of his unfinished crane were neat and crisp, expertly folded with hands used to making several. Her crane was beaten and uneven, the triangular shapes of the four appendages irregular and somehow overlapping.
"Which ones are the wings?" , she asked.
"You can pick either side, in the end it still makes a crane," he finished his, making the beak and extending the wings, setting it on the even surface next to the green one. Korra clumsily finished her's and placed it across from Bolin's. Her brow furrowed and her lips twisted into a pout, the same from her childhood despite the wrinkles near it. She reached for another paper, this time taking the topmost from the pile, a girly lavender with a shimmering butterfly design. She grit her teeth and started. Bolin smiled lopsidedly at her attempt.
Zhi approached the elderly friends, bearing a wooden tray laden with lychee juice and cold nuac rau ma*. She set a glass before the two of them, and waited for Bolin's friend's request as she placed a pre-poured glass of lychee juice in front of him, knowing that he liked a glass of each. A steady stream of soft green liquid slowly filled his second glass.
"Zhi, serve Korra lychee juice. She doesn't like pennywort.", Bolin stated, smiling at the chestnut tree as he said it. Korra looked up from her second attempt, raising a brow at the beverages.
"What's pennywort, again?" she asked, thinking of a weird, mossy root.
"Those leaves in a salad at my wedding*," memories of puking flooded her brain, although she couldn't remember exactly if it was from copious amounts of firewhiskey or the weird food Tahno's cousin cooked up for the feast.
It was sad, really. That this exchange reminded him of his loss and that even after loving and losing another and loving and losing his brother, he still remembered minute details of the Avatar when he really shouldn't. He loved his wife, he really did. He loved her to this day, even as she waited in the spirit world for him and his garden flourished at her blessing. Momentarily, Bolin turned toward the clusters of blushing green tomatoes, waiting for the plants to wither and die at his knowledge that the Avatar didn't like pennywort. His emotions, hiding under a peaceful facade, resurfaced and he thought he would start crying again. Bolin's lips trembled. Zhi flinched, in the middle of placing the pitchers of juice on her tray.
She knew he cried, his sobbing wasn't quiet and she knew he was lonely. The way he looked at the wise-looking tree, his garden, and the bird bath with unceasing anguish said more than his words ever could. The connection with the bird bath was evident– Pabu the mascot was legendary in Pro-Bending circles and Sister back home was a huge fan. But she still didn't know what the other two things were about, but she didn't want to ask. Zhi was certain her boss would tear up.
"Bo, what's wrong?" the Avatar asked, full of concern. He shook his head, slowly. Bolin noticed she was almost done with her second attempt at a crane, it was now time for her to fold down the wings and form the beak. Quietly, he reached across the table and finished her crane for her, the outcome lopsided but neater than any finished touches Korra could add to it.
The Avatar stood, walked around the table and the housekeeper, and gave her friend a hug. Bolin finally started crying, gentle streams of salty sadness soaking the furs at her collar. She bit her chapped lips and teared up, the motions finally marking her with her true age.
"I'm sorry I avoided you after... after Mako died," she released, holding her late husband's brother like a child. The last time she saw him cry was precisely at her husband's funeral, five years prior. The realities of death and her friend's evident sadness suffocated her, so much so that she remembered distinctly the feeling of drowning without water at the cliff so many years ago. She didn't want that painful, throat-restricting feeling again. So she left the city, entering only for quick meetings with White Lotus in the area and the Council when needed, staying at Air Temple Island, where Ikki now ran the show. She avoided remnants of Team Avatar, only exchanging short responses with Asami's lengthy letters, hiding from reminders of her soul mate.
Korra realized her selfishness while sitting next to the retired General Iroh II, as he asked her about Team Avatar, assuming they all kept in touch despite everything.
The fact that anyone remembered her as part of a team after so much time of The Avatar, by Herself saving the world and fixing issues here and there, at such a long time since the glory of taking down Amon, caused her to seek Asami. And from there, seek Bolin. Seeing him stare at the paper crane with a sad, lonely look on his deeply lined face, hair entirely colorless save for bits of gray granted her a rush of sadness, no matter how happy she was to see him.
The sun settled into mid afternoon, the two elders outside by the chestnut tree ignoring the heat, remaining in their layers. Korra didn't even scrunch up her sleeves, and Bolin acted as though the heavy sweater he wore were thin and perfect for summer. The friends allowed themselves to smile, as words poured from the Earthbender to the Master of All Elements, and vice versa.
Conversation's end came as the sun began to set, and Zhi finished preparing a guestroom. "Do you have somewhere to stay?", Bolin asked her, a pile of perfect and not-so-perfect cranes littering heated stone. His face fell, already expecting her to say she was bending her way to The Island or some upscale hotel.
"I was planning to show up at Air Temple Island uninvited, but if you've got room I can stay," she grinned.
Bolin smiled, temporarily looking as he did 60 years ago: a young, sprightly boy easily delighted. "Please stay,".
Zhi emerged from the house, walking toward the fire in the avatar's palm, lighting the space momentarily, armed with a basket. The trio cleaned up the cranes before shuffling into the house.
*nuoc rau ma is a beverage made from pennywort which is popular in Vietnam (according to Wandering Chopsticks' blog), which is why I used the Vietnamese name instead of "pennywort beverage". The pennywort salad Korra tried at the wedding is a Sri Lankan salad the blog says exists, but the link it gives doesn't lead to a pennywort salad recipe, so you can pretend that part's made up. Pennywort drink is freaking delicious and everyone should try it. The canned version looks and smells kinda gross, but it's the nectar of the Gods. Pennywort is a cool-looking leaf. I thought it would suit bolin since it's green and kind of earthy tasting imho.
Zhi, according to is a Mandarin Chinese name meaning "wisdom" or/and "healing".
The cranes Bolin and Korra make are ofc origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. I'm sure the steps described are accurate, but the description of Korra's messed up crane is entirely fabricated. I didn't feel like wasting origami paper on a bad crane.
I decided in my deluded mind that Ikki would take over the Island after Tenzin. I figure Jinora will travel the world searching for more and more knowledge, becoming a sought-after guru/Airbending Master, who may-or-may-not reside at one of the original Air Temples. Meelo is too Meelo, and I... forgot about Rohan.
I left the identity of Bolin's late wife ambiguous, although it's definitely not Korra or Asami, because I didn't want to make someone up and wanted this fic to remain relevant after whatever happens in canon after Book 1.
I made Bolin loaded in this fic because he's one of my favorite characters and it's always fun to make one's favorite character fabulously rich. I also had lots of feels while writing this.
Reviews make me prance like a fairy.