“Are you scared?” he panted, his breath impossibly hot against her mouth.
As she raked her nails along his stomach, which caused him to shiver, she answered, in a low, tight whisper, “Terrified.”
He didn’t close the gap between them so much as he collapsed it, engulfing her in the circle of his arms and holding her so close, he could feel the frantic tattoo of her heart against his. In that moment, they weren’t the same, but as they trembled with the terror of the unknown and the rush of something new, they were close enough.
You are so hungry, and you look and you see one of those stallkeepers pulling down the tarp of his stand over himself to try to block the sun. At his elbow a pyramid of bright round green things glare proud against the stark beige of everything else. Melons. Have you ever had one? You swallow a dry throatful of nothing and you don’t remember.
It hurts and you are so hungry, and Mako with his bruised face gone quiet is sleeping and your parents are gone and there is a famine and not enough food and suddenly, oh. Suddenly you are still hungry, but you are also something else. Stars through the smog, winking: you think you can feel them inside you, tiny burn-sear lights, and you stretch out one hand toward that stallkeeper with his melons.
There is no strength in you and your hand falls again just as quickly to the alley floor, smack, but that’s okay, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The ground moves under your fingers.
“They won’t hurt as much if you do this,” Bolin said, gesturing how his hands dangled in between his legs. It allowed the handcuffs to slip from around his wrists and press against the pudgy skin at his palms, making them more comfortable to wear.
The old woman seated next to him stared for a moment before mimicking him. Her wrists were thin and bony, and the cuffs were on far too tight. However, Bolin’s advice worked, and the relief from the pain was visible on her face. She smiled at him.
The police car was settled into silence once more after that, the rattling sounds of metal and the roar of the engine filling the cab. Mako glanced around, keeping his side pressed to Bolin’s as he surveyed the people they found themselves arrested with. Asami sat on the bench across from them, also looking around the cab. There were two mothers with children on their laps, cuffed hands wrapped around their bodies but unable to properly hold and comfort them. The kids were surprisingly quiet, sniffling and silently crying into the bends of their mothers’ shoulders, and Mako had the vague feeling that they’ve had to hide their tears before.
Other than that, the cab was full of people and they barely managed to fit on the benches. The nonbenders of the Dragon Flats District seemed accustomed to the close quarters, while Asami tried to hunch her shoulders and cross her legs so as to not bump into anyone. Each time she did with the jostling of the car, she would instantly shoot out an apology to those seated next to her.
She runs into Mako the next day at the market, where he’s buying Bolin’s favourite dumplings from the usual roadside stand, hair mussed from another long day at the power plant.
All people leave slowly, Asami tells herself.
Hurry up, she thinks.
“Wait. Mako shot you down and then you went out with me and then you kissed him anyway?”
Korra planted her face against the table. “Thanks for making me feel like an idiot.”
“No! I just… I guess I don’t understand. Why you didn’t tell me right then, if you knew you weren’t over Mako.”
“Because he was being a jerk!” Korra shouted, probably far louder than she should have in the public restaurant, picking her head up and just barely restraining herself from shoving away from the table and standing up.
Because you were being cute and smiley and I didn’t want to let you down or anything when I wasn’t planning on going after him any more at that point. I didn’t want to ruin your night, too.” Slowly, as she spoke, she quieted back down, and there was a slightly hesitant pause before she added the last part.
Mako shot Bolin a horrified look, his hand coming to rest on his pocket where he’d stored the yuans. It was all the money he had until who knows when. He couldn’t give it up.
“Cut the garbage. Are we gonna stay here and beat our gums all night, or are you gonna give us what we want?” the goateed teenager rough handling Bolin demanded, his tone irritated, his body tense and jumpy. There was a slightly crazed look in his eyes, one Mako had occasionally recognized in his own. The guy was starving, probably hadn’t eaten in a week or more, which made him all the more dangerous.
“I’m sorry, Mako. I was just hungry,” Bolin cried, his lower lip trembling.
“Shut up!” The stocky one punched Bolin in the gut and that’s when Mako attacked. He went into defender mode, bending the flames he’d formed in his hands to lash out, first at the one who was holding Bolin, then at the one who had punched him.
“Shit, he’s a bender!” the one with the cigarette cried out, ducking away from the flames as the one holding Bolin let him go.
“Do it, Bolin!” Mako yelled, swinging into a roundhouse kick at the tallest boy, hoping to hit him in the neck and knock him over, but he missed and was thrown to the ground.
Laughing, the tall teen and the smoker were about to pummel Mako when a block of earth extended so violently out of the ground that Mako heard the tall thug’s jaw break, blood and broken teeth spilling out of his mouth as he screamed in pain. The smoker’s own jaw dropped in surprise, his cigarette falling to the ground as he turned and ran away, his oily haired friend at his heels. Scurrying to his feet, Mako threw a punch at the shorter teen, bending fire out of the heel of his palm, scorching the boy’s coat. Bolin had his brother’s back, using his earthbending to throw rocks at the thug.
There’s nothing. Nothing catches, no trickle of other-worldly energy, no force and grace weighted with centuries of age. Korra breathes in, breathes out. Still nothing. Her fists are pressing so hard she feels like she’ll break her fingers, and her teeth are clenched, and there’s nothing. She pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls, feels the ground under her feet rattle with her anger; her blood boils in desperation, and her breath chokes in her throat, and there’s nothing.
Her eyes fly open, and she turns, seeking Tenzin out in the crowd. “I can’t find it!” she gasps, before she has a moment to think about whether or not she can admit this on city-side television, before she thinks about any of the implications. “Tenzin,” and her words are breathless like she’s forgotten how to airbend, “I can’t find the Avatar State.”
It’s, like, impossible to be a fan of Mako’s today. Or yesterday. Or the day before. But whatever, she has to be about the peace, the harmony, and the extreme sensibility of her supposed-nature. She promised to play nice for Bolin, anyway.
But after Tahno, she is so not in the mood (she feels pretty guilty, okay?) and for once, in the fast open space that is the Island, she just wants ten minutes to herself to blow things up. Problem is it never works out that way.
“You’re not okay,” Mako calls.
“Ugh,” she groans, her hands dropping to her sides. The footing is lost. The panels are on the other side of the house; today she’s usually actual dummies that she actually just wants to set on fire. “Seriously, you need to work on your terrible timing. I am now convinced it’s a thing.”
“You’re not okay,” he repeats.