Forgot to put the disclaimer on the previous chapter, so here it is: Everyone in this story belongs to Nickelodeon and Bryke. I'm just playing with them for a while.
I thought I was a steadfast Makorra shipper, but this is rapidly turning into a Borra fic. Oh well. Just wanted to get this idea out before "And the Winner Is..." comes out and turns this into AU. I'm trying to decide whether to continue this, so if you have an opinion on the matter, be sure to let me know!
Korra is nervous and he can tell and he hates that he can tell. Bolin's eyes follow her as she paces the ready room, her footsteps muffled by the roar of the crowds in the stands. Mako and Asami stand together looking out over the arena, oblivious except for the occasional sideways glance Mako sends when Korra's back is turned. It's an awkward dance between backs and feet and eyes.
From his seat on the bench, Bolin can feel the breeze that sweeps along in Korra's wake, just a little stronger than a normal person's. Her airbending is strongest when she's not paying attention, making her light on her feet and graceful when she's distracted. She smiles weakly when she catches his eyes and his breath catches in response. He grins, but her eyes cut away and he drops it as she continues pacing. Predictably, Mako's eyes follow her back and Asami finally notices. She half turns in Mako's arms and smiles warmly at Korra.
"Nervous?" She asks the waterbender. Korra turns sharply and scoffs.
"No, just pumped. Ready to go. Get in the arena," she says, punching one fist into an open hand with each statement. Bolin is pretty sure he can see those hands shaking as she adds, "Mess up Tahno's girl hair."
Asami laughs delicately and Bolin can see why Mako is sticking with her, though he still thinks Korra has her beat. Korra is Korra and she's amazing.
In the last few days, the knot that had settled in Bolin's chest has cooled, but the tightness has remained. They've practiced and laughed and pretended so well.
And then suddenly, it is time. Korra passes him on her way to the platform, touching him briefly on the shoulder. The touch is friendly, soft, and he can barely feel it through the thickness of his shoulder pads, and Bolin feels the tears start to well again. So much for pretending. He pushes himself off the bench and follows after her and Mako, hating and hating and loving both of the two people in front of him.
The Wolfbats sneer at him from across the playing field and Bolin's color rises as he meets Tahno's eyes. The rival waterbender shifts his gaze to Korra and slowly licks his lips. His hands curling into fists, Bolin barely registers the gong that starts the match.
It's over quickly. The crowd goes crazy as Tahno and his teammates pump their fists in the air. The Fire Ferrets, wet and bedraggled, drag themselves into the ready room where Asami is waiting with sympathy in her eyes. Korra rubs her arm with the hand not holding her damaged helmet, tears streaming down her face. Bolin's eyes are dry, but even Mako seems to be struggling to maintain composure as Asami embraces him.
"Hey, guys," Bolin says, pasting a grin on his lips. "No worries. There's always next year, isn't there? Second's still good." Korra's wet blue eyes stare at him blankly and Mako's face is carved from stone. Bolin shrugs, not letting his grin slip for an instant.
Korra sniffs once, twice, then drops the helmet to scrub at both eyes with her fists. "I'm so sorry, Bolin," she says, moving towards him with outstretched arms.
"Ah," Bolin lightly punches her shoulder awkwardly to stop her. He doesn't think his stomach could handle it. "Don't worry about it, Korra. It's not your fault." He's close enough to reach out and trace the tear tracks on her brown cheeks with a fingertip, but he doesn't because he knows where that path leads.
"You're right, bro. There's always next year," Mako finally says, breaking free of Asami to sling an arm across Bolin's shoulders. It is heavy and reassuring, and Bolin is grateful that however awkward things have become, Mako is still the same warm source of comfort he's always been. Until Mako draws Korra in with the other arm and the three of them share what is possibly the worst group hug in recorded history. Korra's face is squished against Bolin's chest and his traitorous heart has become that tight burning ball and Mako is leaning his head on Korra's head and what the hell does he think he's doing?
Bolin twists out of his brother grasp and starts pulling off his pads, mind racing. He shrugs out of his breastplate, refusing to look at Korra and his brother, wondering and hating himself for wondering if they are still hugging. You're over it. You're going to be fine. Then Mako is beside him, placing his own pads neatly into his locker and setting his helmet on top of the neat little pile, and he doesn't have to wonder anymore.
"Hey," Bolin finds himself saying. "Why don't we go drown our sorrows in noodles and firewhiskey?"
Mako glances over at him with a half smile. "I really don't think that's a good idea, bro. Remember what happened last time?"
"That was then, this is now!" Bolin says jovially, wanting to punch his brother for remembering and wanting to punch himself for wanting and hoping so much he let it devastate him. He pulls his street clothes out of the locker and slams the door shut. He turns to face Korra, who is still standing where Mako and Bolin left her, next to Asami, with the tears still glistening slightly in the electric glow of the lights. "Asami? Korra? You in?"
"Yeah, I'm in," Korra says quietly. Asami glances over at Mako, behind Bolin's back, then back to the earthbender.
"Mako and I were planning to go out, I think. Maybe another time?" Asami says, moving over to take Mako's arm. "You two should go have fun."
They're so transparent that he'd laugh if he didn't want to earthbend them both into the pool of water surround the playing field. He turns to face his brother, pleading with his eyes, but Korra interrupts before he can turn the full force of his guilt inducing baby brother stare on Mako.
"Fun is exactly what I need," she says, the crooked half smile he loves so much finally appearing. She advances to the lockers, quickly pulling off her pads.
"Exactly! Fun!" Mako's voice is too loud, startling everyone, and Korra's smile becomes bright and brittle. She retrieves her street clothes and turns back to Bolin.
"So, where are we headed?" She asks breathlessly.
"I've got the whiskey stashed upstairs. You want to wait here for me?"
Korra shifts her eyes toward Mako and Asami. "No, I'll come with you.
"You kids have fun," Asami says brightly as Korra nearly drags Bolin from the room.
In the end, they decide to stay in the attic. It's cheaper than going out and neither one of them really feels like being out in public anyway, where someone would be sure to remind them of the loss they are both trying to forget. They don't even bother changing into the street clothes they've brought up with them, choosing instead to move straight on into the drinking portion of the evening. Bolin tries to cook, but the noodles are a disaster, somehow both underdone and burnt at the same time. By the time he's put them on a plate for her, Korra's three glasses of firewhiskey in.
"These look terrible, Bo," she pronounces with a smile before shoving a huge bite into her mouth. She grimaces, but continues to slurp the terrible concoction down. Bolin has to admire her fortitude.
"Yeah, Mako usually does the cooking around here. I'm not very good with all of this," he says, gesturing towards the still smoking pans. Korra giggles and gropes for the bottle of firewhiskey. Pouring herself another three fingers with one hand, she shoves another bite into her mouth with the other. Bolin thinks being a waterbender is the only thing keeping her from spilling whiskey everywhere.
He drains his own glass, but has yet to touch his noodles. He's definitely not drunk enough for that. Instead, he watches Korra down her noodles in great shlorps interspersed with sips of her whiskey. It's easy to find his smile.
"Bo?" She asks after several minutes of comfortable silence.
"Let's play a game." Korra stands unsteadily and draws him over to the couch, forcing him to abandon his noodles and drink on the small kitchen table. She flops inelegantly against the cushions, unseating poor Pabu from his regular spot and drawing Bolin down next to her. She bounces a little in her seat and Bolin's grin widens. He's just glad she's a happy drunk, since he's not sure what he would do if she starts crying again, like she did in the arena. He's not used to being a comforter. Korra looks at him expectantly, her whiskey glass now clutched safely between her two hands, legs folded beneath her.
"What?" He asks, eyebrows high.
"So, what are we playing?"
"Hey, this was your idea. I'm not sure what you expected here, but I was busy eating my noodles and minding my own business," he says, still smiling. She's worse off than he thought, scrunching her nose in confusion and drinking the rest of her firewhiskey in one gulp.
"I just wanted to have fun. You said I was fun. Am I not fun?" She's pouting and he doesn't really like where this is heading.
"You're plenty fun. Funnest girl ever. Really," he adds when she looks unconvinced. She studies her empty whiskey glass.
"What do you think Mako and Asami are doing?" She asks in a small voice and Bolin's extremities start that awful tingling they've been prone to since the night of the Boarcupines match. He snatches the glass out of her hands and moves to get up from the couch, but she is quick even when she's drunk. Her hand shoots out to grab his jersey and he finds himself unceremoniously dumped back on the couch.
"Korra, I really think this is a bad idea," he sputters when she doesn't let go. There's a look of fierce determination in her eyes that sets off warning bells.
"I am really sorry, Bo. Really really really sorry," she breathes, and he can smell the alcohol. "You really liked me. Like, like liked me."
"Yeah, well," Bolin chokes out the words. There's so much to say and nothing to say and why would Mako do this to him?
"Do you still like me?" She asks, pulling insistently on his jersey. The swooping feeling is back in his stomach and his throat burns.
"I...uh...we're, you know, friends and stuff. I like you in, like, a friendly friend type way now," he says, aware of the flush rising to cover his cheeks and hating that blush. Korra fists the fingers of both hands in the fabric covering his chest, framing the Future Industries logo, and pulls herself against him. Her face is perilously close to his and he's not sure what would happen if she got it into her head to kiss him. Did he even want her to kiss him? Would he mind being her Mako-substitute if it means having her lips on his?
Mercifully, Korra drops her head on his shoulder. He's relieved until the wetness begins to seep into the shoulder of his tunic. Every part of him freezes, fighting against the urge to stop awkwardly accepting Korra leaning against him and start wrapping his arms around her. He doesn't know what to do. He's only ever seen Mako cry, and even then not really, since his strong, stoic firebender of a brother has always hidden his sadness behind that bright red scarf. In the end, he opts for the awkward shoulder pat and curses himself for this stupid idea. Korra mutters into his shoulder and though he can't make out the words, he can feel her lips slide against the fabric, her breath warming the skin beneath.
"Hey," he says gently, shifting slightly to dislodge her. The spot on his shoulder tingles warmer than the rest of his body, sending sparks of electricity down his spine. "Stop that. If you cry, I'll cry, and we both know how unattractive that is."
Korra sobs harder, huge hiccuping gasps accompanied by snot and saline, her hands leaving creases in his jersey.
So he kisses her, because really, what choice does he have?
He's kissed girls before, and it's been good to wonderful, but this kiss starts in his lips and spreads out to his chest and back and stomach and knees. It's wet and sloppy, but she's kissing him back and she tastes like smoke and whiskey and water.
She pulls back and he unclenches the fist lying tense on his thigh.
"'m glad yer m'friend," she says unsteadily and the burning threatens to overwhelm his throat and ears. She moves to kiss him again, but he turns his head and her lips land on his cheek, where it's safe. He moves his arm between the two of them and gently disentangles her groping fingers, pushing her off of him and sliding off the couch. Her eyes are luminous even though the tears have stopped, confused and wide in the light.
"Korra." Her name is a plea. She finally shifts her eyes away from him, burying her face in the couch cushions.
"Bo, Booooolin, think 'm drunk," she moans into the rough orange fabric. Bolin sighs and heads to the iron staircase that leads to his loft. He's up and down in a matter of minutes, but she is already asleep, face still pressed against the back cushions. Her head lolls slightly as he tips her over into a prone position, but she doesn't stir and he drapes the blanket he's fetched over her gently.
Bolin is sitting at the table eating the cold, ruined noodles when Mako comes home. He puts his finger to his lips and tilts his head towards the snoring figure on the couch. Mako chuckles lowly, sitting down across from his brother.
"So, good night?" Mako whispers.
"Yeah, who knew the avatar would be such a lightweight?" Bolin answers softly, keeping his eyes on Korra. Mako follows his gaze and the brothers sit in silence for a few moments.
"Ten yuans says she throws up."
"You're on, bro," Bolin says.
"Did anything happen?" Mako's voice is hesitant, hoping. Bolin's eyes snap up, but his brother's face is impassive and he can't tell which answer would be the right one. He takes a deep breath.
"Nah, we just made fun of Tahno's haircut for twenty minutes before she passed out. Girl definitely can't hold her whiskey," he laughs before returning his gaze to his noodles, hoping that the warmth in his cheeks doesn't look as red as it feels.
Mako chuckles, then finally catches sight of his brother's meal and snatches it away just as Bolin lifts another clump to his mouth.
"What are you eating?" He demands. Bolin shrugs.
"I made noodles."
"Spirits, Bo, this looks terrible," Mako says and the words sound like an echo. He plucks the chopsticks from Bolin's numb fingers and takes the whole mess over to the water-filled basin that serves as their sink. Bolin twists in his seat to watch as Mako starts a fire back up and pulls ingredients out of their tiny food cabinet. He knows Mako isn't going to eat a single bite, and that knowledge burns on his shoulder and lips.
Korra throws up three times that night and Bolin passes a crumpled bill to Mako over her head as they support her over the basin. Mako pockets the money before smoothing Korra's hair back over her forehead in a gentle sweep
Some secrets, Bolin thinks, are worth keeping. It's the first time he's ever kept one from his brother.