Bolin smoothed his hair back for the hundredth time and leaned in close to the mirror, eyes narrowed. "Okay," he said slowly to his reflection. "You can do this. It's no big deal, just a date with Korra." Pause. "I-I mean, not a date date, just a friend kind of date. Friends go to the cinema together all the time, right? Yeah, just friends. …I think. Maybe. Um."
A sudden knock at the bathroom door made him jump forward, smashing his nose against the glass. "Are you still in there, Bolin? It's been an hour!"
"Yeah, yeah, I hear ya," Bolin groaned, rubbing his sore nose ruefully as he finally unlocked the door.
Mako stood outside, arms folded and a slightly bemused expression on his face. "I'm pretty sure you've spent more time on your hair that Asami does on an average day."
"Have not! But, uh, while we're on that topic…do I look okay?" He gave himself a quick glance up and down as Mako did the same. He didn't have much in the way of nice clothes, aside from the stuff he got from Asami for the gala which was way too fancy for a sort-of-but-not-really-date to the cinema. He had managed to dig out an old shirt that was somewhat nicer than his every day wear, and without a single tear or stain! It wasn't perfect, but it was the best he could do.
"Yes, you look fine," Mako said with a hint of a laugh. "Can't remember the last time I've seen you this riled up. You better not waste any more time in front of the mirror, or you'll be late."
"Oh, monkeyfeathers! What time is it? We were supposed to meet at seven!"
"Calm down, it's a quarter 'til. You'll be fine."
Bolin nodded jerkily. His heart had started racing the minute he had begun to worry about the time, and finding out that he wasn't late hadn't done much to settle it. "Okay. Guess I'll take off now. Gotta go meet Korra. Yep. No big deal."
Mako did laugh then and gave Bolin's hair a ruffle, ignoring the squawks of protest from his brother. "Go get 'em, tiger-seal."
With a deep breath to brace himself (and a scowl over his shoulder at Mako for messing up his hair,) Bolin finally set off towards the meeting place by the ferry. It was a bit weird have to plan a meeting place when they both lived at Air Temple Island, but Bolin believed in doing things the old fashioned way. Just knocking on Korra's bedroom door wouldn't have been romantic at all! …not that this was a romantic kind of date, necessarily, but there was no harm in little touches like this, right?
He almost didn't recognize Korra from behind when he finally arrived at the docks. She had traded out her usual clothes for a stylish blue dress and her hair was let down for a change, only held into place with a few clips that matched her eyes.
"Uh," he said lamely when she turned to face him. "Hi there."
Korra's eyes dropped, a rare blush dusting her face. "I know I look kinda weird, but I made the mistake of telling Asami I was going out, and she, well…" She waved vaguely at herself. "She insisted on doing my hair and letting my borrow some of her clothes, and it doesn't really fit that well since she's so tall but I thought it didn't look too bad-"
"I doesn't not look too bad!" Bolin blurted out. "I-I mean, it doesn't…not look…what I'm trying to say is that you look…look…" Adjectives always abandoned him when he needed them, so he settled on, "…super incredible!"
That earned a laugh from Korra, which wasn't quite the reaction he had planned on, but the tension was fading fast from her posture so it was hard to complain. "Well, thank you kindly. You shine up pretty well yourself."
"Well shucks. You are too kind, Madame Avatar."
Korra grinned and punched his arm lightly. "I'll call you Sir Bolin if you don't knock that off."
"Hey, I wouldn't mind! It's got a nice ring to-…oh, ferry's here!"
Korra turned out to the docks, squinting into the dimming light at the boat pulled in. "Guess that's our cue to get a move on."
Bolin had made some plans to get on the boat first and gallantly offer her his hand as she stepped on, more because he wanted an excuse to hold her hand for a second than because he thought she needed any assistance, but she had already hoped on board before he could get make a move. With a sigh he followed. He'd have to be incredibly lucky to get a chance to hold her hand tonight, even for a second.
"So, um…you ever been to the movies before?" he asked brightly as he joined her at the rail, quickly shaking off the moment of disappointment.
"Just once. I went to see a silent historical drama with Jinora on her birthday. It was…interesting, I guess. I mean, I didn't know anything about the people in the film, so I got kinda lost half way through."
"Oh, so this will be your first time watching a talkie!" Bolin said brightly. "Don't worry, they're more exciting with sound. And no heavy stuff tonight! Just pure fun entertainment! So what are you in the mood for? Comedy? Adventure? Maybe…romance?"
"How about we wait and see what's showing first?"
"Sounds like a plan!"
The ride over the bay was short, and the walk to the cinema wasn't much longer. That was lucky, Bolin was having an uncommonly hard time finding things to say. This was just a friendly date, but somehow he was more nervous than the first time they had gone out. It seemed so important to get everything right for once. Korra had been through such a rough time lately; she deserved a perfect night out to take her mind off all the troubles.
"Aaaaand here we are!" he announced with a flourish of his arm as they turned the corner. The cinema stood ahead of them, electric lights glowing brightly. "Pretty impressive, huh? Me and Mako used to sneak in the back all the time when we were kids…of course, I've got money for the tickets this time, so no sneaking around for us!"
Korra threw him a lopsided grin and turned her attention to the brick wall beside the entrance, decorated with posters and signs. "Is this the stuff that's showing?"
"That's right! So go ahead and look through them, let me know if anything sounds good!" Bolin squinted up at the hanging posters advertising the newest films. The Lovers of Ba Sing Se sounded promising…but would it give the wrong impression? What if Korra thought that he was trying to-
"Oh, that one looks good!"
Bolin snapped out of his thoughts and followed Korra's eagerly pointing finger to the creepiest looking poster on the wall. There was a picture of a murky pool with two monstrous, clawed hands reaching out towards the viewer. The Creature of the Foggy Swamp was written below in an ominously scratchy script.
"Uh, are you sure about that one?" Bolin asked nervously, readjusting his shirt collar. "It looks like some kind of scary horror…thing."
Korra's eyes gleamed eagerly. "Yeah, I love that stuff! What do you say? Are you game for something a little blood chilling tonight?"
Oh. Oh spirits, he hadn't planned on this at all. "Y-yeah, of course!" Bolin said hastily, hoping she didn't notice the faint tremble in his voice. "I love that kind of stuff! Ha-hang on, I'll go buy our tickets…" He quickly turned away and headed for the ticket counter, cringing once his face was hidden from her. Why oh why did she have the pick the one kind of film he couldn't stand?
It wasn't that Bolin was a coward, he just…wasn't a big fan of scary things. Never had been, probably never would be. He remembered being little and running back to Mako in tears because the older street kids kept telling him stories about monsters that ate boys his age. And then there had been the time when he was nine and got talked into exploring a haunted house…long story short, he didn't make it through that adventure with dry pants. Not that Korra needed to know about any of that! No way. He was a man now! He could handle a little scary movie, right? Right.
"Oh, thanks!" Korra said brightly when he returned with the tickets in hand. It was a little easier to feel brave when Korra was smiling at him like that. "So do we head in now?"
"Yeah, I…guess we better," Bolin mumbled, trying to keep the reluctance out of his voice.
Korra gave him a playful elbow in the ribs. "Wouldn't want to miss anything!" she laughed as she raced ahead of him through the front doors.
"Oh yeah, that would be awful…" Bolin sighed and set his jaw. He could get through this. Absolutely. It was only a movie. Only a movie…
The theater was already dark by the time they made it in, and Bolin's heart sank a little further when Korra lead them straight to the front row. There was no more time to put on a show of bravado for Korra; the film began to roll almost as soon as they took their seats.
Ten minutes in and Bolin's mouth already felt horribly dry. The plot was obviously heading in a very bad direction: a group of kids were investigating the swamp in search of their missing friend. Mysterious footsteps and shredded clothes had been discovered through the murk. There was no way this could end well, and Bolin's hands ached from griping the armrests.
The group continued on deeper into the swamp until they came upon a very ominous cabin. Bolin knew he wasn't always number one when it came to common sense, but even he could tell the cabin was bad news. The spook music was a very big hint, for one thing. His hand flew up to his mouth as the kids walked closer. The wooden frame groaned in the wind. The music became more and more frantic. The door creeeeaked open and oh spirits he couldn't stand this. "I gotta go to the bathroom," he hissed in Korra's ear, and bolted out of the theater. He could still hear the eerie sound effects spilling out into the hallway, and clamped his hands over his ears. Just a few minutes, he told himself. The scene couldn't last long. He'd just hide out through the scary part and then go back inside.
After what he guessed was long enough, Bolin eased his hands off his ears. He couldn't hear anything particularly frightening from the theater. Maybe it was safe to go back in.
"You missed some good stuff!" Korra whispered when he returned to his seat. "The monster was hiding in the shack, and it ate the youngest kid! It looks really realistic too, the blood and guts were all-"
Bolin nodded weakly and tried to tune her out. The film was probably more than half over, if he was guessing correctly. He just had to last through the end. Just don't think about scary swamp monsters. Think about happy things, like noodles and Pabu.
That approach didn't work for long, as the monster soon showed up again, leaping out from behind a tree and seizing another unfortunate victim. Bolin screwed his eyes shut, hoping Korra didn't notice. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad with his eyes closed…
It soon became clear that this approach wouldn't work either. Closing his eyes just made him more aware of the ultra spooky sound effects, and his imagination was more than happy to fill in all the horrifying gaps of exactly what made those screams and moans.
"Sorry, bathroom again!" He caught only a second of Korra giving him a look that was half concerned and half suspicious before he made yet another hasty exit.
His heart still hammered furiously out in the hallway, no matter how hard he tried to calm down. Images of the monster, claws and teeth bared, kept flashing through his mind. How did anyone enjoy these awful films? Movies were supposed to be fun, not terrifying! He groaned softly, rubbing his hands through his hair. He needed to go back in, but how could he when his nerves were still so rattled?
"There you are!"
Bolin's head snapped up. Korra stood a few paces away, arms crossed. "H-hey there," he said weakly.
"Are you okay?" Korra frowned and gave him a critical look. "What's wrong? Why'd you keep running off?"
"I just…I…had a stomach ache! Yeah, that's it. Th-those sea prunes earlier didn't agree with me."
Korra's expression softened into sympathy. "Gosh, I'm sorry. You should have said you were feeling sick. Well, we can head back home. Movie's over."
"Really?" His breath came out in a relieved sigh. "That was pretty short."
"Yeah, but it was good! Too bad you missed a lot of it. In the end the monster ate everybody! It was super gory and gross!" Korra sounded far too pleased about the grisly end of the film for Bolin's liking.
Luckily Korra seemed to buy Bolin's excuse about feeling ill and didn't try to make him talk as they took a shortcut to the docks through the park. Bolin's frantic pulse was finally starting to slow, and he was almost ready to try to make casual conversation again when something splashed in the pond nearby. Bolin froze midstep, stomach clenching.
"Wh-what was that?" he quavered, trying to squint into the dark.
"I dunno," Korra shrugged, clearly unbothered. "Probably a turtleduck."
"You think so? I-I thought it sounded a lot…bigger."
Korra quirked a doubtful eyebrow at him. "A big turtleduck, maybe. What are you so nervous about?"
Bolin opened his mouth to answer, but there was another strange splash out from the lake. He paused and swallowed hard. "You don't…you don't think there's anything weird in the lake, do you? Like a…m-monster?"
In the dim light he couldn't tell if Korra's eyes were teasing or sympathetic. "The movie really scared you, huh?"
"Wh-what? No way! That wasn't scary! Pabu brings home scarier things than that!" Something in the dark crackled eerily, and his hands jumped up on their own to clutch at Korra's arm. He realized what he had done a second later and quickly let go of her, cheeks burning as he forced a sheepish laugh. "O-okay, maybe I got just a little rattled."
"I knew it!" Korra cried, giving him a hard poke. "You aren't sick at all, are you? You were just scared!"
Bolin hunched his shoulders in embarrassment, avoiding Korra's eyes. "Okay, you got me," he muttered to his feet. So much for being cool tonight. "I-I'm just…not good with spooky things."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Korra's voice was exasperated, but to his relief, not mocking. "You should have just said you didn't want to watch that one."
He shrugged one shoulder and continued to look at his shoes unhappily. "Just wanted you to have a good time. And now you probably think I'm a big possum-chicken…ow!"
A sharp punch to the arm finally made his head jerk back up. "Stupid," Korra scolded, "I would have had fun no matter what we saw. Alright? You don't have to scare yourself silly for me, okay?"
Her eyes were so sincere, so strangely kind. "Okay," he mumbled, feeling his face grow warmer in the cool night air.
Korra smiled at last, and he felt some of the tension in his chest letting up. "Are you gonna be okay? You still seem pretty spooked."
Bolin managed a weak laugh at that. "Yeah, I'll live. I just probably won't sleep tonight. Or ever again. And all these weird noises are giving me the creeps-"
"Would it help if we held hands?"
Bolin's eyes widened. Even with the lack of light, he could make out a faint blush on Korra's face.
"I just figured," she continued shyly, "you'd be less freaked out if we…y-you don't have to, it doesn't-"
"I think that would help a lot, actually!" Bolin said quickly, and grabbed her hand before she could change her mind. "Y-yep, that's much better already!"
Korra's face was still red, but her laugh was real and warm. "Alright, you big baby," she chuckled, weaving her fingers through his. "Don't you worry, I'll fight off any monsters that try to mess with you."
Bolin returned her smile and tightened his grip on her hand. In the end, after all the swamp monsters and embarrassment, he was still the luckiest guy in the world.