A brief missing scene from Episode Four immediately following Bolin's conversation with Korra on Air Temple Island, and some vague connections to Episode Five, because it made me wonder. Nothing that you recognize belongs to me.
Also, Borra has swiftly become my A:LoK OTP. Just a head's up.
"…You want to know something funny?" She doesn't wait for his answer, which would explain that odd, quiet closeness in her voice. "I've never actually seen one of these before."
Bolin is not looking at Korra when she says this. He has busied himself sorting through the councilman's gift basket, sizing up each offering as he goes; there are long bolts of silk brocade, rosewood jewelry boxes, bags of candied fruit and ginger, and of course there are the flowers. Armfuls of them. He can identify the lotuses, at least, the chrysanthemums, and this one might be a fire orchid; it has petals that curl like tongues of flame and had probably cost more than every prize fight he has ever won put together.
But when he turns to see, Korra is spinning a rose between her fingers. His rose.
Korra taps the flower against her nose once, twice, then starts to brush it absentmindedly across her chin.
"I mean, I've heard about them before. Don't get me wrong. I've seen pictures. One of my earthbending teachers asked to have this fancy folding screen brought into the barracks, after a White Lotus mook caught her dressing. She kicked him through a wall. It had roses painted all over it – the folding screen, I mean. Not the wall…And I think one of my past lives found his wife inside a giant rose, but I honestly couldn't tell you how that was supposed to work."
"Oh." Bolin is about to start tapping his fingers together before he stops himself. "Uh, right."
Then he remembers what they all say about the South Pole, about how the landscape is one great unfurled banner of white. The air is so cold that it snaps inside your lungs, and if you spit high enough it will turn to ice before it hits the ground. Water Tribe men are more likely to carve their spears from bone than from wood. A kind of silver moss grows on the rocks there, but only for a few weeks every spring, and where would roses really fit into all of that?
("The Avatar is to remain under careful and constant guard until she reaches realization," all the newspapers had quoted, twelve years ago. "This will be done as was commanded to us by her predecessor, the late and esteemed Avatar Aang. No, we are not permitting photographs at this time.")
The memory leaves Bolin feeling clumsy, for a moment, for forgetting something like that, but then Korra peels a petal off his rose and balances it in the space between her nose and upper lip. She takes a long sniffing breath to hold the petal in place. It looks like a tiny red mustache, and a fierce brightness seems to clutch around his heart as he looks at her.
"…I mean," he says, "I've personally never found a grown woman inside a flower, so I wouldn't know if you were wrong or not anyways."
Korra laughs. This lasts a bit longer than the one she'd given earlier, so the rose mustache falls off. Bolin sits down beside her, just far enough away so that no part of their clothing can touch, and picks the petal up again.
"I guess the screen's paintings were a lot simpler than the real thing, though," she goes on, peering down into the flower's open throat. "I didn't think it would have so many layers. It looks kind of like a fingerprint."
"Or an explosion happening in really, really slow motion," Bolin supplies with a casual accomplishment.
(He'd been trying to write a poem on the ferry ride over here, and had cycled through about twenty different metaphors comparing a rose to things that looked absolutely nothing like a rose. Right after 'explosion' had been 'sneeze' and 'blood stain.')
"Do they come in any color besides red?"
Now she's running her fingers along the ridged leaves, poking at its thorns. Something flat and heavy is sitting in her eyes today, Bolin thinks, sitting right there on her shoulders, but he does not know what to do about it. All he can do is keep talking: which he does.
"Not really. You can get them in yellow or white, but nobody grows white ones. That's supposed to be a mourning color."
Bolin winces immediately after these words are out, because this is all the time he needs to think of Naga's fur beneath her hand, the sealskin lining on her parka, the beaded decorations in her hair and snow falling on the home she has left behind.
But Korra doesn't notice: Pabu has started chattering, sniffing at the untouched cupcake left forgotten on a step. She unwraps it and offers the fire ferret one of its decorative cherries. Pabu accepts the gift in an oddly gentleman-like manner. He also licks the frosting from Korra's fingers, afterwards, which is not quite so gentleman-like, but it earns a third laugh from her and so Bolin doesn't mind.
"…What about pink?" she asks. By then Pabu has leaned his head against her palm. She takes to scratching behind his ears. "Do roses ever come in pink around here?"
"Yeah, sometimes. Why?"
"Nothing. When people first found out I was the Avatar, everybody gave me presents. Packages came for weeks. The king of Ba Sing Se even sent this whole crate of pink roses, but the cargo ship bringing them got trapped in some pack ice for about a month. All the flowers rotted. It smelled so bad the captain had them thrown overboard somewhere in the South Artic Sea." She shrugs. "It was no big deal."
There is a swinging, uncertain pause.
Then Korra's eyes fall on the offering basket, with its riot of flowers from every corner of the map, and a wedge forms between her brows. Bolin gives the flowers another glance in turn, remembering the messenger who had brought them and what they had said as greeting. And in a moment more, he understands.
Probably. Sort of. Maybe.
"…Pink roses," he nods. "Got it."
(And tucked inside the bouquet, which is left lying where he drops it in the fresh white snow, is a card that reads 'For Korra: Just Korra.')
The bit about finding a wife inside a rose is meant to be an allusion to a story of the Hindu god Vishnu, whose incarnations provide the concept around which our Avatarverse is based. He and Brahma, another principal Hindu god, were having an argument as to which flower was fairer: the rose, or the lotus? Brahma advocated for the lotus, and said that Vishnu would be named chief deity if he could disprove him.
Vishnu responded by leading Brahma to a massive white moss rose – from which stepped the goddess Lakshmi, whose incarnations follow Vishnu through the Avatar cycle and become his wife in each human lifetime – and he was subsequently declared the winner. The other version of Lakshmi's birth goes that she rose out of the ocean seated on a lotus.
/quite possibly inaccurate ramble which you are welcome to correct.