I figured everybody would've taken a boat back to the South Pole, since there seemed to have been a lot of people to fit on one or two flying bison. Which gives me time to stick a fic in there and wish in vain that Korra had been given some more time to reflect. Spoilers for the Season Finale.
And after ten minutes of pressurized silence, of standing there with his hand beside hers on the ship's metal railing, Bolin finally spoke.
"…Aren't you getting cold?"
Korra swung her head around towards him. His nose and ears were stung red by the high wind. He still looked a little green in the cheeks, too, and that smile appeared painfully fixed on his face.
"I thought you were going to stay below deck," she observed, turning her gaze back down again. The captain had said they were two days off from the South Pole still, but she could already feel it pulling at her as Republic City grew small behind them.
Bolin sniffed. The boat gave another hard tilt. His knuckles turned white when he steadied himself against the rails.
"Yeah, well, it's kinda stuffy down there. I won't get my sea legs just sitting around the cabin, right? And Pabu starts chewing on things when he gets bored." He unclasped the first two stays of his big canvas overcoat, a loan from one of the crew members, and Pabu clambered out with an indignant squeak. "We can't have you adding another pair of Mako's shoes to your kill count, can we boy?"
"Oh. If you say so."
"Unless you want to come down too, of course! Pabu and I would be okay with that. I think there's a Pai Sho board around somewhere we could use, I saw it sitting in the galley a few days ago."
"I'm fine, Bolin."
His hands clenched, unclenched again, although the boat hadn't tilted that time.
"You're not really much of a liar, Korra," he said, gently. "I've known that since you tried to pull the old 'I-had-to-pee' excuse with Toza."
She couldn't summon the ambition to say anything else, because it was kind of hard to speak right then. It was hard to breathe. It was hard to do anything, really, because the world felt like a hollow shell that she was holding up against her ear, and all that came echoing back was her own slow, slogging pulse.
And the pulling ocean was silent, and the fire breathing greedily up through the ship's smoke stack was silent, and the broken pieces of earth inside the iron deck were silent, and here Avatar Korra waited amidst all of this bottomless silence that was around her and within her, alongside a boy who would probably grow tired of her soon enough ("There's something special about her, I know it.") and leave.
But Bolin didn't go anywhere. She didn't ask him to. He didn't say anything, either: instead he reached down into his left pocket and came up with a drawstring bag.
"…Here, stick out your hand."
"I have a surprise for you."
"What is it?"
He rolled his eyes, and then blinked a few times when the wind tossed his hair back into them. "I guess you don't know what the word surprise means, huh?"
Some flat-leveled expression must have shown itself on her face, because he turned redder and greener at once by equal degrees.
"It's a gift." He swallowed, pressing his lips together. "Sorry to rush this, but I really wanted to give it to you and to be honest I'm going to lose my noodles if I stay up here much longer."
The sound of her own tired laughter was startling to both of them, but mostly to Korra.
"Well, alright. If you put it that way."
Bolin managed a secretive smile, and his thick fingers fumbled to pull the bag open. Korra held her hand out in compliance.
"Don't peek, don't peek!" he chided. "Just give me a second!"
So she closed her eyes, too, wondering why the lashes were damp, and waited.
Then Korra felt something small and dense tumble out of the bag, roll into her palm: and when her eyes opened again, all she could do was stare down at the four round, black stones that were gathered together in her hand.
"What are these?"
"They're just some lumps of coal from the furnace. It's no big deal. I tried to bend them as evenly around as I could, but I'm not really great with precision work… "
He scratched at his chin. The tone of his voice seemed to tremble just a bit.
"…It's okay if you don't want them. Mako said it was a bad idea. It's just that my mom took us on a ferry ride to Avatar Aang Memorial Island once, and I remember there was a picture of him twirling these, uh, marble things around between his hands. It was one of the only photographs they had of him with his family, so that's probably why I remembered it. Weird, huh? But it looked like sort of a cool little trick, and you're an airbender now, so, um, I guess I thought you'd want to give it a spin…Ah, no pun intended. That was dumb, sorry."
Spinning marbles, she realized.
He'd made her a set of airbender's spinning marbles.
Master Katara carried some of these around in her belt, in a little woven pouch, but she'd taken them out once for Korra to see ("I knew what he was from the beginning, of course," she'd smiled, in response to one of Korra's questions. "My Gran Gran tried to talk me out of it, but I knew. I just felt it, and I knew.") before closing her blue-veined fingers tightly in around them again. Those had been cold metal, though, and the ones Bolin had made for her were warm from being carried against his body.
He cleared his throat, shifted his weight from foot to foot. Korra suddenly found the gesture plain, and solid, and oddly familiar, and she understood for a moment what Master Katara had meant.
Then she wedged her brows together, spread the stones out into a rough circle with one finger, and gave the slightest, urging nudge.
The air answered back, threading itself around the shaped lumps of coal for a beat or two, but then it tipped over and fell and scattered everything onto the deck with a clatter that was louder than it should have been.
Korra's heart gave a snap of fear at the thought of them falling into the sea, because of course that would be something she'd do within five minutes. Of course.
Before she could make a move forward to save them, though, all four of the marbles were swept upwards in a quick loop and dropped back into Bolin's hand. He rose from a half-crouch, his face still tight with that odd nervousness.
"Whoo! That was close, huh?"
"I'm sorry," she started, "I didn't -"
"It's okay, it's okay! Here, you wanna to try again?"
His fingers were smudged with black soot now, Korra noted, but then so were hers. She took the stones back when he offered them.
She drew a deep breath, which got stuck halfway in her chest. It was better on the second try. On the third, she could almost hold herself steady.
The air was smoother this time, more yielding as she tugged on it - spiral movements, spiral movements - and then the marbles all spun together with a long, low, easy hum.
When Bolin looked up at her again, the change on his face was like light moving through a prism.
"So…What do you think?"
"Amazing," she said. Korra considered how the marbles had curled themselves neatly back to him. "I'll bet you could probably do this with earthbending, too."
"Say, that'd be awesome! Think you could show me? I'm not really sure how the different styles would translate, but – "
Her smile came much easier then, and something seemed to lift away from her heart as though it had never been there at all, but that was the way things had always been with him since the beginning and she shouldn't have been so surprised.
"– We'll figure it out," she finished. "Right?"
As always, any comments, critiques, ideas, suggestions or requests are welcome.