Korra curled into her little body, desperately seeking warmth that would not come to her. She was tucked tightly against a brick wall in an alleyway, snow lightly littering the ground around her and sending a chill through her small form.
She would have bent a small fire in her hand to keep herself warm, but decided not to risk it what if someone saw the little Water Tribe girl Firebending? Even though it was unlikely, someone could see her, someone who might be involved with the Equalists, and they couldn't know, no one could that she was the Avatar. If someone found out, she would be in unavoidable danger.
She remembered what her parents used to tell her "Don't let anyone know, Korra. Keep your secret to only yourself." It was by those words that she abided, never letting on that she could bend three of the four elements she needed to be able to. They had told her she had to pretend to only be a Waterbender, and so pretend she did.
The little girl felt tears prick at her eyes at the thought of her parents, but she forced back a sob by squeezing them shut. It had been six months now that she had been living on the streets the cold, unforgiving streets. She hated it, but she couldn't risk getting revealed as the Avatar and what better than to escape it than to live the life of a homeless orphan child? No one would suspect a ratty Water Tribe girl begging on the side of the road as the almighty Avatar it was perfect, but it was still so difficult, especially when she was on her own.
Her parents Senna and Tonraq a nice, simple couple just trying to get by in Republic City, were gone to her now. Her mother had left behind the world when Korra was only four years old, taken by a sickness that her family could not afford, despite all their best efforts, to help her heal from. Tonraq had been killed six months earlier no, murdered, the little girl thought bitterly, biting her chapped lips by some members of a gang Korra didn't care to remember. The newspapers had documented his death as an accident, saying he simply walked into a turf war at the wrong time and was delivered a devastating fate, but she knew that it was a lie. Korra had known how her father had borrowed money from the gang, but how he could just never seem to pay it back, no matter what he did. And for that, he had paid with his life, leaving the little Avatar, newly six years old, an orphan.
Korra could almost feel the comforting embrace of her mother around her and hear her father's deep, reassuring tone in her ears, but
"No," Korra forced out, shaking her head in her hands and trying to forget the thoughts invading her mind. All they would do was make her cry and wish for what couldn't be, and that would make her weak and vulnerable something she couldn't ever afford to be. But despite herself, she felt the tears sting through her tightly-shut eyes, and regretfully, one fell, and before she knew it, they wouldn't stop. She was silent, but she cried.
All she wanted was someone by her side they didn't have to be family, they didn't even have to be friends but the reassurance of having another human being in her life was what she needed. Korra needed someone who was just there for her, looking out for her, and she would be okay. She didn't want to spend the rest of her years cold and alone.
But so far, that was how it was turning out to be.
When it seemed as though the last tear had fallen, Korra sniffled and pulled her knees against her chest, hugging them to her. Her eyes were itchy, so she held them shut. She could almost feel the beloved escape of sleep closing in on her a few moments later, but was jolted awake by an unpleasant, gruff voice yelling down the alleyway, but not at her.
"You thief! Get back here!"
Korra watched as a boy, tall and slim, ran through the alley, holding a large loaf of bread in his thin arms. He did not even falter as the man, a baker, yelled at him, threatening to call the cops despite the fact that it was only some bread. The stocky, short man was fuming; face bright red and green eyes wide in his fury at being stolen from.
Korra blinked at him as he flew past her. The smell of the freshly-baked bread hit her as he passed by swiftly, and when her stomach gurgled uproariously, she became aware of how truly, and achingly hungry she was. The bread the boy held was tantalizing to the little girl, and that's when she got the idea
Maybe, if she stopped the boy and returned the bread to the baker, he would be kind enough to take pity on her and offer her some food. Her chances seemed slight, but she had to take them and so jumping up, she shook the snow off of her flimsy clothing and took off after him. He turned the corner of the alleyway and into the main streets moments before she did, but as she ran, she managed to keep track of him by his bright red scarf sailing in the wind behind him. When he turned once more into a different alley, Korra continued to follow him.
"Stop!" she yelled at him, as though this command would work on him. The boy turned, blinked, and then continued to ignore her. She kept chasing him, but he was too fast for her, and she easily started to lose track of him as he manoeuvred through multiple alleys. Frustrated, Korra threw her hand out and froze the ground beneath the boy, causing him to slip and fall and collide with a dumpster. "I said stop!"
She walked up to him, and slowly, but surely, he pulled himself up and stuck the bread further into his jacket. The mere sight of the food to Korra was enough to make her drool, but she forced herself to focus on the task at hand. He looked ready to bolt again when she shouted, "Give back that bread!"
The boy narrowed his eyes and when Korra Waterbent some snow into her hand, liquefying it, it became evident to both of them that a fight was going to take place. Korra almost smirked to herself, thinking about how easy it would be for her to win, when, all of a sudden, he tossed a fireball at her, inches from her ponytail.
Korra blinked, momentarily stunned by the revelation that the boy was a Firebender, but did not relent, holding her hand up and blocking his next swift delivery of fire with a jet of water. She stepped closer to him each time he hurled an attack, and when it looked like he was going to run, she jumped forward and landed on him, throwing him backwards so that they hit the icy road with a thump.
He struggled beneath her, but she managed to rip his jacket open and retrieve the bread within. Instantly, she hopped off of him and began to take off down the alley. She didn't look back initially, too afraid her guilt would take over and she would feel the need to go back, but her curiosity overcame her and eventually, she hid behind a dumpster and peered at where she had been at seconds beforehand. Instead of the boy running back at her to get the bread back, instead of attacking her or glaring at her, he was sitting beside an even smaller boy, with the same hair he had, a scowl set on his sharp features.
She heard the little boy coo out, "Mako! Are you okay?" The Firebender, Mako apparently, said nothing, instead standing up slowly and nodding. The younger boy, whom Korra presumed was his brother, then asked, "Did you... get anything?" At this, Mako cast his head to the ground, shaking his head ashamedly. The little boy frowned, his bright green eyes growing dull, and he latched onto his brother's arm. Korra observed them they were both painfully thin and covered in a layer of filth, something that the Avatar had come to associate with street children, with herself. However, both of these boys were even skinnier than most, especially Mako, and Korra felt a heavy pang of guilt in her chest as she watched the lost look in his amber eyes.
Korra tried to force down the empathy rising in her throat, tried to remember that it was Polar Bear Dog eat Polar Bear Dog world and that she should go back to thinking of just herself, but when she heard the little boy cry out in his hunger, she could take it no longer and popped out of her hiding place, walking slowly towards the pair.
At the sound of footsteps, Mako immediately went into a protective stance in front of his brother, peering up and glowering at Korra. With much difficulty, she held her gaze at him, unblinking as she made her way. When she was only a few feet away, she looked between the two and pulled out the bread from where it was tucked in her arm, the smell almost driving her crazy.
Mako blinked at her, eyes narrowed and confused why was she giving it back? Why did she care? He was about to grab his brother's hand and run, because to him, this was all a dirty trick and he couldn't get involved in that, when his brother instead jumped out from behind him and walked right over to Korra, his hand outstretched friendlily to the girl.
"Bolin!" he cried out, reaching out for his brother who evaded him.
Korra blinked at the little boy in front of her, who had a bright smile on his face despite his tattered appearance. "Hiya!" he waved at her, more focussed on her than the food she held in her hands now. "My name's Bolin! What's yours?"
Korra stared at the boy, before answering, "Korra." His grin grew, and ripping off a piece of the bread, she handed it to him. She watched out of the corner of her eye Mako tense apprehensively at the movement, as though her kind gesture could somehow bring harm to his little brother. He was mistrustful, she realized, and he had every right to be the streets of Republic City were unforgiving, and from his appearance, he had experienced some of the worst of it. "Here," she pushed her hand closer to Bolin, for he did not accept the first time. She saw him blink uncertainly between the piece of bread, herself, and his brother. However, his indecisiveness didn't last long, for he reached his small hands forward and captured the food, instantly stuffing it in his mouth.
"Thanks!" he mumbled between chews, and Korra ripped off another piece and gave it to the famished child. He gratefully accepted it this time, holding it close to his mouth as he finished his first piece. She smiled at Bolin, before turning to Mako, who was staring at her blankly. His eyes held no hostility or anger, just genuine confusion and curiosity.
"I'm... sorry for taking this from you," she managed out, toeing at the snow on the ground. She was a prideful child despite all that had happened to her, and so apologizing for anything was a difficult task for her. She shoved the bread into his arms, and slowly they rose to hold morsel. He looked in between her and the bread, before nodding solemnly. He slid it back into his jacket for safe-keeping, and Korra stood there awkwardly, still refusing eye contact with either of them, especially the older of the two.
When a few more moments passed, she shook her head, not knowing why she was standing around, and she turned suddenly. She was stopped, however, by a hand latching onto hers, and she turned to see Bolin looking up at her with his expressive green eyes and holding out his other piece of bread to her. "Stay with us, Korra," he requested simply.
Korra blinked at him, incredulous, before looking back to Mako who looked equally as surprised by his brother's words. She watched as the protestations formed on his lips, but when Bolin turned back to him and smiled brightly, all of his resolve crumbled and he groaned, glaring at the ground and crossing his arms. He didn't want to have this stranger in his life, threatening the delicate balance he strived to maintain for his brother's sake. Who knew if she was trustworthy or if she would just be a complete burden to them? Mako couldn't afford to have that kind of person in his life, but at the same time, he was never one to deny his brother something that brought him even the slightest bit of happiness in their dark lives and at that moment, that something, that someone, was Korra.
"Please?" Bolin squeezed Korra's palm, tugging her back towards Mako. The look in the little boy's eyes was so bright, so hopeful that Korra couldn't exactly break him by saying no.
"I... I guess, but not for long, okay?" she compromised she couldn't stick along forever, anyway. Her staying would just slow both parties down. But she would stay for a short bit, if only to make Bolin's happiness extend. Bolin cheered, and pressed the bread into her chest again, urging her to take it. Korra swallowed before reaching forward and taking the food, nibbling on it despite the fact that she could have wolfed it down. As she ate, she allowed him to pull her back over to Mako, who was shaking his head with a disapproving look spreading across his features. Bolin flashed his grin to his brother then, though, and the Firebender's face softened. How could he not be glad himself when his baby brother was so joyful?
They began to walk after that, with Bolin between the two, his hands holding onto one of Korra's and one of Mako's. He blathered as they walked along, with Mako distributing the bread evenly between the three, despite his reluctance to share with the little Water Tribe girl. The day dragged on, but as it continued, much to Bolin's elatedness and Mako's annoyance, Korra did not leave. As night approached, she spent it with them, promising herself that the next day she would leave. However, they stayed together the day after that, too, and before any of them knew it, she became a constant in their life that never left.
Stay with them, she certainly did, and in the process, she gained the family and friends she had wanted for so long.
Korra smiled at the memory eleven years later and she still remembered that day perfectly. She yawned from her spot on the small sofa, placing down her healing book on the table in front of her, rustling the papers of notes sitting on it in the process. She was done with studying for the night she had been doing so for nearly five hours and she was exhausted and bored, restless to do anything but review healing exercises. Besides, she had to work in the morning, so she decided that it would be best if she retired for the night.
Crossing her arms, she closed her eyes and leaned into the sofa more, too comfortable to want to get up and get ready for sleeping. She let her sleepiness take over her, but just as she was drifting off, she heard the door of the three's apartment unlock and a few seconds later, an equally-exhausted Firebender stumbled in. He slammed the door behind him clumsily, and it jolted her awake, aware of his presence. Thankfully, Bolin's rumbling snore was still steady behind the door of his and Mako's room, signifying he was still fast asleep.
"Oh, hey," she mumbled tiredly, waving lazily at him. His eyes were clouded over in his weariness, and he nodded at her in acknowledgement. He kicked his shoes off then and wandered over to the couch, slumping into the seat beside her and immediately letting his eyes close. He groaned as he relaxed, and she sat up, concern in her eyes as she peered at him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he waved her off, his arms feeling impossibly heavy as he lifted them to do the action. "It was just a long day at the factory. I pulled a muscle or something the usual."
Korra blinked at him, her eyebrows drawing together. Ever since Mako had gotten his job at the factory, he had been waking up at jarringly early times and arriving home late, late into the night. His hours were gruellingly long and the work he did taxing, usually leaving him with deep-rooted muscle pains and putting him into a state of constant exhaustion and easy irritation. It was difficult for Korra to watch someone she cared about so much waste away his young life by working so hard, not allowing himself even the smallest amount of time to just enjoy things anymore, but he wouldn't have it, and usually he brushed her complaints about his job off. It's not like her occasional night job was any better or easier, she reminded herself, biting her lip. Her "job" was not gruelling, but degrading and dirty instead, and Korra hated it. But she would do anything for the two brothers, and while Mako also abhorred her night job with a passion, she continued with it, because it brought in valuable money for the three of them to survive off of.
"Let me help," she whispered lowly, bending some water from the tap a few metres away. "Where does it hurt?" She leaned closer to him and positioned her hands above his frame, waiting for his answer.
"Korra, you don't have to" He opened his eyes to look at her, but his protests were cut off by her glare at him. "Fine." He sat up straighter, grumbling despite himself. He didn't like to complain, but he couldn't prevent the pain of the tensely coiled strain in his arms and back as he moved, and so he made a noise of great discomfort. "I... my arms. Mostly."
Korra nodded at him, and shifting a bit, careful to keep her movement to a minimum for the man in front of her, placed her hands on his exposed right forearm, pressing her fingers into the tight flesh there as the water her hands controlled glowed and moved around gently. Mako sighed at her ministrations, the stress seemingly evaporating from his muscles as she massaged it out, grateful for her offering. She switched to the next arm then, and Mako relaxed further into the sofa, feeling sleep grip him. He trusted her unconditionally, and so he allowed himself to nod off with ease.
Once Korra had finished with both of her arms, she pulled back. "Okay, I can do your back, too, if you wa" She blinked at his dozing form, snoring lightly, his head rested against the back of the couch. Her face softened when she saw the peaceful expression on his face, a rare occurrence, and smiling and leaning forward, she pressed a kiss to his cheek and sat beside him again.
Positioning herself against his side, she leaned against him and let her eyelids flutter shut and sleep overtake her, as well. "Goodnight, Mako," she mumbled as she turned into his shoulder, snuggling further against him. "And... thank you. For everything." He stirred a bit at the contact, before settling back into a steadfast slumber.
When Korra was asleep, memories of her life with the brothers flashed through her brain, from tuffs she had been in with Mako and pranks she had pulled with Bolin, to the rarer, tenderer occurrences like when she was told what happened to their parents and more surprising ones like when they discovered she was the Avatar. Their lives together had been an emotional rollercoaster of hardships, but the Avatar found she wouldn't go back on any of it if given the chance they were the family she had wished for her since she had become abandoned, working their way into each other's hearts and rooting there, and she intended to keep it that way.