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|More from Sparkstoaflame||Alternate universe||PG||NA||No update page|
April 5, 2014
It is a well-known fact that the small boy sitting in that half-broken desk over in the corner of your fifth-period study hall class is an oddball.
You see him in the library sometimes, this skinny little boy. He has wide, watery blue eyes and mousy dark hair; is always clutching a ratty cloth bag that serves as his lunchbox around with him every day. Your pathetic knowledge about him as a student and human being in general is limited to the fact that he's in the fourth grade, and that he's absolutely, undeniably bizarre. You've never met a little kid like him before and you don't think you ever will again.
Every day in the school library, you see his glassy eyes fixated devotedly onto a computer screen that reads Wikipedia, while his bony index finger wreaks havoc upon the left click option of a greasy black mouse he holds tightly clutched in his hands like a lifeline. You watch him abuse the Random article link on the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit and you watch him read about fruit pies, the twenty-fifth Avatar Jalin, and the ruins of Ba Sing Se.
He likes to play with his food before he eats it. Your gaggle of girlfriends giggle behind dainty hands that have been perfectly manicured and nails that have been treated with sparkly pink polish. They talk shrilly in high-pitched voices that sound like a cat-owl on helium and throw nastily indiscreet looks at the boy's way while you occupy yourself by examining your cuticles that you know haven't been broken in any way. Beside you, enough steaming gossip pours out past glossed lips to fill a twenty-gallon vat while this little boy dreamily dissects a piece of melon with a toothpick and remains blissfully unaware of the chatter circulating around him.
He goes home with another older kid, a girl, whom you've never seen around Republic City Central District before, but you think that she's around your age. Probably would have been in the eighth grade along with you. You have assumed this mystery figure to be the odd boy's family member, perhaps an older sister. You've never seen this sister's face before, though. You also notice that she keeps her head shoved underneath an oddly lumpy Fire Nation Volcanoes baseball cap all the time and you've only ever caught the briefest glimpse of a pair of blue eyes.
You don't even know why you watch this odd boy in the first place. He's queer and he's strange and he has never talked to you before in your life, ever. Sometimes, he turns around and smiles at you—but this must be because you're the only one who dares to sit within a ten-foot radius of him, and he smiles at everyone and everything anyways. And the smile is vacant, like it's been taped to his face, like he doesn't even know he's smiling.
Nevertheless, you constantly watch him, while your girlfriends squawk away about their latest crushes behind you. And on the last day of school, when that baseball-cap–wearing kid shows up to pick the little boy up like she normally does, the boy turns around and looks at you in your eyes and continues to smile passively—and maybe it's just you, but you hesitantly think that his smile it isn't as blank as it normally is.
You raise your hand slowly, not exactly sure of what you should do in response, but even as your hand flops randomly around in a massively awkward wave, you see the boy's smile widen.
His sister turns and looks at you too, pushing up the hem of the dark red baseball with the knuckles of her right hand as if to take a better look at you—it's of little use, as the too-big cap immediately slips down over her eyes again and throws her face into shadow.
And you can still see her giving you an appraising once-over. It makes you feel oddly uncomfortable and wanting to shrivel up inside your skin; she apparently loses interest, and turns around to shepherd her younger brother out past the doors.
The next year, when you enter the ninth grade, you still see the little boy everyone calls an oddball—he makes sure to give you that not-so-vacant smile every day, and you've finally found the courage to smile and wave back—but you don't really see much of his sister.
This makes you feel lost, for some reason or the other, but you don't dwell too much on it. You really don't have the time. Ninth grade, rather different than eighth, is really the true beginning of your high school years. Ninth grade is quite a mouthful, and it's definitely a hell of a lot more than eighth ever was.
Even as you stagger under the weight of a whole load of new textbooks the first day back at school, you seek to catch the little boy whenever you can—at lunch breaks, in between bells for classes—and he still continues to smile sweetly at you but never speaks a word, even if you offer to help him with his homework.
Your friends—sometimes, you wonder why you still call them your friends—sneer at him behind his back but you don't have the heart to stop them after about the first twenty times they ignored your meek protests.
Look at the way he walks, one of the especially vindictive ones, Miki, smirks. He's like a lame otter-penguin!
You've never even seen an otter-penguin, you mumble under your breath, but your remark is lost among the babble of agreement pulsing around you.
What kind of old bitch would have given birth to a retard like that, Miki viciously continues to monologue, and you can't help but wince violently at her words, almost knocking over your carton of milk.
Oh, Miki...come on, don't say things like that—you try to reason with a hopeless cause.
She only pouts loudly, large green eyes glinting with some sort of cruel pleasure that twists your stomach up into a knot. How can you say that, 'Sami? Just look at him!
You look over at the boy eating his lunch and then blink back at Miki with what you think is a confused look on your face.
You know, 'Sami, I don't even know why you, like, try and talk to him, Miki says, leaning over the table and not even noticing a puddle of spilled brown chocolate milk sinking into the right sleeve of her two-hundred-yuan sweater, it's not as if he can understand you or anything.
You sit up and announce dramatically—I've got to go sandwich thing.
Miki superiorly raises a thin pencil eyebrow at you.
You flush and scamper away, the soles of your shoes squeaking against the freshly waxed cream-colored floor.
While you wait on line to get that sandwich from one of those grumpy old cafeteria ladies that smell like cats all the time, the little boy wanders up to you, a plastic carton of his lunch clutched in his hand. Vaguely, you realize that he holds it like he does his black computer mouse.
His smile is hitched on his face and it doesn't move even as he opens his mouth to say, Akua.
You blink rapidly at him, because whatever you'd been expecting him to do—you're not even sure—it definitely wasn't to speak: 'Scuse me?
My name is Akua, he smiles, and his voice is light and feathery and innocent, although it had a strange accent to it that you've never really heard before—sharp and almost guttural, containing the harsh sounds of winter within its tones. Alqaq tells me it means "god" in Winter Tongue.
You bite your lower lip, not sure what to say in response to his strange proclamation. Um...Winter Tongue? And "alqaq"?
Oh, yes. Alqaq. She still remembers you, you know. She cannot come to pick me up this year, Alqaq, because she is working in the evenings now. Underground. He pauses. Not that Aana or Ata know about it. Ata works many hours a week on the fishing boats and Aana is too busy working in the city. They just appreciate the money. She told me not to tell. But you would not tell anyone, would you? Then he smiles passively at you after uttering this cryptic remark, lowering his gaze before he meanders back to his empty table to eat his slices of pale green winter melon.
You turn away, confused, with the passing thought that the little boy always eats winter melon.
At fifteen, your first date asks you out.
He's a hot hunk of a boy—or so Miki tells you, but you haven't really taken anything she's said seriously after that conversation about Akua about a year ago, back in ninth grade—with the blood of those who lived in the Fire Nation running through his veins, very much like yourself. The difference is where all differences emerge from: you couldn't produce a flicker of flame to save your life, yet he was one the many who could bend fire.
You concede to the fact that he is good-looking, and he is very mild-mannered, but you date him with a mild disinterest anyways and by the end of forty-eight hours you don't even know why you said yes to his proposal in the first place.
So you break up with him—um, I don't think that this is going to work out; we can barely look at each other in the eye—and a day later rumor had it that he was crying in a bathroom stall when he was supposed to be in his fourth period Integrated Algebra class with Professor Bao.
You know you should feel guilty about it, but all you are is relieved.
And still relieved you were when you stumbled across an article while perusing Republic City Junior High's very own newsletter, some opinion column or the other that talked about a child's disappearance from her home one foggy night.
Normally, such an article wouldn't have captured your interest for more than two seconds, but something about this one makes you stop and blink twice, because there's a grainy picture shunted to the very corner of the article depicting a small girl wandering the streets of what looked like the Otter Falls Borough, a predominantly Water Tribe sector of Republic City. The article mentions something about autism, and then explains how the girl went missing for two days before the police found her mutilated remains in a ditch in the outskirts of the borough.
They were still searching for the murderer.
You can't make out this girl's face, but it's clear that she's Water Tribe.
You almost run into one of the concrete pillars that stand grandly in front of the school the next morning when you see Akua wandering into the middle set of doors like he normally does. But his eyes are glassier and more fearful than usual, and although he remains very quiet in his way, he doesn't smile at anyone the whole day. Not even you.
And by the time the last bell rings, his sister's dutifully there to pick him up from the school again, despite him being thirteen and in the eighth grade. You watch on quietly as several groups of people whisk by, leaving the ghosts of their giggles behind with the churning wind as Akua, clearly shaking as violently as a leaf in a gale, all but leaps into his sister's waiting arms, burying his small mousy head into her shoulder while she apparently mumbles platitudes to him underneath that damned red baseball cap.
The people still whizzing by in a blur around you apparently found the scene very funny—there's this tiny teenage boy sobbing in the arms of a girl barely a year older than him—but you, you only find it disturbing. Very disturbing. There's an unidentifiable sinking feeling in your chest as you watch on, transfixed by this scene, and there's something odd starting to burn past your eyes when Miki shakes you and asks you if you've ever seen a more pathetic sight in your life.
This breaks you out of your frozen reverie, but you don't—you can't—do anything more than push roughly past Miki, turn away with your head bowed down, and walk slowly towards your bus with the image of Akua sobbing and breaking down into a mess in his sister's arms branded forever in your mind.
Out of every charge to get arrested on, he gets thrown into a juvenile delinquent center for illegal street fighting.
You haven't given much thought to your first ex-boyfriend after you broke up with him four months ago. You've walled him from your mind; mortared into place thick slabs of concrete to prevent him from ever penetrating into your thoughts ever again.
You don't know why. (But then again, you don't know why you do a lot of things these days.) It could be guilt, but why would you feel guilty about the break-up if you didn't like him? It could be shame, but what is there to be shameful of?
But it's impossible to avoid the buzzing gossip and rumors that are circling around the school within day two of the article in the school paper had been published.
You had pretty much avoided reading the paper after reading that article about the little autistic girl whose body had been found dead and brutally maimed in a trench, so you hadn't even heard about the news until Miki cornered you one day in between second and third period, her golden eyes blazing with unprecedented excitement while she practically froths at the mouth.
Shaking your shoulders in a violently useless attempt to convey to you the importance of the information, she hollers into your rather alarmed face, Your ex-boyfriend's been arrested!
You're in a hurry to get to Professor Beifong's honors chemistry class, and you aren't eager to be late after that last time she scolded you for two minutes for being tardy in front of twenty-seven other giggling sophomore grade students.
So you reply in a maddeningly patient tone, Okay, and try to shove past her to ascend the stairs. She sidesteps to the right and her backpack hits you on the arm.
Okay? "Okay?!" That's all you can say?! Come on, 'Sami, this is, like—
You grind your teeth so forcefully against each other that you think you might have chipped a molar. I've got to get to class. We can talk about this later, okay?
Psh! Miki waves an impatient hand. Class can wait. How can you not be excited about this?
You heave an upset sigh as the obnoxious blare of the bell rips mercilessly through the air. You count off a full five seconds before the bell stops shrieking and before you're sure you've controlled yourself enough to not rip off Miki's pretty head.
All right. Mako got arrested...on what, exactly? He doesn't do drugs or anything like that, does he? You say this purely for Miki's entertainment, even as your fingers worry themselves against each other, crossing and uncrossing themselves into increasingly sweaty shapes.
You know those illegal underground street fights that sometimes go 'round the slum boroughs? asks Miki while you try to think of smart ways to circumvent her and get to honors chemistry before Professor Beifong can blow a few gaskets. Apparently, the police broke one of them up today. Lots of people ran off, but...he was one of the unlucky ones.
Er, this relates to me in any sort of way, how? you shoot off desperately as a reply. I really have to go now.
You blow her off, blatant impatience creeping into your tone like an approaching thunderstorm. Miki, I really have to get to class. I'll see you later.
You almost sprint into a wall in your eagerness to get away.
The problem with playing a covert game of hide-and-seek that concerns your social life with a random person—in this case the person being your father—is that sometimes, that person finds out you're playing a covert game of hide-and-seek with them.
You're sitting in front of your desk, wedged uncomfortably between such a massive pile of school textbooks and homework that workloads of that size should have been declared illegal, and the new Lychee laptop you received for your birthday three months back when your father ambushes you—Asami?
And at his voice, you jump in your seat and knock your coffee cup over, the lukewarm brown liquid pooling all over your half-finished homework as you wheel around to stare at your father in shock because he has never checked in on you while you were studying before. He's always too busy and has to attend business meetings and seems to come up with a new excuse every week for why he doesn't pay enough (any) attention to you. That being said, you've long since given up attempting to ask for his help on a particularly daunting math problem, trying to get his fleeting attention.
Asami? he asks you again before pulling up a chair that's been pushed carelessly to the side of your study and dragging it over to your desk so he can sit to the side and eye you with concern. Are you alright?
You blink in confusion: this is not the statement you had been expecting him to pose to you. Um...yeah. I'm fine. Why do you ask?
His dark amber eyes probe at your face. You've grown quieter. Is there something going on at school?
You can feel your lips pulling themselves down into a small frown. Er, no?
Your uncertain answer seems to reaffirm whatever suspicions he has about your perfectly normal life.
I heard that the firebender boy you were dating—Mako, was it?—had gotten arrested.
Your lips thin into a severe line, with the passing thought of Does everyone know about this? before you reply in a measured voice, And?
Asami, I don't want you to fraternize with those sorts of people again, your father seriously says, shifting slightly in his seat so that the sun flashes merrily off of his highly polished glasses.
Your voice has acquired a sharp edge that you desperately but unsuccessfully attempt to flatten—Oh? And what do you mean by "those people?"
I mean benders, Asami, your father says back in an equally sharp voice that he immediately attempts to honey down. Don't you see? They cause nothing but trouble and get themselves arrested—
Mako, you say through gritted teeth as you only now begin to sop the coffee off of your completely ruined homework, was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.
You're not quite sure why you're trying to defend your ex, but there's something in your father's voice that just sets you off—the distaste and mocking incredulity in it sends freezing lances of ice tearing down your spine.
Your father only frowns at you. He was caught in one of those underground street fighting rings, Asami. In the middle of a bout.
You only shrug ruefully, vigorously scrubbing at your desk and peeling your ruined homework pages away from one another with such meticulous care it's as if it's the most important job you've ever undertaken.
Stay away from them, all right? your father continues to monologue, not the least bit aware that you're trying hard to tune him out. I don't want you getting caught up their nonsense. Now, I have to go. I have a phone conference in five minutes.
And he gives you one last, warm smile that you don't bother to return (not that he notices or anything) before he ambles out of your study.
An uncharacteristically foul temper has caught hold of you by the next day—a temper that had been brought on by your lack of sleep (for you had attempted to copy and complete all your homework; after about thirty tedious minutes, you pretty much gave up on it) and your irritation at your father's remarks—something that everyone immediately catches onto when you oh-so-discreetly slam your bulging backpack besides your desk at the start of first-period Integrated Algebra II/Trigonometry Theory class.
Professor Bao throws you an extraordinarily scandalized look before continuing to make his way around the rows of desks, boldly wielding his clipboard and pencil of death as he interrogates his hapless students for their assignments. You indifferently accept the irritated furrowing of Professor Bao's eyebrows when he notices your utter lack of homework. He makes a very obvious tick mark on his clipboard before swooping upon Miki.
You struggle through five agonizingly slow periods in a haze of tiredness before lunch humbly offers itself to you as a welcome respite from the mundane regularities of attending classes all morning. Immediately collapsing onto a chair at an empty table—not your usual one—you stretch your arms out in front of you before letting your head drop into the soft cradle it has created.
Your head immediately shoots up from your arms as you take in the sight of a small, pointed face and clear blue eyes—Oh. Oh, hi, Akua, and after saying this you run a self-conscious hand through your disheveled locks, Um, am I sitting in your—?
He shakes his head slowly and easily settles down next to you, opening his small plastic carton of lunch. You take one look at the slices of pale green melon and stupidly bluster, Do you always eat winter melon?
He nods seriously, although the smile on his thin face pretty much ruins the effect. Yes. It is the only thing we have in abundance back home.
Well, you continue flatly, and in your defense you're not even quite sure what's coming out of your mouth half the time today, you can't buy lunch or anything? I mean, you can't be getting enough nutrients from just that—
The lunch here costs too much, he baldly states.
You slam your lips together and feel burning heat creeping its deliberate way up your cheeks. Oh. I—I'm sorry.
He looks at you quizzically, pushing a slice of melon into his mouth—For what?
Well—I didn't mean— And you splutter incoherently, sure that your whole face must have turned a brilliant shade of crimson by this point.
Akua only shrugs, seemingly catching on to your pitiful attempt to explain yourself: My family is among the many that can only manage to scrape by in Republic City, Asami. It is not that big of a deal.
You frown rather doubtfully—Er...It costs quite a bit of money to attend this school.
Akua's omnipresent smile flickers ever so slightly, but he immediately hitches it up again before replying, Alqaq takes care of that.
You would like to inquire into this strange situation further, but decide that you've prodded enough into his personal life for today and simply watch Akua finish his lunch.
She almost got arrested a few days ago, Akua randomly mumbles after an empty pause through a mouthful of fruit, and you jump a little at his unexpected remark.
What? you ask.
It was in the newspaper, Akua continues in a rather vague tone of voice, his blue eyes fixated upon some point in the distance, her friend got caught, though.
You bolt upright in your chair at his last words and practically bleat out, Friend? Mako?!
He glances at you, surprise clouding his innocent blue gaze. Yes, him. Mako. His brother—Bolin—stays with us on the weekends, actually. He suddenly grins even wider. I think that they have a thing going on.
You almost have a coronary—I'm sorry?!
Hmm? Oh, did you take it as "Mako and Bolin have a thing going on?" No, no, of course not. That is incestuous beyond belief. He laughs, a light and tinkling sound that reminds you strangely of bells. I meant—Bolin and Korra.
Err..."Korra?" You frown at the unfamiliar name.
He nods. Alqaq.
Your eyes as wide as saucers, you stare at an increasingly puzzled Akua, half-stunned and half-giddy at how absurdly coincidental this situation actually is.
Akua holds your gaze for a moment longer before he seems to resign himself to the fact that you, in truth, are a crazy psycho who enjoys staring at other people ceaselessly. Ducking his mousy head down, he reaches into his ratty, brown leather bag and pulls out a large square piece of midnight blue cloth, as well as something that looks like a half-completed elastic sock with large circular holes on either end.
You nod at the half-sock—So, what's that?
Akua turns it over in his hands, handling it with great care and caution. It is a gift.
You try to make heads and tails of this unusual object—Um, is it a sock?
He gives you a look that contains the tiniest hint of reproach in it, and you wince, feeling utterly ignorant and even slightly racist.
A ceremonial armband, Akua quietly explains, turning back to the object and laying it carefully on the thick blue piece of cotton.
Upon closer examination, you see the pattern that has started to form upon this armband—a stripe that is a light, pale blue color, above of which are alternating triangles of a slightly darker blue and white, with a dot of the opposite color at the widened end of each shape.
Who's it for?
He stares at it for a long moment, his thin fingers still lovingly stroking their way over the fabric, and then for whatever reason, slowly nods at you: It's for her. For Korra.
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