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|More from Sparkstoaflame||Alternate universe||PG||NA||No update page|
May 23, 2014
The playground has a swing set and a set of rusted old monkey bars in front of it.
You aren't quite sure how old that swing set and the playground is, only that it's been around for at least as long as you've been alive, because you used to come here with your mother at least twice a week before she died.
It isn't as if you've ever really thought about how old it is, merely that it has crossed your mind just now.
And this playground—it's the one that lies in the furthest corner of the universe, beneath the yellowed oak trees with the jungle of weeds and crabgrass brushing gingerly over its roots, the one that's made of the dusty old wood and rusted old nails.
However, you know that this swing set is undeniably old. You can tell from the way the wind moves it—the way it moans and groans as it is shifted back and forth and side to side, depending on the way the wind decides to blow. You can tell from the way the vines creep up the poles with confidence and grace, daring enough to drape down from the top as if they are trapeze artists—and only old swing sets have confident ivy.
The wood feels grainy and dusty as your fingers probe against it, the worry of splinters and fire ants somewhere far back in your mind. You hesitate for a moment, and then run the very tips of your fingers up and down its spine. You can't decide whether its texture reminds you of your silky comforter after it has been sitting in the golden sunlight, pouring through your window on a summer day, or of the cool and wet sand that tickles and scrapes your bare, calloused feet when you tread in the surf. You can't tell, but you don't mind. You're simply greeting this swing set like an old friend after having abandoned it for some eleven years.
A small breeze flutters by, running its fingers through your hair. Then, jealous that your attention is driven from it, the chains jerk a little and squeal in annoyance. The sound is petulant, but it is not entirely unpleasant. You brush some of the dirt off the thin plastic seat. It has grayed with age and dust. You sit down on it—and the swing set sighs in effortless protest, for it has seen enough children and autumn days to last most lifetimes.
You wrap your hands around the rusted chains as if you were gripping pieces of chalk. The chains remind you of sandpaper, fine and scratchy as it nips at your palms. And you sit there for a few moments, staring blankly into the distance at nothing in particular. You're perfectly content to wallow around in your memories,—the ones that rang with laughter and the feeling of your mother's hands pushing you higher and higher up into the air while you screamed with delight.
In a sudden burst of nostalgia, you dig your heels into the ground, locking your knees in place before letting them give way beneath you. The air erupts with the smell of damp earth and cold air and raked leaves and dirty wood that would feel grainy if you happened to touch it.
You thrust your legs back and forth to go higher and higher; the swing creaks and grumbles with lassitude. The rickety legs of the swing set begin to shift and shake as you pull the chains back and forth with each arc of your kick. Extending a hand to the sky, you try to push further, but the chains tire out and release the strength that held you up. You come skidding back down to the earth, your heels turning up the roots of the new dandelions that have yet to bloom and allow children to make wishes on them.
The swing set sighs yet again, content with the ceasing of motion. You see that the sun is setting from where you lie eagle-sprawled on the ground, your shoes and your clothes absolutely ruined, but you don't really care, so enraptured by the sunset you are. Your garments are replaceable. This sunset is not.
You're still staring at the sunset when she ambushes you from above, complete with a loud laugh that rips through the air like a gunshot.
The girl hangs upside down from the rusted monkey bars in front of you and seems to be enjoying herself a little too much.
Wavy locks of long and coarse brown hair cascade past the sides of her dark face, framing a pair of cobalt eyes that must have drawn their essence from the vast ocean itself, and suddenly you can't seem to draw in a proper breath, because you've never really seen her eyes before and they're so blue. Everything about her looks raw; primal, even—totally open in a way that you've never quite managed to be.
It's clear that she's one of those immigrants to the city from the rapidly-fading Water Tribes that live in sequestered bands at the poles, given her dark skin and ragged blue parka that isn't very appropriate for Republic City's mild climate at all—perhaps for the winter, yes, but not now, during the very early days of autumn. Two bunches of her hair have been pulled into what you assume are tribal ornaments from where they dangle limply in the crawling breeze. The rest of her locks have been left unattended and wild.
The Fire Nation Volcanoes baseball cap that usually sits on her head is noticeably absent.
As you take her appearance in, Akua's older sister whom you haven't seen in since last year grins wolfishly at you, a grin that clashes most distinctly with the somber atmosphere the old, creaking trees and dry stalks of grass that surround this little playground exude. Her eyes glitter brightly, almost hungrily in the ruddy light of the setting sun, and as mesmerizing as those eyes are, the look they hold within their depths disturbs you much more.
You have a feeling that someone's told you her name before, but you can't quite remember what it is—and you honestly don't care to at the moment.
You scoot away from her before she can open her mouth to start a conversation.
It doesn't work, because your aversion seems to have been the prompt she had been waiting for to speak—How many bottles of hair gel a day do you go through?
She asks you this random question conversationally, but you can't concentrate on her words because her grin still has a painfully ravenous look about it. You feel like you've heard her voice before, too, somewhere, and then realize with a start that she has the same accent Akua spoke with that one time he actually talked with you, although it's definitely less prominent in this girl's tone.
You jump in your place on the scratchy ground, one of your hands almost unconsciously drifting up to flatten your glossy black tresses. You look around and see no way to escape this dangerous situation without being immensely awkward about it.
I mean, you don't have to answer that—and this spirits-damned girl doggedly insists on trying to carry on a conversation with you. I was just wondering. Because I couldn't help noticing how your hair, and she gestures towards your hair, is prettier than Tahno's. And Tahno goes through about four every morning. It's all for his new coif, you know.
You aren't sure whether she's just really bad at making casual conversation, or if she's actually trying to flirt with you, so you open your mouth and say something along the lines of geddwayfroeme .
She flashes her teeth again, and this time her eyes catch the last few feeble rays that the sun has thrown out. Don't worry, pretty girl, she tells you. You're not reassured in the least by what she says next: I don't bite.
And so you ask her, in an unnecessary flat tone, what she's doing here.
She lets her arms drop to the sides of her head, her calloused fingertips lightly brushing against the sides of your pale cheeks that immediately bloom with spots of light pink. And despite yourself, you shudder involuntarily at her touch even as you flinch away.
I don't know, she says, eying your scandalized expression. She's evidently amused by your abrupt reaction, chortling while she draws her hands back up to squeeze the corroded metal bar above her before she swings down, lightly landing on a pair of feet that are covered by decrepit sealskin boots. I could ask the same of you.
You sniff and ask her if she always responds to people's questions with more questions.
No, not really, and she smiles even wider at this—it occurs to you that you've not seen her stop smiling once since you've met her, and it irks you for some reason—just for you, sweetheart.'
Don't call me "sweetheart", you mutter.
Oh, I can't call you that? Then tell me, what's your name?
You don't answer her, instead letting the blustering wind fill in the empty space between the two of you.
She's leaning against the wooden support of the swing set now, arms loosely folded across her chest while she stares down at you squirming before idly saying, If it helps any, Akua can't stop talking about you.
You ask her who Akua is for the sake of asking, even though you've known the answer for some odd five years.
You're a...sophomore, right? He's a couple grades below you. She shrugs, and you notice that she has never stopped looking at you while she said all these words, and you get the feeling that your every little move is being analyzed. He's a bit eccentric, if I say so myself. She laughs—a short, acerbic laugh that's more of a bark than anything. Can't say I blame him for that, though...
And while she's in the middle of saying that, you blurt out, How come I never see you at school?
Her smile instantly turns frosty and you regret asking immediately. But she answers anyways—because I don't go.
Why not? You can't stop your mouth from churning forth more inquiries.
She carelessly snubs your question and wiggles her fingers in a taunting wave instead. Well, I have to go now. Can't be late for the bout. I expect I'll see you here tomorrow, Asami. You'll be here, won't you?
And she's off, with the question of how she even knew your name dying on your lips.
She's waiting for you the next day, as you find out, for your feet have, in regards to some odd reason only known to them, carried you back to that playground in the furthest corner of the universe you used to visit every day with your mother before she died.
I didn't come here for you, you bluntly inform her as you sit heavily down onto a swing with the air of an artificially grumpy temper whirling around you.
I see that someone's very happy to see me, she only grins cheekily back, ambling over to lean against the wooden support beams of the swing set once more.
You slowly twist your hands around the gritty chains of the swing, savoring in the rough feeling of the aged metal scraping against your skin. What do you want with me?
She tilts her head as if to observe you again with those too-blue eyes. They bore into your green ones, and you snap your head back down, quite flustered, even as the soft sound of her chuckle floats lazily through the air.
Well. For starters—I'd like to know more about you. Tell me about yourself.
And you ask her, without daring to look back up, Why?
She cocks her head. Is it such a crime just to be interested in you, Asami Sato?
You self-consciously flatten some creases in your dark brown jacket. How do you know my name?
Now look who's answering questions with more questions, she only laughs before sticking a hand out into your face. Look, how about I introduce myself first? I'm—
Alqaq, you guess.
Now she starts, lowering her hand to let it fall limply by her side. Deep crevices mar her smooth forehead as she scrunches her expression together into a look of utmost confusion: Alqaq? You speak Winter Tongue? Then she spits something out in a dialect that you most definitely cannot understand, but have heard running in an undertone beneath her words—much less prominent than Akua's accent when he spoke in Common Tongue, you note.
Er, n-no; Akoo—I mean, Akua's...talked about you—before, you gracelessly explain, given that your words are tripping over your own tongue.
She nods, her expression unreadable, reverting to the language you can actually decipher: Oh. Well, "alqaq" means "older sister of a male" in the Winter Tongue. I'm Korra. And then she hitches her smile back onto her face and thrusts her hand in front of your chest again.
A brief memory flashes through your head, reminding you that yes, you actually did know her name—that time when you and Akua sat together in the cafeteria, he had mentioned the name 'Korra'.
After a moment's hesitation, you loosely take her offered hand, feeling rough callouses rubbing against your pale skin as you give it a brief shake before abruptly letting it drop down again. There is no sort of electric spark passing between the two of you, but you feel much more comfortable around her, anyway.
So I've told you my name, now, Korra says, her eyes still sparkling like a rabid wolf's. Tell me more about you.
And you ask yet again, because you still don't entirely trust this girl, this Korra, Why?
She smiles even wider. Well, I like to talk about myself, something or the other, with certain people, she replies. And in return, they talk about themselves to me.
'Certain people', you carefully note.
She only plucks at a blade of grass by her feet, idly running a fingernail down its center before turning to you again, those strange blue eyes now shining with thinly concealed mirth. How about I put it this way: Sell me your soul, and I'll sell you mine.
You begin to notice, after a few weeks of those sorts of one-on-one talks that you just fell into the habit of conducting (as well as a few days where you had unashamedly stalked this girl to the playground), that she has a habit of visiting the tiny park every day, this Korra. She's there with the sun and there with the rain; there with the trees and there with the wind: every day, really, without fail. Even when you tell her you aren't going to be there, you spot her—because in actuality, you just tend to hide out in the ring of scraggly trees that surround this decrepit area so you can simply observe her sitting on top of the monkey bars for a while.
You have since told her a little about your late mother and your invisible attachment to this area; for all Korra goes on about talking about herself, she has yet to tell you her reasons for visiting this unremarkable corner of the universe.
Well, um—you see, she had told you after you alluded to that very question one day, I used to think that this place was known to only myself. I came here a lot, even before you started to show up, too. She still had that damned smile on her face that you've never seen fall off, but it'd been brought down a few notches and was tinged with a most peculiar emotion, for Korra at least—more so melancholy and pensive than anything, and then she added quite randomly—sometimes, I don't think I pay enough attention to him. And then she refused to speak another word on the matter, and you just dropped it, because who were you to press her, when you know that you yourself often said things that are meant to be explained only with time?
And you—you still don't know what to make of Korra. She's almost something exotic to you, something strange—you don't know why she even tries to talk with you, you don't know any of her motives, you haven't even really gotten a measure of her sum personality even though she smiles a lot and makes more cracks at others than anyone you have ever met in your life.
You know that she's caring—that much is certain, what with what you've seen and how she acts around Akua. You know that she likes her little jokes—but so do you, and pretty much everyone else that you know.
But there's still something eternally hidden from you in those bright blue eyes that constantly smile and laugh; something veiled in that hungry smile that doesn't even seem so hungry to you anymore, but simply famished. Famished for what—now, of course, you don't know, just like how you still don't know what her favorite food is nor when she wakes up every morning. Does she want human contact? Harmless chatter? Friendship? You don't know, and it disturbs you. You can't make head nor tail of it, and you want to know what it really is.
The thing is, your brain is used to the idea of understanding people, and understanding them well—it's something you're known for, this handy little ability—but you've never encountered someone quite like Korra, or even Akua before. So you find yourself constantly thinking of exactly why you come to this playground to meet her and what she has to gain from doing it, too.
To your absolute horror, you're desperate enough to fantasize about the idea of Korra being a vampire, or a werewolf like one of those characters in that sappy romance novel—Twilight, was it called?—that is all the rage at the moment, and then immediately dismiss the thought as ludicrous.
After much desperate rambling to yourself in your brain, you have to concede that—no, you don't really understand Korra at all.
But that doesn't stop you from coming back to the playground that's shunted in the corner of the universe every day.
Korra asks you one day in the middle of the morning how you feel about the stars. You're a bit put off by this question, as you don't have an opinion on them either way, so you tell her that you think that they're really pretty.
They are, aren't they? she thoughtfully says, letting her eyes drift up to the cloudy, light blue sky before she flinches back away, squinting against the blinding light of the sun. In the Water Tribes, we believe that the stars are the spirits of the dead. That the souls of our forefathers are still up there, somewhere...still watching over us. Protecting us. Living with us. Her lips twist into a smile that's touched with bitterness before she mumbles in a voice so quiet that you're not sure if she meant for you to hear, They're up there for eternity.
You glance up at the very blue and very starless sky before vaguely commenting that you're bothered by the concept of eternity.
At your remark, you notice that Korra, rather strangely, is giving you an exceedingly severe look—her facial expression pinches in very odd manner; it looks as if she's bitten into a lemon and is trying to hold its caustic juices within her mouth—and her eyes gleam like hard blue iron. Her smile has slipped right off her face, only to be replaced by a too-bitter frown that tells you this isn't the first time she's worn an expression that isn't all sunshine and happiness.
What? you ask uncertainly, quickly averting your eyes so you don't have to meet her terribly bright glare. What'd I say?
She starts—shoulders jerking up a hair, head shaking as if she's trying to clear it—and she immediately looks back down in her lap as if she's abashed, the flicker of a smile pulling unsuccessfully at the corners of her lips. Um, sorry.
No, no. You lean closer to her and off-handedly notice that she smells very faintly like sea spray—it isn't unpleasant, but it's an odor peculiar enough—or at least one you'd never smelled before—that you reel back a little bit. Err...what do you like about eternity so much?
Well, she carefully says, and it's almost as if she's swirling the words around her mouth, tasting them to make sure they're neither unpleasant nor rotten before she let them flow past her lips, have you...ever wondered what it would be like if—if you were immortal?
You shrug—it is a fantasy that you had entertained when you were but a child, but you have long since abandoned the whimsical idea to collect dust on a back shelf in your memories. Yes. Of course I have, albeit a long time ago. Why—do you want to live forever?
Once again, Korra doesn't answer you immediately. You watch her eyes drift up towards the sky again, cerulean orbs resting upon the wispy clouds that race over your heads, before they drop back down and come crashing to the earth—When I was a little younger, she says, her voice detached and free-floating through the cool air, my father asked me what I was scared of most in the world. And I said death. She takes a deep breath and holds it for a few seconds, before her cheeks puff out and she lets the waiting air back into the brisk breeze as a shuddering exhale. Not just my own, but other people's, too. Maybe even more so. I hate death. I hate everything about it. I hate funerals. I hate how it makes me think that I've fa—
She briefly touches her fingers to her temples, obviously deciding against what she was about so say. I hate the feeling it brings...the sheer hopelessness. It's—you can't fight against it, and she wrings her hands in blatant frustration before throwing them in front of herself in a violent gesture, it just comes to you. Like—like you're blowing out a candle. And then—poof. She gesticulates forcefully with her arms, expanding them in a circular arc and almost hitting you in the face before clapping them together loudly. It's gone. Just like that. The creature, the person that just died—it disappears. There'll never be another being like it.
Your eyebrows meet at the top of the bridge of your nose—So, what you're telling me is, you hate death and the finality it brings with it? That's a form of eternity, Korra.
I know, I know, Korra snaps shortly, running a distracted hand through her hair—her mind is obviously on something a million miles away, something you can't see (not that this is anything new), not smack dab in the present like it usually is, I just...if we were immortal, death wouldn't be able to ever—hurt anyone again.
Korra, and you say this gently, if anything in this world was destined to live forever, then they would live forever. But nothing does. We're simply not made to be—
No! Korra slams her fist onto the grassy ground in frustration, her eyes glittering with some veiled, frantic emotion, before she sobers down, her rage disappearing as quickly as it appeared. I mean, and she takes a few more breaths, I mean, just if it was...
You study her with concern, because you don't understand her cryptic remarks in the slightest—Korra, are you feeling alright?
She stares at you for a few seconds, the shadow of her former resentment still rearing up like a beast inside those flickering blue eyes and the drawn-together eyebrows: Ye—no, she mutters, turning away from you again.
You watch her fingers worry themselves against each other and on anything they can reach—tearing up the grass, picking at her worn-down sweatpants—and then she says in a horribly flat tone of voice, Ata—Father was called back to the fishing boats. Again. And the overseers said that he could get a month off.
...Oh? you whisper, not trusting yourself to say anything more in case something even vaguely insensitive comes out of your mouth.
She's still staring at you with those strikingly blue eyes, eyes that flicker for but a moment with an emotion you can't pin down—then she screws her eyes shut and coughs, steals a hurried glance at the line of trees behind the two of you, and takes a sharp breath—then her expression turns dead once more, eyes opening to reveal passive cobalt irises.
Your breath catches in your throat even as Korra turns to look at the ground again.
I love my family, she says in that same flat tone of voice, something that's so blank and emotionless that you know there's something she's fighting to keep hidden underneath the sheet of monolithic nothingness, I've stuck with them through everything—no matter how great the offers that came from others. She pauses. I don't want them gone from my life, any of them. They've given me so much, I don't want to fail them in any way. I wouldn't—I'd never le...want them to—
She suddenly becomes very interested in something next to her shoe.
The two of you sit there in a heavy silence—the breeze running its soft fingers through your hair, as you silently watch the sun dully gleam off the pitted and rusted metal of the monkey bars.
Her voice pipes up again, carried by the wind—I'm sorry, Asami.
There's something in her voice—some odd undertone, an awkward slip of the syllable—that you immediately look up in confusion, but there's nothing there but the two of you and the wind and a strange glint in Korra's azure eyes probing your face.
You're too paranoid, you silently chide yourself before you ask Korra, For what?
...I—for snapping at you.
Both of you know that's a lie, but you don't press her buttons.
I've got to go, she says, and there's the same odd note to her voice—but you only nod your goodbye and watch as her figure gets smaller and smaller with each step; she vaults over the wooden fence—and she's gone.
By the time it's a healthy one year old, your (friendly and strictly platonic, although some people tended to think otherwise ) relationship with Korra hasn't gone unnoticed by your peers nor your family, no matter how hard you had tried to cover up your tracks.
This, in and on itself, would have been annoying and simply tedious to cope with—as you'd have to had answered a lot of awkward questions—and it is annoying, but after you've beat off all the questions from your inner circle, the outside world begins to notice too:
What's a pretty heiress like you doing, wandering around with a Water Tribe scamp from the slums?
The ugly fact remains that most of Republic City's denizens hail from either the old lands of the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom—you certainly do from the former—and there is quite a bit of hostility directed towards the minority, those who are obviously descended from the Water Tribes, with their stark blue eyes and dark brown skin. And for some strange reason that you can't make heads nor tails of, they were largely considered to be primitive and stupidly simple. Racism and similar prejudices run rampant throughout the city, even to this day.
Your peers and family apparently don't hold this twisted ideal in their minds. You notice that Miki's much more invested in her nails and voluminous locks of hair than she is discriminatory against solely Water Tribe immigrants, and most of your other friends don't give two shits about ethnicities and whatnot. Neither does your father, despite his healthy distaste for absolutely anything that had remotely to do with benders or bending.
You've never gotten a look at this discrimination first-hand. You've read about it, of course (it's been almost two years and you still can't get that newspaper article out of your head), and you've certainly heard about it too, from civil rights groups, but you've never witnessed it, nor do you really want to.
Then, Korra asks you one day if you're up for walking around her home streets with her.
Come on, it's in broad daylight. The Otter Falls Borough's in a really bad state, but you know, you won't get murdered, or raped, or anything. She smile genially at you. Promise.
You stare at her, not sure if she's joking or not.
Please? Her lower lip juts out into an enormous pout as she gives you puppy dog eyes.
If you think that that's going to work on me, and you break out into a wide smirk, then you're sorely mistaken.
She doesn't bother to feign affront and continues to attempt to wheedle you into coming to walk the streets with her, which is a stupid topic to argue about if you've ever heard one, and after about five minutes of her prodding your side, you start to humor her.
Why? you query in a weary tone of voice, digging your heels into the soft ground in the old playground. I like it here. We come here every day. Almost every day, I mean.
She plucks idly at the grass lazily swaying in the brisk breeze by her foot—My point exactly.
Your eyebrows draw together to form a puzzled line atop the bridge of the nose before you sigh thickly through your nose. You don't make any sense, Korra—you know that?
She turns toward you, a challenge evident in her blue eyes. And tell me, how do I not make any sense?
Well... And you flap your arms vaguely around in an attempt to gesture at the playground, You told me that you came here every day, for a long time. Why...why don't you like the playground anymore? Are you giving this place up for the so we can talk in the streets?
Korra stares at you with wide blue eyes for a long moment, and then throws her head back and starts to laugh, a loud and brazen sound that scares a flock of twittering birds away from the nearby forest, where they chirp madly before flapping angrily into the cool air.
Spirits, Asami, Korra gasps through fits of laughter, wiping tears from her eyes, You make it sound as if I'm breaking up with this place and dumping it for the streets.
Well—well, you are! you petulantly exclaim, throwing your hands up in exasperation.
Uh, you see, you've got some flawed logic there—one, I was never with this sorry playground in the first place, and two, I'm already taken, thank you very much.
Your eyebrows shoot into your hairline. Oh?
Yeah, sure. Bolin. She grins crookedly. Huh...maybe I should bring him sometime.
That's okay, thanks, you say, standing up smartly and brushing some clingy wood chips off of your clothes.
I know! she exclaims happily, and on a completely unrelated note, My life sounds like something out of a reality TV show! I broke up with a playground, I'm in a relationship with a guy and am apparently cheating on him with the streets—
It sounds more sad and pathetic than like a reality TV show, you muse, moving to stand up. Korra immediately jumps up after you, her eyes shining brightly in the glow of the afternoon sun. That's besides the point. So, shall we go?
Hmph. Your mouth quirks. Fine.
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