Crumble - [The Legend of Korra]

A/N:  Bolin discovers he’s an earthbender. 

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CRUMBLE
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It is hot and the air is dancing for it, glitter-glitter-shine like water in the distance, and your lips are dry and you lick them and you are hungry, so hungry it hurts.  It hurts deep and twisting, not just in your belly but rippling down your back and into your legs, and when you curl your bare toes you feel the cracks in your heels spread and sometimes you swallow even though nothing’s been in your mouth but your tongue for almost as long as you can remember.

You are so hungry.

“Mako,” you tell your big brother.  “Mako, I’m so hungry.”

Mako doesn’t look at you.  At first you think this is because he doesn’t like you to see when he cries, his eyes all full of wet and crackle-gleam yellow, but then you realize he is sleeping, really sleeping, his chin on his chest and his hair plastered sweaty and soft to his forehead.  Mako hardly ever sleeps anymore and his face, his poor face is purple down one side where his boss hit him trying to turn his head around and you are hungry, yes, so hungry, but more than that you love your brother with every bit of yourself, even the cracks in your heels.  So you shut up.  Turning onto your side, you curl down until your knees touch your ribs, and with your cheek in the dirt of the alley you look out, out across the dusty, sun-hazed street.

You are so hungry because of something called a famine.  That and your parents are gone, they can’t take care of you anymore, and Mako won’t tell you what happened to them but it was horrible, you know that, because he wouldn’t cry so much all the time if it hadn’t been.  Once you lived in a house with them:  with your parents.  It was neither big nor small and your mama, she filled it with her singing, and your daddy’s big footsteps stomp-stomp-stomped on the stairs in it and sometimes, when you were good, he carried you on his shoulders and you took his hair in your hands and pulled it.  You remember that now, and you ache, and it hurts:  not just in your belly or your back or your legs, but all over.

They’re gone and this other thing, this famine:  Mako tells you it means somewhere far away food didn’t grow up good and strong.   Food—there isn’t much of it, there isn’t enough of it.  The carts of the vendors in the streets rattle by empty almost always.  The stallkeepers guard their wares like treasure and there are others, others like you and Mako, who have scars and burns and missing fingers from trying to steal small suppers.

You are so hungry, and you look and you see one of those stallkeepers pulling down the tarp of his stand over himself to try to block the sun.  At his elbow a pyramid of bright round green things glare proud against the stark beige of everything else.  Melons.  Have you ever had one?  You swallow a dry throatful of nothing and you don’t remember.

It hurts and you are so hungry, and Mako with his bruised face gone quiet is sleeping and your parents are gone and there is a famine and not enough food and suddenly, oh.  Suddenly you are still hungry, but you are also something else.  Stars through the smog, winking:  you think you can feel them inside you, tiny burn-sear lights, and you stretch out one hand toward that stallkeeper with his melons.  There is no strength in you and your hand falls again just as quickly to the alley floor, smack, but that’s okay, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

The ground moves under your fingers.

The melon on the pyramid’s top wobbles.  The stallkeeper misses it:  doesn’t catch it as it rolls down its brothers and sisters and falls to the street, where it bounces once, twice before it is still again.

You roll onto your stomach, staring.  Then you look over your shoulder at Mako, still sleeping:  back to the melon.  You dig your elbow into the dirt and you force the flat of your hand down one more time, pow, against the alley floor, and the street sighs and rolls and the melon slides over the sidewalk, bumpity bumpity, until finally it finds its way into the alley and hits you.  When you reach to touch it the green is soft and cool somehow.  You curl around it and you’re crying and you’re a big boy, a big big boy, you’re not supposed to cry, but Mako cries sometimes so you guess it’s okay that you are now.

“Mako,” you say.  “Mako.  Mako!”

With a great quivery twitch he comes awake.  His shadow falls over you:  his hand paws at your shoulder and he asks, thick, “Bo?  What is it, huh?”  He sounds hoarse, his voice lost somewhere behind the mush of his ruined face.  It makes you cry harder.  “Hey, you okay?  What—”

He turns you over, flat on your back, and you hold the melon up to him.  It’s green like your eyes, like your mama’s eyes were, and he stares at it and then at you and wow, you both suck at being big boys because you’re both crying.

Stronger than you, he breaks it open.  Inside the flesh is all red and studded with surly dark pips.  Maybe you should spit them out, but you are so hungry and you don’t, no:  you crack them between your jaws.  You pull out the melon’s warm softness in your hands.  Mako does too.  When it’s gone you eat the shell.  You eat and eat until the hurt is gone a little bit, until Mako’s hiccupping with laughter and sniffles and tears.  His cheek is sticky but he tucks it to yours anyway, and you giggle and you love him, you love him so much and there are seeds in his teeth.