The Other Side of Me

Christmas Special: It's a Wonderful Life

Three Years Previously

As the snow sprinkled gently outside his apartment window, Bolin relaxed on the couch for the first time almost all year: he didn't have any papers to finish, exhausting homework to do, or long shifts at the student bar to complete. It was finally Christmas, and he could relax. Vanek and Tukka had gone down to Republic City for Christmas and had invited him, but Bolin had politely declined. It'd be great to be back in his hometown to see Midori and Asami, but what if Mako or Korra had spotted him? That was a deep hole Bolin wasn't sure he'd be able to get out of. So he decided to spend Christmas in his apartment.

As holiday music poured from his radio set, Bolin hummed along, getting off the couch and pretending to dance along before collapsing on the couch again. The fireplace in the corner of the living room, next to the bookcase, was crackling merrily. Bolin thought it was almost too good to be true, that he would blink a few times and find himself out on the streets again in the cold, with scraps of day-old food as a substantial feast.

He could hear muffled giggles from the children with families and pounding footsteps echoing down the hallway, and if he looked out the window, he could see kids around Midori's age whooping and sledding down the hill across the street.

Suddenly, someone knocked briskly on the door. Bolin leapt to his feet and messed with his hair before opening the door, figuring it was Vahni or Kaito coming to talk to him about this month's rent, which Asami and he were a bit late on.

A grin blossomed across his face. "Well, well, well," he chuckled, drawing out the last "well" as long as he could. "I must've been really good for Christmas this year, then."

Asami whacked his arm playfully, adjusting the Santa hat on her head. Beside her, Midori adjusted her own matching Santa hat on top of her brown curly hair. "Be careful, Bolin, it's not too late to put some charcoal in your stocking," Asami warned.

Bolin mock-gasped, clasping his hands over his chest. "Oh, no!" Midori giggled at Bolin's antics. "But I've suffered through college, I need presents this year!"

"We know," Midori said happily, "that's why we're here!" She punctuated that statement by spreading her arms and saying ta-dah. Bolin grinned.

"We were going to go down the chimney, but we saw some smoke and didn't want to burn ourselves," Asami explained, making herself comfortable on the couch. "Right, Midori?" she asked her friend, who nodded enthusiastically.

"Yeah! Asami and I wanted to celebrate your first Christmas in Ba Sing Se, and we wanted it to be extra super special! Plus it's my first Christmas too," she added shyly, causing Bolin to double-take.

A beam broke out on Bolin's face like the sun was coming out from behind a cloud. Screw his Christmas: Midori was going to get an awesome Christmas if it killed him. Exchanging a quick look with Asami to make sure she understood, he pulled Midori into a hug. "Well, then, let's celebrate Christmas, kiddo," he exclaimed.

The grin on Midori's face was worth a million yuans. Asami looked mock-scathingly around the apartment. "Bolin, why isn't there a Christmas tree in this apartment?" she inquired. "There has to be a tree."

"Hmm," Bolin wondered aloud, "then I think I know how to fix this problem. Midori, Asami, would you like to help me get a Christmas tree?"

Midori nodded fervently, and off the three friends went, piling into Asami's Satomobile and driving off to a small place next to the college campus where a few friends of Bolin's were selling Christmas trees for only ten yuans.

As Asami followed Midori, who'd run off to see all the Christmas trees they had to offer, Masao elbowed Bolin in the shoulder. "Who're those broads?" he asked in amusement. "The tall one's mighty fine-looking."

Bolin elbowed him back. "Back off, man, they're my friends from back home," he said carefully.

"Names?" prodded Masao.

"Asami's the tall one, and Midori's the younger one," Bolin explained, grinning despite himself at the mere mention of his friends.

"Bo, come 'ere!" called Asami, who was hidden behind a whole flock of trees. "I think we've got a good one."

"On my way!" Bolin called back, making his way around the trees to find Asami with her hand on Midori's shoulder, who was staring openmouthed at a medium-sized Christmas tree, whose branches were full of pine needles, was sturdy and young, and definitely worthy to be placed in his apartment, Bolin thought. Rubbing Midori's head, he called, "Masao? We've got a good one here!"

Masao scurried to the threesome, nodding in approval. "She's a beauty," he nodded, praising the tree. "Need the axe?"

"That'd be nice," Bolin said, taking the heavy axe from his classmate, "thanks man."

"No prob," he nodded once more before going to assist another customer. Bolin braced the axe against the tree, motioning Asami and Midori to stand back before taking a blow at the trunk, causing chunks of wood to splinter off of it. After a few whacks, he wiped his brow in exhaustion. "Spirits, that's hard."

"Lemme try," Asami offered, taking the axe from Bolin before expertly bracing it against the tree and chopping it down in two swings, causing the tree to crash into the ground with a loud thud.

Both Midori and Bolin's mouths dropped, forming a perfect O.

Asami grinned cockily. "My dad," she said, forcing out the word 'dad', "used to teach me how to do this."

"That'll be ten yuans," Masao said, appearing suddenly behind Bolin's back. Bolin gave him a small stack of the bronze colored coins, and Masao helped them strap the tree onto the back of the Satomobile. "Have a good one!" called Masao after the departing car.

"Oh, believe me," Bolin said, smiling at his friends. "We will."

(*) (*)

As the sleek black car pulled up next to a storefront, Asami parked it and the three friends exited it. Midori hopped down the sidewalk as Bolin and Asami walked slightly behind her, chatting a bit. Bolin had never felt more relaxed. "So, um, how's Mako?" he asked Asami, turning the corner.

Asami bit her lip. "Okay," she offered. "He and Korra went up to the Southern Water Tribe to visit Katara, Senna and Tonraq."

Bolin sighed, not expecting anything different. Perhaps the smallest part of him hoped (or prayed) that his older brother was perhaps still mourning him, but no. That just wasn't the Mako way.

"How's your business?" he asked, changing the subject.

Asami didn't answer, she was looking around the block in a slight panic. "Where's Midori?"

Bolin's head whipped around before he froze in his place, stopping Asami. The young girl, barely thirteen years old, was standing with her face and hands pressed against the window, her breath fogging up the window of the store. Bolin stepped up silently behind her, his heart shattering into a million pieces as he saw that the store was filled with toys. Probably more than Midori had ever seen in her entire life. Many of them were homemade, but many others were factory-made. They were all amazing, well-made toys, if he was honest with himself. Bolin coughed, and Midori whirled around, her blue eyes wide with fear. She nibbled on her lower lip, a bit afraid of being found out. "Sorry," she whispered.

Asami knelt next to her adopted friend. "Do you want to go inside, Midori?" she asked softly.

After a moment or two, Midori gave her friends a shy smile and a quick nod. Bolin smiled and held the door open for the young teenager. Solemnly, Midori walked around the small store, gazing intensely at every toy on every shelf while Asami and Bolin watched from far behind. Midori suddenly picked up a doll with long blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes, like Midori's. She wore a green tunic, brown shoes, and had a small red bow attached to the top of her head. Midori softly stroked the top of the doll's head, murmuring something Bolin couldn't quite make out before placing the doll back on the shelf and grabbing another toy, a teddy bear which was on sale.

Midori scrambled back to Bolin and Asami with the teddy bear in her arms. Asami sighed, paying for it quickly. The shopkeeper placed the yuans in the cash register before asking, "would you like it in a bag?"

"No thank you," Midori said softly. Bolin saw her gaze flicker back to the doll. "That's alright."

The shopkeeper placed the teddy bear in Midori's arms. Midori grinned, cuddling the bear in her arms in happiness.

"Midori, honey, can you go and wait in the car?" asked Bolin quickly and Midori did so, skipping outside in rhythm to the tinkle of the door chime.

"'Sami, she wanted that toy," Bolin said seriously. "I can't have been the only one who noticed that."

"Bo, you're not," Asami sighed. "She's always been like that: at first I hoped that she'd try and test my generosity or something, but she doesn't. She never gets what she really likes because it's either too expensive or she's afraid I'll say no."

Bolin blinked in surprise. He walked over to the doll and examined it: it was finely made, a china doll. It looked real, too; whoever had made it had excellent taste. But it was just a bit expensive, which was probably why Midori hadn't wanted to buy it. "Excuse me, sir?" he asked the storekeeper. "Can I have this wrapped up?"

Asami kissed him on the cheek for that.

(*) (*)

Making sure to hide Midori's present in the back of the car where she couldn't see it, Bolin hopped back into the driver's seat, Asami beside him in the passenger seat. The trio drove back to Bolin's apartment, Christmas music playing on the radio nonstop. Parking the car, Bolin whistled Kaito over to help him carry the tree up the stairs, because it couldn't fit into the elevator.

Panting in exhaustion, Bolin tipped Kaito twenty yuans before assisting Asami and Midori to help him place the tree inside the apartment.

"Ooh!" Midori jumped up and down, the teddy bear dangling from her left hand. "Perfect! It's perfect right there." Bolin placed the tree next to the fireplace, right in front of the bookcase. Asami reached into the bag that she and Midori had brought with them. "Should we decorate it?" she asked, pulling out some ornaments: tinsel, popcorn garlands, and red and green baubles.

Midori nodded in excitement, placing the teddy bear carefully on the couch before helping Asami and Bolin decorate the tree, placing strands of tinsel and the red and green baubles wherever she could reach. Finally, Asami pulled out a china angel that looked very old. "It's been in my family for generations," she said to Bolin and Midori, who stared at it. Asami gave it to Midori, who Bolin picked up with a squeal, and placed it on top of the tree.

"It's beautiful," Midori breathed, collapsing on the couch and simply gazing at it. "Wow, Asami, Bolin, it's amazing."

Bolin smiled, rubbing the young teenager's hair. "Thanks, honey."

"Are you guys hungry?" Asami asked. "I can whip up something."

"I'll help you," Bolin offered.

"Me too," said Midori kindly. "I like helping you cook."

Asami nodded. "She's a natural, Bo, you should see her. She's an amazing cook. Lei is teaching her and so am I."

"Nice," Bolin nodded in approval. The three friends set to work preparing a Christmas dinner worthy of them: roasted duck, heaps of rice with melted butter, mashed potatoes, hot cranberry muffins, celery-and-olive salad, and for dessert, fried ice cream. With a small wink at Asami, Bolin ran outside to the Satomobile while the girls were setting the table. Digging the present out of the trunk, he ran up all five flights of stairs in his excitement and opening the door to his apartment.

"Midori! Asami!" he exclaimed in genuine happiness. "I just saw Santa Claus outside!"

Midori whirled around in surprise, her mouth wide open. "No way! Really, Bo? Did you really see him?"

"Yeah, I definitely did," Bolin said, and then flourished the wrapped present to Midori. "Midori, he told me to give this to you."

Midori's eyes were the size of yuans as she ripped open the gift, wrapping paper all over the kitchen floor. "Oh my Spirits," she whispered, holding the doll that she'd been admiring in the toy shop. "Thank you, Santa!" she exclaimed, tears pouring down her face in happiness as she hugged Bolin tightly, showing him the doll. "Bo, look! Asami, look what Santa got me!"

Asami smiled softly, still holding a wooden spoon in her hand, her hair tied back in a loose ponytail. At that moment, she was the most beautiful thing Bolin had ever seen. "I see it, Midori."

Midori hugged the doll tightly against her chest, and immediately departed to the couch to play with the doll and the teddy bear. Bolin and Asami finished up the Christmas dinner themselves, each of them sharing secret smiles at the fact that their gesture had probably made this child's Christmas for years to come.

(*) (*)

Stuffed completely from the dinner, Bolin, Asami, and Midori relaxed on the couch underneath a bunch of quilts, listening to the radio contently. "And now, for the story portion of the evening," said the announcer, "we have Toshio Kamahi with "The Greatest Gift.""

Toshio Kamahi came onto the radio. "Thanks, Xi," he said. "Okay, everyone. Let's begin. 'The little town straggling up the hill was bright with colored Christmas lights. But Qiaozhi Pulate did not see them. He was leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water. The current eddied and swirled like liquid glass, and occasionally a bit of ice, detached from the shore, would go gliding downstream to be swallowed up in the shadows under the bridge'…"

Bolin zoned out for a while, half-listening to the story and finally tuning back in near the ending to find Midori asleep, clutching her new toys, and Asami asleep, her mouth half-open and snoring slightly.

It had been a wonderful Christmas. One of the best he'd ever had, even the out of the ones he had had with his older brother. He had a wonderful life. It's perfect, he thought, as a new song came onto the radio.

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, there'll be much mistltoeing, and hearts will be glowing, when loved ones are near…It's The Most Wonderful Time, it's The Most Wonderful Time, it's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year…"

Yes, Bolin thought, drifting off to sleep himself, it truly was the most wonderful time of the year.


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