Right before Mako walks into the fanciest restaurant in Republic City, he looks down at his clothes. He's had the same shirt, pants, and shoes ever since he'd finished growing. They're undeniably old -- fashion-wise, age-wise -- but he's acquired a knack for sewing and mending things so, by no degree, do they look tattered. He knows that Asami will be dressed-to-the-nines. If her motorcyclist outfit was any indication, he's sure that all of her clothes will be fine and rich. Of course, he wasn't exactly looking at her clothes when he was talking to her...
Absentmindedly, he enclasps his fingers around his scarf, silently wishing that his father was there to give him advice -- how to talk to a beautiful girl, how to behave in a formal restaurant, whether it's inappropriate to kiss someone on the first date. But all he has is the scarf around his neck and today, it is his father's arms wrung around his neck with a teasing, but proud smile on his face.
He's frightened and scared. His brother is missing and Mako can only assume the worst. He takes some comfort in the fact that Korra is helping him because he knows that even though she's only known them for a few short days, she already cares about Bolin as much as he does because they've won a match together, they've trained together, they've joked together. Everyone immediately falls in love with Bolin's personality when they first meet him -- the Avatar is no exception.
When they go to the Equalist Rally and he's putting an old cap onto his head, he can't help, but notice that Korra is not her chatty, joke-cracking self. Instead, she seems pensive and worried. Even if the emotions hadn't been splayed across her expressive face, he would've known how she was feeling because he's feeling the same exact way. But, right now, he has to put on a brave face for her because while Bolin is gone, she's the one he has to protect. So he unwraps his scarf and sets it onto her shoulders. Today, the scarf is a shield from the Equalists' verbal hatred, a mask to hide her true identity, and a reminder that that stupid Firebender on her team actually does care.
It is their first pro-bending match. Mako's heart is stereotypically enflamed whilst his brother is a cliche of steadfast humor and calm. Their uniforms are new and the fabric itches his skin. Bolin and Hasook don't mind at all, they're too busy jumping out of their skins with excitement. He can hear the crowd outside and he can feel them silently judging them -- waiting for them to fail. How many pro-bending teams actually do well in their first match? A million thoughts cross through his mind -- was the name Fire Ferrets a stupid choice, what will happen if he forgets the rules, will it hurt if -- no, when he falls into the water off the back of the ring?
"Fire Ferrets, you're up next!" His teammates grab their helmets. Mako is equally relieved and alarmed when he sees a semblance of worry on their faces. He has to be the calm, rational one. He starts to put on his helmet when Bolin nudges his shoulder. He points at his brother's neck. Mako had almost forgotten that he was still wearing his scarf. He holds the scarf to his lips just for a moment before taking it off and folding it into a neat square. He puts it into his locker as his eyes take in the scarlet of the fabric, the neatness of the threading, the softness of the material. He knows that no matter how the next twenty minutes unfold, he will still have the stretch of fabric to put around his neck and protect him from the condescending coolness of the crowd, the stony lack of enthusiasm from the game announcers, and the the fiery furor of the other team. When he closes the locker, the familiarity of the scarf becomes his calming balm.
Bolin is crying. Loudly. It's not his fault. He has no parents, no food, no place to sleep -- and he's only eight. The crowd begins to stare at the little orphan on the street as his wails become louder and louder. Through his tears, he can see figures of black and grey and green walk towards him, but when he sees the flash of red, his volume lowers and his whimpers soften. Soon, the shock of red is being rubbed against his watery eyes, underneath his snotty nose, across his wet cheeks.
"It's okay, Bo. I'm right here," Mako whispers soothingly as the crowd around them starts to dissipate. For the first years after their parents' murder, the scarf is a tissue for Bolin's tears, the rope that holds their makeshift paper shelter together, and the bandaid for Mako's scrapes and bruises acquired from the other neighborhood kids. (Bolin has none, of course -- Mako would never allow that.)
It's so cold. His mother jokes that she didn't know that they were in the North Pole. His father laughs softly and tightly embraces her, pretending to be her blanket. The softness of his red scarf rubs against her nose and she comically pushes away from him, telling him that he needs to wash that old thing. He rolls his eyes and turns to Mako, who is smiling widely even though his teeth are chattering. He scoops his eldest son into his arms and encapsulates him into a large hug, telling him to, "Warm up or you're gonna lose your Firebending!" His wife berates him for the potentially traumatizing joke.
Mako just continues to grin as his father sets him down on the ground. When he notices that the young boy is still shivering, he removes his scarf and then wraps it around his son's neck. The fabric is so hilariously long on the young boy that both of his parents start laughing. Mako starts to laugh, too, but his giggles are muffled by the gargantuan scarf. Today, his scarf is the impetus of unequivocal bliss. Tomorrow, his scarf will be the last thing that his father ever gave him.