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One Step, Two Steps

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The moon had yet to slip past the horizon when Meelo and Ikki crashed into Korra's sparse room and onto her pallet. "Wake up!" Meelo shouted. He didn't need to: Korra had woken the very moment Ikki tripped and landed with her little finger up Korra's nose.

"Waugh!" said Korra. She batted at the shadows and punched the wall. Ikki said, "Whoops! Sorry!" and in withdrawing, managed to slap Korra in the eye.

"Wake up!" Meelo shrieked. "You gotta wake up!"

"'m 'wake," Korra moaned. She turned over, cradling her fist to her chest. Ikki said, "Oh, no, I'm gonna fall!" and rolled off Korra.

"You gotta wake up or you'll die!" Meelo said.

A shadow fell across the light in the doorway. Korra squinted into it. Pema, hugely pregnant and supporting her back with one hand, was frowning down at the three of them.

"Meelo," Pema scolded, "what have I told you about telling people they're going to die?"

"Not to gotta do it!" said Meelo. He threw his hands to the ceiling and said, "You're gonna diiiiiiiie!"

"You're not gonna die, are you?" asked Ikki anxiously. She petted Korra's shoulder. "You can't die. Meelo, you're not supposed to tell people they're gonna die; that's rude."

"You're rude!"

"You're both rude," Pema snapped. She marched into Korra's chamber; for all that she was so slight, but for, you know, that belly, she still towered over them all like-- Korra couldn't think of anything. She was so tired she wished she were dead.

Pema grabbed Meelo by his ear and Ikki by hers and dragged them both away from Korra. Ikki said, "Mom! Mom! You're gonna pull my ear off! You're gonna pull my ear off and then I'll only have one ear and--" and Meelo said, "Pull her ear off! Pull my ear off!"

"Korra," said Pema sweetly, "Tenzin is expecting you downstairs for morning meditations."

Korra fell back against her pallet. "Is it morning?"

"It has been for the last four hours," Pema said brightly.

Korra covered her face and rolled over. Maybe she was already dead. "It's only four in the morning?"

"You really shouldn't wallow in bed for so long," said Pema, amused.

"You sound like my mom," Korra muttered.

"We're all in league, us mothers," said Pema as she pushed a shrieking Meelo into the hall. She pushed Ikki out next, but Ikki lingered, saying, "Can I do meditations with Korra and Dad?"

"No," said Pema, "you'll only distract them by chatting."

"I will not, I promise!" said Ikki. "I won't say anything, not a single thing, not one itsy bitsy teensy weensy single bitty--"

Pema pushed her out again. "Now, hurry up. The sooner you finish up meditations, the sooner you can eat breakfast."

Korra considered her options and groaned again. Her head ached like someone had beat it like an ōdaiko; she guessed they kind of had.

"Do I have to?"

"I'm afraid so," said Pema. "I'll give you five more minutes, but then you really do have to get up."

"Get up!" shouted Meelo.

Pema sighed and said, "Meelo, please," and closed the door.

Korra dropped her hands. The room was blissfully dark again, and she closed her eyes against those wonderful shadows. She didn't want to think about last night. It had been embarrassing, taking that bit of rock to the head like that. More embarrassing because she'd earthbent right after that.

"You're going to get us banned like that," Mako had snapped in the locker room.

"Well, excuse me," Korra had said, stung. "He only hit me in the head! I didn't have time to think; I just--"

"I was there," said Mako. "I saw."

Korra didn't mean to lose her temper. It just sort of happened. She slammed her locker shut, hard enough the door didn't latch but bounced open again.

"Maybe if he'd hit your head, Mister I'm Too Cool To Give A Sh--"

"Okay!" Bolin said. He shot between them, arms stretched out. "Everybody's a little tense right now. But we won, right? Hey! Good job!"

Korra turned and shoved the door shut. "Korra," said Bolin softly.

"It's not that I don't care," Mako said. "But you need to be more careful."

"Oh, wow," said Korra, "that's rich coming from you."

"I didn't know he was going to feint," said Mako flatly. His mouth had thinned. His eyes, too. Korra stared him down, and Mako looked away.

Bolin touched her shoulder. "It wasn't Mako's fault."

"Yeah, well," Korra said, "it wasn't my fault, either. Tell him that."

"Mako--"

"I'm going to shower," Mako had said, and he'd walked out just like that, end of the conversation.

Korra had watched him go, too, seen how he ducked his head as he passed through the doorway, his shoulders flexing, muscles in his nape trembling with fatigue, and the thing that bugged her was she thought maybe he was disappointed in her; the thing that bugged her was she thought maybe Bolin was disappointed, too. The thing that bugged her was that bugged her. What did she care? She'd done her best. So what.

Korra rubbed at her face in the dark. She was the Avatar. Her nails dug into her hair; she pulled at it. She'd always been the Avatar. Fire, earth, water--all of that came easy to her, like swimming, like learning to breathe.

"Oh, Korra," her mother had said, "we always knew."

Korra flung her arms out and sighed. She'd kicked the blanket off in her sleep again. It was too warm in Republic City; she sweated and sweated till she thought her skin might slip off. If she could airbend, she could bring a cool breeze in. Korra scowled.

A knock came at the door.

"Okay," Korra said. She sat up though her temples pounded. "I know, I know. I'm getting up."

"Tenzin's waiting for you in the courtyard," Pema said.

"I'm getting dressed," Korra called. She wiggled her toes and started looking for her postulant's clothes. There, in the corner. She hated orange, too. Grumbling, Korra crawled over to the corner and started dressing.

*

"You're late," Tenzin said. He looked down his long nose at her and frowned.

"You call this late?" Korra tugged at her tunic, pulling it straighter across her shoulders. "I think I got maybe three hours of sleep, total."

"If you hadn't got it into your head to join that pro-bending team," he started.

"You're right," Korra said, sighing. "I have to accept my responsibilities. I shouldn't complain about the consequences of my own decisions. I made a choice and I have to live with it. Is that it?"

Tenzin eyed her and stroked his beard once, pulling the point out between his forefinger and thumb.

"Well," he said. "So long as you know."

She flapped her hand. "I know. Let's just get this over with so we can eat breakfast." Pema was making stewed sea prunes. Korra would recognize that briny smell anywhere.

"There is nothing to 'get over,'" said Tenzin sternly.

He began walking across the courtyard so his cape billowed behind him. Show-off. Korra made a face at his back, but she trudged after him, kicking her feet a little as she went.

"Meditation isn't a chore," he continued. "You can't approach it with so fatalistic an attitude. You must clear your mind and heart of such earthly concerns--"

"Look," Korra said tiredly, "I've got a really bad headache this morning. Could you just ... skip the lecture today? I promise, I'm all cleared out. My head hurts too much to think of anything anyway."

Tenzin stopped. His cape fluttered; he rounded on her. He allowed her another long look down his nose, then he sighed and pinched his nose and said, "What happened?"

"Nothing happened," she said defensively. She held her hands up. "We just had a rough match last night, that's all."

"Something happened," he said.

"How do you know something happened?" She squinted at him. "Were you listening to the match on the radio?"

"Certainly not," he said severely. "Jinora's still sick, and she needed someone to read to her last night."

"Oh," said Korra. She folded her arms. "Well. I mean, we won. If you were curious."

Tenzin hooked his hands together at his back. He looked up to the moon, half-full and growing steadily each night. Funny, that the moon could make her homesick. Republic City's lights were bright at all hours, a constant golden thrum that dimmed the stars and made the black of the sky into something closer to grey.

"I would have listened," he said, "if I could have got away. But I couldn't. I had other things to do."

"You don't have to listen." She shrugged. "It doesn't really matter either way. We still won."

"It's customary for teachers to support their students," said Tenzin dryly.

"Weren't you the one who told me I was under no circumstances allowed to do pro-bending?"

"I believe," said Tenzin, "technically, what I said was you weren't allowed to listen to pro-bending."

Korra laughed through her nose. "I thought you said I wasn't allowed to watch it."

Tenzin smiled, just a small flip of the corner of his mouth; then it was gone. His brow wrinkled.

"If something happened," he said, "you should tell me. As your teacher--"

"It was nothing." Korra rolled her shoulders and stretched her arms out. She grinned. "Come on. I'm the master of the physical stuff. It's this spiritual junk I have to work on."

Tenzin cast his gaze to the heavens. "It isn't junk."

"Whatever it is, let's get started," said Korra. "I'm hungry."

Wearily, Tenzin waved her on. Hey: he hadn't lectured her. That was progress. More like, he was just tired, too, she figured. Nobody got up that early that many mornings in a row and didn't feel it. He might not have taken a hit to the head, but oh, yeah, he was feeling it.

She jogged up alongside him. "I'll race you up!"

"No racing," said Tenzin dourly. "Exercising right before meditation is counterproductive."

"Don't expect me to stay awake," said Korra.

"I expect you to do what you're instructed," he said. "As ridiculous as it may sound, I continue to hope you'll actually listen to what I tell you."

"Hey," she said as they climbed the steps to the gazebo, "I listen!"

"I eagerly await the hour," said Tenzin.

*

The sea rolled up against the cliff then fell back and rose again, and its endless crashing rose on the warm breeze that swept up from the bay and down through the gardens. The wind dragged at Korra's hair. She'd sweat under her tunic, sticky, wet patches under her arms, her breasts. Too tired and too sore to shower, she had simply gone to bed the night before. The stink coming off her own skin stung her nose. Her head ached. She could feel her heart beating in her temples.

Korra fidgeted her toes and frowned. Her head hurt. She tried to concentrate on the sound of water lapping at stone, at the wind rustling through leaves, and instead she thought of how that earthbender, opposite Mako, had cut his arm crossways. Korra, on the verge of zone two, had raised her arm. The disc cracked against it; half went on and smashed into the side of her head, knocking the padded helmet askew. It was her arm that had hurt then. She'd fallen back into zone two. The buzzer sounded. Her vision spotting, her arm pulsing with a heat so fierce she thought the bone ice, she'd slid her foot forward and struck the earthbender with his own discs.

She hadn't thought about it. She'd just done it. One moment the earthbender was cutting his arm across his chest. The disc came at Korra, not at Mako. She lifted her arm. The disc struck first her arm, then her head. The world exploded into a cascade of bright lights; her arm went numb and then burst over. She slid her foot forward. The buzzer sounded.

Korra's head pounded. Salt on the breeze. The sea whispering as it shivered up against the cliff. In the garden, a chime sang softly. Each note cracked on her skull. She tightened her clasped hands.

"Clear your mind," said Tenzin gently.

She screwed her eyes up. "I'm trying."

"Don't try," he said. "Just do it."

"I can't do it unless I try!"

"You must be calm if you are to meditate," he said. He was frowning, too.

"You're not calm," she shot back.

"If you would only relax," he said.

"I'm trying," Korra said.

Tenzin sighed. His big shoulders rose and fell, and as they rose, so, too, did Korra's temper. It was only that her head hurt. It was only that it was so very early in the morning. It was only that he was acting like she was some big, stupid block.

"Empty your mind of all concerns, worldly or spiritual. Think only of the ocean and the wind and the grass--"

"I'm thinking of it," she ground out.

"Try thinking of it without baring your teeth," he said.

Korra pushed her lips together. Her teeth scraped over each other. The moonlight was bright, so bright even with the lights of Republic City bleeding color from the sky that the insides of her eyelids were pale. The pressure in her head did not relent. The susurration of the ocean did not relent. If she were home, her mother would make her a cool poultice to put on her head; she would tell Korra to lie down and sleep, and she would make Korra bitter sea-root tea to ease the pain. The chime spun lazily in the garden. One note sounded, then two notes. Another. Sweat beaded at Korra's ear.

Korra slammed her hands to the ground and stood. Tenzin made to stand, too.

"Korra, what--"

She was at the steps; she was down the steps. "I'm going back to bed," she shouted.

"Korra!"

A breeze whistled down from the gazebo. Tenzin would not dare debase himself by chasing after her, but oh, he'd fuss. Korra could fuss, too. Korra could fuss better than anyone. She stomped ferociously through the grass, trampling small, flowering weeds as she went along.

"Korra," Tenzin said, and the wind carried his voice to her, "you cannot simply run away from every challenge you can't immediately best."

"I'm not running away!" she yelled. "I'm going to bed!"

She stomped out of the garden. She stomped into the temple. Her feet were bare and damp with sweat. She left wet smudges on the wooden floorboards. Korra ripped the orange tunic over her head. She didn't throw it aside like a child would, but yeah. She thought about it. She hated orange.

And all right, she did throw it. She waited till she was in her room to do it, though. Tossed it to that corner, as far from her bed as she could get. Korra stood there breathing heavily in the dark, her door closed at her back.

She curled her toes against the floorboards. Her shoulders itched. Sweat and dirt. In the Water Tribe, she'd relished the feel of sweat on her skin. She peeled the undertunic off and tossed that aside, too. Shower. A bath.

The room was dark. She closed her eyes. Still, that trembling pain in her head remained.

Korra dragged her feet across the floor and fell onto her pallet. She pressed her face into the little pillow allowed her. "To know the spiritual world, you must give up the comforts of the physical," Tenzin had said. Well, maybe Korra didn't want to know the spiritual world.

She pulled back and punched the pillow a couple times, then folded it in half. Dropping her face into it again, she wrapped her arms around her head and breathed out.

She'd lost her temper again. Korra punched the pillow another two times and rolled over, hugging the pillow to her face.

"Stupid," she said. "Stupid, stupid, stupid."

She hated losing her temper, hated it, hated it, hated it. Stupid. If she lost her temper, that meant they'd got the better of her. Losing her temper was losing.

"Stupid," she grumbled again. Sweat had dampened the pillow. She hugged it closer. Her head felt swollen, too thick; everything she thought had to be ground out.

It wasn't Mako's fault. She squeezed the pillow tightly, thinking of the back of his neck, bent, exhaustion making the muscles there shiver as he passed through the door. The Omashu Bears had focused all their force on Mako, trying to take him out.

Bolin had shouted, "Korra! Cover Mako!" from zone three. They'd pushed him back first; the Bears weren't physically strong, Mako had said, and they'd want to get Bolin out of the way first. They'd done it, too. Discs whistled from the back, but his aim wasn't so hot from the third zone, and the Bears were kicking up all sorts of stuff as they slammed Mako.

She'd said, "I'm trying!" and dragged more water up through the grate.

Mako's arms up before his face. He'd turned his shoulder to the Bears' waterbender; ice broke on his arm. He shifted his weight, freeing his leg to lash fire across the field. Korra pounded the Bears' firebender and cut across the zone towards Mako. Fire flared. He'd used his kick to power him into a series of alternating kicks, then the Bears' waterbender threw an ice slick across the zone. Mako came down.

"Watch it!" Korra shouted. Mako staggered. He hadn't stepped on the ice. He hit the ropes hard then rebounded and, slamming his fists together, shot a long tongue of fire across the zones.

She wasn't paying attention to the earthbender. She was trying to punch that waterbender back, hit him hard in the gut, show him what a real southern waterbender could do. It was the ice. She'd seen that little spray of ice and got pissed. When she'd been a kid her dad had slipped on the ice, twisted his knee till the joint snapped; he still limped.

It wasn't Mako's fault.

The earthbender's arm cut across his chest. Korra had lifted her arm, too late. The disc exploded. Her helmet spun. Stars burst against her eyes. Fireworks, in her head. She hadn't meant to earthbend. She didn't even think of doing it. She didn't try. She just did it. Boom.

Korra hugged the pillow to her head, so sore, so muddled and swollen and thick. She was a block. She should've been paying more attention. She shouldn't have lost her temper. Mako never lost his temper in a match. He stayed chill, cold as ice.

Her head hurt. She couldn't remember what she'd said to Tenzin. She hoped she hadn't said anything too mean. When her temper got away from her, so did her tongue; so did everything. It wasn't Tenzin's fault she'd taken that hit to her head.

Korra groaned and rolled over onto her stomach again. And now she was awake, too. Maybe she should go outside and apologize. She curled her toes. She hated apologizing. The weight in her head pressed against her. She was still thinking about apologizing when she drifted back to sleep.

*

She dreamed her mother laid a cool hand on her forehead. She was a kid again, and her mother was frowning as she felt Korra's head, which hurt so bad, so, so bad. Maybe Mom would make her some bitter sea-root tea.

"Korra," said Mom. Her voice was weird, not hoarse at all, like Mom's voice was hoarse. Korra wanted to cry. "Korra, wake up."

Something hot burst in Korra's head.

Korra woke to Pema's fingers at her temples. Pema was crouching on her knees and bent over Korra, as much as her belly would allow her.

"Ow," said Korra. She touched her forehead, and Pema said, "Oh, thank goodness. I was afraid you wouldn't wake up."

Korra made to sit up. Pema slung an arm around Korra's shoulders and helped her. The world shivered, uprooted, then it settled again.

"Is it her head?"

Tenzin, bending over both of them. He spoke to Pema.

"I think so," said Pema. "Korra, please look at me."

"What's Tenzin doing here? You're supposed to knock," she told Tenzin.

"We did knock," he said. "You didn't answer. What happened at the match last night?"

"It'll be in the papers, probably," Korra said. She winced as Pema began gently palpitating her temple again.

"I don't want to read about it in the papers," Tenzin told her. "I'd like you to tell me."

Korra rolled her lips in. Pema's fingers were soft, her touch light, but Korra feigned like it hurt more than it did.

"I was sleeping," she said.

"I don't think it's very bad," said Pema. "Are you dizzy?"

"Just when I got up."

Pema pursed her lips. "That might just be because you were sleeping. And if you sat up too quickly... Still, I'd like to have the doctor look at it. Tenzin."

"Korra," said Tenzin. He was scowling. He always scowled.

"Tenzin," said Pema warningly.

He lowered his face to her, and they shared a long, silent look. Pema's eyebrows were drawn together. Tenzin's shoulders bowed. He sighed.

"I'll get the doctor," he said.

"The doc at the arena checked me out last night," Korra said. "It's fine."

"I'd like to be sure," said Pema. "Come on, let's get up."

"I can stand," Korra protested. She showed Pema she could do it, too. The world stayed where it was this time.

Tenzin said, "Korra. Will you please tell me what happened?"

Pema rubbed Korra's shoulder and murmured, "I'll get the doctor." Tenzin nodded to her.

Korra picked at her eyes, thumbing the little, dry sleepies from the corners. Tenzin folded his hands in his sleeves and waited.

"It's stupid," she mumbled.

"Tell me anyway," said Tenzin.

She was too tired to think of anything else to say, too tired and too sore. She just wanted to go back to bed.

So, she told him.

*

Tenzin sighed. He did that a lot. Korra had noticed. She tried not to take it personally. He did it a lot around the kids, too. She took it a little personally.

"So," said Tenzin.

They were at the table downstairs where the family took their meals privately in the morning and evening. He'd sat next to her instead of at the head of the table, probably because he thought she'd fall over if he didn't. Something like that.

"So," said Korra.

"Well," said Tenzin.

"Hey, good talk," muttered Korra.

"I was thinking," said Tenzin. "That display of temper this morning."

Korra winced. "Sorry about that."

"You're forgiven. Was it because your head hurts or because you yelled at that boy, Mako?"

She sighed then and picked at her trousers. "Both, I guess. I'm really sorry."

"I've already forgiven you," he said mildly. "Have you thought about apologizing to him?"

Korra sighed again and dropped her head to the table. Mistake. Her hair slithered down her jaw to hang there.

"It's hard."

"Apologizing is often hard," said Tenzin.

"Like you would know."

"Trust me," said Tenzin. "I know."

Korra turned her head to look at him. She slung her arm across the table and rested her chin on it.

"Oh, don't expect any stories."

"I'm expecting some stories," she told him.

Tenzin's jaw worked. He began stroking his beard, tugging at it. Korra smiled, recognizing a tic of her own.

"You might not believe this," he said stiffly, "but I, too, have a temper."

"No," said Korra, "I believe you."

"You don't have to believe me," he said.

"Your head goes red when you're really mad," she said. "It's kind of funny. You look like a tomato."

"My head does not go red," said Tenzin, reddening.

"Your head goes red," said Pema as she joined them. She set a laden tray down upon the table and then stooped again to cup Tenzin's cheek and kiss his shaved and tattoed crown lightly once. "But I like it. It's cute."

"Cute!" said Tenzin.

"Here, Korra," said Pema. She passed Korra a stone cup, filled and steaming. "Drink this. It should help with your head."

Korra bowed and accepted the cup. The steam billowed fragrantly and she sniffed once.

"Oh!" said Korra. "Is this--"

"Bitter sea-root tea," said Pema. She stuck the tip of her tongue out, very briefly. "I don't like it, but Tenzin swears by it."

"It's a Southern Water Tribe remedy," he said to Pema.

"I know. You've told me. You've told me a hundred times, at least."

"It works," he insisted. "Korra, tell her--"

But Korra was smiling into her cup. She'd closed her eyes, that sharp, thick scent filling her nose. The cup was hot in her hands, but she didn't mind.

"All I know is," Pema said, "I just wish it worked with these contractions."

Korra set her cup down. "Contractions? Are you--"

Pema waved her off. "No, no." She grimaced. "I wish. I'm not due for another month. Pregnant women sometimes have false labor, though. Didn't your mother...?"

"I'm an only child," Korra said. "And there weren't a whole lot of pregnant women in the compound when I was growing up. Is that normal?"

"For me, it is," said Pema glumly. "I feel like I'm going to pop."

"Meelo was a difficult pregnancy," said Tenzin.

"They were all difficult," said Pema. "You didn't have to carry any of them around inside you for nine months."

Tenzin conceded this with a bowed head and a tipped cup. Pema was rubbing absently at her belly, wide circles around the swell of it. Her fingers were steady, the glide of her hand easy, practiced. Tenzin said, "Let me," and he reached for the pot of tea to pour Pema another cup.

Korra drank the rest of her tea and handed her cup to Tenzin, too. He rolled his eyes but took it from her. Pema's eyelashes fluttered against her cheeks. She turned her head down to smile at her belly. Her arms encircled that heavy swell, cradling her pregnant belly as though she were holding the baby in her arms.

Shyly, Korra said, "May you have twins."

Pema's head snapped up, and Korra recoiled. Pema's eyes had gone huge. "No!" she said.

"I'm--" Korra's tongue caught on her teeth. "I just meant."

"It's a blessing," said Tenzin to Pema. He set the pot of tea down again and handed her a filled cup. "In the Southern Water Tribe, twins are a sign of good fortune. It's a blessing from Tui and La, the moon and ocean spirits."

Pema relaxed. "Well, I'm a Fire Nation girl, so just one is okay with me." She smiled at Korra then, a little sheepish smile that pulled up higher on one end than the other. "I'm sorry. Thank you. That was a very sweet thought."

Korra accepted her cup back from Tenzin. "Um. You're welcome."

"Thank you, Korra," said Tenzin, too. He smiled at her. She thought: He meant it. "Twins do run in my family, you know."

Pema groaned. "Don't say that."

"My sister and brother were twins," he said to Korra. "And my grandmother, Kya, was a twin as well."

"Not twins," said Pema. "Anything but twins."

"I knew a lady in Taqqiq who had triplets," Korra offered. "I was just a kid, though."

"Triplets!" said Pema.

"We're not having triplets," said Tenzin.

"What if we have triplets!" said Pema.

"You'd feel it if we were having triplets," said Tenzin.

"You can feel the baby?" asked Korra, interested.

"Sometimes I wish I couldn't," Pema said sourly. "I'm going to get more tea."

She stood then, leveraging herself upright with the help of the table and an arm wrapped under her belly. Tenzin lifted the tray to her and set his own emptied cup upon it.

"Thank you," Pema said.

"If you'd like me to carry it for you--"

Pema frowned. "I've got it. I'm pregnant, not helpless."

"I know you aren't," Tenzin said. "But I'd like to help."

"That's very sweet of you." Pema kissed his crown again. "But you're supposed to be helping Korra, not me."

She left then, tray balanced on her belly. Tenzin, smiling softly, watched her go, and Korra grinned. All right, so maybe that was a little cute. Old people.

She drained her cup again. "I do feel better now."

"I'm glad," said Tenzin. He folded his hands together. "Thank you for telling me."

Korra rolled the cup between her hands. "Thanks for, uh, listening."

They sat together in quiet, and the thing was, it wasn't all that uncomfortable, not anymore.

"I kind of forgot," Korra said to her cup. "That you're Water Tribe, too. Did you grow up there, or?"

"We traveled a great deal," Tenzin said. "My father had many responsibilities, and so did my mother. And when we did stay in one place, it was here." He looked around the room, and she knew he meant more than just the island; he meant Republic City, too.

"But Katara taught you about the Water Tribe, too," said Korra.

Tenzin smiled. "Yes. We visited the Southern Water Tribe often. Both of my parents were from the south. I believe," he said thoughtfully, "they felt it was too hot here."

Korra laughed at that. "It is too hot here."

"I've never noticed," said Tenzin.

"Nah," said Korra, "I guess not."

Another quiet moment. Korra closed her eyes against it and leaned back. Her arm brushed Tenzin's. He didn't pull away. Maybe she still missed her mom and her dad and the cold and the snow, but she guessed it wasn't so bad here.

"You know, Tenzin," said Korra, "you're such a dad."

"Thank you," said Tenzin. His shoulder shifted. He looked to her. "Would you like to try meditating again?"

Korra screwed her mouth up. "I don't know. I could try."

"You said you didn't have to try with the earthbending last night," Tenzin said. "You just did it."

"I'll try," said Korra.

"That will do," Tenzin said.

"Later," said Korra.

"Of course," said Tenzin. There was a dry note in his voice. "It's too late to meditate this morning anyway. I have to check on Jinora. She's nearly finished all her books."

Korra's parents had told her stories when she was sick as a kid. She guessed maybe that was just something you had to do when you were a parent. She didn't know if she could do it; she didn't have a whole lot of patience.

Tenzin stood, and Korra opened her eyes.

"Isn't it boring?" she asked him. "Having to read to her when she's sick?"

He brushed at his tunic. "It isn't boring to read to my daughter," he said. "An attentive audience isn't common. But if it were boring, I would still do it."

Korra poked at her cup. Patience, she thought. She sighed.

At the door, Tenzin paused. "Korra."

She looked up. The line of his mouth was grave, but his eyes were kind.

"There's nothing wrong with asking help of others," he said to her. "No man is an island. Apologize to your friend. I'd think he's sorry, too."

Korra snorted. "Yeah, right. Not Captain Cool."

"Everyone's sorry at some point," said Tenzin. "Meditations are in two hours. Practice your airbending forms in the courtyard till then."

"Yeah, yeah." She flopped her hand at him.

When he'd left at last, Korra crossed her arms behind her head and fell back against the floor. She hadn't been fair. At the end of that first match, when she'd finally got her stuff sorted out, hadn't Mako apologized? He'd praised her, told her she was a natural. Natural at what? Moving like an airbender? Yeah, right. Her chest was warm.

"You're the Avatar, and I'm an idiot," he'd said.

That wasn't really an apology, she thought. But maybe to Mako, it was. And hey, it wasn't like Korra was really any good at saying sorry. She tapped her fingertips against her head and curled her lips in.

"Fine," she muttered. "I'll do it."

"Oh," said Pema. She set the tray down on the table and, sighing, sat. "Did Tenzin go upstairs?"

"Yeah," said Korra. "He was going to check on Jinora."

"Wonderful man," said Pema. Then she threw Korra a shaded look. "I hope he gave you something to do, because Ikki and Meelo are almost done with their studies."

"Oh, hey," said Korra, "would you look at that, I gotta go."

"Of course," said Pema serenely.

*

So, maybe she shouldn't have snuck off the island; technically, she wasn't supposed to do that, at all. But whatever. She had two hours, and Tenzin knew she had to do practice stuff with the team. She could practice her airbending forms at the arena just as good as she could in the courtyard. Better, even. He'd said himself that pro-bending was just the tool she needed to learn that stuff.

Korra slipped through the window and spun quickly to yank the water out of her clothes and hair. She left a wet circle in the carpet, but it wasn't like anybody used this floor in the morning anyway. Straight down the hall and two lefts to the gym. If the guys weren't there, she'd check upstairs. Easy. No sweat. She picked at her arm ring, turning it around on her biceps. She flexed her arm so the muscles stood out, her biceps taut and hard, the arm ring fitted snugly to the corded musculature of her upper arm. Yeah. Looked good. Looked great.

She took the second left and strolled into the gym. Then she stopped, right there in the door.

Bolin wasn't there. Mako was, though, in his undershirt and black trousers hitched tight around his hips and ankles. His feet were bare. She watched him go through a series of high kicks, his long, white feet flashing yellow in the fire he kicked out. The trousers slipped low on his waist. The top of his left hipbone showed, pale and bony, at odds with the lean muscle that filled Mako out all over.

She bet she could take him in a fight. He was taller than her, but he was thinner, and he wasn't formally trained; he didn't move like anybody had taught him how to firebend. He moved like it was something he'd figured out on his own. She could have him on his back like that. Her arm pressed against his bare collar, slicked with sweat and exposed by the low cut of his undershirt.

"Apologize to your friend," Tenzin had said.

She imagined saying: "What if I wrestled him instead?"

Tenzin would very slowly turn to look at her. His winged eyebrows would arch. What would he say? He'd probably say, "Korra, if you're going to master airbending, you need to set aside all thoughts of wrestling boys."

Korra pulled at her hair. She wasn't thinking of wrestling him like that. It was just, he made her so mad. Kicking like that. Always drawling in that low voice of his. Not even complaining when the other team ganged up on him or saying, hey, Korra, could you help me out. Nothing wrong with asking help of others.

Tenzin would say, "And how often have you asked anyone else for help?"

Mako did a hard, high kick and pivoted on his heel. His foot slapped against the smooth floor. Sweat glimmered on his skin, in the hollow of his throat. His arms fell to his sides. He looked startled.

Korra lifted her hand. "Hey," she said.

Mako's face shuttered. His green eyes lidded.

"You're early," he said.

"I figured I could get a head start," she said.

Mako grabbed a towel off a nearby set of weights and slung it around his neck. He bent to grab a bottle of water.

"Bolin's still in bed."

"He's a smart guy," said Korra, thinking wistfully of her own bed.

Mako snorted. He drank quickly, big gulps. His throat worked, the knot in it bobbing down then up again. She wondered if Tenzin's hands had gone all sweaty when he first met Pema or if he just never sweat at all. She missed the south pole. She'd never got sweaty hands there.

Mako lowered the bottle. He threw her a sidelong look, through his short lashes.

"How's your head?"

"My head's okay," she said. She touched it gingerly. "I've got a thick skull. Takes more than that to knock me down."

Mako set the bottle down. After a moment, he took the towel and covered his head with it. Korra scratched at her neck. Good thing she'd gone through the bay again. It wasn't a shower, but at least she didn't stink so much. Why was she even worried about that? It was like, suddenly, she couldn't shut her brain up. Maybe she should've taken a shower after all. Who cared? Mako probably stank right now. He was sure sweaty enough. Korra's stomach twisted. She thought about punching him in the arm. The sweaty, sweaty arm.

"So," said Korra.

"Listen," said Mako, turning.

They stared at each other. The towel slipped off Mako's head and he grabbed at it. His hair was sticking up in weird spikes. That was sweaty, too. He was just wet all over. Korra rubbed her palms against her thighs. Mako fumbled the towel.

"You first," he muttered.

She looked at his down-turned face, his wet, black hair sticking up. His shoulders were hunched. She couldn't think of what to say. What had she come to say? Why was it always so hot in Republic City?

Mako stood. He held the towel in one hand. His fingers worked then stilled.

"Okay," he said. "Well."

Clear your mind.

The sun was bright outside the windows. The wind whispered against the glass. Clear your mind. She thought about the water lapping against the cliff and the wind chime turning and turning in the garden, singing as it twisted in the breeze. The moon white as the inside of a fish and calm.

"Anyway," said Mako.

"I'm sorry," Korra blurted.

They stared at each other again. Korra's ears were hot.

"Excuse me?" said Mako.

Korra reached for her right hair tuft, caught herself, and stilled her hand at her shoulder. She made as if to massage the joint. "I'm sorry. For yelling at you last night. It wasn't your fault."

"Oh," said Mako.

Yeah. Okay. This silence was uncomfortable. Think about the moon, she told herself. The sea coming in. Wind. Wind chimes. Mako rubbed the back of his neck. His armpit was dark with hair and sweat, and the underside of his arm was slick. Wind chimes!

He dropped his arm. "It wasn't your fault, either."

"It was kind of my fault," said Korra. "I shouldn't have earthbended."

"You shouldn't have," Mako agreed.

Korra squinted at him. Mako looked away.

"But, uh," he said. "I could've. Been." He wrung the towel between his hands. "Nicer. Sorry."

"Well," said Korra. "As long as you know, I guess. It really hurt, you know."

He looked up, startled again. Korra rapped her knuckles gently against her temple.

"You know. Because he hit me in the head."

"Oh," said Mako.

"What did you think I meant?"

"I'm glad you're feeling better," said Mako.

"That's not what I asked," said Korra.

"It's not important," said Mako.

"I don't know," she said, "are you sure?"

"I'm sure," he said shortly.

Korra scratched at the back of her head. "I probably could've done more to support you. If you're overwhelmed--"

"I wasn't overwhelmed," said Mako.

Korra tipped her head to one side. Mako flushed. He went red all over, even in his throat. Yeah. That was pretty cute.

"If you need help," she said. "That's nothing to be ashamed about."

"I didn't need help."

"You needed help."

"I'm getting Bolin," said Mako. "He should be up by now."

"All right," said Korra. "You do that. I'll start practicing."

"You do that," said Mako.

"I will," said Korra.

"Fine," said Mako.

He left. He took the towel with him. Korra grinned and put her hands on her hips. So, hey, that clearing her mind thing. That worked out pretty well. Maybe all that stuff wasn't so useless after all. Smug in her victory, Korra settled into the first airbending stance and began working through the motions. And hey, what do you know? That wasn't so hard, either.

*

"You're in a much better mood," noted Tenzin.

Korra sat across from him in the gazebo and folded her legs crossways. "My head feels a lot better now. I think that tea really helped."

"Good," said Tenzin. "Now, do you remember what I told you about clearing your mind?"

"Yeah," said Korra, "I remember. Listen to the sea and the wind and the trees, blah blah blah."

"There's nothing blah about this," he said sternly.

"I took your advice, by the way," Korra said. "You were right. He wanted to apologize, too."

"You went to the arena?"

"Uh," said Korra. "Sorry."

Tenzin sighed deeply. "No. I'm sorry. I should have known you wouldn't wait."

"I did do my airbending kata," she offered.

"I suppose that's enough," said Tenzin. "Now, please. We're supposed to be meditating."

"Oh, right!" said Korra. "Whoops. Shutting up."

She squeezed her mouth shut. Her eyes, too.

"Not so fiercely," said Tenzin. "Meditating is relaxing the mind and the body. You must be at ease. Instead of the discomforts of the body, think of the breeze. Think of how it feels on your skin, how it moves freely through the trees."

Korra thought of the wind chimes in the garden as Tenzin spoke. She thought about the bitter sea-root tea, about her mother's hand on her brow, about Pema setting her hand on her belly as she stood. She thought about Mako's long legs, that graceful way his leg unfolded when he kicked, how her firebending instructor would rage at his form. She thought about Meelo snoring as he meditated.

"Korra, please," said Tenzin wearily. "Laughing isn't conducive to meditating."

"Sorry," said Korra, still laughing. She peeked at Tenzin.

He sighed again--of course he did--but he smiled, too, just a little. Then he said, "The wind, Korra. Think of the wind," and Korra thought of the wind.