Li spotted the new girl standing at the bar, mesmerized by the jass band. You could always tell the fresh fish when they got their first hit of the real thing, and the Safety Belts were Republic City's purest, rawest jass.
He slipped in beside her. "They sure are swell, aren't they?"
She glanced at Li with sea blue eyes as sharp as a shiv. There was no fooling this one. "They really are," she finally answered. "I can't believe they aren't playing downtown already."
"And start a riot?"
Onstage, Yoko the lead singer cradled her microphone stand between her legs, crooning an old standby about dead soldier boys and the way they used to touch her.
"Li Tong." He offered a hand.
Her own was extensively tattooed, covered in complex geometric patterns that spiraled up her muscled arms to her neck and cheeks. "Maitara. Maitara Kayi, now, actually."
"Fresh off the boat?"
She adjusted her glasses. "Pretty much."
"Well, you're in the right place! That's a real United Republic name; Water and Fire together." Even if meant her parents named her in honor of some hereditary dictator's bedwarmer, but he wasn't going to chew off a pretty stranger's ear about dead imperialists. "University?"
The cliché actually hurt to hear. "Gonna be an actress, huh?"
"Stunt double." At his puzzled frown, she flexed an arm. "Slap armor on me and I look like any other soldier in black and white."
"Nice how we can all be equal on the big screen."
"Exactly." She nursed her drink a little. A bead of sweat traced its way down her neck to her cleavage. "You big on equality too?"
"I'd be in the wrong place if I wasn't." He jiggled his drink at her, then remembered she was new in town. "You can tell the right bars by the ice in their drinks. Machine-made ice cubes are too uniform for a waterbender to mass produce."
Maitara squinted at his glass. "Does it taste different?"
"Nah, but you gotta support your fellow working stiff, y'know? Never met a bender who needed a tune-up."
The Safety Belts began playing an upbeat number.
"You dance yet?" Li asked.
"Not yet." She set her drink down on the bar. "I get to lead."
He grinned as she took his hand. "Doll, this is Republic City. Anyone can lead."
* * *
"No luck getting yourself killed?"
Korra hung up her coat. "Good evening to you too, Mako."
"Don't be hard on him," Bolin said. "Bro was really worried about you. I kept having to rub his shoulders to help him calm down."
"How'd infiltrating enemy territory go?" Bolin asked.
"Like Avatar Aang said. I learned a lot." She plopped down on the couch. "Including that Jinora has skills when she cuts loose. These temporary henna ink tattoos are the slush. I should be her practice dummy more often."
"Meet anyone nice?"
"A few. Mostly they were just regular people." Korra shook her head. "How weird is that?"