Tenzin is quiet on the row back to Air Temple Island. He's decided that she's in no condition to waterbend them back home — she tries to argue she feels fine, she still has her bending, she can do this — but he insists on rowing, no matter how much slower it may be.
She's wrapped in his red cloak, still shivering from something he had presumed to be the cold. No, he won't take it back. Korra, just sit down for a while, please, you've already done so much today. Just take care of yourself. I'll take care of the rest.
The boat bumps lightly against the dock, rocking. Tenzin steps up and offers her a hand before leading her up the walkway. The darkness of the night feels thick and suffocating, a strong and silent presence that presses in from everywhere, held at bay only by the tiny lanterns that light the way up to the main pavilion. She grips his cloak tighter, presses a bit closer.
Spirits, but this is pathetic. She's the Avatar. She's scared of Amon, not the shadows. She can handle darkness.
When they reach her chamber, Tenzin flicks on the light and sits her down on the bed. "I'm going to back to the mainland," he says softly. "I have to wrap up this whole matter with Tarrlok and the press is still waiting back there. Would you like to wait to talk about it until later and make a statement in the morning?"
"…Yeah. Tomorrow." Korra swallows. "Please."
He's silent for a moment, then murmurs, "Before I go, shall I make you some tea?"
She shakes her head.
"Are you sure? I'm happy to stay for a while, if you like. Or if not me, perhaps one of the sentries could join you for company…"
She doesn't want company. She doesn't want to have him wake his pregnant wife or gather up his excitable kids or drag in an indifferent White Lotus guard to sit and chat with her over tea. It's pointless. She knows she won't be talking much, anyway.
She shakes her head. "I'm sure. Thank you, Tenzin."
He leans down, palm against her cheek. His thumb brushes the underside of her eye, tracking the dried tears. "For what it's worth, I'm very proud of you, Korra. You've been so brave."
Brave, she's been brave. Stupid and reckless and foolish, but brave. Korra leans her head, just a bit, into the warmth of his palm.
Then it's gone. Tenzin stands and grips her shoulder, a firm and steady comfort, before heading out the door.
"I shall try to be back around daybreak," he says. "But I'd rather you not wait up for me and get some rest. It's a few hours until dawn, so if you're still awake when I return, I may have to insist you join us for morning tea as usual, but if you're asleep then I suppose I'll have no choice but to let you rest through your morning lessons."
She manages to crack a smile.
"That's more like it," he encourages, eyes shining. Without another word, he closes the door behind him, and then he's gone.
Korra listens until his footsteps fade down the hall. The moonlight makes streaks through her window that stretch across the floor. The room is swathed in shadows. Her eyelids are drooping and the bed underneath her is so soft and the pillow looks so inviting…
It's quiet. It's dark. She's safe. It'll be okay. Amon isn't out to get her.
He won't take her bending away.
She hasn't failed.
Aang is coming.
Korra blinks at that new thought. It's strange and foreign and a part of her wonders if it's her thought at all, but it's there and it reverberates, spreading like ripples, and somehow, she knows it's true.
She had called Tenzin "Aang." She had seen… she didn't know what she'd seen.
She had called Tenzin by his father's name, her predecessor, the only person who could ever help her out, a man who happens to be seventeen years dead. All because she had seen… What had she seen?
She never should have challenged Amon to that duel.
She never should have gone to Tarrlok's gala.
She can't sit here anymore.
Korra stands. The red cloak flutters to the floor behind her as she heads for the door. The room is too dark, too suffocating, too thick. Before she knows it she's walking down the corridor, headed outside for fresh air, for breathing space, for time to sit and focus and think…
When she reaches the meditation pavilion, she sits facing the sea and eases into the familiar stance, folding her legs underneath her body, hands together, eyes closed. Breath. Inhale, exhale. Focus on the wind.
It's so quiet.
Listen to the air.
Everything is so still.
Let your mind and your spirit be free.
It's so dark…
Be a leaf, Korra. Be gentle. Don't force it. Let it come.
Aang had come to her.
She's sure of it now. What else could it have been? Amon had struck her shoulder, knocked out, and then… faces, people that she wanted to remember but couldn't recognize for the life of her. A middle-aged Water Tribe man. A woman in a uniform that vaguely resembled the statue standing outside the Police Headquarters. A man's eyes, large and wild.
And an airbender. An adult male airbender with blue tattoos. It hadn't been Tenzin, couldn't be Tenzin. Tenzin doesn't look like that.
Tenzin isn't his father.
Flashes from her previous life? Visions, hallucinations? Did Amon's chi-blocking tap into some hidden part of her, an invisible string that connects to the other Avatars that have come before? Had it been it a result from all the airbending training she'd been doing recently, a "good job so far, keep going" sign of encouragement from the spirits?
She doubts it. She doesn't know what on earth she's doing, but she knows the spirits probably wouldn't approve so far.
Korra slams down on those thoughts before they could overwhelm her. No, she's confident. She doesn't have time to doubt herself. She's strong and bold and she can take it and she's the Avatar and…
And yes, she's scared. Spirits, so scared, and she'd been rendered powerless and nobody was coming to help and Amon's hand reached out and…
And, and, and. There's always going to be an and, she scoffs, because there's always going to be the fear with Amon around, and she's always going to come up with excuses to hide from it. She's scared. She admits it, fine. She's terrified.
But it doesn't mean she can't fight back.
Tenzin had called her brave. If he had known she was scared all this time, by still heading to face Amon, yes, she supposed that could count as bravery; but she had been denying it, denying herself the respect she deserved by owning up, and it had nearly cost her everything. She can't be called brave if she was facing an opponent she had been been confident she would beat.
Maybe there's no bravery in having no fear. That was… stupid. She had been stupid. She had been afraid. She is still afraid. She doesn't think that will change any time soon.
But maybe it says something, then, that she still wants to keep going despite all that. Admitting she's scared hasn't changed her fear, but it also hasn't changed her resolve to keep fighting. Maybe that's all that Tenzin had wanted from her in the end.
Maybe if she tries her absolute best to be the person that Tenzin thinks she is, that Naga believes she is, that Mako and Bolin and her parents and Sifu Katara trust and have faith in, maybe that'll be enough.
It's not much. It's not even a very good promise. She's never been good at keeping promises, not even to herself.
A wetness on her cheeks startles her into the present. Tears are clinging to her eyelashes when she opens her eyes, blinking as she realizes that there's a dull orange glow on the horizon, soft and faint in the autumn light. Birds are humming and ring-tailed winged lemurs are starting to chatter.
Korra closes her eyes again. Focus on the wind.
She has a teacher that listens. She has parents that love her and a best friend that will remain loyal until the very end. She has teammates that trust her.
And she has an enemy. A faceless man that needs to be taken down. Benders are oppressors, he says. Bending burns and tears and rips, bending eliminates, bending destoys.
Bending saves lives, she imagines telling him. Bending helps people live.
Bending will destroy those lives.
Bending will help fix them again.
What bending did to me was monstrous.
And now it's created a monster.
His voice inside her head grows silent.
She needs to quit Tarrlok's task force. She needs to tell the truth. She needs to go to gym practice. She needs to stop listening to the press. She needs to master airbending. She needs to talk to Aang.
Amon needs to be taken down.
Korra takes another breath, slow, and releases it in one long, steady stream.
Tenzin is here to listen. Naga still loves her no matter what. Bolin cares enough to visit, to bring gifts. Mako is a friend. And Aang is coming. Aang is coming.
A breeze stirs her hair, tickling. The wind whistles high over the sea, faint, like the soft whine of a voice that's been ignored for too long.
Avatar or no Avatar, she's still Korra, and she's still scared, but maybe that's all right. And maybe the Avatar isn't all that she is… maybe if she really concentrates, really tries and trains and listens to her friends and family, she could be, possibly…
Whole. Balanced, like Katara and like Tenzin. Bold like Mako and brave like Bolin. And maybe she could be great. She could soar. Like Aang.
So when Tenzin finds her with fresh tear tracks running down her face and quietly invites her to breakfast tea, she still opens her eyes because it's the morning and there's air to listen to and people to see and a day to enjoy. It's bright and it's a beautiful sunrise, and it can't wait forever.