Republic City’s made of stone and steel and light, the bones of the earth reaching to the sky. Korra used to love it here.
When she stepped off the boat that first time, and smelled the air of a city at once strange and familiar, her heart had sung. This was the place she had been called to, she was sure: a nation founded not by war or long tradition but built out of hope, and the promise of a new way of living. Like Kyoshi, Aang had shaped the very face of his world. Korra had wondered, wandering these streets, if she would ever do so herself.
Now, though, the light of the city simply throws the shadows into sharp relief. The buildings are too big, and Korra can see the stone crumble and the metal rust away until all that is left is darkness.
Korra used to love it here. But Republic City is full of ghosts reaching out with hungry mouths, the past and the present and the fear of what the future might bring.
Father hated that statue. Oh, he hid it of course, because Aang would never dream of hurting anybody’s feelings, especially when they went to so much trouble as to build a statue of him, but there was always this wrinkle in his brow when he looked at it.
Maybe it was because they made him young. The city never saw him like this. By the time Republic City was what it is now, he’d grown up. But in the public imagination, Avatar Aang is a child forever. He hated that.
(I hate that. I never knew him this way: it feels wrong, somehow, a stranger wearing his face.)
Maybe it’s the fact he has a statue at all. He told me once when I was small that only the great Airbenders were honoured with statues. Yangchen, Gyatso. He never counted himself among their number- Aang was always insistent that to be a good Avatar, he had to be a bad Airbender. That ate at him. When he died-
No. I won’t talk about that.
His spirit is where it is. There’s no changing that.
The best memorial would be the city, growing and thriving like he hoped. But this is how that city chose to honour and remember him. Perhaps that’s pointing to the problem.
Chapter 3: Are You There, Aang? It's Me, Korra.
“You know,” says Aang, as the winds of the spirit world catch at his cape and ruffle through his beard, “I kind of expected the first time you talked to me would be for something a little more… Important.”
“This IS important!” Korra aims a kick at a spectral rock, which skids across the swamps in a satisfying manner. “I don’t know how to make Mako like me and now Bolin hates me and it’s all weird!”
Aang rubs the top of his head thoughtfully. It’s certainly not official Avatar business, but there was a time, he knows, when he could have used some advice on this himself.
“Did you take this Mako fellow penguin sledding?”
Korra can’t believe she’s doing it, but she gives Avatar Aang a withering look. He shrugs.
“Secret dance parties also work. And caves, caves are romantic. But you should start with the penguins if you want to be sure- Republic City still has a zoo, right?” Aang remembers being quite insistent about the zoo. He and Zuko had had several arguments about it.
Korra groans and buries her head in her hands, hair flopping forward to dangle around her face.
“I can’t believe you’re worse at this than Kyoshi.”
Aang laughs. “Oh man, you asked her? What did she say?”
“Kyoshi told me to present him with a token if my skill in battle. Preferably the still beating heart of his enemy.” Korra counted off the Avatars on her fingers. “Roku told me that whichever boy I went for I’d better be damn sure the other one wouldn’t do something stupid like start a hundred year war out of spite-“
Aang winces, though Korra doesn’t notice.
“Yangchen said I shouldn’t be thinking about boys, I should be focussing on Airbending, and Kuruk went really quiet and then told me that if this was my biggest problem I needed to enjoy it while it lasted.”
She pauses. In the distance, they can hear the chattering of monkeys and the strange sighing of the wind.
“He also said agni kai were pretty impressive.”
Her list finished, Korra sits down on the grass, shoulders slumped. “Didn’t any of you have normal lives?”
Aang sits next to her, and lays his hand on her shoulder, his voice just a whisper above the wind. “No. We didn’t.” And then, even quieter, “I’m sorry.”
He looks down at this girl, who shares so much of his own spirit and may one day be crushed under the same heavy weight that threatened to destroy him, and sighs.
“Look at it this way. Getting things wrong is a fine Avatar tradition. You’re more like us thank you think.”
Korra smiles despite herself, and Aang returns it.
“And in my experience, things usually work out alright in the end.”
Katara’s absence is like an ache, but he knows he’ll see her again. Korra, who understands little of this, just nods.
“But you know,” Aang’s face shifts to the serious expression from the statues, ‘You really should try the penguin sledding.”
Chapter 4: Bolin the Brony
Blame flutiebear on tumblr for this. I loved thinking about what kind of radio programs they have in Republic City- I could make them up all day!
It started innocently enough. Training while listening to the wireless meant that the Fire Ferrets often caught odd programs- Mako would listen to Bolin describe them when he got home from work (he persisted at the lightning factory despite Asami’s insistence. Sometimes, you do things for yourself as well as the money).
Gradually, though, Bolin began to describe one program more and more. The adventures of a group of animals, the last fifteen minutes of the Children’s Hour every day. It got to the point, Korra told him, that Bolin would actually stop practicet o catch up with Rosy the Rabbiroo, Flippers the Penguinseal, Bosco the Bear and friends.
It comes to a head one day when Mako walks in to find his brother brushing the long fake hair of a Daisy the Deeralope toy and singing along to the theme song.
Caught in the act, Bolin flicks his gaze guiltily between Mako and the toy.
“Korra gave it to me?” he tries, hiding the brush behind his back (as if that will make things better). “Ikki had a spare.”
Mako simply shakes his head and leaves. “I have no brother.”
“It’s got surprisingly compelling characters!”
Bolin looks into the gentle painted eyes of Daisy the Deeralope. “He’ll come around.”
Korra does not need to meditate to feel Aang's presence- the spirit of the former Avatar has surrounded her all her life, as constant as the sun and just as dazzling.
In this city, she wakes from dreams that are hardly ever her own- instead at night she dreams of flying over strange upside-down temples that hang like bats under cliffs, of the sky raining fire and conquerors on their knees. When Korra sleeps, she relinquishes the present and surrenders to the past, to the thousand lives she has lived and remembers only in dreams.
She spends her days in the house that Aang built to watch over the city that he founded, sits in his place at the table, treads in his footsteps along the paths that Aang traced out for his growing family. Sometimes, Tenzin or Lin or Tarrlok will look at her expectantly, a silence awaiting some kind of response, a script she cannot follow. Republic City has an Avatar-shaped space, she finds, but it is not waiting for her. Instead Kora constantly feels as if she has walked into a room that Aang just left, the air still warm with his presence, the ghost of his words hanging in the silence she needs to fill.
Korra only stops feeling this uncanny familiarity when she is in the bending arena- another reason to spend far more time than she should there.
In a back room on Air Temple Island, Korra finds a necklace made of yellowed string and dried flowers. It's small, but well-crafted, and it's been placed in a box with the obvious intention of keeping it forever. When Korra touches it, the petals crumble under her fingers and she feels a sudden, stifling weight, the air thick in her lungs. History pulls back, and Korra is left afraid and exhilarated with a feeling that has her buzzing for hours afterwards.
(Once, Aang placed his foot inside a boot that was far too large, daubed his face with paint in a style a thousand years old, and felt that selfsame familiar thrill.)
Chapter 6: Ebb and flow
Councilman Tarrlok was not, in fact, at the pro-bending arena that night. He was in his office- he worked late. You didn't get elected to the council of Republic City without sacrificing a certain amount of sleep. At the precise time the police were pursuing the Equalists across a city now crowned by a plume of black smoke, Tarrlok was staring, very hard, at the bowl of water that stood, by long custom, on his desk.
His aide had just delivered the news of the attack. Tarrlok couldn't help but feel disappointed- he'd been hoping the police and the Equalists would destroy themselves, or that he'd have something with which to dismiss or discredit Bei Fong. As an opponent, Amon was cursed unreliable.
However, Tarrlok had always prided himself on his adaptability. His mother had told him, back in the Northern tribe: always know which way the tide is flowing. It helped, of course, that right now there was such an awful lot of black smoke to show him.
Tarrlok stood, stared at the still surface of the water, then, experimentally, moved into the first position of a common waterbending stance. In fact, it was the very first stance he had ever learned. And while his fingers itched to flex and stream the water from the bowl to surround him, to feel that ebb and flow in tune with his own body, he did not. Instead, Tarrlok ran through that first waterbending form without moving the contents of the bowl a single centimetre.
When he had finished, Tarrlok stood, feeling strangely naked, and breathed deeply to calm himself. Not as hard as he had suspected at all- and it would be made easier by practice. If bending was to become a privilege- if one who could take it away was really in the ascendant- well, it was always prudent to be prepared.
Chapter 7: Flying
Spoilers for episode 7! Korra and Asami have some friendship time.
New guests on Air Temple Island means new faces at the dinner table with Pema, Tenzin and the kids- it means its harder than ever for Korra to concentrate during meditation lessons, and it means that Tenzin can take on no new acolytes, as the last of the available rooms in the dormitories are filled.
It means that Korra goes out to the pagoda one day to feed the birds that Pema encourages to settle on the island, and finds Asami staring out at the city with tears streaking down her face.
Korra hesitates. This is the kind of thing she normally calls Mako for- but Mako has kept up his job at the lightning factory, and won't be home for hours. She steps forward, tentatively, coughing to announce her presence.
Asami jumps, then smiles, sadly, a brittle mask that does very little to conceal her true feelings.
"Hello, Korra." She dabs at her eyes delicately, and then sniffs with somewhat less grace. "I was just thinking about-"
Asami pauses, then collapses in on herself under the weight of the words. "You know. Everything."
Korra sits next to her, and does her best not to panic. This is unknown territory and definitely not covered in Avatar training. Asami is, in fact, her very first female friend (Jinora and Ikki are more like sisters- Pema is kept too busy by her children to spend much time with the Avatar).
"Would you like me to hug you?" She's dimly aware from magazines that hugging is a thing girls do together sometimes. Asami nods, and she throws an arm awkwardly around the other girls' shoulders.
They sit like that for a while, and then Korra has an idea.
"Asami, have you ever been flying?"
Asami looks at her like she's crazy. "Korra, you know I have."
"No, I mean proper flying. On the back of a sky bison." Korra warms to her subject, recalling how she'd felt on the racetrack. "Tenzin took me a couple of times as part of my airbending training. You can feel the wind as it rushes past you and see everything- the whole city, the mountains, the sea- all the way across to the Fire Nation!"
She looks at Asami and smiles. "I think you'd really like it."
Asami chuckles, her voice hoarse with crying. "Would Tenzin let us use his sky bison?"
"Well, you know." Korra shrugs. "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?"