It's strange to have a full house, to share the temple with other people who aren't Pema or Tenzin, the squirts or the monks that actually seem completely unable to show any personality.
She leaves Mako and Asami and Bolin to their room, totally getting the need for space. It's instinctive and hard, but she's got things to do and her own boundaries to reconstruct, nightmares and training and all. Mostly it's selfish; she didn't miss Pema's knowing look at dinner, or the giggles of the girls. It's not the kind of thing she wants to draw attention to as it is.
But then Tahno shows up.
"Avatar," he greets, looking less than worse for wear. The circles under his eyes are deeper and she sits on the stairs in front of him. She doesn't ask how he got here. Instead, she pushes her finger to her mouth and waits.
Everything stays still. Naga is in her room. If Tenzin is up, it'll be in a few hours. He paces in pattern, just like her nightmares.
"What are you doing here?" she asks.
"Rumor has it -"
Korra waves her hand, rolling her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Air nomads. Heard that one before," she interrupts. Her voice is dry. "If we're going to do this, bro, you've gotta come clean. I'm pretty sure I'm not known for my patience."
There's a turn in his mouth. He shakes his head and moves to sit with her.
He says nothing for awhile. His legs stretch out. She tries and think if they can scrounge up one more bedroom. It wouldn't be so bad at all.
But then the last couple of days come back to mind, and she's thinking of Asami and her father, the look that Lin carried on her face long after everything went down, and she wonders - no, she thinks, no - she hates that she was kept so isolated for so long. Couldn't she have done better. What use is she like this.
"We'll figure this out," she says quietly.
Tahno snorts. "You said that." Then he holds his hand out. There's a pause and his fingers twitch. "I keep doing this," he admits.
Her lips purse.
"I don't want to keep doing this," he confesses. "It makes me feel pretty damn helpless."
"You're not - " her protest dies and they stare at each other, "you're not helpless," she finishes. "You have to adapt."
"Easier said than done," he mutters.
"I mean it."
The idea is a terrible one, such a terrible one, but she's up on her feet. Her knees crack and she grabs his arm, pulling him behind her.
She isn't running. She's cutting the need for questions. What would she say? And really, she's sure that the last people he wants to see is, well, everyone else. It's not compassion, but she can't place it - a feeling is just there.
She pulls him away from the temple and the water, and deeper into the greenery. Branches snap under her boots. In a little while, she's sure Naga will come and find her. But that, there, that's just fine.
"You adapt," she repeats. She lets go of his arm, whirling around to face him.
Tahno doesn't wear surprised well. His eyes are too large for his face and his hair falls limply into his jaw. She pushes at his arm for measure and it's quick - it's so quick, but his mouth curls.
"Okay, oh wise one." He straightens. "What would you have me do then?"
"I like that," she grins. "Wise one's a start."
She rubs the back of her neck and then pulls at her tank. It's cooler at night - they're too close to the water as it is. She likes it like this. It gives her a strange taste of home and thinking of it that way, she can at the very least, give something back.
"You'll get it back. We just have to make sure that you don't get rusty," she decides to say, and seriously - she doesn't know if it can be reversed, whatever it is that Amon is doing to these people. But she recognizes the look on his face, that he's three steps away from just giving in, and she can't, she can't deal with anyone being like that. Maybe this is her sense of her responsibility.
Korra doesn't tell him yet. It's about the fight.
Tahno doesn't fit in. Tahno doesn't even show any interest. Not that she cares what anyone else thinks (she kinda does), but everyone else is walking around like they're walking on glass or something.
It's almost too much. Between Tahno and Asami, which she's sure acting like this isn't helping either of them. But she's coming out of training with Tenzin and talk again with Lin, finding Bolin and Mako coming face to face with Tahno. Asami is lingering behind the two of them, watching warily.
"Is everything okay?" she says, stopping next to the other girl.
Asami doesn't blink. She shrugs.
"I don't know," she answers.
Mako sees her next.
"We want to help," he says, and Bolin is peeking at her, over his shoulder, trying to mouth something that she can't understand.
Her mouth opens and what she tries to say. Mako slides in front of her, taking her attention again.
"You're training him," he says, point blank.
"We're sparring," she corrects, and this is really about secrets, she thinks. This is not the only one. "And it's really up to him," she murmurs, shrugging.
Korra meets Tahno's gaze. He looks surprised.
"I don't trust him," Mako's voice drops. There's about a million different things there. Trust. Concern. Her heart pulls and twists and she remembers that she's standing next to Asami too.
"You don't have to." She meets Asami's gaze. Her eyes search Korra's, but then she's looking back at Mako again. Korra swallows. Her throat feels tight. "I'm not going to turn anyone away, Mako. It's not my style."
And with that, she's walking to Tahno with purpose. He looks at her with questions and she ignores it. Everybody's an open book, right. There's too much to do. She already hates herself for a number things and she's not going to start with everything else. This may or may not make her a hypocrite; she's sure Asami's going to need time for her too.
But she's trying to be an adult, and it's hard, hard looking at Mako and not wanting to be selfish, demand that this part go her way. That's not how it works. She knows that.
Mako's voice is tight. She doesn't answer.
Tahno doesn't ask.
Sometimes the sun is the worst.
She can tell how about how much she misses the ice, and the softness the bitting wind - she's no poet, but this heat nearly frazzles her to the edge.
Whatever works, anyway.
It's like ridiculous too, seriously ridiculous how limber Tahno is. She's lobbing shots and even if they're nowhere need the intensity she can get to, he is taking everything as seriously and as hard as he would a match. She can see the skill.
"Seriously," she says finally. Her hands prop onto her hip. "Like, why even cheat - you're -"
"Good?" his voice is dry and a little bit of the ego comes right back and she has to roll her eyes.
He's breathing heavily though and she's not sorry. The color's coming back into his face. He even looks like he's actually slept, despite Meelo's homegrown welcome of gnawing on his leg yesterday morning.
Her head tilts to the side. "Something like that," she says, and her hands cup together, gear up for an attack, but he's already moving into her position.
He's trying to predict her moves now and she's almost like that's so cute, bro - because really, it's kinda like he's coming back into himself and she's got to admit, that feels nice. Even if he's a jerk and more than a little irritating.
But she's faster. Call it practice. Call it her move to Republic City and all the pro-bending she's done, the training - whatever. Her hands extend back and she's flipping into a turn, flexing her fingers and calling at the earth.
It cracks and he rolls, caught off-guard.
"Ugh," he grunts, panting. He still lands on his feet. "You're moving differently," he says.
She tugs at her hair. "There are no rules here," she says simply. Her lips curl too. "You only suckered the rules into fitting your own rules -" her nose wrinkles " - and I totally just sounded like Tenzin, right there."
It's not impossible, she wants to say to him too. There are other ways outside your bending, she wants to say. But it's not right, and she doesn't have it in her - it's a lot of self-reflection, something that she's been doing a lot of, something that kinda scares her here and there.
"Your friends aren't happy about it," he points out.
"Something happen?" and there, finally, comes Tahno's mean streak. His mouth slips and he's smirking, full height and all, dark eyes sharper than she remembers them being.
She thinks of Mako. Tahno launches himself at her.
He catches her at the legs and she ducks into the ground, rolling onto her side hard. She's breathless and then swings her legs, out, hitting him at the knees. It's all very archaic and clumsy, but she feels the hard fight rising her.
His fist slams into the space next to her head. She doesn't flinch.
"You can't fuck up," he growls.
"Worried?" she spits back, and she swings her elbow into his face.
Anger, she can deal with anger. She feels her hands heat and lick away at the ground and dirt. She flips back, away from him, onto her knees and then her feet.
Her hair comes undone - the tie has snapped - and it swings at her throat and neck. There are leaves collecting at her hips and he throws at fist at her again. She catches it, never blinking.
The woods are getting hot again.
Neither of them apologize.
She's not even scared of revenge.
"This is so dumb!"
Bolin is the one that finds her. His hand waves out. Pabu grabs her around the leg and then finds his way up her shoulder.
"You two need to make up," he groans. "Like, he's such a -"
"Ass?" she supplies. "Mako and I - we're not fighting anymore, Bolin. I promise."
Bolin's eyes are bright. He shrugs, amused. His hands shove into his pocket and he leans against the wall.
Then, more seriously, he says it: "We just don't get it," he says gently. "The guy's a total prick."
"Your brother's a prick too," she replies. "And he's my friend."
It hurts to say. It makes her angry again - at herself, Asami and Mako, and her parents and stupid, stupid fate for keeping her locked away. Everyone knows how sheltered she was, but there's a kind of strange and irresponsible loneliness that she holds to that. She hates that it makes her feel stuck.
But now it's all manifesting in the wrong way, in the wrong place because the whole world's gone absolutely insane and here she is, finally trying to hold it together.
"He's worried about you. He's worried about Asami." Bolin laughs, but there's nothing warm about it. "He always does this - I don't know. You and Tahno, that's so, so weird."
"He's still Tahno," she says dryly. "If that's why he's worried."
"Oh, that's reassuring."
They both laugh. Bolin steps forward and swings an arm around her shoulder. Tenzin is due back from his council meeting. Lin will probably be by again too.
"I think it's a little more than that," she murmurs.
"Mako?" Bolin blinks. He regards her for a moment. "Korra -"
"Not that," she says quickly, flushing. She looks away. "Not that," her voice is firm. "He can't control everything. Just like I can't too."
"Korra," Bolin breathes.
"But I'll try my best, you know?" she shakes her head. "Still got one more element, and really, there's no time to think about how suddenly I'm remembering I'm a teenage girl and it's been awful. Feeling sorry for myself is dumb."
"Totally dumb," Bolin laughs.
He doesn't say anything and she totally, totally ignores the odd, little kiss at the corner of her forehead. It stirs a little bit of everything in her - anxiety, warmth, a restless sense of urgency. She's not a child, it makes her want to scream. Maybe Bolin gets it. Maybe he doesn't.
He kisses her forehead again. And then his mouth rests there and he's saying something, but she's never going to be good at mouth-reading anyway.
She won't call it waiting for Mako.
There's no expressed need for a track record. That's super dumb as it is.
But she sits with Asami, watching Pabu and Bolin and watching Tahno too, always on the outskirts. It's creepy and endearing and she knows it's mostly because he's seemed to lose a particular set of skills for interacting.
"Are you all right?" she asks Asami then, and winces because, wow, that just sounds so dumb.
The other girl wears a small smile. It's tired too.
"No," she says. She rubs her eyes. "But this helps," she answers too. "I can't even think about going home."
"You don't have to," Korra murmurs.
She gets a smile, finally. Asami doesn't quite look at her yet; she wonders if the girl looks at her and sees her father, everything happened at the Sato mansion. It makes her stomach climb in knots and her hands push over her knees, rubbing.
"I appreciate it," Asami tells hers. "Mako said you didn't even think twice either, even after anything."
Korra bites her lip. "Why would I?" and then, that, it sounds so stupid. She doesn't know how to hide her confusion though. "You're not responsible for his decisions."
It makes the other girl pause and push at her hair. Korra doesn't fall to the self-examination this time around. It's another kind of weight that she doesn't need.
"I do that too," she offers quietly.
Asami turns to face her. Their knees knock. There's a shriek somewhere to the side and Pabu's clambering up Tahno's leg while Bolin hits the ground, moaning about betrayal and Pabu's taste. Korra shields her eyes and catches the amused turn in Tahno's mouth.
She feels a little relieved.
"Take the situation," she murmurs. "And overanalyze it to death - usually it's after, actually, it's mostly after and I've screwed up so badly. It's the problem with thinking impulsively or whatever."
"But you have your instincts," Asami protests.
Korra shrugs. "Sometimes." She rubs her eyes. "Sometimes I forget I have them too."
She looks at her strangely and Korra feels a little weird being this honest. She doesn't mean to. She doesn't even think about sharing that much. But she's trying to try harder. She's trying to make this easier, knowing everything that she does.
"I misjudged you," Asami says then.
Both girls smile at each other. It doesn't quite reach Asami's eyes; Korra tries not to think about it.
"We're even then," she says.
It's not until that he comes around, knowing full well that she likes to leave the temple and breathe the air in. It's all about the nightmares, after all.
Tonight she dreams and dreams about Amon and his hand around her throat. He keeps taunting her, grinning not yet, bringing her just close enough to the edge where panicked acceptance is just waiting. She can feel herself think it too - at least it's not my bending - and when she wakes up, she's breathing hard. Sweat curls around her throat, even as she touches it.
This is usually how she ends up outside.
Her spot is on the roof tonight. Her hair strays loose, slick against the back of her neck and shoulders. She has this habit of falling asleep just as she is, ponytail and boots and all. Lately though, she's tried changing her routines. Being more aware.
"Hey," comes his voice from behind her. Mako is quiet, finally.
She moves over when he sits. Space, she thinks.
Korra meets his gaze. He rubs his eyes.
"I'm being a jerk," he says.
She rolls her eyes. "Don't I know it."
"You could at least pretend," he says.
"Too much work."
He laughs and she throws a half-smile like a bone, looking back over the temple. The water peaks out from beyond the trees and the city, its companion. She feels tired, watching it. It's strange too, how her relationship with water is changing too. She's always felt particularly drawn too it, out of habit, out of it being her first. But earth and fire flow back to her because of her nature.
It's air that still remains just as mysterious, working through her as if it were waiting for her to catch it. Is that what Amon is waiting for, knowing that she hasn't reached the pinnacle yet - would he try and take her as a fully realized Avatar?
"I'm sorry about Tahno," Mako finally offers. "I didn't mean -"
"I don't care what you think," she says simply. He snorts at the interruption, but she shrugs. "And I'm not looking to be his friend," she says too. "But I won't turn my back on someone. That's not how this work."
"I know," he murmurs.
His hand shuffles forward. It grazes hers. She feels her fingers relax and swallows her sigh.
"How's Asami?" she asks, changing the subject. The lights turn in front of her and the radio goes on in the courtyard, the high laughter of the guards filling the space for the night.
"Korra," Mako murmurs. She doesn't answer. "I don't know," he admits. "She talks to me and then doesn't. When Bo had nightmares, he'd -"
"He's an open book anyway," she says fondly.
Mako chuckles. "Yeah, well. It's made me lazy. I just try and be there, I guess. That's important, you know?"
"Yeah," she says.
They're quiet and she reaches back, pulling at her hair. She can't remember if she left her tie in her room or it just broke again. It makes her think of her mother. She hasn't thought of her mother or her father in a long time.
Her thoughts usually go to Katara, out of habit. Her other teachers too. It makes her miss home though; it comes from an odd place. She's not a nomad and this isn't a part of tradition. She wishes she could just ask the simple things. Like how does she really find her place or better yet, how is she going to manage to protect them all?
"You're different with him," Mako says then.
It spills like a confession. She looks up, gaze sharp and wide-eyed. When have you seen us dies right on the tip of her tongue. She isn't gaping, but it all feels heavy-handed.
"I don't understand," she tells him.
"I saw you fight." He doesn't offer when, she doesn't ask. "Everything - I don't know. You move differently. It's not like anything I've seen you do before."
And he has seen her fight, she has to tell herself. Not after the championships where it was all about chaos, where she had no choice, but between rescuing Bolin that first time around to the few training sessions that she has had.
"It's not even like that knockout you had," he says too.
Her lips twitch. "Training's just different," she shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you."
He holds her gaze. She feels her throat start to flush.
"I'm adapting." The words feel a little funny. Her hands drop into her lap, confidence unaware. "I guess. I don't really know how to explain it. It's like the more I fight the Equalists, the more I fight with Tenzin and the Chief - everything becomes faster. I don't really know how to rely on just one element or I don't know, maybe it's because water's just become steadier -" she's rambling and her hands close into fists. "I just keep thinking about that moment -"
"Nothing's going to happen to you," he interrupts.
She stares at her hand, trying to pick apart where he's touched her. Her gaze is unfocused.
"But you don't know," she shoots back. She's gentler and that kinda feels strange. "And if that happens, if he even gets that close, I am going to take him down with me."
It's the first time she's said that out loud, or has even admitted to herself to thinking this way. But this is the truth.
If Amon is waiting for her and for that time, even if he takes it from her, her bending, all her elements, she owes it to everyone to pull him down all the same. This isn't conviction speaking, she thinks. It's just fact.
Mako is staring at her. She blinks and it takes her another minute to realize. She doesn't blush. She doesn't shy away. It may or may not be one of those moments; she feels a little wiser and even sad. This isn't what she imagined she'd feel like either. No one's perfect. She gets it too. Peace isn't just peace. Nature is nature. It reminds her Katara and that look she used to get, when she would tell Korra all these stories.
Adventures aren't just adventures, she'd sometimes finish. Korra would watch and know, but not understand, that the steel that would grow in her eyes wasn't just age. It was wisdom, a sad kind of wisdom, where acceptance wasn't just that. Sometimes it would feel like a memory. Other times she tried not to let it scare her.
Mako's fingers touch her cheek.
She's startled then. Her lips purse. He's not smiling either. But she can feel his thumb as it draws against the arch, following the line of her jaw. It settles somewhere in between and it's stupid, so stupid, but she turns into his palm.
His skin is hot.
"Don't - " his voice catches and he shakes his head, " - don't think like that, okay?"
"I have to," she murmurs.
Her eyes burn too and she's just tired, she tells herself. She thinks of Tahno and Katara this way, Tenzin and Lin. This is growing up, she thinks.
Mako's fingers move again. "I'm still me though," she tries and cracks.
His fingers skip over her mouth and she should, she so should push his hand away. But they're steady in her lap, fisted tightly. Her nails keep digging into her skin too.
She doesn't want to touch him. She can't. It's just as foreign and intimate to her as air, a horrible parallel that pulls at her patience and goads at her instinct. She doesn't want it. She doesn't even care for the explanation. It exists and here she is.
"Yeah," he says. "I know."
She wets her lips.
"So at least there's that, right?"
His eyes color then. She watches his gaze as it changes into something she doesn't quite recognize. It's older, it's heavier, and for a moment, she is back to wishing that they could just get the timing. But this isn't how that works either.
His knees lean into hers. He drops his hand and she lets him. Don't kiss me, she thinks and if it were someone else, she'd totally laugh. It's stupid, it's not stupid - what even. But this is Mako and their track record is what is. There is Asami back in this house and this isn't right at all.
But she misses him and she doesn't know why - it's even harder, knowing that he's right there too, just as confused and sharp as she is.
Mako looks away then. She still has to strain to hear his response.
Korra hits Tahno hard enough to send him flying. Her fist is cracked and the bruising in his face seems to bring back a spark that she doesn't remember seeing before.
They're not bleeding (not yet) and there's this rush, that same kind of chaos that she's had since she's arrived in Republic City. She doesn't know if she likes it.
But Tahno's breathing heavily and for a minute, she senses the others around, watching. It doesn't unnerve her as much as she thought it would. Her eyes remain glued to Tahno.
He stands and the determination flashes. There is dirt clinging to his shirt and face, and he pulls his head up just a little harder, grinning at her even.
"You're not just a pretty face," he calls.
Her eyes roll. She feels her mouth twitch.
"Nope," she says. "That's your job, remember?"
They don't see it then, or they don't think she sees him - there's Mako's frown, Asami and Bolin in front of him like a wall. But her gaze remains with Tahno, watching as he even sets himself up for another attack on her. He's come close to a smile, something that feels a little lukewarm. But it's progress and she likes progress. She likes feeling progress.
She's known all along. This isn't just for him.
It's all changing anyway.