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Zone Three

Chapter Text

When she caught sight of him, Korra expected a fight, some cursory words about how this was all her fault - not that he would have been wrong to accuse her. It had been her fault, in a way. Instead, she was greeted with silence. Tahno sat slumped against the wall, his eyes downcast, another shade in the darkness. Had she not been paying attention, she might have thought him one more piece of equipment in the darkened gym. “Tahno?”

Nothing.

“Hey, Republic City to Tahno. Come in Tahno.”

“What do you want, Ah-vuh-tar?” The way Tahno looked at her gave Korra pause. His skin had taken on the hue of curdled milk, and the sharp cheekbones that had once drawn him a flock of female fans now looked as though they might burst out of his skin at any moment. But the worst part was his eyes. As hollow as his cheeks, they stared right through her. In short, he looked awful.

“I…” What did she want? It wasn’t as though she’d been looking for him in particular. She’d just come out to escape another of Mako and Asami’s so-cute-I could-puke moments and this was where her feet had carried her. She’d spent so much time training for the finals lately that heading to the gym had seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It was the only place where nothing had changed. The discs remained stacked in piles that towered above her head and she could still make out scraps from the papers that had been heavily featured in the Fire Ferrets’ pre-finals training regimen. Each bore Tahno’s face. At the time, Korra had wanted nothing more than to best him, to show him that he wasn’t the gods’ gift to pro-bending and taking those pictures out one by one had been more than just a little satisfying but now...now she wished that they’d cleaned up after they’d finished practicing. Now, she looked at the torn likenesses littering the ground and guilt gnawed at her in the place of rage. If Tahno noticed them, he didn’t mention it.

“How are you?” It sounded lame, even to her own ears. How was he? He was sitting in the place he’d once spent all of his time training, the place where he’d once made a name for himself (even if he had been underhanded about it), and now it was just one of the many places that he was no longer welcome.
“How am I?” he echoed, voice hoarse. His hands lay in his lap and he twisted them together, watching them, rather than Korra, as he spoke. “I’m…alive.”
“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad, plenty of people live without being able to bend and they do just fine.” She tried to sound cheerful, but her voice sounded hollow. She’d never really been any good at lying. “Besides, Tenzin said there might even be a way to get your bending back.”

A sharp intake of breath was all she heard before Korra found herself staring into Tahno’s furious gaze. In that moment, the blaze from the tournament raged in him once again and he looked as though he was sorely tempted to throttle her. “I don’t think you understand, Ah-vuh-tar, you can’t lie to me, not about this” he snapped with none of his usual silk.

He was all venom now. Venom and rage as he regarded her. “It’s over. It’s all over. I’m nothing now. It’s never coming back! I’ve lost my fans, my job, my home, everything.” To Korra, he seemed as dramatic in his self-indulgent pity-party as he had been in his over-confidence. Gods she hated people like him!
“It can’t be that bad. You’re Tahno of the White Falls Wolfbats, everyone in Republic City loves you.” A fact that he’d reminded her of time and again before they’d met in the arena. He was the champion and she, she was the loser.

“That’s not how it works, Korra. I’m nothing to them now, just a washed up has been with no future potential. That’s how Republic City works, you entertain the masses or you’re nothing to them. No, less than nothing. Without my bending, I’m a bug waiting for a boot.”

What could she say to that? He looked like he’d all but given up, the circles under his eyes even darker than they had been when she’d met him at the station and he’d been hauled in for questioning, and they’d been pretty bad then. It wasn’t right. It just…wasn’t right. But what could she do about it? And then it hit her.

“You…you could stay on Air Temple Island with us, you know, if you wanted.” Korra regretted the words as soon as they’d had left her mouth. This was Tahno. What was she even thinking, inviting him to live with them? He’d probably laugh in her face, tell her he didn’t need her help, even now, and she could already imagine Tenzin’s reaction when she brought home yet another unexpected guest, never mind her teammates’ reactions when they found out that that guest was none other than the man who’d been hell-bent on humiliating them for the past few weeks. This was just, not a good idea. But how could she say no? He just looked so…so…so dejected, so not like Tahno right now.

Tahno looked her over carefully, as if trying to ferret out some hidden intention before his lips quirked upward into a gross parody of an all too familiar smirk. “Finally decided to take me up on my offer, huh, Ah-vuh-tar? I knew you’d come around.” And she’d thought he’d changed.

“As if! You can’t even bend right now, let alone—“ Korra clapped a hand over her mouth, noting the way Tahno recoiled, as if she’d reached out and slapped him, the way his shoulders sagged all at once, like the weight of the world had been placed upon his shoulders and he was struggling to stay upright under its weight. Struggling and losing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, I just…” she trailed off, biting her lower lip as she looked for something, anything to say to make it right knowing, all the while, that there was nothing that she could do. What he needed, she couldn’t give him, and it was all her fault. Never mind that it had been Lin Beifong that had made the council reconsider their decision to shut down the pro-bending arena, she, Mako, and Bolin had been the ones to fight for it in the first place. All she’d wanted was to knock Tahno on that smug ass of his and wipe that stupid smirk off his face.

Well, technically, you succeeded. Korra winced. “I’m sorry,” she repeated again, at a loss, surveying the floor, the equipment, anything but Tahno. “Look, the offer still stands. Tenzin would never turn away a fellow bender in need, especially with things the way they are now.”
“And what about you, Ah-vuh-tar?”

I’m the reason you were dragged into this whole mess. Korra couldn’t meet his gaze. “I wouldn’t have offered you a place to stay if I didn’t want you to stay, alright” she huffed. “Take it or leave it because I won’t be offering again.”

Tahno laughed, a broken sound that bubbled up like a sob. “Save your pity.”

“Maybe I will! Ugh, why are you always such a jerk? I’m trying to help you out, and you clearly need it. Can’t you just say ‘thank you Korra, I really appreciate it,’ like a normal person?”

“Thank you, Korra, I really appreciate it,” he deadpanned.

“Rrrrrgh, you’re impossible!” Korra threw her hands up in the air in frustration. “Fine, sit in here and feel sorry for yourself. See if I care!” Her footsteps echoed in the silence as she made to stomp off, only to be stopped in her tracks by a soft voice. His voice.

“Wait, I…I accept.” His eyes were dark when Korra met his gaze, and she found herself holding her breath as she waited for him to speak again. His voice was so soft, so unsure, so…defeated. As angry as she was, she couldn’t help but hear him out. She owed him that much.

“Why?” Korra’s eyebrow rose in question and she began tapping her foot, waiting for Tahno to say the wrong thing so that she could storm out on him without feeling guilty all over again.

“Because…” he looked away and the tapping grew louder, more impatient.
“I’m waiting.”

“Because I don’t want to be alone.”

Chapter Text

“Korra, where were you, Pabu’s been worried sick? He was just about to go look for you, isn’t that right Pabu?” The fire ferret ducked his head, only to be seized and held between two large hands. Bolin bounced him, producing a nod. “See? How could you worry the poor little guy like that?” Bolin’s eyes glittered with amusement and Korra couldn’t help but shake her head, smiling despite herself. She couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

“Sorry, Pabu, I’ll come home earlier next time,” she replied, pointedly addressing the fire ferret instead of his owner. “So, what about you? Did you volunteer for the search committee?”

“’Course I did, you know I could never say no to this cute little guy. Just look at his face.” Bolin held Pabu out for Korra to see and, as if on cue, the fire ferret gave Korra what she was pretty sure was the fire ferret equivalent of puppy dog eyes. Bolin was following suit when he caught sight of the shadowy figure standing behind her. Korra was laughing when his eyes went wide.

“Woah, what’s he doing here?” Bolin thrust a finger in Tahno’s direction, looking perplexed and more than a little worried.

Korra winced. She’d completely forgotten about Tahno. He hadn’t said a single word as they’d made their way back to Air Temple Island and, after her first lame attempt at conversation had been met with silence, she had stopped trying. Korra chalked it up to being out on the lake. She hadn’t even thought to ask him if he minded her bending to carry them across until they were already halfway to Air Temple Island, and then it’d been too late.

Korra saw the faintest traces of resentment in his gaze as he stared at the bow of the boat, watching as it cut through the water with ease, and wondered what was going through his mind, what it must be like to lose the ability to bend, that connection which felt as natural to her as the air that blew across her skin or the warm embrace of an old friend.

Korra shuddered as she recalled the nightmare that she’d had before the tournament, Amon’s fingers stretching toward her forehead, ready to strip her of everything that she was, and her fingers reached out to skim across the water’s surface, seeking comfort. She sighed in relief when a small rope of water stretched upward toward her palm, flowing up and around it, encircling her wrist once, twice, before returning to the sea. Focused on allaying her own fears, she missed the queer look Tahno gave her as he watched the water writhe about her wrist, and the single tear that made its way down his cheek as he turned to stare off into the darkness.

As Korra’s attention was drawn back to him now, she realized that Tahno had taken up a position in the doorway, his body slumped against the frame for support. He was looking at Bolin. “Hey.” The resentment had returned.

Bolin’s mouth opened and closed like a fish taking in water, but sound refused to come. He was at a loss for words. Tahno was in their house. Tahno. Their house. Tahno. With Korra. In their house. His eyes looked as though they were about to bug out of his head and that was how Mako found him when he rounded the corner. “Hey Bolin, you seen Korra she ran off earlier and I haven’t seen…” he trailed off as he caught sight of Tahno standing in the doorway.
“What’s he doing here?”

Ugh, not again. “He has a name,” Korra snapped back, her own fury rising to meet Mako’s when Tahno didn’t rise to the bait, “and he’s our guest.” Korra’s eyes narrowed at his incredulous look, daring him to contradict her words. “I invited him to stay with us for a while.”

“You invited him to stay with us?” Mako repeated, eyes narrowing into distrustful slits as he regarded Tahno and Tahno, in turn, regarded Korra. “What if he tries something?”

“What if he tries what, Mako?” Was he still jealous? He had Asami. Korra had told him to go to her and it had taken everything that she’d had to do it. He’d chosen Asami…If he started this again, she didn’t know what she’d do.

“He isn’t going to do anything, Mako. He just needs a place to stay, so I offered him one, that’s all.” Why wasn’t Tahno speaking in his own defense, or trying to bait them or…or something? Korra glanced back at him and found his gaze fixed firmly upon the floor as though the sleek wood was suddenly the most interesting thing in the world.

“How could you trust that guy after all he’s done?” Bolin cut in, and Korra had to admit, he had a point. If she thought about it, Korra could still feel the illegal water propelled rock forcing the air from her lungs, but that didn’t give them the right to talk about Tahno as though he weren’t standing right there.

“This isn’t about trust, it’s just…” Just what, Korra? Feeling sorry for him? Feeling responsible for him? “It’s about doing what’s right,” she continued, trying to silence the voice that kept suggesting that she had offer him a place to stay to alleviate her guilt. “He’s been through a lot, and I think we kinda owe it to him, guys. I mean, we were the ones who asked the council to keep the arena open for the tournament.”

Mako’s gaze traveled from Korra to Tahno and back again, eyes narrowing. “We don’t owe him anything.” And with that, he was gone.

“Bolin caught Korra’s gaze and ushered her aside, lowering his voice to keep Tahno from overhearing. “Look, I don’t want to cause more trouble, but Mako’s right, Korra, this is bad idea. He may not be able to bend anymore, but that guy’s still bad news, and that kinda thing doesn’t just go away.”

“I know,” she confessed as she met his gaze and saw the concern there. “But I didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Her eyes pleaded with him, begged him to understand that she’d had to invite Tahno back. When she’d seen him there, lost and alone, looking like death warmed over, she’s just had to offer him something, and this was all she had. “He doesn’t have anyone…” She trailed off. Not like you, Mako, and Asami. Though unspoken, the words hung in the air between them.

Bolin let out a sigh. “You know he doesn’t deserve this, right?”

“I know,” she repeated, “but I’m not going to change my mind, Bolin. I owe him that much.”

“Why?” Bolin looked genuinely confused now. “Even if we hadn’t shown up, Chief Beifong would have swayed the council to keep the arena open for the championship match.”

“It’s not that...” her gaze strayed from Bolin to Tahno, who remained slumped against the door, trying to look as small as possible, and her heart swelled, tears forming in the corners in her eyes. “I couldn’t protect him from Amon. ”
“No one could have stopped Amon from taking away his bending, Korra. It wasn’t your fault.”

“But I’m the avatar…”

Chapter Text

“Korra, how many times do I have to tell you, the temple is not a hotel, and you can’t expect Pema to feed half of Republic City’s pro-bending teams.”

“Come on, Tenzin, it’s just three pro-benders…well, technically two pro-benders and one ex-pro-bender slash former champion…and one of their girlfriends…aaand a fire ferret.” Korra winced. Okay, so that kinda sounded like a lot of people, but most of them would be sharing rooms, so it wasn’t as if they’d take up that much space, and they had plenty of food to go around, according to Pema. “Besides, I thought you said that an air bender never turns away a hungry guest.”

Tenzin shook his head and let out a sigh. Gods but this girl was willful sometimes. How she could be the reincarnation of his mild-mannered father was beyond him. She was just so…so…so stubborn. “I…suppose that’s true.” Even if that boy is a rotten cheater. Not that Tenzin followed pro-bending, or cared a lick about the lack of fairness in the final match. Nope, not a lick.

Korra’s eyes lit up. It was a small victory, to be sure, but it was a start. Now I just have to convince him that Tahno can be useful. He’s not exactly pro-bender material anymore, but he must have some other skills.

“But, it’s your responsibility to find him a room.” There was a curious twinkle in Tenzin’s eye when he spoke, as though he knew something that Korra didn’t.

Korra nodded. Right, how hard could it be? There were plenty of rooms in the temple…aaaand most of them are being used right now. She could have slapped herself.

The sitting rooms were sure to be out of the question. She didn’t even want to broach the subject with Mako or Bolin, and she had the feeling that Mako spent more time in Asami’s room than he did in his own, so that was no good either. That left the air bending childrens’ rooms, and they were enough of a handful without giving them a new stranger to torment, and—my room.

Korra frowned, Bolin’s words coming back to her. ‘He doesn’t deserve this, you know.’

Maybe he was right, but one night wouldn’t hurt, would it? She’d just be sure to set a few necessary ground rules before letting him into her bed and…gods, what was she thinking? Letting him into her bed? Mako and Bolin would have a fit, not to mention what Tenzin would say. There was no way she was sleeping with that cheating pretty boy. And then it hit her. Tenzin had known that there weren’t any suitable rooms available. I bet he’s counting on me throwing Tahno out when I realize....Hmph, I’ll show him!

Hands clenched into fists at her sides, Korra marched down the hall in search of Tahno, finding him exactly where she’d left him, leaning casually against the doorframe looking more than a little lost. She was a bit surprised that he hadn’t decided to explore the temple in order to ‘get to know his competition’ a bit better, but then, she supposed that they weren’t opponents anymore, and this wasn’t the arena.

“Come on, we’re going to bed,” she snapped, grabbing his arm and continuing her march.

“Wha—“The poor man looked utterly baffled, his left wrist clenched tight between Korra’s fingers, stumbling as he tried to keep up with her frantic pace as she turned corner after corner without warning.

Upon reaching her bedroom, Korra released her death grip on Tahno’s wrist and flopped down on the edge of the bed. “Look,” she began as she tugged at her boots, pointedly not making eye contact with him, “you can stay in here tonight, until we can get a room cleared out for you, but don’t even think about trying anything funny or it’s back to Republic City, got it?”

Tahno arched an eyebrow before dissolving into a fit of laughter, bracing himself against the wall for support as he shook.

Korra’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. She didn’t much like being the butt of someone else’s joke, and she didn’t see what was so damn funny about their current predicament. “What’s so funny?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, you should see yourself right now, you look so serious.”

“And?” He’s a guest and I am not going to throttle him. He’s a guest and I am not going to throttle him. He’s a guest and I am not going to—oh forget it! Korra seized the nearest pillow and sprung forward.

Thwack--The pillow found it’s mark as she followed through with her swing, causing Tahno to stumble backward to keep his footing. And that was that as far as Korra saw it. That would teach him to laugh at her and—

Thwack—something soft and feathery smacked her rear as she turned to fix the blankets. He did not just do that.

Tahno was grinning from ear to ear when she spun around to face him, the offending pillow clutched against his chest like a pro-bending championship trophy. “You know, I could still give you those private lessons,” he drawled, winking at her as he tossed the pillow back onto the bed. Korra flushed and turned away, refusing to dignify his proposal with a response. Why did he have to say it like that, voice low and salacious, and why did she feel like hitting him again would only encourage him?

Instead of giving in to the voice that told her to make him choke on that offer, she slipped behind a folding screen to change into her night dress, ordering him to “stay there or else.”

When she finished dressing, she slipped past him without a word and climbed into bed, scooting as close to the far edge as humanly possible.

Tahno raised an eyebrow and followed suit, stripping down to his boxers and climbing in beside her, unable to resist one last jab about their current predicament. “Finally warming up to me, eh Uh-va-tar?”

“You wish…just...stay over there, okay? This doesn’t need to get any weirder than it already is.”

“Admit it, you. Kinda. Like. Me.” Each word was punctuated with a finger inching its way up her bare arm.

“Ugh, get over yourself, Tahno!” she snapped, jerking away from his touch and flattening herself against the wall.

Tahno chuckled. “I would, but I’d end up on your side of the bed, princess. And we can’t have that now, can we?” 

Korra felt like a child again, foul tempered and seething, like the time that she’d been banned from going on an ice fishing trip with her father, and spent the day trying to get revenge on the village elders by dumping snow down the backs of their parkas while they weren’t looking. Small as she was then, she’d had to climb up onto one of the roofs to do it. Needless to say, it hadn’t exactly gone according to plan.

Now, she wanted nothing more than to roll over and fling Tahno out of bed, and she was pretty sure that that would go according to plan. A glass of water sat on the dresser, it wasn’t much, but she was pretty sure that it’d be more than enough to shock him into rolling off the edge of the bed. And if that didn’t work, she could always add a bit of air bending to the mix and presto, pretty boy would be down and out. Korra grinned as she imagined him sprawled across the floor, eyes wide with surprise, that stupid fringe of his laying right across his face.

“Something funny, princess?” What the? Korra started, instinctively rolling toward the source of the interruption only to find herself nose to nose with Tahno. When had he gotten so close, and why did he have to look so damn smug all the time?

“You know, I think I liked you better on the boat ride here. You know, before you started talking.”

“Is that right?” He was leaning closer, at least, it certainly felt like he was, and her heart began to hammer. 

 

 

Chapter Text

“What do you mean he slept in your room?”

“I mean he slept in my room. Geez, Mako, it’s not like anything happened. He needed a place to sleep and no one had a free bed, so I made things work. It was the least I could do after everything that’s happened to him.” Using my water bending to get him here, the open hostility in the temple…the way the light returned to his eyes when he hit me with that pillow – his face near, far too near…

“He was in your bed.” Korra was thankful for the distraction. She did not want to think about the feelings that Tahno’s nearness had caused the night before when she’d rolled over to find him staring at her, his face mere inches from her own. In truth, she’d just huffed angrily and rolled back over, her face burning from embarrassment, but that didn’t mean she wanted to think about it.

“Yeah, Mako, because that’s what people sleep on, beds.” Korra placed her hands on her hips as she observed Mako, and that’s when it hit her. He was jealous. “Spirits, I can’t believe it, you’re actually jealous of Tahno.”

“As if! Besides, I have no reason to be jealous of him. So what if he spent the night in your room. I don’t care.”

“You sure sound like you don’t care. Admit it” she continued, jabbing him in the chest with an accusatory finger. “You still have feelings for me.”

He was so not getting out of this one.

Mako looked about ready to spit fire as she shoved her hand aside. “Korra, I already told you, I’m with Asami now.”

“Right, but when you’re with Asami you’re thinking about me.” Korra looked about as smug as Tahno at his worst now, grinning from ear to ear like a fire ferret who’d made her owner fall into the bath.

Mako took a breath, trying to calm himself, hoping he could reason with her, as implausible as that seemed, but his voice sounded too stilted, too tight. “No, I’m not.” And most of the time, Korra was the furthest thing in his mind, life threatening circumstances and pro-bending matches not-withstanding. He worried about her, he cared for her, but that didn’t mean he loved her. He was with Asami. He loved Asami and she loved him. There was no room for Korra and yet, against all reason, she kept worming her way back into his thoughts, getting under his skin, driving him mad with her antics. Why did he care so much about Tahno’s new sleeping arrangements anyway? The bastard didn’t deserve the treatment he was getting, but that was nothing to get worked up over.
Korra echoed his thoughts. “Then why do you care who I share my bed with?”

Why did he care? Why? Because it was Tahno, that’s why. “Because he can’t be trusted, Korra! You don’t know him like Bolin and I do. The cruelty you saw at the tournament, that was nothing compared to what he’s capable of, and I don’t want to see you get hurt just because you feel like you owe him something. Amon took his bending, Korra, not you, and there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. An entire police squad was taken out. We weren’t prepared for Amon’s attack; none of us stood a chance. Tahno’s problems aren’t your fault. Besides, it serves him right after all that he’s done.”

“How can you say that? He lost his bending, Mako. Whatever mistakes he made in the past, he’s paid for them.”

Mako’s eyes narrowed as he took in the fire in her eyes and the stubborn set of her chin. This was pointless. Korra would do whatever Korra wanted to do, without considering others’ feelings, just like she always did. But even that knowledge couldn’t stay his tongue completely. “No, he hasn’t.”

There was a chilling quality to Mako’s voice as he spoke, one that Korra had never heard before and it sent a shiver up her spine. What had Tahno done to make Mako react that way? Korra wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but t the same time she had to. Korra realized that there was a lot she was going to have to learn about Tahno if he was going to keep living with them. She knew so little about the man that she’d invited into her home beyond the fact that he was a rotten cheater and about as smug and insufferable as they came.
“Mako, what did Tahno do to you?”

“Oh, so [i]now[/i] you ask. Hmph, why don’t you go ask your precious Tahno?”

Spirits he was impossible, worse than Tahno at times. How did he even do that? “Fine” she snapped, “maybe I will.” And she did just that, storming through the halls of the temple like a tempest. Or she would have, if she knew where he was. Come to think of it, Tahno hadn’t been around when she’d woken up. Korra had assumed that he’d gone looking for the bathroom or that he’d decided to find something to eat. He hadn’t been in the best shape when she’d brought him in, and it only made sense that he’d take advantage of Tenzin’s hospitality, insufferable bastard that he was. He probably thought he was entitled to it or something. As if!

But…what if something has happened to him? a small voice whispered in the back of her mind. It was obviously no secret that no one wanted him there, what if someone had said or done something? What if the loss of his bending had come back to him all of a sudden and it’d been too much to bear coupled with the rejection he’d faced upon arriving at the temple? He’d said he had nothing when she’d found him, that he was nothing, and Mako, Tenzin, and Bolin…they’d all but said he was right. Worry seized her as she hurried down the halls.

If Korra had been seething when she stormed off, she was downright livid when she finally found him. Her brief worry transformed itself into pure unaltered rage as she caught sight of him. [i]Ugh, I can’t believe it. He’s acting like he owns the place already. And I was worried that something might have happened to him.

Tahno stood, stripped to the waist, in the middle of one of the temple’s small ponds. His chest glistened in the sunlight as small droplets of water ran over it. His hair lay flat against his head in thick, wet strands. Korra had half a mind to grab a fistful of it and drag him under.] I can’t believe I was worried about him.

She opened her mouth to tell him as much, but stopped short, her mouth snapping shut as he began to move.

Tahno wove a pattern through the air with his hands. His legs bending and swaying in time with his movements. All around him, a hush seemed to have fallen, broken only by the occasional splash of water as he shifted his position. Back and forth, back and forth, Korra watched as he moved with a dancer’s grace, with the same grace that she’d seen, and hated him all the more for, in the arena. His movements were mesmerizing, one flowing into the next with practiced ease and yet, something was missing, Korra was sure of it.

Korra tracked his movements with her eyes, watching as his hands began to weave a more complex pattern through the empty air, as he kicked one leg into the air and spun to face her on the other. Spun and froze as he caught sight of her, his movements faltering. With a strangled cry of surprise, Tahno overextended and pitched forward into the water.

“Tahno!” Korra reached outward, coaxing a bubble around him to stop his fall before his head collided with the ground. It enveloped him and rose quickly, popping as it reached the surface to reveal a stricken Tahno.

What’s with him? It’s only a little water.And that’s when it hit her. That’s what had been missing from his dance. Water. He’d been trying to waterbend.