Her eyes close.
The ground against her back sweats.
Her ears still ring; the gears feel like they're in her mouth, heavy-handed against her throat, dry and thick. Korra stretches a hand out. Her fingers jerk into the grass, fisting into the dirt. She makes a noise. There's mud. Her skin feels ready to crack at any moment.
It's hard not to think of the others, Mako and Bolin and Asami - Tenzin and Lin too. Her thoughts are edged with some kind of regret, hazy with the sudden memory of Tarrlok's fists, slick throat and fingers. Did he carry her? Her limbs feel so soft and panic is too far away to feel like anything.
"Stop," she groans, her teeth scrapping, and she's pushing herself up onto an elbow. It's hard to shift back, but her nails are deep in the ground anyway. She drags herself to sit and the smell that invades her happens so suddenly, pulling at her skin.
It scares her that she can't even begin to open her eyes - there's no will and she feels the earth underneath her groan too, finally, rumbling. But even the fear seems so far away; it's as if she's leaving herself, little by little, in some strange merit of faith. It forces her to breathe. In and out. Her hands shift. Remember your air forms, Korra. She remembers Naga first. Naga has to track her. Naga knows how to track her.
korra, it is all right
"Is it?" she hisses, and the sound sinks through her teeth.
It's how she really remembers:
and his hands are hot, over her throat, then the long plane of her back. Tarrlok breathes hard. She listens. In and out. There is the shuddering; pitch falls and changes. She hears the truck still rumbling to the side - there are trees, you know, thick, thick trees.
"I warned you," he says softly, and her eyes are closing. She sees the stains on his knees. They'll ask him. They'll have to.
His fingers press at her pulse.
"It would be so easy," he whispers.
She only hears him.
"Okay, okay -" she moves to stand, knees trembling. Her eyes open slowly. "Okay, okay," she says again.
"I got it!" she cries out.
"You're so foolish, Avatar."
Her throat cracks. She turns on her side; he kicks her, after. There's heat, there's so much heat, sticky and so slick. She wants to peel back the layers of her clothes. She wants her skin to follow. This would have never happened, she thinks. Lessons, she thinks too. There are still so many lessons for her, waiting.
"It should have been so easy," he breathes, and she feels her arm start to move, back, back, slowly - just so she's aware. Her bones begin to crack this way. There's a snap and a sigh and she feels her mouth purse together. The pain isn't too hard, or maybe it is; she feels her muscles coil together, thinning, and the heat of her skin still grows.
Korra can't remember how to see.
"He should have killed me," she says. "Bastard," she trembles, and the corner of her mouth is slick too.
Her feet dig into the ground. She cradles her arm. Around her, the trees are bent, bowed. They wait, she thinks.
"Probably." She looks down and her fingers hang off her arm, just over her elbow. By all rights, she could heal. But she has never tried it on herself, and everything is crawling inside of her.
Her ears ring.
"I know," she mutters.
She does not know how long she walks.
It doesn't matter. The temperature difference is enough; her head is filled with stories of the swamp, the off-chance mumblings of her father, recounting trips with friends and of course, there's Katara and her own tales, the sharpness and affection that Korra still finds herself envying.
But the earth is somewhat cruel this way, heat and sweat sinking into her clothes and skin, licking away at limbs that feel like she hasn't used them in years. She thinks about Tarrlok and his bending, and there is a heavy sense of fury - it's building, that much she feels. She does nothing to stop it. Earth and fire are the same. Water, it's as close to patience as she'll ever get to.
She will not think about air.
"Leave me alone," she mutters.
you must move
"Where?" she snaps, and really, she's talking to the voices in her head. There's an incredible stillness to the swamp, heavy even.
But it's quiet again too. Figures.
She thinks of Tenzin and their conversations, the promise of patience and she feels so tired. Her friends too, needlessly stepping into what should be dealt with on her own. She cannot use seventeen as an excuse anymore.
But she finds shelter, then, or as best as she can. There is a large cluster of hanging trees. They gather and fold over rocks; not quite a cave. She moves slowly, pushing her arm closer to her chest. The pain is still dull and her head begins to sag. She keeps her arm steady, using her free one to grope her along the trees, giving in and sinking underneath their shade.
She breathes when her back hits the rocks.
Her face is wet.
Her arm stretches out. Her fingers fist forward; her skin flushes, she feels fur. She lets them twist and there's a low growl.
"Naga?" she croaks.
The growl thickens. She feels her chin turn. There is something wet pressing into her jaw too, softer.
"Naga," she breathes.
He curls a hand around her shoulder.
She is losing her mind.
It takes a moment to realize that he is steadying her. She is sitting up all over again. Her bones crack. Naga forms within eyesight. Her form is welcoming, hunched in the tiny space she's found.
His fingers touch her throat. They're cool.
Seeing Tahno does not sit in her head.
If she remembered correctly, her mind would be at the station and this would be back before Asami and her father, back before the island became so impossibly small. He doesn't fit well either; instead, she focuses on helping him with her weight.
She stands and drops against him. He's still so cool, flushed against her body even. He's holding her up.
"She was insistent," he says.
Naga makes a noise. Korra's mouth splits.
"She does that," she says and her voice, it cracks all over again.
"Swamp's not safe," he tells her, and it's one foot in front of the other, let's go Korra. His form seems patient.
Her hair's completely undone and only a few strands stay woven together, cuffed by a silver ring against her cheek. The other is lost; her mother is going to be so sad. She knows Naga is the tracker. She knows that Naga also knows Tenzin and Lin. The others, they waiver; Naga also understands the merits of her trust. Does she trust Tenzin?
"Tarrlok has been telling the others that -"
"I'm just a kid?" and she shudders into it, too quickly, the bile crawling back into her throat. It rises and sighs.
"You disappeared," he finishes.
Tahno tilts his fingers under her chin. They stop. Her mouth trembles. She cannot focus on him. It's hard and she mostly understands him in pieces. She wonders if the circles are still under his eyes. Instead, strangely, she can feel the pressure of his hands, the tautness of his breathing - she can count the beats of his heart, fisting against his chest.
This can't be it, she thinks. Her knees are starting to buckle.
"For now," he murmurs, and his hand pulls away.
Naga carries them next.
Korra misses the cool lull of his skin.
When they stop again, she vomits.
There are pieces of her hair in her mouth. Tahno's arm clenches her waist. Her mouth tastes blood.
"Your arm," he says.
The murmurs in her head are unsteady.
She finds out the following:
They are nearing a week.
People expect the intensity of her training. Her disappearance holds with no questions. Tahno says Tarrlok and his name so smoothly; there is disdain behind the practiced ease. She doesn't ask. She's too tired to say much of anything.
The others, they are out too. Sequestered to the island. Lin is still in recovery and Tenzin has retired from the council -
"They say it has to do with his wife," he finishes.
Korra swallows. Pema, she thinks. It still explains nothing about how he found her, or how Naga led him to her. There is nothing inside of her that wants to ask; at least, not yet.
It scares her. That it's been a week.
"You're going to have to do it," she says flatly.
Her arm is limp.
The haze has numb to a dull pressure. Naga is hot against her back. Tahno kneels in front of her, his hand too careful as it slides under her arm. She feels his fingers shift over to her elbow and wrist.
She focuses on the space in front of her. The peak of the sky, spitting through leaves and heavy branches. Mud sticks to their legs. The buzzing in her ears is an odd flux of voices and animals, growls from the mosquitos and Naga and her tempered sighs.
"You're the healer now," he says, just as flat.
Her eyes are round and dark when they meet his gaze.
"I don't trust myself." Her lips press tightly. "Please." Her voice cracks. "I can't ask again."
She screams into his shoulder.
Brute strength, huh.
He sits with her. Her head makes its way to his knee.
"They want me to listen," she says.
She's hoarse. Tahno lets his fingers brush over her forehead. By now, her hair has doubled in knots.
"Who?" he asks, as if he were humoring her.
"The other avatars," she murmurs. Her eyes burn. Her lashes close over her cheeks. "Tenzin says Aang may be sending me visions or whatever. I think I'm letting myself listen?"
He snorts. "And you think -"
"I don't trust myself," she repeats.
"I gather that much, Avatar," he says, and his mouth drags over the title. Part of her wishes that he would just say her name. It's wildly misplaced, the thought, and yet, his fingers are climbing into her, curling and one by one, picking at the knots in her hair.
What would she tell him? She has faced strangers in her own friends, the makeshift family that's waiting for her to do something, anything to accept what's walked into being hers. If she could even call it that.
A shaky hand folds over her face, her fingers pinching at the bridge of her nose. Her teeth press into her lip.
"How are you?" she asks, and it's awkward.
There's a laugh that cracks - hers - and his stumbles out after, breathless and amused. He seems too at home here. He seems like he knows how to move and oddly, she envies him.
"Oh, you know." He pulls at her hand. "Surviving," he says.
He's quiet. "Here," he says. Then his voice is softer. She feels Naga shift too. "I don't want to be powerless, Avatar."
"Korra," she breathes. There is a sharp jump at her throat. She feels his fingers curl at her palm. "It's Korra."
"I know," he murmurs.
"You could call me that." She coughs and he laughs, just a little. "Korra," she repeats.
"Do you want me to?" he asks.
"Yeah," she says, and it's quick, accidental. Her name blubbers forward - it's a breath, just another breath, and he is lowering her hand to rest against her belly.
The whispers come this way: korra korra korra and it pushes her head into panic. They are slow visions this time around; a repeat, Aang, the others, a trial and it's all mixed in with her own, a younger Katara, her wide-eyed parents, the first tremor of water spilling from her fist.
"They're cranky," she grits out.
"You're listening," he offers.
Her head is pounding. Her name is pulling up her throat.
"Jerk," she breathes out. "Ugh, ugh."
Her fingers claw at her face. He pulls at her hands, gently. The murmurs seem to dull.
"Why aren't you listening?"
She twists, and her hair spreads over his leg. She hasn't asked the question yet - how long - but somehow, right now, it doesn't seem like it matters.
Her eyes open. His gaze is hood; Tahno is half-bent, his hand spreading over her forehead. His fingers sink again, into her skin, cool and smooth, soft even.
"Naga, huh," he murmurs, and behind them, Naga rumbles with warmth, kinder than the heat of the swamp. She misses home. Desperately, she thinks.
"Naga," she says. "She's a good girl."
The swamp is hazy again.
Her eyes open.
Tahno stands in the water.
Dirt sinks into the fabric of his clothes. His fingers slip just over the surface, shrinking in the rustles of movement. He is still so fluid. The loud, unwavering sounds of the swamp fall in croaks and heady buzzing. Naga shifts behind her, uncomfortable.
"Sorry girl," Korra mumbles.
She stretches out. Her balance is shaky; how she stands, it doesn't matter. She moves to the water and kicks off her boots. They skip over the mud, sliding into some kind of haphazard pile.
Her feet touch the water this way. There is no sense of clarity. It hums though. Her fingers flex.
"You know this place," she says.
"It doesn't matter," he says. He turns in the water. His eyes are dark when he faces her. "Avatar Kor-raaaa."
She flicks the water. It rises and spins.
"Showing off," he tsks.
"Not really," she says.
"You should," he says. The water slides back over her palm. "It might help," he drawls.
"We can't all be you," she mutters.
"No," he says. "That would be terribly boring, if anything else."
"You would say that."
There is a pause. She straightens. Her head shifts and waivers. korra, it hums. korra, it breathes.
She doesn't like how the water clings to her clothes, the balls of her feet - she envies how comfortable he seems. Tahno's shoulders no longer dig into the plane of his back. But the circles are still there, under his eyes and deep, maybe waiting.
He touches her cheek.
His lips curl. "Must be nice," he says.
"What?" she asks.
"Having it all," he says, and his fingers are at her mouth.
She closes her eyes.
Korra doesn't know. It happens. Remember, he's fast enough.
His mouth is hot. It swallows her and his fingers are working into her hair, pulling at the clasp - the last clasp - drawing her against her.
It's clumsy. Tahno kisses too hard with his teeth. Her knees are shaky and she bites. His lip fingers underneath hers and she sighs over his moan. She wants it. She needs to feel something outside of this; it pulls at her, the need, drawing her into something she can't quite understand.
She thinks this and oh and her impulses are starting to spin, pulling her into him. Her hands press against his chest. There's no sense of awareness; there is fire, over her belly, into her throat, and water starts to frame and flank them, nuzzling at her - she is in pieces, and the element that's most familiar to her, seems to open wider because of him. Earth is quiet and air, air seems to wait.
She kisses him harder.
The swamp doesn't open into the city.
Tahno touches her waist. Her hair hangs free, curled at the heat.
"You should kill him," he says.
Korra is quiet. Her fingers dig lightly into Naga's fur - she seems to run faster. She thinks of Tarrlok then. The way her limbs just seemed to fall, tight and meaningless. She thinks of her impulses and how close she came to it, pushing herself to be right there.
It's the heat, she wishes.
She touches her mouth. There is a catch in her throat.
"It's not that simple," she admits.
Tenzin and Lin meet them halfway. The others too, panicked joy written cautiously onto their faces - Mako is the last, of course. Mako watches. There is no plan.
There is a ship. There is bridge. It really doesn't matter much. The truck is burned by memory into her bones. She will see Tarrlok in everything; her body will not forget and ache. The others are nothing more than silhouettes, opting to give her space.
The Avatar should stay missing, someone argues. Naga nudges her.
The Island isn't safe.
She stands awkwardly though, listening. The bruises on her knuckles are dull. Her clothes are dry. She pushes her weight to her heels.
Tahno stays close.
Her eyes are open.