2 months prior
After the slow but successful restoration of Republic City, Airbending Master Tenzin suggests that Avatar Korra travel the four nations to interact and further connect with the spirituality of the world in the ways of her predecessors. Korra, busy reading stories of old pro-benders in ‘Where Are They Now?’ specialty pieces in the newspaper, agrees distractedly and promptly forgets about the decision by the following morning.
1 month prior
Realizing that her mentor is, indeed, very much serious about said trip after Tenzin politely inquires about her planning progress one night over dinner, Korra freezes. She tentatively explains that she has been waiting for the spiritual guidance from Aang, or perhaps a voice from the great beyond, to help her decide upon which parts of the world she would visit first. Tenzin thoughtfully suggests visiting the Air Temples, which, spirits willing, may help her further develop her airbending skills.
Hidden beneath the table, Korra’s hands twist the fabric of her pelt wrap. Her head is lowered, thinking.
“There is little more that I can provide for you in your training here,” Tenzin explains. “You have memorized the forms and mastered the essentials. But air is the element of freedom, and no airbender can properly learn the craft in one fixed location, especially not one who was born to protect and travel the globe. I believe that visiting the homes of my ancestors may help you.”
Korra twists the wrap around her finger even tighter. After a beat, she quietly agrees.
3 weeks prior
Korra stalls. She plays with Naga. She spends her nights helping to restore the pro-bending arena. She helps Asami settle into her estate, properly restored after the revolution and her father’s arrest. She helps Mako and Bolin find a new place to stay, a nice apartment right in the heart of downtown Republic.
She watches her friends pull themselves back together, settle into their new lives, and doesn’t see a place for herself in them.
Korra doesn’t know how long the trip will take her away. She doesn’t say a word about it.
Two weeks prior
Korra closes her eyes and jabs at a random spot on the neat calendar Pema had bought for her birthday. Opening her eyes and peering at the date, she marks the day as “TRIP” in big red letters on the page. Two weeks feels like a good, solid amount of time to prepare.
10 days prior
Tenzin suggests the Western Air Temple over dinner. It’s the closest. It’s where Avatar Aang studied his last element, firebending. It’s the birthing place of Avatar Yangchen. Korra can fly the distance with an air bison. It makes the most sense.
“No,” Korra says, “I’d like to travel to the Northern Temple.”
Tenzin is curious. “Really?” he asks, not unaccepting. “Why’s that?”
Because she can’t fly a sky bison. Because she wants to travel over land with Naga. Because the Northern Temple is the second closest to Republic City, but requires maneuvering over mountains and deserts and traveling across the broad width of another nation. Because the Earth Kingdom is wide enough to hide anybody who wants to disappear into a crowd and start learning how the world works over again. Even the Avatar.
“It’s closest to the Northern Water Tribe,” Korra says. “I’d actually like to visit the North Pole, after I master airbending. I’ve never been before. And I’d like to see how the restoration process up there is going. Maybe I can help out.”
Startled but pleased, Tenzin returns to his meal, looking at her rather fondly for the rest of the evening.
8 days prior
Mako and his brother have long since moved off of Air Temple Island, but he still visits every day. He tells Korra about his adventures returning to his old job at the power plant when she inquires what he’s up to, but always changes the subject to excitedly discuss the opportunities that the newly reinstated chief of police has made available to his brother. Bei Fong is offering to help Bolin learn the traditional styles of earthbending, and, with luck, hopefully metalbending in the distant future. Asami is slowly working to take over her father’s company. And pro-bending is having a grand re-opening next month.
Mako has a warm, comforting arm around her shoulders as they watch the sun set over Yue Bay. She tucks her head underneath his chin and listens to him breathe.
Korra’s happy for them. She’s proud of them. They’ll be just fine.
6 days prior
As they work to restabilize the pillars of the arena together, Bolin discovers the big red “TRIP” in her calendar when it pokes out of her bag. He curiously inquires what trip she’ll be taking and where she will be going. Korra freezes, mutters out some story about visiting her parents and Master Katara down in the Southern Water Tribe for a few days, and forces herself not to notice her friend’s shocked, slightly crestfallen look as she turns back to work.
5 days prior
Korra starts taking Naga out for strolls earlier and earlier in the morning, preparing her to run.
4 days prior
She’s never been to an Air Temple before. She knows that there have been many attempts at restoring every site, but none have fully succeeded, so Avatar Aang simply built a new one. According to her history teachers, a small group of Earth Kingdom refugees settled in the Northern Temple after the Fire Nation destroyed their village in the Hundred Year War. She assumes they’re still there, working. She wonders if Tenzin will try to contact them to see if she arrives within a few weeks. It doesn’t matter. She’ll be long gone, good and properly lost by then, anyway.
3 days prior
Korra manages to convince herself that she’s not running. And she isn’t, not really, not like Aang did, though of course she can’t blame him for it. Even if he got himself frozen in an iceberg and almost let the Fire Nation win, she doesn’t blame him at all. She’s made worse mistakes. Rather, she will make worse mistakes, she knows, if she stays. The Avatar’s duty is to the world, isn’t it? She can’t get too attached to individuals. She can’t be an Avatar if she remains satisfied in her ignorance and contents herself with personal happiness and comfort. She may be the Avatar, and she may or not be worthy of standing next to Aang one day, but at the very least, she has to try.
1 day prior
Fully packed. She calls Mako to tell him that she’s sorry, she’s sick, she’s come down with something and can’t meet him for dinner, please tell Bolin and Asami she’ll see them later this week. He frets and worries, reluctantly agrees not to come to the island after five minutes of her persistence, and then sighs and warmly wishes her a quick recovery.
Mako pauses. “Korra,” he says, hesitantly, “Bolin told me… are you taking a trip?”
She swallows. “Hm?”
“To the Southern Water Tribe. He, er, mentioned it to me, but I was wondering for you to say something. Is your family okay?”
“They’re fine,” she replies. “It’s just a little trip. It kind of snuck up on me, actually. I thought Bolin had forgotten about it. I nearly did myself. Since I couldn’t spend my birthday with them, they just want to see me for a little while. It’s this traditional thing. I’ll be back in a few days.”
The line is silent for a long time. “Korra,” he says quietly, “are you homesick? It’s okay if you are.”
“Not homesick.” She nearly laughs. “It’s okay.”
“You’re going by yourself?”
She swallows. “Just me and Naga, yeah.”
“Oh,” he says, “Um. Okay. I – I don’t want to intrude, but if you need company, I mean… I’m here. That is – would you like me to come with?”
Yes. No. She doesn’t know where she’ll be going, so how could she know if she wants him with her? Of course, she wants him anyway, wants his company for as long as he’s willing to offer it, but there are some things she has to do alone.
“It’s fine,” she says, voice thick. “Thanks for the offer, though.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow.” Korra hears a surprised intake of breath and interrupts before he can reply. “I know, it’s soon, but it’s okay. It’ll just be for a few days. I’ll be back.”
6 hours and 38 minutes prior
Midnight. She can’t sleep. She tells herself again that she’s not running from anything, she’s running to something else. She’ll figure out that something on the way there. And airbending will come eventually. She just has to do this her way, for now.
3 hours and 46 minutes prior
There’s a crack on the ceiling. The equalists must have scuffed it somehow when they took over Air Temple Island.
That can’t happen again. She has to travel the world and talk to people to make sure they never feel the way the equalists did again. Not as long as she lives, anyway. That’s the job. That’s what it means.
Okay, she tells herself. Okay.
1 hour and 39 minutes prior
Korra was planning on leaving at dawn, but daybreak is still so far away. And she can’t go to sleep. And Naga is up, judging by the noise in the front yard. She’s barking, probably at the winged lemurs or something.
1 hour and 12 minutes prior
She can’t wait around anymore. Tenzin will be up at dawn anyway for his morning meditation, and she’d better hit the road long before then, before people start waking up, before she succumbs to the sudden powerful urge to say goodbye.
1 hour and 3 minutes prior
Korra saddles Naga up and leads her out into the main courtyard, instructing her to wait there while she runs back to her room to collect her bags and check one last time to see if she’s missed or forgotten anything.
47 minutes prior
Korra has one bag over her left shoulder and two hitched over her right, but when she reaches the courtyard again, Naga is nowhere to be found.
35 minutes prior
Her immediate concern for her best friend’s whereabouts has slowly morphed into an overwhelming sense of panic.
21 minutes prior
She’s not sleeping in the sky bison caves, not waiting in any of the yards or patios, not sniffing around the pavilion.
11 minutes prior
Korra wonders if this is a message from the spirits, if this is their way of telling her that she has to leave on her own, be an Avatar independent from anyone else, learn her lessons by herself, walk her path alone.
10 minutes prior
No, absolutely not. Out of the question. She can’t go without Naga. She’s knows full well she has to be alone, but she thought Naga counted on another level, that she could bend the rules for the Avatar’s animal guide. The spirits can’t tell her what to do. She’s not leaving without her best friend.
8 minutes prior
The sun is just starting to wink over the horizon and Korra, searching the edge of southernmost edge of the island for the third time, suddenly realizes that there is a large white animal sitting on the docks, alert and waiting for her master.
7 minutes prior
She doesn’t notice the three figures and their packed belongings next to the polar bear dog until it’s too late for her to pretend she hasn’t seen them.
6 minutes prior
They’re upset. Of course they are. Oh spirits, are they upset.
5 minutes prior
Asami argues. Korra argues back. Bolin makes unsuccessful attempts at mediation. Mako is silent.
3 minutes prior
“I’m not angry,” Asami says, and she narrows her eyes when Korra snorts. “No, I’m not. Listen to me, okay? We’re just confused. And, well, a bit hurt, to tell you the truth. Bolin talked to Tenzin. We know you’re going to run. And that’s fine, you know, it has to do with you being the Avatar, we get it. You just didn’t have to lie.”
“Yes I did,” Korra insists. “I figured you’d try to stop me, and I was right, wasn’t I?”
“We’re not stopping you,” Bolin says, “we just want to talk to you. You could’ve said goodbye.”
“Look, it’s not like I want to go,” Korra says fiercely. She doesn’t know if she’s squinting to keep the sun out as it rises over their heads and shines directly into her eyes, or if it’s just a poor attempt to keep tears away. “And it’s not like you can come with.”
“Why not?” Asami asks. “I mean, it’s not like Aang didn’t have friends to come with him. You don’t have to do everything alone, Korra.”
“We’re not trying to get in the way of your Avatar stuff,” Bolin reassures, looking almost pleading. “But Korra, you can’t – you can’t just disappear, okay? You can’t just not care enough about us to be willing to lie. If you don’t want us to come with, then say so, but could you just – be honest? Please?”
“It doesn’t matter how much I’d like you to come,” she says, stepping closer to Naga. “I’d love to stay and help you understand, but I don’t even understand it myself. That’s why I’m going, okay?”
“Korra,” Mako speaks up for the first time, “if you just – ”
“What if it were you, Mako?” Korra fires at him, completely spent. “If you were the Avatar and you knew that you had to do things that would lead everybody that followed you into danger, wouldn’t you do the same thing? What would you do?”
Mako doesn’t respond.
2 minutes prior
Korra turns to Naga, settling her bags onto the saddle. The silence stretches. The sun peeks further over the horizon.
Mako finally speaks. “I’d do the exact same thing that you’re doing,” he says softly.
Korra swallows, nods once. “Right,” she says. “Yeah. You get it, then. Right?”
“Right.” A beat. “But in that case,” he continues quietly, “you would be the one right here telling me you’re coming with.”
1 minute prior
Asami is silent, but her gaze is resolute, unyielding.
Bolin tries again. “So why don’t you ask?”
And Korra swallows, lifts her head. Silently reaches out her arm for their bags.
Instead, they offer her their hands.
Over the mountains the sun burns bright, and a cool breeze flutters down, carrying in the fresh scent of spring.