Chapter 1: An Overture
The sun burst against Korra's closed lids. Brushing a hand across the imprint of dozen's of blades of grass on her cheek, she sat up and opened her eyes. This place was new.
She did not remember falling asleep here in this field. It stretched as far as the horizon on all sides. In the distance a tree rose proud and green above a world dusted in yellow. She too was blanketed in yellow. She could hear the leaves rustling her name on a gentle breeze.
She started to walk toward it. She blinked. She was under its shade. Someone sighed.
"Hello?" The word was long and drawn out, tentative.
"I can see that you're lost," said a voice.
Korra followed the source to the opposite side of the trunk. A man sat cross-legged with his back to her at the base. His hands rested on his knees, palms facing upwards.
"Avatar Aang," said Korra, her voice not lacking in awe. She recognized the robes and tattoos of an air nomad.
"Korra, come meditate with me," he replied, patting the ground beside him.
She sat, mimicking his posture, one Tenzin had agonized over teaching her. She hadn't the heart to tell Aang she wasn't very good at meditation. She'd do anything if he could give her guidance.
"It takes practice." Aang's eyes were closed. He seemed able to read her mind. "Just try."
Korra tried. She really did. But she kept reliving that horrible memory. It played over and over, and with each replay she imagined she'd done something just a little different. Something that would have stopped Amon from taking her bending.
"I can't focus," she said to the blanket of pollen in her lap.
"You must learn to focus."
"I keep – I keep thinking about how I lost my bending. Aang, isn't there something you can do?" Korra pleaded. Aang turned his head, slowly meeting her gaze. "You've taken people's bending, surely you can give it back, too."
"I'm afraid it's not that simple," said Aang. It was unsettling how calm he was.
"I never even had a chance to learn to bend air." She expected to feel the tears run down her face. Instead, their trail was numb.
"You must find your own strength. That is the true trial of every Avatar."
"My bending was my strength."
"Your bending is drawn from your strength. You must find it," he repeated.
"Then will I get my bending back?" She clutched at his sleeve, eyes wild.
Aang shook his head sadly, his body dissolving into a fine mist as he did so. Korra lost her balance without his arm to hold, and the earth crumbled beneath her. With nothing left to cling to, she fell into the sky.
Someone called out to her, and she was awake again.
Chapter 2: Wins and Losses Pt. I
Hey, all. Here's the second chapter. This is the real beginning of the story, and because it starts in the middle of the finale it might seem a bit redundant. I just didn't know how to cut the first few paragraphs without losing context. So, sorry for that. But it takes a different direction, I promise. And everything after is new/fanfiction. Regardless, I hope you enjoy. And as always, comments and criticism are greatly appreciated.
Wins and Losses Pt. I
Somewhere between falling and waking, Korra thought of the trial she was being put through, and how it all began.
"Amon is a waterbender!" Korra directed an accusatory finger at him, her arm straight and sure. "And he takes away people's bending with illegal bloodbending. Your leader is a fraud!"
Heads swiveled in her direction and mouths chattered disbelief. A line of benders waiting for their turn wrapped around the stage and disappeared outside. Amon stood still and watched her from the center of the stage. He did not clutch his heart dramatically in horror or his stomach in exaggerated mirth. He did not budge. He did not speak. There was only an inscrutable face behind a smug mask. Equalist chi-blockers fidgeted behind him. Amon flicked his wrist, a subtle movement to calm his followers. The room stilled, until it disappeared into the void of silence and there was only Korra and Amon.
Korra could feel his eyes through the slits in the mask, drilling holes into her skull. Her raised arm trembling with the vibrations as her bones cracked under the pressure. His lack of action indicated a desire for her to continue, she knew. There was more she could say, after everything Tarrlok had revealed, but she'd seemed to have swallowed the rest of the story. It sat, a crumpled scrap of paper with words of condemnation, lodged in her throat. She was alone. Hers was the only finger raised toward an untouchable god. It sank slowly, finding a resting place on the railing. Her arm was tired anyway.
A voice beside her whispered her name. It radiated concern. It was Mako. The void dissolved, and the crowd chattered ceaselessly. He was reminding her that her back was not without protection. Only she could speak the words. After all, she was the Avatar, protector of the people. They would listen to her; she just had to tell them more. Korra stood tall.
"You know where Amon – or should I say Noatak? Do you know where Noatak learned his bloodbending?" She leaned forward over the railing, over the crowd. "From his father, Yakone!"
Gasps erupted. Truth-seeking whispers spread like wildfire throughout the stands.
"A fascinating tale, Avatar." Amon's rich tone reverberated throughout the stadium.
"Fascinating because it's true!" Korra asserted.
Amon turned away from her and spread his arms in a welcoming, placating gesture for his crowd of loyal, but confused followers. They were shouting questions and demanding answers, and calling the Avatar uncouth names.
"Listen to me, friends," said Amon. "What Avatar Korra speaks is the truth."
The crowd's gasps became inverted screams. His tone was so calm and slick, Korra felt herself slipping a little in the grease his words oozed.
"But do not think I have betrayed you, for I have not," he continued. "A man should not be judged by his father's character, but by his own. I have seen first-hand the ways in which benders have used their special abilities to abuse the common people. I still believe in equality, and the first step I have taken to achieve that equality has been to give up my own bending. I am one of you now."
"But you still use bloodbending to steal the bending of others," Korra countered. "That's bending."
"It is a small exception," Amon openly admitted. "I only use it to make the playing field equal. Bending is not something to be used for an unfair advantage. Once I have rid the world of bending, I will finally be able to fully rid myself of it."
Korra tightened her grip on the railing. Her knuckles bleached white. It wasn't supposed to go like this. He wasn't supposed to agree with her. He was supposed to panic and his followers were supposed to turn on him.
"Why isn't it working?" Korra said low enough for only Mako to hear. "Why haven't his followers abandoned him after hearing the truth?"
"Because it's the truth," he whispered back. "He's taking away your power by virtue of being honest. If he lied and tried to cover it, the seeds of doubt would continue to grow."
"You wouldn't, though!" Korra shouted, trying to put a lid on the panic, to keep it from bubbling over and making her voice shrill. "You would rid the world so you would be the only bender, the most powerful person in the world. You won't follow through on your promise. Bad guys never do."
"A rich tapestry of lies you weave, Avatar. Take care not to get too tangled up in it. Afraid I might take your place? Become the new hero of the people?" There was a hint of amusement in Amon's question.
"What?" It wasn't loud enough for him to hear.
"I do not need bending in order to be powerful," he elaborated with a wide embracing gesture. "You, however, seem to."
"What's wrong with using the skills I was born with?" Korra tried to scoff but her nerves turned it into more of a cough.
"Why is it that some bloodlines were favored by the Spirits and gifted with bending? None of these people here before us chose to be born to a family that did not have bending in its genes."
"Life is unfair. Everyone has to work hard to become something."
"How ironic to hear those words from the chosen one herself. You did nothing to earn your ability to bend all the elements. You were just lucky to be the next one in the cycle. You are the most powerful person in the world by virtue of your ability to manipulate all four bending elements, and yet that is all that that you are. Why do you think you are called what you are, Korra? You are not a person, you are just an Avatar."
Fire burned her from the inside. "I'll take you on, Amon. Right here. Right now. Just you and me. One on one. I'll show you what an Avatar can do."
"Stop it." Mako's fingers dug into Korra's shoulder. "You're playing right into his hands."
"If that is what you desire," said Amon. "Why don't you come join me on stage so you can get a closer look at the prize you'll be fighting for?"
A rectangle slab of the stage began to rise. It was bolted to four posts. Korra could see the tops of heads. Of people tied to the posts. It was an agonizing wait until she saw their faces and the platform had stopped moving. There was a grown man and his three children. She recognized them all.
"Tenzin!" she cried.
"Korra, what are you doing here? Run away!" Tenzin shouted to her.
Korra's boots clanged hard on the bleachers as she leaped across benches and railings and landed on the stage. A second pair followed right behind her.
"Let them go!" she demanded.
"I will if you can defeat me in a duel," Amon promised.
"Then come at me."
Korra shot out two whips of fire and snaked them through the air at Amon. He dodged, his maneuver closing the gap between them. She punched a fireball at him that just barely grazed his hood.
Her feet picked up the vibrations of a body thudding onto the floor, tangled in the nylon snares of the enemy. Mako was roughly halfway across the stage. He struggled against his binding to no avail.
"Not so fast," Amon tut-tutted. "We're dueling fair and square. No stealing the prize."
Korra aimed a high kick at him that trailed fire. It connected and Amon flew backwards, flipping in midair to land on his feet. She charged again at him, skating on fire as she threaded ice needles through his cloak. He always managed to avoid a direct hit on his body. But he never got close because of her elemental projectiles.
"Speaking of fair..." said Amon. He didn't sound the least bit out of breath. He snapped his fingers.
Sweat chilled on the back of Korra's neck, as her feet pounded toward him for another strike. She raised a fist full of fire and two pairs of hands jabbed her joints, crippling her. She collapsed in a heap on the stage floor. The paralysis was short-lived and Korra was quickly on her feet again.
"That wasn't fair," Korra spat. "You called in your lackeys when this was just supposed to be between you and me."
"On the contrary, I'd say it's even more fair."
She could hear him smirking behind his mask.
"Your bending was an unfair advantage," Amon continued. "I just had them even the playing field a bit. Let's see if the Avatar knows how to defend herself without her precious bending."
Korra clenched her jaw, and her fists, and lunged. She tested her bending with a right hook that was meant to breathe fire. Her fist met nothing but empty space. As soon as she'd processed that she'd missed, she rocketed backward to dodge a counter that never came. Her blood boiled and her skin coalesced. The bastard was being passive just to toy with her.
Everything she threw at Amon missed. She couldn't even touch his cloak anymore, not with out her fire whips. And the worst part: he wasn't bending.
"Korra, he's just waiting for you to tire yourself out," said Mako from the floor. "Don't let him win."
"Quit playing around, Amon," Korra yelled. "Give me a real fight!"
He was fast, he was in her face. She twisted her body for a good old roundhouse kick. He caught her leg mid-kick with a single hand.
"You can't dodge. You can't even block. You only know aggression, and you can't even use that successfully without your bending." He whispered close to her ear.
She had only the time to be surprised before he had hold of her arm, her body, pulling them in directions they didn't agree with. She shook off his grip, but not without a cry of pain.
"Korra!" It was Mako, and Tenzin and his children, all at once.
Amon's foot created a hook around Korra's ankle and she toppled over, rolling onto her back. Amon's boot came down on her good arm's shoulder, harder and harder. Her own feet kicked impotently beneath him. Stomp, crack. Amon bent over and forced her to her knees by the collar of her disguise, into the standard position.
Korra's name on the lips of her friends became screeching white noise. There was only Amon, with on hand on her shoulder, and a thumb pressed to her forehead. He bent her head back, so that if she rolled her eyes all the way up she could just see his mask grinning down at her.
"It looks like I win," said Amon softly. No one but Korra could hear. The words dropped from his mouth and wriggled like worms down to the base of Korra's spine. "I'll be taking my prize now."
Korra's blood curdled and protested against his influence. A spot of pain blossomed beneath his thumb where he forced its print into her very being. Then there was nothing.
"I have defeated the Avatar by taking away her only weapon," he addressed the crowd. "She will no longer be a threat against our dream of attaining true equality." He released his grip and she crumpled to the floor.
Korra was empty, a soulless shell of an Avatar who couldn't bend. The fierce energy that had pulsed through her veins, that she knew like any other muscle in her body she commanded, was now closed off forever.
She let her eyes fall shut. The cheers from the Equalists drowned her consciousness. She'd only made Amon look even more like a hero for defeating her without waterbending. There were cries of distress and anger coming from behind her as well as the whirr of fire shooting through air. Mako hadn't given up. He was still fighting. But he would just lose his bending too. She'd been a fool and even if she couldn't save herself, she wished she could save her friends from her mistake. But she was too weak to keep fighting. Sorry, Tenzin, Mako. Her arms were broken, and losing her bending was like losing her life force.
Then she heard some swearing on the Equalists' part and a large gust of wind whistling them off their feet. Wind? She rolled away from the jeering crowd to face Tenzin. Tenzin who was not tied to a post. Tenzin whose wrists looked a little... red. Mako had breathed fire from the floor to break the airbender's cuffs.
Once the stage was swept free of chi-blockers and Amon, he untangled Mako who ran over to the children to break their cuffs as well.
"Korra, are you all right?" Tenzin knelt beside her.
"Tenzin, he took my bending." Korra had meant to sound matter-of-fact, but her voice hovered on the verge of a sob.
"I know; I saw." He helped her to her feet. "Hang on, we'll get out of here."
New chi-blockers had climbed onto the stage ready to fight, but the kids were free now and there was a hurricane they couldn't penetrate to get to the eye of the storm where they stood. Mako rushed to Korra's side and joined Tenzin in supporting her. Then he graciously lit their hurricane on fire.
They were forced to abandon the pretty light show in the narrow hallways. As they ran Tenzin pulled a noiseless whistle out from under his robes and blew into it, so that when they burst into the open air, their ride was already waiting for them. Fortune and the pitch dark of night was on their side as the sky bison flew them away, undetected by Equalist air ships.
"We have to find my brother and Asami," Korra heard Mako say.
"My bending's really gone," Korra murmured. No matter how many times she flexed her fingers, a flame did not ignite in them.
"We'll save everyone; don't worry," Tenzin replied to Mako, his voice weighted with stony resolve. "Everything will be fine."
There was no choice but to believe him, or lose hope altogether.
Chapter 3: Wins and Losses Pt. II
As always, I hope you enjoy, and comments and constructive criticism are very much welcome.
Wins and Losses Pt. II
"What should we do with him?" Bolin scratched the back of his head.
"What?" Asami blinked down at him. She hadn't been listening at all.
"Oh, right." She went back to admiring all the knobs and switches in the cockpit of her mecha.
Strange, she was usually more focused than this. Instead she appeared oblivious to the man she'd just snared.
"Are you going to come down anytime soon?" Bolin asked. "Though I wouldn't blame you for wanting to stay up there. I imagine the view is rather nice."
"Yeah, it's great," Asami sighed. "People would pay top dollar for a killing machine with a view this good."
Asami flipped a switch Bolin couldn't see and the cockpit opened, showering the young woman in even more broken glass. Bolin had meant to offer to help her out of it, but she'd gracefully touched down before he could open his mouth or lift a hand.
Asami finally spared a glance at Hiroshi Sato, wriggling like the filthy worm he was.
"Lock him up. What else is there to do with him?" she said suddenly, her words coated in frost.
"Republic City is under Equalist control," Bolin reminded her.
"I know." Asami's eyes closed as if staring at her father was painful. "We'll just have to find somewhere else to keep him."
"You wouldn't do this to your own father, would you?" Hiroshi yelled across the hangar.
A dry, hollow sort of laugh escaped Asami's throat that chilled Bolin's spine.
"So we're only family when it's convenient to you? When you want your little girl to keep you from prison, but not when you're trying to kill her," Asami scoffed.
Bolin placed a hand on her shoulder, ignoring the bite of tiny shards of glass that still hung onto Asami's clothes.
"Let's go wait outside," he said gently. "He's not going anywhere."
"I could use some fresh air." Asami nodded.
"You won't keep me!" Hiroshi shouted as they walked past. "I'm invaluable; the Equalists will find me and will break me out. They need my inventions."
"You think he realizes that's why we're taking him prisoner?" Bolin said into Asami's ear.
"I can only hope I'm not related to someone that stupid."
Hiroshi continued to shout helplessly at them, and Bolin couldn't help but notice Asami's fingers twitch every time he opened his loud mouth.
"Before we go out, let's find something to gag him with." He received one raised eyebrow in reply. "That's how it always is, isn't it? He's not really our prisoner unless he's tied up and gagged. Them's the rules, Asami."
She breathed, and her fingers stopped twitching. "And we wouldn't want to break the rules now, would we?"
"Wouldn't dream of it." Bolin puffed out his chest. "I like to think of myself as a very strict rule-follower."
Asami snorted. It reminded Bolin a little of Korra. He hoped she was okay. He told himself that Mako would take care of her, which eased the weight on his conscience, but augmented the pain in his heart. He imagined Asami felt much the same way about his brother.
Something heavy landed outside and Bolin was tugged back from his thoughts. He'd gagged Hiroshi himself, wanting to save Asami from that small trouble.
Bolin abandoned his prisoner and followed Asami outside.
Tenzin and Mako met them on the ground. Asami stopped exactly arm's length in front of Mako.
"I'm glad you're both all right," Tenzin greeted them. "Where's General Iroh?"
"He took off after some planes. He's such an amazing firebender – you should have seen it. It was awesome!" Bolin gushed.
"Bolin," said Mako, his eyes dark.
"Not that you're not an amazing firebender too, bro."
Mako continued to glare at him. Tenzin stepped beside Bolin and dropped a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"I'm afraid there's no easy way to say this, but Amon took Korra's bending away," Tenzin explained.
For a second, Bolin forgot how to breathe. And when he remembered, they came in jagged rasps.
"But she's..." Bolin murmured, unable to complete the thought let alone the sentence.
"How is she doing?" asked Asami.
"She's not taking it very well," Tenzin replied.
Asami took a deep breath, letting it out nice and slow. She was doing better at this breathing thing than Bolin was. He envied her.
"Does no one have good news?" Mako pinched the bridge of his nose.
That stung a little. Was Bolin and Asami's well-being not good news? Or the fact that they'd destroyed several Equalist planes?
"Depends." Bolin recovered quickly. "Is there room on that sky bison for an extra passenger?"
It was crowded fitting everyone on one sky bison (poor thing), but that didn't excuse how cozy Mako was getting with Korra. They were snuggled up against Naga near the bison's tail. Neither noticed Asami watching them. Korra was too depressed and Mako was too preoccupied with seeing to Korra's comfort.
Asami twisted herself and leaned over the edge of the carriage. The sky bison was flying low due to its heavy burden. She reached out, cupping the wind her hand, letting it flow around her fingers, trying to imagine it was the sea. She remembered the last time she'd gone sailing. It was with her father.
"Asami, please don't fall out," said Lin.
Asami withdrew, whacking her elbow. She sucked in a curse and tried to look at anything else but them. Lin was eyeing Hiroshi, threatening without words if he made one wrong move, she'd dump him in the ocean. Asami almost would have liked to see that. Pema was sitting close to the bison's head, her children out like lights around her. She adjusted the single blanket they shared. There had been no time to pack supplies. They only had what was already in the bison's carriage, and that wasn't a whole lot. Everyone was sharing. Every now and then Pema would look up from her children and watch Tenzin, whose gaze remained fixed on the horizon.
Mako should have been sharing a blanket with her, not Korra. Instead Asami found herself with Bolin. Sometimes when she turned her head, she saw him watching them too. The first time his gaze shifted to her, it startled her. His expression hadn't changed. His eyes gripped her head still in a vice. He understood.
"Korra, you can't sleep like that," Mako whispered. "Your arm."
The wind was almost strong enough to carry his words away on them. Almost. Korra's lips shaped the word "sorry" but the sound never reached Asami's ears. Bolin dropped his eyes to Pabu, who was curled up asleep in his lap. Without the vice to hold her head in place, she felt her own eyes gravitating back toward Mako, like the pull of a weak magnet, slow but unyielding.
Asami was halfway there when she felt a hand bump hers beneath the blanket. Her head whipped back to Bolin. His head was drooped and his eyes were closed, but she knew there was no way he could have fallen asleep so quickly. Asami tried to see through the fabric of the blanket, then when that failed, she covered his hand with her own.
She bit on her lip, and pretended to be asleep too. It was going to be a long journey, but at least she had a hand to hold even if it wasn't Mako's.
The plan was to curve out over the ocean for a while, then rein back in towards land once they were a safe distance from the city. Then the group would split with two or three people on Naga, traveling on land and by sea while the rest flew. The load was too heavy to continue with everyone crammed together on one sky bison and it would be some time before they reached the Southern Water Tribe.
They sunk below the treetops and before they could even touch down, Naga hopped off, glad to be on solid ground again.
"I guess this is where we split up," said Asami.
"I'll stay on the sky bison with Hiroshi," said Lin. He gurgled something, pale-faced. "I don't care how motion sick you get, it's harder to make a run for it when the drop is so high."
"I'm staying with you, honey." Pema stroked the heads of her still-sleeping children.
"Of course." Tenzin nodded.
"I'm staying with Korra," said Mako.
Asami swallowed a nasty remark.
"I'll go on Naga." Bolin jumped down. It made sense, earth was his element after all. Pabu followed onto his shoulder.
"Me too. I think I need to be away from my father for a while." Asami took Bolin's hand and let him help her down.
"I want to be with Naga." Korra's voice was hoarse, but it had the most life in it anyone had heard since she'd lost her bending. She extricated herself from the blanket she'd been sharing with Mako and leaped to the ground.
"But, Korra, flying will get you there much faster," said Tenzin.
"I want to be with Naga," she repeated, mounting the polar bear-dog.
Asami and Bolin scrambled on behind her.
"I -" Mako started, but Korra was already speeding away.
Mako vaulted out of the saddle and took after them.
Chapter 4: Expectations
Note: Hi, all. Sorry for the late update. But it's the start of a new school semester and it took me some time to get into the swing of things. So now that I'm settled, I intend to update more regularly. As always, comments and constructive criticism are welcome and encouraged!
The brush hissed angrily as Mako crashed through it, the splintered halves of snapped branches scolding him for repeating Naga's trespass. Mako could no longer hear Naga's large paws pounding through the forest. Korra wasn't alone, he knew that, but what if she needed him.
Eventually he burst past the edge of the wood onto an open path. The dirt road was lined by trees on both sides. One end opened into what might have been a village commons, had there been anything left standing of the village other than ruined houses. What wasn't ash was a jagged black silhouette struggling to resemble what it once was beneath the late afternoon sun. Thin trails of smoke still drifted into the sky, carrying on them the smell of burnt wood and charred flesh. The scene hit a little too close to home, and Mako had to swallow the urge to retch.
Then he noticed Korra standing with Asami and Bolin, looking at the village remains.
"Korra!" Mako shouted, running over to her.
She turned to him slowly. Her eyes, when they met his, were empty.
"Mako, what are you doing here?" Asami asked, with brows knit closely together. The corners of her mouth curved downward.
"Are you all right?" Mako's concerned eyes flicked from Asami to Korra.
"Yes, we're fine," said Asami. "It was like this when we got here."
A light drizzle began to patter around them.
"You couldn't have arrived a little sooner?" Bolin said to the clouds. Then he turned to his brother and asked, "What do you think happened here?"
Mako knew Bolin had come to the same conclusion. He only asked for the sake of clinging to any tiny sliver of optimism there might be had. No stove fire could have caused this much damage.
A pair of eyes peered at them between two boards of a destroyed house, and little fingers curled around the edge.
"They need help," said Korra. Her voice was loud enough to hear, but had a subtle lack of conviction. Along with her bending, Amon had sapped her dry of the arrogant confidence Mako had come to admire.
"We need to get you to the South Pole." Mako squeezed her shoulders.
Korra repeated herself, adding uncertainly, "I'm the Avatar."
His heart ached for her. A glimmer of a memory – kissing her outside the arena. With his hands on her shoulders, he wanted so much to kiss her now and see her smile and blush just like the first time. Closing his eyes against the temptation, Mako nodded and let her go.
The child disappeared as they approached. This house looked to be the sturdiest of the few that remained standing. Inside there were a few tattered blankets on the floor, but not many. Mostly people just lay on the burned wooden planks, their skin as scarred and blackened as their home. A woman dressed in blue shuffled from one moaning patient to the next. At the creak of their boots, she said without looking up, "Careful where you step; your foot will get stuck."
The same little boy they'd seen spying on them earlier hovered at her side.
"Chen, be a dear and fill this bucket, would you?" She said to the child. He nodded, and she placed an affectionate hand on his head. "That's a good boy. Thank you."
She carried a second pail, and went to kneel beside a man covered in burns. She guided a smooth bubble of water from what remained in the pail and applied healing to his wounds.
"Excuse me," Bolin began.
The woman whipped her head up. "You," she said, her sharp eyes piercing Korra. "You're a water tribe girl, aren't you? I could use some help. Can you waterbend?"
"No." Korra's eyes fell to the floor, her knees trembled to keep the rest of her from falling with them. Mako moved to put a comforting arm around her, but Bolin had beat him to it.
"What happened here?" Mako demanded, clenching a fist.
"Not even going to introduce yourself?" The woman clucked her tongue.
Mako gave their names, gesturing to each in turn.
"I'm Kamik." She got up and moved to another patient. Chen was back with more water. "A band of Fire Nation nationalists attacked. When I got here, they were gone."
"I knew it," Mako growled under his breath.
"This village used to be part of a Fire Nation colony, but they gave this land back to the Earth Kingdom after Fire Lord Zuko took the throne." Kamik explained. "The nationalists believe any land that the Fire Nation took during the Great War still belongs rightfully to the Fire Nation. So they terrorize anyone who lives here for being 'weak' and for living alongside people of the Earth Kingdom. I had hoped I wouldn't find this during my travels."
Korra's lips moved, but no sound came out. They formed the words "I'm the Avatar."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Asami offered.
"We should catch them," said Bolin.
"And do what?" Mako challenged.
"Bring them to justice."
"You can help by tending to these poor people," Kamik nearly snapped.
"In the meantime, we need to get in touch with Tenzin." Mako gave Korra a meaningful look.
Despondently, Korra sent Naga off to find him.
Not an hour after Naga had left, the nationalists returned. They rode in on emu-horses. Their leader clutched the fabric of an unconscious man's shirt. His feet dragged limply along the ground. He was no doubt a messenger.
"And this is the risk you take, boys," said their leader, "when you aren't thorough." He tossed the man carelessly from his grip. "Now we have to come back and finish the job."
They were on the edge of the village, where it met the forest, still a ways from the house. But the nationalist's voice was loud and clear.
Korra's spine stiffened and a surge of adrenaline pumped through her, aching for a fight. This was her chance. She would prove she was still the Avatar.
"If you heal my arm," Korra said to Kamik, "I can fight."
Kamik saw her splinted arm. "Consider it done."
Korra, Bolin, Asami, and Mako rushed to meet the band of nationalists.
The earth beneath the emu-horses' feet exploded, catching them off guard and sending their riders tumbling off.
Korra charged the nearest one as he tried to stand. A clean right hook sent him sprawling again. Korra's fist tingled, ready to taste another. An orchestra of orange and red and rumbling earth backed the raiders away from a wall Bolin had erected to shield the village.
She felt heat at her back. Then she whirled and a rock crashed into his temple, pinning him to the earth wall for a brief second before he crumpled helplessly to the ground. The rescue had cost Bolin a blow to the gut, doubling him over.
Korra scrambled to reach him before the nationalist could any more damage. She fell backwards to dodge a stream of fire that crossed her path, its searing heat licked the tip of her nose with its barbed tongue. She changed course for her new foe, unable to aid her friend, but for every step forward she took three steps back. She stumbled and tripped just to keep from being burned. His fire was his shield. As long as it was lit, he would keep burning her. She dropped low, sweeping her leg under him, only managing to kick up an impotent cloud of dust.
She hopped up to dodge another fire whip, and stopped to sweep her arms in a motion guided by instinct and years of practice. But the trees did not wilt from the water being rent from their cells. The moisture dripping from Korra's brow did not bend to her will. There was nothing but an opening for the man to close the gap she'd been foolish enough to make and send her flying with his boot.
A wave of orange arced after her and caught on her clothes. Her head cracked against a tree. Her collapse onto the dirt smothered the flames.
She fought through the starry vision to clutch at the tree and pull herself upright, but its limbs snapped, refusing to assist her. It was the end when the Avatar was begging a tree for help, Korra thought wryly. Warm tears of blood trickled down her face from bark scratches. The rush of fire glowing in the man's hand reached her ears before she twisted her neck to see it.
Korra turned just in time to see a sure hand grip his wrist and twist it, the fire rocketing wildly off course into the sky. A heel then hooked around his ankle which sent him lurching forward. Asami stood over him with one foot stamped onto his back. She yanked on his arm and broke it.
Korra tried to stand, to thank Asami, but her limbs were weighted with lead. She struggled with her own consciousness as her friends struggled with their lives. Mako fought fire with fire. It clashed and exploded in showers of sparks. Bolin pounded rocks at them, and threw up shields of dirt when fire threatened to burn him. They made it look so easy...
"Korra, can you hear me? Are you all right?" Bolin's face was hovering over her.
Korra felt like someone was holding her – like she was in someone's lap. Her eyes opened skyward and saw Asami's face framed by a curtain of dark hair. Her makeup was smeared, augmented by a thin layer of dirt and grime.
"Yeah, I'm fine." She tried to sit up, but a heavy throb and Asami's gloved hands kept her head down.
"Not so fast," Asami chided her. "You need to rest a little longer."
Korra squeezed her eyelids close, trying to shut away the pain. "What happened to the nationalists?"
"We took care of them. A couple got away, but the rest -"
"I made 'em a nice and cozy prison." Bolin grinned.
"The village is deliberating what to do with them. Also, some of the villagers taken the ostrich-horses and have gone to seek aid from the capital," Asami continued.
Korra tried to process what Asami was saying, but her head hurt too much. So she tried to find something else to focus on.
"Where's Mako?" Korra's head lolled around in Asami's lap, trying to locate him.
"I'm right here." Mako clasped her hand.
"How much longer until we reach the South Pole?"
"Not long," Mako assured her, giving her hand a squeeze.
Chapter 5: Drowning
"I've tried everything I can," said Katara, "but I can't restore Korra's bending."
The world around Korra was muted. Even the ever-churning ocean was a dull grey reflection of the sky. At her feet and for miles around the earth was buried under a thick layer of snow. There was water all around her, her element, yet it was all beyond her reach. The wind at her back coaxed her to the edge, whistling through the hollows that loss and despair had whittled into her bones.
Her first day in Republic City she'd taken out a group of Triad thugs with ease, but when she'd looked into the eyes of those Fire Nation nationalists, she couldn't remember what confidence felt like. What was an Avatar who couldn't help her people – who couldn't bend? She tried to find a reflection of who she was down below. She saw a blank slate of whirling, welcoming concrete that shattered into foam when it hit the cliff side.
She closed her eyes and searched the universe, trying to feel anything – feel alive. She stood on the edge of nothing. A strong gust tugged at her legs, freeing herself with a moment of weightlessness, guiding, with one foot forward, the world to an Avatar who could bend.
The winds roared in her ears, the waters splashed, and the earth creaked beneath her. She dropped, her foot landing on a ledge that hadn't previously been present.
She opened her eyes and spun.
Bolin hurtled off Naga. His fingers closed around Korra's wrist, hard and solid and real. The sting brought tears to her eyes.
"What were you thinking?!"
Korra dropped her gaze to Bolin's hand on her wrist to avoid looking at his face, written over with worry.
"I didn't think anyone would follow me," she murmured.
"So you thought - You've been gone a while," said Bolin. "Everyone was beginning to worry."
The effort exerted to keep his voice calm made Korra wince visibly. "The world needs an Avatar who can bend."
"Korra, look at me." He gave her wrist a gentle squeeze.
She did. And what she saw made her heart stop. Bolin's green eyes burned into hers. She knew once she'd started, she wouldn't stop-she'd keep crumbling until there was nothing left to keep her standing, but she couldn't hold the tears back anymore.
"You are worth more than your bending," Bolin insisted. She couldn't have looked away even if she wanted to. "You have a good heart, and that's what makes an Avatar strong."
"That's what I told myself when we faced those nationalists." She pointed a quivering finger to the red spot at the tip of her nose. "And I have the scar to show just how wrong that is."
She let Bolin take her other hand and guide it away from her face. His grip was so gentle and warm.
"It will fade," Bolin told her. His thumb pressed delicate dots into her palm. "All scars fade with time."
His eyes had changed to something softer, and Korra was shaking her head but her feet were stumbling forward until she collapsed into him. She didn't know for how long, but she found she was sobbing uncontrollably into his shoulder. Bolin just held her and softly whispered encouragement she didn't deserve until her tears dried.
She pulled her face off his coat, and looked shyly at his elbow, her cheeks colored with embarrassment.
"I'm sorry you had to see me like that," Korra murmured.
She could feel Bolin shrug, and the rumble of a chuckle in his throat as he said, "You've seen me cry once too. I think that makes us even, so don't worry about it."
The corner of her mouth twitched, as if trying to remember to smile, but it never completed the motion. Her heart clenched instead. She knew who'd been the one to make him cry.
"Bolin, I'm so sorry." Tears were burning behind her eyes again. "I didn't mean-"
"You've already apologized once before." Bolin brushed his thumb against her cheek, ready to wipe away any tears that might escape. "I forgave you a long time ago."
The softness and warmth in his voice seemed to travel into the hand that caressed her face. Korra's eyes fluttered closed, exhausted and completely at ease. she found herself leaning into his hand, into him seeking out more of that warmth.
Naga chose that moment to whine and butt her head between them. They startled apart.
"I'm all right, girl," Korra assured her friend. "Thanks." Then she caught Bolin's eye. "Thank you," she said softly.
He smiled kindly. "Anytime, Korra."
There was sincerity in his words that surprised her, unlike the usual Bolin who just laughed everything off.
"I think I'm ready to go back now," Korra said into Naga's fur.
"She's still not back yet." Mako shivered anxiously. It was also in part because of the cold, but it was mostly anxiety. "Maybe I should go after her."
"Korra will be fine," Asami assured him. "Bolin has already gone after her. Besides, you and I need to talk."
Mako looked at his girlfriend blankly. He couldn't comprehend how she could possibly have such poor timing. Korra was out there alone. She could be in danger. She hadn't even taken Naga with her. What else was there to talk about?
"About us," she clarified.
"Will there ever be a better time?" Asami placed a hand on her hip and arched a brow at him.
He knew she had a point, already knowing what this was going to be about.
"The way you've been around Korra, Mako, is..."
He neatly covered up anything that resembled guilt, shame, or acknowledgment of his failure to be a boyfriend with heated contrition. It came effortlessly.
"I'm just worried about her. She's been a wreck since she lost her bending."
"Yes, but you've been monopolizing her." She threw her hands up and her head back. "I would just as soon lend my shoulder if she weren't always leaning on yours."
Her words shot right through his defenses and into his heart.
"I can't help worrying about her. But she's only a friend." Mako's reply was weak and hollow even to his own ears. He couldn't even tell if his own words were a lie. But Asami could.
"She's my friend too," Asami said pointedly. "But she's not the only one going through a rough time right now. My own father is our prisoner."
"I know, Asami, but Korra lost her bending, and she's-"
Asami scoffed. "I seemed to have managed so far without bending."
"You know that's not what I mean," Mako snapped. "She's the Avatar."
"Is that all it means to be the Avatar?"
Mako clutched at his hair with one hand. "No, it's different with the Avatar."
Asami took a deep breath and said, "And that's why you spend a lot more time looking at her than you do looking at me. Because she's special." Her body shook with the tension of trying not to explode.
"I'm looking at you right now." Naturally the first thing that came to mind came out of his mouth. It was a feeble straw to grasp at, and was sure to be the one that broke the camel's back.
"How much longer are we going to keep this charade?" Asami squeezed her eyes shut and pressed two fingers to her temple. "Because I don't know if I can't do it anymore."
"I care about you, Asami." Mako's footsteps crunched painfully loud in the snow as he approached her. He touched her arms.
"You care about Korra," she stated matter-of-factly, pulling away.
"It isn't the same."
"Maybe not. But I need you to be honest with yourself – and with me." She searched his eyes, but Mako didn't know how to give her what she wanted, or if he was capable.
"If you have feelings for Korra, that's fine. But don't play pretend-boyfriend to me while you make puppy eyes at her behind my back."
"I'm sorry." Mako didn't know what else to say. The arrow that Asami had shot into his heart had risen to his throat, and it was difficult to swallow around.
Asami pursed her lips and nodded, not looking at him. "Me too," she said. "Me too." Then she turned on her heel and started walking back to the house.
"Asami, wait. I really do care about you." His eyes pleaded with the back of her head.
He couldn't even make her turn around.
Without looking back she called out, "Let me know how it turns out between you two."
Mako was sitting on the steps when Korra and Bolin got back. He was hunched over his steepled fingers and didn't lift his gaze from a set of tracks in the snow until Korra was right in front of him. She wasn't sure how she'd expected-or wanted-Mako to react to her return, but this certainly wasn't it. She felt her chest constrict when he met her eyes with an empty stare.
"Let's go in and eat. I bet you're hungry," said Bolin.
She let him coax her inside with a hand at the small of her back.
Three places were set at the table waiting for them. Korra had no idea how long she'd been out there, but the pinky she dipped in her soup told her it was cold-it had been a while. Mako heated his soup – not enough to make it steam - when he thought she wasn't looking. She was. She hesitated bringing the spoon to her mouth.
The Fire Ferrets never ate in silence, but tonight quiet tension filled the room and stuck to Korra's skin like a cold sweat. It was just the three of them, and the good old Fire Ferrets were down one waterbender yet again. The soup in her spoon spilled back into the bowl with just a flick of the wrist – a little like bending, but not at all.
"If you don't like cold soup, I can -" Mako cut himself off, his expression suddenly turning guilty.
"Or if, you know, it makes you uncomfortable, we can not -" Bolin gesticulated wildly with his hands as if miming the word instead of speaking it.
"I don't mind," said Korra. "You don't need to hold back on my account."
The brothers exchanged glances, and Mako reached across the table to take her bowl. He held it for a second or two, then returned it to her steaming.
Korra stared into the soup, letting the steam caress her face. She wondered if she'd be able to taste her tears if they fell in. She wondered if she even had any tears left in her.
She forced herself to eat, after Mako had gone through the trouble of heating it for her. When she was done, it was still half-full. She tried not to feel bad. It didn't work.
"Don't worry about it." Mako read her mind, it seemed. "Bolin will finish it."
"Hey," Bolin whined a little indignantly, then his face perked up a bit. "That's... actually true."
Korra almost smiled. Almost. She offered her unfinished bowl of soup to her friend and he took it from her, trying not to seem over-eager. She made to exchange her bowl for his.
"You don't have to." Mako touched his fingertips to her wrist and her skin tingled. "We'll handle clean up."
Korra stacked their bowls. "I want to."
She froze up at the sink. She had never washed dishes before – not without bending water, and she didn't know how to do it any other way. She took a big breath and took things one step at a time.
Mako was at her side the instant the porcelain bowl clanged against the bottom of the metal sink.
"Are you okay?" Bolin stood ready to rush over should doing the dishes require a third pair of hands.
"I'm fine. Nothing broke." Korra shook her hands over the drain.
"Here," Mako reached in and grabbed the bowl before she could protest, "I'll wash. You dry."
The towel was not as perfect as waterbending. Bits of moisture still clung to the bowls and they had to be placed in a strainer to finish drying completely.
"I think I'm gonna go to bed." Korra dried her hands off. "Good night, guys."
Bolin gave her a silent wave.
"See you tomorrow," said Mako.
"Yeah, sure." Korra nodded numbly.
She found everything in her room to be just as she'd left it, as if her parents were keeping the illusion that she'd been here the whole time. They must have missed her, and she'd been so preoccupied she'd barely given them a minute of her time. Not even an I-Missed-You Hug. And she did miss them dearly.
She crawled into her bed of furs, trying to feel comfort and warmth and love. But they were cold, and everyone felt so far away, and she was just too tired. She let her eyes close. It wasn't long before sleep embraced her.
Chapter 6: White Noise
I know it's short this time, but that's just the way the chapters broke. Sorry. The next one will be longer. Reviews are always welcome! :)
Voices danced outside her door, but Korra could not find the strength or will to greet them. Her mind was otherwise occupied, and any noise made outside it was dull and indistinct. Words traveled through the walls and reached Korra's ears, but they had no discernable meaning. Nothing made sense or mattered anymore.
There was a pitter-patter of little tiny feet in the hall.
“Korra, come play with us.”
“Korra's not feeling well; she needs her rest.”
“But she's been shut in there all day.”
“We want to play!”
“I think she'd appreciate it if you let her be.”
Korra rolled over and pulled her furs over her ears. Having Mako there was easier than having to tell them herself.
“Korra, teach us to penguin-sled!"
“You can go penguin-sledding with the other children in the village.”
“But we want to go with Korra.”
There was a handful of muffled complaints.
“Okay, fine. We're going.”
The air outside Korra's door begins to whirr.
“Hey, no bending in the house!”
Korra folded her pillow over her head.
“She won't speak to anyone, and she won't leave.”
“She probably just needs some space.”
Finally, someone who understood.
“For the record, I wouldn't define sitting outside her room all day as 'giving her space.'”
“What if she needs me?”
“She'll go get someone.”
“You wouldn't understand.”
“Hey, bro. What are you doing outside Korra's door?”
“I want to be here in case she needs something.”
“O, Keeper of Korra. Might I bestow the gift of Pabu on her mightiness to lift her spirits?”
Korra imagined Bolin orchestrating a mighty bow.
“I think she just wants to be left alone.”
Korra nodded vehemently in agreement.
“Pabu's a great listener, you know. He won't judge. He knows all my secrets, but he'll never tell.”
She heard Mako sigh loudly.
“You need to talk to her. Someone has to. She'll listen to you.”
What happened to leaving her alone?
“I doubt she will. She just needs--”
“Time? How much time do we have?”
There's no response.
“Where are you going? You're not going to talk to her?”
“I'm not the right person for this. She needs someone who understands what she's going through.”
Someone knocked on Korra's door. Mako must have left because he didn't greet her visitor. The visitor waited for a reply, but when Korra did not provide one, she opened the door anyway.
Light from the hallway penetrated the shroud of darkness Korra had wrapped around herself. She squinted her eyes against the bright yellow light outlining the former Republic City police chief's silhouette.
“Do you mind if I turn on the light?” Lin asked, just as she did so. It was nonnegotiable, she just thought it polite to ask.
Lin closed the door behind her and walked purposefully over to Korra's bed. She sunk down beside the Avatar and lifted a hand like she was going to place it on Korra's shoulder, but she just let it drop back down to her side.
“I'm not going to lie to you and tell you it's going to be easy,” said Lin. “But no matter how hard things get, you can't give up.”
“I haven't given up,” Korra mumbled into her pillow.
Lin ripped the pillow from Korra's grasp. It hit the wall and dropped to the bed with two muted thumps.
“You have given up. Lying in bed and moping all day? That's giving up. You have to accept what you've lost and move on. I didn't wallow in my own self-pity when I lost my bending. I learned to live like the majority of people everywhere.”
“You made a sacrfice. I was careless.” Korra hugged her knees.
“It makes no difference. You're just making excuses.” Lin placed a hand on Korra's shoulder successfully this time. “You are the Avatar. You are strong, and you will get through this.”
“I can't bend. I'm not the Avatar.”
“You're the only one who thinks that, Korra. If you'd ever left this room, you wouldn't need me to tell you.” Lin gave the girl's shoulder a good squeeze then stood up. She hesitated briefly before adding, “And that's all there is to say.” Lin exited into an empty hall. That really was the end of it. There was no room for discussion.
Korra needed to find a new place to sleep. One where people would stop coming to bother her. She began to wish she'd accepted Bolin's offer. She didn't want to be completely alone.
Chapter 7: The Eye - Pt. I
Hey, all. I'd like to thank everyone who has read so far. I really appreciate your support. Unfortunately, as final exams are coming up, I am tragically short on free time. So this may be the only update for the next three weeks. Sorry.
The Eye - Pt. I
Was it just a dream, or had Avatar Aang really visited Korra to offer guidance? Korra tried to jigsaw her memory of last night's dream together.
“Your bending is drawn from your strength. You must find it,” Aang had said.
She couldn't help but think back to what Bolin had told her:"You are worth more than your bending."
She drew her knees up to her chest and tried figure out what they meant. Naga's snores rumbled against her back. Korra could draw comfort from that, if not strength.
The door to the barn slid open. She'd hoped she could find sanctuary with Naga, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. No matter where she hid, her friends would find her and worry about her.
"Found you!" The exclamation was accompanied by a giggle.
Korra blinked her tired eyes at Meelo and Ikki. They radiated a level of enthusiasm Korra could never hope to meet in her lifetime. She rolled her stiff shoulders and Naga whined in complaint, having been roused by the movement.
"I'm sorry they woke you." Jinora was there too. "I figured you might be here and I tried to tell them not to disturb you."
"It's fine." Korra shifted on her sore butt and did a run through of all the ways she might to make them leave. Her mind muddled by grogginess, she drew a blank.
"It's just -- Mother told us to play outside because she's busy with Rohan -"
"He cries a lot. Like a lot," Ikki cheerfully interrupted her sister.
"Some newborns are easier than others, I guess," Jinora finished.
"Mom says that Ikki was a really loud one." Meelo, rather impressively, managed to giggle and siff up a stream of snot at the same time.
"No kidding," Korra mumbled under her breath. Then more audibly, "So who else is up?"
Looked like Tenzin had a get-out-of-a-headache-free card. He was nowhere in sight. Lucky guy.
"Are you hungry? Mako made breakfast for us. It's really good. I bet it's made with lots of love." Ikki added a "knowing" elbow jab.
Korra's stomach did a little flip, followed by a growl. She heaved herself to her feet, giving her back a good old stretch.
"I wouldn't say no to breakfast," said Korra, trying to absorb some of the children's energy. It almost worked.
“I just can't seem to get it right.”
Bolin lifted his head to peer out over a crater of snow at his brother.
“You're not moving your limbs,” said Bolin. “It's just a snow-person if you don't move. You gotta go like this.” He swung his arms and legs like he was doing jumping jacks on his back. “Ta-da, a snow angel.” He knew Mako wasn't looking. He knew that's not what Mako was referring to. Bolin sighed inwardly.
“Asami hates me.”
Bolin stopped flailing. “She doesn't hate you. She's just mad at you. There's a difference.”
“She does. She broke up with me.”
“That still doesn't mean she hates you.” Bolin could see this conversation going in circles indefinitely. He hoped it wouldn't.
“She should hate me.”
"Why do you keep saying that?"
"You know why," said Mako.
“Because you insisted teammates shouldn't date, but then arbitrarily decide it's suddenly okay to kiss the teammate you know your brother has a crush on even though you already have a girlfriend?”
“No,” Mako groaned. “That's why you hate me." He paused. "I don't know if I can ever tell you how sorry I am.”
“Again, not hating. Just mad.” Bolin let his bare cheek fall against the snow.
“Still?” Mako was looking at him now. Probably. It sounded like he'd shifted his head.
“Nah, I'm over that now. But, thanks. Apology accepted.” A corner of Bolin's mouth turned up weakly, then went down when he remembered Mako couldn't see his face.
“Are you over Korra?” Mako asked.
Bolin started moving his limbs again and tried to see shapes in the clouds.
“I thought I was when I met Asami,” Mako continued. “But when she kissed me, and when –" He sighed. "I guess I never really was.”
Not feeling particularly inclined or qualified to comment with his lack of experience in the field, Bolin didn't try very hard to come up with something wise or insightful. Also partly because in all truthfullness with himself, he wasn't over Korra.
“I should have been stronger,” Mako sighed. “I could have stopped Amon from taking Korra's bending.”
Bolin stopped moving and sat up.
“You can't - you can't always be there to save someone you care about. Just like you can't always expect someone to save you.” The words just flew out, but they had a sour aftertaste of hypocrisy. Thinking of his own capture--if he'd been stronger, he would have been able to free himself and Asami instead of relying on Naga and Pabu to rescue them.
“I can still try. I can't stand seeing her hurt.”
"No one can."
“I gotta go.” Mako stood up abruptly. “I think I know what I need to do."
Bolin didn't question his brother, and lifted himself to his feet, not caring if he ruined his snow angel. He thought of what it would take to become stronger as he followed his old prints in the snow back to the house. The metal bars that were unbendable by his hands. He suspected the Equalists had known he couldn't metalbend.
He opened the front door to the middle of a conversation.
“She's out penguin-sledding with Korra and the children,” Pema said to Mako. She gently rocked a dosing Rohan in her arms. He looked so precious swaddled in Water Tribe furs with just his face peeking out. “I don't know when they'll be back, sorry.”
“It's all right. Thank you,” Mako replied.
“Hey.” Bolin lifted a hand in greeting. “Where's everyone else?”
Pema smoothed Rohan's furs.
“They're discussing what to do next with regard to the situation in Republic City in the kitchen,” she said. “I thought it best to keep Rohan out of such a stressful environment.”
Bolin felt her despair as if it were his own. This peaceful visit to the Southern Water Tribe couldn't last. Republic City needed Team Avatar.
Everyone hushed when Mako and Bolin entered the kitchen. Tenzin, Katara, and Lin were kneeling around the table, all eyes on the two boys standing in the entryway. They hesitated to speak again until Mako said, “Any news?”
First there was an exchange of glances, a silent debate about whether or not they should share anything. But there wasn't anything to share.
“I'm afraid not,” Tenzin said with a solemn shake of his bald head.
“Communication is difficult, if not impossible. I wouldn't blame them for not contacting us,” said Lin. “The last time we tried, the Equalists intercepted the message.”
“We can't just leave Republic City as it is. We have to help the United Forces,” said Mako.
“Korra needs us here,” said Katara.
“I don't like sitting here, not knowing--not doing anything.” Mako dropped to the floor next to Tenzin.
"There are still things for you to do here," said Katara, folding her hands into her sleeves.
Bolin suspected he knew what she meant. Soon, the time would come when they would return to take back the city, and they would have to be ready for it.
They all looked around the table at each other in the hopes someone would have something to offer.
“I think we've said all there is to be said for the time being,” said Katara to break the silence.
Tenzin agreed, expressing a desire to check on Pema and Rohan. He helped his mother to her feet.
“Chief Bei Fong.” Bolin caught her before she left.
She gave him a strange look. “I'm not police chief anymore. Just 'Lin' is fine.”
Even when her expression was neutral, there was a stiffness to her back and a gleam in her eye that sent nervous shivers along Bolin's spine. He did his best not to be fully intimidated, or he might forget what he was going to say.
“Lin,” Bolin tried. It tasted wrong, disrespectful even. He swallowed it and continued, forcing himself to meet her gaze. “I've been thinking about what I can do, like you said, and I have a favor to ask.”
There was a brief show of surprise, then there was a slight crinkle at the edges of Lin's eyes and a curl to her lip – a smile that told him she already knew the answer to her own question: “What is it?”
“The trick is to jump off before the penguin reaches the water,” Korra was telling everyone. “Otherwise, you'll go in with them.”
Asami didn't know by what miracle they'd been able to bring Korra out penguin-sledding, but she wasn't about to look a gift ostrich-horse in the beak. She was just glad to see her friend's frown turned upside down for the first time in almost a week. And glad of the distraction for her own sake.
She was the last to go, letting the children and Korra go first. She waited for a penguin to waddle up to the top of the hill, ready for a dive, then hopped on and held tight.
Asami flew down the hill, a wake of snow spraying behind her. Her peripheral blurred – there was only the path directly in front of her. The wind whipped through her hair and whirred in her ears as the world zoomed by. The sensation was a little bit like driving her motorcycle – the one back in Republic City that Hiroshi had designed just for her. Her grip around the penguin slackened, and she tumbled off before even reaching the foot of the hill. She hastily wiped at her eyes.
“Are you okay?” asked Jinora. She stood over Asami with her hands folded behind her back. She offered one.
Asami took it. “Yeah, thanks.”
“Again!” Meelo squealed, zipping past them.
“I'll race you to the top!” Ikki called after him, not far behind.
“Wasn't that awesome?” Korra grinned as she walked by.
“Yeah.” Asami tucked one of many lose strands of hair behind her ear.
“Wanna go again?”
Asami let out a tiny laugh that lasted only the length of one breath. She wasn't sure she could handle another run, but Korra looked so eager and hopeful. “Sure, but just a couple more times, I think.” For Korra's sake.
A couple more times easily became a dozen more. After the initial pangs of homesickness faded, she lost herself in the exhilaration of speeding without handlebars. There was an extra rush of adrenaline that only came with completely letting go of the reigns, and just letting herself fly.
During her final run, lost in the rush, Asami almost missed her stop before she would follow the penguin off the rocky drop into the icy, frothing waters below. She threw herself to the side, tucking into her shoulder and rolling. Her body trembled with the impact and with laughter. The sound seemed something alien – and hearing it now, she wasn't sure if it this was how it was meant to sound.
“That was a close one,” said Korra, grinning broadly.
“Indeed.” Asami closed her eyes, resting on her back. Her mouth twisted in a slight grimace. “I think I scraped my shoulder.”
Korra's boots crunched beside her head, no doubt trying to get a look. “Yeah. You're jacket's ripped too.”
“Oh dear,” Asami hummed, not really caring.
“You gonna be okay?”
Asami let Korra help her up. “I'll survive somehow." She dusted herself off. "I'm a fighter.”
Korra's expression suddenly turned uncharaceristically pensive. Asami tilted her head and opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but Korra spoke first.
“Speaking of fighting...”
Asami watched Korra fidget uncomfortably as she patiently waited for her friend to finish the sentence.
“Do you think you could teach me?” Korra said after a while. “To fight without bending, I mean.”
Asami blinked, then smiled. “Sure.”
Chapter 8: The Eye - Pt. II
The Eye - Pt. II
It was difficult, and not at all the same – practising one's firebending without actually firebending. You could practice form, but the motions felt rigid. Each move, each thrust rippling with restrained energy. All Mako's frustration boiled beneath his skin, and when he moved his hands he could feel it hissing and steaming on his palms, beneath his fingernails. But there was no release. He couldn't leave any marks behind. If Korra knew he was practicing, that he was planning on returning to Republic City...
Mako ran a hand through his hair, deciding to call it a day. It was a long walk back to the house, and when he got there he found Asami alone sitting by the hearth.
Mako's heart clenched. Asami's words were still tying knots in his stomach. She hadn't noticed him entering, as absorbed as she was in her task. Her jacket lay sprawled across her lap while she wrestled with needle and thread, concentration making neat lines on her forehead.
Mako simply watched her for a time, waiting like a vampire at the threshold for an invitation into a private space. When she threw her hands up in exasperation, he chose to speak.
“Can I help?” he said.
There was something in her eye when she looked up – it was brief but he saw it regardless, and it bled him, as if she'd taken the seam ripper to him and let his guts spill out onto the floor. Then she looked back down at her shoddy stitch-work and a dull resignation settled on her shoulders, causing them to droop slightly.
“Can you sew?” she asked him.
“I can.” Mako found a place to sit across from her, accepting her jacket when she handed it to him. She wore this one a lot, he knew.
Mako examined Asami's handiwork. She'd threaded the needle fine, but the thread had pulled the fabric into a puckered mess. He would have to start over. As he undid what she'd done, he thought of the apology that waited on the tip of his tongue. He'd been a bad boyfriend, he realized. She deserved better. But he couldn't bring the words to pass his lips. They felt out of place, as if they would shatter the closest thing to normal he'd shared with her in... It felt like forever, but it only been a few days.
“Bolin and I were never able to really afford many new clothes, especially when we were younger,” said Mako. He didn't fully understand why he was telling her this, but his mouth was running on auto-pilot. “So whenever our clothes got torn, if we could, we would stitch them up again. Actually, I was usually the one to do the sewing, though. Bolin doesn't have the patience for it.” He was certain he'd tried to smile at that last part, but he couldn't feel the muscles on his face making it happen.
“I never learned how to sew,” said Asami. “Katara let me borrow her sewing kit, but...”
She was willing to make conversation. He tried not to read too much into it. She was probably just being civil.
“It's simple, really,” Mako told her. He held up the needle and jacket so she could see what he was doing. “If the hole or tear is too big you need a patch, but this is small. You just weave over and under, like this.”
“Thank you,” she said as she received her coat once he'd finished.
“I think I understand it now and will be able to do it myself in the future.”
“If there's anything else I can do--” Mako's voice withered in his throat when she turned her gaze on him.
“You fixed my jacket,” Asami said, holding up the article, and forcing a laugh. "That's more than enough."
Mako gave a nod, not knowing what to say, and simply watched as she hastily packed up the kit and scurried off, avoidance of his company evidently her goal. That had seemed to be everyone's goal lately. He closed his eyes to the fire, letting the warmth of the familiar element fill him.
That night, Mako dreamed.
He was flying in the saddle of a sky bison. A familiar form filled his embrace, and when he looked down, he saw Korra leaning comfortably into him. It was just the two of them. Her eyes were shut and her face appeared to be completely at peace. Fondness softened his features and guided his hand to stroke her hair. At Mako's touch, her eyes fluttered open.
“Mako.” Her fingertips reached up to touch his jaw.
Mako saw his affections reflected in her eyes. He bent his head down to kiss her. Her lips were wonderfully soft, but when they pulled apart, Korra looked uncertain.
“Is something wrong?” he asked.
“You won't forget about me, will you?” Her eyes pleaded with him.
“Forget about you-” Mako pulled his head back, to see her face fully. “How could I forget about you?”
“But you've forgotten everyone else.” Korra shifted out of his arms and moved to peer over the edge of the saddle.
“I-” Mako followed after her.
“When you were done with them,” she continued, “you just cast them aside. Will I be next?”
She turned to look at him, but his eyes were locked on the sea below. The clear blue waters were disturbed by thrashing limbs and faces popping up for the briefest of moments before sinking again. One face in particular jumped out at him. His eyes grew hot with tears of shame.
Asami's features were contorted with fear and rage. Every time her head bobbed above the surface, her eyes were locked on him, filled to the brim with hate.
Mako shuddered awake into the pitch dark. His hands clutched at his hair as he tried to figure out a way to right his wrongs. He eventually came to a vague conclusion that the only thing he could really do was help take back Republic City in any way he could.
No time being like the present, Mako slid out of his bedroll. He tiptoed around the minefield of sleeping bodies to the door, and pulled on his coat.
Hiroshi Sato was being held in what appeared from the outside to be a lopsided, deteriorating shed. On the inside, however, he was locked behind a set of heavy metal bars. His hands were bound in cuffs, and though the likelihood of his escape was small, a member of the Order of the White Lotus stood guard. He looked surprised to see Mako enter.
“Can I help you?” The guard seemed uncertain.
“I would like to have a word with the prisoner alone,” said Mako. He imagined he didn't look very intimidating, with a coat thrown over his pyjamas, but he stood to his full height and tried to mix command into his tone.
To his surprise the guard merely shrugged. He knew Mako wasn't here to let Hiroshi out, and that was probably good enough for him.
“Sure, but I can only give you a few minutes,” said the guard.
“That's all I need,” Mako assured him, and the guard stepped out.
Hiroshi's bed consisted of a pile of straw in the corner of the cell. He'd been provided one measly blanket for just enough warmth to stay the frost bite and keep him alive. He lay on it now with his back turned to his visitor.
Mako walked over leaned his full weight against the bars.
“Stop pretending to sleep,” he said. “We're going to have a talk.”
Hiroshi didn't budge. He had the gall the snore softly.
“Oh, so you're really asleep then?” Mako straightened his posture a bit. “In that case, I have ways of waking you. Like lighting your blanket on fire, for example.”
Hiroshi grumbled, rolling over and turning to face the boy. He sat with his legs crossed, his cuffed hands resting in his lap. There was a hard look to his eyes, which were ringed by dark circles under a layer of filth.
Hiroshi glared back at him. “Of what? Would you like to know my favorite food?”
Mako resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Tell me what you know about the Equalists. What is Amon's plans now that he has control, aside from taking away all bending?”
Hiroshi scoffed. “In case you hadn't noticed, I am no longer in touch with them. I don't know anything.”
“You are the prized inventor of his death machines.” Mako's eyes narrowed to slits. “Surely, you must know something.”
“You don't think Bei Fong hasn't had this conversation with me already? Why don't you go ask her.”
“You haven't told her anything. If you had, she would have shared it.”
“Because I don't know anything.” Hiroshi looked rather smug for someone in his particular situation.
“But, you see.” Mako turned his palm upward, spark and smoke rising from it. “I have ways of making you talk that she doesn't, or at least, that she's not willing to use.”
Hiroshi hesitated, and Mako fought to keep the smugness from his own expression.
“I told you-”
“Don't lie to me!” Mako snapped. The flame in his hand grew, casting a golden flickering light on his features. “My fire can reach you through these bars.”
Hiroshi guffawed. “Of course! You're a bender, so you use your special abilities to take advantage of non-benders like me. How am I not surprised?”
A serpent of flame shot from Mako's palm. It coiled around Hiroshi's leg, turning his laughter into a wail of agony.
Hiroshi's glare was filled with defiance, but the tint of fear had begun to betray him. He remained silent still, until Mako unleashed another serpent.
“Republic City is just the beginning,” Hiroshi hissed. “The United Forces don't stand a chance.”
“Because you have a trump card,” Mako deduced.
Hiroshi's expression didn't so much as flicker, revealing nothing more.
“What is it?” Mako demanded.
Hiroshi laughed. It was a wild sound, the sound of madness. “Why don't you just torture me some more, filthy bender.” He spat at Mako's boots.
The firebender stepped away from the bars and said, “No, I think I already got what I needed.” He couldn't risk leaving any more burns on the prisoner. He'd already gone too far.
The Order of the White Lotus member returned to his station, and Mako marched back to the house, his mind running full throttle. He was determined to speak to Lin and Tenzin. Together, they would find a way to contact General Iroh or General Bumi to warn the fleet. He knew the risk of their message being intercepted, but he saw no other option but to warn the United Forces of whatever extra threat the Equalists were hiding up their sleeve. A vague warning was better than none at all.
Chapter 9: The Eye - Pt. III
The Eye - Pt. III
The first fist to the face was the least painful. For one, it was only the first of what would escalate into many mistakes. Second, any subsequent blows were pounding on already bruised flesh. Asami pulled no punches, and a Korra had a niggling suspicion that Mako was an invisible target on her flesh.
Asami charged, and Korra moved to meet her. Korra's effort was met with a graceful kick to the gut. Again. Korra doubled over, frustration drawing angry lines across her face.
"Why don't we stop for today?" Asami suggested gently.
Korra was reluctant to agree, but her fresh bruises demanded her head nod in agreement. It wasn't fair how Asami could beat her so easily.
"You put too much focus into offense," offered Asami.
"My policy's always been the best defense is a good offense," replied Korra.
"That's..." Asami hesitated briefly. "True sometimes. However, it's also important to be able to evade. In case your opponent's offense is better than yours."
"I can block."
"Your arms are black and blue."
Korra frowned, unable to argue with the truth.
"You know, airbenders use a style of fighting that puts a lot of emphasis on being calm and evading your opponent," said Asami mildly. A not so subtle hint.
Korra's brows furrowed even deeper. "Are you suggesting I ask Tenzin to help me?"
"It couldn't hurt."
"I'll still spar with you, of course. It's important to practice the techniques you learn."
Korra's shoulders relaxed. She was worried for a second there that she wouldn't have anyone fun to train with anymore.
"Only if you train with me. Under Tenzin."
Asami's eyebrows flew up in surprise.
"Please don't make me do it alone," Korra begged with her best pouty face - which wasn't really very good, actually.
Asami sighed. "All right, fine. I'll join you."
"Yay!" Korra threw her arms up and drew Asami into a rough hug. "You're the best."
Asami laughed warmly.
Just when her stream of conscience would slow to a trickle, the bruise on her jaw would throb its way into her awareness. The ripples created by an unpleasant memory resurfacing crossed her features. Then she would forcefully shake it off and try to relax again, but it was neverending circle. The frustration boiled in her veins all over again.
"It is best not to dwell on our failures," said Tenzin beside her.
"I'm not-" Korra begain to protest.
"I can tell by the look on your face, Korra," Tenzin cut her off.
"You can tell by the bruises on my face," Korra mumbled under her breath.
"You will only get better with practice."
"If I don't become a bloody mess first."
"Korra, you know I wouldn't do that," Asami's voice reached her from the other side of Tenzin.
"I don't get the feeling you've got your heartin this," Tenzin commented with unmasked exasperation.
"I need a break." Korra stretched her arms up and behind her, all the way until her back fell to the floor.
"We'd only been meditating-or trying to-for ten minutes," said Tenzin.
"Felt like forever."
'Practicing meditation will help you maintain a clear head in stressful situations, such as a fight."
"But it's so boring."
"If Ikki can do it, so can you," the airbending master sighed.
A valid point. Korra hadn't thought of it like that. Ikki was probably the loudest person she knew, yet she was able to meditate and airbend - two things Korra had never learned how to do. She bit her lip. If she was going to be serious about getting stronger, she'd have to keep trying.
"Are you sure there aren't any secrets to meditating that you're keeping from me?" Korra eyed Tenzin.
"I'm quite sure. You just have to clear your mind."
"It's natural to have distracting thoughts," said Asami. "And it's okay to acknowledge them, but then you have to let them go. You'll get the hang of it; I promise."
Korra glanced at her palms, resting on her knees. "All right, I'll try again," she said closing her eyes.
"Most metals used in everyday items are alloys, such as this iron ladle," Lin explained, holding the aformentioned cooking utensil in her hand. "And alloys contain those same minerals earthbenders bend. So what you're really bending is the minerals in the metal, and not the metal itself. Got that?"
Bolin nodded. "So I just have to bend the minerals in the metal."
"Unfortunately, it's easier said than done. It's not quite the same as bending pure earth. Here, try."
Lin tossed the ladle in Bolin's direction. He fumbled with it and dropped it. He gingerly plucked it out of the snow.
"Is there any particular reason we have to do this outside? I don't think Korra's parents will be thrilled to hear I've been dropping their ladle on the ground and bending it into all kinds of crazy shapes," said Bolin.
Lin shrugged. "Enough whining; just bend."
Bolin hesitated for a second then inhaled deeply. He tried to sense the minerals Lin had talked about. He envisioned the ladle as a piece of earth and used his bending. Or tried to. Nothing happened. He removed his right glove and tried to feel it with his bare hand. The metal was mostly smooth, but there was a subtle grit to it-a texture that felt almost like dirt under his fingernails. He looked to Lin for guidance.
Bolin turned the utensil over in his hands and tried to learn its shape completely. He knew every scratch in its surface and the exactly angle of the arc of the handle. He held it until he could feel the atoms of the earth's elements buzzing against his skin, just beyond his grasp.
"I think I can feel it," Bolin said, his brows creased in concentration. "How do I-?"
That's when he noticed Lin had gone. She must have left some time ago. How long had he been out here fondling an iron ladle? His hands were numb, and the sun was close to setting. A sigh heaved out of him and he tucked the ladle inside his coat.
On his way back to the house Mako joined him. Bolin wondered exactly where he'd come from, but knew he wasn't going to get a straight answer if he asked.
Out front Asami and Korra were making a tiny army of snowmen.
Korra glanced up and caught Bolin's eyes from a distance. She flashed him a grin and a mischievous eyebrow waggle. She jerked her head in Asami's direction. Asami was facing away from him, focused on her snowman.
Bolin bent over and started packing snow between his hands.
"What are you doing?" Mako asked.
Asami was hit square in the back. She jumped and whorled, making eye contact. "Son of a-"
A snowball hit Mako clean in the face. Bolin bust out laughing.
"Have you come to challenge us?" Asami shouted. "We cannot be defeated!"
"Is that so?" said Bolin as he reached down and scooped up a handful of snow.
"Yes, our unstoppable army of snowmen will protect us," said Korra.
"Watch my back, I'll build our defenses." Bolin dropped to his knees and started piling up snow. He was struck in the arm. "Mako, you're not doing a very good job."
"Sorry I'm not a good enough meat shield," Mako replied.
Bolin looked up from his task to see his brother in the midst of a heated duel with his ex-girlfriend. Neither of them were smiling.
Korra, having grown up in the South Pole was much more adept at building snow forts than Bolin. Asami joined her behind it, and there was no reaching them now.
"You're not finished yet?" Mako joined Bolin at his side and started adding to their wall.
"I'm not exactly an expert on snow architecture. I hear it's not a very profitable career choice." Bolin looked up to see Mako unsuccessfully aiming his frozen projectiles at both girls.
Finally, their wall was high enough for the two boys to duck under to avoid bombardment. Just barely.
"What are you doing? Why aren't you throwing those?" Bolin raised a brow at Mako who had started creating a small pile of ammo.
"If we have a stash, we don't have to wait to pack more snow between throws," Mako explained.
"Ah, good idea." Four snow balls hit the wall in rapid succession. "It seems they've figured that out too."
They volleyed for a while, but not a single person was being struck.
"What do you say we charge them?" said Mako.
Bolin exchanged glances with him and a nod, then they both vaulted over their defenses with armfuls of snowballs. Asami and Korra split in two directions
Korra's eyes met Bolin's. She was smiling. Bolin chased after her, leaving Mako to follow their other opponent.
Korra darted behind the house. She was fast. Upon rounding the corner, Bolin was met with a snowball splattering on his chest. She was empty-handed, frantically scraping up snow as he closed in on her, firing one ball at a time until he was all out. The barrage knocked her off balance. She was shaking with mirth.
Bolin reached his hand out to help her up. She took it and lifted herself to her feet, and as she rose, she took a handful of snow and planted it on Bolin's head. He made a face, he knew he made a face. It was scrunched up because dang that stuff was cold. And Korra was laughing. Her gloved hand made sure to rub it in his hair real well.
Before Bolin could catch Korra's eye, a panting runner rounded the house on the other side and came crashing into her teammate. Asami yanked Korra out of the trajectory of Mako's snowball. It flew past and found a new target.
Bolin calmly brushed the snow off his chest and said, "I hate this family. I really do."
Mako put a hand to his mouth to stifle his laughter.
"I think I'm going to go change into clothes that are not cold and wet now. And dry my hair," Bolin added with a shake of his head.
That seemed to be everyone else's feeling as well.
Bolin spared a glance in the Avatar's direction. Her eyes were bright and her grin was wide. Today was the first time he'd really seen her smile since they had arrived. He felt his heart lift in his chest a little.
Then he overheard Asami say to Korra, "You were quite good at dodging those snowballs."
It seemed a somewhat odd compliment in his opinion.