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Korra is three years old the first time she bends. Snowball fights are a staple of Southern life, and when she lets loose one particular shot at the young boy from three huts over that likes to pull faces at her during tribe meetings she turns it to water in the air. For a moment it feels relieving - like the first inhale after holding her breath, like her lungs have never been fully inflated. But then the moment passes, and no matter how much ice she crushes or how much water she turns to snow, it never feels like enough.

Four months later she dreams of a young girl in a green bandana, barefoot and blind. She is stubborn, hard as metal and rough around the edges. Korra does not remember the direction she is given (this is a lesson that was never meant for her). Still she wakes with "yes, Sifu," falling quickly from her lips, though the words are not her own. In the dark of the morning, wide awake, she focuses on nothing but the world around her - vibrations in ice and earth. For the rest of the day she stomps on every rock she sees.

That evening, for the first time, she moves stone. She wonders how she ever went without it.

 

--

 

She is barely four when the White Lotus come to lock her away. Her parents were fine to keep it secret until she dreamed about a man with a dragon, and a city being overtaken by lava, ash and smoke - before she started setting her own clothes on fire just to prove she could. Katara smiles wisely at her in the middle of a training session (Korra glimpses, for a moment, smooth cheeks and dark hair somewhere beneath her wizened skin - a face from another time) and gently tells her parents that Korra takes too quickly to new ideas, and that if she remains unchecked she will become a danger. She can bend, and she is good - but she could be great. So they put her in a compound with a bunch of people who know whats best for her and no one her age, and when she is five they give her a polar bear dog to cover the ache ("to teach you about responsibility," her mother says with a soft smile when she visits, "companionship, value of life.").

Korra is young, and reckless, and all too aware of the strength an Avatar possesses. And even when they take her away, even when they train her, even when her tutors try to tell her about responsibility, about legacy, about life, Korra stays that way. Stubborn, brash, headstrong.

When she's seven she dreams about Kyoshi, about Aang, about accountability. Trials and public faces. Crowds that speak over one another and call for action. History, and how it always favours the victor. 'Never forget,' they tell her in dreams, 'you are more than just yourself.'

But she knows: she is the Avatar. And it is all she wants to be.

 

--

 

In her dreams, Korra lives in warm places. She swims in lakes and jumps off of mountains, riding wind like waves until she decides to land. She is young and old all at once, surrounded by faces she knows and will never know, will never see in person. She falls in and out of love every night, and wakes again lonely. In her sleep, she travels the world, crushes uprisings, saves lives and is hailed a hero - in her dreams she has friends.

Her favourites are of Aang - the light way he viewed the world, the company he kept along the years. She watches his face age overnight - full cheeks turning to hard lines, youth turning to wisdom. As a child, he is the best friend she never had. As an adult, he is her mentor, her idol, the legacy she has to live up to.

The first time she meets Tenzin (hard lines and wisdom, just like her dreams, just like his father), Korra cries. She never admits it to anyone.

 

--

 

Korra begs to leave the compound when she is twelve ("Aang did it! So can I!"), lured north. She wants to see the world, to be a part of it. She wants to save people and crush bad guys beneath her boots. Mostly, she wants to see the city her predecessor left behind and corner her airbending tutor within it, take a few lessons and go. There is a whole world out there that needs the Avatar, and she is desperate to respond ("No," they say, "you're not ready," but she doesn't know how she's supposed to prepare for a world that she's never been a part of).

When Korra is thirteen, she dreams about Koh.

He taunts her - or whoever she was before she was her - showing faces that do not belong to him, jarring her other selves with his saccharine words and grotesque body. He steals a face she knew in another life, someone she loved, and threatens another, and Aang keeps calm in the midst of malevolence but Korra thrashes in her bed until she wakes. She sets her master's robes on fire that day.

For weeks, she revisits it. Avatar Kurok and his negligence, his love lost, his despair. Her dreams have always been so full of light, and life, and it is the first time that sleep has haunted her. She is sure it is a lesson, but she doesn't know the moral.

Her keepers order tea to help her sleep. A young girl brings it to the compound one day, fifteen and bright-eyed, long, dark hair with a slight curl. She smiles at Korra across the yard - idle, probably, and needlessly kind - and leaves. Korra never sees her again.

It is the first time she falls in love (in this lifetime). The tea helps for a time, but eventually she dreams of Koh again, only now it is the girl's face he shows - something new, something of Korra's. It is the first time she experiences fear.

 

--

 

When she is fifteen, Aang shows her a memory of a swamp, and a laughing ghost dancing through the trees. She doesn't think about it again for a long time.

 

--

 

At seventeen, Korra learns that the world she lives in is not the world she knows. There is more than the Southern Water Tribe, more than a compound and it's bending masters, more than the memories she has that are not her own. Things have changed.

Republic City is not kind to Avatar Korra. It gives her friends: Bolin, and Mako, and Asami - the people she doesn't know how to live with, and then doesn't know how to live without. It give her family, on top of her own: Tenzin, and Pema, their children, Lin - the people she doesn't know how to handle who handle her. It gives her love and makes her question the worth of it. It grants her fame. And then it strips it all away.

She shows up in headlines, her photo in newspapers. Someone hands her a chart of approval ratings and Tenzin hides full pages of exposés and slander in her name between the books on his office shelves. She is cornered by reporters and angry citizens alike who call profanities, wish she would do less, curse her for not doing enough. And this is only one city - there are worse things outside of it.

There are responsibilities she has that she has never considered. There are consequences to her actions that she has never expected. And there is not a single villain that sets themselves against her in the year following whose ideas and intentions do not have merit; there is not one who is innately evil. Korra has always known that she was born to be a hero, but she is at a loss of how to do so in a world that is as likely to demonise her as it is to accept her. She hesitates. She suffers.

Amon locks her bending away, and for a moment she forgets how to breathe. Ironically, breathing is the thing that saves her.

Unalaq teaches her to calm spirits, and then rips the most important one right out of her. She gets Raava back, but loses her histories.

Zaheer poisons her with logic and liquid metal, leaves her lost and too weak to move. He takes two things from her - only one returns.

After all is said and done, and the strength is gone from her arms - after she is wheelchair bound, and alone in her head for the first time in eighteen years - she begins to dream of villains and their valid concerns. A group of street thugs with the elements at their fingertips and a thousand rules to break; the red and white mask facing them, saying enough is enough. A piece of history forgotten, turning hostile to a changing world, and a chieftain who only wanted peace between the two. A queen who segregated and bullied money out of her own people, and the scholar who stole the breath from her lungs and watched her choke to death. And all of them looking at her, asking how she let things get this far, telling her she's not needed.

When she is eighteen her dreams are replaced by nightmares.

 

--

 

She is chair bound - physically limited, spiritually drained. She can't move, she can't think, she can't bend. Darkness rings her eyes, and her mother worries over her as if she is a child again, as if she is whoever she was when she was three (and not the Avatar). Mako offers his shoulder, like it makes a difference. Bolin jokes, but it doesn't reach his eyes. Asami smiles at her in the mornings, and the afternoons, and before they part ways each night, trying and succeeding at supportive, but she looks more frazzled every day. There is a chorus of "you'll get better"s just waiting for the asking, but she doesn't want them. How can she be an Avatar without strength, without bending, without purpose?

Tenzin replaces her with a nation as a "get well soon" present. As if that's not the problem.

She flees South under grounds of homesickness. Her mother thinks that maybe being away from Republic City and it's media obsession, being home and alone and amidst the familiar, will help her. She doesn't say what they all know: Katara is there, the arguably best healer in the world. Asami offers to go with her, and Korra struggles to smile at the suggestion before she rejects it. She doesn't want anyone to see her the way she is: weak, incapable, useless.

She doesn't say what they all know: she's not getting better (she doesn't want to).

 

--

 

Korra spends her nineteenth birthday the same way she has the entire six months preceding it - reading through most of the day, avoiding Katara's ever-present frown, and steering her wheelchair out of the village to stargaze after dinner. There is a letter on her bed back in her parents' house and she knows that it is from Tenzin - wishing her well, and asking for updates, and describing the world up north. It's been sitting there for four days. She doesn't have the heart to open it.

Two letters ago Mako tacked on a note asking after her, wanting to know how she was. She had ignored the question entirely in her short, disinterested reply, but she knows that Katara has been mailing them updates of her own and they are rarely any good. She doesn't have to read them to know what they say: "six months and she still isn't walking," and "managed to get her out of her chair the other day, but she could only support herself for four seconds before her knees buckled beneath her" and "barely managed to bend a breeze". She doesn't need to read them because she has lived them. She has lived through shaky limbs and the torturous attempt at crutches that didn't work out, every afternoon healing session and the excruciating physical therapy that accompanies them. She spends two hours a days clutching at bars and trying in vain to stay on her feet, struggling with light weights and forcing her limbs to cooperate when the months have left them thin and weak. Katara calls it progress, but frowns when Korra's back is turned anyway.

The last letter that arrived came direct from Asami, suggesting a visit to the South for Korra's birthday and heavily implying that "no" would not be an acceptable answer. Korra gave it anyway (felt guilty for as long as it took to seal it and send it away, and tried not to think about it again). She spent thirteen years of her life alone in a compound, nothing but mentors, guards, and a polar bear dog for company (and the memories of everyone she was before she was herself) - six months with her family is not a trial. There is no reason her friends should put their lives on hold to watch her spin around in her wheelchair and stare at the stars.

On this night, she starts when she hears the sound of crunching snow. By the most part, when she escapes into the cold beneath the Southern Lights her watchers and her worriers leave her alone. Not this time.

'My mother's looking for you,' Kya says gently when she's close enough for quiet tones. Korra doesn't turn to her, but she can feel the older woman's presence beside her - calm, cool, just like Katara. In moments like this the resemblance is uncanny. 'She would have come out to speak to you on her own, but then she is a little past the age of late-night roaming.' A pause. 'Don't tell her I told you that.'

Once, Korra might have laughed at the joke. It feels like her humour deserted her along with every other thing that made her important - her abilities, her links to the past, her vitality. She wonders, often, if it wouldn't have been easier to succumb to the poison.

'Hey now,' Kya calls when too long passes without a response. 'It's your birthday. You left dinner early. Your parents wanted to celebrate with you. Nineteen's not a small number.'

'I was a thousand years old, once, not too long ago,' Korra replies. 'What's nineteen years to that?'

She barely feels the hand that lands on her shoulder, but Kya steps in front of her with this harsh look on her face that reminds Korra of a dream she had when she was younger, a memory that never belonged to her. Kya looks like her mother, and Korra misses her past.

'It's a whole year alone, for someone who never really has been. It's an achievement,' Kya tells her, a glint of fire in her eyes. 'And if you think for a second that you are anything less just because you lost a couple of voices from your head, Korra, you are sorely mistaken.'

Korra wants to ask "what am I without their experience?", wants to point out that she is not Wan, and she is not ready to forge new paths and make decisions on her own. She was all too willing to accept a history, a legacy, and play it out, but she is not prepared to be the first of anything, to be alone, to be the only one. She doesn't say any of these things; she does not think Kya will understand.

'I keep wondering if maybe the reason that I lost them, though,' she says instead, 'is that maybe - maybe they were all right. We don't need the old Avatars and their old ideas. Maybe we just don't need an Avatar at all.'

Kya purses her lips and retracts her supportive hand on Korra's shoulder only in order to hit her there.

'I don't believe that for a second,' the woman says dryly. 'I'm pretty sure the fact that anyone had to tell you that at all is proof enough. Even assuming those three voices did speak for the vast majority - and they didn't - people rarely know what they want, let alone what they need. When I was little and I didn't understand what the Avatar was, I used to ask my dad why he left us behind all the time - trips all over the world to help people and fix problems. We were in a time of peace, he'd already saved the world, and I didn't understand why he couldn't just stay home. I didn't understand how anyone could need him more than me.'

Korra thinks of the few memories Aang gave her of his older years, of his children. How much he loved them. She never saw the times he left them behind. She stares at Kya and waits - for a revelation or disappointment, she's not sure.

'He sat me down one day and explained that - an Avatar exists to "maintain balance in the world, and create it if there is absence". And I didn't understand then - and I still don't,' Kya says. 'I travelled the world for years and years, just like him, and I still don't. He always had this sense of purpose about him that I could never quite grasp. "As long as there is a need for the Avatar, I will fulfil that need," he told me. "And there will always be one. There will never be perfect balance. It is not within human nature." I didn't believe that until I was older. By then he was gone.'

'I don't know what that means,' Korra mumbles, watery-eyed, and Kya grips her shoulders and stares at her, all gentle eyes and compassion. 'Balance? I'm not Aang. I don't know what that means.'

'You don't have to. Just trust it,' Kya says. 'And if you can't, then take pains to remember: there are still people who need the Avatar. Your parents, your friends. They need you.'

Kya sits with her until she is okay with returning to her parents' home and the people within, and then pushes her back to town. Korra spends hours supplying half-hearted conversation and wondering what "balance" really is. When her mother helps her to bed she notes the way practiced fingers fold the blankets over her, the way they smooth out any creases. Senna smiles at her, loving and sad, and Korra think of all the years she didn't spend at home. Kya thinks her parents need the Avatar, but for a moment Korra wonders if they wouldn't have been happier with another child - someone more... someone more.

Two weeks later she makes it four whole steps unassisted in her physical therapy before her knees give out. It's the first time in six months she sees Katara smile.

 

--

 

There are eight more months of sweating out her bad thoughts, re-learning to walk, and feeling like a useless child. At the end of them she is a professional at wheelchair tricks, but she can also finally stand on her own, take long walks, swim for a straight twenty minutes without wanting to drown. Definition returns to neglected limbs, strength to her steps. Long hikes leave her breathless and unpleasantly weak in the knees, but she can hike.

She can't bend.

She spends hours every day down by the water, away from worried gazes, pushing and pulling at the tide like a three year old who has only just manifested the ability - only, a three year old would see more success.

It is a struggle to feel currents, to melt ice. The first element she ever moved denies her. She stomps at the ground, pushes through the earthbending forms with every bit of strength left in her body and barely manages to shake pebbles. When she's too tired to stay on her feet she sits alone in the cold, snapping her fingers, desperate for a fire and barely even finding a spark. On her bed before she goes to sleep she breathes as deeply as she can, but her lungs still feel starved of air. She feels like she is three years old again, living on half breaths.

Katara tells her that she is physically fine, that there is no reason she shouldn't be able to bend. The problem is spiritual and only Korra can fix it. But then spirituality has never been Korra's strong suit.

On one particular day, failing at the things that she has always been best at and driven by desperation ("what is an Avatar without bending?"), Korra pushes too hard. She is tired of being ignored by the tide, of being cold, of suffocating. Her footsteps barely make a sound where once she caused earthquakes. She reaches for the water and for a moment - for one aching, glorious moment - she can feel it pulling at her again, she feels connected. She chases it, grasps at it, claws after it as it slips between desperate fingers, but it is gone as soon as it comes.

Something moves within her - something brash, and angry, and old, and animal - and she can feel her eyes flash blue, and back again. She thrashes until the ground shakes, ice breaks, and the wind lashes at her face, but it's not enough. She is separate parts, she is not connected, she is cold. Her body calls for fire until it lights the air around her, but she is broken and out of control, and it burns her skin, sets her hair alight, turns her sleeves to ash. The pain shocks her into clarity, and the light leaves her eyes at the same time as the strength leaves her legs, sending her crashing into the snow.

Her father finds her curled on the ice, tears in her eyes and no sound in her throat, and he takes her into his arms and carries her home. Katara heals her blistering skin and pats her gently on the arm, mutters that everything will be alright. Her mother tucks her into bed that night with warm eyes and warm hands, like every one before. Not one of them tries to combat unresponsiveness with brute force. She dreams about masks, dark spirits and poison and wakes in a cold sweat, wondering when exactly she turned into Zaheer, trying to force the Avatar state out of a body that did not want to comply.

In the lull before dawn, down by the water, she takes her father's spear to her singed hair and watches the wind take every strand away from her.

 

--

 

More letters come. Tenzin is glad she is doing well (they tell him she's walking now, but no one mentions her bending). The airbenders are thriving. Jinora's hair has grown back. Asami is designing trains. Bolin is in the longest committed relationship he's ever had. Mako is working, and working hard, and enjoying himself. The president built a statue of her in a park that shares her name, commemorating her like he'd never sneered in her direction or dismissed her claims. All the usual - and then, something new.

There are things that they haven't told her.

Tenzin is filtering requests for aid, and the airbenders have more pleas than they can handle. Asami is fixing the city's spirit problem, and Mako is cleaning the streets, and Bolin has joined a peacekeeping force that is sweeping the nation. Revolution has done what revolution does best - left people dead and tired in it's wake - and a woman who once saved Korra's father's life stands tall in the aftermath and aims to unite a fractured continent. They all save the world while Korra sits down south, testing her legs and snapping her fingers for want of a spark.

Korra thinks of being thirteen, dreaming of Kurok and Koh, wonders what the consequences will be of sitting this one out.

When she's been home for two years she gets a letter from Opal. It isn't long: "this is not unity", scrawled on a scrap of dirty paper and sent from some backwater town in the Earth Kingdom, her signature at the bottom and nothing else. It doesn't detail pleasantries and quiet hope. It doesn't come with sympathy. Korra doesn't understand it - which is why it matters.

She spends six months focusing on throwing rocks, coaxing the feeling back into her limbs. Earthbending was always the thing she was best at - she's stubborn, and that's why she gets it back. She's not as good as she used to be but she can look after herself. Her father believes her when she says she's going back to the city, but Katara meets her at the docks on the night she leaves. She has a leather flask dangling from one hand and a short spear in the other - a single hander, stocky and well-made, maybe a metre in length and easier to tote around than the military standard, not unlike the one of her father's that Korra took to her hair.

'Where are you really going?' the old bender asks her, and Korra is prepared to lie until she adds, 'You're leaving Naga behind, so I know it's nowhere friendly.'

'I can't help anyone here.'

'Then go to the city. Go to my son. Let him help you.'

'I don't know what I need him to help me to do,' Korra tells her, letting the frustration bleed through. 'My whole life, I have been chaperoned. I've seen my compound, down here. I've seen Republic City. I've seen tiny problems in tiny places, but everything else I know is from memories that are not my own, from times that are long past. Ba Sing Se was a culture shock to me. How am I supposed to help the world if I don't know what it needs?'

Katara gets this unreadable expression on her wizened face - the one Korra has come to associate with memories of a time long gone, with another Avatar. Then she softens.

'My husband saw the world when he was young. We lived in a time when our problems were very clearly defined, where he would have benefitted from an insular environment and trainers on-hand. He had to learn everything on the go,' Katara tells her. 'When he organised your training with the White Lotus he had your best interests in mind.'

'He always did.'

'Yes,' Katara agrees with an old, tinkling laugh. 'But I also knew my husband well, and for all his good intentions he still made mistakes. A lot of those were with his children. Some of them were with you.'

She holds the items in her hands out for Korra to take. Korra frowns and reaches first for the flask.

'Water from the spirit oasis. I didn't have a whole lot of it left, but I don't foresee myself needing it anytime soon. Save it for your worst moments,' Katara explains. Then she pushes the spear into Korra's hands. 'You may be able to throw rocks around, but you're still not yourself. This belonged to my brother. Keep safe. Go home when you've found what you're looking for.'

Katara hugs her goodbye, and promises to hold all her letters, and not to tell anyone where she's going (not that Katara knows, because Korra doesn't either). Long after the old woman has disappeared into the snow and the dying light and Korra has boarded a ship heading due north, Korra wonders why her old master said to 'go' instead of 'come' home.

 

--

 

The ship takes her somewhere in the Fire Nation - she doesn't ask for names, and she never gives one of her own. She works her way from village to village, skips through islands like stepping stones. No one recognises her. In a nation that has never seen her in anything other than old pictures, it is easy to become someone else.

She picks up odd jobs to keep coin in her pocket, and stops for a few days everywhere she goes to observe. She finds her way into temples and eavesdrops on history lectures, sneaks into classrooms and dojos and watches from the shadows in one particular school as an old man teaches a small group of bright-eyed children how to call fire to their fingertips. She takes part in festivals where young men teach her their traditional dances, and girls treat her to new food, and clothes, and small talk. At one point, she even stands on top of a dormant volcano and looks down over the mottled ash covering a town that she once lived in (in another life, another body, another time).

Sometimes she spends days - weeks, even - alone, traipsing through woods and mountains, immersing herself in nature and solitude until she is called back to civilisation for short words, or smiles, or food. She sees villages that bustle with life, every different colour of skin lured by good trade and culture. She sees towns divided by class, by money, by race. She sees residents being called tourists, hears racial slurs that should have died out years ago. She runs out of money after two months, can't get any work, and steals from a fire nation man decked in chains and fine silks who knocks over a small tribal boy on the street, lifts his nose and calls him names. In her head, she calls him horrid, calls him disgusting, calls him a bigot. When she cuts the purse from his belt she even tells herself he deserves it.

Bars become her favourite place to lurk; alcohol and the cacophony of sound bring out the best and the worst in their patrons. When there is noise people are more prone to being loud, and she hears all about new ideas and opportunities and problems most freely when she has a drink in her hand. There is always someone looking to give work away, always someone asking for help, always another rumour, another lead to follow.

In some towns, she will spend her nights tracking down bandits and common thugs - sometimes to tip off the police, sometimes just to test herself. Mostly, she spends her days helping farmers relocate sewage pipes and patch broken ceilings, or till fields for families with sick sons who have fallen behind in their work. Sometimes a stranger will make the base assumption about tribes' women and ask about waterbending, about healing - she closes a few cuts and soothes a few burns and gets a little better at it every time.

One man hires her to carry his tools around until he can scout a new assistant; he spends a week teaching her how to rewire lights and power points, fix broken taps and properly paint walls. On one day, she watches him tear apart the plumbing beneath someone's kitchen sink and replace every single part of it.

'It was hardly even leaking,' she says. 'Couldn't you have just tightened the joints and re-sealed it?'

He laughs kindly - this tinkling, old chuckle that resounds experience - and shakes his head.

'I could - and it would do the job, for a while,' he agrees. 'But an immediate fix doesn't guarantee longevity. Eventually the pipe would rust, or burst, or the seal would break. It would leak again - possibly worse than before. Why just fix something when you can replace it with something better?'

When he finds a replacement he tells her that she can stay instead - that she's smart, and kind, and good company, and he enjoys working with her enough to keep her. She refuses and he shakes her hand warmly and says she can come back any time - that there will always be a job if she wants it. Three miles down the highway after leaving town, she stops. Some part of her wants to spin on the spot - run back, take a job in the middle of nowhere doing handy work for nice people (wants to be no one important). But something else in her, or something far away - she doesn't know - calls her eastward. She keeps walking.

Every once in a while, someone will talk about the Avatar, will look at her with some vague glint of recognition, and Korra will disappear overnight, just another shadow in the dark.

She finds her way to Ember Island and spends her nights sleeping on the beach under the stars, struggling to remember a different time with young versions of faces she has only ever seen aged and greying (she doesn't succeed). In another life she came here with friends. Now, she is surrounded by people and so completely alone.

A young man and his friends invite her to a bonfire, and she joins them. For a little while she forgets herself - laughs, and jokes, and pretends they're friends. There is a girl who reminds her too keenly of a young mechanic with perfect hair and red lipstick, and Korra sidles away from her in the firelight until a cute boy with his hair in a wolf tail starts a conversation and steals her attention away. He says his name is Kesuk, and his mother moved down from the Northern Water Tribe before he was born. His father owns the local inn, and at nineteen he's caught somewhere between taking up the family business and joining the military. Korra tells him that there is nothing glorious about war and duty and kisses him for a while down by the water, lit up by the distant flames and the foreign human contact.

In the morning she hops the first boat back east.

 

--

 

It is far, far easier to find work in the Earth Kingdom, but harder to come by coin. Many people need help, but few are in any position to pay her for it. Her pockets run empty very quickly.

She trades her water tribe coat to a young woman running fishing boats on the coast for a new bag and a week's worth of rations. She sells the things she doesn't need and buys some summer clothes to deal with the deserts and the long plateaus that are characteristic of the ground she plans to cover. It's the Earth Kingdom, so there's a lot of it.

The first few weeks, roaming towns by the coast, are the easiest ones. These are places of trade and moderate traffic, less affected in the wake of revolution. But the further inland she goes, the more Korra learns: without a monarch the nation fell apart and in the time since one woman has been putting it back together - piece by reluctant, screaming piece. At first, what Kuvira is doing sounds like a favour. But the more that she hears, the more Korra suspects this particular brand of "peacekeeping" to be nothing of the sort. The "Great Uniter" sounds nothing like the almost kind woman who saved her father nearly three years ago.

Something calls her towards the horizon, and she zig-zags after it, stopping at every town she can along the way. Now, she spends her days dusty, tired, burning beneath the sun, helping small towns fix wrecked buildings and bringing supplies in through dangerous routes unhindered. Bandits are a huge problem on this side of the world, and she spends more time than she is comfortable with locking them into concrete boots, or smacking them upside the head with her spear and trying in vain to take their bending away - yet another ability she is proven to have lost. The ones who are awake during each attempt stare at her with fear and no small amount of confusion - wondering why she touches their foreheads at all, let alone why she's frustrated when nothing happens. She memorises every face before she tips off the nearest police force, just in case she ever gets it back.

Once, years ago, she faced a man who told her people could not be trusted with bending. He wasn't right. He wasn't wrong, either.

 

--

 

She falls in love - more than once. She kisses girls and boys in bars and dark corners, and never goes further than that. There's always something familiar about them:

(Bolin's laugh, Asami's smile, Mako's passion).

She leaves them all behind.

 

--

 

Her pockets run empty in the middle of nowhere, and when she is twenty-one she wraps her hands in bandages to cover the skin of her knuckles and keep her fists firm and starts fighting for money. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thinks of a blind girl and a young boy, and a dirt-floor arena in Gaoling.

Some nights she bends earth for it, throwing rocks at her opponents and testing her limits, bruising skin and breaking bones. She loses more often than not - wishes she was at full strength even while she relishes the fact that she isn't. She doesn't need the attention that being good would bring her; someone might mistake her for a ghost. Other nights, she goes hand to hand - fighting with fists and feet, and sometimes her spear. First blood wins. She does better at these - splitting lips and knocking out men twice her size - and she'll rack up a few wins and leave town before they earn her too much notice.

It works, for a while - until it doesn't. It's a dirty back-alley gambling joint in a dirty back-alley town. She loses to a girl who she should have beaten, could have three years ago - before Zaheer took her strength, her confidence, her spirit, and chained them away in the dark. The club owner pays her and then pays her out. He likens her to a girl who used to smile in photos on newspapers and mess up the world.

'Whatever happened to her, anyway?' he asks.

Korra takes her black eye and the bad taste in her mouth and leaves, because that's what she does best.

'I wouldn't know.'