Tahno was the first of the three to seek comfort at the bottom of a bottle after the fateful Championship match. One of the fan-girls he frequently hooked up with was the daughter of a successful bootlegger and she had kept him supplied with the good stuff. Unfortunately, depressed Tahno (who was also continuously hung-over and entirely lacking hygiene Tahno) was not nearly as attractive to groupies as impeccably dressed, fabulously wealthy, and extremely famous Tahno and the girl lost interest in the ex-waterbender around the same time he ran out of liquor.
Shaozu couldn’t speak for how it felt to lose waterbending, or earthbending for that matter, but if was half as painful as his new-found lack of firebending, he could almost understand Tahno’s inability to stay sober for too long. He got an agonizing reminder of his own loss every morning when he didn’t feel the sunrise, when he sleepily flicked his hand to light a flame under the coffee pot and nothing happened, when his bedroom was chilly and he couldn’t warm up just by focusing on his breathing. So far, nothing he’d tried (and he’d gotten creative in self-medicating) had filled the dark emptiness where his firebending should be.
Even through his own funk, he realized Tahno was in a bad downward spiral, but he was initially too absorbed in his own horror and self-pity to pay it much attention. When he did start noticing Tahno's self destructing, he had legitimately figured that being constantly drunk and reeking like a drowned sewer rat was about as low as Tahno could get. He'd been horrified to learn there was a lower point for the once proud young man; Ming had called, frantic, one night after finding their teammate collapsed on the floor in a pool of his own blood with a kitchen knife and hesitation marks all over his arms.
The next day Ming had moved into the apartment and brought copious amounts of liquor with him; his theory was that if Tahno was drinking at least he wasn’t trying to kill himself. Every few days after that Shaozu dropped in to visit and pretend everything was okay and perfectly normal. Tonight was one of those nights.
Tahno and Ming were already well on their way to toasted by the time Shaozu got there with the deck of cards and some cheap take-out. Apparently they had installed a still in the apartment and were celebrating their first successful batch of homemade liquor.
“Started without me, I see.” He sighed and grabbed his usual mug. One of the boys had thoughtfully filled it before they had too much of their own.
“Y’r late, Shao.” Ming blurted with a scowl, its efficacy destroyed by his giggling.
“Mr. Long kept me overtime.” Shaozu rolled his eyes. “I brought some gyoza to make up for it.”
Ming practically launched himself over the table at the bag by Shaozu’s side. “In that case, y’re f’given!”
Shaozu chuckled and took a gulp of his drink. “Spirits, you're a cheap date, Ming.”
Ming blinked owlishly and looked hurt. “Y’r s’posed t’be my friend.”
Tahno’s wrinkled his nose. “Oh don’ be such a baby. Y’know y’re our favorite.” He leaned over and kissed Ming right under the ear. He gave his best friend a smile that would’ve been suave and mildly affectionate if his eyes weren’t glazed and unfocused.
“Spirits, when’d you guys start in on the stuff, breakfast?” He stared at each of his friends accusingly. Tahno shrugged noncommittally and Ming attempted to stifle a grin and dissolved into another burst of giggling. He rolled his eyes and took another sip from his drink. “Next time dilute it a little or something. I think it’s too strong.”
After that things got a little fuzzy. A few drinks in, and one of them (Shaozu was relatively positive it was Tahno) suggested that they make the game more interesting by taking off clothes every time they lost.
A sudden knock at the door made reality swim violently back into focus for Shaozu. He creased his eyebrows and glanced at his friends. Tahno was idly shuffling the deck of cards and Ming was staring as intently at Tahno as he could manage.
“You be’r get that, Shao,” he murmured, annoyed, as the person outside knocked again, more insistantly. “I gotta figure out if Tahno’s got ‘ny thixes.”
Shaozu groaned and stood up. “I’m coming, alright?” He snapped at the door when the knocking started again. He did his best to put on a menacing face and threw open the heavy front door. “What do you…Oh,” He blinked and frowned at one of the last people he’d have expected to be standing in the hall.
The Avatar herself stood in the doorway looking politely confused. “Hi…I’m looking for Tahno…did I get the wrong apartment?” She stared at the scrap of paper in her hand. Shaozu only had time to feel mildly hurt she didn’t recognize him before Tahno piped up.
“Is that the Uhvatar I hear? Korra!!! C’mon in!”
Shaozu stepped out of her way and gestured for her to enter. “Sorry the place is kind of a mess,” he apologized on behalf of his friends. “Ming and Tahno don’t really get a lot of company these days.”
“Really?” The Avatar sounded surprised. “I thought you guys had a ton of fangirls always hanging around.”
Shaozu gave her a wry, world-weary smile. “We had a lot of things, before Amon.”
The Avatar’s eyes widened and emotions flicked across her face rapidly before settling on guilt. She cast her eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry.”
“So what brings the Uhvatar to game night?” Tahno interrupted. “Want me to deal y’in?” He casually flipped the deck of cards for her.
“Um…that’s alright.” She raised her eyebrows and eyed the three guys suspiciously. Shaozu had been winning, helped in no small part by the fact that he had significantly less alcohol in his system than either of his teammates and had only lost his shoes and jacket so far. However Tahno was shirtless and barefoot, and Ming (who had always had the alcohol tolerance of a child) was down to his undershorts, his left sock, and a bow-tie. “It doesn’t really look like my kind of game.”
Tahno smirked. “Aw Korra, strip-go-fish is everyone’s kind of game.” His eyes combed her form hungrily for a moment. “You’ve got the perfect form for it.”
“You’re frosted, aren’t you?” She asked uncertainly and scrunched her nose again as she caught a whiff of the liquor on his breath.
“If frosted means drunk off his ass, then yes,extremely.” Shaozu sighed. “Unless you dropped by for a quick roll between the sheets—emphasis on quick—he’s probably going to be totally useless for whatever you came for.” He chuckled. “And to be honest, it's likely he wouldn't even be too great at that. He has…trouble sometimes when he’s this drunk.”
“He’s all wet!” Tahno blurted and looked mortified. “I have not ever had trouble in bed. I can prove it, if you want, Uhvatar.” He started fumbling with the buckle on his pants.
“Oh Spirits no!” Korra shuddered. “I’m not here to…for that.”
Tahno pouted and grabbed his mug to take a gulp. “Your loss.”
“I don't think I'll lose much sleep over it. But if you can hit on me again you must be doing a little better than you were at the police station that day.”
Ming started giggling and Korra turned to his teammates, alarmed. Both of them shrugged and focused on his laughing fit. “He's doing great. Really. We all are. Except we aren't. Shao's sweetheart decided she didn' wanna get married 'nymore so he's washin' dishes at his uncle's joint and he lives with his father an' his li'l sisther.” He chuckled and then sighed wistfully. “He won't let me marry her, y'know.”
“Azira's eleven.” Shaozu muttered half-heartedly. He couldn't meet Korra's eyes.
“I know, I only jus' say it to annoy him.”Ming whispered toward Korra before continuing.“But leas' Shao can go home...Tahno's family doesn't live in the city. They don' even live in the Republic. But even if they could see each other they probably wouldn't. He hasn't talked to any of them since he moved here apart from the letter his mother sends every year near his birthday.” Ming giggled nervously into his glass and closed his eyes. “And my mom an' dad can'fford the pr'tection payments for the triad 'nymore wi'out me pro-bending. That's gonna make the Sand Storms real mad, so they'll probably take the family bakery away. And they just found out this morning they're gonna have a new baby.” He gave a dark laugh. “I guess all things cons'dered we're doin' just peachy. So long's y'don' look too close at our bank accounts or th'people we care 'bout or Tahno's wrists.”
Korra's eyes flicked briefly to Tahno's hands and she forced herself to look away. He was wearing a watch with a ridiculously oversized face on his right hand but the faint pink marks on his left wrist were uncovered entirely. His sleeves had probably been covering them before he'd taken of his jacket and shirt. She closed her eyes and remembered standing at the edge of the ice cliffs after Master Katara told her that Amon had most likely permanently severed her connection to the elements she'd had since she was very young, willing herself to just end everything.
“I am so sorry.” She sighed. “We found him, you know. Amon.”All three young men stared at her, suddenly interested.
“Knew y'd get him for me.” Tahno's lips twitched into a smile.
“Something went wrong—his escape boat exploded.” She said simply. “His body and the hull of the boat washed up in a fishing village not too far from here.”
Tahno frowned. “Pity. I'd have paid a lot to see him get some of his own medicine, preferably in an arena full of his biggest fans, and have everything taken from him and put so much fear in those soul-less eyes he pisses himself in sheer terror. See how he likes it.” He mused. Korra took a nervous step away from him. His whole face changed and just as abruptly as he'd had a wicked smirk and something cruel in his eyes, he was smiling soothingly and chuckling gently. “Well that's worth a toast anyway. What's your drink, dollface?”
“Oh, I better not, thanks.”
“Fuck...Tahno, she's the Avatar!” Shaozu hissed through his teeth. “Of course she can't drink. It's probably some huge violation of her spiritual obligations.”
Korra laughed. “No there's not an Avatar thing against me drinking. Just a Republic City thing. Technically speaking, I'm not old enough here. Which is stupid because I was drinking Dad's Tundra Lightning when I was twelve back home.”
“Oh come on, don't be such a wet-blanket.” Tahno wheedled. “Who'd even know?”
“The cop I have to go home with, for starters.” She chuckled. “He'd totally have panda-kittens if I showed up with Moonshine on my breath.”
“You're going home with a cop?” Tahno's eyebrow crept up. “What'd I miss? Why do you need a police escort just to get home?”
“I don't.” She shrugged. “He's my boyfriend not my bodyguard.”
Tahno frowned critically. “Sounds like he doesn't let you have any fun.”
“He doesn't let me do anything.” Korra corrected. “I'm choosing to behave because I don't want him to freak out and try to go all hyper-lawful cop, and over-protective boyfriend, and Mama-Mako mode all at the same time. He'd probably bust a gasket.”
"The fire fairy's a cop now?” Tahno groaned.
“Hey!” Korra snapped. “Don't call him that!”
“Thought he was doin' goo-goo eyes an' lunch dates an' car rides to that lookout in the park and necking with the pretty arena doll.” Ming frowned. “The Sato one.”
“He and Asami split up a while ago,” Korra bit her lip.
“So you're not drinking because of your...Mako?” Tahno stared, skeptical.
“I don't think he'd know how to handle me breaking that many rules in one go.” She admitted.
“S'why you need a real man, sweetheart.” He let his eyes trace a path lazily down her body and up again. “One who can appreciate you as a grown woman, not a little kid who needs to follow the rules.”
“Mako appreciates me just fine.” She assured him and rolled her eyes.
“Tahno...”Shaozu rolled his eyes. “If she wants a drink she's welcome to one. But she already made herself perfectly clear about why she she doesn't. She's obviously not here for a drink and she doesn't want to get into your pants.”
Tahno gave a pathetic, long suffering sigh. “Fine...”
Ming cocked his head to the side. “Why're y'here 'nyway then?” He asked. “S'not like we're friends an' y'don' wanta play cards or have a drink. An' of course you don' wanna sleep with Tahno...Tahno doesn' even wanna sleep with Tahno 'nymore.” He sighed mournfully. “An' Shao 'nd me both don't stand a chance 'gainst y'r little newbie cop because I've seen those uniforms an' they're fuckin' hot an' none of us are getting any pity play 'cause people act like what happened to us ish catching. Amon ruined everything.”
Suddenly, Korra was grinning. “That's actually why I came. I can help with that! I never thought I'd run into all three of you here tonight, but I'm glad I did.” She beckoned Tahno over and pushed his shoulder down. “I can only do one at a time, but that shouldn't be a problem. Get down on your knees!”
Tahno's eyebrows shot up and she pushed insistently on his shoulder again. He slowly sank to his knees and smirked up at her. “Alright, sure y'r little bluenosed boyfriend won't mind?”
She rolled her eyes. “He's not exactly thrilled, but he'll get over it. Lean forward a little more—it'll make the angle easier.” He shifted forward enthusiastically and watched her hands eagerly.
He was slightly surprised when her hands didn't go to the knot of pelts at her waist or the tie of her pants and he frowned in confusion when she set one thumb against his forehead and the other gently in the center of his chest.
This isn't about those private lessons, is it?” He looked so crestfallen at the realization.
Korra's lips quirked into a very serene smile. “No.”
Tahno's cheeks got a little rosier—impressive as the alcohol had already flushed his face—as the other two snickered and he sighed sadly. “Then what—?”
“This is better, I promise.” She winked. “Now sit still and shut up. I need to concentrate.”
She closed her eyes and took a couple of deep breaths before her eyes flew open, glowing a dazzling blushish white. Tahno's breath caught in his chest at the sheer awe of it. He was dimly aware of a difficult to describe sensation where her hands met his body and something like the opposite of a headache building and then all of a sudden he gasped.
Every fiber in his body tensed and released. He staggered back and sat down hard. He was breathing hard and trembling slightly as tears flowed freely down his cheeks. He stared, stunned and in sheer awe of Korra, as if he was seeing her in a whole new light.
“How do you feel?” She asked gently.
Tahno blinked up at her and his jaw worked slowly, but he couldn't seem to make any words come. She smiled slightly and turned to Ming. “Alright, you next. Down on your knees.”
“Did y'just' break him?” He asked anxiously as he gaped at Tahno who seemed somewhat catatonic. He stared at Korra warily and tried to back away.
“Oh don't be such a baby,” Korra grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him down. “Lean forward and sit still.”
She placed her hands on his head and chest and closed her eyes briefly before they burst open, glowing again.
He gave a strangled yelp and flopped forward onto the floor. Shaozu swore under his breath and crouched down beside both his friends. “What'd you do to them?” He demanded as Korra knelt beside him and helped him haul Ming into a sitting position. “If you hurt them I swear, Avatar or not...”
“I didn't! It should have helped them!” She threw her arms up. “Nobody's ever reacted like this.”
“What'd you do? Is it some kind of...I don't know...Avatar hangover cure?” He rubbed lazy circles into Ming's back as his friend sobbed noisly into his shoulder.
“No, but that's actually not too bad an idea.” Korra mused.
Tahno shook his head slowly. “She...she...” his voice trembled and he rubbed futilely at his still teary eyes before closing them. He climbed shakily to his feet and clumsily shifted into a very familiar stance. He was out of practice, and a little wobbly on his feet from so much alcohol in his system, but there was no mistaking the waterbending form. With an incredulous expression and his hands slightly shaking, he pulled a stream of water from the kettle on his stove. He stared at the water, as if it were the most precious, amazing thing, and really it was. He clenched his fists and the water balled and exploded into a puff of snow. He looked back at Shaozu. “She did it...she really did it. She...fixed me.”
As Shaozu's jaw fell, Tahno started crying again. He launched himself at Korra, who had just enough time to give a panicked squeak before Tahno crushed her to him and tilted her chin up so he could kiss her. Her nose wrinkled and her whole body tensed in his arms and thankfully he pulled away quickly. “Korra...” he breathed. “Uhv'tar, I think I love you. Y'don' even know how...what...this means to me. How can I possibly ever repay you?!” He wept brokenly into the crook of her neck. “We should get married. Y'live with a councilman right? Could he marry us? I'll stay wit' y'f'or'vr b'cause I love you more'n anythin' maybe even more'n money'n pro-bending.”
Korra sent Shaozu a silent plea for help before Ming surprised them all by pulling Tahno away. “Get offa her.” He cried. Korra sighed as she found herself wrapped in the earthbender's (signifcantly sturdier) arms. “She's too good f'r us. Way too good. An' perfect. If I was good 'nough to, I'd spend for'ver at 'er side as'er shlave an' shpen' th' resh've my life makin' it up to'er in any way posshible. An' I could give you a million cakes and all the best bread.” His eyes lit up. “I could have y'r babies!” He looked thoroughly pleased with his decision.
“Um...I don't think it works that way?” Korra's eyebrows flew up.
“Guys can't have babies, Ming.” Shaozu comforted the earthbender gently and rolled his eyes at Korra as he pried his teammates away and shooed them in the general direction of their chairs at the table. “And she doesn't want any right now anyway. Stop harassing the Avatar.”
Korra smiled gratefully and gestured the spot before her. “Your turn?”
Shaozu bit his lip and glanced at her. “No, thanks.”
She frowned, confused. “You...don't want your firebending back?”
He gave her a dry chuckle. “I've never wanted anything so badly in my entire life, Avatar.”
“If you're nervous about how it affected Tahno and Ming, I promise it's not usually like that. I think being drunk made them a little more emotional or something.” She assured him. “It doesn't hurt at all.”
“It's not that.” He muttered with a sigh.
“Then, I think you lost me somewhere. Why wouldn't you want me to unblock your bending?”
His cheeks reddened slightly and he averted his eyes. “I um...I don't really have anything to offer you for it.” His voice was wistful. “Tahno's still got piles of cash and Ming...well he doesn't really have any savings or anything because the Sand Storm Triad has his parents under their thumb, but he can keep you in fancy cakes and stuff for the rest of your life if you want—and if you've ever tried his mom's honey pastry you'll definitely want to take him up on that—but I don't...I don't have anything to give you for this.”
Korra looked taken aback. “But...I don't want anything from you.”
He raised an eyebrow. “We aren't friends. This is only the third time you and me have actually been in the same room. And it's the first time we've been...civil to each other. I don't even know if you knew my name before you came here tonight. Why in the world would you come and offer that kind of gift to me? Tahno I understand...he was trying to...he needed it back. And Ming needs his bending to help support his parents and you're pretty vocal about your feelings for the Triads. But you could charge anything for this. There's no reason for you to give it to me for nothing.”
“I knew who you were.” Korra corrected gently. “I just didn't expect to find you in Tahno's apartment. I'm not doing this for a reward, or anything like that. That isn't what it's about.”
“Then what is it about?” He frowned, frustrated as his eyes welled up with tears he didn't want to shed. “I have never done a single thing for you and now I can't do anything for you; you don't have to do anything for me.”
Korra set a hand on his shoulder and in that instant looked less like a little girl and much more like a world-weary Avatar. “It's about what's right. You've made mistakes in the past, yeah I won't even pretend like that's not true. But removing your bending? Avatar Aang only ever did it for two men, both of whom used their bending in horrible, devastating ways to hurt lots of people.” She gave him a gentle smile. “I can fix it, and I want to. For you guys, for the White Lotus guards, for the police, and all the other people Amon hurt. It's the least I can do.” She sighed. “When he got my bending, I thought I was going to die. I wanted to.”
He stared at her, bewildered. “What? Amon took your bending? That was never in the paper!”
All the noise in the room stopped. Tahno stared and lost the concentration on the stream of alcohol he'd been toying with. It splashed down onto Ming's head, but the earthbender looked so thunderstruck he didn't even react.
Korra smiled wryly. “Asami took care of that for me. She went to school with the editor's daughter. Tenzin and the White Lotus didn't think it was a good idea to announce that kind of vulnerability just then.” She bit her lip. “I missed firebending the most. It hurt so much, every sunrise and sunset made me feel emptier inside.”
Shaozu found himself nodding. “Now that I know how it feels, and I know how to fix it...I can't just leave people that way.” She fidgeted awkwardly with her wrist guard. “It's my job, as the Avatar, to restore the balance of things when they get out of whack. You're supposed to be a firebender; it's wrong that you can't bend. I really don't want anything in return.”
“What are you waiting for, Shao?” Tahno laughed sloppily and pulled the alcohol from Ming's head. “Just take it already!”
"Shut up, Tahno.” Shaozu rolled his eyes affectionately. “You probably don't even know how to spell your own name right now, you're so drunk.”
Tahno narrowed his eyes and pouted. Fine then. I'll jus' go to bed.”
“Take Ming.” Shaozu gestured to the earthbender, who was laying on the floor caressing the marble tile. “And put a bucket and a glass of water next to his bed. Yours too. I'm not going to mop up after either of you getting sick on the floor.”
“K, Mom.” Tahno huffed, exasperated. With surprising gentleness he pulled Ming to his feet and steered him in the general direction of the bedrooms. He murmured something into the sleepy earthbender's ear and turned back to Korra for a moment. “Thanks, Uhvatar. Really.”
“You've given me my life back.” Ming sighed happily into Tahno's arm. “An' I owe you and I love you.”
Tahno smiled and stumbled away, dragging Ming with him. “G'night.”
“Why are you so against the idea of getting your bending back?” Korra asked him gently.
Shaozu blinked unwelcome tears from his eyes. “I haven't done anything at all to deserve it back.”
“You didn't deserve to lose your bending either.” She challenged him, shoulders squared. “You cheated at Pro-bending. You aren't an angel but you're not waging war on hundreds of innocent people. You haven't murdered children in their beds or run a crime syndicate that was trying to take over the city.” She rolled her eyes at his continued hesitation. “How about this: I give you back your bending, and then you can try to deserve it if you need to.”
“How would I...” He asked desperately.
“Be a better person than you were.” She said simply. “Think about what Amon was saying, about how non-benders are treated. Don't use your bending to hurt people. I'm not going to say you have to 'turn over a new leaf' and volunteer at an orphanage every day or something. Just...try to be someone you think deserves what I'm offering. Oh and don't cheat at sports anymore.” She added as an afterthought with a slight smile.
He stared her with furrowed eyebrows before he nodded slowly and sank gingerly to his knees before her. “I'll try. To be someone who earns this.”
“That's good enough for me.” She smiled kindly and gently set her hands on his forehead and chest and closed her eyes.
He closed his as well and focused on the feel of her hands. He inhaled sharply at the sensation of something coming undone in him as a rush of warmth raced from Korra's hands throughout his body. His eyes flew open and he stared at Korra, appreciating for the first time the raw power she possessed. Her eyes stopped glowing and she smiled reassuringly.
“How do you feel?”
“Whole...” He murmured appreciatively. He climbed slowly to his feet and opened his clenched fist to reveal a tiny flame flickering brightly in his palm. He stared at it, transfixed, for a moment. “Thank you, Avatar Korra.”