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Please Let Me Stay

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I read over and over the letter Korra had sent. My fingers traced over the fold marks and the distorted words - evidence of tear stains. I could no longer tell which were Korra's and which were mine. In every sentence I could hear the pain she felt. As she described her nightmares about Zaheer, her inability to fall into the Avatar State, somehow I could hear the brokenness in her voice. I could see her hand trembling with each stroke on the paper. When I closed my eyes all I saw were those beautiful baby blues looking back at me, grayer and stormier than ever. I knew they’d be swimming with sorrow, pain, and guilt - none of which belonged there. The thought left a deep throbbing in my heart, a desperate wish to chase away the pain. 

With a shaky breath I gently dropped the piece of paper on the bed. I tucked my knees into my chest and held my head in trembling hands, pulling at my messy hair. It was a useless attempt at keeping myself together. Korra had asked me not to come with her. She’d asked me to give her space, to let her do this alone. I wanted to respect that. I understood it, but the thought of her in pain was driving me crazy. Something visceral and wild twisted inside my chest every time I thought of her, this overwhelming pull towards her. I felt out of my mind, every ounce of blood in my body running cold with fear and worry. A strangled sob threatened to tear up my throat, but I’d gotten pretty good at biting them back. 

The kids were sleeping, and Tenzin was probably roaming the halls, making sure everyone was safe. I clutched at my chest, trying to ease the building pressure there, the feeling of my ribcage crushing my heart, but it didn’t help. I just felt it beat erratically, a stumble every other beat, like it had forgotten its rhythm. 

Pulling deep breaths of air into my lungs I pressed the worn down letter to my lips. A few more tears probably distorted a few more words. At that time, it was all I had left of the hero, but it wouldn’t be for long. 

“I’m sorry Korra. I can’t do this,” I whispered to it, an apology I knew I’d have to give again - at the south pole. It was reckless, selfish even, but I couldn’t just sit here. Not when I knew she was out there suffering, hurting, broken. I hoped she’d forgive me for not obeying her wishes, I hoped she’d understand. My things were haphazardly thrown into a bag, just whatever basics I could think of for the next few days. I’d figure the rest out when I got there. 

The hallways were quiet, but I knew how sneaky the airbenders were. Especially Tenzin. He’d probably give me a speech if he found out I was about to just leave everything and disobey Korra’s wishes. He’d always thought of me as a bit of rebel - impulsive. He was right, but as long as it was for Korra, I didn’t care. I would do whatever it took to be by her side. 

I tried my best to quietly tip toe out of the air temple, careful to side step the creaky wooden boards in the hallway. The door was a few feet in front of me, I was so close - and then a tall shadow appeared over it and I heard a deep cough. Busted. 

“And just where do you think you’re going?” he asked. I turned around and there Tenzin was, standing tall and with an indecipherable look on his face - somehow disapproving and amused at the same time. I sighed and stood to match Tenzin’s perfect posture, making it obvious I wasn’t backing down. 

“I’m going to the Southern Water Tribe. To see Korra,” I said, turning around and clutching my bag tighter over my shoulder. If I waited, he’d try to convince me otherwise. Not even the Avatar herself could convince me to stay. 

“Are you sure that’s what Korra would want?” I grit my teeth. 

“I don’t know. I hope so, but I can’t and won’t just sit here while I know she’s out there hurting. I can’t do it, Tenzin. I’ve tried, I’ve tried to stay like she asked me to, but I -” my voice cracked and I ran my hand through the messy short black waves on my head, “I love her so much…” 

Tenzin sighed and dropped a hand on my shoulder. Tears rolled down my cheeks, the drops dangling off my chin, and Tenzin wiped them away. His gray eyes were kind and filled with understanding. “I know. I figured it was only a matter of time before you left. Take Oogi with you, and here-” he handed me another bag. It was a sack filled with food. “It should tide you over until you get there,” I took it and looked up at the old airbender. Tenzin smiled sadly and I hugged him fiercely, silently thanking him. He chuckled and returned the embrace. 

“Yes well, young firebender, you have a bit of a journey up ahead. Do give Avatar Korra my regards,” he asked. I nodded, giving him one last hug before rushing off to the bison stables. A sort of desperation took hold of me, pure adrenaline rushing through my veins. An intense need to see Korra: to hold her, to know whether she was ok, and to tell her I loved her. Oogi was going to hate me, but we had to get there as soon as possible. The bison was asleep, and I gently ran my fingers through the arrow patterned fur, trying to wake him up. 

Oogi groaned and peeked an eye open. “Hey buddy. I know you’re sleepy, but I really need your help. I need you to take me to Korra ok? Can you do that for me?” I whispered to the air bison, and he started to stand at the mention of the Avatar. He groaned and nuzzled into my chest, the force of it sending me stumbling a bit. I cradled his head and scratched under his chin. “Thanks Oogi. I miss her too.” 

I saddled Oogi and guided him outside. He kneeled so I could climb on his back and then took off without me having to ask. I chuckled and ran my hands through his fur again. 

“I really hope she doesn’t punch me on sight…” I mumbled and then laughed. It’d be worth it.

 The night was cool, and a chilly wind wrapped around us as we soared over the ocean. I pulled out a blanket from my bag, and warmed myself up with some firebending. The letter Korra had sent tumbled out of my stuff and I tucked into my shirt so it wouldn’t blow away. It would be a couple days until I got to the southern pole, and that was with minimal rest and Oogi going full speed. I had to get there though. A few barrels of food should be enough for the air bison to forgive my constant pleading for him to fly faster. 

 As I stared up at the twinkling skies, the ache in my heart only grew stronger. Somewhere, Korra was seeing the same thing. Maybe she’d be furious I didn’t listen. Maybe she’d ask me to leave, and I would, but I had to try. I had to help in whatever way I could. Everything in me burned with a desperate need to know she was ok. “If somehow you can hear me - know that I’m only doing this because I love you. I love you too much to not be with you. Please understand that…” I whispered to the clouds floating by us. 

We arrived late, er, I guess early two days later. Oogi was spent and all but crash landed into the Southern Tribe’s market. Somehow, the snow muffled enough of the sound that nobody seemed to have heard it. 

“Alright, not a ten point landing, but thanks buddy,” I said, digging myself out of the trench I’d made upon falling off the air bison. Snow had somehow gotten into my shirt and I shivered, trying to shake it out. Oogi narrowed his eyes at me and huffed. I grabbed my bags and chuckled, scratching under his chin. “Come on, let’s see if we can find you a place to rest tonight. Hopefully it’s roomy - I might be joining you if this goes poorly...” I grumbled. Oogi had crash landed a way’s from the Royal Palace, so we trekked up to the building in the middle of the night. 

We walked into the Palace’s courtyard, everything twinkling beautifully under the moon. It was quiet… too quiet, and that’s when an icicle shot out of the ground in front of me and stopped just shy of my chin. I held my hands up as royal guards jumped out of the shadows, their armor twinkling a lot less beautifully than the ice sculptures.  

“Who are you and what is your business at the Royal Palace?” shouted the one nearest to me. I gulped and Oogi whined behind me. 

“Um hi, I’m uh here to see Avatar Korra? I’m her… well, heh, I’m not exactly sure what I am I guess ,” things had gotten a little crazy before we had that conversation. The icicle poked the soft skin under my chin, “whoa, ok, uh boyfriend? Sort of, maybe, I hope so? We’re from Air Temple Island, please don’t kill me…” I said, screwing my eyes shut and waiting to be thrown into an icy prison or worse. 

“Let them in, and take the bison to the stables,” a strong voice came from the doorway. Looking up I saw Tonraq, his square jaw clenched and eyes gleaming with suspicion. Fair, I had shown up in the middle of the night, unannounced, a firebender on an air bison. I gave an awkward smile and waved, nervous sparks flying off my ears. The guards did as they were told and removed the sharp icy weapon from under my head. I let out the breath I was holding and walked up the steps of the Royal Palace, scratching at the back of my head. 

“Chief Tonraq, sir, I -um, I’m sorry for the unannounced visit I-” 

“You’re the one she talks about? The firebender or something?” I choked on air and swallowed my tongue. Tonraq was about six inches taller, strong and fierce. I coughed and felt my face warm up uncomfortably. 

“I, uh - I am a firebender sort of, yes? It’s uh, heh, it’s technically magic but...” this was already going well. Korra had talked about me? To - to her dad? I would have felt a little proud if I wasn’t fearing for my life. He narrowed his eyes, inspecting me. I felt a little flame pop up on my ear and swatted at it. 

“Magic?” 

“Um, yes, I - good magic! I am not exactly from around these parts…” 

“She mentioned that.” 

“Right…” I gulped and fidgeted with my hands as the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe continued to inspect me.   

“She didn’t ask you to come, did she?” he asked and I looked up at him, surprised he’d just been okay with the whole magic thing. I set my jaw and held his gaze. Was I about to be tossed out of the Royal Palace? Maybe, but I wasn’t going to lie. 

I sighed and shook my head. “No. She asked me not to come, actually.” 

“And yet, here you are,” he said, his lip twitching. I slumped my shoulders and hid my shaking hands in my pockets. 

“Sir, with all due respect, I just couldn’t sit back there and do nothing. I - can’t just leave her,” now I was for sure getting thrown out, “I love her. More than anything, sir. I love Korra,” I said, my voice the strongest and most confident it had ever been. This was something I had no doubt about, every part of me knew it to be true - Korra was my everything. Tonraq glared at me for a few seconds, but then broke out into a smile, pulling me into a crushing hug. Ah, so that’s who she got it from. I laughed nervously and patted his shoulder. 

“I can see that. Come on, I’ll take you to her,” I breathed once he let me go and nodded. 

“Thank you sir.” 

“She might throw something at you at first,” he said and I chuckled. 

“Probably.” 

“She might be mad.” 

“I’d understand.” 

“But you still came,” we stopped in front of a wooden door. The lights were off but I heard someone inside. I looked Tonraq in the eye and smiled. 

“I will always come back to her,” Tonraq laughed, quietly - so as to not wake Korra if she was sleeping. He clapped his hand on my shoulder and I tried to pretend like it didn’t hurt. 

“Good, because she might still throw you out. She’s… she’s been having a hard time lately. Perhaps, you can speak with her,” Tonraq sighed, palm flat against the door. He seemed suddenly older. The lines on his face looked deeper, filled with sorrow and worry. I furrowed my brows and nodded. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say, but I sure hoped it would help. The door creaked a bit when it opened and I quietly shuffled inside. 

Korra was laying in bed, and she looked anything but peaceful. Her face was twisted in a frown, like she was in pain, and beads of sweat were dripping down her neck. She tossed and turned, a little whimper falling from her lips. I felt my heart shatter at the sight, the pieces tearing through my chest, something deep within aching at seeing her like this. She was in so much pain. I blinked back my own tears and kneeled down in front of the bed. The door shut and Tonraq left, but not before he narrowed his eyes at me and shook his finger menacingly. I grimaced uncomfortably and nodded. My eyes focused on Korra. I delicately reached my hand up to her face and cupped it gently. Even in the dim moonlight I could see the paleness of her skin and the dark circles under her eyes. 

“Korra? Hey Darling, wake up, you’re having a nightmare,” she did wake up. Screaming, and throwing punches. One of them caught me straight in the jaw and left my teeth rattling. I ignored the pain, but backed away, giving Korra space. She was hyperventilating, and I knew touching her might make it worse, especially if she couldn’t see me. “It’s ok, it’s alright. It’s just me, Love, I’m here,” I whispered, slowly reaching out my hand just so that it was within reach for her. She backed up against the wall, her usually brilliant blue eyes dark and swirling with panic. It took a moment, but she started to focus on her surroundings again, her breathing becoming less shallow. 

“You - you’re not here. I’m dreaming, you’re-” she mumbled, holding her head between her hands. She looked so small and fragile, so unlike the strong, brilliant, confident Korra I’d fallen for so quickly. I winced at the sight, but shook my head. 

“No, I’m really here Love. I came to see you,” my words were quiet and soft, not wanting to startle her any further. I hesitantly inched closer to the bed, sitting on the edge but still giving her space. “I know you asked me not to come, and I’m sorry I disobeyed your wishes, but I - I just couldn’t leave you. I’m so-” before I could finish, Korra yanked me by the shirt and wrapped herself around me. I could feel her body trembling as I held her, my arms locked around her back, holding her. A few tears fell onto my neck and the heartbreaking sound of whimpering filled the quiet room. 

“You came,” she hiccuped, and I nodded. Korra held on to me and cried, my own tears rolling down my face. I was here with her, which meant I was equal parts relieved and devastated. On the one hand, I felt at home again wrapped up in her embrace, on the other, my heart ached painfully for her. Each little sob that wracked her body clawed at my heart. 

“I did, Darling. I always will. Gosh, I missed you so much,” I murmured into her ear. She pulled away and cradled my face in her hands. Her eyes were red and puffy, a crinkle forming in between her brows, but she gave me a watery smile. It was dazzling and loving and soothed some of the agonizing fear that had been gnawing at me for weeks. I closed my own eyes, laying my hand on top of hers, and nuzzled into her warm fingers. 

“I told you not to come,” she said, but there was no anger in her voice, no resentment or scolding. I opened my eyes to find her looking at me with those big brilliant eyes, the silvery rays of the moon giving them an enchanting twinkle. 

“Yeah. You miscalculated how much I love you though,” I said placing a kiss to the inside of her palm. 

Korra laughed quietly, wiping away my tears with the pad of her thumb. Her fingers traced over my brow and cheekbones as she leaned her forehead against mine. Korra breathed deeply, the warmth ghosting across my face. “I love you too. For once, thank you for not listening to me,” I chuckled and nodded, bringing my hand up to rest on the curve of her jaw. There was a bruise there and I grimaced. Before I could ask if it hurt, she shook her head and leaned into my touch, making my heart flutter. The space between us closed bit by bit until I could feel her breath fall on my lips. However, I knew she was in pain. I knew she needed her space, so I stayed still, hovering just inches from her. 

“May I?” I asked quietly, tenderly holding her face, mindful of the bruise and a scrape on her chin. Korra responded by tilting her head ever so slightly and erasing the space between us. Her lips were warm and soft, the saltiness of tears still present. I sighed and cradled her closer, careful not to hurt her. She tangled her hand in the hair at the nape of my neck and I could feel the tiniest smile against my own lips. The kiss was tender and sweet, a slow dance where time became irrelevant and each loving step was an exchange of promises: I’m here, I love you, I always will

My heart rattled wildly against my rib cage, the sound booming in my head. I felt anchored and delirious all at the same time, at home and lost at sea with each pull and chase of her lips. With every gentle kiss I felt my love pour into the motion, the fear of those nights wondering if she was ok, the heartbreak when reading her letters, everything crashed over me in a single powerful wave that left me weak. But Korra held on to me, held me together. As always, she was my rock, my light, my whole world and I finally felt at peace knowing she was in my arms. 

Korra pulled away and rested her forehead against my own, our uneven breaths intermingling between us. “You may ,” she teased and I grinned, kissing the tip of her nose. Korra giggled adorably and I felt an all too familiar burning sensation prickling behind my eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked. 

Shaking my head I blinked back the tears and snuggled into Korra’s neck. I took a steadying breath, the scent of roses and ocean spray tickling my nose. I didn’t want to end the sweet little moment around us, but I needed to ask. My trembling hands reached up to take Korra’s and I held them up to my chest. She curled her fingers into the fabric of my shirt and I gave her a teary smile. 

“Will you please let me stay? I know you asked me not to come, and I’ll understand if you want me to leave. I will, if you ask, but - please?” my voice broke, the whispering plea coming from deep within, from the nights spent staring at the ceiling wondering and dreaming about her, aching to be by her side. The honest truth was I didn’t know how I would walk away if she asked me to. 

Korra held my face in her hands, her thumbs wiping away at the tears again. We were both a teary mess. I looked up at her with trembling lips, searching in the stunning blue of her eyes for an answer. All I found was love, the traces of exhaustion evident around them, but still filled with love - and hope. Korra kissed me again, just as softly and sweetly as before. Her fingers moved to tangle in my hair and mine clutched at the fabric of her shirt, holding her close, needing to know she was there, she was ok. She was hurting, in ways I couldn’t imagine, but I could feel the strong, steady beating of her heart against my fingertips and that made my own find its rhythm again, find its song. With slightly swollen lips she left a few lazy kisses on my own, and it took me a couple seconds to remember that I needed to breathe… or how to do that. 

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that,” she said, smiling crookedly at me. That charming, smirky, lovely smile that had hit me like a freight train the first time I met her. 

“Really?” I asked, giving her the option to back out if she really wanted to be left alone. Korra just grinned and nodded. 

“Yeah really, but you’re going to have to convince the healers more than me. They're very picky about who can and can’t interfere with my recovery,” she said, running her hands through my short rowdy hair and scratching behind my ears. My eyes instantly drooped sleepily and a happy hum vibrated in my chest.  

“I won’t interfere, I promise. I’ll do whatever you need, anything,” she leaned down and kissed my forehead, leaving a blush to spread from my neck to the crown of my head. 

“How about we talk with them tomorrow and see how you can help? Tonight, I think maybe some sleep would be pretty good,” she said, scooting back to lay in her bed. I nodded, going to stand up and sit on the couch by the window, but I felt a tug on my sleeve. 

Korra pouted at me, blinking from underneath her long lashes. “Where you going? It’s cold…” she mumbled and I laughed. 

“You walk around the South Pole in a tank top,” the pout intensified, and what little fake resolve I had crumbled. How could I ever deny those darn puppy eyes? 

“Oh, so you don’t want to snuggle. Fine then, I see how it is,” she grumbled, turning around to face the wall. I playfully rolled my eyes and shuffled to the bed, slipping underneath the blankets. Korra harrumphed and crossed her arms. I chuckled, snuggling up to her and delicately pulling her into the embrace, my right arm loosely draped over her waist. She giggled, and I scooped her up so she was practically on top of me, and I buried my face in her neck. 

“Mmm no, I always want to snuggle with you, I just don’t want to hurt you,” I said, gently rubbing up and down her back. I could feel the outline of bandages around her ribs. 

“It doesn’t hurt as much anymore,” she said, her voice small and laced with drowsiness. 

I sighed and placed a kiss to her neck, the soft skin there warm to the touch. “I wish it didn’t hurt at all, my Love.” Korra cuddled into my chest, pulling the blankets up to her chin. 

“Well… the healers do say that warmth helps with the aches and pains,” I smiled, warming my hands up a bit and rubbing her back, mindful of not pressing on the bandages. 

“That so?” 

“Ah yeah… das nice,” Korra mumbled, her body turning heavy as she melted into me, a puddle of snuggly sleepy Avatar. She was half asleep a few moments later, her breathing peaceful and deep, so unlike how I found her. 

“Korra?” 

“Mmm?” I gingerly cuddled her closer. My fingers gently brushed through the soft brown locks, pushing them away from her face. I pressed a few kisses to the top of her head, smiling when I felt a sleepy sigh fall from her lips. 

“I love you,” I whispered, and Korra responded with a kiss to my chest, right over my heart. It mended the cracks and crevices that had started to deepen with each day I was away from her. 

“I love you too, baby. Thank you for being here,” she mumbled, barely audible as the lull of the room pulled her deeper into slumber. 

“Always, my Love,” I wasn’t sure if she heard me since tiny quiet snores fell from her lips moments later, but it didn’t matter. She would know. I’d always be there.