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I Had You Pegged Wrong

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Asami

My father keeps threatening to leave me at home if I make him late to one more social engagement. When we get to Councilman Tarrlok’s party, most of the guests have already arrived. I know it irks Daddy to be late, especially when most parties are actually conferences in disguise. And even though he sighs and grumbles when he finds me not yet dressed and covered in engine grease at the predetermined departure time, he accepts a kiss on the cheek instead of being forced to go to these things alone. 

“Ming Lo,” I whispered to him covertly, as an overly made up socialite descends on us. “Huan’s second wife — got half the estate.” That’s all I have time to say before Ming has made her entrance and Daddy is kissing her cheeks. Hopefully it jogs his memory enough to know that Ming has lots of money and hates our competitor. 

“Oh, Asami!” Ming exclaims. “Look at how beautiful you’ve gotten.” 

What in the world is the correct response to that? I’d love to know. I banter back with some rubbish about how Ming is a vision of perfection, when in actual fact, all the makeup she’s caked under her eyes isn’t hiding the fact that she hasn’t slept a night without medicinal help since her public, drawn out divorce from the CEO of Cabbage Corp. 

“Have you met her yet?” Ming asks. Typical top of the food chain bullshit — spirits forbid Ming actually be specific about who she means. No, no, better to force us to ask. 

“The Avatar, of course!” she exclaims in a stage whisper. 

Daddy and I exchange the briefest of glances. It certainly goes undetected by Ming Lo. But I do make sure to regulate my breathing. No telling which green-clad bastard can read my feelings through the stone floor. 

“Is she here?” Daddy asks. 

“Yes. She arrived with Councilman Tenzin about an hour ago.” 

I scan the room and find my mark on the first floor: Avatar Korra. She is in a corner, apparently being berated by her chaperone. I take in the boiled red hue on the councilman’s bald head with some satisfaction. But it’s overshadowed by the Avatar herself. Everything about her screams spoiled, entitled brat. I would know — I went to the most expensive boarding school in the world. But even compared to heiresses and princesses, Avatar Korra is on a whole other level. At a gala ostensibly thrown in her honor, she’s slouching in a corner, arms crossed, rolling her eyes at one of the elected officials of the city. 

While I’m not shocked to find that the Avatar is less than promised, there are a few things that stand out as I surreptitiously observe her. First thing is her age. Intellectually, I suppose I knew that we are around the same age. Hospitals still use the Avatar Eras on birth certificates; I was born in the last few months of the Era of Aang. But I’m still surprised to see that the great bridge between the mortal and spirit worlds is a teenager. I always expected the exalted Avatar to appear different — look different, act different, be different. But the Avatar is normal. (If hitting the gym seventeen times a week is normal.) There is no glowing aura, no supernatural sense of wisdom and tranquility. She’s just a girl. 

“And did I hear you were dating a probender?” Ming asks, eyes flashing.

This time I don’t catch Daddy’s eyes. 

“Yes,” I answer. “Mako, captain of the Fire Ferrets. He should be around here somewhere actually. The finalists for this year’s championships got an invite.” 

Ming loves these little details and blathers on, asking for more, and promising me that she would do “all sorts of things” to these young, fit benders if she were two decades younger. I want to tell Ming that I’m sure plenty of the young, fit benders would love to be put in their place by an older woman, but then Daddy might choke on his cocktail, and we don’t need to deal with that kind of scene. 

Eventually we shake Ming and start circling the Avatar’s vicinity. An introduction between the world’s savior and the richest people in Republic City is inevitable: it’s just good business. Councilman Tarrlok does the honors. It’s his party after all, and he can’t help but get involved. 

“Avatar Korra,” he says grandly, making a show of it. “Have you met Hiroshi Sato, and his stunning daughter, Asami?” 

I don’t miss the downward flick of Tarrlok’s gaze. Not in a million years, you three-braided creep, I think, while smiling toothily. We bow to the Avatar. She seems less than impressed. 

“You really invented the satomobile?” are the first words out of her mouth. 

“Yes, Avatar,” Daddy answers respectfully. “Among other things.” 

“Ah, Sato.” Tarrlok claps Daddy on the shoulder in a way I know he hates. “So modest. Tell the Avatar about all the new gizmos you’ve got cooking up in your labs.” Behind Daddy’s back, Tarrlok winks at me. 

I’d like to stick Tarrlok with one of the “gizmos” we’ve “cooked up.” 

“I would love to show you our facilities,” Daddy says to the Avatar, which I think is overdoing it. 

“Yeah, maybe,” she responds, picking at her incredibly spiritual fingernails. 

“Sato, I actually do have a question for you…” Tarrlok swings an arm around Daddy and pulls him to the side. This always happens. Daddy can’t go anywhere without someone cornering him for a favor, a loan, or a pitch. I should accompany him and make sure he gets all his details right. 

Before I can excuse myself from the Avatar’s company, her attention is piqued. It’s the first time I’ve seen her look remotely interested all night, and as I follow her gaze, I nearly break into laughter right there in the middle of the ballroom. The sight that has so enraptured Avatar Korra is none other than my boyfriend. In a suit I bought for him. 

I get the absolute thrill of watching the Avatar watch Mako kiss me hello on the cheek. 

“You met Korra,” he says. 

The Avatar’s big blue eyes are nearly bulging out of her head. I smile even wider. “I just got the pleasure.” 

“Asami!” Bolin’s voice comes from behind, just before he scoops me up into a hug. The Avatar’s frown becomes even more pronounced. “You’re here! Isn’t this so cool? Look at this food — it’s so tiny!”

Avatar Korra excuses herself. I guess she can’t handle the unbelievable bending brothers being excited by a mere mortal like me. 

“I didn’t know the Avatar had a crush on you,” I say to Mako, once she’s gone. 

Both him and Bolin choke on their food — Mako from terror, Bolin because he’s having a good, deep belly laugh. 

“It’s sweet,” I say. This accomplishes two things. One, a boy like Mako will think I’m being sincere, and that wins me points with my boyfriend. Two, it minimizes Korra’s chances of ruining what I have going on. Mako isn’t here for sweet. From the things that boy has groaned into my ears late at night, I know Mako is looking for something with a little bit more… bite. 

“Asami!” 

Daddy’s done with Councilman Horndog. Mako straightens up immediately in the presence of my father, his cheeks growing pink as if he too were reliving our nighttime activities. “Mr. Sato,” he says awkwardly. 

Daddy nods in his direction. Daddy can get away with that kind of rudeness. After all, it’s pretty standard for fathers to find their daughters’ boyfriends unenjoyable. He leads me away from the bending brothers and we spend the next few hours making the rounds. 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. And the idea of doing this for the rest of my life kind of sends me into a spiral. So when Daddy gets invited upstairs for whiskeys and cigars with the men, I sneak away to one of the deserted balconies for my own stress relief. 

Smoking is the biggest secret I’ve ever kept from my father. I vacillate between wanting to confront him with the hypocrisy (he is right now smoking a cigar), and curling up into the fetal position when I imagine his anger if he ever found out. I get one between my lips and breathe in relief. It lasts all of five seconds. 

“Stressful night?” asks an unfamiliar voice. 

Fuck. I drop the cigarette to the ground and stomp it out but the damage is done. I turn around to face the person who will bring this devastating news to my father — and turn right into the face of Avatar Korra. Literally. She is right behind me. I step back, but I’m trapped by the banister. It’s cold metal touches the exposed skin of my back, making me shiver. The Avatar notices and cocks an eyebrow. 

I bow my head like I’m supposed to and ask the oh-so-special teenager what I can do for her. Avatar Korra’s crooked little grin grows wider. But then she drops it, and sighs. “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t do all that.” She gestures vaguely to the genuflecting and offering of services. “Mako and Bolin don’t.” Mako and Bolin are benders, but I’m sure the distinction hasn’t occurred to the Avatar. 

Avatar Korra steps around me and leans her enlightened body against the railing. Her arms are totally bare but she doesn’t seem to notice the chill in the air. I catch myself wondering whether that’s an Avatar thing or a Southern Water Tribe thing, before I remember I don’t care and I should probably head back to the party. 

“So…” she says. “Asami Sato.” 

“Yeah?” Maybe I have a little bit too much attitude, but she started it. 

“Careful, princess,” the Avatar shoots back. “Don’t want to let your mask slip.” 

My mind races, but I follow the Avatar’s advice and keep my face fixed. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” 

“I saw you,” the Avatar says, smiling. “Rolling your eyes when the cougar couldn’t see you. And you didn’t take Tarrlok’s advances either.” 

So the Avatar isn’t as stupid as she appears. “I do what I can to keep Tarrlok in line.” 

“You do you, but the next time he puts a hand on me, he’s gonna lose it.” 

I can’t help it — I laugh. As if it were that easy. I work with machines every day that could crush Tarrlok. If it was a matter of violence, there would be no more handsy creeps left in Republic City. Avatar Korra isn’t pleased to be laughed at. I wonder if she’s ever been treated with anything but reverence before. It’s good for her. 

“You coming to the tournament this week? Gonna see me and Mako crush the Wolf Bats?” 

It’s a clumsy attempt to make me jealous of her connection to my boyfriend. I see it a mile away. 

“I can’t wait,” I say brightly. “I’ll be rooting for you!” 

Avatar Korra eyes me suspiciously but doesn’t know how to respond. The Avatar has spent her whole life training in the four elements, meanwhile I was studying at the Royal Fire Academy for Girls, which provides every student with a minor in Catty Bitch. There is no way Avatar Korra is outdoing me in that department. 

Now, here’s the hard part: I’m torn by my desire to be anywhere else and my absolute need for nicotine. I decide to go for the chemicals and prop another cigarette between my teeth. Avatar Korra’s eyes follow my every move, so there is no hiding it from her when my lighter craps out in my hands. 

“I got it,” she says, and snaps her fingers. The flame that pops up is tiny but I have to do real work to keep from jumping backwards. I lean in, instinctively sheltering the flame from the breeze, and inadvertently cupping the Avatar’s hand. As I suck in the heat, I realize how intimate this is, how close we are — how Avatar Korra is biting her bottom lip?? I step the hell away from that as soon as the tip catches, and the Avatar seems to feel self-conscious for the first time all night. 

“Umm, can I have a drag?” she asks. 

I have a sneaking suspicion about what will happen when I hand the cigarette over, and I am rewarded a few seconds later with the sights and sounds of the most powerful bender in the world nearly coughing up a lung. 

“You don’t smoke,” I observe objectively. The great Avatar is unable to respond as she bends over the railing, hacking and wheezing. It is a little much. “Spirits,” I swear. “Just like… airbend it out.” 

“Can’t do that,” Avatar Korra coughs. 

I’m about to launch into a line of scientific inquiry — air is air, whether it’s inside a person’s lungs or outside, right? The condition of being inside a human body should not change the air so fundamentally that it can’t be bent. Which also gets me thinking about some brutal techniques airbenders could employ to end someone’s life. Which gets me thinking about asphyxiation. Which eventually leads me to the conclusion that I need to extricate myself from this conversation and get back to the party. 

“Shit,” the holy one says. “Can you keep a secret?” She’s eyeing me like she’s sizing me up for a fight. 

I can think of approximately twenty secrets I’m keeping at the moment, least of which is the cigarette between my fingers. Then it dawns on me. 

“Oh,” I say, “you can’t airbend — like at all.” 

The Avatar glares at me then turns abruptly to the harbor. I figure she’s looking at the four hundred foot copper version of herself (with less hair and less boobs) and wondering how she let down her past life so badly. 

“But you’re the Avatar,” I point out. 

“Yeah, I know.” Now she’s getting snappy. 

“Bending all four elements is kind of your claim to fame.” 

When the Avatar turns to me I worry that I’ve pushed her too far. Obviously, I am trying to annoy her, get under her skin, even trying to make her question herself. But when she turns to me, I see a flash of anger in her eyes that makes me worry she might actually hit me. Here. On a balcony. At Tarrlok’s gala. 

“Better than being a spoiled little girl spending all of daddy’s money.” 

Oh, she did not just. 

“Excuse you?” 

The Avatar grimaces, or perhaps it’s meant to be a coquettish smile. “All the money in the world can’t stop your boyfriend from thinking about me when he’s alone at night.” 

The floor drops out from underneath me. Weirdly I find myself smiling? I could say it’s a clever tactic to let the Avatar know that nothing she can say will phase me. But really I’m thrilled. Here’s the thing: I’m younger than every guest at this important people party by a lot — and not one of them can test me. I haven’t had a real competition, with someone who can throw down, in years. Avatar Korra wants to play rough, and she has absolutely no idea how savage I can be. 

“Aw, honey,” I say. “You think he’s alone at night?” 

Her eyes narrow. 

“But.” I step in closer than when we were lighting my cigarette. I enjoy watching the Avatar stumble backward, away from me. “When you’re alone tonight, you can picture what we’ll be up to. Maybe that’ll help ease the tension.” 

I wink, drop the cigarette, and turn on my heel. Game, set, match. 

“Asami!” My father is clearly ready to get the hell out of this party. “Where have you been?”

“Making friends.” 

His eyes track my path backwards and see the Avatar emerging from the balcony. His face shows alarm. “With the Avatar?” 

I lean in close, and whisper: “You’d better give our friend a call. I have some information I think he’ll be very interested in.”

Chapter Text

Korra

Here’s the thing: fuck the rich, pretty girl. That’s the moral of every mover, right? The raven-haired, goddess-looking character is actually a cold, heartless vixen. She gets her time with the leading hunk, but eventually he sees her for what she is. 

Too bad Mako doesn’t get out to the movers much. 

Still, there’s plenty of time. Little Miss Perfect might think she has Mako all to herself, but I get to spend just as much time with him one-on-one as she does — maybe even more. Okay, okay, maybe calling probending practice “one-on-one time” is stretching it (and a little rude to Bolin). But there’s no Asami Sato and lots of Mako’s rippling biceps, so that’s a win for Team Korra.

We have the court reserved today, practicing under the lights with the water meters below. This close to the tournament, with only our team and the Wolf Bats left, there is plenty of space and time available in the arena. Today we’ve got a ragged group to practice with — the waterbender from the Saber Mooses, and the earthbender and firebender from the Hog Monkeys. The Hog Monkeys nearly knocked us out during my first match — and then I beat them single-handed. So even though they’re down a usual teammate and this scrimmage is supposed to be to help the Fire Ferrets get in shape to face the four-time champion team, I can tell that earth and fire are here at least a little bit to settle an old score. 

And to that I say: Bring it on. I like the heat. I don’t want to practice; I want to win. I’m watching the competition tire themselves out, while I spin out of every corner they try to put me in (thank Shu my airbending training is useful for something). And then when they’re panting hard, I leap into center court, bring down a jet with my heel, roll forward, surging two thin streams that send the earthbender into the firebender. They stumble, wobble, really try to keep themselves upright — but in the end they’re too tired (and frankly, I’m too strong) and they tumble into the drink. The girl from the Saber Moose raises her hands in defeat. 

Something solid crashes into my back and wraps his big arms around me. Squeezing the life out of me, Bolin crows with victory. 

“That was amazing, Korra!” he gushes. I know I’m smiling fit to burst, but I can’t help it. Airbending, dealing with Amon, trying to sort out the politics of Republic City — all of that garbage vanishes when I’m in the ring. Bending is what I’m good at; bending makes sense. And doing it alongside two incredible benders like Mako and Bolin only elevates the thrill. I catch Mako’s eye over Bolin’s shoulder and I know something passes between us. Mako’s trying to be the cool guy, the tough team captain, but his eyes are sparkling. He’s excited too — and it’s in part due to me. 

The whole way back to the locker rooms, we’re talking about the three scrimmages we’ve had this week. Mako’s trying to keep the conversation somewhat organized around our general strategy, but he’s in such a good mood, he doesn’t cut me or Bolin off when we start chattering about a great moment from our matches. He even gets into himself, remarking about my final move. 

“I haven’t seen many waterbenders who can use a heel kick with that kind of accuracy,” he says. “I doubt even Tahno could — they’re gonna be floundering on Friday.” 

My stomach bubbles with anticipation about the championship match. There is so much riding on it. The winnings alone will carry Mako and Bolin through the rest of the year. The whole city is excited to see the Wolf Bats get their ass handed to them. And we know that more than a few people are coming to see how the Avatar throws down. Honestly, the nerves actually pump me up. I feel more than equal to the challenge. Somehow, in my mind I have connected winning the tournament with some other things I want to accomplish. I feel like if I can really bring it on Friday night, while the whole city is watching, then, I dunno, people will start taking me seriously. Maybe the Equalists will get a little more wary. Hopefully the guys on our side will get a confidence boost. I only wish I was allowed to firebend and earthbend too. If Amon could see me wielding all the weapons in my arsenal, it would definitely wipe the cocky smirk (that I assume he’s got under his mask) off his face. 

And, a little (huge) part of my brain has been picturing the afterparty. In my mind it will be up in the apartment above the stadium, filled with loud, celebratory party guests and plenty of alcohol. Mako will be high on victory endorphins, and I’ll be the reason we won. I can picture him pulling me in close, with everyone hooting and hollering around us — 

“Emergency!” Bolin literally knocks me out of my fantasy as he barrels past us to relieve his nervous bladder. Again. I don’t intentionally drag my feet, and I don’t think Mako knows he’s doing it either, but both of us are taking our time, stretching out this moment alone. It feels even better than knocking guys off the court. 

“Hey Korra,” Mako says. “I know I was pretty hard on you when we started out. But I have to say, you’ve turned into a hell of a player.” 

My stomach bubbles. We’re pretty similar, Mako and me. We don’t fall for people because of their looks or the stuff they have; we get feelings based on what people can do. Mako’s incredible firebending is one of the reasons he makes my heart jump into my throat and try to strangle me. So when he tells me I’m a hell of a player, I know it means more to him than just being a hell of a player. 

“Thanks,” I say. The memory of our kiss splashes across my brain and I can’t stop the way my lips curl into a smile. “Maybe when the tournament’s over…” 

I don’t get to finish my sentence. I don’t really know where it was headed anyways — maybe once the tournament’s over we can go out for dinner and fall in love and get married and you can kiss me like you did outside the stadium? The kind of kiss that I can feel in my toes. The kind of kiss that goes on and on and on… But I don’t get to say any of that, because Bolin, a hallway length ahead of us, cuts off my thought by exclaiming the dirtiest word known to man: 

“Asami!” 

I lurch to a stop. Mako doesn’t notice. I watch him hustle towards the locker room where Miss Perfect is standing in the doorway. All the fluttering, hovery excitement that I was feeling a second ago condenses into a hard ball in my stomach. Rich Girl is really overdoing — leaning against the door jamb in a way that shows how her legs go on for miles. As Mako approaches, she flicks those dark locks over her shoulder. I can’t really blame Mako for nearly sprinting into her arms. If I had someone who looked like that waiting for me, I’d run too. I also don’t blame him for the extended kiss that blocks my entrance into my own locker room — I put the blame entirely on Miss Perfect. I know she’s trying to get under my skin, trying to mark her territory. 

I clear my throat and they disengage. I think as loudly as I can about my memory of kissing Mako, just in case she can read minds. She smiles at me. 

“Hey Korra, didn’t see you there.” 

Right, and I’m a fully grown platypus-bear

“I caught a little of the match,” she says as I brush past her. “You guys were incredible.” 

“It was a scrimmage,” I mutter. Mako’s got to be sick of this ditzy girl who doesn’t even understand probending. I pretend that I can’t hear them while I open my locker, while actually, I’m straining my ears to pick up every word. It’s stomach-churningly cute. Mako becomes a whole different person: even his voice sounds different! Tough, street-smart Mako is baby-voicing. Eugh. Tenzin is worried that I become reckless when I’m angry, and maybe he’s right. Maybe that explains why I do what I do next. 

I pull my uniform down and kick it off. Like totally off. Not the normal process of top first, shuffle into a towel, then drop the bottoms. Just in one movement, I cast the clothing (adorned with a — barf — Future Industries logo) to the side. 

I know they’ve noticed because the talking stops. Look, I’m not trying to be cocky or anything, but a fit physique is an occupational hazard of being the Avatar. I drape a towel over one shoulder and turn to face the happy couple in just a bra and underwear. Mako is a very flattering shade of scarlet. His eyes are on the ceiling, where I know he’s gotta be playing the memory over in his head. Little Miss Perfect’s mouth is set in a perfect little line. She doesn’t bother to avert her gaze. She meets my eyes, lets me know that she sees me. 

I wink. 

Spirits know what came over me — maybe I really am trying to start a fight. I get a moment of satisfaction watching her perfect little face come undone. It just lasts a second, but her expression breaks, her mouth drops open, her eyes widen. I turn on my heel and swagger to the showers. 

Under the hot water, I replay Asami’s expression over and over in my head. I’m dancing in the tiny stall. When I get back, Little Miss Perfect and Mako are practically having sex against his locker, but I don’t let it bother me. Rich Girl can try to dig her claws in all she wants, but she’s losing her grip. 

They break apart when Bolin walks in and screams: “MY EYES!” I laugh loudly. 

“Korra,” Rich Girl says. “Are you coming to the Koi tonight?” 

First thing, Rich Girl’s voice is all low and ragged from her exertions, and though I may hate her, I don’t hate hearing that voice say my name. Second, ‘the Koi’ (shorthand for “The Elephantkoi Bar and Lounge”) is the absolute last place my second dad, Tenzin, would allow me to be. The Koi is known for being a spot where the music is loud, the drinks are cheap, and the hotshots of the probending world get together to fraternize. In other words: the temptations of the Koi hold no interest for spiritually enlightened airbenders. 

But I’m no spiritually enlightened airbender.   

“Korra can’t come,” Bolin answers. “Airbending practice.” 

“Shame,” Sato says, laying a hand on Mako’s shoulder. 

She just looks so smug when she says it. Shame. She doesn’t even try to hide that when she says “shame” she means “hahaha little Avatar has a curfew.” She actually means that she’s glad I can’t come, that she doesn’t think I’d fit in with them at a cool club anyways — she actually means that I’m a loser, and it amuses her. 

“Actually,” I snap. I’m only halfway dressed, but I’m too mad to care that three pairs of eyes keep drifting down from my face. I talk fast, making it up as I go: “I talked to Tenzin, and he said he understands that tonight is important for the team. We rescheduled.” 

Lying out of my ass and getting future me in deep shit with my airbending master is all worth it to watch Little Miss Perfect’s eyes narrow. 

“Great,” she says, sweet enough to rot your teeth.

Chapter Text

Asami

“She’s the absolute worst! Spirits, you should have seen her today — prancing and preening all over the stadium. As soon as there’s an audience — scratch that — even just one guy who’s half blind and half asleep — she starts performing. Jetting out to the court on fire blasts like, oh no, hope no one forgets that I’m Avatar, better remind them every other second. It’s pathetic.” 

“Mmhmm.” 

“And you should see how everyone treats her. Like, like — at Tarrlok’s gala? They were falling over themselves. Oh excuse me, your holiness, can I bring you anything? Take your plate? Would you like to spit in my mouth? It was pathetic. It’s going to be even worse tonight; I bet half the Koi is going to be slobbering over her.” 

“Classic benders.” 

Classic benders. And then — did I tell you this? She’s trying to steal my boyfriend. Which is frankly hilarious. She tried a little strip tease in the locker room today. Ha. As if. I mean, what? One glimpse of her sweaty naked back and he’s gonna run away with her?” 

“The fake boyfriend that you don’t like and are only pretend-dating — that’s the boyfriend she’s trying to steal?” 

I look over at my conversation partner, and lifelong friend, Howin Song, and realize that I am boring him. We’re currently sitting at a pair of desks in the secret production lab beneath my family’s estate. Posters decorate the walls and announce our allegiance in a way we never could above ground. That and the off-market weaponry being constructed at several long assembly lines make this one of the most heavily guarded secrets in the city. And it’s all tucked away stories below the on-site Future Industries labs above us. No one ever questions why trucks bearing machinery and materials trundle up into the foothills surrounding Republic City. It is well known that my father likes to keep his work close to him at all times. As anyone can read in his autobiography, Daddy started in a clock shop, working on inventions between repairs, and living in a tiny apartment with his beloved wife and infant daughter directly above. That’s Hiroshi Sato, always on top of the next world-changing idea. 

Speaking of which, the meeting for the next world-changing idea is running late. Amon should be here by now. I can tell Howin’s worried, even though he’s trying not to show it. His right knee is bouncing and his heel is hammering a tattoo into the stone floor. 

I make a mental note to cease the Avatar talk. It’s hard. There are so few people in my life I can vent to about that arrogant, immodest, jumped up little girl… and my teeth are locked together once more. I consciously unclench them. 

“Yes, the fake boyfriend,” I say, trying to force my tone to be more relaxed. “But I need him to think it’s a real relationship for another twenty four hours. After that, he’s welcome to all the sweaty, snotty show offs he can handle.” 

Howin laughs for real at that one. “Must be so tough for you, dating Mr. Tall, Dark, and Jacked.” 

I make a noise of disgust. “He’s a firebender, How, if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.” 

“But I’m sure you don’t mind when he touches you with his ten foot pole.” 

I smack him. He catches my next hit in his palm and suddenly we’re scuffling like little kids. Howin is one of my oldest friends; we’ve been play-wrestling since we were in diapers. But a lot of time has passed since those days — as we are reminded. 

“Lieutenant Song.” My father’s voice catches Howin like a net. He abandons his quest to tickle me into an early grave and stands up, straight as a rod. 

“Mr. Sato, sir.” 

I rise to my feet as well. “Hi, Daddy,” I mumble. I’m a twenty year old, grown-ass woman — and still my father’s displeasure makes me shake. 

“Let’s make sure we’re ready,” Daddy says sternly. “Noa will be here momentarily.” 

“Amon’s not coming?” Howin asks, then quickly tacks on a, “sir?” at the end. 

Daddy raises an eyebrow and I clench my fist, reading his annoyance. 

“There’s been a change of plans. Noa will oversee the inspection. Amon has to be elsewhere.” 

Howin’s brow creases but he doesn’t press the issue. I try to get his attention, to non-verbally ask where Amon needs to be, but Howin ignores me. Maybe he doesn’t want to tell, maybe he doesn’t want to show that he knows more about Amon than anyone else, maybe he really doesn’t know. Whatever the issue is, it has taken away my friend Howin and replaced him with Lieutenant Song. Lieutenant Song seems a lot taller than Howin, and less likely to take a joke. 

“You should probably find the other engineers,” he says. “Noa will have a lot of questions for you.” He turns on his heel and goes to marshal the masked Equalist soldiers into ranks, leaving me no choice but to join my fellow inventors. 

Only the brightest minds at Future Industries have been asked to join the secret development unit that produces the weapons for the revolution. Thus, what should be a team of thirty, is reduced to ten percent of that. I find my fellows waiting at the end of the assembly line: they make a comically opposite duo. Kui is small, with flyaway grey hair, a loud voice, and a quick temper. Zhicheng is tall, with close-cropped hair, a sly demeanor, and a low-simmering rage. 

“Nice of you to join us,” Zhicheng mutters as I take my place with them. “Seems like this meeting is running on Asami Sato time.” 

I swallow my retort and grab a clipboard. My eyes scan it blindly. 

“Speaking of Sato time,” Kui says, “we’ve got to schedule a meeting with the testing group — their preliminary results are looking positive.” 

“Really?” I ask, excited. “With the air resistance factored-” 

“Must be nice to have time for all the projects you want,” Zhicheng cuts in. “Then again, when Daddy makes the assignments…” 

“Is there a problem?” I snap. 

Zhicheng smiles victoriously and bows his head. “Of course not, head engineer.” 

Kui sticks a finger in his face. “Just because you’ve got a tenth of the talent at double the age—” but I cut her off with a gentle hand on her arm. I can’t let my father see my team fighting, not right before our most important meeting of the year. 

“It’s not important,” I say, my mask on as tight as it’s ever been. “Zhicheng is always welcome to express his concerns to his supervisor.” Zhicheng’s smile slips a bit. “And he’s correct, as exciting as other projects may be, we should focus on the matter at hand.” I smile brightly at my team. Kui mumbles something about being the only one who cares about science and progression of the human race, while Zhicheng presses his lips together so tightly they disappear. 

My team dynamic issues are put on hold, however, as the elevator door opens again. The whole laboratory seems to take a collective breath. My father, Howin, and a few other high-ranking Equalists move to greet the stocky, athletic, middle-aged man who has entered the facilities. This is Noa, Amon’s right-hand man. My father brings him right to me. My pulse beats in my temples. 

Noa smiles warmly and bows his head. “Miss Sato, a pleasure as always. Your inventions continue to amaze.” I can feel Zhicheng snapping behind me, and though it would be lovely to play with his blood pressure, I don’t. I can’t.

“Thank you, sir, but it was a whole team effort.” I introduce my team and credit the rest of the production squad who has been working tirelessly the past week. My father nods proudly behind Noa. It was him that taught me that a good leader always takes care of his employees. A head without a body can’t get anywhere.

“Tell me what your team has created,” Noa instructs, picking up a bulky-looking glove from the end of the assembly line. 

“This is a taser-gauntlet, sir,” I say. “It has a mobile battery pack that powers an electric charge. This disc in the palm sends the charge through contact. There are a number of different settings — the most powerful of which will knock an enemy combatant unconscious for a period of up to ten minutes. It is most effective when it makes contact directly with skin, though it will still have a powerful effect through clothing.”

Noa smiles, turning the gauntlet over in his hand. “And why would I ever turn the settings down?” 

“To preserve battery, sir. The impact will still be powerful in it’s lesser settings, but the gauntlet will continue working for much longer.” 

Noa nods. “It’s non-lethal?” 

I nod as sweat forms on my palms. “Yes, sir. With a battery that small, it is impossible to create a lethal charge — it would drain the power before actually working.” 

Noa asks more questions. I let Zhicheng take over when he asks about the insulation design and Kui barks out a detail about modifications for any left-handed Equalists. 

“Amon is left-handed,” Noa says to her. 

Howin and I exchange a glance before either of us can control ourselves and I have to think about exam papers, laws of motion, paint drying — anything boring enough to stop my face from cracking into a huge laugh. 

Eventually the discussions end. Noa faces the entire factory and thanks them for their work. Then a discreet group breaks off for a higher level meeting. My father indicates that I should join them. We meet in a windowless conference room. I sit beside my father. 

“Was this design at all inspired by the blueflame legends?” Noa asks me quietly, while the others settle themselves. 

I feel myself turn a little pink. Like always, Amon’s right hand man seems to be able to read my mind. And I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that my design for the new weapon had come from learning about firebenders who reportedly had the ability to produce lightning. It feels a little counterproductive to use bending techniques in the anti-bending revolution. Or perhaps it’s poetic justice. Either way, the ability to hold lightning in one’s palm is now available to all. 

“Excellent,” Noa says, bringing our meeting to order. He remains standing at the head of the conference table. “With the addition of the taser gauntlets, our plans for tomorrow may proceed as planned. Lieutenant Song will spend the next twenty four hours training our operatives in the new weapon.” 

Howin nods smartly. 

“Good. Then, Miss Sato, I believe you have yet more to aid tomorrow night’s demonstration.” 

Tomorrow night Amon will make his big debut to Republic City — and the probending championships will be his stage. The winners of that competition, whoever they end up being, will be granted a prize beyond their wildest dreams (or perhaps more accurately, their worst nightmares). The past few months with Mako has all been leading to this. 

It was my idea to buy a box at the stadium, so that we could start to survey our target without altering any suspicions. Then, as I was leaving the sale, I just happened to nearly run over a random idiot with my moped. Except it wasn’t exactly a random idiot. It was the captain of the Fire Ferrets, a rookie team with great odds, that even someone completely out of the loop of the probending world like myself had heard of. I can’t say my father was pleased when my new plan to infiltrate the stadium came with a fake boyfriend — but Amon was (at least, Noa said he was). And that was all before the Avatar joined the team. I was there the night she launched her probending career -- or more accurately, threw a public temper tantrum and lucked out at the last second. Noa thought it was great news that my Fire Ferrets connection had doubled into a connection with the Avatar. I wasn’t exactly sure. From the first time I laid eyes on her, I knew Korra was not going to fit neatly into any plans. She is too unstable, unpredictable, and unbalanced. 

Perhaps I was giving her too much credit. You would think that having the Avatar around all the time would only increase security — but she’s the most distracted of anyone (by my boyfriend). I pull a folded sheet of paper from my bag. The details of tomorrow night’s security are carefully recorded: names of guards, shift schedules, and locations within the arena. It was easy to get. As soon as the Fire Ferrets were on the court, I made my way to the security office with freshly applied lipstick and a six pack. The two junior employees manning the office when I arrived were only too happy to be distracted. A few sleight of hand tricks plus my nearly photographic memory and I was back in the locker room by the end of the match. 

Noa’s eyes scan my notes. “Excellent. Amon will meet you at the back entrance at nine.”

“What?” my father and I ask at the same time. I hope the little quiver in my voice is overshadowed by the alarm and anger in his. 

“Amon would like Asami to guide him through the stadium personally. He believes that she has proven herself the best for the task.” 

My heart rate picks up. I let my father do the talking.

“Amon and I agreed that Asami would not be put at the front of any operation,” Daddy says. 

“And then Asami took the initiative that is making tomorrow night possible.” Noa’s face remains smooth and calm, but I hear an edge to his voice. “Before Asami’s plan, we had no access to the stadium. I believe you’ll recall, Hiroshi, that was your job. Amon likes to reward his supporters, and more importantly, he needs to surround himself with the best. Asami had proven herself on both counts.” Noa inclines his head towards me. 

“Amon is free to volunteer his daughter for any mission he’d like,” Daddy insists. “But mine is out of the question.” 

Noa and Daddy lock eyes. They are possibly the two powerful men in the Equalist organization, under Amon himself. Daddy is the supplier; the Equalists would be nowhere without him and Future Industries. Noa is Amon’s general; when Noa speaks, it is with Amon’s voice. Daddy is outranked. Everyone shifts uneasily as the seconds tick by. 

Finally, Noa breaks off the battle of wills. My sigh of relief is caught in my chest as his blue eyes turn to me. 

“My apologies, Asami,” he says in a quiet voice. “Your father and I were speaking about you as if you weren’t here. It is your decision to make. Amon has asked for your help — what is your answer?” 

My eyes flick to my father, but his face has gone to stone. It is a quality that makes him an excellent Pai Sho player: he is impossible to read. Except I’m his daughter. I know him a bit better than the gamblers downtown. And I know what it looks like when he’s lost. 

I turn back to Noa. “I’d be honored to help Amon.” 

Chapter Text

Korra

This is me, 5’ 5”, nineteen years old, the Avatar, hanging by one hand out of my window, sneaking out to a party. Did I mention that I’m nineteen and the Avatar?? And that Tenzin isn’t even my biological father? The drop from my bedroom to the ground is about six meters. I already bent my landing spot from stone into sand for an easier dismount. Now I just need to … 

“Be a lot easier if you were an airbender,” comes a voice from below. 

“Gah!” I release my hand in surprise, tumbling down, and landing sprawled out on my back. All of the air whooshes out of my lungs, and I’m trying to get some of it back as the hazy image of Ikki and Jinora come into view. 

Jinora taps her chin. “You need airbending in order to sneak out, but airbending practice is what you’re trying to skip… a classic turtleduck and the egg situation.” 

“Shut… up…” I gasp. 

“Where you are going, Korra?” Ikki asks. “Are you going to see Mako?  What are you wearing? What happened to your shirt? You have your hair down! Do you think you’re finally gonna win him away from the beautiful, genius girl? Who do you think is prettier -- Mako or Asami?” 

I sit up and take a swipe at her, but she jumps out of the way — like two meters out of the way. As if it wasn’t obvious enough that they can airbend and I can’t. 

“Well, I for one don’t think you should fight over him,” says Jinora. “Girls shouldn’t war with other girls, we need to stand together.” I smile at Pema’s words coming out of her daughter’s mouth. I agree with them — conceptually. But I’ll make a special case to fight with Asami Sato. 

“Just go back inside,” I hiss. “And pretend you never saw me.” 

“Lie?” says Jinora. “To our father??” 

“Don’t give me that goodie-two-shoes routine.” 

Jinora’s scandalized expression drops into an impish smile. “Sorry, Korra, I think we’re going to need a bit more information. We should know what we’re keeping from our father, you see.”

“Is it a big party, Korra??” 

“What do I need to say to get out of here in the next minute?” I ask, getting to my feet, trying to shake the dirt off my nice clothes. 

“We want details!” Ikki says immediately. 

“I don’t have any details! The only thing I can tell you is that two annoying miniature trolls stood in my way of the best party of the year.” 

“All right, fine,” says Jinora. “We’ll let you go for now. But tomorrow, you tell us everything.” 

Jinora is ten and Ikki is seven and if I get my way tonight there is no way I’m going to be able to tell them everything… but I shake their hands and make it a promise. We hear Tenzin’s voice calling for his daughters and they whisper “Go!” at me, before sailing back up to the temple. I sprint down to the docks and jack a little motorboat while the White Lotus aren’t watching. 

I tie up my boat in a jetty at the seaport. I scan the buildings for a clock and curse. I’m running late. It’s crowded tonight, and I normally wouldn’t muscle someone out of their cab, but I really, really, really can’t stand the idea of being late. I can’t stand the idea of Asami Sato, in her perfect dress and perfect eyeliner and perfect face being in Mako’s presence without me at least being there in the background, as a little reminder that, if he gets tired of all the perfect, I exist too. 

So even though I see someone is also heading towards my cab, I put my head down and hustle to the door. They don’t stop either and we collide. That’s when I hear a too-familiar, perfect voice, say, “Hey!” 

Asami Sato looks at me like she isn’t surprised that the girl stealing her cab and ruining her night is me. She sighs. “Well, I guess we’re going to the same place.” 

I don’t respond because… yeah, no way to get out of it. Instead I yank open the door and gesture for her to get in. 

"Elephantkoi,” we tell the cabbie at the same time. Then we glare at each other. Then we push as far apart as possible as we can in the small backseat and stare out our respective windows. 

The traffic on the way to the club is unbearable. I’m tempted to get out and run. If I could airbend, I would just fly over all these satomobiles and be there in a heartbeat. 

“Why are you at the seaport?” I ask. As far as I know, Sato Mansion is up in the mountains. 

“Grabbing something from Mako’s apartment.” 

I clench my fists thinking of Miss Perfect having a key to his apartment — staying over at his apartment. I don’t respond, and Sato doesn’t add on. The minutes tick by as we edge through downtown. 

“You nervous for the tournament tomorrow?” she asks. Damn, she must be bored. 

“Nah,” I respond, cracking my knuckles. “We’re gonna crush ‘em.” 

She rolls her eyes and turns back to the window. I hang on for a heartbeat then say: “Actually… yeah. I am nervous.” I cross my arms. “It’s just… being the Avatar, you know? People are gonna expect me to win.” 

She chuckles once. “Expectations? Never heard of ‘em.” 

I squint at her. Asami Sato making a joke? I never thought I’d see the day. 

“Oh yeah, Rich Girl? What heavy expectations are you carrying?” 

She rolls a shoulder. “You wouldn’t understand.” 

“Oh yeah, ‘cuz all my little brain can do is splash, splash, smash, smash, whoosh, whoosh.” I mime water-, earth-, and firebending but I guess I’m feeling a little more than I knew because a few sparks come out of my fingertips. 

“Hey! No fire in the cab!” says the cab driver, glaring at me in the mirror. 

“Sorry,” I mutter, too embarrassed to look over at Sato who is definitely laughing at me. 

“At least you can whoosh whoosh your problems away,” Miss Perfect says, examining her flawless nails while bearing the weight of a world I couldn't possibly understand on her shoulders. 

I curl my cracked, uneven nails into my palms. “Maybe we should go back to the silent game.” 

She doesn’t respond — a real pro. The cab inches towards our destination, teasing us with the possibility of ever getting out of this tiny, enclosed space. 

“I was always good at the silent game,” she says after enough time has passed that I have forgotten what we were talking about. “I’m an only child,” she says, then quickly tacks on, “which I’m sure you probably guessed.” 

“Hey, I’m an only child too. No only children stereotyping coming from me.” 

I think she smiles the briefest hint of a smile, but I’m not looking at her, so I can’t be sure. 

“I feel like only children are good at the silent game. We know how to entertain ourselves.” 

Ooooh, I really want to make a dirty joke right now. So bad! But this is the first half-way decent conversation we’ve had, and I don’t think Miss Perfect is going to like my ribald sense of humor. So I push down the hundreds of great comebacks I have, and say instead, “I never really felt like an only child. There was always someone there; I always had something to do. I kind of wish I’d had more time to myself.” 

“What would you have done with more time alone?” 

I shrug. “Probably gotten myself in trouble.” 

“Hmm.” That must be Rich Girl’s thoughtful noise. It comes from the back of her throat and causes my head to turn. “It can be nice. Sometimes.” She’s staring out the window again. 

“And other times?” I ask. 

“You can pull over here.” 

I start, wondering what invisible line I crossed now, and then realize that we’re actually here. We’re pulling up at the Koi. I get this urge to say something — I dunno what: try to cap off this nice conversation somehow? But Rich Girl is already opening her door, disappearing into the night. 

“Was that Asami Sato?” the cabbie asks me, as I clamber across the seat. 

“Yeah.” 

“Wow.” His eyes are lit up. “How do you know her?” 

I snort. “She’s my biggest fan.” I close the door and follow Miss Perfect up the steps of the club. 

Chapter Text

Asami

“You’re here!” Bolin lifts me in a hug, then does the same for Korra. I catch Mako’s curious eye and shrug. It wasn’t like I planned to come here with Korra. It isn’t like some half-baked traffic conversation has changed my opinion of her. 

The Koi is already hopping, with a line out the block — not that we have to worry about that. The Fire Ferrets are the guests of honor tonight and our little pack skips right to the front. Everyone who is anyone in the probending world is crammed within the walls, and dressed to impress. My father might have raised his eyes at my outfit when I left the house, but had I arrived with a higher neckline, I would have stood out like an airmonk at an orgy. I was hoping Korra wouldn’t have gotten the dress code message and that she’d show up in her normal water tribe getup. But nope, the Avatar looks… frankly, amazing. Her long hair is down and falling in effortless waves down her back. Her clothes are simple — loose legging and a white crop top — but it shows off the absolutely stunning swell of her arm muscles and planes of her stomach.  

I can’t take my eyes off her — how is Mako supposed to? 

We push into the crowded interior where the crowd is being whipped into a frenzy by a swing outfit from the Fire Nation called Xu Ping. Almost everyone is excited to see the destruction of the much hated Wolf Bats tomorrow night, and everyone wants to get a moment of the bending trio’s time. The Ferrets might be the stars of the show, but I get a fair amount of attention as well. I’ve been around the stadium enough that people know who I am — Asami Sato, daughter of the famous Hiroshi Sato, girlfriend of the rookie of the year. The team captain from the Manatee Mantises waves hello. The girlfriend of a waterbender winks at me from behind her boyfriend’s back. The head of security for the stadium — a big, bald earthbender named Temi — picks me up in a rib-crushing hug. All exactly as planned. 

As we grab drinks, Mako leans in towards me. “Are you all right?” he asks. 

I’m shocked. I’m not okay: My mind keeps jumping back to this afternoon in the hidden factory. Or forward to tomorrow night, when I’ll be the one flanking Amon’s shoulder. Or back to the cab, when Korra said she wished she got more time alone and I had to keep it to myself that I think plentiful alone time is in her future. Once she’s no longer the Avatar, she's going to realize how lonely being an only child is. All in all, I’m not really in a party state of mind. But for Mako to notice? For Mako to notice and say something?? 

I look up into his copper irises like I’ve never seen them before. 

“Just… work stuff.” I glance away. I can’t meet his eyes. I tilt my head back and down my drink. “You ready for another?” 

He holds up his completely full beer, still topped with foam, as an answer. 

“Who wants shots?” I ask. Bolin and Korra are down, and Mako follows suit, still not totally sure what is happening. That makes two of us, because the whole time, I’m looking at the three of them like they just walked out of a photograph. Like I’ve never seen the way Bolin’s eyes scrunch up when he smiles, or noticed how Mako finds a way to touch his scarf at least once a minute, or how Korra laughs with her whole body. I buy us another round to try to stop my imagination from picturing what these faces will look like twenty four hours from now — how they’ll look at me. 

I have to get away from Mako’s concern, so I drag Bolin out to the dance floor. His wild dance moves accelerate the flow of alcohol through my veins. It feels good, moving to the beat, images floating past, nothing sticking. No pressure. No expectations. No secret plots and sham relationships. Eventually, Bolin is taken away from me by the all-girl team, the Boar-Q-Pines. I scan the crowd and find Mako over by our table, fending off more fangirls. I decide to give them something to talk about, and lunge in for a passionate public display of affection. Except my kiss is met with stiff lips. I pull away and notice that the fangirl in question is the Avatar herself. With her hair down and different clothes, I didn’t recognize her. It does not escape her notice that I just tried to kiss my boyfriend, and that he did not kiss me back. She’s got a gleefully superior expression — raised eyebrows, dimple growing on her left cheek. In that moment, I hate absolutely everything about her. She is the reason I’m in the situation I find myself in now. She’s the embodiment of the inequality I’m fighting. She’s the problem. 

“I’ll give you a minute,” the Avatar says. 

“What is up with you tonight?” Mako asks. 

I am too furious to speak. Instead, I drag him down by the collar and kiss him, kiss him so hard he has no choice but to kiss me back. My sober brain would have probably realized that this does not absolve me for what I’m about to do to this boy, but my drunk brain is already halfway to the loft apartment.

“Are you all right?” he asks, when we come up for air. 

No

“Of course.” The poor idiot is dazzled by my smile and unequipped to deal with the possibility that I might be lying. He allows me to pull him on to the dance floor and forget the real world for a few moments. The band is just starting on the sultrier, slower songs. I push our hips together and sway to the beat. The ability to think leaks out of him faster than air from a punctured tire. He snakes his arms around my back, anchoring us together. Over his shoulder, I scan the club and find the Avatar over by the bar, but she’s not paying us any attention. I watch her showing off — she lights some girl’s drink on fire, then extinguishes the blaze with some fancy waterbending. Far from being upset that her overpriced cocktail is ruined, the girl bursts into applause. I roll my eyes and get back to the matter at hand. 

I pull Mako’s lips to mine and we get lost in the beat of the music and the push and pull between our bodies. For the next hour or so, we manage to have a decent time. The band is playing too loud to talk and Korra’s nowhere to be found — a perfect combination. Eventually Bolin comes to ruin it. 

“Eh hem,” he says, startling us from our embrace. Mako’s cool façade is starting to crack, and if we don’t get this boy to a private place soon, he’s gonna burst. 

“Get out of here,” Mako orders, his voice rumbly and low, making my insides quiver.

“Sorry to interrupt,” says Bolin, not looking sorry at all. “Can you go check on Korra?” he asks me. 

“Why?” 

“Is she all right?” 

Bolin shrugs. “I dunno. She was drinking a lot and she disappeared into the bathroom a while ago. I feel like someone should go find out if the world has a new Avatar or not.” 

Vomit duty is the absolute last thing I want to do, but Mako’s arms drop, assuming the best in me. I have little choice but to make my way back to the bathroom. It’s down a dark hallway, where the music is surprisingly muted. There was nothing that could have prepared me for the sight that greets my eyes as I push the door open. I think the image is going to be burned into my retinas for years to come.

Korra is here, and she’s not dead. She is stuck between the legs of some girl I don’t recognize who is propped up on the edge of the sink. They’re connected at the lips and, despite both being fully clothed, they’re trying their best to be connected in other places as well. Korra has her hand up the front of the girl’s shirt. Unholy sounds fill the small restroom.  

My entrance changes everything. They pull apart with a disgustingly wet sound. Korra turns around, searching for the source of the disturbance. Her half-opened, unfocused eyes find me, still stuck on the threshold. 

“Hey Asami,” she says, grinning a shit-eating grin, then she whips around to vomit into the sink to her right, still firmly situated between a stranger’s legs. The girl squeals in horror and extricates herself. She pushes past me and is gone — leaving me alone with the very drunk Avatar. 

I steel myself, and then cross the floor to hold the Avatar’s hair back as she empties her stomach. 

“Gah,” Korra gasps. “You ruin everything.” 

I snort. “Yeah, because I forced you to drink your weight in sake.” 

Korra’s assuredly acerbic comeback is cut off as she retches again. Eventually, when there’s nothing left to vacate, she spits and pushes herself up. Korra peers at herself in the mirror. Tears bead in the corners of her eyes and her mouth is clearly too foul to close. The Avatar rolls her eyes at herself, then raises an arm. Water comes rushing out of the faucet, and Korra power-washes the contents of her stomach down the drain. It helps the smell in the bathroom considerably. She rinses her mouth out several times, and then the most powerful bender meets my eyes in the reflection, too embarrassed to do it face-to-face. 

“Well… fuck.” 

“Sums it up pretty well.” 

She makes a face. “This is all your fault.” 

“You said that already.” 

“You have a perfect answer for everything, don’t you?” 

This is just like the night of Tarrlok’s party. Korra winds up so quickly, that even though I know I’m needling her, she still manages to surprise me by how quickly she goes from zero to sixty. Right now, drunk, caught in a compromising position, under the bright lights of a bar bathroom, Korra’s looking at me as if she’d like nothing more than to tear into me. It’s ridiculous. How can this be the most powerful person alive? She can’t save the world; she can barely control herself. 

Her anger only makes me more determined to remain cool, calm, and collected. “I guess they don’t teach you how to use your words at Avatar school.” 

It takes Korra’s drunk brain a minute to sort through that one, but she eventually figures out that I’m insulting her. It's comedy gold watching her face go from confused to furious. 

She clenches her jaw and jabs a finger towards me, which threatens her already tenuous balance. Before I know it, the Avatar is falling into me and I instinctively catch her, holding her shoulders while she smushes her face into my neck. She’s startlingly warm — and soft. The shoulder muscles might be sharp enough to cut glass, but the skin covering them is smooth. I wonder if there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. 

“You smell nice,” Korra remarks, her lips pressed into my neck, making shivery vibrations across my throat. If I didn’t despise her so much, I might even ask her to continue. 

Okay, time to get this girl a new babysitter

As I’m pushing her upright, a very concerning noise bubbles up from her esophagus. I spin her towards a stall and push her in. Faster than should be possible in her state, she grabs my wrist and pulls me in after her. 

“Don’t leave,” she mumbles, in a voice I’ve never heard from her. It’s small and vulnerable. 

Okay,” I say, prying off her fingers. “But you’re cutting off my circulation.” She relinquishes her grip, leaving behind a circle of cool flesh. “Try throwing up again.” 

Korra closes her eyes and shakes her head vigorously, then clutches her temples, presumably to stop the world from spinning. 

Outside the stall, I hear the door open, allowing some of the music from the club to enter, along with what sounds like an absolute gaggle of drunk girls. Some of them must notice that there are two sets of feet visible under the door of one of the stalls, because there’s giggling and someone knocks on the door, asking if we’re “having fun in there?” As if. 

Korra glares and reaches for the handle. I smack her hand away. “Easy, tigerbear,” I whisper. Her eyes flicker to mine with an expression that makes me aware of how close we’re standing. My mind flashes to the image of Korra, interlocked with that random girl. That girl. 

Stoppit,” I hiss at her, though I’m not sure what I’m asking her to stop. Stop looking at me? Stop having soft skin and big muscles? Stop looking at me like you want me to slap you again? Whatever it is that I want her to stop — she doesn’t. She turns it on even more. A little crooked grin grows on her face and her eyes narrow. The alcohol in my bloodstream starts swirling faster. 

Then it’s gone. A wave of nausea passes over her eyes and Korra leans back against the wall, sinking all the way down to the floor, her face in her hands. “Talk,” Korra commands. “Distract me.”

I will not be joining her on the floor of a public restroom, thank you very much, so I kick down the seat of the toilet and perch on the edge. “What do you want me to say?” 

“Anything,” she moans. 

I can’t think of anything to say. What is there for me and Avatar Korra, the two most different girls in the city, to talk about?? Mind utterly blank, my mouth moves without my consent and says: "So you’re into girls.” 

Korra’s eyes dart to mine and there’s something so indecent about the way she’s looking up at me. “Why? You interested?” 

My heart leaps into my throat. What does she mean by that? What is she saying? How does she know?

Her expression softens. She places a hand on my knee. “Spirits, Princess, calm down. I was just joking.” 

I swallow a few times.

“Guess I struck a nerve.” 

I nod. 

“Hey, it’s okay,” she says. “I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna tell anyone.”

Spirits, this is not good. Avatar Korra is not exactly what I’m looking for in a confidant. And though some part of my brain is freaking out about this impulsive hot-head knowing something about me that precious few others know, the part of me that’s in a little stall with her actually feels some relief. It’s nice to be in a little corner, removed from the world, being seen for who I actually am. 

“There ya go,” Korra says, patting my knee and demonstrating a higher emotional intelligence than I would have given her credit for. “But you’re the one who’s supposed to be talking, not me. Tell me all your secrets, Little Miss Perfect.” 

I giggle a little — I mean, this is all so absurd! Trapped in a bathroom stall, drunk, with the Avatar (also drunk), swapping secrets? Ridiculous. 

“I don’t have any secrets,” I lie. 

Korra snorts. “Tell me your body count.” 

Again my heart jumps in my chest. How does she keep doing that?

“No.” 

“Thought you didn’t have any secrets.” 

“Tell me yours, then.” 

Korra starts silently ticking off numbers on her fingers. When she reopens her hands for the second time, I stop her. “No. No way. Weren’t you like trapped in a bunker in the South Pole up until a few months ago?” 

“It’s been a busy few months.” 

“You’re lying.” I’m sure of it. Korra’s been spending her time in Republic City trying to get with my boyfriend. There’s no way she’s had time to get into the double digits. 

“Not lying,” she says.

“Prove it.” 

“Wellllll you want the full list or just the juicy ones?” The Avatar winks. It’s just a muscle spasm, a little lid of flesh moving down and then up — so why, when Korra does it, does it look like I’m gonna need a new pair of underwear? “I guess I’ve kind of got a thing for Fire Nation girls.” 

I don’t think about the fact that my family is Fire Nation on my dad’s side. That is definitely not a thought that goes through my mind. 

“Ta Min was cute,” Korra says. “And then there was Rangi who was hot … almost as hot as her mother.” 

My jaw hits the floor. My jaw breaks through the floor and keeps going, all the way to the center of the Earth. “Her mother??” I gasp. 

Korra is really enjoying herself now. Her bright white teeth are shining in a huge smile. “Yeah, but don’t get it twisted, I don’t turn my back on my own people — Katara, for one.” 

Korra’s an idiot. I’m an idiot. We are two idiots. 

“Past lives do not count,” I snap. 

Korra giggles. “But I had you for a minute.” 

“You seem like you’re feeling better. Good enough to get out of this bathroom.” A look of disappointment crosses Korra’s face. But she dutifully raises her hands so I can help her to her feet. I suspect that she leans into the drunk act a little bit as she stumbles back into my arms. I’m aware that the other girls have left the bathroom; we’re alone again. 

“When we leave are we back to mortal enemies?” she whispers in my ear. 

I nod because I can’t talk. 

“Then I guess I shouldn’t tell you what I thought when I first saw you.” Her lips are in my hair, her arms around my shoulders, her body pinning me against the wall. 

“What’d you think when you first saw me?” I whisper, my voice shaking. 

Korra looks me in the eyes, her blue iris searing me, holding me in place. She doesn’t look drunk at all anymore. She looks… hot. “I thought that you were the most deadly gorgeous person I’d ever seen.” 

And then she’s gone. She said that and then left. 

“Is Korra okay?” Mako asks, when I rejoin the rest of the club. Oh yeah. She’s grand. Besides the fact that she basically pinned me down and fucked me with her eyes — and managed to figure out that I’m bi — and told me she’s thought I was “deadly gorgeous” since day one… My mind is reeling. Every interaction I’ve had with the Avatar is thrown into a different light. When she lit my cigarette on the balcony? She thought I was deadly gorgeous. When she stripped in the locker room? That was done with the knowledge that I was deadly gorgeous. When she was glancing at me out of the corner of her eyes in the cab ride here — she was glancing at someone she thought was deadly gorgeous

Deadly gorgeous. What does that even mean? No one has ever described me like that. 

The cab ride home is a blur and I go straight up to my room, even though I know my father’s probably still up and working. I can’t see him in this state. My pupils are probably blown out into two dark holes and my whole body feels flushed. Instead, I jump in the shower, and let the water wash off whatever the fuck happened at the club. I sink into bed and fall asleep almost immediately. 

But my dreams don’t leave me alone. I’m back in the bathroom. This time I’m the one on the sink with a hot, insistent body pushing against me, hands roaming everywhere. It’s not until the lips leave mine and start trailing down my neck, down my chest, down my stomach, that I open my eyes. And there, between my legs, pushing my skirt up, is Avatar Korra. She winks like she’s done so often in real life and drops her mouth between my thighs. 

I wake up with a gasp, the soft gray light of pre-dawn illuminating my room. I’m panting, my mouth is hanging open, and there is a distinctly hot feeling deep, deep inside. Korra’s blue eyes swim in my vision. Deadly gorgeous

I pull my pillow over my face and try to suffocate myself. 

Chapter Text

Korra

I’m never drinking again. That is the only solution. It won’t undo what was done at the Elephantkoi last night. It can’t make me unsay all the things I said or make Asami unhear them, but it can save future me from being quite so unbearably stupid.

“Hey! Earth to Korra!” Bolin snaps his fingers in front of my face. 

“What’s up with you today?” Mako asks. “You need to focus, the championship is tonight!” 

As if I don’t know that. But maybe Mako can explain to me — with all his infinite wisdom — why we went out drinking the night before the tournament? Physically, I feel fine; I’m a tough specimen. I wish I was hungover — I would take the worst hangover in the world if I could take back everything that happened in that bathroom last night. Every time I remember the words “deadly gorgeous” coming out of my mouth, my insides cringe so tight I’m surprised I haven’t collapsed in on myself like a dying star. 

“I’m aware,” I grumble. 

“Then get your act together,” he says. He crosses the practice gym and straightens up a column of earth discs so he doesn’t have to look at me. I hate it when he does this: gets all pissy at me for things I can’t control. I’m going to be at the top of my game tonight; he doesn’t need to worry about me. 

Maybe he should worry about this girlfriend though… a nasty part of my mind snips. I shut down that train of thought immediately. What? Like Little Miss Perfect is gonna get all twisted over my drunken attempts at flirting and leave her perfect boyfriend? I doubt it. She practically had a panic attack when I suggested — joked, I was joking! — that she was into me. There’s no way she’d ever dirty her perfect little life with me. 

It’s not impossible though, whispers a portion of my brain that is completely out of touch with reality. And yeah sure, having a vagina and boobs doesn’t immediately discount me from Miss Perfect’s attention — but unfortunately those parts are attached to the rest of me. And Little Miss Perfect can’t stand the rest of me. 

I ball my fist and slam it a few times into my thigh. It feels better than thinking about Asami Sato. 

Mako leaves the practice space, muttering something about “getting some fresh air,” but Bolin lingers behind. 

“Are you okay?” he asks, eyes wide with genuine concern. 

For Yangchen’s sake, why couldn’t I have just been into him?? Bolin is nice and easy and cute — way less complicated than Mako and Asami and their tumultuous, complicated, sexy… stop!

“Ugh, I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I tell him honestly. That’s the best thing about Bolin: when he asks if you’re okay, he actually wants to know the answer. 

“What happened?” He sits down on the earth discs Mako just spent an hour stacking. 

I plop down next to him, head in my hands. “I dunno. I just always manage to make an idiot out of myself whenever…” I want to say ‘whenever Asami’s around’ but I change course and go with: “whenever I get too drunk.” 

“That’s okay, everyone does that! That’s what makes it fun. And the best part is, you can just pretend you were too blacked out to remember any of it, if you want to.” 

I chuckle. He’s got a point. “Bolin? Can I tell you a secret?” 

He claps his hands together excitedly. “Yes! Please!” 

“You can’t tell anyone,” I say seriously. 

“Cross my heart and hope to die.” 

I sigh. What’s my secret? That I like Asami? That would be stretching it. That I think she’s beautiful and that I would enjoy kissing her and I think she’d enjoy kissing me? That our heated bickering is the second best thrill after firebending? In fact, Asami Sato is firebending. Hot, dangerous, and exhilarating. 

“Did you hook up with someone last night?” Bolin guesses as my silence stretches on. 

I grin. Thank Tui for Bolin. I bob my head back and forth and his smile grows. He demands all the details and I give them to him, tucking my weird thoughts about Asami in the back of my mind. Hopefully, they’ll stay back there. 

Orrrrrrr not. Because when I get back to the stadium before tournament time and get to my own locker room, Little Miss Perfect is standing there. All alone. My stomach falls down five flights of stairs while my face gives me away by bursting into flames. I’d swear that Miss Priss is blushing too, but there’s no way to confirm since I can’t remotely look in her direction. 

“Uhh, sorry,” she says. “Mako just went to grab a new helmet.” She holds up a cracked helmet adorned with a red crest. It’s got a massive crack through the face shield. 

“Mhmm,” I say, burying myself in my own locker. There’s not a terrible amount to do, so I shift my uniform from the inside of my bag to a shelf back to my bag back to the shelf wondering where the hell Mako and Bolin are. 

“So. Big day.” 

Oh spirits this is the worst, most awkward small talk. Asami and I don’t small talk! We bicker and banter. We ignore each other or annoy each other. We tried to have a normal conversation in the cab, but that was like me trying to drive a satomobile — full of starts and stops and not much forward momentum. 

"The Wolf Bats have won for the past four years,” Princess continues. 

“Uh huh.” 

“You guys are a new team. I mean, you didn’t even start probending until the middle of the season.” 

I close my locker with a bang. “Yeah, and?” 

Miss Perfect isn’t looking at me. She’s turning Mako’s cracked helmet around in her hands. “I’m just saying — getting all the way to the championships — that’s a pretty big accomplishment already.” 

“You think we’re gonna lose?” 

Rich Girl shrugs and bites her lip. It looks like she has more to say; like her mind is moving a thousand miles an hour. “Would that be such a bad thing?” she whispers. 

I can’t believe this. I get that she hates me. I figured out her little secret and was a drunken mess and even without sipping on the idiot juice all night, I always manage to say the wrong thing to her. I get it: she wants me to lose. But to root against her own boyfriend? That’s low. That’s really low. 

“Listen here, Princess,” I growl, crossing the small space between us. “I don’t know what your problem is with me, but it doesn’t fucking matter. Root against me all you want — I don’t care.” 

Something snaps behind those green eyes. The weird, nervous, shifty act is gone, replaced with something fiercer. Asami Sato is back.

“I’m actually not rooting against you,” she says. Which like, that’s a positive thing, right? On the surface at least. But from her tone and expression and all around behavior, you’d think she was admitting she enjoyed torturing puppies. “For some unknown reason.” 

I laugh and throw up my hands. What am I supposed to do with that? What does that even mean?? “This is the shittiest pep talk ever.” 

“Thought it ‘didn’t matter,’” she taunts.

“It doesn’t.” I turn back to her. “You can’t psych me out — I’m unstoppable.” 

She grabs my arm. “You’d better be.” 

I was just being a cocky asshole when I said I was unstoppable — but when Asami Sato cinches her delicate fingers around my wrist and bores into me with her fiery green eyes — holy fuck. I am stoppable. All I want to do is pull my arm behind my back, and tip her forward into me. I want to grab her face, slide my tongue between her lips, and make her scream my name. 

But I don’t. I stop myself. I’m stoppable. 

“Unstoppable,” she whispers. She’s so close to me. Spirits, she’s so hot. “Is that a promise?”

I nod — all of my words, my whole ability to speak, has been stopped. 

“You’d better keep it.” Her breath tickles my ear. 

Speaking of utterly and completely stoppable — my brain has left the building. A tsunami could come and destroy Republic City right now and I think I’d still remain rooted to this spot. Honestly, if she keeps looking at me like that, there is gonna be a tsunami of sorts. 

She releases my hand and steps back. It feels like a wall of cold air whooshes in to replace her. “All right, Avatar. Go show ‘em how unstoppable you are.” I’m thrown for a second, as the unstoppable thoughts racing through my mind are definitely not for public consumption. Then I remember — oh right, the tournament, probending, Mako, Bolin, the Wolf Bats. Right.  

But she’s already gone. She practically sprints out of the locker room. When Mako returns with his new helmet, he finds me standing in the same place, staring at the patch of air that Asami’s exquisite green eyes once inhabited. 

“You good?” he asks. 

I snap out of it. “Umm, yeah. How’d you bust up your helmet?” 

Mako shakes his head. “I didn’t. It was broken when I got here. Someone must have snuck in, trying to get in our heads before the match.” 

That seems unlikely. But what do I know? Seems like there are more effective ways to get in someone’s head. 

Asami Sato sure has gotten into mine. 

Chapter Text

Asami

What am I doing? What am I doing? What the fuck am I doing? I ask myself this over and over as I run halfway across the stadium. There’s still plenty of time to stop doing what I’m doing. I yank open a door to a stairwell and jump down a flight, three steps at a time. Fans are beginning to filter into the stadium and I get some odd looks. My paranoid brain searches their faces, searching for someone I recognize, someone who will get to me to stop doing what I’m doing. 

No one does. I arrive at my destination out of breath and slightly manic. And there’s no one here to stop me. And I’m not going to stop me either. 

I calm my breathing, shake out my hair, and take out my wallet. “Hey fellas,” I say, opening the door. 

The three referees for the upcoming game are sitting at a round table inside, half dressed in street clothes and referee uniforms. Their reactions range from politely surprised to annoyed \. They might recognize me. I know I’ve spoken to the one sitting at the table before. He’s the one who rises to greet me. 

“How can we help you, miss?” 

The other continues getting dressed in his referee uniform, while the third turns around to make it obvious that he is ignoring my presence. 

“I have a proposition for you.” I start taking bills out of my wallet and laying them on the table. All three men are attracted to the cash. Uniform Boy pauses, one arm in, one arm out. Even Mr. Too Important for Whatever the Girl Has to Say is giving me his attention. 

“Whoa there, miss, some people might get the wrong impression.” 

I cock an eyebrow and put a final bill down on the table. While they watch, I divide it into three equal piles and push each in front of a ref. 

“You’re the Fire Ferrets’ girl, aren’t you?” 

I resent the idea that I belong to anyone other than myself — especially a whole team. “Who I am is irrelevant,” I say. “What’s more pertinent is that these stacks will double if the Wolf Bats win tonight.” 

The three glance at each other then back at me. The money stays on the table. 

“Nice try, girlie,” says Mr. Important. “We can’t be bought.”

I don’t say anything. I don’t move. I don’t add any more money. I just stare him down. Just like Daddy does when an investor tries to gouge him or an opponent tries to get him to resign prematurely in pai sho. 

Uniform Boy breaks first. He grabs the cash and stashes in an interior pocket. The ref who greeted me follows suit, though a bit more slowly, just to let everyone know that although he’s going to take the money, he doesn’t think it’s morally upstanding. I resist the temptation to roll my eyes. Mr. Important is a hold out. His eyes haven’t left my face. 

“You're the Fire Ferret’s girl,” he repeats. He leaves the rest of his question unsaid. 

“I only really need two refs,” I say, reaching for the remaining stack. Quick as lightning, he folds, and snatches the cash from my fingertips. 

“Double. After the match.” 

I nod. 

“All right, Ferret Girl, keep your secrets.” 

I sigh loudly through my nose, but I’m already pounding my way out of the office. I feel sick to my stomach — but I don’t have time to dwell. I’ve only got a few minutes to get to the back door. 

“Sato.” A drawling voice gets my attention and my heart sinks. I did not want to be recognized down here. Especially not by: 

“Tahno.” The tall, purple-haired captain of the Wolf Bats looks down at me calculatingly. 

“What am I supposed to make of this?” Tahno has this way of talking that no matter what’s coming out of his mouth, it sounds like he’s hitting on you. “Little Sato down on the ref’s floor.” 

“I could say the same to you,” I return. I can tell he’s taken aback. The few times he’s met me I’ve been playing the doting girlfriend. But I’m so sick and tired of the routine, of the charade, of the lying. I have been doing this for too long and I am certainly not going to lose it all to the prettiest boy in Republic City. 

“All right,” he raises his hands in surrender. “I was just going for a pre-game walk. Get the jitters out.” He takes a step towards me. I swallow my frustration and mimic his movements. It makes him smile. I want to punch him. 

“And what about you?” he asks. He pushes a strand of hair behind my ear. “Getting bored with the charity case?” 

He’s so close to me now I can see a little smudge of mascara under his left eye. He’s looking at me like I’m his next meal and I’m sure it doesn’t even cross his mind that I might not be interested. Because, what girl wouldn’t want him? Four time champion, master waterbender. Money, fame, and good looks. I wish I could prove him wrong. I wish I had one of my electric gauntlets so I could give him a nice firm handshake, or maybe something lower. But like always — I can’t. Like always — I’m stuck. 

“Maybe I’d like to be with a winner for a change,” I whisper in a velvet voice that doesn’t waver, not even a little. 

Tahno smiles like a wolf bat that’s cornered it’s prey. “Then I guess I’ll be seeing you tonight, princess,” he murmurs, squeezing my ass as he leaves. I clench my fists, but I don’t have time — I’m almost late. 

I make it to the southern loading bay right in the nick of time. It’s deserted. Everyone is inside, watching the final match, or working for the final match. The industrial orange lights create harsh patches of light, and dark, deep shadows. The only sound is me, panting for air. 

“Miss Sato. Were you delayed?” 

The voice comes from behind me, where a second ago, there was no one. It makes me jump not only out of surprise, but because, for half a second, I thought I recognized the voice. For a wild moment, I thought it was the voice of my father. 

I turn around and I don’t see Hiroshi Sato. He’s across town, having a very public dinner with an up-and-coming actress and some eccentric business mogul from the South Pole. This is a voice I haven’t heard before, coming from behind a lacquered mask. 

“Amon.” I bow. 

He is medium height with an athletic build. A hooded tunic plus his iconic mask hide any possibility of being identified. I feel a shiver crawl up my spine. It’s impossible to tell what Amon is thinking. The only hint of life is the light that gleams across his eyes. 

Behind Amon are four of his supporters, including Howin, though I can barely recognize him. He’s dressed in the colors of an Equalist soldier, with thick green goggles covering half his face. The kali sticks I made special for him are slung across his back. He looks older. I hope he can’t tell how my knees are shaking. I hope he can’t read the guilt in my mind. I wish Noa was here. He always soothes my nerves with his perpetual calm. 

“No. Everything’s right on plan accordingly.” I chuckle shakily. “I mean — everything’s according to plan.” 

Amon doesn’t bother addressing my verbal car crash. “Let’s proceed.” He holds out a hand, indicating that I should lead. I open the back door to the stadium and show Amon and Howin through the lower levels. Down here is nothing like what any of the guests would see. There are exposed pipes and harsh lights. The floors and stairs are made of rough concrete. Around every corner, I expect to see a security officer, or a player, or Chief Beifong herself. But I’ve done my job too well. I know how to get around this entire stadium undetected. No one materializes to stop us. 

We come to a thick metal door. In my pocket is the key. I hand it over. 

“This is the elevator operating room. But over here,” I stride halfway back down the hall and open a different door to a small room filled with brooms and other cleaning products. “You can hide until the end of the match. I put a radio in here so you can hear when the game is about to end. There are three… umm, operators. In the elevator room.” I’m starting to feel very hot. “But you only need one to hit the button that will bring you to the court.” 

Amon nods his understanding. “You don’t want to wait with us.” 

My breath catches in my lungs. “I didn’t… I thought I should be seen in the stands. Where I normally watch. That way no one will suspect…” 

For a moment, Amon says nothing. Just peers at me from behind his mask. In those seconds, I know what he’s going to say. He’s going to insist that I join them. That I stand on the court with them, in front of Korra, and Mako, and Bolin, and look in their eyes while I betray them. That I watch Korra find out that all this time she’s thought she hated me, it’s no where close to what real hatred feels like. 

But he doesn’t. Instead he nods. “Just as clever as Noa and your father said.” 

Had I been asked this morning, “Asami, what is your dearest ambition?” my answer would have likely been this — hearing Amon say that he and my father were proud of me. Hearing someone — anyone — say they valued me for my talents and my intelligence. 

But when the words pass from Amon’s mask, it doesn’t feel like I expected. I feel a surge of something, but it isn’t pride. 

“Good luck,” I squeak, before I all but fly out of there. Above me I hear the roar of a thousand throats at once, which can only mean the final match has started. Right now, Mako, Bolin, and Korra are waving to the crowd, accepting the adoration of hundreds of strangers. Tahno and his team are doing the same. They’re here to take the talents that so few are born with, and use them to put on a show: the ancient and revered art of bending reduced to cheap entertainment. Perhaps I’m cynical because I know how this will end. And when it does, hindsight will reveal what a silly use of talent this spectacle was. 

I’m still running towards the spectator’s levels. I can hear the announcer’s voice echoing through the hallways, but it’s too indistinct to make out the words. Please, please, please, I’m begging silently. Of all the things I’ve done tonight, please let at least one of them lead to something good. 

“Tahno gets a little too worked up and unleashes a deluge on Bolin that will certainly elicit a foul.” Pause. “Or not.”

I sag against the wall. It worked. My stupid, last minute, definitely illegal stunt worked. More slowly now, I walk out towards the stands. Besides the normal security guys, there are police officers lining the walkways. One of them puts a hand out to stop me, but stadium security recognizes me and waves me through. I walk to the edge and notice that I am directly above Chief Beifong and Councilman Tenzin. All I would have to do is leap over this banister and this whole mess of night could be over before it begins. 

On the court, two of the Wolf Bats illegally team up on Korra. I see them cautiously regard the ref as they test just how far they can go. The ref — Mr. Important — is obstinately looking in the wrong direction. Mako steps in to protect her, which even I, a newbie to the sport, can see is a stupid move. It traps both of them in a corner, and makes it easy for the earthbender on the Wolf Bats to pound them towards the edge. I get a savage pleasure watching them go over. 

Except they don’t. The fans are losing their minds. The Wolf Bats think it’s because they’re cheering for their victory and they raise their arms to accept the glory. In fact, the noise is because Korra and Mako never made it to the pool. Korra is hanging one-handed from the edge, with Mako in her other hand. Defying the laws of how strong a singular person should be allowed to be, Korra swings Mako back onto the court and hoists herself up as well. The Wolf Bats are easy targets — they don’t even know they’re still playing. 

“What an unbelievable move! These Ferrets aren't just bending the elements, they're bending my mind! The underdogs survive to see round two.”

My heart sinks. No, no, no. Even after all that, Korra and Mako are too talented to lose. They are just talented enough to get their bending taken away. I try to imagine Korra after tonight, once she is stripped of the abilities that make her the Avatar, but I can’t. Korra without her bending is inconceivable. Without her bending, she’ll tear herself apart. 

I watch the rest of the match, my stomach a ball of anxiety. The second round comes down to a tiebreaker. When Korra steps up to take it, I know it’s over. Korra is too good. Even with paid-off refs and properly motivated opponents, Avatar Korra isn’t going to lose. 

She’d better keep her promise. Even after the match is over, Korra had better be as unstoppable as she thinks she is. 

She waterbends two independent streams simultaneously. It’s a completely legal hit (and I hate that I know that), but it’s too difficult for the average waterbender. As she’s proven, time and time again, Korra is well above average. 

It comes down to the third match. The teams line up one last time. But there’s a sense in the audience; they know how this is going to play out. It is clear which team is better. I grip the railing in front of me until my knuckles nearly pop out of my skin. Tenzin’s bald head and Beifong’s gray hair bob in front of me. There’s still time. They can cut the power to the elevator, and end Amon’s revolution in one night. 

I’m sorry, Dad, I think, as I tense to jump over the railing. My brain is so overloaded and stressed, that barely any new information is getting in. I don’t hear the announcer’s voice. Somehow I miss the roar of the fans. The thing that pierces my anxiety is a singular scream: Korra’s scream. 

My head whips up in time to see Korra hit the water. My eyes dart to the court, but Bolin and Mako are nowhere to be found. They must have already been knocked off. Fireworks shoot sparks over the crowd. Stadium employees are dragging the winner’s stands onto the court. It’s official. The Wolf Bats won. 

I get a moment of relief — knee-buckling, heart-pounding, tears springing into my eyes relief — before chaos erupts around the stadium. The mid-court elevator opens, admitting Amon and his crew. They grab the Wolf Bats. The screams in the stands have changed from joy to terror. 

We are all forced to watch as two of Amon’s supporters force Tahno to his knees. “Is this your hero?” Amon’s quiet voice booms through the shocked arena. Then he passes the microphone away and reaches down to touch Tahno’s forehead. It's quick and silent. There are no crashes of thunder. No screams. No flashes and bangs. Amon touches Tahno’s forehead and Tahno falls to the side. The crowd gasps as one. 

Below me, the chief and Councilman Tenzin tense to jump into the fray. Before they can lift off, they are grabbed from behind by two masked individuals, each wearing one thick, brown glove. I force myself to watch. I force myself to listen. White snakes of electricity crawl across their bodies. Just for a second, their muscles tense, their backs arch, and their eyes open wide. Then they fall limp to the ground. It only lasts a second. Less. But in that time, both imposing benders have the time to make it clear just what agony they are being put through. High pitched screams issue from their mouths and seem to echo long after they’ve hit the floor. 

I feel bile surging up my throat. 

On the court, Amon has already stripped the power to bend from the other two. He holds his microphone again. “I believe I have your attention now, benders of Republic City. These were your heroes — the best benders you had the offer. But in the end, even the strongest bender cannot stand against the tide of equality that must wash over us all.” As he speaks, Amon paces the court, making sure to address all sections of the stadium. But now he pauses and stands still, facing me. The black eyes holes of his mask seem to bore into me. “To my supporters, near and far, now is the time to rise against your oppressors and create a more equal world together.”

This is a signal I wasn’t briefed on. I suppose I wasn’t meant to be in the stands. I was supposed to be on the stage, at Amon’s side. But my fellows in the stands know their cue. As soon as Amon says “now is the time to rise” they do. Literally. All throughout the stadium, masked men and women pull bulky brown gloves from hidden places. The people they sit beside begin to panic. All across the stadium, lights pop off and screams fill the air. 

I sink against the railing, watching in horror. I don’t understand what’s happening. These people — these targets — can’t all be benders. But bending ability no longer seems to matter. There are people in masks and people without. There are people who are standing with Amon, and everyone else, it seems, has been labeled as the enemy. 

I wish I was anywhere else. I wish I was blind and deaf and dead. I wish, I wish, I wish I hadn’t seen what happened to Tenzin and Beifong. I wish the image of their writhing bodies didn’t replay with every crackle of electricity and shout of pain surrounding me. I wish I didn’t know the exact voltage being delivered to the bodies around me — human bodies, so much more real than tests in a lab. 

A huge crash of glass breaking cuts through the chaos. Heads swivel to see a ladder being lowered through the broken roof and Amon and his men being whisked off the stage by an airship. His departure suggests an end to the horror show playing out around me. The screaming continues, but without Amon, his supporters will surely seek cover sooner rather than later. 

A blur of red and blue halts his rise out of the stadium. I squint to better see the figure that has jumped from the platform up into the air. I don’t need to squint. I could close my eyes and still be able to name the person who — when given every excuse to leave — has chosen to jump right into the middle of the danger. 

I almost laugh. Of course. Despite my efforts — despite betraying my family and my cause — Korra has found a way to put herself into danger anyways. 

On my periphery, I see a masked woman approaching, gauntlet flickering. I turn to face her and grit my teeth. She’s almost on me when she stops. 

“Miss Sato…” she breathes in amazement. 

“Do it,” I call. 

The woman hesitates. 

“Do it!” I sound crazy, hysterical. Her hand falls to her side. She’s not going to tase her boss’ daughter. But my brain comes up with the perfect excuse and my guilty lips spit them out: “Or they’ll be suspicious.” 

White hot agony arches through my body. My own voice rips my throat apart. Then the world goes black. 

Chapter Text

Korra

The loft is in shambles. 

A lot of the destruction is the fault of yours truly. I mean — really it’s Amon’s fault. But if you’re asking who sent fire and rocks through the walls and windows, some of that was definitely me. The gaping hole in Mako and Bolin’s apartment is a huge reminder of my failure. Again. 

It was business as usual up until the end of the tournament. The Wolf Bats paid off the refs, no surprise there really; they were always a bunch of scumbags. Bolin, Mako, and I ended up in the pool, which at the time I thought was the worst I could possibly feel. 

Then some masked psycho electrocuted the pool. 

Electrocution is no joke. There’s tales of firebenders being able to create lightning, and, as a firebender, I always thought that was pretty cool. Now I’m not so sure. It felt like every cell in the body was ripping itself apart. And I was stuck, couldn’t move, couldn’t bend. I thought for sure we were gonna drown. 

Instead we got tied up, prepared like a Solstice Festival hogmonkey for Amon’s second act. Luckily, Pabu saved the day. I will never underestimate that rodent again. 

I didn’t get back to the top in time to save Tahno and the others — but with a little assist from Lin Beifong (who maybe doesn’t hate me??) I got up the roof. I fought Amon face to face. And I was losing. I’m supposed to be the most powerful bender in the world and yet this guy, this random guy, swerves around all my attacks like he knows they’re coming. 

“I’m really sorry, guys,” I say to Mako and Bolin. Their home is wrecked. Even if it wasn’t, the whole stadium has been locked down for further notice. I had to play my Avatar card to even get them up here so they can sift through the rubble. 

“I talked to Tenzin, he said you can come to Air Temple Island until you find a new place.” 

The boys poke through what’s left of the apartment, looking for anything to salvage. Bolin gets a few pieces of clothing that aren’t totally ruined while Mako climbs carefully up to the loft, which has a new wrap around window, courtesy of me and Amon. 

Bolin and I are talking through what can be saved when Mako’s panicked voice says, “It’s not here!” Bolin and I climb up the set of splinters that used to be a ladder. Mako is shoving detritus to the side, flinging scorched boards and shredded bedding over his shoulder. 

“What are you looking for?” Bolin asks. 

“No, no, no,” Mako mumbles. “Our picture!” he exclaims. “With Mom and Dad.” 

“Oh,” Bolin murmurs. He looks around, his gaze settling on the gaping hole in the wall. Icy winter wind swirls through the apartment. “It’s okay, Mako, it’s just a picture. We’ll always have our memories.” 

Mako is not comforted. He starts slamming the wreckage about harder and harder. As he throws the remains of a bedside table to the side, I see a small paper square take to the breeze. 

“Mako!” I yell, grabbing for it. It swirls just out of my reach. Mako and Bolin dive for it, but the breeze rushes in, then out — the picture dances out the hole, into the empty sky. 

“No,” Mako mumbles. 

“Mako? Bolin?” As the three of us watch the picture hover just out of reach, Asami’s voice announces her entrance. No one answers her as we hear her ascend the broken ladder. “What are you all looking at?” 

For a moment, it looks like the photo is going to blow back towards us — all three of us extend our arms — until a downdraft yanks it away. I see Mako’s shoulders slump in my periphery. 

“Is that something important?” Asami asks me in an undertone. 

I turn to her. “You think?” Then I dive out the window. 

I’m sure that my jump is followed by gasps of astonishment and acclaim, but I can’t hear anything over the rush of air in my ears. Gravity seizes my body and I start falling so much faster than the picture. I reach for it, stretching my fingers as far as they will go — and snatch it between my forefinger and middle finger. I clutch the photo in my fist, crumpling the paper, as I plummet headfirst towards the ground. That’s the moment I realize my brilliant plan has a major hole in it. 

What was my plan? Oh, simple. I was going to shoot concentrated fire blasts from my hands, and jet right back up to the loft. Unfortunately, I’m clutching a very fragile, very flammable photograph in one hand — a photograph I just leapt out of a twenty story building for. It’d be pretty tough to explain how I risked my life only to burn it to a crisp. 

I shoot out one fireblast with my free hand. All it does is send my body spinning so I can’t tell which way is up. All I know is that down is coming towards me quick. 

I fight the wind and gravity and stick the photo between my teeth. Then I give everything I’ve got to the firepower in my hands. The heat is incredible, and I scream around the photo in my mouth from the effort of keeping it up. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, I stop spinning. I have a split second to realign my arms to stop my from crash-landing face first in the alley behind the stadium. Instead, I come in for an undignified and painful somersault. I land on my back, looking up at the grey sky, sucking in huge breaths, my teeth still locked on the photo. 

Footsteps approach and strong hands grip my shoulders, pulling me into a sitting position. 

“You’re okay, you’re okay.” I am dimly aware of who the voice belongs to. But I don’t overthink it. I just sink into their arms, into their relief. It’s not until they pull back a bit to inspect me that I fully comprehend that the person cradling me, nearly crying, is Asami Sato. 

I smile at her. 

She smacks me. 

The photo flutters to the ground. 

“What is the matter with you!”

“What the… ?” I rub my tender cheek. 

“Do you have a fucking death wish?” she hisses in my face. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?”

“It’s okay,” I mumble. I grope around and find her hand. I squeeze tight. “See? I’m okay.”

The fury in her eyes drops a degree. “No more suicide jumps!” she commands, shoving a finger at my nose. 

“You got it, Princess,” I say. With her help, I get to my feet and grab the photo. It has a distinct crescent of teeth marks, but little Mako and Bolin smile at me from the laps of two people I’ll never meet.

“Holy Roku!” Bolin and Mako appear at the head of the alleyway. 

I hold the picture out to Mako. He takes it, his eyes brimming with tears. “Korra… that was…”

“Incredibly stupid,” Miss Perfect finishes. She’s standing off to the side, her arms crossed. 

I roll my eyes. “I’m fine, I had everything under control!” My galloping heart knows this is a lie. My pulse vibrating my skull knows that for a terrifying moment everything was not under control. Over a picture. For a boy. I just wanted to make something right. 

“It’s not fine,” she insists, still anchored to spot by the wall where I first fell. “You could have died.” Her voice is low and furious. 

“Like you would have cared,” I snap. Instantly, I know I’m wrong, but that doesn’t take my words back. I have to watch them hit her, watch her expression fold up, her relief and anger packed away. 

“You’re right,” she mutters. “My life would be much simpler without you.” She stalks out of the alleyway. When she’s out of sight she yells, “Are you coming?”

I look to the boys in confusion. 

Mako kicks a pebble awkwardly. “Umm, before you told us about Air Temple Island, Asami said we could stay at her house.”

“More like mansion!” Bolin exclaims, forever misreading the room. 

My face burns and I do not want to head back to the street, where the lighting will be better. The message is clear: All the suicide jumps in the world won’t make him choose me. And they evidently aren’t impressing a certain Miss Perfect Princess either. Asami is tapping her foot next to a waiting limo. 

“Look, I’m sure you can come too,” Mako says. “She just needs a minute to cool down. We didn’t see you land — she thought you…”

“Yeah,” I pull at a ponytail. “Well. I have double airbending practice ever since the Koi, so…”

“You have to come, Korra,” says Bolin. He looks at Asami with his puppy dog eyes. “Korra can come right?”

Miss Perfect shrugs and ducks into the car. “Like I care.”

Chapter Text

Asami

I’m just in the middle of walking the boys through our garage, showing off the gleaming racecars, when Mako shouts, “Korra!” Ah, so the stupidest girl in the world has decided to grace us with her presence afterall — not that I care. Her very large pet walks at her side. 

“Asami’s showing us the new racing models,” Bolin explains. 

Korra looks at the cars — top of the line, highest-tech vehicles, not even on the market yet — and shrugs. Just to let us know that, even though she has no conception of what these things can do or the kind of work that went into developing them, she’s not impressed. I’d say worldly possessions are beneath a spiritual leader like herself, but from the looks she and Mako are exchanging, it is painfully obvious that there are a few worldly things she would like to possess. Not that I care. 

“Wanna race, Avatar?” I ask, twirling a key ring around my finger. 

“Korra can’t drive!” Bolin interjects

I smirk at her, but she smirks right back and says, “Guess you’ll have to take me for a ride.” 

Maybe I punch the accelerator a bit more than I have to. Maybe I drift a few meters more than necessary. Maybe I get a kick out of the most powerful person in the world digging her knees into the back of my seat in terror. 

When we cross the finish line, the Avatar staggers from the car, looking a little green around the gills. “I thought I had you pegged, Rich Girl,” she mumbles, holding herself up on the sidewall. 

“Let me guess, you thought it was all makeovers and shopping trips.” 

“Maybe,” she says defensively. I’m not surprised. That’s how everyone sees me. 

And I really don’t care that Avatar Korra is the same as the rest of them.  

“I can do makeovers and shopping trips,” I allow. “Or I can drive racecars and kick your ass.” 

Korra whirls around and my stomach leaps. The difference between flirting and being mean is about how the other person takes it. And Korra — forever convinced of her own exceptionalism — thinks that my attempts to bully her, to keep her at arm’s length, are an intricate courtship ritual. 

“I’d like to see you try,” she taunts, in a voice that begs to be thrown down on the racetrack. 

“Maybe later,” I respond airily. 

Instead, we find Mako and Bolin and try out all the fun things the mansion has to offer. It’s got plenty. We play games in the afternoon — me and Mako versus Korra and Bolin. A five-star chef makes us dinner. And we end the night curled up by the firepit. It would all be happy, harmonious, good clean fun — if it weren’t for the fact that I’m starting to despise Mako. 

If he could be fifteen percent less transparent, I could tolerate the way he drools over the Avatar. But no. He whines when Bolin and Korra beat us in foosball, footvolley, and splash-wars. He spends dinner making inside references to probending with Korra and Bolin that I can’t understand. And then, when I try to curl up next to him by the fire, he pushes me away so he can blast an excessive amount of flames into the pit. 

I can’t help myself, even though I know Korra and Bolin are close enough to hear. “I think you did it,” I snap. 

He pulls back, confused. I hardly ever treat him to anything but girly giggles and seductive whispers. 

“What’s gotten into you lately?” he mutters. 

My involuntary and unsubtle glance at the Avatar should answer his question, but he’s too thick to notice. 

“Maybe I’m not the only one acting different,” I shoot back. 

His brow creases. “What are you talking about?” 

“Figure it out,” I respond, getting to my feet and stalking away, back up to my room. Once in my bedroom, I kick out at a box of tools lying on my floor. I should break up with him. I have to break up with him. Having him here is an unnecessary risk. I don’t need him anymore. But then he’s gonna go right for Korra. Fuck fuck fuck

Knock-knock-knock.  

The knuckles wrap on my door like gunfire. I gasp and jump, startled out of my self-hatred. Korra’s head pokes through my door. In the name of Oma’s bastard children… this day just keeps getting better

“Hey, Sato,” she says, striding into my room and making herself comfortable on my bed. 

“What?” 

“Whoa, cool your jets. I’m just here to talk.” 

“Mako sent you up here, didn’t he?” 

Far from looking abashed, Korra rolls her eyes. “Yes. How sexist is that?” 

I snort. I can’t help it. Mako really is an idiot and Korra has no chill.

“Tell him not to trouble himself,” I scoff. “I’m fine.” 

“Clearly.” Korra leans back, stretching out on my four-poster, queen sized bed. She idly conjures a fireball and tosses it back and forth between her hands. 

“What are you doing?” I ask, swallowing nervously. 

“Running out the clock.” 

“What?” 

“Mako will think I didn’t comfort you enough if I go back now, so…” She whips the fireball around her head.

“You haven’t comforted me at all.” 

Korra rolls her eyes like that’s my fault. “Wellllll, do you want to talk?” 

“No.” 

“Okay.” She’s tossing the fireball higher and higher. My eyes are locked on it; I can’t look away.

“Can you stop?” I hate the way my voice quivers. 

As soon as I ask, the fireball is extinguished. Korra props herself up on her elbows and surveys my room. Understandably, she is drawn to the corner that is… less typical for a young woman. 

“Ran out of space in the garage?” she asks. 

It started innocently enough. I found that I kept being stuck with design ideas in the middle of the night, and then losing them the next morning. So I bought a drafting board upstairs. But part of the process is actually touching the materials, weighing them out in my hands, getting a feel for the final product. Shockingly quickly, one corner of my room became my own little mechanist’s studio. 

“Yeah, my dad’s been on me to move that stuff for years.” 

“Huh.” 

“I guess your dad doesn’t tell you what to do much,” I remark, a vein of jealousy running through my words. I wonder how different my life would be if my father didn’t have a say in my actions. 

“He tries,” Korra says, “but Tenzin is a million times worse.” Korra picks up what she probably thinks is a piece of junk from my desk, and tosses it into the air like she has a compulsion to throw things around. I zoom to her side, and pluck the delicate model turbine from her hands, setting it down gently. 

“Could you not?” 

Spirits, sorry. Tell me, Rich Girl, what can I do? I can’t bend, or talk to you, or touch anything.” 

“You can stop calling me Rich Girl, for one.” 

Korra glances around my expansive room as an answer. It only boils me more. 

“I didn’t ask you to come up here.” 

Korra puts her hands on her hips with her signature scowl on her face. She looks just like the night I first laid eyes on her: spoiled, privileged, and entitled. And I realize something, while I glare into those ocean blue eyes: I do care. Resentment, annoyance, rage — there are a myriad of ways I care. 

“What is your deal?” Korra demands. “I can’t fucking figure you out! At the tournament you were treating me like you were gonna jump my bones, and now it’s like you hate me.” I lose our staring contest as I remember whispering in her ear, alone in the locker room. It was strategic. It was not because I care.

I despise you, I want to say. Walking around my city like you own the place. Just because you happened to be born lucky doesn’t make you special — thinking you can get whatever guy or girl you want with no consequences! Maybe the Avatar can be free from the repercussions of her actions, but I certainly can’t. And after the tournament, I’m sitting on a ticking time bomb; one that ticks louder and louder whenever a certain reincarnated deity gets under my skin. 

“Since when do you care?” I snap. Korra’s own words pop out of my mouth like a wounded animal. A blush creeps up my neck as I reveal that I’ve been hyper-fixated on what she said after her nosedive off the stadium. I lash out harder: “You’re usually too stuck in your Korra-centric world to notice what other people think or feel.” 

“What are you talking about?” she all but shouts. So easily distracted. “My whole life is about other people. I’m not allowed to put myself first.” 

“Yeah, right. Oh boo-who, you’re the Avatar. Does complaining about it make you feel justified for all the attention and adoration you get? Or do you know deep down you don’t deserve it?” 

Korra’s eyes are bright. “I didn’t ask for any of this! But I’m still doing it. I’m the one who has to go toe-to-toe with Amon. Not you, or the police, or anyone else. It’s me! It’s my responsibility.”

I force a laugh — because it’s funny really. She doesn’t have any idea that someone saved her ass. She doesn’t have any idea that she’s wrong, and that she is not doing this all on her own. Not at all. “See? This is exactly what I mean — your whole ‘helping people’ routine gets a little transparent when the only person you’re trying to fight is the guy who hates you. The Avatar is supposed to help the whole world, but you’re stuck in one city, fucking around, focused on one guy.”

Again, again, again, I’ve gone too far. I’ve pushed her to her edge. And this time I really think there’s no going back. I can’t look at her. 

“Fuck you,” Korra says quietly. 

Strong, confident, cocky Avatar Korra has vanished. A scared little girl backs up to the edge of my bed and hugs her knees to her chest. “You don’t get it,” she says, voice trembling. “You don’t know what it’s like. I’m supposed to help everyone, and I can’t even stop the guy coming after me.” 

I can hear the tendrils of fear lapping at the surface. And I can’t help myself. I don’t stop to examine the whiplash this conversation has given me. In a second, I cross the room and throw my arms around her. I squeeze her as tightly as possible, trying to keep the demons of dread and panic at bay. For a second, she’s stiff, but then she folds into my arms and lets me hold her. I know I have no right to the burst of satisfaction that blooms in my chest: I work for the guy who owns the Avatar’s worst nightmares. But for a perfect, infinite moment, it’s just me and Korra, and nothing bad can ever happen. 

After who knows how long, Korra nuzzles my shoulder and breaks free. She looks at me sheepishly. “I thought I was supposed to be the one comforting you.” 

I shrug. “Give and take.” 

“You’re not who I thought you were at all.” 

“You keep saying that.” 

“You keep surprising me.” 

“Is that a compliment?” 

“Yes.” 

For a moment we just look at each other, still sitting on my bed, close enough to touch. 

Then Korra jumps to her feet. She shakes out her limbs and doesn’t look at me. Are they filled with the same adrenaline mine are? Did her thought process get stuck on ‘what the fu… ’ too?

Maybe it’s the way Korra yells at me. Not that I’m a masochist, but it’s just so different from the way everyone else in my life treats me. My dad, my coworkers, Mako… they all think I’m this delicate little thing. But not Korra. Korra treats me like someone tough, someone who can handle herself. I like the way I look in Korra’s eyes. 

I do not like the look that alights in Korra’s eyes at this moment though, especially when I follow her excited gaze and find a giant Fire Ferrets poster hanging on my wall. Korra rushes over to the large picture of Mako, Bolin, and herself, and does a little dance on the spot.  

Kyoshi’s coconuts! Did you stalk him??” Korra asks gleefully.

Glowing beet-red, I rip the poster off the wall. It does not shut the Avatar up. 

“Just tell me, were you aiming for him with that moped? Holy Roku! Are you one of those crazy people who tries to murder their crush so that you’ll always be connected to them?” 

“You know, it’s really weird that you use your own past lives’ names as an exclamation.” I’m trying to make my voice just as cold as it was moments ago, but nothing can shake Korra’s newfound mirth. It’s like our fight didn’t even happen. 

Korra shrugs and grins that crooked grin. “Would it be better if I said: FOR KORRA’S SAKE, ASAMI, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A STALKER?” 

I fight a losing battle against the smile forming on my face. She’s such an idiot. 

Korra swoons into my shoulder, putting her hand to her brow. “In the name of Avatar Korra, let the poor boy live!” 

I shove her away from me. (I try, the Avatar is very strong.) “Will you shut up??”

“Korra’s blessings to you and yours!” She attempts to rip the poster from my hands as I hold it out of reach.

“Stop! If you’re gonna scream anyone’s name in here, it’s gonna be mine.” 

The scene freezes. Korra is pressed into my shoulder, arms on either side of me, grasping for the poster that I’m holding at arm’s length. We’re face-to-face so I get an up close and personal view of Korra’s reaction to the insanely explicit thing that went straight through my lips without passing through my brain. Shock, amusement, and then something much more visceral passes over those brilliant blue eyes. 

“If you could make me,” she breathes. 

I bite my lip. I try not to think of all the ways I could try to coax my name from Korra’s mouth. I try not to think about the ragged, desperate, keening way it would sound. I try not to think about how her face would look, her blue eyes wide and unfocused. I fail on all counts. 

“I could make you.” 

Korra’s hands find my face. I slide my arms around her back. Our lips crash together, and push and pull against each other with urgency, ferocity. Her hand is anchored in my hair. I nudge her lips apart and dive in with my tongue. 

There are no thoughts in my head. Just stars bursting behind my eyes and the exquisite feeling of Korra’s wet, warm mouth on mine. I want to do this forever. I want every second to stretch into several years. I want this. I want her

Eh hem.” 

We break apart. Korra’s eyes go wide as she turns to the door that neither of us bothered to shut. I don’t need to look. 

In a squeaky voice, she says, “Hi, Mr. Sato.” 

“Hello, Avatar Korra.” My father’s voice is even. There is no emotion, no judgement, no inflection. Nonetheless his words crash over me like hammers. “It’s late. Our housekeeper has prepared a room for you, if you’re staying the night.” The implication is clear about where Korra is and is not allowed to sleep. She takes the hint. 

“Okay. Great. Thank you.” 

She awkwardly edges around my father. If she spares me an apologetic/guilty/flirty look as she makes her escape, I don’t see it. I’m still stuck. My feet are glued to the floor, my brain has turned off. The very crumpled Fire Ferrets poster is still clutched in my hand. I let it fall to the floor and slowly turn to face him. 

Daddy stands on the threshold of my room. His mouth in a thin line. The floor underneath me collapses, dropping me down, down, down into the center of the world. 

“I thought the firebender was bad enough,” he says quietly. 

“Daddy…” 

He raises a hand and I fall silent. He shakes his head once and leaves.

Chapter Text

Korra

I’m not going to lie and say I slept well. Sure, the four-poster bed with the billion thread count sheets was a step up from the monastery-regulated single person cot and wool blanket — but at least at the Air Temple there are several miles between myself and Asami Sato. Even as I buried myself in blankets and pillows and squeezed my eyes shut, I was distinctly aware that out my door, down the hallway, hang a right, three doors on the left, Asami Sato was lying in her own bed. Probably in some ridiculous, rich person sleepwear that looks more like high fashion. And then my eyes would spring open, cuz you know, I was picturing what Asami Sato was wearing in bed — the bed that was mere feet from me. And the whole process would start all over again. 

We all have breakfast together in the absurdly large and opulent dining room. Miss Perfect looks well-rested, and happy, and calm. Mako does not look devastated, as if, oh I don’t know, the most beautiful woman in the world dumped him. It’s like last night never even happened. The only clue that tells me it wasn’t just a wet dream is Mr. Sato’s empty chair — and the way Asami’s eyes twitch to it every few seconds. 

It did occur to me over my fitful night that perhaps Mr. Sato is processing some brand new information right now. Based on Asami’s reaction when I first guessed her sexuality, I’m thinking it probably isn’t information she shares widely. I don’t know how difficult of a conversation that’s going to be. So I don’t take it too personally that she’s sitting a few inches from Mako. If she doesn’t want to shave her beard off just yet, who am I to force her?

I’m not super good at letting things go though. So to cope with the raging monster in my chest that wants to throw Mako out the window, I almost completely disassociate and return to my favorite place in the world — Asami Sato’s bedroom. I’m no longer sitting at breakfast, sharing a platter of honeydew and cantaloupe with my crush and her boyfriend (my other crush). Instead, I’m back in Asami’s arms with her perfect lips molding to mine, her tongue in my mouth, her arms around my back. I’ve imagined this scenario (and possible variations) at least a hundred times over the past eight hours, so I fast-forward to the part when I picture she’ll throw me down on her ridiculously large bed, and I let her drag her name from my mouth as many times as she wants. 

“Korra?” Mako snaps his fingers in front of my face. 

“Spirits!” I come back to reality with a bang, nearly upending a jug of OJ. 

“You were just, like, zoning out,” Mako tells me. I look at Miss Perfect, but her attention is trained on the door. 

Maybe, I’m trying to get a rise out of her. Maybe, I’m trying to distract myself so I don’t flood this whole dining room. Maybe, I’m just feeling a little reckless. Whatever the reason, I say, “Hey Rich Girl, yesterday when you said you could kick my ass, that was hot air, right?” Her sparkling, depthless emerald eyes narrow and I get what I want: Asami’s Sato’s undivided attention.

“You want me to prove it?” 

I smile, feeling that feeling that only she can give me when she’s looking at me like she wants to punch me in the face. “Show me what you’ve got.” 

Obviously, the Sato mansion/manor/estate comes equipped with it’s own top of the line dojo — for non-benders. There’s no earth discs or spigots for water. But that’s fine. Gotta walk before you can run, right? And I can fight without bending. 

Sato’s got an outfit for everything, including eating her words. She asks me if I’m gonna change, but I tell her my clothes will do because “I’m always ready for a fight.” That makes her roll her eyes, and honestly, I could watch it all day. 

We square off, and when Bolin hits the starting bell, I launch directly into an attack. I aim a flattened hand at her shoulder, but Rich Girl’s got some moves and she ducks under it. I’m shocked to feel a fist connect with my side. All my training goes out of my head, and instead of rolling with the punch, I freeze up, absorbing the impact. I pivot around to face Little Miss Perfect and catch her shaking out of her hand. She stops when she sees me looking. 

“What?” she asks in that aggressive way of hers. “Stop smiling like that.” 

I didn’t realize I was smiling — nor that I was smiling in a particular way — nor that a particular type of smiling was against the rules. It’s hard keeping up with Asami Sato’s many rules. 

We line up again, and again Rich Girl surprises me. This time I know I’m smiling. I can’t help it. I’m impressed. 

Sato crosses her arms. 

“What?” 

“You aren’t bending.” 

“Neither are you.” 

If looks could kill, I’d be dead a few times. I falter a little under her anger, and stammer out: “I didn’t think…” 

“Didn’t think I could handle it?” 

Spirits, I love her. I mean, yeah, she’s glaring at me like she wants to kill me, but Kyoshi is she tough. And the way she stalks across the mat to jab a finger in my chest is… well, it feels indecent that Mako and Bolin are present. 

“You’re going easy on me because I’m not a bender,” she snarls. 

“In your dreams,” I shoot back, cracking my knuckles. (It's worth noting that in my dreams, I definitely don’t go easy on her.)

We manage to rig a hose from the outside in through an open window. Bolin and I grab some rocks and dirt and deposit them in the spotless dojo. 

“Come and get it, Princess,” I tease. 

“You’re gonna stop with those nicknames.” My trash brain zooms back to her bedroom, back to those things we didn’t do, back to the name I didn’t moan into her ear. 

“Make me.” 

Asami starts the next round but she doesn’t get far. She’s got to dodge my signature water whip off the heel. She pivots, only to find a spray of dirt coming from the opposite direction. Rich Girl leaps into a somersault (a visual that will now live rent-free in my head). She’s on the defensive, only able to dodge water, then earth, then water. 

Pushed to the back corner, she meets my eyes. “Don’t hold back now!” she pants. 

Okay — this is the thing about Asami Sato. Anyone who isn’t half-blind knows she’s afraid of fire. I knew it from the first night I met her, when I lit her cigarette and she nearly went backwards off the balcony into the harbor. (And I felt like a fucking idiot last night — firebending in her room — what was I thinking?) So I’m not firebending at her — cuz I’m not a monster. But Little Miss Perfect, Rich Girl, Princess Asami Sato can’t stand that I’m holding back. She’d rather jump into fire (literally) than have anyone in the room think she’s afraid. It all just clicks together for me, as we stand across the ring, panting, glaring. She’s daring me to do it, do the thing that will hurt her. 

“Give me everything you got, Avatar,” she orders. 

Yes, ma’am. My next strike is a fire fist. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe she’ll freak and that’ll be the last time those green eyes find mine across a room. But she’s trusting me to do the thing that scares her the most. So I have to trust her enough to listen. 

There’s a split-second of panic, but she presses through and lunges to the side. I know I’m smiling big now, and I don’t care if she yells at me for it. She doesn’t yell. In fact, I think I see her smile too. 

I’ll give Sato this: she doesn’t tire easily. I knock her down nine times in a row, and she gets to her feet for a tenth. 

“Maybe we should take a break,” Mako suggests. His voice is distant and irrelevant. I’m sweating and breathing hard, but if Rich Girl isn’t giving up, then neither am I. 

In the next round, something is different. The smartest person in Republic City is earning her title. Before I can unleash a fire blast, Asami darts up close to me. The flames fly uselessly in the air behind her. I pull at the ground beneath her feet, but she’s so close that the ground beneath her feet also happens to be beneath my feet. We both stumble to the side, Asami kicks my ankle, and I’m down. I feel the impact on my side, but don’t really process it. I guess I never really believed her; but when Asami Sato said she could kick my ass, she meant it. 

The next few matches are a blur. As soon as the bell rings, Rich Girl sprints into my personal space. Besides being very distracting because — hello, beautiful girl right there — it’s not how benders fight. Agni Kai halls are narrow, but long, to allow space for the fire to peter out. Earthbending trials are held in arenas twice the size of your average town square so they don’t knock any houses off their foundations. And waterbenders — forget about it. When waterbenders duel, they usually find a free-standing glacier out in the middle of the ocean in case, you know, they bring up an odd hurricane. Probending has taught me a lot, but even that court is five times the size of this lei tei mat. Meanwhile, Little Miss Perfect seems born for the up close and personal style. She’ll ding my side, then twist around behind me before I can even try to get her back. She’s like a little vulture-wasp, buzzing in my ear, pissing me off. 

Finally, finally, finally, I get her. Maybe she’s getting tired (spirits know I’m getting tired), or maybe she decides mid-strike not to kill me (her hand was aimed for my throat), but she seems to falter. I don’t even think, I just slam my heel into the ground, jutting a column of stone out of the floor. A horrible crack echoes through the room. 

Asami collapses forward, cradling her very broken arm to her chest. She squints at her hand, which is swaying limply, and retches. 

“Asami!” To be totally honest, I’d kind of forgotten Mako was here. I mean, I knew someone was ringing the bell, but otherwise, he hadn’t crossed my mind. He reminds me of his presence by getting up in my face. “What were you thinking!?” 

I push him out of my way and kneel down beside Asami. “Let me see.” I don’t think Asami can really hear me through the pain she’s trying to contain. As carefully as I can, I roll her onto her back and waterbend a small stream into a cast around the broken limb. The water glows faintly. I see Rich Girl’s eyes flutter, but she holds on to consciousness somehow. Her breathing is labored as the slow process leaches the pain out of her limb drop by drop. When the bones finally click back together, Asami gasps. 

“Told you I could make you moan,” I whisper. 

She laughs weakly. “Pervert.”  

“See, you’re gonna be just fine, Rich Gi— Salami.” 

She shakes her head. “That’s not better.” 

Mako reenters the scene (whoopsies, hope he didn’t hear that pornographic thing I just said to his girlfriend). He ignores me and gently helps Asami to her feet. She winces, still holding her arm to her chest. They’re exchanging some hushed words and suddenly I’m super aware of me. Like how I’m standing off to the side of this couple, and how my arms feel awkward anywhere that I put them. I feel short and bulky and in the way. 

Bolin starts lugging the rocks out of the dojo so I follow his lead and siphon all the water off the floor. Nothing I do is gonna fix the huge tears in the lei tei mat, so they’ll just stay there, like ugly scars of how embarrassing I am. 

Mako has Asami propped up on some cushions in the corner with a glass of water, her injured arm elevated away from her. 

“Are you okay?” I ask. 

The funny thing is, I think it’s pretty fucking obvious that I was talking to Asami. But Mako decides that my question is actually an invitation for him to speak up about all the things he’s upset with. I’ll give you a hint: it’s me. He’s upset with me. 

His eyebrows form an angry V in the middle of his face. “What the fuck is the matter with you?” 

“It was an accident!” I can hear a pathetic little whine in my voice, and I hate it. I know I sound like a defensive child, and I just wish I knew how to not feel like one. “I’m sorry.” 

“Classic Korra.” 

“Excuse me?”

“You always do this.” Mako’s face is full of disgust. It hurts. “You push too hard. You don’t care about anything or anyone as long as you win. You know what Asami said when I first told her you were on the team? She said you were nothing more than a show off — that even if you were the Avatar, it wouldn’t be worth it to have some preening peacock-parrot. I wish I’d listened.” 

I feel a little hitch in the back of my throat. I search for Asami’s eyes, but she’s hidden behind her hair, staring resolutely at the floor. 

“Oh,” is the only thing I manage to get through my lips before I’m flying out the door. Hot, angry, stupid tears clog up my vision as I race across the estate, back to the garage with all the fancy satomobiles. Naga stayed the night in there so that’s my destination. I’m right outside the door when I hear Naga growl. 

Instantly, I know something’s wrong. I throw open the door in time to see a masked individual hit my dog with a tranquilizer dart. Naga’s big white limbs tense, then lose all mobility. She slumps to the floor. 

Some sort of formless shout of anger passes through my lips as I jump and kick an arc through the stone floor, upsetting the carefully laid concrete and tossing that bastard six feet into the air. They crumple into a motionless heap in the corner. I hustle to Naga and pry the dart out of her side. Her eyes stay closed. 

Pfft

I get a split-second warning of an incoming missile. I turn, already firebending, but my flames pass harmlessly beneath the ball and wire. It hits my torso, wrapping around me and trapping my arms at my sides. 

Panic starts building in my chest. The garage is flooding with masked soldiers — Equalists — and they form a loose circle around me. They regard me with their glassy, green goggles, each of them armed. I do a quick headcount. There’s seven of them. And I don’t have my arms. 

I jump and upset the stones in the garage again. Asami taught me a valuable lesson — fighting non-benders is all about distance. If I keep them away from me, I’ll retain an advantage. The idea sounds good in theory, but in practice, inside the garage, it’s a lot harder. 

I take out three before a fourth gets a hand on me, and sends a bolt of electricity through me. 

My knees smash into the ground. I taste blood in my mouth. Black dots flood my vision. I’m dimly aware that someone has my feet. I try to kick, but my legs barely twitch. I fight the oncoming darkness with everything I have as my body is lifted and carried. 

I come to with my face pressed into a plush carpet. I spit some blood on it out of spite. It’s the only rebellion I have. 

“She said this setting would knock out an ostrich horse.” The words are hazy and indistinct, but I recognize the voice. I crane my neck to see my host, Hiroshi Sato, standing over me. 

My stomach sinks. 

He cocks his head, looking down at me. For the first time, I'm struck by how similar he looks to his daughter. He kneels down in front of me. “Since you’re still with us, Avatar, let me tell you how many times I’ve pictured this moment. Although…” he chuckles without joy. “When I imagined telling a bender to stay away from my daughter, I thought it was going to be the boy with the spiky hair. But, as they say, two birds…” Hiroshi reaches down and gently cups my cheek, “one stone.” 

My world goes black. 

Chapter Text

Asami

Korra isn’t in the room she stayed in last night when I go to check on her. A crew is moving the race cars out of the garage, but they tell me Korra’s large, ferocious animal isn’t there either. I lean against a column in the garden and slide to the ground, thinking about how colossally fucked everything has become. Korra hangs around my house for twelve hours, and my world gets turned upside down. I should have known. 

Maybe it’s a good thing Korra did her Korra thing and massively overreacted. At least her running away gives us both a chance to clear our heads. I need some time to fix everything we rushed into and destroyed. First things first, I need to break up with Mako. That needed to happen a long time ago. Watching him defend me this morning (against Korra) was brutal. It made me feel like the slimiest beetle-slug under the muddiest rock. And I didn’t miss the confusion from Korra when she saw we were still together — I’m just shocked she didn’t torpedo our relationship herself. 

Breaking up with Mako is nothing compared to the second conversation I need to have. My stomach twists into painful knots everytime I think about it. I haven’t seen my father since The Incident. He shunned us at breakfast and I didn’t go rushing to tell him that the girl I was kissing last night snapped my arm this morning. We’re avoiding each other. It’s something we’ve never done before. We always talk things out as a family. I’m always by his side. 

I can’t believe he walked in on us. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to kiss Korra anywhere near him. It’s bad enough when a parent walks in on you — it’s a thousand times worse when you’re kissing your family’s biggest enemy. Add on the fact that the enemy is a gender your father was not prepared for… icing on the shittiest shit cake of all shit. 

All of these worries press down on my mind — obscuring one very important fact. I kissed Korra! I kissed the Avatar. My pulse quickens. I remember her blue eyes daring me. I remember our bodies crashing together. I remember the feeling of her lips against mine, parting to let me in… 

“Shit.” I stand up and pat the dirt off my skirt. I knew kissing Korra would change my life — I just didn’t anticipate how quickly. 

As I stand, the work crew pulls the final race car out of the garage — a beautiful ruby red, low-rider, with white-walled tires — and it’s a mess. The paint is all dinged up, the windshield is cracked, and as it rolls slowly back towards the shop, it looks like the axel has been knocked out of alignment. I move towards the garage to find out what the hell happened to my favorite car, when I see a familiar figure racing up the long walk to my front door. 

For a crazy second, I think it’s Korra. But this person is taller and slimmer — and has a mustache. “Howin!” I wave, which immediately reminds me that someone broke my arm not five hours and maybe someone is not the best healer in the world. Howin slows to a jog. 

“Where’s your father?” he asks. The feeling that something is wrong starts to bubble up. 

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him all day. Why?” 

Howin sighs and rakes his fingers through his hair. He looks at me with wide eyes and shakes his head miserably. “I… I… I need to talk to him.”  

We finally find my father sitting at his desk, working. I scan the room for signs that something is amiss, but find nothing. Daddy looks up from the documents he’s reviewing. 

“Hiroshi!” Howin crosses the office in three steps and slams his hands down on my father’s desk. I flinch. No one talks to my father like that. Especially not Howin! He’s known Daddy since he was in diapers. I’ve never heard Howin call him anything but a respectful ‘Mr. Sato’ before. “You went rogue!” 

Daddy holds his hand out and speaks calmly. “I’d hardly call it ‘going rogue.’ This was always Amon’s plan.” 

Howin’s face splits with rage. “You used Amon’s soldiers—” 

“I did it myself.” 

“You knew it wasn’t time. Amon doesn’t want—” 

Daddy gets to his feet. His voice changes, effectively cutting Howin off. “I told Amon what would happen if my daughter was ever put into danger.” My stomach twists, but he doesn’t even look at me. “I made it clear from the start that Asami was not to be involved. And now she’s our front line!” He’s yelling now. His anger makes even Howin back down. I feel like I’m about two inches tall. 

“Daddy, I’m not—” 

“Don’t speak.” He holds a hand up to cut me off, but his eyes are still on Howin. It’s crushing that he won’t acknowledge me. My eyeline falls to the floor, on a dark spot in the carpet… is that blood? “What’s done is done,” Daddy says, his calm, businesslike voice returning. 

“What’s done?” I ask fearfully. My breathing is getting shallower. I’m starting to wonder if my assumption that Korra ran away this morning was wrong. 

“I can release the Avatar, if you’d like,” Daddy tells Howin, completely ignoring my question. “But I think that might throw a wrench in some of Amon’s other plans.” 

I get a sick feeling in my stomach. Release…? No. No, it can’t… And he’s still not fucking looking at me. Howin and Daddy stare each other down for a long moment, then Howin pivots on his heel and marches out of the office. I fidget for a moment, not knowing what to do or say. 

“Daddy…” 

“Go.” Dad returns to his desk, to his documents, and acts as if I don’t exist. 

I leave the office, my feet feeling like lead. Howin is pacing in the hallway, looking panicked and overwhelmed. Amon’s hardened lieutenant looks like he might start crying. 

“This is bad, Asami. This is really bad.” 

“Howin. What happened?” Howin keeps pacing. “Is… the Avatar… ?” I leave my question hanging in the air. I don’t want to finish it. If I do, and Howin says yes, then it’s all my fault. Whatever happened to Korra — whatever my father did — is all my fault. It’s all because I couldn’t keep it in my pants.

“Your dad says he can contain her,” Howin’s mumbling, “but she’s the Avatar!" He turns to me. “Is it even possible to hold the Avatar? She could metalbend out of a traditional cell — waterbend out of a wooden one…” Howin resumes his frenetic pacing. 

“Howin. Stop.” I grab his arm. “Start from the beginning. What happened?” 

Howin takes a deep breath. “We got a call from your father this morning. He said he captured the Avatar. But that’s crazy!” Howin starts to lose it again. “He knows that Amon doesn’t want the Avatar yet — and there’s no point keeping her prisoner!”

I try to quell the physical manifestations of my relief, but it’s so strong, I feel all of my muscles relax. Korra hasn’t lost her bending

“Why doesn’t Amon want the Avatar?” I ask. Afterall, I thought that was the whole point. 

Howin looks distracted. “Airbending. He doesn’t want her until she’s mastered all four elements, just in case.” He turns back to my father’s office and asks, “And how is she going to master airbending when she’s trapped in a box!?” 

I pull Howin down the hallway. Getting in a further argument with my father will not be to his benefit. He sinks to the floor, pushing his back into a corner. “Noa’s on his way here — I’ve never seen him so pissed.”

“And Amon?” I ask, fearfully. 

Howin’s head snaps up. “Him too. Him especially.” Howin takes a deep breath and bounces on the balls of his feet. He’s spent so much time playing the part of Amon’s fearless lieutenant, that I’d almost forgotten about my childhood friend who got panic attacks. But a mustache can’t hide Howin’s youth, and his rank can’t shield him from stress. “Okay, okay,” he says, trying to pull himself back on track. “Here’s what’s gonna happen. Amon will take the Avatar’s bending, and if we have to capture her again to take her airbending, we will. And… your dad…” Howin drifts off, not meeting my eyes. 

“What’s going to happen to my dad?” I ask, grabbing Howin’s arm. My fingers dig into his skin. 

Howin sighs and plays with his hair. “I don’t know! There’s going to be consequences. Amon wanted a few more months for Future Industries to remain anonymous. I don’t think — I don’t think he’ll kill —” 

A loud ringing noise fills my ears and cuts off the rest of Howin’s sentence. My fingertips tingle. Kill? As in kill? As in… 

No

It seems I’ve said that last part out loud, perhaps rather forcefully, because Howin is silent, agape. I don’t care. I don’t have time. I turn to the wall and start running my finger along it like it’s a chalkboard, and I’m sketching out design ideas.

“Asami…” Howin’s voice tells me he’s worried I’ve had a mental break. 

“Shh,” I command, continuing my unseen sketching. Howin shouldn’t worry about my mental state. My brain is the only part of me that works. My stupid heart can’t be counted on. My mouth can’t be trusted. My arms and legs weren’t born with the supernatural power to control the elements. But my brain has never let me down before. 

I cross out a few sections of the invisible chalkboard, narrowing down our options. Finally I get to one. My traitorous heart thumps in protest, but I know logically this is the best — the only — course forward. I turn to Howin. 

“I have a plan.” 

Chapter Text

Korra

When I told Tenzin that I was thinking about getting my own place and I said I didn’t care if it was small — I had something a little bit bigger than the four-by-four box I’m currently residing in. Based on the very shiny metal, I’m guessing it’s platinum. It’s nice that my captors had such high expectations for me. It’s got one door (locked) and one window (barred). The window is directly over my head, and by that I mean I would smash my skull if I tried to stand up straight. My muscles are screaming from being so constricted. 

But it’s nothing compared to the mental agony. I was sleeping under the roof of an Equalist. An Equalist was sponsoring our probending team. Every time Hiroshi Sato bowed his head and reverently called me “Avatar,” he was secretly spitting in my face. 

I spend my time in the box picturing ways to obliterate him. If he hates benders so much, then he is going to hate the triple-barreled smackdown I bring to his face. Fire, water, earth — hell, I might get punted into the Avatar State just on spite alone. That man and every other no good, masked, Equalist piece of shit is going to sorely regret the day they put me in a box. 

All of them. All of them. Including…  No!

I hurl a fireball at the wall, letting the sparks rebound into my face. Getting burned by my own firebending is way better than the sick, trembling feeling I get when she crawls into my head. Rich Girl, Miss Perfect, Princess. She kissed me! Did she already know about this box when she shoved her tongue down my throat? Fuck — it’s entirely possible she designed this very specific Avatar-shaped box and soldered it together herself. 

I clench my fists and pull at the metal with all of my concentration. I picture it crumpling like a tin can — not because I think I became a metalbender overnight; not because I think I’m the only one powerful enough to bend platinum — but because this hurt, this agony tearing through my chest, is certainly not big enough for this little milk crate I’m in. It must find a way out. 

But the walls remain shiny and smooth, and I remain trapped with my thoughts. 

Maybe she doesn’t know, some stupid, naïve part of my brain posits. Ha, yeah right. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree — but maybe this apple caught a breeze and landed in a whole other orchard. Shut up, shut up, shut up. If that stupid little, lovesick idiot corner of my brain would just go away, this would hurt so much less. I need to accept it, so I can move on. Spirits, I know what she thinks of me. She’s hated me from the moment we met; Mako confirmed it this morning. Every conversation we’ve ever had has been saturated with disdain and mutually-assured vexation. I was just stupid enough to think that it was flirting. 

But she kissed you

Shut up. 

She did!  

No, I kissed her. Like an idiot. 

She kissed you back, you know she kissed you back

The kiss felt good. It felt real. And so did the terror on her face when her dad cleared his throat. She froze. She didn’t look at him. She didn’t look at me. She was scared — terrified. I just wish I knew why. I wish I’d pulled her aside today instead of challenging her to a fight. I wish I had any way to know if she was terrified for herself, or if she was terrified because she knew what her father would do to me. 

A wordless scream leaves my body along with billowing clouds of flame. I watch the ethereal, red waves move up through the ventilation at the top of the box. It’s a hole, covered in bars that are made of the same stuff as the box. There’s no way to get a hand or arm through it — but fire moves smoothly around and out to freedom. 

I hop to my feet — well, I stumble and crouch as high as the confined space will allow and press some more flames through the grate. In the flash of light, I realize that I’m not in some deep, underground cavern like all the mover villains have; no, I’m inside one of the many buildings on the Sato estate. A wooden building. 

I crack my knuckles, feeling the first real burst of pleasure I’ve had since… nope, you’re putting the memories of all Asami-related pleasures away forever. I am going to bring down this entire building. What will it accomplish? Maybe the burning building will signal to Mako and Bolin that I am in need of help and they will sweep in to let me out of this box so I can go punch some Equalists in the face. Or maybe I will simply burn a big hole in Mr. Sato’s favorite billiards room and the collapsing rubble will cover my box and suffocate me to death. Who can say? But if I’m going to die, I’m going to go out pissing off Hiroshi Sato. 

I’m taking a deep breath that will allow me to unleash a hellstorm — when the door opens. Not my door, but the door to the bigger room I’m in. I pause, ready to fight. 

A man’s voice says: “Zap the box. I don’t want any Avatar shit while we’re moving her.” 

Immediately, a cold sweat breaks out across my body. I don’t even get a chance to worry about where they’re moving me (and how close to Amon I will be when I wake up), because the word “zap” is throwing me into a panic attack. “Zap” doesn’t even begin to cover the pain it describes. “Zap” sounds like something small, something short. I don’t know how long a “zap” takes, but based on my own personal experience, it lasts forever. 

Zap the box. He said zap the box. My thoughts are splintered, but essentially I’m thinking: Korra no touch box, Korra no get zapped. Spirits, if only I could airbend! Then it hits me — the grate. 

I move as quickly as I can, listening to footsteps approach and the awful crackle of electricity. I loop one of my arm wraps through the bars and hold on for dear life. White flickers of electricity dance along the metal panes. I have one crazy thought that Miss Perfect will be impressed with my science knowledge — before I remember, she could be the one zapping me right now. I give one convincing shout of pain and then go silent. When the shocks stop, I lower myself to the ground as silently as possible, and play dead — but I’m ready to spring out of the door as soon as it opens and start taking heads. 

“Hit it again,” the voice commands. My eyes snap open, but there’s no time. Electricity courses through my prison again, traveling right into my skin. Through gritted teeth, I scream and try to bear it, but it’s too much. I can feel my consciousness slipping away again. 

“That’s enough!” another voice says, right as I slide under. It’s a different voice. I feel … I feel like I know that … voice. I try as hard as I can to fight the tide of darkness, to put the pieces together, but they just don’t fit, and my eyes shut.

xxx 

I don’t know how much time passes during my next snooze. When I wake up again, I am still in the Kuruk-damned box. My brain feels like it's been rolled in lint. I vaguely notice that someone is fiddling with the lock 

They’re opening the door. My thought process is thick and slow like molasses. They moved me somewhere — now they’re opening the door … 

I scramble to my feet. It’s Amon. I know it is. The door will open and show me a lacquered mask. This is my last chance to fight my way out. Fire. No metal box can take fire away from me — so fire is what this bastard is going to get. I feel my fists heat up. The door unlatches. 

I follow the door out as it opens and get one split-second to realize that it’s not Amon’s face I’m looking into. It’s Asami’s. In that split-second, all of my fears are confirmed and rage slices through my brain. I let the fire go. I’m not going to burn Miss Perfect — I’m going to strangle her with my bare hands. 

I jump on Asami and knock her to the floor. “You!” I growl. She squirms underneath me. I put a knee on her recently healed arm and she howls. 

“Wait, Korra, I—” 

“Don’t say my name,” I hiss. “You manipulative, lying cu—” 

“Korra!” Strong arms pull me up. 

My escape plan was not a very good one. As soon as I saw Asami Sato’s face, I forgot about everything else. I forgot that I was jumping out into a room possibly filled with enemies. I forgot the very real possibility that Amon could be among them. In that moment, when I saw her holding a key to my prison, I didn’t give a shit what the rest of them did to me, as long as she went down too.

But Tenzin’ voice snaps me out of my frenzy. Tenzin. Not Amon, not Hiroshi, not Equalists. I fight against the arms holding me back, until I realize that they belong to Mako (though I give him one last shove for good measure). Still disoriented, I notice for the first time that I am not in a huge room filled with enemies. Instead, I am in a small room, filled with Asami, Tenzin, Beifong, Mako, and Bolin. Great, everyone I know and care about just saw me come out of a box. Additionally and ridiculously, Tenzin looks the most upset about the language that was coming out of my mouth.

“Apologize,” Tenzin orders.

“Miss Sato here just saved your life,” Beifong adds. 

Asami gets to her feet, rubbing her arm. 

“You’re fine,” I snap. 

She glares at me. “It’s my arm.” 

“That I healed. Not much of a thank you.” I gesture to the box. 

Mako butts in, like always: “Asami is the one who figured out you were in there. No one else knew where you were!” 

“Gee, thanks!” I say, rounding on him. “Guess I couldn’t count on you to come looking for some show off!” 

Mako winces. Good. Feel bad. I’m sucking in huge breaths like I just ran a marathon. Mako’s guilt makes it feel a little better. But I want more. I want them all to feel bad. I want them all to suffer for every minute I was trapped in that box. 

“So what story are you feeding to everyone?” I ask, rounding back to Asami. “Didn’t know what was happening in your own house? Daddy somehow kept his fanatic politics to himself!?” 

Tenzin puts a hand on my shoulder. “Korra, that’s enough. Miss Sato called the police when she overheard what her father had done. You owe her a great debt of gratitude.” 

I am not feeling particularly grateful right now, thank you very much. Especially not to anyone with the last name Sato. 

“I understand why that’s hard to believe,” Asami says in a low voice. “Maybe I should have…” 

“Don’t let her make you feel guilty,” says Mako, putting an arm around her shoulder. So I guess those two are still together. Heat flashes across my skin. “You gave up everything to do the right thing.” 

Asami squeezes her eyes shut, but not before a tear manages to spill out. A small amount of guilt shoulders in beside the rage that is inflating my chest. I turn away from her, my feelings demanded to be felt. I have no room for sympathy. 

“I bet it was Future Industries that made all those gauntlets!” I tell Beifong. Beifong seems less than impressed with my detective work. 

“We think that’s probably the case,” Asami says, still under the protective arm of her boyfriend. “Chief Beifong’s metalbenders found evidence that there might be a secret facility under the factory.” 

I scoff theatrically and throw my hands in the air. “And we’re just all going to believe that she didn’t know there was a big factory underneath her house??”

Mako, Tenzin, and even Bolin all jump in to defend Miss Perfect — but she cuts them all off. 

“No!” she yells. She throws off Mako’s arm and steps over to me. Oh yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for. My pulse pounds in my ears. Bring it the fuck on. I want her to scream in my face, slap me, tase me — I don’t care. I want her to show everyone that I was right. I want her to give me a reason. 

“I don’t care if she doesn’t believe me,” Asami says. “I just gave up my family and my home and my life — for you. But I don’t need a thank you, or an apology, or anything! You just cost me everything. The least you can do is get the fuck out of my sight.” 

I gulp. The adrenaline begins to leak out of my muscles. My arms drop to my side. 

“You… you knew,” I stammer. “You knew I was in there… and then… when your dad…” My thoughts are piling up on each other, making less and less sense. 

Asami rolls her eyes. “No. I thought you ran away this morning — and now I really wish you had.” 

It would have been so much easier if she’d slapped me. My manic energy is gone; now I just feel really, really tired. “I just thought…” 

“That I’m just a lying, manipulative cunt, right?” 

I wince. I remember the terror in her eyes when her father walked in on us. It dawns on me how scared she is of him. And what it must have taken to defy him. 

“N-no, I just—” 

“Just get out. I can’t imagine why you’d want to spend another minute in my house anyways.” 

I look up at Tenzin. He sighs and leads the way. 

Chapter Text

Asami

“Did you bring enough stuff?” Korra grumbles, tossing another suitcase onto the pile and heaving the whole thing on her shoulders. 

“If it’s too heavy, don’t carry it all once,” I reply. 

“I got it,” she insists and takes a staggering step towards the Air Temple. I have a sneaking suspicion that Tenzin tore her a new asshole after they left my house — because the Korra that left last night was not in a hurry to do anything for me. 

And, it should be noted, I was not in any particular rush to see her again either. 

“Thank you again for letting me stay here,” I say to Councilman Tenzin.

“Not any bother at all,” he insists. “After everything you have done for Korra, it is the least we can do. And I will talk to Lin and see if we can’t hurry along the process and get you back home soon.” 

I swallow my rage and smile pleasantly. I can’t believe I did everything I did in order to save Future Industries, only to lose Future Industries. The police have seized all assets and frozen production “for the time being.” It’s so they can crawl over every inch of my house with a fine-toothed comb. They assure me everything will be put right back into my name after they’ve confiscated all Equalist paraphernalia and thoroughly investigated all ties to Amon. 

Which means that while I’m here, staying at Air Temple Island, I’m also sitting on another time bomb. At any moment the police could storm in and reunite me with my father. Though, it wouldn’t matter if we were sharing a cell, my father will never speak to me again. 

I wish I could unremember his words, but I think they’ll stay with me for the rest of my life. “I should have known better than to let you anywhere near that firebending urchin. You betrayed me, for what? A bender! Your mother would be so disappointed.” I didn’t know words like that could ever come out of my father’s mouth. He was so upset he’d abandoned every shred of composure as they took him away in handcuffs — he dissolved into a screaming, ranting maniac. Because of me. Because of what I did. 

Last night, Korra came up with the worst word she could think of, but I barely felt the sting. My father didn’t have to resort to four letter words, and he still tore me apart. 

Councilman Tenzin offered to let me stay with the airmonks while the police had my house. Amon insisted I accepted the invitation. 

I haven’t spoken with Amon directly, not with the police hanging around every corner. But Howin brought me a message in the early morning, posing as a concerned friend. Amon is furious that Future Industries is halted. He is livid that my father went behind his back. Yet, Howin says that Amon is pleased that the “sensible Sato” has stepped up to take the helm. 

I can’t even think about that: taking the helm. The very idea threatens to crush me. I did the only thing I could think of to save my father from Amon’s wrath, save Korra from my father, and save Future Industries from collapse. The consequences of my quick-thinking are looming over me. But, at least until the police unfreeze the business, there’s nothing I can do about them. 

So now I just have to sit back and enjoy a relaxing vacation featuring: one (1) Avatar who could probably throw me farther than she trusts me, one (1) council person who could toss me into jail if I do anything remotely suspicious, and one (1) sulky, recently-minted ex-boyfriend. And Bolin, who remains delightful. 

Tenzin’s wife helps extract me from a conversation with her youngest, very forward child. 

“Come on, Asami!” says a different child, pulling on my wrist, dragging me to the girl’s dorms. 

The small girl, Ikki, speaks at machine gun pace while the slightly bigger girl, Jinora, punctuates her sister’s rambling with facts about the temple. “I’m going to be eight in one hundred and thirty seven days. How old are you?”— “That statue of Guru Shoken is from the Northern Air Temple.” — “Do you know how to drive? Will you teach me how to drive?” — “This glider design is over eight centuries old.” — “My dad is fifty-one and he doesn’t know how to drive.” — “See the swirling patterns in the floor? That’s traditional to all Air Temples.” — “Well, he knows how to drive a flying bison but not a satomobile. Korra doesn’t either! And she’s the Avatar! She’s supposed to know everything!” 

That is the first genuinely funny thing I’ve heard in a while. I laugh and the sound brings forth Korra. 

“I got you this room,” she says, hooking a thumb over her shoulder. “Best view of the harbor.” 

I narrow my eyes. Tenzin is nowhere in sight — why is Korra being so nice?

“And it’s right next to your room,” the incessant chatterbox says. 

Ah, there it is

I cock my head at Korra. She answers with a shrug. I guess she’ll be keeping an eye on me

“Hey!” Ikki is indignant. “Are you two going to have slumber parties and stay up all night talking? Because it’s supposed to be lights out by nine!” As she speaks, a separate thought occurs to her and her expression flips to mischievous in the blink of an eye. “Ohmygoodness are you guys going to talk about Mako?? Asami — did you know that Korra likes—” 

Suddenly, the child disappears, pushed down the hallway and down the stairs by a huge gust of wind. I gasp. Jinora, the only other airbender present, innocently examines her nails. “Well. I guess you found your room.” Then, right in front of my eyes, she dives out a nearby window. Not a moment too soon, as Ikki comes sailing back up the stairs on a ball of wind, murder in her eyes, and follows Jinora out the window. 

I peer over the side. Both girls are gone; apparently they did not splatter to death on the solid rock three stories below. I take as much time as I possibly can ensuring that I did not just witness an underage murder/suicide. But eventually there’s nothing else to do but face Korra, in the light of Ikki’s pronouncement. 

Our eyes meet and just as quickly look away. 

“I don’t—” she starts. 

“We broke up,” I say, dully. 

“Yeah, I kind of got that.” 

“Of course, I’m sure he came running right to you.” 

“Uhh — no.” She points back the way we came. “I have eyes? Just getting off the boat — usually you’re all like—” she makes a sickeningly sweet face and hugs herself tight— “but on the ride over you were all—” she crosses her arms and then drags her finger down her face as if it were a tear. 

“Great,” I say, stepping around her into what will be my room for a yet to be determined length of time. It’s monk-like. Bare walls, narrow (one person) bed, a simple wooden desk for contemplating my sins or whatever. “Glad that’s funny for you.” 

“Wait — no, that’s not — I didn’t mean…” She follows me. 

“Add it to the list! All of the things you’ve taken from me. Boyfriend included.” 

“I didn’t take your boyfriend.” 

“No.” I round off to look at her. “And you didn’t take my dad or my house or my… life. But somehow, the minute I started getting closer to you — it all went away.” 

“You can’t possibly be blaming me? Right? Because that would be crazy: blaming me for something your dad did. I didn’t make you call the police on him. I didn’t make the police take your house. And — and Mako? Come on! You two were terrible for each other!” 

“You are such an asshole, Korra, you know that? You don’t get to decide other people’s business.” 

Then this girl has the audacity to laugh. “Actually, I think I’m the best one to say you two weren’t made for each other.” 

“What does that even mean?” 

She shrugs and suddenly I know. I don’t know how; maybe I’ve spent so long observing Korra that I know what every twitch of her muscles means. Or maybe she’s just not that hard to read. 

“You kissed him,” I accuse. My vision is tunneling. All this time I was getting my heart in knots, feeling guilty — he was kissing Korra? That lying son-of-a-bitch. And that bitch

“Calm down, it was one time.” Korra’s voice sounds like it is coming from very far away. I think I’m having an out of body experience — I feel like I’m ten thousand feet in the air, looking down at myself and wondering: How did I get to Air Temple Island? How did I wind up in the middle of two benders? How am I surprised? This is the exact kind of arrogance my father (oh spirits it hurts think of him) warned me about. 

Your mother would be so disappointed in you.

“And you kissed me, so like, it’s even.” Korra’s voice, her shamelessness, her reckless disregard for anyone else, snaps me back to Earth. 

“Let me clarify something for you,” I say, cutting her off. “Because I think that you have created this whole little narrative for yourself — and I think it probably revolves around you. And just to be totally clear, it has nothing to do with you. Nothing. I don’t care that we kissed. I don’t care that you kissed Mako. I don’t have time or energy for whatever delicious little love triangle you’ve made yourself the center of. Leave me out of your drama, because you’ve caused enough drama to last my entire life! ” My words can’t come out as fast as my brain is thinking them. I want to hurl everything at her — all the hurt and anger I feel. All of the confusion and agony that she has caused me. “So get this through your head — what happened the other night is never going to happen again.” 

“What, you mean getting thrown in a box? That’s a relief because—” 

“No.” I don’t have time for her weak attempt at humor. She has to get this. She has to understand that our kiss was a one-time event. It has to be. I don’t think either of us will survive the fall out if we continue tugging on this thread. 

Her face cracks. She blinks a few times. Then her brow sets in a hard line. “You’re really full of yourself, Rich Girl. Maybe I don’t want to kiss you.” 

That’s laughable. “Great.” 

“It is great.” 

“Then we agree.” 

“You know why? Because I don’t trust you.”  

Good! You shouldn’t! Finally the Avatar is talking sense. “You’ve made that very clear. I’m a lying manipulative cunt and you’re a self-centered show off. Probably best if we stay as far apart as possible.” 

Korra grimaces. “I didn’t mean—” 

“Yes, you did,” I insist. “When you came out of that box, you were ready to kill me. Remember? We fucked up, Korra — and look at how many people got hurt.” 

“So why do we have to add us to that list?” she blurts out. I almost want to laugh; I almost want to cry. I almost want to cross the room and throw my arms around her and make everything better. It’s just like the other night in my bedroom: Korra, for all her muscles and fancy bending, can’t maintain the tough guy act for long. Sooner or later she breaks, and Korra, the real Korra — overwhelmed, angry, scared, yearning for more — emerges. When she does, I feel like I would do anything to make it better, make the hurt go away. I will do anything. Even keep her at arm’s length. 

The silence stretches on. Korra’s hands reach out, looking for something to grab onto, something to play with, something to throw. She rattles the doorknob. “There’s no locks. It's a monk thing.” 

“Good to know.” 

“I guess I’ll go.” 

“Okay.” 

“I’m keeping my eye on you, Miss Perfect.”  

“You do that.” 

I resolve that this will be the last time I see Korra. When I’m allowed back into my house, I’ll return to the Equalists and turn my back on the Fire Ferrets. I’ll do everything Amon asks — except see, or speak to, or be in the same room as Korra again. 

I owe her that much. 

The very thought of it pushes on my tear ducts, as the door closes, and the Avatar leaves me alone. But I can bear the pain. That’s the least I can do. 

I sit down at my simple desk and begin to write a letter. Amon wants daily updates on the Avatar and the airbenders. So that’s what I have to do. This is who I am. One kiss, one crush, can’t change that. 

xxx 

As it turns out, I am not allowed to sequester myself indefinitely. Monks are really into collaborative living — which means that even their guests are expected to do chores? Which marks the first time I’ve been expected to do chores. Ever. 

It is also the first time our little street rats have engaged in home management. This does not surprise me. I’ve been to Mako and Bolin’s place. I disappointed Mako many a night by returning to my own bed — and not just because our relationship was a farce. Honestly, the huge hole Korra gouged in the wall was the ventilation system that bachelor pad needed. 

Pema seems to think it will be some slight compensation for our unpaid labor to team the four of us — Korra, Mako, Bolin, and myself — together for “dining hall cleaning duty.” 

“You know you can pay people to do this, right?” I ask, as cleaning supplies are doled out. 

“The whole point is to do it yourself,” Korra snaps. 

Bolin takes a mop, twirling it in his hands like a bo staff. 

“Cut it out!” Mako orders, shielding his face from a spray of soapy water. 

“Okay, tough guy, here ya go.” 

Mako shrinks away from the proffered cleaning utensil. Bolin instead turns to me. 

“Asami, show us the ways of the mop!” 

I raise my hands in surrender. “Don’t look at me.” 

“Spirits!” Korra swears, grabbing the handle from Bolin’s hands. She does a complicated dunk-wring-wipe combination that I do not feel confident I will be able to replicate. 

“I’m shocked you know how to clean,” Mako says, which makes me laugh, which makes Mako remember that he hates me. “I mean, you’re the Avatar,” he says quickly. “You have bigger things to do.” 

Korra shrugs. “My bending masters thought it would teach me ‘discipline’ and ‘humility.’”

“Shame it didn’t work.” The quip is out of my mouth before I can even think. 

The mop handle hits the floor with a loud smack. “What was that, Rich Girl?” she asks, cupping a hand to her ear. I sigh. I really stepped into another verbal sparring match — and I know Korra gets off on these. 

“Chill,” I say. I turn around to find something else to occupy my hands with, but the cleaning supplies spread across the table are completely foreign to me. “It was a joke.” 

“Oh!” says Korra, dragging out the syllable in her over-the-top way. I feel my irritation starting to kick up, even as I tell myself to be totally detached. “It was a joke! I just couldn’t tell because zero people laughed.” 

I turn around to glare at her. She continues the theatrics, employing Mako and Bolin as props. “Did you guys know it was a joke? Were you laughing so hard we couldn’t even hear it?” 

Mako and Bolin look positively alarmed to have been drawn into whatever this is. They turn to each other. “I thought that you—” “Didn’t Pema say—?” “Right! About washing the…” “Underwear!” “Underwear??” “Yup — let’s go!” They make a mad dash for the door. The doors swing shut, leaving us alone in the big, empty dining hall.

“Good one,” I remark. I grab the mop and mimic Korra’s movements, but it feels like there is way more water than when Korra did it. 

“You’re not doing it right,” Korra observes. I ignore her and dunk the mop again. “Oh, so close, so close! Aaaand, nope, fucked it up again.” 

My shoulder tense all the way to my ears. A little buzzing noise at the base of my skull is drowning out all reason and logical thinking. I push the mop robotically, not even seeing what I’m doing. Korra crouches down for a better view. 

“All right, all right, this time ladies and gentlemen, watch her move the dirt around the floor — that’s an atypical move from the rookie—” 

I don’t know much about cleaning, but I would bet my next move is atypical as well. I swing the thing around like a bat, catching Korra in the face with the wet, soapy head. She stands there, dumbfounded, hair dripping slowly on the floor. 

I burst out laughing. 

“Oh you think that’s funny?” 

I can’t stop. Yes, yes I do think it is very funny. 

Then Korra picks up the bucket. My laughter dies out. 

“Korra… no…” 

I back away as she takes a step towards me, lifting the bucket. The water — gross, dining hall floor water, sloshes threateningly. I break and run. A get a few more steps of blessed dryness before an icy deluge is emptied over my head. I can feel it dripping down my back. 

I lunge for the table and start hurling projectiles. Dusting cloths fly like snowballs. She ducks under a bottle of cleaning solution but I bean her with a scrubbing brush. She crouches behind a stack of chairs, giving me a chance to grab my original weapon — the mop. The chairs go crashing to the floor. Korra laughs and rolls to the side. My wet shoes squeak on the hardwood floor as I follow. She pops up and sprints toward the table for more ammunition — and slips in the puddle she made by dousing me. She crashes to the ground. My laugh echoes through the hall. 

Then, before I can figure out what’s happening, I’m on the ground next to Korra. I glance around and see that she turned the water on the floor into ice. Fucking waterbender. In my periphery, I see her raise her hands, and I just act. I am not letting bending get in the way of a fair fight. 

I scramble on top of her and pin her wrists to the ground. She lets me. Instead of fighting back, she uses her ultimate weapon — letting me realize what I have just done. What have I just done? Regrettably, I have gotten Avatar Korra on the ground, between my legs. I’m holding her wrists down, which puts our faces, unfortunately, inches apart. We’re both panting. I know the look in her eyes — spirits, I’ve dreamed about it every second since the last time she looked at me like that, the last time we were this close, the last time…

“I thought this was ‘never happening again,’” Korra whispers. I hate the triumphant smile on her lips, I hate the cocky glimmer in her eyes — so I do the only thing that occurs to me to wipe them off her face. 

“Shut the fuck up,” I hiss, and kiss her. 

My tongue picks up right where it left off — inside Korra’s mouth. In all my dreams, my imaginings, my obsessions, I thought I was over-blowing how incredible Korra’s mouth felt. But I wasn’t. My memory is pale in comparison to the real thing. Her mouth fits perfectly to mine, her body meshes perfectly against me. I need more — I need her. 

Her hands struggle against mine. I cinch my fingers tighter. I lick her bottom lip — then bite down. Hard

“Spirits!” she gasps into my mouth. 

“That’s not my name,” I whisper back. 

Korra freezes — which is not what I need right now. I’m craving the near feral blankness that comes from her pushing and pulling against me. 

Then her hand snaps to my jaw. I’m so taken aback, that a mortifying squeak pops out of my mouth. Taking advantage of my surprise, Korra flips us over so I’m on my back on the hard floor. For a second, she hovers over me, triumphant. “That’s better.” Before I can absolutely destroy her, her lips are on my neck, her teeth pull at my collar, and she wedges a thigh between my legs. 

My eyes roll back at the contact. A moan escapes my lips. 

“You like that?” she asks. 

Oh, I am so getting her back for this, just… after… 

SLAM

Korra and I break apart like a landmine. Korra flies backwards as I sit up, twisting to see the source of the noise. My heart starts to slow as we both realize it’s a shutter that’s come loose from it’s lock. Korra and I look at each other and giggle once. 

I sit up and try to straighten my rumpled clothing. Korra gasps a few times, recovering her breath — and then moves in for round two. But the shutter — or rather, the panic the shutter caused — has reminded me why Korra and I absolutely can’t do what we were just doing. 

“That…” I’m still trying to catch my breath. “That was the last time. For real.” 

We get to our feet and look at the mess our attempt at cleaning has caused. The floor is a giant puddle. There are cleaning supplies everywhere. A whole stack of chairs is now horizontal. 

Korra raises her arms and the water begins to lift, not just from the floor but from our clothes and hair as well. She moves the tsunami around the dining hall twice and then neatly deposits it back in the bucket. 

“You couldn’t have just done that to start?” I ask, exasperated. 

“Wouldn’t have been as fun.” I don’t like the tone in her voice, because I like it very, very much. I hastily righten the fallen chairs and begin picking up the discarded rags and dusters… and Korra is just sitting back and watching me. 

“Stop!” I command. 

She shrugs guiltily. “Working hard… but I love to watch you leave?” 

“That’s not the expression.” 

Once everything’s back in order, we linger awkwardly. 

“Guess it’s time for bed,” I say, trying to make my escape. Korra winks at me. I scowl back. 

Right as I’m on the threshold, Korra yells, “Remember: The bedroom doors don’t have locks!” 

I nearly stop there — because again, the fucking gall of this fucking girl. As if she’s got me so hot and bothered that I’m going to need a locked door. But I know she’s baiting me and I march myself away. Because I have willpower. Because I am strong. Because I need to get the hell away from her before my willpower and strength crumble in front of those shining blue eyes. 

Sleep does not come easy. I am, shall we say, drenched? I can imagine at least one way I might encourage restfulness — but there is no way I’m giving in. Even if Korra would never know, I would. And I can’t stand that. 

I hear footsteps pad past my room. Behind my eyelids, vivid scenes of Korra bursting through the unlocked door and the actions she would take thereafter play out. It doesn’t help my situation. I’m like a taut wire, lying in bed, listening to the footsteps pass my room and enter the one next door. After a moment, I hear the gentle noise of bedsprings. 

Then, after a moment, I hear them again. My body ratchets tighter still. I strain my ears. Another squeak. She could just be getting comfortable. Or she could be getting comfortable. But the resulting silence argues that Korra is already sleeping soundly, completely unbothered by our second indiscretion. 

The thought depresses me so soundly that my muscles begin to unclench. The tension and exhaustion of the night steals over my mind, and much quicker than I would have thought possible, I’m asleep. 

Of course, my dreams don’t leave me alone. Immediately, I’m back in the empty dining hall, back underneath Korra with significantly fewer items of clothing. I call out her name over and over — but she disappears. The whole dining hall evaporates and I’m back at my house, shivering in a thin blouse, as a pair of faceless metalbenders load my father into the back of a police cruiser. I don’t want to see him; I don’t want to give him another chance to name me a traitor. But my legs carry me to the window. 

Don’t do this,” Daddy says, softly so only I can hear. “You don’t have to do this. You have to get out. You have to WAKE UP.” 

My eyes pop open. It’s the middle of the night. It’s freezing in my room. I get up and shuffle into some pjs and then burrow back under the sheets and blankets, but it’s no use. I stay awake as the light shifts from black, to gray, to blue, to blinding yellow. 

Chapter Text

Korra

Yet again, I lose another night’s sleep to Asami Sato. I wouldn’t mind so much if she were actually here! But she’s just lounging in my thoughts, casually tossing aside any chances of sleeping. Spirits, she’s so hot. Like, I already thought she was hot, beautiful, deadly gorgeous (internal cringe), and that was before I saw her in the throes of passion. Now that I know how her eyes darken until there’s almost no green left, and how her cheeks flush, and how her lips fill out and push insistently… Holy Shu. 

The climate in the southern hemisphere transitions into the wet season again. It’s like the third time tonight. I sigh and dive back in — between my legs, and into my memory. In my imagination, Asami does not make the executive decision that we are into edging, but instead lets me keep going. Right at the critical moment, my stupid brain remembers the shutter slamming and the way Asami froze. Due to intense proximity, I felt every single muscle in her body go rigid. And then I felt every muscle put as much distance between us as possible. I remember how her hands shoved me away. 

It kind of kills my mood. My hand was cramping anyways. Maybe I am into edging.

I get it. The last time we were interrupted, the consequences were pretty bad. But like, her dad’s in prison, and her boyfriend is her ex-boyfriend, so I don’t know what truly catastrophic thing could have happened if someone walked in. 

Maybe, maybe, maybe, that shutter didn’t give her PTSD to the worst coming out story ever; maybe that shutter reminded her that she doesn’t really like me that much. In fact, based on that conversation from this afternoon, I’d say she despises me. Maybe she gets off on hate sex. 

And sex (or… almost-sex… actions I thought were definitely going to lead to sex) doesn’t change the fact that she hates me. 

And, it does not change the fact that I don’t completely trust her. Her dad put me in a box! (Okay, maybe I had forgotten about all of that — briefly, like when she was straddling me.) But now, I remember. And I’m not going to forget. Asami can start all the play fights she wants and try to tempt me into hot, dirty, hate sex…

Fuck. Here we go again.

xxx 

The morning is no better. I manage to make it out of bed before breakfast is over (with some difficulty). And let me tell you, the air is positively swimming with sexual tension. Asami blushes a delicious pink color when I step into the dining hall. I take a spot on the edge of the bench and remind myself: No sleeping with the enemy. Best behavior, Korra.

“Hey,” Mako says, as I sit down. 

“Sup.” 

“You have airbending practice today?” he asks.

I’m trying to observe Asami on the sly. She has the advantage of a beautiful mane of raven locks to deploy as cover when needed. “Umm, yeah, probably,” I say absently. “I have airbending practice every day, so I’d say it’s a safe bet.” 

“Oh,” Mako says. “Well, I was thinking, if you had some free time, I was wondering if you wanted to firebend? Maybe show me a few exercises?” 

“What?” I ask. I’m shocked — the rookie of the year, captain of the Fire Ferrets, firebending whizkid is asking little old me for help? Firebending?  

He shrugs at his bowl of cereal. “If you wanted to.” 

“Umm, yeah,” I say, bewildered. “We can definitely do that.” I don’t really think about what I’m agreeing to because Asami’s looking at me. She smiles a little and returns her attention to her food. 

She smiled a little

No. Stay sharp, Avatar

“Are you gonna eat?” Mako asks.

“Huh? Oh. Yeah, yeah.” 

The food tastes like nothing and I push it away as Rich Girl exits the hall. 

“Where you going?” 

“Umm — bathroom? Emergency.” I scurry out of the hall and find Asami heading to the temple library. I follow her at a distance, determined to observe her actions. In the library she looks through the thick tomes and pulls out a heavy, intricately illustrated scroll. Jinora joins her and they talk. It is… incredibly boring. 

She’s a master at work — blending in, throwing off all suspicion. 

After the library she heads to the laundry room and offers to help the acolytes at work. Offering to do additional work? More like trying to ingratiate herself. I duck out of sight immediately, because I will not be offering to work I’m not required to. 

After laundry time, Asami grabs a notebook and a blanket and heads out to one of the gardens. I stealthily scale a trellis behind her, so I can cop a look at all the secret notes she’s writing. It turns out to be an incredible sketch of the Republic City skyline. So it’s not enough that she’s beautiful and smart; she has to be a talented artist as well?

“Korra?? What are you doing up there?” Tenzin’s deafening voice startles me so much I fall from my perch. “Come along, it’s time for meditation.” 

I glance back at Miss Perfect as I leave. Her attention is still focused on the harbor, but I swear I see her shoulders shaking. 

Meditation takes forever and accomplishes nothing and manages to be even more boring than watching someone else read. Tenzin says I’m not focusing so we skip lunch. Because an empty stomach is so helpful when trying to focus. 

As soon as I’m allowed to leave, I scurry back to the dining hall. A few people are still finishing their meals. Mako waves at me. 

“Have you seen Asami?” I ask. 

“Uhh, she just left.” 

“Which way?” 

“What?” 

“Which way did she go??” 

Mako points. “Is something wrong?” 

I don’t know! Maybe! I certainly don’t have time to answer that question. I dart out of the room in the direction Mako pointed. After becoming convinced that I’m never going to find her in the deserted hallways, I finally spot her coming up from the docks. I watch from the window as she moves towards the bell tower.

Now what could Asami Sato possibly be doing in the bell tower? Sending some sort of signal? Meeting with a secret contact? Planning a tactical assault? I take a shortcut through a garden and creep up the winding stairs on silent feet. She climbs higher and higher. We get all the way to the top, the highest point on the island. I peek my head out onto the landing — and it’s empty. 

I hop out to investigate just as a voice behind me loudly asks, “Are you following me?” 

I nearly jump out of my skin and whirl around. Rich Girl has her hands on her hips. 

“Fuck! Spirits, you scared me.” 

“You’re a terrible spy.” 

“And you would know about being a good spy, how exactly?” 

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say good spies don’t normally fall out of their hiding spots.” 

I feel my face start to flush. “Whatever. I’m keeping an eye on you.” 

“And, again, just guessing, good spies probably don’t confess immediately.” 

“So what would I need to do to make you confess?” I ask. Oh shit. Did that sound as horny as it felt? 

Asami shakes her head. “We’re not doing this, Korra. I told you, last night was a mistake. A mistake we aren’t repeating.” Asami says I’m self-centered, but look at her! She thinks everything I say is an elaborate plot to get in her pants. 

“Daaaaaamn, you’re really fixated on that, aren’t you?” 

Her eyes narrow. “Aww, would that make you feel good? Sure, whatever your ego needs. I spent the whole night tossing and turning because — somehow you guessed my kink: having dirty water thrown over my head.” 

I laugh. It was funny. 

“Shut up,” she orders. 

Oh yes. Here it comes. She’s towering over me, telling me to shut up. Next she’ll grab my arms “so that I don’t get too close to her.” Deploy hate sex in three… two… one… 

She laughs. A real, throaty laugh. 

“What?” 

She steps back, hand over her mouth. “No, nothing.” 

“What??” 

“Am I… taller than you?” 

Umm, absolutely not

“I am. I’m taller than you. I’m taller than the Avatar.” 

“You are not!”

“Korra, I can see the top of your head. I’m taller.” 

I take a deep breath, walk to the railing of the platform, and scream: “IKKI!! MEELO!!” 

Asami seems concerned that I’ve lost my mind and then even more concerned when Ikki and Meelo emerge seconds later: Ikki on a glider, Meelo on an air scooter. 

“Oh yeah, they’re always around,” I assure her. Her eyes widen. 

“Hey Korra! Hey Asami! Why are you up here? Did you know that there’s a hundred and thirty eight steps in the tower?” 

“Hello, pretty lady! You are smelling lovely today.” 

“Ikki, Meelo, who’s taller? Me or Asami?” 

The children look up at us, curious, then begin shouting orders. Ikki commands us to stand back to back while Meelo tugs us closer. I stand as straight as I can. We can’t be very different heights because I am acutely aware that Asami’s butt is right next to my butt. I don’t know what comes over me — it’s not very spy-like — but I quickly butt-bump her. I hear a noise of surprise and then she butt-bumps me back. We both giggle. 

“Hey! You have to stand still or it doesn’t work!” 

The children circle us on air scooters, doing an exhaustive study. “Just tell us who’s taller!” 

“The pretty lady is taller,” Meelo declares.

“The pretty lady has a name,” says the pretty lady, crossing her arms. 

“Your ponytail sticks up a little bit higher,” Ikki tells me, “and Asami has really impressive volume in her hair, but yeah, Meelo’s right, Asami’s taller.” 

“Like significantly,” Asami adds. 

I grab Ikki and Meelo by their collars and hurl them off the bell tower. They fall, laughing maniacally, and bounce along the trails all the way to the water. 

“So defenestration is fairly common here,” Asami notes. 

“Cutting down trees?” 

“Throwing people out of windows.” 

“Ha, of course you know a word for throwing people out of windows.” 

“It’s come up before,” she jokes. I laugh. Then both of us seem to realize we’re having a remarkably civil conversation. She regards me suspiciously. 

“Fine,” I say with a sigh, throwing my arms up. “You win. You’re taller.” 

She chuckles. 

“But,” I add, a surge of bravery overtaking me. I step in close so we’re eye-to-eye. “It’s close.” 

I can see her throat bob as she swallows. “Yeah, close.” Silence, then: “Korra look, I’m sorry about… I swear I’m not trying to lead you on. When I’m around you, I just…” She presses her lips closed, cutting off whatever happens to her when she’s around me. “I just think… after everything that happened… you and me… it’s just not a good idea.” 

“Oh.” I step backwards, but it feels more like falling. 

“No!” Asami says, following me, keeping our distance close. “I don’t — ugh, I can’t explain it.” 

“Could you try? Because, honestly, you’re giving me whiplash here.”

She balls her fists and before I know it, she’s resting her head against my shoulder. For one perfect moment, she stays there, breathing into the fabric of my shirt. But before I can do anything, put my arms around her, run my hand along her hair, she’s up and walking away again. See? Whiplash. 

“I don’t want to hurt you,” she whispers. 

“I’m a big girl. I can handle myself.” 

“Aren’t you spying on me? Aren’t you trying to unlock some big conspiracy? What if you’re right?” 

Right, right, the conspiracy, the plot, Asami-is-an-Equalist-spy. Yes. I’m not saying I’m giving up on that. It’s just really hard to concentrate on when I can smell her shampoo. 

“Asami—” 

GONG!

The sound of the bell, directly beneath our feet, rattles my teeth. I actually stomp on the floor and yell, “Kuruk-fucking-dammit!” I swear to the spirits above and below, I am going to tie everything in the temple down so not a singular thing can make a noise and come between me and Asami and again. 

Asami has dissolved into giggles. She walks over to a bench on the side and puts her head in her hands. “Did you — did you say Korra-fucking-dammit?” she asks between giggles. 

“No.” I can hear the pout in my own voice. “Kuruk.” 

She snorts. Eventually she looks up at me. She’s so adorable. “Doesn’t that bell mean it’s time to go meet Mako?” 

Mako? Mako who??

“Never heard of him,” I say, offering her a hand.

Asami gets up on her own. “You don’t want to leave him waiting.” I do. I really do. But she’s already marching back down the stairs. 

xxx 

Mako’s in the practice yard, stretching. Even though it’s nearly freezing, he’s got on his training clothes — tank top and loose leggings. Asami got me all riled up, and all I can think about is that I really want to sink my teeth into those shoulders. 

“Hey,” he says brightly. “You ready to go?” 

Hell, yeah. Working out always clears my head and this time is no different. I rarely ever get to firebend with Mako. After that first disastrous match, he was pretty strict about me “sticking to waterbending.” Unlike Bolin, he’s never asked me to train with him before. 

We do a few warm ups and then break into a sparring match. He’s good — obviously; he led the youngest team to ever advance to the finals. But he’s missing a lot of foundational knowledge. Outside of the probending world that he knows, he’s shaky. I teach him a few formations for firebending in the real world and he picks them up quickly. 

“You’re a good teacher,” he says, as we pause to catch our breath and get some water. 

I laugh. “I never thought Mako, Captain of the Fire Ferrets would ever let me teach him anything.” 

“I was too busy teaching you how to follow the rules.” 

I stick out my tongue at him. Spirits, when he smiles and the light catches his copper eyes… it all seems a lot easier than some other people I could mention. 

“We would have totally won the tournament,” I remark. “Those refs must have been paid off.” 

“I guess it’s a good thing,” he says. “Seeing what happened to the Wolf Bats.” 

“Yeah, I guess. Or I would have gotten my chance to finish Amon. If we hadn’t been electrocuted, I would have taken him down at the tournament. I was so close.”

Mako’s lips twist. “That’s so sick — those gauntlets and everything. Do you… know anything about lightning-bending?” 

“No. My firebending master wouldn’t even let me talk about it. He said it was made up.” 

“Oh,” Mako bites a hangnail. “I just thought — you know cuz they’re using electricity as their big weapon, if we knew how to channel it, it would be a huge advantage.” 

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.” I take a seat. “Shit, yeah. We could blast those motherfuckers with their own power. I would have never…” I drift off. A cold breeze makes the sweat on my skin tingle. 

“Never what?” Mako asks. 

I shake my head. I can’t think about being in that box. 

“Korra,” he says, sitting down next to me. “I was so worried about you. I’m so glad we found you. I can’t imagine… if you’d… ” 

I squeeze my eyes shut. “Yup,” I say tightly. “Would have been bad. Guess we’ve got Rich Girl to thank.” 

I’m not watching Mako’s reaction as I casually mention his ex-girlfriend, but I do hear the sigh of air expelling from his mouth. 

“Sorry,” I mutter. “I guess you aren’t a big fan of her these days. What, umm, what happened with you guys?” I have to assume my name didn’t come up, but what if it did??

Mako is quiet for a while. “She… I don’t know. She was upset, inconsolable, after… with her dad and… well, you. I thought — I thought she was just upset. She felt so guilty about what happened to you. I thought everything would work itself out and we’d make up in the morning but… we didn’t. You know what she said to me?” 

I shake my head. 

“She said we aren’t meant for each other.”

Oof. Not as bad as “we’re a mistake,” but still, that’s gotta suck to hear.  

“And… that hurt. A lot. But, I kind of think she’s right.” 

I’m sitting completely still. Is he saying what I think he’s saying? 

“Do you ever think about timing?” Mako asks. “Like how if things had happened in a different order, then, things might be different?” 

He is definitely saying what I think he’s saying. I rise to my feet abruptly. “I’m gonna take a shower. See you at dinner?” 

He stands as well, brow furrowed. “Is everything okay?” 

“Yup, just… sweaty.” 

Mako watches in confusion as I leave. Believe me, I’m just as confused as he is. I wish I could stay and hear the rest of his thoughts on timing and the divergent paths our story could have walked. I wish I could listen to him explain how things would have been different if I’d kissed him before Rich Girl plowed him over with her moped. But I can’t. I’ve been hoping and praying for him to say those things to me since I met him, but as soon as he started, I realized I don’t want them anymore. Not from him. 

On my way to the showers, I pass Miss Perfect’s room. She’s standing in front of the brazier in the corner, back to the door, feeding a handful of papers to the flames. 

“You know we have firewood just for this sort of thing,” I say, pushing on the door. It’s only then I notice the steady stream of tears falling down her face. 

“Hey, Korra,” she says, her voice high and squeaky. She drops the last page and closes the burner. 

“Are you okay?” I ask. 

She shakes her head a few times, and even as the tears continue, she starts to smile. “He hates me anyways, right?” 

“What? Who?” My mind immediately goes to Mako. I’m thinking somehow Asami overheard our conversation, overheard Mako hitting on me right after they broke up, right in the middle of the weird “last time” dance that she and I are doing. I want to deny it, tell her I stopped him before he could start. 

“My dad,” she whispers. 

Oh. Right. Obviously. 

“It can’t get any worse,” she says, laughing harshly. “It’s not like he can hate me anymore.” 

Oh, spirits. I’ve been such an asshole: following Asami around like some sort of detective, when inside she’s been dealing with this. 

“You know what he said to me? Of course you don’t. You were still trapped in that — in that horrible—” It seems like Miss Perfect is having as much trouble describing my little metal prison as I am. “I’m so sorry, Korra! I’m so sorry. It was my fault. I was the reason you were at the house. I kissed you. I made him angry and he took it out on—” 

“Hey!” I interrupt her self-hatred monologue. “Stop! You got me out, right? It wasn’t like you asked him to put me in there.” 

Her face twists. “No,” she says forcefully. “No. I didn’t even know he made that.” 

“So it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about the box. I’m sure there are plenty of other things you can beat yourself up about.” 

Asami sniffles, which I take as the closest thing to laughter she’s capable of right now. 

“What did he say to you?” I ask. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to hear her repeat something vicious that her own father said to her. Because if we want to play the blame game, it’s my fault Hiroshi went psycho, right? I was the one in his daughter’s bedroom, fully intending to rail her in the mini garage she had set up there. 

“He said I was a traitor.” Her voice is low. But it doesn’t break. “So fuck it. I’ll be the biggest fucking traitor he’s ever seen.” 

For one infinite heartbeat, Asami and I stare at each other, contemplating the meanings and freedoms behind being the biggest fucking traitor Hiroshi Sato has ever seen. Then we fall together like gravity. An inevitable force. Our mouths find each immediately and our arms wrap around each other so tight like we’re never letting go. We’re never letting go. Not even for the second it would take me to cross the room and close the door.  

I pick her up: one arm under her back, the other under her knees, making her giggle, and carry her with me. I kick one of her numerous, heavy suitcases in front of the door that doesn’t lock and then carry us both to bed. 

We fight to get closer. Clothing seems offensive — and the way our hands tear at it, you’d think we’re never planning on wearing clothes again. I wouldn’t mind. The feeling of Asami’s skin on mine, the feeling of her nails trailing down my back, the feeling of her lips exploring — that’s the only thing I ever need on my body ever again. 

Asami traces down the side of my torso and across my stomach, traveling lower. My legs clench involuntarily. “Is this okay?” she murmurs into my ear. “Uh huh,” I mutter back. It is more than okay. The feeling of Asami’s fingers sliding inside me is exquisite. My breathing becomes more ragged and my mouth slips away from hers as she gradually removes my ability to concentrate. Her lips drop to my chest, sending me over the edge. I twist against her body as all of my muscles tense. 

I don’t know how long it is before I’m able to breathe normally and open my eyes. Asami plays with a strand of my hair. 

“I meant to say,” I breathe, running my lips against the soft skin of her stomach. “You aren’t a traitor.” She laughs, bumping my nose. 

“Being nice? To me? You clearly aren’t in your right mind,” she whispers. 

I glance up at her shyly and stick out my tongue. “You know, if I was still spying, I’d say burning documents is hella suspicious.” 

Asami pulls my face up to hers and kisses me softly. “Just memories,” she assures me, kissing me again. We make out for a minute and I’m already getting ideas about how to repay the favor, climbing on top of her, when she pulls back. Spirits, I love the wicked look in her eye. “But. If you were spying on me, I’d have to find some way to distract you, wouldn’t I?” 

Oh spirits, yes please. 

“You could try, but I don’t know how successful you would be. I’m very professional.” 

“Oh really?” she asks innocently. 

I have a very witty reply in mind, but it is cut off by an involuntary gasp as she roughly pulls her thigh between my legs, making contact with a part of my biology that is still very sensitive. I fall onto her chest and bite her collarbone. She flips us so that she’s above me, keeping her leg firmly in place the whole time. It’s an impressive move, especially considering the size of this bed. For a second my mind reels as she starts rocking against me. 

“Wait,” I gasp. 

She does not. She grinds harder. 

“It’s… it’s your turn!” But already my over-sensitized skin is responding to her touch. I wrap my arms around her back, rocking my hips in time with her thrusts. 

My second orgasm builds much quicker than the first. I pull Asami’s hand over my mouth so I don’t end up alerting the entire temple that we’ve begun resolving some of our issues. 

Again she leaves me gasping. My legs feel like jelly. 

“Wow,” she whispers into my ear. “You can just go and go, can’t you?” 

“Uh huh,” I sigh. “Except I think you killed me. I think I’m dead.” 

“Aww, that’s a shame. Because I think I heard something about my turn?” 

I grin and push off the drowsiness. Oh hell yes.

Chapter Text

Asami

Life in the Air Temple has an easy, soothing pattern. I get up at dawn, eat with anyone and everyone who’s currently staying at the temple, help with chores, look after the kids, and pass my time how I choose. 

I won’t lie — much of that time has been spent around and inside the Avatar. It’s like an addiction. Every time we aren’t together, I’m thinking about her. And every time we are together… well, over-indulgence doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

Take, for example, when we are assigned to hang laundry to dry outside. It is the asscrack of dawn, we spent a large portion of the previous night together, and it is fucking freezing out. And we’re doing laundry! It is the least romantic setting I could possibly imagine. 

And yet, when Pema teamed us up, Korra winked at me and since then I can barely focus on the very simple task of pinning sheets to a clothesline. 

“Can you stop?” Korra asks. 

I look up at her surprise. In my mind, we were back under her blankets and she was definitely not asking me to stop. 

“Stop what?” 

“Whistling.” 

I didn’t even know I was whistling. Korra stretches up high to secure a corner of fabric. Her sweatshirt lifts, revealing an inch of skin on her back. It occurs to me that there is a possibility that I’m looking at an inch of skin I haven’t yet had a chance to run my tongue over. 

I let out a long, low whistle. 

Korra whips around. That crooked grin I’d do anything for grows as she reads the expression on my face. “What did I just say about the whistling?” 

I shrug. “What are you gonna do about it?” 

To her credit, it is really hard to whistle when she’s got my back against a tree and a hand up the front of my shirt. I reach up and grip the trunk of the tree above my head, craning my neck back to let her attack my throat. She does so obligingly. It occurs to me that we are not technically out of sight of the temple. A spectator would have to stick their head out of a window and look directly down, which is unlikely. Or they could just walk down the rocky path with another load of laundry. 

I don’t really care. Let them see. What does it matter anymore? I’ve chosen my side — and it is the one that is currently pushing my skirt up my thighs. 

Traitor.

I gasp and stand, unbalancing Korra. “Uh, you okay?” she asks. I love how disoriented Korra becomes by our trysts. She gets hyper-focused and solely devoted to the maximum amount of pleasure that we can eek out of one another. In the face of an interruption (and there have been many), she almost seems dizzy, unable to comprehend that she was not actually going to be able to eat me out against a tree on this beautiful Tuesday morning. 

I pull on her collar to coax her in for a kiss. “We’re outside,” I remind her gently. 

“So let me be inside,” she murmurs back, pulling at my waistband. 

I smack her hand away and with great effort return to laundry. 

xxx

Bolin and I are playing Pai Sho in the dining hall before lunch. He knows some crazy street version of the game that has time limits and alternate rules; nothing like the gentleman’s game my father taught me. It’s hard to keep up. 

“Are you kidding me?” Bolin looks despondently at the board. “Okay, best seven out of fifteen!” He starts to reset the pieces. (I said it was hard to keep up, not that I wasn’t.)

“Bolin!” Mako’s voice interrupts our game. As usual, he is pretending I don’t exist. “Come on, the ferry is about to leave.” 

“Aww, but Mako, I’m about to beat her.” 

“We don’t have time for some game.  We have to find jobs and a place to live.” 

Bolin sighs. “Can’t we just stay on Air Temple Island forever?”

My stomach clenches. Their conversation is a painful reminder that the future exists beyond the next few days. I’ve always been a planner. Lists, due dates, projects, these are all things that excite me. Or at least they used to. Before I fed my future to the flames. 

Literally. The minute I burned up the letter to Amon, I destroyed all of the plans I’ve ever made for myself. Future Industries, all of my design ideas, inheriting my father’s legacy — it’s all gone. 

All for some cocky, arrogant teenager who wants to rail you in the great outdoors.

The lunch bell rings, and the three of us automatically hop up to start bringing out dishes and trays of food. 

“Can’t we stay until after lunch — or we could go to Noodle Street!” I don’t know if Bolin is savvy enough to be given credit for manipulating their money situation into an excuse to stay longer and play more Pai Sho, but it works. Lunch at the Air Temple is cheaper than Noodle Street. 

Korra enters the dining hall with Tenzin, and the butterflies in my stomach emerge as they always do. They start to swarm in a panicky way, however, as I take in her expression. 

“Everything all right?” I ask. 

“No,” she says. “Another Equalist raid. They got three builders from the Earthwelding Company.” I know Earthwelding. They do most of the big construction projects downtown. All of their employees are earthbenders. It makes sense for Amon to aim for them — he could hardly miss. 

I try to make myself small and unnoticeable as the conversation builds around the attack. 

“The police need to find where these guys are hiding,” Mako says stridently. 

“Have any of the healers found a cure yet?” Bolin asks. 

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” the small girl squeals, bouncing in her seat. “Are they gonna come here next?” 

I squeeze my eyes shut and try not to think about how I’ve contributed to the genuine fear in the seven year old’s voice. 

“No, Ikki, we are perfectly safe,” Tenzin assures her. 

“Maybe you should think about moving out of Republic City,” Mako says. “The entire Air Nation is here.” 

“We aren’t going anywhere because we are perfectly safe,” Tenzin says in a hard voice. I actually agree with Mako — though I think I’d have enough tact not to make the same point in front of small, impressionable children. It’s going to take Amon a long time to rid the world of firebenders and earthbenders — and he’s clearly aiming for benders in groups. 

“I just don’t understand how he’s doing it,” Bolin says. “I thought only Avatars could take away bending.” 

He’s wrong. It’s not an Avatar power. Just one Avatar. Nonetheless, all eyes move to Korra. 

“I don’t know!” she says. “Maybe I could learn? You wanna be my test subject?” she asks Mako. He sticks his tongue out. I can’t say I love the idea of Mako being Korra’s anything-subject. 

“But perhaps the Avatar State,” Tenzin says, holding up a finger. “Korra, in the Avatar State you would have the ability to talk with my father, and perhaps he could explain how he removed Fire Lord Ozai’s bending.” 

“And then we could reverse engineer the process,” Mako says excitedly. “We could take the ability away from Amon.” 

“It’s not just about bending,” I hear myself say. Everyone else hears me too. Up and down the bench, faces turn towards me. I set down my mug. “If you take that power away from him, he’ll just start killing you all.”

The faces are not happy with that pronouncement and neither am I. It doesn’t exactly do me any favors in terms of eliminating suspicion. 

“He’s gonna kill us?” the air boy shouts. 

Oh spirits, now I’m as bad as Mako. 

“No,” I say, “I think Amon would prefer to take bending than kill, not out of decency but because—” I stammer to a halt. These ideas are just rolling off my tongue. I have to be more careful. One slip up and I could reveal everything. 

“Because what?” Korra asks. 

“Because it’s not about bending!” I repeat. “It’s about power . He wants to take away the power that you get from bending.” 

“I’m lost,” Bolin says. He isn’t the only one; Korra and Mako both look unconvinced. But I’m not. I’m clearer than ever. I realized it the other day, up in the bell tower. I ran up there out of shame; because when the courier asked for the letter to Amon, I couldn’t give it to him. My father’s voice haunted me as I tried to put as much distance between myself and the docks as possible: traitor, traitor, traitor. I ran up there to try to get rid of his voice — to get rid of his power. 

All my life, I’ve lived in fear of disappointing my father. After my mother died, he made it so clear that I was his priority, that was I his whole world. So I got the top marks, I never left home, I came to work for his company, I joined his revolution. Everything I did, I did for him, to make him happy. Until the one time I did something I wanted to do. One kiss. One tiny kiss. And he exploded. One step out of line, and he put my choices, my free will, in a literal cage.

Because that’s what putting Korra in that horrible box was all about. That brutal, inhumane treatment had nothing to do with the fact that she was the Avatar. It had nothing to do with equality. Those values just became a convenient excuse to control my choices. I don’t know if he was upset that Korra is the Avatar or that Korra is a girl — or both — but either way, locking her away was because he didn’t like seeing his daughter with her. It was about me. Not Korra. It was about power, not equality. 

Just like Amon. 

“I think Asami is right,” Tenzin says. “These public demonstrations, going after the triads first and then the probenders — Amon is eliminating powerful benders first.” 

There is an uneasy silence as we all silently follow that thought to its logical conclusion. Korra squirms. 

“Good,” she says, her bottom lip jutting out. “Bring it on. The sooner he comes for me, the sooner I get to destroy him.” 

I restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Her bravado is endearing, until it’s not. Lunch ends with plans to redouble Korra’s efforts to attain the Avatar State, then Korra and Tenzin leave with Mako and Bolin to catch the ferry back to Republic City.

“Asami? Do you want to come?” Bolin asks. “We could stop at that sweets shop you like by the stadium.” 

I decline. I have to. For the moment, I’m safe here on Air Temple Island. But the minute I step back into Republic City, I’m fair game for Amon’s assuredly extensive retirement program. You don’t just quit an organization like the Equalists. There are three options — life, prison, or death. 

Your mother would be so disappointed in you

Well, that makes two parents doesn’t it? At least she’s not around to see it. 

I reach out for a distraction from my internal war. My brain itches to get a drafting pencil in my hand — but I can’t do that anymore. All of those talents were exploited and perverted. My father told me I’d create beautiful things, and then he turned me into a weapons-monger. 

Korra’s scream of pain when Howin electrocuted her metal prison haunts me. Korra would have never screamed like if I had never put a pen to paper. 

“Have you ever been to a concert?” Ikki’s shrill little voice interrupts my thoughts, and for once I am glad for it. I know the airbending kids well enough now to know that my eyes should look up, and sure enough, Ikki is hanging from a rafter above me. 

“A few,” I say. My father loved music. He would take us to grand concert halls to hear the most talented musicians and orchestras in the world. 

“I know how to play the tsungi horn,” the girl tells me, flipping over and landing lightly on her feet. “Do you want to hear me play?” 

“No,” I say honestly. 

She cackles with laughter, holding her little stomach. “My dad made me learn because his dad made him learn but I want to play the flute like my Uncle Bumi. Do you know Uncle Bumi?” 

“No.” 

“He’s a general in the United Forces and he’s the biggest hero they’ve ever had. What’s a lesbian?” 

I blink. “Umm, what?” 

“My Aunt Kya is lesbian,” Ikki says simply. She hops lightly onto the bannister of the walkway, balancing with her arms extended. “But I don’t know what that means.” She blinks at me expectantly. 

This is a conversation I should punt to this child’s parents, right? Then I remember my own father; how he looked at me when he found out. A surge of anger crawls across my skull. “A lesbian is a girl who likes other girls.” 

“Oh.” Ikki doesn’t seem to find this world-shattering information. “Then I’m a lesbian ‘cause I like you and Korra and Jinora — sometimes, when she’s not being an annoying know-it-all.” 

“No,” I say. How am I supposed to explain this? “Like… like-likes girls.” 

Ikki’s eyes go wide. “Oooooh.” She somersaults back to the ground. “Like how Korra like-likes Mako, and how you used to like-like Mako before you broke his heart.” She smiles widely as her words punch me in the gut. 

I try to move away from this conversation, but I can’t help myself: “Korra doesn’t like-like Mako.”

“Yes, she does,” the child says brightly, following me down a flight of stairs. “And now that you’re not dating him she’s probably going to date him. And she promised to tell me everything so that when I grow up and I go on dates, I’ll already know what to do.” 

“Korra isn’t going to date Mako,” I say through gritted teeth. 

“Why not? He’s pretty. Would it make you mad if Korra dated the boy you used to date?” 

Extremely. 

“Wait!” Ikki’s eyes grow large as eggs. “Are you a lesbian? Do you like-like Korra??” 

I look around wildly, but the terrace we’re on is deserted — also this little girl’s question is the least embarrassing thing I could have been caught in the middle of over the past week. Let alone the least incriminating. 

“I’m not a lesbian,” I say, sighing. “I’m… I like… whatever. Everyone.” 

I stride over to a peculiar feature: an array of wooden posts, at least eight feet tall. 

“You can do that??” Ikki all but shouts. 

“Umm, yeah.” I wander into the artificial forest. Ikki propels herself up, where she stands atop a pole, balanced on one foot. “And more people would if we weren’t conditioned with this false binary as children.” 

I look up to see that the kid is lost. 

“Just, keep your options open, all right?” 

“Okay. Korra thinks you’re really pretty.” 

“So does your little brother.” 

“Oh yeah, Meelo’s a big lesbian.” 

That gets me. My laugh echoes around the yard. 

“Wellllll,” Ikki says. “Maybe Korra like-likes you back. She got you a present! A police lady dropped it off this morning.” 

That is a very confusing statement. I am going to assume that she got confused along the way, just like her understanding of sexuality. 

“Would that weird you out? If Korra like-liked me?” I absently touch the poles surrounding me, looking at the airbending markings painted into the sides.

Ikki thinks it over. “Umm, nope.”

I don’t know why acceptance from a seven year old makes me want to cry, but it does. I step out of the pitch and notice a hand-painted sign hanging at eye level. It reads: Cling not to the now, go not back, they are no longer: the only way is forward. 

“Ikki, what’s this?” I ask, pointing at the sign. “An Air Nomad proverb?” Cling not to the now, go not back. That’s me, isn’t it? Forswearing the Equalists is “clinging not to the now.” “Going not back” is ignoring the voice in my head that says what I’m doing is treachery. They are no longer. My only way is forward; my only way is Korra. 

Ikki lands at my feet and peers at the sign. “Umm, no, that’s the rules for airball.” 

Oh. 

“Okay. I have to go.” 

“Where are you going? What are you doing? Can I come?” 

“Well, if Korra’s getting me a present, I should get her something too.” 

“Ooooh! Can I help?” 

“Uhh, let’s see, do you know how to bake?” 

“Not at all.” 

“Then we’re going to have to get creative.” 

xxx 

“Spirits, Ikki! Slow down.” Korra’s voice echoes up the stairwell. 

“It would be a lot easier if you could airbend,” Ikki’s high voice responds. 

The butterflies in my stomach multiple as their voices get closer. 

“What the hell is at the top of the bell tower?” Korra asks grumpily. I smile. 

“A present,” Ikki says, as they crest the stairs. Korra stops dead a few steps down. Her eyes widen when she sees me, and the array of objects I have on the bench behind me. 

“Hi Korra,” I say. I’m surprised by the shyness in my voice. 

“What’s all this?” She climbs the last few steps. 

“Ikki actually gave me the idea,” I say. Ikki beams. “When she asked if we were going to stay up all night telling secrets, it occurred to me that, maybe in an Avatar compound in the South Pole, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for slumber parties.”

She laughs. “You dragged me all the way up here to rub it in that you’re more popular than I am?” 

“I happen to be very proficient in sleepovers.” I slip in a wink on the side of my face Ikki can’t see.

Korra’s mouth moves, but nothing comes out. 

“I want to stay,” Ikki says, “but Asami said you might get overwhelmed if there are too many people at your first sleepover so I get to come to the next one.” 

“And,” I say, double-poking the buns on top of her head. “You also have another very important job.” 

“I do?” 

“Yes, remember? What do you say if anyone asks where all those boxes of sweets went?” 

“I sure as shit don’t know!” she answers immediately. Korra barks out a laugh. 

“Good one, half-pint, now scram,” she says. 

“Throw me?” Ikki requests.

“All right, fine.” Korra hoists Ikki into her arm and counts down from three, hurling the girl into the starry sky. When she turns back to me, her smile is splitting her face apart. 

“Okay, where do we start, Slumber Party Master?” 

I shrug the canvas bag stuffed with pillows and blankets over my shoulder and pass Korra the picnic blanket. 

“Come on.” I step up on the bench and then over the railing. “It’s gonna be chilly; I trust you can keep us warm?” 

“Whoa! Where are you going?” Korra’s hand grasps my arm like she’s worried I’m going to throw myself over the edge, sans airbending. I look back at her. 

“Are you scared of heights?” I ask incredulously. I didn’t think Korra was scared of anything.  

Korra’s cheeks darken. “No,” she says defensively. “I’m scared of you being on heights. There’s a difference.” 

“Aww, why? ‘Cause I can’t firebend three feet from the ground and crash land in a dumpster?” 

“It was not a dumpster,” she says. 

I extend a hand. “Don’t worry, Avatar, I’m not going to fall.” 

She grips my hand and follows me over the railing. At this height, the pagoda design of the tower creates cradle-like features. I throw a blanket into one and slide down. I pat the space next to me. Korra carefully joins me. When she finally settles in, she gasps. Due to the angle of the roof, we can’t actually see the ground at all, or even the Republic City skyline around the harbor. We are lying under a dome of stars, uninterrupted by the moon. It's just us and the wide universe above. 

“Like it?” I ask. 

She nods wordlessly. Then she looks at me, and her expression of awe doesn’t change a bit. 

I clear my throat. “Okay, so there’s a pretty standard operating procedure for slumber parties.”

“There’s rules?” Korra whines. 

“It starts with a sugar overdose.” I say, ignoring her and reaching into the picnic basket, drawing out a box that I happen to know comes from a very expensive chocolatier. When Ikki produced them, I didn’t ask any questions. “Then you push the boundaries of age-appropriate behavior.” I pull out a bottle of champagne. “Then, weirdly, the night takes a turn and people try to scare the shit out of each other.” 

“Oh my Tui,” Korra says. “I know the perfect story — have you ever heard the one about the bloody snowman?” 

“It sounds terrifying.” 

She bites her lip. “Is there a step four?” 

“Umm, the night usually ends with the alpha popular girl interrogating everyone on all of their secrets and at minimum three people leave crying.” 

Korra’s face drops. “That sounds… fun.” 

“Oh, sleepovers are not about fun. They are rigorous training exercises.” 

“All right, captain, I’m ready to work.” 

We pop the champagne. Korra glues her mouth to the bottle as the fizz overspills. We lie back, looking at the stars, eating chocolate, and passing the champagne back and forth. 

“So,” Korra starts. “Of the two of us, you are no question the alpha popular girl but… I think you know all of my secrets.” 

“You mean that I know you list Master Katara on your body count?” 

Korra’s nose wrinkles. “Oh spirits, can you please forget I said that?” 

I shake my head. I will not be forgetting any of that conversation in the Koi bathroom. 

“Oh wait — speaking of all the times I’ve horrendously embarrassed myself in front of you — that reminds me.” Korra slides a hand between us into the pocket of her leggings. “I got you these. Had someone bring ‘em over from the mainland.” She produces a box of cigarettes. 

My entire focus zeroes in on the box. Only the small tinge of disappointment that Korra’s big present for me was nicotine gives me the strength to say: “I’m actually trying to quit” in one tight breath. 

“Oh. Good!” Korra hurls the box over the side of the room. Then she smacks her head. “I’m going to have to find that tomorrow. The only thing air acolytes hate worse than smoking is littering.” 

I giggle against her shoulder. She bumps me gently. “Come on, now you have to tell me a secret. I just threw out the only one I had.”

“You know all my secrets,” I mumble dishonestly. But she knows the important ones. The other ones don’t have any bearing on my life anymore. I’ll make sure of it.

“Umm, no? Come on, you walked in on me with my tongue down a stranger’s throat.”

“Eww, Korra, I don’t want to think about that. Okay, I do have one. It’s pretty juicy.” 

Korra turns to me with her childlike excitement. 

I’m sleeping with the Avatar,” I whisper. 

She frowns. “Nope, gotta do better.” 

Kyoshi’s coconuts, what do you want from me? Isn’t it enough that you are the only person on the planet that knows I’m into girls? Well, you and Ikki now. She is very good at getting information out of people.” 

“I know, it’s so annoying — wait. I’m the only one?” 

“Is that really so surprising?” 

“But. I mean, all the other girls you’ve been with probably figured it out.” 

I glance out at the stars. 

“Wait. That’s not possible.” 

“You knew I was deep in the closet!” 

“Asami,” her voice is serious. “You eat me out like a damn pro.” 

Oh my… I’m pretty sure my face just learned how to firebend. 

“You’re telling me that’s the first time you’ve ever done that.” The disbelief in her words is flattering.

I shrug. “I’m a fast learner.” She’s still staring at me like I’m some sort of pussy-eating spirit. “I don’t know, Korra, damn! I know what I like. It wasn’t too hard to turn it around.” 

“Around, upside down, backwards…” 

I smack her arm. “Don’t be crude.” 

“I think you like it when I’m crude.” She is correct. “So who else have you banged? Who’d you lose the big V to?” 

“Virginity is a social construct designed to keep women oppressed.” 

Korra rolls her eyes. 

“Fine.” I hold up my fingers and make the list that she’s dying for. Awkwardly and unfortunately, it ends with Mako. 

“Was he…?” Korra glances at me with equal measures of guilt and glee. 

“I am so not telling you.” I try to hold the jealous part of my brain back, but it slips out: “You could find out for yourself, I’m sure.”

Korra scrunches her face and she shakes her head. “At one point, Princess, all I wanted in the world was to take him away from you. Now though… I think I got the better half.” 

My smile radiates down to my toes. 

She leans over to kiss me and I swear it’s lovely enough to propel us both into the stars. We break away to share the last of the champagne. When it’s gone, I push the picnic basket to another divot in the roof and swing my legs over Korra’s lap. She pulls a blanket over us. It’s the middle of winter, out on the highest point on the island; but Korra’s like a heater, and I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave. 

“My mom was killed by firebenders,” I say into the silence. Korra’s arms tighten around me. “I guess that’s something that I don’t tell too many people.” 

“What happened?” 

“A triad. The Agni Kais. They broke into my parents’ shop. My mom testified against them. So they burned... burned down our house. It was the middle of the night, and when I woke up, there were already flames in the hallway. I had to go out a window. I was already outside before… I didn’t know she was trapped.” 

Korra runs a hand through my hair. “It’s not your fault.” 

I swallow. 

“My dad was out of town. Or… or I would have lost them both.” 

“I’m so sorry, Asami.” 

That story always tears me apart. To this day, flames larger than a spark give me panic attacks. It’s why I bury the memory in the back of my mind. But for some reason, I feel an intense sensation of relief that Korra knows. 

I clear my throat and push away a little. “Sorry, forgot to tell you step five of slumber parties is deep trauma.” 

“You don’t have to apologize. I want to know you. All of you.” 

Traitor. 

No. Go away. 

Disappointed. 

This cannot interrupt the most perfect night. 

Cling not to your past. You have to get out. TRAITOR. Your mother would be so disappointed in you

“Hey,” Korra strokes my cheek. “It’s okay.” 

Traitor, traitor, traitor. 

“You wanna go inside?”

I nod wordlessly, not trusting myself to speak. 

“Cool — I actually have something for you. Wanna see?” 

We pack up the sleepover supplies and Korra brings me back down to my own room. In the corner she’s thrown a sheet over something I recognize instantly. I freeze. 

“Ta da!” she says. Korra pulls the sheet off a drafting board. My drafting board. In the cabinets underneath are all of my supplies — pencils, pens, graph paper, compass. “I convinced the police that there was no possible danger to you having this here. I know you had it in your room as home so…” 

I blink rapidly. It strikes me how utterly incorrect I was about this girl. I’m not used to being wrong; when I decided Korra was self-centered, obnoxious, and privileged, I never thought I’d have to change my mind. 

So Korra went and changed it for me. 

“Do you… do you like it?” 

I throw myself at her as an answer. She catches me easily, holding me up as I loop my legs around her waist and twist my fingers into her hair. After a second, however, she pulls back. Her eyes are already unfocused and her mouth hangs open in that adorably dopey way. 

“What?” 

“Umm, I just… you told me a lot of… stuff and I just — I wanted to say that, like, if you wanted to talk, I’m here for you.” 

I exaggerate my bewilderment, looking down at our tightly interlocked bodies, then hook two fingers under her chin. “Does it look like I want to talk?” 

She shakes her head. “I know that this week has been—” 

I force my thumb into her mouth. She takes it, looking up into my eyes. It’s a sight I want to remember. “Thank you so much for your concern,” I whisper into her ear. I run my tongue along her lobe, causing her to bite down on my thumb. “But I can think of so many more constructive uses for your mouth than talking, Avatar Korra.” I lean back and withdraw my thumb so she can answer my question: “Got it?” 

“Yes, ma’am,” she says eagerly, and props me on the edge of the drafting board. It creaks concerningly. 

“Ah, babe, this thing is not built for this,” I whisper, holding my weight on her shoulders. 

“Oh really?” Korra sounds disappointed. “Because I was thinking, this thing has a lot of different angles.” 

I giggle into her hair. “You will break it. And then you’ll have to go find those cigarettes for me.”

“I can be careful,” she says, slipping a hand under my ass. 

“I don’t want you to be careful,” I respond. Korra freezes, halfway back to my bed. Her crooked grin could be seen from space. 

“Does that mean what I think it means?” she checks quickly. 

I roll my eyes. “Yes, Korra. To be totally clear: pretty please, can you please put me down and fuck me until I see the face of god, or whatever?” 

“I’m right here.”

“Oh shut up, you arrogan—” 

My words are cut off as Korra slams me down on the bed. I look up at her, gasping. She quickly dispenses with her top and kicks out of her leggings. I’m just about to point out that this is the part where she’s supposed to be taking off my clothes, but she pounces on top of me and steals any breath with which I would have made a constructive criticism. Her tongue fully invades my mouth as she pops the buttons on the front of my top and deftly snaps the clasp behind my back. When she relents for a moment, to let me slide out of the clothing she’s graciously undone for me, I reach up to relieve her of her own breast coverage. 

I think my reputation as omnipotent sex goddess declines somewhat, because, despite multiple opportunities to practice, I still can’t get the hang of this wrap situation. She smirks at me. 

“Want some help?” 

I narrow my eyes at her. “Absolutely not.” I hook my fingers under the fabric and force it down her chest. Before she can congratulate me on my creative problem-solving, I clamp my mouth to her breast, and then immediately clamp a hand over her mouth. 

“You are going to wake everyone up,” I tell her, licking a circle around her areola. 

“No,” she gasps. I lean my head back curiously to see Korra’s eyes are almost totally black. “You are.” 

With one strong arm, Korra flips me onto my stomach and drags my skirt and underwear down my legs. “Headboard,” she orders. I grip the wooden bars and feel Korra’s body line up with my back. She bites a patch of skin on my shoulder blade and her hands come around my ribs to feel my breasts. She rolls a nipple between her fingers, making my whole body shudder. She bites the back of my neck and forces two fingers in my mouth. I suck them; hard enough to remind her who’s actually in charge, but she pays me no mind, dragging my lip down as she transfers her moistened fingers down between legs. I appreciate the consideration, but I don’t think she’s going to need the extra lubrication. Korra groans as she makes this discovery for herself. “Spirits,” she whispers into my hair, “how is it possible you’re already this wet?” 

She’s getting the hang of this whole “top” thing, because before I can muster a reply, she curls two fingers deep inside and my ability to put two thoughts together, let alone witty repertoire, is severely disrupted. 

“Pull my hair,” I mutter between moans. She grabs a handful of hair at the base of my neck. I ride her fingers hard. “Korra,” I mumble. “I’m — fuck — I’m close.” Korra releases my hair. I let my face face onto the pillow in front of me, biting down to keep from screaming as ecstasy explodes directly from Korra’s fingers, traveling through my body, wanting to escape out of my throat in a piercing moan. I collapse onto the mattress, with Korra’s body on top of me, holding me tight through the aftershocks. 

“Okay,” I say after a moment, my voice ragged. “That was very good.” 

“Oh,” Korra says lightly. “That wasn’t it.” 

I twist around to face her, a question mark on my face. She makes an expression like I’m the dumb one. “You said you didn’t want to talk.” 

My question mark is still firmly in place. 

“You are still capable of far too much talking.” Then, in a move I can’t fully track, one second I’m being hoisted in a fireman's carry, and the next my ass is hitting the top of my desk and Korra’s spreading my legs, getting to her knees. I crane my neck back, jaw slack, blinking at the ceiling as the Avatar fulfills her promise to make me utterly speechless. 

Chapter Text

Korra

“Korra! Korra — are you even listening to me?” 

I snap out of a daydream related to the constructive uses of my mouth, to find that I’m in the lotus position in front of an imperious-looking statue of Guru Shoken. Tenzin is seated next to me, and today his expression is set to Extra Grouchy. 

“Yes!” I say defensively, when in actuality I was deeply invested in a memory of Asami’s heels digging into my shoulders. 

“What’s the last thing I said?” 

The last thing I honestly remember Tenzin saying was “no, tentacle soup is not vegetarian” but that was days ago. Anything he has said over the course of this lesson has been sacrificed to the Asami-shaped void in my brain. 

“Ummmmmm get your act together … and stop Shoken around?” 

“That’s actually very close.” 

“Really?” 

“No!” Tenzin’s bald head gets a little redder. “I don’t know if this mission is a good idea after all.” 

My head snaps back into its place on my shoulders. “No!” I protest. “I’m ready, I know I am. This is a good plan. Aang can tell me how he learned energy-bending, which might give us a lead on Amon. It’s the best idea we’ve had so far.” 

It’s also the only plan I’ve made so far that doesn’t involve me jumping in with a pair of fire fists, so I know Tenzin is tempted. 

“Well, perhaps I should supervise…” 

“No,” I insist. “Your dad said no adult supervision for Avatar State practice.” 

“How do you know that?” 

As I say, “Katara,” Tenzin answers his own question with a grumbled, “my mother, of course.” 

“Just out of curiosity, not because I want you to come — why did Aang say no adults allowed?” As far as I know, Aang spent most of Tenzin’s life teaching him how to become a perfect Avatar master. 

“A number of reasons,” Tenzin says, getting to his feet, and increasing my hopes that we can get lunch soon. “There is no master of the Avatar State here on Earth. The only masters of that power are in there.” He pokes me gently on the forehead. “And while that is a very logical answer, I believe it was an experience he had with a power hungry general in the Earth Kingdom that he found most distressing.” 

“What happened?” 

“He threatened my mother.” 

Just thinking about Katara being in danger makes my own emotions jump up a notch. Katara was my first teacher, the greatest waterbender alive, and the unofficial keeper of wisdom for the Southern Tribe. Even with all of my personal connections, I wonder if sometimes when Katara’s name is mentioned, it’s Aang banging around inside me again. The idea makes me happy and sad at the same time. I wonder if I’ll ever love anyone enough to last into my next lifetime. 

My mind jumps to Asami but the thought of loving her makes my stomach feel like it’s filled with a live spider-squid. Next my mind goes to what I would do if she was ever in danger, and the spider-squid grows stingers.

“I guess that would trigger something,” I say. “Maybe we should try pissing me off.” Tenzin, as usual, can’t take a joke. He starts lecturing me about how badly Avatars of the past have fucked this up by getting too angry. 

“I get it,” I say, when he takes a breath. “We’ll avoid that option.” I’ll say anything to cut off the second part of this series, but really I’m thinking that if strong emotions trigger the Avatar State, then I should have gone all glow-y about a million times over the past month. Like maybe when I was trapped in a box? Or when I thought Asami had betrayed us? Or when Amon kicked my ass at the probending tournament? Or all the times that Asami’s looked into my eyes and told me to touch her? Those were some particularly strong emotions -- so why have my eyes remained blue and my airbending remained on vacation?

“You’ll need to to gather your companions and travel to a spot in the western reaches of the United Republic.” 

Gather my companions. It sounds so serious, like the kind of stuff from old legends. I know “The Avatar’s Companions” are a really revered and powerful set of people each generation — I mean, look at Katara and Toph and Zuko and Suki and Sokka. Everyone that accompanied Aang on his adventures ended up having an enormous impact on the world. But it’s kind of crazy to think about my goofy group of friends being that. When Tenzin describes them as trusted, lifelong consorts a little thrill of nerves passes through my body. I picture telling Asami and Mako that I want them as lifelong partners and I want to barf. 

xxx 

“Knock knock!” 

“Did you just say ‘knock knock’ instead of actually knocking?” Asami is tidying up her room. The routines of the airmonks become habit quickly. 

“Maybe,” I say. I’m too giddy to bicker with her. She notices. 

“What’s up?” 

“I was wondering if you were busy today.” I notice I’m twirling a strand of hair through my fingers and stop myself. 

“I’d say my schedule has pretty much cleared up.” 

“Oh… right…” Genius, Korra, real smooth

“I’m on the edge of my seat here, Avatar,” she says.

“Okay, well, I need — the thing is I have to…” 

Tenzin passes by Asami’s room and interrupts my stammering. “Oh good, Asami’s going as well?” 

I haven’t asked her yet,” I say between clenched teeth. 

“What are you waiting for?” Tenzin asks with the subtlety of a trainwreck. “You have to get going!” 

“What’s going on?” Asami asks. 

“I’m gonna try to access the Avatar State,” I rush to say before my second dad can embarrass me any further. “Which is like — it’s really cool, my eyes glow and it’s a full body power-up — I might even be able to airbend!” 

Tenzin’s bushy eyebrows squish together. “It’s not a power-up! It is a sacred ritual that all Avatars—” 

I give Tenzin a blah blah blah motion with my hand. “I knoooowww.” I make a face at Asami and she shakes her head like I’m an adorable little scamp. “Connection to my spirituality, divine interrelationship, correspondence with the great beyond — I got it.”

Tenzin is unamused. He turns to Asami. “I have to say, this is why I am so thrilled that you have become one of Korra’s companions.” Asami’s eyes go wide in surprise while I quietly pass away. “Korra needs someone like you in her life — someone with a good head on their shoulders. Especially today. The Avatar State, while great with power, is raw and vulnerable. It should only be practiced with the closest of compatriots.” 

Asami’s jaw has dropped. 

“Okay!” I say, grabbing Asami’s wrist. “We get it. Thank you.” I pull her down the hall and the hell away from the second most embarrassing conversation of my life. 

“Does he know?” Asami asks, twisting out of my grasp. 

“What? Tenzin? No, spirits, he still thinks you and Mako were study buddies.” 

Asami does not seem convinced, and honestly the wide-eyed terror is a little insulting. 

“Please chill, would it be the worst thing in the world if some bald arrowhead knew that I know you like it when I--” 

Asami raises both of her hands to cut me off, nodding her head to say that we are still in close proximity to listening ears. 

“What?” I ask, louder than before. “I’m just saying -- wait, what? You want me to speak up? I JUST THINK PEOPLE WOULD BE INTERESTED TO YOU KNOW THAT YOU ENJOY--” 

Asami slams me into the wall, arm against my collarbone, murder in her eyes. Spirits, she’s so pretty. 

“Oh yeah,” I whisper. “This is so much subtler.” 

She lets me go. “So what? You’re gonna ask me to be a companion?” 

“Yup, you heard the man: most trusted friends and anyone who’s willing to throw me into a wall. Shit, you think I should ask Amon’s lieutenant? He threw me down a set of stairs once, remember?” 

“Is this a joke to you?” Asami asks. 

Yes. Obviously. I do not think Mr. Lieutenant would be a great choice. What I don’t understand is why Asami’s taking this so seriously. This is us: we banter. It’s funny; it’s hot. It’s kind of our thing. 

“What’s up?” I ask. “Is something wrong?” 

Asami folds her arms and frowns at the wall. She stomps down the hallway towards a garden. When she looks back at me, standing in place, she impatiently beckons for me to follow. The sun is bright. It’s one of those days that looks like spring isn’t too far off.

“Being a companion is a big deal!” she tells me -- me, the Avatar, the one with the companions. 

“Look, it doesn’t have to be all formal and cringey like Tenzin said. We’re not gonna wear rings and exchange vows or anything.” 

Okay, pause — you see this? Somehow the ends of my wildest fantasies come out of my mouth when I’m talking to Miss Perfect. It’s a joke; I’m teasing — but Asami’s face is changing into something I can’t read (though it’s definitely not “that marriage joke was incredibly hilarious"). 

“You have to trust your companions,” Asami says. 

“I know.” 

“Implicitly. With your life.” 

“Are you planning on icing me anytime soon, Princess?” 

“No.” Her voice is low and gravely. “I would never let anyone hurt you.” 

“Okay! Great! You’ve got the job!” 

“But.” She cuts herself off with a wordless noise of frustration, pacing in the dead grass. “What if -- what if I hurt you?” 

My heart drops an inch in my chest. There’s only one way Asami Sato could hurt me and I really don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to even entertain the idea. Everything’s going so well! Why do we have to have the doom and gloom conversation now? Why do we have to have the doom and gloom conversation at all?

“Are you saying you don’t want to do it?” I ask, and the question burns my tongue coming out. “Cuz if being… I don’t know, connected to me -- and having the whole world know it -- if that’s too much for you, you should probably tell me now.” Spirits, my lip is trembling. This is not how this was supposed to go. We were supposed to be on our way by now. 

“Korra, no,” Asami’s voice, gentle and warm and back to normal pulls my gaze from the toes of my boots. She squeezes my hand. “That’s not it at all. I just… I want to be good enough for you. And I’m worried I’m not.” 

My laughter breaks the tension and startles Asami. “That’s what you’re worried about? Sheesh, I think you’re good. Ask anyone around here -- or in the whole city -- everyone knows that the sun shines out of your ass. It’s me they’re worried about not being good enough. You’re…” The best. Wonderful. Perfect. Everything. “You’re all right, Rich Girl.” 

“But they don’t--” 

“Ah!” I clap my hands to my ears. “No more saying mean things about my friend, Asami, okay?” 

“But--” 

“Nope!” 

“Korra! Listen--” 

“No! I trust you. It’s my decision and my decision is that I trust you. Okay? You’re just gonna have to deal with that.” 

I can tell she wants to argue more. She always wants to argue more. Nonetheless, a little smile is breaking out on her face. Her nose scrunches up as she tries to fight it and, Tui’s gills, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. There’s the key to the Avatar State right there: if Asami Sato tells me to jump into the Avatar State, my only question will be, “How high?” 

“So,” she peeks out from behind her hair, almost shy. “What does being the Avatar’s companion entail?” 

“Oh boy, it’s extensive. Long nights. Loooooong nights. And it’s a physical job, you know? It’s not all supporting-from-afar. Sometimes you gotta get in there and really put in the work.” 

She shakes her head and I can see that I’m back to being an adorable little scamp. “I assume you’re inviting Mako and Bolin.” 

“Yeah -- wait, did you not know I was clocking late nights with Bolin? Shit, I should have told you.” 

“Don’t even joke about corrupting my best friend,” Asami warns. 

“All right, all right. Come on, they’re probably waiting for us.” 

“Running on Asami Time,” she says, almost to herself. 

“What’s Asami Time and how do I convert my clock?” 

“It’s something my dad -- well, my mom started it, I guess. I was always making them late for things.” 

I know it’s gonna take her a while to start opening up about her parents and her life before I knew her, but each little nugget means so much to me. I file “Asami Time” away in my brain as we make our way out of the temple. 

Chapter Text

Asami

Here I am, thousands of feet above the open ocean, on the back of a gigantic beast, with my ex-boyfriend, his brother, and the Avatar. We few, we lucky few, have been selected in all of Korra’s enlightened wisdom to be her companions. 

Her companions.

I received a first class education and you can bet your bottom dollar that we talked about the Avatars and all of their esteemed companions. (If you can’t hear me gagging, imagine it now.) When I was getting myself kicked out of class for suggesting that anyone who had exercised bloodbending for any reason should face consequences, I never imagined that I might be invited to join the ranks. 

Besides not ever wanting to be a companion, there’s the additional issue that I don’t deserve it. I spent my entire life — up until recent weeks — working to destroy the Avatar and all other benders. That’s not exactly the “most trusted compatriot” Tenzin was talking about. Plus, I just brutally dumped one of the other companions, days after he lost his job and his home. So when Tenzin said that he was glad I had a “good head on my shoulders” and implied that I might bring some stability to this team, well, that was laughable. 

Not that anyone is going to be laughing when they find out who I really am. I don’t belong. I never will. 

They’re not going to find out. They don’t have to. That chapter is closed.

On top of everything else, this bison ride is really fucking awkward. Mako refuses to even breathe the same air as me. He is crunched into a moody ball, staring out the back, over the ocean we’ve already crossed. Korra seemed unable to put a complete thought together when she realized she’d asked both me and Mako to be her best-friends-forever, and has been taking her bison-driving duties very seriously. Bolin is the only normal one on the roadtrip. When he suggests that we lie back to look at the clouds and make up extensive backstories about the characters we see there, I agree a little bit more enthusiastically than I might normally. 

“Why do we have to fly all the way out here?” Mako asks, an hour into our journey. 

Korra shrugs. “I dunno. Tenzin said this place was sacred to one of my past lives so he thought it might help.” 

“Ooh, which one?” asks Bolin. 

“Avatar Tashi,” Korra answers. 

“What were they like?”

Korra shrugs again. 

“Tashi started the Air Nuns,” I say, sitting up. “Before her, only male airbenders were allowed to learn bending, even though every person born to the Air Nation has the ability to bend. Avatar Tashi oversaw the building of the Western Air Temple, so female airbenders could have a place to study and practice. And she convinced the spirit of the mountains to bless the temple so that it could only be approached by air.”

Korra turns around at the reins to look at me in surprise.  

“So that’s what you learn in school,” says Bolin after a moment. 

Slowly we come upon a landmass and Korra guides our fearsomely large transport into a landing. We dismount into thick forest, with the type of dark, foreboding trees that grow in cold climes. 

“Tenzin said this was the place,” Korra says uncertainly. 

“Over here!” Mako calls, pointing to a rough ring of stones in the ground. “It’s an old foundation.” 

He’s correct. We poke around a bit more and find other signs of life — life that lived long, long ago. 

“Why is this place sacred to Avatar Tashi?” I ask. 

Korra frowns, concentrating, then begins to pick through the ruins, leading us away from the main cluster of buildings. 

“Maybe she was born here,” suggests Bolin as we follow Korra through the trees. 

“Or died here,” Mako offers. As always, a bright ray of sunshine. 

The chill in the air grows colder. Ahead of us Korra begins to walk faster, breaking out into a jog. She scales a low hill and halts. Below us is another foundation. It’s smaller than the ones we saw when we landed, and every inch of the interior is covered in brilliant wildflowers. There’s a flower for every color imaginable, and nothing like what should be growing in the dead of winter. I spot an orchid that I know is only found in the Fire Nation, and a rose that is called the Summer Secret which, as you might imagine, is supposed to be seasonal. 

“It’s not any of that,” Korra says in a faraway voice. “This is where she fell in love.” 

The chill suddenly doesn’t seem so bitter. 

“How do you know that?” 

“I have no idea… I can just tell.” 

“Is… is Tashi here?” Bolin asks, squinting as if to spot a ghost. 

Korra laughs. “No, no, nothing like that.” 

“Well, in a way, she is,” I point out. I put a hand on Korra’s shoulder, and then just as quickly snatch it back. Three pairs of eyes follow my hand. I shake it out awkwardly, and rush to say: “What I mean is, technically Tashi’s right here.” I point at Korra. “And so is Aang, right? That’s the whole reason we’re doing this?” 

“Right,” Korra says, cracking her knuckles in a way she knows I hate. It takes all of my willpower not to smack her hands — but usually when I do that Korra tries to find ways to make me slap her again, and then I have to pin her down, and I think we’ve piqued the boys’ suspicions enough for today. “All righty, Aang, get ready to spill your secrets.” 

This girl. She makes talking to her own past life a damn confrontation. 

“What are we supposed to do?” Mako asks. 

Korra scratches her head. “I guess just like… be here?” 

“What are you gonna do?” Bolin asks. 

“Like — meditate! I don’t know. It’s the Avatar State, I’m the Avatar, and Tenzin said being here would help. So, it should just, like, come to me.”

I’m starting to wonder what instructions — if any — Tenzin gave Korra before we set out on this quest. 

“I think we should back up,” I say to Bolin (and hope that Mako realizes I’m talking to him as well, or not, whatever, let him get his own head blown off). “In the past…” I drift off, thinking through what I know about the Avatar State. Tenzin might insist it’s a connection to the Avatar’s spirituality, but from my studies I’m more inclined to agree with Korra — it’s like plugging the Avatar’s powers into a megawatt generator. Avatars of the past have wielded enormous destruction through the Avatar State. And I’m not sure I want to be right next to Korra when her eyes start lighting up. 

We move outside the ring of stone and watch Korra settle into a lotus position among the flowers. She closes her eyes and breathes deeply. There is silence except for the wind in the bare branches and the movements of whatever creatures are still about. Nothing happens. 

One of Korra’s eyes — still beautiful, boundless ocean blue — pops open and I glance away quickly. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at, but it suddenly seems really weird that I was staring at her. 

“Is it supposed to take this long?” Bolin wonders aloud. 

Korra opens both eyes to glare at him, then groans loudly and flops backwards into the flowers. Mako and I exchange a glance and get up to join Korra. It’s the first time we’ve looked at each other since the breakup without immediately falling into a well of pain. Carefully, Mako, Bolin, and I seat ourselves around Korra. She looks really beautiful, framed in flowers, and really frustrated. 

“What do you know about the Avatar State?” I ask gently. Korra’s face twists into a scowl, but after a moment she sits up. 

“Not that much. Just that it’s powerful… and dangerous.” Korra hugs her knees to her chest. “Tenzin said that in the past young Avatars have gone into the Avatar State accidentally because their emotions got away from them.” Korra picks at a nearby stem, working her lips silently before speaking very quickly. “Aang got himself locked in ice for a hundred years, Kuruk sank an entire island, Kyoshi threw a mountain at someone. She was so angry that she destroyed this entire mining town, trying to get revenge.” The stalk breaks in Korra’s fingers. “That’s why Tenzin wanted us to go all the way out here. Because… he’s scared. Of me. He thinks I’m rash and out of control and my temper gets the best of me. He thinks I’m going to fly off the handle and wind up in the Avatar State and end up—” She breaks off, apparently unable to say what it is she’ll be capable of. 

But I know. She could level cities, end hundreds of lives with a sweep of her hand, crush anyone who stands in her way. When Korra goes atomic, it’s all up to her, who lives and who dies. 

And yet… this girl, sitting in front of me among the flowers — she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. She’s nearly shaking with the possibility that she could wield such power. 

“I don’t think Tenzin’s scared of you,” I say (though what do I know? I’ve spent a week at his house and have never been able to meet his eyes). “I don’t think he sent you out here to insulate you from yourself. It sounds like all the Avatars struggled. He just wants you to be safe.” 

Korra’s eyes shine with gratitude. 

“Hopefully,” Bolin adds, “he doesn’t think you are gonna blow up — ‘cause that would mean he thinks we’re expendable. And I think Tenzin and I have formed a genuine bond.” 

Korra giggles. 

“Power like that is scary.” We all turn to Mako, who’s digging his fingers in the dirt, not looking at us. “When I first… bent lightning, it was because I was angry.” 

No. No way. Not possible. 

I know all about blueflames: powerful firebenders who could reportedly create incredibly hot flames and produce pure electricity. The idea for the taser gauntlets was born as I sat in the back of my Fire Nation History lecture, bored out of my skull. My professor tacked a poster to the wall that I would have totally overlooked, if not for that fact that the main colors used were shades of blue, not red like every other picture of every other Fire Lord who had ever existed. It was Fire Lord Azran, a Fire Nation ruler who lived a millenia ago, who was feared across the world for his blueflame abilities. 

The class got excited about that (there are a lot of firebenders who attend the Royal Academy), but our professor assured us that the ability was incredibly rare and exclusive to Fire Nation royalty — which I translated as “garbage propaganda spread as evidence of divine right to rule.” 

But even if the Fire Nation was a bunch of liars, it didn’t mean that my ideas about electricity transfer were dead. I combed through the tombs in the library, used Future Industries resources as well, and learned everything there is to know: which is very little. In the past five centuries there are only two somewhat reliable reports of lightning-benders. The most recent was a princess who apparently wreaked holy hell during the Hundred Year War. (Supposedly, this prodigal princess was the sister of Former Fire Lord Zuko, but if information about blueflames is rare, information about Zuko’s sister is nonexistent. Her name has been wiped from existence.) And a few centuries before Zuko’s sister, Avatar Kyoshi is said to have vanquished a blueflame when she was seventeen. To be completely honest, I just thought that was more Avatar upselling. I never — not in a million years — thought there was a chance that any blueflames existed today. And I certainly did not consider that the boy in my bed the past few months could have anything to do with an old, definitely-not-true legend. 

“Lighting?” Korra asks. “You can bend lightning!?” She’s excited — thrilled. Mako isn’t. He nods forlornly at the dirt. 

“I found out one day when we were living on the streets. We came back to our hideout and these guys — kids really — were taking off with the last of our food. I was so scared about what would happen to us. It was my responsibility to look out for Bolin. I tried to firebend, but this bolt of lightning came out of my fingers. It’s lucky for them that I was a kid and starving and had no idea what I was doing. Or they’d be dead.” 

Silence meets this pronouncement. Mako doesn’t look at us, just continues digging his miniature trench. 

“You were a little kid,” Bolin says eventually. “You didn’t know what you were doing.” 

“But I did!” Mako insists. “I was angry. I wanted to hurt them. But I just ended up hurting myself. I passed out, left you alone, made myself weaker when we had no food. And now that I know what it feels like…” Mako shivers. 

I remember the agony of the taser ripping through my body. It was like my very cells were being shredded. Mako and I agree on one thing — neither of us ever wants to be the cause of that kind of pain again. The difference is Mako can choose not to lightning-bend; I gave the power of electricity to trained soldiers. 

All your fault. Traitor.

Mako reaches out and takes Korra’s hand. “Lightning-bending and the Avatar State aren’t the same thing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try. It’s just, I think I understand what Tenzin was worried about. Power has a cost, and he wants it to be as low as possible for you.” 

I recognize the look on Mako’s face as he talks to Korra — because he used to look at me that way. He loves her. Realizing it takes my breath away. Now that the veil of our relationships has been pulled back (thrown on the floor, more like) it’s obvious how painfully thin it truly was. He’s drawn to her like a magnet; and I have to stop pretending that she doesn’t feel the pull as well. Sitting here, among the flowers, she leans towards him as he speaks. There’s a connection in their shared experiences that I can never be a part of. 

She should be with him. 

I’d rather be tased again.

I focus my panic attack on a flower in front of me so no one can see me lose it over something that was never mine in the first place. The petals fold into neat tubes, like caves, dark red in the center, flowing out into a robust, cherry yellow. The color mocks me. I’ve been so stupid. I lost everything — and what? I thought I was going to replace my entire life with Korra? I thought that I could go from an Equalist to the Avatar’s girl overnight and that would just solve everything? 

Stupid, stupid, stupid

You know what else is stupid? The amount of power sitting in this long forgotten home. Bolin can move the earth we stand on. Mako, apparently, can wield the might of a thunderstorm with his hands. And then there’s Korra: who’s about to be infused with the knowledge and force of a thousand Avatars. The power that these three people — these children — possess is unconscionable. 

Korra looks heartened by our comments. She smiles and sits up straight, clasping her hands in front of her. I almost want to scream, “No!” and push her out of the way — but what am I saving her from? Her own destiny? Korra is the Avatar. There is nothing I can do to change that. 

When the Avatar tries again, it is obvious almost immediately that something has changed. A strong wind whistles through the trees. It’s warm and smells like spring. The flowers in the dwelling seem to lean in. Then Korra lifts off the ground. She rises up, her arms loosely extended, her feet inches above the flowers. I’m holding my breath, looking up at her. With a huge gasp, Korra opens her eyes. The ocean blue irises are gone — replaced with blank, glowing white light. 

That’s when I get a bad feeling in my stomach. 

The Avatar lifts her hand in front of her face, examining it for a moment. Then she swishes her wrist, sending an arc of flames away from her body. It’s more powerful than the other firebending I’ve seen Korra do. Mako, Bolin, and I drop to the ground to avoid the swell of heat that comes with it. The Avatar lifts her other arm, making the stones in the foundation jump. Bringing both of her hands towards her chest and pushing out, she sends a gust of air sailing through the branches above. 

For a second, Korra is visible underneath the face of the Avatar. Her teeth flash in her signature crooked grin. 

Then her body lifts higher as she runs through more and more complex bending formations. Fire, earth, and air sail around us. Bolin and Mako watch, awestruck. I see a problem. Korra is going to want to play with all the new toys at her disposal, and we’re miles away from the shore. Just as I think this, the ground begins to rumble. The wind swirls faster. 

I jump to my feet and yank the boys away. Mako looks like he wants to argue, but before he can say a word the ground begins to churn like an angry ocean. He follows us quickly up onto the ridge. 

Korra is pulling water from beneath the earth. Little geysers are popping up between the flowers. Quickly, though, they join together, gaining power. The wind howls and the dirt moves like wine. Korra is building a maelstrom with herself at the center. 

“Korra!” Bolin’s voice is small compared to the gale. 

“KORRA!” Mako bellows. 

The white light in Korra’s eyes flicker. The jets of water continue to build in strength. 

I pull on the boy’s jackets. “We have to get out of here,” I tell them. “She’s gonna tear this place apart.” 

“No!” Mako says. I recognize that hard look in his eyes. I want to smack him. Chivalry is a load of shit if all it does is get us killed by our friend. 

“She’s the Avatar,” I remind him. “She’ll be fine. Us? We have to go.” 

CRACK.

A stone from the foundation rips out of it’s centuries-old spot and cuts through the surrounding trees. Bolin tackles Mako and me to the ground, seconds before we’re decapitated. 

“See!” I scream. My breathing is growing erratic. Korra has turned the cold winter day blisteringly hot with the billowing surges of fire she’s tossing around. Sparks are flying around the dead, dry trees. This whole forest could go up — we need to get out of here

“Come on, Bolin.” Mako jerks Bolin to his feet and they start making their way towards Korra. They get farther than I ever would: Bolin is able to steady the ground and halt most of the flying projectiles. Mako cuts through the swatches of flame like it’s nothing. Maybe to them it is. I remain face-first on the ground, watching as they get closer and closer. 

Korra is hovering nearly seven feet off the ground now. Her limbs no longer move, instead she’s locked into a stance that looks as if she’s holding an invisible ball of power in front of her chest. Her face is a mask. The white light accentuates her expression, throwing contrast onto hills and valleys I’ve never seen that face make. Mako reaches up and as his hand touches her foot, Korra’s attention, which until now had seemingly been nowhere, is fully directed at Mako. 

At that moment, I am sure that Mako is a goner. There is not a hint of recognition in Korra’s blank eyes, just white-hot fury. The wind blows harder, the fire burns louder, the geysers shoot higher. Mako says something that I can’t make out — and then everything stops. Like a switch being flipped, nature turns off, and the resulting calm is almost eerie. 

Korra falls back to earth. Hard. 

I sprint down the ridge, but Mako and Bolin are already at her side. She’s okay. She’s breathing. She’s conscious. There are tears in her eyes. Mako talks in a low soothing voice. “It’s okay. You’re all right. Everything’s fine.” Korra squeezes her eyes shut and buries her face against Mako’s knee. 

I can’t watch. Instead my eyes fall to the ruined wildflowers. My yellow marigold is shredded to death, laying half-submerged in a muddy puddle. 

“Do you want to go home?” Mako asks. Korra’s head jerks in a way that might be a nod. Mako and Bolin help her to her feet, leaving nothing for me to do but follow as we slog back through the forest. 

What a pathetic companion I ended up being. I didn’t deserve Korra’s trust when she asked me — and now I’ve proven I’m completely useless anyways. I can’t bend! How was I supposed to do anything about that swirling hellstorm Korra created? If I’d taken one step towards her, I’d be dead. Korra inhabits a world that I can never be a part of. I always thought benders were exclusive out of arrogance and pride, but no: they’re exclusive out of necessity. There are things I will never be able to do, and those things will always sit between Korra and I: a yawning chasm, unable to be crossed. 

The cold air has returned in the absence of Korra’s inferno, and all four of us are soaked to the skin. Thankfully, the ferocious beast that brought us here seems to know the way back home, because neither Mako, Bolin, nor myself know how to drive a bison. Korra is lost. She lays down on her side in the saddle, covered in a heap of blankets; her eyes stare into the middleground. I want desperately to stroke her sweaty hair off of her forehead, pull her head into my lap, lay down next to her and wrap my arms around her. But I can’t. She’s somewhere else, and there’s nothing I can do for her. 

“What was it like?” Bolin asks tentatively as we soar over the open ocean. 

Korra comes out of her reverie like someone being dragged out of a deep pool. She squints at Bolin. “What?” 

“What happened?” 

Korra closes her eyes and shakes her head. Then, with seemingly great effort, she pushes herself into a sitting position. “I don’t know…” she says. “I can’t describe… it was incredible.” She turns to us and I see something I haven’t often seen from Avatar Korra: humility. “My limbs could move without my brain. I could do bending I’d never learned. But—” She frowns. “When I tried to look for Aang… that’s when it got out of control.” 

She pushes her forehead into her fist. 

“What do you mean ‘out of control?’” Mako asks. I’d forgotten about his tender voice. It unrolls something in me — it picks at the lie I tell myself that Mako meant nothing to me, other than a job. 

“I mean he wasn’t there!” Korra sounds indignant and frightened. “It was — it was everyone . It was like a stadium of people fighting for my attention. I couldn’t make out one voice from another, I definitely couldn’t hear what the fuck they were trying to say to me.” She beats her knuckles against her shoulders. “And they kept taking me places.” 

“What do you mean? You were here the whole time,” Bolin says. 

“In my mind. One minute I was at the Northern Water Tribe, the next I was in the Fire Nation palace, then some home that looked like it might have been in the Earth Kingdom. But it was just flashes. I didn’t see anything helpful. I didn’t learn anything about energy-bending.” She sighs loudly. 

“It’s okay,” I say, even though I hadn’t intended on adding anything to this discussion. I’m way out of my depth, but Korra is hurting and I can’t stand it. It will be okay, because it’s Korra and it has to be. “It was your first try, right? Did you…” my brain searches for bending terms I don’t know. “Did you water whip the first time you tried it?” 

Korra smirks in a way that tells me I have not used bending terminology correctly. It sends a wave of relief through me. The Korra that can make fun of me is back. 

“Yes,” she says snottily. “I water whipped it good.” 

“Well, you can’t be good at everything.” 

She snorts. “You always know what to say, don’t you, Miss Perfect?” 

No. Of course I don’t. I have no idea what to say to this immortal being who just skipped through centuries worth of memories. I can’t help her. I can only distract her. 

“You’ll get it,” Mako says. “All new skills take time.” 

One day, I’ll be big enough to be grateful that Korra has him. Not today though. Today I smolder silently with impotent jealousy. 

“What did you guys see?” Korra asks. She pushes the blankets off of her shoulders, apparently remembering that she never gets cold. 

We explain quickly how she levitated and nearly destroyed a portion of the continent.  

“I airbent!” Korra crows. Always looking on the bright side. 

Half of me wants to take her by the shoulders and make her understand what just happened. Make her see that she nearly killed us and herself. Make her understand that she’s incredibly powerful — and had anything besides Mako’s graceful handling of the situation happened, there would be serious consequences. 

The other half of me laughs in relief. 

“So once you figure this out,” says Bolin as we approach Republic City, “you’re going to have all of the memories and experiences and powers of all the old Avatars?” 

“Yeah, I guess so.” 

Bolin smiles giddily. “Like… all of them?” 

Oh spirits, Bolin

“Uhh? Yeah? I guess?” 

“Like… you know.” He winks several times. 

Unbidden, my imagination shifts into overdrive. Kuruk was supposed to be quite the ladies man… and Kyoshi could certainly teach Korra a thing or two… I shut those thoughts down as hard as I can. I think about the last time I told Korra we were never going to hook up again — and that was before I knew how deliciously exquisite it could be. But this time I have to be firm. I have to be strong for both of us. Korra deserves so much better than me. 

Korra barks a laugh when light finally dawns. “Your mind is a twisted place.”

“Shut up, Bolin,” Mako sighs. “It’s a spiritual thing.” 

Korra’s eyes meet mine and she winks. 

Chapter Text

Korra

“Fuck, Bolin!” I stagger to the side. 

“Sorry! I’m sorry! I keep forgetting these aren’t regulation. I am so sorry.” 

Bolin has been so used to hitting people with earth discs his whole life, he’s completely forgotten that real rocks hurt like a bitch. I gently sit myself back on a bench and feel my side with one hand while resisting the urge to vomit and pass out. With my fingertips I am able to determine that Bolin has not splintered my ribs, sending bone fragments into my vital organs. Peaches. 

I’m about to tell Bolin this fantastic news and suggest that we set up another round of rocks-only probending, when Bolin shouts the last thing I want to hear while sweaty, wheezing, and injured: “Asami!”

Bolin’s call catches her on a bridge above our heads. Her shoulders scrunch to her ears, then lower, and by the time she’s facing us, she’s got her agreeable mask on. Huh. 

“Hey guys! What’s up?” Too cheery. Which is weird because, in my own personal experience, Asami doesn’t mind being a bitch. 

“Korra’s hurt. I did it. It was me. My fault.” Bolin fesses up to a non-issue immediately. Asami cracks a real smile and leans on the railing to look at us better. She cocks her head at me. 

“I didn’t think the Big Bad Avatar ever got hurt.” 

I stick out my tongue. “She doesn’t. I’m grand.” 

“Stand up then.” 

Easy. 

Nope. Not easy. I get to my feet — which the record will show was my objective. Just because achieving it was accompanied by a lot of groans and almost falling over should not distract from the fact that I have successfully stood up. 

It does distract Asami from her bridge business. She deftly leaps over the side. “Are you all right?”

“Don’t worry about me,” I say, while my heart swells. 

GONG!

I crane my neck back and groan. “That’s my cue,” I say, gesturing to the orange and red get-up I have on. 

“Airbending?” Asami asks. 

“More like ‘waste of time,’’” I say, kicking a pebble across the courtyard. 

“Just tell Tenzin about all the wicked airbending you did at Tashi’s house,” Bolin suggests. “You nearly blew us off the continent!” 

“I did! But he says until I can do it without lighting up like a Glacier Spirits Festival then we’re still gonna drill two times a day.” 

“Wait.” 

My airbending master is expecting me — and will not hesitate to bump me up to three practices a day if I’m late — but when Asami Sato says wait, I become a statue. 

“You still can’t airbend?” 

Heat sizzles on my cheeks. “I can. You saw it.” 

“Do it. Right now.” 

My cheeks flush darker, but I take a deep breath. I can do this. I’ve done it before! I can remember it. I remember the forms and how the energy flowed through my limbs. I can feel how the airbending masters in my past manipulated gale force winds — but it’s like looking at something on my periphery. When I try to focus on it, it goes away. I don’t get it! This was my most recent past life’s born-element. Aang was the last airbender! These memories should be loaded and ready to go. 

But no. The bald, amazing, perfect, wonderful, big-shoes-to-fill, arrow-headed savior of the whole world stays silent. I swear to Yue if my next life is trying to impress a pretty girl, I am going to be a lot more helpful than these fools were for me. 

I raise my arms to create an air funnel. A simple, level one, basic-ass air funnel. But I know it won’t work. And I just end up looking like an idiot swirling my arms around my head. 

Bolin and Asami watch with blank expressions. I’m going to go throw myself off a cliff. 

“I think I felt something,” Bolin says, squinting. 

“No. You didn’t. I’m still one quarter shy of an Avatar. Don’t fucking lie about it.” 

With that, I stalk off towards my airbending master and another pointless afternoon. Someone follows me and I want it to be Asami, and I also don’t want it to be Asami. 

“Hey,” she says, gently taking my hand. 

I pause but I can’t look at her. My eyes track a fire-ant crawling up a nearby stone wall instead. 

“Stop beating yourself up about this whole airbending thing,” she says. “You’ll get it when you get it.” 

“Umm??” I point in the general direction of Republic City. “There’s a whole city of people counting on me!” 

“To learn airbending?” 

“To be the Avatar.” 

“You are the Avatar, airbending or not.” 

I wrinkle my nose at that. 

“You are, Avatar Korra. You’ll get airbending. Whenever. There’s no rush.” 

I smile at her. “You really do know what to say, Miss Perfect.” 

“How do I get you to stop calling me that?” 

I shrug. “Guess you could try being less perfect.” 

“I’m not perfect.” 

“I know,” I say, leaning in to cup her face. “You chose to sleep last night, instead of… not sleeping. Very not-perfect behavior. I expect better from you.” 

Asami gently pushes on my chest. “This is a very public, very outdoor space.” 

“Aww, you getting shy on me?” 

“Are you becoming an exhibitionist? Come on, you’re gonna be late.” 

And that’s why I call her Miss Perfect. She’s so perfect, she makes me better.

xxx

At night, however, as I lay in bed waiting for a visitor who never shows up, I’m wondering if I missed something. I’m not saying Asami and I go at it every night — but we pretty much go at it every night. And now this is two nights in a row I’ve had to actually lie still and fall asleep, as opposed to being fucked into a light coma.  I tap on the wall behind my bed — the wall that is also conveniently behind Asami’s bed — but get no response. 

In the morning, she is polite and friendly at breakfast. 

What the hell? 

I try everything I can think of. I crack my knuckles while we’re eating. I whistle while we’re doing the dishes. In the late afternoon, I get so desperate, I find a mop and jump around a corner to scare her with it. All that does is make Pema think I’m looking for extra work to do. 

At dinner, the atmosphere is happy and carefree (it’s Friday), but I feel none of it. I’m really starting to worry that something’s up with Asami. 

On one end of the table, Asami is showing her new best friend, Ikki, a puzzle — some sort of interlocking pieces of twisted metal, the kind of thing I have absolutely no patience for. As far as I can tell, Ikki is doing terribly; she laughs maniacally as she gets it wrong again. Down on the other end, Bolin, Mako, and a younger air acolyte (Finn, nice guy, loooves to meditate, can’t get enough) are making plans to go downtown. With whose money, I don’t know. Bolin and Mako are poor as dirt, and air acolytes don’t believe in things like value-based currency. 

“You wanna come?” Bolin asks me. 

My immediate answer is to turn my head to Tenzin — which I hate: I’m the Avatar, dammit, and almost twenty years old. He shrugs in a “if you must” kind of way. Then I turn to Asami. I have the impression that she was listening, but when I look at her, she’s fully engaged in re-setting the puzzle for the eighteenth time. 

“Asami?” I ask, “you going?” 

She smiles lightly. “No. Think I’m gonna turn in early.” 

“Ahh,” I make a big show for the boys. “That’s actually a good point. I have airbending practice tomorrow so…” 

“You have airbending practice everyday,” Mako says, just to me. 

I bob my head. 

“It won’t be as much fun without you.” 

I can’t help the little flutters in my stomach. They can’t hold a torch to the full-on rollercoaster Asami can give me — when she feels like it. But it is nice that someone’s paying attention to me. 

I glance back at Asami one more time — but Ikki’s puzzle is her whole world.

“All right, I'm in.” Bolin celebrates loudly. This time I catch the little whip of Asami’s hair, as she turns back to her game, a second too late. 

xxx 

We — Mako, Bolin, Finn, and myself — sit with our feet dangling off the dock, waiting for the ferry to make it’s lumbering way across the harbor, trying to figure out where we’re headed once we hit the mainland.

“Elephantkoi?” I suggest.

“Nah, it’s gonna be dead with probending out for the season,” Mako points out.

“Akiro’s?” Finn offers. 

“I’m not trying to get a communicable disease,” Mako responds. 

“Should have thought of that before you banged the girl from Noodle Street,” Bolin snickers, then: “OW!” as Mako clubs his shoulder.

“Ooh, Noodle Street girl?” I inquire. 

“No,” Mako says, “no, it was nothing.” 

“Chengshi was a beautiful, sweet girl before — OW, STOP HITTING ME!!” 

The four of us double over laughing — when someone softly clears their throat behind us. I swivel towards the noise, and lose the ability to speak. I lose the ability to think. I am pretty sure I lose the ability to pump blood through my veins. Can you hear that? It’s the sound of four jaws slamming into the ground, because on the dock behind us, dressed in a short, baby blue, halter top dress, is the most gorgeous woman alive — the most gorgeous woman who has ever lived or will ever live. Her dark hair is pulled back, away from her face. Her lips are arterial spray red. I’m in love. I’m dead. I’m dead in love. 

“Is the invitation to tag along still open?” Asami asks sweetly. A little smile plays across her lips.

Am I drooling? I feel like I’m drooling. 

Asami cocks an eyebrow. “I brought beer.” She holds out a six pack and it seems to shake us out of shared stupor. Beer is something concrete, and much easier to deal with than the existential crisis brought on by sharing space with someone who looks like that

“So where are we going?” Asami asks as we pop our bottles. 

“We were just trying to figure that out,” Bolin says. “The Koi’s out, and so is Akiro’s until Mako makes amends.” This time Bolin ducks before Mako’s fist can land. Beer jumps out of his bottle as the brothers play a quick game of chase-and-punch. 

“Where did you get alcohol on Air Temple Island?” Finn asks. 

“Oh, I have my ways,” Asami says demurely. I feel a flush crawl up my neck; I can confirm that she absolutely has her ways. “Has Mako been blacklisted from the Grand Hotel?” 

“No,” Mako answers, rejoining the conversation. “The Grand Hotel is perfect; let me just grab my lottery winnings and all the profits from Bolin’s flying car.” 

“I can cover it,” Asami responds, putting a hand on her purse. 

“I thought the police froze your bank account.” 

“I still have cash.” 

“You just had that kind of cash on you??” 

“I think the words you’re looking for are ‘thank you.’”

“Okay!” I butt in. I have a lot of experience with the frosty tone developing on Asami’s words — and no way Mako is gonna annoy her into reconsidering. “Thank you very much, Asami, for bankrolling this evening. We are very grateful.” I shoot Mako a glare to remind him about the concept of manners. He just crosses his arms looking sulky. 

The ferry arrives with an unnecessary horn blast and we board. We’ve got the whole boat to ourselves. The boys rush up to the top deck, but I grab Asami’s hand and hold her back. 

“Nice dress,” I say in a low voice. 

“You like it?” she asks, shimmying her shoulders. 

“It’s gonna look great on my floor.” 

She rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling. “I know blue isn’t normally my color, but… it’s growing on me.” 

I hover a few inches off the deck. 

“And—” her eyes flick upwards, ensuring we’re alone — “I still have my signature red on too.” 

“Yeah, your lipstick looks killer.” 

“That’s not what I was talking about,” she breathes into my ear. The only reason I don’t throw her over a bench and find out where she’s wearing red is because I’m beginning to suspect Asami is actually a bender. A brain-bender; as in, when she wants to, she can shut down my entire nervous system. If someone could hook a gramophone into my ear, all they’d hear is “gaaahhh.” 

I remember how to work my feet — or rather, my feet remember walking well enough to follow the pretty girl up the stairs. Being a few steps behind, I get to watch Asami’s brain-bending powers work on others. Bolin is nothing but a gentleman (a seriously impressed gentleman). Poor air acolyte Finn looks like he’s about to pass out. And Mako? Mako’s face is priceless. I guess I would look like that too if I’d lost the goddess standing in our midst. 

She’s so beautiful it hurts. She’s beautiful in harsh lighting with bedhead and my humongous sleeping tunic on. But tonight? Lit by the ethereal harbor lights, framed against the nighttime skyline, delicately pursing her lips and tipping her head back to drink straight from the bottle? Holy hell. 

We pull up to the wharf and briefly entertain the mystery of How Did Five People Finish Six Beers If Everyone Only Had One? — until I feel something cold hit my hand and realize that Miss Perfect kept the last one for us. We sneakily finish it on the short walk to the Grand Hotel (and of course we’re caught immediately, but that only sends us into a wave of irrepressible giggles). 

As we approach the hotel, Mako announces, “There’s no way we’re getting in.” 

Asami straightens up. “How can you say that? Look at us! First of all—” she points at me— “Avatar.” I wave. “Secondly—“ she points at Bolin— “second place team in the probending championships. And then there’s, well... me. And!” Asami tugs on Finn’s shoulders. “Finn! It’s not a question of if we can get in, it’s will they get us?” Asami ruffles Finn’s hair as she lets him go and I think his pupils turn permanently into hearts. 

Get your own girlfriend, bozo

Whoa. 

Girlfriend.

The word just slipped into my mind, completely unnoticed, got past the guards and everything. But once I notice it, it explodes like a grenade. Girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend. The idea feels like missing a step going down the stairs. 

I don’t have a problem with the word, but I have a weird feeling that Asami would absolutely freak out if I said it aloud. It’s seemed like a lifetime, but really, we’re only days past her dad reacting in the absolute worst way to finding out ‘girlfriend’ as a concept was even on the table for Asami. Although, she kind of told Ikki, right? So maybe this change of heart, maybe deciding to come out with us will lead up to one glorious moment after a perfect night when Asami Sato will officially be my girlfriend. 

The idea zings through my bloodstream stronger than any intoxicant. 

The Grand Hotel is buzzing as we walk up the wide stairs. A fussy man in coattails takes a breath to dismiss the riff raff, and then chokes on it. Just like Asami said, he nearly falls over himself to welcome us. The dimly lit restaurant is packed with Republic City’s finest, dressed to impress. Upstairs, the smoky gambling hall abuts a lively dance floor. We get a private table all to ourselves up on the mezzanine where we can look down on the late night dramas playing out across the Hotel. Even Mako has a hard time finding anything to complain about. 

Asami orders appetizers and a round of drinks for the table and the night gets started with everyone trying to top each other’s stories.

“Okay, but there was one time Bolin and the vendor from the Little Ba Sing Se…” 

“... and then I said to him: ‘Okay, Boomerang.’”

“No! I swear! Fifty feet!” 

It’s not just us either. That baby blue dress is a flame, and every one in here is a moth. Asami burns most of them up, with a grace that suggests she’s been doing this for a while. Nonetheless, a few moths make it past and our table starts to grow. A couple of players from the probending league find us. Mako and Bolin spot someone they knew from “back in the day” and call him up. He looked a bit sketchy when they first pointed him out, but Teo turns out to be an excellent addition, whipping out a deck of cards and establishing a drinking game that seems designed to do little more than demolish the players. But more than Mako, Bolin, and I put together, Asami gathers the largest crowd. Asami Sato has friends. And every single one of them seems to be in the Grand Hotel tonight. She introduces me to a score of people. Friends from school. Friends childhood. Friends from exclusive rich-people-only clubs. 

By the time we have to pull another table up to ours, I feel like my whole body is filled with bubbles. It has nothing to do with the rounds of drinks Asami keeps flowing (okay, I mean, it definitely has something to do with that). But really, I’m getting drunk on Asami herself. This is what it’s like to be out with Asami Sato. I’ve only really had the chance to see her in my world — probending, Air Temple Island, my bed — and this is clearly her world. She’s charming, funny, beautiful: truly the life of the party. And through it all, she is glued to me. Under the table, our knees stay pressed together and every so often she finds my hand and squeezes my fingertips. 

I wonder if the Avatar State can be triggered by powerful, happy emotions; I have half a mind to try. 

“All right, this one’s simple,” Teo says, reshuffling his deck. “I’m gonna deal a card for everyone, but before I flip it over, you just have to tell me if it’s red or black. You’re wrong? You gotta drink.” 

“Red!” Asami and I guess at the same time, then stuff a hand over our mouths to muffle our giggles, deliberately not making eye contact. We’re both wrong. We both drink. 

“All right, next card, you gotta tell me if it’s higher or lower than your first card.” 

I have a 10. “Lower.” I’m right; the turn passes to my right. 

Asami has a 2. “Lower,” she insists. Everyone bursts out laughing. 

“This is the girl who kicked your ass at Shady Shin’s Pai Sho?” Teo asks Bolin as he turns over a 4. Asami smirks and shrugs, delicately draining her glass. She holds it up and the waiter grows wings on his feet in order to get her a new one as quickly as possible. 

“Okay folks, is this next card gonna fall inside your cards, or outside?” 

Inside,” Asami says immediately, already drinking. Teo laughs and deals her card first. A 7. 

“All the 3's are already on the table,” Mako observes from somewhere far away.

“Okay last round! Is this final card going to match one of the suits you already have? Or is it going to be different?” 

I have three cards of the same suit. I go with the safe choice. “Different.” I’m right again. 

Asami has three cards of different suits — a 2 of flame, a 4 of stone, and a 7 of ice. Asami leans down, meeting Teo’s eyes as he taps on the top of the deck. She narrows her eyes. “Different. That’s a wind card, I can feel it.” Teo smirks at the table, then turns over the top card — a Queen of Wind. Asami howls with victory, throwing her hands in the air while the table erupts as if she’s won a great feat. 

I can feel something building. She’s in such a good mood, so blissfully happy, and suddenly I become sure that tonight is the night. Not right now — but maybe on the dance floor. Maybe she’ll forget herself and kiss me, or even just take my hand above a table, and then the alligator-cat will be out of the bag and that will be that. 

“Haruko!” Suddenly the warmth next to me is gone as Asami jumps up to throw her arms around yet another newcomer to the table. Haruko (presumably) is short, with dark curls framing her stunning face. Something hot slices through my abdomen, and it’s only slightly tamed as Asami beckons for me. “Korra! Come here. I want to introduce you to someone. This is Haruko Saowon, we graduated together.” 

My imagination jumps to a school dormitory and all of the afterhours sleepovers that must have occurred there. I’ve only been to one sleepover in my life, but based on my observation, they end with a bang. 

On top of that, this is no ordinary school chum. I don’t recognize Haruko personally, but I sure as shit know her family name. The Saowons are the largest clan in the Fire Nation; incredibly rich, incredibly powerful. I met with the head of the family the last time I went to the Fire Nation to treat with Fire Lord Izumi. 

“Are you Avatar Korra?” Haruko asks, eyes wide. 

“That’s me,” I say, extending a hand. 

“Wow, it’s such an honor.” She passes a meaningful look to Asami. “I never knew Asami had such… important friends.” 

Asami loops an arm around my shoulder and grins hugely. “Oh, Korra and I aren’t friends,” she assures Haruko. My palms start sweating a little. Is this the moment? She winks as me. “The Avatar and I are mortal enemies.” 

Oh. Right. We don’t like each other. Ha ha. Hate sex. Secret hooking up. I remember. 

“Yeah,” I say. “This one is unbearable; a real pain in the ass.”

Haruko’s brow furrows and her eyes pass to Asami, who smooths over the awkward moment: “Shots?!” 

Apparently, there is a very elaborate drinking ritual that all alumni of the Fire Academy know called the Agni High. There’s some rhyming chant and an extensive hand-slapping routine, but it boils down to drinking five shots in five minutes. Asami and Haruko lead the other members of our group with ties to the Fire Academies down to the bar. Mako gets pulled along for his copper eyes and Asami insists that Bolin and I need to come for “moral support.” 

“You think you might want to take it easy?” I ask in an undertone as we file down the stairs. 

Asami puts a hand to her chest. “And disappoint my countrymen?? Never. They already think I’m a colonial weakling.” 

Sure enough, when we get to the bar, Haruko hands over Asami’s drinks with a teasing, “Here ya go, Green Eyes.” 

My own eyes turn a little green as I hear someone else use a teasing nickname with my Miss Perfect. 

The Agni High turns out to be a grueling gauntlet. I sit it out, so I get to watch the twisted faces as the fire whisky passes down their throats and see who bows out when. By the fifth minute there’s only three contestants left — Haruko, Asami, and, somehow, Mako (who probably can’t stand being outdrunk by his former girlfriend). 

The Academy alums chant down the remaining seconds while the three finalists contemplate what they have done. Mako stares at his last drink, sweat beading on his forehead. Haruko and Asami stare at each other. It’s a mocking challenge as they try to make the other break into laughter first. It’s a look I know well. I’d only ever seen those green eyes look at me like that before. 

The chant reaches its crescendo and the players tip the alcohol back. Some of Mako’s fire whiskey comes back over his lips as he sputters and coughs. Haruko and Asami stare, stone-faced at each other, until, as one, they break and fall into each other. Their arms tangle together; their faces smushed cheek-to-cheek.

“I missed you!” I hear Haruko say. 

“Aww, I missed you too,” Asami says, tucking back one of Haruko’s curls that has fallen out of place. 

“I can’t say I expected to see you out with the Avatar.” As if reminded of my existence by Haruko’s words, Asami spins around. Her eyes find me, and I see a split-second where she reads my face. Then her mask slides back on neatly. I just can’t believe it took me this long to notice that it was a mask. 

“Let’s dance!” Asami says, ostensibly to me — but the pack follows her to the dancefloor. We make a rough circle, swaying and twirling to the loud brass. Asami is, of course, a terrific dancer. She’s graceful, swishing her hips to the beat in a way I could never possibly do. Bolin grabs her arms and hoists her into the air, making her giggle. 

“Wanna dance?” Mako appears beside me.

“No,” I say before I remember that total honesty isn’t always the best idea. He shuffles away awkwardly. And then suddenly Miss Perfect is beside me. 

“You’re gonna make him cry,” she says. “Give him a dance.” 

“I’d rather dance with you,” I say loudly. Not loud enough to be heard over the music and the drunken revelry around us, but damn sure loud enough to crack that mask. Right on cue, her eyes dart to the left and the right, looking for prying ears. 

“I think I owe Finn a dance.” 

“You’re going to give him a heart attack,” I snap. 

“Korra! Where are you going?” 

“I’m getting a drink!” I shout over my shoulder. “I don’t want to fall behind all of your Agni Highs!”

As I approach the bar, I see a reporter I know. An annoying one. I swivel on my heel and head towards the bar upstairs. On the stairs, even though I try hard not to, I can’t help but peek back. I think: I know her so well, I’ll be able to see the regret even if no one else could. But no. She looks as carefree and happy to me as she does to everyone else. She and Haruko dance up on Finn, doing their best to send him to an early grave. Maybe she is carefree and happy. 

“Fire whiskey,” I order, before I can have a chance to question where I got that idea from. The bar up here is quieter. The crowd sitting around the gambling tables is older, and a lot more male. 

“ID?” the bartender asks. 

“I — I don’t have an ID.” I’m the Avatar! I didn’t exactly have time to get a driver’s license. The bartender raises a solitary eyebrow. 

“She’s all right,” a deep voice says from behind me. And, because I thought my night couldn’t get any shittier, Councilman Tarrlok slides up to the bar to prove me wrong. “You can put it on my tab, Hiro.” The bartender takes the word of a councilperson without question. 

“You’re welcome,” Tarrlok says after a moment of silence. 

“Oh gee, thank you so much. I can get my own drinks.” 

“Clearly.” 

Ugh. 

“So I can see that you’re treating the Equalist crisis with the severity it deserves.” 

I can feel my bottom lip jutting out. I’m a little too drunk for this conversation. “If you see Amon two-stepping, let me know.” 

“Maybe he is,” Tarrlok says, turning to survey the bar and dance floor. “No one knows what he looks like under that mask.” 

“Great, I’ll just start assaulting everyone with a burned face. Would that be good with you, Councilman?” 

Tarrlok chuckles. “Unfortunately, even when you can recognize the target, our Avatar still seems to have trouble bringing him down.” 

“What the fuck did you just say??” 

My outburst is interrupted by the bartender bringing my drink — and an expression that clearly says he doesn’t think Tarrlok should be paying for a loud-mouthed brat like me. Tarrlok’s smarmy smile doesn’t break as he puts down a bill. 

“Perhaps that was unfair. The Council has also been ineffective against the Equalist threat.” 

I sense a trap. Since when does Tarrlok admit fault? 

“But it’s getting worse.” His voice is grave. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s not. I know Tenzin has you squirreled away on that island, filling your head with some nonsense about your greater duty. I’m no Avatar’s master, but I can tell you, Avatar, things in your city are looking bleak.” 

I blink a few times. “What does that mean?” 

“More attacks on benders. The Equalists are getting bolder. Benders are being sought out, kidnapped, and dropped on the street, stripped of their bending. Everyday. And it’s not just benders, it’s anyone associated with benders. Before your friend turned on Daddy, the Satos made plenty of those taser gloves. Hospitals are treating two electrocution burns for every other emergency visit.” 

My mind flashes back to the night of the roof, when Asami’s voice almost broke: He called me a traitor

“First off, she didn’t turn on anyone,” I say. “She did what was right. Secondly… What can we do? How can I help?” 

I can’t believe Tenzin has been keeping this news from me. While I’ve been playing fantasy-land with Asami and practicing a skill I can't do twice a day, benders in the city are getting attacked? Tenzin has to stop treating me like a little kid and start trusting me. 

“We need to act,” Tarrlok says. “Simple as that. This isn’t going away — not unless we do something. I’m going to the island to talk to Tenzin tomorrow; you should be there.”

“What are you talking about?” 

“Emergency measures for the city. Making sure that non-benders can’t get too inspired by Amon’s little demonstration at the probending tournament.” 

It’s clear Tarrlok thinks that’s my fault too. 

“Whatever I can do to help, I will,” I promise. 

Tarrlok nods. “I’m glad to hear it, Avatar Korra. And,” he puts a hand on my shoulder to turn me towards the stairs. “Tell the turncoat, her partying days are numbered.” 

Asami has crested the stairs. I shake off Tarrlok’s touch and cross the room without saying goodbye. All frivolous jealousy is forgotten because Asami’s mask has totally and completely slipped — and she is terrified. Her eyes are wide, her lips twist, her fingers play with the hem of her dress. As I cross the room, she shakes out of it and turns away from the bar, away from Tarrlok. She leans on the bannister overlooking the faceless crowd below. I flash back to one of our first conversations: I do what I can to keep Tarrlok in line. I nearly choke as I wonder if Tarrlok ever stepped out of line. 

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Nothing,” she says immediately. 

“No. What’s wrong?” 

“What did Tarrlok want?” she asks. Her knuckles rap against the bannister five times in quick succession before she can stop them and clasp her hands in front of her. 

“Hey, if Tarrlok ever—if he…” I can’t even get the words out. “I’ll kill him.” That part’s easy to say. I will kill him; here, tonight, in the middle of the Grand Hotel bar.

Asami’s eyebrows scrunch. “What? No. Nothing… nothing like that.” 

My shoulders sag, and the feeling of being close to firebending leaves my palms. “Okay, then can you please tell me what’s going on?” 

“Nothing,” she says for the fourth time. “You seemed upset.” 

I wish I hadn’t left my drink back at the bar; I need something to hold on to. I make do with crossing my arms and staring moodily out over the party scene. 

“Hey,” she says softly and trails a few fingers down my spine. 

“You sure you wanna do that? Someone might see.” 

Her hand retracts immediately. Spirits, I wish I didn’t just say everything that came into my brain. 

“I’m sorry,” Asami whispers. There’s something in her voice that I can’t bear to look at. The girl I’ve been staring at all night, and now I can’t face her. 

“You’ll throw yourself all over Bolin, and Finn, and … Haruko. But — fuck.” I slam a palm down on the bannister. 

“Korra — I swear, Haruko is just a friend.” 

“When you were with Mako, you two would basically fuck on the dance floor. But me — you won’t even touch me.” The words that are coming out of my mouth suck. I hate them. I hate this. I wanna go back, back to the beginning of the night with the low simmering buzz instead of this confusing headfuck. I just want to relive stepping inside the hotel next to the most beautiful girl in the world. Why can’t I be reincarnated into that moment over and over? 

“Let’s go somewhere,” Asami says, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “This is a hotel after all.” Her lips curl next to my ear as she whispers: “I’ve been dying to touch you all night. You’re so hot.” 

I shake off her drunk embrace. From the expression on her face, you’d think I slapped her. 

I can’t be here anymore. Not in this conversation, not in this bar. It’s too much. I mutter something about getting out of here and make my way down the stairs. I hear Asami clattering behind me in those death-traps she calls shoes. Of course she’s the drunkest person here and still able to navigate a high heel. Of course. 

“Korra, Korra, Korra, stop, please. I’m sorry! I’m sorry — I — I know what you’re saying. I really do. It’s just different!” 

I halt, halfway through the dance floor. The smartest girl in the world realizes what an amazingly large pile of shit she’s stepped in as soon as she says it. 

“Different?” I repeat, a twisted smile contorting my mouth. “Right. So different.” 

“No — that was a — no, I didn’t mean that. I just meant…” She drifts off, maybe hoping I’ll interrupt her.

“Go on. Tell me what you meant. Tell me how fucking different I am.” I tap my foot. 

Tears bead at the corners of her eyes. “I didn’t…” 

Out of the corner of my eye I see someone who can make this fight so much worse. Someone to definitely avoid for the next few minutes. I call him over: “Hey! Mako! Still wanna dance?” 

Asami’s eyes go wide as Mako hustles over. She remains rooted to the spot as Mako and I swirl away. I’m not the greatest dancer in the world (two left feet and other clichés), but I’m drunk and committed, and I let Mako lead me around the dance floor. I catch a few glimpses of Asami, mostly to the side of the bar, huddled up with Haruko. I know she’s watching — and it feels good to let her pine over me for once. 

“Spirits,” Mako says after a time. “Is she trying to die??” 

I follow his gaze to see Asami ordering yet another drink. I sigh and tell Mako I’ll go deal with it. 

“Thank you,” I say, plucking the glass from her hand. I transfer it to the tray of a busboy passing by. Asami frowns and watches the drink go like she can’t quite comprehend what just happened. 

“You’re cut off,” I tell her. 

“You’re not the authority here,” she says, turning back to the bar. I take her shoulders and stop her. 

“Yeah. I am. Come on, you’re going home.” 

“Aww, big Avatar gonna put me in a timeout?” 

“Don’t baby-voice at me.” 

“Then don’t treat me like a child!” 

“Then stop acting like one!” 

“Hey,” Haruko’s voice slides between us. “I can look after her if you want to get out of here. I’ll make sure she’s okay.” Haruko whispers the last part just to me, like we’re teammates. Hell no. We are not on the same side. 

“Don’t worry about it,” I say gruffly, pulling Asami to her feet by one of her limp noodle-arms. “We don’t want to miss the last ferry.” 

“You didn’t take Asami’s yacht?” Haruko asks in surprise. 

“You have a yacht?” 

Asami shrugs and leans heavily around my neck. “Who doesn’t have a yacht?” 

I ignore that and signal to Bolin, Finn, and Mako that we are heading out. Mako offers to help me with our drunk baggage, but I decline. This is my shitshow. 

“Are you mad at me?” Asami asks in singsong as we climb aboard the ferry and I tuck her into a seat on the first floor. 

“Nope,” I say. The lights are blinding and everything seems way too quiet without a full orchestra behind it. Bolin groans and holds his head in his hands as the ferry takes off. I can’t say I enjoy how the gentle bobbing of the deck accentuates the alcohol in my body, and I’ve been on boats my whole life. 

“Go, Avatar, go!” Asami declares. “Bolin needs your help!” As she speaks, she slips sideways off her seat, giggling madly. I pull her back upright. Mako and Finn will have to deal with Bolin; I can only handle one drunk drama queen at a time. 

We manage to make it back to the island without any upchucking incidents. At the entrance to the dorms, I make for the girls’ side but Mako calls me back. Finn and Bolin stagger up the stairs to the boys’ dorm, so I prop Miss Perfect against the wall and tell her not to move. 

“What?” I say, joining Mako. 

He shrugs, smiling. “Not how I thought the night would end,” he says, gesturing to the general alcohol-induced incompetence around us. 

“Yeah,” I say, glaring at Asami, who manages to stumble while standing perfectly still. 

“Even so.” Mako fingers his scarf. “I had a really good time with you.” 

I can feel Asami’s eyes boring into the back of my head. Half of me wants to grab his face and lay one on him, just so she can know how it feels. The other half of me has some sense of self-preservation. 

“Yeah,” I say. “Hope we can do it again sometime.” 

Mako’s eyes light up, but I was just being polite. I never want to do this night again. Ever. 

I pull Asami up the stairs and deposit her in her room. I set her on the edge of her bed, but she immediately stands up and rips her dress over her head. I sigh. She wasn’t lying; she is definitely wearing red. I have to consciously tell my head to turn away from the red lace covering her breasts. 

“Aww, nothing?” she whines. “What if I…?” I hear the gentle snap of a bra unclasping. I squeeze my eyes shut and offer her a set of pajamas from an arm’s length away. I’m relieved when she takes them from me, less so in the next second when they hit the side of my head. 

“Do you think Mako was hoping you’d kiss him??” she asks, play-acting a gossipy tone. 

I lean down to grab the fallen garments, trying not to look at naked Miss Perfect — but if she’s not going to dress herself, there’s really no helping it. 

Fuck. She’s so hot. In the low light of the bedroom her skin seems to glow. Her legs are toned and long, accentuated by the high heels she’s still wearing. But I can see the alcohol swishing around behind her eyes. Tonight is not the night. “Come on, hands up.” Trying to wrestle her into the sleeping tunic is harder than trying to dress a toddler straight out of the bath.

“I didn’t think the night would end with you putting clothes on me,” she comments as I tuck her in. 

I don’t have a response for that. Certainly, when I saw her in that dress, I did not think the night would end with me feeling this shitty either. 

“Korra?” her voice catches me at the door. It’s different from the drunk baby thing she’s been doing. 

“What?” 

“I fucked up.” 

“Yeah.” 

“Forever?” 

I turn to look at her. She’s propped up on an elbow, eyes beseeching me. 

“It’s okay!” she slurs. “If that’s your decision. I mean, it’s probably the smart one. Smart call. You should be with… someone better.” 

I close the door. “There is no one better!” I say, exasperated. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” 

Somehow this doesn’t stop the solitary tear that falls to the bedspread. 

“No, no, no,” Asami shakes her head, morose. “There’s many, many better.” 

“Not in my opinion.” 

I realize what I said as her wide green eyes turn towards me. “You mean that, don’t you?” she whispers. 

No going back now. “Yes, Asami, I mean that. I… I like you.” 

She pulls on my hand. “I like you too,” she says, still crying? “Really, really, really like you.” 

I’m shaking a little bit. 

Asami doesn’t let go of my hand. “Will you stay?” 

I nod. She pulls up the blanket to let me and I curl up against her back. A soft sigh comes out of her mouth as she snuggles into me. 

“But if you throw up on me, I’m out,” I say. She weakly elbows me. She’s right: I’m not going anywhere.

Chapter Text

Asami

“Running away?” 

The voice at the door startles me, even though I know it’s Korra. She enters my room without knocking and hops lightly onto my desk. 

“You never know,” I say, because it’s not exactly like I can hide the fact that I am indeed packing a bag. It’s too late to run — but perhaps they’ll allow me some personal effects in prison. 

“Beifong’s not going to arrest you,” Korra assures me. She jumps off the desk and wraps her arms around me from behind. “And if she does she’ll have to go through me.” 

“I think that might be an abuse of your power,” I say, tucking a pair of socks in my bag. Maybe if dinner with Chief Beifong and Councilman Tarrlok (that I’ve been specifically asked to attend) starts to go poorly, I can slip out, grab my bag, and swim away. No one will see that coming. It’ll take them a few hours to track me through the waves, and by that point I will have drowned and died. Perfect. 

Korra lets me go, saying, “They can’t arrest you for having a shitty dad.” 

I’m sure the benders could trump up relation to an enemy of the state into an arrestable offense, but why would they need to? I’ve committed so many crimes on my own: the taser gauntlets, infiltrating the stadium, conspiring with a wanted criminal, keeping the Avatar imprisoned, gaslighting the shit out of the person I like the most.  

I’m not sure if that last one is an official law in the United Republic, but it should be. 

Korra plops down on top of my open bag. 

“Is someone not getting enough attention?” I ask. 

She pouts, wraps her arms around my waist, and pushes her face into my stomach. I can feel her breath warming a patch of my shirt and skin. 

When I woke up this morning, I had some hazy memories of a fight last night — and some very mortifying memories of some other things. (I am a grown ass woman — did I really do an Agni High??) But Korra, who was sleeping right next to me, didn’t seem bothered. I suppose my drunken apology was enough for her. I can still feel a dull pounding behind my eyes, but I deserve the worst hangover in the world — because I remember with perfect clarity the most unforgivable moment from last night. Was it putting on my shortest dress in a flare of Mako-induced jealousy? No, although that was idiotic. Was it drinking five shots in five minutes with Haruko Saowon, the biggest crush of my adolescence? No, but that was ridiculous. Was it entering a city where I know I’m a wanted woman because the girl I like-but-can’t-have was kind of flirting with my ex-boyfriend? No, the worst thing I could have done last night was admit to Korra that I feel a lot more than attraction for her. I “really, really, really like” her. Of all the secrets I have locked in my head, that is by far the most dangerous. And now, while she’s been walking around doing a happy dance all day, now I’m going to be arrested by the Chief of Police. 

I put my hands on Korra’s head, savoring the closeness. 

“Asami?” As always, my breath hitches a little when Korra says my name. She peers up at me with wide eyes. 

“Yes?” 

She clears her throat in that nervous way she has. I can’t stop the smile on my face. “I was wondering — all of this secret hooking up has been really great and all…” 

“But?” 

She buries her face in my stomach again and says quickly, “What if we went on a date or something?” 

I can’t stop the way my fingers contract on Korra’s skull. I have to keep her there, eyes hidden, so she doesn’t see the expression I can’t hide. I banish it as quickly as I can. Korra looks up at me like a little kid who doesn’t want to see what that big shattering noise was. 

I don’t let her have time to see me shattered. Instead, I grab the sides of her face, crawl into her lap, and kiss her. Korra’s impressive core strength keeps us from toppling over the other side of the very narrow mattress. One good thing about Korra is that she is easily distracted. She kisses me back without question, sliding her hands around my waist. Something’s different though, and it tells me I haven’t quite gotten away with my brilliant scheme to never answer her question. I’m straddling her lap, our mouths are glued together, but our hands stay stationed in their respective positions — Korra’s on the small of my back, mine on Korra’s face. There’s no furtive roaming under clothes, or desperate thrashing to get closer. We just sit, intertwined, kissing like two people who might, someday, go on a date or something. 

Eventually the dinner bell sounds. We break apart reluctantly. 

“So what do you say if Beifong tries to slap cuffs on you?” Korra asks. 

“You gotta go through the Avatar,” I respond weakly. 

“Good girl,” she says, getting off the bed and heading for the door. 

I want to grab her hand and say “yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I will go on a date or something with you, Avatar Korra.” But I can’t. I know I can’t. It would be cruel. It’s cruel to get her hopes up. It’s cruel to kiss her and touch her when I know that she’ll never actually be mine. It’s cruel to moan her name into her ear when I know I have no right to it. As much as it physically pains me, I know that if Korra asks me again, I’ll say no. I have to say no. I’ll break her heart. If it’s any consolation, I’ll break my own as well. 

All in all, I’m not the cheeriest version of myself when we get downstairs. Beifong is in the dining hall, sharing some awkward silence with Tenzin and Pema. Tarrlok is nowhere in sight. Beifong gets to her feet when we enter. She gestures for me to join her in the hall with a curt nod of her head. 

“This’ll only take a moment, Miss Sato,” she says. 

Korra gives me a look like she wants to come. But she’s not my girlfriend, so the moment passes and then I’m in the hallway with the chief of police. I almost offer her my wrists. 

“House is yours,” Lin Beifong says. “We found a few secret bank accounts, so those have been shut down. Cleared out all the Equalist paraphernalia from the hidden factory on your property. Otherwise, the house, the money, it’s all in your name. Congratulations” 

I know the chief is being facetious but still, congratulating me is remarkably biting. 

“Now listen to me,” she continues. “I don’t trust you. If I had a legal way to keep all this shit from you, I would. But I don’t. So instead, I’m going to station officers at your gates and your banks and all the other little places your father liked to visit around town. They are going to watch you like hawk-hounds. One step out of line, and:” she raises a hand and her fancy metal wires shoot out of their holsters and hover over her back like some harbinger of doom. 

I’ve been fucking the Avatar for a fortnight, so she’s going to have to do bending a little bit more impressive than that to scare me. Still, it rankles me. I might be warming up to some benders (Korra is first, Bolin is second, then the airbending children, Tenzin, and I suppose Mako places a distant seventh — no, actually Ikki’s badass, lesbian, waterbending aunt who I have never met is seventh. Mako can be eighth), but I am certainly not in love with benders as a whole. There will always be some, like Chief Beifong, who think metalbending prowess equates them to the ultimate arbiters of justice, when really it’s just a bully tactic.

Bending, on its own, as an art form, is one thing. But benders always use it as intimidation. The fact that the highest ranking members of the police force are all benders is an excellent example. Benders on top, everyone else below. 

“Sounds good, Chief,” I say. “An excellent use of our tax dollars. I’ll be sure to mention that the next time you’re up for reelection.” 

She frowns, but any witty repertoire is cut off by the arrival of Councilman Tarrlok — and a vision from my worst nightmare. 

“Tarrlok,” Beifong greets. “Noatak.” 

Walking beside Tarrlok, beside a council member, in front of the chief of police, inside the Air Temple, on his way to meet with the Avatar, is none other than Noa. 

He smiles politely but distantly at me. I feel like I might puke.

“Good evening, Lin,” says Tarrlok. “A vision, as always.” 

She rolls her eyes. “Only a half hour late, Tarrlok, that’s got to be a record.” 

“Lin, have you ever considered getting the operation? To remove the stick from your ass?” 

She doesn’t respond, and leads the way back inside the dining hall. I make to follow her but Tarrlok’s hand circles my upper arm, holding me back. I throw his gross touch off immediately. 

“Not you, kid. Only approved guests.” 

“I’m not allowed either,” says Noa affably. So Beifong and Tarrlok close the door behind them, leaving me alone with Amon’s right hand man. 

“Hello Miss Sato.” The geniality in his voice is gone. 

I couldn’t speak if I wanted to. I’m dead. They found me, and now I’m a dead girl walking. 

“Will you show me the gardens? I’ve heard the most wonderful flowers grow on Air Temple Island.” 

“It’s the middle of winter,” I whisper, but Noa is already walking down the hallway. 

I thought I was safe on the island. I thought there was no way they’d be brazen enough to attack me here. In my worst panic attacks, I imagined maybe a hit squad would take me out in the middle of the night. Never in a million years did I think Amon’s right hand man would come and ask me for a tour. Is he going to bury my corpse in the garden?

“You seem surprised to see me,” Noa says conversationally as we reach an outdoor terrace. He keeps his hands behind his back and faces the dead flowers. “You didn’t think you were the only spy, did you?” 

Yes, actually, I did. 

“There’s a lot of things that were kept from you, when your father was shielding you from the forefront,” Noa continues. “But now that you’ve taken his place, we need to bring you up to speed.”

My heart stops, then begins hammering fit to burst. He still thinks I’m on their side. He still thinks I’m following the plan I set up when I let Korra out of the box and sent my father to prison. Okay, okay, there might still be a way to get out of this night alive. 

“Councilman Tarrlok is my brother,” Noa says evenly. “He has no idea, of course, about my allegiances. Sometimes there is an upside to being related to a self-centered prick, as I’m sure you’ve noticed.” 

A spike of anger pierces my brain. 

“Now that the chief has so graciously given you back command of Future Industries’ resources, I would like you to step back from the espionage aspect of the position.” 

“I can do both,” I hear myself say. “You have a connection to the council, but surely one in the Avatar’s inner circle—” 

“No,” Noa says shortly. “I’ll keep an eye on the Avatar and her companions through Tarrlok. We need you directing the company, and finishing those prototypes you had in the works.”

No. Never. He can’t force me. He can chain me to a desk, but he can’t pull the ideas out of my brain. 

“Unless—” His eyes fall to my neck. I yank my collar up over a spot I’m suddenly remembering was the focus of Korra’s mouth, even though I distinctly remember saying, ‘If you give me a hickey like a drunk fourteen year old I will never touch you again.’ “—you’ve become fond of your firebending mark?” 

“No, of course not.” He’s my eighth favorite bender, but I’m not fond of Mako. 

“Excellent. It was an inspired plan to infiltrate the stadium through a teenager’s hormones — but I want you to know that you are worth far more than the pretty face you used to seduce the probender. You have a brilliant mind, Miss Sato. One that is going to change the world.” 

I have a terrible mind that only makes bad decisions and stupidly convinces itself that I can figure my way out of them. 

“Thank you,” I manage to mumble, because it seems to be what Noa is waiting for. 

“You’re welcome. I do have a question, since I have you here. Were you at all familiar with the probending referees?” 

If I thought my heart was beating fast before, now it’s actively trying to force its way out of my ribcage. I don’t blame it. I also want to be as far away from myself as possible. 

“The referees?” I ask numbly. “There were a lot. I didn’t spend a ton of time…” 

“I ask because we’re currently looking for the three men who oversaw the tournament match. It’s come to Amon’s attention that the referees may have been encouraged to call in favor of the Avatar’s opposition.” 

My mouth is completely dry. 

“That’s obviously very concerning, because if someone was working to protect the, uh…” 

“Fire Ferrets,” I supply automatically. 

Noa smiles a little. “Right, the Fire Ferrets. If someone was trying to protect them, then that someone would know an awful lot about our operation. Which I think we can both agree, would be very upsetting news indeed.” 

I nod. My body is responding to his verbal cues; I am merely a passenger. He knows. He knows it was me. There’s no other reason for him to bring this up now. 

“Obviously, the referees will be killed.” 

My overactive heart stops. 

“It’s disagreeable, but necessary for the larger picture.”

“No.” I don’t remember agreeing to allow the word past my lips, and I certainly don’t enjoy the way it hangs in the silence between us. “Maybe it was just a crazy Wolf Bats fan,” I say quickly. “I mean, all of their fans must have been scared for them to face the Avatar’s team, right? Look, it could have been Tahno himself. He was always scared of Korra.” 

Noa says nothing, and the last word I said — Korra’s name — seems to echo through the night. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Noa call Korra by her name; it’s always “the Avatar.” I’ve always followed that example when speaking to him. Can he hear my feelings for her, just in the way I say her name? I can. 

“Perhaps you’re right,” he allows, permitting my chest to consider un-constricting. “Perhaps it was simply a fanatical, wealthy Wolf Bats fan. Either way, they interfered with Amon’s plans. Ignorance is not a shield. Those who stand in our way will be eliminated.” 

He meets my eyes to say his last statement and it becomes clear that he knows everything. I didn’t miss the way he lingered on the word “wealthy.” He knows about the tournament. He knows I have been avoiding communication on purpose. It doesn’t matter to him, as long as I do what he wants. And if I don’t… that implication is clear as well. 

The question breaking my heart: Does he know why? Does he know about Korra? He doesn’t. He still thinks I’m with Mako. I have to do everything in my power to make sure he never finds out. If hunting down three random referees is how Amon punishes me, someone he needs, for rigging a game; there is no telling what the punishment is for loving the Avatar. 

The sound of Korra screaming through the metal sides of her prison box cuts through my memories. 

“Of course,” I say evenly. “You don’t think I understand the stakes? I eliminated my own father when his actions threatened Amon.” 

Noa nods. “The Equalists are a revolution. One that will change the world, forever. We don’t achieve that without making some tough decisions. That is exactly why we need someone like you.” 

Someone like me. A liar. A traitor. A lovesick, double-crossing, good-for-nothing fool. 

“Noatak!” Tarrlok’s deep voice sends a jolt of terror through me. He pokes his head out of the dining hall. “The Avatar and Tenzin have a question for you.” 

“Thank you for the tour, Miss Sato,” Noa says, inclining his head. “Brief, but informative.” 

He walks calmly and confidently back into a room full of benders. 

Chapter Text

Korra

Tarrlok starts our important meeting by saying, “Mark my words, Tenzin, you’re going to regret keeping that girl around.” 

“She has a name,” I say, before Tenzin can respond. 

“No offense, Avatar, but the adults are talking.” 

“No offense, Councildouche, but all I’m hearing is bullshit.” 

Tenzin pinches the bridge of his nose. This isn’t a great display of the Avatar diplomacy he’s been trying to teach me. 

“You just let teenagers talk like this?” Tarrlok asks Tenzin. 

“Miss Sato is a guest,” says Tenzin evenly. “And we aren’t here to discuss parenting.” 

“You’re not my parent,” I remind him. 

“You have news?” Tenzin asks over me. 

“Yes,” Tarrlok sits down. “The non-benders of Republic City have become emboldened by this Amon maniac; and it is time for us to do something.” 

I carefully watch Tenzin’s reaction, but just like Tarrlok said last night, he’s not surprised. He knew. He knew and he didn’t tell me. 

Beifong takes up the story: “We’ve had several assaults in the city over the past week. In the light of Noatak’s news, they seem connected.”

“Noatak has his finger on the pulse of non-benders—”

“Who’s Noatak?” I ask, before I realize I’m interrupting. Tarrlok’s glare reminds me. 

“My brother,” Tarrlok answers brusquely. I didn’t know Tarrlok had a brother. “As I was saying, Noatak says this kind of sentiment is endemic. Sympathy for the Equalists is spreading like wildfire. They are going to be a legitimate political party if we don’t do something. Amon could seize power from the council.” 

That makes me shiver. If Amon took over as Republic City’s leader, then he wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows. He could line up all the benders at City Hall and force them to release their bending to him. 

“What are we gonna do?” I ask. “I’m ready.” 

“Korra is still training,” Tenzin says before I’m even done speaking. “We have made some good progress but—” 

I’ve made some good progress.” 

Tarrlok raises a hand. “I don’t know what you two aren’t understanding: the city does not have time to wait around for whatever time you decide is right. We need action now.” 

“Okay!” I say. Can’t he see I’m actually on his side for once? “Tell me what to do.” 

“Unfortunately, we let this issue spread to an extent that muscle alone isn’t going to cut it anymore.” He looks at me as he says: “Not that it was having much of an impact before.” I sit back in my chair, arms crossed. As I see it, this is Tenzin’s fault. Yeah, I didn’t get Amon at the tournament — I had just been electrocuted. But if Tenzin would let me fight when I’m rested and ready, that masked asshole doesn’t stand a chance. 

“What are you suggesting?” Tenzin asks. 

“First, we have to officially declare the Equalists a terrorist group. That lets our fine police force start taking in anyone associated or suspected,” Tarrlok says. 

“The ‘Equalists’ are a political organization. We can’t start declaring anyone who opposes us as terrorists,” Tenzin says. 

“It is terrorism. People are terrified,” I say. 

“Got that right,” says Beifong. For the first time, I notice how tired she is. It sounds crazy, but I think the only time I’ve ever seen her sit down was when she was across an interrogation table from me. “Attacks every night. Every Kuruk-damned day, Republic City loses another bender.” 

Tenzin sighs. “It’s a slippery slope. What else?” 

Tarrlok continues, “I’m also proposing a curfew and gathering limit for non-benders. Outside of employment, non-benders must be home by nine o’clock and may not gather in groups larger than ten.”

“Absolutely not,” Tenzin objects. “We can’t assume guilt without proof.” 

“It’s just a precaution; if they can’t gather, they can’t—” 

“No,” Tenzin interrupts. “We are not going to punish innocent citizens just because they do not possess bending ability.”

“This is a crisis, certain measures must—” 

“We have to be smart. This will only serve to—”

“It will send a strong message that we don’t stand for—” 

“What about your brother?” Tenzin interjects. “This law would persecute him as well, wouldn’t it?” 

Far from looking perturbed by Tenzin’s trump card Tarrlok leans back in his chair. “You want to talk about my brother? Let’s talk to my brother.” He gets up and strides to the door.

I’m starting to feel like there’s a piece of the puzzle I’m missing, but I don’t want to ask Tenzin. 

Surprisingly, Beifong takes pity on me. “Brace yourself, kid,” she says in undertone. 

“For what?” 

“The chief doesn’t want you to be spooked by a former bender,” says a quiet voice.  I get a sick feeling in my stomach. At the door, a man follows Tarrlok into the dining hall. He’s shorter, stockier, and paler than Tarrlok, but the family resemblance is clear, as is the connection to the Water Tribe. 

“Former bender?” 

“Best in the Northern Tribe,” Tarrlok says, clapping the man on his shoulder. “Allow me to introduce Noatak, my brother.” 

Noatak bows his head and clasps his hands in Water Tribe style (it’s a little different than the greeting we use in the South, but I still get a pang of kinship). “Avatar Korra, it is an honor.” I can’t bear Noatak’s respect. He’s standing here, no bending, because I haven’t been able to do my job right.

I return the greeting. “I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.” 

 “Korra!” The somber moment is shattered by Asami of all people. She pokes her head through the door, her eyes wide. 

“You aren’t allowed in here,” Tarrlok says immediately. 

“I think you need a pad!” she screams from the door. 

My face bursts into flames. All of the adults — the most important people in the city — are looking at me. 

“You can be excused for a moment, if you need,” Tenzin says awkwardly. 

Feeling like I would rather die than live in this moment for another second longer, I shuffle to the door. Out in the hallway, I get a split-second to inspect the seat of my leggings, realize that I do not need what Asami was saying, before she grabs my wrist. 

“What is the matter with you?” 

“Korra, listen to me. I know that guy — Tarrlok’s brother — he used to work with my dad — you can’t trust him.” 

Yet again, a conversation with Miss Perfect has given me whiplash. 

“Wait, what? You know… Noatak?” 

“You can’t trust a word he says,” Asami insists. 

“What are you saying? Is he an Equalist?” That doesn’t make any sense. He’s Tarrlok’s brother, the reported best waterbender in the Northern Tribe. He stood face-to-face with Amon and he lost everything.

“Listen to me, Korra.” Her grip on my arm gets tighter. “You have to get out of here. It’s not safe.” 

“But why would a former bender want to align with Amon?” 

That trips her. “Former bender?” 

“Yeah. That guy, he used to be a waterbender.” 

“He’s lying,” she says with absolute certainty. 

“I mean, he’s Tarrlok’s brother so… what’s going on? Why are you so scared of him?” 

I don’t know what’s happening to cool, calm Asami Sato. She’s pacing back and forth, shaking out her hands. “I don’t…” She frowns and takes a few rapid breaths. “I know…” 

“Look, I’m totally willing to tell Beifong that you saw that guy with your dad and maybe—” 

“No!” 

She glances at the door to see if her outburst has called anyone’s attention. In a whisper, she continues: “You have to be smarter, Korra! If that guy is living a double life, he’ll do anything to protect it. If you march in there and start making accusations you could be putting everyone in danger. You could get hurt.” 

So I guess I’ll just add Asami to the list of people who think I don’t have the brains for this job. She thinks I can’t analyze situations or read people, but I read her loud and clear. She sold out her dad; obviously she’s going to be spooked when someone who worked with him shows up here. So I swallow the insult to my intelligence and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. 

“Hey, it’s okay. I’ll be smart. I promise. But I can’t leave — if anything’s up, that would just exacerbate the situation.” See? I’m smart. I know how to handle myself. “But don’t worry. I’m not going to let him hurt you.” 

Her eyebrows knit together. “What? No, I’m not—” She bites a nail. She is not comforted by my promises. If anything, it’s getting worse. She’s really shaking now. “No.” She says the word like it causes her pain. She squeezes her eyes shut and then lets out a deep breath in a hiss of air. Her shoulders slump. “Korra, I have to—” 

“What are you two doing out here?” Chief Beifong’s voice cuts across Asami’s words. 

“Just give us a minute,” I say. Asami has frozen. I have to get her somewhere where she can try to calm down. 

“No,” Beifong says. “The city is under attack — I don’t have time to wait for you two to be done gossiping. Come on, the councilmembers are waiting.” 

I glance back at Asami. “Are you going to be okay?” I ask. 

Before I even get to the end of my question, she responds: “Yup! Of course!” way too chipperly, and nearly sprints off down the hallway. Beifong’s eyes are on me, preventing me from following. With nothing else to do, I return to the meeting. 

Noatak, Tenzin, and Tarrlok are all seated. 

“Excellent, we can continue, now that it’s convenient for a teenager,” Tarrlok says. “My brother was just in the middle of—” 

“How’d you lose your bending?” I ask. 

“Korra!” Tenzin reprimands. 

Noatak smiles sadly. “It’s okay. I believe I was one of Amon’s first victims, back when he was still figuring out how to use the gift the spirits had given him to wrangle political power.” 

“So if you were such a good bender, how’d Amon get you?” 

Tenzin sets his face down into his hands. Tarrlok rises. 

“You are in no place to disparage other benders, Avatar.”

“It’s just a question.” 

“Can we get back on track?” Beifong’s harsh tone cuts through the rest of us. “I have officers waiting for my orders. I’d love to know what they are before the end of the night.” 

“I will not be supporting your proposition, Tarrlok,” says Tenzin, also getting to his feet. “We need to meet as a full council and think of a different solution.”

“Actually.” Tarrlok stands, pulling a scroll from an inner pocket. “I’m here more as a formality. The other members of the council have already signed my decree. You’re outnumbered, Tenzin.” 

Tenzin rises as well. “What? You can’t write a law without a full council session.” 

“Desperate times,” Tarrlok says with a shrug, like this is all out of his hands. “I’m here to offer you a chance to sign on and show these terrorists that the government of Republic City is unified and does not tolerate their actions.” 

“Tenzin,” Noatak says quietly. “I know this seems severe, but you aren’t in the streets. Non-benders, ones who a few months ago thought Amon was a lunatic, are starting to change their minds. Amon’s words are spreading through back channels. We have to cut off their ability to communicate.” 

Tenzin looks at Noatak for a moment. “I respect what you have been through, but I will not be putting my name on that.” 

“Then we’ve got nothing left to discuss.” Tarrlok turns to Beifong. “Chief, your patrols have their orders. It’s past nine and it’s time to start taking this threat seriously. Avatar, I know we don’t always get along, but you have what it takes to make the tough calls. I can see it in you.”

With that, Tarrlok, his brother, and Beifong leave.  

“I’m gonna—” I start to get up. 

“Stay.” 

Oh no. Tenzin’s voice is all thick and deep. 

“You aren’t leaving this room until you understand the corruption of Tarrlok’s law.”

“It’s temporary,” I say. “Once we get the Equalists, everything will go back to normal. Non-benders will just have to deal until then. You didn’t even tell me that things were getting worse in the city! How am I supposed to help everyone if you keep me trapped on this island??” 

Tenzin’s eyebrows come together. “I would hardly call you trapped. I understand you feel guilty that you’ve let your attention slide, but the best way to confront that feeling is to move forward.” 

I scoff in his face. “That’s rich, coming from you. At least Tarrlok’s doing something.”

“What he’s doing is labeling an entire population as criminals without a shred of proof. It’s wrong.” 

I ball my fists on the table. “There is proof. Non-benders are the only ones who would consider—”

“My brother, Bumi?” Tenzin injects. 

“What?” 

“Bumi. Are you saying that he’s a threat?” 

I ball my fists on the table. Forcing me through this question is a new level of condescending, even for Tenzin. “Of course not—” 

“What about Pema? Or — your own friend, Miss Sato, Asami. It’s past nine right now, if she went into the city, Tarrlok would have every right to put her in jail for the night.” 

Ha. I’d like to see him try. 

“What about my next child? They may be born without bending ability, do you think we should call them a danger to the city?” 

“That’s ridiculous, I wouldn’t call a baby a threat.” 

But Tarrlok is. All this bill is going to do is stir up more resentment between benders and non-benders, when what we need is to come together against the violence that threatens us all.” 

“But the violence doesn’t threaten non-benders!” I exclaim. “Look, I love Bumi and Pema and… you know, all those people, and I’ll love your kid no matter what — but Amon would be more than happy to have them join up. Us? You and me, and Mako, and Bolin — your sister and your mother — and spirits! Tarrlok and Beifong — we’re the targets.” 

Tenzin shakes his head. “So? Our job is to protect the city, not ourselves.” 

I throw my hands into the air. “So I guess we’ll just turn ourselves over. Stuff ourselves in tiny boxes and wait for them to steal our souls.” 

“Korra, I know that you’re scared—” 

I get to my feet. “No. I’m not.”

“You’ve been through so much. I know your imprisonment—” 

“It’s in the past” I march towards the exit.

Tenzin’s voice follows me out of the dining hall. “As the Avatar, you have a responsibility to everyone—” 

“Not everyone!” I yell from the door. “Not Amon! My sacred Avatar responsibility is to put him in a small cell for the rest of his life — if he’s lucky!”  

Tenzin is probably too disappointed in my lack of sanctity for all human life to continue this conversation which is absolutely fine by me. I don’t need to be spoken to like I don’t have two brain cells to rub together. Obviously I know that the Avatar stands for all people. When Aang was fighting the Fire Nation, he wasn’t just trying to save the earthbenders, right? But, when the Fire Nation rounded up earthbenders and put them into prison camps in the middle of the ocean, he went and freed them. It’s not favoritism. It’s not privileging benders. It’s doing what the moment calls for. 

And, right now, at this moment, I have a friend to look after. Then I’ll get to the whole world. 

I eventually find Asami out on a terrace, staring at the stars. She hugs her arms tight around her chest.  

“Cold?” I ask. I offer up myself as a heater but she stands removed from me, still haunted by that same fear I saw earlier. “Come on, I run hot.” 

Asami snorts. “I’ve noticed.” She steps into my embrace, but it’s stiff, not totally comfortable. “What happened with…” 

“Honestly, Noatak didn’t say much. It was the Tarrlok show tonight. He just dragged his brother along to help him sell his new law to Tenzin. And it did not work.” 

“What’s the law?” 

All of Tenzin’s points from our conversation suddenly seem much more salient with Asami under my arm. How could I categorize her as a criminal? How is that fair?

“Umm… it’s about, well, it forbids, uhh, people from meeting up in big groups and there’s a curfew, I think.” 

“All people?”

I swallow. “Non-benders.”

Asami shakes out from under my arm. Her eyes are bright. “You told him that was absurd, right?” 

“Umm.” 

Asami turns towards the harbor. 

“I don’t know what to do,” I say, honestly. “I’m supposed to stop this threat, but no one can seem to agree about the best way to do that.” 

“Noa is behind this! Don’t you see what he’s doing? He’s trying to manufacture conflict between benders and non-benders.” 

“Tenzin said something like that, but…” 

“But what?” 

“I don’t know!” Frustration crawls along my throat, choking off my words. “We have to do something. Benders are being attacked for no reason! And — and if non-benders aren’t doing anything wrong, then it’s no big deal. We’ll catch the Equalists and everything will go back to normal.” 

Asami’s shaking her head before I’m even done talking. “Nothing will go back to normal after this. They will remember what benders did to them.” 

It’s becoming more and more obvious that I’m the bender and Asami isn’t. It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want her to think that I think I’m better than her, or that she’s less than me. Because I don’t, I really don’t. 

“What do you think the Equalists want?” 

“Umm, it’s pretty obvious,” I say, not totally following the direction this conversation has taken. ”They hate bending and they want me dead.” 

“No, actually, they don’t. In fact, I think they want you to live for a very long time.” 

“Oh great! Then this has all just been a huge misunderstanding.” I roll my eyes. 

Asami rolls right back. “They don’t want to kill you, Korra; they want to humiliate you. To strip you of your bending in front of the entire world, and make you live like a non-bender for the rest of your life.”

I stand up, noticing the chill for the first time. “So what? Same difference. Actually, I’d rather they killed me. That’s how high the stakes are — bending is a part of us. You wouldn’t understand.” 

“It’s not the same difference!” Asami is close to raising her voice. “You’re telling me there’s no way I can understand what it’s like to lose something, but you’re not even trying to understand them. And-and… you’re never going to beat them like that.” 

“I don’t need to know Amon’s whole tragic backstory in order to kick his ass. If it was just me and him, one-on-one—” 

“You would lose.” 

How did this end up being a fight too? 

“We’ve seen what happens when you try to use force against him alone,” Asami says. Her eyes are boring into mine, imploring me to understand. Well, I don’t. 

“Has everyone forgotten that I was electrocuted the last time I fought him??” I ask the sky. “I wouldn’t exactly call that a fair fight.” 

“Then what reason does he have to fight fair?!” She sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “Come on, Korra, if you’re going to beat him you have to be smarter.” 

“Please stop telling me you think I’m stupid. You’ve made that clear for a long time.” 

“Don’t play the pity card. You know I don’t think that.”

I actually have a very distinct memory of her slapping me in an alleyway behind the bending stadium and calling me incredibly stupid. But more than that, there’s something that she’s expressing that hurts way worse coming from her than Tarrlok or even Tenzin. Something I can’t let go. “You don’t think I can do it? You don’t think I can beat him? Because that’s my whole job, my whole purpose in the world, the reason I was born. And if you don’t think I can do it then—” 

“Your whole purpose is to beat one guy in a duel? I don’t believe that,” Asami insists. “I believe that you are here for so much more.” She grabs my hand. “You’re the Avatar. You’re the bridge between mortals and spirits and you’re a leader and, yes, sometimes you have to fight whatever evil threatens people. But you’re more than just a duel. I don’t know how to make you see that.”

Our eyes meet and I can feel a wall I didn’t know was up coming down. There have been other brief moments where I think I’m finally getting through — the slumber party, Asami’s drunk tears last night, our first kiss. Despite working very hard to get as close as two humans can possibly get, there’s a distance between us. And I don’t know how to cross it. It feels like, sometimes, Asami’s keeping it there on purpose.  

“I know,” I whisper. “But I have to—” 

“Why? This is what I’m saying; you charge headfirst into every situation because you’re so sure you know what you’re ‘supposed’ to do! But who gets to decide that?? And…” Asami is nervous. I know all of her tells by this point: the way her teeth pull at her bottom lip means she’s considering doing something that scares her. “Right now a lot of your people are suffering.” 

“I know! He's getting a bender everyday.” 

And non-benders. People like me. We’re treated like second class citizens. We live a different life; we have for thousands of years. What I’m saying is that it’s not just you versus Amon. Even if you defeat him, you won’t stop the Equalists. It’s not a person; it’s a movement; crushing their leader is only going to make them angrier.” 

I yank my hands away. Why can’t she just give me a break? “So what do you want me to do? Just let Amon keep gaining power? He’s destroying bending, Asami. He’s trying to destroy me. I’ll deal with the rest of them later — once Amon is finished.”

“Or die trying?” she asks. 

The way she asks the question feels like a trap, so I wise up and keep my mouth shut.

“You said that.” Asami’s eyes are bright. “You said you’d rather they killed you than force you to live a life without bending. So essentially, you’d rather be dead, than be me.” 

My heart stops. 

“I’m leaving, Korra.” 

My heart doubly stops.

“Not because of this conversation,” she mutters, “just... in general. Beifong was here to give me my place back. So… it’s time for me to go.” 

“But…?” 

But I’ll still see you all the time. 

But just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean this has to end. 

But I still really, really, really like you. 

I’m not brave enough to end Asami’s sentence for her; I’m just praying there is a “but” coming. 

“But… it was fun — staying here.” 

Fun?

“Korra, don’t support that law. I think you’d end up regretting it.” 

Chapter Text

Asami

The sun is just starting to set when I wake up. I’m on my back (a position I never sleep in) looking up at a silk canopy. For a moment, I don’t remember where I am or how I got there. I clutch at the sheets, and for one glorious moment, I search for Korra’s warm body, sure that it’s just out of reach. 

But the bed is empty. It’s at least four times the size of my little cot back at the Air Temple, and forty times lonelier. 

I sit up and groan in pain. I’ve been asleep all day, after staying up for a day and night. I wish I could sleep longer — anything to avoid the aching truth that I am not nearly as strong as I thought I was. For all my resolutions, I crumbled at the slightest bit of intimidation. They didn’t even have to chain me to a desk; I’m just giving my mind up for free. 

Well, not for free. Three sleazy referees are going to get to keep breathing. That’s not nothing.

I make my way to the shower and let the water fall over me. I usually like it to be as hot as possible, but today I can barely withstand lukewarm. 

The new apartment was my idea. It’s easier to come and go without the attention of my metal shadows than the big estate in the middle of nowhere. Plus, the big estate in the middle of nowhere feels very empty without my father. It’s silly: it was just the two of us. But my father always managed to fill the big house. He was always having business associates over. He was a big fan of music, and had a gramophone in almost every room. Plus, he was always home. 

That was the vow he made to me after my mother was killed. He was out of town the weekend our house burned. He had to come get me from the Fire and Water Brigade Station, where I spent a sleepless twenty-four hours, my hair smelling like ash. He wrapped me in his arms and promised never to be away from me again. He brought Future Industries to our house. When I went away to boarding school, he bought a second home in the Fire Nation. It felt suffocating back then. Now, all I can think of is the look in his eyes the last time I saw him. 

Your mother would be so disappointed in you

I don’t know much about my mother, aside from what everyone says. 

She was smart as a whip. 

She was beautiful. 

She was funny, she was warm, she loved you so, so, so much. 

When I first started dating Mako, I wondered what my mom would say; not about the firebending aspect, but the sham-relationship. She would be appalled at the idea of her little girl participating in espionage by seduction. I knew it was wrong; I just ended up being so good at it. I have a problem becoming addicted to things I’m good at. 

And if she would have been disappointed by the way I treated Mako, then she’d probably be ashamed by my connection to Korra. It’s funny, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I never heard my mother mention a word about the Avatar. My father always cited Mom’s murder as our motivation; our reminder that we were on the right side of history. But aside from the triads, I never heard my mom speak ill of benders. 

She would have never foreseen how important those values would become — how they might be called into question. She could have never foreseen how entangled her bright, little, non-bending girl would become in the drama and politics of the Avatar. She could have never foreseen how entangled the Avatar would become in her little girl’s heart. 

As far as I know, my mother was a fan of love. In all forms. I really want to believe that my mom would have been fine with me being with a girl. And I don’t think my mom would have been distressed to learn that I was with the Avatar. She would have been far more upset to learn how I treated someone I was falling in love with. 

I turn off the water and get dressed for another exciting night of doing nothing on my couch. I can’t go anywhere or do anything — and there’s no one to go anywhere or do anything with. 

I stretch my legs, find a comfortable way to sit so my left shoulder doesn’t have to touch anything, and pull out a magazine. My eyes float over the text, not fully taking in the sordid details of the Earth Kingdom prince’s latest debauched soiree. A hundred and fifty attendees at a sex party in the tunnels under Lake Laogai should be just the distraction I need. But a portion of my brain keeps wandering across the harbor. What’s Korra doing now? The dinner gong has probably just sounded. Did it hasten her away from meditation or airbending practice? Is she going to dine with some members of the council to try and sort out their latest mess? Are Mako and Bolin still staying at the temple? Did the dinner bell interrupt Korra and Mako the way it so often did for us? 

I angrily turn the page in the magazine to a different story — a tour of Zaofu, the metal city. If there is anything in the world that is going to captivate me more than an orgy, it’s Zaofu and the expert blending of bending and technology. 

But tonight it doesn’t hold my interest for more than one hundred words. 

I’m angry at myself for getting angry at Mako and Korra. They should be together. I hope they get together (and I hope one day I can get through that thought without gagging). They deserve each other, far more than either of them deserved me. And if they aren’t together yet, I’m sure the mutual relationzation that they both want me dead will finally unite them. 

Two weeks. That’s what Amon promised. In two weeks, we step out of the shadows. Our numbers will have swelled to several thousand. What happens to the Avatar when the Equalists take over the city? 

Nothing. So long as she hasn’t learned airbending, she’s safe

But what if she has? I’ve been gone for a fortnight. The weather has marked the time — warm breezes flow through the city from the south, and along the boulevards small green buds are popping up. What if the change of season is some spiritual thing that makes everything click? What if Korra is right now sailing along on one of those wind balls with Ikki, Jinora, and Meelo? 

I throw the magazine to the side, frustrated that it did not whisk me out of my self-created hellhole. I need to stop thinking and worrying about Korra. It has been made clear by the powers that be that the Avatar is no longer my priority. That’s all Korra ever was ever supposed to be: a line on a checklist. It was my stupid heart that got sidetracked. 

I crack a window and grab a box of cigarettes. I’m searching for a lighter when:

Knock knock knock!

I answer the door, expecting Howin or someone else from the organization — and nearly faint in shock. It’s as if my obsessive thoughts have manifested: Avatar Korra is standing in my doorway. Staying on brand, she lets herself in and produces a long whistle. 

“Nice digs, Rich Girl. I guess I see why you chose this over the monks.” 

My brain is misfiring. What is Korra doing here? She can’t be here. What if someone comes by? This is incredibly dangerous for both of us.

“I thought you quit,” she says, pointing to the unlit cigarette dangling from my fingers.  

I shake the dumbfounded expression off my face. “What are you doing here?” 

“I’m on my way to meet Mako and Bolin downtown. You heard about… everything?” 

It would be pretty hard to miss. Since Tarrlok’s law went into effect, the city has been in turmoil. Non-benders were furious (as they, we, had every right to be) — the city has been rocked with weeks of protests and demonstrations. The police responded with more force. Now the entire city is essentially on lockdown — benders and non-benders alike. And no one’s happy. 

Just like Amon wanted. It’s genius. Noa suggested the law to his brother. Tarrlok and the other benders on the council saw no issue with officially classifying non-benders as second class citizens. Now, tensions are higher than ever. We have dozens of recruits joining us every day. Tarrlok couldn’t have helped the Equalists more if he’d sent out applications. 

“Gonna go be the heavy?” I ask, our last conversation stinging.

“No,” Korra says. She sits down on the couch. “You were right. You and Tenzin. This law was a bad idea and now the city’s in worse shape than ever.” 

“Was the law a bad idea? Or are the consequences just annoying you?” 

“Give me a break, Princess. I’m not as smart as you, all right? It took me a minute. But I get it now.” 

I’m proud of Korra, but I don’t want the credit. What if I had actually motivated her to stop Tarrlok before he put his edict into place? That would have been another wrench in Amon’s plans. Another failure. Just like the probending championships. Sweat forms on my palms. 

I’m on my last life and I know it. I can’t afford any more slip ups — like having the Avatar in my apartment, for example. In addition to the police I know I have watching me, it has occurred to me that Amon might have installed surveillance of his own. 

It’d be easier for the Equalists to just kill me — but they don’t want to trouble themselves to locate a new engineer when their old one is doing everything they want. As I try to focus on the catastrophic emergence of the most dangerous person to have in my Kuruk-damned living room, my chest flashes with pain, and my brain skips back a few hours. 

The room swam in front of my tired eyes as I waited for Noa’s inspection so I could go home and sleep. After working through a full day and night, I was finally able to connect the gauntlets to a bigger battery. Bigger battery equals more power. More power equals more pain. The morning sun created golden shafts of light on the floor. When the door opened, it wasn’t Noa. It was Amon. He brought a squadron of high-ranking soldiers to come review my creation; Howin was at Amon’s shoulder. 

My lips felt like rubber as I walked him through the modifications. 

“Double the power voltage?” he asked. The mask does strange things to his voice — it echoes, yet is muted.  

“No,” I said, too tired to try to sugar-coat it. “I told Noa, that’s not possible. But it is more powerful. It has at least two charges powerful enough to knock someone out. And if your soldiers are just trying to keep attackers at a distance, they can use a lower setting and it will go all day.” 

“And if I were to find a setting that combined those two powerful charges?” 

“The battery and wiring in the glove can’t accommodate it,” I said, ready for the question. The wiring can’t accommodate it because I built it that way on purpose. If all of the power stored in the new battery were delivered into one person at one time, they would die. So I made it impossible.

I defied him again. Just like I’m doing right now, with the Avatar in my apartment. 

I am shaken out of my reverie by an irritating popping sound. I look over and Korra is smugly cracking her knuckles. “I know you want me to stop calling you ‘Rich Girl,’ but… a penthouse downtown? Come on.” 

I can see right through Korra’s comments, and she knows I can. She’s trying to instigate our bicker-into-bed routine. I have to shut this down as quickly as possible. 

“Why are you here?”

“Wow, that’s one way to make a person feel unwelcome,” she says, leaning back to look out the skylights. “I wanted to see if you wanted to come out with us. We’re joining the protests.” 

“That’s nice for you, but I can’t. There’s a curfew, remember? And I’ve got watchdogs. I put one toe outside that door, and I’m in a cell for the night.” 

Korra grimances. “We’re gonna change that.” 

She can try all she wants. It’s never going to work. Amon is too good. 

“Buuuttttt, if you can’t go out…” Korra picks across my living room — touching boxes, smoothing out the blanket on the back of the couch, all the while coming closer and closer. 

“No,” I say. “Not happening.” 

What’s not happening?” she asks, stepping into my personal space. 

I crane my neck upwards, looking at the ceiling, looking for strength? The will to abstain? There’s gilded tiles and inset lighting — but not a lot of answers. Korra pushes a lock of hair over my shoulder and gently presses her lips onto my neck. My body thrills from the contact — it reminds me why it’s so important to resist. 

“We are not going to fuck,” I tell her seriously. 

“Okay,” she says amiably. “Feels like a waste of doors that actually lock, but you’re the boss.” Her fingers rest lightly on my collarbone. 

Spirits, I want her to continue. I want her to rip off my shirt, throw me over the couch, pick me up and slam me into the wall — do some sweeping dramatic move that I’d be forgiven for indulging. But she doesn’t, she plays coy: she acts like me. 

“It’s not the same without you around,” she murmurs, and before I can realize that I have to stop her, she pops open the top button on my blouse. 

The mood freezes. Korra turns to stone, hand on my shirt, eyes bulging, the entirety of her being focused on the angry red mark over my sternum. She’s not even breathing. I clutch my top shut and step away, but the damage is done. 

“What the fuck was that?” she demands. 

“Nothing.” 

I move behind the couch, buttoning my blouse and shrugging into a sweater for good measure. 

“You’re hurt.” 

She follows me so I move into the kitchen, putting the island between us. 

“I’m fine. Burned myself cooking. It’s nothing.” 

“You don’t cook. Who did that?”

Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone not observing the gender binary, here’s an Avatar Korra trademark: A problem? Who can I beat up about it?

“It’s not your problem.” I physically grab a barstool and drag it in front of me, in between me and the Avatar.

“But there is a problem. Asami — are you in trouble?” 

Unbidden, my mind flashes back to the secret garage, with Amon standing in front of me, his honor guard behind him, flexing the fingers of the new gauntlet.

“I’d like to see a test," Amon said quietly. He walked towards me. “These new settings beg the question: for whom should each be applied? For instance, if someone were to disobey my orders, what setting would I use?” My exhausted brain didn’t quite put together the implication of his question. But my pulse, racing in my ears, knew there was danger. 

“Tell me, what setting would you recommend for a dissenter?” 

Oh. I’m the dissenter. 

I willed my breathing to calm down. “The third one,” I said through gritted teeth. It would hurt, hopefully enough to satisfy this demonstration and end it quickly. Amon’s posse looked on silently, all hidden behind reflective green goggles. On the end of the line, Howin’s face didn’t show a thing. 

“Skin to skin works best, I’m told,” Amon says to me, the one who told him. 

Without a word, I pushed up my sleeve and held out my forearm. Just get it over with.  

“That’s quite visible, with the weather getting warmer. We don’t want anyone asking difficult questions." 

For a moment, I considered arguing. For a moment I considered fighting back. But then I remembered that there were three settings higher than the one I’d recommended. Trying to make my face into a mask just like his, I did what he wanted. I unzipped the top half of my coveralls, shrugging out of the thick material. Goosebumps rose across my skin. I tried not to shiver in my tank top. 

The shock pulled a gasp of pain from my lips, but I managed to remain standing. The spot on my shoulder where the metal plate had touched throbbed. But it was over. I reached for the fabric pooling around my waist. 

“Ah, ah, not quite.” 

I heard the click of the dial, as Amon set it to the fourth power setting. 

This one knocked me to the ground. I could feel my heart pounding arythmically in my chest. 

“Up, Miss Sato.” 

From the floor I heard the dial turn again. I fought my way back to my feet. Red marks were already starting to show along my left shoulder. I watched him wordlessly approach again. I watched the electricity dance along the palm of the glove. I watched him raise his hand past my shoulder. 

He’s going to burn my face, I thought numbly. And I’m just going to let him.  

But Amon didn’t reach for my face. Instead he placed his gloved hand on my chest, between the dip of my breasts. I felt six pairs of eyes on me. His fingertips reached all the way to my throat. Through the slits in his mask, his eyes looked black and featureless. I fought the urge to cry, to scream, to run.

“Miss Sato, has the Avatar airbent yet?” 

I thought of Korra, eyes glowing, manipulating the breeze above Avatar Tashi’s old house. 

“No.” 

The shock threw me crashing into my desk, several feet behind me. My vision went blurry around the edges. The patch of skin on my chest continued to burn, bringing tears to my eyes. 

Click. 

An involuntary sob came out of my mouth. One setting left. I should know what my creation does. At least it would put me out. After the endless millisecond of pain, I would be freed from this ghastly scene. At least for a few minutes. 

I drag myself out of my memories, back to my apartment, like I’m fighting against a rip current. Korra is still in front of me. Still demanding to know where the burn came from — like she has any right to that information. 

“I don’t want your help!”

Korra recoils like she was the one getting a taser tested on her. 

“Why not?” she asks. “I don’t understand what happened. What did I do?” She almost makes it through her question, but her voice starts to catch on the rocky bottom of emotion. I turn away from her. Away from the hurt. If bruised feelings are the only pain I bring to her, that is by far the most desirable outcome. 

“Asami, please tell me what’s going on. I’m sorry. Whatever I did — I’m sorry. I’m fighting Tarrlok’s law. I’m standing up for non-benders. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Just please let me help you.” 

I’m dragged back under the current. 

“Sir.” Someone stepped forward from the line. “I’ll test it. You heard her, several shocks in a row might have adverse effects.” 

I propped myself up and watched as my oldest friend pulled his jacket and tunic over his head and knelt in front of Amon. A part of me wanted to argue — wanted to beg for the final blast to send me away. The other part of me had searing skin and a desire for Howin to know. A part of me wanted him to be fully aware of what he would be putting others through. 

Amon turned to face his other followers. It’s impossible to see him smile through the mask, but it was clear he was pleased. “This is what true devotion looks like.” It was clear that I, shirtless, crumpled on the floor, crying, was what disobedience looked like. 

Howin never looked at me. He didn’t flinch away from Amon’s touch. Howin showed the fidelity of a true believer, even as he wordlessly slumped to the ground.

“You can’t help me,” I insist. I take Korra’s arm and march her to the door. “And if you could, I wouldn’t want you to.” 

“But you said you—” 

In primary school, we read a story about a princess who befriended a wolf. And when her father’s soldiers came to kill the beast, the girl had to throw stones at it, so it would run away. The bond between the princess and the wolf was broken forever — but the wolf lived. 

“Korra, it was two weeks. Two weeks of a disastrous infatuation. But that’s all. Okay? I thought I could get over your arrogant, hot-headed bullshit, but I can’t. I tried and I can’t. You were a fun screw, but we don’t work and I don’t want to try anymore.” 

Korra’s heart breaks behind her eyes. For a moment she stares at me and I’m sure she is going to fight for me. She’s going to call out my lies and insist to know what happened to me and go kill every single person who had a hand in the burn on my chest. Her eyes will glow and she’ll end the thing keeping us apart in a night. 

But I’ve always been convincing when I need to be. And Korra just dashes out of my apartment, slamming the door behind her, utterly, and completely convinced. 

Chapter Text

Korra

“Where have you been?” Mako asks when I meet him and Bolin on the corner of Sokka and Main. “Shit’s already gone south at City Hall.” 

“Then what are we waiting for?” I ask gruffly, breaking into a jog. I hear Bolin groan behind me, but I enjoy the way the cold air scrapes against my throat and the light burning in my legs. It feels a lot better than being in Asami’s stupid apartment. 

You were a fun screw

I put on more speed. Mako and Bolin fall behind me. So does the distance between me and my heart breaking into a thousand little tiny pieces. I get a few precious Asami-free seconds as we make our way down Sokka Boulevard. A few blocks ahead I can see lights flash and hear the sounds of commotion, but down by us it’s eerily deserted. 

Then, my mind swings back to the split-second glimpse of Asami’s red, blistered skin. That was no fucking cooking accident. It was a near perfect semi-circle. I know those marks. I had the ghost of one on my cheek for days after my encounter with Hiroshi Sato. 

Asami is in trouble with the Equalists.

She doesn’t want your help

I growl and sprint the final stretch. 

She thinks you’re an arrogant, bratty, show off. She always has. Nothing changed just ‘cause you’re good in the sack. 

So what? It looks like they “zapped” her half to death. She’s gonna get my help whether she wants it or not.

I’m about to throw myself into the fray — a confused mob of police and ordinary citizens — but Mako grabs the back of my shirt. He puts his hands on his knees, gasping for air. A block away Bolin valiantly continues towards us. 

“Don’t,” Mako wheezes. “What’s… the… plan?” 

I roll my eyes. What is he now? Miss Perfect?? Why we need a plan besides “stop people from hurting each other” is beyond me. The choking scent of tear gas blows toward us. The protests have officially turned into riots. People scream. Sirens wail. 

I want to sit down on the curb and put my fingers in my ears, and crawl back to my bed and pull the blankets over my head. But that’s not really something the Avatar gets to do. 

“Let’s see who’s abusing their power, and help the other side,” I say, taking off again just as Bolin staggers up to us. 

Around the corner it is easy to see that, yet again, the police force of Republic City has turned on its citizens. There isn’t an Equalist in sight. No one is armed. It’s just ordinary people — non-benders — fleeing with their shirts pulled up around their noses. As I watch, a man in a blue jacket is wrapped in a metal wire. He hits the ground face first. I swivel towards his captor and ice his feet to the ground. 

My eyes start to twitch. The gas in the air is our biggest enemy. I squint and search for the canisters on the ground. They’re still emitting gouts of opaque grey smoke. I pull a wave from the nearby canal and dose the weapons. It stops the problem from getting worse. If I could only airbend, I would be able to solve this entirely. But I can’t. 

Can’t airbend. Can’t help Asami. Can’t do anything right.

“Korra!” Bolin’s voice calls me over. “They’re cutting off the square.” 

I swivel around and sure enough, more police are arriving with barricades, closing down all points of entry and exit, even as a voice over the loudspeaker barks, “LEAVE NOW. RETURN HOME. ALL THOSE REMAINING WILL BE SUBJECT TO ARREST.” 

“There!” I shout, pointing towards an alley to the right of the building that is still free of squad cars. Yangchen knows how we’re gonna get all of these people down there before they close it off too, but right now it’s all we’ve got. “Bolin — keep it open. Mako, let’s get these people out of here.” 

Our only option to get the attention of a large crowd of confused and disorganized people is firebending — which does not go down amazingly with a group of people being specifically persecuted for their lack of bending ability. It’s only when I extinguish another smoke bomb that everyone realizes who I am. It goes a little something like this:

I face the possibility of arrest while saving innocent parties and trying to do the right thing. The non-benders in the crowd see the Avatar, the very person they’ve been told they hate, doing the very skills they’ve been told are only weapons for evil. The cops see someone getting in their way. And everyone hates me. 

It takes earthbending a few barricades for the protestors to start considering that I might be on their side. 

The people start to get the message at that point and a big crowd surges towards the exit we’ve created. Bolin leans against a wall, tired from his exertions to keep the alleyway clear: he turned the paved road into a mess of broken up rock. The protesters have to be careful as they scramble across the broken ground, but there’s no way to get a squad car after them. Mako and I guard the rear, facing down the wall of riot shields marching towards us.

People are starting to get bottlenecked when I see, out of the corner of my eye, Mako go down. He’s on the ground, thick metal wires pinning his arms to his side. My first instinct is to blast the police so hard their little shields melt. But a little voice in my head stops me: You’re the Avatar, you have to be smarter. (I know it’s a little voice in my head, but I’d swear it has perfect waves of dark hair and sparkling green eyes.)

Instead of taking these cowards’ heads off, I put my hands up. Despite their expensive riot gear, shiny helmets, and tough words barked over megaphones, when it comes down to one of these viper-weasels actually stepping up to slap the cuffs of me, no one is really jumping at the opportunity. 

Fine by me. I make my way back to Bolin and tell him about Mako. His brow sets, glaring across the plaza. It’s all police now. But in other places in the city, conflict still rages. 

“We can get him out in the morning,” I say. 

Bolin nods grimly. We start to move down the alley ourselves when out of nowhere, Bolin is wrapped too. He falls heavily to the uneven ground. 

“Hey!” 

I turn around to see a metalbender standing behind us. They’re right in the middle of saying, “I got another one!” when they realize who I am. Their eyes go wide. 

“Let him go,” I order. “He wasn’t doing anything wrong!” 

The metalbender looks ready to do as I say, when backup arrives. 

“Good work, Qu,” says a senior officer. He smiles at me while his men drag Bolin to his feet. “Hello, Avatar, interested in joining your friend?” 

“Let him go, we were leaving!” 

“There’s a curfew, you know.” 

“He’s a bender and that law is stupid!” 

The lieutenant smiles, waiting for me to strike at him. And you can bet every yuan in Asami’s bank account, I want to strike at him. But then I’d spend the night in a jail cell, no use to anyone. Instead, I squint at his badge number and repeat it back to him. 

“Glad to know the Avatar can read,” he says. 

“56X0,” I say again. “56X0, 56X0.” 

“What are you doing?” Now he’s unsettled. 

“Just remembering!” I say, backing off down the alley. “For the next time Chief Beifong comes over for dinner!” 

“Get back here!” 

But I raise my arms and fling them behind me, the ground beneath my feet moving me away from the conflict. 

I spend the rest of the night in Republic City, doing what I can. 

A desperate shopkeeper calls for help as flames leap out of her window. I extinguish them with a wave of my hand. A man searches the city for his brother. I earthbend us to higher ground, and we reunite the siblings. A woman cries over the hole a few police officers ripped in her wall, trying to find a fleeing protester. I put the bricks back as well as I can and fuse them together to last through the night. 

It occurs to me that Asami and Tenzin would be proud. I’m helping people. Real people. I’m not fighting some masked asshole on a public stage. I’m not privileging benders over non-benders. I’m just doing whatever task falls into my lap. 

When the sun begins to rise, I figure my task is to get my friends out of jail. By this point, the cells will be overrun; I think a little Avatar magic will get Mako and Bolin out in no time. 

I’m half right. A sleepy-looking Mako, carrying his shoes in his hands, meets me in the lobby. 

“Where’s Bolin?” I ask. 

“He left hours ago,” Mako says. “I thought — I figured you got him out.” 

We run to the clerk’s desk, wait in an excruciatingly long line, and get absolutely no information. 

“Okay, okay,” I say, thinking. “This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe — maybe Bolin’s sitting at home, wondering where the hell we are.” 

Mako seems comforted by the idea and we hitch a ride on the morning ferry heading out to Air Temple Island. The sun is glowing on the horizon and after the commotion of last night, the gentle rocking of the boat feels incredibly peaceful. 

“Did you sleep at all?” Mako asks.

I shake my head, trying to blink back the tired pull on my eyelids. 

“We’ve got a few minutes. Power nap.” He pats his shoulder. I consider toughing it out, but I am really, really tired. So I snuggle up against his side and close my eyes. In no time at all, we’re at the docks. I feel groggier than ever. 

The White Lotus monitoring the ferry must have given Tenzin a heads up, because he soars down from the temple as we’re climbing up the docks. 

“Is Bolin here?” Mako asks. 

Whatever scolding Tenzin was preparing himself for is cut off. “No. He hasn’t been here all night.” 

Mako wants to jump back on the same ferry and return to the city at once. Tenzin convinces us to stay a half hour until the next one arrives to get something to eat and make a plan. The grogginess from my nap finally dissipates as we climb up to the dining hall — and a clear thought comes to mind. One way to get someone out of jail is by being an important person; the other is by being rich. 

I know someone who’s both. 

Asami picks up on the fifth ring. I clearly woke her up or she would have hung up already. “I don’t want to talk—” 

“You didn’t happen to get Bolin out of jail last night, did you?” I ask quickly, before she wakes up enough to remember that she hates me. 

There is a long silence. Then: “Bolin’s in jail?” 

“He was. Now we don’t know where he is.” 

A frustrated sigh crackles over the line. “Start over.” 

“Protests turned into riots, Bolin got arrested, Mako too. But when I went to get them out this morning, Bolin wasn’t there. Someone else got him out.”

“Who was it?” 

“I dunno. It was before I got there.” 

“But the police must keep a record of who prisoners are released to.” 

Genius. “Yeah, okay, we’ll do that.” 

“Let me know what happens. If you need… I don’t know, money, a car…” 

“A yacht.”

The silence sounds like someone trying to resist smiling, like someone pressing her lips together, eyes flicking off to the side.  

“Asami?” 

Another long pause. “Yes?” 

I’m at a loss for what to say. After everything that’s happened in the last twelve hours, it seems stupid to fight with friends. “I’ll, umm, I’ll call you later.” 

We try getting in touch with the police station from Air Temple Island, but the lines are overrun. Mako and I decide to head back into the city. Tenzin gives us a lift on Oogie as he heads to an emergency council session. 

Mako and I wait in the very long line yet again. There is a palpable tension. Something feels wrong. Mako crosses his arms and taps his foot the whole time. Despite feeling like a wrung out sponge, my chest is vibrating. 

All of these bad feelings are confirmed when we make it to the head of the line. A clerk with dark purple circles under her eyes opens a large tome, flips back a few pages and uses a finger to scan through the entries. I watch her carefully. When she gets the end of the page, she frowns. She flips through a few more, and then back to the original. 

“When did you say he was released?” 

“Sometime this morning. A few hours before seven,” Mako answers. 

The clerk frowns again, scrutinizing her records. Eventually, there is nothing left to glare at. She looks up at us. 

“Bolin, you said?” 

“Yes. Bolin. Stocky, dark hair, my height.” 

The clerk shrugs helplessly. “I’ve got lots of Bo’s, a few Bowen’s. But no Bolin’s. Coming or going.”  

Mako sets his hands down on the counter. He’s trying to hold back his anger. “He was here. We were arrested together at City Hall. We got tossed in the same cell — holding cell six. It was way overcrowded with protestors. And then at some point, early this morning, an officer called his name. He tried to ask if I could come too, but they said it was only him, so I told him to go and… he left!” 

Mako’s fingers are splayed on the counter, tensed against the hard metal surface. I can tell he’s trying to keep it down but the frustration and exhaustion is leaking out. By the time he’s done speaking, several people nearby are turning to look at us. The clerk looks near tears. 

I put a hand on his shoulder. 

“Okay, it’s okay. We’ll keep looking. Maybe we can talk to some of the officers who were here last night.” I lead Mako away from the counter. He puts his face in his hands and breathes slowly and loudly. As he tries to calm down, I notice another clerk excuse themselves from the desk and walk over to us. 

“You’re the Avatar, right?” she asks. 

“Umm, yeah, Korra,” I say. I’m a little distracted by Mako — I’m worried he’s going to have a panic attack and let’s just say it’s not advisable to be super close to a firebender having a panic attack.

“Meriwa,” she says. The Water Tribe name grabs my attention. Sure enough she’s got blue eyes — and though her hair is pulled back in a severe bun like everyone else in the station, she’s got two thin loops of hair from her temples into the back, fashioned with a pair of blue beads. 

“Nice to meet you,” I say, and shake her hand. “Northern Tribe?” 

“Spent a little time in both before making my way here. Look,” Meriwa glances around. “I heard about what you did last night — never thought I’d live to see the day a bender, let alone an Avatar would stand up for regular folks.” 

I square my shoulders a little. “The Avatar is supposed to be here for everyone,” I say. 

Meriwa nods slowly. “Well, Avatar-for-everyone, some of your fellow benders don’t feel that way.” 

Mako’s panic attack has been fully distracted by this unforeseen conversation. We exchange a look. 

Meriwa makes a frustrated noise in the back of her throat. She beckons us even farther away from the crowd milling about. 

“I could lose my job over this but — you’re looking for your friend, right? Name of Bolin?” 

“Yes,” Mako says immediately. “My brother.” 

“The reason he’s not on the books is because someone high up didn’t want a paper trail,” she says in an undertone. 

“Who?” 

“I don’t know who it was, didn’t recognize him. A man. Young guy — probably your age.” She gives me a significant look. “Whoever he was, he used Councilman Tarrlok’s seal to get your friend and to convince the booker to erase his entries.” 

“Tarrlok?” I ask. “Are you sure?” 

Meriwa nods. “I didn’t see the letter myself, but it was my friend who pulled your brother out and erased the record. I told him, ‘whatever the benders want, it’s better to just stay out of it.’” 

“We have to go see Tarrlok. Now,” Mako says, making for the door. 

“Thank you, Meriwa,” I say, grasping her hand. “If you ever, uhh, need an Avatar, I’m there.” She bows her head and I take off after Mako. 

We sprint around the building and across the plaza. There’s still a ton of police, a bunch of reporters, and a few crews trying to clean up the damage from last night. The security at the door to City Hall aren’t psyched to see an angry young man charging at them. I see them reach for their wires. Cameras start to flash, ready for the next big story.

“Stop! Stop!” I yell waving my hands. “I’m Avatar Korra! We’re here to see Councilman Tarrlok!” 

They don’t seem convinced by that at all. I put on a burst of speed and yank Mako by the back of his jacket. A little out of breath, I explain as calmly as I can that we’re looking for a friend who went missing in the riots. I make it sound more like we’re here to ask for the great Councilman Tarrlok’s help, rather than here to interrogate that son of a bitch. And maybe I imply that the police officer that sent us over here was Chief Beifong. It’s not my fault that they don’t ask any follow up questions!

Instead we’re admitted into the building and I lead the way to the council chamber. For all the people outside, City Hall is deserted. The grand Avatar Aang Council Chamber contains only the five councilpeople. Tenzin rises to his feet as we crash through the door. 

“Korra! What’s wrong?” 

“We need to speak to Councilman Tarrlok,” Mako says tightly. 

The other members of the council exchange a glance. I’m guessing it’s not customary for councilpeople to be whisked away by sweaty, dog-tired teenagers during a city-wide crisis. Oh well, gotta roll with the punches, I always say. 

“Councilman Tarrlok,” I say. “We need to talk to you. In private.” 

Tarrlok narrows his blue eyes. “I’m a little busy. There was massive civil unrest last night that threatened this very building.” 

If that’s supposed to scare me, that’s laughable. My middle name is Massive Civil Unrest. 

“Fine,” I say, shrugging. The info I have doesn’t incriminate me. “We just want to know why someone used your seal to release Bolin from jail last night — and why they asked the clerks to erase the records.” 

Tarrlok rises to his feet. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” 

“Where is my brother?!” Mako screams. His voice —high, broken, scared — echoes around the empty room. 

“I have no idea. I have been in this building since three this morning.” Tarrlok gestures towards Councilwoman Ichika. 

“It’s true,” she says, uncertain about why she’s been called to supply an alibi in defense of a councilperson. “Tarrlok, Remi, and I have been here all night.” 

“Korra, why do you think Councilman Tarrlok knows where Bolin is?” Tenzin asks.

“It wasn’t him,” I say. “It was someone using his seal. A letter or something. It’s someone who has access to your office. Whoever it is, they have Bolin!” 

Tenzin turns to Tarrlok. 

“I can’t say I appreciate the implication here,” Tarrlok says, clasping his hands in front of his chest. “Everyone in my office is—” 

A whoosh and a wave of heat interrupt Tarrlok. “I don’t have time for your political bullshit!” Mako yells, breathing hard. “We need to find my brother. Now.” 

Tenzin strides across the room as the other members of the council respond in outrage. 

“Mako, please calm down,” Tenzin says in a low voice. “We will find Bolin, but you won’t be able to help if you can’t control yourself.” 

A muscle in Mako’s jaw jumps and for a moment I think he’s gonna blast Tenzin. But he nods curtly and turns towards the wall. 

“Please, Tarrlok,” I say, summoning all of my patience. “We aren’t accusing you or anyone in your staff — but this is our only lead. It’s been hours since Bolin disappeared. Please. We need your help.” 

Tarrlok doesn’t mind being begged. He rolls his shoulders and looks back at the council. “Maybe it’s time we took a breather, anyways. Everyone should get some sleep. This crisis isn’t going anywhere.” 

The other members of the council disperse as Tarrlok, Tenzin, Mako, and I walk up the council offices upstairs. Tarrlok unlocks his door and strides into the ornate office. There is a stately, carved wooden desk against a wall of waterfalls. One wall is dominated by large windows, while the other is covered in a large piece that I recognize as a frieze of the gates of the Northern Water Tribe. From the frown on his face, it seems something is amiss. 

“What?” Mako asks. 

Tarrlok sighs, pointing to his desk. Sure enough, there is a blue stick of sealing wax and Tarrlok’s metal stamp. 

“We need to get security. Find out who came in and out of this building last night. Look for any signs of a break in. Everyone with a key needs to come in. I’ll call my staff specifically.” 

“They said it was a young guy,” Mako says, stepping over to Tarrlok. “A man. Our age.” 

Tarrlok thinks it over. “There are hundreds of junior staffers who work in this building.” He massages a temple. “But we’ll find out who it was.” 

I squeeze Mako’s shoulder. This sounds like an overwhelming task, but at least we have something to do. And it seems like Tarrlok is done being unhelpful. 

From somewhere outside the office comes a soft ringing noise. 

“I think that’s my phone,” Tarrlok says, excusing himself from the room. 

Tarrlok gets on his own phone and starts the process of rounding up staffers. Mako sinks down on the couch and closes his eyes. I want to join him, but I worry that if I sit at all, I’ll collapse. Even standing, my mind is foggy and thoughts wander without direction. I’m called out of it by Tarrlok’s voice cutting off abruptly. 

“I’ll call you right back,” he mutters into the receiver. “Tenzin?” 

At the door, Tenzin stands on the threshold. I’ve never seen his face so somber. Mako rises to his feet. 

“That was Pema,” he says. He looks at Mako. “Bolin is on the island. Asami brought him back about a half hour ago.” 

Mako makes to leave, but Tenzin catches his shoulder. “There’s something you should know.” 

My stomach drops. There’s only one thing that could make Tenzin look like that, but my tired brain refuses to acknowledge it. Mako seems to shrink. 

“No…” he breathes. 

“He’s safe but,” Tenzin’s mustache twitches, “but his bending is gone.” 

Mako shakes off Tenzin’s hand and sprints out of the room. There is a heaviness left behind him. 

“You should go with him,” Tenzin tells me. 

“We’ll find out who released him from jail,” Tarrlok promises. 

It takes me a minute. I can’t face this. I can’t follow Mako. Because then we’ll go back to Air Temple Island. And then we’ll have to see Bolin. We’ll have to look in his eyes. We’ll have to hear his story. And after that we’ll have to live the rest of our lives and Bolin won’t be able to bend as much as a pebble. I just can’t accept that right now. 

“Korra,” Tenzin’s voice is gentle. “Sometimes the Avatar’s hardest job is to be a friend.” 

I swipe at my eyes and steel myself. 

xxx 

There is no ferry when we get to the wharf, so I waterbend Mako and myself across the harbor. I’ve never done that swim carrying someone else and it wipes me out. I tell Mako to go ahead of me and I lay back on the rocky shore, trying to catch my breath, and trying to find the will to walk up the steps. 

The sun shifts in the sky before I can do it. I find them in a sitting room on the first floor. Pema, Mako, Finn, and Asami are huddled around a couch. Bolin sits with a blanket around his shoulders, a cup of tea clutched in his hands. Mako sits next to him, head in his hands, shoulders shaking. Bolin stares into the fireplace; he doesn’t seem to notice my entrance. 

“Bolin…” I kneel down next to him. 

“Hey Korra.” His voice sounds like crushed gravel. 

I wrap my arms around him. He barely responds. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I keep repeating it over and over. 

“I have something for you,” he says eventually, breaking away. He rolls up a sleeve. On the inside of his forearm someone has taken the time to carefully ink the symbols for earth, fire, air, and water. The attention to detail is incredible; it looks like the work of a master calligrapher. The artistry only makes the other marks more striking. In a thick black marker, someone has crossed out the earth symbol — and circled fire.

I turn to Mako. He’s looking on with dead eyes. 

Suddenly it’s all too much. I push myself to my feet. 

“I’m sorry,” I say again, and bolt from the room. I try to sprint to the top of the bell tower, but my body is absolutely tapped. I take the last few flights, gasping and sobbing. I fall to my knees on the final landing; grief overtakes me before I can make it up the final steps. 

I don’t know how much time passes. The sun is nearly set, throwing shadows over the temple. My crying has long since petered out into pathetic sniffles. When I hear footsteps growing louder in the stairs, I know who it is, before they put a blanket over me, before they wrap an arm around me, before their familiar smell fills my nostrils, before she says my name. 

My tears come back, and I soak the front of Asami’s jacket. She strokes my hair. She doesn’t repeat “sorry” over and over. She doesn’t try to tell me everything is going to be okay. She just hugs me tight. 

Eventually, I’m able to control myself. I remember that it can’t be the most pleasant feeling to have my head pressed into her chest. 

“How’d you find him?” I ask. 

“I didn’t,” she says. Her eyes are red and her voice is clogged like mine. “He came to my apartment. They dropped him on my block, I don’t know if it was purposeful or just… a coincidence.” 

“This is so unfair! This is for me. He wants me — why doesn’t he just come for me?? Why drag it out like this? It’s sick.” 

“He’s not going to get away with it,” she says fiercely. 

“But he did. Bolin…” my voice breaks. I notice tears spilling from Asami’s eyes too. I take her hand. “Are you…” Spirits, I don’t know why I’m determined to break my heart more completely, but I have to know. I have to know if there’s even a spark of light at the bottom of this dark hole. “Are you staying?”

Asami squeezes my hand, and my life seems to hang in the balance as she bites her lips. “Yes.” More tears push out of my face, but a short chuckle does as well. I lean heavily on her shoulder. 

“You need to sleep.” 

I nod. Even now my eyelids are hard to fight. 

“Come on.” She helps me to my feet and walks hand-in-hand with me to my room. I collapse face first onto my bed. I nearly fall asleep on the way down — but I notice that Asami isn’t joining me. 

“I thought you were staying.” I can hear the dependence in my voice but I don’t care. It’s there. She should know. 

Asami kneels down and takes my face in her hands. I can’t say my tired lips do an excellent job kissing her back, but more so revel in the feeling of that well-known pressure and softness. “There’s something I have to do,” she whispers, and kisses me again. “But I’ll come back.”

“Promise?” 

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

Asami

The problem with secret militant organizations is that they keep strange hours. Even though it’s the middle of the night and not a soul should be awake, let alone working, it’s entirely possible that a battalion is training in the secret underground tunnels that I’m heading towards. 

I slip down an alley and steal towards the heavy warehouse door. It looks like all the others in this industrial section of town; but instead of opening into a storage facility or garage, it secures a steeply slanted floor, leading to a twisting maze underneath the city. 

The tunnel network is a patchwork of old mining shafts, abandoned sewage lines, and natural rock formations. In the modern city above, it’s mostly been forgotten. For a covert organization planning a coup, it was a gift. 

I unlock the side door and listen intently — but there’s only silence. Gulping, I take one last look at the sky and try not to wonder if I’m ever going to see it again. The stars wink back at me and the thin crescent moon looks sharp enough to decapitate a revolution. 

In the tunnels, every footstep sounds like a hammer-fall. Every breath feels like a gale-force breeze signaling my location to hordes of masked soldiers lying in wait. The fact that I don’t hear or see a single soul does nothing to ease the tension in my chest. 

I wish Korra was here

But this is something I have to do myself. I made damn sure of that, didn’t I? As I walk, my mind flashes through the myriad of moments in which Korra and I have been alone, all of them perfect opportunities to tell her the truth. But I selfishly decided that no, those moments would be reserved for getting my dick wet and lying. 

Ugh, ‘getting my dick wet.’ That’s some foul expression Korra would say

I walk a little faster. I’m forcing myself to walk in the middle of the tunnel like I have every right to be here (which technically, I do). If anyone does cross my path, I think confidence is going to be a lot less suspicious than clinging to the shadows. But my traitorous little heart is beating like a scared hedgehog-rabbit. 

I’m more scared of what comes next. If I’m successful here — and I have every reason to believe I will be — I am officially, and irreversibly switching sides. No more meek, ignoring my problems, pretending that sharing a bed with the Avatar means I’m reformed. Nope, I’m gonna turn in my resignation and then I have to come clean to my friends. 

My rabbit heart disagrees. What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her

No. My father taught me to lie and hide and manipulate by using me as his ultimate test subject. I’m not doing that to Korra. Korra, who wears her heart on her sleeves. Actually, scratch that, Korra doesn’t wear sleeves. Korra broadcasts her heart on several megawatt billboards. And she doesn’t hide how she feels about me. 

I can still feel her pressing her face into my stomach, asking me to go on a “date or something.” We are going to go on a date, I insist to myself. It might take some time for Korra to forgive me — but I think blowing up an Equalist factory is going to be just the type of love letter Avatar Korra will appreciate. 

I snort quietly in the empty tunnel. Here I am, on the verge of attacking a powerful, violent organization, and I’m smiling in the dark, thinking about that sweet little dork. Absolutely ridiculous.

The factory is vacant when I arrive. Now, I think it’s time for some secrecy and skullduggery. Even the head engineer can’t come to the heart of the operation in the middle of the night without raising a few questions — especially when said head engineer was publicly disciplined for disobedience. The burn on my chest flares. 

I pull a flashlight from my bag and make my way across the room. The taser gauntlets were my brainchild, and now they’re my target. I want to race over to the carts that store the gloves and start lighting shit on fire. But even if Korra’s crude speech patterns have wormed their way into my brain, her tactics haven’t. 

Instead, I go to the corner where the schematics are stored in a locked, steel cabinet. As much as Amon would like to be the only keeper of this particular key, his organization is large enough that he’s forced to delegate. I pull the key out of my pocket, open the safe and look for the right blueprints. 

Taser gauntlet, v.1.3, A. Sato. I pull the tube out of the locker and then pull an identical one from my bag. The tag reads: Taser gauntlet, v.1.3, A. Sato. I swallow hard and shove it into the cabinet and lock the door. I’d like to erase my name from this whole miserable venture — but I can’t. That would ruin my plan, and not to be overly boastful, but my plan is brilliant. The gauntlets are a tricky little bit of technology. A few crossed wires and the whole thing shorts out. I’m counting on the manufacturers not to notice the small changes I’ve made. Of course, I’m not saying everyone else is a brainless dolt who can’t reverse engineer my purposeful mistakes, but it will take at least a day or two for them to realize that there are mistakes. And by that point Chief Beifong’s little metalbenders will have made themselves useful for the first time in a long time. 

The schematics safety screwed with, I make my way over to the physical gauntlets. Hundreds of gloves sit nestled into their charging carts like so many grasping hands. In the jumping beam of my flashlight, they seem to reach for me, my own creation here to strangle me before I can kill it. 

The best way to disable the gloves would be to pry off the specially made copper conducting plates in the palms and tear out the rubber insulation beneath. But that would take a team of ten all day — and I only have a few hours until a goon in Amon’s ranks comes here to disconnect the carts from the power supply. The gauntlets have a small window between charged and overheated. Some poor slob has been selected to hook them up at midnight and disconnect them before the sun rises. Whoever that individual is is one missed alarm away from crippling Amon’s fighting forces. 

I start by turning off all the circuits in the room besides the wall the gauntlets are plugged into. Then I pry the panel off the wall and start diverting the power into those circuits. I have a slim margin of error between overloading the gauntlets and shutting off power for a twenty block radius — which is exactly the kind of puzzle I love. I get everything set up and click the switches back to the on position one at a time. The low hum of the charging carts grows into a dull grind. It’s a sweet, sweet sound. These gauntlets will be toasted in a half hour. 

Which leaves me with my last task. 

Against the far wall five shadowy behemoths stand like dormant gods of destruction. I hate the mecha-tanks. They were a design of my father’s — but even he knew they were impractical. It was more a thought experiment that uninformed parties (looking at you, Noa) thought would be a good addition to the Equalist forces. But they’re slow, they’re top heavy, they constrict the operator to a narrow field of view, and they’re expensive as hell to produce. 

For the mecha-tanks, an elegant technological extermination will not be necessary. I climb in the first one and screw off the control panel. I take a small vial out of my backpack and gently wedge it between the gears, then screw the panel back on. As soon as an Equalist turns on the ignition in the mecha-tank, the bottle of hydrochloric acid will shatter and the tank will quickly become a giant, useless platinum statue. 

I’m repeating the process in the fourth tank, savoring the sweet, sweet smell of burning wires filling the factory, when things start to go wrong. 

I’m so immersed in my task, I don’t notice the echoing voices until they’re actually in the room — until they’re swearing at the panel of light switches that have failed to illuminate the factory floor. Quickly the intruders find the emergency lights. They’re hooked up to a separate generator that I didn’t bother disabling. Low red floods the room. Luckily I’m hidden in a mecha-tank. Unfortunately, I’m trapped in a mecha-tank.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Think. Think. Think.

But my mind is a blank slate of terror. This kind of ingenuity is not my forte. I can sit and plot for hours, honing the perfect idea with a notebook, a cup of tea, and maybe some quiet music! In the moment decision-making requires an impulsivity that I do not possess.

The Korra on my shoulder, however, is already eyeing an accelerator she doesn’t fully understand how to use.  

I am not totally committed to going on the offensive, but it’s the only idea I have, so I quietly remove the vial of acid and start screwing the cover back on. I listen hard to what’s happening outside the tank. 

Someone is shouting commands while a few others scramble to follow them. That’s got to be him. Who else is empowered to order everyone around like that? And yes, as I watch, the leader of the revolution steps in front of one of the emergency lights — illuminating his left side. In the hard red lighting, you could almost believe that half of his face was burned off. 

A surge of rage squirms up my esophagus.

How dare he make up a firebender attack? How dare he masquerade as the traumatized savior of the people half of the time and then waltz around the city, completely unburdened the other half? A scar isn’t something you get to choose. It isn’t a story you get to tell. It isn’t a mask you get to take off when it doesn’t suit you. 

Amon, Noa, Noatak — whatever the hell his name is, is a fraud. And his revolution is too. 

I want to release my inner Korra and squish him beneath the tires of the mecha-tank, but a growing roar coming from the tunnels tells me to stay put. A squadron of Equalists on motorcycles pulls into the factory. That’s it, that’s my escape. If I can get to one of the motorcycles, I’m confident that I can out-race any of these guys and make it to the surface. 

Noa marshals all of his troops and gives them their directives. Most of the soldiers are instructed to fan out through the tunnel system and find anyone who isn’t supposed to be there. A pair of Equalists are given the task of searching this room. And then there’s only one left, a tall, slim man with a mustache and a pair of kali sticks slung over his back. Noa steps right into his face and says, “Go get me Asami Sato.” 

Howin frowns and doesn’t move. 

Noa grabs him by the collar. “Drag her kicking and screaming down here if you have to.” 

They glare at each other for a moment before Howin shrugs off his grip. I can’t hear what he says, but it looks a lot like, “yes, sir.” My heart breaks as he mounts his motorcycle and speeds away, towards my apartment. What will he do when he finds it empty? Will he return immediately? Will he search other places for me? I hope for the latter. Howin is the only one I’m not prepared to fight tonight. 

Noa and his two searchers stay behind. I keep losing sight of them in the shadows. I find Noa again when the crash of metal on stone comes from the side of the room where I disabled the circuits. He’s found that someone has tampered with the panel and thrown the metal sheeting to the floor. It must increase his suspicions that I’m involved. He looks at the mess of wires, but I know he has no idea how to begin repairing the damage. 

What do I do? The searchers are getting closer and closer to the mecha-tanks. Do I try to get out of the tank and sneak through the dark to the motorcycles? Or do I stay here until the last possible second and power my way across the room? I’m personally a fan of the sneaky option, but at the moment the protective shell of platinum feels very prudent. 

I’m too busy watching the two soldiers get closer and closer to my hiding place to notice Noa’s strange behavior. If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed him get to the floor and adopt the same meditative position Korra used to try to focus her energy and access the Avatar State. It’s the exact same pose she used to call some energy outside of her body to herself. And knowing what I know, I would have acted a lot sooner. 

But I wasn’t paying attention. 

“She’s here!” Noa yells, jumping up from the floor. His soldier looks around in confusion and finds him pointing directly at my mecha-tank. 

Well, I guess that decision has been made for me. I turn the screwdriver in the ignition and the tank roars to life. I’ve been so dismissive of these inventions that I barely know how to operate it. I can’t use any of the fancy grappling hooks or prehensile arms to go on the offensive. But I know enough to achieve my simple goal of go, go, go

The mecha-tank steamrolls across the factory floor, but the stupid thing is easily outpaced and I’m not exactly making my destination a secret. One of the soldiers beats me and puts his body in between me and my mode of escape. It’s a game of chicken. If I ram him, I’ll most likely ram the motorcycles and screw myself — and he’ll die. He stares me down. I don’t stop, I don’t slow down. At the last second, he jumps sideways and I hit the break. A little moan of relief escapes my lips but I don’t have time. My whole body shaking, I clamber out of the tank. 

I get two steps closer to the motorcycles when my legs stop working and I fall face first. I feel the wound on my chest reopen as I slide along the stone floor. 

“Tie her down!” Noa shouts, still halfway across the room. 

I roll over to face the soldier. My legs are still useless. I know I only have a second to say, “He’s a bloodbender!” 

The soldier halts in confusion. He glances back at Noa just in time to see Noa’s outstretched hand snap back to his side. His hold releases and I crawl towards the motorcycle. I’ve done it — I’ve given Noa an impossible choice. He can restrain me from afar, or he can keep his bloodbending secrets. 

I underestimated him. Noa snaps his fingers, the soldier gasps once and slumps to the ground like a sack of bricks. Then Noa turns to me, arms reaching out, fingers stretched taut and that terrible feeling creeps through my limbs again. I can’t move a muscle. It feels like my very ability to breathe is beyond my control. 

Then my body lifts off the ground. A scream that I can’t scream tries to tear out of my throat. My muscles shake and my vision narrows. I think I’ll pass out from the panic. 

“Shh,” Noa murmurs behind me. My body swings around slowly. “Don’t resist. Bloodbending is a delicate art. One wrong move and…” He gestures back towards his own soldier where I notice a trickle of blood dripping out of his ear. “Now, tell me what ill-advised rebellion you’ve done, and let’s correct the situation.” 

The vice loosens from my chest, allowing me to speak. I don’t say anything, just gasp in and out, in and out. My limbs shake as I continue to float in midair. “You can’t kill me,” I gasp. 

Noa cocks his head. “I don’t want to kill you. I’ve never wanted to hurt you. I value you, Asami. Now tell me what you did and let’s start putting this night behind us.” 

Does he really think I’m going to fall for that? I’m worth something until the moment I undo the damage I caused and not a second more. His own soldier is lying dead on the floor for hearing a secret they didn’t have time to totally comprehend. 

“I know everything,” I say in a rush. “You’re Amon. You’re Noatak. You’re a waterbender and bloodbender. That’s how you’re taking away bending. That’s why you never lose a fight.” 

“That’s actually more reasons for me to kill you,” he says evenly. “I think we were discussing reasons to keep you alive.” 

The effects of the bloodbending are starting to ache. My whole body fills with pins and needles. Every limb, every digit, every organ protests wildly to this unnatural sensation. He’s right. The longer this lasts, the more I resist, the more damage he’s going to do. 

“Yinhang!” I shout. 

His brow furrows. “A town in Yokoya?” 

“The bank.” 

“I’m failing to see the relevance.” 

“Let me go.” I can feel the effects of shock snaking through my body. My mind is trying to shut down, trying to shield me from this horror. 

“Talk and we’ll see.” 

I press my lips shut. It’s another game of chicken, but this time it’s my life on the line. After a moment, Noa sighs. With a swish of his wrist, he locks my entire body — eyes, mouth, chest, everything. Everything is still. My eyes can’t blink. My heart can’t beat. Then I fall to the floor, completely free, but unable to do a thing. Shudders wrack my frame as spikes of pain accompany the blood surging back into place. 

“Yinhang Bank is a secure facility for rich scumbags to hide their money,” Noa says. 

Being a rich scumbag kind of comes with the last name Sato. I’ve had my own account since I was six. And at midday today, I made another deposit — not money, but information. “Rich scumbags like to make sure their money stays hidden.” My throat is raspy, like I’m getting over a cold. “Even when they die.” Noa’s pacing stops. “They have very strict laws for what should happen in the case that an account holder dies — who the contents of their vault should go to. And I’ve haven’t had a chance to take my father’s name off my documents yet. If I die, everything goes to him. Which is a problem for you, because right now all of his things go to the police.”

Noa laughs coldly. “So what? You sent a messenger hawk with a little note that says I’m a big, bad bloodbender? No one is ever going to believe you. Bloodbenders can only operate under a full moon. And there is plenty of evidence that Amon operates on all days.” 

“Except for one.” 

His eyes flash dangerously and I know I’m right. 

It took me the better part of the morning to piece it together. I had every newspaper from the past two months spread out across my apartment. Scribbled notes were stuck to the walls. I even paid a librarian to open the closed library so I could find some books on bending. But it all would have been for nothing if not for a very lovely snuggle on the roof of an air temple. 

While Korra and I drank champagne and ate chocolate and swapped secrets, a dome of stars rotated above us. But even though we stayed out half the night, the moon never appeared to overshadow the stars. That night is something I’ll remember forever; it’s a date that stands out in mind. It’s a day that lined up with a small column written in the Sunday paper from weeks ago: The first day without a de-bending

The only day all month that Amon didn’t work through at least one bender was the new moon. 

“You are clever,” he whispers. “But not clever enough.” He tightens his bloodbent hold on me. My nerves scream in protest. “Why not save your little rebellion for tomorrow?” 

I asked myself the same question. The moon is just a sliver tonight. Tomorrow it will be gone. My scared little bunny brain wanted to stall and use that advantage for myself. But it’s going to be so much more useful for Korra, and I’m done being selfish when it comes to her. 

I am smart enough to keep that idea to myself, however. 

(And I was smart enough to drop a letter with a courier in the event that I’m not able to tell Korra this information myself.)

“I’m not scared of you.” Which is an incredible lie and not particularly convincing. 

Noa smiles again. “You’ve got a neat little insurance plan, I’ll give you that. But what you have failed to consider is that all you protected is your life — and I don’t need to kill you.” He leans over me and grabs my jaw. The low red lighting erases the blue from his eyes; they’ve become two black pits. “I can keep you alive for as long as I need to get those documents back. I could walk you into that bank and have you sign them out yourself.” 

Blank terror floods my mind. A bloodbent puppet. Unable to move of my own volition for days at a time. I don’t think, I just act — I try to physically remove myself from that idea. I leap to my feet and make for the motorcycles. I have no plan. I have no ideas. The terror that crashes over me feels like fire — and I’ve never been able to overcome fire either. 

I only get a few feet when a horrible yanking sensation drags me back. It’s like a fishing hook in every vein. I want to scream. I could throw up. But my body isn’t mine anymore. 

“Please stop trying to get away,” Noa sighs. “It’s never going to work.” He pulls his hands inwards and my body follows, eerily drifting through the air. His fingers twist and my knees bend, setting me on the floor in front of him. He leaves me there like a supplicated statue as he crosses the dark room and pops a gauntlet off the rack. I quickly do the math — has enough time passed that they’re been rendered useless?

As he strides back to me, he flicks his pointer finger upwards and my arm raises, fingers splayed. He leans down and forces the gauntlet down on my hand. “Here’s the thing, Asami. The fact that you would like nothing more than to use this little shocker on me, doesn’t concern me. I can put a weapon in your hand, stand inches away from you, and be completely safe.” Noa twists his wrist and my hand closes, powering up the gauntlet. Electricity dances over the conductive plate, accompanied by a slight burning smell. Inside the glove, the temperature rises quickly, too quickly. It’s almost fried. I just need to keep him talking. 

“The sooner you understand that your every move belongs to me, the better. You are mine.” 

For the first time all night an emotion other than fear takes over. White hot rage glows inside me; I am not his. I refuse. 

“You’re a monster,” I spit. 

Noa whirls around, red fury on his face. “I know!” His words echo through the empty chamber. “I never wanted to be this!” he shouts. “My father perverted the powers I was born with because he was robbed of his own. He forced me to learn and made me practice until I could do it every night the moon was out.” Noa sucks in a deep breath and smooths down his hair. “I know this hurts.” He waves his arm and I slump forward, the vice on my muscles gone. 

“I’m not like my father,” he says. “I get no joy from controlling others. But my father is the one who made me realize that this too could be a gift.” 

I breathe deeply, trying to get oxygen back into my system and track his movements. He’s unraveling, falling farther and farther into the past. I recognize the feeling — I recognize the freedom that comes after you’ve held a secret tight for years and years. 

“My father gave me the power to get rid of him forever. I used his savage bloodbending art to make sure he could never hurt Tar—anyone, ever again.” 

I shiver. 

“That’s when my quest began. The spirits gave me a purpose in the world. My eyes were opened to the unjust privileges I had lived with all my life. I began to understand that bending was the ultimate injustice: a system of oppression. And I vowed that no one else would suffer because of it.” 

He looks at me and shakes a finger at whatever emotion he sees there. “You think I’m a hypocrite, but I’m not. I’m a martyr. Here’s what you have to understand — I am different from every other revolutionary that has ever lived in this world because I don’t give a damn about my legacy. The truth will come out eventually, I’m not foolish enough to think it won’t. There are smart people like you across the world who will figure it out. But I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m remembered as the last corrupt bender in the world — as long as I’m the last. I’ll rid the world of benders, then when I die, childless, at the end of my life, I’ll die happy knowing I’m the last bender this world will ever see.” 

“You really think that your supporters are going to stay with you when they find out what you are? That you’re the very thing they hate??” 

Noa shrugs. “Once I have enough power, it won’t matter what I am. It’s very rare that people have beliefs as firm as my own. Most people just want to attach themselves to power, and they don’t care how they get it.”

Noa leans down so we’re at eye level. I flinch away. “But not you,” he murmurs. “You and I are alike.” 

“I’m nothing like you.” 

“Aren’t you though? We both believe in equality above all else. We both disposed of our fathers when they blocked our paths. We both know how to nudge people towards our goals. We both stood in front of the Avatar, lied to her face, and she had no idea.” 

He’s insane. He’s a maniac. But he’s right. I am like him. I do know how to manipulate people. I do know how to use my darkest gifts to get what I want. 

“Come on, Asami, this doesn’t have to be the end of our partnership. We can still build a new world together. I believe in us.” 

He reaches down, extending a hand of brotherhood. 

I take it. 

And then Noa screams, his body propelled backwards. That’s the problem with us egomaniacs. Sometimes we become so blinded by our own ambitions, we don’t notice that the girl on the floor fell in love with the enemy and changed her mind. Sometimes we become so convinced of our own exceptionalism that we give away the tools to our own destruction, convinced they will never be turned back on us. Amon and I are alike. We know how to use our darkest gifts to get what we want. 

I take off the last usable taser gauntlet, the battery now spent, and throw it at Noa — Amon — Noatak’s prone body. He doesn’t move. As I make my escape, I hurl a vial of acid at the mecha-tank’s feet, hoping something important melts. Then I jump on the waiting motorcycle and skid into the tunnels. I’m laying flat over the handlebars, coaxing it to a dangerous speed for the dark twists and turns. Off on side tunnels I see and hear evidence of other Equalists, but I manage to avoid them all. I can see light up ahead, showing me the way out. I’m almost there. 

I break out into the night just as another motorcycle approaches the alleyway entrance. It’s a solitary figure returning from his errand. I pull hard to the left and screech to a stop inches from a brick wall. Howin idles in my path. 

“What did you do?” he asks, barely audible across the space and the sounds of two engines. He doesn’t ask, ‘Why are you here? ’ He doesn’t ask, ‘What’s going on? ’ He doesn’t say, ‘Noa wanted me to check on you, do you have any idea why?

No, he asks, ‘What did you do?’

I wheel my motorcycle back so that we’re set up for a head-on collision, thirty feet apart. 

“What’s Amon’s real name?” I ask him. 

Howin’s glasses catch the dim light in two tiny green crescents. I wish he would take those stupid goggles off and show me how he really feels. Show me his anger. Show me the guilt. 

“He never got attacked by a firebender,” I continue. “He doesn’t have some hideous scar that he’s forced to cover. It’s all just a lie on top of a lie on top of a lie.” 

“And what about you?” Howin rolls closer. “How many lies have you piled up?” 

I grimace. He’s not wrong. But I’m tearing the tower down tonight. For everyone. 

I’m tempted to close the distance between us. I want to look in my friend’s eyes, I want to hold his hand, I want to see his reaction to what I am about to say. But the closer we get, the narrower my escape window becomes — and I am surviving this night. I promised. I grip the clutch.

“Do you know all the lies?” I ask. “Did he tell you everything?” 

“Yes.” 

That solitary word contains absolute conviction. Howin believes his master has told him everything. 

“So you’re okay with it?” 

“Grow up, Asami, it’s politics. The backstory is for the movement. The mask is for safety. Everyone lies. But at the end of the day, Amon will make a better leader for this city than a council of benders and you know it.” 

“He’s a waterbender. Amon, Noa, Noatak — whatever he makes you call him; this whole time, taking bending away was a bloodbending trick, not a gift from the spirits.”

“You’re wrong.” 

I point into the sky, into the sliver of moon left to us. “Ask him to take someone’s bending tomorrow, when there’s no moon. All you’re going to get is more lies.” 

Howin charges. I’m ready for it. I aim to the right and when Howin adjusts, I kick out hard with my left leg, nearly shattering my knee joint and spin to the right. My shoulder nearly scrapes the wall but then I’m out of the alley, flying through the deserted street. 

I peel off down the street and out into the empty city. The sky is just beginning to turn from black to dark blue; the stars are beginning to fade. There should be early morning vendors readying their shops, and newspaper trucks trundling along. But there’s nothing. Tarrlok’s bill and the ensuing chaos has ground the busiest city in the world to a standstill. The only thing awake now is resentment. 

The buildings blur as I ride past. My mind is on autopilot. I’m not trying to outthink or out-maneuver the dark cloud coming for me; I’m just trying to outrun it. There’s only one thing left in my wrung out mind: a destination. 

Korra, I have to tell you something. That’s as far as I get in our hypothetical conversation before my brain starts to spiral. I can’t imagine past those words, onto the other words I’ll need to say and the feelings she’ll have about them. It’s going to be hard. Really hard. But I have to do it. 

I arrive at the docks ten minutes before the earliest ferry is about to leave. I dump the motorcycle on the curb and pace back and forth, imagining enemies over my shoulder the whole time. When the horn finally sounds, I race onto the bottom deck and grab a seat right next to the door. For the second time in my life, I wish for the ability to waterbend: anything to speed this boat along. 

When we arrive, I leap onto the dock before we’ve even moored and tear up the temple steps. The sun is just beginning to touch the island. I pound up the dormitory stairs and go one door past my old room. It’s ajar. I push it open to find Korra’s unmade bed is empty. 

My heart squeezes into a ball, unable to comprehend what I’m seeing and the consequences of it — until I remember that it’s Wednesday. Wednesdays and Saturdays Korra would bitch and moan the whole night about not being able to cuddle in the morning because of Tenzin’s new “morning meditation” practices. 

I laugh in relief and run back down the stairs to a meditation chamber on the first floor. I burst in  with a clamor, startling not only Korra, but Tenzin and Ikki out of their peaceful poses. (I don’t know how Meelo and Jinora got out of this one, but I’m fine with the smaller audience.) Korra jumps to her feet, questions flying past her lips. I’m sure I look a wreck — aside from the light cardio, I was just fighting for my life. But I can’t address any of that. I raise a hand and she shuts up. 

Korra, I have to tell you something

And I do, I really do. But I need to make something abundantly and specifically clear first. 

“I was wondering…” I’m a little out of breath. “I was wondering if you still wanted to go on that date. Or something.” 

Tenzin’s eyebrows leap off his forehead while Ikki propels into the air, hooting and hollering. But I only have eyes for Korra. I only see her eyes widen and her crooked smile grow until it threatens to split her face. I only hear her. 

“Yes, absolutely.” 

“Great,” I respond, matching her smile with my own. “It’s going to be… unique.” 

“Yeah, I’d say that tracks.” 

Chapter Text

Korra

“You’re such a fucking genius,” I mumur into Asami’s hair, wrapping my arms around her from behind. She keeps working, pouring over the multitude of documents we have spread over the table, but it’s like I can feel her smile. Or maybe it’s just a reasonable guess, because I don’t think either of us have stopped smiling since she showed up this morning. 

Little Miss Perfect barreled into my morning meditation looking like she had been chased out of hell just to ask me on the most badass date of all time. Some people will bring you flowers; Asami Sato brought me an epic plan to bring Amon down. She’s a mastermind who put all the pieces together: “former” waterbender, someone who could use Tarrlok’s seal to get Bolin out of jail, abilities tied to the mooncycle — Amon is Noatak. Noatak is a bloodbender. And today we are going to have the most romantic, non-moonlit date of taking down a tyrant!

“Mako’s gonna be back with the tea in literally two seconds,” she says, not moving out of my embrace. 

“I don’t give a singular fuck,” I say and lick her earlobe. She giggles and nudges me with her shoulder. Sighing, I give up my prize. 

Although we are finally and officially dating (happy three hour anniversary!!), we have made the executive decision to save the announcement until after the sociopath threatening all of us is taken care of. (Tenzin and Ikki have been sworn to secrecy; I give Ikki a 50/50 chance of blowing the secret before nightfall.) 

Mako returns with the tea — and to my surprise, Bolin. My giddiness drops. Bolin has a blanket wrapped around him. His skin is a greenish, waxy color, like someone getting over the flu. And he looks skinnier, as if Amon took the physical portion of his body where he kept his bending. 

“Hi Bolin,” Asami says quietly. 

Bolin’s lips twitch in response. He originally said he didn’t see the point in trying to help us plan our big fight with Amon since he wouldn’t be able to help. I think it’s a good sign that he’s here, even if all he does is huddle in his blanket and drink his tea. 

“Where are we at?” Mako asks bracingly, clapping a hand on Bolin’s shoulder.

“We still have to figure out how to show everyone that he’s a waterbender,” Asami says, tying up her hair. She’s so pretty when she’s getting down to business. “Taking out Amon only removes one Equalist from the city — unless the rest of them see that their leader is a fraud.” 

“We have to get him in the water,” I say simply. “I’ll push him off a dock if I have to.” 

“So we have to lure him to the water,” Mako says, writing that down on our notes (as if we could possibly forget that important detail). “I don’t know, if Asami’s right and today’s the only day he doesn’t have his big bloodbending advantage, then he’s probably not going to be easy to find. He might just hole up.” 

“In that case, we’ll go find him,” Asami says briskly. “But Plan A should be something public.” 

Right now our plan is to get Amon to the wharf where the pro-bending stadium is. The United Republic Forces, arriving as we speak, will help block off the area. A few select reporters will shelter in nearby buildings in order to give a full account of Amon the Waterbender. The other witnesses will be Amon’s own supporters — the ones most likely to abandon him as soon as he demonstrates control over water. We need to show Republic City and the world that the man who has been stoking their hatred and violence has been lying to them. 

Asami has a Plan B in case he doesn’t want to come out of his little rabbithole. She’s right, we have to arrest him today. Otherwise, he gets back his bloodbending abilities for another month. That is too high a price to pay, for another month’s worth of Bolins to lose their bending. 

“BOLIN.” Everyone jumps at my shout, except for Bolin who barely turns his head towards me. My mind is moving quickly. “Bolin — Amon used bloodbending to block something inside that prevents you from earthbending,” I say. “So we can use bloodbending to undo it!”

Bolin’s eyebrows come together. “I thought bloodbending was illegal.” 

Yeah, yeah, it is — my past life and his wife made sure of that. I still remember when Katara, my own waterbending master and one of my favorite people in the world, told me about bloodbending. I was thirteen and pretty hyped on extended bending disciplines — lightning, metal, lava, blood. Katara set me straight on bloodbending. She bloodbent once to save her friends, and once out of anger — and both times weigh on her to this day. She told me to focus on bloodbending’s bright cousin, healing, and she made me swear to never attempt it myself. 

But I think we can bend the rules for this. 

“It wouldn’t be illegal if we just used it as a healing technique: undoing whatever damage Amon did.” I rush around the table and grab Asami’s arm and wave it at Mako and Bolin. “It’s like Asami’s arm, right? I healed it. That’s kind of like bloodbending if you think about it. But it has a good use, so it’s fine.” I flop Asami’s arm a few more times. “We wouldn’t make Asami live the rest of her life without her left hand if we had the ability to fix it, right?” 

Spirits, no, that would be horrible. Asami is pretty much ambidextrous, but favors her left for fine motor skills like writing, eating, and… well, let’s just say it would be a crying shame if Asami couldn’t use her left hand. 

And that’s when I realize I am touching Asami in front of Mako and Bolin and I’m trying to remember if that’s something I do in front of Mako and Bolin. I drop her limb and shuffle back out of her personal space. I can’t look at her, so I don’t notice that she is also determinedly not looking at me. 

“Okay!” she says, a little too loudly. “Everything’s in place. We just need to figure out how to lure Amon out.” 

“We know someone who could give him a call.” We all turn toward Bolin’s voice. “He’s Tarrlok’s brother, right?” 

“That’s genius, Bolin,” I say. 

“Okay, but how will people even know it’s Amon? Noatak just looks like some random guy,” Mako points out. 

“So we do the opposite,” says Asami, tapping her lip as she thinks (with her left hand). “We have Tarrlok tell him that everyone knows; that Noatak will be arrested on sight; we force him to wear his mask!” 

She’s so pretty when she’s smart. 

There is one tiny problem: “So our plan relies on Tarrlok?” 

“Who could very well be a dangerous bloodbender too,” Mako adds. 

“Then I guess today is the day to ask him about it,” Asami says, trying to sound brave. 

The four of us exchange a grim look. 

xxx

“Avatar Korra, and her afterschool club. Tenzin says you have a big plan?” 

Tarrlok doesn’t even get up from his desk to be dismissive as we enter his office. To give him whatever credit he’s due, he looks tired as hell. I wonder if he’s been in this office since the last time we were here. I try to take it as a good sign: he’s dedicated to helping the city. Even if his help is usually backwards and self-serving. Oh spirits, here we go.  

“We figured out Amon’s true identity.” 

Tarrlok’s pen stops. “Don’t keep me in suspense.” 

Just gotta rip off the elbow-leech. “It’s your brother. Noatak. He’s been using bloodbending to block his victim’s bending.” 

Tarrlok rises to his feet. “Wilder and wilder,” he says, shaking his head. “My brother is no longer a waterbender — let alone a… a bloodbender.” Tarrlok says the word with such disgust, I almost back down. It’s clear he hates the idea. Maybe we’re wrong. 

Asami, standing behind me, finds my hand and gives it the quickest squeeze. Tarrlok’s eyes follow the movement and narrow. I step slightly farther into the room. 

“It’s a lie,” I continue. “He pretended that he was one of Amon’s victims so that no one would ever suspect that they were the same person and he could keep his connection to you and the Council.” 

Tarrlok’s already shaking his head before I’ve finished. He moves over to the window and looks out at the plaza below. “I don’t have time for this. Bloodbending is only possible during a full moon. There is no way Amon’s powers derive from that… that perversion. And my brother is no bloodbender — I will not allow you to tarnish his name with these baseless suspicions!” 

“Is it only possible during a full moon, Councilman?” Bolin asks from the back of our party. 

Something in Bolin’s broken voice makes Tarrlok turn around. “Y-yes, bloodbending is tied to the moon, it’s very well documented. The Avatar’s own master, Katara—” 

“The only day last month without a bender attack was the new moon,” I interject. 

The pen in Tarrlok’s hand snaps. 

“Somehow, Noatak learned how to bloodbend without a full moon, though he can’t do it when the moon spirit is totally gone. And I think you know how he learned.” 

When Tarrlok turns around, my immediate reaction is to scan the room for defenses. There’s a water feature behind him. The art piece on the wall is carved from stone. And I’ve always got fire in the palm of my hand. I have no desire to fight the councilman (well, not today, maybe some other time), but the rage in his eyes suggests that violence might be our only course of action. 

“Are you accusing me of being a bloodbender?” 

No, actually, I hadn’t gotten to that part yet. 

“Me? A councilmember, a dedicated servant to the city. Bloodbending has been illegal for years! I’m the one who has been doing the most to try to stop Amon!” Spit flies from his lips as he talks. 

“Tarrlok, please.” I raise my hands. “We need your help. Today is a new moon. We would have to wait another month for this kind of opportunity. I know you want to stop Amon and our plan doesn’t work with you. I know you don’t condone bloodbending. Please, help us.” 

For a moment, he’s tense. He’s looking at me with such hatred, I think he’ll fight his way out of here and warn Noatak just to spite me. Then Tarrlok deflates. He sags backwards into his chair and covers his face with his hands. “It’s bloodbending,” he whispers. Tarrlok peers out at us. “Not some spiritual power. It’s just bloodbending.” 

I nod. 

“Noatak has a key to my office. That’s how he got the seal.” 

That pretty much cements it. 

“What’s your plan?” he asks. 

“We want to expose Amon for being a waterbender,” I say quickly, coming closer to his desk. “That way he’ll lose the support of his followers. The Equalist organization crumbles. We arrest him. Everything’s solved!” 

Tarrlok looks unimpressed. “So what do you need me for?” He looks like he'd much rather spend the rest of the night drowning his problems than have anything to do with our plan. 

“We want you to call him and tip him off,” I say. Tarrlok’s brow furrows. “Tell him that the police are looking for Noatak the waterbender; tell him that his only chance is to run.” 

“And then?” 

I smile and cross my arms. “The police got a tip this morning: the Equalists are utilizing an old tunnel system under the city. Right now the police and reinforcements from the United Forces are getting ready to block off all exits. He’s only going to have one place to run — and I’ll be waiting for him.” 

Tarrlok sighs and rubs his eyes. “Fine,” he says. 

“You’ll do it?” 

He nods. 

I step back to let Asami and Mako explain the finer details of the plan, but Asami doesn’t come farther into the office than the threshold. I try to ask her what’s up with my face, but she just shakes her head and remains on the periphery. 

Tarrlok agrees to everything Mako says. The ever-present stubbornness seems to have abandoned the councilman, leaving a shell behind. I never thought the day would come, but I feel sort of bad for him. 

“Where are you going to trap him?” Tarrlok asks. 

“The pro-bending stadium.” 

Tarrlok nods. “Poetic. Good luck, Avatar.” 

“Thank you, Councilman Tarrlok.” 

Asami, Mako, and Bolin lead the way out of the office. At the door I turn and bow, clasping my hands in front of my chest in the highest honorific I know. He beckons for me to come back in. 

“Two things,” he says in a low voice. “First is: bloodbending is a sick corruption of waterbending. Don’t you ever try it.” 

“Yeah, yeah, of course. Wait!” I realize that I’m planning a trip down to the South Pole to bring Bolin to Katara, but there is a bloodbender right here in Republic City who is on our side! “Tarrlok, what if — tomorrow obviously, with the moon and everything — what if you tried to undo the damage Amon did?” It rankles me to share the big moment with Councildouche Tarrlok of all people, but hell, if he can help, then I’m all about it. 

“No.” 

“What?” 

“I’m not a bloodbender.”

“But you are—” 

“Not if I never practice again. I made a vow, and I am not breaking it.”  

“But it would be for a good—” 

No.” 

Fine, whatever, to the South Pole it is. “There was a second thing?”

Tarrlok glances towards the door and speaks even quieter: “If I were you, I’d be asking myself who that anonymous tip came from. It has to be an Equalist who recently decided to change sides, don’t you think?” 

And just like that he’s back to being a total asshat. The only reason I don’t confront his continuing suspicions of my girlfriend (girlfriend!!) or yell at him for being stubborn about bloodbending is because he just found out his brother is literally a supervillain.

“Thank you for your advice,” I say tightly, and book it out of the room. 

xxx 

We meet Chief Beifong downtown. Lin and an incredibly handsome officer from the United Forces are leaning over a map in a makeshift war room in the back of a dry cleaners a few blocks from the stadium. I freeze when I realize I know that incredibly handsome soldier.

“Iroh!” 

Holy Roku, I haven’t seen Lord Zuko’s grandson in years — not since he was a gawky, pimple-faced teenager and I was a lovesick eight year old. If I thought he was totally cool back then this tall drink of water is something else. 

“Korra,” he grins and opens his arms to give me a hug before remembering that he is a military officer. He glances back at Lin who gives him a look that is halfway between “I’d rather you didn’t” and “I’m not your commander, what the hell do I care?” I introduce Iroh to Asami, Bolin, and Mako. 

“Glad you’re here, Avatar,” Beifong says gruffly. “We should get you in position sooner rather than later.” 

Beifong walks us through the plans for the night, pointing out where various units will be stationed throughout the city and explaining how the underground tunnel systems work. “Whoever gave us this intel certainly hates Amon,” she notes. 

“We’re going to force Amon’s forces out here,” says Iroh, pointing to a spot only a block away from the stadium. “We’ve already started closing some of the tunnels off, so right now they’re getting scared. At the pro-bending stadium, however, we’re hanging back, or making it look that way. But as soon as the Equalists show themselves, we’re going to have two teams ready to deploy.” 

“Great,” I say, cracking my knuckles. “What do you want me to do?” 

“Your job is Amon,” Beifong says. “We’re going to force him towards the stadium and the harbor. We want you waiting inside until he arrives to engage him into a waterbending duel. We already have a look out at the top of the stadium who will sound the bell when he shows up. Until then, your job is to stay put.” 

I frown. “But I can do more. Why not use me to bust some Equalist heads while we’re waiting?” 

Iroh shakes his head. “If your suspicions are correct, the most damaging thing you can do is reveal Amon for what he truly is. If we’ve set the stage correctly, the sight of their leader waterbending will break most of his soldiers’ resolve. We can’t risk losing that advantage; you need to stay safe until the opportune moment.” 

“Okay,” I say shrugging. “So we bunk up in the stadium and wait for a bell. Sounds easy enough.” 

Chief Beifong straightens up and crosses her arms. “It’s a good plan, Avatar.” 

I smile. I think I’m starting to grow on her. 

Beifong and I go over a few more details, she gives me a set of keys to the stadium and a bunch of tactical looking documents about the battle plans and tells me to spend my time reviewing them and planning a few different strategies for getting Amon into the water. 

When I return to my friends, Mako and Bolin are having some sort of hushed debate in the corner. Asami is standing in the middle of the room, talking to Iroh. As I approach I see Iroh smooth a hand through his hair and catch him ask: “... originally from the Fire Nation?” 

“Born and raised in Republic City,” I answer brightly for her. “Anyways, how old are you now, Iroh? Thirty-five? Forty?” 

His expression falls. “I’m only nine years older than you, you little dork.” He flicks my forehead.

“Ohhhh, that’s right. Okay, well, time for us to go.” 

Asami shoots me a look that tells me I have been neither subtle nor clever — and that she’s enamored with my substandard cockblocking abilities anyways. 

“What’s up with them?” I ask, using my chin to point towards the brothers. 

“Bolin doesn’t want to come tonight.” 

I sigh. “It’s up to him, but I’d feel a lot better with all of you guys close by.” 

“I’m not coming,” Asami says, like that was something we’d already established. 

“What? No, you have to come.” 

“I can’t bend; I’ll be useless to you. No… you and Mako should take this one.” She’s so adorable when she can barely choke out Mako’s name. I nudge her foot with my foot. 

“Umm, you’re the opposite of useless, remember? You came at me so hard, I had to break your arm to get you to stop.” She rolls her eyes. “Also you’re the smartest person I know so I would really like to have you by my side. Who else is going to explain all these fancy diagrams to me?” I lift the mess of papers in my arms.

Asami takes a hard look at my face, biting her lip. Then she nods the tiniest nod. “If you want me there, I’ll be there.” 

“I want you there.” 

Both of us grin and blush and look at the floor. 

Mako comes over to us. “I’m gonna take Bolin back to Air Temple Island — and then I’ll meet you at the stadium. We’ve got a few hours ‘til nightfall, so I should have plenty of time.” 

He makes his way outside to go grab a cab. Bolin hangs back a minute, watching Mako go — and then he turns to face us with a shit-eating grin on his face. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he told us he was missing the battle so he could join the circus. 

Bolin loops an arm around each of our shoulders. “Just promise me one thing, okay?” 

“What?” 

“Promise me, you two will enjoy the alone time I just scored you.” 

Across Bolin’s chest Asami and I share a wide-eyed look. Then Bolin drops his arms and doubles over laughing. He straightens up wiping an imaginary tear from his eye. “Your faces! Oh my… did you really think you were keeping some sort of huge secret??” 

We’re both silent.

Bolin wipes a tear from his eye. “You two have driven each other crazy since you first met. It wasn’t super difficult to notice when you went from bad, fighting, wanna murder each other, to goofy, flirting, wanna smooch each other’s faces off.” 

Asami turns pink to match the heat I feel on my cheeks. Suddenly I can’t look at either of them, so I just smile at my toes. 

“Does Mako know?” Asami asks tentatively. 

“Probably somewhere in that thick head of his he’s noticed that we haven’t seen the two of you after sundown in a month. But he’s a certified idiot, so who knows?”

“And you’re… you’re good with it?” I ask my toes. 

Bolin frowns. “Umm, let me think about it. My two best friends, the best people I know, making each other happy? Huh, that’s a tough one.” 

I exchange another glance with Asami and then we both tackle him in one of his own bone-crushing hugs. “Go!” he says. “You’ve got like three hours ‘til sunset and the whole world goes to shit.” Bolin’s face smooths into a more serious expression. “Time’s not worth wasting.” 

We hug him once more and then we break world records in order to get to the “alone time.” 

xxx 

We set up shop in the training gym on the fourth floor. It has a decent view over the plaza that leads to the stadium and plenty of space to stretch out the innumerable and superfluous maps Chief Beifong has supplied us with. Asami insists on going over battle plans while we wait. I insist on seeing how far up Asami’s leg I can slide my foot before she bats it away. 

“Seriously, Korra! This is important.” 

I don’t disagree. I too think my goals are very important. 

“Come on, we know all of this. Bell rings, I jump out, push him in the water, bing, bang, done!” 

“Okay, but what if…” Asami pulls a different diagram towards her. We’re on the floor, using some mats as backrests and earth discs as paperweights. 

“What if nothing.” I am getting so tempted to sneeze and “accidentally” set these papers on fire. But I know better than to firebend around my girlfriend. So instead, I crawl across the floor, crumpling the schematic under my knees and put my nose a millimeter away from her nose. 

“Hello,” she says. 

“Hi.” 

“You look like a komodo dragon-dog.” 

Woof woof!”

“You’re not gonna do any more work, are you?” 

I shake my head enthusiastically. 

“Okay, well maybe you should rest. I could keep a lookout and let you know if anything happens.” 

This silliness has gone on long enough. It’s time for the big guns: I tickle her. 

“No, no, no, Korra, Korra, no!” she gasps. I show no mercy. Her peals of laughter bounce off the walls in the gym. She manages to slide out of my grasp and backs away, holding her hands out between us. “I’m trying to help you!” 

“I can think of one way you could be particularly helpful.” 

“Oh really?” Her eyes track my tickling fingers. 

“Yes,” I say. “I’m very, very stressed. Under a lot of pressure at work. But you always know how to help me unwind after a long day, darling.” 

She rolls her eyes and I lunge forward — and she flips me. It happens so fast, I can barely follow her movements, but one second she’s there, ripe for a tickling, and then the next second she’s kneeling down, I’m on my back, and all the air has vacated my lungs. 

“Did… did you just flip me?” I ask the ceiling. Asami’s worried face appears above me. 

“I’m sorry! Are you hurt? I just — I really don’t like being tickled.”

“Then you’re going to hate this,” I say. I twist upwards to my feet, grab her around the waist, and hurl her into the pool that she so conveniently deposited me next to. 

Asami comes to the surface spluttering. “Fuck! ” 

I don’t know about anyone else, but pretty girls screaming “fuck” really does something to me. 

“It’s freezing!” she yells. “You are so going to pay for that.” 

“I hope so.” I cannonball into the pool. Miss Perfect was right — it’s a little chilly in here. I tread water at the surface and splay my fingers, concentrating hard. It’s a lot of water to heat up at once, but Asami is chilly, so I make it happen. When I’m done, there is steam rising into the gym, but Asami is sitting up on the edge. I kick over to her. 

“What’s wrong? I thought you liked swimming.” 

Asami presses her lips together and nods once, looking past me. 

“So…? Do you wanna swim?” 

Unconsciously her hand goes to her top and holds the fabric over her sternum tight. 

Spirits, I’m such an idiot. Of course there’s a reason Little Miss Perfect doesn’t want to get undressed and go for a sexy swim. I put my chin on her knee. 

“Will you let me heal it?” I ask softly. 

Her lips quiver as she looks down at me. She pushes my wet hair out of my face. Finally she nods. 

I pull myself out of the pool and set up an emergency healing station on the side of the room. It’s nothing fancy, just a few practice mats next to a sink in the corner. Asami wraps a towel around me as she comes over. 

I pat the mat. “Right here. Lay back.” 

Asami lies down and undoes the top buttons revealing the burn mark. The expression on my face must be something because she immediately says, “It’s really fine.” 

It really isn’t. Since that night at her apartment, I’ve seen it just about every time I’ve closed my eyes. But up close I can see every detail of the puckered skin and ragged edges. It seems like it was healing on it’s own and then got reopened recently. My stomach twists. I want to ask again how this happened, because, at this point, the truth might be better than the tortured places my mind goes to. I’ve collected my fair share of scrapes and bruises in my life, and I can’t explain how something like this would end up there

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” 

She nods, lying back fully to look at the ceiling. “I will. But not today.” 

I force myself to keep my obsessive questions to myself. She’ll tell me when she’s ready. Instead, I pull a strand of water from the basin and press it to her chest. Asami squeezes her eyes shut and clenches her jaw. Through the blue glow, I can see the skin knitting back together and smoothing over. I dispose of the healing water and scrutinize the wound. A knot of scar tissue has replaced the burn. Asami fingers the bumps and whirls. 

“I can keep trying,” I say. “I might be able to smooth out the scar, but… it’s been a few days.” 

I don’t want to look at her face, knowing that she’s probably going to have this scar for the rest of her life. If she’d just come to me when she first got it, I could have done something. I could have done a lot of things. 

Her finger prods my chin up so I’m forced to look into her eyes. 

“This is a pretty incredible ability, Korra.”

My chest vibrates when she says my name.

“I can do better.”

“You did great. You’re amazing.” And then her arms are around me and her lips are on my lips. 

She shivers a little when I pull her top the rest of the way off. “Oh, right,” I say. “Sorry.” I flick my arms out and all of the water in our clothes and hair and on our skin goes flying away. 

“That’s a neat trick,” she says, snuggling against me. “But it didn’t totally work.” 

I pull back. Impossible. My waterbending is impeccable… oh wait. I get it.  

“Can I say something?” I mumble against her lips as she works her hands under my shirt and lightly rakes her nails down my back. My spine arches. 

“I suppose,” she allows. 

“Fuck you for wearing this on battle day.” I rub my thumb along the red lace material of her bra.  

She giggles. “Always be prepared.” 

“So the whole very important planning session…” 

Asami grabs the front of my shirt and swivels her hips so she’s on top of me, straddling my torso. “Is going very well, Chief Beifong. The Avatar got her target into the water within minutes, healed a Republic City citizen, and then got her world absolutely rocked — several times in a row.” 

I suck in a gasp of air as Asami pops the fastenings on my top and attacks my collarbone. Her fingers slide to my chest and I get ready to smirk about the one thing she can’t do, when she finds the tucked in end and the whole thing slides off my body. Her arm leaves me for a moment as she pulls on the clasp of her own bra and I revel in the feeling of skin on skin, holding her body tightly to mine. I squeeze her ass with both hands pulling a breathy moan from her lips. As she shifts away from my mouth I duck down and take a breast in my mouth. She moans again and her fingers wrap around my head holding me in place, then breaks away and starts working her lips slowly down my body. She bites my neck, licks circles around my nipples, and blazes a trail of fire down my stomach. Asami pulls on the waistband of my leggings; I lift my ass so she can pull them down, and help speed up the process by kicking them off my ankles. Then she starts kissing back up my legs, taking her time, swirling her tongue along my inner thigh. I bite the inside of my cheek, anticipating. 

Two fingers slide easily inside me and my stomach muscles clench. I glance at her and find her emerald eyes boring into mine. I groan and crane my neck backwards. She pushes my thighs farther apart and then the incredible, hot feeling of her tongue presses inside me. I groan and dig my fingers into her hair, my hips bucking against her face. 

“I’m gonna come,” I whisper. Her fingers curl deep inside me while her tongue increases the pressure. Fireworks explode behind my tightly closed eyelids as my mouth stretches wide into a soundless scream. I roll over onto my side and pant while Asami kisses back up my body and nestles against my back. My head lolls back to look at her and find something new in her eyes. 

“You’re so beautiful,” she says, pushing a strand of hair across my forehead. 

I pull her to me so I can kiss her. “You’re not so bad yourself.” 

Asami presses her lips together in a hidden smile and shakes her head. “You’re… you’re so different from… what I thought when we first met.” 

I scrunch my face. She’s never going to let me live that night down, is she? 

“I don’t always make a great first impression.” 

Asami giggles. “I think you made the best first impression. Dorky, aggressive… honest, passionate.”

I laugh. “Yeah. Real passionate. Passionate about finding out where the most beautiful person I’d ever seen was hiding.” 

Her head pops up and I close my eyes because, yeah, that’s something I haven’t admitted yet. 

“What? You were looking for me on the balcony?” 

I nod, still mortified into muteness. “I told you what I thought when I first saw you.” 

“Deadly gorgeous.” 

Yup. Never going to open my eyes again. 

“I remember when you told me that…” Something in her tone opens my eyes. She’s shyly biting her lip. “In the bathroom at the Koi.” 

Okay, cool, so this is a grand tour of Korra’s most embarrassing moments. Awesome. 

“Ughhh,” I groan, pulling her arm over my face. “Why am I like this??” 

“I thought you were incredibly sexy.” 

I have to examine her face to make sure she’s serious, but yeah, she’s serious. She thought drunk, vomiting, disaster me was incredibly sexy. Okay. I can live with that. 

“I probably shouldn’t tell you…” Asami presses her forehead into my chest. 

“You know that means you have to tell me.” 

“That night I… had a dream about you.” 

I sit bolt upright, knocking Asami to the side. “Like a sexy dream?” 

She bursts into laughter. “Yes, Korra, a sexy dream.” 

“About me? You had a sex dream about me??” 

“Yeah?”

“We had sex in your dreams.”

“You know we’ve had sex in real life, right? Many times. Right now, for example.” 

I’m still reeling. I hold up a finger. “Shhhh. I need to preserve this moment so I remember it for the rest of my life.” 

“Oh spirits… okay, here’s the deal.” Asami pushes me roughly back down on the mat and crawls on top of me. With a light hand on my throat, she says, “We do not have time for whatever episode you’re having. So you can either stop being ridiculous and get on your knees, or I’m going to tie you down and make you watch me fuck myself.” 

If you could put a speaker in my brain at this exact moment all you would hear is the crashing of waves. This incredible goddess of a woman (who apparently dreams about me!!) has robbed all ability to think or act or do anything that is not following her explicit orders.

I  yank her to the edge of the stack of mats and get on my knees as directed, pulling her legs over my shoulders — but I can’t entirely stop being ridiculous. That wouldn’t be me. I get her to the brink: propped up on her elbows, head thrown back, thighs squeezing my head, gasping my name in increasing frequency — when I pull back abruptly. 

She blinks down at me. 

“What if this is one of your dreams?” I ask. 

Her eyes widen and a stunned smile crosses her face. With an exhausted chuckle she collapses backwards. “If this was my dream, you would not have stopped.” 

I grip her hip with one hand and push three fingers on my other hand inside her. I want to watch this. I want to see her twist beneath me. I want to look on as her eyes squeeze tighter and her mouth twists until the moment her whole body tenses and her eyes pop open, looking right back in mine. 

She pulls me down on top of her and grabs the sides of my face to kiss me, our legs tangling together. 

“I missed you,” Asami whispers. 

I nod and kiss her forehead. “Don’t leave again.” 

She snuggles against my neck. “Okay.” 

Over her head, I glance at the clock on the wall. We’re getting close to the time, but I can’t say I feel particularly scared. It’s hard to feel anything but happiness with Asami in my arms. We’ve got time for a quick power nap before the big show. I nuzzle closer, determined to fall asleep with the smell of Asami’s hair in my nose. I’m just sliding under when… 

CRASH.

Chapter Text

Asami

Korra goes running before I’m totally awake. She’s hopping into her leggings as she takes off down the hallway. I sit up looking around for my clothes and I can’t find anything, and when I do it takes me triple the time it normally does to remember how to put on a shirt. 

I follow the direction Korra went which leads me down the hall to the showers. My heart hammers in my throat. I can hear Korra’s voice, and a deeper voice responding to her. She doesn’t sound hurt or alarmed. Maybe it’s just Mako. I can’t imagine that Korra and Noatak are just having some peaceful conversation in the pro-bending areana showers. 

I step inside the room and see Korra standing opposite a large guy in a pair of shorts and a tank top with a towel slung over his shoulder. For one moment, I think I don’t know him. For one moment I think it’s just a random guy. For that one moment, I still think I have a girlfriend and a plan and some control over my life. 

Then I recognize him and it all goes away. 

I’m stuck like I’ve been frozen in ice, unable to do anything or say anything. I just watch his face as he recognizes me. I watch his expression form into shock and rage. 

“You fucking bitch.”  

“Hey!” Korra steps in between us, but the guy doesn’t seem to care. 

He keeps coming towards me, finger pointed at my face. “You owe me my fucking money.”

No. No, no, no, nonono

“Back off!” Korra warns. Two short flames burst from her fists. 

Firebending always has an effect, and the man stumbles to a stop. But the anger in his eyes doesn’t change. He growls, “You should choose your friends better, Avatar.” 

Oh fuck, please make this stop. But it’s like I’m outside myself, it’s like I’m bloodbent again, unable to do anything. Only allowed to watch as my world falls apart. 

“I’m happy with my friends, thanks. You should get out of here. It’s not going to be safe tonight.” 

The man laughs. Throws back his head and forces big, fake guffaws out of his mouth. “Nowhere is safe!” he exclaims. “‘Cause of her.” He points a finger at me. 

Tears are starting to grow in my eyes. I need him to stop talking. This is a car crash, played at half speed, so I can truly examine the moments when the metal starts to bend and the glass starts to shatter.

“I’ve been living in this stadium ever since she rigged the last match and got some psychopaths sicced on us. Those Equalist maniacs have been hunting us for weeks.” 

Standing in front of us, in the pro-bending stadium shower room, is Mr. Important, the referee from the tournament — the one who called me the Ferrets’ girl and told me to keep my secrets. The one who considered not taking my bribe to ensure the Fire Ferrets lost their final match. The man who, without knowing it, helped me prevent Korra, and Bolin, and Mako from losing their bending. I saved his life by going back to work for Amon, and now he’s materialized to take away mine. 

For the first time, Korra looks around at me. There’s confusion on her face. 

“What is he talking about?” she asks. She’s still standing in between me and Mr. Important, her arms splayed protectively. 

I shake my head mutely but there’s nothing to do to hide the tears running fast down my face or the way my whole body trembles. Korra’s arms drop to her side.

“Why does he think you rigged the last match?” she asks. 

“Because she stood in front of me and handed me a stack of bills,” says the ref. “I thought it was odd that the Ferrets’ girlfriend wanted them to lose but I guess… seeing what happened after the tournament…” 

Korra’s neck swivels back and forth between us like she can’t decide who to focus on. Eventually she stops on me. “Asami?” I know what she’s asking. She’s asking for any explanation that will let her tell this guy to fuck off. Any half-baked lie that will allow her to pretend that this isn’t happening, that this doesn’t make sense. 

But it does make sense. Korra always knew the refs for the final were paid off. She’s seen me carry around that kind of cash. She knows that the Wolf Bats took a horrible prize that would have otherwise been her’s. But Korra can’t accept those things, because to follow that line of reasoning would be to arrive at a devastating destination. 

A dozen lies spring into my mind. 

This guy is out of his mind. 

Yeah, I delivered some money but I didn’t know why. 

My father made me do it. 

What?? I was trying to make sure the Fire Ferrets won. He must have misheard me.  

But I can’t. I want to, but I can’t. Looking into the blue eyes I love, I can’t force the lies out of my mouth. 

“You rigged… you paid off the… it was you?” Korra blinks rapidly and runs a hand through her hair.

“And she still owes me the second half,” says Mr. Important. 

Korra turns to him. “You should leave,” she says in a low voice. 

“I’m not going anywhere until—” 

His voice is cut off by a swirling firestorm. A hellish blaze burns through the room, toasting all of us. I squeak in fear and Mr. Important changes his attitude quick. There’s nothing like a truly angry Avatar to flip someone’s perspective. 

“Leave. Now.” 

This time the ref follows Korra’s directions. He hightails it out of the room. The door slams behind him, leaving Korra and I alone. 

Korra’s anger burned out just as quickly as the flames. She turns to me, disoriented. “The refs called the game against us.” 

I nod. I can’t think. I want to sink into a little ball on the floor and cease to exist. 

“But— but—” Korra stammers. “You— if you— then you knew—” 

I nod again. 

“No!” she protests. 

All I can do is watch her suck in huge gulps of air and wander in a confused circle. 

“You knew what was going to happen to the winners.” Her voice sounds dead. 

I can’t breathe. 

“Why did you know what was going to happen to the winners.” There’s no inflection in her voice; I only realize she was expecting an answer when she slams the side of her fist into a nearby locker. I flinch. “Tell me.” 

“I… I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Korra.” 

Tears are beading at the corners of Korra’s eyes too. “ Tell me what the fuck you’re sorry for. ” 

I clench my nails into my own skin. “I was going to tell you tomorrow, after the—” 

“You were going to tell me what tomorrow?!” 

“I… I…” For sure she’ll interrupt me. If she doesn’t, the two of us will stand here until the end of time, because I don’t think there’s any way I can get the words out. 

“You were one of them.”

Again, I nod. 

Korra’s face smashes into a thousand pieces — and then she sets about smashing the room as well. She rips shower curtains from their rings, kicks over a basket of towels, and slams a locker so hard the metal dents. 

“I defended you!” she screams. “Everyone who told me not to trust Hiroshi Sato’s daughter — I told them to fuck off because… because…” Korra leans heavily over one of the sinks. “I was right. When you came to Air Temple Island and you — you made it seem like I was crazy!” 

I can’t breathe. She’s right. She’s always been right. It was a terrible, terrible thing that I did to her. It was a terrible series of things I did. 

“You were the anonymous tip. About where Amon was hiding. This morning.” Yes. I dropped the envelope off at the police station on my way to sabotage Amon’s factory. “Tarrlok was right,” she mutters. “And then, then you came to… to me. And you made it seem like it was some brilliant flash of inspiration! Like you’d had an epiphany — when really, you knew — when he attacked Bolin you knew! ” 

“I didn’t!” I protest, holding my hands in front of me. 

Korra’s chest heaves, but she’s silent. Her blue eyes are begging for anything redeemable in me. 

It might be my only chance and that kicks my dormant speaking skills into gear. “I didn’t know he was a bloodbender until this morning. I swear. I put it all together because — because remember when we had a sleepover? The moon didn’t come out! Korra, that was the only night all last month someone didn’t get their bending taken away and I only remembered it because it was the best… it was the best night of my life.” 

“Don’t…” she breathes, squeezing her eyes shut. 

“I figured it out and — and I went to go destroy all the things he made me build for him. That’s where I was yesterday. I broke everything so that you could… you could have the new moon.” 

“You were just going to come back to me and pretend like everything was fine? How long were you planning on lying to my face?”

“No… I…” 

I was planning on telling her everything tomorrow, after the danger with Amon was behind us. It seemed very logical: I would give Korra and the police all the tools they needed to defeat Amon, and withhold the information that would fuck with their heads until after the most important fight of their lives. But now, in the face of Korra’s tears and rage, that seems like a paltry excuse. I wasn’t trying to protect Korra, I was trying to protect us. I’m smart enough to know there is no “us” after Korra learns the truth; I just wanted a few more hours. 

Korra turns towards the wall and presses her forehead onto the tiles. “So you switched sides,” she said dully. 

“Yes,” I nod eagerly. “Completely. What they’re doing is wrong and—” 

“When?” 

Her question robs me of my words again. When did I officially leave with no chance to return? Yesterday. When did I try to leave? On Air Temple Island, when Korra insisted we stand back to back to find out who’s taller and I felt something more than physical leave me when she stepped away. When did my heart start to change? Maybe the first time we argued on the balcony at Tarrlok’s gala. When she stood in front of me and refused to back down. When she didn’t care about my last name. When she, the Avatar, the most powerful bender alive, made it clear that I was worth her attention. 

“The tournament,” Korra says. “You were still working for them at the tournament.” 

“Y-yes.” 

“And then…” Her mind and mine both travel chronologically from the tournament and crashland on a painful target. Korra’s face twists as she tries to fight her tears. “The next night was when…” 

When we kissed in my bedroom. 

I feel like I might faint. It all sounds so, so horrible when it’s laid out like this. I take a seat on one of the wooden benches in the center of the room. I remember how the tension of the tournament had forced all of my mixed up feelings to the surface. I couldn’t sort through the violence I’d witnessed, and my crush on the Avatar, and all of the expectations my father had for me. I was a wreck, a mess, emotionally unstable — and it all came bubbling over to the top with Avatar Korra in my bedroom. When we finally breached that barrier, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t thinking about right and wrong and how horribly fucked up my actions were. The only thing I was thinking was that I really, really wanted to kiss her.

“It was you.” 

I look up in alarm. Korra’s voice sounds… different. Her hair is floating around her head and her eyes are flickering between blue and blank white light. My heart pounds. 

“When I was in the box.” Her voice sounds layered, like some sort of frightening harmony, a chorus of voices speaking as one. Her feet lift off the ground. “I recognized someone’s voice. Someone outside. You left me in that box.” 

I lift my hands to shield my face. “I was trying to save you! I swear. But I had to play by their rules or I was never going to get you out!”

The stone tiles on the walls begin to shake. Streams of water gush out of the shower heads. And surrounding Korra’s hands, twin spirals of fire grow larger and larger. I stare at them transfixed. The smell of ash and the sounds of groaning timber comes back to me. I know I need to run, but I can’t move a muscle. 

Korra’s eyes are fully white now. Tears stream down her cheeks.

“Korra.” My voice sounds tiny compared to the elemental fury surrounding me. I don’t even know if she can hear me in there, or if she’s too far buried under all that hurt and energy. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I know I lied and I did awful things but it wasn’t all a lie! Please, Korra, you have to know: I’m in love with you!” 

The white flickers for a moment; a second of that brilliant blue I’ve been dreaming about for months shines through. Then her lips shape into a snarl and Korra is gone. It’s just me and the Avatar. 

GONG

A bell, so loud it cuts through the noise and rattles my teeth, sounds at the top of the building. 

It’s the signal. Amon is here. 

I glance at Korra; the white light is gone. Her feet are on the floor. And she’s blinking at her hands like she barely recognizes them. As I watch, her body sways and I catch her before she falls. 

“Korra, you need to rest. It’s okay, Tenzin and Beifong will take care of Amon.” 

She peers up at me in that sleepy, bleary, vulnerable way I’ve seen so many times before. Her lips part: “Get off of me. Traitor.” 

Korra pushes me aside, bends a huge hole in the side of the wall, and vaults out. 

 


 

Korra

Of course the Avatar State abandons me just in time for the real fight. But I don’t care. Amon is out there waiting for me to destroy him. I want to do it myself. I want to be fully conscious. I want it to hurt. I want to look in his eyes without a thousand dead Avatars whispering in my ears. 

At the end of the pier I’m running down, Equalists are streaming out in a thick column. It’s a confused mess of brown and everyone’s wearing masks or goggles. I get some height with a column of stone, but even so it’s impossible to tell one person from another, let alone find Amon in the fading daylight.

The earthbending gets their attention however, and I hear a few alarmed voices shout: “The Avatar!” 

Yeah. The Avatar. Try me.

I crack my knuckles and plunge into the fray. I know I’m supposed to focus all my attention on Amon, but I don’t see him and there are plenty of assholes to fuck up while I wait for him to show. 

I wash a group into the harbor. I cement another squadron to the road. I blast a third line into next week with some of the hottest firebending I’ve ever done. Maybe some of the Avatar State is still hanging around; I don’t know, I don’t care — as long as those pedantic, patronizing, pretentious snobs keep their opinions to themselves. 

The first time I went into the Avatar State I was just hoping for some simple directions on accessing my airbending and those clowns pulled me across the globe and through several centuries. 

The second time, just a few moments ago, the know-it-alls would barely let me bend through all of their running commentary. 

She seems sincerely sorry.

Aww, that must have been so hard to go against everything she’d known for her whole life.

Wait, is this the one that threw her father in jail for you?

She loves you.

All I wanted to do was obliterate one bathroom and they wanted to talk about empathy

Fuck. That. Some people don’t deserve empathy or forgiveness or love and those are the kind of people who lie with every word. I thought I loved her but you can’t love a lie. It was all a lie

I crack the green goggles of some skinny, mustachioed asshole with my fist. No bending, just rage. He howls in pain and goes spinning backwards, hands over his ruined face. I know I’m not supposed to get this close to my enemies. They’re all chi blockers and my big advantage is that I can bring the hurt at a distance. But I don’t care.

I’m forced backwards, however, as a shadow passes over me. I propel myself backwards off a block of stone just in time to avoid the swiping hit of a metal giant. I try to make sense of what I’m seeing as I sail backwards, but it just doesn’t compute. It’s a metal dude with pincher hands and tank wheels for feet.

From it’s megaphone mouth, my name issues forth in a metallic rattle: “ Avatar Korra.” 

Ahh. So Noatak got himself another, bigger mask. He can’t bloodbend today, so he’s hiding in a platinum shell. All right. Fine. Let’s do this. 

I launch a few large pieces of concrete at the metal monster. 

It keeps coming for me. One of the pincher hands aims for me and shoots out of the arm. The claw locks around my torso. That’s going to leave a bruise for sure, but I can fully bend with my feet. I’m about to prove this when a current runs down the wire connecting me to the metal monster and for the fourth time in my life, I get a taste of electricity. 

It’s the usual process: burning across my skin, body rigid, excruciating pain blocking out all rational thought. Everything leaves my brain — everything except for one thought: Asami fucking Sato. Brilliant inventor for Future Industries. Brilliant inventor for the Equalists. This torture is her doing. I scream from the pain inside and out. 

Eventually the shock ends and I fall limp to the ground. I’m still awake and alive so that means they’ll “zap” me again. I try to get away, but my body barely flops onto my side. I brace myself for the next shock and the unconsciousness that will follow. I’m looking forward to it. 

A dark shape vaults over me and grabs the wire just as the white bolts of electricity issue forth. I blink a few times, and find that I know this idiot. Mako has the wire in one hand, his other arm pointed towards the sky, a continuous bolt of lightning shooting into the clouds. 

“Get down!” Mako shouts, just as I’ve gotten up. 

I hit the deck in the nick of time. With great effort, Mako brings his lightning-spewing arm down and twists in a circle, blasting Equalists away from us. The lightning is cut off abruptly as the other arm of the metal man catches him in the chest. He grunts in paint and goes flying. 

My body starts to drag along the ground as the claw begins to retract. I kick rocks at my captor to no avail. The winch keeps dragging me closer. 

Then, out of the sky, a huge boulder crashes down on the tank’s arm, snapping the wire holding me in place. A gust of wind lifts me off the ground and pulls me backwards, the dismembered claw still gripping me tight. 

In between me and Amon stand Beifong and Tenzin. 

I barely get a chance to recognize them before I’m shot back down the pier. Next to me, Mako was apparently treated to an airlift as well. His hair is still smoking, but he crawls across to me, pulling on the metal hand around my arms. Night is falling in earnest now. Lights all across the harbor are coming on, illuminating the horde of Equalists issuing forth, led by their metal-encased leader. Beifong and Tenzin tense, ready to obliterate the monster. 

I sit up, throwing off Mako’s ineffective attempts to free me. “He’s in there!” I yell at Beifong and Tenzin. “Amon is inside that thing!”  

Now that I have some distance, I can see that one of the plans Asami and I went over forming, the diagram she drilled me on growing into three dimensions. I shout a command and get to my feet, hobbling inelegantly towards the water. At the edge, I pull a wave up to circle my body and freeze it. Ice screams against metal as I push outward with all my might. The metal pincher snaps open as Beifong and Tenzin join us. Over their shoulder, I see a figure getting out of the battered and broken metal man. 

“Good work,” I say to them. 

“Ready for this?” Beifong asks. 

I nod. The four of us turn to face Amon as his forces bear down on us. Amon leads the pack, his mask shining in the lantern light. 

“You have to get that mask off him first,” Mako reminds me. 

“I know.” 

“It will be up to you to get him in the water,” Beifong adds. 

I know.” 

“You can do this, Korra,” says Tenzin. 

I know I can. This is what I was born to do. 

“Now!” I yell. Beifong and I both stomp forwards and push downwards with our arms. Behind Amon, twenty feet of pier crumbles into the harbor. Amon and a score of his soldiers are cut off from the rest of the pack. 

Harsh flood lights from the side of the stadium illuminate our stage to the audience trapped across the gap. We’re putting on a show as much as engaging in a fight. Telling everyone Amon is a waterbending hypocrite isn’t going to convince anyone. Amon’s supporters need to see him unmasked. 

Amon glances at the lights. For a second, I see a hint of life reflected behind his eyeholes. 

Then he raises his arms, as if this is his show. 

“Surrender, Avatar,” he says in a voice that echoes around the pier, and back to his soldiers. “I have no interest in hurting you. I merely desire a more equal world. Submit to me and we can build that world together.” 

“I don’t think you want me to do that.” I speak clearly and evenly, projecting towards his supporters as well. “You’ve been using bloodbending to block bending -- but there’s no moon tonight. If I knelt down right now, you wouldn’t be able to do a thing.” 

It would be great if there was a huge gasp from the assembled Equalists and they turned on their leader. But they all keep their attention on me and my friends, ready to fight and die for this waterbending phoney. Blind allegiance, I guess. Not everyone can have a crisis of faith at the eleventh hour. 

Get out of my head, I order the green-eyed shadow who’s lived there for months. 

“A baseless accusation,” Amon responds. He raises a hand. “I don’t block anything -- I am a conduit for a spirit who seeks to eliminate bending. I remove bending from a person, just as I will remove bending from the world. Kneel, and I’ll show you.” 

Enough of this. “No bloodbending,” I remark, pointing up to the moonless sky, “but we can still waterbend, right?” 

With that, I leap into an attack, aiming a waterwhip at Amon. He folds at the waist, ducking underneath it. He also dodges a spray of icicles and jumps out of a puddle before I can ice his feet in place. 

“Be easier just to waterbend!” I shout, continuing the deluge. Around us, the Equalists engage with Beifong, Tenzin, and Mako. My friends are outnumbered five to one, but the Equalists are outskilled by the full range of elements we bring to this fight.  

Even without waterbending and bloodbending, Amon is a skilled fighter. He plays the part of a non-bending combatant well. Fighting him reminds me of my spar with Asami: he ducks and dodges and comes closer and closer -- and the reminder only serves to infuriate me. He won’t be goaded into waterbending? Fine. Let’s go hand-to-hand. 

I retreat towards the water’s edge, as if I’m running. He follows, keeping us in range. I shoot another waterwhip at his left. When he swerves out of it’s path, I twist, bringing my heel up to his face. 

CRACK

Amon staggers backwards clutching his face. The bottom half of his mask is gone. Blood covers the exposed skin, gushing from a broken nose. I force a fountain at his head, washing away the blood and the rest of his mask, and sending him into a clump of his own soldiers. 

He pushes to his feet, and standing in front of us, illuminated for everyone to see, is Noatak. He has short hair, and a clean-shaven face, conspicuously devoid of the burn he said motivated his quest against benders. 

This time there are gasps and exclamations of shock from the pier. Noatak’s eyes shine with hatred and he charges me. I let him, feeling the edge of the platform behind me. He aims a flattened hand for a chi point in my shoulder, but I slip to the side, wrapping him in a bear hug, and using his momentum to take us over the side and into the water. 

Once we hit the waves, I propel us down into the darkness. We hit the silty bottom of the harbor and I let him go, jetting away. 

Here’s the thing about waterbenders: we don’t drown easy. I guess it’s possible, but pretty uncommon. You hear stories about waterbenders who get one last surge of energy that pops them to the surface, even after they themselves thought all hope was lost. 

That’s what happens to Noatak. He’d rather drown than come to the surface in the swirling vortex that pushes him up at least twenty feet over the crowd. He’d rather swim down forever than reveal that the guy who was just wearing Amon’s mask can definitely waterbend. But it goes against all of his instincts. 

As I clamber, exhausted, back onto the pier, Noatak surges above our heads. His body is thrust twenty feet above our heads on a twisting vortex. That’s the signal. Cameras flash from the strategic places we placed journalists in. I hear the deep horns of the United Navy pulling in towards our dock. Red and blue lights decorate the wharf. 

I take a deep breath. The adrenaline is starting to leak out of my limbs. The bruises and cuts across my body begin to make themselves known. And that ache deep in my chest pushes outward as well. It’s almost a relief when Noatak decides to go down fighting. I could use a few more minutes before I confront my traitorous ex-girlfriend. 

Noatak washes the platform of all combatants -- Mako, Tenzin, Beifong, and his own soldiers -- save for me. The water pushes me to the center. Noatak touches down, and continues battering me. I resist the true strength of the waves, but they still push me down. I land on my back, my sight dimming as my head smacks against the hard stone. I blink away the haziness just in time to see the icy projectile shooting down at me. 

I raise an arm to break apart the ice a split second before it skewers me. It wasn’t all ice. The severed arm of the metal man crashes on top of me, it’s pincher fingers open. My outstretched arm is pinned to my chest -- pulling the limb out of its joint, shattering my radius bone, and cracking several ribs. 

My vision splinters. I can’t react as another block of ice hammers the claw down further, locking me against the ground. A stiff hand jabs the chi point in my non-broken shoulder, and then rapidly moves through the points on my legs. All resistance leaves my body. I’m a limp mess, trapped against the ground. 

A gentle hand strokes my forehead, and through the tears in my eyes, I think the dark-haired person is Asami. But it’s not. It’s Noatak. Blood trickles from his nose. 

“Why does it always come to this?” he asks, voice rough. “You’ve given me no other choice.” 

As I watch, water drips upwards against gravity, icing into a thick, sharp spike. He holds it above my eye. I try fire breathing but I’m too cold and the flame is hardly more powerful than a lighter. My arms are useless, so I kick a stone in his direction. I miss. 

Noatak lifts his arms above his head, to bring the spike down with force, and officially make himself the earth Avatar’s problem -- when someone kicks his head. 

This time, Asami Sato is standing above me. She raises her fists towards Noatak, standing protectively over me. 

“Miss Sato.” He gets to his feet, bending a glowing patch of water over the side of his head.

“You lost.” Her voice trembles. “You’re not getting Korra.” 

“You are wildly out of your depth,” Noatak responds and raises his arms. Water floods the platform yet again. I lose sight of Noatak and Asami as the harbor reaches up to cover us. When I’m able to breathe again, I see a huge, thick dome of ice cutting us off from the world and a block of ice holding Asami down on her knees. 

“See?” Noatak says to Asami. “You cannot compete against a bender. You can’t. That’s the problem. As long as benders exist, you mean nothing. You are limited. I’m doing this for you!” He jabs a finger towards her face. “There was a time when I thought you would be the glowing example for the world of what a non-bender could achieve. I wanted you by my side as we made this world a better place. There was a time when I thought perhaps you could be the inheritor of my legacy.” 

Asami’s eyes narrow in disgust. “Never.” 

“You sacrificed it all for a bender?” he asks, disbelief coloring his voice. 

Asami doesn’t answer, just glares and tries to pull herself out of her prison. 

Noatak clenches a fist shut, squeezing her tighter. “Then you’re a fool. Take it from me, benders would have disappeared from the world long ago if non-benders stood together. But people like you are always willing to sacrifice themselves so benders don’t have to. It’s my destiny to right that long imbalance. Avatar Korra is merely one step in a long sequence.” Noatak reforms the icicle in his hand. 

“No!” Asami gasps. “No, no, please, don’t. I’ll come work for you. I’ll do anything. Anything!” 

“There is nothing left to do.” He kneels over my head. “Just think, Avatar, if you’d been better at being an Avatar, you could have kept your life. But no. You couldn’t learn airbending. Hopefully your next life does a better job. I’ll be sure to say hello to them for you.” 

“She did learn airbending!” Asami screams. “I saw it.” 

Noatak’s head whips up. I can feel the pins and needles in my legs that tell me my limbs are waking up. If she can just keep him talking for a few seconds longer… 

“You’ve lied to me too many times before,” Noatak says, and aims the icicle. 

“She does that,” I growl. “But for once she’s actually telling the truth.” 

Noatak’s brow furrows. 

Okay, so I’m going to hate her forever -- but if this quick thinking saves both our lives, maybe I’ll convince a few of my future incarnations to give her a break. I can feel the power inching back into my body. 

Noatak smiles. “Congratulations, Avatar Korra. Welcome to the revolution.”

The icicle in his hand melts and Noatak places his damp thumb on my forehead. 

Wait. 

No. 

He can’t. It’s a new moon. He can’t. He can’t. 

He seems to think he can. 

He presses his fingers on my head and closes his eyes. I feel something inside break, like a glass vial smashing. My vision unfocuses.  

Then he reaches down again. Something else breaks. 

Then again. Another shatter. 

Then again. 

Above me, our icy shelter crackles and disintegrates. Water removes the claw holding me down. I don’t move. I feel… empty. Cold. Numb. A rough hand turns me over but I don’t care. There’s nothing anyone can do to me anymore. 

Noatak lifts my collar and forces me to unsteady feet. Cameras snap again. 

“Here’s your Avatar!” he yells. He raises his hands and a stream of water slaps me. “Come on. Show them what you’ve become.” 

Heat flashes across my skull. It’s not a new moon. He tried to bloodbend, but Tarrlok confirmed that it’s impossible. I raise my arms and bring a wave down on him. Nothing happens. I punch a fire fist, but no flames appear. I focus on a pebble on the ground; I put my whole being into lifting it. It remains where it is. 

I fall to my knees. 

“This is progress,” Noatak tells the crowd. 

A pair of metal wires zips over the gap, but Noatak sucks it into the harbor. 

“Bending is a curse!” Noatak shouts. “You will all soon be freed of it!” Then, in a lower voice: “Except for those who stand in my way. Those will be eliminated.” 

Out of the corner of my eye, I see him spin the icicle in his palm. I literally don’t care. Kill me. The most important thing is gone. Noatak tosses the spike, catching it backwards, and sending it zooming through the air -- at Asami. 

Time stands still. It must. Because one moment the icicle is leaving Noatak’s hand, and the next it is caught in midair, spinning in an invisible ball of wind. The three of us stare at it mutely, then follow the path backwards to my outstretched arm. I yank my hand back and the icicle drops, shattering on the ground. 

Noatak turns to me, his face broken into an expression of fury. Then he lunges. I don’t think, I just act. I kneel down into a ball and push outwards. The sound of the windstorm is concussive. When I let the winds go, it’s just me and Asami left on the platform. Noatak is gone. Any boats tied up nearby are scattered. The police and reporters on the edge of the gap are sprawled backwards. Asami’s ice shackles have been blown away as well, but she remains unharmed. Ruffled, but unhurt -- staring at me with wide, disbelieving eyes. 

“You … airbent.” 

As usual, Asami Sato is not wrong. I airbent. Twice in a row. I stare at my hands. But… he took away my bending. I couldn’t waterbend, earthbend, or firebend. Or! I was still chi-blocked. That must be it. I rush to the edge of the platform and pull a wave. The surface of the harbor ripples as I pull a gust of air back towards myself. I swing my leg into an arm of flame. A breeze whistles out. I stomp and form a crack in the platform. Nothing happens except Asami’s hair gets blown back again. 

“Korra,” her voice is gentle. “You can airbend.” 

The way she says it is the way I know everyone will say it. It’s a miracle. I can bend. Amon took away my bending, but somehow I retained the most endangered element on the planet. After all this time, I’m finally an airbender. I should be happy. I should be grateful.

I’m not. 

Asami’s eyes go wide as I turn to face her. “I will never forgive you for this.” 

Chapter Text

Asami

Grief steals through the ship like an impenetrable fog. It slips through the passageways and through cracks in tightly shut doors. It muffles sounds until the whole ship is like a floating tomb, filled with ghosts too afraid to make a noise lest we upset the epicenter of the storm, the emanation point for this choking sorrow. 

It’s a two day trip to the South Pole and Avatar Korra has barely stepped out of her cabin. The door remains shut but her anger stalks the ship like a living creature. It watches me at all times, reminding me what I did. 

I can’t deny that I did this. I sacrificed Korra’s bending to save her life. And I would do it again. 

Even knowing that Korra will never forgive me. Even knowing that Korra thought I was simply buying her time to escape. Even knowing that Korra would rather die than live without her bending. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. 

When I see the beacon for the capital of the South Pole, I reach for the bell to announce our arrival to the rest of the boat — but I catch my hand before it pulls on the rope. Instead of a bell, I climb down from the bridge and look for Bolin. He’s the only one I feel like I can talk to these days. He’s the only one who actually looks at me. 

I find him in the central lounge down below, a large, comfortably furnished room that looks like it belongs in one of the member’s only clubs downtown rather than on a boat. Bolin’s lying beneath a skylight, watching the clouds above sail by. My eyes go to the row of cabin doors at the back. They’re all closed and latched, but the third one down seems more locked down than the rest. I tear my eyes away as Bolin sits up. 

“Hey,” I whisper. 

“Hi,” he whispers back. Then we both realize we’re whispering for no reason and Bolin clears his throat. “What’s up?” 

“We’re here,” I say, really trying to use my normal voice, but failing. Of all the people allowed to be loud on this ship, I am the absolute last.  

“Oh good.” Bolin yawns and stretches. “All right, let’s get this show on the road. Or at least get the show off this boat.” 

I grab Bolin’s shoulder as he moves to rouse the rest of the ship. 

“I think when we dock, I’ll just stay on the ship.”

“What? No. You have to come. It is because…” His eyes flick to the third cabin door and then back to me. “She wants you there,” he says.

That makes me laugh. It’s a loud, cynical guffaw, and I clap my hand over my mouth, but I can’t take it back. And it does the very thing I’ve been trying to avoid. 

The sick, vibrating feeling in my chest worsens as Korra steps out of her cabin. I imagine that fog billows through the open door, lowering the temperature and dimming the lights. Korra has that same cold stare in her red, puffy eyes that she’s had every time I’ve seen her for the past few days. 

After the confrontation with Noatak, Korra was essentially ready to swim to the South Pole to get her bending back. But she’s the Avatar and things in Republic City were as chaotic as they’d ever been in the wake of Amon’s unmasking. The Equalists, now left without a leader, splintered. Some tried to disappear back into the city. Some tried to fight their way out. The United Forces came rolling through the streets, trying to restore order, while regular citizens still protested the unfair treatment of non-benders at the hands of the Council. Tenzin asked Korra to stick around to heal, and help reassure the population (and maybe learn some airbending to counterbalance her other lost skills). Honestly, I think the only reason we were allowed to leave as early as we were is because Avatar Korra was not “reassuring” anyone of anything. She was stomping around the city making everyone she spoke with feel as if they were personally responsible for her lack of bending. She nearly tore the head off of that United Forces officer when he tried to cheer her up. Her infinite patience for Tenzin’s kids has run dry. And, if she’s treating completely random citizens like they were the ones who put their thumb on her forehead and severed her connection to her bending, then the hatred she possesses for someone who actually had a hand in it is unparalleled. 

“Something funny?” she asks, doing her best to kill me with her gaze. 

I shake my head. 

The most surprising part about me being on this expedition right now is that Korra did not personally shove me into a tiny little jail cell. I confessed. I told them everything. Mako was analytical about the whole thing. He wanted to know details; he wanted to use my insider knowledge to strengthen our advantages. Strategizing was probably easier than thinking about how his ex-girlfriend used him as a tool. Bolin cried and couldn’t look at me. Then the next day, he came to my apartment to tell me that he had forgiven me. Which made me cry. Tenzin just sighed and excused himself, saying he had to “go into the office.” (At the time, I assumed that was code for “go get an arrest warrant,” but the police never materialized.) For the duration of my confession, Korra stood against the door, arms locked over her chest, face made of stone. 

My best guess about why I am currently a free woman is that they literally forgot. That Tenzin had too much on his plate or Chief Beifong had bigger fish to fry at the moment and will get back to me when things have calmed down. The only other explanation is that someone powerful convinced the police to turn a blind eye. But that seems very unlikely, unless Korra decided that she would rather oversee my sentence personally. 

Up first on her list of ways to torture me is by exiting her cabin followed by Mako. The two have been inseparable since Korra and I became separable. He was by her side as she completed her Avatar responsibilities in the city. He spent the one night on the ship in her cabin. I don’t want to think about it. I can’t think about it. 

“Tell us the joke,” Korra says.  

“Asami says we’re almost there,” Bolin says. I don’t like my name being said in this room. The fewer reminders of my existence the better. 

“Hilarious.” She crosses the cabin and peers out one of the porthole windows. “Oh look at that, we are here, something Rich Girl said is actually true.” The feeling of being freshly stabbed intensifies.

I see Mako and Bolin exchange a glance. Mako shakes his head, but Bolin steps forward. 

“You could say thank you.” 

Korra snaps around to face him with such intensity that I’m surprised he isn’t blasted across the room. “For what exactly? Oh gee, thanks for being part of a terrorist organization. Thanks for making weapons and helping a psychopath and locking me in a box and electrocuting me. Thank you so fucking much.” 

“You’re ignoring the good things she did,” Bolin continues. 

“Bolin, it’s okay…” I say. 

“See?” Korra gestures towards me. “It’s ‘okay.’ It’s all great because Miss Perfect says it is.” 

The nicknames started as insults, then morphed into banter, then found their way into a teasing sort of affection. Now they’re a shield so she doesn’t have to utter my name. 

“You’re mad at Amon and what he did to you — but he’s not here so you’re taking it out on Asami.” 

“Bolin—” Mako starts. 

“What he did to us,” Korra says loudly. “You should be just as angry as I am. Because of Amon — and because of her — we’re both useless.” 

That shuts Bolin up. Korra breathes heavily, ready to continue. When Bolin doesn’t offer her any more fodder, she stalks up the stairs to the top deck. Her constant shadow follows. Freezing air swirls through the cabin as they exit. 

“You’re not useless,” I tell Bolin. 

“I know,” he says in a small voice. 

“Probably safe to say I should stay on the ship.” 

“No. You’re the reason we’re here. You’re the one who figured out that all of this came down to bloodbending. You’ve been with us for everything; you should be with us for this.” 

Yeah. I’m the reason we’re here. 

“She doesn’t want me…” I say miserably. 

“Actually, that’s pretty much the only thing she didn’t say.” Bolin smiles a small sad smile. 

The horn sounds, announcing our arrival. I can’t say I ever planned on visiting the South Pole. My father visited the water tribe once, but he went north. Even being well read on different climates in the world, I’m taken aback by the landscape. Austere peaks rise in the distance and the structures that I can see are built right into the glaciers and snow. For a capital city, it’s pretty small; but the whole place contains an otherworldly beauty. This is Korra’s home. 

At the port, we’re greeted by Korra’s family. I never thought much about Korra’s mother and father; she’s just so independent and strong and willful, she kind of seems like she just sprung up that way. If I ever did think about Korra’s parents, they were formless shadows on the other side of a table, while Korra stammered and sweated and smiled, trying to introduce her new girlfriend. I can see Korra’s joy and wonder in the lines of her mother’s face, and her pride and kindness in her father’s face. It hurts to look at them almost as much as it hurts to look at her. 

Korra doesn’t introduce us, just barrels up to her father and buries her face in his chest. I watch her shoulders tremble once before I look away, loathe to intrude on a family sorrow I created. 

“Tenzin didn’t come?” Korra’s mom asks. 

Korra doesn’t answer so Mako does. He’s stepping up for Korra a lot recently. “He had to stay behind with the Council. There is a lot of work to do in the city plus… well, they’re still looking for Amon.” 

Korra pushes away from her father and swipes at a tear on her cheek. “I’m going to find him,” she promises. “Right after we leave here, I’m gonna get him.” 

Korra’s parents don’t know what to do with an Avatar hellbent on murder, so they do what any parent would do: hand her off to the expert. We head straight from the boat to Master Katara’s home. Korra trots ahead of us, alone on Naga, while the rest of us double-up on snow-bikes. They’re an ingenious design, and a distraction from the agony that is my current thought process. I want to know more about them but the only manufacturing insignia I can find is a simple silver V on the flank. 

“Who makes these?” I ask Korra’s father as we dismount beside a large, elegant building on the outskirts of town. 

“An inventor,” Korra responds, talking over her dad. “See, people have a lot of time to create cool things when they aren’t building weapons for terrorists.” 

Tonraq shoots his daughter a stern look, but she’s already stalking into Katara’s house. 

“She’s upset,” Tonraq says quietly. “I’m sure she doesn’t mean it.” 

“She does,” I say, and follow them into the house. 

In addition to giving little thought to the South Pole, I have not spent much time considering what the interior of the Avatar’s wife’s home looks like. Somehow it’s exactly what I would have pictured. It’s warm with soft lighting and comfortable, low furniture. There is a fire crackling in the hearth and artwork from around the world in every corner. The walls are crammed with framed photos. Lord Zuko smiles broadly out of one, which must mean that the squalling baby in his arms is Fire Lord Izumi. There’s a magazine cover featuring the Kyoshi warriors. There’s a headshot of a man in a United Forces uniform, who was probably told to be serious but ended up smiling crazily anyways. The former chief of police has a headlock hold around a man who I recognize only from his statue downtown: Katara’s brother, Sokka. An attractive, dark-haired girl glares moodily in the corner of a candid shot. And all over the place is a tall man with a shaved head and an arrow tattoo. Avatar Aang. This was his home too. Goosebumps break out across my skin.

“So I know it’s not the full moon for another week or so, but Noatak and Tarrlok can do it whenever there is a moon at all so I think we should try—” Korra is in the kitchen area next to a woman with gray hair who is stirring a pot on the stove. The woman cuts her off by simply raising a finger. I’m in awe. 

“Hello, Korra,” says Katara. “I’m doing well, thank you for asking.” 

Korra noisily blows air out of her nose. 

“Hello,” she says flatly. “How are you? How’s Kya? How’s the city? Good? Great. Now what I was thinking was—” 

Katara raises a finger again and Korra goes silent again. Once she’s done healing Korra and Bolin, Master Katara needs to teach me that trick. 

“Aren’t you going to introduce your friends? They traveled halfway around the world with you.” 

Korra sighs again and points at us. “That’s Mako, and that’s Bolin, and that’s Asami, who is not my friend, and those are my parents. Do you need me to tell you their names too?” 

Katara turns away from whatever she’s cooking and looks at Korra for the first time. You have to love someone a whole lot for it to be obvious when you’re scolding them. She taps Korra’s knuckles with a wooden spoon.

“How would you feel if the last thing you ever said to me was with that tone? Hmm? Just because you’re feeling bad doesn’t mean you can be rude. Especially not to me! In another life you used to bow and call me Sifu, now… the disrespect…” 

“Feeling bad?” Korra gasps. “I don’t feel bad — I feel-” 

“Lost, confused, angry, hurt, resentful, scared.” 

Korra swallows. 

Katara puts down the spoon and takes Korra’s hands. “You have every right to those feelings, love,” she says quietly. “You’ve suffered a grievous loss. But don’t ever get to thinking that your Avatar feelings are more important than anyone else’s. When you hurt, Korra, we all hurt.” 

Korra doesn’t quite know what to do with this display of kind accountability. If it was me saying all of that, she would have slapped me into next week. Katara, she pulls into a hug. Katara rubs her back. Again, I find I can’t watch. I can’t watch Korra break down in front of my eyes and know that I am unwelcome to do anything about it. 

After a moment, Korra pulls away and leans over the sink so she doesn’t have to show us the blotchy, wet mess that is her face. Katara crosses the room and smiles. She hugs Korra’s parents and then turns to us. 

“Now, my favorite pupil didn’t do the best job introducing you, so let me make sure I’ve got this right. Mako,” she clasps Mako’s hands. “Captain of the pro-bending team, impeccable sense of justice, and a signature scarf.” Mako’s cheeks get pink. Katara moves to Bolin. “Bolin: funny, good with the ladies, and the biggest heart in Republic City.” Bolin beams with tears in his eyes. My heart is galloping in my chest. Asami: traitorous, cold-hearted, and the blackest soul in Republic City. Asami: lying, manipulative bitch. Asami: no reason to be here besides the fact that you happen to own a boat. “Asami.” Katara takes my hands. Her’s are warm and soft. “Korra’s written so much about you, I don’t even know where to start. I admire your courage.” My bottom lip trembles and, even though I try to resist, my eyes find Korra’s. Her mouth is a sharp line across her face.  

“Come everyone, let’s sit down for some food.” 

The seven of us gather around Katara’s table and she spoons soup into bowls. 

“How’s my son?” she asks. 

“Grouchy.” 

“You two must have a lot to talk about. And my other son? I heard he’s in Republic City with the United Forces.” 

“Bumi is Bumi.” 

“I’m very glad to hear that.” 

Katara sips soup peacefully, apparently the only one around the table who is unaffected by the tension coming in waves off of Korra. 

“Well, I can see we aren’t going to have a productive conversation until we address the platypus-bear in the room.” 

“My bending is gone,” Korra says angrily. 

“I thought you could airbend.” 

“My other bending is gone.” 

“All bending comes from the same place; it’s a manipulation of energy not elements. Just because my energy affects water and your charming friends can work fire and earth—” she inclines her head towards Mako and Bolin— “doesn’t mean we are three different species. You should know that better than anyone, Korra.” 

“Okay.” Korra’s voice is tight as she says, “well my ‘energy ’ is supposed to affect all four of them, and right now three parts are missing and I would like them back.” 

Katara reaches over and pats Korra’s hand. “I remember when you were little. You had such a strong connection to the elements. You could stay in one spot for hours tossing pebbles and making smoke. I remember your joy, Korra. I know how untethered you must feel without that connection.” 

Korra blinks. 

I think about little Korra, with the same big blue eyes, and how proud she must have been. She must have beat down her parents’ door the first time she realized what she could do. She must have been a giddy little ball of energy, probably destroying her parents’ house with a triple-elemental attack. It makes my heart ache. 

“The White Lotus didn’t believe us,” says Senna, looking over at her daughter. “They said it must have been a trick, that no one as young as you were could bend a non-native element on demand.” 

“Hmph,” Tonraq grunts. “Certainly showed them.” 

Katara leans back in her chair. “But bending is not what makes an Avatar. The ability to bend all four elements is a byproduct of the Avatar’s responsibility to connect with people from all corners of the globe. Bending is a tool, not the Avatar’s identity.” 

Korra’s lips twist and I see a tenseness in her shoulders. “I want it back,” she whispers. 

“I know you do,” Katara responds. She reaches for Korra’s hand. “I want you to prepare yourself; it’s not going to be as easy as a snap of my fingers.”

“I can wait ‘til the full moon—” 

“Korra,” Katara cuts her off gently. “As a waterbender and a healer, I’m always in touch with the systems around me.” She shakes her head. “From the moment you stepped inside, I could tell: there’s nothing wrong with you. Not physically.” 

Korra’s lips twitch silently before she is able to say: “But — but — I felt it. I felt what he did. Something inside snapped and you need to just reconnect it. You just need to reconnect it! ” Korra stares down at the table, unable to look up after her outburst. 

Katara looks up at us. “Would you give us a moment?” she asks. 

The five of us, including Korra’s parents, shuffle out of the room. Mako, Bolin, and I have been invited to stay with Katara while we’re in the South Pole. We try to make ourselves comfortable but there’s quite a lot of crying and slamming of things. When I hear “then there’s no point in being the Avatar at all” echo through the walls, I can’t take it anymore and get up and shuffle into my coat and move outside. I think maybe I’ll take one of the snowmobiles out for a spin, see the South Pole, escape my crushing guilt. 

I’d also really love the release of some nicotine. I’m over my “trying to quit” phase; now cigarettes are one of my only joys, and I’m not giving them up. I could barely smoke at all on the boat; I tried once and Korra loudly complained that it was “typical” that I would try to poison everyone along with myself. Out in Katara’s front yard, I pop a cigarette between my mouth and revel in the cool, quiet air. It’s getting late, but the sun is still dancing along the horizon. Soon it will be dark here all day long, but for now, we get sun at midnight. 

As I stand outside the house, another snowmobile pulls up and parks alongside our’s. The rider gets off, shaking out her long, white hair, and gives me an appraising look. 

“Asami Sato,” she guesses. 

I nod. This has to be Ikki’s badass, lesbian, waterbending aunt — but I don’t think Ikki ever told me her name, and I don’t think now is a good time to reveal the epiteth I’ve made for her. 

“I’m Kya. Glad to see Korra finally got some friends her own age. My mom was her bestie for way too long.” 

“Korra doesn’t really think of me as a friend,” I say before I can stop myself. 

Kya cocks her head to the side. “More than a friend, or less than a friend?” 

I shrug because I don’t want to say “both.” Luckily, I’m saved from giving more details by a loud smashing sound from inside.

“Hopefully that was Tenzin’s primary school art,” Kya remarks. “I’ve been trying to destroy it for years.” She taps her finger to her chin. “Well, Korra’s-not-a-friend, are you interested in being literally anywhere else right now?” 

I nod vigorously. 

“Great,” she says, “dramatics aren’t really my thing. Come on, I’ll show you the South Pole.” 

Kya gets back on her snowmobile and I hop onto one of the ones Tonraq and Senna left for us. Kya takes us on a winding path through what could charitably be called a downtown area, past some fancy ice buildings along the waterfront, points out an empty festival area, and out onto the glacier. 

“Nosedive Point,” she says, pulling up the edge of the cliff. It’s a ragged wedge that hangs out over the crashing waves twenty stories below. “In the summer, there’s always a few ice-heads who will try to see how far they can get without using waterbending to catch themselves. I used to be an emergency healer and all I can say is, it’s a stupid use of talent.” 

My stomach is feeling queasy just being this close to the edge, so I have to agree with Kya that trying to jump off Nosedive Point would be a stupid use of talent. It’s funny to hear a bender echoing Amon’s sentiments. Though, I suppose, he was a bender all along too. 

“So tell me about Avatar Korra and Republic City,” Kya says, leaning back in her seat. “I’m sure she got herself into a ton of trouble up there.” 

I snort. “That’s an understatement. The first day in the city she destroyed a clock shop, took down a gang, and got arrested.” 

Kya chuckles. “I knew I liked Korra. Tell me more.” 

So I do. I tell Kya about how Korra smashed the competition on the pro-bending court. I tell her about Korra sniping at a Councilperson. I tell her about the time Korra snuck off Air Temple Island to come party with us at the Koi and how much trouble she got in with Tenzin. I tell Kya about the time Korra jumped off a building to retrieve a photograph and about the time she broke my arm in a “friendly” sparring match. I tell her about how Korra joined the protests and defended non-benders, how she went toe-to-toe with the police and stood up for what was right. 

“Getting cold?” Kya asks when I drift into silence. I could keep going. There are thousands of Korra moments stored in my brain that I’ve never gotten to share with anyone. But if I keep talking, I’m going to start crying. And Kya is way too cool to cry in front of. So I nod, even though, in the South Pole, on a glacier, with a bone-chilling breeze coming off the water, I don’t feel cold at all.

“All right, hopefully the screaming is over.” Kya turns the key in the ignition, but pauses before heading back the way we came. “Look, I don’t want to overstep, but… Korra likes grand gestures. She was always an excitable, dramatic kid. She was hyped on bending not ‘cause of the power or the spirituality, but because it’s cool. It’s a rush. She just wants someone who makes her feel like that.” 

Kya roars down the path back to the city leaving me staring at the sun dancing on the waves. Is she telling me I should try a grand gesture? What would that even be? I don’t think flowers and an airship ride over the city is going to cut it. Korra doesn’t even care that I saved her life. The only thing that would win Korra over is getting her bending back. And I don’t think it’s something I’ll be able to wrap in a box and put a bow on.

I eventually remember to move my bike when I lose sight of Kya over a ridge below. I’ve known Kya for thirty minutes, but I am one hundred percent sure that if I fall behind, she will leave me up here all night. 

When we get back, the house seems quiet. Kya gives me a thumbs up in the yard and leads us inside. The lights are dim and the house has a “people are sleeping” energy — so both of us jump when we hear someone say: “Korra?”  

Mako is lying on the couch, a copy of Waterbenders Weekly open on his chest, blinking at us. 

“Oh,” he says. “Not Korra.” 

Kya gives me a wide-eyed look and a barely suppressed smirk. She raises her hands in a gesture that says “this is not our problem” and exits the living room. I want to as well. I want to go up to my room and pull the blankets over my head and not help my ex-boyfriend figure out whatever problems he’s having with my ex-girlfriend. 

But I have to know. Because I hate myself. 

“Did you get in a fight?” I ask awkwardly. 

Mako sits up and ruffles his hair with his fingers. I used to love it when he did that. 

“Kind of…” He looks up at me uncertainly. “Are you sure I can talk to you about this stuff?” 

The healthy answer would be “no, I’m going to bed;” but I’m not healthy. Korra isn’t speaking to me and if the only way to get updates on her is through Mako, then yeah, he can “talk to me about this stuff.” It’s unclear whether he knows that Korra and I had “stuff” of our own; my guess is Korra wasn’t too eager to tell him that she was sleeping with her “least favorite person in the world” who also happened to be his ex-girlfriend.

I take a seat in an armchair. “Of course. What happened?” 

“Ahh,” Mako sighs and messes with his hair again. When we get back to Republic City, I’m forcing him into a chair and getting a pair of clippers. “She’s upset. Obviously.” Obviously. “She’s really mad at you.” Thanks for that. “And… I told her I love her and she didn’t say it back.” 

“Oh.” 

Those are three words Mako and I never said to each other. I’ve never said them to anyone except… 

Maybe this conversation wasn’t such a good idea. I get up and I’m already moving towards my bedroom where I plan to curl up into a little ball and sob, as I say, “Well, I’m sure everything will look brighter in the morning.” 

“Yeah, if she comes back by morning,” Mako says, plopping backwards on the couch. 

I freeze in the doorway. 

“She’s not here?” I ask. 

Mako flips through the magazine. “No. She went to… get some space. I dunno.” 

I don’t have time to strangle him, though I’d like to. I don’t have time to explain to him that Korra should not be alone right now, in the middle of the night, when no one knows where she is. I don’t have time for any of that because I’m already ripping open the door and running back out into the twilight version of midnight they have here. 

The yard is a confused mess of snowmobile tracks, human footprints, and Naga-prints. It doesn’t tell me anything about where Korra might have gone. But the sick feeling in my stomach, plus a detail from my South Pole tour guide, gives me an idea. A gut-churning, impossible to consider idea. I jump back on my snowmobile and try to retrace the path I just came down. The sun is finally below the horizon, though it’s still not totally dark. Shadows jump out at me as I race way too quickly through the deserted streets. I know I take at least one wrong turn and cost myself valuable time — cost Korra valuable time. 

Finally, I escape the city. Ahead of me, the path to the cliff is empty. Next to the hard-packed trail, I see giant paw prints in the snow. The impulse to throw up gets stronger. I urge my snowmobile up the incline. Come on, come on, come on

When I crest the ridge, my panicked gaze nearly misses the silhouette of Korra and her enormous dog standing on the edge. But they are there, a hundred yards away from me, black against the teal blue sky. She’s still here. I punch the accelerator and zoom across the empty space between us, shouting her name. She doesn’t turn or look around. Even as I jump off the bike and hurry to her side, her eyes never leave the waves far below. 

“Go away.” 

The emptiness in those two words scares me more than anything she’s ever yelled at me. I much prefer the screaming version of Korra. That Korra has a purpose. This Korra is speaking like her words don’t matter. This Korra is staring at the churning ocean with complete detachment. 

Without thinking, I grab her arm. As if I can pull her away from the edge. As if there is anything I can do to stand in between Korra and doing exactly what she intends to do. 

She throws me off easily but at least it gets me some anger. At least it gets her to turn away from the drop and to instead glare at me. 

“This is your fault.” 

“I know.” 

“You broke me.” 

“You’re not—” 

“Yes, I am.” Her voice shakes.

“Maybe there’s a way—”

Don’t!” Korra's voice breaks on the word and her hand instinctively covers her eyes as fresh tears start to fall. “Don’t do that, don’t do that. Don’t pretend there’s some chance I can get my bending back. There isn’t. If Katara couldn’t do it—” 

“But, Korra, it wasn’t bloodbending—” 

“It was!” she yells. “You were wrong! He can bloodbend without the moon.” 

“No, he can’t — or he wouldn’t have locked me in ice. He wouldn’t have trapped you on the ground. There would have been no point.” 

Korra seems to stumble over that one. She blinks a few times.

“I’ve seen what bloodbending does. If Noa was able to do it to us, he would have. We would have been completely at his mercy. The icicle he threw at me? He could have killed me with a twitch of his eyebrow. That’s why Katara can’t give you your bending back; if it was bloodbending, she could undo it. But it’s something else. I think Noa was telling the truth, at least about one thing. He really did get some spiritual power to block bending.” 

Korra turns back to the water. The sun is already starting to rise again, casting a pink light across the sky. “That’s more reason to…” 

“How!?” I exclaim. “That’s hope, Korra! There’s a solution! Noa got some spirit to help him block bending so… so we go find that spirit and change their mind. Or find some different spirit to… to… ” What the hell am I talking about? All I ever wanted to fix was machines, not broken spiritual connections. This is not my world. This is not my place. And Korra knows it. She doesn’t believe me. “We’ll go on a spirit quest,” I push on desperately — anything to make her hesitate. All I need is one little sprig of doubt, of hope. “There are spiritual places all over the world. We’ll go to every one if we have to. We’ll figure out how to get your bending back. If Noa found a way, we can too.” 

Korra shakes her head, still gazing at the horizon. “Maybe that would work, maybe it wouldn’t,” she says. Her voice freezes me. There is no emotion. No fear. “Or I can just start the cycle over.” 

“No!” I’m losing her. Everything I’m saying is pushing her closer to the edge. “You’re still the Avatar.” My voice breaks. I’m shaking hard. 

“Only the Avatar can bring balance,” she whispers. “I have to do this.” 

“But you’re also Korra!” I exclaim and tears finally spill over. “Korra deserves to live. And you deserve happiness! And a future! And everything. You deserve everything, Korra. I’m sorry that you’ve had to go through so much. I’m sorry that it’s my fault. If I could take back everything, I would. You’re so special and wonderful and you deserve so much more than a story that ends here. Please.” 

Korra takes a deep breath. “I don’t want it.” She steps up the edge. 

I expect some swirling breeze or big flash of light. I expect glowing eyes and a thundering voice from the heavens to intervene. Doesn’t she have some sort of internal alarm that is supposed to trip when she is seconds away from mortal danger? Doesn’t she have like a billion past lives who could step in and use all of their wisdom to talk her out of this??

But there’s nothing. The sun starts to rise over the horizon. Korra takes a deep breath and extends her arms. 

Fine. There’s no supernatural intervention that’s going to swoop in at the last second? Fine. I’ll do it myself. Kya says Korra wants to be swept off her feet? I hope that was literal. 

“What are you waiting for?” I growl, and tackle her off the cliff. 

We tumble head over heels through blank space. It’s all I can do to keep my arms locked around Korra’s torso as we spin wildly out of control. The wind roars in my ears. My life doesn’t flash in front of my eyes. I don’t get a chance to wonder if I’ve miscalculated. My brain is wiped clean by one extended, wordless scream. 

And then we slow down. Our acceleration decreases and we hit the waves, except we don’t. There’s a thin cushion of air between us and the black ocean. We bounce in our air bubble a few times before it breaks and my tailbone collides painfully with the rocky shore. I don’t release my death grip on Korra. I hold on as tightly as if we were still falling and press my face into her side. 

WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” she bellows. “ARE YOU CRAZY? I just learned airbending! I don’t know what I’m doing! What if I didn’t save us?!” 

A nervous titter bubbles out of my throat and then I can’t stop. I press my full blown hysterics into Korra’s hip. 

“You’re laughing,” Korra says in disbelief. “You just did the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen and now you’re laughing.” 

Yes. And I can’t pause this ride now that we’re on it. Deep belly laughs come pouring out of me. I roll onto my back and cover my face and let the sound echo up the cliff. 

“You’ve lost it,” Korra says. 

I nod, still unable to speak. Maybe I’ll never speak again, just keep laughing and laughing. 

“Get up, psycho, you’re gonna get hypothermia.” 

Korra hoists me to my feet, though I feel a little shaky. I manage to suppress my laughter into more subdued giggles. Korra whistles for Naga and we wait while the polar bear dog makes her way down a narrow path in the cliffside. I’ve just returned to normal as we saddle up and Korra instructs me to “hold on tight” — which just sends me back into hysterics. She swears under her breath, but I can’t do anything except circle my arms around her waist and giggle against her shoulder. 

My gales of hysteria subside into numb hiccups on the ride back to Katara’s. 

“You need to get some sleep,” Korra tells me. 

I shake my head. “Not if you’re just gonna head back to those cliffs.” 

Korra digs the toe of her boot into the ground. 

“I knew it wasn’t bloodbending,” she mutters. “I just thought… if Katara couldn’t fix me, then…” 

My stomach drops. Korra never gives up. Never. She really thought jumping was what she was supposed to do. “It’s going to be okay,” I say, taking her hand. “We will figure it out. We’ll do some research, we can travel…” 

Korra drops my hand, shaking her head. 

“Yes,” I insist. “We will find an answer that doesn’t mean getting the world a new Avatar.” 

Korra nods once, still looking at the snow. “Yeah. That was… stupid. I’m still the Avatar, I can’t… quit. But—” she bites a fingernail. “But there’s no ‘we.’ I’ll go on being the Avatar — and you saved my life. Again. So, um, thanks. But there’s no ‘we.’ I’ve gotta… figure this shit out. And you have to go.” 

When she’s done talking, she looks up at me. There’s a sadness in her blue eyes, along with inarguable certainty. 

“But. Maybe I could help…” 

Korra shakes her head. “I’m sure you could. You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met. But I can’t — I can’t be around you. I can’t go back to how things were. I can’t forgive you for everything that’s happened. I wish—” Korra breaks off with a quick breath. “I just can’t.” 

All of the relief I’ve felt, all the insane laughter, turns backwards and condenses in a hard ball. I can’t speak or think. I can’t argue. There’s nothing left to argue. Korra goes inside, leaving me alone as the sun rises over the glacier.