A/N: In case you haven't caught on, dialogue spoken in the past is italicized and dialogue spoken in the present is normally written in quotation marks. Do you guys think the content of this chapter is still fine for T, or should I up the rating to M if some of these themes will become more prevalent later on?
This, Korra decides as she lies awake once again in bed on Air Temple Island, is officially the worst night of her life.
Landing in the hospital the previous night was bad enough, but at least she only spent until late afternoon trapped on her cot by the fussy nurse before her official discharge. And, thankfully, most of that hospital time was (finally) spent in sleep. The nurse returned shortly after Tahno taunted Korra with looks like we're stuck together, sweetheart to inject the Wolfbat with a shot of some sedative.
To see if we can fix you up and let you go without a cast, the nurse explained as she eased a needle into his upper arm. Really, it was probably to shut him up. Korra felt an odd prick and stinging just below the shoulder, almost as if the needle were pinching her own skin and not her rival's. But before she could dote on this for too long, she was out cold.
When Tenzin picked her up later in the day, he brought her straight back to Air Temple Island and warned her to take it easy per doctor's orders. The airbending kids were put in charge of babysitting the Avatar. She grinned and nodded along as Tenzin instructed Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo to watch her closely. This arrangement suited Korra just fine.
I promise I'll get you guys candy bars on the way back, she promised a group of wide-eyed children whose parents rarely ever brought processed sugar into the house.
Jinora alone seemed reluctant. The other two tugged on her sleeves, pleading and promising to take all the blame if they got caught. Korra smirked. She knew just how to convince the eldest child: I wouldn't mind stopping by the book store, too, and picking up some of those science-fiction and fantasy stories Tenzin doesn't want you reading.
This was all Korra needed to secure the kids' permission to swim out across the bay under the evening lights. The water tonight was like ice, so cold it hurt. This is why she swam alone instead of on Naga's back, a bubble of air sealed around her head and the contact of skin-on-water. It threw her back to a childhood she would never admit she missed, back to long dark nights under the wide and open polar sky. Republic City certainly had more of just about everything to offer, more of even the simplest things like color.
For example, in a city of narrow streets with ten thousand dusty cars, their red lights brighter than the sunset burned against the horizon, Korra could find sights like a man's black silhouette against a gold sunset as he fed some birds. He was just a homeless paraplegic tossing arcs of old brown bread into the shimmering air, and her life crossed with that of this complete stranger a few days ago. For some reason, his image stuck with her. It happened while she walking on the way home from an evening training session with Mako and Bolin. Korra noticed the man in his alley and paused across the street. She watched him lean low in his wheelchair to gather more bread from a paper bag and throw it again to the flutter of backlit lizard crow wings. Without saying anything or interfering, she watched him until the sun hid behind the city's shining buildings. When she left, the wheelchair man was looking at his empty bag and sitting at the heart of a pigeon flock, the birds' bodies darkened to blue shadows. She left the man gazing into the bag as if looking back on the road that had brought him to this place. The gaze of a poor man seeking answers in the dust.
In the south, it's rare to get all that color at once: black and gold and brown and all that wild bread and bird motion. Things are calmer there, and everything seems to be a shade of blue or white: the sky, the snow, the distant mountains, the sea, her bed, the covers, even every fragment of clothing worn to festivities or war. Which is not to say any of it's boring. Every one of even Korra's outfits had ten different shades of blue: sky blue, aqua blue, sea blue, navy blue—name a blue, it was there. Subtle differences, for sure, but each a fresh level of complexity to a seemingly uniform color. If nothing else, life in the south taught the Avatar to search for subtleties in all things.
Doesn't mean she couldn't enjoy the city's firelight pulsing on her skin.
Korra met the Fire Ferret brothers at their apartment in the pro-bending arena. They'd arranged this meeting a while ago, and no way were a few nights of troubled sleep going to keep her from accompanying them to a nightclub in the city. She'd bought fancy clothes for the evening and left them here so Tenzin wouldn't raise a fuss. While the boys dressed themselves, Korra slipped into the bathroom to put on a blue dress the color of moonlight on water. Strangely feeling somewhat tipsy, she twirled before the mirror and marveled at how the fabric rippled up her body. In this lonely room, she let herself be just a girl instead of the Avatar. She sighed, grinning at her reflection. Perhaps even Mako might be impressed . . .
Korraaaaaaaa, Bolin called through the door. Come on, hurry up.
I'm coming, geez!
'Kaaaaaaaay. It's just that Asami's already here. We're all waiting on you.
A razor edge of reality cut through Korra's daydreams. Midway through a spin, she froze. What the hell was she doing, dancing around like some stupid kid? Silly and forgettable, that's all she could ever come off as with these moves. Everything about her screaming childish: Korra's ponytails and her sleeveless shirts, her smirks and her burps. Miss Sato, on the other hand, was nothing but class and a woman's beauty. With her rich black hair, eyes like sharp green emeralds, her body tall and lush—she was nothing but gorgeous and sexy. The things, Korra realized as she stepped out into the main room, a tough and buff pro-bender like herself could never hope to be.
Mako was standing beside Asami, his arm tucked around her waist. The firebender's gaze followed Korra as she crossed the room to where Bolin and Pabu were perfecting some trick involving balancing treats on the fire ferret's nose. Mako's careful glance did not escape the young Avatar. She grinned secretly to herself.
All right. Korra told the earthbender, who was squatting beside his pet. Ready!
Bolin glanced up and just stared. He blinked over and over, mouth open as if wanting to say something profound. There was awe in his eyes, admiration, something that stirred a warm feeling in her belly against her wishes. You look . . . I . . . Korra . . .
Words were working against him, but his wide eyes and grin warmed her to her bones. The sense of tipsy washed over her more strongly now. Drunk off Bolin's presence? But she doesn't like him like that. Her affection is reserved for Mako, the boy standing with the Sato girl by the door . . .
Woah, Korra. Bolin steadied her, helped the Avatar sit on the floor without toppling over again. Her hands fisted against his shirt. Her chest hurt, tight, lungs seizing. Loud, erratic heartbeat. Eyes zoned in on his mouth, lips, she needed something from him. She didn't know how to ask. Bolin called Mako. They leaned Korra back against the floor, held her down while Asami ran to call Tenzin about the Avatar's latest fit or seizure. As for the young waterbender, she looked between the brothers and didn't care whose mouth she was allowed to pry open with the dark line of her own. She needed the wet heat of their kisses. Already, she could feel suction against her mouth. The distant, faint, tantalizing flick and glide of a tongue. Sudden fire in a bundle of nerves between her legs, feeding some physical hunger. A dizzying, clawing need and the tightness of her body—
That ended. Suddenly.
Her voice pitched into a gasp. She distantly remembered that Mako and Bolin were still beside her. But really, she didn't care. Couldn't process anything but the burn of pleasure and an overwhelming need to lie unmoving in exhaustion. Bolin yelped, and it was only then that Korra realized her nails were digging into his arm and into Mako's. The firebender, stoic as always, bit his lip and said nothing.
This was around the time when a very frazzled, very livid, very concerned Tenzin arrived to drag Korra home for the second time that day.
Hours later, this is how she has ended up lying awake once again in bed on Air Temple Island deciding this was officially the worst night of her life.
For one, she'd make a complete idiot out of herself in front of not only Bolin and Asami but Mako. Plus, Tenzin took away her moonlight dress. Even though he didn't openly say it, she knew he thought it made her look like a common slut with its low v-cut. And the airbending kids were going to be pissed at her in the morning since she hadn't exactly gotten them chocolate or books, even though they'd kept their end of the bargain.
Oh. And on top of all of that, she couldn't sleep.
Korra lies in bed breathing at the ceiling, and suddenly she feels an odd urge to use the bathroom. She gets up and stumbles over, but by the time she gets there she doesn't even really need to pee. So instead she leans against the sink to hold herself steady and stares into the mirror. She sees a girl of seventeen years with dreams in her eyes and some strange sickness.
"What's going on with you, huh?" Korra asks her reflection. "Can't you control yourself?"
There's suddenly a feeling of something cold flowing over her hands. She looks down to make sure the faucet's off. It is. But somehow, impossibly, it feels like she's just dipped her hands into water and is holding them flat and open beneath a running current of icy water.
Korra steps back, gasping. "What on earth . . ." she begins, but suddenly there is pain. Something hot bursts against her left wrist, mixing with the frost of water still on her hands. Someone's screaming, a high-pitched shriek, not stopping to breathe. Korra understands this scream belongs to her. She hits the bathroom walls and runs out, clutching her wrist. If she lets go, her veins might rip out of her body and bleed until she dies even though there's no visible wound on her skin. There's a window in her room. A window outside. She throws it open and leaps out, catching herself on a column of earth. Outside. Cold air. Wet, cold flakes flutter against on her face. Snowflakes? Korra falls against the ground, crying, mouth against the dirt. Her wrist stings like there's a knife under her skin. She's howling, needs it to stop, please, spirits, just let it end—
And it does. It ends with a distant sense of cool water eased over her wrist and then nothing. No pain. When Korra rolls onto her back and examines her arm, she sees nothing but unmarked skin.
Okay. Now she's officially going crazy.
She needs to get out of here for a few hours. Go swimming out in the bay again and just make sure she makes it back before Tenzin comes to get her for morning mediation. This time, Korra takes Naga with her. Even waterbenders can drown when they're unconscious. Given her recent track record, she's not taking any chances.
For a while the polar bear dog just paddles around with the Avatar resting on her back. Korra looks up at the sky, all clouds and constellations, and marvels at small flakes floating down slowly. The unexpected snow comes evenly, slowly, full of late autumn calm. In the south, her waterbending sifu had much wisdom to share about snow and what people could learn from it.
Snow doesn't care who it lands on, Katara once said as she and Korra watched small children chase each other with snowballs in the south. Then Katara caught one lone snowflake on her fingertip. And do you know what else? She smiled as a sister pelted her brother across the shoulder with a fat, tough snowball. One snowflake alone is so fragile, but look at how strong they become when they stick together.
Tonight, Korra's breath is fog against the cold night. This is evening the way she likes it, just the moon and snow and clouds and stars sandwiched between sea and sky.
Suddenly, she feels Naga tense. Korra rolls over to scratch her friend's head. "What is it girl?" The polar bear dog growls, her muzzle high and dripping above the water. Korra looks up. A hundred meters away, at most, a small yacht is bobbing in the bay. Now both girls are tense, but . . . this is interesting. A sailor in trouble? Equalists? The Avatar's breath is hot mist as she grits her teeth. "Let's go check it out," she suggests warily. Already, her hands are reaching out for water.
Naga swims up to the boat. Korra balances on the polar bear dog's back. The plan is simple: leap, grab railing, pull up, look around. Just in case, protective water circles her hands. Whispers against her palm. Kisses her fingers. Korra leaps up and grabs the railing. A quick current of water follows her up. She kicks over the rail and lands on the deck, arms extended, ready to fight if it's some kind of trouble—
"Oh. Oh. Why, Uhvatar, you must be so taken to pursue me all the way out here."
The water goes slack in Korra's grip and splashes on the deck. She stares at Tahno reclining in a beach chair, halfway through the gesture of pouring hot tea into a small white cup. He's wrapped up in a thick blue towel, but the edges of long sleeves and pant legs suggest he's clothed beneath. The Wolfbat sets the teapot back down on the deck and blows steam off the surface of the tea. His mouth curls into that usual smirk.
"Ugh, it's just you," Korra snaps. She makes a special effort to sound as disgusted as possible. "I saw a boat and thought it was abandoned. Or that someone needed help."
He flips his hair in a totally unnecessary gesture. "Maybe I could use some help. Are you here to offer private lessons of your own?" He quirks an eyebrow and blows on his cup again. "It's my personal ship. No one would bother us."
She does a one-eighty spin and throws up her hands before she throws up dinner from staring at his stupid face. "I'm out. Have fun on your yacht."
"As you wish. Go pretend you can airbend back on your island. I'm sure you're making great progress. Soon you can pawn your services as an air conditioner."
Donotpunchhisface youwillbedisqualified KorrastopKorrastop thinkofMakoKORRASTOP. This sequence of thoughts keeps her fists locked on the railing and from turning around.
"Aren't you disappointed they managed to fix my arm?" he calls. "Now you can't just have a cop-out victory. Maybe you should try breaking it again. You might get luckier than my windshield."
Ignoring that idiot is best. Instead, she sets her foot on the lower rail and glances down to where Naga is waiting, tail wagging. Korra waves and prepares to jump down when, suddenly, there is a sharp burning on her tongue.
"Ouch," she gasps, except she realizes she is not the only one who spoke.
Korra turns around and sees Tahno setting down his teacup. His tongue is sticking out, and he's muttering something about the damn hot tea. He bends some water from over the railing and eases it onto his tongue. As the water touches his tongue, she feels a calm cooling sensation pass over her own. Her jaw slackens. Impossible.
Tahno stares back.
"See something you like?" he teases, but right now she could care less about his provocations. All Korra can think of is this: lifting her right hand and forming a fist.
"Oh, are you going to use that?" Tahno taunts.
She is, but not on him. Not directly, anyway. Korra's fist tightens, and she punches herself in the left forearm as hard as she possibly can. And when Tahno shrieks and grabs his left arm, grabs it in the exact same place she just punched herself, the Avatar realizes she stands teetering on the verge of a realization that is, as far as she can imagine, unimaginable.
A/N: Love it? Hate it? Please at least let me know someone is reading this. My Fire and Ice fans are literally sending me batches of frantic PMs requesting updates on that story, but I will stick with this piece if you guys like it. If not, I have over a dozen panicky messages to appease regarding my other story. Help me decide what I should do, please!
Edit: Okay, so, I will be continuing this twelve-chapter story beginning on December 20 and through December 31. That way, I won't fail my final exam on December 19 in the evening but will still complete this mini-saga. XD Sounds good to everyone? See you in a few days!