I am back again, with the next installment of my Korrasook series. I am really having a lot of fun with the Korra fandom right now - who else is pumped for Book 2 next month?! - and I'm glad I've finally got this done. The next ficlet will coincide with episode eight, When Extremes Meet, and I have it all plotted out. I think you'll enjoy that one. It gets pretty angsty. Sorry this took so long, by the way, for those of you interested in this pairing. Seriously, can we spread the word some? I'm practically the only one who writes for this couple. Just sayin'.
I OWN NOTHING EXCEPT THAT WHICH I OWN.
Korra jackknifes awake in her bed, a strangled scream tangled in her throat. Her chest is heaving fiercely and the length of her body is drenched in sweat. Images flash before her wide eyes – shadows and restraints and a menacing mask that promises destruction.
I'm saving you for last.
She shudders violently, gasping. She rakes a trembling hand through her mussed hair and tries to calm her galloping heart. Knowing that there will be no more sleep this night, she slides out of her bed. Though the hour is late, Republic City is far from dormant and Korra decides to venture into it with the vague hope of quelling her fears. She strips out of her sweaty nightclothes, rinsing her sticky skin with water from the nearby basin. She pulls on her baggy blue pants, substituting her sleeveless top for a white one with long sleeves. She doesn't feel like being recognized tonight, doesn't want word of her outing to reach Tenzin's sharp ears.
To further ensure a sense of anonymity, she ties her wild hair into a hasty knot near the crown of her head; her wolftails are too iconic. The coat Mako procured for her to sneak into the Equalist rally with is folded in the middle drawer of her nightstand; she shakes it out and pulls it on, hurriedly clasping it up to the base of her throat. She briefly wishes she had Mako's scarf.
Satisfied that she isn't immediately recognizable, Korra snuffs out the fire from her lantern and creeps from her bedroom. Naga looks up at her briefly but makes no sound, and she easily evades the notice of her White Lotus guards – even Howl, who is the most attuned to her. Within minutes she has escaped into the cool embrace of the water, bending herself to the shore.
It isn't the first time Korra has sneaked away from the island.
This is especially true for the last couple of weeks, since rescuing Bolin from the rally. The nightmares have multiplied and are growing more and more intense. With all of the shadows and the isolation of the temple, Korra feels smothered and her only escape is found in traversing the streets of Republic City. They are crowded with an unusual amount of people – it is half-past three – and the probending arena is still lit. She considers going to the brothers' apartment, but decides that it's not fair to wake them up at an ungodly hour just because she's jumpy.
Jumpy's an understatement, she thinks dryly. More like terrified.
She shakes her head to rid herself of the bitter thought and continues to wander around. She thinks about going to the park, but the lights and music and laughter of the small amusement park at the end of the boardwalk catch her attention. The softer atmosphere is exactly what she needs right now. Smiling to herself, Korra makes her way down the boardwalk, looking around. There are numerous game booths and food stalls; carts lined with little trinkets. She can see the Ferris wheel at the far end of the walk, a brightly lit thing that slowly turns round and round. Korra has never been on one before.
A man behind a game booth calls out to her, asking if she'd like to knock down some bottles for a prize. Korra goes closer, peering curiously at the pyramid of glass milk bottles, stacked so precisely. Hanging above them is an array of stuffed animals – fire ferrets, wolfbats, lemurs, sky bison, rabbaroos, tigerdillos, even a lone polar bear dog – that vary in size. The polar bear dog is the largest, almost half her size; it reminds her of a younger Naga, and she lets her gaze linger on it for a moment. She knows that she could win it, her arms are strong and her aim is impeccable. But she has come unprepared.
She smiles apologetically. "Sorry, I don't have any money on me." The man huffs and just as she is turning to move on elsewhere – toward that Ferris wheel – a voice speaks from behind her. "I can win you that polar bear dog."
She whips around and is at once surprised and unsurprised to see Hasook. He is the same as always – hair just as messy, clothes just as rumpled, eyes just as soft and gray and direct. His coat is unbuttoned over his shirt and his newsboy cap sits lopsided on his head; he regards her with something like resigned amusement.
"Do you want it or not?" he asks, impatient with her silence. She clears her throat. "You don't have to -"
He rolls his eyes. "I know I don't have to, but I'm offering. Yes or no?"
It may have been the lingering vulnerability from her nightmare, some childlike part of her that wanted the company of another person, or perhaps Korra is aware of how unusual this night is. Unusual and unreal and maybe a bit supernatural. There is something uncanny in the air tonight, as she stands and looks at him. She has the vague notion that the Spirits have decided to play with her, but she doesn't think it's entirely a bad thing. It is this notion that makes her consent.
His eyes lighten a shade or two and he hands the man a couple of Yuans. In return, he is given three moo-sowskin balls, like Korra has seen street urchins playing games with. The man tells Hasook that he has three chances to win a prize; if he knocks all the bottles over the first throw, he gets the polar bear dog. Korra learns that it is the grand prize and that people have been trying all day to win it. She wonders if this try will be any different.
She is not disappointed.
Hasook barely takes the time to line up his aim before hurling the ball with expert, streamlined precision. His hit strikes the bottom of the stack, taking out the entire row and bringing the other three tiers down with it. He smirks, self-satisfied, and looks at the man – who is quite stunned – expectantly. The man quickly comes to himself and unhooks the polar bear dog, handing it over to Hasook. "Congratulations there, sonny. Kids've been tryin' ta win that all day."
Hasook nods and turns to Korra, holding the stuffed dog out to her. She takes it, wrapping her arms around its thick, fuzzy neck and hugging it to her chest. She smiles. "Thanks."
Hasook shrugs, and Korra politely ignores the pink tint that pools on his cheeks. "'S not a big deal."
Korra hides her second smile and begins to walk off. He falls easily into step beside her. "So what are you doing out here so late?" she asks, curious.
"Eska couldn't sleep, said he wanted to mess around here for awhile."
"Where is he?" Korra notices that Hasook is distinctly without his brother.
"Last time I saw him, he was talking up some girl, winning a fire ferret for her."
Korra cannot contain her laugh. "I wonder where he got that from." She hugs her stuffed dog a little closer. Hasook shifts, embarrassed, and returns her question. "What are you doing out here?"
Some of her happiness dims. "I... couldn't sleep, either. And the island was suffocating, so I came out here for a bit." He seems to understand just why she couldn't sleep, and thankfully doesn't acknowledge it. He only nods in acceptance, satisfied with her answer.
"Well, since we're both here, you wanna get some food?"
As one of the few things that never fails to appeal to her, food sounds very good to Korra. She happily agrees and follows him to a food stall that sells small cups of spicy noodles and freshly-made sushi rolls. Hasook buys their meals – a gesture that, while appreciated, makes Korra feel guilty – and leads her to a picnic table not far away, on a side extension of the boardwalk next to the railing that separates them from the water. He sits across from her and hands her her food. She thanks him again, still feeling guilty for being penniless, and digs in. The heat of the noodles stings her tongue, but the cool of the sushi is enough to soothe it. The food is wonderful, as far as carnival fare goes.
"So, you guys made it to the finals, huh?" He breaks the silence after a few minutes of eating. "And the Council's keeping the arena open?"
Korra nods, swallowing her mouthful. "Yeah. I'm... I'm not sure if we made the right choice, though. Convincing the Council, I mean."
"Why? Isn't it a good thing? The benders and nonbenders have somewhere to go and be together in peace, and you guys still get to play."
She nods. "I know, but I just have this pit in my stomach. Amon said there would be consequences, and I know he isn't lying. And even though Bei Fong will have her cops there, I don't think it'll be enough to stop whatever Amon is planning."
"The metalbenders are experienced, and not easy to take down," Hasook observes, punctuating his words by waving around his chopsticks. "They can't be chi-blocked, so that's a plus. I can't really say anything to help you, except that it won't do you any good to worry about it right now. You have a huge match tomorrow night – against the Wolfbats, in case you forgot – and you'll need to focus. You won't win if your head's somewhere else. Trust me."
Korra falls silent, staring at her half-eaten food sullenly. She wants to believe Hasook, wants to believe that things will be all right and nothing bad will happen with the metalbenders there. But she doesn't. She has come face-to-face with Amon, has seen him in the flesh. That encounter was too close for comfort; it would have been so easy, as he'd said, to take her bending. Korra knows this. It frightens her beyond comprehension. Despite having talked with Tenzin about her misgivings, she feels no relief, no sense of peace. For all of his worldly advice, it seems to her that Tenzin is trying to dispel her fear, rather than address it and work through it. It festers.
Hasook is looking at her, studying her closely with keen gray eyes. He is suspicious, knows that she is hiding something from him. He possibly even knows what it is, down to the last grisly detail. She does not know this boy well, not like she knows Mako and Bolin, but she somehow feels that he knows her. Aside from having seen her undressing – a memory that now brings her a small bit of humor – he has seen her as something that neither of the brothers has: vulnerable. Hasook found her disabled on the street, beaten and left behind in a dark alley for anyone to come along and take. She swallowed her pride enough to ask him for his help and allowed him to carry her – support her – somewhere she would be safe.
That is how she feels around him, how she feels right now, eating noodles and sushi against the backdrop of the carnival. Korra has always felt secure, confident. When was the last time she felt safe, though? Like no person or thing could harm her, could even get close enough to. Mako ignites her temper and her blood, but he does not make her feel safe. He does not make her feel cared for. But with Hasook it is different. He is every bit as temperamental as Mako, yet he has a gentle way about him. He can be grumpy and curt, as Korra has often seen, but when he looks at her there is a softness in his eyes that she thinks won't be able to ignore for much longer.
"What are you thinking about?"
His question jolts her back to reality and she blushes. "Nothing I'm going to talk about right now."
Hasook, as he is apt to do, accepts this reply. He polishes off the last of his sushi and tosses the garbage into a bin. His eyes meet hers once more.
"Have you ever ridden the Ferris wheel?"
Korra has never experienced anything like this.
The Ferris wheel is immense. They have reached the top, pausing while the last cars are filled. Turning in every direction, she can see all of Republic City. Everything from Air Temple Island to the Outskirts that taper off into the foothills of the mountains. The city is alive with a multitude of lights. Korra can hear the sounds of water and ships and Satomobiles, and smell the grease and saltwater, though the air is clearer up here. Being up so high like this is new, despite having ridden Oogi countless times before. There is something unique in the way they are suspended. It is magnificent.
"This is amazing!" she says, turning to Hasook with eyes like glowing gems. "How have I never ridden this before?"
He shrugs, privately admiring her radiance. "Too busy, I guess."
"Being the Avatar has that effect." Korra starts in surprise when the wheel begins to move again. "We're not done, are we?"
"No, the carts are all filled. The ride is actually starting now."
Hasook, being a seasoned veteran of the Ferris wheel, leans back and relaxes into the ride. Korra is hanging off the edge of the cart, trying to take everything in all at once. Hasook smiles to himself, enjoying their time together while it lasts. Despite his confident words to Korra earlier, he, too, is worried about the tournament. About what Amon will do. He fears for Eska's safety, as well as his own. What will happen to them? Where will they go? Mostly – and surprisingly – he worries about Korra.
As the Avatar, all the pressure of protecting not only the people, but the balance of the world, falls onto her shoulders. Her small, seventeen-year-old shoulders. In spite of his wealth of faith in Korra and her abilities, the fear is inescapable. Amon has the frightening power of eradicating bending with a flick of his wrist. The maniac had already had Korra in his grasp once – who's to say it wouldn't happen again just as easily? What would they do if Korra lost her bending? What would become of Republic City? Of the world? What would become of Korra?
"Hey, what're you thinking about?" Korra asks, prodding his side and dispelling his morose thoughts. He smirks faintly.
"Nothing I'm going to talk about right now."
Korra chuckles. "Touche. C'mon, the ride's over."
They step off the Ferris wheel and meander around for another hour or so. By this time, the first light of dawn appears, a thin stroke of turtle-dove gray that slowly spills over the horizon. Both see this and both hold back a sigh, each as reluctant as the other to part ways. But part ways they do.
Korra looks up at him with bright eyes. "Thank you, for dinner and the bear and the wheel. And for listening. It was nice for someone to finally listen."
Hasook offers her a light smile that belies the pounding of his heart. "Anytime, Avatar."
It strikes Korra that he has never called her by her name. "Just Korra."
"Korra," he concedes, relishing the way her name falls from his lips.
"Not so bad, huh?" she quips cheekily.
He offers a small grin. "Guess not." It's fantastic, actually.
She beams at him then shifts around nervously. "I should go. It won't be long before someone notices I'm gone and that's one fight I'm not up for."
"Good idea," Hasook murmurs. He wants to say something else, anything to keep her there longer but the words stick in his throat.
"See ya around, I guess."
Korra turns to leave and before he can stop himself, Hasook blurts, "Korra, wait."
She turns to him expectantly, eyes bright with something like hopefulness and holy spirits what has he done?
"Uh.. I – I.." Spirits, just say something, moron! "Can I see you again? Sometime? At a place? Or just..." He tapers off, aware that he is rambling and she is smiling and he could just die. At he didn't stutter.
"I'd like that. Yeah." Her smile is nearly blinding in its intensity. "Uh, Narook's? Three days?"
"Sure," he breathes, not entirely sure what's happening but liking where things are going. "Yeah, alright.
"Great. See ya then."
Then she's gone. Vanished into the crown, thin as it is, and Hasook is left standing there staring at nothing. This is, in fact, where Eska finds him almost twenty minutes later.
"Bro, where have you been? And what are you doing just standing there like that? It's creepy."
"I think I have a date with the Avatar."