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The Avatar in Chains

Chapter Text

Earth. Fire. Air. Water.

The Legend of Avatar Aang was known across the world, for the heroic acts of him and his friends as they put an end to the Fire Nation's century-long war. While much of the damage to the world was irreversible, some of the Fire Nation's marks were not all negative. Guided by the wise and powerful Avatar, the world returned to balance once again, and for a short time, there was peace.

Sadly, like all things, Avatar Aang went the way of the world, and the search for the Avatar begun anew, with people of all walks scouring the two Water Tribes for the next incarnation of the Avatar. For four years they had no success until a fateful day in the Southern Water Tribe where the identity of the Avatar suddenly became very clear…

The Southern Water Tribe was generally a quiet place that saw little action, and had been that way since the 100-Year War. Boredom was certainly much more preferable than fighting foreign invaders, however, and so the locals certainly would not complain.

And yet four years ago with the passing of Avatar Aang, there had been a stir in both the Southern Water Tribe and its Northern sister. Water was the next element in the Avatar Cycle, which meant that one of the children born around the time of Aang's death was the next Avatar. And thus the hunt for this new incarnation began, even if most people expected it to be fruitless for at least another 12-16 years. In many cases the Avatar did not even realize his or her identity until it was revealed by sages or other wise men and women of the nation in question. However, the next Avatar was nothing like her past brethren in this regard. The search for "The Avatar After Aang" was much shorter than anyone in the world suggested, and unlike many fraudsters and other devious claimants, the proof of her identity was impossible to deny...

"Momma! Daddy!" a 4-year-old Korra ran through the Water Tribe hut excitedly, "lookie! Lookie! I can bend now!"

It was always an exciting revelation for an element bender to be born in a household, especially since both Tonraq and Senna were waterbenders themselves. However, the little display that their daughter gave them was not what either of them expected.

"Hiyaa!" Korra showed off once she noticed her parents watching her. Instead of moving any water, she shot a little puff of flame from her hand.

"...Firebending?" Tonraq raised his eyebrow at Senna in a mock-suspicious way.

"Not now," Senna muttered out of the corner of her mouth, before turning to Korra. "That's…" she wanted to congratulate the youngster, but the implications of birthing a firebender put Senna on the spot in a very unfortunate way. "That's amazing, sweetie. But you should be careful—we don't want you setting the house on fire."

"I'll go outside then," Korra lowered her head as her lower lip stuck out in a pout.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," Senna ruffled the youngster's hair, "if you set the hut on fire, you won't have a hut to go outside of."

Reasoning with toddlers was always tricky, and Senna knew little Korra well enough that her tricks wouldn't work anymore. Korra pouted again and stomped dramatically away, before Senna cast her eyes back up at Tonraq.

"I know what you're thinking," she began, "and I swear to the Avatar himself that I did no such thing, and would never do such a thing."

"I want to believe that," Tonraq nodded, "I want to believe it's some sort of divine prank... But two waterbenders producing a firebender just doesn't add up."

"Well even if it was the case," Senna retorted, "how many firebenders live in the south pole anyways? This isn't the 100-year War where Fire Nation soldiers are having their way with the tribespeople at their every whim. And before you mention her, Nakkoa is a woman. The odds of her being the cause of Korra's firebending are just as likely as her being the one who carried her to term, thank you very much."

"Don't get defensive," Tonraq raised his voice slightly, "especially since I'm not trying to accuse you. Admit it though—it's confusing and awkward, and not just to me."

"Of course it's confusing!" Senna rebuked, "No one ever asks 'who is the mother' when a bastard child shows up, for the most obvious reasons; and the idea that I would betray you is just…" Senna's fists clenched as if she was trying to hold back feelings, "It's an affront to me, it's an affront to you, and it's an affront to our little girl! I still remember the first time we met, love. It's been nearly a decade, and do you really think I'd throw that all away?"

"Once again," Tonraq reaffirmed, "I'm not trying to accuse you, and I sure as hell don't WANT to accuse you. I believe you and you know it; but odds are the rest of the world isn't going to see it the same way—and I don't want my wife's name tainted with an act she did not commit, any more than I want my daughter to be inappropriately labelled as a bastard child."

"Then we need an explanation, and we need it n—" Senna was cut off as a large hole appeared in the side of the hut, and little Korra was standing there with a dumbfounded expression, her little hands on her hips and her stance really pushing her abdomen outwards. How the child had a pot-belly at her age was something of a mystery, especially because most of her baby fat was long gone at this age, and she was otherwise a fairly small and skinny tyke. Her face, however, almost turned Tonraq and Senna's frowns upside-down on the spot.

"Momma!" she demanded, her lower lip sticking out in a comically commanding expression, "why are you and daddy fighting!?"

Senna and Tonraq both suddenly had expressions that looked even more dumbfounded than the one their little daughter was giving them.

"Korra…" Senna's eyes narrowed, as an ornamental shield slipped from the nail it hung on, "did you just break a hole in the wall?"

"Oh…" Korra looked down at her feet before turning around and looking at the hole. "I can make it better, momma!"

She spun around and raised her little fists, causing the stonework of the hut to seal up the hole. The work was shoddy, but it was suddenly clear that their little girl wasn't a firebender. Senna cracked a smirk as she put two and two together.

"I think we just saved the world a dozen years of witch-hunting." She turned to Tonraq, who grinned and then also sighed with relief.

"Korra," Tonraq extended one of his massive hands towards his little girl, where she wrapped one of her tiny hands around his finger. "We need to talk."

"Am I in trouble?" Korra's lower lip stuck out and her eyes widened into the most heart-melting puppy-eyes this side of the spirit world.

"No," Tonraq smiled to reassure her, the tyke's expression pulling on all his heartstrings in all the right ways, "but it's time we told you a little story of a powerful someone called the Avatar…"

=Three Days Later…=

"It's 4 in the goddamn morning, dear." Senna groaned into her pillow three nights later as they heard their rambunctious 4-year-old smashing rocks and chanting "I'm the Avatar! I'm the Avatar!" endlessly. "As much as I love our kid… please for the love of Aang do something to make her shut up and go back to bed."

"I did it last time," Tonraq replied with an equally exhausted groan.

"You were the one who worked up the legend of the Avatar to be this great and amazing thing," Senna riposted, "and while true, I need more than 4 hours of sleep a day, beauty sleep be damned. When momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy."

The door suddenly flew off its hinges for the fourth time in the last 48 hours.


"That's it." Tonraq groaned as he pulled himself up, "I'll deal with it again…"

Senna buried her face into her pillow again and so only heard parts of the ensuing banter, although with the adamant way Korra was yelling "DEAL WITH IT!" over and over, it was clear that Tonraq's battle was a formidable one. It was nearly half an hour later before he returned, and for the moment there was glorious quiet.

"I love that little shit to death," He grunted as he climbed back into bed with his wife, "but so help me, she's a handful."

"And you don't even have to deal with her all day," Senna riposted, "guess who does, while you're out hunting and fishing?"

"Touché," Tonraq mumbled. "You win this time."

The wild misadventures of the 4-year-old Avatar were far from over though. Not more than a week and a half later, the house was unnaturally silent, and little Korra was nowhere to be found. Thus, despite the quiet night, neither Tonraq nor Senna slept much that night as they led an endless search party that evening with no success in finding their wayward daughter. It was only the morning after that Tonraq finally found the little munchkin, who, to his utmost relief, was safe and snug in a ramshackle igloo that she had likely 'built' from her own waterbending. An effortless wave of his hand to dismantle the roof later, and he found his little daughter curled up with, of all things, a polar bear-dog.

"Huh boy… story time." he mentally sighed as he nudged his little girl awake.

To cut a long story short, Korra made a pretty stern argument for a 4-year-old as to why she wanted to keep the little cub, whom she had christened "Naga". The pup followed her, and Korra kept close to it in return, leading Tonraq to believe the youngster's claim that "we both saved each other!" may have actually been the complete truth. Of course, he'd still have to break this news to Senna, and so he was not in any real hurry to get home too soon.

"Huh boy… story time." Senna's mental thought process upon seeing the trio return to the hut was almost exactly identical to what Tonraq's had been upon finding Korra and Naga. However, Tonraq managed to smooth things over, and Korra managed to build her new companion a rough little shelter from the snow and wind just outside the hut, proudly showing off her little waterbending and earthbending tricks.

"It'll be a good opportunity to teach her responsibility," Tonraq reasoned later that evening after Korra had amazingly gone quietly to bed, "and maybe I'm a softie, but I'm not just gonna let that cub wander off and die."

"I'd hope not," Senna riposted, "what do you take me for; some kind of monster?"

"When momma ain't happy, ain't no one happy," Tonraq repeated, earning himself a punch in the arm from his wife.

"Touché," Senna riposted.

Neither one was overly surprised to find that Naga had joined Korra in her bed the next morning, although whether it was the cub who snuck in and found Korra, or whether it was Korra sneaking her into her room, was a mystery until Senna noticed a crudely patched hole in the wall near the door. There was never a dull moment with this child; that much was certain.

And the trend of a distinct absence of dull moments would continue. Hardly 2 weeks after the revelation of Korra being the Avatar came to light, an envoy from the Order of the White Lotus arrived at their doorstep, speaking to them about an inquiry regarding the Avatar.

"Welcome." Senna invited the two men and the woman inside.

"The White Lotus has honoured my family by coming," Tonraq added, "Thank you."

"We have investigated many claims, both here and in the Northern Water Tribe." the leader of the three spoke, "All have turned out to be false."

"Well then," Senna beamed, "you should be happy to know your search has come to an end."

"How can you be so certain that she is… the one…?" the tall man narrowed his eyes as he all but stared Senna right down.

"Korra?" Senna called without losing an ounce of slightly smug confidence, "be a dear and come here a moment, please?"

Not 4 seconds later, the wall behind them flew apart as rock shards went everywhere, with a majority of the stone slab flying right past the three White Lotus Members. Tonraq and Senna seemed so utterly unfazed by this by now that the contrast was almost comical. Regardless, all five of them cocked their heads towards the source of the ruckus. Standing in the newfound little hole was a barefooted pot-bellied toddler wearing blue clothes and a commanding expression.

"OOHHHH YEEAAAAHHHHH!" she howled triumphantly, swinging her arms to slide the stone fragments to one side. "I'M THE AVATAR! AND YOU GOTTA DEAL WITH IT!"

Whether it was just a vulgar display of power or if she actually knew that people were coming to verify her claims of being the Avatar, she began slinging the water that was formerly tracked in on the floor out in every direction. The household had long since been cleared of most pottery and other fragile objects, although there were still cracks in the walls from all the times Korra had smashed through them. After her little demonstrations of earth and water, she raced towards the three White Lotus strangers, slinging little fireballs at them. There was no denying it now: Korra was the Avatar—and the world had to deal with it.

Chapter Text

The world reacted in many different ways to the announcement of the Avatar's return. Many were pleased; a few were less than pleased, primarily due to a string of rumours that began popping up about crimes committed by Avatar incarnations of old. The people of Chin City (formerly Chin Village) began constructing an effigy resembling Avatar Korra for their infamous celebration of "Avatar Day", which had somehow cropped back up despite the efforts of Avatar Aang manifesting himself as one of his past lives in order to clear it up. Members of the United Republic of Nations began contemplating what this would mean for them, while leaders in the Northern Water Tribe, Ba Sing Se, Caldera City, and Air Temple Island began to anticipate the growth and development of this young avatar-to-be.

And from the quieter and darker recesses of the world, the Red Lotus heard of the news and began scheming right away. The most formidable of the schemes was a wild plan pitched by Zaheer that involved plucking the youngster straight from the Water Tribe. It was met, however, with opposition from a few different parties.

"I am not saying we need to abandon the idea," Water Chief Unalaq spoke up, "But Kwan is right. If we brazenly try to kidnap a 4-year-old child, especially in light of Avatar Aang's request for the White Lotus to guard and protect his new incarnation at all costs, all it will do is cost us valuable members, who will be of no use dead or imprisoned."

"The Chief's right; we need to take a more patient 'n diplomatic approach." The short little earthbender named Kwan spoke, her long messy black hair bouncing with each gesture she made, "let 'em have the kid for a few years. Most Avatars don't show their faces until they're 16."

"And some do not show up until beyond that," a bearded man behind Kwan spoke up.

"Oh?" Unalaq raised his eyebrow, "do enlighten us, Zaheer?"

"Have you heard the story of Avatar Kozue and the Interregnum Avatars?" he asked the others. There was silence in the room as the other six individuals apart from Zaheer fell silent.

"She was a nobody," Zaheer began, "a Fire Nation Avatar discovered in the bowels of the Sun Warrior tribes 22 years after her birth. She was powerful; revered as some sort of goddess by the locals, even if she had not seen much of the world beyond her ruins."

"How a Fire Nation Avatar wound up there of all places…" Unalaq began,

"...Is irrelevant." Zaheer asserted, "despite being sheltered from the world, Kozue was a powerful and influential figure in her time, and her successors ended up creating one of the most terrifying regimes of Avatar rules to ever rule this world. The point is—is that the longer we wait, the stronger the Avatar will come. The stronger she becomes, the bigger an enemy she will become. The sooner we can get our hands on her and help her discover her path, the better."

"If you can't lick 'em… join 'em." Kwan asserted, "wait a few years; when she's 13 or 14, a couple of us folks with less of a, erm… reputation… can sweet talk 'em."

"I doubt you're one to talk much about sweet-talking, dear," a black-haired Firebender with a high ponytail spoke up, "you've got the charisma of a moose-lion."

"That's what I've got you for, Nakkoa," Kwan retorted, unoffended by the remark, "but I'll be at your side to make sure you don't get the brilliant idea of trying to stab everyone and set them on fire just to reach the Avatar. We're gonna go there to talk—not kill 'em."

"Touché indeed, sister," Nakkoa sighed, twirling a knife in her hands before it disappeared into the sleeve of her blue clothing.

"And here I was hoping for a bit of diversion," Ghazan, one of the other members of the room spoke up, "Kwan, what's the point of lavabending mastery if you don't even want to use it?"

"It's called self-control, Ghazan," Kwan riposted. "Maybe you've heard of it?"

"I'm not back in prison yet, am I?" Ghazan laughed. You do owe me another rematch in Caldera City one of these days though—preferably when you're not in the Republic City Jail."

"We've got plenty of time for that then," Kwan shook her head, "Ain't like the Avatar's gonna age up to 14 overnight, eh?"

"Indeed," Unalaq steepled his fingers. "But since it seems that Operation Koh is a no-go, we have little more to discuss at the moment."

"So essentially," an armless waterbender spoke up, "this whole thing was a waste of time."

"I dunno, Ming-Hua," Ghazan quipped, "the idea of telling us not to rush in like madmen and get apprehended and sent to prison seems like time well-spent to me."

"Along with 'here, let's wait 10 years for the Avatar to grow stronger'," Ming-Hua flicked some bangs out of her face with a tendril of water, "but what choice do we have?"

"You're almost dripping with more sarcasm than water there, Ming," Nakkoa laughed.

"My talents extend far beyond just waterbending, sweetheart." Ming-Hua retorted.

"And what of you, P'Li?" Zaheer turned to the final of his comrades in the chamber deep below the mountain, "you haven't said a word."

"I have nothing to say," P'Li answered, her chin in her hands. "If Kwan and Nakkoa can sweet-talk the White Lotus into handing over the Avatar to us when she's 14, then we can plan from there. No point in premature planning with an uncertainty on the table."

"For how uncharismatic my sister might be," Nakkoa pointed out, "hiding in plain sight is basically what she does. Just ask the Agni Kai Triads next time you're in Republic City."

"I would not be condoning your plan if I did not think it could work." P'Li cocked her head towards the two sisters. "

"Finally, a woman with an ounce of sense," Unalaq spread his arms in an almost welcoming manner. "Zaheer, if your true goal is freedom, you might be taking this approach to the Avatar a little too structured. Besides, we are trying to guide her over to supporting our cause, not trying to murder the poor creature."

"I know what we are doing," Zaheer countered, "And I will get back to you when necessary. Nakkoa knows what to do, and Kwan's there to keep her in check. We shall speak again."

Apart from Unalaq, every man and woman in the room had some kind of criminal history, but the Northern Water Chief was just as sleazy as the others in terms of how he operated. Kwan and Nakkoa made semi-regular trips to the Southern Water Tribe to watch over Korra, when they weren't engaged in undercover activity in Republic City. Sleeper agents were their best friend right now, and so while Zaheer, Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and P'Li remained on the down low, Unalaq returned to his post in the north, whilst the earthbending and firebending sisters returned to their daily dealings. And for years, all was quiet.

Korra grew into a powerful young lady as she matured and developed over the years. Her adolescence had begun, and before she knew it, she was celebrating her 14th birthday. Her mastery over Water, Earth, and Fire continued to grow, although her brash attitude, reckless attacks, and vulgar displays of power hindered her spiritual performance. Her distinct lack of an airbending teacher was also a problem considering that only one airbending master existed in the world right now, and this Tenzin fellow was miles away on an island just off of Republic City. Considering that most avatars did not begin learning the elements until the age of 16 though, the idea that Korra did not know all four elements at the age of 14 was nothing that anyone—including the White Lotus, Tonraq, Senna, or even Master Katara, thought was unusual.

What they did find unusual though, was Kwan and Nakkoa knocking on Tonraq and Senna's door one early morning hardly a day or two after the Avatar's birthday. Despite their different bending disciplines and Kwan's slightly darker skin, it was clear the two women were sisters, given that they had a very similar pointed facial structure not unlike that of Fire Nation Nobility.

"I never understood your wiles, Nakkoa," Tonraq shook his head, "And never figured out what's kept you and your sister coming back to the Water Tribes of all places, and for so long. I digress, however. What brings you to my home?"

"I'm sure you've been bothered to oblivion and back about this," Nakkoa admitted, putting on a sheepish grin, "but it's about your daughter."

"I take it there's a reason you brought Kwan along?" Tonraq cast his eyes towards the shorter woman who flicked her hand in a sort of wave as they were invited in from the cold morning.

"We understand the intentions of the White Lotus to keep her locked up here for her own protection, what with word of those Red Lotus hooligans crawling around every corner it seems" Nakkoa reasoned, "but I feel like that not only makes a mockery of the Avatar and her abilities, but also a solemn mockery of everything the Avatar stands for."

"Oh?" Senna poked her head in, "this should be interesting."

"Even Avatar Aang travelled the world, and he was younger than Korra is now, and had the entire Fire Nation Army on his tail." Nakkoa explained, almost as if she had prepared a speech for this very thing, "What I'm saying is that I believe your daughter is more than capable of learning swiftly, and with the right supervision, she could be kept safe from the clutches of the Red Lotus or anyone else who would wish to do her harm, all the while realizing her destiny."

"And I suppose you're the one who is 'volunteering' for this duty?" Senna raised her eyebrow.

"Well certainly not by myself," Nakkoa giggled, "I'm just the charismatic one. Kwan's the friendly one with all the connections. But even then, Korra would be safe in our hands."

This of course, attracted the attention of the teenaged Korra, who had still been lying in bed because of the "earliness" of the hour. Korra had her rebellious moments, but for the most part, she listened to her parents in many aspects. One issue that she refused to budge on, however, was the morning, which she adamantly and stubbornly declared "was evil".

"I heard my name," she smacked her lips, rubbing her eyes.

"Good morning to you, Avatar," Nakkoa beamed.

"Hmph," Korra snorted, "you can't tell me that without lying twice. You were talking about me though; what's that about?"

Nakkoa calmly repeated what she had told Korra's parents, both of whom didn't quite seem sold on the idea yet, although Korra was sold on it immediately.

"At this point," she perked up ever so slightly, "I've been cooped up here for 14 years and I want to get out and stretch my wings. Mom; Dad; I want to go with them."

"We haven't even said where we're goin' though," Kwan exclaimed before Nakkoa cut her off.

"We'd start with the Northern Water Tribe," she began elaborating, "also known as the safest place in the world, and 'the only free nation in the world at one point during the 100-year war'. I can understand the natural wisdom behind parents worrying for the safety and welfare of their child dear Tonraq; Senna; but there comes a time in every child's life where you have to let them spread their wings and learn to fly. In her case that could even become literal, what with being an airbender and all—which reminds me: her training would obviously culminate with a visit to Master Tenzin at Air Temple Island. The singular option for airbending teachers requires it, but I'm sure none of us would question the trustworthiness of such a fine man."

Kwan kept her arms crossed as she listened to Nakkoa as well, who made convincing arguments. It gave both of Korra's parents pause, as if trying to rationalize Nakkoa's words against the requests of the White Lotus.

"Korra," Tonraq turned to his little daughter, "As your father, I can tell you right now that I have made many mistakes that seemed like good ideas at the time, but turned into regrets. While I am not saying that will happen here, I do want you to ponder this choice before making a decision. If you feel that this is the right choice for you, then you will have our blessing."

"I feel like it is," Korra sighed almost dreamily, "but fine, I guess I'll mull it over for a little while."

"We'll come back tomorrow then," Nakkoa offered, "and hopefully at that point we will have a decision from our little Avatar friend."

"Farewell then," Senna and Tonraq both gave the two women respectful nods as they left the hut. When they turned to Korra, her response surprised them, but only somewhat.

"I'm going back to bed," the teen was still squinting as if it was too bright, "It's a lot to think about."

Tonraq and Senna exchanged looks but neither one said anything.

It was a nightmare in some ways, raising the Avatar. The idea of living a private life was gone, since everyone had heard the news of the new avatar by this point. Similarly, Korra was strong, both physically and elementally, and Tonraq knew that despite his abilities, as well as those of Senna, Korra would soon outstrip them both, as well as any of the grandmasters from the White Lotus in time. Once she unlocked the Avatar State, she would be unopposed. It was a frightening thought, rearing a young woman that would eventually grow into the most powerful creature alive, but it was also as Nakkoa had said. There was only so much a parent could do before they would have to let Korra out to spread her wings. In these tumultuous times, however, they wanted to make sure that Korra not only made the right life decisions, but also more importantly, that she knew what she was doing. Her impulsive and excitable nature when it came to the idea of "Avatar training" would likely cloud her view however, and that was what both her mother and father feared. Both of them hoped it was just them being overly cautious, but with Korra presenting so many wildcards, neither one could be fully sure…

Chapter Text

Korra spent a couple more hours back in bed before she got up and got properly dressed for the day. Heading out with her trusty companion Naga, who had grown up with her this entire time, she set out into the frozen wilderness with no destination in particular.

The Southern Water Tribe was not an ugly place, but it was cold and sparsely populated. Korra was a friendly enough person to most people, but there were only so many people in the small and reclusive Southern Water Tribe, and those 'pretentious White Lotus babysitters' (as Korra often referred to them as) that came by to hover over Korra and observe her every action were infuriating. Unsurprisingly they had disciplined her rather heavily after she straight-up slugged one of the Masters in the face for "getting too damn close", but even they had at least some patience with her.

She had mixed feelings on Nakkoa and Kwan though—or at least Nakkoa. Kwan wore her emotions on her sleeve and Korra wasn't even sure the woman knew how to lie. Nakkoa on the other hand, reminded Korra of herself in several ways: vibrant, lively, and very up-front about her desires. Perhaps she was a bit impulsive, much like Korra was, but it was hard to tell. Every time she saw Nakkoa next, there was something new to learn about the firebender.

She reached into her bag and tossed Naga a slab of dried meat she had brought along.

"I wanna see what's out there beyond the ice," she told Naga, since no one else was out there to listen to her. "And as great as meat and fish are, some variety on the cuisine side of things might be nice too. What do you think?"

Naga barked, making quick work of the meat slabs Korra had thrown her.

"But I mean, shouldn't I get to choose how to live my life?" She asked as Naga tilted her head. "I'm the Avatar. We serve the world; not any particular nation or organization. How can I serve the world and help keep it in balance if I'm not even allowed to see it?"

Naga snorted, before sitting down at Korra's side.

"And if the White Lotus doesn't like it, I'll tell 'em to choke on a bag of rocks," Korra put her fist into her palm. "Tomorrow, Naga, we're going on an adventure!"

Naga let out a mixture of a bark and a happy growl, and Korra scratched her head affectionately in response. The Avatar had always been something of an eccentricity, both from a world perspective, and even on an individual incarnation basis. Korra had her quirks just as her predecessors Kuruk, Kyoshi, Roku, and Aang all did. And then there were those "Interregnum Avatars" that Nakkoa often teased her about, the few times Korra actually got to talk face-to-face with that mysterious woman. All Korra knew about The Interregnum Avatar Era was that it was a time period of 20-21 different Avatar incarnations that essentially ruled the world in an 'Avatar-ocracy'.

Korra contemplated what it would be like to rule the world as the Avatar, although at this point they were little more than wild fantasies of a teenaged mind; nothing that would ever actually be realized even after she became a fully-realized Avatar herself. She wasn't about to take over the world, although hearing about these Interregnum figures made her wonder what they were like—and made her excited about tapping into the spiritual aspect of being the Avatar so that she could make contact with these past lives. Most likely she'd spend a lot of time with Avatar Aang or Avatar Roku, although she wondered what it would be like to go far enough back—to trace back hundreds of years of Avatar incarnations to find one of these mysterious Interregnum characters and find out how they had ascended to power; either to sate her own curiosity, or to teach a lesson on certain aspects of history that should never be repeated. She was especially curious because knowledge of these figures seemed to be becoming more common—and how awkward was it that everyone around her knew about her past lives besides her? To Korra, that was all the more reason she needed to leave the compound and seek her fortune. She wasn't about to learn about her past lives by staying all cooped up.

She returned to her hut before nightfall, where her mother was preparing dinner.

"Have a fun day out there?" Senna asked, somewhat rhetorically.

"I did," Korra shrugged her left shoulder as she shed some of her heavier coats and the bag of supplies she had taken out there in case of emergencies (and to have something to snack on while she was out there). "I also thought a lot about what Nakkoa told me."

"Just remember," Senna reassured Korra as she stirred her stew, taking a big whiff of the scrumptious meaty aroma that it emanated, "you can always come home if you get overwhelmed. The Avatar normally didn't leave home until he or she was 16, so not leaving home two years early isn't going to make you look bad in history."

"Well, I don't want to go down as the worst Avatar in history," Korra shook her head. "Someone's always got to be the worst, whether recent history remembers them or not."

"And yet you have your whole life ahead of you," Senna reassured her, "it would be unfair to judge you for your first 14 years, and don't for a moment think this is the end."

The idea of losing Korra… well, no respectable parent ever wanted to outlive their child.

"You and dad don't know anything about the Interregnum Avatars, do you?" Korra looked up again as she sat down. "I feel like everyone knows about them except for me."

"Other than Nakkoa's interest and arguable obsession with them," Senna admitted truthfully, "We don't. Perhaps not every Avatar was as good and upstanding as Avatar Roku or Avatar Aang, sweetheart, but this path is yours to take. We're more than happy to guide you as best we can, but you make your own fate, and you blaze the trail of your own destiny."

"So if I say that I want to go with Nakkoa tomorrow, you'll say…" Korra raised an eyebrow.

"Be careful," Tonraq chimed in as he appeared in the doorway, "Nakkoa is a shady character, but I trust you with Kwan. "I know my litle girl well enough to know when she's determined to do something though. You get this look about you, and develop a single-minded fixation on your goal. In a way, it's admirable. In other ways, as your mother will surely tell you—it's good old-fashioned Water Tribe stubbornness."

"Damn skippy I'm stubborn," Korra laughed, referencing an in-joke she had with her father. "It's just… for all the times I've been rebellious or spiteful or whatever… I don't want it to feel like I'm running away. I love you both, it's just…"

She sighed, running her hands through her thick hair as if racking her mind for the right words.

"It's just, I've been craving the idea of seeing the world and becoming a proper Avatar. I can't do that in some White Lotus prison."

Korra made it no mystery how she felt about the White Lotus Compound. While the amenities were state of the art, she was not allowed to see outside the walls unless she was going home for the night. There had also been plenty of days where she had spent the night there, and frankly, the little Avatar was getting stir-crazy.

"Then we'll tell them what you decided to do." Senna cracked a smirk, "and they will just have to… in the words of a certain Avatar… 'deal with it', no?"

Korra giggled. "Hey now, those are words to live by, and you gotta deal with it!"

"And so we shall, Korra," Senna smiled. "So we shall."

Korra wasted no time the following morning accepting Nakkoa's offer, much to the firebender's delight. The remainder of the day was spent making preparations, both on Korra's part and also on Nakkoa's part. The ship would leave 'first thing tomorrow morning' according to Kwan and Nakkoa, and Korra didn't want to miss it for the world.

She was ready to go by the early evening, but was also informed by her father that there was an important "Rite of Passage" she had to undergo before leaving.

"Dear, if it has anything to do with the cliff and the ocean…"

"It's a necessary evil," Tonraq chuckled, betraying his intention immediately.

"What cliff and what ocean?" Korra tilted her head.

"It's a rite of passage for any self-respecting waterbender in the Southern Water Tribe," Tonraq explained, "you have to see it to properly understand it."

Korra followed her father, and her mother also followed them, slightly grudgingly. There was a large cliff overlooking a deep part of the water below, and this was where the little family ended up before Tonraq was willing to explain anything.

"Now," he looked Korra right in the eyes, "you strip to your smallclothes."

"Uhh, what?!" Korra wasn't exactly embarrassed about her figure, but not only was the idea of disrobing in front of her parents a slightly weird notion, but also the idea of stripping down in the frigid tundra seemed weird.

"Allow me to demonstrate." Tonraq stripped to his smallclothes before rushing towards the cliff, springing off the end and flipping through the air before plunging into the water below. Korra watched skeptically, but Tonraq launched himself back up the cliff in a waterspout a moment later, laughing and shaking his grizzled hair vigorously as he landed.

"It's invigorating." he explained, "your mother, as adverse as she is to it now, was a champion in her day. I'm sure she wouldn't mind also leading by example."

"You owe me," She retorted as she undressed much slower and more gracefully than Tonraq, who was reclothing himself at this point. "As ridiculous and impractical as it may be, Korra, your father is right about it being a tribal tradition that any waterbender worth her salt must complete at some point in their life. And if you think you're tired right now, you won't be after a jump." To prove her point, Senna followed suit, reducing her attire to little more than her smalls before also one-upping Tonraq by doing a backflip off the edge, pivoting into a graceful swan dive as she disappeared under the water with a remarkably small splash. She also launched herself back up when she was done, sighing somewhat contentedly before getting dressed again. Korra was still a bit apprehensive.

"I take it you're not gonna let me talk my way out of this?"

"We put up with you for 14 years," Tonraq laughed, "you can do this one little thing."

Korra began to strip down even slower than her mother, but was eventually shivering in nothing but her undergarments and her boots. She was used to the cold, but it was windier than usual today and she normally had warm clothes to keep the wind from biting her warm skin.

"Gotta lose the boots too, girl," Tonraq laughed, "what kind of monster are you?"

Korra removed her boots and hopped back and forth from foot to foot as her feet touched the ice that they were clearly unaccustomed to. She shivered her way over to the ledge, suddenly wondering if she was afraid of heights. She crouched before springing, turning her movement into a surprisingly graceful dive as she plunged down the cliff and into the frigid water below.

She might have gone into the Avatar State with the shock, but whatever the case, she bent the water around her and forced herself back up onto the edge of the cliff, her teeth clattering and her parents laughing at the skinny teen standing there in her smallclothes with wide eyes and a comically cold expression on her face.

"R-r-r-rite of p-p-passage… m-m-my ass…" she cursed as she shivered her way over to her clothes and began to put them on.

"Blame your father," Senna couldn't help but crack an amused smile.

"Dad, I'm b-b-blaming you." Korra stuttered as she slowly started to warm up again. She produced flames on her hands to expedite the process, and despite her original attitude, both Tonraq and Senna managed to get her to laugh about it as they made their way home, to the point where even Korra was giggling about the whole incident by the time they reached the hut.

Like most waterbenders, Korra felt a connection to the bright moon in the sky, feeling almost drawn to it on some evenings such as this. It was a nice change of pace from the wild afternoon of jumping off a frigid cliff in her underwear.

She gazed out over the horizon, perched atop one of the small walls that fortified the tribal city, wondering both what was out there, and second-guessing if this was the right thing to do. She had been made aware that both Nakkoa and Kwan had less than pleasant histories despite both only being in their late 20s or early 30s at most, but Kwan in particular seemed repentant, and if Nakkoa had committed any crimes since leaving prison, there was no evidence of such. The White Lotus seemed particularly alert about them, but even they couldn't deny that turning over a new leaf was not a possibility in any man or woman's life.

Korra was shaken from these thoughts by the voice of an old woman.

"Nice night for an escape, isn't it?"

Korra jumped, spinning around with surprising agility for someone whose footfalls and movements were generally heavy and rigid.

"Katara!?" Korra had the tone and expression of someone who was hiding something, although considering that Katara both knew of her intentions and her date of departure, the elder seemed unfazed by these actions.

"Did you think you were the only one who wandered the tribes at night?" Katara retorted.

"Well, no," Korra shook her head, her lower lip sticking out ever so slightly, "but I feel like this is right. I have to leave—I have to find my own path as the Avatar."

Katara closed her eyes, putting her hands together as she gazed up and then down again.

"I know you do." she whispered. "Aang was the same way. His time has passed though. He and many of my friends are gone. It's time for you and your generation to take over the responsibility of keeping peace and balance in the world."

Korra paused for a moment, and Katara approached her, putting an old hand on Korra's shoulder. "And if it means anything… I think you'll be a great Avatar just as Aang was."

"But I'm not Aang," Korra shook her head, the feeling of trying to fill Aang's shoes weighing down suddenly very heavily on her, "and I know I can't be him either, and saying that to… well, his wife—is just kind of…" she scratched the back of her head.

"I do not expect you to be Avatar Aang." Katara offered Korra a reassuring smile as she gently took Korra's arm and pulled it down. Her hands slid down Korra's forearm before they clasped her hand. "He will always be special to me in a very intimate and personal way, but not even I expect you to become Aang. Avatar Kuruk was not Avatar Yangchen. Avatar Kyoshi was not Avatar Kuruk. Avatar Roku was not Avatar Kyoshi. Aang was not Roku, and you are not Aang. It is the natural way of the Avatar Cycle for each incarnation to differ from the last, and that is how it should be."

"Have you ever heard of the Interregnum Avatars?" Korra blurted out to Katara's surprise.

"I have." She replied, although the way her face sunk hinted that they were not a pleasant subject, "although they are entities of a bygone age that are best left in the past. Why do you ask? Do you fear becoming like one of them?"

"I don't even know who or what they were," Korra admitted, "I… maybe I've just been listening to Nakkoa too much. What do you think of her?"

"I believe she means well, although I am unsure where her heart lies. Her sister Kwan seems much more genuine though. If I were to trust only one of them, it would be Kwan."

"So are you saying that following Nakkoa up north is a bad idea?" Korra frowned.

"I would advise caution," Katara admitted, "but that is more from the notion of you leaving the tribe for the first time. My brother was always the cautious one, even that day we found Avatar Aang. There was certainly no way I would have guessed that the two of us would wed some years down the road." She gave a fond smile, remembering those fond days.

"I'm glad you understand," Korra couldn't help but smile. "It means a lot."

"My advice," Katara nodded with a smile of her own, "is to be yourself, rather than try to be someone else. Do that, and I'm sure you can make the Legend of Korra as well-known and well-revered as the Legend of Aang."

Korra's confidence returned and she threw her arms around Katara in a gesture of thanks. It was tricky with Katara, because deep down, Korra knew that one of the most important days of her life: her birth—was also one of the saddest days for her: Aang's death. Despite it all though, she was excited for tomorrow and what it would bring. Tomorrow she was going to see the world.

Chapter Text

The goodbyes that Korra and her parents shared the following morning as Nakkoa and Kwan arrived to pick her and Naga up were bittersweet. On one hand, Korra was excited to go, but on the other, for all the spats that any parent and teenaged child got into, Korra loved her mother and father, and was going to miss them. This time around, she even let them know this with no ounce of subtlety in her voice.

"We'll miss you," Senna hugged Korra one last time.

"I'll miss you too," she looked at her mother and then up at her father. "I know I've not always been the easiest person to deal with… but I love you both… and I'm grateful for everything you've done for me."

The amount of exchange and sentimental goodbyes could have lasted hours as Korra realized the attachment she had to her family, but eventually, they parted ways. It was only after leaving them that Korra realized how attached she was. Other than Naga (who of course was coming with her), she didn't really have any other friends, except maybe Katara, but even that relationship was more of a mentor/student one than anything. As such, Korra didn't really have anyone else to say goodbye to.

The ship that Kwan and Nakkoa led her to, however, was not what she expected. It looked more like a cargo ship rather than a passenger vessel, and Korra was pretty sure that she could hear Nakkoa trying to sweet talk the captain in some form or another. While she did that, Kwan led Korra up the bridge and into the cargo hold, where miraculously, the earthbender, the Avatar, and the Avatar's polar bear-dog all managed to avoid the eyes of any of the crew.

"Is this legal?" Korra may not have been a letter-of-the-law type of person, but she was also only 14 and didn't really want to get branded a criminal this early in life.

"If Nakkoa does what she promised, it will be," Kwan promised as she shunted Korra and Naga down behind several four-wheeled vehicles that Korra had only ever seen a scant few of in her life. She had never heard the name 'Satomobile' in her life however, and so was unsure of what they were called until Kwan told it to her.

"What's Nakkoa doing, exactly?" Korra looked over at Kwan as they ducked into a corner behind one of the Satomobiles. "And why was she swaying her hips?"

"...Try not to think about that," Kwan shook her head, "We'll get you where you need to go though, kid. Of that, you have my word."

True to Kwan's word, the ship took them safely from the Southern Water Tribe up past the old Air Nomad Realms, and up to the Earth Kingdom port city of Gaoling.

"This ain't where we're gonna end up," Kwan whispered, "but it's where we gotta bail out for the time being. Let's move."

Naga, however, was having no more of this subtlety business, and so she nudged Korra strongly in a way that indicated for her master to climb up, before the two of them tore through the cargo hold looking for an exit. Kwan shook her head, but used the mayhem as a diversion and opportunity for her to sneak out without being seen. Korra might have had a clean record, but Kwan could not say the same thing by any means.

"Thanks for the lift!" Korra shouted as Naga barrelled up onto the deck and off the ramp and into the town. In the mayhem that ensued, Kwan managed to evade being seen, and it seemed that whatever Nakkoa had done had gotten her off the boat just fine.

Of course, once in the city, Naga didn't exactly stop right away, and beelined it for the nearest river near the south edge of town. Naga stopped at the bank before analyzing the water.

"Naga, what are you—waaagh!" Korra did not expect Naga to plunge directly into the water, but that was exactly what she did. She emerged a moment later, soaked completely while her rider was drenched from the chest and arms down. She made quick work of the large fish in her mouth, and suddenly Korra realized what Naga had been doing.

"Alright, girl, you win this one," she shook her head, "next time at least let me get off first though."

Naga barked before plunging her head beneath the water and snatching up a smaller fish, flinging it into the air before catching it in her mouth. Korra hopped off Naga's back and into the river, propelling herself to the bank with a bit of clever waterbending. She removed her boots and socks before pulling most of the water out of her clothes.

"Maybe Katara was right about taking time to work on that precision…" Korra muttered before gasping. "Naga, NO!"

But it was too late. Naga had crawled out of the river as well before shaking and violently spraying Korra with enough water to soak her all over again.

"I'd bet money you did that on purpose," she snarked, her lower lip sticking out in a very prominent pout, "if I had any money to bet and if I wasn't talking to a polar bear-dog."

Naga simply replied by pushing Korra back and licking her face. Korra knew she couldn't' actually stay mad at her beloved companion, and so a little more waterbending later and she was mostly dry. She did not dive into the river like Naga had, but Korra managed to spear herself a fish or two, and after a bit of cleaning and a guilty glance this way and that, she pointed her two fingers at it and ignited it with some small-scale firebending.

It definitely could have used a little salt, but beggars could not be choosers. She would have to find a way to earn some actual money, so she could buy actual food. As she replaced her footwear and walked with Naga back towards town, she found what she believed to be her answer, in the form of a flyer.

"Earth Rumble XIII?" Korra glanced at the flyer, "how hard could chucking a few rocks be?"

It was about 20 minutes before Kwan and Nakkoa both realized that Korra and Naga were missing. Naturally, Nakkoa wasn't too thrilled about it.

"We make one stop and you lose her." she barked at Kwan. "What do you think Unalaq is gonna say when we come back empty handed?"

"You're blamin' me for not keeping a 14-year-old kid on a leash?" Kwan countered, "The kid was stir-crazy, and so was her 'dog. Ain't no way I can keep up with that!"

"What did you guys do down there anyways?" Nakkoa paused, raising an eyebrow.

"We certainly didn't have a fling with the captain like some firebender I know," Kwan retorted.

"You didn't offer any better ideas," Nakkoa waggled her finger, "and I don't think you have the looks or the charisma anyways."

"Well, since you're clearly the brains of this operation," Kwan quipped, "I'll let you go ahead and find the Avatar. I'm gonna go knock some heads in an Earth Rumble tourney or two. Besides, I want to be able to afford out next voyage out of this two-bit hole rather than have to smuggle myself, the Avatar, and her polar bear-dog into the cargo hold."

"I'm honestly impressed that you weren't seen," Nakkoa laughed.

"Well, I did have to throw Korra into the trunk of a Satomobile at least once," Kwan admitted, "but I'm sure she'll be thrilled to tell you that story when you find her."

"Time will tell," Nakkoa hummed as she and Kwan parted ways.

Kwan had definitely been to Gaoling enough times to know where to find the Earth Rumble arena. She wasn't the champion, but hadn't been kicked out and permanently banned from the ring either. Both of these facts were things she attributed to the fact that she had never used lavabending in the arena, and wasn't about to start now.

"Stone-Laurel" as her ring name was known, had no trouble signing up and getting a list of formidable opponents. The progression system was simple insomuch that combatants fought lower-levelled opponents first and moved on to higher and more skilled opponents with each successive victory: and similarly, the victory purse grew heavier with each successive win.

Kwan won a total of 6 rounds before being knocked clean out of the ring by a fighter known only as the "Iron Man", but the man who KO'd her was no pushover, and Kwan could respect that when all was said and done.

Still, even after losing, she took her cut and joined the stands to watch a few more fights. It was always fun to see a new face, or watch as the latest champion defended his title. Today though, she was in for a treat.

While Kwan had been fighting in the arena, Korra had been spearing fish with Naga, By the time Kwan had been KO'd, Korra was only wandering into the arena looking for the place to sign up.

"You don't look like you're from around here, kid." the owner looked the teen over.

"Brilliant observation." Korra retorted, "was it the dark skin and blue eyes? Or did the blue Water Tribe getup tip you off?"

The man's visage twisted into a smirk. "Kid, if you can throw rocks as well as you throw shade, you'll do just fine in Kazuya's Earth Rumble Arena."

"Sure," Korra's face lit up as she moved one of her arms to bring a rock up from the ground, "earthbending's no problem for me. Neither is firebending or waterbending."

Korra didn't have any water on hand, but demonstrated a little burst of flame with a dexterous flick of her left hand.

"Right... about that," Kazuya interrupted her, "Avatar or not, it's called Earth Rumble for a reason. You stick to earthbending or you're disqualified, and if you DQ, you're out all the money you would have won, even if you had just beaten the champ."

Korra's confident expression melted in a split second as her face straightened and her lower lip stuck out. "So… just earthbending then, yeah?"

"Correct," Kazuya smirked, "earthbend to your little heart's content. None of this water or fire nonsense though. On the other hand, you've already got a cool ring name… and it saves me the trouble of having to deal with whatever embarrassing edgy ring-name you kids like to make."

"So what's my ring name?" Korra didn't quite follow.

"The Avatar, of course!" Kazuya slapped Korra on the back. "Now get into that changing room and get ready. You'll be up in a few minutes."

The only alterations Korra made to her attire was she decided to go barefooted and replaced the blue bands around her forearms with hand tape, which she also wrapped around her knuckles.

Her first opponent was someone simply called "The Mole". Of course, with Kazuya announcing her own ring name a moment later, any chance at subtlety they had was ruined.

"And all the way from the bowels of the Water Tribes, The Mole's Competitor is none other than the dark newcomer: The Avatar!"

Korra swaggered out, flexing her arms and grinning at various people in the audience.

"Son of a bitch…" Kwan muttered as she saw Korra. "Nakkoa's gonna kill us."

Korra didn't notice Kwan among the crowds, especially since they were a good distance away. The front three rows of stone seats were almost completely empty, for anyone who knew about Earth Rumble knew that it was an extremely common occurrence for rocks or sometimes even combatants to get launched clean into the stands.

This was not what happened to the Mole, but Korra managed to make quick work of the smaller mouse-eyed fellow, swinging her foot in such a way that she diverted her opponent's path, sliding the platform from under him and swinging him off to the side. A follow-up stomp caused a slab of stone to protrude and launch him off the stage.

"And we have our winner!" Korra could hear Kazuya's voice over the loudspeaker. Her first victory fired Korra up with more zeal and enthusiasm. She was ready for the next round.

Korra managed to take out two other opponents in a similar fashion, although both fights took much longer. Kwan watched Korra with some level of admiration. The teen was very agile and light on her feet, with very swift reflexes and reaction times to boot. Her form definitely needed some work, but crude, vulgar forms of earthbending were the norm around here. Her other two opponents had been stronger than The Mole, but for whatever reason, Korra had not remembered their names. Her 2nd competitor had been mouthy with the taunts though, and so Korra reacted the same way any self-respecting teenager would when insulted, which was, of course, to throw back insults of her own.

"You're pretty far away from the Water Tribes now, kid." the earthbender taunted.

"And you're pretty far from the victor's throne yourself if you're about to lose to a kid half your age!" Korra retorted.

"It looks like you got in a little over your head if you think I'm going out that fast." he took an earthbending stance and flexed.

"Ohhh…. Such a tough guy," Korra rolled her eyes, before waving her arms in parody, "Look at me, I'm so tough; I can beat up little girls by throwing rocks at them!"

"Best kid to ever come out of Earth Rumble was a 12-year-old blind girl in Earth Rumble VI," the man reminded her.

"And you're certainly not a 12-year-old blind girl," Korra riposted, "ugly enough that it nearly made me go blind though… pity I'm 14 and not 12."

"Let's see if your rockin' can match your talkin' then!" he jeered, and the contest began. He was fast, but Korra was faster, zigzagging around his attacks for several minutes before getting right up in his face, forming a stone fist around her right arm, and launching herself up into a powerful uppercut that sent her opponent flying off the stands and into the pit below. The bell rang a moment later to signify the winner.

"Water Triiiiiiibe!" Korra spread her arms and sashaying her hips side to side in a vulgar display of power, which were completed with little bending displays. She may not have been allowed to use them in the actual fights, but that didn't prevent her from using them in taunts.

Perhaps as to not provoke the slightly cocky Avatar at this point, Korra's 3rd opponent was a bit more straightforward in his approach.

"It's rare to see a woman in the arena," he pointed out, "but no need for words. Let's let our fists and earthbending do the talking."

"Challenge accepted," Korra shrugged, a little bummed that there was less taunting, but she remained on top of her game and soundly defeated this figure in less time than his previous, more boisterous predecessor.

Korra met her match at the hands of her 4th opponent, a towering woman appropriately nicknamed "Titanborn". This would be a tough nut to crack.

"So when's the part where you take off the trenchcoat and reveal the two kids pretending to be an adult?" Korra jeered before the match began.

"To Oblivion with you, ya smug bastard," Titanborn riposted, "You'll be waterbendin' out your ears once we're through here!"

"It's a good thing for you I play by the rules," Korra brandished a flame on her hand, "Because otherwise you'd look the bigger fool than Ozai when I was done with you!"

"That's not the attitude I'd expect from the Avatar," Titanborn crossed her arms.

"Everything I do is the attitude of the Avatar," Korra retorted, her lower lip sticking out. "Because I *AM* the Avatar. So deal with it." She spat to her right as she said this.

"Alright, tiny, you're on," Titanborn stamped her foot and the match commenced. Korra knew she had been talking out her backside with all of these taunts, but she wasn't about to back down. The dance had begun, and only one would stand triumphant; the other would either be in the pit surrounding the arena platform, or would land themselves into the stands—quite literally.

Chapter Text

With Korra deep underground in Gaoling's Earth Rumble Arena, Nakkoa naturally had no success in finding the Avatar anywhere else in Gaoling. She couldn't even find Naga, since the polar bear-dog was waiting in one of the back rooms of the arena for her master to return. Korra would have gotten her seats if she had been familiar with the arena, but there was a first time for everything, and she was going to take a beating.

Not that she hadn't taken a beating of sorts from two of the last three fights (The Mole had been a near effortless win on Korra's part), but Titanborn was a special kind of ruthless.

"Dance, Avatar, dance!" Titanborn immediately took control of the field, spawning jagged slabs of stone and rock to try and trip Korra up. It put her on the defensive and prevented her from really taking offensive shots at her adversary, and Korra cursed the notion that she couldn't firebend or waterbend here because she saw several moments that would have been golden opportunities. She wanted that prize though and so refused to break the rules only on the ground of that being a forfeit. Even if she lost this match, she'd still win a prize for the three she had won.

Korra flipped and spiraled through the air, using a rather impressive array of barrel rolls and corkscrew jumps to avoid getting her face rocked off. Still, it was only after several attempts to gain a footing or even to smash through Titanborn's jagged battlefield that she was in clear control of that Korra realized what this earthbender was doing: she had let Korra exhaust her stamina, and as the Avatar started to slow down, her adversary moved to capitalize on the situation. Korra mentally braced herself for the beating of a lifetime.

"This is gonna hurt like shit…" She muttered under her breath, and no sooner had she muttered that when she came face-to-face with a hard slab of earth that bloodied her lip and nose and sent her reeling backwards. Of course, Titanborn had another slab of earth waiting for her an instant later, and so Korra was juggled through the air like a rubber ball before the culmination of Titanborn's attacks launched her so harshly to the left that she cleared the gap between the arena pit and the audience seating, slamming back-first into the 3rd row of empty seats, leaving a rather impressive crater in her wake as she crumpled to the ground, dizzy and racked with the pain of being thrown around like a ragdoll.

"And we have our winner!" Kazuya announced as Korra slowly got up and hobbled slowly away and back to the undercroft to claim her reward. Kwan saw the whole thing unfold and simply shook her head. She was embarrassed that the young Avatar had gotten away from them and just gotten the tar beaten out of her, but was also impressed that she lasted as long as she did.

Surprisingly, with how long it took Korra to limp away, by the time she actually got to the changing rooms, she ran into Titanborn below the arena as well.

"For that mouth you've got," the massive woman quipped, "you're actually pretty hard to catch. Nice job, all things considering, kid."

"Mm?" Korra cocked her head upwards, although her left eye was almost swollen shut and a fine trail of blood trickled from the right corner of her mouth, "you damn well beat the snark right out of me fair and square. I couldn't even touch you."

"True as that may be," Titanborn offered her hand, "usually I destroy someone with that trick in less than 20 seconds. You lasted a full 7 minutes before I finally got you."

"Nice job either way then, I guess." Korra shook the larger woman's hand but did not return the enthusiasm. "I'm gonna go sulk for a bit as I wait for the swelling in my eye and my right arm to stop." A rather nasty purple welt had formed near the junction of her right bicep and forearm, which made her elbow look much larger than it actually was.

"Suit yourself," Titanborn shrugged as Korra stumped off to find the host "Still a nice game." Korra shrugged and half-nodded, and found her host a few moments later.

"Not bad, kid," Kazuya smirked as he dropped a pouch of coins into Korra's hand, "I mean, pretty mediocre for the Avatar, but still…"

"I'm only 14," Korra riposted without even looking up. "So fuck you."

"Ha! I like you, kid. You've got spirit; that much is certain," Kazuya slapped her on the back again, both as a way of congratulating her, and perhaps with a little extra force because of Korra's sharp words. She lurched forward but managed to keep her composure as she headed back to the locker room to clean up. A bout of colorful language erupted from her mouth as she slowly struggled to get changed, and eventually, Kwan managed to catch up to her.

"I'm both impressed at your skill and appalled at your stupidity, Korra." the woman quipped.

"It was fun, but losing is balls," Korra grunted, looking like she had just gotten trampled by a Sky Bison, "Titanborn rigged it I swear."

"Oh, don't be such a sore loser," Kwan reprimanded her.

"I'm not a sore loser," Korra reasoned, "it's just that I like to win and when I don't I get upset. And when losing hurts, I get furious. Really though I think I'm just miffed cuz I'm aching in places I didn't even know I had. You can't tell me you wouldn't be doing the same."

"Ha, fair point!" Kwan ruffled her hair affectionately, "of course, now this means we're going to have to find you a proper place to rest up, and maybe find you a healer. Also, I can almost guarantee that Nakkoa will have a word or two to say to you."

Fortunately for Korra, at least Naga didn't have anything harsh to say. All in all, Korra did not regret this little excursion, because it was fun to test her mettle against people stronger and more skilled than her, and now she had a bit of money.

Surprisingly, Nakkoa didn't have anything harsh to say to Korra as they returned to the surface,, although she gave Kwan a lecture about responsibility and Earth Rumble addictions.

"You're cute when you're all bloodied up," Nakkoa turned to Korra teasingly, "I'm gonna have to advise against doing that again in the near future though—maybe after you've trained up a bit."

"I'll do what I want," Korra spat a little blood. Nakkoa laughed.

"You can do what you want as long as you want," she riposted, "but don't come crying to me when you lose an eye or break an arm or something."

Korra stuck her lower lip out in a very defiant pout aimed at Nakkoa as she nursed her right elbow and put her hand up to her swollen eye.

"So how much longer are we going to be here?" She couldn't help but ask, "When am I gonna be able to start actually training and stuff? That's why we're travelling, right?"

"We'll get there," Nakkoa promised, "the ship we were on was heading to the Eastern Air Temple after the stop in Gaoling, and we've got no business there. Hence, why we're here."

"Are you gonna breathe down my neck so I don't run off and join another Earth Rumble XIII tourney?" Korra looked up at Nakkoa with her good eye,

"If you're old enough to become the Avatar, you're old enough to make your own decisions," Nakkoa shrugged, "Kwan makes dumb decisions all the time and yet she's still here. Just don't go doing anything too stupid, and meet us at the Summer's Estate when you're done." She motioned in the distance towards a green and red building with the appropriate label hinting that that would be where they stayed for the night. For the time being, Korra wanted to visit the market and spend some of that newly earned gold that was burning a hole in her pocket.

Other than a great deal of meat snacks for herself and Naga, Korra didn't buy too much until she reached a merchant's still full of colorful little confections.

"What are these?" They didn't exactly have candy in the water tribe that often, and so Korra only had vague memories of the sugary delights, and none that looked like this.

"Candies and confections as far as the eye can see!" The merchant offered his sales pitch, "and with the beating it looks like you took, you look exactly like someone who wants to sit down and snack on some sweets as you rest up for another game."

"I haven't had anything like this in ages…" Korra mused aloud. Her memories of candy were scant, but she did remember, that candy was delicious and she always wanted more. Thus, by the time all was said and done, she had exchanged about half of the money in her purse for a sizable bag of sugary confections.

The young Avatar wasted no time snacking on some of her candies as she walked through the rest of the market, but nothing else really caught her eyes until she was noticed by a tall male waterbender who looked in his late teens—early 20s at most.

"It's rare to see a Water Tribe girl this far away from home," he spoke to her, "Most waterbenders are either from Ol' Republic or some other urban paradise."

"Hey?" Korra waved sheepishly and shrugged, her left cheek still bulging with sweets she hadn't finished swallowing yet.

"Are you alright then?" he asked; his voice had a suave and cool tone to it, and Korra couldn't help but find it a little attractive, "You look like you just got dragged into a back alley and beaten senseless… though that bag of coins and candy at your side means that either you picked a fight with some really stupid bandits, or that my theory is way off-base."

"Earth Rumble," Korra grinned, the inside of her mouth still a little red with blood (and now also colored oddly from the confections she had eaten). "fun stuff."

"Oh, you're an earthbender," the man looked surprised and stepped back, "I wouldn't have thought that, what with your look and all."

"Well, I mean I'm the Avatar," Korra gestured, "so I'm from the Southern Water Tribe and am also a waterbender. It works out. Name's Korra, by the way."

"I am Ichiro," the man introduced himself with something of a bow. "Avatar, hmm? Now that certainly gets to be the highlight of my day."

"Meeting someone is the highlight of your day?" Korra tilted her head, popping another piece of candy into her not-quite-empty mouth, "no offense, but that sounds kinda boring."

"Ah, but meeting someone strong and beautiful and not afraid to tackle problems head-on is much more exciting," Ichiro explained, "although I'll be frank with you: you need a healer."

"For what?" Korra's right eye widened as she raised her eyebrow (her left eye still black from the fighting), "my eye? My arm? Scratches; both of them. I don't have that kind of money."

"If anything, healing should become part of your repertoire just from being a waterbender," Ichiro suggested, "especially as the Avatar, and especially if you're going to go carousing about and picking fights."

"What's the matter with me picking fights?" Korra opened another candy wrapper, popping whatever sticky-sweet confection had been under that red wrapper into her mouth, "you here to babysit me or something?"

"Nothing at all, little Avatar," Ichiro replied, stepping to Korra's right, "but there's a fine line between being fearless and simply neglecting self-care. If I had to take a stab, you launched yourself clean over that line years ago and never looked back."

"Are you trying to flirt with me?" Korra glared daggers at him. Ichiro simply laughed.

"Sweetheart, you're not only too young but also not quite my type." He ruffled her hair, "does every relationship between a young man and a young woman have to be romantic? Maybe I just want to be your friend."

"It feels like you just want to get your hands all over me." Korra narrowed her eyes as her lower lip stuck out again.

"Barring my hobby as a dancer, I am a healer by trade, hence why I emphasize its importance." Ichiro clarified, his tone remaining as calm and suave as it had been when he first spoke to her, "When the kid who's supposed to be the saviour of the world goes limping past me sporting a purple elbow, a swollen eye, a bloody mouth, and a stagger in her step, I feel inclined to help. Is that such a terrible thing, or are you more worried about me trying to get in your pants?"

"What's in it for you," Korra glanced up at the man again. He was taller than her, but definitely didn't look more than a few years older than her at most. She probably still had a bit of growing to do herself, but at the moment there was nothing she could do about it. "There's always a catch."

"Life's a catch," Ichiro chuckled, massaging Korra's tense shoulders. It actually caught Korra off guard, but was relaxing enough that she didn't move. "I suggest you 'catch it', while you can."

"That doesn't answer my question." Korra might have been rockheaded most of the time, but she wasn't stupid. At least, she hoped not, at any rate.

"Perhaps my motivation simply stems from wanting to ensure the little Avatar is in good health," Ichiro admitted. If he was lying, he was way too smooth for Korra to detect a hint of dishonesty. "Come; it's on me. We'll get you healed up and I'll even give you a few extra confections on the way back—you seem quite fond of them."

Korra glanced at her candy pouch with the look of a guilty child caught raiding the cookie jar. So maybe Ichiro had a point about Korra liking candy.

"I'll have my eye on you," Korra warned, "and what's with this 'little Avatar' nonsense? You make it sound like a kid and you can't be that much older than me!" It was around this time that Korra realized she was slightly sensitive about her age. She hoped she would outgrow that quirk someday, but maybe it would fade once she felt she was 'old enough'. As for what she was waiting to be "old enough" for… she wasn't even fully sure.

"Calling you 'little Avatar' would be like calling me an indigo dancer," Ichiro chortled, in reference to his blue and purple attire, "It's merely a fact. I do not mean to offend." Ichiro was a sassy one, although it seemed that if he had any ill intentions behind his words, they were not about to be directed at Korra.

"Fine, fine," Korra pouted, crossing her arms in defeat. "I'll take your offer. Lead on."

And thus, just like that, Kwan and Nakkoa had lost track of the Avatar once again.

Chapter Text

While Korra had gone back with Ichiro, Nakkoa and Kwan had returned to their room at Summer's Estate, where Kwan was playing cards with herself. Nakkoa had put the room's telephone to good use and contacted Unalaq about their progress. Kwan didn't breathe down her firebending partner's neck, but she kept one of her keen ears perked as she quietly played her card game at a nearby table.

"So we're in Gaoling." Nakkoa explained, "And of course the first thing the damn kid does is run off through town on that polar bear-dog of hers."

"Just remember," Unalaq's stern voice sounded through the receiver, "that 'damn kid' is not only the Avatar, but also my niece. Have at least some respect—or at the very least feign it. You're so talented at feigning everything else…"

"That is so beside the point," Nakkoa's brow furled, "but anyways, with Gaoling in mind, take a wild guess at where the first place she ran off to was."

"I am not really one for guessing games." Unalaq retorted, "Although you have piqued my curiosity. I do not imagine it was the Avatar Temple."

"Of course not," Nakkoa laughed, "Kwan found her in the Earth Rumble Arena. She actually did pretty well for a first-timer… and for being only 14."

"Why am I not surprised," Unalaq mused aloud, "How is she then? I take it you managed to recover her from the arena?"

"She's a bit roughed up, but nothing she didn't seem okay with shrugging off," Nakkoa spoke truthfully, "and of course we got her out of the arena." She purposely omitted the fact that neither she nor Kwan knew where Korra was right now. They assumed she was in the market, and had been correct up until Ichiro had invited her to his home.

"From my understanding your next ship leaves for Republic City in two days then," Unalaq made his request for information clear.

"Unless something comes up, aye," Nakkoa clarified, "and if it does, you will be the first to know, Chief—well, unless Zaheer says otherwise."

"Indeed," Unalaq muttered, "Well then; I shouldn't keep the fine guardians of my young niece too busy. Oblivion knows she is without a doubt a handful."

Nakkoa bade him farewell before hanging up and turning to Kwan.

"Any idea where she ran off to this time?" Her eyes bored holes into Kwan's skull as if she were accusing the earthbender of deliberately losing Korra.

"How should I know?" Kwan riposted, "I've been with you the whole time."

"Do you think we should find her, or should we see how her sense of responsibility holds up?" Nakkoa flung herself onto her bed.

"If you wanna try and hunt her down, go ahead." Kwan took a swig from a flask at her hip, "I'm quite done looking for her until tomorrow's Earth Rumble tourney."

"So you're going to just shrug it off like that?" Nakkoa sat back up.

"Naki, look at it this way—" Kwan began before Nakkoa cut her off.

"Don't call me that!" she snapped.

"Anyways," Kwan laughed, "look at it from her point of view. We're basically her guides. We're the ones promising to get her that top-notch Avatar training, and as rock-headed as she might be, she most likely knows that she's not going to get something like that here. So unless she decides to settle for some mediocre substitute, we've got her by the scruff of the neck. Either we find her, or we take the easy road and wait for her to come and find us."

Incidentally, that was what Korra planned to do, although for the moment she was busy with Ichiro. The man had been civil, and other than her footwear, he had not even asked her disrobe at all before he began healing her. He did get a brief glimpse of her midriff as Korra showed up a bright red and purple welt on her side that she had gotten from one of Titanborn's rock slabs, but that was comparatively minor all things considering.

Korra was quiet as she felt the cool water over her aching form, although Ichiro also hummed softly as he worked, which Korra found to be somewhat mesmerizing. She couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, and so she had an appreciation for those who could.

"You are extremely tense, little Avatar," He commented between tunes, "Are you still apprehensive about me, or is there something else gnawing at the back of your mind?"

"I am?" Korra hadn't even noticed, "I guess this is just how I've always been."

"Well, it's not healthy," Ichiro laughed as he continued his work. "Although I am not your father, or even your mentor, so perhaps it is not my place. Tell me though: what brings you to this backwater city of all places? I'm sure Master Yu's Earthbending Academy wasn't your first choice for an earthbending teacher…"

"We're on our way to the Northern Water Tribe," Korra explained, her eyes still closed, "this was just one of our stops since our next ship doesn't leave for another couple days."

"Mm," Ichiro muttered, "who's we? Or is it just your polar bear-dog?"

"My friends Nakkoa and Kwan," Korra answered, "They wanted me to pick up some of the more spiritual aspects before trying to push for more physical power. I don't agree with 'em, but hey, I might even learn healing."

"Like I asserted earlier," Ichiro ran his hands up and down Korra's back to loosen it, her form-fitting top doing little to conceal her muscle tone, "knowledge and mastery of healing will only do you favours in life. A little dancing knowledge didn't hurt anyone either."

"Why dancing?" Korra chuckled. Ichiro's touches were intimate, but there was something notably non-sexual about them. It was definitely a healer's touch, and Korra was convinced at this point that maybe he had been right about her needing it.

"Why not?" Ichiro cooed, "It's a fun way to express yourself and it's entertaining to watch someone of sufficient skill. On the other hand, I have in fact heard of both your friends."

"Good things or bad things?" Korra's eyes were closed but her lower lip stuck out again.

"Just that they're powerful." Ichiro shrugged, "Kwan's done time, I know that much, but she's honest enough. Her sister Nakkoa's a bit trigger-happy with her lightning though. I'm just glad it's her and not Kwan. Lava's a lot scarier than lightning to me at least."

"Kwan's a lavabender?!" Korra's eyes popped open as she gazed up at the waterbender.

"Unless she's forgotten since the last time we met," Ichiro chuckled. "Perhaps all the more reason to be excited if she's travelling with you."

"Oh, I'm excited now, alright," Korra confessed, "thanks for the healing by the way."

"A pleasure," Ichiro nodded, "on that note… feel any better?" Korra's injuries were not completely gone, but Ichiro had managed to reduce the swelling and negate almost all of the pain. Her left eye was able to open all the way again, and she was able to properly bend her right arm without staggering or needing to clutch it.

"I… do actually," Korra stared down at her right hand, curling her fingers. Her arm had ached the entire way there, but now she could move her hand without it hurting. "Thanks again… although now I just have to ask."

"Ask away, little Avatar," Ichiro cooed, sitting back and watching the young girl stretch and gaze at her hands.

"There HAD to be a motive." She asserted, "I mean, maybe I'm underestimating you or something, but there has to be a reason you wanted to heal my wounds in particular, wasn't there? If you just liked healing people you could probably make a killing peddling your wares around the Earth Rumble Arena."

"Full disclosure," Ichiro chuckled, "there was a motive. It is nothing malevolent though."

"You can't leave me hanging like that!" Korra gawked.

"I won't," Ichiro assured her as he stood back up and approached her. "In truth, it's a personal thing. How many people get to say that they got to heal the Avatar?"

"So if I was just some schmuck you wouldn't have given me second thought?" Korra's eyes narrowed somewhat suspiciously.

"Well, you're cute, so I might have still offered," Ichiro ruffled her hair. "You have really pretty hair too, on that note. But no, I digress—it was somewhat selfish, I'll admit; but ultimately, we both benefitted, yes? It's not like I was weaving liquid poison into your pores or anything."

"That's an unpleasant thought…" Korra shuddered, "but hey, thanks again."

"Always a pleasure," Ichiro gave her a genuine smile, "do stay safe out there…"

"Noted," Korra chuckled, "I can't promise that as long as the Earth Rumble Arena is open, but I'll try not to get too beat up or lose any teeth or what have you!"

And with that, the two waterbenders parted ways, with Korra heading back to Summer's Estate to rendezvous with Nakkoa and Kwan, and Ichiro staying at his home. He was an interesting man, and Korra liked him. He was weird and flirty, but they both had made it clear that they simply weren't for each other. He was 20 (per his admittance during their conversations), and she was only 14. Furthermore, she was about to travel, while he seemed to have made his home here in Gaoling. It just wouldn't work out. Still, Korra couldn't help but fantasize about meeting an Ichiro her age, but every teenager fantasized now and again, even if the dreams were too lofty or specific to ever be realized.

She tried not to raid her candy pouch before getting to the hotel, but failed spectacularly in this department, to the point where hardly 37 steps off of Ichiro's front porch, she opened the bag and demolished a pair of green spun-sugary confections. An almost catlike smile overtook her face as she savoured the treats, before she paused.

For all the candy she bought, Korra had mentally inventoried each piece, and she didn't remember these spun-sugar treats being on the list. Further examination of her candy hoard revealed two things: firstly, that she needed to pass through the market on the way back to Summer's Estate to buy a bit more, but secondly, that she had a noticeable amount of extra candy. She blamed Ichiro for it, although didn't for a moment think that there could be anything wrong with the candy. If he was trying to drug or poison her, it would succeed, because she popped another pair of the green spun-sugar bites into her mouth, unintentionally emitting a delightful squeal as she realized how much she loved these new treats. Yup, Ichiro was a friend in her books now. She'd have to ask him where he got those from tomorrow.

A rather unceremonious kick later, and the door to Kwan and Nakkoa's room flew open, with a rather satisfied Korra swaggering in as the door swung shut behind her.

"Well look who decided to show up," Nakkoa quipped, "if you were older I might have thought you went off gallivanting with some guy who would bed you this evening."

"Not everyone goes gallivanting the same way you do, Naki," Kwan elbowed the firebender, earning an irate look from her more because of the nickname.

"But tell us, Avatar:" Nakkoa composed herself and took a seat over some papers, "where did you run off to? You look like you saw a healer, and like you just inherited an estate."

"I did, and I wish," Korra laughed as she kicked off her boots and threw herself onto one of the three empty beds, "I met a really friendly guy who apparently knows you two though. He also gave me candy, which automatically makes him awesome."

"I wouldn't have taken you for a candy fan," Kwan laughed, "although the color of your teeth and that little colorful bag on your hip kind of confirms your claims."

"How can someone NOT love candy?" Korra sat up, a flabbergasted look on her face.

"Some of us love the more refined things in life," Nakkoa chortled, "but come now; why should you complain about my distaste? That just means more for you."

"Aha, silver lining," Korra nodded approvingly, lying back down. "Smart woman."

"Hm," Nakkoa hummed, "well, fortunately for you and your sweet tooth, we're here another day before our ship leaves, so rest up, go kick ass tomorrow in the pit or whatever you do, and enjoy yourself. There's no rule saying this trip can't be fun."

"I'll take those words to heart," Korra chuckled as she stripped her fur skirt and other blue accessories off until she was just in her baggy pants and blue top, undoing her hair again in the process. "But believe it or not, I'm deadass tired."

Almost as if she did it out of sheer will, Korra rolled right over, pulling a sheet over her body and closing her eyes. Either she had legitimately just crashed and fallen asleep right there on the spot, or the snoring coming from her bed was merely imitated and she was trying to annoy her two travelling companions.

"She's got the right idea," Kwan noted, "Mind if I kill the lights, Naki?"

"If you stop calling me that, sure," Nakkoa nodded as the lights went out. For a moment, she was shrouded in darkness as she glanced from the sleeping Avatar over to her old partner in crime. Their mission was still clear, although the kid was a lot livelier than Nakkoa had anticipated.

Korra was an endearing and intriguing creature; the energy of a sugar-induced toddler, but with the enthusiasm of a girl her age and the strength of a woman twice her age.

"The risks…" Nakkoa thought to herself as she sighed, "She's so strong already and she doesn't know the first thing about proper training barring which way to throw a fireball. To fathom the power this girl will have at her peak… she will be unstoppable, and thus needs to be stopped."

Nakkoa put her forehead against the desk she was sitting at, mumbling.

"No… it's just paranoia." she attempted to reason with herself, "It runs deep in the family; it's how Nani fell from grace all these years ago. To think we coulda been royalty, and…" She stammered, growling for a moment. "How does Kwan make it look so easy?!"

Nakkoa swung her head in the direction of the sleeping Korra, but didn't say a word.

"Rest easy, little Avatar." she whispered to herself, "your time will come…"

Chapter Text

Kwan had no trouble dealing with Korra's light snoring, since hers was heavier. Nakkoa was a lighter sleeper, although she was also not quite ready to sleep yet. She still vividly remembered that night a decade ago when she and the rest of the Red Lotus had met up with schemes to capture or slay the newly discovered Avatar. While killing and maiming things was no above Nakkoa's low moral standard, even she shuddered briefly at the thought of torturing a small child. It was less strong of an emotion now as Korra was in the middle of transitioning from a little girl into a grown woman, but even then, the kid had no idea what they had in store for her. Fortunately, however, it seemed that Nakkoa was thus far alone in her paranoia and desire to kill the Avatar—which meant she was safe for the time being.

Nakkoa wondered what Kwan thought about all of this, although didn't say anything at first. Kwan was a grumpy woman when she was woken up without a good reason.

Well, this *was* a good reason, and so a few nudges and whispers later, and Kwan was awake, smacking her lips, grunting, hitting Nakkoa on the shoulder, and groaning about how she had been pretty deep asleep when Nakkoa had roused her, which in turn made her groggy and grumpy. The moon was still high in the sky outside the hotel, where Naga slept peacefully under the stars. Nakkoa wasn't too fond of Korra's animal companion, but she knew there would be absolutely no reasoning with her to get rid of it, if her parents couldn't even turn the tides. Kwan even wagered that Korra would rather turn around and go home than leave Naga behind.

"The hell you need, sister?" Kwan mumbled almost incoherently.

"Do you remember why we are here?" She asked.

"Because it sure beats sleeping in the cargo hold of a ship underneath a Satomobile," Kwan replied without skipping a beat.

"No," Nakkoa seized Kwan's shoulders, her voice lowered, "why we are travelling with the Avatar at all in the first place."

"I do," Kwan nodded, "I don't like it, but we've gone too far to turn back now, yeah?"

"10 years is a long time to wait," Nakkoa twirled a knife between her fingers.

"A few hours isn't though," Kwan riposted, "this couldn't have waited until morning why?"

"Because there's no telling what the Avatar's gonna do next," Nakkoa reminded her without so much as a beat going by, "and right now, she's asleep."

"She has a name, y'know," Kwan shook her head, "Sheesh, I know you're tryin' to dehumanize her and stuff, but c'mon. Korra's only 14 for fuck's sake."

"Tell me," Nakkoa looked Kwan dead in the eye, "would you rather have to kill a girl you know; someone that you know the heart of? You knew her likes, dislikes, her passions, her fears, her skills, her shortcomings, who she likes and who scares her… it becomes personal. Would rather kill a girl like that, or would rather kill a girl only known as "The Avatar"? Which is easier?"

"Look," Kwan grunted again, her disappointment from getting her sleep interrupted still more than apparent, "I already said I ain't on board with this whole 'killing her' thing you keep going on about. You're being paranoid, and I don't like it—so don't go looking for validation from me. I'm in it because I've been instructed to be. I've done my share of murder and assault, and I've lost more than half my life to either the slammer, the Triads, or the Red Lotus, and I'm frankly more just about teaching the kid how to be a good Avatar. Just keep in mind that Korra didn't exactly sign up or volunteer for her lot in life, and that if we could get her working for us, that would alleviate the need to off her, wouldn't it? Now shaddup and go to sleep. You're worrying too much."

With that, Kwan flopped back down and buried her head in her pillow to fall asleep again before Nakkoa could reply. She mentally cursed her younger sister and her stubbornness, and while she definitely was the more charismatic of the two, she couldn't help but envy Kwan's level head. How had she escaped the family curse, Nakkoa would never know.

Fortunately for them, Korra had genuinely been asleep and thus had no clue about the conspiracy literally going on behind her back. Instead, she found herself wandering down deserted halls that she had no recollection of, and yet that seemed all too familiar.

It seemed like an older version of the Fire Nation palace based on the red motifs and orange glow from flames on the walls. Korra glanced down at herself and realized that, while it was not one of those nightmares where she wasn't wearing pants, they and her shirt were the only things she had on—certainly not anything presentable to the Firelord, whoever he or she may be.

Whatever the case, Korra felt compelled to jog down the hall to see where it led. It took her to a massive chamber that was clearly the Firelord's throne, where a middle-aged man was perched on a throne beside a woman that was almost certainly his wife. The oddity of the situation was that between them was an orange-clad woman with long brown hair. Korra had seen pictures of ancient Air Nomads before (although had obviously never met one considering they were nearly 170 years before her time), but this one looked different. She wore more vibrant oranges and reds, and only a small end of her arrow tattoo was visible from behind her long bangs. Korra's eyes followed the character's flowing robes down to her feet, and the fact that this woman was barefooted made Korra feel a lot less guilty about her own state of dress.

She stepped into the room and called out, wondering if this was a dream or not.

"Firelord?" She looked at the man in the distance as the Air Nomad vanished with a wisp of white and blue smoke.

"Come now, Imalek," the man rose and opened his arms, "you know you can just call me Razon. How oft must I remind you?"

"Imalek?" Korra tilted her head, "No, I'm Korra. I've never even heard—"

"Always putting on your masks and playing charades, are you, Avatar?" Razon interrupted her, "come now, while it is amusing the first few times, even that trick needs some variety every now and again."

"Uh, yeah, I'm the Avatar," Korra stammered, her situation not quite clicking yet. "but who's Imalek? And where did that airbender go?"

"Now, now," the Fire Lady spoke, "Imalek, you should save your past life manifestation facades for one of your actual performances. You're wasting good talent if you're only going to show us."

"Um, sorry?" Korra glanced down at her hands, and was shocked upon realizing they were not her own. They were larger, but proportionally smaller, with lighter skin and blue arrow tattoos on the front. Korra ran her hands up into her hair, which was much less coarse than her own.

The moment Korra realized what was going on was a game-changer. Imalek was an Avatar—one of Korra's past lives, and here she was in this dream… vision… thingy… manifesting herself as this Air Nomad. Korra wondered briefly why this was; what purpose did this vision serve? But then suddenly she felt the most unusual sensation: her body and mind were not her own, and she felt an invading but not necessarily unwelcome force. Imalek had come to manifest her mind and spirit into Korra's.

It was one of the most surreal experiences Korra had ever been part of, and had Nakkoa or Kwan been awake, they would have actually seen an ancient Air Nomad sleeping where Korra had been. The manifestation was very real. But who was this past life? Where in history was she from and what was her significance?

Korra soon found out. The scene shifted multiple times, revealing that the conversation with the Firelord hinted at an alliance backed by the Avatar herself. Korra wondered why an Air Nomad would pledge loyalty to the Fire Nation, but then when the scene swirled around and whisked them away to the Earth King's throne, things got more complicated. Scenes in the Water Tribe and Air Temples revealed similar results. Whoever this Avatar Imalek was, she had essentially played the leaders of the world; convincing them all to support her endeavours, which kept the world in a delicate but solid era of peace. There were no wars in Imalek's lifetime, and so Korra started to wonder if this was the lesson to be learned here.

She regained control of her body again as she departed from what was apparently the Eastern Air Temple. If being able to fly like this was part of airbending, she wanted to learn those secrets soon. When she landed however, she found herself face to face with a much more traditional female airbender who crossed her arms as she looked down at Korra.

"Uh, hey?" Korra waved sheepishly. "Can I help you?"

"I know what you saw, little one," the matriarch warned. "And while I share the same connection to Avatar Imalek as you, I would kindly warn you against going down the path she took."

"What did she do?" Korra tilted her head, "and who are you?"

"I am Avatar Yangchen," the woman answered, "Five incarnations before you. Imalek's treachery managed to keep the world free from war, but at what cost? There was enmity between the four nations, including the Air Nomads. Each leader or set of leaders thought the other leaders were conspiring against them. In a way, they were right."

"How so? What were they doing?" Korra was clinging to Yangchen's every word, wondering the significance of this story. This was the first time she had ever heard an actual story of one of her past lives, and all of a sudden there was a whole new set of thrills to being the Avatar.

"During the age of Imalek," Yangchen explained, "The Avatar wielded a great deal of political power. People from all nations strived to earn this individual's support for their side and their campaigns, and the fact that she was not the first in a long-running trend of incarnations that were exalted above their station meant that Avatar Imalek could get away with anything she pleased. The Four Nations did not catch on until long after her death, but those who followed her were even more dangerous than she."

"Was she by chance one of the Interregnum Avatars?" Korra asked, hoping to finally get closure on that name she had heard so many times growing up, but that no one seemed willing to talk to her about.

"She was indeed," Yangchen nodded, "the 14th of 20, although some claim 21. I do not know how much you know of them, young one, but do not throw your life away as they did. It is a dangerous road that you will see many times as you grow older."

"So what was the purpose of this visit?" Korra asked, her tone and expression making her reminiscent of a young child asking her mother about this or that, "Is this a dream, or is this the spirit world? Because I kinda haven't ever been very spiritual."

"We all have our struggles, Korra," Yangchen put her hand on the little Avatar's shoulder, "but to answer your question: this is real, and you are in the Spirit World for the moment. Sometimes when the body is unconscious the Avatar Spirit will act on its own, as it did when Avatar Aang froze himself in an iceberg, or as it did with you just now, in taking you to the spirit world. Mastering the spiritual side of the Avatar's abilities will enable you to make trips like these whenever you please—not to mention you will also obtain the ability to manifest yourself as one of your past lives at a given time."

"Well then," Korra's lower lip stuck out, more in a contemplative pout than an upset pout, "it looks like I have my work cut out for me."

"So it would seem," Yangchen nodded. "I wish you safe travels and a long, prosperous life, Korra. We shall certainly speak again in times to come."

With that, Korra was jolted awake, and after rolling onto her back, she gazed up at the ceiling in the pitch darkness, contemplating everything she had just experienced and seen.

Yangchen's warnings seemed legitimate, and even little Korra could see how it could be dangerous if the Avatar was a commanding political entity among the four nations. Imalek seemed impartial, but was she? Korra had only seen glimpses into this manipulative woman's life, and while she had gotten an effective summary, surely there was much more to her life than just the politics she played. On a similar note, Korra wondered what would happen there was an Avatar who did not even pretend to be impartial? What if she turned out that way? If she wielded physical, spiritual, and political power on par with Avatar Imalek, what would she do?

On the other hand, Korra was hyped up and excited, because the first piece of a puzzle she had been clamouring to try and solve for nearly a decade had fallen into place.

Avatar Imalek was an Interregnum Avatar, and now Korra knew at least a little about these mysterious entities. There were 20 or 21 of them, and they were apparently black marks in history. Korra was wary of the notion, but at the same time, the kind of political power that Imalek had wielded made the young girl's mind wander. The way Yangchen worded it made it sound like Imalek was far from being the worst of these characters, and despite Imalek's reign of peace, it did seem like she was dangerously manipulative. She wished she could talk with her interregnum past lives the way she had conversed with Yangchen, but she lamented in knowing that it would have to be another time, or after she had mastered the spiritual aspect of being the Avatar. Despite all of this, Korra grinned ear to ear with excitement. While she was borderline convinced that she wouldn't be able to fall back asleep at all that night, she eventually did exactly that, although there was a new fire ignited in her heart: a new passion for what being the Avatar entailed—the secrets, the power, the connections: Korra hungered for it all.

Chapter Text

While Korra had not intended to pay another visit to the Earth Rumble Stadium the next morning, she was so full of energy from her vision/trip last night that she had to find way to let it out.

"And where are you going this early?" Nakkoa quipped, "I hardly expected you to be up before noon, if what your father told me about you is true."

"Don't get me wrong," Korra was pulling on her boots and slinging a bag over her shoulder, "the morning is still evil, but I'm pumped up and full of energy, so I'm going to get the shit beaten out of me to help calm me down."

"It's really not that bad of an idea," Kwan raised her eyebrow as Korra disappeared out the door.

"I'll never understand you earthbenders," Nakkoa shook her head. "But tell me, Kwan: Did you notice something different about her? She had a certain skip in her step that she didn't have yesterday, and she hasn't even raided her candy pouch this morning.

"A nice dream, perhaps?" Kwan shrugged, "or maybe it's just one of those days where her biorhythm is at a peak. Whether or not you believe in that kind of thing, it does still hold water."

"Perhaps I'll book a seat in the stands today then," Nakkoa mused, "I want to see what our little Avatar is up to…"

Korra had jumped up on Naga and taken off towards the southern fringes of town again. She went a full 55 minutes between waking up and eating her first piece of candy, which was impressive to her considering it often took a great deal of self-control not to just empty the entire bag into her mouth.

"Avatar!" Kazuya opened his arms upon seeing the plucky young waterbender return to his arena, "here to get your face rocked in again, or are you in it to win it?"

"I'm always in it to win it," Korra quipped, "Also, I have a name, by the way."

"And you didn't even tell it to me last time," Kazuya laughed, "you just came in all 'I'm the Avatar', and I did the rest."

"Deal with it," Korra snarked, "I suspect you don't care though."

"I don't," Kazuya admitted straightforwardly, "but if it makes you feel better, feel free to say it."

"Korra," Korra's lip stuck out again in her trademark pout. "Avatar Korra."

"Cute name," Kazuya shrugged as he counted out a pile of coins, "although you should stick with your ring name in the arena. It adds a sense of mystery, and crowds eat that kind of shit right up. They do that, I make money. I make money, and you get a larger cut. You get a larger cut, and you can buy more of that candy you're snacking on."

Korra's sweet tooth had finally won a longstanding battle, and the moment Kazuya had turned away from his coins and back to face her, Korra's mouth was packed with confections.

"Either that," he continued, "or the sugar rush might amp up your performance. Let's see what you've got for me today, kid…"

In some ways it was a repeat of the previous day; while in others it was a new set of adventures. She went against three "preliminary competitors" in fights that she considered to be little more than warm-ups. Even without waterbending and firebending, Korra proved to be an extremely agile opponent with swift reflexes and even faster reaction times—which served her surprisingly well in a competition where many movements were slow but powerful.

Going against Titanborn again felt satisfying though, since this time Korra was ready for her moves and knew how to 'dance' to stay safe. She couldn't help but do a little waterbending showing-off after that victory, but fortunately did not get disqualified for it since it was technically not done during a match. Today would be a good day, she thought.

Korra left the arena a few hours later with all of her teeth miraculously still intact. She earned a few scratches and bruises, including a rather nasty cut over her right eye. She had also earned a light sprain after her 6th competitor knocked her out of the ring so hard that she had bowled over about four or five people that had been sitting in the 4th row of the stands—a "record launch distance" according to the announcer. Said sprain caused Korra to limit the weight she put on her left leg. She was still fairly vindicated that she had managed to beat Titanborn though, and that coupled with the two wins she had scored after Titanborn had made it a satisfying string of victories overall—even if it had culminated in a glorious loss. Luckily, Naga was there waiting for her outside the arena, and she nudged Korra from behind as if to prompt her to climb up.

"Thanks, girl," Korra sighed as she climbed up onto Naga's back, emptying what was now her 5th skin of water into her mouth. "My leg's killing me. Let's head into town; see if we can find Ichiro again or something."

She wasn't sure if his healing abilities could do anything about her ankle, but even if they couldn't, she still *had* to know where he procured those delicious little green confections.

This time Korra only dismounted twice when in town: once to buy Naga some meaty snacks, and one other time to buy herself a bite to eat and to refill her candy bag. Despite her lack of formal training much beyond whatever basics the White Lotus had taught her in the 'prison-compound' (as she affectionately called it), Korra had proven to be a formidable fighter, and Kazuya had not been lying when he said it paid well.

To her slight dismay, however, she was unable to find Ichiro, and so she turned around and headed back to Summer's Estate. So perhaps it had not been an actual sprain, but it still hurt to put pressure on her left ankle. Fortunately, Naga didn't seem to mind carrying her as she always had, and so the trip home was without incident. Korra had expected to find both the sisters back at the suite, and so was curious when she only found Kwan.

"Where'd Nakkoa go?" She asked curiously, limping to a nearby chair and taking off her boots.

"Not sure," Kwan shrugged, "I'd ask you the same thing, but your limp and the wonderful colors your skin is turning kind of give it away."

"But I got money!" Korra grinned stupidly from ear to ear. "And candy. Win-win."

A lot of things were on her mind at the moment though, and even Kwan could tell this, based on the way Korra's eyes wandered and her lip stuck out. Kwan had learned quickly from observing Korra's visage that the girl had a pout for almost any situation.

"I know I ain't the best conversationalist or nothin'," Kwan pointed out, "but if you wanna talk about this or that, I'm ears."

"There's one thing, actually," Korra lied. It was more only a half-lie, because this was the primary thing that was relevant to Kwan. "I heard you were a lavabender?"

Kwan did not reply, but instead pulled a rock out of her coat pocket, before melting it in her hand, forming it into a lava throwing star which she spun around between her hands for a moment before hardening it again and stowing it away. Korra looked like she had just been given free access to the entire stock of a candy store with how her bright blue eyes lit up.

"Can you teach me that trick?" She would have likely sprung up and maybe even grovelled, but her leg made her not want to move, especially since there was some red and purple swelling just above her left foot.

"No," Kwan replied rather bluntly, "Firstly, it ain't just a mere trick, and those who would abuse this power could literally bring cities and societies to ruin in a fell swoop."

"I wouldn't do that," Korra tried to reason; "I'm the Avatar. Keeping balance is kind of what I'm supposed to do, yeah?"

"Everyone claims they wouldn't do that," Kwan noted, "Before you try 'n argue this point with me though, I need you to understand two things. Firstly, when I say no, that means no. When I change my mind, you'll be sure to know."

"What's the second thing?" Korra lowered her head, looking humbled, "and… is there any way I could get you to change your mind?"

"The second thing…" Kwan spoke up again, "was indeed that my answer ain't always gonna be no. I'll change my mind about teaching you after you've shown discipline and focus. Lavabending is an extremely powerful art, and so even bein' able to grasp it would be crazy difficult until you've mastered earthbending. I'll be happy to teach you in the future, Korra… but it's a dangerous skill and you could really hurt yourself if you dunno what you're doin'. I don't want that to happen to you." Kwan was by no means attracted to the young Avatar, but she found the kid to be rather endearing in a way that she had not anticipated. If Nakkoa's paranoia turned out to be true—if the Avatar went renegade and the Red Lotus felt obligated to try and slay her, Kwan would be hard-pressed to join them. She could still get behind the idea of moulding Korra to their ideal version of a "Protector of Freedom" (as Zaheer worded it), but maybe Kwan was going soft. Either that or maybe she was just revealing her true colors, but either way she was starting to like Korra as a friend. Vivacious as the Avatar was, Kwan found Korra to be amiable, charming, and enthusiastic. It was hard not to like her, which made her wonder why her sister tried to keep herself so distant. Did Nakkoa's paranoia really grip her that tightly?

"So you would trust me with that then?" Korra looked excitedly at the woman that she imagined now as one of her future teachers.

"Sure," Kwan pushed a smile, "I mean I wouldn't go teaching just anyone that kind of thing, but someone as important as the Avatar could probably put it to use. You're a good kid, Korra, and I feel like too many people don't wanna put a name to your face. They just wanna call you 'Avatar' and throw their problems onto your shoulders and hope that you can solve them."

"Well, I mean I could try," Korra reasoned with a shrug, "I mean, I love being the Avatar and all, and people just gotta deal with it… but it does kind of bug me when people care more about what I am rather than who I am. I have a name too, y'know…"

She lowered her head. Kazuya's words in the arena had stung a little deeper than Korra was proud of admitting. The host, contestants, and audiences in Earth Rumble XIII didn't see Korra; they didn't even see Avatar Korra. All they saw was "The Avatar", and that was all most of them even cared to see, it seemed.

"Now," Kwan stepped up and put her fingers under Korra's chin, lifting her face back up, "I ain't no expert on this sort of thing either, and so as much as I'd love to help, please don't come running to me for these kinds of things… but I think that's why it's important that we find someone who can help you connect with your spiritual side. I'm sure your past lives have much more noteworthy insight than some backcountry earthbender—even those weird Interregnum fellows my sister's obsessed with or whatever."

"Well, I appreciate it either way," Korra gave a genuine, sweet little smile. She wasn't ready to tell Kwan about her vision and experience last night where she manifested as Avatar Imalek and spoke to Avatar Yangchen, but she appreciated that Kwan had taken the time to hear her out, and to call her by name. She liked Nakkoa, but had yet to ever hear the firebender call her by her name, and after reflecting on Kazuya's unintentionally hurtful words, it kind of stung Korra too.

"My pleasure," Kwan smiled as Korra lowered her head again; pondering the things she was told. "Now, you rest up a bit while I go find out where my sister's carousing around at. Maybe I can see if she has a stick up her ass that I can help her pull out."

"Oh, she's not THAT bad," Korra giggled. "I appreciate her too."

"That's better than most could say," Kwan retorted with a dry laugh, "if you ask me I'd say she's insufferable, but I won't burden you with sister issues, kid."

"Alright," Korra chuckled as Kwan disappeared out the door, "I'll see you around then."

After Kwan left, Korra clutched her hair, absentmindedly pulling at the two locks on either side of her head, just below the beads that separated them. She was conflicted. Maybe she was just overreacting from her own naturally unstable teenage emotions, but there were seeds of an identity crisis being sowed here, and Korra realized it.

On one hand, she was the Avatar, and the world had to deal with it. She liked that aspect about herself. It gave her plenty of fantasies and delusions of grandeur, but at her core, Korra hoped that she could use these incredible abilities and skills to make the world a better place. The praise from being a hero would be nice, but Korra also felt that it would be nice to live in a more harmonious world. With this in mind, being the Avatar was not something Korra disliked. She embraced it, and rather loved it about herself to the point where she scared herself thinking about what might happen if these abilities were somehow stripped from her.

On the other hand, she had a name, and she loved her name too. She didn't mind being called 'Avatar', but it seemed that there were a lot of people that simply saw the Avatar as an object—that saw *her* as an object as a result. She wanted to embrace her identity as the Avatar, but didn't want that identity to consume her and erase her name to history. It made her think in particular about the Interregnum Avatars—they had been people too, and she wondered if they were ever remembered as people, or were they just mysterious nameless Avatars from a bygone age? That was not how Korra wished for herself to go down in history, at any rate.

She pulled herself to her feet, drinking some water to clear her head, before heading to her bed and lying down. Maybe if she slept she would be able to go back to the Spirit World before they left for Republic City tomorrow. Perhaps she wouldn't be so lucky, and would just sleep through the evening and afternoon, all the way until the 'evil' morning when their ship set sail for Republic City. She didn't imagine sleeping that long, however, and so even as Korra drifted off in her afternoon nap, her mind had other plans as to what to play for her subconscious.

Chapter Text

Most people tended to associate daydreaming with positive implications, since they were often done while awake or at least semi-conscious, and usually involved various fantasies or dreams. Other times they were literally dreams during the day, such as in Korra's case. The contents of these dreams varied, with some being more pleasant than others.

Korra was not sure what to make of this one though. She found herself in the same area surrounding the Eastern Air Temple that she had seen when she spoke with Yangchen, but this time the entire place was deserted. The towering pagodas of the temple were visible from the distance, and they looked in decent repair. Perhaps this location was merely her mind painting a generic setting rather than trying to dig up something symbolic.

The only other figure Korra saw was herself, however. Maybe she was a little older, but she was dressed exactly the same: that light blue form-fitting top, the dark blue sweatpants, and little else except an unusual set of heavy bracelets around her wrists and ankles. If these were metal, they looked to be made of solid gold, and while they resembled shackles, they didn't have latches or openings. Her eyes also shimmered blue and white, as if she was in the Avatar State.

"Who are you?" Korra asked the apparition.

"I am Korra," the apparition replied bluntly. It had a low, commanding voice that Korra could not place as belonging to anyone she knew; "Or rather, I am you. I am the concerns and fears of your mind personified. So tell me, Korra: Who are you?"

"What do you mean who am I?" Korra tilted her head. "I'm Avatar Korra."

"Which are you first?" Korra's projection demanded.

"Well, I'd have to be the Avatar first, right?" Korra reasoned, "duty and all that stuff, or something. But I don't wanna just be the Avatar. I want to still be Korra too."

"Then ensure you keep your priorities straight." the apparition warned. "Embrace your status as the Avatar, but do not lose yourself in it if you wish to preserve Korra."

"What else can you tell me?" Korra asked.

"I can hardly give you advice you don't already know at least slightly," the apparition gave a hollow laugh, her glowing featureless eyes making it creepier than it should have been, "After all, I am you. I am merely reasoning with you on how to balance Korra and Avatar Korra in your life if you seek to preserve both."

"Of course I do!" Korra exclaimed, "I can't just stop being the Avatar, but I don't want to lose myself and my name in the process."

"Then don't," the projection advised. "Be yourself. If 'yourself' is the Avatar, then be the Avatar. If 'yourself' is Korra, then be Korra. If 'yourself' is Avatar Korra, then be Avatar Korra."

"That doesn't even make sense!" One of Korra's brows rose slightly while the other sunk, followed by her lower lip sticking out.

"What it means is that you are in control of your destiny." the projection explained, "You chose to leave home and travel the world. You chose to embrace being the Avatar as a little child. Every action you choose has a consequence, for good or ill. If you fear that Korra is being overshadowed by Avatar Korra, then do what you know you must do in order to rectify it. If you think that it is merely a phase; that you will get over the Earth Rumble Host's words, then disregard it and continue living how you please. All I am saying at the bottom line, Korra, is to think. Ponder the consequences of balancing your own spirit and the Avatar Spirit, and ponder what happens if the balance is too skewed. There is no right and wrong answer here… although if you allow this imbalance, your name will consume your identity… or your status as the Avatar will consume you. Make of that what you will."

Korra paused to contemplate this advice, looking down at her bare feet for a moment before looking back up and realizing the apparition had changed. It still resembled her, except the gold bracelets around her wrists and ankles were replaced with actual shackles, and a thick chain of heavy links was wrapped around her right hand a forearm. Instead of glowing Avatar State eyes, the apparition's eyes were a dull, featureless white, and her skin appeared to be greyer.

"Wait, what happened?" Korra looked confused, "you aren't me."

"Become the Avatar," the apparition did not appear to be moving or speaking, and yet Korra would swear that she heard these words in her mind, "master the spirits… purify what has long since been defiled. Find… me…"

And with that, the apparition faded away, and soon Korra slipped right through the illusory plain, plunging into the abyss before being awakened from her nap. She had no idea how much time had actually passed, and for a moment she lay there contemplating the conversation she had had. She wondered if that had been another spirit world trip and if that apparition had been an actual spirit; or if this had all just been a dream inside her own mind, with both sides of her conflicted argument carefully presenting their points. The apparition with her wearing golden bracelets had felt like herself, but that shackled apparition had felt like a very real outside force trying to get into her head. Who or what had that thing been? Korra didn't really want to worry too much about it, because it was likely just her mind playing tricks on her.

She sat up, putting her left foot down and putting pressure on it to see if it still hurt. There was a sting in her ankle, but it wasn't enough to prevent her from standing. Korra was made from some seriously resilient stock, and it would take much more than a twist to keep her down.

The sun was setting on Gaoling by the time Korra got dressed to head out again, and neither Kwan nor Nakkoa had returned yet. She only had a few hours until the ship to Republic City would depart, and many of those would be spent sleeping. She had to try one last time to find Ichiro. Fortunately, since she had visited his home last time, she knew where to find it—or at least thought she did. She and Naga got lost a few times, although after Korra stopped and let Naga guide her to Ichiro's house they got there without incident. It was difficult to gauge the actual intelligence of a polar bear-dog in comparison to humans, but as Korra dismounted, she was almost certain Naga gave her this sassy look that could very well have been her calling out Korra's terrible navigational skills.

"Yeah, yeah, rub it in," Korra pouted as she stepped up to Ichiro's door and knocked. For a moment there was silence, and Korra briefly thought he wasn't home. Right as she was about to turn and leave however, Ichiro answered the door.

"Well, well," he cooed, "if it isn't my favourite little Avatar. What brings you to my humble abode? You don't quite look in need of healing like you did last time"

"The hits were easier to shrug off this time," Korra admitted with a light shrug which betrayed her bad posture, "I mean if you're offering I wouldn't say no, but I just wanted to say goodbye since I'm out of here tomorrow. I also wanted to ask you about those candies."

"Did you want some more?" Ichiro offered with a playful grin. His eyes widened when Korra excitedly seized his shoulders.

"Of course!" She jumped up and down like a giddy schoolgirl, grinning ear to ear, "and you should totally tell me where you get them. I've got money burning a hole in my pocket right now!"

"Sadly, I cannot disclose my secret," Ichiro invited Korra in, "but I can give you a bag that might last you about 6½ minutes."

Korra's left eyebrow went up as her right one sunk, her lip jutting out once again. "That's it?"

"Maybe," Ichiro gave a hearty laugh, "It depends on how fast you demolish them, little one."

"I have some restraint!" Korra argued.

"Smile," Ichiro offered, waiting for Korra to flash her slightly discolored teeth. The green tint they had exposed Korra's bluff immediately, and she pouted upon this realization.

"You're a bad person." Korra frowned, further amplifying her pout.

"And so what does that make you, coming all this way just to see a 'bad person' and say goodbye?" Ichiro teased with a playful grin.

"Smartass," Korra's pout intensified. Ichiro could not help but laugh at her dramatic expression.

"Whatever the case," Ichiro sighed, changing the subject as to not tear his young friend down too far, "I will miss you, little Avatar."

"I have a name, you know." Korra piped up. She thought back to Kazuya and back to her daydream earlier and shook her head. She didn't think Ichiro was doing it on purpose, but her teenaged mind wanted a bit of proper closure, as well as admittance from the man himself.

"And it's a rather pretty one," Ichiro smiled. "Korra, was it? I just figured you weren't big on using names, and so I went with nicknames."

"What made you think that?" Korra tilted her head.

"You've never used my name since meeting me," Ichiro smirked. "I don't really see you as the passive-aggressive type though; I feel if you truly loathed my affectionate nickname that you would have said something much sooner."

"Are you this persistent of a smartass to everyone you meet?" Korra pouted. He had outsmarted her again, and she didn't have a comeback ready.

"I am indeed," Ichiro laughed before rising to his feet and tossing her a sack of candy, "but I will not keep you… Korra. Thank you for taking your time to meet me; I do hope our paths cross again sometime."

"Thanks for putting up with me," Korra admitted, "I mean, other than the two sisters… I don't really have any other friends. I don't imagine you'd want to come with me, would you?"

Hearing the stories of "Team Avatar" in the era of Avatar Aang made Korra wish she had a little band of friends like that. Kwan and Nakkoa were clever and Kwan especially was rather humourous, but they were both about twice her age and were not really her 'Team Avatar'. Perhaps the conflict between "Korra" and "The Avatar" was deeper than just her name. On one hand, she was excited to start learning more of the bending arts to augment her already respectable skills, but on the other, she was almost certain that her masters would be men and women twice her age that had vast knowledge of their respective arts. Finding teenaged prodigies the way her predecessor had did not seem like a lucky enough combination to happen again so soon. As Korra returned home for that evening, these were the types of things on her mind. She wanted to be the Avatar just as all of her past lives had been, always imagining that mastering those abilities would help bring the world back into balance. She started to realize that there was much more to this notion than she previously thought.

Korra did not have any dreams, visions, or trips to the spirit world that evening; nor was she visited by that cryptic apparition she had daydreamed of, and so ultimately she woke up as refreshed as she could be for it being morning. This time the three women boarded the ship as passengers rather than cargo, and even Naga was allowed on with them. Something behind them, however, caused Nakkoa to cast her eyes back uncomfortably before they made their way to the suite. It was a 2-2½ day voyage to Republic City, and so Kwan had steeled herself for a restless Avatar on the journey there, and could only imagine what Nakkoa was preparing for.

Korra glanced behind them to see what had flustered Nakkoa so, but only saw an elderly man with a three-pointed silver beard, and a long pointy mustache to match. His skin had a darker tone to it, and so this old-timer very well might have been from the Water Tribes. Korra wanted to talk to him, but when everyone was still boarding, her opportunity would be later.

She remained on the deck as the ship left the port, sailing west back down the mighty river that connected it to the sea. She thought about going to look for that old man, wondering what he could have done to strike such discomfort into Nakkoa's heart for even a second (for Nakkoa vehemently denied any such thing, and even Kwan backed her up), but she didn't have to look far at all. Instead the old man found Korra, approaching her while one of his dark blue eyes widened as he got right up in her face.

"So… you're the Avatar, is it?" His tone was lively and dramatic, especially for a man who was likely in his mid-late 80s.

"That's me," Korra gave a sheepish smile, "off on my adventure to master the elements. Can I help you with something?"

"As a matter of fact… you can." The old-timer lowered his voice. "I'm on a reconnaissance mission, hunting down four powerful benders."

"I mean, I'm the Avatar," Korra introduced herself, "but I'm still kind of in training so I'm not sure if I'd qualify as powerful or not."

"Avatar, hmm?" the old man raised his eyebrows, "well then, missy, I think you might have simplified my search in one way.

"Really?" This old geezer wasn't making too much sense, but Korra could have sworn he looked familiar in some way. Her first thought was some subconscious Avatar dream, but that couldn't be it; her past lives were all dead.

"Really, really." the man nodded. "And now you're prancing off to Republic City of all places! It's a bold move on your part, little one, but don't let the ramblings of some old geezer throw ya off."

"How did you know where I was going?" Korra looked defensive, "who are you, even? Are you following me? Did the White Lotus send you?"

"White Lotus?" the man scratched his beard, "Ahh yes. I've heard of them. I knew the original Grandmaster Lotus back in my day… but no. I just happened to be boarding the same boat as you. Whatever sinister plot they've got in store or you, I'm not part of it!"

"How did you know where I was going though?" Korra demanded, "And who are you?"

"Lass," the old man laughed and shook his head, "I know where you're going because I'm on the same ship as you, and only an idiot would take a ship without knowing its destination."

"Oh," Korra stared adamantly down at her boots, "um… right." She had walked right into that one; that was for sure. Foot, meet mouth.

"As for who I am…" the man looked Korra squarely in the eyes. "You can call me Wang Fire."

Chapter Text

Korra was in awe. She had heard legends of Wang Fire from some of the older citizens of the Water Tribe. Many claimed that he was actually just Katara's older brother Sokka, but the man hadn't been seen in the Tribe for years, and even Katara had always asserted that 'her brother was gone'. Wang Fire was a man whose legend had been blown perhaps out of proportion, but even in the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom, the name had a reputation, and while many of his glorious feats had been attributed to or connected with Sokka in one way or another, it seemed that no one wished to prove that they were one in the same.

"THE Wang Fire?" Korra raised her fists to her cheeks excitedly. "No way!" The idea that Korra had just met a celebrity (despite her being something of one herself) was still an amazing concept to her, perhaps because of how young and inexperienced she was.

"As surely as the great hero Sokka of the Water Tribes found his trusty boomerang after the 100-year War!" Wang Fire tugged his beard both for show and as if to prove it wasn't fake.

"So I've heard all the stories even down south," Korra explained, "and I just have to know—what's your relationship to Sokka?"

"Sokka's a fine man," Wang fire rolled his shoulders before stroking his beard and resuming staring intently at Korra, "and he has imitated me many a time. You know what they say, Avatar: imitation is the best form of flattery."

"Isn't it 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'?" Korra tilted her head.

"Same thing," Wang Fire shrugged. "But whatever the case, I have business to attend to. Some advice: Never travel through Si Wong on foot, and never get involved with a waterbender during that special time of the month!"

"Waaaaait, what 'time of the month'?" Korra narrowed her eyes. She may have been young and fairly naive, but that crack didn't escape her.

"Full moon of course!" Wang Fire replied with a confident puffing of his chest. "I don't know what you thought I was ramblin' about, lass; but you need not worry. Good day!"

Korra's right eye twitched oddly as Wang Fire stumped away. He was an eccentric fellow, or maybe his humour was just over Korra's head.

True to Kwan's theory, Korra was indeed restless, and it was starting to grate on Nakkoa.

"What do you expect us to do?" Kwan reasoned, "throw her overboard? She's energetic, and she's cooped up on a little boat with no one her age and no friends except us and maybe that weird old guy she sometimes talks to. Sister, I love you and I understand you're the smart one more times than not, but you gotta look at it from her perspective. She was cooped up in a prison compound for 10 years, and now she's restricted to a little ship in the middle of the ocean which has restrictions of its own on it too. Of course she wants to get out and go somewhere."

"She wasn't this restless in the cargo hold," Nakkoa riposted, "maybe we should have shoved her into the trunk of a Satomobile in the cargo hold and let her out after we landed. She didn't seem to mind it on the way to Gaoling if I recall correctly."

"But do you understand her reasoning?" Kwan reasoned, "She's just a kid. Do you remember when you and I were about that age?"

"If I recall, that was shortly after mother died and we joined the Red Lotus." Nakkoa replied with a matter-of-fact tone. "And that was 3 years after father's death and us getting tangled up in Triad business, so I'm not sure that's the best example."

"Except that actually proves my point," Kwan retorted. "The Triads thing took our minds off dad, and the Red Lotus became family after we lost mom too. We were wild and lost, and you in particular felt that it'd be best to keep us busy. Korra's the same way: she needs to stay busy, and she just needs proper training."

"Her polar bear-dog is better disciplined than she is," Nakkoa laughed.

"Well it's not like we're doing much to humour her apart from promise her more power than she'll know what to do with," Kwan quipped. "And come now, she's civilized."

"Only barely," Nakkoa reminded her, "I guarantee the first thing she's going to do when we reach port is take off on that beast and race through the streets."

"I don't even think she'll take that long," Kwan laughed, "once she sees the port she'll probably dive overboard and then either swim or bend herself to shore."

"You want to put that claim to coin?" Nakkoa reached into her pocket, twirling coins between her fingers in a similar way to how she would do so with some of her knives.

"I see no reason why not," Kwan laughed, "200 yuans says she jumps ship before we land."

The two sisters shook on it before returning to their business.

Ultimately, the voyage to Republic City was not too eventful. Fortunately for Korra (as well as for the sanity of the two sisters), there was candy to sate Korra's sweet tooth, which had only grown more prevalent as her boredom amplified, but all in all, Korra felt like she didn't really do anything except stroll the decks, stare out into the ocean, and occasionally run into Wang Fire again. Late one evening though, both Nakkoa and Kwan were alarmed when they saw Korra's boots and clothes in a pile and no sign of their owner.

"The fuck!?" Nakkoa and Kwan chimed almost simultaneously as they exchanged dumbfounded looks. They glanced over the deck and a moment later a small splash disrupted the otherwise fairly smooth water, and there was Korra, laughing as she stared up at them. The ship might have slowed down somewhat in the evening, but there was still no way anyone could swim that fast on their own, and with the lazy way Korra seemed to just be floating on her back and still keeping up with them, both sisters suspected waterbending.

"Korra," Kwan called out, "what even…"

Korra did not reply, however, and instead launched herself back up onto the deck of the ship with a stupid grin plastered all across her face. Fortunately for everyone involved, it seemed Korra had at least kept her undergarments on before taking the plunge. She had also kept the blue band around her upper right arm, but little else.

"Any particular reason you disrobed?" Nakkoa raised her eyebrow.

"It felt better that way," Korra shrugged, "this deck's hardly half as high as the cliff back home, and the water is so warm I can actually swim in it!"

"Cliff?" Nakkoa narrowed her eyes.

"Waterbender thing," Korra called back, "Rite of passage; you wouldn't understand."

"I won't ask," Nakkoa shook her head. Korra just giggled and stretched, her thick hair sticking to most of her face, but her exposed form revealing contours of a very athletic frame, even at 14.

"Show-off," Kwan bit her gums to keep from laughing.

"Come on," Korra reasoned, shaking her head and body like a dog before trying to wring out the remaining water out of her thick mop of hair, "that's the most excitement I've had since the Earth Rumble arena! There's nothing else to do here!"

"Well, don't get too restless," Kwan warned, "We dock tomorrow fairly early."

"I might actually tolerate a morning if we do," Korra riposted as she bent most of the water out of her smallclothes and threw it back overboard. "Believe it or not, I'm restless."

"Oh, trust me." Nakkoa rolled her eyes for dramatic effect, "we believe it."

"Well, I'd totally recommend a swim," Korra shrugged as she got dressed without any real fanfare, "but I guess since you aren't waterbenders, that might complicate things."

"We'll have plenty of time for leisure soon enough," Kwan chuckled. "Don't you worry."

Kwan was also the one laughing the next morning as Republic City came into view. Korra looked like a kid in a candy shop as the towering skyline and colorful cityscape came into view, and before either Kwan or Nakkoa could stop her, Korra had climbed up on the railing and dove right off the ship, fully dressed and everything. Brash and reckless as she might have been, she was not entirely stupid, to the point where her candy bag and most of her other supplies were with Naga rather than on her person waiting to get ruined by the water.

There was little to see in the dark water beneath the surface, but Korra still felt exhilarated to be submerged in water where she didn't have to worry about losing her extremities or have half her face frozen off if she lingered too long. Using waterbending to keep a small pocket of air around her nose and mouth (which she had held there from the moment she hit the water) she plunged deeper and deeper, also propelling herself forward using the water around her.

She chalked it up to her affinity as a waterbender by birth, but Korra made a mental note to go swimming more often. Perhaps there would be time in the future to do exactly that. For now though, she aimed for the port town, also kind of testing herself to see how long she could stay underwater with her pocket of air.

Nakkoa and Kwan had not exactly seen it happen, but were just in time to see Korra's form plunge deep enough into the water before she disappeared.

"Someone owes me 200 yuans," Kwan held out her hand with a smug grin on her face. Nakkoa shook her head in disbelief as she dropped coins and bills into her sister's hand.

"I'm impressed that she didn't take her candy pouch," the firebender chuckled as they approached port. Both sisters let out an amused laugh as they watched for signs of Korra's return to the surface. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, a small brown head covered with a mop of dark, wet hair emerged with an exhilarated gasp of breath, as she casually swam the rest of the way to shore.

"Wanna make bets on how quickly she's gonna run off?" Nakkoa raised her eyebrow as the ship docked in port.

"And lose my newly-earned 200 yuans?" Kwan laughed as she watched Korra climb out of the water from the corner of her eye, "perish the thought! She's gonna call Naga in just a moment and they're gonna take off."

Almost as if Kwan had put Korra on strings like a puppet to dictate her next moves, Korra shook herself off (surely augmented by bending considering how much water came out of her clothes and hair), she put her fingers to her mouth, whistling loudly. Naga barrelled past the sisters, reuniting with her master before the devious duo took off into the heart of Republic City.

"Well," an old voice from behind Nakkoa quipped as he smoked an odd pipe, "that certainly didn't take long at all."

"Are you stalking the Avatar or something?" Nakkoa eyed the man accusingly.

"Oy now," Kwan hit Nakkoa's arm, "That's the great Wang Fire, sister. Show some respect!"

"Aye, listen to that lass," Wang Fire widened one of his eyes as he stared right at Nakkoa. "But really, I'm just here for the same reason anyone comes to Ol' Republic. The fact that I met the Avatar on my voyage was just a highlight of my trip. Spunky little kid, ain't she?"

"Very," Kwan nodded, "so all the more reason we need to find where she ran off to."

"Well good luck with that!" Wang fire waved them off, and thus with that, Kwan and Nakkoa took off, leaving Wang Fire putting his hands together and watching them, before briefly lifting a hand to stroke his beard. Whatever was on his mind was unclear, for he quietly took a right in contrast to the left the sisters had taken, and disappeared.

For a girl who had grown up in a mid-sized town locked in the frozen tundras of the south pole, Republic City was such a striking contrast to everything she knew. Even Gaoling, for as big and lively as it was, didn't even begin to compare. The Southern Water Tribe Capital was a fishing boat, Gaoling was a battleship, and Republic City was a full-blown carrier, when comparing sizes of these settlements. Korra didn't even bother trying to tell Naga where to go. She knew that Naga had just as little of an idea of where to go as she did, and so there was no telling where they'd end up. Korra was too busy looking up, down, left, right, in front, and behind her as they moved, and so in a way, she was glad Naga was her navigator.

Even during the day, there were bright lights in every direction, accompanied by colorful signs, colorful people, and busy streets lined with Satomobiles not unlike the ones Korra had slept under on their voyage from the South Pole up to Gaoling.

Two things crossed Korra's mind as they blindly pushed through the city, and neither Kwan nor Nakkoa were among them. One of these thoughts was that that surely a city this massive had to have some sort of pit fighting arena or something. Another notion was that surely, somewhere in this town there had to be a glorious emporium where Korra could blow her money off on candy. If there were so many newfangled confections in some backwater Earth Kingdom town, she could only imagine what a massive melting-pot metropolis would have to offer.

She eventually found herself outside a huge flashy building with a large sign that read "Blackstone Hotel & Casino". Korra trusted Naga not to wander too far, especially since the lot across from this building was vacant which in turn meant Korra's trusty companion wouldn't have to wait on the sidewalk or street corner as Korra poked around this flashy building to see what it was. Not that she had any idea what she was getting into, but much like her first excursion into Earth Rumble XIII back in Gaoling, what was the fun in learning new things without taking a few risks?

Nakkoa and Kwan took nearly half an hour before they were able to track Korra down, and that was mostly due to Nakkoa expertly asking around about a girl and a polar bear-dog. As they got closer, more people said things to the flavour of "I've seen a polar bear-dog running around a vacant lot near Blackstone Casino, but there wasn't a girl with her…"

"Fuck." Nakkoa swore after a third individual made this same claim. "Naga's across from a casino, and the Avatar is nowhere to be found. The kid has money, and is attracted to shiny things. Take three wild guesses where she probably is."

"If we're lucky, she'll run out of money and then come storming out with that pout on her face," Kwan laughed, "if not… we might have to poke our heads in there and see what she's up to."

Naga barked upon seeing Kwan and Nakkoa, and while Kwan decided to stick around outside and play with her a bit, Nakkoa decided to poke her head inside.

"If I had a yuan for every time this kid ran off," she muttered to herself, "I could buy this building right out from under Mr. Varrick and still have enough change for a night on the town. Is there anything that she won't try at least once?"

Chapter Text

Sure enough, it didn't take long for Nakkoa to spot Korra, sticking coins into a slot machine and pulling the large black and red arm on the right side. Her face lit up, and so did the machine, betraying that Korra had just won at least some money back.

Nakkoa sighed, and turned to one of the receptionists.

"Is the owner or manager in today?" she asked.

"He is, although he is likely very busy at the moment," the receptionist replied. "But I can tell him you called. What's your name?"

"Nakkoa," the firebender replied, "I'm sure it'll ring a bell."

And sure enough it did. Korra was still oblivious to Nakkoa's presence, carefully pulling the large lever of her game machine, and trying to time the slots.

Sure enough, Nakkoa's name did ring a bell, to the point where she was greeted by Iknik Blackstone Varrick himself.

"Nakkoa!" he opened his arms as if greeting an old friend, "What brings you back to Blackstone Hotel and Casino! I thought you were still adamantly boycotting the place after that incident with the lamps and the turtle-ducks."

"...I try to forget about that moment, thank you." Nakkoa looked slightly perturbed, "I'm here to ask you if you're aware of children using your machines on these premises."

"Hmm?" Varrick kept up his flambouyant act, "oh, you must be talking about the Avatar? How could I say no to that kind of business and prestige? I've already got my assistant working on my new advertising campaign: The Avatar played here!"

Nakkow frowned. "Avatar?" She called out, but Korra didn't reply or even glance her way. Whether it was from Nakkoa's call being drowned out by the other sounds around them or if it was Korra deliberately ignoring her was up for debate.

"I'll tell you why," Nakkoa looked Varrick right in the eye, "Because she's only 14."

"I fail to see a problem with that," Varrick retorted, "She has the money, and I even gave her a few extra tokens on the house! I told her not to spend it all in one place, but judging how long she's been on that machine it's clear she screwed the pooch on that request."

The lights on Korra's machine went off again, and Korra grinned as she lifted her fur skirt around in such a way to catch the coins that popped out of the machine. With a triumphant grin from ear to ear, she loaded her coin purse up with her new winnings, and rose to her feet before heading right back to the exit. Her expression betrayed that she had a plan with what she wanted to do with this newfound money, while both Nakkoa and Varrick gawked at her in disbelief.

"Oh hey, Nakkoa!" Korra smiled and waved as she passed, "Hey, Mr. Varrick. Thanks again for the coins and the tips, by the way!" And with that, she walked right back out the door.

"See what we've had to deal with on a regular basis?" Nakkoa's face lengthened.

"She's got spunk," Varrick smirked, "I'll have to see if I can find a way to wrangle her back here again one of these days. In the meantime…" he paused, looked around, and then raised his voice. "Zhu Li! Do the thing!"

A small bespectacled woman stepped out carrying a set of colorful signs advertising "The Avatar Plays Here!", which she promptly put near every entrance of the building.

Kwan was still with Naga when Korra stepped outside, but Nakkoa's absence sparked a curiosity in her sister's eyes.

"Oh hey Korra," she waved, "I just thought I'd keep Naga company while you were in there. Did Nakkoa find you?

"She did," Korra shrugged her left shoulder, "but she and Varrick were in chatting it up, so I left them to it."

This was not fully true, since Nakkoa had gone in only to retrieve Korra, and so she left Varrick to running his casino after Korra left, appearing in the entryway a moment later.

"A question for you, Avatar," the firebender spoke up after she had crossed the street.

"Hm?" Korra turned to face her.

"Are you going to run off like this on a regular basis?" Nakkoa felt like an exhausted mother half the time, being the one to chase down Korra every time the teen saw something interesting that caught her eye—which in a huge, flashy metropolis like Republic City, was remarkably easy.

"I… uh, might?" Korra scratched the back of her head as a guilty expression crept onto her face. "This place is incredible! I saw so many things I wanted to stop and check out just on my way here, and we're only a few blocks from the pier. It's so much more exciting than the drab compound they locked me in back home every day. I really felt like I was in prison."

"Speaking from way too many years of experience, I can assure you that prison's only slightly worse," Kwan chuckled, "But I've also seen that compound of yours, kid; and you've got my full support in never forcing you to ever have to go back there."

"Finally!" Korra sighed in a tone of relief that hinted at far more than just her usual liveliness, "someone who understands that! People aren't meant to be cooped up like that. I mean, criminals, sure I guess? But what did I ever do wrong apart from be born as the Avatar?"

"Well, if I had to take a stab, I'd say you were trying to shake us," Nakkoa teased.

"No, I…" Korra stammered, "I just got so excited at seeing new places and actually being able to do what I want that maybe I got a little carried away. There's one more place I need to go though, and I promise I won't be long."

Before Kwan or Nakkoa could object, Korra had jumped up on Naga and raced down another city block, leaving Nakkoa in particular with a disgusted expression.

"She seriously just runs off again?" She scowled, clenching her fists. "I swear with how impulsive she is sometimes I want to wring that girl's neck!"

"Naki," Kwan put a hand on her sister's shoulder, "she said she was coming right back. Give her a few minutes. The poor kid's basically been in prison her whole life"

"And I still think that teaching her all of our skills is just going to create some weaponized Avatar that'll eventually turn against us," Nakkoa warned. "The kid is volatile already, and so do you think pumping her full of all sorts of advanced powers is gonna do us any favours?"

"Will you use her name for once?" Kwan frowned.

"I've been over this before," Nakkoa sighed and shook her head. "Consider it my subtle way of showing concern. The Avatar is not someone you want to associate too closely with."

"I strongly disagree," Kwan asserted, shaking her head. "I think the idea Avatar is one that walks among the people as an equal, not some revered deity like the Interregnums."

"Perhaps that is where my fear stems," Nakkoa admitted with an unsure expression, before she glanced down the street to see Korra and Naga approaching again. She didn't appear to have anything different about her, but Kwan had a theory.

"Did you buy candy?" She narrowed her eyes in a somewhat playful accusatory glare. Korra did not reply, but the shit-eating grin that appeared on her face betrayed exactly what she had done.

"How much of your money did you spend?" Nakkoa tilted her head, now curious as well.

"More than half?" Korra grinned shamelessly. Nakkoa shook her head.

"Alright, Avatar," she looked Korra dead in the eyes, "no more running off this time. We're getting a hotel room for a couple of days until some of your advisors arrive, and then it's off to those mountains above the city to begin the training montage of a lifetime. We'll turn you into a fully-realized Avatar or kill ourselves and you in the process."

"Well," Korra's eyes widened, "that escalated quickly."

"Nakkoa's always been a bit extreme like that though," Kwan reassured her, "I think she just wants to go back to the probending arena and show these rookies how it's done."

"Kwan, the last thing we needed is more distractions," Nakkoa shook her head, but the half-hearted way she did so betrayed an interest."

"Probending?" Korra looked curious.

"Let's get moving, and perhaps my big-mouthed sister will explain," Nakkoa quipped sharply.

"It's no Earth Rumble, but it's pretty fast-paced and will keep you on your feet," Kwan explained, "it's also really popular with teens and young adults, but every now and again you'll get a team of folks in their late 20s or 30s that will come and tear the place apart. Naki and I used to kick all kinds of ass at that game until we all got carted off to prison."

"Who was your waterbender?" Korra asked, "is there another sibling I should know about?"

"Nah, it was a fellow named Kotu," Kwan shrugged.

"Apparently he got caught in an incident where he tried attacking the police during a murder-assault gone wrong, so they offed him," Nakkoa indicated with a remarkably nonchalant shrug, "kind of a bummer, but what do you do?"

"Think this kid could replace him?" Kwan put a hand on Korra's shoulder, using her other arm to elbow her sister playfully.

"They'd cry foul if she used all the elements," Nakkoa reminded her as they reached a rather elegant hotel that was even nicer than Summer's Estate in Gaoling, "maybe if she just used water, but do you imagine that the kid who goes off and buys 10 pounds of candy after winning a casino jackpot has any sense of restraint?"

"Hey!" Korra's right cheek was bulging with sweets as her brows furrowed. "I resent that! And it wasn't exactly a very big pot, all things considering."

"Teach her the rules, sister," Nakkoa raised her eyebrows, "and pray she learns at least a little restraint… and perhaps we can re-form The Prison Breakers anew sometime."

"Prison Breakers?" Korra raised an eyebrow.

"That was the name of our team," Kwan chuckled, "most folks name themselves after animals or other lame stuff; Nakkoa decided to just be honest with who we were."

"I basically just said 'fuck it'," Nakkoa shrugged, "all three of us were ex-cons who had spent time behind bars, and so what better way to bring us together than our common bond?"

"I've never actually been to prison though," Korra argued, "would I fit in?"

"You're the one that's been bitching about that Water Tribe compound ever since we plucked you out of there," Kwan nudged her. "As far as Nakkoa and I care, that was prison enough."

The White Lotus compound had much less ill intent than prison, but even now Korra felt like going back there would be like going to prison: confinement, sentires watching her every move, her day-to-day life strictly monitored and scheduled, and no real sense of freedom. It was simply not the life she ever wanted to have to live again. The Avatar was not meant to be caged like an exotic animal, Korra believed; she was meant to run free.

"Well hey; if you'll have me, I'd love to join!" Korra's eyes lit up, "can you teach me the rules?"

"As soon as we get checked in," Kwan promised. "It shouldn't take too long."

True to her word, Kwan taught Korra the basic rules of probending that afternoon, clarifying that while there were a few other nuances to watch out for, that the end goal was the same as Earth Rumble: knock the opponents off the back of the platform and into the drink. Kwan even let Korra spar with her out in a small lot behind the hotel.

"Come at me with all ya got," Kwan held out her hands. "Don't worry; I'm tough too, and I'm not about to throw lava at you… not this soon anyways."

Earth Rumble had been fun, but it was also nice for Korra to be able to stretch her waterbending and firebending muscles. Korra's style was fast and aggressive, and immediately put Kwan on the defensive. Bolts of water, earth, and fire pelted and bombarded the little lavabender as the Avatar bore down on her with powerful and aggressive attacks. Kwan had to counter these movements with large stone shields and slabs that she shook Korra's movements up with, but even after getting knocked flat on her back, the plucky kid lifted her legs, kicking them with enough force to launch herself right back up onto her feet, following up this momentum by swinging her arms forward and launching powerful streams of flame. Korra was an aggressive fighter, and Kwan felt like if they were at equal levels of skill, the Avatar would easily overpower her even if she just used one bending discipline and didn't trigger the Avatar State.

Nakkoa returned from the hotel only moments before Korra was struck squarely in the face with one of Kwan's rocks and sent sprawling.

"I'm not going to try and rein you in anymore, Avatar," the firebender explained, handing the girl a key, "but if you lose this key, you're sleeping outside. 5th Nation Hotel; Suite 428; that's where we'll be when we're not running errands."

"Well, where Nakkoa will be," Kwan raised her eyebrow. "I'm going off to roam the town."

"Gonna hit up the red lantern district again, are we, Kwan?" Nakkoa quipped.

"You're one to talk," Kwan laughed, before subtly drawing a thumb across her neck, "not in front of her though…" she added with a whisper.

"What's a red lantern district?" Because of course Korra had to ask.

"A place you shouldn't go to until you're 21," Kwan spoke with a level of seriousness Korra hadn't seen since meeting her. "Just… trust me on this one."

"But I suppose if you two are going out to roam the town," Nakkoa piped up, "that I might as well do the same, at least for the time being. I have a few old contacts I need to talk with anyways. Stay safe, little sister; little Avatar."

Unlike Kwan, who had a slouch in her walk, Nakkoa's walk was very swift and refined, almost as if she and her sister had come from very different walks of life. Nakkoa was a tall, lean and agile firebender while Kwan was a short resilient earthbender. Their facial structures were similar, however; and Korra swore she recognized those eyes from somewhere; whether in this life or a past life, she did not know.

Either way, Kwan waved Korra off, and the young Avatar decided to take a walk. It was one of the few times she and Naga didn't go together, but Korra trusted her companion to stay close, or at least know where to return to if Korra needed her.

This time, Korra didn't have a particular destination in mind as she set off through the streets. There was so much to see, and with only a couple days to do her sightseeing, there really was never enough time. Maybe there was just something about her upbringing, but the more Korra looked around, the more she wondered how people didn't get lost in a place like this. Fortunately, 5th Nation Hotel was a rather tall and hard-to-miss building considering its features, and so as long as Korra didn't get lost somewhere downtown packed with skyscrapers, she'd likely be able to see it from anywhere.

She was watching it from over her shoulder, not realizing she had just stepped in the street—and not realizing until too late that, despite the driver hitting the brakes, something was only moments away from colliding with her.

Chapter Text

The vehicle which struck Korra was fortunately small, to the tune of a moped rather than a larger car or worse, a truck. Still, the speed and force was enough to not only knock Korra off of her feet, but send her spiraling through the air, where she skidded to a halt a few feet away, dazed, confused, and clutching her left side. The diver screeched to a halt and raced over towards Korra, shaking her head.

"I'm so sorry!" It was a woman's voice, although Korra was still a little dizzy from the impact her body and head had made against the road to really catch her appearance. "I didn't see you!"

"Hmm? Korra massaged her temples as she blinked her eyes into focus as the young woman removed her helmet. It couldn't have been a girl too much older than Korra, but she was beautiful. There was something warm about it that 14-year-old Korra just couldn't place though. Maybe she was thinking too hard about it.

"Are you okay?" the girl asked, still at Korra's side, noticing that Korra's breathing was slightly laboured and that she was still clutching her chest as she rose to her feet. "Did I hurt you? I did, didn't I? Ugh; I'm such an idiot…"

"I'll be fine," Korra licked a bit of blood from the corner of her mouth, her right arm moving to clutch her left, "honestly, I just took a beating harder than that against a lavabender hardly 20 minutes ago."

"Still… I'm so embarrassed…" the girl shook her head, "Hardly the first time my dad lets me drive one of these things and the first thing I do is slam into a kid on the road."

"I'll be fine," Korra had collected her bearings, "I'm the Avatar. It'll take more than a blow to the gut to take me out."

"Avatar?" the young woman explained, "Not who I expected to run into this early in life, and so of course the first thing I get to tell my dad is that I ran over the avatar on my moped. I'm Asami though. Please let me make this up to you somehow…"

"Uh, sure?" Korra shrugged, her left arm still a little sore from where it and her hip had collided with the street earlier, "I'll seriously be okay though, so don't stress about it."

"It's the principle of the matter though," Asami argued, "can I at least get your name though? Avatar's a nice title, but who you are is much more important than what you are"

"Korra," Korra smiled. She liked this woman already because of that philosophy alone. Maybe she was still touchy about Nakkoa and Kazuya.

"A pleasure then, Korra," Asami smiled at her, "tell you what; meet me at this address tonight around 7. My dad would love to meet you."

Korra glanced at the name on the card Asami had handed her, and the name stuck out to her.

"Sato?" She raised an eyebrow, "you're the daughter of THE Hiroshi Sato?" Korra might not have known the first thing about them other than that some had spacey compartments she could hide in, but every time she saw one of these machines race down the streets they intrigued her. Now she was excited that she could finally attach a name to a face.

"Yeah," Asami smiled. "He's my dad."

"Get out of town!" Korra pushed her playfully, although Asami was clearly not used to the same type of physical interaction that Kwan or even Nakkoa was, and so she actually staggered back and nearly fell.

"Easy there!" She stammered, "but come now, I'd be a terrible person to lie about something like that. If you want, we can meet him in person."

"The guy who might as well have invented all these cool machines zooming down the roads?" Korra's face lit up with interest, "count me in!"

"Consider it done then," Asami promised, "don't worry too much about trying to get there at 7 sharp, but don't be too late either. He might like it if you dressed a bit formal, but it's not like you're dressing up for a Republic City Council Gala or something; don't stress it too hard."

"I'll keep that in mind," Korra nodded, scratching her head. "Thanks again; uhh… I can't wait for tonight?" She smiled at Asami.

"It'll be fun," Asami giggled, finding the young Avatar's vibrant and diverse expressions to be rather charming. "It was nice meeting you, Avatar Korra," she smiled, shaking Korra's hand.

"Yeah," Korra blushed slightly, "Thanks."

As she walked down the road, she had a confident swagger in her step that she was unfamiliar with. Barring that Asami was pretty, and definitely one of the richest people in Republic City if she truly was a Sato, she was also very friendly and caring. Sure Korra's left arm and hip were still aching and there would definitely be bruises later that evening, but Asami was different from anyone Korra had met so far. She seemed friendly—a friend.

Korra made the sad realization that she had never really had an actual friend in her life before. Family was a friendship on a different and more intimate level, and so Tonraq and Senna were not really counted on the list. Kwan was friendly enough, although she still seemed sketchy in some ways. Nakkoa seemed to subtly dislike Korra to the point where even the young Avatar was aware of this even if she hadn't taken it up with her yet. Ichiro had been friendly, but he had admitted that, despite his niceties and friendly gestures, that there had in fact been an ulterior motive. Still, she liked Ichiro; he gave her the most delicious candies she had ever sampled.

"Speaking of candy…" Korra thought to herself as she raided her candy pouch, stuffing a few more sweets into her mouth to chew on as she roamed the Republic City streets,

But apart from Ichiro, Kwan, Nakkoa, and her parents, who else had she really met? She didn't really expect concern or friendship from Kazuya or anyone at the Earth Rumble ring, and so really, Asami might have been the first actual friend for Korra: someone her age; someone who treated her like a person instead of putting her on some distant pedestal as the Avatar. She was so busy thinking about this and staring at the ground that she didn't notice until too late that a lamppost was in front of her until she had slammed comically into it and fallen onto her backside.

"Shit…" she mumbled, massaging her butt as she stood back up. "I meant to do that!" She called out to no one in particular. Fortunately, it seemed everyone around her was too busy doing their own thing to worry about Korra. She was just another faceless figure in a sea of busy citizens tending to their own business. Never mind the fact that a 14-year-old girl was wandering through downtown on her own; no one knew anyone around them; their identity, their stories, their lives… they were all just featureless pieces of a much larger machine. How many dozens of people passed by the Avatar without even looking twice at her?

She was excited though, and needed to get home to at least consider cleaning up before going to meet Asami and her father. Should she clean up? Would it be wise for her to dress a little sharper so she didn't look like some Water Tribe hobo?

Of course, after several more streets of wandering, and Korra realized that she was once again completely lost. She reminded herself not to make a habit of this, and began whistling. She followed the descending sun, knowing that she had had it to her back when she had first set out, and so figuring if she went west enough, she'd end up close to where she started.

Naturally, this didn't work out as intended either, and so after a while, Korra just swore under her breath and whistled really loudly, hoping Naga would hear her. Sure enough, a few moments later there was the sound of people gasping and moving as the polar bear-dog charged through the ranks and found Korra.

"Take us home, girl!" Korra ordered after an affectionate head rub and tossing Naga one of the snacks she kept in her bag for just the occasion. Fortunately, Naga had better navigation skills than Korra and so was able to get them back to the hotel with ease. Korra managed to remember the suite number, and so after climbing 4 floors, found 428 easily enough.

Nakkoa was not back yet, but Kwan had returned sometime between the time Korra had left to roam the town and now, and Korra turned to her.

"Hey," she waved, "where'd you go?"

"I had business to attend to just as you did, of course," Kwan chuckled, "You seem a bit giddy though. Did you find some new candy or something?"

"I met a girl," Korra threw herself into a chair and sighed, "She was so friendly…"

"Did you get her name?" Kwan looked amused. "You look in love."

"I wouldn't say I'm in love…" Korra shook her head, also fairly oblivious to the concept of love given her sheltered upbringing and lack of anyone to feel affection towards, "It's just… she's my age and she's super friendly. Nothing against you or anything, Kwan, but I've never really had a friend my age in my life before, and it's… it's exciting. I dunno what to expect or anything, but it's a fantastic feeling."

"So..." Kwan's smile became more sincere. Seeing the young Avatar with such a purely happy expression tugged at her heartstrings in a peculiar way. None of her usual arrogance or swagger that she usually wore with pride was on this expression; this was an innocent level of excitement that Kwan couldn't help but appreciate. "Tell me her name, eh?"

"Asami Sato," Korra closed her eyes, whispering the name under her breath as if seeing how it felt on her lips. "She invited me to meet her and her dad later tonight—around 7 I think."

"Hold it…" Kwan spewed her drink across the table, which made Korra glad her chair was on the other wall of the suite, "Sato, you said?"

"Yeah; the guy who put all the vehicles on the roads and stuff," Korra nodded.

"You got a date with THAT guy?" Kwan's eyes widened with what looked like a mixture of awe and concern, "Well I mean, his daughter but still."

"I don't think it's a date?" Korra tilted her head, "I mean, she's inviting me over for a visit, and her dad's gonna be there… and bringing a dad on a date would just be ewww…"

"Well then," Kwan shook her head, "We've got to get you something to wear."

"Oh no," Korra groaned, her lower lip jutting out as if on cue, "are you seriously going to try and stuff me into one of those tight frilly things those uppity nobles wear?"

Kwan stared at Korra for a moment. "Korra, do I look like the type of person to do that to you? Nakkoa, maybe. Me? I say get something simple but effective. You just need to tell me if you like it or not, and the costs are on me. I'd offer to buy you some candy after we're done, but you have enough. I've seen your bag."

"No such thing as too much candy," Korra crossed her arms, her eyes closed, nose up, and lip out in a very matter-of-fact expression.

"Fair; fair," Kwan laughed as she pulled herself to her feet. "Now come on; we've only got a couple hours, and the sooner we get you dressed, the sooner you can bide your time and not worry about it."

"Fine, twist my arm." Korra sighed, throwing her hands up in defeat.

To her slight surprise and great relief, it seemed Kwan wasn't lying, to the point where they were out and back in the suite within 45 minutes. The dress she wound up getting Korra was a fairly simple sleeveless number, adorned with shades of grey and blue. The bands on her forearms were replaced by silver-colored bracelets, but the triangle-colored band around her upper right arm was allowed to stay. Her boots were grey to match the outfit, but otherwise fairly nondescript, as was her belts and other accessories. The triangle pattern on her armband also appeared on the lower hem of her dress as well as in smaller patterns across the arm-holes and neck. The color scheme was overall fairly reserved, starting with lighter blues and whites up top and descending into azures and greys lower down.

"You clean up pretty well, all things considering," Kwan nodded approvingly as she gestured for Korra to approach her. "Now we just need to tame that wild hair of yours."

Two broken combs later and Kwan was reconsidering this notion though.

"Your hair is so damn thick!" she swore loudly, her motions becoming harsher with each attempt.

"Would you rather I just burn it all off and go bald?" Korra quipped, "Maybe paint an arrow there so I can learn airbending or something?"

"That'd be the day," Kwan laughed, "keep your stupid thick hair. Just hand me that metal ball over here, and don't punch me if this accidentally hurts."

"What are you gonna do?" Korra gave Kwan a suspicious look.

"I'm gonna make a comb that doesn't break," Kwan laughed, metalbending the ball into a solid comb, "So don't scream when I pull your hair."

This request was blatantly disregarded, with Korra screaming a total of 7 different times, swearing twice, and flat-out pivoting around and decking Kwan in the mouth once. Despite the young Avatar's resistance, however, Kwan managed to get her hair neatened, to the point where Korra admired it in the mirror.

"Sorry for hitting you," she blushed a bit, embarrassed by that impulsive reaction.

"Don't worry; I deserved it," Kwan laughed, wiping a little extra blood from her mouth, "I'd have totally hit you back, but showing up to a date with a bleeding jaw isn't exactly a good first impression, and hell if I'm letting you get blood on your new dress."

"It all works out then," Korra shrugged, doing a little twirl in her dress. It was long enough that it didn't even reveal a sliver of her legs when she moved (the boots helped in that regard), and wasn't really frilly enough to fan out with those kinds of movements anyways. "So am I ready to go, or is there something else I need to worry about?"

"Other than drafts, which are a dress' worst enemy," Kwan laughed, "no, you should be ready to leave one hell of an impression on Mr. Sato. Let's get going."

"You didn't tell me you got a truck?" Korra exclaimed as Kwan led her outside to one of the aforementioned vehicles, "or that you could drive."

"Kid, I was a getaway driver for many a heist back in the day," Kwan laughed, "What did you think I was in prison for?"

"I dunno…" Korra looked embarrassed as she climbed in the passenger side, "murder?"

"Oh," Kwan laughed again as she sped towards the outskirts of town where the more affluent citizens resided, "well, that too. But I was also the getaway driver for when our little band of ne'er-do-wells plundered treasuries and all that jazz. It's a long story, and generally I try to leave my criminal past behind me."

"I… guess that's good then," Korra looked a little nervous. Kwan noticed it.

"It didn't scare you, did it?" she asked as she followed the streets, the buildings becoming sparser but fancier as they went.

"Oh no, it's not that," Korra admitted, "I'm just a little nervous about this meeting. I've never really met an actual celebrity before."

"...says the Avatar," Kwan chuckled as they continued to drive. "But I digress. Don't worry: you're the Avatar, and they just have to deal with it."

Korra grinned, and leaned back, taking a few deep breaths as she waited for them to arrive. After a few minutes, they stopped not far from a massive, almost imposing mansion with grounds that spanned for what looked like miles.

"So I'm going to let you out here. I'm sure Mr. Sato has a telephone you can use to call us when you're done here, and we'll come pick you up. Don't worry about curfews or anything though. We're not your parents."

"You don't want to come and say hello?" Korra tilted her head as she climbed out of the car.

"Ehh, it's complicated." Kwan stammered, "Besides, I had somewhere I need to be at 7:15, so I'll see you later tonight, yeah?"

"Alright then," Korra waved goodbye as Kwan put the vehicle into gear and sped off. For a moment there was silence as Korra approached the main gates. The sun was setting and the city was starting to light up. She peeked through the gates, not sure whether to expect Hiroshi or Asami, but saw neither of them. After a moment, she noticed a small button that she pressed out of curiosity. It rang a bell, to signify that someone was visiting, and Korra knew that this was her cue to wait. In just a few moments, she would be meeting the famous Sato Household properly—and in their home turf, no less.

Chapter Text

It was a peculiar little sight; what with the young Avatar standing outside a huge, imposing gate, unsure of where she was, or who she should expect to come and greet her. This was a level of class far beyond anything Korra had ever dreamed of, and she could only imagine the life of opulence and, dare she say it: decadence—that these people enjoyed.

Perhaps that was too judgmental of her. Asami seemed genuine, and it was rude to judge her this soon, especially after the kindness she had shown Korra.

Her lower lip stuck out as she glanced around, wondering if she was supposed to open the gate herself or if someone would come and open it for her to let her in.

To her slight relief, it was the latter. Asami opened the gate for her, dressed a bit sharper than Korra, in shades of red and black. She also seemed a few inches taller than Korra remembered, although a quick glance at her feet betrayed that her shoes were the cause of this change.

"Hey," she waved, as if to snap Korra out of whatever stupor she was in, "I hope you found the place okay; we're a bit out of the way."

"Oh, I had no trouble," Korra shook her head, "I mean, forgive me if I'm staring in every direction like a kid in a candy shop… this place is HUGE! There are entire settlements back home that aren't even this big. It's amazing!"

"Did you walk?" Asami glanced past the gate, but Kwan was already so far gone that there wasn't even a sign of her Satomobile.

"A friend of mine dropped me off," Korra shrugged, "well, more just a guardian and acquaintance. So really I just walked from the street to your gate."

"Well," Asami smiled, "I'm glad you came. I like your dress, by the way."

"I'm definitely not used to this kind of thing," Korra admitted as she followed Asami towards the massive doors of the enormous estate, "it's weird not wearing pants, since you can't exactly show off too much skin back home unless it's… nevermind." Her cheeks reddened, thinking back to that comical 'Rite of Passage' she had had with her parents.

"I won't ask," Asami chortled, "I hope this isn't too overwhelming for you. Not very many people come over because they see everything my father built and …" she trailed off.

"And what?" Korra tilted her head.

"Well, they judge." Asami gestured, around her, "They see that we're wealthy and suddenly think that there's no way we could have any problems in the world. I mean, I wish it were that way, and I'm not complaining about what I have; but it'd be nice if people judged me and my father for who we are, rather than what we are."

This struck Korra on a spiritual level, to the point where she froze, bug-eyed, for a moment.

"I'm the Avatar," She responded a moment later, "I know all about getting judged for what I am instead of who I am. I mean don't get me wrong, I like being the Avatar, and I bet it's nice to be able to afford anything you want… but sometimes… I just like being Korra. Not Avatar Korra; just… Korra."

"I'm proud of my family," Asami looked up as they approached the door, "but if I had a yuan for every time someone suddenly changed their tune once they realized I was a Sato I could build a mansion bigger than this one with the cash."

Korra was somewhat surprised when Asami didn't even need to open the door, considering that a butler had practically predicted her coming, and opened it for the two of them.

Much like what she had done when viewing the grounds and exterior, Korra couldn't help but glance in every direction as she took in the sheer lavishness and opulence of the mansion. Korra had always liked to think that she had enough money for her needs (and her hand did subconsciously navigate to her coin purse, which she had taken with her out of habit), but this was a level of wealth that she had never before even contemplated.

"It's incredible," Korra exclaimed after a moment. Asami had not moved after stepping inside, realizing that Korra was enthralled by the new surroundings.

"I'm glad you like it." she smiled.

"You're really pretty too though," Korra admitted, her intentions little more than friendly compliments, "I like your dress."

"When you live the fancy life, you have to dress the part now and again," Asami giggled, "but come on; I'd let you explore the place but even I've gotten lost in here, so I'll take you to my father's workshop. He'll love to meet you."

It was a surprisingly long walk for Korra, although nothing she couldn't handle. She was just used to a much smaller residence, where 45 seconds of groggy ambling could get you from one side of the place to the other. It took several minutes of steady-paced walking before the girls reached Hiroshi Sato's workshop at the back of the mansion, where the middle-aged man was waiting for them; behind him a desk of blueprints, random parts, and other knickknacks.

"So this is the girl that you ran into—quite literally—on the streets earlier?" Hiroshi wasted no time putting Korra on the spot.

"It was an accident, daddy!" Asami pouted.

"It was," Korra backed her new friend up, "and I'm fine. This is nothing that I haven't had worse of." Part of her left arm was still discolored from her bruising earlier. Her hip was the same way, but her dress was more than sufficient to cover that injury up just fine.

"Well either way, it is a pleasure to meet you, young Avatar." Hiroshi smiled, "My daughter is an abnormally passionate fan of bending sports, and so I can only imagine her thrill of meeting the one who can master all four disciplines."

"Oh, that's just fancy talk," Korra was suddenly either shy or intimidated by Hiroshi, "I've still got a lot of training to go before I'm a master of anything."

"Well that's a relief," Hiroshi chuckled, "You're far too young to have your childhood stripped from you just to force you to learn bending. But at the same time, don't let your humble beginnings deter you from the path of greatness."

"What do you mean, Mr. Sato?" Korra looked up at him, her bright blue eyes suddenly curious, although her eyes darted around the room at the various contraptions that were everywhere.

"Please," Hiroshi shook his head, "just call me Hiroshi. Although your expressions have piqued my curiosity as well. What do you think of my little operation here?"

"Half of me wants to ask you a few dozen questions about what everything is and how it works, and the other half is sheer awe." Korra admitted, "It's amazing; all of it."

"You can be honest, child," Hiroshi put a hand on her shoulder, "If I threw out every woman and child that questioned my work, I would have never gotten to where I was—especially considering that there was a time I was once like you."

"Like me how?" Korra tilted her head, "you mean like a bender?" She didn't exactly associate herself as being poor considering that her needs had always been provided for without trouble, and as she looked at the large, older man, she wondered what he could have possibly have had in common with a 14-year-old Water Tribe girl.

"Of course not; don't be silly!" Hiroshi laughed, putting a hand to his chest, "I came from humble beginnings just as you did. Why, when I was only a couple years older than you, I was but a mere shoe shiner with little more to my name than an idea: The Satomobile."

"You invented them?" Korra asked somewhat rhetorically.

"No, but I found a way to make such vehicles practical and affordable for more than just the richest barons of Republic City." Hiroshi continued, walking slowly around Asami and Korra, his focus on the latter of the two. "I was fortunate enough to meet someone who believed in me and my work ethic. He gave me the money I needed to get my idea off the ground and I built the entire Future Industries empire from that one small loan."

"Well," Korra put her hands together, giving a small but respectful nod, "you're a good man then, Hiroshi. And I guess I should say thanks for letting me into your home."

"You have my daughter to thank for that," He smiled, gesturing towards Asami, "It's good for her to have friends in times like these. I am glad she likes you, however."

"To be honest," Korra scratched the back of her head, "I think Asami is the first actual friend I've ever had besides my parents. My teachers are just that—teachers, and I don't even know who some of them are. I'll find out tomorrow though."

"So you're not sticking around in Republic City?" Asami's face sunk slightly.

"They said I wouldn't be going too far," Korra shrugged her shoulder, her own lip sticking out in a little sad pout as she saw Asami's slightly dismayed expression, "maybe I can come back to Republic City on the weekends or something. If they don't at least let me replenish my candy supplies I'm gonna revolt."

Of course Korra would not have left that pouch of goodies in the suite, and as if on cue, she tossed a blue confection up into the air before rather skillfully landing it squarely into her mouth. "Want a piece?" she offered one to Asami.

"Thank you," Asami unwrapped it and popped the confection into her mouth.

"But yeah," Korra cocked her head back to Hiroshi, who seemed to be analyzing her almost, "I'd love to come over again if I can find the time… and of course if you're okay with it."

"I trust my daughter's judgment," Hiroshi nodded, smiling at Asami. "And I see no issues with such a meeting if it works out between the two of you."

"I'm certainly not going to say no," Asami smiled. "You're a nice person, Korra—especially if you always have candy like that." She added that last part with a playful giggle.

"So is your mother around?" Korra asked, but the moment the words left her mouth, she realized she had just made a horrible mistake with the way both Hiroshi and Asami's faces dropped.

"Oh no," Korra immediately went into damage-control mode, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—"

"Nearly a decade ago… my dear Yasuko was taken from me." Hiroshi sighed, turning away from Korra both to avoid eye contact with her, and to prevent her seeing the angered expression his face had twisted into, "The Agni Kai Triads… a savage group of firebenders with little regard or respect for anyone but their own… and that preyed on nonbenders such as my family. My wife found them breaking into the treasury. By the time I arrived, I watched as a frenzied woman slashed a knife across my wife's throat. She was far too swift for me, and set half the mansion ablaze in her escape. The only thing I learned from that moment was her name was Shenzi."

"Sweet spirits," Korra actually took a step back, terrifying visions of some lunatic slicing Senna's throat playing through her mind, "that's… I'm so sorry! I know it probably doesn't mean much coming from a kid, but I swear… if I ever found the person that would do that…" Korra's hands had tensed up, and she essentially mimed wringing someone's neck.

"She's long gone now," Hiroshi sighed, "By the time I caught up to her, she had fled in a delivery car, and a river of lava stood between me and my wife's murderer."

"Lava!?" Korra's eyes widened, wondering if Kwan knew anything about this. "Who… What kind of person can even do that?"

"It was another woman," Hiroshi answered, "Ikiza was her name… and it was clear she knew the murderer after she hopped into that car. Both of them spent time in prison for the damage and their misdeeds, but due to the flawed justice system of this city and its Council of Benders… both Shenzi and Ikiza were released early."

"How?" Korra looked appalled, "why?"

"It is a mystery for the ages," Hiroshi lowered his head before turning and looking Korra squarely in the eyes. "Avatar… I beseech you: whatever you choose to do in life, do not abuse your power. Do not exploit nonbending citizens the way those monsters did. If you are the pillar of balance that the spiritual leaders claim the Avatar is… remember that balance and Equality in the world also includes those who do not bend; not just the Four Nations."

"Of course…" Korra shuddered but nodded, "I wouldn't dream of… Mr. Sato… I'm so sorry for even bringing it up. That must be terrible to think about!"

"One can never learn from and move on from past mistakes if they merely elect to ignore them," Hiroshi pointed out, "It is my fault for souring the mood to an otherwise pleasant evening. Asami, if you would…" he gestured towards the door, politely requesting to be alone for the moment. Asami took Korra's hand and they left Hiroshi's workshop, with Asami not saying anything until they had reached one of the upper floors. Korra's head hung the entire time, and there was a noticeable slouch in her step.

"I am SUCH an idiot…" she sighed after they had stepped outside onto a balcony for a breath of fresh air, "and so inconsiderate, Asami. I'm sorry for that whole mess."

"It hurts," Asami admitted, "and it definitely hurts my dad much more than he lets on. I was only 6 when it happened, and I didn't have to see it all go down the way he did. I think he's letting it fester… and knowing that his wife's killer is back on the loose infuriates him."

"Did you ever find Shenzi, Ikiza, or the others?" Korra asked her, leaning against the railing.

"They were aliases," Asami shook her head, "but after we saw the mugshots, we learned who they were: a bloodthirsty knife-wielding lightningbender and a devious lavabending crook who is a far better driver than she ought to be. Assuming the information from police reports is correct about them, they're sisters who have a long history of crime, including a father and mother who were both crime lords as well. This wasn't their first heist—or their first time behind bars."

"Lightningbender… lavabender… sisters… criminal histories… prison time..."

Korra felt a pit in her stomach. That sounded uncannily like the sisters she was travelling with, but maybe there were other firebenders and earthbenders like them?

"What did they look like?" Korra couldn't help but ask.

"I try to dissociate from the mugshots," Asami admitted, "they both had dark hair. Shenzi was taller, but what I remember most about them was their eyes: pointed; sinister-looking—almost like those Fire Nation warlords from the 100-year war."

Korra's eyes shot open wide with horror as everything clicked, and internally she was screaming. She opened her mouth, but all she could do was gasp. The women matching this description were simply too accurate for Korra to write it up as a coincidence. Shenzi was Nakkoa, and Ikiza was Kwan—which meant that Nakkoa was the Agni Kai Triad member who had killed Yasuko; and Kwan had been their getaway driver.

Chapter Text

"Korra?" Asami snapped Korra out of her horrified trance, even if it had only lasted a few seconds. "Are you okay? You just went horribly pale there for a moment."

"I'm just appalled by this whole mess," Korra lied, shaking her head, "I'm surprised the lavabender didn't just try and knock down your whole estate or something—or at least the walls."

"Earthbenders shouldn't even be part of the Agni Kais," Asami frowned, "they're firebenders only. I guess being able to bend lava made her an honourary member or something. Still… I'd rather not think of it or talk about it anymore, if that's okay? I invited you over to have a happy evening, not dwell on horror stories from my past."

"Are you gonna be okay though?" Korra reached out, putting a hand on Asami's shoulder. "Sorry, I'm… I'm not very good with this kind of thing, and as you probably figured from my big mouth back inside, I'm not very good at conversing without fucking up at least one or two things in the meantime."

"I'll be fine," Asami closed her eyes. "Seeing my father get so bitter though…"

"I really shouldn't have said anything," Korra lowered her head in a sad pout, her eyes starting to water, "I'm really sorry, Asami."

"How could you have known?" Asami put her hand under Korra's chin, "it's not your fault those monsters did what they did. You can't be older than 15 or 16, right?"

"14," Korra corrected her softly.

"You would have been 5 when it happened then; there's no way you could have been connected to the event." Asami reassured her, "you might have triggered it, but your intent wasn't malicious. I probably should have said something to you sooner about it."

"Still…" Korra frowned, "I kind of ruined the evening, don't you think? Your dad probably hates me now. He doesn't even know my name."

"I told him your name, silly," Asami tried to brighten Korra's expression with a smile of her own, "But he's always been wary of benders since that incident… and so to confront him with someone who can bend more than one… I think it's unpleasant for him to think about."

"But I would never…" Korra's eyes widened and she stammered as she raised her hands to about ear level, "I-I'd never kill someone!"

"I'm not saying you would." Asami shook her head, brushing a renegade strand of hair from Korra's face, "Korra… stop blaming yourself for this, okay? If my dad really hated you, he would have thrown you out—he's done it before. But he asked you to think of people like us—people without bending. That means he has at least some faith in you."

"I guess I'm just a bit worried," Korra scratched the back of her head, "I mean… you're my first real friend, Asami… I don't want to lose that friendship so quickly after it formed."

"I'm not about to become your enemy just because you asked about my mother, silly," Asami pulled Korra into a friendly hug, "It was an accident. For crying out loud, we met after I slammed into you on the road, and I don't see you raging about me bruising your arm."

"Oh," Korra blushed slightly, glancing at her discolored left elbow, "you noticed it?"

"You're not very subtle, Korra," Asami giggled. "But I like that about you. You speak your mind and are an honest young woman. I think you'll be a great Avatar by the time you're done with your training, however long it may take."

A pang of guilt rushed through Korra as she thought back to the huge omissive lie she had told (or rather, not told) earlier. That one, she felt, was for their own good. To admit that she was travelling with the women who had almost certainly been the ones who broke into the Sato estate and killed the lady of the house… well, that wouldn't end well at all. It did explain why Kwan dropped her off before the gate and why she sped off though. She'd need a word with those two when she got back, but for now, Asami was right. It was better to focus on keeping this a positive evening, rather than bog it down with harsh recollections of painful pasts.

"Thanks, Asami." Korra smiled. "You're so friendly and caring and… special to me. I know I probably still sound like an idiot, but I want us to be able to stay friends, even if I can't keep in touch when I leave."

"I highly doubt my father's going to just get up and leave Republic City," Asami gave Korra a reassuring smile, "His business is rooted here, and so is he. Despite the Triads, it's one of the safest and most prosperous places for both nonbenders and industrialists alike."

"Well obviously I'll try, depending on how easy it is to send a letter," Korra reasoned, "and if nothing else, it can't last forever, and so when I'm done I'll be sure to pay you a visit."

Asami paused. "Was what you said earlier true?" her expression turned to one of concern, "that remark about not having any actual friends?"

"It was…" Korra scratched her head and glanced off to one side, "the White Lotus wanted to keep me out of the Red Lotus' grasp, and so they locked me in what was basically a prison compound. I'm sure they meant well, but I am SO glad to be out of there, and I never want to go back. And I dunno if you know or not, but the White Lotus people are a bunch of old fogies. Everyone there was at least 3 or 4 times my age!"

"That's no way to see a child grow up," Asami shook her head, "my dad was protective of me after my mom was killed of course, but he got back up, we rebuilt, and we kept pushing on. I might look like daddy's helpless little girl, but I can handle myself."

"If I had known that, I'd offer to spar if we weren't all dressed up," Korra chortled.

"No way," Asami pushed her playfully, "you'd wreck me with your bending tricks!"

"What, you think just because I can bend means I can't also hold my own at hand to hand?" Korra giggled in turn, flexing her biceps. "These aren't just for show, girl!"

"So that's why you went sleeveless," Asami chuckled, reaching out and squeezing Korra's right arm, "you might still have an edge over me even if we did go hand-to-hand."

"Then you've got your work cut out for you while I'm gone," Korra teased.

"So it would seem…" Asami smiled, gazing at Korra for a moment before looking up at the sky. "A name like 'Future Industries' always makes me wonder what the future will hold," she commented, stepping towards the railing. "For me, for my father… even for you, Korra. Things can change so swiftly and so suddenly…"

"Yeah?" Korra looked over at Asami, focusing rather intently on the earring hanging from her left ear, "you think something's going to happen?"

"I'm not sure," Asami shook her head, "I'm just a kid same as you, really. My dad sometimes talks about this growing trend of anti-benders called the Equalists… nonbenders seeking to pull benders down from power to bring about equality. It sounds good on paper, but in practice…"

"That sounds terrible," Korra almost interrupted her, "I mean, obviously I'm biased as all get-out for the most obvious reasons, but still…"

"If such a group exists, they're little more than a fringe group that's probably underground or something." Asami frowned. "But hey, there I go souring the mood after getting all dismal from your remark earlier. I'm sorry."

"I don't think you need to be," Korra shook her head, "I mean, it kind of feels good to get a few loads off my chest… so maybe you feel the same way?"

"Look at you, always hunting for that silver lining," Asami giggled, "I knew I liked you."

"Hey, I'm the world's hope in more ways than one," Korra joked in reference to her title as Avatar, "but for reals. Despite some of the rougher mishaps this evening… I enjoyed it, and I'm glad you invited me over."

"I'm glad," Asami sighed in relief, "Here I was stressing and worrying that I would scare you off. First I run you over, then I invite you over only for you to see my dad at one of his worst times, and then here I go and start griping at you. You're really patient, you know that?"

"You're being too hard on yourself," Korra pushed her using only two of her fingers, "come on, if you can put up with me whining about it, I'm sure I can do the same."

"I just didn't want you to get the wrong impression about me or my father," Asami clarified, "this… isn't normal for us."

"I didn't think it was," Korra shook her head, "some boorish Water Tribe kid comes and blurts out something dumb that reminds you of probably one of the worst days of your life, and of course it'd upset you. I feel like I owe Hiroshi another apology."

"There's no way you could have known about it though," Asami reassured her, "Again, it was an innocent question. Don't dwell on it, alright?"

"Only because you said so," Korra replied playfully.

The two girls spent a long while chatting and bantering under the moonlight, ultimately managing to turn the mood of the evening around by the time Korra felt she ought to say goodbye.

"Are you sure you don't need a ride?" Asami asserted, "it's really late, and we can call your guardians to clear up that you changed your mind?"

"I'll be okay," Korra promised, "she should be coming soon enough anyways." It was easier to walk a block or two than try to let Asami meet up with Kwan, or worse, Nakkoa. It had been Nakkoa she had spoken to on the telephone, and nothing short of a miracle had kept Korra calm and composed during that call.

"Well, thanks again for coming over," Asami smiled, before pulling Korra into a friendly embrace, "I'll miss you when the time comes for you to leave Republic City."

"I'll miss you too," Korra returned the embrace in kind. "Thanks again for having me over."

Asami let Korra out of the large gates surrounding the estate, and with a final wave, Korra began walking east in the direction Kwan had come when she dropped Korra off. Republic City was bright at night, but overall it was quiet.

Kwan apparently was running a little late, because Korra walked a lot farther than she expected. Her night took a turn for the worse after a moment when a large pair of hands seized her and pulled her into an alley. She screamed, but one of the hands covered her mouth as several pairs of hands restrained her. Surrounding her were several masked men (and at least one woman) clothed head to toe; and In front of her was a hooded man.

"So…" he spoke from the shadow of his hood, where the bottom of a mask was also visible, "the Avatar decides to grace us with her presence."

Korra was still squirming, feeling remarkably vulnerable in her dress, especially being restrained the way she was. Several large men pulling a young girl into an alleyway never had any good connotations, no matter which way events unfolded.

Fortunately, it seemed that while the large hands that had restrained her arms and pulled her in a way that prevented her from bending or kicking out with her legs, that they were not trying to violate her beyond her personal space, but she glared daggers at the masked man who was mere inches away from her face.

"You are in no danger this evening, child," he explained, putting his hand under her chin, to force her to keep eye contact, "Just know that the Revolution sends its regards…"

He turned to his men. "Release her."

Korra gasped for air before jumping back and taking a fighting stance. She backed down the moment she realized there were seven of these masked hooligans, all of which were larger than her and much more heavily armed than her.

"Smart move, young lady." the masked man gave her an approving nod. "Run along."

And just like that, the men and woman had vanished. Korra straightened her dress, which had only gone crooked after her being grabbed, and sighed in relief as she realized how much worse it could have gone. Whatever "revolution" was starting up, it just made Korra want to complete her Avatar training sooner so that she could resolve the problem sooner rather than later. She only made it half a block past this alley before Kwan showed up in her truck.

"Where the fuck were you?" Korra pouted angrily as she threw herself unceremoniously into the passenger seat.

"Someone got in a huge wreck down the street," Kwan sighed, "I had to go all the way around. You'll be able to smell the fire. What's with the attitude? Did Sato snub you or something?"

"No; night was fine," Korra shrugged, before glaring at the lavabender, "things got ugly right after I left. I just got assaulted—dragged into an alleyway and everything by some masked hooligans that wanted to say hello."

"Sweet merciful Vaatu, kid; you really do attract attention," Kwan shook her head, "are you alright? You seem more angry than scared."

"I'm both," Korra crossed her arms so tightly Kwan wasn't sure she'd be able to unstick then, "Fortunately they let me go without any lasting damage, but apparently I've got some masked hooligans taking interest in me. ALSO—a question."

"Twist my arm," Kwan sighed as they pulled up to the hotel.

"Actually, I'll wait until I see Nakkoa too." Korra mused. She was angry at Kwan for being late, but also at Nakkoa and Kwan for their supposed involvement in Yasuko's murder.

"Huh boy…" Kwan sighed as they returned to their suite.

"You!" Korra pointed at the firebending accusingly as the door flew open, Korra's boot still in the air from where her foot had connected with said door moments earlier.

"Me," Nakkoa barely batted an eye, "By the way, if you break that door it's coming out of your candy funds. Make of that what you will."

"You're part of the Agni Kai Triads, aren't you?" Korra blurted out, ignoring Nakkoa's last remark.

"There's a reason we steered clear of the Sato Estate," Nakkoa admitted, "but what of it? It was a heist that went wrong, and I didn't want any witnesses. That was nearly a decade ago, and our affiliation with the Triads these days is negligible."

"Okay..." Korra sighed, stripping down and changing into her pajamas as her now bare feet curled against the carpet, "but how could you kill her? What did she ever do to you?"

"So you've made a friend," Nakkoa looked indifferent, "Child, listen to me, and listen to me closely. You need to come to accept the events that have happened, for better or for worse. Don't contemplate what could have been; accept what happened, and where you are now. Move forward, and never look back."

"As much as I like to argue with my sister," Kwan chipped in, "she's got my back on this one. If sinners couldn't redeem themselves, Korra, I'd still be in prison. Also, while I ain't normally one to make demands, I'm gonna have to ask you to drop this. Shit happened, it's in the past, and now here we are trying to atone by ensuring that the spirit of the world in human form gets some of the best damn training an Avatar has had in millennia."

"Still," Korra stammered, at a loss for words, "it's just… nevermind. You two do whatever you do and just let me know when I need to get ready to leave. Honestly, running off and finding something better to do sounds pretty nice around now."

"Except you won't, because you want to become the Avatar." Nakkoa riposted.

"Implying you're the only ones who could teach me?" Korra scoffed, "don't flatter yourselves. Sleep well, and goodnight."

Korra crawled into bed without another word, rolling over to put her back to the sisters, and closed her eyes. Surprisingly, she fell asleep within minutes, her overwhelming emotions having drained her swiftly. Fortunately for the sisters, Korra was a very heavy sleeper.

"I swear I will wring her neck!" Nakkoa seethed, her pride wounded by Korra's defiance, "She's a power-tripping little shit who wants to put the world under her thumb like the very Interregnums she fears. Tell me why we're doing this again?"

"Because the Red Lotus told us to and you're just paranoid." Kwan replied matter-of-factly.

"And you're not?" Nakkoa scoffed.

"Sure, Korra could probably kill me." Kwan shrugged, "am I worried she might? Maybe I am. Am I going to let that fear dominate my life to the point where I live in fear of her every waking moment; or do I just try to live my life and maybe make a friend? Friendship, Naki—have you ever even considered trying to be nice to the kid?"

"If and when the Avatar turns on you," Nakkoa warned, "don't come crying to me."

"Suit yourself," Kwan shrugged, returning to her desk to play another game of cards.

"Perhaps not," Nakkoa frowned as she approached Kwan. "Sister, we need to talk."

Chapter Text

Nakkoa slammed her hands onto Kwan's desk, causing the earthbender to look up.

"Lay it on me," she grunted, "Naki, we've been over your paranoid delusions, and honestly, it's startin' to grate on me almost as much as Korra's gratin' on you."

"Don't even go there, sister," Nakkoa narrowed her eyes, "after all these years I've had your back; don't you dare go turncoat on me now."

"Well what in oblivion are you plannin' on doing?" Kwan threw her arms in the air, "I already told you that any of your attempts to kill her are going to be met with stiff opposition from me, and that ain't changing—and you gotta deal with it."

"She's already threatened that she doesn't need us," Nakkoa warned, "are you really that dense that you're just going to let her walk all over you, Kwan?"

"No, but pissin' her off ain't gonna do us any favours either," Kwan replied, "Why do you think I'm trying to stay in her good graces? Look, you know that despite all your craziness that I'm the one that sleeps with a knife under my pillow, yeah? Just keep it cool, sister. We're almost where we need to be, and then we can leave her in the hands of Unalaq and Zaheer and let them deal with her. She'll cling them a lot more than us, I promise you."

"She's dangerous," Nakkoa frowned, "more than us, which says something—fathom how terrifying she will be once the Red Lotus trains her."

"And yet," Kwan took her sister's hand, "as long as you stay in line, Nakkoa—then I've got your back. Play nice, and you'll have my support over Zaheer; over Unalaq; and over Korra even."

"Over the Avatar, even?" Nakkoa leaned in.

"That's what I just said," Kwan put her tanned hands over Nakkoa's much paler one, "and I mean it. Now get some sleep—if Korra wakes up before us you can bet your ass she'll run off again."

"Heh," Nakkoa cracked a rare smile. "Fair enough. Th-Thank you, sister."

"Any time," Kwan got up and changed into her nightclothes, "Sleep well."

Fortunately for the sisters, Korra didn't even stir at all during that exchange, being a very heavy sleeper herself, to the point of snoring even. To the sisters it was little more than ambience, and soon the suite grew quiet as all three women inside fell asleep.

Korra slept peacefully, although did have a weird dream. Those masked hooligans kidnapped Asami, but Kwan and Nakkoa were there, and then suddenly a wicked-looking Fire Nation woman in the Avatar State appeared and started firing explosive attacks at her adversaries. As her dream began to sort itself out, the Avatar became more of a Fire Lady, and the masked miscreants, Asami, and the sisters all disappeared.

Korra was in the Fire Lord's Throne Room again, although this time it was much brighter, and being used as a wedding ceremony. There was the Fire Lord, marrying that bright-eyed Avatar woman from earlier.

Now there was a sight: a Fire Lady becoming the Avatar… or was it an Avatar becoming Fire Lady? She wondered if this was the Interregnum Avatar before Imalek, or if the line of these men and women was longer than people thought.

Much like she did with Imalek, Korra felt her own form disappear from the vision, and suddenly she was in the shoes of the Fire Lady. She spoke to the Fire Lord about revolutionizing the Fire Nation, and about spreading prosperity with the rest of the world. As someone who knew her history thanks to the White Lotus, this set alarms off in Korra's mind. However, since her control over this dream incarnation was limited, there was little she could do but allow it to play out. Over the course of the next few minutes (or hours; tracking time in dreams or visions like this was difficult enough without considering that Korra herself was not very good with time even when awake), Korra learned a myriad of things about this elegant Avatar.

Her name was Himoto; and it had been her that had founded one of the largest cities in the Fire Nation, and one that today was still known for its industry and prosperity. The city center was graced with a massive statue of Avatar Himoto, which spewed fire outward and upward from its mouth and hands in what was surely some sort of symbolism. It towered over the buildings around it; a statue this amazing would have any and all glamour stripped from it if it ended up setting neighboring structures on fire, and thus the flames were kept out of reach.

"The City of the Red Maiden…" Korra had never heard of such a city in recent history, which made her wonder what had happened to it. Surely a city as proud as this one, which existed hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago, would still be around—perhaps under a different name.

Korra also learned that the 'prosperity' Avatar Himoto spread with the rest of the world had been centered around ideals; and despite her political power: unity. Ultimately, however, Korra found herself with more questions than she had had before learning about Avatar Himoto, and so even after she disconnected with this ancient Fire Lady, she was left confused and lost on the outskirts of this massive city.

It was only until she ran into a regal-looking man with a greying black beard that she realized there was something else afoot here.

"Avatar Roku?" Korra looked up at the commanding man, recognizing this one's name. Roku turned to Korra before frowning, which caused Korra to tilt her head in confusion.

"Was it something I did?" she pouted curiously.

"In a way," Roku began, "everything an Avatar does is something you did. Everything they have done, you have done; I have done, Avatar Aang has done, and so on."

"I know you're trying to tell me something though," Korra argued, "or at least, one of you is; or perhaps the Avatar Spirit as a whole. What is it?" Korra didn't want to admit that (much to her embarrassment) she still had no clue what the point of Himoto's story was any more than she knew what the point of Imalek's story had been. She had a few theories and ideas, most of them centering on the lesson of 'things not to do', but she had little more than that to go off of.

"Avatar Himoto was the 9th of the Interregnum Avatars," Roku gazed out towards the city. "And in a way, a reminder of how things could have been in my day."

"Well, I don't imagine you could have married the Fire Lord," Korra chuckled awkwardly.

"No, but I was Firelord Sozin's closest friend in my youth," Roku reminded her, "and my inaction led to one of the most devastating imbalances in history. Avatar Himoto took a headstrong approach to her goals, using peace and prosperity—not war—to spread them."

"So can you tell me what the significance of these Interregnum Avatars is?" Korra asked, "everyone seems to know except me, and it's driving me crazy!"

"The Interregnums are dangerous characters in the story of the Avatar…" Roku sighed, putting a hand on Korra's shoulder, "their chapters flecked with the blood and imbalance they left in their wake. Many people throughout history have tried to piece together why they did what they did, and even most of their successors did not know. 'Interregnum' became something of a byword, and rather than try and decipher the motives which many people labelled as villainous, people of all nations decided it was better to try and forget them entirely. And now, due to their inaction, as well as the inaction of us, your predecessors, it falls to you, Korra."

"Shit, no!" Korra shook her head vigorously, "I totally did not sign up for this!"

"Many before you thought the same thing," Roku lowered his head, "and there is no one to stop you if you would rather shrug the burden off to your successor. On the other hand, making sense of our past will help bring peace, and even balance—both to you, and to the world."

Before Korra could ask another question, Roku's image dissolved into thin air, and Korra was suddenly left alone once again.

This would also mark one of the only days where Korra didn't think the morning was evil upon being woken up early, only because she had slept long and hard. Incidentally, Nakkoa made a comment about Korra's sleep.

"There was a Firebender in your bed when I looked over at you last night," she indicated. "Care to explain that?"

"Avatar stuff," Korra shrugged. She was still a bit salty about the previous evening's exchange.

"What kind of Avatar stuff?" Kwan looked suspicious and curious.

"Tell you what," Korra jabbed, a vindictive expression briefly taking over her visage, "you spill details on what happened at Sato Estate nine years ago, and I'll tell you all the Avatar mumbo-jumbo that went down last night, to the letter."

"Touché, you manipulative bastard." Kwan grunted. "Fine; just get dressed. We're moving out as soon as we can—ideally within the hour."

True to Kwan's word, the trio were packed and ready within the hour, and headed for the truck, where with a deft movement of metal, Kwan opened the back.

"Hop in," she gestured, "I don't imagine you want poor Naga to ride alone, and I'm pretty sure Nakkoa would fight you for the passenger seat."

"Can Nakkoa drive?" Korra asked curiously as she coaxed Naga into the truck and climbed in after her, turning back to face the sisters before they closed the doors.

"To put it bluntly?" Kwan laughed, "No. Don't worry though: we're not going to flip it like I did this one time back when Kotu was still alive. Do get comfortable though: it's a bit of a trip."

It didn't even occur to Korra that once Kwan had shut the doors, she and Naga were effectively trapped. Korra couldn't metalbend yet (a fact she hoped to soon rectify), and so if she wished to escape, she would have to use force.

Fortunately, nothing went wrong on the trip, and true to Kwan's promise, it wasn't even terribly bumpy until near the end when they went off road. Despite the bumpiness of the road, Korra actually dozed off, snuggled into Naga's curled-up form, her mind tranquil. There were no visions or meetings with her past lives this time. Whatever they were trying to tell her would have to wait for another time.

Korra had no idea where they had taken her, but it was a mountainous vista that was actually downright breathtaking. They were high enough up that Korra welcomed the crisp breeze that kissed and caressed her bare arms and face, and far enough away that she couldn't even see Republic City. They must have been on the north side of the mountains that loomed over the sprawling metropolis, because all Korra could see to the north were valleys and rocky plains, while to the south, mountain peaks even higher up than their current resting place loomed.

"Where are we?" It still didn't hurt to ask, as the two sisters unloaded.

"The middle of fuckall nowhere, kid," Nakkoa shrugged her shoulder, "Welcome to the training center that isn't going to lock you in like a prison."

"So what happened to the Northern Water Tribe?" Korra hadn't forgotten Nakkoa's claim back when they had said goodbye to Tonraq and Senna. "I thought that was our final destination?"

"Well, if we told everyone where you'd actually be," Nakkoa answered, "you'd get dragged right back to that compound again. Fortunately for you, this one's a lot more lenient."

The only building Korra could see was a small but rather well-kept little building to one side. Based on the fact that Nakkoa and Kwan were both moving towards it, this was likely the place.

Incidentally, Korra recognized one of the first two men to step out of the building as her uncle Unalaq. The other man she did not recognize at all.

"It certainly took you girls long enough," The waterbender spoke almost dismissively to Nakkoa and Kwan, the former of whom looked offended.

"Perhaps next time you shouldn't screw up your relationship with her family so that you can come and pick her up yourself then," the hotheaded firebender had a retort at her fingertips.

"Nakkoa, darling, you know it's never that simple." Unalaq sighed, before turning to Korra. "I'm sure travelling with these women might have given you a taste of their dishonest reputation, but let me assure my favourite niece that I will be up front with my intentions."

"That's a first," Kwan quipped. "You couldn't say 'good morning' without lying twice."

"Tell me this, Avatar Korra," Unalaq ignored Kwan's comment, at least directly. "Do you trust the man who has valiantly led the Northern Water Tribe for years, or the misdeeds of some ragtag former Triad members?"

Nakkoa and Kwan exchanged angry and embarrassed looks, now regretting brushing Korra's inquiries off so brashly—for they both knew exactly who Korra was about to choose.

As such, it came to no one's surprise when she gravitated towards Unalaq.

"Now with that settled," he cast a vindictive glare towards the sisters before giving Korra a much calmer expression, "I will tell you up front, Korra: While you will have many teachers who in turn will teach you a great many things, know that I have heard of your… struggles… with spirituality."

"I figured I'd get it eventually…" Korra shrugged, "but you sound like a man about to make an offer. Let's hear it."

"Oh, this is no offer, Korra," Unalaq smiled. "This is a privilege. While your knowledge of spirits is without a doubt lackluster at best, mine is quite the opposite. I want to see my niece—and the Avatar, of course—flourish and thrive, and how better to do my part than to both help her master the spiritual side of waterbending, but also spirituality in general?"

"That'd be great, actually," Korra's eyes lit up. "When do we start?"

"Tomorrow morning, will be when your lessons begin," Unalaq explained, "although your lessons with me—and with those who have travelled with me—will not be like at that White Lotus facility you lived in back home. No, these will be lessons offering useful and proper skills befitting an Avatar State Master, and more importantly, we will work at your pace."

"So what if my pace is slow?" Korra expressed a valid concern, less fearing that she'd struggle with learning and more wondering what happened if she wanted a day off.

"Everyone needs a day or two off here and there," Unalaq's lip curled upwards, before both corners curled back down, "although if I see a lack of interest start to form… or an overall shirking of your duties… we will reconsider this entire program. Tonight however, we have our preliminary course: Zaheer?"

The bearded man in the roughspun clothing stepped forward, giving Korra a respectful bow.

"I have been instructed to be the one to test your abilities." Zaheer brandished a staff. "Do not fear for me for my lack of bending. Come at me with everything you have, and I will know within minutes what you have learned and what you still require."

Korra didn't feel so sure at first, but this was short-lived. She rushed Zaheer, who struck her four times in rapid succession: against her forehead, at her right hip, her left ankle, and as she staggered backwards, her stomach. Korra fell flat on her back.

"Smart girl," Zaheer actually cracked an amused smirk as he offered her his hand. Korra took it, her free hand massaging her head.

"Smart?" Korra wasn't so sure, "I rushed right in and you beat me senseless in like two seconds! I was an idiot for underestimating you."

"That part might be true," Zaheer put his hands on her shoulders, "but you also learned this for yourself. You did not treat my authority as absolute—nor should you. All authority should be questioned at least once, Avatar Korra. Now, come at me again. You can attempt the same technique again if you desire, although I would again exhort you to come at me with everything you have this time—bending and all."

"Alright then," Korra took a deep breath to pump herself up. "Let's do this."

Korra was swift and extremely aggressive with her bending styles, much like how she had been against Kwan. However, Zaheer was extremely swift, using his staff as an extension of his abilities. He struck Korra multiple times, but this time Korra managed to stay on her feet and recover. Even when slinging water, throwing rocks and flames, and even shaking the ground beneath his feet, however, Zaheer did not falter, and within a few seconds, he had managed to trip Korra up, jab her in the stomach, trip her up by striking her ankles, and have her back on her back once again, gazing dizzily up at the sky.

"So…" she moaned, colourful stars flashing in front of her eyes, "uhh… what did you learn?"

"You have amazing potential, child." Zaheer took Korra's hand again, pulling her back up, although this time Korra earthbent a slab of rock to lean against, her disorientation showing. "However, you lack focus. This will be the first lesson I teach you tomorrow in hopes of rectifying that weakness of yours."

"And so what happens in the meantime?" Korra didn't aim this question at anyone in particular, but left it open for anyone to answer.

"That is your call," Unalaq nodded. "You've already met two of the masters you will be interacting with while you are here—four if you count the triad Sisters. The others will show their faces in due time; when you are ready for them.

"Is there anything else I should be aware of?" Korra cast her eyes from Unalaq to Zaheer to the landscape around them. "Any rules for this place I need to know?"

"We are not confining you, although we would advise you stay close," Unalaq advised, "it's a long walk to Republic City and easy to get lost in the mountains. Rest assured, however, that we will be willing to reward you after certain milestones are reached."

"And so what about my lessons?" Korra asked, figuring that the 'milestones' Unalaq spoke of had to do with various elemental masteries.

"These courses will test your patience," Zaheer warned, "And many of them will likely push you to your limits and then break you free of them. You will not likely have a day where you are not sore. However… if you ever wanted to master abilities you thought you could only dream of… then heed our counsel, and know you are in the right place."

"What kind of abilities?" Korra looked curious, as well as unfazed by the warnings of pain that Zaheer shared with her.

"Airbending," Zaheer began, "metal, lava, lightning, healing, the Avatar State, spiritual interaction, combustion… and perhaps more. Not even the sky is your limit, Avatar Korra. If you ever feel like you are being restrained or held back, look within you. By the time we are finished with you, you will be free. Nothing will be able to restrain you if you steel yourself. It is natural to possess weaknesses, but those are not for the world to see. Conceal them—show the world your greatest strengths and your greatest strengths alone—and that will be the key to your power as well. Bury your fears—they are yours and yours alone to know of, while in contrast, the world will know of your power and exploits by the time we finish here."

Korra didn't quite comprehend the entirety of what Zaheer meant, but even with the warnings her past lives had given her, she could not deny that the power they offered was alluring, and that she would take up any and every offer put in front of her.

"That sounds… amazing." Korra sighed dreamily.

"That is the goal," Zaheer assured her, "Embrace your identity, Avatar Korra, and you shall become the most powerful woman in all of history!"

"And in the meantime…" Unalaq added, "Let's get you settled in."

Korra's room was small but cozy, and all of her possessions fit into a small bag, so she had little need for anything too spacious. She threw herself onto the bed, gazing up at the ceiling before drifting off in a catnap, hoping that would kill a lot of time. After all, tomorrow her real training would begin.

Chapter Text

Korra did not meet anyone else the next morning other than Zaheer, Unalaq, and the sisters. If there was anyone else in the small compound, they were incredibly scarce and elusive, which almost daunted Korra in one way or another. However, that intimidation was swiftly drowned out by anticipation as she headed outside to find Zaheer. Her Avatar story began here. To her slight surprise however, she found him at a recently constructed makeshift archery range, which gave Korra more questions than before.

"Archery?" Korra asked once she was within hearing range, "what's this about?"

"It's about focus." Zaheer rose to his feet as if he had been waiting for Korra to ask. "Your approach in our spar the previous evening was an insightful peek not only at your abilities, but also at your behaviours. Overwhelming force can often be effective, but not so much when it is as haphazard as you. Against a novice and perhaps even intermediate-level benders, you could leave your mark, but you stand no chance against a master."

"Alright then." Korra sighed, stepping towards Zaheer. "Let's focus."

Of course, this proved to be more difficult than she expected, with over 80% of her shots not even hitting the designated targets at all. She was fast, but it seemed that Korra's preferred attacking technique was more or less along the lines of 'throw everything in at once and hope that at least one of the attacks connects'.

Whether it was a facade or if Zaheer was truly patient with her, however, remained a mystery. In a way she felt like he treated her as an object: with neither love nor disdain; but rather as something that was to do its job. It was unforgiving, but Korra could not deny that Zaheer's lessons were effective. Despite Korra's attitude, he remained vigilant, and after three gruelling weeks this training left Korra's arms sore, her palms nearly calloused, and if nothing else, a sense of accuracy. A notable drawback of being all the way out here away from everyone was that once again, Korra was bereft of anyone her age to talk to (which in turn also made her feel particularly sensitive about her age), and so apart from occasionally rambling about her problems to Naga, she took to recording her training progress in a small blue book that became her journal. Writing was not Korra's forte, but Unalaq had suggested it to her after a day too many of hearing her complaints about being bored but too tired to continue training.

In typical Korra fashion, the little Avatar decorated it with personal effects, little doodles, random notes and thoughts, and other such things. Korra was no professional, but she had decent artistic skills. Unalaq might have been the one to recommend journal-keeping to her, but most importantly, it kept her busy when she was too worn out to continue her gruelling training. Both Zaheer and Unalaq also coerced her into meditating, although Korra's impatience in this regard had her struggling most of the time.

True to Korra's suspicions, the facility had been rather nice on the inside—borderline lavish in some places. It made sense considering Unalaq's station, but she also didn't complain. In a way, it felt like a cozy little home away from home, and was spacy enough that she sometimes didn't even see Kwan or Nakkoa the whole day. She liked being alone as she recorded her thoughts, however, and while some entries were longer than others, Korra found that recording her life adventures from day one of arriving at the mountain compound would be for the better. If nothing else, writing was a nice pastime when she was too tired or sore to do anything else.

Day 4: I still don't get what the whole point of shooting arrows is, especially when earth and fire are a million times more effective. I also don't really get the point of this journal, although if it gets Unalaq off my back and sates my boredom, then I'll do it. It's not like I'm about to show him the stuff I write, but maybe I can show these insights to mom and dad someday… or maybe Asami. It'll be fun to see what Asami thinks of me by the time I get back. And Hiroshi too; I really felt like we left on a bad note, and so I hope he doesn't hate me.

Day 28: Zaheer is persistent, if nothing else. Unalaq needs to learn the concept of personal space, and I swear if I feel him breathing down my neck again, metaphorically or otherwise, I'm going to water-slap him in the mouth. Still, I guess the early lessons are always the boring ones. I also saw a woman that was like twice my size with a cool third-eye tattoo on her forehead. Word from Kwan says that she can blow things up with her mind because of that. If they're gonna teach me how to do that, I am *so* down for this training thing. I wonder if you could like, tattoo that on your belly button or something. Probably not a good idea to ask though...

Day 44: I'm still not really getting the hang of this meditation nonsense, especially when sleeping or napping seems more effective at getting me better. On the other hand though, I've been at this archery thing for almost a month now, and at this point I seldom miss. My arms are killing me, but hot damn I haven't had biceps this rockin' since ever. I should see if Kwan can get her hands on a camera or something, cuz that's definitely one for the record books. UPDATE: Got my picture taken. I look great!

Korra had taped the photo of her posing with her arms flexed into this journal of hers, and while no one told her and she would never have guessed, she was not very photogenic.

The following afternoon, Zaheer surprised Korra by informing her that he had something different in mind for her today.

"You didn't miss a single target yesterday," he pointed out, "while you still have a great deal of training to go before you will be at my level, I feel you are ready to try again—and this time possibly land a hit or two on me."

"Are you mocking me?" Korra knew that Zaheer was her superior in this form of combat, but the teen couldn't help but feel like her pride was at stake.

"There is nothing to gain from mocking you, Avatar Korra." Zaheer replied as he calmly pulled out his staff. "Now… focus your attacks. Show me what you've learned and what you can do. Remember: the goal here is to free you from any limits or constraints you may think you have. Bogging yourself down with fears and concerns is nothing but a sign of weakness that you must let go. You are the Avatar—and the Avatar knows no fear because she has no limits!"

"I'm ready to try again," Korra cracked her knuckles before putting her left fist into her right palm. "Let's dance, Zaheer."

Korra lasted much longer this time, ducking, dodging, and bending dexterously away from Zaheer's attacks, throwing a few focused attacks in of her own. Zaheer parried most of them, but a couple of her attacks staggered him for a moment. Korra clenched her fist with glee, but that was the only opening Zaheer needed to strike Korra across the jaw, disorient her and have her lying face-down in the light snow all within 3 seconds.

"Do not get cocky until your opponent is down," Zaheer warned, prodding Korra, knowing the teen still had some fight left in her. "Again."

Korra wiped a trail of slightly reddened saliva from her mouth with her arm, before shifting into a fighting stance, watching Zaheer closely. Her focused expression did cause her lower lip to stick out in a way that was almost comical, but Zaheer cared little for her expressions. If she was taking his words and teachings to heart, then his goal was slowly but surely being realized.

Day 75: I did it! I finally friggin' did it! It may have taken 37 attempts, but I FINALLY knocked Zaheer off his feet! I'm way too tired to write more right now so I'm keeping this short and going to bed. The bruises and cuts aren't even worth worrying about. I'm sleeping well tonight.

Korra took the next two days off, and it was after this that she was confronted by Unalaq again. Korra found this odd, since he had kind of backed off after the first week or so.

"You seem to be enjoying your training, despite the hardships." He commented, staring off into the evening sky.

"It's rough," Korra admitted, "and I've got this killer bruise on my thigh that has been there way too long. What I'd give for Ichiro to be here right about now…"

"Ichiro?" Unalaq looked curiously at Korra.

"Just a healer I met down in Gaoling," Korra shrugged, staring up at the brilliant and dazzling array of stars overhead, "unless of course you were planning on teaching me healing soon?"

"Like all things," Unalaq commented, not noticing Korra's smirk, "Healing requires focus and concentration. This is part of why I emphasize the importance of meditation, Korra. Your focus and accuracy training under Zaheer has augmented your combat skills, and even in your studies you seem much more alert and focused. For an art such as healing, the need for concentration will increase sevenfold. This sort of spiritual focus may also help you unlock airbending… since I am quite certain you are eager to do that as well."

"I've known three elements for a decade!" Korra raised her fists to shoulder level, "I feel like I'm so close, and yet so far away…"

"Sadly, the only worthy Airbending Master is far away in Republic City tending to other business." Unalaq hummed, "One would think that the reincarnation of Tenzin's father would be an important enough issue to offer attention to, but that is neither here nor there. Zaheer has shared tales of at least one Avatar learning airbending from sheer focus. Of course, said Avatar was an Interregnum, and so you won't hear much about him from most conventional history books."

There it was again—the Interregnum Avatars. Why did they keep coming up in her life? For all the stories Katara fondly recounted of Avatar Aang, she never once mentioned any connection with these incarnations. On the other hand, she had been warned by Yangchen and Roku about Imalek and Himoto respectively, and so perhaps there was more two it: 19 missing pieces to this puzzle that she had yet to obtain.

"Then… I guess I'll learn meditation." Korra conceded.

Day 88: Meditation is still boring as shit, but I think I'm starting to understand why Unalaq wants me to continue it. I've had two more Avatar dreams in the last four days: one about a man named Lahka, and the other about a woman named Kallian. The incarnations who warned me of these two didn't give me their names, or maybe I just forgot them. Note to self: ask them next time I make contact. Kallian is #8, Lahka is #19, so that means Himoto was the reincarnation of Kallian. Who did she reincarnate into though? And who dealt with the aftermath of Imalek?"

A great deal of the remainder of the page was filled with scribblings and notes of these various Avatar Incarnations as Korra tried to piece it together. She even tried meditating on these concepts, calming herself by focusing on aspects of these entities that she already knew or had recently learned. Kallian had been a freewheeling Earthbender who rode off the success of her predecessor, while Lahka had been a Waterbender who had had to deal with the "fallout" of an Avatar that the others only referred to as "The Culmination". Korra could only imagine what this individual had done if no one even dared utter his or her name.

On the other hand, these dreams of the Avatars kept Korra focused, to the point where she progressed in her meditations with remarkable swiftness. Unalaq's teachings also helped in this regard—the man had not been lying when he claimed to be a master of most things spiritual. When it came to healing though, Korra had herself to use as practice quite a bit. Kwan had long since ended her grudge against Korra, and the two of them sparred whenever Zaheer wanted a break. Korra took plenty of beatings, but now that she could test her healing abilities on herself rather than have to ask Unalaq for assistance in repairing some of the more serious injuries she sustained, her progress continued at a rapid pace.

Of course, there was a significant difference between learning the art, becoming proficient at it, and mastering it. Korra might have become proficient at focus (and remained a wicked shot with a bow), and might have since picked up a thing or two about healing to keep her bruises from swelling or becoming too sensitive, but she had a long way to go before she mastered any of that. It was still a fairly momentous occasion though, learning healing.

Day 102: Healing always sounded like such an underwhelming ability, especially when compared to things like lightning, metal, lava, or even bloodbending. For all the times I've gotten my ass kicked though, it would have been nice to be able to heal my own injuries. Zaheer and Unalaq are ruthless in their training, but it does a body good. I haven't had too many new Avatar dreams lately, although I did get to meet Avatar Yangchen again as well as Avatar Kuruk. The final Avatar in the Interregnum Cycle was named Shigeru, and it was only after him that things went back to 'normal', for what it's worth. There's an Earth Kingdom Avatar between the two of them though, and apparently she nearly broke the cycle entirely. Paint me curious on that one.

More of Korra's chicken scratch handwriting plagued the page as she tried to draw diagrams that pieced her scarce but growing knowledge of these interregnum past lives together. She didn't understand why they would be stricken from history (particularly not Shigeru, who had apparently been able to help reverse the damage that over a dozen of his past lives had done), but she felt a connection to them. She was them, and they were her: Korra found her past lives to be intriguing and wanted to learn more about them.

Avatar Kuruk showed up again, and the two of them had an interesting discussion about the Interregnum Avatars, which he seemed much more open to talking about than most of the others—or the recent ones at least.

"A few of the Interregnum Avatars were painted with the black mark more because they did what I did," Kuruk explained, "Yangchen did such a damn good job at cleaning up the messes of the world that she left me with nothing to do. So, I did what any self-respecting Water Tribe warrior would do, and travelled the world. I made the ladies swoon, I jumped in the ring and earned a bit of cash, I sought out stronger opponents, and more. It was the good life."

"That sounds like it," Korra smirked, her mind briefly drifting to Asami when Kuruk mentioned wooing the ladies. She wasn't sure if she wanted that kind of relationship yet, but the idea of having so many friends and adoring fans definitely sounded appealing.

"So the 'crimes' of some of those Interregnums, such as Delun or Kallian," Kuruk explained, "was more that they didn't challenge the status quo at all, and thus it remained the same, with people idolizing the Avatar as a sort of living deity. In a way they were right, but it was eventually taken too far, as you surely know."

"There's still a lot of pieces missing from that puzzle though," Korra shook her head, "And who was Delun?"

"He was the 2nd Avatar in the Interregnum Cycle," Kuruk explained, before showing Korra a vision of a happy go-lucky Air Nomad. His mannerisms and behaviour were similar to Aang's during his childhood, although this fellow had long black hair and much more pointed features that gave him a sort or suave, roguish look. Perhaps Delun was what Aang could have been if there had been no war.

"He reminds me of Aang," Korra addressed this to Kuruk, who nodded.

"Perhaps Aang knows of him as well,' the older Avatar gestured, "and perhaps soon enough he will appear to you as well."

"I hope so," Korra put her hands together, I've got so many things I want to ask him…"

Kuruk was not a prophet, but it was not a day later that Korra got her wish: that night as she put herself into her meditative sleep to remain open to more contact from her past lives, she found exactly the person she wanted to talk to: Avatar Aang.

Chapter Text

Korra approached the older Air Nomad with a swift stride and an eager face. She wondered briefly if she'd have to start wearing more suitable clothing to bed, or if all of her visions and spirit world journeys would have her in nothing but her trademark tank top and sweatpants. She'd have to talk to Asami if she wanted proper fashion tips though, because it seemed most incarnations of the Avatar didn't care much about it either, and wore very similar iterations of a particular theme throughout their lives. Whatever the case, Korra called out as she approached Aang, causing the Air Nomad to turn.

"Korra," he spoke softly. "I was wondering when you would contact me."

"I've been trying… well kind of." Korra scratched the back of her head as her trademark pout kicked in. "But I've been making some great headway into this whole Avatar thing… I might be able to even get the nuances of airbending soon."

Aang cracked a half-smile. "It's funny how things work sometimes," he turned away from Korra to indicate that he was not at all chastising her, "Air was by far my favourite element during my time as the Avatar, and here is my next incarnation still trying to learn the ropes of it."

"I'm not sure if I should take offense at that or apologize," Korra replied.

"Neither," Aang shook his head, turning back to her, "It's more just an observation. Do not despair at your age. Had you followed traditional Avatar protocol,you wouldn't have even realized you were the Avatar for another couple years. Mind you, I cannot judge you on that front either, and I'm sure you know why."

The playful smile Aang gave Korra warmed her heart. "But I am sure you reached out to me for a reason other than Airbending." Aang continued, "You wish to know of the Interregnum Avatars."

"How did you know?" Korra asked.

"It's been on your mind for months," Aang chuckled. "Sadly, I did not learn much of them during my lifetime. As many before me have stated, their names were mostly stricken from history, and with the Fire Nation rampaging across the world, I fear they only exacerbated that problem."

"I'm not blaming you for not doing anything about it or about them," Korra reasoned, "but several weeks ago Roku told me that 'making sense of our past' would help bring balance and peace to both myself and the world. What say you?"

"Of that I honestly have no doubt," Aang put a hand on Korra's shoulder, looking down at the young Avatar and smiling at her. "Only you can reach them now, Korra—whether intentional or otherwise. I lived in a world that changed around me as the Four Nations grew together, and gave birth to the United Republic. Perhaps you will live in an era marked by change as well. Perhaps you will be the one who finally puts the mystery of the Interregnum Cycle to rest."

"So do you think that's my destiny?" Korra tilted her head.

"I could not honestly say," Aang spoke with uncertainty, "But if they are plaguing your dreams so often, there is clearly something about them that is trying to call out to you."

"Why me though?" Korra looked confused and also concerned. "What did I do to draw their attention onto me? This didn't have anything to do with me discovering myself as the Avatar when I was four, did it?"

"I cannot say," Aang shook his head, "I had no contact with any of those individuals during my time as the Avatar. Most of us barely contact more than one or two cycles' worth of our past lives. The fact that you are somehow making contact with men and women from thousands of years ago… could hold many different meanings. For all the spiritual connections I had with some of my past lives, none of them could recall an incarnation that contacted past lives more than a few hundred years. You have an unusually powerful connection to many of your past lives, and that, Avatar Korra, could mean a myriad of things."

"Opinion time," Korra asserted, "What do you think it means? Don't give me this 'I don't know' stuff; I want to ask Avatar Aang what he believes this mess means."

"To be frank," Aang looked Korra in the eyes again, "I predict that it is a sign of your power, Avatar Korra. You have tapped into a great deal of powerful and primal energy, and unlocking more of this power at an alarming rate. You learned three bending disciplines when you were four years old, and are now working towards the Avatar State at the age of 14. I believe that, despite your lack of formidable spirituality, that you carry with you a power greater than any individual man or woman who has ever been the Avatar in history. Whether I am correct or not remains to be seen, but you asked for my opinion, and so I gave it."

"Sorry for lashing out," Korra apologized. Aang's calm voice made it hard to get mad at him. "I guess maybe I'm a little daunted by all of this."

"I see no harm done," Aang took Korra's hands. "I just saw an upset young woman who was overwhelmed by revelations given to her. I'm sure you know well enough my tale of uncomfortable revelations, 165 years ago. Learning I was the Avatar was not so pleasant news to me, and so I fled. You certainly know the rest."

"Well then," Korra looked up at Aang again, brushing some of her stray bangs out of her eyes, "Looks like I've got my work cut out for me too… and people are just gonna have to deal with it."

Aang did not reply, but his apparition smiled briefly as he faded away, leaving Korra alone in her thoughts and meditations once again.

Day 124: No real headway on any more of the Interregnum Cycle, and both Zaheer and Unalaq still work me to the bone. Both of the sisters both make sure I've got plenty of injuries to try my healing on too, so even when I'm not busting ass on the training grounds, I'm still fighting to keep myself fit. Kwan seems to get that it's just good fun, but Nakkoa seems particularly aggressive, almost like she's actually trying to kill me. I'd rather not find out, personally. Still, it'd be nice to actually have someone other than Naga to talk about these things with, but I guess that's the price I have to pay for the awesome gains. I do wish I could write my parents about my progress, but I imagine as soon as I'm done that I'll be able to march on home and show them in person. It'd be nice to get back in contact with Ichiro or Asami as well.
Honestly I never thought I'd be much of a writer. Sitting down with pen and paper seemed just as boring and pointless as meditation, but with how sore and worn out I am after these training sessions, even after getting the grips on healing, half the time I feel like I don't even have much energy for anything else.

Day 151: I finally did it! After days and weeks of trying and failing, I FINALLY managed to dethrone Zaheer and knock him down. Even he looked impressed, which I frankly didn't think was possible with how stern and stoic he always acts. Hopefully Kwan's going into town again soon, because I'm raiding my candy pouch tonight and doubt there will be any survivors. She still owes me a good 350 yuans for that bet I made against her four days ago. She didn't believe me when I said I'd be able to knock down Zaheer within a week.

This page, as well as a few of the other ones around it were flecked in small drops of blood or dirt and scratchy handwriting, especially as Korra had also begun to doodle in the margins. She closed the book and stowed it away in her otherwise fairly featureless room, not wanting prying eyes like Unalaq, Kwan, or worse, Nakkoa, to see its contents. Fortunately for her it seemed Zaheer cared little for or about her inner musings, and so she was less worried about him. Right now though, she had a score to settle and a debt to collect on.

"You know what?" Kwan dug into her pockets after Korra approached her with a shit-eating grin and an outstretched hand, "I'm too impressed to even be mad."

"Actually, keep it," Korra returned the money, "next time they send you into town, buy me as much candy as that'll get me. I'm running a bit low."

Day 172: I finally met the last two members of the compound today. With how long it was, I get this feeling they weren't actually here the whole time. There's Ming-Hua, this waterbender without arms who does all kinds of crazy things with her bending; and her closest friend Ghazan is this lavabender guy that could give Kwan a run for her money. I still have no headway on airbending, but it has to be close. As soon as I can unlock it I'm sure I'll be able to adapt and master it soon enough. Maybe that's why the Interregnum Avatars haven't contacted me in over a month. The last things I learned were the two incarnations after Delun: a wild freewheeler named Tenoko that reminds me of Kuruk except a lot more of a troublemaker. The one after her was Laksha, who was basically her opposite: a totalitarian commander whose adherence to order, stability, and law forced the world back into balance. For whatever else they did, at least I can sleep a little better knowing that I'm not the only Avatar who was the polar opposite of her predecessor.

Incidentally, Zaheer heard Korra muttering these names under her breath at one point, and he recognized the names.

"So," he disrupted her thoughts after putting a hand on her shoulder, "You have interacted with the Interregnum Cycle?"

"Some of them," Korra admitted, looking at her hand, "I've seen several of them and learned their stories, but there are a lot of spaces in between them—incarnations I have yet to learn about." She had engrained the order in her mind, studying the cycle vigorously and trying to find out what their importance or significance was. 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 14, 19, 21—she knew who these men and women were in the cycle, but had yet to learn the rest.

"Hmm, a shame." Zaheer murmured, "I can tell you, however, about the 1st of the Interregnum Avatars: The woman who began that vicious cycle."

"Anything you can tell me would be appreciated," Korra asserted.

"Avatar Kozue," Zaheer looked Korra in the eyes, his expression intimidating the teen slightly. "She was revered as a type of omniscient deity in the Sun Warrior Tribe where she was born. She was a woman who tapped into the primal energy of the world and of her spirit. When she was finally exposed properly to the world, she maintained her haughty posture, and continued to be revered. If the records are true, she lived this way until she died. It was not her alone that blackened her name, but her actions and inactions led to one of the worst dictatorships in history. This Avatar is simply referred to as "The Culmination of the Interregnums."

"That explains a lot," Korra stared wide-eyed at Zaheer. "Kozue's successor was Delun, who rode off of Kozue's popularity. Delun's successor Tenoko did the same thing, and it threw the world out of balance. It took Laksha to put everything back together, and I'm not sure yet who came after her."

"Learn then," Zaheer commanded, "Keep up your meditation; learn everything you can from Chief Unalaq. Access the spirit world and find these past lives. Once you learn of the dangers of their totalitarian rule… it will help in teaching you the importance of freedom."

Korra did not suddenly become spiritual overnight, but it was insightful to learn that the first "Interregnum Avatar" had just been a sheltered woman who was revered as an all-powerful deity. Somehow, that had led to more than a dozen incarnations going renegade and being struck from history as a sort of fearful reminder of what the Avatar should not be. Korra did not know which one was "The Culmination", but knew that it was between #14 and #19, and somehow the first four Avatars in the cycle that seemed mostly harmless were a part of it. Was it simply the public's reverent attitude towards the Avatar that got to their heads, or was there more to it?

Naturally, a huge deal of scribbles and diagrams went into Korra's journal that evening as she pondered the revelation of Avatar Kozue. Learning about her did enable Korra to connect with her only a few days later, but she learned nothing new from the meeting short of the realization that Zaheer had been telling the truth. Overall, however, she still struggled with maintaining a lasting spiritual connection, which may have both explained why her past lives would disappear on her all of a sudden—as well as why Unalaq kept a ruthless focus on this with her.

"As much as I understand your desire to remain in control," her uncle instructed her one evening, "one of the paramount factors to consider when focusing on spirituality is to surrender that control. Do not try to force your spirit to connect with these past lives you don't know. Let it free the same way you let your body free. The harmony between body and spirit will open new doors and pave new roads before you. Your body is free, but your spirit is in chains. You must throw those chains off, Avatar Korra, before you will be able to proceed."

Korra wasn't even sure what she did, but just as Zaheer had taught her patience through archery and hand-to-hand precision, Unalaq had taught her patience through meditation, and one evening, it just clicked.

Korra was meditating on the edge of a rock on a small cliffside above the compound, away from the noise of Kwan and Ghazan having some flashy lavabending showdown. She muttered something about airbending that Nakkoa overheard as she watched the young Avatar retreat from the camp. Out of curiosity, the firebender followed her at enough of a distance that Korra was oblivious. It was either that, or perhaps Korra was so focused on letting her spirit free that she simply shut herself out to Nakkoa's presence.

Korra had always suspected that Nakkoa had a few loose bolts, but when she felt a boot against her back, she was knocked out of her meditative focus, falling forward from her cliff. Shortly before her face would have been splattered across several sharp rocks, she took a massive breath, and saved herself with the bending discipline that had eluded her these 14½ years.

"WHOA!" She was too thrilled to even be mad at Nakkoa, but now she had to test it to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Spotting the red-clad firebender staring down at her with amusement from up on the ledge, Korra jumped back and thrust her arms forward. A powerful albeit somewhat haphazard gust of wind sprang from her arms and whisked Nakkoa backwards and against the mountain wall, her clothes and hair all askew.

"Oy!" She snapped, straightening her ruffled hair and clothes, "what was that for?"

"Payback," Korra retorted as Nakkoa opened her mouth to complain. "I know you pushed me."

"And it worked, did it not?" Nakkoa gave a matter-of-fact response, "you're welcome, by the way."

"I'd like to not get shoved off cliffs just because I can airbend, you know," Korra quipped, "I'm not afraid to remind you of that ability if you're just going to provoke me."

"Do not let that power get to your head, little one." Nakkoa warned, "I am happy to continue teaching you tricks of the trade regarding how to create blue fire, but do not abuse your powers against me or it will warrant unpleasant results."

"Well, don't push me off cliffs next time," Korra riposted, "anyways, I'll see you around. I've got a new ability to practice."

It went without saying that this evening ended on perhaps the most positive note Korra had ever experienced since coming to this place.


Chapter Text

Korra took a full four days off to play around with her newly discovered skill, looking as thrilled as she usually did any time Kwan came back from a resupply trip to Republic City with an extra bag of candy for the aspiring Avatar. She seemed particularly thrilled to be able to use all four elements, and a few of her displays were little more than glorified vulgar displays of power as she showed off using water, earth, fire, and air as well as other tricks the Red Lotus had taught her. Korra might have been very fierce and borderline-reckless with her bending, but she was remarkably precise with her moves and her aim. It seemed those archery lessons, as unorthodox as they had seemed, had paid off.

Zaheer seemed to appreciate Korra's unconventional approach, and that she made her own rules. Unalaq was a bit more opposed to it, but it seemed the man could be reasoned with, considering their limited options regarding teaching Korra airbending.

"I do not imagine Master Tenzin would approve of our operation, Chief," Zaheer warned, "and I don't imagine any of his young children are anywhere near master level airbenders. Other than ancient texts and history lessons, the Avatar has no real guide to assist her in airbending. Let her have her fun; let her embrace the freedom that comes with the element of Air."

"She has spiritual obligations as well," Unalaq reminded him, "And unlike the world governments that you detest so much, these abilities would augment her in being unstoppable and unrestrainable. Is that not what you seek?"

"Chaos is often the natural order," Zaheer closed his eyes, "We have successfully lured the Avatar into our grasp with promises of power, and now that she knows we can deliver, do you really imagine she is going to want to go home until she learns everything we have offered her? Or do you think that come Harmonic Convergence in less than four years, that she will be willing to do as we command?"

"And what then?" Nakkoa had overheard parts of the conversation and strode forward. "What you two are forgetting is that if the Avatar is unstoppable, then what happens if she turns on us? Who will stop her then? Who will put her in line?"

"Nakkoa, my dear," Unalaq shook his head, "you are always so tightly-wound and paranoid like your parents and grandparents. We could spend a thousand lifetimes contemplating everything that could go wrong and even spend all that time planning for it; and we still wouldn't even be able to produce contingency plans for every possible outcome."

"So what happens after you get your wish, hmm?" Nakkoa raised her eyebrow. "What happens when Vaatu is released and your new world order is established?"

"Then she no longer becomes unstoppable," Unalaq replied, "For Raava will have an equal in Vaatu's released form. What are you proposing?"

"Frankly, I've wanted to kill her for weeks now," Nakkoa shook her head, "She's way too reckless and unpredictable, and I'm pretty sure she's spiting me."

"The notion of slaying the Avatar," Unalaq interrupted, "my niece, Nakkoa—is out of the question." "Except then we could try again properly," Nakkoa pointed out, "Either the new Avatar would be born in the Earth Kingdom and be a much easier target to bring to our cause after the chaos we plan to cause there, or we end the Avatar Cycle permanently, and keep only Vaatu and his Avatar of Chaos as the ruling entity of this world."

"Like I said," Unalaq put his hands on Nakkoa's shoulders, "we are NOT going to slay Korra, and the very notion is as ridiculous as these little games you play. With the Avatar from the Water Tribes, we can manipulate her loyalties and force her to realize the importance of aiding the Tribes, and in turn, convincing her to open the Spirit Portals. We cannot get an infant child to do that, and so if your bloodlust gets the best of you, it will be dealt with accordingly. Do not force me to monitor your activity around my niece, Nakkoa."

"Okay, I've tried to remain neutral long enough," Kwan's accent was heard in the distance, "But sister, now I've gotta intervene. The hell do you mean Korra's spitin' ya?"

"She's a renegade that does as she pleases, with little regards for the well-being of others." Nakkoa explained, "I admittedly am not much better in that regard, and maybe this is just my own psychosis speaking, but I'm pretty sure that she's setting a very dangerous precedent here."

"Perhaps you can talk some sense into your sister, Ikiza." Unalaq suggested.

"Never thought you'd ask," Kwan nodded, "C'mon, sister," she took Nakkoa's hand and pulled her away from Unalaq and Zaheer, who continued their discussion about where to take Korra's training from there. "We need to talk."

"Fine," Nakkoa grunted, following her sister, "What is it?"

"A spar," Kwan offered, taking a stance for a second before continuing to walk, "as we discuss a few things about you; about us; about our mental well-being; about Korra."

"Fine," Nakkoa brandished her trademark blue flames on her hands for a moment, "ask away; and in the meantime, let's dance."

"Why are you so mean to the kid?" Kwan shifted her legs and took a defensive stance, once they were far enough away from the Water Chief and the vagabond. "Why do you hate her so much? What did she ever do to you?"

"She's like a Fire Ferret in many ways," Nakkoa explained as they commenced their sparring, "she's playful, inquisitive, mischievous, and harder to corral than water in a sieve. Worse yet, her stupid polar bear-dog always growls and gets defensive when she sees me. I'm pretty sure that creature doesn't trust me either."

"In Naga's defense," Kwan shrugged, bending backwards to avoid a searing jet of multicoloured blue flames, "you're kinda mean." Naga was much friendlier to Kwan, and even Nakkoa knew it.

"I'd kill the damn thing myself if I could get away with it." Nakkoa sighed, before briefly gritting her teeth as she flipped and rolled to avoid Kwan's rocks, "and while I'm sure Unalaq wouldn't mind seeing the stupid kid trigger the Avatar State so prematurely, I don't imagine the Avatar's wrath would be too easy to contain."

"There you go again," Kwan shook her head, stamping her foot and sliding to the left, her stone shield shattering when Nakkoa's lightning struck it, "Listen to yourself. Korra's old idea of training was to smash everything with brute force. Your answer to everything is to stick a knife in it. You want to kill Naga, you want to kill Korra. You didn't even try to avoid Sato; you just killed her too. Sister—is there something about you that you ain't tellin' me? Why in oblivion are you so violent? Do you think killin' everything will solve all your problems?

"It's enjoyable," Nakkoa admitted, spinning into a barrage of fireballs, "that adrenaline-rushing feeling of drawing blood as the life force of your enemy slips away."

"And so why are you takin' it out all on poor Korra?" Kwan coated her hands in stone and used her fists and punches to block the bolts of flame, "sure her 'dog might not trust you, but she's just an excited kid who's thrilled to see the world."

"I think you've gone soft," Nakkoa warned, knocking Kwan off-balance with a well-aimed lightning bolt. She managed to recover, however, and was back on her feet a second later. There was something to be said about the resilience of an earthbender, after all. "As for why the Avatar grates on me… she knows that her animal companion doesn't like me, and so she stopped trusting me too. Haven't you noticed she avoids me these days?"

"Can you really blame her?" Kwan's rock slammed into Nakkoa's arm, spinning her sister around even if said sister followed up with a powerful stream of flame, "You've done everything you can do dehumanize the kid. You talk about her like she's a thing; you've never even used the poor girl's name before, and she's very aware of that fact. Naki… whether you mean it or not, you're real hurtful to that kid. I'd avoid you too if I were her."

Kwan's last attack managed to knock Nakkoa down and she conceded at that point. "Well she'll have to get over that fear if she wants to learn the intricacies of firebending at one point or another." Nakkoa put her fingers to her eyes, before pointing them threateningly at Kwan. "Maybe let her know that."

"Or maybe you could take a lesson out of MY book," Kwan glared right back, "and not let your psychotic behaviour control and define ya. I'm not really that much less crazy than you; sister—but I ain't lettin' it define me."

"And yet all these years I've had your back, and continue to have your back," Nakkoa replied.

Kwan did not reply, although whether this was from lack of a comeback or simply not wishing to push this debate, remained unclear. Kwan simply stared back as Nakkoa strode away, and instead just shook her head and sighed.

Korra was still blissfully unaware of any of these exchanges, having revelled in her discovery of airbending, which had given her a firsthand explanation over the last four days as to why it was Aang's favourite element. But even then, Korra did not rest. There was more work to do.

Day 228: Unalaq has taught me more advanced healing that he says works on even a spiritual level. Add that to my airbending and Kwan starting to teach me some of the more advanced forms of earthbending, and I'd say I'm getting pretty good at this Avatar thing. Zaheer says once I master the art of concentration, I might be able to pick up rare techniques such as metal, lavabending, lightning, blue fire, and possibly even combustion. On the note of lightning though, Nakkoa seems more distant than usual, which says something, but I'm sure I'll be able to get her to open up soon enough. I need to focus on my current objectives though… and learn more about Avatar Serenez and why she was so feared if she was so calm. Hmm…

Her contact with the Interregnum Avatars had been fairly sparse since arriving here, apart from the name mentioned in passing by Avatar Kuruk during one of Korra's interactions with him. Of course, the notes in the margins of her journal and sometimes on the pages were as vigilant as ever, occasionally joined by little chibi drawings of her and/or her past lives.

A few nights later, however, Korra met one of the most influential Avatar incarnations of recent history, and one that she had been eagerly anticipating meeting: Avatar Kyoshi.

"Good to see you finally connecting with us on your own, Korra." Kyoshi's reception was a lot warmer than Korra had expected it to be. The towering Earth Kingdom woman had gained a somewhat sinister reputation in recent years after corruption of factions such as the Dai Li, and even (to a much lesser extent) the Kyoshi Warriors.

"Well, I'm starting to come up on a year of some pretty hardcore training," Korra laughed. "Or is the great Avatar Kyoshi unimpressed?"

"Believe it or not, kid, but I've been subtly aware of your training regimen." Kyoshi responded, "I'd argue that you were pushing yourself too hard, but that does not seem to be the case."

"So is that approval I smell?" Korra raised her eyebrows, crossing her arms as well.

"I see a means to an end," Kyoshi replied, "Although I also saw a means to an end with many of the Interregnum Avatars that now seem to have taken great interest in you."

"Is that… bad?" Korra tilted her head, "what do you know of them?"

"Only what I have gleaned from the few surviving records," Kyoshi admitted, "They were more than a thousand years before my time as well, but they left their mark on history in ways that inspired even me. A man named Fa Su had a Secret Police in Ba Sing Se that inspired me to mimick it all these years later. My success, as you may have heard, was… limited, and like him, I have my regrets."

"Fa Su…" the pout that appeared on Korra's face was more a contemplative/thinking pout than an upset one, "where did he fall in the Interregnum Line?"

"He was 16th in the line," Kyoshi lowered her head, "and his deeds, while well-intentioned, led to a corrupt situation that enabled his successor to forever blacken the Avatar's name. No historian I knew or text I read would speak this woman's name, but it is said that the entire world bowed before her—and not by choice. In a way it was inspiring, and in many other ways, it's a horrifying concept that not even I dared attempt to venture to."

"That's…" Korra's expression twisted awkwardly as if she was embarrassed by this revelation, "not exactly a pretty mental picture. But wait… if it was Fa Su's successor, and he was from the Earth Kingdom, that means it was from the Fire Nation. Was it anything like the war that Avatar Roku and Avatar Aang went through?"

"No," Kyoshi shook her head, "the Avatar went through the Fire Nation first, bending it to her will, but the army of the Avatar was not affiliated with any nation. I do hear that this Avatar was part of the inspiration for the war that Roku and Aang suffered through, however. Make of that information what you will."

"So why do you think all these Avatar incarnations from thousands of years ago are taking interest in me?" Korra looked back up at Kyoshi, wringing her hands, "Aang told me that he had no such meetings, and neither did Kuruk or Roku."

"And neither did I," Kyoshi put her hands together. "If they are taking interest in you, then there is something you have in common with them that has piqued their interest. Whether the results of this are good or evil may remain to be seen, but perhaps what the others say is true. Make sense of this past, and you very well may not only bring peace and balance to the world, but could become the most formidable incarnation of the Avatar in history."

And then just like Aang or Roku, Kyoshi was suddenly gone—much to Korra's annoyance. She had a feeling their sudden disappearances might have been caused by her own struggling spirituality, but could never be fully sure since none of her teachers exactly had past lives that they could contact as a demonstration or anything.

With Kwan's support and the approval of Unalaq, however, Korra's lessons on focus expanded once again, and she started to learn the ropes of metalbending. It was very much her style with the harsh, forceful moves serving as a striking contrast to the kinder, gentler moves one used in healing, and so Korra made great strides in this art rather swiftly.

Day 264: Metalbending is pretty cool, but I've definitely got a ways to go before I get any good with that. For all the emphasis Zaheer and Unalaq have both put on focus though, they compared my shot with a bow to the Yu Yan Archers. I'd like to see someone top that! Maybe there's something to be said about bending-free combat. I can hold my own against Zaheer without bending, but he still ultimately ends up kicking my ass. I guess I don't have to be the best in everything, but I definitely want to at least be competent. So much to learn; so little time.

And yet, with the amazing progress she was making with her bending disciplines (including her somewhat renegade airbending tricks), it was clear that the Red Lotus was succeeding in their goal to mould Korra into a destructive and dangerously powerful creature. How well she would be able to contain this power—and whether or not it would consume her—remained to be seen.

Chapter Text

Korra's days were unforgiving and somewhat repetitive, but she enjoyed these lessons so much that it didn't really even faze her. Kwan commented that it was risky to put the girl's mind so strictly on a single collective focus, but these remarks were overall ignored. Korra pondered it when Kwan addressed it to her, but ultimately concluded that it was for the better.

"It's like Avatar Kyoshi once told me," she reasoned, "it's a means to an end."

"I understand," Kwan put her hand on Korra's left shoulder and right forearm, (since her right shoulder was currently sporting a rather nasty cut that, while bandaged, was still very sensitive), "I would just hate for it to consume you—and spell your own end."

"Don't worry Kwan," Korra nodded as headed back to her room, "I've got it all under control…"

Once Kwan had left, she sat down at her desk and pulled out her journal, deciding to pen her latest entry since she was still a bit worn out from her latest training session.

Day 301: I can't believe it's almost already been a year since I came out this way. I wonder how Asami is doing… and my parents. It might be nice to see what Ichiro was up to too if Gaoling wasn't so far away. I would have liked to keep in touch. Still, I've learned so much and grown so much. I can't name a day where I wasn't in some kind of pain, but damn these results feel GOOD. Everything seems so clear to me, and Zaheer has even talked to P'Li about teaching me that cool exploding trick of hers. I'll have to get back to them on that.

P'Li was not a woman of many words, but she explained the concept of combustion bending in such a simple straightforward way that Korra was apprehensive and cautious from the get-go.

"Screw up most bending disciplines," she remarked, deliberately letting herself "misfire" a small basic-level fireball, "and you can usually shrug it off and get right back up. Screw up a combustion attack… and it'll tear you limb from limb. If you try to bend it while chi-blocked, it'll straight up blast your head apart."

"I almost want to say that discourages me," Korra looked a bit worried, and her pout hinted at this, "but I understand the risks. I don't imagine I'll be blowing things up on my first lesson, will I?"

"I might be ruthless," P'Li reasoned, "but I am not outright sadistic. Either you will walk away and reconsider your desire, you will learn this ability and use it to great effect, or you will misuse it and it will spell your gruesome and bloody demise."

"So you're trusting an almost-15-year-old kid with this kind of power?" Korra frowned.

"No," P'Li answered to Korra's surprise. "But Zaheer trusts you, and so I will trust his judgment."

"So, another question," Korra raised her hand, looking up at the massive woman in front of her. Both of them may have been sitting with their legs crossed, but even then, P'Li was a good several inches taller than Korra, whose stocky, muscular frame was much less vertically imposing than anyone else at the compound save Kwan.

P'Li did not verbally acknowledge Korra's inquiry, but raised an eyebrow to show she was at least paying attention.

"Will I get one of those tattoos at some point?" Korra's eyes moved up to the 3rd-eye tattoo that graced the middle of the firebender's forehead.

"If you are seeking this art for the sole purpose of a tattoo, just cut out the middleman," P'Li rolled her eyes slightly, "if you are seeking an enhanced focus point for the ability you wish to learn, then you will indeed obtain one after you have proven your proficiency without it."

"Come on," Korra flapped her arms, looking insulted, "Just because I'm a teenager doesn't mean I'm all about stupid edgy tattoos or anything."

"And yet, if Ming-Hua is to be believed," P'Li riposted, "then you have a Fire Nation emblem tattooed on the back of your right hip thanks to that evening where you broke into Kwan and Ghazan's barrel of Si Wong Reserve…"

"What!?" Korra barked, her eyes popping open as wide as dinner plates, "I mean, that stuff was delicious, but I didn't get any tattoos anywhere, let alone on my ass. I can prove it even!"

P'Li simply raised an eyebrow, but spoke up when she saw Korra about to loosen her pants and remove her fur skirt.

"Please," the combustion bender put up her hand and turned away, shaking her head, "I do not need to see your backside, Avatar. Sit down, and take comfort in knowing that I will… take your word for it and reprimand Ming-Hua and Ghazan for spreading misinformation."

Korra gave a disdainful pout that wasn't directed at anyone in particular but then sat down. For how rebellious she had been with Nakkoa and Kwan, Korra was a very compliant person when it came to being taught and instructed.

Day 315: I've got a new goal. I want to get that 3rd-eye tattoo before my 15th birthday or so help me. Combustion is scary, but I can definitely see myself having fun with it. It seems all that focus training that Unalaq and Zaheer drilled into my head had an external purpose after all. I quite like my limbs, as well as my head, so I have no desire to get myself blown up. It makes me wonder if any other incarnations of the Avatar had learned this ability or not… surely they have. Maybe one of the Interregnum Avatars knew it or something.

Day 356: Not a day before my birthday, I got P'Li's approval. I gotta get Kwan to take my picture again for this occasion. Well, and I need to get a photo for my mom's scrapbook. I can't let my 15th birthday go undocumented now, can I? I would have said the only thing that could make it better would be if I got another piece of the Interregnum Puzzle, but I learned two nights ago who the Avatar between Imalek and Fa Su was. Avatar Koroda reminds me of myself in some ways, except he seems much less subtle than his predecessor or successor. I don't imagine I could scheme as much as he did though, and he wasn't cool enough to get a combustion tattoo on his forehead like I did. I *really* need to get a photo of this.
UPDATE: Holy crap it's beautiful! Stings like a fucker, but IT'S SO PRETTY!

Korra did not trim her bangs, but her forehead now bore a vertical "3rd-eye" with three pairs of symmetrical, slightly curved lines jutting out of it on either side. She checked herself out multiple times over the next several hours and into the next day. Korra's birthday wasn't really much in terms of a celebration, although Kwan did make her day a little more special by giving her a bag of her favourite candy to enjoy. Korra also took this day off as a time to rest up a little bit. It wasn't every day that the Avatar turned 15, and only one other Avatar in recent history had wielded so much diverse elemental knowledge at that age, and said Avatar was Korra's predecessor. Not that she necessarily wanted to one-up Aang (since she couldn't exactly go back in time and master the elements at age 12 like he did), but she wanted to present herself as a formidable fighter even at her young age.

For how serious and no-nonsense they were, both Unalaq and Zaheer even wished her a happy birthday, which came true enough in her books. Ghazan and Ming-Hua may have spiked her drink with some more of that "Si Wong Reserve", but the end result was simply Korra having a very giggly and comical evening as she started 'seeing' and rambling about all sorts of nonsense that wasn't there. Fortunately for her, she did not in fact get a tattoo on her backside.

Whether it was luck or her own sheer resilience, Korra managed to sober up before the night was over, and as she was taking a walk under the evening sky and taking in the scenery, she happened upon a black-haired woman that she had had a bone to pick with for some time now.

"Nakkoa," she called out, approaching the woman with a steeled resolve, "We need to talk."

"Are you here to complain about how I don't give you any special treatment, Avatar?" Nakkoa did not turn around, "because, if so, then I'll quote the words of a certain little Water Tribe girl who once said… "You gotta deal with it"."

"No," Korra put her hand on Nakkoa's shoulder, pulling the older woman around to look her straight in the eye, "I want to know what your problem is with me. I don't care about the subtle jabs you make about me or the way you might gossip about me behind my back, but I'm not okay with this kind of treatment. If you have a problem with me, say it to my face, and we can sort this out like adults—or settle it the old fashioned way." her left fist went into her right palm.

"Child," Nakkoa chortled, "if everyone settled their differences by fighting, there would only be one nation remaining today, and it'd likely be the Northern Water Tribe. Do you want to know what I have against you?"

There was a pause, before Nakkoa's hand seized Korra's face beneath her chin, her long nails poking into Korra's lower jaw. "I want to kill you."

"That's what this is over?!" Korra recoiled, not exactly believing her, "What's taking you so long then? Try me!" Flames appeared around Korra's hands, and with her new tattoo she did look bit more menacing than she did before.

"And what," Nakkoa flicked her wrist, essentially "stealing" the flames from around Korra's hands and wrapping them around her own, where they turned blue. "Face the wrath of your uncle who watches me like an eagle-hawk, and incur the wrath of Zaheer and my sister as well?"

"But WHY do you want to kill me?" Korra looked a little shocked as she realized that Nakkoa had just caught her off-guard. "Are you even being serious about that?"

"You…" this time Korra caught Nakkoa off-guard, "are handling this remarkably well. Here I expected you to attack me the moment I said I wanted to kill you. Perhaps I am merely overreacting to this entire situation."

"Thank my uncle then," Korra stayed defensive, "and honestly, I think you're lying."

"My reasoning for wanting you dead is because it would be easier for us to achieve our goals if we started you younger." Nakkoa replied bluntly, "giving someone as wild and uncontrollable as you this much power is a mistake in my opinion."

"Look," Korra frowned, her lower lip sticking out in an unintentionally endearing way, "You're a great liar, and I really don't want any trouble. If you hate me, do something about it, but don't just let it fester. Speaking of which… should I be afraid that you're going to try and kill me when you teach me blue firebending, or are you just going to refuse to teach me at all since I'm apparently 'too powerful already' or whatever it was?"

The dramatic expression Korra made when she waggled her fingers almost made Nakkoa crack a smile behind her otherwise stony facade.

"I'll teach you, but it might kill you," Nakkoa shrugged, her voice still betraying none of her actual feelings, "but I suppose Ghazan and P'Li could say the same thing about their lessons as well. And call it a hunch, but I'm pretty sure Ming-Hua's tried killing you at least once."

"That's different though," Korra shook her head. "If that's what you mean by 'trying to kill me', then maybe you're not as bad as you think."

"Why are you like this?" Nakkoa squinted.

"Why am I like what?" Korra tilted her head, "Why am I not an ass like you? Maybe it's because I like to treat people as equals? Maybe it's because I don't think you're quite as wicked as you think you are? If Kwan can turn her life around, so can you."

"That seems unlike you, Miss Avatar," Nakkoa blew a small stream of flame from her lips, "I thought you liked hitting things first, asking questions later."

"Meditation did me a bit of good, I guess," Korra shrugged her left shoulder, "I mean look. I'm happy to accept a challenge, but I really hate this bad blood between us, and if I had to take a stab in the dark… I don't think you like it either."

Korra did not wait for Nakkoa to respond, which surprised the firebender a little, for she had opened her mouth and uttered half a syllable already before Korra had walked off.

Day 391: Nakkoa finally started teaching me the intricacies of lightning and blue fire, although after combustion, it's coming pretty easy to me. I think she's still holding up that ruse of wanting to kill me, but I still don't think her heart is in it. I wish she'd just open up and tell me what was wrong, but I guess it's none of my business if not even Kwan can get it out of her. I've also finally learned more about who Serenez actually was, and I'll just say she's a scary one. What is it with the quiet ones being the freaky ones that get things done? On that note, I also figured out who the Interregnum Avatar before Serenez and Kallian was. It was an Airbender named Xilingshi, and much like her predecessor Sakai, who I also learned about only recently. She's one of those early Avatar incarnations who was seen more as a hero than a schemer. I wonder where they went wrong? Was it Imalek? I've got 14 of the 21 stories down… two-thirds of the way there. Persistence, Korra. That's how we're getting things done around here.

With the various other lessons Korra was now taking, she saw less of Zaheer and Unalaq, but she didn't mind the change of pace. They stayed at the compound too, doing whatever it was that they did, and tending to Korra's training-related needs when they saw fit. Korra found the whole thing to still be extremely exciting, and spent many of her afternoons blowing things up with her mind, or "duelling the sky" with lightning bolts. She still had a great deal of training to do before she could qualify as a master, but if this was her power without even unlocking the Avatar State, Kwan was not the only one who wondered just how powerful this young woman would become once she had realized her full potential.

Chapter Text

As Korra continued to hone and use her combustion bending skills, it suddenly clicked with her why the lessons in meditation and focus had been important. Even the archery lessons made sense as well, because Korra's aim turned out to be remarkably accurate due to her ability to fixate herself so firmly on her target. Despite these advancements, however, there was much to learn and she knew it. Eventually, a promise that Kwan made to the young Avatar slightly over a year earlier, was finally fulfilled, much to Korra's delight.

Day 444: Okay, so for all the other entries I've made about how cool combustion bending is? Lavabending is the shit. Ghazan is a pretty cool dude, and the times Ming-Hua comes with him are always interesting. Her little water-limb trick seemed so simple, but there are 1001 things she can do with it that leave my head spinning. Here I thought I was getting good with waterbending, but not that. She's hinted that she knows bloodbending, but I can understand why Unalaq would rather I not learn that one… for now anyways.

Of course, Kwan, who was much friendlier to Korra than her elder sister, was always down for sparring with Korra. After a rather harsh lecture from Unalaq about them nearly destroying the campus surrounding their little compound, they had to take their lava spars a bit farther out. When it was just raw earthbending against earthbending, Kwan still reigned superior, but when Korra brought in her other elemental disciplines, she held her own solidly against the little woman, and even won a few.

"You're way too trigger-happy with that damn combustion beam," Kwan laughed after a glorious defeat where Korra had almost blown the earthbender's arm off, "but I mean, you're good… but it makes me wanna flick your forehead."

She actually did so without warning, causing Korra to flinch.

"Ouch!" She recoiled, shaking her head to regain her focus. She wasn't about to try and launch another attack, since Korra quite liked having her skull and its contents intact. Still, this brief period of disfocus was short-lived, and so Korra didn't hold it against Kwan.

As much as Korra and Naga enjoyed it out in the wilds though, Korra did start to get a little homesick—or at least wanting for more social interaction. At different times, Unalaq, Kwan, Nakkoa, Zaheer, Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and P'Li would disappear for days at a time. Unbeknownst to Korra, they would visit Republic City or one of the other (fairly) nearby locales for their own reasons, but there were always at least two or three of them there at the compound to make sure Korra didn't wander off. Zaheer had learned rather quickly that Korra's sense of direction was nothing to brag about, and that she had a penchant for getting lost. Fortunately for everyone there (Korra included), Naga was a much better tracker, and so in the event that Korra got lost, one of two things would occur: either Naga would help lead Korra home, or if Korra had ventured off alone, Naga could lead one of the Red Lotus members to her by following her scent.

While most of the others were indifferent to Korra's plight, Kwan brought it to Unalaq's attention.

"We can't just keep her here forever if she wants a break to go and paint the town red," Kwan reasoned, "otherwise we're no better than the White Lotus keeping her in her prison compound—and I get this lasting feeling that sooner or later she'd blow her top if we tried to contain her against her will."

"And where do you suspect she'll go?" Unalaq countered.

"Republic City!" Kwan spread her arms, "Doy! You should have seen her face light up when we first got there! She didn't even make it off the boat before diving right into the water and swimming to shore. You could keep her entertained for weeks there."

"And those are weeks that go by that she's wasting time," Unalaq looked Kwan right in the eyes, "Harmonic Convergence is on a schedule, in case you have forgotten," Unalaq argued, "if she cannot tap into the Avatar State by then, it will be another 10,000 years."

"That's still near three years away though!" Kwan reasoned, "She'll be able to access it way before that. I'd bet you on it, but you're not a betting man."

"I will think about it," Unalaq promised, "but if she does not start tapping into the Avatar State soon we will have to use force."

"Don't tell my sister that," Kwan warned, "she'll get ideas."

And yet, it was Nakkoa that finally helped Korra reach that point.

"Look, kid," she confronted Korra about it a few weeks later, "I'm just saying that it's about high time for you to figure out how to trigger that Avatar State of yours, because none of us can teach it to you—and there's only so many times I can say it nicely before it warrants force."

"It's not from my lack of trying," Korra reasoned, "trying to get this whole spirituality thing down was hard enough. I've been telling you for weeks that I'll get it in time."

"Except that we don't have time," Nakkoa stepped back, swirling her arms. "Boss' orders."

Without warning, Nakkoa aimed a skillful blast of lightning right at Korra's chest. It struck her with almost deadly accuracy, but instead of knocking her unconscious or blasting out one of her feet; her body went into shock and absorbed the energy completely. In an effort to preserve itself and its host, the Avatar Spirit came to life in Korra, and her eyes flashed menacingly.

"I bloody knew it!" Nakkoa pumped her fist as Korra hovered above her. Suddenly though, she was on the run as Korra began firing off combustion blasts at a terrifyingly rapid pace, trying to blow Nakkoa to smithereens. Korra's episode in the Avatar State did not last long, but before she managed to escape its grip, she had surrounded herself with ice, rock, wind, and fire and charged headlong into Nakkoa, also destroying a good chunk of the compound where they collided. Needless to say, this drew the attention of everyone else in the area, and within moments, a dizzy Nakkoa was surrounded by the other five Red Lotus members at the compound, as well as Naga, and Korra, who, while scraped up a bit, otherwise looked unhurt. Korra looked visibly dazed to the point where her eyes were slightly crossed, and she didn't even appear to quite know what had just happened.

"So this is just a taste of her Avatar State…" Zaheer muttered, before turning to Korra. "Child, you are much stronger than I had previously imagined."

"And believe it or not," Nakkoa pulled herself up with her left arm; "I'm fully convinced my arm is broken, since it definitely shouldn't be bending there, and I'm fairly certain my shoulder shouldn't be moving like that." her breath was also very sharp and laboured.

"You deserved it," Kwan frowned, "I saw what you did to her. It was provocation."

"But it worked…" Zaheer pointed out.

"I… guess?" Korra's mind was still trying to process what had happened, "I mean… I really don't want to have to get electrocuted in the chest every time I want to enter the Avatar State…"

"You took a bolt of lightning to the chest and shrugged it off?" Ming-Hua made two of her water tendrils come together like the clapping of hands, "That's impressive even by my standards, Avatar Korra. You should give yourself a pat on the back."

"With how hard she is to impress," Ghazan chimed in with a laugh, "that's two accomplishments for you in one day, kid. Nice job... Avatar Korra."

Unalaq healed what he could of Nakkoa's wound after the group had dispersed, and helped her bind it up, but he also gave her a talking to for the ages about why electrocuting the Avatar in a potentially fatal blow was exactly what none of them wanted.

"Her being alive is one of the most important aspects of this entire objective," he did not hesitate to get right in her face, "and while this incident proved that she much more difficult to kill than you expected, I do NOT want to see it happen again. Are we clear?"

"Then come up with a better way to get her back into that state," Nakkoa spat, "You wanted results? I got you results! But she is starting to wear my patience down, and I've made it no mystery about it. Her time in this compound is nearing an end."

"I will be the judge of that," Unalaq asserted. "You know your role in this operation. I would advise you to adhere more properly to it rather than let your fears dictate you."

In contrast, Korra actually felt something of an adrenaline rush and a thrill from it, and not just because of the damage she had caused. She raced back out, launching herself into the sky with a mixture of firebending and airbending, celebrating her new achievement by launching combustion beams and lightning bolts at otherwise inert rocks. She crashed down and surrounded herself with a field of molten lava, swinging her arms around and extracting both the water from the snow-capped rocks, as well as metallic ore from the mountain itself. All in all, these moves were little more than a vulgar display of power, but that had been one of the Red Lotus' goals in training her: to get her so hooked on her power trip that she would retain absolute loyalty to them. So far, they had been successful. The Avatar did not flinch; the Avatar did not cry; the Avatar did not express emotions beyond ruthless confidence. Those were the 'mantras' drilled into her head, and against cooperative teachers and the inert landscape, it was easy to be brave and relentless. Someone more compassionate, however, would have noted that it was the setup of an extremely dangerous precedent—but not even Kwan, realized this, nor did Unalaq bother to point it out.

Korra was still oblivious to this notion, and that evening she had a lot to express.

Day 487: I finally entered the Avatar State for the first time, and sweet merciful Raava, what a trip! Would that I knew how to actually do it without having to take a potentially fatal blast of lightning to my vitals… but I'm sure I'll figure out what I did to unlock that mechanism sooner or later. Any doubts I had about my abilities were thrown behind me today, and this confidence feels amazing. At this point I've unlocked almost every major bending ability, which means now comes the time when I hone my skills. If I can properly manage the Avatar State, maybe I could contact the rest of the Interregnum Avatars directly. To rehash: Lu-Xing was the Fire Avatar before Imalek, Ryuka was the Air Nomad who came after the Culmination and had to fix her mess, Wen was the man who came after Himoto… there are only four more to go: Two more randoms, the Culmination, and that Earth Kingdom Avatar that took the real heat from the Culmination's fallout. I'm getting so close to obtaining all the pieces of this puzzle I can almost taste it…"

Although the only thing she was actually tasting at the moment was a little blood from a cut on her lip. She often repeated herself with her mentions of the Interregnums to help her better remember them, and unlike the venomous philosophies of the Red Lotus, there was a benefit to remembering her past lives.

Either way, Korra rode on that high from unlocking the Avatar State for the first time, even if it was only a one-time thing. Despite this, her training in other fields continued. Korra was very little if not persistent, refusing to give up just as she had flat-out refused to die from Nakkoa's would-be fatal attack.

Day 514: Still no more Avatar State, but I got two of the last pieces to the puzzle! Kiera of the Water Tribes and Royota of the Earth Kingdom are the bridges between Wen and Lu-Xing. None of them will ever speak to me about who this "Culmination of the Interregnum" is though. Whoever she is, she can't hide from me forever, dammit!

It was another month before Korra got any further information on them. So far, most of her conversations about these ancient Avatars had been from some of the most recent incarnations: Yangchen, Kuruk, Kyoshi, Roku, & Aang. The Avatar she was looking at this time was an Earth Kingdom woman barely taller than Korra, but just as muscular.

"You're a new face," Korra spoke to the incarnation.

"I'm a very old face," the woman replied, "I am one of the missing links you seek."

"So you're an Interregnum then?" Korra tilted her head.

"Aye," the woman replied, "My name is Zakura, and I am the one who had to deal with the largest fallout of the Interregnum Cycle: the Order of the Avatar Slayer."

"That's a very unpleasant name," Korra's visage twisted uncomfortably. The idea that there had once been an entire faction dedicated to killing the Avatar made the teen shudder to think about.

And what they tried to do to me was unpleasant, if you wish to put it lightly," Zakura explained, "They attempted to poison me. They actually succeeded in fact. It was a highly pure metallic substance that they essentially forced into my system through metalbending."

"How exactly did they do that?" Korra narrowed her eyes in a confused pout as she tried to fathom this as well.

"They couldn't force my mouth open," Zakura explained, "nor did they try any other orifices. Instead, they forced it right through my skin—and through my pores."

"Metalbending?" Korra gawked, trying to fathom how metal could go through a woman's pores, "but metalbending didn't even exist back then."

"Oh, it did," Zakura shook her head, "but after the atrocity committed against the Avatar—that is, against me—it became a sort of loathsome byword, and metalbenders were scorned to the point where the art was lost. While my successor Ryuka helped right the wrongs of me and my 19 other past lives, he did not restore the good name to metalbending. He didn't want to nearly end the cycle forever either."

"End the Avatar Cycle forever!?" Korra's eyes shot open, "But how?"

"Pump enough poison inside an Avatar and it will force them into the Avatar State," Zakura warned, "and it did exactly that. They tried to kill me then and there, but I overpowered them. They did not give me a strong enough dose, and they greatly underestimated my metalbending abilities. In the final throes of my life, shortly before I would have died in the Avatar State, I essentially willed it out of me. The combined might of a thousand lifetimes before mine all came together to force the metal out of my body, and I survived. My life was still shortened overall from this event, but as Ryuka's existence, as well as every Avatar between him and you proves… I did not die in the Avatar State."

"Why are you telling me this?" Korra immediately thought of Nakkoa, and feared that that woman would try to get her hands on some of this metal if she knew it would force an Avatar into the Avatar State. "That's the last thing that anyone needs to discover again."

"I told you it because you called for me and asked," Zakura reminded her, "and I'm warning you now because you recently unlocked the Avatar State and do not understand the risks of such power. You are nearly invincible, and the Avatar Spirit will go to great lengths to preserve your body and save your life. For some of us, the Avatar State was little more than a panic mode that our bodies would go into whenever we felt threatened. You see, Korra… the Avatar State is a fickle creature all on its own, and few of us can use it with deadly efficiency."

"I don't imagine I'm one of those that can," Korra sighed, "I triggered it a month ago by nearly getting killed, but haven't even been able to come close to activating it since then."

"You are young, Avatar Korra." Zakura shook her head. She looked young too, which gave merit to her claim that the poison had shortened her life even if she had expelled it. "You will learn and master it in time. In the meantime, do not fret over the fact that there are going to be times when you don't have control over it. This is normal. The only time you need to be afraid is if you are ever forced into the Avatar State. Of course… if that happens, your body as well as the Avatar Spirit are likely going to be in full panic mode anyways, so I suppose that's moot."

"Zakura," Korra spoke up, "Tell me something."

"Hmm?" The earthbender crossed her arms as she turned back to Korra.

"Who was the Avatar before Ryuka?" Korra asked, "The one no one wants to even say the name of? All of these dreams… all of these connections I have with you and the others in your Interregnum Cycle… I feel like everything leads back to her."

"As much as I hate to say it…" Zakura sighed, lowering her head, "you deserve to know, and she deserves a voice. The Culmination of the Interregnum Cycle is something that in my opinion deserves to be known and remembered as a life lesson, rather than buried in history and the hopes that ignoring it will make it go away."

"So you know who it is!?" Korra's eyes lit up with excitement.

"I do," Zakura nodded, "listen closely, Avatar Korra, I will tell you the tale of the life that nearly ruined MY life, even centuries after she was dead and gone. As the Avatar, I feel it is particularly important for us to remember it—for whether we like it or not, that was both you and me in a past life, and short of destroying the connection with every past life, it is a bond that can't be severed. Heed my words, Korra; for I am about to tell you the story of the infamous Avatar Zeruda."

Chapter Text

The final piece of the puzzle was finally hers. Korra couldn't believe it.

"Zeruda…" She whispered, feeling the letters on her lips, "was that her name?"

"Aye," Zakura crossed her arms again, "The Avatar that Enslaved the World."

"You're… you're kidding, right?" Korra's jaw dropped as she processed this. Her entire life she had been led to believe that the Avatar was always a force for good. The Interregnum Cycle had shaken this belief, and now with Zeruda—the culmination of this villainized cycle of men and women, here was an Avatar that seemed straight-up evil.

"I wish I was." Zakura shook her head, "Zeruda would have been a better fit for the likes of Vaatu himself. She was arrogant, powerful, and amoral, which was when and why she began her conquest of the world. The Fire Nation was the first to fall, followed closely by the Southern Water Tribe, and the Northern, Southern, and Western Air Temples. The Earth Kingdom fell next, including the great city of Ba Sing Se. Soon only the Northern Water Tribe and the Eastern Air Temple stood against the unified world under Zeruda's iron fist."

"Unified?" Korra tilted her head, "if she was just uniting the world, what made her so bad?"

"She was a dictator and a control freak," Zakura explained, "it was her way of preventing conflict, really, but she made a public example out of anyone who dared oppose her. She had a vast array of powers much like your own: lightning, metal, combustion, lava… tools of destruction. She was a bloodbender of the highest caliber as well, able to bend people's bodies without the help of a full moon. She was a monster and she knew it, but during her conquest she revelled in it. Honestly, I think her similar abilities are why she is reaching out to you."

"I don't want to enslave the world!" Korra recoiled, falling onto her back and scooting away from Zakura as if expecting the spirit to attack her.

"I hope not," Zakura offered her hand to help Korra back up. "I do not know what she wants with you, but for better or worse, we need her connection to stay intact if we want to tap into the power of any of our past lives before her."

"Do you think she might just need peace?" Korra asked, "Is there more to her life than just her reign of terror, or was she slain on her throne?"

"There was definitely more to it than that," Zakura explained, "especially since it took an entity twice as old as she is now to finally stop her. Perhaps that creature also seeks peace, but that is not my story to tell."

"So you want me to contact the evil overlord Avatar that enslaved the world," Korra pouted, "all just to make sense of this Interregnum crap?"

"Making sense of us in the Interregnum Cycle," Zakura offered, "is one of the keys to peace. Many of us did lasting damage that we still spot in one form or another as we see the world from your eyes, Avatar Korra. "Finding the good in us, and solving the unanswered mysteries of a group of Avatar Incarnations that reigned for collectively over 2000 years would definitely bring forth peace—both to you, and to the Avatar Spirit."

Korra was somewhat frustrated with the cryptic message that yet another past life had left her before once again vanishing and leaving her alone. She was much too proud to admit it, but the idea that she could be forced into the Avatar State against her will frightened her more than it should have. The notion that her spirit could hijack her body like that instilled a solid belief in her that while she was at her most powerful in this state, that it was also her most vulnerable state.

Day 548: I still don't know how I did it this time either, but I went into the Avatar State again last night and tore up half of a nearby peak. I wonder if anyone saw it from the distance. I don't know how to break it to them that the only way I'd be able to actually repeat that would be through sheer dumb luck, but with my teachers rewarding me with a trip to Republic City, I'm not going to argue it. I want to see Asami again, and I want to see other people again. I wonder how much has changed since I left a year and a half ago. I also wonder if Kwan's going to take me to an actual probending match. I've never actually played, but I still remember her explaining the rules to me. I wonder if I can at least show off my other skills between matches. There's a lot of things I wonder about though, and so they're just going to have to deal with me being excited about it."

"Avatar," Nakkoa approached her as they prepared Kwan's truck to head back down the mountain, "A word, if you will."

"Twist my arm," Korra sighed. Nakkoa was still… difficult. Korra felt like there was an internal struggle this firebender was hiding from the world, and that she was taking it out on Korra—but at the same time, she felt like there was no proper way to bring this up with her, even if Korra would be willing to try and help. She didn't even contemplate the notion that Nakkoa had just been in her room, let alone what she did there.

"I've overheard your conversations with Kwan about probending, and more importantly, about reviving The Prison Breakers" Nakkoa explained, "I just wanted to inform you that despite our… differences… I would welcome you to the team. Just make sure you stick to waterbending during the actual matches. If you get us fouled or disqualified I'm gonna shank you."

"So did you finally get over that weird enmity you had with me?" Korra raised an eyebrow.

"So it would seem," Nakkoa put her hands behind her back. "One more thing."

"Hmm?" Korra looked at Nakkoa, her eyes drilling through the firebender's face as if she was trying to find a chink in her armour; a lie in her claim.

"You'll wanna wear a headband," Nakkoa gestured towards Korra's tattoo, "it's not technically illegal, but you'll scare a lot of people, and you're no use to anyone in prison."

"Alright then," Korra turned to go back to her room to collect her scant possessions.

"Anyways, get that ball of fluff of yours and get in the truck. We're heading out to Republic City."

Much like her initial trip up there 548 days ago, the trip back down there was fairly uneventful other than Korra dozing off halfway there after snuggling into Naga's soft fluffy warmth. She was awake when they stopped however, and this time they were situated outside of a huge golden building that Korra could only guess was something significant; the Probending Arena, perhaps?

A few minutes later her suspicions were true. She, Nakkoa, and Kwan went straight to registrations, where they earned a few funny looks.

"Butakha," Nakkoa turned to a sharply-dressed man in a bowler hat, which he used to conceal his bald head, "Guess who's back?" She flashed the wealthy man an ear-to-ear grin.

"So you made it out of prison, eh?" The man smirked, "and dragged Kwan along with you. What ever happened to Kotu then, hmm? The kid with the headband is a new face."

"Kotu went and got infected with a severe case of death," Kwan shrugged, "this is our replacement waterbender, Korra."

"A pleasure, Korra," Butakha shook Korra's hand, "Are you new to probending? You have that look about you of someone in awe of this amazing facility."

"I am," Korra crossed her arms, "but I'm pretty sure I can hold my own."

"So can you fit us in somewhere?" Nakkoa pulled out a fat wad of cash, "because you know how I am when it comes to getting what I want."

"Well, the championship playoffs aren't for another 6 weeks," Butakha explained, "but there's always plenty of upstart teams looking for a bit of extra cash. You in for that?"

"If there's money involved, we're totally in." Kwan laughed, elbowing Korra, "Our little waterbender's candy habit doesn't pay for itself, y'know." Korra pouted but did not reply.

A few minutes later, and the three women were gearing up in preparation for their first match.

"So something to consider, Avatar" Nakkoa almost seemed an entirely different person in the Probending ring, to the point where Korra wondered if she truly was hiding something, "waterbenders are the only ones who can do headshots. All those focus lessons you got from archery and combustion bending? Those are about to come in real handy here. The size of your projectiles might be limited, but there's nothing about how hard you throw them. Aim fast; aim true; hit hard. I plan to go undefeated tonight."

"Anything else to know?" Korra asked as she picked up her helmet, which had a large blue stripe down the middle to denote her bending, but was otherwise silver, gold and (primarily) black like the rest of her uniform.

"My advice?" Kwan suggested, "play a few rounds before showin' off. Wait until we go against some legit assholes, and then after we beat 'em, go all out in a vulgar display of power. Think of the kind of reveal that would be for showing people you were the Avatar."

"Ha!" Korra laughed as she put her helmet on. "That's brilliant!"

"Also," Kwan added, putting on her green-striped helmet, "Nakkoa's a REALLY sore loser, so you'd better help us win!"

"I am NOT a sore loser!" Nakkoa barked, "I just like winning and when I don't win I get furious!"

"Well then," Korra licked her lips and cracked her knuckles, clearly hyped about the upcoming event, "let's get in there and show 'em what we can do, hmm?"

"My thoughts exactly," Nakkoa flipped her hair, "most teams are either kids or young adults anyways… it's been too long since they've seen some actual talent."

"What am I, a turtle-duck?" Korra looked slightly offended by the jab at her age.

"You're the Avatar," Nakkoa winked, "And you gotta deal with it…"

45 Minutes Later...

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Announcer Shiro Shinobi was as enthusiastic as ever, "welcome back to another exciting episode of Republic City's favourite pastime! The championships might be a ways off, but there's still plenty of money matches in the meantime, and they're gonna knock your socks off! Speaking of 'welcome back', we're witnessing the rebirth of one of Republic City's oldest and most notorious Probending teams today, folks! That's right, after 14 years of inactivity, the Prison Breakers make their return, with a promising young waterbender in tow! Folks, put your hands together for Nakkoa, Kwan, and Korra!"

The Prison Breakers, including Korra, all swaggered out onto the stage as if they had been doing this their whole lives. All three of them showed off with their respective elements, Korra managing to restrain herself from using anything but water for now.

"Back in our day the uniforms weren't half this protective, and helmets weren't even a thing," Kwan laughed as the announcer gave the name of their first opponent: the Harbor Town Hog Monkeys, "Pretty sure Nakkoa disabled a few people permanently… might've even made them succumb to the injuries sometime after the games. She never came clean with me."

"Touché, sister," Nakkoa winked.

The moment the bell rang, however, Korra took Nakkoa's advice and jumped in with a hyperaggressive approach, slinging water like a hooligan towards her opponents' heads.

"She may be young," Shiro Shinobi commented, "But the Prison Breakers' new waterbender is just as feisty as her teammates! And, WHOA, they've done it! The Hog Monkeys are in the drink in what has to be one of the fastest knockouts in Probending history!"

"Huh," Nakkoa smirked as Korra and Kwan bumped fists, "you're a natural at this, kid. Here I was mentally preparing to tear you a new one once you had climbed outta the drink."

"Fight me, bitch." Korra punched her playfully. "I'm the Avatar, remember?"

The subsequent knockouts were not as swift as the first one, but the Prison Breakers successfully toppled four teams in a row before a name came up that gave Korra brief pause.

"...a new but promising rookie team, The Future Industries Fire Ferrets!"

Future Industries… Asami wasn't a bender so there was no way she could be part of the team, and when two teenaged boys and a fairly young man appeared on the field across from them, that suspicion was swiftly put to rest. Still, Korra recognized the logo—which meant either Asami or (much more likely) her father had sponsored these young men. Korra wondered what the story was behind that, but she wasn't about to ask during the match.

"Prison Breakers, huh?" the earthbender exclaimed, "oh man… try not to kill us, okay?"

"Bolin," the firebender lightly smacked him upside the head, "Don't be so dramatic."

"That waterbender did crack the last guy's helmet in case you didn't notice, Mako." The waterbender behind them called out. Korra simply crossed her arms and smirked.

"Then go ahead and focus on her, Hasook," the firebender shrugged.

"We're going to have to," Hasook countered, "Did you see how fast she was?" Her attack cracked the dude's helmet for a reason, bro."

"I'm sure you'll have bigger fish to fry than worrying about a kid your age busting your helmets," Korra teased, popping her knuckles and flexing her arms as she stepped back towards her appropriate section. "Live it up, boys."

Despite their ages, Mako, Bolin, and Hasook proved to be at the very least, elusive. Nakkoa and Kwan kept up their vicious assault, while Korra was forced into a more defensive position due to the Fire Ferrets trying to focus their attacks on her.

"Self-control, Korra…" she told herself as she bent backwards to avoid taking a stone disk to the chest, "bend the other elements and we're out, and if we're out, Nakkoa's gonna bitch at me till the Sky Bison come home…"

She was able to get her offensive edge back, however, when she was knocked back into the final zone right before the edge. With a corkscrewing flip, she used all four of her limbs to simultaneously draw up bolts of water and slung them at her attacks with enough gusto to put them back on the defensive. Even from her distant position, Korra was still able to help her team, and ultimately, after what had been a much longer fight than either Kwan or Nakkoa had expected, the Prison Breakers were once again victorious.

"Well-fought…" the earthbender complimented them after they were fished out of the drink.

"Hey, you too." Korra might have been aggressive, but all in all it had been good clean fun. Unalaq's lessons in meditation and patience had paid off. She did mentally remind herself to try and find Asami at some point though. She wanted to know the story as to why she and her father had come around to sponsoring these young men.

For now though: Probending. Defeating the Fire Ferrets had marked their 5th victory, and the following three matches were more proficient players that were more Kwan and Nakkoa's age. Despite being easily the youngest player on the field for any of these three matches, Korra's team emerged victorious. Nakkoa was the first one of them to fall into the drink, but all three took their share of plunges during rounds 6, 7, and 8. Despite these shortcomings, the remaining teammates always managed to claim the victory, and so even Nakkoa couldn't get mad at Korra for falling in a few times, especially not after she pulled a hat trick involving her singlehandedly took out all three of the Rhino Lions in Round 9.

"And would you look at that!" Shiro exclaimed, "That wily little waterbender the Prison Breakers found just carried the match! She's strong, but I've never seen a player move that fast before! Ladies and gentlemen, we've definitely got a rising star on our hands!"

Korra wondered when she would find "a team of assholes" that she could taunt with a vulgar display of power against, but the 10th round put those questions to rest rather swiftly. These 'White Falls Wolfbats' were smug and pretentious, and even gave Nakkoa negative vibes. In what was possibly the most profound connection the two had ever had, Korra glanced at Nakkoa, who simply nodded and smirked.

"Oof, you boys smell that," the waterbender leered, "it smells like angry women mixed with the scent of sore losers."

"Sore?" Korra immediately snapped back, "sure. Losers? I'd like to see you bastards try!"

"Darling, no, no," the waterbender retorted, "losing is *not* our style. You seem to like water enough though… let's arrange a meeting."

Much to Korra's extreme chagrin, this arrogant man managed to throw Korra straight into the drink early in the 1st match, but all this really did was successfully piss the hotheaded Avatar off to the point where her team won the 2nd round extremely quickly, and the 3rd rounded ended in a vicious but decisive deadlock, requiring a tiebreaker.

"You down for taking that smug bastard out, Korra?" Kwan put her hand on Korra's shoulder. The Wolfbats had sent up their waterbender, which meant the Prison Breakers were required to do the same in turn.

Korra stretched and smirked, licking her lips. "I'd be pissed if I was denied the chance." she quipped, "He's about to learn just who exactly he picked a fight with..."

Chapter Text

Korra's bold response left the sisters skeptical for a moment.

"You don't mean…" Kwan raised an eyebrow.

"They gotta deal with it." Korra responded, verifying the sisters' theory.

"Don't you dare until after you win," Nakkoa warned, "Because firstly, you're *going* to win, and secondly, if you disqualify us at this point I'm wringing your neck."

"She's not kidding," Kwan shook her head, "I'd even jump in to help her."

"I love how this team uses violence as a morale booster," Korra's sarcasm was dripping, although her expression betrayed her amusement, "Although with a name like 'Prison Breakers', I guess it makes sense now, doesn't it?"

"Just shaddup and get up there," Kwan laughed, pushing the little Avatar forward.

The tiebreaker was different from standard-fare Probending. The central platform was raised, indicating this was going to be a close-quarters fight. It was only when the announcer mentioned that "Reigning Champion Tahno will square off against feisty newcomer Korra!" that Korra even learned this smug bastard's name.

"Aren't you a little young to be playing with the adults?" Tahno taunted.

"Aren't you a little stupid to brag without backing it up?" Korra riposted.

"Hot," Tahno licked his finger mockingly before 'touching' the air and making a 'Tsss!' sound.

"If you knew who I was you'd be grovelling," Korra taunted, "and that's where you're gonna be in about 4.2 minutes—tops."

The bell rang and a fast-paced waterbending melee immediately broke out between the two. Korra was much faster than Tahno, but the older waterbender was as slippery as his words sounded, and his movements were precise and calculated. For a couple of minutes the two seemed at an impasse, with Korra itching to airbend him in the chest and blast him clear off the stand, but her determination to play by the rules kept her in check. It was only after Tahno attempted to grapple with the smaller waterbender that he realized his mistake. Korra was *much* stronger than she looked, and she grinned ear to ear as she grappled with Tahno in turn.

"Let's get wild!" she whispered, before bending backwards and effectively reverse-suplexing Tahno and throwing him from the platform. A bell rang, and Korra was declared the winner of the match. Her time had come.

"DEAL WITH IT!" she jeered, before backflipping away from the announcer and launching into perhaps the largest and most gloriously vulgar display of power the Probending Arena had ever witnessed. Blue flames spewed from her mouth as she juggled water and earth between her hands, and levitated herself with airbending. She finished this display by flinging the elements skyward, twirling on her heel and replacing the earth and water as if nothing had ever happened (and allowing the fire to dissipate), and all in all it had lasted less than five seconds.

"Did I see that right?" Shiro exclaimed, although this was more rhetorical than anything at this point, since the crowds were in just as much of awe as he was. "That waterbender just used earthbending… and firebending. And airbending! You've gotta be kidding me! Ladies and gentlemen, the Prison Breakers somehow got their hands on the Avatar of all people! The Avatar, here, playing in a Probending match! Wait… is that even legal?"

"It BETTER be legal!" Korra shouted, "I beat him fair and square just like all the others!"

"Good job..." Tahno jabbed as he left to go recuperate with his team, "...Uhvatar."

There was a mumbling among the referees for a moment, before they turned to Korra.

"The Avatar will be permitted to play as long as she continues to solely bend water!" They announced, much to Korra's smug pleasure. "Her… rather brazen displays of power… between matches are technically not illegal either, provided she does not strike anything or anyone, whether object, player, or spectator."

"Deal," Korra raised her fist. True to her word, she refrained from using any of her abilities besides waterbending for the rest of the time. Ultimately, there were 21 matches in all that day, which kept Korra busy until late in the afternoon. Of course, these matches were also broadcast on the radio, much to the interest and intrigue of the Red Lotus.

"So now all of Republic City knows the Avatar is nearby," Ming-Hua was the first one to make a comment about it to Zaheer. "It makes me wonder if this was such a bright idea."

"That's the brilliance of Kwan's old plan," a smirk crept over Zaheer's face, "they can know of her presence all they want… but she is untouchable. I do not need to see Korra's vulgar displays of power to get an idea of what they were."

"She's a show-off," Ming-Hua commented, seating herself next to Zaheer, for once devoid of any water tendrils at the moment, "And in a way, it's brilliant. By letting the city know just how powerful she is, they know that she is dangerous."

"And that is precisely why she is untouchable," Zaheer turned to face the waterbender, "Even if she is not accompanied by Nakkoa and Kwan, she detests being restrained, and will break free of almost any restriction imposed upon her. She is free."

"And what of our operation?" Ming-Hua raised her eyebrow, glancing around briefly to see if any water was within 'reach', "we can't hide up here forever, and with the Avatar revealed, I don't think it's even necessary anymore."

"We will move, if necessary," Zaheer remained calm, "but unless Avatar Korra somehow manages to completely turn around and reject everything we have taught her in the last 548 days—she kept count too, you know—then we could all be slain tomorrow and the Avatar returned to her White Lotus compound, and we still would win."

"Call it a woman's paranoia," Ming-Hua shook her head as Ghazan wandered in, "but dying doesn't exactly sound like a fun idea. How do we 'win' if we're dead?"

"Because the Avatar has embraced our ideals," Zaheer turned to look Ming-Hua (and by extension, Ghazan) in the eyes. "She will not be suppressed, and in her drive to bring balance to the world, do you imagine her as the type to let corrupt rulers exercise their power over her?"

"Kwan must've had the right idea with waiting all these damn years then," Ghazan quipped.

"But if the Avatar is there to regulate governments…" Ming-Hua piped up, "Who is there to regulate the Avatar? Outside of the Avatar State we could likely contain her, but what happens when you corner a beast? Did Nakkoa have a point with all her paranoia?"

If the Avatar does turn against us… especially if she tries to use the Avatar State…" Zaheer mused, "Then we end her and her cycle—permanently."

Ghazan and Ming-Hua both seemed surprised at this notion. "After all the ass we just busted training her into this unstoppable juggernaut?" Ghazan's jaw dropped, "now you're telling me that waiting 10 years for this moment was a waste of damn time? If we kill her off right after all the work we put into weaponizing her then what was the point?"

"Slaying the Avatar unprovoked would just create outrages and a power vacuum," Zaheer hummed, "If she cooperates, there will be no need to slay her. She will make her way down a path that is better for the world."

"And how do you intend to slay the Avatar should she go rogue?" Ming-Hua bent water from outside through the window and onto the stump where her left arm would have been (her right arm-stump was still devoid of any water tendril), "You would need her in the Avatar State to end the cycle permanently."

"Let me tell you the story of Avatar Zakura," Zaheer leafed through the book he was skimming before coming to a page bearing a stylized depiction of an Earth Kingdom woman bound in unbreakable chains. "Poison is one of the few things that can force an Avatar into the Avatar State against their will—and all but the strongest or purest poisons will get broken down as the Avatar Spirit fights to keep its host alive. However, even the Avatar State cannot break down pure liquid metal. If we need to resort to slaying the Avatar, we will do what those who tried and failed to slay Avatar Zakura 3500 years ago did."

"You've told us this story before," Ghazan crossed his arms, "wasn't she the one that basically metalbent that stuff right out of her?"

"She was," Zaheer nodded, "Because she did not stay and fight. Avatar Zakura was used to running for most of her life. The Order of the Avatar Slayer hunted her vigorously until the zenith of their work culminated in poisoning the Avatar. However, instead of trying to fight them, she fled. Tell me—is Korra the type clever enough to try and deal with her own injuries when there is an enemy in front of her, or would she try to fight the enemy while her body fought the poison?"

"Okay, I'll bite," Ming-Hua used her water tendril to take the bottle next to Zaheer and take a drink. "Did you seriously come up with this 'slay the Avatar' contingency plan all before we've even gotten the slightest notion that Avatar Korra might betray us?"

"Would you believe me if I answered affirmatively?" Zaheer replied with a smirk.

"Hmph," Ming-Hua gave and amused but short laugh as she took another drink. "Hopefully it remains just that then—a contingency plan."

"I wouldn't worry," Zaheer assured them. "Because of her love of power and our ability to provide it, I'm certain the Avatar is wrapped around our finger..."

Much like the last time they were in Republic City, Nakkoa got them a suite at the same hotel, which meant (to Korra's delight) they were spending at least another day here. The only difference this time was it was suite 461 instead of 428, but that was still an easy enough number for Korra to remember.

After getting cleaned up and taking a short power nap, Korra got up and took a walk. She went for a much more ragtag look than she usually did, this time only donning her shirt and pants, as well as the headband to conceal her forehead. Lessons from Ghazan and Kwan in the mountains had made her appreciate going barefooted slightly more, and for some reason, it felt right this time of the afternoon. That, and the Avatar cared little for her appearance, as indicated by her long, unkempt hair that hung undone behind her.

She wanted to find the Sato Estate without actually asking someone how to get there, because she wanted to talk to Asami again. Maybe after obtaining that knowledge, she would consider fixing up her appearance a bit more.

It went without saying, therefore, that when Korra nearly ran into Asami sitting in a car outside of her hotel, that Korra looked a bit shocked.

"Korra?" Asami stepped out and approached her, "Is that you?"

"Asami?" Korra blushed a little, "Damn, I didn't exactly want you to see me like this."

"And so your logic is to go out like that in public?" Asami chuckled, "The dress you wore last time was cute, but I'm hardly concerned about your clothes as much as wanting to know about the girl wearing them. How have you been? Where have you been?"

"Out in the mountains somewhere," Korra shrugged her right shoulder, pointing her thumb towards the north, "learning Avatar stuff I guess. I'm sure you don't want to hear lectures on focus points, meditation, and how to properly direct lightning, do you?"

"I'm more interested in what you did on your off-hours," Asami indicated, heading back to her car, "Here, hop in. let's go for a ride and we can catch up."

"Dressed like this?" Korra stammered.

"You're willing to go barefooted on the dirty street and suddenly concerned about the floor of my vehicle?" Asami laughed, "Come on, Korra. You look just fine."

Korra opened the passenger door and got comfortable. The car didn't have a roof, and so once Asami started it up and they got moving, the breeze felt nice against her skin. She wondered why she suddenly felt less secure about every little choice she met, and briefly wondered if Asami's presence had anything to do with her inability to fully think straight.

Regardless, Korra poured out her "life story" of the last year and a half, and listened attentively when Asami did the same. Asami obviously didn't have any bending to learn, but she had clearly spent more time on her test track, considering that even at 16½ years old, she was already driving through the streets of Republic City as expertly as any cab driver.

"My father's also been at work designing a great many other vehicles, and even looking into some kinds of weapons," Asami explained, "I can understand his desire to arm and defend himself though, after what we've been through."

"Shit, did something happen to you guys after I left?" Korra frowned, but otherwise enjoyed the wind in her hair, "I still owe your dad an apology, by the way."

"You already apologized, silly," Asami ruffled Korra's wild hair, "but no; we've been okay. It's just that it's better to have arms and not need them, than to need them and not have them."

"Fair point," Korra leaned back, closing her eyes, "but how have you been? Honestly, throwing myself into the Probending ring was the most fun I've had in over a year!"

"You were incredible," Asami's eyes lit up, "I was in the stands, and that's how I knew where to find you. After you left, I followed your truck."

"Anyone else and I'd say that's creepy," Korra laughed, "but if you didn't come looking for me, I would have come looking for you. Speaking of which… those Fire Ferrets…"

"Hey, I may not be a bender, but I'm a huge fan." Asami admitted, still expertly weaving through Republic City with no real destination in mind, "The Fire Ferrets were dirt-poor, but persistent. When I told my dad their story, it seemed even he sympathized with their situation. Of course, he had to share his life story with them before extending his offer to sponsor them… and the rest is history. They've been the Future Industries Fire Ferrets ever since."

"So how are they?" Korra looked at Asami again, admiring how her sleek black hair flowed behind her—a sharp contrast to her own thick mop which mostly just got in her face. "That Bolin guy seems pretty nice; Mako seems a bit more like the leader, and I dunno what to make of that waterbender guy."

"They're a decent group," Asami smiled, "Mako and Bolin are siblings, much like your friends Nakkoa and Kwan. Honestly if I had known that team was coming back I'd have offered to sponsor you guys… but it seems you didn't even need it. You're a natural, Korra."

"I wasn't aware of how skilled Nakkoa and Kwan were at the sport either," Korra admitted, "I guess my style really just meshed with theirs, and we became unstoppable." The size of their victory purse hadn't hurt either, and Korra still had a great deal of cash in her pockets that she planned to blow off on candy and other things later. Her trademark candy pouch (which had been lovingly refilled an hour earlier) was also still on her other hip.

"Well, I'm glad you had fun either way," Asami smiled as her car slowed to a stop in front of a massive building that Korra recognized right away: Sato Estate.

Chapter Text

Korra looked down at her clothes as they pulled up to Asami's estate. They were in fine condition, but the ragtag way she was wearing them, coupled with her bare feet, her headband, and her unkempt hair made the teen look much more like a vagabond than she was proud to admit—at least in front of someone she might have had feelings for.

"C'mon, really, Asami?" Korra turned to her friend.

"Since when did you care about your appearance this much?" Asami laughed as she flipped her hair and got out of the car, "Here I thought you'd be telling me to deal with it."

"It seems a bit rude to tell your father that," Korra admitted, "And I still think I left a bad impression with him the last time I was here."

"He's not going to throw you out," Asami assured her, "he's usually busy with this or that these days anyways, so we probably won't even run into him today."

"Is he fine with the Avatar trashing his estate?" Korra quipped as they went through the gates, her choice of words more joking than actual seriousness.

"He'll have to deal with it." Asami winked, inviting Korra inside. They crossed the threshold, and only after they were inside, Asami threw her arms around Korra to the Avatar's surprise.

"I missed you, Korra." she whispered as Korra's eyes bulged. She was not used to human contact outside of her parents, and it showed in the hesitant moments where Korra's arms simply stuck out before she wrapped them around Asami in turn. Kwan was friendly enough, and the rest of the Red Lotus wasn't cruel either, but they didn't exactly give her affectionate or friendly physical contact. Korra suddenly hungered for more of this contact, but didn't want to overbear on Asami. Not this soon, anyways.

"I missed you too," Korra sighed, nuzzling against Asami's shoulder. "It's been so long since I've actually had someone to interact with that wasn't trying to drill bending disciplines into my head. It's… nice to be able to not only relax, but to have someone to just talk to."

"It sounds like your adventures were less pleasant than you let on about," Asami pulled Korra off her shoulder, only to give her a concerned look as she analyzed Korra's face.

"I guess, maybe?" Korra scratched the back of her head and shrugged, "I enjoyed it… but there was definitely a social aspect of my life that I missed. I hope I'm not too clingy."

"You're fine," Asami put her hands gently on Korra's bare shoulders, "You're different from when we last met, but that's not a bad thing."

"It's not?" Korra tilted her head, her left eyebrow raised.

"You've grown; I've grown…" Asami began walking, cuing Korra to follow, "and I'm just glad we didn't grow apart during that time."

"Me too," Korra shook her head as they walked, "you're still my only real friend, Asami. That's important to me, and you're important to me."

"Maybe I should introduce you to the Fire Ferrets one of these days then," Asami offered, "I think you might get to like some of them. You have a very friendly demeanour, Korra. I don't imagine you'd have trouble getting along with them."

"Sure," Korra smiled, "I wouldn't mind having a few friends—nothing against you, of course… y'know; just branching out and having other people to talk to so I'm not always haranguing you all the time, you know?"

"I know, silly," Asami ruffled Korra's hair again, still walking as they talked; "I'm not going to get jealous if you have other friends. I'm friends with Mako and Bolin in particular, but that doesn't mean they've gone and pushed you out of my life."

"Well, for what it's worth, that means a lot to me," Korra smiled. "Thanks."

"My pleasure," Asami hummed, "and now, don't take this as criticism, but the more I look at your outfit, the more I'm curious about it."

"What about it?" Korra stopped walking, turning to give Asami a front-view of herself, complete with her knee-length pants, sleeveless shirt, her dark blue headband and the armband she wore on her right arm, "It's not much different from my everyday stuff except for a few extra accessories. You always seem to look your best though—what's up with that?"

"You say that like there's something wrong with indulging in a bit of fashion now and again," Asami giggled, her black and bronze attire that covered everything but her hands and head giving her a much more professional look than Korra could ever hope to achieve.

"Well, if you were wondering why I felt like I was underdressed," Korra elbowed her playfully, "now you know."

"We should get a picture together though!" Asami suggested, "as a way to remember each other in case we're separated for that long again. What do you say?"

"Do I have a choice?" Korra looked down at her ragtag outfit again.

"Not when you put it that way, silly" Asami giggled, taking Korra's hand and leading her into a fairly plain-looking room. A word to one of the butlers, and within 2 minutes, Asami and Korra were both smiling for the camera. Asami had to force herself to keep from giggling at Korra's goofy and unphotogenic smile, but Korra was thrilled.

"You look so great!" Korra analyzed the picture as they stepped back out and Korra resumed following Asami wherever she was leading her. "...I look like a hobo."

"You're fine," Asami laughed as she took one of Korra's hands, which had moved to her hair as if to try and straighten it, "I like the look… you seem… wild."

"Well, I did have wild adventures when I was up there," Korra commented, "I usually dressed a little better than this though."

"The headband is new," Asami pointed out, much to Korra's concern, "is there a story behind it?"

"Just a bending discipline," Korra slowly removed it, pushing her bangs to her right to reveal the red eye-tattoo that was centered around her chakra point. Asami's eyes widened.

"They taught you that!?" she stared at the marking with awe. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Very," Korra couldn't help but be a little smug, "but I handle danger like a pro. It's what I do."

"So what are you going to do now?" Asami raised her eyebrows, "now that you've mastered the elements and all that?"

"Well, I haven't exactly mastered them." Korra shrugged, "learning's the hard part though. After that it's just honing skills. After I finish that… well, I'm not sure. I guess I'll go around saving the world or something. I'll admit that I haven't thought that far ahead. How about you?"

"Obviously I'll eventually take over my father's company," Asami hummed as she started walking again, "but hopefully that doesn't have to happen for a long time. I know most of the ropes already, but dad's an intuitive and brilliant man. He's got plenty of years left in him."

"I hope so too," Korra nodded. "Although speaking of which… does he know I'm here?"

"I find it easier to ask forgiveness than permission,." Asami giggled, "but come now; I think you'll like what I've got planned for the evening…"

"Let me guess…" Korra eyeballed Asami's outfit and cosmetics again, "shopping, makeovers…"

"Oooh, not a bad idea," Asami's face lit up, "Bookmark that one though. This one's a little more simplistic. I figured a girl from the Water Tribes would appreciate water she could actually swim in rather than freeze to death in, hmm?"

"Huh…" Korra muttered, "I guess that's a valid point." She had hesitated; about to mention the comical 'Rite of Passage' her parents had put her through shortly before leaving the South Pole, but decided against it. That'd be a funny story for another time. "Lead on then."

The Sato Estate's swimming pool was almost as large as one of the massive reflecting pools the Southern Water Tribe Palace overlooked back home, except obviously much deeper and (Korra presumed) much warmer. She was so transfixed as she took in all the surroundings that she didn't even notice Asami disappearing into a small side room to get changed. Being unfamiliar with the notion of bathing suits, as well as being a waterbender who could instantaneously dry her clothes with a flick of her arms, Korra jumped into the water fully dressed without even giving it second thought. She spent more than a couple of minutes completely submerged, feeling more serene than she had in months by being completely immersed in her native element.

She emerged from the water just in time to see Asami stepping out in a little grey number that left almost nothing to the imagination as far as her arms and legs were concerned.

"Hey!" Korra waved, "you look great!" That was one way of putting it anyways. There were other ways Korra thought about putting it as well, but almost none of them were appropriate at this stage in their relationship. Asami dove rather gracefully into the water and appeared next to Korra a second later, looking her up and down and peeling a few wet bangs from Korra's face.

"Did you just jump straight in, clothes and all?" She laughed.

"Hey, I took off my headband," Korra replied, her tattoo half-concealed by her renegade bangs, "and I didn't exactly think I was supposed to strip to my smallclothes."

"That just means I need to make sure to get you an actual bathing suit when we do go shopping," Asami retorted, splashing Korra, "whenever that ends up being…"

"Oh ho," Korra took the splash as a goad, "are you challenging me?"

"Maybe I am," Asami playfully splashed Korra again.

"Hold it," Korra laughed, "you're seriously challenging a waterbender to a splash fight? Asami, I need you to stop for a moment and realize how crazy that is!"

"Well it's not a challenge if you're just going to cheat and use bending," Asami giggled, backstroking away from Korra to put a little distance between the two.

"I wasn't gonna cheat!" Korra spread her arms, a subtle little pout appearing on her face. "Okay, I totally was. Fine, no bending then?"

It went without saying that, had Korra used waterbending that Asami would have been overwhelmed within seconds, but in otherwise equal-grounded hand-to-hand, Asami was fast, even in the water. She had the swift, precise strikes of a chi-blocker, directing water at Korra almost as if she was bending it herself. Granted, neither of them were being too analytical and were really just there to enjoy themselves and each other's company. Korra did surprise Asami at one point by picking her straight up and out of the water, before stepping back to the edge of the pool and falling backwards—Asami still in her arms—back into the water. When they resurfaced, Asami pushed her in response.

"What was that all about?" she laughed.

"Me showing off," Korra admitted without the slightest hesitation. "You're light."

"Hurr, I'm the Avatar, look at my muscles and how strong I am, I never do my hair and I hate wearing shoes!" Asami did a mock imitation of Korra, which made the Avatar giggle.

"Damn, that was actually pretty good!" Korra clapped, "want me to lend you one of my spare outfits next time? Just ruffle your hair a bit and flex your arms every three steps and you could pull off a decent enough imitation Korra."

"Oh?" Asami raised her eyebrow, "not going to try imitating me?"

Korra plunged her head under the water only to resurface and flip her hair, wiping her forehead with her hand, "Oh, right. I'm Asami and I just got out of a hurricane but my hair is always so perfect cuz I always look like perfection incarnate!"

The real selling point in Korra's act was when she tried to run her fingers through her hair in imitation of Asami, only for her fingers to get caught halfway down.

"So you think I'm little miss perfect?" she quipped, smiling at Korra.

"The same way you think I'm miss muscular Avatar," Korra riposted. She may have had a very unrefined approach to social situations, but spending so much time around so many droll individuals at the Red Lotus compound had honed Korra's wit to be sharp to the point of nearly always having a comeback on the tip of her tongue.

"Obviously I didn't mean it as an insult," she added, for clarity's sake.

"Well think of it this way," if Asami had been insulted she made no indication of it, "after we shop, you're getting that makeover, and then you can have perfect hair like me."

"One of these days I think I'm just gonna shave my head." Korra floated lazily on her back.

"Cut your hair and I'll cut you," Asami threatened, a smirk betraying that she wasn't trying to make it a terse remark, "your messy hair is part of your charm, Korra. I like how thick it is and how long you wear it."

"So you've picked up on my sense of humour, huh?" Korra quipped, raising her finger, although still floating on her back.

"It wasn't hard," Asami teased. "You're still not very subtle, you know."

"I didn't know I was trying to be," Korra shrugged, disappearing below the water and resurfacing a moment later, before pausing.

"Have you ever been in a moment like this, and thought to yourself that you wished it would never end?" Korra turned to Asami with a more serious expression on her face.

"Apart from this one?" Asami raised her eyebrows, "Not really. Our last meeting was fairly nice, but not quite the type of thing I wanted to last forever."

"I'm probably just rambling then," Korra shrugged, "Sorry."

"Don't be," Asami swam over to Korra, putting her arm around her. "Honestly… I'm glad to see you again, Korra. I don't imagine you're staying too long, but it means a lot to me that you were going to come and find me."

"It means a lot to me that you actually DID come and find me," Korra replied, pulling herself out of the water, shaking her hair 'dry', and bending the water out of her clothes, "I'm not sure how much longer I'll be back up in the mountains after this."

"It won't last forever," Asami put her hands on Korra's shoulders. "And just think: I'm not going anywhere, and if you still wanted to meet the Fire Ferrets when you got back, I'm sure they'll still be around. There's always something for anyone in Republic City."

"Why do you think I'm consistently drawn to this place?" Korra laughed, tying her headband back around her forehead, "still… thanks for having me over. It was a great way to end my day."

"My pleasure," Asami smiled, "Just give me a moment to get changed and I'll take you home."

"You make that swimsuit look good though," Korra flashed Asami a wink and a goofy grin. "Just grab some shoes and take me home like that." There was no harm in a bit of dorky teenage flirting, she figured—and she wasn't lying when she voiced her opinion on Asami's appearance.

Asami giggled, and Korra was not sure what the signs she was getting were, and so she didn't press the issue. A few minutes later, Asami was dressed and they were flying down the roads of Republic City back to Korra's hotel, where they said their goodbyes and parted ways.

Korra was somewhat more energetic than Nakkoa and Kwan, being in her sprightly teen years rather than slightly past their prime like 37-year-old Nakkoa or 35-year-old Kwan. Even if they had been awake, however, Korra did not imagine they would have asked her about where she had gone; she had made it pretty obvious.

The dip in the Sato's swimming pool had been rather relaxing, but at this point it was late enough that Korra crawled into bed and was also asleep within minutes, her dreams full of her recent adventures. To come back to Republic City after a year and a half away from almost all of society had been a breath of fresh air. So sound asleep were Korra and the sisters, however, that even in the dead of night several hours later, none of them even stirred when the lock on their room clicked open.

Chapter Text

A hunched figure appeared in the doorway of Suite 461 before silently closing the door behind him. He squinted in the darkness, although remembered a moment later that he had swiped a pair of night-vision goggles from one of those masked hooligans that sometimes ran around the city's back-alleys. A quick glance around the room revealed a sleeping Nakkoa as well as a snoring Kwan, and near the entrance to the room on a slightly smaller bed was Avatar Korra, spread-eagled and tangled in her sheets, her left leg bent towards her body, and her right leg where her pillow ought to have been. Her right arm was tangled somewhere in her sheets, her left arm dangled off the side of the bed, and her head was nestled into the crook of her left shoulder. Really, it was an almost comical sight, and today Wang Fire learned that the Avatar was a very active sleeper.

As much as he did not want to wake her, he did what he had to, gently tapping her awake. Korra gasped, struggling in her sheets for a moment before catching her breath. Fortunately, Wang Fire had removed his mask before she had seen it.

"Who are you?" She mumbled, squinting as her eyes tried to adjust to the dark.

"It's none other than the master of stealth and spy-mastery himself… Wang Fire!" the old man introduced himself in little more than a whisper. "Follow me."

Whether she trusted him or it was too early for her to realize the risks, Korra slowly climbed out of bed, her right arm still tangled in a jumble of sheets that dragged to her side as they stepped out of the room. Korra winced at the dim hall lights, and whimpered in complaint.

"Is it important?" she mumbled.

"It is a message from Wang Fire, so of course it's important!" Wang Fire handed her a small red box. "This belongs to you. Take it, and know that you are in great danger. Worry not though—you have the protection of your parents, former Fire Lord Zuko, Airbending master Tenzin, and of course… the great Wang Fire himself!"

"Isn't Wang Fire just Sokka though?" Korra mumbled, scratching her butt with her left hand since the sheet around her other arm effectively turned her hand into a cloth-shaped club. She had heard a great many things about the legendary Wang Fire in her day, both from Katara and also from other urban legends, many of which were tied to Sokka's tale. "And I'm not going back to that prison compound thing, but thanks for the tip."

"That's a mystery for you to learn on your own, Avatar." Wang Fire waggled his finger in Korra's face. Korra was still completely out of it, and only took the box from Wang Fire once the itch on her backside had dissipated.

"'Kay," Korra mumbled, smacking her lips. "Whatever you say, dude. Goodnight."

With that, she before stumping back inside, closing and locking the door behind her, tossing the small package onto the nearby nightstand before just slumping unceremoniously back onto her bed and falling back asleep immediately.

As eccentric as that meeting had been, it had actually been useful for Wang Fire, who was of course, in fact Sokka. His trail of the Avatar in Republic City had gone cold for 548 days, and he only had a lead after he had heard the Probending matches on the radio. With Nakkoa and Kwan, however, Sokka had a few theories as to where all of this was leading, and much to his dismay, none of it looked good.

He took this information and telephoned Tenzin right away. He could pass the word on to Tonraq and Senna, as well as to (former) Fire Lord Zuko, if needs be. He had a shrewd theory that Korra was in grave danger, and he hoped to help foil the schemes before they came to fruition.

His first order of business was to contact Tenzin. The morning was still fairly young, but fortunately for him, Air Temple Island was busy this time of morning.

"Hello?" not to say that Tenzin was cheerful and peppy this early in the morning, especially not with three young children to deal with.

"Master Tenzin," Wang Fire's wacky voice came over the other line, "Apologies for the earliness of the hour, but I call with dire news regarding the Avatar."

"Dire news?" Tenzin was suddenly slightly more awake. Sokka might have become an eccentric man in his later years, but he was honest and he was reliable—not one to lead people on like this unless it was serious. "Is she okay? What happened to her?"

Tenzin did not listen to the radio much, but some of the staff on Air Temple Island did, and he overheard some of the raving about the Avatar being spotted at a Probending match, which in turn meant he knew Korra was in Republic City. All the while Korra's closest connections had believed she was in the Northern Water Tribe, but Unalaq telephoned Tenzin shortly after Korra's appearance in Republic City to clarify that 'The Avatar had earned a vacation day'. However, Sokka had done a lot more digging, and had unearthed the connection between Nakkoa, Kwan, and the Red Lotus.

"She's safe… but only for the moment," Sokka replied, his wacky tone dissolving completely, "I did a bit of snooping like I so often do, and came to the conclusion that all of us: you, me, my sister, Korra, her parents… everyone… have been duped."

"Korra," Tenzin gasped, "where is she?"

"5th Nation Hotel," Sokka answered, "Suite 461. You and I can't get to her alone though; we need backup—the usual suspects. I don't think Korra will come willingly, and if we start a scene, the sisters attack, and Korra either fights with them, fights against them, or runs off to wherever the rest of the Red Lotus are hiding. It's too risky to pluck her from the suite."

"Right, right," Tenzin shook his head, "but how were we fooled? Who did it?"

"Nakkoa and Kwan," Sokka replied, "After a bit of snooping, I discovered compelling evidence that leads me to believe they are both Red Lotus sleeper agents."

"No…" Tenzin muttered softly, "After all these years…"

"The catch," Sokka warned, "is that Avatar Korra has put her full trust into them. I was at the Probending Arena when I saw them. Barring that they made an incredible and undefeated team, I don't think there's a nice way to break it to her that she's in the hands of the Red Lotus."

"Then we need to act," Tenzin asserted, "we need to learn where they're going, when they're going, and how to corner them."

"Don't worry," Sokka promised, "I'm on it."

Fortunately for Nakkoa and Kwan's efforts, Korra remained heavily asleep since her rest had been disrupted last night by Wang Fire's (Sokka's) sudden appearance. While neither of the sisters were aware that he had picked the lock last night, they took advantage of Korra being asleep by making an important telephone call as well.

"Unalaq," Nakkoa warned, "I think we're being followed."

"Followed?" Unalaq's voice came up on the other line, "Tell me, where is Korra?"

"It's 7AM." Nakkoa retorted, "Take a guess."

To comically prove her point, she extended the receiver over Korra's mouth, letting Unalaq hear his niece's snoring in full detail for a few seconds before returning.

"So who is following you? What have they done?"

"When we first got to Republic City, there was an old man named Wang Fire on the boat with us. We didn't think much of him, but apparently he's still here 549 days later, and he found us. I think he suspects us."

"Then it is imperative that you return as soon as you are able," Unalaq warned, "We cannot jeopardize the Avatar."

"Should we wake her up now then?" Nakkoa narrowed her eyebrows.

"Nothing so drastic," Unalaq almost chuckled, "if you rile her up and get her hair standing on edge, she will be volatile. Keep her calm, let her wake up on her own, and then politely let her know it's time to go back to the compound. Buy her some candy or something if you must, but make sure she is here by 4PM, and not a moment later."

"Right then," Nakkoa muttered, "Until then…" she hung up, glancing at Kwan.

"Sister," she ordered, "you know what to do."

"I always pay though," Kwan complained.

"That's because you're so good at it" Nakkoa teasingly kissed Kwan's forehead, "now get moving, baby sister! We've got work to do."

"Hey," Kwan noticed something different about her sister, "is everything alright?"

"Of course," Nakko ruffled Kwan's hair, "what makes you think otherwise?"

"You being happy like this," Kwan frowned, "like it or not, it ain't common. You're not contemplatin' suicide or anything now are ya?"

"Kwan, of all the stupid things to suggest, I'm actually insulted by this one," Nakkoa scoffed, "I'm a little nervous about the whole being followed thing, but I'm not about to do anything suicidal or anything that stupid."

"Good," Kwan smiled, "Look, I know we sometimes clash and everything, but… if you ever need to talk; if you ever need to just let somethin' out… I'm here. You come before the Red Lotus, you come before the Agni Kais… and as long as she doesn't provoke ya or anythin' of the sort, I'll even put you before Korra."

"That's not something I hear every day." Nakkoa shook Kwan's hand, "consider it done then."

"Good," Kwan sighed in relief, "because believe it or not you were stressin' me out with all that talk about killin' the poor kid. Remember: she's the prize not the target. Now let's just do what Unalaq told us to and get this all over with."

Instead of warning his comrades about Wang Fire, however, Unalaq came up with a different idea. He needed the Avatar alive, and ideally, in his grasp for the inevitable approach of Harmonic Convergence. This would require him to sever his connections with the Red Lotus lest he get framed as well. He wouldn't be able to get the Avatar to open the portals if he was in prison.

A devious plan of backstabbery flowed through his mind at that moment, as he once again picked up the receiver.

The Southern Water Tribe Palace was restless after Tenzin's warning, but Tonraq and Senna had barely gotten through talking to him when the telephone rang once again.

"Hello, brother," Unalaq's voice was clear as day.

"Brother," Tonraq grunted, "What is this about? Do you have word of my daughter?"

"I do, as a matter of fact," Unalaq's lip curled into a smirk that he was glad no one could see. There was a smug sense of satisfaction for him, knowing that he had been teaching his niece right under her father's very nose. "She is in the hands of Red Lotus sleeper agents, and will be transported back to a compound in the mountains above Republic City by 4PM today. If we have the aid of you and your wife, we can not only assure your daughter's safety, but also apprehend these wanted criminals all at once."

"Sleeper agents, you say?" Tonraq gave pause. "And who might they be?"

"You might know them as Nakkoa and Kwan," Unalaq smirked, "but the Republic City Justice Records know them as Shenzi and Ikiza: former Triad members, and Red Lotus sleepers."

"NO!" Tonraq slammed the receiver down, inevitably hanging up on Unalaq, who was not even bothered by it as he heard his brother's reaction.

"After all these years…" he fumed, turning to face Senna, "Nakkoa may have been shady… but Kwan too? They played us for fools, and now they have our child!"

"Then let's go and fix that, shall we?" Senna raised her eyebrow. Raising Korra had honed her into a mellow and patient woman, but there were times like this when she pulled out all the stops and became as protective as a mama bear. When it came to the notion of Korra being in danger, she couldn't care less whether her daughter was the Avatar or an ordinary nonbender without a hint of her mother or father's waterbending skills. What mattered to her was that this was her child, and she was in the hands of known terrorists and/or terrorist conspirators.

"I couldn't agree more," Tonraq put an arm around her, "we need to move, and fast."

Fortunately, such were the perks of being the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe after Sokka had stepped down. Tonraq and Senna took an airship and beelined it for Republic City, knowing full well that each minute that passed put Korra at a higher and higher risk. What they did not know, however, was how well they were playing right into Unalaq's hands.

Former Fire Lord Zuko, who Tenzin had contacted immediately after talking with Wang Fire, had also played right into Unalaq's ploy, which he had thus far also managed to keep away from the ears of the other Red Lotus members. He was going to wash his hands of this event, and turn his focuses to Korra after all of this mess was sorted out and the criminals had all been properly placed into prison(s). As far as anyone else was concerned though, nothing unusual was going on here, and there was nothing to see.

It was around noon when Korra finally woke up for the day. She had been out late, and had had the weirdest dream about some old guy giving her a box and telling her about some evil plot against her. It was only after she went to the bathroom and poured water on her head to wake herself up, that she realized maybe it had not been a dream. A small red box sat haphazardly on her nightstand, and when she opened it, she was not sure what to make of the contents.

"A Wang Fire beard?" She looked at the comical prop beard which looked uncannily like the one the real Wang Fire had, except it was brown instead of white.

"Oh," Nakkoa was the one to interrupt Korra's thoughts, "you're finally awake. As much as I'm sure you're enjoying your excursion in Republic City, we still have work to do, and you've still got an Avatar State to master."

"So soon?" Korra complained as she haphazardly started getting dressed without regard to whether or not Nakkoa and Kwan were watching, "the Avatar State isn't going anywhere, but I'm only a kid once."

"And Republic City isn't going anywhere either," Nakkoa laughed, "it'll be here when we come back, and I can tell you already, it's not likely to be another year and a half."

"Good," Korra sighed in relief as she tied her headband back over her tattoo, "not that I didn't enjoy and appreciate all the things I was taught, but it's nice to be able to actually socialize more with people who aren't my stern teachers."

"Well then," Nakkoa raised her eyebrows, "All the more reason to get that under your belt, wouldn't you say? Get packing though—we need to head out soon."

Korra's late sleeping habits had allowed a great many things to happen around her. Tonraq and Senna had made it to the Republic City Police Station, where Chief Lin BeiFong gave them the briefing of the situation.

"Would that I could drop everything and go with you," Lin sighed, "but Republic City's binding me much tigher than it should be right now. Fortunately, we have the coordinates on the Red Lotus' target location, and my accomplice here can provide you a way to get there. Give the others my regards, if possible."

"That seems a bit soft for the notorious Lin BeiFong," Toniraq couldn't help but quip.

"The Avatar's safety is at stake," she reminded him, "Even I am concerned, believe it or not. We can discuss pleasantries later though. First and foremost, make sure your daughter is safe."

They didn't need to be told twice, and within a few minutes, they had met Lin's "accomplice": a young but cunning metalbender named Kuvira, who briefed them on what the others intended to do once they raided the compound.

"We need to rendezvous with Sokka, Zuko, and Tenzin, in order to help subdue the Red Lotus criminals," she explained, "obviously we anticipated that one or both of you would go after the Avatar to pluck her from the inevitable chaos that will ensue."

"I'll go," Senna volunteered, "Tonraq's much more the fighter, and so his skill would be much more integral to the success of the others."

"Right then," Kuvira nodded, as they reached a small obscure location just out of sight of the compound. "Then at this point, we wait for our cues before moving in. As soon as the truck carrying the Avatar arrives, we need to strike."

True to Kuvira's words, Tenzin, Zuko, and Sokka were waiting for the moment of truth as well, and had secured themselves so carefully that not even Zaheer or Ming-Hua, as hyper-aware as they often were, knew of their presence—or that Unalaq had already vacated the premises. Naturally, this meant that Nakkoa and Kwan had no clue what kind of trap they were driving into; and Korra, who was once again in the back of the truck with Naga, didn't suspect a thing.

As such, after she stepped out of the truck, she was quite surprised when there was suddenly a huge commotion, with Nakkoa, Kwan, and the Red Lotus attacking unknown assailants, two of which looked like her parents from a distance. Before Korra could get a closer look, however, there was a ringing pain in her forehead; which made her see stars, and then see black.

Chapter Text

There was chaos and confusion, and neither Zaheer, Ming-Hua, P'Li, Ghazan, Kwan, or Nakkoa even realized that Unalaq was nowhere to be found. Four of them were too busy holding back the onslaught of attacks from Zuko, Tonraq, Senna, Kuvira, Tenzin, and even Sokka, whose trusty boomerang-arm was as good now as it was back in his prime. It was only after Nakkoa made a break for it that they realized what was happening. Nakkoa had snapped, and in a moment of paranoia and fear for her life, had taken Korra. Kwan knew what this meant, and none of the outcomes were good.

"Nakkoa!" She called out, "Naki… SHENZI!" she screamed, betraying her sister's real name, "We've been over this a dozen times! Don't do this, Shenzi!"

Nakkoa did not turn around, however. She was already in the air with a dizzy and unconscious Korra slung over her shoulder, the flames from her feet and free arm keeping her off the ground. "I do what I must… Ikiza."

"Damn it all to oblivion and beyond…" Kwan swore as she launched herself from rock to rock with her own bending, remaining in hot pursuit of her sister.

"She's got Korra!" Kuvira shouted. Tonraq and Senna briefly exchanged looks as they avoided an onslaught of ice and lava from Ming-Hua and Ghazan. None of them had heard any of the exchange apart from Kwan screaming her sister's name.

"You're stronger," Senna turned to her husband, "I'm going after them!" The situation was too tense and fast-paced for any debate, and so she curved around the two Red Lotus benders before taking off straight after Nakkoa and Kwan. Ghazan and Ming-Hua tried briefly to slip her up, but pressured attacks from Tenzin, Tonraq, and Kuvira made them reassess their priorities.

Kwan was swift, and was also grateful that her sister had to deal with Korra's weight alongside her own. Unhindered, there would have been no way to catch up.

However, as if Kwan's problems weren't already stacking high enough, a quick glance behind her indicated that a furious waterbender was in hot pursuit of her now, with speed that was terrifyingly similar to that of Korra's speed in the Probending arena. With a drawn-out sigh, she stopped to try and explain that she was not in fact trying to kidnap Korra, but was trying to prevent Nakkoa from doing exactly that.

Once Senna came into view though, it was clear that there was not going to be any diplomacy. Huge tendrils of water and ice came at her from every direction, forcing her to pull up thick slabs of rock, all of which were reduced to rubble within seconds. A massive wall of water appeared between them, and the next slab of rock Kwan brought up to defend herself was immediately peppered in thousands of sharp, icy daggers.

"Lady!" Kwan snapped, now defending herself with lava, "I ain't tryin'a kill your kid! I'm the one tryin'a stop the woman that IS tryin'a kill 'er!"

"I know you enough, Red Lotus." Senna growled, drawing more water from the snow and ice of the mountains around them, "I can dismiss Desert Storm, but I am here to politely inform you that you are to Never. Touch. My. Child. AGAIN!" Each word was pronounced with a vicious water strike that kept Kwan on her toes. She sighed again, realizing that there was no way she'd be able to catch up to Nakkoa at this rate.

"Fine," she cracked her knuckles after climbing out of a significant hold in the cliffside that she had been smashed into. "You want another fight, lady? I'll give you a fight!"

A moment later, Senna's waterbending was met with very fluid movements from Kwan, who used lavabending to great effect. Senna knew that Kwan would not let her pass, and so for now she focused on the enemy she had in her grasp. If Nakkoa had wanted Korra dead, she could have just thrown her from the sky and let her become little more than a stain upon the jagged rocks below. Not that it was much of a reassurance, but Senna was also secretly banking on Korra being powerful enough to fight off her captor. She just hoped that she was right.

Nakkoa and Kwan might have been able to tip the tides in favour of the Red Lotus had they stuck around, although the Avatar would have inevitably tipped the scales. Unalaq's disappearance was not doing them any favours either, and but even when outnumbered 4 to 5 (or perhaps four plus Sokka), they held their own. Zuko's abilities made it clear why he had been such a formidable leader back in his Firelord years, and Kuvira, who was significantly younger than everyone else present, proved to be a prodigious metalbending expert who used small, swift projectiles to strike and disable her foes.

Even when cornered though, the Red Lotus was not defenseless. Zaheer was swift and elusive, even without any bending, and had a tendency to rush the men attacking him. Ghazan and P'Li were slinging lava and combustion beams in every direction, but with precision rather than haphazard attacks. Ming-Hua served as the hybrid between melee and ranged fighting, with her long tendrils giving her plenty of distance, but still also needing to stay close enough to not require overreaching. After Ghazan surrounded them with lava, it became clear that this was going to be a long stakeout. Nevertheless, Tenzin and the others pressed on.

Korra woke to find herself completely restrained against a wall. Her arms were spread on either side, and even her legs were apart at a roughly 60-degree angle. Her toes could not touch the floor, but she couldn't turn her head to see what she was being restrained against. It was metal for sure, but she couldn't bend it; it had to be platinum or one of those other metals deemed "too pure" to bend.

She also realized that she had been stripped of most of her clothing apart from her shirt, pants, and headband. She tried to shout, but it came out as little more than a gargled mutter due to a metal cord that was wrapped around her mouth. She spewed a fireball, although realized right away that this would be dangerous to try too much because the metal in her mouth started to heat up, and if Korra continued, it would undoubtedly permanently sear the flesh around and inside her mouth. Her forehead still stung, and so she'd much rather not risk trying to fire off a blast from her forehead. P'Li had done a good job at drilling it into the young Avatar's head that even the slightest lack of focus with this dangerous ability could be lethal.

All in all, Korra's expression made it clear that she was terrified. For what seemed like eternity, she remained there, motionless, just trying to control her somewhat frantic breathing. What had happened to her? Why was she here, and who had brought her here? What were they going to do with her, and where were the others?

Eventually, however, these questions were answered, and Korra's eyes widened as Nakkoa stepped back into the room.

"So, you're awake," she frowned. "I'm sorry, Avatar. I cannot allow this to happen." There was something off about her too—her posture was slouched and her expression was manic.

"Hrr?" Korra muttered through her bonds.

"We don't need another Interregnum Cycle…" she brandished a kunai, walking slowly towards Korra, "and so I'm here to prevent that from happening. Months of lies and reassurances were not convincing enough to fool me. You're a danger that needs to be… removed."

Korra suddenly felt a sharp pain in her stomach as a deft flick of Nakkoa's arm had launched the blade straight into her gut. Korra screamed, her body tensing up. Metal or not, that pain translated to fury, and Korra spewed a stream of flame so powerful that it actually reached Nakkoa and caused her to stagger back, singing her hair. Korra's muscles tensed up to the point where it both forced the kunai right out of her stomach, and the brace on her right arm looked about to give way—and she was not even in the Avatar State.

"You're cute when you're angry." Nakkoa licked her lips, suddenly face-to-face with Korra, "and I'm going to make you scream."

One of Nakkoa's hands moved to Korra's wrist, the other moving to tightly grip her neck. She could feel the Avatar's power surging through her as her body tried to pull herself free of her restraints. If there was anything Nakkoa had learned about Korra in the year and a half of being with her, it was that the teen loathed being restrained above nearly all else. Zaheer had definitely succeeded in drilling the idea into her head that she was unrestrainable.

Korra's breath was too frantic for her to try breathing fire again, which was fortunate for her mouth considering the heat of the metal. Beads of sweat formed on her exposed face, arms, feet, and lower legs, and it was clear that barring her bleeding, something else was wrong.

"The knife was poisoned, by the way," Nakkoa quipped, her grip tightening against Korra's wrist and neck, "nothing too deadly, especially if those stories about your interregnums willing it out of them are true… but it's going to hurt—a lot. You decide how long you want to live, girl."

Nakkoa followed this remark up by channelling flames from her hands. Korra could feel the searing heat against her right wrist and on the left side of her neck; an eerie sound of sizzling flesh and sharp pain that soon dulled as an acrid smell that Korra knew was hers filled the air. The scream that escaped her lips was a much higher and more agonized one. The burns wouldn't kill her, but they were still extremely painful. The water that congregated in her eyes was a direct result of that pain.

Unfortunately for Nakkoa, this seemed to be what set the Avatar off. Korra's eyes flickered, and after a moment she tensed up again as she mustered her strength. Avatar-State Korra was starting to break the unbendable restraints in a way regular Korra could not.

"By the spirits, you're cute when you're furious like this." Nakkoa grinned and slapped Korra's face repeatedly, suddenly showing a rather blatant disregard for her own safety, "But come; come at me with every fibre of hatred in your being. Throw safety to the wind, and let your fury consume you… Accept death's embrace, and know as you take your last breaths… that you do not belong in this world."

Whether it was Nakkoa's sharp words or just a coincidence, Korra channeled her strength into ripping herself free from the metallic constraints. Her right arm came first, and so furious was she that she hardly noticed the gash she got on her upper forearm as she tore herself out of her bonds. She ripped her left arm free and then used her arms to tear her legs out before immediately springing at Nakkoa with some of the swiftest and fiercest attacks Nakkoa had ever seen a single individual perform. Korra had demonstrated during her time at the training compound as well as at the Probending Arena that she was extremely fast, and none of the other Red Lotus members had ever come up with a proper explanation for how the short, athletic Water Tribe girl had attained a speed worthy of making an airbender blush. Right now, however, Korra was fixated on Nakkoa, who fired up her hands and feet, and fled. She zigzagged through the small maze as Korra smashed through every barrier between them, with Nakkoa heading for the surface. If she could reach the sky, she might be able to escape.

Incidentally, the stunt between Nakkoa and Korra wound up costing the Red Lotus the defensive edge they had. Everyone paused as they heard a loud blast from one of the distant mountains. A streak of flame was shooting westward through the sky, but there was another much larger one in hot pursuit (for it had been Korra who had smashed through the mountainside). It only took a moment for P'Li, Ming-Hua, Zaheer, and Ghazan to turn around before Zuko and Kuvira subdued them, with Tenzin and Tonraq joining in a split-second later. P'Li nearly freed them as she focused a combustion blast at the center of their assailants, but Sokka's swift throwing arm let his boomerang strike her in the forehead. There was a slight crackling sound, but fortunately for everyone there (both Red Lotus and their enemies), no one got blown up that day.

"Right then," Zaheer's eyes darted around, the realization that they lost finally sinking in. "Cage us if you must. Nothing is permanent in a world where order is so delicate. Humanity meticulously and caringly props it up, hoping it will last, not realizing that chaos is the natural order. One does not simply instigate chaos; it will happen on its own."

"Perhaps if you make your intentions a little clearer," Zuko threatened, "your sentences will be lighter. More cooperation means more freedom, Zaheer."

"39 years instead of 40?" Zaheer laughed, "No; We have done what we need to do. The Avatar—assuming she survives—is on a better path to creating a new world. Jail us if we must, but we have already succeeded—while you now have a weaponized Avatar on your hands."

"Transporting these hooligans is going to be a nightmare," Sokka warned, and it was no mystery why. "Now that they're subdued though, I think we can handle 'em, eh, Zuko?"

"I would be honoured to assist in any way I can as well," Kuvira requested. "Let Chief Tonraq go after his daughter. We've got this."

"There are two more to apprehend anyways," Tonraq growled, watching as the two streaks of flame continued shooting off to the west. "One of them is in the sky, and the other's likely in an altercation with my wife."

Tonraq had been only half-right in this regard. Senna had put up a remarkable fight that Kwan could not help but be impressed with, but the little lavabender was almost overwhelming with her fierce bending skills, and Senna really didn't want to get half her face or body burned off. To her surprise and shock, they had actually not been far from where Nakkoa had taken Korra, but both of them were caught off-guard when Nakkoa had slipped through the a small fissure in a nearby mountainside. Even more shocking was when a furious Korra smashed through the rock as well, her eyes glowing and her flames appearing with an almost purplish hue as she shot after Nakkoa. Kwan was the one to recover from the moment first, and in that moment she surrounded Senna with large earthen spikes that removed any chance of movement.

"Now listen here!" she growled, pointing a stone knife to Senna's neck, "You've done screwed up and prevented me from beatin' some sense into my sister, and now there's no telling what the hell she's done to your kid. If you'll excuse me, I've gotta hunt 'em down now!"

"You lay so much as a finger on her and so help me I will rip out your entrails and bathe in your blood!" It war rare for Senna to lose her cool like this, but the horrifying reality that she could very well outlive her only daughter was not a kind thought for any loving parent to think about, especially when they were trapped and helpless to do anything about it.

Kwan did not reply to Senna's warning, however, and instead launched herself over the cliffs, and took off in hot pursuit of the flying firebenders, leaving Senna alone in the middle of nowhere.

The only individual in these mountains that had not engaged in any combat thus far had been Naga. She had taken off into the mountains shortly after she saw Nakkoa kidnap her master, and then by extent, after Kwan and Senna. The terrain was hellish to navigate for people or creatures without bending abilities, but after several minutes of silence, Naga had followed Korra's trail to Senna instead.

"Naga!" Senna was no Korra, but she had had to put up with the polar bear-dog for over a decade, and had apparently done a good enough job that Naga trusted her.

"Hey girl…" Senna whispered, her exhaustion finally catching up to her as her adrenaline started to face, "get me out of here… we need to find dad…"

'Dad', of course, referring to the name by which Korra referred to Tonraq. Fortunately, it seemed that it was enough for Naga to go after, and so they managed to return shortly after the rest of the Red Lotus had been apprehended.

"Well…" Tonraq muttered as Naga and an exhausted Senna came riding into view, "that saves a lot of searching… but it presents a lot more problems." He raced towards them as they approached, putting his arms around Senna as he helped her down from Naga's back. "Are you okay? What happened to Kwan? Where's Korra?"

"Kwan went after them," Senna glanced to the west, "one of those blue comets you see out west is her. Naga's the only reason I'm here at all, and Korra is out of our reach."

"The only thing out that way is the Wulong Forest," Tonraq mused.

"What better place for an amped-up Avatar running on pure hatred to have a battle with a psychotic firebender that's trying to kill her?" Senna quipped. "That's where she'll be."

Chapter Text

For the moment the Wulong Forest was exactly where Nakkoa and Korra ended up, although it was less of a fight and more an attempted beatdown. Nakkoa was swift and elusive, but Korra kept heavy pressure on her with fast and ruthlessly powerful attacks. Her adrenaline was surging to the point where the pain in her neck, stomach, and right arm were completely disregarded. If the poison was still inside her, it was not working very well. The Avatar State seemed to have broken it down one way or another, or perhaps she was just so focused on her goal that everything else simply took a back burner.

Somewhere mid-flight, Korra tore her headband off and, exploiting her current focused state, began firing off powerful combustion beams at Nakkoa in rapid succession, keeping the firebender on the run. Nakkoa dove down into the rock column maze, zigzagging through the towering formations, trying to shake Korra. Much to her misfortune, however, Korra was persistent, smashing anything that got in her way. Sometime after entering the Avatar State she had also flat-out torn the metal cable from her mouth with pure brute force, and like a small, angry dragon she continued to assault Nakkoa with the same blue fire the woman had taught her; also throwing in blasts of earth, and even pulling moisture from the air into the same kind of sharp, vicious water strikes she had used in the Probending arena.

Eventually Nakkoa knew that she would have to stand her ground, and so after a particularly swift feint, she pivoted around and launched a powerful blast of lightning at the Avatar. Whether it was the Avatar State reacting or Korra's own seemingly microsecond reaction times, she only took a small portion of the hit, and managed to redirect the rest into a rock column, obliterating it.

"If this is where I fall, then so be it!" She chanted, staying evasive, "My blood will be on your hands and you'll be no different from… them!"

Korra's mind processed this statement but in her current state she thought little of it, and instead knocked Nakkoa clean off the column she had jumped up onto, tackling her to the ground. This time it was Korra who seized Nakkoa around the neck, and the firebender knew that she was finished, to the point where she didn't even try to break free.

"The world… doesn't need… another… Interregnum… Cycle…" Nakkoa gasped as Korra all but forced the breath out of her. However, it seemed the wily firebender still had one more defensive trick up her sleeve. With what would have been her final breath, she spewed a blast of blue fire at Korra's face that was forceful enough to knock her back. Korra reeled, giving Nakkoa time to scamper back to the skies, and thus the chase resumed.

Her freedom did not last long though. Right as she started jumping from rock column to rock column, Korra began firing off combustion beams with such ferocity that they cut through columns before detonating, and this threw Nakkoa off-balance. Korra caught up to her again moments later, only to find herself slammed against a cliff wall, a manic Nakkoa right in her face as if unafraid of the enraged Avatar channelling all her energy and hatred into trying to destroy her. Both Nakkoa and Korra knew one of them was not walking away from this fight.

"Tell me, little one," she channeled lightning through her hands, forcefully electrocuting Korra in the hopes of trying to force her into submission, "do you fear death?"

"Tell me," Korra seethed in an unnaturally commanding voice, "Do you!?"

In a moment, Korra had broken free, and formed an enormous ice hook on her arm that she plunged right through Nakkoa's vitals, lifting the mortally wounded firebender off the ground for a moment as a sort of vulgar trophy.

"Blood… doesn't… wash off…" These became Nakkoa's final words as she breathed her last and gave up the ghost. Korra threw Nakkoa's corpse to the ground and for a moment simply seethed. She followed this up with perhaps the most vulgar display of power-abuse and elemental release she had ever performed, but now that her quarry was dead, it seemed that Korra's mind started to shut down, and she began to slow as her pain caught up to her, where her 15-year-old body quickly realized it was more than she was able to properly handle. She sunk to her knees, and then to her hands, before collapsing entirely.

Nobody but Kwan would ever know this for sure, but Korra's vulgar display of power had in fact saved her life. As Kwan crossed the mountain ridge and overlooked the massive maze of seemingly identical stone columns, it was only after noticing Korra's ruckus that she knew where to find the dying Avatar. She charged forward, pushing herself as fast as her earthbending and her legs could carry her, and came across a rather grizzly scene.

Nakkoa was definitely dead what with the enormous gash across her chest that had come from Korra's ice hook, and the bases of the stone columns were flecked with blood that was most likely both Nakkoa's and Korra's. The Avatar was on her side, unconscious and covered in blood, albeit still breathing. It was audibly laboured, and Kwan knew that if she walked away right now, that Korra would die. On the other hand… her eyes weren't glowing, which meant Korra was no longer in the Avatar State. Were she to die, she would safely reincarnate.

Seeing her sister's mangled body actually did give Kwan pause, and she contemplated the potential consequences of her actions. Korra's life was literally in her hands right now.

"No one would know if you just walked away…" Said a voice in Kwan's head, "The Avatar will reincarnate, and you could walk way a free woman—assume another identity and disappear; wash your hands of the Red Lotus and not have to worry about another Avatar for another 16 years—that's plenty of time to disavow the Red Lotus and live another life."

"And yet wasn't it you who argued that there was more to this child than being 'The Avatar'?" Another voice argued, "did you not chastise Nakkoa for trying to dehumanize Avatar Korra by treating her as an object rather than a living human being? You don't just know the Avatar; you know Avatar Korra, and you know her very personally. If you're really serious about turning your life around, are you really going to stand by and watch an adolescent girl die when you know that you can save her?"

Korra was not aware of Kwan's presence, and thus the lavabender was, by all definition, a bystander. She glanced from Nakkoa, to Korra, and then to the sky before knowing at once what she was going to do. She raced towards Korra, checking her injuries and doing what she could to curb her bleeding. The girl definitely needed a healer, and so even with Kwan's efforts, she would have to take a chance. For now, she wrapped Korra's more serious injuries to curb the bleeding, before turning to the remains of her sister. Kwan scooped up Nakkoa's corpse, holding it bridal style as she looked into her sister's lifeless eyes as her own started filling with agonizing tears that she loosely attempted to fight.

"Dammit, Naki…" Kwan muttered under her breath, stepping away from Korra and the bloodsoaked carnage for a moment, "What weren't you tellin' me… Why'd you have to go off and do somethin' stupid like this for? You were so fixated on killin' the poor kid that you didn't even stop to think if it was a good idea, let alone that you picked a fight with not only an Avatar, but one that's stupidly powerful and she ain't even 16…"

She laid Nakkoa's corpse down, realizing that unless she altered the landscape, there wasn't going to be any way she'd ever find this place again. Using a bit of precise bending, Kwan erected a large statue depicting Avatar Korra, and then used a similar movement to place her sister's corpse under the ground at the base of this pedestal. She had originally contemplated putting a statue of Nakkoa, but she felt like that was more likely to be torn down if it was found. No one would suspect a monument seemingly to the Avatar to be what it was.

"Goodbye, sister…" Kwan wept softly, glancing down at the earth where her sister was now buried, "you deserved better… and we deserved to know what you wouldn't share… Korra deserved to know, at the very least…"

As Kwan's mind wandered, it immediately snapped back to Korra, who was still lying there and weakly gasping for breath several meters away where she had collapsed. Every moment Kwan had just spent with Nakkoa's remains was another second where Korra's life drained away. Kwan raced towards her, scooped her up, and began using her bending to propel herself forward, one step at a time.

"Hang in there, kid…" Kwan was tense as she raced west. She didn't know what she would find, but at this point, it would be much safer to try and take her to the nearby Western Air Temple than to try and go back to Republic City. It would be easier to explain what she did to Korra than to try and ask permission to help her. Of course, this was a gamble as well, because the nomadic healers that sometimes made their home in the ancient temple weren't always there, and so if the place was deserted, Kwan had just accepted at that point that Korra was going to die. While she tried to tell herself that she'd be able to shrug it off, each foot she put in front of the other had her more fervently hoping that there would be someone there who could save Korra.

A crude stone boat that she formed out of tightly compacted rock helped Kwan in her effort to cross the small strait between the coastal Earth Kingdom and the Western Air Region. From there it'd be a trip up the sheer cliff, which made Kwan glad she was an earthbender. Korra's breathing became more laboured, and Kwan had to clench her arm to help curb the bleeding. There was little she could do about the wound on her stomach though, or any of the other cuts and bruises she had suffered from in her Avatar State rage against Nakkoa.

"Hang in there, Korra…" she whispered, trying to keep her calm, "we're almost there… hang in there… you've got this… stay with me… stay with me, please…"

The lack of airbenders aside from Aang's descendants (and Korra) meant that the structure was mostly uninhabited. Kwan had heard tales of healers, monks, gurus, or other nomads occasionally inhabiting the refurbished Air Temples, and was sure Avatar Aang would have smiled at the notion that people used these beautiful structures for at least some purpose. Kwan's good fortune (or perhaps her good fortune in Korra's behalf) continued to the point where she found herself one of these nomads: a messy-haired Water Tribe woman who Kwan later learned was named Fukui.

"I'd ask what brings you here," Kwan exclaimed, "but you might notice I've got bigger concerns. Please tell me you're a healer, and more importantly, PLEASE tell me you can save her!"

She held Korra's limp form out to give Fukui a good look at her.

"The Avatar?" Fukui recognized Korra, whether from knowing her from somewhere or from stories, Kwan did not know. "I'd ask you the same thing, earthbender, but you are right in asserting that I have much larger concerns all of a sudden. Come with me"

She directed Kwan into one of the temple pagodas, taking Korra's body and disappearing into another back room. Kwan paced anxiously, hoping for some good news, and trying to keep from simply breaking down. Perhaps she had underestimated just how emotionally attached to Korra she had become over the last year and a half. Nakkoa had been right about her—she had grown soft for Korra, but seeing the teen so close to death made Kwan feel much less guilty about befriending her.

Korra was a fascinating little character, and Kwan felt that the whole sojourn would have lasting effects on her, and not just because of Nakkoa. Other than Asami, Kwan was the only one Korra really considered to be a friend, and the more Kwan dwelt on that, the worse she felt about it. Avatar Korra was taken from the world, sheltered first by the White Lotus and then the Red Lotus, all the while growing up with no actual friends apart from a polar bear-dog.

Kwan racked herself with worry over Korra's well-being, shedding tears over it even, despite her attempts to keep it discreet. Ultimately, it was over an hour before Fukui came out of the pagoda to speak to her again.

"She will live," the healer declared, much to Kwan's relief, "she is badly injured though. The wound on her abdomen was laced with poison, but it seems her body tried to flush it out."

"What else happened?" Kwan put her hands in her pockets, keep her head lowered "she looked pretty banged up when I brought her in."

"The slice across her arm will heal; that one was mundane," Fukui explained, "and in comparison, most of her other injuries are minor. She also had a concussion that seemed to kick in much later than it should have. I suppose that would be linked to something like the Avatar State, because I have no other explanation."

"Your guess is as good as mine," Kwan shrugged, shifting her shoulders to keep her coat on.

"Apart from that, she is exhausted and will need lots of rest. If she was in the Avatar State, it drained her to the point where I would not be surprised if she slept a full 24 hours."

"Then I'm leaving her here," Kwan declared, as Fukui's eyes widened.

"You really can't wait a day for your own charge?" The waterbender gawked.

"She's not mine," Kwan shook her head, "I'm turning myself in."

"Turning yourself in…" Fukui tilted her head.

"Long story," Kwan turned and started walking away. "The Avatar's parents should be coming soon, and they're probably going to bring company as well. I'll make sure they get here."

"You can't just…" Fukui was still flabbergasted, her confusion showing through her sharp words.

"I can, and I am." Kwan dashed outside to the edge of the upside-down pagoda before jumping off, using her earthbending to form a slab of rock against the sheer cliff, which she then rode down and away from the Temple.

=Near the Red Lotus Compound, around the same time…=

As desperately as Tonraq and Senna wanted to see their daughter and ensure she was alive, the Red Lotus seemed to want to be as uncooperative as possible and thus require the attention of everyone to fully subdue them. It was only after Zuko, Tenzin, and Kuvira got them secured away on Zuko's airship that they were removed from the situation, all four of them discomfortingly smug as they were taken away.

Sokka had also taken a small airship to this remote location, and he left it in the hands of Tonraq and Senna so they could hopefully go after Korra. Conveniently, it also meant that they wouldn't have to leave Naga behind, which would have been the only option if they had ridden Tenzin's Sky Bison. Even if she was a polar bear-dog, Naga was by all accounts one of Korra's best friends, and after whatever horrifying ordeals the Red Lotus had put Korra through, both her parents knew it would be for the best if they brought the creature with them.

Naturally, when Kwan suddenly appeared neither Tonraq nor Senna seemed too willing to listen to her, which in turn caused Senna to encase her in a wall of jagged ice mere seconds after she appeared. As angry as Tonraq was, Senna seemed uncharacteristically more furious, because to her, it was personal for reasons that transcended Korra's existence.

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't crush the life out of you!" she growled, her hands vicegripping Kwan's neck. Kwan coughed and gasped for a reply.

"Kor...ra…" her tan face had started to turn purple.

"Make it good," Tonraq put an ice spike to the underside of Kwan's neck as Senna gave a foot or two of clearance "Speak."

"So…" Kwan gasped for breath, "three things: Firstly, Nakkoa is dead."

"Nothing less than she deserved," Tonraq's fists clenched.

"Secondly," Kwan ignored their reactions, "I'm turning myself in, which is why I'm here. That said, I'm much more likely to cooperate if I'm not bleeding out or dead."

"You're in no position to make demands, earthbender." Senna kept her death glare fixated on Kwan, "that we are sparing you at all now is a sign of our mercy."

"Very well." Kwan sighed, "Thirdly… Korra is alive. I recovered her from the nearby Wulong Forest and took her to the Western Air Temple, where she is in capable hands. She'll live."

There was a pause followed by a collective sigh of relief.

"That said," Kwan continued a moment later, "go ahead; kill me, lock me up, whatever. I'm done talking, and I accept the punishment for my actions."

It was Kuvira who brandished platinum chains as Kwan was released from the ice and offered her hands willingly. "It's been a while since I've had to use these… and on a lavabender, no less. It's a shame, really… but I digress."

"Just… don't forget her things…" Kwan gestured, "They're in a small green bag by the back of my old truck. I'd love it if you left the truck alone, but I'm powerless to stop you. Just… the kid has some sentimental items in there that she might like to see again. That's all."

Korra had lost her bag after Nakkoa struck her forehead, and in the heat of the battle, no one was too concerned about it or even the vehicles. Since then the battle had raged westward in a loose attempt to follow Nakkoa and Korra, but had obviously been unsuccessful.

"Sokka," Tonraq gestured to Kwan, "deal with her."

"Well, my fair lady," Sokka's slight eccentricism had returned, "I'm afraid even with your cooperation and heroism, a crime's a crime, and we can't just write that off."

"I accept my fate." Kwan resigned, "my sister is dead, my group is in shambles, and the poor Avatar is clinging barely to life in some medical ward at the Western Air Temple. Do what you will with me, and keep me as long as you need."

Sokka frowned and with Kuvira's help, led Kwan back to the vehicles. Tonraq and Senna followed, both to get back to the airship they were going to take to the Western Air Temple, but also to heed Kwan's advice about Korra's belongings. Tonraq picked up the small bag, wondering what sort of effects his daughter had picked up on her 18-month adventure.

She had a rather impressive sack of money. She had won quite a heavy purse from the probending marathon back in Republic City, and even with how much candy she bought, candy was inexpensive and Korra's beloved candy bag was as fat as her coin purse. Apart from that, there was an otherwise ordinary change of clothes, a blue-striped belt from her Probending team, a few souvenir tickets from Blackstone Hotel and Casino, a small red box, a handful of dice, a small framed photo of Korra smiling alongside a girl her age that neither of them recognized, and a small but thick blue book. It was worn and beat-up, and the uneven patterns the pages formed even when closed indicated that this little book had seen some heavy use. On the front in slightly crude handwriting were the words "Korra's Avatar Adventures" coupled with a comical-looking chibi depiction of Korra grinning.

All of these things were stowed away immediately, and Korra's parents both wasted no time boarding the ship and heading straight for the Western Air Temple. Overcome with emotion at seeing Korra's things, both of them wanted nothing more right now than to see their daughter again and ensure her that everything would all be alright.

Chapter Text

"You know…" Sokka commented as he flew the ship over the Wulong Forest towards the Western Air Temple, "I flew one of these things in the war against the Firelord all those years ago. Brings back all kinds of interesting memories…"

Neither Tonraq nor Senna responded, but Sokka didn't seem too worried. Even with his ever-growing senility, he was smart enough to know they were preoccupied, and so his idle banter was quiet.

They leafed through Korra's various journal entries, following the wild tales their 15-year-old daughter put to writing, coupled with the occasional silly drawings or illegible notes she added in the lines or margins. They didn't have time to read every page, but they did find some significant entries, such as when Korra had first used airbending, when she had triggered the Avatar State, and other lessons she had learned from the Red Lotus.

A great deal of things also became swiftly concerning. For one, Unalaq's name came up a lot. There was no denying that he had had a connection with the Red Lotus at least to the point of teaching Korra, but whether or not he was aware that they were the Red Lotus remained to be seen. Similarly, they also stumbled upon some of Korra's many notes about the Interregnum Avatar Cycle, and the disturbing images and notes that Korra wrote and doodled alongside these remarks. Korra was a remarkably good artist, all things considering.

They thumbed back and forth through the book, smiling briefly as they found the entry Korra had written for her 15th birthday. For a moment they were pleased to see that she had carried on the tradition of getting photographed, but a detail in this photo alarmed and disturbed them both significantly: there, plain as day on her forehead, was that 3rd-eye tattoo.

"They taught her that!?" Tonraq wasn't sure how to react.

"They've marked her…" Sanna sighed, "They've tried to shape her… how much do you think they could have done? How did we not realize Nakkoa and Kwan were in on this the whole time? How did we let this happen? Our little girl!"

She sighed, leaning against Tonraq as her eyes watered. "And then this…" she gestured over the stone forest, where somewhere, a no-holds-barred beatdown had occurred between Nakkoa and Korra, where the latter had brutally murdered the former.

The tension was thick, and Sokka was particularly relieved to land when the time came. It took a little searching before they found Fukui's pagoda, but since Kwan had told the waterbender that there would be people coming for Korra, she was not surprised upon meeting them.

"I take it you are Avatar Korra's mother and father?" she looked Tonraq and Senna up and down.

"Where is she?" Tonraq demanded, not even worrying about how this woman he had never even met knew who he and Senna were, "Where is my girl?"

"She is recovering," Fukui remained utterly calm, "lower your voice. She needs the rest; she's stable, but still in critical condition."

Naturally, that did nothing to stop two highly concerned parents from checking in on their child.

Korra was motionless, apart from her still slightly laboured breathing. Her clothes had apparently been washed and repaired, and other than a binding around her lower abdomen and her right arm from hand to elbow, she seemed to be in okay shape. Fukui was clearly talented at what she did if she was able to make Korra appear this way.

"Korra," Tonraq whispered, taking her hand and clutching it, "It's dad…" her hand was warm, which meant she was still alive, but with how weak and motionless she was, it was almost like she was in a sort of limbo between life and death. Such was not actually the case, but this was definitely the most chillingly serene Tonraq and Senna had ever seen their daughter, especially since she was usually such an active sleeper that she'd wake up with her head where her feet ought to be, and at least one limb hanging off the side of her bed.

"That child is abnormally resilient," Fukui commented from the doorway, "electrocution, concussion, significant blood loss, poison that barely missed her vitals, and countless impacts with surfaces much harder than her bones and body. By all accounts, I don't think she should even be alive."

There was silence, before Fukui continued. "Stay as long as you wish; but I would advise letting her rest and wake up on her own accord."

They did exactly that, barely leaving Korra's side for hours. Korra did not move, and while neither one of them were sure when they dozed off, they did exactly that, leaned against each other's shoulders only a few feet from Korra's bed.

It was the middle of the night when Korra finally came around, sitting up and clutching her head. She was dizzy and her eyes were out of focus, and the lopsided way she stood up and started walking made her almost appear feral. She clutched her stomach, keeping her right arm close to her body as she limped towards the door. She stopped upon noticing her parents, both still seated and asleep, and for a moment, her troubled mind was given peace. She stepped outside and took a breath of fresh air, gazing out into the cloudless sky as she finally registered where she actually was.

The Western Air Temple—the upside-down pagodas nestled safely into a cliffside overlooking a bay that led to the sea. Somewhere to the east was Republic City, the Earth Kingdom, and the Wulong Forest. The memories of what had happened suddenly surged back to her as she recalled everything that happened. She had murdered Nakkoa. While many would call the action justified due to the way she had tortured Korra, murder was murder, and now somewhere, that woman's corpse was either on the ground or underground, rotting away to the sands of time.

It terrified her though. Nakkoa had attacked her, and the agony her body suffered had been enough to push her into the Avatar State. If a few injuries was all it took, then what did that mean for her pride, or worse, her stability?

"Avatar Korra?" A soft voice spoke up from behind Korra, who shrieked and spun around, her eyes aglow. The winds picked up around her for a moment before she calmed down and realized what she was doing.

"Spirits, child!" it was Fukui, although Korra did not recognize the woman, having been barely conscious throughout most of the healing ordeal, "calm yourself; I'm only here to talk."

Korra took fast, deep breaths as she tried to compose herself.

"I didn't mean to…" she leaned against a column for support, "it was… it was like a reflex."

"A very dangerous one," Fukui warned, "but you caught yourself. Loosen your muscles and take a deep breath. You're understandably very tense and stressed, and so you should not exert yourself too hard for a while."

"I can't just not do anything though!" Korra reasoned, as Fukui started massaging Korra's tense shoulders, "It's just…"

"It's just what?" Fukui dug her fingers deep into Korra's muscles, eliciting a contented groan from the agitated teen as she admitted defeat.

"I don't know what to do…" she sighed. "And that's such a weird feeling."

"Rest," Fukui recommended, "Take a walk if you feel like you need to move. Your spirit is lively but your body is exhausted. Stay calm and focused—and you're also much less likely to trigger the Avatar State in a fit of panick."

Korra sighed as Fukui's hands continued to work her shoulders. That was an embarrassing and terrifying notion; what she had done. She triggered the Avatar State on a reflex, and had had no control over it. The Avatar Spirit had hijacked control over her, and that notion terrified her.

She stretched after Fukui ended the massage, and waved the healer off as she disappeared back to her ward. She still didn't know what to do, but at least she felt slightly less tense on a physical level. Her mind was still a mess, but at least one problem had been resolved.

With a mixture of firebending and airbending, Korra leapt from the spire of the tower, before flying herself over to one of the nearby ones. It must have been fun to be an airbender here; flying from spire to spire of the massive complex. She wondered how many of her past lives had been here in its glory days, and wondered what was left. She wondered if the Hall of Avatars was still a thing here, like she had heard about in the stories of old.

Korra launched herself from spire to spire in search of this location, although without leads, it took her nearly an hour to find anything resembling an entrance to such a hall.

A massive Air Nomad emblem stood as the lock, and after a bit of analysis, Korra channelled a powerful wind current through the spiral locks, which clicked open a moment later. Feeling slightly vindicated in knowing that after 15 years she had finally learned airbending, the little barefooted Avatar stepped inside the hallowed chamber.

A legion of statues filled the room, with tens of thousands of years' worth of Avatar Incarnations being symbolized here by the Air Nomads. The first thing Korra did was try to find the end of the line, where she expected to see Roku, and maybe Aang considering that he had come around at some point after the war to restore the place. She found Kuruk, then Kyoshi, and then sure enough, there were Roku and Aang. The last statue actually made her stop, however. It was her, and she was depicted as a teenager, exactly as she was now, down to her baggy pants, form-fitting shirt, her bare arms and feet, and her unkempt hair.

"Who designed this, I wonder…" Korra produced a small blue flame in her hand to analyze the detail of her own Avatar statue, which even had the third-eye tattoo etched into its forehead just as Korra did. There was no way these statues were built by mortal hands—or at least Korra was convinced as such. Who else could portray her that accurately? It wasn't like she had an Air Nomad or some spirit guru following her around all the time.

She wondered for a moment though, if this was "her look". The Avatar seemed to have the ability to choose how they appeared to their successor incarnations, considering Roku often appeared as an elderly or middle-aged man, while in contrast, Kyoshi, who had been 230 at the time of her death, chose to appear more in her prime. Aang was middle-aged in his appearance to Korra, and so she wondered if she would keep this ragtag look of hers as she grew up, or if she'd mature and have a more refined appearance as she grew into adulthood.

It was something of a paradoxical conundrum. On one hand, Korra didn't care about her appearance, which she had made apparent with the shameless way she had dressed or undressed when with Nakkoa and Kwan, but in other situations, such as when she met Asami, or when she walked upon what she felt was hallowed ground, she was made very aware of her appearance and situation and cared far too much about it.

For some reason, Korra felt compelled to enter the Avatar State as she reached out to touch the stony eyes of her statue. Her episode earlier had scared her, but this time, she was in control of the State and knew how to wield it. Maybe it was the tranquility or spirituality of this chamber; maybe it was Korra's own talent; maybe it was something else. Whatever it was, she managed to activate the Avatar State without trouble. The effect of Korra's decision, however, lit the room up with the eyes of thousands of glowing statue eyes, including her own.

Korra never really understood why, but whenever she dealt directly with Avatar-related issues like this, she always felt like she became uncharacteristically introspective. It also made her really want to talk with them, but she never knew which one to choose.

With the faint blue glow of the Avatar statue eyes lighting up the room, Korra started wandering, following the line of statues backwards in search of a particular quarry. She snickered to herself as she realized she had effectively just used the Avatar State to light up a room, but on the other hand, she felt justified. It also supported her theory that these statues were not constructed by normal hands. Stone didn't light up like this of its own accord.

"Blatant abuses of power always make my shitty days a little more bearable," she muttered, and in her defense, the previous day had been a really rough and traumatic one for Korra (to put it lightly), and she still had the physical and mental scars from it as proof. Still, she managed to find what she was looking for: 21 Avatar statues marked with a streak of red at their base. One of them—the 17th one in the line, to be exact—had a streak of red across her face: Zeruda.

"What could you have done that made you a black mark in history…?" Korra muttered, putting her fingers up to the stone face. "...and why are you trying so hard to contact me now?"

The chamber was surreal, and while most respectable people would appropriately consider it a sacred room, for Korra it was a profound place that she felt connected to on a spiritual level. She wanted to talk to someone about it—someone alive. It was one thing to converse with her past lives, but all of them knew what being the Avatar was like. On the other hand, no one alive today knew what it was like to be the Avatar, and in times like this, Korra felt surreal—disconnected. She felt like Nakkoa's cruel words during their fight to the death may have held some truth to them. Maybe she didn't belong in this world.

But as she looked at each statue and eventually came back to the one of herself, her confidence returned. She was the Avatar. Nakkoa had failed to kill her; the White Lotus had failed to contain her; whatever the Red Lotus had tried to do to her had fallen apart; she kicked ass at Probending (and many other forms of bending too, even if she wasn't a master yet), and she was still a killer shot with a bow. Maybe mercenary work could be in her future. Either way, as the glowing Avatar statue lights dimmed, Korra left the chamber with a smirk of slight confidence. She was here in this world as the Avatar—and the world would just have to deal with it.

Chapter Text

It had been about 3 in the morning when Korra had woken up, and the sun was rising by the time she had left the Hall of Avatars. The only reason she'd ever 'justify' waking up this obscenely early was because she slept for nearly an entire day after the whole ordeal with Nakkoa. She still wasn't fully sure what had happened, as she had not been there when Zaheer and the others had been captured, nor had she been conscious when Kwan took her to the Western Air Temple to begin with. The only things she really remembered were that her body had gone into a desperate panick mode sometime after Nakkoa had attacked her, and that she had somehow killed her in retaliation. Where her remains were, or where the exact sight of the carnage had taken place, however, was beyond her scope of knowledge.

Tonraq and Senna were relieved to see her up and about though, and when Naga finally woke up and caught whiff of her beloved master, she knocked Korra right over and licked her face in a way that might have infuriated anyone else—but not Korra.

"Shit that smarts…" she rubbed the back of her head as she recovered; Naga had knocked her down so solidly that her head had collided rather gloriously against the stone floor of the temple. It was nothing she couldn't just shrug off, but it stung for the moment. "Hey girl… I'm glad you're okay…" Being underneath her animal companion gave her easy access to rub Naga's belly, which was responded do with several enthusiastic licks to Korra's face.

Korra also realized that she had a new 2nd favourite place in the world. There was something particularly peaceful about this mostly uninhabited temple complex perched out on its foreboding cliffside. She didn't exactly want to live here considering how far away from all the action it was, but perhaps it would serve as a proper sanctuary for those times when she wanted to make more proper spiritual connections. She felt more connected to her Avatar self at the Western Air Temple than anywhere else she had ever been, and it showed.

Of course, after Naga had finished saying her hellos, Tonraq and Senna both wanted to speak to her about everything that transpired. She was also relieved and delighted to see they had brought her things, and wasted no time in raiding her candy pouch after so many hours without it. She was a little more apprehensive when her father began questioning her—less out of distrusting him, and more out of having to admit some of the things she did. The biggest issue at first was her forehead tattoo.

"It's a focus point," Korra explained, pushing her bangs aside to more properly reveal it, "it follows the same chi path as an airbender's arrow tattoos, and centers on the Light Chakra."

The lessons of Zaheer teaching focus and insight flowed through Korra's mind as she realized it was the primer for this ability. Blocked by illusion, it was hardly a wonder why focus was so critical for this ability.

"Not everything they taught me was bad," Korra continued, "in fact, most of it was actually good—much better than anything the White Lotus taught me."

While her words were not meant to be spiteful, they came across as such. The White Lotus compound only ever brought back unpleasant memories of being caged and confined, and unbeknownst to Korra, the Red Lotus had preyed upon this personal preference to the point where they had moulded Korra into a somewhat wild entity that hated confinement—and thus refused to be confined. Weaponizing the Avatar had had several side effects like this.

"Korra," Tonraq sighed, "I'm sorry for that, and for this," he looked her in the eyes. "We understand that they apparently taught you many good things during your sojourn with them… but the Red Lotus is dangerous. We don't want to see you getting hurt like this again."

"How was I supposed to know that Nakkoa was going to go berserk and try to murder me?" Korra threw her arms up, wincing slightly as she moved her right arm due to the still-sensitive state of her wound, "I didn't even know they were the Red Lotus until you revealed it to me! That's who you and Tenzin tried keeping away from me the last 14 years?"

"It was," Tonraq replied, "and in the forms of Nakkoa and Kwan, they were also the ones who fooled us all when they took you from us."

"I went voluntarily, if I recall," Korra scratched the back of her head, "the only thing I regret was not checking up on Nakkoa's sanity a bit more."

"Korra," Tonraq put his hands on her shoulders, "did anyone ever teach you the risks and dangers that come with harnessing so much power? Or did they just teach you how to shoot things with your forehead and make them go 'boom'?"

"Of course they did!" Korra shook her head, pointing to her forehead, "I'm pretty sure P'Li drilled it into my head that if I wasn't careful with this thing, I could very well blow my damn head off!"

"And what are you going to do with that ability?" Tonraq's expression hardened, "Do you think you can just blow up anything that gets between you and what you want?"

"Well yeah, that's the general idea of it," Korra shrugged, "I mean, you're the one that kind of inspired me for that approach, long before I left the South Pole."

Tonraq put his hand to his forehead and sighed. "I talked about using force," he reasoned, "and I've got your mother to thank for teaching me more rational approaches. There's also a pretty large difference between water-smacking things and detonating them. Foremost—I'm not about to get my head blown apart if my water goes awry."

"It's about self-control," Korra argued, "if I was truly as crazy with it as you think I am, I'd be headless by now. My point is that sure I might not always be the calmest individual in the world, but I'm not stupid! What's your point?"

"My point," Tonraq kept his hands on her shoulders, noticing that Korra was growing much tenser, "is that it is an ability designed for nothing more than destruction—and in case you've forgotten, you've got a pretty solid track record of destruction expertise…" To Korra's slight surprise, Tonraq's expression softened, which was joined a moment later with a concerned but caring look from Senna, who had been quietly observing the conversation beside her. She had been ready to jump into the argument, had Korra become too aggressive, but so far, the tension had not reached such dangerous highs.

"So…" Korra's lip stuck out in a contemplative pout, "what are you saying?"

"All I'm saying, sweetheart," Tonraq's expression grew warmer, "is to be careful. I'm not fully sure you understand how dangerous some of your abilities are… or just how powerful you are, both as the Avatar, but also as an individual."

"So… I'm not even 16." Korra shrugged and pouted again, "I'll get it figured out sooner or later. I am not, however, under any circumstances, going back to the prison compound at the South Pole. So help me I will raze the place to the ground if you try to send me back there!" Her pout gave way for a much firmer expression, with a very Red Lotus-style anger behind her eyes.

"Korra," this time it was Senna that spoke, "this is both what we mean and what we worry about. It's not that we don't trust you… it's that you have a lot of power, and are at a point in your life when your mind and body are maturing at different rates." There was a notable tone of concern in her voice, and both she and Tonraq could sense that something was very wrong with Korra that she wasn't opening up about.

"Well what am I supposed to do about it?" Korra's arms visibly tensed up as her eyes narrowed again, "do I just get my chi blocked until I'm 21? It's not my fault I'm strong; I'm just using the same powers the Avatar Spirit gave me. Is that truly such a crime?"

"Korra…" Senna frowned, putting her hand under Korra's chin, "you've changed… both in good ways and bad. We're not trying to become your enemies… just tell us what happened."

"What do you mean what happened?" Korra snapped, "A psychopathic maniac firebender that I thought was my friend tortured me and then tried to kill me—and I killed her first! It was only a day and a half ago, so stop getting on my case about it! I'm tired, alright?"

Tonraq and Senna exchanged frowns before Senna took a deep breath and nodded.

"Rest as long as you need, Korra." she whispered, "But please don't feel threatened. Whatever Nakkoa did, she is not me, nor is she your father. We did not betray you, nor would we ever backstab you like that. No loving parent wants to hurt or betray their child."

"I'm just confused;" Korra leaned forward and propped her forehead in her palms, "agitated, hurt... I need some time to cool off; figure out what I'm doing and what's wrong with me."

To her surprise, Senna and Tonraq gave Korra that clearance, leaving Korra alone for the moment. Thus, she raided both her bag and her candy pouch almost immediately. As she did, she also pulled out the small framed photo of herself and Asami, and sighed. She wasn't photogenic, but there was a certain level of innocence to her smile that Korra realized was gone now. She shuddered; there was no way she could have known that less than 24 hours after that picture was taken that her life would get turned upside-down. After a small but vulgar display of power from a nearby pagoda, Korra decided to take the rest of her agitation out by jotting down the remainder of her thoughts.

Day 550: I'm really glad I wrote about yesterday before The Incident, because frankly, it was one of the worst days of my life. I feel… different now, and not in a good way. I can't figure out what happened to me!? My training with the Red Lotus is over for good though. One of them is dead, and the other five are either in prison or on the run or something. I think my parents want to take me back to the South Pole again, but I am NOT going back. I'll kill everyone there if I need to, but they can't keep me boxed in! I hate that I feel like this, but it's all I can think about. What's wrong with me? WHAT HAPPENED TO ME!?

Particularly alarming was the previous page of Korra's journal, which was merely the phrases 'WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME' and 'WHAT HAPPENED TO ME' over and over in different styles.

Tonraq and Senna had distanced themselves from Korra so they could speak in private. Fortunately, Fukui volunteered to keep watch in case Korra approached, because she seemed aware of the Avatar's sensitive situation as well.

"Of course she's traumatized!" Senna reasoned, "wouldn't you be? She literally had some maniac try to kill her and she's only 15! Do you know how hard that must be on a child her age? I've told you enough about Desert Storm, and if that shook me, imagine how badly being physically and psychologically tortured must have shaken her!"

"That's all the more reason she needs to go back," Tonraq sighed, pacing the room, "I'm not proud of the idea, and I guarantee she's going to despise it with every fiber of her being, but she needs people who can teach her to properly harness her power as well as control her emotions."

"And do you not see the risk associated with that?" Senna raised her finger, "Korra's not one to make idle threats, and she definitely has the power to level the entire tribe if she wanted to, even without that combustion bending. She's threatened it already—and I honestly think that she's dead serious about keeping her word."

"And so what do we do?" Tonraq opened his arms, restraining from raising his voice just yet, "do we let her just roam the world as she sees fit, setting all of her problems on fire as she goes? Did you notice anything different about her firebending since she left?"

"It's blue, just like Nakkoa's," Senna nodded, "Every time, too. It's definitely one of Nakkoa's tricks, but I think she's got enough passion to fuel it and then some."

"Add that to the already growing list of reasons why she's dangerous," Tonraq shook his head, "I don't like it any more than she will, and it's not an easy decision to make—but if she goes ballistic, she could slaughter hundreds. I don't want to lock my daughter up any more than you do, love; but it's not safe for her to roam the way she wants to. It's not safe for the people around her, and it's especially not safe for her. Even without the Red Lotus leaders beguiling her away or trying to kill her, she's very unstable. What happened to her yesterday only exacerbated that problem and you know it."

"Love," Senna stood up, staring Tonraq directly in the eyes, "I'm saying there are better ways to handle it than to throw her back in a compound that she has made no mystery she passionately hates. She's physically and emotionally hurt and she's afraid. She needs our love and care more than ever right now, even if she tries to push us away. Before we try and take her home, and especially before we even consider taking her back to the compound, we need to try and reason with her. She needs to be reminded that we're not trying to weaponize her the way the Red Lotus did; that we value her as a living, breathing young woman whose identity is not solely tied to being the Avatar—that she's our daughter—our little girl!"

It was truer than either of them were aware, and even after several hours of being by herself, Korra didn't even go looking for them. She wandered off to one of the farther pagodas, sitting on the edge and dangling her feet over the horrific drop, staring down into the abyssal canyon. All her life she had been so thrilled to be the Avatar… and the Red Lotus had used, abused and weaponized that passion of hers. Now she felt hollow; gutted; broken. With the Red Lotus betrayers in prison, and her parents clearly conspiring to take her home (or so Korra assumed), who else in the world could she trust? Only one name came to her mind.

Tonraq and Senna found Korra later that evening, her bag at her side and snuggled into Naga's warm fur. Naga was one of the few entities in this world that Korra still felt she could trust; and she was a great listener, and a loyal companion. The idea of her being separated from Korra was non-negotiable. Korra made it very clear to anyone who had tried to separate them that she would not hesitate to brutalize whoever made the attempt. While she was almost completely motionless, it turned out that she was not actually asleep, and so she spoke.

"Sorry for lashing out at you guys earlier," Korra sighed, "it's just… something's wrong with me, and it's eating away at me that I can't for the love of me figure out what it is!"

"It's undoubtedly a result of what happened yesterday," Senna frowned, "and Korra, that's exactly why we're so worried for you. We're not trying to be overprotective; we're not trying to control your life or lock you in a cage; we just want you to be able to carry yourself with the same kind of confidence you had when you said goodbye to us 18 months ago."

"It's not going to happen in the Southern Water Tribe though; I can tell you that." Korra warned. "Seriously; I cannot begin to emphasize how much I do NOT want to go back there!"

"And why is that?" Tonraq kept his tone calm and curious.

"It's so confining," Korra sighed, "I didn't even get to talk to anyone besides my teachers, and they were a bunch of stuffy old codgers that treated my skill like Baby's First Avatar Academy. I'm way beyond that, and what right do they have to lock anyone, much less the Avatar, away like that? It's unreasonable!"

"Korra," Senna frowned, "you know as well as us that you will never have a normal life. You can't tell us that's what you're asking for."

"I'm not," Korra opened her arms, "but the idea of locking the Avatar in a prison compound is not only oppressive for me, but it's a mockery of everything the Avatar is, and everything she's supposed to do! We're supposed to travel the world to master the elements, not get primary school lessons from old fogies who are a shadow of what their organization once was…"

"That sounds a lot like Red Lotus talk," Tonraq frowned.

"And all the White Lotus IS, is talk anymore." Korra snapped back, "Say what you will about the Red Lotus, but at least they were people of action."

"Idle talk is a much more preferable alternative to terrorism, Korra." Tonraq's tone grew more forceful, "and while they might have filled your head with delusions of grandeur about carousing across the world and striking down any who oppose you, reality is a lot harsher than that."

"Reality?!" Korra threw her arms into the air, wincing again at her injured arm ,"You're trying to preach to me about REALITY while attempting to coax me back into a cage? There's nothing even close to reality about that compound. It didn't prepare me for the real world even remotely! I got more real-life experience in the three days I spent in Republic City than I did in the 14 years I spent at the White Lotus Prison Compound! I'll govern myself, thank you."

"Korra, that…" Tonraq sighed, "You are setting yourself an extremely dangerous precedent that is both detrimental to you and frightening to anyone around you. Whether you like it or not, you tend to be governed both by your Avatar abilities, and more so by your emotions. We don't like having to admit that you're dangerous, Korra—but because of how volatile you are, coupled with how extremely powerful you also are, there's no nice way to put it—you're a very dangerous young woman, Korra."

"Welcome to being the Avatar," Korra rolled her eyes, "who would have thought that the master of all four elements would be dangerous, huh?"

"And so do you see attempts at trying to make you more civil and thus less dangerous as evil schemes to try and suppress you, dear?" Senna frowned. "Because we are trying to help you, not twist the knife."

"Like I said," Korra sprung up, pivoting on her heel as her eyes flashed white, "If you take me there, I will personally see to it that that compound is razed to the ground. I hope they have good evacuation plans, because I am NOT going to spend another minute in that prison ever again. If you still can't understand that, then stay out of my way!"

Fuming, Korra stomped off, leaving both Tonraq and Senna stunned and speechless. It may have only taken her a few moments to leave the Avatar State, but in her delicate and vulnerable emotional situation, she was just as dangerous the way she was.

Chapter Text

Tonraq and Senna were distraught over Korra's behaviour, both for her wild and rebellious actions, but also because they could see past her mood and saw in her visage the eyes of an injured young woman who was overwhelmed by her own abilities. They kept their distance from Korra over the next few days, giving her space, but also observing her behavioural patterns. She slept at weird times, hardly ate, and when she wasn't muttering things to Naga when she thought she was alone, she was off exploring the different spires and pagodas of the temple, launching herself from one to the next with surprising precision. She gravitated towards the Avatar Chamber multiple times in a day, at one point disappearing for almost half the day. Without airbending of their own, Tonraq and Senna were limited to the pagoda where Fukui seemed to live, as well as a few others that were connected with for them, the entire temple was not connected this way, and so there were many times when Korra was simply out of their reach.

As she fired a powerful burst of wind into the Air Nomad Emblem lock for what was the 18th time in the last half a week, Korra shut herself in the Avatar Chamber once again, this time without a particular destination in mind. Attempts to meditate brought her a slight sense of serenity, but ever since the incident that had nearly taken her life, she felt like she was out of sync with that part of her spiritual side—or perhaps more likely, she had done so much 'nothing' over the last few days that her mind couldn't abide not doing anything once again.

In a fit of rage, she spotted her own statue and bum-rushed it, lunging through the air with blue flames on her hands. She struck it with considerable force, but after the dust cleared, the only thing that had happened was Korra's knuckles were bleeding and she landed hard on her backside. The statue itself was unharmed.

She stood up and took several steps back, focusing on the head of her statue before firing off a combustion beam from her forehead. She underestimated her own power in this regard as well, knocking her back yet again, but other than slightly singed hair and another bruise on her backside, she was mostly unhurt, and the statue looked untouched, to the point where there was not so much as a chip or a crack in its masonry.

"What even is this thing…" she muttered as she started analyzing every detail of herself that she could, still shocked that she hadn't even so much as chipped it with her explosion. The statue's appearance hadn't changed at all, and still had that stony, intimidating expression that all of the other statues had as well. It was almost comical watching the little Avatar climb all over the large statue of herself, trying to find out more information about where the design had come from, who or what had built it, and what it was made of.

"Still think you don't fit in, hmm?" Korra was hanging off the arm of her statue before the voice startled her and she fell right off. She sprang up and threw her head side to side, trying to locate the sound of the voice she had just heard.

A bluish projection of a scantily-dressed tribal woman approached Korra, who recognized the wild woman from her dreams and meditation.

"Kozue?" Korra recognized the first of the Interregnum Avatars, "How did you get here?"

"In a place as spiritual as this, you don't exactly have to meditate to call us out," Kozue explained, "And as you might have noticed… we are drawn to you; and you are drawn to us."

"We? Us?" Korra tilted her head, having a shrewd idea of who Kozue was referring to, but wanting confirmation.

"The Interregnum Avatars, primarily," Kozue clarified, now standing in front of Korra, "although technically any of your past lives could do as well. Do you truly think you don't fit in?"

"Something happened to me," Korra clutched her forehead, "and I haven't been the same since. I come here and see statues of these heroes from my past, and then there's me, some ragtag vagrant who likes blowing shit up."

"And then there's me," Kozue hummed, "a sheltered tribeswoman revered as a deity who revelled in that reverence. And look at the monster I created in my wake: the 2000-year reign of the Avatar as a force of tyranny."

"But that wasn't your fault—" Korra stammered.

"And was it your fault that you were manipulated without you knowledge?" Kozue interrupted her, "Was it your fault that a woman decided to attack you and nearly slay you? You are but a little child, Korra; there is still much growth to be had in you, and an alarming amount of potential. But first, tell me—do you know why me and my peers are stricken from history the way we are?"

For this, Korra had no answer, prompting Kozue to continue.

"Beyond what we did in the physical world… there was a great deal of atrocities committed by many of us in the spirit world as well," She remarked, "and for us, the Spirit World becomes a dark and twisted place, shaped by our emotions. That is also why you should avoid it."

"What?" Korra felt accused, "I've hardly even properly been there! I haven't done anything to piss off the spirits, have I?"

"No," Kozue shook her head, "but in the spirit world, your emotions become your reality. Would you like to see the reality your emotions currently create? Because I can oblige if so, but you will definitely not like it."

"Hard pass," Korra shook her head, "I'm already dealing with enough shit right now."

"And you will have to let it go." Kozue warned, "To discard negative emotions entirely is a farce, as I'm sure you figured—but know that there is a balance. You are still riding on the winds of your positive emotions from before this turning point, Avatar Korra. There will come a time very soon though, where if you do not correct it, you will fall out of balance, endangering yourself and your abilities as a result."

"So what in oblivion do I do then?" Korra did not take this news well.

"Do what you enjoy." Kozue laughed, "You're the Avatar, and you gotta deal with it."

And with that, Kozue's projection vanished in a wisp of blue smoke, leaving the little Avatar alone in what was once again a silent sanctuary.

Perhaps going home would be good for her; to be surrounded by her native element again and take a breath from the turbulent world around her. She knew that there would be people that tried to tie her down, but she would do what she could to avoid it.

Korra made these desires known to her parents, beseeching them once again to let her retain her autonomy, supporting her argument by reminding them that the Red Lotus leaders had been incarcerated, and so the paranoia surrounding them was no longer necessary.

"I mean, unless one of them suddenly gets another bending discipline and breaks out, they're locked up pretty tightly, right?" she reasoned, "I know I can't be normal… but can I at least interact with people from the actual tribe instead of a bunch of old fogies in purple?"

"We will try to talk the White Lotus out of it," Tonraq promised, "but your safety is paramount, Korra—and there are far more dangers in this world than just them. Some of these dangers… are in here…" He pointed to her forehead, although was more specifically talking about Korra herself rather than her combustion bending. "And I don't want to see these happen to you again…" he indicated Korra's right forearm, and the left-front part of her neck, where fierce red burn-scars had emerged from Nakkoa's torture a few days earlier.

"Trust me," Korra sighed, wincing as she touched her neck, "I don't either."

The little family soon packed up and took the ship back to the Southern Water Tribe, where a slight sense of nostalgia mixed with dread filled Korra's mind. She had also changed her outfit more to match the cold climes, once again wearing her boots and armbands, and with a high-necked shirt to conceal her scars. The dark blue fur jacket she had worn prior to her departure had returned as well, marking one of the rare times when Korra ever covered her arms or shoulders. Her hair seemed to have only gotten thicker and harder to tame, however, and so Korra didn't even bother trying to do anything with it this time—not until she could find the time and interest to comb it, at any rate.

Similar to what she did when she first hit Gaoling and subsequently Republic City, the first thing Korra did upon getting off the boat was hop up on Naga and take off through the tribe, and out into the wilderness, where she disappeared for an entire evening. Naga seemed quite content to be home as well, and the two of them went hunting together and spent the night in an igloo Korra built using her bending handiwork. Korra also proved to be a fairly competent hunter, since she put her skills with the bow to good use as well. After all, blowing her prey up with a combustion beam wouldn't exactly leave much to eat.

"I could live like this every day if I wanted, Naga…" Korra sighed, gazing out into the starry sky, the dim lights of the Tribe that evening far off in the distance, and away from her thoughts or concerns. "I feel like this wild side of me was what was missing from my life."

She spent most of the next morning and afternoon out in the frozen wilderness as well, only returning to the tribe proper that evening. Despite claiming that she wanted to interact with the tribe, Korra spent most of her time out in the wilderness, returning to her remote outposts day after day in the hopes that she could finally put the horrific events surrounding Nakkoa and the Wulong Forest behind her. For the first few days, she was successful. However, there was no one but Naga to hear her frenzied screams when she woke up in the middle of the night from vivid nightmares of her relicing these events. Naga proved to be a solid source of comfort for Korra during these times, but despite this, Korra never looked happy.

Her nightmares were unpleasant, but one of them that she had 15 days after coming home topped them all. Given the nature of Korra's trauma, this nightmare had involved the Red Lotus like many of her other ones had except this time, they were all attacking her at the Western Air Temple. She had seen everything in vivid detail. Nakkoa had ignited the place, while Ming-Hua and P'li had made brutally savage work of both Fukui and Korra's parents. Ghazan had started to melt the entire cliffside, while Kwan had shaken the canyon and caused the various pagodas to collapse. She had felt her pagoda come loose, and as she plunged towards the watery abyss at the bottom of the canyon, she saw Zaheer's face sternly watching the spectacle as if he approved of the entire thing. Moments before Korra would have crashed against the rocks and waves below, she jolted awake in such a violent frenzy that she blasted her entire shelter apart and had formed a dazzling blizzard of ice, rock, and lightning that made even Naga scamper a distance away from her master. After she recovered from the incident, Korra fell to her knees, throwing off her gloves and digging her bare fingers into the ice with tense aggravation. Where this dream had come from, she did not know, but it was uncomfortably vivid, and had felt so real.

"What happened to me, girl?" Korra clung to Naga's neck after her trusted companion had come back to investigate the situation, "How come I can't discern these flashbacks and nightmares from reality anymore? WHAT'S WRONG WITH ME!?"

While Naga was a great source of comfort, Korra wanted someone to vent to that could also talk to her in return, but she feared talking about this with her parents, lest they see it as further reasoning to put her back in the compound. As such, she stayed out an extra day, coming close to running out of food. She botched a hunting trip that same day after swearing that she had just shot Ming-Hua with one of her arrows instead of the yak she had been aiming for. It seemed there was more venom to the Red Lotus' machinations than merely whatever poison Nakkoa had laced the knife with that she had used to stab Korra. Her refusal to open up about these problems to anyone was only exacerbating the problem.

"You said you would be gone for two days, not three," Senna pointed out when Korra made a brief trip back to their family's old supply hut to restock, "What happened?"

"Blizzard," Korra technically was not lying since there had in fact been a blizzard—but it was one of her own creation, "Don't worry; Naga and I are fine. We always are."

"But how fine are you up here?" Senna put a hand to Korra's skull, "I have no doubts about your physical well-being."

"I'm doing better," Korra lied, but the sweet, almost innocent smile that her bright eyes put on seemed convincing enough, "It's still a struggle, but I think I might be able to put this behind me soon. I really hope I can anyways."

"Just remember," Tonraq reminded her, "we're not trying to find excuses to lock you up, Korra. If something's hurting you, we want to know because we care about you."

"I'm fine," Korra shook her head, "I'm not going to be some weakling that comes crying to mom and dad just because of a scary dream or two. I'm tougher than that! I'm going to head back out again though—maybe clear my mind a little more?"

"Stay safe then, Korra," there was a slight resigned look on both Korra's parents' faces, and while subtle, Korra had noticed it the same way that Tonraq and Senna (Senna in particular) had noticed the thousand-yard stare hidden behind Korra's adorable smile.

Of course, considering Korra's ostensibly smooth lying, her mental and emotional situation was actually worsening and her refusal to let these emotions show themselves was causing them to fester in her and make everything else worse by winding her up so tightly that she became visibly more aggressive and hostile. It was just before the month anniversary of their return home that Korra had a particularly violent outburst that left half the supply hut as little more than rubble, and the Avatar had immediately disappeared for another four days without warning.

Korra never did come clean with where she had gone or what she did, but surprisingly, she returned in a much calmer and happier mood. She was confident enough to actually visit to the Southern Water Tribe palace for one of the first times, and almost had a skip in her step. Her father had been Chief of the South for years, but since Korra had mostly been confined to the distant compound, she seldom got to spend any time here.

As she went to go find her father, however, she overheard him and his mother speaking with voices she didn't entirely recognize. It only took a few moments for her to realize that the discussion was about her.

"I think I have more than just a say in the fate of my daughter," Korra felt slightly vindicated to hear Tonraq arguing in her defense, "She was particularly vehement about not returning there."

"The Avatar's fate belongs in the hands of more than just her family," the opposing voice replied in kind, "especially if she is as unstable as you claim. The chances that she will hurt herself—or worse, many other people—is all the more reason she needs to be monitored."

"She's a teenager! There's no way she'd want anyone breathing down her necks unless your men are okay with her hitting them in the face regularly."

"She will need to learn self-control on that front as well. She was not ready to leave the compound when the Red Lotus Sleeper Agents took her, and she's still not ready 18 months later. Avatar Korra needs to be contained, and it's for her own good."

Korra's fists clenched as she mustered every ounce of willpower to keep from bursting into the room, grabbing one of those White Lotus members by the collar and threatening them with violence. On the other hand, her somewhat cheerful mood had quickly given way to her pent-up fury and it was a miracle that half of the hallway she was in did not get detonated.

"I'M NEVER GOING BACK TO PRISON, DO YOU HEAR ME?!" She bellowed, before taking off running. Unsurprisingly, Tonraq, Senna, and the White Lotus masters all froze when they heard her voice, and immediately tried to find where she had run off to. Fortunately for Korra, she was much too fast for them, and was long gone before she had even been spotted.

"This is exactly what I mean!" Tonraq and the Grandmaster Lotus both said simultaneously.

"No," Senna interrupted them both, "This is exactly what my husband has been trying to warn you about. With as powerful as she is, she very likely could and would demolish that entire site. The whole way home, she has made that threat, and she seems fixated on it."

"And so you expect that just because she's the Avatar that she should be able to get away with vandalism, destruction and possible murder?" the Grandmaster gawked, "She is too powerful; containing that power is the only way to ensure the safety of anyone she's around, as well as herself. I do not like her threats, and I do not like having to make her so angry any more than you do—but it is a necessary evil."

"That's the problem though," Tonraq warned, "I'm primarily opposed to it because she is opposed to it. The reason I'm arguing against it is because of how powerful Korra is. I don't think she will be able to be confined or constrained."

"What are you implying, Chief Tonraq?" the Grandmaster frowned.

"What he's saying," Senna clarified, "is that if Korra decides to go on a rampage… I do not think any of us have the capability to stop her. And I believe that the Red Lotus deliberately trained her the way they did for that express purpose."

"Then what do you propose we do?" The Grandmaster crossed his arms.

"We try to reason with her." Senna pointed out, "And if that fails, then we can resort to more drastic measures—but trying to use force on Korra is counterproductive and arguably suicidal. She's extremely volatile and temperamental and I don't imagine she will take too kindly to orders or threats at this point."

Unfortunately, if they wished to reason with Korra, they would first have to find her, and the Avatar was long gone from the palace at this point. Young as she may have been, she was not stupid, and made two stops before disappearing into the wilderness again. The first stop was to get Naga, and the second stop was to observe the harbour and the easiest way to get there from her next destination. She would wait until nightfall before she made a move, but she was already fixated on what she intended to do—and it would cause more damage to the Southern Water Tribe than it had seen in over 70 years.

The compound had other uses besides holding and training the Avatar, and had been used accordingly over the last 18 months that Korra had been absent. In the meantime it had become something of a training facility for younger and less experienced members of the order, as well as a shelter of sorts, among other things. There were watchtowers at regular intervals to watch for storms or visitors (friendly or otherwise), but they were so far from anything else that most of their surroundings looked as black as the night sky above them. Fortunately, most of the compound had actually been evacuated, which showed that the White Lotus were in fact taking Korra's threat seriously, but there were still a few guards and sentries to watch over the place, especially in case Korra did decide to attack—and that was exactly what Korra planned to do.

"The stars sure are pretty tonight," one of the greener night-watch sentries commented to his comrade as he peered through a telescope at the surrounding sky.

"For how cold and distant this place is from anything," the other sentry noted, "you've got a point there. It almost makes the night-watch bearable, heh."

"Hey, speaking of stars," the sentry with the telescope commented, "look at that… those two stars are so low in the sky…"

"Hold it…" he seized the telescope from his fellow, "I… don't think those are stars, friend."

His eyes widened, as small flecks of blue appeared just below the two small white lights. "I think that's the Avatar, and that means we're in trouble."

"How does Avatar Korra paying us a visit mean we're in trouble?" the green guard had not been entirely briefed on Korra's warnings.

"We evacuated most of the faculty because she threatened an attack on this place," the older guard replied, "and given that her hands are on fire and she's got her eyes all glowing, I think our little Avatar is about to… ohhh boy…"

Almost as if he predicted what happened next, there was a loud rumble, and the entire compound shook. Any wires carrying electricity to the place had just been snapped, and the entire facility was thrown into darkness as the ground began to shake again.

Chapter Text

Korra had made up her mind, and her attack had begun. The glow from her eyes was briefly visible from the compound's watchtowers, but at this point, it didn't matter who saw her. What mattered was that no one was going to be able to stop her.

Harnessing power from the Avatar State, Korra focused her first attacks on the front two watchtowers, detonating parts of them with well-aimed combustion beams before sinking her hands into the ice at her feet. Large cracks began to form between her hands and the compound, and her reach extended beyond the ice, and into the bedrock deep below. This rock, she melted into lava, which caused the entire place to begin to sink. She attempted to leave a way out, but knew that the pandemonium might result in casualties. At this point though, she did not care. She fixated was she on the notion of never having to go back there that she wanted to remove it as an option entirely.

Almost immediately, sirens and a call for full evacuation was issued. Korra actually gave pause for a few moments, because while she intended to raze the complex to the ground, she had minimal desire to purposefully kill anyone inside. After a few minutes, she began moving around the walls with deft and frightening speed, striking various points to help expedite the collapse of the walls and grounds as the site collapsed in on itself. There was no taking back what she had done, and so she beelined it for the harbour now. She had done her damage, and now it was time to make her bold escape. She met up quickly with Naga, hopped onto her back, and they took off towards the harbour. By this point there were warning sirens coming from the city, since the sound from Korra's attack had drawn attention, and the Tribe thought that their city was under attack. Korra and Naga zigzagged through the streets to reach the bay, Korra's eyes still flashing from the Avatar State that she was still in. Naga bowled over a few people on her way to the docks, but fortunately none of them were severely injured. There was a sense of panick though, since most people weren't aware of what happened, and to see the Avatar running from the sounds of the attack confused most of the locals even further.

Granted, Korra was also somewhat panicked, not even fully sure how much damage she had done in the darkness and not wanting to find out. Naga cleared a couple of boats, landing on a smaller sailboat that became Korra's by right of theft. Korra used an ice hook similar to the one she had impaled Nakkoa with, except this time she was using it to cut a mooring rather than slay a woman. That, combined with a powerful wave of waterbending, and she was pushed away from the coast and out into the open sea. She knew exactly where she wanted to go, but for now she knew that she couldn't spend another minute here.

The following morning, the Southern Water Tribe was able to assess the damage, although no one had really seen what happened. The city itself was completely unharmed, but the White Lotus compound was little more than a sunken pile of ice and rubble. Tonraq and Senna knew exactly what had happened, and while they were just as horrifically shocked as everyone else, they were not surprised.

"She wasn't kidding…" Tonraq muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

"This just makes everything so much worse…" Senna sighed, loosely directing it at Tonraq, but also not really talking to anyone in particular. "Korra, why did you have to do this?"

"We need to find her," Tonraq asserted, "but she could be anywhere by now. There's no telling what kinds of places Nakkoa and Kwan took her to during her adventures, and she certainly didn't leave any hints."

"The Western Air Temple?" Senna suggested. "Maybe Republic City?"

"That hardly narrows our search though," Tonraq shook his head, "Republic City is the place to hide, not the place to be found."

"Then we ask someone who would know the places Korra liked," Senna turned to him, "We need to talk to one of the Red Lotus agents."

"I had a feeling you were leading to that," Tonraq sighed, "but you're right. Who do you propose though? Zaheer, Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and P'Li were not at all cooperative."

"Kwan," Senna asserted, "If she truly wants to change, then she'll help us. If not… we can expose her true colors. She's also the closest one to us right now."

It took a great deal of explanation and politics for Tonraq and Senna to clarify their intentions, and none of the White Lotus members were too thrilled about Korra after what she had just done.

"But," the Grandmaster sighed, "I suppose it is better to find her than to let her go rampaging around the world wreaking this kind of havoc. She is the most destructive woman I have ever laid eyes upon—even more so than the Red Lotus."

"Huh," Tonraq couldn't resist a sarcastic jab, "almost like I warned you that she would resist and be unstoppable. Who would have thought that a dad knew her daughter?"

Despite the tension, both Tonraq and Senna were both given clearance and were cordially transported to Kwan's prison. Like that of any dangerous earthbender or metalbender with a history of prison breaks, it was a wooden rig out in the middle of the ocean, to prevent her from having any access to earth or other bendable materials. That she was a lavabender meant they also had to watch their position carefully, lest she incinerate the facility.

Kwan bided her time primarily by counting every grain in the wood around her, or by examining every thread of her clothes, every contour of her skin, or every star, cloud, or otherwise feature in the sky. She had memorized things such as guard patrols and who was who within 2 weeks, but overall was more bored than anything. As such, she was naturally surprised and amused to see Korra's parents in front of her cell, particularly Senna. While her green shirt and pants were fairly ratty like any prisoner's clothes, the rest of her body looked surprisingly clean, as if letting dirt build up on her would give her a potential method of escape. Red Lotus benders were crafty like that, and while she didn't share that story too often, Kwan had actually managed to do exactly that at least once.

"Well, well, well," She stood up, pacing her small cubic cell with amusement while her bare toes curled against the familiar wooden floor, "what brings the great parents of the mighty Avatar to see little ol' me, hmm?"

"A potential to lighten your sentence," Tonraq spoke, "Korra has gone missing, and you were one of the five people who knew her best over the last two years. Cooperate, and you might taste the free air sooner than you would otherwise."

There was a moment of silence as Kwan gazed at Tonraq and Senna, the latter of whom harboured a rather fierce expression. After a moment, the lavabender spoke.

"Let me guess," she cracked an amused chuckle, "Despite her explicit warnings that she would blow the place up, you tried to take her back to the Southern Water Tribe compound, and now are acting all surprised that she's gone and blown the place to smithereens and run away."

There was a slight shock between Tonraq and Senna as Kwan accurately described the event that had occurred two days ago as if she had been there.

"And now," Kwan continued, "you're not sure where she's run off to, because she feels scared and betrayed. Now I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure she went straight back to Republic City. In fact, I think I even know the exact address of where she went."

"The more you tell, the easier this will be on you," Senna warned. "You're acting like you're running a spy network or something."

"Look, I don't have a spy network or anything;" Kwan laughed, "I'm in prison in case you haven't noticed; unless you think I've got Red Lotus operatives hiding down south."

Senna shot her a stern glare instead of replying.

"But," she continued, "if I had to take a stab at where our favourite little Avatar has run off to, I'm going to wager that she's run off to the last person in the world that she believes she can still trust, because she's scared, and my sister torturing her probably gave her serious trust issues."

"And to whom might she have run off to?" Tonraq glared accusingly at her.

"Well it certainly ain't me, if that's what you're thinking!" Kwan pounded on the bars with a chuckle, "No, if I know my little Avatar as well as I think I do, then she's gone and met back up with her little friend Asami Sato and her father. If you need directions to their estate… then I recommend actually visiting Republic City yourselves to take in the view."

That was the last piece of information that Kwan was willing to share, since she had nothing to really go off of either. As Tonraq and Senna turned to leave, Kwan spoke one last time.

"Oh, and… I know you don't owe me a damn thing," she said, "but if Korra asks about me at all… tell her I said hello and that I'm doing fine."

Kwan might not have crossed Korra's thoughts too much what with all the other things on the already-stressed-out Avatar's mind, but Kwan, who had nothing better to do than spend all day sitting in her wooden cell, thought about Korra. She pondered their adventures together, wondered how Korra fared after the whole incident with Nakkoa, and wondered if they'd be able to ever find another firebender for The Prison Breakers probending team. Kwan knew a few contacts due to her previous honourary affiliation with the Agni Kai Triads, but hadn't gotten in touch with them for years, and wasn't even sure if they were still alive. Still, she knew for sure that whoever they got (if she found anyone at all), it would have to be an ex-con. Korra might not have technically been to prison, but given her record—especially after her outburst at the Southern Water Tribe compound that Tonraq had inadvertently revealed to her—she figured Korra was bound to end up behind bars at least once, however briefly.

A Few Days Later...

Kwan knew Korra well enough that her predictions of where she had run off to were spot-on. Korra had not wanted to be alone, and other than maybe Ichiro in Gaoling, she didn't have anywhere else to run to. On the other hand, Asami was much more her age and a much closer friend, and the notion that Ichiro might have relocated in the last 18 months wasn't lost on Korra.

Naturally, she had been surprised when a weary Korra and Naga had arrived on her doorstep, but after hearing her story (Korra had omitted the part about destroying the compound; merely stating that she had 'escaped' it), Asami had sympathized with her and smoothed it over with her father the following day. Korra even offered to pay Hiroshi in return for his hospitality, but the old businessman had simply welcomed her stating that "a friend of Asami's was a friend of his." Asami was low-key relieved that neither of them actually brought up the value of the estate, because she figured that while Korra might have had a large amount of money from her stunt in the probending arena, that she was still sorely underestimating their worth.

Whatever the case, Korra and Naga made themselves at home, and this is exactly where Tonraq and Senna found them after they rang the bell to the Sato Estate's gate. After introducing themselves as Korra's parents, Hiroshi Sato let them in.

"Your daughter is quite the elemental powerhouse," He commented after the obligatory introductions, breaking out a bottle of wine to hopefully soothe the two waterbenders' visibly frazzled nerves. "My own daughter has taken quite a liking to her though, and she is not a child with poor judgment."

"Korra's a good kid," Tonraq nodded as Senna was the first one to open the bottle, "She kept a picture of herself and Asami as a keepsake among her possessions. I'm sure she's just as fond of your daughter as she is of Korra."

"It's heartwarming to see people from such different walks of life come together like that," Hiroshi smiled. "A nonbender befriending the… Avatar… of all people, and one that already seems much more powerful than her predecessor. Not to mention the fact that while we live near the pinnacle of Republic City society, she is much more inclined towards the… opposite."

"There's no denying our daughter is a bit rough around the edges," Senna admitted, "But she's also recovering from a near-death experience at the hand of a terrorist, and so it was relieving to find that she fled to someone she felt she could trust."

"The Red Lotus Terrorists, hmm?" Hiroshi raised his eyebrow, "It was all in the news last month that they had been captured, and it serves them right. Sometimes benders are simply too powerful for their own good."

"I hope that mindset doesn't cloud your judgment of everyone," Tonraq raised his eyebrow at Hiroshi's slightly suspicious words.

"Of course not," Hiroshi shook his head, pouring himself a glass of wine as Senna started on her 2nd glass, "But if these benders are going so far as to attack the Avatar… surely none of us would try to defend those monsters—and I highly doubt any of us are arguing that the Red Lotus should be emancipated, yes?"

"Forgive us," Tonraq apologized, "our daughter has been under very stressful situations lately, which has in turn passed to us. Not to mention that she's taken some of it out on us, and so if we seem a touch irate, we apologize."

"If someone dared threaten my daughter I would feel the same as any respectable parent would," Hiroshi assured them, "Now, on the note of your daughter, I am happy to let her remain here as long as she needs or wishes, within reason of course. Obviously there are certain standards and expectations I would have of my guests, as there would be in any household, but I am not an unreasonable man by any stretch."

"Can we speak to her?" Senna looked up.

"You certainly don't need my approval," Hiroshi chuckled, "She's a guest, not a prisoner. Although, if you'll excuse me, I have other business I need to attend to. My daughter Asami or any of the servants around the house will be happy to cater to your needs."

As if on cue, one of the many butlers in the house escorted Tonraq and Senna out of Hiroshi's study and out towards where Korra and Asami were enjoying each other's company and enjoying the warm afternoon air.

"I can seriously not thank you enough for convincing your dad to let me stay here for a while," Korra repeated, clasping Asami's hand between both of her own, "this last month has been so crazy, and I've just been dealing with so much stress and…" she sighed and trailed off for a moment. "I just can't figure out what's wrong with me! It's like I…"

The hair on the back of Korra's neck suddenly stood up and her left ear twitched as she heard someone coming. She turned around and had a mixed reaction to seeing her parents.

"Who let you in?" She was already apprehensive, causing Tonraq and Senna to steel themselves for what they knew was likely going to be a tense situation. Asami took a couple of steps back, although kept her eyes on Korra and her parents. It was awkward for their first meeting, but she was ready to play a mediator if she had to.

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"Look," Korra continued, "I don't want to talk about what I did in the South Pole—especially not here, and especially not now."

"Korra," Senna stepped forward, "Even if we weren't your parents, what you did there was not okay. This is exactly why the White Lotus wanted to keep an eye on you. You can't just go through life destroying anything you don't like."

"Maybe if you had listened to me when I said to keep those bastards away from me, this wouldn't have happened!" Korra barked.

"And so what are you going to do with your life," Tonraq interjected, pointing a finger at Korra's nose, "because that sounds exactly like the same kind of tyranny used by that Interregnum Cycle you've been so obsessed with."

"Wha-!?" Korra stammered, her expression revealing genuine shock as she stepped back, "how did you kn—why are you reading my things?" In truth, Korra's obsession was much more about trying to find out who they were and what they had done, rather than trying to become like them.

"Because ever since you left with Nakkoa and Kwan, you've changed." Tonraq answered, "You've become defensive; secretive; hostile, even."

"Excuse me," Korra's face scrunched into a fiercely malcontent glare, "I'm sorry if I'm not tiptoeing through the tulips with glee after getting poisoned, burned, electrocuted, and nearly killed by someone I thought I could trust!" To prove her point, she undid the top of her shirt, pulling it down on the left side only enough to reveal the fierce reddened skin that was her burn scar, "And now suddenly everyone wants to lock me up and babysit me all over again. I spent a month in the tribe without incident just fine, dad. But then you caved into those idiots who have been hell-bent on locking me up since the day I was born, and look what happened."

"I did not cave, Korra," Tonraq corrected her, "but your overall condition did not improve at all between the Nakkoa incident and now—it got worse. We wanted to find someone who could help you with that, but before we were able to reach those negotiations, you stormed off and attacked the tribe that same evening without so much as an "I'm going to go destroy stuff, dad"."

"Golly gee," Korra rolled her eyes, "It's almost like I warned you guys that I would personally see to it that that place was razed to the ground if you considered throwing me back in there. Who knew that being a woman of my word was such a terrible thing?"

"Do you realize how much damage you did, Korra?" Senna's face turned stern.

"No," Korra interrupted, "and I don't want to know, because I don't care!"

"...barring the complete annihilation of the entire area," Senna's face turned as equally terse as Korra's, "there were injuries—deaths even, unless the medical reports were revised. You can't just do that on a whim and then run away and think it's going to be alright."

"Are you saying there's something wrong with me?" Korra posed this as her question, but was actually baiting her parents so she could lead to another point.

"Considering that you just got done going on a hate-fuelled rampage through the Southern Water Tribe?" Tonraq gritted his teeth, "Yes, Korra. As much as we hate to say it—there is something wrong with you, if you think that murder and destruction can solve everything!"

"If something's wrong with me," Korra pointed her finger accusingly at her father; she had been waiting to use this response, "Then how about you try to ADDRESS the actual problem, instead of just trying to lock it up in some fucking PRISON COMPOUND to let it rot? You want to help me? Get to the bottom of whatever in oblivion is wrong with me, and help me FIX IT!"

"Do you really think screaming at people and bombarding them with threats is going to make you get your way, Korra?" Senna barked. Korra hit a particular nerve with her in a very similar way to how she and Tonraq had hit a nerve with Korra. What she wasn't telling her daughter, however, was that her reaction had a very similar origin to Korra's.

"Maybe I do; maybe I don't! But either way..." Korra snapped, pausing only for a split-second before her eyes began to glow threateningly, "Get out of my sight before I do something stupid that I end up regretting! NOW!"

Asami took this instant as her moment to intervene, stepping between the enraged Korra and her parents. "I do not mean to be rude, Chief," She spoke respectfully, "but you both need to leave." Asami had to push Korra back, because her teeth were bared, her left arm was wreathed in ominous blue flames, and she was trying to push back at Asami to get a clear view of Tonraq and Senna. The only reason her right arm was also not shrouded in flames was because it was on Asami's shoulder trying "gently" to push her aside, and even in her Avatar-induced rage, she didn't want to harm her friend.

"We apologize," Tonraq and Senna nodded respectfully at Asami, "Thank you for your time."

They turned and were escorted by a butler to the gates, where they cordially left the premises and disappeared. It was only after the tensions had died down that Asami moved to confront Korra about what had just happened and what she had just learned.

"Okay, lights off," She tapped Korra's nose, "you have some explaining to do, miss."

Korra's rage subsided, as did her flames, although she remained apprehensive, defensive, and in the Avatar State itself. She seethed, taking slow, deep breaths before finally managing to recover. Her Avatar State was a mixture of control and reflex, which explained why she was able to not blast into a hate-fuelled elemental rampage, but also why she wasn't able to just suddenly exit the state when she wanted to.

"Seriously, Korra," Asami's tone became gentler again, a tone of concern making itself audible as well, "those were your parents, and that was an incredibly awkward first meeting for me. What's going on? And you didn't tell me you murdered guards and destroyed a complex; you just said you ran and escaped."

"Same thing," Korra scratched the back of her head, "Look, if anyone died, it was unintended casualties of breaking free from a prison sentence that I did not deserve!" She was lying about breaking out, since she had not actually been sent back in before returning home.

"But seriously, Korra," Asami put her hands on Korra's shoulders, trying to coax the slightly shorter girl to look her in the eyes, "You've changed a lot in the last month or so. You're always so tense now, and so… prickly. Okay, I'll put it bluntly: you're mean, Korra. That little display of yours a moment ago was nothing short of hostile. I thought you loved your parents, what with how you always talked so fondly of them before.."

"Fuck, Asami, I…" Korra shook her head, "I do, it's just…" she doubled over and clutched her temples before moving to pull her hair, "It's like my mind can't fully grasp what happened to me… and it scares me, and when I get scared I get angry. I'm really sorry you had to see that."

"Korra, I'm not your mom," She put her hands on Korra's shoulders, "or your dad, or your teacher, or your guardian. I'm your friend. Please just tell me what happened."

"NO!" Korra recoiled as if Asami had just seared her face, "I-I mean, I can't. I just… can't."

"It's not going to do you any favours if you try to keep it bottled up Korra," Asami asserted.

"Are you really going to make me recount that, Asami?" While most of Korra's wide arsenal of pouts were often comical, the one she had now was a mixture of melancholy and concern.

"I don't want to hurt you any more than you've already been hurt, Korra," Asami shook her head, "I just want to help you."

"Fine," Korra grunted, "you want the gory details, I'll give you the gory details…"

"Korra, I didn't mean—" Asami stammered, but Korra cut her off, launching into a morbidly detailed explanation of her account of Nakkoa and the associated torture she faced at the wild firebender's hands. By the time she had finished her spiel, Asami was bug-eyed and speechless, her jaw hanging slightly agape in a way that might have been funny had the conversation not turned so morbid.

"Even as I chased her down she tried to kill me," Korra finished, "I kind of just… let the Avatar State take over, and it did the rest. And then when I finally cornered her, I just… lost it. We grappled and I put an ice hook through her gut so fast that it was over before it started."

"Korra, that…" Asami paused, "It's different, but I think the concept is similar. Your current emotional state is trauma-related, I'm almost certain."

"How do you know?" Korra looked curious this time instead of belligerent.

"There was a period shortly after my mother was killed that my father was very similar." Asami explained, "Tense, erratic, harsh and defensive—even towards me. He quickly got over it after he realized that he was taking it out on me, but that erratic and hostile behaviour came right after a horrific event. Yours did the same thing."

"So what did he do?" Korra paused, putting her hands on Asami's shoulders in return, "What did you do? How did he recover?"

"I don't know…" Asami sighed, "I did what I could to support him though, especially since he was always my shoulder to cry on as I tried recovering from realizing I had said my last goodbyes to my mother. I guess my dad just learned to cope with it; to accept that it happened and then try to move on and continue our business empire. Here we are today."

"Were it that easy," Korra sighed, "Hey… I'm really sorry you had to see that."

"I think it's your parents that you need to apologize to the most, Korra," Asami frowned, "I accept your apology, but you took out a lot of your anger on them—it was actually a bit unnerving to see you ready to attack them."

"And I would have too, that's the terrible part," Korra whimpered, putting her arms around Asami without really considering what she was doing, "I don't want to be like this… I just… I have this stupid, irrational fear that someday someone else really close to me is going to turn and try to kill me—and that then I'll turn around and kill them instead."

"You liked this crazy firebender woman?" Asami raised her eyebrow.

"I did, sort of," Korra admitted, looking at Asami with slightly red eyes, "We were on the same Probending team if you remember, and then one day, she just snapped and went crazy and tried to brutally murder me. I'm scared that someone else might do the same—not so much for my sake, since if I die I'll reincarnate… but they won't."

"That's still a terrible thing to say," Asami frowned, "but Korra—and please don't take this the wrong way—but your father is right. You can't just try and solve all your problems by smashing them or setting them on fire."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Korra looked pleadingly at Asami as if expecting her to have all the answers. The frown that appeared on her face disheartened the Avatar.

"I don't know, Korra…" she sighed, "I really wish I did. I think… you should try to make peace with yourself though. Try and make peace with your parents; try to make peace with the event that haunts you. You don't have to like it; you don't have to forgive the ones responsible… but accept that it happened, and get back up. It's what happened when the Triads killed my mother."

Korra was about to mention that Nakkoa had been Yasuko's killer, but after just admitting that she had been friends with her in the weirdest kind of way, Korra didn't want to rile up Asami, especially after her efforts to placate Korra. That would be like spitting in the face of a Good Samaritan, at this point.

"I think I just need to do things again," Korra shook her head, "I obviously haven't been training since one of my teachers turned and tried killing me, and so I've kind of just been wandering around aimlessly trying to occupy my time. What kind of work is there in Republic City?"

"Depends on how stringent they are about child labour laws," Asami quipped, "you though, you could honestly probably pass off as an adult if you showed off a bit of your bending skills… or those arms, Korra…" Asami playfully lifted one of Korra's arms and squeezed her bicep. Korra might have still been fairly short since she was still growing, but she had kept her athletic form up during her 'training downtime', and she had particularly muscular arms.

"Haha, these?" Korra flexed to really bring out her muscle tone, grinning stupidly. Asami giggled. "There's the Korra I know and love," she used the last word lightly, "I think that would be good for you though. Maybe after you've smoothed it over with your parents, let them know you want to find work. Get busy being productive, and you'll probably find that you're worrying a lot less."

"How do you know?" Korra tilted her head to one side.

"Again… my dad." Asami smiled. "He worked twice as hard after mom died, and he taught me tricks of the trade when I wasn't learning self-defense. It kept us occupied, and helped us grow."

"Hey, speaking of which, do you wanna spar?" Korra offered, "no bending of course; just a good, fair fight using our fists and feet. What do you say?"

"No Avatar State either," Asami ruffled Korra's already hopeless hair, "And we need stakes. What does the winner get and what does the loser have to do?"

"If I win, you buy me a 20-pound bag of candy," Korra grinned stupidly.

"20 pounds?" Asami laughed, "what would you need that much candy for?"

"Hey, candy is a gift from the spirits of old as a blessing to humankind," Korra spoke matter-of-factly, "and I refuse to be convinced otherwise."

"Alright then," Asami giggled, "if I win I get to do up your hair. And we won't stop until it's neat and clean, or so help me!"

"High stakes," Korra took a few steps back. "At your ready, Sato."

Traumatized or not, there was still no denying that Korra was arrogant. She was fast but Asami proved to be more agile and precise than Korra had expected, and by the time Korra realized that she shouldn't have held back, she was already on the defensive. A few precise strikes to her arms and shoulder, and Korra staggered back, allowing Asami to strike her and knock her onto her backside and back.

"Damn it!" Korra swore, although the idea of a day out on the town with Asami wasn't exactly an unwelcome idea, whenever they decided it would be.

"You went easy on me, didn't you?" Asami offered Korra her hand. She was shrewd; that much was clear even to Korra.

"I'm not very subtle according to someone I know," Korra grinned as she pulled herself up. "But a loss is a loss. It looks like you're stuck with the gauntlet of struggles and broken combs that's also known as my hair then."

"And this is exactly the Korra I love to see," Asami gave her a kiss on the forehead, "come; we've got work to do, and it starts with your hair."

Korra admitted defeat, and cracked a proper smile for the first time in a month. Asami was right about everything they had discussed—and Korra owed her parents an apology.

Chapter Text

Before there would be any apologizing though, Asami marched Korra to one of her side rooms and sat her down in front of a mirror. Korra grumbled, knowing exactly what she was in store for, but knew that there was no talking Asami out of it at this point.

"You'll want a metal comb or brush if you have one," Korra warned.

"Oh?" Asami paused.

"Kwan tried doing my hair once," Korra shrugged with a laugh, "she broke two combs before metalbending one strong enough to get through my hair."

"I have just the thing then…" Asami couldn't help but laugh.

In stark contrast to Kwan, Asami treated Korra's hair gently to the point where any pulling was light enough to not make Korra yell or want to turn around and slug her in the face. She'd have to tell Kwan about this if the two ever crossed paths again. Some time later after Asami finished working her magic; she started running her fingers through Korra's hair, which felt surprisingly delightful. After several minutes of this though, she had to ask.

"Is this part of you doing my hair?" Korra was just curious.

"No;" Asami chuckled, "you just have really fluffy hair that's fun to play with."

"Well it feels nice," Korra cracked a rare soft smile, "I… really like it."

It was an odd and surprisingly relaxing little act that soothed Korra's still-frazzled nerves. Perhaps she would have to ask for this treatment a little more often, especially if it helped her keep a level head. Before the Nakkoa incident Korra felt like she would have little trouble staying cool, but ever since then, she felt like she was still unstable enough that she didn't fully trust her own emotions. She was also still angry and embarrassed at herself that she had let the Avatar State slip in, and in front of her parents no less.

"I'll keep that in mind." Asami continued to idly play with Korra's hair, "thank you."

"No," Korra sighed, "thank you."

As much as she tried to shake it, she wondered about Asami. Hiroshi was somewhat suspicious, and she had a nagging feeling that he didn't exactly like her as much as he let on. Maybe he was just humouring Asami, or maybe she was just being paranoid. After Nakkoa and the Red Lotus, Korra still had serious trust issues that she wasn't sharing with anyone. That woman didn't trust anyone either, and in a way, it had made sense. By teaching Korra, Nakkoa had been associating with and teaching the girl who would later take her life. By extension, Korra had been living with the woman who would later mess up her entire life, all because Korra could not see through the act.

Then it occurred to her: what if Asami was the same way? What if this was all a ruse?

No! She couldn't start thinking that way and spitting in Asami's face after everything her best friend had done for her. Asami was just a kind young lady who wanted to help Korra…

...but at what benefit of her own? Here Korra was, living off of the Satos' yuan, not really providing anything in return while Asami was here as Korra's emotional crutch, also always doing little things for her to cheer her up throughout the day—and not asking anything in return. It was suspicious, Korra felt, but she also tried to dismiss this as her paranoia speaking. They had been friends for almost two years prior to her near-death experience, and never once had Korra procured that same suspicion until now.

Korra told herself that it was for her parents' sake that she waited a day before trying to contact Tonraq and Senna, but really it was also for her own sake as well. Fortunately they had not left the city either, but Asami was able to somehow find them and invite them back to pick up Korra.

While she had looked somewhat proper the day before despite her hair, today Korra had reverted back to her barefooted vagrant look, perhaps as a reminder of her own shame. This humility extended to when she actually saw Tonraq and Senna in person again, for she hung her head and was hesitant to make eye contact with either of them.

"Can we talk somewhere else besides Mr. Sato's front gate?" she asked, having cleared it with Asami that she would be gone for a little while. That her parents led her to a vehicle before climbing in was further evidence of this.

"I'm interested in hearing the explanation behind this," Tonraq spoke as he drove them to the suite they had been staying in. His driving abilities were not as proficient as Asami's considering that there were far fewer vehicles in the Southern Water Tribe, but he still knew how to operate a Satomobile it seemed.

"Can you at least not rub it in?" Korra sighed, "I want to apologize, but if I'm just going to get patronized, I'll jump out of this car right now and deal with whatever comes my way from there. I just want to do it when I have your full attention, rather than distract you when you're weaving through traffic."

There was a curt nod, before Tonraq and Senna eventually took Korra to their suite and seated themselves across from Korra.

"Have a seat," He invited her to sit as well, where she still refused to make eye contact. "And feel free to explain yourself when you're ready."

"I…" Korra glanced side to side. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I felt like shit after you left, and even now I'm still hitting myself for even remembering that I literally threatened to kill you."

"That was honestly the most shocking and frankly terrifying threat I have ever faced in my life," Senna admitted, "and that's even counting the incidents in Desert Storm. Death threats from horrible people such as renegades, criminals or terrorists is one thing, but to receive a death threat from my own child, who I know full well is capable of carrying out that threat without remorse... we were just as frightened as you were, Korra."

"I know!" Korra whimpered, "I love you guys! How do you think I felt after realizing that I got hijacked by the Avatar State and threatened to murder you both in cold blood like that?!"

"...hijacked by the Avatar State?" Tonraq leaned forward, tilting his head slightly. "That's a phrase I've never heard before."

"It wasn't a choice," Korra explained, "It… just kind of happened. It's an Avatar defense mechanism; everyone knows that… but for me it's become something of a reflex. Like, whenever my spirit thinks I'm in danger, it kicks in, even when I'm not in any actual danger. For some reason I felt threatened when you spoke to me… so I brought up my defenses and threw my own threats right back at you."

There was a moment of silence before Korra shifted forward, letting herself fall to her knees. "What's wrong with me!?" She cried, burying her face in her hands, leaning forward until her face nearly touched the floor. "I've got trust issues because of that woman, dad… I didn't trust you guys and you've been there for me for over 14 years…" They hadn't exactly been there for her 15th year or the beginning of her 16th year, but at this point Korra was pretty convinced she wanted her parents to be there when she turned 16—or at the very least, to keep in regular touch with them at that point. "And now I'm worried that the Satos are trying to exploit me behind my back and that doesn't even make sense! Like, where the heck am I getting these paranoid delusions from?"

"Korra…" Senna had crouched beside her daughter, putting her fingers under her chin in a (thus far) vain attempt to coax Korra to look up, but it seemed Korra did not want to look anyone in the eyes right now. "From everything you've said, both about the incident and about your behaviour… I think I know what's doing this to you."

"What is it?" Korra looked up for a moment before shaking her head, "What's wrong with me?"

"I've seen this before in someone else," Senna replied, "your behaviour is caused by stress which was in turn caused by formidable trauma. Sometimes, events happen in our lives that our minds are not fully able to process… and so we struggle to get a grip on everything that actually happened. And so every time those memories show their faces, it can trigger various stressful reactions that prevent your mind from healing. It's a vicious cycle, and I think that's what keeps forcing you into the Avatar State even."

"Is it?" Korra glanced up, mostly at her parents' feet rather than either of their faces, "where did you learn about that?"

"Just because your dad gave me a few ins and outs of combat doesn't mean I never learned about healing as well," Senna explained, running her hand through Korra's hair in a way that actually soothed the young Avatar, "not to mention my military career before your dad helped me settle down… and master Katara knows a great deal about healing not only the body, but also the mind. Based on your behavioural patterns and what she has taught me… I believe that that may be what's wrong with you. I apologize that it took us so long to realize it."

"But what do I do then?" Korra remained where she was, settling for Senna's fingers in her hair, "if it's an endless cycle of my actions refusing to let my mind heal, then I'm just fucked, right?"

"Korra, that wasn't necessary," Tonraq intervened, "but no; you're not beyond repair. Soldiers and mercenaries often experience similar conditions. I've seen it in some of my men myself. Sometimes, life might kick you down… but when it does, you have to pick up the pieces and get right back up." He thought back to his own past shortly before Korra was born, where he had been exiled from the North and sent south with little more than his name. It was not a relevant story at this point however, considering that he did not want to take away from the moment that his emotionally-fragile daughter clearly needed right now.

"We may not be able to fully understand what you went through or what it's doing to you, Korra," Senna lightly scratched Korra's scalp, this time successfully coaxing her daughter to look up at their smiling faces, "but like your friend Asami, we want to be there for you when you need us."

"And White Lotus be damned," Tonraq cracked a half-smirk mixed in with his otherwise warm smile, "We are not going to force you to be monitored, followed, or otherwise locked up. You've already seen and done things that some men and women twice your age only hear about in stories. You've earned autonomy, at the very least."

"I've considered mercenary work," Korra suggested, "I mean, nothing too dangerous I don't think… but what better way to let off steam than a bit of self-defense every now and again?

"I can't argue it without becoming a hypocrite," Tonraq confessed.

"Neither can I," Senna raised her eyebrow. She wasn't exactly some idle layabout prior to meeting Tonraq, after all. Her gentle demeanour merely hid a much fiercer side, such as the one she showed Kwan when she was fighting to reach her daughter.

"Just… make sure it doesn't get to your head." Tonraq warned, "As much as we love you, Korra, what you did at the South Pole was not okay."

"I regret not finding a way to make sure everyone was out before I attacked," Korra admitted, "but I don't regret tearing that damn place down. Still…" her eyes were red, betraying that she had likely been softly crying when her face was against the floor, "thanks for believing in me—and putting up with me all these years."

"We put up with you for 14 years just fine," Tonraq chuckled. "What's a few more and a couple of minor heartaches in between?" He opened his arms, inviting Korra into them where he pulled his daughter into a loving embrace.

"We aren't perfect," he continued, "but I don't care how old we get. No matter how old you are or how strong you become… know that we love you—and we'll always be there for you."

Koora did not reply, but nuzzled against Tonraq's shoulder for several moments before turning to give her mother the same affection.

"Times like this make me feel like even the Avatar isn't worthy of having you guys as parents." Korra sighed, smiling weakly.

"You gotta deal with it." Senna smirked, exchanging glances with Tonraq.

"Deal with it! Deal with it! Deal with it!" Tonraq suddenly burst out laughing. It took a moment for Korra to process what he was saying, but the moment she realized he was imitating her as a toddler after they first discovered she was the Avatar, her eyes went as round as dinner plates before narrowing and accompanying a disgruntled pout.

"I was 4, okay!?" she threw her arms up.

"Deal with it." Tonraq winked at her. Korra laughed properly for the first time in several months, and for some reason, she felt like it was one of the most wholesome noises to escape her lips in her entire life.

The rest of the meeting went swimmingly, and there was a great deal of more hugging and holding than Korra had had in over a year. The Red Lotus didn't mistreat he, per se, but none of them exactly gave her any affection or care beyond ensuring that she remained in good health. As such, it was a welcome change of pace, because after being deprived of it almost completely for over 18 months, Korra realized just how much she needed and craved this type of affection in her life—especially at her age. All in all, Korra left the suite a much happier girl.

Having made things up with her parents, Korra returned to the Sato Estate with a noticeable skip in her step that Asami couldn't help but call her out on.

"I take it that your meeting went well?" She smiled.

"It did," Korra beamed, shortly before Naga tackled her to the ground as her way of welcoming her master back. She didn't even try to get up. "I feel like I've got purpose to my life now… and I think I might be able to find a productive use of my time."

"It sounds like it went well then," Asami offered her hand anyways, and Korra eventually took it, "I'm happy for you, Korra. You really do have a beautiful smile—and it reminds me of the awkward little 14-year-old girl I ran into on my moped all those months ago."

"Well, I'm sure I'm not always going to be sunshine and rainbows," Korra admitted, "but I think I'll be able to get up from this mess I've been wallowing in, and finally be able to put it behind me where it belongs…"

Korra was a woman of action, and not one for idle talk, and so that night she already started mentally devising methods of how to set about with starting her line of work. She wasn't sure when she finally drifted off to sleep, but for the first time in over a month, Korra's dreams were peaceful and pleasant, and so was her demeanour.

Chapter Text

With the high crime rates around Republic City, Korra figured it would be surprisingly easy to find work as a mercenary, a bodyguard, or other types of hired muscle. She sometimes went and covered her identity and comically, even posed as a man in several instances, donning Sokka's Wang Fire beard that he had bequeathed to her during one of their earlier meetings. Due to her growing figure, this became less and less prominent as she grew older. She and Naga took a little time browsing different places and options, also enjoying exploring the vast city, where something new seemed to be waiting for her every day. She spent a bit of her remaining prize money on a good solid bow, knowing that those skills would also come in handy if she didn't want to reveal herself as the Avatar to just anyone yet. Her headband covered her signature tattoo, but darker thoughts also crossed her mind as to what she could do with it.

P'Li had mentioned many times that 'assassin' was a common profession for the rare individuals who knew combustion bending. Korra was not entirely afraid of killing when she thought about how easy it had been for her to kill Nakkoa, but at the same time, she also didn't necessarily want to become a serial murderer. Perhaps sticking to more honest muscle-work would be better for her at the time, especially considering her fairly tender age. Ultimately, her main goal with mercenary work was not to try and earn money despite the lucrativeness of the career; but more to get her mind off of past events that had turned her life upside-down.

Asami did not seem overly convinced about this when Korra told her, for while she would be gone for days and sometimes weeks at a time, Korra made sure to drop by Sato Estate to ensure her best friend that she was still alive.

"Sometimes," Korra reasoned, "a dangerous situation can calm my frazzled nerves. I think it's a matter of being in control of the situation or not. I'm not sure."

"Just…" Asami took Korra's hands, "stay safe out there"

"Of course," Korra smiled, "besides, I think with how crazy things are around here, I could probably find plenty of work without even leaving the city limits."

Surprisingly, there was a lot of this kind of work to be had in Republic City alone, and while Korra put effort into making sure she didn't accidentally join one of the Triad groups who ran the undercity, she found that almost none of them cared about her age, either thinking she was much older than 15½ or simply not caring enough to say anything about it. When she wasn't masquerading as Wang Fire, Korra's appearance did her several favours in this department. Her barefooted vagabond-style appearance and her unkempt hair gave her the impression of being someone who was well-travelled, and her heavy eyes, muscular arms, and the bow and quiver strapped to her back made her look like a travelling mercenary on their own.

Of course, she was not about to reveal that the look in her eyes had come from her trauma, and so instead played off of people's perceptions and talked herself up. She was a much more talented liar now than she was before meeting the Red Lotus, but overall she liked to still consider herself a fairly honest woman. She didn't need to lie about her skills, and preferred instead to let her actions do the talking by showing off her physical prowess as well as her skill and accuracy with the bow she carried any time she was asked. She was picky with bending disciplines, not exactly wanting everyone to know that she was the same Avatar that had been playing Probending matches only a few months earlier.

Whatever the case, this was Korra's new line of work; and for better or worse, it took her places, with some of her trips and contracts even taking her out of Republic City on occasion. Most of the time when she did travel it was just to various parts of the northwestern Earth Kingdom, and while she thought it would be a boring trip protecting some merchant with more money than he likely knew what to do with, Korra quickly learned that bandits and raiders were commonplace out here. However, she and those she worked with generally made quick work of them, with Korra quickly proving that she was just as competent as she claimed she was. The fact that she also was backed by a fierce and loyal animal companion only helped in that regard.

Even around Republic City, she caused something of a stir among the different Triad groups, for better or for worse; and despite danger and threats, she stuck to her line of work all the way to and past her 16th birthday. She kept semi-regular correspondence with her parents throughout this time, although omitted the time she revealed to a client that she knew combustion bending, and thus had a brief stint as an assassin. She wasn't too proud of either of the two times it happened, but the amount of money it earned her… she could rent a decent sized apartment for at least two years with this much money. While remaining 'in control' of dangerous situations did feel therapeutic, Korra failed to mention to anyone—including Asami—that the nightmares, hallucinations, and flashbacks she had been suffering from over the last few months had not in fact gotten any better. Arguably, they had worsened further, but Korra felt that that was the last thing any of her friends or family needed to know.

It was only after taking another hiatus to return to Asami that Korra finally also got to more properly meet the Probending brothers Mako and Bolin in person. They sometimes dropped by to say hello to the family that had sponsored them, and while these times usually did not coincide with times this was one of those times.

"Heyyy!" Bolin exclaimed, "I remember you! You were that crazy Probending Avatar woman!"

"You were hard to catch, that's for sure," Korra shrugged, "I wouldn't have called it a fair fight though. Nakkoa and Kwan were veterans, and I'm the Avatar…"

"Still…" Bolin scratched the back of his head, "you're what Probenders should aspire to be! And you're the Avatar!"

"It's not as fancy as it sounds, Bolin," She reached up to ruffle his hair, "I promise."

"Oh don't say that," Bolin pushed her playfully, "you're still kind of my hero."

"So what else do you guys do besides Probending?" Korra looked curious, "I don't imagine you're a mooch like I am and just spend your time lazing around here."

"Would that we could be so lucky," Mako scoffed. "The Satos are generous folks, but we can't live off their coin."

"Don't worry," Korra shrugged, "I don't either. I mean I did for a while, but that was more just for the recovery before I went and found work."

"And what do you do for work?" Mako turned to her.

"I asked you first," Korra flashed a grin before filling her mouth with more candy.

"Look, we're not proud of it," Mako sighed. "Sometimes you've gotta do what you gotta do to make ends meet."

"Look hun," Korra tried to stay polite, with limited success, "whatever you've done, I guarantee I've done worse. Just lay it on me; I'm a listener."

"We've done work for the Triads before," Bolin blurted out, much to Mako's chagrin. "Mostly just running some numbers and that sort of thing; nothing too bad, I swear!"

"That's it?" Korra tilted her head, "here I was expecting something like grand larceny or assault or something. Maybe attempted murder? I dunno."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Bolin shook his head and hands, "no way; no way! What kind of monsters do you take us for?"

"Hold it," Mako suddenly had suspicions, "what kind of things have *you* done then, Korra?"

"Grand larceny, assault, murder…" Korra shrugged as if her response was completely normal, "in my defense, it was theft from the triads, and screw those guys. And all but one of the murders were contract kills—unless you count assassination as something different. Assault should be legal too if the person's a jerk, by the way. Other than that? Mostly just mercenary work. Why do you ask?"

Bolin and Mako were both dumbfounded and their expressions showed it.

"What kind of monster are you!?" Bolin hadn't meant for it to sound as rude as it did.

"Well, I was trained for almost two years under the watch of some people that turned out to be Red Lotus Terrorists," Korra began nonchalantly, acting as if this was a completely normal response to give, "after that one of them tried to kill me and so I ended up impaling her with an ice hook. She burned me real good though… I still have the scars."

Korra was not over that traumatic event yet either, but she could now at least talk about it without feeling like her emotions were about to become a pendulum—or perhaps her violent career choices had desensitized her somewhat. She proved her point by loosening her collar to show off the burn on the left side of her neck, also pulling up her right armband to show off the mean red burn on her wrist.

"The assassinations were more due to my archery skills and my combustion bending." she added, patting her trusty bow with one hand, and lifting her headband with the other, to reveal the intricate red third-eye marking.

"Holy crap!" Bolin was still baffled by all of this, "what haven't you done? How old are you again?"

"16," Korra shrugged. "Hey, I never said I was proud of everything I've done, but you answered honestly so I could at least humour you and do the same, right?"

"Does Asami know all of these secrets?" Mako looked accusingly at Korra as she fixed her arm band and refastened her shirt.

"Of course," Korra chuckled, "I told her before I even told my parents. I mean, before her my two closest accomplices were ex-cons, and so was I in a way. So we got along well."

The scathing look Mako gave her as well as the stunned look she got from Bolin made her add a few words a moment later.

"Hey, I've done a lot of things in my life that I'm not so proud of, and I'm not too happy about everything that's happened to me." She pointed two fingers at the brothers, "but it is what it is. If people weren't allowed to try and turn their lives around, a lot of good people would be languishing away behind bars or in graves right now."

"Hey, I'm just impressed," Bolin admitted, biting his nails, "...aaaand maybe a little bit nervous."

"Well, it's not like I just go around wantonly attacking and murdering people or anything," Korra lied, knowing that she was still sometimes prone to those bouts of anger that could potentially trigger either her trauma, the Avatar State, or both. "But yeah. If you're worried about me killing you, I can promise you that'll never happen."

There was a moment of awkward silence that Korra felt she had to fill.

"So… probending, huh?" her face lit up, "Surely more of a common ground than all the other violent shit we've talked about so far…"

"It makes me wish you were on our team," Bolin admitted, "nothing against Hasook; just that I bet everyone wants you after your little display. And sweet merciful Raava I've seen some expert Probenders in my day, but you are just so fast, Korra! How did you do it?"

"It's just kind of something I picked up along the way." Korra began, but paused as she watched Mako walk away.

"What's the matter with him?" Korra thumbed over her shoulder.

"I think he might have kind of liked you at some point," Bolin whispered, "but I don't think he took your revelations very well."

"I'm sorry?" Korra shrugged, "I mean, we've all got problems—I've got a lot more than most people—but people can change; people adapt and grow, and can sometimes overcome their weaknesses, I know it!"

She had basically consigned herself to believe it for her own sake more than anything, considering how much she felt like she needed to improve. The trauma that had flipped her mind upside-down half a year ago still affected her; Korra just knew how to bury it or cope with it more effectively these days, even if it had only worsened.

"Hey, I understand…" Bolin admitted, "I mean, sort of. You still kind of scare me—but like, not in a bad way? It's like, you're strong and could definitely kill me, but you're friendly and stuff too, and…" he paused, his cheeks reddening. "I'll shut up now. Foot, meet mouth."

"Honestly," Korra couldn't help but find Bolin's dorky friendliness to be somewhat endearing, "It's good to be criticized every now and again. The Avatar isn't any more perfect than anyone else in the world, and the world's just gonna have to deal with it."

"So hey," Bolin offered, "Uhh, this might be a little out of the blue, but you wanna hang out sometime or something? Not necessarily like a date… just, y'know…"

"I don't really know very many people my age apart from Asami," Korra smiled, "most of the mercenaries I travelled with were twice my age or older; and my only real friend was my polar bear-dog, Naga. The idea of dating didn't even cross my mind. Speaking of; what kind of hanging out were you thinking of?"

"Oh, uhh…" Bolin attempted to remain smooth, "it doesn't have to be a date or anything. Just like, maybe dinner some evening or something, I dunno."

"So…" Korra's lip stuck out in her trademark fashion, "a date then."

"Well it's not like one night's enough to seal the deal or anything," Bolin scratched the back of his head as he tried to laugh it off, "but yeah. Maybe afterwards you can show me where you get some of that candy you always have."

"Want some?" Korra procured a few colorful pieces of red, purple, and orange, brandishing them deftly between her fingers before leaving them in her open palm.

"Would I ever!" Bolin almost snatched the confections out of Korra's hand and nearly made the same catlike expression Korra did when she first sampled them.

"So…" He spoke as he chewed one of the larger pieces, "would tomorrow night work alright? I could show you one of my favourite joints; authentic Water Tribe food and everything."

"Now you've piqued my interest," Korra raised her eyebrows. "It's not some fancy uppity-doo-dah kind of place though, is it?"

"Do you really think they'd let a guy like me in a place like that if it were some fancy uppity-doo-dah place?" Bolin quipped. "Nah, just be yourself; maybe make sure to actually wear shoes this time, but otherwise I'd say you're golden."

"Later at night, right?" Korra thought about it, "I've got somewhere I need to be around midday, but after that I'm taking the rest of the day off."

"Yeah, evening of course," Bolin grinned, "hence dinner. So are you in?"

"Looks like I've got plans for the evening now," Korra smirked. "Count me in."

It would actually work out well that way. Korra had some important business she wanted to sort out before the evening, and so if things went her way, she'd have it figured out or denied altogether, and either way her evening would be open—for what would be her very first date.

Chapter Text

The next morning Korra did in fact dress fairly professionally, where 'professionally' really just meant making sure her existing attire was neat, and wearing her skirt, boots, and jacket alongside her usual shirt and pants. She had to do a little asking around, but eventually, she confronted Butakha about what she saw as a business proposal.

"Well, well, if it isn't my favourite player of all-time," the portly businessman beamed, "It's been a while, Avatar Korra. Where have you been? Are the Prison Breakers going to make another attempt at the game? Championships are coming up again, you know."

"Well," Korra grunted, "Our waterbender's a bit messed up in the head right now; our earthbender's in prison, and our firebender's dead. I think the Prison Breakers are going to have to do a little more work before they're ready to play again."

"A real shame," Butakha sighed, "but I know the smell of business when I see it, and I can see it in those story-filled eyes of yours, kid. Whatcha got for me?"

"So I was thinking…" Korra unrolled a sheet of paper that looked like a diagram, although it wasn't very legible. "Another side event, especially to help generate further interest for these championship games coming up. See, I want to play, but I can't exactly procure two other benders out of thin air and don't want to waste my time with greenies. So rather than try and tarnish the Prison Breakers' good name without any of their original members… There should be an Avatar Gauntlet."

"Go on?" Butakha did not look too impressed, but even he was shrewd enough to know Korra had not finished talking.

"3-on-1, me against any team bold enough to face me." Korra grinned. "Rather than think of me as a player with three abilities, just think of me as three players in one. If I slip a zone, I slip a zone, and if I hit the drink, it's a knockout. But in return, I get to use the elements as I please."

"There'd need to be restrictions," there were definitely gears suddenly turning in Butakha's head and Korra's face widened as she noticed this, "obviously you would have to follow the standard firebending, waterbending, and earthbending procedures."

"Of course," Korra nodded, indicating parts of her diagram where she had listed the rules she planned to follow. "water from the grates, earth disks only, no attacks longer than a second, no headshots except with water."

"And no airbending attacks, Miss Avatar," He smirked at her, "Perhaps if the airbenders ever made a proper return I could find a way to integrate them, but for now I'm sure you understand."

"Makes sense," Korra looked up at him, "Obviously I don't expect it to suddenly take off today, but I dunno… maybe an interest check. Let the people see what the Avatar can do, and how well she can follow rules after all, hmm?"

"The busier the place is, the more money we take home," Butakha jingled a bag of coins, "I like the way you think, Avatar Korra. Give me a day or two and I'll send word out and see if we amass any interest. Check back in a couple days and I'll get back to you on it."

"Really?" Korra's eyes lit up, "you're actually willing to give this a shot?"

"As long as those 'three players in one' all follow the rules any other player follows," Butakha gestured, "I see no reason why not. It might add a bit of new flavour to the game, and anyone who's anyone in Republic City knows that variety is the spice of life."

"Oh huh…" Korra pouted contemplatively, "Here I had expected to have to argue my case for hours as to why I thought it was a smashing idea. I almost had a whole presentation ready to go and everything."

"Let it not be said that I'm a man unwilling to try new things," Butakha laughed. "Who knows? Maybe your new idea will be a hit! Obviously you'd earn a sizable cut from it, were it to succeed and be profitable—although you would also be very busy."

"Worth it," Korra folded up her paper, "it'd be good to have some good clean work for the first time in a while. I'll make sure to get back to you on that."

Korra celebrated the birth of her potential scheme by spending another several dozen yuans on candy. She also got Naga a big slab of meat on principle, since that did for Naga what candy did for Korra. Otherwise, she made her way back to Asami's estate, hoping to meet with her. She had been conspicuously absent yesterday, and Korra had assumed that it was on business of some sort, but hadn't really thought about asking.

Mako and Bolin had both since gone home the previous evening, and since they didn't live there the way Korra did, this did not come as a surprise to her. On the other hand, she did have a date with Bolin later that evening that she had not forgotten about, and so she wanted to make sure that she was ready when the time came. He had not given her a location, and so she assumed he would just come by to pick her up or something.

Korra wondered if he could drive. She doubted it; they were poor so they almost definitely didn't own a car, but at the same time, she wouldn't have ever suspected that Kwan was as good a driver as she was. Her mind briefly wandered to Nakkoa as it often did, but this time only to wonder if the firebender had ever learned how to drive, or if she had just always relied on her younger sister for transportation in that regard. On the other hand, Korra had an idea of what may or may not have wanted to save her yuans up for one of these days.

Because of how smoothly her meeting with Butakha had gone, however, Korra had several hours before they planned to meet up, and so Korra used that time to record her day's events already. She was slightly less vigilant about making lengthy entries these days, but Korra's habit of keeping a journal fairly consistently had persisted despite everything she had been through.

Day 778: My business proposal with Butakha went way smoother than I expected it to, which in turn means I'm likely going to get back into the Probending Ring a lot sooner than I would otherwise. I'll have to contact someone to find out just how long Kwan's sentence is… and see if she knows another firebender or something. Anyways, today might be the first peaceful evening I've had in weeks, depending on how well my date with Bolin goes. Considering that Asami likes to say there's never a dull moment when I'm around, it makes me wonder what sort of crazy problems are going to befall me this time…

As was common practice for her these days, the rest of the page was filled with more of Korra's random doodles and cartoons, a few elemental symbols, and a couple chibi drawings of three of the Interregnum Avatars (Delun, Kallian, and Koroda) playing cards together. At one point she had drawn a series of cartoons that had spanned over 14 different entries, which made her briefly contemplate the notion of getting a separate sketchbook for these sorts of things, but the idea was always pushed to the side by "more pressing matters". Today was no exception.

Even then, Korra decided to speak with Asami a bit before the evening just to catch up with her best friend about life in general. Korra's rather violent misadventures kept her busy, and even despite Asami only being 17, it seemed her stake in her family's company was already becoming sizable what with how busy Hiroshi was becoming lately.

While she could sometimes meditate under the right circumstances, waiting was one of those things that Korra could do for an entire 38 seconds before she got bored. She pouted, staring up at the sky, and letting her eyes wander across the vast grounds of the estate. Apart from Naga, the servants and maybe Hiroshi off in one of his underground workshops, she was effectively home alone, and wasn't entirely an indoorsy person when the weather permitted her to enjoy the fresh outdoor air.

"Bored!" She shouted at no one in particular. It was one of those awkward times when she had too much time to waste or to kill, but not enough time to get actively involved in any of her preferred time-killers. As a result, she resorted to one of few things she knew best how to do: vulgar displays of power.

They were therapeutic in a way, these powerful bursts and releases of energy that helped keep Korra's mind occupied. Since she had a tendency to shut everything else out, her level of focus allowed her to manipulate the elements with formidable precision.

Asami knew she was in for an interesting explanation when she saw rocks and flames swirling over her house as she approached home. Fortunately for her, she had since familiarized herself with Korra's abilities, and understood that this was one of her 'release methods'. Powerful and wild as she was, Korra retained formidable control over her elemental abilities despite the mental issues she battled behind the scenes.

Of course, when she noticed Asami approaching, Korra dropped what she was doing, allowing the flames to dissipate, and the rocks fall. She gathered them up together, opened a hole in the nearby ground to drop them in, and sealed it up as if hiding evidence of a crime.

"Asami!" She grinned stupidly, one small straggler rock hitting her on the head as it plopped to her feet in front of her.

"What," Asami laughed, "did you really think that I didn't see what you were doing, Korra?"

"Yeah, uhh… about that…" Korra scratched the back of her head.

"I'm pretty sure half of Republic City saw it too," Asami joked. Master Avatar you might be… you still lack any sense of subtlety."

"Have you seen me with a bow?" Korra riposted.

"Okay," Asami ruffled Korra's hair, "you lack any sort of subtlety when bending is involved. Is that better, Miss Avatar?"

"Bite me," Korra elbowed her playfully as they went inside and got comfortable. Despite the furniture, Korra sat in the middle of the floor, her legs crossed.

"So what's on your mind?" Asami offered, watching Korra, "you also aren't very subtle about when you want to talk with me."

"What do you mean?" Korra tilted her head as she shrugged her jacket off.

"You tend to launch into your little power trips when you're bored and alone," Asami giggled, "You have a lot of distinct behavioural patterns, Korra."

"Well geez," Korra rubbed the back of her neck, "when you put it like that…"

"I'm joking, Korra," Asami sat behind Korra. "But the fact that you were practically waiting at my door like a family pet kind of gives it away."

"I missed you." Korra pouted, "And I'm bored. My business deal at the Probending Arena seemed to go a lot better than I expected, so I wound up with a lot more time than I thought I'd have."

"So what's on your mind?" Asami began playing with Korra's hair, "you clearly wanted to speak to me, and so here I am ready to listen."

"Well, you heard about my date tonight, right?" Korra had to bite her gums to keep from letting out a fully contented moan, "I'm not nervous or anything… I've just never…"

"Bolin's a nice guy, Korra," Asami assured the young Avatar, still separating Korra's fiercely wild hair, "a bit of a dork, but it's endearing. In a few ways he reminds me of you."

"What?" Korra winced from her own surprised jump, "how so?"

"Barring his lack of subtlety," Asami chortled, "I think it's more just the funny ways he reacts to things. You're the same way, Korra. If you could see some of the faces you make, you'd be laughing just as hard."

Korra pouted again. Asami peeked over and giggled again.

"Oh come on, that wasn't even a funny face," Korra waved her arms, "now you're just goading me on or something!"

"No, it's not that," Asami was still trying to control her giggling, "but you… have the funniest little pout, and you do it so much and it's adorable. I love it about you, Korra."

Korra did not reply, but simply pouted again. She didn't want to leave because she was too busy enjoying Asami playing with her hair, but she was also embarrassed that her best friend found her subconscious pouting habit to be so… adorable? That wasn't really a word Korra would ever use to describe herself. She was literally a mercenary. She had killed people before, and barring Nakkoa, they had not been in self-defense.

She was violent; she was extremely aggressive and her temper could get fired up at the drop of a hat, as much as she tried to keep her emotions under control. Her traumatic condition was worsening overall, despite her facades of improvement. How was she 'adorable'?

"Hey!" Korra was snapped out of her brief introspection as she felt her headband get pulled off.

"Hey what?" Asami teased, "It was in my way. It's right here next to you if you really want to cover yourself back up again."

The ensuing head-scratch that Asami gave Korra made her reconsider anything, and she sighed as she leaned back, propping herself up with her hands.

"Are you always this damn perfect," Korra's complaint was somehow affectionate.

"You've told me your life story, Korra," Asami reminded her, "many times. I've seen the way you've changed in the two years since we've met, and while you've made amazing strides… there's still a part of you that came back from the mountains broken."

"What!?" Korra actually turned around, getting a defensive look in her eyes.

"Korra, no," Asami took Korra's hand, her expression changing from calm to concerned, "this is exactly what I mean though—and before you get angry at me, I'm telling you it's not your fault."

"Then what are you trying to tell me?" Korra still looked hurt and unconvinced.

"I'm trying to tell you that despite your flaws, and despite everything you might hate about yourself, that I care about you, and I like you for who you are. I'll deal with your flaws if it means I get to enjoy you when you're happy."

"So… you're not upset about me and Bolin going out tonight?"

"If you two pursue something together, that's your choice to make," Asami rubbed Korra's shoulders, coaxing her to relax and turn back around so she could continue playing with Korra's hair. "I believe it was you that said you weren't going to push me away even if you made other friends. I respect that."

"Well yeah, it's just…" Korra stammered, "I'm not good at this whole making friends thing… and you're important to me, Asami. Mako might be a bit prickly, and Bolin's heart is in the right place, but I don't think I could tell them some of the things I've told you."

"What are best friends for, hmm?" Asami coaxed Korra to turn around again, "come on now; smile. I'm sure you'll have lots of fun tonight. Don't let these external issues weigh you so heavily down. You're strong, and you've totally got this—I know you do."

"It's difficult," Korra admitted, "the things that broke me… they hurt more than I'm proud to admit."

"I wouldn't ever say otherwise," Asami reassured her, "you take as much or as little time as you need to cope with these issues, Korra. No one else has the right to tell you when you can and can't mourn, or when you can or can't be upset."

"Ugh, how do you do it?" Korra complained, "Seriously, I bitch and moan until the Sky Bison come home and you just smile and tell me everything I need to hear. I swear I owe you so much already, even without considering you're letting me stay here."

"I want to see my best friend be happy," Asami's reply was simple and sweet. "Do that for me, and I would consider any debts between us repaid. Now come on; you're going to be late…"

Asami coaxed Korra up to her feet, and she replaced her jacket and headband. They knew Bolin wasn't on a strict schedule by any means, but it would still be nice to let him know that she wouldn't keep him waiting.

Chapter Text

Bolin was much more nervous than Korra was as he approached the Sato Estate's front gates, but he managed to steel his resolve, slicking his hair back as he grinned.

"Who's the luckiest guy in the world?" He told no one in particular, "I am!"

Bolin rang the bell a moment later. Korra was there to meet him, noticing that he was wearing more or less the same thing he usually wore.

"Hey!" He gave a friendly wave, "you ready to go? I know just the place!"

"Sure," Korra habitually had her candy pouch and coin purse hidden somewhere on her person, and so thought little of it.

"So here's the thing," Bolin leaned in to whisper as if afraid someone would hear them, "It's a little bit of a walk, which is fine and all, but you think we could take your polar bear-dog?"

"I'm sure Naga wouldn't mind," Korra smiled, before whistling. Naga came running a moment later, licking Korra and sniffing Bolin. After a moment, Naga seemed content with his scent and didn't even growl at him—a stark contrast to her (in hindsight, correct) suspicions about Nakkoa and the Red Lotus.

"So," Korra hopped up, offering her hand, "Hope on, and lead on."

"Alright," Bolin joined Korra up on Naga's back, "Little Water Tribe, here we come!"

Korra's face lit up quietly. While she had very bitter memories of back home as of recent, there was still a part of her that would always be in the Water Tribes, and so if there was a slice of home in this melting-pot metropolis, then Korra projected this to be a good evening already.

Naga seemed okay with following Bolin's direction, and they raced through the city as the sun began to set. Soon enough they came upon a little place called Narook's Seaweed Noodlery, where Bolin indicated Korra to stop.

"This place is great," he looked particularly excited, "They claim it's authentic Water Tribe cuisine, and so I thought to myself 'hey, what better way to test its authenticity than by bringing an authentic Water Tribe girl to sample it?' The rest is history, and here we are."

Korra stopped and sniffed the aroma coming from the restaurant. "Mmm… it smells like home in a way… lead on, Bolin."

Naga sat down just outside the door, giving something of a mumbling growl and shooting Korra a very subtle look that Korra couldn't resist.

"I'll bring you something, girl, I promise." She offered, before turning to Bolin who had immediately started to peer into his own money pouch.

"Don't worry," Korra put a hand on his shoulder, "you can treat me, but I'll treat my polar bear-dog. And to be honest…" she paused to lower her voice, "if you're short on cash, I've got way more than I know what to do with."

"Aw, but that's not even the right way to do it," Bolin sighed as they stepped inside, "I can't ask you on a date and then make you pay for it."

"You're not 'making' me pay for it, silly." Korra laughed, "I'm volunteering. Seriously—if I don't I'll spend it all on candy and soon my teeth will all fall out. How about we worry about it after we've gotten a bite to eat, yeah?"

"Right, right!" Bolin seemed a bit jumpy, which Korra assumed was from a mixture of nervousness and excitement. It didn't bother her any; she had never exactly been on a date before and so wasn't sure what she was supposed to expect.

Fortunately for Bolin, the noodles they got were not only delicious, but also passed Korra's 'test of approval' regarding their authenticity.

"So… how do you like it?" Bolin nudged her after she had had some time to let the taste sink in.

"They're delicious!" Korra beamed, both her cheeks packed to near-exploding point with noodles, "and totally authentic! Hot damn, I didn't realize how much I missed Water Tribe grub!" She paused, before swallowing hard as the lumps in her cheeks vanished and briefly reappeared and disappeared on her neck as they descended down her throat.

"That's great," Bolin grinned, "Because this is legitimately my favourite joint in the city!"

"No kidding?" Korra raised her eyebrow as she ordered another appetizer on the side,

"No kidding!" Bolin assured her, "You Water Tribespeople have good taste. And you guys like eating lots of meat, right?

"Yup," Korra was already loading up her mouth again with food, considering chewing as more of an optional step. It was only after she swallowed another large mouthful that she realized she hadn't eaten anything all day. She briefly wondered if that was her own carelessness associated with her trauma (which also hindered her sleep patterns) or if it was just the excitement of anticipating both the date and the potential business deal with Butakha. Perhaps now was not the best time to consider either of these thoughts, considering how invasive they tended to be and how she didn't want to drag Bolin down because of her own grief..

The two teenagers enjoyed their appetizers and meal, with Korra discovering that Bolin was nearly as fond of meat as she was. It was the beginning of a good friendship. However, after a while, Korra's ear twitched noticeably enough to make the hair on the left side of her head quiver.

"Something wrong?" Bolin glanced at Korra, who was fixated on someone to his left, which in turn caused him to glance to his side and let his eyes follow hers.

"I know that guy…" Korra muttered, "I kicked his ass at Probending a few months ago."

"Oh no, Tahno and the Wolfbats?" Bolin sighed, "He's a real nasty dude."

"I'll say," Korra licked her lips, "why do you think I proceeded to show off after I whooped him?"

"That was great, if the crowds' reactions were anything to go off of," Bolin admitted, "We were in the changing rooms at the time, but we heard it." He paused. "Oh man, here he comes!"

Tahno swaggered over to where Bolin and Korra were sitting and flipped his hair.

"Well, well, well," he taunted, "of all the people I'd expect the mighty Avatar to carouse with, I didn't expect it to be a loser like one of the Fire Ferrets. I heard what happened to your team, Uhvatar… a bit of a disappointment even if they had what was coming for them…"

"I could still kick your ass in a 3-on-1," Korra challenged, hoping to spark some interest in her "Avatar Gauntlet" business proposition. "Prison Breakers represent."

"Come now, you rode on your team's coattails all through those matches," Tahno countered, "you know… if you'd like to learn how a real pro bends, I could give you some… private lessons."

"You wouldn't last 37 seconds in private with me," Korra's expression said flirty but her words said the opposite. "Or right here. You want to tango, pretty-boy?"

"Go for it," Tahno lost none of his confidence, "I'll even let you have the first shot."

"Korra, don't," Bolin whispered, "He's trying to bait you. And I'd hate to see you get arrested on a night we were supposed to be having fun."

"Smart boy," Tanho smirked, getting right near Korra's face. "It seems you're a little more fiery without your adult supervision, hmm?"

"Bitch, I am the adult supervision!" Korra riposted, "so how about you take your little gaggle of fangirls and go let them swoon over you while you leave us in peace."

"Hmm…" Tahno glanced around, "not without a token of your affection first, dear…" He reached over and with a deft move, snatched Korra's headband. He was not the only one surprised at what he saw on Korra's forehead. In that brief moment of surprise, Korra flipped her bangs and snatched her headband back.

"Still think it's a good idea to be playing with dangerous toys without supervision?" Korra taunted as she tied her headband back over her tattoo and whistled. Naga poked her head through the window, adding additional shock factor both by showing up, and also by the way she roared loudly at Tahno and his gang. Tahno recoiled and likely would have fallen over were his teammates not there to sustain him. He collected himself and with a deft movement, fixed his hair.

"Don't let that get to your head, Uhvatar," Tahno taunted, "the results could… blow your mind."

Regardless, Tahno and the wolfbats (and their associated fans) moved and left Korra and Bolin alone, where the latter was in shock and awe.

"Man, that tattoo is still so crazy!" he exclaimed, "And so was what you just did! I've never seen someone harass Tahno like that. You really are one of a kind, Korra."

"Let's drink to our success then" She offered, "a good way to wrap up the evening, yeah?"

Several minutes later, the Avatar and the earthbender were sipping their cocktails, which they both found particularly delicious. Bolin paused his sipping only to take a quick breath, but accidentally belched and covered his mouth. Korra, however, found it highly amusing, to the point where she took a sip, swallowed some air, and belched louder.

"Oh, you're on." Bolin grinned, and followed suit, out-belching Korra a moment later, even to the point where one of his eyes twitched comically. Not about to be outdone, Korra knew her moment had come.

"Bottoms up then!" Korra removed her straw before throwing her head back and emptying her entire glass. She slammed it back down with a satisfied 'ahh', before belching loud enough to nearly shake the table. There was a moment's pause as Bolin processed what had just happened, and then both he and Korra suddenly burst out laughing, completely disregarding the many disgusted or horrified looks that nearby patrons gave them.

"You know... " Bolin commented, "you have a really adorable laugh."

"I do?" It was not something Korra usually thought about. Most of the time when she laughed it was a sarcastic chuckle or an arrogant guffaw. This particular laugh had been much more natural and wholesome; a young woman finding simple comical amusement and reacting accordingly—and not at anyone else's expense.

"Yeah," Bolin smiled, "and I mean, I'm not trying to brown-nose or anything; it's just really cute. You should laugh like that more often."

"Tell you what," Korra licked her lips as she casually paid the tab to the passing waiter as Bolin was distracted, "Any time the opportunity to laugh like that arises again, I'll make sure to give it my best shot. How's that?"

It wasn't technically a lie. It may have been rare for Korra to laugh like that, but she would honestly try to keep her promise when all was said and done.

"I'll work with it," Bolin chuckled. "So how about we get out of here and roam the town… maybe see some of the sights as the city comes to life tonight?"

"Sure," Korra smiled, "It's not like I have any obligations tomorrow or anything. Lead on!"

Bolin led them (with Naga's help of course) to a landmark called Harmony Tower, which had an observation deck from which they could see most of the city. They ascended the golden-lit structure to the top observation deck, giving the two teens a shimmering view of the flashy city that never slept. Korra could see almost anything from here: Aang Memorial Island, the distant outskirts that housed the estates of Republic City's wealthiest citizens (including the Sato Estate, although she could not see that kind of detail from this far away), and saw the mountains to the north, which gave her pause. For only the briefest second, she could have sworn she saw two blue comets in the sky—a 3rd-party perspective on what it must have been like to watch Nakkoa and Korra battle.

Korra shuddered uncomfortably, and much to her embarrassment, Bolin noticed.

"You're not cold or anything, are you?" He looked at her curiously, "Sorry for all the questions and stuff too; I just don't wanna let you have a bad time, y'know?"

"I-I'm fine," Korra lied, although a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her otherwise. These thoughts that reflected back to her fight with Nakkoa; even her attack on the White Lotus compound—they were invading her mind and it was already becoming harder and harder to fend them off. "You're doing wonderful, Bolin. I couldn't ask for a better way to end the evening."

She just had to hold out for a little while longer, she told herself. Then they could go home, she could say goodbye to Bolin and thank him for the (truthfully) wonderful evening, and then she could let this all out.

"It will pass," she told herself mentally, "It will pass."

She couldn't have expected or prepared for the ensuing scene that played out in front of her. For a brief moment, she was back to being restrained against the wall of the cave, a wicked pair of flaming hands seizing her by the neck and the wrist, and she actually cried out. Naturally, Bolin noticed this too, and in his paranoia of trying to ensure that Korra had nothing short of an amazing time, he addressed it right away.

"Seriously," he turned to her, His eyes sincere and genuinely concerned, "is something the matter? Is there anything I can help with?"

"No, Bolin," Korra shook her head vigorously, "It's not you at all; Just my burn scar suddenly started hurting. I promise you, I'm having a fantastic time."

And the worst part about all of that was it was true. Her burns, particularly the one on her neck, had stung for a little moment, although that was likely just her memory triggering the pain rather than the actual wound. Her claim about having a fantastic time was also completely true, which was what aggravated Korra so much. Why did her horrific memories have to try and invade her mind on a night like this? It was one thing if they ruined one of her evenings alone, but she thought poor Bolin deserved better, since it was clear that despite his simplistic approach, that he had put a great deal of heart and soul into this evening, and Korra feared that she would accidentally crush it if she revealed all of her discomforts here and now.

"I never realized how beautiful this place was at night," she smiled, putting a reassuring arm around Bolin, "Thanks for taking me here; thanks for the noodles; thanks for laughing with me after we made fun of Tahno… thanks for the evening. I really appreciate it, Bolin. I promise."

"Oh stop, now you're just flattering me," Bolin went almost as red as Korra's burns.

"Oh, don't be such a wimp," Korra pushed him playfully, "Seriously though—I haven't had this much fun outside of the 'pit for years!" Earth Rumble, Probending, and a few other pit fights Korra had participated in during her sojourn as a mercenary had been some of the highlights of Korra's recent years, but in truth, Her date with Bolin was nearly flawless. If she hadn't been hit with these traumatic memories that were trying to ransack her sanity, it would have been perfect.

"Well hey!" Bolin seemed a bit more reassured now, "I'm glad you liked it! Maybe we can plan another outing one of these days or something?"

"Absolutely." Korra smiled. It was slightly forced, but whether or not Bolin noticed it was in the air. Before he could react either way though, Korra continued.

"And seriously… despite my little hiccups just now, I really did have fun. I hope you believe me."

"Well obviously I'm a bit nervous;" Bolin admitted, putting one hand on the back of his neck, "I mean, dating the Avatar and all that; but also wanting to make sure your first date wasn't rotten—especially on my account."

"Then don't worry," Korra kissed him on the cheek, "Seriously… I needed this. Thank you again."

"Hey, any time!" Bolin was blushing fiercely again, "But I guess it's getting kinda late, so we should get you home soon, yeah?"

"You're rooming at the Probending Arena, right?" Korra asked to clarify,

"Attic, yeah," Bolin shrugged.

"Naga and I will take you there." Korra offered, "We can get back to Sato Estate just fine on our own after that."

Unsurprisingly, Bolin was long and a bit gushy about goodbyes as Korra dropped him off, but Korra assured him with as much sincerity as she could muster that she had a fantastic evening with (almost) no regrets. As far as he needed to know, it had been perfect, because everything he had done with her and for her had in fact been perfect. It was her own mind that was messing things up for her, and thus there was no one she wanted to blame but herself.

Once he was gone though, Korra clutched her head, inhaling sharply.

"Naga, take us home, stat!" her breathing had tensed up altogether. "And forgive me in advance if I'm about to get really tense."

Almost as if they had been waiting for Korra and Bolin to part ways, a great many more of Korra's unpleasant memories surged into her head.

Chapter Text

Whether or not Naga could actually sense her master's pains or if she just knew Korra's sense of urgency, she tore through the streets at breakneck speed, reaching Sato Estate in much less time than it had taken them to go from there to Narook's Seaweed Noodlery; despite it being closer to Sato Estate than the Probending Arena was. She wasn't even sure what parts of town she passed through, or aware that some of the masked maniacs (or at least ones from a similar if not identical faction) that had assaulted her two years prior had seen her from an alleyway; so focused was she on getting somewhere safe before she completely lost her grip again.

Fortunately, Asami had lent Korra a key to the estate, knowing that the Avatar usually stayed out late, and not wanting to make her father (or herself) wait the often late hours Korra was out and about. The servants of the house did not work 24 hour shifts either, and so they weren't an option this late in the evening too.

"Shit…" Korra clutched her head as she deftly closed the gates behind her. "This isn't real… I'm safe, and away from harm… I'm not being attacked; I had a wonderful evening…" But despite her attempts to convince herself otherwise, the malicious, invasive thoughts and illusions did not relent. "Why can't I shake this delusion!? WHY WON'T IT LET ME GO!?"

Korra sunk to her knees, clutching her hair as her eyes flickered bluish white. Winds swirled around her, and Naga, who had been at Korra's side up to this point, moved back as well to stay out of the accidental crossfire.

Fortunately, Korra refrained from doing any damage to the estate, but she launched an enormous chunk of rock into the sky, before focusing a well-placed combustion-beam on it, blasting the boulder to smithereens. She used a sweeping movement to collect the shards and fragments, and threw them aside as she stopped to take deep breaths.

"Leave me alone…" Korra whimpered, leaning her head forward until it too nearly touched the ground as her hands clutched her head. "Just… leave… me alone, please!"

Naga nuzzled against Korra as she sobbed quietly, moving from her prostrated position to lying flat on the ground with her head buried in her arms. She seemed to know that Korra was not talking to her, and could clearly recognize her master's distress.

Korra laid there for several minutes, shifting so she was slightly on her side, but otherwise remaining there, breathing slowly and heavily as if she had just gotten the wind knocked out of her. She really wanted to talk to Asami right now, but it was late and Asami was a morning person with duties and business to attend to. That and Korra didn't want to inconvenience her friend just because she was having some issues with her own mental stability.

Sighing in defeat, she didn't even bother to move as much as she just tried to close her eyes and let the memories pass. She covered her eyes with her hands to conceal the tears that flowed sideways down her face, and softly wept. She'd never tell Bolin about it, but the episode she had just had had completely ruined the night for her—which in turn made her relieved that she was able to get him home before it fully reared its head. Besides, not only did Bolin do nothing wrong, but there wasn't anything he could have done to prevent her outburst, or anything Korra thought he could do to help afterwards. Not to say that she didn't trust Bolin; she just did not want to bog him down with her personal troubles.

Fine streams of tears flowed steadily down the right side of Korra's face as she lay there helplessly, lacking even the will to get up, or even really move at all. With something of a mixture of a grunt and a growl, Naga laid down behind Korra, shimmying up against her back to keep her close, and perhaps even to make her unusual position and location look a little less awkward.

Korra was not sure when she fell asleep or what time it was when Asami found her the next morning, but she woke up to a pretty face mere inches away from her own, and one that showed a concerned expression.

"Korra?" She repeated, "Korra, are you okay?"

Now that was a sight for sore eyes. Korra smiled weakly, her eyes no longer red considering she had had several hours to calm down as she slept.

"I'm fine now…" Korra whispered, "last night was terrible though."

"Oh no!" Asami's face dropped, "And you two looked so excited too. What happened?"

"Oh no, no, the date was fantastic," Korra sat up. She had only really been asleep a few hours, and while Asami was aware of how little Korra ate and slept, she would address it another time, "just that right as we were winding down… I saw Nakkoa again. I saw the White Lotus Compound, and… I felt the searing pain in my arm and my neck; the lightning striking my chest… the adrenaline from the Avatar State rush… all of it. I blew up a rock last night too; I hope it didn't wake you."

"My dad's pretty jumpy if something goes bump in the night," Asami shook her head, "so it must've been pretty far away…" She was already glancing around at one of the distant hillsides, expecting to see some sign of damage.

"Oh no, I just threw it in the air," Korra chuckled weakly, "Apparently pretty high too."

"I'm glad that you have self-control, Korra." Asami smiled, putting Korra's head into her lap and playing with her hair in that unique Asami-like way that Korra loved. "But why are you lying out here? I mean, I could understand you wanting to sleep with Naga, but last time you did that you at least found a more secluded spot and didn't fall asleep fully dressed…."

Korra gave a long, drawn-out sigh as she prepared to explain.

"I… went into the Avatar State again last night, and not of my own volition." she mumbled. "And I basically had an emotional meltdown."

"Korra..." Asami sighed as her brows furrowed.

"I wasn't even mad at anything or anyone…" Korra tried to explain, "I was kind of mad at myself, but as I raced home, I felt like I was just starting to lose my grip on reality—again. I kind of knew my emotions were about to come hitting at the same time, so I kind of just… braced myself."

"So tell me," Asami continued playing with Korra's hair, "When you feel like this, what do you do? How do you cope with it after the episode has ended?"

"It varies," Korra closed her eyes, "Sometimes I'm able to compose myself fairly easy; other times I just kind of wallow in my misery, like now."

"Really?" Asami gave Korra a skeptical look, "you just… hold it all in?"

"I'm not about to make it become someone else's problem," Korra shook her head, "don't worry—if it was really bad I'd let you know, but I can't exactly have someone holding me together in my behalf or anything."

"I really wish I could help then," Asami sighed, her tone betraying an underlying suspicion that Korra was not being entirely honest, even if she did not call her out. "despite what you might think sometimes, you're a good person, Korra. Your hardships are rare enough that very few people can fully understand them, and all things considering—you deserve to be happy."

"And I wish I could be," Korra complained, "it's like, I'll be just fine for days or weeks at a time, and then suddenly, bam! I'm back down to where I was when I ran off to the Western Air Temple. So I get back up and then, bam! It hits me again, and I just get overwhelmed by these emotions and it's like I can't handle them all at once. It's like an Interregnum Cycle except in my head or something, and it's driving me crazy!"

"So any thoughts on what to do about it?" Asami was not trying to withhold solutions from Korra by any means, but she wondered about Korra's mindset a great deal of the time. She was passionate, wild; fierce… unpredictable. It was charming in a way, and Asami found Korra to be a very intriguing character, especially for her best friend. More importantly, she wanted to find ways to help Korra without setting her off, because it was abundantly clear that Korra was zealously defensive over her insecurities and fears.

"Well hopefully my Probending proposition works out," Korra mused, gazing up into Asami's eyes from her lap where her head rested, "but really, I think I just need to stay busy."

"The date wasn't busy enough for you?" Asami lightly tugged on a few locks of Korra's hair, more just in the absent-minded way she was playing with it.

"It was—shit, you're right." Korra pouted again. "I… am not sure then."

"All work and no play would make Korra a stressed Avatar," Asami massaged Korra's shoulders, before pausing, "Seriously, though. Why are your muscles always so tense?"

Asami shifted Korra into a sitting position before gripping Korra's shoulders rather tightly, causing her to actually call out and wince.

"Ouch!" Korra exclaimed, before letting a moan slip from her mouth as Asami dug into her muscles, "oh man… that actually feels really good."

"I know I'm not your mother, Korra," Asami continued applying pressure to Korra's neck, back, and shoulders, "but I've watched your behavioural patterns for a while now, and I don't like what I see most of the time."

"I thought you just said you weren't my mom," Korra raided her candy pouch to cover up the suspicious pout she had just shot Asami.

"I'm not," Asami reasoned, "But I care about my friends—especially you, Korra. Other than that candy, you hardly eat. You barely sleep; you're always so tensed and your posture is horrible. You're strong but I feel like your emotional well-being is deteriorating."

"Honestly, I never noticed," Korra shrugged, "I stuffed my face last night; you woke me up this morning earlier than I would have, and I'm usually tense because I'm usually out fighting. Don't str4ess yourself out over me, Asami. I'm doing fine."

"That's not…" Asami sighed, "Never mind. Sorry for reprimanding you, Korra."

"Alright," Korra shrugged, completely oblivious to the signals Asami had just given off, "Thanks for caring though. Really, it means a lot to me."

"Does it really?" Asami was not trying to antagonize Korra, per se, but she was slightly irritated that Korra was outright shrugging off some very obvious self-care issues that she refused to admit that she had.

"Well sure—aaah!" Korra was interrupted by a particularly tight knot that Asami put pressure on, and she winced again.

"I'm happy to help you, Korra," Asami continued, "but you have to also help yourself—or perhaps in this case, take time to care for yourself as well. It's wonderful that you love to help other people, but it's not selfish to put some time and effort into self-care either."

"I am helping myself!" Korra argued, "I'm not trying to blame all my problems on my trauma, but realistically, it's the source of most of my problems—and I have a lot of problems to begin with—probably way more problems than I'm worth. But I do what I can to keep myself occupied; to cope with and deal with these events that messed me up, and try to do as my dad told me: and get up, pick up the pieces, and keep moving forward."

"Firstly," Asami turned Korra around, a stern glare on her face, "don't ever say that you're not worth my trouble ever again, Korra. If that was the case I'd have thrown you out on your backside months ago instead of let you live in my house, partake of my hospitality, and offer my shoulder for you to lean on. It's not a boast either. I do these things because I care about you, Korra. You're important enough to me that I want to and am willing to do these things for you. You need to understand the differences and nuances between those."

Korra stared bug-eyed at Asami, who she had never really seen be so forceful. She didn't think Asami was a pushover, but she had always been such a mellow and polite young woman.

"Secondly," Asami leaned in, "You might be dealing with your mental issues, which is great. It really is, and I hope you can master it to the point where those nightmares never bother you again. But you need to look at other aspects of your life. For how much you work and tone your body, you're letting your own self-care slip through the cracks. You push yourself hard, but you might be overworking yourself."

"It's not that…" Korra fumbled over her words, "I mean, I just… you don't—I… it's just that… but—you… no, and… how did—how did you realize that about me?"

"Korra," Asami slightly forced a smile, ruffling her hair, "you're not subtle at all. Mako's talked to me about it. Bolin's said a few things and he's really worried about you too. Even my father has commented to me that 'the Avatar doesn't look well, even if she hides it'." She briefly imitated Hiroshi's voice for a moment there, "The only one who doesn't realize these problems are there is you. I'm just trying to make you aware of them because I know you are too proud and stubborn to let anyone try to fix them for you."

"I'm not THAT stubborn!" Korra pouted.

"That's a lie, and you know it." Asami laughed.

"It is most certainly not!" Korra argued, pouting again.

"Case in point," Asami smiled, rising to her feet and offering her hand to prompt Korra to do the same. "Korra, look. I'm not trying to tell you how to run and manage your life. You're 16 years old and already have more experience than half the people twice your age. I just think that if you let your body relax every now and again and treated yourself properly, you would be much less tense, and thus much less prone to these emotional and traumatic outbursts."

"How do you know this though?" Korra frowned, her lower lip sticking out again.

"I don't," Asami admitted, "but I know when my body's all in a tizzy it puts my mind in the same kind of mood. And obviously I don't mean this to be rude in the slightest, Korra… but you're very unstable. I think if you took some time to feel good and to take care of yourself a little, your mind would be a lot less tense and turbulent as well."

"I'll look into it," Korra promised, "I just don't know what to do with myself. Maybe I just need another adventure—but I don't want to leave you for too long."

"Korra," Asami assured her, "We're not joined at the hip. I don't drag you to work when I go with my dad, and I'd hardly expect you to drag me along wherever you go. I'll be here, and you're always welcome to drop by."

"I will, for sure," Korra promised, "and if I don't… well, I'll try my best, yeah?"

"I'll be here either way," Asami promised, "Be safe, Korra—and please take care of yourself."

"I will, I will…" Korra assured her, "but since I'm fully dressed I might as well go pay the Probending Arena another visit to discuss my business deal with the boss man."

Korra did exactly that, and learned that while Butakha had given it the green light, it would be at least another six months or more before he could make the necessary preparations and marketing strategies for it to maximize attendance and profits. The fact that he gave her a date was still good enough news, and Korra was delighted for the success her endeavour had realized; but also bummed for the wait, and unfortunately, this meant more mercenary work to keep her busy. She said her goodbyes to Asami, as well as to her friends Mako and Bolin, but promised them she would return—for all the hardships she had been through, the world wouldn't be able to rid itself of the Avatar that easily…

Chapter Text

Korra's adventures didn't really take her anywhere that she hadn't been in the last six months, but she decided to celebrate her 17th birthday with her traditional mugshot photo, but also with a return to the Western Air Temple, which she hadn't visited in several months.

She had made eight journeys here in the last year and a half, and this would be her 9th. As much as she enjoyed Republic City (particularly the Little Water Tribe district, which Bolin had successfully gotten her hooked on by the 2nd time she had gone there), Korra always felt compelled to travel out to this large and mysterious Air Temple semi-regularly, and so that was what she did. She had spent money on a small boat a while back, which ferried herself and Naga (who accompanied her on her adventures when possible, of course) across the sea from the Earth Kingdom to the Western Air Region and back. A slab of earth against the cliff helped raise both Avatar and polar bear-dog up to the actual temple itself, where they roamed with impunity.

Up until this trip, Fukui had always been there too, and the two waterbenders would often converse about this or that, which was really mostly just Korra complaining and Fukui listening. A few times she met with her past lives—usually an Interregnum Avatar or two, although she also met a powerful Earth Kingdom woman named Isikiro who was said to be one of the heralds of lavabending. Apparently there were benefits to having too much time on her hands, although it later had come in handy against insurrectionists or the like. Korra thought of her own life in that regard, wondering if that would be her someday against the Red Lotus or something.

This time, however, Fukui was nowhere to be seen, and the pagoda she had been using as her residence was empty. It was clean, which made it appear that she had packed up and left rather than something awful happening to her.

Upon stepping back out of the building though, Korra froze and actually recoiled, pinning herself to the wall. In front of her, but not looking her way, was a sinister-looking woman in blue, hunched over worse than Korra was—but with a striking resemblance to her. The lurching way this woman walked made Korra wonder who she was and what she was doing here. She was about to call out, but the woman turned to face Korra, and Korra actually shrieked.

Her eyes were white and almost seemed to shimmer much like Korra's did as she instinctively entered the Avatar State as a panick reaction, but there was a striking difference between the two. Korra's eyes shimmered bright white with a notable bluish hue, while this woman's eyes were much duller, and were solid white, as well as featureless.

What alarmed Korra more than the woman's softly glowing eyes was her striking resemblance to Korra herself, down to the barefooted vagrant look she often sported, complete with her unkempt hair, blue sleeveless top and dark blue baggy pants. A noticable difference was that there were heavy shackles around her ankles and her left wrist, while her right forearm was wrapped in a similarly heavy chain. This entity had pointed ears and a slight greyish tint to her otherwise brown skin, but otherwise still greatly resembled Korra.

"Who are you…?" Korra wasn't sure if she was even seeing this apparition correctly. "Are you me?" She remembered a similar apparition she had seen in her dreams a couple of times, but this one had actual shackles instead of the gold braces that the apparition from her dreams had had, and this creature's expression consisted of low, harsh eyebrows and a prominent frown.

The apparition shook its head slowly before it zoomed off in a greyish blur. Korra raced after it, where it vanished into the Hall of Avatars as if it had just gone through the walls. Whatever this thing was, Korra was convinced it was definitely a spirit of some sort… but why would a spirit take the form of an older Avatar Korra wearing shackles and a malicious frown? She managed to exit the Avatar State as she calmed back down again, still a little winded both from the initial shock, and from her reflexive Avatar State abuse.

Korra opened the chamber and stepped inside. The Avatar Statues were all still glowing from her earlier incident, and Korra wandered over to where she knew her statue was to see if anything had changed. Despite her dressing more fully as of recent, her Avatar statue still had that barefooted ragtag look she sported for most of her 15th year—and that was now being sported as well by a mysterious angry-looking spirit.

The apparition reappeared, pointing at Korra until the Avatar looked up. When their eyes met, it gestured towards her, pointing off behind her and to Korra's left. When Korra did not move right away, it approached her, seizing Korra's right arm with considerable force.

"Hey!" Korra pushed the spirit-woman back, causing it to recoil slightly. "Get off me!" Korra was a little more selective about who touched her these days due to her own distrust and slight paranoia. Some weird woman masquerading as her in the Avatar State was definitely not to be trusted under any circumstance.

The apparition's frown became more prominent and she suddenly whipped her right arm so viciously that the chain unravelled. A moment later she flung it deftly at Korra's right arm, where the chain looped around Korra's wrist and elbow almost immediately. Korra gasped as she was yanked forward, the strength of such a fast, sudden pull almost making her feel like she dislocated her shoulder. Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened, but Korra found herself now being almost dragged along by this weird apparition off to oblivion-knows-where.

Korra tried freeing her arm from the chain, but when the apparition noticed her doing this, she yanked it hard enough to throw Korra to the floor and continue moving forward by dragging her.

"Ow, quit it!" Korra naturally continued fighting it, only for the woman to yank it harder, with each subsequent jerking making Korra start to feel the pain in her arm. Her last attempt was to wrap her legs around the foot of an Avatar statue, and while Korra's legs were strong, whoever—or whatever—this entity dragging her was, was slightly stronger. It persisted, and for a moment it seemed like it would be a stalemate, but Korra knew it was in her best interests to let go when her right arm started to feel like it was about to be ripped out at the shoulder. That would definitely be sore for a while. She released her grip on the statue, and tried to get back to her feet, but it seemed the shackled woman had no patience for that, and so Korra sighed in defeat as she was dragged away, almost comically pouting as they went. She was fairly convinced at this point that this woman was not actually human—a malevolent spirit of some sort, perhaps? She considered using bending against it, because there had been at least 116 different ways she could have counterattacked, but if she was dealing with an entity that could pass through walls, she could only imagine what other abilities this thing might have, and she'd rather not take her chances if she could solve this either diplomatically or with her bare fists.

"So… can you talk?" Korra used her left arm to grip the woman's chain so it didn't put additional stress on her already aching arm, "or at least tell me what the big deal is and why you're abducting me?"

The apparition did not reply, short of glancing back only once with the same expressionless frown it had maintained the entire time. Korra craned her neck, and to her surprise, noticed the apparition was looking around as it dragged her through the maze of Avatar statues, very clearly trying to find a certain one.

"Y'know…" Korra sighed, "If you would just tell me what you're looking for, this would go by a lot faster and be much easier on both of us… especially me."

The spirit did not reply, and only after it pulled Korra down three more rows of Avatar statues did it finally stop. It pulled on its chain, which unravelled from Korra's arm much easier than it should have, allowing her to get up and see which status the spirit was now very adamantly pointing at.

"What did you want me to see about Zeruda…" Korra mused, massaging her now sore shoulder as she glanced up at the Avatar statue the spirit-woman was pointing at as her eyes bore holes into Korra's skull, "And what even are you?"

The woman's mouth did not even open, however, and in a flash of grey, had vanished.

"More importantly," Korra reached out and touched the stone face of Zeruda's statue, "Who were you, Zeruda? How bad was your conquest if it made the world want to strike you from history?"

Korra sighed, taking a deep breath and sitting down in front of the Zeruda statue, hoping to come in contact with this legendary nefarious woman. She knew that Zeruda was "the culmination of the Interregnums", but she had never actually seen firsthand what this malevolent Avatar had actually done in her life. She closed her eyes and meditated, letting herself get carried away into what would hopefully be a meeting with Avatar Zeruda, and hopefully whatever it was that this spirit in front of her wanted from her.

Instead of seeing Zeruda face to face, she saw the world through her eyes: the legendary Siege of the Northern Water Tribe that had ended her reign of terror from the world. She was a commander of legions, all wearing shades of gold and white. Here Korra had expected something darker in terms of motifs and themes. She saw the view of Zeruda's war room as her naval force approached the north. The entire world was painted in shades of silver and gold except for the Northern Water Tribe.

"With the Eastern Air Temple now under our control," Zeruda proclaimed, "this Water Tribe remains our only enemy… and soon it too will join us."

Even back then, the Northern Water Tribe was still a defensible fortress. The ice wall that was much smaller even during the 100 year war, reached nearly to the top of the cliffs that surrounded it, and was wide enough for siege weapons and entire military divisions to cross. It certainly would have given the Fire Nation a run for their money in Aang's day.

Almost like a dream, Korra felt like very little time had actually passed, and yet somehow she had still managed to see the attack pour out. They managed to infiltrate the tribe after Zeruda went into the Avatar State to destroy the defensive walls, but the waterbenders seemed to have done away with a great deal of their ethics to protect themselves from being enslaved by the Avatar. Bloodbenders were rampant, turning their foes against each other, and not even the Avatar was immune to this subjection, although she managed to break the grip many times, which usually resulted in a grizzly death for the target in question.

To Korra's utmost surprise, however, the real source of Zeruda's downfall had not been the Water Chief, his wife, or any of their most formidable commanders. Instead, it had come as the Avatar had attempted to infiltrate the spirit oasis, where to her surprise just as much as Korra's, the apparition from earlier had appeared and attacked.

Korra knew she wasn't really in this vision of the past, and so her own spirit separated from Zeruda's as she studied the entity in front of her.

But how was it possible? A spirit that took on the form of her, thousands of years before she, her parents, her grandparents, or even her great-grandparents were even a thought in anyone's eye? Was it a divine coincidence? Was this a spirit that could see the Avatar into the future? Granted, Korra did not have greyish brown skin or pointy ears; and unlike this creature, she still had blue irises and black pupils; but even then, there was still a striking resemblance.

Whatever it was, this spirit proved to be formidable enough to that defeated Zeruda in single combat, subduing her and allowing her to be captured. Suddenly, the tribe around her melted away, and Korra found herself face to face with the villain from the story. She was still too shocked or upset to really know how to introduce herself, and so she took what could best be described as "the Korra approach", which involved getting right in the target's face and demanding answers.

"Okay you," She had to stand on her tippytoes to get in Zeruda's face, for Zeruda was rather tall and imposing; while even as an adolescent, Korra was still fairly short. "Start talking."

"Do you see now why I've taken such a great interest in you, child?" Zeruda spoke with a firm, commanding tone that almost reminded her of that metalbending officer Kuvira. "I found it most curious: a humanoid spirit who could mimick bending the elements… attacked me and ended my reign over the world. And now, through the eyes of an adolescent girl nearly 4000 years after my death, I am seeing her as an incarnation of this spirit."

"That spirit ain't me though," Korra shrugged, her lip sticking out innocently, "she literally dragged me to you, so I'm pretty sure we're different."

"And yet she takes interest in you as well," Zeruda riposted, "and even then, it is not enough to stop me and your other past lives from taking great interest in you nonetheless. It seems Zoroka has taken great interest in you if she was willing to interact with you without trying to kill you."

"Zoroka?" Korra tilted her head. The name did not ring a bell.

"Apparently the thing has a name," Zeruda explained, "I do not know its origins, let alone why its chosen appearance resembles you so strikingly, but there may be a connection here. Unlike you I was not very skilled at contacting my past lives short of a few particularly wily Interregnums, and so maybe the story is in your past—in our past, Avatar Korra."

"So you're using me to find out then?" Korra frowned.

"Of course I am!" Zeruda replied, "I 'used' everyone else I came in contact with during my reign, and now I'm condemned in the same spiritual limbo-prison that 16 of my predecessors and 3 of my successors are in. I know little of Zoroka, other than that she purportedly tends to show her face and attack in times of great imbalance."

"So why didn't she attack me?" Korra tilted her head. Sure the spirit had been rough, but it hadn't outright attacked her. "And do you know if it can speak at all?"

"If it does, I've never heard it utter a word," Zeruda shook her head, "as for why it did not attack you… that is a mystery that many of us have taken great interest in. Perhaps there's a strong sense of balance inside you that many of your past lives—including myself—lacked. Perhaps it is something entirely different. Would that I knew Zoroka's motives, but alas, I do not."

"So what am I supposed to do? Why did it want me to see you?" Korra narrowed her eyes.

"Perhaps it arranged this meeting to explain why your Interregnum past lives have taken such a great interest in you." Zeruda suggested, "or perhaps it has its own motives entirely that just happened to coincide with some of ours. The other Interregnums view me as the culmination of their own misdeeds, and while it is true, to realize that there is an Avatar Incarnation that bears a striking resemblance to a spirit I fought thousands of years before your birth is too phenomenal to ignore. Would that I could give you more advice on that thing or what it wants, but it never spoke to me any more than it spoke to you… so you're on your own there…"

"Wait, where are you going?" Korra realized Zeruda's spirit was fading.

"I have said my part for now," Zeruda whispered, "From here it is in your hands…"

"Seriously!?" Korra shouted as Zeruda's spirit dissipated into a wisp of blue dust. "You drop that cryptic message and then just poof away like that? Fuckkkkkerrrrrrr…!" Korra shook her fist in disappointment, but soon returned to her body with this new revelation. She stood up and looked around, realizing the Avatar statues had gone dark. If Zoroka was anywhere nearby, she did not interrupt Korra as she left the Avatar Chamber, and despite the rockiness of the events that went down, or the pain in her right arm and shoulder muscles, she had with her a new revelation. Zoroka—this spirit of balance, or whatever it was—was the primary reason the Interregnum Avatars had taken an interest in her. If it had existed in the past, then surely one of Korra's much older past lives might know of it. Perhaps it was older than Avatar Isikiro even, although Korra would have to find out. She had a surprisingly easy time contacting many of her past lives, and so how difficult could it be to connect with a few more?

Compassionate and caring as Korra might have been, she was also very much a thinker and a ponderer, especially when it came to delicate matters such as the Avatar, the Spirit World, or other such things, and so all in all, this information would require a great deal of mulling over before Korra would know what she wanted to do with it. As such, what she intended to do with this newfound information remained to be seen...

Chapter Text

Naga was waiting for Korra right outside the Avatar Chamber, greeting her with a forceful pin to the ground and repeated lickings of Korra's face.

"Ow, ow!" Korra laughed, "hey, easy on the right arm, girl!" Some people might have found this treatment frustrating, but Korra reveled in it and enjoyed every second. She reached into her bag and tossed Naga a treat as she got to her feet and brushed herself off, before glancing around, and out into the now setting sun.

"I think I know what drew me here this time…" she muttered, glancing around for any sign of Zoroka, but to no avail. "And it was worth the journey."

Korra spent the evening in the solitude of the deserted temple, still finding a distinct comfort in this mysterious location that she could not really find anywhere else. The Water Tribes were comforting despite her incidents there; the Earth Kingdom was vast and exciting; Republic City was a massive center of entertainment and intrigue, and while she had visited the Northern and Eastern Air Temples in some of her recent journeys, they didn't quite hold the same charm that the Western Air Temple did for her—not even in their respective Avatar Chambers.

Korra also realized that she most likely held the distinction as the only master Avatar that had never been to all four nations, considering that she had yet to set foot on Fire Nation soil. However, with the existence of the United Republic, she had *technically* been to four nations nonetheless. She wondered if that would change between the present and the time when she became a fully-realized Avatar—it was possible, because despite Korra's setbacks, she was still extremely powerful and very close to becoming a fully-realized Avatar, despite her age. Either way, it was an amusing little thought to fall asleep to.

The next day around midmorning (Korra still didn't do mornings well, since she stubbornly asserted that the morning was evil), Korra and Naga took off back to the mainland, with the intention of returning to Republic City. Despite being away so much of the time, she still paid the city an occasional visit, catching up with Asami and Bolin, an even Mako, who appeared to have softened a little bit towards Korra despite her sometimes less-than-ethical life/career choices.

It was true, what people said about Republic City. It was the place to go if someone wished to disappear; and it was part of why so many criminal gangs and organizations were able to thrive and not get caught. The metalbending police force was remarkably effective when they were able to pin down criminals, but even with the dedicated efforts of Lin BeiFong and her sister Suyin's protégé Kuvira, there was still quite the rotten underbelly in Republic City.

Korra was very little help in this regard, often doing more harm than good. She claimed that trouble seemed to be drawn to her, and while most people would write that off as a lame excuse, it seemed to hold some water.

She was excited when she saw posters of her smirking face plastered to various street corners and light posts, seeing that the advertisement for her upcoming "Avatar Gauntlet" was still well under way. She took one of the fliers and began to scan it as she walked through the city, checking in on things because Asami wasn't home at the time.

"Ever wanted to try your hand against the Master of all Four elements in a game of modern speed and skill?" the poster read, "Sign up today for The Avatar Gauntlet and see if your best teams can take on the best of the best the world has to offer, in Republic City's favourite pastime!"

The rest of the information on the flier was mostly just technical details, dates, times, rules and regulations, and the likes. Korra realized she'd be very busy over the next few weeks given how often she was scheduled, which meant she'd at least have to speak to Butakha about this to reassure him she'd be able to make it work. Being that busy didn't bother her in the slightest; the more occupied she was, the less time she had to worry about her past coming back to throttle her again.

On the other hand, she regretted not watching where she was going, as she felt something strike the back of her head and plant her face into the concrete. She rolled onto her back to try and recover, but as she was kicking her feet out to jump back up, rock appeared around her hands, binding them and thus slipping Korra up. She grunted, using her feet to push herself into something of a leaned-back sitting position as she eyeballed her attackers. There was no time to think—it was time to act.

"Who the hell are you hoodlums?" she barked, glaring daggers at three shady looking men who were standing in front of a red Satomobile and now approaching her.

"Girlie, consider your answer carefully." A Water Tribe man in a blue-grey suit warned, "Do you think that just because… 'you're the Avatar and the world's gotta deal with it'," his tone changed to make a mockery of Korra's trademark statement, "...that you can just waltz right into Viper's territory—MY territory, and then go carousing around Republic City like you own the place?"

"Damn straight I do," Korra stamped her foot, breaking the earthen bonds and jumping to her feet with an aggressive stance. "So are you three gonna be the first ones to run the Avatar Gauntlet, or are you just gonna shriek and yap like Probending fangirls?"

"We'll see about that," the earthbender who attacked her distracted her for just long enough to allow the Viper to strike Korra's abdomen with a hard, swift bolt of water and ice shrapnel. That was going to sting a bit later.

"You picked a bad time to get lost, girlie," Viper taunted as he took another shot. "But now that you've gone ahead and shown you ain't afraid of bleeding… we're going to arrange a little meeting between you and a hospital." Whether or not Viper was ever a Probender was unclear, but he was fast and aggressive. His cronies, who bent earth and fire, also kept her on edge, and none of them seemed too concerned with collateral damage.

"You're the ones going to need a hospital," Korra met their attacks head-on, following up with a gust of wind to deflect the projectiles. "And for your sake," she continued, "I hope there's one nearby!" Korra followed her statement up with a blast of lightning that set the Triad thugs off-balance. It was rare for her to use that ability, but she always had it on reserve. Nakkoa had been good for at least one thing, despite the lasting damage she had done to Korra both physically and mentally.

The earthbender shifted the ground under Korra's left foot sharply to her left, causing her to unintentionally do the splits for a fraction of a second in a way that made her eyes pop and her teeth grit. She recovered and did a spiral flip to prevent getting a blast of fire to her face, and as she flipped backwards her hands pulled up rock projectiles which were in turn reflected by Viper. The firebender was there to meet her, proving that while thugs they might have been, the devious trio worked well enough together. The bolts of flame that hit her were not lingering, but were lighter attacks that popped at the end, with the burst effect launching Korra backwards and through the window of a shop. The thin sheet of glass stood no chance against a 160-lb Avatar colliding with it, and so unsurprisingly, it shattered on impact.

"Sorry!" Korra called out as she sprang back out and spewed a steady stream of powerful flames from her mouth to press her offensive and push the gangsters back. If she had been cut at all by the glass she was completely unfazed.

"At least now I can say I practiced a little before the gauntlet overmorrow afternoon…" Korra thought to herself as she danced gracefully around a slew of rock, water, and flame that put holes in many windows and walls around them. Zaheer's deft footwork training had been one of the many useful things she had learned as well, as well as her own agility in jumps, flips, and the like. She followed up with some powerfully aggressive waterbending strikes much like the ones she used in the Probending arena, aiming them skillfully at the mobsters' projectiles and preventing them from getting a good offensive foothold. She stamped her foot to bring up a quick slab of rock, launching the firebender through a 2nd-storey window, and used airbending to blast the other two backwards towards their vehicle.

"Got any idea of who I am now, chumps!" Korra taunted, although instead of a reply, she heard the roaring of the Satomobile, which was barrelling right towards her. Her initial thought was to whip off her headband, but as the firebender made a skillful jump from the window onto the top of the car before slipping in through a window, Korra realized she was much too close of quarters to launch a combustion beam at them without hurting herself in the process. They swerved to try and hit her, but Korra launched herself over them with a barrel-roll flip, and gave them the illusion she was going to leave them alone, before removing her headband and firing off a well-aimed combustion beam towards the back of the car.

It didn't hit the vehicle, but blasted the road just underneath the back bumper with enough force to send the car spinning through the air and crashing into a building. The mobsters managed to survive, but right as Korra was about to corner them, the shadow of a large airship hovered overhead. Korra had not had too many altercations with police apart from a few that she had managed to smooth-talk her way out of, but she recognized the metalbenders and their ships.

"Police!" the called out, "freeze where you are!"

Immediately, metalbenders descended from cables and moved to apprehend the Triad members. Korra crossed her arms smugly, popping a piece of candy into her mouth as a sort of vindictive celebration, despite her wounds. The bottom of her shirt was stained red, and she was glad that her armband was on her right arm, because were it on her left arm, it would have a large bleeding cut through it.

Korra remained smugly at the scene of the crime. She recognized the Police Captain, Saikhan, but only from pictures in some local newspapers she had read. After the cops had apprehended the three Triad members, they turned to Korra.

"You're under arrest too!" Saikhan pointed accusingly at Korra.

"What do you mean I'm under arrest," Korra put her hand to her chest defensively, "They assaulted me as I was walking down the street, so I defended myself!"

"By 'defending yourself', do you mean smashing up the entire block?" Saikhan gestured behind Korra, where nary a single building's 1st floor had escaped the wrath of the four benders. A few 2nd floor walls and buildings were also damaged.

"Hey, lemme explain!" Korra moved against the police who attempted to restrain her, causing Saikhan to shoot a metal cable around Korra's arm.

"Fuck; not that arm, please…" she grunted, her left arm quivering as she pulled on the cable. Tensing her muscles with that gash on her arm made it that much worse.

"You can explain all you want, down at headquarters." Saikhan answered.

Korra suddenly stopped, whistling loudly as Naga barreled over Saikhan and freed Korra from the cable in the process. The chase was on.

The police knew the city much better than Korra, but that didn't stop the feisty Avatar and her wily polar bear-dog from zigzagging through the streets to evade capture. At one point a few metalbenders attempted to sideline her, but as one approached her, Korra introduced his face to the underside of her boot, giving him a good solid kick that launched him into two of his buddies. She tore through the large park in the middle of town, looking for a less confined space in order to prevent capture, but all this really did was attract more police.

"I am *so* not getting paid enough for this…" She pouted as she pressed Naga onward. So far she remained ahead of the competition, but as she moved to cross a large bridge she saw a spiderweb of cables descending for her.

"You only bend once," She mumbled, before focusing on the center of the cables and blowing them apart with a well-aimed combustion beam.

"This isn't going to be easy," Saikhan radioed Chief Lin BeiFong, "she's resistant, extremely fast, and incredibly powerful."

"Dart her if you have to," Lin replied over the radio, "Avatar or not, justice is blind."

The next motion from the police was subtle, and they pulled back. Korra raced off, vindicated that she had escaped.

However, it was all part of a scheme. Korra ran into Kuvira, who was casually patrolling an otherwise quiet street before she glanced Korra's way.

"Ahh, shit," she grunted, but all this did was get Kuvira to turn.

"Avatar Korra?" the young metalbender raised her eyebrows. "You look like you just crawled out of the bad end of a street fight."

"That's the gist of it," Korra mumbled, "and now the rest of you cops are trying to arrest me just because I might've smashed a few windows. I can pay for that easy-peasy!" It wasn't like she had anything else to spend her money on other than maybe a Satomobile.

"I'm not saying I'm going to turn you in, Avatar Korra," Kuvira began, stalling Korra just long enough for her comrades to make their move. She had been in on the plot to take down Korra, and so when Korra was shot in the back of the neck with a stun dart, Kuvira acted surprised, particularly as Korra slumped unceremoniously off of Naga and into an awkward face-down position with her hips in the air.

"You set me up," Korra grunted as she tried vainly to move, "Come on… did you really have to let me fall face-down, ass up though? This is embarrassing even for me."

"It would have been easier on all of us if you hadn't resisted and ran," Kuvira retorted, although there was a wry half-smile on her face as if she had found Korra's entire stunt rather amusing—since she did.

Naga, while initially apprehensive, seemed to sometimes have more common sense than her master to the point where she did not try to fight off the approaching police, although stayed close enough to Korra's side as if to ensure she was not mistreated as she was helped up and handcuffed before being taken away in a van. Naga followed, not necessarily trying to be stealthy, but also not causing a ruckus, almost like she knew exactly what Korra had done and that she was in fact facing justice. Kuvira made no effort to stop her—for the spectacle was also rather amusing to witness. Besides, Korra wasn't about to get the slammer for life or anything. Kuvira frankly figured the Avatar would be out of there within a couple of hours at most.

Chapter Text

Korra remained dazed and dizzy all the way to the police station, where she woke up bound to a chair to restrict her movement, and her headband had been replaced over her forehead. Her hands were cuffed, and it seemed she was mostly unable to bend. After what seemed like an eternity, Chief Lin BeiFong came to see her directly, a large folder in her hands.

"Ah yes… Avatar." she spoke, "We've already got quite the file on you even before today… but now multiple counts of destruction to private and city property, not to mention assault of Republic City Police officers and extensive vandalism to their equipment, but also evading arrest entirely. Young lady, you are in a whole mess of trouble, and that mouth of yours is likely only going to make things worse, so think before you speak."

"Chief," Korra began, "Let me explain something to you. When you're in a situation like that, you don't have time to think. So I thought to myself 'don't think Korra. Act'."

"So…" Lin raised an eyebrow, unamused, "you weren't thinking."

"Not at all!" Korra exclaimed, still unable to move, "I cannot emphasize how little I was thinking!"

Lin gave her an exasperated look, but did not reply.

"But in my defense, Chief," Korra continued, "I firmly believe that assault should be legal, especially if it's against Triads or if the person is a jerk."

"Thank you, Avatar Korra, for your absurd opinion which you share with no one," Lin rolled her eyes, "now, CAN IT! I bend only one element and I still manage to apprehend criminals without causing a ruckus and destroying half the city. You know all four, and so surely if you had any semblance of self-control or discipline, you could have found a much less destructive way of apprehending those Triads."

"Well then, no thanks for apprehending them at all." Korra's time with the Red Lotus had sharpened her wit and comeback skills considerably, "the next time three thugs surround a teenage girl I guess I should just get on my knees and beg for mercy then."

"Don't play innocent, girl; you know your own strength…" Lin scoffed, "and your ridiculous arsenal of powers, which was clearly unregulated."

"Oh, my bad," Korra rolled her eyes, "I forgot that being the goddamn Avatar meant learning the four elements and diversifying my skillsets. Remind me next time I'm reincarnated to only use carefully choreographed routines when I learn how to bend. It might be easier since that poor sod'll be born an earthbender."

"Just because you're some probending whiz that knows how to blow things up and throw a few lightning bolts doesn't make you some Avatar State legend, kid." Lin shook her head. "Justice might be blind but that doesn't mean it's going to turn a blind eye to crimes from the Avatar."

"Really now?" Korra quipped, "because would you look at that?" She had regained her bending, using a deft motion to uncuff herself, "It looks like if I really wanted to escape, I could." she accentuated her point by pulling up her headband. "Fortunately, I don't want to escape; I just don't want to get the slammer for trying to defend myself and accidentally causing a bit of collateral damage on the side." She covered her tattoo with her headband again.

"Even then, you're far from being Fully Realized," Lin pointed a finger right at Korra's nose, making the saucy Avatar go cross-eyed for a brief moment, "and even if you were, you can't just go waltzing through Republic City and doling out vigilante justice like you own the damn place."

"It seems you're letting the Triads to exactly that," Korra riposted, and they'd still be at it if it wasn't for… oh would you look at that… the freakin' Avatar."

There were several seconds of awkward silence, where Lin and Korra basically had a staring contest. Surprisingly, Korra did not relent, and moments after Lin blinked she spoke again.

"Why are you here, Avatar Korra?" her expression narrowed.

"Because… I want to be here?" Korra shrugged, "My best friend lives here; two of my other close friends live here; there's a shitload of opportunities for work here, I love the sports here, to the tune of getting back into the arena in two days?"

She sighed. "Look, what are you gonna do to me? I'll take the punishment like a little bitch if I have to; just don't make me miss my game. I've been waiting for months for this!"

"So it would seem," Lin mused. And idle hands clearly only know trouble. You make a formidable fighter, but you lack discipline. I plan to rectify that."

"Just dole out my punishment already instead of dangling it over my head," Korra complained, "what are you going to do to me, and whose house do I need to rebuild to get freed?"

"I plan to teach you discipline, Avatar." Lin seemed to be analyzing Korra just as hard as Korra was analyzing her; both looking for chinks in the other's armour. "You're spending the rest of the evening with me, and I'm going to teach you the way to utilize metalbending properly. Once we're done, we will consider the charges dropped—only because there was enough money in the Triad gangs' car to cover the damage expenses and then some. Be glad you caught someone worthwhile and not just some petty thug."

"Hey, I'll never say no to more bending training," Korra's tone and expression became much mellower, "I'll do what I have to do."

"You're not going to like it," The right corner of Lin's mouth curled up almost unnoticeably, "But then we shall see. Thank you for not blowing my whole office apart, by the way." With this, she flicked her wrist, and the bindings around Korra's wrists, neck, body, and feet came undone.

"How bad could it possibly be?" Korra shrugged, "oh; can I at least try and heal these wounds? They're stinging like a bitch!"

"You know healing?" Lin quipped, nodding to cue Korra that she could indeed work and heal herself now, "now that's a surprise."

"Katara taught me the basics," Korra explained as she began massaging her left arm with water, "and I learned other tricks from my uncle."

"I'll be honest," Lin quipped, "healing is the last ability I suspected you would ever have any capability for—much less talent."

"I couldn't rely on Unalaq to heal me every time the Red Lotus kicked my face in," Korra shrugged with a pout, "for how ruthless they were for me, they seemed pretty determined to make sure I was kept alive."

"I deal in justice, Avatar Korra; not torture." Lin remarked, "I might work you in the bone but I have no desire to bring you to actual harm, much less kill you."

"Well," Korra pouted as she spent a little extra time on her left arm, "that's a relief."

A few moments later and the pain had subsided from Korra's arm as she moved to her stomach, lifting her shirt slightly to clean up the ice-shrapnel wounds. They were small and so the healing processes were not overly lengthy, and so within 15 minutes Korra felt almost as good as new—albeit still sore.

"Welp, I'm ready," Korra shrugged, "Let's get started."

"Right then," Lin nodded, a very subtle sense of vindication appearing on her visage that Korra wither oblivious or indifferent to, "follow me."

=Several Minutes Later…=

"Learning how to metalbend, my ass!" Korra shouted through gritted teeth. She was situated atop a small rock, her arms above her head supporting two large plates of metal, with Lin sitting in a meditative position on top of them, calmly drinking tea. "You're not even letting me metalbend these sheets!"

"You're trembling, Avatar," Lin replied casually, with a vindictive lack of regard for Korra's struggle, "focus harder and keep it up. You know the rules."

"I'd like to see you try this!" Korra snapped, "Fuck, my knees! AAAAAUGH!" With a concerted force of effort, Korra tried straightening her legs and arms, trying to put less pressure on her joints as she struggled to maintain this balance.

"Metalbending will be good for you, they said…" Korra's face was red and beaded with sweat from her struggle not to drop the weight of the metal and Lin on top of her. She was pretty sure Lin weighed at least as much as she did without her armour—and so with it, it was several extra pounds. Similarly, those sheets of metal were both heavy enough to at least match Korra's body weight, if not exceed it. "MORE LIKE TORTURE LABOUR, AM I RIGHT?"

"Quit your bitching and stop slacking," Lin quipped, "you're weaker than you look."

"Fuck you," Korra's pride was injured, especially since she always used to enjoy showing off her formidable strength. As such, she pushed herself up before her eyes widened. "Wait, is that another panel? Seriously, no; dammit; Lin, I'm gonna fall; my knees are gonna explode, fuck, AAAAAUGH!" her arms and legs bent as Lin somehow managed to carefully slide another panel in between her feet and the two existing ones.

"Do you just carry these around with you? Sweet merciful Raava what did you eat; why are you so heavy… shit, shit… GAAAAAAH!"

Korra's back bent forward as she nearly faltered, and she could feel the aching strain of the weight move from her arms to her back. "Chief, my back's about to break here!"

"A wise and powerful Avatar once said…" Lin took another sip of her tea. "You gotta deal with it."

"Oh, fuck you!" Korra screamed. "HRRRR-AAAAAAH!" With the last mustering of her strength, Korra shifted the weight back to her arms and legs, relieving her back of the intense stress it was just under, "HOW… MUCH… LONGER!?"

"Until your knees give out," Lin replied casually, finishing her tea without complication despite Korra's visible and noticeable trembling.

"Are you serious!?" Korra's eyes were starting to water more from the intensity of the stress put on her body, rather than from emotional turmoil, "are you SERIOUSLY gonna break my legs?"

"Deal with it." Lin's tone was nonchalant and indifferent to Korra's plight.

"Oh fuck all kinds of this, I'm done!" She metalbent the panels away from her and then fell rather unceremoniously off her rock and into the grass at her feet, where she laid motionless, with her chest rapidly expanding and contracting as she tried to catch her breath, and all four of her limbs twitching involuntarily. Her normally brown face was red and glistening with sweat, her eyes were bloodshot and she was drooling slightly.

Lin was unfazed, and had managed to flip gracefully off the metal plates before Korra flung them aside. She looked down at the wearied Korra.

"It's about time," she crossed her arms, a slightly amused smirk on her face.

"About… time… for what?" Tears had actually formed in Korra's eyes, and she was legitimately crying, although this too was from the physical exertion rather than emotional.

"About time that you used metalbending." Lin replied nonchalantly.

"You told me I couldn't!" Korra coughed, still lying on her right side on the ground.

"And with your penchant for breaking the rules, I figured you were going to break it straightaway." Lin riposted. "It seems I was wrong."

"Hey…" Korra wheezed, "I might break rules, but when someone says they're going to teach me bending... I follow instructions to the letter. Clearly… a big fucking mistake." Her words were punctuated with heaving gasps for breath.

"Don't do the crime if you're not willing to do the time," Lin shrugged, "you're free to go. Watch yourself closer next time though, and try not to destroy half the city."

"That was… that was it?" Korra moaned, every joint in her body aching to the point where she couldn't even move.

"This time, aye," Lin started to walk away, "don't tempt me, Avatar…"

"You just wanted to see me suffer!" Korra shouted.

"You deserved it," Lin didn't even skip a beat, but Korra could have sworn there was a slight tone of amusement in the Police Chief's voice.

"ASS!" Korra shouted, "you're a wicked person, Chief…"

"And you're a rather vulgar little woman, aren't you?" Lin retorted. "You're welcome to stick around and sulk there as long as you want, but if you want to go home you can pick yourself up off the ground and do it yourself." She paused to glance at the sky. "It might rain. Make of that what you will."

Korra did not reply, but laid there silently for most of the remainder of the afternoon. Strangely enough, she wasn't mad; just utterly depleted and her entire body ached to the point where she wasn't sure she'd be able to move even if she wanted to. She was really glad that she had come a day early, rather than the eve of the Probending matches, because there was no way she'd be able to fight in this condition, let alone at the top of her game. It was past sundown before she mustered up enough strength to lift her arm and whistle for Naga. She was surprisingly nearby, having carefully followed Korra while being unobtrusive, and so even Lin didn't seem to mind her nearby presence while she was "teaching" Korra.

"Help me up, girl…" Korra waited as Naga nuzzled her up and onto her back, where she hung unceremoniously as Naga looked around.

"Take us home; Sato Estate." Korra mumbled.

Naturally, after they got there, Asami was the one to greet her, and had a few choice words for her as well.

"It's about time you showed back up," She jabbed, poking Korra's side more as an affectionate gesture, "You went quiet for longer than usual this time."

"Things happened," Korra shrugged, "I got assaulted and arrested, and Chief BeiFong did a number on me. Metalbending sucks."

"Is that why you're flopped so gracefully on Naga's back?"

"No respect," Korra sighed, "And Naga spites me."

Naga snorted before leaning to one side and effectively dumping Korra off into a pile at Asami's feet, before sauntering off to her usual stomping grounds behind the estate. Asami giggled.

"You really shouldn't mock her like that when you're so vulnerable," She chuckled, crouching down to talk to the mumbling heap of blue and brown that was Korra.

"Mrrgglfffmmnn…" Korra replied, her face all but attached to the ground.

"Want me to play with your hair while you tell me what happened?" Asami offered.

"Hmmmffrrgm…" Korra mumbled with a subtle nod. Asami sat down and shifted Korra around so that her head was in Asami's lap. She gently removed the beads from Korra's hair and undid her ponytail, spreading out her hair and beginning to untangle it. "So… you got arrested?"

"Yeah," Korra mumbled, "some thugs attacked me, and I might have accidentally destroyed half a city block in my zeal to take 'em down… but then friggin' Chief BeiFong… you know what she did? She pretended it was 'metalbending training'…" she launched into a detailed account of how Lin had forced her to hold her up for what seemed like hours (Korra had not exactly timed how long she was up there).

"Three metal panels AND Chief BeiFong?" Asami exclaimed once she was through, "no wonder you're always showing off your muscles." She chuckled and gave Korra's left arm a squeeze, which made Korra wince slightly. Her healing job had opatched the wound up nicely, but her muscles were still dreadfully sore from being overworked that afternoon.

"Yeah, and I'm still sore as all get-out from it," She indicated, but it was hard to be mad at Asami. "Meanwhile here's you all still being perfect and super pretty and stuff."

"Is that bad?" It was difficult to tell with Korra sometimes. She clearly envied certain facets of Asami's life, but Asami wasn't ever able to worm it out of Korra what parts she envied.

"Of course not!" Korra shook her head, "Just… I don't care why other people call you perfect. I call you that because you are—for me, anyways. I mean, not in that way? I don't think? Umm… I mean, like, you just know me."

The idea that Korra's feelings for Asami might be more than just best friends (and potentially romantic) was a thought that had never occurred to her until now. Asami was beautiful, and every time Korra saw her charming smile or her shimmering perfect hair, she couldn't help but admire the way Asami took care of herself like that. Both of them had grown so much since the time they first met. Korra smiled as she remembered her little 14-year-old self trying to smooth over the awkward tension of their first meeting with little 15-year-old Asami. Now she was 17, Asami was 18, and she was noticeably taller than her. Korra wasn't sure how she felt about that.

"What are you smiling about?" Asami looked down at Korra with that calm, admiring expression she often gave.

"Just thinking about how we met," Korra admitted. "You've gotten a lot taller."

"I think all that growth went straight to your biceps instead," Asami teased.

"Damn right it did," Korra laughed. "Hey, hey! That reminds me—are you coming to my big Probending debut overmorrow?"

"The Avatar Gauntlet?" Asami raised her eyebrows, "I half-expected that you were going to miss the date. Of course I'll be there, cheering you on."

"Did Mako and Bolin sign up?" Korra mused aloud.

"They might have," Asami hummed, trying to remember, "I'll try and stay neutral on that match, but if I had to choose who to cheer for it'd probably still be the Avatar."

"You flatter me, Asami." Korra giggled, closing her eyes as Asami continued to play with her hair.

"You amuse me to no end, Korra," Asami ruffled Korra's hair if only to straighten it again, "There's never a dull moment with you around, and I'm glad to have met you."

"That… really means a lot." Korra admitted, "Not very many people have such a positive image of me. I mean sure it's my fault, but still…"

"They have to deal with it," Asami pecked Korra's forehead. "Simple as that. Now, you're burned out, and you cannot convince me otherwise. You're not going to argue with me this time when I tell you that you need rest, are you?"

"Would I really be Korra if I just went willingly?" Korra laughed.

"Don't even go there," Asami suddenly hoisted Korra into her arms, "you need the rest—tomorrow's a big day for you."

"Fine, fine… fair point, fair point." Korra admitted defeat with a sigh this time, and let Asami carry her to her room. She did not linger, but coaxed Korra to at least remove her armbands, boots, skirt, and belt before she laid down.

"There's the Korra I'm all too familiar with," Asami chuckled. Korra could move slightly, but seemed to not want to.

"Thank again, Asami.." she whispered, closing her eyes. "You're the best."

"I could say the same about you…" Asami whispered as she stepped out. Korra fell asleep almost instantly, comfortable and content—and with images of Asami's beautiful face and voice floating through her head.

Chapter Text

Korra was so sore and exhausted that she didn't even get out of bed until later in the evening the following day. Asami checked in on her a few times mostly to make sure she was doing okay, but overall, it seemed she was just too tired to move much.

"How do you sleep the way you do?" Asami couldn't help but ask, once Korra was 'back in the land of the living', still barefooted and wearing little more than her shirt, pants, and headband.

"Exactly however I do," Korra shrugged, "why?"

"Because earlier you were positioned so hilariously I had to capture it for you." Asami handed Korra a photograph that depicted Korra with her head and arms on the floor, one of her legs sticking up and the other to the side, one of her bare feet poking out of the blanket. Her expression as well as a barely noticeable trail of drool out of the left corner of her mouth was a sign that she was out cold and snoring, rather than staged.

"Also," she added, "you snore. Loudly."

"I… don't even know how I managed to do that," Korra admitted, cracking a smile at how hilarious her position was. "I'm an active sleeper, according to my mom though. Oh, and I'm totally keeping this, by the way."

"I think 'active sleeper' is putting it lightly." Asami left the photo in Korra's hands, "no wonder you sleep outside so often. How does Naga put up with you?"

"Why don't you ask her?" Korra nudged her. She loved the playful banter that she had with Asami. They teased each other a lot, but there was a certain unique level of understanding that Korra felt like they had, that she didn't have with anyone else. In truth she was also impressed that Asami put up with it; Korra knew that Asami's remarks were more her trying to keep up with Korra; otherwise she was a very polite and kindhearted woman who did not seem the type to tease others. On the other hand, Korra was abrasive, rough, and remarkably vulgar, and it was only through careful wording and a strong sense of understanding that she felt like she wasn't outright insulting Asami sometimes.

"Speaking of asking…" Korra continued, "A question for you, yeah?"

"Of course," Asami smiled, walking down the halls of the mansion towards the doors that led out to the side of the house where Naga usually roamed.

"I know I'm a bit brash pretty much all the time," Korra explained, following her, "but like—you know that when I jab I'm not entirely serious, right?"

"I do," Asami nodded, "Although I admit that it's only because I know you so well. If we were strangers and you said some of those things to me, I would actually be unlikely to take them too well. You come off very forceful sometimes, Korra."

"I do?" Korra's self-esteem suddenly took a huge hit with this new epiphany.

"Yes," Asami opened the door as they went outside to walk the grounds; "And I personally don't mind it, but that's because I know you. I know your quirks and antics, and more importantly, I know what you've been through, which in turn means I know how you sometimes try to deal with those pent-up emotions."

"That's…" Korra pouted, "that's a bad thing, isn't it?"

"Not necessarily," Asami clarified, "I just don't want to see you accidentally hurting anyone—especially not yourself."

"I'm getting better though, aren't I?" Korra asked hopefully.

"A little," Asami scratched the back of her head, "your outbursts are rarer… but you've learned to stay away from us when they happen, so I can't tell how bad they are anymore."

"I don't want you to see them," Korra shook her head, her teeth gritting, "I don't want anyone to see them. I hate myself when they happen, because I should be better than that!"

"Why?" Asami tried to get Korra to open up some more.

"Because I'm the Avatar!" Korra threw her arms in the air, "I'm supposed to be the one keeping balance in the world, not fighting a war for balance in my own damn head!"

"Do you really think the Avatar is immune to emotional conflicts, Korra?" Asami stopped, putting her hands on Korra's shoulders, "You're human, like everyone else. I'm not going to tell you to stop doubting yourself, because it's not my job—or anyone's job—to tell you how you can and can't cope with your issues. My point though, is that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness. You can get upset. You can cry. You can laugh. You can be afraid. I've seen you do all of these things, and it's natural—it's to be expected, Korra."

"I'm not afraid!" Korra snapped, "I'm a little dazed; confused, sure. What's there to be scared of now though? I survived Chief BeiFong's metalbending training, and I proved that I can whoop the Triads if they try to mess with me again. The Red Lotus terrorists are all in prison, and I killed Nakkoa myself. There's nothing left for me to be *scared* of, Asami."

"Korra, don't…" Asami began, "I'm not trying to make you feel weak; I'm trying to address something that's having a visibly detrimental effect on you because I care about you. I'm not trying to attack you, so you don't need to get so defensive."

Korra lowered her eyes and frowned. "I feel like we have this conversation every time I come back from somewhere," She shrugged with a sigh, "You put up with my bitching and try to straighten me out, only for me to sink back into my same stupor a couple weeks later. I know that dealing with traumatic events is hard—trust me, I know that way too well. But look at you! You lost your mom when you were 6 and I don't see you bitching and moaning about it all the time. Meanwhile I just get a couple burns and a bolt of lightning to the chest and suddenly I'm in pieces with no idea how to come to grips with what happened to me."

"Korra," Asami sighed, shaking her head, "that's… so much different. I'm not saying the loss of my mother doesn't still hurt me, but you're downplaying the fact that you were physically and psychologically tortured when you were only 15 years old. Even from the way you describe being treated by the Red Lotus, it comes off as sounding almost like they were trying to prime you to be susceptible to that sort of thing, whether they intended it or not."

"Wait, you read my journal?!" Korra got a little defensive at the idea.

"I did," Asami closed her eyes. "Part of it anyways, and I apologize. I hoped to be able to try and understand you better from reading parts of it… and to try and get an idea of what you're trying to hard not to show me—or anyone, for that matter."

Korra suddenly turned, tightly seizing Asami's arm and baring her teeth at her in a surprisingly threatening manner as she moved mere inches away from Asami's nose. "Best friend or not," she snarled, "don't go rummaging through my things without my say-so. Are. We. CLEAR?" Her free hand balled into a fist surrounded by blue flames, and her eyes flashed threateningly. Korra liked to think that the Avatar State was one of the Avatar's instinctual methods of warning people that she was not to be trifled with, but in reality, it was a defense mechanism she brought up when she was afraid, to cover up that fear.

Realizing what Korra was doing, Asami opened her mouth for a moment as if to reply, before stopping and taking a deep breath.

"Korra?" She spoke softly, maintaining her composure as she slowly pried Korra's tense hand off her arm, "I'm going to go back inside now. Take as much time as you need to let your anger out, and then we can resume this conversation." With this, she released her arm from Korra's grip and strode back towards the mansion as Korra came back around to her senses.

"What," Korra stammered, "I'm not mad; it's just… Asami, wait!"

Asami did not relent, however, and locked the door behind her. Of course, there were plenty of other doors Korra could choose from if she really wanted to get inside, but Asami's point hit home with Korra as she stopped to realize what she had done.

She swore loudly, chaining together several vulgarities as she viciously started attacking an otherwise mundane patch of ground with fierce waterbending attacks to try and release her pent-up fury. She left a remarkable crater in her wake by the time she was done, having triggered the Avatar State at least twice as she tried to blow off steam. After her anger had dissipated, she used a few swift earthbending moves to pull up a small shelter in which she curled up and hid from the world, crying softly as the weight of her mistakes became heavier.

Asami took a few deep breaths before she was willing to come find Korra, and she waited even longer as she heard the emotionally-fuelled Avatar smashing things outside. Only after the noise had dissipated did she venture out there.

The crater Korra had created was sizable, but was fortunately out of the way. Asami admired Korra for at least making sure her destructive bending tricks weren't used to harm any structures or important parts of the estate grounds. The small stone 'fort' that stuck out in the most obvious manner was new though, and Asami knew exactly where her distraught friend was.

It was a dangerous road, being friends with Korra. She was vicious, aggressive, confrontational, and was powerful enough that few could stand a chance against her in single combat. She had a hypervigilant disposition and a crazy tendency to fly off the handle at even the slightest provocation, which usually triggered the Avatar State—making Korra all that more terrifying.

Any yet, underneath these emotional burdens, Asami caught glimpses of the caring and compassionate young woman she had met on her doorstep 3 years ago. She knew that Korra was afraid, because when she was afraid she would immediately throw up her defenses and shut everyone else out, despite her soul subtly calling out for help. Knowing what kind of wonderful person Korra was under that broken, hostile exterior was what had prompted her to emotionally invest herself so heavily in the Avatar's well-being. She cared deeply for Korra, and wanted her to be happy.

"Korra?" She called out softly as she approached the crude rock structure. Refusing to engage the Avatar when she was tempramental had been one of Asami's better life choices. Korra was extremely difficult to reason with when she got angry, and so 19 times out of 20 it was best just to walk away.

"Korra's not here right now." Korra whimpered, rolling the other way so her back was to Asami. It would have been somewhat comical had the situation and the surrounding emotional aura not been so dismal.

"Are you crying?" Asami's face twisted to one of concern.

"NO!" Korra barked, before pausing. "M-maybe…"

"Korra, listen," Asami put her hand on Korra's shoulder, although Korra brushed it off, "I'm sorry I had to step away from you like that. I don't like it any more than you do."

"Just leave me alone…" Korra moaned. Her words might have demanded Asami to leave, but her tone and emotions were pleading for the opposite.

"Korra…" Asami whispered, "Look at me. I need to be honest with you, for both of our sakes."

Korra's eyes were red and her cheeks glistened, her melancholy expression bringing a pain to Asami's heart. She did not say anything, and broke eye contact with Asami a moment later.

"I care very deeply about you, Korra," Asami whispered, "but the hard truth of the matter is that you are extremely volatile. Your emotions are sometimes just… everywhere, and it's overwhelming for me. If it's overwhelming for me to deal with, I can only imagine how hard it must be for you to try and manage them. If I walk away, it's because I don't want to lash out and hurt you when you're already distraught. You don't need that kind of stress stacked on you."

"I can't help it half the time," Korra gave a dejected sigh. "I told you I wasn't worth the trouble I cause. I hate to say it, but it's true."

"No," Asami's tone grew more forceful, "I've said it before, Korra, and I'll tell you it again. Do. not. ever. say that to me again."

"Why?" the pout Korra made would have been funnier and cuter if her eyes were still not red and puffy from her crying.

"Because…" Asami took a deep breath, before taking the plunge with a rather bold statement, not fully sure how Korra would take it, "Because you are worth it to me, and I love so many things about you. You are a wonderful person under that stress, and I love you, Korra—strengths, flaws, hopes, fears, and all."

"I..." Korra stammered, "Wait… you love me?"

Asami took another deep breath. "Yes, Korra." she admitted, "It's… difficult for me to explain, and don't take it the wrong way… but you're more than just a friend to me. I care about you deeply, and because of that, I feel obligated to do what I can to make you happy."

"Please, no," Korra shook her head, "Don't stress yourself out trying to please me. I'm a hot mess, and as dumb as I am, if even I can see it, you better be able to as well."

"And despite that hot mess," Asami countered, "I still love you, Korra. I understand if you don't feel the same way about me or if you don't swing that way, but there are several reasons why I cherish our relationship, and this is one of them."

"I've… honestly never given it much thought," Korra admitted, rubbing her eyes, "Which way I 'swing', I mean. But honestly, when I think about it… I love you too, Asami. I've said it dozens of times before that I still don't think I'm worthy of being your friend. You're just so nice and caring and sweet and… fuck it, you're perfect, and I love you too." Without warning, Korra threw herself around Asami, burying her face into her shoulder and taking in the delightful aroma of her hair. Asami briefly rubbed Korra's back, calming the still somewhat agitated young woman as they held each other gently.

Perhaps this affection she had for Asami had been love the entire time without Korra realizing it. She didn't really care one way or the other at this point other than not wanting to let it go. There was something so soothing and relaxing about Asami's touch. Korra trembled slightly, mostly from being unaccustomed to human contact. The only Red Lotus member that had ever touched her had been Unalaq when he taught and helped Korra learn healing, but even that ended within a few months as Korra learned the ropes herself. Other than that, she was not used to this level of contact, much less on an intimate level.

"I love you so much…" Korra uttered in little more than a trembling whisper. "What did I ever do to deserve you, Asami?"

"I think it was mostly that you presented yourself at face value," Asami's hands ran up and down Korra's back and occasionally into her hair, "You wear your emotions on your arm—since you don't usually have sleeves of any kind. When you care about someone, you get really protective of them, and I admire that. I love your passion, your creativity, your wit, your humour; and your bending abilities… they are terrifying and beautiful at the same time. It's truly awe-inspiring to behold… I don't believe just anyone could harness that much power, Korra. You have a knack for quick-thinking and even quicker reactions. It's the little things… Avatar." She pulled Korra out of her shoulder to smile at her.

"I know you don't like being called Little Miss Perfect," Korra looked up at Asami, "but seriously, you're so perfect. You're like an emotional crutch for me, and I feel bad for even saying that I use you for that, I just… ugh; I'm not poetic, okay? I just… you…" She buried her face into Asami's hair and took a huge whiff, taking in Asami's relaxing scent.

"I hardly feel 'used'," Asami ruffled Korra's hair, "I like being able to be your shoulder to lean on, Korra. You're a completely different person when you're happy, and I love seeing that side of you. It reminds me of the jovial little girl that came knocking at my gate those three years ago after I nearly ran you over. They were simpler times."

"You say that like you knew you were going to say 'I love you, Korra' 3 years later," Korra quipped.

"Oh I definitely didn't know it," Asami chuckled, "but let me make myself clear: I love you Korra, and I don't regret saying that for even a second."

"Every day that I've been away from Republic City, it's on my mind," Korra admitted, before pausing, "...wait, you're going to laugh at me for it."

"Laugh at you for what?" Asami chuckled, having a shrewd idea of what Korra was about to say.

"I always used to wonder what you were thinking; what you were doing." Korra admitted, "Early on, I wondered if you would even remember me the next time we met."

"How could I forget the Avatar?" Asami chuckled, kissing Korra's forehead, "Let alone that the Avatar was a vibrant little powerhouse that has the cutest little laugh and a very genuine smile to match it? You're hard to forget, Korra—and while there might be many negative reasons some people might use as fuel against you in that regard, I remember you for who you are as a person; not your title; not your power… I remember the little girl who genuinely wanted to be my friend and that was concerned an awkward conversation would mark the end of that friendship."

"Hey, it was a valid concern!" Korra blushed fiercely, her trademark pout returning.

"It seems tame compared to some of the things you've done lately," Asami admitted, although changed the course of her thoughts as she noticed Korra's expression drop, "but no, Korra. I love you for who you are—from your best traits all the way down to your mental and emotional struggles. However little it may be, I want to help you with those struggles, Korra. I want to be there for you in those times when you just get too overwhelmed to try and manage it yourself.

"And then there's you," Korra interjected, "just straight-up freakin' gorgeous. Ugh, you're just so pretty and so kind and caring and I love you and stuff and I don't even know what else I should say right now I just kind of… nnnggghh…" She threw her arms up in defeat before burying herself in Asami's shoulder once again, to the chuckling amusement of the young industrialist.

"I love you." she muttered into Asami's hair, "and you gotta deal with it!"

Asami actually laughed much harder at this remark than Korra expected. "I don't imagine I'll have any trouble dealing with it, Korra." She rubbed the Avatar's back again, "Thank you."

It was cute, watching Korra stumble over her words. She didn't give herself nearly enough credit, but Korra was actually much more charismatic than she appeared to be. The fact that she was stumbling over her words and babbling like a toddler was more from her struggling to rein in her emotions around Asami, who did in fact drive her wild in the best of ways.

"No… thank you." Korra whispered, before piping up. "Hey, you gonna come see me wreck face tomorrow at the arena?"

"I wouldn't dream of missing it." Asami smiled softly, planting a small kiss on Korra's forehead, "especially not after the exchange we just had."

Korra could not properly formulate a reply, but the way her heart fluttered made it clear how she felt about the whole thing. Love… she *loved* Asami. It didn't seem strange; it didn't seem unusual; it just felt… right. This was someone Korra wanted in her life as much as possible—someone she cared immensely for. She was someone that loved Korra for who she was as a person, and that couldn't care less about her being the Avatar—and while 3 years ago having her status as the Avatar being ignored might have mortally offended her, at this point in her life, it was something of a relief. There would be time for her to figure out the impacts of her entering an intimate relationship later though. For now, she simply wanted to bask in it.

Chapter Text

Korra actually managed to wake up (relatively) early the next morning, and wasted no time in rushing to the Probending Arena to make sure she was still in the clear for the afternoon's events. Her knowledge of the streets of Republic City was still lacking, but it was improving insomuch that she only took three wrong turns and managed to correct them. Despite these holdups, she still made it to the arena in time.

"Ah, Avatar," Butakha smiled as Korra finally found him, "I almost thought you wouldn't show up and that we'd have to cancel. It's a relief for both of our sakes that you showed."

"Had a little altercation a couple nights ago that drained me," Korra was still a little short on breath from running, "Chief of Police got involved, there was a huge fire, it was pretty cool actually. Don't worry though; I'm raring to go."

"So I can see," The balding businessman put his hands together. "I'm honestly impressed you managed to wake up at all before 11."

"Normally I wouldn't," Korra flat-out admitted, "The morning is evil. I had to come a little early this time though; you had me at 11 instead of 12 for some reason?"

"Just a few formalities," Butakha explained, "See, when you and the Prison Breakers showed up last time, the buzz around the city that the Avatar had returned was all the rage for weeks. But then you vanished again, and have only surfaced sporadically since then. I figured if you planned on making this event of yours a regular occurrence, that you were here to stay for real this time—at least for a while."

"That's the plan," Korra nodded, "If I can keep steady employment I won't need to wander off and pick fights with people across the Earth Kingdom and the old Air Nomad Realms."

"Magnificent!" Butakha beamed, "I don't know if you've seen your lineup, but one of the benefits of my additional planning time was really reaching out and putting your name out there. I think a lot of people didn't even believe me when I said the Avatar would be here."

"Well here I am, in all my awesome glory," Korra put on a smug grin and flexed. "I'm ready to rock a few faces off and earn some cash."

To her delight, the time was close approaching. Butakha had decided to make it something of a public affair, with news reporters and everything there to ask the recently returned Avatar questions. For how many times she had appeared in Republic City, it seemed that ultimately, very few people recognized her unless they had seen her in action. Perhaps this was how Nakkoa and Kwan were able to lay low for so long, despite being notorious criminals. If even the Avatar, a renowned public figure, could stay hidden for so long, how much easier would it be for two sleeper agents to slip under the watchful eyes of the citizenry?

She shook the thoughts aside for now and took a few deep breaths to calm herself as she focused. This was going to be an exciting day, and as she checked herself out in her one-of-a-kind probending uniform, she couldn't help but admire it. It was black and silver, with rich purple accents where the orange, blue, or green accents would be on a normal probender's attire. Since she was the Avatar and didn't want to have all three colours, she chose a new one.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Shiro Shinobi announced as the seats began to fill up for the event, "after nearly two years of disappearing from the face of Republic City, the Avatar has resurfaced, and this time, she's going to try her hand at this game by her lonesome. As a master of four elements in one, she's got the gusto and thinks she can take on the best of the best in Republic City's favourite pastime! Will her claims ring true, or will some of her competitors dethrone her before her winning streak even begins?"

"Avatar Korra," a reporter got her attention, "Word has it that you were partially responsible for this innovative new game idea! Are these rumours true?"

"You're damn right they are!" Korra beamed, "I thought to myself, 'hey, I'm a master of four elements… if I can't get myself a probending team, I'll go and be my own Probending team!' and so here I am: your new Avatar!"

This was met with applause as she was asked another question by another reporter.

"The story of your altercation with the Triple Threat Triads has been all over the news the last few days," Korra made a mental note to read the paper more often as the reporter looked Korra in the eyes, "Are you trying to send a message to them?"

"Sort of," Korra admitted, scratching her head, "They don't own this city, and I think the citizens of Republic City should be able to go where they please without having to worry about shakedowns and violence from these hoodlums!" She had contemplated talking about dealing with them herself, but after dealing with Lin and her 'metalbending training', she reconsidered right away.

"So what brings you to Republic City?" This was a wide enough question that Korra planned to cover all points in a spur-of-the-moment speech here and now.

"Republic City is a glorious land of opportunity," Korra began, "A shimmering metropolis of entertainment and excitement…" She stammered, only for a brief moment, as a momentary glimpse of Nakkoa rushing her surged through her mind. She cleared her throat.

"And I personally think that rather than being exalted beyond my station," she continued, "that I should be seen as an equal. At the end of the day, I might still be the Avatar, but the Avatar is also only human. I mean, I'm only 17 years old for crying out loud, and despite my share of wild adventures, I want to connect with people from all walks of life. Heck, my best friend is a nonbender, and so let it not be said that they would get left out either! Bender or not, I look forward to serving you, citizens of Republic City!"

She was met with a round of applause before she continued. "And in a few minutes, I look forward to providing some damn near top-notch entertainment for you, in the form of… what did Mr. Shinobi call it?" she paused for a split-second, mostly for effect, "Right—Republic City's Favourite Pastime! Now, who's ready to watch some high-octane Probending Action!?"

Her last remarks had been unexpected but not unwelcome. Korra was bold and much more charismatic than she gave herself credit for. She was unaware of it, but Asami Sato had appeared in the stands, cheering and applauding Korra from one of the best seats in the house. She didn't want to draw Korra's attention to her, because she felt like Korra was exactly the type of person that would get distracted (and was unknowingly correct).

As the preparations were made for the initial game, however, there were still many people across the city that were tuning in through the radio. Among these, in some far corner of the city, were a group of the same masked men and women that had run into Korra a few times over the last few years. A mustachioed man shut the radio off, and turned to a man behind him.

"Amon," he spoke, "How do you wish to handle this?"

"So the Avatar has returned at last and wishes to settle down," a man in a white and red mask spoke with a level of vindictive confidence not unlike Korra's, "Don't worry Lieutenant. This simply means that we'll have to accelerate our plans."

Korra's pride was fuelled spectacularly that afternoon, proving that her braggadocio was backed by actual talent. She did not use airbending as an attack, but she was permitted to use it to bolster her already frightening speed as long as she remained in her appropriate zone. This agility was paired with legions of flips, spins, and tornado kicks, to the point where Korra's feet spent more time in the air than on the ground. Considering that Korra revelled in these abilities, she was having the time of her life. Being able to sling fireballs and earth coins alongside her bolts of water made her feel right at home.

"Four rounds in and the Avatar is so far untouchable!" Shiro announced, "Teams from all walks of life are trying their hands, but it seems the wily teen is just a bit too fast for them to actually strike her! How much stamina does she have, and what's the extent of her abilities? With this current relentless winning streak, we may never know!"

There were breaks and downtimes between sessions to let players (and Korra) catch her breath, get a drink or a bite to eat, and rest up a little bit, and during one of said downtimes, Asami met her down in one of the break rooms.

"Asami!" Korra's face lit up as rose to her feet. She had taken off her uniform and was bare-armed and barefooted, her messy hair hanging over one of her eyes. "Glad you made it!"

"You're doing incredible," Asami put her arms around Korra. "Untouchable by the sound of it."

"You're the first one that's touched me in a couple hours," Korra teased. "I plan on keeping that way at least till I get past the amateurs."

"I'll be cheering for you," Asami stole a kiss on the cheek. Korra was in love—make no mistake about it, but whether it was coincidence or just subconscious awareness, neither of them seemed to want their first 'official' kiss to be just anywhere. What occasion they were saving it for, however, remained to be seen.

Korra put her uniform back on, finishing the look with her purple-colored belt, and a helmet with a similar colored stripe down the middle. In a way it reminded Korra of just how one-of-a-kind she was, what with being the Avatar and all.

Her versatility and even her volatility served her well in the arena, almost as if the little Avatar was born for pit fighting. Her lightning-swift reflexes and reaction times had her evading most attacks, and her nimble airbending-style dodges kept her in the game much longer than normal. Her airbending itself was a very renegade style considering that she was essentially self-taught, but even then she wished that she could use it without breaking the rules. Alas, some things had to be sacrificed in the spirit of competition.

Korra also couldn't help but feel vindicated and downright smug to the point of being punchable every time she looked at the large scoreboard. On one side of the scoreboard was the word "Challengers", while the other read "Avatar Korra" and had a stylized cartoonish image of her grinning comically. Her vulgar displays of power that she performed after every victory remained, but the one she had performed when she had been on a team with Nakkoa and Kwan was still the most glorious of these—almost as if Korra restrained herself out of respect for Kwan. Her feelings regarding Nakkoa were still terribly conflicted, and instead of trying to sort them out, Korra merely buried them and focused on the situation at hand—winning this gauntlet.

The gauntlet for the day was a total of 21 rounds, and Korra went the first 8 of them without even getting hit, and was only knocked back one or two zones in a total of seven matches. There would be more teams next time, (and likely returning competitors from today) but Korra still felt a personal sense of vindication from seeing her final opponents—the White Falls Wolfbats.

"You ready to count to 37, Tahno?" Korra leered.

"Hmm, before the Uhvatar goes for her first little swim?" Tahno retorted.

"The way you bicker almost makes it sound like you have a crush on me." Korra riposted with an idiotic smirk plastered across her face.

"Everyone loves the Uhvatar," Tahno flipped his hair, "But you know what I smell in here?"

"Let me guess," Korra jeered, "the smell of losers?"

"No, actually," Tahno caught Korra off-guard, "It smells like…" his nostrils flared for a moment as if he was sniffing the air again, "...teen spirit."

"Oh, it is ON!" Korra cracked her knuckles, rolled her shoulders and stretched. She didn't exactly tell this to people, but she was very sensitive about her age, even if her three best friends were all within a year or two of her. She blamed this on her sojourn with the Red Lotus, where even Kwan, the youngest member of the group (besides Korra herself), had all been more than twice her age when she had been with them. In a way, it always made her feel like she stuck out or didn't belong, even if this belief was overall irrational.

Korra took several hits this round, and was actually pushed to the final zone for the first time that day. Tahno and his team kept the pressure on her, and forced her to dance across her zone to prevent getting struck and thrown into the drink. Korra spent a great deal of the match twirling, spiraling, or corkscrewing through the air as she evaded the slew of fast-paced projectiles. The strike that had pushed her from zone 2 to zone 3 had been a well-placed header, because of course Tahno would use a headshot.

"This could be where the Avatar's 20-game streak ends, folks!" Shiro announced, "they're keeping the heat on her, and while she's playing hard to catch, they're wearing her down! Are the White Falls Wolfbats going to—no! Korra strikes back with a triple attack that throws the wolfbats back! Their waterbender is down! Their firebender is down! And there goes their earthbender! It's a knockout, and what a comeback for Avatar Korra!"

The adrenaline rush from winning the first round put Korra back at the top of her game, where she finished the match much more decisively, cheering for herself at the end with a glorious display of her power, with a particular emphasis on fierce, wild airbending tricks.

"Airbending…" Shiro Shinobi mused as the events started to close, "Now that would be an interesting dynamic to the Probending Arena if I say so myself. Quite a shame there aren't a few more of those fellows running around. Still, ladies and gentlemen, the debut of the Avatar Gauntlet goes to its host, Avatar Korra! Join us on Friday for the next exciting round of The Avatar Gauntlet, where we'll see if Avatar Korra can hold up her streak, or if she'll walk away soaked to the bone!"

Korra was fairly confident that she'd be able to maintain this routine for the three days a week that Butakha had scheduled her for; barring any external circumstances, in the which case she would telephone Butakha to alert him of any necessary changes. For now, however, she hoped to relax and revel in her victory. The winner's purse was considerably heavy, much to Korra's delight, even if she had no clue what she was going to do with all this money. Regardless, it was time to celebrate, and as Korra headed for the changing room, she wondered if she'd be able to convince her new girlfriend to join her in said celebration.

Asami was practically waiting for her once she stepped out, changed back into her everyday attire. Her exposed face and arms were noticeably red and sweaty, and her bad posture betrayed just how winded Korra was from all of that activity.

"You look like you had fun," she chuckled.

"Damn skippy I did," Korra pumped her fist, "Man, oh man I can't wait until the next game! In the meantime though, I think I've earned a little R&R." She brandished her victor's purse in her other hand, looking rather proud of herself.

"What are you going to do with all that?" Asami chuckled. Korra had proven over the last couple of years that she was rather proficient at earning money, but that she had a tendency to spend very little on it apart from candy, snacks, and the occasional knickknack or change of clothes. As such, she had amassed a rather large supply of cash, which made Asami curious as to what the Avatar planned to do with it all.

"Oh I dunno," Korra shrugged as she raided a hidden sweets pouch and stuffed her face with some of these confections, "I mean besides candy, I kinda want to take you out somewhere, but where do you take the girl who has everything, y'know?"

"Korra, you know I'm not picky." Asami ruffled Korra's hair.

"I know," Korra pouted, "but I want it to be special. A special woman deserves a special date. That's kind of common sense, isn't it?"

"Well, I don't know how inclined you are to spectate probending matches," Asami pointed out, "But the championship playoffs are happening on the days you're not playing… and I know who I'd love to have watching those games with me."

"Makes me wish my old team was still around," Korra sighed, "but if you want to watch the Probending playoffs, then we're going to watch them and I've gotta deal with it!"

Asami laughed. "You're cute when you're happy." she chuckled, being rather adamant about this belief in particular. Korra was very fun to be around when she was in high spirits.

"Oh stop, you're gonna make me blush," Korra pouted, even if her face was still red anyways.

"Hmm…" Asami paused as if to contemplate her comeback, "I think you gotta deal with it."

"Touché," Korra laughed, "and well-played."

All in all, it was a good day for Korra. The brief moment where she had been haunted by Nakkoa had been fleeting, and Korra had successfully repressed those negative feelings to deal with for another time. Knowing that her best friend loved her as much as loved her best friend also helped a lot—and was part of why Korra was walking on air the whole way out of the arena.

Chapter Text

The announcement that the Avatar had returned and was going to linger in Republic City for the foreseeable future was met with an interesting wave of reactions. The men in the masks who hid in the shadows were still doing their work, while Probending fans continued to fill the arena on a regular basis. Even on her off days, Korra found herself coming there a lot with Asami, although she still felt like she wanted to give her a proper outing one of these nights.

Tenzin over on Air Temple Island took particular interest in knowing that Avatar Korra was in the city, primarily due to his curiosity about the young Avatar's airbending abilities. It was no mystery that she knew how to airbend, but at what level was what Tenzin wished to find out. Chief Lin BeiFong kept a close eye on her either through Kuvira and other metalbending officers, or directly, and wound up arresting Korra at least three different times. Fortunately for Korra, only one of those charges persisted, which resulted in another torturous "metalbending training session", much to the chagrin and exasperation of the feisty young Avatar.

"You're a sadist," Korra panted after spending several hours trying to support increasing amounts of weight. It did a body good, and Korra proved to be extremely strong despite her age and size, but her body always ached miserably afterwards, and while the tears she shed were from physical exertion, it still embarrassed Korra that she "cried".

"I can't just let you go when you cause that much damage, Avatar," Lin explained curtly, "And besides—one does not simply go doling out vigilante justice in my city."

"Your city!?" Korra grunted from the weight she was bearing, "Do you have the Republic City Council in your pocket or something?"

"If anyone 'has the city in their pocket'," Lin calmly drank her tea, "it would be Tarrlok, the Northern Water Tribe Councilman. I'm sure you'll meet him sooner or later, and I'd advise you not to get on his bad side. Then again, you wasted no time getting on mine."

"Given your attitude, I'd be surprised if anyone wasn't on your bad side," Korra shifted her weight, "you probably gave Avatar Aang this kind of shit too, didn't you? Wait, is that another panel? Seriously Lin; no! I take it back; I take it back, that's not gonna… fuck; shit; AAAAAAH!"

Lin did not need a verbal reply as she slid another heavy slat of metal underneath the three that Korra was already holding up. It was only after Korra swore at her again that she spoke.

"Would you like to make it five?" Lin kept that ruthless calm to her.

"Right about now I'd rather take a week in the slam." Korra quivered.

"Sadly, prison isn't an option for you, because it might do you some good," Lin riposted.

"This should be good…" Korra's words were staccatoed by her gasps for breath as she steeled her body to continue supporting the immense stress of the weight on her shoulders.

"Having heard the way you react when confined or imprisoned," Lin explained, "the last thing I want you to do is blow a hole in the Republic City jail and enable the escape of dozens of other more hardened criminals, thank you very much."

"And so you torture me with a workout designed to make my knees blow out?" Korra riposted.

"Yes," the corner of Lin's lip curled upward. "Which of course, you seem to have the power and know-how to disregard as well, but it seems that your volatile mind is able to learn some form of discipline every now and again."

"I think you just like tormenting the Avatar like your mom used to." Korra had heard stories from Aang about Toph BeiFong's old quips.

"While she undoubtedly would approve of this scene," Lin gave three taps to the side of the metal, which had become a sort of wordless indicator that Korra could put everything down again, "this was my own idea. It's not supposed to be enjoyable."

"HYAAAAA!" Korra flung the metal slabs away and collapsed on the ground, completely motionless. "Sorry that I'm powerful, I guess?"

"There's nothing wrong with power when you can control it," Lin replied, "or in your case, have enough common sense not to set everything you see on fire."

"You're the one that keeps telling me I have a lot to learn," Korra remained lying on her side, utterly exhausted from lifting and holding several times her own weight above her head for at least a couple hours, "and so I'll learn it. Is that such a bad thing?"

"I'd frankly rather you just not do the crimes at all," Lin brandished a growing thick folder that was simply labelled "that damn kid".

"Hey, is that mine?" Korra looked amused.

"Much to the dismay of everyone who knew Avatar Aang, yes." Lin sighed, "It's hard to believe that such a sweet-tempered man was reincarnated into such a reckless, impulsive girl."

"Bite me," Korra riposted.

"You'd enjoy it too much," Lin didn't even skip a beat.

"Says the woman who gets her kicks from torturing a teenager," Korra bit back.

"You act like an adult; so you're going to get treated like one, Avatar."

"Yeah, brutal training regimens and near-death experiences kind of force you to grow up a little fast, don't they?"

"While I do not wish to make light of the trauma you suffered, surely even you must know it does not justify your wild and destructive behaviour."

"It doesn't," Korra shook her head weakly, "but it's kind of telling when a kid's stopping more criminal thugs than the actual police."

"Avatar Korra," Lin sighed, "Like any respectable Chief of Police, I believe in Order, Stability, and Law. When some ragtag Water Tribe girl comes in and covers an entire block with blue fire, it's not something anyone can turn a blind eye to—and on that note, you might want to ease up on that a bit; blue fire has a lot of unpleasant connotations."

"They' gotta deal with it," Korra shrugged, "Once you realize how to power blue firebending, it's really hard to want to go back." That was one of Nakkoa's lessons that stuck particularly well; and Korra, being as fond of power as she was, had not only devoured it, but also found merit to it. Any time she used firebending these days, it was blue; she hadn't used "regular" firebending since sometime before Nakkoa's lessons.

"I'll see you next week sometime then," Lin riposted, in reference to fearing she'd inevitably arrest Korra again within the week.

"See ya then," Korra muttered; fully willing to accept this theory as well.

"Ideally I wouldn't have to," Lin reminded her, "but I suppose you know healing, and I suppose your girlfriend can help ease your tenseness. Congratulations on that by the way, I suppose."

"Wait, who told you about me and Asami?" Korra gawked.

"I have my sources;" Lin hummed, "but it's none of my business who you love or what you two do together. It was really just advice."

"I'm just gonna lay here a bit," Korra mumbled.

"Suit yourself," Lin shrugged, collected her things, and disappeared inside.

Fortunately this 'disciplinary meeting' had been during one of her two-day downtime periods, because Korra rested for almost the entirety of both days. Asami generally left her be, particularly since she had decided to sleep outside for most of this time.

On the other hand, with Korra's behaviour growing more erratic and her emotional outbursts becoming more common, Asami felt like she had to perform a necessary evil, and so while Korra was resting outside with Naga, she stole into Korra's room.

It was slightly untidy, but in that eccentric sort of way that made Asami pretty sure that Korra could tell her exactly where anything was. A few Probending trophies and action figures lined one of the walls, as well as some promotional fliers and posters from her "Avatar Gauntlet" that had been wildly successful. Asami shook her head as she looked around the room, realizing that Korra clearly had no concept of the importance of money, because coins and bills were scattered everywhere in little piles, with the occasional stray gold piece or banknote that dotted the small room. Surprisingly, however, most of these piles were fairly neat.

Despite all of this monetary clutter, Korra's room was actually fairly well-organized—at least to the point where her candy wrappers were all in a bin near her writing desk, and there wasn't any other trash on the floor. Korra's room was an interesting place because the types of items and even how they were organized were some of many wordless signs about the Avatar's behaviour, as well as insights into her short but incredibly storied life.

Asami paused, taking a deep, contemplative breath as she looked over at Korra's journal. She had scanned a few entries last time and Korra had exploded at her, but she felt that it was for her own good if someone knew some of the things Korra's mind was trying to bury. She studied the book's exact location, intending to return it there the moment she was done. It was rather thick though, and so Asami expected a lot of reading.

"I'm sorry, Korra…" she whispered as she carefully picked up the worn old book; which, despite its condition was clearly treated with love and care as one of Korra's most beloved possessions. "But I love you… and because I love you, I need to know what you're trying to bury that's consuming you from the inside out…"

Asami hated it, but the fact of the matter was that Korra was a very difficult person to understand and properly deal with unless she was happy. Considering how unrealistic it was to expect anyone, Avatar or otherwise, to be happy for every waking moment, Asami wanted to learn the machinations of Korra's mind; to learn why she became so frighteningly aggressive so often, and she felt like the answer would be found in this little book.

Korra's journal was a remarkably detailed little account of the young Avatar's life, even if her handwriting left things to be desired. The first several entries were lined with apprehensive enthusiasm which only grew as she was taught more and more middling entries talked more about these mysterious "Interregnum Avatars" that Korra almost never mentioned around Asami. Little diagrams and drawings began to crop up more and more, and if her skills were anything like her doodles, Korra may have also been a very talented artist.

Nakkoa's name came up a lot, and it pained Asami to read about the suspicions Korra had had against the woman that would eventually traumatize her. Asami also blushed as she read how many times her own name came up in Korra's thoughts. Korra hadn't been joking when she had said that Asami was special to her.

The later entries became a lot darker, with wilder diagrams and eerie images of her Interregnum past lives. It was clear Korra had a remarkable obsession with these men and women that she was keeping completely under wraps, but what else was she hiding?

Paranoia—Korra's entries hinted that she was growing more and more apprehensive all the way up to where the regular entries ended: Day 548 and Day 549.

548 was normal; Korra wrote about her excitement of returning to Republic City, and the first half of 549 was her gushing about Asami and lamenting that she had to leave. The latter half of the entry though, was frightening. It took up two entire extra pages, most of which was illegible nonsense. What little Asami could make out of it was the words "WHAT HAPPENED TO ME!?" over and over again, coupled with frightening images of an Avatar in chains.

Asami shuddered, closing the book and carefully replacing it. Just by looking at her room and the items in it and there was no way anyone could tell what the Avatar was suffering through. Korra had become remarkably adept at keeping her feelings and worries to herself as she tried to prevent herself from lashing out at people, and while she had made excellent strides in this regard, it was less that she was overcoming her trauma and more that she was just burying it deeper and deeper. Korra vented much less and as such tried to deal with her troublesome emotions on her own—which of course meant she struggled and failed more often than not.

Granted, Asami also overlooked the fact that she did the same thing to a lesser degree, but perhaps that was an issue Korra could discover someday. In the meantime, Asami felt like she'd have to tackle the monster in the room, and confront Korra about it. If she was going to chastise the Avatar for keeping secrets, she couldn't hide some of her own.

Korra was right where Asami had left her last time, and she looked up with a smile as Asami approached. It struck Asami in the heart, knowing full well what she was about to do.

"Asami!" Korra actually sat up even, "is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine," Asami admitted, "I just wanted to ask you something. These… Interregnum Avatars… who are they?"

Korra's entire demeanour changed immediately, because she only ever really spoke about these characters to either herself, her more recent past lives, the Red Lotus, or Naga. Her smile was immediately replaced with a fierce look that Asami could only describe as 'downright hostile'.

"It doesn't matter who they are," Korra growled, "It's none of your business."

"Korra, I didn't poke around your things to try and invade your privacy," Asami reasoned, "I did it because I want to help you get out of that destructive emotional-suppression cycle you're subjecting yourself to. It's toxic and destructive, and I can see its effects on you."

It took a moment, but Korra suddenly sprung up, her eyes flashing as she was immediately inches from Asami, seizing her by her collar.

"I thought I told you never to look at that!" She growled, but this time Asami was ready for her, and pushed her back.

"No, Korra," Her tone grew forceful again, but Korra's raw strength even outside of the Avatar State was still much greater than Asami's, to the point where Korra forced her all the way back until they were against the walls of the estate. Asami's eyes were wide, but she was not about to relent, even as she stared Korra down as she flared herself up with the Avatar State at her back. "I'm not about to let the most important person in my life drive herself mad if I think I can do something to stop it."

"You wanna stop it?" Korra threatened, "Then stop bringing it up and leave me alone!"

"Listen to me, Korra," Asami snapped again, putting her hands on Korra's arms, "This isn't going to work between us if you're just going to explode every time someone brings up a sensitive subject. You can't just threaten your way out of every delicate situation like that, and as much as I love you, I'm not going to sit by and let you keep doing this to yourself! You can't just seal it away and pretend everything is fine and dandy and wait for the inevitable moment when it all explodes out again. You're going to end up taking it out on someone, doing something stupid that you're going to regret like you're about to do now, and that's just going to make you more miserable!"

"Will you STOP!?" Korra screamed, "I thought I could trust you! I don't know if you've noticed me over the last several weeks, but I've been busting my ass to try and get my shit together so I don't explode on you like I'm about to do, but what do you go and do? You go right along and BETRAY that trust and so now I'm angry. Guess what happens when I get angry? This whole glowy shindig I'm up to right now; that's what! You can't just expect to waltz in pointing fingers and then act all hurt and surprised when I get a bit defensive! When someone's hurt, you close the wound; you don't dig in deeper and pry it open!"

"Is that really the case?" Asami squirmed against Korra's tightening force, "Or when you have something foreign in there, do you have to pry it open to pull it out? Yes, it's going to hurt. No, you might not like it, but it's necessary for getting over that mental block you have."

"I'M the one with the mental block!?" Korra barked, "Look, I'm envious as all get-out that you're able to put your own nightmares behind you and move on. I don't have that kind of luxury because apparently I'm not strong enough! Nakkoa betrayed me, Asami. The Red Lotus betrayed me. The White Lotus REALLY betrayed me! My parents almost betrayed me too! Now my girlfriend betrays my trust and you expect me to be fucking calm over it? Why do you think I came running to you when I fled the South? It was because you were the last person I thought I could trust, Asami! Do you see now why I'm so upset?!"

Even with her eyes aglow, there were tears running down both sides of Korra's face, and she was trembling even as water began to swirl menacingly around her.

"But that's the thing!" Asami raised her voice, "You CAN trust me! Why is this such a secret to you anyways? Do you think I'm going to judge you because of some crazy nonsense your past lives did? They might be you for being the Avatar, but they aren't you, Korra. Just as you can't take credit for their achievements, you can't be blamed for their failures either!"

"It's still none of your business though…" Korra's grip relented slightly, but she still kept Asami pinned to the wall.

"Why not?" Asami narrowed her eyes, "Korra, relationships are built on trust and respect. Do you not trust me? Is that what this is about?"

"Well I sure don't anymore!" Korra retorted.

"Did you before?" Asami countered, "Or were you so busy pretending to be someone else that you thought I was going to dump you by the wayside the moment I discovered who you truly were? Korra, stop this! Seriously, you're blowing this out of proportion!"

Korra's body stopped flaring up, but her eyes remained glowing as she tried to simmer down.

"I'm not trying to hurt you…" Asami spoke softer in an attempt to coax the distressed Avatar to ease up, "I'm not the Red Lotus; I'm not Nakkoa; I'm not anyone who lied to you and said you weren't allowed to express your emotions. I'm your best friend' your girlfriend; and someone that wants to see you happy, and that loves you for who you are."

"I don't want you to see that side of me…" She trembled, "My obsession with the Interregnums, my emotional instability… my aggressive and violent reactions, my…"

"Flaws?" Asami finished her sentence for her. "Korra… The night I first said I loved you, I meant it. I said I loved you for your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness… and you can show me every part of you without fear of judgment. If I see something problematic, I'll address it, not throw you out and try again. It's just… every time you think you're being perceived as weak, you immediately throw up these defenses and cut everyone out. This Avatar State thing you do is an example, and it's frustrating to me because I'm not trying to use it against you; I'm legitimately just trying to help!"

"It's a reflex," Korra sighed as her eyes finally returned to normal, "Asami, you terrified me for a while back there… I have seriously nasty trust issues, and if you've read my journal you know why. I'm begging you… please… please never betray that trust for me?"

"I would never dream of it," Asami gently put her arms around Korra, "sometimes, talking about our problems with someone close to us can help us solve them. I want to help you get over this mental block so that you can realize there are people that you can still trust—and I want to be one of those people for you. I love you, Korra. Your parents love you… and come on, do you think Bolin even knows how to betray someone? Even Mako, as distant as he is, isn't really the type."

Korra moved her hands from Asami's shoulders, although she was still inches away from Asami's face considering that her hands were now just above Asami's shoulders.

"I don't know why this is so hard for me" Korra sighed, "Really… how many times can I apologize before you decide to draw the line? I just blew up at you again and how are you so calm!?"

"Emotional control," Asami explained simply, "And once again—I know you. I know that when you lash out it's more of a defensive mechanism rather than actually being angry. That you always regret it afterwards is sign enough for me."

"Hnnng," Korra gritted her teeth before pulling Asami into a rather tight embrace, burying her face into the crook of Asami's neck, "How are you… you?" she mumbled. "I love you so friggin' much and I can't even put that into words and it drives me crazy and you just..." she mumbled a few other incoherent things as her eyes watered, and she buried her face into the crook of Asami's neck as she took in her lover's tantalizing scent and nuzzled against her soft, warm skin.

"Every good relationship is built on trust," Asami sighed, leaning against the crown of Korra's head, "it's how my father and I got through our hard times… and it's hopefully how I'll be able to help you do the same."

"You… you really do love me though, right?" Korra looked up, as if unsure.

"I wouldn't have said it so many times if I didn't mean it." Asami reassured her. "Now let's see your face, Korra… show me that smile, please?"

It was weak, and very forced, but Korra gave Asami the smile she requested, and Asami returned it. There was a pause before Korra realized something.

"You know…" she quipped, "we've kind of been a couple for a few weeks now, and I don't think Mako and Bolin ever realized it."

"You want to be the one to break it to them?" Asami giggled.

"I guess I should," Korra gave a hollow laugh, "since I'm the bad guy."

"Oh, now you're just being dramatic," Asami ruffled Korra's hair.

"Am not!" Korra pouted, "But… later. I think I need a walk to clear my mind."

She paused. "But… later. I think I need a walk to clear my mind."

"Want me to come with?" Asami offered,

"Yes… but also no." Korra lowered her head. "I… think I just need a little time to clear my thoughts, you know? Clean up the mess in my head, get back to you…"

"Of course," Asami stole a peck on Korra's forehead. "I understand."

"That..." Korra paused, before pulling Asami in for another embrace and putting her head right back into her hair, "Fuck, I love you, so, SO much!" Her skill at emotional suppression was the only thing that kept her from crying on Asami's shoulder.

"And I love you too, which is why I want to help," Asami whispered, running her hands through Korra's hair the way she liked, "you've suffered through so much in so little time, and it hurts me to see your pain. But seeing you happy… seeing you happy makes me heart flutter. You have such a beautiful smile and a heartwarming laugh, and you're such a pleasant person when you're in a good mood. I hope you can find peace on your walk, Korra."

Korra muttered some incoherent things into Asami's neck before eventually pulling back and saying a brief goodbye with a smile and a wave. She left the estate dressed once again in nothing but her headband, shirt, and pants, striding along with no real destination in mind. Korra was stupidly in love with Asami, and was now fixated on this notion that she had to get a grip on herself and her reality—or that she could very well put this beautiful fledgling relationship down before it had time to truly grow.

Chapter Text

Korra's mind raced as she thought about 1001 different ways to pay Asami back for everything she had done. She had more money than she knew what to do with, but despite that, Asami's fortune made Korra's look like pocket change.

Still… a date. Korra had to at least do that for her. They had been talking about it for weeks now, but Korra's busy schedule had kept her occupied, as did Mako and Bolin's Probending stunts plus whatever side jobs they did. Asami seemed busy with company business as well, making Korra wonder where Hiroshi had been. He was scarcer and scarcer these days, but despite Korra's outbursts, he didn't seem to show any objection towards her. She wondered if he knew that she was dating his daughter. Korra wondered a lot of things.

She went to the large park in the center of town, to rest and enjoy the scenery. There were a lot of hobos and vagabonds here, and so Korra, in her ragtag attire that didn't even include footwear, she fit right in—or would have if her clothes weren't so lovingly well-kept.

Either way, she continued her walk without incident until she was about halfway through the park, where she heard a commotion. Curious, and always itching for a fight if she sniffed out conflict, and so the young Avatar went to go investigate the sounds of the people making the noise. It was a protest of some kind by the looks of it, with a loud fellow holding a megaphone in the front of them all, clearly stirring them up.

Korra also gasped as she saw a large picture of that masked man she had seen in an alleyway three years ago—shortly after her first meeting with Asami. She wandered over to at least find out what the man on the soapbox who clearly enjoyed being the center of attention was saying.

"Are you tired of living under the tyranny of benders?" he spoke, "for too long, the bending elite of this city have forced nonbenders to live as lower class citizens! Join Amon, and together, we will help tear down the bending establishment!"

Suffice to say, this was not about to fly with Korra, who felt a need to speak up.

"What are you talking about?" She interrupted him. Despite her reputation, few people recognized Korra outside the Probending ring and thus it was easier for her to blend in when she went around town dressed like a hobo. "Bending is the coolest thing in the world!"

"Oh yeah?" The protestor turned to face Korra, "let me guess… you're a bender?"

"You're damn right I am!" Korra smirked and thumbed towards her chest before pumping her fist, "Water Tribe, represent!"

"Then I bet you'd loooove to knock me off this platform with some waterbending, huh?" The sideburned man was clearly trying to provoke the teen. Korra kept her cool for the moment, but it was clear that this man was already starting to draw her ire.

"I'm really considering it," Korra crossed her arms, "but for real man? Is this what you spend your time doing; harassing teenage vagrants just because they know how to throw water at your stupid mug? Because it sounds to me like you deserve it!"

"That's what's wrong with this city!" The protestor retorted, "benders like this girl only abuse their power to oppress us!"

"Yeah, get out of here!" Some of the protestors added in chant.

"Look, bud," Korra shook her head, "I'm just as entitled to take a walk through public property as anyone. You aren't the police!"

"Ahh, but assault isn't legal," the protstor retorted in an unintentionally hilarious callback to something Korra had told Lin on the day of her first arrested, "even if the person is a jerk!"

"Well then..." Korra began before being cut off.

"And by the way, I'm not your 'bud," The man on the soapbox added.

"Well I can't just call you 'man'." Korra stuck her lower lip out.

"Well you could say Dennis," the man replied,

"I didn't know your name was Dennis." Korra shrugged, pouting again.

"Well you didn't bother to find out now, did you?" Dennis retorted.

"How did you get a name like Dennis anyways?" Korra tilted her head, her pout returning.

"Ah, ah!" Dennis exclaimed, "See how she demeans us even on a nominal basis too!"

"I'm the Avatar," Korra finally cracked, "And you gotta deal with it."

"Oy, well I didn't vote for you," another protestor quipped.

"You don't vote for the Avatar!" Korra flapped her arms in incredulity.

"Well how did you become the Avatar then?" A third protestor asked,

"I, uhh... was born as the next incarnation of the Avatar cycle, blessed by the power of the Avatar Spirit which enables me to master all four elements?" Korra scratched her head, mentally reminding herself to ask one of her past lives about the Avatar's actual origins one of these days.

"Listen," Dennis pointed at Korra, "strange spirits distributing elemental powers is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from the mandate of the masses, not some farcical spirit mumbo-jumbo."

"I'm not even in charge of anything?" Korra gave the man a skeptical pout.

"Well you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just because some spirity thing makes your eyes glow blue now, can you?" Dennis retorted.

"What are you even talking about?" Korra gawked, "What do you mean executive power? I literally just got done saying I'm not in charge of anything!"

"I mean, if I went around saying that I was the Avatar and that I was master of all four elements they'd have put me away!" Dennis taunted, clearly going off on his own tangent.

"Will you shut the hell up for just a moment!?" Korra barked.

"Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system!" Dennis exclaimed. "Being the Avatar just means you can beat up harmless citizens at your every whim now, doesn't it!?"

"Let me show you just what it means to be the Avatar," Korra expertly sent herself into the Avatar State as a warning sign, but did not resort to violence just yet.

"Oh!" Dennis yelled, recoiling a few steps, "Come see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!"

"Bloody peasant!" Korra lifted the man up with one arm before throwing him into a bush, her Avatar State eyes dissipating.

"Oh, what a giveaway!" Dennis poked his head from the bush as Korra stomped away, "Did you see that? Did you see her repressing me, eh? You saw it! You saw it; didn't you?"

"You're..." Korra turned around briefly before stammering, "you're oppressing yourselves!"

"That doesn't even make sense!" Dennis shouted as he climbed back up on his soapbox.

Korra was gone by this point though. However, In typical Korra fashion, her day was far from being eventless, and she had barely rounded two streetcorners when she ran into a slightly familiar face. It had been years since they had actually met, but Korra still recognized Tenzin. He was a difficult man to forget, even without that trademark arrow tattoo.

"Tenzin?" her eyes lit up in a curious way.

"Korra," he exclaimed, "I almost didn't recognize you at this point."

"I guess a lot's changed in the last 5 years, hasn't it?" Korra had been 12 when she had last spoken to Tenzin, and they had only barely missed each other when Korra was 15 and fighting for her life against Nakkoa.

"That it has," Tenzin sighed, "You've grown up so much, and if your probending performances are anything to go off of, so has your power."

"You've attended them?" Korra looked surprised.

"I've watched one or two," Tenzin admitted, "but otherwise, it's usually just Air Acolytes or White Lotus Society members who listen to them on the radio."

"I guess being on the Republic City Council has kept you busy then," Korra shrugged.

"To put it lightly," Tenzin shook his head, "councilman Tarrlok has wrapped the remainder of the council around his finger, and with the Anti-Bending Revolution on the rise…"

"I met some of those bastards at Republic City Park," Korra pouted, "they're a bunch of jerks. Can you believe they tried to lecture me on the origins of the Avatar and something about executive power? Do they not realize that I don't actually wield any official political power?"

"That's a small taste of what I'm dealing with," Tenzin lowered her head. "But Korra? I wish to apologize to you."

"Apologize for what?" Korra tilted her head, "I heard you helped my parents apprehend the Red Lotus while I was off killing Nakkoa."

"I was with your father when they proposed taking you back to the compound," Tenzin admitted, "and like my father, I thought it was for the best. I was wrong, however."

"Hey, as long as I don't have to ever go back there, it's water under the bridge," Korra shrugged, "I mean, my girlfriend's here, my career's here, opportunities are everywhere here, and I have several friends here. There's so much to do and I'm all up in that!"

"It was our fault for letting Nakkoa and Kwan take you," Tenzin admitted, "We thought they had changed; that they were trustworthy."

"Well, I try to look at the bright side of that whole mess," Korra shrugged, her glum expression casting her eyes to the ground, "I learned a bunch of really powerful abilities, and somehow even picked up airbending—and the Avatar State."

"So I have heard," Tenzin nodded, "I suppose you don't really need teachers much anymore then, although I must admit I'm curious about your style."

"Wanna see it?" Korra offered, "I'm curious about Air Temple Island… it's always been so close and yet so far."

"Our original plan was to have you live there after you came of age," Tenzin indicated, "I do not know where you're staying now, but do know that you're always welcome to pay us a visit."

"I'm with my girlfriend," Korra smiled, "Asami Sato; Sato Estate."

"Girlfriend?" Tenzin gave pause, "When did this come about?"

"Well, we've been friends since I was 14," Korra explained, "but a few weeks ago we both kinda confessed our feelings for each other, and I dunno…" She scratched the back of her head. "I mean, is it weird that I'm in love with another woman or something" Such relationships were not generally considered unusual, but they were uncommon enough to sometimes cause surprise.

"Considering the antics of my sister Kya, I see no issue," Tenzin shook his head, "Others might disagree, but who are they to tell you how to live your life?"

"I knew I liked you," Korra smiled, "so hey, why the change of heart, speaking of which? I half expected you to find me, stick me back on a boat and ship me home."

"You are not the only one who still learns lessons in life, Avatar Korra," Tenzin explained, walking with Korra, "After your… unpleasant outburst… at the Southern Water Tribe, we concluded that confining you against your will was simply not an option. You are far too powerful to properly restrain or control, and as such, we have concluded that the best way to approach you is to attempt to reason with you."

"Well sure," Korra noted, "but I mean, this isn't just because of how strong I am, is it? Would your approach to me change if I wasn't as strong but I still wanted this kind of autonomy?"

"I like to think it would stay the same, but I am unsure since I cannot speak for the others," Tenzin admitted, "however, even if you're the Avatar, there are many of us that need to remember that you're also still human and that your needs and wants are as important as anyone else's. As such, this is why we wish to try and reason with you."

"Reason with me?" Korra tilted her head, "in what way?"

"I still wish to see you visit Air Temple Island," Tenzin explained, "but rather than coerce you into coming, I feel it would be better to simply extend a friendly invitation."

"And what brought this on?" an answer to this question did not occur to her.

"One of our other… endeavours," Tenzin began, leading her towards his flying bison Oogi, who would take them across the bay to Air Temple Island, "has been attempting to decipher what happened to you on that fateful evening three years earlier after our altercation with the ."

"Oh please tell me you have some leads!" Korra pleaded, "I really want to know what this problem I've had in my head is."

"One thing is certain:" Tenzin began as they climbed atop Oogi's back, "you—as well as the Avatar Spirit—are remarkably resilient. The healer at the Western Air Temple said that by all accounts you should have been dead."

"That reminds me," Korra looked up, watching the city behind her move farther and farther away, "who brought me there? The last thing I remember before… Nakkoa… was the Wulong Forest."

"If Fukui's words are to be believed," Tenzin gazed out over the bay towards the small island, "then it was Kwan herself that took you there."

"Where is she these days?" Korra's feelings for Nakkoa might have been rife with conflict, but Kwan was definitely the nicer of the two and one that Korra had far fewer negative thoughts towards. "Did she get locked up like the rest?"

"Despite her assistance, she was indeed locked up," Tenzin assured her, "It may have earned her a somewhat lighter sentence, but it seems she has quite the criminal history."

"I'm well-aware," Korra gave a hollow chuckle, "it was part of her charm in a way… but then again I'm messed up in the head so what do I know?"

"A remarkable amount, actually," Tenzin turned to her, "Despite the trauma that may have upset your emotional balance, you are a very swift learner, Korra. There's no other logical explanation for how you became so powerful in such a short time."

"Hey," Korra elbowed him, "right before I met you I was busy telling an idiot protester that bending is the coolest thing in the world—because it is!" She paused, "But I mean… I love that power and all of my abilities… but I feel kind of bad knowing that so many people are changing the way they act around me because of that."

"It's beyond our control at this point," Tenzin looked up again, "And isn't necessarily your fault. Your training was all part of a meticulous plan laid out by the Red Lotus for over a decade."

"Care to explain it to me?" Korra was leaned over the railing of the saddle, idly gazing at the waves below. "I didn't even know they were the Red Lotus until after the fact."

"From what we got out of Kwan, they wanted to mould you into a powerful force of anarchy." Tenzin explained, "The power they gave you and taught you how to use was supposed to aid you in being unstoppable. It seems on that front, they were remarkably effective."

"So you know about my tattoo then?" Korra put a hand to her forehead, which was still wrapped up with a headband.

"I do," Tenzin lifted the headband for a moment to Korra's slight surprise, but instead of reacting negatively he simply nodded to acknowledge its presence. "Bending disciplines of any kind short of bloodbending are neither good nor evil at their core; what they do for the world depends on their user. That is part of why I wish to speak to you, Korra."

"Well, if you wanted an afternoon of me at the Air Temple," Korra gestured, "here I am. Sorry I didn't dress a little better, huh?"

"Perhaps so," Tenzin didn't want to lie, "But I don't imagine your freewheeling attire will be too offensive. Air is the element of freedom after all."

"Hey," Korra glanced form Tenzin to the Air Temple that sat in the middle of the island that Oogi had just landed at, "I don't know if this is a ruse or genuine, but either way… I want you to know that your approach towards me is really appreciated, Tenzin. Seriously—it means a lot."

Korra gave him one of the warmest smiles that she had ever given anyone, to the point where only Senna, Tonraq, and Asami could ever say they had received such a warm look. It moved the old airbender in the subtlest of ways as he looked down at the wild young girl who was the literal reincarnation of his father, Avatar Aang.

Korra was fierce and rambunctious, but the way she smiled at him was the most heartwarming thing the older airbender had seen in decades apart from the smiles of his own wife and children. He was too familiar with Korra's determined looks at the compound, or the horrified and injured expressions she had worn after being so heavily traumatized. This smile, by contrast, betrayed just what kind of person Avatar Korra was at her core, and Tenzin hoped to see more of that young woman in the days to come.

"You're welcome, Korra," He put his arms around her in a fatherly manner, nodding. "Thank you for putting so much trust in me in turn."

He paused as he gestured to their destination as the two bending masters hopped off from Oogi's saddle. "And welcome..." he smiled, "to Air Temple Island."

Chapter Text

Air Temple Island was magnificent in its own way; a miniature Air Temple that had the same freewheeling, windy vibe that Korra got from the Western Air Temple, although it also had a more social atmosphere and less of the cool, serene mystery that the upside-down western temple complex had had—and Korra did not imagine a Hall of Avatars was beneath the small complex.

"This is a nice place," Korra commented, "Not quite as cool as the Western Air Temple, but it'll do just fine I think."

"How often did you visit the Western Air Temple?" Tenzin looked intrigued. Not many people could visit it without flying there, which meant either Korra either owned an airship of some kind,. Or more likely, was just a remarkably proficient airbender.

"Over the last two years or so… about 19 times." Korra shrugged, "It's probably my 2nd favourite place in the world behind Republic City. I like to go there to be alone, or to ponder on my past lives when that kind of thing starts weighing me down too much. Oh, hey!"

It was less that Korra's attention-span was short and more that she couldn't help but smile excitedly as Tenzin's three children Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo came flying into view.

"Korra!" Ikki and Jinora exclaimed happily, "you've been gone for so long!"

'I've been everywhere," Korra chuckled, pulling all three children into an effortless embrace, "one of these days we'll have to sit down and I can tell you how the last 5 years treated me."

"You've grown so big," Jinora exclaimed as Korra set them down to look them over. Meelo, who had been just an infant the last time Korra had seen him, simply picked his nose and then started running circles around them.

"And you look so…" Jinora continued, "...wild."

"Huh, I guess I do, don't I?" Korra laughed, running her fingers through her hair and glancing down at her slightly dirty bare feet. She blamed Ghazan and Kwan, but Korra was really not sure where her penchant for going unshod so often came from, other than that it often lined up with those times she decided she didn't care about her appearance.

"Are you coming to live with us on the island, Korra?" Ikki looked up with large excited eyes.

"Well, not exactly," Korra began to explain. She was happy to visit often, but she had absolutely no desire to permanently live on an island without meat… and considering that her current living arrangements involved being with her best friend (and now girlfriend), Korra didn't exactly want to stray too far from Asami at this point in her life—especially not when the beautiful industrialist was also one of Korra's most formidable emotional crutches.

"Aww…" Ikki hung her head, although all three children had stopped to chant in unison.

"Hey, don't be sad," Korra crouched down to put a finger under Ikki's chin, "I'll be sure to visit as much as I can!"

"You know they're going to hold you to that, don't you, Korra?" Tenzin had a touch of amusement in his tone as he watched the heartwarming reunion.

"I can take it," Korra laughed as she was forced to get Meelo in a headlock to keep the squabbling youngster from pulling her hair or her clothes.

"So Korra," Jinora spoke again, "is it true that you learned Airbending without a teacher, and that you unlocked the Avatar State?"

"It is," Korra smiled, "It was crazy too… long story and stuff…" she didn't exactly want to recount the rather forceful stories of how Nakkoa had tried to kill her in both situations. She especially didn't want any of them knowing that she wasn't fully in control of the Avatar State yet, what with how it occasionally 'hijacked her" as she would put it.

"Can you show us?" Jinora's request was humble but earnest.

"Yeah, show us, show us!" Meelo chanted, with Ikki joining in a moment later.

"Alright…" Korra cracked her knuckles, rolling her shoulders and stretching, "Everyone stand back—shit's about to get crazy."

"In front of my children, Korra?" Tenzin shook his head. "Really?"

"Sorry!" Korra scratched the back of her head, "uhh, bad habit! Anyways… here goes!"

Korra took a deep breath and focused. Her trauma might not have fully left her alone but she felt confident enough in knowing that it was very rare for it to strike these days. With concerted focus, Korra entered the Avatar State, pointing her arms skyward before giving Tenzin and his family the most gloriously vulgar display of power she had ever performed since the day at the Probending Arena. The kids were all improved and awestruck, although Tenzin showed concern. Korra noticed this before he could say anything.

"Don't worry," she explained, "I usually only save those displays for when I win a Probending match. Nothing says 'I rule, you drool' like an abusive display of power after a victory."

"I see," Tenzin mused. He had expected more of that kind of Korra when he met her, but it seemed the young Avatar had actually matured rather noticeably in the last couple of years. "You exercise a remarkable amount of control."

"I try to," Korra smiled, "I mean, sometimes I forget just how powerful I am and so I try to be careful not to do too much unnecessary damage."

"I am interested to see your airbending, Korra," Tenzin remarked, changing the subject. "Without the Avatar State; I wish to see what you've picked up during your… adventures."

"Sure thing," Korra shrugged, "just gimmie a moment."

Korra took a deep breath, cleared her mind and shifted her stances, focusing her abilities into airbending tricks and techniques.

Her form was remarkably almost flawless, with light-footed steps and graceful movements that were reminiscent of the Air Nomads of old. All that time fighting wild renegades such as Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and Nakkoa had definitely kept Korra swift and alert—and these moves had also served her well thus far in the Probending Arena, even if she wasn't allowed to do any actual airbending during the games.

Her attacks however, were exactly that—attacks. Korra's airbending skills were fierce and offensive, and while she displayed great knowledge over other tricks like gliding and air spheres, it was clear that Korra had gotten extremely creative with some of them and that her primary focus was on offensive maneuvers and attacks..

"Can I get a volunteer!" she waved her hand, and Ikki sprang forward.

"Why bloodbend," Korra smirked as she began bending a large sphere of air around the little airbender, "when you can move them without hurting them!" She raised Ikki in the air for a moment before turning and relocating her several meters to the right and then dissipating the sphere. Ikki laughed, although this caused alarm in Tenzin.

"Korra," he kept his calm as Korra showed off other little tricks for the children, including one with a few small marbles. "A word if I may?"

"Oh, sure," Korra nodded, before turning to Ikki, Meelo, and Jinora, "Your dad's kidnapping me for a moment guys. I'll be right back."

"Unhand the Avatar, old man!" Meelo demanded.

"Meelo be nice to your dad," Korra laughed, scratching his bald head, "He's a nice guy."

Meelo simply blew a raspberry before wandering back towards Ikki.

Tenzin pulled Korra aside and his expression turned serious, causing Korra's to drop.

"That ability you used on Ikki…" he warned, "Where did you learn that?"

"Well," Korra mused, thinking back to the day where she was lazing around outside with Naga, but had left her candy pouch several meters away, "I just figured that if the air sphere was solid enough to ride on… that maybe it was possible to use it to carry things. It saved me having to get up and get my candy bag one day when I was too tired to move."

"You… too tired to move?" Tenzin raised an eyebrow. "I don't think that's possible."

"Touché," Korra laughed, "but if you think that, how about you ask Chief BeiFong about her 'metalbending training' and get back to me?"

"Mm, that might explain it," Tenzin nodded, "But I want you to understand the dangers of that ability, Korra—and that it's dangerous to use on people."

"I know, I know," Korra gestured, "I was careful; I knew she'd have enough air from the time I picked her up to the time I released her. It's not like I'd wrap a sphere around her head or anything. That would be horrifying."

"And where did that thought occur to you?" Tenzin looked her in the eyes.

"An Avatar named Zeruda asphyxiated people once," Korra remembered the vivid impression that dream had left on her, "And she learned it from Serenez, one of her predecessors."

"The Interregnums… of course…" Tenzin muttered under his breath. "Korra, I am simply going to give you the same advice your mother and father have given you—please, for your sake as well as the sake of those you come in contact with—make sure not to abuse your abilities. You have an unprecedented amount of raw power at your back, and while I foresee you doing a great deal of good with it, there are those that would try to convince you to abuse it."

" the Red Lotus?" Korra finished his sentence for him.

"Indeed," Tenzin nodded, "Five of the most dangerous members may be apprehended and another deceased, but there are very likely others scattered across the globe."

"I'll be careful, I promise," Korra pleaded, "Honestly, if you knew how many times I blew up at my girlfriend and beat myself up over it, you'd trust me as much as she did!"

"Perhaps I would," Tenzin sighed, "Korra, I hope you aren't taking any of this the wrong way… especially since much of this isn't even your fault. The Red Lotus focused on training you with some of the most deliberately dangerous bending techniques in existence. I'm glad you haven't tried bloodbending, and I'm glad that you keep that combustion ability covered and controlled."

"Like I said," Korra tried to reassure him, "I got this. I've got a few rough patches in my life, but I've managed to keep a pretty good grip on this whole Avatar thing notwithstanding. If I was really that far out of balance I couldn't access the Avatar State like I did, yeah?"

"Not that I am aware," Tenzin tried not to think of the Interregnum Cycle that Korra had clearly developed many attachments to, intentional or otherwise. "How are you doing regarding the Interregnum Avatar Cycle?"

"I've connected with every one of them before, including Zeruda," Korra admitted, "They did some really terrible stuff, but I promise I'm not going down that road!"

"Except that's exactly what you're doing, and you do not even see it…" Tenzin mused with a frown, although said nothing to Korra for a moment. The last thing he wanted to do was provoke the teen, especially since he had it on good authority that Korra turned defensive bordering on hostile when called out. "I understand," He finally spoke, "If it is okay with you at some point though, I would like to have the privilege of teaching you a few things—which reminds me: your airbending prowess is commendable."

"But…" Korra was expecting a catch.

"But it is highly aggressive, much like the rest of your styles" Tenzin warned, "Your behaviour is not wrong on its own… but surely you've learned the dangers of extremes."

"Of course!" Korra nodded, "Tenzin… please don't take this the wrong way, but I feel like you're grilling me for something that isn't there! Please just trust me on this, alright?"

"I do," Tenzin put his hands on Korra's shoulders, "But your situation is both fragile and unique. Nowhere in recorded history are there any records of an Avatar possessing such a myriad of powers and displaying them with such skill—let alone at your age. There's something different about you, Korra—something that has attracted the attention of a great many people—not all of them good."

"Well, there's a spirit that looks a lot like me except with pointed ears and greyer skin running around," Korra pointed out, "If that's what you mean."

"That… is not what I meant, but that cannot be a good omen either." Tenzin frowned, "My point is that in times past there have always been ways to halt or restrain the Avatar if something happened. With you… it seemed the Red Lotus was particularly fixated on destroying that failsafe—and that they succeeded in one of the most remarkable and unsettling ways."

"So what do I do?" Korra waved her arms, a touch of defensiveness showing through her tone, "should I just ask Avatar Aang to come back so he can take my bending away? Tenzin, I didn't ask for any of this. I was young—I'm STILL young. Bending really was—IS—the coolest thing in the world to me! Now you're telling me I got carried away and am a threat to the world?!"

"Not a threat, Korra," Tenzin spoke softly, hoping not to rile Korra up, since she was already showing signs of her aggressive defenses that she threw up at the slightest provocation. "But dangerous. The Avatar, by her vary nature, is dangerous. Even my father was the same way. All I am saying, Korra, is that your life will become more perilous as you grow older and stronger. I do not wish to see such misfortune befall you, and so I'm beseeching you to remain cautious and wary of the world around you as you go about your life."

"I will!" Korra promised, "It's hard to explain, but seeing 20 of my past lives commit some of the greatest evils the world has ever seen kind of drills that into your head. I don't wanna say that you don't understand, Tenzin… but please—PLEASE trust me! If you want to help me, then I need to be trusted. It's… kind of a big struggle for me right now."

Korra didn't realize that her eyes had watered just slightly as she dug up her rocky past with the concept of trust, both on the giving and receiving end.

"I'm sorry, Korra," Tenzin frowned, pulling her into a fatherly embrace, "Perhaps I came off too forceful and too accusatory. You are… a touch prickly about your insecurities though. I did not wish to provoke you, but I also did not want to let your issues go unnoticed and ignored. If there is anything I can do for you to help with your struggles as the Avatar, please let me know."

"And what about Korra?" Korra asked, "The Avatar gets Tenzin's help, sure—that makes sense. "But what if I somehow lost my bending tomorrow and was no longer Avatar Korra? Would you still be willing to help Korra?"

"Of course!" Tenzin reassured her, "You are not defined by the Avatar Spirit, Korra. Raava is not you, and you are not her. There are people who will try to break you; to demoralize you and dehumanize you… but remember this: when all is said and done, you are not just Avatar Korra—you are Korra. Your identity as the Avatar will only consume you if you allow it to—and I do not imagine that a girl as feisty and independent as Korra is going to let her identity tie her down."

"What if…" Korra sighed, "What if a girl as feisty and independent as Korra is afraid?"

"Then Korra is human," Tenzin explained, "Do you suppose that I never knew fear; that Avatar Aang never knew fear? Do you imagine that your parents have never been afraid? It was heartbreaking to see how terrified they were during the Red Lotus Raid, fearing that they had outlived you. Korra… it's okay to be afraid sometimes. To be betrayed by someone you thought was close to you is a difficult burden to overcome… and with the city in such turmoil and so tense, I would be more alarmed if you were not at least somewhat scared. Admitting your fears is the first step to overcoming them—and the important thing is to talk about them. If you don't talk about your fears, they can throw you out of balance."

"So… no scathing lecture about braggadocio or rampant destruction?" Korra quipped.

"Not this time," Tenzin smiled, "And hopefully it won't ever be necessary."

"No promises," Korra smiled back, throwing her arms around him, "But… thank you, Tenzin."

"I'll always be here for you if you need me, Korra." Tenzin offered, "I won't make you move here, but know that you will always have a place here, and be welcome to visit Air Temple Island at your leisure."

"I'll take you up on that offer one of these days," Korra pulled away from Tenzin, smiling. "That reminds me: you going to come watch the finale of the Avatar Gauntlet this Friday? Fun as it is, Butakha thinks that keeping it limited to parts of the year will help boost the hype."

"1,207 wins, 53 losses," Tenzin reminded her of her score over the last 5 months of playing 21 rounds, 3 days a week, "I'll have to see it for myself. Probending turned out to be an excellent teaching tool for you, Korra—much to my surprise, even."

"That's honestly where I learned a lot of those cool airbending steps," Korra admitted, "at least, I felt like an airbender with all that fancy footwork."

"And my offer still stands as well, Korra," Tenzin reminded her as she started to turn, "Whether for airbending tips, meditation techniques… or even just addressing things you want to get off my mind—I am happy to assist you in that regard."

"I'll keep that in mind, Tenzin." Korra gave him another warm smile, "Seriously… I promise I'll take you up on that offer soon—probably to the point where you'll have to start throwing me out! I'll see you later!"

Korra ran off with a skip in her step, launching herself high into the air before catapulting herself right into the bay and disappearing under the water. Tenzin was honestly too impressed at this little display to even be upset. Instead he turned his eyes to the distant probending arena, and watched after several minutes, where a small figure launched out of the bay in an impressive waterspout before shaking herself dry and taking off running.

Chapter Text

Tenzin had managed to do for Korra what she had not been able to do in front of Asami. Korra contemplated this as she wandered the streets of Republic City after swimming the full distance back to town from Air Temple Island, although she did not contemplate the idea that this effect would not be permanent. Either way, since she was kitty-corner from the Probending Arena, she decided to see if Mako or Bolin were around and say hello. She knew that Mako had gotten a job at the power plant recently, but wasn't entirely sure how Bolin spent his free hours. As such, it was hardly a surprise when she found him wearing a tacky jacket and a comically cheesy mustache, advertising his pet Fire Ferret Pabu and how he could do tricks.

"Come one, come all," Korra moved subtly, hoping that Bolin wouldn't notice her as he tried to attract attention from passersby, "See Pabu the fantastic Fire Ferret as he crosses the Ladder of Peril… upside-down!"

There were other tricks thrown into this arsenal as well, and it was clear the little Fire Ferret had talent, although Korra noticed that Bolin wasn't having too much success based on how many times he looked at an empty cup. Trying to make it inconspicuous, she fished out a large wad of cash from her own money pouch, walked casually by and tossed it into his cup as she passed.

Bolin was too in shock by the amount of money he had just found himself in possession of that he didn't even look up for a full 10 seconds. By the time he did, he saw a blue-clad man with a shoddy topknot, a three-pointed beard and a judgmental stare. However, even if his arms hadn't been crossed over his chest, the blue armband on the "man's" right arm was a dead giveaway.

"Korra!?" Bolin gawked, "How did… where did you get this kind of money!?"

"Korra?" The man stroked his beard, "I don't know that name my good sir. I am Wang Fire, and don't you forget it!" Of course, when 'Wang Fire' pointed 'his' finger at Bolin's nose, it revealed her chest, which, even when covered by a high-necked shirt, was still far too curvaceous to be the chest of a man.

"Nice beard!" Bolin's eyes lit up as Korra tugged on it playfully, using her free hand to undo her shoddy topknot. "You should've dressed the part better though."

"It's a lot harder to pretend to be a man when you start looking like a woman," Korra quipped, glancing down at her breasts which were much harder to hide now than they were when she was 14 and 15. She wasn't even particularly busty, but she lamented the fact that the old Wang Fire disguise she had used many times during her fast-paced mercenary career would have to be put to rest unless she decided to sacrifice breathing instead. Then again, perhaps she could improvise. She'd worry about it later.

"You're such a pretty woman though!" Bolin exclaimed, "If you can't be Wang Fire, maybe be Sapphire Fire instead?"

Korra paused as if this revelation had never occurred to her. Her eyes suddenly lit up. "Bolin you're a genius!" she lifted him into a tight bear hug for a moment, and it was only after she released him that he glanced back up at her before back into the cup where the wad of cash still sat. "But seriously, which Triads did you have to kill to get this much money?"

"Remember the Avatar Gauntlet?" Korra grinned, stowing away her props and rummaging for some candy, "Well, it pays stupidly well. That's my winnings from just one day, and that was the time I hit the drink against two different teams in one session."

"Man, I wish I could be the Avatar…" Bolin sighed for a moment.

"Don't worry," Korra ruffled his hair, "Seriously. Apparently if you're some superstar athlete you get paid exorbitantly idiotic amounts of money just for doing what you enjoy doing. That cash I threw down for you is yours."

"Korra, we can't just take it like that…" Bolin began,

"Why not?" Korra shrugged, her cheek bulging with sweets, "I don't need it, and you guys kind of do. Even if I didn't live with Asami, I'd still probably have about this much money to throw around."

"How rich are you?" Bolin tilted his head,

"Eh, compared to the Sato fortune my money's still chump change," Korra shrugged again, "but I have had Asami lecture me about leaving money around."

"Man, that must be nice." Bolin sighed, lowering his head as Pabu crawled up onto his shoulder.

"Bolin, I didn't mean—" Korra stammered, "I wasn't trying to rub it in or anything."

"I know," Bolin shrugged, "but come on, a man can dream, right?"

"Hey, I said the same thing when I first met the Satos," Korra admitted, "and look where that took us, right?" She realized that she was probably going to break the news here and now. It wasn't that Korra and Asami were trying to keep their relationship a secret, as much as they simply didn't go announcing it to the world everywhere they went—and incidentally, actually spent very little time together outside the estate. Korra wanted to rectify that—she still needed to find a good place to take Asami, and hopefully have it be worthy of their first real kiss.

"Where did it take you?" Bolin asked, "you two seem close, but at the same time I hardly ever see you two together unless you're both at home."

"Well…" Korra scratched her head, "She kinda became my girlfriend… Sorry about that."

"What!?" Bolin grabbed Korra's shoulders, "You two are a couple now!?"

"Well yeah," Korra was blushing much fiercer than she was proud to admit, "I, uhh… really love her. I hope that's not going to be too problematic."

"Why would that be problematic?" Bolin shrugged, "if she's happy and you're happy…"

"Well, that does kind of move you out of the picture." Korra stammered a little. "At least in the dating and relationship scene. You… you aren't mad, are you?"

"Well… I guess I'm a little bummed," Bolin admitted, "but we can still be friends, right? Like, just regular friends who do stuff and all that without being romantic?"

"Of course," Korra put her arms around the earthbender, "I was actually about to ask you the same question. You're a great guy, Bolin… and I think our near-weekly Wednesday-night excursions to Narook's Seaweed Noodlery should still be a thing."

"Really?" Bolin's face lit up again, "I was gonna miss those…"

"I'm sure Asami will understand," Korra saw nothing wrong with having a completely platonic night out with a good friend, and Bolin was exactly the kind of guy that brought out Korra's sillier and more frivolous, carefree side. She loved that about him.

"That reminds me," she continued, "What do you think about it? About me and Asami, I mean?"

"Well, I'm a little bummed that I wasn't the lucky one," Bolin confessed, "But as far as you two are concerned? Hey, go you! I'm happy for you both, as long as you're happy."

"So it's not weird at all?" It wasn't that Korra thought dating another woman was weird, but rather, when she thought about it, it was kind of weird that they were romantically involved despite how little they actually spent time together.

"Not to me," Bolin shrugged, "if you love someone and they love you, where's the problem? I just wanted to make sure you and I could still be friends without me getting between you and Asami, especially with how busy the two of you are doing your different things. So yeah I'm cool with just being friends. No one likes a dramatic love triangle."

"Actually, I heard those are all the rage among young adult fiction writers," Korra joked, "But hey, thanks for the encouraging words of support. They didn't have anything to do with that thick wad of cash I dropped, did they?"

"What? No!" Bolin laughed, "I mean, that helps… but you know me; I can't lie to save my life! I'm sure you two will make a cute couple! Mako might handle it a bit differently, but I think we'll be worrying more about how he reacts to this money than to a relationship between two strong, beautiful, smart women…"

"Oh, stop!" Korra pushed him ,"Flatterer."

"Hey," Bolin gave a matter-of-fact gesture and a shrug, "I find women attractive…if you do too, all you're gonna get from me is encouragement!"

"I walked into that one," Korra shook her head, "But hey, let's you and me hit up the candy shop and get some goodies for the road. You down?"

"Am I ever!" Bolin shed his props and relieved Pabu of his as well. "Thanks for giving me the day off, Korra. I owe you one."

"No you don't," Korra laughed, "Seriously, I will not accept any form of repayment for that cash."

"Aww, I'm not talking about that," Bolin confessed with a laugh as he followed Korra down the road, "but one good turn deserves another and all that, right?"

"Just put it on my tab or something," Korra shrugged, "for now… candy time."

Bolin and Korra hit the nearest candy store, and then hit two others as well, ending up with large pouches of confections. Korra not-so-subtly paid for the entire lot, knowing full well that Bolin could use the money much better than she could. It was only after they finally made their runs back to Bolin's apartment, their faces jammed with candy, that they finally caught Mako, who had just gotten home from work.

"Where'd you two run off to?" He glanced from Bolin to Korra, the latter of whom was still dressed like a vagrant, "is that your dating outfit, Korra?"

"It is if I want it to be," She spoke fairly clearly despite her right cheek being swollen with confections she was in the middle of chewing, "but I wouldn't really even call it a date. All we did was grab some candy" she paused, swallowing everything in her mouth to the point where there was a large lump visible in her throat for several seconds. "But really? Can a guy and a girl not do something together without tacking on some sort of romantic inclination?"

"She's dating Asami anyways," Bolin blurted out. There was an awkward silence that followed, to the point where Korra coughed before shoving a large handful of candy into her mouth.

"Well that's…" Mako put a palm to the back of his neck, "umm… congratulations?"

"Y'don gah'a be all fo'mul n thuff…" Korra spoke through a heavily-packed mouth.

"You can finish chewing that, by the way," Mako interrupted her.

Korra paused, licking her lips as she demolished the candy and then spoke again. "I said you don't gotta be all formal about it. We can still be friends. I mean, we're friends, right?"

"I know I am!" Bolin piped up.

"Well yeah, no mystery there," Korra nudged him, before turning to Mako, "but for reals. I dunno how you feel about me, but I like you enough, Mako. That reminds me—this is for you."

Unbeknownst to Bolin, the wad of cash Korra handed him was slightly larger than the one she had given Bolin, which was less of a way of Korra playing favourites and more her knowing which of the two brothers was more responsible. Unsurprisingly, Mako was not having it.

"I can't just take your money, Korra," he pushed her hand away, "and—wait, where did you get this? It wasn't from larceny or assault or whatever, was it?"

"For reals?" Korra laughed, taking Mako's hand and placing the money in it, "No way! This is just the winnings from Sunday when I went 21-0 in the Avatar Gauntlet. I'm sure as heck not gonna use it anytime soon, so have it. You'll put it to nobler causes than I will; that's for sure."

"This is from one day?" Mako's eyes widened as he turned the stack of bills around in his hand, thumbing through them for consistency.

"Have you seen the games?" Korra crossed her arms, a smug expression taking over her face, "there's never a time it isn't a full house."

"You destroyed us each time we went against you, by the way." Mako reminded her.

"I'm the Avatar, it's kind of what I do," Korra shrugged, "but hey, consider that money prize money for lasting as long as you did. Either way I'm not taking it back, so you can either take it, or I'll give it to Bolin so he can give it to you."

"What do you want from me?" Mako always seemed a little skeptical about Korra ever since she had revealed her history as a mercenary (and her time spent doing less than savoury jobs).

"Nothing?" Korra tilted her head, "I mean seriously I don't want any recompense or anything; I'm just doing it because I want to. Hey, besides: I'm the one that's supposed to have trust issues, not you. I'm just in a good mood and had more money than I knew what to do with. I'd give it to Asami, but let's face it: that'd be like throwing a bucket of water into the ocean."

Mako still seemed hesitant.

"Come on," Korra goaded them, "maybe put it towards a gym membership so you guys don't have to train so early in the morning. Seriously, I don't know how you three do it; I wouldn't last 17 minutes with you guys there. The morning is evil!"

"When you aren't handed everything on a silver platter," Mako retorted, "you learn to adapt."

"Sheesh," Korra rolled her eyes, "that is SO not what I meant by that, but seriously—Bolin, tell him to keep this money or I'm going to leave a trail of it when I head home. Mako, I don't know what I did to piss you off, but how about you come clean with me. I know I'm a prickly little bitch with anger and trust issues, but what's your excuse?"

"You, actually," Mako replied, "Wherever you go, trouble seems to follow. With these Equalist hooligans running around, I figure it's only a matter of time before you get in an altercation with them, and I'd rather stay clear of them."

"If you want me to piss off, you can just say so," Korra pouted, accusingly crossing her arms.

"For now, that might be the best bet," Mako noted, "But… thank you for the cash. It's not you—it's just… complicated."

"This doesn't have anything to do with Asami and I, does it?" Korra tilted her head.

"Of course not," Mako shook his head again, "but no; Just give me some time to sort out these issues and I'll get back to you, Korra. Sorry if I make it sound like you're not wanted… there's just a lot of things on my mind right now, and I wouldn't want to concern you with them if you're already dealing with a mess of your own. I'm not trying to be rude or anything either, so sorry too if I came off as a bit more abrasive than normal."

"Oh no, no," Korra waved her hands, "Say no more, boss. I totally feel you on that one. Take your time sorting out your thoughts—I struggle with the same thing all the time. Thanks for coming with me earlier, Bolin. That was great."

"Thanks for the sponsorship!" Bolin offered his knuckles, which Korra promptly bumped. "And here's for hoping you win your Avatar Gauntlet Finale!"

"Hey thanks," Korra smiled as she waved the brothers off, "And good luck on your Probending championships too!"

Korra rounded the corner and headed down one of the halls before spiralling out the nearest window, killing her fall with a burst of air, and then taking off in a sprint towards the east. She couldn't help but wonder what was on Mako's mind that he didn't want to talk about, but honestly felt no hard feelings towards him. Maybe he was just going through a rough time and had taken out some of that frustration on her, similar to how Korra had taken a lot of her anger out on her parents back when she had been healed by Fukui at the Western Air Temple. Mako was a watchful one, and he seemed exactly like the kind of person that would avoid getting into trouble whenever possible. By contrast, Korra was exactly the kind of person that would go out and actively seek trouble, and so maybe that was it. Whatever it was, she figured it would blow over within a couple of days, and so she shrugged it off as she continued eastward.

Chapter Text

Korra wasn't sure what her goal was when she had first taken off, although as she passed a particularly intriguing clothing store, she suddenly had an idea of what she wanted to do.

It was not that Korra didn't know how to be fashionable or that she didn't understand the concept of hygiene, but rather that with how often she got into fights, trouble, back alleys, the ocean, and other such rough-n-tumble activities, she simply couldn't bring herself to care about her appearance too often. That was what she told herself, at any rate. However, this was one of those afternoons when she wanted to dress her best, because she was fixated on arranging a night out with Asami.

Korra realized right away that she had minimal knowledge in fashionable clothing apart from her usual everyday attire. There was no way she'd be able to surprise Asami with a pretty dress or gown without some help, and considering that of the two people that might be able to help her, that her mother Senna was far away in the Southern Water Tribe and that her old friend Kwan was still in prison, there would be no help there.

On the other hand, for how useless and annoying the Triad hoodlums were, some of them had some impeccable fashion sense. She wondered if she'd look good in one of those suits herself (or rather, something similar so she didn't get confused for any affiliation), and so she was determined to try them out.

Her appearance actually did get her stopped at the door, less because she looked like a vagrant and more because she just looked like a shady character. Fortunately, Korra had some smooth operations going on in that brilliantly broken mind of hers.

"I'm the Avatar," Or in fine, she just used her go-to excuse for everything, and to her slight surprise, it actually worked. In her defense, she wasn't about to do anything illegal, so she didn't feel all that bad about it.

The outfit Korra settled on was mostly blue, with a white dress shirt being the only article that wasn't blue. The vest, slacks, shoes, and flat cap she bought to go with it all sported the same matching dark blue colour, and as Korra tried it on, she couldn't help but strike a pose and smirk. There was only one more thing she'd need to do to complete the look…

"Gotta fix this thrice-damned hair…" Korra mumbled to herself, although efforts to do anything with it beyond her usual ponytails wound up being fruitless, and so she just bunched it into a lower ponytail with a couple of free-hanging locks on either side and called it good.

She emerged from the shop a completely different-looking woman, with her bangs and the cap helping conceal her tattoo. Slapping a stack of bills down as payment (which turned out to be more than enough), Korra took off back into the city.

Unsurprisingly, no one recognized her, although people did seem particularly less wary around her when she dressed sharp. She heard rumours of turf wars, and wondered when the next time she'd cross path with those Triad hooligans would be.

For now though… Asami. Korra made it back to Sato Estate with little trouble, and headed up to Asami's study. Much like how Asami did not enter Korra's room too often, Korra rarely poked her head into Asami's room or study either. They were lovers, but not joined at the hip; and so sometimes both of them would be home and simply doing other things.

Asami did not even notice Korra until she sat down next to her. Asami was still in her work clothes: a black and red suit that Korra thought looked rather nice on her, especially as she saw the top of a white button-up out from the lower neckline of the blazer.

Asami's eyebrows raised for only a second as she saw Korra casually sit beside her, and refrained from reacting to see what tricks the Avatar had up her sleeve; resuming reading the business reports she had been going over. For the moment Korra simply sat there watching her, leaning back with her arms behind the seats, almost as if she was going to try the old "make-a-move" trick of wrapping of her arm around Asami's shoulder, but instead Korra kind of just pouted and glanced at Asami curiously as the Avatar sighed. Asami glanced her way again, watching each little movement Korra made, but not reacting—not out of interest of ignoring Korra, but it was clear the sharp-dressed Avatar was trying to make a move, and Asami didn't want to ruin her fun.

It took a moment, but after a few further seconds of glancing at Asami with an adorable pout on her face, Korra brought one of her hands to Asami's hair, moving strands of it behind her neck until the right side of her neck was all exposed. Asami's eyes darted towards Korra, whose mellow expression concealed whatever her intent was as she slowly moved Asami's hair aside, a few strands at a time as she carefully placed them behind her ear. Korra's expression did not change however, which masked her intent for the moment.

Asami paused and glanced over to Korra, unintentionally covering her neck again with her hair. She didn't say anything and neither did Korra, but after seeing her delicate work get erased in one fell swoop, Korra gave a particularly dramatic out that forced Asami to bite her gums to keep from giggling. This was clearly a game, and there was something particularly invigorating about the silence involved. As such, she turned back to her book, going back to pretending to ignore Korra to allow her to continue. Korra gently took strands of Asami's hair and meticulously moved them behind her ear, keeping calm about it until the right side of Asami's neck was exposed. For a moment Asami watched Korra stare at her out of the corner of her eye, but didn't figure out her intentions until it was too late.

In a smooth motion, Korra leaned over and pressed her lips to the warm skin in the crook of Asami's neck, causing her to gasp slightly, and bite her lip. Korra's left arm went around Asami's shoulder to hold her there, and she held this kiss against her neck for several minutes, simply embracing Asami's beautiful scent. Korra's right hand found Asami's and she interlocked her fingers immediately before slowly pulling her face back and stealing a nibble on Asami's earlobe as she pulled back, hoping to catch the delighted smile on Asami's face before it changed. On this front she was successful, catching her biting her lip for just a split-second right as Korra pulled her lips back.

"Hey," Korra spoke softly. "You look happy."

"You look snazzy," Asami couldn't help but grin coyly at her.

"So do you," Korra licked her lips, "All dressed up and nowhere to go."

"This is my work outfit, Korra," Asami laughed, "you though…"

"Well, did you want to go somewhere?" Korra winked. "I mean, I may or may not have gotten dressed up for you…"

"Are you fine with just roaming the town?" Asami raised her eyebrows, "Or did you have a particular place in mind?"

"I wanted to go somewhere," Korra admitted, "But I wasn't able to plan that meticulously. As long as I get to be with you, I'm fine with roaming town. I don't know how well I'll be able to keep off of you though, so there's your warning."

"I'm sure the Avatar knows self-contr—OH!" Asami squeaked as Korra lunged in for another kiss to the same spot on Asami's neck her lips had been moments ago, except this time she had also bitten her softly—not even hard enough to leave a mark. Korra clutched Asami's shoulders to hold her steady as she trailed kisses from her neck to the back of her neck just above her collar. Asami was too busy fluctuating between giggling and lip-biting to try and stop her, and it was only after half of Korra's frame was over top of Asami that she started pushing her back.

"Okay, okay, I get the picture!" She laughed, squeaking again as Korra managed to nip her ear one last time before straightening her cap and acting as if nothing had happened. "You want to go somewhere now."

"Me?" Korra put a hand to her chest innocently, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"So what got you in this excited mood?" Asami tugged Korra's hair lightly.

To her slight surprise, Korra launched into an explanation of everything she had accomplished that day since waking up, and how speaking with Tenzin had helped her open up a bit on a mental block she didn't realize she had, and then how she had donated huge chunks of her Probending winnings to Mako and Bolin.

"I'd have given some to you too," Korra ended with a chuckle, "but I feel like that would be self-defeating… and I'm sure you know more about my money than I do."

"You leave it all over your room in the weirdest places!" Asami tugged Korra's left sidelock, "Seriously, I'm amazed you haven't lost it by now."

"I know where every yuan is," Korra insisted, leaning to her left as Asami tugged the lock of hair. "But yeah, that was my day. Can we go roam the town now?"

"Only because I love how happy you are right now," Asami tugged the lock of Korra's hair enough to make Korra gasp, although released it a moment later.

One of the many perks about being Asami's best friend (and girlfriend) was that they travelled in style. Korra didn't mind walking, but Asami seemed quite content to casually cruise the streets in one of her company's vehicles as the two of them bantered.

"So where are we going?" Korra asked curiously, a very genuine albeit neutral smile on her face.

"I'm not sure," Asami admitted, "Although… it seems odd for this many people to be out and about in this part of town this time of night, wouldn't you say?"

They were in a shadier district for sure, but Asami had a point. The two women pulled over and watched the people around them. Many of them were just doing their own thing, but a few disappeared down a narrow street into a warehouse district. Asami and Korra remained in the shadows, and noticed that people were congregating around one of the larger warehouses which was being guarded by a doorman.

"Odd, for an industrial sector to be open this time of night…" Asami mused, although as they leaned closer to try and get a better idea of what was being said, they heard words such as "bending", "revolution", "equality", and "the Revelation".

"Equalists?" Korra whispered. "I want to see what they're up to."

"Do you think they'll let us in?" Asami paused, "because you're literally the last person they would want at their rally, Korra."

"Not if we pretend we're among them," Korra suggested, "Let's go."

With a shrug that slightly hinted at blatant defeat, Asami followed Korra to the doors.

"This is a private event, ladies," The Doorman stopped them as they expected him to, "No one gets in without an invitation."

"I seem to have misplaced mine," Asami took the lead, "but come now, do you really suppose that the daughter of the famous Hiroshi Sato would be carousing with benders after what happened to my family?"

Korra's look changed briefly to one of concern. *Was* Asami an Equalist? Was her father one too? It was a very convincing ruse—almost too convincing.

"I've heard talk that you had the hots for that Avatar girl…" the doorman glanced from Asami towards Korra, who bit her lips to keep a straight face. Fortunately, she was able to recollect herself a split-second later and make her excuse.

"Right, I'm some spy for the Avatar," Korra quipped, her voice lower than the tone she normally used, "Come now, I don't even think the kid knows what shoes are, much less how not to look like some back-alley vagrant."

"And why would I take the Avatar to such an event anyways," Asami rolled her eyes, "My friend Zhin is far more refined than that barbarian, thank you very much. I might be friends with Avatar Korra, but it's nothing like that—it's to keep her from blowing things up."

"I'm not sure if I should be insulted or not that you're accusing me of being the Avatar," Korra scowled, "Especially not if you've studied up on the sordid history of the Avatar itself…"

"Next time don't lose your invitation, Ms. Sato," the Doorman gestured, "But I apologize for stopping you and your friend… Zhin."

"No worries, friend," Korra kept a remarkably suave, low tone each time she spoke, "I'm sure if the Avatar caught wind of our special gathering she would just try to set the whole place on fire… that's how she tries to solve all her problems, isn't it?"

"Ha," the doorman guffawed, "Gave me a good laugh there, woman. And to think that every time she does, she's only further proving Amon's point. The Revelation is upon us, sisters."

Korra grew much more uncomfortable as they stepped inside.

"Damn…" She whispered, "I knew people hated benders, but there's a lot of people here…"

They were gathering around a lit but empty podium, clearly waiting for someone to appear.

"Are you okay, Korra?" Asami noticed the discomfort both in Korra's tone and her very distraught expression. "Remember… stay calm, and don't expose yourself."

"I'll be fine…" Korra leaned over slightly, putting her hand on her stomach and hanging her head as if she was short on breath, "But… that was a very convincing argument out there. Was… was any of that actually true?"

"Of course not!" Asami put her arm around Korra to reassure her, "I saw what you were doing and had to play along. The Equalists may have had a good cause back in the day… but this just seems like a rally to stir up hate."

"Sorry for worrying," Korra tugged her collar, straightening her cap. "It's just… if everything we've done was just a big elaborate ruse, you'd find me dead tomorrow, no questions asked."

"Spirits no, Korra!" Asami had to stop from exclaiming too loudly, "no; it was just a rude to get past the doorman. None of that could be farther from the truth, I swear it."

"Good," Korra frowned, "I guess I'm just a bit worried… and reeling from knowing that all these people have to hate me."

"That's just it. In the eyes of these people…" Asami whispered, "you are Enemy #1. I think that gives you the right to be worried."

"I'm not scared or anything!" Korra lied rather blatantly, shoving her hands into her pockets and giving an almost comical pout.

Before Asami could answer, however, there was a loud voice-over announcement.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," it announced, "Please welcome your hero… your saviour… Amon!"

Amon appeared from a trapdoor below the stage as the crowds went wild. There was no way anyone was paying attention to Korra or even Asami at this point apart from maybe admiring a pretty girl in pretty clothes. All eyes were on the masked man and his cronies on the stage.

"My quest for Equality began years ago," Amon began his speech without further fanfare, "When I was a boy, my family and I lived on a small farm. We were not rich, and none of us were benders. Like many of you, this made us easy targets for benders. Terra Triads, Red Monsoons, Agni Kais… Triple Threats… I'm sure each and every one of you know these crime lords that run this city. They did not spare me either. After failing to extort my father, one of these firebenders slew him, and took my mother… and then took my face."

There were gasps from the crowds as Amon continued.

"...And I have been forced to hide behind a mask ever since."

Asami was subconsciously biting her lip, and not in the cute and somewhat arousing way she was doing when Korra was nipping her. That was a personal story that hit close to home, particularly when she thought about Shenzi brutally killing her mother.

"As many of you also know," Amon continued, "The Avatar has been mingling around Republic City lately, vulgarly showing off her power and might as a subconscious way to threaten nonbenders like us to stay in line. If she were here, I'm sure she would tell us how amazing bending is and that it helps bring balance to the world. She is wrong."

Korra tensed up, her hands clenching into tight fists. It was only when she felt Asami's firm but gentle touch against her wrist that she didn't straight up sling a fireball at Amon's face.

"The only thing bending has brought to the world is suffering. Even the Avatar is little more than another villain in life's play."

Amon pulled a rope and lowered a stylized image of Avatar Kuruk.

"Avatar Kuruk, the previous incarnation from the Water Tribes did nothing to keep the balance, and much like his successor half a millennium later, he spent his days showing off his power. Now tell me… anyone who has mat the current Avatar may have already noticed similarities…"

There were several boos and jeers from the crowd, and Amon continued his spiel.

"Avatar Kyoshi…" Another poster lowered, next to Kuruk's, "was responsible for two of the most corrupt organizations of benders and warriors in the last several hundred years. Good as her intentions may have been, it only gave corrupt benders more power."

The hisses, boos, and jeers grew louder and more prominent.

"Avatar Roku…" Roku's image joined Kuruk and Kyoshi, "Failed to act against Firelord Sozin—another bender, I might add, when he attempted to rule and enslave the world, putting nonbenders of the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes under his boot."

Each new Avatar poster seemed to rile the crowds further and further.

"Avatar Aang…" Amon's speech continued, "Had the opportunity to slay the Firelord who sought to continue his grandfather's wicked conquest… and yet he spared him, serving only as an inspiration for my revelation. He also showed mercy to the Crime boss Yakone, who many of us still remember. Such a treacherously powerful bender who could control your very movements… such a wicked man surely does not deserve to live after the atrocities he committed against nonbenders…" There were loud boos from the crowd when Amon mentioned Yakone, "and yet in his weakness, Avatar Aang preserved his life."

Amon stepped to the side, before unravelling the final poster: a stylized and somewhat dramatized version of Korra's face that was met with the most fiery negative sentiment of the five Avatar posters Amon had revealed.

"Avatar Korra…" Amon spoke the name slowly, a clear tone of disgust in his voice, "still just a little girl, and yet she carries more power than any of us in this room. She destroyed a compound in the Southern Water Tribe that was twice the size of this facility in less than an hour. Who is to say this reckless, violent creature will not do the same to the homes and businesses of your friends and loved ones if you cross her and step onto her bad side? You wish to see the face of divine cruelty made human? Gaze upon it now!"

Korra was quietly fuming, figging her nails so deeply into her palms that she started drawing blood. It was taking every ounce of willpower for her not to just blow up and go straight into the Avatar State in an act of righteous vengeance against the man slandering her name. Asami's presence was likely the only real tether preventing Korra from taking action.

"'But Amon,' I can hear you say," Amon continued, "'The Avatar is the symbol of balance in this world! She cannot be evil!' such a farcical statement could not be more wrong. I will not go into detail about the Interregnum Avatar Cycle, but know this—at one point in history; these wicked-powerful benders were ruling with an iron fist and crushing the commoners under their domain. The Avatar is very much the enemy of a free and equal society!"

There were chants and cheers of agreement as well.

"Fortunately," Amon gestured, "the spirits who have acted as guardians of this world, and they have spoken to me. They tell me that the Avatar has failed humanity, giving me ample evidence that I have shared with you. They have granted me a power to help spread equality. What is the Revelation, you ask?" Amon paused, extending a hand, "The Revelation is a power they granted me so I could usher in a new age of balance. They have granted me the power… to take a person's bending away… permanently."

There were cheers all around Korra, but it took her a second for it to register. The thought of losing her bending; losing such an integral part of her identity, terrified her. For years Korra had just thought Amon was some pretentious fringe lunatic behind a mask, but even despite the fury that etched into her face, there was also a very clear hint of abject fear.

Chapter Text

"That's impossible!" Korra exclaimed quietly, "There's no way!" She was not about to admit it, but she was scared—the fact that someone could strip people of bending with such little effort made her worry about how easily she might get floored.

Of course, her and Asami's attention was diverted back to the masked man as he spoke again.

Now for a demonstration…" Amon continued, before revealing a handful of benders, all of whom looked like Triad members of some kind, where a middle-aged man in bonds was led to the middle of the stage. "Please welcome Lightning Bolt Zolt: Leader of the Triple Threat Triad, and one of the most notorious criminals of Republic City."

There was a loud series of boos from the crowds, although Zolt himself looked unfazed.

"Eh, boo yourselves!" he shouted.

"Zolt has amassed a fortune by exploiting and abusing nonbenders," Amon continued, "but his reign of terror is about to come to an end. Now, in the interest of fairness, I will give Zolt the chance to keep his bending."

Zolt's bonds were undone and the man rose to his feet, taking a confident stance as some of the crowds gasped. "You're gonna regret doin' that, pal!"

Korra and Asami watched the fight between the two. Lightning Bolt Zolt lived up to his name by launching a series of powerful blasts of lightning at Amon, but the Equalist leader was too swift and nimble, evading every one of them in the same way that Korra evaded attacks in the Probending Arena. Each time Amon dodged, he moved closer and closer to Zolt until he was suddenly face-to-face with the mobster. In a deft move, Amon snatched Zolt's wrist, before the masked man pivoting and placed his hand on Zolt's forehead. Despite Zolt's hand continuing to emanate lightning, he was frozen in place at that moment, and to Korra's horror, she saw that Amon's claims of stripping bending were no joke.

The lightning crackled and fizzled away, giving way to a burst of fire which gradually became smaller and smaller before it too disappeared entirely. Amon released his grip on Zolt, who collapsed to the ground for a moment before pulling himself up to his hands and knees.

"What did ya do to me?" His arrogance had vanished from his tone, and he actually looked apprehensive, probably for one of the first times in years.

"Your firebending is gone… forever." Amon declared, "The era of bending is over… and a new era of Equality has begun!"

Asami instinctually grabbed Korra's hand, noticing her best friend's subtle trembling before it had even started. Korra paused, taking deep breaths as she tried to wrap her head around how it was possible for Amon to strip people's bending like that. She hated being afraid, much less in front of other people, and especially not in front of the girl she loved.

"Korra…" Asami whispered, not really having more to say than to offer her reassurance. Korra's own emotions and feelings surrounding this event were mixed. On one hand, she knew these were dangerous criminals who were likely getting what they deserved, but on the other hand the notion that that could very well be her—especially since she seemed to get in quite a few tangles with the Chief of Police, to say the least—scared her out of her mind.

They watched as the last four criminals were tried and done in the same way Lightning Bolt Zolt was, only none of them lasted nearly as long as he did. Korra took deep breaths to calm herself down, the cheering crowds drowning out any noise she might have made.

"Word of this event will surely spread," Amon announced triumphantly, "and even the Avatar will not be safe from this message. If she wishes to continue to abuse her bending and her position, she too will come to accept this fate—and be born anew, free of her bending. Perhaps that will be what it takes to stop her from abusing her power."

Korra had applauded herself for staying cool and calm this entire time, but now Amon had just made it very personal.

"Korra, no!" Asami tried pulling her back, but Korra was already pushing her way through the crowds, causing a stir and people around her to gasp.

"You wanna try and take away my bending?" she brandished earth and water on her hands for a moment as if to prove who she was, "Come and get me, you limp-noodled mask-faced third-rate fraud! Or are you too cowardly to face Avatar Korra in person?" Korra's eyes started glowing as well. Her control over the Avatar State had improved significantly over the last two years, and nowadays, she often flared it up more as a threat mechanism than as a reflex.

"For some reason, I knew it would come to this…" Amon's voice showed amusement, as Korra began punching and elbowing her way out of the crowds, who had tried to seize her. "Leave her!"

The crowds paused right as Korra elbowed someone hard enough to likely break their nose. Even Korra stopped when Amon spoke though.

"The Avatar has issued a challenge." He spoke again, keeping his cool, "And has tried to affront my honour. She believes I am a coward… that I wouldn't dare make good on my claims. Come, child. Either you unmask me and see if I am truly lying about my face… or perhaps I teach you a lesson on how to properly control your bending…"

"This'll be good," Korra cracked her knuckles, straightening her outfit a bit as she approached Amon's stage. With a deft burst of airbending, she launched herself up onto the stage, performing several midair flips before landing gracefully on her feet across from Amon.

"Of course," Amon taunted, "you could just go back into the Avatar State and obliterate me… leveling this building and taking out most of your opposition here and now. We're certainly powerless to stop you… but think before you act, little girl. Would you really want to give the Equalist Movement so much momentum by proving our point?"

Korra growled, knowing full well that Amon's terms were handicapping her to play by his rules.

"You want some of this," Korra tipped her cap back to reveal her combustion tattoo before flexing her arms threateningly, "come and get it!"

"Passion… I admire that," Amon mused aloud, "Very well, Avatar Korra. Make your move."

For a moment, the two enemies simply circled one another, Korra's face remaining vigilant as she stared right into the eyes of Amon's mask, which concealed his expression flawlessly. Predictably, Korra made the first move, but to Amon's slight surprise, she didn't seem to be trying to get to his mask as much as she was showing off how evasive she was. Amon was fast, but Korra did in fact prove to be faster, evading Amon's approaches even as he zigzagged around her bending moves, which this time were clearly more evasive and defensive. If Korra was going to fight for her bending, she was going to protect it at any cost. Amon's offensive maneuvers were fast jabs that were clearly designed to block chi, and so it had Korra bending over backwards (literally in some cases) to avoid them. A strike that would have disabled her left arm met only the air as Korra flipped backwards onto her hands before propelling herself several feet into the air, flipping head over heels twice before spiralling back down in a series of tornado kicks to keep Amon at bay. Another aimed fight for her forehead only missed because Korra dove into a rolling dodge at the last second, pivoting around and flipping back onto her feet with such grace that her cap didn't even slip at all. She immediately followed this into a backflip, landing on her hands as she kicked bursts of flame from her feet to keep Amon from getting too close, before subsequently pushing herself back into an upright position.

"I may have underestimated you," Amon cooed as he and the teen danced around each other, "I did not expect your level of discipline from such an uncouth little girl…"

"Looks like you've gotta deal with it," Korra paused, smirking as straightened her cap, "You still ready to play again, or are you finding your prey a little too slippery for you this time?"

From the crowds, Asami kept her view fixated on Korra as Amon took Korra's challenge once again, and the two enemies created quite the show on the stage. Korra's bending moves were more to augment her movements rather than hurt or kill Amon, since she was clearly taking his words a little too seriously. Even without her bending, however, Korra proved to be far too agile, although with all of her eye-catching moves, her stamina began to deplete, while Amon's carefully calculated movements preserved more of his own strength. Asami's reaction was a mixture of awe and anger—being inspired by just how swift Korra was even without bending, but also upset with her for allowing herself to be goaded by the Equalist leader. They would definitely be talking about it tonight… unless Amon did actually strip Korra's bending here and now.

"All I need to do is wait for your pride to kick in…" he taunted her, "and for you to get careless. Every bender does it, and not even the Avatar is an exception."

"I'm still waiting for you to come and get me," Korra taunted in return, making a beckoning motion with her slightly bloodied hands as Asami shook her head.

"Korra, you idiot…" she thought to herself, "he's putting you on strings!"

Whether prophetic or mere educated guessing, Amon did actually manage to get right up to Korra's face a moment later and put her on the defensive. Korra moved much more carefully, with Amon practically breathing down her neck, she slipped up and gave him just enough time to seize her hand. He twisted her right arm back in the same way that he had done to Lightning Bolt Zolt, causing a brief expression of abject horror to appear on Korra's face.

"As many of you know," Amon announced, keeping his grip on Korra's wrist as he raised it into the air, forcing Korra to stand next to him, "the Avatar also possesses the mythical ability to remove the bending of those who would abuse their power. Our little dance has given me a revelation of my own. Perhaps there can be reasoning between us. Now that she is aware that not even she can run… perhaps she will do as she promised long ago, and work alongside nonbenders to achieve freedom and equality for all."

He paused, noticing Korra's irate expression, "Or… she could of course just be performing a ruse, waiting for the right moment to annihilate the entire movement—and anyone else who dares stand in her way. The choice is hers…"

There was cheering from the crowds, as Amon leaned up to Korra.

"Your bending is safe, for now..." he whispered. "I am saving you… for last."

With this, he released Korra's arm and let her leave in relative peace. She was heckled by the crowds almost the entire way out, and so she sprinted outside to get a breath of the fresh evening air. The rally continued without her, but Amon had made his point.

Asami found her a few minutes later, and she looked cross.

"Korra, seriously?!" She snatched up her hands, "You walked right into his hands back there, and you know it!"

"He's trying to smear me," Korra fumed, "what would you do if a competitor tried to frame your dad as a villain? What would you do if someone tried to label you or someone you loved as a terrorist, just to get back at you?"

This time, and even to Korra's surprise, Asami gave pause.

"Korra," she sighed, "I was worried for you. You looked terrified before you raced up there, and what happened to your hands?"

Both of Korra's hands were smeared with blood, which oozed out of four distinctly-patterned slits in the center of her palms.

"I wasn't scared," Korra lied, "Just really tense. I guess I kind of dug my nails a bit too deep into my palms." Korra's nails weren't even long at all, which made the statement even more impressive albeit still unsettling.

Asami stared Korra down, knowing full well that Korra was lying.

"Okay… I was scared." She sighed, lowering her head. "I am scared. Bending's the coolest thing in the world to me, and the idea that someone could take that from me… I'm really kind of amazed the Avatar State didn't hijack me there…"

"Perhaps it goes to show that you're improving," Asami put a hand on Korra's shoulder, "and seriously, how are you that fast?"

"I've always just kind of trained that way," Korra shrugged, "and it seems it was the right idea. Right now I just wanna get out of here… we clearly took a wrong turn somewhere."

"I'm sorry for that," Asami sighed as they went back to their car, which remained untouched, "you were so happy too before we came here…"

"It's my fault for deciding to go in there," Korra admitted as they drove home, "although maybe it was for the best that I know about my enemy."

She paused, thinking of all the things they said to try and get inside. "Hey, about the stuff at the door…" Her face showed concern.

"All false, of course," Asami smiled reassuringly, "The Equalists might have a good message at their core, and stopping rogue benders like those mobsters would make Republic City a much better place, but they can't just lump everyone who bends in that category. It's not fair to people like you, Korra—people who do good in their lives."

"What good have I done besides destroying things," Korra thought back to what Amon had said when he villainized the Avatar, "well, besides meeting you."

"There's that," Asami smiled, "but even then, Korra, you're only 17. No one's expecting you to singlehandedly save the world, let alone Republic City. The Equalist Revolution will be dealt with in time, and while you might be a major player in taking these criminals down, you won't be alone. I promise you that much."

"I'm almost 18!" Korra pouted, still sensitive about her age, which to Asami made no sense considering there was just under a year's difference between them.

"18 or not, you aren't expected to do it all on your own." Asami replied.

"Still…" korra crossed her arms and pouted again.

"By the way, you make that suit look good, Korra." Asami couldn't pay full attention to it since she was driving, but she'd be paying a lot of attention shortly, "you should wear it more often."

"I gotta keep up the vagrant look too though," Korra chuckled, "I can't start being too consistent otherwise people might actually recognize me."

"Just don't cut your hair," Asami asserted as they pulled up to her family home, "you can do it up all you like, but your hair is pretty—I don't want to see it short because then how would I play with it the way you love when I do?"

"Hey, as long as I've got you to keep it from getting too out of hand, you've got yourself a deal," Korra chuckled as she got out and stretched.

"Deal," Asami glanced over at Korra before approaching her. "And seriously… you're really going to have to wear that suit more often. Dark blue really is your colour."

"Only as long as I get to do this…" Korra took Asami's shoulder, pushed the right side of her hair to the side and reached behind to plant a firm kiss on the lower right part of her neck—the same place she had planted a kiss before the outing. Asami tensed up for a moment, biting her lip as she seized Korra's wrist.

"How about… we do this…" she whispered, pulling Korra's lips to her own. Korra's eyes shot open for a split second and she emitted a comical squeak that was much higher-pitched than she would ever be proud of admitting, but after her body registered what was going on, she put her arms around Asami, only pulling back after what seemed like a glorious eternity.

And then she pouted. "I was saving that for some place more romantic," she complained, although her expression betrayed that she was clearly struggling to be upset, assuming she was even upset at all.

"And yet here we are, in the comfort of our home, in a place we can always so easily return to…" Asami giggled, tugging on both of Korra's sidelocks playfully. "And you're turning red."

Korra jammed her hands into her pockets and looked down and to the side. "Stoppit…" she mumbled, "you're doing it on purpose."

"And look how it cheered you up," Asami tried pulling Korra's hair to make the Avatar lift her face back up, "you're just shy, and it's adorable."

"Me? Shy?" Korra laughed, flexing her arms, "As if!"

"Why are you blushing then?" Asami teased, "Are you shy?"

"If I was shy I would have slinked away from Amon," Korra retorted, "not challenge him to a fight in front of hundreds of Equalists."

"So is your girlfriend scarier than a masked maniac who takes bending away?" Asami riposted. Korra narrowed her eyes, glaring at Asami and pouting defiantly before stomping off in a huff to hide her embarrassment. A few steps later, she stopped.

"Thanks for the night," she admitted, "And for uh…" she put her hand to her lips.

"There will be plenty more where that came from," Asami chuckled, "So are you sleeping outside tonight then?"

"I can't let Naga think I've forgotten her," Korra smiled. "Can I? I think I also need to just sort out a few things in my head. I'd ask to sleep in your room, but…"

"It's your fault, by the way," Asami laughed, putting a hand to the back of her head, "I woke up at 2 in the morning after someone kicked me in the head hard enough to push me out of bed."

"I can't help it!" Korra waved her arms, "I'm an active sleeper!"

"I'm sure we could argue the finer points of this issue for days," Asami joked, "but I'm glad I was able to help turn your night around."

"For sure," Korra nodded, blowing Asami another kiss, "I'm not washing my face for weeks!"

Despite the myriad of emotions that were swirling through her mind at this point, Korra couldn't help but agree that overall the day had been good. The Equalist rally had been unsettling, but at least Asami had helped turn the night around.

Theirs was an interesting relationship, when Korra thought about it as she got changed into more appropriate sleeping attire. She and Asami were rarely together and didn't even share a room, and really hadn't even gone on a proper date or anything. It wasn't that Korra doubted the sincerity of Asami's love, but she did hope to at least find more ways to show it—because there were never enough, and she could not be convinced otherwise. As such, as Korra dozed off to sleep, she knew what she'd be doing after her Probending finale had come to an end.

Chapter Text

As great as her day had been, Korra had a really rough night that evening, even when she was snuggled up against Naga. She was in her room instead of outside, and suddenly the whole place was crawling with Equalists. Korra's evasive game that she had played so well against Amon proved effective for a while, but it was much easier to avoid one person regardless of how fast he was than to avoid 37 hooligans swarming her. She felt half a dozen strikes to her back and just as many against her hips and shoulders as she sunk to her knees. Amon appeared from the shadows, and someone from behind her had pulled her hair back to force her to look up at the man in the mask, exacerbating her fear as well as embarrassing her for exposing that fear to her biggest nemesis.

"When I remove your bending…" he warned, "You will be nothing…"

"No!" Korra screamed, and tried to focus a combustion blast at him before he blocked that part of her too. However, it was in vain and she felt his fingers against her.

"Shenzi of the Red Lotus was right, Avatar…" he whispered, "You do not belong in this world…"

Korra woke up screaming, covered in a cold sweat and gasping for air as her eyes lit up the dark around her. She put her hand to her forehead, feeling the warm focus point, interrupted only by the small beads of sweat. Her Avatar State reflex had triggered again, and it took a moment for Korra to quell it. During this time, Naga had also woken up; growling in a soft way that Korra knew was meant to be reassuring.

"It's fine, girl…" Korra sighed, lying back down as Naga licked her hand, "Just a bad dream—well, worse than the ones I usually have."

Naga panted for a moment before laying back down, apparently assured by Korra's words.

Nightmares had been a common occurrence in Korra's life ever since her incident with Nakkoa, and she buried the notion that Amon could very likely join Nakkoa in giving her those nightmares as time progressed. It was not something she talked about with anyone—even Asami. Getting scared of dreams, Korra thought, was a ridiculous concept. They were startling sometimes, but they weren't real, and so she would just have to steel her emotions and deal with them. Korra was never one to consider the mental or emotional toll things could have on her, and thus instead she expertly presented the illusion of emotional progress when she was really just putting it off or pretending it didn't exist.

Early (at least according to 'Korra Standard Time') the next morning while Asami was at work, Korra paid a visit to Air Temple Island, because Tenzin needed to know about Amon's ability if he wasn't already informed. She thought about also alerting Lin, but figured that she'd inevitably get into trouble along the way, and so she made for the safest bet in the meantime. Besides, Tenzin was part of the Republic City Council, which meant he had authority here that was even higher than that of the Chief of Police.

"Korra?" Tenzin looked the Avatar over, noticing that she looked even sloppier today than she normally did. She hadn't even changed out of the pants and tank top she wore to bed, to the point of not even putting on a headband to cover her tattoo. Her heavy eyes and grim expression were portents of the ill news she came to bear. "Are you alright? You look… somehow more wild than usual, and not in the normal jubilant way."

"I'm fine," Korra admitted, "I met Amon last night though—fought him, even."

"What!?" Tenzin looked shocked, "Where?"

"It was an Equalist rally," Korra explained, "he captured a bunch of Triads and took their bending away… for good."

"That's impossible!" Tenzin gasped, "Only the Avatar has ever possessed that ability."

"But I saw him do it," Korra begged, "I promise I wouldn't lie about something like this! I'm not a fearmongerer, Tenzin, and you know it!"

"No, Korra," Tenzin put his hand on her shoulder, "I believe you. I can see the fear etched into your eyes, and it worries me. I do not know how he has achieved this power, but it means that his revolution is more dangerous than ever. No bender is safe."

"Of that I have no doubt," Korra sighed, "he told me up close and personal that he was going to 'save me for last', in his words."

"You confronted him directly!?" Tenzin gawked, "Korra are you mad!? Did he take your bending away too then?"

"No, I'm fine…" Korra twirled a little air sphere in her hand, "I was stupid though, challenging him. I told him if he wanted my bending to come take it. He only got me after he tripped me up, and only because I played by his rules instead of my own. If I was using my full strength I would have destroyed him!" Her fists clenched as she said this.

"That is a commendable level of self-control," Tenzin smiled at her, also hoping to soothe her frazzled nerves, "Did he try to goad you? Amon is a manipulative man as it is, Korra, and I think he's trying to get you to attack him so he can use it against you."

"That's exactly what he was doing," Korra shook her head, "He slandered me and smeared my name! He smeared your dad… he smeared the Avatar! He even cited the Interregnum Cycle as fuel against me. Seriously, what's the deal with all the whispers buzzing around of those guys? I mean, they're a story on their own, but I feel like no one else really knows the full story."

"They are thousands of years old," Tenzin nodded, "and so you are likely correct. You, as the Avatar, will undoubtedly get the best recounting available, but then it becomes your word against the word of recorded history—and history was not kind to them at all."

"See my predicament then?" Korra threw her arms up before hanging her head. "That's what upsets me even more: there are so many misunderstandings about the Interregnums and even I haven't quite figured them all out yet."

"I understand," Tenzin took Korra's shoulders and straightened her up, "Korra, I will do what I can to address these concerns and bring them up at the next Republic City Council meeting. From there, I will keep you updated."

"Thanks," Korra's tone was still dull and fairly monotonous, "really though—I appreciate your efforts to help me with this, Tenzin."

"It is my pleasure," Tenzin gave her a warm smile, "Especially since this is not only a help for you, but also to any bender and law-abiding citizen in Republic City who would like to just live their lives out in peace."

"I, uhh… guess I should go home and get dressed," Korra glanced down at her untidy appearance, "Sorry for always showing you my worst side, Tenzin."

"I have three children and a fourth on the way," Tenzin gave a light chuckle, "I've seen far worse, Korra. Hopefully your day goes better, too."

"Are you still coming to see my finale tomorrow?" Korra's face lit up slightly.

"How could I miss it?" Tenzin raised an eyebrow, "I once thought that Probending was a mockery of the sacred arts… and while it is very different from what I am accustomed to, the way you've taken it and moulded it into your own style of bending has impressed even me, Korra."

"Really?" Korra had not ever expected to impress Tenzin, what with her renegade airbending style and her very rough, swift forms of bending the other elements. To think that she could impress him with her Probending prowess was hardly even a prayer.

"Indeed," Tenzin affirmed, "While it is important to not lose sight of certain traditions as the Avatar, the world is rapidly changing, and so too must the Avatar in order to keep up. My father Aang broke one of the oldest Avatar traditions by learning of his identity at 12. You broke it even further, and look how far you've come since then…"

"So… convincing your family to serve meat every once in a while…" Korra grinned.

"Don't push your luck, Avatar." Tenzin's expression was stoic, but Korra could tell the older man got amusement from the remark just as well as she had.

As she headed home to make herself at least somewhat more presentable, Korra thought about the meeting she had just had. She was surprised at how much she liked Tenzin, all things considering. Growing up she had always kind of viewed him as some stuffy old man who worked with the White Lotus to keep her locked up in the Southern Water Tribe compound, but whether it was something she did or perhaps a change of heart from somewhere else, Tenzin seemed a lot more open to Korra's concepts of freedom. She mused about it, wondering if it had anything to do with the old airbender knowing that he had no power over Korra anymore due to how strong the young Avatar was at this point; or wondered if the rapidly changing world had also caused him to adapt and grow in the same way it had done for so many others.

Tenzin was a man of his word, and within a few hours of he and Korra talking, he had convened with the four other Council members for a meeting regarding the Equalists.

It was a necessary evil at its core, but Tenzin did not like it. The Northern Water Tribe representative, a slippery man by the name of Tarrlok, had the other three council members wrapped around his finger and both he and Tenzin knew it. His current idea, to create a task force devoted to slaying Amon, immediately raised red flags for the airbender, who saw it as giving Amon more of the leverage he sought. He mentally praised Korra for showing restraint against the masked man the other night as a result; the young Avatar had her problems, but she was also much smarter than she was often given credit for—including by herself.

"There is a madman running around our beloved city, threatening to tear it apart," Tarrlok warned, "And it's clear that he does not even fear the Avatar, despite her power being—in the words of Councilman Tenzin: 'great enough to the point where she is unstoppable'."

"He did not fear her because he cajoled her into playing by his rules," Tenzin warned, "Attempting to provoke Avatar Korra is playing with fire both in the literal sense and metaphorically."

"And it is known that she is a somewhat unstable young woman," Tarrlok added, "A dangerous and potent force who can tip the scales in the favour of whatever faction she sides with. We cannot rely on her to stop the Equalists on her own. What we need is a Task Force dedicated solely to stopping Amon and bringing him to justice. Imagine a formidable task force led by The Avatar and by Republic City's best and brightest, helping bring these masked criminals to justice and bringing peace back to the city."

"Absolutely not!" Tenzin asserted, "A move that aggressive would only serve to further divide benders and nonbenders. Not even the Avatar put that much aggression on Amon, despite her reputation working against her in that regard."

"Tarrlok," the Southern Water Tribe Councilman spoke up, "I am inclined to agree with your proposal, but who would even head up such a task force? The Avatar, powerful as she is, is still young—and she has her own life schedule to work around too. Who are we to strip the Avatar of her freedom without turning heads?"

"Stripping Avatar Korra of her freedom is undoubtedly one of the more dangerous moves you could propose, Councilman Tarrlok," Tenzin warned, "her demonstration at the South Pole is sign enough of that; surely you must know."

Tarrlok stood up and bowed to the others. "Then it would by my honour and privilege to accept such a duty." He declared with a very subtle grin.

"This is just another of your ploys to gain more power, isn't it?" Tenzin lightly hit his hand against the table as he glared at Tarrlok.

"All I am trying to do is help," Tarrlok sat back down, "Think back: 42 years ago, Republic City was threatened by another dangerous man—Yakone. Your father was not afraid to deal with that man head-on." he pointed at Tenzin.

"This is a completely different situation," Tenzin slammed his palms on the table as he stood up, "And how dare you compare yourself to Avatar Aang!"

Amon is not going to stop with the Triads," Tarrlok warned, "he is going for them first to gain momentum—by stopping the most dangerous benders in the city he will amass popularity as he appeals to people's desires to remain safe in their home neighborhoods. Eventually he will come for the rest of us benders, our friends, and our families. Vote for this task force and I will stop Amon before it's too late. All in favour?"

Tenzin was almost immediately unanimously outvoted, as the only person who did not support Tarrlok's task force.

"Then it is settled," Tarrlok pounded a gavel with a smirk, "Meeting adjourned." Tenzin glared angrily at Tarrlok, but there was nothing he could do.

=Sato Estate, Around the Same Time…=

Korra and Asami were in one of the common rooms relaxing for the afternoon, listening to music on the radio as the council meeting had been going on. Both of them were sitting on the floor with Korra leaned back into Asami's lap, bending a small piece of metal between her fingers while Asami comically had a book perched lightly atop Korra's head that she was casually reading. Neither one seemed too disturbed by this setup until the tunes on the radio were interrupted.

"Good evening, my fellow Equalists," Both Korra and Asami froze, although neither one of them moved, to the point where Asami didn't even take her book off of Korra's head, "This is your leader, Amon. As you have heard, the Republic City Council has voted to make me Public Enemy Number One, proving once again that bending oppressors of this city will stop at nothing to quash our revolution. But we cannot be stopped—not even by the so-called unstoppable Avatar. Our numbers grow stronger by the day. You no longer need to live in fear—for the time has come for benders to take their turn in experiencing fear."

There was a brief moment of static again before the radio resumed playing music as if nothing had happened. Only after Amon's announcement ended did Korra and Asami look up to exchange looks with one another.

"He's trying to goad you," Asami and Korra both uttered simultaneously (barring that Korra said 'me' instead of 'you'). Asami chuckled and tugged Korra's hair, before gathering a large clump of it and starting to do it up in a ponytail.

"Atta girl," She hummed as Korra went back to bending the piece of metal into various shapes again. She felt the slim weight of Asami's book resume its place on the crown of her skull, and sighed contently.

"It's still annoying though," Korra admitted, "there's got to be something we can do to turn his followers against him—for them to realize that he's not as good and right as he says he is."

"The moment he starts attacking benders who have committed no crime…" Asami set her book down to play with Korra's hair, "or attacking nonbenders who don't side with him… he will fall. I can help you in at least that regard, Korra."

"Reason #251 why you're fuckin' perfect," Korra pouted, although the fondness of her tone betrayed her true feelings right away.

"Would you rather I not be?" Asami tugged Korra's hair.

"Sweet Raava, no!" Korra gasped, and not because Asami had tugged her hair, "No, please—by all means keep being perfect. I get to be the luckiest girl in the world, and not because I'm the Avatar or anything."

"Look who's the flatterer now?" Asami teased, separating Korra's hair again as she pulled two sets of strands in opposite directions.

"Pfft, you deserve that and so much more." Korra muttered, "and I wish I could do that for you… just that despite my improvements, I still feel like I'm just… not all here, you know?"

"Korra, it wouldn't be fair for you if people just expected you to shrug off all of that psychological trauma and act like the attempt on your life or Amon's attempt on your sanity never happened," Asami lightly grazed her fingernails across Korra's scalp, "Just keep on improving and don't let your emotional turmoil get all bottled up. Recovery is a slow and sometimes difficult process… but I think someone as strong as the Avatar has that cinched."

"I'm about this close to turning around, pinning you down, and kissing you repeatedly," Korra laughed. "Think he'll crash my probending finale tomorrow?"

"That'd be a great way to show disdain for bending," Asami hummed, "Although considering how many nonbenders are also fans of the game, I don't imagine he'll take that approach. Besides—there's going to be at least one nonbender there in the front row tomorrow, cheering you on. 1,207 wins and 53 losses? What do you think your end results will be?"

"1,228-53, of course," Korra's lovestruck grin was almost audible, "I'm winning all 21 tomorrow or so help me I'll turn myself into Amon as a sign of my failure."

"I'm glad you're not letting it weigh you down too heavily, Korra," Asami smiled, running her fingers through Korra's hair now, "you're a lot happier lately."

"You've been spending more time with me," Korra smiled, "and a lot of the time, you're the one that keeps me grounded in reality."

"I love you, Korra," Asami reassured her, "that's what you do for people you love."

"I know, I know…" Korra sighed fondly. "And I love you too…"

"And I may not be entirely opposed to your warning, by the way." Asami winked.

Korra turned around slowly. "That… can be arranged." she licked her lips hungrily.

As simple as their exchanges and sweet nothings often were, they were powerful, especially for Korra. The tumultuous life she had lived up to this point was only going to get worse, and so it reassured Korra to know that she had at least one constant companion in her life—and she couldn't ask for a better one than Asami Sato.

Chapter Text

The finale of Korra's Avatar Gauntlet could not have gone any better, with Korra taking home a flawless 21-win victory as the perfect way to end her season. Despite this victory, Korra was frankly too busy walking on air once it was done to worry about how much money she had just won. It was a sizable amount, however, to the point where Asami was even impressed.

"Just give it to her," Korra gestured from Butakha to Asami as she went to go get changed. "She'll know what to do with it."

"You've got a good and trusting friend, Ms. Sato," the businessman smiled as he handed her the sack of cash, "as well as the best Probending maniac this city has ever seen."

"Oh, she's so much more than that," Asami giggled coyly, "Thank you, though."

She met back up with Korra a few moments later after Korra had changed into her street clothes, going as far as doing her hair up and actually wearing her boots, skirt, and belt this time.

"You, me, date tonight." Korra pointed from Asami to herself before doing 'finger guns' and flashing a smug, shameless grin.

"How could I say no to Republic City's Probending Champion," Asami pretended to swoon, "how about Kwong's Cuisine, tonight at eight?"

"Where would you like me to meet you?" Korra played coy in return, knowing full well that since their rooms were only down the hall from one another that they would not have to worry about meeting up anywhere.

"The usual place," Asami winked. "Don't forget to look sharp!"

"I don't think I know how to look sharp," Korra confessed, which was made funnier by the fact that she was being half-truthful with this joke.

"That suit you wore to the Equalist Rally was a knockout," Asami bit her lip just thinking about it, "I'll even help you do your hair."

"I'll save the pretty dresses for you then," Korra chuckled, "sound good?"

"I'm actually going to take you shopping sometime soon," Asami asserted, holding up Korra's bag of prize money, "that's what this is all going to go to."

"Wait, isn't that my money?" Korra laughed as they reached Asami's car and got in.

"What's your point?" Asami riposted, starting the engine up before taking off down the road.

"I should be able to decide what I want to do with my own money." Korra crossed her arms and pouted in her telltale comical way.

"Love, I could have pocketed the entire bag and not said a thing, and you would have never even given it second thought," Asami teased. Korra tried not to laugh, but gave in moments later, especially because she knew that Asami was spot-on in her assumption.

"Fine, it's yours… thief." Korra stifled another giggle.

"Don't make me steal your sweatpants and tank tops, too," Asami quipped, "because I will."

"You do that, I'm going to cut my hair out of spite," Korra retorted.

"Touché," Asami licked her lips, "Fine then; truce?"

"Truce," Korra laughed as they pulled up to Asami's estate. "Keep that stupid money too."

"Hmm…" Asami looked at the bag before adding a tag to it. "'Avatar Korra's Shopping Spree Fund' has a nice ring to it, wouldn't you say?"

"You're not going to let me get out of this, are you?" Korra pouted again.

"Your schedule just cleared up, so absolutely not," Asami ruffled Korra's hair. "But don't stress about it—that's not for another week or two. Tonight's the date you need to worry about."

"Worry about?" Korra still played along, "You should be the one worried that some big buff Avatar is going to sweep you off your feet."

In a deft and rather impressive move, Korra did exactly that, sweeping Asami off her feet and into her arms as she stole a kiss right on the lips. Asami was wide-eyed as Korra spun around and gracefully managed to set her girlfriend right back on her feet without incident, and the kiss had only made her grin.

"Small buff Avatar," she teased in response, putting her hand to the crown of Korra's head and measuring it against her own height, where it was clear Asami stood a few inches taller, even when she wasn't wearing heels.

"Ouch!" Korra put her hand over her heart. "Right here…"

There was a pause, and the two of them burst out laughing, with Korra's laugh resembling the wholesome, cheerful giggle she had had on her date with Bolin a few weeks earlier. It was a delightful sound, and one Asami would never tire of hearing. Korra was a handful much of the time (as her parents could surely also confirm), but much like Tonraq and Senna, Asami found Korra's spunk and liveliness to be endearing and part of her charm.

And of course, Asami was the reason Korra believed (pretended) she had confidence issues. Korra was absolutely stricken with her, partially because of her looks, but primarily because of her loving personality. Asami's caring, reserved, and realistic approach on life was a stark contrast to Korra's blunt, outgoing, and imaginative views, which was part of why they meshed so well together.

"So… tonight at eight then?" Korra clarified.

"Be there, and dress sharp." Awami affirmed, "The place does have a dress code."

"Damn," Korra pretended to be upset, "so if I went in looking like a hobo…"

"You'd end up right on your backside in front of the restaurant," Asami giggled, tugging Korra's ponytail affectionately.

"I'll just say this," Korra bit her lip subtly as Asami pulled her hair, "after tonight, you might want to wear your hair down for a few days…"

"And why's that?" Asami was not one to leave such a warning unheeded.

"Oh, no reason," Korra stuffed her hands in her pockets and whistled, "so hey, I gotta go say hi to Naga and stuff. See you around!"

"Fine, keep your secrets." Asami giggled.

"Right; will do!" Korra grinned smugly as she strode off, and to her slight surprise, Asami didn't follow her. Still she had her ideas, and was sure Asami would fail to disappoint as well. Time would tell.

=Several Hours Later…=

Korra took a great deal of time to prepare for the evening, including taking one of the most thorough baths she had ever had in her life. She spent a great deal of that time scrubbing her hair and trying to de-knot it, but even with forceful waterbending, this proved to be a chore that resulted in a great many 'shit's and 'dammit's escaping her lips through gritted teeth.

Korra couldn't exactly flex her legs the way she could with her arms, but as she buttoned her shirt, she struck a pose in front of a mirror and grinned. Thankfully Asami did not barge in on Korra half-dressed, because with the silly poses she was making, it would have just made it that much more awkward.

She was fully dressed within a few minutes, straightening her cap as she pouted at the mirror, checking to make sure everything was on straight and looked good. The only problem this time was her combustion tattoo, which was easier to hide when she had her eyes down at an Equalist rally. It'd be a little shady to walk into a restaurant with that exposed though.

She decided to see what Asami had to say about it, and so was "early" to their meeting place, hunting Asami down a little beforehand. To her slight surprise, Asami was waiting for her, wearing a long, high-necked sleeveless red dress with a trio of golden bangles around her right wrist. Korra's eye twitched only slightly as she saw a little golden hairpin on the left side of Asami's head, while the rest of her hair was worn down, covering the right side. It was a trivial thing, but Korra was picky about the favourites she played.

"Hey," she gave a small free-hanging lock of Asami's hair a little tug, "you did your hair that way on purpose, didn't you?"

"I can't say I know what you're talking about, Avatar Korra," Asami hummed, putting her hand to the base of her neck on the right side where Korra had kissed before, "But you look amazing. I shouldn't say in good company the effect a sharp-dressed Avatar has on me—and unfortunately for your curiosity, I'm in the best of company right now."

"Speaking of which…" Korra moved a few bangs aside, revealing her forehead, "I don't think showing this off at Kwong's Cuisine is a good idea; do you?"

"I don't, but I have just the thing," Asami smiled, gently tugging Korra's sidelocks to coax her to follow, "you sport a natural look well enough, but I think a little makeup job would cover that up nice and easy without anyone noticing."

"As long as you don't paint my whole face or something," Korra shrugged, "I mean don't get me wrong, it looks great on you—but I think I'm less the type."

"Don't worry, Korra;" Asami assured her, "It won't be too much."

True to Asami's word, she was able to conceal Korra's tattoo under a layer of cosmetics that gave some of Korra's skin a lustry sheen, but she blended it so proficiently that unless someone got within inches of Korra's face they wouldn't notice—and the only person Korra was going to let get that close to her was Asami, and she already knew about it anyways.

The drive was quiet, but not tense or awkward; it just seemed both women wanted to save their remarks for when they actually got there. That, and they both bit their lips at different times as they stole glances at once another—Asami much more so than Korra more because that was her thing. Korra's body language was—perhaps ironically—much more subtle.

Kwong's Cuisine was as ritzy as it looked, but even without taking Asami's fortune into account, Korra could have easily paid the exorbitant prices ("gourmet fare") without putting much of a dent in her scattered savings.

"Are you really using my money?" Korra couldn't help but ask after they had been seated and placed their orders, "Or was that just a jest."

"It was no jest," Asami tugged Korra's left sidelock since the Avatar had deliberately chosen to sit on Asami's right at the heart-shaped booth. She was glad it was out of the way, because she knew full well that she was not going to keep her hands off of Asami the whole time.

Instead of reacting, Korra's blue eyes darted around the establishment, and in a second of realizing that no one was paying any attention to them, she leaned over, nuzzling through Asami's hair to nip her ear.

"Remember how I advised you to wear your hair down for the next few days?" She whispered, causing Asami to simply raise her eyebrows with a slight 'hmm?'

"Here's why." Korra whispered again before delving behind Asami's neck, seizing a small bit of flesh near the base of Asami's neck between her teeth and gently rolling it. Asami bit her gums to keep her reaction quiet, but knew that Korra was deliberately leaving a mark back there.

"You…" She put her arm behind Korra to pull her ponytail, although that just increased Korra's gusto, her left arm wrapping around Asami from behind in turn. "...know just how to drive a woman wild, Miss Avatar."

Despite the blatant PDA, both of them remained alert enough to sit upright and act casual when the waiter approached them with their entrées. Both of them hardly even glanced at each other as they ate, and didn't even speak until they had finished. Rather than being from tension between the two young women, it was more because they were both operating on the exact same wavelength, and seeing who would 'crack' first.

Korra took the loss not more than two minutes after they had cleaned their plates, but before she could reach Asami's neck, Asami pivoted her head and let her lips meet Korra's. While once again caught off-guard by this suave move, Korra realized at once that she did not oppose it, and so went with it. When Korra tried to pull away, Asami left a lipstick mark on her left cheek after tugging her hair to pull Korra's face back towards her lips.

"Well I ain't washing my face for weeks now," Korra joked, grinning.

"You're so set on leaving your mark on me," Asami riposted, "I had to return the favour."

"Mmm…" Korra hummed, stroking her chin with her fingers, "you're just so… relaxing to be around. You drive me wild, but also help me keep my cool. Considering that whole stunt with Amon, my lack of recent Avatar State outbursts, and my improved emotional control, I'd say I'm almost getting a bit better at this whole 'getting a grip' thing, wouldn't you say?"

"I would," Asami smiled, putting her hands around Korra's, rubbing them with her thumbs, "and I think you're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for. The fact that the Republic City Council is trying to make an aggressive move on Amon while you managed to restrain yourself despite your power… that was commendable to me."

"I still want to introduce that council to the underside of my boot," Korra grunted, "They're just going to make things worse—except Tenzin. I don't imagine he voted for that task force."

"It was in the papers too," Asami unintentionally gave Korra another memo to start reading the news more often, "They didn't mention you by name, but I think they're going to try and recruit you for this task force thing of theirs."

"Not happening," Korra shook her head resolutely, "I'm not just going to become a piece in some power-hungry Councilman's games. I need to deal with Amon personally, since he made it personal. I just… need the right time and right place."

"Don't do anything too rash," Asami warned, "Amon knows you're too strong physically to take him, and so he's going to target your mind. And no offense, Korra, but…"

"Ugh, I know…" Korra's hands slipped from Asami's gentle grasp and she pulled her own hair. "I've had nightmares about him too, and that's not helping."

"That wasn't entirely what I meant, but I suppose that's a valid concern too," Asami admitted. "And while you're no less of an amazing person despite your trauma, you need to make sure you don't allow it to define you."

"I'm…" Korra wringed her hands, "I'm really trying my best on that. It's hard though; and now with the fear of losing my bending—one of my favourite things about myself but also one of my most prominent and defining traits? That's scary to me, Asami."

"Don't take this the wrong way or anything, Korra," Asami put a hand on Korra's shoulder, "but even if you somehow lost your bending… I wouldn't think any less of you for it. I love you for who you are, not what you are… Avatar Korra is nice… but I'm in love with Korra."

"That's terrifying," Korra muttered, although a warmth swelled up in her chest that made her want to just grab Asami and make out with her on a vicious scale, "but… you don't know how much that means to me…" She sighed, leaning against Asami's shoulder and closing her eyes. "Or maybe you do, and that's the most amazing thing in the world to me. There are only a few people that respect me as Korra rather than Avatar Korra… and I mean, don't get me wrong, I love being the Avatar and everything… but it's gotten me a lot of really nasty and unwanted attention. It's… stressful."

"I don't envy you for it," Asami lightly tugged at Korra's ponytail, this time more affectionately than suggestively, "but that's why we're here—to unwind and enjoy ourselves, right?"

"Mmm…" Korra hummed, "that's a fair point. You really know just what to say to get me smiling again, don't you?"

"You have such a beautiful smile and an intoxicating laugh," Asami winked, "how could I not?"

"Well then," Korra licked her lips, "Don't expect me to stay this calm when we get home though. Consider it a warning." She followed this up by giving Asami an uncharacteristically hungry look that made Asami's cheeks flush.

"I cordially accept your warning… Avatar." Asami batted her eyelashes as they made preparations to return home. The night may have been young, but the game was on.

Chapter Text

Korra couldn't help but glance hungrily at Asami as the masterful young driver flew home at speeds that would have likely gotten her at least pulled over if police had spotted her. Fortunately, she knew the town like the back of her hand (in stark contrast to Korra), and so had no trouble zigzagging through side streets and back roads to get home without incident. They had hardly parked the vehicle before Korra launched herself out like a spring-loaded toy and literally shot into a backflip over the car, landing in front of the driver-side door and sweeping Asami off her feet.

"You…" the Avatar flashed her lover a devious smirk, "you're coming with me."

Asami squeaked as she was scooped up, but giggled as she saw how excited Korra was. "Oh my~..." she hummed, "wherever are we going?"

"Don't worry," Korra licked her lips, "you'll see soon enough."

She kicked the nearest door open, approaching the nearest large surface, which happened to be a sofa and sat herself down, letting Asami out of her arms in the process. Despite the feisty lust both of them had going on, there was a moment when they simply gazed into each other's eyes and smiled. Korra, being the much more impatient of the two, broke the moment.

"Damn, you're beautiful." She mumbled, before pulling Asami closer to her and nuzzling under her hair. Asami responded by pulling Korra's hair rather firmly, only to sharply inhale as she felt Korra give her another bite in the same place on the back of her neck. This time, however, Korra did not relent, and Asami knew from the focus Korra's lips, tongue, and teeth were giving this particular patch of skin that it was going to be a brilliant shade of blood-red within minutes. Her grip around Asami's wrist and shoulder tightened, as if adamant about holding her steady. Asami's breaths were sharp, and her muscles tensed up, which only gave Korra more delight in nipping and biting the base of her neck towards the side now. Asami was definitely going to have to wear her hair down to cover these marks.

Deciding not to be fully submissive, Asami used her free hand to grab Korra's ponytail and pull it. This just made Korra bite harder and try to anchor herself, which in turn made Asami pull harder until Korra's head was forced back and out of Asami's hair. The Avatar made a comical hissing noise, and her eyes briefly met Asami's.

"You trying to make me bleed?" She teased, jerking Korra's hair to pull back her head.

"I can't be held responsible if I do..." the Avatar flashed a hungry grin, still resisting Asami's hair-pulling just enough to tingle. Asami didn't respond to Korra's words, but tightened both her grip and her pull on Korra's hair. Korra gritted her teeth and exhaled through her mouth. Curious to see what would happen if she released Korra, she did exactly that, only for Korra to go right back to biting. Deciding she had had enough of this for the moment (although not from lack of enjoyment), She wriggled out of Korra's grip, seizing Korra's wrist with one hand and her hair with the other, pulling her down and into her lap. Korra grinned shamelessly, blowing a raspberry before sitting back up. Asami seized her ponytail again and pulled lightly but firmly, keeping Korra from moving too far.

"Did you think I wouldn't retaliate, Avatar?" she teased, reaching over to undo the top button of Korra's shirt. It wasn't even enough to show off any cleavage, but was just enough to expose parts of her neck. She kept her grip on Korra's hair to move her into a suitable biting position, and instead of nibbling the back of Korra's neck; she went straight for the front right, putting one arm around Korra's chest to hold her in place.

Rather than sharp breaths like Asami, Korra slipped out something that could have easily passed as a moan as Asami rolled the softer part of Korra's neck between her teeth.

"Asamiiiii…" Korra playfully whined, "I don't wear my hair down all the time though…"

"You always wear high-collared shirts," Asami paused only to speak briefly, "so I think you'll be fine…" She stayed on the right side of Korra's neck, however, because almost the entire left side of her neck still sported the fierce red burn scar from where Nakkoa had injured her.

"And you should wear that ponytail more often…" She added after giving Korra's now-raw neck a break, "It's really fun to pull…"

"Ack!" Korra cried out as Asami yanked her head back. She pulled back in defiance, responding by planting her lips right against Asami's in turn. Neither one opposed it, what what started as a five-second kiss turned into a 9½-minute makeout session that ended with Korra pinning Asami's arms, and Asami's hands on Korra's thighs notwithstanding. While neither one was fully aware of what they did or didn't uncover, much of Korra's torso and Asami's thighs saw the light of day before they were done.

"Have I ever mentioned how much I love everything about you?" Korra gave an exhausted but affectionate grin, "because sweet spirits, you drive me wild."

"You're always wild," Asami took Korra's hands as the two of them slowly got up and straightened themselves, "On that note… think anyone heard all that?"

"Other than my yelp when you bit me?" Korra massaged her shoulderblade, "I think we're good."

"Still think we shouldn't go shopping soon?" Asami winked as she flipped her hair, which, in stark contrast to Korra's, was still luscious and neat.

"I might have reconsidered…" Korra scratched the back of her head before tugging her collar, "wow is it hot in here or is it just me?"

"I wouldn't oppose you removing some layers if you're hot, Korra," Asami teased.

"Ladies first," Korra riposted.

"Korra… you know you're a lady too, right?" Asami laughed.

"I meant like... ladylike ladies," Korra stammered sheepishly. "Either way though, I'll take you up on that offer if you're doing the same."

"What better way to wind down the evening?" Asami quipped, swaying her hips as she headed back to her room for the evening. Korra briefly considered what might happen, but decided that it would be a nice way to end a wonderful evening.

Unfortunately, Korra and Asami learned within a night that sleeping together was simply not an option. Not only was Korra a very actively sleeper whose wild movements caused Asami to wake up in the middle of the evening as she hit the floor, but she also snored—loudly. Despite Asami being fairly forgiving of all of this, it was actually Korra who suggested that it might just be easier to stay in separate rooms.

"I mean, don't get me wrong," she explained, "I love you like crazy, but I worry you'd never get any sleep with how crazy I can be… or how loudly I snore."

"I understand," Asami smiled, "and it's very thoughtful of you, Korra. I appreciate it."

"I mean I'm still kind of bummed," Korra admitted, "But I'd rather sleep apart than keep you up all night… and I definitely want to have another date like that again."

"Of course," Asami stole a kiss as Korra stepped out, "any time we can find the time to, I'd love to spend another evening on the town with you, Korra."

Despite this promise, however, Asami and Korra did not have the opportunity to go out on dates too often with Asami's busying schedule, especially since Korra spent more and more time at Air Temple Island, trying to learn proper discipline and airbending techniques from the wiser man. He noted that her progress was swift, and that she had a notable spiritual connection that she had not had three years ago. Even her meditation was better, to the point where after a particularly solid session, both Tenzin and Korra kept their meditative positions as they spoke.

"I'm curious, Korra," another thing Korra loved about Tenzin was that while he respected her power and position to a point of almost reverence, he had made it a point to refer to her as Korra as a sort of assurance that his interest in her was less in her being the Avatar and more as a friend and an equal. "This sudden surge of spirituality—do you have any theories as to where it originated? I certainly cannot complain, but it makes me curious."

"Since seeing the world, I've made a lot of contact with some of my past lives… good ones and grey ones alike." Korra explained, "And I think, despite my Avatar State reflex… it's opened me a lot more to the spiritual side of things."

"You have definitely developed a great deal of patience," Tenzin noted, "I will admit that I did not expect that from you."

"I've got my faults," Korra admitted, "But I think… despite all of the messy things that have happened to me since I turned 14… that I've finally managed to get a grip on who I am and the reality of my situation. It's a nice sense of balance."

"Just know that that is a balance you will have to maintain," Tenzin warned, "it is not permanent, and so if you fall out of balance, you will have to again seek to correct it."

"I could definitely do with a bit more activity in my life," Korra suggested, "I mean, you know I've never been one for sitting still too long, and so without the Avatar Gauntlet to keep me occupied, I'm growing a bit restless. The Equalist threat isn't helping."

"And what are your thoughts on that… Task Force… that Councilman Tarrlok put together?" Tenzin had made it clear he opposed it, but wanted Korra's opinion.

"I don't like it," Korra put a hand to her forehead, her fingers subconsciously tracing over the ornate designs of her tattoo, "It's only going to make things worse, but what can I do? If I try and sabotage his task force, then I paint him as an enemy and that would put me with the Equalists! I need to find a way to draw Amon out; find something that separates him from his supporters—no, something that makes him lose his support!"

"A worthy endeavour, albeit a difficult one," Tenzin admitted, "Amon is trying to toy with your mind. I do not know how much he knows of your past, Korra—but after your fight he knows he cannot best you physically—so he's going to go after your mind, which he suspects is vulnerable."

"That's what scares me," As much as Korra loved Asami, she felt perhaps the most comfortable admitting her fears to Tenzin instead, "whether he knows or not, he's sometimes in my dreams and in my head, right alongside Nakkoa. He's got leverage on my broken mind, while I still don't know the first thing about him other than that he's some radical creep who takes bending away."

"With the Equalists on the rise and Tarrlok's task force dedicated to provoking Amon, it puts people like us in a special bind," Tenzin sighed. "Essentially, a preemptive strike would only work if it was done in order to foil a strike from the Equalists. Strike too early and it becomes paranoia, only fuelling Amon's claim that benders abuse nonbenders. Strike too late, and innocent people will get hurt. The fact that Amon went after Triads and criminals first is a sign that he knows exactly what he is doing."

"So what do I do!?" Korra groaned, "I hate just not doing anything… and I'm still mixed on whether I want to go back to pursuing mercenary work in lieu of Probending. I need a job, Tenzin… or at least something to take up my time."

"Are you lacking money, Korra?" Tenzin did not pay much attention to how much cash Korra had brought home from her time as a celebrity Probender, "Because you will always have a place at Air Temple Island if you so desire."

"Yeah!" Ikki's voice came from behind them, "you should visit us more often, Korra!"

"And show us all your cool action moves!" Meelo chipped in, making various punching and kicking movements, airbending alongside them.

"It would be really interesting to see more of your abilities, Korra." Jinora was definitely the most polite and level-headed of the three wild siblings, but all three maed a fairly compelling argument for Korra to want to swing by more often.

"I'll try to come by more often," Korra promised, even if she had visited them almost every day since her Probending finale apart from the night she had prepped to go on her date with Asami.

"Yay!" Ikki and Meelo chanted simultaneously, while Jinora quietly sat down nearby to listen in on what her father and the Avatar were talking about.

"I've got more cash than I know what to do with," Korra admitted, turning back to Tenzin, "I just… like to stay busy. It helps keep my focus straight, and keeps me from wandering into back alleys to pick fights and smash things. I'm sure Chief BeiFong could tell you all about it."

"Oh she has made no hesitance in telling me." Tenzin sighed, remembering the large folder that sat on his desk, courtesy of Lin. She had quite a file on her friend Korra.

"But to me, that really helps your case in staying busy." He added.

"Well, my other idea was to join that task force," Korra gestured as Tenzin's eyes widened, "but not all busywork is good busywork… and with how much that bastard keeps hounding me I refuse to give him that level of vindication."

"So he's started trying to win you over then?" Tenzin sighed.

"Yup," Korra pouted, "I mean I've put some of his gifts to use, but I don't like the idea and I'm not going to give into it."

"He hasn't found you at home, has he?" Tenzin turned to her.

"He knows I live at Sato Estate," Korra frowned, "but they don't let him in and neither do I, so it gives me a reprieve… a little. His gifts still reach me."

"Sato?" Ikki interrupted, "Like, Asami Sato? I heard you were in love with her!"

Korra's eyes went round for a moment and she internally shrieked from awkward fright. "Who told—" she stammered, "I mean… yeah. She's my girlfriend. Why?"

"You're in love with a girl!?" Ikki seemed more surprised at the notion that Korra had a lover at all rather than the fact that said lover was also a woman.

"This is why I don't tell you things, Ikki," Korra playfully bonked the younger girl on the head, "I mean yeah I love her, but that doesn't mean I need to proclaim it to every acolyte on the island."

"I think you two are cute together," Jinora looked up. "You should do what makes you happy."

Thanks, Jinora," Korra sighed. They were small children, and while Ikki was easily the wildest of the three (a considerable feat, considering Meelo gave her a fierce run for her money), Korra found them all to be endearing in their own ways.

"I know it's not my place to pry either, Korra," Tenzin spoke softer, "But how are you two in that regard? You've been in very high spirits lately."

"She's a lot of the reason for that," Korra admitted, "She's just… ugh… Tenzin… when you meet someone that's just perfect, do you just know right away? Or… I mean I've got no right prying into you and Pema's lives either… just… hnnng..." she pulled her head and buried her face in her lap. The night after their excursion at Kwong's Cuisine Korra didn't even get undressed for more than two hours, and didn't fall asleep for even longer after that. She honestly just wanted to come to Asami's workplace sometimes and drag her away for some personal attention, and moments like that evening at (and after) Kwong's had been another of those moments the Avatar wished would have lasted forever.

"I understand," Tenzin gave a warm smile, "With your current situation, Korra, both in terms of your surroundings and your own emotional state, I see it as for the better."

"Because of how destructive I get when I get mad?" Korra sighed.

"I wouldn't have worded it that way, exactly," Tenzin hesitated slightly, "But… yes, Korra. You carry so much raw power and energy, and tend to… lash out… when you're upset."

"I know…" Korra groaned. "And I'm sorry. I'm trying to work on that, but it's not so easy as just… not being angry, you know?"

"Indeed," Tenzin nodded, "Be patient, Korra. You are growing and developing both physically and with your abilities at an acceptable pace. It is not a travesty for you to want to step back and take a breath every now and again."

"I know…" Korra nodded, sighing. "Still… it's stressful. I can't figure out what's wrong with me and sometimes I feel like I'm just going to detonate something—and that's fun, don't get me wrong, but I'd never forgive myself if I hurt Asami… or if I hurt you or any of your family… or even this awesome Air Temple. I don't want to be like this, Tenzin."

"I understand," Tenzin took Korra's hand, "and I'm happy to help in whatever ways I can."

"That… I appreciate it," Korra nodded, "Thank you."

"A pleasure," Tenzin smiled. "While I may not know you as intimately as Miss Sato, I can tell you as well that I know you're a good person despite your struggles. That you know this and try to improve is incredibly admirable."

"Well yeah," Korra scratched the back of her head, "I try to get better, but even I sometimes just need to unwind and clear my mind, you know?"

Of course," Tenzin offered, "On that note, would you like to stay for dinner? Maybe get your mind off of your turmoils and struggles even if just for a moment?"

"That…" Korra stammered and then smiled, "I'd like that a lot. Thank you."

She and Tenzin both rose to her feet and Korra glanced down at her clothes. "I actually dressed somewhat appropriately this time, huh?"

"You're much more conscientious about your appearance than any of us, Korra," He reminded her as they headed inside, the smell of Pema's cooking permeating the air as they approached the main structure where Tenzin and his family lived, "It's a nice change of pace though."

Korra's main method of assisting Pema with dinner preparations was keeping the three spunky children busy (particularly Ikki and Meelo), which she actually possessed considerable talent in doing considering that they were in awe of her flashy Avatar abilities. Korra had shown them early on that she was rather proficient in dangerous tricks like combustion, lava, ice daggers, and lightning (to name a few tricks), but she was always careful to focus her moves upward and away from anyone or anything. A few minutes showing off her bending and soon enough, dinner was ready for them. Almost as if the event had been timed, however, no sooner had they finished sitting down and praying, when they were disrupted by an unexpected guest.

"Councilman Tarrlok?!" Korra blurted out, and with the way he grinned in turn, both Korra and Tenzin knew that this meeting would not bode well.

Chapter Text

"This is my home, Tarrlok," Tenzin shot an irritated look at the Waterbending Councilman, "We are about to eat dinner."

"Good, because I am absolutely famished," Tarrlok cooed, "Airbenders never turn down a hungry guest, am I right?"

"I suppose," Tenzin sighed in defeat, raising his hands in something of a shrug in response to the scowling look that Pema gave him. Even the way Korra glared at him was somewhat menacing, made more intense by her combustion tattoo, which she didn't bother hiding around Tenzin's family these days.

Once 'invited' in, Tarrlok immediately moved towards Korra and gave her a respectful bow. "And this must be the venerated Avatar Korra that I've heard so many good things about…" he smirked, "It is truly an honour to finally meet such a strong and beautiful woman in person. I am Councilman Tarrlok, as you've surely guessed."

"A pleasure," Korra gestured, standing up and returning the bow, more out of respect—and also subtly glad she decided to actually wear her full outfit this time. "Although my answer is still going to be the same, unfortunately."

"Unfortunately indeed, Tarrlok's expression hid his true feelings, "we all make mistakes though."

"I've made my share of them too," Korra kept remarkably calm and civil despite the mounting pressure, "and so I'm trying not to make too many more mitakes, if you catch my meaning."

"Why do you have three ponytails?" Ikki interrupted them both before Tarrlok could counter Korra's statement, "and why are you grinning all weirdly at Korra?" An instant later she was at the councilman's side, sniffing the air around him, "and how come you smell like a lady? And why do you have long hair like a lady? You're weird."

"Well aren't you… precocious…" Tarrlok sneered, before softening his expression and turning back to Korra as the two waterbenders sat back down. Ikki zipped back around to her seat and did the same, although kept her gaze fixated upon the 'strange man'.

"So I've heard many of the great stories of Avatar Korra," he turned to the Avatar as he spoke again, although Korra was munching on her dinner and only giving him half of her attention. "The Probending legend; former champion of the notorious Prison-Breakers team, and then a one-girl revolution in the arena… And to infiltrate Amon's own rally, confront him face-to-face and live to tell the tale with your bending intact? You're a bold one, young woman."

"I do what I do," Korra shrugged, "what's it to you?"

"You're a woman of initiative," Tarrlok continued his attempted flattery, "and brave. I heard of your sojourn with the notorious Red Lotus as well, and that you slew one of their members in single combat, no less. Very few people could say they even went toe-to-toe with those terrorists… much less say they survived an encounter with one."

Korra stammered and spewed her drink at this remark, her left eye twitching in a way that might have been comical if her expression hadn't suddenly become extremely uncomfortable. Tenzin noticed it, and Korra's silent plea for help was heeded.

"Enough with the flattery, councilman," he turned to Tarrlok, "what do you want from Korra?" The question was somewhat rhetorical, since he and Korra both had a fairly shrewd idea as to why he was here and what he wanted.

"As you might have heard, whether from Tenzin or from the news," Tarrlok turned back to Korra, "I am assembling a task force that will strike at the heart of these Equalist dissenters, and I want you to be at the helm of this force to join me. I need someone who will attack Amon directly the same way you did at his rally—someone who does not fear him or his masked lunatics—someone who does not cower away at the face of danger."

"I understand that," Korra muttered, pouring herself more juice all while keeping a calm tone and demeanour, "but I'm going to still have to say no. It's not because of anything Tenzin said; it's not because of anything Amon said; and it's not because of anything you said. I just don't think that we should make such an aggressive move against the Equalists and stir them up. It's just going to give Amon more ammunition to use against us benders."

Korra conveniently left out the part that she was actually secretly afraid of both Amon and the masked hooligans that had or tried to assault her. While it may have been good leverage against Tarrlok's plan from a logical standpoint, she feared that Tarrlok would use that against her and try to smear her as a coward. Korra's trust issues had still not died down, after all these years.

"I must admit, I'm rather surprised," Tarrlok kept his cool nonetheless, "I thought you'd jump at the chance to take down Amon after he threatened to take away your bending."

"Of course," Korra noted, swallowing the mouthful of food she was chewing, "but attacking preemptively is just going to help him gain more support. He's already got hundreds if not thousands of nonbenders in a tizzy after warning them of people like you or me. The last thing we need to do is prove his point about benders harassing nonbenders in glorious power-trips or what have you. It's bad publicity, even for me."

"All publicity is good publicity if you know how to… bend… the circumstances," Tarrlok smirked, "tell me, Avatar Korra—now that your thrilling season of Probending is over, what do you do with your time? Who is worthy of the Avatar's time when she's free… That Sato girl seems to hold you in rather high regard…"

"Leave my friends out of this!" Korra snapped, but was interrupted again.

"Or did beautiful Miss Sato find a way to make the Avatar sympathize with powerful and influential nonbenders…" Tarrlok taunted her, "Food for thought indeed…"

"How DARE you!" Korra raised her fist, the fierce blue flames around said fist causing the younger children and Pema to gasp as she glared threateningly at the councilman, "I gave you my answer and I'm not going to change my mind—nor am I going to let you start meddling with my personal life—and especially not my friends!"

"Very well, I won't pry," Tarrlok's expression changed to a more innocent one, "there's no need to get violent on Air Temple Island of all places… Although truly this is more just me making small talk—what do you do on your spare time?"

"None of your concern," Korra asserted, calming down and dissipating the flames on her hand.

"It sounds like you're looking for pastimes, with the way the Chief of Police puts it…" Tarrlok mused aloud. "And so what better an opportunity to not only hone your skills and deal with your biggest threat, but also earn money, stay busy, and be applauded by the masses? All the while, you'd also be performing your Avatar duty for the city."

"Korra gave you her answer, Tarrlok," Tenzin stepped up to the slightly frazzled teen's defense, "It is time for you to go."

"Very well," Tarrlok rose to his feet, shooting a very brief but dangerous look at Korra as he composed himself, "I've far too much faith in the Avatar to give up on her so easily though, so you'll likely hear from me soon. Thank you for your time, Avatar Korra… and you're welcome for the gifts and favours."

"Hound me all you want," Korra retorted, "It's not going to change anything… but if you even THINK about dragging Asami into this, so help me I will tear out your heart, bathe in your blood and paint the streets with your entrails!"

There was an enormously awkward silence in the room as everyone including Tenzin and Tarrlok stared at Korra with expressions ranging from shocked to downright horrified. Tarrlok recovered only a split-second before Tenzin, and smiled.

"Nothing so fanciful," Tarrlok nodded respectfully, bowing out of the room, "Let me assure you."

"Bye-bye, ponytail man!" Ikki chanted.

"He's really trying to dig a line between benders and nonbenders," Korra had hardly waited for Tarrlok to disappear before turning to Tenzin to rant, "but I swear if he tries to do something to Asami I'm going to skin him alive and soak my clothes in his innards!"

Unsurprisingly, everyone in the room including Meelo recoiled again at Korra's rather detailed threat, but Tenzin came to his senses a moment later.

"I'll ensure that some sense is talked into him at our next meeting," Tenzin promised. "Although… so much for a peaceful evening…"

"It's not your fault," Korra sighed, resuming her meal before turning to Pema. "And thanks for this dinner by the way… sorry for… well, sorry for a lot of things. Those threats were… I shouldn't have said anything. That just made things worse."

She mumbled something about being more careful about heeding advice from past lives such as Serénez, Zeruda, or Kyoshi, and Tenzin frowned.

"You're fierce and he's a weasel-snake," Pema commented with a sigh, "He's trying his damndest to get under your skin, Korra."

"I wish I could say it wasn't working," Korra gritted her teeth as she lowered her head in shame, "He can rag on me all he wants though. Asami might be able to defend herself… but she doesn't deserve to get dragged into my affairs like this. It's not fair for her, any more than it's not fair for Tarrlok to launch preemptive attacks on nonbenders that he suspects of being Equalists without any evidence. It makes me angry."

However, if Tarrlok was trying to get under Korra's skin, he certainly didn't seem to be taking that approach. The gifts continued, to the point where Korra even found a luxurious Satomobile with a ribbon wrapped around it parked in front of Sato Estate one morning. Inquiries from Asami and even Hiroshi verified that it was no mistake, and that it was addressed to her.

"I find that reasoning with the Avatar is much more effective than force. ~T"

Korra smashed the note in her hands as she gritted her teeth. She was ready to put a hole through the front of the car before stopping. She had always wanted one of these Satomobiles to call her own, and so perhaps there was merit to the old saying "don't look a gift ostrich-horse in the mouth." Besides, there was no binding contract that said she had to join Tarrlok's task force in order to accept the gift, and so she accepted it. She did not run into Tarrlok in person again until about a week later, where they had a similar exchange to the ones they often had.

"For your defiance, you seem to be enjoying my gifts, Avatar Korra." He remarked.

"You're the one that keeps sending them thinking they're going to make a difference," Korra snarled, "No means no. I would have thought that at your age you'd understand that… or is that why you're still single?"

"Avatar Korra, that is an entirely different context and scenario," Tarrlok rolled his eyes, "I do not wish to date you, much less do anything beyond that. Joining my task force is not a commitment to jeopardize your romantic life, much less your virtue. If there's any commitment beyond a commitment to Republic City against these nonbending extremists, it's a commitment to the people you vowed to defend as a Fully-Realized Avatar."

"I'm not fully realized yet," Korra frowned. "I haven't learned energybending or mastered the Avatar State just yet, so don't talk me up to try and flatter me."

"My dear Korra, if you called me a powerful waterbender, that would hardly be considered flattery as much as just an observant truth. None of the Avatars between Kozue and Aang knew energybending; would you consider them not fully-realized?"

"Well, no…" Korra stammered, "But even then, the Avatar State?"

"I've seen you use it," Tarrlok corrected her, "and I see a woman in full control."

"True or not, I'm not changing my mind, Councilman." Korra crossed her arms.

"I only hope that it will not be too late before you come to your senses." he warned, but otherwise left her be. For all her visits to Air Temple Island, it seemed that Tarrlok and his delivery boys had a knack for always finding her when she was there—much to her increasing annoyance.

"Avatar Korra!" Korra was alone at the time, but spun around when she heard her name.

"I don't care how many gifts Tarrlok sends me," She barked, "I'm not joining his stupid task force! Also… no take-backsies."

"It's not a gift," the page replied, "It's an invitation."

"To what?" Korra pouted, "His stupid task force?"

"Tarrlok is throwing a gala in your honour," the page bowed respectfully as Korra snatched the paper from him and began scanning it, "All of Republic City's movers and shakers will be there, and the Councilman humbly requests your attendance."

Korra mentioned it to Tenzin and subsequently Asami, both of whom had very similar reactions.

"I'm not sure what Tarrlok's plotting, but keep your guard up when you're there," Tenzin had warned, "It's not like him to throw a party just for the fun of it."

"He definitely wants something from you," Asami warned as well, "but if 'anybody who's anybody' and 'every mover and shaker in Republic City' is going to be there, then I guarantee my father will attend—and even if not, I'd love to attend it with you."

"I can't say no now then…" Korra smiled, stealing a kiss on Asami's lips. She retaliated in kind by kidding Korra's chin and nipping her jaw.

At Asami's insistence, Korra actually wore a dress for the first time in a long time, giving her a more refined look while also a fond and somewhat nostalgic throwback to their first meeting.

"I've only ever seen you cover your arms and shoulders on two occasions," Asami pointed out, "and both times it was with the same outfit."

"You liked it though," Korra teased as she let Asami do her hair, "why do you think I'm saving it just for you?"

"And people say you aren't a total sweetheart," Asami teased, "now, smile…"

Korra admired herself for a moment, noting only a few minor differences. The main ones were that, like most of the rest of Korra's clothing, this dress had a high collar to cover her neck, and the bracelets she had worn during her first meeting with the Satos had been replaced by her blue armbands. Both changes were to conceal her scars, which, while fairly numb these days, still looked a lot fiercer and more painful than they actually were.

Whatever the case, Korra actually went to rendezvous with Tenzin and his family, since Asami would be travelling with her father. Both Pema and Jinora complimented Korra's appearance, although the Avatar was still apprehensive about the whole thing.

"Is it bad that I'm worried?" Korra glanced up at the bright and imposing City Hall, which had been adorned with Water Tribe motifs as well as stylized images of Korra's face. She winced slightly at a symmetrical pair of images that greatly resembled the image of herself she had seen at Amon's rally, but shook it off. That had to be a coincidence—nothing more. Tarrlok couldn't be an Equalist, since he was a bender.

"I'm concerned too," Tenzin admitted, "The fact that this party is centered around you means Tarrlok is undoubtedly going to try and put you on the spot—and that he will keep the pressure on you from there. Remember what we've discussed."

"He's a weasel-snake and he's trying to get under my skin," Korra's fists clenched as she took a deep breath, remembering Pema's words, "Alright, let's do this."

Meelo, Ikki, and Jinora wasted no time taking off running the moment they went in, and people already started cheering and clapping as Korra came into view. Immediately, Korra's expression turned stoic as her eyes darted frantically around the grand hall. She was glad for a friend like Asami, because there was no way she would have been able to conceal her forehead tattoo that skillfully on her own. Sooner or later, word of its existence would get out though, especially since she had stupidly brandished it in front of Amon when she had confronted him.

How many of these people were Nakkoas or Kwans though? Were some of them Red Lotus sleeper agents too? Were any of them secretly Equalists? Korra thought about how easy it was to hide who she was when she was mingling with normal crowds, and she was the Avatar—so she had a natural advantage. Equalists, Red Lotus Agents, and others would just look like ordinary people, and suddenly Korra remembered why she had trust issues.

While many people looked her way as she entered, she received a particularly strong look from an elderly Fire Nation woman near the wall. Whatever her intentions, however, Korra was shaken out of her thoughts by Tarrlok himself, whose expression betrayed his vindicated mood upon seeing the young Avatar.

"I'm so glad you could make it, Avatar Korra," he smirked, before turning to Tenzin. "If you'll excuse us, Coincilman Tenzin… the city awaits its hero…"

Before Tenzin could make too much of a reaction, he noticed something very unsettling out of the corner of his eye that demanded his immediate attention.

"Meelo!" his whole visage nearly changed colour, "No, that is not a toilet! Oh dear…"

"You've met Councilman Tenzin," Tarrlok began, "and Lin BeiFong, the Chief of Police… as well as the famous industrialist Hiroshi Sato and his beautiful daughter…"

"Tarrlok," Korra gritted her teeth "I've warned you before but I swear if you drag Asami into this little altercation between us so help me I'll…"

"Hmm?" Tarrlok feigned innocence but had issued a challenge. "What would you do to me here and now? Is it a crime to throw a party in honour of one of the world's greatest heroes?"

"I apologize," Korra steeled herself and pursed her lips, forcing her anger back down. "I'm just a little tense being around so many unfamiliar faces is all."

"Ah, it is no worry," Tarrlok smiled, "but you have met them, have you not?"

"Not in the most pleasant of circumstances," Korra admitted, "but I'm sure we'll talk again sometime during the party."

"Then be sure to enjoy yourself," Tarrlok stepped away from her for a moment to allow Korra to lower her guard. "This is all for you, Avatar Korra. You've earned it."

There was no mystery that he was scheming, but much like Amon, Korra couldn't put her finger on what it was. Her eyes briefly glanced over to the wall where the Fire Nation elder had been, but she had disappeared. Deciding that she needed to loosen up slightly, Korra decided to get herself a drink. Perhaps that would calm her frazzled nerves.

Chapter Text

Korra was surprised but also slightly relieved at meeting Bolin over at the drinks. He seemed just as thrilled to see her—perhaps more so even.

"Korra!" he beamed, flipping 'finger-guns' at her. "I didn't expect to see you here!"

"You didn't expect to see me… at a party dedicated to me?" Korra raised an eyebrow, her trademark pout returning immediately.

"Okay, that wasn't the best intro I've dropped," Bolin blushed with a hearty chuckle, "but still—it's nice seeing you all dressed up and stuff. It suits you, and you look pretty."

"Pfft;" Korra snorted, "Flatterer."

"Come on, Korra," Bolin elbowed her, "do you really think I've got some ulterior motive?"

"No, no…" Korra shook her head, dismissing a wild and irrational thought as she spoke, "but if you're just trying to butter me up hoping I'll let you pay for Narook's next Wednesday… think again. You need the money more than I do."

"That actually didn't occur to me this time," Bolin chuckled, "But I'll keep that in mind. Still, this party's the bomb. You should get this guy to throw you parties like this every weekend!"

"I think if I joined his task force he probably would," Korra muttered, "but you don't think there's something suspicious about this guy, barring that he's got 'sleazy politician' written all over him?"

"Well, sure," Bolin shrugged, "but Mako and I've dealt with sleazier dudes than him before, and those Triad guys still sometimes try to hound us. Sometimes you just gotta shrug 'em off and do your own thing. A nice drink every now and again doesn't hurt either."

"Not a bad idea," Korra took a fizzing glass that smelled of alcohol, "something strong would be good about now—like this."

"Ehh," Bolin winced, "I wouldn't have said that strong… but maybe that's just me channeling Mako's lectures on how I shouldn't drink until I'm responsible enough."

"Bottoms up," Korra laughed, draining the glass. It was definitely alcoholic, but Korra was no lightweight—one glass wouldn't even make her tipsy; just enough of a buzz to loosen her otherwise tense attitude.

Shortly after Bolin sauntered off, Korra scanned the area for Asami. She noticed her talking with Mako and her father about something, and while Korra made a movement to go that way, she was suddenly cut off by Lin, who seemed more interested in reaching the bar than blocking off Korra. It did not, however, stop her from launching a few choice words at the Avatar.

"Just because the city's throwing you this big to-do, don't think you're anything special." She leaned in towards Korra's face, "you've done absolutely nothing to deserve this."

"And here I thought we were starting to get along at long last," Korra's wry comebacks were still fresh as ever, "go choke on your metal slabs while you're at it."

"Don't give me ideas for the next time you inevitably get arrested," Lin shot Korra a scathing look, "would that I could say 'if', but even a kid as dense as you knows it's a matter of 'when'."

"I'll keep that in mind chief," Korra nodded curtly, "Stay on your guard."

Lin put two fingers to her eyes and pointed them at Korra as she walked away. Korra's eyes widened with malcontent as she bent over slightly and mockingly imitated Lin's gesture as she strode off, putting her nose in the air a second later.

Lin was admittedly caught off-guard by Korra's audacity for a moment, but simply rolled her eyes and shrugged it off. Korra would either learn, or Lin would have to keep 'teaching' her.

Incidentally, Korra soon ran into Hiroshi, and this time Asami was nowhere to be seen.

"It has been a while since we have been able to talk face to face, Avatar Korra," he greeted her with a respectful nod, which she returned. "And for that, I apologize."

"It's hardly your fault," Korra shook her head, "I've been busy and all over the place, and I can only imagine that running a business as huge and successful as Future Industries takes a lot of time and work. I hope I haven't overstayed my welcome."

"My daughter has made several… convincing arguments in favour of you remaining," Hiroshi mused, "and despite your occasional disturbances, you overall treat my family and my property with respect. Let it not be said that I am an unreasonable man, Miss Avatar."

"I don't think I've said it enough, but I hold you in really high regard, Hiroshi," Korra smiled, "Both for your hospitality and your genius, but also for your selfless support and sponsorship of my friends in their Probending tournament."

Korra may not have been able to join Mako and Bolin's team due to Hasook also remaining a loyal teammate, but she still respected them and cheered them on. The only time she didn't cheer them on were the few times she had squared off against them in her Avatar Gauntlet.

"How could I not, with the way Asami raves about them?" Hiroshi chuckled, "And I respect their origins, all things considering. Sometimes, the most dedicated and ambitious people just need a few extra yuans in their pockets in order to change the world. You know my story in that regard."

"And it's every man's dream," Korra nodded in agreement, "Seriously, I respect that."

"You're an interesting woman, Avatar Korra," Hiroshi smiled at her, "Bold too, what with facing down the Leader of the Equalists in single combat. Most benders would have tried to shy away… or may have considered just tearing him apart with overwhelming force."

"Oh, the urge was there," Korra admitted, twirling her finger in some loose hair, "but that would have just exacerbated the situation. Killing or disabling the Equalists in a brutal and vulgar display of power wouldn't solve anything…"

"I'm glad to see you understand that," Hiroshi gave her a very approving look as he popped open a bottle of firewhiskey. "You have matured over the years, Korra, and it impressed even me. That does not happen often despite my generosity."

"Well, thank you." Korra watched him pour a glass, and was even more surprised when he offered it to her. She took it and smiled.

"To peace and prosperity," Korra raised her glass.

"Something all of us can drink to," Hiroshi raised his glass in turn.

Shortly after emptying her glass, Korra ducked away to avoid Tarrlok, and scanned the area again to try and locate people she knew. She caught a glimpse of that Fire Nation woman staring at her from a corner, and noticed Mako and Bolin bantering with a couple of other individuals Korra did not recognize. She couldn't see Asami, which worried her for a moment. However, she also realized that this was a large enough gala that she was certain there were people she couldn't see. This became more apparent when she was able to pick out Tenzin, Pema, and Jinora from the crowds, but no sign of Ikki and Meelo. She also saw Kuvira again, although Lin was missing from Korra's view too.

Deciding to confront the Fire Nation woman in the corner, Korra beelined it for her, and got the surprise of her life after she learned who it was.

"And what interest does the Avatar have in meeting the woman who killed her previous incarnation now, hmm?" the woman put her hands together, the wide sleeves of her robe concealing them completely.

"You slew Avatar Aang?" Korra gawked, noticing that the woman was certainly old enough to have known Aang—likely from a young age.

"In a manner of speaking," the woman hummed, "Although it just so happened that he was only mostly dead, and clearly there's a big difference between being mostly dead and all dead, considering you're standing here before me. Mostly dead means slightly alive. With all dead… well, with all dead there's only one thing you can do."

"Hmm?" Korra stared at the woman's face, trying to remember why these pointed features all looked so familiar. She had a shrewd idea that this was former Princess Azula, but without having ever seen her or even pictures of her, she could not say for sure "And what's that?"

"Go through his clothes and look for loose change!" the elder cackled, "but I digress. Don't take it too seriously, Avatar. I can see the gears turning in your head and in about five seconds about to click on who exactly I am. Three… Two… One."

"Azula," Korra replied without skipping a beat. "You're here in Republic City?"

"No, child," Azula rolled her eyes, "I'm clearly in the Northern Water Tribe right now. If I'm standing here in front of you and you're in Republic City, where does that put me?"

"What do you want with me?" Korra was apprehensive naturally, but now she was even more apprehensive, as if Aang was subtly warning her about this woman on a spiritual level.

"Nothing," Azula gave a slight shrug, "I was invited to your party, and so here I am, merely saying hello in response to your greeting. Don't be so suspicious, Avatar Korra. I won't try to kill you like my granddaughter tried and failed to—not yet, at any rate."

"Granddaughter?" Korra's eyes narrowed and then widened. "You're Nakkoa's grandmother?!"

"Shenzi is her name," Azula frowned, "but aye. Now the last of my lineage is some renegade earthbender… to think how far my royal line has fallen."

"What happened, exactly?" Korra was too curious to be upset with Azula's harsh words.

"My good-for-nothing son Omozu ran off with some Earth Kingdom tramp," Azula scowled, "And within a couple years, Shenzi and Ikiza were born. I'm sure you know the rest."

"How did you know about my time with the Red Lotus?" Korra was still in noticable shock as she made the connection. Those pointed features that both Nakkoa and Kwan had bore a striking resemblance to Azula's features, and as Korra mentally pictured Azula's long flowing hair to be black, she could see Nakkoa's resemblance. Kwan's was a bit harder to see, but if she envisioned Azula's face with darker skin and green eyes, her mind suddenly made an almost perfect match. She wondered if she'd ever be able to look at Kwan the same again.

"Just because my bastard grandchildren didn't speak of me didn't mean that I failed to keep tabs on them," Azula idly twiddled her thumbs, "Now Shenzi's gotten herself killed, and Ikiza's rotting away in prison. My son's been gone for decades, and so what does that leave me?"

"I'm, uhh… sorry?" Korra scratched the back of her head. This meeting had just become rather awkward as Korra realized that she had killed Azula's eldest grandchild. "No hard feelings or anything at this point, right? I mean, it was kind of in self-defense."

"Perhaps it's karma," Azula hummed, "I killed the Avatar, and his successor killed my successor. At this point it is what it is, although do not be surprised if you meet Ikiza in the near future. I'm not about to let what's left of my legacy rot in a cell—even if she is some dirty earthbender."

"Lavabender too, actually." Korra had actually liked Kwan somewhat, and so didn't exactly want her friend to get trashed when she wasn't even her to defend herself.

"Oh?" Azula looked suddenly amused, "So she learned a new trick after all. This is good to know. Thank you for your time, Avatar Korra."

And with that, Azula vanished back into the crowds, disappearing remarkably swiftly despite her red dress. If Korra thought she was unstable, she wondered just how crazy Azula was. She had heard the horror stories, either from Katara back in the day, or from memories of Aang she had picked up during one of her courses of meditation. She did not speak of her past lives to very many people apart from Tenzin, but Korra actually came in contact with many of them on many different occasions. Whether she had intended to or not, she had contacted her Interregnum past lives much more than any other incarnations, and all of them had taken the same interest in her that Zeruda had, after she had spoken of Zoroka to them.

Being the Avatar was a lot more complicated than Korra would have thought it would be when she was 14 and naively optimistic about seeing the world. Now she was tangled in a political web against Tarrlok, Amon, and even the White Lotus, wondering how Azula planned to free Kwan, and whether it would be violent or a peaceful solution.

As much as she might have liked to stop and think about that, she would not get such a luxury. She actually yelped in fright as she felt a pair of hands excitedly grab her shoulders and spin her around, where she found herself face-to-face with Varrick.

"Well if it isn't my favourite gamer!" he beamed, "I can see why Councilman Tarrlok threw you this party, kid—if he didn't I might have had to do it myself down at Blackstone! So tell me—what's your secret? There's gotta be a way you play my system so well."

"Luck, I guess?" Korra shrugged. "If it makes you feel any better, I'll come down sometime next week if I'm able."

"Ah, that's the spirit," Varrick beamed, before standing next to Korra and putting an arm around her. "Zhu Li! Do the thing!"

Zhu Li pulled out a camera and photographed the two of them, Korra proving once again that she was not very photogenic. Despite this, Varrick took right back off into the crowds once again, and Korra was once again alone. It all happened so fast that she blinked a few times; pouting as she tried to figure out what had all just gone down.

Before she could have a moment to herself though, Tarrlok approached her, and this time there was no escape for her.

"With how elusive you are, I'd almost say you were avoiding me, Avatar." Tarrlok smirked.

"Maybe I was." Korra crossed her arms.

"It is your party after all," Tarrlok did not seem fazed, "but come; walk with me. There are a few matters I wish to speak to you about."

"The answer is still no," Korra replied without skipping a beat.

"This is not about that," Tarrlok claimed, "although the public is curious about a few things…"

He led her casually towards where a group of media reporters were waiting, and Korra realized at once what was about to happen. Fortunately, she was confident enough in her speaking skills—but she knew that Tarrlok was likely going to want to throttle her for what she ended up announcing. She steeled herself, although suddenly grew concerned because she didn't know every side to the story.

"If you'd be so kind, they just have a couple of questions," Tarrlok smirked.

"But..." Korra stammered, still feeling out of her element. Before she could finish her sentence though, Tarrlok pushed her forward, and already, the legion of reporters were ready for her.

"Avatar Korra, you witnessed Amon taking away people's bending firsthand. How serious of a threat does he pose to the people of Republic City?"

"I think he presents a real problem," Korra stammered for a moment, but was cut off again.

"Then why have you refused to join Tarrlok's task force? Shouldn't you be going after Amon?"

"It's not that simple; I…"

"Why are you backing away from this fight?"

"I'm not backing away from it; but this approach is…"

"You promised to serve the city; are you going back on that promise now?"

"Can you just let me expl—"

"Are you putting your side jobs in front of fighting the revolution?"

"Hey! Now that's flat-out untr—"

"How do you think Avatar Aang would have handled this?"

"One at a time!" Korra's agitation was starting to show as her face twisted many times, her arms and shoulders also tensing as she started to hunch over. Asami and Tenzin were two of the only people who recognized the signs, and Tenzin in particular knew exactly what Tarrlok was trying to pressure her into doing and saying.

"You fought Amon once already; why didn't you stop him then and there?"

"I'll tell you everything if you just let me—"

"He slanders the name of the Avatar by bringing up crimes from people dead for thousands of years. Were you just going to let him get away with that?"

"NO! Now slow down and—"

"Are you afraid of Amon?"

"Stop antagonizing me!" Korra raised her voice, her tone betraying frustration.

"Are you just going to back and hope that Tarrlok's task force does all your work for you?"

"I'm not gonna... it just… cut it out!" Korra's entire figure tensed up, most noticeable on her arms.

"Would you rather just hide in the shadows while someone else does your duty?"

"WILL YOU ALL JUST QUIT IT!?" Korra bellowed, her eyes flashing as her hands were suddenly wreathed in blue fire. She spewed a mighty ball of that same blue flame upward from her mouth, which made her and many others thankful for the vaulted ceilings—for it was because of them that she didn't set anything on fire.

So overt was this display that it actually silenced everyone in the room in awe as Korra stood there threateningly in front of everyone, flames still shrouding her arms.

"Tarrlok's task force is a dangerous threat to the harmony between benders and nonbenders!" Korra shouted through sharp, heavy breaths as she tried to regain her lost composure and allowed herself to lower the Avatar State. "If we preemptively strike Amon's movement without evidence, then all we're doing is proving him right! We need to disarm him and expose him for the fraud that he is, so we can expose him as the one that's stirring up the turmoil between benders and nonbenders. Otherwise, we're the ones doing that, which makes benders the problem instead! Now GET OFF MY CASE! I know what I'm fucking doing!"

"Well then," Tarrlok's smirk was hiding just as much emotion as Korra's now stoic expression, "There's your headline folks."

It did not mark the end of the party by any means, but Korra managed to duck out and avoid contact with anyone else. As much as she desperately wanted to talk to Tenzin and Asami, she was instead met with the last person she wanted to see or talk to.

"No one would know if I twisted your neck and threw you into a back alley," Korra warned.

"Ah, but you're much more civil than that, Avatar Korra," Tarrlok beamed, "or perhaps I was mistaken. That was an impressive display of power in there."

"Get off my case about it!" Korra stepped back, her hurt expression and watery eyes betraying how distressed she was at the moment. "Seriously; leave me alone!"

"I try and reason with you," Tarrlok sighed, "and after all this time, still I don't resort to force, because I know how much you despise it… and yet you refuse to listen to reason. Instead, your plan is to wait for Amon to strike at innocent people so we can blame him for making the first move. Is that what you want, Korra?"

"That's not…" Korra stammered, finding herself struggling to explain what had sounded so clear in her mind with Tenzin, "It's not like that!"

"You've made a powerful enemy today, Avatar Korra," Tarrlok gripped Korra's lower jaw threateningly, all pretense dropped in this brief moment. "So I would watch your step—and if you value what little emotional stability you still have, you need to stay out of my way."

He released Korra by pushing her back with enough force that she misstepped and fell onto her back, as he pivoted on his heel and returned inside.

Vivid recollections of how she had been helpless in Amon's grasp at his rally suddenly surged through Korra's mind as she got to her knees. These intrusive thoughts were joined by recollections of the times she felt helpless against Nakkoa. As angry as she was about the entire situation, she felt more hurt than anything, to the point where she resigned to her volatile emotions, and simply curled up and cried.

Chapter Text

Tarrlok returned to the party without incident, and not even Tenzin, Hiroshi, or Lin had noticed his brief disappearance. With how elusive Korra had been at the party thus far, few people thought much about her leaving, and figured she was just playing hard-to-find after the whole debacle with the media. On the other hand, that would also make for quite the headline in tomorrow's paper, for better or for worse.

Incidentally, the first two people to notice that Korra had vanished were in fact Tenzin and Asami, and both of them had the same idea regarding what to do about it. As such, two of them crossed paths at the same exit Korra had taken several minutes earlier.

"Oh," Asami turned to the older man, "After you, Councilman. Leaving early?"

"Asami, correct?" Tenzin had not formally met Asami up to this point.

"That's me," Asami indicated with a little smile, "I'm just trying to find Korra. You haven't seen her anywhere since her outburst, did you?"

"No, and that's what worries me," Tenzin admitted, "I was coming out to search for her for the same reason."

"Is it alright if we search together?" Asami offered. She didn't exactly think Korra would be picky about who came to her aid, but she knew Korra well enough that the Avatar was likely in dire need of someone to talk to—or perhaps cry on. She had been rather enjoying herself up until Tarrlok and confronted her, and was surely not doing as well now.

"It may be for the best," Tenzin admitted, "Korra speaks very highly of you to me."

"Really now?" Asami mused as they started scouting the perimeter for any sign of Korra. "What kind of things does she say? Has she told you about… us?"

"In passing," Tenzin admitted, "And it is not my business to pry into her love life, so I accept what she says without seeing a need to intrude on her personal life."

"Well, it's not too public other than that we love each other," Asami shrugged, "but Korra does tend to be very sensitive about things she doesn't want shared."

She thought back to all the times Korra had been hostile or confrontational about her secrets, and briefly frowned. She knew Korra was a good person, but her trauma had a powerful grip on her emotions, and Korra tended to be very emotional when she thought she was being perceived as being weak.

"She was extremely defensive when Tarrlok mentioned you by name," Tenzin warned, "I know the man well enough that while he would not harm you publicly, that he may not be above underhanded tactics. Still, I also don't imagine he would sacrifice his political career to endanger a Sato. He is definitely trying to get under Korra's skin though."

"That's what she's told me," Asami sighed, "poor thing… she had to have been just holding all of this inside until now. She's… a sight when she's upset."

"That's putting it lightly," Tenzin mused, thinking back to the occasional outburst Korra had at Air Temple Island. He listened to Korra vent a lot just as Asami did, and with how passionate Korra was about everything she did, she sometimes went a little overboard in her expression of her frustration, which usually resulted in fire or explosions—often both.

"I want to throttle that councilman though," Asami's fists clenched slightly, "He set her up for it, knowing she wouldn't be able to take the heat."

"Precisely," Tenzin lowered his head, "She was still remarkably patient, but it was clear that they were not going to relent until she snapped. I don't imagine he was too happy about her still-adamant refusal to join his task force though."

"Korra's stubborn to a fault," Asami chuckled.

"Don't I know it…" Tenzin sighed. "Teaching her has been… training for us both."

"Oh?" Asami looked curious as the two of them still found no sign of the Avatar.

Tenzin explained his perception of Korra's thought process and how other than a few traditional and practical airbending tricks; most of his lessons were about patience, meditation, and emotional control. It was a struggle, but it was also a learning experience for them both for different reasons. Korra was such a radical departure from Avatar Aang that it was a test of Tenzin's patience a lot of the time. Her new and inventive ways of doing things often challenged traditions, and yet Korra was open-minded enough to

"You've got some serious patience if you can deal with her then," Asami admitted, "Don't get me wrong; I love her to death, but I don't think she's as patient with other people as she is with me."

"She's gotten better over the months," Tenzin hummed, "I fear that Amon and now this, however, might be setbacks to her emotional stability. There's something… off… about her."

"So you notice it too then?" Asami actually stopped walking for a moment.

"I do." Tenzin frowned, "Her mother Senna referred to it as stress-induced trauma and while I believe that theory, I don't think any of us fully understand what Korra's experiencing because she refuses to open up about it to anyone—unless she has shared it with you?"

"No," Asami lowered her head, "I want her to, but she's particularly vehement about that subject, so I've stopped trying to bring it up. She used to get defensive about her every flaw though, and so while she's gotten better, that's one of those walls that even I can't break."

"It's very unhealthy for her," Tenzin shook his head, "Korra is very… particular about her fears. She's admitted many of them to me, but even I only made the mistake of trying to get her to open up about her trauma once—and ultimately fared no better than you. I cannot make that mistake again—for my own safety, and more importantly, the safety of my home, family, and culture."

"It's not your fault," Asami reassured him, "and it's not even Korra's fault. I don't understand her motives, but I'm sure between us, we can find the behavioural pattern that causes her to get so defensive like that. I don't want to sound like I'm conspiring against Korra because obviously that's as far from the truth as anything… but I can imagine you understand why I would want this endeavour to be a secret from her, yes?"

"Of course," Tenzin nodded, "admitting your fears is the first step to overcoming them."

"And when horrific events happen," Asami added, "accepting that they happened and then getting back up is the key to overcoming them. I think Korra's using Nakkoa as a crutch to make herself feel better… and as much as I hate to say it, I think that's part of what's preventing her recovery."

"You seem particularly learned about this matter," Tenzin pointed out. "Your mother's…?" he trailed off, figuring Asami would get the hint.

"Yes," Asami closed her eyes for a moment. "And so seeing Korra the way she is… with how strong and how proud and confident she is… but to know that she's just trying harder and harder to suppress her own pain. It hurts to watch her sometimes, Tenzin."

"I understand," Tenzin sighed. "It will be a difficult battle for both of us and for her… but you have my support in this endeavour of yours. I will inform you when I can of any changes that I see whenever applicable."

"Likewise," Asami smiled. "Thank you for the cooperation, Tenzin. I don't know how important Korra is to you… but I love her… and so she's very important to me."

"She is the spiritual successor to my father," Tenzin reminded her, "but even if she weren't, it is not like an Airbender to turn away someone in need. Whether or not Korra realizes it, there is a part of her crying for help that she refuses to let people see."

"I'm scared of what will happen when she breaks." Asami subconsciously leaned against Tenzin with a dismayed frown on her face, "because she will break if she doesn't let this out… and I don't even want to fathom the consequences of that…"

"No one does," Tenzin sighed as put an arm around Asami as a form of reassurance. "I don't imagine Korra does either, but I fear she sorely underestimates her own power and destructive capacity—and short of letting her cut loose, there's no way to show her that."

Asami sighed, and for a moment the two starkly different individuals simply stared out into the bright lights of downtown Republic City. It was poetic in a way: an old bending master dedicated to preserving the traditions of his people, side-by-side and with the same goal as a young industrialist woman devoid of any bending abilities, dedicated to modernizing the world and improving lives with science and technology.

Society would have dictated they be enemies; or at the very least, fiercely clashing rivals. And yet in the short time they had formally gotten to know each other, a young but solid friendship had formed between Councilman Tenzin and Asami Sato.

Both of them appeared at a loss as to what to say, or what to do after scouring the perimeter of the building and not finding Korra. As such, they were both surprised when Korra came and found them. Her eyes were red and so were her cheeks, but it seemed she had (mostly) composed herself in spite of whatever had happened since she exited the building.

"Tenzin?" Korra spoke first, "Asami? What are you guys doing out here?"

"We were looking for you," Tenzin replied, "are you alright?"

"Were you crying?" Asami popped the question more in hopes of finding out why she had been crying, because Korra's face betrayed that she had been doing exactly that.

"NO!" Korra barked defensively, before sighing. "...yes. Tarrlok threatened me… said I made a new enemy today and to stay out of his way. He's furious at me, and I'm worried as to what that means… I don't want to put you in danger, Asami… and I really don't want to put you and your family in danger on my account, Tenzin…"

She sighed, gripping her hair. "Can I just kill him and we cover this all up?" She sighed, "No? Ugh… that guy though, seriously…"

Asami and Tenzin both exchanged concerned looks when Korra casually threw around the threat of murdering a man in cold blood. Korra was seldom one for idle talk, and when she made an actual threat, she did not hesitate to carry it out. Incidents such as her destruction of the Southern Water Tribe compound and her fearless challenge against Amon were examples.

With a sigh, Korra threw her arms around both of them and didn't say a word. It only took them both a few moments to realize that Korra was softly sobbing again.

"Can…" Korra sighed, "Can I go home now? Please?"

"I'll see what I can do," Asami offered, "I came with my dad so I'd have to make sure he was ready to leave. If you wanted though, I could stay out here with you?"

"Nah, you can go in," Korra sat down by the steps, "Enjoy the party a bit, or maybe convince your dad to leave early? Don't worry about me; I'll be fine."

Asami saw right through this lie, but rather trying to provoke Korra when she was in such a visibly distressed mood, she decided to find her father and see if they could return home. Hiroshi had a few interesting remarks about Korra's display of power as they drove home, but otherwise, the trip was silent, and Korra sighed with relief as she threw herself onto her bed and let a great deal of pent-up emotions out. It had been a very taxing day.

Korra ran away again for another week without warning, much to the annoyance of Tenzin and Asami, among others. This week-long vacation was spent at the Western Air Temple, which unbeknownst to almost anyone save Tonraq and Senna, was Korra's 2nd-favourite place in the world behind Republic City. Naga seemed to like it as well, because every time Korra went she brought her trusty companion with her, and Naga never seemed upset as long as Korra brought snacks (although the two occasionally did go hunting on the grounds above the temple. Korra kept up her skill with a bow for this exact reason).

Most of the time she was there though, she was trying to connect with her past lives. She meditated on her issues, and while she tried to make more contact with Avatar Aang in particular, she ran into several of her past lives, including a Water Tribe woman outside the Interregnum Cycle named Zulera who had spent almost her whole life trying to find out who her father was—and ultimately having no success. It was a simplistic lesson, and made Korra realize that perhaps she had taken for granted the fact that both her parents were alive, well, and loved her dearly. The idea that a parent could show so little interest in their child, even if said child was the Avatar, made Korra grateful for what she had. Zulera was quite the interesting story all on her own, and Korra made a mental note to delve deeper into that part of her past when she could find the time.

She also learned of the struggle of Avatar Xilingshi. A deadly, powerful Air Nomad warrior in a time when airbenders were much different than they were today (or 170 years ago, at least), Xilingshi had been revered as a hero and a legend.

"I was just as passionate as you, Korra," Xilingshi explained, "and yet, even with the world revering me as a hero, I lacked confidence. I feared that I was not skilled enough; not powerful enough; that I was never enough. My teachers disavowed my efforts; I was told I was worthless… that I was nothing—and I was the Avatar. The world saw me as a hero because of my deeds—they did not care about Xilingshi. They cared only about "Avatar Xilingshi". Or even just 'The Avatar'."

"That sounds a lot like my situation," Korra sighed. "Except no one's really referring to me as a hero. Councilman Tarrlok hates my guts, the Chief of Police wants to arrest me, the city says I'm shirking my duty and that I'm a coward for trying to take a rational approach in this anti-bender revolution, and to the Equalists I'm Public Enemy #1."

"Korra," Xilingshi frowned, "You aren't going to like what I'm about to say: but I think you are becoming one of us—and that you will go down in history as an Interregnum."

"Seriously!? NO!" Korra screamed, "That's the last thing I want; I can't…"

"Those who have researched what little history we have left are finding many similarities," Xilingshi warned, "but for how much I lack confidence, I can tell you this much: The Interregnum Avatars, despite our grey morality, were some of the most powerful Avatar incarnations to ever live. You certainly fit right in on that front. But more than that… we were the ones that whipped the world into shape when everything was a mess. The world always cries out when the Avatar does not do their job. When we do that job, they always complain it's never enough. When some of us decided to crack down and ensure that balance was kept, the world cried out that we were evil; that we were villains."

"So what about the crimes against the Spirit World?" Korra asked, "or Zeruda?"

"Zeruda is the result of the Avatar being pushed to political and social limits that no person should have to face," Xilingshi warned, "and as for the Spirit World… many of them are overtly hostile, and would love little more than to wreak havoc in this world. Some of us took the fight to them, putting them in their place. These too were ranked as crimes, and we were villainized."

"Anything I thought I knew about you guys no longer makes sense," Korra sighed.

"I may have diverged from my original intent," Xilingshi clarified, "the point is, Korra, is that you will always have enemies, and even when the world reveres you as a hero, you may still find that you struggle. This is normal regardless of if you become an Interregnum or not. And even if the rest of the world hates you… you're being backed by 21 of the most powerful men and women who were ever the Avatar. Stay confident—your fights are not over, and you are far from lost…"

Interactions like these were part of why Korra loved the Western Air Temple as much as she did. This Avatar Chamber was her favourite single location in the world—more so than anywhere in Republic City even. If she could transport this place to Republic City she absolutely would, but that was not possible. Korra had connected with more of her past lives in this chamber than any other place in the world, and while Tenzin's lessons were extremely useful, it was here that Korra felt more spiritual than anywhere else. It was nice to come here sometimes and just talk with some of her past lives; to get an insight on the men and women who had been in her shoes before, and how the world had been while they were alive. See wondered if her successor would do the same for her after her time on this earth had passed.

The night before she returned to Republic City, she saw Zoroka again—that sinister looking grey spirit that still greatly resembled her in shackles.

"Still following me, eh?" Korra grunted, massaging her shoulder just in case she got dragged around by the arm again. To her surprise, Zoroka simply gave a curt nod.

"You about to drag me off somewhere again?" Korra pouted. Zoroka actually shook her head. She pointed at Korra, before nodding approvingly, and then lurching off to wherever she went when she wasn't stalking Korra. Korra had no idea what the spirit wanted or what had just happened beyond a brief interaction that at least felt like the case, Korra felt like she had needed this vacation, and so while she was expecting problems upon returning to Republic City, she would at least be able to approach them with better confidence this time.

Chapter Text

One of the first things that stood out to Korra as she arrived back in town was an old warehouse that had been clearly repainted recently, with a large added door on the front that looked big enough to fit a vehicle through. The lettering on the building, however, was what really caught Korra's eye: "Kwan's Collision Repair".

This was new. Korra poked her head in the door to find a fairly empty garage, and a couple of Satomobiles in disrepair. Was the name a coincidence, or was this the same Kwan that had helped guide her into the hands of the Red Lotus; the same Kwan whose elder sister Korra had murdered in self-defense?

To Korra's surprise, it was.

"Sorry for th'mess," a familiar voice muttered as she crawled out from under one of the cars. Her eyes lit up when she noticed Korra, who, despite how much both women had changed, still recognized her. After meeting Azula, Korra could tell Kwan was definitely related to her: even though green, those angled eyes and pointed features hidden behind her messy hair still had 'Azula' written all over them, and as Kwan brushed some runaway bangs out of her face, Korra noticed even the prominent widow's peak.

"Korra!" she opened her arms, "I'd hug ya if I wasn't all covered in oil. Sweet merciful Raava you've grown… you come here for repairs, or just to say hello?"

"I'm not that bad a driver yet," Korra pouted, "but honestly, I wanted to see if it was the same Kwan I thought it was. How did you get out of prison?"

"Turns out my Nan's got friends in high places." Kwan shrugged, "and my cooperation with the rest of you apparently paid off. Now here I am trying to make an honest livin', so care to wish me luck, or are you gonna offer me a sponsorship?"

"Actually," Korra pulled out a sizable wad of cash that she had won from one of her Probending stunts, "It's yours."

"Where in oblivion did you get this?" Kwan thumbed through the bills as if to ensure they were real, "Korra, don't go down the roads Nakkoa and I did…"

"Probending season," Korra smirked, "I couldn't exactly bring Nakkoa back or break you out of prison, so I made myself my own team." She kept a flier of The Avatar Gauntlet on her as a souvenir, and showed it to Kwan, who scanned it.

"Damn, you must've been a hit!" She exclaimed, "Would that I could be the Avatar to turn a profit like that. So is this a loan?"

"Nah, it's yours," Korra smiled. "Speaking of which… uhh, no hard feelings about Nakkoa?" It was still slightly awkward, talking to the woman whose sister she had killed.

"I miss 'er," Kwan shrugged, "but the third-rate hooligan attacked you first! I'd call that self-defense more'n anything, and that's without even considering how it might've fucked ya up. So yeah it still kinda stings a bit, but I ain't really mad at you. How are you holdin' up though? I mean… I know she burned ya and stuff, but not all scars are physical."

"I'll be fine," Korra shrugged, although her tone lowered noticeably. "Hey though, good luck on the business. I'll be sure to drop by."

"I hope so too," Kwan waved her off. Either she was oblivious to Korra's remark, or more likely didn't want to pry in what she assumed was none of her business. "you wouldn't believe how hard it is for an ex-con to find a job around here… so I became an entrepreneur."

Korra respected that, and frankly sometimes wished she could settle down and do the same, but there was no way she'd be given that much clearance. Everyone wanted the Avatar to do Avatar things when they were in a pinch, but the moment the Avatar wanted to do something for herself, the same people got up in a frenzy, accusing her of being selfish or indifferent or whatever else.

Almost as if that philosophy was about to kick her in the face, Korra hardly turned down two different blocks before she heard a rather noisy raid going on. To her surprise, it was a legion of chi-blockers attacking a group of benders. Korra was about to turn the other way and run as she noticed Tarrlok in the mess, but he spotted her too quickly. In his defense, if this had been a publicity stunt, meeting Korra had still been entirely coincidental, in the most fortunate (unfortunate, in Korra's eyes) way.

"Ah, just who we needed to tip the scales!" he called out to her, "Or is the Avatar going to flee as innocent benders are flat-out attacked by Equalists?"

Korra groaned, cracking her knuckles before racing into the fray, dispersing the chi-blockers with powerful bursts of water and rock, and even trapping some with a rather frightening display of lavabending. Some of them attempted to swarm her, but given how dangerous Korra proved herself to be, most of them threw their hands up and surrendered, finding prison a much preferable option to the likely brutal deaths they could face at Korra's hands. Only after they had all surrendered did Korra harden the rock again, and soon she was standing alongside a smugly grinning Tarrlok surrounded by the media as the police took the apprehended chi-blockers away.

"Avatar Korra has finally bravely answered the call to action, it seems," Tarrlok spoke, although Korra knew that she was about to prove him wrong as soon as she was able. "With us two leading the charge, Republic City has nothing to fear from Amon or the Equalists."

"Question for the Avatar," a reporter got Korra's attention, where she hoped it wasn't asking if this made her participation in the task force 'official'. "Amon remains at large. Why have you and the Councilman failed to locate him?"

"You want to know why?" Korra's answer was broadcast through the radio as well, "Because Amon is hiding in the shadows like a coward, knowing that if he tries to face me he'll get royally destroyed! He's a baseless honourless skeever who can only command as much power as he does when he's got the upper edge. He wouldn't last 11 minutes in a fair fight!"

There were cheers from the crowds, who seemed to react positively to Korra's new threats. "Amon, I challenge you to a duel! No task force, no chi-blockers… I'll even stay out of the Avatar State just for you! Just me and you, Sunday night at midnight on Avatar Aang Memorial Island! Let's cut to the chase and settle this thing—if you're man enough to face me!"

With a drop of the microphone, Korra left the scene, ignoring any other questions the media might have had for her this time. She needed to prepare for the upcoming evening.

Asami was waiting for Korra when she returned to Sato Estate, and Korra's face dropped when she saw that her girlfriend looked cross.

"What's the big idea!?" Asami slapped Korra across the face, leaving a glorious red mark on Korra's otherwise brown right cheek, "you just run off for a week without warning, and then you come back and challenge Amon to a duel at midnight? What were you thinking, Korra? Do you expect he'll play by your rules just because you played by his?"

"Okay, so maybe I wasn't thinking…" Korra rubbed her cheek, "But still. I have to draw him out somehow. I can't just wait for his chi-blockers to attack us, even if it is some sleazy third-rate bastard like Tarrlok."

"That doesn't explain why you ran off for a week without telling anyone." Asami grabbed Korra's shoulders, "where did you go? Tenzin and I were worried sick about you."

"Same place I always go when I run off without warning," Korra shrugged, "Western Air Temple. There's not really a whole lot to do there unless you're an Air Nomad or the Avatar though, so I didn't want to drag you along only for you to be bored out of your skull."

"I'd actually love to go there one of these days," Asami surprised Korra with this request, "you clearly love it there, so I want to see what makes this mysterious old temple tickle the Avatar's fancy the way it does. Tell me everything…"

"You really want to hear me ramble off why I like this or that about some ancient temple complex in the middle of nowhere?" Korra pouted, "I mean it's a great place… but I can't exactly take you with me when I converse with my past lives."

"You're cute when you ramble though," Asami smiled, "you get this excited look and your voice lightens… you're so passionate about the things you love, Korra. I like that."

"So… are we good about me running off?" Korra pushed her luck.

"No," Asami slapped Korra's cheek again, before kissing it softly, "but now we are. Don't run off again without at least telling me… or Tenzin. We care about you, Korra. We just don't want to see you getting hurt—and I guarantee Tenzin will have a few choice words for you about your little challenge you issued."

"Always perfect, and always right," Korra sighed, "what did I do to deserve you again?"

"Oh, stop that," Asami ruffled Korra's hair, pulling on her ponytail in that affectionate way she so often did. "Sit down, relax, and if you're going to charge off like an idiot tonight, at least consider getting a little bit of rest before your big evening."

Korra tried to rest although this effort was met with only minimal success. The two days between Korra's challenge and the event itself were filled with meetings between Asami, Tenzin, and Korra, both of whom tried to convince the Avatar to change her plans. Neither one had any success, and it sparked Korra's ire.

"Amon scares me, but only because he surrounds himself with legions of hooligans who do his every bidding!" Korra argued, "I'm NOT afraid of that masked coward if he is man enough to face me in a proper fight. Stop accusing me of being a coward!"

"Korra, that's not at all what I'm saying," Asami tried to explain, "I'm afraid of Amon too, and he doesn't even know who I am."

"All the more reason for me not to fear him," Korra was resolute, "I'll keep you safe, Asami. Just… you need to not provoke me. I'm NOT scared of him!"

Asami sighed in defeat, and while Korra felt vindicated that Asami had dropped the argument, it had not been from agreeing with her—but rather from realizing she was fighting a hopeless battle. Tenzin was the one to hear of these incidents every time they happened.

Time eventually came to the night of Korra's challenge, and thus she ended up going to Air Temple Island early, deciding to spend the evening with Tenzin. Incidentally, Tarrlok showed up out of curious interest, and so did Asami. Any animosity they might have had they put aside for the time being, as Korra prepared to leave for Aang Memorial Island.

"Korra, this is madness," Tenzin tried to talk her out of it, his gut feeling telling him something was inevitably going to go wrong.

"As much as I want to support you, Korra," Asami warned, "He's right." Korra was unaware of the relationship between Tenzin and Asami, or that both of them were dangerously aware of Korra's delicate emotional situation, and knowing that if—or rather when—Amon played dirty, it would only worsen.

"I have to do this," Korra declared, "Don't follow me—I have to face him alone."

"Korra," Asami took a firm stance as she seized Korra's arm, "I'm saying this because I love you—nothing good can come from this and you know it. I can't let you do this!"

"It's not about who's going to let me," Korra warned, pulling free from Asami's grip, "It's knowing that none of you can stop me!"

With a defiant nod but a somewhat respectful parting gesture, Korra plunged directly into the bay, propelling herself towards the island with remarkable speed.

"This is all your fault!" Tenzin accused Tarrlok immediately. "You pressured her to want to take down Amon as soon as possible without regard to the consequences!"

"Hey, I tried talking her out of it too," Tarrlok pointed out, "but she was having none of it from me."

"Gee, I wonder why," Asami quipped.

"I've got my eye on the island," Tarrlok remarked, pivoting on his heel and retreating. "If anything goes wrong, I have a fleet of police airships ready to swoop down."

"That's not what I'm worried about," Asami whispered to Tenzin, who also frowned.

"Korra…" Tenzin sighed, lowering his head.

"I'll be here..." Asami leaned against Tenzin in that same slightly unknowing way she had done at the gala, "But… I think if or when something happens… you should be the one to see her. Obviously I don't mean to impose or anything, but…"

"I was actually musing about a way to make that request as well," Tenzin nodded, "I will do everything in my power to bring her home safe."

"It's just…" Asami sighed, "Korra's trying to hide her emotions from me again. It's like she wants to impress me, and thinks that she can only impress me by being this tough-as-nails ass-kicker who only knows gallant theatrics because emotions are for weaklings. It's… frustrating, but what can I do? You can't call Korra out on her fears or she gets aggressive. Then she gets sad and upset when she realizes she threatened me, and by that point she's in no mood to talk about it."

"Despite her improvements, there is still something unsettlingly wrong with that poor girl that is only getting worse the more she tries to cover it," Tenzin shook his head, "And I fear that whatever it is… it's going to culminate tonight."

Korra was restless, both because she was in fact terrified (and trying her best to hide it), but also because she had gone more than an hour early and so spent most of her time pacing around waiting for Amon to show up. She was even jumpier than usual, springing up at the slightest sound and taking a fighting stance.

Korra was pretty sure she just shaved two years off of her life with how high she jumped when the clock struck midnight. She had lost track of time by that point, and so for the loud chimes to shatter the silence, especially when she was already so on edge, it was something of a miracle she hadn't needed a dry pair of pants after she recovered. It would have almost been comical if not for the defenses Korra's body and spirit put up. Much to her embarrassment, she realized her reflexive Avatar State had kicked in, and it took several minutes of deep breaths and focus for her to calm herself down. Despite it being several minutes past midnight by that point, however, Amon did not show. Korra was low-key relieved, and started to regain confidence.

"I guess you're a no-good, no-balls no-show, Amon…" she stood up and stretched, gazing at the dimming skyline. "Who's scared now, huh?"

Korra stretched again, popping her neck and shoulders as she descended from th