Hi all,

I've had my ups and downs over the past year or so, and this story along with it. Besides some family issues that have been off and on intrusive in my life, I also had a particular personal conflict with one specific individual that I recently decided to completely cut off. The year of on and off stress with that individual has had an effect on me and my writing—this story in particular.

I actually had posted this all a year ago, but had been dealing with a lot of self-doubt and personal conflict back then (along with other things) which led me to taking it down. Over the past year I've had several people encourage me—family, course instructors, other people in my life—in regards to my art and writing (I also do visual artwork of various form), and its helped me regain some self-confidence in it. My recent fall-out with that specific individual left me recently with some self-doubt again, but through some other words of encouragement (Thanks for that if you read this!) and self reflections, I've decided to keep going with this project—and hopefully see it through to the end.

Anyways, thanks for all the follows, favorites, and comments. They really help with building my confidence—keep me wanting to pursue writing and art in general. It really means a lot to me. I hope this next installment, and the ones that will follow it (there's still several chapters left to this :-) are an entertaining, engrossing read—to say the least.

Also, as a side note: the following chapter is all new info I'd intended to write in detail but originally glossed over. A part of me really wanted to bulk up this last segment of the Dark Spirits Saga, and after a long time of not being able to produce it like I wished, I finally managed to type out something very close to my expectations. I've read it over a few times to make sure it was the way I liked it, and then prepared for posting :-)

On to the story then—

XoXoX

Korra acknowledged for the first time—since she returned from her venture in the Spirit World—the sounds that were reminiscent of a battle occurring up above just as she was turning to leave and face her last challenge. Loud explosions, crashes, the sloshing of water—noises acting as a reminder to the young Avatar of the struggles currently ongoing between man, supernatural beasts, and technology. And she was about to head upwards with the giant cat-fox hybrid spirit Bakeru's aid and bring that massive struggle to a halt when she felt some weight being applied to her shoulder. Turning abruptly to face the culprit, whose palm remained even as the young Avatar swiveled on her heel, she came face to face with Asami.

The beautiful Sato girl looked weary and distraught after going through her desperate ordeal in the Spirit World, but shimmering in her luminous emerald orbs was a sense of determination—and persistent insistence. As if to express that verbally, Asami spoke up. "Korra—take me with you. I can help out."

"Asami—" Korra paused. She bit her lip. "I just got you back from the Spirit World, and after what happened there, I—thought you'd need a break. You sure look like you could use one right now."

"Korra, I—I can't sit still right now while everyone else is fighting. I need something to distract me from thinking about what happened in the Spirit World. I can't think about that right now, I just—can't," something in Asami's eyes grew more pleading with every passing instant. "I've got enough strength to help out—I can handle it."

Korra didn't see a way out of the situation, and conceded. "Okay—maybe there's something you can help out with involving your dad's crazy mecha, or something else. I guess…we'll figure it out when we get up there."

She looked around at the rest of the group gathered there—Iroh, her cousin Desna, the ex-firebending Wolfbat Shaozu, Tahno's mother Kanani as well as the critically injured unconscious icy-eyed waterbender himself—and Mako. All expressed some level of weariness or distress, and most appeared not to be interested in involving themselves in the ongoing battle above—or weren't physically up to it. Iroh appeared nearly spent, teetering on his jelly-like legs as he observed things from across the way.

The Avatar didn't think she'd get much of a response, but figured she'd ask anyways. "Anyone else planning on helping out?"

The only one who appeared willing or attentive enough to respond was her cousin, Desna. "I should check in on father's progress—see if he needs my assistance—as well as check in on my sister."

"Hop on then, Bakeru's offered herself as transport," Korra replied, side-glancing quickly at the spirit. She then turned to face Miss Sato completely, helping her climb upon the cat-fox spirit's back before joining her. A second after getting herself secured the Avatar felt her cousin's hands grasping her sides for support. Without an extra moment's hesitance, the spirit lifted off with an incredible bound from the Spirit Oasis's ground surface and up towards the open cavity leading to the expansive sprawling tundra above.

As Korra watched the individuals remaining below get smaller, she saw Mako looking up at her, waving a moment before turning his attention completely to the unconscious waterbending Wolfbat. The young Avatar felt a pang at seeing the deep concern the ex-firebender expressed for Tahno, but shoved that to the back of her mind as they reached the lip of the Oasis.

XoXoX

The engine shuddered as Lin switched the ignition of the biplane on. Instead of roaring to life like she'd expected—wanted—it puttered to silence. Lin switched it off and tried again, receiving hardly a response the second time. She tried a third time, hoping the old saying would prove true and bring good fortune, but luck wouldn't be with her in that, and instead Lin would groan in frustration as the engine remained still.

"Must've gotten snow caught in the engine or something—maybe caused something to short," Bolin noted from the passenger seat behind the metalbender. Lin grunted in reluctant agreement. "Wonder if one of Bumi's guys is a mechanic? Maybe they'll know how to fix it."

"Go see if you can track someone down," Lin responded neutrally. "I'll keep troubleshooting the engine." Bolin shot from the seat, issuing a few words before he took off. Lin barely paid him any mind as she attempted to start the plane a fourth time.

XoXoX

The intensity of battle sounds was much stronger on the surface than it had been below, Korra and company noticed immediately as they disembarked from Bakeru's back.

As soon as Desna's feet were meeting the snow-covered ground, he was running off towards what appeared to be a struggle involving his father and one of the hulking dark spirits a distance off. Korra, along with Asami, focused their attention on the other three looming forms of dark malevolence advancing slowly towards the tribe capitol's walls.

From above the spirits' efforts to advance towards the icy metropolis were momentarily thwarted by aerial bombardments. A few biplanes were swooping down like buzzard wasps targeting their prey below, eliciting physical distractions from time to time with a missile launched in the spirits' direction, or random earthen discs and fireballs launched from a couple of them.

Added to the biplanes assault was the mighty commander Bumi on the back of his brother's skybison, expertly swooping in with the great air beast to get in a blow before sailing skyward again to avoid the target's responding wrath. His exuberant shouting and battle cries rang through the battle-heavy air.

"Release my father right now!" Desna's demanding shouts broke the two girls' attention away from the aerial assaults and back towards the ongoing struggle with the straggler dark spirit and the Northern Water Tribe chief. Desna shouted each time he assaulted the ominous supernatural beast with one watery strike after another, a concoctive mix of liquid, slush and ice from the plentiful supply of snow around. The two noticed that Eska and Kya were aiding the young man in their attempts to break the chief free from his spiritual entrapments.

But the dark spirit appeared stubbornly reluctant to give into their demands, and held steadfastly onto Unalaq even through the harshest assaults directed his way. And waterbending offenses weren't the only attacks the spirit received; a couple tribesmen approached to aid with weaponry to thwart the beast into releasing their chief, and Tenzin made momentary swoop-ins on his glider to distract the spirit while the other assailants went at it.

Korra broke into a run then, Asami following her. As the Avatar approached, she observed the actions assailed on the spirit and its defensive reactions, looking for an opportunity to apply her own tactic. While the two young women were still twenty or so feet away from the scene, the spirit released a dark resonating wave that sent the beast's opponents back stepping several paces, disorienting a few of them enough to send them tripping backwards over their own feet.

While Kya was grounded and the twins were temporarily disoriented, Korra rose off the ground and struck at the spiritual entanglements restraining the chief and the dark beast itself with several fiery blasts. The attack startled the malevolent beast enough to disentangle its bindings from Unalaq's wrists, ankles and waist, causing the chief to fall loose from them and hit the ground several feet below him with a thud.

Once their dizziness passed and they realized their father was now freed, the twins ran in unison towards their downed father's side. While the twins were distracted tending to their father, the spirit moved in to attack. Korra wouldn't have that, and struck at it again, and again, with several strong fiery blasts.

"Leave my family alone!" Korra grated as she went one on one with the spirit; trying to hold back it's attacks on her uncle and cousins. "This is between you and me, so leave them out of this!"

For a moment the malevolent specter seemed distracted—and then released a wave of dark chortling. "Yes—this is between you and me, Avatar—you, me and the rest of the water tribe!" The spirit veered course, turning his attention away from the Avatar and directly towards Hiroshi's mecha. He crashed through anything that got in his way as he moved at a fast pace directly for the machine.

Korra was startled by the spirit's tactic until she heard her uncle Unalaq shouting. "Prevent that spirit from inhabiting that machine! I believe the spirit intends to use it for his own destructive purposes!"

Korra took chase after the spirit. Hiroshi's mecha was a few hundred yards ahead of both she and the spirit, with Korra having hopes that she would catch up to it before the spirit reached the mecha. The spirit was at an advantage, the young Avatar acknowledged. She was about to take advantage of what the Avatar State could provide her when the spirit turned on a dime to face her and launched a hefty spiritual assault of a fiery sort directly at her. Korra barely had time to react on her own, and if Asami hadn't knocked her out of the way, the Avatar most likely would have taken a head-on blow.

Korra and Asami tumbled to the ground together as the blast passed over their heads. Just as the two women were about to get to their feet to continue their chase, a large feline form leaped right over them. When the two finally managed to stand, they—along with several other nearby onlookers—witnessed a spiritual standoff.

"Get out of my way," the dark spirit grated at Bakeru. "You betrayed the cause when you abandoned Hiroshi's plan."

"Hiroshi is no more," Bakeru issued in response. "You have no more need to continue your course of actions."

"I have my own need for vengeance with the water tribe—I don't need Hiroshi when I have my own reasons to strike back and the power to do so!" the dark spirit seethed. "Get out of my way!"

While the two spirits were distracted in their standoff and most of the gathering was running off to assist Bumi and his forces with the other spirits, Korra and Asami heard familiar shouting from nearby. They turned their attention towards the crunching of rushed footfalls, noticing the approach of their earthbending companion.

"Hey Korra! I thought I heard you shouting!" Bolin shouted as he approached. "Asami! I'm so glad to see you made it back from the Spirit World in one piece!" The three caught themselves up in a quick embrace in their exuberant greeting.

"Glad to see you again too," Asami said as their embrace broke.

"Korra—any updates on my bro's condition?" Bolin asked the Avatar then. "Did they manage to reverse whatever it was that was—"

"Pre—I mean Tahno—figured out a way to resolve the sitch with Mako; he was alert and all that before we left the Spirit Oasis," Korra responded. "When I get the chance, I'm gonna have to speak with Kya—" Bomb blasts and aggression between the two spirits sparring nearby interrupted the young Avatar in mid-thought, and brought their attention back towards the current situation.

"Oh, yeah—Beifong's been trying to get her biplane off the ground without much luck," Bolin told them. He looked to Asami then. "Think you could give it a quick look, see if you can get it started?"

"Not sure what I could do with it in this frigid cold," Asami responded, shivering. She looked to the sky, noting the incoming storm. "And with what looks like a storm approaching, I don't know if we'll have time to get it airborne."

"Beifong's looking for a biplane to fly, huh?" Korra spoke up. "Why not just take the one I flew up here instead? My uncle had it safely stored after our arrival a few days back. It's still stocked with all its weapons and everything. Just ask my uncle where it's parked; he'll have one of my cousins show you guys to it." She was startled then by a crash, followed up with an eerie snarl. The trio looked in the direction of its origins, noting the violent quarrel that had broken out between the two spirits once again.

"Go get Beifong, talk to my uncle, and get that biplane set into action. I think I'm gonna need you guys using it as a distraction while we get those spirits subdued and I take care of them—once and for all." The wind was beginning to strengthen, the Avatar noticed. "Looks like we don't have much time to get this all done, and with the fact that I gotta get them back into the Spirit World before midnight—we should get moving."

Korra exchanged glances with her two friends then, getting nods from them before they bolted in chief Unalaq's direction. She turned her attention then to the fighting spirits. She stepped in to help Bakeru put her dark supernatural opponent in it's place so the Republic City spirit could resume her role as the spirit inhabiting Hiroshi's mecha to accomplish their one final task: restoring order by neutralizing the remaining dark spirits.

XoXoX

Bolin went to fetch Lin Beifong while Asami ran off to ask the chief and his children about the location of the parked biplane. When she approached them, she found Kya hard at work healing a large gash across Unalaq's forehead.

"Korra told me she flew one of my biplanes up here, and I need to know where it's located so I can use it to distract those spirits while Korra comes up with a plan to defeat them," Asami supplied. "I'm an expert pilot, so I should be able to provide her a better distraction than the others already flying up there."

"Eska, why don't you lead Miss Sato towards the makeshift hold, and bring Desna with you. I get the feeling you're going to need a runway for takeoff," Unalaq looked to Asami specifically then. She nodded. "The twins can help you out with that as well."

"Thanks," Asami replied gratefully. "We need to wait for Lin Beifong and Bolin first before we depart though." Her eyes glimpsed the elder waterbender's hand encompassed with glowing healing water held up to the chief's forehead, and a thought crossed her mind. Hey eyes met up with Kya's then. "Kya—does the chief look well enough for you to look into another healing matter at this moment?"

Kya looked at her with an eyebrow raised. "Do you need me to heal something?"

"No, it's—Tahno was severely injured before my father dragged me into the Spirit World...he was stabbed, and—I think they need your expert opinion down there on the matter," Asami informed her. "Last time I was down there…Tahno looked like he was fading fast."

Kya expressed grave contemplation. "Tenzin hastily mentioned something to me about that, but what I'd gleamed from his info—it didn't seem serious." She drew her hand away from the chief's forehead, the gash nearly healed. "I'll go check into that immediately. Is there a healer currently tending to him?"

"His mother, but she didn't seem optimistic," Asami replied.

Kya nodded. "Okay, I'll go do that now." She looked to the chief, getting a nod in okay before she departed.

As soon as Kya was out of sight Bolin approached with Lin Beifong in tow. Asami briefed Lin on the details before the twins led the way towards the biplane with Bolin in their company.

XoXoX

Korra went on the attack against the malevolent spirit right before he was about to make a strike at Bakeru. She released the hottest stream of flames she could muster directly into the creature's suspected maw, causing the spirit to shriek horribly as it tried recovering from the assault.

Bakeru took that opportunistic distraction to accomplish her intended goal, inhabiting the giant mecha before the dark spirit had a chance to intervene.

When the spirit noticed his lost opportunity and the new possible threat to his existence, he bolted from the scene to join his fellows. Korra let him go for the time being, instead scaling the side of the giant machine to see if the Lieutenant was prepared to copilot the mecha. It took two knocks to get a response.

"Ready?" Korra asked as the Lieutenant popped his head out of the hatch.

"Been for a while now," he responded gruffly. Korra nodded, smiling lightly.

"Good," she replied. "Let's go finish this—once and for all."

XoXoX

After a bit of a heated debate, Asami managed to talk Lin into taking the copilot position behind her. Eska and Desna supplied them the goggles and safety gear Korra and Tahno used during their arrival flight while Asami fired up the engine and prepared the plane for takeoff. They suited up in the essentials and the cold weather attire the twins managed to find for the two before hopping aboard, with Asami steering the plane towards the twins' makeshift runway.

Bolin stood by Eska's side as the remaining trio watched the plane-bound duo prepare for takeoff. Asami heard a mingling of good luck shouts and the rush of wind as she set the plane forth on the runway and launched it skyward.

Takeoff went smoothly without complications, and before either knew it, Asami and Beifong were sky bound and some hundreds of feet over the water tribe capitol. Asami steered the biplane in their intended direction, fighting with the draft as the incoming storm gales increased.

"Be grateful you included metal in your designs in place of that purely platinum design Hiroshi used!" Lin shouted over the wind. "I can help stabilize this plane with my bending!"

"Believe me—I am!" Asami shouted back.

Presently below them Asami observed the dark spirits advancing closer to the water tribe's walls at a faster pace than before. In the distance she noticed a trail of smoke as another biplane—which looked like it was struck by ethereal flames—descending towards the icy tundra at an impressive speed. The pilot and copilot were very fortunate to deploy their parachutes and eject from the plane in time to avoid being caught in the earthbound collision that could've easily killed them.

Just then Asami had to jerk on the controls to avoid meeting the same fate as one of the spirits below took aim at them. The move was disorienting, but Lin helped stabilize their path and get them flying comfortably again.

"Where are the Avatar and that mecha they were planning to use to take those dark spirits out with?" Lin questioned irritably. "Nighttime's approaching and the incoming storm's only going to get worse, so what's keeping them?"

"Korra and the spirit that they need to copilot my father's mecha were battling with another dark spirit last I checked," Asami stated. "I couldn't tell you if she managed to—"

"Look out!" Lin barked. The plane rocked harshly to the left. Startled, Asami steered further to the left—barely avoiding a dead-on strike with another spiritual fireball. "Concentrate on flying."

"Okay," Asami stated, rattled and with the slightest hint of irritation. "Ugh—I think it's time to fight fire with fire. Do you think you'd be able to launch one of the missiles when I give the command to do so?"

"Bumi insisted on having me and Iroh learn everything about operating these crafts while we were practicing in the South Pole—I could operate that maneuver in my sleep," Lin remarked. "Give the signal—I'll have one launched in less than an instant."

"Good," Asami replied. She drove up the plane's altitude towards the clouds. "I'm going to put the plane into a swift decline. That should increase the potency of the missile when it strikes the target. When you hear 'now' let one go. Got it?"

Lin shot back a quick okay. Asami continued their rise upwards before leveling the plane and observing the scenery below. She swerved the plane into just the right position, all the while observing the targets on the ground. When she got the biplane into the right position, she steered it into a quick descent. Swirling sleet and snowflakes blasted them in the face as they increased their speed downwards. Asami counted down in her head. Three, two , one…

"Now!" Asami shouted. Not an instant after the word left her lips the projectile ejected from its housing below and sailed downward towards its intended target at an incredible speed. Asami shifted the plane into a position to cut off their descent and bring them skyward before they could crash into the ground—all the while fighting against the increasing gust of the approaching storm with Asami's steering and Lin's bending aiding her.

As Asami righted the plane into proper formation, she heard an explosion below. She managed to catch a quick glimpse over the side of the craft of the spirits breaking their formation in startled disarray as a mini crater, with a fifty foot or so circumference, was created where they previously stood. Satisfaction crept through her consciousness at her success, and she was flooded with relief when she looked below again—and saw that Korra and her father's mecha were ready for action.

XoXoX

Korra and Bakeru, with the Lieutenant at the helm of the mecha the spirit was again possessing, were getting into position to launch their attack when the missile unexpectedly struck the icy tundra at the malevolent spirits' congregational epicenter. Luckily the water tribe's people had cleared of the area enough to avoid receiving injury, or sinking into the mini crater created in the aftermath—and that the imprint was far enough away from the metropolis to leave little to no impact whatsoever.

The spirits however weren't so fortunate. Two of the three from the main group sunk with the ice when it collapsed out from under them. As Korra and her company drew closer to the scene to survey the situation, they found it advantageous—the trapped spirits were clustered at the bottom of the mini crater like eggs all gathered in one basket.

Korra looked to the sky when she heard the whir of propeller blades some hundreds of feet up in the air blending with the whistling gales that were picking up, spotting the biplane ascending further towards the dusky tainted heavens. With how expertly it was flown even in the increasing storm conditions—Korra could only conclude that Asami was the one piloting it. She mentally sent her thanks to Miss Sato for her aid.

The Avatar immediately got to work, with some help from her cousins and uncle and a few water tribe citizens, building a vast icy structure over the semicircular depression to prevent an easy escape for the trapped spirits before Korra—with the Lieutenant accompanying her in Hiroshi's machine—used the mecha to subdue the increasingly hostile spirits until Korra deemed it safe enough to approach and neutralize them like she had Yakone.

The remaining two turned out to be harder to subdue than the first ones. Those two had been trapped, easily cornered, while the remnants had to be chased down. Unalaq had organized some of his people to help chase the remaining spirits down while also keeping them away from the water tribe.

Throughout the chase Korra couldn't help but notice—as she and her allies combated with the two spirits that were left—that their dark energy and strength grew increasingly with each attack. At one point Bakeru emphasized with Korra the need for them to hurry with their task.

"I know—time is running short," Korra noted absently. She'd managed to corner one of the spirits into a structure that a group of water tribe citizens had hastily constructed—only to have the spirit escape by collapsing it easily with ethereal flames.

"Not just that," Korra heard Bakeru respond. "They'll increase their strength the longer they're allowed to exist in this form, to the point where even you won't be able to subdue them anymore, Avatar Korra."

That struck alarm in Korra. "That—wouldn't be good." She sighed heavily. "I think I need to resort to more firepower." She closed her eyes as she concentrated heavily for a moment, attempting to attain that special state that allowed her access to power outside her own. When she reopened them—she re-awoke to her heightened consciousness, her eyes signaling the change with a bright ivory white glow.

Korra felt the power within her surging as she applied it in her efforts to track down and trap the two remaining spirits. She used decisive tactics to lure them closer together, with help from the water tribe citizens, Commander Bumi and his people, and even Asami above, using various tactics to draw them forward in the desired direction until they were just where the Avatar wanted them.

Once Korra had the spirits where she needed them to be, She raised ice all around to form an elaborate crystalline structure to confine them in—one with walls too thick for their spirit fire to melt and too high to allow them an avenue to escape. The only opening to avail was at the top—one which neither menace could escape through.

As Korra hung there air bound overlooking the now trapped remaining spiritual menaces, with the mecha eerily hovering beside her, She made her ultimate declaration in a tone much deeper than her natural.

"It's time this was all permanently laid to rest." As if on some cue, a bright beam of bluish light spewed forth from the spirit possessed machine, and struck the dark menaces trapped below.

XoXoXoXoXoX

It was done—over. The last of Hiroshi's spiritual threats were finally taken care of, and his machine destroyed—Korra was thankful it was finally finished. Now—now it was time to take a break, and clean up Hiroshi's mess in the aftermath of his actions.

By the time the conflict completely concluded, darkness had set across the northern landscape—the effects of the moon blocked out by the cover of blizzard flurries and storm overcastting. Damage control would have wait until morning; for the time being the people of the water tribe and its guests would have to take shelter from the storm and worry about clean up details once it passed.

Korra knew it would take a lot of effort to fix the damage Hiroshi had done—that she still had a lot of work left to do—but for tonight, she just wanted to take a break from it all. The last couple months had been stressful, and she needed one night at least to just unwind.

She crossed paths with Asami after following Bolin, Eska and Desna into the makeshift biplane shelter, where Miss Sato and the metalbending chief of police were busy disembarking from the craft and clearing the slush from their skin once they were again on solid ground. While Lin wandered off to meet up with her present officers, Korra gathered her present friends and family in for one grateful hug.

"Thanks guys—you were all a big help. I—couldn't have done all this without you," Korra said just above a murmur. She received a range of smiles aimed her direction as the embrace broke—from weary to grateful to appreciative.

"It's growing late, and father wanted all the extra guests shown to their quarters before everyone settles down for a late meal before bed," Desna stated.

"I'll…show you to where you'll be staying—Bolin," Korra noticed a trace of sheepishness hinting off her cousin Eska as she addressed the young earthbender then. She hid her emerging smile as her cousin led Bolin off somewhere, leaving her in the company of Asami and the other twin.

"Father told me to show you where your arrangements have been set up," Desna said to Asami. "Eska has also volunteered over some of her wardrobe for you to borrow for now, considering current circumstances." He looked to Korra, "Will you be accompanying us?" Korra nodded, and then Desna led the way.

Along the way, Korra felt some questions burning inside her. She bothered to ask her cousin about them while they continued. "Any clue where pre—I mean, Tahno's—friend Shaozu's being kept for the night?"

"That pale waterbender's friend's staying the night a few rooms down from where Eska's taking Bolin," Desna replied. "From what I know, he's already situated for the evening."

"Any updates on pre—I mean, Tahno's—condition?" Korra asked.

"He's been transported from the Oasis to the medical ward, but that's about all I know," Desna told her.

"What about Mako?" Korra asked. "Do you know where I could find him?"

Desna stopped in front of one particular door and looked at her. "I haven't seen him around." He glanced at the door in front of them. "This is the room," he looked to Asami then. "I have something I need to look into. If you're wondering who you should ask about your boyfriend's whereabouts, Korra—talk to Eska. She'd know more than I would." He looked from one to the other. "I'll see you both later at dinner."

Asami reached for the door handle after Desna's departure. "Coming in?" She looked to the Avatar.

Korra smiled, but shook her head. "I—think I'm going to look around for Mako, um—see what he's up to. I'll—stop by later, after I've had a chance to find him."

Asami smiled back wearily, sad. "I'll see you later, and—good luck."

Korra smiled back, and then took off.

XoXoX

While the blistering cold winds whined above, Kya gathered a couple able-bodied individuals to help her carefully place Tahno on a stretcher and transport him from the Oasis to the palace's medical ward. His mother Kanani trailed at a short distance, nervously biting her lip.

Mako followed silently behind the party, not knowing who else to follow or where else to go. He watched as the carriers lowered the stretcher to the floor before gingerly picking up the unconscious young man and setting him atop the surface spread out in front of Kya from the doorway as the ex-firebender entered. Mako continued to silently observe as the elder waterbender examined the wound on the icy-eyed waterbender's back with a sober expression.

"It looks like Hiroshi missed striking vital spots when he stabbed him," Kya said with some relief. "There's still a long way to go before he's completely healed, however. We also need to make sure we get him stabilized. Unfortunately he's not out of the woods yet." She gave her aides some instructions before they helped her haul Tahno off the table towards a nearby water basin. Gently they set him in it, and Kya got to work. Mako continued to observe silently as the water glowed while Kya continued to work her magic.

Several moments after Kya settled into the routine, Kanani stepped up to assist her. They spoke softly with one another while they continued the procedure for what seemed an eternity.

"I believe he should be stable now," Kya looked across the basin at Kanani. "I made sure to use Spirit Oasis water to heal him."

"Does it really have the special healing properties I've heard about?" Kanani asked a bit skeptically.

"It saved my father's life once," Kya informed her. "It was the Moon Spirit's absence that made it less effective. It's working now though." She smiled at the young man's mother then." You should go and get some rest, Kanani. I'll make sure your boy is well taken care of here. Tahno, he's—kind of become like a son to me."

Kanani smiled gratefully in response." Thanks so much Kya." She prepared to leave. "I—will be back first thing in the morning." She left then, and the elder waterbender seemed to take notice of the young ex-firebender's presence for the first time when their eyes met.

"Mako," Kya spoke. "How are you holding up? Need me to check you over? After the ordeal Hiroshi put you three through, and all the reports I received while we were trying to track you guys down—"

"Thanks, but—Tahno already...um—healed what needed it," Mako stammered.

"I really should give you a quick checkup—especially after I kept hearing about you fading fast in the reports we received in our travels." Mako reluctantly let her do a general examination—with limitations, of course. The elder waterbender noticed he was slightly trembling as she glanced over his outraised arm. "Are you sure you're feeling okay, Mako? You're shivering, and from what I know, that could be a sign of an oncoming cold—"

"It's cold here, Kya—I'm not used to it, that's all," Mako insisted. "I—I'm fine."

"I see," Kya fell silent for several moments. "Mako, do you mind staying here and watching Tahno for me while I go and speak with Tenzin for a moment?" He nodded slightly. "I'll be right back."

Mako came up beside the basin as the elder waterbender departed, looking somberly down at the face of the unconscious young man floating there in front of him.

XoXoX

Dinner was a quiet affair, mostly attended by the personal entourage of the court, the chief's family, and their current guests. Everyone present appeared to be some level of weary—from slightly tired to dead exhausted. General Iroh was a perfect example of the latter, nearly zoning out into his dish on several occasions while Bumi spoke more energetically beside him. The commander's animated speech might've been the one thing keeping the Fire Nation prince from caving to slumber completely. Meanwhile, Bolin spent most of it chatting with Eska while Korra and Asami crowded around the same section of the table. Desna joined them a short time later, along with Shaozu—but no Mako.

Korra understood Tahno's absence, considering he was still in the healing ward under Kya's watchful eye, but Mako—she'd asked around before dinner if anyone had seen him, but got nothing conclusive on her boyfriend's whereabouts. She even checked the Spirit Oasis to see if he'd wandered back there by chance, but—nothing.

Bolin hadn't a clue, and if he weren't preoccupied with Eska, he'd probably be helping her search for his brother. Asami had no clue, and Shaozu was no help. So Korra kept Asami company over dinner and when they went back to her room for a little while afterwards. She'd noticed earlier in the evening that the young woman obviously desperately needed a distraction.

After Korra parted company with Asami for the night, she wandered in search of the ex-firebender's whereabouts. It was getting late, and it wasn't like Mako to just disappear like that—

"You look lost in thought." Korra was taken from her dwellings on all the possibilities of what could've happened to Mako at that abrupt intonation. "You handling okay after this whole ordeal with Hiroshi, Korra?"

Korra's eyes then met up with the elder waterbender's. "Uh, yeah—I'm doing okay, Kya." She let a short break settle in, a thought occurring to her. "Hey—have you seen Mako around? Nobody else's seen him, and it's not like he'd just disappear—"

"He's in the healing ward," Kya politely interrupted her. "Has been there for a while."

Korra's eyes widened. "Is-is there something wrong? D-did he suffer some repercussions from—"

"Mako insists he's fine," Kya informed her. "I checked him over just to be certain, and I didn't see anything wrong. I think…this whole ordeal's got him rattled—that's all." Kya's eyes met the Avatar's, a small smile forming on her lips. "I bet he could use your company right now." She then gave Korra explicit directions to the ex-firebender's location before they went their separate ways.

XoXoX

After Kya returned the first time she left she'd brought Mako something to eat from the dinner spread before heading out in search of something again, leaving the ex-firebender to eat his dinner alone while watching over the unconscious water-bound young man.

When Kya returned again she had her aides from before with her, and they helped her lift Tahno from the basin and transport him to another room a few doors down the way. Mako trailed behind like before, watching from the doorway as the trio got the unconscious young man situated in bed, laid on his side per Kya's instructions, before departing for the evening.

Kya noticed Mako yet again and summoned him to Tahno's bedside, telling him to stay put while she ran a few more errands.

Mako was still currently seated in a chair by the pallid waterbender's bedside, waiting for Kya's return with his head resting on his palms as he sat there looking somberly at the bedbound young man.

"I've been wondering all evening where you went." His head shot up abruptly, looking over to the doorway with a startled expression when a particularly familiar voice sliced through the quiet. "What happened to you? I was starting to think maybe you got lost and accidently wandered out into town or the tundra or something—" He noticed Korra standing there, concerned yet relieved ocean shallows on him.

"Kya was the only person I was familiar with still in the Oasis beside Tahno's friend Shaozu once the battle wrapped up, so I guess—I just felt the best option was to follow her," Mako explained.

"Guess I should've thought of that," Korra admitted. She quick glanced Tahno's direction. "How's he doing?"

"Kya says he looks stable for now. Only time will tell if he recovers though." Mako's eyes followed Korra's movements as she joined him beside Tahno's bedside.

"Kya knows what she's talking about—he'll probably be okay." Korra told him. "How are you holding up? Are you—adjusting to not having your bending?"

"I've been better," Mako told her. "I can't seem to shake this chill I've been dealing with since I left the Oasis though."

"You'll get used to it," Korra tried reassuring him, even though she knew the effort was an empty assurance. He noticed the regretful look in her ocean shallows when her eyes met with his then. "Mako, I—I can't fix that for you. I can't restore your bending to you. I'll do whatever I can to find a way to get it restored, but—I can't do it myself. Sorry."

"It's okay, Korra—I'll...just learn to live with it until a way can be found to restore it—if there's one." Mako looked somberly at his hands, as if he was getting wistfully nostalgic just staring at them. Korra noticed with sadness. "I mean—Tahno managed to go several months without his, and—since I was the one who suggested that you should put off restoring he and his teammates bending in the first place—I guess this is the price I'll have to pay for it."

"Are you...ready to turn in for the evening?" Korra asked him. "My uncle set up quarters for you whenever you're ready to head to them. Or, if you'd rather not be alone tonight, y-you could…stay in my quarters with me. It's your choice of course. Either way, my uncle supplied you with some clothes for you to wear, so—we'd have to stop by that room anyways."

"Tonight…I think I'd prefer to stay with you tonight." Mako looked up at her. "There's a lot we have to catch up on, and—we haven't really had a moment alone together in what seems like forever."

"So...are you ready to call it a night?" Korra asked him then.

"I—need a few more moments of alone time in here," Mako informed her. "I'll—meet you out in the hall in a few." Korra hesitantly nodded, and then stepped into the hall.

XoXoX

When Shaozu was shown into Unalaq's company, he'd been completely clueless on the chief's purpose for summoning him there in the first place—and a little perturbed that he'd been taken from his friend's presence when Tahno needed him there. He hadn't been all too polite when he questioned the chief on that. Unalaq took no offense in the ex-firebender's questioning. Instead, he informed Shaozu that one of his twins would show him to his accommodations for that evening.

"But first," Chief Unalaq said. "Chief Beifong wanted a word with you."

Shaozu stared at the metalbending chief of police startlingly as she approached with one of her officers at her side. He gulped as she stood before him, more intimidating in person than he'd suspected. "Um—a-am I in trouble for something?"

"No," Lin spoke in a surprisingly reassuring tone. "My captain supplied me with some info before I left Republic City—info I believe involves your girlfriend."

"Mei Lin?" Shaozu exclaimed in shock. "I-is she okay?"

"After Hiroshi's occupation concluded he found her unharmed," Lin assured him. "Tomorrow I'll be sending a few of my officers back to the city to report the outcome of events here to the Council, and I plan to send word back that you've been safely recovered to her for you."

Shaozu released a heavy sigh in relief. He then smiled gratefully at her. "Thanks."

After both chiefs wrapped up their business with him, one of Unalaq's twins led him to his room for the night. Shaozu was still struggling to figure out which was which, guessing that the one who accompanied him was the male, Desna he believed. He was proven right when the twin spoke briefly with him, pointing out his room before leaving him there. After Shaozu did a quick wardrobe change with the garments lent to him he checked out the dinner hall before inquiring about his friend's current whereabouts. He briefly spoke to Tahno's mother, Kanani, getting those directions before she left for the evening. When it turned out he was directed towards the first room his friend was brought to, he was thankful to bump into Kya and get the correct directions towards his friend's current location.

When the Wolfbats ex-firebender approached his friend's room, he noticed the Avatar standing in the hall, and her boyfriend's emergence from the room shortly afterwards. Shaozu kept a comfortable distance from them out of sight until they turned a corner before he headed for the injured waterbending Wolfbats' room.

As he approached his friend's bedside he thought about the Avatar and that boyfriend of hers—Mako. Shaozu knew he'd eventually have to have a chat with the other ex-firebender about some info he'd recently been informed about—as well as Tahno for that matter. For tonight, however—the only thing on Shaozu's mind was watching over his friend until he could no longer stay alert and had to head off to get some sleep.

XoXoX

Korra waited in the hall for Mako until he finally emerged. He closed the door quietly behind him, looking around until he spotted her. "Should we wait for Kya to return first before we head out?" he asked when he discovered Korra's location.

"Kya said she'd be back to do one last check-in with pr—Tahno before heading to her room for the night in a little while," Korra replied. "He—should be fine for the time being."

Mako tentatively looked towards the waterbender's room. "If you say so." He turned his attention back towards Korra then. "Where's Bo?"

"Last time I saw him was at dinner," Korra shrugged. "He's probably sleeping by now. It's getting late, and—my uncle had his people show everyone to their accommodations for now a little earlier. You're the last one to check in as far as I know."

"Let's head to bed then," Mako said. "We have a lot to catch up on, and—I need to warm up. This place is freezing."

I hope you eventually get used to this, Korra thought somberly. Aloud, she said. "Follow me. It's this way."

Korra led the way, and he followed. Mako walked beside her, their surroundings blurring around him with each footstep they took. Silence passed between them until they reached one doorway in particular. "This is the room I told you about that my uncle reserved for you. Let's grab that change of clothes quickly, and then I'll show you the way towards my room."

Mako complied without a word, following her and taking the folded stack of garments when she handed them over to him. She then led the way down the hall again, this time towards her quarters.

Korra stopped in front of another door eventually. "This is it." She showed him in, shutting the door behind them once he stepped inside fully. She watched as he looked the room over before perching himself on the edge of her bed. She stood there a few moments before she joined him.

"Anything you need before we call it a night completely?" Korra asked. "Did you have anything to eat?"

"Kya brought me something earlier, so I'm set there." Mako turned to face her. Korra's ocean shallows fixated then on auburn orbs.

"Did you want to chat for a while—catch up for lost time, or did you just want to go to bed?" Korra asked.

"I don't know—which are you up for?" Mako asked her in response. "You're the one who spent most of the day chasing down Hiroshi in the Spirit World and dealing with his cohorts afterwards. So—it's your call. I have the energy for either one…I guess." He absently shifted his arms until his palms were resting on the sides of her waist. At contact, she felt waves of shivers radiating off him.

"Maybe—it'd be better to think of something else to do than just sit here and talk," Korra took his hands off her waist and enveloped them in hers, looking at his startled expressive shift all the while. His palms felt cold as ice as she intertwined her fingers with his. "You said you were freezing earlier, so maybe…" She stopped when he gently forced his fingers separate from hers and brought one hand to the side of her face.

"We can always talk about everything that's happened later," Mako said softly, auburn eyes transfixing with ocean shallows. "Korra, I—I need you, and…I missed—us…it's been so long since I even had the chance to just—" He stopped there—just as her hands came to rest on his shoulders comfortingly.

"It's been a long while—I know," Korra spoke in a soft voice. "I really missed you, and—" Her words ended abruptly as her mouth suddenly became occupied with his. He brought his hands up to desperately clutch at her shoulders, while she wrapped hers tightly around him as they sunk deeper into the moment. He pressed her against the surface of the bed, with her complying with the move more than willingly.

Between oral breaks her nimble fingers were working their magic, as were his as well. The cool brush of his fingertips against her flesh as it was eventually exposed sent shocks through her, and she could only hope that those hands would regain some warmth as their passions grew more fervent between them.

When both were barren of any articles of clothing she pulled the covers away from her bed and enveloped them both in their confines while their vigorous movements and flesh-to-flesh friction built up their body heat. She was thankful his hands started to lose that chill as their foreplay grew more intense.

She was thankful to finally have him back to enjoy this most intimate of embraces once again—all to herself.

XoXoXoXoXoX

Something about the following morning felt almost surreal after all that transpired the day before—and the past few months before that. So much had changed in that passage of time—it was a lot for those misplaced souls currently residing in the Northern Water Tribe to deal with all at once.

When Shaozu awoke the next morning he almost didn't realize where he was; it took his mind several moments to finally be dispelled from the nightmarish visages of his captive days at Hiroshi's bidding. When he eventually managed to shake it off and emerge from his quarters to seek out company and breakfast, he felt like an alien out of place amongst the tribal residents.

Bolin had an easier time adjusting; at first daylight he'd been taken from his dreams by a knock at his door, only to be unexpectedly greeted with a refreshing meal on a tray at the hands of the water tribe princess personally. Eska continued to keep him distracted once he finished by taking him out to the Oasis and showing him around it.

Asami hardly managed to get any sleep, her evening overtaken by intrusive nightmares. When she emerged the following morning she was hardly aware of her own surroundings, wandering around while caught up in a haunted fog.

Tahno showed no signs of immediate revival, and Kya predicted he could be out of it for anywhere from a day to several weeks. His mother stayed with him while she and Kya continued to switch shifts healing the icy-eyed waterbender's wound, waiting for the moment he would emerge from his comatose state.

XoXoX

Korra immediately knew the burden of responsibility she'd be waking up to when she emerged from slumber at first light. She knew her uncle would eventually summon her to resume where they left off with her spiritual studies, and that the extensive damages Hiroshi wrought in his invasion of the Northern Water Tribe and elsewhere would require her attention.

What she hadn't been expecting was the strange sense she awoke to when she emerged to discover her lover sleeping soundly beside her the following morning. As she'd carefully risen so as not to wake him from his slumber, she recalled their actions the following evening; how excited she'd been to find him and to finally have him back—to have him close once again, feel that familiar and welcoming warmth of his skin caressing hers.

Something troubled her about it as she gently pressed the door shut behind her once she emerged into the hall. The Avatar knew she should feel elated that she finally had him back—that her boyfriend was once again hers and hers alone, but—

"Did you manage to find that boyfriend of yours last night?" Desna's voice took the young Avatar from her internal concerns. She turned away from the door to her quarters where Mako was currently slumbering peacefully, hoping desperately that her cousin's voice hadn't awoken him. She cracked the door a smidgen to check, breathing a relieved sigh when she noticed he remained undisturbed.

She didn't provide Desna a response until they were a distance from the door. "Yeah, he—stayed with me last night. You know—he needed some company after—um…the ordeal Hiroshi put him through."

"Yes, his circumstances are unfortunate—especially considering where he's currently located," Desna responded. The young Avatar considered his words, nodding then.

"Yeah," Korra responded simply.

"Father sent me to tell you he wants to discuss a few matters after you've had a chance to eat breakfast," Desna informed her. Korra nodded as they both pressed forward.

"I was expecting that he would eventually," Korra told him. "Tell him I'll do that after I check into a few things after breakfast."

Desna nodded, and then parted company from her once they reached the halls near the dining hall. Korra's mind was again preoccupied with her prior concerns before her cousin's interruption. She hoped her lessons with Unalaq and the clean up effort would keep her distracted from them as she went in search of a quick meal.

XoXoXoXoXoX

There's the long-overdue update. Hopefully I can get the next chapter up by the end of the week, or over the weekend. No promises thought.

Please, I'd love to know what you all think overall. And—thanks again for reading! Hope it was enjoyed, and peace out :-)

Edit:

Damn, I heard the news right after I posted this. It really tore me up to hear about Robin Williams passing. He was a great actor and absolutely will be missed. His suffering with depression—that a very hard thing to live with, as I have to say I truly can empathize with what he went through and the torments that were probably on his mind.

Why the edit? I really wanted to dedicate this chapter to the goodness that is, was and always will be Robin Williams. He was one of my favorite actors, and I will always fondly remember his contributions—and miss the person he was in his lighter moments. I truly hope he's found happiness wherever his essence has gone off to.

NANU NANU :`-)