Pairings/Characters: Korra, Zuko, Aang in ~spirit.
Notes: So I really wanted Korra and Zuko to meet, because they seem so similar. And I listened to He Lives In You while writing this, of course.
Dusk was fading, night closing in. The everyone else would be inside, preparing for bed or gathering around the fire to chat and catch up. The residents of Air Temple Island had barely blinked an eye at the new guests— most likely because they were used to having affluent people around, Tenzin being one of them. Bolin was probably playing with Tenzin's kids, cracking a joke that would make Master Katara smile. Pema would be in the process of doting on Mako of course; she had taken quite a liking to the two boys, Mako in particular. Tenzin would be pensive, sitting quietly and sipping some type of tea, looking upon all of them fondly.
They would probably all notice but resist acknowledging the absence of one crucial piece to the cozy puzzle.
That piece was too caught up in her own thoughts to contribute to the family atmosphere though. Korra was tucked away on a small cliff she'd discovered a few weeks ago, one of rock formations jutting out from the top, overlooking the edge of the island. Waves broke against the stones below, and in front of her was probably one of the best views of Republic City there was to be found. The ocean, glittering and dark blue all around; the city, pulsing and moving continually; and the mountains, gray and proud behind, made for an excellent view.
But Korra wasn't focused on the scenery now. Her blue-green eyes were trained on the statue of Avatar Aang that was easily visible from the island. The wind picked up, making a few dark strands of hair flutter in front of her face, but she just shifted her parka closer around her.
How did you do it? She wished she could ask Avatar Aang. Well, actually, she probably could… if she had been more in tune with the spiritual side of all this. Tenzin had said she was improving, but how would he know? She still felt as disconnected from the Spirit World as ever. Time and time again she had tried and ultimately failed. She didn't feel like a "bridge between the worlds"; she just felt like she had control of all four bending aspects, that was it. Her contact with the spirits had been the equivalent of none, and she was beginning to get tired of it.
What was she doing wrong? Avatar Aang had stopped an entire war by the time he was thirteen. Stories told of his power and ferocity in the Avatar State, and his contact with spirits. Korra was supposed to live up to that. But she just couldn't. All the spiritual mumbo-jumbo had never been natural to her, never easy. She was even cheating Airbending; she had the moves down, but the attitude, not so much. It wasn't working.
Her eyes screwed shut in frustration, fists balling reflexively. Maybe you're just not cut out for this,something in her head whispered. Maybe you're just not the all powerful Avatar he was, maybe you're just a failure…
"He always hated that statue."
Korra almost fell off her ledge, the voice startled her so much. Managing to right herself, she looked up, then found herself scrambling up and ducking into a low bow. "Fire Lord Zuko, I— I was just…" She found herself stammering, trying to explain herself.
The old man waved a hand dismissively. "At ease. I was just headed to my room and I saw you. And from what Katara has told me, you rarely look that contemplative, yes?" His voice was gruff, and there was something in his eyes that suggests he was mulling her over, almost warily. Korra found herself awkward.
"I… I was just… thinking." Her voice trailed off into a mumble, and her feet shifted on the rock, a nervous reaction. "Would you… like to sit?" She gestured to the ledge formed behind her, and the Fire Lord nodded once, somberly. Crouching on old bones, he sat, and Korra followed suit, drawing one of her knees up to her chest and stretching the other out on the rock.
She hadn't been in this close proximity to the Fire Lord before. Yes, he'd arrived a few days ago in Katara's wake, following her example of "checking in" on the city while things were so chaotic. He was staying with Tenzin, but Korra hadn't seen him much aside from their first brief introduction and mealtimes. She'd been nervous, to be perfectly honest. Fire Lord Zuko was a man of legends. Sixteen when he inherited the crown, he had ruled the Fire Nation with the skill and grace of several past Fire Lords combined. Not to mention, he'd been Avatar Aang's Firebending sifu. Sure, Katara had been Aang's master as well, but Korra had grown up with Katara, which somehow made her less strange and mysterious. Zuko was a whole different story.
Because of the lack of contact, she hadn't been able to form any real opinion about the man besides brief observations and a whole lot of respect. Observant, serious, and, from what Korra had noticed, somewhat grumpy, the Fire Lord had intimidated her too much for her to go up to speak to him (and that was saying something, seeing as Korra was never easily intimidated… at least outwardly).
The man across from her seemed a lot less formal, but he was also somewhat more daunting in a way; perhaps it was the fact that she was this close to a figure she'd spent years hearing about and idolizing. His lined face was grim as he looked out to the very statue Korra had been examining earlier. He turned to look at her after a moment of silence, almost startling her again. "You were looking at the statue, right? Aang was never very fond of it. Said it was too… pretentious. But I insisted." His voice is as blunt and stern as ever, but there's also a warmth in his tone, almost… humor?
Korra opened her mouth, found she didn't know what to say, then cleared her throat and attempted again. "Why did you?"
And she swore this time his eye— his good one, at least— crinkled up in slight humor, as strange the expression seemed on such a grave man. "Always insist in politics, kid. People can never accept a gift originally, it makes them seem arrogant. And Aang had to decline about five times before I eventually became tired of it and told him to take the damn statue." Zuko shook his head. "Airbenders."
Korra couldn't fight a smile. "They are kind of crazy."
This time Zuko actually chuckled, and it served as both a surprise and a bit of relief for Korra. "No kidding." He turned his head to face her, and she couldn't help but notice that so-famous scar, the one that sent him on the path to helping Aang. "You seem more like a Firebender yourself, kid. Tenzin was saying you're having some issues with Airbending."
Korra deflated a little at the reminder, crossing her arms in an almost defiant way. "Yeah… I try and try, and I can get the moves fine, but… the whole mindset, it's just not clicking." A sour feeling welled up in her chest, a sense of inadequacy, and she wanted to kick herself because this is Fire Lord Zuko, one of the most powerful benders in the world, and she, the Avatar, just admitted that she was crap at one of the crucial elements of her being to him.
But he just smiled ruefully. "You sound like he did." He jerked his head towards the statue. Korra quirked an eyebrow reflexively; the statue seemed to defy his statement, standing proud and tall against the setting sun. Zuko saw right through it. "Statues only tell so much. When I first allied with Aang, he was powerful, yes. But he struggled just like you. He had the opposite problem of course; don't believe all those stories you hear about him taking out entire armies with the swipe of his fist," he said. "Aang was more like you than you probably think. Silly and distracted and easily put down— I swear, the number of times I had to call out that kid for getting distracted during practice…"
Korra found herself smiling without meaning too. Even Zuko's expression softened, his voice taking on a more reminiscent tone. "My point is, he wasn't the all-powerful Avatar like you probably see him as. He was just Aang. Just like you are to your friends."
She knew he was trying to comfort her, to help her in a strange way, but her expression hardened as she stared down at the rocks beneath her. "I don't feel like anyone sees me as anything." Her nails dug into her palms at the confession, and she swallowed the apprehension in her throat to keep talking. "I'm supposed to live up to Avatar Aang's legacy. But how can I do that when almost everyone in the city is just expecting me to fail?" She couldn't believe she was doing this, spewing all of this to this man, but it had all been pushing at her from all sides for far too long, and she couldn't keep it in anymore. Her brows furrowed, and she kicked a rock off the edge of the cliff, watching as it fell to the waters below.
Zuko was silent a moment, eyes narrowed at the city skyline across from them. "I knew a boy like you once. Hotheaded, fiery tempered, quick to a fight. He even focused on the physical side of bending, rather than the spiritual. So eager for his destiny. Too eager. He made far too many bad choices. He had more than one scar to show for it."
Korra's eyes flicked up to his face in surprise, and there was a warmness that seemed almost conspiratorial on the Fire Lord's features. She paused, looking out to the ocean again, before turning back. "Did he ever get his destiny?"
Zuko's gaze was approving. "Yes." Suddenly, he shifted, pulling something out of his pocket. "But everyone needs some help in their journey." He held out something to her, and she reached for it hesitantly, turning it over in her fingers and bringing it closer to inspect it.
Her head tilted in confusion, examining the coin-shaped token. "A lotus tile? How did this help?"
Zuko chuckled. "It's always best to have someone ground you on your journey. This tile is best tucked up the sleeve of an old man, but I'm afraid the one you're speaking to right now isn't the right one." Korra smiled. "That tile is a symbol of hope. Give it to someone you trust, and it will change your life, I can guarantee you that. Take care of it."
Korra stood, clutching the lotus tile tightly, and bowed again. "Thank you, Fire Lord Zuko."
With easy movements that seemed to defy his age, Zuko stood and bowed right back, and the girl couldn't help but feel proud of the faint approval in his expression. When they both straightened, he patted her shoulder, and Korra stood a little taller. "They're going to make statues for you too, kid. Just wait."
Korra traced her thumb over the lotus tile and promised herself that one day she would give someone reason to.
Alkalskjdf I'll just crawl in a hole and die now.