Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Or Tahno. :(
Author's Notes: 5/13/12. I literally listened to Fever Ray's "The Wolf" on repeat—for over two hours—while writing this. It's the song that inspired this concept in the first place. (I swear my neighbors probably think I'm preparing for some pagan ritual or something.)
It is only fair that YOU LISTEN TO THESE SONGS WHILE READING THIS FIC AS WELL. SERIOUSLY. YOUTUBE IT NOW, PLEASE.
Musical genius that inspired this shamelessness: (1) "The Wolf" by Fever Ray, (2) "Closer" by Anberlin, & (3) "Howl" by Florence + the Machine.
EDIT: 5/14/12.Please note that this was written post-episode five and pre-episode six.
"What are you doing here?" she blurts out inelegantly, a little too loudly, and she thinks that someone might have heard her, but she's too pissed off to care.
His smirk spreads and she feels heat winding and curling all throughout her center, but as he takes a step closer, she only narrows her eyes and feels the soles of her feet press more firmly into the ground. She will not move. She will not yield. She will not bend.
But he is so very close, and the urge to act is overwhelming. He seems to sense this, eyes glowing with the firelight and air thick with the tension, and his next words are no more than a whisper.
"Why don't you take a guess?"
break the ice
The night is slick with unseasonal heat, but this it not the reason why tiny beads of sweat have begun to gather at Korra's brow.
In another all-too-expected fit of intercultural brown-nosing, the good diplomat Tarrlok has decided to recognize this year's Festival of the Moon by hosting a grand celebration, and true to form, it is authentic to Water Tribe fashion in all ways except the right ones. Sparing no expense, overlooking no detail, Tarrlok has accomplished quite a feat. First, there is the impressive backdrop of manmade glaciers and the sculptures of ice and snow to honor the Great Moon Princess Yue, all crafted by Master waterbenders to capture and emulate the pristine beauty of the Northern fortress. Second is the venue, a private island southwest of Avatar Aang's memorial, on which Tarrlok impresses the Republic's richest and most influential again and again with the best dishes from the finest Southern cuisine. The guests come from every corner of the planet, bender and non-bender alike, and the grand hall is a breeding ground of colors and family crests and once all-consuming insignias. The crowds' attire is extravagant and flourished with all of the makings of those who are prepared to dance well into the night, and last but certainly not least is the young and beautiful liaison to the almost forgotten spirit realm beyond, which is his celebration's most prized accessory of all.
Tarrlok assumes the podium for another speech, in which he implores the audience to remember the importance of honoring customs and demonstrating pride and abiding by our ancestors' traditions. As he speaks, Korra thinks that she might like Tarrlok in a detached, respectable, professional sort of way, but also that she might like him a little more if he weren't so full of shit. Finally, in order to officially complete the dinner portion of the evening, he directs the older guests to another hall for more sophisticated activities while the young and restless are left to their tribal dances and bonfires in the main arena. Korra takes the few moments of transition as an opportunity to break away from the massive crowd so that she might have at least a minute of peace before she's expected to continue mingling and impressing and performing and meeting every other expectation that is expected of her tonight, but her plans are interrupted.
Because suddenly there is Tahno, standing in front of her in the formal garb of the Northern nobility, a smirk stretched across his face and a darkness in his eyes, even with the reflection of the surrounding ice within.
Korra looks him up and down with a critical gaze, quite like one might assess a heinous injury for infection. "What are you doing here?"
"Why don't you take a guess?" he whispers as he takes a step closer, and Korra breathes deeply and tries to hold her ground. She swings her stance hipshot, cocks her head to the side in her typical fashion, and hopes for the best.
"Well, isn't this a change from the sleaze and smoke of the bars. You didn't strike me as the classy type," she observes bluntly.
He appears unaffected, but Korra can tell that he's already irritated. "The same could be said about you, Avatar."
With a sniff, she crosses her arms and vows not to make a scene in front of all of Tarrlok's guests. With the opening press conference over and done with, the reporters have all begun to inevitably partake in the festivities... And although Korra is certain that there will be no further notes taken tonight—unless their utensils can be found at the bottom of their glasses, she thinks disapprovingly—she keeps her voice low and tight. She doubts any of them would actually care about her and this opponent having a kind of-conversation behind an ice pillar off to the far side of the dance floor anymore, but you can never be too careful when you're the Avatar, now can you?
"Seriously. Why are you here?"
He pins her with a look. "Even the Avatar isn't so far above fundraising as to not recognize it when she sees it?"
Korra is surprised, but quickly masks it with snark. "Sucking up to the sponsors, eh?"
"Not everyone has the wherewithal to sleep around with the heirs of industrialist kings, you know."
Korra's first instinct is to punch, but then she remembers her promise and Bolin's words of caution, and with no little bout of effort, Korra merely glares harder. She won't even dignify that comment with a response. It's obviously bait and Korra isn't stupid, and even though his words have hit a nerve, she's not going to rise to it by sinking to his level. "Then I take it the Wolfbats aren't too far behind?" she comments snidely, glancing at what little she can see of the open area from behind his tall form.
"They'll answer when I call," he said with a flip of his hair and Korra doesn't bother to check her sigh of disgust. "And your little Fire Ferrets?"
Korra hesitates, trying to remember when she last saw her teammates in the overwhelming throng of people, and it is her undoing. Tahno offers her another infuriating smile of some petty victory and breathes, "Ah... I see."
"They can handle themselves," she nearly spits, disliking the implications behind his tone. Like she has been left behind. Neglected. Forgotten.
But suddenly her ire switches to indignation because he has taken yet another step closer and he is almost directly on her when he says, "And you? Who will handle you?"
Korra looks up with a grimace, fierce eyes piercing his as he leans down, and demands, "What are you trying to pull, pretty boy?"
"So suspicious. Has anyone ever told you that you need to relax a little?"
This is the last thing anyone might ever tell Korra, actually, and she certainly doesn't appreciate hearing it now and certainly not from him. "If you think you're going to be doing your team any favors by trying to get under my skin, you've got another thing coming."
His eyes rove over her face, taking in the lines and curves of her jaw, and Korra's lips burn as his scrutiny lingers there. "Doing favors for the team is not what I had in mind."
She scoffs, trying to dislodge the unsettling feeling that is unfolding her in her gut, and wills her tongue to form her following words properly, lest he might actually think he is affecting her. A distant voice in the far corners of her mind screams in silent mortification at the realization that he just might be, but she squashes it immediately. "You think you're so slick."
"And you think you're so tough," he counters. "We're not so different, you and I. In fact," he shifts his weight so that he is leaning against the solid support of the icy pillar, never once dropping her gaze or regaining that distance, and Korra raises a critical brow as if it were the world's most powerful defense. "I heard you've been trained in the art of bloodbending as well."
This is not what Korra was expecting, and although this news is no surprise, it is just as disconcerting as his proximity and it clears her mind. She scowls deeply. "Art implies something admirable."
"I assure you that my abilities are... admirable, indeed."
"You've said as much, but I have yet to see any proof," Korra goads, already feeling herself slip away from her promise of good behavior.
"That sounds an awful lot like an invitation."
"It isn't one," she snaps, growing impatient. She can hear the people shifting about on the other side of the pillar as the musicians prepare their instruments and knows that she will have to return to her station soon.
"Funny you should say so."
"And why's that?"
"It's why I came over here in the first place."
Korra pauses, visibly taken aback, and Tahno smiles at having rendered her speechless. "You would dare risk disqualification from the tournament over some stupid whim about fighting me?"
"My dear Avatar," his silken voice washes over her, leaving goosebumps in its wake. "Who said anything about a fight?"
And before she has a chance to react, a chance to register what is happening, Tahno takes one step back and gracefully lowers himself into a deep and noble bow. More stunned by this behavior than by anything she's ever seen him do before, she watches with rapt attention as he rights himself and offers a devastating smile. "May I have the honor of your first dance, Avatar?"
Korra comes to realize what Tahno has asked of her but her mind is still reeling with shock. She can see the firelight from the ferocious bonfires reflected onto the planes and hollows of his face, and she is distracted by the way it glints over his hair and in his eyes, and without full control of her body, she says the first thing that comes to her. "You are out of your mind."
"And you are now held to tribal obligation," he reminded her with a sliminess that Korra feels all the way down to her toes. "A gracious and grateful tribeswoman always accepts her first invitation... or so Northern tradition says."
She is still disoriented, and now the steady drum of the musicians' preparations is being confused with the sound of her heartbeat in her ears, but she is still with it enough to tear him down with a nasty glare. "The Northern tribe has been known for its history of sexist tendencies," she says lowly. "And I, for one, am not in favor of perpetuating such prejudices, especially in this new day and age."
"A dance is a dance," Tahno says smoothly, his casual tone belying the pervasive—almost stifling—way he enters her senses. "And tradition is tradition."
"Tarrlok may be a little obsessed with this celebration, but he won't hold it against me for turning down a chance to chat it up with the jerk I'll be facing in the ring in three days. You're not going to pressure me into doing anything I don't want to," Korra says firmly.
Although... Korra thinks, licking her lips absentmindedly as a new idea turns over in her mind. Waterbending is a dance in its truest form. Maybe this opportunity could be used to my advantage?
"How fortunate I am then, to be so desirable," Tahno sidles closer.
"You still haven't proven anything yet," Korra points a halting, accusatory finger in his direction, but there is a renewed playfulness to the exchange; she has already made up her mind, and she intends make the most of her strategizing opportunity. "Falling back on an age-old tribal practice is a bit weak, even for you."
"And yet there are many age-old, continuing practices that our people have managed to enjoy for centuries," he reminds her with a suggestive brow, and Korra gets the distinct feeling that he is waiting for her to blush. Honestly a little unnerved by the boldness of his advances but determined not to show it, she presses closer. She tilts her head upward, forcing herself not to be thrown by the difference in height, and feels the catch in the current of energy running between them as their breaths mingle and condense along the smooth pillar beside them.
"One dance," she acquiesces, holding his gaze so carefully that she swears she can't tell if his eyes are blue or are actually as pale as ice.
"One dance," he repeats, smirk held firmly in place, and the heat in his eyes convince Korra that they match the ice only in color. "But know that I won't judge you when you beg for another... much."
"Watch yourself, pretty boy," she warns, and as her fist clenches, she absently wonders if she's made a horrible mistake.
He steps back, and time slows as they break away. "It won't be the only thing I'll be watching," he promises with a voice like velvet, and Korra feels her lungs struggle to inhale. She glares as he begins to saunter away, and with only a few parting words does he take his temporary leave. "Under the Southern flag as soon as the first horn blows. Try not to chicken out."
She opens her mouth to offer him a piece of her mind, but before she gets the chance, another presence approaches from behind. Still unable to find her moment of respite, Korra watches with mouth agape as Mako and Bolin curve around the large pillar, their panting breaths proof of how quickly they came as soon as they saw the danger their teammate had found herself in.
"Korra!" Bolin gasps as he throws his hands into the air with a joyous demonstration of gratitude to the ceiling. "There you are! Thank God!"
"Are you all right?" Mako asks immediately, staring long and hard into the retreating back of the Wolfbats' waterbender.
"Yeah, what did he want?" Bolin demands, concerned eyes frantically searching Korra's form for any sign of damage.
"He... He offered a formal invitation to the opening dance."
A beat of silence, and then—
"What?" is Mako's incredulous whisper, his eyes horror-stricken. Bolin, on the other hand, actually laughs aloud.
"Yeah, as if! Who does this guy think he is? What a creep!"
"Well, I'm glad you showed him off," Mako says loudly as he points a thumb in the opponent's direction, still obviously disturbed by this turn of events. "He'll take it out on us at the match, but at least he'll probably leave you alone for the rest of the night."
"And if not, we can totally take him!" Bolin pumps a fist through the air, and a second later, his face goes blank with a worrisome thought. "Although... he'll probably want revenge on Korra in the ring, won't he? Nothing like a woman scorned or something like that, yeah?"
Mako looks more bothered by Bolin's choice of words than by the concept that he's proposing, and Bolin doesn't notice the sudden awkwardness between Mako and Korra, but continues to talk on until he can convince himself that there is nothing to worry about. "So, how did you break it to him? Tell me about the look on his face when you rejected him!"
Korra looks on at Bolin's smile, exorbitant in its brightness, and tries to swallow. She has never had any trouble getting a word in before... She briefly glances to Mako, wondering if he notices any difference in her behavior, and despite meeting his penetrating stare, she is none the wiser as to what is going on behind those golden eyes.
"I'd pay big money to have seen it!" Bolin laughs, still uncomfortable, and Korra feels her heart clench in her chest at the notion of why. She just has to say it. Get it all out in one giant rush. "So go on, how'd you do it?" he asks again, and it is at this moment that she can see the recognition in Mako's incredulous gaze, and as his jaw drops and eyes widen, she feels her world tilt. "What did you tell him?"
"I'm sorry... what?"
Korra isn't sure who had spoken, but feels that she should address the issue. She tells them the story of an old Northern folktale about a dutiful Princess and her underdog suitor and how, because of her patience and open-mindedness, she accepted the first invitation she received, which was made by a poor peasant boy. Because of this, the two immediately fell in love, and their tribe was later ruled by a kind and wise Chief. And so for the tribes it had become a bit of a game over the years, and then a societal rule, and now... a tradition.
But the boys aren't having any of that.
"Are you—are you serious?" Mako's tone is so scolding it makes her cringe... and it looks like Bolin still needs another moment or two to recover.
"Look," Korra holds up a hand, but she's not sure if it's placating or defensive. "It's only one dance. It'll be done and over with in a matter of minutes, and then that will be the end of it... and we'll be one step closer to understanding his moves, if you know what I mean."
At this, Mako's eyes widen further and Bolin's head snaps up. "Oh no," Bolin protests immediately. "No way."
"We don't need some underhanded scheme to check out the guy's fighting style, Korra," Mako says gravely, and Korra would feel irritated by his patronly tone if it didn't hurt so much. "We're good. And we play fair and square."
"But he doesn't!" Korra tries to persuade them. "Do you know what he does to his opponents' bodies? How he controls their systems from the inside out? There is no harm in doing a little investigative research."
"Korra, no," Mako says firmly as Bolin stands silent and grave. "You shouldn't have to think like this."
"Think like how?" she asks, and now Mako realizes the error of his insinuation because Korra is on the defensive and this is so not how he wanted this intervention to go.
"Like him!" Bolin whispers fiercely. "Come on, Korra, you're so much better than he is! You just can't dance with him."
"Definitely not," Mako agrees, crossing his arms, and the next thing Korra knows, she is being stared down by two sets of determined eyes from two very adamant brothers. "We'll just have to find Tarrlok and figure out how to break it off diplomatically to save face."
"Forget saving face!" Bolin cries. "I'm breaking his in as soon as we get into the arena!"
Korra looks back and forth between her teammates, feeling colder and colder with each passing comment. The concern for her well-being is obviously present, lodged somewhere in-between the many overprotective pronouncements and inadvertent slights to her abilities, but Korra cannot help but wonder at the territorial barrier they have unknowingly created about her person, or the emphasis Mako continues to place on the tournament being top-priority, or the vague but sickening thought that—although neither of them are quite willing to seriously consider her that way again anytime soon—maybe... maybe they just don't want anyone else to be around her until they're good and ready to start their pickings all over again.
Eyes narrowing with the disbelief of what is about to come out of her own mouth, and the curious sense of rightness that she feels in the words, Korra shrugs and casually says, "A dance is a dance." The brothers stare at her with a blatant lack of understanding, and Korra feels a small vindictive sense of victory in having finally made them hear her.
"Uh, yeah, except when it isn't," Bolin argues, and it almost sounds as if he is begging now.
"Korra, what if he—what if he tries something?" Mako asks awkwardly, using a vague hand gesture to compensate for the words he cannot say.
"You mean, what if he tries to pull a move on me?" Korra asks with an amused brow. The tips of Mako's ears turn pink, and both his coloring and his infuriated grimace are matched by Bolin's rising anger. "Come on, guys, seriously?" She cuts out, growing more frustrated herself. Is this really what they think of her abilities?
And you? Who will handle you?
She pauses as Tahno's words flow through her mind like a wave and she knows in this moment that the choice she has made is not an unintelligent one; foolish, certainly, but not uninformed and not ill-founded. She looks into the eyes of the brothers, chin held high, and makes a promise that leaves no room for argument. "I can handle myself just fine," she says with conviction, eyes hard.
And then upon seeing the utter misery cast across their faces, her expression softens. "I promise, guys, I'll be fine," she says with care and tries for a warm and reassuring smile. But then she sees movement out of the corner of her eye, and Asami is now heading their way. Korra stills for a moment, caught by surprise, and her eyes involuntarily find Mako's, who has also seen the young woman's approach, and he looks just as torn and confused as ever. She breaks the connection as he opens his mouth to say something, ignoring the churning in her core, and knows that she has to get away, has to leave this space before Asami gets any closer because if she has to spend one more minute pretending—
"I don't like this one bit," Bolin says sullenly, and he is already sulking. Korra frowns because she hates to see him so upset, and can't stand that he feels so terrible because of her, but there is another unpleasant feeling worming its way through her gut that she can't describe.
"I don't either," she whispers to him in a quiet plea for understanding as she backs away. "I'll be back," she says as she turns away, and then it occurs to her that this unpleasant feeling is guilt... because she's telling a lie, isn't she?
And then the first horn is sounding and Korra knows that this is the call for the evening's first dancers to assume their positions.
"Admit it, Avatar," Tahno says smoothly. He raises a palm as if taking an oath and she matches with her opposite hand. "You're curious."
Their palms connect as the horns blare and suddenly the whole room is set into motion. They begin to circle one another, connected by the touch of their hands, and the steady, thrumming beat stirs her soul as it reverberates inside her. Although she is aware of the countless other couples matching their every movement all across the open floor, she can only focus on feel of his hand pressed against hers. She would never have expected such heat from so cold a person.
"As are you," she says evenly in between the haunting blasts of the horns. They switch hands and Korra can feel the push and pull of their bodies as they change direction.
"Well, it's only logical, isn't it? You being the Avatar and I being the multi-championship Professional Bender that I am," he leans closer so that he can be heard above the growing bass, and Korra forces herself not to retreat. "What doesn't make sense is how you got so interested in those pathetic teammates of yours."
Korra raises an inquisitive brow as she follows the next steps, and she shoots him a speculative glance. "Do I detect a hint of jealousy in your tone, pretty boy?" she asks boldly as they make their way farther across the room.
"You wish," he whispers, and then they are face-to-face, merely a breath away, and after a moment of closely sizing each other up, Korra finds herself being spun outward and extended like a water whip before being rolled back into a solid chest. An accusatory glare digs into her brow at his unnecessary roughness, but it's true that even this forceful gesture is smooth and fluid like the water they bend. Privately thrilled at the opening to play a little more according to her usual style, Korra looks for an opportunity to even the score.
"The Fire Ferret brothers have just as many fans as you do," she points out, dipping down below their intertwined fingers and letting him lead her around one of the many raging fires. "Something about them must be drawing in their cheerleaders... it's not as if they have any past trophies to wave around, after all."
"Is it the same thing something that drew you in as well?" Tahno whispers into her hair, his hot breath pulsing over the shell of her ear.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she bites out as she spins to face him, and when he twirls her again, she swallows her anger and hopes that the glow of the fire is enough to conceal the reddening of her cheeks.
"Indeed," he hums, thoroughly unconvinced. "I've seen your matches... the team dynamics aren't exactly difficult to surmise. And though I can't say I'm entirely surprised by your awful tastes... I must admit I had expected better from someone like you."
"And what's that supposed to mean?" she spits, wholly discomfited by the turn this conversation has taken. The heat of the surrounding flames have already conjured the beads of sweat at her brow and she is starting to feel the inevitable trickle of moisture slide down her spine.
"As crude and as savage as you are, you have an unmistakable elegance to your movements," he whispers, deep and dark like all of the corners of her mind that she never even knew existed. His fingers catch the sensitive spot along the inside of her wrist as they shift and Korra knows it is no accident. "You are sloppy with your form and rash in your decisions, but your waterbending is pure. Your bending could possess and even greater natural grace... if you were only willing to tap into some of the talent that must be buried in there somewhere." He presses closer as he finishes his spiel, and Korra knows that the spinning isn't what is making her so dizzy.
"And you know how to unleash it, is that what you're suggesting?" she nearly growls, if only to hide the rush she feels at his words. She has set out to take note of his movements, his patterns, but Korra is realizing just how difficult it is to anticipate them, and the danger of trying.
"Now you're getting the picture," he smirks, tightening his hold on her wrist, and Korra's fingers involuntarily dig deeper into his skin. "Those untrained wannabes can't even be bothered to appreciate the mastery of what is believed to be an extension of our souls. Instead of squandering it on those amateurs, you could take me up on those private lessons... That is, if you think you could handle them."
Korra knows she should be offended on the brothers' behalf, but she is ensnared by the passion she has heard in his voice. Sincerely curious, she gathers her thoughts while completing another turn, and then she observes without sarcasm or disdain: "You feel rather strongly about the state of bending these days."
He looks her in the eye as they sidestep another bonfire and Korra thinks this might be the first time she's ever seen him even remotely serious. "Don't you?"
They fall into line with the other couples, attached by the single hands clasped between them, and as Korra advances toward the other side, she has the vague recollection that perhaps she should try to scout out her boys, to make eye contact with them and to somehow let them know that she's okay—
But then she and Tahno are facing again and the palms have been raised once more. She looks at their joined hands when she says, "I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any other pressing matters to worry about." They lean backward, sliding their fingers along the other's arm as they pull back, trailing their fingertips down, down, down, until their hands lock against the other's again and they are spun right back to where they first began. "Not that you care."
Tahno's smirk widens at the resurgence of her feistiness and he suddenly looks up, his gaze resting on something across the room for a moment as a devious twist curls his lips, but before Korra can see what—or who—he is looking at, he presses a firm hand into the small of her back and dips her down, lowering her in sync with the crowd as they sway and shift around the flames. Korra curls her fingers at the base of his neck for support as she is smoothly dropped, her grip on his other hand tightening instinctively as she is guided in a wide arc above the floor, and for a heart stopping moment, her breath vanishes as he hovers directly over her, their hands stilling as she lies perfectly suspended in his arms.
But soon she is upright and twirling, and as the drumbeat escalates, the dancers begin to tell the story of the song, and Korra is sending fluid kicks over Tahno's lowered form before bending over backward to dodge a wide swipe of his hand.
"You know, perhaps it makes sense after all," Tahno says suddenly, and when Korra's mind returns from the near meditative state the dancing has put her into, she notices the film of sweat that is covering Tahno's skin as well. "It's quite possible that this little infatuation of yours with the amateurs is based in the same primitive desire for novelty that drives them to you."
"Excuse me?" she says breathily, feeling their hands slip as they slide over each other, and as angry as she is, she is entranced by the tiny beads of sweat gathering above Tahno's upper lip.
"Think of how foreign you must be to them," he whispers, leaning in close. "To such street urchins as they, you are downright exotic."
"Do you have a point somewhere in that saccharine shit you're spewing?"
"Language, Avatar," he smiles, and then dips her once more. Although familiar with the dance, Korra is still attuning herself to his movements, and the suddenness and severity of the drop catches her by surprise. Her back arches as she is pressed into the chest above her and she gasps at the contact. She lets her head fall back as he steadies her, and her eyes fall shut as she feels the unevenness of his own breathing through her ribs, before she hears the audible movement within his throat as he swallows. Her eyes snap open as she regains her bearings, but Tahno's gaze is too intense and her mouth runs dry at the sight of such complete, undivided attention focused wholly on her.
"All I'm saying is that if a bit of novelty's all you're looking for, you could just as easily look a little closer to home."
Korra is brought back to a standing position, but through all the the twirling, her mind has suddenly been cleared. "Fancy disguise or no, you are hardly water tribe material," she says unkindly, turning her back to him in tune with the horns.
"Oh? By whose standards? Have you ever even seen the tundra of the North?" he breathes into her ear, and his breath is sweet and dizzying. "I think you'd be surprised by just how water tribe I can be."
"You make it sound as if being a tribe member is something provocative," she glares.
"Isn't it?" he smiles. "Look around you."
As much as Korra hates to admit it, she cannot deny the balmy heat of the surrounding bodies, all pushing and pulling like eager waves lapping upon a welcoming shore. Flashes of slender limbs, bronze and light-skinned a like, are all forceful in their fluidity, electric in their connectedness, and are all kissed by the bullets of sweat that permeates the tension hanging with the moisture in the air.
Enough playing around, Korra, she snaps to herself, brusquely turning away. God, get your head back in the game and do what you came here to do. Get creative, for crying out loud.
He spins her to face him and asks, "Tell me, Avatar... Do you think the brothers find our cultural differences discomforting? Or perhaps it is as I said before: our customs may be as thrilling to them as you are? After all... there is a sensuality about our people that is unrivaled."
"I have a feeling you're about to explain why," she drawls, trying to keep her exasperation—curiosity—to a minimum while she circles around his front, dragging her fingertips along his collarbone as she switches sides.
"With pleasure," he says through a purely feline grin, tugging at a rebellious, run-away curl at the nape of her neck and she can't bring herself to mind. "For example, it's no secret that firebenders are often touted as the most passionate... but what good is a flame that will only burn out?"
"And what makes a wave so superior in comparison?" she questions, determined to push back even harder. "Each element is desirable in its own way."
"Spoken like a true Avatar," he leers. "Well, allow me to enlighten you... Tell me something about any of the elements, any reason you believe makes them worthy, and I'll explain it to you in a way that you can understand."
"All right," she whispers with a cocky smile, unable to resist a challenge. "The heat of a flame," she begins, starting with the element he has already expressed a distaste for. She is unavoidably reminded of Mako and unknowingly spares a glance to the watching crowd as if she might catch his eye.
"Inconsistent and erratic," Tahno says immediately with a disbelieving scoff, and Korra is left to wonder just how deep his dislike runs for the oldest of the brothers. "It's unpredictable, even when controlled. Who wouldn't prefer the strong, steady crash of a wave?"
"And for those who enjoy the burn?" she presses in, trailing warm fingertips along the lapel of his tunic.
"Are you telling me that a waterbender can't make your blood boil just as easily?" he snatches her hand, placing it at the juncture where his neck and shoulder meet.
"Many would argue that fire has a pulse," she tries again, slipping her fingers beneath the folds of fabric.
"And the sea has no rhythm?"
"The solidity of the earth," she begins anew, growing frustrated in spite of herself.
"You mean immovable and stiff? Please, Korra, give me something a bit more challenging."
She suppresses a shiver, ignoring the pleasant way his tongue wraps itself around her name, and glares.
If you insist.
Korra follows the movements of her counterparts, turning her back to his front and allowing herself to flow downward, brushing against him as her torso rolls with the waves of her movement, and her hands travel down her sides as she revels in a vindictive pleasure that she barely knew she possessed. The horns are growing louder, and the crescendo of the speeding drums is telling Korra that the song will soon be over, but she isn't quite done yet.
"And air?" she breathes as she moves to stand, pressing back into the wall of his chest and the broadness of his shoulders. "What clever comments do you have to make about air?"
She can feel his heart pounding into her back, can feel the ragged breathing pulse against her bare shoulder as she snakes her arms behind to rest at his hips. As her fingers take hold of the fabric at his belt, she can feel the well-defined muscles rippling beneath the thin material, and soon his hands are winding themselves into the curves of her waist, finding purchase at the slopes leading down to her hips. She rests her head back against the valley at his neck, feeling herself align with the flowing line of his body and digging her nails in deeper to better understand and match the movements.
"Really, Avatar," he whispers, and now there is no pretense of distance as his warm lips press against the space behind her ear, and she is left feeling light-headed and breathless as heat continues to pool in her center. "When an element envelopes you, do you want to pretend, or do you want to feel it?"
She slowly drags her fingers up her sides, reaching over her shoulders until they connect behind his neck, bringing them even closer. She arches her back in sync with his, rolling her torso with the guidance of his long fingers, and from this angle, it is wholly impossible to not feel the exact effect she is having on him. Scraping her nails against his nape as they match the deafening rhythm pounding around them, pulling at the hair she finds there, Korra has no choice but to let this feeling take over—just for a moment—and she relaxes into him. Enjoying the tension in their muscles and the pliancy in their movements, savoring the litheness that can only be brought by two powerful waterbenders flowing in tandem, Korra lifts her chin, offering the long, elegant shape of her neck, and Tahno nearly groans as he breathes in the scent of her, his nose and lips brushing across the bare skin she has exposed.
He whips her around again, and while Korra can vaguely recognize that they are still following the steps, it's clear that she and Tahno have been obeying a very different command for quite some time. The air feels so much heavier, so much thicker, and Korra is nearly driven mad by the intensity of the feelings coursing through her. The song is ending, the horns sounding out their final calls, and Korra can feel them vibrating within her chest as she and Tahno assume their last position and are face-to-face once more.
"Do you think we've made your teammates jealous?" he manages through the unsteady breaths that he tries to conceal, but it's impossible because she is close enough to taste them. "I certainly hope our time together won't prove too distracting for them at our match."
Korra starts slightly at his words, her mind jolting into overdrive as she instantly recalls disdainful comments about team dynamics and the memory of Tahno sneering smugly into the crowd and holy shit, this is just a part of the game for him too, isn't it?
"Not that it will make a difference," he adds as an afterthought, his voice ringing viciously in her ears, and suddenly Korra can see him for the sleaze that he is, just as clearly as ever. Guilt and shame and embarrassment flood through her as the full extent of her stupidity washes over her and she is disappointed and sick and angry. Her fingers tighten at his robes as an idea occurs to her, but he is still completely absorbed in what he's about to tell her, and thus doesn't notice the tension that has drawn itself into her spine. "You're still going to lose, after all. You don't have what it takes to win... At least, not yet." Korra stares up into the suggestiveness of his fox-like grin, wishing more than ever that she could get just one good hit, but she is willing to settle for the next best course of action. For now. Save it for the ring.
"I don't think you'll have to worry about the Fire Ferret brothers," she assures him through heavy lidded eyes, voice soft and alluring. She licks her lips ever so slightly, pouring all the fire she has into her gaze, all the fire that she has in her very soul.
"Oh?" he breathes, unable to keep himself from leaning in toward her upturned face. His fingers dust along the line of her neck until the come to rest at her jaw and Korra knows that he will not wait for her to finish.
As the final horn belts out its last mournful cry, Korra thrusts her whole body into his, pressing a firm and unforgiving thumb into a sensitive area at his neck that effectively stills his advances. Her eyes have become hard and cold and mocking, and as her body rests against his in the most intimate of ways, exposing the fullness of his desire for her, Tahno's eyes cannot hide his confusion or surprise at having been caught so off guard.
She presses in more deeply and, with an edge she might have previously believed was reserved only for Amon, she whispers, "You should worry about yourself first."
His eyes narrow and the confusion in the pale ice is lost, fading to the bitter resignation of someone who still feels the resounding impact of an unexpected blow. As the cold aloofness that Korra has grown accustomed to is carved firmly back into his features, Korra feels the air around them shift with a new surge of electricity. Korra wants to punch him more than ever, but she's thoroughly unnerved because she's also sure that what she wants even more than that is—
"Always have," Tahno says coolly, and he steps back as the young crowd around them begins to cheer and applaud over the conclusion of their opening dance. The distance between is immeasurable now, only heightened by the scorching heat that had held them together just a moment before, and Korra feels a sick twisting in her gut as she again notes the captivating way the firelight dances over his pale skin.
"Always will?" she whispers snidely, and she is furious with herself because her tone is not the detached voice of someone who is completely unaffected, but instead sings of someone who perhaps cares about the answer a little too much.
There is a beat of silence, of calculation, and then Tahno takes a step closer—cautious, predatory, she can't decide—and she is holding her ground. His eyes are clear and lucid, but he is still short of breath and the sound of it makes her head spin.
"I suppose we'll see," he whispers above her, and Korra knows that she will dream of those eyes tonight. "Won't we?"
Korra holds his gaze for as long as she is able, and when she knows that she cannot take anymore, she presents him with a formal bow. He bows in return, never once breaking the connection between their gazes, and as the people begin to disperse, Korra takes her chance and makes her way out of the crowd, still feeling his eyes searing into her back long after she finally makes it out into the biting air.
End Note: Holy shit, where did this come from?
I'm not even sure myself. There is just something about this pairing that screams at me to try my hand at writing smut. They deserve smut, yes? I think I just might try it.
This was actually supposed to keep going even further, but it was getting way too long (I HAD TO FORCE MYSELF TO STOP). Thus, you can expect a brief follow-up piece (or maybe two or three) to this one-shot, which will probably be placed in my small LoK drabble collection called a river running raw. If you liked what you read here, you may be interested in checking out the rest of what I've got over there, anyway.
EDIT: 6/3/12. The ONE-SHOT sequel, but we're still so cold, has been posted and can be found on my FFNET profile. After that, you can check out the multi-chapter continuation, gray skies ahead, which can also be found on my profile page.
Thanks for all the love, y'all. :)