She found him at the water's edge.
Tahno stood still, his muscles tight, fists clenched. It wasn't like before, when he'd been hunched over on the bench in the police station, when he'd shuffled along after Tenzin and Beifong, when he'd barely had the strength to lift his head and look at her in the eye.
He stood tall, proud, and alone. Mostly alone.
Korra watched him from afar, gripping the bark of the tree that she hid herself behind. Her fingertips pressed into the trunk.
Tahno lowered himself a bit, unbending his knees and swaying with his hips as he leaned forward ever so slightly. He was in the proper stance. He held his hands out in front of him and slowly moved them back and forth, matching his rhythm with that of the water. Korra bit her lip, and a piece of the guilt that she'd been pushing back tried to slither its way back onto her conscience. It whispered in her ear, whispered the things that she wanted to ignore and forget and toss in the very same river that Tahno stood by now.
She'd been the one who'd begged the council to keep the arena open. She'd been the one who ignored the threat. She could have done something, something more. But she… No. It wasn't her fault.
Tahno's loss was not her fault.
Why, oh, why did she keep thinking about it then? She'd expressed her sympathy, and she'd promised that she'd get Amon for him. What else could she do, anyway? Shouldn't that be enough? He wasn't her friend. Why should she care? Tahno was cocky and annoying and pompous and infuriating. Or at least… he used to be.
Tahno reached out over the water to copy its current. His fingers dripped out slow, undulating motions, calm and cool. She watched him silently and shifted, leaning further away from the tree. Her stomach knotted when she realized what he was doing, the things he was pretending, the life he was grasping for.
The life that didn't exist.
She released the breath she realized that she'd been holding. Maybe there really was something else she could do for him. Yes. Maybe if she just—
Tahno stopped and whipped around, his body hunching over again, his eyes searching and silent and scared. Feral. But they softened when they found her. They were cool, not cold. And he looked at her. He really looked at her. Korra's lip curled up a little as the flush of embarrassment washed over her. He must have heard her. Surprisingly, he smirked.
"Spying on me, Uh-vatar?"
"No," she lied, but she walked towards him anyway.
"Making fun of me as I pathetically pretend that I can bend?"
"It's whatever. I know it's pointless but I have to try." He turned to face the water again, and he breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent of the water, the scent of him and of her. She stood next to him and rested a hand on his arm. She felt him flinch under her touch. Her voice was hesitant, because she didn't know what she should do, but she felt like she had to do something.
"Can I help you?"
"Help me?" he scoffed. "I'm long past helping. I already told you that I've been to the best healers. It's gone." His voice quieted. "It's gone forever."
"I can help you pretend." He turned to her then, and his eyes, his pale eyes so cold and hard, sparked with a flicker of imagination and hope. He just wanted to feel normal again, didn't he? He needed to feel normal, just for a moment. And Korra was the Avatar; it was her job to help those in need.
And he needed her.
She walked into the water. "Come on, get in. Feel the current." He hesitantly obeyed and slowly stepped in, positioning himself in front of her. It was dreamlike, because this never should have happened. And in a better world, it wouldn't have. The water lapped around their knees, pushing and pulling, and Tahno stared hard at Korra, waiting for her instructions. She swallowed. "Move your hands like you're forming a sphere," she said softly. He looked unsure. He looked scared. But he craved normalcy. "With me."
She lowered her hands, fingers stretched out. He mimicked her movements, and the two brought their hands down and swept them up, swaying with slight tilts of their wrists. A bubble of water rose up and formed between his hands. He tried to copy her, he tried to match her, but the flow was off and the rhythm was wrong. His hands fell to his sides, and he stared at the water floating in front of him, at the bending that he couldn't do and at his pathetic reflection looking back at him. It was the reflection of a non-bender, an ex-bender, a failure and a fake. Korra's face was blurred through the water that she controlled.
He slapped it away, and it splashed back into its source. Korra flinched at the sudden, furious movement. His eyes grew cold again. Ice.
"I can't. It doesn't feel like it's me. I don't… I…" His words were lost, and his expression grew sullen again because he was lost too.
He wanted to pretend but it hurt and he couldn't but he needed it and he needed her. He needed her. Maybe he needed her more than he knew, more than she knew. Maybe he needed her in a different way.
"Don't worry about it."
"Let me try one more thing," she murmured as she walked closer, past him, behind him. She placed her hands on his neck, and slid them down his shoulders, arms, wrists. His body was still a bender's body, lean and fit and strong because it didn't matter that Amon had taken his bending, did it?
Tahno would always be a bender.
She pressed herself up against his back, and he tensed. A gasp escaped him because they weren't supposed to be this close, were they? This wasn't supposed to have happened. She was the Avatar and she was the opponent but at the same time she wasn't. Because Amon was the enemy now. Korra was just a girl who wanted to help him because he couldn't help himself. He was weak and she was strong and she was there. He felt her face between his shoulder blades, her breasts pushed against his back, her breath matching his. It started fast and terrified, but calmed as Korra melted against him, a cool mist calming the fire of fear. Their heartbeats raced as one, and their lungs breathed together. Her fingers creeped over the backs of his hands, lining themselves over his fingers, and she was part of him in a scary and new and thrilling way.
She didn't even have to tell him what to do. He responded to her movements as if he were the one moving because he was her and she was him and they were a waterbender, tall and proud and together. Mostly together.
The water rippled below him, and he lifted it up in a swirl. It rushed around him, spiraling up and out, glittering under the sun before crashing back down. Droplets splashed against them, and Korra felt the cry under his skin.
He had done it. He had bent the water.
Korra felt him trembling. Maybe she shouldn't have done anything, maybe she should have left him alone.
"Tahno, I'm so sorry."
He turned and faced her, and his arms found their way around her, and her body fell into his like a puzzle piece. They collapsed in the water, embracing tightly, and it rushed against them wet and familiar and pure. It flowed as pure as the blood in their veins. Korra closed her eyes and pulled him closer, feeling his breath on her skin, his angry tears mingling with the water. Maybe this was what he'd needed all along? He shook in her hold, the sobs finally releasing from him.
This was never supposed to have happened.
This was never supposed to be real.
But in that moment, the moment that felt like perfection, the moment that would stay a secret between the two of them for forever, she wanted it to be real. She longed for it. She didn't want it to be a dream or a fleeting memory. But she knew it would be. She knew this was only for now because they weren't meant to be. But she refused to let go.
So she decided that the only thing they could do right now…
a/n: HEY THERE, TAHNORRA. SORRY I CAN'T WRITE YOU AS WELL AS OTHER PAIRINGS. I'LL MAKE UP FOR IT NEXT TIME. 3