Disclaimer: Disclaim, disclaim, disclaim.

Author's Notes: 5/13/13.

Well. This is it, guys. Before we continue any further, I just want to say thank you again for all the love and support that you've shown this story over the last however many months. It's strange to think that all of this has happened within less than a year, and that it all started with a one-shot that simply grew too big.

I'll be honest: some of you are going to be reading through this final chapter like ~~what the fuck~~ but I promise...

It will all make sense in the end.

MUSICAL INSPIRATION: "Explosions" by Ellie Goulding. "Never Let Me Go" by Florence + The Machine. "Krokodill" by Johann Johannson.

Beta'd by the lovely ebonyquill. I honestly don't know what I'd do without her.


gray skies and blue eyes


"The Avatar has safely returned," he says, investigating the clear glass under his rag. "Does this change your plans?"

The weight of Tahno's back leans heavily against the front door, and as his arm holds the curtain aside, he scoffs. "Which plans?"

Narook merely offers him a meaningful look.

The view from the entrance is not at all unfamiliar; it's a cold morning, but the skies aren't so white or as blue as much as they are gray. The chilling rain has already washed away the barest traces of snow that dusted along the city streets, but the mountaintops are crisp and bright from the recent storm. Fog lines the quiet hush, hovering about the empty walkways beyond the open door. Tahno sighs, inhaling a rare sea breeze that floats along his cheek, and feels the gentle curve of wind brush back the shorter strands of hair that hang at his temple.

"No," he relents, quietly, looking toward the distant harbor. "It doesn't change anything at all."


and everything in between


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Korra leans against the railing of the northernmost gazebo, looking out over the wide expanse of Yue Bay. It's a beautiful morning, in which the gray clouds mask the dawn, and the restless waves crash against the rocks below; it's a sound that she's grown used to over the last few weeks, and it's a rhythm that speaks to her very soul. Korra can see tiny specks of life shuffling over the docks along the far off harbor, and can almost imagine that she sees the sailors preparing for the sea, loading and unloading, shouting orders in the stillness of first light, breathing in the clouds of billowing steam and smoke, and soon Korra can almost taste it, too.

She feels more trapped than ever.

Mako is still there, behind her, and he's been waiting for quite some time, but she hasn't found the motivation to turn and acknowledge his presence. He is quiet, afraid to break the silence as much as she, though she knows that their reasons are not the same.

"I thought the Equalist Revolution wasn't any of your business." It slips out before she even notices, and when she eventually does, her lips part with surprise; as Korra licks and softens the dry skin, she can't bring herself to regret it.

But her accusation is taken as an invitation and, rapidly, the dam breaks. "What are you talking about?" Mako steps closer, and though his voice is soft, it's ragged with disbelief. Maybe even hurt. "Who was right there with you on patrol all those nights? Who was there the night of Hiroshi's exposure?"

They're points that Korra cannot argue, but at their core they are hollow, useless defenses; they forget so many other significant details and, worst of all, they miss her point. Perhaps this is why she remains silent.

"Look, I might have been reluctant to get involved at first, all right?" His voice is equal parts pleading and antagonistic, and still, she doesn't face him. It takes him a moment before he can put his words in order, and this time, a little of the opposition has melted away. "But it's not like that anymore. When Bolin was... I'll admit that it wasn't enough for me when it was just about Equalism and oppression and—and whatever, all right?" he concedes, even softer still. "But I can't apologize for that. I had to look out for what was left of my family."

Mako's warm hand falls softly on her shoulder; she should have been comforted by the act, and she wonders why she's not.

"Why the change?" she whispers. His fingers tighten their hold, brush down to meet hers, and finally, Korra lifts her eyes. His eyes are gold and his hand is on her hand, and everything is warm.

Too warm.

"Because," Mako whispers intently, trapping her in his gaze. He swallows hard, and says, "Because now it's personal."

Korra wants to ask how he could have expected to avoid a revolution forever, and how he thought he could protect Bolin from harm when a slow-crawling chaos was burgeoning all around them. His own brother, the now-almost-a-man sibling that he'd sworn to always protect, had nearly had his bending ripped from him at a rally meant to inspire and sway, and even that had not been enough for Mako, not yet. Why the change? She wants to ask him if he's thought about the others who are suffering, the non-benders and the oppressed who'd harbored enough fear and resentment to allow a man—an idea—like Amon to demand such violence, if they have anything to do with his sudden change of heart, but it's not like she can claim too understand their plight any better than he. It wasn't until after that night underground, the night in which Hiroshi's true plans came to light, until the girl he was supposed to love had her whole world yanked out from beneath her, that Mako even considered the notion of taking a stance, and now... now he was making a stand and—

Why the change?

She waits, hoping for the answer, but it never comes.

Instead, a sound comes from farther behind, a man with a deep voice gently clearing his throat, and Mako's hand slips away. "Good morning," Tenzin calls softly from the veranda. "Excuse me, Mako, but Pema requests that you join her in the kitchen."

She feels him cast her another glance, a parting look that he hopes she'll return, but her eyes have already drifted to the sea. He lingers for as long as he can, and then he is walking away, down the stone path that will eventually lead him to where he is being called. After a time, Korra turns and meets Tenzin's grave expression with a blank one.

She can immediately see how concerned he is, and Korra scolds herself for still being just as useless and selfish of an Avatar as ever. She cracks a smile, and manages a simple, "You worry too much." Her cheekiness falls flat, but she takes pride in the effort.

Tenzin tries to be patient, but as always, he looks like he's thinking too hard, like he's got a million and one things to say and he can't decide which one he wants to deliver first. When he steps forward and meets her at the railing, Korra's not surprised to find that she's grateful for his company; she could hear a few of his million and one things right about now.

"I understand."

Her smile fades. She looks back out to the busying harbor, and shrugs. "That's an awfully big assumption to make."

Slowly, Tenzin shakes his head. "No, Korra," he sighs. "There are few who will completely understand what you have gone through, and I can't presume to be one of them... but I understand you." He follows her gaze toward the boats drifting out into the bay, out toward the memorial statue that guides so many home, and they watch the ships wrestle with the waves. "I couldn't have said so before with such confidence," he continues, his deep voice intoning a soothing cadence that matches the tide. "But by now I'd recognize that look anywhere; this island is my home... but I will not deny that at times over the years, it has also felt like a prison."

Korra looks up. Tenzin's gaze is wistful, and he watches as the first of the ships wander past; something tightens inside of her, and not for the first time, she wishes she were a better person.

"It's hard to wait, isn't it?" he muses, voice strangely light given the gravity of the situation, and Korra marvels at his ability. "The uncertainty, the patience... I'll admit to my earlier concerns, but after all that's happened since your arrival, it is easy to see how much you have grown. I trust your judgment, Korra, and though you will make mistakes, I know that your coming decisions will be wise. I have faith in you."

A small and tentative feeling swells in her chest, and Korra is more than a little shocked to find herself blinking back tears. His words of praise are meant to encourage her and many ways, they do, but... But Korra knows that she has always taken such words too quickly too heart; she has fallen short of others' expectations too many times to let herself get carried away, and instead of filling her head with confidence—with power—this recent show of trust makes her feel very small, very grateful, and very lucky. Humility has never come easily to Korra, but she is learning.

"I feel trapped, Tenzin," she confesses, unable bring herself to say any more.

He looks at her then, and she knows that it's true; although he may not understand everything—although he may not know all that she is going through—he does understand her.

"Then maybe you should find a way to let yourself out," he offers cryptically, with a ghost of a smirk, and it occurs to Korra that there is still much that she has to learn about him.

He strides away from the gazebo with an air of mischievous calm and Korra watches him in blinking confusion as he ambles down the path. A moment passes before realization hits, and Korra's chest explodes with a bubble of unrestrained excitement, enough to make her dizzy. Maybe, if she hurries, she can—

But she can't.

Disappointment stabs through her like a knife, because a second realization hits her just as quickly as the first.

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She has nowhere else to go.

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It isn't until the next morning that Korra gathers her courage.

Her fingers tighten over the railing along the esplanade as she stares out into the harbor, but this time it's the island she sees instead of the city skyline. Naga has been left at home, resting in the chill of the shady beach, and Korra watches as the ferryman takes on new passengers at the docks. She'll only be gone from the island for a few hours, but she couldn't bring herself to buy a return ticket. Not yet. She heaves a deep sigh, and then Korra is pulling at the lapels of a trench coat she'd borrowed long ago, and gives the hat atop her head just the slightest twist. The red scarf is missing today, but Korra doesn't mind.

The walk is a long one, and she keeps her head down the whole way through. She takes special care to avoid the busiest streets, the emptiest alleys, the calmest parks, quietly slipping through the city, unhurried and unnoticed, like a small stream of water trickling through the cracks. For many, the busy day has already begun, and no one has the time to see the young Avatar wandering the city streets, hidden in plain sight by a mere coat. Korra isn't sure if she should be grateful for the anonymity... or saddened by its implications.

She does her best not to be to embittered by it; after all, the most valuable part of her has never been her face.

Korra pushes forward, staring down the city streets with a blank determination that blessedly leaves the rest of her just as numb. She's on autopilot, with her hands in her pockets and her feet moving of their own accord, and her eyes are downcast because she is not supposed to be here and she doesn't need to see the dull and dusty world around her to know where she's going.

She stops at the corner, right around the bend.

It's not that she's frozen; it's just that her feet have simply lost the will to continue on, even despite their having had a mind of all their very own just moments before. She is rooted to the spot, as blank and numb and hollow as ever, and she can't bring herself to move. She can't even force herself to turn back.

Go, Korra's mind whispers.

She wants to go into to his apartment, to just sit alone in his old space, maybe even find some of the things he might have left behind, but she knows. She knows how pathetic it is, how probably-unhealthy, how damaging it could be—it's all relative now, it's all relative—and how, in the end, it won't change anything: It's not the apartment she wants—the bed, the rooms, the faucets, the empty space. What she wants to see is him, but she can't. She wants to go to him, but he's gone. Tahno is gone.

Her foot shifts forward, but her boot leaves a mournful, scraping sound against the stone, and on a final whim of blind panic, Korra marches past the front door to Narook's Seaweed Noodlery and slips into the once-familiar alley hidden on the other side. The light is dank and dripping, a different world compared to the hustle of the street—one that is cold and uninviting, dark and gloomy and sad—so no one notices when a strange girl launches herself onto the lower platform of a fire escape, and crawls her way up a series of metal footholds—quietly clanking in time with the sound of nearby locomotive engines, covered with dew and grime—all the way to the uppermost floor. She is a coward for avoiding Narook, but she simply hasn't the heart to face him; not his gruff voice, not his wistful smile, and especially not his too-clear eyes.

She'll come back and see him some other time, maybe. Soon.

When she's ready.

Korra isn't surprised to find the window locked; Tahno had never been huge on privacy, per se, and there honestly hadn't been very much that he'd been afraid of losing anymore, but he had his quirks, and he'd always been a stickler about locking things up behind him. She throws a quick reconnaissance glance about and then throws caution to wind. A few dew drops here, and a few icy breaths there, and—voila! A few jagged pieces of frozen metal crack and crumble away, and the lock is no more. The noise wasn't particularly loud, but Korra still tries not to look too suspicious in her long trench coat and hat as she casually slips into an apartment that isn't hers. One soft-soled boot slinks to the floor, gently calling out the old creaks in the hardwood, and then Korra carefully climbs inside and soundlessly lowers the dusty window pane.

At first, she doesn't quite realize what she's done. I'm here. She's still crouched on the floor, fingers digging into the wooden sill—what am I doing here?—and then she bolts upright and hastily pulls down the cord to the shutters, trapping herself inside her new prison of choice. The cracks in the blinds send lines of light over the floor and over Korra's chest, but still, all she sees is gray. Swallowing her emotions, Korra slowly pivots, and faces the very thing that she knows will break her heart. A sigh escapes her, and she sees.

It's almost exactly like she'd left it, and that only makes it worse.

It had occurred to her that Narook might have wanted to open the lease as soon as Tahno had left—times are hard, after all, and she can't blame him for running his business the way he sees fit—but she had hoped with all hope that he might wait at least a little while, and it'd only been a few days—just a few one hundred lifetimes—but this... this was more than she could have asked for.

She wanders aimlessly through the main room, trailing hesitant fingertips over the scratchy fabric of the couch as she passes, dusting them along the engravings carved into the crest. Her eyes begin to sting as she traces the patterns of dust lining the impressions in the wood; she'd never noticed the water insignias before.

Her hand slips from the moldings once, twice—her throat gone thick with memory and missing details—and then her hold falls away entirely and she moves forward, away. Everywhere she looks, it's neglected and barren; for one so materialistic, he'd never bothered so much with things, but somehow, Korra thinks it's the smallest items in the vastness of empty space that make her feel the emptiest. The single ceramic mug just barely visible on the kitchenette counter, unused. The abandoned umbrella left by the door, unnecessary.

She doesn't dare peek into any other room, afraid of what she might remember, so she circles the small living room over and over, a tragic bird of prey too afraid to scavenge. What had she hoped to accomplish by coming here? I don't remember. Nothing. The only thing she can dare take away from this nightmare visit is that at least some traces of him have been left behind, some of which he might come back for one day, or at least ask Narook to hold onto... Even though what happened between them is over—even though things will never be the same—she can hold onto the hope that one day she might be able to tell him goodbye properly, to apologize because—

Because she'd been too close; her recklessness had finally dug her a hole that she almost hadn't been able to climb herself out of, not that she'd let herself think about it at the time. But since then, she'd had plenty of time to think about it, to think about exactly how she might have left things behind, and once she'd allowed herself to do it, finally, to think...

Korra decides that if she wants to proclaim herself a person who lives endlessly in the moment—timelessly, forever, always—then she'd better damn well make sure that they were moments she could die with, and not regret.

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Do you regret this decision?

No, Korra realizes. No, she doesn't regret coming here.

This was the right decision, a necessary step in order to move on.

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But Korra also knows when enough

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Dammit.

Tahno's hand digs into his pocket, tearing at the lining in search of a stupid scrap of metal, all while precariously balancing a large bag of groceries over one raised knows that he looks more than a tad ridiculous, but Narook is thankfully still downstairs—no doubt laughing at him from below. You'd think I'd have learned not to lose this damn key by now.

He grumbles to himself as he pushes the paper bag against the wall, using his hip so that his leg can get a rest. He switches arms so that he can search the other pocket, but it's no use; the key is nowhere to be found. He really doesn't want to have to go back downstairs and get the master from Narook. I'd never hear the end of it. Tahno sighs. Seriously, where the fuck did I—ah.

When the door opens, Tahno is not looking up; he is thinking of a million and one things that need to get done, and when and how the hell he's supposed to do them all. He'd been out the whole night for chi-blocker training, came home at dawn for barely a few winks, then turned around and aproned up for Narook's opening shift. Sometime after the lunch hour rush, he'd managed something that might have actually resembled sleep, and when he'd woken to his stomach snarling in anger, he soon found himself walking all the way to the grocer's produce stand just to simply get the smell of seal blubber off his skin. The trip had been a quiet one, in which he made his purchases and walked along the streets without any excitement or children's pointing fingers or any recognition at all; it was just as he was contemplating the depths of his own facelessness among the crowds of ordinary people that it occurred to him that the Sato heiress was due back for another visit within just a matter of days, and how little more he has to offer her.

Coffee at dawn. She'd come drifting into his bar with her long dark hair and her bright green eyes and would smile at him like he was worth something, and eventually, he'd have to reveal the truth. After all she's been through, she deserves to know how wrong she is.

And yet he still wishes that he wouldn't have to be the one to tell her.

Tahno has no illusions about the extent of his selfishness, so he isn't surprised that he's come to accept Asami's company. There's something about the way she looks at him—such trust for so jaded a person—that makes him think that maybe there might be some tiny speck of truth to her words, underneath all the countless layers of wasted potential. Or maybe just that she's incredibly stupid, his mind snaps, as he tosses the key into a bowl on the shelf by the door frame, and nudges the wood closed with the ball of his foot. But she isn't—he knows this, too.

And that's what worries him the most.

He nearly drops the groceries to the floor. Cursing under his breath, Tahno holds tighter to the brown paper bag. "Stupid bag boy," he mutters, craning his neck to secure the top while his arms struggle to find and support the base. "Good-for-nothing, start-up, grocer-in-training... kid."

She is standing by his couch.

Or rather, she is half-hidden behind it, crouching low—offensive, defensive, he knows that stance—as if it were a shield, poised to strike. His first thought is goddamn, is that really necessary? and his second is that he half-wonders if she's already ruined the cushions in her nonsensical game and it is during the third, abruptly, that it occurs to him that—she is here, standing by his couch.

"I... I thought you'd left."

For another moment, Tahno can only stand still. His eyes blink, his fingers twitch, but neither his arms nor his legs aim to move. She rises slowly, placing a small hand over the back of the couch, and it is this movement—random, insignificant—that spurs him into action. Slowly, Tahno steadily twists his body to place the bag of produce on the shelf by the door, and turns back to look at her.

She is still there.

His mouth runs dry. Korra's heels are nervous-shuffling over the floor rug and she is here. She doesn't look the same as when he'd seen her last—here—but beneath the bulky beige and behind the hat she holds in her hands, Korra is here, watching and waiting for him to react, and all he can do is blink. Desperately, he wishes for water.

"I couldn't," he eventually says; the leave you rings clearly in his head, but he hasn't the strength to voice it.

If she hadn't been convinced already, she is sure as hell convinced now. This was a stupid idea, she thinks. I should have known better. But she had, hadn't she? And yet here she is, anyway. He'd told herdon't bother coming back—and she wants to tell him that he was right, but the words won't come out of her mouth.

"You cut your hair," she quietly blurts instead. Before he has a chance to say anything else, she hastily adds, "You look like you're doing well, I mean. That's... good."

Heavily, Tahno nods; his expression is blank, and his eyes are vacant and bright, like he is staring into the headlights of a Satomobile. He says nothing.

A familiar ache quickly spreads into her chest. Korra longs to break the tension, to remove the distance, but there is simply too much space between them and she's not sure how to take it back—how to take any of it back. All she needs is a sign—just one—to prove that it may not all be entirely lost, that they are still the same—things will never be the same—and she will know that this was the right decision, that there is still hope—

But when he takes a step forward, she shuffles back and—"I should go."

He blinks and, just a second too late—

"Wait."

His command falls flat against the walls, but it's still enough to chill her blood. He clears his throat. "I mean," he fumbles. On the other side of the room, Tahno slides his hands into his pockets, lest they be tempted to reach. "You just... You just got here."

Korra's strength wobbles, along with her smile. "Yeah. Yeah, I know, and... and I'm glad I came," she admits, with a lopsided heart. "But I should really get back, you know? Before they worry." What are you doing? Her mind screams, as confusion clouds his eyes. What are you doing? it repeats, desperately. This is what you wanted! This is what you wanted, isn't it? Why are you trying to—? "I really shouldn't have left the island in the first place."

"Then why did you?" he asks.

Korra opens her mouth, feeling her whole body tense for action, but all that comes out is the rush of a sigh. "I just... I just needed to make sure that you were okay."

Slowly, carefully, Tahno edges slightly closer; Korra tries not to run. "You were kidnapped by a deranged bloodbending fanatic... And you want to make sure I'm all right?"

Her laughter is born from pure instinct and nerves. She knows how it all sounds, but she can't help it; it's the truth.

"Well?"

Korra stiffens. "Well, what?"

"Are you satisfied?" he asks her, curious as to what it is she sees, but uncertain as to what it is he wants her to; it's too late by the time he realizes how his voice must have sounded to her just now, low with impatience— instead of fear—and harsh with demand—instead of need.

By the time he sees her hard swallow and her gentle nod, she is already farther away.

"I think you'll be just fine," she whispers, a tiny flare of genuine confidence balancing at one end of a tipping smile. Say something, his mind urges. Tahno's spine runs rigid, fists clenching in his pockets. She's skittish, like a feral cat, but whether it's due to what she's been through or to his presence—their reunion—he can't decide—he'd rather not—but if he doesn't do something soon—

I—

"It really was nice seeing you, Tahno," she says, but her voice is all wrong and her smile is forced and Tahno hates the way she's still putting distance between them—small, subtle steps that maybe she hopes he won't notice.

Say something.

But he doesn't.

Whether or not Korra had been hoping for anything different, she is already slipping through his fingers. There is a flustered smile, a genuine look of longing, and the next thing he knows, she is at the window sill with one leg already stepping out. "You can call me, you know," she offers, but the tone doesn't match her eyes; too bright. "If you ever need anything."

His useless mouth opens to speak, but the fucking words just won't come. They are simply gone. Korra doesn't seem to notice.

She pauses just before she means to disappear—suspended halfway through the frame, in a backdrop of rain and old dark buildings, and beyond that there is nothing but gray skies ahead—and in this light, when she sends him an easygoing smile, it almost looks like relief.

No, his mind whispers.

She smiles again, but this time the feeling feels real. She is wishing him well. She thinks she sees how things are going to be now, how things will never be the same—he knows that look, he's lived that look, a look that cries permanence—and as she salutes him, she says, "See you around, pretty boy."

No—

And as his fingers close around her small wrist, he decides that he is never letting go.

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Her eyes are on his hand, but his eyes are on hers.

He feels her shaky breath,

her hesitance,

her hope.

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Her fear.

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"Tahno...?"

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"Where do you think you're going?"

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"But—"

"Don't," he tells her, gripping tight.

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"Just stay."

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"Tahno, I—"

He pulls her in—down, inside, closer—and she falls into him, crashing into his chest with stiff, rigid arms—wrists poised to break her fall—but it's unnecessary because he has broken the fall for her, and for a split second as she meets his gaze—

He doesn't quite feel so lost anymore.

"I missed you," she whispers, eyes wide and bright with emotion. "I did. I missed you so much. I"

There had once been a time when it had been impossible to distinguish the true initiator—the catalyst, the healer, the fallen—but this time it is clear that Tahno is the one who moves first, though Korra immediately follows; yet for as quickly as he comes crashing down—lips against lips, teeth into teeth—the kiss is a slow one. A taste, a test—it becomes barely a touch at all, in which he drags the skin of his lips over hers and tries to relearn the shape of her kiss. She waits for him, standing still and shaken as she holds her breath, dying to remember this feeling before she has a chance to forget. Her wrist is growing sore from the pressure, and she is going lightheaded from the lack of air, but she wants to savor the pain, this reminder that she's alive, because for a while, she hadn't been entirely sure.

Without warning, she rises up to meet him, rushing her weight forward onto the balls of her feet and reaches up to take hold of his face, pulling him down to meet her. A sound escapes his parted lips, which she catches between her teeth, and as her arms circle around his neck—her forgotten hat falling to the floor—Tahno's hand finally releases its hold on her wrist, grabbing onto the space between them—

And then she is lifted into the air—strong arms wrapped around her frame, hands pressing into her back—and something shifts in Korra's brain, like a memory come alive. Before he has the chance, Korra gasps her mouth away from his, answers his questioning look with a heady one, and then her shoulders shrug the long coat down her arms. Korra leans back in for his kiss, but Tahno is quicker, and he slides his lips onto the freshly exposed skin of her neck. Her head falls back as the coat falls to the floor.

Korra's legs curl around his hips as he holds her at the waist, spreading his long fingers wide over the curve of her ribs. She nudges her face down to meet his and—it wasn't so unlike the moments they'd shared before, she thinks. A quality of roughness to the touches placed with care; a tenderness beneath the marks left by fingers holding on too tight; heady, open-mouthed kisses trailing over skin; a burning, slow and sweet, just below the surface. But there is something new, as well—an intimacy that Korra has never felt before, the trace of a promise caught between them, like a—

She gasps as his tongue finds hers—a dance is just a—and her grip almost slips, but his hands hold firm. They are moving, she realizes. His feet are stumbling over the floor, arms straining with the weight of her as he maneuvers them through the hall. She wants him to push her up against it, to pin her against the wall and to take her, right there, just like he used to. She wants him to kiss her harder, to press his heat into hers, to prove to her that he is here. Korra can feel the warmth of him actually spreading into her lungs, her head, her hips—and she jerks forward, pulling closer and she thrusts herself into him, and he readily leans into her touch, gripping her shoulders, her neck, her face. She can feel the moisture in the air, clinging to their skin, slicking the journeys of his hands over her body, and Korra burns with need. A wall. The floor. She doesn't care. She is here and he isn't gone and—

Korra happens to glance up as he nips at her neck, and it is as his teeth release the tender skin that she sees where they are going, and—

"But—the bed. It's—"

He kisses her. Her mouth, her eyelids, her cheek. It is then that she realizes she is crying.

Realization crashes into her like a wave, knocking the breath from her lungs. She inhales, quick and sharp and panicked, and Tahno kisses her again—her forehead, her nose, her temple. "We're not going to the bed," he tells her. His voice is quiet, full of low and soothing sounds, but now that she can feel the crack in her heart, the fissure only spreads wider and deeper. She clings to him, shutting her eyes tight against the tears that won't stop, and as she lets herself be carried into the bathroom, he whispers, "Not yet."

The next few minutes are hazy. Korra remembers feeling warm and safe—maybe cherished, even—and hearing the comforting sounds of a faucet, the first crash of warm water against the cool tub. She feels him shifting and twisting, bending low to reach the knobs with her still in his arms, with her head still tucked under his chin, never once setting her to the ground. A distant part of her mind knows that this isn't right, and a whisper of a scream echoes deep within, crying out the terrifying certainty that he shouldn't be seeing me like this.

She is the Avatar. She is strong—or, at least, she is supposed to be.

But then he strokes her hair and hoists her higher onto his hips to make her more comfortable, and she remembers that he's never really cared much about that, anyway.

Wisps of steam curl over her cheeks, and soon Korra finds her feet being carefully placed on the floor. With newfound haziness, Korra's arms instinctively raise overhead to allow the top to be pulled away, and as her heavy head falls forward onto his collarbone, she absently thinks that maybe she should protest—she can do it herself, after all—but she can't bring herself to complain. He's here. And maybe I don't actually mind.

As the faucet runs loudly, filling the room with warmth, Tahno carefully strips her of her clothes, as well as his own. The tears have mostly stopped, and the step she makes into the shower is a conscious one, but there is still a heaviness to her limbs, a lethargic tilt to her head that makes it hard to keep her eyes open and when did I get so tired?

His hands move with the water, meticulously washing away her tears, separating the strands of hair, massaging the muscles along her back as she leans forward against him, all the while sprinkling kisses across her skin. Is this Tahno? her foggy brain wonders, feeling his fingers knead themselves into the threads of muscle along her shoulder. Everything feels backwards. This feels familiar.

"Why didn't you leave?" she whispers, before she realizes that it's even formed in her mind, but he almost seems like he's been expecting it.

Tahno looks down at her and she looks up at him, again noticing the difference it can make—when I can see his face. She reaches up to feel the shorter strands, wet and smooth under the steady stream of water, then drifts her fingers to his cheek, his jaw, his mouth. His face looks fuller since the last time she'd seen him—the last time—and though it looks like he still hasn't gotten any sleep, she can feel a certain wiriness to his muscles that wasn't there before. Well...

A flash of light, of gleaming ice and dancing flames, and Korra dusts her fingers over the grooves of his chest—the hollow of his clavicle—and thinks, Maybe once.

"You didn't answer me," she whispers, locking her eyes onto her hand beneath the water. Even beneath the mist of the swirling steam, Korra can see that his skin holds a healthy glow. Has he been training again? she wonders with a frown, unsure of why this might bother her. His arms have regained some of their old bulk, his shoulders are set just a bit wider now, and the planes of muscle at his stomach are definitely better-defined; the skin that had been growing soft has turned hard and lean—healing, just like she'd hoped—so why is there dread swimming in her gut?

Two fingers press below her chin, and although her face raises to meet his, her eyes are slower to follow. He almost looks like a completely different person... Only not. Korra frowns, feeling the inescapable urge to cry all over again. As if sensing her distress, Tahno leans close, pressing his forehead to hers, and flicks her across the ear.

"Stupid," he whispers, kissing away the sting. When he pulls back, she sees blue eyes and— "I already did."

It takes a moment for the implications to set in, and when they do—Korra shakes her head, instinctively, involuntarily, and Tahno pulls her close and holds her, giving her the reassurance for which she won't dare ask. They are in the shower for what Korra thinks must be hours, but truly, she can't really sense the passage of time, can't recognize anything save for the knowledge that he never left, and Tahno knows that he is going to run out of hot water, that Narook won't be able to keep footing the bill—but he doesn't care, he'll find the money. When she is lulled and calmed and when the tears have finally come to an end, he turns off the tap and wraps her in a warm towel; this time, she does open her mouth to protest that hey, I can walk myself or maybe hey, get your hands off me, I can do it but it is weak and sleepy and he picks her up before she musters the will, one arm sliding under her knees as the other supports her shoulders, and carefully carries her to the bed. He lays her down, discards his own towel to the floor, then slips underneath the covers beside her.

Her hair cools along the pillowcase, clinging to the back of her neck in the worst of ways, but Korra can barely open her eyes. The world feels like a mass of cloudy gray and the quiet calm roars in her ears. She tries to blink away the bleariness from her eyes, hoping to rid herself of this grogginess, but it just isn't meant to be. When she slowly drags her gaze up the line of the arm bent before her—elbow, wrist, fingers—to the pair of eyes staring back at her, drinking her in, the heaviness doubles and weighs down upon her chest, directly over her heart.

"This seems familiar," she mutters drowsily, finally voicing the thought that has been nagging at the back of her mind.

It's a small thing, but it makes all the difference; the tell-tale tilt of his smirk comes into view and— "This time, however," he quietly argues. "Is far better."

Korra's brows draw themselves together and—she thinks she maybe shouldn't but—she can't help but feel betrayed. "Why?" she asks, acutely aware of the break within her chest. "Because this time it's me who's the mess?"

"No," Tahno murmurs. His smirk widens, but Korra finds that the effect is no longer the same.

"Then why?" she demands.

"Because this time the clothes have been left on the bathroom floor," he reminds her with a meaningful tilt of his brow, and Korra's chagrin creeps into her own. He wipes away the crease with a calloused thumb, a quirk thinning his lips, and says, "And we're both messes, Korra."

She doesn't really have anything that she can say to that, so instead she lifts a hand and, tentatively, plays with his hair. "You cut it," she repeats. His expression his blank, but his eyes are very clear, indeed.

"Yes," he whispers.

Slowly, she nods her head, brushing her cheek along the soft linen sheet. "It suits you," she tells him. She doesn't say, Just like I knew it would.

"I'll be expecting your end of the bargain soon."

And to her surprise, she smiles. "Maybe I'll cut mine, too," she jokes weakly.

"No."

Korra gives him a queer smile, watching his expression with knowing eyes. How strange, she suddenly thinks. To be here, like this. Again.

"What is it?" he asks.

A breathy laugh escapes her, but the sound rings hollow, a mere ripple in a stream that used to know the crashing of waves. I thought I'd never see you again, she wants to tell him. I thought... But how could she share such things? She could tell him how she'd never been more frightened in her entire life—to have her own limbs bent from her, to have her own blood betray her in such a way—or how she'd never known what it was to be so lost and alone. She could tell him that, for a brief split-second—one that she hadn't even considered acknowledging until days later, in the privacy of her tortured thoughts—she knew with all her heart that death or something was worse had been just around the corner. She wants to tell him and yet she doesn't, for saying it aloud will make it real and—even if she has had too much of nightmares lately, even if this is nothing but a dream—she is still afraid.

But she is the Avatar and she must be strong, and if there was one thing Tahno seemed to care about, it was this.

"You were right, you know."

His expression tightens, and he looks at her with skeptical eyes. "About what?"

The breath becomes a scoff: tired, conceding, grateful. "About everything," she whispers. "The night I was taken away, Tarrlok said... Well, he said a lot of things."

"It doesn't matter what Tarrlok said."

"But it does," she counters, a plea for understanding. "Even if he wasn't completely right—"

"—in his right mind, you mean."

"He was still at least partly right," she finished, staring at him seriously. His eyes burned into hers. "And so were you," she admits, with every ounce of heartfelt truth she has within her. "I've been going about everything so wrong... You told me, but I didn't listen."

His tone is light, but he can't hide the way his jaw clenches. "You never listen to anyone," he points out.

"I should have," she whispers, stringing fingers through soft strands of hair. "I should have listened to you."

"Try to remember that the next time you ignore my advice." His tone aims to sass, but the feeling of his hair being petted against his temple is too great, so the words become little more than a sleepy hum.

Inevitably, she laughs—a true, genuine laugh—but after a few moments, her hand stills. Subdued, Korra gathers the nerve to ask, "Will there be? A next time, I mean."

Tahno opens his eyes, not having realized that he'd even closed them. He looks at her curiously. Isn't this answer enough? He frowns. But maybe not. Maybe she needs to hear it? he wonders, remembering just a few precious moments before. He'd thought his reason had been clear, back under the rain of the shower head—he'd never seen so clearly, at least—and yet it hadn't been enough. She'd nearly flitted away, out of his reach, again—no, never, never again—but words hadn't been necessary, even then. Maybe she does need a clearer answer, he decides, just as he regrets knowing that he will never be very good at giving one. Maybe

"I did listen to you though," she whispers suddenly, dusting her fingers along his jaw. "At least once."

Unavoidably, Tahno snorts softly into the pillow. "Praise Yue."

"I mean it," she insists, fighting her smile. Why hold back? he wonders, watching the flecks of light in her eyes. He is still bewildered by her uncertainty, her hesitance, but while he can't pretend to have ever understood what goes through her mind, he knows now that he can convince her to stay. His head goes light and dizzy and drunk with the scent of her, and—he has that power, Tahno realizes, to convince her to stay

And it makes him feel invincible.

"Oh?" he smirks up at her, lifting a wide, warm hand to cup her cheek.

She isn't a very good actress, but he doesn't mind. "Just this once, I'll let it go to your head," she allows. Her eyes roll, but it is a familiar gesture, one that he never thought he'd miss. "Even if I screwed up all the other stuff... And maybe I screwed it up pretty badly, well... you were the one who taught me how to save myself, you know."

He waits for the punch line, but it never comes.

Slowly, his head turns, and Korra meets his penetrating gaze with her honest one. "What are you talking about?"

"What we did," she trails off. "Up there on the roof... When you taught me how to evade—"

"I remember," he quietly snaps; the tilt to his brow tells her that he hadn't meant to, and the tug of his frown tells her that he's just as surprised as she is.

"I remembered," she continues, shifting closer, locking their eyes in an effort to keep him from pulling away. "I remembered what you taught me." When he turns his face, her hand calls it back. "When I was... When I was on the mountain, I had a choice," she hurries out. "I could try to stay and fight Amon, or I could run."

His brows furrow, he frowns, and bewilderedly, he asks, "So?"

"I heard your voice, Tahno," she told him, finding his fingers with hers. His mind runs blank. "Tahno, it was you telling me to get the hell out of there."

Thoughtlessly, Tahno shakes his head, his cheek brushing against the soft fabric of the pillowcase. He'd forgotten how soft it really was. "Unbelievable," he scoffs.

Korra frowns, feeling annoyance well up within her. "Why wouldn't you believe that?" she demands quietly, gripping his fingers tight.

"What?" he laughs, eyes focused on a point just beyond her ear. He is still refusing to look at her and she doesn't understand why now of all times— "You choosing to listen to the one piece of advice I hoped you'd never have to follow?" he spits. "Believe me, it's all too believable."

Though it feels completely inappropriate given their situation, she smiles. We're here, she remembers. As long as we have that... Things will never be the same—

But they would be okay.

Consciously, Korra slides her fingers up the meager space between them and places them over the side of his face, letting her fingers spread gently over his cheek, his chin, his neck, his lips.

"Do you believe this?" she wonders aloud.

Yes, he thinks. No.

Sometimes.

"I meant what I said, you know," he says instead. "About the one suggestion I didn't want you to take."

"To run away?" she asks, confused. "But why not? It saved me, didn't it? That's why you taught me it in the first place."

But Tahno only shakes his head, and for the life of her, Korra can't figure out why he's so upset. Because he is. He is upset—

"It was to help you escape," he quietly admits. Korra has given up on pulling his face toward her, and so resigns herself to instead draping her bare body flush against his. The lines of his expression tell her that he knows exactly what game she is trying to play, even as she feigns innocence—a terrible, terrible actress, he thinks—but Tahno is looking at her now, so that's something, at least.

"Then... what?"

A great sigh escapes him, coming from deep within his chest. "At the time, I never thought I'd be forced to one day ask it of you, myself." At her confusion, Tahno releases a scoff, and looks away again. "I just never thought I'd be in a position where I'd be forced to... make you run. From me."

"What... what do you mean?"

"What do you think all of that was?" he snaps viciously, twisting to where her frame still hovered over his chest. He can see the understanding unfold across her face. "You think any of that was for my benefit?"

"You—you idiot," she whispers, digging her nails into the thin skin of his shoulder. He hisses in pain, but she isn't quite through just yet. "How could you—you fucking—"

"Ow—hey, watch it—"

"You thought it was for mine?" she seethes, tensing above him, and he knows that there will be bruises on skin by the morning. "How could you even think—for one second—that..." But she can't finish. Korra can't decide if she's more bothered by the fact that he played her—

—or by how easily she believed it.

Her eyes burn. "And who the hell gave you the right to make that decision, anyway?"

He flicks back his bangs with a scoff—and it's so familiar, it hurts. "Admit it," he grounds out fiercely, leaning up on his forearms to meet her beautiful, snarling, twisting face. "You weren't going anywhere with me, Avatar." And oh, that shouldn't sting, but it does. "Not with the way that I was."

The words manage to slip through her panting breaths, and slowly, uncertainly, her fury begins to fade. "The way that you were?" Korra whispers, searching his expression, all sharp angles and crisp lines, pale even against the cotton white. "Why would that... Why would you... ?" But one look at his face tells Korra that he is not going to answer her.

She is surprised to find that she doesn't need him to.

"Are you... are you saying that things are different now?"

What a stupid question, he wants to spit. Even he is so caught off guard by the sudden intensity of his feelings that he cannot properly form the words; he wants to push her away, to pull her close, to hide her away from the world in his room for the rest of forever, in a world where the outside won't exist. He wants to live in a world where she will be his, undoubtedly.

Before his eyes, her face crumples. "Stupid," she spits, at the same time nuzzling closer into his neck while striking an unforgiving fist into his shoulder. Tahno has gotten stronger, but she is strong, and so he can't help the astounded groan that tears from his lips as the sensation ricochets through his bones. "Fuck," she muffles into his neck, and the rest of her weight drops heavily onto the length of his body. Another grunt of discomfort escapes him as the air is expelled from his lungs, but this time when she raises her fist, he snatches it away and holds it tight to the side, for safe-keeping. For a few moments, there is nothing but the feeling of her chest expanding over the rise of his, the ebb and flow of their breaths sounding in the silence, and when she mutters an impassioned, "I really fucking hate you sometimes," his first response is a laugh.

"I can live with that," he quietly offers a moment later.

Whether or not she realizes the full extent of what he's offering—well.

That remains to be seen.

She's quiet as she lays over him, breathing contentedly into the space above his neck, and so when a few peaceful minutes have passed, Tahno grazes his fingers over the dip of her spine, and begins rubbing patterns and promises along the small of her back. She is thinking, he knows, and he'd rather enjoy the moment, anyway, while he can. Gradually, it comes to his notice that the spine he is tending to has stiffened, and his hands still where they lay.

She looks up at him from the crook of his shoulder—blue eyes, gray skies—and even before she speaks, his throat inevitably goes tight.

"Does this... does this mean that I can come back?" she whispers.

The tightness in his throat worsens, but he swallows it down as best he can. He looks at her softly, then—touching her hair, her neck, her face. He places a kiss atop each of her fingers, smoothing his thumb over the skin that was very recently a fist. I think it means that I wish you'd never left, he tells her, latching his hand onto hers. It means I never should have pushed you away.

It is when he aligns his fingers with hers and closes them tightly over the back of her hand, completing the hold, that he says aloud, "It means that I never should have told you to leave."

Korra stares into his eyes—blue skies, gray eyes; blue eyes, gray skies—and is calm.

She is terrified, of course.

But she is at peace.

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"One more try?"

she whispers.

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He touches his forehead to hers.

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"One more try."

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It is a few hours later. Much is uncertain, but they have done what they can; it only makes sense, they agree, to keep their secrets just a little while longer—to protect her, to protect him—and then after that, who knows? Korra isn't one to hide in the shadows—only large, protective fortress-training units for decades in an icy tundra, he points out, irritatingly—and Tahno isn't either, but he at least has the good sense to duck when trouble is coming—Oh, yeah? Like that time in the arena? The one when I sucker-punched you in your stupid face? Remember that? Remember that, Tahno—?

They have found a place for themselves at the window sill. I'll show you a fortress, pretty boy, she'd claimed, before proceeding to wreak havoc upon his bedsheets. They've taken all of his pillows and blankets and have built up, indeed, a veritable fortress—I am Queen Korra, Avatar Mistress of the Noodlery Castle, hear me roar!—to which Tahno has been graciously invited—Oh, sorry, Tahno, were you hoping to be Queen instead?—and banished all within the same half hour. Of course, he'd won his way back in through force—mainly through an uncanny knowledge of all of the headmistress' ticklish spots—but it's all just a matter of detail, really.

So here they sit together on the sill, enveloped in blankets and wrapped in each other's warmth, with Korra sitting against his chest as he leans back into the wall, and they look out into the gloomy skies. The ceramic mugs are new—courtesy of Narook, of course, not that he knows it—but the tea is familiar—goddamit, Tahno!—and they have each other and, in this moment—

It is all they need.

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"So... what happens now?"

he asks.

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There is a memory floating at the corners of her words, seeping into her voice as if it were a long-ago dream—a dance, a fight, a fall... a fortress—and

in many ways,

she supposes that it is.

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She looks up at him and smiles.

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"I suppose we'll see... won't we?"

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Author's End Notes:

(Please excuse me while I go find a nice corner and sleep.)

Acknowledgements: A huge shout-out goes to ebonyquill, otherwise known as ahlistenalison, my faithful beta who has been there from the very beginning, right since her very first review on "break the ice." Another huge thank you for all of the beautiful works created by the lovely fanartists in honor of this story! I treasure each one. Plus, a special, special thanks to Yuki119 for taking the time and the energy to illustrate the climactic scene of "but we're still so cold" in her beautiful work-in-progress doujinshi. Thank you to all those who were there with me from the very beginning, to those who came later in the game, and even to those who will read this series long after it has concluded.

Thank you for every review, every kind comment, and every word of encouragement! Especially those of you who faithfully left reviews after every chapter. (You know who you are!) This project was massive, and I am so grateful to have had such wonderful readers. This was a very exhausting project to take on, but I've loved every moment of it.

Please, please, please share your thoughts for gray skies ahead in a review!

It's your last chance. :(


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But wait.

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What's this?

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I have been waiting for this opportunity for so long!

Now I can finally share more about what I hope is in store!


(PROBABLY) COMING SOON:

we tried to break the ice, but we're still so cold,
and there are
gray skies ahead
now the
storm clouds come rolling in.

storm clouds come rolling in:
In which a revolution falls, secrets are revealed, even deeper betrayals are forged, bending is restored, and a new member joins Team Avatar—though... perhaps not necessarily in that order.


(Or, in other words: How will the "break the ice" series finally diverge from canon? What role will everyone play in the downfall of Amon? What sassy names will Tahno call Mako to his face? What about all these loose ends that I have yet to tie up? Or the questions that you still have? Can I create a canon-parallel love pentagon(s) [Tahno/Korra/Mako, Asami/Mako/Korra, Asami/Tahno/Korra, Mako/Korra/Bolin, etc.] that is both tasteful and relevant to the plot? [Can anyone?]

Challenge: Accepted.)

A WORD OF CAUTION: Unlike my original plans to write this as another full-fledged fic, storm clouds will instead consist of three parts, three installments, revolving around three very important events. These last few months have been a very difficult time as far as Tahnorra motivation goes—what with our fandom nearly falling off the map entirely—and it came to a point where I wasn't sure I'd be able to maintain the drive to continue this at all. The reviews aren't coming in quite like they used to, and the screen material isn't really keeping the tags alive, so really, I can only keep riding this wave for so long. In fact, my doubt regarding this continuation was so strong that I didn't dare release any more news of my waffling until the actual posting of this final "gray skies ahead" installment, lest I give anyone false hope. As of now, I'm determined to finish this series the way it was intended to be finished, but I will need your help!

So.

I can finally, finally say:

Keep your eyes peeled for the fourth (and final!) installment of the "break the ice" series, storm clouds come rolling in!