A/N: I LOVE YOU GUYS. For real. Your reviews have been gobbled like candy. Seriously, thank you for making my day - each and every one makes me super happy.
If you enjoyed "The Cave", then the story continues in "Shadows of the City", available on this site! Just check my profile.
Three years later
Korra's eyes trailed across the hall, seeking familiar faces in the crowd before her. She finally found her friends by the food tables, which didn't really surprise her. The boys looked handsome in their suits, and Asami was radiant as ever in a crimson gown. Korra both admired and envied the girl's confident posture; she had let Asami talk her into wearing a gown instead of her traditional water tribe formal dress, and now she felt the urge to hunch over and hide. The shining blue fabric clung to her curves in immodest ways, drawing inappropriate glances that made her blush. As if that weren't discomfiting enough, Asami had layered makeup onto her face. The desire to tug at her sticky eyelashes was overwhelming.
The crowd began to clap, and Korra turned to throw a smile at Tenzin, realizing that he had probably just said something kind about her. She was not being a grateful or attentive guest of honour.
"Now," said Tenzin, "a few words from Avatar Korra!"
The crowd began to cheer. Dreading every second of it, Korra stepped up to the microphone.
"Thank you for coming. The war was a trying time for many of us – well, all of us – so it's, uh, an important part of Republic City history. So, I'm proud to officially open the newest exhibit in the City Museum: The Revolution." After a long pause, she added, "Please enjoy the fun." Cringing, she realized that she had just referred to the troubling time as "fun." She ducked her head and jumped down from the podium. Her slip-up didn't seem to matter: the crowd roared. Ever since the end of the war, it seemed she could do no wrong in the eyes of Republic City.
"We need to get you a speech writer," said Tenzin, leaning over to her.
"The crowd eats it up," said Councilwoman Midori. "They love her awkwardness. And don't try to tell me I'm wrong, Tenzin; I know a thing or two about compelling public speaking."
"'Compelling' and 'manipulative' are not the same thing."
The two exchanged a glare, and Korra sighed to herself. It had been a year since the non-radical Equalist political party had formally entered office, and the councilwoman was proving to be a rational and valuable addition to the council, but the arrangement was still new enough that there were lingering hard feelings. Each day was a step in the right direction, at least. It was better than terrorism and war.
Those thoughts were attached to feelings she would rather avoid, so she stopped herself. There was going to be enough here to remind her of that as it was.
Midori stepped up to the microphone. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please take a moment to view the new exhibit while the band sets up. Dancing will commence shortly. And if you are looking for a dance with our guest of honour, you'd best be prepared to fight for it – her dance card is going to fill up fast."
"Watch your toes, because she can't dance!" heckled Bolin from the food tables, getting a few nervous chuckles out of the crowd. Korra wondered if he had been hitting the noodles too hard.
There was applause and, the presentations over, Tenzin signalled for the microphone to be cut. A large portion of the crowd milled out of the hall, into the exhibit room next to it. Korra stood, intending to slip away.
"Remember to dance a bit tonight, Korra," said Midori, turning to her. "There are some special guests from all around the world here today, and they are eager to get to know you."
"It's a good diplomatic opportunity," added Tenzin.
Korra shrugged, annoyed that the one thing they would agree on was the thing she didn't want to do. "Bolin wasn't far off about the toe thing."
"Then tread gently." Midori turned back to the other council members.
Excusing herself, Korra moved into the crowd. Everywhere she moved, people in the crowd smiled at her as if they knew her, and she longed to run outside, call Naga and retire to the mountains. Instead, she stepped out of the hall. The exhibition chamber was busy, and she felt her chest ache as she glanced around the room.
Just as she had expected. Banners, flags, pamphlets – all of them emblazoned with Amon's mask. Surely enough time had passed that she shouldn't react to his face anymore. He still appeared in her dreams now and then, and she was starting to wonder if that would ever stop. As much as she tried to move on, she often found her thoughts drifting to him. More than one potential relationship had fallen apart around her because her heart was too stubborn to move on.
She pushed through the crowd to look for her friends, nodding at those who greeted her. There was a blank space at the head of the room, so she moved in that direction, hoping for a clear vantage point, but when she reached it, she froze.
Inside a glass case was Amon's fractured mask.
Her hand came to her mouth. She stared at it, her knees unexpectedly weak. Gripping the velvet rope for support – not that it provided much – she stared at the mask as if expecting it to speak.
"You all right, Korra?" Bolin appeared beside her, face worried. Mako and Asami moved to stand on her other side.
She nodded. "Wasn't expecting to see this again."
They stood beside her, silent, and she could feel the question on their minds: Do you still miss him? While they had begrudgingly come to accept that she and Amon had been in love, she had spared them many of the details, and it was rarely a topic of conversation. The war was still too fresh for her friends to accept that the instigator had been worthy of the Avatar's love.
She blinked. "Sorry. Yes, I'm fine." Turning to her friends, she gave them a smile. "I just need a minute."
"We're here if you need to talk," said Asami, squeezing Korra's shoulder, and then she cocked her head at the boys. After they left, it was just Korra and the mask, a sea of people flowing behind her.
Spirits, she missed him. She reached out a hand to touch the glass.
"I wouldn't do that. It's likely alarmed." The deep voice behind her sent rumbles through her body, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. She did not turn, afraid that doing so would confirm that the voice had been in her imagination. Her eyes still fixed on the mask, she replied:
"I was just thinking: it's odd that history judges him so kindly after all he did to terrorize this city."
"I hear the Avatar had a hand in that." There was no mistaking that voice; her jaw began to quiver. "That after his passing, she managed to redirect the efforts of his Equalists just enough that he became a less-than-savoury radical revolutionary, not a full-blown terrorist. Some say it was a happy accident, a result of her pursuit of peace. Others, that the whispers of forbidden love were true, and she wanted to clean up her dead lover's image. But I suppose it doesn't matter now, because one way or another, Amon is dead, and Republic City found equality."
In the other room, the band began to play, a delicately happy tune with swelling strings. Korra's eyes closed, feeling the music echo in her chest.
"Some say he still lives," she said. "A body was never found." A lump formed in her throat, and she bowed her head, trying to swallow it back.
A hand, familiar and warm, gripped her bare shoulder, and she felt his breath close to her ear:
"Korra, please look at me. I need to see your face again."
Her mouth was almost too dry to speak. "I'm afraid that if I turn around, you won't be real."
"But what if I am, and you don't?" The thumb slid against her skin, almost undetectable.
Gathering her courage, she turned, but not yet brave enough to meet his eyes, she trailed his body instead. He wore the red-and-black finery traditional to the fire nation, with clean, flowing lines, gold trim and peaks at the shoulders. The hood was deep and sat low over his face so that only his mouth and scarred chin were visible in the light until, deep within the shadows, she saw the glint of his eyes. Heat rose to her cheeks.
"I always imagined what I would say to you if I saw you again," said Amon, "but I'm having a hard time finding the words to tell you how beautiful you look."
She blinked, her eyes suddenly damp. "You cut quite the dashing figure yourself."
He reached out his hand. "Avatar Korra, if you would oblige me, I would be honoured to have your first dance."
"If I'm not mistaken, I gave you my first dance, once upon a time, and it ended in heartbreak for both of us."
A corner of his mouth lifted. "Yes, but what a dance it was."
After a pause, she accepted his hand. Shivers ran down her spine as she was reminded of the texture of his skin, the way his fingers fit between hers. As he led her to the dance floor, hundreds of eyes followed them. Her hand rose to his shoulder, his to her waist. Their other hands joined, electricity dancing between their palms. Her blush deepened as he drew her in close.
"Do you realize that every eye in the city is on us right now?" she whispered as he led her onto the dance floor. "They're all wondering, who is that hooded man dancing with the Avatar? It would have been smarter to wait until a less obvious time to approach me."
"That is true, but..." He leaned close, his face inches from hers. "You might not have noticed, Korra, but I have a compulsive need to be the centre of attention."
She laughed, a little too loudly. At this proximity, she was growing giddy from the faint, spicy scent of his cologne.
As agile on the dance floor as he was in battle, he spun her across the floor. She was grateful for the flared skirt that twirled around her, because it hid her legs as she stumbled to keep up.
"Sorry," she murmured as her foot stomped his. "Grace has never been one of my strengths."
"Not on the dance floor, maybe." His fingers fluttered subtly down her spine as his voice dropped to a growl. "You are all grace in...certain contexts."
Her knees wobbled. She leaned into him as they moved, pressing her body flush against his. "I've missed you."
"And I, you." His dancing slowed as their eyes locked.
Quietly, she asked, "Why are you here?"
"I need to speak with you, Korra. In private." His voice was barely audible above the music.
She nodded, wanting nothing more than to spend some time alone with him. "Take the northwest stairs to the second floor. Wait for me by an empty office. I'll find you after two more songs."
The music was already winding down, and as he dipped her, his mouth came within inches of hers. A shiver rippled through her and, for a moment, she thought he might kiss her, but he only set her upright and bowed. With a bow – quickly corrected into a curtsy – she said, "Thank you for the dance, Mr.-"
"Zoran," he said. "A pleasure, Avatar Korra. Perhaps we can share another one later."
Turning, he disappeared into the crowd.
The stairs led to a hallway with a dozen attached offices. Amon quickly and quietly checked each one, making certain they truly would be alone. After the scandal with the police surveillance, he would forever be worried about privacy.
The second-to-last office was completely empty; the marble floor was lined with a large and rather bland carpet, but otherwise there was no furniture. The windows against the far wall were shuttered close. It appeared to be the safest room to use uninterrupted. He stood by the door, waiting.
After two songs, as promised, she appeared at the top of the stairwell and began to walk toward him. As she approached, he stepped forward to intercept her. His hands caught either side of her face and drew her to him, and his lips found hers. Her taste was just as he remembered: sweet, earthy and primal.
She moaned and thrust him hard against the wall, leaning all her weight into him and deepening the kiss. Her body was warm and taut. His eyes fluttered closed. As his tongue found hers, he reached blindly for the doorknob and, once it was open, pulled her into the room. She tugged his shoulders, pulling him off balance, and he fell on top of her as they tumbled to the floor. The impact had driven her teeth into his lip, the pain awakening a feral edge to his need. He nipped her lip in retribution; her hand raked into his hair and grabbed, pulling so hard that he groaned into her mouth. Her foot reached out from beneath him, scrabbling for the door, and, finally finding it, kicked it shut.
He broke the kiss to catch his breath, pressing his forehead to hers. Her chest was heaving beneath his. She darted up to bite his lip and then pulled away again, her eyes sparkling with such mischief that he had a hard time finding his voice.
"I really did mean for us to talk, Korra."
"So did I. Then you kissed me."
"I was..." His excuse faded from his mind as she raked her hands down his back, then clawed into the muscle of his rear and forced him tightly between her legs. He drew in a shuddering breath.
"How long do you have?" he asked.
"Maybe ten minutes before anyone notices I'm gone."
He lunged down to kiss her again and ran a heavy hand along the side of her body, down to the bottom of her dress and then back up underneath it. No underclothes – convenient. He raised her skirt safely above her hips, then shifted his weight just enough to allow him to reach between her legs as he kissed her. At first, her fingers raked against his back, matching the rhythm of his hand, but then she reached for his waistcoat. His pulse raced with anticipation.
It soon became apparent that she couldn't find her way through the layers. Her brows pinched and she let out a soft curse as she fiddled with a decorative button, and he realized that he would have to rescue her. He propped himself up with one elbow. "Here."
"Do you own a single outfit that's easy to remove?" she muttered. "This is even more ridiculous than your old tunic."
"Next time, I'll come to you naked." The jest died on his lips. Next time. The words hung heavy in the air for a moment, their eyes locking.
There would be time for discussion later; he broke the tension with another kiss. Jerking the fabric of his tunic out of the way, he yanked his pants down his hips.
With no hesitation, she gripped him and guided him into her. Once they were joined, her arms locked around his lower back, holding him in place for a moment. Amon held his breath. The world around them faded: there was no music and murmuring crowd downstairs, no empty office around them. All he knew was her warmth and the half-lidded eyes that stared through him. Challenging him.
He began to move, and a gasp left her lips, but her gaze did not drop. He held it, staring into the blue depths, finding there a spectrum of emotions that he could not name, but felt echoed within himself.
During their time apart, he had often fantasized about a tender reunion with her, slow and gentle as they took the time to rediscover each other, but their bodies fit together so well that his restraint evaporated and their pace quickened. The frenzy of their opening kiss took hold again, and he buried his face into her neck, biting the underside of her jaw. Her limbs wrapped so tightly around him that it was difficult to breath.
"Harder," she panted into his ear. "I want to feel how much you missed me."
The words nearly pulled him under. He cursed, fighting to control himself. His hand snaked beneath her lower back and he lifted, rocking her against him counter to his movements. She clawed her fingers into his hair again, twisting tighter, then suddenly arched and cried out. He skimmed her lips with his, breathing in her cries.
Once she lay still, he picked up his pace again. He could feel himself beginning to crest as well; he hesitated, realizing that they were both fully clothed and on carpet, with no access to anything resembling a rag. She must have had the same thought, for she surprised him by rolling him over. Disentangling herself from him, she slid quickly down his body and positioned herself between his legs. Another curse flew from his lips at the warmth of her mouth. Her hand reached up for his, an anchor, and he clung to it. She was rough, unyielding, and within seconds he was swallowed by the pleasure.
As his mind returned, he realized that he was nearly doubled over, curled around her. He slowly lowered himself back to the carpet, and his hand, still entwined with hers, fell to his side.
She crawled back up his body and fell on top of him, her cheek pressed to his chest. They lay together, breathing hard. His surroundings slowly began to come back into focus: the office, the music, the sounds of the crowd.
"I didn't think I'd ever see you again," she said quietly.
"I wasn't planning on returning." He brought his free hand to her damp forehead, smoothing her hair.
"Where have you been?"
"I have made a good life for myself in a small village." He hooked her hair behind her ear. "I have made a name for myself teaching self-defense. I'm boarding with a family that reminds me of my own. A whole new life." He paused. "I've tried to move on, but I can be rather single-minded."
"Same here." Her breaths were slow and even now. "Did you figure your way through everything? Which thoughts were your own?"
"They were all my own. I am still working out which ones are true." After a pause, he added, "I hear my Equalists went soft."
"You gave them a voice and attracted our ears. Once we began to listen, the war came to a close. Councilwoman Midori has been especially helpful in negotiating terms of peace, and very few radicals remain. Even your lieutenant agreed to cooperate in exchange for a reduced sentence."
It wasn't how he had envisioned things playing out, but he felt a swell of pride anyway. In the end, the non-benders had a voice, and those closest to him had gotten off with very little punishment. No matter what the intentions were of the mission he had once followed, good had come of it in the end. "It sounds as if the balance is shifting in the right direction."
"Yes, but not quite there yet. There is still a long way to go in terms of cleaning up the gangs. And speaking of the Council, I should get back downstairs before I'm missed." She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, frowning. "I look like I just had sex, don't I?"
"Here." He sat up and straightened her hair, then used his thumbs to fix the makeup that had smudged around her eyes.
"Thank you." With her cheeks flushed, her eyes looked even bluer than before. Spirits, he loved her eyes. "You didn't really answer my question earlier, Amon – why are you here?"
"Midori offered me a job as a political strategist." He watched her, waiting for her reaction.
"A job." Her eyes widened, and he tried to read the expression. Was there hope in there, or just confusion?
"It isn't without complications," he said. "My voice and mannerisms are recognizable, and so I would likely have to do much of my work behind the scenes. But I am strongly considering it. I have missed this city. And one of its citizens in particular."
Her eyes were still wide, and she didn't say anything, so he pressed on:
"I know that isn't without its complications, as well, and that is something we need to consider if I decide to stay. Our past is fraught with mistrust and tension. Our future might be, as well: I will always have conflicted opinions about bending, which may cause strain with you or any children you might have. And the fact that I am recognizable could cause issue with your friends, or with rumours, or with the law-"
"Amon, stop," she said gently. "Give me a moment to think." She stood and straightened her dress back into place. He stood as well, fastening his pants and smoothing his robes, waiting for her response with more anxiety than he cared to admit.
Then, she gathered his hands. "I know you're used to thinking ten steps ahead, but let's just take it one step at a time."
His eyes searched hers. "And what is the next step?"
"You kiss me," she said. "Then we go back downstairs and dance again."
He watched her, trying to determine if he was understanding her correctly. Her cheeks darkened.
"More than we realized, Amon, we really are two complementing halves. Yin and yang. I know it's not going to be easy, but I don't think anything ever has been for either of us." She gave a small, shy shrug. "And maybe we won't see eye-to-eye on everything, and maybe it will all end in heartbreak, but that didn't stop us before. So kiss me, and we'll go dance again and see what happens from there. How does that sound?" Her eyes sparkled.
A slow smile spread across his lips. He tilted her chin, bent down and pressed his lips to hers.
She folds her legs beneath her, her back pressing to the granite of the statue base, and begins to meditate. Her companion wanders further along the plateau, sipping so noisily at his straw that she fights the urge to knock the iced coffee right out of his hand.
"I was right! There's a little pool back here," he yells.
"Spirits! I'm trying to meditate here." She slaps her palms into the ground in frustration, accidentally sensing deep into the earth. What she feels surprises her: there is something beneath her, fragments that don't belong to the soil. Distracted from meditation, she shifts over and begins to claw at the dirt.
"What is it?" he calls.
"Something buried in the soil."
Her companion rushes up and kneels beside her. "Treasure?"
"Some strange stone fragments."
He sighs. "You and your rocks."
Ignoring him, she lifts the rest of the soil away and unearths simple porcelain shards. She turns to her companion, certain he'll be disappointed.
Instead, his brows furrow, and he reaches out for one. As he examines it, strain flickers across his features. He rubs his shaved head.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"I recognize these."
"It's probably a dinner plate."
"No, something more...spiritual. And not just these." He slides the shard into his palm and stands, slowly spinning around. "All of this. It's like a forgotten dream."
She knows the feeling all too well, but given her position, that is not uncommon. She can't help but feel that the feeling is related to Korra somehow. It always struck her as odd that Korra's statue was built here, on a mountain, and not in the harbour near Aang's.
"Well," he says, "you go ahead and start meditating. I'm going back to the car."
"You don't want to join me?"
"Nah. This place is creeping me out. We'll meditate together back at the temple. I have a new technique to show you, anyway, so might as well do it all at once." He claps her arm, lingering just a few seconds too long for it to be platonic. "Good luck. I hope you reach her this time." He has been touching her more and more recently, finding random excuses to do so. Though she has been fighting to keep her thoughts about him strictly professional, she is starting to warm to the contact, and as he leaves, she finds that she is smiling.
Sitting cross-legged, she bows her head and closes her eyes, her back to Korra's statue. She has been working so hard – maybe this will finally be the day that she reaches her predecessor.
They say that the same souls reincarnate together, lifetime after lifetime. And so the cycle begins anew.