My lovely fellow crewmen at the S.S Amorra convinced me to post this before it was finished, so this is officially a WIP. I hope you guys like it, even though the start is pretty slow!
Korra stretched her arms over her head, groaning with pained satisfaction as the joints popped. On the floor of her humble bedroom, Naga's ears twitched at the sound, raising her great head to snuffle at her friend and master. Korra grinned when a huge, slobbery tongue lapped at her hands, Korra only giving her token complaints when the polar bear dog scrambled onto the mattress beside her. Naga's tail thumped between the bedpost and the wall in an uneven rhythm.
Korra grinned, not having the heart to shoo Naga from the bed when Korra was just as excited. Today, Korra was seventeen, a real adult (because sixteen, while being the age of adulthood in most cultures, was still just sixteen, and seventeen sounded so much more important). The sun streamed through her window in the promise of a perfect day, and perfect it was.
Even more perfect was the realization that Korra was safe.
Three months ago, the Equalists had been driven from Republic City by the young General Iroh and Commander Bumi, with the help of the new "Team Avatar". Three months ago, the city had begun to sleep just a little more safely, knowing that their bending was not at risk, and for the non-benders, that they had a voice on the Counsel on their side—a man widely respected and slightly feared, known still to this day simply as The Lieutenant. The Equalists themselves were gone, but Korra ensured that the concept of bending and non-bending equality remained alive.
And, three months ago, a boat leaving the great bay of Republic City had exploded. Though never confirmed, eyewitnesses whispered of seeing Councilman Tarrlok and a mysterious man aboard only seconds before the inferno erupted. Officials had called it an accident, an unfortunate happening to faceless victims. But, still, the city whispered of justice being served for the ruthless Bloodbending Brothers.
Though Korra could take no official stance on the matter, she had often wondered if the world wasn't even the slightest bit better without them in it. As for bloodbending itself, she silently vowed to never, ever get involved in such a thing. Perhaps it was best to let the technique die out with the brothers, and, eventually, Master Katara.
Korra would never admit to her lingering nightmares on the matter.
The war had ended well, but not all things could be so simple. Korra's fledgling relationship with Mako had been crushed under the weight of Korra's political responsibilities, despite its promising beginnings. The entire situation might have been laughable, if not for the fact that Korra had been secretly pleased to see it end—Mako was much more demanding of her attentions than Bolin had ever been, and considerably less entertaining to be around. Korra was too independent to know what to do with a man... a boy like Mako.
Their friendship had somehow made it though, though, when the strained atmosphere between Mako and Asami had rekindled (subtly assisted by Korra, much to Asami's reluctant thanks and Mako's endless cluelessness). That was nearly a month ago, now, and it was almost like Mako and Asami had never even left off.
Korra was better for it, she had to figure. After all, the Avatar had to put the world first, and herself second. By ending things with Mako, she had successfully jumped her first Avatar-grade emotional hurdle (at one point, Avatar Aang had even made a brief appearance to Korra's dreams to explain his own troubles with Avatar-style relationships). Things were... tentative between Mako and Korra, but surprisingly and pleasingly without the expected awkwardness and hurt.
And, now, she was finally seventeen, a fully-realized Avatar and hero to Republic City.
She was also extremely hungry.
Not one to ignore the rumblings of her stomach any longer than necessary, Korra swung her legs over the side of her bed, taking precious few seconds to make herself presentable before heading downstairs. At the ground floor of the Air Temple, Korra found her makeshift family crowded around the low tables—Asami, flawless as ever, speaking to Mako; poor Bolin half-asleep in a bowl of jook; Ikki, Jinora and Meelo wedged between their ever-present parents, Tenzin trying to instill calm within his children while Pema attempted to nurse baby Rohan.
Korra grinned for a moment, observing from the sidelines for only a second before she was noticed, beckoned over with smiles and joyful birthday wishes. Settling herself somewhere between Tenzin and Bolin, Korra took a few seconds to just absorb the moment, the feeling of calm and peace as she went through the normal motions on a special day.
This, she thought to herself with a smile, unable to explain to herself any further. She found that she didn't have to, and that the sense of love and family were more powerful than any words she could have harnessed. This is what we fought for. It was more than companionship, but the feeling that, here, she was completely accepted, and equally as deserving of this moment as Pema or Bolin or Asami. That, as the Avatar, she was not entitled to this as a privilege, but to everyone as a basic right.
Everyone deserved equally to feel as loved and as at home as Korra did right then. She said nothing beyond a smile as she began to eat, but her thoughts were firm. If this is what I was fighting for, it was worth it.
That night, Korra had been shepherded to the almost-obligatory gala thrown in her honor, yet another event that she had no knowledge of or caring for, aside from the fact that she was forced by a group of White Lotus sentries to be groomed, and, of course, present. She made a mental note to grumble to Tenzin about this all night—this dress was even worse than the last, some countless layers of indigo-dyed silks and ivory furs, draped over her body in a way that was horrifyingly impractical, yet apparently "stunning". The pearls and moonstone beads they had threaded into her hair itched something terrible, and the hairpiece carved from shell was so tenderly positioned that Korra was afraid to even move her head in fear of it breaking. Not to mention the rouge on her cheeks and kohl around her eyes, along with the sticky clotted ink they had brushed into her lashes—she felt more like a primped poodle-monkey than a young Avatar.
It was no wonder that Katara had always mentioned social gatherings like this with a note of disdain. After all, Korra and Katara were cut from the same cloth; they were both much happier romping around and getting into trouble than sitting still and putting on the painted face of a high-class lady.
"This is humiliating," Korra grumbled, teetering precariously as she attempted to keep her balance on the dreadful shoes they had strapped to her feet. "How do you enjoy this?"
Asami gave her friend an indulgent smile, holding Korra's free hand as they descended the stairs. Korra was wedged in between the railing and her friend, trying her best not to break her neck while maintaining some semblance of grace. "Years of practice," Asami replied. "This sort of thing was bred into me."
Yet again, Korra stumbled, hands clamped painfully onto her supports as her ankle twisted. She let out a string of particularly unladylike words that made Asami flush. "That's great, you know, that's fine. But they should just keep me out of this."
"It's your birthday," the dark-haired girl argued, brushing a wayward curl out of her eyes. "How would you celebrate it?"
Korra sighed in relief as they finally reached the base of the stairs, shaking out her hands, which were stiff from clinging so tightly to the railings. "If I could?" She asked, and seeing Asami nod, she started to consider. "Home, for one. With my parents, with Master Katara... just being with my people. Though, I wouldn't complain if you guys were there, too."
Korra grinned, and caught her reflection in a mirror across the hall. She didn't recognize the woman smiling back. Her face fell, and she looked away.
"And the city?" The non-bender questioned, laying a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. Asami knew better than anyone that sometimes the person you saw in your reflection, and the person you were inside were very different.
Korra sighed, staring at the huge doors at the end of the hall, which were the last barrier between herself and the public. "I love Republic City," Korra started slowly. "But it's not my city. It's not mine to take care of, it's the Counsel's. The only reason I came was to keep the peace for a while and to learn airbending. Now, I have. And I..."
The realization that hit Korra in that moment brought her eyes back to Asami's. She saw a beautiful, confident woman—a woman who thrived on city life and who knew how best to make something of herself here, in Republic City. It was the same for Bolin and Mako, too, Korra knew. The city was their home, but it wasn't hers.
If the danger here had passed, and if there was conflict elsewhere, it was the duty of the Avatar to take care of it.
"It might be time for me to move on," Korra admitted.
Asami's eyes widened, glowing green accented by the makeup she wore with elegance, rather than discomfort. "Where will you go?"
"Somewhere. Anywhere they need me," Korra said, brows furrowing slightly in consideration. "General Iroh extended an invitation to me after the Equalist invasion. I know that he has squadrons all over the Earth Provinces, still dealing with Equalist revolts outside of the city. If we could arrange peaceful negotiations..." She stopped herself with a sigh, turning back to her closest (and only) female friend.
Asami smiled faintly, sadly, and reached down to squeeze Korra's hand. "Look, Korra. You are free to come and go as you please, to do whatever you think is right, but there is always a place for you here. I know things between you and Mako have been..."
Both women made a face, but upon seeing the other's expression, began to laugh. "Still," Asami continued. "We all love you, Korra. We're a family, and if I could confidently speak for Mako and Bolin, I'd say that we'd follow you anywhere—"
"Don't," Korra replied simply. It wasn't out of anger or frustration, but out of simple understanding. "Neither of them has ever left the city, and the life of an Avatar is... difficult. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to uproot at a moment's notice, and you all... you're stable here. Steady. Your roots are too deeply ingrained in this city for you to go." Korra bowed her head slightly, still smiling. "But, look at me. One night, I broke out of the compound I'd lived in my whole life and got on a boat on a whim. I didn't have anything but a change of clothes and my water skins. I didn't even think enough to bring food. It was like... like the winds had changed direction, and I was the leaf."
A silence stretched between them, filled with bittersweet understanding. Korra and Asami had always been different, always had their differences, and always respected them. Even so, to think that their friendship might be stretched so far...
"You don't have to decide tonight, Korra," Asami reminded her. "You have all the time in the world. At least for tonight, enjoy the party. It's yours, after all."
"Ugh, don't remind me," Korra snorted, spirits lifted. She shifted uncomfortably in her dress, but offered a grin. "We should probably get this over with."
"Probably," Asami agreed.
Korra rolled her eyes, offering a sardonic, "Ladies first?"
When Korra entered and descended the stairs into the opulent ballroom, it was unaided, her nerves settled by a sense of peace.
The winds were about to change again.