Korra's day fell into a rhythm that soothed her and frightened everyone around her. She alternated between training with Tenzin and locking herself in her room all day, as absent as if she'd been in the city training, and took her one day a week off as per usual. She seemed flush with success, her body as hard and well-trained as ever despite what seemed like half of her days passing in utter stillness. Everyone around her danced on pins and needles, utterly unsure of how to approach the situation – and after some time, whether to approach it at all.
"She seems fine," Bolin commented one day, nearly three weeks into this bizarre situation, watching Korra go through her last round of increasingly intense airbending katas, her expression smooth and her eyes clear. He was waiting to drag her into the city, hoping that a night out with friends might prompt her to at least hint at what was going on.
"That," Tenzin sighed, leaning against his staff, "Is exactly the problem. I've never seen her be such a dutiful student. She meditates without complaining, she does her katas, engages in sparring, and does whatever's asked of her. I can't scold her for being a good student!"
"And she's still shutting you down whenever you ask?" From somewhere, Bolin had procured a small bag of seaweed snacks, and offered them to the man beside him.
"No thank you. And yes," another heavy sigh, "I ask when she's in her room, I ask when she's out of her room. I ask indirectly, I've had Pema and the children ask…I asked Lin to come out and talk to her, but she refuses."
"I mean, it doesn't look like she's wasting away or anything," noted the earthbender around a mouthful of crunchy seaweed, "If anything she looks even more built than before!"
Suddenly, the girl in question came to an utter standstill, her body curved, halfway through one of the standard wind-sweeps-earth forms. Her eyes wide, mouth rounded into a shocked O, she remained still for several long seconds. Tenzin and Bolin shared a confused look, and when they turned back, the Avatar was racing towards them.
"Sorry Bolin can't come to the city tonight I had an idea another time maybe," she shouted as she dashed past him and into the women's dorms.
"What-" he started, but she was already gone. He turned his confused gaze on the airbending master.
"I have no idea," the older man said before the younger even had a chance to formulate the question, "I have absolutely no idea."
Korra had to stuff her fist in her mouth to keep her victory shout to herself. Just like all that time ago in the arena, the fluid forms of airbending had yielded the answer to her most pressing problem.
Best to be sure, though – so she did it again, planting her feet and moving in a sharper, more square, earthbending version of the wind-sweeps-earth. And the cables moved, undulating gracefully through the air in twin arcs of steel and ceramic. Inspired, she moved again, her hands curling and her arms slipping in towards her body, an airbending move meant to bring the body to rest. It worked for the cables as well, and they obediently curled back up in the holder.
Korra flung herself down on the thin bed and buried her face in her pillow, shrieking with delight for several long moments before finally rolling onto her back, breathless. She'd done it. She didn't have the fine-tuned, instinctive control that Lin did, but she also wasn't daughter to the greatest earthbender to have ever lived. She was satisfied.
Finally, after drowning in her own happiness for a while longer, she flung herself off of the bed and shrugged on the harness that would hold the metal cables to her body. Extending and retracting the cables wouldn't be enough to prove herself.
Later, she wouldn't recall how many hours she spent experimenting and refining moves, wouldn't remember the a-ha moment that led her to draw on aspects of fire- and waterbending, wouldn't remember sending Pema away as gently as she could, unable to eat with this excitement boiling in her veins. All she remembered was the flush of victory when, despite the narrow confines of her bedroom, she successfully performed the kata she'd cobbled together, metal vines moving at her command. It wasn't effortless like moving water or thrilling like fire, it didn't feel crisp and logical like moving earth, and it wasn't as calming and swishy as air…but it was a little of each, and it worked.
And she remembered the overwhelming urge to go show Lin right now, tempered only by the knowledge that it was the middle of the night and Lin wouldn't like that at all. Too wired to sleep, she paced her room restlessly until the first grey light of the false dawn, when she couldn't take it anymore. Unable to even conceive of a way to move quietly down the hallway when her whole body nearly shook with excitement, she instead shimmied out of her bedroom window and coasted down to the water on a gust of air. She killed it well above the surface, heart in her throat as she dove into the cold, black waters and began to waterbend her way towards the city lights in the distance.
Lin stepped out of her house at precisely the same time as she ever had, as spic as span as she'd ever been. She'd eaten a sensible breakfast, looking out over the stone arena that she'd long since put back into order, checked over her armor before donning it. Then she went outside to begin another long, frustrating, only occasionally rewarding day as the Republic City Chief of Police.
And then she nearly stepped on the Avatar.
Stopping with her booted foot mere inches from the sleeping, orange-and-yellow-clad form, Lin seriously considered completing the step, or at least kicking the sleeping girl. But it wouldn't have helped.
So instead, she gave Korra's side a little push with her toe, too hard for a nudge and too soft for a kick. To her surprise, the girl simply rolled over onto her stomach, revealing a very familiar piece of equipment.
"And where did you get one of those?" she muttered to herself as she pushed Korra again, a little harder, and then a third time.
Finally the girl stirred, blue eyes – how had Lin forgotten how shockingly blue they were? – looking blearily up at her for a few breathless seconds. Then she leapt to her feet with a shout, nearly sending Lin onto her backside.
"Lin!" shouted the excited Avatar, "Lin I have to show you!"
"Not now," snapped the Chief, making to step around her former pupil, "I'm on my way to work." She felt a little bad for speaking so coldly to the girl who'd once spoken to warmly to her, but she couldn't help her annoyance with the whole situation. If Korra hadn't spoken up in the first place…once again, Lin's only recourse was to remove herself from the scene.
"Stop!" Korra's voice held a definite note of pleading, "Stop and just watch for a minute, I just want to show you!"
Lin drew up short, unaccountably moved by the girl's clear desperation.
"Fine," she ground out, turning around, "But you have one minute, and then I'm leaving for work. And we stay out here."
Korra just nodded, scrubbing the beginnings of tears out of her eyes. Lin couldn't meet them, and instead kept her gaze above the girl's head and off into the distance.
When Korra took a bending stance, Lin noted it only peripherally, her eyes still on the pale stone walls of the City. When Korra began to bend, Lin's gaze flicked towards her briefly – she'd almost forgotten about the new-looking coil holder on the girl's back. When Korra continued to bend, Lin finally looked at her properly, and her jaw dropped a little.
She used no familiar forms, although Lin could see the shadows of them in her movements. She moved gracefully, quick and slow by turns, and the metal coils danced in the grip of her power. She held them close to defend, whipped them a little further away – still too close for practicality – to attack. And she just kept moving.
One minute, two, a handful of the things slipped by as Korra bent and Lin watched. Finally, slowly, as if it hurt to bring her strange kata to completion, Korra's hands curled and her elbows slotted in against her sides.
There was dead silence for several long, strained seconds.
And then Korra's stomach gurgled, and Lin nearly broke into hysterical giggles. She had to clap a hand over her mouth to stifle the undignified noises while she got ahold of herself.
"Where did you get those cables?" she finally asked, as deadpan as possible. Korra looked up into the clear green eyes of her former Master and shrugged guiltily.
"I thought so. And I presume you made up those forms yourself."
"In your room."
Korra's stomach rumbled again. This prompted an aggrieved sigh from the older woman, who pressed the fingers of her right hand against her forehead as if to stave off a headache before waving towards the house with her other hand.
"You may as well come in and have some breakfast."
"Korra, you are the most irresponsible young person I have met in a long, long time." Tenzin's voice was rough, and in an uncharacteristic burst of anger, he slammed one hand down on the table, making the already hangdog expression on Korra's face deepen even further.
"Do you have any idea how worried everyone was about you? Don't look at me like that," he snapped in response to Korra's confused expression, "If you had thought about it before locking yourself in your room every second day to try to re-invent metalbending, you'd…I don't even know. I was pulling my beard out, Pema and the children kept asking if they'd done something wrong, even your friends from the city have been out here, trying to figure out what was wrong with you."
Korra just nodded meekly, having been read a similar riot act by Lin over breakfast, after which she'd been unceremoniously turned out to go apologize. Mako, Bolin, and Asami had been easy enough – they saw her on a regular basis when she went to pro-bending practice, and they hadn't had to watch her lock herself in her room day after day.
The airbending family had been much more affected by her sudden, selfish withdrawal, and she couldn't bring herself to dispute most of Tenzin's argument. He sighed, suddenly looking tired.
"All over some juvenile crush."
"No," Korra said clearly and calmly, more self-assured than she had been in a very long time, and the airbender raised his head to look curiously at her, "It's not a crush. That's why I had to do this. I love her, Tenzin, and I wasn't even allowed to say anything because she was my teacher. Well, she's not my teacher anymore and I can say whatever I want. I love Lin Beifong."
"You…Korra, that's not even possible." Tenzin fumbled for words, unsure of how to express his utter disbelief while at the same time dissuading the determined young woman.
"It is and I am. Deal with it," she added with a non-situation-appropriate grin and fistpump, to which the older man only replied with a shake of his head.
"Jokes aren't really necessary. Korra…you're seventeen. Lin is-" he cut himself off, lest an errant word make it back to the woman in question, "Lin is not seventeen anymore. She's old enough to be your mother!" Older than Korra's mother, in fact, but he wasn't going to voice that thought either.
"I know and I don't care," Korra responded, still smiling, and simply repeated it like a mantra in the face of every argument that Tenzin could come up with.
Finally, he threw up his hands and played his last card.
"And what does Lin think of all this?"
Korra shrugged, her smiling falling a bit as her eyes darted to one side and then to the other before she finally sighed a little.
"She…well, she said some of the same stuff you did, about me being irresponsible, and she said my forms need work because I obviously invented them in my bedroom, which is too small a space for proper metalbending. She won't teach me anymore. But," she added, just as the airbender was ready to heave a sigh of relief, "She said that we can talk. And she promised, if I 'stop acting like an idiot and start acting like an Avatar', to take me and my feelings seriously."
And she called me pretty again, Korra crowed in the safety of her own head, since she'd been explicitly directed not to tell Tenzin anything about that, or about how Lin had haltingly, almost shyly, admitted to some nonspecific feelings of her own.
"If…if that's what Lin said, then I'll respect it. Just…go apologize to Pema and the children, alright? And never do this again!"
Korra popped up from her side of the table like a cork under pressure.
And as she dashed down the hall to find and beg forgiveness from the rest of the airbending family, Korra felt as though her heart might burst. She'd mastered metalbending – sort of – and confessed her feelings to Lin yet again. And while the older woman wasn't quite ready to fall madly in love with her Avatar, she wasn't indifferent either. It was only a matter of time, really. She found herself singing softly under her breath.
"Lavender's green, lavender's blue, if you love me, I will love you…"