"Stop kicking!" Korra grumbled as she tried to dress the infant in front of her.
The Avatar had just gotten out of the bath and was still wrapped only in a fluffy white towel while she attempted to dress a very curious Nilak that kept laughing (almost like she was mocking) whenever Korra failed to button up the baby's clothes or put them inside out and started frowning in frustration when the garments slipped off or tangled because she was scared of being too forceful. It was at times like this when she missed just being a single teenager and wondered what the hell the Spirits were thinking when they decided to send a baby her way.
In all honesty, the task wasn't going so well because her mind was elsewhere. She had had a rather vivid dream the night before and it was still stuck in her head and making her draw circles around the images that flashed in her sleeping brain in foggy slow-moving colors. It wasn't anything alarming or thought provoking, just a random mangle of memories that ranged from the terrifying and exhausting day she had found Noatak stranded and dying on the beach to the day she had provoked him so skimpily clad and kissed him for the first time… At the time the kiss was an impulse to sort out her confused feelings and the tension between them, as for the clothing (or lack or thereof) back then she had rationalized it as a necessary evil, an innocent action, but thinking back she figured she had been trying to test him and provoke him even if it wasn't an entirely conscious effort.
She missed those days in their cave, those simple days when it was just the two of them and no outside world to worry about, she missed feeling safe and trusting and oh so wonderfully high pinned under his larger frame without fear of feeling trapped, vulnerable and even panicked at the simple thought of him on top of her, she missed enjoying the very act that gave them the little bundle she was trying to dress up and she craved to have it back but the more she thought about it the more scared she became and the more she remembered how broken a part of her still was under the surface because she could never go back to behind as proud, innocent, careless, lascivious and compassionate a teenager as she had been back there, not after the things that had robbed her of the hope, ridiculously grand optimism and innocence she had once had.
She was recovering it though, the little voice in her head kept arguing that each day she came closer and closer to becoming the girl she used to be… No, not girl, not anymore, she was embracing the girl she used to be but she had also grown up and turned into a woman, of course growing up hadn't been easy, it had been rushed and forced upon her by secrets, responsibilities, pain and suffering but despite all that the old her was slowly coming back and all thanks to the person that had been her first real nemesis.
A whale bone button slipped between her fingers missing it's target and she cursed coarsely and nearly ripped Nilak's onesie but the baby gurgled and smiled at her bit of profanity, the sweet little sound pushed the Avatar's buttons on one end because it felt like some sort of unintentional mockery but on the other side it warmed her heart and hammered back the heavy, albeit not completely negative, thoughts in her mind.
"Need help?" Noatak's voice from the door startled her so much that she yelped and Nilak apparently found that funny too because it made her laugh and kick her little legs happily in the air.
"Don't scare me like that!" Korra admonished with a hand to her chest. "I thought you were still asleep."
"Not for some time." He announced casually and strolled over to her, reaching for the child. "Let me do it."
"No, I'm… almost…" The Avatar swatted his hands away and struggled with the tiny buttons of the powder blue outfit she was attempting to put on the baby and at last succeeded even though two buttons were in the wrong holes. "Done. There, much better!" She lifted the baby in triumph but the movement made her towel come loose and suddenly spill to her feet, she wasn't too flustered but blushed automatically. "Whoops."
"What a lovely sight to start the day to." Noatak commented with his hands behind his back while his eyes roamed appreciatively over Korra's naked figure, enjoying the sight of damp skin and wet unruly hair.
She made a cheeky face in reply but then smiled nonetheless, Nilak was placed safely on the counter padded by towels that kept her from falling or anything of the sort while her mother got dressed rather lazily and still sleepy, grumbling about how stupid baby clothes were puzzles to put on. Meanwhile the former equalist washed up and started to lather up his face in white foam but by the time he reached for the razor the Avatar had leaned back on the sink with only her pants and bindings on and was watching him with some curiosity.
"It's not polite to stare." Noatak pointed out, glancing at her through the mirror as he ran the blade across the skin of his neck in careful but quick economical swipes.
"I've always wondered about that." Korra said without paying any attention to his comment, she seemed curious.
"About what?" He enquired, still focused on the task.
The glint of artificial light moved and danced gracefully on the silver razor blade in the most hypnotic manner so that the Avatar's cyan eyes were entranced.
"How you're always so well shaved despite the scars." She brought a finger to her lips with a pensive expression on her face but smiled too. "Not that I don't like it… Or your evening stubble."
"Practice, Korra." The scarred man exemplified by demonstrating how to carefully shave off the more marked side of his face in short swipes, he didn't see the need to explain how often he'd cut himself when he started to shave again after the wounds on his face finally healed enough.
"Can I try?" The Avatar requested.
"Why?" He wondered what was so interesting about the simple daily task.
"Please?" Korra was pleading but she had already made up her mind and hopped on the counter next to him, sitting on it to make herself taller than him though it was only by a couple of inches.
"Do you know what to do?" Noatak held out the razor hesitantly, hoping this wasn't one of her silly ideas that always started with a sort of 'how hard can it be?' type of mentality.
"No, I just thought it would be fun to play around with a blade to your face." She replied sarcastically and actually frowned at him, as if calling him foolish for doubting her.
"Glad to see there's some common sense in you." He remarked in the same manner and finally let her have the tool.
"Making fun of the woman about to hold a sharp object to your throat. Smart, lover, very smart." Korra retorted playfully herself.
"It was a compliment." Noatak defended weakly.
The Avatar rolled her eyes and lifted the razor- she had been right, she was surprisingly skilled at the task and although she was much slower than him and used shorter swipes, he barely felt the pressure of the blade. There were still a couple of nicks here and there but luckily he had already dealt the most scarred side of his visage so she was handling the rest rather well and he enjoyed the very focused intent look on her face, the proximity of her body, her breath so close to his lips and even the smell of soap on her skin but, most of all, he liked the fact that she had taken on such a trivial and yet nurturing task of grooming him, it just felt intimate and sweet in a way that even sex didn't provide.
Korra was actually having fun, she was deeply concentrated and determined to do a good job if not to prove that she could but what really made her enjoy the situation was the sense of complicity between them and his undeniable trust in her, Noatak was so calm and serene letting her run an incredibly sharp item so close to his face and the vital points of his throat that she couldn't help but feel touched by that the degree of faith in her. It hit her that this was a person who had once despised her enough to want to destroy her, a person that spent decades hiding behind a mask because he didn't trust anyone even with his name, and yet here he was trusting her implicitly with affection in his gaze.
"You know, I think you'd look good with a beard." She smirked, already done with two thirds of the task.
"No, thank you." He barely moved his lips as to not disrupt her work but replied without a moment of thought.
"Why not?" Korra asked as she carefully shaved around his sideburns.
"Tried it, didn't like it." Noatak commented casually, tilting his head to make her work easier. "And with all the scars, being properly groomed is one of the few prides I can still have towards my appearance."
"You're still hot, either way." She retorted confidently.
"Hn." It was meant to be a sound of agreement merely to dismiss the topic but it came out as skeptical.
"You are!" The Avatar argued, pouting slightly.
"But I won't grow a beard." He replied, resisting the urge to smirk and possibly distract her.
"I'll get you to reconsider." She announced without a shred of doubt. "You should have seen my dad when I was a kid, he had a total baby face and only grew a beard because I kept bugging him to do it until he caved in."
"Why do you even like facial hair?" Noatak was curious about this fascination of hers, most women he knew didn't like kissing a face full of fur… Then again she kissed Naga on a daily basis so she probably didn't care.
"I like to feel the scratchiness." Korra replied with a little one-armed shrug and moved on to the final patch of lathered skin.
"That so?" He sounded thoughtful and filed that piece of information for future reference. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Great." She actually seemed a little excited.
"Still not growing a beard anytime soon, Korra." The former equalist shot her down stubbornly but remained motionless with his head turned so she could finish.
"Fine, fine." Korra shook her head in defeat and finally finished the task of shaving him with only three tiny red nicks to botch the perfect job. She set down the razor and wiped his face clean with a damp cloth, babying him much to his chagrin. "This is sexy too." With a smile, she cupped his now mostly smooth cheeks in her hands and pulled him in for a soft kiss.
Noatak kissed back, having to tilt his head up for a change and his arms wrapped around her waist while he still stood between her dangling legs. It was a long and lazy lip-mash but sweet and grateful as well, Korra was just starting to shift the mood into something a little more mischievous and pulled him even closer when they were reminded that they were not alone- Nilak started to fuss noisily for some attention after she grew bored of her safe little spot on improvised towel padding.
"Right. Nilak." Korra breathed out the words as soon the kiss broke, she sounded slightly disappointed.
"Go handle her. I'll be right down to make breakfast." Noatak offered a hand to help her step down from the counter but he was too late because she had already jumped off so he looked in the mirror and ran that same hand through his face, pleased with the results. "And thank you." He stole a last small peck to her lips before she got away.
The Avatar just grinned in reply, picked up the baby and the remainder of her clothes and headed to their room where the bed had been made with careful precision- Noatak was always nitpicky about such a thing because given the chance, and now that they no longer lived in someone else's home, Korra would never make her bed and defended her laziness in the task with 'the sheets need to breathe too'.
Putting on the rest of her clothes was a chore because Nilak kept whining for attention but the Avatar managed at last and was just walking downstairs with the infant in her arms and pawing at her hair when there was a brisk knock at the front door. She had been about to go feed Naga and the polar bear dog was sitting in the middle of the living room expectantly wagging its tail but by the way the beast merely glanced at the door with little interest Korra knew that at least this time the visit wasn't Liu like the day before since Naga disliked the man immensely and growled whenever he was around, not aggressively though, just out of mild aversion.
"Who is it?" Korra asked but didn't give the visitor time to reply and opened the door as she spoke.
"That's dangerous, you know. You should wait for an answer first." Chief Beifong admonished dryly, barely looking at the Avatar and noticing Nilak before shifting her gaze elsewhere.
"Don't have to. I have a good guard dog that lets me know whether to open the door or not." Korra retorted with a nod at Naga, yet she stood on the threshold and didn't let the woman in. "What do you want, Beifong?"
"To talk to him." Apparently the Chief was still reluctant to use Noatak's name if she could avoid it.
"Why? Got another job for him?" The Avatar snapped bitterly.
"As a matter of fact, yes." The policewoman retorted in a matching tone.
"No. I'm not letting you drag him to equalize people right under my nose." Korra practically growled, she didn't want to be angry at Lin because she knew the woman probably agreed with her in the first place but since she couldn't shout at the Council she was directing her anger towards the closest person she could blame.
"I don't think you really have a choice, now do you? Seeing as you won't help with dangerous criminals, the Council got him to take your place." Beifong's reply was acerbic but she didn't appear to like her own words, she was just arguing for the sake of aggravating Korra.
"Goodbye, Beifong." The Avatar began to close the door in the other's face.
"Wait." Lin smacked her hand on the heavy wooden surface and stopped her with an annoyed sigh. "I apologize for arguing. That's not what brings me here today."
"You have twenty seconds to explain before I slam the door in your face." Korra scowled and held Nilak more securely, rocking her a little since the baby was starting to cry.
"It's about an attempted prison break. Some of his old buddies were involved." The Chief explained curtly.
"…Fine. Come in." The Avatar finally stood aside and let the other in just as the man himself made an appearance on the staircase.
"Chief Beifong?" Noatak raised a brow in mild curiosity. "To what do we owe this visit?"
"I'm here to summon you to the police headquarters." The woman replied formally.
"Hey! That's not what you…!" Korra began to argue but was quickly cut off.
"And why am I required this time?" He wondered expressionlessly and somewhat cold.
"Questioning." Beifong had her arms crossed.
"Excuse me?" Noatak stared sternly at the policewoman.
"A group of prisoners attempted to riot and escape and injured several other inmates and guards before they were stopped." She stated darkly. "And they haven't given up yet from what our intel tells us."
"And what does that have to do with me in particular?" He enquired, still prodding for answers.
"Your tactical report on ways to prevent a prison outbreak concerning the equalist inmates backfired completely, the conditions you suggested merely gave them an upper hand for the escape." The Chief accused.
"You think I'm complicit in this attempt?" He raised a brow, it wasn't noticeable but he was somewhat offended at the suggestion especially because those equalists that were in prison were mostly those that he himself knew could not be rehabilitated and would be a threat to public safety, unlike many harmless and justified ones that had already been released, some thanks to him whether people knew or not; not to mention that the report had only been delivered less than a week before, they hadn't given the conditions enough time to work. "I assure you, madam Chief, if I was helping them it wouldn't have been attempt, they would have been successful before you even noticed them."
"Still too much coincidence." Beifong tapped her fingers on her armor impatiently.
"So some jailbirds try to sneak out and your first instinct is to show up here and accuse Noatak? You have a lot of nerve, Beifong." Korra stepped in on the conversation, Nilak kept crying louder and that was rattling the Avatar's nerves and making her even moodier towards the policewoman. "When will he stop being a scapegoat?"
"Probably never considering what he's capable of." Lin snapped back harshly.
"Screw you, Beifong." Korra practically shouted back.
"Korra, calm down. There is no need to be so testy." Noatak placed a hand on her shoulder to placate her and looked at Beifong again. "Am I under arrest?"
"No. It's just a summons." The Chief huffed as if she didn't like the situation in the least but it was unclear whose side she was on.
"Then I'll go but I'll go on my own time, I have a family and a life now and I'd appreciate if you and the Council remembered that before disrupting it." The former equalist announced with steely resolve.
"Don't get cocky on me." Lin took a step towards him, daring him to challenge her.
"I'm not. I'll be at precinct at five in the afternoon, not a moment sooner." He stated calmly, trying to make a point.
"Fine but if you don't show up I'll have you arrested for violating the terms of your release." The chief menaced angrily but a bit half-heartedly.
"No need to threaten me, madam Chief. I'll be there." Noatak almost smirked at her attitude.
"And he better come back or I'll punch a hole in your jail myself." Korra added sulkily and trying to rock Nilak into calming down.
"I already said it's not an arrest. It's none of your business anyway, get that in your thick little head, daft girl." Lin retorted with as little patience as the Avatar herself.
"What the…?" The younger woman suddenly passed the child to Noatak walked irately up to the other. "Did you actually just call me stupid in my own house?"
"I'm sorry. You were grinding my gears and it slipped out." The Chief apologized immediately but it wasn't heartfelt at all and she was pinching the bridge of her nose in an attempt to push back a tension headache that was forming.
"And now you're apologizing too easily again. What the hell is wrong with you lately?" Korra's anger became laced with suspicion and concern as she watched the pale and tired-looking policewoman huff and scowl.
"I apologized! What else do you want?!" Beifong snapped, still irritated and her tone was enough to anger the Avatar all over again.
"I want you to go away!" Korra replied, snarling, and pointed at the door.
"Well, you can't boss me around." It was clear the chief did want to leave but she was too stubborn to back down from the other's wrath.
"Well, if you wish you're free to stay for breakfast." Noatak intervened to cut short the budding fight. "Unless you're averse to sea prunes and seal blubber."
"…Ugh." Lin recoiled and turned a little green, making a disgusted face. He had picked the ingredients that he knew generally repulsed most people other than Water Tribers to whom they were nostalgic and the effect was exactly as predicted although somewhat more exaggerated. "Just don't be late!" With that Lin turned on her heels and escaped the house before more arguments could ensue.
As soon as the Chief was out of the house with the door banging behind her, most likely heading to see Tenzin, Korra stomped her foot in rage and forced herself to take several deep calming breaths before looking at her lover.
"Are we really having sea prunes and seal for breakfast?" She asked with a raised brow, she wouldn't complain if they were but it hardly sounded like breakfast food and she suspected it was a ploy to chase Beifong out.
"Not really." Noatak smirked, patting Nilak's back until the baby's wailing toned down a bit. "I was actually thinking honey cakes and eggs with ham."
"I love you." Korra grinned, grateful for his quick wit and the mouthwatering suggestion.
"Likewise, bao bei." He stated with a smile of his own, heading to the kitchen with his crying daughter still in his arms.
"Why five though? You have the whole afternoon free." She enquired with some curiosity as she followed him.
"They need to learn that I may be their lapdog but I am still my own person." And he wanted the extra time to gather some facts of the situation before heading to the police headquarters.
"Well, you better be back before I finish airbending practice or I'll go get you." It wasn't a request, it was a promise.
(Author's Note: For those interested, I finally finished the art of Korra's tattoo and it can be found on my tumblr (valkerymillenia-tumblr-com).
Sorry for the slow updates, having a lot of work lately plus I'm working on a couple of Amorralok one-shots that were requested by someone very dear to me.
Laugher's Song- "It needs to be slow. Recovery happens in baby steps." EXACTLY! I don't think people realized it yet but the slow careful way Noatak is helping Korra recover from psychological trauma is a parallel for the way she helped him recover physically at the beginning of this story.
DarkAngelCT- Yes, Liu will have a huge soft spot for the little princess.
BarleyGuy- Yes, Shikou will be a bender but, much to her disappointment (and yes, this meant to be a strange reaction), not a bloodbender.)