All Korra wanted was to fight.
She sat at the edge of her seat every Friday night, listening to the pro-bending matches on the radio. She knew all the teams, all the players, and all the moves. She'd been a fan since before she even knew how to bend herself.
Now, at seventeen, it was all she ever thought about.
Unfortunately for her, pouring over pro-bending matches was not deemed an appropriate past-time by her teachers for a girl - let alone the Avatar in training.
She was under strict house arrest every Friday, with a guard at her door. One was even added under her window after a failed attempt to escape when her favorite team was playing at the arena across the bay.
Just across the bay. That might have been the worst part. She could gaze out at the golden spires and lights while the radio played the match. It was easy to imagine, but also impossible.
She'd never seen one in person.
Oh, she'd come close a few times. Girls weren't allowed in to see the dangerous sport - it was unseemly and too rough for their delicacies, which made Korra roll her eyes - and tickets were expensive. She'd dressed as a boy, snuck in through windows, bribed guards, even legitimately bought a ticket once, but never had she made it to the actual match itself.
Fate seemed to be against her.
So she sat with her arms crossed and leg bouncing at the announcer's tinny voice filled her room.
"Ooh, looks like Bolin took a nasty shot to the shin! I don't know how much longer he'll be able to - oh, looks like it wasn't very long. Into the drink he goes, but his brother's got his back. Mako sends his own fire power over to the other team's earthbender and over the edge he goes. Two on two in the third round with only thirty seconds to go and a tie to break. Who's it going to be folks?"
Korra chewed her thumbnail, her eyes glued to the arena, wishing she could see through the walls.
"Hasook's certainly playing with fire, there, he slices, spins, and ooh Taka gets a good hit in. Hasook's backed up to the edge looking mighty nervous and his teammate is in no shape to come to his rescue.
"And oh with a nice two-four combo, the Fire Ferret's water bender is over the edge. Mako better work fast if he wants to stay in this thing and would you look at that, the Panda Lilies' water bender goes for a swim! And there's the bell! We're down to a tie-breaker round!"
Switching from her thumbnail to her lip, Korra jumped up and started pacing, her heart racing as if she were the one in the ring.
"The Panda Lilies win the coin toss, and it looks like it's a water show-down. Team Captain Mako does not look happy as Hasook steps into the ring. I don't know what's going on, but it looks like some team tension is coming to a boil. Regardless, there goes the bell and Panda Lily Kahn goes straight for the kill. Hasook manages to dodge, but it's a close call. He's going to need some luck on his side if he has any hope of winning. Kahn's quick fire shots seem to be wearing him down but neither player has been pushed out of the ring. They're circling, staring each other down. It tense in here tonight, you can hear a pin drop as these two wait for the moment to strike. Our sponsors, the Stay Put Stay Pins may be happy to hear that - if you're going to drop a pin, drop a Stay Pin. But back to the match, Hasook is crouching down, and there he goes! He abandons his bending and goes for brute strength! I don't know how this is going to work in his favor, Kahn slips from his grip and sends a whip for his troubles. Hasook stumbles, but stays in the ring and lunges again, narrowly missing Kahn and - wait! That might not have been a miss, Kahn's fighting for his balance and there he goes! Kahn is out of the ring! The Fire Ferrets win the match!"
Korra whooped in excitement, punching the air as her muscles finally relaxed and her lungs sucked in some much needed air.
"There you have it folks, the Fire Ferrets are the last team to make into this year's City Tournament, thought I'm hardly seeing teammate camaraderie in the ring. Mako and Hasook are arguing and I'm sure this won't end well. We'll have more details for you in tomorrow's Sports Report. Thanks for tuning in and have a fantastic evening. I've been your host -"
Korra switched the radio off, then collapsed on her bed with a sigh. She turned her head to look out the window one last time, envious of the trickle of people starting to exit the arena.
What she wouldn't give to be there.
It was too much to dream she could actually fight - girls were forbidden from the sport. She thought it was a ridiculous rule. She was the Avatar for crying out loud. She could fight - and win against - the best of them. But it was tradition, and tradition didn't break lightly.
Even still, it was her greatest wish. Greater than becoming a fully realized Avatar, though she didn't dare voice that secret to anyone.
It was true though. The world was changing, and the Avatar's role in it was decreasing. There were police forces to keep the peace, councils to govern the people, and peace between nations. She might be in training to master all four elements, but after that, then what? Her elders spoke of world tours and grand ceremonies, but that wasn't what she wanted.
She simply wanted to fight.
The next morning, Korra flipped on the radio while she went through her morning stretches. After a moment of smooth jazz and a few commercials, her ears pricked up.
"Well, folks, it looks like the Fire Ferrets are in a bit of a bind. It seems after last night's victory, Hasook is off the team! That's right, you heard that correctly, the Fire Ferrets are down one water bender. They're holding auditions immediately to find a replacement. If you think you've got what it takes, head down to the Northern Pier at noon today to try your luck."
Korra's heart stopped.
This was her chance.
She could audition. It would be easy enough to sneak away for lunch, she'd done that more than once when the Air Temple's vegetarian cuisine simply wasn't what she craved.
Getting there would be the easy part. But she was still a girl, and one with a noticeably female form at that. Not for the first time, she cursed her chest. It was always getting in the way. She supposed she could bind it, and if she wore loose enough clothes, she might be able to pass for a boy. There was also the slight problem of her height, but that couldn't be helped. She'd just have to prove that short fighters were still just as fierce.
She didn't know quite what to do about her face, though. It was too soft, her eyes too large, her lashes too long. She frowned, gnawing at her lip.
She didn't dare crop her hair to help with the charade - her teachers would know immediately something was up. Sighing, she decided to just cross her fingers and hope for the best. They were expecting a boy, and if that's what she said she was, they'd just have to believe her.
As soon as she was done with her morning lessons, she sprinted to the ferry that would take her from the Air Temple Island to the mainland. She didn't dare take her pet polar bear dog with her - Naga was too well known and would give her away immediately.
Naga would have been a welcome companion, though. Korra's nerves started to churn her stomach into a queasy mess without her best friend to help calm her.
A million reason why this was a bad idea raced through her mind, though she couldn't really bring herself to care about any of them.
She was trained to fight, but it was only because she was the Avatar. She would never actually see combat, it was just tradition for her to learn. She might do demonstrations or something, but if she were ever in a dangerous situation, the White Lotus Guards that trailed her every move would jump to her defense and whisk her away to safety.
It drove her crazy. She loved the thrill of the movement, the elegance and beauty of a perfectly executed attack, and the rare freedom that came with it.
That taste of freedom urged her on to the pier where she could see a crowd gathering. She stole away into a small shop and slipped into the bathroom to change to her disguise.
With some trouble, she bound her breasts. She pulled on a too large shirt and eyed herself in the mirror. If she squinted, she could still see her chest, but any tighter and she wouldn't be able to breathe.
She redid her hair in a more masculine wolf tail. Once outside, she smudge some dirt and soot on her face to make her look more boyish. After examining herself once more in a window, she smiled.
She didn't look particularly manly, but she didn't looks outright girly either.
It would work.
It would have to work.
If she were found out…well, she didn't know exactly what would happen, but she had a feeling she wouldn't like it. It would probably involved getting shipped back off to the compound in the Southern Water Tribes, or worse, the near deserted Western Air Temple.
Republic City had become her home, and she didn't want to leave it.
Plus, she did care for her teachers, at least some of them. Disappointing them would be just as painful as being banished.
Mako ran his fingers through his short dark hair, resisting the urge to tug violently.
The handful of boys that showed up for tryouts was not encouraging. He thought it was bad enough when Hasook quit the team after Mako pointed out the errors the water bender made in the match, but Hasook was the useless slug he always was and refused to listen. Instead, he threw a fit and walked out the of the arena with no chance of returning.
He knew it would happen eventually; Hasook had never really fit in with Mako and his brother. Mako just wished it hadn't happened right before the championship tournament.
But now was no time to think about the what ifs and the whys, it was time to find a new water bender.
There were five boys lined up before him, with none of them standing out in any particular way.
Well, maybe the runt in the middle. He was a full head shorter than the others, and barely came up to Mako's own shoulders. He looked soft, with a bit of a star-struck look in his big blue eyes.
Great. A fan boy.
He looked to his brother, who was chatting amicably with the applicants. Bolin was there more for team spirit than anything else. The choice would be Mako's, both as team captain and as the older brother.
Mako sighed, then turned to address the hopefuls, ignoring the sizable crowd that had gathered to watch. "Thank you for coming out here today. We're going to start with a trial by fire, quite literally. If you can't at least hold your own against me, you won't stand a chance against some the teams we'll be up against."
He narrowed his golden eyes. "You first," he said to the fan boy. Might as well eliminate the weak first.
The boy grinned, taking Mako by surprise. He expected him to shrink back or panic, not welcome the challenge with open arms.
He gave the boy a second look over. He was short and dirty, with brown skin and blue eyes. Clearly a boy from the South. He wore a loose shirt that was two sizes too big, so Mako couldn't really see his build, but it looked about average. Nothing extraordinary.
His face, though, was unusual. It was hard to see through the grit, but it looked soft, even for a young boy. He didn't know the boy's age, but he had to be at least 16 to compete. The softness was only enhanced by long lashes and
Mako frowned. "Name?"
The boy blinked and opened his mouth to answer, but paused.
Mako raised an eyebrow. There was the star-stuck blankness he was expecting.
The boy shook his head. "Uh, Kor. I'm Kor."
"Alright, Kor. Take up your stance and show me what you've got."
Mako lazily took up his own position as Kor slid into his.
His form was good, if a bit stiff, Mako observed. Very traditional. The boy'd had formal training. That meant he was probably the son of a rich family; no one else could afford traditional training. Middle class families didn't bother to learn, and the lower class learned on the street.
Mako waited for Kor to make the first move, the sun beating down on them and the waves crashing in his ears. He didn't have to wait long.
Kor pulled a stream of water from the ocean, winding it around his body with a fluid motion, his large eyes studying Mako with a sure and practiced air.
Immediately he struck with a whip at Mako's legs, forcing the fire bender to leap back, surprised at the speed of the whip - it nearly caught him.
He narrowed his eyes at the boy, wondering if maybe he'd underestimated him.
Mako shot a volley of punches back, more to keep Kor on his toes and less to actually attack. Kor dodged them easily and pulled more water from the ocean behind him, spinning and shooting them towards him. One blast caught Mako's side, and he frowned.
"I thought this would be a little bit harder," Kor taunted.
Mako wanted to knock that smug expression off his face. "I was worried about crushing you," he shot back. "You're so little I have to fight on my knees."
Kor just laughed. Mako was sure he was used to being teased about his height. It was good to know he wouldn't let that distract him during a fight.
But it was time to take this a little more seriously.
Mako stopped hold back and called the burning in his blood to a flame in his hand. He blast it toward Kor's chest, to the side, at his feet, shoulder, hip, faster and faster and it was all Kor could do to block or dodge it. Finally the boy's face looked nervous, sweat making tracks in the grime on his skin.
Mako had him back up to the line in the sand, drawn at the start of the tryout, the waves licking at the beach, waiting for Kor to misstep and fall prey to the ocean.
In the end, Mako was stronger.
He knew he would be.
It was surprise that ended up being Kor's downfall. He didn't expect Mako to feign over and over again. The boy was too trusting, a common rich boy mistake. Experience long taught Mako that not everyone fought clean in the ring, and rarely was a fight straight forward brute strength.
However, he was reluctant to admit that Kor was a much tougher competitor than he'd expected.
He reached out a hand to pull Kor from the surf. Kor glared at the hand reluctantly, looking much more contrite.
"Not bad," Mako admitted.
"Not bad?" Kor scoffed. "I was better than 'Not bad.'"
Mako raised an eyebrow. "I'll see that if you ever beat me. But right now I just see a boy sitting in the sand."
Kor pouted, but accepted the offered hand with a firm grasp, and Mako pulled him to his feet. He was surprised to see just how small the boy's hand was, even if the grip was strong. Mako felt an odd shiver at the contact. Dismissing it with a shake of his head, he told Kor, "Go get a drink, come back in an hour for your next test."
The result grin was near blinding.
The other benders hoping to make the team were much easier to judge. A tall boy with a shaved head looked a bit gawky on the sidelines, but knew how to move in the ring and might be able to work as a team member. Two other were immediately dismissed; one froze and was knocked out of the ring in two seconds flat, while the second was so clumsy that Mako didn't even have to attack, just wait for him to trip over his own two feet.
The last was another potential fighter, though not as strong as Kor. It looked like it wasn't going to be a very difficult decision.
He threw himself on the sand, reaching for his water bottle.
"There were some good guys out there," his brother observed, sitting beside him.
Mako hummed non-commitedly.
"That Kor kid sure has some guts," Bolin continued. "I bet he'd do well."
"I don't know," Mako hedged. "It's still just the first round."
"What else did you have planned for them?"
"I want to pit them against you, with no bending."
Bolin chuckled. "Not a bad idea. I don't think the city would appreciate my bending up the beach."
"I also want to see how they do up close, to see if we can trust them in a tie. You know teams are going to take advantage of any fresh meat."
"As if we aren't fresh enough."
Mako sighed. "We've done our fighting outside the ring. We may be the rookie team this year, but that doesn't mean we're rookie fighters."
"True, true." The brothers fell silent for a moment, remembering their lives before pro-bending, living on the street with no one to depend on but each other. It'd only been a stroke of luck combined with their self-taught fighting prowess that brought them to where they were now.
"Well," Mako said. "You ready for the next round, bro?"
"Three guys? I can take 'em, no problem," Bolin smiled. "Bring it on."
They drew a circle in the sand with a line down the middle. The objective was simple enough - knock the other guy out of the ring without using any bending.
Watching from the sidelines, Mako had a different point of view from when he was in the middle of the action. From here, it was easier to see the weaknesses of the hopefuls.
When Kor took on Bolin, he was reminded that as strong as Bolin was, he wasn't overly tall either. Kor would just need to work hard at the weights, bulk up a little.
But then he flipped Bolin without breaking a sweat.
Mako's jaw dropped.
The boy was strong. And he knew it. He stood with his hands on his hips, obviously proud of both winning and of taking everyone by surprise.
Mako pulled Bolin aside and hissed, "What just happened out there?"
Bolin looked bewildered. "I don't know. I had a good grip on him, and should have had him out in a matter of seconds, but he was quick. He knows how to use his size to his advantage. He'd do well in the tie-breaker ring."
"So you didn't go easy on him because you've taken a liking to him?"
Bolin huffed. "Of course not. I'm taking this seriously, too, you know. I want a good team."
"I know you do," Mako ruffled his hair. "I just don't like surprises. And we've never heard of him before. How's a good fighter like that just pop out of nowhere?"
Bolin shrugged. "He's a rich kid. Different circles."
"Maybe. I still want to find out a bit more before we give him a spot. Chat him up during the next break. You'll get more out of him than I ever would."
"Yeah, because I have people skills, unlike some people."
"You don't have to rub it in."
There's Chapter One! Please leave a review and let me know what you thought! I'm hoping to update once a week until it's finished.