Korra stood proudly in the ring with her back straight an eerie hush fell over the stadium as the crowd was struck dumb with shock. Then, as quickly as a summer storm, angry and confused voices filled the arena. Korra was glad the cut still granted her modesty so she didn't have to defensively cover herself, and instead turned to face Tahno with murder in her eyes as the back of her her uniform gapped open, revealing the smooth curve of her spine. Her breasts felt heavy without the support of her bindings, but that was only a minor annoyance, and hardly something to keep her from lashing out.
Tahno stood smugly as the referee made his way to the ring. "Is this true?" He demanded.
"You'll have to be more specific," Korra said without taking her eyes off of Tahno.
"Are you a girl?"
Quickly turning her gaze to the ref, she gestured pointedly at herself. "Clearly."
"And the Avatar?" He sounded dumbstruck, clearly having expected her to deny it.
Korra whipped off her helmet and shook out her sweat-soaked hair. Tucking the helmet under her arm and placing her hand on her hip, she simply said, "Yes."
The ref's face went red as he struggled to find words, but Korra cut him off before he strained himself too much.
"I don't see why that should be a problem though," she continued, raising her voice so everyone could hear. The crowd's roars quickly dulled to a soft buzzing. "As I'm clearly good enough to fight with the boys. And I've never used anything but my water-bending."
"T-This is highly irregular," the ref stammered. "I'll have to confer with -"
"No," Korra cut him off. "I know exactly what you'll do. You'll say the rules say no girls. But you've watched me fight the entire season. You know as well as anyone that those rules are ridiculous."
He faltered, and Mako stepped up. "I'll vouch for her, too, ref. I've trained and worked with her all season. She's got just as much right to be here as I do."
"I'll vouch, too," Bolin chimed in, taking his spot next to Korra as well.
Mako crossed his arms over his chest. "Unless Tahno and his teammates are so afraid of losing that they'd stoop to trying to disqualify their opponents," he taunted. The vein on Tahno's forehead pulsed.
For a long time, no one said anything. The ref weighed the Fire Ferrets' words, and the Wolf Bats watched Tahno for direction.
Surprisingly, it was the Wolf Bat earth bender who broke the silence. "This is ridiculous. Just let her fight. We'll still win." He raised his chin to Tahno. "Besides, we don't want any rumors spreading that we're afraid of a girl."
Tahno glared at him, but brushed his hair away from his face and said, "Fine." He gave the Fire Ferrets once last dirty look before repeating himself. "Fine. We'll give them the beating they deserve and prove that girls have no place here."
Korra cracked her knuckles. "We'll just see who proves what."
The ref gave her team a moment in the players box so she could fix her uniform. She fixed her binding - while the boys blushed and turned their backs - and grabbed a spare uniform. It was a little big on her and smelled of mothballs, but it was better than having her back exposed.
Then, back in the ring, the third and final round started with the ref's announcement, "With the agreement of both teams, the Avatar will be permitted to fight, so long as she solely bends water."
Korra's heart surged with pride, and a vain part of her wanted to fight without her helmet and with long hair streaming so that everyone who saw her knew she was a girl. But the rational part of her brain quickly snuffed that thought - nothing was worse than fighting with hair in your face - and she checked the chin strap one last time. She knew the she would be the prime target, and the Wolf Bats certainly weren't going to go easy on her.
The bell rang out and an explosion of dirt and water divided the two teams. She blindly attacked, but heard no grunt or cry indicating a hit, and when the dust cleared, she saw the three Wold Bat huddled on one far side of the ring. They smirked, then the earth and fire benders took to their respective opponents and cornered them with a barrage of flame and clay.
Tahno wanted to take Korra on himself.
Her eyes flashing to her teammates, Korra knew she wasn't going to get any back-up, and fought to block Tahno's rapid-fire attacks. He was getting sloppy, his rage evident in both his eyes and his footwork. It wouldn't take much to knock him further off balance.
Korra flipped back, out of reach but also into the next zone. Mako and Bolin were still both staunchly in Zone One, but she didn't know how long that was going to last. She felt the clock ticking down with every beat of her heart, and knew she act to act fast.
Tahno snarled with a crack of his water whip, which caught Korra just enough to sting. She flinched away, her heel barely grazing the border to Zone Three. The buzzer rang in her ears. Tahno's triumphant look grew as she retreated, and she clenched her fists. She just needed a second to get off the defensive. The boys seemed to be holding up, biding their time, but their attackers showed no sign of weakening and time was precious.
She crouched, presenting a small of a target as she could while spinning away from Tahno's attacks. With the distance between them, she was more difficult to hit. If they'd been smart, the Wolf Bats would have tried to get Mako and Bolin back as well, but those two weren't going anyway. Either way, with things as they were, the Fire Ferrets would lose.
Korra needed a knock-out.
The crowd began chanting. There were only seconds left.
She took a deep breath, briefly closing her eyes and summoning all that remained of her strength.
When her ice blue eyes opened, they saw the confident Tahno falter beneath the power of her attack.
The first blow hit his knees from the side, breaking his stance. That was quickly followed by an intense blow to the chest, followed by another and another as he stumbled with wide, shocked eyes to the railing. He flailed, trying to grab hold of the ropes, but Korra was too fast for him, and continued her barrage until he fell from the edge, landing in the drink with a satisfying scream and a splash.
The bell rang.
The match, the tournament, it was all over.
And the Fire Ferrets won.
Mako could finally lower his guard as the danger of flying rock or flame was brought to a stop. The attacks had blinded him, and when he heard the final bell, he feared for the worst. He spun to see if Korra was still in the ring.
She was, and she was glorious.
He'd never felt prouder than the moment she removed her helmet and faced the crowds, and the crowds cheered for her. They knew full well who she was, and they cheered anyway.
He ran over to her and scooped her up into an enormous hug, spinning her around and shout with joy.
She shouted something back, but he couldn't hear her over the noise of celebration. When he gave her a confused look, she just rolled her eyes, grabbed his face between her two hands, and kissed him squarely on the mouth.
When she pulled back, he knew he was grinning like a fool, but he didn't care. "You won!" He shouted in her ear.
"We all won!" She shouted back, and the enormity of it all hit. He hugged her again, and then Bolin joined them, throwing his arms around the pair of them.
The three of them didn't let go for a long time.
After the award ceremony and the after parties and all the fuss, Mako and Korra were finally alone. Bolin had winked at them and disappeared somewhere around 2 AM when they were still surrounded by fans and being showered with praise. Swarms of young women wanted to meet Korra, and Mako hadn't left her side since the match.
Korra stretched, reaching her arms above her head and soaking in the moonlight that seeped through the attic windows. Mako watched her, too exhausted to even light the lamps. But it was a pleased, satisfied sort of exhaustion that came from a hard days' work.
Korra sank onto the couch she'd called her bed, sprawling out like a sleepy lemur pup. Mako chuckled, and Korra tried to glare at him, but gave up and patted the space next to her.
"Come join me, Captain. We both need a rest."
"I thought those parties would never end," he said as he joined her, nervously sitting on the edge.
"Well, I'm kind of a big deal," she teased. "And we did just kind of make history."
"You made history," he pointed out gently, his tone serious and touched with a bit of awe. "I just stood back and let you do your thing."
She picked up his hand, twining her fingers with his. "You did more than that. You gave me the chance I needed. You gave me the support I needed." He opened his mouth to protest, but she held up her other hand to stop him. "Sure the road was a little rocky, but Mako, I truly couldn't have done it without you."
He leaned forward, resting his forehead against hers. Her eyes fluttered close. "I'm sure you would have found a way. You really are the most amazing person I've ever met."
She smiled. "You know, the tournament's over now. You're allowed to kiss me again." Her eyes were still closed, but her lips quirked up teasingly.
Mako laughed. "I might have figured that out when you kissed me in the arena."
Her cheeks colored and her eyes flashed open. "I did do that, didn't I?"
"Is that a bad thing?"
"No. Tenzin might kill me, but it'd be worth it." She grinned wolfishly.
He chuckled and lightly kissed her nose. "I better get my fill before he gets his hands on you, then."
"As if you'll ever get your fill of me," she scoffed teasingly.
He pressed his lips to hers, kissing her deeply and wrapping her up in his arms. "That is beyond true."
The next day, the streets were abuzz with the news of the Avatar fighting in the tournament, and how girls may be able to legally join in next year's season. Korra beamed with pride whenever she overheard a conversation about her, though Mako was somewhat more cautious.
"Not everyone is going to be happy with the change," he pointed out.
"Stop being such a stick in the mud," she replied simply and looped her arm through his as they walked toward the ferry.
He liked having her on his arm, he couldn't deny that, but he was still nervous. Something still felt…off. Unfinished. Even though there was official talk in the Council, and his prize money was safe in the bank (after some help with opening an account), he felt on edge.
When he reached the docks, he understood why.
Tahno was waiting for them with arms crossed and hair surprisingly stringy.
"What are you doing here?" Mako immediately demanded, stepping in front of Korra. She rolled her eyes and stepped back up beside him with a quick, light jab to his side to remind him she was perfectly capable of defending herself.
"My team revolted," he said simply, sounding dejected. "Kicked me off. Said it was my fault for losing the match."
"It kind of was," Korra muttered under her breath, and Mako fought a smile.
"So what's that got to do with us?" He asked instead.
Tahno sighed heavily. "How did you do it? I mean, you're just a girl."
"That doesn't make me inferior to you," Korra said, just as simply. "I've trained just as long - if not longer - than you have. I'm strong, and I work hard. It doesn't matter if I'm a boy or a girl, hard work will pay off in the end. And in the end, I was simply the better fighter."
Tahno stared at her for a long moment, as if he understood the words, but couldn't string them together to get the meaning out of them.
Finally, he sighed, shaking his head. "Maybe," he conceded. "We'll fight again, kid. Someday. And I'll beat you."
"I look forward to it," she said, placing one hand confidently on her hip and raised her chin with a smirk.
With a mocking, two finger salute, he said, "See you 'round. Uh-vatar."
Mako and Korra watched him walk away, no longer the proud pro-bender champion. He was simply nothing more than a man.
Mako and Bolin were welcomed to the Air Temple Island with open arms. The young air benders were ecstatic to finally meet them properly, and Pema loved the boys after they practically inhaled her cooking and sheepishly asked if there was any more. It wasn't long before she essentially adopted them as her own.
Tenzin took a little bit longer to convince, but he eventually came around. He didn't even scold Korra for having a boyfriend behind his back, but Korra suspected that was thanks to Pema. The woman repeatedly pointed out how sweet and helpful and down to earth and not a crazed lunatic Mako was. Mako suspected Tenzin had been expecting someone much worse. It was Korra, after all. He probably thought she'd pick someone as crazy as herself.
Things fell into routine after that. Mako and Korra spent their days apart working where they were needed, then came together in the evening for dinner with the air benders, or off-season practice with Bolin or simply spend together. The routine wouldn't last long, of course, as Korra would be needed elsewhere, but Mako never failed to wait for or follow her, whichever the situation called for. There were late nights and lost notes, fights and make ups, tears and laughter, but they were always together in spirit.
Because together, they could be themselves, free from pretense and ridiculous expectations and the heavy weight of the world. They were happy. They were in love.
And that was all they really needed.
AN: So that's it! I can't believe it. Thank you for reading and sticking with me. I read every review and truly appreciate every reader. I hope you enjoyed it! I don't know what else to say but thanks again!