"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
- Thomas Merton
-. Equilibrium .-
Chapter V | SPIRITS | Harmony
Korra awoke in the same bed on Air Temple Island that she had been occupying, most nights, for nearly a year. The same sunlight was filtering through the same paper shutters, tracing the same patterns on the same white sheets.
Everything was as familiar and as comfortable as ever. But somehow, even without being fully conscious yet, she knew that today…today would be different.
For one thing, the method by which she was roused was definitely not the norm. A blast of wind threw the door wide open and whipped the bedding from her fingers, heralding the arrival of three airbenders as they scooted into her room.
"Korra, Korra, Korra! Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP!" Meelo had launched himself onto her stomach before her eyes had time to adjust to the light, invoking a grunt of discomfort. Jinora and Ikki, respectful girls though no less subtle, were bouncing on their toes at the edge of her bed, tiny fingers gripping and shaking the futon.
"Today's the day, Korra!" the eldest reminder her in a tone ripe with enthusiasm. "How can you still be sleeping?"
"Yeah, yeah. Today's the day!" repeated her younger sister, apparently too elated to come up with her own wording.
After tossing the toddler up and away with an air blast of her own, which of course had him giggling madly as he floated to the floor, Korra made to sit up. "Geez guys," she mumbled through a yawn. "What is up with you three? You'd think something special was happening today, huh?"
Jinora and Ikki giggled at her false modesty while Meelo rolled his eyes from the corner he had landed in.
"You're not funny!" he chastised with such extreme disapproval that Korra could not help but join his sisters' laughter. Soon enough, with no prompting necessary, he too broke down and all four of them were bent over with chuckles. That is until Pema arrived.
"Jinora! Ikki! Meelo!" The Air Temple mistress had that look on her face that was rarely seen outside of these halls, brows knitted and eyes wide with fury. One would think she was trying to impersonate a mother saber-tooth moose-lion after someone toyed with her babies. "I TOLD you not to disturb Korra! She needs every minute of rest she can get! How can you be so-"
"It's okay Pema," Korra interrupted, swinging her legs over the side of the cot and trying her best to appear energetic. "I was up anyway."
"Oh. Okay then." Immediately her shoulders softened, though her eyes still retained some doubt. "Well they should at least let you prepare in privacy. Off you all go to breakfast."
"Now!" A sweep of a pointed finger toward the hallway and the young trio were off, not needing to be told twice. However, just for rebellion's sake, they did all summon air scooters once behind their mother's back. There, they gave the Avatar some peppy waves of goodbye before blasting down the hallway. Pema shook her head, completely aware of their rule breaking but too tired to do anything about it. Today there were much bigger things to worry about.
"So. Korra. How are you feeling?" She strode forward and placed herself on the cot beside her ward, taking a moment to smooth out the creases from her formal robes. "Nervous at all?"
"Hmmm…a little, I guess." It was an easy thing to admit. One would have to born without nerves to not feel nervous on such an occasion. "But I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?" She placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. Though surely it was meant to be a supportive gesture, Korra's found herself struggling to suppress a groan. She had been asked that question too many times over the past few weeks and it had long since become exasperating.
"Yes, I'm sure. I've always been sure."
"Because," Pema took a moment to scan the room for prying eyes and/or ears before continuing. "It's not too late to back out, you know? Say the word and I'll have a boat ready for you by the cave exit quicker than Meelo ruins a brand new set of robes." She snapped her fingers to accentuate the speed of such an event which caused Korra to burst into chuckles once again. Despite the trials of the past three months, she found herself laughing more and more as the days passed. It was…liberating.
"Thanks for the offer but not only is it indeed too late, I need to go through with this. And I want to go through with it!" she amended quickly just as Pema opened her mouth to protest. "I really want to. I'm ready. I admit that I'm not thrilled about the addition of the cameras, the Council and all that stuff, but I'm going to have to get used to all those eyes on me sooner or later. Now is as good a time as any, right?"
She could see the cogs turning in Pema's head, digesting the information and debating whether to take it to heart. Korra held her gaze, unwavering, silently ensuring that every word she spoke was the truth. Eventually, the woman's brow smoothed out and her lips curved up into that trademark smile.
"Right. In that case, I have something for you." She jumped to her feet and ran back to the hallway, yanking what looked like a large, empty potato sack from the laundry hook outside her door and presenting it with a flourish.
It was Korra's turn to look worried and uncertain as she eyed the bag much like one would a meal with a questionable scent.
"What?" Piqued by the girl's obvious confusion, Pema returned her eyes to the offering in her hands. "Oh! Silly me. I forgot to unwrap them!" She worked on the knots at the top while Korra continued to stare.
"And what, pray tell, are 'they'?"
"Your new robes of course." Her grin now held a twinge of both pity and amusement. "They're a gift from the Steward of the Eastern Air Temple. Surely you haven't forgotten the huge publicity battle over who would get the honor of dressing you today?"
Right. The 'battle of the belts' the media had dubbed it. Korra had indeed forgotten. She had worked very hard to do so.
"And you're only showing me now because...?"
Pema shrugged. "I may have assumed that you'd change your mind and wanted to spare you the…shock."
The last of the knots came free and Korra's jaw fell open. She had yet to meet the acolytes who guarded the Eastern Air Temple, but from the look of this garment they all either had failing eyesight or simply didn't like her very much. Most likely the latter.
It only made her more determined to go through with this with both grace and dignity; as impossible as those two concepts may seem once donning such a clown suit.
With a deep breath, the first of many sure was sure to take today, Korra leapt to her feet, determination etched into her features.
"Let's do this!"
"I can't do this."
Not even an hour later, staring into the mirror of her dressing tent with wide, unblinking eyes, Korra was beginning to panic. And the ridiculousness of how she looked was a nearly negligible percentage of the reason.
All around her she could hear the pressing murmur of a hundred voices gathering on the plaza, a notable chunk being press members from around the world all here to capture her big day -this day. The most important day of her life so far- for the entire, global populace to witness. Back when she had planned this, after having successfully and easily completed the last of the advanced airbending trials, it had seemed like a brilliant idea. Like killing ten thousand birds with one stone.
But now, in this moment, as everyone had been telling her all along, it seemed to be quite obviously insane.
"Oh! Oh no. Oh geez." It was Bolin who had the misfortune of being at her side during this realization, even though everyone else who had stopped in to say hello and wish her luck had perceived only the calm, collected, peaceful Avatar that she intended to showcase. He was dressed in a pristine black suit with emerald fastenings which highlighted his eyes, most likely provided by the generous and fashionable Asami. His black hair was slicked back without one strand out of place and gold cufflinks glittered on his wrists. When he had entered a few minutes ago, they had cracked jokes about how he looked more feminine than she did. They had laughed together as they so often did. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"Korra. Kooorraaaaaaa…Look at me Korra." Two large hands appear on her reflection's biceps and then she was abruptly spun around to face equally wide and terrified eyes. "You know I love you. Like a sister of course! And you know if you say the word, I'll shout fire and we'll be riding the next waterbending bubble off this rock with no one being the wiser. But…BUT…"
Distracted, he looked down at the handfuls of fabric he held in each hand. It may not be just the robes that were causing Korra to breakdown after so many weeks of being balanced, but it for sure wasn't helping. The gold cape and wide, loose sleeves may have looked regal on the wizened Stewart who waited outside wearing practically the exact same outfit, but on her it appeared gaudy. And suffocating. And difficult to move in. And so very, very old. All things that contrasted deeply with the lively spirit of Korra. Without thinking much about it, the earthbender tightened his fingers began to rip.
"Bolin!" she screeched in shock as she felt the blissfully cool air hit her bare arms. "What-what are you-"
"Just a little adjustment!" he said with a mischievous grin as he bunched up the fabric and casually tossed it over his shoulder. "Before you decide to officially freak out, I thought you should maybe try something a little different. You're not gonna impress anyone by being something you so obviously are not."
As the Avatar's lips flapped opened and closed soundlessly, struggling for words, Bolin was already working on the cape, neatly releasing it from the jeweled broach at her throat. Instantly, as the glittering fabric flowed off her shoulders, she felt as if a hundred pound weight had been lifted. She moaned a little inappropriately at the delicious relief.
He was right of course. Not only about the clothing, but regarding this whole pageant. If the point was to get people to see her, they had to see her and not some mannequin following a mechanical script aimed to impress a faceless crowd. She'd honor the Eastern Temple's generosity by wearing their colors, but that was where she'd draw the line.
"Yip yip!" Bolin was tapping at her ankles, having retrieved her boots from storage beneath a bench. Gleefully, she kicked off the pinching, embroidered slippers and shimmied back into the familiar suede that her friend held steady for her. It felt like coming home.
"Better?" he asked once back on his feet and brushing the dust from his pants. "I gotta say; you look better at least."
"Definitely," Korra agreed, flexing her newly exposed arms that she had unknowingly held stiff since donning the garment. Still, despite the release she was feeling thanks to Bolin's intervention, she was nervous. Tense actually. It had a been a while since she felt this way, her fingers itching with sparks that only one thing was proven to satiate.
"Where's Mako?" She tried to say it offhandedly, as if it were an afterthought, but something in her voice had the brother cocking a knowing eyebrow.
"Should be here any minute. Why?"
"Why?" her lip curled outward in a pout. "It's not like this isn't an important day or anything. Figures he'd wait until the last minute to show up."
"Don't get your toga in a twist. He spent last night at the house to work on a few things because YOU told him he shouldn't hang around this morning. You said it was bad luck or whatever."
At the reminder, her expression softened a little. She had made the request back when she considered him a distraction; an unwelcome trigger to her bending. So much had changed in the weeks since then. So much had been revealed. She now knew that his role had an entirely different and surprisingly pleasant purpose.
Today, she needed that. She needed it now.
Speak of the viper-devil.
As if he had heard the plea hours before she had thought it herself, Mako's voice was at the door of her tent at the perfect moment. Bolin laughed while shaking his head, amused as he always was by their strange ability to communicate between both time and space.
"I'll leave you two alone," he said with a smirk before pulling her into a one-armed hug. "Oh! And happy birthday my dear Avatar."
Korra smiled into his shoulder. "Thanks, my dear fire-ferret."
"After this is all wrapped up, we're celebrating. Don't you forget!"
"I couldn't if I tried." This was true on a very disconcerting level. Asami had been calling her thrice daily for the past week, harassing her for input on what was sure to become Republic City's reception of the century. Assuming she got through this next step.
"Good luck." With a final squeeze of her hand, Bolin took his leave, holding the curtain open for his brother to take his place.
As a fresh gust of air filled the room and her lungs with the sweet-scented heat of summer, so did Mako. He approached cautiously, respectfully, amber eyes locked to her in a way that made Korra's pulse race and her body grow warm.
He looked good.
Well he always looked good, but today he was wearing his officer's dress uniform, the cap fit snuggly under his arm and the ties of his red sash swaying with his hips. She had only seen him in it once, at his graduation ceremony the previous week. Even in a group of thirty or so other young men and women receiving their accreditation that day, Mako had stood out. Not only because he alone was presented with a triple-star medal of honor in addition to the standard initiation pin (for displaying selfless bravery during the Dragon Flats battle) and not only because he was the only firebender (the red seams of his suit standing out from the crowd like a signal flare) but because he glowed. Perhaps not literally in anyone's eyes except her biased ones, but all could agree that there was something special about him that day.
For a man who had been beaten down more times than he could count, to rise up to such a level once thought impossible was more than a wish come true. It was a miracle. Especially considering his recent brush with death. And as his finger (fingers that still didn't work perfectly after being detached by some ricochet bullets) closed around the shiny piece of metal (the same pin she now wore proudly on her collar), his relief, his sudden serenity, became palpable. It radiated from him, easing tense shoulders and twisted stomachs throughout the entire crowd.
He had done it.
Against all odds, he had made it. Through weeks of remedial classes, makeup test and physiotherapy, everything had come together. And all he had had to do was let people help him for once, sacrificing a smidgen of his pride to result in this grand moment where he felt simultaneously humbled and more powerful than ever.
Even Lin, the famously apathetic Chief, couldn't help but be moved. After affixing the metal to his chest, she seemed to have temporarily forgotten protocol and had dared to pat the young man on the back. It was the closest thing to a hug she had ever doled out in public and it inspired a barrage of camera flashes in addition to some disturbing tabloid rumors.
That night they had hosted a small celebration in the one room of their "project" (they couldn't legitimately call it a home yet) that wasn't at risk of collapsing. And later that night, after she had none-too subtly followed him to his dorm room on the Island, that uniform which had teased her for hours was finally beneath her eager hands. That night he had proved to her that the injured fingers were not only healed but still plenty dexterous.
"Good morning my lady Avatar." Mako interrupted her reminiscence by giving a formal salute, though she doubted that the cocky grin was standard. "How may I be of service?"
Korra's blush deepened despite herself, so she quickly shook her head in an attempt to clear it. "I…I-uh." I need you. Again, she shook her head, trying to dredge up some coherent and appropriate sentences. The pause in conversation brought to her ears the murmur from the plaza once again. The voices, hundreds of them, taking their seats and setting up their devices, all secretly hoping to witness the history-making event of her failure. She winced, trying to block it out again, but it was becoming too difficult. Her nerves, her fears, were winning the battle over her ability to reason. "I just…I wanted-"
"Hey." His hands were suddenly on her neck, tilting her chin up and forcing her wide, blue eyes to meet his. As always, they acted like a diluted version of his element; melting all her sharp, emotional peaks into a warm pool of nothingness, until her blood neared boiling and turned her bones to jelly. It was one of the few instance where Korra easily and happily surrendered.
He smirked then, a little too smugly for her liking. As if he knew exactly what he was doing to her. Pure stubbornness almost forced her to ruin the moment just to prove that she could, but then he said the most perfect words imaginable.
"Let's get out of here."
It was exactly what she needed to hear.
Unlike Pema and Bolin, he wasn't offering an escape from the entire ordeal. Though she knew he wouldn't hesitate to help in such as case. Not if she really wanted to. Instead, hand in hand and giggling like school children, they had burrowed under the back wall of her tent before making a mad dash for the tree line; toward that same wooded area near the bison caves where they knew, from experience, no one would find them.
"How long until it starts?" Mako asked as they settled on the grass, making a pillow out of her thigh.
Korra shrugged, reaching her arms above her head in a long overdue stretch . "About an hour I guess. They're gonna start with the tribute to Avatar Aang."
At this, Mako's eyebrows knitted together as he examined the elaborate, swirling patterns embroidered in gold onto her pants. "Why?"
"Well…because it's the eighteenth anniversary of his death. Obviously."
"I know, but-" Mako turned his head to meet her eyes, squinting when a stray ray of sunlight escaped the cover of thick foliage as it swayed in the wind. "I thought this day was about you."
"It is. And it isn't."
"…I don't understand."
Korra took a deep breath. Not to calm down this time, but to call upon the inspiration of the air. She let it fill her empty spaces (stomach, lungs, heart, soul) and invigorate her cells with the buzz of undiluted oxygen. It helped her communicate, if only in the most minute ways, with her past lives.
"I am Aang. And Aang is Korra. We are each other and we are Roku and Kyoshi and all the thousand Avatars that came before us. We have been born and have died thousands of times. I get that now. It's how I know I can get through today. Because I've done it a thousand times before. Does that make any sense to you?"
"So you're not worried at all?"
"Oh I'm terrified. And excited. And stressed. And tranquil. I'm a little bit of everything right now."
Mako laughed and shimmied his head more comfortably into her lap. "One thousand emotions for one thousand lives, huh?"
"Exactly. So next time you accuse me of being crazy, now you know why."
They shared a chuckle at that. "I just don't want you to undersell yourself. You've worked hard for this. No past lives made you do that. It's all you."
"Yeah well, let me linger with this idea for a while longer please. Seeing as I may very well fall on my face in front of the world, having nine-hundred and ninety-nine others to blame it on is quite the safety net."
"You'll do fine."
"You don't know that…"
Something in her voice caused him to go rigid, picking up on the audibly subtle but mentally blaring vibrations of her insecurity. He knew from experience that there wasn't really anything he could say to make her feel better. It had been the same when his final exams had been approaching and she could do nothing more than linger around the house patching walls, forcing the odd meal upon him while he hunched over a pile textbooks. Words had never really been their preferred method of communication, though they were often necessary. Especially after they awoke from their injuries.
It had taken her a whole week to bring up the stones; the collection of polished blue marble that he had been struggling to learn how to carve in the rare quiet moments of his then impossible schedule. After she had set the crooked money lender straight in the only language he spoke (which is to say, not an entirely legal one) regarding the townhouse Mako had bought and after her name had been affixed to the deed, the subject of their potential marriage could be avoided no longer.
It would make a lot of people happy, they reasoned. It would lower a bunch of eyebrows that had been raised after purchasing property together. It would give them independence from the White Lotus' claim on her schedule. It would be simply pushing forward what they both knew was bound to happen eventually anyway. After a solid hour of debating, the pros list had greatly overwhelmed the cons. It almost seemed stupid not to.
Without a word, as had become their custom, they let both the list and the subject dissolve into a burst of flames before moving on to their respective projects around the house. The stones were packed away in a box containing other such trinket mementos like Bolin's lucky rabbit-lizard foot and a mystery brass whistle. Besides, he had since been informed that a traditional, Water Tribe betrothal necklace wasn't really her style. It would be too irritating to fight with. The city's standard was a ring nowadays. He promised himself that when the right time came, when they mutually wanted to do this more for themselves than anyone else, he would make her one designed to add extra bite to her punches.
"I finished the piping last night," Mako announced, hoping to distract her. "We now officially have running water. On the first floor. In the kitchen only. Cold water that is."
"Really?" she sat up, hands behind her back for support as she stared down at the face in her lap. "That's fantastic! Will definitely make my landscaping job easier."
"Yeah. At this rate we can move in about, I dunno, five, maybe six years?"
Korra rolled her eyes, smirking as she brushed some errant hair behind his ear. He was exaggerating of course, but it still would be a significant length of time before their place became habitable.
There was no rush. For now, since Tenzin had agreed to turn a blind eye once in a while to their late night rendezvous, privacy and time together wasn't as scarce a commodity as it used to be. The airbending master had also agreed that, fiscally, the townhouse had been a sensible purchase. A bargain thanks to its decrepit state, the place was well located and had a solid frame and foundations at the very least. Young though they were, their scraps of savings were already flourishing into a base upon which they could build a more than comfortable life. Even Bolin's lofty aspirations seemed to be coming true as he had been accepted, full scholarship, into one of Republic City's most prestigious high schools. Asami's Sato-planes were also now in mass production after the army had made a substantial order, bringing Future Industries back onto the top of the corporate food chain.
The future, for all of them, was looking brighter than ever. No matter what happened today.
Mako tried to tell her this in a look, reaching up to cup her cheek, relishing how she leaned into it and closed her eyes. Her hand rose to cover his and her grip tightened, needing his reassurance, his support, his love, all of him with her, encompassing her. She felt the soothing pull of his simple nearness pick away at her anxiety until it all but evaporated. It was only temporary though. Not for the first time, she wished they could latch themselves together and somehow take the test as one entity. It may be awkward, but at least she would fail due to reasons less humiliating than mere fright.
"You'll do fine," he whispered again, not needing to hear her thoughts to know she was troubled. "Just…relax."
She would have laughed if allowed the opportunity. Instead the hand on her cheek snaked around her neck and she found herself being pulled down onto impatient lips. As always, he surmised exactly what she needed before she knew herself. He kissed much like how he bended; cool under fire. All tightly tamed heat spreading from his lip, his hands, his everywhere, bringing her to a melting point in a slow and steady simmer. Every movement, brush of his tongue or nip of his teeth, was calculatingly perfect in execution, convincing her with embarrassing ease that she would simply die if he ever stopped touching her.
Mouths cemented together, they rearranged themselves so that he could sit up before she yanked his collar forward and they toppled backward into the grass. Without thinking twice, her fingers began travelling down his chest, leaving freed brass buttons in their wake. His uniform jacket was gone in a blink, devoured by the scenery, followed soon after by his undershirt, then her boots, then his own. The fastenings of her robes were loosened enough so that the fabric had slipped from her shoulders, revealing a treasure trove of umber skin itching for exploration around her collar bone and upper chest.
Clouded senses were rapidly leading them toward a state of abandon, where today was just any other day and they were in any normal, private space going about usual things. And though being with him like this had become relatively common in recent history, something about today, about now, felt…different. More intense. Significant. Like she was exactly where she was meant to be and this was exactly what they needed to be doing.
Though most people probably thought differently and she didn't care enough to correct them, Mako and Korra had actually remained relatively respectful of the dormitory rules over the past few months. Not for lack of trying. As desperately as their hormones were often known to scream, something about the chanting acolytes or Bolin's snores or just the glow of the temple lights through the window always managed to stop them before they crossed that final line. Of course Mako's conscience often got in the way as well, insisting that they do this properly. Maybe in their house once the bedroom was finished, surrounded by candles and rose petals after a night out of dinner and dancing. He wanted her to feel the most loved she had ever felt the first time they made love. He wanted it to be perfect.
Korra's eyes drifted open as Mako lips coasted along her neck, tracing the veins of her prominently racing pulse. She watched, transfixed as the wind shook the canopy of leaves above them and allowed a few rays of summer sun to invade their sanctuary, delivering additional heat to her already flushed skin. She shifted and was made aware of the earth beneath her back, somehow both solid and soft, unyielding yet pliable and the most comfortable surface she had ever had the pleasure of being pressed into. The waterfall near the mouth of the bison caves roared in her ears, as loudly as if she were submerged in it, amplified to compliment their throaty exhales. And the air…a deep breath and she tasted a new tingle to it. Something sweet and savory. It filled and surrounded them, a deliciously cool breeze making hairs stand on end as if by a ghostly embrace.
This…the sun, the sky, the grass, the wind, him…
It was perfect.
More so than she could have ever fathomed.
Though it wasn't something the austere air practitioners often talked about, Korra knew that the joining of male and female was considered a form of prayer by many benders. Some, smaller branches of various tribes were even known celebrate the act as an annual festival, believing that pleasure honored the Spirits and temporarily diluted the bridge between worlds. As the human embodiment of said bridge, and as the half-clothed man she loved lead his mouth further down her chest invoking a rush of heat between her legs and making her see sparks, she was very inclined to agree.
He was at her lips again and everything felt heavier. He kissed her in a way that silently acknowledged what was about to happen, his pesky logic having somehow been put to sleep for a spell. Like a man possessed, he began untying her wrappings with practiced ease, not bothering with his usual, whispered requests for permission. He also, to his own surprise, found himself not caring that they were technically in public and that there was a rather intimidating crowd mingling a mere hop, skip and a jump away which included the Council of Nations, the World News, several Royal families, her parents, a few notoriously invasive kids and so many others, all waiting for her. He didn't even mourn his plan for doing this in the respectful, romantic way he had been both imagining and preparing for.
In that moment, nothing else mattered.
He loved her and she loved him. Simple. There would be days, months, years in the future for candles, rose petals and rings. They needed to do this. However, after the remainder of their clothing disappeared as effortlessly as leaves in the breeze and they approached the point of no return, logic did manage to rear its ugly head for one final, irksome but imperative reminder.
"Wh-Wait." It took all of Mako's resolve to pull away from her just as her bare legs began wrapping around his hips. He shook with the effort of holding back, his breaths turning to gasps and his fingers clenched so tightly into the grass on either side of her head that he was tearing it out. Korra ignored him initially, lost to the sensation of his proximity and the eager elements. Though they had already spent many nights nearing this point, far enough so that she was well versed in several methods of making him twitch and groan and come completely undone, this time she had barely touched him and vice versa. The anticipation alone was doing it, bringing them so close to the breaking point that they could barely breathe for the pure excitement that precedes a plunge into the unknown. But when the plea finally did register in her brain after noticing his frozen position, Korra had to resist the urge to slap him for interrupting; as if he were a child shouting profanity during a temple service. Unacceptable.
"What? Why? No!" Assuming it was his damn scruples forcing him to reconsider, she tightened her legs' hold around his waist, pulling him forward until they made full contact. They both shuddered and began kissing once again and he automatically shifted to position himself. One thrust of his hips and it would be done. But no-
"Wait!" he yelled more forcefully this time, pulling away once again. Korra groaned in frustration, digging her nails into his shoulder in a weak attempt to relieve the pressure slash establish her extreme disapproval. "I know. I'm sorry. I want this. You have no idea how much I want this," the trembling in his breathless tone gave credence to the statement. "But…I don't have…I didn't think to bring…we just can't without being careful about-"
"It's okay," she interrupted while slapping her palms to each of his cheeks, forcing him to meet her eyes. She would have laughed at his panicked expression if she hadn't been so desperate to move forward. His concern was sweet. Annoying, but sweet. She wasn't an idiot. Weeks ago, ever since they had begun these nightly trysts, she had finally summoned the gall to talk to Asami about the modern sexual education. The night had been, admittedly, a little awkward, but soon enough they were cracking jokes and trading relationship war stories. It had also resulted in an appointment with Future Industry's private physician and a method with which to avoid any undesirable consequences.
She probably should have told him sooner, but it wasn't exactly a subject you could bring up nonchalantly over noodles.
"Trust me. It's safe," she assured with a shaky nod which he then mirrored.
"Oh. Good. That's…good."
"Yes," she agreed, feeling the fire in her veins start to roar again, more wild and uninhibited than ever before. "It's good. Now shut up."
Logic back in its holding cell, Mako leaned forward to reestablish their kiss, releasing the grass to grasp her loose hair instead. The interruption had been necessary for safety's sake, but it had also allowed him a much needed break in order to slow down, pay her proper attention and remember to savor the moment.
There was something surreal about being here, naked in the near-wilderness, wrapped in the arms of Korra. It was as if they were participating in a sacred ritual, as old as time itself, with the goal of nothing but to worship, to give and receive pleasure, to push and to pull until everything unified and two bodies as well as two souls became one divine organism. The thought invigorated him, lending his limbs extra strength with which to pull her closer and his blood extra heat to ward away her shivering.
When his hips finally did inch forward, with their eyes and fingers locked together, both forgot how to breathe. They had expected it to feel good. And it did of course. He fit inside of her so perfectly, nudging several sensitive spots in a single, slow thrust that she felt close to exploding already thanks to the long minutes of build up. What they didn't expect was to feel so…exposed.
As Mako began to move, they couldn't help but become abnormally aware of one another. They could see each other's veins glowing beneath their skin, an expressway of information ferrying countless, instinctive instructions, from the production of the next heartbeat to toes curling in the grass. They could hear one another's jumbled thoughts, exchanging unspoken pleas to tilt, twist, bite, lift, harder, faster, slower, more, yes. There wasn't much opportunity to mull over this incongruity; to acknowledge that it was most likely an effect unique to the Avatar and they were somehow stirring the spirits. It didn't matter.
With a moan that got lost in his mouth, Korra moved to sit up and ruthlessly took over. He let her. Gladly. She used her knees for leverage, rocking on his lap in a way that soon had him whimpering in ecstatic surrender. One hand gripped into her hair, the other pressed into the small of her back, he encouraged her movements. They had him, literally, seeing stars. Both of them did. The grass, the trees, the island, they all blinked out of existences so that they were floating in a cosmic ocean, stretching as far as the eye could see. They were the center of this universe. Burning together as brightly as any sun.
It was too much.
"Korra…" he whispered her name with reverence. Much like one would an actual goddess. In that moment, for all he knew she may have very well become such an entity, the way she was making him feel being too awesome, too addicting to be human. Mako clenched his teeth against her undulating shoulder, trying to hold back but knowing it was impossible. Not if she kept moving like that.
"K-Korra. I'm gonna-"
"I know. Me too," she interrupted breathlessly before shoving against his chest so that he fell back into the earth. Of course she knew. He was still open to her and she to him, every brain wave available and exposed. He could see, nestled in a corner of her head, the throbbing knot of nerves that was her pleasure center. The entire area was flickering with need, tight and twisted and, as she had stated, so very close to snapping loose. Now if only he could last long enough to make it so.
Though he didn't think it possible, the new position made things even better. Just seeing her there, straddling him, breasts bouncing with her every shuddering movement, dark skin shiny with sweat…the visual alone would have been enough to finish him.
He growled in warning, eyes clenched shut. It was inevitable now.
Turns out, he hadn't needed to worry. She had timed it perfectly, aided by their ethereal connection. As they exploded, the surrounding stars did as well, blanketing them in a light so bright that he could see it even through his closed lids.
It could have been seconds or centuries that they shuddered in each other's arms and rode out the waves. The only thing he could say with certainty is that he had never felt so meak nor so mighty in his life. Like simultaneously winning the pro-bending championship, graduating from the police academy, signing his name next to Korra's on the deed of the house and hearing her say for the first time that she loved him.. It was the very definition of ecstasy.
He couldn't help but wonder, briefly, if this was how it felt to be in the Avatar State.
Still connected even though they were slowly coming down from the high, he found her indisputable answer.
This…this was so much better.
He didn't remember moving but when his eyes finally found the will to blink open, Korra was nestled into his side, her damp-haired head resting on his chest. It took a few minutes until their breathing returned to normal, the fire in their blood burned out and the sound of the wind and water replaced the buzzing in their ears.
Experimentally, Korra slid a hand up to her eye level and flexed her fingers, eyes widening as she summoned a miniscule twister of air within her palm.
"Something wrong?" The spiritual connection broken, Mako had to resort to audible questioning again. He looked down at the woman in his arms and prayed that what they had just done didn't spur any negative feelings. He, for one, had been experiencing nothing but delight up until then. "Korra?"
"Hmm?" closing her fist so that the air dispersed, she titled her head up to meet his concerned gaze. "Oh. It's nothing."
"Nothing?" He repeated incredulously, seeing through her lie. "Are- are you okay? Did I hurt you or-"
"No no no!" she insisted. "Not at all! It was…the whole thing was…I can't even…" Unable to find any words nearly suitable enough to describe how good he had made her feel, how (to her pleasant surprise) freakin' magical the entire experience had been, she instead just giggled and hid her flushed face against his chest, hoping he would get the message.
He did, responding via wrapping an arm around her back to pull her even closer while pressing a kiss into her hair.
There were indeed no words.
'LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! WELCOME TO AIR TEMPLE ISLAND!'
Korra and Mako stiffened as the amplified voice echoed throughout the forest.
It was time.
"You still nervous?" Mako asked as he helped re-tie the fastenings of her robe while she worked on taming her tousled hair.
"Not at all." Her brow furrowed as she said this, as if disturbed by the fact. "In fact, I feel perfectly calm. Calmer than I've felt in…well, ever."
He mirrored her skeptical expression while re-buckling his uniform belt. "Hmm. Strange. Good though."
Another minute of primping and they were as good as they were gonna get. It wasn't exactly the cozy afterglow they had expected. Hell, it definitely wasn't the time or place or manner either of them had even considered when imagining such an event. Still, neither would have had it any other way.
"So…knock 'em dead," he offered with a smile.
"Will do captain." She gave a teasing salute before jogging off toward the plaza.
She never noticed that her feet weren't touching the ground.
"It is with both honor and delight that I present the world's newest Master airbender, official commander of all four elements. The enchanting, the gifted, your fully realized Avatar Korra!"
The White Lotus Leader's announcement was met with an applause so earth-shattering that Korra feared the ballroom would collapse on into itself. She couldn't help but waver on the threshold as the large, golden doors swung open and she was greeted by the largest crowd of people she had ever seen in one place. It seemed that Asami had gone through with her threat of inviting the entirety of Republic City in addition to the international guests, even though this reception may have very well been cancelled had she failed Tenzin's test. The heiress did get an undeniable thrill out of taking risks. Then again, maybe in her mind it had never been a question.
"Avatar Korra?" Yanking herself back into the present, Korra cleared her throat and took a step forward onto the top of grand staircase. She could only pray that the silk slippers on her feet didn't catch the edge of her gown again as they had about fifty times on the walk over. It wasn't that the hem was the wrong length or anything; she just had a special talent for being awkward in any garment that wasn't built with physical agility as a priority.
Asami had commissioned the dress especially for her as a surprise, insisting that arriving at the gala in one of her boring old tunics was beyond unacceptable. The heiress did at least take into consideration that Korra would never be comfortable in anything too glitzy or revealing, therefore many elements of her traditional water-tribe garb remained. The high, mandarin collar which encased her throat, accentuated as it always was by the pin Mako had given her, was pale blue in color until it faded into a gradient of darker shades down to a flowing train of red and gold; the colors of the sky at sunset as well as representing every element she now commanded. It would have been fine, modest and comfortable, had her evil friend not seen it fit to eliminate almost the entire upper-back portion.
"You're not only the Avatar today, you're also an eighteen-year-old woman," Asami had felt the need to remind her once in the dressing room as she brushed out Korra's impossibly tangled hair. "The people should recognize that. YOU should finally recognize and appreciate how gorgeous and grown up you are! Now hold still."
The real nightmare was having to go without her bindings in order to wear the damn thing. Additionally, she had been shackled with twin gold cuffs, her hair twisted into a fishtail braid which hung over her shoulder and enough makeup applied (not a lot, but enough) that she was made absurdly aware of her eyelashes with every blink.
If she had known that being a "sophisticated, adult woman" was this exhausting, she never would have agreed to it. But it was too late now. Mainly, she had been fretting up until that very moment that she would look ridiculous; so obviously out of her comfort zone that people would snigger if not wince the instant she stepped out of the shadows.
However, to her surprise and admitted delight, ridicule seemed to be the last thing on the people's minds. The entire crowd, every single one of them, looked up at her with what could only be awe, especially those who had grown familiar with her typically boyish style.
Upon noting Bolin choking on his drink, Meelo's jaw dropping and the two airbending daughters clasping their hands together as if the princess from their favorite book had come to life, Korra's lips could not help but twitch into a lopsided grin.
She would never doubt Asami again.
"You look positively radiant my dear," complimented the White Lotus leader as he stood on his tiptoes to bestow a kiss on her cheek.
"Thanks Gris. And you look," she took in the thinning, grey ring of his hair and ever expanding belly. "Healthy."
After shooting her a wry grin, he offered his arm out and together they descended the staircase toward the waiting crowd below.
"I cannot believe this day has arrived already. Why, it seems like only yesterday that you were a little girl throwing flames at my face because I wouldn't allow you an extra sticky bun for dessert." He chuckled at the memory, as if it were tale of adorableness and not the incident that had led to him taking a forced vacation because she had burned off his beard and eyebrows.
"Yeah. All grown up. I suppose."
All too soon, they arrived at the bottom. She hadn't even had the chance to brush some stray hairs off her forehead before her hands were being whipped forward and vigorously shook.
"Keenst Xio, Senator from Ba Sing Se," introduced a wiry older man with spectacles far too large for his face. "It is indeed an honor Avatar Korra! To be a witness to your airbending test and see firsthand the grace and power and control you-"
"You were brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Breath-taking! Inspirational!" A rotund woman, probably having consumed one too many glasses of wine if her reddened cheeks and ears were any indication, decided she simply had to throw in her opinion lest it expire. "And so very brave to publicize the whole thing! I must admit, we over at the Fire Nation Gazette hadn't approved or your reckless intervention during the Dragon Flats incident. We all thought you were a child on a power trip!" she laughed at this, as if it were the funniest joke she had ever heard in her life. "But we were wrong! I am so very happy to see that we were wron-"
"Avatar Korra! Happy Burthday!" A boy of about six, dressed in the most decorated blue robes she had ever seen, was thrusting a bow-topped package up into her face. "From me, Prince Tyron of the Northern Water Tribe. Open it! Open it!"
That first minute was a mere preview to the rest of the event. A seemingly never ending stream of people pushed and prodded their way for an introduction as Gris vigilantly stood guard a couple of steps away. On the bright side, at least they were singing nothing but her praises for once. Person after person complimented her apparently flawless airbending style. So graceful. So stable. The elders found her tribute to Avatar Aang's memory both heartfelt and conscientious. The youths begged her to demonstrate her skills which she politely declined, silencing those few remnant voices that accused her of merely showing off.
Everybody, the entire room, the city and the world beyond seemed to release a collective cry of relief that day.
Their Avatar was back; strong, selfless and more sensible than ever. She would return balance to the world. Of that there was no doubt.
But not tonight.
She only managed to get away under the guise of having to use the facilities after several, tedious hours had passed, just as the setting sun began turning the room a ghastly shade of burnt orange. Up the stairs, down a couple of hallways, she didn't stop until she found the most hidden, miniscule, difficult to get to courtyard in order to claim a much needed breath of fresh air. No. A breath of fresh everything.
First the braid, then the cuffs, then the shoes, Korra rushed to liberate herself before stepping out into the cool night. The oasis was miraculously silent save for the wind rustling the trees. Not even the notes from the audaciously loud brass band managed to penetrate. And as her bare feet sunk into the grass, Korra felt the stress melt away into nature.
It felt so damn good that, for a moment, she debated making a break for it. No one could argue that she had slacked off today and it would be so very easy to airbend herself over the wall and back into the city streets she called home. They'd forgive her. Wouldn't they?
Or had this entire ordeal only resulted in generating grand expectations that she could never hope to live up to?
"Nice night for an escape, huh?"
She didn't have to turn around to identify the speaker. Her only reaction was to grin.
"I was just enjoying the quiet. Nothing more."
"So you weren't thinking of climbing that wall and sprinting back home as if your life depended on it?"
"Tch. Of course not." She was the Avatar. Why would she need to climb? "Though, if someone wished to join me on such an adventure, I may be slightly tempted. If I weren't so responsible and level-headed of course."
Warm arms snaked around her waist as he released a snigger. She couldn't help but lean back into him, allowing his natural heat to ward away the chill on her exposed back.
They stood like that in silence for a couple of minutes, just basking in the simple pleasure of being alone and together once more. It felt as if it had been years, not hours since they'd last seen one another and she found herself frightfully desperate for his proximity.
This day had been arranged to show the world she was both stable and effective in her role as the Avatar but, perhaps, it also had an alternate resolution. She now knew, with startling sincerity, how much she needed him to get by. Not only through the prestigious trials and events, but on normal days when she stubbed her toe or burnt the noodles. He was her anchor.
"You did it," Mako was whispering against her neck. "I knew you would. You, fully realized Avatar Korra, are one of a kind."
At the wording, she couldn't help but tense, eyes snapping open to regard the wandering clouds above them.
"Does it bother you?" she asked softly.
Mako wavered. "Does what bother me?"
It was stupid. She knew it was, but she had to ask anyway. She thought back to their tryst in the woods a few hours previously and how great but undeniably bizarre the entire experience had been. It didn't take a genius to know that such things, the visions and sensations, were not at all conventional.
"Does it bother you that I'm not…normal? That everything, our entire lives, will be filled with this weird, supernatural, sometimes scary stuff?"
"I mean, we couldn't go out on a date before without the press following and ruining it. And now…Geez, I still can't believe…. We can't even do it without turning into some kind of freakin' spiritual spectacle! I mean, it's weirdMako. I'm weird."
"You're not weird. You're special."
"Potato, powtatoe." She spun around in his arms, easily finding and burrowing into those amber eyes of his that seemed to glow in the waning sunlight. "What if it's always like that, huh? I mean- it changed me, ya know? I felt connected afterward. For the first time, the spirits seemed to be talking to me. Which is great but- out in the woods with all those people around...ar-are we crazy? Was it actually us who decided to do that, or were we swayed into it? I HATE that I can't tell! Don't you hate it? Doesn't it just make you wanna run away screaming?"
"Korra." Calloused hands rose to cup her cheeks as he struggled to suppress his laughter. "You are indeed crazy if you think anything about you, normal or more often not, would make me want to leave."
"But nothing." He kissed her then. Softly. Just barely putting pressure of his lips against hers. He was hoping to convey how much he loved her, how indisputably happy she made him and how what had happened between them on the island was one hundred and ten percent his own, desperate desire to get closer than humanely possible. As he pulled back, her eyes remained closed, hands clenched into the fabric of his uniform jacket as if to keep from floating away. With her tousled hair, half open lips and flushed cheeks, there was no refuting that she the most beautiful thing Mako had ever seen.
"I don't know if it'll always happen like that," he continued with his forehead leaning against hers. "Nonetheless, I can honestly and happily state that I cannot wait to find out."
Korra chuckled, eyes opening so that she could execute an overly exaggerated eye roll. "Men. I guess you are only after one thing, huh?"
"Yes. You. Always, only you." The next kiss wasn't the least bit sweet or comforting in purpose. It just then become abundantly clear that they were alone together, technically shielded from the world, and that their hunger had been merely, temporarily quenched but was far from satiated. It would probably never be fully satiated.
"You know," Korra began, pausing to gasp as his fingers traced her naked spine. Again, she made a mental note to praise Asami for the dress choice. "I do have a-" another interruption occurred when he nipped her ear lobe, almost causing her train of thought to completely derail and eagerly follow him off a cliff. But no, not this time. They had been lucky in the meager shelter of the woods. Here they were surrounded by half open windows as guests took advantage of the night's cool breeze. "-a dressing room upstairs. Here in the hotel. Just upstairs."
She felt the vibration of his laugh against her neck. It was playful enough that she was all too easily convinced the setting no longer and would never matter. Embarrassing though such submission was, she had no doubt that it would be made worth her while.
"Never mind." They kissed again and it tingled just right. "But we'll have to be quick. O-Or not. Whatever. I just need help with-"
"Korra, slow down." She already had the top fastening of her collar undone before Mako realized what she was implying. Hastily, his hands snatched hers away and lowered them down between their bodies to force some sort of partition. "I didn't mean that. Not now. Though it's…tempting…" His eyes couldn't help but linger on the front of her dress as her chest heaved to catch her breath, a little longer than considered proper before abruptly snapping back up to her face. "Sorry. I just…I had made plans. For tonight."
"Plans?" she repeated, still struggling to extract herself from a haze of lust. "What plans?"
"Well, it is still your birthday. I thought we'd go celebrate properly. No mention of anything Avatar related. Sound good?"
The mood died a frustrated little death then, as Korra was reminded of the horde awaiting her back in the ballroom. As much as she wanted and even tried to give herself to Mako, fully and fervently, the fact remained that she belonged to many others and so many different levels.
"I can't," she whispered, taking a step back to increase the space between them. She nodded toward the walls of the grand hotel over his shoulder and hoped that he understood. Sometimes, all she would be able to offer were quick bursts of passion as the most efficient alternative to the hours of quiet affection he both craved and deserved. This was only one of the thousands of times she was sure to leave him wanting. They may as well get used to it.
Unexpectedly, he looked neither surprised nor disheartened at her answer. The corner of his lip simply tugged upward into the cocky grin he was known to occasionally throw opponents in the ring after he bested them.
"Do you trust me?" he asked while squeezing her hands a little more tightly.
Her response was automatic. "Yes. Of course I do. But-"
"Good. Then come on."
In a blink, Korra found herself being dragged back into the hotel with barely enough time to grab the cuffs and slippers she had dropped at the entrance.
"Mako! What are you-"
They approached a corner beyond which they could hear the high-pitched voices of some politicians arguing over a new trade treaty. Acting as if they were on a covert mission, Mako pressed against the wall before taking a peak around. Then, after signaling a count down with his fingers, they sprinted across the intersection and down the hall in an explosion of limbs and furious chuckles. It was quite possible the least subtle escape in the history of Republic City.
She expected at any second for there to be a hand on her shoulder, another citizen or press member or noble vying for her attention, but in that moment she didn't care. She was having too much fun. They were eventually able to make it out the front doors with surprisingly no encounters, gasping for breath from both the run and laughter.
"Now what, Mr. Hat Trick? What's the brilliant plan, if you've even got one at all?"
"Of course I got a plan," he responded with exaggerated offense. "It's just…a little off timing, that's all. Completely your fault by the way. You shouldn't have kissed me."
"What!? It was YOU who kissed ME!"
"Well, YOU kissed me back!"
They would have fallen down laughing if not interrupted by the squealing of tires. Asami was pulling up in front of the hotel in what looked like a clunky, old sato-mobile, but it moved like hotrod fresh off the line. Probably another one of her eccentric experiments.
The door immediately flew open and out jumped Pema of all people.
"Quickly!" the Air Temple Mistress was shouting, frantically gesturing to the door. "There's only so much Tenzin can do to keep the crowd distracted. What took you so long, Mako?"
The Avatar and her boyfriend exchanged blushing glances, to which the elder woman could only shake her head. "Just get a move on. Go!"
Before she had a chance to question what was going on, Korra found herself being simultaneously pushed and pulled into the covered carriage portion of the vehicle. Upon landing on the seat, a hand reached out of the darkness and plopped an absurdly bright and oversized fedora onto her head.
"There ya go!" Bolin said cheerily, his expression showing how proud he was at having fulfilled his one task for the night. "Perfect. No one who happens to check us out will recognize you now!"
"No. They'll just be running up to ask if the circus is in town." Mako plucked the thing off her as he settled into the adjacent seat. "The windows are tinted enough. We'll be fine."
"Hmph. If you say so captain."
"Bolin, come on."
"Good night you guys!" interjected Pema just as the engine roared to life once more. "Be careful! And Korra-" she popped her head in through the door. To the Avatar's surprise, she found her surrogate mother's eyes shining with unshed tears. "Please, please do not worry about tonight and have fun! The airbenders have it taken care of. And you deserve a break my dear, beautiful girl. You-you deserve everything."
"Sorry Korra, but we gotta get moving if we wanna avoid the parade route," warned Asami from the driver's seat.
"Yes. Yes of course." After sharing a brief but enthusiastic squeeze with Tenzin's wife, the door was shut and they were racing away from the hotel at breakneck speed. As the distance between her and the mass of people grew, Korra felt her heart grow lighter. That is until she remembered that she had basically been kidnapped by three hooligans who had somehow reeled the innocent airbenders into some sort of scam.
"Dare I ask where we're going?" Korra asked with feigned distress.
Mako and Bolin shared matching, devious grins.
"On an epic adventure!" Was all the younger brother dared to reveal, his hands shooting into the air as if he were indeed a circus ringmaster. "That or a picnic in the park. You won't know until you get there….adventure-style!"
Korra laughed. Oh, how she loved to laugh. Almost as much as Mako loved hearing it. She quickly came to realize that it didn't matter where they ended up tonight, this was already the best birthday she had ever had.
In the darkness of the cabin, as Bolin continued to tease them with other potentials for their mystery destination (some mundane, a few extraordinary and a couple disturbing), Mako and Korra's hands searched for each other against the leather seats. Upon making contact, both felt themselves melt into contentment, stemming from where their fingers connected and throughout the vast network of their chi paths.
All around them, she couldn't help but notice the elements responding to the shift in her mood. She could feel the weight of the bay water smashing against the shore, the eager rumble of the earth beneath the satomobile wheels, the wind racing past the windows and the tingle of electricity, of fire, lighting their path. None of these things were what anyone would consider stable, even without her powers affecting them. It was in their nature to sometimes shudder or fight or become generally restless. Much like her, they could never be completely tamed. It was both a frightening and comforting thought.
She met Mako's eyes then, searching for a solution. He didn't offer any. Only the silent promise to be there whenever things (inevitably) went wrong. Upon every damn break, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, forest fire, stubbed toe and burnt meal…he would be there to weather it.
Korra smiled and tightened her grip around his fingers.
Being the fully realized Avatar was pretty easy in the end. All you needed was your other half.
Author's Note: Thank you all for following me through this roller coaster ride that has been the writing of 'Equilibrium'. I'm so very proud of myself for sticking to the outlined 5 chapters, even though some (this one) ended up being ridiculously long. I've been a part of fanfiction for over ten years now and I cannot help but laugh at how my writing has changed. For example, needing to mention of birth control for the first time. Never bothered me before, but I simply had to include it here. Oh, being a grown up… Well, at least my Makorra feels have been released as I eagerly await book 2. I cannot wait to see what else the fandom comes up with for the, hopefully, lengthy future. Thank you, so much, for your support and please review.
Mayonaka no Ame (Nancy)