"They didn't teach you how to pick locks in Avatar school, huh?"
She throws him a sarcastic look, and with a click, the padlock comes free. He undoes the heavy chain.
"Why pick a lock when you can kick in the door?" she asks with sweet innocence in her voice.
"Because stealth is a thing."
It's pitch dark inside the storage room on the back side of the arena where they enter, the black water of Yue Bay flickering spookily in the moonlight. "And you learned to pick locks where exactly, Officer? Street urchin school?"
"The school of hard knocks, babe."
She rolls her eyes so hard it hurts her head, but she is happy. He's in an uncharacteristically playful mood. No way he would have agreed to this on most nights, but they've had a little bit to drink, and she had looked at him like that, and they are feeling kind of immortal. Plus, as far as he is concerned, this place still feels like home.
They spark flames in their hands and take stock of their situation. The room is full of paint cans and pieces of disassembled scaffolding, and it smells like fresh lumber. A door on the other side is propped open with a bucket.
"Good," he says. "I broke my pick on the last one."
"Do you crack safes, too?" He looks at her and wiggles his eyebrows roguishly. Making their way up the back stairwell, they stop at the third floor. "Yeah, this is it," he says.
The quiet of the long hallway enfolds them as they make their way to the door that leads to the north end prep area. Their footsteps sound too loud, and she tries to walk on tiptoe to avoid disturbing whatever ghosts might be resting there.
They cross a threshold, and her breath catches. They stand there, fingers loosely threaded in each other's, looking out at the cavernous space that in two week's time would be filled with screaming fans and adrenaline-soaked athletes. The full moon streams in from the repaired glass ceiling, bathing the arena in a glow that seems somehow spiritual.
"It's like nothing ever happened," she says. He squeezes her hand tight, running his thumb idly along the knuckle of her index finger. They wait there a long time, listening to each heart beat until she pulls his arm with a jerk and says, "Come on. Let's go explore."
They are jogging down dark hallways, giggling breathlessly. Remains of the repair work—a ladder here, a stack of paint cans there—rise up out of the gloom from time to time, and at one point, she intercepts his stumbling body with her own, and they stop for a second with her arms around his waist and his fingers tracing shapes on the skin of her throat, her shoulders, her back. He's leaning in to kiss her when she pulls away with a fiendish look in her eye and glides out of his arms and into the waiting darkness.
"Korra," he whispers loudly, and her laugh echoes off freshly painted walls.
He chases her around a corner and sees that she has stopped, frozen as she looks down a familiar hallway toward a familiar window. And he knows that she is tumbling back through time and remembers with a deep pull in his gut the feel of her shaking and wailing against him. He catches her hand, and her fall is arrested. He turns her away from the window and the memory of cold fingers and agonizing pain.
He draws her back into the present with one arm around the small of her back and another outlining the curves of her face, willing her attention to flash to him. A thumb brushes her bottom lip, and he collapses the space between them as their mouths find each other in the darkness. And they are sighing into the moment, tasting honey and salt and green tea on one another's tongues. Her hands are against his chest, and she pulls back just a little, the glint of mischief returning to her eyes. "You're so predictable," she whispers against his lips.
Brushing kisses against her cheek, her ear, her jaw line, the graceful sweep of her neck, he says, "You think I came here just to do this?"
"It might not be the reason, but I'm sure it was pretty high on the list."
He lets his teeth dig into her flesh just a little bit, and in spite of herself, she gasps. "You knew I was going to do that, huh?"
"Tell me, all-wise Avatar, how am I predictable? What are my tells?" His fingers are slipping under the fabric of her shirt, tickling her ribs.
"You cross your arms in front of your chest whenever you're about to agree to something you don't want to do," she says, thinking of earlier tonight. His hand presses flat on the skin of her back, and it's her turn to murmur into his neck. "You scowl when you're lying. And you pull your scarf over your mouth when you're worried about Bolin."
"Anything else?" He is fumbling with the fabric that separates him from her breasts.
"You flinch when you're about to go left."
His hands stop, "Huh?"
She rises on her toes to press a kiss to a yellowing, week-old bruise underneath his right eye, a souvenir from an arrest. "You're not used to close-up fighting," she says. "You flinch when you go left. It gives you away."
"I do not."
"You do." Her fingers trace the angles of his face, and her voice is slightly edged with concern. "And it makes you vulnerable."
He's still incredulous, so she takes one of the hands still curled up under her shirt and drags him through a nearby door into one of the practice gyms. Moonlight streams through the wall of windows, and they can see each other more clearly.
She takes a fighting stance. "No firebending-wouldn't want anyone to see the light in the windows."
He readies himself in front of her.
"Now come at me," she says. "And try not to let your body tell me what you're going to do."
He's hesitant. He deepens his stance and launches a tentative left jab in her direction. She swats it away easily with her right, and a brutal left hook that could have crushed his nose stops millimeters from his face.
"Do it for real this time, cool guy. I'm not going to let you hurt me." Seeing the challenge in her eyes, he removes his coat and strips down to his undershirt. She grins and takes a stance again. This time, he tries feinting with his right hand before kicking toward her head with his left foot. She anticipates him and ducks, comes back up, and catches his wrist as he attempts another jab. Faster than lightning, she uses his momentum to spin him around, wrenching his arm behind his back, and he feels her fist stop near his right kidney.
"Quit thinking so much about what you're going to do before you do it." Her breath is hot on his neck. "I can see you calculating, making decisions..."
He feels her hand relax ever so slightly as she instructs and uses the opening to break free, whipping around until the edge of his palm comes to a halt at her throat.
"Good," she says. "Again."
They continue until she can feel her top clinging to the small of her back, and he picks his white shirt up off the ground to dab his brow. She is fast and brutally powerful, stronger than she looks (and she looks strong). They have sparred before—in pro-bending practice and for shits and giggles in the snow—but her eyes are serious now, and he is reminded that though her hands can heal, her body is honed for war. And she is nearing the height of her power. He is accustomed to letting his opponents wear themselves out, but she is tireless, eternal as the universe, and he remembers glowing eyes and cliffs crumbling into the sea.
It's in the ninth round—or maybe the tenth—that he finally breaks her root, and she crashes to the earth with a bruising thud. They are gasping, and he reaches out a hand to help her up when she spins off her back, bending what feels like a cyclone. And he is swept off his feet, and she has him pinned, her legs trapping him on either side of his body, her hands holding his wrists. "Cheater" is swallowed by the crush of her lips and tongue.
He moans with desperation into her mouth until she releases his arms and finally permits him to touch her, his heated palms burning up her muscled thighs, her ass. A hand finds its way back into her clothes, searching for her breasts as the other cups the back of her sweaty neck and presses her into his mouth. His thumb finds what it's looking for and works into the hem of her underthings to graze an erect nipple. She gasps and bites his bottom lip, so he pulls her body up over his face so that he can take as much of her soft, brown flesh in his mouth as possible.
The fact that this is familiar territory for them doesn't make it any less arousing. They've been doing everything possible above the belt for a while now. And he always lets her set the pace. But because he knows she still wants him to take her by surprise, and because she's grinding herself into him with ferocious pressure, he flips them over and lets his hand drift lazily down her torso and into the waistline of her pants. And when he tangles his fingers in moist curls, she inhales sharply, and the concavity of her stomach eases his path. With his other hand, he cradles her head. And they wordlessly hold each other's gaze their foreheads pressed together until her hand covers the one searching for the secrets of her body, and she shows him exactly where, exactly how.
He is slow at first, and she allows him to establish a rhythm. She holds the power of the four elements in her hands, but right now she is unraveling in his. The tip of his middle finger just barely slips inside her as his lips suck against her collar bone, and she can feel the tension in her body building to a breaking point. She would beg him to go faster, but part of her wants this to last as long as possible. So she lets him explore her a little at a time, all the while maintaining friction with the heel of his palm. Then with resolve, he plunges two fingers inside, and she cries out loud enough to make them both hope that the building is as empty as it feels. There are colors bursting behind her eyes, and she holds him close and bites his earlobe, his neck, his shoulder until she falls back down to earth.
She sees him looking at her with a frantic, hungry kind of love, and without words, she flips them once again. And as she stands up, she makes sure to rub her palm against the bulge in his pants with a ferocity that makes him stop breathing.
She is backing away from him with coal-black eyes and a smirk on her lips. But he remains transfixed, his elbows propping him up because she's pulling her top the rest of the way off, and her breasts are sighing at him. And as she turns and begins to walk toward another door, she undoes her pelt, then her hair ties. She steps out of her boots and continues to leave a trail of clothing across the floor before turning, thumbs hooking into her pants, and saying, "Come on, lover boy, I'm gonna go break in the shower."