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City Hall
Exordia
Chapter information
Series

Excelsior

Chapter

3

Written by

Sparkstoaflame

Editor(s)

Sparkstoaflame

Release date

December 3, 2013

Word count

11,277

Chronology
Last chapter

Novum

III. Exordia

[fate is coming, that i know

time is running, go to go]

.

.

(v. semper fortisalways brave)

Once upon a time that didn't exist in this world, Korra had dragged Asami outside for the fifth time that week to watch the sun set. The heiress had stopped her and had asked what she liked so much about watching the sun cycle through its preordained path—so much, that the Avatar always stopped whatever she was doing at the moment to look at the clouds tinged red and orange beyond for a few precious minutes.

And Korra, without taking her eyes away from the sunset, had said cryptically, "They're always reliable."

"Er, reliable?"

The faint beginnings of a smile touched the edges of Korra's lips even as the sun slid below the jagged line of mountains. "Well, sunsets and sunrises...they...they always happen, you know? Long after you and me have gone...there will still be the sun, and its cycle. Following a yesterday there'll be a tomorrow. I mean...." She sighed, tightening her lips in frustration. "Sunrises and sunsets are eternal, in a way," she finally said, and maybe that wasn't the right word for it, and even as the sun dipped below the horizon the closing of Asami's hand around her own told her that the heiress understood.

.

Every evening, Korra sneaks out of Air Temple Island so she can watch the slowly fading sun throw its soft and muted rays of pink and orange across the face of the craggy mountains bordering Republic City; so she can watch it dip below the fuzzy line of the ocean line's horizon to make way for the tiny dots of shining stars that shyly emerge from their hiding places underneath Agni's blinding light.

It's really rather stupid, and she knows that. Watching the sunset is more for sentimental reasons than anything else. Sunsets are certainly pretty (and perhaps more importantly, they always happen), but sometimes, when she watches the pale streaks of day fade away only to deliver the world into the icy and black embrace of night, she's brought back to old memories she would very much like to forget.

.

("I just wanted to hurt her...she ended up dead herself. Because the spirits willed it."

Yes. A spirit willed it. Because I willed it. And I'm the Avatar.

Mako eyed her with something akin to disgust in his flaming amber glare. Disgust, at what she had become. Disgust, at what she did. Disgust, unveiled and unobscured, at Korra the Avatar who's never-ever-wrong. "Do you really believe that?"

She met his orange fire with her blue ice. And the smooth lie rolled straight off her tongue.

No, Mako. No, I don't.

"Yes, I do."

She could see it in his eyes. Eyes, which betray so much of a person's character. Of their innermost, rawest feelings. Eyes, which she had always avoided looking at when she fibbed, which was why she was such a terrible liar. Eyes, the physical window into the soul. Eyes, eyes, eyes.

And Mako didn't voice this thought, but those eyes told Korra everything she needed to know.

You're a terrible person and you know that Asami would have never wanted you to do this. You can say all the 'I'm sorry's you want and it won't change anything.

I know. I know, I swear I know that. And I know that this is redundant but I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

But he didn't say that.

And she didn't say that.

And Korra hated Mako for realizing that. And she hated herself for it, too. Because she had just about killed someone whom she didn't mean to kill. She had taken away someone's life, and the thing was that it was so easy. And it was so satisfactory. Because human lives are so fragile. It's just like snuffing out a light on a burning wick with her fingers. All it takes is one good pinch and it winks out. Finished. Terminated. Gone. Dead.

Forever.

.

"You're a monster," Korra bluntly told the Water Tribe girl standing in front of her (who seemingly had been waiting for the Avatar's very arrival), right after she locked the entryway behind her with thick and impenetrable bars composed of interlocking sheets of earth.

Anyu simply smiled at the raging master of all four elements standing right in front of her, casually bending a stream of water an arm's length away from her torso, but the expression didn't reach her eyes, which were crazed and danced with the wildfires of fear. "...That's cute."

Korra was not certainly expecting her to say that. "...Excuse me?"

"I said, 'That's cute'," Anyu patronizingly answered, her shaded blue eyes glinting in the dim light. "...You say that...as if I didn't know that already." The stream of water hung in the air at ready, a shivering glob of liquid that reflected the light of a single candle present the room. "Go on. Take my bending, Avatar." Eyes narrowed with distaste at the last word. "Or it was...an eye for an eye, a life for a life."

Her chest was heaving, as if she were struggling to catch her breath after running a marathon; a feverish and really quite insane light danced wildly across the surface of her eyes, one that Korra half-expected was probably spread in a glassy film across her own. She certainly felt psychotic enough, what with a clouded mind and a racing heartbeat and fingers that robotically clenched and relaxed on their own.

She's unreliable, a dark voice hissed inside her head. Don't listen to what she says. She's gone crazy.

And what about yourself?

The Red Monsoon member smiled again, a dark smile that was closer to a sneer than anything, as if she could read Korra's conflicting thoughts.

"But I bet you're too soft to do that. I bet that Avatar Aang is advising against it right now. Because Avatar Aang was a pacifist. Wasn't he? I mean, he was an Air Nomad, and Air Nomads didn't like war...but in the end, how did that 'no military' thing work out for his race?"

"It didn't," Korra muttered through tightly gritted teeth.

"Of course it didn't." Anyu carelessly waved the Avatar's remark aside. "War is part of every society. And with Aang, it's actually kind of funny if you look back on it. Avatar Aang, the last of the Air Nomads, took down Fire Lord Ozai, whose home nation destroyed Aang's entire culture and his race to boot. And then, you look at it when Aang only took away Yakone's bending when he could have nipped the problem you ended up facing in the bud. His sons, both of them, almost ended you in turn, in their own ways. Aang's successor." She laughed quietly. "I guess that if he had only killed Yakone—who, by the way, you probably want to know was the leader of the Red Monsoons in his time—you would have never had your precious bending taken away in the first place by Amon. But Aang didn't kill Yakone..." She trailed off. "I guess that the question is, do you have enough restraint to do what he did? Or do you have enough stupidity to—"

"Your taunts are starting to tire me."

"Then let me put those taunts aside and educate you instead." The barest hint of a pretentious smile still played across her face.

"You don't need to educate me about anything—"

"I'd suggest listening to your predecessor," Anyu idly responded, twirling a lock of her hair around her index finger. "At least in this situation. Take this from a, what did you call me, monster who's been stuck at the end of that path ever since." She leaned in ever closer, so close that Korra could see her exhaled breath send the tips of her dark brown bangs fluttering through the air like a set of thick streamers. "And I'm telling you right now that you don't want to go on this road. The final destination is not very pretty."

"Are you saying this because you don't want to get hurt?" Korra hissed, a few strands of her hair falling down to brush lightly at her eyelashes.

A small pause as Anyu's eyes flicked to the door.

"...No. I'm saying this because I know that you won't be happy when you turn the page and realize that the consequences of your actions have changed the events in your...fairy tale up quite a bit."

Her irises, the color of the pale blue-gray ocean when it rains and storms, are still crazed and tortured and anguished.

You don't want to. You really, really don't want to do this.

I do. I do. I really, really do. Korra narrowed her eyes. "But I'm not Avatar Aang."

"No," the black-haired girl quietly agreed, slowly drawing back and letting the stream of water drop from her bending grip. "I don't think you are. But that doesn't mean that you don't have to listen to him."

"..."

"I see," she said as if Korra had even so much mentioned something remotely of interest. "...Have you ever been discriminated? Oppressed? In any way, shape, or form?"

Korra blinked.

Anyu's gaze immediately darkened and then dropped.

"They always blink," she sourly muttered, seemingly to herself. Then she looked back up. "The oppressed eventually, whether it be in the smallest or largest of ways, become the oppressors. I mean, I'm living testimony of that...for me, it was the Agni Kais." She pointed stiffly at Korra. "What was yours?"

Korra wasn't sure whether this whole "asking a lot of questions" business was some very strange quirk that Anyu had or if the Red Monsoon member was actually trying to get something out of it.

"I don't think it was...no. No, no, no. Stop." Korra wildly shook her head. "Stop it. Stop this. Stop your...just stop playing mind games with me." She lunged desperately at the Red Monsoon member, who hastily turned aside with the lapels of her coat flapping in the small breeze created, leaving Korra's palms to slap loudly on the wooden table. "And I'm not an oppressor! I'm not!"

Anyu blankly stared at her for a few moments before righting her balance, and she took a step forwards to face the Avatar. "I never said you were."

"...You implied it."

"I'm only asking you some life questions." The left corner of Anyu's lips curved downwards ever so slightly as she drew in even closer. "Well," she breathed, the manic light still dancing in her eyes, "if you don't know your catalyst, let me guess at it."

"I came here because you killed Asami," Korra said through gritted teeth.

"I follow my orders," Anyu snapped heatedly, the first show of true anger she had displayed in front of the Avatar. "And it's Avatar Aang. Aang this and Aang that and Aang everywhere and Aang was so perfect and they probably also said, Why aren't you as good as he was? The White Lotus, I mean. That's what they're called, yes? So with them and Avatar Aang...'holier than thou'. Aren't I right?" She shouted the last words, spraying Korra's face with flecks of spit.

Korra stood there in front of the Red Monsoon member who had a triumphant smirk on her face while she stared into those eyes, the kind of eyes that when people look into no one can find anything, because either there's merely blackness there or what is there is hidden so deep that it isn't visible. The kind of eyes that can contain either absolutely nothing or absolutely everything.

The pale-eyed girl took the subdued Avatar's stunned silence as an appropriate answer and reeled back. "So?" she hissed. "Those white glowy eyes? Or..."

I'm not Avatar Aang. I'm not Avatar Aang.

That doesn't mean you don't have to listen to his advice.

But she killed Asami. This is coming from her. She killed Asami in cold blood. Cold-blooded murder.

...She said she had orders.

She still killed her.

Anyu backed away.

To take away bending? Or take away a life?

And the moment she looked down, the tiniest of smiles still playing across her lips, Korra answered the question with two blazing fistfuls of fire.)

.

Korra can't help but wonder if they're still her stars. The stars that she saw back in the other world, the stars that she used to devotedly watch every single night, whether she watched them by herself or with others. Mako, Bolin, Asami.

This was all before Asami died, of course. Before her life got turned on its head and careened sharply backwards.

But the stars are never changing and they're infinite and they're always there. And like sunsets and sunrises, that's what Korra likes so much about them.

Those very pretty and very eternal stars that are slowly rising and sharpening into clear focus in lieu of the setting sun above of her indicate that it's late. But Korra doesn't care about that.

"...Korra?"

Underneath her dark blue parka the muscles across her shoulders shudder and then tense up into tight knots at the sound of the achingly familiar voice.

"Korra? Are you okay?" Bolin promptly sits down next to her, a warm presence that she would have thought only as comforting on any other day, but only serves as a kickstarter for simmering dark memories to rise up currently. "What's the matter?" He hesitantly stretches his arms out for a hug.

"Nothing. And you tell me what matters. What matters anymore, anyways?" Korra bitterly mutters, scornfully turning away from Bolin's outstretched arms.

"Well, for one...um...how about smiling?" the earthbender hastily offers, taking a hasty step after her. "Come on, Korra! I haven't seen that in a long time! You know, they say that smiling can really boost your happiness—"

Very much not smiling. "Because there's nothing to be happy about."

"Sure there is!" He tightly wraps a warm and heavy arm around Korra's shoulders, ignoring the Avatar's snarl of blatant protest and she tries (unsuccessfully) to slip out from underneath his tight grip. "See, isn't the sunset so pretty? Look at all those colors!"

(surely not the colors that you shine)

There's a small pause as Korra ducks her head down even further. "...Bolin, the sun has already set." Still refusing to look at the sun that obviously hasn't set yet. "And will you let go of me now?"

"Nope. Oh, c'mon, Korra—look!"

Very much not looking. "Bolin."

"Seriously, Korra, just look, it won't kill you. The sun hasn't set!" He points with his free arm at the thin strokes of ruddy reds and oranges that sit right over the mountains, all of the warm hues melting smoothly into the cool dark blue and black shades of night. "Well, the sunset looks happy, doesn't it? It's all warm and red and orange! They're all happy colors! Especially red. You know." He grins in a very unsubtle manner. "The color of Asami's—"

"Blood," Korra flatly interrupts, her thoughts turning back to the stains that have long been washed out of her armbands but still ghost over the fabric. "It's the color of her blood. I've seen enough of that. And spirits damn it, let me go!" She swats sharply at Bolin's arm but he still doesn't relinquish his grip.

"Um. I was going to say lips. But you know, blood works too! Because blood's also life, you know," the green-eyed boy immediately responds.

"And death."

Bolin's cheeks puff out as he sighs dramatically. "Listen, Korra, you can either look at a glass of water that's filled halfway and go, 'hey, look, it's half full' or 'it's half empty'. And you were always a half-full girl! Weren't you?" He measures out a wide distance in between his hands that definitely isn't a glass half full of water. "...But now you're half-empty." The distance between his palms shrinks to almost nothing, accompanied with a comical frown.

The Avatar scowls, her right eyebrow twitching ever so slightly with barely concealed irritation and rage. "You never made any sense," she lowly says, and she knows that it's rude and impolite and plain inaccurate to say so but she just wants Bolin to go away and leave her alone.

(because i haven't had enough of that lately)

"And you know, you aren't even remotely making any sense right now."

Bolin wisely decides to ignore her jab. "Oh, come on, Korra. I mean, like, everything has two sides, right? You, me, Mako, Asami." He gestures towards the sunset. "Even colors. Hey, do you want me to describe you in colors?"

Very much not amused. "No. Why would you do that?"

"Because...colors are simple? Oh, I know!" He sticks a finger up in the air, waving it like a white flag of surrender. "Because you used to be really, really colorful."

Korra, who has definitely never worn a rainbow-colored wig or clothes for that matter, arches a single skeptical eyebrow. "Now, you're really going crazy."

He laughs. "I mean, you wore a lot of blue, but your personality wasn't like, monotonous or anything like that. It wasn't monochromatic. Now you're just...gray. You don't smile or laugh or even get really angry anymore! You're like a piece of rock. Er, no offense or anything."

"I told you already that there's nothing to smile about—"

"Well, there's certainly something to get angry about, isn't there? Like red! Red's the color of love and anger and hotness! Hey, look, red was really you. You were all fiery and passionate! Like Mako!"

Korra coughs, the tips of her ears turning a bright shade of crimson. "That sounds really wrong when taken out of context."

"Huh? Taken out of context? What context...oh." Pause. "Oh."

Bolin looks so taken aback that the corners of Korra's lips twitch upwards.

"Hey, there's that smile!"

This of course wipes the thin-lipped grin right off of her face.

"Well, you know what I mean. Not like Mako fiery. But that's not the point, and now you just sulk. So...you know. You're not exactly, uh, red anymore."

She's scowling again. "Of course I'm not. I never was; I'm not bleeding to death."

Bolin stifles a sigh, staring at his friend's hunched over figure and half her face thrown into dark shadows. "Korra..."

"Whatever." She abruptly stands up, scattering a few bits of grit that lay strewn across the floor of the observation deck while carefully brushing invisible specks of dust off of her dark blue parka, the one that's rimmed with snow-white fur. "I'm tired."

The earthbender stares after her with regretful and wide green eyes as she descends down the scarred iron steps that lead to the exit of the Harmony Tower.

"I'll always be here, Korra! If you want to talk to someone!" he calls out to her retreating back.

The figure swaddled in dark blue halts for a mere moment, but then continues her meandering path downwards to the earth.

She doesn't turn around.

.

Asami's a terrible person.

I'm a terrible person, she miserably thinks, leaf-green eyes fixing onto the wood grain of the table, before they flick quickly to the right to spare a fleeting glance at the small clock perched on top of the mantelpiece, calm and unmoving but for its second hand.

Tick, tick, tick.

She can't help but think that it sounds like a bomb. A bomb ticking off the seconds until the spring inside of her finally snaps open and she melts down into a puddle of some mystery substance that would eventually get cleaned up by a ragged cloth and mop.

Tick, tick, tick.

Where there are questions, there are answers.

Tick, tick, tick.

The memory of heartbrokenhopelessshattered lingering in Korra's eyes after Asami turned her down, the gaze that offered a pure window into the ocean blue, twists the white-hot knife already buried in her heart even deeper. The gaze that spoke in more volumes with silence and soul rather than sound and words.

Tick, tick, tick.

You know that she likes you...but is the reverse true as well?

Tick, tick, tick.

She wants to tell Korra that, "Look, it'll be okay. Without me. You'll be okay." But then she'd be lying because she'd be pretending not to hear, "No, I won't be."

Tick, tick, tick.

No. Yes. I don't know. Idon'tknowIdon'tknow.

Tick, tick, tick.

"Argh!" With tears pricking at the corner of her eyes, she snatches the clock and hurls it against the wall, where it shatters with a clink-clink-CLANG and heavily falls onto the carpeted ground without a sound. As if the clock represented fanatical and wild dreams and wishes and now she's broken them against a plaster wall. And then she takes her hands that are covered with a fine blanket of silver metallic dust and clutches at her temples, eyes squeezed tightly shut and her chest heaving with deep, shuddering breaths.

In the hazy darkness she sees a pair of blinding blue irises an inch from her nose and she feels a dark, warm arm curled around her neck. Possessive. Protective.

And it's so real, just as that one night was surreal.

(it's too warm)

So absolute, just as that one night was fleeting.

(too immediate)

So there, just as that one night wasn't...was.

(too alive)

Asami's eyes fly open as she gasps a strangled gasp, pale arms instinctively pushing herself off of her chair and onto the ground, but the phantom Korra isn't there. No one's there. Nothing's there, except for the shattered silver shards of the broken clock pockmarking the wooden floor with bits of glitter and metal. Shreds of the remnants of mere fragments.

(see her when you close your eyes)

.

"You're a damned bastard" is the first thing Korra spits out when she sees Vaatu locked in the Tree of Time.

He replies in a mocking tone of voice that only adds fuel to the burning anger twisting around like a beast a bay in her chest. "I sent you where you wished to be, Raava. Nothing more...and nothing less."

"You sent me here for yourself. You knew that Harmonic Convergence was coming. You're using me to break out of your prison in here." She crooks an accusing finger at the dark spirit.

"Bah! Look who's talking." Vaatu rolls around in his cramped prison. "I was not the one who demanded to put you into an alternate reality. You asked so of yourself. I merely...ah, helped you along."

Korra's eyes sharpen into icy blue knives that can probably cut through cast iron as easily as melted butter. "I'm going to kill you, Vaatu, and I am going to enjoy it."

(You don't want to end up like Anyu.

blinkblinkblink

"You don't want to go down this path."

flashflashflash)

[ – i don't want to live a lie that i believe – ]

"Don't bother," Vaatu leers, turning to face the Avatar from behind his cage. "I can assure you that you are already dead."

.

"I think you should go talk to her," Bolin suggests one balmy evening when they're lounging around the earthbender's former home in the attic of the Probending Arena.

"...I did already. Look how well that turned out." Asami glumly traces a dark red-painted fingernail across the wooden table that is conveniently sitting right in front of her, chipping some of her nail polish off in her agitation. "She said something strange about an alternate universe...I think?"

Bolin only protests loudly, throwing his hands up into the air: "She's pushing everyone away, even Mako, and when she won't talk to Mako you know something's up. You know, she's been acting so...antisocial ever since we went to Kwong's Cuisine." He hesitates, trying to catch Asami's eye, which is an objective difficult to complete because the non-bender is trying to avoid just that. "Mako told me that she talks in her sleep. About you. And something about not being Avatar Aang. Oh, and she came back into Kwong's looking like a kicked baby turtle-duck! What did you even say to her back there...?"

Asami blinks once, and then twice, and she winces.

Bolin patiently waits.

"I—I told her I wasn't scared of falling."

"But, uh, you are scared of falling."

The heiress's head drops down as she stares at the bustling, glittering streets of Republic City below them. "...I know."

"I mean, the way she talked about you..." And then Bolin's throwing his arms around her, such a sudden move that Asami almost falls from the overstuffed couch and onto the gritty floor.

"Just, do it again," the earthbender nearly begs, his lower lip quivering. "She looks completely down all the time and I tried to make her feel happy with colors but it didn't work and she still isn't happy and I can't do anything about it and I don't want to think...I don't want her to—"

"...I can't." She sighs, a sound that's tired and exhausted and simply defeated. "I...Bolin, really, just tell your brother not to give her up, okay? They belong with each other."

So why does she sound so distant when she's saying the words? Why does she sound upset? Why does she keep forcing herself to—

"You know," Bolin mumbles tearfully into Asami's jacket, interrupting her silent train of thoughts, "this isn't your fault. No matter how much you think it may be, it isn't your fault."

Asami doesn't answer, but when Bolin finally lets his close embrace around her form go, she makes her move.

.

True to his words, Bolin offers his apartment as a meeting place and then faithfully drags a confused and slightly irritated Mako out the door before he closes it quietly behind the two of them.

They sit in a thick and awkward atmosphere, one that's composed of an uncomfortable silence and humid air and the heavy weight of hesitance. Korra has seemingly become infatuated with the cleanliness one of her armbands, stiffly picking off invisible specks of dust from the dark blue fabric, while Asami occupies her time by looking anywhere her eyes fall on save for the agitated Avatar sitting right next to her, when said Avatar suddenly starts talking.

"You died," Korra starts, her eyes briefly closing for a brief moment as she relives the mental agony of another life, another place. "A...Red Monsoon member knifed you. In the chest. I didn't, I couldn't cope with your death. It came to the point where I started seeing you everywhere..."

Asami pretends not to notice the fleeting and worried look the Avatar gives her because Korra's always doing this: constantly making sure that she's really there.

"And..." she hesitates for a moment before speaking up again:

"I ended up," and at this she swallows with a dry throat, "I mean, I...indirectly...sort of...killed, um, someone...?" She says it as if it's a question.

Asami narrows her green gaze while Korra nervously gnaws on her bottom lip.

"Eventually, I went to Vaatu, and he offered to put me a universe where you'd live." She swallows with difficulty again, and Asami notices the way her fingers tighten over her severely bent knees. "I didn't know that I would replace the Korra in this world...I mean, I'm sure Vaatu must have mentioned it at some point, but I don't think I was paying any attention. And I didn't know that my choices would lead to...this, but...I still gave him everything in order to be here. My other life and my memories."

"So if you somehow knew that this would happen," and at this Asami blinks languidly at the empty space before her as if she doesn't care the slightest for Korra's response, "would you still have done it?"

Is killing a human being for Asami, out of all people, really worth this?

And is hurting Mako or will be hurting Mako really worth this?

"Yes," Korra fires back without the slightest hint of a hesitant quaver in her flattened tone. Because Asami Sato is the only person or thing she refuses to ever give up. She wouldn't in this world, and she wouldn't in the next. Not in this life, not in the others either.

"Korra..." Asami watches as her fingers tighten into exasperated fists on her lap. "Look, I have a company to run, and I promised myself that—"

"You also made a promise to me," Korra fiercely points out, tightly clenching her jaw to the point when it starts to ache while her blue eyes burn with barely concealed anguish and blatant frustration. "Are the memories coming back yet, Asami?" she demands lowly.

Asami doesn't answer her, but her silence answers Korra's inquiry with the affirmative.

"You promised me that you'd never leave, but you did leave! You died, and now you're alive—you're here—but I'm still waiting for you to come back. I...," she runs an agitated hand through her hair, her eyes still bright with frustration and desperation, "spirits damn it, Asami—"

I love you.

[ – in the beginning was life

a dawning age – ]

Breathe, Korra silently begs the heiress. Just breathe. Please.

"I have to go," Asami suddenly declares, still feeling as though she's accomplished absolutely nothing from this.

Korra turns away—too quickly—while mumbling softly, "Don't you always?"

It's a remark that's supposed to sound bitter, but somehow it ends up sounding broken instead.

Asami pretends that she didn't quite catch that—pretending is pretty much the only thing she's been doing a lot lately—and she stands up from her sitting position beside the Avatar. And in a last, split-second, stupid decision, she quickly leans down and gives the Avatar a light kiss, half cheek, half lips. And even as Korra closes her eyes and her lips unconsciously part, Asami quickly pulls away before that can escalate to something entirely different—

—only Korra's hand closes around Asami's wrist, and it pulls the heiress back to her, the tip of her nose just touching the curve of Asami's cheek while her other hand digs itself into the heiress's long black tresses, fingers entwining themselves with the silky strands. Asami's wrist is caught in a vice-like trap, and Korra's breath is pleasantly hot against her own cool skin.

Feeling something odd burn through her eyes—are those tears?—Asami tries and fails to keep the traitorous drops of salty water from falling, and she untangles herself from the Avatar before she can even think about letting her cheek rest on her shoulder and drown herself in the essence of the salty sea, and even as she's turned around she completely misses the expression written on Korra's shadowed face.

.
.

(iv. semper fidelisalways faithful)

"She just needs time, Korra," Mako quietly says, sitting next to his (ex?) girlfriend with a comforting arm draped around her shoulders like a scarf.

(one time two times)

The hunched over figure that is the Avatar doesn't respond but every crease, every tensed muscle in her body screams that It's all over and I don't know what to do I just don't know and please please please go away.

"Look, she's being stubborn," Mako tries again; trying to reason with the bereft mind of a shattered soul, trying to reason with the Avatar who never ever ever took no for an answer.

"I don't...Mako, I really—really—didn't mean to—" is all Korra manages to croak out before the golden-eyed firebender presses a single thin finger against her lips to silence her ramblings.

"I know." A heavy yet barely audible sigh follows these two words. "I know, Korra. Believe me." He bites his lip. "I'm sure Asami will come around eventually. She always does."

"Right." Downcast eyes. A fractured, halting exhale blown softly out past bitter and cold lips, and then softly adds, "Always."

("i have to go..."

"don't you always?")

.

Korra learns that Mako—for once—is right.

.

("Finally finished designing the new model." Asami sounded happy. "One more week."

Korra raised an eyebrow over at her, fingers lightly brushing the heiress's knuckles. "I've waited this long. One week should be nothing. Oh, and isn't your birthday coming up?"

"I never really—"

"Oh, come on." She rolled her eyes in an exasperated manner. "It'll be fun! You know it."

"Hmm...well, who says you get to decide?"

A heart-stopping smile, and her lips brushed over Asami's cheek.

Korra said, "I do.")

And finally, for once in her life, Asami decides to follow her heart without question and go wherever it tells her to go.

.

There are footsteps approaching Korra where she sits heavily on the dock, her legs dangling carelessly and limply over the clear waters of Yue Bay. Her feet are bare; the light brown sealskin boots that usually cloth them lay in a disorganized heap at her side.

"Korra?" a voice calls. "Um...can we talk?"

Korra closes her eyes, letting her hands root themselves firmly onto the rough wooden surface of the dock before she distantly answers, "What's up?"

The heiress sits down next to her, a cascade of wavy raven black locks forming a flimsy yet solid curtain between the two of them. "I want to tell you something."

The brown-haired girl doesn't react as much as she thought she would. "I guess...fire away."

"...I lied."

[ – we dream out loud – ]

Blue eyes, while still guarded, open in unconcealed confusion before their owner carefully responds, "You...lied?"

"Yes." An awkward pause.

"I'm scared of falling."

Breathe, Asami silently begs. Just breathe. Please.

The Avatar watches her, momentarily stunned, while Asami sucks in a rattled breath. Tucks her hair behind her ear with a slightly shaking hand.

The small ripples formed by the breeze rolling across the top of Yue Bay strokes the tips of Korra's toes, pleasantly cool and silky soft, but Korra isn't breathing because she's forgotten how to breathe, and she still isn't breathing when Asami's head settles onto her lap, a tentative and comfortable weight. And those eyes—oh good spirits above, those green eyes—the ones she spent ages thinking about, dreaming about; the ones framed by long inky black lashes, they blink up at her, and the barest hint of a smile is visible on the corner of Asami's painted lips.

Korra thinks that she makes a sound that's halfway between a strangled gasp and a convoluted, weak laugh of happiness and finality, but she can't be sure because she still isn't spirits-damned breathing

Breathe. Breathe. Dammit, Korra, just breathe...

No, that is definitely not happening any time soon.

Although she could live in warmth of that kiss forever.

.

But now here's the stark truth as it is that no one ever wants to hear, the one that whispers quietly, Not all endings are filled with sunshine and rainbows.

.

When Vaatu breaks out of his prison in the tree trunk and fuses with Unalaq, Korra's there to combat him and so are Mako and Bolin and of course Asami.

And because Korra doesn't want Asami to die in her arms with bright crimson blood pouring down and into her hands again, she makes sure to keep a sharp eye out for the green-eyed girl on the battlefield. Which is unfortunately an impossible and frustrating task in and on itself because they're separated again when a dark spirit dives down into the snow and promptly sends Korra careening backwards into a shadowed white drift, which she emerges out of with powdered snow dusting her brown hair like Yue the moon spirit and cold icy flakes thoroughly coating her midnight blue armbands.

And she's looking, looking, looking, but there is no girl with long raven-black locks and bright green eyes among the dark spirits swarming the snowy tundra. Not in between columns of raging flame from Mako. Not weaving through slabs of rock thrown by Bolin. Not under sharp blasts of air from Tenzin. Nothing. There's no sign of her.

And then comes a laugh. A laugh that sends chills racing down her spine, a terrible laugh that causes fear to rattle her bones and grit her teeth.

She still can't see Asami and maybe that's because there's an ephemeral crack in the ground after Vaatulaq, Unavaatu, whatever, hit the ground and opened a massive rift of howling black chaos in the world of spirits. It's a yawning, terrible black maw that flashes with blinding strokes of purple lightning and swirling darkness, baring its shadowy metaphysical teeth as it widens at alarmingly quick rates.

And there's someone falling into it. Someone only distinguishable by their eyes, eyes the color of a leaf in the summertime. Which could be Bolin, but he's still earthbending rocks at dark spirits and is very much not falling into bottomless chasms.

So it's Asami. It has to be Asami.

Holy mother of Raava—

Then the pit burps.

It's a hot burp that sends a brilliantly purple shock wave rippling across the ground, blasting Korra's eyes with light and blinding her momentarily in the process, vibrating deep into the very skeleton of the earth, and with it comes a layer of writhing violet energy. Tendrils of glowing technicolor streamer lines that seal the crater shut, trapping Asami along with it inside.

Korra opens her mouth and for a moment doesn't do anything because she can't do anything.

Then comes a loud shout. And it just comes tumbling out, rolling off of her tongue.

A snarl. A word.

Unavaatu only laughs again and lunges for her.

.

The fight is disjointed. All of it. She can't distinguish between all the factors being played in the conflict. Not the battle. Not herself. Everything's fractured into colorful little pieces, random pieces, the kinds of things she sees when she looks into a kaleidoscope. Nothing's comprehensible. Nothing nothing nothing.

She's completely shut down. Whether it is from terror or shock or anger, she doesn't know. It's all instinct taking over. Water, earth, fire, and air.

(energy in your souls)

Even though in the end, it's just another conflict. Just another battle. Just another game. She has been fighting battles and she's been playing games her entire life. But no one can deny that this is a different battle, a different game. Set apart from the others.

Wherein

He is Vaatu. She is Raava.

He is dark. She is light.

He is chaos. She is order.

He is Yin. She is Yang.

He is the void. She is a star.

And this has always been, ever since the beginning of time, ever since the concepts of Vaatu and Raava blinked into existence in the primal soup of swirling chaos. Black and white. Dark and light. Often, they are defined as evil and good.

Which don't exist.

In the world, it's just dark. And it's just light.

Where there is no good in evil. Where there is no evil in good.

Where there is dark in the light. Where there is light in the dark.

.

Their fight is confusing. Attacks are thrown and a quick retaliatory strike flashes back. All in a span of seconds.

Unalaq is gaining the upper hand, through a few tricky maneuvers, whereas Korra is slowly being crushed into a pulp within the iron fist of desperation.

They rise in different elements. There's an air vortex. And there's a water spout.

She throws rocks. He brings waves. She falls down, and he rises over her.

There's the snaking water whip, charging towards her like a malicious version of Lin Beifong's metal cables while screaming for her death, being thrown at her face. Freezing cold wind whips her hair around, scraping her cheeks with their razor sharp gusts. And here's her shield, a thick slab of frozen ice that groans dishearteningly when the tendril smashes against its protective wall.

There's the madness in Unalaq's blackened gaze. And there's adrenaline coursing through her own veins.

Here, the ice shield breaks and she's being plowed through the snow at record speeds, rough bits of ice slashing her cheeks even more raw and bloody than they already were. He's thrown her, wounded, into a bank of snow: laying defeated, while he declares himself triumphant.

She can see him towering over her, a grim and condescending sneer etched across his bony features, as the bringer of her eternal doom. And he lands on the ground with a thud and the crack opens beneath his feet, much like the crack that sent Asami spiraling down towards the nameless pits of darkness.

The opening of the rift snakes towards her, an unrelenting force that couldn't be stopped by possibly anything. Snow is shaken into its gloomy depths even as she teeters on the edge of its precipice before falling into the chasm, muscles locking together to prevent her fall. She's horribly cramped inside the small space, the forces of the rock pressing against her sides enough to make a claustrophobic scream. The cliffs dig into her flesh, intent on pressing her into nonexistence; a cold bolt of fear blinks into reality, sweeping its numbing effects throughout her being before reaching her very core, enveloping her mind in the black emotion of pure terror.

Oh, Raava, I'm going to die.

She glares up at the figure that is Unalaq, eyes squinted against the biting drafts of wind howling down into her prison, teeth bared into a defiant snarl even as the poison of panic lances through her body like silver arrows, drawing all the heat and warmth from her body and causing cold sweat to break out across her forehead.

[ – time is running out

time to do or die – ]

Unalaq and Vaatu.

Empowered.

Korra and Raava.

Consumed.

.

And now she's

(FALLING

FALLING

FALLING

DOWN)

There's Unalaq. He's perched right above her. And she can see him. He's closing in. Muscles tensing. Rolling. Shivering. Bending the ice and snow. Bending her into the earth. The cliffs are locking together.

They're suffocating. They're driving every inch of breath out of her body, and what little air she does have she can see streaming out of her mouth in a cloudy white mist.

No air. There's just no air. She's completely and utterly terrified. Immovable. Trapped. Unable to push out against the jagged edges of the cold, cold walls that trap her in this fatal prison.

no

nononono i can't let myself go like this

There's a shout coming from somewhere above her, but she can't pinpoint it. Black spots dance in front of her vision; they're taunting her, draining her, killing her.

"Give in!" the voice shouts.

She can't do anything but continue to be crushed. Continue to feel hopeless.

"Your time is over!"

no this isn't happening, this isn't happening to me

Yes. It really is.

but this is a really stupid way to die and you know that

and what about Asami?

She sucks in a pained and rattling gasp, unable to draw enough air in to even scream from the dull and crushing pain.

she fell down a hole too, you know

and she's scared of falling

but you're not falling down, are you?

there would be ten thousand years of darkness, until the next Harmonic Convergence

Maybe it's her overactive imagination, but she thinks she hears a few ribs snap. Like she's already melting, to become part of the snow.

"Korra."

Asami, where are you?

i know you fell down in a pit like this, too

She's not exactly freefalling, though, as the walls pressing ever closer to her frantically beating heart remind her.

"This fight is not over."

"...Raava..."

but where did you go?

to the spirits, or to another world?

"Vaatu cannot win."

why can't i find you?

even in the darkness, where you are there too

There's a strange and curious warmth flowing through her body now. One that wipes away all pain, one that leaves a lingering, delicious sensation behind.

By this point, she wants it all to end. All the chaos, all the struggles, all the desperation, all the weight that had been put on her shoulders since the day she was born.

And if this is what dying feels like, then by all means, let her die.

"No! Do not give in to ten thousand years of darkness!"

Why not?

because you've been through so much...

murder. anyu

madness. rejections

spirits. vaatu, raava

stars and colors

fantasies. nightmares

it was always like a fairy tale

you aren't just going to let all of your efforts sink down with you into the earth and rocks like a capsizing ship, are you?

Her eyes are barely visible now, only the thinnest streaks of ocean blue in a world of darkness.

"You are..."

What? What is she actually? Nothing? Everything? Who is she?

"...the Avatar."

Those slits of ocean blue in the swirling darkness wink out of existence.

and you wouldn't leave Asami just like that, to the darkness, to Vaatu and Unalaq

you would kill to get her back, to get revenge, and you showed the world that

But maybe that wasn't the right choice.

but you did it anyways, and what's done has been done

think about it, it's just two pieces of rock

Only two pieces of rock crushing her to a pulp facing her in front of Unalaq.

...Right.

.

Korra's eyes frost over with a brilliantly glowing alabaster shade of ice.

.

Asami's falling and she doesn't know what to think except that she hates falling.

Hatehatehatehatehatehatesit.

.

Returning to the Tree of Time, back in her own body, after defeating Unavaatu, after cleansing the lord of all dark spirits, after reuniting with Raava, Korra should feel really, really, really proud of herself.

Only she doesn't.

There's always one more thing she has to do before she achieves a sense of finality, the sense of accomplishment.

She should come back to the Material World. Or the Spirit World. Or the whatever World. If all goes well, she would return one day, sooner or later: just not now.

She's going to leave the portals open. She will no longer be the Avatar as the people once knew her as. The Avatar who was the bridge between two worlds.

The purple energy over the rift has faded after Unavaatu's cleansing and defeat. And the yawning black gap slashed in the very fabric of space and time is rumbling shut. Closing. The Tree of Time healing its domain after close and utter annihilation. Almost gone.

Normally that would be a good thing.

Tenzin asks what she's doing and why in the world is she running away from his hug?

Korra doesn't hesitate before she makes a wild nosedive towards the ground.

(i would—i would walk through the storms)

The air inside the pit is freezing and the humidity nonexistent.

And she falls. But this time she doesn't scream. Doesn't scream even as the air gusts on either side of her howl and rage a song of death by ice in her ears, doesn't scream as the suffocating blanket of darkness presses down on her like she's being crushed in between two slabs of rock all over again. Because she's not the one scared of falling now.

The pit snaps shut above her plummeting figure.

.

She urges herself to go faster.

Faster faster faster.

All she has to do is catch up.

blinkblinkblink

flashflashflash

Raava?

Go.

.

Asami really, really, really hates falling and she makes it known to the other people plummeting into the depths of this hellhole with her by screaming.

Not that there is anyone falling down with her.

But something hard and warm slams into her and Asami instantly panics, clutching onto the wriggling body like it's the only thing in the world that will keep her alive. And it will keep her alive because it's solid and tangible and it has a pulse.

It has a pulse.

It's alive. It's alive. It'saliveit'saliveit'salive.

"Just hold on!"

So Asami blindly holds on. Wrapped into a close and tight embrace. Warm breath, so different from the freezing cold air gusting around them—Asami and the thing that's alive hugging her—tickles the tip of her ear.

"It's okay. You'll be okay. We'll be okay."

"No, we won't be okay!" Asami (who's still scared of falling) screams at the top of her lungs as they zoom downward at even faster rates.

"Yes, we will!"

They're accelerating and Asami almost loses it right then and there.

"Then please, whoever you are, don't let go of me!"

Even though she knows who is holding onto her. Or at least she has a good guess as to whom.

Korra grants her frenzied request and doesn't let go.

[ – you and i will never die – ]

.

When their flailing bodies meet in midair, Korra intuitively knows that Asami's scared of falling (the memory is further solidified when Asami screams and clutches onto her so tightly that Korra thinks she might just have lost blood circulation in her right hand), and so she instantly pulls the heiress into her arms and tucks her chin right above the crook of Asami's neck, hugging her fiercely and reminding her that she's

(always

always

always)

been there and she

(always

always

always)

will be.

.

Asami makes it a point to clutch onto Korra like a lifeline when they're

(falling

falling

falling)

And Korra wraps her warm and comforting arms around her, mumbling soft reassurances into her ear all the way down without fail while they

(plummet

towards

nothing)

.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
("you're still here?")
.
.
.
.
("where else would i be?")
.
.
.
.
("you...really jumped into the pit? after me?" asami almost doesn't dare to whisper it.)
.
.
.
.
(korra looks a little bemused, "i've already been doing everything i did for you.")
.
.
.
.
(shadows of—)
(shadows of—)
(shadows of starlight—)
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

(clausulaendings)

She had been struggling through a storm her entire life, walking through the challenges that were thrown her way. Some with difficulty, yet others with ease. But in the end, she was always fighting. Both physically and mentally, but most of all, emotionally.

She told herself she continued for her home. For her family. For Republic City. For Mako, for Bolin. For a legacy left to her by those who came before. For Raava, for Aang, for Wan. For the title of the Avatar itself. For the spirits. For the humans. For the world. For herself.

But for Asami, too. Always Asami.

And maybe, just maybe, she's the most important of them all.

.

(novumnovelties)

They'll battle the dark spirits that appear like wisps of smoke from a fire; they'll struggle through black nothingness with eyes spinning in their sockets from constant vertigo, and they'll nearly die many times—together—and although there are no northern or southern lights to prostrate before and pray to in the world of shadows, Korra doesn't need to pray to any more spirits. Ever. Not Aang, or Roku, or Kyoshi. Not even Wan.

Not when they're all gone from her life.

She'll only need to pray to the spirits inside of her. Her life. Because she's got her wish, that she and Asami are finally together again—

—although in the beginning, deep in the dark slums of Republic City, there was Anyu—

—and in the middle, deep in the clinging black tendrils of guilt, Asami left—

—but in the end, deep in the bleak realm of a perpetual night, Korra finds her stars.

.

(exordiabeginnings)

Fairy tales start with "once upon a time." They always, always, always do. But even though once upon a times may come to pass, happily ever afters don't always happen.

But at some point, Korra knows that she'll hit a barrier, past which everything she's worked for is worth it, past which she has herself again; a place where dreams come true and fairy tales are, at long last, worth telling. And Korra may be struggling through a literal hole in the world with Asami, a hole in the world that sinks so deep into a void that there's never any end, but right now she's flying higher than any time she had ever been before.

And truthfully, it isn't a happily ever after. At least, it isn't a traditional happily ever after. They are in a literal hellhole. But it's close. So very close. No matter where they are, no matter where she is, this is what Korra's been waiting to hear. It's been a long time coming, but like all good things, it has finally arrived—

.

There were many different ways the story could have started:

(when they made a promise to each other)

(when asami died)

(when korra murdered a woman)

(when vaatu gave the avatar a choice)

(when korra waited)

(when asami sank into the darkness)

(when korra followed her in)

(and when the light appeared in the void)

[—but it only really starts—]

.

—in a place infinitely darker than the depths of the realm of Koh, when an exhausted girl with emeralds for eyes tells a bone-weary Avatar "I love you".

.
.
(eight years later)
.
.

He walks down the cold and empty street, spiky black hair ruffled and unkempt as the pounding sheets of rain falling from the dark clouds that hang above the earth batter the sidewalks and his hunched shoulders with watery bullets alike.

One dark day precisely eight years ago, Vaatu had attacked, Asami went tumbling into a pit of shadows, and Korra had followed her in. Not a hide nor hair of them had been seen since and they were presumed dead.

Why does he know this? Because it's his twenty-seventh birthday. His ex-girlfriends both vanished into nothing on his birthday.

He can only hope that they're happy. This birthday isn't spent with Bolin, who is still in Republic City training to become the Chief of the metalbending police. Spent without his parents, of course; spent without Korra, spent without Asami.

Spent alone. Comfortably, thankfully, heartbreakingly, alone.

He walks another few steps, his mind elsewhere, and he bumps into someone in his distraction. Someone smaller and slighter than he is. But it's a hard enough knock that causes the person he ran into to stumble a few feet to the side.

"Oh!" Mako snaps out of his reverie, awkwardly shifting his pace to jog towards the recuperating figure. "Hey, I'm sorry—!" he begins to apologize, all the while staring into a pair of vivid and wide green eyes—

—Asami?!—

—but no, it isn't Asami, although Mako can see the resemblance to her in the little girl—they had the exact same eyes.

"Watch it!" she pouts, her lower lip jutting out along with an irritated expression, a jaded expression that has absolutely no place on a girl's face as young as this one, who couldn't be older than seven or eight.

But it's a familiar look. Mako can't say he hasn't seen it before. It's familiar because it's the same look Korra had been wearing right before she jumped into that spirits-forsaken pit and it only serves to stab another sharp knife of pain and loss into his heart.

The girl's already walking away, but Mako finds himself stumbling after her, his pale hands tightly locked around his wet red scarf. "Hey! Hey, kid! Wait for a moment!"

Maybe it's the urgency and desperation in his voice, or maybe it's because this little girl didn't know any better, but she stops and turns around, eyeing him warily.

"What?"

"Do...do you know me?" the firebender finds himself asking in a pitifully tiny voice.

"...No. Should I?" She sounds guilty now.

"I..." Mako hesitates, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, I just thought—"

"Reina!" A teenage boy with dark chestnut-colored hair and pale green eyes charges towards them, his thin and dark eyebrows drawn together with relief. "Oh, thank the spirits you're safe!" He throws a suspicious glare at Mako, who quietly backs off, his golden gaze misty and hooded, before the boy wraps an arm protectively around the girl. Reina. Reina, Reina, Reina. This little girl who must be his sister.

"C'mon, let's get you home."

(all these years i have wandered)

Mako silently watches the girl and her brother leave and surprisingly enough it leaves a blunt and painful ache in his heart.

.

Another eight years pass by like the flowing crystal water Korra used to love bending when the White Lotus announces that they have found the new Avatar.

Her name is Reina.

As Mako watches, one among the thousands of people cramped in the tiny square in front of City Hall, the sixteen-year-old version of the little girl he met on the streets nervously addresses the crowd an hour before dawn. He still can't help but notice the bright sparkle of her green eyes even visible in the shadowy light customary of predawn hours; he can't help but be reminded of the time when a seventeen-year-old Korra first arrived in Republic City and long after tearing up a long stretch of street finally gave her speech to all.

("as your new avatar!")

He sees both of them—Korra, and Asami—in this new Avatar.

Avatar Reina.

It has a nice enough ring to it.

Somewhere deep down inside of him, in a place he had worked to push out of his mind, there's a sense of loss. Loss and pain, because he knows that every time he looks at this Reina he will be reminded of the two woman who both stepped into his life, each for a little while at least, before they stepped out and found each other. And even if he didn't want it, even if he hates it—which he tells himself (angrily) that he doesn't—he's simply bound to them in that way forever.

Korra would say that it's okay. It'll all be okay. He'll be okay. They'll be okay.

Because somewhere—maybe still in whatever lay beyond the bottomless confines of that pit, maybe looking down onto the dusty earth in the Spirit World—they're together again.

.

Reina has had the memories for as long as she can remember.

They're strange memories. A near-constant train of thoughts that has set up camp near the very back of her mind. Flashes of a horde of dark-colored creatures with bright purple and green markings imprinted upon what seemed to be their heads. A monster treading through the waves. Watching a man with ragged salt-and-pepper hair through the bars of a metal prison cell. Once, a sharp and intense burst of fear that she couldn't explain but left her crying softly out in the middle of the night with an accelerated heartbeat and cold sweat dotting her smooth forehead.

But always, when one of these thoughts are floating at the surface of her mind, a single and final sweeping gesture of warmth that when it leaves she always feels empty without for a moment or two afterwards.

She can't quite place her finger on it, but the dark-skinned girl that sometimes appears to her in a dream smiles and says that, "Hey, look, it's okay, it's always okay" and tells her not to worry.

She was revealed as the new Avatar today, in front of the whole world. That Mako man she met—no matter what came out of his mouth, she still can't shake off the feeling that she knows him. That she knows those amber eyes, his lean stature, the ruffled black hair.

"...Because you have."

Reina turns around and spots the dark-skinned girl again. "Huh?"

"He was my friend," this girl frowns, sitting smartly down on nothing across from Reina, so it appears that she's simply floating in nothingness, in orange-yellow clouds. "A good friend, too. And I have to say..." Something like a tiny sigh escapes past her lips. "...I should have treated him as such."

"I know you," Reina says quietly. "You're...you're that Avatar before me. The one Vaatu killed right before you cleansed him."

The words sounded a lot better in her head than coming out of her mouth.

"Oh, is that what they're telling you?" the Avatar lightly says, eying Reina with amusement. "Well...I guess...yeah. As in I am the Avatar before you. And no, I didn't...er, perish right after that battle with Vaatu. Or Unavaatu...or Vaatulaq...oh, whatever, it doesn't matter." She sighs. "Oh, in any case...I'm Korra."

"Avatar Korra," Reina nods in recognition, clasping a palm over her fist. "What's up? Err, I mean...um...how are you doing...?"

Korra, much to Reina's surprise, only begins to laugh. "I'm doing fine, thanks. Well...as fine as I can be while being dead, you know." She huffs in apparent exasperation: "I can't bend while I'm dead! It's horrible. Really boring, too. I thought that Aang was lying when he said that we all—I mean, the past Avatars...not that they're here anymore—often watch the going-ons of the new Avatar ta—" And her eyes widen in shock, as if she's just realized what she's saying. "Oh, spirits, actually, never mind. Forget I said anything." She offers Reina a crooked smile that only assures the current Avatar that whatever the old Avatars did in their abundance of free time, it was no good.

"...Oh?" Reina asks, not really sure what to say.

This girl, this Korra, she leans down behind Reina and her warm breath grazes the tip of the Earth Kingdom girl's ear.

"Well, uh...that's not what I came to you for...now, anyway."

There's a slight pause.

"I left the spirit portals open for a reason, you know," Korra promises. "Like I said to Tenzin, maybe Wan was wrong. Maybe humans and spirits were always meant to live together, and I believe it. You'll finish what I started. But...," and now, her voice acquires a sad note to it, "I know that you've experienced grief and sorrow and anger before. And that's normal. It's part of what makes us human. But...whatever you end up doing, Reina, don't let those emotions dictate what you end up doing. Please don't. In the end, whatever you do, it will be what you allow yourself to do. That which you desire most will be yours and yours alone to give and take...each hour of your life, your self-preservation, is an hour that you allow yourself to have.

"And tell me, would you kill to save a life? Would you kill, if only to prove that you're right?" Her lips curl into a bitter smile as Reina gapes soundlessly at her. "Maybe you would—oh, maybe you never think that you would, but grief does weird things to people. And if you let that grief drive you to extremes, to things that you will never ordinarily have done—you'll regret it. You'll regret it to your dying day. You'll be thinking on your actions from that point, and every dark hour in between to the day you...um, excuse me for my language"—and she sheepishly smiles—"rot in your grave. Doing something that would normally be considered unspeakable by the society—and you know, unspeakable acts are taboo for a reason—simply out of...revenge...arrogance...a damaged ego..." Korra grins ferally, a smile that does not reach her eyes. "It's not worth it."

Reina slowly comprehends what this Water Tribe woman is saying. "So, you mean, I shouldn't, uh, kill anyone?" She blinks rapidly. "Wait. I won't ever have to kill anyone as Avatar, right?"

"Hmm. I wouldn't say that...but," and she nods as if she's made her mind up, "no one should kill for the sake of killing, for the sake of revenge—a 'peace at heart', if you will." She quirks an eyebrow. "Only, there is no peace in that. In killing for the sake of killing. Only...darkness."

Reina cocks her head to the side, drinking in this woman's words. "How do you know?"

And Korra tilts her head. Holds her gaze—ocean blue burning against leaf green. And then she says quietly, "Because I've lived by it—and died by it. Some said too early." She sighs, still staring into Reina's eyes. "But...don't worry about it. Don't worry about what my actions led me to, worry about your own."

And then she bows her head, slowly fading into nothingness, but not before offering Reina one last, bright smile: "Oh, and can I tell you something?"

"...Yeah?"

Korra's last, cryptic words wrap around Reina like a comforting puff of spring breeze:

"You have the greenest eyes I've ever seen."

.

(Avatar Reina had somehow managed to find him and then asked him outright after her speech, "Do I know you?"

("do...do you know me?")

The lie immediately came tumbling out past his lips. And it was obvious that it was a fib. He said it a little too quickly. Flinched. Fingers nervously plucked at the hem of his coat, crimping the gray fabric in several wrinkled waves. Eyes slightly drifted to the left, over the Avatar's shoulder, so they didn't have to meet the Avatar's piercing green gaze.

"...No. I'm sorry. I don't think I do."

(rise up, follow me, come away is the call)

"Oh." Her cheeks flushed with the barest hint of pink, giving her a slightly embarrassed appearance as she rubbed the nape of her neck. "I mean...er, this is going to sound so stupid, but I can't help but think that I've seen you from...somewhere." The edges of her thick eyebrows twitched upward in a question.

You have, eight years ago. And maybe also in a life that has passed away. Maybe I knew you well, maybe I knew both of you well, until the one day sixteen years ago, when you both fell into the pit. When neither of you came out, or were ever seen again.

Maybe.

He doesn't answer her.

She stubbornly stuck out a hand, anyways. Stuck it out with a sheepish and crooked grin that leaned towards the left slapped disarmingly across her face. Stuck it out with bright and vibrant green eyes the color of—what did Korra always say?—sparkling emeralds locked onto Mako's downcast face. Stuck her hand out, because she was pushing. (Always, always pushing.)

"Well, um...hi, in any case. I'm Reina." A light chuckle. "But you knew that already, didn't you?"

Mako's eyes were still refusing to move two inches to the right to meet Reina's, and instead he stared fixedly at the looming grandeur of City Hall behind her. The two of them remained like that for a while—Reina's hand sitting patiently a little ways in front of his chest, waiting to be acknowledged; Mako refusing to move or look at anything besides his fixed vantage point.

Behind the Avatar, the sun broke over the horizon, over the City Hall, obliterating the muted shadows of dawn in a burst of golden light. Its warmth streamed downwards, pooling underneath their feet to form a shifting lake of liquid gold.

The Avatar's hand was still there, still waiting, dappled with moving layers of the sun's rays, and Mako finally tore his eyes away from the sunrise to look at, albeit indirectly, for the first time. A long train of memories from a time past flashed across his pained expression before the brilliant light of daybreak cleared the storm clouds away, and then he finally met the Avatar in the eye, raising his arm to firmly grasp her proffered hand.

And they stood there, still and silent, underneath the fiery glow of the rising sun for a few more breaths:

"Hi," he replied softly in return. "I'm Mako.")

.

(excelsiorever higher)

.

[and the story goes on...on...on...

that's how the story goes]

fin

End Notes

...This chapter stole my sanity. >.>

Thank you for sticking with Excelsior. I hope you enjoyed the ride! :D

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