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The Investigation

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Council voting
The Investigation
Chapter information
Series

Phantoms

Chapter

Three

Written by

Aritiane

Release date

August 10, 2012

Chronology
Last chapter

The Game

Next chapter

The Phantom

"REPUBLIC CITY, Utd Rep. — After months of negotiations in which both sides were reluctant to step back and compromise, it is said that the leaders of bender and non-bender wings have finally agreed upon conditions of the new Councillor's election. The deliberative body, claims our source, consists of all the current Council members, as well as of the representatives of the UNR Coal and Steel Community and the Sahayoga non-cooperation movement; it is expected to start debating today, soon after the release of the morning issue. So far, none of the candidacies was discussed publicly neither by the government nor non-benders, however, it is commonly known that only three of them are being considered seriously: Zuzhou Meiyou, the interim chief executive officer at Future Industries, who was also appointed as the president of the UCSC after Hiroshi Sato and now stands as the representative of the organisation; Stiva Naukariypm, currently known under the name of Mohandas, the leader of Sahayoga initiative; and surprisingly, Asami Sato, a candidacy strongly supported by the chairman of the URC, Councilman Tenzin. Mohandas and Meiyou refused to talk to the press, although Sato, famous for being a member of so-called Team Avatar during the Equalists' Revolution, told us that she would want to 'render the service as well as she only can in order to redeem her father's sins' and she 'is looking forward to the election.'"

The Rally for the Council's Seat Is to Finally End
United Daily News

"As the tension between benders and non-benders consistently lowers, the government seems to do their best to preserve peace and provide every last citizen of Republic City with equal rights and fair conditions, the new Councillor's election being a result of this."

The Times, Oh, They Are Changin'
Republic News

"There are people who might settle for an illusion of equal treatment. And there are people who do not care that their city is ruled by a manipulative clique of oligarchs. They probably agree with the deceitful apologia of the Council written by the RN's editor yesterday. We all know that the Republic News will do anything in the interest of the occupier bender government. They always lie. You can't believe a word they write. And if they say anything correct, it's just an accident.

But we do not accept the situation. It's obvious that they want to undo all the achievements of The Autumn Revolution, calling it a 'terrorist overthrown of the city's rightful government,' a wicked dream of a masked madman. But we do not forget: Amon might have been a liar — a bender — but it wasn't him who really cared for Republic City in the Equalists movement, hoping to change it for the better. It was the people. Truth be told, it seems extremely hard to erase the view of the cheering crowd in front of the City Hall from our memory. However, there are people who do so every day, who choose to forget — because it's easier. Because it pays off. And that's why they're saying that everything's getting just fine.

Don't believe them. Nothing's changing.

Zuzhou won't be an answer to our problems; he was sitting silent during the Revolution, minding only to secure the leadership over his company. Mohandas is too weak to change anything. And that young Sato is nothing more than a puppet in hands of both Tenzin and the Avatar, who, by the way, seems to see balance only there where she wants to see it. Everything she's done since she came to the city confirms the Equalists' point: she didn't even stop to actually think about reasons why people do riot, not to mention not helping us in any way. The only thing she could do, however, was destroying things and beating everyone up with her bending. See the irony yet? She's not our Avatar — she's our oppressor, though appreciated by the government.

A leader is needed in these hard times. Someone who will stand up to the regime. Someone trustworthy. Someone who is not afraid to fight — to fight for the truth."

Will the Propaganda Prevail?
Yuan News, We Inform — They Lie

It couldn't have happened. It couldn't.

The corridors of the hospital went on forever.

Tenzin's robe billowed restlessly as he was striding with his long legs. Councilman's steps were usually determined and dignified because of the airbender clothes which imposed such a kind of movement; however now — now he was moving forward as fast as he could, more like a cheetah, not a gallant lion of the Council. The corridors were empty and quiet, two endless rows of walls: one decorated with a chain of tattered doors and rusted signs of room numbers, and the second being a line of sizable windows, placed one after another in a distance of every few meters. The wisps of light which were coming from there forced Tenzin to blink every time he passed them, making the airbender's face even more troubled than it really was. He fastened.

Outside, it was a really beautiful morning.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing. And the patients were moaning.

After a while, Tenzin finally found the room he was looking for, became even more stressed, more worried, and opened the door hurriedly, trying not to run inside.

But someone had already been there.

"Lin—"

The room was a real cubby; there was nothing more inside than a pallet, two askew chairs, an old cupboard or a small window. And nothing more would fit there. Paint peeled off walls, and the dusty floor looked as it had not been cleaned for ages. A rather usual view in almost every hospital of the great Republic City, place of big dreams, quick opportunities and even quicker falls. Those who could afford it paid a lot for private healers; the rest lay in places like this, waiting to rot, forbidden to dream any more. It is hard to sleep when you suffer because of the progressive fever, shivery and pain, he thought. "You care too little for ordinary people and their problems," an unkind voice in the airbender's head accused him. Not surprisingly, it sounded exactly like Mohandas.

Tenzin ignored it, having greater problems now, and came closer. "Lin... How is he...?"

"He's sleeping." She had a frog in her throat, he noticed, and she did not turn around to see him.

Tenzin glanced at the bed in front of which she was sitting, and then at Bumi lying there, pale and defenceless, his eyes closed and his breath stable but very slow. The airbender felt a brisk mixture of fear, sorrow and sudden, unexpected anger; it occurred to him that once again he had failed to protect a member of his family.

After Amon had captured Pema and the children, he vowed that he would nevermore allow any harm to happen to them or anyone. He almost let Tarrlok and Amon destroy the city; he had sworn that he would never back down again, and every latest plot in the Council had been meant to gain power to secure Jinora, Ikki, Meelo and little Rohan... everyone. But I did not, I did not... To him, his lifeless brother lying there somehow seemed to be a burning pang of conscience, and he hated himself for that, because he should be worried about him, and not angry with himself. Do not be selfish. You owe him more than that. He frowned. And you owe her more than that.

"Lin," whispered Tenzin and sat down on the chair, "I believe you do not tell me everything."

She did not answer.

"Lin..."

"He's in a coma," she snarled at him.

An awkward silence fell, but this time it was Tenzin who could not find the words.

"A coma...? How...? You were supposed to be on a date."

"I know we were." Her voice was fierce; Tenzin could not tell why, and he certainly did not want to fight now, but she was slowly starting to sound like herself and it made him feel a little relieved. Nevertheless, he decided to wage every sentence from now on. "The thing I do not know is what really happened."

"Weren't you together...?"

"No. I was early, waiting for him in the restaurant. All of a sudden, I heard a scream outside. It was Bumi, I recognized his voice immediately. When I got there, I started to look for him but the street was entirely empty. Soon after, I found him lying unconscious in an alley nearby. I called for an ambulance."

"Anyone—"

"You think I didn't check? I did. Twice. There was not a soul hereabouts."

"And the scream...?"

"I have no idea. And that's what pisses me off."

They both went silent for a moment. Tenzin, lost in thought, did not understand any of it. Is it just an accident? By the spirits... it makes no sense. Bumi did not deserve it. He is much better than that. First, Amon had captured his family, and now it seemed that a senseless illness had captured his brother. So it does not matter what I do to prevent that? A fool can try and struggle — but without any results? This is what life is about? Maybe just take me — whoever you are: fate, spirits — and leave them alone once and for all. He took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself.

"Why didn't you call me earlier?"

"It was a middle of the night. You were asleep. And it would change nothing." Her voice faltered.

"I understand." He did not, of course, but it would be a rather unwise thing to say and he would not persuade her anyway. "Lin... have you been here the whole time?"

She said nothing, thus making Tenzin sure she did. Besides, she still wore an evening dress. He glimpsed at his brother's bed again. The bedding was clean, almost new, and certainly did not match the filthy appearance of the hospital. Had she brought it too?

Tenzin tried his best to be gentle. "Lin... Do not blame yourself."

"They did it again," she whispered not straightaway. "They did it again to me."

The airbender held her hand. "They...?"

But she kept silent. Tenzin suspected what she had been trying to say, though, and why she had not said it aloud. She surely remembered Amon taking her bending away, and — even if it happened long ago — the memory of Pema stealing Tenzin from her and marrying him was still painful for her. Now, when she had finally believed that something good could happen to her too, Bumi fell into a coma, and look — there goes her dream of happiness. She treated his illness as another loss for herself, and though she would never admit it, deep inside she felt hurt and alone. And that made her angry.

Tenzin knew it. And considered himself guilty.

"He will make it." The airbander glanced at his brother, not sure if he attempted to persuade Lin or himself. "Bumi is a fighter. He has always been a fighter. Remember when he fought with Kya the day you and Toph had dinner in our house? She said he would not stand a chance, because he was a non-bender. And he did not, in fact; she beat him easily with her waterbending. She always did, being older and stronger. But he never relented; never gave up."

She looked away, but he might tell she smiled a little. "Tenzin. We were like five back then."

"Yes. And what about that?"

"I'm just surprised... that you remember..."

"I never forget, Lin." He held her hand gently. It was warm.

They were sitting like that for a while. Just like that.

"Lin—"

"I know."

"I must leave. The Council—"

"I know."

"I am sorry."

An awkward silence fell. Again. The airbender did not know what else to say, what else to do, so he just stood up and made a few steps towards the door. He look around the sleazy room once again, and glimpsed at his brother, the tattered bed and old, empty cupboard. He noted to self that since there was nothing he could do to improve conditions in the hospital, Bumi needed to be moved somewhere better. The temple should do. After Tenzin had clenched the door handle and twisted it, Lin sighed loudly.

"You may never forget, Tenzin," her voice quivered almost unnoticeably, "but you always go."

Jinora closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths to prevent herself from thinking, and soon the world around her ceased to exist. She loved to meditate; it was so calm, so peaceful, so liberating, just like dad had told her when she was trying it for the first time. And now Jinora needed peace, oh, she did.

Just don't think... not about uncle Bumi or... that he could... he could... She negated that thought.

Ikki and Meelo never seemed to enjoy meditation like she did, though. But her brother was still young, and he obviously preferred toys to spiritual enlightenment; Ikki, on the other hand, always failed to concentrate and used to meditate in her own unique way, as she had always fidgeted or yawned or sung quietly under her breath or... Jinora, trying to be a good sister, had advised her to count breaths and imagine that she ascended inhaling and descended exhaling; quickly, weekly visits in the meditation pavilion had become less boring and Ikki mastered the skill as well.

Jinora heard laughs in vicinity, so she clenched her lids harder, trying not to be diffused. Stay focused, she reminded herself. Be the smooth surface of the lake — smooth surface that produces no movement itself but reflects everything else. She'd read that sentence in a scroll in the temple.

In her whole innocence, she had even tried to do the impossible; seeing how much her father had been struggling with the Avatar's training, she came to Korra's dormitory one day, hoping to relieve dad, and kindly asked if she wanted Jinora's help with meditating. But Korra only burst out laughing, gave her a pat on the head, saying "oh, kid, that was a good one," and left soon after, still cackling. Jinora, ashamed and angry, remained alone.

Eh, she thought. The laughs are even closer now.

"Jinora! Jinora!" It was Ikki. Jinora didn't reveal that she had heard them. Them, because the laughing one was definitely Meelo, she knew it. It was her meditation time. And when it's meditation time, it's only this and nothing more. Though she was doing her best to maintain her mind in the state of emptiness, she rapidly discovered it would not be possible any more. Feeling lashes of wind on her face, she stealthily opened an eye, curious and annoyed at once, but the only thing she could see was dust, dust everywhere.

"Jinora!" She finally gave up and opened both eyes, sighing. The world seemed a little too shiny; however, her sight adjusted soon.

Ikki and Meelo were now shouting her name repeatedly while running around on air scooters, which caused the cloud of dust to grow; the gazebo, placed on the edge of the cliff, was nearly full of it. Jinora observed them calmly for a while, and then, when the time had come, she launched a massive blow into Meelo's scooter, literally catapulting him into the air. The boy was thrown out of the pavilion, flew a few meters into the air shouting "not fair!" and landed on a tree nearby. Both girls giggled. Suddenly, Jinora felt that her fears faded away.

"Sis, dad's on the radio!" Ikki was engrossed.

"Yeah, and he's yelling at people!" shouted Meelo as he tried to get down of the tree; he finally chose the simplest way and just fell down.

"The election!" exclaimed Jinora. "Has it already started? Is Asami there, too? And Korra?" Dad wanted the Avatar to congratulate the new Councillor.

Ikki nodded. "Yup. Come and see yourself!"

All three of them headed for the temple. Soon, they could hear the crackling device nearby. Their mother was sitting on a rocking chair in front of the building, holding Rohan, who was babbling joyfully in her hands; she was listening to the radio, her face rather upset. Though when the rest of her children had come closer, she smiled to them encouragingly. "They're about to decide," she announced. "It won't take long."

"Meelo told me that dad was shouting," said Jinora. "What happened?"

"Oh, there were some—" Pema paused to find a proper word "—disagreements."

Ikki seemed worried. "But Asami will be the new councilwoman, won't she? Mum? Will she, will she, will she?"

"Your father seems to believe so."

Pema hit the radio several times, murmuring under her breath, and instantly the sound stopped to crackle and became much sharper.

"Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! I'm coming to you live from Republic City's City Hall where today the race for the seat in the Council of The United Republic of Nations will be settled once and for all!"

Jinora scowled; the voice was familiar, but she couldn't tell to whom it belonged for now. Pema, seeing her daughter's confusion, smiled softly. "The old Shiro Shinobi never fails to entertain," she explained. "I guess that the head editor of the radio station thought it would be a funny way to express his opinion."

"Which is—?"

"That the election's a shamble for the mob, as is pro-bending, I guess."

They both paused as Shinobi went on. "The remaining question is, who will it be? The businessman, the protester or the lady? Zuzhou seems to be the most probable choice for the time being, he's been looking very confident today. But don't count Mohandas out just yet! And of course lovely Asami Sato, the underdog of the race...

"Each of the candidacies has supporters and enemies, we've seen it as the debate proceeded... To those who joined us just now, you've missed a lot! A quick summary of what happened: so far, the discussion doesn't seem to look like Councilman Tenzin's thought it would. He adopted Zuzhou's motion and convoked a closed meeting. He's— Wait—! Oh—! That's right, folks! The door's opening! Grab your snacks and grab your kids, I think they've decided!"

Jinora, Ikki and Meelo were nearly dying of anticipation. Pema seemed a little worried.

"Yes, they have, they really have! Finally! But who is it? What—? I'm sorry, I must have misheard... But... There has to be a mistake, I guess. But no, no, they go on, and that means... Yes, folks, that means it happened! The decision is final! No one expected it to turn out that way, but it's final! Ladies and gentleman, I'm very surprised to announce you that the new member of the Council is—"

Jinora's eyes widened. She kept her fingers crossed. This awful morning could still get better.

"—Hiroshi Sato!"

The main hall reeked of iodine and potassium.

Lin recalled that smell very well; it was the smell of a hospital. After all, she had been a chief of police for a while, and visiting places like this in order to interrogate the living or count the dead was a part of her job.

One day, when she had been a young officer and the smell had still disgusted her, she had made a disgusted face in front of the doctor who had been to guide her. "You'll get used to it," he smiled. "You know, we have a saying here. Goes like 'if ye don't know where, what, and why, prescribe ye then K and I.' Nobody really knows what it does, but it does something and does something good!" And he laughed. "It won't do anything to him," Lin frowned, opening the door of the morgue, when they'd finally arrived, and pointed at the dead body over there. "He looks dead enough to me." The doctor's face fell immediately.

She had never been good at dealing with corpses. If she hadn't been late, she always thought, they would have been still alive. But this time — this time it's different. Bumi wasn't dead; she could still save him and she vowed to do anything possible to achieve it. Iodine and potassium won't help him, though. The sudden illness hypothesis that doctors gave her didn't appeal to her at all; she still remembered Bumi's panicked scream. It made her think that Bumi had been in fact attacked, not sick.

So she had worn her police uniform again and investigated the supposed crime scene once more, but nothing she found. Not a bit of an evidence. Clueless about what to do next, Lin intended to go ask some questions to the chief healer of the hospital, hoping to discover any hint, something she could base on, an oddity of the illness mayhap. However, as she was going along the corridors, it occurred to her that there was something odd about them. The main hall had been always full of patients for whom there had been no other room, and indeed, she could notice some of them around. But they always used to whine and groan and scream, yet now — now everybody kept quiet. She checked a casebook of the nearest wretch. "Persistent vegetative state," it was saying. Above that somebody had struck the previous diagnosis off.

It was a "coma."

Lin rashly started to look at the other casebooks. Many of them were similar.

She nearly ran into the head healer's office.

"Chief Beifong." He seemed surprised. "To be frank, I did not expect you. If you do not mind asking, how is that friend of yours? Air acolytes had already moved him to Air Temple Island, as had Councilman Tenzin ordered."

"Cut the garbage, mate," the metalbender was panting a little, "and tell me if there have been a lot more coma-related illnesses lately?"

"I can assure you that Commander Bumi—"

"Save it. Much more?"

He had pondered for a while before he finally answered. "I believe you can say so."

Hearing this, she left, leaving him even more confused that he had been when she entered.

"Can someone please explain to me what happened there?!" Korra finally unleashed her fury.

Tenzin had sealed the door of his office shut, and finally they got rid of all the journalists crying for the commentary. However, she was still able to see Hiroshi's mocking smile in her mind's eye; he had been around for the whole time during the election, waiting outside, and then came to the City Hall to claim it as his own and speak to the press about his victory. Korra walked to and fro, struggling to allay emotions that boiled inside her; Tenzin sat heavily on a chair in front of his desk, deep in thought; Asami, who had not spoken a single word since the election, stood in the corner, her eyes empty and silent.

"How on earth did he become a councilman?" Korra hit the wall with her fist. "I didn't even know he was free again! He should be in jail!"

No one denied it. Tenzin looked away.

"And why the rest of the Council—?" This time she directed her question to him, standing in front of him and putting her arms akimbo, her voice passionate as she would like to yell at her airbending master. Though sitting, he was still not that much shorter than her but it didn't stop her.

Tenzin, calm but visibly downhearted, interrupted her. "They were bribed."

"And Zuzhou? I thought you had swayed him!" Korra glanced at Asami in anger.

"He played on us," explained Tenzin, his voice weary and sore. "Hiroshi could have promised him more than we had been able to."

"But what about that Mohandas? You said he was unbribable!"

"He abstained."

"What—?"

"He just didn't vote."

Calm yourself, girl! Let's think it through once again.

They had reached stalemate; none of them could have really agreed upon anything. Impatient, Korra asked Tenzin about the situation. He said that he had it under control, but it seemed to her that he had it rather out of control, and it was getting worse every minute. During the morning the airbender had introduced her to the plan; according to it, everything should have gone very swiftly, as Tenzin and Asami had taken care of the result before. But it didn't, and so the man, whom Tenzin had presented as Zuzhou and who clearly disliked Korra for no apparent reason, adopted a motion to convoke a closed meeting — and since then everything had gone just very, very bad.

"I'm calling another vote," said Zuzhou after journalists had left the room. "But this time, when the press isn't here, we can speak honestly. Republic City needs a solution different than me, Mohandas or that little girl over there, and we all know that. It needs someone who can act. Someone who has understood his mistakes and now can use them to actually improve the city." He stood up, his voice loud and strong and confident. "Therefore I selflessly commit a candidacy of well-known industrialist Hiroshi Sato."

"That cannot be!" Tenzin burst out laughing. "You must surely be joking, Zuzhou!"

"The terms of the election clearly indicate," the Fire Nation councilwoman engaged, "that the Council must vote upon any submission of the deliberative body member."

The airbender scowled, looking for a sign of support within other members, but they all appeared to agree. "Fair enough. But we vote publicly."

"No, Councilman." Zuzhou smirked. "I was the one to call a vote and it is me who will decide; we shall do it anonymously."

Tenzin frowned, seeming a little nervous. It's not right, thought Korra. It shouldn't be like this. The Avatar glazed at Asami; after her father's name had been called out, her face became pale instantly and she seemed not to believe her own ears.

"You can't do it!" Korra didn't manage to calm herself down. "He tried to destroy the city!"

Zuzhou looked at her with nothing but pure contempt. "I can, Avatar. And I will. Neither you nor your bearded friend will tell me what to do. Certainly not you."

"You fool—! Sato's an Equalist!"

"Don't challenge me, Avatar. It's my last warning to you." Zuzhou's eyes narrowed. "I have already spoken to Hiroshi Sato. He claims that the terrorist know as Amon misused his inventions and lied to him about his true purposes. Hiroshi's never meant to do any harm to anyone; he thought that the Revolution would have been a peaceful way so solve non-benders' problems.

"As soon as he learnt Amon's real motivations, he refused to cooperate, but he was eventually forced to do it anyway. I want to remind you that Amon held his daughter, who is also present here today, as a captive after the Battle of Yue Bay."

Nobody protests. He lies and nobody protests!

"Asami!" Korra turned to her desperately. "Say something! Tell the truth!"

But Asami was speechless. She just blinked twice, confused.

"Tenzin!" From his look, Korra judged that the airbender had already known what was coming.

And so it happened. The vote had turned out to be successful that time, and Tenzin, although reluctantly, had been forced to lawfully proclaim Hiroshi Sato as the new councillor. Defeated, they left the Council Room soon after; Tenzin had to grab Korra's arm as she wanted to yell at everyone.

Bugger the Council. But Hiroshi, how could you do it to your own daughter? I mean, again?

"I still can't believe it." Korra sighed.

"Neither can I." Tenzin raised his bald head and looked her in the eye for the first time since they had entered the office. "But the decision is final."

"You should have been—" snapped Korra "—I don't know! You should have done something! Both of you!" She gave Asami an angry look; her apathy had started to annoy her. "It was your job to make Zuzhou our ally! And you screwed up! It's your fault!"

Tenzin rolled his eyes out. "Korra, it's not the time for—"

"No, let her finish!" It was Asami, her voice suddenly much stronger. "I want to hear it. Oh, wise Avatar Korra, c'mon; what would you do in my place? I'm all ears!"

"I didn't do anything wrong!"

"Oh, you never do anything wrong." Asami was becoming more and more furious. "Pardon me, I just forgot you're so perfect! You would never let anyone take anything from you, wouldn't you?"

Korra's eyes grew wider as she realized it was a pun about Amon taking her bending away.

"Girls, you should not—" The airbender tried to ease the situation, but without results.

"You crossed the line, doll!" snarled Korra.

"At least I'm not the one who steals other people's boyfriends!"

"Oh. That's where it hurts you! Poor you. Besides, Mako seems not to be the only one who chose something else over you, it occurs to me." The Avatar smirked. "Your father, for instance."

Asami's face instantly fell. Her eyes blurred with tears, and she stormed out of the office, slamming the door. Korra stood there for a few moments, silent and immobile, still staring at the place where Asami had been just a second before. Tenzin didn't comment the situation, and when the girl finally turned around, the airbender coughed awkwardly, twiddling his thumbs, and looked away. But when she indented to go outside with a fierce face, he stopped her. "You should still go congratulate Hiroshi," he said firmly.

"Don't tell me what to do," she grumbled.

Tenzin's beard shook once and twice with impatience, but he remained kind. "Your absence would be a clear sign you conceded."

"Fine!" she growled and went out. Hiroshi Sato awaited them in the conference room, as well as a bunch of journalists. Flashes were gleaming while the Avatar and the airbender were going along the red carpet. The final conference took place here, not in front of the City Hall with a large crowd watching; it was the only little victory Tenzin had managed to achieve in order to reduce significance of the event after Hiroshi had been appointed.

The new councilman waited for them at the lectern, smiling boldly. He and Tenzin shook hands, each one looking the other in the eye with no dread. They did not exchange a word. After that, Sato rushed forward to put his arm on Korra's shoulder, smiling at journalists. She winced, not managing to crack even a forced smile; Tarrlok had done the same last year when he'd had her join his task force. But Hiroshi had different purposes to act like this. He wanted to talk.

"If journalists weren't here," she whispered, when they posed for a photo, not letting him speak first, "I would burn that smile up out of your face."

"Don't think I'm afraid, Avatar. This time you can't just air-punch me like Amon to solve all your problems." Hiroshi's voice remained casual. "Is my daughter fine?"

Korra snorted. "Like you ever cared." But the mention of Asami's name made her feel ashamed.

She finally wrenched out of the arms of the snake, but the press had already had their new headline.

He still saw it in his mind's eye.

The monster made of shadows raised its head, leaving the body of an unconscious woman on the ground, and the man stiffened, absolutely terrified. He just came by, taking a casual walk as he always did in the evening, looking in the sky and counting stars, which shimmered brightly on the endless navy canvas of the universe. The bay was empty now and he had wanted to sit on the pier to watch how the dusky firmament reflected in the waters of the bay. He didn't expect to see what he had seen: a dark, slender creature, looking as it would have been kissing the woman who was scrambling desperately on the sidewalk. A few moments later her body started to ossify, and when she finally stopped moving, the monster's eyes — two small pale points in the skull surrounded by alive, moving shadows — both of them glowed suddenly, then.

Having seen this, he eventually found his tongue and squeaked like a little girl. The monster turned around slowly and glanced at him curiously. It raised up, releasing the woman, who fell on the heavy ground like a doll. The creature resembled a human, but it was much taller, its arms longer, reaching even below where knees should be, and all dark, almost black, beside eyes.

He stepped back, afraid as he had never been in his life before. A question dawned to him: what—what is this? The monster stayed still for a moment, so he stood petrified as well. Then it... sniffed. It sniffed and he suddenly felt that the beast knew all about his emotions, memories, fears, just like it could smell them. Soon after, it started snarling quietly and — and moved towards him. With every next step, he felt the monster could not only fell his thoughts, but somehow... intercept them, consume them... leaving him emptier. He strained to clench both fists. Breathe, he reminded himself. And strike. He managed to raise the left hand and, as the creature came closer, he shot a miserable blast of fire at it. The shot missed, but the deadly connection between him and the beast broke suddenly.

Struggling, he started to run.

After his feet had finally failed him, he stopped, feeling exhausted like he would have been escaping for hours. He looked around, but the beast was nowhere to be seen. I'm safe. I'm safe. I have to go home now. I'm safe. I have to rest. Strangely, it occurred to him that he didn't remember what his address was and where to go next. The only thing that had stuck in his mind was the memory of the monster, leaning towards that poor woman. And then he realized even more.

He had no idea who the hell he was.

Asami stormed off out of the City Hall.

Journalists were trying to run after her for a while, but they gave up soon, seeing she was not quite in a mood for an interview, and she was finally alone, alone with her own thoughts, starting to simmer down slowly. Emotions of grief, betrayal and bruised pride had made her leave Tenzin's office and that Avatar who had once claimed to be her friend, but with whom all the major failures in her life had been connected. My father, she began listing. Mako. And now the election. Her relationship with the firebender had been over for a few months now; she had thought that she didn't care anymore, but the recent disappointment was like a blast from the past, which triggered a vast of passions she couldn't really deal with. And Korra — Korra was in the centre of them all. She's stubborn, childish, stupid, blunt and—

And right. Yes, Korra got it right — and that had hurt her the most, not Mako, not even her father. It was Asami's job to persuade Zuzhou, Mohandas and the Council. And I screwed up. Tenzin might have wanted her to become a Councillor, but he wouldn't have done everything for her, would he? If she had really wanted the job, she should have been more persistent, more determined, more decisive. It had been a mistake to trust that Beiphan, too. I gave him the scheme for nothing. Asami had stolen the blueprint of her father's biplane after she, Bolin and General Iroh, that cutie, had broken free in the Equalists' airfield; it was Sato's technology and should belong to a Sato, she thought. But then she was forced to use it as a bargaining counter after the conversation with Zuzhou, which resulted as a miserable failure. Beiphan... you treacherous snake. You took it and you didn't do anything in return.

But hadn't it been her fault? She had wanted to be a politician so much that she hadn't even noticed when the atmosphere of plots, conspiracy and meally-mouthedness had eluded her. It was the chance to prove them that she wasn't a stupid babe and could take care of herself; that she wasn't given anything in her life; that she had the wit and the skill and the will and could be successful without her father's protection. To them... or to myself? Nonetheless, she failed to do so.

"You seem confused, girl."

Asami raised her head and realized that she had been going round in circles for the whole time; she was still near the City Hall, which had already emptied as the Council's show had finished. Mohandas stood in front of her, watching her carefully, his commoner's robe scraggly as always, his eyes perceptive like eagle's, and his hair short and receding. A pair of rounded glasses was lying on his hook nose.

"I don't," she replied bluntly. She didn't want to see any of these who had let her fail.

Mohandas snorted. "More fool you if you think so. Come. I have something to show you."

She was still sulking, yet a shiver of curiosity went down her neck. It occurred to her that she trusted Mohandas in a strange way. He had been the only one to be honest with her, though at the time she had considered it rudeness, not truth. Everyone, save for him, had lied to her or betrayed her. Intending not to show her excitement, she shrugged and followed him. They went through the Dragon Flats borough, Republic City's poorest district, using nearly the same path that Tenzin had once led her, and stopped at Mohandas' small house when the sun started to sink. They both stepped inside.

"You would have been naive, girl," Mohandas showed her a place to sit on at the edge of a bed, which was the only piece of furniture in the entire room, "if you had believed that the airbender would help you."

"He meant well," she answered hesitantly. "He wanted me to be in the Council."

"No, he didn't." Mohandas lied back on the floor unexpectedly and started to look for something under the bed. "You were only a part of his plan, and I don't think he had ever considered you anything more." His voice became muted as he had put his head beneath the bed. "He supported you, because that made it harder for me and Zuzhou to win this way. If one of us had wanted to do it, he would have needed Tenzin's vote, because otherwise we would have bogged down. You know yourself; the airbender controlled the Concil, Zuzhou had the Coal and Steel Community and the rest of votes belonged to me, but two-thirds of them were required to become the councillor. You were his bone of contention; he didn't need you to win — he wanted you to make us cooperate with him, because only then we would have depended on him while being in the Council." Mohandas paused. "I guess he wouldn't have minded if you had really won, though. Do you understand now?"

"Yes."

"Good. To be frank, you had no chance of winning and we all knew that. Oh, there it is—"

He pulled out a small box from underneath the bed and stood up. Asami glanced at it curiously; it was an old cylinder phonograph, the one she had noticed when she'd been here for the first time. Mohandas put it cautiously on the bedding and stroked the cover gently. Being a daughter of an inventor and an engineer, Asami knew that Mohandas' device was old as hell and certainly not high-quality; it used cylinder records instead of gramophone ones, which had triumphed in the market place to become the dominant commercial audio medium. The phonograph must have been surely ancient.

"I got rid of everything I had owned many years ago," he said. "Except of it."

He took a cylinder, put two fingers inside of it, trying not to touch the outer side which had contained the recording engraved on a tin foil, and placed it properly in the device.

"Canned music they call it," he laughed. "I call it magic."

And he started to spin the crank. Music began to play, crackling. It wasn't long; the cylinder could only store two minutes of it, but the delighted look on Mohandas' face, as he was chanting to the beat, made Asami smile for the very first time during that awful day.

"Oh, that lady had been a signer before you were even born," he said when the phonograph went silent. "I was in love with her, you know. Just like every other boy in Republic City back then."

Asami frowned. "How do you do it, Mohandas?"

"Well, I just put the cylinder here and later—"

"No." She grinned. "I meant politics. How do you understand Tenzin so well?"

He scowled. "They played on you, girl. Just give it up. I thought you understood that."

"How?"

The little man sighed. "I refuse to join their game, that's how. I know they would easily beat me: they're more experienced, tougher, stronger and they've got more resources. Hence I just sit back, observe, learn and draw conclusions. And then I use them. The only way to win an argument is to avoid it, girl; remember it. Somehow, everyone still wants me to play, thinking they can use me, even if they know that I won't obey their rules." He paused for a second; his fingers drummed on the cover of the phonograph. "That's why I abstained my vote in the election."

A silence fell after he explained that.

"I—I read an article about you in a newspaper a few days ago," she said, unexpectedly even for herself.

He glanced at her casually. "Really? And what did it say—?"

"That—" Asami suddenly blushed. "It said that you had been a lawyer once."

"It's true."

"And—and that you pleaded your own son's case one day."

"Oh." Mohandas sighed. "Yes. Yes, I did."

"The article stated that... that you had been so certain of his innocence... well, you did the research of the crime scene once again and investigated witnesses yourself, because you couldn't have believed that your own son would have done what they accused him for."

"I wasn't just certain," he corrected her. "I knew. I would have bet my life on it."

"And then you found an evidence everyone else had missed." She struggled to continue as she didn't know how he would react. His calmness intimidated her. "But it was an evidence of guilt. They said—they said you had turned him in. Your own son."

"The only thing I have ever believed," he said firmly, looking her straight in the eye, "is justice."

"At all costs?"

"At all costs."

Asami couldn't speak a word for a moment. "And that's how you—"

"—ended up here? Yes. You really think I could stand it? My wife, maybe; but me?"

"You did what you had believed was just," she automatically tried to comfort him.

"You misunderstood, girl." Mohandas' voice was as hard as never before. "I have never regretted turning my son in, even though my wife left me because of it. The thing I couldn't have stood was the fact that we had brought up a criminal. My son, my only son, my only legacy; and what legacy it was?" He snorted glumly. "That's why I sold everything I had and began my exile. I think of it as a compensation to the society."

They both went silent and it was quiet either inside and outside.

"You must now think of me as a horrible person," said Mohandas after a while. "Not a saint."

"Only a little bit," she replied. "But that's because of my own father." The little man laughed.

During the conversation with Mohandas, some new feelings had started to grow inside her. The story of the man who had sacrificed his entire life just to prove he was right seemed somewhat horrifying, but also inspiring at the same time. They were similar, it occurred to her. He had cursed his son to regain his honour and she had been forced to do just the opposite: reject her own father because of his crimes. Yet, Mohandas hadn't given up and neither should she. But she had to start playing by her own rules. Asami stood up.

"Are you going out already?" he asked, surprised.

"Yes. I must get even with some people."

Mohandas sighed, resigned. "You haven't understood a word of what I said, have you?"

"I understood it all." But she was sill moving towards the exit.

"Just don't do anything stupid, girl."

"After all you've told me?" Asami turned around and grinned lovely. "Of course I will."

"Can you even talk?"

Lin leaned on the backrest of the chair and looked the man, who was sitting at the another end of the table, straight in the eye, her voice determined and her pupils narrowed.

Having talked to the chief healer in the hospital, she went to the police headquarters immediately and commanded the archives department to research every case of any unconscious men found lying on the streets over the last few weeks. They should have also been diagnosed with a coma later, thus making the case closed without further investigation. And boy, they found a lot of 'em. Lin was furious. How the heck didn't anyone manage to connect the dots? Those seemed to be minor cases, yes, and there was no obvious criminal, but somebody should have... Another problem was, there had been no witnesses at all; every morning cops discovered more and more victims — more than five in last fourteen days — but no one saw anything during the night.

Except in one case.

An unconscious woman had been found on a street a week ago. There had been also a man lying nearby; officers called in the morning by a pedestrian considered him a victim, too. But when they tried to lift him, he opened his eyes and fell down; he had been only sleeping. Though the woman showed signs of the same illness as Bumi and others, the man appeared merely very pale and could not speak a single word; he was — or seemed — mute. No evidence was found on him, resulting in a quick release. Lin ordered to get him back to the headquarters immediately. Although they didn't know anything about him, it didn't take long; he was in the same place where they had found him before, homeless. Like he would have lost something there, Lin thought.

And so he was here, sitting in the chair in front of her, slim, indifferent and silent as heaven itself. The dark inside and steel, cold walls of the interrogation room didn't even appear to scare him, what made Lin quite annoyed; she lost the advantage of fear. Because when frightened, people talk.

"Did you see what happened to that woman?"

No answer.

"Did you do that to her?"

Just silence.

"Don't make me go hard on you, lad."

No effect at all.

"I have to know. Tell me."

He didn't present any emotion: he was neither scared not regretful, and certainly not involved in the questioning; he didn't move since an officer had put him in the chair. His face seemed dead, and Lin wasn't even sure if he knew that she was in the room too, because he hadn't showed it in any way. So she started asking the same questions again and again, reordering and reformulating sentences and trying to sound like a bad cop or a good cop alternately, but it all resulted in nothing.

"You are insane!" Or maybe I am?

Lin was slowly getting out of options. Every officer knew the "don't say anything and let the witness talk" trick, but this time the witness seemed to use it on her. The thought that the whole thing could be just her fate, a coincidence in which no one really attacked Bumi, though unbearable, started seeming irrevocable to her. And she couldn't agree to it.

"Listen." Lin leaned towards him and seized his jaw — her grip strong, her face full of desperation — to make him look her in the eye. "I don't know you and you don't know me. I have no idea what happened to you, but I want to help. Do you understand? Just tell me. If you were hurt, I want to help you or avenge you, buddy, if it won't be possible to aid you... and others. You are my only hope and I am yours, you got that?" She paused. "Someone I've known was hurt too, just like you."

He shivered. Lin's pupils grew wide when she saw that; she felt hope.

"It happened during the night," she went on.

The man's face twitched.

"In a narrow alley, darkness everywhere."

Fear started to accumulate in his eyes.

"Shadows around."

His fists clenched uncontrollably and he stiffened.

"Did the same happen to you?"

A groan. He's in pain, Lin realized. I make him suffer. But she had to continue no matter what.

"Did someone attack you?"

He shook his head. No... no... it can't be, you must have been attacked! I don't—

But then suddenly a strange thought came to her. "Did something attack you?"

A nod. He nodded — and seemed like he would die of fear any second now. But she had her testimony, her evidence. A feeling of relief exploded inside her: she had a purpose now; she could still find a way to save Bumi and she wasn't wrong about the whole case. Lin rapidly released the man's jaw — he fell on the table and got limp — and turned around, heading for the door. But then she stopped, and glanced at the mute again. Maybe I pushed him too hard.

"I'm going to make it up to you, buddy," she whispered. "I'm going to stop this. No one will every take anything more from me, you or anyone else. No one. Do you hear me?"

The man started to weep like a little child. He didn't seem to really understand her or listen to what she had said; he just cracked up. He — or that what had remained of him. And perhaps for the first time in her life, Lin Beifong didn't know what else to say.

Bolin clenched his fingers angrily on the stern of the boat.

He had to stare at the harbour, even though they were heading for Air Temple Island. He knew that Mako had been somewhere behind him, just as angry as he was, and he didn't want to talk to his brother anymore, not even look at him. It was falling dark slowly; Yue Bay started empting and they'd caught one of the last ferries to the island. But they both had been so furious that they hadn't even stopped to consider how they would return to the city later. Back then, it didn't really matter as they wanted to get there as soon as possible. Besides, it'd been quite hard to think it through while shouting fiercely at each other. Bolin calmed down after the boat had put off, though, and since he had nothing better else to do than to gawk at the shore, he yet again relived all the events that had happened during the last few hours. And it was a lot of 'em, that's for sure.

First, he had attempted the new Athletics' practice. He wanted to do it since Mako had started to act like a jerk and drive him plain crazy with that whole "grow up, bro" talk. It was also why Bolin didn't tell him anything about Faan's offer, even though there had been one. He still didn't know if he really might leave the Fire Ferrets, but he was curious and eventually came to a conclusion that it would make no harm to simply train with Faan's team once or twice. So, he went to the gym where he knew Athletics had practiced, met the ol' Dou there and asked if he could join for a few sessions. Of course, Faan gladly accepted; he quickly started to introduce Bolin to the rest of the franchise.

It was great, thought Bolin, looking at the waves, which foamed restlessly while hitting the boat. That's how an organisation should look like.

The Athletics hadn't rent the gym; it was their own. Moreover, Faan told him in secret that the chairman planned to build their own stadium in future, too. The coaching staff were there just to teach players tactics or improve their technique, and in case you suffered from pain or cramps, at least three physios awaited you in the locker room before and after every practice to make you feel comfortable again. The A's waterbender had been bought from some team in the Earth Kingdom; even the firebender, though temporary, was still being paid for training with them. "She's good," Faan told Bolin. "But nothin' like your brother." The earthbender coughed awkwardly; he hadn't told him about Mako's attitude yet.

The practice turned out to be fantastic as well. They had begun with a quick warm-up and then two-minute-long shadow fighting. Nervous, Bolin felt somewhat uptight at first, his fists unusually heavy and his feet not so very mobile, but the feeling disappeared as soon as he had thrown a few punches into the training net and exchanged some jests with new team mates. By the time the Athletics were to start a friendly with a minor team that Bolin didn't recall, he was as sharp as ever before. Everyone proceed to the training arena and soon two teams of three stood in front of each other, waiting for the referee to blow the first whistle. And when that had been done, a bending hell began.

Bolin was very cautious at the opening of the match; he didn't want to disappoint Faan through a stupid mistake. He stayed light on his feet when the enemy waterbender threw a lash of water at his head, dodging a fire punch and instantly going into a counterattack with a flowing half-turn kick. He ducked and saw an opening when the Athletics' firebender sent a quick one-two combo at the opposing counterpart. Bolin broke the guard for a second, twisted his body, and unleashed a strong left hook, sitting on the punch as hard as he could and twirling the disc anticlockwise into a low attack into the opponent's legs. The shot hit the target and made her lose her stance.

But Bolin couldn't triumph just yet; the other earthbender tried to take advantage of the Fire Ferret's heavy stance punching a disc himself. Bolin dodged at once; the attack missed his chest and the solar plexus. But there was another earth coin in the air immediately, now aiming to his legs. He reacted by reflex. First, he lifted up his own disc to use it as a counterpunch and block the strike. After rocks had smashed into each other, he shifted weight to the right foot and, having used the momentum, struck a massive jab on his own. That gave him a moment — a second, maybe two — to rest and control the pulse. He was kinda surprised by the fact that it was still rather slow and steady.

The firebender he had stricken before had already been down and out, and the rest of his team was taking care of the waterbender. The earthbender was now Bolin's to deal with; they both knew it. The one on one duel, and the same element on each side. I hope you watch it, Faan, and that you'll enjoy the show. Bolin smiled to his thoughts, seeing his opponent dance sharp and ready at the left edge of the ring. Surprisingly, he returned the smile. That's the spirit.

Bolin lowered his guard intentionally and shortened the distance a little. The enemy took the feint soon after, trying to make use of the opening; minding to hit the shoulder, he shot a straight left punch so blistering that the edges of the disc seemed to fade — but Bolin was even quicker. He moved his head left, attempting to avoid the attack, leaned over, made a step forward and counterattacked. He did a left jab on his own, his right foot moving towards the enemy and his left foot lifting up quickly to follow the other, and then sent a disc with a power left jab, twisting hips to the right to make it even stronger. The opponent made a block, but his stance staggered. Bolin decided to build on that.

He attempted another combo — the left jab, left jab — and made him step back again, while continuing to advance himself. And when the enemy smashed a few other discs sent exactly the same way, Bolin used a short left straight once more, but this time the second shot was to be a left hook aiming at the liver. The opponent managed to destroy the first earth coin, but failed to predict the second and soon he had to kiss the canvas of the training arena. He had been knocked out.

"You did great," Faan praised Bolin later when he was about to leave. "Damn, I want you even more now, boy. Soon, it'll make my wife jealous!" And they both laughed. After that Bolin went out of the gym. Mako needs to hear about this! Just after he had thought so, his enthusiasm seemed to rise momentarily. I'll persuade him, sure I will! Man, that was a pro-bending heaven!

But then his brother appeared out of nowhere exactly in front of him.

"Whatcha doing here, Bolin?" he asked, making Bolin, who was still deep in thought, nearly trip.

"Oh... it's you... I didn't expect you here, bro..." Bolin seemed a little confused.

Mako frowned. "I asked what you're doing here. It's Dou's gym, Bolin, and I know it."

"I could ask you the same question, bro. Are you spyin' on me or what?"

"Maybe I should." Mako's voice was cold as steel. "I told you to stay away from this."

"But I can assure you that's—" Bolin, though annoyed, still wanted to tell Mako how cool the practice went, but his brother interrupted him at once.

"Oh, c'mon, Bolin! Get real! Do you even listen to me?"

"That's it!" Bolin unleashed all the doubts that had gnawed him. He'd wanted to be a good brother, he really had, but it just didn't work out. "If you don't want to do it, that's fine! But I do! I DO! You got it, bro? Or do I need to spell it for you?"

"The only thing I want is what's the best for both of us, and you know it!"

"No, it looks like you're forcing me to do what you want to do, because you're plainly selfish!"

"Selfish? I just don't want to break my future, because I've worked hard to have one! FOR BOTH OF US! And by the way, I'm not the one who sneaks up here alone and trains with another team!"

"I didn't sneak up!" Bolin's eyes narrowed. "You know what, Mako? Just bugger off!"

Mako tried to be reasonable, but it was quite hard to do when he yelled. "Think of Korra, Bolin! You want to let her down just like that?"

"Oh, is that so? You seem to know what she thinks so well, bro, just like you know what I should think! Maybe we'll ask her, huh? Or you don't need to, because you're the wise Mako and you know everything?"

"No, we'll ask her, because you're Bolin the idiot and you act like a little boy!"

And so they went on, yelling, arguing and fighting, at least to the time when they found a ferry and set sail. Mako sat on one end of the deck, Bolin on another, and though the boat wasn't very long, they both kept silent bitterly, so the only sounds around were continuous swashes of Yue Bay's waters and a loud, lewd chant by the flattening captain. Both brothers had already calmed down, Bolin was sure, but it didn't make them any less resentful. The earthbender could only guess what thoughts came to Mako and wonder if they were similar or reverse to his own. Korra would love the idea, he was certain. And Mako... Mako can kiss my butt. If he doesn't want to do it, I won't force him. And there went Bolin's dream about both of the fabulous bending brothers playing in the Athletics team. Fann just would have to find another firebender. And the Fire Ferrets... well...

But it was all up to Korra right now. And she will agree to join, I know it.

Soon after, the boat finally set ashore and they went straight to Korra, who was doing a little practice in front of the temple at the time. The Avatar immediately knew that something wasn't right; she could tell it by their combative looks and fierce faces. Mako didn't want to say anything and just shrugged when she had given him a questioning look, so Bolin had to start the story. It took a while to explain; before long, the sun set completely, and somebody turned on the light in the temple, but the three stayed outside and discussed.

"To sum up," said Korra when he'd finished, "you basically want me to chose one of you over another?"

"No!" both brothers exclaimed at once. Bolin coughed awkwardly; Mako looked away.

"But it seems so."

Bolin flushed. "I—I just thought you'll want to join...."

"I won't." Her voice was resolute.

Mako seemed surprised, but also relieved at the same time. "You stay in the Fire Ferrets, then?"

"No." Korra rolled her eyes out. "I don't."

"How then—?"

"It's easy, chumps. Since both of you don't know what you want, I'll stay unbiased. I'm sorry, but you'll have to settle this yourselves."

"So you'll let him do it?" Mako sounded angry.

"Yes, I will. As well as I'll let you."

Mako snorted bitterly. Oh, poor Mako, thought Bolin with glee. He might easily picture how his brother felt right now: betrayed. He'd believed that Korra would have supported him as much as Bolin had, yet she'd refused them both and not only denied to join Athletics, but also to stay with Mako, her boyfriend, in the Ferrets — and it was his older brother who felt much worse after that. Bolin had heard about their argument before and knew that they hadn't worked it out since then. Oh, well, bro, you just have to accept that other people have opinions too. But Mako had always found it hard to do so, and Bolin knew that. He had never decided about anything in his whole life. But... have I ever really wanted to...? He neglected that thought. Mako wouldn't let me anyway.

"I just don't understand." Mako frowned. "Both of you."

Korra was preparing an answer — a mocking one, certainly — when all three of them heard other two voices coming from the temple and soon, a door opened nearby; it was Tenzin, who went out first, but then Lin Beifong left the hallway too. They were talking quietly, and stopped suddenly after they'd noticed Bolin, Mako and Korra beside. Tenzin sighed, his eyes visibly tired as he greeted them.

"Lin," the airbender said, "I believe we are obliged to inform the Avatar as well."

"To inform about what—?" Korra asked.

The metalbender glanced at her. "You heard what had happened to Bumi..."

"Bumi?" Bolin seemed not to understand. "Commander Bumi? I haven't hear anything."

Mako neither, but he won't admit that, of course. His brother didn't appear to care at all, his face indifferent and cold as always when he had been mad at someone.

Korra nodded. "Yes. He fell into a coma yesterday. He's ill."

"Not quite." Lin made a grimace. "I think... no, I know he might have been attacked."

The Avatar's eyes grew wider, her voice full of disbelief. "By who?"

"Not who," Tenzin corrected calmly, "but what."

"There've been a lot of similar cases lately, it turned out. And I've got a testimony that it's not coincidental." Lin's words sounded hard and determined. "Tenzin, on behalf of the Council, allowed the police to officially start the investigation just a few minutes ago. Everything we know is that all the attacks took place during the night and all of them resulted in victim falling into a coma."

Bolin completely forgot about his own problems. "Chief, what's your plan?"

"It's simple," explained the airbender. "The police arranges a provocation."

Lin Beifong nodded. "But we need someone to be a bait and wander around the city in the evening; we have no other clues. And that someone will need to be able to protect themselves if the whole thing goes terribly wrong."

"I can do it," Korra suggested quickly. Bolin gazed at her, a little worried.

"No," denied Tenzin before the earthbender could have said anything. "You cannot. I have promised everyone that no harm would be done to you and as the Avatar, you are too valuable to the world, Korra. Someone else needs to do it. Not you."

"I can defend myself!"

"As could my brother." Tenzin's voice faltered a little. "But now he lies in the temple as he would be dead. Please, understand."

"But I'm the Avatar!"

"My decision is final. I won't los—I just won't let you do it."

"Do you have any volunteers, Chief?" asked Bolin, after Korra had made a miserable impression.

"Yes," a voice behind them replied firmly. "I believe she has."

It was Asami. How did she get here? She looked beautiful as always, her hair long and raven-black, her jacket emphasising her perfect figure. Though, Bolin noticed with surprise that her cheeks were more pale than he had remembered. Also her eyebrows and lips appeared more drawn. But nonetheless, her appearance was still at least amazing. Maybe it makes her even prettier, he pondered. Bolin hadn't seen her for ages as the Team Avatar didn't spend so much time together after Amon had been defeated; everyone had their own duties now. He wondered for a while if she had recovered after her father's treason. Treason? He tried to kill her. It had been Bolin who had comforted her at the Equalists' airport back then. He still remembered her smile when she had thanked him for saving her life in the battle when he had thrown those boulders at Hiroshi. It had made him feel warm deep inside his stomach, and thought he didn't expect that, he experienced that feeling again after he saw her.

However, he noticed that Korra had looked away when she saw Asami, and Mako also didn't want to look her in the eye. Perhaps he thinks he should have stayed with her?

"Asami." Tenzin seemed worried. "Do you really want to do it? After—"

"Yes," she interrupted him decisively. "Yes, I do. I can handle myself."

"And she won't be alone." Bolin surprised himself to say that. Am I really doing this? "Count me in, too. Let's see if that thing can swallow a pro-bender as well."

"Bolin!" Mako opened his mouth for the first time since Tenzin and Lin had come here. Did he decide to overcome his pride? "Bolin, don't do it! I know you want to get back on me, but—"

Bolin burst into a short ironic laughter. "Yup. It's always about you, bro, isn't it?"

"I don't care about who it is." Lin frowned, making Mako fail to answer. "If you volunteer, I'll take you. Both, to be sure that it doesn't matter if the victim is a bender or not. I want to see you tomorrow in the headquarters after the dusk."

"Yes, sir!" Bolin grinned and then winked at Asami, who smiled slightly, too. He felt his stomach moving once more; even Mako's hateful look and Korra's miserable face couldn't change that — he felt plainly happy and excited. He was the only one, though.

Pema smiled softly when Tenzin had entered the bedroom. Silent, he undressed himself, put the airbender robe in the wardrobe, glanced at Rohan sleeping in the crib in the corner of the room and sat heavily on the edge of the bed, sighing and burying his face in his hands. Pema, her eyes worried but full of warmth, threw off the featherbed and moved closer. She took his hands subtly and placed them inside of hers. She did not ask; she did not comment. The only thing she had to know was that he needed her, and there she was, just for him. The day had been rough for both of them: first, Bumi, then the election, and then kids' argument, which she had overheard from the bedroom...

She kissed him in the cheek. "Honey..."

"I'm just tired." He looked away. "The world's gone crazy, and I'm just really, really tired..."

Episodes

The Backstage

Do you want to know how I write Phantoms? If you like the fanon, you might want to check my blog out. With every new episode, I write a post about my writing techniques and a lot of backstage decisions I had to make. I believe you'll like it!

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For the collective works of the author, go here.

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