|More from Kugumi||Romance, Drama||PG-13||Positive||No update page|
|Art by teaat2am|
Arc 1: Air
March 29th, 2013
Within each soul is a will to strive for acceptance.
Korra was bored. It had been a little over a week since she had married the councilman, and she had to admit that she was starting to feel a little homesick. She hadn't really left Tarrlok's estate since she first arrived, except to feed Naga. Maybe she could speak with Tarrlok about it. Korra laughed aloud like that was some sort of joke. She couldn't talk about something like that with Tarrlok—it was Tarrlok for crying out loud. Still, he was her husband, and Korra knew that the key to any good relationship was to be open and honest.
She stood outside the sliding mahogany doors of the study for a moment. Maybe this was a bad idea. She cast that thought aside. Even if it was a bad idea, she still had to do this. Korra threw open the sliding doors and strutted into the quiet study where Tarrlok was busy attending a mountain of overdue paperwork for the council. He didn't spare her a single glance, not even when she was right in front of his desk.
"You and I need to talk."
Those eerie words, that same demanding tone—he remembered all too clearly the events that had occurred in his council office a year ago. That fight was forever embedded in his mind, and as much regret as he felt from it, he knew he would never be free from that scene. It had been the one time he could remember being truly afraid, but he refused to fear his temperamental Avatar wife; Tarrlok would not make the same mistakes twice.
"After I finish this."
Korra's brow furrowed. That response was unacceptable. Tarrlok was the one who said he wanted to marry her, whether it was because she was the Avatar or whatever, all Korra knew was he ought to know better than to keep her waiting—she wasn't especially talented with the art of patience. Korra blasted a whirlwind at the neat stacks of paper on her husband's desk, sending parchment flying all over the room. The expression of surprise and shock on his face made her want to laugh, but she refrained from doing so in order to make her point.
The Avatar crossed her arms over her robust bosom. "Now."
Still recovering from the tornado that just hit his favorite room in the mansion, Tarrlok attempted to maintain a careful level of decorum. He tried to think of what could be so important that Korra wanted to talk about it right this instant—even going so far as to airbend his work away from him! That smug smirk crept over his face as he set down his quill. "You certainly have a way of getting a man's attention, Dearest."
The sound of that word rolling off his tongue, the emphasis on it and the knowledge that he was referring to her: the very thought was enough to make her ill. The only time Korra could remember Tarrlok being sincere was when Amon had captured him and taken his bending. He was humbled more-so now by his ruined appearance, but Tarrlok had still managed to return to his old shenanigans. She watched him lean back in his comfy chair. "Well?" His words were careful and precise, "what is it we need to talk about?"
"I'm tired of being locked away as your little housewife. I'm the Avatar! I should be out there helping people! And I need more than just the servants to talk to," her hands flailed wildly around her as she expressed her frustrations to him, "and you've not been anywhere! It's unfair that you want to keep me trapped here like a prisoner while you do whatever scheming nonsense you're up to!"
Korra never ceased to amused him—and for as scary as her fury could be, he was actually rather fond of her temper. Tarrlok listened intently as she continued to verbally abuse him for his lackluster performance on various issues, including—but not limited to: his knack for ignoring the values of punctuality, the amount of delicate mirrors and exquisite portraits of himself hung all over the walls of "their" mansion, and how uninvolved he was when it came to his responsibilities over the household servants. "I mean, Nagi is the only one doing anything around here, but we're paying dozens of servants? For what? I thought you were supposed to be Mr. Efficiency! Why should we—"
"Korra, please, restrain your tongue," he interrupted with a quick glance at his new engagement necklace tied around Korra's neck. Tarrlok sighed and started again, "I admit that married life will take some getting used to—on both of our parts. Married, however, is not a word to be used synonymously with imprisoned or enslaved. You are my wife, and as such you are free to do whatever you'd like. Take down the mirrors, rewrite the payroll, have dinner without me; though you have never struck me as a woman whose ambitions were limited to those of an estate governess." He left a light pause for dramatic effect, "I, in fact, think it would be a splendid change of pace for you to spend some time with your friends."
"Tch," She scoffed, "but only if I see them here, right?"
"On the contrary. As I said, I'm not forcing you to stay here. Your friends are, of course, always welcomed guests, but that does not mean you can not leave the premises." The deep rumble of a mirthless chuckle came from the back of his throat as he reached for one of the scattered papers on the floor, "Really, Korra, you think so little of me."
"Can you blame me?" She replied defensively as she turned on her heel and slid the study doors closed behind her, leaving a slightly irritated Tarrlok to clean up the mess she had created.
Korra shrugged to herself and started down the hall. That went pretty well, she thought. She began mentally planning what she was going to do today. First on the list was a trip to Narook's Seaweed Noodlery. Her stomach growled just thinking about that good ol' fashioned Water Tribe food. Maybe she could invite Bolin along? Korra paused her thoughts. Scratch that, the probending tournament was scheduled to start this weekend. Bolin was probably busy trying to train those new team mates he had been telling her about a couple weeks ago. From the sound of it, they needed all the help they could get. Korra supposed she could call Tahno. He was always up for authentic tribesmen dishes—of course the last time they went to Narook's together all he could talk about were the new tacky drapes the owner had insisted on putting up all over the restaurant.
The Avatar knew one of the estate phones would be setting on the first table in the foyer beside that ancient grandfather clock Tarrlok liked so much. In Korra's opinion that clock was just a piece of junk; there were scratches on it, chewed up corners, one of the hands was bent out of place—how could anyone even use that old thing to tell time? She ignored the tall piece of beat-up furniture and reached for the rotary to dial Tahno's number. After dialing the first couple of numbers, Korra suddenly changed her mind and quickly hung up the receiver. The person she really wanted to talk with was Mako, but Korra knew she couldn't call him. She didn't know what to say—what she could say. It felt like he had abandoned her, though Korra was sure her boyfriend would likely say the same of her.
Korra frowned, mentally correcting herself. Ex-boyfriend.
Her brow furrowed and she ripped the receiver off the hook and placed it to her ear. Her fingers rapidly spun around the rotary and the voice on the other end was much needed relief, "Hello? Future Industries, President Asami Sato speaking."
"Korra? I thought you were..." her thought seemed to trail off, "nevermind. You actually caught me just before I was getting ready to ship out an order."
Korra felt a sinking feeling in her stomach. She had really hoped that she would be able to spend some time with her closest friend—her closest friend who was a girl, anyway. "Oh. Well... don't worry about it. I don't want to keep you from your business. I know how important that is." Korra wore a sad smile, she really did understand and she didn't want to get between Asami and her work.
There was a long silence on the other end of the phone, and for a moment, Korra had thought that Asami had been disconnected. Just to make sure, she said her friend's name into the phone, relieved when she got a response.
"You know what? My work can wait. How about you and I head over to Narook's, my treat?" Asami wasn't a fan of Water Tribe food, but she knew that Narook's Seaweed Noodlery was Korra's favorite restaurant in Republic City—and judging by the tone of Korra's voice, it sounded like she needed a pick-me-up.
The Avatar hadn't been expecting that. Especially since she knew that Asami had a sincere dislike for Water Tribe gourmet. "Uh, are you... sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure! I'll just wrap things up here, call Mako and the others, and we can—"
"No!" It had been an involuntary reaction. Korra hadn't meant to shoot down Asami's idea so vehemently, but she only wanted Asami's company right now. "I mean, uh," Korra sighed, "Look, I really just don't want to see Mako right now. Things are a little... weird between us."
There was a light pause on the other end. "I think I understand. Let me finish up here and I'll meet you at Narook's and we can talk more then, okay?"
"Sounds good, I'll see you there," Korra waited a moment for Asami to say goodbye before she ended the call.
It didn't take Korra long to push her way past the doormen, dash across the east side of the estate, saddle up Naga, and ride out to Narook's. After instructing Naga to stay put outside the restaurant, Korra confidently strode into the establishment, surprised to find that Asami was already waiting with a table. The two friends quickly greeted each other and Korra flopped into the chair across from the president of Future Industries. A portly waiter hurried over to them and took their order before scooting away to the kitchen with the intent of delivering it to the chefs.
Asami opened up the conversation by complaining about how tough her work days have been. Day in and day out, order after order, "It's tiresome work! I don't know how my father was able to do it for so many years!" she joked with a light chuckle.
"How is Hiroshi these days?" Korra tentatively asked, knowing the subject was still a bit touchy.
Miss Sato sighed. "Well, he's doing all right, I think. I went to visit him at the prison a few days ago. He just seems to be getting more and more distant. I tried to tell him about the latest happenings at Future Industries to see if it would get a response out of him, but it was no-good. "
Two bowls of sizzling hot noodles were set in front of them and Korra immediately started wolfing hers down—man, she missed this flavor! With a mouthful of noodles, she inquired, "Oh yeah, so what is the latest and greatest at Future Industries?"
The heiress laughed. Asami had told Korra more than once that she couldn't divulge information to her friends for fear of industry secrets floating around to her competitors. That wasn't to say that she didn't trust her friends with secrets—except for Bolin: she was well-aware that she couldn't tell him anything unless she wanted the whole city to find out. Asami simply couldn't trust whoever else might be listening in on her conversations at any given point, but there were still a few things she didn't mind sharing. "I can say that we've been getting more and more orders from the United Forces. General Iroh has been on the phone with me non-stop."
Korra snickered. "Asami, I think he likes you."
She didn't have anything to say to that and chose to allow the comment to go without a response. "Hm. Speaking of people who like each other, what's up with this weirdness between you and Mako?" She took a delicate bite of noodles with her chopsticks.
"Ugh. Do we really have to talk about Mako?"
"Um, yeah! So, tell me what the problem is."
Korra groaned. She really didn't want to talk about Mako with his other ex-girlfriend, for fear that things might get awkward. On the other hand, Korra couldn't think of anyone who could understand her feelings better than Asami, which meant that the conversation would be inevitable. "Okay. You know Mako and I had a decent run, right? I mean, we were going out for a year and then this Water Tribe-thing came up and I sort of got torn out of my relationship with him. I still like him—a lot—but I'm married now. Ugh. And to Tarrlok, of all people. It's just—" Korra paused, pushing her bangs back with a frustrated grunt, "just irritating that he hasn't tried at all to understand what's going on! I mean, he's barely talked with me since I made that stupid alliance!"
"He has a right to be a little upset, Korra," Asami preached, "You did decide the fate of your relationship without consulting him about how the treaty could affect it."
"But it's kind of a given! I love Mako, really! But I don't want to be unfaithful now that I'm married to," she shuddered slightly, "Tarrlok."
The long curls of Asami's hair swayed from side to side. "No. You have to stop thinking like that. You will never be faithful to Tarrlok so long as you keep reflecting on those feelings that you have for Mako. And you're the Avatar: you did what you had to in order to keep peace in the world. Now you need to focus on bringing peace to yourself."
Korra's face dropped onto the table with a loud thud that made all the other customers in the restaurant jump. She couldn't deny the wisdom of Asami's advice; the girl was like a personal sage. Korra groaned again and exhaled a heavy breath. "Well, go with my blessing then. Have lots of nice babies with him. If you could name one Banchuko for me, I'd appreciate it."
Asami's loud voice echoed off the walls of Narook's as she laughed rather unlady-like. "Hahaha! What are you talking about Korra?"
"I'm giving you the thumbs-up to date Mako." Korra looked up at Asami's scrunched up nose, "Don't give me that look! I know you still like him."
She frowned. "Yeah, I do, but that will never change the fact that he loves you first and me second. I don't want to be number two. I want to be number one. And I don't have that with Mako."
"Oh, Asami, I didn't realize that you felt—"
"It's alright. They say there's someone out there for everyone! Even Bolin!"
The cheerful atmosphere was restored as Korra insisted that Asami share the details that she knew about Bolin's love life. Apparently there wasn't much to go on other than rumors. No one had really heard anything about it and Bolin was keeping his romantic interests under a tight lock and key at the moment. Korra bet Asami three hundred yuans that Bolin wouldn't last three weeks without spilling the secret-girl's name. The girls stood from their seats and Asami took care of the bill. Korra helped her put on her over coat and they walked out of the restaurant together. Korra mounted the saddle atop her transportation and Asami smiled up at her. "Just think about what I said, okay? Love is a difficult emotion. If you give it some time I think things could even work out with Tarrlok." She shrugged, "Something has to be said for a guy that spoils his lady with fine jewelry—even if it is an engagement necklace."
The Avatar pushed her chin down to try and see her necklace, before discovering that success would be impossible while she was still wearing the handsome decoration. Korra had thought that Asami hadn't noticed it, but apparently she had. Korra wasn't exactly the best judge of expensive jewelry, but if Asami thought that the blue crescent and waves carving around her neck was to be considered "fine" that it must be a highly sought after ornament. "I'll think about it. Thanks again, Asami!" Korra called behind her as Naga raced across the streets.
The sun was hanging low in the sky when Naga had finally returned her safely to the estate. Korra led Naga to the place that had been deemed her tack area and began dismantling the complex saddle from Naga's back. Korra heaved the heavy leather and metal over Naga's shoulders and hung it on a rung in the tack room. She then grabbed a brush and brought Naga to the largest space within the structure. Naga rolled over the hay-coated ground with a loud breath of relief and Korra sat cross-legged beside her.
Korra sighed, brushing out the fur on Naga's belly in her personal stable-sized-doghouse. Workers had begun renovating one of the larger sheds on Tarrlok's property last week when Korra and Naga had officially moved in, but as diligent a workforce as the contractors were, the construction wasn't quite complete yet. That was all right with Korra, though; she didn't mind a little background noise. Drills, hammers and nails, firebending welders, metalbending workers, Korra liked the sounds of activity, even when the sun was slowly disappearing over the horizon into quieter hours.
Naga kicked her back leg as the tines of the brush passed over a ticklish spot. Korra smiled. The small action reminded her of when her animal companion had been a polar bear puppy. As adults, polar bear dogs were often hunted for their beautiful pelts, and were regarded as highly territorial and dangerous. Korra had never revealed to anyone how she had become the first person to ever domesticate one of the stunning creatures. The Avatar brushed over Naga's tickle-spot again and she heard Naga's tail happily thumping against the ground. Korra laughed. She couldn't imagine what would have separated Naga from her mother as a pup, but the pet had brought nothing but absolute joy to Korra's life.
She remembered an outing with her father when she was six—one that she had begged to join him on, even though girls were expected to take care of the home. In the middle of one of the worst blizzards to ever stretch across the South Pole, Korra had wandered away from their encampment following the sounds of a whimpering animal. Korra had thought she would find an injured turtle seal or a trapped penguin, but instead a shivering polar bear puppy was crying for help in the snow. Not realizing the potential danger, Korra rescued the puppy—who, at the time, was roughly the same size as she was—and dragged it all the way back to the campsite where her frantic father was busy readying a search party. Her father was angry, relieved and—dare she recall—a little proud to see an unharmed Korra stumble back into the campsite with the puppy in tow. And all she asked her father was if she could keep 'Naga'. Korra supposed she was lucky her father had said 'yes' after she had put him through all that stress.
Korra laughed aloud at the memory before affectionately rolling Naga over. In rough housing with her giant pet, Korra didn't hear the footsteps or notice the long shadow of the tall man entering the impressive, half-finished doghouse.
"What are you doing out here?" Tarrlok asked, apologizing for startling her as he continued, "you realize you are in the middle of a construction zone."
"I'm aware," she replied coolly, hoping that he would leave her alone, "You did say that, as your wife, I'm free to do as I like."
He shifted his weight, slightly uncomfortable with the loyal polar bear dog at Korra's side. Tarrlok should have expected that Korra would find a way to use those words from their earlier conversation against him, but he really didn't want to deal with her attitude right now. He hesitated with his first word, trying to think up a suitable retort. "Yes, I did say that," there was no shame in assenting to words that were fact, "I would not have thought that hiding away in a danger zone would have been what you chose to do with such power. Your choices are your own however, and I digress. I actually need to speak with you about something important for a change."
"For a change?" Korra could feel her anger bubbling to the surface, "Are you suggesting that everything I've said up to this point hasn't been important!"
Tarrlok's sharp-edged eyebrow—only one survived from the explosion he initiated the previous year—bent low over his left eye. This wasn't about money or politics; this was something that hit a lot closer to home. "It's about your father, Chief Tonraq."
Korra silenced herself at the mention of her father's name. The most horrible of situations flooded her mind and she prayed inwardly to the spirits that there was nothing wrong with her father. Korra waited quietly and anxiously for Tarrlok to continue. "There has been some civil unrest in the Northern Water Tribe that has not escaped my notice." Good, he had grasped her full attention, "Even though we've only been married for a week, I think it is imperative that I earn your father's blessing. Not just for the Water Tribes, but for us, too. A marriage simply doesn't exist without approval and support from both families."
Was he serious? He certainly looked serious, and he had said all of that with a straight face—but Korra knew Tarrlok had a great poker face, having been duped by it a number of times. This topic, however, was vital to her as well. She greatly respected her father's judgement, and if a scumbag like Tarrlok could somehow finagle a way to earn Tonraq's blessing then maybe Korra could give this marriage-thing the chance that it deserved—maybe. "Wait, both families?" Korra asked with wide, curious blue eyes.
Tarrlok smiled, "Yes, I was rather optimistic that you would spend some time with my mother since we would be making the trip up to the Northern Tribe."
She couldn't say no to that. Korra was actually very curious about Tarrlok's mother. Maybe while she was there Korra could figure out more of Tarrlok's background. Korra didn't want to seem over-zealous about this great opportunity, though. She narrowed her eyes at the councilman. "Fine."
He said a few more things that Korra tuned-out and turned to leave the messy construction site. Korra bit her lip and called out his name. A confused Tarrlok faced her once more, but her expression had softened. "If we're going to make this," she gestured toward her engagement necklace, "work, you know you're going to have to be more than just my husband."
This was a new side of Korra that Tarrlok was getting a glimpse of. He wanted to assure her that his intentions for their marriage would not tarnish them, but he couldn't. He was a tainted man, and he understood more than anyone how much he had to lose if this didn't work out—and how much he could gain if it did. He only bowed to her and bid her a goodnight before turning to leave once more. Tarrlok knew that a single grain of sand could tip this scale that he and Korra were teetering on the edge of. He didn't want to change his ways, as he was quite set in them:
But for her, the Avatar, he would try.
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