Memories of Regret
Capital City, Fire Nation, seven years ago…
“The question, my son, is ‘Why?’” his father said.
Izin hadn’t been able to hold his father’s gaze as he spoke. He’d never seen so much disappointment in it before. He’d seen a lot of disappointment from his father over the past years, but not like this. His father had always held out a sliver of hope that Izin’s bending abilities might develop later on, just as they did for Fire Lord Zuko. But now, on Izin’s 16th birthday, even that sliver of hope had been crushed.
Izin shook his head. “I don’t know, father. But Sage Tonnu says-”
“Do you think I don’t know!?” his father snapped. Izin’s eyes shot up, meeting his father’s gaze. “‘A paradox is just the truth standing on its head to call attention to itself,’ right? He’s told me that a thousand times as well. Fine. You want to turn this on its head and search for truth? Then let’s do it. Sit.”
Izin nervously obeyed his father. He took a seat near his father’s desk. He didn’t speak a word. Saying anything right now could only make things worse. He had to wait until the right moment before he spoke; otherwise, his words would be wasted.
“Let’s start with a few known truths,” his father said. He pushed himself up from his desk, towering over Izin now. “First: Whenever two benders of the same element have a child, that child will have the ability to bend that element. They may not be very good at it, they may not develop it until their early teens, and they may require much practice to master it, but they will be able to do it. I have heard of no exceptions to this rule, and neither has anyone I’ve spoken to.
“Second: I am a firebender. Your mother was a firebender. Every one of your older brothers and sisters is a firebender. You are not. This, as Sage Tonnu would say, is the paradox.” Izin’s father strolled around to the side of his desk. He focused on a tapestry on the wall, which illustrated the family tree as it was at the time of Izin’s birth, extending up to his grandparents. “On its own, this would simply be a disappointing novelty. It would be interesting, and perhaps tell us something we don’t yet know about bending. But this isn’t the whole story. Look at this family tree, Izin. What do you see?”
Izin hardly needed to answer this question. His father had pounded this point into his head so many times that it went without saying. But he said it anyway. It wasn’t worth provoking his father any further right now. “I’m your eighth child,” he said. “And you’re the eighth child of your parents.”
“Exactly,” his father said, nodding slowly. “The number eight has always been a symbol of good fortune throughout the Fire Nation, but particularly for our family. We were the eighth family to be granted a noble lineage by the original Fire Lord. And throughout our family’s history, the eighth child of every set of parents has always been a powerful firebender, even if their parents were both nonbenders.
“You, Izin, are such a child,” Izin’s father said, turning back to him. “By all rights, you should be a firebender. Not only that, you are the first eighth child of an eighth child in our family’s history to have survived infancy, and you were born on the longest day of summer, the one day of the year when more firebenders are born than any on any other day. Your mother and I had so many hopes for you. Your birth should have fated you to be the most powerful firebender in history, if not something more. In my deepest dreams, I imagined you might even turn out to be another Avatar. And if you were, then today, on your 16th birthday, is when I would traditionally tell you of this fact.
“But no!” Izin’s father clenched his hand into a fist and pounded it against the wall behind him. The temperature of the room noticeably heated up. “You, Izin, are not the Avatar. You aren’t a firebender. You are nothing. There is but one explanation that makes any sense of this. Your mother… who every day professed her love for me, and who to the day of her death never spoke a word that I found out to be a lie… Your mother must have been unfaithful to me.
“In other words, Izin. You are not my son.”
Izin closed his eyes. He’d known this was where his father was going. He didn’t believe it, though. He could hardly believe his father could believe this. As he’d said, Izin’s mother had loved him more profusely. She would never have been unfaithful to him.
“I can’t believe that,” Izin said. He opened his eyes, looking up to meet his father’s gaze. “I’d rather believe the world has a twisted sense of humor, and the eighth child of an eighth child in our family must instead be a nonbender. Or I’d believe the eighth child trend has just been a coincidence, and there’s something about inheritance we don’t know. I would never doubt my mother, and I can’t believe you could!”
“The facts cannot be changed, Izin,” his father said. He looked downward, and Izin could feel the room slowly begin to cool back down to a normal temperature. “And the fact is, I can no longer bear to let you live in my house. I will not have it get out that your mother was unfaithful to me, and so you will not speak a word of this conversation to anyone. In return, I will supply funding to let you set up a new life for yourself, anywhere but here.”
“I must apologize, Izin,” Tonnu said. His words came out a bit more slowly than usual, and sadness showed in his features. “I truly never expected my words to lead your father to such a conclusion. I meant to guide him to notice the part of you that truly is special and unique, and the ways in which you actually are gifted. I do hope he will someday see the error of his ways.”
Izin stared silently at the wall across the room. It had been all he could do stop himself from crying when Tonnu knocked at his door, and he feared if he said much right now, his voice would give him away.
After a minute, Tonnu continued, “Your father came to the wrong answer, but I do believe he was asking the right question. Sometimes the search for an answer is more important than the answer itself.” Tonnu walked over to Izin’s desk and pulled out the chair. He turned it to face Izin and took a seat. “In your case, Izin, you’ve been blessed with one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever seen. If you’d been a firebender, your father would have made you focus your time on training that skill. But without that, you have time for other pursuits. So perhaps this is why.”
Izin shook his head. Many possible replies ran through his head, but nothing seemed right. None of this was right. At last, he said simply, “Where should I go?”
“The world is open to you,” Tonnu said. “But if you want a recommendation, I would say Republic City. I hear that Future Industries is recruiting some of the best minds the world over to work for them. It could be exactly where you’re destined to be.”
“Future Industries…” Well, they certainly had a good reputation. Any boat in a storm, as the saying went. Izin closed his eyes and let out a sigh. “Why not?”
Hearing a faint sound from the cliff nearby, Korra turned her head toward it. Her face brightened at the sight of Asami working her way downward. She spent a moment simply gazing at her friend. Her mind was hazy on what exactly had happened after they’d met the digging spirit on the other side of the spirit world, but she knew one thing for sure: Asami had been taking care of her since they’d reached the surface. She owed Asami her heartfelt thanks for that.
Although, it was certainly frustrating that Korra couldn’t remember exactly what had happened. At least this time she already knew a good way to restore her memory, so they only had to make a brief detour to the Tree of Time to get that resolved. Asami would probably be interested in seeing it anyway. The problem was, Korra still might find a way to screw something up horribly due to her lack of memory in the meantime. Last time she’d lost her memory, she’d accidentally put Mako into a position where he broke Asami’s heart. Nothing that bad was likely to happen now, but something still nagged at Korra.
Korra let out a sigh. “Wish I could remember what happened to knock me out like that…” she said, turning back to look up at Light as she spoke. “Maybe I should apologize to Asami when she gets back, just in case. Something tells me I should do that. And anyway, what’s the worst that could happen if I do?”
Light tilted his head to the side, and then back. “I don’t know… She could call you on the fact that you don’t know what you’re apologizing for?” The spirit looked back down at Korra, a cheerful expression crossing his face. “It’ll be alright, though. There are plenty of ways to figure things out in the spirit world, especially for the Avatar, so I’m sure it won’t take you long.”
“Well, I’m not sure if being the Avatar still helps as much…” Korra said, furrowing her brow. “I kind of renounced my role as bridge between the two worlds after I left the spirit portals open. So I’m not sure if I’m still as connected to this place as I used to be…”
“Well… then just try it!” Light said. “That’s the only way you’ll know for sure, right?”
“Hmm…” Korra glanced over toward the cliff Asami was descending. Her friend was being careful and taking her time, so perhaps Korra could do something before she got back.
Although… maybe she should instead earthbend a few steps for Asami to make it easier. Though that would require getting up to do so, which would mean another splitting headache, which might cause her to screw up and hurt Asami. So… not a good idea. She could try it while lying down, but earthbending was all about the stance, so again, there was really too much of a risk of screwing it up.
Korra let out a sigh. There wasn’t really that much time, in the end, and she didn’t want to be distracted with something when Asami got back. “I’ll try later,” she said. “Just wish I could remember what happened. I really feel like I screwed up somehow.”
“It’ll be fine. Asami didn’t seem mad at you at-” Light trailed off, and his eyes focused on something behind Korra. “-at all. So, um, you really don’t need to regret anything. Though on that note, I think your emotions might still affect this place when they’re strong enough.”
“Huh?” Out of seemingly nowhere, a raindrop hit Korra’s forehead. It was soon followed by another, and they soon picked up into a light rain on her face. She looked upward from Light, finding that the sky above her seemed to have darkened and filled in with a single cloud. Then she remembered where Light had glanced previously. “Is there something behind me?” she asked. It probably still wasn’t a good idea to turn her head unless there was something dangerous there. She just had to focus her emotions, calm herself down.
Light nodded. “It looks like… a ripple in the air. I don’t see anything in it, though.”
Korra gave a slight nod. She closed her eyes, trying to focus her thoughts. Happy thoughts. No more rain. No regrets. Things I’m proud of, that’s what I need. Um… A sound of fierce sobbing came from behind Korra, tearing her out of her thoughts. Even four years later, she still remembered that sound.
It was Bolin. Just days after Korra had agreed to go on a date with him, and had had a great time in the process, she’d had the bright idea to confess her feelings to Mako. And then when she found out Mako seemed to like her as well, she’d kissed him… in front of Bolin, as it turned out. She hadn’t meant to do that, but she’d certainly made a mistake in not thinking about his feelings for her and playing things more carefully.
But they’d made up. She’d apologized, and Bolin had forgiven her. She didn’t have to keep regretting this. And she certainly didn’t need the spirit world digging up reminders of her past like this whenever she got a bit emotional. Now that she knew what was going on here, though, she could work past it. Okay… I screwed up. I admit it. But I learned, I apologized, I was forgiven, and I’m trying to be better about that kind of thing now. All four of us - myself, Bolin, Mako, and Asami - we’re all doing better than we were then. No need to linger on past mistakes, but it is fine to reflect on them and learn from them.
The rain stopped hitting her face. Smiling, Korra opened her eyes once more. The sky above her had cleared up, and she couldn’t sense any other signs that the world around her was acting up.
Korra turned her head to see how close Asami was getting now. Apparently more time had passed than Korra had thought though, as Asami had already reached the base of the cliff. She’d paused on the way over toward Korra, though, and looked put-off by something. Korra privately cursed herself; Asami must have seen that reaction of the spirit world earlier.
“It’s alright, Asami,” Korra said, smiling at her friend. Judging by the expression on Asami’s face, the truth was going to be needed here. Korra swallowed her nervousness and spoke. “The spirit world tends to be affected by my emotions. Avatar thing. And apparently just then it decided I needed to see a memory of Bolin. Nothing to worry about now; I’ve got it under control.”
Asami glanced down at Korra. The explanation seemed to help a little, but she still seemed tense as she walked toward Korra. Once she reached Korra, she mouthed a word, her face inquisitive.
“Umm…” Korra said, shaking her head. She wasn’t quite able to make it out.
Asami slowly mouthed the word again. Bolin. That was almost certainly what she was saying. No, not saying - asking.
“Yeah, Bolin…” Korra said. “You saw him, right? Or… at least, heard him? The sobbing sound?”
Asami shook her head slowly. She looked… well, she looked like Korra had felt when she’d initially seen Bolin on that night, four years ago.
Asami tried to push the image she’d just seen out of her mind. She had to focus on the present. Korra was still lying down, so she still obviously needed help. She knelt down near Korra, and took her canteen from her hip and held it up to her friend.
“Spirit water?” Korra said, glancing at the canteen. Asami nodded at this. “Okay,” Korra said. She brought a hand up toward the canteen, then pulled it back, bending the water out from it. She drew it up toward her head, and wrapped the water around it in a circle. The water slowly filled with light, and Korra let out a deep sigh.
Asami smiled at her friend. She shifted closer to Korra and placed a hand on her shoulder. Her worry had never quite gone away until this moment. There was always the lingering thought in her mind that something might happen to Korra while she was away, or that the water wouldn’t be enough to heal Korra’s injuries. But from the expression on Korra’s face now, it was clear that it had worked. Korra was as good as new.
With a half-grin and a grunt, Korra pushed herself up to a sitting position and bent the rest of the water back into Asami’s canteen. “Perfect. You’re really a life-saver, Asami,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Asami shook her head, though she did smile at this compliment. Korra had saved her as well, so the thanks wasn’t really necessary. Though she did return the sentiment that she didn’t know what she’d do without Korra. She caught her friend’s gaze and smiled softly at her, trying to get this emotion across. Judging by the smile on Korra’s face, she seemed to get the message.
“Um…” Korra said after a bit. She glanced away from Asami as she continued. “I should probably let you know… I can’t exactly remember what happened to me. Or to us. So, um… Sorry. If an apology is needed. If not, you can save that for later.”
Asami blinked. She wanted to protest and say that Korra had nothing to apologize for, but she couldn’t get that across easily. She shook her head and brought up a hand, waving it off. Perhaps Korra had gotten a bit overconfident earlier, but she was the one who’d gotten the worst of it. An apology really wasn’t needed.
Asami blinked again. Korra’s memory. She looked at her friend with concern, and pointed to her own head with raised eyebrows. That was the part they needed to worry about now, not whether Korra had anything to apologize for.
“Oh, um, it’s alright,” Korra said, shaking her head. “The Tree of Time was able to restore my memories before. I’m sure it can again. Besides, I’m sure you’ll want to see it anyway, right?”
Asami wasn’t quite as confident as Korra seemed to be, but she gave her friend a nod. Hopefully Korra wasn’t missing any memories beyond this incident, in case this didn’t work… especially if Korra thought she was still in a relationship with Mako again. That probably wasn’t the case, though.
Korra nodded in turn at this. “Perfect,” she said. She turned to the spirit who Asami had met earlier, when she and Korra had first arrived on this side of the spirit world. “So, Light,” Korra said. “Do you know how we can get to the Tree of Time from here?”
The spirit nodded at Korra. “Of course,” it said. “Want me to show you how to get there? It shouldn’t take us long at all.”
“Yeah. Probably best to do that right away,” Korra said. She glanced over at Asami. “Um, you don’t mind, do you? I just figure, it’ll probably be easier to get my memories back the sooner we do this, so…”
Asami nodded. That made sense. Besides, she wanted to get this resolved as soon as possible as well, just so they had one fewer thing to worry about.
“Alright, perfect,” Korra said. She began to push herself up, but then stopped. “Oh, wait. Duh. I forgot, sorry. I should introduce you two. Asami, this is Light. He helped me out back when I was off on my own in the Earth Kingdom and trying to figure things out. And Light, this is Asami. She’s…” Korra paused for a moment and glanced over at Asami.
Asami’s heart leaped up to her chest, wondering how Korra would describe their relationship. They hadn’t really clarified things out loud between each other, though they both did seem to understand that it was more than simply a friendship. But would Korra be comfortable admitting that out loud? Seeing the nervousness in Korra’s eyes, Asami reached out to her friend’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Korra caught Asami’s gaze for a moment and gave her a smile. She turned back to Light and said, “She’s a very special friend of mine, and we’re waiting until she can get her voice back to work out the details of that friendship.”
Asami smiled at this. She squeezed Korra’s hand again to let her friend know that she liked that answer. Hopefully that wouldn’t end up taking too long. Of course, if it did, there were other ways to make her intentions clear to Korra.
“I see,” Light said. He turned to face Asami, and bowed his head. “Nice to meet you, Asami. Is there anything I can do to help get your voice back?”
Asami nodded at the spirit in greeting, then raised an eyebrow as she thought about his question. Maybe he knew something - perhaps about a spirit that could either cause this type of thing or cure it? She glanced over at Korra, hoping her friend would come to the same idea and ask this question.
“Um…” Korra said. She glanced at Asami, then at the spirit. “Maybe… You know more about the spirit world than I do. We don’t really know what caused Asami to lose her voice - it just happened when she woke up. So… Well, if there’s anything you know that might help…”
Light was silent for a minute. He sat back, and one of his leaf-ears twitched as he thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of any spirit taking someone’s voice away,” he said after a while. “Well, not just that. I guess Koh does steal your voice along with your face, but that’s obviously not what happened here. But there’s probably a spirit somewhere that can grant voices to humans. I just don’t know who, or where they might be. Sorry…”
Korra smiled and shook her head. “It’s alright. We’ll keep asking around. Hopefully some spirit will know something.” She reached out and gave the spirit a pat on his head. “Thanks, though.”
Light looked up at Korra and smiled. After a moment, his body shimmered, and he transformed into a small white dog. Apparently he was quite enjoying Korra’s pats. Asami found her heart warmed by this sight, and she moved over closer to Korra. She placed a hand on Korra’s back and gently stroked it. She might not be able to speak, but that wasn’t going to stop her from showing her affection.
“Oh, um, one more thing, before we head off,” Korra said. “I’m just curious. Light, back when there was that raincloud, you say you saw a ripple in the air. Did you see anything after that? Or hear anything?” Asami’s eyes widened a bit at this. Her hand, which had been stroking Korra’s back, froze in place as Korra brought up this subject again.
“Nope,” Light said, shaking his head a bit.
“Huh, okay,” Korra said. She pursed her lips for a moment, and then glanced over at Asami. Her eyes showed just a hint of concern. “I, um… guess you probably saw something different from what I did then, eh Asami?” she said. “I’m… sorry about that. I guess it kind of happens here in the spirit world when I let my emotions get the better of me.”
Asami tried to hold Korra’s gaze. Her friend had picked up on the fact that that vision had been hard on her. But hearing Korra apologize about it… No. That didn’t feel right. Asami closed her eyes and shook her head. Perhaps she needed to explain it all to Korra. But even if she were able to speak, she didn’t know where she would have started.
Asami felt Korra’s hand reach around her back, and she was soon pulled into an embrace with her friend. Korra rested her head on Asami’s shoulder, and she squeezed in tightly with her arms. Slowly, Asami began to relax. Her own arms worked their way around Korra’s back and held onto her friend. This was right.And she would make other things right as well. When this vacation was over, she would at least make sure Izin knew it had worked out. It was the least she owed him, after what she’d done.