Warm. She was warm.
It took Korra’s mind some time to piece together where she was. The electric shock from Asami’s glove had left her mind jumbled, and being pulled into a meditative state while she was asleep just left her even further out of sorts. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she could no longer feel that horrible pain in her stomach that had accompanied the Eternal’s efforts to resurrect Vaatu.
Okay, there was one thing she was sure of now. She was with Asami. She was quite close to Asami, in fact. She was in Asami’s arms, with her friend’s face buried in her shoulder.
Korra’s instincts managed to catch on faster than her conscious mind. She moved her arms up, wrapping them around Asami’s back. As she returned her girlfriend’s embrace, Korra said softly, “It’s alright… I’m alright, Asami.”
Korra could feel Asami’s head nodding slowly. For a while, that was the only motion that Asami made, but eventually she pulled away. With an effort, Korra was able to focus her vision, revealing the sight of Asami’s face, with streaks of makeup evident below reddened eyes.
It wasn’t often Korra saw Asami vulnerable like this. In fact, was hardly ever. Korra was about to say something more, to assure Asami that she was indeed alright, but she stopped herself when Asami shook her head. “There’s something I need you to do,” Asami said. A moment of silence followed, while Asami breathed deeply. “I’ve done all I can… but only the Avatar has the power to seal Vaatu away.”
“...Vaatu?” Korra blinked. She moved to the side, trying to see around Asami’s head. They were outside the tree now, at the base of it. Vaatu didn’t appear to be anywhere in sight, but it was impossible to see into the hollow from where they were. Perhaps he was still there. “What do you… where is he?” she said. Korra brought a hand up to Asami’s shoulder, and she used it as leverage as she brought herself up to a seated position.
“In the tree hollow,” Asami said. Ever so slowly, a smile managed to form on her lips. Finally, she spoke again. “We won. And I promise I’ll explain everything soon.”
Korra nodded slowly at Asami, and then pushed herself to her feat. “Yeah,” she said. “I think there’s a lot to explain. Starting with how you got your voice back.” She looked down at Asami and cracked a half-grin at this. She knew Asami had had it in her to figure it out. “But that can wait. I’ll handle Vaatu… and then you can do whatever you need to. There’s no rush.”
Asami nodded weakly. Her eyes fell closed, and she turned her head downward. After how much Asami had had to keep bottled up inside without her voice, it was really no wonder that she was letting all of her emotions out now. Korra reached her hand out and placed it on Asami’s shoulder. “I love you, you know,” she said. “And whatever you need, I’ll be there for you.”
Asami didn’t say anything in reply. She didn’t need to. She’d done enough.
It was quite a good thing Tenzin was already sitting down, as the disorientation and dizziness from returning to his body otherwise would have likely caused him to lose his balance. The entire process of his spirit being pulled across worlds had unwound in just a small fraction fraction of the time. He gave himself a moment before opening his eyes, making sure that his body and soul had regained their balance before he did so.
As ironic of a sentiment as it seemed when he was in this position, Tenzin was likely going to need to meditate on what had just happened. Unless this was all an illusion of some sort - which he could confirm later when he next had a chance to speak with Korra or Asami - the preceding events would be due quite a bit of consideration.
Perhaps right now wasn’t the best time for that, however. Tenzin’s mind seemed to be getting rather sluggish. Likely the combination of waking up in the middle of the night and then bending across worlds had drained his mental resources to the limit.
Tenzin allowed his eyes to finally open, and he gave them a moment to adjust to the dim light of the bedroom. With how much he’d just experienced, it was odd to find himself so suddenly back in the simplicity of the bedroom. This must have been how Korra and Jinora felt after coming back from meditation in the spirit world.
Although… not everything was quite the same. On the floor just off to his right, a cup of tea had been placed on a coaster. A glance back at the bed confirmed that Pema currently appeared to be asleep, but that simply made the gesture all the sweeter. Smiling at his wife, Tenzin reached down for the tea she’d left for him.
One by one, the little reminders of old age returned to Katara. Her back tightened up, her joints began to ache, and she was sure as soon as she opened her eyes, she would find her vision to be a fair bit more nearsighted than it had been just a minute ago. In a way, it was a disappointment. But really, this was just returning to normal. In return for her assistance, she’d had a chance to relive the energy and adventure of her youth for a few hours.
Of course, it would have been nice if she could have done so under circumstances that weren’t quite as threatening to the world’s safety. At least this time, she’d been able to help out and actually put her bending to good use. It had been far too long she’d been able to contribute with anything other than her healing.
It was just a shame that it had had to be her bloodbending which she relied upon. Controlling Korra - someone she loved like a granddaughter - like that went against every moral fiber in Katara’s body. It hadn’t been an easy decision. She’d gone back to all the debates she’d had over what defensive exceptions to allow for bloodbending, and she was sure it was an acceptable use this time.
It still didn’t feel right. And even though it might well have ensured their victory, Katara still felt like she would have to apologize to Korra the next time they met.
But that was then. For now, Katara had earned herself a good night’s sleep.
“What is it? What’s the big deal here?” came a woman’s voice from outside Kuvira’s cell.
Kuvira opened her eyes, though her vision was quickly overwhelmed by the light from a pair of torches. She brought her hand up above her eyes, shielding them from the light as she gave her eyes a chance to adjust. There seemed to be a pair of guards outside her cell now, looking it. She couldn’t see them well enough to make out who they were, nor was she familiar enough with their voices.
“There was… some sort of light around her,” said one of the guards. A male voice this time. “And she looked like she was meditating or something.”
Kuvira raised an eyebrow. They weren’t likely to believe the full truth about what had just happened, but lying might get her into worse trouble than not being believed. Only the one guard had seen anything unusual, it seemed, and these were White Lotus guards, so they weren’t particularly vindictive. If they weren’t sure she was doing anything wrong, she probably wouldn’t face much trouble from this.
“Meditating isn’t against any of the rules, is it?” Kuvira said. She hadn’t been meditating, of course, but she was simply asking a question, not claiming that that was what she’d been doing.
“No,” the female guard said. Although she could only see the guard’s silhouette, Kuvira was still able to make out her head shaking. “Of course not. Meditate all you like.” The guard was silent for a minute, and then she continued, “Were you doing anything else, that might have caused some sort of light?”
Kuvira shook her head. “Whatever it was the other guard saw, I didn’t do it,” she said.
Another moment of silence, and then the female guard nodded. “Very well,” she said. She turned to her fellow guard and said, “Keep a close eye on her, and let me know immediately if you see anything like this again. We can’t risk letting any of her enemies attack her here.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the male guard said, nodding at the female guard.
The female guard began to move away, but Kuvira spoke up first, “One thing,” she said.
“Hmm?” the guard said, turning back to face Kuvira.
“Could I get some more paper? There are some letters I’d like to write tomorrow,” Kuvira said. The idea had only now struck her, so she wasn’t quite sure what she might end up saying. But after what had just happened, she did owe Asami Sato a letter of some sort.
“Of course,” the guard said, nodding slightly at Kuvira. “I’ll let the quartermaster know.”
“Thank you,” Kuvira said. As the guards headed off, she moved back to her bed and lay down. Perhaps with some sleep, she’d figure out what she wanted to say. It was hard to imagine that words alone would be sufficient, but it was a start, if nothing else.
“Miss? Are you alright? Miss? ...Hey, she’s coming to!”
Ty Zen peeled her eyes open. She was lying down currently, with a man leaning down over her. Suddenly being pulled back to the physical world like this had left her feeling much like she’d just woken up from a dream, though with much clearer memories. Her mind traced over what had happened, and she suddenly sat up, nearly head-butting the man who was watching over her.
“My brother!” she said. “Did you… was there anyone else nearby?”
The man shook his head, pulling back from her a few inches. “You were the only one found unconscious. Plenty of other people saw whatever happened, but none of them recognized you.”
“Right…” Ty Zen said. So, that meant Izin was probably still in the spirit world. Apparently giving him a ride back to where he’d been kidnapped from wasn’t part of the deal that Asami had struck with that spirit. With the closest spirit portal in Republic City, that meant it was pretty much guaranteed he wouldn’t be able to make his award ceremony on time. Great.
“How are you feeling?” the nearby man said, kneeling down next to her now. “Any dizziness, lightheadedness, or headache?”
“No, I’m fine,” Ty Zen said, giving the man a reassuring smile. “It just feels like I was asleep for a bit.”
The man made eye contact with Ty Zen for a moment, and then nodded. “Probably just a fainting spell, then. Given what happened, it’s not too surprising. Nothing to worry about then, unless it happens frequently. Just be careful, and lie down flat if you feel lightheaded.”
Ty Zen nodded. That wasn’t at all what had happened, but it was a convenient explanation. “Alright, I gotcha. Thanks,” she said.
As the man helped her to her feet, Ty Zen took a look around. She was still in the same coffee shop she’d been in when Izin had vanished, though the only other people here seemed to be a pair of police officers. They were hanging back, though it was pretty clear they were waiting for a chance to speak with Ty Zen.
There was no helping it. With a sigh, Ty Zen dealt with the police officers, giving them a statement on what she’d seen, including the fact that Izin had vanished in the clouds. Given that it would soon become public knowledge that he’d disappeared - at least temporarily - hiding that fact now would have just put her under suspicion. She didn’t go into what had happened in the spirit world, though, as they’d probably just chalk that up to a dream of hers anyway.
The police officers didn’t seem too concerned with Izin. One of them said that Ty Zen had probably just lost track of him in the chaos, and that she should file a missing person report if she couldn’t make contact with him soon. After that, Ty Zen was finally cleared to go.
It was going to take some time for Ty Zen to sort through everything that happened, and she could only make a start at it as she walked home. Izin had been set up from birth to be a new Dark Avatar, and Ty Zen was unknowingly actually their father’s eighth child. The plans for Izin had been thwarted, so he could go back to what he was already doing with his life. As for Ty Zen herself…
Ty Zen grinned. After looking around to make sure no one was around, she held her hand out in front of her, lighting a fire within it and superheating it. The flame turned blue after a few seconds, and a few seconds later, it began to glow a bright white. She didn’t even know herself exactly what was happening with her fire at this temperature; she’d have to ask Izin about it later. And then she’d have to figure out just what she wanted to do with this power. So many options...
“So, any chance you can fill me in on exactly what happened?” Jinora asked as she and Izin set off toward the spirit portal. Of the things she’d expected to find when she meditated to check in on Korra and Asami, a new arrival from the physical world ranked pretty far down on her list. Korra and Asami had seemed reluctant to fill her in on exactly what had happened for some reason, but maybe this man would be able to fill her in while she escorted him back to the spirit portal.
“Well…” Izin said, grimacing a bit awkwardly. “Avatar Korra seemed pretty worried about people knowing about one of the things that happened here. She spent a while talking with Asami and all the people in her head to make sure none of them was likely to say anything, and even that didn’t seem to satisfy her. So I, uh… well, I guess I can explain some things, but you’ll have to talk with Avatar Korra if you want to know that part.”
Jinora raised her eyebrow at this. Well, Korra must have had her reasons for that. “I see,” she said. “So then, are you allowed to tell me what you meant by ‘all the people in Asami’s head’?”
Izin let out a laugh at this. “Ah, right. That would sound weird. Well, let’s see… I think it had something to do with a powerful spirit’s necklace. Asami used it to ask a bunch of people in the physical world for help saving Korra and me.”
“Really?” Jinora said. “Hmm, I wonder if that’s what she used to contact me… I’ll guess I’ll have to ask her about that later.”
Izin was silent after this. Apparently he wasn’t particularly eager to get into all that had happened. That was fine, then. Jinora had never seen this part of the spirit world anyway, so the walk alone was enjoyable. There didn’t seem to be that many spirits around here, though. Or perhaps they were just good at hiding. Aunt Kya had told her about a spirit that looked just like a toadstool, which they’d encountered on their trip into the spirit world to rescue her. So perhaps some of the trees and plants around here were actually spirits in disguise.
After a while, Jinora broke the silence. “So, what do you plan to do once we get back to the physical world?” she said.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to find a way to get back to the Fire Nation,” Izin said. “Though at this point, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it in time.”
“In time?” Jinora said, turning to Izin. “For what?”
“Oh, um, an award ceremony,” Izin said, his eyes noticeably avoiding Jinora’s gaze as he spoke.
Jinora paused in her step, her mind flashing back to a newspaper article she’d read a few weeks ago, a profile on a physicist in the Fire Nation who’d supposedly revolutionized the whole field.. “Wait. Are you that Izin? The one who just won the Nuo Beier prize for physics?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s me,” Izin said, stopping in his step as well and giving Jinora an awkward smile.
Jinora’s eyes widened. “Oh wow… So… it’s the ceremony for the Nuo Beier prize you have to get to, right?”
“Yeah,” Izin said, glancing down and to the side. “Ceremonies really aren’t my thing, but it’ll probably end up being even more trouble if I don’t make it in time.”
A smile crossed Jinora’s face, and she shook her head. “Leave it to me… and Pepper. We’ll get you there on time; I guarantee it.”
Izin looked up, finally meeting Jinora’s gaze. “...Pepper?” he said.
“My flying bison,” Jinora said. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’ll love you.” With a nod at Izin, Jinora turned back to the path and set off once again. “Now let’s go; no time to waste!”
“Be patient, young one,” came Varina’s voice from behind Light. He turned his head away from the cave’s opening, looking over at her as she spoke. “Avatar Korra and Asami Sato will most likely appreciate some time alone with each other after all that has happened. I assure you, though, they will return here soon enough.”
Light turned back to the cave’s exit, looking outside for a moment. “I guess you’re probably right,” he said.
He let himself drop down onto his belly, settling in for a bit of a wait. He’d barely had any chance to talk with Asami since she’d gotten her voice back, or with Korra since she’d been rescued. Varina was probably right though. They’d want to be with each other first. He could wait.
After a few minutes, Light turned his head to Varina once more. “Um, Varina?” he said. “After all this, Korra and Asami will probably want to go someplace peaceful for the rest of their vacation, right?”
Varina was silent for a moment. “Perhaps,” she eventually said. “They both strike me as the type who would get bored easily, though.”
Light’s eyes brightened at this. “Right! But peaceful doesn’t have to mean boring. I think I know just the place to take them.”
“Do you?” Varina said. She hovered closer to Light, her motions accompanied by a musical echo from the instruments in the cave. “And where would that be?”
“Home,” Light said simply. He turned back to the cave’s opening, waiting eagerly to catch sight of Korra or Asami. He really hoped they’d go for his idea. His family would really love to meet them.
Korra panted, her muscles straining as she pushed the rock into place. It still wasn’t enough. Through a day’s worth of effort in the Avatar state, she’d managed to reshape the cliff surrounding the Tree of Eternity into a mushroom-shape, and now she was working on smoothing it out. If would be nearly impossible for anyone to climb.
But not quite impossible, and ten thousand years was a long time. And she still hadn’t done anything to help against the possibility that someone might convince a spirit to fly them up to the tree. That didn’t mean they’d be able to find a way to get through the barrier she’d set up containing Vaatu - after all, Unalaq had been helpless against Wan’s barrier - but Korra didn’t want to take any chances.
That didn’t mean her body agreed with her right now, though. As she struggled to smooth out the distant rock on the shelf of rock high above her, her strength finally gave out. The level of light in the world seemed to drop as Korra fell out of the Avatar state, unable to maintain it a moment longer. She let out a grunt, crouching down and resting her hands on her knees as she tried to catch her breath.
A moment later, Korra felt a hand rest gently on her back, just between her shoulderblades. “I think that’s probably good enough, Korra,” Asami said. “Wan’s seal held Vaatu for ten thousand years. I’m sure yours can do the same, even if the spirit portals are open now.”
Korra shook her head. “I need to be sure. I’ve had enough of Vaatu. The world’s had enough of him.”
Asami’s hand began moving, slowly stroking up and down Korra’s back. “I know. I have too. But the more you try to make the tree inaccessible, the more tempting you make it.” As Asami stopped talking, Korra let out a sigh. She pushed herself back up and looked over at her love. When Korra’s eyes met with Asami’s, Asami continued, “We don’t have to solve every problem today, Korra. We can’t. We just have to take them on as they show up. I think we’ve done all we can for now.”
Slowly, a smile spread across Korra’s face. She gave Asami an affectionate look and said, “You really always know just what to say, Asami. I don’t know how I ever managed to go without hearing your voice for so long.”
Asami’s gaze met Korra’s, mirroring her affection back at her. Without saying a word, Asami slowly leaned forward. Quickly realizing what was happening, Korra froze in place, gulping down her nerves as Asami’s lips neared hers. A rush of warmth flooded Korra’s chest just as their lips made contact, and she eagerly reached her arms up and wrapped her hands around the back of Asami’s neck.
Korra could feel Asami’s hands placed gently on her sides, just as Asami’s lips began to slowly to move against hers. Asami’s lips were so tender and loving; it was a struggle simply to remain standing and not melt from it all. Although… Asami’s hands were holding her up, so perhaps a little melting would be safe.
By the time Asami finally pulled back, Korra found herself thoroughly dazed from the kiss. Korra slowly managed to focus her vision, Asami’s beautiful face coming into view. “Um…” she said. “What were we talking about again?”
Letting out a chuckle and grinning that gorgeous grin of hers, Asami winked at Korra. She spun on her heel, heading off down the path back toward Varina’s cave without a word.
“Wha- hey!” Korra said, dashing after Asami. “No fair with the silent act! I’ve had enough of that the last few days, now say something!”
Just as Korra caught up to Asami, Asami’s hand shot out, grabbing Korra’s wrist. Asami swung Korra around in front of her and caught her other wrist. She adjusted her grip, entwining her hands with Korra’s and pulling them upward. Asami leaned down, placing a quick kiss on Korra’s fingers. And just when Korra thought that Asami was going to keep up the silent act, Asami looked back up, caught Korra’s gaze, and said simply, “I love you, Korra.”
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