Mind, Body and Spirit. You're gonna need all three.
Part 4 - Faith and Pragmatism
Section 4: "Trifecta"
Asami made a few careful adjustments on her sketchpad. The rise and fall of Naga's furry belly could alter her work just enough to cause a problem. Not that she minded, of course. She smiled a little, allowing herself to melt into the polar bear dog's warmth as their boat sailed south across the seemingly endless sea.
Korra stirred beside her, nose deep in her signed, 1st Edition copy of Dragon of the West. The pages were yellowed and faded a tad from age, but otherwise it was in great condition. Korra wasn't the most avid of readers, but when she found a book she liked, she consumed it with the same gusto she did with everything else.
"I think I figured out how to build that armor you suggested."
Korra tilted her head and looked at the sketchpad. "The thing with more things?"
Asmai chortled and tapped the butt of her pen to the page, focusing on the tight chest plate of the armor. "That's the one. It's made of compression fabric with platinum woven in so the small mechanical components within are protected. Baatar is actually working on perfecting that right now. Should also give some protection against spirit energy blasts, though with any luck that won't be something we'll need to test."
"Wait, platinum can block spirit energy?"
"Mhmm. Otherwise, making a cannon would be all but impossible. It would just burn through the barrel."
"Makes sense." She tapped the bumps that ran along the armor sketch. "What are these?"
"It's...think of it like mechanical airbending. It's compressed air that can vent through several points on the suit to assist in speed, agility, and mid-air course correction. I got the idea from some of the VarriMech tech. Lots of pressurized weaponry."
Korra raised her brows. "Woah. That's brilliant."
"Thanks. Who knows if it'll work in practice, though."
Korra smiled and kissed her on the cheek. "It will. And if it doesn't, I'll catch you as you're falling through the sky."
Asami rolled her eyes playfully. "Literally, in this case."
"Yup. And that thing on the side is..."
"For personal use. It's a sword that can split apart into a fan. Platinum-steel alloy, of course."
"Of course," she said, returning to her book. "And where does the electricity come in?"
"...the gloves. They use the metal in the blade as a conductor and the current redirects through itself until you shut it off." She puffed out her cheeks and scribbled a few notes on necessary thrust for flight in the corner. Unlikely. "Am I really that predictable?"
"You built a giant cannon that shoots so much lightning it actually blows up tanks. You're not predictable, but you've certainly got a pattern in some things. Not most, but some." Korra underlined a passage with her finger. "...and according to Iroh, a pattern is just another form of passion."
"Korra. I've all but memorized that book."
"Well, I haven't, and this is still new for me."
Naga barked and licked Asami's face with her very wet tongue.
"And Naga. Also new for Naga," said Korra, giving her a crooked grin.
"True." Asami rubbed Naga's chin and felt Korra bend the drool off of her head and into the sea. "Sorry. I guess I'm just used to being the only one in the room who's read it."
"Really? I wish I'd known that. I would have loved to discuss it with him."
"I'm sure he'd love that."
"...and in other news, the Free Fire Society, a political activist organization most famous for its demand of an end to the Fire Nation monarchy, has been picking up steam recently. Membership numbers have gone up, and protests are becoming more and more common all across the country. Fire Lord Izumi has yet to issue a formal comment on these events."
Kuvira perked up from her meditative posture and felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. She slowly opened one of her eyes to glance at the radio on the nightstand across from her humble cot. That wasn't right. The Fire Nation had been content for centuries under the rule of the monarchy. Even during the Hundred Year War, there were few citizens who were unhappy with their government.
Kuvira opened one of the drawers on her nightstand, retrieved one of her many, many notebooks and meticulously jotted everything down. Thoughts needed to be conserved before they escaped her. There was no telling when they could be relevant later.
To make matters more disconcerting, all of the research she'd done on the current Fire Lord suggested that she was adored by her people. Not simply because she was the daughter of Lord Zuko, but for her own accomplishments. True, it could be that the Fire Nation wanted to progress to a new form of self governance, most likely a democracy or a republic. Advance with the times.
But why now?
A light knock at her door forced her out of her thoughts. It was so soft she almost hadn't heard it. Kuvira carefully closed her notebook and set it down on the nightstand, tapping the cover simply...to remind herself where she was. She pushed off of her cot and walked across the pale stone floor to her door.
She had expected the Avatar. Or perhaps Raiko. Or the White Lotus. Really, anyone. Anyone but Baatar. Baatar who was standing there. Right in front of her. The shallow rise and fall of his chest denoting that yes he was alive and breathing. Not dead. Not vaporized. She had failed, she had failed and she'd never felt so happy that she had failed.
"Baatar?" she asked hopefully.
Kuvira stared up at him, frozen in uncertainty. Half of her wanted to embrace him, on so many instinctual levels, and the muscles in her arms violently protested their lack of use. The other half of her just wanted to remain calm. Understand where they stood before taking action. Be meticulous, be careful, be calculating---
His voice cracked her resolve, but she managed to reach a compromise with her body's own needs. She reached out to touch him, just to rest her hand on his chest, but hesitated. "May I?" she asked awkwardly. "Just so I can know…"
Kuvira placed her palm on his chest, but he flinched. Recoiled from her. She snatched back her hand.
"I---I needed to be…" Kuvira leaned against her doorframe and bowed her head, her unbound hair falling over her shoulders. "Or maybe I'm just hallucinating again," she whispered as a very distinct, cold chill ran up her spine. It felt like mud sliding down her bare back. The damn swamp.
Baatar seemed to struggle with himself, giving her a thorough once over. "What did they do to you?" he asked. There was curiosity, but she thought she detected some warmth... still, she couldn't be sure and that made it hurt all the more.
Kuvira shrugged and averted her gaze. Months and months and months of him being dead-eye contact would have been difficult enough if she hadn't been fed that lie. "Nothing I didn't deserve, in the end."
"Somehow, I doubt that." Baatar looked past her and into her modest 'home', if one could even call it that. "May I come in?"
She nodded and shut the door behind him as he passed, the entire experience becoming more and more surreal by the moment. It occurred to her that her hair was a mess, and she should really---no. No, it didn't matter anymore. He wouldn't care, and he wouldn't have cared in the first place.
Baatar took a quick look around her apartment. "This is nice."
Kuvira snorted. "More than I expected." She sat at the edge of her bed. "I really don't know what to say right now," she said, feeling very uncomfortable in her own skin. She had the unbearable desire to just hide under the covers.
Baatar sighed. "I don't know either. I woke up today and knew I needed to see you. I put it off as long as I could, but..." He followed her eyes as she tried to avert them. Over and over again. "And I thought you might need to see me too."
Kuvira nodded and kept his gaze. "I did." She rubbed her hands together anxiously. "You don't have to stay if you don't want to," she said softly, hoping against hope that he'd stay. "This was more than enough."
Baatar sat down beside her and slouched. He folded his glasses and set them on the nightstand, right on top of her notebook. "You know, before you opened the door...that's exactly what I told myself I would do. Just... say hello and leave, maybe come back. Maybe not." He rubbed his eyes. "But, even after everything, I couldn't let you wallow in here without solid proof that I was alive."
"Thank you." Kuvira rubbed her arms as her chest twisted in on itself; the overwhelming altruism he was displaying was simply...it was simply that. Overwhelming. She closed her burning eyes. "I saw you," she blurted, hoping to keep him with her just a little longer. He could afford a little more altruism. Even if she was being a little selfish.
Kuvira shifted on the bed and stared down at her palms. "I saw you in the swamp. Months ago. It showed me a vision of what might have been. In it, you were alive, and you saved my life with some odd machine." She patted her sternum. "I think it ran on vines. I couldn't feel my heart beating."
Baatar screwed up his face and shivered. "That's...I don't know what that is."
"If everyone in the warehouse, except you, had died. If I had won. I wouldn't have stopped." She shivered. "I'd have just kept going. I destroyed the Fire Nation, too. It meant nothing and I---" Kuvira shook her head. "It doesn't matter. It never happened, and it never will."
Baatar stared at her in silence for a very, very long time. Anything would be better than his continued scrutiny. He could insult her, berate her, threaten to leave. she wouldn't blame him. She couldn't blame him. More than anything she was just happy to have him there.
"Have you been eating well?" he said at last.
"Yes! Yes," she said, lowering her eyes. "They're not starving me, if that's what you mean."
Baatar rubbed his eyes. "Good."
Kuvira rested her hands on her lap and closed her eyes. "I never lied to you, you know. Not once. Everyone else, from time to time. But you? She forced herself to look at him, letting her features relax into a tentative smile. "Not you, Baatar. Never you. I always saw you differently."
His eyes hardened, and Kuvira swallowed.
"I find it difficult to believe that," he said, an edge to his voice. "If you love someone, you don't try and murder them and their entire family."
Kuvira shook her head cooly. She'd had this exact conversation in her head thousands of times before. Perhaps, if she could just convince him now, they could both move forward. "That's not what that was."
"Love?" His hands clenched into fists. "So... I was right, you never---"
"No." She took a shaky breath. "I loved you then. I loved you before I fired. I loved you when I fired. I loved you after." Kuvira hesitated, stopping her tongue before it did something moronic. Yet, she still wanted to. So she did. "And I still love you now."
"You tried to kill me with a weapon that I built."
"Can you really deny that my actions weren't tactically sound? The only ones able to resist us were in that room with you. If it hadn't have been you down there, would you have protested in the slightest?"
Baatar averted his gaze. "This isn't the same. This---you tried to kill me! Your fiance! You tried to kill my mother, my brothers, and my sister!"
Kuvira set her jaw. "You'd have me play favorites as the commander? It is always the same. No one is special. It broke my heart to do it, Baatar. You have to believe me."
Baatar frowned intensely and rose from the bed. He glared down at her, his nostrils flaring. "After three years of hell, you were willing toss our future away. Without a second thought. Everything we worked to build! Everything we believed in! Everything that---"
"Our personal life has nothing to do with the empire!" she said coldly. "At least I never abandoned my ideals," said Kuvira, her voice rising as it boomed through her small apartment. "I have never stopped fighting. I have never stopped trying to help. What you fail to understand is that our happiness doesn't matter if our people can't feel safe! If my execution were to help the former Earth Kingdom in any way, I would be the first to arrive to the ceremony." She held her head a little higher. "This was never for us. It was for them."
Baatar gaped and ran his fingers through his hair. "Are you kidding!? All of that talk of loyalty, and it means nothing to you! We were family!"
Kuvira's eyes flashed and she stood, staring at him in anger and disbelief. Even the surreal nature of seeing him alive again did little to quell the force of her gaze. "Loyalty to the nation. Loyalty to the Empire. Loyalty to the 'Great Uniter'. The symbol! The rallying cry, Baatar! Hope! Peace of mind! Prosperity! Food, water, medicine, a better tomorrow!" She paused. "You and I were family, yes. But I asked our troops to sacrifice theirs for the empire. What gives me special privileges?"
"Kuvira, I poured my heart out to you, did that mean nothing? I can't believe you're still standing by what you did."
"I am nothing without my people! I am my nation!" she yelled in his face, jabbing his sternum.
"That's how it's always been, Baatar! I'm sorry if you can't see that this had nothing to do with you, but it didn't."
"All hail the Great Uniter!" he said mockingly.
She balled her hands into fists. "Showing weakness to that degree would have---"
Baatar scoffed. "Oh! Oh, of course. You see me as your weakness, that explains it. I suppose the fact that I was your fiance, the man who built you the giant mecha-suit, who meant nothing to you,is where the enemy should strike."
"Don't twist my words," she snapped. "Besides, it worked, didn't it? They knew the fastest way to get to me was through you."
"And that's why you fired on me? To get rid of...an emotional tether?"
"I DIDN'T HAVE A CHOICE!"
"NOBODY MADE YOU FIRE! I KNOW HOW IT WORKS! IT'S MECHANICALLY IMPOSSIBLE!"
"IT WAS EITHER KILL YOU, AND SAVE MILLIONS FROM GENERATIONS OF AN ENDLESS NIGHTMARE, OR GIVE UP AND CONDEMN MY PEOPLE!" she growled. "I love you, Baatar, but you can't expect me to put you above what must be done. There is nothing I wouldn't sacrifice for my nation. That includes you. That also includes me, if it makes it easier to stomach.
Baatar pinched his brow. "Stop saying you love me."
He sighed, exhausted. "Kuvira, please. Haven't you put me through enough?"
"No." Kuvira shook her head. "I'm not going to lie and say I ever stopped, even when you were 'dead'. I doubt I ever will. I don't expect you to forgive me for hurting you, or that we could ever get back to what he had, or anything resembling it, but do not think for a moment that I never loved you. I do love you, Baatar-"
"I love you too, dammit!" he burst out helplessly. "Still! And I don't know how that's even possible! Why can't I hate you?!" Baatar sat back down on the bed and buried his head in hands. "I can't force myself. Believe me, I've tried. I've had enough time to develop hatred, apathy, even to just stop loving you, but I can't...it just won't...it's not there. It doesn't make sense! My life no longer makes any sense!"
Kuvira sighed. "If it doesn't make sense, and you can't make sense of it, stop searching for logic and reason where there isn't any to be found." She sat down beside him. "I'm not sure what my life has become either, if that makes things easier."
"Somehow, it does..."
"Do you want to know the largest stipulation Raiko demanded when offering my 'release'?" He didn't respond, so she continued. "...I am property of the United Republic. A tool of the government."
Baatar sat up straight and his eyes bugged out of his head. "That's---"
"Something I agreed to. Indentured servitude until such time that the former Earth Kingdom is deemed stable enough for me to...go about my own life."
"They'll never let you go. You had to have known that."
Kuvira narrowed her eyes. "I already told you. There is nothing and no one I would not sacrifice for the betterment of my people. That includes myself."
He stared at her. "You're deluded." He shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "You're completely deluded."
"And you're not dead," she said, trying to smile and feeling tears prick at her eyes.
"I'm not," he said, his voice in the familiar, gentle tone he always used when he sensed she was upset. "They never should have lied to you---"
"It doesn't matter," she said. "You're alive, I don't care about the rest. You've said what you had to say and so have I, and I'm standing by it. If you want to leave, I won't stop you."
"Even now, you're defending what you did?" A note of anger crept back into his voice, and Kuvira looked at him evenly.
"If you want to leave, the door's right there."
He didn't look away. "I don't want to leave."
Korra broke into a giddy run, dragging Asami along with her. They crossed the dock in short order, the midmorning sun glistening off of the patches of ice scattered throughout. Korra leaped into a big family style hug, with Asami somehow stuck in the middle.
"We missed you so much," cooed Senna, stroking her daughter's hair.
"I missed you too, Mom. Sorry we couldn't visit sooner. It's just been so hectic and crazy recently..."
Tonraq raised a playful brow and looked down at her. "Has it now?"
Korra blushed and pouted. "Dad!"
Senna smacked him on the arm. "Tonraq! Asami's right there."
"It's fine, really." Asami looked between everyone and smiled. "Thank you so much for inviting me into your home."
Senna shook her head happily. "Oh, think nothing of it, sweetie. You're all but family now, after all."
Korra sputtered and blushed even harder. "MOM!" They had not had that conversation. She had no idea how to have that conversation. She didn't know what that conversation even was. It was one thing to tease her about their physical intimacy, but seriously mom? REALLY?!
Asami put her hand on her shoulder. "Korra, I don't think your mother meant it like that."
"The civil war, sweetheart," said Tonraq, looking a little too curious.
Korra chuckled anxiously and scratched the back of her head. Oh. Oh. "That makes more sense---I mean sense! Not more sense, necessarily, but, uhm..." She bit her lip and looked everywhere at once. "Hey, here's an idea let's go home right now I'll call Naga and we can get there in no time flat great okay yup that's what we're doing!" she said in mild panic. Korra whistled and Naga came bounding off of the boat, their luggage bouncing in their straps attached to her saddle.
Asami blinked twice. "All right. I'll need to make some calls once we---" Her eyes drifted off toward the other end of the docks and slowly narrowed in frustration. "Or perhaps I'll have to deal with this directly."
Korra followed Asami's gaze and raised a brow. A large cargo ship with the Varrick Industries International logo was offloading quite a few large shipping crates in quick succession. "What's going on?"
"Tonraq, I don't mean to be rude, but did the Southern Water Tribe purchase any supplementary defense systems from Varrick Industries International?" asked Asami.
"We did, yes. The tribe needs as much coverage as possible, and Varrick's been selling the same model as Future Industries does. Just in larger quantities."
Asami's entire face twitched. "Please don't mistake my anger as being directed towards you. It's not. It's all for Varrick. Now, I'm very sorry, but I have to go figure out how the hell he's been selling those things without my knowledge."
Korra shrugged. "Hey, it's all right. Take care of what you have to. It'll give me some time to catch up with my parents. Do you want to take Naga with you?"
Asami perked up and turned nose to nose with Naga. "You know, I think I would." She smiled warmly and rubbed her ears. "How 'bout it, girl? Want to help me smoke out some silly people who think they can jeopardize the safety of the world for a few yuans?" she sing-songed.
Naga panted happily and hopped in a circle around Asami. Asami laughed and pulled herself up onto her saddle. "Guess that's that. I'll meet you at the palace as soon as I can," she said, tossing their luggage down to Korra. "Sorry!"
Senna waved her off. "It's fine, sweetie! Just do what you need to."
Asami whistled. "Go, Naga!" Naga took off into a sprint and sped away from them.
"I'm surprised that got Naga so excited," said Tonraq.
Korra shook her head sadly. "It didn't. She wants Asami to feel better just as much as I do."
Asami maneuvered Naga through the large crowd of dockworkers, bobbing and weaving between crates and narrowly dodging a window being carried by two men. Riding Naga was always a thrill, and a rare one at that. She didn't have as much control as she did in a satomobile, but Naga was more than just a mode of transportation. She trusted Naga, and the polar bear dog had always repaid that in full. And instead of control, she had power.
A satomobile could roar, sure. But it couldn't eat you.
Asami grinned and snapped the reins, urging Naga faster and forward. She skidded around a corner and Naga pattered to a quick stop, her paws digging deeply into the snow. Asami rubbed the polar bear dog's ears and hummed. "What's wrong, girl?"
A large water tribe man, dressed in coveralls and a winter coat, came grumping out of one of the cargo ships, radio in hand. "...doing the best I can here, sir! In case you forgot, Varrick Industries International isn't Varrick Global Industries! I can't just hire more workers on site like we used to!"
Asami gave Naga a kiss on the forehead. "Good girl." She cleared her throat. "HEY! YOU TALKIN' TO VARRICK?!"
"Hold on, got a crazy lady catdeer-calling me. WHAT'S IT TO YOU---AND WHY DO YOU HAVE A POLAR BEAR DOG?!" yelped the man.
Naga dropped low and growled, flashing her massive teeth in the brisk southern air.
"I think you just answered your own question," said Asami. "Now, if you'd be so kind, I'm wondering why Varrick is selling my defense system without my knowledge and obviously to substandard quality!"
"How the hell should I know!? I just work for the guy! Here, whatever, just take the radio!" He tossed the radio up to her and sprinted away. "I don't get paid enough to mess with polar bear dogs!"
Asami giggled and put her ear to the radio. "Varrick?"
"Yeah? Wait, who's this? What happened to the other guy?! Did you mug him? I'll have you know I'm a close personal friend of the both the Avatar and the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe! So don't try anything funny with my stuff!"
"Oh! Hey, Asami. How ya doin'?"
"Fine, thank you. Why are you selling---"
"Woah, hey! You didn't even ask me how I was. Now, that's just rude."
Asami bristled and leaned forward to scratch Naga's head. "Sorry. How are you, Varrick?"
"Fantastic, thanks for asking! Mover's coming along great, and I've got a really good feeling about it! Anyway, mind telling me why you stole a radio from one of my people?"
"Why are you selling defense pillars? And how?"
"What do you mean why? People want them, and half of your manufacturing capability is tied up in military stuff for the United Republic! What am I supposed to do? Just sit on my hands and wait for everything to explode? 'Cause I thought we decided we weren't doing that."
Asami furrowed her brow and looked out over the sea. "...and these are made correctly? You didn't cut any corners to make a profit?"
"...really, Asami? Look, I may be a capitalist through and through, but I'm not gonna jeopardize my country just for some more yuans! I know its hard to forget sometimes, but I'm just as much Southern Water Tribe as Korra is. That's my home. I sold those things at a loss, Asami. Not much of one, but hey Tonraq said he needed more for the outlying villages, and most of my factories have been making random junk for the past seven months or something."
"I'm still going to oversee their installation and inspect their components until I'm confident you're not lying to me."
"Sure, fine, whatever. Do what you want. Just don't blame me if something blows up!"
"You certainly haven't lost your touch, if it's any consolation," Kuvira said, sweeping her hair out of her face as she felt the sudden absence of Baatar's weight suspended over her. She rolled onto her back, letting her breathing steady before she sat up, suddenly aware of the beads of sweat running down her body.
Baatar put his glasses back on. "Don't try and flirt, Kuvira."
"I wasn't. I was simply stating a fact."
"An inherently salacious one."
"It's just conversation, Baatar."
Baatar pinched the bridge of his nose, leaning against the headboard. "We are completely insane."
Kuvira frowned and hugged the covers closer to her chest. "I'll admit, this was...unexpected. Unconventional, even. Perhaps a horrible idea, but not insane." She ran a hand through her hair self-consciously. "But then again, we've been apart for...who even knows how long." Her words sounded forced, but she kept talking to fill the silence. "Some things are just instinctual, I suppose."
"No. We're just insane. Stop trying to rationalize everything." His shoulders tensed. "This was a mistake. I shouldn't have come here, and I most certainly should not have done this."
"And yet here you are."
Baatar glared at her. "How can you be so passe about this? Don't you feel anything? Anything at all?"
Kuvira huffed. "Don't be so harsh. You know I'm not some cold, unfeeling machine." He didn't speak, and she sighed. "I thought it might be cathartic, I don't know. But everything does seem clearer to me now. A little."
"...because we had sex," he said flatly.
"The mind, body and spirit are interconnected. Throw one out of balance, and they are all affected."
"How much time have you been spending with the Avatar?"
Kuvira snorted. "That's not courtesy of her, I've been reading a lot. There isn't much to do when I'm stuck in this apartment."
"I can understand that. I don't have much to do when I'm not working, either."
Kuvira shifted her position, lying on her side and propping herself up on her elbow. "How is that going, if I might ask?"
"Very well, actually. It's good to be working with Artana again, and some of these designs..." He scratched his neck. "Let's just say that, for a woman who refuses to participate in weapons development, Asami is frighteningly good at it. She had twenty or so prototype designs ready to go the second I walked in the door."
"I don't doubt it. It just seems...odd that you'd take this job, though. I would have thought you'd want to go home to Zaofu."
Baatar shook his head slowly. "Mom is...I can't go home yet. I'm not ready, and neither is she."
Kuvira frowned. "So, it's just Suyin who won't let you return?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't really matter. Like I said, I'm not ready either. And why do you care?"
"Because it's important to you."
"But not to you. You've made that very clear."
"We have different definitions of family." Kuvira stared off into space for a long moment, contemplating the best way to frame her argument before she stopped herself. It was not a battle; Baatar was not one to be manipulated. Especially not if she wanted a second chance. "You know, if I was in your place, if they'd captured me, I would have begged you to fire."
Baatar's posture straightened. "I wouldn't have done it."
"Perhaps not, but I'd have still tried everything I could think of to convince you otherwise. Any military strategist would consider it a necessary sacrifice. The needs of the many outway the needs of the few."
Baatar scowled. "You can't just---the few? Do you even know who that is? The few are the ones who love you. Your friends and family. The people that will stand beside you, no matter what." He pinched his brow. "Let me make something very clear to you. You. Are not. Your People."
Kuvira bristled. "How dare---"
"You are not the Earth Empire! You're a woman and a leader! You're the woman I proposed to! You are not the many as much as you desperately want to be, Kuvira! No one single person is, by definition! You're part of the few, just like everyone else. And you were part of mine."
Kuvira closed her mouth and looked down at the bed. That was new. That was unexpected. It...wasn't entirely inaccurate. She rested her hands in her lap. "I never considered it from that perspective. I suppose there's some truth to that."
"Well, you should think about it," he said tersely, leaving the bed and quickly redressing. "I should be going," he said, giving her hand a quick squeeze before he crossed the room to the door, opening it and standing under the frame.
Kuvira nodded. "Will I see you again?" she asked, her voice only wavering a little. She hoped he hadn't noticed.
Baatar sighed. "You will. Even if I swore to never visit again, I think I'd still come back. It seems inevitable, with you."
She smiled as she looked at him, his hand on the door. "It is, isn't it?"
Korra looked up from the polar leopard she was skinning and looked at her father, who was doing the same with his own. They'd managed to snag two big ones, most likely the alphas of the pack, in very little time at all. It was a little disappointing. "Hm?"
"We've had this conversation before about waterskins many, many times."
"I know, dad."
"Well, then I think you'll understand if I'm curious as to why you're so willing to make one now."
"A lot of reasons," Korra went back to work on her polar leopard, her old muscle memory flowing back into place. "I've always thought of that old tradition, even if it's...y'know, sorta not practiced anymore as really romantic. And not really something you can do on your own."
Tonraq smiled a little. "You want to share that with Asami."
"Yeah. I really do, dad."
"Sweetheart, that's wonderful. I'm sure she'll love it."
"Mmm." Korra twisted her knife and sat back on her knees. It wouldn't change anything, though. Those words would still be hanging over their heads, slowly eating away at them like an elbow leech. "Dad, can I ask you something?"
Tonraq looked up and wiped the blood off his knife. "What is it?"
"How did you get to know mom spiritually?"
Tonraq hummed and stroke his beard. "Well, first I knew her emotionally, then physically---"
"Korra, if you're asking for relationship advice from your parents you can't expect us to tone it down. We're both adults."
Korra pouted. "Fine. So it's a sequence, then?"
"I'm sure many see it that way, but it's different for everyone. The strongest bonds in the Water Tribes are the passionate ones. Physically, emotionally and spiritually. You need to have all three or things go out of...balance."
Korra rolled her eyes, exasperated. "Right. We have the first two. No question."
Tonraq laughed. "I'm pretty sure the entire world knows that. I bought a mover projector just so I could watch it whenever I wanted to."
"Dad, come on! This is important!"
"All right, all right. Spirituality. It's not as complicated as it sounds. Knowing someone spiritually means that you understand the very essence of who they are. The part of them that cannot be altered, no matter what. Their inner spirit."
Korra furrowed her brow. "Her inner spirit…"
"At some point in her life, Asami decided that no matter how much pain and suffering she has to endure, no matter how many people she loses, and no matter how much is taken from her, her life is worth living. Because, in the end, she truly believes that everything will work out for the best. That if she waits, and listens for the right moment, she will find true happiness."
"You...you said I took everything back, and more. For me, when I pick myself up out of the mud, it's the confidence that I will take it all back that keeps me going, but that...'something more' is by far the most important part of that process. I guess what I'm trying to say is, after this week, and the both of us just...dancing around it, because it's something but we don't quite know what...I know what this is to me. Us. This time, I want you to be that 'something more'."
"Let's just start the day, okay? We won't know if everything is terrible until it actually becomes terrible."
"If it helped you, then that's enough for me."
"Just because I'm enraged beyond words doesn't mean I'm not going to pick you up when you fall."
"If somebody has to get their hands dirty, it may as well be me. At least I can do it correctly."
"I just wanted to hear your voice. I had a really long day."
"IF YOU DON'T LEAVE RIGHT NOW KORRA, I SWEAR, I WILL---"
Korra winced and focused as hard as she could on her snow leopard. Push out everything else. There was only the snow leopard. Only the snow leopard. She wiped her burning eyes and nodded softly. "Thanks, Dad. I think I know what I have to do."
Asami looked up in awe at Southern Water Tribe palace. If she didn't know any better, she'd think it was made entirely of ice. It glowed a beautiful blue as the light from the full moon reflected off of the shiny exterior.
She and Naga trudged through the snow and up the outer steps, which the polar bear dog seemed very comfortable doing, so Asami assumed it was okay. The guards didn't seem to mind either. She gave them a friendly wave, which they returned, and hopped off of Naga.
Asami scratched the polar bear dog's cheeks and bopped their noses together. "Thanks for the help, Naga. It would have taken me forever to get from site to site if not for you. And it wouldn't have been nearly as fun."
Naga licked her face, spreading a big glob of spit everywhere and Asami giggled. She could always get Tonraq or Korra to wash it off. Or Senna? Maybe? Was she even a bender? Well, it didn't matter. A shower would have the same effect, too.
Naga walked around in a circle and laid flat on the ground in the large foyer, facing the large front door. It was adorable how protective she was of her master-companion. Korra had corrected her on that many, many times.
Asami blinked and realized she had no idea how to get anywhere. "Uh, excuse me, but do you happen to know where Korra is in here?" she asked one of the palace guards.
"Avatar Korra and Chief Tonraq are currently out at the moment, but his wife Senna is being very...generous and preparing a meal that probably won't be nearly as good as the one that---" The other guard elbowed him in the stomach. "What? I'm the chef! It's my job to cook!"
Asami slowly backed away. "Right. Where's the kitchen."
The other guard, the one who wasn't super annoyed by his change in occupation, pointed down a large hallway. "Fifth door on your right. You should be able to smell it before you see it. Have a good evening."
Asami walked down the hallway, passing ice sculptures, painted murals and a very silly looking bust of Sokka. She snickered as she moved past it, enjoying the snarky grin he was making. She walked into the kitchen and found that Senna had...already prepared a massive meal.
Arctic hen, tiger seal, dumplings of every variety, and even a few vegetables hidden throughout. Her mouth was watering just by looking at it.
"Senna, this looks wonderful. I'm sorry I didn't get back sooner, or I would have helped."
She smiled. "Oh, that's all right, sweetie. I haven't cooked by myself in a very long time, so I honestly preferred it. How did everything go with work?"
Asami walked further into the kitchen and fought the urge to shove an entire arctic hen in her mouth. Senna may have looked like Korra, a lot, but that didn't mean she'd find those temporary habits adorable. "Well enough. Varrick's products are exactly the same as the Future Industries model, down to the last bolt. I had to deal with a few nosy and indignant managers, but Naga was more than happy to help with that."
"...you didn't stick anyone's head in her mouth, did you?"
"No, that---I don't want to get sued, or arrested. I was seriously thinking about it a few times, though…"
Senna sighed happily. "You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear that."
Asami blinked, confused. "I'm sorry? What do you mean?"
"You'd never have gotten that idea on your own. Korra had to have suggested it at some point. And that means...she's okay. We were so worried that she'd slip back into that place again but…"
Asami wrapped Senna in a tight hug, purely on instinct. It occurred to her that she didn't really possess the familiarity to be so---oh, it didn't matter. It was right. It felt right. So it was right. "That won't happen. I promise."
Senna hugged her back. "Thank you." She smiled kindly. "I always knew she'd get better; that she'd be happy again. But never this quickly. I can't express how grateful I am for your help."
Asami raised a brow. "You're welcome, but I'm not sure what I did."
"Well, you managed to do what Tonraq and I never could. You got through to her. There came a point where she just stopped. She'd hit a wall, and couldn't move past it. But, one day, something changed."
Asami felt something beginning to click in her head and continued listening.
"Tonraq and I didn't know what it was at first, we were just happy our little girl was smiling again, but after he sent word that she'd vanished, I went through her things, trying to find some clue as to where she'd run off to. And I found the last letter you sent her. The ink had run a little, near the bottom. After that, we weren't so worried."
Asami snickered into a full laugh. "I'm sorry! Really, that's---I had no idea that that was why she left home. It's just that I was trying to make her laugh, and…" Suddenly, she found herself wiping away brewing tears. Both of joy and past sorrows. "You need to hear the full stories behind the post scripts. They're so funny. Please tell me you still have the letter."
Senna chuckled and nodded. "Of course! It's in the back of her Korra's closet with the rest of the letters. It should be the one on top."
"...and her room is...where, exactly?"
Senna pointed back toward the foyer. "Go up the main stairs to the fifth floor and keep left. It'll be the fourth door on your right."
Asami jogged back down the corridor, passing Naga, and up five flights of stairs. She slowed to a leisurely walk as she caught her breath from running up five floors. She really should have paced herself. Sure enough, the fourth door on her right...down the left path was a bedroom. Judging by the multiple Nuktuk posters, newspaper clippings of the Future Industries Fire Ferrets, and a few old pictures of herself, it was Korra's room.
Well, that, and their luggage was on the bed.
Asami shrugged and proceeded to unpack it, since it wouldn't take very long and honestly it'd be bugging her all through dinner after she saw it. Her clothes on the left side of the dresser drawers, Korra's on the right. Everything else was neatly organized...under the bed. In the suitcase.
Asami turned around and opened the closet---
Her blood ran cold.
Asami stared, paralyzed, and that wheelchair stared right back.
Asami stumbled backward. She sat awkwardly at the edge of the bed and forced her eyes open, grabbing on to the sheets as if her life depended on it. Her arms were weak, she couldn't stand, and her stomach lurched and threatened to rebel. She couldn't stop shivering and tears fell down her cheeks.
"I'm still here. I'm not going to leave. I'm not going to die right after you let me in, okay? I'm not going anywhere. Not now, not ever."
"...why didn't you leave, Korra?" she whispered, her voice cracking. "Why didn't you leave?"