Asami glanced up from the design table, tearing herself away from her thoughts and back into an existence that was filled with Varrick's ramblings. They were on the final stages of the hummingbird suit prototype, but she kept pouring over the designs to pick and ponder the flaws and weaknesses. She thought she'd been onto something when her assistant broke her thought process, which added another layer of irritation to her day.
Asami arched her neck to look up at her assistant from her current pose. "Yes, Lee?"
Lee ignored her obvious irritation. He was always the picture of professionalism around Varrick, and his tone was uncommonly stiff. "Would you like to break for lunch?"
The suggestion brought out the irritation she'd been hiding, especially when Varrick chimed in. "I've been telling her that for hours!"
"I don't have time—"
"Avatar Korra suggested you might each lunch together. I've sent her up to your office, but I can send her away if you wish."
Korra was here? Asami straightened, flushed with sudden anticipation. She hadn't seen Korra since the joint meeting with Raiko, and that had only consisted of shared smiles and greetings. She'd been so busy, and she knew Korra was busy too. For her to come here…
"No!" she blurted. "No, I'll see her."
She washed her arms and snatched up her jacket. As Asami stepped out of the workshop door, she glanced at Lee. They'd cleared all Future Industries' designs and prototypes from this floor, but she didn't trust Varrick any further than she could throw him. "Keep an eye on him."
Lee nodded and stepped into the workshop. Asami pretended she didn't see him smirk as he closed the door behind him. That was far closer to his usual self.
Asami considered the elevator, but her back and shoulders ached from a combination of bending over the drawing room table and the physical work of putting together the mech. She went to the stairwell, taking the opportunity to get her blood pumping and her legs stretched out as she climbed five flights to her office.
She stepped through her now evacuated secretary's office—she hoped she'd convinced most of her employees to leave the city while they had time—and paused when she saw Korra through the open office door. Korra's hands were on the glass of the window that made up one wall. She glanced over her shoulder and grinned when she caught sight of Asami. That wide, white smile seemed to light her bright blue eyes up even more, especially on the backdrop of the clear sky. "Another fantastic view. If I were you, I'd just stare out the window all day long."
"Sometimes I do," she admitted.
It was so good to see Korra again. Though it had only been a few days since they'd last been face to face, Asami clenched down on her desire to pull Korra in for a hug. No doubt she looked ridiculous, smudged with engine lubricant and her hair in a messy bun.
"How have you been?" Korra asked. She stepped away from the window, and Asami realized she was still standing in the doorway of her office like a fool.
The stress that weighed on her wasn't quite so heavy with Korra nearby, and that release of tension caused Asami to laugh. "I was going to ask you that." She motioned to the stuffed sofa she kept in the corner of her office. Korra stepped around Asami's cluttered desk and sat down, releasing her breath in a sigh.
"Busy," Asami hedged. "Working with Varrick is…a trial, but he has a brilliant mind." She couldn't help herself. She reached out and took Korra's hand. "Mako told me that you went to see Zaheer."
Korra nodded slowly. To Asami's surprise, she smiled. "I feel so much freer now. It was terrifying, but…he helped me."
Asami tightened her grip on Korra's hand. She remembered how angry she'd been when Korra pointed out her father could betray her and avoided speaking her thoughts along those lines: Can you really trust a man who nearly killed you? Instead, she said, "Do you feel better? I mean as far as the visions go?"
Korra's shoulders twitched, but she didn't withdraw. Her palm sat firmly against Asami's. "Yes. I'm not afraid anymore. I don't think I'll see it again."
There was no way to communicate to Korra how fantastic it was to see her exude quiet confidence. It wasn't the no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners type of attitude Korra had had three years ago, but this steady, calm firmness was… It was a relief. It was also surprisingly attractive. Asami settled on saying: "I'm so glad for you, Korra."
Korra smiled and nodded to the food boxes on the table in front of the couch. "I got us lunch."
"Thank you for thinking of me."
"I got the feeling you were probably forgetting important things like food." Korra opened boxes of food, settling on a seaweed noodle and squid box after Asami declined it. She snapped her wooden chopsticks in half and rubbed them together.
Asami chose the bland 'arctic' hen, vegetable, and rice box. As much as she appreciated Korra and her home, she didn't care for the food. Too many sours and bitters. Asami preferred the savory tastes that came from the Earth Kingdom, and occasionally, she liked spicy from the Fire Nation.
"Any word from the spirits?" Asami asked after a few minutes of shared silence. She was surprised by how hungry she was.
Korra leaned back on the couch with a sigh. She spoke around her current mouthful. "They won't help. Said I was no better than Unalaq for asking."
"How can they possibly make that comparison?"
Korra shrugged, her expression back to her too familiar unhappy cast. "They're staying out of it completely. Looks like we're on our own. All the spirits have cleared out of the city. That convinced the homeless people who live in the spirit wilds to get out too, at least." Korra's gaze fixed on the ceiling, but her eyes were clear, and her face settled in determination. "We can do this."
"I'm with you, Korra. Anything you need. I—" Asami cut off her own words and reached out to take Korra's hand again. It was an awkward transition; she'd forgotten Korra was holding chopsticks. Korra didn't miss a beat; she stuck her chopsticks rudely in her box of noodles and took Asami's hand in her own. Korra tilted her head slightly on the back of the couch, and Asami nearly lost herself in the abruptly desire to leaned closer and steal a kiss.
Instead, she said, "Just promise me you won't do anything stupid."
Korra laughed and squeezed her hand. "I do stupid things all the time. But I'm not going to throw my life away. I won't surrender to Kuvira." She hesitated and then continued her thought. "I haven't forgotten what happened the last time I surrendered to someone. We'll find a way to win."
They finished eating in comfortable silence until Korra said, "You've been sleeping here, haven't you?"
Right on the couch they were sitting on, actually, but Asami refused to feel embarrassed for it. She was an adult, making reasonable decisions in this scenario. "Yes."
Korra made no comment. To Asam's surprise, Korra followed her down to the workshop. Korra sat on the drawing room table and watched as Varrick and Asami argued their way through the rest of the afternoon—productively, as they finished the suit. At some point through the afternoon, Asami glanced over and realized Korra was either deep in meditation or had slipped into the spirit world. It gave her a betraying thrill to be able to look over and see Korra in her workspace.
She didn't let herself become distracted, however. "Let's start her up."
Varrick cracked a yawn and rubbed the back of his head. "I'm going to find a bed first. I need sleep, and so do you, Asami."
"We don't have time—"
Korra shifted on the table and spoke firmly, "We have time. Come on, Asami."
Asami did not like being ordered. And yet… She hesitated and finally stripped out of her work gloves. Varrick grunted to see her acquiesce so easily, but for once in his long, loud life, he made no comment.
"My apartment or Air Temple Island?"
They didn't speak through much of the drive home. Asami was usually fine with comfortable silence, but she wasn't used to sharing it with Korra. When they stopped at a red light, she glanced over. "Are you okay?"
Korra nodded with her eyes closed and her head tipped back. "Okay. Worried. Do you mind if we talk about it when we get to your place?"
"No, that's fine."
What could that mean though? Did Korra have a worry that pertained to Asami? That paranoid thought brought out irritation inside Asami at herself. She sounded like a middle-school child with a crush. Korra was the Avatar, facing an impending battle on Republic City. She had far more important things to worry about than whether Asami had been acting oddly.
Her logic didn't crush her fears, so she busied herself with making tea when they stepped into her apartment. Asami's logical thoughts were proven correct when Korra said, "I'm worried about Kuvira harvesting the spirit vines."
"Do you want something to drink?"
"Not tonight. I wouldn't mind some tea though."
Asami poured Korra a cup. She added a nip of whiskey into her own tea, prompting a raised eyebrow from Korra.
"I need something to take the edge off," she defended.
"But why would you put fire whiskey in chamomile?"
"What's wrong with that?" Asami's humor was evident in her voice, and Korra responded with a big grin. She said, "Fire whiskey goes in black tea or ciders. I can't even imagine what that tastes like."
"Then it's good you don't have to drink it." Asami sat down on the couch with a flouncing flair and dissolved her façade with a wink. Korra's grin widened in response before her expression slipped back into neutrality. Asami didn't miss the flicker of her lips as she tasted her tea. Had she brewed it incorrectly? As soon as she thought that, Korra took another sip and sighed.
Asami understood that their joking wasn't a full diversion. She said, "We know what Kuvira is harvesting them for a weapon."
"They've taken so much of the tree, Asami. It just doesn't feel right. Unless they have hundreds of weapons, there's no way they would need that many spirit vines."
"You think she's using it for something else?"
Korra shrugged. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"Is there going to be another problem with the spirits because of this?"
For some reason, that made Korra close down. It wasn't as sharp as her defensiveness of her mental battles, but it was obvious. Her tone shifted, her eyes turned away, and she said, "Probably. You look tired, Asami. Get some sleep, okay?" Korra sighed deeply, drained her cup, and stood up. "Can I use your balcony?"
"You don't want to stay?" Asami asked it despite herself. She hoped her question was casual; she felt an aching desperation she refused to betray.
Korra's response surprised her. She gave a big, crooked grin. "Are you going back to work if I don't?"
Asami wasn't that low. "No. I'll stay here and get some sleep."
"Then I'm going to head out. I'll see you later." Korra put her hand on Asami's forearm. Her palm was dry and warm, her grip gentle but firm. She gave a soft squeeze, then snapped open her glider and took a daring leap from Asami's balcony. Asami would have watched her fly away, but Korra blended with the shadows of the night as she glided on the winds.
The unseasonably cool night air chased her into her apartment, and Asami chased it right back with another nip of fire whiskey. She stood in front of the window for a few minutes of silence as her exhaustion slowly weighed down on her.
She would survive this. Korra would survive this. And then they would have the future together…as friends or more. And Asami was rapidly realizing 'more' was something she would be reaching for.
Being surrounded by Varrick's unfailing optimism, Asami had allowed herself to believe that the suits might make the difference, but the news that Bolin had brought—along with the Beifongs—crushed her confidence. That Kuvira's powerful spirit weapon was fully functioning wasn't welcome. Her hummingbird suits were on the production line, meaning too many of her workers had stayed behind in harm's way, and she felt as though the war was accelerating faster than she could keep up.
Standing with her friends together again eased some of the fear that tightened her throat. She felt in control with Korra, Mako, and Bolin beside her, especially when they all exchanged wordless hugs.
"We can do this," Korra said firmly to start off their inevitable conversation. She was probably the only person in the room who felt that way.
"I have a lot of confidence in Team Avatar," Bolin replied quickly, "But I don't know if we can do anything to protect the city from Kuvira's weapon."
"There has to be something," Asami said, more to herself than to him.
"You guys don't understand. That weapon blew a hole in a mountain! If it gets in range of the city, we're toast."
"What if we can sabotage it before it gets to the city?" Mako asked.
It might be their best chance, but there was a large danger to it. Asami pointed that out. "It has to be surrounded by Kuvira's army. It'll be hard to sneak in undetected."
Korra's expression firmed with her decision. "It's a risk I'm willing to take." She met each one of their eyes. "Are you willing to help me?"
"Of course!" Bolin grabbed her hand, and Asami reached out too. Mako laughed and shook his head, placing his hand on top of the pile.
"We're all crazy," he said with a smile.
Korra gave him a crooked grin, and Bolin reached his free arm around Mako's neck. "Team Avatar is back in business!"
They broke their grip but remained clustered close to each other.
"Do you think you can dismantle it, Asami?" Mako asked.
"Believe it or not, I'm just as good at destroying machines as building them."
She recalled the night after Tonraq's announcement that Korra had been missing for six months. After hours of lying in bed staring up at her ceiling numbly, she'd gone to her workshop and attempted to work on a transmission prototype she'd been unable to finish. She'd managed only five minutes of work before picking up a crowbar from the corner, lifting it, and bringing it down on the machine. By the time she'd finished, there was nothing left but twisted metal and several dents in the walls, and her hands had ached from the vibrations up the crowbar.
Four weeks, had been the thought crystalized in her mind. Four weeks ago, Korra had written a letter, but Tonraq hadn't heard from her since. Four weeks of silence and not knowing. And not once had Korra reached out to Asami.
Even with Korra only writing her once, she'd clung to the fact Korra had reached out to her, only her. Asami thought that had signified closeness between them—and a tiny, betraying part of her had whispered about it meaning Korra must return some of her feelings—but that night the reality had crashed down on her.
Later, she'd been able to reason that Korra was fighting something big, dark, and painful inside herself. She hadn't done this to spite Asami or make her worry, but that night, Asami felt nothing but bitter anger.
Asami shook herself from the unhappy memory and spoke more firmly. "I can do it."
"We should take a sky bison. Bolin, where was Kuvira's army stationed?"
"Still in Zaofu. The weapon may still be in the camp just outside Zaofu. I know how to get there."
"We should leave this evening to get there under nightfall," Asami said.
And so they did, and they found something they didn't expect. The journey to Kuvira's army had been nervous anticipation; the journey back was pure defeat. They were quiet as Korra pushed the sky bison back to Republic City. Asami no longer felt in control, and whatever comfort she could take that they'd made it back alive was shaken by the realization they'd had such a close call in the first place.
And a deep, uncomfortable part of her was envious of the genius to build such a mech. The physics of it trumped her comprehension; the mech simply should not work. She'd never had the scope or motivation to create something so huge, but now a part of her itched to match and exceed.
And that was stupid.
"So," Bolin finally said. "Things are worse than we thought."
"We can still do this," Korra said calmly.
"How did they build that?" Mako asked. It took Asami a moment to realize he'd directed the question to her.
"I wish I knew. I can't even imagine how they power it."
Korra's shoulders shifted. "I can."
Spirit vines, Asami realized. "Korra, I don't know how they could possibly do that. It's one thing to create a destructive force, but to use that to produce power seems impossible."
Korra glanced over her shoulder with a tight half-smile. "I've seen a lot of impossible things. I don't want it to be true, but I get the feeling it is."
"So, uh… What are you two talking about?" Bolin asked.
"They've been doing this a lot, bro," Mako grumbled.
Korra pulled at the reins, and the sky bison dropped onto Air Temple Island with a groan. It was time to face the music. Asami needed to get to her factory now. Her workers should have evacuated, but the suits hadn't been delivered to the United Republic Army yet. Damn herself for wanting one more day to debug and perform quality control checks.
There was too much that had to be done.
Asami sprinted through the streets, trying to gauge where the giant mech was traveling. If only her parachute hadn't deployed in the opposite direction that the mech traveled in. If only she hadn't been completely entangled in the chute cords for precious minutes. She took the risk and sprinted through an alley to the adjoining avenue. Judging by the quiet of the city, the mech had been motionless for at least a few minutes, but she was still trying to find the main avenue it stood on.
They must have gotten inside. The plan was working if the mech was so still.
Then there was a shudder, and she staggered and fell to one knee from a powerful shockwave as beams of purple light flared into the sky. The buildings around her rocked, and her ears popped as something large exploded. Dust and smoke swirled above the buildings at least twenty blocks away.
She was running on full instinct, her mind struggling with the thought that someone could have survived that blast. Bolin, Mako, Korra…
She was a fool for not telling Korra her feelings. She knew Korra didn't return them, but she should have said something, not for herself, but so that Korra knew how wonderful she was, knew that she was worth loving.
She might very well lose her chance forever.
Her legs carried her down the street as fast as her body could manage. She stumbled a few times, and her lungs burned, but she couldn't stop now.
She'd covered perhaps half the distance to the remnants of the mech when a new cascade of explosions echoed through the streets; she couldn't see these, but smoke rose from the other side of the spirit wilds.
And then the ground shuddered again. Asami turned the corner but stopped short at the sight of a billowing cloud of purple sweeping towards her. She dashed into a subway entrance and wrapped her hands behind her head, shaking. She was almost too shocked to react, but again, that horrified thought of: Korra burst through her. When she closed her eyes, she saw the massive cloud of the explosion against her eyelids. It didn't seem survivable.
And then, a rush of wind swirled in the opposite direction. Asami's ears popped as the pressure changed around her, and she turned her head to see nothing but stillness and vines in the street. She lurched to her feet and looked around the corner, watching as the swirling smoke rolled back away from her, accelerating as it returned to the center of the spirit wilds.
After a moment, it disappeared from Asami's view altogether. Then a burst of golden light shot upwards to the sky.
Somehow she knew exactly what it was: a spirit portal. And if it was that, Korra had won.
Her fears folded away, still there but in the background, muted by new hope.
Even when she found Tenzin and his children combing through the wreckage and vines in search of Korra, she had hope; she clung to that hope desperately, even as Mako and Bolin's faces tightened in worry. Against all odds, they'd made it through the battle. Lin and Suyin emerged as well, but there was still no sign of Korra.
She didn't realize she'd ever been afraid until she turned and saw Korra's form materialize through the spirit portal. She was walking strong, supporting Kuvira, her expression steady and calm. Her eyes fixed on Asami's and held until they were shaken from that strong mutual look by enemy mechs striding closer.
Asami put her hand on Korra's shoulder, feeling the strength and solidness of her, and Korra looked back at her with a smile. Asami was fragile with her joy and thought nothing of wrapping her arm around Korra's waist and pressing her face to her shoulder. She was alive; they had made it out of this alive and well.
The trip back through ruined downtown back to Air Temple Island was surreal. Asami sat beside Korra and brushed her fingertips against her arm. She exchanged wordless looks with Mako and Bolin. They were alive. They'd made it.
But not everyone had. That fact hadn't quite hit her yet.
She'd been so focused on getting through the battle, she had a hard time remembering what she had to do now. Contact her officers, speak to Raiko, go to Future Industries' properties to check on their damages.
Asami glanced over after Korra bumped shoulders with her. Korra's hair was singed, her face bruised, but she was smiling gently, which was a beautiful sight.
"Hey," Asami responded softly.
"So, we made it."
"Yeah, we did. Are you okay?"
"Pretty banged up." Korra said it like it was a good thing. She glanced across the boat to Mako. "How about you? I can heal that arm a little bit, Mako."
He gave a one-shouldered shrug and a smile.
"He's awesome," Bolin said with a slow smile. Mako smiled and threw his good arm around his brother's shoulders.
Korra looked back at Asami. "Are you okay?" she repeated.
"I'm okay," Asami said, believing it right then.
It was nearly midnight when the Southern Water Tribe vessel pulled up to Air Temple Island's dock. It was no surprise to see Tonraq and Senna step out of the ship, and it was also no surprise to see Korra run into their arms. They held each other close, and while Asami was happy for Korra, her grief struck her abruptly.
She stepped back into the shadows and quietly left. It would be horrible to overshadow Korra's happy reunion with her own grief…and right now Asami wanted solitude to nurse her wounds.
She stood under Korra's meditation patio a few minutes later. She wiped her eyes and leaned over the railing to feel the warm late summer breeze on her face. Her breathing was harsh to her own ears as she choked down tears.
The only word she could think was: Daddy.
There was something about deep, painful emotion that made time fold over itself. She had no idea how long she stood there, alternating between silent stillness and silent tears.
She jumped when arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind. Asami tried to pull away, but Korra's quiet voice stilled her. "I've got you."
Asami collapsed to her knees as her sobs were suddenly wrenched from her mouth in painful, ugly sounds. Her chest hitched and jerked, and she rocked forward as her grief overwhelmed her. She seized Korra's arms and clutched at them desperately. In her grief was thankfulness too: What if I had lost you too? There was also anger at herself for those warring emotions.
Korra pressed her forehead against Asami's hair, and they remained molded together, front to back, until Asami's wracking sobs softened to sniffles and a few embarrassing hiccups.
"I'm sorry," she tried to say.
"No," Korra responded gently. She shifted from beneath Asami and sat down beside her with their legs still intertwined. Her face was soft with gentle emotion, and it choked Asami to see it. "Don't be sorry for grief," she said.
Asami didn't care about hiding her emotions anymore. She leaned forward and pressed her face into the crook of Korra's neck. They sat like that for a few minutes before Korra shifted. "Come on. Let's get you in bed."
Asami walked back with her hand firmly clasped in Korra's. She was numb, blinded by her tears, and sat down when Korra directed her. Sluggishly, she realized she was in Korra's room, sitting on her bed. Korra wiped her face with a warm washcloth and patted a set of pajamas she set next to her. "Do you need help changing?"
Asami glanced at the clothes numbly. "No."
"I'll be back in a few minutes, then." Korra did something exceedingly gentle: she leaned down and kissed Asami's forehead.
"You should be with your family," Asami said weakly.
"Don't worry about that." Korra closed the door behind her, and Asami picked up the washcloth to wipe her face again. She unsnapped and unzipped her jacket, stripped out of her shirt and bra, and kicked off her boots and pants. As Asami pulled the tank over her head, she paused at the smell: clean but spicy. She relaxed; these were Korra's clothes. The pajama pants came halfway up Asami's calves, something that made her smile despite herself.
Korra knocked gently on the doorframe.
"Come in," Asami said.
Korra smiled tentatively as she opened the sliding door with her foot. She carried a tea set in her hands, and that fact gave Asami a twitch of happiness though she couldn't bring herself to smile.
"Why aren't you in bed, young lady?" Korra asked in a joking tone.
Obediently, Asami settled beneath the covers, easing her aching back down onto the pillows. She hadn't realized how sore she was until now.
Korra poured warm tea into a teacup, then pulled a flask from her pocket and tipped a bit of clear liquid into the tea. "To help you sleep."
"Where did you get liquor on Air Temple Island?" Asami's voice was nasal, but she was too tired to be embarrassed. She accepted the teacup and sipped it; the heat soothed her throat, and a slow warmth followed, probably from the alcohol.
"Varrick. He swears it's good southern moonshine." Korra poured herself a cup of tea, complete with a nip of clear liquor. Her sip resulted in a sigh, and her shoulders drooped.
Then she picked up Asami's dirty clothes and folded them, placing them neatly in a basket that must hold laundry. (Why she folded dirty laundry, Asami couldn't fathom.) Then she stood up and pulled off her clothes, adding them to the basket. Asami was too tired to turn away. Her eyes traced the bruises that crossed Korra's back. Each shift resulted in a group of muscles across Korra's body coiling and relaxing; her backside and legs were fantastically shaped. When she shook out her pajamas, the curves of her breasts swayed into view.
She was absolutely beautiful.
Korra was oblivious to Asami's eyes on her body. After she pulled her pajamas on, she scrubbed her hair and yawned widely. She sat down on the bed and bumped hips gently with Asami until Asami shifted against the wall, making as much room as she could in the small bed. She finished her tea, handed it to Korra, and settled farther down the bed, pillowing her head on Korra's side. Korra's fingers slipped into her hair and rubbed her scalp soothingly.
Asami was surprised to wake up early the next morning to the sound of birdcalls. She lifted her head with a sigh through her nose, wincing as her head ached dully. Someone stirred under her arm, and Asami dropped her head back into the mess of Korra's hair, taking a deep breath.
Then next time she woke up, the curtains were open, and a bright strip of sunlight shone over her face. Asami was alone in bed, and her headache had magnified. She brushed her fingertips across the coarse sheets. She waited for her grief to come crashing back down, but there wasn't much more than a dull ache.
Her father was gone. He had given his life for her, for her friends, for the city. But at least he had known that she loved him.
"I love you, Dad. Thank you."
Asami got up, put a hand to her head in reaction to the pulse behind her skull. A headache, probably from crying and grogginess and lack of caffeine. The touch of moonshine the night before certainly hadn't helped. She got to her feet and waited for the world to settle.
A bundle of toiletries and a set of her clothing—probably left behind when she moved back off the island years ago—sat on the table in the corner. Asami smiled at the thoughtfulness of the gesture and picked them up to make her way to the women's shared bath. She had the place to herself and took her time, enjoying the quiet.
She hadn't expected to sleep at all last night. She remembered the long, sleepless night after the biggest calamities in her life: her father's betrayal, the certain loss of Future Industries, seeing Korra broken by the Red Lotus. Those had all been sleepless, thoughtless nights spent listening to the radio or staring at the wall of her bedroom. Last night had been nothing but deep, restful slumber.
Asami wondered if it was fair to feel so rested after losing her father the day before.
She stepped out of the bath and dried herself. Her dress fit well enough, though the old jacket was a little tight in the chest. She wondered if she'd lost weight over the last few stressful weeks. She brushed her wet hair back into a bun to keep it off her back and shoulders and walked barefoot out of the bathroom.
Asami was actually a little surprised to see Korra sitting at the dinner table in the small family dining room. There was remnants of breakfast, including tea, in front of her. Korra lifted her eyes from the paper in her hands to view Asami with wide eyes. Her gaze was innocent, and her smile was slow and soft. "Good morning," she said.
"Good morning." Asami settled next to Korra, startled when Ikki abruptly ran through the room and returned a moment later with a tray of bowls. Ikki clanked it down in front of Asami. "Would you like some tea?!" she asked a little too loudly.
"Yes, thank you, Ikki. Caffeinated, please."
"You got it!"
Ikki burst out of the room again. Asami glanced over and touched Korra's wrist. "Thank you. For last night, I mean."
Korra smiled gently. "Are you feeling a little better?"
Asami nodded, unable to put into words that her sharp grief from last night had settled into something softer this morning. She knew she would fluctuate back and forth between those feelings, but right now she was almost at peace.
"How are you?" she asked. "I saw all your bruises last night."
"A little banged up. Not too bad, though."
"I'm surprised you aren't in Republic City right now."
"I'm not allowed to leave this island today. A lot like when I first got here, actually. I snuck out to watch probending for the first time. Anyway, Tenzin said—" Korra tilted her head back, mimed stroking a beard, and put on a Tenzin-like voice, "Raiko can handle his own city for a day!"
Asami laughed. "I bet Raiko has already put in a panicked call to my office."
"Which is why you aren't allowed to leave today either. By the way, Varrick's planning to have his wedding here in a week. Do you know anything about that?"
"He asked Zhu Li to marry him right before we flew the hummingbird suits out."
Korra laughed. "I kind of wish I had seen that."
"My dad thought it was hilarious." Asami blinked back her tears. She shook her head when Korra reached out to hug her. "I'll start crying again."
"Well, if you ever need a hug, just go for it."
Asami laughed. "I have permission to hug you anytime, anywhere, huh?"
"Completely. Avatar hugs are usually expensive, you know." Korra sipped her tea sagely. Then she winked at Asami with a grin, which made Asami blush despite herself.
Asami leaned forward to speak, but she stopped when the door slid open. She was surprised to see Senna step into the room. Senna gave her a gentle smile as she settled on her shins beside Asami and slid the tray in her hands onto the table. Her voice was as soothing as her smile. "Extra-caffeinated tea delivered."
"Thank you, Senna."
"I'm sorry about your father, honey." Senna put her hand on Asami's forearm. Asami swallowed her tears and smiled weakly. Senna folded her into a hug, and despite herself, Asami let a few tears escape. "I also want to thank you for being there for Korra. It means a lot to me that she has someone as level-headed as you to look after her."
"Mom," Korra said in a neutral voice.
Senna gave Asami one last squeeze before she released her. "If you ever need anything, please don't hesitate to ask."
Senna patted her arm again and got up.
"Can I get a refill, Mom?" Korra asked.
Senna's manner completely changed as she walked past her daughter. "Are you incapable of making your own tea, Korra?"
Korra leaned against her fist, giving a heavy sigh. "No respect."
"You can have some of mine," Asami offered.
"Don't encourage her laziness!" Senna called from down the hall.
Asami lowered her voice to a whisper, smiling as she spoke. "I mean it."
Korra shook her head. "Caffeine makes me shake. You want the paper?"
"Are you finished with it?"
Korra pushed over three sections, and Asami sorted through them. Usually she read the meatier sections first, but Sports seemed like a great place to start that day.
Then she caught sight of the front page and snatched it up from the pile. "Wha… Wait, when did someone take this picture?"
Korra shrugged, sliding closer to Asami to study the picture with her. Team Avatar was on it: Bolin, Mako, Asami, and Korra. They weren't posing, which was good because Korra was certain to have had a silly expression on her face. In this picture, she was serious and determined. The headline said: TEAM AVATAR SAVES REPUBLIC CITY FROM CERTAIN DESTRUCTION.
"Not the snappiest title ever," Korra pointed out. "Look, it's outside. Maybe it was when we got back from our failed sabotage mission."
Asami folded the paper to isolate the text. She scanned it, seeing they were all briefly biographied—all positively, including Bolin—before a vague summary of the battle was given. It wasn't wrong, per se, but it left off many of the key players, including her father. Unless it was in the next section.
Without Asami asking, Korra handed over the section of paper in question, and Asami flipped over to the appropriate page and folded the paper. She scanned again but the article went into describing the major areas of destruction of the city, then finished by talking about the new spirit portal with a vague conjecture on how it had come to be.
The weight of what would come next settled on her shoulders. "There's so much to do."
"Not today," Korra responded quietly.
Hiroshi had never had a particular religious inclination, and the disposal of his remains was not a conversation Asami had shared with him. She could only guess as to his desires, though it wasn't a difficult assumption to make that he would want to be laid to rest next his wife.
Asami arranged for a quiet ceremony at the crypt that held her mother's ashes. Hiroshi's remains had been cremated instead of a traditional Earth Kingdom burial. From what she could guess—but tried not to dwell on—there wasn't much else that could be done with him. She was thankful for the men that had retrieved what remained of her father after the battle. No doubt it was not a fun job.
She'd given the crematorium Hiroshi's finest suit and an old silk dress that her mother used to wear. After some hesitation, she'd included their Pai Sho board in with those two possessions. If there was something beyond this life, then he would know that she had sent a bit of herself with him. His remains were cremated with those belongings, and she picked him up in the late morning three days after the Battle of Republic City. She drove to the graveyard with his filled urn strapped into the passenger seat of her Satomobile, going too fast for his sake.
The open crypt was large enough for a full coffin, and it put her mother's urn in shadow. Her mother had been cremated, as was custom for the Fire Nation, the land where she hailed and the customs she had kept in life. Standing here, Asami remembered the sharp whisper voiced at her mother's funeral about her ashes: "The man that killed her did most of the work."
Asami had never told anyone about that. The comment had scared her as a child, and now it just sat in a twist of bitter pain behind her breast. To this day she regretted not matching those words with a face so that she could know who had spoken to irreverently at her mother's funeral. Today there would be no words to dismiss her father the same way, not in this place, not with the few trusted people she'd asked to come.
Bolin, Mako, and Korra arrived only a few minutes after she did. Asami embraced Bolin and Mako, taking comfort in their strength. And then she pulled Korra close and fought her tears when she felt the hitch in Korra's breath. That Korra would shed any tears for Hiroshi hit Asami in a painfully affectionate place. She drew back, and they shared watery smiles with each other. Korra squeezed her arm and released her, stepping away but still in touching distance.
They each lit incense sticks as Asami carried Hiroshi's ashes to the open crypt. She placed the urn inside, right next to her mother's ashes, stepped back, and bowed. The incense made her throat ache, adding to the pain of it sitting high with her grief. She had trouble thinking anything concrete in that moment before she realized that surely all Hiroshi wanted was her love.
"I love you, Dad," she murmured. And that was that.
Asami was touched when her friends stepped forward to bow to her parents' remains as well. Korra's back remained bowed for long enough to betray she was saying a prayer. She was almost meditatively still. Then her torso expanded in a long exhale as she straightened. Korra glanced back over her shoulder at Asami for permission before she lifted her arms and bent the crypt door closed.
It struck Asami sharply that her father's name, written on the plaque the moment it was made for Asami's mother, was no longer outlined in red. He was dead, as dead as her mother. She was at long last an orphan.
Bolin's arm settled over her shoulder, and he squeezed her gently. "Come have lunch with us. You should eat."
"Okay." She wasn't hungry, but it would be good to be with her friends—her family. "Okay."
The next morning she awoke with Korra's hand in her own and the sound of two arguing brothers in the living room. It would be a good day despite all odds.
She was early by several hours, but her apartment was lonely, and Air Temple Island proved to be full of laughter and happiness. And Korra was there.
Asami was surprised to see Mako waiting for the ferry at the docks, and she put her hand into the crook of his right arm as she stepped up next to him. She took in his tailored suit and velvet lapels; Wu must have chosen that for him. Either that or Mako's sense of fashion had improved over the years. "How are you?"
He smiled at her. "Feeling better every day. How are you doing, Asami?"
She took a long breath, exhaling it. She went a little teary but that was the extent to her grief. "It hits me sometimes that I wish I had more time with him. But then I'm glad for what we did have. Thank you for being there."
His smile had a soft note. "I wouldn't have missed it."
They stood in comfortable silence for a minute before he ventured to say, "You, uh, look nice."
The compliment had been delivered awkwardly, but there was only a friendly connotation behind it. Unlike Mako, Asami was comfortable delivering her compliment: "So do you, Detective. That suit is nice."
"I can't wait until I start working again," he said with another big smile. "What about you? Are you burning the midnight oil?"
"Constantly." Asami thought of the long hours she'd put in the last few days. "We actually have some scrapped plans from three years ago for building a new district outside the city, which has been invaluable. After we get started on rebuilding housing, we'll work on fixing the mess outside the spirit wilds downtown."
"Don't work too hard."
Asami rolled her eyes and gave his arm a squeeze. "Where's Bolin?"
Mako raised his eyebrows. "He stayed on Air Temple Island last night."
"Really?" Asami wondered how likely it was that Bolin had actually been taking up a room on the men's side of the island. She was surprised Tenzin hadn't protested, but Opal and Bolin were adults.
"I hope he's not being stupid," Mako muttered, betraying he was thinking the same thing as Asami.
"How soon do you think they'll get married?"
"Opal has some sense. She won't say 'yes' until they're ready."
As the ferry pulled up, Asami kept her hand tucked in Mako's elbow. He would have offered it anyway to steady her, and in these shoes, she needed a bit of steadying on the rocking ferry. She hadn't worn heels like these in a few months.
As they slowly crossed the bay, Asami's eyes were drawn to the spirit portal. Even in the day, it was bright. Mako followed her gaze. "Korra's pretty amazing, huh?"
"I can't believe she managed to turn something so destructive into that."
"Are you upset she saved Kuvira?"
"Do I seem upset?" Asami asked mildly. The implication of that question put her on guard.
Mako shrugged. "You haven't really talked about Kuvira, and she did kill your father. Just wondered if you wanted to talk about that."
Realizing it wasn't an attack, Asami considered opening up. Why not? Mako was turning out to be a friend she wished she'd stayed closer to those years that Korra was absent. "I'm upset Korra risked her life to save Kuvira. I'm not upset Kuvira is alive. Everything worked out, though. I'm…so glad Korra made it through that without getting hurt." She managed to say it without tears.
"Yeah." Mako cleared his throat as they stepped onto Air Temple Island's dock. "Mind if I get a dance later?"
"As long as you don't step on my feet."
They parted ways at the dock. Mako went in search of his brother, and Asami went in search for Korra. She wandered through the women's dormitory, smiling at those who greeted her. Korra's door was ajar, and she knocked gently on the frame.
"Come in." It was Senna's voice, and when Asami cracked open the door, she smiled to see Korra sitting on a chair with a clear pout as Senna worked on her hair.
"Save me," Korra whispered, and Senna smacked her shoulder gently before returning to carefully tugging the short strands up into a tiny bun.
Asami sat down on Korra's neatly made bed, taking in Korra's dress. She swallowed, surprised at the deep stab of attraction she felt. Korra's eyes flickered over her dress. "You look snazzier that usual."
How odd to feel shy at the compliment. She tucked some hair behind her ear self-consciously. "So do you."
"Alright, all done." Senna leaned over to kiss Korra's cheek. "Now I have to go get myself ready."
"Lovely to see you, Asami."
Asami nodded to Korra's mother. She stood when Korra did. Korra laughed when she tilted her head back to meet Asami's eyes. "Those heels must be tall."
"I'm just taller than you, Korra."
"Not that much!" Korra protested.
Without thinking, Asami held out her arm, and Korra took her elbow as they walked down the dormitory hallway. "Today will be a good day."
Asami smiled and realized she felt exactly the same way. "Tomorrow may be better."
Korra's teeth where white as she grinned fiercely. "Let's try for that then."
AN: Bejesus, this thing gave me problems. We fought frequently, and I'm sick of it.