It shouldn't have bothered Korra so much to read the letters the others sent her and see all that Kuvira was doing to help the Earth Kingdom: gathering up the broken towns, driving away bandits, building Varrick's trains and sending food and supplies from one end of the Kingdom to another, sitting down with the heads of the various city-states and reuniting them. Restoring order. Balance.
It was what Korra should have been doing.
Another letter fell listlessly from her fingers. Every part of her mind and heart and body hurt, an aching symphony as the background of her life. She didn't know how to make it stop.
After a little while, Korra found her pen and did something she hadn't quite planned. She wrote, "Dear Kuvira."
Kuvira missed the guidance and leadership Suyin had always provided as Kuvira grew in bending, in her work, in her dance. But the sting of Suyin's abandonment of the Earth Kingdom and attempted banishing of Kuvira had yet to fade, and Kuvira hardened her will and worked tirelessly onward, determined to succeed even if no one else was willing to try.
She gathered willing souls. Those under her command. Bataar Jr. and Varrick and Zhu Li. She had an army and she had geniuses of infrastructure and engineering to give her what tools they could. What she didn't have was a wiser head than her own with experience running a country or at least political acumen. Kuvira stayed up late nights, going over inventories, statistics, and campaigns. There was always more to do and always a certain feeling that some of the temporary bandages she was putting on some of the larger problems would slip before the end of the dance. But her kingdom deserved every ounce of her strength, so she didn't allow herself to feel tired or inadequate, just forged onward.
Then she got a letter.
"Who's that from?" Bataar asked curiously. "Is it from Mother?"
Kuvira quirked her mouth in a wry smile that meant no. She hated to stamp out the hopeful eagerness in his voice. "It's from the Avatar."
"The Avatar!" He looked thunderstruck.
She excused herself, took the letter into her private car, then read it.
Korra knew things Kuvira didn't, about how balance had to be maintained between the nations and the different forms of bending, between the spirits and humans. Kuvira knew what was really going on in her nation and on the ground. They had much to discuss.
"I wish I could be out there helping. I hope you're coordinating with the Air Nomads to maximize relief to the smaller villages. Don't let Raiko push you into doing whatever he wants. He wants you to help the Earth Kingdom, but he'll try to get something out of it for himself too."
Kuvira had little patience for those who wouldn't take care of themselves, people too important to lose. "You're doing exactly what you should be doing. Healing. When I used to dance, it was important to stop when an injury was still minor. Dancers who ignore that can end up with permanent injuries, never able to dance again. And the world needs the Avatar. Right now, let others help you as we can.
"I've attached a map of the reunited states and those still beset by bandits and hunger. The old army has almost entirely gone to following petty warlords now. Young men and women can be kidnapped from their homes and made to fight instead of being allowed to work for themselves and their families. It makes me furious to see them taking advantage of innocent families this way."
Korra felt like she knew what was going on, and she could see Kuvira using some of her suggestions. It made her feel a little less alone.
Somehow the letters became more personal as they went along. They argued about politics and history and the rights of the last Avatar to negotiate away so much of the Earth Kingdom and some of its resource-rich areas, as those were the ones the Fire Nation had established their colonies in. They debated how best to deal with the bandits with bending who would not fall into line. They agreed they couldn't kill them, but Korra had strong objections to establishing prison camps without a rather strict set of rules to provide for their care.
"We don't have the resources," Kuvira pointed out yet again, plenty of frustration evident in the surrounding lines.
"I feel like I'm learning more and more the Avatar's need for compassion to bring true balance. I understand you don't have time to rehabilitate the unwilling personally and the need to bring a strong hand, but you said yourself that many have been forced into banditry. They need the opportunity to change without being forced into the army."
And all these arguments and discussions and brainstorming became admitting their own feelings of inadequacy, the need to be strong for the people that looked to them for hope and guidance, and their shared preference for physically doing something to help all the troubles around them. Became finding a common bond they didn't seem to share with anyone else.
Korra wasn't as recovered as she'd like, still plagued with nightmares and visions, but she was able to move about and do things, and while part of her wanted that long-awaited return to Republic City, another part of her wanted to ride the train next to Kuvira and help where she might be needed most.
Especially as Kuvira talked about the untapped potential of spirit energy.
"I know Varrick makes it sound like a good idea, and I know you're looking for a way to expand the Earth Kingdom's industrial power, but don't anger the spirits. Maybe I can come out and help you. I know I'm a little rusty but surely I can still bridge between the human and the spirit world."
"I look forward to it." That was horribly stiff, Kuvira considered, but she couldn't say what she really felt, that her heart seemed to beat a little harder. Korra was coming out to help her. Soon the entire Earth Kingdom would be reunited, in a timeframe that had always been much too short, and Korra would get to be there. Surely that was the only reason she felt such intense anticipation.
"Kuvira." Korra threw her arms around the Great Uniter in a gesture that was perhaps a tiny bit indecorous, and Kuvira couldn't hide the surprise in her face.
Her smile was warm when Korra pulled away. "It's good to see you, Avatar."
"Korra then. Would you like to see?"
Korra listened to everyone's enthusiasm over the near completion of the reunification effort and listened to the quiet sternness Kuvira wore over the last city remaining. Zaofu. She'd shared much about the rejection of her adopted family, with the exception of Bataar, and Suyin's rejection of leading any campaign to reunite the Earth Kingdom.
"Suyin doesn't believe in having an Earth King or Queen," Kuvira reminded her. She looked at Korra, waiting for a moment while Korra gathered her thoughts.
"Well, there's the whole coronation."
Kuvira's face hardened. "Of someone who will let all this fall apart again. Raiko's been grooming him to be a puppet."
"No," Korra said firmly. "I won't let that happen. We're just going to have to do this the hard way."
Kuvira glanced questioningly.
Kuvira had always preferred a more direct approach, and truthfully, Korra had too, but this was too important to not do it right. Bringing balance between nations, sitting at peace among the elements, standing side by side.
"Aang and Zuko found a way for the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom to make peace and keep people in their homes. We'll find a way to maintain all the work you've done, though I don't know if I can convince Suyin to join the Earth Kingdom under your rule."
"She'd prefer an incompetent prince from a line she despises?" Kuvira didn't say it like a question. "Zaofu is part of the Earth Kingdom. It can't remain isolated."
"Let's fight one battle at a time." Korra smiled and took Kuvira's hand impulsively.
The flicker of pleased surprise on Kuvira's face was worth the risk of the gesture.
"Together," Korra said. "We'll do it together."