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Ronin Korra

Chapter Text

An hour passes.

Another…

And another…

Korra yawns deeply, and stretches out. She’s started to lose the feeling in one of her legs, and shifts her position slightly with a low grunt. It’s a hot, sticky day, she’s been hiding away in these trees for hours now, and she’s starting to get the horrible, nagging feeling that her current employer, Mr. Sato, might be losing his mind, or suffering from paranoia.

She wonders, and not for the first time, if this one is really going to be worth the reward. She pulls out her spy glass again, holds it to one eye, and as she looks around she can see that yet again, absolutely nothing is happening within the Sato holding.

She breathes out a frustrated sigh.

Day after day she sees the villagers peacefully make their way to the rice fields, converse with each other and exchange their usual pleasantries. There’s been nothing out of the ordinary at all, really, apart from the overly confident woman that comes out to help in the fields occasionally.

And there she is again, helping everyone, as usual. There’s definitely something different about this one, but Korra can’t place it. The woman always turns up wearing the same light grey worker garb as everyone else, a short sleeved tunic and a skirt that cuts off above the knee. There’s a certain grace, or elegance there that the other workers don’t have, and everyone smiles, laughs and chats with her whilst harvesting the fields.

Yeah, that’s the pretty little daughter. Korra tells herself. Has to be.

Suddenly, something blurs in the corner of her eye, and she switches focus towards it.

Wow, looks like the old man was actually right, she muses, as the first silhouette of what she hopes to be her mark appears, just on the horizon. She watches just a touch longer to confirm. Yup, definitely bandits, she thinks, as she sees the usual display of crappy, makeshift blades and leering, over-confident faces.

She leaps from the treetops to the floor, pats down her dark blue kimono, and checks that her daisho is positioned such that she can comfortably draw one of the two master-crafted blades if she needs to. It’s a precaution this time, since the peculiars of the job mean she won’t be getting up close and personal.

She grabs her yumi, an expertly crafted bow almost as tall as herself, from the base of the tree.

Next, she’ll need to get in range and find a good vantage point. She heads as close to the estate as she dares, sprinting through tall grass to keep herself well-hidden.

She’s close now. She scans the area... The Sato mansion in the distance has the tallest rooftop, but it’s very public, and she can’t risk being seen. Or, she can be seen, but that’d waiver her contract, which would defeat the whole purpose of her being here in the first place. She sighs, and wonders how the hell she keeps getting involved in these kinds of things. If only I hadn’t been in that damn bar

::

“Mmmm, this is great...”

Korra closes her eyes as she sips at the warm sake, it’s her fourth, and she’s feeling mildly inebriated.

“It’s my brother’s recipe, I’m glad you like it!” the barkeep is very attractive, with messy, short hair, amber eyes, and unusually thick eyebrows. He looks to be around her age.

“Oh? Then your brother has quite the talent.”

“I’ll tell him you said so!”

“Where is he, anyway?” she’s not usually so inquisitive, but this guy has a friendly face. It’s a rare sight, for her at least.

“He’s out and about, exploring the lands, trying to find ways to add new flavours to his sake recipe.”

“Flavours? As in, flavoured sake? Hah!” she laughs, despite herself, thinking it a ridiculous notion. Thankfully, the barkeep looks every bit as amused, rather than offended.

“Anyway, I’ve not seen you around here before. I’m Mako.” He smiles, holds out a hand, which she takes. It’s a firm grip, and the man has calloused hands. Sign of a worker, or a warrior. She isn’t sure which in this case.

“Korra. And I’m just passing through.”

“Did you want to stay the night? It’s getting late… I could put you up.” there’s a slightly suggestive tone to the voice, and she’s tempted, but she’s not looking for that kind of attention right now.

“Thanks, but I’ve got to get moving.”

She’s got a long journey ahead, so she finishes off the last of her sake, and winks at Mako as she drops a few yen onto the counter. She’s sure that there’s a small blush forming on his cheeks, and maybe it’s the sake but she starts to have second thoughts about staying. No, bad Korra! She chides herself, as she turns and heads toward the door.

No sooner has she taken her first step than two burly, tough looking guys stand from their table and stare her down, hands at their hilts which they’ve put on obvious display. A third, scrawny and mean looking man stands with them.

“Ronin Korra.” he declares smugly, his voice a high pitched, wavering annoyance. He holds up a small parchment, displaying a badly-drawn version of herself and a not-insignificant number of yen on the bottom.

Great, not this again. Korra rolls her eyes. Bounty hunters. She grips her upper hilt and stares fiercely at them, hoping they won’t be stupid enough to take this any further.

“You’re coming with us! Get her!” he commands his hired muscle.

“Fuuuuck.” Korra hisses under her breath. She’d just wanted one night of peace. Just one.

The big one to the right closes in first, his stance a clear sign of an amateur, his sword wavering in hands that are too big for this style of blade. She feels some relief that she won’t have to cause bloodshed tonight.

In one swift movement, she draws her blade then butts her sheath into his fist, jolting his sword clean out of his grasp, then rams the edge of her hilt sharply between his ribs, severely winding him. He’s out of the fight, he can’t breathe.

As she kicks him to the floor, she swings her torso backwards to avoid the second blade, which whips past her forehead, taking the ends of a few strands of her hair with it. This assailant evidently has a little more experience, but nowhere near enough judging by the huge opening revealed beneath his wide and clumsy swing. She thrusts her hilt and sheathe into his gut, straightens herself as he doubles over, then slams her knee into his face, breaking his nose.

He grunts and falls backwards, taking a table with him as he crashes to the floor in a clearly pained heap.

“Get out, or I’ll use the pointy end next time.” she warns the men with a growl, drawing her second blade as they glare at her.

The skinny one has apparently lost his voice, along with his bravado. He turns to flee, followed by the first, still winded guard and then the second bloody-nosed one.

A few quiet moments pass, and Korra sheathes her blades as she takes in the sight of the destruction around her.

 “God damn it!” Mako exclaims. “I’d just gotten this place cleaned up, why did you have to fight them inside?”

She puts her hands up “Whoa, whoa! Maybe you should be a bit more careful about who you let in here in the first place!” She folds her arms, pouts, “And you’re welcome, by the way, for me getting rid of them!”

“Getting rid of... what? They were here for you!” Mako exasperates, looking around the bar, and his face falls, “How am I ever gonna afford this...”

At those words, she feels a pang of guilt. She does tend to bring trouble wherever she goes lately.

She’s travelled way beyond the borders of the Empire, but frustratingly, still finds herself hunted. She supposes it’s one the perks of being leaderless, a wild mercenary that scares most officials enough that they’ll hunt her down for the hell of it. Or just for the sport, since her head would no doubt make a nice trophy for a wealthy noble.

“Look I’ll…” Korra pauses, knowing full well she’s too broke to pay for this, “is there any work you have? I mean, I can take it on, and we can split the reward?”

She’s aware that bars in these parts usually accept work contracts. Mako looks at her, thoughtfully.

“Well… you do seem to have a bit of fight in you.”

Korra stifles a laugh, thinking boy, you have no idea…

“Alright then, I just had something come in from Lord Sato, Daimyo of the Sato estate. Bit of a weird one.” He pulls out a parchment from a shelf beneath the bar, and hands it over. “Here. He thinks that bandits will attack his estate, wants some extra hired protection for their little community.”

“And the weird part…?” Korra asks.

Mako raises an eyebrow, points to the lower part of the contract, “Says here that he doesn’t want his daughter to know about it. You’re to protect her, and the village, without being seen.”

“What… how?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure you’ll work something out.”

::

It’s another bright, warm day.

Asami wipes the sweat from her brow. She hopes there’ll be rain soon, otherwise the fields might begin to dry out.

As she works outside in the fields, she talks with the villagers, most of them close friends by now. The Beifong family in particular are making short work of today’s harvest… though Lin’s mainly just barking out orders whilst Suyin rolls her eyes. They’re sisters, though Su in particular has been more like a mother to her these past few years.

Then there’s Su’s three children, all fully grown, and all currently doing exactly what Aunt Lin tells them to, lest they feel her wrath. The two boys, Wing and Wei, are starting to really fill out now. They’re strong, they’ve become excellent archers, and if only they’d argue with each other less, they’d be a formidable team. Their sister, Opal, has also matured a lot recently, and tends to be the one who breaks up any internal Beifong battles.

They were one of the first families to move into the estate, and they’ve shown nothing but loyalty to her father once he helped them to build their new homes here. She’s not completely aware of their history before they arrived, but judging by the vacant, almost despairing looks she sees on Su’s face from time to time, she knows it isn’t something she should pry about.

She takes a moments rest, stretches her arms upwards and inhales a deep breath of fresh air, peering out at the golden and green flat slopes of land around her, full of villagers busying themselves with today’s tasks. Sometimes she’s taken aback by the notion that her father owns most of this… land which stretches out as far as the eye can see. To the north, mountainous expanses which protect them from the harsher elements. To the south, bountiful rivers where they can fish freely.

All in all, the location is pretty much perfect, and her father has told her on many occasions how it all came to be. How decades ago, he traded everything he owned to buy a plot of empty, dead farmland, at the insistence of her mother. Then together, through months of hard work, they’d turned it into one of the best rice farms for miles around, and their export had been in constant demand, even back then.

The success of their humble little farm soon attracted talented people to join them, such as the Beifongs. The populace grew and grew, and before long the farm had flourished into a thriving estate and community, soon after that, a small holding. Not long after that, her father had attained formal recognition as Lord Sato – Daimyo.

She smiles to herself, remembering that her Father always blushes a little at the last part, still humble despite his success. Much of what he’s told her actually happened whilst she was growing up, though she’d been too young to remember. She’s had a good life, in fact most of her memories are filled with happiness. She just wishes her mother were still with them…

Before she can dwell on that particular thought, a panicked young girl runs towards her, yelling and waving arms in the air. Asami tilts her head to better hear.

“Bandits! Bandits are coming!”

She throws her rice stalks to the floor and sprints up to the mansion, flinging open the arms cabinet and grabbing her sheathed katana. As she turns to leave, she notices her father stood in the doorway to his bedroom.

“Asami…” he says, clearly concerned.

“Go back into your room father, I’ll take care of this.” She approaches him, places a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t leave me…” he says, his eyes glazing over, as if caught in long forgotten memories.

“I’m not going anywhere, Dad” she places a kiss on his forehead, then leads him back to his room and into his favourite chair. She closes the partition behind her and looks ahead, steeling her resolve.

She sprints back down the path, yelling at the townspeople to find safety and shelter. Lin and Suyin chase after her, their own blades at the ready, followed by dozens more villagers armed with swords, sickles, shovels or even pots and pans. The Beifong twins have taken to the rooftops, bows at the ready.

She’s conflicted about people risking their lives like this… they’re always putting the defence of the estate first, as much as she begs them to stay safe. Then again, it’s not the first time they’ve had to fight, and she knows it won’t be the last.

She slows her sprint to a walk as she approaches the leering men. It’s a relatively small, but well-armed group. She counts around fifty, and depending on their fighting prowess she can see it’s a dangerously even match.

“Asami Sato.” The oldest one snarls, “Stand down. We’re here to claim this land for Draxx.”

Asami frowns at the man as she draws her blade, “Why don’t you tell this… Draxx… that I own this land, and you’ll have to get through me first?”

The bandits laugh. It’s a wretched, filthy sound.

“You’re going to stop us, girl?” chokes a younger man to the side, tears forming from his laughter.

Su and Lin are suddenly at either side of her, all three of them pointing their blades towards the threat.

“Why don’t you come and find out?” Asami growls, projecting as much confidence as she can muster, though really, she’s terrified, scared that her people are going to get hurt.

“Ha! Get ‘em lads!” The leader shouts, “And keep the pretty one alive for me!” He grins menacingly, staring at her whilst holding his crotch. It makes her stomach turn.

Blades are drawn all at once, metal glinting against the sun. There’s but a moment’s pause, before Wing and Wei let loose their first arrows, which whisper through the air and take down one of the bandits immediately. He gargles, and claws at the shaft protruding from his chest as he falls to the ground.

The bandits charge, yelling and screaming, even laughing. Three bandits to the rear kneel down, drawing their man-sized bows to fire back at the rooftops, and Asami, the Beifong sisters, and the other villagers hurl themselves forwards, clashing metal against metal.

Chapter Text

Korra surveys the grounds below, guiding her drawn arrow around, getting a good feel for the area, the altitude, and the direction of the wind. She’s found the perfect vantage point, a rooftop far away enough to avoid unwanted attention, and completely out of line of sight from the villagers. There’s a waist high wall around the perimeter of the roof which she can duck behind, should anyone look her way.

She watches attentively as the daughter approaches the bandits, eases the pull on her string a little, since it’s better to watch a while before taking action. She has little time to rest though, the bandits are already moving forwards, charging the villagers. She sucks in her breath and tenses the string again, panicking for a moment when the daughter immediately engages in the fight.

Pretty little rich girl’s gonna get herself killed…

Or so she thinks, but doubt is replaced with awe as she watches the woman slice through a bandit with ease, followed by a second, then a third, and it’s like the blade has a life of its own. There’s two women with her, also cutting through their opponents, and it looks like they have some skilled archers – the ranged bandits are already down, and she can see others falling one by one.

Hmph, not bad, she thinks, releasing her held breath. She wasn’t expecting that these people would actually be able to fight. It’s fortuitous that they can hold themselves in battle… it means she has the option of strategically, and sneakily joining the fray. She switches her attention to the rear of the group of bandits. It’ll be far less obvious to pick off stragglers in the distance, but even so, arrows flying from out of nowhere could quickly reveal her presence.

As she watches more bandits fall, she considers for a moment whether she needs to get involved at all, but quickly chides herself at the thought. The more I help, the less casualties they’ll get.

She glances around, looking for the villager’s archers. She finds them, upon the lower rooftops, and waits for them to draw. They release their shots, whilst she quickly finds a target toward the back of the bandits, and lets loose her own arrow. Though she’s twice the distance of the other archers, her arrow hits true, and the force of it penetrates straight through her target’s temple. His knees buckle, and he falls.

She repeats this seven more times, each time attacking the furthest target, the one at the back, the one least likely to be seen by any villager. In the heart, the eye, the soft sides of the skull or the jugular. She knows to go for the vitals, these aren’t the sort of people you leave for dead and turn your back on - a lesson she’s learnt the hard way. She re-focuses her thoughts, her shoulder blade itching at a distant memory.

It comes as no surprise when the bandits panic at the sight of their comrades falling, one after the other. They’re acting like disorganised rioters, and some look like they may turn to flee. She readies another shot, but instead of finding a target, she finds herself distracted, watching the daughter slice through more men. She can’t help but smirk as she watches the blade dance through the air. Two-handed katana are generally heavy and unwieldy, but these moves are graceful, and the strikes appear as though effortless. The daughter’s obviously trained long, and hard.

The other villagers are putting up a good fight too, though she can see that some are wounded. As she glances around, she notices with sudden alarm that three bandits have broken away from the main group and are skulking through the shadows, hiding away between nearby houses and huts. She sees their intent. They’ll sneak to the rear of the daughter’s position, from where it will be a trivial task to step from the alleyways, landing a lethal blow.

Shit! Not good

She shifts her aim, tenses her string, and closely watches the only two exits that the bandits can leap from. She knows that if she kills them, she’ll give herself away, so she’ll have to do this as an absolute last resort.

They make their move, and she curses again as she realises that all three are attacking together. They sprint from the darkness, but the villager’s archers shout a warning. She breathes a sigh of relief as the daughter, and two women at her side, spin to face their sneaky assailants.

It seems these three bandits have some skill compared to the rest, they’re putting up a decent fight, but they’re outmatched. She grins as the daughter impales the first of them, straight through his torso. But the smile drops from her face when she notices there’s a fourth bandit, who’d been hiding in the shadows all along. He’s stealthy, short, and quick. Clever, like a rat.

“Shit. Shit. Shit!” She’s cursing under her breath as he sneaks into the fray completely un-noticed, draws a dagger, and raises it into the air, readying a lethal blow.

::

“Asami!” Lin yells, wide eyes staring somewhere behind her back.

She spins around fearfully, expecting to feel cold steel at any moment. Instead, there’s a metallic clang, and she’s met with an open, trembling fist raised one inch away from her face. Wide and frightened eyes search into hers, and as she lowers her gaze she gasps at the sight of a narrow, pointed shaft impaled all the way through her would-be-attacker’s neck.

He chokes, grasps at his wound, spreading his own slick blood across his fingertips before falling to the floor in a spluttering heap.

“What… how?” Lin asks, looking with confusion at the arrow and then back to her. Lin’s realised the same thing, then. This wasn’t from the twins. A misfire from the bandits? She’ll have to look into this later, right now Su’s in trouble… the remaining bandit is putting up a hell of a fight, and two men are approaching the swordswoman from behind.

“Suyin!”

She yells out a warning and rushes toward them. As they turn to face her, she quickly slices the first from waist to top. He shifts his grip from his blade and fumbles at his belly in confusion, as hot, pink mess starts to spill out. The second draws his blade, but before he can swing, a deft horizontal slice sees his head swiftly depart his shoulders, bounce across the floor, and land miraculously beneath the heel of Su’s foe. He stumbles against it, falls backwards and cracks his head open on a sharp rock.

“Su, are you okay?” she asks, noticing that the other woman’s trembling, with darkened eyes and furrowed brows.

“Su?” She places her palm on Su’s back, and shoulders jerk beneath her touch.

“Sorry…” Su sighs, seeming to regain her senses, “I just… I want this to be over.”

“You and me both.”

She analyses the battlefield. There’s twelve bandits left, and most of them are bloodied or limping. They’re backing off, getting ready to flee. Their leader’s face-down on the floor with two arrows protruding from his torso, and a woodcutter’s axe lodged deep in the base of his skull. I’ll have to thank whoever did that later.

As much as she wishes she could afford them an opportunity to retreat, it’s a well-known fact that the bandits in these parts are ruthless killers, merciless rapists. If she spares them, they’ll come back, mainly out of revenge, or spite.

They’ll kill us in our sleep… or worse.

She tells herself this, over and over, trembling and feeling nauseous as she closes her eyes and shouts her next command.

“After them! Leave none alive!” She cries out, chases down the limping stragglers, and ends their suffering with quick, merciful strokes of her blade. She mentally and physically forces her arms to move. She doesn’t enjoy killing, especially when her opponents aren’t fighting back. She doesn’t enjoy the sight or smell of blood, and she kills because she has to, to protect her home, her people.

She sighs with guilty relief, knowing that she won’t have to dirty her blade further still, as arrows from Wei and Wing finish off the last of the bandits.

She shakes the excess blood from her blade, runs a cloth up its length to clean the rest, then slides it back into her sheathe. Then she takes a deep breath, and wretches at the stench of metallic blood, mixed with the lingering, rancid smell of urine. Corpses are littered all around her, staring vacantly, and there’s patches of blood everywhere, like a crazed artist has decided to cover his entire canvas with spatters of crimson.

She pushes the gristly sight to the back of her mind and walks toward the centre of the holding, where she asks the villagers to tend to the wounded, and gather any bandit corpses ready for burning. Tears stream down her cheeks as she sees that three of her own men have fallen, and one woman. They’ll receive a proper burial later tonight, she’ll make sure of it.

She walks towards the infirmary, to check on Opal.

“Need a hand in here?” she asks as she prises open the door, and sees Opal’s weary expression. She feels guilty that she’s given the task of mending the wounded to someone so young, but Opal is an extremely talented healer, too good to waste at times like this.

“I think we’re okay actually,” Opal smiles up at her, “My girls have been excellent, and we took far fewer casualties than expected!”

“I’ll ask Wing and Wei to help anyway, once they’re rested. Thanks, everyone,” she smiles at them, and heads back outside.

::

Korra leaps down from her massive, pale-white steed and strokes her palm up and down a long, furry nose, electing a muffled whinny of appreciation.

“Atta girl, Naga. You got us out of there nice and quick.” She grins as she secures Naga to the post, “I’ll get you some good hay tonight!”

It’s just after midnight, she’s tired, and she’s about to try her luck by knocking on Mako’s door. She’s fairly certain he’s attracted to her, so he might open because of that, if nothing else… at least that’s what she hopes as she raises her fist to the door.

She knocks, and is rewarded a few moments later by dull footsteps, and a very sleepy bartender as the door creaks open.

“Korra!” he exclaims, “What are you doing here?” He yawns, and brushes some sleep away from his eye, “You’re not going to bust up the place again are you?”

“No, no!” she raises her palms, tries to show peaceful intentions, “It’s just that I… finished the job. But I don’t meet Mr Sato for payment for two days and I kind of… need somewhere to stay.” She tries to smile, but ends up half-grimacing.

Here? After the trouble you brought earlier?”

“Well it’s not like anyone knows I’m here right now!” She pouts, then her tummy rumbles, “Come on, you did offer a room, and you’re not going to leave a girl outside, hungry and cold?”

“I don’t think you’re in a position to pull off the vulnerable maiden act.” Mako says, matter-of-factly, “But in any case, come in, sit down.” he waves his arm into the room in invitation.

She walks inside, finds a stool at the bar, and sits, resting her chin into her palms. Mako pours her a cold sake, which she gratefully takes from him, smiling.

“So, how did it go?” he asks.

“Those villagers are strong. Like, crazy strong!” She exclaims, “Never seen anything quite like it, especially those three.”

“Which three?” Mako raises an eyebrow.

“The daughter, and the two older women with her. Sword users.”

“Oh, the Beifongs. Yeah, they ought to be good…” Mako trails off mid-sentence.

“What do you mean?” Korra asks, intrigued.

“What? Oh uh, nothing…” Mako looks to the side, scratching the back of his head.

She decides to leave it be, for now. Barkeeps often know lots of interesting titbits, and she’s sure she can wrestle more out of him if and when she needs to. She finishes her sake, and grins sheepishly when her belly rumbles again, this time loudly.

“Here’s some leftovers,” Mako laughs, grabbing a basket of rolls and placing them on the counter, “And there’s hay in the back for that insanely large horse out there.”

“Oh, Naga?” Korra chuckles as she bites into a roll, “Yeah, she’s big. But she’s a softy. Thanks, Mako!” Korra leans over and pecks him on the cheek, leaving crumbs against his skin.

“Yeah, uh, no problem,” Mako blushes, “I just hope you’re gonna pay for all this!”

They’re interrupted by a loud “mrrrow?” and she looks down to see a fluffy, ginger tomcat dancing around her stool, tail raised in the air.

“Pabu! Where’ve you been?” he asks, as he pulls out a small bowl, fills it with water and places it on the floor, where Pabu gratefully laps up the refreshment.

“You have a cat?” She’s surprised, it’s rare to see them near humans, since they’re generally far too wild.

“It’s Bolin’s actually, he rescued him from a wild pack of dogs on one of his adventures. Pabu has never left his side since.” Mako explains, “If he’s here, Bolin can’t be far!”

“Bolin?” Korra asks.

“My brother, the one I told you about?”

“Oh! You never told me his name,” Korra yawns.

“Alright, I think it’s definitely time to sleep.” Mako says, “I have a room you can use, upstairs two doors on the left, and the bathroom is just through there.” He points out each location as he speaks.

There’s a loud whinny from outside. She laughs at the not-so-subtle reminder.

“I’ll let you take care of that,” Mako smiles, waving a hand as he heads back into his room and closes the door.

She chuckles. He’s a good guy, she thinks, as she grabs a bunch of hay and a bucket of water, and goes to tend to her persistent mare. As she fills the trough, she reminisces about all of the times that Naga has gotten them out of tight situations, the times they’ve needed to make a hasty retreat, even trampling over would-be assassins to save her neck. She feels lucky to have such a truly loyal companion, and friend.

“Thanks again, girl”, Korra says quietly, kissing Naga on the neck before heading inside and locking the door behind.

She walks upstairs toward her room, feeling too tired to bathe right now, and throws herself on the bed, staring up into space and recalling the events of the day. As she drifts into welcome slumber, the most prominent thing on her mind is an elegantly dancing katana, and a pale-skinned, raven haired woman, expression fierce, gracefully swinging it against foe after foe.

::

As she closes the door behind herself, Asami sees that Lin and Su join are waiting, just outside of the infirmary.

“So, about that arrow.” Lin growls, looks serious as always.

“The one that saved my life?” She replies, frowning at the memory, at how careless she’d been.

“It’s a different design to the bandit’s, and nothing like ours.”

“So there was a third party?” She gasps, “I knew it!”

“We found eight more of them, each lodged in a corpse,” Su interjects, holding out one of the arrows. She takes it, runs her fingertip down the smooth shaft, to the pointed, thin metal tip at the end.

“Whoever made these is extremely talented,” Su says, “You should take it to your father, he might know something.”

Dad! She’s filled with the sudden urge to check that he’s okay. He hasn’t been himself these past few years, and she’s worried that the death of her Mother could be taking an ultimate toll on his health. She bids farewell to Lin and Su, and heads home quickly.

As she jogs up the stone pavement towards her front door, she pauses in her tracks at a sudden realisation. Eight arrows, either lethal shots, eight dead bandits. And that’s excluding the shot that saved her. She’s stunned at the thought… it’s an almost incomprehensible level of accuracy, especially against targets caught in the throes of battle.

She holds the arrow out across her palms, stares at it, and furrows her brow.

… Just who, exactly, are you?

 

Chapter Text

There’s loud banging and clattering downstairs, and it rouses Korra from her slumber. She cracks one eye open, and groans at the bright golden glow seeping between the cracks in the blinds. It takes her a few moments to realise where she is, she’s disorientated, and feels shitty. She’s never been much of a morning person. She sits up, rubs the sleep from her eyes, and stumbles out of bed.

She takes a moment to look at herself in at the mirror. As usual, her hair’s slipped out of its topknot in random, messy strands. She pulls the strings apart and allows her dark-brown hair to fall, where it rests just past her shoulders.

Her clothing’s itchy and uncomfortable, she figures it serves her right for sleeping in it all night. She strips out of her haori, a thick, blue robe that she often wears outdoors, then pulls down her hakama, black, loose pants that allow for easy movement in combat. She hangs them both over the edge of the bed and then unravels her chest bindings, sighing at the sweet sensation of release when her breasts fall freely, fresh air dancing across her bare chest.

I could do with a wash, she grimaces, repulsed by her own stench, whilst fumbling in her backpack for her favourite deep-blue, silk kimono. She changes into it and tightens the belt, feeling immediately more comfortable at the touch of the cool, soft material against her skin.

There’s another loud crash from downstairs, followed by an agitated grunt, so she quickly slips into her sandals and heads out of the room to see what the hell’s going on.

She folds her arms over the upper balcony and peers down, finding the source of the ruckus. It’s a black-haired, well-built man, struggling to remove what looks like six different satchels and bags from around himself. He grunts, reaching his arm to his back, trying to tug at the outermost satchel, spinning in place as he reaches for it and knocking a plate off the table.

“Pabu, don’t just sit there!” he complains to the cat, and in response Pabu glares at him and lazily washes a paw. Guess that’s the brother, then. How can this not be waking Mako up? She wonders.

As if on cue, Mako’s door busts open, and he’s stood in the doorway wearing striped cotton pyjamas.

“Bo!” he yells, bursting into a wide grin as he strides towards the man, and wraps his arms around him.

“Mako!” Bolin grins back, “Do me a favour bro,” he says, casting his eyes to the sacks adorning his back.

Mako laughs and starts to untangle him, and whilst he’s busy with that, Korra decides to head downstairs and introduce herself.

Bolin has his back to her and is mid-way through an animated monologue about different herbs and plants, and how he’s found some perfect combination that Mako just has to try, and how some wild monkeys had attacked him when he found it, and how Pabu had chased them off, and then how he’d fallen head first into a pit full of monkey shi…

She coughs, with a half amused smile playing on her lips. Bolin spins to face her, and raises one of his thick eyebrows as they make eye contact.

“Well hellloooo…” he says, with a lop-sided smile and a glint in his dark-green eyes.

“So, this is the brother you wouldn’t shut up about?” She asks Mako, dryly.

“Bolin.” The brother interjects, grinning as he holds out a thick, calloused hand, which she takes.

“Korra. Nice to meet you.” She returns his firm shake and grins back despite herself.

“So, what’s a pretty lady like you doing in a place like this?” Bolin asks, wiggling his eyebrows, and she wonders if he actually thinks he’s being suave.

“I’m a wandering Ronin,” she says, matter-of-factly, “I’m here because I owe your brother a favour.”

“Ooooh a samurai!” Bolin’s almost squealing, “Can I see your swords? You have swords right?” he asks, dancing from foot to foot in excitement.

She’s drawn in by his enthusiasm, and says in a loud, pretend whisper, “I have a bow too, a big one, almost as tall as me!” she spreads her arms out to show the approximate height.

“Don’t encourage him, Korra,” Mako warns, “Otherwise he’ll never stop.”

She laughs, and decides it won’t be so bad to sit at the bar for a while. She soon finds herself entertained by Bolin’s wild stories, which are told with wild gesticulations and crazy facial expressions, usually met by Mako rolling his eyes.

After he’s finished his third far-fetched tale, Bolin’s insistent that she try his weird and wonderful new flavours of sake, and eventually she relents, on the condition she can do so later, after a much needed bath.

“There’s dry towels in there, and I kept the coals going in-case Bolin came home,” Mako says.

She smiles, nods appreciatively, then pardons herself and leaves the two brothers alone so that they can catch up.

She enters the bathroom, squints at the steam inside, and then closes the door behind her. The water’s the perfect temperature, it’s clean, and more surprisingly the bath is a generous size. It’s impressive - usually an inn would have, at most, a barrel filled with rancid, lukewarm water.

Her belt and kimono fall to the floor, and she places fresh chest bindings to the side to put on later. She steps into the tub and sinks back into the delightfully warm water, until it surrounds her all the way up to her shoulders.

“Hmm, not bad at all…” she half-groans the words, allows herself to fully relax and enjoy this rare opportunity. The water feels wonderful… all of her aches and pains seem to melt away, though there’s a familiar itch at her wrists. She resists the urge to scratch at the scars, blotting out the darker memories of how she got them, then places her arms on the sides of the tub, leans her head back and closes her eyes.

She’s soon half-asleep, humming an old tune her father taught her, about a hero samurai and his plight to free his people.

::

Asami’s deep in thought as she walks towards the town. Her father is hiding something, she’s sure of it. She’d seen it in his eyes, in how he’d acted just so very slightly off. She knows him better than he thinks. As she walks further onwards, she recalls their late-night conversation.

--

“Dad, do you know where this could have come from?” she asks, holding out the arrow she’s been puzzling over.

Her father’s silent a moment, his face betraying no obvious emotion as he takes the arrow from her outstretched hand and begins to roll it around in his hands, studying it closely.

“Hmmm,” he says, then looks up at her, “I can’t say I recognise it. Where did you find this?”

“Lodged in a dead bandit, along with eight more.”

His eyebrows raise at those words.

“Seriously Dad, who could take out so many, and with such skill? I need to know who did this, I need to know why they helped us.”

“I doubt it was one person, Asami,” he suggests.

She frowns. She hadn’t thought about that. It does make more sense, but then again, she has serious doubts that a group of people could have gotten involved in the fight without being noticed by anyone in her village. Even if it were just two or three.

“Dad…” she looks him directly in the eye, “Are you sure you don’t know anything about this?”

“I’m… sure,” he says, returning her gaze, “I’m just glad you’re okay, Asami. We’re going to have to do something if these attacks don’t stop.”

--

She sighs in frustration. Her father’s right. Perhaps she should worry less about their mystery helper or helpers and more about the defence of the village. They’ve suffered from small bandit attacks before, but never a group as big as yesterday, and never a group confidently declaring the name of their leader, like they’re some proud, twisted army.

But, she can’t help herself. Her natural curiosity always gets the better of her, which is why, after helping get the town back in order in the very early hours of the morn, she’d headed out to Bihoro, the small market town to the west. She could have taken a horse, but the walk’s only an hour, and she wanted some time to herself so that she could think.

As she arrives in the town proper, she nods back courteously at several smiling faces, returns their polite greeting. She feels the usual, almost itchy feeling of discomfort associated with being so easily recognised. Downside of being a Sato, she muses. Her mood lifts as she approached the building ahead, a sign hanging from above with elegantly scrawled symbols bearing the name of the inn, “The Drunken Dragon”.

Her mood lifts further still when she walks in and sees that Bolin is home, back from his latest crazy adventure.

“Hi guys!” she sings cheerfully, and walks toward them.

“Asami!” Bolin exclaims, then stands up and greets her with a fierce hug.

“Hey! How have you been?” Mako asks, busying himself cleaning a glass behind the bar whilst his brother squeezes the living daylights out of her.

“Oh you know, bandit attacks. Nearly being killed,” she complains, sitting herself down next to Bolin.

“An attack, again?” Mako scowls, “and what do you mean nearly killed!?” he exclaims, his hand pausing mid-way through shining the glass.

She fumbles in her backpack, searching for the arrow.

“It was a big attack this time, biggest we’ve had, and as for the latter… that’s why I’m here. I need to know if you’ve ever seen anything like this.”

Mako takes the arrow from her, and holds it up to one eye, looking closely.

“Nope. Doesn’t look like it was made around here,” he says, passing it back.

“Figured as much.”

She casts her eyes downward, starting to feel defeat in her quest for knowledge.

“Whoever owns this quite possibly saved my life, as well as many of the villagers,” she pauses in thought, “and… I guess it’d just be nice to thank him.”

“Well, you’re alive, you’re here, and we have awesome new sake to try!” Bolin interjects, pulling out various vials and herbs from one of his many sacks.

“Erm, thanks Bolin,” she smiles at his efforts to cheer her up, “but, I think I’ll pass.”

“Oh come on, we haven’t seen each other for months!” he grins, “And Pabu missed you too!”

The tom jumps on the counter at the sound of his name, purring loudly. She can’t help but soften as she strokes Pabu, smiling as he butts his head against her palm.

“I suppose after everything that’s happened… I could do with a drink,” she sighs, “but they better not be gross, like that last one!”

“No, no more swamp-water, I found some really good stuff this time, I promise!” Bolin seems positively giddy as he pours out his first new concoction and hands her a glass.

Despite his assurances, she has a good sniff at it first.

“Smells… minty?” she ventures, before taking a sip, “Hmmm, actually, I think I like this one!”

She smiles. It’s different, but the mint mixes really well with the regular flavour of sake.

“Yeah bro, this isn’t bad at all, we might even be able to sell it!” Mako nods his approval, downing the rest of his drink in one gulp, “Let’s try some of this warm!”

“Hey, I said I’d only have one!” she exclaims, whilst Mako busies himself heating a pan.

Bolin looks at her with a sad, wide eyed expression which she soon succumbs to. Before she knows it, she’s trying warm mint sake, which is actually delicious, followed by a honey-flavour which again, is rather nice. Then an elderberry mix which she isn’t so sure about, but which Mako loves. And lastly a coffee one, which is her personal favourite, so much so that she demands another three.

“Kanpai!” she cheers with the brothers, her cheeks warm as she hooks arms with them and they down their fifth? Seventh? She’s lost count.

They continue to try every drink Bolin has to offer. She’s gone beyond feeling tipsy, and is now quite fuzzy-minded. Whilst the feeling is a welcome distraction, she finds herself thinking about yesterday’s attacks, and her mood blackens.

She shuffles an empty glass in circles against the wooden surface of the bar, stops listening to Bolin’s jokes, stops laughing.

“What’s wrong?” Mako asks, and the question stirs her from her daze.

“It’s just… people died. Good people.”

“It could have been worse though, right?”

“I suppose so. But it’s not just that…”

She nods at Bolin, and he pours another coffee sake into her glass, which she gulps in one shot before continuing.

“The bandits tried to run.”

“And?”

“And... I butchered them.” She feels her lower lip tremble at the memory, “I’m a monster.”

“No you’re not!” Bolin protests, puts an arm around her, and pulls her into a hug.

“You did what you had to, don’t you remember the Sogos?” Mako asks.

She nods... it’s a well-known story. The Sogo clan had been merciful after a particularly nasty bandit attack, and they’d allowed the survivors to flee. The next day they’d suffered the consequences. Mercy is a sign of weakness, the bandits had come back in force. The rest doesn’t bear thinking about.

“You protected everyone, you did the right thing.” Bolin says, squeezing her shoulder.

“Thanks, guys.”

She smiles as Bolin unpacks a second satchel, and soon forgets her troubles when the sake pours freely again.

::

Korra’s eyes fling open as she hears a crash from the bar.

Shit! How long have I been out? She wonders, fumbling her way out of the now-lukewarm water.

She quickly dries off, her eyebrow raising as she hears loud laughter from the brothers… and a… woman? She wraps herself in her fresh bindings, and ties her sleek kimono around her waist before stepping into her sandals, and stepping out into whatever-the-hell’s happening at the bar.

Three, rosy cheeked, and clearly drunk people stare back at her. Two on a stool, one on the floor.

“Huh?” is all that she can manage as she stares at them, slack-jawed.

“Korra!” Mako exclaims from the floor, “I forgot you were in there, hehe, hic!” He laughs, whilst crawling back onto his stool.

“Kor-who?” the woman squints at her, fiery-red cheeks stark in contrast against pale skin.

“Kor-ra!” Bolin laughs, patting the woman on the back, “she’s shtopping here at the inn!”

“Ohhhh!” the woman leers at Mako, “Finally found yourshelf a new girrrrlfriend?”

“No!” Mako exclaims, folding his arms, “She’s not… hic, she’s not with me. She’s just a guesht!”

“Aww! But… but she’s sho… pretty!” the woman giggles.

She blushes at the unexpected compliment, then takes a closer look at the woman, where a sudden realisation hits her. Shit! It’s her! The daughter!

It’s a startling transformation, from the woman in peasant rags, working the fields, hair tied up, to… well, this. Black hair now hangs freely, cascading down a figure-hugging, crimson-red kimono, which matches the colour of the woman’s lips… and now that she’s this close, Korra can see the daughter’s eyes. They’re emerald-green, eyelids dashed with a subtle shade of pink.

She feels almost mesmerised for a moment, but then she realises something, and her mood shifts to one of annoyance.

“Mako.” she says, her temple throbbing, “You two seem to know each other?”

His eyes go wide.

“Well, errr, you shee…”

She taps her foot, scowling.

“Korra, this is Ashami!” Bolin interrupts, “Asami Shato, hic! Shato, err, Sa-to”

“Pleashed to meet you, pretty lady!” Asami grins, holding out a hand and then stumbling forwards, falling not-so-elegantly off the stool and almost face-planting on the floor.

“Just what the hell is going on here!?” she exasperates, holding her hand out to help steady Asami, “And what time is it, and why are you all so drunk!?”

As she helps the intoxicated woman steady herself, she can’t help but wonder if this really is the same person who fought with such skill in the battlefield yesterday. But before she can dwell on it further, Asami half-trips and falls against her, and now she can feel the heat of Asami’s body, and there’s warm lips at her ear.

She gulps, confused as to why she’s feeling so nervous.

“We had… shome sake. Shhhh!” Asami whispers drunkenly into her ear, puts a finger to her lips, then turns around and strides defiantly back to the bar.

She puts her own fingers to her mouth, a little dazed at the recent contact.

“Oh, OH!” Bolin yells and claps his hands like an excitable five-year old, “Korra! You promised!”

He waves around a vial of sickly-green coloured liquid.

“No.” She states, folding her arms. “I’m not drinking anything, until Mako explains why he knows the lovely Miss Sato so well.”

She glares at the accused.

“Okay, okay!” Mako rolls his eyes, “Mr. Sato helped me and Bo shet up this place, we’ve known him for about five yearsh…”

“I come here all the tiiiime!” Asami offers, somewhat randomly, wobbling on the stool a little.

She realises she’s been talking about these things far too openly with Asami sat right there… although hopefully too drunk to notice. She walks up to Mako and whispers harshly into his ear.

“Why did you act like you didn’t know Mr. Sato? What are you hiding?”

He turns to her, and whispers not-so-quietly, “Itsh just easier, okay! I can’t tell my clients if I know the employer, otherwise they’d hassle me if things went shouth, like if they didn’t get paid.”

She pauses for a moment to read his expression. Looks genuine.

“I suppose… that actually makes sense. Sorry, I just have to be careful.” She says.

“No problem, now, why don’t you join ush?” Mako grins.

“Fine… fine,” she grumbles, and feels somewhat more at ease as she hops on the vacant stool next to him.

“Okay Bolin, hit me.”

Being sober in the company of drunk people feels more than a little awkward, but Bolin insists on pouring her two or three drinks to everyone else’s one. He leads most of the conversation, as usual, and pours drink after drink. She decides that her personal favourite is the one that tastes of sweet butter.

As Bolin regales them with yet another story about Pabu’s antics, she sips quietly at her drink, some sort of mystery flower flavour this time. Her cheeks feel warm, and there’s a comfortable buzz in her mind. She rests her chin on her palm and stares to her right, past Mako, at the daughter… at Asami. What a lovely name, she thinks. Asami’s laugh is a pleasure to listen to, and those bright green eyes stand out like nothing she’s ever seen before.

Asami suddenly looks right back at her and smiles, and she feels a strange energy flutter through her body.

“Korraaaa!” Asami blurts out, “DO YOU KNOW that I have a shamurai hero guardian!”

Asami’s half-shouting, and pulling out what looks like an arrow from her bag.

“Seee? He shotted... shot this, and the bandits dieded. Dieded. Died. Hic.”

She withholds a gasp as she recognises the object.

Oh Shit, shit-shit-shit.

“Wow, that’s uh, great, Asami. I wish I had an um…”

“A samurai guardian shuperhero!” Asami finishes, putting the arrow away, “If I find him, I think I’m gonna kiss him!”

For some reason, she feels a twinge of excitement at the statement. She closes her eyes tightly, thinking it must be the sake, trying not to think about how that promised kiss could feel. Despite her best efforts, her mind begins to conjure visions of Asami’s lips, moving closer and closer to her own.

“Oh! Korra has a bow! A giant bow!” Bolin exclaims, throwing her from her thoughts. She wants to punch him, just to shut him up, but it’d be way too obvious.

“Ohhh?” Asami purrs and looks at her with half-lidded eyes, causing the next breath to catch in her throat.

“… Are you my hero?” Asami asks slowly, with lips curling into a smile at the end.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, sounding harsher than she means to.

She figures it’ll be best to use distraction tactics right about now, and coughs loudly.

“Is anyone hungry? I’m starving. Mako, you got anything I can cook up?”

You can cook?” Mako seems dubious, but thumbs toward the little room behind him, “there’s shome fish and stuff back there, knock yourself out!”

She nods, and sets herself to work. She actually loves to cook, and it looks like everyone could do with their bellies being filled anyway. As she chops and dices, she again finds herself thinking about the woman in the other room, and a sudden heat rises to her cheeks. Definitely the sake, she reasons.

It doesn’t take her too long to finish, and she dishes up a selection of various sushi dishes, served with a large bowl of rice. Everyone digs into their food hungrily, and she sets out a jug of water.

After she’s finished her own meal, she pardons herself and heads outside to give Naga some much deserved attention, as well as fresh water and hay. She’s stood there a while, enjoying the fresh air, but worrying that she might have screwed up the contract with Mr. Sato.

Between Bolin opening his big mouth about her bow, and her own display of hostility towards Mako, she knows all too well there’s a chance things could go wrong now. Asami’s too drunk to work it out, everything should be okay. Or, so she hopes.

When she eventually heads back inside, she’s surprised to see that the other three look almost completely sober.

“That was awesome, thanks Korra!” Bolin says, burping and patting his now very full-looking belly.

“Yeah, good job!” Mako says, giving her a thumbs up.

“Thanks, it was delicious,” Asami smiles, and seems to have recovered her composure, “by the way, it’s nice to meet you…”

Asami holds out a hand, this time without falling off her stool.

Korra places her palm into the inviting hand, and feels a strange warmth spread throughout her as she shakes it.

“Nice to meet you, too,” she replies, meeting Asami’s gaze with her own, inwardly blushing for reasons she can’t yet explain.

 

Chapter Text

Dazzling, blue eyes stare into hers, framed with messy strands of damp, brown hair, encasing a beautiful, bronze-skinned face. It’s someone new, a mysterious stranger.

The woman’s name, Bolin says, is Korra.

Asami’s intrigued, and more than a little drunk. She wants to introduce herself right away, but tumbles forwards from her stool, falling almost headfirst onto the floor, and somehow crashes into Korra’s blue kimono. A hand grabs hers, and she notices that the skin’s calloused and rough in places. It’s a fighter’s hand, tough from holding a sword, and dry lines of skin at the fingertips from where one would draw a bow.

She moves her lips close to Korra’s ear, an inch away from a very temping, tan neck, close enough to feel heat radiating from the pulse within. She holds onto Korra’s shoulders to steady herself, and can’t help but notice how they’re solid and… strong, unusual, for a woman. She leans in closer still, about to whisper some drunken slur about sake, but instead, she closes the inch-gap, places her lips against that warm, inviting flesh, and revels in the scent and taste.

Korra gasps in surprise and pulls away, bright, blue eyes wide with confusion. But thankfully, after a moment’s pause, Korra’s expression softens, a warm hand glides behind her neck, fingers splaying into her black strands, and their lips come together… slowly, in a gentle kiss.

It somehow feels like the most right thing Asami’s done in a long time. She returns the kiss, sighing against Korra’s lips as arms close around her waist, pulling them closer.

She wants more, so much more… She slides her hands under the blue Kimono, where there’s surprisingly warm, smooth flesh beneath. Everywhere that her hands roam, she finds feminine, gentle curves fused with firm muscles, in all of the right places. She gasps in surprise when Korra interrupts her searching hands, grabs her from behind, and hoists her up onto a nearby table.

Korra displays a confident, lop-sided grin, before lunging forwards into another kiss, this time prying with a hungry tongue, which she accepts into her mouth without a moment’s pause. She hasn’t kissed like this before. It feels unusual, but exhilarating, and she’s surprised at how good Korra’s body feels against hers, like it belongs there. She wraps her legs around Korra’s waist, pulling herself against a firm abdomen, finding much needed friction against her now-aching centre.

Korra shifts position, trailing kisses and gentle bites across her neck, and she curls her fingers into Korra’s still-damp hair, groaning, losing herself.

“More... Korra…”

She’s about to surrender herself to anything and everything that Korra wants to do to her, but a nagging thought suddenly takes form. Wait, weren’t Bolin and Mako here? She starts to lose focus at the notion, feeling suddenly dazed and confused. Korra begins to fade away, and entrancing lips and warm flesh became nothing more than a memory. She reaches out to try and grab Korra, to keep her.

No! Don’t go!”

Despite her wishes, her thoughts shift to a different memory. Korra, laughing and cheering, drunkenly stumbling across the floor of the bar, re-enacting a battle with the famous Yada brothers, leaders of their clan at the time. Even intoxicated, Korra’s body moves with a grace beyond anything she’s seen before. Invisible swords slash around with skill and ferocity, and blue eyes pierce into her, sharper than a needle. To move like this, even after so much sake, Korra must be an extremely skilled samurai.

Suddenly, Asami’s mind rudely awakes the rest her body as the by-now obvious realisation hits.

“It’s her!” she says out loud, to nobody in particular, sitting bolt upright. She winces, her head sore from the second bout of Sake she’d been bullied into drinking before heading home late last night.

Of course it’s her. Asami feels frustrated at not seeing it sooner, but then again, her brain had been addled with a fuzzy layer of alcohol for most of the day, evening and then night.

Now what?

Her head pulses with another sharp throb of pain, and from the darkness outside, she knows it’s too early to discuss things with her father.

She heads downstairs to get a cup of water, her mind racing as she walks. Korra’s the samurai? She did all of that, single-handedly? And what was with that dream anyway?

Asami pauses in her tracks at the last thought, feeling heat rise to her cheeks and a thump in her chest. She’s never dreamt about being with another woman before. Not in that way. Whilst such matters are acceptable in her stature, they’re still considered unusual, and she’s honestly never considered that she could feel attraction to another woman. If this even is attraction, she muses.

But then she remembers the dream in vivid detail, and her cheeks flush for the second time as she shakily pours herself a drink from a jug on the counter. It’s probably best to just forget about it, she thinks, as she heads back upstairs, determined to sleep off the rest of her hangover.

::

Korra snaps awake at the sound of Naga, neighing and grunting downstairs. She quickly tightens her night robe, grabs her daisho, and runs downstairs two steps at a time. She sprints past Mako and Bolin without saying a word.

She’s greeted with the sight of Pabu, laying on his back, with his belly exposed, as he playfully bats away Naga’s nose with his large ginger paws every time she nudges it against him. He pats the massive snout again, and Naga snorts loudly then licks him, with a tongue almost as big as he.

She laughs loudly as she moves to greet the two.

“So you two are friends now, huh?”

As she strokes Naga’s fur, memories of last night flood back, causing an almost painful whiplash in her mind.

Bolin had been relentless. No sooner had they finished their meal, than he’d dug out another two sacks worth of sake which just had to be tasted there and then, no waiting, no recovering, and no sobering up allowed.

Korra groans as she feels the start of a hangover creep into her temples. She closes her eyes, and tries to focus her thoughts.

They’d laughed, and they’d joked. The other three had even convinced her to talk about her previous adventures, and if she recalls correctly, she’d done just that, with great gusto.

At the memory of her antics, she pushes her forehead into Naga’s fur, trying to wish away the stupidity and brazenness of her actions. She isn’t sure how much she’s revealed, but she’s fairly certain she had the sense to stick to her older adventures, rather than mention the more recent one.

She walks back inside, determined to question the brothers about their night.

“You okay?” Mako asks, and Korra feels a little bad that she rudely dashed by them just now.

“Yeah, sorry. I heard Naga, and… reflexes, that’s all.”

“Samurai reflexes!?” Bolin asks, energetically.

“How the hell can you not be hungover?” she snaps, and holds one hand to a still-throbbing temple.

“Ohhh, I have my ways,” Bolin says, wiggling an eyebrow, before taking out a muck-coloured flask, “Hangover remedy. Guaranteed.”

“I’m not drinking that.” She states, folding her arms.

“Good call.” Mako says, dryly, as he busies himself tidying the bar.

“Suit yourself. You were more fun last night,” Bolin pouts.

“So about that…” Korra attempts to smile, “What exactly… did I do?”

Mako laughs, “You were bragging, Korra. About your amazing swordplay, and how you’ve taken down some of the most feared bandits in history. You even acted some of it out! I tried to stop you.”

She groans, bangs her head on the hard, wooden surface of the bar, and then immediately regrets her action as a fresh bout of pain throbs through her temples.

“So, she knows?” she mumbles.

“Knows what?” Bolin asks loudly, then flinches as the other two shush him.

“Well, she was pretty wasted. So who knows?” Mako shrugs, and she’s surprised to sense no anger in his tone. After all, if she’s exposed her involvement in any of this, then there’ll surely be no payment, for either of them.

She hopes that Asami won’t remember much, or put two and two together, otherwise she’ll be in breach of contract, and still in debt to Mako. Then I’m stuck here, unless… She grunts in irritation, as the thought of sneaking away creeps into her head. She’s a wanderer, a Ronin, but she’d never go back on her word. But still, her feet itch at the thought of staying here for much longer.

“Korra, I think you can relax.” Mako says, as if he senses her anxiety, “From what I’ve heard, if… you did save Asami’s life, I doubt Mr Sato would refuse payment, whatever happens.”

“But I just… I don’t usually mess things up, and he was very specific about Asami not finding out!” she exclaims.

“He’s like that sometimes, but it’s only because she scares him a little,” Mako laughs, “He’s a good guy, a fair guy, honestly… I think if she knows, then she knows. She tends to work these things out anyway.”

Korra thinks on this a while, in silence. She welcomes a fresh glass of water and a roll from Mako, and eats whilst contemplating her options. Eventually, she makes up her mind.

“If you’re sure he’ll pay, I’m just going to leave today.”

“Awww!” Bolin exclaims, “Come on, we only just met!”

“It’s just not my thing Bolin,” she sighs, “I don’t stick around, otherwise trouble finds me, and then people get hurt.”

“But aren’t you due to meet Hirosh… err I mean, Mr Sato?” Mako asks.

“You don’t need to pretend anymore, Mako”, she rolls her eyes, “we’ve already discussed how you all know each other so well.”

Actually, quite a lot about their past was revealed last night. Korra hadn’t been particularly surprised to find out that Mako and Asami used to date, it makes perfect sense given that Mr. Sato invested so much in their bar, and she wonders if the old man was disappointed when it hadn’t worked out between them.

Pabu jumps on the bar, and she strokes him, lost in thought. He purrs happily.

“So, you’re just gonna abandon Asami?” Bolin asks, out of the blue.

“What?” Korra gawps, “What does that mean?”

“Well she’s the one you were showing off to all night,” Mako smiles smugly, “And she’s the one you took home atop Naga.”

“WHAT?”

“You really don’t remember!?” Mako exclaims, and starts to laugh incredulously, with Bolin soon joining in.

She digs her thumbs into her temples. There’s blank spots, sure, but she’d remember something like this. And yet, the more she thinks about it, the more she remembers. Hooves, thudding into the ground. Laughter from behind, and arms tightly holding her waist. Stopping, in case a suddenly-nauseous Asami needed to empty her stomach, then waiting the longest time only for her to realise she didn’t. And finally, dropping Asami off, just outside of a ridiculously large house.

Well… Shit.

“So, you love the layyydeees?” Bolin rolls his tongue on the word.

“Ugh, whatever. I was drunk,” she pouts, “I can’t believe I barely remember this.”

“Oh yeah, there’s a teeny, tiny chance I gave you the stronger stuff,” Bolin grins.

“You did WHAT?” she has to bite back the brunt of her sudden anger, the thought of drinking something whilst being unaware reminding her of a bad place, and a bad time.

“Well you were almost sober compared to the rest of us!” he defends.

“Well… that’s not a bad thing! I’m tolerant to alcohol for a reason!” she’s shouting now, “What if someone had come in here to attack me, and I was all over the place? You could have gotten me killed!”

“Korra, we wouldn’t have let that happen.” Mako says, giving her a suddenly stern glare.

“Ugh, I’m sorry, just… you guys have no idea how many people want my head. And Bolin, don’t ever, ever hide anything like that from me again.” She rubs her stiff neck, and starts to feel a little guilty when she can see that Bolin’s almost in tears from her outburst.

She sighs. Her feet are definitely itching now.

“Look, Mako… can you talk to Mr. Sato and get the money? I don’t really need it, and I owe you anyway.”

“What? Wait, Korra…”

“I insist. Maybe I’ll come back one day, you can put me up again. Deal?” she tries to smile, though it’s an effort. She just wants to get out of here.

“I uh… I guess so?” Mako seems hurt, and Bolin looks even closer to tears.

“Look, I like you guys, I like all of you, I just don’t do the whole make friends and settle down thing,” she explains, though she feels like she’s trying to convince herself more than anybody.

She storms upstairs, angry at herself more than anyone. Angry that let herself get into such an intoxicated state after all of her strict training. Angry that she still can’t remember everything from last night. Angry that she drank without knowing what was in her drink, and after everything she’s been through.

It’s definitely time to get out of here, she thinks, as she packs up her belongings and changes into her outdoor garb.

::

Asami coaxes her steed into a gallop, heading towards the Drunken Dragon at full speed. She winces with every thud of hooves against the ground, and desperately tries to ignore her sore head. She thinks back to her conversation with her father a little earlier.

--

“Dad…”

He’s sat in his favourite, comfy armchair, looking at her with tired, almost sad eyes. The painting of her mother is still there, on his dresser. It’s never moved, and his heart’s never been the same since she died.

“Dad… I know what you did.” She’s speaking softly. Wants him to open up.

His face crumples, looks like he’s about to cry. Her heart melts at the sight, and she pulls him into a tight hug.

“I’m sorry, Asami.” His voice is deep, tinged with emotion, “I had to at least try to protect you. I can’t lose you…”

“It’s okay… you did the right thing. She saved me, Dad.” She pulls away from the hug, musters the biggest smile she can manage.

“So… I don’t have to deal with angry-Asami today?” he chuckles, and she laughs, as the tension between them evaporates.

“I’ll only be angry if you don’t pay her well, she did an amazing job.”

He nods in agreement with a big smile, wipes a tear from the corner of his cheek.

“I’m going to go visit her now, I want to thank her in person. Do you want me to pay her?”

“No… I’d like to thank her as well. Ride safely, sweetheart.”

She kisses him on the cheek, and ruffles his soft, grey hair before heading out.

“Love you, Dad.” She says, just as she leaves.

--

As she rides onwards, she remembers fragments about last night, like how a rather intoxicated Korra had ever so sweetly insisted on riding her home, and how she’d almost puked right in front of her. She winces at the thought… so elegant… well done, Asami.

She also recalls that she’d wanted nothing more than to kiss Korra goodnight before entering her home, but hadn’t. She’d regretted the choice, with every step she’d taken towards her bed.

She still regrets it, now, and she isn’t sure why she feels this way. With Mako, she’d developed a crush pretty early on, but back then, she’d been a child… about seventeen years old. She’s twenty-three now, an adult. She doesn’t do crushes. Yet every time she thinks about those blue eyes, firm shoulders, or the not-insignificant fact that Korra’s possibly the most skilled warrior she’s ever met, she finds herself feeling a little… overwhelmed. Flustered, even.

She approaches the Drunken Dragon and pushes those thoughts to the back of her mind, reassuring herself that it’s likely hormones, and that she should ignore such ridiculous impulses. If nothing else, she owes the woman a debt of gratitude, and it will be paid. And that’s all there is to it.

She breathes a sigh of relief to see Naga still tied up outside. She had an awful feeling that Korra might already be gone.

“Hey Naga,” she says quietly, introducing her own horse, “This is Aiko.”

The two mares grunt, rub noses together and seem to be agreeable with one another, so Asami ties Aiko up right next to Naga, and then heads inside.

“Asami!” Bolin shouts with a grin, but seems somehow nervous.

“Hey Bolin, what’s up?” she waves, takes a stool beside him and tries to casually ask, “Where’s Korra?”

“Hah straight to the point, eh?” Bolin elbows her.

“Ow! Ugh! Don’t, Bolin, I’m still a little… rough from last night,” she winces. She’s in no mood to play fight.

“She’s upstairs.” Mako says, looking glum.

They’re interrupted with the sound of Korra’s footsteps thumping down the stairs rapidly. Asami catches her gaze as she walks briskly past them, but feels her heart sink as she realises the truth. She’s leaving.

She gets up from her stool and strides outside, where she finds Korra attaching several belongings to Naga’s saddle. The Samurai’s back is turned from her, and she has to suddenly restrain herself from running a hand down Korra’s back.

Instead, she coughs.

“Korra.”

Korra pauses in her fervent actions, and turns around. Their eyes meet, and her breath catches in her throat. She’s surprised at just how beautiful those eyes really are, even in contrast to her dream.

“Hey Asami, what’s up?”

“So, you’re leaving?” she manages.

“Yeah, I generally don’t stick around in one place too long.” Korra smiles.

“Why? I mean… why go, so soon?” she’s hurt, and she really can’t explain why, “Korra, I know… I know it was you.”

“Yeah… Mako said you’d figure it out,” Korra chuckles.

“You saved my life. You saved more lives than you probably realise…” she reaches her hand out, and grabs Korra’s palm, searching into blue eyes with her own, “Why are you in such a hurry?”

She pauses, suddenly lost for what to say next. Then, before Korra can answer, she has an idea.

“Did… did the guys even show you around town?” it’s a long shot, but it’s all she can think of.

“I uh…” Korra seems hesitant, with eyes cast downward, focusing on their joined hands.

“I’ll show you around” she quickly adds, “I’ll buy you lunch, it’s the least I can do. Then you can leave. Deal?”

Korra stares down at their hands a few moments longer, then finally meets her eyes, and she thinks that she can see a blush forming against those tanned cheeks.

Suddenly, Naga snorts, and nudges a large snout against Korra’s back.

“Okay… Naga says yes, so deal,” Korra laughs.

Her heart thumps against her chest at the response. She throws open the bar door and shouts, “We’ll be back later, can you guys tend to the horses?”

Mako smiles and raises an eyebrow, Bolin gives a thumbs up, and as they head out together she’s feeling strangely elated that she’ll get to spend just a little more time with this mystery woman… with Korra.

Chapter Text

What am I doing? Korra wonders to herself, as she follows Asami towards the stalls. Sure, she liked this woman, found her really interesting, but she’d been ready to leave just moments ago. Yet somehow, here she is, walking right next to Asami Sato, beautiful daughter of the Daimyo, Hiroshi Sato.

 “You’ve gone awfully quiet…” Asami speaks, pausing mid-stride and turning to face her, where she looks into inquisitive, jade-green eyes.

“Korra?”

“Oh, I was day-dreaming. Sorry.” She ruffles the back of her hair, feeling awkward.

“Were they any good?”

Korra’s gaze creeps lower, drawn to the white, figure-hugging Kimono that Asami’s wearing today, parted ever so slightly at the chest. Her throat goes dry.

“…Any good?” she asks.

“Your daydreams!” Asami laughs, “What’s gotten into you?”

“I’m just making plans for where I’ll go next,” she lies.

“Ah yes, after last night, I can scarcely imagine where you’ll end up or what you’ll get up to.” Asami says, smirking at her.

“What do you mean?” she pauses on the dusty track.

“The grand adventures you’ve had, don’t you remember re-enacting them? It was quite the spectacle.”

“Oh. Yeah.” She growls, “I don’t usually get so drunk, I have Bolin to thank for that…”

Asami suddenly pushes a hand through her arm, linking them together.

“Well, I had fun. And I never thanked you…”

“For what?” she raises an eyebrow.

“For taking me home. It was very sweet.” Asami smiles sincerely, and Korra’s suddenly feeling strangely flustered, so looks away.

 “Anyway, we’re here. This is just a small market town… more of a village to be honest.”

She looks around at what seems to be nothing more than a long, dusty road, with rickety market stalls, and a few wooden buildings at either side topped with ornate tiles. She spots two inns, both a little worse for wear compared to the Drunken Dragon, and a handful of restaurants and eateries up the left side of the street, with market stalls lining the opposite side.

“Isn’t this more of a road, than a village?” She asks, thinking out loud as she squints ahead.

“Oh I’m sure you’ve seen grand palaces and cities on your travels,” Asami chuckles, “but this is one of the bigger, more worthwhile trading towns around here, for miles.”

“Hey, I never said that I didn’t like it!” she exclaims, unlinking their arms and holding her hands up, “It’s nice... and I haven’t seen grand Palaces. Or if I have, it hasn’t been as a guest, trust me.”

Her stomach wrenches as she remembers such times. She closes her eyes tightly, shakes the thoughts away.

Asami looks at her with an eyebrow raised, a curious glance, “I’d love to hear about it sometime. But for now, I’m starving. Food?”

“Sounds great,” she replies, actually feeling relieved that she’ll get the chance to fill her belly before she heads out, “Where do you recommend?”

“Well, what do you feel like? Meat? Fish?”

“Hmmm… fish.”

“Great, there’s a place just up ahead,” Asami grins, and holds a hand out, which she gladly takes. She looks into Asami’s eyes, their gaze lingering just long enough to make her feel oddly uncomfortable. She has to fight off a blush threatening to rise to her cheeks. 

What’s wrong with me?

They walk onwards in silence for a short while, and she’s sure that Asami is subtly brushing a thumb against her hand, or at least, she likes to think so.

“So here we are, the Burnt Wok!” Asami announces, with a huge grin, “Don’t worry, they don’t actually burn the food.”

She’s guided into the restaurant, and her mouth fills with saliva at the scent of freshly cooked delicacies. She watches Asami duck under the low-hanging doorway and wave at an old, balding man who’s grinning widely, stood behind the counter near the back.

“Miss Sato!” He shouts as he cleans his hands off with a towel and shuffles across the floor, his deep purple, gold-tinged robe a little too long for his stature.

“Ken! It’s been too long,” Asami bends down and hugs him.

“Yes! At least two weeks!” he laughs, then squints at Korra, “This your lady-friend?”

Asami almost chokes, “No!” whilst waving hands around, and Korra can barely suppress her smile when she notices an obvious blush rise to Asami’s cheeks.

“No, Ken. Korra is just…” Asami pauses, as if to regain some semblance of composure, “I just owe her a meal. That’s all”.

“Ahhh. I see. If you say so.” Ken looks at Korra, and winks, “you came to the right place then. Take a seat!” he says, sitting them at a two-person table, before bowing graciously and going back to his business.

Korra’s studying the other diners to see what they have on their plates. If she wasn’t hungry before, she certainly is now. Everything looks delicious.

She picks up her menu and studies it, occasionally peering over the top at Asami. Those green eyes are in deep concentration beneath a furrowed brow, but they suddenly lift up… she’s caught in the gaze, and feels a strange, giddy sensation in her gut.

“Spoilt for choice?” Asami asks.

“A little. What do you recommend?”

“Well if it’s fish, you should definitely try the special,” Asami flattens the menu down and points to item number twenty-four.

“Grilled fish? What kind is it?” She asks.

“Honestly? Whatever they catch in the river just to the south,” Asami chuckles, “but it’s always good, and extremely fresh.

Ken waddles back over, as if sensing that they’re ready.

“What’ll it be, girls?”

“We’ll have two grilled fish please,” Asami says, flopping the menu closed.

“Ah yes, good, we just brought a fresh catch in. Any sake?”

“Nooo…” Asami groans, rests her head into her palms, “No thank you, just water…”

“Ah, hungover?” he asks, and at Asami’s mute nod, “From partying all night with your lady friend, right?” he raises an eyebrow, looks back and forth between the two.

“Ken!” Asami laughs, and looks at Korra with a bemused expression, “just ignore him, he’s always like this.”

::

Ken places out a jug and two glasses, then pours each of them a cool glass of water. As Korra starts to sip at a glass, Asami suddenly decides that she’ll break the ice by having a bit of fun.

“So, Korra,” she says, folding her arms and looking directly into those lovely, blue eyes, “Have you had many boyfriends?”

Korra nearly chokes on the water, looks flustered.

“Many? Uh, I don’t really stick around anywhere long enough for… boyfriends.”

“But you’ve been with men?” She smirks.

She grins as she watches Korra flush bright red, and almost squirm in the chair. Oh, this is too easy...

“Well, It’s… it’s not like there's much in the way of entertainment out there!” Korra blurts, “What about you?”

She looks at Korra, and idly drums her fingertips on the table. She’s enjoying their time together… and she knows she’s going to miss this woman, strange as it seems.

“Well, you already know about Mako. I’ve had a couple of flings since then.”

“Nothing serious?” Korra asks.

“No, I can’t say I’ve bumped into anyone I’ve felt that special… thing for.”

She wishes there were a way to make Korra stay, there’s just… something special that she’s drawn to, she can’t place it, and the recent dream certainly isn’t helping her curiosity. Ah yes, the dream. She thinks back to it again, and her eyes glaze over at the thought of the more intimate moments.

“Are you okay? You’ve turned red.” Korra asks, staring at her.

“Oh? Have I?” She laughs it off, “it must be warm in here.”

“So, have you ever been with a woman?” Korra asks, whilst holding her gaze. 

Is she playing me at my own game?  She wonders, glaring right back at Korra, momentarily in shock at such a blunt question being fired back at her.

“Fish!” Ken seemingly appears from nowhere, with steaming plates held up in his hands, “Two grilled fish for two beautiful ladies. Enjoy!” he winks, puts the plates down and totters off again.

Korra immediately digs into the dish, and she follows suit, although she eats a little more gingerly, still not feeling that she completely trusts her stomach. Thankfully, the fish has turned out really well. She hopes Korra’s enjoying the food, it certainly looks that way, with chopsticks almost flying above the plate.

Eventually, with a half empty plate, Korra slows the hectic pace and looks up.

“Well?” Korra asks, after emptying her mouth.

“Well what?” she asks, popping a chunk of fish into her mouth.

“A woman… have you?” Korra’s looking straight at her again, with a deadpan serious expression.

She’s surprised that Korra has the nerve to ask twice, and supposes it serves her right for starting this line of questioning in the first place.

“Yes.” She answers, choosing not to elaborate on the fact that it was with Korra, and in a dream.

“Oh!” Korra exclaims, eyebrows raised.

“Is there something wrong with that?” She asks, staring, sincerely hoping that Korra isn’t adverse to the idea. If nothing else, because she won’t be friends with someone who’d show narrow-mindedness over matters of the heart.

“N…No, nothing like that,” Korra’s gone from overwhelmingly confident to a stammering mess in the space of a minute. 

How adorable, she thinks, resting her chin on her palm.

“I just wondered…” Korra gulps and she bites her lip, suddenly feeling an almost desperate curiosity to hear what Korra will say next.

“I mean… what was it like?” Korra asks, and she smirks when she notices a healthy tinge of curiosity in those deep-blue eyes.

“Hmmm.” She pauses, chewing her food, thinking back to previous partners. She compares it to how she’d felt in the dream, and surprises herself at the answer,

“Different. But maybe better than with men. For me, at least.”

“Even Mako?” Korra snorts.

“Don’t you dare tell him that,” she warns, waving a chopstick at Korra, “All I meant is, I think it depends how you feel about the person, more than anything.”

“Yeah, I’ve never really had that kind of a connection.” Korra casts her eyes downward at the nearly-finished plate.

“So… just raucous, violent sex instead?” She feels a grin stretch across her face as Korra’s cheeks flush bright red… teasing this woman is quickly becoming her favourite new game.

Korra pouts, balls up a napkin and throws it at her, “I told you, there’s not much else to do out there! And it’s only been… twice, maybe three times.”

“You should stay off the sake if you can’t remember,” she scolds Korra, “I, on the other hand, find plenty of more civilised things to do with my time,”

“Such as?” Korra asks, finishing the last mouthful.

“I invent stuff. I work with my Dad on things that… help out around the farm,” she has to hold herself back from saying too much, the walls have ears, and some secrets are best kept well-hidden.

“Huh… that’s actually pretty cool,” Korra smiles, and sounds genuinely intrigued. She feels a slight flutter in her chest at the compliment.

“I thought you were going to say you spent your time training or something, I mean, you’re a fantastic swordswoman,” Korra continues.

At that one, she can’t help but blush. Aren’t you being suave, she thinks, looking at Korra and smiling gently. She wants to hold her hand out, in the hopes that Korra might return the gesture. But she’s fearful that Korra doesn’t see her that way, might even laugh at her, so she restrains herself.

“Thanks… my Dad trained me.”

“Hiroshi? I… I didn’t picture him as being skilled with the sword,” Korra says, looking surprised.

“He’s really good!” she beams, “We used to spar every day.” And they did used to, until her mother… She sighs at the painful memory, blinks back tears so rudely threatening to come out now, of all times.

“What’s wrong?” Korra asks.

“Nothing, I’m just… tired. I didn’t sleep properly with this demon of a hangover,” she conceals her near-sobs with a well-timed stretch, and a yawn.

“Shall we just grab the bill so that you can rest up?” Korra asks, looking adorably concerned.

“Hah, you’re not getting out of the rest of the date that easily!” She grins. Then she pauses, her brain ticking over on what she’s just said.

Korra looks at her, eyes wide.

Date?

“I... I didn’t mean…!” she can feel her cheeks literally burning… she hates losing her cool like this.

Korra laughs. This is what she’d feared, that she’d be mocked, and things would be precisely as awkward as they are right about now. But then her thoughts are interrupted as Korra reaches across the table and gently grabs her wrist.

“I actually… I mean, we’re both women… and this is new to me, but I kind of like the idea that we’re on a date.” Korra’s cheeks are flush, and she sighs, feeling somewhat relieved.

“Then, why were you laughing?” she eventually asks, and tries to calm the thudding in her chest, not helped at all by the fact that Korra’s running a thumb gently up the back of her hand.

“You literally turned purple. I’m sorry. But you did.” Korra looks at her, with a dead-pan serious expression. They both break into riotous laughter, and she decides she’ll definitely have to get revenge for this, someday.

“Soooo, do you lovebirds want anything else?” Ken materialises again, and smiles smugly at her with an ‘I knew all along’ expression.

“Thanks, Ken, We’re headed out now. It was delicious!” She exclaims, leaving a pile of yen with a generous tip.

“Yeah, it was great, thanks!” Korra adds, and she’s happy to see Korra being so polite with Ken. You can tell a lot about a person from how they act around strangers, after all. That’s something else that her father had taught her.

::

Korra’s in high spirits. She has a full belly, the food was great, and she still has some precious time to spend with Asami on what is apparently a date. She grins at the thought, wondering why it makes her so giddy. She’s had dates before, after all. But they’ve never made her belly do backflips at inopportune moments, like it does every time Asami simply looks at her and smiles.

Asami takes her hand, and leads her toward the market stalls. She soon spots some delicious looking red apples, and runs towards them excitedly.

“Naga would love these!” she exclaims, fumbling in her coin purse for some change.

“Let me get these…” Asami smiles at her.

“Asami… I can afford apples…” she says, feeling slightly embarrassed. Just how poor does she think I am?

“Sorry, I just feel like I want to spoil you, and Naga…” Asami grimaces, looks suddenly awkward, and she chides herself for being defensive.

“Okay then... Naga will be very grateful, thank you...” She smiles at Asami, attempting to undo her inadvertent harshness.

Asami hands her the bag of apples, and leads her around the rest of the stalls.

She finds herself particularly interested in a new belt, since hers is beginning to fray. She’s about to start the usual bartering process, when she hears a depressingly familiar voice call her name...

“Ronin Korra.”

She spins around to face him, the same weak, shaky man that accosted her in the Drunken Dragon. Except this time he has five bodyguards, and judging from their posture, and their confidence, at least three of them appear to be skilled with the blade.

She moves her palm to her hip, ready to draw one of her blades first. However, there’s no daisho at her side.

Shit! I left it on Naga? 

A moment of cold panic creeps over her, and she curses herself for being so absent-minded. She can fight bare handed, but it’ll tip the odds greatly against her. She’s about to defend herself, then feels a warm hand on her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.

“Let me help you. I’ve got this,” Asami whispers into her ear, quietly.

She watches, silently, as Asami addresses the stringy old bastard.

“Hibiki.” Asami says, sternly. The old man seems to flinch, as though he recognises her.

“Mi… Miss Sato,” he stammers.

Korra folds her arms and smirks, suddenly feeling it’ll be very interesting to see where this goes.

“Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?” Asami asks, looking at him with a furious expression, “Who paid you, how much, and what will it take to put a stop to this nonsense?”

“I… I can’t tell you that!” he stammers.

“Really? Should I ask Lin and Suyin to pay you a visit?” Asami glares.

She holds back the desire to laugh as Hibiki’s expression changes from fear, to outright terror. She wonders just what has transpired between these people in the past.

“F-Fine! It was Nobu!”

“And you’ll stop if…?” Asami stares him down.

“Two thousand yen, plus fifty for the damages she caused,” he spits, giving Korra a vicious stare. She almost wishes she’d just killed the lot of them, though it isn’t her style.

“Fine. I’ll have it sent to you tomorrow. I will assume this matter has been resolved, unless you wish for me to take it further?” Asami asks.

“W… We won’t bother her again.” Hibiki says, then shrivels away, his hired muscle slinking off with him.

Korra looks at Asami, feeling a sense of admiration not for the money she’s just thrown away, but for the confidence she’d projected. As if being a talented swordswoman isn’t enough, Asami is also, apparently, a very skilled diplomat. But then, she suddenly realises just how much money they’d discussed.

“Asami! I can’t afford that…” she groans.

“Well fortunately, you don’t need to…” Asami looks at her, frowning.

“I do have to! I don’t like to owe people…” she growls, “And I’d only just settled things with Mako… ugh!”

Asami grabs her shoulder, and looks right at her. She struggles not to be overwhelmed by those suddenly fierce green eyes...

“Aren’t you forgetting what you did back at the holding? I’d say we’re pretty damn even now, wouldn’t you?” Asami says, with a raised voice.

She figures it’s best to let Asami see it that way, though in her mind, that job’s been paid for already, in whatever Hiroshi pays Mako.

“Okay… thanks, Asami,” she says, her mood lifting.

“Good.” Asami smiles, “I suppose we should head back, I don’t want you travelling in the dark.

She’s almost lost track of time, and feels that it’s just past mid-day. They’ve been up and down the stalls twice, and the street’s longer than she realised. She’s somehow obtained one sack of apples, a kimono, several master-crafted arrows and a new quiver, as well as the belt she’d been planning to barter for. Asami’s clearly a sneak when it comes to these things.

They head back to the inn in silence, and she wishes that Asami would hold her hand, like earlier in the day. She misses the touch of Asami’s skin, and she knows it’s a strange thought, but she’s really going to miss this woman… she can’t help it. She’s so lost in thought that she’s actually surprised when they arrive back at the Drunken Dragon. Naga sounds a whinny of appreciation, and Aiko, Asami’s horse, does the same.

“Hey, girl,” she strokes Naga, and nestles her nose into the soft fur, “Sorry for leaving you all day.”

“Oh they’ve been fine!” Bolin bursts out from the inn, startling her, “We’ve spoilt them rotten, don’t worry. “

Mako stumbles out next.

“Korra, you left this,” he says, holding out her Daisho and smiling, “so, did you two have fun?”

“Well I know I did,” she beams, and turns to see Asami nod in agreement.

“Are you still leaving?” Bolin asks, doing his usual pouty thing.

She pauses for thought a moment. Should she really let the events of today change her plans? Her mission? She has much bigger things to be worrying about. She closes her eyes and tries to steel her resolve, despite recent events… and feelings.

“Yes, I’m leaving. I fulfilled my end of the deal,” she says, looking at Asami, “A meal, and then I can go, that was it, right?”

“That was it!” Asami smiles.

She can’t detect any sadness in Asami’s voice, for which she’s thankful.

“Will you be coming back?” Mako asks.

“I uh…” Korra looks at the three in turn, and notices that the only one looking away is Asami, tending to Aiko, “I’ll try to.”

“Good, don’t forget… the room is on me if you do,” Mako smiles, whereas Bolin looks like he might cry.

Despite herself, she leans forward to give them both a hug, before finishing packing up Naga’s saddle. The brothers go back inside, and she feels more than a little uncomfortable when she hears Bolin start to sob.

“They’re gonna miss you…” Asami breaks the silence, arms folded, looking straight at her.

“I’ll… miss them too,” Korra chuckles, but wonders why this departure feels so painful.

“It was really nice to meet you, Asami,” she says, holding out her hand. Asami takes her hand, gently, staring back into her eyes. She can’t read Asami’s emotions at all, but she guesses that Asami’s had fun today, and that’s all there is to it, and now they can both move on.

She leaps atop Naga in one deft motion and smiles at Asami, “I’ll… I mean I might…” she’s not sure what to say anymore. Asami interrupts her.

“It’s okay Korra. I had fun today… if I don’t see you again, you take care, okay?”

Asami smiles sincerely, then walks away and pushes open the bar door. As it closes, she feels a horrible pang of loss. She shakes her head to clear the unusual sensation, and urges Naga forwards, up the road, then outside of the village.

She travels for about an hour, a dozen or so miles, until she notices the evening sun is setting. It’ll be dark in three hours, she thinks, scouting the area for a place to set up camp. She finds a decent, flat area, and lays out her bedding. It’s only then, in the still clear daylight, that she spots smoke in the distance.

She pulls out her spyglass, and focuses.

“Shit!” she curses. It’s the Sato holding. Draxx must have sent more men in, for a second attack.

She tries to gather her thoughts. She doesn’t want to get involved, this isn’t her fight, and she’s done her job already. She’s a wanderer, she has her own mission, her own goals. She has no bounty or contract, no reason to go back there, none at all. Except… except…

Images of Asami flash into her mind. That smile, that voice. The simple touch of Asami’s hand. Soon after, the images are replaced by harsher ones, sick and bloody, of Asami impaled on a spike, or alive and suffering at the disgusting whims of bandits.

“Damn it!” Korra shouts to the heavens, as she quickly piles her gear back onto Naga, leaps atop her and gallops away, heading straight towards the Sato holding

Chapter Text

Asami’s staring into her cup of tea, the bar unusually silent as she, Bolin and Mako digest the fact that their new-found friend has left, and so soon. She’s selfishly a little relieved to see that she isn’t the only one slightly depressed at the fact. She’s stirred from her thoughts when she hears a familiar voice call out her name.

“Asami!”

She spins in her seat to face a young, red-faced boy, and immediately recognises him.

“Han!?”

“The… the holding…” he pants.

“What about it?” She quickly stands from her stool, a tendril of icy dread creeping up her spine.

“H… hundreds of bandits!” Han looks at her with wide-eyed, despairing eyes.

So… Draxx came back. She grits her teeth.

Mako reaches underneath the bar and unhooks his Naginata, its sharp blade glinting at the tip of the long shaft, and Bolin casually stretches his arms out, cracking his knuckles. She heads outdoors towards Aiko, whilst the brothers hurry towards their horses at the back of the inn.

She leaps atop Aiko, grabs her katana from the saddle, and hooks it’s sheathe firmly into the knotted loops to the left of her belt. Han follows her outside, and she notices that he’s visibly trembling.

“Stay here, see if you can get help.” She orders the young, fearful boy.

“But… but my Mom and Dad…”

“NOW, Han!” She yells. She feels it best to be cruel to be kind, lest the boy get himself killed, and besides, Margaret would never forgive her if he did. He nods silently, and runs towards the market.

Mako and Bolin soon join her, atop their mounts, and they set off at a steady trot.

“You don’t have to do this…” she says.

“Yes we do.” Mako says, and Bolin nods.

She smiles at the brothers… it’s been years since they last fought together, but she welcomes the help, and the three coax their horses into a full-speed gallop.

"Have we got any kind of plan?" Bolin shouts, barely audible across the sound of hooves pounding into the ground.

"Get there, save who we can, and stay alive!" Asami yells over her shoulder. 

As they come to the top of the next clearing, Asami can see smoke, billowing out from at least two sections of the holding.

"Shit!" She curses, grimacing at the implication of such a sight. She holds a hand to her chest, feeling a sudden tightness there, then hunches forward and tries to push Aiko faster still.

Though the rest of the trip is relatively quick on horseback, to Asami, it feels like a lifetime. Her heart races, and she anguishes over the notion that so many could already be dead. And my father… what about my father!?

They leap from their horses at the entrance, and gently slap them at their hindquarters, a command to make them head back to town. Asami grips the hilt of her blade, ready to draw, and they cautiously creep forwards.

It’s eerily quiet, in fact the only sounds that can be heard are those of fire crackling against wood, and the occasional pop as flame finds moisture within the old timber. Battered and bloodied bodies, both friend and foe as far Asami can tell, are strewn across the ground, and the air’s thick with soot and the stench of ash. 

At the sight of so many dead, for the first time in as long as she can remember, Asami feels a tremor in her arm. She shakes the feeling off, furrows her brow, and focuses her thoughts. The houses at the entrance are almost completely burnt to the ground, so it’s evident that the bandits started their attack right here, probably around thirty minutes ago. Her calculating mind goes to work, working out the likely numbers that could have caused this kind of damage, how many might be left, the approximate percentage of casualties her side…

“Asami!” Mako hisses, snapping her out of her trance, "I Know this is... horrible, but we have to move!"

She inwardly curses herself for getting distracted. Mako’s right, they have to see if anyone is alive, see if they can save anyone.

"Sorry... let's go..." she says, and races ahead towards the centre of the holding, the two brothers following just behind. 

It isn’t long before they run into trouble. Two bandits are stood over a woman, leering. One of them is loosening his trousers, his sick, cruel intentions made clear to his victim. The woman wails. She looks terrified, and she holds her hands up towards the men, seemingly trying to will them away.

So far, Asami’s seen at least twelve bodies that she’d recognised. And right now, she’s watching as these excuses for men threaten to violate one of the people she's sworn to protect. The bastards can rot in hell for this, she thinks, as she strides up behind the cackling foes. In one vicious stroke, she unsheathes her blade and slices across the middle of their spines, cutting deep. Cut quick, cut deep, it’s one of the many things her father taught her. She shakes the traces of blood from her blade, re-sheathes it, and watches as the bastards crumble before her.

“M… Miss Sato!” The old woman stammers, as Bolin helps her stand to her feet.

“Margaret…” Asami smiles, feeling some relief that they’re not too late to save some of the town-folk, “Han came to get us, I’ve asked him to wait in town…”

Margaret smiles at Asami, tears welling in her eyes.

“Thank you… but… my hu… husband… they… they… ” Margaret breaks down in Bolin’s arms. He looks at Asami, his eyes communicating a subtle help me plea.

“Bolin,” Asami says, “Take her, and any other survivors you find, to the shelter.”

“No problem!” Bolin grins, as he sweeps a protesting Margaret into his arms and heads out. Asami feels confident in Bolin’s abilities. If he should run into trouble, he’ll be able to hold his own… his hand-to-hand skills are second to none. And if it comes to it, he always has that. They all have it. Their secret backup plan, the one she hopes they won’t have to use today.

She watches Bolin as he heads towards the shelter. It lay about fifteen minutes east of the holding, and had been built for emergency evacuation, its location known only to a trusted few. It’s hidden away in a gathering of trees, and even if a bandit should stumble across it, they’d take no interest in an apparently empty building. Or, so Asami hopes. In actuality, the building holds emergency supplies and bedding, albeit tucked away in secret compartments which she and her father had meticulously designed together.

“They’re probably headed toward the mansion…” Mako interrupts her thoughts.

“You don’t think…” She sees from his expression that they’ve both reached the same conclusion, the obvious reason why Draxx would go this far. They’ve been found out… everything she’s worked so hard on with her Dad… they know. She sprints forward, as fast as she can, until her calves feel like they might split into two, and her lungs burn.

They soon arrive at the foot of the long stairwell which leads up to the manor. As they’re about to ascend, Asami hears a tile slate loosen from above, and snaps her neck upward to see two assailants jumping upon them from the rooftops. She steps deftly away from the clumsy, loud attack, causing her foe to fall off-balance. She takes advantage of this, and swiftly impales him in his side. In the meantime, Mako simply thrusts the base of his shaft into the floor, ducks down and allows the second assailant to land upon his polearm.

“Show-off.” She grumbles, finding herself impressed or almost amused, despite their dire situation. Humour is quickly replaced by panic at the fact they’ve barely found anyone else alive so far… she fears that everyone could be dead, that they’re too late.

Mako smiles at her, shakes the corpse away and quickly cleans his blade, whilst staring up the stairs and beyond. They take a moment to catch their breath, and begin to ascend. Asami pays particularly close attention to the rooftops at either side of the narrow stairwell, whilst Mako sets his sights forward. Before they reach the top, she hears, before she can see, the chaos unfolding at the foot of the manor.  Shouting, screaming, metal clashing against metal... it sounds like a war zone.

Then, she sees it. She gasps, holds a hand to her mouth, and wills back the tears threatening to come.

They’re alive…

They’ve all fallen back, almost everyone looks to be here. Fighting for their life, fighting to defend their homes. It’s a tactical decision that only Lin could be responsible for, to get everyone to group up and fight defensively. But it isn’t working, mainly due to their difference in numbers. She can see men and women being slaughtered, her men, her women.

She despairs at the sight of their blood soiling the ground… but despair is quickly replaced with anger, boiling up from the pit of her stomach and threatening to erupt in a primal scream. She holds it in, clenches her teeth.

Mako looks at her with an equally angry expression, looks to his polearm and back to her.

She understands the question. In answer, she pulls forth a glove from within her Kimono and stretches her fingers into it, flexing out the barely-used material. She runs her fingertips across the small metal discs on her gloved palm, and wills her energy into them. She feels a spark, gentle, but it’s enough… it’s all that she needs. She grips her katana with both hands, and twists her gloved hand until she feels a click, at which blue-white lightning immediately streaks across the length of the blade, casting shadows away, illuminating her frame and everything around her.

Moments later, bright orange flames erupt at the tip of Mako’s naginata, folding around and around his blade in an endless loop.

"So it's come to this then..." she growls, and turned to face Mako.

"I guess so. Let's make it count." Mako replies solemnly. He looked as pissed off as she feels.

Their foes are many, Asami makes an educated guess that there are about one hundred and forty, to their four-dozen or so villagers. With those kinds of numbers the odds are severely stacked against them, but rage has replaced reason, and she’s already picked out her first target - an impossibly large bandit busy smashing a dead Villager’s head into a stone wall over and over again, giggling, like he’s lost his wits.

She sprints towards him and impales him from behind, sending lightning coursing through his body. He convulses like a ragdoll caught in a violent seizure, his eyes roll back in their sockets, and spittle froths at his mouth.

The damn weapons. It’s why the bandits are here, why Draxx has evidently sent everything. She has to try not to laugh at the irony.

She’d spent years perfecting the technology, shared it with barely anyone, yet clearly, somehow, word had gotten out. In using the weapons, all that they’re doing is confirming their existence… but what choice do I have? She thinks, seeing that even now they have little chance of victory.

The flickering orange, and dancing white light from their weapons soon attracts the attention of most of their foes, who hesitate for a moment to stare, like a confused pack of rats that have seen fire for the first time. It doesn't take long for a group of thirty or so to gather their wits, and they charge forward, screaming and laughing as though their victory is guaranteed.

Once they’re close enough, Mako darts his polearm forward into several focused jabs, causing huge, white-hot bursts of fire to jet out, incinerating every single one of them. Their agonized screams die down to silence as their bodies crumble to ash. 

This seems to rightfully unsettle the fifty or so that remain, and they exchange nervous glances between the potent weapons and each other. Asami looks around, and can see that the villagers are managing to push back the rest of the bandits. However, the only way that they can assure victory is if she takes down this group, otherwise they'll turn back to the villagers and slaughter them the second that she and Mako fall.

With no further pause for thought, she runs toward the bandits and points the tip of her blade forward, taking a moment to check that no villagers are in range. Before the bandits can think about fleeing or attacking her, she presses the button hidden just beneath the guard of her blade. Lightning leaps forth, surging forward, engulfing the crowd within a cage of electricity, bolts jumping between victim to victim in a deadly never-ending chain. Stammering shrieks of agony escape from them all at once, the sound almost deafening. Their bodies shake and jerk about, their skin turns black then blacker still, and by the time their screams stop, they resemble weird, twisted statues, made out of charcoal instead of stone.

Asami depresses the button, at which lightning vanishes from the area and from her blade, and she collapses to her knees. She already feels exhaustion setting in, sweat dripping down her brow. Mako looks at her, concern visible in his eyes.

“I can't believe you used that!” he chides her. 

"It worked, didn't it?" She frowns at him, trying to catch her breath. 

"It could have killed you..."

"I'm fine, I just need a minute," she lies.

It’s the one design flaw that she and her father had never managed to fix. The weapons feed from their own energy in order to function, and the attack she'd just used was experimental to say the least. She feels exhaustion creep further in at the back of her eyes, threatening to close her lids. But she forces herself awake, forces herself to ignore the stench of burnt flesh threatening to overwhelm her senses, and she stands… She has to find her father.

::

For years, he’s trained. For years, he’s perfected the art of swordplay, but this is the first time he’s been pushed this far, this hard.

Hiroshi thrusts his katana into the jugular of the next bandit, bringing the count to twenty-three, then spins his blade in an arc taking down the next two trying to get the jump on him. Twenty-five. They’re amateurs, but he’s old, and this is wearing him down quickly.

Still, he can do this…  He has to do this. He knows that Asami will be here already, fighting just as hard. They can’t have the weapons, they can’t have the holding, and they definitely can’t have Asami.

One from above, he raises his blade… twenty-six. Two at either side, one behind… he rolls backwards, takes the rear one first by impaling him through the chest, whilst rising to his knee from the ground.

Quickly, stand up, ignore that damn pain in your knees, stand!

He parries the blade to the left, now the right, slashes quickly, and cuts deep.

Twenty-nine.

He pants, takes a moment to catch his breath. The field is covered with corpses, he’s done it… he’s fought them back. Finally, he can go help the rest of the villagers. He heads towards the stairs, but then his thoughts are interrupted by a loud, slow, echoing clap.

“Quite the swordsman, aren’t we?” The voice is deep, sinister...

“Draxx, I presume?” Hiroshi growls.

“You presume correctly. Am I correct in thinking it’d be a waste of breath to ask you about the weapons?”

“I’ll take that secret to my grave…”

“Of course you will.”

Draxx is upon him, and he barely even has time to parry. Such speed! He’s so tired, his limbs won’t move as fast as his brain commands them to, and before he knows it, Hiroshi’s disarmed, and his hair is caught in a vice grip, a blade held to his throat.

“No matter. I’ll force it from your whore of a daughter…”

“No…” he whispers, pain aching in his chest as a hot streak burns across his neck, and the world spins before him, ebbing quickly to darkness.

My little girl… Asami… I love you...

His eyes close, and he soon feels a warm, familiar hand reach out. He takes it, and feels choked with happiness as his gaze is met by glistening, jade-green eyes.

::

The villagers are making short work of the rest of the bandits, and Asami guesses that it has a lot to do with the bandits being demotivated at seeing their brethren meet such a gristly end.

She chokes back a cry of relief when she spots arrows take down several more foes, and, just to be sure, she traces their trajectory back to the source. Sure enough, there’s Wing and Wei, alive and well, on the rooftops. And Lin’s at their backs, fending off any who’d try to take them from behind. They take a moment to wave down at her, and she returns the gesture, suddenly feeling less bleak about the future, despite their losses, and despite the exhaustion threatening to consume her. She hasn't seen Su or Opal, and hopes they've met with Bolin at the shelter.

"Let's go..." she says to Mako, but as she heads forward, she feels him grasp her arm.

"Are you sure? You don't look like you can even stand..."  

"I'm not stopping until I find my father," she says, defiantly, and Mako releases his grip with a frustrated sigh. 

"Fine, but let me do the fighting from now on..." he suggests, and she nods. 

They make their way up the next, shorter flight of stairs at the foot of the mansion proper. On the way up they come across corpse after corpse, all bandits, and when they reach the gardens they find even more of them scattered around, dead.

Asami feels a mixture of relief that she won’t have to fight when she can barely hold her blade up, and panic that the area is so quiet, too quiet. They edge closer to the front of the mansion, where they’re suddenly knocked back to the floor as the doors are kicked outward.

A lone figure, clad in black from bottom up, walks toward them, menacingly. This must be Draxx, she thinks, trying to evaluate his strength… but then her strategic mind goes blank, and the numbers fall apart as she notices what he holds in his hand. A head. He holds it aloft and she’s caught between wanting to vomit, cry, scream, or all three.

“DAD!” She wails.

Draxx sneers, seems to revel in her anguish, his eyes hidden behind thick goggles.

“Quite the hero, your father…” he says, sweeping his arm across the courtyard, indicating his dead comrades.

“But he wouldn’t talk, and THIS is what happened.” He shakes Hiroshi’s head at her, and a few silent moments pass, blood slowly dripping out of the bottom of the severed neck. She’s transfixed, staring wide-eyed at the horror before her, unable to take her gaze away, unable to speak, or move. Her father's eyes are rolled back, his mouth agape. 

"d... d.. ad..." she croaks, her words barely audible even to herself.

“YOU BASTARD!” Mako yells, and clambers to his feet, his polearm erupting into the largest blaze Asami has ever seen. He charges toward Draxx, only to stumble into the space where he’d been stood moments ago.

Asami watches with horror as Draxx somehow appears behind Mako, unsheathes a short sword and draws it up the exposed back, in a long sweep. Mako screams, then falls suddenly silent as he’s brutally kicked to the floor.

The whole time, that sick bastard had kept hold of her father’s head, like some gristly trophy that he’s proud of.

She feels her world spiral out of control. Mako can’t be dead, he can’t… not him and her father, and so many villagers. It’s not real, it can’t be.

As Draxx strides toward her, she wills herself to wake up from the nightmare.

He holds her father’s head in front of her face, and jiggles it as though it’s a child’s toy. She feels herself begin black out, lose consciousness. The horror, the exhaustion, it’s too much. But she forces herself to stay awake, there’s still hope. She can kill this evil bastard, she can save Mako.

I can do this… I can.

If only she could move, if only her trembling, useless body would move. But it won’t, and she can’t hold back her tears any longer.

“Awwww, is this too much for little Miss Sato?” Draxx sneers. He throws Hiroshi’s head over his shoulder, takes her by the throat, and pushes her to the floor. She doesn’t have the strength, or the will to fight back. 

"Just... kill me..." she whispers, her eyes unfocused as her consciousness threatens to fade.

She’s brought back to reality with a harsh slap across the face, Draxx's hand bringing sparks to her eyes.

"Oh no no no!" he cackled, “You’re going to tell me how these delightful weapons of your work,” his voice turns to a harsh whisper, “even if I have to drag you back into your lovely house and fuck it out of you…”

She closes her eyes. If only she’d listened to her father, understood the threat, understood just how strong Draxx is. If only she’d done things differently. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, she thinks, fighting yet again to stay conscious, to find any strength left within herself.

::

Naga understands Korra’s urgency, and gallops, faster than Korra has ever seen before. 

Please don’t be too late… please... she says it to herself, over and over, like some kind of mantra. She isn’t one for prayer, but when she'd seen that smoke, she'd felt sheer panic at the thought of Asami being hurt, or worse...

It’s strange, though. They’ve only known each other a couple of days, and they’ve only been on one date. It probably wasn't really even a date, but still... she feels a connection to Asami, and it’s the first time she’s felt that for anyone in a long time. She grits her teeth… if only she could turn back time, she would have stayed at the inn for just a little longer, and then she'd be out there with Asami now, making sure she’s okay. 

By the time they arrive at the village, Korra’s nearly frantic with worry, a chill runs down her spine when she looks around and sees nothing but death, and smouldering ruins.

“Shit!” she curses, and slows Naga to a cautious trot as they head into the village proper. There’s corpse after corpse, some caught in the moment of death with a terrified expression, others looking like they’ve finally found peace. She tries to calm herself… After all, it’s nothing that I haven’t seen before, she thinks, as she presses forward.

She arrives at the foot of a long staircase, and recalls from her earlier mission that they lead toward the mansion, where the attackers are most likely to be, and therefore where Asami might be. The stairs are too shallow and thin for Naga, so she leaps down and holsters her Yumi onto the saddle, having seen that the fight has escalated enough to render ranged attacks almost useless. She pats Naga on the back, a silent request for her to stay, or head to their safe spot if she has to.

Without further delay she deftly runs up the stairs, and is met at the top with a very angry-looking, grey haired woman pointing a sword toward her throat.

“Who are you?” the woman growls.

She raises her hands up, and glances around, feeling relieved to see that the bandits are dead, and there’s plenty of surviving villagers, bandaging and helping each other.

“I’m Korra… I uh, helped you guys on the last attack…” she says, feeling strangely intimidated by the woman’s fierce gaze.

“Helped how?” the woman barks.

“With… with my yumi?” Korra grimaces. She feels sure that she’s about to be impaled.

“Oh, that was you?” the woman says, feeling at ease and putting away her sword, “Well, I think you’re a bit late this time, but thanks…”

“Where’s Asami?” Korra gets straight to the point, since she can’t see Asami, anywhere.

“She went to the mansion, I was about to head there myself…”

She doesn’t listen to the rest, runs past the scary woman, past the villagers who cast confused or curious glances in her direction, and up the next set of stairs as fast as she can.

At the top, Korra spots bandit corpses strewn around the floor, and Mako’s here, right before her feet, a sickening streak of crimson visible all the way up his back. She crouches down and carefully turns him over, feeling relieved to see that his eyes are open, and he’s conscious. He’s trying to speak, but the words are too quiet. She leans closer…

“A… Asami… he took her… inside…”

She gently places him back on the floor and nods.

“Wait here, stay alive.” It’s all that she has time to say, as she sprints into the mansion proper.

She hears the bastard before she sees him. His voice is muffled, coming from a couple of rooms ahead.

“I’ll give you one more chance, talk, or else…”

She runs towards the sound of his raspy, malicious voice. She hears the sound of a zip being pulled, followed quickly by the man’s high pitched scream.

“I will fucking end you!”

She finally sees him, a man clad in black, and Asami is there, slumped down against the wall with a bloodied dagger in her hand. The man has a hand held over the hilt of his sword, blood trickling down his palm, and he’s a second away from delivering a fatal blow.

In one seamless motion, Korra unsheathes both of her swords, angles each blade behind her elbows, thrusts herself forward and slices the twin blades into a wide arc, where they pass atop one other in a neat criss-cross in the middle of the man’s neck.

A second passes, and she watches as his head starts to slide forward, eventually leaving his neck as nothing more than a glistening red stump. His body seems to have a short delay in registering that he’s just been killed, and his fingers twitch at his side for a few moments, until his body finally collapses backward and lands at her feet with a heavy thud.

“Korra…” Asami says quietly, and smiles weakly at her from where she sits on the floor. She looks battered, bruised, exhausted… but alive.

Korra quickly sheathes her blades and runs towards Asami, kneeling down and checking around her body for any fatal injury.

“Are you okay?” Korra asks, knowing it’s a stupid question, all things considered. She places her palms atop Asami’s shoulders, looks into sad, tired eyes, and feels an almost overwhelming sense of protection take over.

“I’ll be fine…” Asami whispers, her arms falling to the floor and the dagger leaving her grip, landing on the floor with a loud clang, “Thanks for coming…”

“I’m just sorry I was so late…” Korra says, gently taking Asami into her arms. She strokes her hair, holds her closely and tries to offer some comfort in what must be the darkest of times. 

I made it… thank the heavens…

They sit there like that for a while, and when she feels Asami quietly sob against her, she knows at that exact moment that she’s made the right choice. She’s willingly gotten involved in someone else’s fate. No turning back now, she thinks, as she feels a warm, unfamiliar emotion stirring within her chest.

Chapter Text

Asami doesn’t want to let go. The feeling of Korra’s arms, the warmth, even her scent, they’re all that she needs right now, all that she needs to hold on to the last shred of sanity she has left. She can’t stop her tears. They flow endlessly, without shame, and the whole time Korra simply holds her, without saying a word, as though she understands perfectly. Perhaps she does.

Eventually though, Korra does break the silence.

“Hey, do you think you can stand?” Korra asks, looking down.

Asami isn’t sure if she can even breathe, let alone move. Her limbs feel heavy, as though made of lead, her mind is insistently telling her to close her eyes, and surrender to her fatigue.

“It’s just that…” Korra’s eyebrows slant, showing concern, “Mako was out there, and he didn’t look so good…”

Shit! How could I forget? How selfish can I be? Asami chides herself.

“I… I’m okay, let’s go!” she says, shakily taking Korra’s outstretched hand, pushing past the exhaustion, and willing herself to her feet through sheer necessity.

She follows Korra back outside, into the courtyard, trying to ignore any instinct to look around for her father’s head, or his remains. Mako’s all that matters at this point, he can still be saved. They find him exactly where he’d fallen, and she notices with relief that he’s still breathing.

“Asami! You’re… okay…” he grunts, his face contorted in pain. He’s laid belly to the floor, and she wonders how he can be alive at all given the length of the wound on his back. She also notices that he’s pale, too pale, and it’s apparent that if she doesn’t do something soon, he’ll die from blood loss. A sudden thought occurs to her, and she runs back toward the mansion.

“Hey!” Korra shouts, but she ignores the yell. She has something… something special that she’s tested on her father’s wounds many times, and it just might help Mako live through this. Adrenaline surges through her as she pushes around old papers and pots, desperately searching for that special jar, and when she finds it she feels elation that it’s still half full.

She runs back outside and swoops down upon Mako, ignoring Korra’s concerned expression.

“Sorry Mako, this might hurt…”

She carefully pulls back the remaining strips of cloth, fully exposing the terrible wound, then goes to work lightly applying light green salve across the opening, starting from the bottom and working her way up. As she gently eases it into place, she watches the flow of blood slow, and then stop.

The gel’s something she invented after learning the principles of blood clotting, which is one of the many things her father taught her when she was little. She’d spent years since then crushing various herbs and plants into salve, testing them on her own cuts and bruises, until one day she stumbled across a certain combination which amplified the natural clotting process.

She tried it on a particularly nasty gash her father had come home with one day, and it’d almost completely stopped the blood loss at once. Better still, when she’d cleansed the salve from the wound the morning after, she’d discovered that it hadn’t interrupted any natural healing, nor had it caused infection.

She’d meant to spread news of her findings, but she wanted to ensure it didn’t have any side effects first. Right now, there’s no time for that level of caution. Mako will either respond positively to it, or he’ll die, and she doesn’t want to lose anyone else tonight… especially him. She applies the last parts of the remedy, rips a strip of cloth from her kimono and seals it down, covering the wound and salve entirely.

“What was that…?” Mako whispers.

“Just medicine. You need to rest…” She answers, placing her hand to his forehead. He’s running a temperature, and she fears that she might be too late after all. Mako sighs and closes his eyes, losing consciousness just as Lin, Wei and Wing ascend the stairs.

“What happened here?” Lin asks, upon seeing the bandit corpses. “And what happened to Mako!?” she exclaims, running forward and crouching to his side. Asami knows that Lin has always fostered motherly instincts towards him, deny it as she may.

“It looks like father took care of the bandits…” Asami sighs, “But Draxx… he… my father… and now Mako… ” she can’t form the words, and she feels tears start to well up again. Korra steps forward, puts a hand on her shoulder, and gives it a reassuring squeeze.

“I think we can talk about the specifics later, we need to get Mako to a bed, and everyone needs rest…” Korra says.

Asami nods in silent agreement, and she sees Lin stand up and stare at Korra.

“Is Draxx dead?” Lin asks, the words sounding harsh.

“Yes. I… took care of it.” Korra says quietly, and cautiously holds out a hand. “I’m Korra, by the way.”

“Lin.” She replies bluntly, and Asami is sure she sees a hint of suspicion in her eyes. She makes a mental note to quiz Lin on it later.

“Hey Asami, have you got a stretcher anywhere?” Wing interrupts her thoughts.

“Yes, actually, first door on the left.” She points towards the mansion.

Wing sprints inside, and soon returns with a stretcher. Wei helps him carefully lift Mako onto it, then they stand at either side and hoist it up.

“We’ll see you back at the shelter?” Wei asks over his shoulder, and Asami smiles at the two and nods. She knows she can always rely on the Beifongs, nobody will be faster on their feet than these two.

“Do you need a ride somewhere?” Korra asks, holding out a hand to help her up again. Asami’s relieved that by asking that question, Korra’s indirectly said she’ll be sticking around, at least for now.

“Yes please… there’s a shelter nearby…” she answers, then turns to Lin, “if you’ll be okay that is? Can you rally everyone else?”

“Already done it, everyone’s headed there as we speak. I’ll meet you there…” Lin says, then approaches Korra and whispers something, at which Korra nods solemnly. Asami’s naturally curious, but too tired to enquire about the exchange.

She heads back down the stairs alongside Korra, where she finds herself suddenly too exhausted to walk, and her legs threaten to buckle at any moment. Korra must sense it… just before she stumbles, she feels a strong arm around her waist, holding her up.

“I’ve got you.” Korra says, smiling. Normally, Asami would like to come up with a witty retort, but instead she smiles back and puts her arm around Korra’s shoulder, leaning against her, gratefully accepting the support.

“So, where exactly is this shelter?” Korra enquires.

“About a mile out of the east gate. There’s a path, of sorts…” Asami wants to go into detail about how to find the place, since it’s half-camouflaged in a thick gathering of trees and foliage. But she’s so very tired, and she trusts that Korra will work it out.

Naga’s waiting patiently at the bottom of the stairs, and snorts in recognition as Korra approaches.

“Hey girl, thanks for waiting…” Korra says, then unhooks a length of rope from the saddle and turns to face Asami, “You first, I’ll help you up.”

Asami approaches the saddle, and Korra bends to the knee, puts hands beneath her sandal and pushes it upward. She uses her last drop of energy to hoist herself over the saddle, after which Korra leaps onto it just in front, then passes her the rope. She looks at Korra quizzically.

“You’re about to pass out, put this behind your waist and I’ll fasten us together.”

She’s barely able to speak, let alone think, so she simply does as instructed, trusting Korra’s instincts for now. Korra ties the rope tightly around the front, crouches forward, and then coaxes Naga into a fast trot.

As Korra predicted, Asami soon finds herself drifting off… she wraps her arms around Korra’s waist, leans forward against the sturdy back and rests the side of her head between Korra’s shoulder blades. Though the ride’s bumpy, she feels herself fall into a welcome slumber almost immediately, unable to prevent it any longer.

::

What a nightmare, Korra muses as she rides along, her stomach tying itself in knots over the guilt and anguish she feels bubbling inside.

If she’d come sooner, perhaps Mako wouldn’t be hurt. And poor Hiroshi… she’s sure she saw his head resting on the floor on the way into the mansion earlier. Her fears had been confirmed when Lin whispered that she’d take care of his remains, and tell Asami about it tomorrow.

It doesn’t take long to find what she assumes to be the hidden sanctuary. To her, it stands out like a sore thumb, even though it’s almost pitch black outside. She pushes Naga through a clearing, where she’s met face to face with a woman who looks remarkably like Lin, holding a polearm to her face.

“Halt!” the woman commands, but her harsh expression softens upon seeing the unconscious woman fastened to Korra, “Asami… thank the heavens! Is she okay?”

“She’s had a rough day, but she’ll live.”

“And who might you be?”

“I’m Korra, a friend of hers.”

“Well, thanks for helping, Korra,” the woman smiles, takes Naga’s reigns, turns around and leads her forward the rest of the distance to their makeshift base, “I’m Suyin, a close friend of Hiroshi’s.”

“Um…” Korra doesn’t know whether she should say anything. There’s an awkward pause, and then,

“He’s dead… isn’t he?” Suyin asks, still facing away.

“Sorry…” it’s all Korra can think of to say.

Suyin falls silent, and pushes open the large double doors in front of them. Korra’s impressed at the size of the building now that she can see it up close. She encourages Naga to walk inside, where she sees a bustle of activity.

About four dozen beds are laid out, most of which are occupied, people being bandaged, two fires going at the back and the smell of food wafting through the air. And there’s so much noise, lots of noise, chatter, sounds of pain and suffering, deep voices, higher pitched replies. Women, men and children, doing their best to move on, rallying together to help each other. It’s quite the spectacle.

She grabs Asami’s hand and gives it a squeeze.

“Hey, wake up a second.”

Nothing. No real surprise, Korra thinks, as she unties the belt at her waist, keeps hold of Asami’s hand, and jumps down, allowing the unconscious body to fall into her arms as it slips from the saddle.

As she holds Asami, she wonders what to do with Naga. She looks around and spots Aiko, tied up just on the opposite wall. Suyin notices her dilemma, walks over and takes Naga’s reigns.

“I’ll take care of this one… she’s a fine mare, by the way,” Naga whinnies at the compliment, “There are a few private rooms hidden away down the stairs, can you find a bed for Asami?”

Korra nods and watches as Su leads Naga across the hall, and ties her up with her friend. They nuzzle each other, and Naga goes to work straight away on the hay and water that’s laid out.

Satisfied that Naga will be okay, Korra carries Asami through the hall, nodding at people and reassuring them that yes, Asami’s alive, and yes, she’ll be fine, and look, she just needs sleep, where are the beds?

After reassuring another twenty or so people that Asami’s alive and needs rest, Korra heads down a staircase at the end of the hall, into a lower chamber. Like the floor above, several torches burn brightly, illuminating the hall in a flicker of amber light. She finds a vacant room, ducks under the shorter-than-usual door, careful not to hit Asami’s head on the frame, and gently places the unconscious woman onto the sleeping mat within.

Asami looks pale… Korra feels guilt stab at her heart again, feeling that she could have done so much more if she hadn’t hastily left everyone earlier. She finds a jug of water and a cloth on the side table, dabs the dry cloth into the jug of water, and places it to Asami’s lips. Though sound asleep, Asami responds to the moisture and drinks, eventually stopping once her thirst is quenched.

Satisfied that she can do no more for now, Korra heads back upstairs to see if anyone needs her help. She soon bumps into Bolin, who’s nursing a bandage on his left hand, wrapped all the way up his wrist to his elbow.

“What happened to you?” she asks.

“Got into a fight or two on the way here,” he grins, “Opal bandaged me up pretty good though!” he says, his eyes lighting up as a young woman approaches from behind.

“That’d be me,” the girl smiles and holds out a hand, “Opal Beifong, Su’s daughter… I saw you walk in with Mother earlier. Is Asami okay?”

“I’d like to know that too. What happened out there, Korra?” Suyin asks, joining them.

Korra explains to Opal, Suyin and Bolin the parts that she knows about. She tries to keep the details brief on Hiroshi’s demise, but Bolin starts to choke up, and Opal squeezes his shoulder.

She tells them that all of the bandits are dead, including Draxx. She assures them that their ordeal is over, and that everyone should rest.

Then she tells them about Mako.

“What do you mean he’s hurt?” Bolin jumps to his feet, only to have Opal scowl at him, at which he grimaces and sits back down, apologetically.

“I can’t lie… he took a nasty slash up the back… but Asami put some weird… healy stuff on him, so he should make it,” Bolin’s distraught expression makes her hate herself all the more, “he should be here any minute, Wing and Wei were running back with him…”

“Wait… that was Mako?” Opal exclaims, and holds a hand to her mouth.

“What do you mean?” Korra and Bolin ask in unison.

“He’s here! I saw them race downstairs with a stretcher… I was too busy to see who was on the bed…”

Korra feels dumbstruck that they’ve beaten her here on foot, but perhaps they took a shorter route, and they’d definitely had a head-start. She quickly follows Bolin, Su and Opal as they run toward the stairs.

Wei and Wing are in a room to the back of the lower halls, where they’re extremely preoccupied in cleansing out Mako’s wound and stitching it closed.

“You’re doctors?” Korra asks, surprised.

“Most of my family are medically trained…” Suyin explains, “It’s a family business, or it used to be.”

Suyin’s downcast expression makes Korra fully aware that she shouldn’t ask for an explanation, at least not right now.

“Do you think he’ll make it?” Bolin asks Wing, sounding somewhat frantic.

“We’ll do everything we can, Bo,” Wing answers, “your brother is strong, if anyone can survive this kind of a beating, he can.”

Bolin sniffs, wipes away a tear and nods.

“Please leave us whilst we attend to him, we need to concentrate…” Wei says.

“Okay, but I’ll be waiting just outside,” Bolin says, and sits stubbornly against the side of the doorway.

“I’ll bring some blankets and sit with you,” Opal says, smiling. Korra notices a glint in her eyes at the words. Hah, smooth, she thinks. She finds it amazing that love can spring up even in the darkest of places, or times. She turns her head to find Suyin smiling at the two, and realises she isn’t the only one to notice their exchange.

She walks alongside Suyin back down the hallway, towards Asami’s room.

“Korra,” Suyin says, pausing mid-step, “How did you meet Asami? I haven’t seen you around before, but I have heard of you. Are you the Korra?” she looks at her with a serious expression.

Korra sighs, and nods. She knew all along that sooner or later, somebody was bound to either recognise her, or know her by reputation. No point trying to hide anything from this one.

“Look… I’m not here to cause any trouble. Hiroshi hired me to help you guys with the first attack.”

“That was you?” Suyin looks surprised, “Those were some… impressive shots.”

“Um… thanks. I was supposed to keep my part in it a secret, but I guess it didn’t work out that way,” Korra sighs, “I bumped into Asami later the next day, and Bolin was there, and we ended up… um…”

“Drinking yourselves into a stupor?” Suyin smirks and raises an eyebrow. Apparently Bolin has quite the reputation.

“Yes. Pretty much… exactly that. Anyway, I was going to leave earlier today, but Asami stopped me. We went on a da…” Korra coughs, “I mean, she took me for a meal. As thanks.”

“As thanks? Ah, she worked out that you were our hidden helper? Shocking.” Suyin rolls her eyes, and seems to pause in thought for a while, drumming fingers on her arm.

“Look, Korra… I was going to keep an eye on Asami tonight, but it would be far easier if you did it instead.”

“Um… I can do that, but don’t you need any help upstairs?” Korra asks.

“We’ve done all we can for tonight, we just need people to rest up now. And you’re looking rather exhausted yourself…”

Korra hadn’t noticed until now, but come to think of it, she is feeling pretty damn tired.

“Okay then, I’ll sleep in her room. I just need to get my stuff.”

She walks upstairs with Suyin, where they part ways, then heads towards Naga, unhooks her belongings and removes the saddle, for which she hears a grunt of appreciation. She remains there a while longer to stroke Naga and offer a few words of appreciation, then takes her satchel, and heads back downstairs.

She ducks under the doorway, quietly rolls out her sleeping mat and rests it close to Asami’s, where she sits down and watches the other woman sleep for a while. Asami seems at peace, for now at least, chest rising and falling in the steady rhythm of sleep.

Korra lays back, and soon feels her eyelids starting to close...

::

Asami sleeps, but her mind’s filled with nightmares. Horrible, terrifying images of her father flood her thoughts, his head floating through space with no body in sight. Blood, luminescent as though alive, swirls in crazy patterns all around her. Fire and lightning crackle around her arms, turning them black, until she watches as her fingers crumble into ash. And then her father’s head is back, right in front of her, gasping for air… but finding no lungs to fill.

She snaps awake, cold sweat dripping down her forehead. It takes a moment to gather her senses, and she sits up, slowly. Where am I? She thinks, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

She looks around the room, and recognises her surroundings… the shelter. She moves her feet off the edge of the bed and feels her heart flutter at the sight of Korra, sprawled out in a rather undainty manner, chest bare of all but a narrow strip of bandages protecting her decency, and the top of what must be the most amazingly sculpted abdomen she’s ever seen.

She’s almost tempted to pull the blanket down to see more… but instead, she stands and gently pulls the blanket back over the snoring figure.

She carefully tip-toes over Korra and heads to the dresser, but she’s suddenly dizzy, has to hold a hand to the wall to steady herself, and squeezes her eyes shut as memories flood back from the attack yesterday. She wishes it were a dream, and she wants to wake up. But it’s real… It’d all happened, all of it.

She rests her forehead against her palm and tries to steady her nerves. Now isn’t the time to fall apart, she tells herself. She has to bear the responsibility of leading the remaining villagers through this. She has to be their rock, their pillar. She grits her teeth, tells herself that she can grieve in private, later.

She takes a deep breath, and looks in the dresser for a change of clothes. There’s basic robes stored in most of the rooms downstairs, and she soon finds a simple white kimono, about her size, and some fresh underwear. She quickly changes, re-knots her hair into a long tail, and walks outside of the room, stealing one last glance at Korra and smiling to herself.

She spots Bolin and Opal asleep outside the room at the end of the corridor, and heads toward them.

She peers into the doorway that they guard, without disturbing them. Inside, she can see Wing and Wei, sat down and fast asleep against the wall at either side of their loudly-snoring patient. She’d recognise that snore anywhere… a wide smile forms on her lips.

“Snrrt.. huh… Asami?” Bolin looks up at her sleepily, and she bends down to ruffle his hair.

“Hey Bo,” she smiles at him, “From that ridiculously loud snoring, I’d say Mako will be fine… but let him rest, okay?”

Bolin’s face creases into relief, tears form at his eyes, and he simply nods at her in thanks. She stands and heads back down the corridor, then climbs up the stairs at the end, where she finds Su.

“Asami!” Su exclaims, engulfing her in an embrace.

“Hey Su…” Asami smiles, and takes a moment to look around. The hall’s bustling with activity, and whilst she can see many injured, there’s also a good number of people who have made it through their ordeal unscathed. Lin’s stood at the far end of the hall, serving hot soup, and Margaret’s busy checking people’s bandages, probably to take her mind off her late husband...

Asami feels herself choke with emotion. She isn’t the only one who’s lost a loved one. There’ve been many losses, around half of their population if she’s counted right. That means that most of those still alive are hurting, from loss, from injury, or both.

Her mood brightens a little when she sees Korra clumsily ascend the stairs, rubbing sleepy eyes. There’s one arm loose from her kimono, and Korra’s stretching it up into the air.

Korra spots Asami, and heads toward her.

“Hey ‘Sami” Korra mumbles sleepily, “Where the hell are we?”

“Not much of a morning person then?” Asami tries not to laugh, wondering if Korra is actually sleep-walking and sleep-talking.

Korra stares at her blankly for a moment, and Asami can almost hear the cogs turn in her mind. Then Korra’s expression shifts to one of sympathy… realisation apparently dawning upon her.

“Asami… I’m so sorry…”

“Don’t.” Asami says, bluntly. She doesn’t want to think about it, yet, “Besides, you have nothing to apologise for…”

“I shouldn’t have left… I could have been there sooner, helped more…” Korra looks downcast.

“You came back when you really had no reason to, and you saved me… again,” Asami says, grabbing Korra’s forearm.

“I did have a reason…” Korra says, looking right at her, causing a shiver to trail down her spine. Then Korra coughs, as though suddenly embarrassed, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Asami’s eyes rest on Korra’s shoulder, the exposed, tan flesh more appealing to her lips than she dare admit. She can certainly think of a few… things that Korra can help with, things that will surely take her pain away, even if only for a moment. She shakes the thoughts away, trying to ignore the sudden and inappropriate needs gnawing away at her.

“I need to make an announcement, can you wait here for a few minutes?” she asks, and at Korra’s nod, she heads to the front of the hall and pulls her voice amplifier from a hook. It’s a simple invention, nothing more than a large, metal cone with a handle, but it helps to convey ones voice across a further distance than usual.

She coughs loudly into it.

“Can I have everyone’s attention please?” she demands. Every conscious person turns to face her, and many of them even smile, despite their obvious pain.

“I know… I know this is hard. We have suffered through the worse kind of pain and horror. We have lost loved ones, and despair threatens to overwhelm us …” she shouts, whilst fighting away any tremor threatening to creep into her voice.

“But we fought back. And we won. Draxx is dead, the bandits are no more. The only enemy we now face is that within ourselves. We will grieve for those we have lost, but we cannot give in! We must push on, and face the future together!”

The villagers murmur in agreement, a few of them even cheer and clap despite their injuries, and Asami blinks back tears.

“What of Hiroshi?” A man shouts, and she feels strangled, consumed with emotion at the question.

“My father… Hiroshi… he’s… he’s dead…” The room falls silent, with gasps and quiet wails of denial sobbing out from a few people, “He died a hero, he killed at least two dozen… but I… I didn’t make it in time.” She sighs, drops the amplifier to her side, and feels warm tears roll down her cheek. The knot of emotion in her chest threatens to unravel, here and now of all places.

“Give me that,” It’s Lin, resting a hand on her shoulder, taking the amplifier from her shaking hands.

Lin addresses the crowd...

“Asami has shown herself more than capable of leading us these past few years, and she shall have our full support.” Lin barks, and the villagers sound their approval.

Asami appreciates Lin stepping in like that. As Lin broadcasts the specifics of funeral arrangements and the like, she finds herself suddenly needing air. Lin nods at her and at the door, silently giving her the go-ahead, so Asami quietly heads outside, and walks toward the rear of the large building where she finds one of the hidden spots she’d discovered a long time ago.

It’s a space where she can just sit, and think.

She sits atop a stump, holds her head in her hands and splays her fingers into her hair, closing her eyes. She can’t cry, can’t force the tears… instead, she feels numb. She doesn’t know what to do, she feels so lost, and even humours the idea of running away.

Just a few moments later, she hears a twig snap, and jerks her head in the direction of the sound.

“Oh, Korra…” she sighs, “you startled me.”

“Sorry,” Korra says, sitting on a stump opposite, “I saw you leave… if you want to be alone, I’ll go. I was just checking that you were okay.”

“I’m far from okay, Korra,” she smiles sadly up at Korra.

Korra still has that damn shoulder and arm exposed, and what might have been a twinge of desire earlier suddenly erupts into a far more primal urge. A need for human comfort, touch, something to make her feel again, and take away the cold void inside. It threatens to overwhelm her, and then at the worse possible moment, Korra walks forward, kneels down, and envelops her in a tight embrace.

“You’ll be okay… I know it’s hard, but eventually, things will get better.”

The words cause fresh tears to spill down her cheek, onto Korra’s shoulder. She can feel the warmth of Korra’s body, right against hers, and she feels her emotions warring between pain and desire. She can smell Korra, feel her heat. And that neck, it’s just so damn close to her mouth… She can’t stop herself from closing the short distance, and pressing her lips against the warm, delicious skin. Korra tastes so good…

“A… Asami!?” Korra exclaims, “… what..?”

“Kiss me.” She demands, pulling away from Korra’s neck and grasping the top of Korra’s kimono in her fist. She’s never known need like this, she feels like she’s a completely different person.

“Asami… I don’t… it’s not… ” Korra looks confused, almost pained.

Asami feels the cold, piercing stab of rejection, followed by pain, then anger, and frustration. She stands to her feet and clenches her fists.

“I apologise,” she says to Korra in as curt a tone as she can manage, “… for making such an inappropriate advance, I’m sure that men are more your type,” she spits the last word angrily, then, in a more resigned tone, “Can we just forget about this?”

“No.” Korra states abruptly, and takes Asami’s wrist into a gentle grip, “I won’t forget about this. But right now, you’re all kinds of upset… I’m guessing you hardly know up from down. It wouldn’t feel right.”

The knot in her chest starts to unravel… she bursts into tears, and half-punches Korra in the chest as she’s pulled into another embrace. She’s overwhelmed with emotion… relief that Korra hasn’t rejected her, grief for all of her losses, anger at the injustice of it all, and a tinge of frustration that Korra refused her advance… even though for the right reasons.

“Damn it, Korra…” she cries into Korra’s shoulder, the knot unravelling further still. She’s overwhelmed with grief for her father, for all those lost in the battle, and the tears that had refused to come just minutes ago now fall freely.

Korra holds her, silently, whilst she cries unashamedly.

She loses track of time, and is wondering if her tears will ever stop, when she suddenly feels Korra’s breath against her ear.

“Hey…” Korra half-whispers, and she feels fingers slide up the back of her neck, into her hair, sending a shiver down her spine, “If we get time tonight, want to go out… somewhere? Do something? Just as a distraction, I mean. If you want, that is.”

She almost laughs at Korra’s sudden, but adorable awkwardness. There’s so much to do today… she has to organise the start of repairs and reconstruction of the holding. But at night… perhaps she can find the time. No, she will definitely find the time.

“Sure, where did you have in mind?” she asks, her throat hoarse from crying.

“It’s a surprise.” Korra smiles at her.

“Can’t wait.” Asami sighs, and notices that her tears have finally stopped, for now at least. 

 

Chapter Text

She leaves the clearing, and heads back to the entrance of the large shelter with Korra. She’s feeling a mixture of emotions… She’s grieving over the tragedy that’s befallen them, and over her father, but at the same time she’s noticing a small flicker of something else, something that threatens to boil to the surface every time she sees Korra smiling at her, or when they hold hands, like right now.

She’s feeling bittersweet about her attempt to kiss Korra. She’s not quite herself, she can’t dispute that. She’s grateful that Korra only refused her out of a sense of chivalry, and not some other, crueller reason. But still, she’s sure she’s got a firm enough grasp on her senses to understand her own desires. Or does she?

They push open the massive, double doors together, where she’s surprised to see the villagers are already busy with their preparations. Lin walks across the hall toward her.

“I’ve gathered those able to work, and we’re about to head out to see what we can do. Is that okay?” Lin asks, her expression neutral.

She fears that there’s a sarcastic undertone to the question, but then she realises that Lin is simply showing respect toward her new position… as head of the holding. Her heart hurts at the thought, it’s a ‘promotion’ she never wanted, nor asked for.

She nods at Lin, “Yes, but I’m coming too.”

“Me three.” Korra says, causing a spark of amusement within the depth of her pain.

“Good, we need all the help we can get.” Lin grumbles, “There are only fourteen people, so far.”

She sighs, “It’s better than none… I’m honestly just amazed that people are willing to do this at all, so soon after…”

Lin puts a hand on her shoulder, “They’re strong. Like you. They do what they have to do.”

Then Lin pauses and looks away, clearly uncomfortable.

“What’s wrong?” She asks, concerned at what the answer could be.

“I…” Lin seems to struggle with the words.

“Please continue Lin, it’s okay.” She reassures her.

“Hiroshi… the funeral, for him and the villagers. I arranged it for this evening, at around four. I know I should have let you decide, but…”

“It’s… it’s fine… thank you.” she quickly says, keeping her voice steady despite the emotional onslaught she feels at the words. And then, she’s suddenly nauseous, sick to the stomach as she remembers, “My father! His body… his… his head…”

“His head is… I... re-attached it.” Lin chokes out the words. It’s an awful, morbid visualisation that she tries not to dwell on, she’s just grateful that it’s been taken care of, for now.

“Thanks, Lin…” she says, squeezing the older woman’s shoulder. And she means it.

She makes one last tour around the building, then checks on Mako. Wing, Wei, Bolin and Opal are staying behind to watch things here. Su and Lin are coming with her, and… by some miracle, so is Korra. She’s still not quite adjusted to the fact that Korra came back for her, she never expected it. She’d felt sure she would die yesterday, she’d been ready for it, too.

She takes a deep breath, and leads their small party outside, toward the grave tasks ahead.

::

Korra releases a deep sigh.

It’s almost ironic. The sun is shining, there’s a fresh breeze in the air. It’s an otherwise perfect day. But she looks around and sees nothing but suffering, villagers walking, trudging along. They look defeated, tired. Asami’s looking down at her feet as they walk, and she wishes she could do something to make her feel better. But it’s a foolish thought, nothing but time can mend a heart, she knows that better than most.

There’s a heavy silence in the air as they cover the short distance to the holding.

And when they get there, it’s… not pretty, and she subconsciously reaches for her daisho. She hears the breath hitch in Asami’s throat, and sees the tears threatening to well under those beautiful, green eyes. Something stirs in her at the sight, and she’s again crushed by guilt, wishing she could have been here sooner, done more.

Everyone’s just staring, and she can’t blame them. Many buildings are still burning, not aflame, but there’s bright, burning embers at their core. There’s a thick fog of smoke that burns into your lungs, and there’s death, bandits litter the floor. This isn’t something they’ll be able to work through, they’ll have to wait a few days until the dust settles, or pull up enough water from the wells to douse everything, but that’d be a near-impossible feat with the extent of the fires.

Asami looks lost, and her heart feels as though it might crumple at the sight.

There is, of course, something she can do. It’s not a decision she takes lightly, and she’s torn, because she doesn’t want to be cast out again, she doesn’t want to be labelled a monster, a freak, especially not by Asami. But she can help, and when she sees Asami’s lip quiver, and a tear spill down her cheek, leaving a clean streak over the ash that’s started to settle, she realises it’s an easy choice after all. She’ll do anything to stop those tears… it’s a strange feeling, since they’ve only just met, but it’s there, and she trusts it.

She steps forward to the nearest well, and nobody tries to stop her. She reaches out with an invisible tendril, and she’s relieved to sense water down there, vast amounts of it. She turns to face Asami, and smiles, feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness that this could already be goodbye. Everyone’s looking at her like she’s lost her mind. No turning back now, she figures, not for the first time.

She closes her eyes, pushes her fists together at the knuckles and gathers her inner chi, and when her eyes next open she knows that they’re glowing brightly, because she’s been told it so many times before, by the people screaming it as they race away from her on the battlefield, terrified. She’s facing away from the villagers right now, so they still have no idea. But they’re about to see quite the spectacle. She chuckles at the thought, hoping if nothing else, it might snap them out of their depression.

She’s pulling with her hands at an invisible rope, and she knows that they must think her insane. But she can feel the water responding immediately to her command, swirling up the well until it practically gushes forth into a massive globule which she keeps mid-air, twirling her hands to control it.

She hears the usual sounds. Gasps, even screams. She expects them to be running already, but she doesn’t let it concern her, it’s too late now.

What she doesn’t expect, of course, is Asami, standing right next to her, wide eyed, without so much as a trace of fear in her eyes, and nor does she expect the words she next hears.

“Korra! That’s amazing!” the words come out as though from an excited child.

She’s taken aback, and almost drops the gallons of water she’s been so effortlessly holding onto. Instead, she thrusts her hands toward the nearest building, gushing the water into a stream which completely submerges the timbers, leaving them damp, and very much extinguished.

She allows her focus to fade, and feels the glow around her eyes dissipate. She’s confused. This is new. Asami’s taken her hands, both of them, and she’s taken aback by the excitement in that open stare. She turns her head to the side to see the villagers… clapping. They’re clapping. Okay, now she’s definitely confused.

“Why… why aren’t you scared?” she croaks, feeling a little dizzy.

Asami squeezes her hands, “Oh, right… you don’t know…”

“Huh?”

“My father and I, and well, most of the village… we’re chi users too.”

Chi users?

“Well, we can’t do… that” Asami glances at the damp building, “but we found a way to draw it out of people.”

“Draw it out?”

“Chi, although… none of us have manipulated water, and only a few people can do it without a glove.” Asami looks deep in thought all of a sudden, and she’s just confused, and nothing is making any kind of sense anymore and what the hell was that about a glove? She’s staring at Asami blankly, unsure of what to do next.

“I’ll explain this in more detail later… I can even give you a demo!” Korra’s amazed by how much brighter Asami looks now, and she feels something swell in her chest knowing that maybe she’s the cause.

Asami’s looking around at the rest of the holding, “Korra…” there’s an uncertainty to the tone, “When we use chi, it’s pretty much exhausting, but you look fine. And your eyes…” okay, here it comes. She knew this was too good to be true. But then, just when she’s expecting the worse, Asami’s squeezing her hands and practically babbling at her, “I need to know how you work! How did you learn how to do that? Aren’t you tired? Can you put out the rest of the buildings?”

She has to hold back tears, and ends up making a messy half-laugh half-choking sound. She’s excited, she’s never had people accept her like this, and she’s only ever known fear and distrust, apart from her master.

“Stand back.” She says, smiling now, as her eyes shimmer back to white and she sets about dousing the entire village with a whole new level of determination. She’s enjoying herself, bending her chi like this, for the first time in her life. She’s having fun, she’s even showing off, dancing around and spinning elaborate water patterns in the air then splashing them down in the form of heavy rainfall. They’re captivated by it, Lin looks as though she might cry and Suyin is gawping at her like a fish. As for Asami, there’s a very different kind of look there, and it’s making her feel oddly warm inside.

“All done, I think.” She says, smiling at Asami. She’s a little tired, but adrenaline is racing through her veins and she’s happier than she’s been her whole life, even though she really shouldn’t be, not with everything that’s happened to these poor bastards. She can’t help it though, Asami’s looking around with wonder, and it’s making her grin like a fool.

::

Asami’s lost for words. In a matter of minutes, she’s witnessed Korra single-handedly stop every flame, every fire that had threatened to consume the few remaining buildings. And the thing that sticks in her mind the most, is just how beautiful she’d looked whilst she was doing it. Radiant, almost other-worldly. She really wants to know how Korra ticks, but she knows now isn’t the time. Perhaps later, she can explore things in more detail… she’s having inappropriate thoughts again. What is it about Korra that sends her mind down those paths, even when she should be doing nothing other than mourn?

She puts her arms around Korra, squeezing her tightly. “Thank you…” it’s all there is to be said, for now. She wants to kiss her, of course, but she isn’t about to risk a public rejection. A woman has her pride.

“No problem…” Korra seems embarrassed, modest even. It’s endearing, “what next?” it’s a good question. She turns to face the villagers, and smiles to see them looking significantly more upbeat. She clears her throat.

“Lin, I need you to take four people, harvest lumber, and stockpile it for repairs.”

Lin nods, picks out the best woodcutters in the crowd, and they head back to the shelter to get tools.

“Su, can you see how much food we’ve lost and report the state of our farms?”

“Of course,” Su smiles.

“The rest of you…” she looks down, this won’t be easy, “I’m sorry to ask this of you, but can clear out the bandit bodies, and the debris?”

“Of course we can, Ms. Sato!” It’s Gilly, a gentle, old soul, and Asami’s grateful for his optimism.

“Thanks, Gilly. But please… leave any villagers you find, I’ll take care of them.”

Gilly nods at her solemnly.

“Asami, are you sure about that?” Korra’s looking at her, and the level of concern in those eyes is something she’s not quite ready for. She’s feeling choked on emotion again.

“I’m sure… I failed them. It’s the least I can do.”

“You didn’t…”

“Don’t.” she cuts Korra off. She isn’t in the mood to be told everything’s fine and that she did all that she could. She could have done more. She could have built better defences, and after this, she sure as hell would. She looks at Korra and realises she was a little harsh, so she quickly takes her hand, and feels her own pulse quicken at the contact.

“Sorry, it’s just not something that words can fix.” She smiles, trying to soften the blow. Korra smiles back, and nods.

“At least let me help you?” Korra says.

“Are you sure?” She knows it won’t be a pleasant job, she wouldn’t really ask it of anyone.

“Of course.” Korra’s looking very sincere now, and she’s feeling somewhat lost in her gaze. But now’s definitely not the time for her to humour any untoward thoughts trying to bubble up, especially not thoughts about Korra’s lips, and how they’d feel so warm and soft and how she’d love to bite at one of them.

Really? Again? She questions her sanity now, she’s about to do a corpse run! She chides herself over and over for getting distracted like this. It’s outright disrespectful to those who’ve died. She forces her mind to completely shut its doors on any more romantic thoughts, and promises to give the dead the attention they deserve.

“Let’s go then. We’ll need a cart.” She tries not to look at Korra, she’s not sure she can keep her promise otherwise.

::

It’s a long, heart-breaking job, and Korra can see it’s taking its toll on Asami. She watches as the small fold of parchment is pulled out again, and another name’s scribbled onto it. Sometimes it’s hard to recognise them, Asami says, and the voice sounds harder than usual, like it’s being forced. But she knows Asami’s managed to identify every single one of them so far.

They’ve been around the entire holding, checked every building, every corner. The carts getting heavy, but Naga and Aiko seem to be able to bear it.

“I think that’s all of them.” Asami says, quietly, and her eyes are filled with sorrow. No surprise.

“Where’s the graveyard?” she asks, feeling it’s best to get right to the point. She’s feeling pretty much helpless again, more than ever since there are no fancy chi tricks that can fix this.

“The northeast square, follow me…”

It’s a short walk, and they’re leading the horses on foot. They go the distance in silence, and she knows that all she can do for now is simply be here, at Asami’s side.

When they get there, it’s almost five. Lin’s already there, and so are most of the able-bodied. They’ve finished their duties for the day, and they’re waiting, in respectful silence. Graves have already been prepared, Lin must have done a body count because there’s just enough of them.

She hears Asami gasp, and soon finds out the cause. Hiroshi is laid out on a platform, arms crossed at his chest, eyes closed. Lin’s taken care of the finest of details, he’s even got a scarf around his neck to hide what she’d assume to be unsightly stitches.

Asami’s frozen in place, staring, and in the meantime Lin’s busy barking orders to the villagers, and they’re carefully moving corpses from the cart to the soft mounds of earth.

She watches as Asami walks slowly toward Hiroshi, then stumbles to her knees. She’s right there, but she can’t do anything. Not a damn thing. Asami’s sobbing, it’s a sound that’s tearing her apart, and she makes a silent oath that she’ll do everything she can to never hear the sound again. But for now, she can’t do anything. Asami’s hand is squeezed into a fist, clutching at her chest, and the sobs grow deeper still.

She can’t do anything, but she can at least do this…

She kneels down behind Asami, wraps her arms around her torso and pulls her against her chest, then buries her forehead into the top of her hair. Asami clasps both hands onto her arms, squeezing them tightly as though for support as the tears continue to spill. She can feel them, dripping onto her arms. She’s powerless, so she kisses the back of those thick folds of black hair, and holds Asami, because that’s really all that she can do.

::

It’s a short funeral. Asami stands to say a few words, she talks about how much she loved her father, how she’ll miss each and every one of those whom have died, and how they’re all heroes. She starts to list them by name, but there’s a point where she can’t carry on. Lin has to take over. Nobody seems surprised, or upset that she can’t finish. They’re all mourning together, and they’re all so supportive toward her, and it’s that that moment that she realises she was wrong.

She’s not their rock. They’re hers.

By the time they get back to the holding, she’s exhausted, but she wants to get cleaned up. It’s been a long day, though she’s feeling some sense of peace from saying her farewells. She’d been acutely aware of Korra’s support back at the funeral. She would have happily stayed wrapped in those strong arms all day, taken away from this place, taken somewhere else, just so she can forget about everything.

She finds a wash bowl, then meticulously scrubs the layers of ash and dirt from her face, and her hands. Then she heads back to her room, and changes out of her filthy robe, into a thin, red kimono. She’s just about finished fastening her belt, when she senses a presence from behind.

“Hey.” Korra’s voice, from the doorway.

“Hey.” She turns around, manages a weak smile. Looks like Korra’s cleaned herself up, too. The hair’s down for once, and she’s never seen her in this kimono… it’s black, with white trims, and a white dragon pattern crawling up the front in a diagonal line. She likes it, especially since she can see the outline of Korra’s shape a lot more easily. Maybe it’s a better fit, or maybe it’s just lighter material.

Asami finds herself staring, admiring the view, but then Korra’s talking, and it breaks the trance.

“I just wanted to let you know…” Korra’s stumbling over her words, and she’s feeling her smile broaden because of it, “I mean tonight, after everything, do you want to do it another time? “

She’d forgotten all about it, but she’s curious.

“I’d… actually quite like to get out of here, get some air. So long as it’s nothing taxing…”

“Nothing strenuous, I just want to show you something, and if we head out now we won’t miss it. But you don’t have to.” Korra’s being so careful with the words. It’s touching. But now she’s intrigued, what won’t they miss?

“Lead the way.” She says, and follows Korra outside, where she’s helped atop Naga. Korra hops on in front again, and this time she doesn’t need a rope to hold her up. She holds her arms tightly around Korra’s waist as they ride to who only knows where, and she’s so tired, but she’s also enjoying how Korra’s back feels pressed against her face, and she’s inhaling her scent through the black kimono.

They ride past the holding, until it’s a fair ways in the distance, and she thinks she recognises where they are, but she’s not sure. It’s starting to get dark, but they have enough daylight left for her to see that they’re going up a hill now, quite steep, but Naga doesn’t seem to struggle. Then there’s a woodland area right at the top, and Korra’s leading Naga through it carefully, and she’s brimming with curiosity now. Where on earth is Korra taking her?

Then the trees open up, and there’s a clearing which looks out to the land below, and she can see the land stretching out for miles... It’s a spectacular view, and she wonders how Korra ever managed to find it.

“Here we are. One of my special spots.” Korra says, and there’s a hint of pride in the voice.

“It’s beautiful”, she says, and it really is. She enjoys the crisp, cool air, there’s a breeze gently pushing strands of hair around, and it’s so peaceful here.

“That’s not the best part.” Korra’s smirking at her as she’s helped down from Naga.

“No?”

“You’ll see.” Korra’s got a cheeky glint in those blue eyes, and she’s struggling to not be drawn in. She helps Korra spread out a blanket, then she lights a candle, sets it into a lantern and carefully places it on the ground. In an unexpected flurry of activity, Korra’s pulling out rice balls and sake and water from various pouches around Naga.

“Where did you get all this?” she asks, surprised.

“Opal and Bolin. They knew I wanted to whisk you away for a picnic… they said it’d be good for you.”

“Whisk me away? So, I never really had a choice in the matter then?” she’s amused, and flattered, and she wants to kiss Korra all over again.

“You could have said no, the food would have been a bit chewier the next day is all.” Korra’s smiling as the last parts of the impromptu picnic are set into place. She chuckles. Korra’s being adorable, and she’s loving every bit of it.

“So what’s the best part?” she’s still curious.

“Just look.” Korra says, and blows out the candle she’d only just lit.

They’re sat next to each other, and Korra’s looking into the distance, at the setting sun. She looks there too, waiting to see what happens. And then, something does.

The land below them is suddenly illuminated in bright gold, she gasps at the sight because it’s making her feel like she’s on some kind of alien world. She looks up and watches, wide eyed, as the sky slowly weaves through magnificent streaks of orange, red, then purple, it’s taking her breath away. Just when she’s thinking she’s never seen anything quite this beautiful, the sun sets, and there’s a crystal clear sky above them and the stars are bright white, and her heart’s beating so fast, and she doesn’t even know why.

Then she realises why. Korra’s hand is atop hers, and she’s looking at her, staring, in fact. There’s a calmness in those soft, blue eyes, she’s feeling lost in them. She wants to kiss Korra, more than ever, and she thinks maybe Korra wants it too. “I’m guessing you hardly know up from down. It wouldn’t feel right.” Korra’s words from yesterday rush into her mind, and she needs to get rid of that barrier. She smirks as an idea takes hold.

“Korra…” she whispers. Her throat’s suddenly dry.

“Hmm?”

She takes Korra’s hand, singles out a finger and points to the sky, “This is up…”

“Okay?” she stifles a chuckle at Korra’s confusion.

She presses the finger she’s captured to the floor, “…this is down.”

“Oh.” She’s relieved to see a flicker of understanding, then her breath hitches when she watches calm, blue eyes shift to darker, hungry ones. She doesn’t even see Korra move, but somehow she’s got warm, calloused hands holding her face, and Korra’s lips are pressed tightly against hers… her eyes flutter closed. It’s like nothing she could have imagined, they’re already kissing each other deeply, groaning into each other.  Korra’s fingers splay into her hair, her hearts thumping, there’s nothing else in the world that matters right now, just Korra’s lips, taste, scent. She’s drowning in Korra, and she’s happy to surrender to the waves.

Chapter Text

It’s a beautiful night, with the clearest, darkest sky she’s ever seen, and the brightest, fullest moon cascading a sheet of white across the land. It also happens to be the best night Korra’s had, in as long as she can remember. She’s kissing Asami Sato, the woman who’s been haunting her mind ever since their first encounter, the woman who’d made her reveal one of her deepest secrets, simply because she’d wanted to stop those fragile tears.

She’s a little dizzy, probably because she’s never had a kiss quite like this before. It’s sensual, the feeling of Asami’s lips against hers. It’s taking her breath away, and as fingers slide back into her strands of hair she’s feeling shivers of desire run through her spine. She decides to stop, feeling pretty sure that if she doesn’t, she soon won’t be able to.

It’s with a deep sense of regret that she pulls away, but given Asami’s recent heartache, she doesn’t think it’s right to rush this… whatever this is. Asami’s looking at her, green-eyes tinged with what she thinks is disappointment, and she’s finding it hard to resist a second kiss when she can see how flush those usually-pale cheeks are.

“Asami…” her voice is a little dry, and her breath hitches when she notices there’s tears in Asami’s eyes, alongside a deep smile.

Asami takes her hand and shuffles over, wordlessly resting against her shoulder. She embraces Asami, pulls them closer together.

“Sorry, I just…” she feels like she should explain.

“It’s okay, Korra. We barely know each other, after all.” Asami’s voice doesn’t show any hint of resentment, “And for what it’s worth… that was the easily the best kiss I’ve ever had.”

The words force a blush, “Me too… I can’t say I ever expected it’d be from a woman.”

They both laugh at that remark, but Korra’s soon over-thinking things, and she starts to feel pensive.

 “You’re right. We don’t know each other. And you definitely don’t know me, or the things that I’ve done…”

Asami takes her hand, “Korra, you don’t have to tell me anything...”

“I know…”

She’s conflicted. She feels like she could tell Asami anything, like it would be a weight off her chest… but at the same time, the nightmares of her past are not something she takes lightly. She doesn’t know how she feels about revealing the worse parts of herself to someone who’s so special to her, risking losing them in the process.

“Honestly… there’s so much to tell. I’m not even sure where I’d start.”

“… How about the beginning?”

“That could take a while,” she chuckles, “and I’m not sure I want to fill your head with this so soon after…”

Asami interrupts her, “I could use the distraction, there’s only so much crying a woman can do in a day.”

“… Okay, then.” She takes a deep breath, tries to relax. With Asami’s thumb lightly stroking against her hand, the words soon start to spill.

“I’m told I was born a normal, healthy baby. I learnt to breathe, cry, crawl, then walk, the same stuff that comes naturally to most.” She sighs, “But for me, something else came out, all by itself.”

“Your chi ability?”

“Yes. Back then, when I had just turned five years old… well, that’s where it all started…”

::

“Korra! Papa told you not to do that where people might see!”

She loses her concentration… it was such a pretty sphere of water this time, and as it splashes to her feet, she feels a mixture of regret, sadness and defiance. She faces her father with her lips in a tightened pout, and clenches her fists to her side.

“But I wasn’t doing anything wrong!”

The next thing she knows, Papa’s bent over, his dark blue eyes are close, and he looks really serious.

“Sweetheart, we talked about this…”

She looks at the floor, suddenly feeling like she’s going to cry, and runs into the house to avoid any embarrassment. Yes, they’ve talked about it, but Korra doesn’t understand. It’s just water, and it feels nice when she makes pretty shapes with it.

She distracts herself for the next few hours by reading one of her favourite picture scrolls, gazing over drawings of a samurai with a huge, awesome sword, fighting really mean dragons, then saving the princess at the end.

She’s distracted when she feels a familiar hand stroking her hair, so she looks up, smiling.

“Okaasan!” she jumps up, and is pulled into a tight squeeze.

“Hey, my favourite little girl!”

She sighs, sticks a bottom lip out. She’s got something important to get off her chest.

“Otousan said I couldn’t play with the water again…”

“Oh sweetheart, we know it’s fun, but people just wouldn’t understand. If they saw you playing with the water like that, bad things would happen. You might be taken away from us!”

Korra doesn’t understand why the bad things would happen, she only feels like good things can happen when she plays, like the water is a friend, an old, lost friend. But she decides she should do as she’s told, she really doesn’t want to be taken away.

“Can I play outside? Pleeease?” She knows it’s a little late, but it’s still light, so maybe…

“Just this once. But only in the back yard!”

“Yayyy!” she squeals, and picks up her favourite toys - a stuffed bear with only one eye, and an old leather ball - then runs outside. Papa and Mama soon join her, and they play a game of catch, which she’s easily the best at. She doesn’t understand how the grownups can be so bad at this, they keep dropping the ball, and they’re so slow at throwing it too.

::

Korra wipes away a tear, surprised she’s already getting so emotional.

“They were letting me win, obviously. I realised that when I was older.”

“Your parents sound really nice.” Asami’s head is resting on her lap now, looking up at her as she twirls a few black locks around her finger.

“They are. I miss them.” She smiles, though she’s sad about it.

“Why don’t you visit them?”

“I… I can’t.”

“Korra, you don’t have to talk about this tonight, not if it’s upsetting you.”

“I think I’d just rather get it over with… Sake?” she thinks a drink might help ease her nerves, especially for the harsher parts of her tale.

She leans over, careful not to disturb Asami, and pours the drinks, her hand shaking slightly. Asami leans up to take a cup, then sits cross-legged, facing her. She sips her sake, and presses on, feeling strangely grateful, comforted even, by the inquisitive green eyes that she’s staring into.

“It was that same night, that everything changed...”

::

“Ooops! Did I throw it too far?” Papa laughs as the ball rolls across the yard, way, way past her.

“That was a rubbish throw, Papa!” she scoffs, and runs to fetch it whilst they do the gross face kissing thing. She doesn’t get why they do that, it looks horrible, and it’s full of germs and it’s how you get spots, everyone knows that.

By the time she gets to the ball, she notices a dark shadow appear above, and she looks up. There’s a man in a really scary mask crouched just on top of the fence, looking right down at her. He looks like a monster.

“Papa! Mama!” she squeals, and within moments, they’re both at her side, swords drawn. She wishes she had a sword, but Papa always says no. It’s not fair.

“This monster child, Youkai… she will come with me.” The mask is talking, and its voice sounds weird. She doesn’t like it.

“Hold your tongue! Do you know who you’re talking to?” Papa’s shouting, and he sounds really mad.

“I am not impressed by your stature, Daimyo. The Empress herself sends me.”

“You cannot have this child!” Mama’s arm is shaking so bad that her sword’s all wibbly-wobbly. Lots of Papa’s guards have turned up now, and Korra’s starting to feel really, really frightened.

“You’re defying the Empire? Not a wise choice. Your secret is known now, more of us will come.”

The mean mask-man throws a big cloudy thing on the floor, and they all cough. When she opens her eyes, the scary man isn’t there anymore.

“Get inside, Korra. Go to bed.” Papa sounds really serious, and Mama’s hugging him and crying. She knows when not to argue, so she goes inside and gets ready for bed.

Not long afterwards, she’s under the covers, half asleep, when she hears her parents talking just outside her room. They’re trying to be quiet, but they’re really bad at it.

“What are we going to do?” it’s a whisper, but she can tell it’s Mama taking.

“We have no choice…” that’s Papa’s voice. What does he mean?

She hears Mama make a weird choking noise, then cry. It makes Korra feel very sad. Eventually though, she manages to go to sleep.

She’s woken early, much earlier than usual she thinks, and her father’s busy packing her things up into a backpack.

“Korra… sweetheart. Please get dressed. We’re going outside to play a new game!” He’s smiling, but she can see he’s lying. She isn’t stupid, but she knows she’ll get into big trouble if she doesn’t do as she’s told.

She gets changed into her favourite kimono, which she loves because it’s blue, just like water. She’s getting a bit big for it now, and hopes that she soon gets a new one. Her father picks her up and takes her outside, and she’s still yawning, still so sleepy.

There’s a tall, bald man out there, and she hasn’t seen him before. He’s got a weird tattoo on his head, she thinks it’s an arrow or something. It looks stupid.

“Tenzin, thanks for coming on such short notice…” Papa is talking like he knows the man. Mama is sat on a bench, and looks really sad. It hurts Korra in the chest. She doesn’t know why.

“Any time, Tonraq. It sounds like I got here just in time.”

“Are you sure about this? It will be dangerous.”

“Of course. I will do everything in my power to protect her.”

“I know you will, old friend.” Papa hugs the bald man, which is weird, because he doesn’t usually hug other men, only Mama.

“What of you and Senna?”

“We’ll get the town ready for the fight of our lives.” A fight? She hopes Papa beats them all up, he’s really strong. She still wishes she had a sword, though, then she could help.

The shiny-headed man bends down and looks at her, and she squints at him.

“Hello, Korra. My name is Tenzin.” He smiles, and it’s a nice smile, one that makes her feel warm in her belly.

“Korra, sweetheart, do you remember how you wanted to play with swords?” Papa’s ruffling her hair as he asks.

“Oh yes, can I? Can I?”

“You can, but only if you go with Mr Tenzin. He’ll turn you into the best swordsman ever!” Papa is smiling, but she can see he’s sad too.

“Swordswoman Papa, sheeesh!”

“She’s very smart for a five year old!” Tenzin says. She decides she likes this baldy, he could be fun.

The next few moments are really confusing. Mama’s hugging her, crying, saying she has to be a good girl. Even Papa is crying. Sheesh, how long do they think she’ll be away? And that’s when she realises, they’re sad because she’s going away for a long time. And then she cries too, and she doesn’t want to go at all, swords are cool but they’re not that cool.

Then she’s being carried away, kicking and screaming on Tenzin’s shoulder. She decides maybe he’s not so much fun after all.

“Mama… Papa…” she’s holding her hands out towards them, and watching them hold each other, and her tears won’t stop, they just won’t stop, and her chest is hurting so much now. She eventually gets so very tired, and they’re still walking, and her eyes are starting to close even though she just wants to go home.

She doesn’t fight Mr. Tenzin when he puts her on the horse in front of him. She’s feeling so tired, so it’s not her fault at all when she falls asleep.

-

“Good morning, Korra.” It’s a weird voice, and she’s in a strange bed too. She opens one eye and it’s… the bald man from yesterday.

“Baldy?” she watches him flush red at the word.

“That’s Tenzin, Master Tenzin.”

“Master Baldy. Can I go home now?” she remembers being taken away yesterday, surely the game has finished by now?

Baldy sighs. Looks at her like he’s sad.

“You’re going to stay with me for a while.”

“What? Noooo...” She’s feeling like she’s going to cry again.

“Yes! But look!” suddenly, baldy pulls out a really long, really cool katana. And even better, he brings it over so that she can look it realllly close, closer than she’s ever seen a sword, apart from when she would look at Papa’s when he didn’t know.

“Whoa…”

Mr. Tenzin takes her finger, and puts it near the blade so it’s just touching.

“Ow!” she gets a tiny little cut, and sticks her finger into her mouth.

“Yes, ow. I want you to understand how sharp this is. And I want you to know that when you get your first katana, you must always keep it this sharp.”

“When can I have one?” she’s excited at the thought.

Baldy smiles.

“When you manage to hit me, with this.” He takes something off a nearby shelf, then holds out a wooden katana. It’s not really the same thing, but she’s still excited to hold it in her hands, and she starts to swipe it around.

“Ooooh, who’s this little cutie?” it’s a woman’s voice, she doesn’t recognise her, but she has nice eyes.

“Korra, meet my wife, Pema. She’s a nice lady, and you can trust her.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Baldy.” She grins when the woman laughs loudly, but then she’s sad again when it reminds her of Mama.

::

“I’m sorry you had to leave your parents…”

“Me too,” Korra sighs, “But they did it to protect me... they knew that Tenzin would be hard to find, and that he’d make me strong.”

“Do you know what happened to them after that?”

“Tenzin sent scouts out, and kept me informed. In the end, my father swallowed his pride and didn’t fight. He fled, and asked his people to abandon the holding. Even I’m not sure where they all went.”

“Is that one of the reasons you’re a wanderer now?”

“One of many.” Korra smiles at the curious hum that Asami makes.

“I can’t believe we’re both daughters to a Daimyo. Or at least, we were.” Asami’s expression becomes downcast at the words.

“Do you want me to stop? I can tell you the rest another time...”

“No! Not at all! I want to know how long it took for you to get your first sword!” Asami looks excited now, and she’s feeling energised by the radiant enthusiasm.

“Oh? When did I land a hit?” she laughs, “After two weeks, but bald…. erm, Tenzin, kept changing the rules. Before I knew it, I had to be able to hit him twice in a row, and after that I had to be able to shoot all the targets he’d lay out in the trees, and after that… well, you get the idea.”

“Hold on a minute, two weeks – to hit a master? For a five year old?” Asami’s expression is incredulous.

“Probably a fluke.” She grins, “Master Tenzin taught me everything I know. Some days I’d wake up battered and bruised, and sore in every single muscle, but for whatever reason I actually enjoyed the constant training. Then, when I was ten, I was allowed to get a feel for real blades. That’s when I settled on a Daisho.”

“Is that because it’s the more versatile choice?”

“Yeah, you could say that. But back then, honestly? It was because holding two swords made me feel like a badass.”

Asami laughs heartily, it’s a musical sound, and she looks so beautiful in the moonlight that Korra suddenly feels like reaching out and touching her. Instead, she resists the urge, satisfied to simply watch the light of the stars reflecting in those gorgeous, laughter-creased eyes.

“So, how did you go from ten-year old badass-Korra, to a twenty-something crazy-sexy-in-a-black kimono Korra?”

Asami somehow manages to make the words sound like they’re almost being purred… she feels a flush of heat rise to her face at the rather sudden compliment, and coughs as if to hide her embarrassment.

“Twenty-three. And I’m pleased that you like it. The kimono that is. It was a gift…”

“Is that another story?”

“Yes, for another time.” She smiles at the fonder memories.

“As for how I got here… Asami.” She pours them both another drink, and takes a rice ball, “I have to be honest, you might not like hearing the next part.”

She feels Asami squeeze her knee.

“Trust me. I’m not going anywhere.”

She’s reassured by the words, so she clears her throat, closes her eyes, and hopes for the best.

“I trained under Master Tenzin for nearly ten years. It was hard, it was painful, but I became a master of the Daisho, and the Yumi. When I was about to turn fifteen, things started to go horribly wrong, for the second time…”

::

“Whoa, whoa! Enough, Korra!” Tenzin shouts, falling slap-bang on his ass.

“That’s five to me, zero to you, baldy.” Korra grins, sheathing her short sword and holding out a hand to help him up.

“Will you ever stop calling me that?” he complains.

“Probably not.” She chuckles, and he’s soon laughing with her. Jinora’s also stood in the doorway, openly laughing at her father, whilst Ikki is busying herself with what looks to be a pretend picnic.

It’s been ten years, and she’s grown up with Tenzin, Pema and the kids as if they were her own family. Jinora’s eight now, and really mature at times for her age. Ikki’s five, she’s a slight goofball, but Korra loves that about her. And Meelo, well, he’s only two, so it’s hard to tell. He farts a lot, that’s for sure.

“Korra, are you okay?” Pema’s staring at her from the doorway, holding a sleeping Meelo against her chest.

“Yeah, I was just thinking how much I like it here.” She smiles. And she really did, despite the many thwarted escape plans she’d attempted when she were younger.

“Hey Korra, let’s play water ball!” Ikki yells, interrupting her sentimental moment.

“Oh can we? Can we?” Jinora tugs at Pema’s sleeves, and Pema nods, laughing.

“I’m sitting this one out.” Tenzin sighs, and walks over to the temple doors, looking rather fatigued.

Korra grins. She loves to stretch these particular muscles, and the kids are getting really good at this game.  They all run toward the lake just to the side of the temple, where she gives them one warning shout before grasping a few tendrils of water into the air and then chasing them relentlessly, launching small globules at them, which they effortlessly avoid time after time.

“Stop dodging!” she yells, laughing. She’s going easy on them, of course, like her mother and father used to, when they all played catch. She eventually manages to drench the kids, as well as herself, and they head back inside, still giggling.

“You know Korra, you’re supposed to hit the kids, not yourself,” Pema half-laughs between mouthfuls of rice.

“Oh great, I’m starving!” she’s about to dive-bomb the food.

“Ah ah ah! You can all go get dry first. Where are your table manners?”

She pouts, but does as she’s told. Whilst she’s towelling her hair off, she hears a ruckus outside, and wanders outside to investigate.

There’s a heated conversation going on, and her breath catches in her chest as stark realisation hits home.

“We know she’s here old man, and she either comes with us, or your pretty little family here gets torn to pieces.”

“I will do no such thing!” Tenzin shouts.

Her towel drops to the floor. That mask, that voice. Her heart thuds in her chest, and before she realises it, she’s unsheathing her sword, feeling suddenly furious. But there’s a firm hand on her wrist, and Tenzin’s looking at her, shaking his head.

“Master, we can take them!” she growls.

“Look again, Korra. I taught you better than this.” Tenzin says, sounding resigned.

She steadies her heartbeat, takes in her surroundings, and can sense exactly why he’s warning her. They’re surrounded, completely. In the trees, on the rooftops. Too many for them to take out, certainly too many to fight and protect Tenzin’s family at the same time.

There’s a tense silence, and she’s sure that Tenzin might reach for his sword at any moment. She can’t allow that. There’s only one acceptable outcome here, it’s an obvious answer, really.

She steps forward.

“Korra, No!” Tenzin gasps.

“Master...” She turns around, flashes him a confident grin, “You know as well as I do that this is the only way. Thank you… for everything. I mean it.”

She bows her head, then coughs in an attempt to dispel the tight knot of emotion that’s just welled up inside of her chest, worsened upon seeing Tenzin’s watery eyes. She takes a deep breath, and turns to face her adversary.

“I’m Korra.” She says, as she removes her daisho, and holds it out, “I’ll come with you peacefully, if you give me your word that you’ll leave them alone.”

“Finally, a voice of reason.” The voice is muffled beneath the mask, “You have my word. Come with us, Youkai.”

The masked man takes her weapon, and before she can so much as speak, her arms are bound behind her back, a sack’s over her face, and there’s a sudden blunt pain at the back of her head. As she blacks out, her last conscious thought is that she hopes that everyone will be okay.

Chapter Text

Movement. It’s the first thing that Korra can sense. The second is a slight numbness in her arms and legs. Her eyelids peel apart slowly, and she sees a pair of green eyes staring back at her, frowning.

“Good morning, Youkai.”

She recognises the voice, though it’s no longer muffled. The masked man, the one from her childhood memories. She feels bile rise to the back of her throat.

“Where… where am I?” her mouth is so dry that it’s painful to speak. Her arms are chained up above her head, and her ankles are bound to the floor. She’s definitely inside a wagon of some sort, and from the thin slivers of daylight creeping in through the cracks, she can tell that they’re headed north.

“Where you are is not important. Where you will be, is.”

“Tenzin’s family… Did… did you leave them alone, as I asked?”

Surprisingly, the man’s gaze softens at the question.

“I did… we were under orders to find you, at any cost. We found you, you came peacefully. We’re not monsters…” his frown returns, “unlike you.”

A tear falls down her cheek. She’s relieved, Tenzin’s okay, they’re all okay. She can tell that this man’s being honest, she’s always had a knack for reading people.

“The monster can cry? Interesting…”

“This is going to be a long trip if you keep calling me that. I’m Korra.” She croaks. She’s so thirsty, and there’s a flask at the man’s belt, which she’s fixated on.

“Oh, you want this?” he holds out the flask.

Here it comes. Time to pick on the so-called monster, or whatever the hell these loons think I am. She sighs, wondering just how long this journey will take, and whether she’ll die of thirst along the way.

She’s snapped out of her depressive thoughts when the man uncorks the top from his flask, and holds the mouth to her lips. She drinks hungrily, and when she’s sated, he returns to his seat.

“I told you, we’re not monsters.”

“Thank you…”

The rest of the ride is eerily quiet, and she drifts into and out of consciousness, fairly sure that they’re headed north each time she wakes.

She’s abruptly woken up, and a sack is thrown over her head again. Her bindings are removed from their hooks, and she hisses as she feels blood welling back into her arms from their half-numb state.

“Come with us, nice and easy. Remember, we know where Tenzin is now.”

The man leads her, and she knows exactly where they are, so the sack’s actually pointless. She can smell it a mile away, the salt in the air, and if she couldn’t smell it she’d certainly hear it – the docks. People scurrying around, loading and unloading cargo. Seagulls. The ocean waves.

“Careful now.”

She’s led up a slippery ramp, then guided onto a firmer surface. She can sense that the floor’s gently rocking, and she’s surprised to realise that she’s never actually been on a boat before. Despite her predicament, she almost feels excited at the notion, and has to hold back a chuckle at the absurdity.

Eventually, she’s pushed under a doorway and into what she presumes to be a cell. She hears a few metallic clicks as her cuffs are bound to a chain, then the sack is pulled off. It’s the same man as earlier, he’s never left her side. Must be my personal bodyguard, lucky me, she thinks.

“You do realise I know exactly where we are?” she knows she shouldn’t stir the pot, but she’s getting increasingly agitated at being carted around like cattle.

He looks confused, rather than angry, and stands in the doorway folding his arms.

“The sack? On my head?” she elaborates.

He smiles, for the first time, and his eyes seem almost kind, which surprises her again.

“The sack isn’t to hide anything from you. It’s to hide you, from prying eyes.” He sighs, looks deep in thought as he twists his goatee between a finger and thumb, “You really have no idea what you are, do you?”

“I’m Korra, a regular human being, last I checked.”

He chuckles.

“You’ve got a lot to find out, that’s for sure. Or do you think other humans can move water about, as though it were a part of them?”

Well, he has a point. She sighs… nobody really ever did explain any of that to her, her parents seemed as dumbfounded as anyone else. There were never any answers… why she can do it in the first place, let alone why it feels so natural to her.

“The Empress has a special interest in you.” For some reason, he almost looks concerned at the words. She wonders what the Empress is like.

“So I’m to be… her slave?”

“We would never dare ask her intentions. We were ordered to retrieve you, and whilst it’s taken ten years, we have you at last.”

She gasps, “Wait, you’ve been after me for ten years?”

“Yes, ten long years.” He emphasises the point with a drawn-out sigh, like it’s somehow her fault that she chose not to be captured any sooner.

“Turns out that the temple you were staying at can’t even be seen, unless you know of it, and how to break the illusion.”

“The illusion?”

“It seems there’s a lot you don’t know about this world, Korra.” He removes his glasses, pulls out a cloth and wipes over the lenses. It’s the first time he’s used her name, and she smiles at him despite herself.

“Baatar. Is the prisoner secure?” A formal-sounding woman’s voice, but she can’t see who it is as the voice came from behind the doorway.

“Yes. Let’s make a move.” Baatar turns to leave, but gives her one last glance before shutting the door, “I’ll get some food and drink sent down, I suggest you eat… it’s going to be a long journey.”

::

“He wasn’t lying. I almost lost track of time… we were on the boat at least a week, and then on foot for another four days after.”

She grabs another rice ball. All of this talking is making her really, really hungry.

“And the guards were actually kind to you?” Asami seems surprised, she can’t blame her, because she was surprised too.

“Most of them were decent, if anything, they were just suspicious of me. They never took the shackles off, but they kept me fed, allowed me to wash. Baatar and Kuvira were almost treating me like a human being by the time we got there, I think they actually felt bad turning me over in the end…”

“Who’s Kuvira?”

“Oh, the woman that I heard. She and Baatar took turns guarding me. I’m pretty sure they had a thing going on, though they hid it well.” She smiles at the memory, remembering how their hands would brush against each other for the briefest of moments as they swapped places.

“And then, they took you to the Empress?”

“I couldn’t blame them for handing me over, not after what they’d told me about her.” She grimaces as the haunting memories float back into her mind, “She… she was not so kind.” Understatement.

Asami seems to sense her pain, and her hand is suddenly captured in soft, ivory fingers. She smiles at the gesture, takes a sip of sake, and continues.

::

“Kneel before the Empress!”

She’s been warned beforehand. Baatar had the decency to tell her exactly how to act, and what’d happen if she failed to comply, more pertinently that The Empress was known to execute non-compliant people on the spot. It’s one of the many insightful things she’s been told during her trip.

She kneels, keeps her head down to the floor.

“Ten years.” She hears fingers drumming against wood, “ten years, and you bring me something that resembles a street rat?” the words are spat.

She hears a chair creak, and then footsteps walking around her, heels clicking against the tiled floor.

“Are you even sure that this is the one?” there’s a hand in her hair, and her face is dragged upward, where she sees a pair of ruthless, dark green eyes boring into her. It sends a shiver down her spine.

“I am sure, your Majesty.” She can hear a tremble in Baatar’s voice, though he’s hiding it well.

“Take it to the pit. I need to see for myself.”

“But, your majesty!” it’s Kuvira.

“You DARE to question me?”

“You’ve waited ten years, and you’d kill her?”  Baatar’s talking back with Kuvira, despite the warnings they’ve given her. She’s momentarily taken aback by their actions, that they’d defend her like this at all.

“If she is the Youkai, she will not die.” There’s a deep menace in the Empress’s voice, “You two, on the other hand, may not fare so well. Such insolence! Send them to the isolation cells!”

There’s a flurry of activity, feet stomping all around, and she can hear Kuvira and Baatar grunting as they fight against capture. Then, the sickening sound of blunt force against bone, followed by silence, and the sound of feet being dragged across the floor.

She’s looking at the ground again, and all she can see is the Empress’s foot, tapping.

“Now, you two! Take her to the pit! Am I clear?”

“Yes, your Majesty!” a young, nervous voice babbles. She’s guided upward by two sets of arms, and doesn’t recognise either guard. She can’t see a way out of this, there’s no water nearby, no chance of escape.

She’s dragged down three flights set of stairs, and the temperature’s dropping the deeper they go. Eventually, a thick, steel door is forced open, and she’s pushed inside. The door immediately slams behind her, and there’s the sound of a latch being slid closed on the other side.

It’s black. She can’t see anything. There’s a musky, almost rusty smell, and it’s cold enough for her to start to shiver. She tries to feel her way around, but each grasp of her arm is met with open air, or the sand at her feet. Suddenly, several latches in the wall slide open, and beams of light are thrust into the darkness. She squints. There’s little boxes of people, looks like guards and well-dressed nobles. Right at the end, in a window bigger, higher than the rest, there’s the Empress, sat in an ornate chair, sneering down at her. And all around her, on the ground, human remains. Skeletons, corpses, and some still glistening with blood. She wretches at the sight.

“Now then, my little pet.” The Empress shouts down, her voice amplified by a natural echo, “Let us find out just what the Youkai is capable of!”

An iron gate at the far side of the huge room creaks open, and she can hear strange, guttural sounds coming from within. Then, two massive lions sprint outside of their enclosure, their fangs bare, and spittle dripping down their mouths. Except, they’re not lions… they have massive, bulging stingers elevated on a long tail behind their head. Scorpion-lions? She’s heard that hybrid animals existed in the world, but this is her first time seeing one. Still, there’s no time to be struck by wonder, because they’re heading straight for her, no doubt ravenous from their captivity.

She leaps to the side, avoiding the first bite, then rolls beneath and past the belly of the second scorpion-lion as it tries to impale her on its stinger. She glances around manically, looking for a weapon, water, anything. She’s got nothing apart from her filthy blue kimono, and her own hands.

It takes the lions but a moment to realise that she’s now behind them. They turn, growling, and she’s thinking she’ll surely die soon, but then she spots something, it’s a long shot. She focuses on the froth hanging from their hungry mouths, pulls a fist back and bends the gooey fluid straight out of them, then thrusts the massive globules of spit forward, into their eyes. They’re stunned, and she knows it’ll be for four seconds at most. She leaps atop the first lion, grabs its large tail and thrusts the stringer down into the nape of its neck, where it penetrates deeply. The lion grunts in confusion, then quickly collapses beneath her. She’s panting now, and the second scorpion-lion is shaking out the last bit of spittle from its eyes.

She’s trying to formulate a plan, when she suddenly feels warm blood oozing beneath her hand, where she’s just impaled the beast. Again, an idea comes to mind, and again it’s a longshot. She hasn’t tried to manipulate blood before, but she’s faced with very few alternatives right now. She senses water within the red liquid, and tugs at it, forcing tendrils of blood to rise from the wound. She thrusts it at the other lions gaping jaw, and it hits.

The lion seems confused, starts to lap at the blood, and then she can see the hunger he’s been suffering from for so long has taken full hold. He pounces, and she jumps off the carcass, ducking away as he bites into it, starts to devour it with insatiable need.

There’s a sickening sound of pops and crunches, and she sneaks around the back, waiting until she’s sure she can pull this off a second time. An opening presents itself, the lion is lost in its meal. She dives on its back and again, forces the stinger down into the flesh at its back. It collapses, face first into the bloody mess of its brother.

She’s panting, sweating, trembling. Then she hears a slow clapping. It’s the empress, of course. The other spectators look enthralled, some pale in the face, others clenching their fists in what appears to be a sick form of excitement. She wishes they’d all drop dead.

“You ARE the Youkai,  that much is clear. Now let’s see what you can really do.” The Empress says, chuckling.

There’s a sudden roaring sound stemming from several round holes near the top of the pit. It grows louder, and louder. She recognises what it is before she sees it – water gushes forth, filling the pit. It’s at her feet and she’s soon padding in it, and she thinks the Empress must be insane, because this is surely a means for her to easily fight her way out, escape. Perhaps the woman is blinded by ignorance, and doesn’t realise just how potent her abilities are.

That’s what she hopes, as she wills every drop of water to bend to her desires, swirling it around and around, until she’s able to move within it, and jet herself around freely on the currents. The first thing she does, naturally, is hurl herself straight toward the Empress, ready to encase that mean little face in a glob of water, and watch it slowly drown.

As she throws a torrent of water forward, the empress looks amused rather than afraid. The water hits some kind of barrier, invisible to the eye, and falls to the floor, no longer under her control.

“Do you really think I’d fill your cage full of water and be unprepared for this kind of outcome?” The empress is laughing, “Without your chi, water is water. And I’ve had chi-blocking technology at my disposal for over five years now.”

She clenches her teeth. Looks like all of their little boxes are protected, and the pit’s getting deeper and deeper in water. She can swim, she can bend chi, but both are restricted by her stamina. If she tires, she’ll surely drown. An ironic fate, she thinks, and can’t help but chuckle at the thought. Still, why fight it? She understands water better than anyone. She lies back, floats, it’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s actually quite relaxing, and all the more satisfying when she hears the Empress shriek indignantly.

“If you thought I’d panic from a little water, you’re quite mistaken.” She says it quietly, yet somehow, she’s still heard by the demon-queen.

“SUCH INSOLENCE! Release the dog-sharks!”

That what-now? Korra’s face is the picture of incredulousness as she hears vicious barking echoing forth, and then sees several wide-faced hounds spew out of the same openings that the water’s pouring from. Sure enough, they have the face of a dog, sharp canines, and fluffy ears. Yet gills, a dorsal fin, and a tail. She’s not sure whether she should be terrified or amused.

When she sees the full force of a canine jaw inches away, threating a deadly bite on her neck, it’s soon obvious that she should be terrified. Instinct takes over, and she closes her eyes, thrusts her hands out, screams out…

“STOP!”

There’s a strange, loud crunching noise, followed by several yelps. When she opens her eyes, she gasps. Water has been formed into ice, apart from the very small isolated pool she’s treading water in. The dog-sharks are trapped, and slowly suffocating.

As they breathe their last, she feels a stab of remorse… after all, she likes dogs.

“Take that… thing to my special cell!” The queen orders, sounding somewhat enraged.

Then there’s several soldiers, slipping clumsily down the ice towards her. She uses the tiny bit of water she has left to whip at their faces, push them away, and she even tries to manipulate the huge block of ice she’s surrounded by. Surprisingly, she feels a response, but it’s too big, too heavy. They’re upon her, and there’s a dull blow to the back of her head.

She’s getting really sick of being knocked out.

::

“Lion-scorpions? Dog-sharks?” Asami looks positively intrigued, and a little bit sceptical.

“Yeah, wouldn’t have believed it either. But since then, I’ve seen other hybrids, so they’re definitely real.”

“And you can turn water into ice? That’s amazing!”

Korra struggles to not kiss Asami at the compliment. It’s such a refreshing change to see curiosity in the place of fear, and the fact it’s coming from Asami makes it all the sweeter.

“So what happened next?”

Asami’s engrossed in the story, and she’s pulled in by her excitement. She pours them each another drink, feeling quite at ease by the slight numbness of the sake, as she continues.

“Honestly, this is where things get dark. Are you sure you want to hear this?”

Asami squeezes her hand as she speaks, and there’s nothing but concern in her eyes.

::

Her cell door creaks open, and she’s blinded by light, light that she sees maybe once a day, if she’s lucky. She’s thinking it’ll be another guard, here to leave water for her to drink before scurrying away. She rattles the chains that she’s dangling from, they’re as strong as ever, and she’s gradually getting weaker.

“Hello, my pet.”

The Empress. She wasn’t expecting this… she’s suddenly filled with dread, doesn’t help that she’s half naked in the few rags that remain of her kimono.

A finger rakes across her skeletal ribs, the nail sharp enough to draw blood.

“I’ve finally thought of a use for you… You’re going to test my latest invention.”

The empress bites into her ear, hard, she yelps, and then there’s a hand slipping beneath her belt. She looks up to see wicked, lustful intent. She’s terrified, vulnerable.

“Stop it…” she croaks.

 “Stop it, what?” the Empress pauses her hand’s advance, raises an eyebrow.

“Empress. Please… don’t.” she’s been here weeks, slowly starving to death. She’s weak… she has nothing, nothing save her dignity, and now even that’s being stripped away.

The hand is, thankfully, removed. She releases the breath that she hadn’t realised she was holding, and looks up into smug, malicious eyes.

“I shall feed you, allow you to recover, and even grant you some semblance of freedom. In return, you shall do exactly as I say, and if I sense even a sniff of rebellion, you’ll be back down here in an instant.” Nails scape across her chin, and she shudders, “Is that clear, Korra?”

It’s the first time the Empress has spoken her name, and for whatever reason, it actually makes her happy.

“Yes, Empress.”

::

“She soon owned me, body and soul. I lost myself, became her puppet for the next three years.”

She’s hugging her knees against her chest now, and Asami’s enveloped her with warm arms. She appreciates the comfort.

“Korra…” Asami’s expression is of nothing except sympathy, “Did she…”

“No! No… She… didn’t take me against my will, not after that first threat. I guess there’s some good inside of that evil husk, somewhere.”

“I’d hardly call it good.” Asami sounds angry, “What was the experiment?”

She sighs.

“A new drug which manipulates you, makes it easier for someone to command you. I found out later that they’d been putting into my water the whole time that I was down there.”

“So that’s what made you…”

“No. I mean, it definitely worked against me, but I’d be lying if I said that’s all there was to it. I was manipulated psychologically, sent to the isolation cell if I ever stood out of line. I nearly died down there on more than one occasion… I think I eventually just gave in.”

“I’m so sorry…” Asami says, stroking her hair, and it feels comforting against the pain of her memories, which are causing tears to cascade down her cheeks.

“In those three years, I became everything they’d accused me of being. A monster. The Youkai...”

“Korra, are you certain you want to go on?” Asami’s being so patient, understanding. It makes her heart throb.

She nods, and sighs deeply.

“The truth is… I’m nothing more than a murderer. I’ve killed so many in the Empress’s name, bad people, good people, and innocent people. I can still see every single one of their faces.”

“Korra…” she feels the arms around her tense up, she knows that this is probably going to push Asami away, for good, but she can’t stop now.

::

They’re making good time, headed toward a small holding far to the west of the Empire. Baatar and Kuvira are riding either side of her, with their elite guard of thirty men following close behind. Their orders are simple, stop the suspected rebellion. Those who dare to confront the Empire shall be ground to dust.

As they approach their destination, she fiddles with her mask, doesn’t want it to slip off, doesn’t want anyone to see her.

They head straight to the Daimyo’s house. She leaps from her steed and strides purposefully straight inside. The old man within visibly trembles at the sight of them.

“Oh come now, old man. You thought to trade with the Empress’s enemies and avoid repercussion?”

As she speaks, she’s vaguely aware that the voice stopped sounding like her own a long time ago. She’s been doing this kind of thing for almost three years now, it’s routine, mechanical. She doesn’t feel emotion, there’s an objective, and it has to be fulfilled, and that’s about all there is to it.

“Come with us quietly, else see your holding burnt to the ground.” Baatar speaks, straight to the point, as usual.

The old man smirks, and she senses a flurry of activity.

“Empire dogs… did you really think your visit wasn’t expected?”

Partitions slide open all around them, and they’re surrounded by bandits and mercenaries. Her hands shift to her Daisho at once, unsheathing both blades, whilst Kuvira and Baatar push their backs against hers, giving them a solid position from all angles.

They’re immediately rushed from all sides. Her blades flash before her, moving as though they’re a separate entity. It’s such a simple thing, though. If there’s metal headed your way, block it. If there’s open flesh before you, slice into it, stab it. She can do all of this almost without conscious thought.

On the very rare occasion, she’d force the water in people’s eyes to freeze, popping their eyeballs and blinding them permanently. She took no pleasure in it… like anything else, it was purely a defensive manoeuvre. She didn’t need to do that today. She impales the last of them. He has an innocent face, so whether subconsciously or not, she makes sure to avoid his vitals.

They clear out the room in very little time, and she’s lost her patience. She pulls water from a couple of buckets in the corners of the room, raises it and forms it into spears, then freezes it solid, until there’s javelins of ice pointing straight toward the old man. She sees a stain form at his groin… he’s pissing himself. She takes no joy in the fact.

“Will you come with us now?” she growls.

“Y… Yes. I’m so... so sorry.” He stammers, bends on all fours.

He’s soon bound in chains, and Kuvira leads him back outside with Baatar. No need for them to involve the elite soldiers this time, no need for a massacre of civilians. The small part of her that’s still Korra feels immensely relieved at that fact.

Just as she’s following the others outside, she senses movement behind. But she’s too late, she was daydreaming, like an amateur, and she cries out in pain as a blade sinks deep into her shoulder, slicing downward into a fatal gash. It’s probably from the guy she spared just now. Serves me right for being soft, she thinks.

She crumples to the floor as Baatar runs toward her. Her vision’s blurring, she feels sick, her heart’s pounding, and there’s a searing bright pain in her entire upper right body.

“Korra!” he calls her by name, instead of Youkai. Been a while since she’s heard it from him. She’s acutely aware of her assailant being sliced almost in half by Kuvira’s blade, and she’s about to give in to the darkness engulfing her vision, threatening to blacken her sight completely.

Then her heart thumps, and it’s like a canon going off in her chest. There’s a surge of energy, not like anything she’s felt before, she stares up at the others, and they look suddenly terrified. She can see herself reflected in their eyes, bright spheres where her own eyes should be. But the pain, it’s getting worse, it’s like she’s on fire and she’s angrier than she’s ever been. Her whole body feels like it’s caught in a permanent, vicious stretch, her jaw aches, and there’s a constant noise in her ears, which she eventually realises is her own voice, growling, screaming in rage.

The pain won’t stop, she’s dying, bleeding out, and her body is fighting against it. She needs to feed, now. She needs to heal. She doesn’t know where these instincts are coming from, but it’s the only way, that much she does know.

There’s a small sliver of consciousness left, and it’s enough for her to say one word to Baatar and Kuvira, who’re frozen in place, apparently transfixed.

“RUN.”

::

“I… I honestly don’t remember much after that. Just… fractured visions. I can’t… I think I ate… No, I can’t. I’m sorry.” she can’t fully describe the horrors that are left in her mind, yes, they’re fractured, but detailed enough to know that she fed off human flesh that day, and that’s why she yet lives.

Asami’s still here, holding her, but she’s sure that’ll soon change.

“Korra…”

Here it comes. Can’t blame her, I’m a murderer and a monster. Not really date-worthy material.

“What happened after that?”

“Wait, what?” she’s surprised. Surely Asami should be terrified right about now? But then Asami’s pouring them both a sake, and her beautiful eyes aren’t showing any sign of fear.

“Well, by my calculations you were about nineteen when this happened, and you’re twenty-three now, so I know there’s more to your story.” Asami smiles at her, and her heart feels a surge of warmth.

“Asami… How can you still be talking to me… why are you still here?”

Asami sighs, kisses her on the forehead. A tear creeps down her cheek.

“You’re not a monster, Korra. You’re a person that’s been driven to the absolute edge. That’s how I see it. And besides, I need to know the rest! Come on!”

She laughs, though it’s a messy, tear soaked laugh.

“Well, like I said, I don’t remember much. But I do remember waking up in this awful, shitty swamp, and that’s… that’s where I met her.”

Chapter Text

She doesn’t know what’s real anymore.

There’s moments of nothing but searing-white pain, throbbing up her shoulder, forcing her to scream so loudly that the flesh in her throat burns raw. In those moments, she can feel that she’s damp from head to toe, hotter than she’s ever been, hotter than anyone should be able to be.

Then, there’s the opposite. A cold abyss… darkness… blissful, quiet peace. There’s a welcoming pull that she’s drawn to, an endless sleep, an end to all things. But she’s dragged away from it time and again, like her body refuses to allow her to rest.

She’s plagued by nightmares, horrors, scattered images of almost-familiar corpses being torn apart, disintegrating into red mist, mist that’s drawn into her, becoming part of her. It’s terrifying, more so because none of it make sense.

It’s from one such nightmare that she wakes, coughing, sweating, choking, pulling air into her lungs as if it’s for the first time.

There’s a cold, damp cloth held to her head, and pressure keeping her held upright at her back. Someone’s hand. She can feel that her eyelids are open wide, but she can’t see. A chilling tendril of panic quickly creeps down her spine and she gropes a hand out, only to have it captured in a firm grip.

“Calm down.”

It’s a dry, old voice, a woman. Sounds pissed off.

“W… Wh…” she tries to speak, but her throat is ragged. She can’t form a single word.

“You’re not gonna be able to talk after all that screaming. Best to just shut up.”

She tries to calm her breathing, and blinks slowly. She wonders for a moment if this is another nightmare, but she can feel the warmness of her lids press against her eyes, so she knows she’s definitely awake. She’s just starting to think she’s blind, or in a pitch-black cave, when the blackness suddenly starts to blur into light. There’s movement, shapes, flickering orange lights and hues of green. She blinks again, and things begin to take shape proper. It’s blurred, but she can see she’s in some kind of hut, and there’s a short, grey haired old woman staring at her. She squints, trying to make out the colour of the woman’s eyes.

“Do I have something on my face?” the woman asks, bluntly.

“N..” she coughs. Still can’t speak.

“Oh for goodness sakes. Here, drink this.”

She sees the woman hold out a bowl, takes it. Drinks it… it’s disgusting, tastes like salt mixed with stale piss. She grimaces, tries not to spit it out.

“Oh, not good enough? You weren’t complaining when I fed it to you for two weeks straight.”

She almost chokes.

“Two…” finally, she speaks. Whatever this stuff is, clearly it’s doing her some good. She drinks the rest down hungrily, ignores the vile flavour.

“Two weeks? Where am I? What happened?” The words still hurt, so she tries to keep her questions brief.

“Well, now that’s a good series of questions.” The woman folds her arms, stares. It’s then that she realises that the woman’s eyes are white-grey. She holds a hand up and waves it around to check her suspicions, only to have her hand swatted away.

“Yes, I can’t see, congratulations, you win a prize of twenty I-don’t-give-a-shits. Now if you’re done playing ‘wave at the blind person’ then let’s get down to business.” The woman pulls up a stool as the sentence is finished, sits with elbows rested upon knees, chin in palms, and stares intently. At least she assumes the woman is staring, though she isn’t sure how it’s possible with sightless eyes.

“S…Sorry…” she figures she should at least try to be nice to someone who’s clearly saved her life.

The woman sighs, deeply.

“One. Yes, two weeks, a bit over actually. Two, in the middle of a forest-swamp not far from the village you attacked, and three, I think that’s for you to tell me.”

“I… I honestly don’t know.” It’s all a blur, and right now she can only remember brief flashes of pain and anger. She’s suddenly struck with a familiar mental tug, and realises she needs to be somewhere.

“I… n…need to get back to the Empress…”

A surprisingly strong hand forces her down to the mattress the second the words leave her mouth. As she falls backward, she notices for the first time that she’s in quite the cosy little room, candles burn brightly in every corner, and there’s strange little figurines resting upon makeshift shelving.

“You’ll do no such thing. I’ll chain you here if I have to.”

“But…”

“You were full to the gills of the crap she’s been poisoning people with. Mind controlling agents, something that the lovely Empress just happens to pluck from this very swamp.”

“Oh…”

“Yes, ‘oh’. You’re staying here until that stuff’s out of you. And it needs to be out of your head, not just your body. I’m not letting the Empress have you as a plaything. Do you understand?”

She nods, though she doesn’t really understand at all, and she definitely doesn’t understand why it’s any of this woman’s business where she goes, and when. She resolves to escape the second she gets a chance, get back to duty, and serve her Empire. Besides, she needs to make sure Baatar and Kuvira are ok… she doesn’t remember the specifics, but they got away, she’s sure of that much at least.

Just as she’s distracted with her thoughts, she hears a couple of metallic clicks. Looks down. She’s in shackles.

“What the…?”

“I saw the way you looked just now. Let’s just call this a precaution, you’ll thank me later.” The woman says, walking away.

“ARGHHH!” there’s a sudden rage inside of her, and she tugs at the chains, but then the searing, tearing heat she’d almost forgotten about returns, and the pain in her shoulder is unbearable. She crumples back to the mattress, forced to tears from the intensity of the pain.

She looks towards the woman to see nothing but a scowl of disapproval, and her vision is blurry again now. She feels a familiar blackness pulling her in, and she surrenders to it.

--

She awakes, staring up at the ceiling. It’s covered with moss and vines, and for a while she’s distracted, finding imaginary patterns of dragons and serpents amongst the weaves of green. There’s no candlelight anymore, just natural beams of sunlight cascading over her from outside. She takes a deep breath, looks around. She notices the little figurines again, and in the daylight she can see that they look like little people, formed out of thin vines and twigs.

She looks down at her chest to see a new bandage is in place, and out of the corner of her eye she can see there’s a tiny patch of crimson just behind her shoulder. She flexes her wrists, and is suddenly reminded that she’s still in chains… she hates being in chains.

There’s a heavy set of footsteps, and she sees the cranky old woman duck beneath a mossy doorway, then walk toward her, where she finds her cheek cupped in a calloused hand.

“You awake?”

She nods.

“Good. Drink this, and no arguing.”

“The hell I will.” She clenches her fists, seals her mouth shut in case the woman gets any ideas. Like she’d trust someone who’d chain her up like this.

“Suit yourself, but it’ll take four times longer to recover without it.”

She’s intrigued, despite her reservations.

“Recover from what?”

“Oh just the drugs that’re making you want to crawl on back to the Empress like a whipped little puppy.”

“I’m not drugged…” other than the dull pain in her shoulder, she feels fine. Ready to go back to duty.

“Don’t believe me? I told you, you were practically sweating it out when I found you. The Empress probably put it in your water, your food.”

“She wouldn’t do that…”

“No? Tell me then, what’s your favourite colour? Where were you born? What’s your name?”

She’s shocked to realise that she doesn’t know any of the answers. It’s an upsetting thought, one that the old woman seems to detect with that sixth sense of hers.

“I’ll help you remember, but you’re going to have to trust me.”

She nods, at which the woman tips the bowl of murky liquid against her lips. She feels repulsed at the taste… it’s even worse than the other stuff, but she drinks every drop, and soon feels a strange dizziness at the back of her head.

“Ugh...”

“You’ll feel disorientated for a while, but after a few more doses of this, you’ll lose that Empire itch.”

She sighs. Decides that whether the old woman is telling the truth or not, she might as well pass the time trying to gather more information.

“So, can you tell me how I got here?”

The woman pulls up a stool again, this time placing a foot against her bed and playing with a loose toenail. The sight of it turns her stomach a little.

“You just turned up, belly-down on the floor, burning hotter than any person ever should. There was a gash at least quarter-way down your back… would have killed anyone outright, but instead the damn thing was healing up right in front of me. Weirdest thing I ever saw.”

“But, you’re…”

“Blind?” the woman laughs, “Trust me, I probably see more than you do. You were out cold, or hot as the case may be. I dragged you back here... kept you alive. You’re welcome, by the way.”

She finds herself groping toward the back of her shoulder.

“Don’t. You’ll tear your stitches... again.” There’s an undertone of resignation in the woman’s voice.

“I thought you said you saw it heal?”

“I saw, or sensed the wound heal up, but not all the way. You’ve still got quite a deep cut. Whatever that power was, it gave in before you’d finished recovering. You slept, feverishly, for two weeks after that. I did my best to fix the rest…”

She closes her eyes, tries to gather her thoughts.

“Thanks… but, why help me?”

“Two reasons. First, I have a personal, let’s say, dislike of the Empress, and if your healing trick was anything to go by, you’re not a plaything that she should own. Second, I don’t get much entertainment here... and you’re definitely entertaining.” The woman chuckles at the words.

“Erm... thanks?”

“Now, let’s talk about that tattoo, or more specifically, why one half of it was glowing like a furnace when I found you...”

::

“You have a tattoo?” Asami interrupts her, sounding more curious than ever.

“No. Yes. I’m uh, not sure what it is… I’ve had it all my life.”

“Can I see?”

She takes a moment to consider the request. Show Asami her bare back? Scars and all? She supposes that there are worse fates, and Asami’s taken everything much better than expected so far. She nods and shuffles around so that she’s facing away, then slowly allows her kimono to slide from her shoulders. She hears Asami gasp, and then there’s a warm fingertip running around in delicate patterns on her back, sending shivers up her spine.

Korra’s studied herself in the mirror before of course, so she’s well aware of the intricacies of her so-called tattoo, just like she’s aware of how many times she’s tried to scrub it off. It’s like a black-ink drawing of two interlocking tears, with a diamond-shaped eye in the centre of each head, tendrils flowing around their forms, and curved ridges along their spines. They fold into each other, appearing as though constantly at war with one another.

She finds herself taking great pleasure in the sensation of Asami’s fingertip drawing idle circles around the pattern, the touch is soft, and it’s causing the hairs on her arms to prick up. Then she feels Asami’s finger trail up towards her scar, where it shifts to an even gentler touch.

“Wow… I’m not surprised this caused you so much pain…” she’s grateful to hear sympathy, rather than disgust at the tone in Asami’s voice.

She feels Asami’s hands slide down her arms, where they pull her kimono back up to her shoulders, and then she’s cocooned inside a warm embrace.

“So, what happened next?” the words are whispered into her ear. She closes her eyes, tries to focus on her story, which is difficult given Asami’s proximity.

“Next, I had the not-so-simple task of remembering who I was…”

::

“Now, concentrate.”

It’s been two weeks since she was released from captivity. She’s feeling free of the pull of the Empire, but there’s still a shadow, a shitty, unshakable sense of loyalty, haunting her. She’d probably still go back there, if she allowed herself to.

She’s thrown from her thoughts by a sharp nip at the earlobe, which is caught between a rough finger and thumb.

“Ow!”

“I said concentrate!”

“Fine…” she growls, pushes her fists together, and squeezes her eyes shut. The woman’s taken her to a small lake, where she’s sat upon a flat, smooth stone. There’s a small stream flowing into the lake, and she finds herself soothed by the sound of water trickling down.

“Think back to your life before the Empire.”

She tries to. It’s hard… there’s a thick fog, though it’s not nearly as dense as it once was. She tries to push through it, discover herself, her lost memories, but the fog is never ending. It’s exhausting, and she keeps pushing and pushing until eventually her eyes flutter open, and she’s caked in sweat.

The old woman is scowling at her, as usual, and starts to pace the ground behind her.

“It can’t be that hard, the drugs are all out of you now. Your mind is the only thing holding you back.”

She sighs, feeling frustration well up inside of her chest. She’s not doing this on purpose, she’s sure of it. But then again, she’s started to have vivid flashbacks… and it’s kept her up on more than one occasion, damp with sweat, wondering how any of those terrible visions could have really happened. What’s recently become apparent to her is that for three years, she’s murdered people in the name of the Empire – rebels, bandits, civilians, teachers, farmers… even her own men.

She finds herself thinking back to when she served the Empire…

Like the time she found herself imprisoned for a third time. She’d stumbled across a group of Empire soldiers having their wicked way with two young girls, torturing them, holding them down, laughing and stripping away their innocence. It had caused something inside of her to snap, and it’d been that day that she realised she could freeze the fluid inside the eyeballs of a person, or the water around their brain, or even their blood, if she so desired. The girls had gotten away, the soldiers hadn’t been so lucky.

It’d taken her a long time to recover from the torture she’d endured after that, but once she had, she’d been sent straight into the thick of it, and defended the Empire from a large-scale rebellion from the west. As soon as she’d joined the fray, the enemy hadn’t stood a chance. She’d sent razor-sharp ice shards against them, sheet after sheet of deadly artic blasts. If any were unlucky enough to get close, she’d tear them apart with her blade, or simply freeze the blood in their veins. Those who lived long enough to speak would scream out her name - “Youkai!” - with terrified glances at her bright eyes, and wasted gargles of surrender as her blade sliced through their throat.

There’s countless memories like this, and each time that she thinks she’s seen the last or worse of them, a new one springs to mind. It’s like putting together a jigsaw of blood and bone, but every time she fits the last piece, the puzzle doubles in size.

She grits her teeth as a new memory unfolds itself.

It’s the time that she impaled several unarmed civilians, right in front of their children, because she’d been ordered to. All they’d done wrong was to complain about their taxes. She’d been told to strike the children down next, and she’d gotten so close to doing it that her sword had caused the tiniest spec of blood on a young boy’s throat. That incident had been the fifth, and the last, time she’d been thrown into a cell and left to rot, to almost starve to death for her insubordination.

“I can sense your misery from all the way over here.” The old woman shouts, apparently now up in a tree behind her, “You’re going to have to forgive yourself if you ever want to move on.”

For some reason, those words crack open an invisible seal, and she’s suddenly furious.

“FORGIVE MYSELF?” She spins on the spot, enraged, and feels the waters behind her gush into the air, “I SHOULD BE DEAD!” the waters spin around her, reacting to her rage.

The old woman jumps from the tree, walks fearlessly toward her, “And why should you be dead?”

“Because I deserve to be…” the water slows down in its relentless spiral.

“Why?” the woman walks closer, almost close enough to lash out.

“I… I’ve killed so many people. I’m a monster.” The last part is said in a whisper, and as she collapses to her hands and knees, the waters around her splash down, no longer under her control,

“Every time I think I’ve seen the worst of it, I remember something new.” She admits, and holds her head in her hands, willing the visions to stop, willing them to not be real.

“Well, you were being controlled, manipulated.”

The woman’s stood right in front of her now, she can see her feet. It reminds her of when she’d first been brought to the Empress, except this time her vision is blurred from the tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I could have done something…” she chokes the words out.

“Like what? Get yourself thrown into prison over and over?”

“How did you…”

“You fought it, at least. Most people don’t. And from what I hear, little Youkai, you’re not as deadly as you think.”

She grimaces at the name.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s rumours of an evil, ruthless monster, with glowing white eyes. But more interestingly, the rumour is usually started by someone who miraculously survived an encounter with said monster.”

“…. Where are you going with this?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Even subconsciously, you tried to stop yourself from killing. I doubt you’d accidentally avoid landing a fatal blow so many times.”

“I don’t know about that, I seem to recall cutting off a few heads.”

“I’m not talking about the battles you’ve fought, I’m talking about when the Empress made you attack civilians.” The woman frowns, like this should have been obvious and she should know better.

“Oh…” and sure enough, she can remember adjusting the angle of her blade by an inch, on more than one occasion. Enough to leave someone for dead as per her orders, but give them a chance to survive.

“Sounds like you never quite gave in, despite what you might think.”

“It… doesn’t excuse the things that I’ve done. Not even close. It doesn’t change anything.” She sits up, wipes her tears away.

“No.” The woman sighs, “But it does mean you can make up for it. And if you focus on the part of you that never gave in, you’ll find yourself again. Now, concentrate.”

“I’m not sure…”

“You can do this, kid.” The woman ruffles her hair, and she’s taken aback by the sudden display of kindness.

She nods, closes her eyes and then takes a deep breath. This time, instead of fighting the fog, the despair clouding her mind, she accepts that it’s a part of her, something that she’ll live with, and be able to move past in her own time.

She finds herself thinking back to when she served the Empire…

Like the five times she rebelled, and what drove her to do it each time. She thinks about how she’d been trapped in that damned cell for weeks at a time, how she’d tell herself over and over that she should never give in, never lose herself completely. How she’d eventually made friends with the boy who’d brought her water, and how he’d chat to her for hours on end, and how it’d kept her sane.

She thinks about all the people she’s saved… how she’s rescued innocent civilians during the many battles she’s fought. Countless girls and women who were being violated – or about to be. The little boy she gave a piggyback to that one time, straight out of the warzone. The times she’s escorted civilians out of a battle, away from their warring nations, even if it meant cutting a bloody path through her enemy.

She thinks about how she’d always spared innocents whenever she could, even up until the last, most recent bandit, the one with an innocent face, no doubt a fresh recruit, who’d turned her own mercy against her.

She realises with a sudden certainty that she was never truly lost. She’s done horrible, nightmarish things, but she’s always tried to do good, too.

She feels warm tears roll down her cheek as memories of her parents, and her second family – Tenzin and the kids – come flooding back into her mind with a sudden, golden clarity. She’s overwhelmed with the love she feels for all of them, and she knows she’ll do anything for them, and they’ll do anything for her.

She opens her eyes to find a familiar sphere of water floating just above her open hands… it’s the shape she used to love forming, playing with, as a little girl.

She stands up, allows the water to fall, and holds out her arm with an open hand toward the old woman. She’s met with a firm grip, the hand even more calloused than hers.

“I’m… I’m Korra. Thank you, for everything…”

“Toph. And don’t mention it, besides, we haven’t even started yet… I wanna see what you can do.”

::

She notices that Asami’s staring away now, not saying a word. Perhaps she was expecting too much, after all? Now that she’s given a clearer idea of just how many deaths are on her hands, she wouldn’t really expect anyone to forgive such a thing. It hurts, but it’s to be expected, so she’ll be okay, she’s always okay.

She’s beginning to think she should bid farewell politely, pack her things, when Asami finally speaks, but is still looking away.

“How long?” Asami’s voice is eerily quiet.

“Um… what?”

“How long did she keep you in that cell for?”

She’s relieved that Asami’s still talking to her at all, despite the rather odd line of questioning.

“I’m… not really sure. Once I made friends with the boy, I worked out it was at least three weeks at a time.”

“Without food? And no light?”

Korra sighs at the memory… “Pretty much. Just chains… and water.”

“Why didn’t you use the water to escape?”

It’s a good question.

“I thought about it, but my mind was riddled with a mix of self-doubt and misguided loyalty. Also, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have gotten far… she keeps that cell block well-guarded.”

Asami frowns, looking deep in thought.

“Let me see your wrists.”

“Umm... okay?” she holds out her arms, allows Asami to push up her sleeves. She’s never given much thought to the scars there, other than the fact they itch occasionally, but now that Asami is tracing a finger over them she’s feeling very self-conscious.

She’s alarmed when she sees tears form at Asami’s cheek.

“Asami…?”

Finally, Asami lifts her eyes, and she can meet her gaze. There’s nothing but compassion there, and it knocks the breath right out of her lungs.

“I’m so, so sorry that you had to go through all of that.” Asami says, between sobs.

She feels herself crumple, her hard expression softens, and she’s suddenly fighting back tears herself. For years, all she’s ever known from others is pain, distrust, fear… even hatred. Because of that… nothing, nothing on this earth, could have prepared her for the look in Asami’s eyes right now.

“A… Asami…” she half-chokes, looking down at the floor, “After everything you’ve heard… why…”

“I already knew that the Empress is quite the horror, but now that I know what she’s done to you… what she’s doing to others…” she feels her hand clasped, warm fingers woven between hers, “I hate her… How could she do that to you? How can she do that to anyone? How?

There’s a lump in her throat, and she doesn’t understand how Asami’s switched this around. She places her free hand against her eyes, still trying to hold back the tears.

“Didn’t you hear the part where I killed people?”

“I’ve killed people too, even when they’ve been running away. Am I a monster?” Asami grabs her wrist, prises it away from her eyes. She’s being looked at with a very sincere, serious expression.

“No…” finally, the dam breaks. A single tear rolls down her cheek.

“Korra, you’re… you’re the most human person I’ve ever met.” Asami wipes away her tear, smiles at her.

Her heart soars at the words, and tears begin to freely stream down her face.

The next thing she knows, her lips are caught in a gentle kiss… Asami’s lips are so warm and there’s a heat rising in her chest that she’s never felt before. She grasps her fingers into Asami’s hair, forcing their kiss deeper, and she feels dizzy when she feels Asami moan into her mouth.

She pulls apart from the kiss slightly, noticing a throb beneath her belly. It’s something she’s felt before, but to a much lesser extent, and usually resolved by a night’s sleep, or an angry, drunk fuck, or by her own hands. But this… is entirely different. This urge is from one simple, explicit desire - the desire to touch, and be touched by, this amazing, breath-taking, unbelievably compassionate woman.

Asami closes in for their third kiss, and she welcomes it, groans into it. When she feels Asami place a hand beneath her kimono, slide a hand against the sensitive skin at her back, she feels her eyes roll back, she moans involuntarily, and she’s never felt like this before, never had someone’s touch have this effect on her. Asami’s tongue slides against hers, and her mind is overwhelmed with images of the things she’d like to do, the things she’d like to touch, to taste.

But, she can’t. She wants to, she wants it more than anything she’s ever wanted... but it still wouldn’t be right, not so soon after Hiroshi’s funeral. She pulls away from the kiss, looks up to see soft, calm, green eyes, and she feels Asami’s fingers thread into the back of her hair.

Asami’s lips move, and she hears the next words in a half daze.

“You’re human. You’re the kindest person I know… you didn’t deserve any of that. And, I… I think I might be falling for you…”

She chokes up again at the words. It’s happening quickly, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense… but then again, what in life ever does? She’s had thoughts of nothing but Asami ever since their first meeting, but she’s never dared to dream that someone so amazing, so pure, would stick around after finding out the truth about her.

She feels the same, and she wants to say it, but she’s sobbing, a tear stained mess, unable to speak. She’s pulled into a tight embrace against Asami’s chest, where she’s overwhelmed with even more emotion - a mixture of relief that Asami’s still here, exhaustion after pouring out her deepest secrets, and elation that Asami feels the same special thing between them that’s been haunting her.

She’s usually filled with shame on these rare occasions where she cries, but this time, she feels nothing but relief as the tears flow freely against Asami’s shoulder. She feels gentle fingers stroke through her hair, and whispered words of reassurance. Before long, it’s all she can feel, all she can hear, and it’s all that she cares about.

It’s a warm night, and maybe it’s the sake, maybe it’s the golden, warm emotion throbbing through her veins, but she’s more at ease than she’s been in a long time. She closes her eyes, and feels herself tugged into the most restful sleep she’s had for as long as she can remember.

Chapter Text

There’s a dull throb in Asami’s side as she slowly wakes up… it’s nothing serious, just pain from sleeping on a hard floor. She shifts herself ever so slightly, so that blood can pump into her dead arm, which Korra’s asleep on.

The sun’s already started to rise, and she’s tempted to wake Korra so that they can watch it together. But she loves the feeling of having Korra’s sleeping body in her arms, so she waits it out, rests her forehead against the back of Korra’s head, where she inhales deeply. It’s a salty, sweet scent…

She manages to ease her now half-dead arm from underneath Korra. Once the arm’s back to normal, she uses it to prop her head up a little, all done in very slow, gentle movements. She keeps her other arm around Korra’s waist, her palm resting on a firm abdomen, whilst keeping herself pressed closely against Korra’s back. Got to keep warm, she figures. But really, any excuse will do.

As the sun starts to creep upward, the land is once again awash with a marvel of colours. It’s like watching a picture paint itself, over and over, like it’s changing its mind on which colours to use, each one somehow better than the last.

Asami sighs, places a kiss on the back of Korra’s head. She’s overjoyed, maybe even in shock that Korra opened up to her last night. She honestly wasn’t expecting it, and she’s a little nervous about her own confession, but Korra seems to have taken it well. Korra’s stories were hard to believe in many ways, but she knows that they’re all true, that Korra wouldn’t lie.

She now realises that Korra has been through more than anyone ever should, that she’s special in more ways than one. After learning everything last night, more than anything else, she’s overwhelmed with the desire to make Korra happy.

Despite everything that’s happened to her personally… to the holding… her father, and her mother… all she can think about right now is that she wants to see Korra laugh, really, genuinely laugh, until those cute bronze cheeks are red, and Korra’s jaw is sore, and those amazing blue eyes are damp from joy instead of sorrow. She makes it her new secret mission in life, and smiles to herself at the thought.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

She has to hide her surprise at hearing Korra’s voice, and wonders how long the other woman’s been awake. Long enough to feel her kiss just now? Long enough to detect her sniffing at her hair unashamedly? She’s embarrassed.

“Yes. Very.” She feels Korra’s hand close around hers… it’s a wonderful feeling, and it completely dissolves her temporary feeling of awkwardness.

They watch the sun complete its morning ritual together, and Asami’s overwhelmed by how much she just wants to stay here, just the two of them. She doesn’t want to go back, face the harsh reality and all the new responsibilities that go with it. But more than anything, she just doesn’t want to leave Korra’s side, even for a moment. She knows it’s a ridiculous, selfish thought.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a loud, bestial grunt just behind them, followed by Korra, chuckling.

“I know girl, I’ll be right there.” Korra says, and Asami reluctantly removes her arm from her waist.

Korra stands to her feet, tightens her sleek, black kimono, and holds out a hand, which she takes. As she stands, she leans forward and pecks Korra on the lips, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, but immediately afterwards she’s flustered by her own actions, and it’s not helped at all by the ridiculously cute blush rising to Korra’s cheeks.

“I uh… pack Naga” Korra says, and Asami struggles to not laugh at the sudden lack of verboseness.

“Korra, thank you… for everything. For telling me.” She smiles sincerely, releasing Korra’s hand as she sets about clearing up the picnic.

“It was nice to be able to talk about that stuff…” Korra replies, with a wide smile.

“You’ll tell me the rest soon though, right?”

“Of course, if you want to hear it?”

Asami snorts in response… it’s a stupid question, after all.

:: 

“So, do you think we should go look for them?” Lin asks, and Su’s not sure if Lin’s worried or pissed off. Knowing Lin, it’s probably both.

They’re busy leading the villagers back to work, in Asami’s absence. Nobody’s complaining, and Su’s as impressed as ever by the comradery that everyone’s sharing, especially knowing that ahead of them they have the back-breaking effort of repairing, tearing down, and rebuilding.

“I think we should give Asami as much time as she needs…” she says, though she’s not entirely sure they’ll see Asami at all today, not after she saw how Korra looked at her as they rode off last night. She chuckles at the thought… young love. It’s such a blessing.  Despite everything they’ve been through, past and present, it makes her heart soar to see Asami find someone special, as well as her own daughter, Opal. She likes Bolin, though he’s a bit thick-headed at times. He has a good heart… she approves.

“Yen for your thoughts?” Lin asks, abruptly.

“I was thinking… well, how happy I am about Opal and Bolin finally noticing each other. And how our young Miss Sato might have also found a light in all of this darkness.”

“You mean the Ronin?”

She laughs.

“Yes, dear sister. Korra. She couldn’t have come at a better time.”

“But, she’s the Youkai.” Lin frowns.

“I know... But what do we truly know of her, other than hearsay? She has helped us, more than once.”

Su’s always prided herself on never taking things for granted. She loves to seek out the truth, about friend and foe. Whilst she isn’t sure about Korra, what she does know is there’s always a sincere look in those deep-blue eyes, and they’re not evil, despite the many rumours she’s heard.

Youkai, manslayer, devourer, demon. The list goes on and on. She wonders if Korra even knows how many titles she’s known by. Still, she’s really never been one to judge based on rumour alone, and so long as Korra doesn’t do anything to harm them, especially Asami, she’ll keep her sword sheathed.

Lin sighs, “Fine… Let’s just be careful. Korra’s been useful, but we shouldn’t take anything for granted.”

“Oh, don’t you worry. I’ll definitely keep an eye on them.” She says it to herself mainly, as Lin walks away.

She smirks as she sees the two in question head back into town. Asami’s on the front this time, leading a very sleepy looking Korra. She’s amused as another rumour springs to mind, that is, that the Youkai is at its weakest in the morn. Judging from the drool hanging out of Korra’s half-asleep mouth, that one’s definitely true.

Asami hops from the horse… Naga, if she recalls, and helps a sleepy Korra down.

“Miss Sato.” She smiles at the young Daimyo.

“Oh Su… don’t start calling me that just because…”

She sees Asami’s face drop.

“I’m sorry Asami… it’s just, things are changing so quickly, for all of us.”

“You’re right, but please… we’re old friends.” Asami has an almost pleading look in her eyes at the words.

“Yes, we are.” She smiles.

Asami looks around, and she can almost see the cogs turning.

“I was thinking today we could start repairs on the north-east square. It’s the least damaged, and the sooner we can get people back into their homes, the better.”

It’s a sound plan. Su nods in agreement. But then, she decides to have some fun. She’s certain that there’s something going on between these two, they’ve barely been apart since Korra brought Aasmi back, Korra had inadvertently suggested to her that they’d been on a date, and not to mention the little picnic Opal sent them on last night.

She coughs, to get their attention.

“Did you two want to share a bath, freshen up before we start?”

She struggles not to laugh as she sees the thought tick over in Asami’s mind, and then in Korra’s, and then at their poorly-veiled flushes of embarrassment.

“Oh come now, if you two need some alone time, I’m sure we can cover for the day.” She says it dryly… she can’t help herself now, she’s always loved to tease Asami, and this really is no different.

“Su! That…. That won’t be necessary!” Asami’s flustered, and she can’t help it anymore, she’s laughing out loud, and at Korra’s dumbstruck face Asami soon joins in. It’s like old times.

“Err… well, I need to tend to Naga, and wash, so I’ll uh… see you later?” Korra says, glancing at Asami before heading back to the shelter.

“Korra, wait.” Asami says, then grabs the samurai’s arm from behind, whispers something, and then kisses her on the cheek. Su feels her heart positively melt at the sight.

“Su, that was mean.” Asami storms back to her, folds her arms, looks angry.

“Oh come on, I can already see that you’re hotter for her than you’ve been for anyone your entire life. You can’t blame me.” Su smirks as Asami blushes and look away, further confirming her suspicions.

She’s glad they’re back to their usual non-formal selves.

“I will neither confirm nor deny your allegations. And we have work to do.” Asami puts on a pretend-aloof expression, folding arms and pouting like she used to use as a child. It’s always been so endearing, and it’s one of the many reasons that Sus’s always seen Asami as a daughter.

“In all seriousness, you don’t want to freshen up or anything?” she asks.

“I do, but I want to work up a sweat first.” Asami says, looking into the distance with a determined expression.

“Well, my dear… Korra did just head in that direction.” She points.

“Su! No!” Asami laughs, whilst swatting at her.

They set out to work with the rest of the villagers, removing dead timber, nailing new wood in its place. It’s hard, and she feels her back ache at her efforts after the first half-hour. As they’re ripping down a particularly thick beam, cracked and blackened, destroyed beyond any usefulness, she’s suddenly struck by how much she’s going to miss Hiroshi.

He was such a good man, who’d done so, so much for her family, taken them in when they’d been wandering, lost, after they’d been torn apart by the Empress. She used to love sitting down with him, drinking tea, just relaxing and discussing their day.

There’s more to it, of course. Things that she’ll eventually have to discuss with the new, young daimyo, perhaps sooner rather than later if news of the Empire is anything to go by. She’s heard that the Empress is spiralling further and further out of control, and with nobody to stop her, who knows what could happen next.

Hiroshi would have guided her, advised her on her next move. She’s again stabbed with a pang of loss… But she can’t miss Hiroshi, she feels that she has no right, it’s nothing compared to what Asami’s going through.

Then again, Asami looks quite bright, all things considered. She smirks, fairly sure that she knows the reason behind this oddity.

“Soooo…” she bites her lips, look into Asami’s eyes, “What did you get up to last night in your picnic? Korra looked very, very tired.”

Asami pauses from her work, half-way through hammering a stubborn nail to secure a beam, a huge blush rising to her cheeks.

“N…Nothing! Not like what you’re thinking, anyway.” Asami goes back to hammering that nail, a little more viciously.

“Aw, shame. Lost your touch?” she winks. Asami’s hammer hits harder still.

“If you must know, we talked. And… and… Korra’s a good person. Better than most.”

“I believe it… but... you know she’s quite infamous? Do you know what they call her?” she decides to go right for the jugular, best to make sure Asami knows what she’s getting herself into.

“I do… at least, I do after last night. And I would appreciate it if you never used that word around her. And make sure anyone else who knows does the same. Please.”

The nail goes in with a final, rough smack of Asami’s hammer, and Su’s taken back by the display of protectiveness. She’s never seen Asami act like that over anyone, except Hiroshi. Protecting people from physical harm is one thing, Asami does that for everyone… but emotional harm, that’s something else entirely. It’s far more personal.

Then she sees Asami’s expression suddenly shift, and a blush rises to those normally pale cheeks. She turns her head to look in the same direction.

There’s a wet-haired samurai striding toward them, wearing a blue kimono with both sleeves hung loose from the arm, chest bindings fully revealed, sensual bronze skin beneath and oh heavens… those abs. Those arms. Oh. Wow.

“Asami, if you don’t hit that, I will.” She growls, nudging the young daimyo in the ribs.

“You will do no such thing.” Asami states, staring her down.

“Hey Asami… Suyin.” Korra says, yawning, stretching out, tanned muscles flexing at the motion. Oh Asami… you lucky, lucky girl, she thinks, as she smiles ever-so-sweetly at Korra.

“Just call me Su. And… you’re still tired?” she asks. Maybe Asami’s right, Korra seems to be harmless… gorgeous, but harmless, and she’s done nothing but good for them so far.

“Yeah, I’m not much of a morning person.” Korra looks embarrassed at the admission, and even more embarrassed when Asami slides a hand around her waist.

“Oh seriously… you two need to get a room.” Su laughs.

“Su! Will you stop it!” Asami exclaims, whilst removing her arm. Korra’s blushing again.

“Is there uh… anything I can help with?” Korra asks. It’s an innocent question, but Su can see Asami’s thinking of things that Korra can help with, and she starts to laugh again.

Before she can come up with something spectacularly witty or lewd, Asami interjects.

“Well… Have you ever fixed a house? Or even built one, ground-up?” Asami asks, half-jokingly.

“Actually, yes! Tenzin used to always make me do repairs and stuff, and I’ve done construction work for contracts too,” Korra says, whilst looking eager to help.

“Oh? Then I definitely have use for you.” Asami glares at Su, as if daring her to apply innuendo to the remark.

She resists the all-too-easy temptation, but she does have a better idea…

“Actually, why don’t we three work on the roofs? We’ll finish more homes today that way.”

Asami looks at her with an eyebrow raised, as if trying to work out any ulterior motives.

“Well, okay… Good plan. I take it nobody’s scared of heights?” Asami jokes, and heads off to find some ladders.

As she watches Asami stride away, and watches Korra’s eyes linger on the young Daimyo’s behind, Su smirks to herself. She decides she has a new, top secret mission. These two need to find some alone-time, and soon, otherwise their sexual tension might actually destroy the village all over again. She starts to formulate a plan…

Chapter Text

Fixing the rooftops. Not a bad idea.

Asami’s glad that Su reminded her. This way, they can at least have some homes ready for people to move into, and relatively quickly, too.

They set out the ladders, and get started. She and Su are working on a larger home, whilst Korra’s just opposite, patching up a smaller house. She puts her heart into her work, but soon finds herself distracted, despite her eagerness to fix things up.

It’s a hot day, and she’s now fixated on Korra. How can anyone make their work look so effortless, and how can anyone have such amazing arms, tense, sweat glistening upon them. Korra suddenly raises one of said arms, and wipes sweat from her brow. Asami feels her throat turn very, very dry.

“Just think of all the things you two could be doing right now…” Su whispers into her ear, chuckling quietly. The not-so-subtle suggestions really aren’t helping her get the job done.

“Su… please, we have work to do.” She scowls. Su’s right though, she’d rather be pressed up against that amazing body, feeling the firmness beneath her palms, feeling Korra’s hands against her, sliding under her kimono… finding purchase  on her wanting breast…

“Ow! Shit!” her hammer misses its mark, lands squarely on her thumb. It stings enough to bring tears to her eye, as well as more cuss words. Su’s fussing over her, and she’s vaguely aware of Korra rushing toward them, coming up the ladder.

“Asami, you okay? What happened?” Korra asks, taking her hand and studying the injury with an intense stare. Asami forgets about the pain all of a sudden. Then Korra’s drawing up a small stream of water from a bucket below, and the next thing she knows, her thumb is encased in a small globule, Korra’s staring into it, and it’s starting to feel much better. She sees the soreness ebb away, and her thumb soon looks good as new.

“Korra, you can heal people?” Su asks, looking intrigued.

“Um, yeah… but it only works on small cuts and bruises. It’s one of the things I learnt at Toph’s.”

Su drops her hammer and stares at Korra, “Wait, you’ve met my mother?”

“Your mother?” Asami asks it at the same time as Korra.

“Well, I suppose there’s more than one Toph in the world. What was she like?” Su asks.

“Short, old, and very, very grumpy.” Korra says.

“Oh, that’s her all right. So you’ve been to her lovely little swamp-hut?”

“Yeah, but not exactly on purpose. She saved me. Long story…”

“Wait, why is your mother living in a swamp?” Asami interjects.

“Well, that’s a long story too,” Su smiles, “I’ll tell you all about it, but another day… let’s finish up here so we can grab a bite to eat.”

::

It’s past midday, and everyone’s headed back to the shelter for a well-earned break. So far, they’ve fixed up more than Asami expected. New frames are up, dead timber is discarded, four homes are ready to be moved back into, and she feels surprisingly energised, all things considered.

As they walk down the path, she looks toward her side, where Korra suddenly turns her head too, and their eyes meet. She resists the urge to stop and kiss her right there. Korra’s been stealing looks at her all day, and she can’t deny that she’s been doing the same… especially after the hammer incident. Korra’s curves and muscles have been on show the whole time, and it’s been… torturous.

And now she’s thinking about it again, Korra’s body against hers… how it would feel… and she’s feeling heat rise to her cheeks, and elsewhere. She quickly averts her gaze away from Korra’s eyes, in case her mind is somehow read.

“Oh, Asami. Where is your mind?” Su interrupts her thoughts, with a knowing, sideways grin.

She sighs, and slows her pace to have a more private chat with Su, as Korra walks ahead.

“Fine, okay, yes, I might be slightly attracted to her. I admit it. Are you happy?” she whispers the sentence, angrily.

Korra’s walking ahead now, and her eyes drift around the half-concealed tattoo at her back. She bites her lip.

Slightly?” Su chuckles.

“It’s not just that. She’s… special.”

Su’s hand is on her shoulder at the words.

“Yes… I can see that. But aren’t you planning on doing anything about it? Does she know how you feel?”

“She does… we talked a lot last night. I learnt a lot about her… she’s been through hell, Su.”

They walk in silence a moment, and Su looks lost in thought.

“From what I’ve heard, she’s been through more than hell. I’m surprised someone so… kind… can bounce back from that. Do you know if she likes you too? I mean with the same gender, you can never assume.”

“I… I’m fairly sure, yes.” Her cheeks redden at the thought of their first kiss. And second. And third.

“But she hasn’t spoken of it?”

They’re almost at the shelter now. Korra will soon turn around to look for her.

“She hasn’t really needed to speak…” Asami says, and Su forms an ‘oh’ with her lips, then grins at her.

“You filthy little vixen, you did more than talk, didn’t you? Didn’t you!” Su’s smirking away at her now, and she grins back despite herself.

“There may have been a kiss. Or three.”

Su squeals, and pulls her into a tight squeeze.

“Shhhh!” she raises her hands, pushes Su away and tries to hush the woman, stares at her intently. But it’s too late, Korra is facing them with a confused expression.

“Korra!” Su strides towards the samurai, with clear intent.

Shit! Asami curses under her breath, places her face into her palm, she shouldn’t have said anything, and she knows it.

They’re outside the doors now, and they’re the last people back by the looks of it. Su is busy giving Korra some speech about how her intentions better be sincere, and she’d better not hurt Asami, or else… and other things beside.

She wishes she could fall into a hole and never have to come back out. But surprisingly, Korra looks almost amused by the exchange. Happy, even.

“Okay Asami, this one has my approval, let’s go eat!” Su declares with a grin, throws open the doors, and they both follow.

“Sorry about that.” Asami mumbles, under her breath.

“Don’t be, I think it’s really sweet how they all look out for you here.” Korra turns, smiles at her.

Asami realises that Korra’s never really had that kind of relationship with people, not without it being torn away time and again. Her heart suddenly aches for Korra, and she’s again filled with a need to make her happy.

They check on Naga and Aiko, whom both seem content, since someone’s already fed and tended to them. Before she eats, Asami wants to check on Mako, and Korra whole-heartedly agrees.

They walk down the stairs and head towards the back, where she can hear an animated conversation, followed by a whoop of laughter. It’s Mako. She grins as she enters the room. He’s sat up, clean bandages bound all the way around his chest and torso. Bolin’s with him, and she isn’t even slightly surprised to see that they’re both nursing a cup of sake.

“Mako!” she beams, “You’re okay!”

“Asami! Korra!” he grins as they enter, “It’d take more than something like this to finish me off, and you know it.”

She moves forwards, gives him a tight hug.

“Oof, careful...” he grimaces, holding his sake to one side, careful not to spill a drop.

“Oops, sorry. How’s the wound? You’re up and about surprisingly quickly… it looked bad.”

“I think your magic paste helped a lot, and Wang and Wei stitched me up real good. I mean, it’s sore… I can’t move much beyond sitting, but the sake’s helping too.” He raises his cup at the words, finishes it off.

“Bolin, don’t feed him too much of that. It might interfere with the healing.” She scolds the younger brother.

“I know, Wang already told me, two thimbles an hour, maximum.” He looks in high spirits, and she isn’t sure if it’s because Mako’s doing great, or something else.

“You’re looking chirpy, even by your standards.” She says.

“Didn’t you hear? He’s dating Opal!” Mako grins.

“Oh-my-gosh, really?” she runs forward, grapples Bolin into a bear-hug, “I was planning on hooking you two up, but you beat me to it!”

She pulls away from the hug, stares into his light-green eyes, “In any case, you’d better not hurt her, Bo.”

“Hurt one of yours? I can think of nothing scarier.” Bolin looks terrified even at the thought, and she chuckles.

Suddenly a thought springs to her mind.

“Ahh… now it makes sense, I was wondering what Korra meant when she said you two arranged our little picnic.”

“It was mainly Opal’s idea.” Bolin looks like he’s proud of the fact. It’s very cute.

“Well, I’ll have to thank her later.”

Bolin and Mako both make a curious hum, looking from Korra to her, and back to Korra. Time to get out of here.

“Alright, we’re leaving. Have you two eaten?”

“Yup, we had something just earlier.”

“Catch you later then,” she says, waves as she makes a hasty retreat, and grabs Kora’s arm before anyone can fire any questions their way about last night.

“Run away before the interrogation, good plan.” Korra nods at her, then winks, and even that sends a shiver down her spine.

“Yes. And also, I’m starving.” She says, unhooking their arms and reaching her hand out, internally sighing as Korra’s fingers entwine hers, and they head back upstairs.

The room’s packed, but morale seems to be high, all things considered. There’s laughter, animated conversation, and even drinking. Bolin must have brought some supplies up from the Drunken Dragon, for which she’s grateful. On the downside, it’s starting to smell a little, of sweat, and stale urine. She makes a mental note to focus on cleaning tomorrow… it wouldn’t be good if infection spread around the injured.

There’s more people up and about on their feet now, very few still incapacitated. Opal, Wing, Wei and the other healers have been working small miracles for the past few days. She makes another mental note to reward them somehow, after all of this is over.

Su’s saved them each a seat on opposite sides of the table, and already put out a plate of food for them, as well as a small cup of sake, and a glass of water. Korra’s right, everyone really does try to look after her. Sometimes she isn’t sure she deserves it… she’ll pay them back, somehow. She’ll make this the best-defended holding outside of the Empire. She’ll host free drinking events. As she sits and starts to eat, there’s a myriad of ideas spinning through her mind.

“Thanks Su, really.” She smiles, and Su nods at her, as she sits down and starts to dig in. Korra takes the seat opposite, also thanks Su and proceeds to tear her dish apart, chopsticks flying faster than the eye can see. She chuckles at the sight.

It’s nothing fancy, just rice mixed with spiced nuts and beans. It’s tasty though, Lin’s doing a really good job at producing food of decent quality in such high volume. She’s suddenly reminded of something, and pauses her eating.

“Su, what did you find about the food reserves?”

“All untouched, as if by some miracle.”

She smiles, continues to clean her plate. It’s good fortune indeed… things could have been much worse. They could all be dead. And they probably all would be, if not for her father’s valiant defence, or the amazing weapons he helped to invent, or Korra’s swift dispatch of a powerful foe.

“Oh, Korra.” She says, suddenly reminded of her promise, “Remind me to show you the chi stuff I talked about, when we’re less busy.”

“I was hoping you’d bring that up, I’ve been really curious about what you meant.” Korra grins, and she notices the plate beneath her is already empty. That’s one impressive appetite, she thinks.

“Korra, do you want seconds?” Su enquires, apparently noticing the same thing.

“No, no… thanks. I like to eat little, but often. Keeps me light on my toes.” Korra smiles, starts to sip at her sake.

There’s a few minutes of silence as Asami finishes her meal, and then Su speaks.

“Asami, I meant to ask. The salve you used on Mako, do you have more?”

“Hmm, no. I used it all up on him.” She says, sipping her sake.

“A few of our injured could really use some of it, Wing’s convinced that it’s some sort of miracle-salve after seeing what it did for Mako.”

“Oh… I never really thought about it.” She chides herself, she should have thought about it, “The herbs I need are in the woods to the east, about five hours away… I could send someone.”

“They probably wouldn’t find the right herbs, I think it’s best if you went?” Su raises an eyebrow as if to challenge her. She doesn’t. Su’s right.

Su’s face shifts, almost looks smug. Asami knows she’s up to something.

“Korra, would you say Naga is faster than most steeds, given her size?” Su asks.

“Yeah she is! She always gets me away, from anything. Always has. She’s the fastest.” Korra is clearly super-proud of Naga, and Asami finds it very endearing.

“I bet Naga could get you there in half the time, even with the two of you riding her.”

Asami struggles to not choke on her water. That sneaky little…

“Yep, she’s strong too!” Korra beams.

“Thought so. Makes sense for you both to go, then.”

Asami glares at Su. It’s a perfectly-executed plan. She can’t argue against any of Su’s points, without either condemning the villagers to more suffering than they need, or hurting Korra’s pride. There’s literally no way out.

She isn’t sure if she’s angry, or impressed. In either case, they have a mission now. It just happens to lead them to a remote location… together, and unlike last night, Korra now knows exactly how she feels. There’s a dryness at her throat again, so she finishes her water off quickly, slams the glass down and stares at Su, who’s simply looking back, fingers pointed together at the tip, with a smug smirk.

“Fine, it’s a good plan. But I’m freshening up first.” She feels awful, sticky, from all of their work this morning.

“Oh, good call. Korra, you probably should too.” Su says nonchalantly.

She fires an enraged glance at Su, who’s clearly struggling to hold back laughter now. But then her face softens when she sees nothing but confusion on Korra’s face.

“Well, okay. I suppose I do smell.” Korra says, matter-of-factly.

Even she can’t hold back laughter at that one, and heads to a washroom, with Korra close behind. She’s tempted to suggest that they share, but she has a suspicion that they wouldn’t get out of here any time soon if they did, public place or not. Korra doesn’t give her the opportunity to voice the idea anyway, and heads into a separate cubicle.

She scrubs away at the dirt and grime that’s accumulated during the day’s exertions. And she scrubs everywhere… just in case. She blushes at the thought, and wraps herself in a towel. She’s not going to wear the red kimono for this, she’s had it on since last night. She heads downstairs and finds that her clothing has been washed, much to her relief. She quickly wraps herself in her white kimono, puts on a crimson hakama from the dresser, ties the belt, and rushes upstairs, grabbing an empty satchel and her katana on the way.

Korra’s waiting outside, looking damn-near immaculate even with strands of hair hanging loose and damp. She supposes she should be grateful that the sleeves are up this time, since it’s far less temping. Korra’s also brought her daisho, apparently just as cautious as she when it comes to heading into the wilds.

“Hey, front or back?” Korra smiles, and greets her with a question.

“Hmmm. Back.” She can think of nothing she’d enjoy more than holding herself close to Korra for the next couple of hours.

Korra hops up onto the saddle, and she soon follows suit.

“So, where we headed?” Korra asks, looking back over her shoulder.

“Just to the east, in a straight line more or less. I’ll shout if we veer off.”

Korra urges Naga into a trot, they leave the shelter, and are soon galloping away. Korra wasn’t kidding, Naga is fast… crazy fast. She’s feels like she’s going to have bruises on her thighs at this rate, and will end up needing some healing salve for herself.

She calculates that they have about five hours of daylight left, and a big part of her is wondering if they’ll have to stay at the woods for the night. She can see Korra’s packed Naga up with camping gear, but she doesn’t jump to any conclusions from it… Korra’s probably just being prepared for any eventuality, as always.

She squeezes her arms around Korra’s waist, has to hold on tightly due to Naga’s speed, and she’s sure she feels a rumble in Korra’s chest as she clenches her palms against her abdomen.

::

They arrive at the woods in an impressive time, she thinks just over two hours. It’d take Aiko four or more, usually. And Aiko’s a pretty fast mare.

“Okay, careful now, follow this trail just ahead.” Asami rests her chin upon Korra’s shoulder, points forward to a clearing in the bushes, where Korra gently guides Naga, as instructed.

“All right, let’s stop here.” Asami says, trying to ignore the proximity of her mouth to Korra’s neck. She remembers what happened the first time she kissed Korra there… and she’s pretty sure things would go a different way this time, should she allow it. But they’re here with a specific task, and she needs to finish it quickly so that they can head back.

They hop off Naga, and Korra tethers her to a tree, though not too tightly.

“So, what now?” Korra faces her, with an expression of nothing but innocence. For some reason, it makes it even harder for her to proceed with their plan.

“Now… we find the herbs.” She sheds her mind of corrupt thoughts, sets her mind to the task.

“There’s three. The most common… is right here.” She plucks out a thick, green, wide edged herb, and shows it to Korra, “We’ll need at least twenty. Can you do that?”

“Sure, no problem!” Korra takes the plant, studies it, and sets out to work.

“Stay near me though… the wildlife here can get a bit nasty. There’s big cats, and I think I even saw a bear once.”

“Oh? Are you going to protect me?” Korra grins at her.

“Do you think I can’t?” she presses her hands into her waist, glares at Korra.

“Quite the opposite, you’re a formidable woman.” Korra smiles sincerely, then returns to her task.

Formidable? She smiles to herself. She’s been called worse things. She breaks her gaze from Korra, with some difficulty, and looks for the other two herbs. They’re usually around this area, one’s got purple tips at the leaf, and gives a nasty sting if not plucked correctly. The other is bright yellow, leaves a stain if you touch it with your bare hands.

After an hour or so, she’s gathered enough of what she needs. It takes a little longer than usual, mainly because she keeps distracting herself by looking back at Korra.

“So, did you get them all?” she asks, smiling down at the crouching Samurai.

“Yes, more than twenty actually.” Korra beams up, holds out her yield, proudly.

“Oh, you got some good ones!” Asami encourages her. She holds out a hand to help Korra up, then they both head to Naga to pack everything into her satchel.

“I think this is enough for about four pots, should be plenty.” She says to herself, though Korra’s apparently paying close attention.

“It’s really impressive that you invented this all by yourself.”

She flushes a little at the compliment.

“Well, it took a few years, and a lot of failed experiments... but, thanks.”

“Anyway, when are you going to show me the cool chi things?” Korra’s grinning wildly, presumably from excitement.

“How about tomorrow? I need to get the shelter cleaned up, do more repairs, but we can find time.” She’s stood right in front of Korra, quite unsure as to how she got there.

“Sounds good to me.” Korra smiles, softly. There’s something about those sapphire-blue eyes… it makes her melt away, and she has to force herself to snap out of it, look away.

“Anyway, we’ve made good time, I think we can get back just before dark.” She tries to ignore the part of her that’s more than a little disappointed at the fact.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a loud, echoing boom above them, and she ducks reactively. Korra’s staring up at the sky, which has darkened significantly, without her even realising. There’s a moment of complete silence, and then… the heavens open.

Even with the shelter of the treetops, thick bullets of rain assault them, though Korra seems to actually be enjoying herself. Ah, of course. Water. She supposes that to Korra, it’s like an extra limb, an extension of herself. She’s deeply curious as to what it must feel like. She supposes it’s very different to when she uses her chi glove.

“I think we’ll have to wait this one out. I don’t want Naga to get hurt.” Korra says, matter-of-factly. She’s not wrong… there’s been many nightmarish tales of horses twisting, breaking their ankles, from their neglectful rider forcing them across sodden, slippery ground.

“All right then, grab Naga, follow me.” She knows the perfect place to find shelter.

She leads them, though it’s trickier than usual with her vision blurring from the excessive rainfall. But she finds the spot soon enough. It’s a small, rocky outcrop, with a slab of stone covering a wide, flat area of dirt and moss. It’s dry beneath, dry enough to start a fire, if they can find any non-sodden wood.

Korra finds a nice spot for Naga to rest in, and they unload their bags and weapons into a neat pile on the floor. She busies herself looking for dry twigs, and branches. She finds a few, but it won’t provide a very durable fire, and if this rain lasts much longer, they’ll definitely be here for the night. Thankfully, it’s the warm season, so they’ll be okay even if they can’t get a fire going. But still, it’d be nice to have one, she thinks, as she continues to salvage scraps of timber from the floor.

“Will this do?” Korra asks, holding out a few soaking-wet logs.

“Well, it would, if they weren’t drenched.” Asami smiles up at her. Korra must be tired.

Or so she thinks, but then Korra raises an eyebrow, looks at her quizzically and sets the wood down, then with a couple of simple hand gestures, wrings the wood dry, forcing the moisture out into a small, wet, sphere.

“There we go.” Korra says, and Asami’s sure Korra’s enjoying the chance to show off as she’s handed a pile of very dry, pretty much perfect firewood.

As she retrieves it, their fingertips brush together, and it’s such a small thing, but somehow it reminds her that they’re alone, caught in the middle of a torrential downpour, nobody around for miles. She tries to ignore her sudden nervousness, and her slightly shaking hands start to put together a fire, just like her Dad taught her.

“Hey, that looks pretty good.” Korra beams at her.

“Well, thanks for the vote of confidence. Now we just need a couple of… oh.” She smiles, Korra’s already found two small, sharp rocks, bends down right next to her, and starts to chip them together. It doesn’t take long for sparks to form, and then there’s a flame, coming into life as if from nothing, eating hungrily at the surrounding oxygen. It wraps itself around the dry timber, multiplies and dazzles into a bright, warm blaze, casting shadows all around.

“Perfect.” Korra grins, as golden light flickers across her gentle face, and those lips look more inviting than ever… she’s almost drawn in, but Korra doesn’t notice, and sits down a little further away, at the opposite side of the fire.

The rain’s heavily thudding against the slab just above, streaming down it, and pouring into the ground around them in thick droplets. It’s a symphony of noise, and if she were to listen closely, she might even liken it to music. She’s sat closely by the fire, feels herself drying off already. She looks across at Korra, finding gorgeous, blue eyes staring right back, but this time with an orange flicker dancing in them. It’s… mesmerising, and her hearts thudding in her chest now, even harder than the first time that they kissed.

“I don’t think this is going to stop anytime soon… did you want me to put out a couple of sleeping mats?” Korra asks.

She blinks, the voice distracting her from her trance.

“Yes, please... it’s a good job you brought them.” She smiles.

She pulls her knees into her chest as Korra heads towards Naga. She doesn’t know why she’s this nervous… she never has been before. And besides, nothing will happen, not unless she makes a move. Korra’s just too sweet to push her on something like this, at least that’s what she hopes it is, and that’s the reason that Korra hasn’t tried to kiss her all day, like last night, and the reason Korra’s opting to sit so far away.

Korra puts down the first mat, at the opposite side of the fire.

“Where do you want yours?” Korra asks. Next to yours. Next to yours. As close to yours as possible.

“Right here is fine.” She smiles, points to where she’s sat. Damn it.

“No problem, here you go.” Korra grins, unrolls the mat just next to her, then wanders back to her own mat, still keeping the distance between them.

There’s a few minutes silence, except for the rain. Korra’s found a stick, and is staring into the fire, poking at it idly, and isn’t even looking at her anymore. It’s only then that she realises what’s really bothering her, why she’s so nervous.

“Korra… what I said last night… was it too much?” she’s been feeling afraid, worried that she’s scared Korra off with her confession.

Korra pauses in her ministrations, looks straight at her.

“No! Not at all… I just… It’s just.”

Asami shifts closer to Korra, drags her mat across, until she’s sat beside her.

“What is it? You can tell me anything… I hope you know that?”

“I do.” Korra turns to her, smiles… and there’s a slight sadness to the look, “It’s just, once I woke up, I realised that you might have said those things to make me feel better. To be nice. You’re a good person, after all.”

She blinks, dumbfounded for a second, and places her hand on Korra’s cheek. It’s warm to the touch, and Korra looks more beautiful than ever, with orange light flickering across her skin.

“You’re an idiot.” She smiles at Korra’s shocked expression, “I meant every word. You’re an amazing, kind, incredible person…” She glides her thumb across Korra’s cheek.

Korra breaths a deep sigh, and the stoic expression softens, there’s even a gentle, though perhaps nervous smile.

“I’m sorry… I know I didn’t say it last night but…” Korra’s hand slides into her strands of hair, there’s a shiver down her spine at the touch, “but… I feel the same. Ever since I’ve met you, it’s like I can’t stop thinking about you. I think... no, I know, that I’m falling in love with you.”

The sincerity of the words, the look in Korra’s eyes, it’s too much.

“Oh, Korra…” she whispers, smiling, laughing, and crying all at once, as she closes the distance between them, places her hands behind Korra’s head and kisses her, with everything that she feels, with all that she is. She can’t hear the rain anymore, can’t feel the heat from the fire. There’s nothing at all in the world, apart from Korra’s lips, kissing hers. Korra’s taste, salty, exotic. Korra’s fingers, threaded into her hair.

She loses track of time, loses count of how many times their lips meet. Korra’s being so gentle, and she feels at home, at peace. She kisses her way past Korra’s lips, across warm, flush cheeks, and down the side of Korra’s neck, where she feels a shudder at the touch of her lips, and hears a deep groan against her ear. It’s electrifying, and the next thing she knows, Korra’s lifting her, almost effortlessly, and now she’s sat atop Korra, straddling her thighs, and they’re kissing again, this time deeply, urgently. Korra’s tongue finds hers, and her heart feels like it might burst right out of her chest.

She’s never known need like this… she swirls her tongue against Korra’s, their fingers are wrapped tightly into each other’s hair, and her hips slowly dance against Korra’s abdomen, as if with a will of their own. She breaks away from the kiss only to look at Korra, and the sight takes her breath away. Dark blue, lidded eyes stare back at her, with gorgeous, flush cheeks, and lips, slightly swollen, just waiting for her to close in again. It’s not even a conscious choice anymore, her lips are pressed against Korra’s, she feels hands shift from her hair… and the next thing she knows, they’re sliding underneath her kimono, pressing against the bare flesh of her torso.

“Oh!” she gasps, taken aback by just how good it feels to finally sense Korra’s touch against her skin. It’s warm, softer than she’d expected. She wants more.

“Are you okay? Should I stop?” Korra asks, panting slightly.

“No. Definitely not.” Asami sinks her teeth into Korra’s neck to better convey her stance on the matter, and she’s delighted when Korra groans, hands sliding further around her torso, until they’re at her back.

She can feel that her Kimono’s getting slacker, and she doesn’t try to stop it from falling, sliding down her arms, until her bare chest is exposed. Korra stares at the newly-revealed flesh, and she feels nervous for a moment, until Korra speaks.

“You’re so beautiful…”

Her heart melts. How can somebody this gentle, this perfect, be with her... How can she possibly deserve this?

Her thoughts are quickly interrupted when she feels Korra’s lips against her chest, just beneath her breast. She bites her lower lip to prevent herself from inadvertently cursing, but damn, those lips feel good. And now, Korra’s tongue is gliding across the flesh there, and she clutches at the brown strands of hair in response. She feels lips kissing their way slowly up her breast, each one sending a fresh shiver though her body, and then there’s a sudden warmness engulfing her nipple, and a sharp tightness as it’s taken between Korra’s teeth.

She cries out, it feels so good… she can sense the hot breath from Korra’s mouth, as a hungry tongue rolls circles against the tip of her stiffened peak. Each touch sends her to a new dizzying height, and she’s arching her back, pulling Korra’s head tightly against her chest, gasping and writhing against the relentless lips, tongue and teeth.

Korra’s suddenly above her, palms pressed into the dirt at either side of her head. She has no idea how, or when, she fell backwards. But here she is, laying back, looking up at the most amazing person she’s ever known, into the most beautiful, pure eyes she’s ever seen.

“Asami… are… are you sure?” Korra asks, and it’s barely a whisper.

“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.” She says, smiles up at Korra, and strokes the side of her face.

Korra leans down and kisses her, slowly this time, tenderly. She slides her hands down, beneath Korra’s kimono, and feels somewhat surprised to find an absence of chest bindings. It looks like Korra’s planned ahead in more ways than one tonight… she’d allow herself to be entertained at the thought, but she’s far too distracted by just how amazing Korra’s body feels beneath her hands… and Korra’s apparently enjoying the touch too, the kiss has stopped, and Korra’s mouth is beside her ear, quiet gasps escaping as she roams the warm, inviting flesh.

She lowers her hands to Korra’s belt and tugs at the knot, which easily unravels, causing the kimono to fall apart, and exposing beautifully tan skin. She parts the Kimono further still, and her breath’s taken away… she’s never looked upon another woman in this way before, and she’s surprised at just how badly she wants to touch Korra, run her tongue across this magnificent body.

She runs her palms up the newly-exposed flesh, slowly, feeling every inch of Korra, the taut abdomen, rising and falling in time with rapid breaths, then upwards and beneath amazing, supple breasts… eventually taking their soft warmth into her hands, cupping them, at which Korra groans her name, deeply.

“Asami…”

Hearing her name spoken like that sends a shiver coursing through her entire body… she slides her palms across bronze, stiffened nipples, and bites her lower lip tightly when Korra gasps, loudly, and writhes into her touch. She firmly squeezes at the flesh, rubs her thumbs across the tips, and… it somehow feels empowering, to have someone so powerful, so amazing, quivering, moaning, and melting… just because of her touch.

She’s thinking of taking further advantage of Korra’s momentary weakness, but then there’s a low growl against her neck, teeth bite into her flesh, and now she’s the one losing control, groaning and thrusting her hips against the body above her. Korra kisses her again, hungrily, deeply… then breaks from the kiss, sits up and straddles her waist.

She watches as Korra forces the loose-hanging, blue kimono to fall off completely, revealing everything fully - waist, torso, arms and all. Firelight dances across glistening, toned flesh, and her eyes roam across Korra's perfect abdomen, shapely breasts, strong arms, and the sensual dip between waist and hips.

Holy shit… it’s such an amazing sight, it's all she can think, and it’s her last coherent thought for the night.

Korra’s hands find their way down her frame, to her own belt, which is quickly undone, and then no more words are spoken. They undress each other quickly, shedding clothing, discarding it into a pile. Then Korra’s above her again, and she wraps her legs between Korra’s, pulling her down into her frame, where Korra kisses her, deeply, and they’re groaning, sweating, growling, and writhing, skin pressed tightly against skin, Korra’s sex grinding into hers, clit brushing against clit. She can feel Korra, feel her wetness, her heat, the hardness of her bud, pressing into her own, sliding against it over and over as they rock into each other, groaning louder still.

She’s never felt anything this intense. She feels closer to Korra than she’s ever felt to anyone before, and she’s losing herself, her hips are thrusting faster, in time with Korra’s… And then, as she feels her first spasm, feels Korra shudder above her, she grasps her fingers against Korra’s firm shoulders, pulls her down, so that they can kiss again. They’re moaning into each other, and she can feel Korra’s wetness spilling over, onto her sex, and it drives her even further over the edge.

She fists her hand into Korra’s hair, cries out as she finally peaks, feeling nothing but a white-hot, burning throb spill between her legs. Her climax doubles over when Korra rocks harder against her, and she can tell that Korra’s coming too, right above her, and the raw, guttural sounds she’s hearing are enough to take her breath away.

Her spasms eventually die down, and Korra gently collapses above her, with a sigh. And there they lay, just like that, for some time. She strokes her hand through Korra’s hair, tries to calm her thumping heart. She’s never felt like this. And she suddenly wonders who she’s kidding… falling for Korra? More like, madly, deeply in love with Korra. Still, she thinks it best to keep that to herself for now. She can’t risk losing something this special.

She listens to the rain, still pounding down all around, and feels more relaxed than she has for some time. A few more minutes pass, and maybe it's from the exertion of working all day, but she’s suddenly fighting to stay awake. She wants to do more, to talk, and make love again. But, she can’t. She’s overcome with exhaustion, and she gives up the fight gladly once she feels Korra lightly snoring against her chest. She falls asleep, half-way through stroking Korra’s hair, with a loving smile upon her lips.

 

Chapter Text

When she wakes, Korra doesn’t want to open her eyes. Mornings… they’re not her favourite thing in the world, but she’ll make an exception for this one. The first thing she wonders is, was everything a dream? Did all of that really happen? She’s laying on her side, on one of the sleeping mats, and it feels like she’s cocooned inside clothing of some sort. She sniffs… instantly recognises the scent. Asami.

“Shit, ow!”

She opens her eyes, her senses starting to flood back. She’s draped in a white kimono, and as her vision clears, she can see Asami’s right there, sat by a freshly-made fire, and wearing Korra’s blue garb. It’s a fetching look… endearing. And it looks like Asami’s… cooking?

“Ow!” Asami curses again, sucks a finger into her mouth.

Korra sits up, rubs sleep from her eyes, and puts the white kimono on properly, tying it around herself to protect her modesty.

“Hey…. Are you okay?” she smiles, still not sure if she’s dreaming after all.

Asami turns to face her, jade eyes wide in surprise. It’s not a dream. The first thing she wants to do is go over there and kiss this beautiful woman, and she finds herself staring. Asami blushes, as though sensing her intentions.

“I’m more than okay. I caught us breakfast!” Asami grins, and shows her the contents of the pan. A blackened, tiny little fish lay there, clearly overcooked.

“Where did you get this?” she asks, trying not to laugh.

“There’s a lake a minute away. Since we’ve just had a storm, fish tend to get stranded on the sides.”

“Ah, so you didn’t actually catch it?” she chuckles, crawling closer to the fire, and sitting by Asami’s side.

“Well no, but I can fish, I’ll have you know. If we had the equipment.” Asami looks offended, puts on the cutest pout. It’s irresistible.

“I bet you can.” She leans forwards, cups Asami’s chin in her palm, kisses her, and as Asami drops the pan to the floor with a loud clatter, and she seeks her tongue, it’s like everything from last night floods back into her mind, instantly.  She’s already losing herself, groaning as Asami’s tongue rolls circles around hers. She feels like she could make love to this woman, all day, all night, and never grow tired of it.

“Korra… we can’t….” Asami pulls away, and the words sting a little.

“Why… why not…” she half-pants.

Asami takes her face into a warm palm, looks straight into her eyes.

“If you think for one minute I don’t want to, trust me, you couldn’t be more mistaken.” Asami growls the words, leans in, kisses her lightly on the lips, “Korra, if I could, I’d stay here for days, for weeks, with you. But we need to get back…”

She nods her head, smiles. She feels selfish that she’s a little disappointed, but Asami’s right… it’d be far too easy to stay here, get lost in one another. Asami’s a Daimyo now, and she resolves to help in any way she can, ignoring the insistent ache in her chest which is nagging her to kiss Asami again.

“You’re right… but let me cook us up something edible. Where’s this pond?” she grins, then laughs as Asami folds her arms, pouts and scowls.

“Come on Asami, look at it!” she points to the pitiful, tiny, charred fish that’s now actually stuck to the pan.

“Well, fine! Dad taught me a lot, but cooking was…” Asami pauses, and looks suddenly downcast.

“Hey, what is it?” she asks, putting her arm around Asami’s shoulders.

“… well, it was Mum’s thing.”

She can see from the remorseful look in Asami’s eyes that she shouldn’t pry, and should let Asami talk about this on her own terms, in her own time.

“Hey, it’s okay. I hope one day you tell me all about her… and we can skip breakfast if you want to get back sooner.”

“I… I will do. And there’s some sweet rice balls I packed away, it can keep us going for now. If you’re sure? I mean, I wanted to make you something special…”

She looks at Asami, looks at the pan-stuck fish, looks back to Asami and raises an eyebrow, at which Asami pretend-punches her in the shoulder, and laughs.

“Look, at least I tried… you were snoring all morning!”

“Hey, I need my beauty sleep.” She says, and also tries the pretend-pout thing she’s seen Asami do. It doesn’t work, Asami just laughs at her.

“Well, if that’s what it is…” Asami places lips against her ear, “I have to say, it’s working very well… you’re absolutely, ridiculously… beautiful.”

Her cheeks burn brightly at the compliment.

“If you don’t stop that, I can’t promise that we’ll leave any time soon.”

Asami chuckles, “Okay, okay. Let’s eat quickly, and get back.”

::

Naga sets a fantastic pace, as always.

The two-hour ride has been almost torturous, having Asami’s hands at her waist the entire time, where she’s wanted nothing more than to slow Naga, throw them both to the ground and… and…

“You’re back!” Su approaches them as they reach the holding, “I was worried, with the storm and all. Did you stay in the woods overnight?” Su seems to almost sing the words, rather than speak them.

They dismount, and head inside. The whole time, she watches as some strange, silent battle of wills ensues between Asami and Su. Asami’s staring, frowning furiously, and Su’s smirking, raising an eyebrow… and now wiggling it.

“Asami…” Su says, and there’s a sudden, wide grin on the older woman’s face.

“Yes?” Asami huffs.

Su’s face twists in to the most sinister looking smirk that Korra’s seen so far.

“You’re… wearing Korra’s kimono?”

Asami almost chokes at the words, turns a bright shade of red. And she has to admit, she’d completely forgotten about it too. She’s wearing her own hakama, but still very much in the white kimono that she woke up in, the one that smells of Asami. The one that she doesn’t want to take off.

“Well! I… I need to go and create the salve. F-From the herbs. That we gathered.” Asami fumes, stutters, whilst Su appears to try to hold back tears of laughter.

“Where do you make it?” Korra asks, trying to change the subject, quickly

“Oh don’t you think you can wriggle out this either, Korra.” Su turns to look at her, “I’ll have you know that I am a sworn protector to Lady Sato, Daimyo of our estate, and I’ve got my eye on you.”

“What… but!” she protests, and then Su loses it, cracks out laughing, turning more than a few heads inside the shelter.

“Oh you two! Come on now… I’m happy for you. I am.”

She whispers loudly into Korra’s ear, “And it’s about time she got laid, honestly…”

“I HEARD THAT, SU.” Asami actually does look furious now, and even Korra’s scared.

Su holds her hands up, takes Naga’s reigns, backs off and retreats into the shelter, loudly chuckling the whole time. It’s quite infectious, and Korra has to hold back laughter herself.

“Korra. Don’t encourage her.” Asami gives her an almost threatening sideways glance. She isn’t sure whether she should be scared, or aroused, but she’s feeling a mixture of both.

“Anyway, don’t you need to make your herby stuff?” She asks, forming a sincere smile in an attempt to dissolve Asami’s embarrassment, and the angry woman’s face does soften, much to her relief.

“Okay, but I want to get cleaned up first… and we should probably… erm, re-exchange clothing.” Asami blushes at the words, and Korra can’t help herself, she’s drawn in, placing a kiss upon Asami’s lips without a moment’s hesitation. She threads her fingers into Asami’s soft, velvety hair, enjoys the taste of her lips, and her scent. It’s like being in a different world, if only for a few precious moments.

When she eventually pulls away from the kiss, she can see they’ve definitely caught the attention of a few villagers, most of whom are smiling, or grinning, and Asami’s blushing furiously now.

“Ah, sorry… I,”

She’s interrupted mid-sentence as Asami grabs her hand, and drags her toward the washrooms. She’s about to break away, head to a separate stall, but Asami glares at her, drags her into the same one, closes the door.

It’s not very private, there’s a gap beneath the thin, wooden slats which separate the stalls, and the door feels like it could fall down if so much as an elbow presses against it.

“Asami, I’m so sorry, I…” she says, in as quiet a voice as she can manage.

“It’s fine,” Asami smiles, “They would have found out by the end of the day knowing Su, anyway.”

She breathes a huge sigh of relief. She’s never really felt this way before, had someone pull her in, make her do stuff without realising she’s doing it. And it’s happening all over again, right now, because Asami’s looking at her with a lop-sided smile, turning around, and stripping, slowly, right in front of her.

She’s drawn in again, entranced by the pale-ivory beauty before her. She’s stood right behind Asami now, not even sure how she got there, and she’s sliding her hands across the inviting, soft skin, across Asami’s abdomen, beneath the swell of her chest, and she can feel Asami’s throat making a low rumble, like a purr.

She slides her hands up further, cupping beautiful, soft breasts into her hands, and Asami’s pressing backwards, into her frame, against her, like some sort of sensual, cream-skinned goddess. She can see flush, bright red cheeks, but there’s barely any sound other than light, almost silent gasps, escaping those delicious lips.

“Aren’t we supposed to be getting clean?” she growls, quietly, into Asami’s ear.

She’s surprised at her own words. She’s never been this flirtatious before, since she’s never really seen the need, nor felt the desire.

“All I did was get undressed, ready to wash. You’re the one who’s taking matters into her own hands.” Asami whispers. She chuckles at the choice of words, and can detect a hint of amusement in Asami’s tone, too.

She extends her thumbs upwards, rolling them across pink, stiff tips, delighting when she feels Asami quiver at her touch, then moves her lips against the side of Asami’s exposed neck, and starts to lightly scrape her teeth against the tender flesh…

There’s a knock at the door.

“Miss Sato?”

She freezes, desperately hoping that the door doesn’t open when she’s stood here, like this, with Asami’s brea…

“I’ll out in a few minutes, Han.” Asami’s voice sounds firm, though a little shaky.

“That’s okay. Mum wanted me to tell you we’re cleaning up the place today, and…” the boy seems to pause, as though suddenly nervous.

“What is it?”

“Su told me to tell you, we can see your feet, and Korra’s. Anyway, bye!” he rushes the words, then seems to make a hasty retreat.

She grits her teeth, looks down. Sure enough, the walls really don’t go down that far, and her feet are interlocked with Asami’s, both facing towards the washtub. She feels Asami’s chest shudder, and then there’s a burst of laughter.

“I’m going to kill her!”

She loosens her grip, feeling a pang of loss as Asami leaves her embrace and sets about getting washed, laughing almost the whole time. She’s soon enjoying the spectacle, watching warm, soapy water run across Asami’s smooth curves, and she’s sure that Asami’s deliberately making it look more sensual, somehow.

“Are you just going to stare, or get clean?” Asami’s facing her, and she blinks away her daze.

She’s blushing, suddenly nervous, looking away without really knowing why.

“Well, can I at least have my clothes back?” Asami chuckles.

“Uh, sure…”

She removes the white kimono with some reluctance, hands it over, tries to ignore the fact that Asami’s staring at her now-exposed chest whilst drying off and getting dressed.

“You really shouldn’t be modest,” Asami whispers in a half growl, placing a fingertip against her torso, drawing idle circles, “after all, you do have the most amazing body I’ve ever seen...”

The words dissolve her shyness, and she’s suddenly fighting back the urge to grab Asami’s wrist and demand her touch right there and then.

Asami coughs, she assumes it’s an attempt to fend off similar thoughts.

“I’m going to the mansion to get started on the medicine, would you mind helping Su for a while today?”

“No problem.” She smiles, though a big part of her wishes she could help Asami instead. Then again, the salve would likely never be prepared that way, and she’s guessing that’s why Asami’s made this request.

“But… stop by for lunch, if you want?” Asami raises an eyebrow whilst asking.

“I will.” She grins as Asami pecks her on the lips, then leaves, closing the door behind. She’s giddy at the notion that they’ll soon meet up again.

::

By the time she gets to the north-east square, fending off the desire to head to the mansion with practically every step, she’s surprised at just how much progress has been made. There’s a blur of activity, dozens of villagers hammering, shouting, throwing themselves into their work. She spots Su, waving at her from the front of a partially-constructed house.

“Hello, Korra. You’re not with Asami?”

“She told me to help out here, she’s at the mansion.”

“Ahhh, splitting up, because she can’t keep her hands to herself, I bet.” Su smirks.

“Uh…”

“Or is it you that can’t? Hmmm?” Su raises an eyebrow, and she can feel herself blushing.

“That’s not…”

“Oh come now, I’m only teasing.” Su grins, “Can you help us finish this one? We’re almost done.”

She walks inside, and studies the home. They’re doing a good job, it’s a solid build, and made from a high-quality timber.

“Hmm, we should probably put another beam up here…” she says, running her finger in a line, pointing out a potential weakness in the centre of the ceiling.

“So you’re pretty experienced in this, then?” Su looks surprised.

“Yeah, like I said, I’ve done construction work… mainly in Laita.”

“Oh, to the north? I’ve been there, Lin and I were both impressed by the quality of the homes…”

“Well, it wasn’t just me…” she scratches a hand at the back of her neck.

“Are you this modest with everything?”

“Hah! Erm… no comment.” she’s wondering if Su actually does have a one-track mind.

They set to work, going about it in relative silence and focusing on the task. One of the villagers cuts a beam to her precise measurements whilst they finish putting up the rest of the frame. She helps Su to slide wooden slates into position, nailing them in place to form the last wall at the rear of the house, and then holds up the new beam whilst a couple of villagers secure it into place.

“You’re absurdly strong,” Su says, watching her, “it’d usually take at least two people to hold something like that up…”

“I try to train every day. It’s nice being able to do this. I’ve… missed my workouts.” She smiles back at the older woman, and then as the beam’s finished, she releases it from her grip and swipes her palms together, dusting off dry flakes of timber.

“You’ve been a great help… we finished this one a lot quicker than I expected.”

She locks her fingers together, stretches her palms outwards, and backwards, cracking a few knuckles.

“Well, where next?” she grins.

“There’s a couple more to finish off, then we’re all done here. I think we’ll be finished before lunch at this rate,” Su says, and looks thoughtful for a moment, “But Korra, let’s take a five minute break, I need to talk to you.”

“Oh…?” she’s hesitant, but follows the suddenly very-serious looking woman to a couple of thick tree stumps, which they sit on.

“Korra, I’ll get straight to the point. I know a lot about your past, and your time under the Empress.”

She sucks air into her teeth, now very concerned at where this might be going.

“Don’t worry, I’m not here to judge, not without knowing the full story, and especially not when I know Asami’s heard it, and yet you’re still here.”

She exhales the breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

“Do you know that the empress is still looking for you? I have some… let’s say, contacts. I’m doing my best to keep you hidden, draw their scent away. I’ve even had decoys appear in remote places.”

She digests this for a few moments, wondering just who Su really is.

“Do you think I should leave? I don’t want to bring trouble here.” She asks the words, with an ache in her heart at the implications.

“No. I’ve got you covered, for now. And Asami needs you…”

She looks up, meets Su’s deep, green gaze.

“I think, maybe… I need her more.” She says, with a deep sigh. It’s true though, and she isn’t sure when it happened, but she can’t stand the thought of them being apart, and especially not the thought of leaving here, leaving Asami.

“Well that’s a relief… I was going to ask if your intentions were sincere. I can see that our young Daimyo is falling… pretty hard.”

She grins at the words, despite herself. Su sounds a deep sigh, and there’s a few moments before more words are spoken.

“Korra… I’ll soon have to fill Asami in on a few things, she’ll end up involved in something she’s had the luxury of being ignorant to, so far.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a lot happening in the world right now. And… I only need to know one thing. Are you against the Empire?”

She frowns, considers the words for a moment.

“I’m against the Empress. The Empire itself… they’re just people. And most of them are being controlled, manipulated. As I was.”

“And if the only way to stop her, is to turn your blade on them?”

Her heart sinks in her chest. She’s never killed for any purpose other than servitude, or in defence of herself or others. She’s always refused assassination contracts. Knowingly striking a person down, to get to a bigger menace… the very idea turns her stomach.

“Think on it a while, but know this… the Empress is losing her mind. Nowhere is safe. Not even here. Not you, nor me, and nor Asami.”

She clenches her fists at the thought.

“Okay, that’s enough, for now. I’m planning on speaking to Lady Sato tomorrow, meaning you have her all to yourself once we finish up here today.” There’s a smirk on Su’s lips, and Korra’s almost dizzy from the sudden change of topic.

She finds herself working faster, and harder than she has for a long time. The whole time, she’s thinking on Su’s words, and what she’ll do if they’re true. She’s never acted upon her hatred for the Empress, since she’s already got enough innocent blood on her hands. But one thing she’s fairly certain about is that if it’s to protect Asami, or any of her loved ones, she’ll fight with each fibre of her very being.

 

 

Chapter Text

Asami twists the rope into a knot and seals the lid closed on the last pot. She’s managed to make five in total, one more than expected. She turns to face Han, who’s been waiting patiently for the past half hour.

“All done… sorry for the delay,” she says. Han smiles, and opens up a satchel for her to place the jars into.

“Thanks, miss Sato. Wing will love you for this!”

“You mean he doesn’t already?” she pretend-pouts.

Han laughs, “We all do, and you know it.”

She ruffles his hair, and he heads outside to deliver the freshly prepared medicine.

She carefully removes her gloves, and disposes of them. She’s feeling weary, and she could definitely use a hot bath, so she heads towards the bathroom to see what state it’s in. Thankfully, it seems to have been cleaned, just like the rest of the mansion. Su must have had someone deal with it whilst she was away.

She places her fingertips into the waters, finding them pleasantly warm, and pretty much ideal for a nice, long soak. Her robes fall to the floor, and she strips fully before stepping into the bath. It’s more like a small pool, really… her father had insisted that they install a large bath, it’s one of the few luxuries he’d wanted as a Daimyo, which is why her mother had gone along with the idea.

She steps down into the deeper area of the pool, sits on a step, leans back and rests her head on the tiles behind. She’s soon fully relaxed, her thighs float upwards, and her toes to stick out of the surface of the water.

She thinks about last night. It’s honestly hard to coherently remember certain parts, but the pleasure, the excitement, and the love, they all feel just as real now as they did back then. And then there’d been the washroom, though she admits to herself it’s probably a good job that they were interrupted. Still, teasing Korra like that, stripping in front of her, and it having the exact effect that she’d wanted…

Asami smiles to herself, closes her eyes and feels almost tempted to place a hand between her legs. She bites her lip, thinking that she’d rather wait for Korra… if Su ever lets her leave, that is.

::

Korra hops up the stairs towards the Sato mansion, careful not to drop the two rice bowls she’s carrying. She’s feeling giddy, an almost child-like excitement buzzing around in her belly, as she raises her knuckles to the door and firmly knocks.

There’s no answer. She waits patiently, then knocks again, a little louder. She begins to wonder if Asami has left, or if she’s inside, and in some kind of trouble. Though she knows it’s rude to barge in, she slowly prises open the door. There’s no sign of an intrusion… she considers turning around to leave, but somehow curiosity gets the better of her, and she roams around the hallway.

The house looks completely different to the time she’d had to run through the halls, desperate to find Asami, to save her. It’s tidy, clean, and you’d think nothing bad had ever happened at all unless you knew better. Scrolls adorn the walls, some with the Sato family name scrawled in perfect calligraphy, and others with pictures of dragons and samurai warriors. There’s a scent of jasmine in the air, and as she roams further into the house she starts to hear a faint humming.

She heads towards the noise, a smile rising to her lips as she recognises the voice. It’s a delightful sound, though she doesn’t recognise the wordless tune. It grows louder still, and she gasps as she walks past the next open partition, seeing a large bath, and a very naked Asami leant back, eyes closed. She considers leaving, quietly, when Aasmi opens one eye and smirks at her.

“I was starting to think you’d never show up…” Asami says, throatily.

“I uh…” she looks away, worried that she shouldn’t stare at the beauty before her.

“Korra… You can look at me…” Asami says, sounding jovial.

She turns to face the other woman, who’s now leant over the side of the pool, arms folded, chin rested upon the arms, and a very amused expression upon curved lips.

There’s a short silence, as though Asami’s waiting for her to speak. She notices the green eyes glance towards the bowls that she’d almost forgotten about.

“I brought lunch.” She says, trying to take her mind off just how badly she wants to be in that pool right about now.

“Great. I’m really hungry… let’s eat here.” Asami says.

“In the bathroom?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.

“No, in the bath.” Asami says, biting the corner of her lip.

“I uh… isn’t that a bit…”

“Uncouth?”

“Well, yeah… I mean, you’re…”

“A Daimyo. Yes. But I’m also hungry, and besides… I want you in here, now.”

Her eyes widen at the bold demand, but she certainly isn’t about to refuse. She places the bowls upon the tiled floor by the side of the waters, and starts to undress, extremely aware that jade eyes are monitoring her every move. She covers herself up with her hands, feeling awfully exposed as she meets Asami’s gaze.

“I never imagined you’d be the shy type…” Asami purrs, “Are you going to stand there all day, or get in? The water’s lovely…”

Now that she thinks about it, she’s never really stood naked in front of anyone. It’s a new experience, and whilst she trusts Asami, she can’t help her nervousness. Not wearing a daisho, being unarmed, is one thing, but this is a whole new level.

“Korra… if I’m making you uncomfortable you can stay out there, and get dressed…” Asami says softly, having clearly picked up on her awkwardness.

She shakes her head and smiles, then steps into the water. Asami wasn’t kidding, it’s warm, almost silky soft on her skin. She moves further into the bath, grumbling in approval as her skin is surrounded by the enticing waters. She sits next to Asami on the step, and smiles as Asami grabs a bowl and chopsticks, then starts to eat with elbows over the edge of the pool.

“What?” Asami glares at her, “I’m starving!”

“Yeah… me too,” she chuckles, joining the other woman for their pool-side lunch.

“So, what did Su make you do today?” Asami asks after emptying the first mouthfull of food.

“Build houses, and stuff…”

“Stuff?”

She pauses mid-chew, wondering how much information she should divulge. Then again, Asami’s the last person on earth she’d knowingly hide something from. She finishes chewing, swallows, and sighs.

“We had a little chat…”

She fills Asami in on the specifics. How she’s still hunted, how Su’s been helping despite knowing her background.  

“That’s typical of Su…” Asami says, smiling.

“Yeah. But that’s not all she told me…”

“No?” Asami looks into her eyes.

“It sounds like something big is going on, something to do with the Empire. She’s going to be talking to you about it soon…”

Asami sighs, stops eating.

“I’ve always known there’s more to Su… to the Beifongs, than I’ve been told about…”

“Really?”

“Yes. I overheard things when Su spoke with my father late at night. I’m pretty sure there’s a rebellion starting… though I’ve been kept out of it, so far.”

“I think that’s all about to change…” Korra sighs.

“Well, how about for now, we enjoy our meal, and worry about it in the morning?”

“The morning? But it’s only mid-“ she pauses at the sight of Asami’s playful smirk, “… oh. Okay.”

They eat the rest of their food in silence, though Korra’s finding it suddenly hard to swallow, and even harder to not gaze upon the amazing body and beautiful face beside her.

::

“Lord Zuko,” the man bows before him, then meets his gaze, and Zuko’s sure he’s never seen such honest, blue eyes before.

“Stand, please. I have heard your request. And I shall allow it, so long as you swear fealty to me.”

“Of course, my Lord…” the man smiles sincerely.

He feels like he can trust this man, and may call upon his assistance, soon.

“Then I grant you the title of Daimyo. May your lands prosper, and your people live in happiness.”

“Thank you, General.” the man bows again, and takes his leave.

Zuko sighs, presses his fingers together, and stretches them out in wide arcs. He feels a familiar hand warm his shoulder, and smiles.

“I think he’d definitely join us.”

The voice belongs to his beloved daughter, his pride and joy, Izumi. He tilts his head back to look up at her, finds that her eyes are sharp, as always, watching their recent guest leave their abode, blue robes a harsh contrast to their golden and red decor.

“Izumi… be careful where you speak of such things,” he warns, though he’s perhaps being over-cautious.

“I just… I think he’d help. You should invite him to the next meeting.”

“So soon!?”

“Yes. Consider it one of my gut feelings.” She smiles.

He’s learnt to trust her judgement. She has what seems like a sixth sense when it comes to gauging the true measure of a man, or a woman.

“So be it. Send word to our council, we meet in one week’s time, at the usual place. And if you truly believe it wise, invite our new Daimyo, too.”

Izumi grins at him, then raises an eyebrow, glaring into his bronze eyes with her own.

“Speaking of new Daimyo’s… will you be speaking to Lady Sato soon?”

He closes his eyes, entwines his fingers, and feels a strong pang of sadness. Hiroshi had been a good man, a close friend. If his daughter shares any of his traits, she’ll surely make a fine ruler, and a worthy councilwoman.

“Better still, send Huan… tell him to inform Suyin that I wish for Asami Sato to be at the next meet.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. We will need her cooperation… hopefully, she will understand, as Hiroshi did.”

::

Korra groans as she feels Asami’s lips gently nibble her neck, and then teeth not-so-gently clasp her skin. She backs up against the body behind her, feeling the warmth, feeling Asami’s arms envelop her as hungry lips continue their pursuit at her neck, and her shoulders…

She moans as her breast is suddenly captured in a soft, ivory hand, fingers parted around her taut nipple, slowly closing together, and squeezing, sending pulses of pleasure through her.

“Asami…” she whispers the name, acutely aware that the waters around them are starting to swell, to move as if with a mind of their own.

She hears a quiet chuckle, then Asami speaks.

“Perhaps we should move to my room, in case you accidentally drown us?”

She opens her eyes, and gasps when she finds that water is swirling around them. She shakes her head, regains focus… the waters fall back into the bath, and eventually calm to their natural stillness.

“S… Sorry…” she mutters, feeling furiously embarrassed.

“Don’t you dare apologise,” Asami says, placing a hand under her chin, raising it to the side so that their gazes meet, “follow me…”

She nods mutely, gets out of the bath, takes the towel that’s thrown towards her, and dries herself quickly whilst watching Asami do the same. She allows her hand to be taken, and is led through the mansion, to the far end of the hall.

The partition there is swept open, and Asami turns to face her briefly, eyes a darker green than usual, she thinks… or maybe it’s a trick of the light. The room is gorgeous, and yet somehow modest for a Daimyo’s daughter. There’s very few ornaments, instead there’s paintings of family and friends, all smiling. It’s cosy, warm.

Her thoughts are distracted when Asami pulls her into an embrace, smiles at her and closes in for another kiss… it’s electric, addictive…. the feel of those lips. She can’t get enough of it, and before she knows what’s happening, she’s laid back on Asami’s bed, straddled at the hips by the naked beauty, her own towel parting, and falling away, until they’re touching skin against skin. It’s her new favourite feeling, it seems.

She bites her lip, clenches her fingers into the sheets at her sides and barely stifles her low, rumbling groans as Asami’s fingers trail painstakingly slow circles around her flesh, up and down her torso, nails glancing across her abdomen and beneath her breasts. She’s never been touched or teased in this manner before, and her whole body is writhing at the sensation, sharp judders trembling up her spine, and an obvious wetness forming between her thighs. 

She feels Asami’s thighs slide lower then straddle her leg, and flickers open her eyes to see a mouth mere inches away from her torso. Green, intent eyes bore into hers… a second later there’s a sudden warm, wet sensation against her breast, her nipple clasped between Asami’s hot lips, and this time she can’t hold back her gasps of pleasure, nor prevent her torso arcing up, desperately seeking more of the heated thrill. She feels a sudden, tight pressure against her peak, a gentle bite, causing another wave of pleasure to flood through her…

She moves her hands behind Asami’s back, pulling herself against the ivory torso, folding her fingers into raven black hair, fisting and tugging at the strands whilst sucking air between her teeth, and she can feel a damp slickness forming against her thigh, where Asami’s rocking herself.

And then, whilst her breast suffers constant torment, she feels Asami’s fingertips trail down her body, this time lower… lower still, until they’re at her inner thigh, dancing in small circles, and all she can think about is how badly she wants to be touched between her legs, the deep throb already too much to bear as her nipple continues to be tortured, teased, sucked at.

“A…. Ah… please…” she’s almost incoherently whispering her desires… this is definitely new to her... and not in a bad way.

“Hmmm?” Asami growls, the words vibrating against her sensitive breast, and fingertips moving closer to her centre, where she’s now desperate for the gap to be closed…

“Touch me…” she says, in a hoarse whisper. There’s the briefest of moments where she realises what she’s just said, and she feels a deep flush of embarrassment  pry its way into her mind… but then it’s pushed away, obliterated, when she feels a heavy friction press into her bud for the first time… is touched for the first time… touched, by Asami…

oh… fuck.” She whispers.

Her head tilts back and her jaw opens, making wordless sounds, as she feels Asami’s fingertip circle around her hardened sex,  and she cries out when the same finger ever so slightly dips lower, entering her wetness and then returning to it’s relentless, spiralling pursuit, albeit this time damp with her own juices.

“Korra…” she hears Asami whisper her name, feels the grinding against her thigh increase in momentum, and as Asami’s dampness starts to spill over her leg, Korra loses herself completely.

The steady throbs from Asami’s touch merge into a single bright, warm, almost electric sensation… she thrusts her hips faster, gasping… the first tremors hit, and she’s dryly panting fragments of Asami’s name - it’s not a conscious or intentional act - her body is moving, talking, acting of its own accord. She feels Asami’s wet fingertips speed up, apply more pressure, meet her demands, circling over and over against her clit… then finally, the first pulse hits. She cries out, clenches her fists into the hair she’s holding onto, rocks herself into Asami’s fingers over and over, pushes her leg firmly between Asami’s wetness, and feels her inner walls clench almost painfully as her clit pulses with wave after wave of pure, blissful pleasure.

“Asami…” She groans the name, grits her teeth, and rides out the rest of her climax… Asami’s thighs are clenched tightly around her leg, wetness is spilling out, and Asami’s calling her name, too…

She falls back to reality quickly, pulling herself upwards, into Asami’s chest, panting, held in a close embrace… Then they fall back into the bed sheets together, and she opens her eyes, finding a rather contented-looking Daimyo staring right back at her, with half-lidded eyes.

“Well, that was something else…” Asami says, with a dry throat.

“Tell me about it.”

They lay in each other’s arms for some time, gently caressing one another, exchanging sly, playful, perhaps even bashful glances.

Eventually, Asami stands, grabs a jug, pours a cup of water, and drinks the whole thing.

“Want some?” Asami asks.

“Yes please…” She’s parched, and quickly finishes her cup, too.

Asami returns to the bed, falls back into her embrace. She slides her fingers into the soft, black hair, gently caressing Asami’s scalp.

“We still have quite some time until nightfall.” Asami says, and looks at her with an almost sinister smirk upon those gorgeous lips.

“Oh, do we now?” Korra chuckles, pulling Asami’s lips towards hers again.

::

They make love over and over, pausing only for conversation, to embrace, or to rest. Eventually, they lay collapsed, spent in one another’s arms, sheets tangled in a messy heap all around.

Korra lays back, and passes out, falling asleep with a contented smile on her lips.

 

Chapter Text

Su wakes up, instinctively turns to her side, and strokes her palm up and down the cold, empty bedsheet beside her. It’s been twenty years, but it still feels like yesterday.

I miss him… she sighs, a tear escaping her eye, as it has every morning before. She hugs a pillow to her chest, in a futile attempt to stop the ache forming there.

“Baatar…” she whispers the name. She’d loved him so much, that she’d even named their first son after him, despite her husband’s protests.

She sighs again, more deeply this time. At least Bataar Junior’s still alive, though it could be under better circumstances. She clenches her teeth. If only things had been different… if only…

Her thoughts are interrupted by a loud knock at her door.

“Hey sis, you awake?” It’s Lin.

“Yeah… come in…” she says, sleepily tossing the pillow aside, and quickly drying her eyes.

Lin takes one look at her, and smiles softly.

“He’s in a better place now, you know that, right?”

She nods. It’s the same thing Lin’s said many times before. She supposes her sister’s right, especially with the way things are going... and it’s only going to get worse.

“Anyway, good news. Huan’s here.”

Her mood brighten at the words and she grins, despite the fact Huan being here means there’s business with Shogun Zuko, “I’ll get ready now, tell him I’ll be five minutes.”

She quickly changes into her preferred garb – a forest green kimono and black hakama, then she tidies her hair into a knot, and dashes downstairs. Cleaning up can wait… she’s excited to see one of her sons, especially when it’s been over two months since she last saw him.

“Huan!” she exclaims, bringing him into a tight squeeze and kissing him on the cheek.

“Ugh, mother!” he says, grimacing. She’s always strangely loved the aloofness he’s adopted, especially when she knows it’s just an act.

“How’s my boy been? Is Lord Zuko treating you well?” she asks, leaning over and fluffing his overgrown hair.

She sits opposite to him on the table. Lin’s thoughtfully set out some tea, and she pours a cup, then hands it to her son.

“Everything’s been great. He’s been like a…”

There’s an awkward silence. Su coughs, “It’s okay, you can say it, son.”

“… Like a father.”

She smiles. Huan acts as a messenger for Lord Zuko, a role he’d insisted on taking when he was just fourteen, and had been spying on her secret meetings with Hiroshi.  He’s her second eldest, he’s sharp-minded, fast on his feet, and she loves him dearly.

“I heard about Hiroshi. Lord Zuko sends his condolences,” Huan says, quickly changing the subject.

She smiles sadly, nods, and takes a sip of her hot tea.

“If I know Zuko, there’s a bigger reason you’re here…. News of the Empire?” she asks.

“Yes. But… Zuko would like to involve Miss Sato, going forwards.”

“I understand. Let’s head to the mansion.”

Can’t put it off any longer, I guess. She sighs at the thought, wishing that they all lived in a different time, wishing that she didn’t have to burden the young Daimyo, so soon after their tragedy.

::

Asami cracks open an eye, slowly, and smiles as soon as she spots Korra. Naked. And somehow completely upside down on the bed, arms sprawled out, snoring. There’s a foot near her face, and she can’t help herself… she grabs onto Korra’s calf and relentlessly tickles said foot. Not everyone’s ticklish. But it turns out, Korra is.

The snoring samurai rouses with a start, tries to yank her foot from its captivity, fails.

“Snrrrt… What? Asami! Haha… no!”

Korra wriggles excessively, but she doesn’t let go, carries on the torment.

“hahahah! S… stop it!” Korra snorts, it’s a delightful sound. But then there’s a pillow headed straight for Asami’s face, and it hits her square in the nose.

“Why you little!”

She grabs her own weapon of fluffy destruction and yanks it at Korra, but her attack is parried by an equally formidable pillow of doom. She tries again, this time leaning into her mighty pillow thrust, but loses her balance and falls atop Korra, and into the pillow at her chest.

Once she’s managed to stop herself from giggling, she looks up at Korra, and slowly shifts onto her hands, so that she’s above the other woman.

“Good morning.” She grins.

“Yeah… it is.” Korra smiles up at her, and brushes a few loose strands of hair behind her ear.

Just when she’s thinking of kissing the gorgeous woman beneath her, there’s a firm knock at Asami’s door.

“One minute!” she shouts, scurrying around the room to grab her robe whilst Korra dives under the bedsheets.

“It’s okay, it’s only me…” the voice is muffled, but she recognises Su’s voice.

“Okay, come in.”

The door swings open, and Su’s stood there with a somewhat grim expression. There’s a young man behind her, who she doesn’t recognise. She raises an eyebrow quizzically as they walk into the room.

“I assume the not-so-hidden mound on your bed is Korra?” Su asks, folding her arms, her expression rapidly shifting to one of amusement.

Korra pops her head from out the bottom of the covers, scowling, and Asami bursts out laughing.

“Well, I hope you got some sleep last night”, Su rolls her eyes.

Asami looks again at the man behind Su. He’s tall, skinny, and has a peculiarly long fringe with a pink streak. Then she gasps as she looks him in the eye, realises who he is.

“Huan!? I thought you were…”

“Dead?” he says, matter-of-factly, “No, it’s… complicated. I missed you, Asami.”

She smiles, there’s a sudden dampness under her eyes. She’d played with Huan so much when they were children, then, when he’d turned fourteen, he’d vanished. Nobody had told her the specifics, but there’d been a funeral. She’d been devastated at the time.

 “There’s a lot you don’t know…” Su says, and looks straight into her eyes, “It’s why we’re here. Can we have a meeting, when you’re ready?”

“Of course.” She’s taken aback by the sudden request, and there’s a million questions about Huan swarming through her mind, but after what Korra told her last night, she knew this was coming. She’s feeling a mix of curiosity and dread, wondering what the day will bring. Wondering what the future will bring.

“Good. I’ll put some tea on. Oh, and Korra?” Su shifts her gaze towards the bed.

“Mmf?” the half-asleep ronin mumbles.

“I don’t know if you gave any thought to my words, but you should only join us if you’re on board.”

The bedroom door closes after the words, and Asami’s alone with Korra again.

“What was all that about?” she asks.

Korra pulls the blanket back, sits cross-legged.

“She asked me if I’d fight the empire.”

“What did you say?”

“I said I’d fight the Empress. I don’t like hurting innocent people.”

“I… understand. I don’t know what I’m being dragged into yet, but you know you don’t have to get involved, right? I mean, you can leave. I’d understand.”

Korra stands up, pulls her into a firm embrace.

“I’m not going anywhere. Let’s see what Su has to say, take it from there.”

She feels a wave of relief wash through her, though she’s also feeling a little selfish from wanting Korra to stay so badly.

::

Su nods politely as Asami enters the room, and feels somewhat relieved that Korra’s in tow behind. They could certainly use an ally like her, after all.

Once everyone’s seated, she pours the freshly brewed tea.

“Asami, there’s no easy or gentle way for me to bring you up to speed. So let me start by being blunt.”

She looks around the room, paranoia tingling the back of her mind. She’s certain they’re alone, just Huan, Asami, Korra and herself.

“We’re going to war with the Empire.”

There’s a sudden chill in the room. Korra’s reached for a sword that’s not even at her side, probably involuntarily. Asami’s staring, wide-eyed.

“We? Who’s we?” Asami speaks, slowly. If Su knows her any better, that clever little brain of hers is already trying to work everything out.

“Asami…” Su reaches her hand out, grasps Asami’s pale palm, “It’s a long story. Want me to start from the beginning?”

 “Yes, please…” Asami frees her hand to take a cup of tea, sips on it with a shaking hand.

“Well. I should probably start by telling you that my late husband, Bataar, was shogun of the west,” she ignores the shocked expressions from both Korra and Asami, “It was around twenty years ago. We were happy. We served the Empress. But it all went to hell when Hou-Ting descended into madness…”

::

Su wakes up, smiles. She’s nestled in the embrace of her husband, and she’s soon thinking of last night, and how unusually gentle Bataar was… it’s been sixteen years of marriage, but somehow he still finds a way to surprise her every so often. She’s soon feeling aroused all over again, and runs her hand across his bare torso.

He smiles, opens one eye. He places a hand upon hers, and then lowers it, running it across her abdomen, where a small bump’s started to show.

“Think I’ll get a daughter this time?” he asks, chuckling.

“Probably not. But if we do, I thought of a name,” she says, smiling.

“Oh?” He props himself up on one pillow, “Do tell. I’m intrigued.”

“Opal,” she says, nudging her nose against his, finding his sweet kiss.

“I like it.” He mutters against her lips, sending a shiver down her spine.

They’re interrupted by a loud knock.

“Shogun… forgive me for interrupting. It’s important.”

Sounds like Moshu, one of Bataar’s oldest, and most loyal servants. There’s a nervous twinge to his voice which puts Su on edge at once.

“Give us a few minutes, Moshu.” Bataar calls.

Su’s struck with a sinking feeling in her chest, and protectively clutches a hand to her belly, above their unborn child.

“Honey, you don’t think…”

“Shh, it’s fine. I’ll deal with it. Stay here and… well, you know the plan. Just in case.”

“But…”

“It’s just in case, remember. Please.” Bataar smiles softly at her, and she nods, closes her eyes and tries to quell her fears as he paces around the room, quickly changes, and leaves, closing the door after taking a final glance towards her.

She knew it was a bad idea, though she’d agreed with her husband completely all the same. The Empress had gone too far.  Providing animals for experimentation was one thing – but experimenting on their soldiers and their people experimental drugs? They’d refused, and the Empress had been unusually quiet since then, the thought of which still scares her.

She lies back on the bed, her warm palm still resting on her abdomen… she’s still tired. Perhaps it’s from the lack of sleep last night, or perhaps it’s because she’s carrying a child.

She soon falls into a light slumber.

--

She’s flung from her sleep by the sound of the door being barged open, Bataar’s stood there, pale faced, and panting. There’s a crimson stain beneath his belly, which he’s holding onto.

“Get up! We need to get the kids!” he pants, as Lin turns up just behind him, a grimace on her face, blood glistening down her cheek.

“What happened?” she yells, rushing to Bataar, rushing to check his wound.

“Honey, please… there’s no time!” he pants, puts a palm to her face, his breath ragged. It’s only then that she notices the loud ruckus outside, a symphony of people yelling, screaming.

“Come on sis, we need to get the kids out of here. I’ve got the wagon ready.” Lin says, wiping blood from her eye and wrapping a bandage around her wound.

She snaps to her senses. The plan. They’d discussed it merely as a backup, they hadn’t believed that the Empress would really go this far… would turn on them. But evidently, they were mistaken. It’s simple, really. If they were to be overthrown, get the kids out. Have a pack of supplies ready at all times, and just. Get. Out.

She rushes to their dresser, pulls out the large emergency satchel, and lifts it to her back.

“Okay, let’s go. We need to fix you up.” She says to her husband, then takes his hand as the three rush to the children’s room.

Huan’s clutching a blanket to his chest on the bed, and Bataar Jr. is pacing around the room, gathering supplies. He’s always been such a smart kid. Kuvira’s here too, and though they’re young, she’s allowed them to date for some time. Kuvira’s been around the house so much since then that she’s been like a daughter, and Su’s always treated her as such.

“We need to go.” She says to them, and Huan nods, runs over, taking her hand. She ruffles a hand through his hair, trying to reassure the young boy. Lin scoops up her babies, Wing and Wei. They’re bawling their eyes out, but it soon stops as their aunt rocks them, hums to them. Lin always did have a way with the twins.

Kuvira and Bataar stay still, looking silently at each other.

“Come on!” Su says again. Bataar Jr. turns to face her, his face solemn.

“We’re staying. We’ll turn ourselves in.” He says, taking Kuvira’s hand.

“You’re what? Have you forgotten that she’s a madwoman now?”

“Mother… you’ll need someone on the inside. I’m old enough. Let me be your eyes.”

Her mouth falls slack. He’s grown up so quickly, and his stare is intent, adamant. She wishes he’d been just a bit younger… he wouldn’t have gotten involved in any of this. He’d be safe.

“But… you’re my son!” she says, tears forming.

“Honey, he’s a man now. And… this could be useful…” Bataar says, his voice sounding quieter than ever. She notices with alarm that the crimson stain on his chest has grown, and his pale green shirt is soaked with blood. She doesn’t have time to think, to argue, to reason.

“We’re going. We’ll find a way to contact you both. Take care.” Lin says, in her usual gruff voice, before leaving the room with her baby twins.

Su grits her teeth, “Huan, take Pappa’s hand a moment,” she says, and he does as he’s told. He’s so young, so innocent. She hopes he doesn’t remember any of this.

She rushes forwards and pulls both Kuvira and junior into a fierce hug.

“Don’t die. Please. Don’t die.” She says, choked with emotion.

“We won’t. And thank you Su, for everything…” Kuvira says, with damp eyes.

She kisses them each on the cheek, and heads out, taking her husband and Huan with her, soon catching up to Lin outside.

They climb into the wagon, Lin’s already there clutching the babies, and Huan sits quietly beside her. Su turns around, notices that Bataar is still outside, and hasn’t got in.

“Honey?” she says, placing a hand on his cheek, “Come inside, I need to treat you. I have some medical supplies in the bag.”

“I… can’t.”

Her breath catches in her throat.

“What do you mean you can’t?

“My love… They’ll slaughter everyone in the palace if I run. And… you know as well as I do this wound’s not one we can fix.” He smiles weakly at her.

She sobs loudly as he pulls her into his arms.

It’s true. She can the wound entry point is at his intestine… dead man walking, that’s what they called it. If nothing else, he’ll soon die to blood poisoning. She guesses she’s been trying to convince herself that it isn’t true, that he’ll live, that they can be together, forever. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t have such vast medical knowledge, could have the luxury of ignorance… or hope.

“Please, Su… our kids… our legacy. Please…” he says, his voice growing quieter still.  “Go…”

She’s struck by panic, there’s a cold sweat at her brow, her eyes dart around, she can see enemy soldiers in the distance battling her guards, and people dying, blood splattering from freshly gouged wounds, and loud screams.

“Come on, mother.” Bataar Junior says, forcibly pulling her away from her husband, leading her into the wagon and sealing the latch closed on the outside. She’s feeling numb, helpless. Lin takes her hand, and shouts out some command to the driver, after which there’s a whip and a sense of rapid movement.

She pushes her head out of the window, watches as Kuvira and Junior take her husband and lead him towards the Empire soldiers. She squeezes her eyes shut. It’s a brilliant plan, turn Bataar over, save the people, and show their loyalty to the Empress, all at once. If she weren’t so crushed by the loss of her husband, she might even feel proud of them for such strategic genius.

The carriage rushes onward, towards the far east, towards shogun Zuko’s territory… all part of their emergency escape plan, pre-arranged. Just in case.

It’ll be a few weeks of travelling. She clutches her knees to her chest, tries to ignore the hard seat bumping against her thighs. Lin wordlessly pulls her into an embrace, next to Huan. The twins are asleep, nestled into the securely fastened cots that they’d had purposely built here. Just in case.

Just in case…

Her eyelids feel heavy, her heart heavier still. She finds herself wishing her mother were here, but she’d never been around when they needed her.

She falls asleep, hoping that it’s all a dream. A nightmare.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The wagon rolls onward, its reinforced wheels coping well with whatever road surface they’ve had to ride over. Thankfully, it’s the dry season. Other than the occasional light sandstorm, there have been few obstacles to overcome. The main challenge has been in keeping the kids happy… the twins have been extremely difficult.

Su’s trying not to be selfish, but it’s been so hard to focus on the babies, to give them all her love… when all she can think about is that sickening, crimson stain below her husband’s chest, flashing into her mind time after time.

She’s only recently realised that in her fleeting panic, she hadn’t even kissed Bataar goodbye… and it’s tearing her up inside. Wing and Wei suckle at her breasts, hungrily, whilst Lin looks out of the side window, and Huan takes a much-needed nap. The poor boy’s not been sleeping right, and she can’t blame him, she hasn’t either.

They’ve travelled for four days straight, and have another four ahead of them before they’ll get close to the harbour. Lin’s advised that they sail for a week longer, around the south of the central lands of the empire, then dock in the east, at the port of Nasway. She couldn’t agree more… she doesn’t want to set foot anywhere near Empire land. The east is partially ruled by the empire, as is the west, but they have a much smaller foothold due to the time it takes to rally troops there from the mainland.

She looks down at Wei, and manages a smile as he dozes, blowing an adorable little bubble out of his tiny lips. Wing, on the other hand, is still grazing hungrily at her milk.

“Should we stop at the next town?” Lin’s voice interrupts her. Her sister has been like a rock through all of this, gentle enough to offer her comfort, but stern enough to keep them going.

She looks around their cabin. They only have around three days of rations, so the answer’s obvious really, although she appreciates Lin asking her advice. Perhaps her sister’s just trying to keep her mind occupied.

“It’s Berfort isn’t it?” she asks. She’s always had a good sense of direction, so even in her half-dazed state she has a good idea of their whereabouts. The yellow and brown arid land outside, with the occasional bush and cactus… yeah… she’s been here before. She used to travel all of the western lands in her young teens, before she settled with her love, took on the responsibility of his people with him.

“Yeah. Good place to rest up, get the kids off the road a while.” Lin answers.

Not a bad plan, Su thinks. Berfort is a small, but well protected town, hence its name. A wooden wall extends all the way around, and they’ve prided themselves on being free from bandit attacks for half a decade now. The expert archers they employ to guard their towers probably has a lot to do with it.

“Mum, I’m hungry…” Huan groans, waking up and rubbing his eyes.

She ruffles his hair, “Let’s eat something good at the next town, we’ll be there in just an hour.”

Huan grins at her, and she grins back. He’s such a handsome boy… Bataar would be proud of how well he’s coping with all of this, though he’s probably too young to understand.

“Shit!” she hears Lin curse, and watches her reach for her katana, strapping it to her waist. She does the same, first putting the twins in their cot, and securing her kimono.

“What is it?” she asks, rushing to the window. Her heart plummets in her chest when she sees dust clouds approaching from on the horizon. Bandits… looking for prey on the outskirts of town, like vultures. But they have nothing to give, nothing worth stealing… nothing at all, save a few rations. They didn’t take much coin, only what would be needed for the journey ahead.

“I’ll take care of them.” Lin says, tensing her grip, “Stop the wagon!” she yells to the driver, and they stall.

“Lin, you can’t handle that many…” it’s not clear how many there are, but best case there’s three, worse case, six.

“I can handle it. You go on ahead.”

“I’ll do no such thing!”

“You want the kids to die? You want Bataar’s sacrifice to be for nothing?” Lin growls, stars at her.

“I’m not leaving you!” Su says, despairing even at the thought of losing someone else so dear.

It’s only then that she notices another cloud of dust, faster than the rest, approaching from behind their adversaries. Seems Lin’s spotted it too, and they look at each other, confused. Moments later, the bandits, four in total, and the new mystery rider are close enough to identify, and Su’s jaw drops.

“Is that…?” Su asks, dumfounded.

“Yeah… I think so.” Lin says, gulping.

She’d recognise the deep green embroidery anywhere. She watches as the lone figure darts straight for the other riders, and seems to ride through them, without a trace of fear. Twin blades glimmer in the sun, and the riders topple, one after another… the fourth, the last one, turns to face his assailant, but soon falls from his horse, limp.

“HYA!” the distant voice commands their horse into a gallop, heading straight for them.

“Mother?!” she asks, as the short, dust-ridden woman pulls her horse up to them, a crimson-stained, dripping katana in each hand, and a grin from ear to ear.

“Hey girls. What’s eating ya?” Toph asks, casually.

“Why are you… what…” Su’s overcome with emotion, starts to choke down her tears, whilst Lin continues to stare, in apparent disbelief, and perhaps even a little fear.

“Oh come now,” Toph says, leaping from her horse, sheathing her swords, and pulling both Su and Lin into an embrace, “Did you really think I’d abandon my own blood? I’ve been with you, the whole time.”

Su clutches to her mother’s shoulders, and sobs.

“It’s okay. I know what happened… I’m sorry I couldn’t get there in time…” Toph pulls back, and stares at Su with white, fierce eyes, “The empress will pay… the Beifongs will make her pay. You just think about that for now.”

Focus on anger, instead of grief. Sure, she can do that. Her mother has a way of bringing out the rage inside of her, probably something to do with the constant, gruelling training that she’d made both her and Lin endure, day in, day out. On the plus side, they’re excellent swordswomen now… and at times like this, she honestly couldn’t be more grateful.

“So. Here’s what’s gonna happen.” Toph folds her arms, “We’re stopping at Berfort, then I’m following you the rest of the way.”

“You know where we’re headed?” Lin speaks for the first time, avoiding any kind of emotional reunion with the woman they haven’t seen for six years.

“Who do you think came up with all this? We’ll talk more in town.”

And so, they ride the rest of the way in relative silence. Huan makes occasional small talk with his grandmother, staring at her, in clear awe, even though it’s the first time they’ve met.

::

The town offers much-needed respite… the guards let them in, instantly recognising Toph. People are polite, respectful, and bid them welcome.

They leave their cart and horses with the stable master, and their driver bids them farewell, having been instructed by Toph that he’ll not be needed for the rest of their journey.

Toph leads them to the east side of town, where scents of all kinds of food waft through the air, causing Su’s mouth to fill with saliva. She hears Huan’s belly rumble, and holds back a chuckle. The next thing she knows, they’re being led into a large eatery, and are offered seats at an oval table where sake is quickly poured.

She sits Wing on her lap, whilst Lin looks after Wei. The babies are being relatively well behaved, to say they’re probably still sleepy.

“Bring us a bit of everything, the best you have… and make it a big portion!” Toph grins at the young man serving them, jingling her fat coin purse, and he nods and scurries away.

“Mother…” Su says, unsure of what she even wants to ask.

“Let me give you the short version. Pay attention.” Toph smiles, leans over and speaks in a hushed tone, “I didn’t really become a wanderer all those years ago. It was a front. I’ve been working for Shogun Zuko… his daughter’s somewhat of a prodigy, a seer. She saw Empress Hou-Ting’s madness before it happened, and I’d seen enough weird shit by then to believe her.”

“Zuko? He’s the one we’re headed to, right?”

“Yeah. Good guy. Handsome too. Known him since I Was a kid.” Toph smirks fondly at the words.

“Wait... is he… did you!?”

Her mother’s never told them who their father is. This is somewhat of a revelation.

“Oh no you don’t, we’re not going there. Not now. Back to topic,” Toph says, and there’s really no point arguing, Su knows.

“Zuko will look after you, which is why I had my people tell Bataar’s people exactly what he’d need to arrange if any of this happened. We were all hoping it wouldn’t, though….”

They’re interrupted as a large platter of food is laid out on the table… cutlets of meat and fish, roasted vegetables, bowls of steaming rice. Huan’s the first to dig in, practically inhaling the food, using fingers instead of chopsticks. Everyone else soon joins in, Toph ravenously tearing into everything, like she always used to, whilst she and Lin pick away, having somewhat less of an appetite.

“Just who are your people?” Su asks, feeling curious.

Toph frowns, leans across the table, “My spies. I’m Zuko’s spymaster.”

Su struggles not to choke on her food, “You’re what!?”

“Yeah. Not sure how that happened, either. Turns out a blind woman can pull it off easy, cos no one thinks she’s a threat.” Toph smirks at the words, “It was Izumi’s idea. That’s his daughter. You’ll like her.”

“And how does any of this explain why you couldn’t come visit?” Lin interjects, scowling.

“Well, I wouldn’t be a very useful spy if everyone knew where I were, dear.” Toph says, patting Lin’s hand. Lin pulls the hand back, and makes a tutting sound.

“So what next? You made us ditch our driver…”

“I’m coming with you, and I know a couple of good men in this town I’ll hire, too.”

Su isn’t sure if she should feel angry that her mother’s finally turned up, taking positive steps to help her out, or relieved that she’ll have such a strong, formidable woman around, helping to protect the children.

“Frowning at me won’t change anything. You’ll soon get why I’ve done all the things I’ve done.” Toph says, chewing on a tough-looking piece of meat.

::

Asami blinks. It’s been a long tale, a lot to take in. She realises that her hand’s held out, firmly gripping Su’s. Korra’s sitting in respectful silence, arms folded on the table. Huan seems to have vanished, so she assumes he left mid-way through Su’s tale.

“And so… we headed out. For two weeks we sailed, and then we rode. Zuko was as kind as mother had told us he’d be… and it was he who arranged for Hiroshi to take us in.”

Asami swallows, to clear her throat, “If you don’t mind me asking, what did my father have to do with all of this?”

“He ended up working for Zuko, same as us. Most of the settlers here are here because Zuko asked Hiroshi to take them in…” Lin says, whilst looking strangely distant.

“He’s been gathering people who can focus chi, getting them away from the claws of the Empress.” Su explains, and Asami gasps as things finally start to click into place.

“How could he know…?”

“Izumi knows.” Su says, interrupting Asami’s question.

“Is his daughter really a seer?”

“So far as we can tell. She can tell a person’s worth just by looking at them. She has visions, though they’re usually sketchy at best. However, she’s yet to lead us astray.”

Su sounds utterly convinced, and whilst it sounds far-fetched, Asami is intrigued. If people can manipulate chi, who’s to say what other powers are out there?

“So was it Zuko’s idea to start on the weapons?” she asks.

“Actually… that was Hiroshi’s idea, a way to speed up the process. It’s not something that comes naturally to people, even if they have the latent ability.”

Asami nods in agreement. It makes sense… the only two that have managed to focus Chi in its natural state are Bolin and Mako. The few others that they’ve trusted to try the technology have always needed the gloves… and as for Korra… she’s something else entirely. She turns to face the mysterious samurai, and smiles when she sees her looking straight back.

A sudden though occurs, and it irks her.

“If Zuko’s sending such special people here, why hasn’t he been protecting the village? We lost a lot of good men…”

“He has been. You’ve been oblivious to it. He’s kept countless empire dogs well away from the holding… bandits, too. But nobody expected Draxx…” Lin’s talking this time, her voice stern, and her gaze sterner.

Asami bites her lip, fending off a sudden pang of remorse… she feels Korra grasp her arm.

“So, what now?” she asks, gathering her thoughts.

“All I know is that the Empress is on the move, and we have a council meeting to attend to find out the rest. Zuko wants you there.”

“And Korra?”

“He didn’t say. It’s up to her… I’m honestly not even sure she’ll be welcome. Zuko knows of the you… of Korra. He knows I’m helping to hide her, and he’s glad she’s not working for the Empress, but that’s about it.”

Asami turns to face Korra, tries to convey in her expression that nothing is forced upon her. Korra simply grins back at her.

“I’m coming. How long do we have?”

“It’s a three day trip, and you’ll have to follow me since it’s an unmarked location,” Su says, withdrawing her hand from Asami’s, “We have a couple of days to kill, to get ready. I suggest you put them to good use.”

“But what about the village?” Asami asks, feeling anxiety well up in the pit of her stomach.

“I’ll be taking care of it. If that’s acceptable, Daimyo,” Lin asks, bowing slightly. Asami senses no sarcasm in the gesture.

“Thank you, Lin. And thanks Su, for telling me all of this.”

“No problem. Now then…” Su’s expression suddenly shifts, “what are you two going to get up to in the meantime, I wonder? Hmmm?” Su’s tone is brimming with mirth, and the tense atmosphere is lifted from the air, like a balloon popping.

“Su… now? Really?” Asami glares… then they both burst out laughing, whilst Korra simply shakes her head.

“If you must know,” she says, grabbing Korra’s hand as she stands, “Korra and I are going to look at the weapons. I promised her.”

“Yes!” Korra beams, and she can’t help but lean over and kiss her smiling lips.

“Uhuh. Weapons. Good luck with that.” Su says, rolling her eyes and smirking from ear to ear.

Asami understands now, though. With such an awful loss, it makes sense for Su to want to see people happy, enjoy time together whilst they can. That explains the sadness she’s seen in those old, green eyes so many times. She only wishes she could do something to help… she vows that whatever Zuko needs of her, he’ll have it. She wants to see Su smile. She wants to see Korra free of her dark past. She wants to protect her people, more so than ever after finding out just how special they are…

Chapter Text

“It’s a bit strange looking,” Korra says, twisting the glove around in her hand and running her fingertips over the metal discs inside the palm. She’s still buzzing with excitement after watching Asami blast a jolt of lightning out of her katana… lightning! Amazing!

“Try it on!” Aasmi says, smiling.

They’re outside, surrounded by wide gardens at the rear of the mansion. Bolin is with them, apparently to show off, or at least that’s what Asami told her. She does as instructed and slips her hand inside. It’s more or less a perfect fit, though the material feels a little coarse on her skin.

“Now what?”

“The discs help to extract chi from a person and funnel it elsewhere. Give me your hand…” Asami says whilst pulling her katana out. She places the hilt in Korra’s grip, twisting the handle as she does so.  There’s a click as the glove’s discs snap into place, sliding into hollow grooves in the hilt.

And then… nothing happens. Korra looks at Asami, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, now you have to focus…”

“I’m not sure how…”

“It’s probably the same as when you control water. Give it a try!”

Korra frowns and focuses her thoughts on the blade, her palm, and the discs. Suddenly, she feels something almost like a tug, pulling through her skin and into the blade. She hears Asami and Bolin gasp as the air surrounding the blade starts to crystalize into ice. She doesn’t know how, but she knows she’s forcing the moisture in the air to freeze around her blade.

“That’s incredible!” Asami claps her hands in excitement. “Now, try, um… flinging your energy over towards that target dummy…”

“Flinging?”

“Swing the blade, but try to imagine your chi flowing with it, shooting out towards the direction you face.”

The air continues to crystalize, and the sword’s starting to shine with a thin sheet of ice on the surface. Korra isn’t particularly adept with a two-handed katana, but she knows the basics. She opts to try a top-down swipe, which she performs with a quiet grunt.

Nothing happens.

“No, Korra, it’s like this, see?” Bolin hops off a tree stump and walks over, stretching out his fingers.

He performs what looks like an over-exaggerated uppercut, and Korra’s jaw falls open. The entire ground crumbles upwards in the direction of his fist, until there’s a large, long, spiked slab of earth sticking out, aimed in the same direction as his punch.

“What the…?” she mouths the words.

“Oh, come on. You can’t be that surprised. Not with your abilities!” Asami giggles.

“So you weren’t kidding when you said people here can use chi? And he did it without a glove! He moved the earth!”

“Yeah, I did!” Bolin says, grinning and pulling off a cheeky flex.

“Mako and Bolin are the only two who’ve learnt how to do it naturally… I’m not so talented.”

“Oh, I’m not so sure I agree there…” Korra grins, remembering Asami’s fingers and tongue being particularly skilful just a few nights ago.

Asami smirks at Korra, eyes glinting, and walks towards her in slow, deliberate steps until she’s stood right behind Korra, slipping hands around her waist.

“Do I need to, uh… leave the room? I mean, erm, leave the outside-y place?” Bolin asks, looking a little flustered.

“Of course not, Bo.” Asami says, with her lips right next to Korra’s ear.

“Now… why don’t you show me what you can do?” Asami breathes, lightly nipping Korra’s ear at the last word, sending a sudden thrill up her spine.

Asami backs away as Korra tenses, ready to try again. She lifts the katana, this time mentally picturing her chi being a force she can propel, not too dissimilar to when she forces water into darting lances of ice. She swings down with gritted teeth, and her hand almost burns at the sensation of chi suddenly flooding out of her and into the blade. A massive pillar of ice streaks across the ground, encasing the dummy, then continuing past it for a good thirty meters, and eventually stopping to form a huge, jagged sphere of ice.

“Holy shit!” Asami almost squeals with excitement, and sprints towards the frozen element. When she reaches it, she runs a hand along a small part of the recently formed ice, as though to check if it’s real.

Bolin stands, folds his arms, and whistles.

Whilst they’re busy admiring her handiwork, Korra unclicks the blade, removes the glove from its holster, and runs a hand over her palm. It’s a little sore, causing her to wince, but there are no burn marks.

Suddenly her hand’s taken between Asami’s fingers and thumb, and there’s a concerned pair of gorgeous, green eyes boring into hers.

“Are you okay? Did that hurt you?” Asami asks quietly, running a thumb against her palm.

“Hah! I’ll live. I think I get it, though.”

“Hmmm?” Asami raises an eyebrow.

“The glove. Focusing chi. It’s kind of like what I can do when…” Korra pauses, “well, when I’m all shiny-eyed. Toph helped me work all of that stuff out, and control my chi, though not to that extent…” she says, nodding towards the giant ice monolith.

She extends her free palm, face up, and easily remembers the sensation. Air starts to crystallise, and a spike of ice thrusts up, pointed at the tip. It’s the first time she’s formed ice so naturally, like it’s a part of her. Every other time it’s either been a reflex, or triggered by whatever the hell that thing is on her back, the thing that causes her eyes to glow.

“You can do that already? No fair!” Bolin pouts. “It took me and Mako over two years!”

“You really are quite amazing…” Asami smiles at her.

Korra can’t help but to lean forward and place a kiss against Asami’s soft lips. They taste as good as ever, and she quickly finds herself drawn in, needing more.

Bolin coughs loudly. “All right, well, I’m gonna go check on Mako. It was fun… see ya later, ladies,” he says, waving an arm as he leaves.

Korra touches her nose against Asami’s, chuckling. “Oops… did we scare him off?”

“Well, I don’t really want an audience for what comes next,” Asami purrs.

“Oh, and what would that be?” Korra asks, grinning widely at the words, well aware that their lips are barely half an inch apart.

She doesn’t give Asami the opportunity to answer, she’s already pulling her body close. Her hands slide down from Asami’s waist to the back of her thighs, where they grip and lift. She feels Asami hold on tightly, legs wrapping around her waist. Korra seals the remaining gap, kissing her lover fiercely. She feels the rumble of Asami’s throat groaning against her kiss; it’s making her dizzy, hungry for more.

Asami’s like a drug that she’s hopelessly addicted to, and before she knows it she’s carrying this gorgeous, amazing woman over to the recently-raised earth, never once allowing their lips to part. She presses herself into Asami, forcing her against the slanted ground, eventually breaking from the kiss, and panting against Asami’s neck.

Korra tugs lightly at Asami’s belt, and her eyes glaze over the second that she realises Asami’s completely naked underneath. Korra’s eyes roam, absorbing the sight, relishing the view of those beautiful breasts and the perfect curve of Asami’s waist.

“And now you know… why I didn’t want an audience,” Asami growls, a hungry look in her eyes.

Korra runs her tongue over her suddenly dry lips. There’s something she’s wanted to try for a while now, though she’s not been particularly adventurous in the bedroom, yet. It’s mainly because she’s a little shy, and inexperienced with women… the thought of which reminds her of something.

“Asami…”

“Hmm?”

“You said you’d… um… been with a woman once. What was it like? I mean… err…”

Asami starts to chuckle, and Korra’s not sure what she’s said that could be so amusing.

“It was you!”

“Huh?”

“So, I might of half-lied. I’d had a very… interesting dream about you, the night before we met that day.”

“Oh… oh!” Korra’s not sure if she should be angry, or flattered. Turns out she’s neither, and instead, she feels curious. “What did I… do?” she asks, placing delicate kisses against Asami’s bare torso.

“Ah… hmm… well…” Asami attempts to talk, though it’s clear to Korra that her lips are distracting her. She takes some pride in the fact, and trails the tip of her tongue around, but not touching the nearest nipple.

“Ah!” Asami gasps.

“You were saying?” Korra teases, purposely breathing against the sensitive tip a millimetre from her lips.

“You… were… kissing my neck…”

“Like this?” Korra asks, shifting position, and trailing her teeth against Asami’s neck.

“Mmhmm,” Asami mumbles.

The vibration feels electric against Korra’s lips. She bites and sucks at Asami’s flesh, delighted when she feels nails dig into her back and Asami’s body arch into her.

“What else?” she growls, her lips still held against Asami’s neck.

“It… we… didn’t get much further…” Asami whispers, and Korra’s sure she can detect a hint of remorse in the words.

“How about you tell me how you wanted it to end?” Korra asks, smirking as she hears Asami gasp at the words.

Asami starts to chuckle. “My, aren’t you being bold today… what’s gotten into you?”

“I’ve been wanting this all day…” Korra whispers, trailing kisses down Asami’s torso, soon returning to the breast she’d been deliciously tormenting moments ago.

“Are you going to tease me all day?” Asami asks in shallow breaths.

“No...” Korra whispers, knowing she can’t continue this any longer.

Without further warning, Korra grabs behind Asami’s shoulder blades, pulling her body upwards. She wraps her lips around a stiff nipple, flicking her hot tongue against it as Asami writhes beneath her, moaning, and the sound’s so intoxicating that Korra can barely stand it. She sucks and bites at the captive flesh, groaning into it when she feels sharp nails rake down her back.

She breaks away from the nipple to kiss her way further down Asami’s torso, her hands sliding down Asami’s back… lower, and lower, until she’s intent on fulfilling her goal.

“I want to taste you…” she growls the words against Asami’s abdomen, hoping that Asami doesn’t reject her, daring not to look up.

Her worries melt away when she hears Asami gasp and feels fingers twist into her brown hair, pushing and urging her further down.

“I thought you’d never ask…” Asami says, in a half-groan.

Korra glances upwards to see a wry smile and hooded eyes looking down at her. She rests her hands on Asami’s waist, kissing her way down, past small curls of black. Asami opens her legs in invitation, and Korra plunges her mouth forwards into the wetness.

“Oh… Ko… Korra…!” Asami moans her name loudly the second that Korra’s tongue makes contact, and fingers dig into her scalp.

At first Korra’s surprised at the taste; it’s deliciously sweet and salty. She forms her tongue into a hard tip, tracing it lightly across Asami’s clit, and a moan rumbles in her throat in response to the delightful way Asami’s body reacts to every touch. She can’t help but smile when she feels Asami’s hands grip her hair almost desperately, and she doesn’t stop…

She flattens her tongue down, trying long, wide strokes, up and down, firmly, and quickly discovers Asami prefers it that way, since her hair is grasped tighter and Asami’s moans are louder, more guttural. She can literally feel Asami’s body quivering, hips grinding upwards and hungrily meeting each stroke of her tongue.

Asami’s hips thrust more frequently, and Korra is eager to match the rhythm. She immerses her tongue lower with each thrust until the tip of her tongue’s dipping into Asami… inside of her... causing her to cry out. Fresh wetness spills onto Korra’s lower lip and she moans in response... the taste is better than ever.

Korra grabs firmly onto Asami’s waist and pulls her wetness closer to her mouth, completely addicted to the taste, the scent, the feel. She sucks at the hood and folds of flesh around Asami’s clit, causing a whole new sound to escape her lover’s lips.

Korra loves every second of it, and she almost curses herself for not trying this sooner.

She resumes the thick strokes of her tongue, surprised to hear herself growling deeply when Asami’s nails press into her scalp, hips thrusting faster than ever… faster, and more violently. Then, there’s a shrill cry. Her mouth is forced downward—she can scarcely breathe, but she doesn’t care. Asami is shuddering against her, holding Korra’s mouth to her clit and crying out her name.

When Asami finally releases her from the vice-grip, Korra takes a few seconds to catch her breath. Moments later, she kisses her way back up Asami’s damp, quivering body until they’re face to face.

Asami smiles, brushes a few strands of hair away from Korra’s face, and purrs, “Seems you are a woman of many, many talents.”

Korra grins. “I’ve been wanting to do that for a while…”

“Oh? Well, just so we’re clear…” Asami whispers, “you can do that any time you damn well please.”

Korra groans, the words reminding her of her own, unfulfilled needs… but before she has time to think on it, Asami’s lips are upon hers, and she feels herself being pushed towards the grassy floor behind.

The next thing she knows, Asami’s straddling her, clenching the material of her kimono tightly, eyeing her with a hungry, lustful expression.

“How did you-?” Korra’s unsure how she ended up on her back.

She doesn’t have time to finish the question; Asami is practically tearing her clothes off, and she’s grateful she didn’t have time to put bindings on today because—

“Oh… fuck…”

Her words and her thoughts disintegrate into nothingness. Her nipple’s clasped between Asami’s teeth, and she’s arching herself upward, desperate for the warmth of Asami’s mouth. She doesn’t have to wait long; Asami’s tongue is soon pressed against her sensitive peak, hot, relentless in its pursuit.

As Asami kisses and lightly bites down her body, Korra realises that her earlier favour is about to be returned… she nervously parts her legs, and her whole body trembles in anticipation. She whimpers quietly as she feels Asami pant hotly against her clit, making her wait. It’s… agonizing. She pushes her hands into the fine strands of Asami’s hair, urging her forward.

Finally, she feels a wet, damp flash against her sensitive bud, and she hisses. Biting into her lips, her body arches up involuntarily, but Asami’s hands cup her waist and hold her down. That’s when everything around her fades away. There’s nothing but the hot sensation burning against her clit, slipping past her velvet folds, sinking inside of her. She rocks herself into the sensation, over and over, feeling it burn brighter, then brighter still. Just as she thinks she’s about to find sweet, blissful release, Asami removes a hand from her waist, and she feels a sudden stretch inside of her. Asami’s fingers are there, thrusting deeply.

The sensation drives her wild, sending her immediately over the edge.

“I’m com-…” Korra gasps, but she can’t finish the sentence. She knots her fingers into Asami’s hair and cries out wordlessly as spasms engulf her in violent waves. The white burning heat at her clit erupts into glorious, slow tremors of pleasure, and her insides pulse and throb against the fingers that are curled deep within.

Later, when she regains some semblance of her senses, Korra opens her eyes and looks down. Asami is knelt between her legs, wearing a smug grin. She watches as Asami stretches out two clearly damp fingers, and sucks them dry.

“Oh god…” Korra groans, feeling aroused all over again at the sight.

What she doesn’t expect is Asami’s fingers, entering her wetness again, a palm held to her clit. Korra gasps, clenches her hands into the grass at each of her sides, and then forms an “oh” with her mouth as a second orgasm hits her almost immediately. It rocks through her body as she thrusts herself into Asami’s palm, over and over again.

Korra has to take a few moments to recover her breath.

“What the…” she gasps.

“Are you complaining?” Asami smirks.

“N… no. I just didn’t think…”

“You’ve never had that happen?” Asami asks, raising an eyebrow.

Korra shakes her head. “Not that quickly… not so soon after…”

“One of the benefits of being a woman.” Asami grins, then stands up and offers Korra a hand.

Korra can’t help but feel intrigued at the statement.

They gather their scattered clothes and head back into the mansion, to Asami’s bedroom. Over the course of a few more hours, Korra soon learns more about these so-called benefits… much more… until she’s too tired to even walk, and Asami has to go out and bring them both food.

“You know…” Korra says, between mouthfuls, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this hungry. Even with the most rigorous training.”

“Awww. Did I push you too hard?” Asami asks with a wide grin.

“Not hard enough,” Korra says, grinning right back at Asami. She finishes off her chicken and rice, puts the plate on the bedside table, and then feels a knot of anxiety as reality starts to settle in.

“I wonder what Zuko wants… I mean, what if we’re really going to war?”

“We’ll see when we get there,” Asami says, putting her own plate away as she takes Korra’s hand.

“I’m so glad you’re coming along… but I know that’s selfish…”

Korra squeezes Asami’s fingers. “I’d follow you anywhere.”

Then, she panics at her own words, “I mean, that sounds really stalker-ish, and what I meant to say is…”

She’s interrupted with a light kiss on her lips.

“I know what you meant. It’s the same for me… come here,” Asami says, crawling over the mattress, lying behind Korra, and pulling her into her arms.

Korra finds herself drifting off to sleep almost immediately, aided by the fact that Asami feels so warm, so comfortable behind her, like she belongs there. The last thing she feels is Asami’s fingertip, lightly grazing her forearms, tracing over the scars at her wrists. It feels wonderful, and Korra falls asleep, smiling from ear to ear.

 

Chapter Text

“Hey, are you okay?” Asami asks. Korra’s been acting a little distant for most of the trip, and it’s starting to worry her.

“Yeah… I’ve just never been up here, is all. This is new…” Korra stares out of the wagon window.

Asami joins her, wrapping an arm over Korra’s shoulder and watching as lush green hills roll by, soon replaced with thick foliage.

“We’re almost here, girls. Get ready...” Su says, “and, Korra, there’s no guarantee Zuko will want you there. Don’t get offended if not, okay?”

Korra nods. “No problem.”

The wagon soon pulls to a stop and the three women disembark. Su takes the lead and Asami takes Korra’s hand, walking just behind, through a clearing of trees.

There’s a small cave up ahead and Asami feels a moment of dread, not being particularly fond of small, dark places. Or spiders. She shivers at the thought and Korra grips her hand tighter in response.

“It’ll be dark for a while, so use the side of the walls to guide you,” Su warns.

It makes sense, of course. An illuminated entrance would make their hidden den stand out a mile. She feels her way across the cold, damp, mossy surface, listening to Su’s footsteps as she becomes all but invisible ahead of them. She never lets go of Korra’s hand and, before long, there’s a dim light ahead.

“It’ll be easier once we get to that torch,” Su says, speaking softly.

When they get to the light source, Asami releases the breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. She checks her hand… no sign of spiders. Good. There’s a long corridor ahead of them now, illuminated the whole way. At the end of it, there’s a large boulder.

“What now?” Aasmi asks.

Su sighs, fists her hands to the right, and makes a sweeping motion to the left. The boulder moves, as though commanded by her will.

“What the…?” Asami gasps and feels Korra stiffen beside her.

Su turns to them both, a lopsided smirk on her lips.

“There’s a lot you two don’t know. Come on in…”

Asami has a thousand questions she’s dying to ask, but as she walks into the concealed room. She knows now isn’t the time. It’s a massive chamber—almost round in shape—with torches burning brightly all around, and a large, oval table in the middle. There’s small cave entrances scattered around the edge of the room, each with a sombre-looking guard stood nearby.

“Su! Welcome! Come in…” A white-haired old man, dressed in crimson and gold, beckons them over.

As they get closer, Asami struggles not to gasp at the sight of a large, purple scar covering almost half of the man’s face.

“Oh this? Let’s just say I learnt the hard way not to play with fire.” He chuckles, stands and bows. “Asami Sato, I presume? I am Zuko.”

“Oh! Um, sorry, Shogun Zuko. I meant no disrespect,” Asami says, feeling a little intimidated. She’s never addressed someone higher than her station before—other than her father, of course.

“And this must be Korra.”

Asami feels relief wash over her that he’s used her real name and not her other, harsher title.

“She’ll help us. I hope you don’t mind that I brought her…” Su says.

“Not at all; I was hoping you would. In fact, I have a big surprise for her. Izumi has been doing her homework…”

Asami turns to face Korra and can only see confusion in her face.

“A surprise?” Korra asks.

Zuko chuckles and sits down, “You’ll see. Please, take a seat. The others will join us soon—they are already here, freshening up in their chambers.”

A middle-aged woman walks into the room. She has long, flowing, auburn hair, and is dressed in the same crimson and gold as Zuko. She comes to a stop, standing behind him.

“Asami, Korra... this is my wonderful daughter, Izumi.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” Izumi says, nodding politely, as they do the same. “Korra, I have heard many stories. I am so glad that you escaped the Empress.”

“Hah, she’d never have managed that without me…” Toph says, as she walks into the room from one of the smaller entrances and flops on a chair next to Zuko.

“And Asami…” Izumi continues, apparently ignoring the abrupt interruption, “I am so very sorry about Hiroshi. He and my father were very close.”

Asami can see in the way Zuko’s eyes shift downwards that Izumi speaks the truth.

“Thank you… I just hope I can help with… well, whatever all this is about.”

Zuko smiles and other people begin to enter the room from the scattered entrances. Asami doesn’t recognise anyone, but Korra leans in and whispers, “That’s Katara… shogun of the south. Tenzin’s Mum. She’s cool.”

Asami follows Korra’s gaze. Katara looks very wise; her face is painted in wrinkles and her frame dressed in deep hues of blue. She takes a seat to the left of Zuko after greeting him politely. Then, a young, fluffy haired man prances into the room, and sits next to Toph, causing the old woman to sniff loudly and grimace in disdain. The next guests are couple of scowling young girls, dressed in blue garbs similar to Katara’s. They shuffle into the room and say nothing, quickly sitting next to Katara. Lastly, a hooded figure walks into the room, a little clumsily. It seems he’s lost a leg—he’s using a cane to hobble to his seat, which is next to the young man in green. He grunts and tugs his hood off, shaking thick, black-grey hair away from a stubbly face. His eyes scan around the room and as they rest on Korra, his mouth falls agape.

“Korra…?!”

Korra makes a sound Asami hasn’t heard before. She turns to see Korra’s holding a hand to her mouth, and tears are streaming down her cheeks and over her fingers.

“Pappa…” The word sounds muffled beneath Korra’s palm, but Asami hears it clearly enough.

“Seems you were right, as always…” Zuko says, smiling at his daughter and taking her hand.

“Tonraq… you’re alive… and Korra, too?” Katara suddenly chips in, squinting ahead. “Well, I’ll be damned.” She chuckles.

Asami feels a flurry of movement to her side and she watches as Korra sprints around the table, practically leaping into the arms of her father.

“My baby girl… you’re alive… you’re alive…” Tonraq cries, squeezing Korra as tightly as he’s being held himself.

Asami feels her own cheeks burning at the sight; she’s so happy for Korra. Everyone around the table is smiling, apart from the sour-faced young girls to the left, who’re rolling their eyes. She feels like throwing rocks at them.

After a couple more minutes, Zuko coughs loudly, and everyone turns to face him.

“I’m happy we’ve witnessed such a beautiful reunion today, but I’m afraid we have urgent matters to discuss. Would you mind continuing this after the meeting, Tonraq, Korra?”

“Of course, Lord Zuko,” Tonraq says, though his voice is choked with emotion.

“Since we have a few of new faces, Izumi, if you will…”

“Of course, father,” Izumi says as she walks to the right of the room. “Daimyo Tonraq, from the new settlement to the north, and his daughter, Korra.”

She quickly moves a chair next to Tonraq, so that Korra can sit beside him, then moves further to the left and puts a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “This is crown prince Wu, next in line to the throne.”

“Pleasure.” The man waves casually, whilst smiling. Asami can’t imagine how anyone so… frail-looking, could be a prince.

Izumi moves past her father. “Lady Katara, kind and wise shogun of the south.”

She moves further to the left. “Eska and Desna, daughter and son of Daimyo Unalaq, whom is currently too ill to attend.”

Then she moves over to Asami. “Daimyo Asami, successor to the late, great Hiroshi.”

Asami bows her head, unsure of what else to do.

“And Su Beifong, widow to the late Shogun of the West, Bataar.”

“Thank you, Izumi,” Zuko says as she returns to her seat. “Now, then. I would have liked to have gathered more allies before this day came, but, alas, time is running out.” Zuko pauses to scan his old, bronze eyes across the people who sat at the table. “The Empress has finally succumbed to her madness completely. Her people are suffering, starving, dying. She lashes out at village after village, pillaging, destroying. It is as though she wishes to watch the world burn.”

Katara sighs, shakes her head slowly.

“I have gathered those whom I know can be trusted. Most of you are well aware of the Empress’ travesties and sins. Whilst we may have different reasons, we each know the Empress must be stopped. I have managed to gather an army significant in size, and if we combine forces, we shall surely overthrow the Empire.”

Asami looks across at Korra and sees despair in her tired, blue eyes. She can only imagine how it must feel to be told you’re going to war again, after you’ve been through so many battles already. She wishes she hadn’t gotten her involved, but then again, Korra would never have met her father if she’d stayed at the holding. Fate’s a funny thing, Asami muses, as Zuko continues to detail his plan. Apparently, he will need the Daimyos’ assistance for the use of their land and extra food for the troops. He also wants to use Katara’s forces to bolster his own, which she’s agreed to.

“Asami… how go the weapon experiments?”

She’s taken aback by the question, having not realised that Zuko was involved, but it makes sense. Her father had probably been working with Zuko since the very beginning. She quickly regains her composure.

“Um… well, most people can use chi with the glove. But it’s far from perfect; it causes utter exhaustion. Only Bolin and Mako can form chi naturally… and Su?” She trails the end of the sentence into a question, raising an eyebrow at the older woman.

“Yes dear, all of the Beifongs can manipulate earth with their chi. We’ve had to hide it all this time, otherwise the holding and all of its secrets may have been discovered.”

“Toph? You can do it too?” Korra asks the old woman.

“Yeah, I can, but I’ve had strict orders not to. At least, until today, isn’t that right, Lord Zuko?”

“Correct. As of today, we no longer hide, no longer defend. We will pool our powers and fight back. Asami, would Bolin and Mako be willing to join us? Chi is a powerful tool to have in our arsenal.”

Asami bites her lip. “Mako… isn’t able to help. Bolin might. I’ll ask him.”

“Thank you. Now, let us discuss the plan.”

Zuko pulls a long scroll from the back of the room and folds it out onto the table, revealing a large map of the land upon which he places several markers. He sounds out his strategy, sweeping his hand across the map and pointing out key locations as he does so.

He intends to send ten thousand troops in from the west, since it’s the weakest defensive point in the Empire. It’ll take an extra week of sailing to get there, and they risk being spotted if they’re not careful – but that’s where Wu comes in. Wu is the trusted crown prince, a man on the inside. He’ll make sure any sailing vessels or scouts are elsewhere at crucial moments.

In the meantime, Katara will have five thousand men ready at the south; they’ll attack the moment that the Empress sends defence to the west.

Once Zuko’s finished outlining the details, Asami looks across at Korra and can see that she’s visibly trembling. She doesn’t blame her. This plan… it’ll work but…

Zuko interrupts her thoughts. “Miss Sato? I can see from your expression that something is bothering you. Your father was a master strategist, so by all means, if you have something to add…”

She feels blood rush to her cheeks, but now isn’t the time to be embarrassed. She walks closer to the table, leans over it and studies the map carefully.

“This will work. You’ll win, but…”

“Please, continue. We are all allies in here.”

“Thousands will die, from both sides.”

“An unfortunate consequence, I agree… yet I see no alternative.”

“Send me,” Korra suddenly demands.

 Asami looks up to see she’s stood upright, wearing a determined expression.

“Send you? Korra… we know of your powers, but…” Zuko seems surprised, taken aback.

“She’s right,” Asami quickly chips in. “We should try a small task force first. Infiltrate… and assassinate. Think of how many people would be spared…”

Zuko puts a finger and thumb to the bridge of his nose, and appears deep in thought.

“This idea had occurred to me, though without Korra’s power I could never have seen it working… however… with her on our side…”

“It could work, father,” Izumi interjects, “but we still have the Empire troops to worry about.”

“Ah, yes… if they’re all alive after the Empress falls, everything could quickly descend to chaos.”

“Not necessarily,” Toph says, playing with her big toe whilst resting her foot on the table. “I told you this before, Zuko, but just so everyone’s in the know… the Empress stopped harvesting pond-weed ages ago. Found something stronger than her original drug.”

“Stronger?!” Korra says, holding a hand to her chest.

“Yeah. It’s some ancient relic—dunno where she got it from—but she’s using it to command anyone to do pretty much anything she wants.”

The torches around the cave flicker as a gust of wind echoes around the room.

“Will she be able to control us?” Korra asks, and Asami hears fear in her voice for the first time.

“From what I know… there’s more to it than that. Folks have to drink something first and then they’re susceptible to her power.”

“Drink… what?” Asami asks.

Toph sighs, pausing momentarily. “Bataar Jr found out that our lovely Empress stashed away vials of the Youkai’s blood. One drop of that in a tank of water, apparently that’s all it takes.”

What?” Korra asks through gritted teeth.

Asami wants to rush over there and hold her, reassure her, but she stays put.

“But that’s something that can work for us. If it’s your blood that’s somehow linked to this artefact… then it’d make sense if you can use it too, maybe even break the spell.”

“Toph, do you know any of this for certain?” Zuko interjects.

“Not at all.” Toph chuckles. “But it might be worth a try before we send thousands of kids to die.”

There’s another gust of air. Torch light flickers across Korra’s face and across Tonraq’s, at which Asami notices that his face is creased with worry.

“I… only just found you…” Tonraq breaks the silence. “Now you want to run off and die?”

“I’m not going to die, Father,” Korra says, smiling and taking his hand.

“Korra, are you absolutely certain that you wish to use your powers? Are you certain that you can face the woman who caused you such suffering?” Zuko asks.

Korra frowns and Asami’s taken aback by the fierceness in her eyes.

“Absolutely.”

“Then I will give you ten days. If I don’t hear back, or I hear bad news… I’m afraid that the original plan will still go ahead.”

Su reaches over, placing a hand above Asami’s. “I’m coming with you. We’ll need Bolin, too.”

“And me,” Toph says, grinning.

“What’s a blind old bat going to do to help?” Su asks, frowning.

“Do you want me to remind you who has the best chi mastery in our family? I really don’t mind.”

Su actually looks afraid at the words and backs down. Then, Izumi suddenly gasps and puts a hand to her mouth.

“It makes sense now! The vision I had last week. Father… I really think this will work…”

“What do you mean?” Zuko asks.

“I saw a huge serpent, burning the land, and a giant turtle with five gems on its back… three green, one blue, one red.”

“Aha…” Zuko nods.

“Huh?” Toph asks. “I don’t get it.”

“People from the west wear green. From the south, blue; from the east, red,” Izumi explains with a slight frown.

“Ohhhh… still sounds far-fetched though, sorry, kid.”

Zuko taps his fingers on the desk. “You should know better than to doubt my daughter’s visions by now, Toph.”

Toph grunts at the words, and shrugs her shoulders.

“What happened to the serpent?” Asami asks, fascinated by the tale.

“It could do nothing against the turtle, so it was pushed back until it fell into the abyss.”

“Well then, go team turtle!” Toph says, raising a fist into the air sarcastically.

“I still need to ask Bolin….”

“If I know him, he’ll be eager to help,” Su says.

And Asami knows it’s true. She just doesn’t want to involve anyone else. There’s no guarantee that any of them will get out of this alive, though when she looks across at Korra and sees bright eyes gazing back at her, she feels that they’ll get through it, somehow.

 

Chapter Text

Korra hugs her father closely, almost afraid that if she lets go, he’ll vanish. To leave him already… after being apart for so long – it’s tearing her apart.

“Promise me you’ll take care… and come visit us soon. Your mother will be dying to see you… she’ll be pissed that I didn’t bring you back…” Tonraq’s voice is thick with emotion as he speaks.

Korra can’t help the tears flowing from her eyes as he kisses her on the cheek. “I promise…” she whispers.

She turns her back to him, knowing that if she doesn’t, she might never leave. She might go home instead, go back to her family, but the elegant figure standing just beyond the doorway reminds her that she has plenty of reason to move forward and fight. She walks out of the room, stealing one last glance at her father, before resting a hand against Asami’s shoulder.

“Are you sure about this?” Asami asks, “You could just go with him. I wouldn’t blame you…”

Korra smiles to herself as Asami looks at her with a beautiful, green gaze, sliding a soft palm over her hand, “No way. We have to do this. I want… I just want…”

Korra’s emotions are warring with each other. She does want to go with her Father, she does want to see her mother again. In many ways she wishes she could just shrug her shoulders and forget all of her worries. But when Asami looks at her, as though imploring her to continue, she’s again reminded of why she has to be strong.

“I… want to stop her - the Empress. I want people to be happy; I’m tired of seeing death and despair. I want to repent for all those times I drew my blade under her orders…” Korra tenses, unsure whether she should continue, but Asami’s gentle smile puts her at ease. “But mainly… I want to fix things so that we can be together… without worrying that we’ll be attacked, or killed.”

“Oh, Korra…” Asami sighs her name and leans in, gently brushing lips across hers, then pulling her into a tight embrace.

It’s a welcome sensation, both warm and tender. Korra feels her heart begin to pound in her chest whilst she wraps her arms around Asami’s waist, revelling in the scent as she nestles her nose against the ivory skin before her.

“Does… wanting to fight for that make me selfish?” she asks, whispering the words beneath Asami’s ear.

She feels Asami’s fingers entwine into her hair, and the knot of worry in her chest begins to unravel.

“You are the least selfish person I know, and… that’s why I… ” Asami pulls back, lips slightly agape, as though the words are trapped on them.

They’re interrupted by the sound of a gentle cough.

“Sorry, ladies,” Izumi says with an apologetic smile, “Toph and Su are ready to depart, and everything’s all set. Are you okay finding your own way out?”

“Uh, sure,” Korra says, and they begin to head out. She’s feeling a deep sense of intrigue about what Asami was about to say, especially when she notices that Asami’s cheeks have turned a light shade of pink. The blush has a certain endearing, addictive quality, reminding Korra of the last time those cheeks were glowing like that, back when Asami was moaning, and calling out her name…

“Are you blushing?” Asami asks, whilst they leave the cave and walk into daylight.

“Uh, just a little hot in there,” Korra lies, pretending to fan herself with her palm.

“If you say so...” Asami says, grinning as though she knows exactly what’s going on.

They clear the cave entrance, finding Su and Toph waiting for them, then clamber into the wagon that’s waiting. Korra knows that it’ll take two days to get back to the holding, and after that, they’ll need to head straight out.  They have ten days from now to end the madness of the Empress. Just ten days, or less… and then I’ll see… I’ll see her again. Korra feels a lump of anxiety at the thought of such an unhappy reunion, a cold sweat rising to her cheeks when she conjures the image of her being stood before the woman whom caused such misery, such suffering.

“You okay, kid?” Toph interrupts her thoughts as the wagon clears the forest and an open plain comes into sight.

“Yeah, I’m fine… just…”

“The Empress, right?”

Korra nods, and feels a shiver run through her. Asami squeezes her hand tightly, offering much needed comfort.

Toph’s face softens into a smile and she chuckles. “Look at it this way, at least you’ll be able to get some much deserved revenge.”

Revenge… it’s not something she’s ever really considered. Ever since escaping, all she’d really wanted was to find her father, her family. Find peace. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

“I’d say Korra can get in line, but I suppose years of torture outweigh my losses…” Su interjects, though she’s staring out of the window as she speaks.

Korra’s reminded of the heartache that Su’s been through. Reminded of the pain that the Empress has inflicted upon so many people, not just her alone. “To be honest, she’s all yours… I’m not even sure I could…” she says.

“What? Aren’t you angry?” Asami looks directly into her eyes, and she can see the expectation there - that she should be furious, should want to attack, lash out, and return at least some of the suffering she’s been through.

“I went… beyond angry a long time ago. I just want peace,” Korra says, shuffling and resting her head into the crook between Asami’s shoulder and neck. She finds herself quietly purring whilst Asami strokes a hand through her hair.

It’s only then that she thinks back to her recent conversation with her father. It sends pangs of guilt through her core, and she grimaces. It’s all my fault… if only I’d tried harder.

The thought that she could have done more haunts her, and it takes some time for her to eventually find sleep against the bosom of the woman she loves…

::

“Bandits!” Its Su’s voice, and it rouses Korra from her slumber immediately. She opens her eyes to see Su’s gaze is sharp, focused on distant hills. The sky’s a darker shade of pink, and night’s about to fall. When she follows Su’s gaze she can see them as clear as day itself—twelve figures, mounted on horseback, charging straight towards them.

“I guess we’re lucky… we get a bit of target practise,” Toph says, rubbing her hands together.

Korra shakes her head, clearing away the fog of sleep, “You should all stay here. I can take care of them,” she growls, clutching the hilt of her short sword.

“Nice try, but no chance,” Toph chuckles, opening the door as the carriage draws to a halt, and unsheathing her paired blades whilst she hops to the ground.

Korra’s known Toph long enough to not question her actions. Besides, the old woman’s tough… maybe even tougher than her. She tightens her belt and looks at Asami, seeing nothing but determination in her eyes, too. Su’s the same. She resigns herself to the fact that none of these women will back down, and smiles, feeling thankful that they’re all skilled fighters.

The bandits close in, and make the mistake of dismounting from their horses. After all, what threat are a group of mere women? Korra rolls her eyes at the thought.

A particularly rotund bandit starts to laugh, his large pot belly wobbling from the motion. He points to each of them, in turn.

“Way too old. Too old. Oh, yeah. And, hmmm, definitely. You girls ready for a treat? Mind if we cut you down a bit first?”

“You can try,” Asami says, pulling her blade out.

Korra sighs as the men clumsily pull out their swords. One of them can’t manage the feat, and struggles with the blade half-stuck in the hilt. You’d think, with six blades against them, these idiots would at least consider that they might be in for a fight. She almost feels sorry for them, but that thought’s disintegrated the second that she notices one of them is an archer, currently aiming an arrow straight at…

“Asami!” she calls out. She manages to pull Asami towards her just enough so that the arrow glances past her leg instead of impaling it. It still manages to tear through cloth, causing a strip of red to form, and Asami hisses in pain.

Korra looks at the fresh wound, and as the blood darkens the surrounding fabric she feels a surge of rage flood through her, and a sudden, burning-hot flash sears across her back.

“Careful, Korra,” Toph warns.

She doesn’t heed the warning. She watches the crimson stain darken further still, and bile wells up in her throat. How dare they… how dare they hurt Asami?!

Red mist swirls before her eyes, and she charges forwards, no longer caring to be tactful. They’re so slow. They are all… just… so slow. She laughs whilst her blade cuts through them… it’s as though they’re made of paper, and the blood—it’s warm as it splashes across her face. It’s… not unpleasant. She licks her lips… she wants more.

Eight down already. The rest are running, screaming! Oh, that sounds nice… she grins from ear to ear, almost hungry at the thought of cutting them down as they flee. She pulls her arm back, ready to dart forward with a few precise thrusts, but her wrist is gripped tightly, and she turns her head around, scowling at whoever dares to intervene.

“Korra… stop it…”

It’s Asami. Her brows are furrowed and her cheeks are stained with fresh tears. Why is she crying? Korra wonders.

They deserve this!” She growls, and her eyes widen when she hears the menace in her own voice.

“This isn’t you… this isn’t you. I’m fine, see?” Asami points to her thigh, where the blood’s already clotted into a neat, closed wound. “Come back to me…” Asami says, stroking Korra’s cheek softly.

The words seep into her consciousness, forcing the dark thoughts to blur, and fade away. The heat at her back subsides, and the red mist in her vision clears. Korra blinks once or twice, reality settling into her mind with a sharp heavy thud. When she realises what she’s just done she feels a pain in her gut, causing her to double over and kneel to the ground. She empties the contents of her stomach, retching, as though to clear herself of the darkness she’s inadvertently fed upon.

“Shit… shit! I’m sorry…” Korra chokes the words. It isn’t the first time she’s lost herself to… to whatever the hell it is that feeds on her nightmares, opposes her, fights against her and turns her against herself. It’s that… thing etched into one half of her back, seemingly in conflict with the other half.

“I thought I trained you better than this,” Toph sighs, and Korra looks up to see disappointment etched in the old woman’s face.

“I know…” Korra whispers, splaying her fingers into the dirt before her. “I’m a monster… I’m the Youkai… I know…” Her tears splatter into the ground, darkening it in small circles. Suddenly, she’s trapped in a warm embrace from behind, and it helps her pain subside. She’d recognise the feeling of those arms anywhere.

“Asami…” she whispers, biting into her quivering, lower lip. How can she stand to be near me? How can she stand to touch me?

“You’re not a monster. We’ll figure this out one day, I promise…” Asami talks quietly, reassuring her, and running fingertips through her hair.

She eventually calms down in Asami’s embrace, and lifts her head when she hears footsteps. Su’s running towards them from the distant hills.

“They’ve definitely fled, and I can’t see any reinforcements. We should continue on, whilst we have some light left,” Su pants.

Korra notices that Su’s barely even looking at her. Not like I can blame her, she thinks.

They quickly climb back into the wagon, and Korra’s surprised at Asami‘s strength as she’s helped to her feet and almost carried back inside. Once they’re in the wagon, she settles herself against Asami’s shoulder again, feeling tired from her exertions.

Korra knows that she sleeps too much. She used to be mocked for it, regularly compared to a wild cat, and it’s always been an annoyance. She’s fairly certain she’s slept an entire day since their journey started, but the demon energy forcing itself out of her must take its toll, for she’s soon drifting off again.

Asami’s hand strokes gently down her back, helping her to drift into a peaceful abyss.

::

The next time Korra wakes, it’s to a perfect, clear blue sky. I slept all night?! She thinks to herself, looking up to find a familiar pair of green eyes. Asami’s smiling at her.

“Hey, sleepy-head. Feeling better?” Asami asks, ruffling her hair.

“Much,” Korra says, sitting up and stretching out her arms. In truth, she’s still feeling a little nauseous from her actions yesterday, but she has to put on a brave face. She can’t be weak, there’s too much ahead of them for her to allow anxiety to consume her.

“We’re almost home…” Asami says, quickly pecking Korra on the lips.

It’s an innocent gesture, but it makes Korra feel worse, somehow. She sits upright and tucks her knees into her chest, looking at Asami, then Su, and lastly, Toph.

“Everyone… I’m so sorry…” she almost whispers the words.

“Pfft. It just means we need more training after all of this,” Toph says, waving a hand dismissively and smirking.

“Actually, instead of training it might be better if we try to figure out just who, or what you are…” Su says, smiling.

Korra feels relief that Su’s looking at her again. That Su’s talking to her. She’s amazed that all three of these women are so forgiving… they did just see a monster in action, after all. “I’d… I’d like that. I spent so long trying to escape, and then trying to find my Dad… I’ve never had time to—”

“As soon as this is over, it’s our turn to help you,” Asami interjects, winking at her.

“You don’t have to…” Korra holds her hands up, suddenly aware that she’s asking far too much.

“I do. And I will. Just try to stop me,” Asami says, pouting. Korra knows better than to argue.

“Okay,” Korra says, feeling her spirits finally lift as they exit the wagon and head out towards the holding.

They spend very little time at the holding, and pause only to check on Mako, who’s already out and about on his feet much to Korra’s delight.

“You’re doing what?” he asks, clearly appalled at their decision.

Korra knows she won’t convince him with words, so exploits his only weakness. She pecks him on the cheek and ruffles his hair, causing him to stop mid-sentence.

“We’ll be fine,” she says, “Just trust us, okay?”

He seems hesitant, and looks to Asami with a pained expression. Asami smiles at him and puts a hand on his shoulder, “Mako, I would have loved you to come, but I need you to stay here and help Lin. I’ll get Margaret and Han to watch the bar. Is that okay?”

“Of course.” Mako nods, and it seems his mood improves after being told that he’s needed.

The next task is to find Bolin, and it doesn’t take long. He’s with Opal, drinking tea in the Beifong house. Asami brings him up to date, clearly trying to ignore the dagger eyes that Opal’s firing in her direction.

“I hate to ask, but will you join us? We could use your strength,” Asami asks.

“Of course! Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” He grins.

“You can’t be serious!” Opal says folding her arms and scowling at Asami, and then at her mother.

“Honey, it’s for the greater good. Or do you want to lose all this?” Su says, sweeping her arms wide, “The Empress is too far gone, she’ll not stop until the entire world is under her command!”

“Well, then… well… I’m coming with you!” Opal stutters, and busies herself packing a bag.

“You’ll do no such thing. We’ll come back soon. I promise.” Suyin holds a hand on her daughter’s shoulder, and Opal clenches her teeth, her eyes glistening with frustrated tears.

“I’ll look after everyone, don’t worry!” Bolin declares, full of confidence as always. Pabu jumps on his shoulder and mrrows, and Korra wonders for a moment how long the tomcat has been in the holding.

“Is he coming, too?” Asami asks, chuckling.

“Of course! Pabu is an invaluable member of the team.” Bolin puffs his chest out, as though proud of the fact.

“Opal, honestly, we’ll look after him,” Korra says, smiling. She’s relieved when Opal eventually looks back at her, and nods slowly.

“Hurry it up, kids… we have to go,” Toph grumbles from the corner of the room, whilst picking something out of her teeth.

“Okay, everyone, please pack up the wagon whilst I arrange village affairs with Lin and Mako,” Asami orders, and Korra smiles to herself, seeing just how easily Asami can switch into her role of their Daimyo.

It isn’t long until they’re back in the wagon and headed to the nearest port, only a few hours away. As they travel there, Korra manages to avoid taking another nap, and instead she’s content to hold Asami against her shoulder as the young Daimyo slumbers.

“So, Toph… you’re like... Su’s Mum?” Bolin asks, wide eyed, as Pabu curls up on his lap.

“Yeah... what’s it to ya?”

“Uh… nothing! I bet you’re an amazing warrior. I can’t wait to see!”

“Hah!” Toph grins, failing miserably to hide her glee at the compliment.

As the two continue to chat, Bolin gesticulating wildly as though Toph would even see, Korra’s feeling content, at least for now. Asami’s snoring lightly against her chest, and she tries not to laugh as Su falls unconscious against her mother’s shoulder, whilst Toph exchanges constant banter with Bolin - it seems they’re two like peas in a pod.

::

It’s late, and the skies are dark. Korra grabs her backpack, and follows the group as they board their vessel. It’s a decent-sized boat, which is cleverly disguised as a cargo ship. Korra hopes that Wu does his job, and they’ll find little resistance as they sail towards their destination.

There are no cabins as such, just a large portion of the ship that’d usually be loaded with crates. Everyone deposits their belongings there, and Bolin lays out a blanket and lantern in the centre, with food, water, and some of his infamous Sake.

As the ship leaves port, everyone seems in high spirits. Korra laughs along, at least at first, but her mood blackens when she again thinks back to her father, and the sacrifices he’s made for her. The thought of his injuries make her blanch, and she makes an excuse to leave the room, heading up the stairs and pacing down the floorboards towards the rear of the boat.

It’s a clear night, the stars shine brightly, and the moon brightest of all. The light shimmers against the surrounding ocean, and Korra can’t help but be taken aback by the beauty. She inhales deeply, enjoying the tinge of salt in the cool sea breeze.

She folds her arms over the edge of the ship, looking down at the glistening waves beyond, and twirls her fingers. A small current follows her movements, and she etches patterns into he waves. She’s always done this, manipulated water as a means to relax, though tonight it doesn’t seem to help much. As she lazily twirls a figure eight, she thinks of her father, how he’d never given up, and had been looking for her just as hard as she’d been looking for him. But, she didn’t lose a leg in the process.

A particularly loud splash rouses Korra from her guilt-plagued daydream, and then she hears familiar, soft footsteps.

“Hey, you okay?” Asami’s voice forces a smile upon her lips, a smile which widens as she’s embraced from behind.

“Yeah… I was thinking about my Dad. He got hurt, just because he was trying to find me. I feel like… like it’s my fault.”

“Wouldn’t you do the same for your child? You’d go to the ends of the world, right?”

Korra thinks on this. She knows that she would, since she knows she’d fight for any of her loved ones, let alone a child of her own blood. Still, she can’t help the guilt that plagues her mind. “Asami… he lost his leg just trying to get to me. He’d heard I was in the Empire…. And he went there, like an idiot...”

Korra grimaces, trying to suppress any feelings of hatred she should have towards the Empire for what they’ve done to him.

“It’s all the more reason to stop them. To stop her. They’re merciless, at least under her leadership…”

“But I could have found him! I could have escaped sooner… and I could have…”

Korra’s almost in tears, but her despair is interrupted as she’s forcibly turned around to face Asami. She feels her lips caught in a sudden kiss and her hips gripped in a tight embrace.

Asami pulls back from the kiss, whispers words whilst touching their noses together. “You can’t always fix everything… you can’t always be the hero…”

Korra revels in the sensation of Asami’s body against her own, and closes her eyes, listening to the waves as they collide against the vessel, in a steady, rhythmic beat. She hopes that they’ll get through this… she’s only just found Asami. She couldn’t bear to lose her.

“We’ll soon be fighting against the empire itself,” she says, quietly, nestling her face into the thick folds of Asami’s hair.

“We will.” Asami’s arms slide up Korra’s back, “Promise me you’ll be careful. Promise me that you won’t die.” Asami’s voice cracks at the last few word, and Korra smiles at the obvious realisation that Asami doesn’t want to lose her, either.

“You promise first.” Korra whispers.

“I promise.”

“Me too.”

A tear falls down Korra’s cheek, and she seeks out Asami’s lips until they’re caught in a tender kiss. As the boat rocks over the ocean waves she holds Asami tightly, feeling joy pulse through her body with each beat of her heart.

Chapter Text

“Kanpai!” Bolin raises his pot, and everyone around the circle joins him.

Even though they’re headed into uncertainty, into danger, the group seems in high spirits. Korra wraps her arm around Asami’s shoulder, and scoots herself closer to her.

The sea’s been kind so far, and the boat rocks so gently that Korra is barely even aware they’re at sea. It’d be hard to mistake the smell, though. It’s so salty, and so pure, so clean. It reminds her of home. She takes another drink from Bolin, links her elbow with Asami’s, and they drink the next shot together, laughing.

They bring their lips together for a quick kiss, and Korra traps Asami’s lower lip gently between her teeth, forcing a growl.

Su interrupts, loudly slamming her cup against the deck of the boat, getting everyone’s attention.

“As much as I’d love to continue to have fun, we must discuss our plan.” Su says, reminding everyone as to why they’re here, and Korra coughs as if to apologise for her merriment.

Su rummages around her backpack, pulling out a long narrow tube. She pops the top off, pulls a large scroll out and lays it out flat, carefully smoothing it out with her palm. It’s a map, and it’s incredibly well drawn – even the smallest of islands are detailed. Korra wonders who drew it, for they surely have some skill.

Su points her index finger to the northern perimeter of the Empire.

“We’ll be docking at port here, once we’ve changed into our disguises.”

“Disguises?” Korra asks.

“Yes, we have Wu to thank for that. See the crate over there?” Su points to the far side of the room, where there’s a row of oversized wooden boxes, “the one at the end. They’re in there.”

Korra finds herself feeling anxious. The more Su talks, the more it becomes apparent. This is real… it’s going to happen. They’re actually going into the Empire. She squeezes her eyes closed, trying to fight back the fear in her belly. Asami grasps her hand, clearly detecting her nervousness, and it puts her at ease slightly.

“I’ve sent word ahead. We’ll meet Kuvira and Bataar-“

“They’re not controlled by the Empress?” Asami interjects.

“As far as I am aware, no. They have been cautious, and have maintained contact with me throughout.”

Korra detects a hint of uncertainty in Su’s voice. “When I… worked with them, they seemed to have their senses. Although I know it was a long time ago.”

“Thank you, Korra,” Su smiles, appreciating the gesture, “I’m just sorry we couldn’t get you out of there. They did tell me about you, the Empress’s little pet. We had concerns, but sadly, all paths of recovering you would have ended in war. It seemed impossible to save you.”

“Oh. I’d never really thought about it much,” Korra smiles, “I’m just glad I’m here now. I want to put an end to this.”

“As do we all,” Toph says, and Korra’s sure she sees a smile at the corner of her mouth.

“So, where do I come into it?” Bolin asks, and Korra realises he’s been unusually quiet.

“You possess the same skills as my family, able to bend the earth itself,” Su says, “I’m certain we’re going to need that, though I’ll know for sure once we meet my son.”

“So… if I am to assume correctly, we’ll disguise ourselves, get past the border control, and meet them at Narv?” Asami asks, pointing to the northmost village, closest to the dock.

Korra frowns. Narv… why does the name sound so familiar?

“Aren’t you astute?” Su smiles, “Yes. Narv experienced a calamity a few years back, but it’s doing much better now. We’ll meet at the local bar.”

Korra suddenly remembers. She feels the colour drain from her face, “Is that where I… where…”

Toph nods, “Yup. The place you wrecked before coming to my nice little swamp.”

“I’m not sure I can go there… I can’t even remember what happened, or what I did…” Korra babbles, feeling quite terrified at the notion of returning there.

“Maybe if you go it’ll jog your memory. Maybe that’s what you need, could be good for you.” Toph suggests.

“They won’t recognise you, Korra. You wore the Empress’s elite regalia, mask and all.” Su adds.

Korra grits her teeth. She wants to get off the ship, abandon this plan. She can’t go there… she just can’t. Yet, Asami’s touch grounds her, and she finds peace in the embrace she’s suddenly trapped in.

“You’ll be fine. I’ll protect you,” Asami says, chuckling. The sound of the laughter melts Korra’s fears away, and she wonders how she’s ever managed to live without this beautiful woman.

“Thanks, ‘Sami,” she mumbles into the other woman’s shoulder.

Suddenly, Korra feels a strange energy pulse through her. It’s subtle, and it feels like it comes from her very core. It urges her to jump into the waters, to sink deep, and she wonders if she may be losing her mind. But then the sensation vanishes almost as quickly as it came, and she’s left feeling more than confused.

“Are you okay?” Asami asks, looking into her eyes.

“Yeah, maybe I’m just a little… anxious.”

“Me too. I’m sure we all are. More sake, anyone?” Bolin asks, offering a weak smile.

“I wouldn’t mind some of that,” A new, gruff, voice sounds, accompanied by a thud of footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Ah, captain. I wondered when you’d join us.” Su says, smiling and raising a glass, “Everyone, this is Captain Bor. One of my most trusted men.”

“Yes, yes, nice to meet everyone. I’ve been too busy sorting the boys upstairs to introduce myself, but here I am,” he says, sitting himself between Bolin and Asami, and gratefully accepting a cup.

Korra frowns, scrutinising his stubbly face. Shit! She grimaces. What are the odds...?

Korra!?” Bor almost chokes on his drink, and everyone’s eyes go wide, “Where have you been? You just vanished after…”

Korra slams her mug down and tightens her lips into a thin line, giving him the sternest glare she can muster, silently hoping that he shuts his mouth.

“After what?” Asami asks, raising an eyebrow and looking between the two.

Bor responds by smirking, then letting out a hearty laugh, “Oh don’t you worry lass, you didn’t break my heart. My pride, maybe. But it was a fun night.” He winks at Korra.

“Oh…” Asami mouths the vowel, then burst into laughter too, “he’s one of your itch-scratchers? The ones you told me about?”

Korra wants to bury herself into a hole. She knows that she’s blushing furiously, “It was the sake, okay? Maybe you’re just lucky that you were in the right place at the right time…”

“Hey, you got pretty lucky too.” Bor grins, and Su chuckles to herself whilst watching the exchange.

“Don’t… don’t flatter yourself,” Korra pouts, folding her arms and looking away, at a suddenly very interesting plank of wood by the ship’s side.

“Well you weren’t complaining at the time…” Bor purrs, and Korra feels Asami’s arm wrap around her from behind, so she turns to look at her. Asami isn’t laughing anymore. If anything, she’s giving the man a death stare, and his face visibly pales.

“Oh, I see. I meant no disrespect. I see your tastes have changed a bit since th-“

Asami stands to her feet, staring the man down.

“- I mean changed, for the best. Clearly. You look good together!”

“Bor, you should probably shut up before one of them kills you,” Toph interjects, whilst idly picking her nose. Korra’s grateful because he actually shuts up after that. Or at least, he does until Bolin starts quizzing him on where they met, at which point she stands to leave.

“I need air,” she says, heading up the stairs without another word.

Asami doesn’t follow. Maybe she’s busy staring Bor down until he turns into a puddle of ooze, or teaching Bolin the fine art of shutting the fuck up. She hopes so. She closes her eyes, and deeply inhales the salty breeze, enjoying the cold air brushing through her strands of hair. She can feel the boat rocking against the waves, and feels conscious of the ebb and flow of water beneath. If she wanted to, it’d be a trivial task to coax the waters a little, get them towards their destination faster.

Yet she doesn’t want to hurry. For all she knows, they may all soon die. She wants to enjoy her time alive, her time with her friends, and especially with Asami. She stares ahead, into the amber-golden hue of the setting sun. It’s almost painful to look at, but it’s too beautiful to turn away from, and the glow is warm and reassuring against her skin. She folds her arms over the edge of the boat, smiling when she sees dolphins jumping by the side. It’s usually a sign of good luck to see something like this, or so she thinks, until she spots a patrol ship heading straight for them.

Korra darts down the stairs, “An empire patrol, heading straight for us!”

They’ve prepared for this. Whilst Wu had arranged for the patrols to be adjusted, there was never any guarantee one wouldn’t be running late, or incapable of following new orders. Bor quickly heads upstairs and prepares his crew, whilst everyone else finds their allotted crate to hide in.

Asami beckons Korra into the last one, but something holds her back. It’s almost like a tug in the back of her head, telling her to stay outside, and change the plan.

“Stay here. Trust me.” She whispers. Asami seems frightened at first, but then nods, and closes the crate.

Korra heads to the entrance of the room, sits down, pulls her belt loose and removes her daisho. She grabs the sheathed blades and hugs them to her chest, leaning back against the wall and closing her eyes. She is the guardian of the cargo on this vessel, a story that should be fairly believable. Besides, she isn’t sure she trusts Bor not to mess things up, even though they’ve been through this plan ten times over with Su.

She feels a sharp nudge as wood thuds against wood, and then hears patters of footsteps. She cranes her neck to the side, struggling to hear.

“… no… authorised… at this time of day.”

She sighs. Looks like there’s going to be an inspection after all. Sure enough, footsteps soon echo down the stairs. Surprisingly, from just two sets of boots. She opens one eye and sees Bor, followed by a man in green garb. Their uniforms haven’t changed much since she was there, so she recognises the man as a captain almost immediately. She nods at him as he glances at her, before continuing into the deck.

“I’m going to need to inspect these. Open up that one, there,” he says, pointing to the crate Asami is hidden in.

Korra takes action, without really having a plan, “Whoa, stop that, I can’t let you open those, sir,” she says, standing to her feet and approaching the captain.

“And you would stop me, peasant?” the captain spits.

“Samurai, actually. Working for the Empress herself. Those are extremely delicate samples, ordered directly to these lands by the Empress.”

“Hah! You expect me to believe that?”

“I expect you to believe that I know full well what she did to the last person who contaminated her supplies. There’s a reason these crates are sealed.”

The man stares at her, and she can see his resolve dropping, “Orders are orders, I am to inspect any vessel not on our trade list,” he says.

“Your orders were adjusted so that you’d patrol two hours later, captain. And that is precisely because of this secret shipment. If necessary, I am authorised to use lethal force to protect this cargo.” Korra says the words as sternly as she can, frowning as she holds her Daisho up and slowly unsheathes the first blade.

That seems to do the trick. The captain opens and closes his mouth a few times, seemingly in conflict with himself.

“So be it,” Korra growls, “Under my Empress’s orders, I will cut you do-“

“No! Stop,” the man says, now trembling, “Fine. I thought the new shifts were strange, but please don’t tell her Majesty I failed to follow the order… please…”

Korra clicks her blade back into place, “Consider yourself lucky, this time. Fail her again, and I shall be your executioner.”

The captain dashes back upstairs, quickly shouting for his men to return to sea. There’s a soft nudge as the vessels free up from one another, and Korra smirks to herself as everyone pops open their crate.

Bolin wafts at his nose as he exits, “Okay, who put me in the crate that used to contain dead animals?”

“That was nice! Didn’t know you could act,” Toph says, grinning whilst patting dust from herself.

“Yes, me neither. Maybe you should work in theatre?” Su asks, and Korra laughs at the idea.

Her laughter stops when she feels Asami place lips upon her ear, purring, “That was all kinds of sexy… it’s a shame there’s no privacy on this ship.”

Korra feels a tight grip against her rear and she gulps. Her skin reddens at the words and touch, and Bor starts laughing, clearly aware of their exchange.

“All right ladies, we’ll be docking in the morning. I suggest a good night’s sleep before then.”

With Asami’s breath hot against her ear, the last thing on Kora’s mind is sleep… but somehow, eventually sleep does come, with Asami nestled into her arms as they lay on a bed of furs.

::

Korra’s dreams are vivid.

She sees a familiar crimson mist swirling before her, in random patterns. It’s just like it was back then… empty faces, hollow eyes, all just disintegrating right in front of her. She sees her own wounds burning hot, blood bubbling like lava as they seal up tightly.

She tries to talk, to scream, but nothing comes out. And then she’s disorientated by another tug, like she felt earlier, on the ship. Dark blue colours flood through her mind and she sees a symbol, just like the one on her back; two tears interlocked, spinning. They transform into a pair of dragons, chomping at each other’s tail. Blue battles red, but neither can win. They spin endlessly, and she can tell that it’s futile; there can’t be a victor.

She reaches out to try to calm them, tell them to stop, but they both turn and face her, snapping razor-sharp teeth. She hisses in pain, and looks down to see a bloody stump where her hand should be. Rather than feel fear or pain, she feels anger. The red dragon grins as she seethes, and the mist returns, flowing into her, empowering her. She looks down again, and her hand is back to normal – if anything, stronger than ever as she flexes her fingers out.

“This is my power, you must learn to use it…” a voice rasps from the red drake, sinister, full of malice.

“No, you mustn’t…” another voice rings out, and the blue drake snaps at the red, causing him to hiss in anger. Before long the two are intertwined again, twirling their tails, growling and clawing.

For some reason it pains Korra deep inside of her heart to see them fighting. Pain pulses at her back, and her chest aches.

“Who… who are you?” she asks, clutching at her torso.

“You should know. You should know!” they both hiss, together, heading straight for her head with glistening fangs.

::

Korra snaps awake, sodden with sweat, her heart beating as though she’s sprinted for a mile. She sits bolt upright, rousing Asami in the process.

“Are you okay?” Asami asks.

“Yeah… just had a weird dream,” Korra says, though she’s acutely aware that it was more than a dream.

She looks around. Everyone’s still asleep on their furs and rugs, except Bolin – he’s resting his head against his folded arms, looking at her. He smiles when their eyes meet. Light streams in through tiny cracks in the ship’s upper hull, and Korra feels the ship slow down, eventually stopping.

“I guess this is where it really begins,” Korra says.

Asami kisses her on the cheek, “And this is where we’ll end it. Let’s wake the others.”

Chapter Text

Korra tightens her belt, locking her Daisho firmly into place. Everyone’s changed into the disguises prepared by Wu, and some are more subtle than others.

“Are you sure this will even work?” Korra asks, studying her own garb. The kimono is a dark, almost dirty shade of green, hemmed with gold trim. She’s kept her own hakama, which are blue but so dark that the naked eye could perceive them as black.

Asami is still wearing her own crimson kimono and brown hakama, but has an empire hairpiece in, a green gem clasping the hair back from her face.

“It’ll be fine. This is only so that we don’t stand out like a sore thumb anyway,” Toph explains.

“So we’re not planning on marching up to the front gate?” Korra says, chuckling at the thought.

“Course not. Now, let’s go meet my grandson,” Toph says, hopping to her feet.

“Yeah! Time to kick some ass!” Bolin says, punching a hand into his fist. Asami rolls her eyes at him, grinning despite herself.

The group clambers up the stairs, and Korra feels her heart pounding. She isn’t sure if it’s excitement, or fear. All going well, the next two days will change everyone’s fate, forever. She just hopes it changes for the best.

“You called him your grandson,” Su says quietly, smiling at her mother whilst they check over their gear and supplies one last time.

“Yeah… blood is blood. Sorry if I uh…” Toph mumbles.

“Let’s talk about it after all this is over. I’m just glad to have you back.” Su says, lightly holding the older woman’s arm.

Korra stands at the head of the group, looking across the plank of wood separating the ship from the port. She takes a deep breath, looks back at Asami, and grins whilst taking the first step. It feels heavy, but like anything else in life, if you focus on one foot after the other, one thing at a time, anything’s possible.

“You look after them, princess!” Bor yells, waving. Korra cringes at the nickname, smiles and waves at Bor whilst ignoring Asami’s fit of giggles.

“I’m… I’m going to call you that from now on.” Asami says, still half-laughing as she brushes a tear from her eye.

“Don’t you dare.” Korra pouts.

“Of course not,” Asami smirks, “…princess.”

Korra spins around and attacks Asami’s sides with her fingertips, and Asami sounds out a high pitched squeal, “Ah! Stop it, NO!, haha-“

Su coughs, “Okay girls, cut it out. We need to blend in, remember?” she says, though she’s clearly amused at their exchange.

“Of course, yes ma’am.” Korra says, standing upright with a mock salute, causing another flood of laughter from Asami. She isn’t sure why she’s in such high spirits. Perhaps she’s being cautiously optimistic, or perhaps she’s losing her mind, especially after that dream. It isn’t just her though. She looks around the group and can see that everyone seems happy.

“Are you headed to Narv?” Su asks a wagon master stood by the dock.

“I am if you’re paying,” he says, wrinkling his nose as he squints up at Su.

Su walks to the front of the wagon, checks over the horses, the wheels and the cart itself, before feeling satisfied that the vehicle will suffice, “I’ll pay you double if you get us there quickly,” she says, and the man grins widely in response, opening the wagon door and curtseying.

It’s a bumpy ride, and Korra scowls in protest as a particularly nasty bump elevates her from the seat enough to give her a rude landing.

“I’ll kiss it better later…” Asami whispers, noticing her disdain. Korra manages to fight off the blush threatening to assault her cheeks, perhaps becoming accustomed to the teasing that Asami enjoys torturing her with so much. Instead, she winks at the other woman, pleased with herself when Asami’s cheeks flush pink this time.

Korra peers out of the window, whilst holding herself down to avoid further bruising. The gravel path they travel is surrounded at either side by lush greenery and tall trees, and the sun battles its way through thin cracks, flashing across her face every third tree or so. It’s a little mesmerising.

“Korra, are you prepared for Narv?” Su asks, drawing her attention.

“I’m honestly not sure… I guess we’ll find out soon enough.” Korra mutters, though her chest does constrict at the mere mention of the village name. Asami’s hand runs up her back as she continues to stare out.

“Are you a mind reader?” she asks, not realising she’s spoken out loud.

“Hmm? What do you mean?” Asami asks.

“Well, you always seem to know when I need… erm-”

“Need what… this?” Asami says, stroking her palm higher still, and threading fingers into the short hairs at the back of Korra’s neck. The samurai struggles to hold back a growl at the touch, and instead, nods her head in answer to the question.

Korra is acutely aware of the other three talking loudly about a new flavour of sake that Bolin wants to try, and that the herb can only be found near here, and he wants to find time to try and-

“You know, we can stay in a private room in Narv tonight…” Asami purrs into her ear, idly trailing a fingertip in circles on Korra’s back. Korra clenches her fingers onto the edge of the window, and again, nods her head in response. Suddenly, Narv doesn’t seem quite so terrifying.

::

The trip would usually take half a day, but the wagon master makes good on his promise and they get to Narv in around four hours.

For Korra, it’s been four hours of torment, with Asami brushing fingers against her back, her shoulders, her sides, and pretty much anywhere that she can get away with. Four hours of Asami whispering torturous things into her ears. Four hours of being relentlessly, yet subtly teased; four hours of having to join in conversations about sake, and chi manipulation, trying her best to pay attention even when fingers massage into her scalp and lightly tug at her hair, hidden to everyone, known only to her.

Su pays the wagon master, and he nods politely as they all head into the village.

Korra barely recognises the place. It’d been a little run down before, probably because of the corrupt leader at the time; the one she’d dispatched, along with his bandit bodyguards. She’s suddenly tense at the memory, and squeezes her fingers more tightly between Asami’s. She hadn’t even realised that they were holding hands… things like that seem to come so naturally now.

Narv is a different place, for sure. The villagers seem happy, and there’s loud conversation and laughter ringing out as merchants peddle their wares. A woman loudly bellows at her husband for “drinking at this time of day again!”, whilst chucking an ice bucket over him, and Korra has to duck slightly from the splash.

“Okay, here we are. Hopefully they’ll already be here…” Su says, pushing open the door of the inn, ignoring the sign that clearly states it’s closed.

Korra cranes her head up and shields her eye from the sun to look at the bar sign. Its two girls, facing each other with a teapot on a table between them. “The two sisters,” Korra reads out loud. It’s not a bad name, but she much prefers the drunken dragon. She’s probably just biased.

It’s certainly a spacious bar, and newly built by the looks of things. There’s six large round tables, each with an ornate lantern in the middle and surrounded by five stools. All around the edges of the room are square bales of hay, presumably for extra seating. The actual bar, at the end of the room, is twice the length of the drunken dragon’s. There are bottles spanning every colour of the rainbow across the shelves, and Bolin’s eyes are sparkling as he looks across them.

“We’re clo-“ the barkeep says, but then she sees Su and smiles, “-sorry ma’am. Glad you made it here safely.”

“Five of the house recommendation,” Su says, jingling a coin purse.

“Of course, Su,” The barkeep says. It’s a young woman, perhaps mid-twenties, with red hair and freckled skin; an unusual complexion for these parts. Korra wonders where she’s from and how she knows Su. The woman takes a tall, red bottle from the shelf, and quickly lines out five small pots.

“Ooooh!” Bolin exclaims, as the redhead draws the open bottle across all five mugs in one go, filling them without spilling a drop, “Oh wow! Is it strawberry?” he asks, after taking a sip.

The barkeep nods, and chuckles, then looks sombrely at Su. She pulls a sealed scroll out from behind the counter, and slides it across the table, “this just came in. I think there’s been a problem…”

“What? Oh, no…” Su says, and the bar falls silent as she opens the scroll. Su’s eyes quickly scan over the parchment, and Korra watches her expression shift from panic, to annoyance, to relief.

“We won’t be meeting them today. It would have been suspicious for them to depart due to prior commitments, but they can definitely be here first thing tomorrow,” Su says, breathing a sigh of relief as she folds the scroll back up.

“Well, we’re ahead of schedule anyway. Who’s up for a bit of fun?” Toph says, gulping her drink down in one.

“Mother! We can’t be nursing hangovers tomorrow, it would be disast-“

“Oh, calm your hakama, dear. We’ll stick to tea and rice cakes.” Toph chuckles, “and maybe the occasional sake!”

Bolin cheers and fist-bumps Toph.  Korra shakes her head, wondering just how Toph does that. Maybe she’s psychic, or not actually blind at all, and it’s all a ruse.

Bolin’s busy picking out the next flavour of sake to try, and Su’s having an argument with Toph about which flavour of tea to order, and that they’re definitely not having sake, because if they have more sake now the-

“I don’t think we should drink, I need you to be sober.” Asami again. Lips to her ear, again. Teasing her, again. Korra doesn’t suppress the growl this time.

“Oh for God’s sake get a room!” Su snaps at them, clearly flustered at losing the argument about tea as more sake is poured.

“All the rooms are empty right now,” the barkeep says, smiling politely as she points upstairs to a row of doors. Korra is sure she’s never felt quite this awkward before.

“We’ll need somewhere a little more private, if you have anything?” Asami’s voice, husky, and Asami’s fingertips, trailing across Korra’s neck, just beneath her Kimono. Whilst Korra should feel even more awkward at the obviousness of the situation, she’s instead fighting back the urge to take Asami right here, right now. Must be something about that deep sound in Asami’s throat, that tone that tells Korra just how badly she’s needed. The nails trailing across her collarbone cause her entire body to tremble, not that anyone notices.

“Yes, we have a couple of cabins just out back. They’re a little… expensive though…” The girl says, grimacing at Su.

“Oh, we don’t expect a discount for the rooms, dear. Don’t worry.” Su waves her hand, apparently resigned to the fact that there’s going to be sake after all as she sips at her mug.

“I can afford it. Lead the way,” Asami says, taking Korra’s hand as they both follow the barkeep out the back door.

“Make sure you get some sleep!” Su shouts after them, and Korra hears a hint of laughter to the words.

“Are you sure that was wise?” Toph raises an eyebrow, addressing Su, “We need them at their best tomorrow.”

“Says the woman who insists on drinking,” Su frowns, “They’ll be fine. At least this way they won’t be too distracted with one another. Besides…” Su looks into her cup, seeing her own tired, green eyes reflected in the red-tinged liquid.

“Don’t say it.” Toph warns.

“We have to face the truth, mother. There’s no guarantee any of us will make it-“

“Okay, I don’t want to hear such negativity thank you very much!” Bolin says, folding his arms, “we’ll all be fine, me and Pabu will make sure of it.”

The cat crawls out of his backpack, jumps on the counter and lets out a strange mewl whilst stretching out.

“Has he been in there… all this time?” Su asks, raising an eyebrow quizzically.

“Well, no. But he does like to sleep a lot. It’s a cat thing.” Bolin says, grinning, whilst he pulls out a couple of saucers and fills them with dried meat and water.

“How adorable!” The barkeep says, returning from the back of the bar, and grinning as she spots the ginger tom, “can I pet him?”

“Let him eat first, then sure, he’s friendly… especially with the ladies.” Bolin winks, then gets a sharp nudge from Su.

“You’re taken, remember.” Su growls.

“I know! I wasn’t… I was just being nice!” Bolin grimaces.

“So, I take it our girls are suitably… accommodated?” Su asks the barkeep.

“Ye ma’am. I erm, gave them the cabin furthest away. For… privacy,” she blushes at the words.

Su rests her elbows on the table, “We should probably entertain ourselves, too. Does anyone want to play tousenkyo? You have the pieces right, dear?” she asks the barkeep.

“Of course!”

“Hah, I always kick your ass at this, don’t know why you bother,” Toph says, grinning, whilst Su rolls her eyes.

::

Asami’s held tightly against the wall, her legs are wrapped around Korra’s waist, and her thighs are captured in a strong grip as lips trail from her neck, to her cheek, then her lips. She’s caught in a ferocious kiss, deep, urgent, and then her lower lip is lightly grasped between Korra’s teeth. She wraps her arms around the warrior’s neck, groaning at the relentless assault of Korra’s mouth as their lips collide, and Korra’s hips thrust against her.

“Korra…” she pants the word as their lips break apart.

Korra pulls back slightly, touching their noses, panting in front of her as blue gaze locks upon green. Without once breaking her gaze, Korra adjusts her grip slightly, never letting her fall, keeping her pinned to the wall with her waist and one hand. The other hand trails up Asami’s thigh, beneath her kimono, and Korra’s thumb rests just an inch away from where she needs it the most, where she’s needed Korra’s touch all day.

She jerks her hips, as though she can force the contact herself, but Korra keeps her held firm.

“You’ve been teasing me all day…” Korra growls, trailing her thumb in idle circles.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t like it,” Asami chuckles, throatily.

“I did… I just, I don’t want this to end…” Korra whispers, and Asami gasps when she sees tears form beneath those innocent, blue eyes.

“Hey. It won’t end. We promised, remember?” Asami asks, brushing soft strands of brown behind Korra’s tan face.

“How can we mean it though? How can we know we’ll be okay? I can’t lose you… and I don’t want to die…” Korra says, carefully releasing Asami from her hold against the wall.

Asami pulls the sobbing woman into her arms, and her heart aches as she softly runs fingers through Korra’s hair. She knows the words are true, but she doesn’t want to think about it.

“I don’t want to lose you either.” she says, pulling Korra closer still, and shedding her own tears. “I love you, Korra. I love you so much that it actually hurts.”

At the words, Korra’s sobs grow louder, and Asami has a moment of panic at her admission. A hand clutches into the back of her kimono, and Korra pulls back a little, raising her head. Tears stain her cheeks, and there’s a half-smile, half-grimace on her face.

“Really?” Korra says, in a whisper. Asami’s sure she’s never seen the warrior look this vulnerable before, and her heart melts at the sight.

“Really. I love you.” She smiles, noticing that Korra’s tears have stopped.

Korra laughs, and Asami’s suddenly pulled into a tight squeeze as Korra’s head nestles against her shoulder.

“I wov you too” Korra mumbles into her Kimono.

“Sorry, I didn’t quite hear that.” Asami says, smirking at the other woman as their eyes lock again.

“I said I love you too,” Korra says, sniffling. Asami pulls a handkerchief from the pocket inside her kimono, and wipes it across Korra’s face, carefully dabbing away tears.

“Well then, how about we get married after this is over?” she says the words without thinking, but with the way Korra’s face brightens, she’s glad she did.

“What? Is that even possible?” Korra almost chokes the words.

“I’m sure we’ll find a way… if you want to,” Asami grins.

“Of course! I mean yes, but you should probably ask father’s permission first.”

“Really? What do you think he’d say?” Asami says, whilst gently easing Korra back, towards the bed.

“I think he’d be happy, because I’m happy, and-“

Asami interrupts her, putting her hands behind Korra’s head, pulling their lips together and kissing her, with everything that she has in her heart, and with everything that she is. Korra moans against her lips, and their kiss deepens. She feels Korra’s tongue glance across hers, causing a sudden fire to burn between her legs, and she pushes Korra down to the bed, straddling her waist. She grinds herself against Korra’s hips, and holds her hands palm-down, either side of Korra’s face. Korra’s eyes stare back up at her, hungry, desperate.

She groans as she lowers herself down, locking their thighs together between the folds of their kimono, thrusting into Korra as desperately as the other woman thrusts into her. She sucks against Korra’s neck, feeling hands tighten into the back of her robe, and feels that she’s going to come, so soon.

“No… not yet…” she pants, managing to regain some control, sitting upright atop Korra. The look in Korra’s eyes is making it almost impossible for her to stay that way, it’s pulling at her, its driving her wild. She closes her eyes, breathing in for a few seconds, then exhaling loudly.

When she opens her eyes, she sees Korra staring at her in exactly the same way as before, with flush cheeks and lidded eyes.

“I think… I think we can at least manage to get undressed, don’t you?” she manages to speak, though her voice sounds thicker than usual, and her throat is dry.

Korra grins in response, sits up between her legs, and with one hand unloops the knot of her belt.

“Aren’t you talented,” Asami purrs, allowing Korra to push down her sleeves, revealing her torso.

Suddenly, Korra’s lips are against her breast, mouth sucking hard, and she cries out. She quickly pushes Korra back down, knowing that she can’t hold out for much longer, especially if she allows Korra to do that. She unties Korra’s own Kimono, pushing apart the robe whilst Korra pulls her arms from the sleeves. Korra’s abdomen and breasts are covered with tiny beads of sweat, and Asami’s mind is swirling as she tugs down the baggy hakama, revealing Korra’s toned, glistening legs.

She quickly sheds her own robe, and takes but a moment to stand and loosen her hakama, allowing them to fall to the floor before she returns to her position, spreading her legs above Korra’s bare abdomen, feeling her wetness contact Korra’s skin, and grinning wickedly when Korra groans and thrusts up into her.

“See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?” Asami growls. In actuality, holding back long enough to strip, with Korra looking at her in that manner the whole time, was probably the hardest thing she’s had to do in a long time

Before she realises what’s happening, Korra’s sliding a hand beneath her legs, palm up. She cries out loudly, gasping as she feels a stretch, feels Korra’s fingers sliding deeply into her. She grinds against the palm, barely keeping herself upright as her arms shakily hold her up, her hands pressing down against Korra’s shoulders.

“You… you sneaky…” she pants, but she can feel that she’s close to the edge again, and physically restrains herself from grinding further.

Asami shifts herself a little, so that Korra’s thigh is between her legs. Korra’s hand doesn’t relent, it follows her, palm pressing against her clit, fingers folding upwards. She still refuses to grind, she’s still forcing back the orgasm that’s threatening to explode so soon.

She slides her own palm across damp skin, towards Korra’s sex, and groans in chorus with Korra as she feels just how wet the other woman is. Korra bucks against her hand, and Asami thrusts herself deep inside, a warmth in her chest radiating with every noise that Korra makes in response to her touch. She traps her hand beneath her thigh, keeping her hand pressed firm, curling her fingers into Korra’s warmth.

Korra rocks beneath her, and she finally allows herself to do the same, thrusting against the hand between her legs. She can’t keep herself upright anymore, she buckles, barely keeping herself held up on one elbow as she grinds herself ferociously against the woman beneath her. She allows herself to sink just a little lower, panting and gasping as her breasts skim across Korra’s with each thrust she makes.

“A…Asami…” Korra moans her name, and she feels Korra’s free hand dig into her lower back, pulling at her.

“Oh God… Korra…” she pants, unable to hold back any longer, crying out as her climax takes hold, whilst she feels Korra shuddering against her, wetness spilling onto her hand and Korra’s hips bucking violently upwards.

“Korra… Korra… ” she collapses, the strength in her arms gone. Her torso writhes against Korra’s, her heart threatening to burst with joy as she pants the name over and over, riding out each peak that jolts through her.

She’s eventually brought to her senses by a deep thudding beneath her, and soon realises it’s Korra’s heart. She tilts her head, pressing her ear against skin so that she can enjoy the sound. It’s strong, deep, and somehow reassuring. She’s content to lay like that, whilst enjoying the touch of Korra’s fingertip as it trails across her back.

“So… will I become Korra Sato?” Korra suddenly asks.

Asami feels the chest beneath her rock slightly with Korra’s soft laughter. It takes her a moment to realise what Korra means, and then she laughs too, propping herself up onto her elbows, “If that’s what you want. You never did tell me your surname…”

“Can’t. It’s top secret.”

“Tell me!” Asami says, grinning and quickly pecking Korra on the lips.

“Fine, it’s…”

Korra pulls her ear down to her lips, whispering, and Asami laughs out loud, “I’m not surprised you keep that hidden.”

“Hey! Don’t be mean!” Korra pouts, “but yes, I think perhaps we’ll go with Sato, so long as father doesn’t mind.”

“Good to know, princess.” Asami says, ignoring Korra’s protest at the name as she lowers herself down for another kiss. Tomorrow can wait. Tonight, she has Korra, the woman she loves, the woman who loves her back; the woman she will marry.

Right now, Korra is all that matters.

Chapter Text

Asami is woken by the strangest of sounds, somewhere between a bear growling and a weird whining whistle. She opens one eye to find Korra splayed out, using up approximately eighty percent of the bed; Asami’s somehow managed to stay on the thin strip of space that’s left without falling off the edge.

Korra’s arms are splayed wide, and the snoring would wake the Gods themselves. She nuzzles herself close to the sleeping figure, “We’ll have to fix that if you’re going to be my wife,” she says, chuckling.

“Wha? Snnrrr.” Korra grunts.

“Wakey, wakey, my princess…” Asami grins, drawing a fingertip across the naked beauty’s torso.

Korra smacks her lips together, and opens her eyes, momentarily looking confused. She sits up and stretches out, yawning elaborately, “what time is it?” she asks, rubbing sleep from her eyes.

“Time we got washed and dressed. Kuvira and Bataar should be here by now...”

“I guess this is it then.” Korra says, smiling sadly.

Asami takes her hand, “Yes, this is it. It isn’t the end, remember? It’s the start of our new life.”

Korra grins at her, stealing glances her way the whole time that they get ready for the challenges that lay ahead.

::

“Ah, there you are. I was thinking of sending a rescue party,” Su says, chuckling as Korra and Asami walk into the bar.

“Korra.” Kuvira says, nodding her head in the Samurai’s direction.

“Ugh… Hello again.” Korra says, sitting at the bar, barely even able to meet Kuvira’s eyes, or Bataar’s. So far as she knows, they last time they saw her, she’d been transforming into some kind of monster.

“So, how is our little Youkai?” Bataar asks, smirking.

“Don’t call her that.” Asami warns, and Korra feels the tension in the air thicken.

“Asami, it’s fine. They were good to me, remember?” Korra tries to catch Asami’s gaze, and when she does, Korra smiles and tries to reassure her.

“I’m fine, Bataar. How about you? Had any Empire specials? I’ve heard the water is good,” Korra says, dryly. Bolin laughs awkwardly, clearly not understanding the context of the joke at all.

“Oh! You’ve developed a sense of humour since escaping. How delightful.” Bataar chuckles.

“Okay people, enough,” Su says, clapping her hands, “Asami, Korra – we have a plan, of sorts. Let’s board the wagon now, because time’s not on our side. I’ll explain on the way.

::

It’s not a particularly complex plan, Korra muses, as she’s once again rudely bumped around inside of a carriage. They’re to get to the unguarded side of the palace – the east side, the one with no entryway, and then force their own entrance. Now she understands why they needed Bolin.

“This is as far as I can take you without rousing suspicion,” The wagon driver shouts back, whilst drawing the carriage to a halt.

Korra’s relieved that it was a relatively small ride, and she doesn’t have to endure any more bruising on her rear. She wonders how on earth nobody else can be affected.

She hops out of the wagon, half limping. The group sprints towards their destination in a tight formation, sticking to the treeline, hiding behind the rocky outcrops and thick bushes. In a way, it reminds Korra of the mission she’d done so long ago, the one for Hiroshi. She feels suddenly bittersweet, reminiscing, remembering how she met Asami.

They pause behind a large boulder, and Korra catches her breath. “So, what do we do once we get in?”

Kuvira and Bataar exchange a glance, but she can’t read their expression.

“Well?” she asks, prompting them again.

“The fastest, least suspicious way in is through the pit, Korra.” Kuvira says.

Korra feels the colour drain from her face, “… what? Are you serious?

“We should have left her at Narv, I warned you about this, Mother,” Bataar says, scowling and folding his arms.

“Korra, nothing will happen. I need you to stay with us on this. We need you.” Su says, lifting Korra’s chin with her fingertip until their eyes meet.

Korra grimaces. They want her to return to that place, the place she was nearly killed at least a dozen times over. Korra wonders if it’s some kind of sick fucking joke, but she grits her teeth, and nods her head anyway. The sooner this is all over with, the better.

After a few more sprints, they find themselves close enough to the palace walls to run across the final, thin strip of field undetected. Kuvira starts to count across the bricks of the immense palace wall, moving from right to left. A minute later, she turns to face the group, “Okay, we dig here. Keep it narrow, and keep it quiet. Work slowly.”

Korra sits herself next to Asami as they watch the Earth benders go to work, and she looks up, astounded at just how high the walls reach. She doesn’t remember them being this tall, and she feels like she’s an ant.

Bolin, Toph, Su and Kuvira pull out brick by brick, working on a rota, painstakingly depositing each in a pile beside the new entrance that’s forming. Bataar leans against a wall, watching them work, and it’s then that Korra realises how odd it is that Kuvira has the talent, whereas Bataar doesn’t. He’s of Beifong blood… so where on earth is Kuvira from? Does her family also bend chi?

She distracts herself with these thoughts as brick after brick is pulled. What’s amazing is that there’s next to no sound being made, which is impressive considering that they’re effectively tearing a wall apart.

“I bet you never thought you’d see this,” she says, lightly nudging Asami.

“Yeah. I’ve seen a lot of… special things lately,” Asami says, turning and smirking, “but nothing quite as special as you.”

Korra grins at the words, kissing Asami quickly on the lips. But then she grimaces when Su whispers harshly, telling them to stop frolicking around and to keep an eye out for guards.

It’s a long piece of work, and now Korra understands why they had to get here so quickly. Finally, after about two hours of constant effort, an exit is revealed, presumably leading straight into the pit. Korra gulps as she looks down the newly-formed corridor, feeling that she should turn and run, feeling that this is a terrible, terrible idea.

“You there! What’s going on?” A guard shouts from above, and quickly barks orders to his comrades, causing a bluster of activity, and a flurry of footsteps, to head straight towards them.

“Run!” Su yells, sweeping her arms into the tunnel, “Come on, we’ll seal it behind. We can’t stop now!”

Korra grits her teeth, and she runs into the tunnel, despite every one of her senses screaming at her to do the exact opposite. It isn’t a lengthy tunnel, despite how long it took to create. They’re soon gathered at the other side, where Bolin deftly kicks into the ground, causing a massive pile of rocks to seal their exit. Their pursuers are stopped, for now.

“This is definitely the place,” Bataar says, striding around the sands within, “Korra, you recognise it, right?”

Korra nods mutely, wishing that she didn’t. It’s the pit. This is where she had to fight for her life, this is where she was first forced to discover the limit of her abilities.

“We’ll make the guards ahead change shift, wait here,” Kuvira says, as the two head beyond the thick wooden door at the end of the room. It closes behind them with an ominous slam, and Korra feels her stomach lurch.

“This… this isn’t right…” she whispers, suddenly fearful.

“It’s okay, Korra.” Su says.

They wait, for minute after agonising minute. To Korra, each feels like an hour. The walls, though far away, feel like they’re closing in. They’re impossibly tall, and the thin light streaming through the holes above is enough for her to make it out. Up there. The room where that bitch stood last time, laughing down at her.

“They are taking a long time…” Asami says eventually, and Korra’s glad she isn’t the only one feeling paranoid.

Suddenly, there’s a loud, slow clap, echoing across the room, and a rectangle of light floods down upon them from high above.

“Hello, my pet.” The empress’s voice rings out, “Thank you for bringing me such tasty morsels.”

“No…” Korra whispers, clutching at her chest.

“Bataar… why?” Su chokes the words, tears forming at her cheeks as she sees her son and Kuvira stood beside the Empress, their expression dark, emotionless.

“You should know better than to betray the Empress, mother,” Bataar’s voice echoes across the room.

“Oh my poor, sweet dear, they’ve been working for me for months! They’ve told me all about your holding, and your little chi benders.” The Empress chuckles.

Asami curses under her breath, “You’d better leave them out of this!” she shouts.

“I’ll do as I please. It suits me for Zuko to gather them in once place. I’ll take them once I need them.”

“You’ll do no such thing!” Asami yells, and Korra’s taken back by the ferocity of her tone. She’d forgotten, for a moment, just how strong Asami is.

“Won’t I? Let’s see how you feel after we play a little.”

Korra balks as she hears a portcullis open in the far wall, the rumble of stone against stone sending a shiver down her spine. She whimpers, and Asami turns to face her. She knows she looks weak, pathetic even, but she cowers anyway, and falls backwards into the sand.

“Korra… hey… it’s okay…” Asami surrounds her with a warm embrace, but she doesn’t feel comfort from the touch, not this time. Her gaze is fixated on the far wall, where sure enough, three gargantuan monsters prowl forth, growling deeply. They’re like the things she fought before, the scorpion-lions, but bigger – perhaps twice the size.

“No… No!” Korra scurries backwards against the sand, forcing herself into a corner. Her heart beats faster than should even be possible. She can’t go through this again, she can’t. Asami’s voice rings out, trying to calm her, but it’s muffled and she can’t make out the words. Things happen as though in slow motion. Korra’s eyes dart around, trying to take everything in, as she clutches at her chest, tries to calm her heart before it explodes. Am I going to die? She thinks, panic consuming her whole.

She sees Asami give her one last, despairing, and sympathetic look before turning on the spot, pulling a glove from her kimono and clicking it into her sword. Korra hugs her knees to her chest, unable to move as she watches complete chaos unfold, flashes of lightning streaking through the air, boulders rising from the ground and pounding against the ferocious animals, angering them further.

A giant claw swipes through the air, which Asami narrowly avoids with a deft roll. A stinger swoops down towards Bolin’s back, knocked back by the earthen barrier which Toph pulls forth. The four stand side by side, panting. Toph is looking especially tired, and Korra knows they won’t be able to hold out much longer.

She hears sounds escape her mouth that aren’t her own. They can’t be. There’s strange whimpers, and chattering teeth. She’s never felt this terrified, she can’t be back here, can’t be back. Why did I even come here. Why!? A tear rolls down her cheek as helplessness threatens to consume her, body and mind.

But suddenly, when she reaches her lowest point, a bright blue light flashes behind her eyes and a jolt of energy streaks through her, flooding her with warmth, with love.

You are not alone, Korra…

She squeezes her eyes tightly closed, feeling sure that she’s hearing things on top of everything else.

You have me. I have always been here. Have you truly forgotten?

The more she hears the voice, the more familiar it sounds, and the more her fears and her doubts ebb away. She shakily stands to her feet, gripping the hilt of her blades as she walks towards her friends. It’s not too late. She can save them.

We are one. Together, nothing can stand before us. Remember, Korra! Remember us!

Images flood through her mind, a blue dragon soaring through the air, the wind blowing through Korra’s hair as she rides atop, laughing. A temple, sacred, deep within the ocean. Endless lives flash before her eyes, in other realities, in other times. And yet, there is always one truth.

There is always an Avatar.

“Raava…” Korra whispers the name, her eyes glowing bright white as she feels imbued with a power like never before. She grits her teeth, and launches herself upon a gust of air, moving faster than she can ever remember. She draws her blades swiftly, arcing blades of air outward, slicing the first beast clean into two. Another gust of air propels her into the air, and she somersaults, spinning herself into a ball, fire trailing down her blades as she cuts a path clean through the second monster.

She lands, drawing her blades outward to her sides for balance, and turns to face the third monstrosity, which is aiming a paw straight at her. She stomps a single foot into the floor, drawing two massive slabs of earth up, encasing the giant. Korra bashes her forearms together, slamming the rocks closed, sealing them tightly, so that the monster has a quick, merciful death; none of them deserved this fate, after all.

She glances back at the group, sensing confusion, disbelief, and shock. But Asami… how typical. Asami is smiling at her. She smiles back, before turning to face the Empress up above, and pointing a blade directly at her.

“I am the protector of this world, and your tyranny shall end today!”

“Is that so? Well then, protector, it’s time for another game. Kuvira!” The Empress barks, and Korra watches as the shield surrounding their room disperses. Then the Empress, Bataar and Kuvira hop down a set of stairs that Kuvira bends into place from the wall as they rapidly descend.

“What are they doing?” Korra asks out loud, wondering why they’re headed to their obvious defeat so willingly.

“I don’t know… I’m getting a bad feeling about this.” Bolin says.

Korra feels her eyes shift back to blue. She turns to face the group, pleased to see that they’ve stopped gawping, for now. She supposes that she has quite a bit to explain to them later, although even then she can only tell them the parts she remembers. She quickly kisses Asami, finding comfort against the soft lips.

“Oh, isn’t that sweet?” The Empress says, and Korra is still confused by the confidence in her voice, “Guards, surround them. But don’t attack,” the Empress barks.

The area is quickly filled with soldiers, flowing in from the wooden doorway at the back of the room. The men stand in thick rows at either side of them, forming two walls of bodies, but keeping a path clear between them. They don’t stand before the empress, and she’s not defended at all. Korra figures it’s best to just strike now…

Or so she thinks, until she sees the Empress smirk, and open her fist. The relic is there. Korra frowns, wondering why she could care. But suddenly she’s grasping at her chest, feeling a very strange energy pound through her, resonating with every heartbeat. She hears the Empress cackling, like a mad woman.

“Now then, my pet. I could have my soldiers tear you all to pieces, but I feel this will be far more entertaining, don’t you?”

Korra lifts her head slowly, wondering why it’s so difficult to do so. It’s like there’s a fifty-tonne weight holding her down.

“Korra. Kill them.” The Empress says, in a stone-cold voice.

Korra’s body moves by itself, her waist twisting to face her friends, her blades pointed straight at them. Beads of sweat stream down her face as she fights the strange power coursing through her with every fibre of her being, but it isn’t enough.

Raava? She thinks, inwardly. But there’s no response.

Crystals of ice form in the air, until there are around twenty daggers floating all around, pointing straight towards the group. Korra frowns, and closes her eyes, willing the ice to disperse, yet it doesn’t. She glances at Bolin and Su, pleadingly, just moments before the daggers shoot forwards.

Thankfully, they understand her silent plea, and huge walls of earth shoot upwards just moments before impact.

“Oh, very cute. But I can see this will soon get boring. Now, my pet. How about you freeze their blood instead? That one was always my favourite trick.”

Korra’s eyes widen in horror as she sees the air near the group start to crystalize. She has seconds, perhaps less, to stop this. Each beat of her heart sends them closer to their death, each moment of time that slips by ensures that they’ll die, quickly, though painfully. Asami’s eyes bore into hers, and her heart aches. She would do anything to stop this, anything!

“No!” She yells, finding the one ounce of strength that she needs, and it’s just enough. She twists her wrist and rapidly plunges her own blade straight through her chest, immediately breaking the spell. She collapses to the floor.

“You fool! How dare you!” The Empress roars, backpedalling quickly whilst clutching the amulet to her chest.

The world starts to spin. Yet, Korra is vaguely aware of the Empress ordering her soldiers to attack. She holds a hand up, draws upon her rapidly draining energy, and her eyes flash white as she repels every single soldier, sweeping her arm wide with a massive gust of air. They slam against the surrounding walls, and Bolin and Su take care of the rest, quickly trapping the dazed enemies into thick columns of earth.

It hurts.

It hurts…

Korra can feel her life-force oozing out, literally dripping down her back, soaking into her kimono. She knows that she has to be quick, has to end this, end it now. And yet her thoughts are interrupted, and her vision flashes crimson. She’s hungry, and it’s just like it was in Narv… she senses energy from the other people in the room, feels that she can draw it into herself, heal herself, become stronger. She craves it. She needs it.

What are you waiting for? Fool!

The voice is familiar yet sinister, and fills her mind with greedy, hateful thoughts.

Feed on them, or today you shall die!

“No.” She whispers, suddenly remembering the voice. The pain in her chest prevents her from understanding fully, but what she does know is that he is Vaatu, the red serpent. The dark God.

Korra clutches the hilt of her sword, stopping it from sliding out of her chest. She can’t risk losing the blood, she has to hold out for just a little bit longer.

Feed! Feed on them now! Or you will cease to exist, you will fall!

 “No,” she says to the invisible God, wincing. She realises then that Asami’s holding onto her shoulders with clearly trembling hands, looking at her with terrified eyes.

Take her! Devour her!

“No!” Korra defies the dark God, for a third time.

Do not listen, Korra. There is always another way!

“I know.” Korra whispers to Raava, smiling whilst she stands and turns to face the Empress. She turns from Asami and walks forwards, slowly, building a wall of solid ice behind her, and blocking out the rest of the group, Asami included. She drowns out their pleas, the desperate calls. This has to be done.

The empress backs away from her as she approaches, her maddened eyes darting all around the room.

“Don’t be frightened.” Korra says, as she places a hand against the trembling woman’s forehead. Korra’s mind is immediately flooded with stark visions, memories that are not her own.

There’s darkness, despair, and misery. Hou-Ting was tortured and beaten as a child, and when she was old enough, she was raped, brutally, time after time. Her father used her in every conceivable way, and in the worse possible ways. He’d sold her body, used it for money, and even used it for himself.

When he finally passed away, Hou-Ting rose, and the first thing she did was to kill those who had defiled her. Fuelled with anger, bitterness and rage, she rose. She sought more power, she found it, and it was etched into her back with a ritual dagger; the mark of Vaatu. Yet, she couldn’t contain it, and it sent the madness that already lay within her spiralling quickly out of control.

Everyone is an enemy. Anyone is an enemy. Unless I control them, unless I control it all!

“You poor thing…” Korra says, whilst removing her hand from the terrified woman’s forehead. It’s strange that she feels sympathy for one who caused her such pain, but she feels like it doesn’t matter anymore. There’s only one thing left to do.

She takes the artefact from the Empress’s now-limp hand. Hou-Ting offers no resistance, instead, tears flood her eyes, and she falls to the ground.

“Kill me, please…” the Empress sobs, placing hands against her eyes.

“I won’t. You can help us fix this. You can atone for your crimes.”

“But… you don’t understand… they will… ack!” The empress chokes, puts a hand to her neck, and her eyes turn wide, white orbs flooding with red streaks. She collapses to the floor in a lifeless heap, and Korra sees movement in one corner of her eye, a red cowl, though it’s there for only a moment.

She’s far too tired to chase. She barely has the energy left for this one last act, let alone anything else.

The ice walls around her collapse as she sinks to her knees, clasping the amulet tightly into her fist with one hand, keeping the blade embedded into her chest with the other. She squeezes her eyes shut and concentrates as hard as she can. She barely even feels the arms that she falls backwards into.

A thousand-thousand minds fill her thoughts. They’re scared, lost, and alone. She reaches her mind out, and she speaks to them.

You were farmers. You were merchants, you were siblings, parents, daughters, sons. You were taken against your will, and you were controlled. Today I free your minds. Today you go home. Tomorrow, you return to help us rebuild that which the Empress has destroyed. Do not despair, we have each other. And together, we are strong.

Korra sighs, dropping the amulet from her suddenly-weakened grip.

“It’s done,” she says, looking up, gazing into Asami’s beautiful, green eyes. She reaches a hand up, caressing the side of Asami’s face, “finally, we can live in peace.” She says, smiling.

“Korra… don’t leave me. You can heal yourself, right? Do that thing, take whatever you need… take me!” Asami speaks between sobs, and she can hear the desperation in the voice, feel the warm tears dripping onto her face.

She reaches her hand around the back of Asami’s neck, and musters the last of her strength to lean upwards, pressing a kiss to her lips.

“I love you, Asami Sato.” She whispers the words, smiling, whilst watching as her own fingers fade bright white, flaking away, flowing like dust. It spreads, further and further down her arms, down her legs, until there’s nothing but light, and nothing but love in her heart.

Do not be afraid, Korra!

Korra smiles upon hearing Raava’s voice, and then she breathes her last, with a long, drawn-out sigh.

::

Asami kneels, her hands held out, her palms empty.

“Ko… Korra?” she chokes.

“Where is she? Where did she go?” Bolin asks, pacing the room, stretching fingers into his hair.

“She’s gone.” Toph says, and Asami grits her teeth, staring at her, “Don’t look at me like that, it’s what she wanted. She saved us. She saved everyone. You should be proud of her.”

“I don’t want to be proud of her! I want her to be here!” Asami yells, clutching her chest. It’s only then that she realises she has the amulet in her palm, and for just a second she considers throwing it away in disgust. But there’s something tugging at her, telling her to keep it.

“It’ll be okay, honey. It’ll be okay. Shh.” Su says, quickly walking over and pulling her into an embrace, stroking her back.

The soldiers around the edge of the room rub their heads in confusion, and begin to slowly file out, presumably headed home. Kuvira and Bataar look at each other with confused gazes, also holding their heads. They glance across at Su and Toph, and then look down to the floor, slowly sitting, awaiting their fate.

Strangely, one of the soldiers stops dead in his tracks, and Asami hears him gasp, though it’s muffled beneath the faceplate. She watches him tug at it, pulling it off and throwing it to the floor.

“Holy shit!” Toph says, and the group turns, looking in the same direction.

“What… how…” Su gasps, holding a hand to her mouth, and Asami watches as the man slowly approaches them. He has white stubble across his chin, and grey hair streaked back across his head. He looks a little like Bataar Junior. Actually, he looks a lot like him, and that’s when Asami realises who it is.

“Go to him. Go.” she urges Su, pushing her arms away, fighting off her own despair, even if only for a moment.

“Su… Suyin… darling, is it really you?”

“Bataar!” Su cries, rushing to her feet, and throwing herself into her husband’s arms, “How did you... I thought…”

“She saved me. I’d have surely died from my wounds, we both knew that. But she saved me. There was some strange potion… I don’t really remember much after that.”

“I don’t believe it…” Su sobs into his shoulder.

Asami’s smile is bittersweet. She’s so happy for Su, and yet-

Suddenly, there’s a strong gust of wind, blowing through her hair, and with it, she feels a new sense of determination. “Korra’s not dead,” she declares loudly, balling her fists and feeling better after speaking the words out loud.

“Are you sure?” Bolin asks, his lower lip wobbling.

“I’m positive. Do you see a body? I’m going to go and find her.”

And with that, Asami grabs Korra’s blades and clothes, then stands to her feet, ignoring Toph’s protests. She knows that her heart speaks the truth. She has to believe it, even if the others won’t. She dusts herself off, and sets her sights firmly on her new mission.

::

A week later – The Sato holding

“What do you mean she’s gone?” Lin demands, rolling her eyes.

“She thinks Korra is still alive. She’s our Daimyo, Lin. We have to trust in her.” Su says.

“And I’m to just lead in her absence? It’s… it’s so exhausting! I didn’t ask for this!” Lin exclaims, throwing her arms wide.

“Relax sister, I brought help,” Su grins.

“Oh? Who?”

“We’d like to help, if you don’t mind…” Kuvira steps out of the shadows, holding hands with Bataar Junior, “it’s the least we can do after allowing the Empress to control us.”

“Well I’ll be damned. Never thought I’d see you kids again,” Lin says, and Su notices that her sister’s struggling to hold back a few tears.

“Don’t forget me.” Toph grumbles, coming up the stairs behind, rubbing a hand up behind her back.

Mother? You too? What on earth is going on?!” Lin exclaims.

“Oh, I’m happy to see you too, kid. Anyway, damned if I’m going back to the swamp. My bones are getting too old for the damp.”

“And so, the Beifongs are reunited,” Su grins, “Although, I might be heading home soon, if we are able to reclaim our lands.”

“Do you think that’s even possible? I mean I know you have Bataar back, but…” Lin begins.

“He’s negotiating with Wu and the current Lord of the land right now. Given the circumstances of how we lost the place, there’s a good chance we’ll get it back. We’ll see, I suppose...”

::

Two weeks later – The Empire

Wu glances around at the guests of the room, twirling a leg idly as he sits upon the Empire’s throne. He coughs loudly, and stands, trying to hide his nervousness as he declares his plan of action.

“Thank you all, for coming here today. I cannot apologise enough for the actions of my great-Aunt. With that said, I do not wish to repeat her mistakes; thus I shall not rule as Emperor,” Wu ignores the gasps, and exclamations of surprise from around the room, “Instead, I shall build a council, and we shall guide the lands together, with representatives from each nation.”

“Aren’t you the wise one?” Toph says, chuckling, though Su can see that her mother is impressed.

“It’s a good plan, I approve,” Zuko says, nodding his head, “This way, the land can’t suffer due to one person making a mistake.”

“You mean one person falling off the rails, right?” Toph laughs.

“Mother!” Su jabs her in the ribs.

“I concur. It is a good direction to lead us towards, your highness,” Bataar says, bowing. Su smiles at her husband, happy to have him back. Happy to have their lands back.

“It is about time we had someone make such a wise decision,” Katara says, nodding.

“Good. I’m glad you all approve, since I want you to sit on the council, as well as Tenzin, Suyin and Asa-“ Wu looks around the room, “Wait, where is she?”

“Still searching, your highness,” Suyin replies, sighing. She hopes Asami is right, otherwise the poor girl is leading herself towards a world of heartache.

“Oh, stop calling me that. Please. Well, when she returns, I’ll have the seat warmed for her.” Wu says, smiling.

::

Two months later – The drunken Dragon

“Margaret, Han’s been up to no good again,” Mako says, scowling, as he points to the empty bottles on the bar.

“Oh, you know how boys get at that age. Please don’t be too angry?” Margaret says, smiling, as she continues to clean up the place.

“Fine. But it’s coming out of his wages,” Mako scowls, sitting at the bar, rubbing a hand across the stubble at his chin and pouring himself a sake. It’s been two months since the Empress fell, and two months since he’s seen Korra, or Asami. He sighs, scratching a thumb against the scar upon his back.

“Thinking of your friends again, dear? Of our beautiful Daimyo?” Margaret asks.

He quietly nods. In a way, Margaret is like the mother he never had. Asami’s plan to have her and Han help out here was a fantastic idea; he doesn’t know how he ever ran the place without them. “Yeah… I just hope they’re okay. Especially our Daimyo.”

“Oh? But what about Korra?”

“Well, we don’t even know if Korra’s-“

“Oh, nonsense. She’s just fine. You’ll see,” Margaret winks at him, and he frowns, wondering if there’s more to the old woman than anyone’s realised.

He doesn’t think any more on it, then hops off his stool and moves to open up the bar for the day. He’s almost bowled over when the door slams open, and Bolin tumbles inside.

“BRO! You gotta try this!” Bolin pants, “Opal said it’s amazing, best she’s had!”

Pabu jumps off his back, and immediately begins scratching at his favourite table leg.

“Welcome back, Bo, Pabu.” Mako chuckles, “Let’s see what you’ve got, then.”

::

Six months later – The great dunes of the West

Asami tightens her scarf over her face, adjusts her goggles, and spurs Naga further across the vast desert plains. She ignores the heat. She ignores her thirst. She takes better care of Naga than she does herself, but it doesn’t matter. They have to keep moving. This lead can’t be wrong... not this time, too.

She’s spent six months researching, delving into the oldest libraries. Wu’s been a great help, opening up new resources for her where he can. But it seems that everything that Korra actually is predates their known history. Eventually though, she does find a clue. From the same person who helped the empress find the very trinket she now holds in her pocket.

If what she’s heard is correct, Korra is an ancient protector of some kind, able to wield all of the elements of the world. But more importantly, Korra cannot die. Not the true death. It would explain why she simply faded away, and left no physical body. She has to be alive. Asami feels it in her very core, it’s why she can’t grieve. Surely you can only grieve if somebody is dead?

Suddenly, she hears Naga whinny, and squints her eyes, looking up ahead. There’s an oasis, with an aged, crumbling temple to the side. This is it! She rushes Naga forwards, slowing as they get closer.

The sands are calmer here, and she can remove her goggles safely. She dismounts Naga at the doors of the temple, and gasps when she spots fresh footprints leading away from the temple door, towards the oasis itself.

“Come on, girl,” She coaxes Naga forwards, leaving her beneath the shade of palm trees as she explores further.

She hears splashing, running water, and clears away a few thick bushes until she sees a beautiful pond ahead, waters glittering in the sun, with a waterfall bubbling against the water’s surface. Her breath catches in her throat when she sees a toned, bronze back, adorned with a large tattoo, facing away from her. She puts a hand to her mouth, forcing back sudden sobs.

She watches for a while as the woman sits in silence, slowly gesticulating her arms, swirling water into random, complex patterns.

“Korra…”