A year had passed since the Great Uniter had surrendered and Avatar Korra had opened a new spirit portal in Republic City. As had happened after each global shift in power, the world had continued to change rapidly and progress ever more surely into the industrial age.
After Kuvira’s trial and subsequent imprisonment, the Earth Empire had been officially dissolved. An international tribunal had been established in Republic City to try other high ranking officers for war crimes, including Baatar Jr.
Varrick, Zhu Li, and Bolin had been officially pardoned because Earth Empire records proved that they had formally defected and all world leaders had testified that the three had provided crucial intelligence that led to Kuvira’s fall from power. The weapons, factories, uniforms, and other paraphernalia of the Empire had been sold for their raw materials. The proceeds had gone to the reparation of Republic City and a compensation fund for the survivors of the Empire’s prison camp system.
All three functioning nations and President Raiko had signed the Treaty of Just War. This pact imposed a global ban on the production and use of all weapons or machinery powered by spirit energy. It also declaimed the use of mechanical weapons encased in platinum, mass aerial burning (ala Fire Lord Ozai), the use of bloodbending to control or remove others’ bending, and air bending asphyxiation as violations of mutually agreed upon permissible wartime conduct. Finally, the signatories had also agreed that the use of force was only acceptable for the purpose of necessary self-defense. The aim of the Treaty of Just War was not to create a global super-state, but rather to establish a set of norms by which each sovereign state would abide to preserve peace and avoid mutually assured destruction.
Prince Wu had decided to abolish the official rule of the Earth Kingdom monarchy and retain only a ceremonial role as a cultural ambassador. He had taken to this role with much enthusiasm, happily traveling from city to city and wining and dining the rich and famous to garner their favor and financial support for the new regime.
The United Republic Forces, led by General Iroh, had descended upon Ba Sing Se to temporarily take order and prevent a power vacuum from deteriorating the country into chaos once again. The new transitional leadership of the United Earth Provinces had been loosely modeled upon Republic City’s post Equalist Revolution government. A democratically elected president and prime minister served as the heads of state and government, respectively. A bicameral legislature composed of senators and deputies representing the established provinces was currently forming. The first task before the new lawmakers was the establishment of a constitution checking the executive’s office’s power to prevent another version of Kuvira from seizing control under benevolent pretenses.
Slowly, organized political coalitions were beginning to form as groups of influential people with common interests began to pool their voices and resources. Many established RC notables of Earth heritage had immigrated back to the capital to participate in the restructuring of their homeland. A sizable number had advocated for a clause guaranteeing that the new UEP president be a non-bender to address the ever lingering inequalities between benders and non-benders. Although conditions were finally beginning to stabilize in Ba Sing Se, the same could not be said for the rest of the country.
The citizens of the UEP, after having lived through rigid monarchy, militant-run anarchy, and a brutal military dictatorship, were in no way prepared to adapt to the vast transition to a democratic state. To them, the concepts of voting or free speech were as foreign as eating sea prunes and blubbered seal jerky for supper. Many provinces were still highly unstable and had been reclaimed by bandits in the wake of the Earth Empire’s collapse. The Air Nation had decided to continue its work flying from town to town and mediating conflicts as best they could. Economic inequality and petty crime still loomed as serious challenges for the state. However, elected provincial and local governments were gradually coalescing, and most international observers were optimistic that the UEP would become a stable, modern state within a few years.
Zaofu had been completely dismantled and abandoned. Although the Beifong family and the other residents were sad to see their home city be abolished, they had reluctantly agreed that it was for the best. After Kuvira had annexed the dome and most of the city’s metal to build her super robot and army of mechas, Zaofu had been left in ruins of its former chromatic glory. More importantly, the city had come to represent the danger of sequestering a community of privileged elites away from the rest of society in the popular imagination. Since most of the UEP had been terrorized by Kuvira’s metalbending armies, the use of the skill had become highly taboo in Earth provinces. The Beifongs had decided to relocate to Republic City along with many other Zaofu residents. Others had found new homes in large UEP cities that had escaped the worst of the Earth Empire’s terror, such as Ba Sing Se and Omashu.
Predictably, Republic City remained at the forefront of technological innovation, intellectual exchange, commerce, and cultural influence. After their honeymoon, Varrick and Zhu Li had returned to the city as equal partners in life and business. Together, they ran a booming conglomerate of companies that included maritime shipping, telecommunications, security, and mover production. They retained a close association with the youngest CEO in the world, Asami Sato. Future Industries continued to design ever more sophisticated Satomobiles and faster and more efficient trains, with new tracks being laid every day connecting the entire world. Consequently, Asami was as busy as ever, and it was very rare for her to have a spare moment, especially during the middle of the day.
That was why it was a rather extraordinary occasion when Bolin sent her a messenger hawk on a Tuesday morning asking her to ‘do lunch’ and she was actually able to accept. She had good reason to do so. Bolin was rarely in Republic City anymore. He had taken to traveling the UEP again with Opal and the other Airbenders, continuing the work he had intended to do with Kuvira by helping to rebuild each community. Like Wu, his fame helped UEP citizens to trust him. Bolin’s natural confidence and goofy charm also worked wonders towards alleviating the fears of traumatized, angry, and suspicious local leaders. It was a perfect fit for him, and Asami knew there was nothing Bolin loved more than helping others, especially at Opal’s side. It made Asami smile to see one of her closest friends so fulfilled in his career and personal life.
Apparently, Bolin was going to be in town for about a month to film “Nuktuk: Escape from Kamira’s Prison,” a sequel film heavily based on Varrick’s and Bolin’s real life defection from the Earth Empire. Asami was skeptical that such a plot was appropriate given the recentness of the actual event, but there was no arguing with Varrick once he got hooked on an idea. At any rate, that particular Tuesday was the only day both she and Bolin could get together, and she had decided to opt from a somewhat less traditional lunch than her usual fare.
Although it had been steadily creeping up on her over the years, fame was still something Asami Sato was not quite accustomed to just yet. She could hardly go anywhere without getting spotted and approached by the press, business people hoping to make a professional connection, or certain nasty hecklers who opposed her career path as a woman and her choice of romantic partner. While she was capable of protecting herself, it had gotten to the point that she had had to hire her own bodyguard just to go about her day. The upscale restaurants where she took business partners kept interlocutors away, but Asami did not want to catch up with Bolin somewhere so stuffy and crowded. Nor did she want to deal with the additional attention and amorous admirers that Bolin would attract to their table. As such, she had arranged for her bodyguard to set up a perimeter in Avatar Korra Park so that she and Bolin could enjoy a picnic lunch near the pond free from interruptions.
With a grin, Bolin sat down next to her on the blanket, shaking his shaggy hair. He had started growing it out since leaving his military post and now had a more youthful, carefree look about him again. Asami smiled in return.
“I’m so glad you suggested this, Bolin. It’s been ages. So, you’re in town to film another mover? I thought you said that you were done with all of that.”
Bolin shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, I know. But, have you ever tried saying no to Varrick? I swear being married to Zhu Li has made him even more persistent than before. I’m doing it for him as a favor to a friend, but after this, I’m putting my foot down. As fun as playing Nuktuk is, I like my work in the Earth provinces even more. Plus, I’m kind of a mess when I’m away from Opal for too long. Ooh, are those seaweed noodles from Narook’s?”
Asami laughed as Bolin lunged for small parcel and opened it eagerly. “Yes. I remembered that they’re your favorite. I got takeout.”
Bolin took a huge bite. “Mmm… this is amazing! I never get Water Tribe food like this anymore. Thank you! So, enough about me. What have you been up to lately?”
Asami gracefully swallowed a spoonful of her own five flavor soup before responding. “Oh, you know, trying to balance a hundred different business projects at once, keep an eye on my employees, make my investors happy, and somehow still find time for Korra. It’s exhausting. Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep going at this pace. It’s been less than a year, but I could really use another trip to the Spirit World to get away from all of this.”
Bolin clapped a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Hey, if anyone can handle all that responsibility, it’s you, Asami. But if you’re really feeling burnt out, why don’t you and Korra go there again? It certainly seemed to do wonders for you last time.” By the end of his words, Bolin’s tone had shifted from comforting to friendly teasing.
Asami’s cheeks flushed slightly as she thought of her girlfriend and the vacation that finally brought them together.
She had recognized her attraction to both men and women during her teenage years, but had never acted on the latter. Same sex relationships were tacitly accepted in the wealthy Republic City circles in which she ran, but there was no real societal recognition, legal rights, or visible community outside of a somewhat seedy bar scene in a certain neighborhood that she had only visited once in heavy disguise. Outside of certain cosmopolitan environments such as Republic City, Ba Sing Se, Capital City (of the Fire Nation), and Omashu (which was probably the most open-minded city on Earth towards free love thanks to its founders and cultural changes under King Bumi’s long historical reign), same sex love was generally taboo and existed only in secret. The Northern Water Tribe in particular still retained more conservative gender roles and rigid traditions and thus actively banned same sex relationships. Asami already dealt with sexism constantly as a young female corporate head in a field dominated by older men. Entering into a controversial relationship with another woman had not seemed worth the backlash before Korra.
Certainly, Asami had had crushes on a few female friends as a teenager, but under the thumb of her father, she had never had the opportunity to explore those feelings further. Of course, after that she had met Mako. After breaking up with him (for the last time), she had remained focused on other things until she had begun to notice her growing feelings for the Avatar, a rival turned increasingly close friend. Of course, with the rising threat of the Red Lotus, it certainly had not been the right time for romantic confessions. Nor had the immediate aftermath of Korra’s trauma, or the subsequent years of separation that had followed.
Asami had been so far away from Korra for so long, living for scrolls of parchment written in her adorably untidy scrawl, heartbroken and longing as every letter had aroused more and more powerful feelings inside her chest. She hadn’t realized just how powerful they had become until she had seen Korra again after three years and felt the wild beating of her heart against her rib cage. But with the threat of the Earth Empire’s ruthless conquest and Korra’s mental illness hanging heavily over them, there had scarcely been time for a supportive hand on a shoulder or soft words over a cup of tea, let alone anything else.
At Varrick’s and Zhu Li’s wedding, able to breathe at last, Asami had not been able to think of anything else other than her need to be as close to Korra as possible. Her father, the last member of her family, had just died, and in her grief, Asami had just needed to cling to the young woman who had become the most important person in her life. So she had made up some story for Tenzin to get Korra to herself, and then…
Everything after that was a beautiful blur. Taking Korra’s hand and walking into the Spirit Portal had felt like coming home after a long trip. By the time they had rematerialized in the Spirit World, Korra’s hands had slid to her waist and she was holding Asami close like she was made of Old Ba Sing Se crystals.
I love you, Asami Sato
Their vacation had been a magical adventure amidst temperamental spirits, landscapes more colorful than anything on earth, and a particularly memorable pai sho game with Iroh during tea time. It had also been completely and utterly romantic. Free from any judging eyes, she and Korra had just let their feelings guide them naturally with no regard for time or place. Throughout their three weeks of vacation, they had rarely gone more than a few minutes not in some kind of physical contact, the need for touch still fierce after so much time apart.
It had been so incredibly liberating to finally have Korra in her arms, to be able to hold and touch and kiss her whenever she wanted to. They had slept spooned together every night under the stars, Korra wrapped snugly around her, making her feel so safe and loved. But sometimes, that wasn’t even close enough, and she and Korra had let their passions bring them as deliciously close together as possible, over and over again. An outside observer might have judged them as reckless or hasty in the progression of their relationship, but Asami knew that neither she nor Korra felt that way. She had been slowly falling in love with the Avatar for more than three years. She had done her waiting.
“Hello? Asami? Are you in there?” Starting, Asami realized that she’d been drifting off into her memories as Bolin appraised her with a bemused smile.
“Sorry. I was just thinking… it would be wonderful to take another vacation, but neither Korra nor I can afford to drop off the face of the earth right now. Future Industries needs me, and the world needs Korra. She’s been wrapped up in the ongoing project to disperse all of the spirit energy naturally without causing harm to the environment, and since she’s the only one who can bend it, the project really can’t go on without her. I’m proud of her, but… I miss her. It’s hard to believe that we live together sometimes because we hardly get a moment alone. I can’t even remember the last time we went on a date.”
Bolin clapped his hands together. “That’s it! Maybe you can’t go on a vacation, but you can plan a date night! Come on, Asami. You’re a classy lady. Take her out on the town, do something really special!”
Asami sighed in frustration. “You know we can’t do that, Bolin. Korra and I are two of the most famous people in the world, and every time we go anywhere we get hounded by reporters and paparazzi. We can’t even act like we’re on a date, because then we get rude stares or outright harassment from disapproving witnesses. There's never been a same sex couple as high profile as we are before. Despite our openness regarding our relationship, the newspapers still blatantly refuse to recognize us for who we are. Have you seen some of those photo captions? ‘Future Industries CEO Asami Sato and Avatar Korra share a friendly hug while out shopping on Saturday afternoon. What great gal pals!’ On the other hand, the last time we tried to go out to dinner, three separate mover directors asked us if we wanted to star in one of their new ‘late night limited admission’ flicks. I’m pretty sure you can guess what they meant. I’m tired of being an object of fascination for others to gawk at. I just want to spend time with my girlfriend. Is that too much to ask?”
Asami’s tone had gotten progressively more incensed throughout her rant. She hadn’t realized how upset she really was about not being able to go on a normal date until she’d said the words aloud. Bolin was watching her with wide, surprised eyes. Then, he instinctively leaned in and gave her a one armed hug with the hand that wasn’t holding a bowl of noodles.
“Wow, I had no idea it was that bad for you guys. I’ve been spending so much time with the Airbenders that I’ve kind of forgotten how narrow minded other people can be. That’s not right. You and Korra deserve a special night out just as much as anyone else. Hmm… okay, if you didn’t have to worry about people giving you a hard time, what would you want to do? What’s Asami Sato’s ideal date night?”
Asami stood up and began to pace. “Something calm. Both of us are so active at our jobs and it would be really great to just relax together. I don’t really care about fancy food or expensive concerts or any of those perfect date clichés. That’s the kind of thing I do with my investors, not Korra. I guess my perfect date would be something where she and I can just be together and laugh and talk without having to worry about schedules or other people watching us. That’s what it was like in the Spirit World.”
Bolin chuckled. “That sounds just like something Opal and I did a couple months ago. After a long day near the coast in one of the Northern provinces, we flew out over the water on her bison and just laid back and looked up at the stars and talked. I never really saw the stars as a kid, growing up here, and Opal knows all sorts of things about them. She’s the best, you know? We can spend all day working together and then go out at night and I never get tired of her company.”
Asami sat down again and smiled. “I’m glad she makes you so happy, Bolin. That sounds amazing, but Korra and I really don’t have time to leave the city. If only we could have that kind of date right here.”
Bolin patted her on the shoulder again. “Hey, you’re Asami Sato, genius builder of machines and all around bad-ass. If anyone can up with a practical solution to a problem, you can!”
Asami began wrapping up the remains of her lunch. “Thanks, Bolin. You always know just what to say to make me feel better.”
Bolin preened. “Thank you- that is a talent of mine. Now, let me tell you all about this crazy town we flew into the other day. There were these wild camelephants strutting through the market and destroying everything. Why, if Master Pabu hadn’t been there, I don’t know what would have happened. You see, it all started with this strange guy who was foaming at the mouth…”
It wasn’t until about a week after her lunch with Bolin that Asami’s creative juices began flowing in regards to making her perfect date night with Korra a reality. She was at a planning meeting with several high profile Republic City contractors regarding the lighting of Harmony Tower in the center of Avatar Korra Park. Thanks to the spirit vines that had encroached upon the structure, the old lighting system had failed and needed to be replaced. Finally, enough of the city had been repaired after the spirit energy blast that less pressing construction projects could be addressed again.
“Yes, I think the updated lighting should mirror the glow of the spirit portal so that we have twin golden beacons illuminating the city at night. The juxtaposition of the natural portal and sleek metallic tower symbolize that happy harmony between progress and tradition.”
“Hmm… yes. Now, what about the grounds keeping around the structure? Most of it is that small pond. Should we simply leave it be or does it need any modifications?”
As the group was pondering this question, the door to their meeting room in the city council building swung open and General Iroh strode in, before freezing as he took in the occupants of the room.
“Pardon me, I do apologize for interrupting. I have a meeting with Tenzin and President Raiko, and the usual council chambers are being renovated, so I am afraid I am somewhat lost. Do any of you know where the Yu Dao room is?”
Quickly, Asami leapt to her feet. “I’ll lead you there. Excuse me, gentlemen. I will be back shortly.” Only once they were out of sight did Asami turn and greet the visitor properly. “Good morning, General. It’s good to see you. What are you doing in town? I figured you’d be in Ba Sing Se with the rest of the United Forces.”
Iroh smiled. “It’s good to see you too, Asami. I am stationed in Ba Sing Se, and I’ve come to Republic City to deliver a progress report. Thank goodness I ran into you- I have no idea where anything is in this building! What brings you to the city council this morning?”
Asami led him down several winding corridors. “We’re trying to figure out what to do with the land around the Harmony Tower. You’ve seen the pond in Avatar Korra Park, right? The water surrounds most of the structure.”
Iroh’s lips curled upwards. “I always liked that pond. It reminds me of the small ponds in the courtyards of the Old Royal Palace Museum in the Fire Nation capital. My grandfather told me that he and his mother used to sit on the shore and feed turtle ducks when he lived there as a child. They’re calm and peaceful creatures, but if you provoke the mothers, they get very aggressively defensive of their young. I brought some with me to Ba Sing Se to decorate some of the ponds there.”
Something was coalescing inside Asami’s head. The glow of Harmony Tower, the peacefulness of the pond… “Turtle ducks… how would you describe their movement? Sort of gentle gliding, maybe?”
Iroh gave her an odd look. “Yes, I suppose so. Why do you ask?”
They turned a final corner and Asami stopped, pointing to a gilded door. “There. That’s the Yu Dao room. Thank you so much, Iroh! Let’s get dinner the next time you’re in town, all right?”
Asami took off excitedly back towards the meeting room, leaving Iroh scratching his head in mild confusion. She had the greatest idea for the final touch to the Harmony Tower project. And, if all went well, it would make her dream date with her girlfriend totally possible.
“You know, usually when you blindfold me, it means we’re not leaving the house for a significant period of time. Also, why on earth did you tell me to take a nap when I got home and they drag me out of bed at 11 o’clock at night?”
Asami lightly swatted her girlfriend on the shoulder. “Quiet, you. I put a lot of work into this surprise and no amount of snark on your part is going to spoil it.”
The Satomobile slowly came to a stop next to a small dock. Asami sighed in pleasure as she looked up at the newly relit Harmony Tower casting its golden glow over the city. It had taken two months of furious design work and pushing contractors to get everything done on time, but the result was well worth the strain. Asami knew she had been tired and cranky lately, but she hoped that tonight would make it all up to her girlfriend. As she’d hoped, everything around them was fairly quiet, since this part of the city did not contain many bars or other late night entertainment. That also meant that were fewer reporters or paparazzi around, which meant that she’d been able to drive out without her bodyguard. She’d taken great pains to keep everything a secret, anticipating the reaction she’d get in the end. At last, it was time.
“Come with me.” Asami gently took Korra’s arm and guided her towards the dock. “Okay, you can take the blindfold off.”
As Korra removed the blindfold, she froze in place as she took in the glowing tower, the line of turtle duck paddle boats, and two very familiar faces.
As Korra ran over and hugged them, she began sputtering uncharacteristically. “But what… what are you doing here so late at night? What’s going on?”
Bolin grinned. “This is all Asami’s idea.”
Asami walked over and placed a hand on Korra’s shoulder. “I invited them because Bolin was the one who inspired me to dream up a perfect night out. Avatar Korra, would you care to accompany me on a boat ride under the moonlight?”
Korra turned to face her and oh… Asami went instantly weak in the knees. There was so much emotion emanating from that look: surprise, gratitude, understanding, passion, and… love.
“You invented these boats… for me?”
Breathlessly, Asami nodded, all the air around her suddenly disappearing as her head grew fuzzy. The next thing she knew, Korra was in her arms and they were kissing, uncaring of Bolin’s whistles and Opal’s giggles, freely embracing in a way they had never done in public before. When Korra pulled back, there were tears in her eyes, and Asami could feel the wetness dripping down her own cheeks.
“It’s perfect. You’re perfect. This is exactly what we’ve needed, and I just… every day I think it’s impossible for me to love you more, Asami Sato, and yet you always prove me wrong.”
Asami kissed her again. She just couldn’t resist. A softly cleared throat broke them apart.
“Not that I mind because you two are adorable, but I would really love to take one of these for a test run. Varrick’s going to be so jealous that I got to ride in one before he did!”
Laughing freely, Asami walked over and helped Opal and Bolin get into their turtle duck and paddle a ways away before turning to her girlfriend and helping her into the boat. They maneuvered out into the middle of the water and then stopped.
Feeling Korra’s protective arm wrap around her, Asami leaned over and curled herself into Korra, resting her head lightly on her girlfriend’s breasts and listening to the sure rhythm of her heartbeat. Asami had designed the seats to be comfortable and ideal for canoodling couples. Both young women closed their eyes and sighed in pleasure. Occasionally, one of them would break the silence with a comment or two, but neither of them moved for a very long time. Lulled by the comfort of Korra’s body and the peaceful rhythm of her breathing, Asami felt herself slowly slip out of consciousness.
They woke up entangled together the next morning, still out in the middle of the lake. And later that day, when Asami finally got around to reading the newspaper, she returned to her bedroom and wordlessly passed the gossip section to her still gloriously naked lover.
There was a close-up photo clearly taken from shore of the two of them cuddling asleep in the turtle duck with a single caption: LOVEBIRDS: Avatar Korra and Asami Sato spend a romantic evening together in the glow of Harmony Tower. Korra turned and faced Asami with a devious smirk on her face. “Finally, they got it. Lovebirds? Damn right we are.”