Their return home was delayed by a fever that kept Korra down for nearly a week. By the second day, Korra was restless, jumping out of bed, chatting with Eska’s suitors in the hall, calling spirits to their room and playing games with them, then passing out in the bed and being surprised she was still feverish in the morning. She did this so often that by the fifth day, Asami locked Korra in and forbade the palace guards from letting Korra in or out. All meals would be brought to the room. She even got some spirits to join her, too.
“Really?” Korra said, pouting. “You’re tyrannical.”
“No working out, either. I left some books for you.” Four technical manuals and three newspapers. Same thing.
“Wait—you’re not staying with me?”
“If you’re a good girl, I might let you out again,” Asami said, tweaking Korra’s nose between two fingers. “Choo choo!”
“What? You weirdo.”
When Asami left, Korra was lounging in bed with Naga, reading through some spirit scrolls and throwing longing glances at the door, as though she hoped Asami might ask her to come with her. But it wasn’t hard work, and it’d be better for Korra to focus on recovering her health. They’d have to go home eventually, after all.
Asami went to the warehouses first, and made arrangements to ship the metal back to Republic City and close Varrick’s accounts. She made a call out to Varrick’s Republic City office, but couldn’t reach him or Zhu Li. She called his ship, then his Omashu branch, then took out her cardholder and pulled out his lawyer’s number. She might as well try.
There were some contracts Eska and Desna’s advisors had asked her to look into. And there were some storeowners who, when they heard Asami was in town, wanted to see if they could import Future Industries’ consumer goods directly, instead of going through the Southern Water Tribe. Cameras, audiovisual equipment, projectors, a type of synthetic insulation, pens and stationery—very popular, in the North.
It was nearly sunset when she returned to the palace. Three spirits were pacing in the main hall. Asami frowned at them. With Korra and the twins on bed rest, there wasn’t anyone else who could take care of them. The Tribal Council deferred spirit dealings to Korra while she was here, and had their hands full taking care of day-to-day affairs while the twins recovered. Asami looked around the hall. She had never dealt with spirits directly before, but she couldn’t see a reason why she shouldn’t try.
She approached the spirits. They were loitering about, talking among themselves: a caribou hippo, a salamander squirrel, and a six-legged creature with enormous, red eyes and no mouth.
“Hi,” she said. “Are you waiting for the Avatar?”
“Yes,” the caribou hippo said. “We have complaints.”
“Okay. I’m Asami. I’m not the Avatar, but I might be able to help. What’s going on?”
“It’s a problem only the Avatar can solve.”
The issue was Tailor’s old territory. Now that Tailor was gone, the three spirits had moved in to take the land, only to find another spirit had been camping out on it. What spirit? Desire. Of course.
So how did claims usually work? Was there a formal system, or was it first come, first serve? Well, that was the thing: usually the victor would make the claim. But the Avatar had done it, and now they waited for her to deliberate.
“While you’re here, Desire could be strengthening its own claim to it,” Asami said.
“No. Because we left two of our party there.”
Six spirits total fighting over some rocks. It wasn’t her idea of prime real estate, but if spirits were willing to come all the way here for it, she’d have to start seeing it that way.
“What do you want, then? For her to mediate between the six of you?” The spirits nodded eagerly. Asami’s forehead started throbbing. “Can’t you wait another week to survey the land and come up with a presentation?” That was the company president in her saying it. The spirits looked at her with dumb amazement. Survey? A presentation? The longer they stared, the more jargon and protocols and procedures came to mind, and the more it seemed like a good idea. This was likely how bureaucratic hells were created, but the spirits needed some form of infrastructure and procedure, and while she was fixing up the White Lotus, she might as well get this going, too. “Why don’t you try it? Find three neutral parties you all trust with no interest in the land, have them look it over, and bring the results over to Korra, with recommendations. She can decide from there. Or I can. Actually, I shouldn’t. Korra will do it.”
The spirits looked to one another, and started bickering. Then the salamander squirrel said, “We accept your advice and will return to you when we are ready for the Avatar to make judgment. Come here so we can mark you, human, as a gesture of our friendship.”
“That’s so nice of you,” Asami said. “But you can approach Korra about it directly. Really.”
Now all her business was done. She went back to her room. Korra was in bed, a tray of unfinished food on the nightstand. The sheets had tangled all around her body, the newspapers and manuals spread all over the floor, the room full of a heavy, sickly scent even though the windows were open. Asami rushed up to her and put the back of her hand against Korra’s forehead.
Korra opened an eye. “Hey,” she said. “Guess you were right after all.”
“Are you all right?” Asami said. “Should I call for a doctor?”
“Nah, just need to sweat through it. Used to get these all the time when I was a kid. All the White Lotus guys kept bringing in new infections to the compound.” She looked ready to tell Asami about it, but seemed to decide it wasn’t a good story. “What did you do today?”
“Not much,” she said. She sat on the edge of the bed and went through her day. Then, more carefully, she talked about the spirits and what she had done with them. She felt apprehensive about it, in a way she wouldn’t have expected from herself, or from them. But the more she described what she had handled the situation, the stranger Korra’s face became, passing through shock to darkness to exhaustion. Asami stroked her cheek and said, “What are you thinking?”
Korra propped herself up on her elbows. She looked over at Asami, her face lively beneath the heavy fever that seemed to weigh it down, and said, with unexpected accusation, “I hate that you locked me up in here.”
“What?” Asami said, more surprised by the force of the words than what she had actually said. The second Korra had said that, they both had gone blank, as though someone had tossed a bucket of water on them. The first feeling to emerge from her jolt was a sense of mild injury, that her caution had been justified.
Korra sat up, her cheeks dark, alarm running across her shoulders and neck like a slipping scarf, leaving behind a confused, unfocused expression. “Never mind,” Korra said. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it.”
“You’re tired and you’re sick.” Saying this made Korra’s brows come down over her eyes, and a muscle in her jaw go tense. “Korra—what is it?”
“I’m sick of being here.”
“No, I mean… I hate being up here, I hate that I’m falling over just because some spirit decides to camp in my head or because someone sneezed on me, and that I can’t go home with you, back to the city—every night we stay here, I’m scared my head’s going to come apart and I’ll end up on the floor bleeding out of my eyes or something.” Her words were weighted with a dead, inert anger. She got up and started pacing, wearing the blanket around her shoulders like a cape, agitated.
“I’m sorry,” Asami said. “I shouldn’t have—”
“No, no—I was really sick today. A few hours after you left, the fever got really bad. They had to send for a healer. It wouldn’t have been pretty if I had been out at sea.” She sat on the bed, folding her legs beneath her, shivering when the cold wind blew into the room. Asami got up to shut the windows down and sat down next to Korra. “And while I was heaving my guts out in the bathroom, you were off doing my job for me.”
“Don’t think like that.”
“I mean it. I need you. I don’t need you because you can lift rocks with your mind. It’s because of who you are.” She had said it before: she hadn’t fallen in love with Korra’s bending or strength. It was her bravery and charm, the clarity of Korra’s being. The way the starlight settled on the rim of Korra’s eyes, like fallen leaves piled around the base of a tree. She took Korra’s arm and held onto it. Korra’s body gave off a pulsing, unceasing heat.
“I know. After everything with Kuvira and the spirits, and going off on my own…” She took Asami’s hand, then released it when her palm turned out to be too sweaty. “It just means a lot to me, being able to bend and to fight. I like it. I worked hard to get back here. But any time I get taken out, I get scared I’ll end up back where I started—maybe worse. I don’t know if I’d survive going through it again.”
“Of course you would. You’d have me.” She kissed the side of Korra’s head, ran her hand from the back of Korra’s neck to the base of her spine. Her hand had followed this path in so many different contexts, friendly, sexual, intimate but sans destination, but this time a difficult, unexpected emotion rose in her chest, pushing up as though commanded to do so by a piston’s pump. She wanted to pour herself into Korra, to fit into one another, to set the both of them alight.
She repeated the motion, this time one hand span to the left, and Korra closed her eyes and put her weight against Asami, her back rippling to Asami’s touch. She was still shivering from the fever. Asami was about to pull her hand back, but Korra pinned Asami’s hand to her body and shook her head.
“Keep doing it,” she said. “I want you to. It feels good.”
How many times had she heard that? Korra’s eyes half-lidded, dark, and liquid, containing a potent desire that left Asami trembling, from her calves to her chest to the tiny, barely controllable muscles attaching her ears to her head. She had learned the effects of her body and face on others as a young girl, the sweet power of perfumed wrists and the tumble of black hair. Learned what she could do to others, without reciprocating its depths, until this last year and a half with Korra. It frightened her, a fear that fed on itself and turned pleasurable when she looked into Korra and saw, even through fever and sleepiness, a love without cynicism, fear, or anger. A gift meant for her, and no other.
She sank into the bed besides Korra, tucking her forehead against the back of Korra’s neck.
“I love you,” she said. It felt as though her sternum had dissolved and reformed into a new, alien shape. She kissed the slope of skin and tendon and said it again, and the same feeling shot through her.
“What’s up?” Korra said, turning over. “Don’t get too close, though, or you’ll get sick, too.”
“Say it back. Say it back to me. Don’t laugh.”
“Love you. Love you, too. Always. Wash up before you go to bed, you’ll break out from all the makeup if you don’t.”
“I don’t want to get up.”
“Then don’t,” Korra said. Asami’s hands were around her waist. She clasped Asami’s hands in hers, and did not let go.
By morning, Korra’s fever had burned itself out. Korra felt Asami’s forehead with the back of her hand, and exclaimed, “You’re not sick?”
“You wanted me to be sick?”
“No. Well, yes. But only because it’d be fair.”
Varrick’s things were already on their way back to Republic City. They made arrangements to catch a ride on a ship headed for an airship hub in the Fire Nation the next day. They spent the rest of the afternoon stuffing their things back into the suitcase, checking in on Eska and Desna, and playing with the spirits and kids.
At sunset, they borrowed a pair of kayaks from the palace, made of wood and sealskin, and paddled parallel to the shore of the city, until they reached ice floes and spikes of tall icebergs. Korra said that one of the locals had pointed her to a bar—their last of their trip. Asami didn’t see how this place could possibly have anything of interests, until Korra pointed out a berg bright green in the middle and a dark, sensuous blue at the top and bottom. They kayaked to the other side, and arrived at a spacious grotto lit up with lanterns, and a number of kayaks piled high on racks just outside. Through the ice, they could hear the sound of people chatting inside.
“Wow,” Asami said. “They don’t have these in the South, do they?”
“We have cooler people.”
“But not the cooler buildings?”
Korra got out of the kayak and helped Asami out. Then she put both kayaks on her shoulders and set them on the racks outside the grotto. “If I wanted to, I could make an entire new city. I’d just have to go to the Avatar state. And find the part of me that’s a civil designer.”
“Korra, all I’m saying is, the North has nicer architecture.”
“Ugh! Just you wait, I’m going to become the best city planner.”
“You’re adorable,” Asami said, kissing Korra’s cheek.
They went deeper into the grotto, until they reached a furnished room in the middle of the iceberg. There were patrons of all types: many in traditional Water Tribe garb, but others in more urban style, and a few who looked straight out of a historical daguerreotype of Republic City’s early urban trendsetters, men in tight shirts and oiled facial hair, women in replicas of old wandering warrior robes.
There was another room just beyond them. When they went over to check, Asami saw something, a pair of shadows, and jerked Korra back by the elbow.
“What’s wrong?” Korra said.
It was hard to hear above the music and people drinking and playing games, but if they concentrated, they could hear people moaning, shouting, and moving flesh against flesh.
“Holy shit,” Korra said. Her blush worked its way across her cheeks, up the bridge of her nose, to her ears.
“Why don’t we stay on this side for now?” Asami said. She nudged Korra’s side with an elbow. “Unless you want to go in.”
Korra’s blush grew more severe. But she looked down, then to the side, and said, “Let’s see how we feel about it after a few drinks.”
It was Asami’s turn to blush. She knew sex clubs existed, but she had never gone to one herself. She had assumed it was because she wasn’t interested in that kind of thing; but watching Korra consider it was changing her mind.
They went to the bar. No menu. The bartender chatted with some patrons for a few minutes before coming over to them and listing the drinks: fermented berry juice, multiple types of rice and fruit wines, and some awful brands of liquor she might otherwise enjoy. On the cocktail side, the usual stuff she could find at any Republic City bar, but more expensive and with a few substitutions that looked truly depressing. Korra let her order for them both.
“You two new to the city?” said the bartender once the drinks were ready.
“Yeah, I’m from the South. She’s from Republic City.”
Asami tied her hair back quickly. “I live there now. But I was born in the state of Yi. My parents moved when I was young.”
“Right. And now she’s a famous radio reporter. I’m her…”
“It’s new,” Asami said.
“Whatever,” the bartender said, and went back to talk with his friends.
“‘Radio reporter?’” Asami said.
Korra sucked on her straw, looked bummed out, then sipped some more. “You don’t think you have a sexy voice?”
“No way. I sound too nice.”
“You do not think that, you’ve used the sexy voice on me tons of times—you’ve used it on Bolin, when he was helping me move my stuff into your place.”
“I know I can sound sexy, but most people on the radio… So what does that mean? Do you get turned on listening to Little Lau give the morning weather? ‘Monsoon coming in, bring an umbrella, look smart?’”
Asami ran her foot along the inside of Korra’s calf, not looking up from her drink. “How’s that backroom sounding now?”
“Good.” Voice breathy, excited. Korra never hid her desire; it was one of the things that made touching her so exciting. Korra slurped another quarter of her drink down. “Should we take the drinks with us?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t know, I’ve never been to one of these. No?”
“Okay.” Korra drained her glass. She undid the wrap around her ponytail, and shook out her hair. “Let’s do it.”
They put money on the bar and went to the backroom. The bouncer gave them a quick look over to make sure neither of them were out of it, then asked them a few questions. Was one of them a bender? Private room or out in the general area or semi-private? How long?
They put down the cash were taken to a row of similar rooms, each just big enough for a block of ice that was supposed to be a bed, too-thin cotton blankets thrown over the ice, walls not thick enough to hide the forms of the others around them. No door; Korra had to bend it shut behind them. An electric light dangled off a wire above them. Asami sat on the edge of the ice block while Korra fluffed up the blankets with hot air.
“We’re going to have to keep our clothes on if you want to stay warm,” Korra said, once she had done as much as she could. She had laid her coat and pelt on the ice, as impervious to the cold as ever. “Is that okay?”
“I don’t have a problem with that.” Asami got in the middle of the little nest Korra had built, lay there and tried not to laugh because their neighbors next door were laughing, shrieking with it, begging their partner to stop, then succumbing to delight again.
But Korra didn’t seem to have this problem; her attention was on Asami, her eyes moving all over Asami’s body, even though she hadn’t taken off her coat, and hadn’t even unbuttoned the collar. Seeing Korra biting her lip, the obvious excitement—Asami settled onto the pile of clothes and blankets, threaded her fingers through the fur lining of Korra’s hood. The room had a pungent smell—the smell of northern ice, ancient and algal, earth and salt, and the smell of bodies. And there was Korra, the smell of her rising from her clothes, from the bare heat from her body.
She took off her mittens and undid the first two buttons of her coat. “Come here,” she said. “Warm me up.”
She expected Korra to be nervous or apprehensive, but instead the coldness and her lack of clothes compared to Asami seemed to embolden her. Korra made her way to the ice block, crawled over to Asami on her hands and knees, and kissed Asami with just her lips, working just hard enough to draw Asami out, kiss by kiss. She tugged at Asami’s scarf.
“How am I doing?” she said, unwinding the scarf from Asami’s neck.
“Not bad. But my hands are still cold.” She rolled Korra’s top up an inch, running the back of her fingers along the circumference of skin. Two doors down, a whip cracked and someone yelped, and next door, the laughing pair were really going at it, shouting out things only partially muffled by the walls—Asami giggled, then laughed, then buried her face into Korra’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I can’t do it. It’s just too weird. How do people do this here?”
“Do you want to switch?”
“Let’s give it a try,” she said, even though she didn’t think it’d make much of a difference. She sat up and moved aside so Korra could lay down in the blankets and her coat. Asami ran her hand through Korra’s hair, spreading it out so it radiated from her head, sometimes dragging her nails along Korra’s scalp, sometimes cupping Korra’s cheek. With her other hand, she pinched Korra’s nipples, a touch of pressure with her nails, enough to make Korra lift her hips off the ice, bite her lip, close her eyes and gasp. Her breaths came hot; Asami could feel them under her palm, how each suck of air made Korra’s ribs expand and her breasts compress beneath her hand.
“Aren’t you going to cover me?” she said. “Keep me warm?”
“I thought you were a tough little thing,” Asami said. “You’re always showing off your arms and walking around in that tight shirt.” She got her hand out from beneath Korra’s shirt, and removed her long arm sleeves. “How’s this? Cold now?”
“No. Ow!” she said, as Asami twisted her nipple. “That hurt.”
“They’re perkier than usual. Must be the cold air. Sit up.” Korra did and tried to go in for a kiss—Asami pulled her shirt over her head first, then pushed her back onto the ice.
“No kiss?” Korra said.
“We’ll see.” She kept one hand on Korra’s breasts and used her other hand to feel her arms, her stomach, her chest. “Stop airbending.”
“I’m not,” Korra said, but a second later the goosebumps appeared on the inside of her arms. “Ow! Not fair, it’s unconscious—ow! Do I get a kiss now?”
“On what? Whether you ever stop being a jerk? Ow!”
“I was going to say,” Asami said, pinching Korra’s cheek, “on whether you can make me come with your mouth without taking off any of my clothes.”
“You’re wearing pants. And like, three layers of long underwear. Not feeling so cold now, are you?”
“You can talk to me like that after you’ve made me come,” Asami said, but it was true. It was taking everything she had to not pin Korra to the bed and give her everything she wanted. She unbuttoned her pants and took Korra’s hand and guided it inside.
It was a tight fit. Korra rotated her hand, parting her folds, smiling when she felt how wet Asami already was, how Asami rolled her hips into her hand.
“Not going to get on your back?” Korra said.
“I’m not coming in my pants on my back,” Asami said, pulling a face.
“That’s… Why is that where you draw the line?” Korra kissed her, the angle awkward from their position, but her mouth blazing hot and playing it slow, tongue reaching out then pulling away, never biting down hard enough to push Asami over the edge, even as her hand down Asami’s pants worked fast, one finger already inside her, the others focused on providing as much friction as possible. When Asami brought a hand up to Korra’s face, Korra broke the kiss and took two of her fingers into her mouth and sucked. Asami’s back arched, her hips lifted, and Korra got a second finger into her. She let go of Asami’s fingers, laughing out of success.
This time when Korra kissed her, she held nothing back. Asami came not long after, practically leaning over Korra and humping her hand, body burning up, and her underwear definitely ruined. She let Korra tip her onto her back so they could kiss more. They unbuttoned her coat and were working on pushing her pants down when a knock came on the door.
“Time’s up. You have to be out in five minutes.”
“Romantic,” Korra muttered. She buried her face into Asami’s shoulder, bit down lightly. “Think we can…”
“I don’t think so,” Asami said. She kissed the top of Korra’s head and drew away. “Do you need to come?” Korra shook her head. Getting kicked out had evidently killed the mood. “Do you want to find a place like this when we get home?”
“If we’re at home, I’d rather just… be at home, you know?” Korra got back into her clothes and shook out her coat. “What about you, did you like it?”
“I liked that you liked it,” Asami said. “Let’s try it again the next time we’re traveling. Maybe you can change my mind.” She adjusted her pants again. Next time she’d bring a change of clothes.
They got another drink at the bar before heading back to the palace in their kayaks. With the sun all the way down, the light from inside gave off an eerie light. As they headed back, they spotted two other icebergs lit up: one pale blue, the other yellow.
“More bars?” Asami said.
“The blue one might be,” Korra said. “My dad used to tell me stories about serial killers who lived out in the bergs. I wish we had met Irrut and Sertok there. I wanted to ask them how their wedding went. They must’ve gone to visit their families back in their home village. Their necklaces were really pretty.”
“Necklaces?” What an unusual thing for Korra to notice. “I’ve always wanted one for myself. Maybe we could get a matching pair.”
“What?” Korra teetered dangerously to the left, then pitched right, then threw her paddle up in the air and had to waterbend it back. “It’s—it’s not—I never thought about it before? I mean, I have, but I thought you’d—want to wait or something. If you’re serious, then yeah. Let’s do it. You normally make them yourself. Or if you’re rich, get someone really crafty to make it for you. But yeah. If you want to. If you’re asking.”
“I’ll ask around, then.”
They were quiet the rest of the way back to the harbor. They carried the kayaks back to the palace. Korra was unusually affectionate, insisting on taking Asami by the hand the whole way, even though it made walking back home hard. Kayaking was pretty fun, Asami thought. She could use it for a teambuilding exercise for her senior workers at home, or save this for a date night later.
Once they returned the kayaks to the palace, they returned to their room. Korra kept turning to check on Asami’s face, her expression first anxious, then dissatisfied, then puzzled. Then she laughed, falling onto the bed.
“You have no idea what you asked me, do you?” Korra said.
“What? What did I say?”
“I was talking about their betrothal necklaces.”
“Their… their… oh!” She covered her face with her hands and hit the bed knees first. She pushed her face into the pillows, her whole body flaming with embarrassment. “No. No! No.”
She looked up. Korra was grinning, crooked as usual, her eyes alive with mischief. “I’m going to tell this story for years.”
“I’m taking a shower. You don’t mind if I go first?”
“Sure, go ahead! Maybe it’ll wash this away from your memory so I can remind you again. Haha! Yeeears.”
She was still laughing when she got into the shower, but once she turned on the water, she became quiet. The white tiles seemed to pulse, and her stomach felt as though it was being shoved up to her chest. She was flushing in unexpected places: the top of her thighs, behind her knees, between her shoulder blades.
What was wrong with her. She had never considered the question before—not true, she had deflected the question. Marriage was no longer a prerequisite to being respectable in the eyes of Republic City society, but she didn’t care what those people wanted or didn’t want. She hadn’t seen the point of it, the whole settling down, raising a family, dying young, and getting consumed by fantastic passion and succumbing to megalomania.
She turned off the water. She was older now, in love, committed; in short, at a stage where it made sense to at least try. To do this for a purely selfish reason, to make them both happy. The golden machinery of her parents’ doom glinted before her eyes, suddenly appealing.
She stepped out of the shower. The lights were off, the curtains open. Korra was laying on the ground next to Naga, and got to her feet. Her hair shone in the starlight and her eyes were blue and calm as tidal pools, filling up as though with bright ocean water.
They decided to take another vacation. Why not. What was the point in being one of the richest women and the most powerful bender on the planet if you couldn’t take off once in a while. Asami sent in a truly flimsy excuse about needing to check on expansion opportunities in the Fire Nation, and they were off to the beach.
Once they arrived in the Fire Nation, Korra put her hair in a topknot, bought a change of clothes of Asami’s choosing, and dragged Asami from one tourist attraction to another. They biked along seaside paths, bought scoops of passionfruit and mango ice cream at the beaches, and went on hikes up to temples devoted to the sun. At night, they went to the summer festival held in the center of town, dancing with the locals and other tourists to heavy drumbeats, tossing things into the bonfire on the beach. At midnight fireworks went off over the water, bright colors barely an interruption in their lovemaking. Ah, they were lucky women.
They spent most of their vacation in anonymity. Korra tried sticking to firebending, but she had been seen waterbending in public to cool down a group of overheated children, airbending to gather up the mailman’s escaping letters, and earthbending to improve the soil in the community garden. Towards the end of the vacation, the townspeople ambushed them on their way out for breakfast and carried Korra away. “We need you to fix—” It was hard to hear, but Asami swore she heard ‘rampaging yak moose in the shrine.’
Asami would have followed, if not for Varrick popping up next to her and shouting, “Asami!”
“Please, no,” Asami said, putting her face in her hands.
“Great place you’ve run off to,” Varrick said. “Sheesh. I thought my secretary went blind when he said you were spotted out here! Want a Tamagotcha? They’re selling like sweet cakes. People can’t get enough of them. You could sell it as a special collector’s edition.”
What are you doing here, Varrick?” Asami said, accepting the Tamagotcha. It hadn’t changed much from Varrick’s original design. She pocketed it and resolved to forget about it. “Is this about the weapons?”
“Nope,” Varrick said. “I’m here on business. Why, did you finish that job already?”
“Neat. My lawyer will take care of… whatever it is we talked about. Probably.”
“I have to go after Korra,” Asami said, heading for the crowd—but Varrick looped his arm around her shoulders and steered her towards the town instead.
“I’m thinking of getting a winter coat here. For when I get back to the mainland.”
“They’re not going to sell—Varrick, you’re Southern Water Tribe, you should know a million places… I don’t have time for this,” she said. She pulled out a business card, wrote down an address, and pushed it into Varrick’s hands. “That’s a clothing store in Republic City. I have to get to my fiancée.” It was the first time she had said those words to someone back home. She turned pink immediately.
“Where’s the ring?” Varrick demanded. “Or the necklace. Whatever they’re wearing these days.”
“It was more of a spontaneous thing. We’ll have them before the press conference.”
“Well, why wait!” He grabbed her by the arm and shouted to a local, “Hey, you! We need a ring!”
It took her almost an hour to get away from Varrick. Asami went up the hill to the shrine by herself, wearing a new hat and stuffing what was possibly a still-living snake into her purse. She had, by some miracle, avoided having Varrick buy her a ring as a token of his appreciation.
The path to the shrine was lined with imposing red columns, tall trees and greenery everywhere, as though winter had been banished. Those were not the only things out of place. Both of her parents had emigrated from the Fire Nation, yet here she was as a tourist. She found she had taken a liking to the frozen expanse of the North and South, for no other reason than Korra. She remembered Korra’s lips close against her ear as she pointed out the features of a landscape that once was nothing but a pair of white expanses, sky on snow. Look, here: the waves in the ice. The way it drifted. The pack.
Was that a part of becoming a married person, being absorbed into someone else’s life and family, being happy to be assimilated? It seemed to be the norm, if she were to judge her social circle. Pema and Tenzin, Baatar and Suyin. Baatar had warned her to remain herself in the face of someone else’s awesome charisma and vision. She wondered how he’d see it when they made their engagement public, what Tenzin and Pema would say. Korra had already called Senna and Tonraq while they were on the ship, fizzy with excitement, stammering, blushing, putting Asami on the phone, dragging her into their happiness. It made her wish for her own parents to be there—or some version of her parents that would sit Korra in front of a table and grill her, but without hopping into a mecha to electrocute her to death.
The temple was surrounded by tall trees, and their shade fell welcome across the red tiles and rock gardens. Korra had apparently finished whatever duty she had been asked to complete. People were bringing her water, and asking her to do tricks. Be a fountain! Make eight water tentacles and wiggle them like an octopus! Make a rainbow!
“There you are!” Korra said, breaking through the crowd and returning to Asami. “I thought we lost you.”
“Varrick caught me first.”
“If that’s not a sign we’ve been here too long and need to go home, I don’t know what is.”
“Pretty much!” she said, laughing. She turned her face into Korra’s hair. It was hot from the sun, as was the bare skin of Korra’s shoulder against her arm. “I told Varrick and he tried to get you a ring. I just barely stopped him.”
“I would’ve wanted to see what he’d get us, though,” Korra said. Asami took the snake out of her bag. “Eugh! I’ve changed my mind.”
She ran her hand along Korra’s arm, from bicep to hand, and entwined their fingers together. “Have you eaten yet?”
“Not yet. I was waiting for you to find me. Let’s see if there’s anywhere open for lunch.”
They went down the stone steps arm in arm, down to the sunny road that awaited them just past the shade of the trees and the stern, red columns. After lunch, they drove up to the top of a nearby mountain, a dormant volcano that had filled up with water, and spent the day swimming. Hundreds of feet above ground, higher than either of them would have ever dreamed to find themselves swimming, until they had arrived at their destination.