Korra takes in all the ways Republic City has changed in her three-year absence, elbow resting on the passenger-side door of Asami’s blue roadster. Behind the wheel, Asami points out old shops and new, and drives them onto overpasses that stretch above verdant Spirit Wild canopies. They wind through traffic on a much more languid tour than the break-neck one Korra had received a few days earlier when they had chased down Wu’s kidnappers.
Asami tells Korra how the government and Future Industries came together to develop a mixed-use design to harmoniously integrate vibrant flora and diverse fauna with urban infrastructure. Korra can’t even pretend to understand everything flying out of Asami’s perfectly shaped mouth, but she can at least recognize Asami’s excitement, her green eyes gleaming with humble pride. And if Asami’s happy, then Korra’s happy.
“So,” Asami says as she finishes her explanation. “Did you want to see Avatar Korra Park?”
Korra tears her gaze from a pack of dragonfly-bunny spirits floating next to their Satomobile. She whips her head toward Asami. “I have a park? Since when?”
“Since Republic City Park was renamed after the public demanded that the Avatar be honored for defeating the Red Lotus.”
“Bet Raiko loved that,” Korra rolls her eyes and snorts, both to hide her flattered embarrassment and to ignore the twist in her gut as she thinks about Zaheer, the Red Lotus’s last surviving member. “I’m surprised he agreed to it.”
“He couldn’t do anything but agree if he wanted donors for his reelection campaign,” Asami winks, resting her hand on the car’s shifter. She glances at at Korra, who tries to shake off the icy tendrils of fear that never fail to claw at her chest whenever she thinks about Zaheer. Asami must sense her discomfort because she adds, “We don’t have to go.”
Asami gives her a kind smile, looking as gorgeous as ever as she leans back in the driver’s seat, dark hair swirling and rippling in the wind. The cityscape blurs behind her delicate profile. Korra’s heart flutters–the way it always seems to curiously do around Asami lately–and she immediately forgets Zaheer. Her unease vanishes in the wake of Asami’s concern. Just like that.
“We can head straight for Air Temple Island instead, if you’d like,” Asami says.
“No,” Korra blurts out and Asami’s brows lift. The truth is she doesn’t want her time with Asami to end just yet. After so many years apart, Korra can’t bear the thought of giving up Asami’s company now that she’s had a taste of it again. “Let’s do it,” Korra clears her throat. “Let’s go to my park.”
Smile widening, Asami shifts the Satomobile into a higher gear and accelerates, pushing Korra further back into the smooth leather seats.
The park hasn’t changed much in the last three years and Korra finds that she is grateful for it. Taking in a deep lungful of the freshest air in the city, she takes comfort in the familiarity of the park’s lush trees, grassy hills, and sparkling stream. She catches a mouth-watering whiff of roasting fish over hot coals and her stomach growls almost as loud as Naga.
“Hungry?” Asami chuckles.
“Ah, guess so.” Korra rubs her belly self-consciously. “I got caught up in meditating with Tenzin that I forgot to eat.”
Nodding, Asami heads toward the kiosk from where the enticing aroma wafts. “Why don’t I grab us a few sticks of roasted boar-fish while you take a look around? I’ll catch up with you.”
Korra inclines her head in thanks and begins ambling down a walkway of smooth white brick. Most people notice her immediately. News of her return had spread rapidly after Wu couldn’t resist sharing the tale of his kidnapping with the Republic City press and how he had bravely faced down dozens of Kuvira’s goons, with just the teensiest tiniest bit of backup from the Master of the Elements herself.
But despite wide eyes, whispered words, and the occasional finger pointed in her direction, the people at the park leave Korra in peace. To her left, a small group practices earth bending forms, centering their masses, arms and legs striking in swift and powerful motions. To her right, young children chase down Spirit World fireflies, little legs running around people sunbathing, cloud gazing, or just napping away the late afternoon. The corners of Korra’s lips curl up from the scene as she climbs up a small hill. When she reaches the crest, she pauses, stomach dropping along with her jaw as she sees herself in the distance.
Well, not her, exactly.
A giant, stone replica of her standing tall, left foot stepping up onto a rock.
Stunned, Korra continues along the path until she stands underneath the 50-foot statue, cast in its long shadow. She silently gapes up at the strong, confident visage. After feeling so broken for so long, Korra thinks she might as well be looking at a complete stranger. So lost is she in the confusing jumble of emotions swirling within her–awe and pride inextricably intertwined with humiliation and shame–that she doesn’t even register the new presence beside her.
“You hate it, don’t you?” A gentle lilt cuts through Korra’s turmoil and she startles, attention snapping immediately to Asami, who regards her warmly. She holds out a fish pierced by a thin bamboo skewer.
“No uh,” Korra absentmindedly rubs the back of her neck before accepting Asami’s offering with a grateful nod of her head. “Not at all,” she says, sinking her teeth into the food.
Asami quirks up an eyebrow in disbelief. “Really? Because I could practically see your eye twitching from the other side of the park.”
Korra swallows. “I don’t hate it.” She takes another bite and chews it methodically as she tries to gather her thoughts. “I mean, it’s nice to be taller than you for once,” Korra half grins.
Asami playfully nudges her on the shoulder. “But… you don’t like it?” She prompts again, making quick work of her own fish.
“That’s not…” Korra shakes her head. “It’s not that. It’s…”
She glances up again at the painstakingly carved stone that had to have been chiseled and polished by hand. Korra doubts that even the earthbenders in Zaofu could have manipulated rock with such precision. As she finishes her fish, her eyes note the care that went into every plane and curve, every detail, from the top of her wolf tail down to the tips of her tiger-seal boots. Whoever designed it had put in countless hours of time and effort into the project. Of that, at least, she is sure.
“It’s great,” Korra says finally. “Really.” Although Asami doesn’t add another but, and patiently waits for Korra to continue, Korra can sense Asami isn’t quite convinced. “Is this why you brought me here? To show me this?”
Asami bites the corner of her crimson-shaded lip and nods.
“Because,” Asami lays a hand on Korra’s bare shoulder, fingertips slightly rough and calloused but warm all the same against her tanned skin, and Korra suppresses a shiver, “because I know things have been difficult for you. And I know you’re afraid that the world doesn’t need you or that people think less of you. But Korra, they don’t.”
“How could they not?” Frustration seeps into Korra's voice despite her best efforts to keep it at bay. “I was gone when the world needed me. And when I tried to stop Kuvira…” She exhales but can’t bring herself to finish that train of thought as the shame of her humiliating defeat in Zaofu bubbles within her. “I just think the Avatar people want… that they expect,” her eyes once again trail up the massive stone figure, “that Avatar is long gone.”
“You’re wrong, Korra.” Asami slides her hand down Korra’s arm and takes her free hand into her own. “You’re still here. Right in front of me.”
“You mean the worst Avatar ever is right in front of you,” Korra grumbles.
“You’re far from the worst.”
“But I’m not perfect.”
“No one expects you to be.” Asami runs her thumb across the ridges of Korra’s knuckles. “Do you want to know what I see when I look at you?” Asami holds her with a look so intense that it short-circuits Korra’s synapses. She can barely move. “I see your heart. Your strength.” She licks her lips, almost nervously. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Asami says quietly. “And I’m not the only one who feels that way. You give people hope Korra. Always. Even when you don’t think you do.”
Flushing to the roots of her hair, Korra wonders if her ribs might crack from the pounding of her heart. “Asami, I…” She’s at a loss for words. Her tongue feels too thick and clumsy in her mouth.
“I know,” Asami says.
And Korra can only nod in gratitude and squeeze Asami’s hand, taking comfort when Asami squeezes back.
Later, when the setting sun bleeds red, orange, and purple across the edge of the horizon where the waters of Yue Bay kiss the sky, Korra sits perched on a railing of Air Temple Island’s pagoda. Her gaze travels across the acolytes’ practice grounds where an ever-patient Asami is refitting an ever-excitable Meelo with a new wingsuit to accommodate a recent growth spurt. The young airbender can barely keep still, no doubt wanting to take off immediately and show off in front of Asami.
“Jeez, you’d think he’d be calm by now.” Opal drops down from out of the sky with a salty gust of air and lands next to Korra. “He has these fittings every three months.”
“This is probably the calmest I’ve ever seen him,” Korra chuckles, her eyes trained on Asami and only Asami, who shakes her head affectionately when Meelo spreads his arms wide and imitates a hyper winged lemur. “I guess Asami has that effect on people.”
Folding and snapping her suit’s wings back into place, Opal hums knowingly.
Korra glances at her briefly, noting the way her lips quirk up into a small smirk. “What?”
“Nothing.” Opal shrugs then crosses her arms and leans back against a thick red pillar. “So,” she says, continuing to watch Meelo’s shenanigans. “I hear you visited your park this afternoon.”
“I did,” Korra answers, jaw clenching mildly. She’s still not used to referring to the city’s park as her park.
“So you saw your statute.”
Heat prickles across Korra’s cheeks as she remembers holding Asami’s hand underneath it. She can still feel the way Asami had traced the creases of her palm and her pulse quickens at the memory.
“Korra?” Opal waves a hand in front of her face to get her attention.
“Sorry,” she coughs lightly into her fist. “Yes, I saw it.”
Opal rolls her eyes. “What did you think?”
“I thought it was weird. Still do, actually.” Korra watches Asami giggle at whatever joke Meelo’s now whispering into her ear. She can sense Opal regarding her with a curious, borderline smug expression and Korra runs a hand through her wind-tousled hair. “What do you think of it?”
“I think it captures you quite well. In loving detail, if I do say so myself.”
Korra scratches the side of her nose, still uncomfortable about discussing her own statue. “I guess at some point here I should probably thank the artist who worked on it. Do you know who it was?”
Opal shoots her an odd look, one that instantly morphs into subtle amusement. “You don’t know?”
“No,” Korra shakes her head. “Was it Huan?”
Opal laughs out loud. “No,” she says. “Not my brother. Are you kidding? You would have looked like some abstract Avatar blob if he had done it.”
“Well,” Opal cants her head to the side. “She just happens to be looking right at you.”
Korra’s eyebrows shoot up. “You!?”
Opal narrows her eyes in a way that eerily reminds Korra of an expression that Toph had given her in the swamp–one that point blank said, You are a complete and utter moron. It must have been a Beifong thing.
“No, Korra,” Opal says, pushing off the pillar and bobbing her head toward the practice arena. “Not me.”
Korra tracks the movement to Asami, breath stuttering in her lungs when their eyes lock and the rest of the world just melts away. Korra sees nothing but Asami. Not Opal. Not Meelo. Just Asami, who gives her a small smile that is positively radiant in its simplicity.
Her heart contracts, almost painfully so, then swells, eyes stinging when she finally–finally–understands the emotion that has lain dormant within her chest for years. The one she had stubbornly ignored as impractical, if not outright impossible. The one that had sparked and ignited a fire within Korra the moment she had seen Asami again. It now blazes down her spine, an uncontrollable wildfire coursing through her veins and heating every inch of her body.
It should frighten her, she thinks, how powerful it is. How overwhelming.
But it doesn’t.
Instead, it feels as natural to her as Raava’s spirit–an ever present force that’s always been with Korra whether she fully realized it or not. And she accepts it, a cool wave of peace washing over her. It loosens her joints and relaxes her muscles, even as her blood continues to simmer. Her heart soars with exhilaration while her soul remains anchored and steady.
And when Korra continues to look at Asami, she thinks maybe, just maybe, she sees the same spark mirrored in green.