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Reparations

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After saying her farewells to Blackstone Isle and to the station she'd called home until today, the once Great Uniter for the Earth Empire Kuvira boarded the vessel destined to Harbor City and towards the next chapter on her path towards redemption. About an hour ago, as she busied herself packing her few belongings, her mind had wandered back to the memories of the people and the places that left an indelible mark in her life. Kuvira could still remember how stunned she had been when she had been informed of the decision to transfer her from an isolated maximum security cell in Republic City’s penitentiary to a frozen and remote island off the coast of the South Pole. She knew her life was bound for a significant change but she would have never anticipated just how much of a change it would be. Or that she was destined to fight for her own existence.

That is why and much to her astonishment, when the moment to leave finally arrived with Chief Beifong, Bumi, and the White Lotus guards flanking her on their way towards the ship, it became hard for her to part from this harsh yet rewarding place and its inhabitants. The veteran mentor Sammi with his walrus mustache and steadfast friendship. The patient and skilled technician Eda. The stern yet amiable captain Jin. They had not only welcomed her and since day one refused to treat her as a prisoner, they’d accepted her as one of their own. During the time she worked alongside the crew of the surveillance station, Kuvira had become part of a team and in hard work and camaraderie, she found a renewed purpose for her existence. Her brush with a frozen death reaffirmed her will to live. The experiences shared with the new friends she made kindled the spark of hope back into her heart. As she waved goodbye from the ship’s stern, she secretly thanked the spirits for the darkness of the night shrouding the tears she was shedding as the vessel swiftly moved away leaving the isle behind. The weight of Sammi’s parting gift inside her pocket made her smile inwardly despite the cool crisp wind gusts buffeting her face. She let out a chuckle at the prospect of sharing the gift with Korra in the near future and her memory served to lift the blues of the farewell to friends. At the other side of the world, the Avatar was waiting for her. But new challenges also awaited her.

The journey towards Harbor City had been a smooth, uneventful one and soon she found herself back at the Southern Water Tribe capital greeted by familiar sights. Now, as she rested inside the splendid guest room in Chief Tonraq’s palace, sitting down on a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace with a snoring Naga at her feet and guards outside her door, a sense of déjà vu overcame Kuvira. It was all so familiar and yet, the purpose of her temporary stay was completely different this time around.  In a blink of an eye, her immediate future took a 180 degree turn. Instead of completing her sentence in exile on a snowy island detached from the most part from the troubles of the world, she was returning once again to an imperiled Earth Kingdom. Once more, she was about to join a collective effort to stabilize the fragile order of a country in the midst of a political renewal. But this time, she was not going to have sharp uniforms or grandiloquent speeches or the might of an army behind for support.  She was returning as a paroled prisoner, a defeated leader, a humbled woman. Despite all of this, she had been called back perhaps in the long yet still possible odd she could repeat the feat of spreading order where disorder once staked its claim. Kuvira sincerely hoped that the cumulative wealth of experiences, genuine repentance and maturity acquired during the past three years that followed her surrender could aid her where power and strength could not. The daunting challenge weighting on her mind stirred a familiar restlessness that made her abandon the comfort of her chair to seek the solace of the Spirit Lights visible from her room’s balcony.

The South Pole had left permanent marks on Kuvira. It had stirred from its deep slumber her sense of wonder with its breathtaking natural sights and its harsh beauty. She had almost perished when she underestimated the raw and unpredictable power of nature. After that, she came to respect that power and those who endeavored to work in harmony with it. The South Pole was also the home country of the person who mattered the most to her now. The one who saved her life countless times and was the sole owner of her heart. The last time she stood at this balcony she had been surrounded by the strong arms of the extraordinary woman who had saved the world and protected the second chance of a nation deemed extinct to exist again. For some unknown reason, this woman was doggedly determined to save Kuvira from herself. Even more unwavering was her determination for Kuvira to believe in her own worthiness. The metalbender hugged herself as she pictured the blue eyes that had aided her in keeping her sanity in check and the smile that reassured her she was worthy of happiness despite her dark deeds. The restlessness she felt now wasn't triggered by worries stemmed from her new challenge. Instead, she grew impatient to encounter the owner of the sapphire eyes she had lost herself into so many times one more time.

Kuvira had been so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice when Chief Lin Beifong crossed her room until she reached the balcony and stood beside her, her green gaze lost amidst the bright colors of the Spirit Lights shimmering from afar.

“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” Lin offered in a quiet tone.

“It is” Kuvira breathed.

“It is very peaceful here, No wonder you didn’t even flinch when I came in.”

“To be honest, I didn’t register you were here until you spoke. As you said, this place is beautiful. It soothes my mind.”

“That’s good to know. Perhaps I should take my next leave of absence here and see if I can finally relax a bit. Spirits know I’m in dire need of a break.”

Kuvira offered the Chief of Police a sympathetic glance. “I really hope you do once we deal with whatever’s happening in the Earth Kingdom.”

“Are you ready for tomorrow?”

“My things are packed and ready but I’m not sure if I’m truly prepared to return. I don’t know if that’s even possible given my circumstances.”

Lin chuckled at the honest response. “I guess we will all find out when we make it there. Anyway, I didn’t come to watch the pretty lights. I came to relay a message. There’s a radio call waiting for you at the communications room but don’t take too long. Tomorrow we have to meet Tenzin inside the Spirit Portal at noon and from what I’ve been told, we have to leave early in order to make it.”

Kuvira nodded. It was been quite ingenious the shortcut they had devised to reach Republic City faster: through the portals and for a second time in her life, Kuvira would emerge from the Spirit Portal created by Korra and her own Spirit Weapon.

“Don’t worry Lin, I’ll be there on time. Chief Tonraq himself will be guiding us, right?”

“That is correct. Now go and get your call. I’ll see you tomorrow”

“Good night Lin!” And upon saying this, Kuvira left her room and quickly sprinted behind a guard that led her towards a narrow room packed with communications equipment. After her stay at the isle and the experience acquired repairing antenna arrays, she had become quite familiarized with the gadgets. In fact, she remembered contacting Jin on a daily basis from this very same room the last time she had been here. Kuvira heard the crackling sound of an open transmission and noticed the single red light at the panel. She sat down on the chair in front of the panel and picked up the microphone excitedly.

“Korra?”

“Hey!” A familiar voice from the speaker greeted her enthusiastically.

“Hey yourself” the former captain greeted back happily. “Shouldn’t you be resting? I believe you have a busy schedule ahead of you.”

“Yeah, I do, but look at you. You aren’t sleeping either.”

“Because someone is keeping me awake right now” Kuvira replied with a mock accusatory tone.

“Not the way that I would like, mind you” the Avatar replied mischievously.

“I hope you don’t have a lot of people around you right now.” The former captain felt color gathering on her cheeks. As she had come to learn during their relationship, Korra knew exactly how to incite certain responses from her even from a distance.

Korra chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’m at the airship’s comm room alone and you should be my last call for the night” she replied reassuringly. “So how’s my mom and dad and Naga?”

“Chief Tonraq has been very welcoming as well as your mom. They received us with dinner and they even prepared my old room and got me some clothes for the trip tomorrow. Naga pinned me to a wall with her front paws and licked my face so I guess that means she remembered me.”

“Awww, she does. She really likes you.”

“That’s what I thought too. She’s sleeping at my room right now.” Kuvira paused for a moment, taking the opportunity to organize her thoughts. There had been a subject that had weighted over her throughout her travel to Harbor City. Lin’s words back at Blackstone Isle were still echoing inside her head and she knew she had to sincere herself with Korra if she wanted their relationship to thrive.

“Kuvira, are you still there?” The Avatar sounded concerned.

“Yes, I’m here. I’m glad you called because there’s something that I would like to talk to you about since we have the chance.”

“Well, you’ve got my undivided attention. Go ahead.”

The former captain inhaled deeply. Opening her heart and soul to another person had never been her forte and very few had reached her core, Bataar being among the few who could truly claim they did. Eventually, even her fiancée was eventually kept at a distance as the Empire became her priority and the only face she offered to him was the one she had available to everybody else. That of the ambitious, unyielding tyrant unwilling to make herself accountable to anyone. That side of her was the one that led her to her ruin.

“Before I begin, I want you to know that I believe everything you said before you left but I still need to tell you this. This is not easy for me. When it comes to addressing masses of people, I can be great at speech making but when it comes to my emotions, it’s another story. I just don’t feel that comfortable opening up about my feelings with others.”

“I think I’ve noticed that” retorted Korra.

“So, I’ve decided I needed to be honest with you about today. Truth is, I almost escaped and probably I would have succeeded hadn’t been for Lin stopping me.”

Korra gasped audibly. “Wait what? But why?”

“Let me explain. I know you are aware that I overhead your conversation with Ms. Sato and before you interrupt, no, I’m not upset by the fact that you two kissed. She’s your ex and you will always have some feelings for her.”

Korra felt heat suddenly rising to her cheeks as she wondered how it might have seemed from Kuvira’s point of view to see her kissing Asami. “You saw that? Kuvira I didn’t mean…” Korra stammered nervously.

“I know and as I told you, I’m not upset about that but the conversation reminded me of many realities of our current situation. You’ve done so much for me. You’ve supported me when I was despairing and broken. You have nursed me back to health, both physically and mentally when you visited me in prison and when you rescued me from a freezing death. You’ve saved my life but more than that, you’ve helped me to recover my own sanity and self-esteem. I feel I have worth as a human being again despite all the wrongs I’ve committed and most of that it has been because of you. I owe you so much I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you.”

“Then why you tried to escape?” Even through the radio transmission, Kuvira could sense the pain and the incredulity seeping through Korra’s voice.

“Because I don’t want to be a burden to you. I don’t want to ruin your life. You are the Avatar and you love what you do and who you are. That’s why you approached me, because that’s who you are. You want to make things right. You want to bring balance and harmony to the world as it has been tasked to you. You helped somebody who was despairing and it didn’t matter that I used to be your enemy because you saw an opportunity for me to become a better person regardless of what the world said or thought.”

“I still don’t get it…” Korra sounded hurt which made Kuvira’s stomach twist into knots.

“I wanted to set you free so you could find happiness without being weighed down by all the risks you take associating with me. I don’t want to ruin your life or your reputation. You are a public figure and I don’t want to put you in a difficult position publicly because you don’t deserve it. The world needs their Avatar, they need you and they should love and admire you after all you’ve done to protect it. I…I wanted for you to have all the happiness you truly deserve openly. Ms. Sato is all that I’m not and she wants to make you happy in ways I can’t. That would have been my gift to you.”

After a long pause, Korra’s voice broke the silence of the comm room.

“That’s why you wanted to run away? Because you believe what I feel for you burdens me?”

“Yes.” Admitting it out loud felt like a lash across her heart. She loathed feeling like ballast weighting down all the good that Korra did.

The Avatar retorted brusquely. “Don’t you think I should have a say in this? I believe I’ve stated my choice clearly. Have you realized how hurt I’ve would felt when I realized you were gone?”

The tone of her voice twisted even more the knots inside her belly. “I know but I just couldn’t stand not being able to do something for you. I wanted to believe that the pain would be momentarily...that you would have eventually found comfort with Ms. Sato. Korra, you’re always sticking your neck out for me and is frustrating being in this situation…being…”

“Helpless?”

“Yes…it just drives me insane.” Kuvira's low voice sounded almost ragged, visceral.

Korra let out a long exhale. “Perhaps you are supposed to feel that way now. To be in a position to accept that there are things that you cannot control and you can’t fix. Maybe you should learn to accept help, to even accept love from the most unexpected places.”

“But isn’t that unfair?”

“Life isn’t what’s fair and what’s unfair. Perhaps a big injustice was done to me when I became the reincarnation of the Avatar. I will never live a normal life. I didn’t get to choose my destiny, it was already decided the instant I bended a second element. What the Red Lotus did to me certainly wasn’t fair. They sought to destroy an 18 year old girl just because she represented the ideals they abhorred.” Korra’s voice broke down for a moment, the suffering she experimented flashing momentarily through her mind’s eye.

“Korra…?” It was now Kuvira’s turn to be concerned.

“I’m here… “

“You don’t have to continue if you want…this is stirring painful memories for you.”

“No, hear me out now. Was it fair for you to have been abandoned by your parents? To be forgotten when you lost everything? No, but this has nothing to do with fairness. It is what we can do to make the most of what we’ve been given.”

“But you don’t get it. I still want to do something…” Kuvira interjected, her voice drowned in emotion. “I want to protect you from beasts like Zaheer, from people like the one I used to be. I don’t want to pull you down with the load of my mistakes.  What happiness can you really derive from our love if it drags you down spoiling all the good that you do?”

“I’m not perfect and the world cannot expect me to be perfect. I’m not doing anything improper in my relationship with you. You are just as worthy as anybody else to deserve a second chance, and if the world can’t accept my decision, that’s their loss, not mine.”

“People’s judgements can be cruel.”

“Oooh, I know that all too well. If it had been for the judgement of the world during my three year absence, I should have sacrificed myself to allow the Avatar cycle to continue and have a new Avatar, one that wasn’t damaged.”

“Spirits Korra…” Kuvira wasn’t able to continue. The mere thought of an existence with Korra pained her too much.

“You have realized that you are a consequence of what was done to me, right? That my absence meant you had to step in and do something about the Earth Kingdom.”

“I...I had thought about it once but I didn’t dwell on the subject for too long. Remember that I was there when they tried to kidnap you. I know they took the airbenders to force you to give yourself, and I was there when your father tried to rescue you. I understand how brutal the whole ordeal was.” The former captain paused for a moment trying to measure her next words. “I admit that I was very frustrated with the whole situation. The instability that Zaheer triggered when he murdered Queen Hou-Ting. Su’s refusal to take the reins of the country. And yes, I might have been upset by the fact that you weren’t around to help us stabilize the Earth Kingdom, but I just pressed on. We weren't aware of what you were really going through at the time. I gained nothing skulking in your absence when there was so much to be done.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’ve been wanting to tell you this because sometimes I feel I’m responsible for the burden you inherited.”

Korra’s response astounded Kuvira. “You have nothing to apologize for Korra. You were hurt…they tried to kill you!”

“But that didn’t change the fact I was still the Avatar and I had a duty to fulfill. And I was helpless, I was incapable of fulfilling it because I was broken. And because I was broken you were called to do something about your nation. And here we are now. You are suffering the consequences of your own ill decisions but also of what others did to me that prevented me from doing my duty. Don’t you think that we both deserve to enjoy what little happiness we get to find after all of this?”

“I…I guess so…”

“Your path keeps crossing with mine and mine with yours and now it has taken us here.  I’ve told you before. I love you, the woman who you are now and that keeps showing me the resolve to become a better person. I want you to accept me even if might be frustrating and it doesn’t make any sense. I need you by my side when the world chastises me for choosing you because if you’re with me then I won’t care about what they say about me. And I want you to allow yourself to love because you have changed and you deserve it.”

The conviction in Korra’s words all but obliterated any remaining resistance Kuvira kept to deny herself this chance at happiness.

“Damnit Korra, why you have to make this so hard? Why don’t you make things easy for yourself? Asami loves you and she wants you back.” Kuvira voice was breaking now, the sobs colliding inside her throat.

Korra felt her own tears escaping the corners of her eyes, her voice thick with emotion. “Because I want you. Don’t you know that the Avatar gets what she wants? And the fact that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for my happiness makes me want you even more.”

Kuvira chuckled despite the tears. “You are stubborn and hopeless.”

“Face it commander, you’re not going to win this one.”

“No, I guess not.”

“So, what are you going to do?” Korra queried expectantly.

Kuvira smiled, her voice through the speaker transmitting firmly and clearly her wish. “I want you too, if you would have me.”

“Of course I will have you! And don’t even think about leaving me like that, okay?”

“No. I won’t run away from you anymore. I’m so sorry for trying. I don’t think I can anymore.”

“Admit it, I’m irresistible. Seriously though, thank you for this. For being honest and for staying.”

The warmth in the Avatar’s voice melted the knots that had clustered inside her stomach. “I believe I owed you this conversation for a long time. These thoughts have assaulted me for a while but I have never stopped loving you even if I have felt I don’t deserve you.”

“You have no idea how happy I feel right now. You’re lucky I’m miles away from you because I would give you plenty reasons to stay awake right now.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad. I miss you, you know. I miss my personal heater.”

Korra chuckled remembering how she heated the mulled wine cup for Kuvira and the reward she received for the gesture. “I miss you too and if I start saying all the things I miss then I really won’t be able to sleep.”

“Can you tell me just one thing you miss? Something nice?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, anything you really like about us...besides sex" Kuvira added almost to herself.

Korra guffawed at that. “Okay but you gotta admit things are really good in that department.”

“They’re amazing but there’s more to us than that, I hope.” 

“Of course you dork but I enjoy messing with you.”

“You sure do.”

Korra allowed for a dramatic pause before uttering in a most sensual, playful tone: “Soooo you think our sex is amazing, hmm? Have I told you how I really like it how you whisper my name with that sexy voice of yours when I make you…”

“Ahem…Korra…”

“Yes?”

Kuvira sounded between mortified and attempting to contain laughter from bursting out. “Didn’t we just agree to talk about other things beside sex? It’s not that I don’t like…”

The metalbender didn't finish the sentence because Korra literally exploded in laughter through the radio. “You know what I really miss? It’s the expression that I know you are making right now. I bet your eyebrows are burrowed and your mouth is twitching.  You look simply adorable when you try to remain serious but you’re trying hard not to laugh.”

“Why you…you are terrible, you know!” Kuvira squealed flabbergasted as she searched for a reflective surface. Her expression was exactly as Korra had just described.

“I know it. That’s what makes me so lovable. Now seriously, what about you. What do you miss?”

Kuvira hummed before replying. “I miss your warmth and I don’t mean that you heat things with your bending. I mean you. I like having your arms surrounding me, keeping me warm and protected. You’ve spoiled me and now is hard not having you beside me.”

“Really?”

“Yup. I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”

“You know what? I’m glad you are. You shouldn’t be afraid of telling me what you think. When you are at most vulnerable is when I want to hold on to you tight and never let go. I feel so privileged when you share that with me because I understand it’s not easy for you to admit it.”

“It is not but it is getting easier with you.”

“Nobody would believe it with that tough girl reputation of yours.”

“Shush, that’s our secret. Let the world keep believing I’m tough as nails, I need to maintain my reputation.”

Korra let out a chuckle that turned into a long yawn. “I would love to continue this but I should listen to your original advice and get some rest. You too. You should be traveling to Republic City with Bumi, Lin and Tenzin tomorrow but I warn you, don’t expect a riveting conversation on the way back with that company.”

It was Kuvira’s turn to laugh. “I’ll bring a book with me then. And I’m glad I’m getting some sense to get through you.

“See? I can listen. And we should do this again, just talk like this when we meet in Zaofu, okay?”

“I’ll look forward to it. And Korra, I’m sorry for being so selfish. I didn’t even consider how you are faring now that you have to deal with Ms. Sato. It must be really hard for you.”

“I knew this would happen sooner or later but you shouldn’t worry about that, okay? As you said, ‘Sami and I love each other and I’m sure we’ll manage somehow. But don’t get jealous please! I didn’t choose to be stuck in an airship with my ex!”

“You seem to forget that my ex will be in Zaofu.”

“Spirits, you’re right! And Suyin and the rest of the family. And you’ll be stuck with Lin. I’m afraid drama will be all but unavoidable.”

“Drama follows you Korra, but let’s call it a day.”

“Okay. Good night commander. I love you. And by the way, what I said about your voice is true, you know” Korra added playfully as a grin plastered across her face.

Kuvira arched an eyebrow. “Really? Then I hope you dream about it tonight.” Korra’s grin grew impossibly wider. The suggestive cadence Kuvira used to utter that last phrase all but guaranteed she would indeed dream about the subject.

“Now look who’s being terrible.”

“I might have picked it up from a certain someone. Good night Avatar. I love you.”

Moments later, as Kuvira walked towards her room she wondered if the dreamy mood she felt could be seen in her expression judging by the very amused glance Chief Beifong offered her when they crossed paths across the hall. The same joyful disposition kept her company for the rest of the night and in her dreams, she was sure she could feel strong loving arms engulfing her in a soothing warmth that dispelled any remaining insecurities away.

 

Chapter Text

A clear and cloudless sky welcomed Asami to the helm of the Future Industries airship that had become a second home to her and in the recent past, had doubled as Team Avatar’s flying headquarters and unofficial transport. Light splayed through the tall tempered glass windows that surrounded the wide space of the gondola, giving the interior a soft glow over its steel panels and multitude of levers and clock like instruments. The magnate brought a hand over her forehead to shield her eyes from blinding light beams that filtered from the sun climbing behind a nearby mountain range. Her hands confidently maneuvered the rudder of the vast flying contraption with a subtle tug to avoid the intense light. Her senses were expertly attuned to the slight yet noticeable changes in wind currents through countless hours in the air and myriad miles traversed over about half of the Four Nations. The Beifongs might possess a unique edge with their seismic sense but Asami didn’t need to be a bender to sense the vibrations from the control panel communicating vital data about the structural integrity of the airship. She understood the peculiar roaring of the engines and the whirring of the propellers.  She was so aware of her surroundings mid-air that she could almost anticipate what the slight changes in her instruments conveyed before she glimpsed at them. Asami loved flying, loved the sense of freedom it gave her and the promise of endless journeys and adventures waiting beyond the blue horizon, but there was a time when that love had been soured, sullied in a way she’d feared she would never be able to speed towards the open skies without erupting into tears.  

The nightmarish vision of a giant metal hand obliterating what mere seconds ago used to be the hummingbird piloted by her late father hounded her nights relentlessly for months on end. The horror of the indescribable clatter of flattened metal would echo inside her head triggering the violent shudders that awoke her in the middle of the night, tremors that only went away when she sought refuge inside Korra’s protective embrace. It had taken the magnate long, painful months to fully recover her fondness of flying. Despite the dreadful memories of her father’s last hours, flying was also the way she reconnected with some of her oldest and fondest memories of him. After all, her love of taking into the blue wide yonder had come through Hiroshi and the happy times they’d shared when he tested his flying contraptions with a young Asami with him. Flying morphed from a source of trauma and pain to a therapeutic outlet. In moments like this when conflicting emotions clashed inside her chest, she fully appreciated being able to allow the immensity of the skies and the rugged beauty of the landscapes below sooth her aching heart. The last couple of days had been testing for the young magnate and it had all began the day she’d arrived at the South Pole. What Asami had anticipated as a joyful re-encounter with Korra with the possibility of reconciliation hanging in the air became a source of frustration and heartache that dampened her high spirits. Yesterday it had seemed things would continue on the relative conciliatory note it had ended once they’d departed Blackstone Isle but instead, it added tensions to an already tense mood. Asami was glad the trip was almost over, the reconstructed domed city of Zaofu just hours away, because she didn’t know if she could endure more tense episodes with the Avatar within the confined space of the airship. The source of her stress had a name and Asami was certain that individual would probably prompt even more tensions to the Metal Clan.

Yesterday’s morning had begun almost exactly like today except that when she entered the bridge to take over the navigational duties over the Future Industries pilot that ran the night shift, she found Korra sitting down with heavy laden eyes scanning the horizon.

“Good morning” greeted Asami.

“Good morning” mumbled Korra as she lifted her head to follow Asami on her way in.

After Asami relieved the pilot from his duties, she offered Korra an enquiring glance.

“Long night?”

“Not really” the Avatar replied while stifling a yawn. Asami lifted an eyebrow skeptically.

“Are you sure? You look like you slept only for a few hours. I think it was past midnight when you finally came out of the comm room.”

Korra, who had been slumping over the chair, suddenly straightened up. “You were awake too?”

Asami rested a hand over her hip, her hair swaying softly to the side. “It’s my airship. I have the tendency to walk around at odd hours just to check everything’s okay, but you know this already.”

“True” Korra retorted, her face reflecting subtly her confusion with the gesture. “I remember how difficult it was to convince you to allow somebody else to take over you for a couple of hours. Old habits die hard, huh? The new guy seems to be very professional. He told me he has been working for you for about three months now.”

“Lieutenant Ryo is ex-military. He came with a lot of recommendations and has a ton of experience. I really enjoy piloting myself but I’ve learned to delegate some duties because the truth is that I’m too busy and I can’t be at the helm all the time. I’ve come to learn that especially during the past months with the current situation in the Earth Kingdom.”

“Between this and the work you did with Su I bet you’ve logged in a ton of flying hours. I remember when you would call from places as far and diverse as Omashu and the Si Won desert. How did you manage back then without a copilot?”

Asami gave a wistful glance at Korra. The industrialist chose as a coping mechanism to dull the heartache and confusion of her situation during the tough post breakup days to devote even more of her time to her work. They still sought to keep in touch but as time went by, communication became more and more scattered as their individual duties and the mounting problems across several locations absorbed more of their attention.

“I was lucky enough to find people I could trust during my travels” Asami replied matter-of-factly.  

“I see” It occurred to Korra that Asami seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the subject at hand but before she could press further, the industrialist interjected.

“So we should expect to meet Lin and Kuvira sometime this week, right?”

“Yes, they will travel to Republic City today…” Korra’s eyes suddenly opened wide as she sprung from her seat.  Asami had casually commented that Korra had been in the comm room until late at night.

“How did you find out about that? I was about to tell all of you today during our meeting because I got the information myself last night when I spoke to Lin and to...  Wait! Were you eavesdropping my conversations?” Korra was now standing in front of Asami with both hands over her hips and a stern expression on her face.

Asami returned her hard glance with a smug expression. “You don’t have a particular whispery tone of voice Korra. Your conversation carried outside the room. Besides, it’s my ship so I don’t know if eavesdrop is the right word here.”

Korra sighed loudly. “I can’t seem to have private conversations without half the world listening lately. So yeah, that’s pretty much the gist. Kuvira has been paroled and Lin will be her official nanny. They’ll will be traveling with a small group of United Republic Forces soldiers provided mostly for Su’s peace of mind.”

“I’m pretty sure Lin would not particularly like being referred as ‘Kuvira’s nanny’.”

Korra snorted at that despite the annoyance she felt at the intrusion of privacy by none other than her best friend.

“May I ask why you overheard my conversation last night? That’s so unlike you.”

Asami’s expression sobered. “It seemed fair after Kuvira did exactly the same thing yesterday.”

Korra pressed the bridge of her nose and muttered something unintelligible between clenched teeth.  

“Korra…”

“Hmm?” Korra’s felt her temples tightening. This string of stressful conversations were starting to drain her emotionally. She had badly underestimated Asami’s reaction to her relationship to Kuvira but then again, she wasn’t expecting to meet Asami so soon and so unexpectedly. She was completely unprepared for this scenario and dealing with the emotional outbursts of both Asami and Kuvira was beginning to take its toll on her.

“Can I ask you something?”

The Avatar inhaled deeply and offered Asami a conciliatory glance. She really hated arguing with her. It brought her back unpleasant memories of the heated arguments that eventually led to their breakup.

“Sure, go ahead” she replied unconvincingly.

“Is it true what you told her? That you still love me, just not in the same way you used to?”

“Sami, you should know the answer to that. I will always love you and there’s no one that can take your place. We might not work as a couple but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you around. You will always be part of my Team Avatar and more than that, you are my best friend but I’m not sure if you still consider me yours.”

The sad glimmer that Asami saw in Korra’s blue eyes pained Asami.

“But I do! You’re still my best friend! That’s why I’ll try to do my best to respect your decisions even if I don’t agree with them.”

“You mean it?”

“I do. As I friend, I will admit that after finding out the reasons behind Kuvira’s escape attempt, I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt about her intentions with you.”

Korra gifted Asami a gentle smile. It really meant the world to her that Asami could begin to see the change for the better that she had seen flourishing in the former captain.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret. I knew about the escape attempt before we spoke because Lin told me all about it and how she had convinced her not to do it. Apparently they had their own emotional moment.”

“Amazing…who would have thought that those two could somehow get along?” commented Asami still assimilating the information. If there were two people who seemed to embody the very element they bended, they had to be the menacing looking Republic City Chief of Police and the cold and calculating Earth Empire ex-commander.

“It seems Zhu Li is more insightful than we thought when it comes to reading people’s personalities. Maybe that’s why she appointed Lin as Kuvira’s parole officer. That and the fact that Lin can be downright terrifying and I don’t think even Kuvira would dare challenge her again” retorted Korra with a grin.

“So you knew she tried to escape? That must have been difficult for you to hear.” Asami placed a hand over Korra’s shoulder. Korra smiled appreciatively at the gesture.

“It was…I was very confused and hurt when I received the news but I decided to wait to know the reason before I jumped to any conclusions. When she explained the whole thing, it was proof enough of what she felt for me despite the harebrained idea.”

“I wouldn’t call it harebrained…” whispered Asami almost to herself, wishing that somehow Korra would have at least given the proposal more thought. “I must admit I wouldn’t have believed that she was capable of being so…selfless.”

“There are many things you don’t know about her. I’m more than aware that you have valid reasons to hate Kuvira and I won’t ask either of you to be friendly with each other or anything. I can’t interfere on that and that’s up to you to decide if you want to give it a try. The only thing I ask of you is that you respect my choices even if you don’t approve of them. I'm not willing to give up on neither of you.”

“I will do my best to respect your decisions and to allow you your space but don’t expect me to be extending olive branches anytime soon.”

“That’s okay. I know you are still struggling with your loss and you’re entitled to be angry. Just don’t let that anger blind you. This situation is hard for me and I hate to see you so upset.”

.“I wish circumstances were different but for now, I promise to do my best to keep my personal feelings in check. We have a job to do after all.”

“I can live with that. Thanks Asami.”

“Let me also apologize for eavesdropping on your conversation but I just needed to know if she was honest or if she was taking advantage of you. As a friend, it is my duty to protect you.”

Korra gave her a skeptical glance but displayed a conciliatory small smile nonetheless.

“And what is your conclusion so far?”

“She sounded sincere, I’ll give you that” the engineer retorted reluctantly.

“I just hope we don’t have to deal with more spying in the near future. And I wouldn’t have pegged you for a jealous ex” the Avatar commented sardonically.

Asami looked positively offended by that. “I’m not a jealous ex! I know it was wrong to overhear your private conversations but at the moment I wanted to find out more about my rival.”

Korra rolled up her eyes in disbelief. “Asami, she’s not your rival. For not being jealous you are starting to act like you actually are.”

Asami let out an audible sigh. “Perhaps rival isn’t the right word but I can’t help being overprotective of you.”

Korra lifted her head and stared at the ceiling inhaling deeply. “I swear, if you ever get along, I bet you’ll be as thick as thieves.”

“I seriously doubt it” offered Asami with a huff, her arms firmly crossed over her chest.

“Tell you what. Let’s call in a truce for today, okay? I still have Su and her family to take care of when we make it to Zaofu and we both will need all the emotional energy we can get to deal with that.”

The engineer glimpsed at Korra and noticed a glimmer in the corners of the sapphire eyes and suddenly felt angry at herself for arguing with her like this. Inwardly, she wished she could just direct her angry vibes towards the real source of her irritation and be done with it.

“I’m sorry. This situation really gets on my nerves. I agree. We need a truce. Let’s move on with what we had planned for today. Opal must have finally succeeded in waking Bolin so they should be here anytime soon. We can have the meeting you planned.”

“Okay but can we at least have something to eat first? I’m starving!”

“How about we all have breakfast together like in the old times?

Korra nodded relieved. Asami momentarily directed her attention to the altimeter when suddenly she sensed she was being turned around and gathered in an embrace.

“I’m so sorry for putting you in this situation ‘Sami. I wish there was a way I could make you understand what I feel” Korra murmured against her hair. Asami simply clung to the Avatar, tears trailing down her face as she sobbed silently wishing Korra could too understand what she felt.

In the present, Asami prepared the airship for landing, the restored domes of Zaofu gleaming a welcome. Her green gaze scanned the bridge as she observed the enthusiastic faces of Bolin and Opal as they took in the view from the air. It had been a while since they had all gathered like this, although it took a new peril to bring them back together. Beside her with a calm expression, Korra also glimpsed at the city, her mind immersed in deep thought. Asami reached for her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze and Korra returned the gesture. Asami’s ears captured the faint “thank you” whispered to her before Korra moved towards the center of the airship’s bridge and commanded her companions’ attention.

The Avatar exclaimed as she flashed a bright and confident smile:

“Well, we’re finally here. Shall we begin this new adventure?”

 

Chapter Text

The United Republic Forces airship slowly initiated its descent towards its destination. From a distance, the immaculate platinum structures that distinguished the city of Zaofu reflected the orange sunbeams of the setting sun serving as welcoming gleaming beacons to its visitors. It was quite a spectacle to behold the metal city from above, the open petal shaped panels that doubled as both landmarks and protection clearly distinguishable from the neighboring buildings they intended to shield. There was a time when the city was bereft of its iconic panels after falling under the military occupation of a dictatorial regime, albeit briefly. In an ironic twist of fate, the iconic platinum domes were stripped as bounty and incorporated into a gigantic war machine conceived and built by none other than the eldest son of the ruling metal clan. Observing from a window the approach to terra firma with rising trepidation was the terrifying weapon’s strategic mastermind herself, her green gaze now scanning the familiar sights of the city she both once protected and conquered.

Before the imminent arrival triggered in the former captain a jolt of anxiety, Kuvira had enjoyed a long and exhausting yet pleasant journey. The day before had begun with the small party that included herself, Lin Beifong, Bumi, Chief Tonraq and a small security retinue departing Harbor City towards the Southern Spirit Portal. There, the metalbenders and the general joined Tenzin and his daughter Jinora and Oogi on the second leg of the trip that would take them to Republic City where an airship was being readied for their final destination: Zaofu. As they bid their goodbyes to their Southern hosts, Kuvira was thoroughly stunned when she approached the always intimidating Chief Tonraq with an extended hand and was instead unexpectedly replied with an embrace.

“My daughter is not here but I’m pretty sure this is what she would have done. Have a safe trip and Senna and I wish you the best of luck in your new mission.”

Kuvira stammered as she returned the hug awkwardly, still somewhat unsettled by the gesture of affection. “Thank- thank you Chief.” She was dwarfed by his large frame and despite her jests with Korra of the danger an overzealous father like Tonraq could represent to the metalbender, she did not feel threatened but instead at ease. “Please give my sincerest thanks to your wife for your hospitality” she added smiling.  Tonraq nodded and waved goodbye as he returned back to his palace with his tribesmen behind.

During the next leg of their journey through the portals, the book that Kuvira had packed anticipating a scarcity of enrapturing conversation from Tenzin and Lin as warned by Korra never made it out. The wondrous landscapes of the Spirit World, the exhilarating Sky Bison ride and the warm conversation she shared with Jinora made the trip feel shorter than it actually was. Tenzin’s daughter was one of the most spiritually attuned persons aside from the Avatar herself and therefore, she was perfectly suited as a guide for travel between the portals. The young airbender master displayed an unquenchable curiosity and wisdom well beyond her years that kept Kuvira completely engaged and receptive to the myriad questions and observations the girl had from the spirit world to Kuvira’s experiences after her rendition.

“I know I did a lot of bad things trying to do something good. I’m aware that doesn’t exonerate me but I’m sorry and I really hope I’ll be able to convey my regret through my actions” Kuvira stated as she beheld again the pillar of pure light that rose to the skies from where she had once exited as a defeated leader.

“What you are doing now takes a lot of courage. I believe people will see that and they might become more willing to give you a second chance, like Korra did” observed Jinora as she greeted the spirits that welcomed her back.

The enthusiasm of the trip started to wear down the instant she beheld the outline of the city from afar. The courage and confidence that seemed so entrenched just minutes ago suddenly seemed faltering as the airship came to land beside the sleek Future Industries air vessel.

Kuvira grimaced as she became keenly aware of all the people that she had wronged in one way or another that were expecting her arrival. Her heart pounded loudly inside her chest. Cold sweat began gathering over her pulsing temples.

“Kuvira, it’s time” Lin’s long strides reached the corner where Kuvira had been huddling for the past minutes. Her arms were wrapped around her legs, her chin rested over her knees almost hiding her face. It was a far cry from the haughty silhouette she would present during her unification years. The only token remaining from the Great Uniter days was the dark hair pulled up in a bun.

“I can’t do this Lin. This is a mistake. I shouldn’t have come here” Kuvira uttered tremulously. There was an almost haunted look in the younger metalbender’s emerald eyes.

Chief Lin Beifong’s memory snapped back years ago when it had been her who had refused to leave Asami Sato’s airship when their travels searching for the new airbenders had taken Team Avatar to this autonomous corner of the Earth Kingdom. Back then, she hadn’t been particularly eager to engage in a family reunion either.

“Kuvira, would you believe me if I told you that I understand what you’re feeling right now?”

Kuvira gave the eldest Beifong sibling an incredulous glance.

“When I came with Korra and the rest of the team, I didn’t wanted to leave the ship. I didn’t wanted for Suyin to know I was here.”

“Is that true? You are not telling me this just to convince me to come out, aren’t you?” An eyebrow rose in question.

“I think you know that I wouldn’t lie about something like this. Truth is, I felt that I wasn’t ready to deal with my past but I didn’t have a choice. I had a job to do and that job put me squarely in the position of having to deal with my issues with my sister. Spirits know it wasn’t easy. Twenty years of pent up resentment can really work a number on you. I wouldn’t recommend following my example if you want to keep your mental health in check.”

Kuvira remained pensive and silent as she peeked outside and saw that Suyin, Bataar Sr., Huan, Wei and Wing, Opal and Bolin were already outside waiting expectantly for them.

“The welcome committee is out there, the only thing’s missing is the red carpet. Tell you what, let me go and greet Su while you get a few minutes to gather your bearings, okay?”

“Okay” mumbled Kuvira.  The metalbender watched attentively as Lin approached her sister and family warmly. Suddenly, she realized the notable absentees in the group. She couldn’t see the Future Industries magnate. Bataar Jr. wasn’t there either which increased her level of worry and nervousness. She knew very little of what had become of his fate after his rendition and the last time she had seen him had been on her trial. Korra was conspicuously absent too she realized dismayed.

For the most part, the Beifong family reunion appeared to be a heartfelt one until Suyin and Lin appeared to argue heatedly over a disagreement. Kuvira fretted as she watched a frustrated Lin turn around abruptly and head speedily towards the airship. Suyin was also watching with hands crossed over her chest and lips pursed tightly.

“What’s going on Lin?” queried Kuvira.

Lin let out a long exhale. “I see now why you were so hesitant to come down. Su pretends to put you in a cell but we had an agreement and she’d accepted the terms laid out by the United Republic. You have been paroled and you are not to be treated as an inmate while you are here. Even Opal reminded her of that but she’s adamant that you are too much of a risk to honor that part of the agreement. I’m really glad Bumi stayed back because the least I would have needed would’ve been his out of place quips right now.”

Kuvira stared at a frustrated Lin and then at Suyin. The Metal Clan matriarch seemed determined to get her way. An idea crossed her mind.

“Lin, order the soldiers to handcuff me” Kuvira said resolutely.

The Chief of Police arched an eyebrow. “You made all the way from Blackstone Isle unbound. Why would I handcuff you now?”

“If it gives Su peace of mind, so let it be. I want to get over with this.” Kuvira’s demeanor appeared to change, the apprehension was giving way to a more assertive stance. If Suyin still believed her to be a threat, then she was determined to look the part.

“Don’t handcuff the kid yet Lin…let me talk to her” a gruff voice offered. Lin Beifong’s head snapped and saw her elderly mother Toph coming up the airship’s ramp.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, I dragged my old body here from the comfort of my swamp to see my eldest daughter and what do I get? Family drama. This is why I hate family reunions.”

“I really glad to see you mom” Lin replied earnestly as she met the earthbending matriarch in a hug.

“Yeah, me too” Toph replied matter-of-factly.  “So they put you in babysitting duties now?”

“I’m her parole officer” snapped Lin offended by the comment. Toph chuckled.

“Yeah, I know. Go and tell your sister that I’ll have a chat with the danger to society here.” Toph was pointing at Kuvira now, who in turn was completely befuddled by the unexpected presence of the living legend.

Lin nodded as she observed both women quizzically before walking down the ramp towards Suyin.

Minutes later Toph Beifong emerged from the airship and joined her family whom were all waiting expectantly. Even Pabu perched over Bolin’s head seemed engrossed with the drama. An unbounded Kuvira stood at the side of the door with a confused expression unsure of what to do next.

“Why is she allowed to be without handcuffs Lin? And where are the soldiers? Aren’t they supposed to be guarding her?” challenged Suyin at the sight of the deposed dictator walking down the ramp cautiously while taking in her surroundings.

“Su, she’s only coming down” Lin replied exasperated.

“Calm down Suyin!” Toph exclaimed gruffly. “This one is no flight risk so there’s no need for chains or shackles or jails. We had a nice, calm chat and she apologized humbly and politely for messing with my swamp and the spirit vines.”

Suyin did not respond. Toph Beifong had the ability of truth seeing. If Kuvira had been lying, Toph would had already found her out.

“If you say so …It’s is agreed then Lin. No handcuffs, but you have to keep her under your sight at all times” the Metal Clan matriarch replied reluctantly as she glanced at Kuvira.

“Don’t be so dramatic Su. You heard mom, she’s not going anywhere. We’ve just crossed half of the South Pole, trekked through Spirit Portals and had a short layover in Republic City. If she had wanted to escape, she would have done it already.”

“Come on down kid. I’m missing my afternoon nap with all this bickering” gestured Toph.

Encouraged, Kuvira trotted the remaining length of the ramp. The fact that none other than the Beifong matriarch herself had vouched for her dissipated all the anxiety she had been feeling until now.  The courage Jinora talked her about was returning. The feel and scent of soil under her shoes seemed to invigorate the earthbender. Despite the apprehension, she began approaching the group until she was at almost arm’s length from her former teacher, Suyin.

“Hello Suyin, Bataar. It’s been so long.”

“Kuvira…” replied curtly Su, her green eyes assessing her coldly. Bataar nodded nervously at her side.

“You’d better cut her some slack” Toph offered as she placed a hand over Suyin’s shoulder. “She should have the same opportunity as my grandson since they were in cahoots together in violently taking over the Earth Kingdom.”

“Mom, don’t compare her to my son” Suyin shot back offended.

“Your son did some pretty screwed up things too if you remember. He has apologized and so has she. Let her be. We have more urgent things to worry about now, like dinner.”

Toph grabbed Opal’s arm gently as she began pulling her away from the group and towards Suyin’s imposing complex. A starstrucked Bolin followed close behind.

“Opal, can you find out if the chef prepared the stew that I really like?”

The airbender let out a tender smile. “Of course grandma. Bolin and I will get you a big bowl.”

“Oh, lava boy’s here too. Great!” Toph muttered with a scowl. His fanboyish antics annoyed her and she wondered yet again what her granddaughter saw in the young man.

“Toph called me lava boy!” he squealed so loud that Pabu hid beneath his jacket. Toph let out a sigh.

Kuvira chuckled as she observed the scene from afar. She had almost forgotten how much Bolin could brighten up any tense situation with his remarks. She had missed his spontaneity, his energy and disposition to help. Among all the people from her inner circle, the one who always had his heart in the right place had been him. If only she had been more receptive and less judgmental of his opinions, their initial noble efforts might had been salvageable and the military campaign that ended in disaster and destruction staved off. 

Just days ago, after a successful joint venture to stop pirates from acquiring Earth Empire armament, Kuvira took the opportunity to make amends in person with her former subordinate. The former commander had not expected the young airbender to accept her request to talk but to her surprise, not only had he accepted but Opal came along with her boyfriend. Kuvira had made initial overtures to convey her apologies through letters from prison and since then, she maintained a cordial rapport through her epistles. However, communicating through letters was a thing and sitting down face to face was another thing altogether so the anxiety levels for all parties involved was considerable. The former captain suspected that the Avatar had once again mediated on her behalf with her foster sibling and her boyfriend so when they finally talked, she found them to be more receptive and open minded to what she had to say instead of being on the defensive as expected by her.

Chief Beifong came to the younger metalbender’s side as she too watched her family retreating to their home.

“Guess we’ve survived round one. I highly suspect that we won’t be meeting later today to discuss the situation that has brought you back. I’m pretty sure you noticed Korra’s absent.”

“I did and I agree with your assessment Lin. I’m too tired to think properly anyway.” The former commander was grateful she was having the privilege of sleeping in a bed and not in a cot behind bars as Suyin might had preferred.

“My advice? Take advantage of the momentary respite and rest. I’m exhausted too with all this traveling and Su’s drama just completely drained me. Thank the spirits that mom was in an unexpectedly merciful mood today. You should consider yourself extremely lucky.”

“Indeed” retorted the metalbender still shocked by the turn of events.

“Come, let’s get settled. This is just only the beginning.”

As Kuvira followed Lim and the United Republic security detail assigned to them walking the familiar paths she had once patrolled as the Zaofu guard captain, one question lingered on her mind and weighted inside her heart:

“Where could Korra be?”

 

Chapter Text

Asami gripped the jeep’s steering wheel tightly aligning her sight with the road ahead, their destination still about an hour away. Korra glimpsed at her companion and perceived an unsettling tension in the way the industrialist’s fingers clasped the wheel, the crimson that tinted her cheeks, the clenched jaw, and the way she kept her eyes glued forward without daring to look at her side.

“So Asami” ventured Korra tentatively, genuine concern lacing her words. “What is it that you wanted to tell me?” Minutes after their vehicle left the architectural marvels of Zaofu behind and began their journey towards the small neighboring town of Quinleng to pick up Bataar Jr. who was there inaugurating their first trade school, the engineer mentioned there was something important she wished to disclose along the way. The serious tone she had used had taken Korra aback and the Avatar wondered if what Asami wished to speak of was related to the string of conversations they had shared recently. Korra mentally braced for another tough session of heart-wrenching confessions.

Asami’s green orbs momentarily shifted to the side. “Korra, I wish to be honest with you. You’re not the only one who has been holding back on things.”

The Avatar knitted her brows together as she pursed her lips slightly, arms crossed over her chest. This was unexpected. Asami would usually confide in Korra everything although the change in their relationship had driven an imperceptible wedge between them.

“Well, I’m listening.”

Asami drew up a cleansing breath as she prepared to share with her best friend a revelation that would certainly guarantee all sorts of awkwardness upon their return to Zaofu.

 

Two years ago, Zaofu

 

The travel to Zaofu stirred in Asami Sato a cavalcade of memories. Among her countless experiences as core member of Team Avatar, their visit to the domed city left an indelible mark on her memory for countless reasons, both pleasant and unpleasant. She had marveled at the ingenuity and practical elegance of the stylish yet sturdy domes the city boasted of. It felt very good to share conversations in the language of her profession with both elder and younger Bataars. She had previously engaged in similar conversations with extravagant genius Varrick but his exuberance could be draining at times, not to mention his scheming tendencies. Even if she had managed to recover her company’s financial health and assets, she couldn’t help but be wary of the hyperactive inventor. Fortunately, she did not encounter anything of the sort in the company of Suyin’s husband and her eldest son, both prodigies in their own right.

Once her leading role in the reconstruction of Republic City had waned, President Zhu Li Moon tapped the Future Industries mogul as head of the United Republic’s industrial delegation to the reconstruction mission in the Earth Kingdom. Asami welcomed the opportunity with enthusiasm. The business opportunities her company had the privilege of establishing with the neighboring nation served to expand her brand and it had taken her to different locations across the map and now, she would have the chance to return to Zaofu. The autonomous city had been singled out for assistance not only for falling victim of the invading imperial forces, it had also suffered the ignominy of having their domes stripped away, its platinum refurbished to shape the Colossus armor impervious to bending. On her first journey, Zaheer and the Red Lotus had deprived her of the opportunity of engaging in depth with her Zaofu counterparts when they attacked. This time, as a more peaceful period promised to bloom ahead with Prince Wu implementing incipient efforts to move the country into a more democratic way of government, Asami would not only get a closer look at the mechanical marvels, she would actually work shoulder to shoulder with their creators. The magnate knew that certain awkwardness could be expected given that Bataar Jr. was serving time for his role as co-conspirator in all of the Earth Empire’s totalitarian schemes, but the fact that since his very public “breakup” with his former fiancée had been for a lack of better term “dramatic,” she felt a certain pity for the engineer despite his crimes. In an ironic turn, the former Earth Empire vice commander had already been severely punished in the form of a broken heart.

Asami was sunk in her reveries as she headed towards the gardens where Suyin was having breakfast when she heard a masculine voice shout behind her:

“Make way!”

Instinctively, Asami moved aside allowing the running figure of a tall, dark haired man sprint beside her.

“You can run around me you know” she replied.

The man completed the sprint a few meters ahead and began trotting then walking, his long arms reaching for his waist and his head tilting back as he gasped for air.

“I didn’t take you for the exercising type” the engineer remarked as she watched the bespectacled man catch his breath.

“I wasn’t before you know, joining the army and being promoted to the number two position in the outfit. I had to mold my soft civilian butt into fighting shape if I wanted to survive the rigors of the campaign.” Bataar replied between gasps as he pushed damp strands of hair from his forehead.

“So that’s how you took a liking for running?” Asami queried, her curiosity piqued. She hadn’t realized that although Kuvira was suited since day one for a martial life, the heir of the Beifong Metal Clan wasn’t. The fact that he had disciplined himself to the same exercise routine as the troops spoke volumes of his commitment. It made the souring of the whole enterprise even more unfortunate.

“I don’t particularly like running but I’ve come to appreciate the sense of freedom and the peace and clarity of mind it offers. In my present circumstances, that’s really a privilege. Besides, I’ve gotten used to staying in shape. The morning run is surprisingly invigorating and I get to concentrate much better during the day.” Although he was technically on house arrest, Bataar had been granted relative freedom to move around his family’s vast compound. He had also been given permission to work in the reconstruction of the city as part of his sentence.

Asami listened as she mentally processed the changes on her memory of the former Earth Empire officer. The humbled, seemingly more mature version that addressed her now seemed far removed from the smug, conceited co-leader of the dictatorial regime that had invaded her hometown and left in it a path of destruction and the tragic sacrifice of her late father.

“Exercise really helps” Asami commented with a soft smile.  “I’ve been practicing several routines since I was a girl and now my employees always begin their work day with calisthenics. Since I implemented the program, I’ve seen an improvement in production output and in the workers’ overall health.” The workers’ calisthenics program was one of her most recent ideas and she had been particularly pleased in proving Future Industries Board members’ wrong. She had turned their skepticism into reluctant acceptance.

Bataar adjusted his glasses again. They kept slipping down his nose wet with perspiration. “Since you’re going to stick around here for a while, would you like to join me in my morning runs? I haven’t been lucky in my recruiting pitch so far. The twins’ idea of exercising is with their metalbending and weight lifting and Huan is completely adverse to the mere concept of sweating. He says it interferes with his artistic vibes or some sort of gibberish like that” Bataar said, his hands gesticulating in the air. Asami chortled. His brother’s description of the mercurial artist fitted him to a T.

“I’m not much of a runner but I think I could benefit from developing a routine since I’ll be here for a while. I could also use a sparring partner to keep up with my self-defense routine, one that won’t rip my head off with a meteorite like your brothers.”

Bataar chuckled. Asami appreciation wasn’t far off. His younger brothers’ enthusiasm could get dangerous, especially for non-benders like Asami and himself.

“You could spar with them with a mech suit” Bataar offered with a grin.

“That could backfire badly. I’ve seen what competent metalbenders can do to a mech suit.”

They both laughed at the image as they began walking. Bataar noticed they were taking the same path.

“Are you joining my mother for breakfast?”

“Yes, in fact I am.”

“I could use a glass of water. I think I lost about a gallon of fluids. Mind if I walk you there?”

Asami nodded in affirmative and moments later, the engineers walked together towards the gardens to meet Suyin.

 

Somewhere near the northwestern Earth Kingdom, six months ago.

 

“Well, you’ve got the fundamentals and takeoff was smooth. Now, let’s go for the landing.”

Bataar kept meticulous attention on the countless dials and watches of the sleek airship control panel. Asami looked attentively over his shoulder, peeking occasionally forward to visually confirm their trajectory.

“I have visual confirmation of the airstrip. I will initiate landing maneuvers in three, two, one…”

The engineer pulled a lever and the nose of the Future Industries airship tipped subtly downwards.

“You’ve got this” Asami said enthusiastically taping his shoulder in a congratulatory gesture.

“You doubted it?” the dark haired man queried with a confident look.

“It is not that I doubted your skills. You’ve build and piloted mechas but flying is something totally different.”

“I know, besides the fact that you allowed me to even get close the controls is a big privilege.  I know how zealous you are of your toys” Bataar offered with a smirk.

“You’re not too different from me you know. It took me a lot of convincing for you to allow me to test your construction mecha” Asami retorted with an arched eyebrow.

“It was still a prototype. I didn’t know if it worked” Bataar replied as he maneuvered the airship closer to their destination for the next month: the mining town of Dhuran. The town stood out from the thick canopies of the nearby jungle. A wide river that zigzagged across the jungle gave the town its name. The town had recently risen to prominence since geologists from the former Earth Empire identified placer deposits of platinum in what used to be a fishing village and recently, efforts to mine the mineral commercially had begun in earnest.

“I know that under our regime a lot of bad things happened but I doubt that under the Queen’s rule, discoveries such as this would have been found. The ore here is rich in minerals and its giving a new life to this region.”

Asami had to reluctantly agree with the former officer. The slain monarch seemed adamant in keeping the country stagnant, only allowing the benefits of modernization to a small upper echelon of citizens living on the upper ring of Ba Sing Se. Asami likened the effect of the maligned empire akin to that of a hurricane of a volcano. Renewed life arises after their impact but sometimes at a steep price.

“I guess that’s balance” Asami mused almost to herself. It had been months since she and Korra decided to end their romantic relationship and Asami seemed eager to find reasons to sink into into things that could take her mind away from thinking about Korra but it seemed that Korra’s shadow loomed large and unavoidable. She let a long sigh as she scanned her surroundings. She had accepted the journey to this remote Earth Kingdom location without almost thinking it twice in the hopes that she could trick her mind into not thinking about her former lover. When she was informed that Bataar would also be joining her due to his expertise with platinum, she had been overjoyed. Asami had come to genuine appreciate her colleague’s company and through their time working together in several missions across the Earth Kingdom, they stroke a good friendship. They had a lot in common. Besides their professional preparation, genius level intellect, and knack for inventing, they counted themselves as non-benders surrounded by a circle of talented bender friends and relatives. Both came from prominent families who built their empires from scratch and both had recently suffered woes of the heart. With that last fact they had sought refuge in dark humor as they joked about their respective girlfriends and the fame or notoriety they commanded. It hadn’t been easy being the romantic partner for the Avatar and The Great Uniter respectively, and being the ex-flame wasn’t easy either.

After landing and meeting with the town elders, the engineers quickly busied themselves as they began their mission of overseeing and monitoring the mining operation to convey their observations to the joint Earth Kingdom and United Republic’s commission. Bataar couldn’t help but making a conscious effort to keep a low profile. He was well aware of the pockets of resistance still entrenched across the nation and the factions vying for power. He had already suffered being insulted and in more than one instance, he had required security escorts to keep him from bodily harm. Some of his more ardent imperialist former subordinates were under the impression that he had cost the Empire their victory when he attempted to persuade Kuvira from pursuing the annexation of the United Republic as planned. The crew of the Colossus narrated during Kuvira’s trial what had transpired that fateful day, including the radio conversation between commander and vice commander and the latter’s passionate plea to retreat from the city and abandon their expansionist effort. Asami came to realize that even in relative freedom, Bataar would always be prisoner of his past actions and he would have to carry that burden for the rest of his days.

The night found the pair of experts on a small restaurant enjoying the local spicy cuisine and the local alcoholic beverage which was delicious but packed quite the punch. Asami felt giddy after her third glass and with the location’s hot and humid weather, she had opted to discard her red and black Future Industries long sleeved jacket and was down to her short sleeved undershirt. Bataar fared better on his Zaofu tunic which was comfortable enough for hot temperatures. The raven haired magnate wasn’t sure if it was due to the alcohol, the weather or the ache inside her heart but somehow their conversation drifted to a subject often avoided.

 “Do you think you can do it? Can you ever forgive Kuvira for what she did?” Asami stared straight into Bataar’s green eyes.

The engineer lifted his glass and after downing the caramel hued liquid in one go, he replied:

“I already did.” His eyes locked with Asami’s unwaveringly.

“How?” the magnate questioned, a lilt of incredulity on her voice.

Bataar cradled the empty glass between his large hands. “Between keeping those emotions locked inside me, feeding off my emotional energy and letting go and freeing myself to move on, I chose the latter. That doesn’t mean it was easy. It has been the hardest thing I’ve done.”

“But the warehouse…she…” stammered Asami still confused by his admission.

“Released a weapon of mass destruction against me? A weapon of my own creation? I think I know that already Asami. But I still chose to forgive her so I could heal my wounds. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten. That is impossible.”

Asami stood silently as she watched Bataar order another round. His features sobered and there was an almost wounded gesture on the way his shoulders slouched forward making him look hunched, smaller. The waiter placed their drinks on the table and Bataar immediately took his.

“Sometimes I still shudder up in panic with an electric storm” the engineer broke the silence of their small table.  “The clap of lightning and the roar of thunder remind me of the blast and the flash coming at me.” His voice was tremulous as his eyes seemed to be staring far away.

Asami assessed the man in front of her perceiving that kindred emotions stirred within him as they did inside her. Disappointment, heartache, fear.

“But have you asked yourself why she did it?” her voice was soft as if reluctant to disturb the intimate mood it had engulfed their space.

His lips curved into a grim smile. “The answer was so obvious I couldn’t believe it had been right in front of me the whole time. It was simple: I went against what we had meticulously planned in front of everyone. I was contradicting orders.”

“That’s is ridiculous!” Asami’s palms hit the table forcefully.

“You seem to forget that I might have been her fiancée but I was too her subordinate. And whose fault was it that was that way? Mine. I pushed her relentlessly to be in the lead position, to be the one in command. I never wanted the spotlight or the burden of leadership.”

“But you did everything together…”

“Who addressed the public and the press? Who spearheaded every combat operation and led from the frontlines? She did. It was her name and face plastered on the propaganda posters. I was too comfortable not having total responsibility. It was convenient not being the one held accountable.  She became a shield to hide my own misdeeds. And as the leader, she also carries the weight of the failure, of the war crimes. I’ve heard she was exiled to the South Pole to some spirit forsaken land. I’m here in my country with my family relatively free to work and move as I wish.”

“But your life is still at peril.”

“Peril found its way to her prison too, or so I was told. Assassination attempt. I know that what I’m telling you makes no sense but that’s what the military does to you. It’s an indoctrination with its own set of rules. Your brain is wired to think and act and see things differently from the rest of the world. In this world, the fact is that I forgot my place and acted upon my emotions. The Avatar’s goading was very effective. Had it been the other way around, Kuvira would have ordered the Colossus to strike and would have been pleased in taking her enemies with her to hell.”

“I can’t...I can’t believe that. That is so cold, so emotionless.” Asami shuddered.

“Because it is supposed to be cold. Military strategy is all about maximizing your resources and minimizing your losses. Collateral damage is to be expected. I became expendable the instant I put the mission second to prioritize my own personal interests even if those interests meant her. You have seen it yourself how some of my former comrades insult me. In their eyes I betrayed her, I betrayed them and I betrayed our cause.”

“Such hatred…what is the point of holding on to those grudges?  The war is over.”

“That’s the cruel reality behind the propaganda and the indoctrination. The country’s needs will always supersede the individual’s.”

“That’s not true! We did everything we could to protect our citizens in Republic City. We kept casualties at a minimum because every life mattered.”

Bataar lifted his eyes from his glass and gave Asami an amiable glance. “You are lucky to live in a young, vibrant nation not yet marred by centuries of conflicts and old wounds weighting on its collective psyche. But you know how cruel the world can be. I remember how many demanded for Avatar Korra to allow the cycle to continue. The world suffers when the Avatar can’t keep its balance.”

Asami opened her eyes wide as a pain settled inside her heart. She still remembered the callous comments of those who wished for a new Avatar. It had wrenched her inside and she’d wished to deal with some of the critics with her electrified glove.

“I know there is cruelty in the world but there’s also hope. What Korra did is the best example. She overcame her own trauma and became a stronger, better Avatar.”

“I know that now Asami. Now that I’ve purged those misguided ideas from me I can see the value of pursuing unity but through hope and not through strength and intimidation. I really hope Kuvira gets to learn the same.  Before we became ruthless and obsessed with power, we really wished for a stable nation. I know that was her driving force because she feared that the people of the Earth Nation would go through what she went through, the abandonment.”

“But the things she did…”

“The things we did Asami. If you believe I’m not an evil man then you should also believe she is not really evil.”

Asami gazed at her glass for a moment before lifting her head.

“I believe you. Her…I do have other situations that are very personal in nature but I don’t feel like talking about them right now.”

“That’s okay. I think we’ve had enough of this subject anyway.” His hand went reassuringly to cover hers. She glimpsed at him stunned but did not pull away.

“I agree. Should we call it a night then?”

Moments later, the pair left the animated ambiance of the restaurant and headed towards the recently inaugurated hotel, yet another evidence of the fast growth of the town. They kept chatting until Asami found herself in front of her room’s door.

“I had fun tonight even with…I didn’t mean to bother you…” commented Asami blushing as she fished the room key from her pocket.

“That’s okay. It’s good to have someone to talk these things with. Of all the people, I believe you can understand me.”

“I do.”

“Good night” Asami said as he surrounded the tall engineer with her arms in a friendly embrace.

“Good night” he returned the gesture. Neither dared to break the embrace, their eyes locked into each other’s. Asami realized it felt good being held like this. She missed being held, being touched. His hand rose to move the abundant hair from her shoulder. Asami traced the outline of his strong jawline, sensing a hint of stubble. He took her hand and brushed his lips over her palm. Asami’s breath caught up her throat. The soft caress felt so good. Instinctively she tightened the hold of her arms around his broad shoulders. It had been quite long since she had someone to tower over her but it was a pleasant sensation. Her eyes left his green gaze shielded by his glasses and gazed for a moment over his lips. The hand he had captured had their fingers interlocked. Asami didn’t realize when or how it had happened but instant later their lips were locked in a heated kiss as the door of her room closed behind them.

 

Zaofu, two weeks ago

 

A hoarse hiss erupted from Bataar’s throat. Asami’s nails were digging deep over his shoulders as she desperately kept driving him inside her, moaning her need with hot breath against his ear. His mouth ran down the column of her pale neck as he shut his eyes tightly, sensing the quivers beneath him that preluded the incoming release. Holding Asami firmly by her back and firm posterior, he maneuvered so she could be on top. The change in position was all that she needed to be pushed over the edge and with a throaty moan, her release exploded within her core. Just moments later, the low grunt that escaped from Bataar’s mouth let Asami know he had also reached his fulfillment. Struggling to recover her breath, Asami moved to his side and placed her head over the pocket of his firm shoulder, a hand leisurely tracing the broad chest and the contours of his toned abdominal muscles. Bataar placed a soft peck over her lips and let his hand rest casually over her svelte waist.

“Bataar, are you okay with it, with my decision?”

“If you still feel you love her, you should do what your heart tells you to do.”

“I shouldn’t be doing this to you.”

“Sami, I knew what I was getting into and I don’t regret a single minute of it. You know what I feel for you but I can’t force you to feel the same.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now.”

Bataar let out a chuckle. “That’s why you should face Korra. You can’t keep avoiding her. She’s still your friend.”

“I know. We talked recently but it really feels that she has moved on. And then there’s the rumors...”

Bataar’s expression sobered. “You need to talk to her and find out if she has indeed moved on. You can’t keep living out of past memories. You deserve your happiness too.”

“And you?”

The engineer smiled. “I’ve learned to take things one day at a time. The only thing I ask of you is that you are honest. If Korra gives you a second chance and you decide to accept it, I will respect your decision. If you want to give us a chance, I’ll be here.”

Asami felt tears slipping from the corners of her eyes as she placed her hands in Bataar’s cheeks and claimed his mouth in a hungry and desperate kiss.    

“I will come back” she murmured against his lips. “I promise.”

“I’ll be waiting for you Sami.”

 

-oOo-

 

Asami yelped as she stepped on the breaks hard when Korra grabbed her shoulder tightly. The jeep shook and Korra leapt out, her face reflecting the shock of the information overload she had just received.

“You were with Bataar all this time!?” the Avatar screamed.

Asami let out a long sigh as she approached Korra.

“Korra, it’s complicated. We were both dealing with heartache and disappointed and we really cliqued and before we knew it…”

Korra ran her fingers through her hair, still attempting to make sense of it all.

“But then why you were so upset when you found out about me and Kuvira?”

“Because it is Kuvira!” Asami growled.

“I don’t get it Sami. You wanted a second chance with me but you also have feelings for Bataar. My brain’s gonna explode!”

“That’s how I’ve been feeling these past days too Korra. I’m trying to sort out my feelings but what it makes it so hard is who you chose to move on with.”

“Spirits, I didn’t choose to fall in love with Kuvira the same way you didn’t choose to have feelings for Bataar. It just happened!”

“I know but it’s hard…” Asami sank her head over her gloved palms as she began to weep. Korra brought her in a calming embrace. The engineer sobbed against Korra’s shoulder letting all the feelings she struggled to keep under control to flow out. The Avatar ran her fingers up and down her spine soothingly, as she sought to provide the magnate the space and support she needed.

“I don’t know how we are going to sort all of this out but we have to” Korra muttered against her hair.

“I know…I’m sorry for not telling you this before. A part of me was so happy with Bataar and another part really believed I should try to get back with you but now I think I know why” Asami said amidst hiccups.

“Why?”

“Because I was afraid of falling in love again and getting back with you gave me familiarity and stability.”

“I think you might have sorted out your feelings after all” Korra affirmed.

“I think you might be right. Thank you Korra and forgive me for not telling you all of this before. I’ve been a jerk too.”

Korra chuckled at that. “Just doing my Avatar duties but we’d better get back on the road if we want to make it within schedule. Besides, I think you will really need to talk to someone and give him the good news when we make it back to Zaofu.” Korra flashed a playful grin and Asami chuckled as her cheeks acquired a pink hue.

The Future Industries magnate rushed to her seat and started the jeep and Korra quickly returned to her side. Asami put her racing googles on and maneuvered the gear shift. Giving her passenger a confident wide smile, she exclaimed as she stepped hard on the gas pedal:

“Are you ready for some speed Avatar?”

Chapter Text

Kuvira was entering her room from the connecting bathroom when the green clad figure that was reflected on the mirror made her stop for a moment. The reflections’ coal black hair appeared somewhat shorter than when she left Zaofu but longer than when she emerged from the Republic City Spirit Portal. Her facial features appeared sharper, most likely due to the effect of the lost weight during her incarceration and later, her bout with hypothermia. The eyes staring back silently spoke of experience collected through pain, loneliness, and hardship. The subtle nick over left eyebrow and the scar raised at her shoulder reminded of the confrontation that faced her with her own frailness and mortality. Kuvira flexed an arm, noticing the muscles acquired through the new identity she adopted during her time in the South Pole. Her sight shot to the right hand that miraculously recovered from frostbite when death almost claimed her. With a grimace, she realized that her physique was still long ways from her prime but laboring in the rough frozen outdoors had returned definition and strength back to her limbs softened by long hours cooped up inside a cell.  Kuvira gave the reflection an approving nod. The woman in the mirror felt more like herself unlike the stranger that bored back at her with empty, tortured eyes in prison. It felt peculiar seeing herself back in Earth Kingdom attire after years dressed in the simple drab prison uniform and later in the azures of the Southern Water Tribe. Perhaps going back to her native color scheme brought back the element she felt was missing, although blue was already feeling as much a part of her identity as green. The attachment to the hue had most likely rubbed off from certain someone but unfortunately, that someone had yet to make her appearance.

Kuvira concluded the brief self-appraisal with an approving smile and as she put away her things, she pondered on the events following the reluctant acceptance of Suyin Beifong to her presence as “guest” rather than prisoner under her roof. After they left the airship, the small party led by Lin Beifong went through a dull yet unavoidable reception process where they were assigned living quarters and instructed the Rules of Engagement to follow during their stay. While this happened, the members of Beifong clan and selected guests enjoyed in earnest their family reunion. Impatiently, Lin rushed through the process so she could have sufficient time to change and make her appearance at the family dinner. Once the logistical matters were dealt with, the six member squad from the United Republic army prepared to escort Kuvira to her room while Lin made a beeline to hers. They were reaching a separate smaller building complex across the mansion when a man in Zaofu guard’s garb intercepted them.

“Commander?” the man addressed the former leader. The voice had a familiar ring to her but it had been years since she’d last heard it. The soldiers looked around confused as they man moved straight towards a bewildered Kuvira.

“It’s me, Hong Li. Don’t you remember?” he said as he removed his helmet. A sudden pang of recognition hit the former captain.

“Hong Li…yes, I remember you” she replied as she noticed the upgrade in rank. “Congratulations on the promotion. For how long you’ve been captain?”

The dark haired soldier smiled proudly. “It’s been about five years. There were many positions available after you left to Ba Sing Se with your group so it wasn’t that difficult to promote” he admitted.

“I’m sure you would have probably done so even without the vacancies” the metalbender reassured him. She remembered him as an eager and disciplined troop.

“I’m not so sure about that” he retorted with a more serious expression. “When Aiwei tried to frame me, even when I was later cleared from any wrongdoing, my reputation had already been damaged.” The man leaned closer. “I would have also left with your group hadn’t been the pressure from my family to clear our name. I believed too something had to be done and I sort of had a crush on you back then” he admitted with a sheepish grin.

“Really?” she replied surprised at the startling confession which made her smile inwardly. A memory from more carefree days in this very place came to mind as she observed the man in the confident stance standing beside her. She remembered the fresh faced recruit that would stammer nervously when his name was called during formation. “You should thank your family for keeping you here instead. It’s quite obvious what the better choice was in the end.”

“It was but still, personally I think that what you did in Ba Sing Se was necessary. The guards left Zaofu with you not out of blind loyalty. They believed their purpose was the right one.”

“Thank you. I’ve been happy to see a familiar face that’s not been hostile towards me and I’m really glad you’re doing well” Kuvira said placing a hand over his armored shoulder. He smiled in reply.

“I’ll be working with Chief Beifong with your security detail so you shouldn’t expect hostility from my team. “

“Thank you again Hong Li, I really appreciate that you’re doing this…talking to me in public.”

“I heard what Toph said. If that’s enough for her then it’s enough for me. We’ll be seeing later commander.” And with that, the captain left under Kuvira’s grateful glance.

The unexpected meeting with her ex-subordinate stirred wistful memories that brightened her evening. After a shower and a quiet dinner, she finally brought out the book that she had intended to read on her trip to Republic City. Kuvira stretched out her limbs over the soft mattress with the intention of enjoying her tome on Water Tribe myths and folklore but her weary body decided that reading could wait and before long, she was fast asleep, the fatigue from long days of travel and intense emotions finally manifesting. That’s how Korra found her hours later, resting on her left side with a book between her hands, yellowish light spilling from the lamp over the night stand. The guard on duty outside had no idea the Avatar was inside the room since she simply stealthily sneaked from Chief Beifong’s room which connected through the bathroom to Kuvira’s. When the Chief questioned Korra why she should allow her to cross over from her room, the Avatar offered a lame excuse about wanting to check on Kuvira due to Avatar business of some sort. Lin let out a loud scoff

“Who do you take me for Korra? I’m the Chief of Police. You couldn’t even fool a toddler with that silly excuse of yours. For the record, I already know you two are sleeping together.”

"Lin, it’s is not like that…Kuvira and I…” the Avatar stammered as she felt heat rising to her face under Lin’s scrutinizing green glare. The elder Beifong sister rolled her eyes with a long sigh.

“I know, you’re on a relationship. I confirmed it with the little talk I had with Kuvira at the island when she tried to flee. Anyone who’s really been paying attention could piece it together and arrive at the same conclusion. Just make sure you’re careful and try to make it out early before anyone can suspect something. I can’t imagine what Suyin would do if she found out.”

Judging by what she heard at the dinner table about what had happened when the deposed leader arrived, Suyin would most definitely not take the news well. Korra was more than glad that she had avoided participating on the drama. Besides, she had dealt with her own quota of drama with Asami and her disclosure of her relationship with Bataar.

“I’ll be careful Lin. I promise.”

“And Korra?”

“Yeah”

“Keep the volume down. Some of us are trying to get a good night’s sleep” Lin added with a smirk.

Korra coughed loudly at that blushing a darker shade of red. She grabbed her clothes and without looking at the Chief in the eyes, rushed out of her bedroom and entered the bathroom for a quick shower and then into the neighboring room where Kuvira stayed. That’s how Korra found her, already sunk in deep slumber with a peaceful expression that she found simply adorable. The Avatar finished drying her hair and with a grin, turned the lamp off and approached the opposite side of the bed, scooting until she met the metalbender’s back with her front. Her nose caught a familiar scent that made her chuckle inwardly. Soft verdant notes emanated from the hair spilled over the pillow. Korra pulled the blanket and after carefully covering the two of them, she threw her arms around the slumbering metalbender leaving a feather kiss over her cheek on the way. Kuvira stirred lightly inching closer towards Korra. The Avatar couldn’t help but smile and as she tightened her hold on the sleeping commander.

“Korra…?” the metalbender whispered almost inaudibly as she glanced back over her shoulder and found Korra’s blue eyes locking with hers in the darkness.

“Hey” the Avatar replied quietly as she reached for one of Kuvira’s hands.

Kuvira’s voice was low and heavy with sleep.  “I’m really glad to see you. Where were you?”

“Long story. I’ll fill you in in all the details tomorrow but right now all that matters is that I’m here.” Korra inhaled deeply filling her lungs with the pleasant scent of her hair. She was glad that sleep had surprised the former commander before she could braid it. It had become a sort of battle of wills with Kuvira braiding her hair just to have Korra unbraid it when she was asleep.

“Uhum” Kuvira hummed as she interlaced her fingers with Korra’s. “How are things with Ms. Sato?”

“Improved actually but right now I want to forget about Asami and Suyin and everything else. I really want to have this moment. Just you and me.” And as if to emphasize her meaning, she draped one leg over the metalbender.

“Okay…” Kuvira let out a soft giggle.

Korra glanced at her pleased. “Oh, you’re giggling! You’re getting all cute on me commander.”

“Your fault” the former commander retorted. Fortunately for her, the shadows concealed the soft pink that had lodged in her cheeks.

“Is it? Then I take full responsibility” the Avatar replied playfully.

“Korra…” The metalbender craned her head to the side.

“Uhm?” Korra mumbled while stifling a yawn.

Kuvira’s alto was barely a whisper. “I love you.”

Kuvira's eyes caught slivers of pale light filtering from the nearby window, making the emerald depths gazing tenderly at Korra shimmer. Korra’s breath caught on her throat as she turned the metalbender towards her. A soft, warm feeling spread all over her chest as if the sun had snuck inside her. The smile that flashed on her lips was wide and bright.

“I love you too” Korra breathed, her voice drowned in emotion as she bent her head and touched Kuvira’s soft lips with her own, the exhausting journeys and the tense conversations of the day melted away until the only thing in existence was this single perfect moment isolated in time.

Hours later, the rising sun of the morning found Korra holding tightly at the metalbender, the subtle smile she had when she surrendered herself to sleep still perched on her lips, and with arms unwilling to let go of the woman that with just three words had made her heart overflow with profound joy.

Chapter Text

Kuvira’s limbs effortlessly moved in autopilot through the motions of a pre-workout stretch but the distracted gaze in her eyes betrayed the fact that her focus was somewhere beyond the practice field. Her mind gears were still soaking in the information received earlier in the long awaited meeting with Earth Kingdom officials on the country’s status and the ex-commander was already engaged in analyzing the facts in search of strategies to counter the situation. Following a brief breakfast, the former head of state was finally briefed the specifics of the nation’s current political landscape. While many of the provinces had transitioned without much effort to the democratic option championed by Wu, some sectors hadn’t been so open minded and welcoming to the new political alternative. Some of the opposition sectors were content in manifesting their discontent through protests and calls to boycott the elections. The more radical factions however, were pushing back with more disturbing and violent methods. Elections had to be called off several times in the more troublesome provinces and negotiations with their leaders and the government were at a stalemate. The composition of the more aggressive opposition leaned to be stalwart imperialists which in an ironic turn, banded together with supporters of the monarchy to block the advance of any democratic initiative. To make matters worse, there was the issue of the remaining lost and stolen Empire armament still in possession of felonious hands that was causing all sorts of trouble. In this climate of uncertainty the most affected were like always the common people with speculators and people of ill repute callously taking advantage of the situation.

“I see what’s going on and it’s understandable. Both monarchists and imperialists interpret this as ceding the power and control they once held and they don’t trust the imposition of ideas they consider foreign. Wu’s intentions are noble but a country doesn’t change its stripes overnight. We tried to impose change by force and that didn’t end up working either” Kuvira told the government representatives.

“Your assessment is accurate. Prison certainly didn’t dull your political acumen” one of Wu’s counselors retorted. “That is why we need both you and Bataar to help us promote our initiative as the way towards reconciliation, healing and a better future for all citizens. We don’t have their ear but you should certainly be able to reach them and have them listen. They still respect you so we expect that any information conveyed by you should persuade them to join the polls and make themselves heard in equal footing with the other factions rather than disrupt the process for all.”

At the mention of Bataar, Kuvira involuntarily stiffened for an instant. She was aware that the engineer was to be involved in the mission but the details had been vague until now. She hadn’t anticipated that it meant returning to the campaign trail with her former vice commander and fiancé in tandem. It made sense the authorities had kept most of their plan under wraps so neither could refuse participating before it was exposed. Depending on the success or failure of the whole enterprise, the possibility of partial or even total commutation of their sentences was at stake. They had no choice: they would have to work together again whether Suyin liked it or not. Bataar hadn’t been present during the briefing; the decision to approach each former Empire leader separately had been taken in advance due to scheduling conflicts or so it had been the official line but Kuvira suspected that in reality, it had been to keep at a minimum the uncomfortable scenes that could arise even before their mission began. The metalbender expected sooner rather than later they would have to eventually meet to smooth things over and to discuss their strategies She could anticipate the meeting would be on the very least an emotional one, but one that it had been in the making for years.

Kuvira smoothed the wrinkles of her gray sleeveless shirt and adjusted the bindings on her forearms. Letting out a long exhale, she prepared to go through some basic earth and metalbending drills at the large practice field favored by the Zaofu guards. The freedom and the sheer expanse of the South Pole had allowed her to reincorporate some routines to her daily schedule but the extreme weather had presented a challenge for exercising in the outdoors. The metalbender could now understand by experience from where the sheer physicality of Korra and her father Tonraq came from, being used to live and thrive on the challenging Antarctic environment. From a nearby bench clad in an immaculate white tank top and contrasting black pants, Lin watched Kuvira absentmindedly having finished her own routine just minutes before and now reluctantly resigned to her “nanny” duties as Toph had put it.

First order of business for the metalbender was acclimatizing back to the climate of her native country as drops of sweat already gathered over her brows. The effect of the midmorning sun over her skin felt good and before long, her body responded to the change in environment making her reactions quicker and more agile.  As she threw volleys of rocks in repeated succession, nearby voices caught her attention. From the corner of her eye she noticed Korra, Asami Sato, Opal and Bolin approaching the field in workout clothes. Apparently everybody had come up with the same idea she concluded with a smirk. With the prospect of traveling to the Earth Nation hotspots soon to begin in earnest, it made sense to make the most of the last days before their schedules put them back on to the more confined spaces of Maglev trains and airships.

“Good morning!” greeted Korra.

“Good morning Avatar Korra” replied Kuvira back. She continued her routine uninterruptedly sensing Korra’s gaze falling momentarily over her. She kept a neutral countenance while taking advantage of the polite salute to lock glances with Korra for an instant. The metalbender smiled inwardly as she recalled the Avatar’s reluctance to depart her room during the change of the guard. Korra had woken up in a particularly affective mood that morning that the former commander lamented she wasn’t able to indulge due to their present circumstances. A major crisis had been adverted when in the nick of time she stopped Korra (who was rather distracted by seeking her lips for a kiss) from opening the bathroom’s door while Lin was inside.

“Good morning Chief!” exclaimed Bolin cheerily as he neared the bench. “How are you doing this wonderful day?” Pabu’s furry head emerged from his jacket with a chirp.

Lin waved her hand in acknowledgment of Bolin’s greeting. “Me? I’m relaxing or was relaxing until now…” replied Chief Beifong bitingly.

Korra smirked at the reaction. “C’mon Lin, you know you enjoy the attention.”

The Avatar and Opal joined Bolin and soon they were all immersed in cordial conversation. Kuvira was concentrated on her own routine when all of a sudden, she sensed an insistent glare over her. When she whipped her head around she realized it came from Asami Sato. The metalbender had been so caught up by the momentary distraction and her own musings that she didn’t realize the magnate had not joined her friends in conversation and instead had moved towards the field carrying a gym bag.  Kuvira also noticed that Asami had settled a little too close to her location to her liking. The metalbender continued her workout, shifting surreptitiously away from the industrialist to put some space between them.

“I didn’t take you for the type to be easily intimidated” mocked Asami, her light green gaze perusing the metalbender as she stretched out her long legs over the lawn.

Kuvira arched an eyebrow inquisitively. She was sensing some rather hostile vibes from the Future Industries CEO and had opted to defuse rather than stoke them by providing some distance but it seemed that the magnate was determined to fuel the animosity rather than quell it.

“I am not. I was just allowing for enough space for you to do your thing.”

Asami stood up in front of the metalbender, staring at her intently with a smirk on her lips.

“You really don’t look so intimidating now.”

“I don’t intend to appear intimidating” the former commander replied.  Above her open right palm, a piece of metal changed shapes with distracted wiggles of her fingers. The industrialist observed the gesture unimpressed, with hands rested over her hips.

“Have you finished your routine?  I was going to propose you we had a short sparing session. I could certainly use the workout.”

Kuvira gave Asami an enquiring glance. The quieter voices behind made her realize that their exchange had attracted the attention of the others. Korra in particular looked concerned and Lin was observing the scene attentively with arms crossed over her chest.

“I was just about to finish here. Perhaps another time” the metalbender retorted in a calm voice and was about to turn around when she felt a hand grab her by the shoulder.

“No, I don’t think so. I would like to do this…now.”

Kuvira couldn’t help but let out a small snort. “Is that so? I should oblige you then if you’re so insistent.” It was obvious the industrialist was itching for a confrontation. She had made a conscious effort to avoid it but at the engineer’s insistence, the former commander decided that she wasn’t going to back down from the challenge.

“Asami what are you doing?” Korra approached Asami in a hurry, lines of worry creased on her forehead.

“Nothing Korra, just a friendly match, that’s all.” The hard edge in her voice’s inflection betrayed the civility of her words.

“You can pair up with me or Opal” Korra offered. Opal nodded in agreement as she also approached Asami.

“Not every day you get to cross paths with the notorious Great Uniter” the industrialist retorted.

“I don’t think this is a good idea Asami.” insisted the Avatar as she offered a silent appeal to Kuvira in the sapphire eyes. Even if Asami was stubbornly determined to face the metalbender, it was up to her to refuse and put a stop to the insanity.

“Avatar Korra, if that’s what Ms. Sato wants, I don’t have a problem accepting. After all, it’s just a friendly match, isn’t it?” Asami nodded. Korra stared at Kuvira with mouth agape, her worry increased tenfold when she saw the steeled determination in Kuvira’s orbs.

“Lin, do something…!” Korra pleaded to Lin who was now standing beside her.

Lin glanced impassible at the two woman staring each other down. A flashback materialized on Chief Beifong’s memory, one of herself on a very similar situation with her sister Suyin. She realized that even the power of the Avatar would not be able to stop the inevitable. Lin knew all too well how powerful and entrenched old grudges could be and just how toxic they became when ignored. The sooner they were dealt with, the better for all of them with the challenge that awaited them. She certainly didn’t need personal animosities sabotaging their mission. Violence wasn’t the answer to emotional distress but it could certainly serve as an outlet that could  enable a more peaceful rapport afterwards.

Lin placed a hand over the Avatar’s shoulder. “Korra, sometimes people need to vent off their differences and you of all people should know this by now. Let Asami have this. She certainly can handle herself. Kuvira gets it.”

“Lin’s right Avatar Korra” the metalbender intervened. “I believe if Ms. Sato wants to deal with certain animosities she holds against me this way, I won’t deny her the opportunity.” Kuvira appeared calm with hands resting behind her back, the tone of her voice even.  Whatever animosity was brewing, it came from only one side and it wasn’t the metalbender.

Korra simply brought a hand to her forehead, pursing her lips as she let out a frustrated grunt. 

“Argh…alright. Since you agree with this madness, you get to establish the ground rules and referee the bout. I’m not going to intervene” the Avatar told Chief Beifong emphatically.

“Fine with me” Lin eyed Korra with a side glance. “Opal, Bolin, you take a side each and watch out for any fishy moves.”

“What, are we involved in this now?” exclaimed Bolin mimicking Korra’s earlier dismayed expression.

“I guess we are now darling” replied Opal with a resigned expression. “You go to Asami’s corner. I’ll take Kuvira’s.”

Lin cleared the field of any debris and after concluding her inspection, moments later, the women were facing each other from opposite sides. Asami shed the red and black jacket she had been wearing and adjusted a pair of sleeveless black gloves over her hands.

“I want to make this fair for all parties concerned” the Chief addressed the duo standing in the middle. There will be no bending, so that means you Kuvira and there will be no gadgets of any sort. That means you Asami.”

Both women nodded in understanding as they walked towards the center of the field and towards Chief Beifong.

“The match will end when one of the combatants yields or is knocked out. Ready? Begin!”

Even before she could nod, Kuvira felt the impact of a kick connect with her forearm from a charging Asami.

“Spirits, she’s quick!” the metalbender muttered as she instinctively went into a defensive stance. A thought crossed her mind as she received and evaded the industrialist’s multiple blows. This must have been how Korra felt when they faced off in Zaofu years ago. Korra had barely recovered her ability to go into the Avatar state and the ghosts that hounded her since her poisoning were still harassing her, hindering her full combat prowess. Kuvira meanwhile was in her absolute prime, her abilities honed by years of combat experience, itching to prove once and for all that the world didn’t need an Avatar anymore. It was an uneven match even if it didn’t look like it. It was later that Kuvira got to witness the unleashing of the Avatar’s true power at the battle of Republic City and she realized that the person she had beaten before hadn’t been fighting at her full capacity and even then, her respect for life handicapped the force she applied to her attacks. The fact that Kuvira survived their clash with her life, with only fractured bones, contusions and bruises but all her limbs attached was telling of Korra’s compassion even under duress. The tables had turned for Kuvira and it was now Asami Sato the superior fighter. Kuvira welcomed the humbling experience.

“Why are you holding back on me? Fight me!” Asami growled as she kept the unrelenting barrage while her opponent kept deflecting, blocking and defending but frustratingly didn’t attack back. Kuvira didn’t reply. She simply sidestepped and skipped and maneuvered around but threw no punches.

“You think you’re so good you can beat me just by avoiding me?”

“I don’t. Right now you are in better condition than I. I just don’t have anything to prove to you.”

Asami let out a howl as she tackled the metalbender and both fell down with the magnate on top straddling her opponent. Asami aimed towards Kuvira’s head but she placed her forearms crossed against the face to avoid the punishment. All of a sudden, Kuvira yelped loudly as her body shook and an intense pain coursed from head to toe followed by a fist connecting solidly against her jaw.

“Asami stop! That’s enough!” Chief Beifong was running towards the women. Asami managed to place more blows to a shocked Kuvira before Lin grabbed the taller woman and separated them. An upset Korra was behind her.

“Why did you that?” Korra reprimanded perplexed. She had seen plenty of the magnate’s gadgets to know how an electric attack looked like.

“You saw it Korra. She refused to fight back. What’s the use then?”

Kuvira was incorporating with difficulty with the aid of Opal, the effect of the electric shock wearing off slowly.

“Whatever you used there sure packs a punch” the metalbender grimaced. “Your uppercut isn’t bad either.” Kuvira wiped blood off her mouth with the back of her hand.

“I wouldn’t have resorted to that if you hadn’t been holding back on me” Asami spat back insulted.

“Like I was going to give you yet another reason to despise me but if you really want to do this so badly, I won’t hold back on you anymore.”

“Shut up kid. That should be enough for today” Lin replied.

“Are you going to fight me for real now?” Asami challenged.

“Quiet Sato! You won, she’s already bleeding.”

“Let her be Lin. I deserve the pummeling. I would have beaten her senseless if I were in her place” the metalbender sneered.

“Kuvira, don’t provoke her” the eldest Beifong sister warned.

“You can still try” Asami went back to the offensive.

“Asami, stop it” Korra exclaimed.

The magnate glanced at Korra with an unexpected pained expression.

“Korra…”

“Avatar” Kuvira intervened. “It is quite obvious Ms. Sato here hates me. If we’re going to work together she needs to work whatever issues she has with me. This tension is honestly becoming quite unbearable.”

“You are mistaken Kuvira” the industrialist interjected.

All eyes were over Asami now, especially Kuvira’s.

“What do you mean I’m mistaken?”

“I thought I hated you with all my strength for taking my father away. From luring Korra away from me but I realized that yes, I am angry for all of that and for what you did to us and to my city but I don’t hate you. I don’t want to hate, not anymore.”

The metalbender stared at the industrialist in confusion.

“I am very angry and certain things I’ve found out have let me in a very irritable mood and all of them have to do with you but I’m done with hate.”

Kuvira assessed the engineer as she took in what she had revealed.  A pause later, her lips curved into a subtle smile.

“Are you up for a second round? Not holding back. And zero gadgets!” Asami replied with a smile of her own.  

“Haven’t you had enough?” Korra rebuked as she closed in on the metalbender. There was worry and irritation in her eyes. Kuvira smiled reassuringly back at her.

“Yes, let’s do this” Asami affirmed.

“But ‘Sami…”

Asami placed a hand over the Avatar’s shoulder. “You don’t get it Korra. We need to work this on our own terms. She gets it. Spirits, I can’t believe I’m actually agreeing with Kuvira but I need to do this. We need to do this.”

Lin Beifong let out a sight as she motioned to the opponents to gather beside her. “You heard them Avatar. Let them fight.”

 

-oOo-

 

Kuvira opened her eyes with difficulty and immediately regretted it. As she brought her body to a sitting position, pain arose from multiple parts in unison. A blinding white light hung from the ceiling making the white room even whiter. Pained groans emerged from the opposite side of the small room. Kuvira glanced to her side and captured the sight of a disheveled, bruised Asami Sato sitting up with difficulty. The metalbender attempted to recall the last moments of her bout with the magnate. The showdown had been surprisingly even as old instincts kicked in making the fight a more leveled one. The longer the fight dragged on, the more bruises and contusions their bodies acquired until the world spun around for the former commander, her consciousness collapsing into a dark void. Kuvira noticed the medical supplies over a nearby table and moments later, she was applying a cold compress against her aching jaw. She moved it around and heard the bone click at the connecting joint, making her yelp in the process. Asami was also assessing her wounds as she glanced at her opponent in silence. Kuvira swung her legs around and allowed them to fall off the stretcher.

“You have a mean left hook. Where did you learn how to fight like that? I can’t picture a prissy girl like you street fighting at a back alley” the bender addressed the magnate with genuine curiosity.

Asami let out a soft smile. “My personal instructor was an ex professional street fighter. From a young age, I realized that I had to learn to defend myself. I also wanted to be able to defend my loved ones.” Memories that seemed faded yet remained as powerful as ever were stirred. The memories that deeply scarred Asami and her late father and unbeknownst to her, changed her father’s world perspective for most of his life until he was imprisoned.

“My respects to your sifu. The only person that managed to sneak a left hook on me like that was my old combatives instructor. After that, I learned to move quickly because a week eating soft foods wasn’t amusing at all.”

Asami chuckled despite the pain of a cut lip. “I must admit that for being out of practice, you landed some good punches. That last one almost knocked me out.”

“Actually, it did knock you out but you got me too. I was already reeling from the roundhouse kick that took the air out of me and the hook finished the job.”

“Yeah, I think I remember Opal screaming something and then I blacked out.” Asami was pretty sure she had a swollen eye.

“I heard Bolin holler double knock out and then I was out” recalled Kuvira with a grin.

“So nobody won?” Asami looked surprised. The metalbender held her own better than both had expected, her reputation as a strong fighter more than well earned. She had to admit she was glad they’d agreed on no bending because otherwise, she would have certainly fared worse. The female Beifongs including the former protégé were all lethal.

“I would rather see it as that nobody lost” Kuvira offered diplomatically.

Asami smiled. “I can live with that.”

“Me too” Kuvira nodded as she loosened the bindings off her forearms and hands. Her knuckles appeared red and swollen.

“I warn you though.”

“Hmm?”

“The moment I find out you are being dishonest with Korra or that you are purposely hurting her, I’ll come for you and that left hook will include the added bonus of my electrified glove.” Asami’s voice was dark and ominous.

Kuvira’s eyebrows twitched under widening eyes. “Spirits, you’re terrifying! I was afraid of Chief Tonraq but now I think I fear you more.”

Asami couldn’t help but flash a very pleased smile upon hearing that. Kuvira seemed really terrified of her threat. Suddenly, the door opened and Korra barged in. Lin was scowling behind her.

“You should have knocked first!”

Korra ignored Chief Beifong’s protests and stood between the two ailing women. The Avatar made a quick assessment. Their clothes were dirty, blood stained, and wrinkled . The hair on both was an unruly mess, especially Asami’s usually impeccable long raven black tresses while Kuvira’s braid was undone. Kuvira held an ice pack against her jaw while Asami rotated her shoulder with difficulty. Lips were swollen and an assortment of bruises littered their limbs. They had really fought each other without holding back and it showed.

“So, are we good now?” Korra queried tentatively.

“Can you ask if we’re having soup for dinner? I think Sato dislodged my jaw” complained Kuvira.

“And I have a bruise the size of a fire ferret on my shoulder” added Asami.

Korra offered a disapproving glower at both dark haired women. “Don’t complain to me. You wanted to fight? You got to fight. Now deal with the consequences.”

“Can you please heal us?” appealed Asami as she yelped when she touched her nose. Kuvira nodded emphatically.

The Avatar crossed her arms over her chest. “Now you want me to heal the two of you? You really have some nerve! Wait a sec…you are not arguing with each other! Are you actually just…talking?”

“Yep.”

“Aha.”

Korra’s jaw dropped and both Asami and Kuvira burst in raucous laughter followed by pained squeals. After recovering from the momentary astonishment, Korra allowed herself to laugh too. Thank the Spirits tensions seemed to have truly melted away. Moments later, Korra busied herself with healing duties while Chief Beifong left to inform on the status of the quarrelsome duo. The Avatar wished the best of lucks to Lin since she had been given the unenviable job of explaining to Suyin what had occurred.

“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to fight” the magnate commented as the Avatar treated her aching shoulder.

“It was” Kuvira retorted. She was grateful the ache in her jaw had faded substantially after a session with the healing waters.  

“You appear much calmer now. I don’t sense that current of anxiety coming from you anymore or see the loathing in your eyes when you look at her” Korra added. She had been adamantly opposed to the idea but she couldn’t dispute the results.

“That’s true” Asami conceded.

Kuvira stood up before Asami. “Listen, I want to apologize for what happened to your father during the war. There’s no fixing to that and no turning back from what I did and words can’t convey how much I regret it. I won’t ask for forgiveness because I don’t deserve it but I just wanted to say it, that I’m sorry…” Kuvira’s voice trembled as she took in a deep breath and felt Korra’s hand wrapping around her wrist.

Asami observed in silence the woman that took her father’s life standing in front of her, faded bruises running down her arms and contrition in her eyes.  She was unable to place this woman with the one that had waged a war years ago just as she couldn’t identify the present Bataar with the one that stood faithfully beside The Great Uniter. They were both gone.

“I accept it…your apology” Asami whispered. The mere act of voicing the words made her feel lighter inside. What Bataar had told her was right. It was indeed a freeing experience and with this, she was unshackling herself from the weight that prevented her to move on.

“Thank you” replied the metalbender softly as she brushed her moistening eyes with her palm. Korra hugged Asami albeit carefully to avoid hurting her.

“Asami” Korra interjected. “I believe this is a good time for you to tell Kuvira what you’ve told me.”

Asami smiled as color came to tint her cheeks.  

“You may want to sit down for this one” the engineer advised as she proceeded to provide a similar recap to the one she offered Korra a day ago. Moments later, both Korra and Asami looked at Kuvira expectantly, her expressionless countenance only serving to increase their anxiety.

“Asami” at last the metalbender spoke under Asami’s attentive gaze. “I must admit I wouldn’t have expected this but having said that, it makes a lot of sense and…”

“And…?”

Kuvira beamed. “I would like to congratulate the two of you and wish you nothing but the best.” Kuvira was genuinely pleased that Bataar had found happiness although the unusual situation of the two couples made her chuckle inwardly.

Korra happily placed an arm around each woman making the two of them wince. Kuvira whispered something to Korra’s ear which made her grin and moments later, Sammi’s parting gift to the metalbender was being shared by the three women in commemoration of the milestones achieved that day. Small yet significant steps towards forgiveness and healing had been taken, bridging what seemed an impossible chasm to close. Korra stole glances with Kuvira and offered a grateful smile to Asami as she enjoyed the wine in the company of two of the most important women in her life. Perhaps close friendship among the three might be hard to achieve but for today, this was enough.

Chapter Text

After her exercise session had unexpectedly turned into an impromptu fighting match against Asami Sato, the only thing on Kuvira’s mind now was a much needed shower. Korra’s healing had taken care of the worst of the aches and bruises but after the faceoff, her clothes and hair were an absolute mess. The metalbender moved hastily towards her room. The last thing she wanted was to cross paths with a furious Su whom she suspected, must had already found out and pinned the blame on her. The bout with Asami Sato had left her exhausted and the prospect of an equally exhausting argument with Su was simply nightmarish but at least she had been able to apologize to the industrialist face to face after many failed attempts in the past. Fortunately, the magnate was ready to move on from old grudges and accepted Kuvira’s repentance in good faith. The unforeseen piece of news regarding Asami’s budding relationship with Bataar provided a curious subject for the women to bond over. As she scanned her surroundings to make sure she steered clear from the Metal Clan Matriarch’s sights, Kuvira remembered Asami’s reaction to her unusual proposition with a grin.

“If we have to make a stop in Ba Sing Se, how about we go shopping?”

“Us? Why?” inquired Asami, making a double take intrigued by the mischievous glint in the metalbender’s eyes. She wondered if Kuvira’s jovial mood was linked to the wine they had just imbued or perhaps to the peck Korra stole from her when they thought Asami wasn’t watching.

Kuvira leaned towards the magnate. “Now that you are dating Junior, if you are interested, I have some suggestions about things he likes. You engineers can be quite the complicated lot to please and coming out with ideas for gifts for Bataar was always a nightmare for me. Besides, I need an excuse to procure some presents for a certain someone” she added pointing at Korra who was leaning against the door frame chatting away with Opal and Bolin. Asami chuckled at that. She wouldn’t have considered the former commander as a detail-oriented person but she hadn’t pegged her as a selfless person either. Besides, the industrialist admitted to herself the proposal had piqued her interest.

“Going shopping sure sounds better than fighting and I’ve got to admit you’ve got a point. I was just raking my brains thinking what I could get Bataar for a gift and poor Korra would agonize over what she could get me. With me being a magnate didn’t help matters for her either. I could share some suggestions about our lovely Avatar too if you’d like.”

A seldom seen tender smile softened Kuvira’s sharp features at the mention of Korra that made the industrialist feel much more reassured about the metalbender’s feelings towards her best friend.

“Say no more. It’s a deal then” Kuvira replied as both shared a complicit chuckle that made Korra’s head snap back in suspicion.

“Thick as thieves…” she muttered as she shook her head.

Kuvira was now striding to her quarters when she halted abruptly to avoid colliding with a tall figure rushing towards the opposite direction. A flash of recognition surged through her brain cells when the man spoke.

“Kuvira?” Bataar pushed his glasses up in a nervous gesture.

“Bataar?” Kuvira replied almost in a murmur, dark angular eyebrows arching.

The former lovers stared at each other uneasily, a myriad emotions crossing their faces and a thousand thoughts simultaneously colliding inside their minds.

“I’m sorry…I didn’t see you and…” Kuvira finally said with a slight quiver in her voice.

Bataar’s glance fell over her current appearance noting the messy hair and blood stained shirt.

“I wasn’t really paying attention in my hurry…” he retorted timidly. Kuvira recognized the peculiar look he had in his eyes, the one he had when he was sunk in thought, piecing things together in search of an answer. Kuvira’s face brightened when it dawned on her what his intended destination was.

“Go, Asami’s already awake and before you ask, she is okay” the metalbender said with an amiable smile when he opened his mouth to speak. A stunned expression adorned his face. Bataar definitely wasn’t expecting that answer, least of all from Kuvira. The engineer tried to reply but only managed to utter nondescript sounds. Kuvira chuckled as she placed a reassuring hand over his shoulder.

“I already know. There’s some things we should discuss. Tell Lin when we can meet, okay?”

Bataar nodded as he finally let out a relieved smile of his own. “Okay, I’ll let her know. It’s good to see you.”

“It is good to see you too. Now go!”

Bataar chuckled. “Right…bye Kuvira.”

“Bye Bataar.”

Kuvira glanced back with a wistful expression. When Lin informed her that she was returning to Zaofu, the former commander had braced for many uncomfortable and painful encounters with the people she had disappointed and hurt with her past actions. After this brief meeting, she hoped that maybe the one with her former fiancée would not be as difficult as she’d dreaded.

-oOo-

Kuvira pushed long tresses of black hair back as she finished the dense report on the Northeastern province that had been selected by Wu’s advisors as the first sojourn of Earth Kingdom’s troubled spots. She jotted some quick notes in her angular, neat handwriting on a small notebook before putting the report aside.  With a long exhale, she stood up from the desk and rubbed her eyes. The mint tea that had been delivered a while ago remained in the same spot she had placed it, already gone cold. A tightness across the muscles of her shoulders and neck informed her of the long hours she’d been sitting down intently perusing the dry reading. As she glanced over the maps and notes scattered over the small desk, Kuvira concluded she had enough material to discuss with Bataar for their scheduled meeting tomorrow. A part of her hoped that the discussion on Earth Kingdom matters would take their minds away temporarily from the more delicate personal subjects that inevitably would have to be engaged. Another part wanted to engage the worst head on and finally leave it behind. Right now she wasn’t sure wish side would prevail. The beam of light pouring from the adjacent door opening captured her attention with the corner of the eye. The Avatar entered the room wearing light blue pajamas.  She had pulled part of her hair back in a short ponytail that Kuvira found particularly cute. It must be later than she thought.

“Still sore?” Korra asked when she noticed the metalbender engage in neck rotations.

“Uhum” she hummed in response. One hand was busy applying pressure behind her neck. “But not because of the fight, well not so much anyway. I’ve been marathoning through these reports for tomorrow’s meetings and I’m really concerned about what we’ll find there” she added as she pointed to the pile of documents scattered over the desk.

Korra moved behind the former commander and wordlessly took over the massaging duties. She could sense the tension knots under the fabric of her pajamas begin to yield to the firm pressure of her fingers.

“It’s that bad uh?”

“It’s complicated” Kuvira admitted.  “I wasn’t aware that some of our regional commanders refused to surrender command and stayed back in the towns as warlords. For them the war never stopped. Townspeople didn’t oppose them because life went on the same. Bandits were taken care of, peace was maintained, and they kept a relatively good quality of life with their basic needs fulfilled even though they were legally in a state of rebellion. I wonder if they will even allow us to talk to them.” There was concern in her eyes.

“If people have put up with them, maybe it’s because they’re not bad leaders. From what you’ve said, it seems they care about the people. It’s the politics that they don’t agree with. I think you’ll be able to approach them if you first recognize the good things they’ve accomplished. That was the whole deal of your unification campaign at the beginning. To bring progress and stability to everyone, wasn’t it?”

“It was. Your reasoning is sound. You’re pretty good at this Avatar Korra” the metalbender stated admiringly.

“It comes with the territory. I had to pick up people skills on the go and believe me, it hasn’t been easy. This Avatar business is way more than mastering the four elements and dealing with rogue spirits. Being cooped up with the White Lotus concentrating on my bending didn’t do me any favors on the diplomacy department.”

“But you’ve turned to be pretty good. You’re a good fit for this even if you hate the political wrangling. I’m glad I can count with your counsel.”

“You do. I want you to be successful in this, for the nation and for yourself.”

“Thank you, for believing in me. And the massage thing.” Kuvira added with a relieved smile. The knots had virtually melted away.

Korra smiled back. “You keep proving me I can. What you did with ‘Sami…not the beating of course, but the apology. That took courage.”

“I think she displayed the real courage between the two of us in allowing the person who took her father’s life the chance to apologize in person.”

“Both of you displayed enormous amounts of courage and I couldn’t be prouder. By the way, what was that scheming behind my back that I saw?”

Kuvira chuckled. “Oh that, just girls’ talk. I was offering her pointers about Baatar on the things he likes. She seemed very receptive to the idea.”

Korra flashed an amused grin. “So you’re bonding over the exes, who would have thought? So, what did you say about me?”

“That’s none of your business” the metalbender shot back with a saucy smile.

“Hey...!”

“You’re welcome to ask Bataar anything about me if you like now that he’s here.”

“I might just do that” threatened Korra trying her darndest to look serious to no avail.

All of a sudden, Kuvira bent from the waist as a fit of laughter overcame her.

“What’s so funny?”

“Haven’t you realized? You’ve got to admit this situation is weirdly amusing. Your ex is with my ex and I’m with you.”

“Yeah, I was thinking the exact same thing. And I here I thought that Tenzin and Lin’s situation was weird.”

“What situation? I don’t know a lot about your friends to be honest, although I did found out that both you and Asami dated Bolin’s brother.”

“Yeah, everyone in the Four Nations knew that we both dated Mako, courtesy of Bolin of course. And then having to see us dating each other was sorta weird for him” Korra added sheepishly.

“Oh, I bet. So what’s the story with Lin and Tenzin?”

“Sit down. This one’s a doozy.”

Moments later after they got comfortable sitting side by side in the metalbender’s bed, Korra told the story about Tenzin’s romance with a young Lin to an amused Kuvira.

“But here comes the kicker; you know Tenzin’s sister Kya, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, now the Chief and Kya are an item but Lin’s like, super secretive and protective about it and Tenzin was like Mako, initially shocked to find out his sister was dating his ex, but eventually he got used to the idea. And Kya is super relaxed about it.”

“I wouldn’t have suspected it if you hadn’t told me. Now that I think of it, I find their relationship strangely familiar…” Kuvira lifted an eyebrow at Korra. The Avatar’s eyes widened amused.

“Of course! So now the trend is Southern Water Tribe benders falling for metalbenders?”

“It seems like it.”

Korra snickered as she wrapped Kuvira in her arms. “Must be that we find that strong, grounded aura strangely appealing or perhaps is the abs of steel that you develop with all that core strength.”

Kuvira couldn’t help but to roll her eyes and groan audibly while Korra was positively guffawing at her own silliness.

“Abs of steel…really Korra. You have been hanging out with Bolin too much.”

“You don’t believe it? So what do you call this?” Korra sneaked a hand over the metalbender’s flat abdomen under the pajamas. Kuvira tensed as her breath caught up on her throat. Korra’s hands always seemed to have this effect on her, soft, firm and warm over her skin. Her tanned digits were tracing the defined muscles at a leisurely pace as she eyed the former commander with a roguish glint before leaving soft kisses over the firm surface.

“Okay, point taken” the metalbender conceded as she inhaled deeply. With a triumphant smile, Korra closed in on Kuvira and brought their lips together for a kiss.

“Oww” yelped Kuvira when Korra sought to deepen the caress.

“I’m sorry…your lip?”

“Yeah, you took care of the worst but it’s still sore. I’m sorry I ruined the moment.”

“Don’t be, I got carried away. Here, let me make it up for you and if it bothers you, I’ll stop, okay?”

The metalbender nodded and instants later Korra was placing soft feathery kisses over her cheeks and the corner of her lips, taking care in avoiding the area where it was still sore.

“Better?” the Avatar whispered brushing the tip of their noses together.

“Better” sighed Kuvira in acknowledgment.

“Korra”

‘Humm?”

Kuvira brushed a strand of brown hair over the Avatar’s ear. “Don’t take this the wrong way but you need to sleep in your room for appearance’s sake.”

“I know, just not tonight. Not after this.” Her index finger slid softly over the fading reddish bruising on Kuvira’s jaw. The metalbender took her hand and brushed her lips to Korra’s palm, touched by the Avatar’s concern.

 “I’m ready to call it a day. How about you?”

“Same” Korra concurred.

The former captain opened her arms and not a minute longer, Korra was snuggled beside Kuvira with her head nestled against her shoulder. Questing fingers drew arcane shapes over the metalbender’s flat belly.

“I hope we can pull this off” Kuvira murmured softly against the Avatar’s soft brown hair. “If we’re successful it’ll mean reduced sentences or even commutation for me and Bataar. I would like to be a free woman. I would like to be with you without worries of being found out.”

Korra snuggled closer. “Free, exiled on the island, here in Zaofu, it doesn’t make a difference to me. I will find you and I will be with you no matter what.”

As she placed her hands over the Avatar’s cheeks, Kuvira decided she could withstand some minor pain in exchange of rewarding the amazing woman in her arms with the kiss she properly deserved.

 

-oOo-

 

Kuvira wrung her hands nervously, pacing the short distance between the corridor and the room designated for the morning’s meeting. Near her, Chief Lin Beifong and Hong Li made small talk as they waited for the government officials and Bataar Jr. to arrive. As the time for the appointment neared, the former commander’s apprehension kept steadily rising. She dreaded to face Suyin. The Zaofu leader had already received the news of the incident between the Future Industries CEO and Kuvira, and according to her elder sister, she didn’t take well to the news and it took a good deal of explaining to convince her the fight had not been initiated by the deposed dictator. Kuvira inhaled deeply when she saw Bataar arriving flanked by his mother and Asami. The affable countenance the Metal Clan Matriarch had maintained up to that moment transfigured almost immediately at the sight of her former protégé. The former leader resorted to her diplomatic skills, offering welcoming nod to Asami and Bataar and kept a neutral expression for her former teacher, grateful she didn’t act as nervous as she actually felt.  For a brief moment, the way the younger Beifong sister glared at her former student appeared to telegraph an imminent encounter but fortunately, the the tense moment was cut short when Korra made her appearance with Wu’s officials. As the government envoys and the former Earth Empire leaders entered the room, the last things Kuvira saw was Suyin’s indignant scowl and the Avatar’s reassuring glance.

Hours later, Kuvira stood up to keep the blood circulating after a strenuous session of discussions and analysis with the government envoy and Bataar Jr. The long banquet table they had been sitting at was covered in documents, maps, and binders and the envoy’s aide was still busy transcribing notes.

“So it’s settled. In two days we fly to the Northeastern Provinces. Has Lieutenant Colonel Thran been notified in advance of our visit?” queried Kuvira.

“She has and she has agreed to receive the two of you. Thran mentioned that she used to have a good working relationship with you before the surrender and that she was willing to listen to what you had to say out of respect for your past accomplishments” Counselor Asakawa replied.

“Thran is a good officer and a good person. I wonder why she refused to step down” observed Bataar.

“My best guess is that she doesn’t trust the potential candidates that might rise to power should she step down. I believe if we she’s offered guarantees that the election will be a clean and transparent one, she might allow it. If these reports are correct, people will no doubt select her as provincial governor.”

“I hope you are right Kuvira. She would face tough competition from Lai Bing, the millionaire investor” the engineer noted.

“He does have the money and influence but she has done the ground work. If the process is fair, he should not be able to influence votes through bribes and gifts” observed Kuvira as she glanced towards the large Earth Kingdom map pinned to the wall. A man approached Counselor Asakawa and murmured something.

“My apologies, I’ve been informed I have a call from Ba Sing Se. This shouldn’t take long. I’ll be right back.” And upon saying this, the government official followed the man out. The envoy’s aide took the opportunity for a break and quickly left the room too.

“This sure brings memories, don’t you think?” ventured Bataar breaking the silence that had remained after Asakawa and his aides left.

“It does” admitted Kuvira with a small smile as she turned around to face Bataar.  The map, the plans, the hours spent strategizing and organizing. She had lost count of how many hours they’d been engaged in designing their perfect Empire. It certainly seemed they had been more than the ones spent towards strengthening their relationship besides the mutual professional goals. By the time they reached the final stage of their unification mission, they looked and acted more like calculating business partners than the idealist, loving couple that left Zaofu together.

“I noticed Hong Li has been assigned to your security detail. Coincidentally, he was in charge of mine during my first years of house detention. We had long, interesting chats during those days. That was before I was allowed to work under supervision reconstructing the city domes with dad.”

“He has done well for himself. He told me that he had wanted to leave with us but his family pressured him to remain here. Guess he had better foresight than we did.”

Bataar chuckled. “Indeed. By the time I came back he had earned my mother’s confidence enough to become captain of the guard. At least I appreciated the fact that I had someone I knew to speak to while I was imprisoned.”

Kuvira looked positively stunned. She had been under the impression that the engineer had been placed under house arrest and being the eldest son of the city’s founders, he was spared the unpleasantness of a prison cell.

“You were in prison here in Zaofu?”

Bataar nodded as his countenance sobered. “When I arrived from Republic City, my parents had already arranged for my house arrest but due to my role in the city conquest, not to mention detaining my own family, the people demanded that I shouldn’t be spared the harsher punishment I deserved. It was well know you’d been moved to a maximum security wing in Republic City so the citizens here believed I should receive a similar treatment.”

“I wasn’t aware of that…”

“It wasn’t maximum security but I did complete a stint in prison in order to comply with the citizen’s wishes. Six months. My mother felt miserable but in the end, it was the right thing to do. People were outraged with the idea that I wouldn’t be properly punished and they were in their right to feel that way. It wasn’t so bad, the whole family would visit me almost every day.”

The former commander remain pensive for a moment, contrasting her own situation cut off from pretty much all her acquaintances, with that of Bataar. More than the isolating nature of her imprisonment, it had been the severed ties with her foster family and those she had considered friends back home that had hit the hardest. She was for all intents and purposes, alone. Korra’s visits became literally a lifeline, a connection to a humanity she’d deemed lost.

“It wasn’t so bad” the former second in command continued. “I was pretty amused when Hong Li told me of his crush with you. Apparently he never mentioned anything to you because besides you outranking him, all the guards knew back then of my interest in you and no one wanted to compete with the boss lady’s son.”

“Is that so? So you pretty much scared all the competition away” the metalbender commented with a grin.

“It wasn’t my intention but apparently, it turned out that way” Bataar smiled back.

“I’m glad for you, about Asami” Kuvira said as she approached the engineer and sat down in front of him. “And I’m sorry about yesterday. It wasn’t my intention to fight with your new girlfriend” she added with a grimace.

“I know, she told me and apparently, in the end it was better that way. You two got the opportunity to clear the space and she told me about your apology.”

“It was the least I could do after what happened” she replied solemnly.

“I also had a long chat with Avatar Korra” Bataar said. Kuvira’s eyes widened in concern.

“Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me and ‘Sami. But she also told me about the South Pole and what you did there that almost cost you your life. These past years apparently have been rough on you.”

“They have but compared to what I did, I still think I have gotten off easy. I keep getting chances to make things right, to apologize. I have encountered more understanding and mercy that I thought I’d deserved and that’s why I’m here. I’m still trying to make amends.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve done my fair share of that too.” Bataar pushed his glasses up his nose as he observed the metalbender’s subdued countenance.

“I’m not done yet with the apologies. I still have some very important people on my list, like you. I would like to do so now if you would allow it” Kuvira said, her voice slightly cracking.

The engineer was taken aback for a moment by the gesture as he noticed how the confident attitude the former leader had displayed during the meeting had been substituted by the cautious, apprehensive demeanor she displayed now.

“I will allow it” he affirmed.

Kuvira cleared out her throat. “During my first months in prison I was in a bad place emotionally and I took my frustrations off on you so I wrote horrible things to you.” The metalbender was staring intently at her hands, her voice coming out hoarsely now remembering her accusations towards her former second in command. The letters were scathing and ruthless, revealing the dark place she had sunk into by her downfall and the creeping isolation of her incarceration.

“I remember. You accused me of betrayal…” he muttered, the memory of the pain and anger flashing through his mind.

“It was uncalled for and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that after what I tried to do to you with…” Kuvira stood up suddenly as she gathered a deep breath in an attempt to hold back the tears that were already glistening in her eyes.

“Kuvira, I know…you don’t have to say it.”

“I do! I need to say it. I can’t keep hiding away from what I did” she said tremulously. Bataar stood up now and approached her but she lifted a hand to stop him.

“If was I who betrayed you that day. I betrayed your feelings and I hurt you in the worst way possible. I don’t believe there’s forgiveness for something like that but I want you to know that I have regretted it every single day of my life.” Kuvira attempted to swallow a sob just but instead completely broke down in tears as she collapsed knees down to the floor. There was no stopping to the avalanche of guilt cumulated for years that finally came down. Bataar approached her again and this time she didn’t refuse, surrounding a shuddering Kuvira with his arms. She seemed so frail and vulnerable in this state that it felt almost surreal. He could barely remember the last time she had allowed herself to be seen this way.

“I thank you for this” Bataar said, his voice beginning to falter too. “After what happened that day at the warehouse all I knew was pain and confusion and despair…I hated you for the longest time with the same passion I’d loved you until I felt I could no longer live with that rage consuming me. That’s when I finally began to move on and was able to feel something more than hate and despair.”

“I’m sorry…” was all that she could say repeatedly between chocked sobs. By the time Counselor Asakawa returned, he found the former leaders of the fallen Earth Empire sunk in a tear-soaked embrace, the silence only broken by soft sobs and whispered apologies. His aide was about to barge in when the envoy placed a hand over his shoulder, stopping him.

“I believe we can pause work for today. There’s something far more important for the success of this enterprise taking place now.”

Later that night, as she prepared to go to sleep, Kuvira made an annotation in a small notebook and placed a checkmark beside Bataar’s name. Bolin, Opal, Asami, Korra and now Bataar. She had apologized face to face to all of them and the list of names appeared to be shorter now. But there was still the last name of the list, the one that surely presented the greatest challenge, one that Kuvira still didn’t knew if she would ever be able to surmount.

Suyin Beifong.

 

Chapter Text

After two weeks of intense negotiations with Northeastern province self-appointed warlord Lt Col Thran, a breakthrough was finally reached: the former Earth Empire officer acquiesced to the terms offered by the Earth Kingdom committee spearheaded by Kuvira and Bataar Jr. which called for free elections to be held during the next six months and for Thran to launch her candidacy for governor. The former leaders of the Earth Empire spent their days journeying every corner of the region with their former subordinate and after a good deal of haggling and many an evening spent reminiscing war stories, an agreement that was satisfactory for all parties involved was achieved. Thran and her troops would not stand trial for insubordination and rebellion and in return, she would relinquish power back effective immediately to Earth Kingdom authorities. Kuvira and Bataar agreed to return as observers to monitor the elections in order to prevent that certain elements threatened to win their way into the gubernatorial seat through unsavory means.

As they made their way back to Zaofu, the former couple could not hide their sheer elation, elation that was shared by Wu and his cabinet as well as President Zhu Li Moon and Avatar Korra when Counselor Asakawa conveyed the news. Their first joint outing as negotiators rather than conquerors had resulted in a resounding success and both ex-officers were eager to share the news with their loved ones and enjoy their first major victory. A smooth airship landing and an impromptu press conference later, the negotiation team was received by the Metal Clan Matriarch Suyin Beifong on her private studio for an in depth debriefing with Avatar Korra who had to stay behind along with industrialist Asami Sato at Thran’s request. The former Empire officer remained skeptic of what she deemed as outside interference from the United Republic so the delegation was limited to Asakawa, Bataar, Kuvira, Chief Beifong and Captain Hong Li. It was a risk since their small group could have been easily overpowered by Thran’s well trained forces if she had wished so but Bataar’s and Kuvira’s assessment of their fellow comrade was accurate and instead, they were received and treated with respect.

“Madam Beifong, it is our pleasure to officially inform you that we’ve welcome the Northeastern province back to Earth Kingdom jurisdiction” announced a very pleased Asakawa. King Wu wishes to convey his gratitude to you and your collaboration with this enterprise. Traveling under the auspices of Zaofu rather than the Earth Kingdom’s proved to be advantageous for the mission and we hope we can count on your sustained support for future outings.”

 “If the terms of our collaboration remain unchanged, you can count on my resolute support” affirmed Suyin. Bataar and his mother exchanged a look. Suyin had negotiated an unconditional pardon for him should he deliver the results the government expected and so far he was complying with his end of the deal.

“It is without saying that we will uphold our commitment as agreed” replied Asakawa miffed, taking umbrage of the matriarch’s doubts on the accords.  “The same goes for Bataar as for Kuvira” the diplomat added. The side glance that Suyin proffered to Kuvira expressed rather evidently her displeasure with this last particular notion.

“Very well. After this accomplishment, I believe a celebration is in order. Nothing extravagant, just a banquet for our present guests” the youngest Beifong sister stated with a more amiable tone.

“I hope you don’t forget to reserve Kuvira a place in the table Su. This is much her doing as Bataar’s” reminded Lin noting how her sister’s countenance changed when her former protégé was mentioned.

Suyin’s eyes stared daggers at her elder sister. Since when Republic City’s unyielding paladin of law and order had begun to side with dictators she wondered to herself baffled at her sister’s seemingly incomprehensible change of heart.

“Of course Lin. How could I ever forget that?” the cutting edge of her voice discredited the courtesy of her words.

The Chief of Police merely nodded. If Su’s thinly veiled hostility towards all things Kuvira perturbed her, her unflappable visage did a superb job concealing it.

“Well then, it is settled” Su affirmed recovering her more pleasant demeanor. Kuvira exchanged glances with Lin and offered a grateful smile which the elder metalbender returned in the form of a smug grin. Apparently, the Chief was thoroughly enjoying unsettling her younger sister for a change. Kuvira smiled inwardly at this latest installment of sibling rivalry between the Beifong sisters.

“I hope I can find something suitable to wear for tonight” the metalbender thought to herself as she departed the studio when the meeting was adjourned. Throughout the returning journey to Zaofu, the only thing on the former captain’s mind was how she would thank Korra for her sage advice and steadfast support. Her advice had served her well in her negotiations with Thran and now Kuvira wanted nothing but to convey her deep appreciation to the Avatar in a special way. A nice dinner and stylish clothes definitely aided her in her intended purpose and for once, she felt indebted to Su for her inclination for grandiloquent gestures and fondness for celebrations. When she reached her room, her lips curved pleasantly at the corners when she noticed the elegant Zaofu ensemble that had already been laid over the bed. It seemed Suyin hadn’t wasted any time and the announcement had merely been a formality.

“Guess I owe Su a big one” chuckled Kuvira as she began planning for her own private celebration with Korra.

 

-oOo-

 

Hours later, Kuvira found herself reliving various stages of her past during the evening’s entertainment activities. An art exhibition courtesy of Huan was followed by a performance by Su’s dance troupe and for a change, Kuvira was on the side of the audience rather than on the performers’. A soft smile adorned her features as her memory took her back to the more unencumbered years of her life when war and family drama were still years ahead and the familiar sights and sounds evoked sensations long deemed forgotten. She had missed this, she admitted wistfully. From the day she departed Zaofu and refused to look back until three weeks ago when she stepped out of the airship towards a new challenge in her life, the former Zaofu captain missed the familiarity and warmth of the city she called home during her formative years. As always, Su excelled as a hostess and every little detail was perfect from the decor to the performance to the exquisite food. She might have her differences with her former teacher but she could never deny her genuine disposition in showing her guests a pleasant time. The metalbender thanked her lucky stars that not only the Metal Clan matriarch relented under Lin’s scrutiny in allowing her to join the banquet with the other guests, but that Su had busied herself so much with her hostess duties she had virtually forgotten about her, allowing both to enjoy a pleasant evening free of any animosity or tensions.

As Kuvira engaged in trivial chat with Counselor Asakawa and his aides, she spotted Korra at the other side of the large banquet table discretely glancing at her direction. For once, the metalbender’s choice of composed countenance had almost broken down and betrayed her inner thoughts. When she arrived with the other guests, upon sighting the Avatar clad in native Zaofu fashion instead of her usual water tribe blues, Kuvira couldn’t help but ogle at her direction.  The flowing fabrics in different hues of green complimented her tanned complexion and made the azure of her eyes look even more striking than usual. She realized her gaze must have been insistent when Korra caught sight of her and displayed a crooked grin in return, scanning her from the top down approvingly while mouthing something unintelligible, which made the metalbender’s breath catch on her throat. Since her return from the Northeastern province, they had barely exchanged words but she could perceive that the Avatar was as eager to meet again as she was. Kuvira peered at the elegant pendulum clock at the far side of the hall and flashed a private smile. It was time. She bid goodnight to Counselor Asakawa as he was wolfing his second serving of dessert and resolutely walked towards Chief Beifong, stopping for a brief moment to exchange a few words before leaving the banquet hall behind.

Moments later, the former Zaofu captain was admiring the graceful architecture of the Beifong estate greenhouse. A soft greenish glow made the glass encased structure gleam from the inside, providing a peculiar contrast to the deep blue black of the starry night. Kuvira was pacing inside the structure observing Su’s latest collection of exotic tropical plants when suddenly, her vision went black as a familiar warmth covered her closed lids.

“Guess who?” a playful female voice enquired.

“Hmm, I have no idea” the former commander replied, the corners of her mouth lifting in a smile.

“Should I give you a clue?” the voice asked with a spark of laughter seeping through her words.

“If you want to” Kuvira replied barely suppressing her own giggle.

“I’m going to move but no peeking!”

Kuvira chuckled as she sensed how the “stranger” moved to face her without lifting her hands from over her eyes.

“Okay, here’s your clue.” And upon saying this, soft lips came to join Kuvira’s in a slow kiss as hands shifted from over her face to her waist.

“Good evening Korra” Kuvira whispered against her mouth when they finally separated. “I see you got my message from Lin.”

Korra chuckled. “I did and I must say, I like your choice of meeting place. I don’t think I’ve been here before. How was your trip?”

Kuvira let out a relieved exhale. “For a moment I thought we would never return. Thran is still a skillful negotiator and she wouldn’t be satisfied until we offered clear guarantees that the election would be a transparent and fair event. Your advice came in handy and I’ll admit that she has done a better job than we expected administering and keeping the peace. We visited a ton of locations and people seemed eager to talk to us.  We didn’t notice signs of intimidation and her people did a good job maintaining the infrastructure we implemented during our tenure. It was a satisfying experience but I’ll admit that once negotiations were done, I was anxious to come back.”

“You, tired of traveling?” Korra raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“It’s not that, that part I enjoy. It was being apart from you unable to even call that was hard. I missed you.”

Korra smiled tenderly. “I missed you too and yup, it sucked not being able to talk to you. This keeping appearances thing can get tiring. At least I knew you were well from what Bataar told Asami.”

“Bataar had total monopoly of any radio and phones he could get his hands on” complained Kuvira in jest.

The Avatar let out a snort. “Suyin was disappointed that the majority of calls from Bataar were for Asami. Ah, and she was so intrigued by the unexpected couple that she sat down ‘Sami for a long conversation. She told me that Su gave them her blessing and officially welcomed her to the clan.”

“So that means Suyin is officially her mother in law. Wish Asami the best of lucks, she’s going to need it!”

They both laughed at Kuvira’s remark. When the laughter died down, Korra became aware of Kuvira’s penetrating glance focused solely on her.

“Enjoying the view?” Korra remarked with a lopsided grin.

“As a matter of fact, yes, very much.” Her emerald gaze was conveying quite evidently her admiration. Fingertips slid up Korra’s defined arms until they anchored over her strong shoulders.

“It’s very comfortable, I’ll give you that. You don’t look so bad either.”

“Is that so?” the metalbender replied pretending to be dismayed.

Korra nodded, the playful grin morphing into a gentle smile.  Zaofu’s green and silver tunic seemed to soften Kuvira’s sharp features while accentuating the piercing green orbs.

“I take that back. You look stunning tonight” the Avatar whispered under her breath as she pulled her closer. Kuvira placed her hands over Korra’s cheeks bringing her face so close their foreheads touched.

“Korra…”

“Hmm?”

“You haven’t showed me your suite yet.” Her voice dropped an octave, acquiring a very distinctive sensual lilt.

Korra’s mouth felt suddenly dry as the anticipation that had built since Kuvira stepped out of the airship was now making her feel lightheaded and giddy. Not a second later, she clasped the metalbender’s hand, placing a room key on her palm. “That can be fixed immediately. You make yourself comfortable while I bid goodnight to Su and the guests to avoid arising any suspicions.” Kuvira nodded in approval. Sapphire eyes locked firmly with emerald ones as a hand caressed the dark waves falling down Kuvira’s back. “After that, I’m all yours.”

Kuvira felt a sudden jolt of electricity course through her body. As in queue, their lips touched, a soft caress that quickly gave way to a deeper, hungrier one that left Kuvira starving for air. For an instant, she could have sworn it had been so intense the glass panes of the greenhouse fogged which made Korra chortle while peering around with the corner of the eye.  With the Avatar you could never be sure what unexpected things could be unlocked.

Moments later, as they made their way towards the palatial estate, they noticed another couple engulfed in an embrace oblivious of the world around them. Korra and Kuvira exchanged quick complicit glances simultaneously as they hurried their pace before the engineering duo realized they had almost intruded their space. Evidently, they weren’t the only ones who’d fled the banquet in search of some alone time away from prying eyes.

“I’ll see you in a few” Korra affirmed with a bright smile, as she led her stride towards the lively sounds and chatter of the banquet that echoed through the corridor.

“I’ll be waiting for you” Kuvira vowed vehemently. Soon she was stealthily navigating the maze of elegant hallways towards Korra’s suite.

 

-oOo-

 

“Spirits, I thought Su would never stop talking!” Korra exclaimed as she airbended the door behind her. “She got into a long speech just when I was about to disappear.” The Avatar uttered a frustrated noise as she scanned her vast suite in search of her guest. Her search was cut short when Kuvira emerged from her blind side and swiftly surrounded her waist from behind.

“Can’t say I’m sorry I wasn’t there” the metalbender chuckled while planting a peck on her cheek. Korra inhaled deeply, immediately relaxing against Kuvira’s frame.

“Sorry it took me so long. I was afraid you were already in bed.”

“I wouldn’t go to bed without you” Kuvira whispered to her ear. A playful nip to her earlobe was added for emphasis.

Korra spun on her heels to face her, her lips curving at the corners. “I’m relieved to hear that. So what do you think?”

“This place is huge!” The metalbender exclaimed as she pointed towards the ornate windows and the balcony outside. “The view of the waterfall from here is simply breathtaking.”

“Su keeps upgrading my rooms but this place is just too big for myself. I’m glad I get to share it with you for a little while.”

“A girl can get used to this you know but it wouldn’t be a good idea. Her suite is not too far from here.”

“I know” Korra remarked with a pout. The idea of relocating Kuvira with her had crossed her mind more than once but due to the location, the risks outweighed the benefits. And there was also the added vigilance Kuvira had with her that could not be shaken off for too long.

“Korra…” A hand was gracefully brushing her right temple.

“Uhum?” The Avatar caught the hand and began tracing contours over the palm with her thumb.

Kuvira hummed as she caught Korra’s lips with her own, her free hand sinking into her chocolate hued hair. The Avatar let go of her other hand as her arms surrounded the former captain’s back, pulling her closer. Kuvira asserted control, teasing Korra by landing gentle kisses on her cheeks, jaw and nose before capturing her lower lip with her teeth. Korra made a gesture to say something but her words were impeded by the metalbender’s questing tongue sneaking inside her mouth, ushering a moan in response as well as her own tongue seeking refuge inside Kuvira’s mouth until her lungs demanded air. Another moan escaped Korra’s throat when Kuvira began exploring her neck, soft lips and sharp teeth nipping from her ear down her clavicle. The anticipation that had been steadily building during the day had morphed into agonizing need.

“You’d better take these clothes off me right now” Korra demanded breathily.

“Anxious are we” teased Kuvira as she captured her mouth again in a bruising kiss.

Korra simply replied by clasping one of Kuvira’s hands firmly, leading her towards the splendid bedroom. She was about to start undressing in haste when the former commander halted her.

“I’ll take care of that” she affirmed, her gaze intense over the Avatar. Korra simply nodded as she observed with heavy laden eyelids how Kuvira bended the metal away from the tunic and began languorously to shed the garments leaving wet kisses where warm skin was exposed.  Korra inhaled sharply when the metalbender’s hands brushed the curve of her breasts and again when she removed her pants and bottom part of her underwear, slowing to trace her muscled thighs. Several heartbeats later, Korra’s tunic laid scattered over the floor and an impatient Avatar busied herself by returning the gesture to her lover albeit with less finesse.

“Su’s going to kill me if you damage that” the metalbender smirked as Korra struggled to remove a metal adornment.

Korra muttered a curse under her breath as sole response. Once the adornments were dealt with, the rest of the outfit came off quickly, leaving Kuvira in the same state of undress as herself and with a low growl, Korra brought their mouths together, guiding her lover backwards until they fell together over the large bed with Korra on top. When they broke for air, Kuvira noticed a wicked grin curving on Korra’s lips. She arched an eyebrow questioningly.

“My place is so big that I don’t have to worry about keeping the volume down” the Avatar replied mischievously, bright blue eyes turning dark and inviting.

“And why is that?” inquired Kuvira tracing the Avatar’s strong legs with her feet.

Korra dove for a searing kiss as she placed her hands under the metalbender’s knees until her legs surrounded her waist. Her mouth trailed to her neck, her breath hot against her ear.

“Because I will make you scream my name.”

Kuvira’s eyes widened but before Korra could turn her promise into a reality, the metalbender maneuvered, flipping Korra and now it was Kuvira who was on top straddling the Avatar’s waist.

“Not before I make you scream mine first.”

Korra let out a chuckle that became a throaty moan when Kuvira positioned her thigh between hers, her weight settled just over the sensitive area that craved attention, triggering a hot wave that made her feel dizzy. Korra closed her eyes tightly as she began grinding vigorously against Kuvira, her hands anchoring on her firm butt, raged breaths escaping from her parted lips. The metalbender shifted ever so slightly until Korra’s thigh was aligned with her own sensitive spot and before long, she was riding the pleasure wave along with the Avatar, pacing her rhythm to the one dictated by her. An errant hand cupped one of Korra’s breasts, kneading the sensitive peak until it hardened between her thumb and forefinger. The Avatar let out a groan and sank her teeth over the metalbender’s left shoulder until it left a bruise. Kuvira winced and let out a hiss over her ear as she sought the base of her neck where the pulse throbbed the strongest, kissing and sucking until she left a mark. She noticed her lover’s movements were becoming more forceful and erratic. Korra’s breathing was now coming out in shallow pants, the sought release now close, so close…

“Say it” goaded huskily Kuvira against Korra’s transfixed face. “Say my name.”

“I’m coming…spirits I’m coming…’Veera…”

Korra’s back tensed as she raked her nails down Kuvira’s back and with one last powerful gyration, her release washed over her until her heartbeat steadied its cadence. When Korra opened up her eyes and peered up, she realized that Kuvira was still amidst the throes of pleasure.  Pushing back the damp dark strands that fell over forehead, Korra captured her mouth in a deep kiss as she embraced her tightly and began leaning to her side until their positions were reversed. Now it was Kuvira who was whimpering and twisting and pushing against Korra, her hands splayed over the Avatar’s firm shoulders desperately grasping for purchase as Korra matched her tempo to drive her home to the sought release.

“Korra…!” Kuvira gasped loudly, her body shuddering in ecstasy underneath the Avatar, the tension uncoiling until the last of the tremors subsided for the time being, as the fires of desire were about to be stoked and quelled again and again until fatigue would finally overcome lust.

Hours later, the lovers laid on their sides facing each other. Korra draped a leg possessively over Kuvira. The metalbender rested an arm over it, tapping absentmindedly her fingers over its firm surface.

“I won” the former commander affirmed triumphantly, a lazy grin curving on her lips.

“This time” clarified the Avatar with a chuckle. “But in the end, its’ a win-win for both as long as we keep playing.”

“You make an excellent point Avatar Korra” Kuvira replied before yawning.

“Kuvira”

“Humm?”

“Please don’t go just yet.”

Kuvira snuggled against Korra’s warm body. “I think we should be okay if I leave before sunrise.”

Korra placed a kiss on her forehead. “I can live with that. Now rest while I take first watch.”  

The metalbender felt herself lulled to slumber with the sound of Korra’s steady heartbeat and the comforting warmth of her body.

“Good night, I love you” Kuvira said as she let sleep take over her.

“I love you too” whispered Korra, readying to watch over Kuvira’s dreams while she waited for the sunrise to arrive.

But neither Korra nor Kuvira couldn’t anticipate that there was going to be another early bird that morning. Someone who could make their happiness short lived and threaten their secret.

 

Chapter Text

“Good morning commander, time to wake up.”

“Hmm, good morn…oohh…” trailed off Kuvira with a low sigh. The metalbender caught a devilish chuckle against her ear, feeling Korra’s soft lips running down the length of her neck. As curious fingers explored the curvature of her breasts, she sensed how a spark of desire was igniting amidst her somnolent state. Kuvira chuckled softly as she gazed with sleep laden eyelids at Korra.

“If you keep that up I won’t be able to leave for a while…” she whispered, her husky morning voice reflecting the delight of the particular wake-up call method Korra was applying.

Korra flashed a grin. “I know but I couldn’t help myself. You looked just too damned tempting sprawled in my bed but I can stop if you want.” Her thumb and forefinger were busy applying just the right amount of pressure to the metalbender’s nipple.

Kuvira hummed, her lips curving in a lazy smile. “Do we have the time?” Her sight shifted towards the window. It was still dark but sunrise was about to break. 

“Yeah, I think we do” whispered the Avatar back with a peck to her lips before sliding towards her torso.

“Then don’t stop” the metalbender urged. She let out a long exhale as she closed her eyes, her hands sinking eagerly into Korra’s lush hair. The semi-conscious haze she was still immersed seemed to paradoxically increase her sensory awareness, sensing how a pleasurable warmth spread all over her nerve endings until heat increasingly pooled between her legs.

With the proper encouragement provided, Korra dutifully continued her early morning ministrations, her tongue delighting in mapping each of the metalbender’s hardened peaks as an exploring hand soon moved downwards gliding over taut abdominal muscles until it found its intended destination below. A moan was soon unleashed from Kuvira’s throat.

“Spirits Korra, that feels so good…” muttered Kuvira, her hips lifting invitingly against the Avatar’s hand.

“Glad to hear that” Korra smiled as she replied to the metalbender’s beckon allowing knowing fingers to plunge deep into her heated core, initiating slow and deliberate movements, then following with quicker and deeper ones. The sweeping gentler pleasure increased its pitch almost all of a sudden summoned by the faster tempo and Kuvira found herself reaching out to her lover’s powerful shoulders to latch onto. She was huffing now, the languorous purring moans giving way to erratic puffs. Her hips rocked insistently against Korra and the pulsing ache below her belly felt unbearable now the deeper and quicker the Avatar moved inside.

“Are you mine?’ whispered Korra as she left a trail of heated kisses along her neck and jaw.

Kuvira’s response came not with words but in the form of hisses through clenched teeth until a last long hoarse groan heralded the sought release that powerfully washed over her.

“That felt…amazing…not how I expected to be awaken” Kuvira was finally able to articulate once she recovered her normal breathing pattern.

“Well, I did wake you up, didn’t I? And right on time to boot” Korra affirmed proudly while glancing at the window. Darkness was giving way to the orange and yellow palette of the day’s first light. Kuvira’s arms snaked around the Avatar’s back as she captured her mouth in a long kiss.

“To answer your question, yes I’m yours and I’d really love to show it you to right now  but I must be on my way out” the former commander affirmed, delighting in the joyful shimmer of Korra’s sapphire eyes at her response. Kuvira glanced at the window again and her mouth curved slightly downwards, the regret of the inevitability of the sunrise putting an end to their interlude evident in her wistful expression. The reality of their situation reared its ugly face again cutting their pleasant lull short.

“I know” replied Korra as she observed Kuvira stand up and head towards the bathroom. It wasn’t too long before a refreshed and fully clothed Kuvira bid goodbye to Korra with a last passionate kiss as she slipped carefully from the suite to her own room across the Beifong manse. The former captain made her way with quick yet light footfalls when all of a sudden, the sounds of voices coming from the far side of the corridor captured her attention making her stand still against the wall instinctively. 

“See you at breakfast?” A male voice said.

“Uhum….don’t take too long” a female voice replied playfully.

“I won’t, I just need to make myself more presentable. I mean, just imagine the murmurs and smiles across the table if I were to appear in last night’s clothes.”

The female interlocutor chuckled. “We can just skip breakfast and your clothes would be a non-issue.”

“Uh no, you don’t know my mother too well yet. I’ll meet you there, okay?”

After what it suspiciously sounded like a kiss, the voices ceased and the hallway went silent save for the firm steps of the tall man who was now approaching the corner where Kuvira stood quietly. When the bespectacled man walked by her hiding location, she lined beside him with a smug smile.

“Good morning Bataar. Didn’t your room used to be at the opposite wing of the manse?” Kuvira greeted with a hushed voice.

The engineer gave a startled jump. “Shit Kuvira! Where the hell did you came from? Do you want to give me a heart attack?”

“Sorry, it wasn’t my intention but I just couldn’t resist. You were pretty distracted to notice me anyway. Long night?” Her lips curved into a knowing grin.

Bataar regarded Kuvira with a suspicious stare. “You’re one to talk. I’m pretty sure you room is nowhere near here and your guards are nowhere to be seen. Let me guess: you spent the night at Korra’s.”

Kuvira nodded with a mischievous twinkle in the green eyes. “Guilty as charged. And you were at Asami’s, right?”

“Correct.” Bataar stared at her with a grin for a few moments when all of a sudden, laughter began erupting from his throat. Kuvira’s eyes opened wide as she attempted desperately to shush him and grabbed his upper arm as she began to walk frantically away practically dragging him.

“Fool, do you want to wake up everybody?” she whispered as she scanned around. The sound of laughter must have not reached the patrolling guard’s vicinity. Kuvira let out a relieved sigh.

“No” he muttered back. “But you’ve got to admit this situation is weird. Before we left Zaofu, we used to sneak out from each other’s rooms all the time and now look at us. We’re playing accomplices for our new relationships.”

Kuvira’s mouth curved first into an “o” then morphed into a sympathetic smile. “It is weird, I’ll give you that. Korra and I talked about a while ago it and we arrived to the very same conclusion. Oh, by the way, last night we walked past the two of you by in the gardens and you didn’t even notice us.”

“Really?” Bataar’s face acquired a light shade of red.

“Don’t worry, your secrets are safe with us. Just kidding, we didn’t see anything embarrassing” the metalbender winked.

Bataar let out a long exhale as they continued to walk together in companionable silence until they reached the large double doors that led to the main entrance.

“Well, my room’s that way” said Kuvira as she pointed towards the doors. Since you are here, can you distract the patrolling guard while I sneak out? I’d rather not have witnesses blabbing at Su that they saw me here at this hour.”

Bataar chuckled as he glanced at the lone guard pacing close to the entrance. “I can do that. See you both later at breakfast?”

“Nah, just Korra. I try to stay out of Su’s hair as much as possible. Besides, Lin must be worried sick by now. Give my regards to Asami, okay?”

“I will.”

“And Bataar?”

“Yes?”

“I’m glad to see you so happy again. You deserve it.”

The engineer stepped forward and hugged his former fiancée. “I’m really glad for you too.”

“Thank you” replied Kuvira returning the gesture.

Moments later, after succeeding in distracting the bored guard with innocuous conversation, Bataar gave her an “all clear” signal and Kuvira sped past the door before the guard could notice. She stealthily closed the distance towards her building complex in no time and before she could knock at Lin’s door to request discreet access to her room, it opened revealing the Republic City Chief. A hard inquisitive glace fell over the metalbender who was still with her hand closed in a fist caught in mid movement. Her face was displaying a deer caught in headlight’s expression.

“Oh, hi Lin” stammered Kuvira.

“About time you made it back” replied Lin sharply. “Hong Li’s guards took care of the night shift but the guard is about to change back to the United Republic team. I hope your little escapade was worthwhile.”

Kuvira flashed a wide smile, eyes gleaming happily as response. The elder Beifong sister let out a groan, eyes rolling upwards as she gestured the former commander to step inside.

“Hurry up, your breakfast should be on the way along with the change of guard.”

“Thank you Lin, really. You don’t know how much I appreciate how you stood up for me with Su and for covering for me last night.”

The Republic City detective arched an amused eyebrow as she noticed reddish markings traveling down the metalbender’s neck that the flowing hair was unable to conceal. “Well, it seems your little date with Korra was a success, but don’t make this a habit, okay? I’d rather stay on Su’s good side for the time being and complete this mission with as few incidents as possible. I’m so relieved the situation with Asami died down just as quickly as it started. If you two hadn’t gotten along, you would have probably ended in that prison cell Su was so eager to send you.”

Kuvira nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that conflict played almost too well into her agenda but I’m glad it’s over. Well, it’s back to my room for me. And I know I’m starting to sound like a scratched record, but really, thank you for all you’ve done for me. I’m sure my experience would have been far worse if you hadn’t been around. I don’t know how I would be holding out without your support.”

Chief Beifong’s usually severe countenance softened at the unexpected honest remark. It wasn’t the kind of thing she would have thought possible to come out from the former Great Uniter years ago but it evidenced how far she had progressed since then.

“Oh, before I forget, I’ll be gone for a couple of days. I’ll be traveling with Su to the Foggy Swamp to take mom back so things should be quiet for you around here while we’re gone.”

“Really?” Kuvira couldn’t contain the enthusiasm this piece of news made her feel. If Su was gone, it meant more chances to meet Korra freely but before she could indulge in such ideas, Lin was already one step ahead anticipating her response and quickly cut her planning short.

“Sorry to disappoint you kid but Korra’s coming with us too.”

“Oh” uttered the metalbender. It made sense that Korra would want to spend time with the legendary earthbending sifu but she couldn’t avoid the sinking feeling of disillusionment dampening her expectations.

“It’s okay” muttered the former commander. “At least we got to enjoy a great time last night.”

“And I’m glad you did” Lin replied as she patted her shoulder and offered a sympathetic glance. “Just keep playing your cards as you’ve been doing and once this whole earth Kingdom mess is sorted out, we should be negotiating your reduced sentence terms in no time.”

Kuvira’s lips curved in a small smile. “I sure hope so Lin. I sure hope so.”

 

-oOo-

 

The fading glow of the setting sun caught Kuvira walking unhurriedly across the meteorite garden. Most of the Metal Clan’s members joined the Matriarch in their trip to Toph Beifong’s swamp so the metalbender left her room as soon as the group departed. After electing to remain as inconspicuous as possible after the incident with Asami, Kuvira decided to jump at the chance of the unusual situation to enjoy a day outside with the reassuring knowledge that she wouldn’t cross paths with Su or the twins or Bataar Sr. She was aware of the discreet surveillance by the Republic City security detail but not even that lessened the pleasure of a relaxing day.

After countless patrols performed as captain of the guard, Kuvira allowed muscle memory to lead her way through the expanse of the manor grounds. Directions for every facility and garden and landmark were still stored in her gray matter even after years away from the city she once served. One sobering fact flashed through her mind: the last time she’d been here it had been as a conqueror rather than a protector. A shadow of guilt crossed her face, making her walk faster as if trying to leave the uncomfortable feeling behind. The metalbender inhaled deeply, concentrating in recalling the highlights of her day instead to exorcise the aching that had lodged inside her chest.

Nature had granted the metalbender a beautiful day of warm sunshine, a clear blue sky and a caressing soft breeze, ideal conditions for her to resume her truncated outdoor training. A vigorous workout was followed by a stroll and lunch chatting away with the Republic City guards who were grateful she had abandoned the confines of her room, allowing them to also enjoy the pleasant day outside instead of being inside keeping guard to a most well behaved prisoner.

The day before she had noticed a zen garden far larger than the indoor one in Varrick’s compound at the South Pole and a challenge lodged on her mind: she would attempt to enter the Spirit World but without Korra’s guidance. Under the protective shade of a large tree, Kuvira sat down with legs crossed as she meticulously recalled the Avatar’s lessons. Soon she was under a deep meditative state, the distractions of the physical world around her vanishing giving way for her spiritual energies to be revitalized by the closeness to her native element. Kuvira wasn’t sure if the time lapsed had been just minutes or hours but when she opened her eyes, the majestic view surrounding her took her breath away. She had been transported directly in front of the Tree of Time. As a flock of spirits seemed to greet her, Kuvira couldn’t help the triumphant smile that illuminated her face anticipating the pride and satisfaction Korra would feel when she found out. Of all the things they had come to share over the years since the Avatar reached out for the deposed tyrant during her incarceration, one thing Kuvira knew Korra was most proud of was the ever growing spiritual bond forged between then. What began with the inception of the Republic City Spirit Portal culminated in the metalbender’s awakened spiritual awareness and the newfound ability to cross into the Spirit World. There was a time Kuvira believed such a feat would be impossible for her to achieve. Korra once again defied her expectations and proved her wrong. As she returned to the physical world, a beaming Kuvira muttered a quiet “thank you” wishing it could reach Korra wherever she was.

Hours later, with that high note still lifting her spirits and sunset upon her, the metalbender allowed her feet to dictate her destination and before long, she found herself staring silently at metal cables and huge metal props. The dance troupe practice hall. It was now empty but Kuvira was certain that it was still being regularly used not only by the performance she witnessed before the banquet but by the small details that silently spoke of the practices still taking place here. The mats rolled against the wall, the towels and fresh wrappings stocked at a corner of the hall, the gym chalk, the subtle smell of oil used for the rigs that held the cables. She was intimately familiarized with the place having being a regular performer herself for years under Suyin’s demanding tutelage. The former captain attributed her particular agility and quickness to the deceivingly effortless grace she developed during her years as part of the troupe before her duties with the guard eventually pulled her away from the stage.

“When was the last time you performed?” a female voice inquired amiably.

Kuvira’s head snapped back. “Opal? I thought you had left with the others.”

“I had to stay behind. Tenzin wanted me to visit the Eastern Air Temple. Jinora and Kai are on their way to Zaofu and we should be heading there together tomorrow.”

“And Bolin?”

“With Su and the others. He wanted to know where his longtime idol lived. Grandma wasn’t thrilled with the idea but you know Bo.”

Kuvira chuckled. “Yeah, he wouldn’t let an insignificant thing like Toph’s moods to dampen his enthusiasm. It’s good to see that you two are still together and disgustingly cute.”

Opal smiled prettily at that. “It has been a while right?” she said while gesturing at the large closed petals that were the highlight of the metalbending troupe performance.

“Since I performed? Yeah, I don’t even remember exactly when it was. After the Red Lotus’ attack everything becomes a blur in my head. After that, it was the Earth Queen’s death and well...you know the rest.”

“You haven’t danced after that?” Opal seemed genuinely surprised.

“Not really. Bringing the kingdom back to order and spreading unity left little time for artistic endeavors and prison isn’t the most nurturing place for artistic sensibilities.”

“I see. Would you like to try now?”

“I don’t think Su would approve.”

“But Mom’s not here now” the airbender offered her a conspiratorial look.

Kuvira smiled. So many things of her life changed once the decision to leave Zaofu was taken and dancing had been one of them. She thought it incompatible with the image of the stern military leader she had to show the world, but deep inside, she’d yearned for the simpler moments when her body moved with the music as an expression of beauty rather than a show of might. Kuvira turned to her side to face the airbender who stood beside her.

“Opal, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, go ahead.” Opal stared at Kuvira intrigued.

“Not so long ago, you used to be angry at me and for all the right reasons. How come you’re not angry anymore? I know we had a good face to face chat but I’ll admit I’m still surprised by the fact that you accepted to talk to me and how you have managed things since then. You have even covered up for me and Korra about, well…you know…”

Opal nodded in understanding.

“To be honest, you are not the only one to be surprised by this. I was angry for the longest time until I talked with both Tenzin and Korra. The hate I harbored towards you was affecting me. It came up to a point that it even affected my bending.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Airbenders shouldn’t hold on to grudges and that was exactly what I was doing. I think Zaheer showed us all the things an airbender shouldn’t do and how in doing them, the bender’s spirit gets corrupted and away from the true path of the Air Nomads. Not all spirit energy is positive, something we also learned from Unalaq and his misuse of the spirits for his own selfish goals. So I decided to follow Tenzin’s admonitions to approach you with an open mind and heart. Then I began to learn about your collaboration with Wu and Zhu Li, your conversations with Lin and Korra, and that’s when I finally felt I was ready to read and to reply to your letters.”

“I remember. I was really grateful for that. It meant a lot to me to have someone from the family write me back.”

It had been a small gesture for Opal but as she saw the way the metalbender’s face brightened by the memory, she realized just how much it had really meant for the woman she had used to look up to when growing up as the only girl among brothers. Kuvira was the closest thing to a sister she ever had even if her family didn’t actually treat her as a full-fledged member. It took the young airbender a detached look to her past to realize how things had actually been for the metalbending prodigy.

“It wasn’t much if you remember, but it was a start” Opal continued. “But when I saw you with Korra when we were preparing for the mission against the pirates I noticed something. You seemed different in a sense and very familiar in another. It felt like I was meeting Zaofu Kuvira again, the girl who would defend me from my brothers and would spend time with me when I felt alone. I also realized that what you had alleged was true. We knew each other and crossed paths almost daily but we weren’t really family. My brother also opened up my mind about that. You knew that there was a time he made it clear to mom that he chose you over us, going as far as consider you his only family, right? ”

Kuvira glanced at Opal perplexed.

“I…I wasn’t aware of that…” her voice cracked ever so slightly but enough to reveal the impact of the revelation. What Opal had just told her made her past transgressions against her ex-fiancée even more heartless. She gathered a deep breath in order to maintain her calm demeanor but the disclosure had shaken her deep inside. Opal noticed the slight nervousness in the former captain and continued on with her answer.

“Once he came to terms with his own emotions about you, he was influential in my decision to give you a chance. Bataar accepted that he had a lot to answer for and was willing to shoulder his share of the blame. And that’s why I’m able to talk to you now. Bataar was able to forgive you and Korra was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because she sensed the deep pain inside you, so I chose the path of forgiveness too. I was given a second chance in life when I became an airbender and it opened up a world that I would have never experienced had I remained confined to remain in Zaofu. I think you deserve a second chance too like my brother because I have perceived that your repentance is real. Besides, I missed you. It torn me apart when I realized I had lost both of you, and being able to talk to you again makes me feel I’ve recovered an important part of my life.” The airbender closed in on the former captain and clasped her hand.

A tear slipped down Kuvira’s cheek, her voice unable to mask the emotions brewing inside anymore. “I missed you too Opal. I haven’t been the best role model and much less a good friend or a sister to you. I’m really sorry I hurt you and let you down.” The metalbender glanced at Opal tentatively, fearful of crossing an invisible line. The airbender sensed her uneasiness and brought her close in a warm hug. Kuvira rested her forehead against Opal’s shoulder as she surrounded her lithe frame. Since when the girl she used to cheer up when her brothers shunned her from their games had become so strong? Kuvira wondered to herself. Opal had transformed from a shy, sweet girl into an amazing woman right in front of her very own eyes. Now that woman that was part of history in the making as a member of the fledgling Air Nation was accepting her back.

“I’m so proud of you. You’ve become a better person than neither Su nor I could have ever imagined.”

Opal stared at Kuvira with a soft smile curving at her lips, unable to hide her own emotion in the shimmering of her eyes. “Thank you. I’m glad I had to stay back. It’s good we had this moment.”

“I think so too. Do you have any plans for dinner tonight?”

“Not really but I could certainly use the company since everyone’s gone. And Kuvira…”

“Aha?”

“If I were you, I would take advantage that mom’s not here. It would be nice to see you performing again.”

Kuvira chuckled. “Alright. After dinner you’ll have the privilege to see me fumble miserably and gracelessly in a lame attempt at dancing, but I’ll do it because it is you who’s asking.”

Opal laughed brightly and as she waved Kuvira goodbye, the metalbender’s eyes returned to the practice stage, picturing a younger version of herself performing for a giggling Opal.  Even with her best years of dancing behind, Kuvira promised herself that she would one day offer the airbender the performance she deserved. For returning fond memories of better times that restored yet another piece of Kuvira's lost humanity, it was the least she could do.

 

Chapter Text

The Future Industries airship cruised swift and steady across a serene darkening sky. A full moon was rising behind a distant mountain range splashing the imposing peaks with a faint silver glow. Bataar stood at the helm of the airship, his face the picture of confident concentration, hands maneuvering with light yet precise touch over the control panel’s many buttons and levers. Asami glanced at the bespectacled man attentively, pride and delight shimmering in her bright green eyes as she jotted down some notes on the flight log.  Before taking her scheduled break from piloting duties which she now shared with the Zaofu engineer, she mused his hair as she placed a hot cup of coffee on the panel’s cupholder she had installed after realizing how indispensable the jolt of caffeine was for days’ long treks.

“Here” Asami said as she presented Bataar the flight log.  “I recorded the last hour instrument readings and the weather forecast for tonight. Are you sure you don’t want me to stick around for a little longer. I’m used to doing this all by myself.”

“I’ll be okay” Bataar replied while taking the notebook from her elegant hands. “I didn’t go through all the trouble to learn how to fly just to have you lose sleep.”

Asami directed an amiable glance at him. “I know, force of habit. To be honest, I’m really glad to have someone mechanically inclined in my life again. After Kuvira and you stabilize the Earth Kingdom again, we’ll start your biplane lessons.”

“Do you think we could combine the lessons with some builds? I have some new plane designs I’ve been itching to discuss with you.”

“Really? I haven’t built a plane in a while so this should be fun. Now, drink your coffee before it gets cold” the magnate observed.

Smiling, he accepted the cup she put in his left hand and before she could walk away, he circled her waist with his right arm and planted a lingering kiss to her lips. When they separated, Asami chuckled as she pushed back silken long tresses of hair from her face, enjoying the weight of his hand over the small of her back before finally allowing herself to escape his grasp.

Korra watched the scene unfolding amused. A happy Asami patted her shoulder on her way to her stateroom and Korra replied with a bright smile. Seeing her best friend in such high spirits made the Avatar feel pleased and hopeful for Asami and for herself. Despite the romantic breakup they endured and the tensions that followed it, they had not only managed to salvage their friendship, it came out strengthened and now they counted as each other’s most enthusiastic supporters on their new romantic endeavors. The fact they had found love with each other’s’ exes gave the whole situation a surreal quality but neither party could deny that they all felt much happier and comfortable around each other now that everything had been said and done. Bataar and Kuvira’s friendship was on the mend too which allowed them to successfully work together again and the effort of their collaboration was already bearing fruit for the benefit of the Earth Kingdom. Everything was coming together nicely. Too nicely Korra admitted to herself and deep inside, she feared that something would soon brew to break the lucky streak.

After bidding goodnight to Bataar, Korra found herself at the ship’s galley relaxing with a soothing cup of tea. The trip to the Foggy Swamp had been fortunately an uneventful one, devoid of shenanigans or drama, something for which the Avatar was immensely grateful. She had slept for most of the journey, having sacrificed most of her night’s sleep to watch over Kuvira in her room. The memory made her lips curve into a mischievous grin. Despite the lack of rest, she didn’t regret the decision in the least, remembering how pleasant the last minutes before her departure had been, delighting in making the metalbender unravel under her touch before she could properly wake up. Such a pity that her huge suite was being wasted with her spending most of the time alone in it with the torturing knowledge that Kuvira was so close and yet so far.

“Good evening Korra, such a coincidence to have found you here. Am I interrupting something?” Suyin’s bright voice startled Korra back to the present.

“Not really, just enjoying some quiet time before going to sleep” replied Korra. The Avatar recalled that Su had been bestowing inquisitive glances towards her during their journey, as if probing for something.

“Good” Suyin retorted sitting down facing Korra at the opposite side of the counter.

“Korra, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while. You are my guest and I would like to believe that we are friends after all the things we’ve shared and we’ve gone through.”

“Of course we are friends Su” the Avatar exclaimed as she extended her arm placing a reassuring hand over Suyin’s shoulder.

“I’m glad to hear that. Well, as a friend I wanted to be honest with you. I’ve been hearing and seeing some things that are worrying me and I would like you to be honest with me about something.” Suyin’s amiable tone morphed into a more serious one. Korra suddenly tensed. She had a hunch of what Su might want to address.

“So, what is it that worries you?”

Suyin’s eyebrows furrowed, her green glance hard. “Korra, is there something between Kuvira and you?” The tone of her voice was razor sharp.

Korra raised an eyebrow as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“What do you mean with ‘something’? It’s no secret that I would visit her in jail because I believed it could help in her rehabilitation. We’ve become friends. We talked about this when you went to Blackstone Isle.”

“I remember our conversation perfectly. Friendship is one thing but from what I’ve gathered, evidence seems to point out to something else. Korra, I saw her coming out of your suite yesterday.”

Korra couldn’t avoid the surprised and mortified expression that materialized on her face. So that is what brought Su’s interrogation. Sighing, Korra paused as she weighted her options. She was already weary of all the secrecy and although she was certain Kuvira would not approve of what she was about to do, Korra knew Suyin would not stop until she got the information she needed in one way or another. There was only one solution and Korra was ready to assume the consequences of making the call.

“If you saw her coming out of my suite it is because I invited her there” Korra stated firmly.

“I was told she arrived there before midnight. I saw her leave early in the morning. So you won’t deny the fact that she stayed the night.”

Korra stood up all of a sudden, determination etched on her face.

“We’re lovers Su. Kuvira and I love each other. Is that what you wanted to hear? There, you’re hearing it from me then” the Avatar asserted. Suyin let out an audible gasp, jaw dropping low and olive green eyes flashing in shock. Korra’s bluntness took Suyin aback and the Avatar delighted in the satisfaction of seeing confusion and utter astonishment play in every quiver of her mouth and on the pulsing veins throbbing at her temples.

“Wow, I mean…you didn’t even didn’t try to deny it” Su shook her head as if struggling to assimilate what she had just heard.  The Metal City Matriarch abandoned her chair to face Korra.

“Are you aware of what you are doing? Of what you are getting yourself into?” Her voice was shrill now.

“I am not a little girl. I know exactly what I’m doing and you have no idea how liberating this has been.”

Su pressed two fingers at the juncture between her eyebrows. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing…has she brainwashed you too?”

Korra glared at Suyin appalled. “The one who seems to be brainwashed is you Su. Haven’t you looked around and noticed how others are treating Kuvira now?”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know quite well what I mean. Bataar, Lin, Opal, Bolin…even Asami. Kuvira has spoken with each and every one of them and has apologized.  They all granted her the chance to talk and they’ve decided to turn the page to give her a new opportunity. They aren’t stuck living in the past like you.”

“You don’t know her like I do” Su scowled.

“I think it is you who doesn’t know her anymore. She’s changed and she has been working hard to move away from her past and to make amends. She almost died at the South Pole trying to undo the damage that followed the fall of the empire. Her work at the island has allowed us to recover dangerous stolen weapons from bandits and pirates.”

“Have you forgotten that she tried to kill me Korra?” the Metal City matriarch stared coldly at the Avatar, the words coming out through clenched teeth.

Korra countered with a stern glance. “And you tried to kill her too but Su, the war is over. It has been over for years now. Kuvira surrendered, she has repented, and she has been paying the price of her crimes since then. There’s no point in refusing to move on.”

“How could you forgive her so easily? She humiliated you!”

Korra inhaled deeply, closing her eyes for a few seconds. She was getting frustrated with Su’s stubbornness.

“Kuvira did terrible things. I’m very much aware of that. She is very much aware of that. Bataar, your son did too, but both have repented and now they just want to work to fix their mess. They deserve a second chance just like everybody else. Just like you. This city, your family. It is all thanks to that second chance Toph gave you when she didn’t punish you for your criminal acts.”

“You can’t compare what I did with what Kuvira did” the matriarch blurted indignantly.  “I was young and stupid and Lin has to bear the marks of my stupidity for the rest of her life. But I didn’t become a dictator and destroyed a city attempting to take it by force.”

Korra shook her head. “Su listen. We can keep at this exchanging arguments for the rest of the night and we would still remain at the same place. The point is, you asked me something and I have answered truthfully as you wished. You might not approve of my decision but the fact is, I don’t need your approval or anybody else’s. You don’t have to like it but there’s nothing you can do to change my mind. I love Kuvira and she loves me back and that’s all that matters.”

“But what about your responsibility as Avatar? Are your going to be so irresponsible as to associate to a war criminal?”

“I know what’s expected of me and whom I love won’t change my commitment to my duties. Now if you excuse me, if this was all you wanted to discuss, I believe we are done for today. Good night Suyin.”

“You’re making a mistake Korra” warned Su ominously glaring at Korra on her way out.

Korra offered Su a last pensive glance before disappearing towards her room.

“No Su, it is you who is making a mistake and you’re only punishing Kuvira and yourself with it.”

-oOo-

Kuvira felt furious wind gusts buffeting her torso trying to hold her back. Out of sheer instinct, she flung herself to the side while erecting a protective barrier, shielding herself from the combination of swift attacks from Jinora and Kai. The metalbender quickly leapt to her feet and before she found herself pinned by wind attacks from opposite sides, an earthen column rose beneath her feet lifting her high. The advantage was quickly undermined when Kai gave chase and before she could raise another column to escape, the airbender sent an air volley that tripped her off her feet. Kuvira gasped, barely avoided falling by throwing a cable that wrapped tightly around the column. The impulse veered her around away from Kai but before she could land, Jinora appeared suddenly from her blind side and created an air bubble that captured the former captain, levitating her mere feet over the ground. Jinora grinned when the bubble vanished and Kuvira literally and unceremoniously fell on her butt. Kai landed beside her, unable to contain his guffaws at the sight while Jinora laughed prettily. Kuvira glared at the two young airbenders, barely containing the look of utter frustration that crept on her face until her exasperation morphed into laughter that erupted from her chest. From the sidelines captain Hong Li and Opal watched the sparring session amused and clapped, congratulating the young airbender master and the dark haired boy. The members of Kuvira’s security detail also seemed to be very entertained with the display, struggling to keep their professional countenance. The snort that escaped from their leader evidenced the difficulty of the task at hand.

“You guys are really good, I’ll give you that” Kuvira stated as she accepted Kai’s extended hand on the way up.

“That’s true” Jinora agreed “but you’ve been out of commission for a while. Besides, you’re not used to battle airbenders, right?”

“No, I don’t think most of us are. For a long time the only airbenders in existence were Avatar Aang and then Tenzin so we haven’t had enough experience to come up with strategies against multiple airbenders. You guys now have a temporary edge over the rest us but don’t rest on your laurels though. We are figuring you out.” The metalbender smirked and Hong Li nodded in agreement.

“Don’t worry, we still have plenty of time to plan counterattacks and defense against you. Besides, we do have air superiority and our numbers grow more every single day” added Kai cockily.

“Thanks for the practice. Next time I’ll make sure I’m better prepared for whatever you guys have in store for me” replied the metalbender as she dusted herself off.

“We’ll be ready too” Jinora countered.

“Well, guess practice session is over. The airship has just arrived” announced Opal as she noticed the silhouette of the Future Industries airship gently land over one of the elevated landing zones surrounding the Beifong complex. “Mom will be receiving us at her studio before we leave” she informed Jinora and Kai.

“That’s my cue to disappear” chuckled Kuvira. “If I don’t see you before you guys leave, safe travels and I hope we can repeat this. It was fun.”

“Thank you” replied Jinora. “Next time we can have Opal and Bolin and the captain join so we can make teams. We’ll be seeing soon and good luck in your mission” the young master waved goodbye as she joined Opal and Kai on their way towards the mansion followed by the captain of guards.

“Guess it’s back to my room for me” muttered Kuvira in resignation as she led the Republic City security squad towards the opposite building complex.

Moments later, the metalbender was luxuriating in a warm shower when knocks from outside startled her. She thought she heard muffled voices so she grabbed a robe and put in on hastily as she exited the bathroom to find out what was going on. It wasn’t lunch time yet and usually the duty guards would just announce themselves when the staff delivered her meal.

“Is there something wrong sergeant?” she addressed the soldier. He stared at her silently with a bemused expression as his eyes shifted to the side. There was somebody else at the door.

“Kuvira! I really need to talk to you!” Korra exclaimed as she practically shoved the guard aside and before she had a chance to react, Korra was already inside her room. Kuvira was sure she was sharing the sergeant’s mystified expression and managed to only utter a silent “I’m sorry” to him as she closed the door before Korra airbended it forcefully.

“Korra, what’s going on? Why didn’t you cross through Lin’s room? Did something happen to her?”

“Lin’s fine. I came through your front door because I’m tired of this secrecy.”

“Korra, we’ve talked about this…”

“Suyin knows.”

“You know that you need to maintain…wait what? What did you just said?”

“I said that Suyin knows. I told her about us last night.”

Kuvira stared at Korra positively panicked.

“Spirits, why did you do that?” the metalbender exclaimed as she placed both hands over Korra’s shoulders. Color had drained from her face by the unexpected news.

“Because she saw you come out of my suite the morning after the banquet. Apparently, she had been keeping tighter surveillance over us than we thought.”

“I shouldn’t have asked you to invite me to your room. It was a mistake…” the metalbender muttered nervously, a hand soothing the opposite upper arm.

“No, the mistake has been worrying too much about the opinion of others instead of what makes us happy.”

“But Korra…”

The Avatar closed in on Kuvira and placed a hand over her cheek. “I’m not ashamed of what I feel for you and I hope you are not ashamed of me.”

“What? Never! Why would I be ashamed of you of all people? But I do worry about how the world would react if they found out about us.”

“If they don’t approve or can’t accept it, it’s their loss not mine but Kuvira, I’m fed up with this. You have proven that you’ve changed and that you are committed to do whatever it takes to fix your mistakes. You can’t let the past govern how you live your life today.”

“I’ve gotten used to live with the hate and the scorn and the suspicion of people but I won’t tolerate that happening to you, not for my sake.” The worried shadow in the green gaze and the earnestness in Kuvira’s voice made Korra’s heart beat faster.  

“If Su could only see this, the Kuvira that I see. The one willing to protect me at all costs. If she could see this then she would understand why I’ve fallen in love with you.”

“I don’t think Su can see in any other way other than the Great Uniter. I’m afraid she will never change her mind about me. I’ve given up on her Korra.” Kuvira’s emerald gaze was clouded with pain.

“Don’t say that! I believe she can change her opinion just like you’ve changed.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come with me!” Korra exclaimed as she clasped Kuvira’s hand firmly. The Avatar was about to burst through the door when the metalbender stopped her dead on her tracks.

“Korra, I can’t go anywhere dressed like this.” The metalbender reminded Korra that she was only clad in a bathrobe.

The Avatar blushed and retreated quickly. A part of her wished to indulge in undressing further rather than dressing the former Zaofu captain but if her idea went on as she planned, she wouldn’t have to sleep on her enormous suite alone anymore.

“Go get dressed quickly. Do you trust me?” Korra locked sapphire with emeralds, her lips curving in a hopeful smile.

“With my life” replied Kuvira without hesitation.

“Then hurry. We’ll deal with this whole situation for once and for all.”

-oOo-

Moments later, a grinning Korra irrupted abruptly the Beifong manor dining room. Heads snapped towards her direction with similar quizzical expressions dancing on their eyes.

“Korra dear, we were missing you. Lunch has already been served” stated Suyin as she gestured at the empty chair at the table. “Come, join us.”

Korra scanned the table from side to side. All the family members were there including Lin who was lifting an elegant brow at her suspiciously. Asami, Bolin, Jinora and Kai were also there as well as Bataar Sr, Huan and the twins.

“I’m glad that everybody is here because I won’t have to repeat myself. I just wanted to inform all of you of something. Well, some of you already know but I think it is about time I put a stop to the charade that has been going on for a while. I expect all of you to be cordial and respectful to what I’m about to announce.”

Asami’s eyes opened wide as she grabbed Bataar’s hand tightly under the table. Chief Lin Beifong groaned audibly as she rolled her eyes. Suyin’s lips tightened on a thin line glaring severely at Korra. Opal and Jinora exchanged enthusiastic glances. Bolin looked at everybody utterly confused. Korra stepped out of the room momentarily and when she returned, a visibly embarrassed Kuvira was at her side clutching Korra’s hand as if she were holding on to a lifeline.

Beaming, Korra walked to the center of the room with the blushing metalbender on tow. After exchanging some words between them that were inaudible to the rest, Korra went to address the puzzled audience.

Triumphantly, Korra simply said:

“Everybody, please meet my girlfriend Kuvira.”

 

Chapter Text

For a few seconds, the sound of a needle falling to the floor could have been heard. Such absolute was the sudden silence that befell the dining room upon Korra’s revelation. Kuvira could hear her own nervous heart beating loudly against her ribcage, fearing the sound could carry across the room. She was aware of her fingers tightly wound around Korra’s strong hand, of her palm slick with perspiration. Ever the pragmatic, the metalbender was ill at ease with grandiloquent gestures of affection but if asked, she would have been quick to admit of the joy that swelled inside her chest the moment Korra introduced her as her girlfriend in front of Suyin.

“Kuvira is your whaaaat?” Bolin broke the silence echoing the question that many on the table wished to voice but their present state of stupefaction prevented them to do so.

“You heard me loud and clear Bo. I thank you all for your attention and now, if you excuse us, we will leave you to your meal. Let’s go Kuvira.”

“You shouldn’t have done that Korra” Suyin warned bitingly.

“On the contrary” the Avatar snapped back. “It was about time I had the guts to come out with the truth.”

A cacophony of voices erupted the moment Korra and Kuvira left the dining room. The scraping of chairs against the floor was followed by the rhythmic tap of boots rushing outside.

“Korra wait!” exclaimed Asami as she reached the two women. Korra’s head snapped back. Asami was quickly joined by Chief Beifong and Bataar.

“Korra, are you okay?” inquired Asami worryingly.

“Yeah, what the hell was that all about?” added Lin.

“That? That was me taking back control. No more secrets for me. If Su wants to make this front page news, so be it. My conscience is clear” Korra replied with a confident smile.

“And you” Lin’s inquisitive glance paused over Kuvira “did you know Korra was going to do this?”

“The truth? No Lin, I didn’t know this was her plan but Korra has my vote of confidence. If she believes this is the best course of action, then she has my steadfast support.” Upon hearing this, the Avatar gave her a grateful smile.

“Well, the proverbial cat is out of the bag” Bataar remarked. “The whole family knows now. Are you worried this is going to leak out to the press?”

“If and when it happens, I’ll be ready. I’d rather face this situation head on than have it sneak out on me unawares” replied Korra.

“That’s actually a good strategy Korra. In fact, I think it was going to be inevitable, especially with Su watching every move Kuvira made” noted Asami.

“Brilliant” Kuvira added. The metalbender was unable to hide the admiring glance she was bestowing the Avatar right now.

“Exactly” replied Korra grinning reveling in Kuvira’s gaze directed at her. “And better for the news to break now that Kuvira’s image has improved dramatically after the announcement of the incoming elections at the Northeastern province.”

“So the Avatar’s power is so all encompassing that it can even rehabilitate a dictator? Talk about sappy and romantic” observed Lin half mockingly.

“Make fun of it all that you want Lin but admit it. People are going to simply gobble up the story” affirmed Korra.

“Well, it can certainly leave some at a loss of words” countered Bataar with a chuckle.

“So, what do we do now?” queried Kuvira.

“Right now? Lunch. I’m starving!”

“I seriously doubt mom will allow us back to the dining room because by now, she should have pieced together that we already knew about you two and we didn’t tell her, so I think we should head towards the kitchen and see what we can find.”

“Well, what are we waiting for then?” exclaimed Korra, the grumbles in her stomach motivation enough to spur an invasion. “We have a kitchen to raid.”

-oOo-

“Are you sure about this?” Kuvira queried as she put the bag inside the closet. “Your suite is way more comfortable and luxurious than this room, as it befits your status as the Avatar.”

“I know that you fell in love with the view from my room but right now, I’d rather have some privacy which you have here away from Su. Besides, I told Lin she could move to my suite if she was still worried we wouldn’t let her sleep.” Korra’s lips curved in a lopsided grin and Kuvira felt color rising over her cheeks in response.

“I hope Su doesn’t take this as an offense. You know how touchy she gets if she feels she’s been slighted.”

“I’m not really worried about what she might think. I’m more concerned about your opinion. I did all this without warning you beforehand and I ended putting you on the spot. Was I too hasty and impulsive?”

Kuvira gazed at the Avatar pensively. “You were.”

Korra’s eyebrows knitted together in worry. “Are you angry at me?”

“For a moment I was because I didn’t know what to expect but it wasn’t definitely facing Su. And then you spoke and I realized what you were doing and understood that it was the right thing to do.” Kuvira let out a sigh and smiled. “You know? I still get goosebumps remembering the scene.”

The Avatar grinned. “I’ve been wanting to say that for a long time and I’m glad that at last I took it out of my chest. I feel so much lighter now.” Korra finished placing her shoes inside the closet, smiling inwardly at the sight of their personal belongings stored side by side.

Kuvira circled her arms around Korra’s waist from behind. “You know, with all these lovely gestures you’ve done lately, I’ll need to work overtime to demonstrate my appreciation” Kuvira murmured as she placed a kiss to her cheek and chuckled when she sensed Korra shiver under her touch.

“How about you get a head start then?” the Avatar replied as she turned around and embraced the metalbender tightly.

“I think I might do just that” Kuvira retorted huskily as she began showering light kisses over Korra’s face until she reached for her mouth.

“Hmm…” hummed Korra “did you try the spicy peppers at lunch?” The Avatar could sense a light tingling over her tongue.

“Aha…it is said that among its properties it can be an aphrodisiac” whispered the metalbender as she traced the Avatar’s lips with her tongue.

“Really?” Korra grinned as she arched an eyebrow. “How many did you eat?”

“A lot!” Kuvira affirmed with a playful chuckle.

“How about we put that theory to the test?”

“Way ahead of you” Kuvira whispered as she brought their lips together for a deep, probing kiss. The metalbender could feel Korra’s hands roaming all over her shoulders and back and caught the sound of a pleased moan when her teeth scraped the sensitive skin of the Avatar’s neck, kissing and biting teasingly until she reached her ear. In fact, Kuvira was so engrossed with the subtle sounds escaping from Korra’s mouth that she could barely hear the insistent knocking at her door.

The pout hanging from the Avatar’s lips was almost comical when Kuvira sighed and abandoned the exploration of her neck to tend to the door.

“Hi Jinora” Kuvira greeted the young airbender master at her door. Kuvira’s usual security detail was conspicuously absent. They had deemed the presence of the Avatar on a permanent basis at the prisoner’s room was enough to make their presence redundant. Or at least that was the official version. Korra’s intimidating glare was actually behind their absence from their usual post.

“Hi Kuvira. Is Korra there? My father called and wishes to speak to her.”

“Yes, she’s here. I guess Su must have already talked to Tenzin” observed Kuvira amused. Jinora nodded in agreement.

“Half of Zaofu must have found out already” commented Korra wryly as she approached the door. “Jinora, you lead the way and you…” Korra clasped Kuvira’s hand and brushed her lips over the knuckles, her glance intense over her face. “You hold on to that thought. I’ll be right back.”

Kuvira chuckled and opted to busy herself assigning drawers for Korra’s clothes while the Avatar returned. She had emptied the contents of one of her bags over a desk when the door shook again with the sound of knocks

“That was really fast…” Kuvira said when the remainder of the words halted abruptly when a piercing green glare met hers.

“We need to talk” Suyin stated matter-of-factly. “Half an hour from now, my studio. I expect you to be punctual.”

“Don’t worry Su, I’ll be there” replied Kuvira in a detached tone that successfully masked the nervousness at the pit of her stomach.

“You better be” retorted Suyin and without adding anything else, walked away leaving a distraught Kuvira behind. Korra noticed Suyin walking briskly past her without even glancing at her. A worry lodged in her mind, making her feet double time towards Kuvira’s room.

The Avatar found the metalbender with a far-away look, lost in thought sitting down at the edge of her bed and immediately joined her.

“Kuvira, are you alright?”

“I am. Suyin wants to talk to me.” Korra saw shades of apprehension obscure her eyes. Her lower lip trembled slightly. The time had come for Kuvira to face the woman she regarded for years as her mentor. Her teacher. Her role model. Her friend. The woman she had disappointed and betrayed. The woman she had battled and almost killed.

In silence, Korra embraced Kuvira. They remained like this for several heartbeats, the only sounds filling the room were their soft, even breathing and their heartbeats.

“I’m scared Korra” the metalbender admitted.

The Avatar held her gaze tenderly. “It’s okay to be scared. Just remember; regardless of what she tells you, I’ll be here for you no matter what.”

-oOo-

A Zaofu guard opened the door to the Metal Matriarch’s studio. Kuvira shared one last apprehensive glance with Korra before coming in. Suyin was already there sitting down at her desk. A teapot and two teacups were placed over a tray. The former Zaofu captain walked with measured steps towards the elegant desk.

“Still punctual. I’m glad at least some lessons did take root” the younger Beifong sibling observed.

Kuvira nodded and sat down in the empty chair at the desk facing Suyin.

“Tea?” Su bended the metal teapot filling a cup with steaming, aromatic tea.

“No, thank you. I’m good” the former protégé replied.

“Suit yourself” the elder metalbender commented. She brought the teacup to her lips and savored the bittersweet brew, her eyes scanning the younger bender in front of her.

“Do you know why I’ve requested you to be here?” Suyin finally broke the silence.

“I believe I do.”

Su’s steepled her fingers as she studied the younger metalbender’s face.

“Do you realize that what the Avatar admitted today could lead to a scandal of grave repercussions?”

Kuvira inhaled deeply, taking the time to clear her mind and control her emotions.

“In another moment yes, I would agree. It would have been scandalous for the Avatar to engage in a sentimental relationship with a war criminal she had been enemies with.”

“Isn’t that what’s been happening under my own roof by the person I once took in and considered part of my family?”

“No Suyin” Kuvira’s voice was calm yet firm. “Because said war criminal has already been tried, sentenced and has apologized and repented. The Avatar has recognized all of this and has concluded that what happened in the past is secondary to whom the person is today.”

“As if the world would care for such nuances. Do you realize the damage that this could do to her good name and reputation?”

“I do but the decision to come forward with the truth was hers and hers alone. I had nothing to do with it.”

“You shouldn’t even be daring to correspond to whatever she thinks she feels for you! After what you’ve done, you don’t deserve it.”

“I don’t deserve what Su… happiness? A second chance? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

Suyin stood up abruptly. “Yes! You don’t deserve any of it! You haven’t paid enough for your crimes.”

“Authorities had decided otherwise but I believe what you mean to say is that I haven’t atoned enough for what I did to you. Why don’t you go ahead and say it? That I betrayed you and broke your heart by leaving Zaofu against your will.”

“And you did exactly that!” the matriarch shouted angrily. “After all I did for you, you turned your back to me, you undermined my authority and you even took my eldest son away from me. You pitted him against me and his own family! His own flesh and blood!”

Kuvira leapt from her chair. “Don’t underestimate your son Su. Everything Bataar did was out of his own volition. He’s nobody’s puppet. He has never been but sometimes he did feel like one when he thought he was being denied the right to have his own opinions. He felt trapped, stifled here but I’m sure he has told you that already.”

“What my son and I have spoken is our own damned business.”

The metalbender let out a small smile at her outburst. “And I agree so you shouldn’t bring the subject of Bataar to whatever problem you have with me. I know you are aware that he’s accepted my apologies and now we’re on good terms.”

“He will always have a soft spot for you no matter what you do to him.” Suyin still remembered the excruciating pain she felt the moment his son declared Kuvira his only family. It had felt as if he had driven a knife to her heart. That night she cried until there were no more tears left to shed.

“And certainly you do not agree. It would seem that a lot of people have a soft spot for me then, given that they are granting me a new chance to earn their trust and their friendship.”

Suyin regarded her former pupil cautiously. “You’ve always been charming and cunning. That’s how you climbed your way to the top.”

“I learned from the best” the metalbender retorted without an ounce of irony on her voice.

“Your flattery won’t work on me” the matriarch warned.

“It wasn’t flattery. I was being honest” Kuvira replied almost to herself, an undecipherable expression hanging at the depths of her eyes.

Suyin arched an eyebrow as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Since we’re being honest, tell me, why do you defied me? Why you had to undermine what I worked so hard to achieve?”

The former captain stood in front of her former mentor facing her with hands clasped behind her back. “The truth? Because I was disappointed that you thought yourself so weak that you believed yourself incapable of handling power.”

Suyin’s lips contorted in a sardonic smile. “And because you felt disappointed in me you almost destroyed everything I built and held dear?”

“No Su, I did that when I lost my way, when I allowed my own pride and conceit to lead me even if I didn’t really knew what the fuck I was doing. Bataar and I weren’t prepared for the task we were given but we were too young, too proud, too stubborn to admit it. For a time we held the hope that you would lend us a hand even if we didn’t reach out for you because we believed you still cared for us. But you didn’t. You never came and when you did, it was already too late.” The memory of sleepless nights, of fretting over myriad challenges across the vast kingdom, the empty adulations, the pervasive seduction of absolute power, the impatience to see their dream come to fruition. It all came back to Kuvira and it was so overwhelming that she had to hold on to the back of the chair for support. Suyin saw how the proud silhouette of the former commander seemed to crumble under the weight of her misdeeds.

“I was angry at you by your defiance” replied the metalbender teacher feebly.

“And I was angry because I felt abandoned by you. The one person whom I thought would never let me down abandoned me and her own son. And what for Su? For your pride? Because we disobeyed you?” Kuvira’s voice was ragged now as a tears pulled from the corners of her eyes.

“But you never asked for my help. You should have come to me.”

“Believe me, we almost did but we saw how you retreated under your precious domes and ignored everything that was happening around you. You never knew of the many times we almost perished trying to accomplish an impossible task. Our country tethered on the brink of disaster without an Avatar to aid us and through all this time you just hid under the safety of your domes ignoring everything. You wouldn’t understand the pleasure Bataar and I experienced when we ripped them open because of what they symbolized to us. Their destruction meant we were opening your eyes by force to make you face what became of the Earth Kingdom and of us.”

Suyin stood stunned, struggling to assimilate what she was being told. All this time, the arrogance, the smug superiority Kuvira and Bataar flaunted. It was all a masquerade that hid the fear and pain of two souls lost in their own foolishness.

“I didn’t knew…” muttered Suyin as she watched with contradictory emotions pulling inside her the once promising captain of guards hunched over, her sight lost in her own painful memories as tears kept trailing down her face.

“Suyin…” Kuvira croaked.

“Aha?”

Kuvira lifted her face and Su saw a dark shadow stir within the green depths of her eyes.

“You can hate me all you want but leave Korra out of this. If I find out you’ve done as much as lift a finger against her I swear I will come for you.” There was an ominous edge on her words.

“How you dare threaten me?”

“Isn’t it that what you’ve been doing to Korra and to me? I won’t stand idle about it anymore.” Kuvira noticed how panic started to etch on her former teacher’s face. “Don’t worry” the metalbender stated in a more conciliatory tone. “I plan to behave just as I’ve done for my time remaining here. I won’t give you anything of concern because there’s people I don’t want to disappoint and I’m determined to do whatever it takes to finally obtain my freedom. But if you try to do anything in Korra’s detriment, you will have to answer to me.”

“You claim you have changed and here you are spewing threats just as you used to. You haven’t changed at all Kuvira.”

Kuvira dried the last of her years from her face and straightened up. “You can choose to believe whatever you want about me. I hold no hopes that one day you might be able to see beyond the disappointment that makes you distrust me so much. The only thing I ask of you is that you leave Korra alone.  Can you do that?”

“You know I don’t approve at all of this…relationship.”

Kuvira couldn’t help the smirk that materialized on her face. “I really don’t care if you approve of it or not. What I want to know is if you can keep off our business and protect her if necessary. She’s still the Avatar and your guest.”

Suyin let out a long sigh as she brought a bejeweled hand over her forehead. “Alright. You both are stubborn as mules. I won’t interfere in your business but don’t come to me begging for help if people turn against Korra because of you.”

“If that were the case, I’ll be the one to answer for that.”

 Suyin walked towards the door and opened it.

“I believe this meeting is over. Good day to you Kuvira” the Metal City matriarch said with cordial yet cold inflection.

Kuvira offered a small smile in response. “Good day to you Suyin and thank you for receiving me.”

The door closed behind her and the former captain felt the knot that had been tied up in her stomach loosen. She had faced one of her worst fears and stood her ground. She hadn’t been hoping for forgiveness, not from Su but perhaps she could receive reluctant respect instead. And for today, Kuvira felt she could live with that.

Later, when Korra attempted to ask her about the meeting, the metalbender simply kissed her until she rendered her girlfriend breathless.

“What Su and I talked about can wait. Right now you and I have some unfinished business that were unfortunately interrupted when they were getting interesting.”

Korra laughed as she allowed herself to be swept away by the wicked charm of the woman who wouldn’t stop looking at her as she were a most precious treasure. And for Kuvira without a doubt, she was.