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March of Progress

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Exiting the Spirit World - by DrakyX (used with permission)

(The incomparable Drakyx gave me permission to use this wonderful piece here; we both decided to recreate the scene in the initial comic announcement, so this very literally sets the stage for me! With boundless thanks to Drakyx herself--check out her tumblr if you'd like to see more of her great work!)

 

Korra and Asami stepped out of the Spirit World, eyes only for each other as they returned to the ruined city they called home. The weight of Asami's hand on Korra's shoulder made her stomach flip, and her own hand on Asami's waist pulled the other woman closer.

Suffice it to say, it had been a good few weeks.

Asami chucked softly, at nothing at all. Korra smiled back, understanding the feeling.

“So...” Korra began.

“So?”

“So, we're back,” Korra continued, nuzzling her head into Asami's ear.

“Unfortunately,” Asami muttered, and Korra's grin grew.

“What now?”

“Besides a shower?” Asami snickered, glancing around. “I'm pretty sure the city could use rebuilding, for one.”

“No,” Korra said, turning to take both of Asami's hands in hers, just as she had as they'd entered the Spirit World. “I mean, what about... us? ARE we an 'us'?”

Asami leaned down, pecking Korra on the lips. “Of course we're an 'us', Korra. But we've also been gone for two weeks, and... look over there. Up that street.”

Korra turned her head, noticing the ruins around them for the first time. She followed Asami's gaze. “What... heh, not sure what I should be looking for.”

“That's where Future Industries headquarters used to be. The top half was blasted right off when that spirit cannon was spiraling out of control. All our records, blueprints, contracts... the building was insured, but it's going to take a ton of work to put my company back together.”

Korra's eyes widened. “Asami, I didn't think about... and I took two weeks away from—”

“Don't—” Asami interrupted the same way she fought—a precision, disarming jab. “Don't you ever even try to apologize for spending time with me.”

The Avatar looked down, face flushed. How could Asami make her feel so bad, but so good about it? “Okay. But it sounds like we won't get a chance to for a while?”

Asami nodded, sadly. “I'll keep in touch, believe me. But it's going to be hectic.”

Korra sighed into Asami's shoulder. “Alright. So...”

“This again?”

“How do we tell everyone about us?”

Asami took a moment to respond. Korra wished she could see her girlfriend's expression as she thought.

Girlfriend! She hadn't dared let herself think the word yet. As if contemplating it would screw up her chances.

“I... think we should be careful about it,” Asami said.

Korra's besotted grin vanished. “Careful?”

“Us being together, it might not exactly be... easy, you know?”

“After the last few years, I'm not sure I would know how to handle 'easy'. C'mon, Asami, why so worried all of a sudden?”

“You know, not everyone will be completely understanding.” She stepped away, crossing her arms. “It'll take some adjustment, to say the least. And there may be some people out there who are downright against it.”

“Against... what?” Korra frowned. Nobody caused any problems when she'd dated Mako. “Because you're rich and upper-crusty? Because technically, I might be considered a princess.”

Asami chuckled, her expression softening. “Oh, Korra. Sometimes, you're still so... Just trust me on this for a while, okay?” She reached out to squeeze Korra's shoulder. “This has been too wonderful to cap off with that conversation. As for our friends, I'd prefer we tell them we're together when we're, you know, together.”

Korra nodded emphatically. “Agreed. So the press can't know until all our friends and family do.”

Asami hesitated for a split second, and Korra winced for her sake. Why did she have to say 'family'? Hiroshi was killed less than a month ago, and Asami's feelings for him were still so complicated and raw. Not every moment in the Spirit World had been happy—but Korra was thankful for the chance to have been the supportive one, for once.

The engineer gave no outward sign she was bothered, her attention elsewhere. “Looks like we have company.”

A uniformed police officer was making his way toward them, across the crater, having descended some hastily-built wooden scaffolding. Korra squinted – was that a fence along the crater's edge? A few watch towers, too, now that she was noticing things besides Asami.

“I wonder what time it is?” the engineer asked, adjusting her backpack. “It was hard to keep track of time, on the other side.”

Korra chuckled. The sun hadn't set while they'd been there. Asami had assumed that was normal for the Spirit World; Korra thought maybe it had something to do with her mood. Either way, the corporeal world wasn't as welcoming.

“Avatar. Ms. Sato.” The officer gave them each a nod as he stopped in front of them. He gave a salute almost—almost—as ridiculous as Mako's. “Welcome back.”

“What's with the fences?” Korra asked. “Is someone trying to keep people out of the Spirit World?”

“I, uh... my orders say—”

“I doubt he's the one who built it, Korra,” Asami said, coming to the cop's rescue. “Besides, the crater is pretty steep.”

“Right, sure,” Korra shrugged. “You said you had orders?”

He nodded, glancing between the two women. “Chief Beifong wanted to see you both as soon as you got back.”

Korra chuckled, glancing at Asami. “Figures we wouldn't get a moment's peace.”

“Honestly,” Asami smirked, “I'd expected it would be Raiko.”

“Ooh, good point. Which do you think was more mad we ran off?”

“Tough call.”

The officer cleared his throat. “If you wouldn't mind? My patrol car is nearby.”

Scaling the edge of the crater was far easier than it had been the last time, when they'd both been battered and bruised from Kuvira's attack. Still, the stairs were appreciated.

The night was chill, a slight breeze off the bay stirring through paper and other debris. The moon was low on the horizon, casting the mostly-dark city in silver shadow. Somewhere, deep within the abandoned streets, a lone dog bayed at the night.

“It's... eerie,” Asami said as they neared street level. “The city is never this quiet. Not even after Tarrlok declared martial law, or the Equalists took over. There's always somebody on the road, conversations murmuring out of windows. Something.”

Korra put an arm around her shoulder. “It'll come back. Gotta make sure the city is safe first, right?” She grinned, and Asami nodded.

Still, the feeling got to Korra too during their short, traffic-free drive to the central precinct. Most of the debris was cleared, and construction equipment was parked everywhere, dormant for the night. Neither of them said another word.

Before long, Asami and Korra found themselves before one standard-issue Lin Beifong. Prim and sneering, dominating her precinct in spite of the late hour.

“I should've expected you two would come back in the middle of the night. You have no respect for the way people do things.”

“Good to see you too, Lin,” Korra smirked, collapsing into a chair. “Should've expected you to still be terrorizing the office. You didn't take after Mako, did you? Put a cot under your desk?”

Asami looked at her, never quite sure how to be polite when Korra and Lin went at it. Korra motioned her to sit, and she shrugged and did so gratefully. They HAD just spent several weeks on their feet.

“Any reason you brought us in so fast?” Korra asked.

“And why is the city still so empty?” Asami added. “Hasn't anyone come back yet?”

Lin sat with a grunt, her hand striking out to grab a particular note off her desk. “Kuvira's attack annihilated sixteen city blocks, and rendered another fifty uninhabitable. Not even considering all the businesses and government buildings involved, sixty thousand people have no homes to come back to.”

Korra gasped; Asami merely winced. Maybe the Chief really WAS sleeping in her office. “What about food?” the engineer asked.

Lin met Asami's gaze, gave her a slight nod. “With the rail lines cut and most of the roads destroyed, it's easier to keep the people fed out in the evacuation camps than it would be here. Much of Kuvira's army has been working to at least clean up the debris, but, well... there's a lot of it.” Lin shrugged, surprisingly non-accusatory at the end.

The Avatar let out a breath. “How are things in the camps, then? Are we talking riots, or...”

“Calm actually.” Lin sounded almost as surprised as Korra felt. “I guess this city has been through so much the last few years, that we're pretty resilient.”

Korra glanced at Asami, and caught Asami glancing at her. Both of them quickly turned away.

Lin looked back and forth between them, then rolled her eyes. “The president wants to meet with both of you in the morning, soon as you can. People are trying to filter back into the city, but we're not ready for them yet. We'll need your help to keep them calm and get the city put back together.”

“Of course,” Asami said.

“I can get an airship to take you to your estate,” Lin offered her. “Unless you'd like to go to Air Temple Island?” She glanced at Korra, an eyebrow raised.

Asami and Korra looked at each other, silently debating. Finally, Korra shrugged. “I guess the jig is up.”

“Well, she is the Chief of Police.” Asami turned toward the older woman. “Lin—”

Lin put her hands up in front of her, like she was stopping traffic. “I'm no gossip-monger. But if you don't want to wind up on the scandal rags, maybe stop looking at each other so much.”

Korra snorted in reply. Not gonna happen.

Lin shrugged. “I'm just saying, the last thing the city needs right now is to think the Avatar and the woman best suited to rebuild it are too... distracted to put the city back together. Me, I don't care, do what you want. But you know how newsies are.”

Korra sighed. “Fine. We'll figure something out. But we rebuild the newspaper buildings last.”
 

 

***

 

Tenzin rose an hour before the sun, sliding from beneath Pema's arm, attempting, as he always did, not to wake her. As a former Air Acolyte, she was also trained to rise early for meditation, but seeing her peaceful face mushed into their pillow, he could never bring himself to wake her, especially now that Rohan was finally sleeping through the night more often than not.

His heart already warm, he calmed his mind. Washing his face and shaving his scalp, each movement calm and measured after decades of repetition, was practically meditation in and of itself. He almost wondered if he truly needed the mirror and the buzzing yellow lights overhead, or if his hands would know what to do without them.

He wouldn't have to see those creases around his eyes, the wrinkles at the corners of his mouth. They had been there for... he had no idea how long now. But had they always been so deep?

The airbender sighed. Every one of those wrinkles had been earned, through care and intent. They were signs of wisdom and experience. He just hadn't realized how wise and experienced he had become.

After dressing in one of his immaculate and identical sets of robes, Tenzin snuck through the bedroom and headed toward the pavilion overlooking the bay.

“Master Tenzin!” a voice called as soon as he entered the hallway.

“Yes?” He paused, waiting for the caller to catch up. The overnight radio attendant? Tenzin usually checked in after his morning meditation and breakfast; for her to seek him out, something important must have happened. “Has something gone wrong in the Earth territories?”

The attendant shook her head. “Message from the Fire Nation, sir. She told me she needs to talk to you as soon as possible.”

“She?”

“Fire Lord Izumi.”

Tenzin could already feel more wisdom lines starting to form. “Very well. Knowing Izumi, she's still awake; I'll get on the radio at once.”

He sighed as he followed the radio operator back into the temple. The horizon hinted at the first glimmers of dawn above the barely-lit city, suggesting a gorgeous morning to come.

Tenzin followed the woman into the temple interior, speculating about the ongoing problems in the city and how whatever the Fire Lord needed could complicate things. The Air Nation had been spread thin for months, through Kuvira's war and its aftermath. There simply weren't enough sufficiently-trained Airbenders to send. Perhaps the other world leaders could be convinced to parole more of Kuvira's army for peacekeeping?

“Hi, Tenzin,” Korra said, munching on noodles as they walked through the dining room.

“Good morning, Korra.” After all, they couldn't keep an entire army under guard, especially when most of them had been forced—

Tenzin stopped three steps into the hallway, then backed up. Korra was, in fact, sitting at his table, a grin splitting her face. “You're back.”

Korra pressed her fists together, bowing respectfully. “Perhaps, one day, I too will have the honed observational powers of an airbending master.”

“You're back,” he repeated sourly. “So long as you're here, perhaps you should join me in the radio room? There's some sort of emergency in the Fire Nation.”

The Avatar's face became serious. She pushed her bowl aside and stood.

Inwardly, Tenzin smiled, thinking of their conversation at the wedding. She'd grown from a headstrong, self-involved teen into a very mature and capable Avatar. What's more, for the first time in years, she looked truly at peace with herself. Some of that brightness that Zaheer had beaten out of her shimmered behind her eyes. Poorly timed or not, the vacation had done her well.

“So, do early mornings usually start with an international crisis? I told you mornings were evil.”

Buuuut she was still Korra.

When they reached the radio room, the operator was already attempting to establish contact with the Fire Nation capital. The distance was substantial, but some clever Fire Nation inventors had built booster stations on small islands between their archipelago and the United Republic. Republic City liked to tout itself as the most modern and advanced civilization in history, but industry and innovation were part of the Fire Nation's lifeblood.

“This is Fire Lord Izumi,” the radio finally replied. “Tenzin is finally awake?”

Tenzin rolled his eyes, taking the microphone. “I'm here, Izumi. It's not even dawn yet. It's still the middle of the night there.”

“I've a busy schedule and you're an early riser.” Two things Tenzin couldn't argue. One didn't win arguments against Izumi, though it was sometimes difficult to avoid them. Neither of her parents had the best interpersonal skills, after all. “Let's get to business: the Fire Nation requires spiritual assistance.”

He and Korra shared a glance. “How can we help?”

 

 ***

 

Asami awoke from her familiar nightmare with a start. It figured, the first time she fell asleep without Korra nearby, the nightmare would return. It almost would have felt wrong if it hadn’t. After all, that same recurring horror had haunted her dreams for years. She shook it from her mind with practiced distaste.

She hadn't meant to fall asleep in the tub, but other than a crick in her neck and some very pruned fingers, she was no worse for wear. And as much as she'd loved every second she'd spent with Korra on the Spirit World, she'd deeply, deeply missed soap.

She checked the clock, frowning at how late it was. Still, she toweled off her hair, moisturized her skin, brushed both hair and teeth, and applied her makeup just so. Once she got back in contact with her people and found out what needed doing, she wanted to be ready to leave the mansion at once.

And not just because it's cavernous halls, empty now of both Mako and Bolin's family and her own staff, were achingly lonesome. Especially after having Korra be there every time she turned for the last—no. She had to focus. There was just too much work to be done to take a day to herself. Hopefully, if she got a good enough start at it, she could meet up with Korra for lunch.

Once she was finally satisfied with her hair, Asami went to her telephone. The number she wanted was circled on a pad beside it—she'd had her headquarters' number memorized, but that was lost when the building blew up.

“Future Industries,” answered a bright voice.

Asami frowned. “Zhu Li? What are you doing there?”

“Oh, primarily 'the thing.'”

Asami pressed her lips thin. “I meant, why are you answering my company's phone and not on your honeymoon?”

The other engineer chuckled. “Can you imagine Varrick with nothing to tinker with? Neither of us would've enjoyed a trip away, especially since we both feel guilty for helping Kuvira build her army in the first place. Besides, I hear another couple took a romantic trip in our stead. Isn't that right, Ms. Sato?”

She felt her face go flush. Thank goodness she was at home! “You didn't answer my first question. Why are you answering for Future Industries?”

“You mean, the company my husband owns a controlling share of?”

Her eyes narrowed, embarrassment forgotten. “Future Industries is mine. Varrick's shares—”

“Varrick's control of the company was invalidated by his incarceration, but the ownership of those shares never changed. And now that he's been pardoned—”

“Zhu Li, if you think I'm going to—”

Relax, Miss Sato. Asami. I'm not going to let him steal your company. We'll work out a deal, swap some shares or something. But point was, everything was in disarray, and you, well, vanished. Somebody had to keep things together. Besides, you did a good job running Varrick's holdings while he was out of the city. We're returning the favor.”

Asami grimaced. She'd left instructions for while she was gone, but with the board still separated by the evacuation, that would've created a power vacuum. “I'll have my lawyer look into it. But I'm back now. What's the situation?”

“I believe 'bad' would sum it up. I've managed to bring some of your upper-management types to salvage what they can, but they're mostly working out of regard at this point. You're broke.”

Asami blinked. “What do you mean, 'broke'? We had millions in the bank, and the tower was insured.”

“The bank blew up. The insurance company's building, too.”

“...oh.” Asami's knees wobbled, taking her to the floor. She managed to sit up. “I... we have other holdings. Factories in the Fire Nation, Varrick's old shipping lines...”

“Which will be of great help once the port re-opens. All the metalbenders we can spare are working on reconstructing the city, not fishing the sunken fleet out of the bay.”

She ground her teeth. “I'm sure waterbenders could do the trick.”

“If they weren't busy keeping the water supply and sewage running, yes.”

This couldn't be happening. After she'd rebuilt from the damage her father's Equalist connections had done, after finally putting Future Industries back on top, it couldn't just be gone. “What are you trying to tell me, Zhu Li?”

The other woman sighed over the phone. “It's not all bleak. You have the goodwill of the city, and presumably the ear of the Avatar. I'm sure you should be able to get some lines of credit. And a few shipments from the Fire Nation factories are waiting out in the bay. I'm not sure what's on them, but maybe something you could sell for some quick funds to keep going?”

Asami knew just the ships she meant. “Maybe they aren't too late to do some good after all.”

“Hmm?”

“Oh, those ships are full of weapons from our factories in the Fire Nation. I ordered them to help fight Kuvira, but then she got here a week early... There aren't any more armies on the way, I hope, but Republic forces might still buy them. There's no way we can offload the ships?”

“Until the port is cleaned up, nothing larger than a speedboat can dock.”

Good enough. “I'll take a speedboat out and get a few crates. Can you set up a meeting this afternoon? Raiko, Iroh, maybe Lin?”

“Of course. Would you like me and Varrick there, too?”

“Have you figured out a way to make him stay still and keep quiet yet?”

“We'll... talk to you after the meeting,” Zhu Li sighed. “Or whenever I manage to catch up with him.”

“He's not there?”

 

 ***

 

Bolin had a few... a lot... okay a whole impossibly long list of regrets from helping Kuvira's rise to power. Tons of warning signs he kicked himself for ignoring, plus a few actual, you know, warnings...

Point was, it was a bad time and he felt bad about it. But it had been easier to feel good about it when he had been helping people who needed it. Offering them protection, and medicine, and food. The looks on people's faces when they thought, for the first time in ages, that their children would be safe made his whole heart grin.

Admittedly a strange image. But it was grinning now, too, as he helped hand out food to the evacuees. Even if he felt a little ridiculous doing it dressed as

“Nuktuk!” another kid grinned, bouncing from foot to foot as her family reached the front of the line. “Look, Seta, it's Nuktuk!”

Bolin smiled back, handing over a bundle of food. Varrick elbowed him in the ribs. “See, kid? I told you this would be great PR!”

“I didn't want PR, I wanted to help,” Bolin said from the side of his mouth.

“You ARE helping. See how happy you're making people?! And once the movers of this show at the other camps, it'll be like you fed everybody!”

“Yes, sure. Except people can't... eat... movers.”

“Of course they can't eat... UNLESS—”

“No, Varrick. I think I can already see where you're going and it's—”

“Don't talk to me!” Varrick shook his arms toward the line of evacuees. “The fans, Nuktuk!”

The girl passed the food over his head to her parents, grabbing Bolin's arm instead. “Are you gonna help us get back home, Nuktuk? Save the day like you did in the South?”

“You bet! Only... there's no more bad guys to beat up, so really it's more helping keep you fed while we rebuild the city.”

“Sure,” the girl's father muttered. “No bad guys. C'mon, Sen. The next family needs dinner too.”

“Bye!” Bolin waved, frowning. What did that mean? Kuvira's army had surrendered, and the Air Nation was keeping the peace so, who was left? Maybe Opal would—”

“Nuktuk!” cried eight kids at once as they charged him.

“Eep!”

 

***

 

Korra and Tenzin strode together from the radio room, each ruminating on what Fire Lord Izumi had said. Dark spirits striking from the Fire Nation wilds, attacking cities and factories and roads. The Fire Nation had never been a spiritual place—not since well before the Hundred Year War, at least—and spiritual activity had remained low, even after Harmonic Convergence. Why were the spirits restive now?

“How soon do we leave?” Korra asked.

Tenzin frowned, but kept walking. “I'm not certain you should come, Korra. Things are still so delicate here, and you just returned. The United Republic needs you.”

“So does the Fire Nation! Do you know anybody else who can spirit-bend?”

“Yes, actually. There are a number of Northern waterbenders I have been corresponding with for the last few years. I will send a message to your cousins, requesting their aid.”

Korra frowned, not-quite-pouting over being outmaneuvered. “Well I bet none of them ever bent the spirit of elemental chaos and destruction before. While giant.”

Tenzin smirked. “I did not specifically ask, but most likely not.”

“It's just... I'm supposed to handle this sort of thing, right? I've been away so long, I barely got back in time to stop Kuvira. What else did I let fester while I was out finding myself?”

The airbender stopped, hands moving to her shoulders. “I know how impatient you were to leave the South Pole, how quickly you wanted to recover. But the Air Nation has become somewhat proficient at solving these little problems. You can't be everywhere, Korra, and you're still needed here. Let us handle this for you.”

“But if I wasn't gone—”

Tenzin tilted his head, a stern look in his eye. For once, Korra stopped.

“Just... make sure you radio if you need anything. I'll come right away.”

“Of course.”

Tenzin turned to resume walking, but Korra stayed still. “Um.”

“Yes?”

Korra twisted her foot against the floor, looking down, biting her lip. “I've got something to tell you, but I was hoping to tell everyone at once but with so much going on, we might not all be in one place again for a while, but still I'm supposed to wait until Asami is here too and heck maybe that gave it away but... when are you leaving then?”

“I was thinking this afternoon.”

“Okay, save two seats at lunch then!” Korra said rushing down the hall.

Tenzin stroked his beard as she scampered off. What could that be about?

 

***

 

Korra waited patiently outside Raiko’s office. They hadn’t always gotten along—actually, had they ever?—but Korra wanted to start the meeting on a helpful tone. Particularly after flying over the city in the daylight.

Construction crews were everywhere, but there was still so much to do. Most of the major roads were clear, but entire blocks had been leveled. A restaurant Mako had taken her to, an Equalist hideout she’d raided, the Southern Water Tribe cultural center (again)… all damaged or destroyed. So much of her own history was in tatters.

Her back straightened. She’d come back. The city would too.

“Avatar Korra?” Raiko’s secretary said. “The President will see you now.”

She nodded quietly, and stepped through the door.

“Avatar,” Raiko greeted coolly, not rising from his desk. “I trust the emergency you had to take care of in the Spirit World has been resolved?”

Korra blinked. “Emergency?”

“Yes,” Raiko said, sorting through papers. “The one we’ve been telling the population that you had to address. The reason you haven’t been helping rebuild the city you helped destroy.”

“Helped destroy!?”

His eyes flitted up. “I don’t deny the necessity or heroism of your actions. But you can’t deny that not all of the damage was done by Kuvira’s colossus.”

A smart retort caught in her throat. Well, probably not smart. That was the thing. She never seemed to say actually-smart things when her and Raiko disagreed. Which, again, was most of the time. And he always seemed to maneuver the conversations to get the better of her.

Korra centered herself. “I am thankful for the city’s patience, and I’m eager to get back to helping. What needs to be done?”

Raiko leaned back in his chair, hands clasped. Looking at her. Perhaps he’d had his retort ready and was surprised by her restraint. “Off the record, you did take Asami Sato on a personal trip. Might I ask the nature of this… excursion?”

Korra weighed her options. Raiko wasn’t the press, and he wasn’t above spreading rumors to get his way. And he certainly wasn’t one of her or Asami’s friends. But he WAS an important person, and the way she and Asami had taken off must have made his job harder at the worst possible time. “It was… personal.”

The president grunted, frowning. “Are you two planning any more personal endeavors?”

She blinked. They’d butted heads a lot, but his tone sounded downright accusatory. “What if we were?”

“Then I would hope you would be more… discreet about them,” Raiko answered carefully. “You have made it abundantly clear that you don’t answer to me, and frankly I need every resource I can get right now. So I’ll keep covering for your absence, and I’ll plea ignorance to any more… any more dalliances, but can I at least have your word as the Avatar that rebuilding the city will be your main focus? That you won’t let personal matters distract you until it’s done?”

His tone had wavered between exasperated and scathing and… judgmental? Over what? Her priorities? “Fine, sure. Anything else?”

“As a matter of fact…” Raiko leaned forward, grasping a large stack of papers. Then setting them on an even larger stack of papers. “…there are a few things the city needs your help with.”

 

***

 

Asami finished tethering the speedboat to the dock, the crewmen she’d taken from her ship already working to unload her crates. She’d stepped onto the pier when a welcome blue blur alighted beside her.

“Hey,” Korra smiled.

“Hey,” Asami smirked. Her arms began to reach up, toward Korra, wishing to embrace her as if it had been months and not hours. She managed to limit herself to a hand on Korra’s shoulder, instead.

Man, she had it bad, didn’t she? Her stomach fluttered and didn’t mind. “How’d you find me?”

Korra leaned in. “I just asked everybody I found where I could find the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Asami put a hand on her waist, smirking at Korra’s dorky smile. “Well, last time it took you three years to find yourself. I’m glad you did it sooner this morning.”

Korra’s blushes were the most amazing thing. They short-circuited the engineer’s brain, every time. She caught herself leaning in, leaning too close, eyes glancing at Korra’s lips and—

They both pulled back, Korra glancing at Asami’s workers, Asami pointedly looking the other way.

“Really, though, how did you find me?” Asami asked.

Korra shrugged. “Talked to Raiko. Among other things, he told me where Future Industries temporary HQ is. Zhu Li pointed me this way. What’s in the crates?”

“Just some hardware,” Asami said, dismissing them with a wave. “Things are pretty bad, Korra. I’ve got limited resources with which I need to guarantee some working capital. I can’t rebuild the city without a company to do it with.”

“Hmmm.”

Dark wisps blew across Asami’s face. She tossed her head to clear her vision.

Korra let out a yearning sigh.

Asami wasn’t the only one who had it bad.

“Love it when you blush,” Korra said.

“Miss Sato?” one of the workmen asked, making both women leap back as if they’d touched a satomobile battery. “Where you want these crates?”

She pointed a quavering hand, staring blankly into the middle distance. “Truck.”

The sailors wheeled her cargo past, clomping as a gang between her and her girlfriend. She didn’t look at any of them, but she was sure they were all staring. Did she hear a snicker?

Spirits. Maybe Lin was right. Looking at each other was dangerous.

Korra coughed. “So, like I said, just talked to the president. He said maybe we should try to be, um…”

“Discreet?”

“Yeah, that was his word.”

Asami nodded, a smirk climbing back onto her lips. “He has met you, right?”

“Hey!” Korra realized her response was a little too loud, garnering a few backwards glances from the workers. “Alright fine. Anyway I have about a dozen buildings’ worth of rubble to clear today, but I wanted to tell you we have a lunch date with the airbenders. Tenzin has to leave suddenly for the Fire Nation, not sure when he’ll be back, but we may not get another good chance to tell him for a while.”

“I’m…” Asami sighed. “I’d love to but I can’t. I have a meeting of my own with Raiko that could take up the rest of my day. In fact, I kind of hope it does. Future Industries needs this deal.”

“Oh,” Korra said, deflating as she watched. “I… guess we won’t tell Tenzin then.”

“No, no it’s okay,” Asami said. “When we decided that, I don’t think I’d realized just how much was going on and how busy everyone was going to be. There’s not going to be a good time to tell everyone, so we’ll just have to do it when we can and hope nobody feels left-out or slighted.”

“Or we could just tell Bolin and Opal and the whole world will know within a few hours.”

“Or that,” Asami agreed.

A silence opened between them, loose and chafing. Neither of them wanted to leave, but neither felt like they could step closer, touch, embrace. Kiss. Asami so desperately wanted—

No. Focus. Focus! Work to be done.

“I’d better go,” Korra said.

Asami nodded. “Right. Call me tonight.”

“What if you work late?”

“I’ll call the island. No sleeping until I’ve heard your voice.”

“Deal,” Korra said, and took off.

Asami sighed, watching her go.

 

 ***

 

Jinora sat calmly at the table, pretending to meditate. A skill she’d become as proficient in as actually meditating. Mental focus and spirit-projection were both incredibly useful things—but so was passively observing when nobody else thought she was paying attention. Her parents and siblings going about their everyday business, Mom shuttling the first course of food to the table. Bumi and Kya sat in for lunch, too, chattering wearily about the city, happy to be sitting for a few minutes.

“Who are those seats for?” Meelo asked. Finally. She could always trust Meelo to make the needed inquiries.

“Korra asked me to leave those open,” Tenzin said.

“Korra’s back?!” echoed around the table.

Jinora kept her eyes from rolling, closed though they were. If anyone else bothered to wake early for meditation, they’d have known that.

“And Asami too, then?” Kya asked. Yes, Kya would be the one to think of that first.

“I… assume so,” Tenzin said. “I’m not sure what this is about, so you might as well stop asking.”

Now she had to stifle a fond grin. Her father always gave in to frustration so easily.

“I wonder if she brought back spirits to help!” Ikki said. “A whole army of spirits to help rebuild the city, or maybe plant a giant tree that we can all live in with all our spirit friends, and—”

Jinora was also proficient in tuning her sister out. That was a survival skill.

It helped her pick up hushed tones, those meant for privacy. “So,” Bumi was whispering, “where’s that sixty yuans you owe me?”

“I don’t owe you a thing,” Kya said.

“Do so! You lost the bet.”

“That remains to be seen.” Jinora could hear her smile.

“The bet was, by the end of the night, that night.”

“Yes, and they ran off together. Which means you owe me sixty yuans.”

“No way! All the note said was ‘vacation.’”

“Yeah, alone, together. What more proof do you need?”

“Hey!” Meelo interrupted. “What’re you whispering about?”

Winces were the hardest thing to restrain. But Meelo gave Jinora plenty of practice with that too. He could always be trusted to muck things up as well.

“Leave them alone, dear,” Mom said. “Bumi is just in denial he lost a bet.”

“I did not!”

“A bet?” Dad asked, scandalized. “Bumi, that sort of conduct is not becoming of the Air Nation!”

“Oh, don’t be such a fuddy-duddy. Dad used to help Toph run scams on people, and that’s when they were saving the world! And I didn’t lose the bet.”

“Of course not,” Mom said, with the same patient, conciliatory tone she used against her children’s obstinance. “And you don’t owe me thirty five yuans, either.”

“Pema!” Tenzin bristled. “You too?”

She chuckled. “Yes. Well, there was a bit of a pool, you see.”

Dad sighed. “A pool. When was this? About what?”

Mom continued: “In fact, I received a telephone call from Chief Beifong early this morning.”

“DID you now?” Kya asked. “What did she say?”

“She said, ‘I owe you fifty yuans.’ Then she hung up.”

“Yes, yes,” Tenzin said, “But what was this pool about?”

“Are we gonna go swimming?” Meelo asked.

Kya gave a sisterly groan. “People were taking bets on whether Korra and Asami would finally get together at Zhu Li and Varrick’s wedding.”

Dad snorted. “That’s ridiculous. They danced several times. I believe they sat together. They are clearly very good friends. Why would anyone think they would have trouble finding each other?”

Jinora had to spirit-project out of her body to keep from breaking. She took a few moments, floating somewhere in the spirit world, to slap her forehead repeatedly.

When she returned, the awkward silence still hung over the table. “Oh, Spirits’ sake,” Kya muttered.

“See?” Bumi said. “He’s her mentor, and he hasn’t seen it. You just want to see it too much!”

“See what?” Ikki asked. “Daddy, what are they all talking about?”

“Danced together…” Dad pondered. “Most of the night, come to think of it...”

“You're just so used to dismissing me that you're in denial about it,” Kya retorted, heat in her voice. Jinora would have to look in to that.

Dad was still muttering. “And Varrick didn’t know anything about the glider suits…”

“You did say it seemed odd that Asami left the city so suddenly,” prompted Mom.

Jinora cracked her eyes open just as her dad’s shot wide.

“Spirits, you don’t suppose they’re attracted to each other?!”

“Uh, hey, everyone,” Korra greeted from behind him. “Sorry I’m late.” Everyone stood, Ikki and Meelo rushing to hug her, Jinora calmly striding over for the same purpose. “I guess I don’t have an announcement to make after all.”

“Boom!” Kya shouted, her hands thrown into the air. She turned and slapped Bumi’s shoulder, laughing.

“Never gonna hear the end of this,” Bumi groaned.

Dad was still making a gulping fish face.

“Well I’m kinda glad you’re late,” Jinora said, finally getting her hug.

Korra blinked down at her. “Why?”

“Because,” Jinora whispered, “it gave Dad just enough time for me to win the other pool.”

 

***

 

“So, who’s up for a song?” Wu asked, desperate to break the monotony of the train trip.

Kuvira, her hands and feet bound and a guard at either side, stared at him impassively. Mako and Suyin Beifong shook their heads to either side of him.

“You can’t all seriously prefer sitting in awful silence for hours.”

“Some people have a lot to think about,” Suyin said, her eyes stabbing at her former protégé.

Wu sighed.

“Considering the last time you were on a train,” Mako said, “you should be happy this trip has been uneventful.”

“That doesn’t mean it needs to be BORing!” His head sagged in his hands.

“Well, a little bit of boring sounds good to me,” Mako replied. “With Korra back in action and everything else, um, resolved…” he spared Kuvira a glance. “We finally have a chance to bring some real balance to the world. Just like Korra wants.”

 

***

 

Asami had set up her crates in a particularly empty space at the rear of her property. Far from the mansion and past even the test track, the terrain was too hilly to do much with—or so she’d thought until she’d found out about her father’s secret factory buried underneath. The facility that had built the bulk of the Equalist’s equipment had been shuttered ever since—but given the state of her company, that may soon change.

“Mister President,” Asami greeted, shaking hands with him. He nodded gruffly, quick to pull his hand away and clasp his pant leg. She kept wearing her smile.

“General Iroh.” His handshake was firm and polite, as always.

“Lin.” The two women shared a nod. They were well past handshakes.

“Zhu Li,” she greeted. The other engineer gave her a smile. Marriage was clearly agreeing with her.

“Thank you all for meeting with me at such short notice. You know I’m not usually one for a hard sell, but this is something that is best demonstrated, and as you’ll soon see, it’s safest to do it somewhere big and empty.”

“Yes, yes, no need to butter us up,” Raiko complained. “What do you want to sell us?”

“Something I’ve been working on for a few years,” Asami said, reaching into a crate to pull out an example. “Guns.”