Actions

Work Header

Flashover

Chapter Text

Asami woke slowly, enjoying the early morning sun as light poured through her window and warmed the whole room. In her half-asleep state, she rolled over and reached for the other side of the bed; upon finding it empty, she opened her eyes. The time on the bedside alarm clock read 09:52. As the minute turned, Asami stared at the clock and the cobwebs began to clear from her head.

Korra's shift was supposed to be over at eight a.m.

It wasn't uncommon for a crew to be held over, but Korra always sent a message to let her know that she was safe and she'd be late getting home.  Asami hadn't been awakened by her phone.  A cursory glance at her text messages showed nothing new.  She sat up and looked around, hoping to see the familiar giant turnout bag in the corner, evidence that Korra was home and simply chose not to wake her.

Nothing.

Asami stood and slipped into Korra's PT shorts and RCFD t-shirt.  She loved the familiar smell, and she knew it was a huge turn-on for Korra.  As she walked out to the living room, she pulled the collar up to her nose and inhaled deeply, drinking in her fiancé's scent.  She walked through the living room, the office, both guest rooms - no sign of her.

She was immediately worried and fired off a quick text message.  {Where are you?}

Her stomach growled.  She walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, staring blankly at its contents.  She wondered if she should make enough for both of them.  I can always save it for her if she's not home soon.  She pulled eggs, cheese, bacon, and butter from the fridge and set to work.

It was as Asami was putting the bacon in the oven - a trick she'd learned from Korra - that she heard the key in the lock on the front door.  The attempt to avoid worrying faded to irritation.  They had discussed this long ago; communication was paramount, and if Korra was going to be late getting home, she needed to say something.

Asami remembered all too well the first time Korra was late and didn't warn her.  At least then Korra had the presence of mind to be sensitive about it.

 

*     *     *

 

 TWO YEARS AGO

Asami had barely walked into her office and set her purse on the desk when she realized she was almost late.  Not for work; her shift didn't start for another hour.  Korra was meeting her for breakfast after getting off work.  They'd been dating for six months and Asami was head-over-heels in love.  Korra had been working a lot of overtime, helping to cover shifts for another firefighter who had been injured on the job.  As a result, they hadn't seen each other in two weeks.

Ten minutes late.  Asami wondered if Korra was lost, but she knew better.  Twenty minutes late.  Asami sent a text to ask where she was.  By the thirty minute mark, Asami began to fear the worst, so she went out to the ER floor to make sure she hadn't been brought in.  No sooner had she stepped out into the hallway and shut the door than she heard her name over the intercom.

"Doctor Sato to ER room six.  Doctor Sato, ER room six."

As far as she was aware, nobody knew she was there yet.  Nobody...except Korra.

Asami tried not to look panicked as she walked past the "horseshoe" - the portion of the ER designated as the trauma wing, which was Asami's area - and out to the "grid", or the section for the rest of the patients.  There were four zones, ten rooms each; room six was in the red zone.  That section was for traumatic injuries that didn't meet level one criteria.

Two left turns and Asami found herself in room six, staring at Korra.  Her turnouts had been removed, leaving her in her navy blue cargo shorts and uniform t-shirt.  Most of the front of her shirt was bloody.  Another doctor, one she didn't know terribly well, was stitching a laceration on her jaw.  Korra's eyes were shut and the beginnings of some significant bruising had already begun to form on the right side of her face.

"Korra?"

Asami stepped further into the room and over to Korra's left side.  Without a care for who might see, Asami stroked her forearm to get her attention.

Korra opened her eyes and looked over at Asami without moving her head.  "Hey, Doc," she smiled lightly, doing so only with the left side of her face.

Asami noticed her attention to movement and felt somewhat relieved.  At least she knows what's going on.  "Do you remember what happened?"

"Kid trapped in a drainage well," Korra replied.  She sounded tired.  "I'm smaller than the guys, so they sent me down into the pipe for the rescue.  Bolin had control of the rope, but the booter fell on top of him and he lost control.  I hit the lip of the pipe before he caught it again."

Asami turned her attention to the other doctor.  "Is she on pain meds?"

"They gave fentanyl and midazolam in the ambulance," the doctor replied, never breaking his concentration.  "I stopped the midazolam because of the concussion, but I've ordered the fentanyl to continue."

"Who decided to push midazolam?" Asami nearly demanded.

"The paramedics."

Clearly we'll need to have another training session about when sedation is inappropriate.  "Was she combative during transport?"

"The medic who gave report actually said she was very calm.  She hasn't given me any trouble, so it's possible that we need to call that crew in for a discussion."

I'm relieved that we're on the same wavelength.  "What are your findings?"

"She's pretty tough.  No fractures to the orbital socket, skull, or maxilla.  Laceration to the skin on the lower mandible -" he finished the last stitch with a delicate flourish - "requiring twenty-two stitches, heavy facial contusions, mild concussion, hairline fracture to the right radius."

"Any evidence of subdural hematoma?"

"None that I could find."

"LOC?"

"Positive."

"Duration?"

"Approximately three minutes."

"Reflexes?"

"Initially delayed, but they've improved."

Asami pulled a pen light out of her coat pocket and leaned over Korra's face.  "Look at my nose," she softly ordered.  She slowly brought the beam into Korra's left eye, sweeping toward the bridge of her nose with it, satisfied when the pupil constricted immediately.  Asami repeated the motion over Korra's right eye, then switched the light off and held one finger in front of Korra's nose.

"Follow my finger," Asami instructed.  Up, down, left, right - Korra followed perfectly.  As this continued, Korra reached out and took Asami's hand.

"It's okay," Korra said, her tone soothing.  "I'm alright.  I'm gonna hurt for a few days, but I'll live."

Asami trapped Korra's hand with both of hers.  "You're staying here for the rest of the day."

"I really don't need to..."

"I want to keep an eye on you," Asami cut her off.  Your doctor would probably agree that you shouldn't be alone for at least twenty-four hours...right?"

The other doctor looked up from his furious charting and locked eyes with her.  "Absolutely!"  With that, he disappeared.

Asami stared at Korra's face for several moments, familiarizing herself with the color and shape of her injuries.  The slightest change could signal worsening symptoms or even an injury that had been missed.  Once she believed she had sufficiently memorized what she needed to, Asami leaned in and kissed her on the forehead.

"I need to relieve the night shift," Asami whispered.  "I'll come check on you as often as I can."

Korra smiled sleepily in response before closing her eyes and drifting back to sleep.

 

*     *     *

 

The memory still woke the near-panic Asami had felt that day for the same reason she'd been worried when she woke up alone.  The words of a widow rang in her ears, reminding her briefly of her worst fear: "when he didn't come home or call, I knew."  It was the deepest fear of everyone who loved a firefighter, paramedic, or police officer - that they'd see that car pull up in front of the house or answer a knock at the door, only to find Chief Tenzin or Chief Lin standing there.

Asami knew that Korra was walking up behind her.  She could hear her footsteps, quiet as they were (Korra was always required to leave her work boots on the front porch as neither of them wanted her tracking even trace amounts of blood and other bodily fluids into the house, along with whatever illnesses came with them).  She could feel Korra's presence closing in on her.  By the time a pair of tough, calloused hands snaked around her waist and planted themselves lovingly across her stomach, Asami felt her irritation ebbing away.  She wanted to stay irritated, though.  Korra's touch was so gentle that Asami could hardly believe its source was the pair of cut, muscular arms wrapped around her.  She knew that Korra felt guilty, and she wanted an explanation, but she couldn't bring herself to really get angry.  Asami continued her work on breakfast as she felt a kiss brush across the back of her shoulder.

"I want to tell you what happened," Korra began, "but only if you want me to."  Another kiss.  "Nothing will make you feel any better about this -" kiss - "and I don't want to make excuses."

"You left your phone's charger here."

"Thank the Spirits," Korra kissed her shoulder again.  "I thought I'd lost it again!"

Asami almost couldn't suppress a laugh, but she knew that Korra sensed it.  "Do I need to paint it neon green?"

Korra snorted.  "Maybe."  Kiss.

"If I duct tape it to your boots, will you lose your boots?"

"Let's not find out."  Kiss.

The eggs were done quickly, and Asami removed the pan from the heat.  She was content to spend a few more moments in Korra's arms and finally allowed herself to relax.  She ran her hands along a pair of toned forearms, her fingers tracing familiar dips and veins, before resting on top of the gentle hands she loved so much.  They'd had plans today, plans to stay in and ignore everything else in the outside world, and she'd be damned if she was going to be too proud to forgive Korra for a mistake.

It wasn't the first time the mistake had been made, but it wasn't as if Korra did it on purpose.

"Will you at least tell me about the call that held you over?"

Korra giggled.  "I was hoping you'd ask.  It's actually pretty funny."

"Is it a Bolin story?"

"Oh, yeah."  Korra broke her hold, turned Asami around, and gave her a quick (yet promising) kiss.  "I'll get the plates.  You're gonna love this."

 

*     *     *

 

THREE HOURS AGO

Korra sat at the big steel table in the galley, sipping coffee.  As Bolin walked through, he noticed a strange look on her face.  He wasn't sure if he could place it, but it almost looked...giddy.  She wasn't really smiling, but she looked happy, as if she had a hot date and she was just counting down the minutes to crew change.  It was 07:15, and Bolin had plans, but Korra had said nothing about her day off for the whole shift.  Shower kit in hand, Bolin all but skipped through the galley.

"Bolin, you know the rule!"  Korra called after him.  "No showering this close to crew change!  Murphy will take it as a challenge!"

Bolin turned to face her and walked backwards, continuing his trek.  "Oh, ye of little faith.  Booter or no, we still have a white cloud!"

Korra glared at him as he turned back to his mission.  When he disappeared into the locker room, Korra turned back to her coffee and tried to remain optimistic.  A few minutes ticked by.  Just as the first relief were expected to trickle in, the tones dropped. 

"Engine One, Rescue One, channel three," the dispatcher's voice warbled over the intercom.  "Person down.  Bus stop, corner of Kyoshi and Fourth.  Engine One, Rescue one, channel three."

Korra sighed heavily as she made her way out to the bay, kicked off her tennis shoes, and stepped into her bunker boots.  She bent down and pulled up her brush pants, pressing the velcro together as she stood, and jumped into the cab of the rescue.  She didn't care for the rescue, but since their booter, Kai, still had three months to go before his year-long rotation on the rescue, Korra had agreed to fill the position until then.  Their captain, Iroh, climbed into the front passenger seat in the engine, Bolin climbed into the cab behind him, while Kai climbed in next to him and their engineer, Bumi, hopped in behind the wheel.  Korra's partner, Tahno, threw himself behind the wheel of the rescue.  She couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes as he puffed out his chest and threw the truck in drive before the door had finished opening.

Korra considered warning him again, but she knew she was never going to write him up, and she wasn't interested in issuing an empty threat.  Policy was that no apparatus was supposed to be taken out of "park" until the roll-up doors had finished opening; it was for everyone's safety.  An engine had been accidentally driven into a half-open door, causing injuries to everyone on the crew, and now nobody could be trusted to pay attention.  Tahno was the one guy in the whole crew who marched to the beat of his own drum, and Korra knew he didn't care what she thought or said.

The response was mercifully short.  Korra had to admit that Tahno was a very good driver, even if he was a self-absorbed prick, but she'd never say it out loud within a mile of him.  As they pulled up to the bus stop, they could see a young man sitting on the ground, propped against the bench, barely conscious.  Several bystanders were on their phones.  At least two were getting the whole thing on video.  Because we all know this could be the next viral hit, Korra thought to herself.  As she got out of the rescue she pulled on a pair of white exam gloves and approached their apparent patient.  Tahno went to the back of the rescue to retrieve the gurney.  The crew on the engine pulled their equipment boxes from the back of the truck and made their way over as Korra knelt in front of the young man to begin assessing him.

"Sir?"  She called, hoping he would respond. 

The young man had close-cropped, sandy-blonde hair.  He looked like he might be in the military.  His skin was pale, cool, and diaphoretic, his breathing was shallow and slow, and Korra noticed that his pulse was remarkably fast.  His chin was plastered to his chest.  When she spoke to him he lifted his head and opened his eyes slightly, but his pupils were constricted despite the sun still being low on the horizon.  His head dropped again and he stopped responding.

Sensing what she was thinking, Bolin knelt to help her remove the man's jacket.  He wore a plain white t-shirt underneath, and they spotted a telltale mark in the crook of his elbow.  They both looked over the man's exposed skin for similar marks, but found only the one. 

Korra turned to look at Bumi.  "Draw up two milligrams of Narcan," she said.  It wasn't phrased as a request, but Korra had a way of sounding polite even when she wasn't asking for something.  Bumi opened the drug box and went to work.  As she was turning back to the patient, she noticed splotches of white all over Bolin's face and neck.

"Bolin, what in the Kingdom do you have all over your face?"

Bolin almost winced at the question as he scratched one side of his face.  "I was covered in soap when the call kicked out."

Iroh looked up from his charting tablet, fixing his gaze on Bolin.  "So instead of rinsing yourself off, you just threw your clothes back on as you were?"

Bolin nodded sheepishly.

Iroh chuckled knowingly.  Korra shook her head and turned to Tahno, who already had the gurney lowered, the buckles undone.  Bumi handed the now-empty vial and the capped, full syringe to Korra.  She deposited them in her shirt pocket, moved to help Bolin pick up their patient and put him on the gurney, and while Tahno and Kai belted the young man in she checked the vial and syringe to make sure everything was correct - two mg of Narcan, drawn appropriately.  She put them back in her shirt pocket and hopped in the back of the rescue, Bolin and Iroh hot on her heels.  Tahno loaded the patient and went back to the cab to map out their route to Republic City Hospital.  Bumi and Kai set to work putting all of their equipment boxes away, while in the back of the rescue, Korra, Bolin, and Iroh worked on the patient.

"He must not have been using very long," Korra remarked as she easily pushed the IV catheter into a vein, retracted the needle, and set it on the bench.  "I got it on the first try.  Twenty gauge, left AC."

"Thank you," Iroh replied, nose still plastered to the tablet.  "Bolin, do you have vitals yet?"

Bolin had just started taking a blood sugar with the remains of the catheter and looked up at the monitor.  "Blood pressure is ninety-two over forty-six, heart rate is one-thirty-one, satting at eighty-seven, respers at six a minute."

Iroh looked up, ready to give orders.  He didn't have to; Korra and Bolin were already on it.  Korra had an extension set taped down to the IV and was re-checking her drug and Bolin was setting up a non-rebreather mask on the portable oxygen tank.  Korra screwed the syringe into the extension port and slowly pushed one-quarter of the Narcan in it, careful not to wake the patient too quickly.  Once he had the patient on high-flow oxygen, Bolin pulled a stethoscope from the back of his seat and started listening for lung sounds.

Within seconds of the drug being pushed, the patient's color began to improve and his respiratory rate came closer to an acceptable level.  "Lung sounds are clear," Bolin announced.

"Code two to City," Iroh called, referring to the short name they had given Republic City Hospital. 

The rescue eased forward and into traffic, slowly accelerating to the speed limit.  Korra called out a second set of vital signs as she set up a 1000 mL bag of normal saline and started a drip.  The patient's vital signs were stabilizing, although they still weren't optimal. 

Bolin had started squirming in his seat. 

"Bolin, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were a little uncomfortable," Iroh deadpanned.  He still didn't look up from his tablet.

Korra looked down as she hung the bag from a hook on the ceiling and saw her friend scratching madly, using his shirt as an abrasive against his chest and sides.  His hands crept lower and lower as he worked.  Korra laughed as she got the impression that he wished right now that he had eight hands. 

"Breathe, Bolin," Korra chuckled. 

"SPIRITS, MY BALLS ITCH!!!"

Korra burst out laughing and Iroh froze, his finger hovering over the screen of his tablet.  He looked ready to let his gruff exterior crack as well; instead, he raised an eyebrow.  "Don't you dare go any lower, Bolin.  There's a lady present."

Korra sat down, slouched, splayed her knees apart, and turned a look of mock insult on the young captain.  "Who're you calling a lady?"

"Check the patient's pupils again."

Bolin halted his efforts at alleviating his discomfort briefly.  He pulled a penlight from the slot on his left sleeve, ready to test the patient's pupils, but they were still pinpoint and barely reactive.  He put the penlight back in its slot and resumed scratching every spot on his body he could reach.  Korra giggled as she hit the button to take another blood pressure.  Through the windows on the back doors she could tell that they were pulling in to RCH; she felt the familiar sharp dip that shook the back of the rescue as they pulled into the ambulance bay.

Korra took the saline bag down from its hook and hung it on the pole attached to the gurney before hopping out and letting Tahno unload the patient.  The four of them wheeled him inside, where Opal directed them to the blue zone, room 14.  She didn't miss the look that passed between Opal and Bolin.  It made her smile.  It also made her think of Asami, and her eyes flitted to the clock on the wall; it was 08:55, and they still had to restock their Narcan and drive back to the station.  They'd be in service, too, meaning that it was entirely possible that they could catch another call.  Korra quietly chastised herself for having still not memorized Asami's cell phone number after two years.

They wheeled into room 14, where Kai and Tahno moved the patient from the gurney to the hospital bed.  Korra watched to make sure they minded the IV as Iroh gave report.

"Male, 20s, found propped against a bench at a bus stop, A and O times zero.  Conscious but unresponsive.  Single track mark found on the right AC.  Suspected opioid overdose.  We packaged him for transport, administered point-five of Narcan, baseline vitals improved, respiratory drive improved, we didn't see any need to administer any more Narcan."

"Thank you, Captain," came a familiar voice from the doorway.  There stood Doctor Chen, the same doctor who had treated Korra two years prior.  "Was anything found on him?"

"We have his wallet, but we didn't find anything else on him," Korra replied.

Without another word, the crew filed out of the room.  Iroh had taught them all on day one that doctors want a quick and dirty report, and walking into a room not knowing what to say will result in being tossed from the room by a doctor with no patience for stalling.

Korra turned to say something to Bolin but found that he'd disappeared.

"He looked really uncomfortable," Opal said from somewhere to Korra's right.  "I told him to go into an empty patient room where there's a shower."

Korra roared with laughter.  Iroh's exterior finally broke, and the man let out a chuckle.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami let out a loud belly laugh.  She knew Bolin well, and while he was a brilliant medic, he was clueless about other things.

"I mean, I felt bad for him," Korra snickered, "but it's not like he hasn't been doing this for, like, seven years.  This isn't the first time he's showered on duty."

"I can't believe that he announced that his balls itched in the back of the rescue," Asami laughed.

Korra giggled again.  "The patient was pretty out of it, so I'm not worried about a complaint."

Asami finished off her eggs and took a long swig of water.  "You know what else I can't believe?  Iroh actually laughed out loud."

"Neither can I!"

Korra pushed her plate away, completely empty, and sat back.  She waited for a moment before collecting their plates and taking them to the kitchen, kissing Asami as she went.  Asami followed closely, making sure her presence was known.  As Korra rinsed their dishes off, Asami pressed her body against Korra's back; she slowly stroked Korra's sides as her lover rinsed everything off and set them aside to wash thoroughly later.

"So..." Asami pressed her front to Korra's back and let her hands slowly snake around to her stomach.  "We had plans.  Do we still...?"

Korra sighed as she felt a warm hand dip barely below her waist.  She dropped a plate almost hard enough to break.  "I can't imagine doing anything else."

Asami let her right hand dip below Korra's belt, past her hipbones, and down to her clit.  She teased at Korra's sensitive nub, hoping that the action was enough to erase any previous disagreement.

One bronze hand slammed down hard on the edge of the sink in response.  Korra's entire body went rigid and she fought to remain upright as Asami did her level best to make her give in.

"Bedroom," Korra gasped, unsure how she intended to make it there without parting from her lover.

Chapter Text

Bolin walked out to the bay with purpose, as if he'd been given an order and was on his way to carry it out. He strode past the engine, over to the rescue, and hopped in the box through the side door. He plopped down in the jump seat and fiddled with the portable O2 tank at the head of the gurney as he tried to appear busy.

He looked up at Korra with a mischievous grin.  "You got laid!"

Korra turned slowly to meet his gaze and fought to suppress a smile of her own.  "You're perceptive."

"Don't deny it!"

"What, are you finally turning thirteen?  Are you old enough to have that talk about the birds and the bees now?"

Bolin let out a hearty laugh.  "I knew it!  You're never this happy in the morning!"

"Spirits, Bolin," Korra rolled her eyes.  "What the hell do you think we do at home?  Practice our knitting?  We're engaged.  Yes, we have sex once in a while.  Last I checked, romantic relationships don't often survive without doing the dirty."

"Did you screw like rabbits all day long?"

"Oh, my god..."

"Because you're almost downright chipper!"

"Bolin!"

"You should totally do that more often."

"Would you shut the fuck up?"

Bolin flashed his goofy grin and barely caught the pack of soft restraints that were pitched at his face.  "I, uh...I think I wanna ask Opal the question."

Korra froze in her tracks.  "You what?"

"I wanna ask her to marry me!"

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"Finally!"

Bolin blinked in surprise.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

Korra sighed heavily.  "Bo, everyone knew a month after you two started dating that you were made for each other.  You've been seeing her longer than I've been with Asami.  You should have popped the question years ago, my friend."

"Hey, her Aunt Lin is scary!"  Bolin protested.  "I'd rather stare down Opal's twin brothers than have Chief Lin knocking on my door!"

"I don't know what you're so afraid of," came a new voice from the open side door.  "Chief Lin is a pussycat.  And she's gayer than Korra."

Korra and Bolin turned to face the new voice and saw Bolin's older brother Mako standing there.  He was smartly dressed in his Mandarin-collared suit, his jacket removed, badge shining prominently on his belt.  His recent promotion to detective had received a great deal of fanfare, although he felt it was too much - especially since his only cases so far had been petty crimes involving simple assaults.  Homicide and violent crimes were investigated by the same unit and there were too many detectives superior to Mako for him to hope for a major case yet.

Korra screwed up her face into a disgusted scowl.  "That was more than I needed to know, Mako."

"What?"  Mako chuckled.  "She's one of your people!  Doesn't that make you happy?  She's a total carpet muncher!"

Korra jumped out of the rescue with a shiver and a mock gag.  "OKAY!  On that note..."

"Hey, don't leave yet.  I have someone here who wants to see you."

Korra turned back.  "Mako, if this is another one of your poorly-timed lap dances -"

"NO!"  Mako guffawed.

"It'd be hilarious if it was!"  Bolin giggled.

"That's because you didn't have latrine duty for a month when Iroh walked in on you trying to get away from a cheap stripper," Korra snarked, then turned an accusatory finger to his brother.  "You, Mako, still owe me for that!"

"Well, I think I have just the thing," Mako replied, his expression suddenly serene.  "Come on inside.  I'll bring 'em in."

Korra looked at Bolin with a cautious expression and the pair walked inside.  There, in the galley, seated at the table, was Tahno.  Bumi and Kai sat nearby and Iroh stood behind the crowd, leaning against the counter, listening with a look of consternation on his face.

"Seriously," Tahno said, continuing whatever discussion they'd been having.  "We have so many of these damned overdose calls.  Maybe if you'd slam the whole dose, you know, make 'em as uncomfortable as possible, they'd stop using.  We'd have fewer problems with drugs in Republic City.  Problem solved."

Korra knew exactly what he was talking about.  During their late call on their last shift, they had treated a patient whom they suspected had overdosed on heroin.  Korra had titrated the dose of Narcan just enough to bring back the patient's respiratory drive; he'd been breathing only four or five times a minute, not nearly enough to sustain life.  She turned an icy stare on her partner as she spoke.

"Tahno, do you know why I did what I did?  Why I always do that?"

Tahno looked up at her with a blank expression.  "No.  I always just assumed you were being a bleeding heart."

Anger flashed across her face for a brief moment.  "You would."

Bolin interrupted, sensing a looming fight.  "Tahno, do you really wanna be the one to hose down the back of the rescue after one of these ODs pukes all over it?"  He dropped his forearms to the table and leaned forward.

Before anybody could respond, there was a knock at the door between the galley and the barracks hallway.  Iroh only closed it when a visitor was coming so that they'd have warning when they were about to be interrupted; a sign hung on the hallway side that read "please knock."  Iroh walked over and held the door open, and Mako entered with a woman they'd never seen before.  She was middle-aged but still attractive, with a smattering of gray hair among her dishwater blond locks.  Korra thought she recognized the woman's features and was trying to figure out where she'd met the woman when Mako introduced her.

"Guys, this is Mei Huang," Mako announced.  "You treated her son recently.  Mrs. Huang, this is the crew of Engine One and Rescue One, A-shift."

The woman seemed timid at first, but she stepped forward and spoke anyway.  "Actually, you saved my son's life.  He...overdosed on heroin and was found passed out at a bus stop.  Doctor Chen said that you were very respectful about it, and I wanted to thank you."

Bolin stood back up.  Korra looked speechless.  Bumi chewed on his toothpick, as quiet as ever with a stranger in the firehouse.  Kai looked ready to cry, but he was somehow the first to find his voice.  "Ma'am, that's the way any of us should treat any patient, regardless of what anyone thinks of them.  If anyone else has ever treated him with anything less than dignity and respect, then I'd like to be the first to apologize."

The young booter's wisdom hit Korra like a punch in the gut.  It was the last thing she expected from someone so inexperienced.  She looked at Iroh and could have sworn she saw his expression switch to pride for a split second.

"That's exactly it," Mei continued.  "He'd been doing so well for the past couple of years.  He came back from the conflict with Amon so different.  He was wounded, and he ended up addicted to narcotic pain pills.  When his doctor cut him off, he started buying them on the street, but they were so expensive...he ran out of money, even from the stipend he was getting from his medical retirement from the military.  His fiancée broke up with him when she found out he'd switched to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get high on.  He got pretty low for a while.  Whenever he'd overdose, the paramedics would be so rough with him, even though he never fought them.  He loved Mika so much that he pulled himself up and got clean.  He fought so hard to make things right with her.  She miscarried their first child last week."

Korra remembered the conflict all too well.  She'd still been a booter herself when it went down, and every firefighter in Republic City reported to their firehouses without being asked to help treat the wounded.  While the conflict itself had been brief, its effects had been shocking, and nobody had forgotten it.  Korra and Bolin had been awarded medals for their heroism that day.  Neither had them on display.  Korra had to wonder for a moment what she'd done with hers. 

Iroh's voice interrupted her thoughts.  "I can't take credit for anything Kai just said, but I would also like to apologize.  He's right.  We train every member of the Republic City Fire Department to be polite and treat everyone with the same respect we'd want our own families to be treated.  I hope your son gets back on track.  If you need any help, please don't hesitate to ask."

She gave them a tearful, whispered "thank you" and turned to leave, Mako close by.  He shut the hallway door as he went.

After another stunned silence, Korra finally spoke.  "That, Tahno.  That is why we don't slam two milligrams of Narcan to make the patient as uncomfortable as we can.  Not everyone is a piece of shit."  With that, she quietly walked out, heading for her room.  She was so angry with her partner that any further interaction probably wasn't going to end well.

She didn't hear Iroh's words.  "You've only been a firefighter for two and a half years, Tahno.  I don't know what has managed to make you so jaded in such a short period of time, but if you're that willing to deliberately cause a patient discomfort because you've judged them to deserve it, then maybe you need professional help."

Tahno didn't seem to hear any of it.  He simply shrugged and continued sipping his morning tea.

 

*     *     *

 

"Engine One, Rescue One, channel three," came the dispatcher's voice.  "Diabetic issues.  344 South Sixth Street, no apartment number.  Engine One, Rescue One, channel three."

It was a bright, sunny, almost-warm day out, so Korra left her brush pants behind and jumped into the rescue in her shorts and slip-on boots.  She briefly checked to make sure her shirt was tucked in as she went.  Everyone else was close behind and they started rolling as soon as the bay doors were open.  Less than four minutes later, they found the address; it wasn't the nicest neighborhood.  The building was a rent-controlled complex that the crews all spent a lot of time at, although diabetic issues was pretty rare.  They spotted the patient before even getting out of their vehicles - he was leaned back on the entryway stairs and a bystander was waving furiously for the crew to come quickly.

Korra pulled on a pair of gloves as she approached the downed man.  Her eyes swept the neighborhood quickly, checking to make sure she wouldn't be surprised by anyone dangerous to the crew.  She didn't recognize the man at all; he wasn't one of their frequent fliers, and she was cautious as she walked up to the bystander.

The woman was borderline hysterical.  Her jet-black hair was falling haphazardly from its ponytail and she looked at Korra with wide, tear-filled eyes.  "I don't know what's going on!  He's diabetic, but he's always real good about taking care of himself and I've never seen him like this!"

"Okay, ma'am," Korra tried to calm the woman, allowing Bolin and Kai to pass her and start assessing the patient.  "I understand that you're scared, but I need you to take a breath.  I have some questions for you and you're going to need to be able to think, alright?"

The woman nodded and started breathing deeply and slowly, trying to calm herself. 

"Alright...what's his name?"

"Bak."

"What's your name?"

"Ming-na."

"Ming-na, I'm Korra.  Can you tell me what happened?"

Ming-na was distracted for a moment by Bolin's attempts to get Bak to respond to him.  "Um...he said he wasn't feeling well.  I asked him if he knew what his sugar was, and he said he didn't think it was his sugar.  His face was really, really red and he said he needed to go to the hospital.  We were walking there when he said he couldn't walk anymore and he sat down, but he stopped talking to me and just laid down on the steps like this!"

"Do you know what medications he takes?"

"He takes insulin, but I don't know what it's called.  His doctor gave him a new one a couple of days ago."

"When was the last time he took it?"

"A few hours ago, right after breakfast."

"What did he eat?"

"Oatmeal and an apple, the same thing he has every morning."

"Has he been sick at all?  Nauseous?"

"No, it just started all of a sudden and he thought if he walked around a little bit that he might feel better."

Bolin finished getting a glucose.  "It's under thirty, guys.  The glucometer just reads 'low'."

Iroh turned to Bumi but found he didn't have to give an order.  Bumi was already drawing a syringe with Glucagon.  He double-checked it and handed it to Bolin, who triple checked the drug, dose, and expiration.  He found a spot on the man's shoulder and administered it IM, rubbing the spot after withdrawing the needle.  "One mil Glucagon in."

Korra turned back to Ming-na.  "I know most diabetics don't like being transported to the hospital, but unfortunately we need to now.  He ate normally, took his medication, and his sugar tanked really, really fast.  I'm concerned that there's something going on."

"He won't be happy, but he can live with it."

Korra turned to Tahno, who already had the gurney ready.  Korra was ready to jump in and help, but the patient was small enough that Bolin and Kai were able to pick him up and lay him on the gurney with ease.  They belted him in and loaded him in the rescue.

"I know you're upset, and I know you don't have a ride, so I'm not gonna leave you here," Iroh said to the frightened woman.  "I'll have you ride up front.  Before we move an inch, I need you to promise me that you'll stay in your seat, you won't try to stick your head through the porthole to see what's happening, and you won't be a distraction to my EMT while he drives.  He needs to be able to pay attention to the road and we need to be able to work.  Can you promise me that?"

Ming-na nodded quickly and rushed to get in the front seat, following Tahno's polite request to buckle up.  Korra followed Iroh and Bolin to the back of the rescue, while Bumi and Kai cleaned up and put their equipment away, preparing to meet the rest of the crew at the hospital. 

Bolin called out a set of vital signs and continued to try to rouse the patient.  His eyes opened, but he didn't track anyone - his expression was blank and his eyes didn't focus on anything.  He closed them as suddenly as he opened them, and Bolin took another sugar.  "We're not doing much better, he's only up to thirty-two."

Iroh handed the second box of Glucagon to Korra.  She checked it, drew it up, double-checked it, and pushed it.  "Second dose of Glucagon in."  While it wasn't unheard of for a diabetic patient to have issues with their sugar, this was a rare one.  Korra wondered aloud if maybe he'd taken too much of his medication.  Iroh nodded, still fixed on his tablet, charting furiously.

As they felt the familiar sway of the rescue pulling into the ambulance entrance, Bolin took another sugar.  "Guys, he's burning this stuff almost as fast as we can give it to him.  He's only at thirty-eight."

"His sugar should be coming up much faster," Iroh agreed, "and he's still barely responsive."

They unloaded the patient, wheeled him in, and found themselves waved into the yellow zone before they'd even had a chance to stop.  Doctor Manu met them as they walked the gurney into room 21.  Iroh started spitting out the facts as quickly as he could while Bolin and Kai sheeted the patient over to the hospital bed.  In less than sixty seconds, they had transferred the patient, given report, and walked out of the room.

Korra slipped away from the crew and headed for the horseshoe, thankful that she could justify allowing the booter to clean and dress the gurney and re-pack the monitor.  The level one trauma zone was nearly deserted, and Korra was able to sneak through to the doctor's private offices unimpeded.  From around a corner she spotted Asami poring over what looked like a patient chart.  Korra crouched over and stalked into the office, grinning as she came up behind her lover without making a sound.  Slowly...slowly...slooooowly...

"Hi, honey!"

Asami squealed in fright, launching herself from her chair and sending it sailing backwards, knocking Korra to the floor in the process.  The doctor slapped both hands over her mouth when she realized who it was.

"Spirits, Korra!"  Asami gasped.  "You could've warned me!"

Korra giggled as she picked herself up off the floor.  "Yeah, but that would've been no fun!"

"You did that on purpose?"

"Who, me?  Never!"

"I know where you sleep."

"You don't know the gate code."

"I can tell Iroh."

Korra wrapped Asami in a loving hug.  "Yeah, but you won't.  You love me too much."

Asami couldn't argue.  She returned the gesture, finally relaxing as her heart rate returned to normal.  "What'd you bring in?"

Korra let out a deep breath as she pulled back to look at her.  "Diabetic emergency.  Male, late twenties, type one diabetic.  Wife said he takes care of himself religiously and he's never gone unresponsive before.  He's on a new type of insulin injection.  He ate breakfast as normal, took his insulin, and three hours later said he felt sick enough to go to the ER.  They were walking here when he collapsed."

"Three hours?"  Asami repeated.  "I don't suppose she knew how much insulin he took?"

"She didn't, but she said he didn't think it was his sugar.  It sounds like his sugar dropped so suddenly that he wasn't used to the sensation it caused."

"Possible overdose?"

"That's what I was thinking.  Although, new medication, unknown type...for all we know, it could still be in the testing phase."

Asami looked past Korra to someone else in the doorway behind her.  "Hey, Iroh."

"Good morning, Doctor Sato," Iroh smiled.  "I hate to run, but we've got a fire."

Korra perked up.  Asami smirked at her as she excitedly turned and ran with little more than a "love you" as she went.

"Behave," Asami called after them.

 

*     *     *

 

Bumi pulled the engine in behind the first-in, Engine Three, and set the parking brake.  Tahno flipped the rescue around so the back faced the engine and both had enough space for hose lines and the gurney (if need be).  Engine Three had been called for a stove fire; upon arrival, they declared it a working fire and requested a balance assignment.  Engine Two and Ladder Two were on the way, along with BC One.  Everyone jumped out of their vehicles; the engine crew had already donned their heavy turnouts.  Korra and Tahno still had to put on their coats and fish their SCBAs out of the engine.  As they did that, Iroh radioed in for Engine Three to ask what they needed.  A single attack line led from their truck to the front door of a single-family house.

Korra noticed the front door hanging wide open and thick, black smoke pouring from it.  She could see the faint glow of flames dancing behind the screen of the smoke.  The response from the crew already inside was chopped and the only thing they caught was, "...we're losing water...zero visibility..."  Their engineer was working like mad to find out why their attack line was going slack, but his instrumentation all showed it was functioning normally. 

"Cap!"  Korra called, jogging over to him with her SCBA in her hand.  She suddenly remembered something from her advanced training over the winter, and if the crew inside was in trouble - which nobody doubted - that lesson could end up saving lives.  "I think we need to shut that door and attack through the rear window!"

Iroh looked at her for a moment as if she were insane.  It had long been taught that shutting all the doors behind a crew and spraying water into a burning compartment would create an even hotter environment with superheated steam, but something clicked in his mind, too.  He hadn't been in the class but he'd heard her talking about it.  The open door was feeding oxygen to the fire, and it was going to keep getting hotter until it reached the point of a flashover.

The yard was mercifully small.  Iroh sent Kai to the back yard to clear a path and ordered Tahno and Bolin to set up a single attack line.  Korra dug her irons out of the rear compartment of the rescue and trotted to the back yard.  The yard had been very meticulously kept.  The only thing Kai had to move was some yard furniture, and he was dragging the last chair to a corner when Korra appeared and handed him her Halligan.

"Bolin is coming with the line," Korra said.  "When we're ready, you're gonna pry that window open just enough so we can attack from here.  We're going to send a few short bursts of water through the window to try to cool that compartment down.  The idea is to stop that room from reaching flashover.  Make sense?"

Kai nodded eagerly, his expression all business.  Bolin came jogging back with the uncharged line and nozzle slung over his shoulder.  They could all hear the sirens of the other apparatus heading for the scene, and while everyone wanted to vent the roof, they still hadn't heard much from the crew of Engine Three.  Kai had pulled his mask on and Korra and Bolin were about to.

Korra looked up just in time.  There were two large windows on the rear of the house, and Kai was situated behind the wrong one.  He had her Halligan tool jammed under the frame and was preparing to apply pressure to open it.  She noticed that the window itself was a sickening shade of brown - then she saw it.  A puff of yellowish-brown smoke escaped a corner of the window frame, only to be sucked back in a moment later.

"Kai, that's the wrong window!"  Korra yelled.

"...Three, we're evacuating now.  Following our line out.  Do not open any doors or windows!"

Iroh was half into the back yard when he heard the report come over his radio and saw  what was happening too late to say anything.

"KAI, STOP!"

Kai never heard Korra bellowing at him.  He pulled down on the Halligan, using the window sill as a fulcrum, prying the window open.

Bolin launched himself at the booter, but Korra didn't see how it ended.  The force of the backdraft tossed her backward, knocking down Iroh as she went.

Chapter Text

Korra laid still for a few moments. She was afraid to move at first. She knew exactly what had happened; she was afraid to find out whether Kai, the crew's booter, was hurt (or worse). She'd been in a couple of fires that had presented the danger of a backdraft before, but never had she witnessed one coming to life the way she just did. She knew Iroh was alive, because the captain was struggling to his feet already, screaming for Kai and Bolin.

Bolin!

Korra surged to her feet the instant she remembered that her best friend had gone after Kai in an attempt to protect him.  She was attached to Iroh's hip as he raced to the opposite side of the yard where the other two firefighters lay in a tangled heap.  Everything seemed to move in slow motion - Korra noticed that the huge tree that had left a gap in the fence was now on fire.  She noticed that the fence was scorched.  She heard the warbling of a PASS device take up its wail, then a second.  She heard Iroh call "firefighter down" over the radio and she knew that everyone not currently occupied (mostly the engineers) were going to drop whatever they were doing and rush to their rescue.  As she reached the pile of turnouts and limbs, she noticed that Bolin was missing his helmet.  She could see his familiar features sticking out of the face hole of his protective hood.  Without a thought for a possible spine injury, Korra pulled him off of Kai and turned him as much as she could, leaving him halfway on his side, propped up by the tank of his SCBA.

"BOLIN!"  She yelled, her voice muffled by her mask.  She thought he'd gotten his mask on, but it still hung unused by its straps around his neck.  She heard Iroh calling Kai's name, but her entire world focused on the man in front of her - the one person who hadn't treated her like a punching bag when she graduated the academy. 

She heaved a sigh of relief when he opened his eyes and focused on her.  "Bolin, can you hear me?"

"You're yelling loud enough!"  Bolin shouted back.  "Kai?"

"Iroh's got him," Korra said.  "Can you walk?"

Bolin was already pushing himself upright.  "I'm fine."

Korra pulled him to his feet and, without waiting to check him, wrapped one arm around his midsection for support.  He accepted the help with an arm around her shoulders and they jogged away together, knowing full well that Iroh was leading Kai out.  They didn't know if he was really okay but they knew he was walking and that was enough for now.  The crew made their way to the rescue, where Bolin and Kai both sat down on the rear bumper without argument.  Even the booter knew what procedure was at this point. 

Engine Two had already parked along the Eastern sector of the property, slightly North so they could aim their cannon at the burning tree.  Within seconds of evac, they had water on the tree.  BC One was parked West of the property facing in and had established command.  Korra could hear him barking orders to shift operations to defensive; nobody else would be entering the house or the back yard until the fire was out and it was safe to begin overhaul.  Rescues Two and Three had been called at some point, and Korra was slightly surprised to see them pull up behind the BC's pickup truck to the West.

"Tahno, you'll remain on scene to assist Bumi," Iroh ordered.  "Everyone else goes to the hospital.  No arguments.  Korra, you're with Bolin in Rescue Two."

Korra and Bolin wordlessly trudged off to Rescue Two, where the two paramedics immediately began assessing them.  Korra began removing her SCBA and turnout coat straightaway while Bolin needed help.  His shoulder was giving him some grief and it hurt to move.  After some help and a rapid assessment, it was decided that Korra was able to sit upright without assistance but Bolin needed to be on the gurney.  They carefully loaded and belted him onto the gurney, Korra helped pile their removed turnouts in the side compartment that Rescue Three's crew had kept theirs in - both were wearing partials, pants and boots but no coats, leaving room for Korra and Bolin to store theirs - and she climbed in the rescue ready to go.

She didn't feel any pain.  Her adrenaline was still going.  As the other medic monitored Bolin's vital signs, she watched in a daze, still unsure whether she believed what had just happened.  She went over the events in her mind again.  She'd gotten her irons...handed her Halligan to Kai...explained what they were going to do...but she couldn't remember verifying for him which window needed to be opened.  Korra suddenly felt like a complete idiot.  Kai was everyone's responsibility.  In that moment, he had been hers.  She'd lost track of him after giving incomplete instructions.  Yes, he'd graduated the academy, but the action the crew was supposed to take was completely foreign to Kai.  I should have been more attentive.  I should have known better than to hand him a tool and walk away from him...

The familiar sensation of the rescue hitting the dip at the turn to the ambulance entrance to the hospital snapped her from her thoughts.  When it finally ground to a halt, Korra jumped out through the side door; without looking, she walked to the back, where Bolin was being brought out.  She followed him around to the doors and met a familiar pair of green eyes.

Asami hadn't followed her physically, but Korra could tell she'd been pretty worked up waiting for them to arrive.  There was no way she could have gotten a message to her fiancée before now.  Asami would have answered the patch from the medic who'd been in back with her and Korra could only imagine where her mind had gone when she heard it had been the crew of Engine One and Rescue One involved.  Korra gave her a look that she hoped conveyed the fact that she was alright.  Thankfully, Asami appeared to get the message - her expression turned to relief and she walked along with the gurney carrying Bolin as they wheeled him into the level one trauma zone.

Korra followed closely as Bolin was moved to a trauma suite, where a whole team waited to perform a string of tests to make sure they missed nothing.  Asami, though still in her residency, was allowed to run the team while Doctor Manu observed on the periphery.

Doctor Manu was a middle-aged man with dark hair, a light smattering of gray at his temples, and a generous helping of muscle.  He wasn't very tall - not even Asami's height - but he was built like a tank.  Despite the visual display of toughness, his personality was very gentle.  He noticed Korra standing in the hallway, watching closely as nurses removed what was left of Bolin's turnouts and started noting every swollen joint, tender spot, and cut that needed attention.  Confident that Asami knew what she was doing, the attending physician walked over to Korra.

"You're supposed to be in the room next door, if I'm not mistaken," Doctor Manu said, looking at her over the top of his glasses.  "Follow me."

Korra did as she was asked without hesitation, although her mind never left Bolin's room.  Even as two nurses attended to her, prepping her for a round of x-rays and blood work, Korra watched as Bolin was wheeled away to parts unknown.  Asami was about to walk into the room when Doctor Manu intercepted her.  The attending had a quiet conversation with her before Asami met her gaze, raised one hand to her lips, and walked away.

"I'm sure you two have had the talk.  Right now she has a patient to attend to, and it would be unethical for her to take part in your treatment."

Korra had been too busy mirroring Asami's action to pay attention at first.  She only caught a portion of what he'd said.  "I'm sorry?"

"Korra, every doctor here knows about your relationship with Doctor Sato," Manu said, his deep voice slightly playful as he spoke.  "Every nurse, every tech, every unit secretary knows..."

"No, I really didn't hear what you said," Korra replied sheepishly.  "I was too busy..."

"...Making googly-eyes at your fiancée," Manu chuckled.

Korra blushed.

Manu laughed out loud.  "It's alright, Korra.  If you weren't I'd think there was something really wrong.  You've been doing this long enough to know what happens next.  Just do whatever my nursing staff asks of you, and you'll be done before you know it.  I need to check on the rest of your crew."

"Hey, Doc?"  Korra called after him, making him stop in his tracks and turn to face her again.  The man moved with purpose, and when he set his mind to a task he tended to disappear quickly.  She was surprised that she caught him.

"Could someone please tell me how everyone's doing?"

Doctor Manu had been doing his job for a very long time.  What none of the fire crews knew was that he'd gotten his training in the military of the United Republic.  While he had rules he had to follow, he also understood the bond between the members of the fire crews and none of them would sit still until they knew each other was really going to be fine.

Unable to make promises aloud, he said what he could.  "I'll do what I can to keep you appraised.  For now, just focus on rest and relaxation.  That's the best thing for you."

Korra understood what he was saying, but after everything that had gone on, she wasn't going to be able to relax until she knew that everyone really was safe.  She did as she was asked, barely registering the sensation of a needle penetrating her left arm to draw several vials of blood.  She was barely aware of the x-ray tech giving orders.  She did as asked, but her mind was in four different places, and she probably wasn't going to remember details of the exam later.  Occasionally she had to be asked twice to move a certain way, and while the nurses took note, nobody was really concerned.  They had all seen this brand of barely-there inattention before from other fire crews.  One or two got hurt and the rest couldn't focus until they had positive news.  Nobody was surprised by it.  It had to be noted, but it was to be expected.

 

*     *     *

 

Even as Bolin was allowed to move himself from the CT table back to his hospital bed, Asami's mind was elsewhere.  Korra had been perfectly responsive, but Asami was going to worry until she knew that nothing was really wrong.  Her brain had gone into overdrive when she'd answered the patch in the first place.  Even having laid eyes on her fiancée, her mind was only too happy to wander to the worst-case, imagining the worst possible what-if scenario she could come up with.

She still had no idea what the details were.  All she knew was that four of the six crew members had been involved in some kind of explosion, and at least two had the potential for serious traumatic injury.  Her professional mind knew that Korra was not one of the two listed as potentially serious, but the doctor in her kept asking whether they really knew what was going on.  Even as she looked through Bolin's CT scans for possibly major injuries that an initial assessment would miss, her subconscious wondered whether Korra was really as okay as she let on.  Asami had to refocus herself several times, and as she went through the motions of treating the firefighter she knew to be her lover's best friend, she silently chastised herself. 

I know better than this.  I'm a doctor.  I should be able to separate myself from this.  It's wrong to let my mind wander to something I have no control over.

Asami knew that the hospital would never allow her to really attend to her fiancée in an official capacity, but that didn't stop her mind from latching onto the one person in the building that meant the world to her.  Even as she was supposed to be focused entirely on the man she knew was Korra's closest friend, Asami couldn't help but allow her thoughts to wander.  What if she has a concussion?  What if she has a penetrating injury that even she hasn't figured out yet?  What if...?

Asami had to expend every ounce of energy she had to remain focused on her patient.  Bolin was a close friend of Korra's, but after two years he'd become a close friend of hers as well.  Both Bolin and Mako had gotten close to the couple.  Asami felt guilty for letting her mind wander, regardless of the reason.

Get it together, Sato, she said to herself as she followed Bolin and his transport techs to return him to the trauma ward.  After what she'd seen, she didn't think he had any life- (or career-) ending injuries.  She knew the man well, but regardless of how she knew him, she had to operate as a clinician, and everything she'd been taught to do and think told her that nothing was certain until every possible test had cleared him to go home.  She also happened to know that he lived alone, and she had to act as if he would be able to care for himself.

I'm not sure if I can do that, Asami thought quietly.  With everything that was going on, all she could think of was what she would tell Korra.  Can we give him a safe place to stay?  Would it be right?  Would I need to look after him, or would Korra need to be his caretaker while I acted in the background?

Some part of Asami knew that Bolin was dating a nurse, but she barely knew the woman and she already felt as if she were breaching every form of ethics she'd been taught long ago.  She felt guilty, but at the same time felt glad that Bolin was (for the most part) safe from major injury.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra sat pensively as a nurse took another set of vital signs and documented them on her patient chart.

"Would you happen to know anything about my crew?"

The unknown nurse looked up at Korra, tired but compassionate.  "I can't promise anything, but I'll see what I can come up with.  I promise."

Asami walked in to find Korra stripped to her PT shorts and t-shirt.  All of her turnouts, SCBA included, had been deposited neatly in a corner.  She walked in and sat down on the edge of the bed and gave Korra a visual once-over for her own peace of mind.

"Doctor Manu says you're fine," Asami said.  "You feeling okay?"

"Does feeling like a total dipshit count?"

Asami's brow furrowed in question.  "Why?"

"This was kinda my fault."

"How could an explosion be your fault, Korra?"

"It was a backdraft.  Another crew was doing an interior attack and they were losing water for some reason.  I was trying to teach Kai a new tactic on keeping the interior from reaching flashover and burning that crew.  I gave him my Halligan and only about half of the instructions, and he pried the wrong window open.  It fed the dying fire oxygen and...well, you see how it ended."

Another voice sounded from behind the curtain.  The couple looked up to see Iroh walking in.  "I'm glad you're taking responsibility, Korra, but it isn't as much your fault as you think."  He stepped in and crossed his arms over his chest, appraising her physical appearance.  "Kai screwed up.  It was a total FNG move and he knows it.  He's owning up, too.  He says he wasn't sure which window he was supposed to open and he admits that he wasn't paying attention to the behavior of the smoke."

"I should have been more specific with him," Korra countered.  "He was with me, listening to my orders.  He was my responsibility."

"I am his captain," Iroh said.  "He is my responsibility at all times.  I should have been back there with you, and that's on me.  Bolin is in with Kai.  Care to join me?"

Korra looked at Asami as if asking permission.  In response, Asami took the BP cuff off of her arm, stood, and helped her up.  Korra didn't need the help but she graciously accepted it.  They walked across the horseshoe to another room to find Kai sitting sideways on his bed, feet dangling off the edge, Bolin sitting in a chair facing the young booter.

Kai looked at Korra as she walked in, his face displaying his guilt.  "I'm sorry, Korra."  His gaze immediately locked onto the floor.

Korra remembered when she was a booter.  All she wanted was to prove herself.  She remembered some of the idiotic mistakes she made in that quest.  Granted, none of them had quite the outcome that this one had, but she knew exactly what he was feeling.  She walked over and sat down next to him.  "Are you alright?"

"Doc says I'm gonna be sore for a few days, but I'll be fine," Kai replied.

Korra looked at Bolin.  "How 'bout you, stud?  You okay?"

"I have an excuse for Opal to give me a massage when I get home.  Score!"

Everyone laughed.  There was an uncomfortable silence on the other side of that laughter, one punctuated by Kai's next question.  "Do you think they'll fire me for this?"

"Kai, if they fired every booter for every dumb mistake they made, they wouldn't have any firefighters left," Korra replied.

"What did you learn from this, Kai?"

Kai looked up at Iroh as he responded.  "I shouldn't open any doors or windows until I'm sure of what I'm doing."

"Good.  You learned a lesson.  Everyone gets to go home," Iroh nodded to punctuate each sentence.

"It's a win-win!"  Bolin added.

"Bolin, did you hit your head or something?"  Korra snorted.  "You're being more of a dork than usual!"

"They did say I have a mild concussion," Bolin smiled.

"Oh, Spirits," Iroh cursed.  "It's a good thing we're all released for the rest of the shift.  I don't know how much of that I can take."

Bumi walked in, crossed his arms, and sighed heavily.  "Well, if you're all done with your 'after-school special' moment..."

"Bite me, you cranky old bastard," Korra joked.  Bumi chuckled.

"I think it's time we freed up the trauma ward," Iroh announced.  "Doctor Sato, thank you.  Pass our gratitude on to Doctor Manu as well."

Asami was always impressed with Iroh's well-spoken nature.  "I will.  Now, get out of my ER.  I don't want to see any of you here again today."

Iroh smiled at the good-natured remark as he led the crew out.  Korra paused to give Asami a hug.

"We have to debrief, but I'll be home as soon as we're done," Korra promised.

Asami squeezed her as tightly as she could in response.  Part of her still wanted to cry; whether pent-up tears of fear or relief, she couldn't tell, but now was not the time to let them out.  She would do that at home where they wouldn't be witnessed.

 

*     *     *

 

As they walked out of the ER, Korra spotted Tahno having what appeared to be an emotional conversation with one of the cute young techs.  She'd noticed him talking to her (or, more appropriately, flirting with her) on several occasions, but from the expression on his face now and the way she cupped the back of his head and drew him into a hug, they were more than friends now.  Korra wasn't sure whether to believe Tahno was actually upset or if he was just playing it up.  He wouldn't be the first firefighter to play that card, and she definitely wouldn't put it past him.  She quietly chastised herself as she climbed into the passenger side of the rescue; she reminded herself that she didn't know all that much about him and he might have actually been affected by what had happened.  Neither said a word as they drove back to the station, and Tahno was completely silent during the debrief. 

Korra carefully cleaned her turnouts and SCBA before re-packing them in her locker.  She had half-expected Bumi to give Kai a serious dressing-down, but he surprised everyone with his words: "you coulda killed both your crew and the crew that was evacuating, but you didn't.  Nobody's gonna let you forget it, and you shouldn't, but you shouldn't let it eat you up, either.  Chalk it up, kid."

His words rang in her mind repeatedly as she drove home.  They stuck with her as she pulled her station boots off outside the front door and walked inside.  "Chalk it up, kid."  She wished someone had been so wise when she was a booter.  Every time she'd screwed up during her first year, everyone - including her captain - had ridden her ass hard.  She took it quietly, never letting anyone know how much their words hurt, but it had all stuck with her.  She was glad that Kai was on her crew with a captain like Iroh, who was wise well beyond his years.  Korra knew how amazing her crew was (even with a self-absorbed jackass like Tahno) and thanked the Spirits that he wouldn't be abused the way she was.  He seemed to be much more sensitive than she had been.  He was going to be a great firefighter.  He simply needed the proper guidance.

Her mind was still fully focused on that subject when Asami walked in the door.  She was expertly stirring and flipping their favorite noodle mixture in the wok, stopping occasionally to use a pair of chopsticks to give the dish a proper stir, when Asami walked up behind her and gingerly wrapped her arms around Korra's midriff.  Korra didn't realize how tense she'd been until she felt Asami press herself fully against her back.

Asami pointed it out to her.  "You're way too tense, baby.  Are you alright?"

Korra melted into her at the sensation of a gentle hand lightly rubbing her left side.  "I'm fine.  I'm just...my mind is on other things.  Not really what happened today.  It's kinda hard to explain."

"Try me."

Korra couldn't say no to the kiss pressed against her neck just below her left ear.  "When I was a booter, the crew I was assigned to was really hard on me.  I don't know why, but I expected the crew to be really hard on Kai during debrief.  Bumi said something that just made me wish things had been different for me."

In all the time they'd been together, Asami had never heard her talk about her first year.  What she'd just heard was something of a revelation.  "How were they hard on you?"

"Whenever I made a mistake, even a small one, they were really harsh.  One of the guys was trying to free up more hose line that was caught on some furniture and knocked me over, and somehow it was my fault and they never let me live it down.  When I hit my rescue rotation, every tiny little mistake was the end of the damn world - I forgot to check the glucometer one day and discovered that we were out of lancets on a call.  The captain pulled me into his office and yelled at me for half an hour over it.  He was so angry I thought he was gonna have a stroke."

Asami noticed that, as Korra spoke, she started tensing up again.  By the time she was done speaking she was as stiff as a 2x4.  As Korra turned the heat off and dumped the contents of the wok into a serving dish, Asami stepped away enough to rub her back with long, slow strokes.  "I had no idea your first year was that hard.  Why didn't you tell me?"

"Honestly?  I've been trying to forget it ever since."

"I think you've been bottling it up instead.  It clearly still affects you."

"I'm glad Kai won't have to go through that."

Asami turned her around and looked her in the eye.  "Don't deflect this onto Kai.  I'm talking about you.  Something that ended four years ago still hurts you to the point that your whole body goes rigid when you talk about it.  I've never seen anything make you react that way.  Have you ever talked to anyone about it?"

"No."

"Not even Bolin?"

"Why?  What good would it do?  It's not like there's anything they can do about it now."

"To get it off your chest.  Korra, you work with the best crew in the city.  If I didn't know better, I could swear Iroh lives on Valium!"  Korra chuckled lightly at the joke.  "There's a laugh," Asami smiled before continuing.  "I'm always here, but this is something you need to talk to your friends about, too.  They need to know.  Hell, Iroh's mother was the first woman in the history of the Republic City Fire Department.  Talk to him."

Korra's tired features lightened into a slight smile.  "I love you."

"I love you, too," Asami said as she leaned in for a kiss.  "Now...food, massage, sleep.  In that order."

"I get a massage?"

"It's the perfect excuse for me to feel up those muscles."

"Babe, you can feel me up any time."

Chapter Text

The third day of the crew's four-day rest period saw Korra on foot in downtown Republic City, not far from her station. Her target hadn't been far from the hospital, so she'd parked there in the secure garage and walked the short distance down the street - less than a mile - until she saw the sign she was looking for. The heavy wooden doors with the Fire Nation emblem carefully burned into the surface were a familiar sight; the sign that read "Firebender's" was lit, although in the mid-afternoon sun you could barely tell. Korra quickened her step and pulled one door open, stepping into the dimly-lit pub and letting her eyes adjust. She found the person she was looking for exactly where he always was - in a large separate booth in the back, separated from the pool tables and the main bar.

Iroh gave her a short upward jerk of his chin, acknowledging her arrival.  Korra could see that he'd already started and walked close by the bar on her way to the booth.

"Hey there, Korra," said the great hulk of a man behind the bar.  Narook was well-known to the regulars and Korra was no exception, especially since she was on Iroh's crew.  "Fig cider?"

"You know me too well," Korra smiled. 

"You got it, kiddo," Narook grinned down at her.  "I'll bring it over to ya."

Korra made her way around the empty tables and climbed up into the raised, quasi-private booth, flopping down into the bench seat across from Iroh with a sigh.  "Hey, Cap.  Thanks for meeting me today."

"How many times do I have to tell you not to recognize rank when we're off shift?"  Iroh asked, eyebrow raised.

"Force of habit, okay?"

"Stoppit."

Korra gratefully accepted her drink and took a long drag on it.  She offered Narook money, but he refused.

"I've got this one today," Iroh said, shifting in his seat.  "So...what's up?  You doing okay?"

"Yeah.  Well...mostly.  I've been having a hard time lately with all the shit that went on during my booter year."

"What kinda shit?  Typical razzing?"

"No.  Every booter gets razzed a little bit, but my captain that year was actually abusive.  He let the rest of the crew get away with the kind of stuff that could get someone kicked out of the department."

Iroh's brow furrowed as he took a swig of his drink.  "Elaborate."

"Catcalls.  Whistling.  Giving me grief for being 'a woman in a man's domain'," Korra drew quotation marks in the air around the last phrase with her fingers.  "Screaming at me for simple mistakes.  Threatening to have me kicked out because I missed a spot when mopping the floor.  One of the guys groped me in the dayroom in full view of everybody and the whole crew laughed."

Iroh's eyes widened and he nearly choked on his drink.

"If you breathe a word of that to Asami I'll never forgive you."

"Come on, Korra.  You know better than that."

Korra took another long drag on her cider.  "No, to answer your question, nothing was ever done about it.  I tried to file a grievance and the captain immediately started writing me up for things that I hadn't done.  He made very clear that if I wanted to keep my job, I needed to let it go and bid off to another crew as soon as humanly possible."

Iroh was suddenly finding a spot on the table very interesting.  "I, uh...well...you should probably know that when I accepted your bid, I did it because nobody else would take you.  Zaheer had put the word out that you were a 'problem child'."

Korra straightened up and her expression took on a hint of shock at his words - particularly the mention of her first captain's name.  "What?"

"Yeah.  I remembered how hard my mother had to work when she was accepted to the academy.  I thought from the first moment I heard it that the story I'd heard stunk.  I guess it shouldn't surprise me."

"You cannot be serious."

Iroh looked up and locked eyes with her.  "I wish I weren't, Korra.  I really wish that having family in the Water Tribe's fire departments meant something to some of these guys.  Your father is a damned legend.  I knew something wasn't right about what I was hearing, but I had no idea how bad it was.  I'm sorry."

Korra dropped her head into her left hand, her right tightly gripping her glass.  Until this moment, she'd had no idea that her old crew had spread rumors.  She had always thought that being quiet had earned her at least a modicum of respect.  It was a kick in the gut to hear that her belief had been nothing more than wishful thinking.  Almost on cue, Narook showed up at the table and leaned on it.  "Need another one, kid?"

"I think I need a little more than cider," Korra sighed.  "Bring a shot of Fire Number Five with the next one."

Narook's gigantic, scarred hand patted her gently on the shoulder and he walked away.  Korra watched him as he moved back to the bar.  He was the only person she knew who was bigger than her father.

"He came up through the academy with my mother," Iroh finally broke the silence, bringing Korra's attention back to him.  "After a couple of years on different crews, they ended up on Engine One together and never separated.  Mom always jokes that he owes her one, but neither of them have ever told me the story behind that.  Did you know that Narook was Zaheer's captain during his booter year?"

Korra's eyes widened this time.  "But...Narook is such a sweet guy.  How the hell did my old captain end up being such a prick if he learned from one of the best?"

"Sometimes it doesn't matter who first teaches you.  The people who come after that can really warp your sense of right and wrong.  It sounds like that's what happened."

That moment could not have been worse timing.  When the familiar, clean-shaven head and face swept up in front of their booth, Korra could only silently praise the Spirits that they were in the VIP booth and likely hadn't been overheard as the man they'd been speaking of walked over to their table.  Her stomach did an involuntary flip-flop as he smiled at the pair.  She hated the fact that his very presence could cause instant anxiety.

"How are you, Iroh?"  Zaheer asked, his cheerfulness an obvious put-on.  "And Korra!  I'm a little surprised to see you having a drink with your captain.  As I recall, you had a serious problem with authority."

"Only when that authority is abused," Korra muttered, draining her glass.

Iroh put on his trademark stoic face and sat back, looking the older captain in the eye.  "What can I do for you, Zaheer?"

"Who said I wanted anything?  I'm just saying hello.  I thought brothers paid each other that courtesy."

"Only when you recognize your sisters," Iroh retorted, his tone completely deadpan.

"A sister would have to earn her place," Zaheer returned, his fake smile beginning to fade.

"I'd say Korra has more than earned her place.  After four years with her, I'm convinced that she wasn't the problem on Engine Six."

Korra felt dizzy.  Sitting here, with her abusive former captain trying to hijack her conversation, was surreal.  She was vaguely aware of Narook's hulking figure approaching with her cider and whisky shot in hand.

"And I'd say you've gone soft, Iroh," Zaheer smirked.  "I heard about that house fire.  Seems Korra's inability to follow orders has spread to your entire crew.  You may want to send your booter to my station before she corrupts him.  Unless you want your entire crew to -"

Zaheer was cut off when a massive hand reached around his front, grabbed a fistful of his shirt, spun him around, and picked him up off his feet.  Always sure he had a good rapport with his former captain, Zaheer was frightened beyond words to see the bartender so angry.

"Finish that sentence, you arrogant little cockwaffle," Narook rumbled. 

Zaheer put both hands up, hoping to calm the big man.  "Okay...look, you've been out of the game for a while, Narook.  I don't think you know the whole story..."

Iroh's eyes were the size of saucers.  Korra, however, let a wide grin break across her face.  Narook shook Zaheer to punctuate his interruption.  "I know that Iroh and Korra are family.  I know that Korra saved my life because she keeps up on her training and was able to catch something that nobody else could.  I know that you are my biggest regret, because I should have kicked your sorry ass out of my department while you were in my station and I had the chance!"

"Yeah?"  Zaheer started to find his courage again and glared at his former mentor.  "At least my actions haven't nearly wiped out my entire crew!"

"Thank the Spirits you've been so lucky," Narook growled.  He dropped Zaheer without warning, the younger man landing hard enough to nearly topple when his feet hit the floor.  "You are now persona non grata, as you like to say.  You ever come within a hundred meters of my bar again and I swear by my ancestor's souls you will live to regret it."

His pride wounded, Zaheer quickly made for the door.  He walked as if he couldn't cross the distance in the spacious pub quickly enough, but afraid that if he broke into an open run he'd never live it down.  He tore the door open and disappeared into the afternoon heat, leaving the rest of the patrons of the bar to giggle after him.

Narook slid into the booth next to Iroh and planted himself on the bench.  His barback had taken over for him as he poured drinks for Korra, Iroh, and himself.  He normally had a strict rule about not drinking while he managed the bar, and Korra was surprised to see him with his own drink in hand, but the look on his face spoke volumes.

"I never could stand that guy," Narook grumbled.  He shot a wink at Korra and raised his glass.  "Fuck him."

Iroh and Korra raised their shots and repeated, "fuck him!" as they toasted and downed their whisky.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami quietly walked through the front door into a dark house.  Iroh had sent her a text message to let her know that they'd been drinking, Korra had had a little too much, and he was taking her home.  Korra rarely drank much at all, usually only socially; even that was pretty rare, when the crew had something to celebrate.  She'd known that Korra was meeting Iroh to talk about things, though, and wasn't terribly surprised that they'd met at Firebender's.  It wasn't common knowledge, but Iroh's mother Izumi - still an Assistant Chief, preparing for retirement - shared ownership of the pub with Narook.  Iroh's crew always went there, no matter what the occasion happened to be.  Talk was that the pub was going to be closed for Bolin's wedding reception there.

As she tried to mind the noise level while dropping her bag on the kitchen counter, Asami wondered when Bolin planned to pop the question.  The thoughts running through her head stopped cold when she came around the corner and saw their bedroom light on.  She padded down the hall, unsure whether Korra may still be sleeping, not wanting to wake her if she was.  She poked her head through the door to see Korra sitting up in bed, watching TV.

Korra looked up and flashed that adorably crooked grin at her.  "Hey.  Sorry I didn't turn any lights on."

Asami opened the door widely and walked in, no longer worrying about the noise.  "It's okay.  We've been here long enough.  I only stubbed one toe this time."

Korra's grin disappeared at those words, but Asami couldn't keep up the farce.  She immediately started laughing.  Korra gave her a playful scowl and reached over to grab a pillow, which she reared back and fired at Asami's head.  Asami caught it and took it back to the bed, where she flopped down beside her fiancée.

"What're you watching?"

"Nothing, really.  I've been flipping through channels for half an hour.  It's amazing how we can have more than two hundred channels and there's nothing on worth watching."

"How much are we paying for cable, again?"

"Way too damn much, that's for sure."

Asami had used the thrown pillow to help prop her up against the headboard.  She reached over with her right hand to gently stroke Korra's back, using her trademark long, vertical strokes.  She smiled languidly at the contrast of Korra's dark skin against the white tank top she wore.  She noticed that Korra seemed far less tense than she had been for the past couple of days.  Korra was sitting cross-legged, bent forward over her lap, and if she could have relaxed more than she looked, she did.  Asami heard her let out a grateful groan as she continued the light back rub.

"Do you wanna tell me how it went?"

Korra thought before responding to the question.  "It was kinda strange.  I can't tell you how many times I've been to Firebender's, but I had never seen my old captain there until today."

Asami froze in her tracks.  Iroh hadn't told her any details, but she was wishing now that he'd shared this one.  It explained the alcohol intake at the very least.  She didn't know what to say, so she resumed stroking Korra's back and gave her time to continue if she wanted to.

"I really thought I was over the way he made me feel.  I wasn't.  I got dizzy and felt like my heart was about to pound its way right out of my chest."

Sounds like she was having a mild panic attack, Asami thought, but she refused to say it out loud.  It was a cause for concern, and gave her the impression that a lot more went on that Korra hadn't mentioned, but Asami wasn't really surprised.  Her lover had held onto this for four years, including the entirety of their relationship so far.  "What happened?"

"He tried to intimidate both Iroh and I.  Narook let him have it."

Asami kept stroking her back but her hesitation was apparent and she knew it.  "The bartender?  What did he do?"

"It turns out he was his captain during his booter year.  Narook spent most of his career with Izumi, it turns out.  He really didn't like the guy.  He picked him up by his shirt collar and read him the riot act.  Then he kicked the guy out of Firebender's and let him know he wasn't welcome back."

Asami wondered if Iroh had let the secret about his mother and the pub out and decided against discussing it.  "I didn't know Narook was a firefighter."

"Haven't you noticed all of the scars he has?"

"Well, of course - but a military career could have caused them, too."

"Nope.  He retired shortly before Izumi made assistant chief.  He didn't seem to want to discuss it."

"Are you going to tell me what you talked to them about?"

Korra thought for a moment before replying.  "Iroh didn't really know how bad things were for me, but I think Narook might have known."

"Does that make a difference?"

"Not really.  Narook had retired before I even made it into the academy."

"What did Narook do?"

Korra chuckled at the question before describing the scene to Asami.  She did so in lurid detail, relishing the telling when Narook picked Zaheer up by his shirt, shook him, and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.  "I think there's more to their relationship than Narook is willing to let on."

Asami giggled lightly as the story was told.  "I hope someday he tells both of us that story."

Korra turned red as she replied.  "I think someday he will, he just needs time."

Asami wrapped her right arm around Korra's midriff, drawing her close, giving Korra permission to snuggle.  Korra did exactly that - smiling broadly the whole time.  Asami drew her in, her heart rate slowly growing faster, happy to be able to provide some comfort to her lover.  The couple managed to lock into a happy tangle, tranquil, with the recent events just barely far enough in the past to create a peaceful distance.

"I love you, Korra," Asami whispered into her lovers' ear.

"I love you, too," Korra replied, burrowing close into Asami's embrace.

 

*     *     *

 

Two Days Later

It was a long Friday.  The station openly recognized as the busiest - Engine One, Rescue One - had been running almost non-stop calls all day.  Whereas most of the crewmembers had been hoping for a slow morning, their first due had been busy as a one-armed hangar.  Other crews had been off-and-on, but Station One?  it wasn't going well.

At the end of yet another long call for something that genuinely needed medical attention, the crew pulled into the bay, parked the Engine and the Rescue, and everyone piled out to begin station duties.  The middle shift was always the day shifts cleaned up, and with summer approaching, everyone had been busy - leaving other crews to do jobs that hadn't been possible to complete previously.

Just as Bolin and Korra began setting up to mop the barracks and hallways, a familiar (and very attention-getting) tone dropped.  It was different from other alarm tones; it was punctuated by short staccato-like tones that were meant to get the attention of everyone nearby.

"Engine One, Rescue One, channel three," came the voice of the dispatcher.  "Child drowning, Eighth and Zuko Place.  Engine One, Rescue One, channel three."

Korra heard the address come over the intercom and raced for the bay.  Without a second thought, she jumped into the passenger door of the cab of the rescue, in trainers and shorts, her brush pants left behind.  If it was a drowning, pants would slow her down.  Tahno jumped in quickly beside her and they were able to take off quickly, the rest of the crew still trying to jump into the engine as they pulled away from the open bay doors.

"How in the Spirits are we the closest unit to this call?"  Tahno asked as he pulled out.

Korra pressed a few buttons on the CAD as he headed out to the Northwest of the call.  "Because Engine Three and Rescue Three are on another call," she replied.

Tahno seemed to know where he was going as he turned into major traffic.  "I hope it's more important than a drowning!"

Korra looked briefly over the notes and felt her stomach drop out.  "I doesn't look like it, but...I hope so, too.  We're still a long way out from this one."

Engine One wasn't far behind, but everyone hoped that someone else would clear a call closer than they were.  This sounded bad, and nobody wanted to have to work a dead child.

Chapter Text

Korra carefully watched the CAD to see if another unit would clear a call, but nothing happened. It took forever to get on scene, even with Tahno driving like a maniac. Korra watched the minutes tick by, knowing full well that every second that passed before they could get to this child was one too many. She carefully routed him once they got into the neighborhood until they pulled up in front of a large house - and before Korra could even finish getting out of the rescue a man came sprinting out of the house.

As Korra approached him, she realized that he had a child in his hands.  The tiny little human was lifeless and limp, his face blue.

She didn't hesitate.  She threw the rear doors open, took the child, and bounded inside, thankful that Tahno was already in the back setting up the Pedi-Mate.  Even as he was securing the straps to the frame of the gurney, Korra laid the child down and checked for a pulse.  She found none.  In a flash, Bolin was at her side, yanking the pediatric airway kit down from its cabinet and flinging it open down the foot of the gurney.  He picked an appropriately-sized ET tube, set up the proper blade on the laryngoscope, and handed everything to Korra.  In the meantime, Tahno had set up the monitor, complete with four-lead and was working on finding a toddler-sized BP cuff. 

Iroh had complete faith in the crew and intercepted the man who had brought the child out.  "Sir, I'm sorry, but I can't let you in there."

"That is my son," the man hissed, "I'm going with him!"

"I understand that he's your son, but we have a very strict policy about this.  There won't be any room in the back and I can't have you distracting my driver."  Iroh looked around the man and spotted a police cruiser pulling up.  "What I can do is have this officer drive you to the hospital behind us.  That way we all get there safely."

Bumi wordlessly nodded at Iroh and led the father back toward the police cruiser while Iroh ran to the side door and leapt into the back.  Korra was already in the jump seat trying to insert an airway.  The monitor showed only haphazard electrical activity; there was no rhythm and the child had no pulse.  Kai began chest compressions, using two fingers because of the child's size.  He concentrated hard on making sure the depth was right, hoping not to cause more damage.  It took no verbal communication for Tahno to know that it was time to leave.

"Sokka Memorial Children's," Iroh said, his focus on trying to establish an IV. 

In seconds, Tahno was back in the driver's seat and the rescue eased forward.  The crew barely felt the motion as Tahno carefully navigated his way out of the neighborhood and onto main thoroughfares, goading the big vehicle to go faster without jerking the crew around.  The siren began its plaintive wail as he sped toward the only pediatric level one trauma center in Republic City.

"Twenty-four gauge, left hand," Iroh called out.

Korra had inserted the ET tube while Bolin tore open the package of a child-sized bag-valve mask.  He removed the mask portion and handed her the bag.  Kai stopped compressions for a second so they could make sure they had a good seat on the tube.  She attached the valve directly to the tube and gave the bag a squeeze.  Everyone was relieved when they saw the boy's chest rise and fall.

"Airway secure," Korra announced.

"First dose of Epi in," Iroh said.  He stared at the monitor for a solid minute while Korra continued bagging the patient and Kai continued chest compressions.

After that minute, something made him perk up slightly.  "Stop compressions," he ordered.  Kai stopped and Iroh wrapped two fingers around the boy's foot.  "We have a pulse.  Keep bagging."

Korra did as ordered and Kai let out a visible sigh of relief.  The monitor showed a slow rhythm, but it was still a rhythm.  Seconds later the sirens shut down and the rescue eased to a halt.  Nobody had realized that they were pulling in to the hospital.

Tahno opened the doors and began unloading the gurney.  Korra followed closely, paying careful attention to breathing for the patient, squeezing the bag at short intervals; she had to mind what she was doing not just because they were moving, but also because too much or too little on the BVM could exasperate the patient's condition.  She kept breathing for the boy as they rushed him through the doors and into the trauma ward, where a slew of doctors and nurses awaited their arrival.

The child was so small that Bolin was able to pick him up off of the gurney without interrupting Korra's efforts and deposit him on the hospital bed effortlessly.  A nurse took over for Korra and the crew backed away, getting out of the team's space while they worked feverishly on their patient.  Iroh had written down times on his glove but hadn't entered a single thing on his tablet.  He quietly walked around the corner and sat down in the well-furnished EMS work room to begin his chart.  Korra, Bolin, and Kai followed him while Tahno took the gurney outside to clean and re-dress it.  Korra caught sight of Bumi already cleaning the back of the ambulance.

She dropped down onto the plush sofa next to Bolin and let her head fall backward onto the back cushion.  Bolin sat forward, elbows on his knees, staring at the skin tag on his middle finger that he'd started picking at.  Kai remained on his feet, hands in his pockets.

"We got a pulse back," Kai said with some hesitation.  "That's a good thing, right?  I mean, the kid'll make it, won't he?"

Bolin looked up at the booter with some pity in his eyes.  "It took us way too long to get to him, Kai.  It's extremely unlikely that he'll survive.  If he does, he'll have very limited brain function."

"You did a good job, Kai," Korra said, turning to look at him.  "You jumped in and started compressions like a pro and you never let up.  Don't let a bad outcome get you down."

As she spoke, Korra spotted a police officer leading the boy's father and a woman she assumed to be the boy's mother walking by in a hurry.  She involuntarily tensed, waiting for the sounds she knew were coming.  She still flinched when a heartbreaking cry pierced the hallways, confirming what the veterans of the crew already knew from experience.  The doctor had already delivered the bad news, and the boy's mother was beside herself.  It was when the father began audibly sobbing that they all got up and walked out. 

 

*     *     *

 

The drive back to the station was a silent one.  At Iroh's insistence, they remained out of service, and a day crew had been sent to hold down their station.  When they pulled up behind the cover crew, Korra wondered in annoyance where these guys had been when the call came out in Engine Three's first due for a drowning.  Engine Eleven (the double digits designating the day trucks) still sat in the bay, the accompanying Rescue parked next to it.  The crew of Station One trudged in through the open rear bay doors and were met by the captain of the day crew.

"Hey, Kuon," Iroh greeted him.  "My guys need a break.  You'll be hanging out for a couple of hours."

Korra silently thanked her captain as she dragged herself to her room, shut the door, and dropped face-down into her rack.  The sun had long since gone down.  She knew that the chaplain would be on her way (if she wasn't out in the galley already) and that Iroh would want to do a debrief about the call.  Right now, she just wanted to get away from everyone.  She considered sending Asami a text, but there wasn't anything she could do right now and talking wasn't something she was ready for yet.

Korra had no idea how long she'd been dozing when she woke to a knock at her door.  She realized she'd likely been doing more than dozing when she lifted her head from her pillow and had to wipe drool from her face.  "Come in."

Bolin opened the door enough to stick his head inside.  He chuckled at her as he spoke.  "Uh...Jinora's here.  Iroh would like us all to meet in the galley."

"What are you laughing at?"  Korra snorted.

"Fix your hair," Bolin kept chuckling as he walked away, leaving the door open. 

Korra got up, straightened her uniform, ran her fingers through her hair, and headed for the galley.  The hallway lights were already turned off, the floor lighting the only illumination available.  She was still able to find her way almost without seeing.  This was her second home; she knew every nook and cranny like she knew her own house.  The day room was full, with the day crew sitting in the loungers and watching what looked like one of the many slapstick comedies that too many of the men in the department liked so much.  Korra walked past them, through the closed galley door, and into the brightly-lit galley proper, almost startled by the stark difference in lighting.

Jinora never disappointed.  Whenever a crew needed to debrief, she always brought food, the idea being that talking on an empty stomach can make an already difficult situation that much more so.  Since none of the firefighters ever really ate junk food, nobody protested when she showed up with it.  Jinora was also of the firm belief that comfort food was needed every once in a great while.

Korra made her way to the big steel table and politely sat down, reaching for a bottle of soda once she was settled.  She was the last to arrive.  Jinora sat directly across from her.  The chaplain was younger than Korra and she was often teased that she only got the job because her father was the fire chief.  Nevertheless, she seemed to have a wisdom well beyond her years and very few firefighters actually didn't like talking to her.  Most were happy when she visited a station.  She contentedly munched on a pastry, which Korra decided looked good.  She leaned over and grabbed one, noticing the dejection that rolled off of Kai in waves.  He had no food or drink in front of him; his chin rested on his crossed arms on the table top.  Tahno was a blank slate.  He had a small amount of food in front of him but hadn't yet touched it.  Bolin sat next to Korra, also chewing a mouthful of pastry.  At one end of the table sat Bumi, the chief's brother and the "old salty dog" of the crew.  At the other sat Iroh, the Captain, who had earned the deep respect of everyone there.

"So, we've done this before," Jinora sighed, getting everyone's attention.  "What's said in here stays in here.  No personal attacks.  We all know the rules.  I don't know all of the details, but I was told that you guys ran a child drowning and the patient died at the hospital."

Iroh nodded.  "It actually took us a long time to get to the call.  Most of these guys don't know what I've found out yet, so I'd like to start by catching them up...Engine Three and Rescue Three were out on a call for an injured person.  Engine Eleven, Rescue Eleven had been dispatched to cover their station from Station Eight.  They were a pretty long way off still when we got the call for the drowning."

"Yeah, that 'injured person' had a twisted ankle and that captain decided he just couldn't leave that guy at home to be taken to the ER by family," Bumi grumbled.

"We lost a kid because of a fucking twisted ankle?"  Tahno seethed.

Iroh nodded.  Tahno shot up from his chair and stormed out without a word.  Nobody followed. 

"That has to be frustrating," Jinora offered.  "How long did it take you to get on scene?"

"Nearly twenty minutes," Kai finally spoke, not moving or looking at anyone.  "It took nearly twenty minutes to get to that kid, and when we pulled up his dad came running out with him..."

When Kai's voice trailed off, everyone remained silent for a moment.  They all lost themselves in the memory of a father running full-pelt for the rescue with his lifeless child in his arms. 

Jinora laid a hand on Kai's shoulder.  "I know you're still pretty new, Kai.  Have you ever run something like this before?"

Kai merely shook his head.

Korra leaned forward after taking a long drag of her drink.  "I know I told you this earlier, Kai, but I want to repeat it...you were amazing.  Very few booters would jump in and act without being told the way you did.  The very first child code I ran, I froze like a cat-deer in headlights.  You got back there and did exactly what needed to be done."

"The outcome sucks, kid, but Korra's right," Bumi interjected.  "I've never seen a booter do what you did today.  I hope we get to keep you when your year is up."

Iroh nodded.

"It's beyond frustrating that a kid had to die because of a twisted ankle," Bolin finally spoke.  "What the hell was Karu thinking?"

"He was probably afraid of something else being wrong and getting sued because of it," Bumi retorted.  "That's how he operates.  'If it's serious enough for you to call 911, it's serious enough for you to go to the hospital...'"

"Yeah, well, today a family paid with their kid's life," Bolin spat.

"Does anyone really know if that child would have survived if you could have gotten to him sooner?"

All attention was back on Jinora, although the entire crew still looked angry and stricken.  It was an honest question and they all knew it.

"Right now, I don't think that matters," Korra replied calmly.  "If I were that kid's mother, I'd want to know why it took so long for help to arrive.  I'd have a lawyer on the phone already.  If she does sue the department, I can't really blame her.  Someone should have been closer to them than we were.  Whether Karu needs to answer for a frivolous transport or dispatch needs to be held accountable for not having a day crew available, there is no reason why we shouldn't have had a unit closer to them than this."

"I don't mean to minimize your argument," Jinora said, "or your feelings.  You all have every right to be upset about this.  I just don't want you to lay the entire blame on the failings of the department.  You guys know how quickly a kid can die once they start to drown.  From what I'm hearing, you all did an incredible job trying to save his life.  None of you could have done anything differently or better.  It's more likely that he would have died anyway, whether it was today or next week."

"Probably," Iroh added.  "She is right.  I haven't run very many child drownings that had happy endings.  I'm sorry to say that neither have Korra or Bolin.  Once a kid goes under, they start sucking in water, it's usually over pretty quickly."

"We don't know that, though," Kai remarked, sitting up for the first time although still not looking at anyone. 

"True," Jinora nodded.  "We don't.  I hope you don't hang everything on the 'what if', though.  There are a lot of unknowns in this job.  You'll run other calls that you'll wonder about later.  It's not fair at all."

As Korra took the last bite of her pastry and washed it down with her drink, she mulled over the chaplain's words.  I've run a lot of calls that made me think later that we could have done more.  Most of them involved kids.  Those are the most brutally unfair of them all.

 

*     *     *

 

Even after going back in service and releasing the day crew, Station One didn't run another call that night.  It was a surreal feeling for Korra to wake up to her cell phone's alarm at 0745.  She mechanically got up, folded her bedding, put it in her footlocker, and shoved the big box back under her rack.  She picked up her turnout bag and walked out to the bay where she picked up her brush pants, folded them, and stuffed them in the bag along with her bunker boots.  She made sure their relief was there and gave Bolin a quick hug as they headed to their vehicles and left.

She had slept, but it hadn't been very restful.  She woke several times during the night expecting to hear the tones drop or fearing having missed a call.  She'd gotten up twice to check the bay and make sure she hadn't slept through anything.  Now, as she drove home, she felt exhausted both mentally and physically.  Before she knew it she was pulling up in the driveway and turning off the engine, half-wondering how the drive had gone by so fast.  She sat in her truck and stared into space for some time before a knock at the window brought her back to reality.

It was Asami.  Before Korra could do it, Asami opened the door.  She stroked Korra's leg and leaned in close.  "Baby?"

Korra didn't respond at first.

"Are you okay?"

"I will be."

"I heard about what happened.  Come inside and get some rest."

Korra dragged herself out of her dark blue pickup truck, pulled her turnout bag out of the bed, and followed Asami up the walkway to the front door.  I'll never be able to wear these into the house again, she thought as she toed her trainers off outside the front door.  She refused breakfast, and Asami didn't argue.  Once they made it to their bedroom, Korra dropped her bag on the floor and had every stitch of clothing stripped off before Asami even had time to turn down the covers on their bed.  Asami stepped over to her and wrapped her tightly in her arms, relishing the feel of Korra burrowing her face into the crook of her neck.

Korra wasn't tense.  Normally, after a difficult shift, Asami had to massage her to get her to relax.  Today she literally physically felt completely drained.  Asami could feel it in the muscles along her shoulders and back.  It was as if, for now, she had no more fight left in her and might collapse at any moment.

"Do you need anything?"  Asami asked hopefully.  She wanted Korra to ask for something, anything, so she could help.

"Could you just...stay with me for a while?"  Korra asked.  Even her voice conveyed her total exhaustion.

Asami pulled away and gave her a chaste kiss before stripping herself.  The couple climbed into bed together and Asami pulled Korra back into her arms.  It wasn't sexual, although even when tired Korra's toned, muscular body was always a turn-on.  Sometimes just having skin-on-skin contact could provide some comfort.  Asami rubbed gentle circles into the small of Korra's back and held her as she fell into a deep, restful sleep.  It was something that was sorely needed.  As Korra's breathing evened out Asami allowed herself to drift off.

Chapter Text

Asami lounged in her chair, happily listening to Korra begin a story about the first shift she had ever worked with Bolin.  Knowing how rocky her start had been in the Republic City Fire Department, Asami was that much more grateful for Bolin and the relationship they had.  The camaraderie among their crew always put a smile on her face, but her fiancée's almost sibling-like pairing with Bolin was particularly heartwarming.  Their dinner dishes were newly emptied and they were talking over glasses of wine.

"We were halfway through our shift and we got a call for an ill person," Korra began.  "The only info on the CAD was that the patient had been vomiting for two hours.  We get in the engine and Bolin starts making really bad puke jokes.  'Hey guys, I'm looking for my friend!  His name is ROWLF!'"

Asami laughed as Korra made the last word into a mock vomiting noise.

"'Sometimes he goes by his middle name, CHUCK!"

The sound Korra made on that one drew a disgusted expression and cringe from Asami.

"Oh, it was bad.  He had everyone begging him to stop.  We get on scene and the patient is this twenty-year-old guy is sitting on his sofa with a trash can between his knees.  As soon as we walk into the living room, where he's sitting, the smell hits us and every single one of us starts gagging.  It was just...it was horrible.  I felt bad for him, but we figured out pretty quickly that he probably had food poisoning."

"What had he eaten?  Wait...do I really wanna know?"

"It really didn't sound that bad.  At least not until I found the leftovers he'd gotten into.  Week-and-a-half-old octopus fritters."

Asami gagged at the thought.

"Yeah.  His body decided everything needed to go.  His mother had called 911 because she was afraid that he'd puke all over her car and she didn't want to have to clean it up.  So Bolin turns to mom and goes, 'but it's okay for him to puke all over the ambulance?'"

Asami's jaw dropped open in shock.

"Yes, he said that out loud.  He was gagging while he said it, too.  The kid was already embarrassed, and mom looked at us like she couldn't believe anyone said that to her.  Iroh didn't even look surprised.  He didn't stop Bolin, didn't correct him...he didn't say a damn thing.  Bolin could not stop gagging.  I mean, it was getting so bad that it hurt to look at him.  Finally he says, 'ma'am, we can give you several emesis bags, but it will probably be better to let this run its course.  An ER isn't going to be able to stop this.  He has food poisoning, and your insurance isn't going to cover an ambulance ride for that.'  Mom was about to let him have it, but Bolin couldn't keep it in anymore.  He tossed his cookies into the same trash can the kid was puking in."

"Aw, that's awful!"

"After that, mom just wanted us to go.  I think she felt bad for Bolin.  We got back to quarters and he rushed in to brush his teeth before we could catch another call.  We were sitting down to breakfast when he came out and he just was not in the mood to eat.  So I loaded up my plate with scrambled eggs and went and sat right next to him and ate as loudly as I could."

"You're terrible."

"The rest is history.  He has always said that he knew we were best friends when I had no problem doing that."

"Really?  You bonded over a locker-room-level joke?"

"I think you forget that we're firefighters, babe.  We're pretty simple.  Dumb things like that are hilarious to us."

"The only thing I forget is that most firefighters are simple in their humor.  You really are smarter than most of them."

"Don't tell them that.  They'll be offended."

Asami grabbed their plates and made for the kitchen, Korra not far behind.  She batted Korra away when she tried to help, so Korra hopped up onto the counter behind her and watched as she rinsed their dishes and put them in the dishwasher.  She knew Korra was watching and enjoying the view: Asami was wearing Korra's boxers and an old uniform t-shirt, both just short enough to leave too much skin showing to answer the door in.  Asami had done it on purpose.  She had awakened before Korra and had time to take a shower and get halfway through a show about the police in Ba Sing Se before Korra even woke, much less showered herself.  Making dinner naked certainly would have been forward, but Asami knew that Korra loved to peel her out of her clothes (and she had no desire to have hot oil splattered on sensitive areas).  Asami began to clean the wok and smiled to herself.  The quiet meant that Korra was studying her very intently, which was exactly what she'd wanted. 

With everything done, Asami turned to face Korra and found her staring at her with a very hungry grin on her face.  Asami crossed the kitchen and positioned herself between Korra's knees.  Her hands met Korra's knees as she went and she raked her fingertips up her thighs until her hands found purchase on her ass.  Korra leaned down and kissed her deeply, leaving no question what she wanted.  The kiss went on for so long and became increasingly more passionate, so much so that Asami was certain that they were going to get started right there on the countertop.  Without a word, Korra dropped down from her perch and crouched to pick her lover up.  Asami knew from experience what she was doing and braced herself on Korra's shoulders.  Once Korra was situated and started walking them to the bedroom, Asami slipped both arms around her neck and kissed her again, finding no resistance when her tongue pressed forward past Korra's lips.  Korra's tongue was just as eager.  Asami's right hand wove its way into Korra's hair and pulled just enough to let her know that she needed to move faster. 

Korra got the message.  Asami ran her left hand down the sheets of rippling muscle in Korra's upper back, enjoying the feel of the power they held, sending a spike of heat between her legs.  Before she knew what was going on Asami was being gently lowered to the bed.  For the first time, their lips parted; Asami flashed her best come-hither look, complete with her bottom lip between her teeth.  Korra followed on all fours as Asami backed her way across the bed.  As Korra found her lips again, Asami felt her thumbs slip under the waistband of her boxers and begin slowly dragging them down.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra woke to the sound of her phone chirping her familiar alarm clock reminder.  It can't possibly be 0600 already!  She looked at it just long enough to hit snooze and closed her eyes again.  Seemingly as soon as she closed her eyes, the alarm clock sounded again, rousing her from her all-too-brief slumber just long enough to hit snooze again.  When it rudely woke her a third time, Asami reached over her and shut it off.

"You need to get up," Asami croaked, her voice tinged with the sleep she'd been interrupted from.

Korra turned over and kissed the base of Asami's throat.  "Don't wanna."

"One more day," Asami sighed.

"Don't wanna leave you."

Asami softly smiled and ran a hand through Korra's unkempt hair.  She planted a kiss on top of her head before speaking.  "I don't want you to go, but you have to.  We both know it.  You have to go be a responsible adult."

"Nope.  I'm gonna build a pillow fort and color and eat Fruity Oh's.  I'm done being an adult."  Even as she spoke, Korra dragged herself upright.

She thought Asami had gone back to sleep while she got ready, but as she leaned against the bed to pull her socks on she noticed her lover watching her with a sleepy grin on her face.  Korra's heart swelled at the sight.  She jumped onto the bed just long enough for one more kiss.

"Let me know when you get to work later?"  Korra asked with a wide smile.

Asami nodded.

Korra bounded for the door, stopping for one last smile and blowing a kiss as she went.  She grabbed her turnout bag On the way.  She made her way out the front door, pausing to slip into her trainers before turning to head for her truck - only to be stopped by Asami.  She was wrapped tightly in the bedspread.  Korra blushed at the fact that she knew Asami was as naked as the day she was born underneath it.  The kiss that Asami gave her made her blush even harder.

"I love you," Asami whispered, still close to Korra's face.  "Please stay safe."

Korra knew that Asami worried.  She knew that Asami was aware of the deep sense of loyalty that all first responders had for one another and knew that Asami was keenly aware that if a brother or sister were in trouble, she'd put herself in danger to help them.  They'd had that discussion before.  She appreciated that Asami never asked her to leave anyone behind - she simply begged her to be safe.  Korra couldn't fault her for that.  She knew that if the roles were reversed, she'd be every bit as protective.

"I'll see you in the morning," Korra replied with one last quick kiss.  She turned and made way for her truck, tossed her turnout bag in the bed, and jumped in behind the wheel.  She smiled one more time before backing out of the driveway, yanking the wheel to the right, and drank in one last glance of her fiancée standing in the early-morning sun on their porch.  She realized yet again just how stunningly beautiful Asami was, bringing on such emotion that she nearly broke into tears at the sight.  She hesitated before pulling away, just long enough to see Asami wave.  She blew one more kiss before hitting the gas.

The clock on her dash read 0735.

Well, damn.  I hope they don't give me shit for bringing up the cow-elk's tail.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra arrived at Station One at 0750.  Most of the crew arrived at 0740(ish), making sure to try to arrive just early enough that they could clock in and take over for the other crew in the event that a late call kicked out.  Korra was unapologetic even with Bolin flashing a knowing smile at her as she walked in.  She walked to her room, dropped off her bag, and walked out to the rescue to check off her supplies and equipment.

What surprised her was that Tahno was not there.  Another young firefighter she'd never met before was digging through the c-spine bag to make sure it was stocked appropriately.

"Oh, hey," he said, smiling as he stood back up and offered his hand.  "I'm Song."

"Korra," she replied, giving his hand a firm shake.  "Um...where's Tahno?"

"I honestly don't know.  I'm a rover.  They never tell me why, they just tell me 'we need you here'."

"Okay.  Welcome.  Ever been here before?"

"Not on A-shift.  I'm new to this shift."

"How far out of the academy are you?"

"Just under a year."

"So your booter year is almost up?"

"Thank the Spirits, yes."

Korra giggled.  "I know the feeling.  Do you have any questions?"

"Thanks, but no.  It looks like you keep your ride stocked like most of the other medics."

"Let me know if you have any questions.  And again, welcome.  Make yourself at home."

Song smiled at her and went back to work.  Korra jumped in the back and started checking off the supplies.  She was halfway through her task when Bolin jumped in the back with her.

"Where's Tahno?"

Korra paused before answering.  "I have no idea.  Nobody has said a word."

"He was really upset during that debrief," Bolin thought aloud.

"Yeah, but he hasn't said a word to me.  Maybe he's just taking some time off."

Bolin nodded while Korra continued to go through each cabinet to make sure she had everything she needed.  He spoke to her back as she worked.  "So...I bought a ring."

Korra turned and flashed her friend a warm smile.  "When do you plan to pop the question?"

"I was actually hoping you could help me with that."

The younger medic froze in her tracks.  "Um...how?"

Bolin chuckled.  "It's nothing major.  I just need you to distract her."

"Again...how?"

"I just want you to keep her attention long enough for me to surprise her!"

"When is this supposed to happen?"

Before Bolin could answer, tones dropped.  "Engine One, Rescue One, channel three.  Chest pain, Second and Rabbaroo.  Engine One, Rescue One, channel three."

Korra was out of the back of the rescue in a flash.  Bolin was close behind her.  She trusted him to shut the door, and he did.  Song was in the driver's seat within seconds behind Korra.  He hit the button on the door opener and turned the engine over, waiting until the door was fully open before pulling forward.

Thank the Spirits, Korra thought.  A partner who knows what the rules are!  She looked over the notes on the CAD while he drove.  56YO male...started an hour ago...no HX of cardiac issues...unknown flu...

She routed the booter to the call, impressed that he stopped so smoothly when they reached the address.  The engine was right behind them.  Korra pulled on her gloves and grabbed the jump bag from the compartment behind her seat and headed for the door; the Engine was pulling to a stop right behind them and Bolin already had the monitor and airway box in hand right behind her.

The crew walked in to find the patient sitting at his dining room table, leaning forward, one hand planted on the table, the other plastered to his chest.  Bolin set the monitor down on the table next to the man and went to work.  He didn't bother stopping with a four-lead; once he had that set up, Korra could see that his rhythm was steady but showed slight elevation in the ST waves, and Bolin went straight to setting up a 12-lead.

"Sir, can you tell me your name?"  Korra asked, flipping the jump bag open and grabbing the oxygen tank.

"Naru," the man replied, sounding very short of breath.

Korra and Bolin both noticed that he was very pale and diaphoretic.  "Hi, Naru, I'm Korra, this is Bolin.  When did this start?"

"About an hour ago," Naru gasped.  "I kept hoping it would clear up, but it's been getting worse by the minute."

Bolin had the 12-lead set up in seconds.  Iroh listened intently, adding everything to the chart on his tablet.  Korra asked, "are you on any medications right now?"

"No, none."

"Do you have any medical history at all?  Diabetes, kidney disease, stroke..."

"Nothing.  I'm healthy as an ostrich-horse."

Bolin laid a hand on the man's shoulder.  "Okay, I need you to be very still and very quiet for about thirty seconds," he said.  Everyone seemed to comply.  The monitor spit out a tape showing a very regular rhythm - but when Bolin looked at it, his eyebrows shot up.  He handed the tape to Korra, who looked briefly before handing it to Iroh and turning back to Naru.

"Sir, have you taken any sexually enhancing drugs in the past 72 hours?"

Naru looked up at Korra like she'd sprouted a second evil head.

"I have to ask," Korra replied.  She was putting the oxygen tank back in the jump bag as she continued.  "Those drugs can interact with what we really need to give you right now."

"No, I haven't taken anything."

Bolin was already fast at work to start an IV.  It took him next to no time at all to have a line established.  "20 gauge, right AC," he called as he taped the extension down.

Korra turned to Bumi, who handed her a small, dark-colored glass vial.  She unscrewed the cap and took a single small white pill from it.  "Under your tongue," she said.  Naru lifted his tongue and Korra dropped it there.  "This is called Nitro.  It'll give you a headache, but that's how we know it's working.  Right now, on a scale of one to ten, one being no pain at all, ten being the worst pain you've ever felt, where would you rate your chest pain right now?"

"Um...about a seven," Naru replied, slurring against the pill in his mouth.

"Okay, don't chew that.  Let it dissolve," Bolin said.

Naru shut his mouth and did as he was told.

Bumi spoke up before anyone else could.  "Do you have any drug allergies?"

Naru looked at him for a moment before speaking; he appeared to still be letting the Nitro dissolve.  "Penicillin and Sulfa drugs."

Bumi nodded and pulled another bottle out of the bright orange drug box.  He twisted it open, dumped one pill into his palm, and offered it to the patient.  "This is Aspirin.  Go ahead and chew it."

Naru did as he was told.

"Do you think you can stand and just sit right back down on the gurney?"

Naru looked up at Bolin and nodded.  Song already had the gurney ready.  Kid knows what he's doing, Korra thought.  Naru stood, turned, and sat right back down on the gurney.  Song was already prepared to belt him onto it.  Bolin deposited the monitor, still attached to the patient, on the back of the gurney and the crew was ready to go in seconds.  Before anyone could change their mind the patient was loaded and Korra and Bolin were in the back, still tending to him.  Iroh hopped in back and took his position in the captain's seat. 

"Do we know what the patient's O2 sats are?"  Iroh asked.

"Ninety-eight percent on room air," Korra replied.

Iroh smiled and said nothing.  The crew had gone through the oxygen administration training together, and although several other crews had failed to soak in the lessons, Iroh was proud that his crew didn't need to be told again.  In cases of TBI, CVA, or MI, oxygen administration could actually do the patient more harm than good and contribute to a negative outcome if the patient wasn't already hypoxic.  He hit the button to measure another blood pressure as he kept charting.

"Now that we've given you some medication, how's that chest pain doing?"  Korra asked.  "Can you give it a number for me?"

"It's getting a little bit better," Naru replied.  "Not by much, though."

The trip to RCH was mercifully brief.  Within seconds of pulling up, Song had the patient unloaded and the crew was walking him into the ER.  The charge nurse directed them to room 1, red zone - a critical room.  Iroh spoke as the crew prepared to move the patient from the gurney to the hospital bed.

"Fifty-six-year-old male, complaining of chest pain and left arm numbness times one hour.  First BP was one-ten over eighty-three, administered one dose of Nitro, one dose of Aspirin.  Twenty-gauge in the right AC.  Second BP was ninety-nine over seventy-two.  Original pain scale was a seven, last pain scale reported to be a six.  Twelve-lead showed clear ST elevation.  Last set of vitals were...BP ninety-eight over seventy-three, rate seventy-six per minute, respers sixteen per minute, satting at ninety-eight percent, never dropped lower."

By the time he was finished, the crew was done and Song had taken the gurney out of the room.  Dr. Chen smiled and thanked Iroh as the crew turned to leave.

Korra elbowed Bolin in the ribs as they walked.  "So, when are you gonna ask?"

Bolin looked around to make sure Opal wasn't around.  "I can't ask her yet!"

"Why not?"

"I just can't!"

"Come on, Bolin!"

"How did you do this without wanting to throw up?"

Korra's laughter reverberated through the hallway.  She had to stop and bend over, clutching her sides, turning red.

Bolin visibly pouted.  "What is so funny?"

"Oh, Spirits!"  Korra remarked, standing back up.  "Come on, buddy.  I'll tell you on the way back to quarters!"

Chapter Text

Korra had never been more thankful to have a booter in the station than the day Kai began his rotation on the rescue. It meant that she was going back to the Engine, back to her position with Bolin. The trouble was that Tahno, two weeks later, still hadn't come back to work. He was supposed to go back to roving anyway; nobody knew who was going to take Korra's medic position on the rescue. They didn't even know if her replacement was going to be temporary or hard-bid.

When Korra walked out to the bay to set up her turnouts at her position - right behind Iroh - she grinned widely.  Standing at the back of the Engine was a tall, fair-skinned man with thick black hair and a handsome smile.  He turned to face her and his smile widened.

"Shaozu!"  Korra called.  She dropped her turnouts on the deck and walked toward him with a grin on her face, reaching out to shake his hand once she reached him.  "I thought you landed a honeypot out in Snootsville!"

"It was nice while it lasted," Shaozu chuckled.  "I did everything I could to stay there.  I've heard you guys are one of the busiest stations in the city."

Bumi nodded from his perch, a very old plastic lawn chair that everyone else knew better than to ever occupy.  "Biggest badasses in the city, too.  Think you can keep up?"

Iroh sauntered up behind the crew from the bay door that led to the station proper.  "Don't mind Bumi.  He's so old he still remembers when we patched using Morse code.  I hear you and Korra were in the academy together."

Shaozu nodded.  "Yeah, yeah.  When the academy started we hated each other."

"He stole my parking spot," Korra snorted, "so I got back at him by smearing lube all over his door handles."

"But by the time we graduated we were buddies."

Bolin giggled.  "You what?"

"I smeared lube all over his door handles."

"NO, Bolin!"  Iroh warned.  Everyone laughed.  "Alright...let's go make breakfast.  I'm starving."

"Shaozu should be able to do this all on his little lonesome," Bumi cracked, following the younger crewmembers inside.  "All that downtime at a vacation station...you shoulda gotten plenty of practice!"

 

*     *     *

 

Assistant Chief Izumi had been thinking about her son's revelation non-stop for two weeks.  When he'd called and told her that he needed to speak with her in person about a serious departmental matter, she'd been worried that he'd done something that he was going to need help getting out of; Iroh had never been a very emotional person, certainly never angry, but he did say things from time to time that - while true - tended to be offensive to the public.  She was silently grateful when he showed up and told her that one of his crew, Korra, had revealed some abhorrent behavior to him from her first year as a booter.

Once he was done, Izumi wished that Iroh had come to her with his own personal issue.  The truth was far worse.

Everyone expected to take a little bit of hazing in the first year, but what Iroh described was beyond the pale.  The fact that it culminated in a sexual assault, one perpetrated in front of the entire crew, and the captain not only refused to discipline the offender but threatened Korra for trying to report it left Izumi seething.  She knew that Zaheer had something of a reputation for being hard on booters, but since Korra was one of exactly two women currently serving in the Republic City Fire Department (Izumi herself being the other), she had nothing to base his reputation with women on.

She'd mulled over what she should do ever since having that meeting.  Korra had left Engine Three and Zaheer's crew four years ago, so she wasn't sure there was anything she could do.  She consulted department policy, spoke to Zhu Li in human resources, and after a few days began to realize that she needed to respond.  When Izumi went to Narook and asked him about what had happened at the bar, she went from furious to livid.  She'd had to work twice as hard as the men around her to earn the respect of the crews she'd been on, but once she gained it, they treated her like one of the guys.  It was unconscionable that there was an entire crew in her department that would be so openly abusive to the second woman in the history of RCFD.

Now she sat in her office, waiting for Zaheer to enter.  It had been his on-call day and when the captain on Engine Two had called off, Zaheer had been called in.  His B-shift engineer, Xai Bau, had already picked up OT weeks before on the same engine.  What Izumi hadn't told anyone was that she had arranged for that captain to call off so Zaheer would be on shift in his place.  She wanted to catch him completely off-guard.

Zaheer was shown in by Izumi's assistant and took the seat that was offered.  "Assistant Chief Izumi.  To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Before I get started, Zaheer, I need to remind you that any form of retaliation will be grounds for immediate dismissal," Izumi sighed.  She studied his face for any signs of nervousness.  She was irritated to find the man perfectly serene.  "I need to talk to you about a booter you had four years ago.  Korra."

Zaheer's lips twitched into a slight smile that was supposed to look sympathetic.  Izumi found the act to be incredibly patronizing.  "Well, she left my crew four years ago.  I'm not sure what there could be to discuss."

"And I am certain you know exactly why we're talking now," Izumi returned, employing breathing exercises she'd learned a lifetime ago to maintain her composure.  "There are a lot of things that I cannot do anything about at this point, Zaheer.  What I cannot ignore is a report that your engineer sexually assaulted her in front of the entire crew.  Even worse, I am told that not only did you do nothing about the incident, you threatened Korra's career when she made an attempt to go over your head to report it."

Zaheer didn't flinch.  He didn't appear to feel anything about the statement she'd just made.  He remained as calm as he'd been when he first walked into the room.  "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about.  Korra never reported anything like that to me.  If she had, I would have followed department policy to the letter."

"According to the report I heard, you were a witness."

"Chief, I never saw anything inappropriate happen."

"You were inappropriate, Captain, so I'm not buying this song and dance right now.  As I said at the beginning, there is a lot in what I was told that I can't do a thing about.  I would be remiss if I did nothing about the assault.  An official investigation has been opened.  As of right now, I'm placing you on administrative leave pending -"

She was cut off by a violent explosion.  The building rocked and her office windows cracked.  Izumi jumped up from her chair and turned to look out the damaged windows to see a massive column of smoke rising through the space between the administrative building and the one next door.  For all she knew, the explosion had happened downstairs.  She threw on her turnouts and her clean white helmet and made for the door.

Zaheer spoke as she was stepping into her trousers.  "Ma'am, I believe we should finish this discussion later!"

Izumi glared at him.  She fastened the snaps at the front of her trousers, pressed the velcro together, and flung on her coat.  "Believe me, Zaheer, we will."

 

*     *     *

 

The crew of Station One had an adult turtle duck as their unofficial mascot.  He lived in the pond in front of the station.  All three shifts played with him, kept him fed, and made sure he was safe.  It had started with a tiny duckling; he'd somehow gotten separated from his mother, and Korra found him in front of the station, his family nowhere to be seen.  She had taken him inside and called Asami to ask how to care for a duckling.  Asami had no idea, but she did know a veterinarian, and inside an hour she appeared at the station with everything needed to make a brooding box.

The crew very quickly became attached to the little bird, and A-shift had named him Bumi Junior - eventually shortening it to Bumju.  It had started as a joke.  Bumi grumbled about having to help care for a "barnyard animal", as he called it, but when nobody was looking (or he thought nobody was looking) he cuddled with the animal.  The day he was found sound asleep in the day room with the duckling snoring loudly on his chest the name was chosen, and it stuck.

The crew was outside playing with Bumju and chatting about their respective academy classes when the explosion hit.  Bumju was startled and began quacking, running for the shelter that had been built for him just around the corner.  The crew all shot up from their respective seats on the ground and faced the direction the sound had come from.  The explosion was powerful enough to shake the ground beneath them; nobody spoke.  They all listened intently for the tones they knew should be coming.

They never came.  Iroh waved at the crew and they ran inside, pulled on their turnouts, and jumped into their apparatus.  The radio was eerily silent at first.  Then they heard it.

 

*     *     *

 

Izumi ran down the stairs, taking them as quickly as she could.  The familiar odor of a structure fire hit her nose when she made it down to the second floor, and when she burst through the door on the first floor, she noticed that the entire ornate foyer was filled with smoke.  She had only opened the door because it wasn't hot, but she questioned her decision for a brief moment when she took her first lungful of thick smoke and coughed.  The glass doors were shattered, and through them she could see the building next door was what had been hit.

"This is AC Izumi, I am assuming command of a fire at the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center.  Possible HAZMAT.  Fire was preceded by an explosion."

She heard nothing in response.

"Alarm room, this is AC Izumi, do you copy?"

"AC Izumi, this is Engine One, we are en route to your location."

Izumi breathed heavily in relief when she heard her son's voice.  "Engine One, we have Engine Two and Rescue Two on scene.  I need Rescue One and Rescue Two in position just East of the fire admin building.  Engine One and Engine Two, you're first due.  I need someone to head down to the basement to check on the alarm room!"

"We're on it," came a voice behind her.  Izumi turned to see the pair on Rescue Two already in their turnouts, pulling on their SCBAs.  She waved them past and watched as their boots crunched the shattered glass through the broken doors and down the stairwell she'd just come out of. 

Engine One came screaming around the corner and positioned itself right in front of the burning cultural center, about twenty feet from the front bumper of Engine Two.  Rescue One pulled forward and parked on the other side of the street from Rescue Two.  Everyone climbed out and ran for the Assistant Chief as radios crackled to life again.

"This is Chief Tenzin.  Command, do we have eyes on the alarm room?"

Izumi keyed her mic.  "Rescue Two is on assignment to get to them.  The radios are operational, but we cannot reach the alarm room on them."  She turned to Iroh as he approached.  "There was a huge explosion before the fire.  Well...you probably heard it."

"We felt it," Iroh replied.  "Do we know if anyone was inside the building?  Do we know if it was a bomb, or maybe a transformer?"

"With enough force to break my office windows on the sixth floor?  I'd hazard a guess that this was deliberate."

"Then we need to evacuate the surrounding buildings," Korra interjected.

"That we do," Izumi replied, chastising herself for not having thought about it herself.  She keyed her radio mic again.  "Command to Engine Two, begin evacuating all of the buildings on the North side of the street."  She let go of her mic.  "Iroh, take your crew and evac the South side.  There's only three buildings here.  Make sure to tell these people that they need to get at least two blocks away."

Iroh nodded and the crew trotted off.  Izumi turned to the cultural center building and bit back tears.  Who would want to bomb the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center?  Shake it off, Izumi. 

"Rescue Two to Command," came the radio.  There was some static, but it was to be expected; they were in the basement.  "The alarm room is intact, but their power is out.  We're attempting to get the backup generator running."

"Command copies."

Izumi hoped that other crews would make their way in, but nobody appeared.  She watched as the only two engine crews available to her managed the crowds that grew larger with each passing second, trying to get them to stop recording the fire with their cell phones.  It felt like the incident had been going on for an eternity, but it had really only been a few minutes.  She begged the Spirits to help.  They needed the alarm room back online.  They had no idea whether there were secondary devices, and they needed all hands on deck.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami had the TV on in the background while she worked on her research paper.  "Trauma Considerations and Treatment for Public Safety Employees" was the title.  It wasn't exactly original - after all, she had chosen the subject matter because of her fiancée - but she was still proud of the work she had been doing.  Her attending had expressed a great deal of interest in seeing the finished product.

The inane chatter of whatever was on was interrupted by a high-pitched, police cruiser siren-like noise.  Asami was prepared to ignore it as one of the many tests they heard, but the next sound got her attention quickly.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test," came the voice of Shiro, the best-known news broadcaster in the city.  "There is an emergency situation in the downtown area.  An explosion has rocked the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center.  The cause is currently unknown..."

She gasped at a live feed of the fire.  There was a gaping hole in the corner of the building nearest the RCFD administration building, and flames were lapping upward from the second floor.  Engines One and Two were both positioned in front of the building, each at an angle, the idea being to both block off the entrance and create space for the crews to work when it was cleared to do so.

"Republic City Fire Chief Tenzin is currently reporting that, as a result of the explosion, the 911 system is down," Shiro continued.  "The dispatch center that handles emergency calls has no power and cannot respond to those calls.  If you are experiencing a medical emergency, it may be some time before help arrives.  Please make every attempt to help anyone in distress get to a hospital as, once again, the 911 system is down and there is no report on when it may be working again."

Asami didn't wait for the call she knew would be coming.  She grabbed her emergency bag - complete with scrubs and a few medical supplies - turned off the lights and left.  She got in her sports car and took off, heading for the hospital.  She knew Korra was on scene at the fire, but she didn't have time to worry right now.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of people running around.  Nobody was looking where they were going.  Everybody not in uniform was panicking.  Everywhere she turned, someone was running into her or shoving her out of the way.  The screaming and crying mixed with the roar of the fire and the wail of approaching sirens to create a deafening cacophony, and it felt like her feet were encased in tacky cement.  One cry came from a different direction and immediately got her attention.

"HELP!"

She looked up to see light gray smoke drifting from the top floor, where a window was open and a man was hanging out, screaming and waving.  Ladder Two could not have had better timing.  It pulled up just as Korra was wishing they had a ladder truck available.  She looked over at Iroh, who locked eyes with her and nodded.

"Bumi!  Let's get the cannon on the fourth floor!"  Iroh barked the order as he moved, dragging Bumi with him.  The entire crew raced into action.  Bumi and Iroh jumped on top of the Engine and powered up the cannon while Shaozu and Kai yanked the five-inch supply line off the rear hose compartment.  Shaozu connected one end to the engine's receiver while Kai pulled a hydrant wrench from the hook and dragged the other end of the line to the hydrant on the corner and went to work connecting it.

Korra looked around at her crew and then glanced at the ladder.  The smoky side of the building still had its fire escape ladder intact, and she had an idea.  "CAP!"  She bellowed.  "Bolin and I are gonna enter on the fire escape!  The ladder is gonna take too long, we can't wait!"

"Do it!"  Iroh agreed.

Korra grabbed her irons while Bolin picked up a sledgehammer and the pair ran for the bottom of the ladder bolted to the brick outer wall of the building.  Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, Korra thought, remembering that it would do nobody any good if she tripped and fell off the ladder in her haste to get to the trapped victim.  Finally, the ladder opened onto the metal grating platform outside the fifth-floor fire escape, and Korra fished a small hexagonal tool from a key ring-type device hanging from her equipment belt.

"Stop, Korra," Bolin said.  "Mask up!"

Korra took a knee next to her partner, pulled her helmet off, and slipped her mask into place.  She checked the seal, pulled her hood over her head, strapped her helmet back on, and stood up.  As soon as Bolin gave her a thumbs-up she checked the door for heat; finding none, she pressed one end of the tool into an oddly-shaped keyhole under the door handle and the door popped open.  They entered and allowed the door to shut.  The last thing they needed was to feed the fire oxygen from this side and make things worse.

"Fire department!"  Korra yelled.  "Can anybody hear me?"

Bolin repeated the call as loudly as he could.  Emergency lights were on, guiding them down the hallway.  They came against a door that opened away from them and found it locked.  Without a word, Korra checked the door for heat; it was warm, but it wasn't hot enough to cause her to stop.  She stood back and let Bolin have it.  He positioned his feet, aimed just above the doorknob, reared back, and swung with all his might.  The door crashed open, and thick smoke formed a layer at about shoulder height on Korra.  They crouched to walk under it and continued forward.  Korra called out again and headed for a blurry light source that was situated higher than the emergency lighting along the floor.  They passed six or seven doors, most of them open, the rooms beyond empty, before they finally heard the man they'd seen from the street.

They picked up the pace, noticing a rise in temperature as they moved.  Korra was sure the smoke was getting thicker, too.  She listened intently for any sounds that could signal a serious problem - too much creaking in the floor, audible cracking in the walls.  Every footstep was a potential hazard.  They found the room that their victim was trapped in and knelt next to him; Bolin ripped his mask off and pressed it to the man's face for a moment.  Korra saw water splashing up the outside wall through the open window, evidence that the cannon was keeping water running around them to hold the fire at bay.  The ladder truck was just beginning to extend the hydraulic ladder to their position.  Ladder Two didn't have a bucket, so getting the victim down was going to take some coordinating.  Two firefighters began making their way up the ladder once it was more than halfway extended.  Not exactly correct procedure, but they needed to escape, and fast.

Korra was relieved to see Kai jump through the window.  She didn't bother looking at the second firefighter, who remained on the ladder and waited for them to pick up the victim and help him out.  Bolin pressed the man toward the window and the waiting ladder, but the man stopped in his tracks.

"I can't!  I can't go out there!"  The man screamed.  "I'm afraid of heights!"

The second firefighter jumped in after them.  Bolin went out the window and looked back at the victim.  "It's alright, sir.  We won't let you fall, I promise!  I'll be right behind you!  If we don't get out now, we'll have bigger problems!"

The man started crying, terrified, as the second firefighter helped him crawl through the window.  The heat continued to rise, and a wall in the hallway burst into flame.  Thanks to door control, there wasn't much oxygen to let the fire grow too quickly, but it still grew, and Korra silently pleaded for the victim to find what courage had deserted him and hurry up.  The floor beneath them began to groan.  Korra looked at Kai, certain she'd just felt it begin to bow.  The second firefighter was finally able to climb out the window and slowly started backing down the ladder.

The hallway floor started to buckle and collapse.  The heat suddenly spiked.

"We have no more time," Korra yelled at the man just outside the window.  "We need to go, now!"

His head popped back up and Korra froze in place.

Zaheer.

He didn't speak.  He stared hard, malice in his eyes.  Korra knew that she could expect no help from him.  She grabbed the window sill and moved to climb out, but he deliberately blocked her.

"What are you doing?"  Kai screamed. 

More of the floor collapsed behind them, and Korra's heart jumped into her throat.  "Zaheer, now's not the time for this!"  She held the sill tightly as the floor under her feet dropped several inches - then gave way.  Kai latched onto the sill next to her with his right hand and onto Korra with his left.

Zaheer didn't hesitate.  He reached in and planted a hand on her mask, then shoved.  Korra's grip faltered and she began to fall, but Kai held onto her. 

It was useless.  Kai was strong, but with all 135 pounds of Korra and 170 pounds of gear between the two of them, he couldn't hold on.  They disappeared into the black smoke.  Korra felt a jolt as she hit something on the way down - possibly the next floor - and continued falling.  Her mind erupted in pain and her world went dark.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami was surprised that the ER wasn't more of a mess when she walked in.  It was busy, for sure, but most of the injuries were relatively minor.  Broken bones, pulled muscles, and lacerations were the worst so far.  The level one area was still empty.  She hovered near the desk with Dr. Manu, listening to the fire radio.

Traffic was sparse.  They heard Ladder Two beginning operations for a rescue on the fifth floor, and then nothing.  It was frightening; usually, during a fire, there was a lot more traffic, but now there wasn't anything from the alarm room and only five units on scene for what looked like at least a two-alarm fire. 

"Mayday!  Mayday!  Firefighter down!" 

Asami's heart skipped a beat.

"Engine One, Firefighter down!  Floor collapsed!  Last seen on the fifth floor!"

She sank into a chair, but couldn't relax.  She vaguely felt Dr. Manu grip both shoulders, as if to keep her upright.

"Command to all units, all call.  Cease all activities.  Command to all units, unless you are engaging in direct fire suppression, redirect all efforts to rescue.  Firefighter down."

Chapter Text

Bolin was numb. As he clambered off of the ladder truck and helped the victim to the ground, he barely registered the men of Rescue Two leading him away for triage before he wheeled on Zaheer.

"What did you do?"  Bolin rumbled. 

Zaheer shook his head, a shocked look on his face.

"Don't fucking tell me that you don't know," Bolin growled.  "WHAT DID YOU DO?!?"

Bolin charged Zaheer, fully intent on beating an answer out of the man.  He knew Zaheer was playing innocent, and it only served to further enrage him.  He pulled his helmet off and swung, stopped short by a grizzled old hand on his arm and a pair of wiry arms from behind.

 

*     *     *

 

Bolin's first words got Iroh's attention.  Iroh was furious; he didn't believe for one second that Zaheer made a real attempt to help Korra and Kai, but his sense of duty told him that getting violent right now would only make matters worse.  He put a hand on Bolin's shoulder, hoping to remind the man that he needed to back down, but the escalation in his voice was all too evident.  He shot a look at Bumi, who positioned himself at Bolin's right.

As soon as the helmet came off, they moved.  Iroh wrapped both arms around Bolin's torso, made more difficult by his SCBA tank.  Bumi stepped in and grabbed his right arm before it could really make contact.  They dragged him back, away from the target of his rage, unwilling to let Zaheer have any semblance of a victory with this.

"Stop, Bolin!"  Iroh ordered.  He rarely raised his voice, but now he felt he needed to in order to get through to his crewman.  "We have to do this the right way!  Calm down, buddy!"

Then from behind, he heard a voice that he recognized, albeit only barely.  It was twisted with anger.  He'd been on the receiving end of that same voice as a child when he'd broken several rules, but never in his life had he heard it quite this serious.  It almost made him stop cold.

"ZAHEER!"

 

*     *     *

 

Izumi was so enraged she could hardly see straight.  She watched her only son pull a man away from Zaheer before his rage could be unleashed, but she wasn't sure she could control herself at this point.  From the ground it had been impossible to tell what had happened, but Zaheer's mayday call had flipped a switch.  She knew he wasn't innocent.  His attempt at acting so was maddening to a degree she had never before in her life experienced.

She bellowed his name.  He pulled off his helmet and stripped off his hood and mask before turning to face her.  Izumi strode forward, her vision narrow and seething red, right hand balled into a tight fist, ready to feed the man his teeth.

Instead, she collected her wits and pulled him down to her level by his turnouts.

"You're done," Izumi hissed.

"Chief, I tried -"

"Don't bullshit me," she spat.  "I was born at night, Zaheer, but not last night!"

"I swear!  I didn't -"

Izumi shoved him backward, cutting him off.  "Return to your apparatus!  Call your union rep now, because you'll need him.  I don't want to so much as hear your name until you've spoken to the investigators.  Get out of my sight!"

She turned to see Iroh's crew masking up to go look for their missing crew.  She wasn't about to tell them otherwise.  Go find her, Izumi thought as she nodded to them.  Dear Spirits, make their feet quick and keep that crew safe.

 

*     *     *

 

The first and second floors were charred and smoking, with some flames still going in places, but the fire had climbed beyond those floors by the time Iroh led Bumi and Bolin on a search to find Korra and Kai.  The remaining crew of Engine Two had led the way and agreed to take the North side of the building while Iroh led his crew through the South, or the front - where the missing firefighters were more likely to be.  Iroh had to remind himself to listen for the sound of possible collapse or reignition; if anything went wrong now, they'd all be lost.

They found one of the two main stairwells at the West end of the entryway and climbed, calling out as they went.  On the second floor they heard next to nothing - the floor seemed to be stable and Iroh felt no indication that it might give way, so they kept going down the Southern hallway, keeping an eye out.  The ceiling above them was intact, so halfway down the hall they broke into a run for the East hallway and started climbing again.

On the third floor, it didn't take long.  They spotted the collapsed ceiling and the debris from the collapse strewn about the hallway, following the familiar warble of their comrade's PASS devices.  Everyone had to remind themselves to be wary of dangerous materials - splintered supports, twisted metal, nails, screws, anything that could puncture their PPE and hurt them.  Some of the debris was still smoldering but nothing was really burning.  Using axes and bare hands, they pulled material out of the way, hoping to find...

They did.  Iroh grabbed a boot, still firmly attached to a foot.  "Engine One to command, we've found the missing crew!  Third floor, South side of the building, have Ladder Two bring two basket stretchers!"

As carefully as they could, they picked debris away from Korra and Kai, slowly freeing them.  Everyone called their names in the hope of hearing one of them respond.  Neither of the firefighters spoke or moved, but they kept calling their names.  Once they had enough debris cleared away, Iroh jumped in and began cutting the straps on Korra's SCBA.  Kai had landed on his right side while Korra landed face-down almost on top of him.  With the straps cut, Iroh gingerly lifted the tank and dumped it to the side, unwilling to pull her mask off and cut her oxygen supply just yet.  He checked the regulator on her tank and was relieved to find that it still had about 900 PSI remaining.

While Iroh worked, Bolin did the same for Kai.  His oxygen, however, was nearly out.  "Cap, his O2 is about done, and we can't risk turning him over," Bolin said. 

"Cut his mask off," Iroh ordered.  "Be very careful!  Bumi, hold c-spine while Bolin does that."

Bumi dove into the debris at Kai's head and gingerly took Kai's head in both hands.  Bolin pulled his hood off and cut the backstraps on his mask; Bumi lifted his head just enough to slip the mask off.  Bolin slid it upward so that the mask was off of his mouth and nose, leaving his forehead cradled in it.  Bumi remained in place - once you held c-spine, you had to keep holding it until a collar was applied. 

"IROH!"  A voice called out from the East stairwell.  Iroh spun to see four men coming, basket stretchers and a c-spine bag in tow.  Iroh caught the c-spine bag that was tossed at him, yanked the zipper open, and pulled out two adult-sized collars; extra hands came from everywhere, working to keep Korra as still as possible as her hood was peeled back, her mask was removed, and the collar was applied.

Iroh hadn't noticed in the smoky darkness that her mask had been punctured.  When they pulled it off, her face was covered in blood.  It was so bad that they couldn't tell what the source was.  She was lifted into the basket, and Bolin - along with three members of Ladder Two - carried her back toward the East stairwell.  Iroh and Bumi remained, and with the three members of Engine Two to help, put a collar on Kai, lifted him into the remaining basket, and hurried out.

Iroh hated making this decision.  Two of his crew were critically injured.  He had to go with one.  He jumped in with Kai.  Bumi was right behind him.  Shaozu and Bolin were with Korra.  One of the men on Engine Two hopped into the cab of Rescue One and the rescues quickly pulled away, sirens screaming, toward Republic City Hospital.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami noticed all of the trauma teams flooding the unit and gearing up.  She should have been, but Dr. Manu forced her to sit and wait.  They had no idea which members of Engine One were injured, but when the patch phone rang he nearly had to hold her down.

"Patient is a 25-year-old female, multiple-system blunt-force trauma caused by a two-story fall," came the voice over the speaker.  "Vitals are as follows...BP is seventy-four over fifty-five, heart rate is ninety-one per minute, respirations were at six per minute but the patient has been intubated and is being bagged at twelve per minute, currently satting at ninety-five percent.  Pupils are reactive but slow, GCS is three, patient is completely unresponsive to all stimuli.  How do you read?"

"Loud and clear," Dr. Manu replied.  "ETA?"

"Five minutes," came the reply.

"Copy."

Asami planted both hands on the desk in front of her despite being seated.  The room began to spin.  She shut her eyes and measured her breaths, trying not to go into a panic.

"Doctor Sato, can you hear me?"

She opened her eyes and turned to see Dr. Manu on one knee, watching her with concern in his eyes.

"You know you can't act as a provider now."

Asami nodded.

"Can you promise to watch without interruption?"

Asami nodded.

The patch phone rang a second time, but to Asami it sounded like everyone was talking underwater.  Her entire world had narrowed into a single thought.

This can't be happening.

The five minutes quoted by the crew spanned a lifetime for the young resident.  She could feel every beat of her own heart, could count every breath as she waited to hear the doors open.  When they finally did, Asami was afraid to stand up.  She was afraid of what she'd see.  She found the strength to get to her feet just as the crew wheeled her down the hallway.

Korra looked like she was dead already.

Her entire head was wrapped in cling, holding a trauma pad against the right side of her head.  The wound had begun to bleed through.  She was pale, extremely so to Asami.  Patches of blood were caked on her face and it was obvious that an effort had been made to mop an obscene amount of blood from her head.  Her hair was still slick with coagulated blood.  A tube protruded from her mouth, attached to a bag-valve, and Bolin held it with both hands, giving it a full squeeze every few seconds.  Her arms had been freed from her turnout coat, but it remained beneath her.  Her shirt had been cut off and Asami couldn't tell what was bruised and what was covered in blood.

The gurney was aligned with the hospital bed and the team surrounded both, counted down, then lifted Korra on the stretcher over to the bed.  "Last vitals are BP of sixty-eight over fifty-nine..."

That's bad.

"Heart rate is one-oh-eight..."

She's in advanced shock.

"Satting at ninety-two..."

Put her on a ventilator!

"Lung sounds suddenly began to decrease on the right side..."

Why didn't you needle her chest?  Her lung is collapsing!

"Still completely unresponsive..."

Asami fought to remain in place.  She couldn't watch, but she couldn't shut out the sounds.  Part of her wanted to rush in and take over, but her logical mind battled for control, reminding her that if she took one step in the wrong direction she'd be sent to the family room where she couldn't see or hear anything.  She decided that would be significantly worse.  She could hear orders being barked out.  Activity kept going - each person had a specific task, and they worked non-stop to see those tasks done.  She heard one person calling CT, one rolled in with an X-ray and a tech, several people checked more vital signs and did a detailed physical assessment...the team left nothing out.  As they worked, the second firefighter was brought in, and to Asami's astonishment, he seemed to be in even worse shape than Korra.

She paid no attention.  Part of her felt guilty, but the love of her life lay motionless before her, possibly dying, and all Asami could think about was what she was going to tell her parents.

"Doctor Sato?"

Dr. Manu's calm voice interrupted her mile-a-minute thoughts for a moment.

"We have to take her to CT, then to surgery.  You can have a minute."

Asami stepped forward purposefully yet dazed.  This still didn't seem real.  All of her fears, all of her worrying, none of it had seemed real, at least not at the time.  Part of her had tried to compartmentalize it as unfounded.  Now, however, her worst fear was breathed to life in front of her.  Korra was now on a ventilator, and Asami was trying hard not to associate that sound with her lover.  She noticed that her turnout pants had been removed along with her coat and piled on the floor next to her boots.  Her entire uniform had been cut away and hung in shreds around her.  The right side of her chest had been quasi-cleaned and revealed a hideous bruise that seemed to have no end.  It spanned all the way over her shoulder, around to her back, and down past her waist. 

"Korra," Asami breathed.  "Baby..."  She stroked Korra's abdomen and noticed that it was rigid and distended.  A sob escaped at the sensation.  Korra was bleeding internally.  Asami bent forward and pressed her lips to Korra's left temple, squeezing her hand as she did so.  So many medical journals said so many different things about whether a critically injured person who was comatose could hear the goings-on around them; Asami chose in this moment to believe that Korra could hear her.

"I'll be right outside," Asami whispered in her fiancée's ear.  "I'm with you, love."

"We need to go," Dr. Manu said softly, right behind her.

Asami gave her one last kiss to the temple and one more squeeze to her left hand before standing up and allowing the team to wheel her out.

She knew where the crew would be.  She walked toward the family room, more dazed than before, her feet carrying her by memory.  She paused at the closed door and looked down the hallway; it was flooded with firefighters, some in turnouts, some not, all clearly disturbed by the events of the day.  Asami's hand hesitated before opening the door.  There was no use in trying to gather herself.  She knew she was going to break down.  The question was when.

Bolin sat  in a chair in the left corner, Iroh planted next to him.  Bumi stood fixed in the right corner, arms crossed over his chest, his face long and sullen.

Bolin looked up at Asami as the door shut.  He'd been crying.  Asami suddenly realized how real it was when his face turned up toward her, his eyes bloodshot, his cheeks soaked by his tears.

"I'm sorry," Bolin sobbed.  "I'm so sorry..."

Asami hit her knees in front of him and wrapped her arms around him even as she started weeping openly herself.  "Don't you dare," Asami sniffed.  "You didn't do this."

 

*     *     *

 

 

They were still locked in each other's arms when Mako walked in.  Neither heard him enter.  Iroh stood and moved forward to hear what he had to say.

"I don't think this was the accident that Zaheer claimed it was," Mako whispered, trying not to disturb what was going on.  "I just found out that there's security footage from a camera across the street.  I have no idea whether it'll show anything, but..."

"What can you tell me?"  Iroh whispered, also trying not to interrupt them.

"He just rubs me the wrong way," Mako said, moving in closer to be as quiet as he could.  "His statement was an act.  Something isn't right.  I really need either Korra or Kai to wake up and give me something.  If this video doesn't pan out, I might not be able to do a damn thing about it.  None of the other detectives really care.  They're ready to close the case."

Iroh's eyes darkened.  "Stall them.  You do whatever you have to do, but don't you dare let them shut this down now."

Mako nodded.  He left, determined to find something - anything - that would prove what happened.

Chapter Text

The wait seemed interminable.

The hospital staff were good enough to make sure that nobody - not even other crews - interrupted Iroh and his crew.  Asami leaned into Bolin, and Bumi had finally taken a seat next to Iroh.  Mako had left.  There was still much more to do.  In just two hours after fireground operations ended, the news had begun to accuse the Northern Water Tribe for the attack, although with no known tensions between the tribes, nobody believed it.  Opal walked in and shut the TV off.  Nobody protested.

"Doctor Sato," Opal addressed the older woman.  "I know these guys have all heard Korra's version, but I think it might be enlightening to hear your version of how you met."

Asami sat up and grinned sadly.  She brushed a tuft of thick, dark hair away from her face as she moved.  "If this differs in any way from what she's said, I expect to hear about it," she warned.

"Firefighter's honor," Bolin joked, holding up his right hand.

"Aw, hell," Bumi grumbled.  "Who believes'n that shit'nymore?"

"I'd actually like to hear this," Iroh retorted, "so stop your grousing, you old coot."

Asami sat up and stretched.  "Well, it was not at work..."

 

*     *     *

 

"OW!"

Asami Sato turned to face the direction that a string of expletives had come from.  Parked away from the gas pumps was an old blue pickup truck, hood open, steam pouring from the engine.  She grabbed the bottle of ice-cold water from her front seat, a clean rag from the glove compartment, and walked over to offer help.  In front of the grille stood an attractive young woman with deep olive skin and chestnut hair that cascaded past her shoulders, the top and sides pulled back into a half-tail to keep it out of her eyes.  Her features were clearly Water Tribe, and at the moment they were clenched in pain.

"Hey there," Asami grinned.  "You tried to open your radiator cap bare-handed, didn't you?"

"Is that what that is?"  The woman winced, spreading her fingers and examining her palm.  "The temperature gauge redlined.  I just wanted to check the corresponding component."

Asami couldn't help letting loose a full-throated laugh.  "At least you knew you needed to check it.  Most people would keep driving until the radiator exploded."  She was just about to toss the folded rag over the cap when she noticed an angry red burn on the woman's hand.

"You, uh...want me to take a look at that?"

The woman looked up at her, slightly annoyed.  She quickly schooled her expression.  "It's alright.  I'm a paramedic.  If I let someone else take care of this, I should probably hand in my patch."

"Really?"  Asami spoke as she worked.  "So you're also a firefighter?"

"Yeah," came the response from the passenger-side door, now hanging open.  "I've only been on for two years, though.  It's nothing special."

"Running into burning buildings is nothing special?"  Asami asked, flipping on the small flashlight that hung on her keyring to examine the contents of the radiator.

"Nah," the young woman sighed.  "It just means we're crazy."

Asami laughed.  "Um...have you noticed anything leaking from your truck lately?"

"Not really.  I just thought it was condensation."

"Well, your radiator is empty."

"Empty?"

"Bone dry."

"Shit."

"How 'bout I give you a ride to an auto parts store?"

"Oh, you don't have to do that -"

"Are you gonna walk?  The closest one is at least six miles away."

The stranded Water Tribe woman let out a sigh and her shoulders dropped.  "You're not a serial killer or anything, are you?"

"No," Asami replied, grinning suggestively.  "Although I have been known to bite from time to time."

The woman shut the passenger side door and laughed before offering her left hand.  "I'm Korra."

"Asami."

Korra whistled as she approached the high-end sports car and opened the door.  "Turn over banks for a living?"

Asami giggled as she buckled her seat belt.  "No.  Family money."

"Got any long-lost relatives you might be looking for?"  Korra winked for effect.

Asami turned over the motor and pulled away from the pump.  "You never know!"

The trip was entertaining at the very least.  Asami really liked this girl.  Part of her wanted to believe that what she was was really Korra, but experience warned her to be careful.  Picking up strange women at gas stations, regardless of who they said they were, wasn't the most ideal way to start something.

At the store, she helped Korra pick out what she needed - radiator patch, radiator fluid, and a cone - and noticed that Korra was no longer using her right hand at all.  She was trying to play it down as much as she could, too.  They paid for their items and drove back to the gas station, where Asami unceremoniously dropped to the pavement and crawled under the truck.

"You know, if you tell me how to do that, I can -"

"It's alright," Asami cut her off.  She hadn't meant to.  "Sorry - I just prefer to do some things myself."  She popped out from under the truck and let Korra help her to her feet.  She took notice that she used her left hand.

Since Korra seemed insistent upon doing it herself, Asami showed her how to refill the radiator.  She closed the cap and shut the hood while Korra disposed of the trash.

"You'll want to take it to a mechanic," Asami said, handing over a business card.  "This is my family's greasemonkey.  I'll call him and let him know you're coming.  You need to do it today, because that patch won't hold for very long."

"I can't even begin to thank you," Korra let out a tired sigh.  "I'd like to try, though."

"When do you work next?"

"Uh...tomorrow..."

"Think about it and talk to me then."

"Could I get your number?"

Asami got in her car and shut the door.  "I'll give it to you tomorrow.  Take care of that hand, Korra.  Make sure you know how to treat those blisters if they rupture."  She smiled brightly as she pulled away, leaving a very confused girl behind her.

-THE NEXT DAY-

Asami ran through her work mechanically; she had butterflies in her stomach.  She kept hoping and waiting for that amazing woman to show up, but she had no idea which crew she was on.  Every time a patient was brought in, Asami would wander out, hoping to run into Korra.  When Korra finally did appear, Asami wasn't looking.  She was poring over a patient chart at the desk in the middle of the horseshoe when a figure stepped up and leaned over the counter.  Asami looked up and smiled warmly at the striking, sea-blue eyes that peered down at her.

"So..."  Korra began.  A knowing expression, eyebrow raised, was etched into her features.  "When you heard me say that I was a paramedic, were you waiting to see if I'd blather about my knowledge of burns?"

"Maybe," Asami replied as she stood, trying to suppress a shit-eating grin.  "Maybe I was testing you."

"On what?"

"Whether I could tolerate your ego."

"Did I pass?"

"The test isn't over yet."

Korra's raised eyebrow nearly disappeared.  "Okay.  Could I interest you in continuing tomorrow?  Lunch at Firebender's?"

Asami giggled.  "I'm working, but I would love to meet you at that great little place across the breezeway."

"The hospital cafeteria?"  Korra chuckled.

"Yes.  As chivalrous as your suggestion is, I'm not a fan of firefighter bars where everyone in the joint is a hero looking for a damsel in distress."

Korra laughed heartily at the joke.  It was a beautiful sound that Asami wanted to hear more of.

"Okay, Doc," Korra replied, her eyes bright with mirth.  "Cafeteria it is."

"Thirteen hundred.  Don't forget, you're still being tested."

 

*     *     *

 

"You had your first date at the hospital cafeteria?"  Bolin asked incredulously.

"I'm still wondering how you knew she was gay," added Opal.

"Gaydar," Asami said matter-of-factly.

"Yours is that good?"  Opal chuckled.  "No way."

"I didn't believe in love at first sight until I met Korra," Asami shook her head.  "I went through so many crappy relationships before I met her..."

"She can't be that perfect," Bolin quipped.  "I spend twenty-four hours at a stretch in close quarters with her!"

"She's not THAT perfect," Asami laughed.  "She's just...my perfect."

"You two are so perfect together it's nauseating," Bumi grumbled.  The remark drew a laugh from the group.

 

*     *     *

 

Another seven hours later, everyone but Bumi had fallen asleep.  The thirty-year veteran watched over everyone as they peacefully slept.  Iroh had turned his trousers inside-out and was using them as a pillow.  He was curled up on the floor near Asami's feet.  Asami had laid down with her head in Opal's lap, and Opal and Bolin had leaned into each other.

When Dr. Manu walked in, Bumi sat up from his half-slouched position.  Dr. Manu allowed him to wake Bolin; his movement woke Opal, who saw the newcomer and gently shook Asami awake.  Asami sat quickly upright, nearly stepping on Iroh.  Iroh scrambled out of the way to allow Dr. Manu to take a knee in front of Asami.

"She's alive," Dr. Manu said quietly.  "But...Asami...that she is alive is a miracle."

Asami took a deep cleansing breath and let it out slowly.  "What are her injuries?"

"Her T5 and T6 vertibrae are broken, although her spinal cord appears to be intact.  Her right ribcage was crushed, which collapsed her right lung.  Her spleen was ruptured and had to be removed.  Her left hip and ankle were badly broken, her hip is stable but it will need to be replaced.  Her liver was lacerated as well.  The, ah...the worst of it, though, was her heart.  Her pericardium was punctured by a broken rib..."

Asami facade finally broke.  One hand went to her mouth and tears spilled over.

"The cardiac muscle herniated and sealed off the rest of the sac, and an effusion started.  We're lucky that it took time to develop, but the blood loss was severe.  She's in a medically-induced coma.

"I'm not going to lie to you, no more than I would anyone else.  Her chances of surviving the night are miniscule.  I don't want to leave you with her without reminding you of how critical she is right now."

Nobody noticed the door opening and shutting, or who had walked in.  Bolin's head was in his hands and Opal was trying to comfort Asami as best she could.

"Doctor," Iroh finally spoke up, "do you know the condition of our other crewman?  Kai?"

The newcomer answered for him.  "I was just with him.  He's in recovery now.  He's stable, but he's on a lot of medication and he's not going to be able to answer any questions."

Everyone looked up to see Jinora there in a fresh uniform.  Her face and eyes were red from crying.  "Doctor Manu, is it alright if I escort them to Korra's room?"

Dr. Manu nodded.  He seemed relieved.

Jinora led them down the hall, around a corner, and into an elevator.  Asami knew where they were going, but it was a relief not to have to pay attention.  Up to the eighth floor and off to the right was the ICU.

They walked to room four and stopped cold.

Nobody was willing to pass Asami to walk in.  It would have been incredibly poor form to do so.  The nursing staff had already set up a comfortable-looking recliner next to the bed, along with a thick blanket.

Doctor Sato knew what she was seeing: an extremely critical patient on a ventilator, fluids, and a hemo drip with vital signs so perfect they could only be maintained mechanically.  This patient probably wouldn't survive her injuries and her family needed to be notified as soon as humanly possible.

Asami, however, saw the love of her life in a more vulnerable state than she'd ever thought possible.  She desperately prayed to every Spirit in the Four Nations to let Korra live.  I don't care if she never walks again, Asami pleaded silently.  I don't care what condition she's in - just give her back to me.

As she walked into the room, Asami saw the lovable woman whose adorable, lopsided grin could earn forgiveness for any mistake.  She saw a woman unafraid to say "I love you" regardless of who was around and listening.  She saw the woman who would come home from work, ignore her own aches and pains, and massage her lover's feet and legs until they both fell asleep.  She saw the woman whose arms she loved to sleep in, the woman whose lips could cure a thousand ills, the woman who only opened up to her.

Asami noticed that Korra's hair was clean and damp; someone had taken care to wash it, which wasn't normal.  She gently ran her fingers through it and let her palm rest on top of Korra's head while her left hand found the spot on the left side of Korra's chest - and felt her heart beating.  She kissed Korra's forehead before moving to whisper in her ear.

"I'm here, baby.  I'm right here.  I love you."

Chapter Text

Asami hadn't meant to fall asleep.  When she woke, she bolted upright, having dozed off resting her head on the edge of the bed, her left hand on Korra's arm.  She flicked her eyes to Korra's chest and saw the rise and fall she was looking for.  As if that wasn't enough, she cast a furtive glance at the monitor.  It confirmed that Korra was still alive.

A warm hand on her back brought her fully to reality.  "She's alright," Bolin assured her.  "It's okay."

Asami forgot for a moment that she had pulled her chair around to Korra's immediate bedside.  Bolin was right next to her.  Iroh sat in darkness at the foot of the bed.  The curtain was still open, ensuring that nurses had a full view of Korra and all of the machines that were keeping her alive. 

"What time is it?"  Asami asked.

"About seven in the morning," Iroh replied quietly.  With a tired smile he added, "She did it.  She survived the night."

Asami gently raised Korra's hand to her lips and kissed it.  The doctor and the lover still fought in her mind, one telling her not to keep up hope, the other refusing to give up.  She couldn't get past the emotional turmoil that raged out of her control.  She knew she needed to be logical about this, but as she stroked Korra's arm, she couldn't wrap her mind around the concept of a life without her.

Once again, it was Bolin's voice that got her out of her own head.  "I know you won't leave.  Is there anything we can get for you?"

"No, thank you," she replied.

"Can I ask you a personal question?"  Bolin asked hesitantly.

Asami looked at him with a ready expression.

"Where is your dad right now?  I mean, I know you're close to him, and...I haven't seen him once since all of this started.  I would have thought he'd want to be here."

"My father doesn't approve of Korra."

"Because you're gay?"

"Not exactly."

 

*     *     *

 

Asami walked over to the kitchen table with a newly-opened bottle and poured her father a glass of wine.  Hiroshi Sato was living well, and it showed - a few extra pounds and a well-manicured beard were highlighted by a custom-tailored suit.  He smiled warmly and thanked her, then took a sip of the wine.  He rolled it around in his mouth to test it and nodded in approval.

"You taught me well," Asami remarked.

"It shows," Hiroshi replied.  "I do feel slightly overdressed, though."

"Dad, if you ever left your house in anything less than a starch-pressed Mandarin collar, I'd think you were trying to signal me that you were in distress."

Hiroshi laughed aloud.  "True.  I never know who may recognize me..."

"...And anyone you meet could be a future business contact."

"Good girl."

"So, how is Future Industries?"

"It's going to hit the news in the morning.  We're releasing the Sato Sarin at the auto show next month."

"That's great!  Did you get what you wanted, or is the board rushing this?"

"It's a compromise.  They wanted to release it next week and steal the spotlight."

"Not a good idea."

"No, but I wanted to wait until summer and be certain that it was perfect."

"And tomorrow's press release is the board's decision?"

"Yes."

Just then, they heard a key in the lock on the front door.  The lock turned and the door opened.  Asami smiled at her father and excitedly jumped up from the table.  She greeted Korra with a hug in the entryway.  Korra looked exhausted but happy; she smelled inviting, like she had just taken a shower.  They shared a chaste kiss before moving back to the dining room.

Hiroshi stood and smoothed the front of his suit before offering his hand.  "Korra.  It is a pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure's all mine," Korra replied, shaking his hand and smiling brightly.  "It's good to finally meet you."

"I've been hearing all about you for months," Hiroshi sighed as they all sat down.  "My daughter obviously cares very much for you."

"The feeling is mutual," Korra said, flashing a look at Asami.  The look was reciprocated as Asami poured her a glass of wine.

"So, Korra - where did you attend university?"

Korra hesitated.  She hadn't anticipated this question.  "I, uh...I didn't."

"Oh?  What do you do for a living?"

Isn't this something Asami would have told him?  Korra wondered.  "I'm a firefighter.  I just hit two and a half years."

For the first time, Hiroshi's face was unreadable.  "A firefighter?"

"Yeah.  My dad is the chief of Harbor City Fire.  I didn't want to live in his shadow, so I came here."

"But you still became a firefighter."

"Yep.  I grew up with it.  I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but at home I would have been judged by the fact that I was Chief Tonraq's daughter.  I wanted to make my own way."

"Hmmm."

Asami eyed her father with cautious suspicion.  This wasn't Hiroshi.  She knew that he would be somewhat judgmental, but she hadn't quite expected him to be so obvious about it - certainly not in front of Korra.

-TWO WEEKS LATER-

 "Asami!  How good to see you!"

"Good morning, Ling," Asami chirped to her father's secretary.  "It's good to see you, too."

"You came at the perfect time.  He was just getting ready to leave for the day."

"Thank you," Asami smiled.  She stepped through the ornate double doors into her father's office and shut them behind her, then turned to the elder Sato.

"Asami," Hiroshi said, coming around to the front of his desk and hugging his only daughter.  "You don't normally come to my office unannounced like this."

"I wanted to see you in person," Asami sighed.  "Why were you leaving so early?"

"The reports were all done and I thought it would be a good idea to take the rest of the day off.  It's Friday.  I may as well enjoy my weekend.  What's on your mind?"

"Well, you left dinner early and haven't spoken to me since.  You made it pretty clear that you were unhappy with something."

Hiroshi folded his arms across his chest and leaned on his desk.  He looked at the floor as if hoping to find the right response etched into the tile, then twitched a small smile at her.  "I must ask, Asami...what in the Four Nations can you possibly see in that woman?"

The younger Sato was taken aback by his question.  "How can you ask me that?  Do you really think we don't love each other?"

"I'd like to believe that your relationship is casual.  Since you've already entrusted her with a key to your house, unfortunately, I can see that it is anything but casual."

"Dad, how can you not be happy for me?"

Hiroshi pushed his glasses back up on his nose.  "Asami, she is beneath you."

Asami's jaw dropped in shock.  The father who raised her was judgmental, particularly when it came to the people she dated, but she'd never known him to say something like this.  "Beneath me?  What could make you say -"

"You are a prodigy.  You're a highly-sought trauma physician who could go anywhere, do anything she wanted.  Korra would only hold you back."

"Korra would support anything I wanted to do, even if I left medicine to run the company!"

"She's practically uncivilized."

"Why?  Because she can't tell a fine cabernet from a Two-Buck Chuck?"

"She's a firefighter!"

"Who, just last night, saved the life of a single mother nearly killed in a car crash!"

"The drunken fool who killed your mother was a firefighter!"  Hiroshi spat.  His face was red and a vein popped out on his forehead.  "He was a decorated hero who got behind the wheel of his car and did the very thing he was tasked to save her from!"

"I'm aware of that, dad.  You can't judge all of them by the mistakes of one man."

"Mistakes?  Do you mean to say that he didn't know better?"  Hiroshi began pleading with her.  "Asami, he knew, and he still tried to drive home drunk!  What are you going to do when Korra starts to drink to blot out all of the horrible things she's seen?  When she tries to hide her problems from you?  What will you do when she drives home drunk, or if she doesn't make it home?"

"It will never come to that.  She will never have to hide anything from me.  And if you think that I'm not every bit as fragile, every bit as susceptible to that weakness because I'm a doctor, then you are shortsighted at best."

"You can do so much better, Asami."

Asami was near tears.  She took a moment to gather herself before speaking again.  "Korra has a huge heart and is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever known.  I am happier than I ever believed I would be.  Even if you don't like the fact that Korra is a firefighter, I would hope you'd be able to accept her as a person."

She turned and walked out, barely remaining composed until she got to her car.

 

*     *     *

 

Bolin was speechless at first.

"Wow," he finally said, his eyes wide and sad.  "Did you tell Korra?"

"Yes," Asami replied, still stroking Korra's arm.  "We keep no secrets from each other.  By the time I got to her apartment that day, I was a wreck."

 

*     *     *

 

Normally Korra took a nap after her shift, often sleeping until noon.  Sleep while on shift was rarely very restful, and it was Asami who had insisted that she nap occasionally to give her body a break.  She knew Korra wasn't expecting her, so Asami fired off a quick text message.  She had a key, but she didn't want to startle Korra.

     Asami: I need to see you.  On my way now.  You awake?

     Korra: I'm up.  U OK?

     Asami: Talk when I get there.

She parked in the uncovered spot nearest apartment 1192 and fumbled with her keys at the front door.  It opened on its own and there Korra stood, looking incredible in PT shorts and a sleeveless blue compression shirt.  Asami nearly forgot that she was upset.

Korra stood aside to let her in before shutting and locking the door.  Her expression turned to worry at the sight of Asami's red, puffy eyes.

She pulled Asami into her arms and held her for a moment, letting her cry.  This was a rarity - Asami was almost never upset to the point of coming over without warning just to talk.  "Hey," Korra whispered, stroking her back.  "What's going on?"

Asami sniffled and took a long, shuddering breath before she answered.  "My father...he doesn't approve of us."

"Because I'm a woman?"

"No.  It's because you're a firefighter."

Korra pulled away and led Asami to the couch.  They sat down slowly, and Asami cuddled into Korra.  Korra kept stroking her back.  "Okay - you'll have to explain that one to me."

"Remember when I told you that my mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was six years old?"

"Yeah."

"The driver was a Republic City firefighter."

Korra sat up in shock.

"He was very highly decorated.  His command structure apparently knew that he had a drinking problem.  He'd been ordered to therapy and he was still drinking."

"And your dad is afraid that I'll turn into an alcoholic because of what I do," Korra guessed.

Asami nodded.  "He also thinks that you're beneath me because I'm a doctor and you didn't go to college."

Korra rubbed soothing circles into the small of her back.  "What do you think?"

"I love you.  I just wish that the father I knew could see what I see."

Korra pulled Asami back into her arms and laid back into the arm of the sofa until she was cradling her lover with her entire body.  Asami nuzzled her head into Korra's chest and wrapped her arms around her midriff.

Korra kissed the top of her head.  "I love you, too.  That's all that matters."

 

*     *     *

 

"I had no idea.  I'm so sorry."

Bolin was now leaned forward and staring at the floor.

"Korra has never really forgiven him for that," Asami sniffed.

"Have you spoken to your dad since then?"

"Once.  His mind hasn't changed."

A new voice responded from the door.  "You still have a family."

Everyone looked up to see a mountain of a man with the same familiar Water Tribe features as the woman lying in the bed.  Asami's eyes welled up again as she jumped up and threw her arms around him.

"Tonraq!"

Chapter Text

Tonraq picked Asami up off her feet and held her tightly.

"I'm so glad you're here," Asami whispered.

"Tenzin called before she was even registered downstairs," Tonraq choked out.  "He wasn't able to tell me much, but when another chief uses the words 'it's bad,' it gets your attention.  How are you?"

Asami pulled away and wiped her eyes.  "I'm a mess.  They didn't think she would..."

When her voice trailed off, Tonraq wiped a tear from her face with his thumb.  "I know.  I've already spoken to the doctor."

Iroh and Bolin had stood and moved out of his way as he walked to Korra's bedside.  They quietly left the room; Bolin sat down outside the door while Iroh promised to return after checking on Kai.

Tonraq bent his massive frame over Korra and kissed her forehead.  Asami took over the chair Bolin had previously occupied and let the man have a moment with his only child.  She was surprised when, head still dipped low, he spoke.

"I'll never forget the day she brought you to Harbor City," he said quietly.  His voice betrayed his effort to hold back tears.  "I've never in my life seen her so happy."

 

*     *     *

 

Korra helped Asami gather her carryon bags and led their way off the plane.  They were the last to disembark from first class.  Asami enjoyed the view, brief though it was, of Korra's backside as she walked down the gangway.  When they walked into the terminal Korra dropped their bags - just before her mother nearly bowled her over in her excitement.  Korra was just barely taller than her mother, though, and heaved her mother into the air.

"I still can't believe how big and strong you are," Senna said proudly as her feet hit the floor.  She kissed Korra's smiling cheek.  "You are so much like your father!"

"I would hope not," Tonraq interjected.  Physically, he was Senna's polar opposite - he had to be well over six feet tall and towered over everyone.  "The last thing we need is another one of me running around!"

Korra bounded straight up into her father's arms, laughing the whole way.  "How is my hair shorter than yours?"

"You keep cutting it," Tonraq pointed out, setting her down and smiling broadly.  "It's okay, kiddo.  I'm sure nobody noticed."

"You're getting old," Korra joked, poking her father in the stomach.  "You can't pick me up anymore!"

"Or I just won't," Tonraq retorted.  He gave her a playful shove.  "All that muscle weighs more."

Korra smiled and stood aside, holding out her hand.  Asami took it and stepped forward nervously.  "Mom, dad...this is Asami."

Tonraq smiled almost apologetically at the newcomer.  "Pardon my daughter, Asami.  She seems to have forgotten our names.  I'm Tonraq, and this is Senna."

Asami already knew their names, of course; Korra had told her who they were on their third date, proudly showing off pictures of them.  She wasn't sure whether to shake hands or hug at first, but Senna made the decision for her.  The diminutive woman hugged her warmly.

Senna sighed into her hair.  "Oh, I'm so happy to meet you, Asami!"

"I'm happy to finally meet you, too," Asami replied.

"You should have heard her on the phone," Senna gushed.  "She was so excited to bring you here!  I don't think she stopped to breathe for two whole minutes!"

Korra picked up their bags and the group headed for baggage claim, chattering almost non-stop as they walked.  "So, Korra has told us what you do and where you studied," Tonraq said, "but I'm curious...what made you part from your father's lucrative business and go into medicine?  From what I hear, you were already pretty impressive with a wrench."

"I can still fix cars," Asami said.  "It's nice as a hobby.  I really wanted to do something more meaningful.  That, and my mother was a nurse.  She actually met my father at work.  He broke his hand while working on an assembly line.  She took care of him in the ER."

"That's quite a story," Tonraq remarked.  "I'm afraid ours is rather unremarkable.  I met Senna at a grocery store.  My crew was shopping to replenish the kitty and one of my buddies took a liking to her friend.  I thought Senna was absolutely beautiful, so I worked up the courage to talk to her."

"Yes,"  Senna raised an eyebrow, a gesture that Korra often mirrored.  "His buddy got us to go on a double date by lying and claiming that they were ranked higher than they actually were.  Tonraq couldn't keep up the charade.  He told me the truth pretty quick."

Asami's jaw dropped open in amused shock.  "I'm guessing his honesty is part of the reason you married him?"

"I actually felt sorry for him," Senna joked.  "When I saw his apartment for the first time, I knew he needed help."

"If it was anything like Korra's apartment, I know what you mean," Asami chortled.  She stepped off the escalator in time with Senna and kept moving toward the baggage claim, watching for their flight number.

"My apartment is not that bad!"  Korra protested from behind.

"Babe, I love you, but you need to fire your interior decorator."

"I don't have a -" Korra began.  As the realization of the verbal jab dawned on her, everyone laughed.  "Hey, it's an apartment.  It doesn't need to be decorated."

"You don't have a single picture on the wall."

"Again, don't need it..."

"You do need a new couch."

"Why?  My couch is comfy!  And it doesn't stink!"

"It's gray, honey."

"So?"

"It's supposed to be white."

Tonraq and Senna both started laughing.

"Did you two elope?"  Senna giggled.

Korra blinked in confusion.  "No.  Why?"

Tonraq nudged her from his spot on her right.  "Because you already sound like an old married couple."

Asami broke into uproarious laughter at Korra's annoyed expression.  Her nervousness had evaporated.  Korra's parents were turning out to be amazing people, and Asami knew that she loved them right away.

 

*     *     *

 

"I think I understand how you felt," Tonraq said, lowering himself into the recliner.  "I was scared to death to meet Senna's parents for the first time."

"Yes, but you welcomed me into the family immediately," Asami replied quietly.  "I never expected that."

"I think I was afraid that Korra would marry some guy that I couldn't stand.  I was relieved to meet you.  When I saw the way you two looked at each other, I knew she'd met her match.  I felt like I was gaining a daughter rather than..."

His voice hitched and trailed off and a giant hand covered his mouth.  As his shoulders began to slowly heave with silent sobs, Asami mentally finished his sentence: "...rather than losing one."  She buried her face in his arm and wept with him.  She hadn't realized that she had the energy to cry anymore.

 

*     *     *

 

Iroh took the elevator down to the fourth floor to check on Kai.  He followed the signs leading to the unit he was in until he found the waiting room and spotted the back of Bumi's head.  He found the older man sipping from a cup of coffee, watching the news with a scowl on his face.

"I really do wish these talking heads would shut the hell up," Bumi grumbled.  His gaze remained fixed on the TV as his captain sat down next to him.  "All we need is to have the Water Tribes going to war over a damned rumor."

"You don't have to deflect," Iroh sighed, patting the engineer's knee.  "The news is happy.  Korra pulled through."

Bumi let it sink in.  He slowly nodded his approval, only barely allowing his gaze to drop to the floor momentarily.

"How's the kid?"

"His girlfriend is in there with him," Bumi replied.  "I figured they needed some time alone.  They're taking him back into surgery this afternoon."

Iroh stood.  "I'm gonna go check on him."

"Cap," Bumi called.

Iroh stopped short at the doors to the unit and turned to face him.

"Don't give them any shit, yeah?  Her dad already knows."

Iroh nodded, though confused, before heading into the patient area and searching for room 412.  He almost passed it; he caught the room number out of the corner of his eye and poked his head through the door.

He almost did a double-take.

Kai was sitting half-upright, his right arm fully encased in a cast.  When he'd been loaded in the rescue, his face had been grossly misshapen.  It was painfully obvious that his jaw was broken, probably in multiple places, and Iroh had correctly suspected that he had a serious head injury.  Along with a cleanly broken tib/fib and clavicle, Kai had been in rough shape.

Now, Chaplain Jinora - Chief Tenzin's daughter - sat next to him, feeding him breakfast through a straw because his jaw was wired shut.  Iroh stared, mouth agape, suddenly understanding what Bumi had said.

"Good morning, Iroh," Jinora greeted him with a welcoming smile.  It faded when she asked the question he knew would come.  "How is Korra?"

"She's alright," Iroh said once he found his voice.  "She made it.  The doctors are telling us not to have any hope, but they also told us to say our goodbyes last night."

"Captain," Kai spoke up, surprising both Jinora and Iroh.  "Where's Zaheer?"

Iroh walked to his bedside.  "I'm pretty sure he's at home.  Assistant Chief Izumi tossed him off shift."

"His fault," Kai spoke haltingly.  "He shoved her.  I tried."

"Kai, what do you mean?"  Iroh pressed, his face growing dark.  They'd suspected that Zaheer had deliberately missed in his attempt to grab them, but if he understood Kai, the truth was far worse.

"Floor gave," Kai replied, his speech growing more choppy as he continued.  "Zaheer.  Hand on mask.  Shoved her.  Fell because of him.  He did this."

Jinora sensed his growing frustration and stood up to stop it.  "I know you need to hear this, Iroh, but he should be resting."

"I know," Iroh said apologetically.  "Let me just simplify this.  Kai, are you telling me that when the floor collapsed, Zaheer shoved Korra by her SCBA mask and you tried but couldn't hold on?  That's why you fell, because you wouldn't let go of her?"

Kai looked like he wanted to say more, but at Jinora's light touch he nodded slowly.  "Yes."

"Jinora, take care of him.  Don't leave.  Bumi is right outside if you need anything," Iroh said before turning and running out the door.

He knew he shouldn't be running - if a nurse or patient came around a corner and he couldn't see them in time, it could be disastrous - but he had no time to spare.  He tried to be as quiet as he could when traversing the doors and ran up to Bumi, barely stopping to speak.  "Stay here just in case, and keep your eyes peeled.  Don't let anyone not related to him get past you!"

Bumi nodded at him, looking every bit as confused as Iroh had a few minutes prior, and watched him tear off down the hall and burst through the door to the stairwell.

Iroh took the stairs entire flights at a time, using the rails to vault himself down to the next landing.  At the ground floor he yanked the door open and, seeing nobody in his way, ran through the side entrance and around the building to the ambulance entrance.  There, his mother and the PIO were preparing for a press conference.

"Chief!"  Iroh panted.  Everyone knew him as Izumi's only son, but he recognized decorum anyway.  "I need to speak to you!"

Izumi froze momentarily.  Her expression was one that told him she understood something to be very wrong.  She walked inside with him and pulled him into the quiet room.  "What's the matter?"

"Kai just told me that Zaheer wasn't trying to save them," Iroh said, trying to calm himself.  "He shoved Korra by her face mask.  Kai tried to hold on, but he couldn't.  They fell because of Zaheer, not in spite of him."

Izumi ripped her cell phone from her pocket.  "Detective Mako?  It's Izumi.  I need you to meet me at Republic City Hospital."

 

*     *     *

 

Asami tensed.  Her future father-in-law had been checking the monitor repeatedly, an act that required turning halfway aroundd.  "What's up, Tonraq?"

"Her blood pressure," he replied, still staring at the monitor.  "It's been dropping slowly for half an hour."

Asami had stopped looking.  Every glance made her gut churn with anticipation.  Now she looked at it and cursed under her breath.  It had dropped sixteen points systolic since she'd last looked.  She got up and walked quickly out to the nurse's station and asked them to call the on-duty doctor, whoever it was, to room four as quickly as possible.  Within seconds, a tall, wiry man with graying temples appeared.  His ID badge read "Dr. Wong, MD".  She only knew him in passing.

"Her blood pressure is dropping slowly but steadily," Asami explained.

With a quick look at the computer screens that fed information to the nurses, Dr. Wong spoke with authority.  "Let's get her to CT.  Now.  I don't care who's waiting.  I want this patient in there ASAP."

A nurse and a tech hooked the ventilator to the side rail, took her off the monitor, and carefully steered the bed out the door.  They maneuvered Korra down the hall to the CT room just outside the med-surg wing.  All hands were on deck to move her to the CT table; even Tonraq and Asami helped.  Dr. Wong sent all three to the hallway to wait, and Asami paced nervously.

It almost seemed to go too fast.  The doors flew open and the group was hurriedly waved in.  Dr. Wong joined in to move Korra back to her bed and explained as they got moving - not back to ICU, Asami noticed.

"She has a slow bleed," the doctor said, "on her pancreas, it looks like a part of her spleen was left behind and not cauterized properly.  It's probably been bleeding for hours.  You were right to have the charge nurse call me.  If you'd waited much longer, it would have been too late."

They got to the doors to the OR and Dr. Wong stopped them.  "We need to prep her for surgery.  The waiting room is just around the corner.  I will be out as soon as I can."

Asami knew she couldn't go with her, but her emotional side badly wanted to assert her position as an excuse to barge in.  She led the way to the same room that she'd given so much news in - good and bad - and sank helplessly into a chair.  Before the first wracking sob could escape, Tonraq was on his knees, pulling her into his arms.  Bolin sat down across from them and tried to hold back his own tears.

None of them had any idea what was going on downstairs.

Chapter Text

Iroh had gone back upstairs to ICU room four only to be redirected. His heart was in his throat. He trudged down the hall to the med-surg wing and found Asami, Bolin, and Tonraq sitting in the waiting room. He sat down next to Bolin.

"How long has she been in surgery?"  He asked.

"Just over two hours," Bolin replied quietly.  "How's Kai?"

"He's having some difficulty speaking, but he's pretty with it.  He, ah...he was able to tell me what happened."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Iroh wanted to take them back.  Everyone looked up at him expectantly.  Asami looked like she was waiting for a kick in the teeth.  Tonraq looked ready to strangle someone.  Bolin's face was a blank slate, as if he knew deep down what he was about to hear.  He hadn't realized how poor his timing was until he saw the variety of expressions in front of him.  He considered refusing to tell them, but it was too late.

Iroh heaved a long sigh.  "Chief, I can tell you the backstory later if you like, but...we couldn't really tell what was happening from the ground.  Kai just told me that Zaheer grabbed Korra by her mask and shoved her.  Kai refused to let go, and he couldn't hold on to the window.  We originally thought that he'd made a token 'effort' to help her, but it's worse than that.  They fell because of him."

Tonraq, who had been leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees, sat up slowly.  "I recognize that name.  He was Korra's captain during her probationary year."

"Yes, he was," Iroh confirmed.

"What the hell..."

Asami pulled her hand away from her mouth and collected herself.  "I don't know all of the details, but he and his crew were abusive.  I had no idea how bad it was until Korra told me about it pretty recently."

"To be honest, sir, I didn't know the extent until recently myself," Iroh added.  "I knew things hadn't gone well for her, but she really worked hard to bottle it up.  Assistant Chief Izumi was in the process of starting an investigation when the explosion happened, and he was supposed to go home.  The only reason he was still on duty was because of the breakdown in communication leaving us with only two engines and two rescues at first.  If I had known at the time, I never would have let him near her.  I never would have split up my crew."

Iroh's gaze turned to the floor and an expression of pure guilt marred his features.  The weight of what happened hit his shoulders like a one-ton sack of bricks.  He had no idea what to say to Korra's father; the man had been staring into space, his expression dark and angry, since the truth had been shared.

"Captain, you were dealt a shitty hand," Tonraq finally said, trying to keep the growl out of his voice.  "You had a five-story building on fire and three crews to work with, one of them split between two rescues.  Your options hardly existed - either split up to give everyone a chance at getting out alive or go in together with no coverage from the cannon and everyone probably dies.  Not doing everything you could to rescue that victim was not an option.  You made the only decision that seemed to make any kind of sense.  If you were under my command, I'd recommend you for a medal."

If it were possible, Iroh's head dropped even lower.  He didn't know what to say.  The man whose daughter had trusted him with her life was not only forgiving him, but commending the choice he'd made to put her life in mortal danger.  He had expected Tonraq to deliver a tongue-lashing unlike any he'd received in his life.

As a familiar figure stepped into the room, Iroh was all at once afraid of the news that was coming and relieved that he was no longer in the spotlight.

 

*     *     *

 

Jinora sat quietly reading a book as Kai slept.  Pain meds were regular, and within minutes of a dose he would be drifting off.  He had wanted to talk to the detective who had walked in, but he was too worked up from his brief conversation with Iroh to be able to.  He had even refused his pain meds at first, insisting that it was important that the police know what really happened.  "You told Iroh," Jinora had said.  "That's all they need.  Zaheer will be in jail before you wake up."

The TV was on but the sound was off.  Jinora looked up at it every so often, watching for the press conference that was sure to begin any moment.  As Kai had started to slip into unconsciousness, she'd promised to watch and tell him what was said.  Since her father was not the one leading it, she didn't expect much.  The chief was always the one to announce major news.

She looked up again and turned back to her book.  She was reading about the spirituality of the Air Nomads, the nation she was descended from.  She didn't hear the footsteps of the person entering the room, never noticed the movements of the intruder as they made their way around the bed.  She was completely shocked by the sting of a needle stick in her leg.

Jinora shot up from her chair only to collapse two steps later.  She never saw her attacker's face, only a pair of tennis shoes she knew to be popular among the nursing staff as they made their way back around the bed.  She tried to scream for help but it came out as a choking sound.  She rapidly found herself fading out herself, thinking of the man in the waiting room who had been tasked with protecting them.

Uncle Bumi...

 

*     *     *

 

Bumi couldn't have explained why he stood up.  He didn't need to use the latrine.  He didn't want anything to eat.  He didn't know why, but he stood and walked into the unit.  He walked down the hall just in time to see a nurse he didn't recognize duck into room 412.  He paused for a moment before adding some hustle to his step.  Halfway between the waiting room and his destination, he heard a slight commotion and broke into a run.

He swung the door wide open to find a woman with a strange haircut circling the bed, moving to the side facing the door.  Jinora was on the floor, her eyes fluttering closed.

The intruder had most of her head shaved; the top was very long, pulled back in a tight braid.  She swung her gaze around to face the newcomer, revealing a third-eye tattoo in the middle of her forehead.

Bumi saw the syringe in her hand one second before she swung a leg out and kicked him in the solar plexus.  He staggered backward as the air in his lungs deserted him.  He managed to bring an arm up and blocked her downward-swinging hammer fist before it connected with the top of his skull.  Her foot came up again, aiming for his chin, but he was able to back out of the way at the last second, and the kick swung past him harmlessly.

She had put all of her energy into it and couldn't stop it from swinging wide.  Bumi rooted his left foot as firmly as he could and pushed off, catching her behind the knee with his right hand.  His upward momentum flipped the woman ass-over-teakettle and she landed on top of her head with a sickening crack that resounded through the hallway.

Bumi looked at the nurses and security guards running toward him and felt relieved.  "The Chaplain is down," he called.  "Get in here!"

He was surprised when security tackled him instead.  "No, not me - look in the room!  Chaplain Jinora is on the floor!"

"All I know is that you attacked a nurse, pal!" one guard yelled.

One nurse had stopped to check on the attacker and held up a hand.  "Wait...this woman doesn't work here.  She was fired three months ago for stealing drugs!"

"And she attacked the Chaplain and my crewmate," Bumi pointed out.

"They're both breathing," came a voice from the room.

"She's dead," said the first nurse.  "I don't remember her name, but she's not allowed on the property."

The guards let Bumi go.  He stood and walked into the room, looking at the monitor as he went.  Kai was still fine.  Jinora had been rolled onto her back and was being tended to, but was still unconscious.  Bumi bent low and scooped her up as carefully and as quickly as he dared.

"Where should we take her?" he asked.  "Down to the ER?"

"Her breathing is slowing down," said the first nurse.  "We don't have time.  There's an empty room right across the hall."

Bumi followed the nurse out the door and across the hall.  It was freshly cleaned.  He gingerly deposited her on the bed and stood back to let the nurses tend to her.

He walked back out to the hallway and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.  He dialed Iroh.  "Cap?  Some strange woman just attacked Jinora and Kai...no, Kai is fine, but Jinora was drugged.  I'll call her father.  Just get up here."

After Iroh promised he was on his way, Bumi went back to the body, which was being carefully guarded by security.  He got the feeling that Iroh had known this was possible - the way he'd raced up to him and given him an order not to let anyone in the room flooded his memory.  Without realizing he was doing it, he half-growled in frustration as he turned back to the doorway of Jinora's room and watched the nurses start an IV and push a drug through it.

What the hell is going on?

 

*     *     *

 

Iroh stepped out of the elevator, his mother at his side, at the same time that Mako arrived in the other elevator.  He shook the young detective's hand and thanked him for returning so quickly.  As soon as Izumi greeted him again they moved toward the patient wing, talking as they went.

"Their description brought up a case that I've been following up on for weeks," Mako said.  "A group calling itself the Red Lotus has been in the planning stages of a terrorist attack in Republic City for quite a while now.  The only member I've been able to positively identify is a woman named P'li.  She has a third-eye tattoo on her forehead, and she was a nurse until recently."

"Why would a member of a terrorist organization attack Jinora and Kai?" Iroh asked.

"I don't think it had anything to do with the Red Lotus," Mako replied, pausing at the double doors to the unit.  "I think Zaheer enlisted her for this because she has intimate knowledge of the hospital and its procedures."

"Do you suspect Zaheer's involvement in Red Lotus?" Izumi asked.

"I honestly don't know," Mako replied.  "Most of the other detectives in my squad have laughed me off as paranoid.  They don't believe that the Red Lotus is serious."

Iroh stole a look at Izumi as they walked through the doors and approached the body in the hall.  He stood back and gave Bumi a sideways hug as they watched Mako take a look at the woman's face.  The detective took a few photos of the body and slowly walked back to the group of firefighters.

"It's her," Mako breathed.  He slipped the camera back into his pocket.  "Chief Izumi, I'm going to need anything you can give me on Zaheer."

"I'll need a warrant  so both of our asses are covered, but I'll go get everything I have for you," Izumi promised.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami allowed the doctor to take over for a moment.  When Dr. Wong had come out of surgery to give them the news that Korra had made it through the procedure, Asami had asked to see her updated patient chart as soon as it was available.  Iroh had left suddenly with little more than a promise to tell everyone what had happened downstairs, and Asami was going crazy not knowing what was going on with her fiancé.

Nothing really took her by surprise.  Reading Korra's chart was, more than anything, busy work; Asami felt detached from the situation as she read about such fascinating topics as white blood cell counts, cholesterol levels, and liver function.  Korra's prognosis was still terrible.  None of the doctors were holding out much hope for her survival.  Dr. Manu had noted, "if the sum of her dire injuries is not enough to result in death, the patient would not survive the complications of being on a ventilator.  Her system will not be able to fight pneumonia."

As Tonraq slumbered in the chair next to her, Asami shut the folder and let out a shaky sigh.  As a medical professional, she had to agree.  As a lover, she wanted to destroy the file and scream at anyone who had no faith in Korra's will to live.  When a nurse came in to change out the empty fluids, Asami quietly handed it back.

Senna was on her way.  The same part of Asami that fought against preparing herself for the worst hoped to find some solace in her presence.  Senna had become a tremendously supportive presence in her life, moreso than she could have ever hoped for.  Every time she looked at the clock, Asami wondered how time could drag by so slowly.  One hour had felt like nine.

Activity in the nurse's station caught her attention.  Iroh was back, two uniformed police officers in tow, and they were having what appeared to be an intense conversation with the charge nurse.  Bolin stood from his chair outside the door and approached his captain, curious to know what was going on.  Asami watched closely as they finished speaking.  One officer positioned himself outisde Korra's door while the other took up a position down the hall.  She gathered herself as Iroh and Bolin entered the room and sat down on Korra's other side and shook Tonraq awake.

"Jinora and Kai were attacked," Iroh began after waiting for Tonraq to signal that he was listening.  "They're both safe.  Jinora was overdosed with Fentanyl, but she's being taken care of.  Bumi and three police officers are with them."

Asami's mouth dropped open in shock.  "Was it Zaheer?"

"No, but the woman who did it is romantically involved with him.  Bumi accidentally killed her.  He walked in on the attack."

"That answers my first question," Tonraq mumbled sleepily.  "If they can't question her, can they find Zaheer?"

"They're looking for him now," Iroh sighed, as if his next words weighed too much.  "He's not at his home address.  P'li, the woman who came to silence Kai, was believed to be part of a terrorist faction called the Red Lotus.  Mako says he has evidence that they were planning an attack on Ba Sing Se, and Zaheer may have already gone there."

"Oh, shit," Asami whispered.

"And by the new police presence I can assume that they believe that other Red Lotus members may come looking for Korra and Kai," Tonraq half-remarked.

Iroh shook his head as he spoke.  "They really can't afford to assume otherwise.  If one came here trying to kill Kai, who's to say another one might not be right behind her?  Whether they have evidence of it or not, they have to react as if it will happen."

"Wait," Bolin interjected.  "Hang on...Kai just told you a few hours ago.  How could they have possibly known that fast that they needed to shut him up?"

Everyone's expressions changed as the thought dawned on them.  There had to be an officer in Mako's own squad passing information on.  Asami gave Korra's hand a squeeze as she wondered how they would be able to protect the crew if even the police couldn't be trusted.

How did we get caught up in this?

 

*     *     *

 

Hours ticked by.  Iroh had willingly turned into the go-fer, running errands to make sure that people were fed and rested - and ensuring a presence from the crew at all times.  Shaozu, after finally finishing his tour standing in for his on-call day, had come back to join the rotation.  Jinora had recovered enough to return to her position at Kai's bedside, although Bumi now refused to leave them alone.

Asami was still in shock.

There was no way to wrap her mind around the new gravity of the situation.  She hadn't had the energy to pay much attention to the news, but Bolin had, and the news was still pushing the North vs. South narrative.  Diplomats were beginning to bicker.  None of them knew what was really going on - that a lone RCPD detective was tracking a new terrorist cell whose only known goal was societal chaos, and there was a possibility that they had been involved in the bombing.

At least that was what Asami believed.  Who else could it be?  The issue was still tumbling in her mind when Tonraq's voice interrupted her thoughts.

"She never did tell me the details of her proposal."

Asami smiled sweetly at the memory.  "How did she not tell her father?"

Tonraq shrugged.  "Think of who we're talking about, Asami."

She laughed at his statement of the obvious.

 

*     *     *

 

It had been a long day.  Asami was tired - so tired that she seriously considered calling Korra and cancelling their date.  As she trudged in the door and dropped her bag on the entryway table, taking a shower and getting dressed up made her feet throb even more insistently.  Just thinking about putting on a dress and heels made her tired muscles ache in disagreement.

It's our two-year anniversary, she thought, kicking off her tennis shoes and pulling her seafoam-green scrub top over her head.  This is important.  Korra even remembered and made plans!  She tossed her dirty scrubs in the hamper and turned to her closet.

She knew which dress was Korra's favorite.  It wasn't too revealing, yet it showed off her curves just the right way.  It was a sleeveless one-piece with a high Mandarin collar, custom-made by the best Fire Nation seamstress in Republic City.  She had very fond memories of Korra's expression upon seeing her in it for the first time at the RCFD ball three months into their relationship.

Whatever Korra had planned was important enough that she'd hired a chauffeur to take her to Kwong's.  Deciding the dress was perfect, Asami hung it on the front of the closet door and slipped into the shower.

An hour later, she was perfectly done (and perfectly on time).  The doorbell rang just as she was draping her scarf around her back and through her elbows.  She checked her makeup one last time and headed for the door, grabbing the small clutch purse she'd set aside beforehand as she made for the door.

She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but it certainly wasn't a stretched limousine.  She wondered how in the Four Nations Korra had managed to afford dinner at Kwong's, much less a limo.  The drive was smooth, but it took too long; Asami had grown anxious to see what else was planned.

After many business meetings with her father since her teen years, she had grown familiar with Kwong's.  The maitre'd knew her by name and she was immediately shown to a private room.  Korra was already there, and Asami nearly stopped breathing at the sight of her.

She'd never seen Korra look so dapper out of uniform.  She wore a sharply-starched white dress shirt, a gray silk tie, and a deep blue vest that was so perfect on her that it had to have been tailored.  When Korra spotted her she smiled and stood to greet her; she wore gray twill slacks and her class-A uniform shoes.  Asami would have giggled about the shoes if she hadn't been so taken with the whole outfit, smile and all.

A loving kiss, a promise for later, was shared.  "Happy anniversary," Korra said quietly.

"Happy anniversary," Asami smiled.

Everything was planned to the last detail.  From the salads to dessert, Korra already had it taken care of.  Asami was impressed, to say the least.  Korra was normally very forgetful but along the past two years she really had paid attention.  Jokes were made about which fork to use, whether Korra should use her knife to stir her tea, and when to use the soup spoon.  Asami had given Korra several lessons on etiquette, some of them ending with the typical irreverent humor that Korra used to deal with things she didn't quite take to, a couple ending with arguments, all of them producing inside jokes that now made Asami giggle.  It warmed her heart to see that the lessons had stuck.

When dinner was over, they got back in the limo and were driven slowly through downtown to Avatar Park.  Their conversation flowed effortlessly as the driver wound his way through the park, mindful of the families enjoying the final vestiges of sunlight.  They pulled up to a familiar spot which Asami would have expected to be full at sunset, yet was totally deserted.  The driver shut off the engine and opened the door.  Korra grinned happily and got out, stopping to hold out her hand.  Asami took it and gracefully exited the vehicle.  The couple slowly walked toward the pavilion together, fingers intertwined, and Korra suddenly looked and sounded incredibly nervous.

Asami couldn't come up with any reason for Korra's voice to jump half an octave at first.  The site of their first "real" date (one that didn't involve the hospital cafeteria or a coffee shop) at sunset was beautiful, but that wasn't the cause of the blush that crept up her neck and into her cheeks.

"Asami..." Korra began.  "I, uh...I wanted to ask you something."

"Okay," Asami chuckled, hoping it wasn't taken the wrong way.  "You know you can ask me anything.  What's up?"

"I love you," Korra breathed.  Her lopsided grin looked strange, as if she were afraid of something.

"I love you, too," Asami replied happily.

"I can't imagine my life without you.  I mean...I know we're not perfect.  I know I'm not perfect.  I forgot your birthday last year.  Then I forgot our first anniversary.  I forget to put our clothes in the dryer, or I forget to pick up the dry cleaning, I leave my dirty socks in the living room..."

Asami reached out to gently grab her gesturing hands and stop her babbling, only to notice that when stilled, her hands were shaking.

Korra seemed to take that as her cue.  She dropped to one knee as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, worn, black velvet box.

We haven't talked about this, Asami thought, suddenly realizing what was about to happen.  We always talk about this kind of thing first!  Spirits, she's really going to ask!  Why didn't I pick up on this sooner?  What...

"Will you marry me?"

Asami's racing thoughts were stilled at the sound of Korra's voice wrapping around the question.  She was sure that her face betrayed her panicked mind and she schooled her expression as best she could.  At some point, the box had been flipped open to reveal a simple yet beautiful diamond ring, and Asami's mind went into overdrive again.

It's Korra.  She's right, we love each other like there's no tomorrow.  Why am I so afraid of this all of a sudden?  Am I really that afraid of the unknown?  There's no way I could possibly freeze like this because I wouldn't want to marry her, because I  do...

"Yes."

The word was so faint that Asami wasn't sure it had actually come out of her own mouth.  The look of pure joy on Korra's face told her that she had, in fact, said it.

"Yeah?"

"Yes, I will marry you, dirty socks in the living room and all."

Korra took the ring from its perch and slid it carefully onto Asami's left ring finger.  "Oh, thank the Spirits!" she said, kissing Asami's hand as she stood.

"What?" Asami asked, thoroughly confused.

"It's my grandmother's ring.  I was afraid it wouldn't fit!"

Asami couldn't help but laugh.  She drew Korra in for a long, patient kiss, not caring who may be watching or whether they approved.

 

*     *     *

 

Tonraq had a contented half-smile on his face as Asami told him the story.  Once she finished, he shot her a look of mock disappointment.  "Really?  She still leaves her dirty socks in the living room?"

"Well, I have managed to train that bad habit out of her since she moved in," Asami giggled lightly.  "But yes, for the first two years, any time she spent the night she did.  And she would forget them when she left."

"If Senna were here she'd remind me that Korra is definitely my child."

"Tonraq...did you want Korra to be a firefighter?"

Asami seemed to be as surprised by her own question as Tonraq clearly was.  She wasn't sure where it had come from, but she had always wondered.

"No."

It was a simple answer, though Asami didn't press him.  She knew he was proud of her.  She also suspected that he'd wanted something better for her, though he'd never have said it to Korra.  When he'd surprised her by showing up at the RCFD ball just a few short months ago, Asami had noticed a marked change in the way Korra stood and walked.  It was as if she were mimicking her father, even now, knowing full well that he loved her unconditionally.  He was her hero whether he'd wanted it or not.

"I wouldn't have her any other way."

Asami hadn't meant to say it out loud.  Tonraq seemed to understand even though he had no idea what had just gone through her head.  He watched in silence as Asami stood to kiss Korra's forehead, tears streaming down her face.  She refused to believe that this was all they were meant for.  Two and a half years ending in tragedy sounded like something out of a badly-written mover.  It had only been two days since the fire, and Asami was still in a mental and emotional fog.  In that moment, she refused to allow either side of her to believe that this was the end.  Doctor be damned, but Korra was going to live.

Chapter Text

Asami had fallen asleep again at Korra's bedside.  With no concept of time outside of the digital clock on the wall, she slept when she had to; otherwise, she kept an unending vigil.  She was sleeping peacefully when Senna arrived and was surprised when she woke to see Tonraq sitting at Korra's feet.  When she turned to the chair he had previously occupied and saw her future mother-in-law there, she had to choke back tears.  Senna was on her feet and in her arms in an instant.

"I didn't want to wake you," Senna whispered into her hair.  Asami thought briefly about how she needed a shower before dismissing the thought.  "They said you'd hardly slept."

Asami couldn't respond.  She didn't know what to say.  She was so happy to have Senna here that words escaped her.

Senna pulled away enough to look closely at Asami's face.  "They want to start waking her up today.  They're going to wean her from the sedatives in a couple of hours."

Asami flashed a tired half-smile.

"That's a good thing, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Asami rasped.  "They'd only do that if they believed her lung injury had healed enough to feel safe taking her off of the ventilator."

Senna sat back down.  Asami followed.  "I already spoke to the doctor.  I didn't want you to have to explain what's going on."

Asami nodded gratefully.  "I'm not giving up, Senna."

"None of us are," Senna shook her head to emphasize her words as she stroked Asami's arm.  "I know how doctors are.  No offense, sweetie, but you have to give the worst-case scenario.  It's a little morbid."

Asami let out a sad chuckle.  "I agree.  It is."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here sooner.  Tonraq didn't want me to worry if it wasn't necessary.  He's always been that way...he told me that it would be best to come alone.  Said he'd call me when he got here."

"I understand, Senna.  You don't need to apologize."

They were interrupted by Dr. Wong appearing in the doorway.  For all they knew, he'd been standing there for a few minutes while they talked; he was waiting patiently, unwilling to interrupt their conversation.  Asami smiled at him in welcome.  She was grateful that he wasn't like many other doctors who took their beliefs on remaining separated emotionally too seriously.

"Doctor Sato, I didn't want to wake you, either," Dr. Wong began.  "The current run of Propofol is running out, and I'm not going to replace it.  I ordered the dosage to be tapered off when your mother-in-law first arrived.  The nurses have been gradually lowering the dose for two hours already.  I probably don't need to tell you what's going to happen, but we're monitoring her very closely and we could use your help with that.  If you start to see evidence of her RASS score improving, I need you to tell us.  The nurse and respiratory therapist are standing by."

Asami felt a ping of hope flutter in her chest.  "I'll alert the staff the instant I start to see changes."

Dr. Wong smiled and left.

 

*     *     *

 

Iroh had been on his way to the cafeteria to collect food for Korra's family when his cell phone buzzed and got his attention.  He'd left Bolin sitting outside the door to keep watch, and his first thought as he rushed to fish the device from his pocket was that something had happened.  He'd been there to listen as Dr. Wong had explained all of Korra's injuries and treatments to her mother.  He was so flustered and panicked trying to pull his phone out that he nearly dropped it - in the middle of a crowded hallway he fumbled with it and cursed in frustration before finally getting it settled in his hands.  He was relieved beyond measure to see Mako's number on the ID screen.  He could feel the curious stares and hear the giggles as he slid his finger across the bottom of the touch screen to pull up the call.

"Hello," Iroh answered.

"Captain, have you seen the news?"

Iroh's stomach did a flip-flop.  News?  Already?  What the hell...  "Um...no, I haven't.  What's going on?"

"Queen Hou-Ting has died."

Iroh's heart skipped a beat.

 

*     *     *

 

"Unrest is already beginning in Ba Sing Se, the heart of the Earth Kingdom," came the voice of Shiro.  Jinora and Bumi had immediately turned to the TV when the newscaster broke through whatever inane program had been on in the background.  Kai's eyes flicked to the TV as well, and Jinora turned up the volume.  "Local authorities are making every attempt to keep the peace, but citizens are already clashing.  Lines have been drawn between those who supported the reign of Queen Hou-Ting and those who believed her to be a selfish authoritarian.  Reporters are live now in the lower ring, where police are trying to keep protests from escalating into full-blown riots..."

Footage showed street cops in nothing more than their basic uniforms trying in vain to keep the different factions separated.  They were losing ground slowly but surely.  Vendors along the street were trying to close up shop to avoid damage to their storefronts, but it looked as if it would be all for naught.  The protesters on both sides were angry.

"President Raiko needs to call up the reserves," Jinora remarked.  "If this gets out of control -"

"No," came Kai's crackling voice.  "Not our business."

"We're all part of the United Republic," Jinora countered.

"The kid's right," Bumi replied, his deep voice rumbling despite how quiet he was being.  "They need to take care of this themselves.  If we send in the military every time one of the other Nations has a problem, they'll never learn to handle things on their own.  We're not the world's police."

"But all of the people there..."

"...Will be pissed off at us if we get involved this early," Bumi gently cut her off.  "Trust me, Jin.  I was in the Army.  Locals are never happy to see us.  We'd be painted as thugs."

"Spirits be with them," Jinora calmly prayed.

Silently, Bumi wondered about several things.  The soldier in him knew that military intervention would be inevitable.  The Dai Li - the secret police that the Queen had kept - would get involved, unrest would unravel into rioting, and eventually it would devolve into civil war.  Bumi also wondered about what Iroh had told him about the Red Lotus.  He wondered if they weren't the culprits here.  His gut gave an emphatic YES.

 

*     *     *

 

A strange sound caught Asami's attention.  Her head snapped around to look at Korra; she looked over her body and took stock of what she saw, looking for anything that may have moved.  Her left leg was splinted and bandaged, her toes barely visible sticking out of the compression wrap that had been used to hold the splint in place.  The leg was still in the same position it had been in for nearly three days.  The vest she wore to keep her torso immobilized was still in place; doctors were hoping that her fractured vertebrae would heal without the need for surgery.  The ugly-looking gash on her face had begun to heal, the bruising around it changing from deep purple to green around the edges.

The strange sound repeated.  It was a rustling of sheets, not very loud but still noticeable.  Senna was looking as well.  Asami stood and carefully watched, hyper-aware of any movement.  When it happened again she saw it - Korra's right hand had balled into a fist, bunching the blanket and sheet with it.  Her grip tightened and her arm moved.

Asami hit the call button on the bedrail.  In seconds, a nurse appeared, a hopeful expression on her face.

"I think we have some agitated movement," Asami told her.  "Her hand..."

Asami's eyes caught something that made her mouth stop.  There was more movement.  She studied Korra's face, hoping that her mind hadn't been playing tricks on her.  Tonraq hurried to get up and move out of the nurse's way while Asami watched closely for what she wordlessly swore was eye movement.  It might have been spontaneous, but anything would be better than nothing at this point.

There.  It wasn't her imagination.  Korra's eyes were slowly shifting, trying to open.  It was as if her lids were too heavy to lift.  Her right eye opened halfway and closed again.  It was accompanied by another tensing of her hand.  Asami sensed Korra's frustration, trying to force her body to respond when it wasn't quite ready.

"Relax, Korra," Asami whispered into her ear, her hand on top of Korra's head, her thumb stroking her forehead reassuringly.  "You're coming out of sedation.  It's gonna be hard for a little while." 

The familiar wrinkle in her forehead appeared, significantly muted but still very much there.  Asami planted a gentle kiss on her temple.  She couldn't stifle a light giggle.  "I know it's frustrating.  I know you're trying, baby.  You need to give it time.  I'm right here.  Your mom and dad are here.  You're gonna be okay.  Just relax..."

The tension that had been building up slowly began to recede.  Asami smiled against Korra's warm skin.  Korra seemed to be able to hear her and was taking her advice - at least that's what she believed.  "There you go.  Relax, Korra.  Don't fight.  You'll come out of it.  Just give it time."

The glimmer of hope that had begun earlier as a flutter broke into a flood.  New tears slipped unbidden down Asami's cheeks.  She kissed Korra's temple again and repeated her prayer that this wasn't a false hope.  She wasn't used to this side of things but she knew that any patient this critical could crash without warning despite all evidence of improvement...

No.  Asami stopped those thoughts where they were.  She reminded herself that even though her clinician mind needed to shield itself with some level of pessimism, such thoughts would do no good now. 

 

*     *     *

 

Mako sat at his desk and stared blankly at the file spread out on top of it.  There was nothing suspicious at all about Zaheer's personnel file from RCFD.  Nothing in it pointed to political activities or even second homes; it was totally unremarkable.  He had a handful of minor infractions when his career was in its early stages, but that was it.  He was still waiting for a warrant to search the man's home and had parked an unmarked officer in the neighborhood to watch for his return.

He was confused about Zaheer's actions.  Why would a man possibly involved in an anarchist group jeopardize their plans by committing a grave crime against a fellow firefighter?  It made absolutely no sense.  Even believing that nobody was there to witness it and the victims would die before they could tell the truth made no sense, because the chance that someone would figure out the truth in this day and age was too great.  The technology available to police in these kinds of investigations would have made the truth available eventually.

Another thought swept through Mako's mind...maybe Zaheer isn't really involved in the Red Lotus.  Maybe it's just his lover

He jumped when his phone rang.  He'd been so lost in thought that he'd forgotten where he was for a moment.  It was late, but after three days he'd anticipated some kind of break in the case from the lab.  He picked up his phone and answered it tersely.

"Detective Mako."

"Hi, Detective," came a sprightly voice on the other end.  "This is Hahn down in the crime lab.  I have a result that you might be interested in."

Mako remembered Hahn.  He was very young and had too much energy, but he was a dedicated lab tech and tended to get results that stumped some others.  "Hit me."

"I found something very interesting on the SCBA mask you sent me," Hahn replied.  He sounded like he'd already had one too many energy drinks.  "It looks like the imprint of a glove.  Do you know if any gloves have been recovered?"

Mako sat up in his chair.  "Where on the mask is this imprint?"

"Right on the front.  It's pretty clear, and it looks like the glove was damaged.  If you can find it, I can match it."

"Spirits bless you, Hahn!"

Mako hung up without warning and dialed Assistant Chief Izumi, thinking all the while that he needed to find out which liquid crack beverage was Hahn's favorite so he could buy him a case.  "Chief, I may have an important piece of evidence.  There's just one problem...is there any way possible for me to look at Zaheer's turnouts?"

 

*     *     *

 

Everyone was awake and excited, having passed much of the afternoon talking and sharing stories.  Korra's improvement had given them a much-needed morale boost.  Asami still held her hand, and every so often Korra would squeeze it.  Asami would squeeze back and offer more words of encouragement.  Iroh took the position outside the door and allowed Bolin to join in, occasionally ribbing Korra as if nothing had changed.

"What is this shit?"  Bolin joked after yet another remark of support from Asami.  "It's been three days!  Why are you still in bed?  Get up, you bum!"

"Don't listen to him, Korra," Senna retorted, giving him a playful kick in the shin. 

"Actually, I'm with Bolin," Tonraq teased.  "I've never seen a firefighter this lazy in my life."

Korra's eyes had been spontaneously opening for three hours now, although she had yet to focus on anything.  Asami knew she was getting more frustrated by the minute.  She was at a -2 on the RASS scale - light sedation, able to open her eyes briefly on command - and she was probably irritated that her body couldn't respond to her brain's commands.  Now, Korra clamped down on Asami's hand and didn't let up.  It got the young doctor's attention, wiping the grin from her face and replacing it with an expression of worry.

Asami stood up and started assessing her again.  At first she'd been afraid that Korra might be having a seizure, but there was no evidence of it other than the fact that Korra wouldn't let go of her hand.  Korra's forehead wrinkled anew as if she were concentrating on a difficult task.  A quick glance at the monitor showed her heart rate was slightly elevated.

Asami spoke soothingly, kissing her temple again, hoping that a little bit of charm would get her to calm down.  "Baby...you need to let your body wake up slowly.  I need to you be patient with this, okay?  You're getting yourself too worked up."

Two things happened at once.  Korra's hand went slack and Asami noticed slight movement on her face.  She backed away slightly and was stunned to see a pair of tired, sea-blue eyes peering up at her.

Korra wasn't just opening her eyes.  She was focusing on her.

At first, Asami wasn't entirely sure she wasn't dreaming.  The last three days had passed by in a flurry of exhaustion, fear, and extreme emotions.  Several different thoughts went through her mind at once, much as had happened when Korra had proposed six months ago.  Is this real?  Am I just so exhausted that I'm hallucinating?  I know she probably has for the last three days, but how do I know I'm not?  I've been waiting for her to make some kind of meaningful eye movement for what seems like forever!

Finally, her brain caught up with what was happening.  Korra really was looking right at her.  Her mouth, limited in movement because of the ET tube stabilizer, twitched up ever-so-slightly on the left, and her eyes sparkled in recognition.  Asami forgot everyone else in the room.  Her eyes watered and her face registered absolute joy.

Chapter Text

Izumi stared into space while her mind raced. She couldn't believe the things that had happened in a scant 24 hours. A warrant had been issued to search Zaheer's home. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, she had stayed away despite badly wanting to be there to see what they found. It had taken several hours to search and she knew she didn't want to hear the truth. First Kai woke up and told Iroh that Zaheer had shoved Korra. That was bad enough; now there was supposedly a perfect print of a damaged glove on her recovered SCBA mask, and it was likely Zaheer's.

The house was perfectly clean. Not a speck of dust was out of order. His turnouts had been found neatly packed in their bag in his garage and were seized as evidence. It was going to take time for the lab to analyze and there was no news on that yet. A desktop computer in the home - old, with out-of-date software that made it work slowly - had also been seized. When Mako called to give her an update, he told her that the right-hand glove was indeed damaged. It appeared to be old, used likely several times since the damage had been done.

How ironic is this? She wondered to herself as she set her office phone back in its cradle. Even slight damage should have been reported before he used those gloves again. He should have tossed that pair and gotten new ones. If he'd done that, we'd have no material evidence at all to support Kai's statement.

She couldn't decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing.

 

*     *     *

 

"I'm aware of how severe her lung injury was," Asami panned.  She got irritated with the doctor she was talking to the instant he walked onto the unit to speak to her.  She had worked with him just barely long enough to know that he was an arrogant bastard, and he proved it further when he immediately began speaking condescendingly.  "I would hope that you would agree that the longer she is kept on the ventilator, the more likely she is to develop VAP."

The look on Doctor Jaya's face shone with disdain.  "You're a young doctor, Asami.  I will note your misgivings, but I am uncomfortable with beginning trials to remove her from the ventilator right now."

Asami's face turned red with the effort of biting back her sarcastic retort.  She could not bury her anger completely.  "I'm sorry.  I was unaware we were on a first-name basis."

"Asami..."

"DOCTOR Sato," Asami corrected him.  "If you do not at least consider beginning the trial, I can always go over your head."

Dr. Jaya half-turned, readying to walk away, making clear what he thought of her threat.  "You are more than welcome to try.  I have already considered it, and my decision is that it is too soon."

As he walked away, Asami spun on her heel and stalked back to Korra's room.  She hadn't wanted to have this discussion in front of staff and patients, but with an obstinate prick like Jaya, some of it was likely to spill over.  The nurses looked at her sympathetically.  She walked into the room and dropped heavily into her chair, leaned forward, planted her elbows on her knees and dropped her face into her hands as she let out a sigh of frustration.

Senna stroked her upper back.  "Looks like it went as badly as you suspected it might."

Asami shifted, dropping one hand to let it hang between her knees and supporting her forehead with the other.  "That man is the most stubborn doctor on the staff.  To hear him tell it, he's never wrong, and he comes from the old school 'be as invasive as we can for as long as we can' belief.  I hate not having any control in here."

"Honey, I hate to sound like I'm playing devil's advocate," Senna began, "but is it possible that he's right on this one?"

"Anything is possible," Asami replied.  She couldn't get mad at Senna for the suggestion.  "But the longer she's on the ventilator, the more likely it is that she'll develop what we call ventilator-associated pneumonia.  It's nasty and it would set her recovery back by weeks."  It would probably kill her, she thought, remembering Dr. Manu's notes, though she was not about to repeat that to Korra's parents.  She involuntarily shivered at the thought.

Senna nodded slowly, playing with the thick locks of hair from Asami's ponytail.  "What could be the consequences of taking her off of the ventilator before she's ready to breathe on her own?"

"She wouldn't be taken off the ventilator suddenly," Asami sighed.  "There would be a few trials to see how she tolerates breathing on her own and make sure she's ready.  There are three different options for weaning her from it, and all of them would require her to do some work to breathe with assistance from the ventilator.  In her case, that's complicated because of her broken ribs.  Even PSV, which requires the least amount of work on her part, would be painful.  The problem is that I don't think he's weighing his options carefully enough.  I don't want to hurt her, but if she gets sick things could go South really fast."

Asami had absentmindedly taken Korra's hand again, and at her last words Korra squeezed it.  She was only keeping her eyes open for short periods, but she seemed to be present enough to know what was going on around her and did small things to be as supportive as she could.  Asami deeply appreciated the gesture; she leaned forward and kissed the hand she held.

At that moment, Opal walked in.  It was the first time that the ER nurse had come upstairs, although Bolin had mentioned her efforts to make sure Iroh wasn't the only one getting food to everyone.  She carried a grocery bag in one hand and Asami's gym bag in the other.

"I, um...I thought you might want to take a shower," Opal said hesitantly.  "I hope you don't mind, but Bolin gave me the key to your house and asked me to get a few things for you."

At Opal's blush, Asami couldn't help but giggle.  She kept a certain toy hidden in her bottom dresser drawer.  The look on her subordinate's face told her that it had been spotted.  The giggle turned into a full-blown laugh, giving everyone the impression that she was finally cracking - everyone but Opal, who knew exactly what she found so amusing.  "I'm glad he sent you instead of going himself," Asami chuckled.

Opal blushed so hard she nearly turned blue.  "Well...I got your shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.  I got you a new body sponge since I'm sure you won't wanna use yours here.  I wasn't sure what kind of clothes you wanted..."

Asami laughed anew.  There was nothing else for it; feeling mortified would do no good, and Opal was already too awkward for words.  She stood and gave the woman a grateful hug.  "Just don't tell Bolin what you found," Asami whispered in her ear, mirth still evident in her tone.  "Korra would never live it down!"

"Something you girls wanna share with the rest of the class?"  Tonraq asked, intrigued by the exchange.

At that, it was Asami's turn to blush.  There was no way she was explaining this to Korra's father - especially not since it was Korra who normally used it.  "Uh...girl stuff," Asami replied, trying not to break into laughter again.  "Seriously, Opal, thank you.  I really needed this."

"You're welcome," Opal replied with a sweet smile.  "Oh, and Iroh wanted me to tell you that he's talking to his mother about the investigation, but he does have his cell phone on in case you need him."

Asami nodded at her and turned to Korra.  She took her fiancée's hand again.  "Korra?  Can you open your eyes for me?"

Korra did as she was asked.  Her eyes fluttered open and she slowly focused on Asami's face.

"I haven't had a shower in three days.  I don't want to leave you, but I stink.  Are you in any pain right now?"

They had long ago established a system of blinks for simple communication in case of emergency - once for yes, two for no.  Korra squeezed her hand twice.  No.

"Are you sure?"

One hand squeeze.  Yes.

"Okay.  Promise you'll still be here when I get done?"

Yes.

Asami kissed her forehead.  "I'll be right back.  I love you."

Korra squeezed her hand three times, and she could only take it as her way of saying I love you, too.

 

*     *     *

 

"I need to know if Zaheer is involved with this group.  I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone what the implications may be if he is.  The entire department, and everyone in it, would find themselves under scrutiny."

Chief Tenzin sat at the head of a conference table.  They were at RCFD headquarters; Police chief Lin sat to his right, Izumi to his left, with Iroh on her other side.  Next to Lin sat Mako.  The revelation that a captain in their ranks was linked to a terrorist organization didn't require proof of active membership in it.  Tenzin immediately scheduled a meeting.  Iroh had attempted to explain that he was sorely needed at the hospital, but Tenzin wouldn't hear a word in argument.  Zaheer stood accused of nearly killing two members of his crew.  "This is not a request," Tenzin had said before hanging up.

Now Iroh sat quietly, hands on the table, fingers loosely intertwined.  He listened as they talked, irritated by the fact that his presence had been ordered.

"We're doing everything we can to get more information on the Red Lotus as we speak," Lin replied.  "Detective Mako started working this case before the fire."  She turned to the young officer.  "What have you found?"

Mako sat up stock-straight and looked as if his mouth had suddenly gone dry.  "Um...not much.  I only discovered their existence after a few members of the Triple Threats mentioned the group.  I tried to bring it up with the rest of my squad, but they, uh...they pretty much laughed me out of the office."

Lin's face took on an expression of anger.  She always looked unhappy, but this new expression was downright frightening.  "They what?"

Mako glanced at Iroh as if looking for support.  "They laughed me out of the office."

"Exactly what did you tell them?  No, wait...I want to hear this story from beginning to end.  Why did you have members of the Triple Threats in custody to begin with?"

"They were arrested by a patrol officer for loitering," Mako replied.  "They'd been told to leave the area three times, but they apparently kept saying 'yeah, sure' and just stayed.  The patrol officer called for a detective when they got to lockup because he suspected they were waiting for something to happen and the Lieutenant sent me.  Said I needed to get my feet wet."

Lin nodded.  "Which I would agree with.  What did you find out?"

"Well, all three were wearing small pins with a symbol of a red lotus on them.  I'd never seen them before, and we all know how the gangs are about their symbols, so I asked them what it was for.  One of them told me that I'd 'find out soon enough, when the Red Lotus takes over.'"

"That's it?"  Lin asked.  "That's all you had to go on?"

"Well, no," Mako hurriedly replied.  "I asked who the Red Lotus was.  One of them just said, 'chaos.'  I went back upstairs and started searching for the name of the group online.  I found a couple of forums being used for chatter, and it looked to me like they had a plan to hit Ba Sing Se.  I tried to bring it up to the squad, but they laughed at me.  Told me I was being paranoid, letting the idiots in the Triad get to me."

Lin dropped her face into her hands.  A vein stood out on her forehead and the double-marked scar on her face turned red.  When she finally dropped her hands to the table she said, "Chief Tenzin, I am sorry, but I need to have a talk with some of my subordinates.  This is news that should have been brought directly to me, and the chain of command has failed on an obscene level."

Tenzin nodded.  His cleanly-shaven head gleamed in the sterile while light of the conference room and he stroked his carefully-manicured goatee.  Underneath the calm, he was clenching his teeth.  "Mako, is it?"

Mako nodded.

"I trust you will give everything you've found to your chief, your idiot lieutenant be damned?"

Mako nodded quickly.

"Captain Iroh?"

Iroh looked up at Tenzin expectantly.  He still had no idea what he was needed for, but he hoped it would be made apparent soon.

"I'd like to visit Korra and Kai.  I really don't need the fanfare, and I'm sure their families don't want it, either.  I'll need you to escort me.  Nobody needs to know that I'm coming.  Is that understood?"

Iroh nodded.  "Yes, sir."  Bolin may never forgive me.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami hurried back to Korra's room.  She'd used the shower in the ICU doctor's lounge, showering as quickly as she could, not bothering to put on any makeup or do her hair.  She yanked it into a loose ponytail and threw on a pair of black sweatpants and a red t-shirt (letting loose another round of laughter as she did so at the memory of how her things had been procured) before all but running back to room four.  Nothing had changed - Korra was still in the position she'd been in fifteen minutes prior, and her vitals were still perfectly stable.

"She wanted to get up and surprise you," Bolin joked, "but I talked her down.  I thought it would be a bad idea."

Korra, ever the smartass, folded the fingers of her left hand down - save one.  Asami laughed at her before taking her hand again.

"Korra!"  Senna called her name in mock horror, turning her gaze to her husband.

"Don't look at me," Tonraq cracked, putting both hands up defensively.  "I didn't teach her that."

Asami snorted.  "Right.  My bullshit-o-meter is redlining, Tonraq."

"See, Korra?"  Bolin continued with his ribbing.  "You're a terrible influence.  I'm telling your mother."

"Her mother knows," Senna retorted, rolling her eyes.  "Trust me.  The last time these two came home, Korra was teaching her father bad habits."

"That would be because Bolin taught her," Asami pointed out, one eyebrow raised at him.  Bolin whistled innocently.

"What's this I hear about bad habits?  I certainly hope none of my firefighters are involved."

At the sound of a newcomer, Bolin inexplicably jumped to his feet and faced the door.  There stood Chief Tenzin, his class B uniform impeccable.  Not far behind were Iroh and Izumi.

Tonraq stood and offered his hand, which Tenzin shook heartily.  "Sir, I know you met me at the airport, but it's good to see you again."

"Chief Tonraq," Tenzin smiled warmly.  "I wish more than anything that we could be meeting under happier circumstances."

"As do I," Tonraq replied.  "You remember my wife, Senna?"

Senna stood to greet him, leaning forward to allow Tenzin to kiss her cheek.

"No parent should ever have to witness something like this," Tenzin finally sighed.  "Iroh has kept me updated, though I wish I had been able to come sooner."

"Nonsense," Senna replied.  "Your entire department must be going through hell right now.  I can't imagine how busy you've been."

"I appreciate your patience," Tenzin replied, "but I really should have come sooner.  I wish I could have met you at the airport rather than sending an assistant."

"You'll have to excuse my daughter," Tonraq joked, motioning toward Korra.  "She hasn't gotten out of bed once since we arrived!"

Tenzin laughed with relief.  "I'm hoping that all the joking means that she's improving."

"She is," Asami smiled.  She still held Korra's hand, though now she was standing.  "She's been opening her eyes on command and she can squeeze my hand.  We're talking about taking her off of the ventilator soon."

Tenzin stepped forward and gave her a light hug.  "That's wonderful news, Doctor Sato."

"Oh, please don't call me that," Asami begged as the Chief stepped back, making sure Senna was part of the conversation.  "Really.  I appreciate the consideration, but I'm just Asami right now."

"You're never 'just' anything," Tenzin half-chastised her.  "If you need something, don't hesitate to let any of us know.  I don't care how busy I am.  Anyone in this room right now gets my full attention.  If you call, I don't care if I'm in a meeting with President Raiko.  I will interrupt it."

"Thank yous" came from everyone in the room.

"My daughter is downstairs with Kai, and I need to get to them as well," Tenzin grinned politely.  "Please let me know the instant anything changes."

Chief Tenzin shook hands all around and left.  As he walked back toward the elevator, Bolin's jaw dropped open and he flashed the same gesture Korra just had, this time at Iroh.

"I'm sorry!"  Iroh whispered intensely, his face no longer stoic.  Now he genuinely looked apologetic - and hurried.  "I'll explain later, I swear!  Just...I'll be back!"

As Iroh sprinted back toward the elevator to catch up, Asami laughed again.  "Bolin, I don't think I've seen you move that fast as long as I've known you."

Bolin dropped back into his chair, letting out a sigh so heavy he looked and sounded like he was deflating.  "Oh, bite me."

 

*     *     *

 

Lin was furious.  There were many mistakes that she would accept, but this was no mistake - it was sheer laziness.  There was no excuse for an entire squad - well, nearly an entire squad - to have dropped the ball on something as important as the emergence of a new terrorist organization.  Before pulling them in for a meeting, she'd sat down with Mako so he could show her what he'd found.  He showed her the forum, gaining access by bouncing his signal off of multiple ISP addresses to hide where he was accessing from, and Lin could not believe what she was seeing.

The "chatter" was likely more detailed throughout other forums, but once he showed her the conversation regarding "setting free" someone referred to as the "Mother of the Earth Kingdom", Lin's face went pale.  As the truth of what she was seeing sunk in, she gritted her teeth and slowly stood from her chair.  Her face began to turn crimson as her eyes scanned the other four detectives in the room.

"I want everyone in Squad Three in the conference room five minutes ago," she growled.  Nobody argued.  Everybody jumped up, ignored whatever they happened to knock over on the way to their feet, and rushed to the only conference room on their floor.  Members of their sister squad, specializing in vehicular crimes, watched sympathetically as they ran to obey the woman whom everyone on the floor referred to as "The Big Kahuna."

Mako appeared nonplussed.  He led the way, Lin close behind, to the conference room.  He was the only one who wasn't in trouble and Lin knew he had to know it.  He strolled into the room and took a seat, noticing that all four of the other detectives had positioned themselves as far from the head of the table as possible.  Lin marched in, shut the door, and drew the blinds.  She turned to face the squad with her arms folded across her chest.

"How is it...a brand-new detective...is able to find vital information...and the rest of you...find it humorous?"  Lin spoke very slowly, making sure she couldn't be misunderstood.

"Chief, you'll have to refresh my memory," a tall, wiry, older man spoke up bravely.  "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"I'm talking about the fact that Mako was able to find evidence that a new terrorist organization has sprung up and every one of you laughed at him like he was an idiot," Lin replied.  Her voice was eerily calm, and all five detectives seemed unsettled.  "It's okay.  I know how it is.  The FNG finally gets promoted from patrol, and he shows up all polished and proper, ready to save the city, right?  Then one day he talks to a few gang members and comes back upstairs talking about a new threat, and he sounds totally insane.  Sound about right?"

They all looked at each other, nodded, and looked back at Lin.

"Lieutenant Feng, call your union rep," Lin ordered.  "You're done for the day."

"But, chief..." the tall, wiry man began to object.

Lin finally exploded.  "YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST PERSON TO BRING THAT INFORMATION TO MY ATTENTION!"  She lowered her voice, though it lost none of its bite.  "That error in judgement may have cost several lives, Lieutenant!  You are about to lose your rank.  Pray you don't lose your badge.  Get out of my sight!"

Lt. Feng stood and hurried from the room.

"The rest of you...I'm assigning the computer crimes squad to look into what Mako was able to find," Lin barked.  "If the FNG was able to find information, I'm sure they'll dig up even more.  While they dig into the dark web and find more forums to turn up more clues, you will track down every lead they find on who is active with the Red Lotus, where they are, and what they are planning.  Does anyone have any questions?"

Everyone stared, blinking in fear, unwilling to utter a word.

"MOVE!"

Everyone, Mako included, rushed to leave.  Mako stopped short just outside the door as his phone buzzed.  He pulled it from his pocket and looked at it, then spun to get the Chief's attention - nearly running into her as she hadn't expected him to stop.

"This is the watch we put on Zaheer's house," Mako said, holding up his phone.  "He's home."

Lin didn't hesitate.  She pushed past him and marched for the elevators.  "You're with me, detective!"

Chapter Text

Night had fallen and Mako parked two doors down. He had requested ten uniformed officers; he counted only eight. He switched his radio to channel four, lifted it to his mouth and pressed the transmission button.  He waited a couple of seconds before speaking.

"Command to all units, roll call."

Each uniformed officer had been given special instructions to switch to that channel and immediately began sounding off.  Unit numbers were rattled off quickly.  Lin, sitting in Mako's passenger seat, shook her head.  "We can't afford to wait," she sighed.  She keyed her radio and lifted it to her mouth.  "All units, we are a go.  Fan out as instructed."

Nobody wasted any time.  Everyone knew their job.  Each officer took up his assigned position, weapons drawn, and faced the house.  Mako led the way with Lin and a single uniformed officer - they had wanted three to breach the house with, but they had no more time.  If anyone in the neighborhood had seen them and given Zaheer a head's-up, this operation could be compromised and their safety could be in jeopardy. 

Mako wanted this to go badly.  Part of him wanted Zaheer to give everyone an excuse to kill him.  He felt guilty for being so angry, and he knew he shouldn't want to kill anyone, but Korra was one of his best friends.  She'd been like a sister to Bolin.  The fact that she still may not survive was enough to make him silently hope for a reason to riddle his body with bullets so that Asami, Bolin, and Korra's parents wouldn't have to sit through a trial that would take years to end.

He plastered himself to the left of the door, back to the wall, while Lin mirrored his position on the right.  The uniformed cop positioned himself on the other side of Lin.  Everyone had donned external heavy ballistic vests with "POLICE" in large, reflective orange lettering on the back.  Mako reached out and knocked heavily on the front door.

"Zaheer!  Republic City Police!  We have a warrant for your arrest!"

No answer.  He knocked again.

"Zaheer!  Open the door or we will break it down!"

Still no answer.  Mako took a deep breath, counted to three, then pivoted out and swung a powerful kick at the door.  It crashed open and he entered cautiously; Lin and the uniform were close behind him.  A few lights were on, making it easier to see as they moved from room to room.  As they neared the back of the house, the sound of music playing over headphones could be heard.  Mako and Lin locked eyes and headed toward the sound.  Lin watched his back as they approached the room; the door was slightly ajar and Mako pushed it the rest of the way open.  Zaheer sat in front of a new computer, headphones on, nodding to the beat of whatever he was listening to.

He's right there, Mako thought.  It would be so easy.  I could say it was a mistake.  I might go to prison for ten years, but... 

NO.

Mako shook it off.  He knew better.  He was a better person than this.  Zaheer wasn't worth going to prison for and not being around to help Bolin and Asami deal with their grief.  He kept his sidearm aimed at the clean-shaven head in front of him as he reached out with one hand and flicked at the light switch, turning it off and on rapidly.

The next split second sent a surge of adrenaline coursing through Mako's veins.  Zaheer ripped his headphones off and shot out of his chair, spinning to face the officers in a defensive stance.

"POLICE!"  Mako bellowed, taking a short step backward and keeping his aim sure.  "Put your hands up, Zaheer!"

"What is going on?"  Zaheer looked genuinely shocked.  He put his hands up as directed, standing up to a more neutral position.  "I'm not armed -"

"Zaheer, you are under arrest for attempted murder," Mako said, holstering his weapon and grabbing a pair of handcuffs from a pouch on his vest.  He walked over and pulled Zaheer's arms down and behind his back, cuffing him securely. 

"Attempted murder?"  Zaheer repeated.  "You have to be joking!  I'm a Republic City firefighter, I haven't tried to kill anyone!"

Mako clenched his jaw tightly.  Nothing he said was going to make this any easier.  All Zaheer was going to do was come up with an excuse for everything he said.  Aside from that, giving away all of the evidence they had would tip their hand.  He calmly, by force of will, led Zaheer out of the house and over to the nearest marked police cruiser.  It was as he was depositing their suspect in the back seat that Lin came back out.

She stopped short of whatever she was going to say at the sight of his face.  A knowing expression took over her features and she nodded at him.  He couldn't imagine the kind of experience she'd had, but he could see in her face that she knew exactly how he felt.

"I just spoke with one of the other officers we left in the office," Lin said solemnly.  "We have our warrant.  We can seize his computers, tablets...everything we didn't get the last time around, including what he brought home.  Take him back to the station and sit him in an interview room.  Let him stew.  Wait for me to get back."

Mako nodded.  He allowed the uniformed officer assigned to the cruiser to drive away as he trotted back to his unmarked car.

 

*     *     *

 

In the twenty-four hours since she'd argued with Dr. Jaya, Asami had managed to get in touch with Dr. Wong.  When he arrived to take over, he agreed with her; it was time to start a trial.  He tried to make excuses for Dr. Jaya's attitude, but Asami really didn't care - all she wanted was to avoid Korra getting sick.  Asami was convinced that the most important part of treatment right now was making sure Korra didn't come down with pneumonia.  She was convinced that, if the slightest symptoms appeared, it was over.

When a nurse and a respiratory therapist came in to discuss options, Asami was torn between making the decisions or allowing Korra's parents to do so.  The RT immediately looked at her when he walked in.  She stood and faced him, left hand still clinging to Korra.

"We have three options," he said quietly.  "I'm sure you know what they are.  Have you discussed it with the rest of the family?"

"I did," Asami replied.  She decided in that moment to forge ahead.  "I think PSV would be the best option."

The RT nodded.  "I agree.  I'm going to adjust the settings on the ventilator and stay in the room to monitor how she does for the first few minutes."  He turned to the ventilator and started pressing buttons.  "Korra?  This is gonna feel a little different.  When I tell you to, I want you to try to take a breath on your own, okay?"

Asami felt one squeeze on her hand.  Yes.  She nodded the response to the RT.

The sounds coming from the ventilator rapidly changed.  "Okay, Korra.  Time to take a breath."

Asami watched carefully, but there was no movement.  A few seconds ticked by; they felt like hours.  Asami tightened her grip on Korra's hand.  "Korra, I need you to take a breath.  I know it's not easy with a tube down your throat, but you need to try to take a breath."

Nothing.  Korra's face was turning red.  The RT shook his head as if to say, this isn't working.

Asami was starting to silently panic.  When Korra's eyes flew open, they mirrored her panic, though for a different reason.  She wasn't focusing on anything.  Suddenly, something clicked, and Korra initiated a breath.  The ventilator added pressure and oxygen.  The first breath was somewhat shallow, but Korra quickly began gulping air.  The ventilator started beeping.

The RT didn't get the chance to speak.  Asami beat him to it.  "Slow down, honey.  Breathe slowly.  All we've done is change the settings.  The ventilator is only helping you now.  Slow...calm..."  She stroked Korra's arm to emphasize her instructions.  Korra's breathing evened out again and she was able to turn her gaze on Asami, focusing on her.

"You're doing fine," Asami whispered.  "It's just a different way to help you breathe.  You're alright, baby."

Tonraq let out a heavy breath and slumped backwards in his chair while Senna, who had moved to sit next to him, let her eyes drop shut in relief.  Bolin dropped his chin to his chest.  For a brief moment Asami had completely forgotten that they were in the room.  When Korra had taken so long to breathe, she was so terrified that her entire world had narrowed to just the two of them.  She watched Senna curl up in her chair and lean on Tonraq's huge shoulder.

"I think you gave your parents a few more gray hairs," Asami joked.  Korra managed to roll her eyes, making both Asami and Bolin laugh aloud.

 

*     *     *

 

"I want to talk to a lawyer."

Mako hadn't heard a word out of Zaheer since arriving at the station.  Now, walking him into an interview room, his words were surprisingly loud.  Mako sat him down in a chair and wordlessly walked out of the room, locking the door behind him.  He heard the man scream the words again at the closed door, but he didn't care.  His emotions were boiling over and he didn't want to do or say anything that he would later regret.  At this point, he wasn't sure whether he cared to know if Zaheer had been involved in the death of the Earth Queen.  All he did know was that he felt totally helpless.

He stalked down the hall, through the squad room, and into the conference room.  He flung the door shut and stilled the swinging shade over the window before sinking into a chair and dropping his head in his hands. 

Mako gritted his teeth as tightly as he could, trying to stop what was coming, but his efforts were fruitless.  His tense body was wracked by angry sobs.  I'm supposed to be able to protect the people I love from animals like this, he thought, unable to stem the flow of tears that poured forth.  This wasn't supposed to happen.  He never should have been able to go this far.  If all I can do is try to get justice after the fact, then what is my purpose?

He knew that, by law, he was required to get an attorney at the first available opportunity, but right now he didn't care.  He'd call when he was done.  Right now, he needed time to let out everything he'd been guarding.

 

*     *     *

 

The next morning dawned wet and dreary, but Asami had no idea.  While Korra's parents had finally agreed to go for a walk she woke slowly in her recliner at Korra's bedside.  The aroma of pancakes, syrup, and coffee coaxed her back to consciousness, and she yawned and stretched.  On the bedside table sat a tray and a cup of coffee, along with a note:

     Took Korra's parents for some fresh air.  Didn't want to wake you up.  Eat and try to relax.  Shaozu is sitting outside if you need anything.  -B

Asami vaguely remembered hearing whispers between Bolin, Tonraq, and Senna, but she wasn't quite awake and wondered at the time if she was dreaming.  She opened the tray at the same time her stomach let out a loud growl.  She dove in, eating as quickly as she could without compromising her manners.

She wasn't sure why, but a memory came flooding back.  She slowed down without meaning to and lost herself in it.

 

*     *     *

 

TWO MONTHS AGO

Asami woke to an empty room.  The curtains were still drawn, keeping the sun out of her face, and she had been carefully tucked in.  Even when angry and hurt, Korra was still thoughtful.

A pang of guilt shot through her mind as she recalled the previous night's argument.  They'd gone to the store and Korra had bought a bottle of whisky.  Asami had noticed it in the cart but hadn't said anything.  She was afraid that if she asked about it, Korra might take it the wrong way.  The more she bottled it, the more she stewed; before long she was getting angry without realizing it.  Even now, looking back on it, she knew that in the moment she couldn't have explained her thoughts or her outburst.  She understood now, but at the time she'd been somewhat irrational.

"Wanna try some of this?"  Korra had offered with a smile.  "Bolin says it's pretty amazing."

"Yeah?"  Asami had replied, attitude turned to full snark.  "Did he suggest using it to wash down painkillers, too, or is this is drug of choice?"

Korra's smile had evaporated.  "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You never drink whisky," Asami bit back.  "When did this start?"

"Nothing has 'started', Asami," Korra had replied, obviously stung by the unexplained attack.  "It's not like I'm gonna drink half the bottle right now.  I just wanted to try the stuff!"

Asami slammed her water bottle on the counter.  "Just wanted to try it?  How much is 'trying it', Korra?  Where does it stop?"

Korra had set the bottle down carefully and pushed away from the counter.  "You were totally fine an hour ago.  Where is this coming from?"

"I'm still waiting for you to tell me the answer to that question," Asami had countered.  "Why do you suddenly want to drink hard liquor?"

"It's not the first time I've had it," Korra had spat back.  "Having a little bit of booze once in a while doesn't make me an alcoholic, dammit!"

Asami recalled Korra stalking off to parts unknown.  She'd gone to bed angry, without knowing where her lover had disappeared to.  When Korra did come to bed, she never turned on a light, never disturbed her...never kissed her as she'd always done.  She had quietly changed in the darkness and slipped into bed beside her, laying on her right side, her back to Asami.

In the muted light of the morning sun Asami sat up and stared forlornly at the empty side of the bed.  Her head throbbed.  Probably because I got my blood pressure up over nothing, she thought.  She knew Korra wasn't working today, nor was she on call.  She dragged herself upright and trudged out to the kitchen, where she retrieved another cold bottle of water and a couple of Tylenol.  She tossed the pills back with a mouthful of water, replaced the cap, and went looking for her fiancée.

The house wasn't anything ostentatious, but Asami had built a kwoon in the basement.  Korra often made good use of it - particularly when she was stressed or angry.  Asami loved watching her practice forms, but she wasn't sure how her presence would be received this morning.  She slowly descended the stairs, listening for anything that would make her think she shouldn't intrude.  She heard nothing.  No movement, no grunting with effort, nothing.  When she reached the bottom of the stairs she saw the reason: Korra was in a full horse stance, both arms extended in front of her, palms facing forward.  Her muscles strained with the effort of holding the stance, but her face betrayed nothing.

Asami watched from the doorway for what felt like forever before Korra broke the stance.  She brought her right foot in, stood up straight, and swung both hands in a wide, graceful circle to her middle.  She was regulating her chi.  She brought both hands around to dan tien and let out a breath before opening her eyes again.

They immediately locked with Asami's.

Korra turned to face the back of the room and effortlessly lowered herself to the floor, taking up a lotus position.  She patted the floor in front of her in invitation.  Asami shuffled over and sat in front of her betrothed.

"I, um..."  Asami started, unsure of herself.  "I think I owe you an apology."

"I think I know why you were upset," Korra replied.

Asami looked at her quizzically.

"Because of what your dad said."

It wasn't often that Korra remembered details like that, but Asami was impressed that she recalled it now.  She wiped the surprise from her expression.  "I think you're right."

"I'm not gonna turn into an alcoholic because of one bottle of whisky," Korra sighed.  "But if you really don't want me to drink it, I'll take it back."

"No," Asami firmly replied, sitting up straight and waving her hand to indicate it wouldn't be happening.  "No...there was no reason for me to react the way I did.  I trust you.  You should be able to enjoy something like that without me freaking out about it.  And I should be adult enough to let you."

Korra reached out and pulled Asami close, kissing her forehead.  "I'd throw you to the mat and fuck your brains out, but I'm pretty disgusting.  I need a shower."  She hopped up and offered Asami a hand.

Asami gratefully accepted and let Korra pull her to her feet.  "I'd still let you do it," she replied suggestively.  She leaned in for a kiss, pouring every ounce of apology she could muster into it.  "I love you."

"I love you, too," Korra replied.  "Next time, please say something before you explode."

"I promise."

 

*     *     *

 

By the time she came back to herself, she had stopped eating and was crying.  She pushed the table away and stood up to check on Korra, only to find that her lover had been watching helplessly and was crying herself.  Korra's brow furrowed as if to ask, what is going on?

Asami leaned in and kissed her forehead.  "I was just remembering something that happened recently.  It made me grateful that I found you."

For the first time, Korra reached up and brushed her fingers across Asami's cheek.  She was trying to brush a tear away but her hand wasn't complying well.  Asami trapped her hand there with one of her own, happy that Korra felt able to move more.

"I love you."

Chapter Text

Over the space of a day and a half, assistance from the ventilator was gradually tapered off. Everyone watched carefully for signs of difficulty, but there were none. The one thing they had to contend with was Korra herself. She was fidgety, restless, annoyed that she couldn't move or speak. When Asami went to the bathroom and she pantomimed yanking the tube from her throat, Bolin was the first to chastise her.

"Don't you dare," he hissed.  "That is not funny!"

Korra glared at him.  She was done with this already. 

When Asami returned, she had the nurse and the RT with her.  "Good news," she chirped.  "They want to take her off the ventilator completely!"

Korra closed her eyes in relief.

"Normally I'd ask everyone to leave," the RT sighed, "but Doctor Sato outranks me.  Everyone else, I do need you to wait outside."

Tonraq helped Senna to her feet.  They made sure to touch Korra's uninjured right foot before walking out, Bolin close behind.  The nurse drew the curtain and turned back to Korra.

"Okay," the RT began.  "I'm sure you can imagine, but this isn't going to be much fun.  It would be easier if we could sit you up, but your injuries prevent that.  We're gonna get set up, then when we're ready, I'm gonna tell you to cough."

Korra nodded slightly, no longer caring about how the tube shifted.  She closed her eyes and allowed the duo to work.  Asami stood back and watched, praying it would go as well as she hoped.

"Alright, Korra," the RT said, positioning himself to pull the tube.  "Give me a good cough!"

It looked and sounded more like a gag, but it did the trick.  Korra's head came off the pillow briefly, following the tube being pulled from her throat, but she quickly dropped back down again and began coughing normally.  The nurse put a nonrebreather mask on her.

"This is temporary," the nurse said, watching the monitor for signs of elevated heart rate or dropping oxygen levels.  "I don't want you taking it off for the time being.  I'll come back in a couple of hours and take it off."

Korra nodded, still coughing.

"I'm sure you know this, but I have to say it," the RT said, turning to Asami.  "She's almost guaranteed to have some fluid and phlegm in her airway and she's gonna cough for a while to clear it out.  She needs to do that, but she also needs to breathe normally.  Keep an eye out for her pulse-ox and make sure she stops coughing once in a while.  If her throat gets too sore we can give her some more medication."

Asami nodded and thanked the pair as they left, then turned to Korra.  Korra stopped coughing and her eyes went wide when Asami leaned in closely and pulled the mask off.

"No," Korra half-rasped, half-gurgled.  She cleared her throat roughly.  "My breath..."

Asami silenced the protest with a lingering (yet chaste) kiss.  "I've needed that for almost a week," she smiled, a tear escaping down her cheek.  She replaced the mask carefully.  "We'll get what we need for a sponge bath later.  I know your breath reeks and I don't care."

Korra smiled weakly, yet warmly. 

 

*     *     *

 

"Republic City firefighter and reported hero Zaheer has been arrested," came the voice of Shiro over the TV.  Jinora and Bumi both sat forward in their chairs, while Kai shifted to see better.  "Republic City Police Chief Lin Beifong is holding a press conference as we speak."

Footage cut to the chief walking to the podium.  Her class A dress uniform was sharply pressed, her badge, ribbons, and medals impeccably placed and gleaming.  "Good afternoon," she began.  "Just over twenty-four hours ago, a city firefighter was arrested on multiple charges of aggravated assault, threatening and intimidation, and two counts of attempted murder.  The accused is Zaheer.  During operations in the explosion and fire at the Southern Water Tribe cultural center, firefighters Korra and Kai were critically injured after falling two floors.  It has been determined that their fall was not an accident.  We have insurmountable evidence that Zaheer, who was the only man available to help them, was actually the cause of their fall."

Lin was cut off by the crowd of reporters firing off questions all at once.  She silenced them with a wave of her hand.  "Please...please...I cannot answer any questions at this time.  We are not releasing that evidence to the public.  Zaheer has been remanded to custody without bail after he fled Republic City and returned with plans to leave permanently.  For an update on our injured firefighters, here is Fire Chief Tenzin."

Tenzin shook Lin's hand gratefully and took the podium to a silent crowd.  "Thank you all for coming, and thanks to the citizens of Republic City for the outpouring of support for our injured firefighters.  The investigation into the explosion is ongoing.  I can tell you that we have determined an explosive device was set, but we are still working on leads as to who and why."

The reporters erupted again.  Tenzin pointed at one in the front.  "Chief Tenzin, do you have anything to say about rumors that the explosive device was set by Northern Water Tribe agitators?"

"I will only say this once, so please, listen carefully," Tenzin began, speaking deliberately so he couldn't be misunderstood.  "We are not pursuing any leads against political accusations at this time.  We have no reason to suspect the Northern Water Tribe has anything to do with the attack.  We will not aid in the speculation against their diplomats, nor will we discuss the matter any further."

The reporters went silent for a moment, then a few started shouting questions.  "What is the status of the injured firefighters?"

"Kai is in stable condition," Tenzin replied.  "Korra is still critical.  Their families are with them."

"Will they return to duty?"

Tenzin didn't hesitate.  "We do hope to have both of them back.  They are talented firefighters and valued members of this department."

"What is the department's official statement regarding Zaheer?"

Tenzin sighed quietly.  Jinora caught the quick downshot of his gaze; her father hadn't told her how he felt about the situation, but she knew he was devastated.  "The Republic City Fire Department is cooperating fully with the police investigation into Zaheer's alleged actions.  Unfortunately, we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.  I will be able to comment further once the investigation is complete and an indictment is formally announced."

"So Zaheer hasn't actually been charged?"

"As far as I understand, he has been arrested and charged.  As Chief Beifong said, he's being remanded on multiple serious charges.  An indictment is a different step in the process."

Bumi sat back and scowled.  "That sum'bitch better stay in jail.  If Korra's father doesn't get to him, half the department wants a piece of his hide."

"Me first," Kai grunted.

 

*     *     *

 

Mako walked alongside Zaheer at a slower gait, trying not to run off without his quarry.  Zaheer was shackled hand and foot.  Now that he was being remanded, he had to be moved from the temporary holding cells in the main police station to the longer-term incarceration pods on the outskirts of the city.  Four uniformed officers surrounded them, two in front, two in back.  Zaheer walked upright, head held high, as if he had nothing to fear. 

What is this guy thinking?  Mako wondered.  I've never seen anyone take a perp walk like this.

He was surprised when they stepped out into the gray, cloudy daylight - still brighter than it had been indoors - to see only one photographer there.  He was so surprised that he paused before actually walking out the door.  He knew that the information had been leaked to the media.  He'd been warned that a crowd would be assembled, and that he'd need to be on his guard.  Seeing just one soul in the back of the police complex made his heart skip a beat and his adrenaline start pumping like mad.  Something's not right...

They walked outside, down the walkway, and toward the waiting armored transport vehicle.  The hair stood up on the back of Mako's neck.  One of the uniformed officers in front stopped halfway down the walk and put his hand on his pistol.  Everyone else quickly followed suit.  Mako looped a hand through Zaheer's elbow, holding him still.

BOOM!!!

The armored vehicle exploded, but nobody had time to think about it.  Mako's ears rang from the noise of the blast and the shockwave knocked the wind from his lungs.  He pulled his pistol and aimed without knowing what to aim at; the world had burned away into chaos, and his blurry vision could only make out two shadowy figures against the flames that licked at the sky.

He was certain he could hear Zaheer yelling, but everything was garbled through his sudden hearing deficit.  "NO!"

Mako sat upright and aimed at the nearest shadow.  He couldn't see what was going on, but it looked like an arm raised in his direction.  He heard the report of a pistol before he felt the wind knocked from him again and a sharp pain streaked across his left forearm.  He gritted his teeth through the pain and opened fire, desperate to stop the escape.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra had fallen asleep not long after being freed from the ventilator.  She spoke with her parents for a moment before her eyelids became too heavy to keep up, then the pain meds kicked in and she couldn't stay awake any longer.  Asami watched like a hawk for the slightest sign of difficulty breathing, all but jumping out of her chair whenever Korra's breath so much as hitched.  Such movements made Tonraq and Senna tense, wondering if Asami noticed something that they didn't.

When Korra woke four hours later, begging for water, everyone heaved a sigh of relief.  Asami raised the head of the bed ten degrees - any more risked worsening her back and hip injuries.  She reached for the pitcher of ice water on the bedside table, filled a cup, and added a straw.  She gently took the oxygen mask off and guided the straw into the corner of Korra's mouth.

"Small sips," Asami instructed quietly.  "Try to roll it around in your mouth before you swallow, let your muscles get used to it."

Korra did as she was told and flashed a suggestive smirk at her fiancée.

"Aaaaand on that note..." Tonraq quickly stood, blushing like mad.  "Honey, I think it's time we gave these two some privacy."

Senna stood with him, grinning at his embarrassed reaction.  "We'll be at the hotel.  Call us if either of you need anything."

Korra's parents left quickly, and Bolin wasn't far behind.  He chuckled lightly at the pair and went to take up his post outside the door.

"Good job, lovergirl," Asami joked, setting the cup back on the table.  "You managed to chase your parents out of the room without saying a word!"

"Not that I don't love them," Korra rasped.  "But I would kinda like some time alone with you."

"Are you in any pain right now?"

"A little.  The meds won't kill all of it."

"Do you remember what happened?"

Korra closed her eyes.  Asami watched as she breathed slowly and deliberately, like someone trying to process disturbing images.  "I think so.  I remember the fire closing in on us.  I tried to lead Kai out the window to the ladder.  Zaheer was there..."

Her voice trailed off.  Her breath became shaky.  She was trying to keep control of herself.  Asami leaned in and stroked her forearm, hoping to help keep her calm.  "You don't have to go through it right now."

"I know we didn't get along," Korra said, eyes still closed.  "But I don't understand why he wanted to..."

Her lip trembled and the tears that Asami was watching her fight broke free.  She lowered the bed rail and sat down on the edge of the bed, laying a hand on Korra's chest.  "Breathe, Korra.  We don't have to talk about this now.  Just breathe."  She spoke softly, slowly, in an effort to calm her lover.

"I'm sorry," Korra finally said, opening her eyes.  Tears rapidly welled in them.

"For what?"  Asami asked.  Her thumb lightly stroked back and forth and her brow furrowed.

"For this," Korra replied.

Asami reached for a tissue and carefully dabbed at Korra's eyes.  "There is nothing to apologize for," she whispered, leaning in to brush a kiss across her chapped lips.  "You couldn't help what happened.  You're here.  You're alive.  We'll get through this.  Before long, things will get back to normal and you'll get back to work."

"Yeah?"

"This is it.  The big incident is over.  It only happens once in a career, if ever.  I knew what I was getting into when I started dating you, and I'm not upset with you or your career or the fire.  I mean...I'd kinda like to kick Zaheer in the balls right now, but..."

Korra laughed quietly.  It brought on a painful but short coughing fit.

"You don't ever need to say you're sorry.  I don't want to hear you say that again.  Okay?"

Korra nodded.

At that, Bolin walked into the room with a cafeteria tech.  "It's Jell-o time!  Today's flavor is..."  He set the tray down and opened it, revealing both Asami's dinner and what passed as Korra's meal.  "LIME!"

Asami giggled at the look of disgust on Korra's face.  "Babe, you're eating.  I'd call this a step forward, even if it isn't quite solid."

"I'm gonna hate Jell-o by the time I get outta here," Korra groaned.

"If it makes you feel any better, all I ordered was soup," Asami sighed, picking up the small container and pulling the SaranWrap off.  "I didn't think it would be very nice to eat pot roast in front of you.  But, if you eat all of this, I'll give you a sponge bath later!"

At Korra's twitch of both eyebrows, accompanied by yet another seductive smirk, Bolin took his tray and walked back outside.

"You're incorrigible," Asami shook her head.

"If I wasn't, you'd think there was something really wrong," Korra cracked.

Asami leaned in for another quick kiss.  "I'm glad to have you back."

Chapter Text

"I don't need you to brush my teeth," Korra protested. "My hands work just fine."

"I'm just here to help, honey," Asami replied, squeezing a dab of paste onto the toothbrush in her hand.  "I wasn't going to do it all for you.  Here..."

Korra felt her face heat up with a chagrined blush.  She took it gratefully and began scrubbing her teeth as if no amount of brushing would ever get rid of the dry, disgusting taste in her mouth.  Being able to do this for herself was heaven.  It was one step toward freedom; it was tiny, but a step nonetheless.  After going over everything at least three times, Asami helped her lift her head enough to take a mouthful of water.  She swished it around in her mouth and spit it back into the cup.  Asami gently laid her head back down and took everything out of view over to the sink and cleaned up.  Korra could hear the water running as Asami tinkered around.

"The first thing I'm gonna do is wash your hair," Asami said.  "I miss being able to run my fingers through it."

Korra blushed again.  Her hair, after nearly a week, felt far too oily and nasty for her liking.  "I miss your fingers, too."

Asami shut off the water and let out a belly laugh. 

"Wait, I didn't mean..."  Korra sputtered.

"Yes, you did," Asami giggled.  "You just didn't mean it right now!"

Korra turned her head to look at her.  "I wouldn't mind a little -"

"NO," Asami tried to say it firmly, but the bite was lost in another fit of giggles.  She gingerly raised Korra's head and slid the basin under it, nestling her neck into the U-dip.  "You are not healthy enough.  All we need is for you to have an orgasm strong enough to make your broken hip even worse."

"Oh," Korra groaned, partially at the suggestion and partially at the feel of her head dipping into the water basin.  "It'd be worth it."

"Worth the torn ligaments and extra physical therapy?"  Asami quipped, using both hands to pour water over her hair.

Korra relished the feel of the water flowing over her scalp, closing her eyes and smiling.  "Maybe."

"I'm going to translate that to NO...although the fact that you're feeling flirty makes me feel better."

"That...right there..."

Asami ran her fingers over the same spot on the back of her head again.  "That?"

"Yeah.  Just...yeah."  Korra sighed happily.

"You've been in bed for nearly a week," Asami remarked, slowly massaging the back of Korra's head.  "On some pretty powerful narcotics.  How can you possibly be so tense?"

Korra didn't answer.  She knew the answer, but she didn't want to say it aloud.  She didn't want Asami to think she was losing her mind - or worse, hurt her feelings.  She kept her eyes shut and tried to focus on the feel of Asami's hands massaging shampoo into her hair.

"Babe?"  Asami said softly after a few moments, gathering water to rinse the suds away.  "You still with me?"

"Yeah," Korra hummed.  "Sorry.  Lost in thought."

"About what?"

I'm gonna have to tell her sometime, Korra thought.  Maybe just not so much detail yet...  "Weird dreams I had.  Nightmares.  When I was coming out of anesthesia."

"That's not unheard of.  Several papers have been written about patient experiences in medically-induced comas."  Asami gently squeezed the additional water out of her hair and wrung it out as best she could.  In one (slightly awkward) motion, she lifted Korra's head, pulled the water basin away, and replaced it with a towel.  "Do you want to talk about it?"

Korra didn't answer.  She was lost again, this time to a real memory.  Asami had begun to dry her hair, but with the ends of the towel over her face, the darkness and the feeling that she was running out of air - even for a split second - yanked her back to that moment when she'd begun to fall into the dragon's jaws.  She could smell the smoke, sense the heat licking at her turnouts, feel her stomach lurch when Kai's grip faltered...

 

*     *     *

 

Asami set the water basin in the sink, prepared to come back to it in a moment.  She turned back to Korra and the towel she'd wrapped her head in and started slowly working at drying her hair.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

She wasn't really surprised to get no answer.  The ends of the towel were over Korra's face.  It was the sight of both hands tightly fisting the sheets that made Asami freeze.  "Korra?"

Nothing.  She pulled the towel away.  Korra's face was contorted in fear, her eyes clamped shut, breaths coming in short gasps.  The monitor quietly beeped a warning; her heart rate was skyrocketing.  It showed her up to 112 beats per minute.

"Shit," Asami muttered.  Keep it together, Sato, she thought to herself, shoving down her rising panic.  If it was a seizure her oxygen sats would be dropping.  She must be having a flashback.  She took up her perch on the edge of the bed again and planted her hands on the sides of Korra's face, careful to avoid the healing gash on the right side.  "Korra?"

Korra didn't respond at first.  Asami could hear the footsteps of someone entering the room, probably a nurse.  "It's okay.  You're okay, baby.  You're safe, I promise."

Very little reaction.  Korra began to tremble and her grip on the sheets lessened, though she was still lost.

"Korra, take a deep breath for me," Asami pleaded, the thumb of one hand stroking the temple it rested on.  "You're safe...I'm right here...come back to me, Korra..."

Tense muscles began to loosen, her hands went slack, and she finally opened her eyes.  They darted around the room, taking in her surroundings as if she was unsure she believed where she was.  Her terrified gaze finally latched onto Asami's face and all of the air rushed out of her lungs as if a stopper had been pulled.  Only then did Asami notice that the alarm on the monitor had been silenced.  She looked up at it and saw Korra's heart rate gradually decreasing.  The nurse was respecting their space but watching carefully.

Asami turned back to Korra.  She had broken into a flop sweat and was shivering as if cold.  "Hey.  Can you hear me?"

Korra nodded.  She looked more helpless than Asami had ever imagined possible. 

"Okay.  Just breathe."  She nodded at the nurse to let her know everything was under control and turned to Korra again, whispering reassurances and stroking her hair.  "Just try to relax.  It's over, baby.  It's all over.  You're alright."

After several minutes had passed, Asami finally asked a question.  "What was that?"

Korra shook her head lightly.  "I don't know.  I was...back in the..."  She shivered as if the thought were taking over her mind again.

"It's okay, Korra, you don't have to talk about it," Asami whispered.  "It can wait."

"I swear, it was like being back in that fire," Korra said, her tone bordering on panic. 

"Korra..."

"I could feel the heat, Asami.  I could smell the smoke -"

"You're safe."

"You just...disappeared!  How can that happen?"

Asami reached down and took Korra's hand, gripping it tightly and bringing it up to her lips.  She kissed the backs of the fingers tightly curled around hers before clutching it to her chest.  "I'm here, Korra.  I haven't gone anywhere.  You had a very vivid flashback.  I know you're scared, but it's normal."

"Normal?"  Korra exclaimed.  "Nothing about that was normal!"

"I'm sorry, baby, that was a poor choice of words," Asami replied softly, stroking Korra's arm, hoping to bring the conversation back under control.  "It's expected.  What happened was very traumatic.  If you weren't having a hard time dealing with it, I'd be worried."

Korra shut her eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath, as if trying to calm herself.  She did this for a few moments while Asami watched for any signs of anything else going wrong.  Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, temperature...they're all slightly off but it's a typical physiological reaction, she thought.  "Talk to me, Korra."

It couldn't have had better timing.  Korra's stomach growled loudly.

"So there," Korra joked, voice still wavering.

Asami laughed.  "I'm gonna take that as a sign that you're alright."

Korra nodded.

"Good," Asami replied, leaning in for another kiss.  "Because I understand I have a patient who needs some assistance."

 

*     *     *

 

Iroh watched, arms crossed over his chest, as Mako was taken into the first major trauma room.  He knew he needed to tell Bolin.  He knew it wasn't going to be taken well.  He wanted to have some answers, however, before he did so.

"Patient is male, twenty-seven, GSW to the left forearm, shrapnel wounds from an explosion on the right side of the body beginning in the axillary region and running all the way down to the calf," the crew's captain spit the information out rapid-fire as the rest of the crew helped the trauma team transfer him from the gurney to the bed.  "Patient is complaining of blurred vision and pain in his eyes.  Last set of vitals are one-oh-nine over sixty-six, respers at sixteen per minute, heart rate eighty-one, strong and regular, satting at ninety-six."

Well, he's barely in the beginning stages of shock, Iroh thought.  That's a positive.  He jumped back as a second officer, this one in uniform, was hustled past.  This officer was halfway to dead, and Iroh knew as he looked at the young man that he probably wasn't going to survive.  His kevlar vest had been removed and his shirt cut off; chest seals had been applied to three different wounds.

As he watched the trauma team attempt to save the man, Iroh was surprised by a hand on his shoulder.  He turned to greet the familiar face of Chief Lin Beifong.  "Chief.  We gotta stop meeting like this, ma'am."

"I agree," Lin sighed heavily.  "Zaheer has escaped."

Iroh turned to face her fully.  "What...?"

"We were moving him under heavy guard, but the Red Lotus got to the transport vehicle first.  It was blown up.  One of my officers died at the scene.  Mako was wounded.  Somehow I get the feeling..."  Her voice trailed off as she pinched the bridge of her nose.  Her jaw visibly clenched. 

Iroh had a very good idea how she felt.  "I know you already have several notifications to deal with.  I'll take care of Mako's brother.  He's on my crew.  He's actually upstairs right now with Korra."

"How is Korra?"  Lin asked, clearly grateful for the change of subject.

"She's improved dramatically," Iroh smiled slightly.  "She's off the ventilator.  She even had semi-solid food today."

Lin nodded as something almost passing for a grin passed across her features for a split second. 

"Do you have any idea who helped Zaheer or where he might have gone?"

Lin cast a sidelong glance at the young captain.  "I was going to ask you that question.  I guess that answers it for me."

"Xai Bau.  He's been Zaheer's engineer longer than I've been a firefighter.  If you find him, you might find Zaheer."

That was all Lin needed to hear.  She thanked him quickly and hurried off, not bothering to wait for news.

Seconds later, Dr. Manu called it.  The young officer's rhythm had become erratic and no amount of heroic effort was going to change it.  As soon as it leveled out to asystole, the nameless officer was declared dead.

 

*     *     *

 

With the curtain pulled and a basin of warm, soapy water nearby, Asami got to work.  She grinned seductively as she pulled the blankets off of Korra, revealing a dank blue gown that was (for the most part) draped over her.  Asami knew that she shouldn't tease - there was no way Korra was healthy enough for any sort of sexual activity - but she couldn't help herself.  Between Korra's flirting and the lack of any meaningful physical contact, Asami was just this side of desperate.

She carefully removed the gown, laid open the vest brace, and had to choke back tears.  The horrible bruising she'd seen when Korra was first brought in was healing, but still looked extremely painful.  The sutures from two surgeries were also healing, but were an ugly reminder of the difficult days that they were barely separated from.  Asami deposited the gown in the soiled linen bin and set to work. 

She started on Korra's right.  She soaked the sponge and wrung it out, then gently began to wipe away the grime and sweat that had been accumulating for almost a week.  She began in the crook of Korra's neck, worked her way around her collarbone and shoulder, then all the way down her arm.  Asami gingerly patted her skin dry with a towel as she went, trying not to soak the sheets and make them uncomfortable.  She worked her way back up the inside of Korra's arm, propping it up in her lap so she could be sure to get the back of it as well.  Korra giggled and tried to pull away when Asami deliberately tickled her armpit, wincing slightly at the motion.

"I'm sorry," Asami said quickly.  "I didn't mean to -"

"I'm fine," Korra stopped her, laying her open palm down on a damp thigh.  "Really, I'm fine.  Please, keep going.  This feels so amazing."

"Does it, now?"  Asami asked with a smirk.  She rinsed the sponge and wrung it out again, returning to Korra's upper chest.  "You know, if one of the nurses walked in here right now..."

"Oh, they'd know exactly what was going on," Korra retorted, letting her hand wander.

Asami had to pause to get herself under control.  Korra's hand was mere inches from the junction between her legs, and it was driving Asami crazy.  "You cannot move that hand any further North, Korra."

"And if I did...?"

Asami kept working, trying anything to distract herself from Korra's very overt advances.  I can't do this, she thought.  WE can't do this.  She ran the sponge as gently as she could down the strip of skin between Korra's breasts, unable to stop herself from brushing a thumb across a nipple as she massaged underneath - and lingered decidedly longer than she should have.  All she could think about was taking that nipple between her lips.  Suddenly, she noticed that Korra's hand was no longer nearing dangerous territory.  She'd already found it.

Asami was eternally grateful that Korra had already brushed her teeth as she dove into her lips with all the rigor of a starving woman.

Chapter Text

Asami was tired of sitting.  She was tired of being cooped up in that room, but at the same time she couldn't bring herself to leave for too long.  As she stood and stretched, she quietly wondered if the hospital might allow her to use the physical therapy room to get a little bit of exercise soon.  At the moment, Korra was still in intensive care, still being watched carefully; if all went well, she was due to be upgraded from "critical" to "serious" within another day or two.

She folded herself in half, touched her toes, and stayed that way to let her back and hamstrings loosen up.  She stood back up and twisted at the hip one way, then the other.  She spared another look at Korra before sitting down again.

She was sound asleep, brought on by a generous helping of Dilaudid.  Their impromptu dalliance two days ago had been more helpful than either had anticipated.  Asami craved the connection to remind herself that Korra was alive and improving; Korra was simply as impatient and headstrong as she'd always been.  Tonraq and Senna had immediately noticed the affection above and beyond what was normal.  Bolin snickered at them every chance he had.  When one of the nurses winked at Asami, she nearly fainted from embarrassment.  She didn't think they'd made enough noise to be noticed.  She had forgotten that the sliding door was still slightly open the whole time, and what noise there was had been heard.

As she prayed for the umpteenth time that the rumor mill didn't go into overdrive, another memory bubbled to the surface in her mind that she was happy to reflect on.

 

*     *     *

 

It was late in the afternoon when Asami finally got home from work.  It had been a long shift, and she'd been held over four hours past her downtime, but she had four days off to recover.  Vacation, she thought.  Not as much as I'd like, but it's something.  She trudged back to the bedroom, dropped her backpack in the closet, and called for her fiancée.

"Korra?"  Asami called, not sure where she'd gotten to.  The living room and kitchen had been empty, and now, she found, so was their bedroom.  She absentmindedly headed down to the basement and their makeshift kwoon.  She was barely aware of where her feet carried her.  Korra's truck was parked outside.  She was home.  Asami just needed to find her.

There.  Korra was doing push-ups in the middle of the room.  Asami silently leaned against the doorway and watched, a contented smile slowly spreading across her face.  Her eyes locked onto Korra's solid back and drank in the way her deltoids, trapezius, and triceps flexed on every upward motion.  She had no idea how long she'd been standing there, watching, when she heard her name.  Her eyes snapped up to meet Korra's grinning look through the mirror that took up the entire wall.

"Lost in thought?"  Korra giggled, holding an extended position as she watched Asami blush.

Asami fought like hell but couldn't stop the warm rush that crept up her neck and settled in her cheeks.  "Maybe."

"C'mere," Korra smiled.

She never got out of her push-up position, and as she shuffled over to where Korra remained in place, Asami wondered what she had in mind.  Korra lowered herself to the floor - still in position - and nodded her head.

"How about you give me a challenge?"  Korra suggested, still grinning.  "Add a little weight to this exercise."

"What, you want me to sit on your back?"  Asami chuckled in surprise.

"Lay down," Korra replied. 

Asami raised an eyebrow at the thought and quickly complied, draping herself across Korra's back.  She wiggled her hips as she settled in, eliciting a slight moan from Korra.

"Not that kind of challenge," Korra whined.

"Oh, come on," Asami playfully chided.  "We both know that's where it's gonna end.  I'm just telling you in my own way that I know it!"

Korra laughed.  As soon as Asami was still, she lifted herself off the ground.  Asami squealed lightly at the sensation even though she'd gone slowly.

It didn't take long to get used to.  The steady up-and-down motion was almost soothing, and if it weren't for the growing heat between her legs, Asami would have fallen asleep.  It was impossible to notice; the fine sheen of sweat on Korra's skin, the sheets of muscle that shifted beneath her skin, the aroma that left an indelible mark on Asami's psyche as being Korra...all of it conspired to bring on a second wind.  Thoughts of a shower and a nap were banished from her mind.  She wasn't even interested in food anymore.

Well, there is something I could eat...

Korra came to an abrupt halt after another push-up.  "If you get any warmer down there, workout's over!"

Asami made clear that she didn't care.  She wanted it to end.  She kissed the back of Korra's neck, pressing tongue to skin between her lips in a slow but sure gesture of exactly what she wanted.  She kissed and licked her way over to Korra's left shoulder, where she nipped lightly at the cord of muscle that connected her shoulder to her neck.  She stroked the backs of Korra's arms as if to say, "I want this now."

Korra let out another moan.  "We shouldn't do this in here."

"Why not?"  Asami asked between kisses, this time making her way up the side of her lover's neck.

"Because both of us tend to make a mess..."

"We're on a mat," Asami breathed, planting another kiss just behind Korra's ear.  "We have Cavicide.  This is the only room in the house we haven't fucked each other silly in."

"We haven't done it in the hall closet..."

Asami quickly tired of all the talking.  She nipped insistently at Korra's earlobe, knowing what the reaction would be.  She was more than ready for it - Korra rolled to the side and flipped herself over, putting them face-to-face in a single motion.  It didn't end there.  She rolled them over again, topping Asami as she drove her tongue between hungry lips.

This was exactly what Asami had wanted.  Familiar feelings led to familiar movements, although there was something intense about it in the kwoon.  It had long been off-limits; Korra had always said that it needed to be a place where she could completely clear her head, where meditation wouldn't lead to thinking about other things.  That wasn't what she'd said  when protesting, though, and while Asami was no stranger to martial arts training, she felt very differently about what they were doing.  She had no misgivings whatsoever.

While she was lost in thought about the taboo nature of what they were doing, Korra had straddled her hips and was lifting her scrub top and t-shirt.  Asami quickly came back to herself and lifted her shoulders off the mat and her arms above her head so that the shirt could be flung aside.  Asami raised herself up on her elbows as Korra bent low to kiss her again, and sure hands snaked their way around her back to unhook her bra.  She let the straps fall loose before pulling it off and tossing it away.  Those amazing, strong hands came back to their goal and immediately palmed both breasts.  Asami broke away with a gasp and arched into Korra's touch.

Korra didn't let it go for long.  Their endless kiss resumed, tongues dancing and sliding in familiar patterns.  Asami relished the way Korra's touch could leave her dripping with need, and as her nipples strained against expert palms, she realized that her panties were already done for. 

No matter.  Asami reached down to yank Korra's muscle shirt up and over her head.  Korra didn't allow her hands to remain separated from Asami's breasts for more than a split second, even when Asami moved to pull her sports bra off as well.  Now bare from the waist up, Asami was grateful for once that they both favored drawstring pants.  She reached both hands into Korra's and palmed the swell of her ass, giving her a gentle squeeze before breaking their kiss once more to lean back and pull them off.  Korra took advantage of it, topping Asami once more and kissing a burning trail down her sternum, between her breasts, and down her soft abdomen.

Korra's hands took up all of the space that her mouth couldn't.  Asami got the sense that she was on a mission, but was trying to slow it down somewhat so it wasn't over too quickly.  She felt Korra's tongue lap at her belly button, a ticklish spot that she'd always enjoyed teasing from time to time.  This time, the teasing lingered, and Asami began to anticipate what was coming.  The flickering of Korra's tongue elicited a groan.  As soon as the sound escaped Asami's throat, Korra moved Southward again, and her fingers hooked into the waistband of her pants.

They were soon half-pulled, half-kicked off and forgotten.  Korra skipped all the way up to Asami's mid-thigh, and Asami was grateful for it.  She wasn't sure how much longer she was going to last.  Her clit throbbed at the promise of attention and a steady stream of heat leaked from her core.  She was so turned on that she was afraid she might even come before Korra had the chance to get a steady rhythm going.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, Asami thought, dropping back to the mat and welcoming the wet heat that was blazing its way up her thigh.  She might be flattered that she has that effect on me.  She shut her eyes and let the sensations wash over her as the room began to spin.  Korra's mouth reached the crease of her thigh...

The moment she'd been anticipating ground to an abrupt halt as Asami felt Korra crawling back up her body and kissing the skin between her breasts again.  "Korra...?"  Asami whimpered, unsure of what had just happened.  Korra dove into her mouth once again, and as her tongue pressed past her lips, Asami was rocked by a sudden fullness.  Two fingers sank to the knuckle in an instant, stealing the breath from her lungs as surely as the tongue that moved at the same pace in her mouth.

As soon as her mind caught up, her own hands went to work.  She smiled against Korra's lips when a gasp escaped at the sensation of her middle finger finding her clit and tracing circles around it.  Asami knew how best to get Korra's attention, and if she hadn't been soaked already, the trickle of warmth that dripped onto her thigh proved she certainly was now.  Her other hand held tightly to Korra's waist as if she might float away if she didn't.

Asami whimpered into their renewed kiss when she realized that Korra was avoiding the one thing that she wanted most.  It was Korra's turn to smile; she curled her fingers forward against the spot she could have found while sleeping, and Asami's rhythm faltered when the sensation wrecked her control.

"Focus, baby," Korra whined.  Her hips had begun to roll with the movements.  "Don't stop now."

Asami willed herself to continue.  She stared into Korra's eyes with a matching intensity, redoubling her efforts and earning a pleased moan.  She focused so intently on her pattern and rhythm that she almost forgot what Korra was doing - and when she came, her orgasm hit her like a freight train.  She hardly noticed that Korra was coming right along with her until she noticed the way Korra's body moved against hers.  Asami shouted her pleasure as Korra's head dropped against the crook of her neck and moaned into her skin.

They shuddered against one another for several minutes as their reactions tapered off into aftershocks.  As their shared high began to wind down, Korra slowly pulled out.  Asami grinned up at her as she watched her lover put both fingers in her own mouth and slowly suck them clean.

"Mmmmm," Korra groaned.  She pulled them from her lips with a slick pop.  "Baby...I don't think you could be any more perfect if you tried."

Asami pulled her into a rough kiss.  She loved tasting herself on Korra. 

 

*     *     *

 

Asami snapped back to reality with a start.  The burning blush that flashed across her cheeks, coupled with a warm wetness pooling between her legs, made her wish that Korra wasn't asleep.  She shut her eyes and chided herself privately.  Korra wasn't supposed to have done anything yet.  Asami felt guilty even thinking about it now.  Benefits aside, she was a doctor.  She knew better.

But oh, was it worth it...

She leaned her recliner all the way back and pulled the blanket from her lap up to her chin.  She wondered how Bolin was doing.  They'd been stunned beyond words when Iroh had come to break the news that the Red Lotus was suspected of attacking police headquarters to break Zaheer free in the middle of being transferred.  Mako had been wounded.  Iroh said he would be just fine, but it was Mako.  Bolin was incredibly close to his brother.  He had run off without a word before Iroh came into the room to talk to the couple.  That was very unlike him, and Korra had guessed correctly that something was very wrong before Iroh had even set foot past the door. 

Zaheer.  Asami shivered at the thought that he was running free, Spirits knew where, doing Spirits knew what.  She only knew what he looked like from the photos on the news.  She was beginning to associate Shiro's voice with that face.  She drifted into an uneasy sleep, feeling safe with Shaozu at the door and Iroh down the hall.

Chapter Text

Pre-op was usually busy - bustling with patients and nurses trying to stick to a strict schedule. It was early in the morning, though, and with the day barely starting there weren't any other patients yet. Asami sat in a stiff-backed chair, ever present at Korra's bedside, trying to calm her fiancée's nerves.

"What is it that has you so wound up right now?"  Asami asked, trying not to laugh.  She felt bad about being amused; she had always looked at anesthesia scientifically, so the idea of going under didn't bother her much.

Korra fidgeted as much as her healing body would allow, mostly picking at the blanket and twisting it in her fingers.  "I don't like the idea of not having control of myself."

"That makes sense," Asami replied, looking at her other half pensively.  "Does it have anything to do with what you experienced while you were comatose?"

Korra flapped her empty hands on top of the blanket in frustration.  "Can we not talk about that for now?  I really don't know how to describe it."

"It's okay," Asami replied.  She sat forward and laid her hand on Korra's, hoping to keep her grounded.  "I'm not going to think you're crazy or anything."

Korra turned her hand over and gripped Asami's tightly.  She closed her eyes and let out a sigh.  Asami waited quietly for words that never came, trying not to push Korra while feeling ill-equipped to help her.  They stayed like this for several minutes.  It was an intense moment.  Asami didn't know what to say and was certain that Korra didn't, either.  She wished she knew how to put Korra's mind at ease.

"Hello there!"

A new voice sounded from outside the curtain, accompanied by a gentle knock on the wall.  Asami looked over at the source and saw a petite woman with short, jet-black hair and a calming expression on her face poking her head around the curtain.

"I hear someone improved enough to have a hip replaced," she came all the way in, carrying a sealed vial and a packaged syringe.  "I'm Nuri, I'll be your anesthesiologist.  How are you feeling?"

"She's alright, I think," Asami said when Korra didn't respond.  "She's just nervous."

Nuri stepped around to Korra's right side.  "Korra?  Are you in any pain?"

Korra looked over at the newcomer with a blank expression.  "Not really.  I'm just not fond of being knocked out."

"I can understand that, considering what you've been through," Nuri said reassuringly.  "I can never promise that there won't be any complications, but I can tell you that there's a ninety-eight percent chance that you won't even remember this conversation."

"I think I can live with that," Korra finally grinned.

"I'm starting with fifty milligrams of Demerol," Nuri said, opening the package containing the syringe.  "They said you've been sensistive to pain meds so far, and this one is pretty potent."  She broke the seal on the vial, inserted the needle through the cap, and carefully drew the appropriate dose.  With that done, she replaced the cap on the needle and set the syringe on the bedside table.

Asami watched as Nuri swabbed a spot on Korra's shoulder.  She had been so focused on Korra's survival recently that she hadn't had much time to think about how she'd help her cope.  Over the past several days, Asami had become increasingly worried - not just about Korra, but that she had no idea how to help or who to reach out to.  If she talked to Bolin or Iroh without warning, Korra might get upset.  With the issues that had been brought to light recently it gave Asami pause.

As she finished administering the injection, Nuri gently massaged the site to ease the irritation.  "You'll start feeling the effects pretty quickly.  You might have five minutes before you're out.  Don't be surprised if you wake up later tonight and have very little memory."

Korra nodded her understanding.  As Nuri left the room, Korra turned a frightened look toward Asami.

It broke Asami's heart.  She did the only thing she could - choked back tears as she moved to sit on the bed next to Korra.  She cradled Korra's face in her left hand, her thumb soothingly tracing the curve of Korra's cheekbone as she leaned forward to kiss her forehead.

"I wish I could be in there with you," Asami whispered as she rested her forehead against Korra's.  She could almost feel Korra's energy; her fiancée was growing more afraid even as the medication began to sap her will to stay awake.  Asami kept speaking, trying to keep her calm.

"I'll be right outside," Asami continued.  "You'll be okay...they know what they're doing, baby...they won't let anything go wrong...you're in good hands, I promise..."

"I love you," Korra said quietly, voice still tinged with anxiety even though her eyelids were being dragged shut.  She was struggling, fighting a losing battle.  Before Asami knew it Korra's breathing was even and calm.  She was out.

She couldn't tear herself away from Korra for several minutes.  It wasn't much longer before the nurse and transport tech came to take Korra back to surgery.  As they disappeared down the hall and through the heavy automatic doors, Asami realized she was staring, rooted in place, having lost track of time.  She trudged past the charge nurse and forced a smile.  Through the exit doors and around the corner was the waiting room where Bolin, Mako, and Iroh sat waiting.

"How was she?"  Bolin asked.  His tone and expression told Asami that while she had schooled her expression, her demeanor had likely given her away.

She sank into the sofa next to him, suddenly feeling an extreme level of guilt for ever thinking it was funny.  "She's...having a hard time with this."

"Asami, if she wasn't having issues, I'd be worried," Iroh piped up.  "Kai isn't having an easy time, either.  Bumi says he's been having nightmares."

Mako's right arm was still in a sling and he sat sideways on the opposing couch to keep himself comfortable.  "I can't imagine what this must be like for you, Asami," he said.  "You almost didn't want things to get serious with her because of how dangerous her job is."

Asami grinned ruefully at the memory.  "Not like there was ever a chance that I'd say no.  I couldn't have let her go if I'd wanted to."

"I love how much you two love each other," Bolin smiled.  "Oh!  I think I have a story that you haven't heard!"

Asami turned to Mako with a knowing chuckle.  "He's been waiting for two whole days to tell me this story, hasn't he?"

"It's a good one," Mako laughed.  "And yes, he has."

"This doesn't involve you two getting into some kind of trouble, does it?"  Asami asked with a mock grimace.

"Well, it started pretty soon after Korra joined Engine One," Bolin grinned as he recalled the memory.  "She gave me grief for puking on a call -"

"Oh, Spirits," Asami giggled.  "She recently told me about that call!"

"Then you know what she did," Bolin snickered.  "I had to get her back!"

 

*     *     *

 

Bolin dropped into one of the recliners in the day room.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Korra heading down the hall to her room; he grinned mischievously and waited for a reaction.

The grin slowly disappeared as the minutes ticked by.

He waited.  And waited.  And...waited.  After twenty minutes, he wanted to go see why it was so quiet, but he didn't want her to know that he'd done it - at least not yet.

Half an hour after Bolin sat down, Korra joined him.  He noticed that she didn't look annoyed.  She didn't even look slightly perturbed.  She had a bottle of tea in her hand and seemed to be completely calm, and Bolin found himself completely befuddled.

I have to know, he thought.  How can I find out without giving myself away?  Think, man, think...

"Hey," Bolin finally said, turning his head sideways to face her.  "I thought you wanted a nap.  Can't sleep?"

A minor scowl crossed her features for a brief moment before she responded.  "I, uh...locked myself out of my room."

Bolin found himself fighting a vicious fit of giggles.  Control yourself!  He thought.  If you even smile right now she's gonna know!  "How'd you manage that?"

"I probably bumped it on my way out the door earlier," Korra sighed.

Keep it together, Bolin screamed internally.  "Don't you have a key?"  He asked the question knowing full well that she didn't.  Iroh had submitted a request to have her door re-keyed a few months ago, when the previous occupant had managed to accidentally flush it down the toilet.

"I have the room that has no key.  Remember?"  Korra grumbled.

"Oh!"  Bolin pretended to have forgotten.  "Well, I'm sure Iroh can get the locksmith out here pretty quick!"

As if in reply, Iroh flopped down in a chair on the other side of Bolin.  "He can't get to us today.  Bumi is trying to get his nephew to come break in."

Oh, I could not have had better timing!  "Wow, Korra.  You'd think you just finished your booter year or something."

"Give her any more shit and I'll start telling stories about your booter year," Iroh warned, a challenging gleam in his eye.

"Hey, I proudly own my gooberishness," Bolin smiled broadly.

A few hours later, Korra was sound asleep in the recliner when Meelo arrived.  Bolin laughed when he noticed her drooling on herself.  The sound woke her up, the wake-startled look on her face making Bolin laugh even harder.

"Hey, Korra!"  Meelo greeted her.  His head was shaved clean and he was covered from neck to ankles in brightly-colored tattoos.  Like his father and uncle, he was a firefighter.  Today he was off shift and dressed in kung fu pants and a shirt from the kwoon where he instructed on his days off.

"Wait, you two know each other?"  Bolin asked in surprise.

"Oh, yeah," Meelo grinned.  "We went through the academy after I got kicked out the first time!"

"Right," Iroh wheedled.  "You were the guy who played a video on the class projector of another recruit hitting on your sister and getting kicked in the balls."

Behind everyone, standing in the doorway, Bumi let out a low (but pleased) chuckle.

"The chief's kid did that?"  Bolin said excitedly.  "Dude!  That is so cool!"

Korra stood and stretched for a long moment, yawning widely.  "Meelo, do I want to know how you learned to pick locks?"

"The skills of a misspent youth," Meelo sighed.

"What he means," Bumi's low growl interrupted, "is that school wasn't enough for a challenge for him and he got bored."

"Uncle Bumi, you're gonna ruin my bad boy image!"  Meelo grumped.

"Can we get this over with?"  Korra asked, heading for the door.  "My phone is still in my room."

It took almost no time at all.  Meelo had the door open quickly.  He checked the inside knob to be sure it was unlocked, and a confused look clouded his face.  "Korra, you said you bumped this?  Not possible.  Look - the button is protected from that by the design.  You have to intentionally press it to lock it."

Both Korra and Iroh walked in to look.  After a moment, they looked at each other in understanding.  They then turned to Bolin, standing just behind Bumi.

"I hope she gets you back for this," Iroh said.  He walked away without another word.

 

*     *     *

 

"How long did it take her?"  Asami asked.

"To get back at me?"  Bolin clarified.  "Just a few hours."

 

*     *     *

 

"Engine One, channel three," the dispatcher's voice followed the tones.  "MVA requiring extrication, assist Rescue Three on scene.  Engine One, channel three."

It took no time at all for the crew to get to the bay and climb in.  Bumi got in at the wheel, while Iroh got in the front passenger seat and pressed the "C3" button on the MCT to show they were responding.  Bolin got in behind Iroh and Korra got settled behind Bumi.  The sun was setting and with autumn came an evening chill; they donned full turnouts before getting belted in.

"According to the info, they think the driver has been dead for a little while," Iroh spoke as soon as he had his headset on.  Bumi turned on the lights and sirens anyway.  "The wrecked vehicle spun off the main road.  This'll be a recovery."

"I'll get the jaws," Bolin announced.

The drive was largely silent, save for Iroh giving Bumi directions to the scene.  A pair of skid marks ran in a deceptively graceful arc from the right lane all the way across four lanes to the left, then back over to the right where they disappeared into the manicured foliage.  As they parked behind Rescue Three, they could see a perfect gap punched into the hedgerow, so neat that from a distance it looked totally normal.  Beyond that a Sato Sarin sat wheels-down, looking as if it had been tossed into a utility pole by giant hands.

With the help of the two-man crew on Rescue Three, they made short work of the vehicle.  Despite the cool dusk air, it quickly got warm inside their turnouts.  Before he was done cutting the first post, Bolin was sweating heavily.  The interior of his heavy gloves felt different - gritty, almost - but he had no time to wonder.  Whatever it was, by the end of cutting the fourth post it had gone away. 

Nobody was really interested in seeing the body.  Once finished, they quietly packed their gear and walked away, making way for the investigators who had patiently waited while they worked.  With their tools secured, the crew moved to their positions and started stripping off their helmets, gloves, and coats.  Bolin clipped his gloves to his coat and went to hang it on the back of Iroh's seat and stopped cold.

His hands were blue.

Bright blue.

"What the...?"  Bolin sputtered, staring in shock at his hands.  "How...what...I didn't..."

"Got a problem, buddy?"  Korra asked as she put her seat belt on.

Bolin held his hands up to show her, fingers splayed apart as if his skin was radioactive.

"Woah, man," Korra whistled.  "Looks like you've got a medical emergency there.  Hey, Bumi, is the rescue still up there?"

Bumi's fixed scowl turned into a look of uncharacteristic curiosity.  He turned to look and, upon seeing Bolin's blue hands, barked out a laugh.

"How the hell!"  Bolin exclaimed, trying to wipe it off.  It was pointless.  He climbed in the engine and flopped down in his seat.

Without a word, Iroh extended his left arm, fist closed, back toward Korra.  Korra reached up and gave him a fist bump.

Bolin stared blankly at Korra as Bumi carefully maneuvered out onto the road.

"Please tell me this comes off."

"Sure," Korra nodded.  "In a couple of days."

 

*     *     *

 

"What did she use?"  Asami chuckled.

"That blue sports drink mix that she has to have all the time," Bolin shook his head as he spoke.  "My hands didn't come clean for a week."

"One of the patrolmen asked him if he was cleaning the toilet without gloves," Mako snorted.  "Because the city puts those tablets in toilet tanks that turns the water dark blue, right?  Another fire crew heard it and the next shift they sent him a gift basket full of gloves, a toilet brush, toilet bowl cleaner, and lava soap."

"Is that why there's a toilet brush on the wall in the barracks?"  Asami wondered aloud.

"It is the same brush," Iroh piped up.  "Korra used it all day as a wand and randomly turned into the 'bathroom fairy'.  It was so funny I had it mounted."

"There's no way you let that go unanswered," Asami remarked, looking over at Bolin.

"Nope," Bolin smirked.  "I let her sweat it for a few shifts, though."

 

*     *     *

 

With lunch over and the galley cleaned, the crew retreated to different corners of the station.  Bolin took up his perch in the day room, and Korra retreated to her room.

Bolin knew he probably wouldn't get a reaction very quickly, but he grinned all the same.

It came far more quickly than he'd anticipated.  A loud banging came from down the hall, getting everyone's attention.  They came running from every corner of the station to find out what all the ruckus was about.  Bolin couldn't help a smug smile as he caught sight of Korra tearing her room apart.  Her mattress was already tossed aside and she ripped a smoke detector off of the wire supports.  It chirped loudly as she did so, making those closest to the doorway jump. 

Korra didn't even look out the door at the crowd gathered.  She opened the shallow drawer in her wall-mounted desk, pulled out a tube of superglue, and smeared a liberal helping over the bottom of the smoke detector.  She marched across the hall and into Bolin's room, where she pressed it onto the metal of his locker door.  Bolin went slack-jawed and the rest of the crew broke into raucous laughter as Korra leaned on it, holding it in place to make sure it stuck.  Iroh watched without much reaction, but he gave Korra a subtle wink.

"Bolin, I think you've met your match," Bumi guffawed, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder.

 

*     *     *

 

"That can't be the end of it," Asami giggled.

"Oh, it gets better," Bolin replied.  "She definitely had her revenge."

 

*     *     *

 

Bolin managed, after heroic effort, to silence the smoke detector that he'd found himself unable to pry off of his locker door.  Removing the dying battery had taken a great deal of work (and a couple of torn fingernails), but with it finally done, he kicked off his flip-flops, stripped off his shirt, draped it over the back of his chair, and dropped into bed.

When the tones woke him up, he'd been having a vivid dream that he had traded bodies with Pabu, his beloved pet fire ferret, and was helplessly watching Pabu eat every scrap of food in the kitchen.  He jumped out of bed with a shout and reached for his shirt; his hand gripped the back of the chair and yanked it off the floor.  He let go, letting the chair clatter back down.  The noise startled him.  Thinking he'd knocked his shirt to the floor as he got out of bed, he bent down to pick it up.

There was nothing there.

In a half-panic, Bolin grabbed his hoodie and threw it on as he sprinted out to the bay in shorts and stocking feet.  He all but took a flying leap into his bunker boots, yanked his brush pants up, made sure his hoodie was zipped all the way and jumped into the engine.

"Good of you to join us," Bumi remarked, pulling out of the bay as soon as the door was shut.  "Not enough beauty rest for you, honey?"

"I couldn't find my shirt," Bolin yawned.

"Your shirt?"  Iroh repeated.

"Yeah.  I put it where I always keep it and it wasn't there!"

"Sounds like early-onset dementia," Korra chimed in.  "You might need an MRI, buddy."

"I don't know, bu-" Bolin stopped mid-syllable as something clicked.  "Korra, where is my shirt?"

"How am I supposed to know?"  Korra asked a little too innocently.  "It's your shirt!"

"You're not wearing a shirt?"  Iroh interrupted.  "Do you not bring extra uniforms?"

"It wasn't the first thing on my mind, Cap!"  Bolin retorted.  "Korra?"

"Why do you keep asking me?"

"You know why!"

"I think you were sleepwalking!"

"Just tell me I don't have to buy new ones..."

"Really?  You think I'm that mean?"

"KIDS!"  Bumi thundered, bringing the engine to a halt and setting the parking brake.  "Don't make me turn this car around!"

Everyone piled out, grabbed a pair of exam gloves, and headed for the front door of the sardine can-sized house.  The rescue hadn't been dispatched for a reason; the caller had complained that he thought he'd broken his thumb.  The crew took a look, made sure he was safe and sober, and in short order left the man with instructions to go to urgent care.  They climbed back into the engine and left as quickly as possible.  Shift was due to end in less than an hour.

As the big apparatus turned into the entrance, they noticed that something wasn't quite right about the flagpole.  The flag of the United Republic was there; under it, though, was something they didn't quite recognize until they got closer.

There, proudly flapping in the breeze, was a pair of Avatar boxer shorts.  Bolin's underwear.

Bolin dropped his head onto the back of the seat in front of him.  Bumi started laughing and didn't stop.  By the time he pulled to a stop in the bay, he was laughing so hard that he was bent over the steering wheel with tears streaming down his face.  Iroh was impressed enough to wear an ear-to-ear shit-eating grin.

"Your shirts are somewhere in the galley," Korra said as she jumped out of the engine.  "Good luck!"

Bolin trudged inside and started looking around the galley.  Dishwasher, cabinets, trash can, no luck.  Then he opened the freezer.  There, perfectly folded and stacked neatly, were all four of his uniform shirts.  They'd been covered in a fine sheen of water and were now frozen solid.

Bumi couldn't help it.  He dropped into a chair and leaned over the table, laughing so hard he was nearly turning blue, banging on the table.

"I think it's safe to say Korra won this prank war," Iroh said.  "In all the years I've known him, I have never seen Bumi laugh this hard."

"Well-played, Korra," Bolin conceded.  "Just remember...I know where you sleep!"

"I'm shaking in my boots," Korra grinned.

 

*     *     *

 

"Whenever Bumi wants to remind Bolin of all that, he calls him 'Iceman'," Iroh added.

It was at that moment a voice sounded at the door.  Everyone looked up at the surgeon.  He was older, tall and broad-shouldered, with a kind smile and a twinkle in his eye.  "I don't mean to interrupt.  I thought that story was quite amusing."

"It was, Doctor Gao," Asami smiled at him.  "I guess everything went well?"

"She's fine," Dr. Gao nodded.  "Surgery went beautifully.  Normally we'd have her up and walking within a couple of weeks, but since we obviously can't, I've gone ahead and let a physical therapist know that she should expect to start working with Korra soon.  Korra is already in post-op.  You may see her, but I'd like the rest of you to wait until she's returned to her room."

Asami stood to leave, turning to Bolin before walking away.  "Thank you, Bolin.  I needed that."

"I thought you might," Bolin flashed a knowing half-smile.

Asami followed the signs to post-op.  She found the area as she expected - lights dim with very little noise.  She found Korra with no trouble at all.  Asami walked up just as Nuri and a nurse were working to wake Korra from anesthesia, something that wasn't fun for the patient but was vital to ensure they hadn't been overdosed on anything.

Korra's eyes opened the slightest bit and she scowled at Nuri.

"We'll let you go back to sleep," Nuri promised.  "We just needed you to wake up to make sure everything went okay."

Korra's gaze shifted to her left, where Asami stood near the foot of the bed.  Her expression brightened. 

"Hey, you," Asami smiled sweetly.

"Hey," Korra slurred.

Asami bit back a giggle at the sound.  "Fancy meeting you here."

"You look like an angel," Korra mumbled.  With that, she was out cold, but the pleasant look remained.

Asami sat down at her now-familiar post and let a little laughter surface.  You're such a dork, she thought.  And that's what I love about you.

Chapter Text

"One more, Korra!"

Korra lay in bed, covered in a fresh coat of sweat, focused singularly on her task.  The cast had been removed, replaced by a brace that could be taken off.  At the moment she was working with a physical therapist.  Their first goal was to improve flexibility.  It helped that Korra had been extremely fit at the time of the accident, but the combination of injuries made starting recovery difficult.

Kya, the best physical therapist in Republic City, was an easy choice.  She was Chief Tenzin's sister.  Kya had visited just a few days after Korra's hip replacement surgery and made it known that nobody else would be allowed to work with Korra.  At the time, Korra had been excited.

Now, trying to lift her leg two feet off the bed for the twentieth time, Korra really wanted to smack Kya.

The task done, Korra shut her eyes and sucked in deep breaths to try to center herself.  Wu-sa my Water Tribe ass, Korra thought.

"I know how frustrating this is for you," Kya said.  "You're used to being the one who helps other people.  You're doing incredibly well, though.  Most people's limits are much lower."

Korra asked the only question that had been on her mind since day one.  "When can I get out of this bed?"

Kya's eyebrows raised.  "AFter the exertion it took to do a few reps, you're ready to get up?"

"I have to have something to look forward to," Korra huffed.  "I'm tired of feeling like an invalid."

"Well, it depends largely on you," Kya sighed.  "But both too little and too much can be detrimental.  I don't see you being the lazy type.  If you don't pace yourself - if you push yourself too hard - you can very quickly end up back at square one with new injuries to contend with."

Korra nodded her understanding, though her countenance was dejected.

"I don't see why we can't try sitting you up tomorrow," Kya offered with a conspiratorial grin.  "You need to rest now, but when I come in tomorrow, we'll work on putting a little weight on that hip."

 

*     *     *

 

Now back to work, Asami was trying to adjust to not being with Korra all the time.  As long as she stayed busy she was able to focus; the instant things quieted down, Asami's mind wandered back up to the seventh floor.  She stopped typing mid-sentence and blanked out, eyes unfocused.

"Doctor Sato?"

The voice that sounded next to her was warm and gentle, but it made her jump all the same.  She looked to her right and met Kya's knowing gaze.

"I didn't mean to startle you," Kya said as she lowered herself into a chair.

"It's okay," Asami chuckled nervously.  "My mind was elsewhere."

"I think that's normal," Kya chuckled.

"How's she doing?"

Kya let out a long sigh before responding.  "Before I answer that, let me preface my reply by saying that she's a typical firefighter."

"Is that good or bad?"  Asami asked cautiously.

"It can be both," Kya replied.  "She's very determined and has high expectations of herself.  Those are great qualities, but when taken too far, they can also be a problem.  She's very frustrated.  Some frustration is expected, but she's trying to run before she walks, so to speak."

"How so?"  Asami pressed, brow furrowed.

"The only question she asked today was, 'when can I get out of this bed'," Kya replied.  "She didn't realize coming into this that it would go slowly."

"You told us, though," Asami recalled, shaking her head.  "When you first came to meet with us, you told us - told her - that it would take time."

"But she didn't understand what I was saying," Kya returned.  "This is the part where being a typical firefighter is a drawback.  When I mentioned physical therapy, her mind heard, 'it's time to go to work' and she immediately went into drill mode."

Asami slumped in her chair.  She never considered the possibility that Korra would approach this problem the way she approached a fire - with an almost unhealthy dose of brute strength.  I should have thought about it, she thought.  That's always been the way she approaches a problem.

"You're not to blame, Asami," Kya reassured her.  "You two are very different, but you can't be expected to anticipate every bump in the road.  Look, I know that you want to support her, but you need to take care of yourself, too.  Your entire life can't revolve around work and Korra.  Go home once in a while.  Go to the park.  Get a workout somewhere other than the physical therapy wing.  You can only be there for her if you're at your best.  It's pretty obvious that you're reaching the end of your rope."

Asami stared at the older woman in disbelief.  None of what she'd just heard had really crossed her mind.

"As for Korra, she just discovered that this will be more work than she thought," Kya continued, "and will take a lot longer than she anticipated.  She was pretty down when I left.  Tomorrow we're going to sit her up for the first time."

The further things went, the more overwhelming it felt.  That was the opposite of what Asami expected to feel by now.

 

*     *     *

 

"Newly-crowned Earth Kingdom monarch Prince Wu is struggling to bring the unrest in Ba Sing Se under control," the voice of Shiro floated through the room as Jinora helped Kai get dressed.  After three surgeries, he was finally ready to go home.  "Riots are continuing in the lower ring one month after the death of the Earth Queen.  The young ruler, who just six months ago was snapped at a party on his yacht surrounded by strippers and at least one porn actress, addressed the press today with what he called a plan for peace."

Cut to earlier footage of an impossibly young man in an expensive tailored suit and perfectly-manicured hair.  "The Earth Kingdom will no longer tolerate the violence being spurred on by political agitators in Ba Sing Se.  Starting tonight, I am deploying the army to bring the population under control.  A curfew and checkpoints will be strictly enforced.  Until the people learn to control themselves, there will be no form of public protest."

"Just what they needed," Jinora remarked, gently pulling Kai's braced arm through the sleeve of a t-shirt.  "A billionaire playboy to take over the throne and start taking rights away as soon as he doesn't get what he wants."

"Spirits," Bumi cursed.  "Has this kid even hit puberty yet?  Your boyfriend has more facial hair!"

"Thanks, geezer," Kai snarked, sticking out the only finger he'd never have shown his mother.

Bumi chuckled at him.

"Seriously, Uncle Bumi," Jinora continued.  "Do you really still think we shouldn't get involved?  I mean, look at what he's doing.  Listen to him."

"If President Raiko so much as farts in the wrong direction, that punk is gonna lose his mind," Bumi replied.

"He's already lost it," Kai interjected through his teeth.  His jaw was still wired shut.

"I don't think you can lose something you never had," Jinora quipped.  "He's banning all public protest.  Next he'll ban all criticism against the monarchy!"

"It's disgusting, kiddo, but we still have to tread carefully," Bumi said.  "For all we know, his advisers are already planning something.  An alliance does not give us the right to step in and govern by force when we don't like something the monarchy does."

"This is gonna get a lot worse," Kai muttered.

"That it is," Bumi grumbled.  "I wish I could say otherwise, but you're right."

 

*     *     *

 

The seventh floor - intensive rehabilitation - was alive with patients at various stages of healing out for walks with therapists and family members.  Asami made her way down the hallway, fixed on an open door about two-thirds of the way down.  Once in front of the placard marked "726", she paused watching and listening to the goings-on inside.

The bed was laid flat.  Korra was turned on her stomach, and Kya was carefully working her hands around the vertebrae that had been cracked in the fall.

"Any pain or discomfort?"  Kya asked.

"No," Korra replied.  "That actually feels really good."

"Your x-rays showed no evidence of permanent damage," Kya said.  "Scars are healing nicely.  Okay...ready to turn back over?"

"If I have to," Korra sighed.

The tech who had accompanied Kya stepped back to the bedside and the pair of them helped turn Korra onto her back again.  Once she was comfortable, Kya started checking her hip.

"Have you noticed any burning or tingling in your left leg?"  Kya asked.

"No," Korra grunted, making a face as Kya pressed in on the newly-replaced joint.  "But I've had it with those inflating sleeves."

"You'll be happy to know that you'll be spending less time in those as you progress," Kya smiled.

"I'll be happy when I can burn them," Korra retorted.

That's my cue, Asami thought, hearing the edge in Korra's tone.  She entered the room with a warm smile and a polite greeting.  "How are we?"

"We're about to try sitting up," Kya grinned.  "Korra, I need you to listen carefully.  If you feel off in the slightest - lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, anything - I need you to tell me.  Don't wait until it's unbearable, tell me right away.  Okay?"

Korra nodded.

Kya and her tech took Korra's hands in a lift grip.  Korra kept her arms bent at the elbows and braced herself; with supportive hands on both shoulders, Korra was slowly and carefully raised into a sitting position.  She winced slightly once she was upright and Asami was ready to call a halt to it.  Korra looked her in the eye and shook her head.

"What's up, Korra?"  Kya asked, a note of caution in her voice.

"I'm fine," Korra replied.  "Just a muscle cramp.  It went away quickly."

"That's the kind of thing I'm talking about," Kya warned.  "If you're in pain, I need to know."

"I promise, I'm fine," Korra swore.  "I just feel a little off-balance.  I haven't tried to sit up or use my core muscles in a month."

"Okay," Kya agreed, slowly letting go of Korra's arm.  "I'm letting go.  Don't bend forward past ninety degrees or sway to either side.  Let's see how you hold yourself up."

Korra held up well for about a minute before she began to show signs of overexertion.  Kya stepped in again for support, but Korra didn't seem happy.

"Please don't lay me back down," Korra pleaded.  "I really don't know how much longer I can handle being on my back."

"Let's see how long you can tolerate sitting at a seventy-five degree incline," Kya offered.  She pushed a button to raise the head of the bed.  Once it was high enough, Kya gently laid Korra back and watched for signs of discomfort.

"GAH!"  Korra yelped, folding herself back up quickly, face contorted in pain.  Everyone jumped to give her support again, stopping suddenly when she grinned and pointed at Kya as if to say I got you!

"You are such a firefighter," Kya grumbled, giving Korra the stinkeye.

"I second that," Asami remarked, her heart in her throat.

"And you are definitely Bumi's sister," Korra giggled.

"Asami, she's all yours," Kya panned.  She stepped around the bed and made for the door.

"Thank you, Kya!" Korra called after her.

"Behave," Kya joked.

Asami turned back to Korra.  She lowered the railing and sat down on the bed facing Korra and reached for her hand.  "Do you feel that sense of humor, or are you just putting on a brave face?'

"If I lie and say I feel fine, would you believe me?"  Korra was only half-joking.

"Not if you give away the lie before telling it," Asami replied with a smirk.  "I'm glad that you're trying to think of other people, Korra, but if you're not honest sometime, it'll find its way out.  What's going through your head?"

There it is, Asami thought.  I might as well come out and ask.

"I just thought I'd be able to get out of bed by now," Korra griped.  "I feel useless like this."

"If you push yourself too hard, you could end up being permanently useless," Asami said, her thumb gently stroking the back of Korra's hand.  "Baby, you have to stop pushing yourself so hard.  You'll be okay as long as you give yourself the time you need."

By the look on Korra's face, Asami could tell something else was amiss.  Korra gave a nod of acknowledgement but she was holding something back. 

"Talk to me?"  Asami implored.  "I can't help you if I don't know what's going on."

"Knock, knock!"

Whether Bolin had the best or worst timing in the world, Asami couldn't decide.  Without getting up, she turned to look; just outside the door she spied Bumi, whom she hadn't seen in weeks.  Someone else was in the hallway with him, just out of sight.

"Someone was finally discharged, but he couldn't leave without coming to see you," Bolin smiled as he walked in.

Behind him entered Bumi, Jinora, and Kai.

"Look!  The booter survived!"  Korra brightened considerably when she caught sight of Kai.  "Jeez, kid, we're gonna need to pin a note to your shirt or something, as often as we lose you!"

"Okay, mom," Kai joked.

"OH!"  Korra shot back.  "Listen to this kid!  Go find the hose puller, booter!"

Korra, Bumi, and Kai all cracked up, laughing until they nearly cried.  Jinora just shook her head at them.  "Kai, they played that joke on you, didn't they?"

Kai nodded, his face bright red.  "Yeah!"

"It's a story for another day," Korra wheezed.  "But it's a good one.  Kai's a good sport."

Just like that, Kai started to get somber.  "Hey, Korra?"

"What's up, buddy?" 

"I'm sorry."

The words hit Korra like a smack on the nose, evidenced by the physical flinch.  "What the hell for?"

Kai looked like he was near tears.  "I couldn't hold on."

Everyone froze.  Asami's stomach dropped out.  She hadn't even considered how Kai might feel about all of this.  She felt bad for having not gone to see him despite being tied up with her own concerns.  Korra's jaw dropped open, a look of complete shock on her face.  Jinora stepped forward to stroke his back.  Bumi just dropped his chin to his chest, his arms already crossed.  Bolin looked as stunned as Korra.

Korra was the first to find her voice.  "I don't ever want to hear you say that again."

Kai looked up at her, his expression confused.

"You don't owe me anything," Korra said.  "Bumi couldn't have held on, and he's a bigger badass than the rest of us put together."

Bumi snorted.  "Ostrich-horse shit."

"I'm serious, Kai," Korra pressed.  "You probably saved our lives by hanging on as long as you did.  Did you even think about letting go of me?"

Kai just shook his head, still looking forlorn.

"Spirits, kid," Korra rasped, wiping furiously at the tears that suddenly appeared.  "If every recruit coming out of the academy was as dedicated as you, we wouldn't have half of the problems we end up with.  I don't ever want to hear you beat yourself up over this.  Do you understand?"

Kai nodded.

"Let me hear you say it."

"Yeah."

Korra offered her hand and Kai took it in an upside-down shake.  "I'd hug you, but it might hurt your manly image."

"Ah, shit," Bumi growled.  "Kid's got me crying now.  I don't think anyone's walkin' outta here with their man-card today."

Asami couldn't help but giggle at the remark.  Rarely had she been prouder of her lover than she did in this moment, watching Korra refuse to let a friend take the blame for something that had nearly killed them both.  She could have been angry and bitter, but she knew where the blame lay, and she wasn't about to let the wrong person own it.

"She's right, Kai," Asami finally said, not bothering to wipe her own tears away.  "You gave more than anyone could have asked.  I don't know what I would have done if..."

Everyone went silent.  They all knew exactly what she meant, and they all agreed.

Chapter Text

One week into physical therapy, Korra felt more frustration than she had ever felt before in her life.  Her very first attempt at standing was an abysmal failure; it started with promise.  Korra had no difficulty putting weight on her right leg.  Her back gave her no issues whatsoever.  With assistance, she'd been able to stand just fine.  As soon as she tried to shift her weight onto her left leg, it crumpled underneath her, sending her sailing forward.  Kya was there to catch her.

She's a lot stronger than she looks, Korra thought, grateful that she wasn't on the floor.

"Did you feel any pain when you tried to put weight on that leg?"  Kya asked, helping Korra to right herself.

"For a split second it hurt so bad it took my breath away," Korra panted, steadying herself on the parallel support bars.  "Now it's just throbbing like a sonofabitch."

"Okay," Kya said.  She kept her hands on Korra's hips but took a short step back.  "Let's try the same thing, just a little more slowly."

With the memory of the pain it had caused still fresh in her mind, Korra took a much more careful step.  It made no difference; it didn't hurt quite as badly, but it was still enough for her to pitch forward again.  Kya was there, steady and sure, and caught her safely.

"What hurts the most?"  Kya asked.  "Is it your hip or your ankle?"

Korra had to take a moment to collect herself before responding.  She hadn't expected this much pain to be involved.  "It's my ankle."

"Okay...I think we should consult with Doctor Gao before you go any further," Kya said.  Her tech steadied the wheelchair and between them Korra had plenty of support.  "I'd like him to do some new x-rays on your ankle."

Korra just smacked the arm of the wheelchair in anger.

"You just started, Korra," Kya tried to reassure her, crouching to look her in the face.  "I know you weren't expecting this, but you're going to have a few failures at first.  It's only a setback if you let it become one."

How would you know?  Korra wondered, angrily wiping her eyes.  You're not in this chair.  You don't wonder if you'll never walk again.

Korra wondered for the hundredth time if she was just being dramatic.  Why would I worry about never walking again?  It's a broken ankle and a hip replacement.  I didn't sever my spinal cord.

As Kya saw her back to her room, her inner dialogue continued.  Let's be real, she thought.  What I'm really afraid of is that I'll never go back to work.  Who am I if I'm not a firefighter?  What the hell would I do?  I've never trained to do anything else.  I'd just be a drain on Asami.

Korra was snapped from her reverie by the sensation of the wheelchair stopping next to her bed.  She turned a pleading look toward Kya.  "Could I please try to stand one more time?"  She asked.  "Just with my right leg."

"Let's try a stand and pivot," Kya agreed.  She and the tech carefully helped her stand.  With all of her weight on her right leg, they helped her do a half-turn, sat her on the bed, then helped her swing her legs over as she pivoted to her right.

"I never thought doing something so simple could make me feel better," Korra lied.

Kya smiled at her.  "I'll talk to Doctor Gao and schedule a series of x-rays.  I'll let Asami know so she can come up here, too.  Are you still in pain?"

Korra shook her head, unwilling to accept what had happened.  If I tell the truth you won't let me try to walk again for a week.

"Korra, please tell me the truth," Kya admonished her.  "You look like you're about to vomit."

"What happens if I am?"  Korra weakly shot back.  "I won't get out of this bed until Spirits know when!"

"Who told you that?"  Kya half-demanded.  "I know I didn't.  There is no reason in the Four Nations for you to sit here in agony.  Being in pain and needing some medication does not mean your therapy stops."

Korra stared at her lap, feeling very much like a petulant child.  Of course she's right.  I was the one who made that assumption.

"If you are going to be successful, I need you to be honest," Kya said.  "Now...do you need pain meds?"

Korra nodded.

What the hell is wrong with me?

 

*     *     *

 

Asami was headed toward Korra's room when she spotted Kya at the nurse's station.  As soon as Kya looked up, she motioned for Asami.

"How's the patient?"  Asami chirped.  Her smile faded when she saw Kya's somber expression.

"Korra has had a rough day," Kya gave a tired sigh as she leaned against the counter.  "She's able to put weight on her right leg with no problem at all.  Her left ankle is causing problems, and every time she tried to put the slightest bit of weight on it, the whole leg gave.  What's worse, though, is that somehow she got the impression that if she admits to needing pain medication - or even just being in pain at all - that her therapy would be put on hold or I might not allow her to keep working toward getting on her feet again."

Asami's jaw dropped in shock.  "Did she say why she believed that?"

"No," Kya replied.  "And she never did answer me when I asked her.  I'm afraid she's starting to shut people out because she thinks that admitting any weakness at all will be a setback.  She's still trying to power through it and it's not going to work."

Just then, Dr. Gao approached.  He gave a terse smile, one Asami recognized all too well as an indicator of bad news.  "I've looked over her x-rays," he sighed.  "Doctor Sato, I'm glad you're here.  Korra is going to need some support."

Asami's jaw clenched as she followed Dr. Gao into Korra's room.  Korra looked comfortable, and once she was close enough Asami noticed that her pupils were constricted.  She leaned in to kiss Korra's forehead, relieved that Korra had finally agreed to pain meds.

"My fiancée, my physical therapist, and my surgeon just walked into the room together," Korra remarked.  "This can't be good."

Dr. Gao smiled at her.  "Korra, I need to talk to you about your ankle," he said, pulling up a chair and sitting down.  "I wasn't able to discuss options with you after your original surgery for obvious reasons.  The injury to your ankle was not an average break.  Your tibia and fibula were cracked, but they were left intact; it was the talus that was injured.  Your talus connects your tibia and fibula to the rest of your ankle, and it snapped in half.  I was able to use a pair of small screws to bring the bone back together, and it looks like it is healing, but breaking a talus can cause a lot of problems.  We often don't know what to expect until you start physical therapy, and I'm sorry to say that your quality of life will probably never be the same."

Korra stared, her expression dumbfounded.  Asami now wished that she had taken the time to find out more details; while Korra was comatose, she had read her chart and knew that the talus had been broken, but she'd never asked to see the x-rays of the initial damage.  Shit, Asami thought, knowing perfectly well where the conversation was going.

"What do you mean, my quality of life will probably never be the same?"  Korra repeated hesitantly.

"It is going to be extremely difficult for you to walk normally," Dr. Gao replied.  "I don't forsee you regaining full use of your left foot."

Asami's stomach twisted in knots.  She really wished she had been able to speak with Dr. Gao first.  It would have been nice to have some warning.  In here, she was not a doctor, and she couldn't react as one.

"But I'll be able to go back to work, right?"  Korra asked, clearly unable to absorb what she was being told.

"If you do, it will be very difficult," Dr. Gao gently replied.

"'If'?"  Korra repeated.

Dr. Gao took a deep breath and leaned forward, elbows on his knees, before continuing.  "There is an option, Korra.  You won't like the idea, but it presents the best chance possible for you to completely recover and live a normal life.  Before you dismiss it, at least listen to what I have to say."

Korra nodded.

"We could amputate.  Remove a portion of your leg just below the knee.  I can't say who, but I recently had a patient who lost the same portion of his leg to an infection.  He was able to return to his post with the Navy just eight weeks after surgery."

Asami looked at Korra.  All of the color had drained from Korra's face and her expression betrayed total shock.  Asami took Korra's hand between both of hers, unsure of how much more Korra could take.  "Korra?"  Asami quietly called.  "Take a breath, sweetie."

As if waiting to be told to do so, Korra obeyed, taking a deep, shuddering breath.  She didn't look at anyone for a long while.  Finally, her gaze steadied, and she spoke.  "So...my options are to try to make it work and possibly go back to work, or amputate and never go back to work?"

"Your best chance to go back to work is to amputate," Dr. Gao corrected her.  "If you keep your foot, you might be able to get back to work in the short term, but it won't be long before you're out again.  Eventually you'll just be dragging around dead weight.  You'll need crutches for the simplest tasks."

"I can't deal with this," Korra blurted, cutting him off.

Dr. Gao stood slowly before speaking.  "You don't have to decide anything right now," he said.  "Take some time.  Think about it.  Your fiancée is an excellent sounding board."

As he and Kya left, Asami turned her full focus on Korra again.  "Baby?"

"Did you know it was this bad?"  Korra asked, gaze fixed upon the wall.  Her eyes were beginning to water.

"No," Asami replied.  She stroked the back of Korra's hand and willed her to understand.  "If I had, I would have told you."

"Why didn't he say something before?"  Korra asked.

"That bone can be tricky," Asami said.  "It doesn't always end badly.  We don't want to present the worst-case scenario unless we really have to.  Like he said, we don't usually know until physical therapy starts at the earliest."

"I don't think he knows what he's suggesting," Korra said, voice cracking.  "National Firefighter Safety Standards specifically bar any amputee from being a firefighter.  If I amputate, I'm done, Asami.  I'll never work again."

"Those standards need to change," Asami said defiantly.  "With the advances made in prosthetics and therapy over the last two years alone, they're allowing amputees to serve in the military.  I've read multiple cases about it.  If you go out there and prove them wrong, you could open the door for a lot of people who would be great at this!"

"How likely do you really think it is that I'll be able to change a standard for firefighter safety?"  Korra shot back.  "I might as well build a highway to Ember Island while I'm at it!"

"Korra, you are talking about spending the rest of your life in severe pain," Asami pressed.

"I'm talking about my career," Korra retorted.

"You have options!"  Asami was getting upset.  This is why doctors don't treat their own families, she thought.  "If you go back to work like this, you could end up breaking it again.  If that happens, you may not have a choice!"

Korra chuckled mirthlessly.  "So you're saying I'm screwed either way?"

"Would you please stop looking at this like it's the end of the world?"  Asami begged.  Her voice cracked as she choked on tears.

"I need some time alone."

Korra's words felt like a slap in the face.  Asami didn't know how to respond at first, but she knew that if she responded in anger it would only complicate things.  Korra was already in a fragile state; the last thing she needed was to think Asami didn't understand.  After several minutes of tense silence, Asami brought Korra's hand up to her lips and kissed the backs of her fingers.

"I love you," Asami said, "and I will always be here for you."

She waited only a moment for a response she wasn't sure Korra was capable of giving.  She gently laid Korra's hand back down on the bed and walked away, leaving Korra staring blankly at the wall.

 

*     *     *

 

The next morning, Asami was getting ready to head back to the hospital when the doorbell rang.  She set her coffee down and made her way to the front door, wondering who would come to the house at nine in the morning.  She wasn't working, but everyone she knew was aware that she was planning to spend at least half of her day at the hospital anyway.

She froze with her hand on the door latch as a single thought crossed her mind.  What if it's Zaheer?

The only weapons they kept in the house were in the kwoon, down in the basement.  Asami looked through the peephole, breath catching in her chest at the person she saw.  She quickly unlocked the door and flung it wide.

"Senna?"  Asami said, instantly imagining the worst.  Shit...she could've had a pulmonary embolism.  But they would have called me, wouldn't they?  She ushered her future mother-in-law inside and shut the door.  "Is something wrong?"

"Why would something be -" Senna began, looking confused at first.  Realization dawned on her and it showed on her face.  "Oh, Korra hasn't spoken to you."

It was phrased as a statement rather than a question, and Asami was taken aback.  "Spoken to me about what?  I just saw her yesterday."

Senna suddenly looked mortified.  "Oh, Spirits...Asami, I'm so sorry.  I just gave you a heart attack, didn't I?"

"Just a little, yeah," Asami replied, giggling with relief.  "Why would Korra need to speak with me?  And why are you back in Republic City so soon?"

"You should not have to hear this from me," Senna said apologetically.  "I'm going to have a heartfelt conversation with Korra about this...she wanted to try something different.  She called us yesterday not long after you left and told us what Doctor Gao had said.  It turns out that Kya's mother, Katara, is the foremost authority on physical therapy and is willing to try water therapy with her."

Asami was stunned.  Katara was well-known in the medical community as a pioneer of some of the best advances in physical therapy over five decades.  Her practice only took on the most challenging patients - and it was in the South Pole.  "So - you're here to take her home?"

Senna caught on to the rising panic, it seemed, yet she remained calm.  "I don't know why she didn't call you after she talked to us.  I know that this whole experience has been incredibly stressful for you, but I think she's forgotten about that.  Please don't take this the wrong way.  She loves you more than anything in this world, Asami.  She just doesn't understand what's going on right now."

"But why would she make a decision like this and not talk to me?"  Asami asked, feeling strangely void of emotion.

"I think we should both ask her about that," Senna sighed.  "Now...I need to pack a bag for her.  Our flight leaves at one o'clock.  The transport will be there to pick her up at noon."

 

*     *     *

 

One small bag and a handful of awkward moments later, Asami was walking into the hospital again with Senna next to her.  Before she knew it, she was walking into Korra's room.  She rapidly went from being emotionless to near tears.  Korra was sitting up and looked like she hadn't slept a wink.  Circles had begun to form under her eyes and they were red around the edges, as if a fair amount of time had been spent crying.

Senna set the bag down and turned toward the door.  "I'm going to give you two time to talk," she said, giving Asami's arm a squeeze as she walked out.

asami slowly made her way further in.  She took up her familiar perch on the edge of the bed, facing Korra.  "Babe...you look like shit."

Korra's lip curled in the slightest of smiles.

"Why, Korra?  Why would you pack up and leave without telling me first?"

The waif of a smile disappeared.  "I'm sorry.  I was afraid you'd try to talk me out of it."

"Why would I do that?"

"Because you accepted what the surgeon said without question."

Asami heaved out a long sigh before replying.  "Charlie Gao is a gifted orthopedic surgeon.  I've seen him work near-miracles.  If I gave you the impression that I wasn't willing to question him, it's only because I know that he wouldn't suggest something that radical without having considered every possibility.  He's repaired the bone, but he suspects that it will never fully heal.  I don't want to see you in constant pain, trying to do a job that's physically demanding under normal circumstances on a foot that won't get better."

Korra shook her head, making clear that she disagreed.

"I would be more than happy to support you, Korra.  If this is what you want to try, then I'll support you.  I just wish you would have talked to me about it, and it really hurts that you didn't."

"I'm sorry."

After a brief silence, Asami changed the direction of the conversation.  "Did Katara give you an idea of how long she'd have you?"

"About three weeks," Korra replied.  "Then I'd come back and keep working with Kya."

Asami wasn't surprised at the time frame, but the length of time Korra would be away was upsetting nonetheless.  "I should be going with you."

"No," Korra shook her head, responding quickly.  "You've already taken too much time off work for me.  Even the best trauma resident in the Four Nations has to go back to work sometime."

"I wouldn't go quite that far," Asami remarked, cocking one eyebrow.  It lessened the blow slightly to hear Korra trying to make her feel better.  "Did you get any sleep last night?"

Korra exhaled slowly and looked around the room briefly, as if searching the air for the right answer.  "No."

"Why?"  Asami asked.  "Is it because of what Doctor Gao said, or because you didn't know how to tell me what you were doing?"

"A little of both, I think," Korra said.

At that moment, Senna returned with the transport crew close at heel.  "I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's time to go."

Asami nodded and stood, moving out of the way for the two-man crew to move her to the gurney.  Two firefighters whom Asami had never met were there, along with Assistant Chief Izumi.  Asami almost didn't recognize her.  She'd been completely silent upon entering the room, calling no attention to herself.

"Chief Izumi," Korra greeted her superior, speaking just as Asami realized who she was.  "I wasn't expecting to see you, ma'am."

"I wanted to oversee this myself," Izumi said.  "Being an Assistant Chief does not mean I don't work anymore, firefighter."

Korra smiled broadly when she was addressed by her rank.

The crew, Izumi included, worked together to move Korra from the bed to the gurney.  After lowering the head of the bed, they used the sheets to lift and move her.  Once on the gurney, the crew belted her in and made her comfortable (as much as they could on a gurney).  They carefully moved her downstairs, out through the ambulance bay, and loaded her into the rescue; Izumi coordinated with Asami to make sure they knew what her car looked like so that they knew when she was ready to follow them to the airport.

Once there, Asami parked outside the gates and got into the back of the rescue.  She rode the short distance onto the tarmac and the rescue came to a stop not far from one of the largest medical transport planes Asami had ever seen.  Most flight med planes were little more than puddle-jumpers, advanced prop planes capable of flying between Republic City, Ba Sing Se, and Capital City with patients in need of specialized care.  Harbor City was more than twice the distance and required a plane with bigger fuel tanks.  The jet she would be on was, as a result, much nicer than most air transports.

They paused long enough for the couple to say goodbye.  Asami stroked Korra's hair out of her face and kissed her deeply.  She was trying not to lose control over her emotions, but this moment was taxing her ability to do so.  Without a word Asami stepped back and allowed the crew to lift her into the plane.  They removed the top of the gurney from its frame, cutting the weight nearly in half and leaving the bulk of the device behind.  Senna gave Asami a tight hug and promised to contact her as soon as they landed.  A few minutes later, the crew came out of the plane and took Asami back to her car.  Izumi promised to check in with her in a few days, and the crew left.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami had driven home in a fog.  Everything had happened so suddenly that she hadn't had time to process it, and Korra hadn't said much to make her feel any better about the way it had gone down.  She made it home, parked the car, thought about the fact that Korra's truck was still parked at the station, and went inside, where she finally allowed herself to break down.  She'd cried herself to sleep wondering what she had done - or not done - to make Korra feel as if this was the best way to handle it.

She woke some hours later to the setting sun and her phone beeping an alert.  She had a text message from Korra.

{We're here.  I love you.}

Asami stared at the screen until she couldn't read the words any longer before she responded.

{Get some rest and call me tomorrow.}

Please don't push yourself too hard.  Don't get so frustrated that you can't function.  You can do this.  She thought all of these things, but typed none.  She didn't think now was the time for a big discussion and knew for sure that she didn't want to have it over the phone.  More tears found their way to the surface.

{I love you, too.}

Chapter Text

All asami got the next day was a text.

{Started water therapy today.  Really worn out.  I'll call soon.}

It ended up being the only direct communication she received from Korra.

The next day came and went with nothing, and Asami stayed up far later than she should have waiting for a call that never came.  She wanted to call Senna, but this wasn't something that Korra's parents needed to be involved in.  The second day came and went much the same; she wanted to text Korra, but was afraid of coming across as an annoying mother hen.  By the end of day three Asami was crying herself to sleep.  One week, she thought.  I'll give it one week.  If I don't hear from her by the weekend I'll call Senna.

She found herself working almost constantly, trying to stay busy to keep her mind off of the situation.  If she knew a crew was coming, she avoided them - particularly Engine One.  She knew they'd want to talk and she didn't know what to say.  Some nights she slept in the doctor's quarters, and when she did go home it was usually with take-out and a bottle of wine.

She allowed two whole weeks to pass before she dialed Senna's cell phone.

"Asami!"  Senna answered brightly.  "How are you?"

"Worried," Asami replied, deciding that honesty was the best policy.  "How's Korra?"

"She hasn't been calling you?"  Senna asked, sounding genuinely surprised.

"I got a text message her first day in therapy," Asami sighed.  "Since then, not a peep."

"Oh, Spirits," Senna quietly swore.  "Asami, I don't know what to say.  She's never been this bad at communicating.  I can't believe she hasn't contacted you at all.  You're the only person she talks about!"

That last remark was a surprise.  Asami had been convinced that Korra was upset with her for suggesting that amputation was her best option.  Worst-case scenarios had dominated her thoughts for two weeks, refusing to allow her a moment's rest.  To hear that Korra was still talking about her all this time...

"Asami, are you still there?"  Senna's voice broke through the fog.

"Yeah," Asami shook her head, surprised at how revelatory her words had been.  "I'm sorry, just...got lost in thought."

"I'll have her call you tonight," Senna promised.

"No," Asami stopped her.  "Let's give it a little while.  Give her time to do whatever she's trying to do."

"Okay," Senna seemed confused.  "Do you want me to keep you updated?"

"Would you?"  Asami begged.  "This has made me a mess."

"Okay.  I'll be in contact every day."

 

*     *     *

 

Senna: {Not much to say today.  She's pushing herself pretty hard.  She comes back in time for dinner and immediately crashes.  She didn't talk much tonight - she seemed to be a little discouraged.}

Asami: {Did she say what happened?}

Senna: {No.  Katara didn't express any concern, so we just gave her some space.}

Asami: {Thank you, Senna.}

 

*     *     *

 

Mako carefully stretched his fingers, the movement slightly hampered by the brace on his arm.  He felt the soreness in his muscles every time he did it.  They were still healing, as were his damaged radius and ulna.  It was still nice to be able to open the brace and let his skin breathe, even scratch an itch.  The cast had been unbearably stifling.  By the time his orthopedic surgeon removed it, Mako had threatened to rip it off himself.

He sat in the new task force office, staring at a series of mostly-blank whiteboards and corkboards.  In the middle, Zaheer's mugshot scowled down at him.  While they had suspected Xai Bau may have been helping him, they had little to no material evidence to go on - and his name written below a large question mark to the right of Zaheer.

A new voice interrupted his half-blank thoughts.  "If you stare any harder at that mugshot, you might set it on fire."

Mako turned to find Chief Lin standing in the doorway.  She moved further in and shut the door.

"Got any fresh ideas?"  Lin asked.  She dropped into a chair across the table from Mako.

Mako huffed out an exasperated sigh.  "Bring back elemental bending and move Earth to find him?"

Lin smirked at him.  "Sounds more doable than anything else we've got so far."

"Where do we start, Chief?"  He asked.  "It seems like we're back to square one."

"We are, Detective," Lin sighed.  "We're blind and deaf, too.  We don't have a single lead, solid or circumstantial.  Your work on the Red Lotus before the bombing would have been far more useful if your prick of a lazy Lieutenant hadn't blown it off.  After P'Li died while attacking that kid, they ghosted.  Every location you had for them was sterilized.  Forensics couldn't find so much as a pubic hair in the latrines."

"They would have done that anyway," Mako replied, his eyebrows twitching upwards at the thought.

"Not if your Lieutenant had taken you seriously at first," Lin returned.  "If he hadn't laughed you off as an overzealous rookie, it's possible that none of this would have happened."

Mako sat up straight, his jaw dropped slightly, and his eyes went wide.  "Chief?  Have we checked him out?"

Lin caught on immediately.  Her expression turned to shock as well.  "I can't believe the thought didn't cross my mind.  I'll reach out to get a warrant.  You go see if he's home.  Don't approach him, Mako, just put eyes on him!"

He didn't need to be told twice.  He was out the door before she'd finished speaking.

 

*     *     *

 

Senna: {She was in much better spirits today.  She actually ate something substantial rather than chasing her food around her plate!}

Asami: {That's great!  Did Katara say how she's doing?}

Senna: {She didn't give any specifics, but she's very hopeful that Korra will do well.}

 

*     *     *

 

Kai strode through the front door of the fire administration building with a mixture of hesitance and excitement.  He'd deliberately avoided looking at the shell of the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center next door; he knew that construction had begun after the end of the investigation, but he hadn't mentally prepared himself to be there again.  It hadn't occurred to him before driving out there that, like it or not, the building was still there and at some point he'd have to face it.  If he was brutally honest, he'd never considered the possibility that it would be difficult to be here again.

"Kai?"

A familiar voice jolted him from his thoughts.  He looked around, unsure how he'd made it past the foyer without noticing.  Jinora was in front of him.  She looked as though she were afraid to touch him.

"Hey," Kai greeted her, pasting a smile on his face.

"Are you okay?"  Jinora asked.

"Yeah, I'm good," He replied.

"You kinda...shuffled through the foyer and just stopped and stared into space," she said quietly.  "You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, I promise," he lied.  He could feel his ears heating up and prayed they weren't turning red.  "I'm just thinking about all the things I need to do to get back to work."

"You'll do just fine," she assured him.  "Assistant Chief Izumi is waiting in her office.  You're not going before the board again, she just wants to talk to you before you take the physical."

Kai nodded and smiled.  He wanted to hug her, but they had long ago agreed to avoid all public displays of affection while on duty.  He gave her a sly wink and headed for the elevator, making his way up to the sixth floor.  He took his time walking to his destination.  He'd noticed the look on Jinora's face before they parted - she had to know that he wasn't being forthcoming about what was going on in his mind.  I'll tell her when we have time to really talk, he thought, coming to a stop in front of Izumi's office.  He felt his face heat up along with his ears at the thought of telling anyone, especially his girlfriend, about that moment of weakness.

"Come on in, Kai," said a friendly voice from inside.

That was when he realized that the door was slightly ajar.  How did I not see that when I walked up?  He pushed the door open and stepped inside, smiling as he locked eyes with the legendary Assistant Chief Izumi.  He shut the door behind him as he entered.  Am I losing my mind?

Izumi stood and offered her hand.  "Damn good to see you back on your feet, Firefighter."

Kai shook her hand, impressed by her grip strength at her age.  "Thanks, Chief.  It's good to be upright again."

Izumi sat back down and gestured to one of the chairs in front of her desk.  "I understand you've advanced quickly through physical therapy and have been cleared to return to work," she said.  "How are you feeling?"

Kai fussed with the collar of his Class B uniform and shifted in his seat, wondering briefly how the chiefs put up with such attire every day.  "Well, I'm not sure how you can stand wearing collared shirts, but otherwise I'm great!"

Izumi chuckled, likely at his youthful fidgeting.  "I think you'll get used to it.  So...I know you've talked to the investigators."

"Many times," he replied.

"I also understand that our Chaplain has grown rather...um...fond of you," Izumi grinned.

He blushed again and grinned back like an idiot.  "Yeah.  I'm kinda fond of her, too."

Her smile at this point was genuine.  "I have been informed that you have not made an appointment with the counselor that we referred you to."

Kai suddenly wanted to disappear.  "Um...I thought that was just a suggestion."

"It's not," she replied, although she wasn't harsh with her words.  "Nothing says you need to go for the rest of yourlife, but before I can sign off on your orders to return, I need confirmation that you've gone."

Kai shifted uncomfortably again.

"Nothing you say will get back to anyone here," she promised.  "Well...unless the counselor feels you shouldn't return yet.  I'm not sure I forsee that being a problem."

Kai stared at his lap.

"I know it's not easy to talk to people about what you've gone through," she said, "and I promise, the counselor isn't going to send us a report.  It's okay for you to have a hard time, Kai. I just want to make sure you're taking care of it.  Taking care of yourself.  Make sense?"

Kai schooled himself, looked her in the eye, and nodded.

"I hear you've been practicing for the physical on your own time."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Station One is still your home.  A-shift starts up again in a couple of days.  Why don't you go work out and drill with your crew?"

He perked up at the offer.  "Really?"

"Since all we're waiting on is the counseling, it would be perfect for you to ease your way back to the job."

"Wow," he breathed as he stood back up.  He once again shook the hand that was offered.  "Thanks, Chief.  That means a lot."

"This fire department is a family," she said.  "It's not perfect.  Some members wear out their welcome, to put it politely.  As long as you act as a respectful member of this family, you're always welcome."

Kai smiled broadly at her words.  He'd never thought about it that way.  He'd never known his real family.  His crew was the closest thing to that.

"Schedule that appointment," Izumi ordered.  "Show up for it.  Once that's done, I'll let you take the physical."

Kai walked out of her office feeling equal parts nervous and proud.  Down the long hallway, back to the elevator, down to the ground floor, he hoped to see Jinora as he left.  His hope was rewarded as he stepped off the elevator and saw her standing in the hallway to the right, talking to a firefighter whose back faced him.  He saw her eyes flick in his direction, but her attention was focused on the man she was speaking to.  He didn't want to intrude, so he shoved his hands in his pockets and wandered aimlessly, looking at the various statues, flags, and patches that adorned the end of the foyer.

The man she was talking to turned to face him and smiled.  "Kai?"

Kai turned to see Tahno facing him.  The pair met in the middle and did the customary half-handshake-half-hug that so many firefighters did to greet one another.

"How the hell are ya, booter?"  Tahno asked, giving him a smack on the shoulder.  "It's good to see you back among the living!  You back to work?"

"Nah, not yet," Kai replied.  "I still have to take the physical.  Probably sometime next week.  What about you, man?  You fell off the face of the planet and nobody had any idea where you got off to!"

Tahno let a hiss escape between his teeth.  "I got moved to Shaozu's old position.  I took some time off and when I came back they had a new assignment for me."  He peered at the ground for a moment before continuing.  "Hey, uh...how's Korra?"

"I honestly don't know, buddy," Kai replied.  "Last we heard she was accepted to a trial physical therapy program in her hometown.  We hope she's coming back, but nobody's heard from her."

"Not even Bolin?"  Tahno asked, brow furrowed.

"Nope," Kai replied.  "She was worse off than I was.  The first few days they kept telling us she wasn't gonna make it."

Tahno nodded.  He seemed much more subdued than he had once been.  Kai couldn't put his finger on it, but something was off. 

"You know, you can come by any time," Kai offered.  "Station One, I mean.  I'm working out there until I get back to work.  I'm sure Iroh would love to see you."

Tahno opened and shut his mouth, as if he wanted to say something and thought better of it before actually speaking.  "I'll keep that in mind.  Good to see you, kid.  Take care."  With that, Tahno headed back down the long foyer and disappeared out the door.

Jinora gave him a smile and a wink before turning to head back to her office.  It left Kai walking on clouds.

 

*     *     *

 

At the beginning of week five, Korra still hadn't contacted her.  Senna sent a photo that took her breath away - Korra was laying on the bench press, drenched in sweat, halfway through a rep.  Her father was spotting her.

{She's starting to feel very motivated.  She's working out like a woman possessed!}

Asami didn't hesitate.  She pulled out her laptop, did a brief search, and with a few clicks had an itinerary in her email.  She turned back to her phone. 

{I'm sending you the info now.  I'll be there in one week.  Don't tell Korra - I want to surprise her.}

{Okay.  I'll talk to you tomorrow.}

Asami nearly cried in frustration.  She hadn't been touched in so long that she felt the familiar longing ache between her legs several times a day.  Her own hand was barely enough to take the edge off, but more than once she had resorted to it just to maintain her sanity.  After sending an email to Dr. Manu to let him know that she would be traveling, she locked herself in the latrine and started working on some relief.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami had been to the South Pole before, although she didn't recall it being quite this cold.  Taking a page out of Korra's book, she had gone the simple route: a few days of warm clothing in a small carry-on bag.  It enabled her to get off the plane and walk straight to the car rental counter.  Fifteen minutes after landing, she was pulling into traffic, following signs to the freeway.  She had specifically asked Senna not to pick her up.

Asami's mind drifted as it was wont to do while she drove.  She remembered everything that had led up to this point.  She mentally replayed the day of the explosion and the moment she saw Korra brought in.  She recalled with soul-crushing clarity walking into the trauma bay and seeing Korra laying in a catatonic state, her inform hanging underneath her in shorn tatters.  She went over the days when they fully expected Korra to die and the weight that had been ever-present in the pit of her stomach, waiting on pins and needles for the alarms to go off and signal either cardiac or respiratory arrest.  The memory of the moment Korra opened her eyes made Asami's own well up.  Then, as she pulled up to the gorgeous house with the rounded rooftop and the tribal archway leading to the front door, she was yanked back to the present.  Without a word of warning, Korra had gone back to the South Pole in an effort to avoid losing her left foot.

Not only that, she had communicated exactly once in six weeks.

The whys and wherefores continued to swirl in her mind as she set the emergency brake, shut off the engine, and headed for the front door.  Halfway there the door swung open to reveal Tonraq smiling warmly.  Asami hustled to get back to warmth; once she was safely inside he shut the door and swept her into a tight hug.  His scent was different, but he reminded her sharply of her own father.  Before Korra, he had been a very affectionate man.  Maybe it was the stress, maybe it was the loneliness, but Asami felt a pang of sorrow for the relationship she'd lost.

"I'm glad you made it," Tonraq said as he set her down gently.  "Join me for tea?"

Asami smiled in relief as she peeled off her jacket and gloves.  "That sounds amazing."

She hung her coat and followed him into the kitchen, where it appeared he had just pulled tea from the stove and Bannock bread from the oven.  The aroma both lifted her spirits and made her stomach growl.  Bannock was one of Korra's favorite comfort foods and Asami had grown to love the stuff.

"Oh, I missed this," Asami slurred through a mouthful of warm bread.

Tonraq chuckled as he poured the tea.  "I expected to make this pretty regularly when Korra came home, but she's been dieting and working out religiously.  I haven't seen her this dedicated since she was in the academy."

"Senna told me she's up and walking," Asami remarked.

"It's pretty amazing," Tonraq said, eyebrows raised.  "When I was Korra's age, my captain broke his ankle almost exactly the way she broke hers.  I haven't told her this, but he never came back to work."

Asami averted her gaze at the revelation.

"Korra had said that you have a lot of respect for her surgeon," Tonraq continued.  "I watched my captain struggle for months to try to return to work.  I haven't told her this, either, but I've been looking into prosthetics."

Asami turned back to face him in shock.

"You and Doctor Gao were right," he said, leaning forward, elbows on the counter.  "She's excited that she's walking again, and she may even go back to work for a little while, but she's in a serious state of denial.  I have noticed her taking pain pills a little too often."

"Shit," Asami muttered.

"She's not addicted," Tonraq hurriedly added.  "She really is in pain.  She can't accept what's happening.  Korra thinks that if the rest of her body is fit enough, then her ankle will heal."

Asami nodded as she stared into her tea.  "That's not uncommon.  A lot of patients subconsciously work out in the hopes that their failing limbs will bounce back."

"She may not be showing it right now," he sighed, "and she'll have a hard time saying it later, but...she needs you.  It's not going to be easy."

"That's why I'm here," Asami replied.

Chapter Text

As Senna pulled into the driveway, Korra flexed her left foot gently. It hurt, but she could walk - even run - on it. The longer she did so, the more it hurt, but she figured it would eventually go away. Or she hoped. Because it was a marked improvement over where she began, she was convinced that it was temporary.

Her current discomfort must have registered on her face, because Senna spoke up.  "Are you okay, honey?"

"Yeah," Korra replied.  "I'm just sore.  It'll go away."

Senna shut off the engine and they both got out; Korra was careful with her first steps.  It still hurt, but she was able to walk without a limp.  They hustled inside and shut the door, leaving the outer garage door open.

Tonraq was in the kitchen with two small suitcases when they walked in.

"Wow, dad," Korra remarked.  "If I didn't know better, I'd say you really wanted to get away from me!"

Tonraq pulled her in and kissed her forehead before responding.  "I just don't want to be on the road after dark.  It'll be snowing again by then."

"I know, I'm just giving you shit," Korra laughed.  "When will you be back?"

Tonraq was already pulling on his homemade walrus-yak coat.  "Tuesday morning.  Nobody from the department should need anything, but if they do come here, just tell them to call my private cell.  If they don't already have that number then it isn't important enough."

Senna gave her a quick hug and a peck on the cheek.  "You know the rules.  You're on pain pills, so no alcohol."

"I'm not a total idiot, mom," Korra sighed, rolling her eyes.

"I submit the dinner incident last week as exhibit A," Senna retorted.

"Oh, Spirits," Korra moaned.  "One time.  I made that mistake one time, and you'll never let me live it down!"

"It was pretty damn funny," Tonraq chuckled.  "But I'd really rather not get a phone call about you from one of my captains while I'm hunting."

"Yes, Raava forbid your spiritual experience be interrupted," Korra joked.  "I promise not to burn the place down."

"Love you, kiddo," Tonraq smiled, grabbing their suitcases.  "There's Bannock in the oven if you want to cheat."

"Love you, too," Korra replied.

She watched them pull out of the driveway before turning to the cabinet above the stove.  She pulled out a bottle of pills, took two, and quickly downed them with a bottle of water that she grabbed from the refrigerator.  She then opened the oven to reveal a fresh loaf of her favorite thick bread sitting on the baking stone.  It was still warm.  She checked to make sure it wasn't too warm before pulling the whole thing, stone and all, out of the oven and setting it on the island counter top behind her.

Something caught her eye and she looked up.  Shocked, she took a step back and blinked.  She wasn't sure she trusted her eyes.

There, in the flesh, stood Asami.

 

*     *     *

 

Lieutenant Feng's neighborhood was difficult (if not impossible) to hide in.

Does his HOA have something against people parking on the street?  Mako wondered, parking half a block from his former superior's address.  Feng was still under investigation and was home on administrative leave, but there were no promises that he was physically at home.  Either way, Mako felt naked sitting in an unmarked squad car on another cop's street.

If he comes out here, he'll know exactly who I am and he'll know why I'm here.

The sun was beginning to set behind a bank of rolling storm clouds.  It created an impressive effect - the dark of the clouds contrasted starkly with the bright sunlight shining just over the tops of the trees and the roofs of houses.  From across the street and half a block away there wasn't much he could see of the house in question.  Kids played in several yeards on the street, some with adults watching.  Mako thought briefly about what it would be like to get married and have children of his own when a knock on the driver's window nearly made him jump out of his skin.

Standing slightly aside from his door was Lt. Feng.

 

*     *     *

 

"Hey," Asami said.

Korra stared blankly for a moment.  Her gaze slowly drifted downward until it locked on the floor.  She leaned on the counter with both hands and her head dropped.  That's why they decided to make that hunting trip, she thought.  Dad usually plans these things months in advance.

"What is going on, Korra?"

Korra didn't know how to answer.  She did know that her appetite was gone.  Her stomach twisted into knots even as the pain pills she'd just taken began to make her limbs feel warm.

"Do you hate me?"

At the sound of that question, Korra's head snapped up and she locked a shocked expression on Asami.  "What could possibly make you think I hate you?"

"I don't know what else to think," Asami replied.  "The way you left, no contact at all since you left -"

"Was I supposed to leave some other way?"  Korra asked, genuinely confused.

"Korra, this was a big decision," Asami said.  Her brow furrowed as if she were upset that Korra didn't know better.  "You made it literally overnight without discussing anything with me.  Then once you got here I heard from you once and then..." she shrugged and held up her hands as if to say I don't know.  "...nothing.  Radio silence.  You've been gone twice as long as you originally thought and you haven't talked to me at all."

Korra's head dropped again.  I knew I was gonna have to explain this eventually.  "I don't know what to say.  It got away from me.  The first week went by so fast -"

"So you never tried?"  Asami cut her off.  "I know how hard physical therapy is, but you could have at least asked your parents to keep me updated!  I would have been okay with just hearing, 'can't talk, worn out, I'm okay,' but you said absolutely nothing!"

"I'm sorry," Korra all but whispered.

"You have never, as long as we've been together, been this bad at communicating," Asami returned.  "There has to be a reason."

"I can't give you a reason," Korra replied.  She fought tears, certain of where the conversation was going and feeling helpless to stop it.  "I've never done this before.  I don't know how to handle it."

 

*     *     *

 

Mako cautiously opened his door and got out.  Chief Lin's admonition to not make contact rang in his ears, but there was nothing to be done about it now.  He'd been spotted and was being approached.

"Heya, kid," Feng said, cocking a smirk.  "How are ya?"

Mako sighed, resigned to the fact that he was going to be in trouble.  "I'm alright, Lieutenant.  Back on duty.  How're you?"

"I'm glad to hear that," Feng replied.  His tone had a disingenuous edge to it.  "You know I'm not your Lieutenant anymore, right?"

"I'm trying to be respectful," Mako said, shaking his head.

"Well, how nice of ya," Feng chuckled.  "It's a damn shame, what they're doing to me.  One more year and I coulda retired.  This is just Lin tryin' ta make an example outta someone.  You know how it is, kid.  If you don't you will soon.  Two firefighters got hurt, so they gotta string somebody up."

"I'm just a rookie," Mako snarked.  "My opinion doesn't matter."

Feng's eyes went wide.  "Damn, kid!  You got a pair on ya!  You know how long I been at this?"

"Nineteen years?"  Mako made an educated guess.

Feng stopped short and his eyes narrowed.  "I never told you that."

"Simple math," Mako replied.  "You said you had one more year to retirement, right?"  Raava help me...

"Right," Feng chuckled, still eyeing him suspiciously.  "I forgot, you're the smart kid.  Yeah, I've given nineteen years of my life to Republic City.  You know what I've learned?"

"What's that?"  Mako asked.

"It doesn't matter what we do," Feng said.  "The government is always a mess and the people are better off without it."

Mako almost couldn't hold back the look of dumbfounded shock that nearly broke across his face.

 

*     *     *

 

"So you just pull away from everyone?"  Asami nearly demanded.

"What am I supposed to say?"  Korra finally bit back.  "I'm sorry.  I let it go and I don't know how to explain it.  I didn't want to hurt you."

"I don't believe you wanted to hurt me," Asami sighed.  "If that was what I thought, I wouldn't be here in person.  I would have packed your things and sent them to you."

"Then why are you so mad at me?"  Korra asked, refusing to let tears fall.

"I'm not mad, I'm hurt," Asami replied, stepping around the island to be closer to Korra.  Her voice went up in volume as she did so.  "And I'm trying to understand.  I can't imagine what this has been like for you, but I think you've forgotten what I've been going through."

Korra swayed on her feet.  It was the first time she'd taken a double dose of her pain meds and she hadn't been sure how she'd take it, but it was hitting her fast.  She was getting more emotional and fighting to stay awake all at once.  So much for getting stoned, having the munchies, and taking a nap, she thought, immediately feeling guilty for thinking such a thing at a time like this.  "I'm the one trying not to lose my leg!  I'm the one trying to prove that I can deal with this!"

"We've been together for nearly three years," Asami said, her voice softened considerably.  "You should know by now that you have nothing to prove to me!"

"You didn't even question him!"

"Because I know what he's talking about!"

"You didn't even try!"

"I only want what's best for you, and I know how it's probably going to end!"

"You could have at least asked!"

"Dammit, Korra, do you have any idea how much I love you?"  Asami's hands folded over her mouth and nose and her eyes briefly closed, a gesture Korra recognized as an attempt to collect herself.  "For three days, they told me you were dying.  Everything I've studied and seen told me I was going to lose you.  Even after you woke up, for days I was on edge, waiting for an embolism to form or for you to have a stoke...then out of nowhere you up and leave, and I feel like I'm still losing you!"

Korra didn't respond.  She didn't know how.

 

*     *     *

 

Feng's words were all too familiar.  The government is a mess and the people are better off without it.  Mako had seen that exact statement, word for word, in the online chatter with the Red Lotus.  He thought he'd schooled his expression well until...

"Whatsamatta, Mako?"  Feng's voice interrupted his thoughts.  "You look like you just saw a ghost."

"Why would the people be better off without the government?"  Mako asked.  "I mean, I know it's not perfect, but -"

"Kid, kid, kid," Feng tossed an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer.  "What is government?  It's great in theory, but look at how it's actually working.  We allow government to have complete control over everything in our lives.  How many different ways are we taxed?  Your paycheck is hit for income tax, medical tax, and retirement tax.  You pay tax on rent, mortgage, electricity, water, sewer, trash, your cell phone, cable, and internet access.  Go to the grocery store, you pay sales tax.  Buy alcohol and you're double-taxed!  The government controls when you can see a doctor, what the doctor can do, and which drugs you can take.  All the idiots of the world have led the government to make laws that say which products we can buy or even bring into Republic City from other cities!  They take all this money from us, and they spend it on shit they don't need!"

"That's not a reason to get rid of the government," Mako replied.  "The government is made up of people that we vote for.  If we're not happy, we can replace them."

"You really are an optimist," Feng laughed.  "With all these companies and special interest groups buying politicians and votes, how likely do you think it is that the dim-witted populace will get off their Insta-bop or whatever they call it and actually make an informed decision?"

"Well, then they can live with it," Mako shrugged.  "Elections have consequences."

"The rest of us shouldn't have to," Feng replied, folding his arms over his chest.  "The only thing that'll wake up these entitled, self-absorbed brats is chaos."

"What?"  Mako asked incredulously.

"CHAOS."

 

*     *     *

 

"I just wish I knew what to do."

Korra's heart clenched at the pain in Asami's voice.  I am an ass.  I'm about to lose the most amazing woman in the Four Nations and I deserve it.

"I wish I knew how to help you.  You'd have to be willing to talk to me, and you clearly don't want to..."

"I'm scared."

The words escaped her lips before she could stop them.  Asami looked as surprised as Korra felt.  It was readily apparent that Asami hadn't expected it.

"I'm scared, Asami," Korra repeated.  Tears finally made tracks down her cheeks.  "I don't know what to say to you or my parents.  I don't know how to deal with any of this.  I'm trying to get ready to go back to my life but I don't think I'll ever be normal again."

Asami moved closer slowly, seemingly unsure of whether her touch would be welcome.  Korra wasn't sure she wanted it, considering her belief that this was goodbye; she let her guard down and allowed Asami to pull her into a tight embrace.  She shivered and cried and silently wondered how she could have let things get to this point.

"I'm not trying to make you feel guilty," Asami whispered after allowing her several minutes of silence.  "You're the love of my life.  All of a sudden you've become a different person and I know this has been hard for you, but it's been hard for me, too.  I need you, and I need to know that we'll be okay."

Korra pulled back just enough to look at Asami's face.  "Wait...you're not here to break up with me?"

Asami's lower lip trembled before she spoke.  "You thought I was here to break up?"

Korra nodded.

"No, baby," Asami sobbed.  "I'd never give up that easily."

Korra clamped a hand over her mouth as a gut-wrenching sob escaped.  She wrapped Asami in her arms again, holding her as tightly as she could, grateful that her fears were unfounded.  It wasn't long before she started feeling too tired to stand. 

Asami pulled away this time and looked into Korra's eyes, her face taking on a clinical look.  "How many of those pills did you take?"

"Two," Korra slurred.

"You're only supposed to take one."

"I know.  I just didn't want to deal with my foot tonight."

Asami stroked Korra's upper arms with both hands and nodded in understanding.  "You're probably about to fall asleep where you stand."

Korra smirked, only half-aware of what a mess she was.  "Kinda."

"Okay.  Let's get you to bed.  We can talk more in the morning," Asami replied, taking Korra's hand and leading her out of the kitchen.

They made their way through the enormous living room, down the long hallway, past the stairs on the left, and into the bedroom at the end.  Korra's eyes were beginning to droop.  She was hardly aware of what went on around her.  Asami was doing something, but she wasn't sure what.  Korra sat down on the edge of her king-sized bed and waited...for what, she wasn't sure.  Asami finally knelt and removed her shoes, being careful with the left one, then helping her remove her fur-lined hoodie and shirt.  Next she removed Korra's pants, leaving her boxers on, then stood her up and pulled the comforter down.  Korra dutifully followed all of Asami's instructions until Asami laid her in bed and pulled the comforter up.

She wasn't sure what was going on until Asami climbed in bed from the other side.  She felt a warm pair of arms pull her in close; she turned on her right side and buried her face in Asami's chest, just above her collarbone.  She breathed deeply and enjoyed the scent that was uniquely Asami.

"I'm not going anywhere," Asami whispered, stroking her hair.  "Just promise me that you'll keep fighting."

"I promise," Korra whispered back, allowing the darkness to swallow her consciousness.

 

*     *     *

 

"What are you talking about?"  Mako asked, not sure he really wanted to hear the response.

"Think about it, Mako," Feng replied.  "What will move them to educate themselves and start really thinking?  The loss of their cell phones, their tablets, their social networks - that's the only thing that's gonna do any real good.  We can't write a law and take it away, right?  So we have to take away the one thing that's making it possible for them to sleep while they're awake, if you know what I mean.  Take away their comfort.  Force them to open their eyes to the reality of the world as it is."

Mako was trying not to betray his disgust but knew he was about to fail miserably.  "How do you do that without violently overthrowing the government?"

"Do you really thing that hasn't happened already?"  Feng smirked at him sideways.  "What do you think happened in Ba Sing Se?  What, was that just some kinda coincidence?  C'mon, kid, I thought I taught you better than that."

"I thought the Queen died in her sleep," Mako said.

"The Queen had to die," Feng shot back.  "Any which way she could.  Have you seen what's happening in that city lately?  It's beautiful.  The kids who think they had it all figured out are finally waking up to reality.  Without their uninterrupted internet stream, all they can do is watch and beg for help.  Pretty soon they'll figure out that they can't just 'twitch' or whatever they do and make a statement.  They'll actually have to think before they act."

"Lieutenant, you're actually scaring me," Mako replied, turning to face him fully.  "Are you saying that you know how the Queen of the Earth Kingdom died, and that it wasn't of natural causes?"

Feng squared off with him.  "I'm telling you that the Red Lotus did exactly what it was meant to do.  Do you really think I didn't know when I spotted you what you were here for, kid?  I knew damn well that you were the warning.  The SWAT team is taking position right now, kid.  I trained with 'em, I know what they're doing.  They got all ninja'd up before you even got in this car.  How long were you sitting here, just watching, hoping to see something that would help your case?  You think I didn't know?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mako shot back, standing up straight and squaring his shoulders.  "I was told to come here and put eyes on a house.  That's it."

"Then you can thank Chief Lin Beifong for putting you in this position," Feng growled, pulling a handgun from his waistband.

Mako had no time to react.  Before his hand could make it to his sidearm, a shot rang out.  He wasn't sure where it came from.  Feng's weapon didn't recoil, so he knew that wasn't the source.  Feng himself just stood there, gun drawn, looking surprised.  A moment later he dropped to his knees and his gun clattered to the asphalt.  A red stain spread across his white t-shirt over his upper left chest.

"The Red Lotus will live on," Feng gasped.  He dropped forehead-first onto the street. 

Mako was barely aware of the screams of children and the bellows of fathers up and down the street at the sound of the single gunshot.  That was when he became acutely aware of a small army of officers in SWAT gear swarming his position.  He spun to face the house he'd been sent to watch and saw another group breaching the front door.  He knew that the back door any any possible exits had already been covered.  When he turned to Feng, he saw his old superior on his knees, forehead plastered to the ground, gasping breaths wracking his body.

He turned at the sound of his name to see an officer he didn't know - another Lieutenant - standing there in full SWAT gear.  "Chief Beifong wants to speak to you," the man said.  "Come with me."

Mako followed without question, watching silently as a man whose profile he knew all too well was dragged out the front door of Feng's house.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami woke to early morning light streaming through the barely-concealed window over Korra's bed.  A bird chirped happily outside the window.  The light that streamed in was a sterile white, reminding her sharply of the reflection of sunlight off of a snowbank.  She took stock of her surroundings; Korra was still breathing serenely.  The room was warm, and though the comforter and sheets had dropped to cover both of them from the mid-chest down, they were still warm.  She tightened her arms around Korra's middle ever-so-slightly, enjoying the feel of her fiancée in her arms again.

My fiancée, Asami thought, grinning widely.  She's still here.  She still loves me.  I was afraid of nothing all that time.

Then, she noticed that Korra was awake...and staring into her eyes.

"Good morning," Asami greeted with a kiss to the bridge of her lover's nose. 

"Hey there," Korra said.

"How are you feeling?"  Asami asked, threading her fingers through Korra's hair.

"Better," Korra replied. 

Asami felt a hand run up her spine, from her waist all the way to her shoulders.  Korra leaned in and kissed her deeply.  Asami didn't bother waiting for the familiar sensation of Korra's tongue swiping across her lips; she opened immediately and took Korra's kiss as quickly as she could, driving her own tongue into Korra's mouth as eagerly as possible.  Their kiss tasted of longing and felt like coming home, reminding Asami of exactly what she'd been missing for the past several weeks.  She wasn't ready to end it when Korra pulled away.

"Do you mean what you said?"  Korra asked.  "You want to keep trying?"

Asami almost couldn't stop the tears that began to well in her eyes.  "It would take a lot more than this to make me want to give up."

They fell back into their kiss, the ebb and flow between them turning from something familiar into something much more meaningful.  Asami wasn't sure what to expect, but she knew that she wanted this to go much further.  She missed her lover and badly wanted more.  "Make love to me," Asami pleaded.

"Did you bring it?"  Korra asked, planting a kiss on Asami's throat.

"Yes," Asami replied.  They kissed for a few more moments before Asami felt it necessary to break away.  She turned over and reached into her carry-on bag, rooting around for a few seconds before she found exactly what she was looking for.  She felt Korra kissing her back as she pulled the object of her search from her bag; she allowed Korra to continue for several minutes, enraptured by the feel of warm lips worshipping her back as a pair of strong yet gentle hands cupped both breasts.  Asami groaned and gripped one of those hands before giving in and turning to face her lover.

It didn't take long.  Korra quickly positioned herself between Asami's legs; Asami draped her legs around Korra's thighs and reached down to position the toy properly.  She slid it into place and enjoyed the view as Korra's body accepted it.  Asami took a brief second to apply a small amount of lube - she was soaking wet with need and didn't think it was really necessary, but she decided it was better safe than sorry.  Korra kissed her as deeply as she could as it slipped into place, waiting only one moment before pushing Asami back to the bed and positioning the head of the shaft against Asami's entrance.

Korra's hips rolled forward slowly and Asami felt the welcome stretch as the head of her cock sank inside.  She pressed forward slowly and steadily, not letting up for a second until the skin of her pelvis connected with the backs of Asami's thighs.  Asami let her hands roam while Korra paused there, impressed with the difference in her physique.  Korra had always been fit, but her obsession with her diet and workout routine had produced serious results. Her entire core was perfectly chiseled and her muscles rippled at Asami's touch.  Asami ran her hands down Korra's sides and around to her ass, where she grabbed two handfuls of solid muscle; she tilted her hips up at the same time in a wordless plea.

Korra got the message and started moving.  She drew back all the way to the tip, practiced movements telling her how far she could go before withdrawing completely, then using her whole body to drive back in slowly.  She set a moderate pace, but the way she used her body - totally new to Asami - made each stroke powerful.  She moved in a wave, her upper body heralding the next roll of her hips. Asami had to re-learn how to move with her but it didn't take long.  It was like making love again for the first time, and Asami's heart swelled with a whole new level of affection.

"I love you," Asami whispered into Korra's lips.

"I love you, too," Korra replied before diving into her lips again.

Korra wrapped both arms around Asami, using one hand to cradle the back of her head and pulling her into another string of passionate kisses.  Her tongue churned in time with her cock, and Asami began moaning anew into Korra's mouth.  She began to feel the familiar warmth low in her belly and knew she wasn't far from release.  When Korra broke their neverending kiss and her back started bowing, Asami knew she was about to tip over the edge.

There was no need for words.  They communicated perfectly this way, bodies thrumming in time, connected physically and emotionally.  Korra's rhythm began to falter and her moans drew longer.  It was a reaction that always yanked Asami toward the cliff with her.  Asami looked into Korra's eyes as the first wave of flutters began in her core, savoring every blissful moment.

Korra's face had always been very expressive and now was no different.  Her brow arched and her jaw dropped as she came, hips jerking out of rhythm with each spasm.  Asami came undone seconds later, screaming Korra's name and gripping her ass tightly.  She came harder than she could ever remember and as it carried on into aftershocks, she stroked Korra's back.  Every time another light spasm hit Korra her hips rolled lazily and Asami cooed at her with each one.

"I missed you," Asami smiled, stroking Korra's hair.

"I thought I really screwed it up," Korra panted.  She'd buried her face in Asami's neck and kissed it lightly between breaths.

"Making it up to me is easy," Asami replied, nipping at Korra's earlobe.  She rolled them both over and sat up in Korra's lap, planting both hands on her chest.  She gave a very deliberate roll of her own hips, eliciting a groan from Korra.  She pulled her lower lip between her teeth suggestively and smirked.

"I think I can take care of that," Korra grinned, thrusting up into Asami's welcoming heat.

Chapter Text

Korra and Asami had one rule about their bed: it was for sleep and sex only.

After Asami brought home a research article about psychologically preparing for sleep or sex - particularly by restricting activities in bed and controlling what goes on in the bedroom - they both agreed that any major discussions needed to happen well away from their bedroom, even if they tended to utilize every room in their home for extracurricular activities on occasion.

It was that rule that drove them to pull on semi-warm clothes and curl up on the massive couch to really talk.  Asami sat in a half-lotus position nestled into the corner of one end, while Korra sidled up next to her and draped both legs across her lap.  There was plenty of light streaming through the window behind the couch and Asami took the opportunity to roll Korra's pant leg up slightly and take a close look at her ankle.

The scars were surprisingly well-healed.  Even with her dark Water Tribe complexion, barely four months after surgery they still should have been bright pink.  If she hadn't known better Asami would have thought they were almost a year old.  The rest of her body made a dramatic recovery while her talus was failing.

"Tell me the truth," Asami said, carefully manipulating Korra's foot to gauge her range of motion.  "How does it feel when you first wake up?"

"It feels totally fine in the morning," Korra replied.

"And how does it feel by the time you go to bed?"  Asami pressed, flexing Korra's foot up toward her leg and watching her face for a response.

About halfway to where it should have flexed, Korra winced and pulled her leg back.  She looked crestfallen.  "It feels like it's being eaten by a tiger seal."

Asami set Korra's foot back in her lap and rolled her pant leg down.  "Has it gotten any better?"

"Since the first time I tried to take a step?"  Korra clarified.  "Quite a bit."

"Since you started really walking on it," Asami said softly, looking at her apologetically.

Korra didn't reply.  She looked away before staring at her lap.

"I know you don't want to talk about this," Asami began, afraid she might be wandering into dangerous territory again.  She watched closely for any indication of discomfort and gently stroked Korra's thigh to reassure her.  "I really don't blame you and I'm not going to force anything on you.  But...I need you to be prepared.  It doesn't sound like it's improving, and you can't take opiates at work."

Korra shook her head, though she didn't pull away.  "It's not that simple.  You don't know what this is like."

"You're right, I don't," Asami calmly replied.  "I'm not going to pretend that I do.  I know that you hang a lot of your personal value on being a firefighter.  I know how important that is to you.  The uncertainty of losing your foot puts that in jeopardy.  You're afraid of that uncertainty.  I can understand that, and I'm afraid for you.  I may not know exactly how you feel or what you're thinking, but I have a good idea."

"Then how can you ask me to prepare to cut off my foot?"  Korra begged.

"Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying," Asami leaned closer.  "There's no way for you to be one hundred percent ready.  I don't expect you to go straight back to the hospital tomorrow.  If you want to keep trying, then I'll be here to support you.  All I'm asking is for you to get ready for the possibility that it could happen."

Korra shut her eyes and released a heavy sigh as she dropped herself onto the sofa cushion.  "I don't know if I can do this."

Asami gave her a moment before reaching out to stroke Korra's hair away from her face.  She thought about what she needed to say, dropping her hand to Korra's side and allowing her thumb to trace circles there.  "I don't want this to happen.  I never did.  I would do anything to have you whole and healthy and happy.  I'm not going anywhere, okay?"  She paused again to consider her next words.  "Um...can I ask you something?"

Korra's eyes opened and her eyebrows scrunched.  "You can ask me anything."

"I just don't want you to feel like I'm attacking you," Asami said.  "What were you planning to do when you were ready to come home?"

Korra stared into space while she thought about her reply.  "Honestly?  I hadn't even thought about it.  I really don't know what I was going to do.  I wasn't even sure you wanted me to come back.  Why didn't you call me?"

"I was trying to give you space," Asami sighed.  "I was pretty sure you were mad at me."

"I was never mad at you, baby," Korra said softly, reaching up to cup Asami's cheek in her hand.  "It had nothing to do with you.  I was lost.  That's not your fault."

"I think both of us were," Asami sniffled, fresh tears making tracks down her cheeks.  She pulled Korra into her arms and held her tightly; she felt like an intense weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  They still had a long way to go, but they were on the right path again, and the relief Asami felt was incredible.

The tender moment was interrupted by a long, loud growl from Korra's stomach.

The couple burst into uproarious laughter.  They laughed for several minutes, never moving from their position.

"I really don't feel like cooking," Korra giggled.  "But I do know a place."

"I hope they deliver," Asami snorted.

 

*     *     *

 

Bolin charged into the police station like a madman, Iroh hot on his heels.  Both men were in uniform, so the desk sergeant didn't bother asking what they were here for; he calmly picked up the phone as they raced by.  Bolin was too impatient to wait for the elevator, so he yanked open the door to the stairwell and charged up the stairs, taking them two and three at a time.

He burst through the door on the third floor with nary a thought for anyone on the other side.  His entrance drew a lot of attention - hands instinctively flew to sidearms as heads whipped around to identify the noisy intruder.  Bolin paid them no mind as he marched through the office, past rows of desks and detectives hard at work, and right through the door marked "Task Force".

Mako looked up from his seat in the middle of the long table.  "Bolin?  What are you doing here?"

"You have him in custody," Bolin remarked.

"How did you find out?"  Chief Beifong demanded.

"News travels fast!"  Bolin snapped.

He'd responded without thinking or paying attention to who he was speaking to and immediately regretted it.  Chief Beifong's face went dark (darker than her usual scowl, if it were possible) and she turned to Iroh.

"Captain, because I am every bit as angry about this case as you are, I am going to give you the opportunity to take Bolin outside," she said, her tone overly measured and controlled.  "I suggest a detailed discussion about the chain of command."

Bolin looked appropriately chagrined.  "I'm sorry."

Iroh nodded his thanks and followed Bolin to the elevator.  They took the same path back toward the elevators, drawing a mixture of amused and anoyed looks from detectives and administrative staff they'd startled on their way in.  They took the elevator back to the lobby this time, only to find Mako waiting for them.  He jerked his head toward the door and led them outside.

Bolin trudged back to his forest-green pickup truck, parked at the curb.  He didn't turn to face his brother before speaking.  "You could have told me."

"After the way he was busted outta here the last time we had him, the Chief specifically told us not to tell anyone," Mako shot back.  "Her exact words were, 'I don't even want to think you've told your ancestors in silent prayer.'  Spirits, Bolin, what makes you think it's okay to barge into my squad room like that?  I don't even want to know how she recognized you so quickly."

Bolin finally turned to face Mako and pointed at the left side of his chest, his facial expression still long and mopey.  His name was printed in bright white lettering on his navy blue uniform shirt.

Mako rolled his eyes and turned to Iroh.  "What would you do if I stormed into your station and started yelling at Bolin?"

Iroh shrugged.  "Make fun of him for having a wet nurse for the rest of his career."

"You know what I mean," Mako grumbled.

"I don't mean to make light of your situation," Iroh replied.  "I know Lin can be a major hard-ass.  You have to understand what this is like for us, though.  You just arrested your lieutenant.  How did you feel when you found out he'd betrayed you?"

Bolin watched Mako carefully.  His older brother had never been the emotional sort, but the bombing at the jail had been a watershed moment for him.  Mako had been a different person ever since.

Mako visibly deflated.  "I'll give you that.  But...you just hit the nail on the head.  My Chief isn't like yours.  She's tough, and she doesn't suffer fools gladly.  You can't come hauling ass into my squad room in the middle of the biggest operation in our history.  I still have to work for her."

"But it's me, Mako," Bolin said forlornly.  "I'm your brother.  You know me.  Why didn't you tell me?"

"I can't tell you everything," Mako replied, his tone notably less irritated.  "We're keeping this as low-key as possible.  Now that you know, and I didn't tell you, that means the media will be knocking on our door soon.  We're not sure we've caught all of the officers who were involved in this, and the fact that you heard it third-hand tells me that if we haven't, we never will.  I'll also need to visit Asami so she doesn't hear about it on the news."

"You'll have to call her," Iroh interjected.  "She went to the South Pole to be with Korra."

Mako's brow furrowed again.  "Is Korra alright?"

"We don't know," Bolin replied, shoulders slumping.  "Nobody has heard from her.  Korra didn't even talk to Asami after she left."

 

*     *     *

 

Kai pulled his trainers back on and tied them in a hurry.  He'd barely gotten home without noticing all the to-do going on down the street and had already stripped off his shirt and shoes.  He knew that wearing his uniform to gain access to a scene while off duty was completely against the rules, and though tempting he was still trying to get back to full duty.  He had no interest in inviting further trouble.  He threw on his union's cancer fundraiser t-shirt, ran out the door, made short work of the stairs and jogged down the street.  Tahno lived in a duplex just one block away, and Kai had noticed a large police presence there when he looked out his fourth-floor window.

He had hoped that his eyes were playing tricks on him, but as he got closer, he realized they weren't.  With all of the cops being fingered by recently-discovered info on the Red Lotus, Kai wondered; he knew that two marked police cruisers, a small army of detectives, and the evidence team was a bad sign.  Anything was possible, and while Tahno had a tendency to be a self-absorbed prick, Kai never thought him capable of joining a terrorist organization.  Still...

Twenty feet from the property, Kai stopped in his tracks.  The ME's van had pulled up.  Tahno lived alone.  The police and evidence crews were definitely coming in and out of his home.  Kai felt dizzy as the realization hit him.

Then, a warm hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present.  He turned to see Jinora there, worry carved deep into her soft features.  He noticed her truck and realized she must have pulled up right behind the ME.

"I called your name three times from two feet behind you," Jinora said.  "Are you okay?"

Kai shook his head as if clearing the cobwebs from it.  "Yeah, just a little zoned out."

"Do you know what happened?"  Jinora asked.

"No.  That's why I came down here.  I was hoping to find out."  Kai gestured toward the house with a wave of his hand.

"Tahno doesn't have any family to speak of," Jinora said.  "They called me to identify him."

Kai felt his gut wrench in protective anger.  "No.  I can do that."

"Kai, it's not the first time I've done it," Jinora replied, her tone going softer.  "I can handle it."

"At least let me come in with you?"  Kai pleaded.

Jinora thought about it briefly, then nodded.  She headed for the front door with Kai in tow.  A uniformed police officer, his patrol uniform worn but well-kept, held the door open for them and greeted Jinora by her title as they approached.  Jinora thanked him quietly and stepped inside.  Kai nodded his respect and followed her closely.

He'd given Tahno a ride to work once in a while but had never been inside his home before.  The living room was well-decorated with the kind of furniture that Kai had only dreamed of buying - he even spied a piece from an adult store that he'd gone to on a whim without knowing what the place was.  It didn't surprise him at all; Tahno had always been a player.  Kai still had a smirk on his face when they walked down the short hallway to the master bedroom.

It disappeared immediately at the sight that met him.  The spacious room was commanded by a neatly-made king-sized bed in the middle, large nightstands on either side...and Tahno's body on the floor at the foot of the bed.  The first thing Kai did was look up.  He didn't see anything that told him why Tahno was dead, so he steeled himself and looked down again.  It really was him, dead, lifeless eyes staring into nothing.

Kai knew the answer before he asked the question, but he felt the need to ask anyway.  "How did he die?"

The assistant ME looked at him sympathetically.  "He hung himself.  It looks like he knew what he was doing.  He prepared himself for a minimum amount of work on our part and had his class A's freshly pressed."

"This is Tahno," Jinora declared.  She handed the assistant her business card.  "I'll inform Chief Tenzin.  If you could get in contact with me, I would appreciate it."

"Absolutely, Chaplain," the assistant replied.

Kai didn't speak another word.  He walked out the way he came, feeling numb to the world.  The bright morning sun mocked him from its perch in the sky as he emerged from his fellow firefighter's home.  He shoved his hands in his pockets and mindlessly started walking back to his apartment.

"Hey," Jinora called to him.

Kai turned around and looked at her.

"Get in," Jinora said.  She clearly wasn't asking.

He walked back to the red and white truck with the logo of Republic City Fire etched in gold flake lettering on all sides and got into the passenger seat.  He didn't think about it being such a short distance; he put his seat belt on by habit.  The short drive was quiet, and in seconds Jinora was parking in a spot close to Kai's building.  Down the sidewalk, up the stairs, through Kai's front door, he still didn't speak.  What could have happened that was so bad that he'd hang himself?  How could a guy like Tahno not love his life?  There was never any shortage of women willing to go home with him.  Spirits, I just saw the guy a few days ago.  Did I miss something?  Was his way of being an asshole just some kind of front he was putting up?

Kai's jaw clenched with the effort of holding back tears, but once the door shut he gave up.  He never made it past the dining room table.  He felt guilty for even thinking the word "asshole" right now.  He dropped into a chair, slumped forward, and let loose the floodgates.  For the first time since the fire he wept openly.  He didn't understand what was happening; he was never particularly close to Tahno, but he knew him pretty well, and taken in total it was like a kick in the chest.  Sobs wracked his whole body.

Jinora hit her knees in front of him and she gathered him into her arms.  She didn't speak.  For that, he was grateful.  Right now there was nothing anyone was going to be able to say.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami had just paid the delivery driver for their dinner and was bringing it to the table when her cell phone started buzzing.  She'd turned off the ringer and left it on the island counter in the kitchen.  She'd figured, at the time, that even if something went wrong back home there was nothing she could do about it from Harbor City, and she wanted no distractions.  At first she though she should have turned it off.  Until Korra picked it up and looked at the caller ID.

"Hey, it's Mako," Korra said.  She looked ready to answer it then appeared to rethink that idea.  She held it out to Asami.

Asami took it and hurriedly answered.  "Hello?  Mako?"

"Hi, Asami," Mako said.  He sounded tired.  "I heard you went to the South Pole.  How is everything?"

"It's...alright," Asami replied with some hesitance, not sure what to tell him.  Korra had just finished telling her how she hadn't talked to anyone and wasn't sure what to tell any of their friends.  "We've spent a lot of time talking.  Is something going on?"

"Yeah," Mako sighed heavily.  "Look, I didn't want you to hear this on TV, but...we have Zaheer in custody."

Asami stood up stock-straight and looked at Korra.  "When?  How?"

"We found him last night," Mako replied.  "I can't tell you all of the details, but we found intel on a number of Republic City police officers being involved with the Red Lotus.  So far we've got eleven in lockup.  Because of how deep this was, we really wanted to keep this quiet, but somehow it got out and Bolin crashed the Task Force this morning."

"Do you suspect anyone else?"  Asami asked.

"I suspect there's two more out there, but we're not going to find them anytime soon," Mako said, his tone grinding.  "As soon as word got out anyone left would have ditched their phones, wiped computers - they'd get rid of any connection to that group and start over.  It's going to take time to ferret them out.  I just wanted you to hear it from me."

"Thank you," Asami replied.  "I'll let Korra know."

"Tell her we all said hi," Mako asked.  "Bolin kinda looks like a lost polar bear puppy without her."

"I will," Asami promised.  "Talk to you soon."

"What?"  Korra practically demanded, anticipation written all over her face.

"They have Zaheer," Asami replied, setting her phone down.  "They've also caught eleven cops who were involved.  Mako said it'll probably be on the news soon."

Korra heaved a sigh of relief as she leaned on the counter and dropped her head between her shoulders.  "Thank the Spirits."

Asami didn't let her stay that way very long.  She walked around the island and pulled Korra close.  They held each other for several long moments.  Asami thought about all the jarring moments when she feared Zaheer showing up at the hospital or their home and wondered if Korra had felt the same sudden fear out of nowhere.  Maybe now it's really over, she thought.  Maybe now we can calm down and live in a little more peace.

Chapter Text

Most suspects were "interviewed" in homey, comfortable rooms that were set up to put them at ease. The idea was to make it feel less like an interrogation. Theory had it that the suspect would find it to be a safer environment and the detective would be less likely to abuse them.

Zaheer was definitely not "most suspects".

Having escaped from heavily armed custody once and evaded capture with the help of police, nobody was willing to take a single chance.  He was jailed in a private cell - it was in a prison built into a mountainside and the facility had its own courtroom.  Instead of bars, the cell was enclosed in blastproof glass, with rows of vent holes along the top, none big enough to fit a ball-point pen through.  The man himself sat calmly in a chair that was bolted to the concrete floor and faced the glass.

On the other side, Mako sat facing Zaheer.

"You haven't requested an attorney," Mako said.

Zaheer only stared.  He did not speak.

"You're going to be charged with two counts of attempted murder today.  For deliberately shoving Korra and Kai, forcing them to fall two stories in a burning building when you should have been helping them to safety.  Do you have anything to say?"

Blank stare.

"Do you care about what's happened to them?  Your fellow firefighters?"

Blank stare.

Mako decided to switch tac.  "A young firefighter that you personally requested committed suicide a few days ago.  Tahno?  Remember him?"

Finally, a crack in his facade, even if only slight.  His brow furrowed and his jaw dropped.

"They're having his funeral now.  Tonight they're having his celebration of life at Firebender's."

Zaheer let out a nearly imperceptible sigh; his gaze flickered to the floor for the briefest of moments before his face went blank again.

"Why would you do that?"  Mako asked, undeterred.  "You had the perfect plan.  Why ruin it just to get revenge?"

Blank stare.

"At least I'm assuming that was your motive," Mako continued.  "I mean, Korra was bringing a rape charge and you stood to lose your career for it, so-"

"BULLSHIT!"  Zaheer erupted, jumping up from his seat and smacking his open palms against the glass.  "There was no rape!  What did happen is four years old, so there's no way they could have fired me!"

Mako refused to react.  He wanted Zaheer to keep talking.  "If you don't help me, I can't help you."

"There was no rape," Zaheer repeated, still seething.

"That doesn't answer my previous question," Mako calmly returned.  "I have an accusation and a planned course of action from Assistant Chief Izumi.  There's no way you could have been convicted four years out, but there was more than enough there to destroy your career over."

"It wasn't rape."

"No retirement, no pension..."

"It wasn't rape!"

"But if she's out of the picture, they can't continue with the investigation, can they?"

"It wasn't-"

"Then what was it?"  Mako shot back, standing up.  Time to reel him in, he thought.  "Are you really going to stand there and tell me that an avowed lesbian had consensual sex with the asshole captain who'd been abusing her for several months?"

"IT WAS XAI BAU!"  Zaheer bellowed.

"Another asshole guy?"  Mako chuckled mirthlessly.  "You're hilarious!"

"He didn't rape her," Zaheer growled.  "It was just a little bit of roughhousing that got out of hand!"

"...And ended in sex?"  Mako countered.  "Could you be any more full of shit?"

"There was no sex involved, dumbass!"

"That's not what I was told."

"Xai Bau felt her up!  It's nothing that hasn't happened in the firehouse before!"

"Since Korra is only the second female firefighter in the city's history, I'm gonna call bullshit on that one."

"Call it whatever you want, but it wasn't rape."

"Sure."

Mako knocked twice on the heavy metal door, making sure to act as irritated as he could.  The lock engaged and the door swung open.  He sauntered through it without a backward glance and sped up his pace as it shut behind him.  The door fifty feet down the hall and to his left swung open and he walked into the control room.  He nodded at Chief Lin - who had an uncharacteristically proud look on her face.

"Rape?"  She remarked.  "Nice touch.  You got him wound up beautifully.  You sure you haven't done this before?"

"Let's let him stew on it for a little while," Mako sighed.  "He's already blurted out what really happened, and this is after several days of refusing to say a word to anybody.  I'm interested in seeing what he does next."

"Now that we have motive, everything else can wait," Lin replied.  "You and I both have lives that do not revolve around work."

"Shouldn't we stay and-"

"No," Lin cut him off.  "Trust me, kid.  Don't burn yourself out.  Your brother and his friends could use the support."

It sounded strange coming from her, but Mako nodded in acceptance.  "Yes, ma'am."

"Detective?"

Mako stopped in the doorway and turned to face her.

"Tell Narook I said, 'feed the beast'."

 

*     *     *

 

In late winter, the sun still began to set somewhat early.  It was chilly, but not really cold; Korra had shed her heavy, fur-lined coat in favor of a form-fitting, long-sleeved thermal henley.  They hadn't been able to catch a flight early enough for the funeral, but they had gotten back to Republic City en time to go home, drop off their bags, shower, and change clothes.  Knowing full well that they probably wouldn't be safe to drive afterward, they'd called a taxi to get to their destination.

Now, as they approached the heavy front doors to Firebender's, Korra hesitated.  She had put off all thoughts of this reunion even when Asami had asked how she felt about it.  There was no hiding at this point - on the other side was her other family, brothers she'd had no contact with at all since leaving nearly two months ago.  Oh, Spirits, she thought.  What do I say?  I know they're going to ask.

As her mind ran away with her and a sense of panic began to blossom in the pit of her stomach, the moment was brought to a crashing halt by a cool, soothing voice.  It was accompanied by a gentle hand on the small of her back.

"You tried to forget how nervous you were until right now, didn't you?"  Asami asked, voice tinged with mirth.

"You say that like you expected me to," Korra replied.

"I have met you," Asami chuckled.  "They'll be happy to see you.  If anyone isn't, Bolin will kick their ass and Iroh will pretend he didn't see anything."

Korra had to laugh herself.  She took a deep, shuddering breath, shook off her nerves, and opened the door.

The gathering was already in full swing.  Korra recognized nearly everybody even though she didn't really know them all.  Surprised, happy looks turned her way as she moved through the crowd toward the spot where she knew her crew would be.  Hands were shaken and brief pleasantries exchanged before she spotted who she was looking for.  Even with his back turned, there was no mistaking him.  Bolin was laughing at something.  Iroh locked eyes with her before she could motion for him not to - and his expression changed.

Before Korra could react, Bolin exploded with glee.  She found herself flung over his shoulder and spinning.

"YOU'RE BACK!"  He hollered.  "YOU'REHOMEANDYOU'REWALKINGICAN'TBELIEVEIT!"

"You better hope she hasn't had anything to drink yet," Iroh said, stopping Bolin in his tracks.  "If she has, you'll be wearing it."

Bolin stopped spinning her in circles and set her on her feet.  "You're back!"

Korra could hear Asami stifling a laugh as she ran her fingers through her hair to smooth it after the wild ride.  "No, Bolin.  You're imagining things.  How much have you had to drink?"

"Children," Bumi sighed.  He clucked his tongue in mock disapproval and shook his head.  "They grow up and leave the nest, never call, never write..."

Korra reached up and hugged him warmly.  "I'm happy to see you too, Bumi."

"Do I finally have my crew back together?"  Iroh asked.

"Next week, you do," Korra said, turning to hug him.  "Where's Shaozu?"

"He's on shift," Bumi replied with a wave of his whiskey tumbler.  "He agreed to cover since he didn't really know Tahno."

Everyone went silent for a moment at the mention of his name.  Bolin brightened quickly; he focused on someone over Korra's shoulder for a split second before grabbing her arm and dragging her toward the bar.

Narook had come out from behind it.  He swept her into a mighty bear hug that she happily returned.

"I'm glad you're back in one piece, kiddo," Narook rumbled pleasantly.

"Thank you," Korra replied, nearly breaking down at the show of affection that she never knew he was capable of.

Narook pulled away and grinned at her.  "Don't you move.  We need to get this party started."

Korra nodded.  From her position, she saw the door open again.  Through the throngs of bodies she was able to make out a familiar sandy-blond cow lick with Jinora in tow.  She was about to make for them when she remembered Narook's order.  The old firehouse bell that hung over the bar, used only on certain occasions, sounded three rings, and the crowd fell silent.

Narook needed no platform.  "Ladies and gentlemen, we all know why we're here," he began.  "A brother firefighter lost his battle with himself and we're here to remember him.  I didn't know Tahno all that well.  When he came in here he was always good to my staff.  He always tipped well.  Never left a mess.  He always left with some new chick, but he seemed like a nice kid.  Whether you knew him or not, it's important that you're here.  It's important that you all hear what I'm about to say.

"We all see some fucked-up shit.  Everyone in here could tell fifty stories about calls that the people out there would piss themselves over.  We all know it.  I mean, what the fuck do we do all day in quarters?  We talk about the fucked-up shit we've seen!"

That garnered a rolling laugh.

Narook continued, "and we all bottle it up because we don't wanna be pulled off shift to go see a shrink.  We don't want anyone to think we're weak.  I was a firefighter during the days before turnouts were made of Nomex and rehab was barely an idea.  Back then, you just rubbed some dirt on it and ran the next call.  We didn't run EMS when I first started, though.  That didn't start until some of you captains in the room had been on for a couple of years.  Some of the people here tonight have seen way worse than anything I ever saw, but you're still doing what I did - you hunker down and take it like a man.

"Knock it the fuck off.  If you need to see somebody, dammit, go see somebody.  I don't wanna have to do this for one more of you motherfuckers, understand?"

The crowd hummed its approval.

Narook raised his glass.  "To our fallen brother, always remembered.  To Tahno."

The crowd raised theirs as well.  "To Tahno!"

"NOW!"  Narook bellowed, smiling again.  "We can't let everything be depressing!  Three months ago, some rat bastard whose name we dare not speak tried to deprive us of two of our youngest and finest.  One of them is already back on duty.  Kai returned to Rescue One.  The other had to leave for a little while, but I am happy to announce that Korra is back!"

The crowd applauded and cheered, whooped and hollered.  Narook pulled the step stool out from under the bar and motioned for Korra.  She moved forward and mounted the second rung, making her barely an inch taller than the mountain of a bartender.  She graciously accepted the whiskey shot he handed her and raised it high as the noise died down.  The entire crowd raised theirs as well.

"Here's to you, here's to me," Korra called the familiar chant as loudly as she could.  "Friends forever may we be.  And if we ever disagree -"

"FUCK YOU, HERE'S TO ME!"  The crowd finished in a roar before drinking their toast.  Korra knocked back her shot, jumped down from the stool, and slammed the glass on the bar. 

Narook gave her a fatherly side-hug and handed her an icy glass of fig cider.  "Keep these neanderthals in line, kid."

Korra raised her glass in a thank you and turned to rejoin her crew near Iroh's favorite booth.  She'd only managed to get one sip from it when she noticed someone approaching in her periphery.  She set the glass on the table and turned to see Kai and Jinora there.

Neither spoke a word before they had arms wrapped around one another and tears streaming down their faces.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami watched carefully when Korra executed her dismount from the stool.  She wanted to see how she'd do it and whether she'd use her left foot.  She didn't; it was carefully done, as if practiced, and she landed entirely on her right foot while making it appear as if she balanced on both.  Asami wondered if Korra actually had been practicing keeping her weight off of her left foot while she worked out.

There was no shortage of small talk.  She had at least met every firefighter in the room while at work.  Asami had prepared herself beforehand - this was a family, and while they were horrible gossips, they actually did care and would all try to check in on both of them throughout the night.  The only difference between this and a gathering with the doctors she worked with was the level of class.  Both groups were equally as disposed to alcohol consumption and profanity.

As the night wore on and the crowd began to thin, Asami turned a grateful eye on Korra, Kai, and Bolin.  The trio had migrated over to the other side of the bar somehow.  Bolin was undoubtedly telling a story about a call while Korra and Kai laughed and gagged at the appropriate times.  She was enjoying watching them when she felt a tap on her shoulder.  She turned to see Bumi standing there.  He jerked his head toward the booth, where Iroh was sitting.  Stealing one last glance at Korra, she turned to follow him and slid into the bench behind him.

"How are you doing, Asami?"  Iroh asked.  His usually stoic demeanor was replaced by a genuinely relaxed aura, his expression much more peaceful.

She wasn't used to it, but she'd take it.  "Better," Asami replied with a wistful sigh.  "Not perfect, but definitely better."

"I can't imagine what this has been like for you," Iroh continued.  "Seeing her back to her old self has got to be a huge relief."

"It is," Asami nodded.  "Seeing her go back to work will be hard, but it's all she wants right now."

"If you don't want to tell me, I understand," Iroh said, telegraphing his intent.  "But...how is she?  Really?"

Asami dropped her gaze to her wine glass as she pondered how to answer.  "I think you already know the answer to that."

Iroh nodded slightly.  "I have an idea.  That's why I'm asking you.  I know you're not exactly unbiased, but I want to know what you think."

"I think she still has a long way to go," Asami replied, realizing that it was probably better to be honest now before disaster struck.  "Physically she's ready to go back now, but it won't stay that way.  It's going to get a lot harder before it gets better.  I'm not sure how I'm going to handle it, but I didn't think I could handle what's already happened.  We've made it this far."

Bumi nodded.  "We're all here for ya, Doc.  We'll keep an eye out.  I promise you'll be the first person we talk to if anything goes South."

A sudden bout of very loud singing burst from the far corner.  Asami looked over to see that the original trio had been joined by the A- and B-shift crews from Engine one and Rescue One.  She couldn't tell what they were singing, and they weren't all on key, but the joy on Korra's face warmed her heart in a way few things did.

"Thank you, Bumi," Asami smiled.  "I get the feeling I'm gonna need all the help I can get."

Chapter Text

Korra had told Iroh that she’d be back on duty the following week but hadn’t told him that she had yet to re-take the CPAT.  She didn’t want anyone there to watch if she failed.  Her foot was doing better, but it was still temperamental - if she so much as turned her foot the wrong way, she’d be useless.

The door breech was a breeze.  She made it through the hose pull, the equipment carry, the ladder extension, and the dummy drag with ease.  The station she was worried about was the stair climb.  The familiar anxiety that had begun to follow her everywhere began to gnaw at her again as she approached the automatic stair climber.  She took her position and waited for the proctor.

Before she knew it, four minutes had passed without so much as a twinge.  Korra moved to the maze crawl, then the ceiling breach-and-pull, and was ready to move again when the proctor stopped her.

”You’re done, Korra,” the veteran firefighter said, smiling at her energy.  “You passed.”

It was like hitting a brick wall.  Korra suddenly felt exhausted, as if she had built up an unstoppable stream of chi and had no way to release it.  She laughed at herself as she walked back to the bench she’d left her turnout bag on.  She shivered as she pulled her turnouts off - not because she was cold, but because she needed a release.

I’m not sure why I was ready to keep going, Korra thought as she prepared and packed her gear exactly as she had done for years.  It’s not like I haven’t practiced this test a hundred times.  Korra zipped the bag shut and slung the carry strap over her right shoulder.  As she turned to leave, she turned and nearly ran face-first into Assistant Chief Izumi.

”You did an excellent job, Korra,” Izumi smiled, reaching to shake her hand.

Korra happily accepted the gesture.  “Thank you, ma’am.”

”Mind if I walk you to your car?”  Izumi asked.

”Not at all,” Korra replied.

They slowly made their way back through the main building, starting at the staging room, through the hallway that led to the locker room, and out into the spacious foyer, where an antique fire apparatus was on prominent display.  “I know about the subpoena you received,” Izumi began.  “They want you to appear for a deposition.”

Korra sighed heavily.  “Yes, ma’am.”

”You won’t be going alone,” Izumi promised.  “The Department has retained an attorney for you.  She doesn’t work for the prosecutor, either - she’s completely independent of all this.”

”I didn’t do anything, though,” Korra replied, confusion flashing across her features.  “What do I need an attorney for?”

”You’ve heard people say that the victim advocate protects the victims from the prosecutor, right?”

”Yeah...”

”The victim advocate is not an attorney.  They’re very good at providing support, but they can’t really protect your rights in a deposition, especially from a defense attorney.”

Korra wandered up to her truck and let out a long sigh.  “I thought this was simple.”

”To us, it is,” Izumi replied.  “Once the court gets involved, it just turns into a headache.”

Korra tossed her bag into the bed of her truck.  I seem to remember that being heavier, she thought.  “Can’t I just tell them to go to hell and move on with my life?”

Izumi smiled her understanding.  "I know this isn't easy.  I'm not worried about any unprofessional conduct on your part, I just want to make sure that they don't push you too hard."

Korra reached out to shake her hand again.  "I appreciate it."

"Welcome back," Izumi said, still grinning.  "You have three days until your next shift.  Enjoy it."

Korra got inter her truck and shut the door.  Her foot wasn't bothering her at all, an oddity considering how normal it had become to be in pain every day.  She started the engine and pulled away, grateful that the hardest part - physically, at least - was done.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra: {I did it!}

Asami smiled in spite of herself.  Korra's happy text message made her feel good even though she knew what was probably going to happen.  She tapped out a quick response.

{I never doubted you.  I love you.}

 

*     *     *

 

-Three Days Later-

Bolin: {You're coming back tomorrow???}

Korra stared at her phone for a moment before the words on the screen started to make sense.  As she was replying, Asami emerged from the bathroom.  Korra flashed a warm smile as she unashamedly allowed her eyes to wander over the naked body before her.  Asami walked over and sat down next to her, slowly running her fingers through Korra's hair and pinning it behind her ear.  Korra hurriedly finished her response.

{Yes, Bolin.  I'll be there in the morning.}

"I'm so proud of you, Korra," Asami said after a brief but meaningful kiss.  "As much as I know you may want to fool around, though, you need to sleep."

Korra let out a disappointed groan.  "So you're just going to tease me?"

"Down, girl," Asami wisecracked as she slipped under the covers to her side of the bed.

Once in a while, Korra tolerated being the little spoon.  Tonight it felt perfectly normal to crawl into Asami's arms and curl up there.  For months, she'd believed that getting back to work would make things normal again.  Back to the familiarity of the station and her routine.  Now, she felt nervous.  She had no idea how she was going to deal if her foot started acting up.  I can't take opiates at work.  I can't get injured again.

She stopped her line of thinking there.  She knew what would happen if she allowed it to continue.  So far, she'd managed to avoid panicking in front of Asami, and while it was only a matter of time, the night before her first shift back was the worst possible moment.

I just need to go back to work.  I'll be fine.

 

*     *     *

 

For a split second, Asami was unsure of what to do.  She recovered quickly and pulled Korra's warm body as close as she could.  Korra had been quiet since getting home - not standoffish, but pensive.  Asami knew she was nervous.  She'd spotted Korra's hands shaking more than once over the past three days.  Now, Korra shivered, tensed, and took a deep breath. 

It was very subtle, but Asami picked up on it.  It wasn't a normal thing for Korra to do.  She wanted to ask Korra what was going on, make sure she was okay; instead, afraid of hovering, Asami nuzzled into the crook of Korra's shoulder and kissed the sensitive spot below Korra's ear.

"I love you," Asami whispered.

"I love you, too," Korra replied.

 

*     *     *

 

It smelled exactly as she remembered.  A mixture of various industrial cleaning supplies, dryer sheets, and a tinge of diesel fuel met her nose.  The early morning sun poured through the glass-paned bay doors, brightly illuminating the engine.  It was a sight for sore eyes.

Korra slowly wandered into the station proper, dropped her turnout bag next to her room - the door was shut, the C-shift firefighter she was relieving likely sound asleep - and made her way down the dark hallway to the galley.  I'm back, she thought, grinning wistfully at the unchanged room.  It felt like years ago that she'd been filling a pitcher to add clean water to Bumju's pond when Bolin tried to startle her.  She'd known he was there the entire time, and as soon as he'd gotten close enough she splashed him with a handful of water.  Just a few minutes later they heard the resounding BOOM of a bomb going off.

Korra snapped out of it, physically shaking her head and walking back out to the bay.  She noticed that her room was open and newly empty; she picked up her turnout bag and walked out to find her spot behind Bumi was also empty.  She could hear someone depositing turnouts in the locker room.  She set about laying out her turnouts - she hung her coat on the seat back with her hood in the right lower pocket, set her brush pants turned down over her light boots on the floor outside the truck, and deposited her heavy turnout trousers turned down over her structure boots next to her light turnouts. 

Next came her helmet.  She pulled it out of her bag and looked it over, tracing the prominent "1" stamped and stitched into the leather front.  It was darkened and slightly melted around the edges.  The body of her helmet was intact; the reflective tetrahedrons were singed in places, but still perfectly visible.  She turned it over and ran her fingers over the lettering of her name across the back.  She set it on the middle of the bench, then pulled her SCBA out and went to check it over.  The straps were secure, still set at the markers she'd added a year ago when she'd gotten this bottle as a replacement.  She cracked the bottle, heard the hiss of oxygen being released, and quickly closed the valve again.  The regulator showed a full bottle at 3000 PSI.  She set it upright next to her bunker gear.

Then, without warning, Korra was swept off her feet.

"Bolin, if you don't put me down, I'm telling Opal about that day I found you naked with a bowl of Jell-O," Korra warned after getting a face full of his clothed backside.

"Worth it!"  Bolin cheered.  With Korra still slung over his shoulder, he ran around the engine, into the station, down the hall, and into the day room.

"BOLIIIIIN!"  Korra hollered.  She found herself deposited in her favorite recliner - surrounded by Iroh, Bumi, Kai, Bolin, and Shaozu.

"A fellow firefighter is requesting permission to return to the crew," Bumi announced.  "I think it behooves us all to test her knowledge."

"You're joking," Korra deadpanned, flashing the best stinkeye she could muster.

"What is the maximum dose of morphine we have standing orders to give?"  Iroh asked.

"Ugh...up to fifteen milligrams over twenty minutes depending on the patient's weight, booter," Korra retorted.

"How much hose is a fire engine required to carry?"  Shaozu asked.

"Eight hundred feet of supply line and four hundred feet of attack line," Korra rattled it off almost without thinking.

"How many nozzles?"  Kai challenged.

"One two hundred gallon per minute attack nozzle and two ninety-five gallon per minute hand nozzles," Korra spat.

"How does Bumi take his coffee?"  Bolin smirked.

Everyone went silent.  Korra turned to Bumi and flashed a mischievous grin.  "Bumi does not drink coffee.  Bumi drinks those milkshakes that teenage girls go nuts over that have a spoonful of coffee in them for color."

Bumi glowered.  "You have no proof."

"How do you know?"  Korra pressed, smile growing almost devilish.

Before anyone could question her, the tones dropped.  "Engine One, channel three," the dispatcher began.  "Four-two-one Kyoshi avenue at Suckerpunch Coffee.  Assist Rescue Two with a man down.  Engine One, channel three."

"Bye guys," Kai gave them an overstated wave.  "Bring back coffee!"

"There should be plenty since Bumi doesn't drink it," Iroh cracked, leading his crew out to the bay.

Everyone slipped off their trainers, stepped into their light turnouts, and dragged their heavy bunker trousers aboard as they climbed into the engine.  Korra looked over at Bolin as Bumi pulled the engine out of the bay.  He winked at her and slipped his headset on.

"I never thought about it until today, but I've actually never seen Bumi drink coffee," Bolin said.

"Y'know, Bumi, Bolin is right," Iroh added, turning a puzzled glance at his grizzled old engineer.  "I have never once seen you pour a cup in the station."

"Yes, you have," Bumi growled.

"For other people, maybe," Korra snorted.

"I don't know if I can handle this," Bolin said dramatically.  "People who don't drink coffee cannot be trusted!"

Bumi pulled the engine into a crowded parking lot and stopped just behind the rescue.  He set the parking brake and turned to face Bolin.  "This from the man who walked into Firebender's and ordered an appletini?"

Korra laughed hysterically.

"At least I didn't try to hide it," Bolin replied without hesitation.

"Men who don't drink beer can't be trusted," Bumi smirked as they walked up to the rescue.

"Ah, but I do drink beer!"  Bolin returned.

Iroh jumped in the side door while Korra skipped in the back, Bolin right behind her.  "What's up?"  Iroh asked.

"Sixty-one-year-old male," the paramedic began.  His shirt read Gansu.  "Walking up to the coffee place like he does every morning, suddenly sat down on the outside bench and grabbed his chest.  Complaining of chest pain, ten out of ten, we were already here.  Administered one dose of nitro..."

"What was his BP?"  Korra cut him off.  She'd been checking the patient and the monitor, and neither looked good.

"I didn't have a reading yet," Gansu replied.

He knows he fucked up, Korra thought, staring intently at the 12-lead tape she'd just printed.

"Shortly after, patient became pale, cool, and diaphoretic, BP has been steadily dropping," Gansu finished.

"Bumi, we're good," Iroh said.  "Code three to City!"

Bumi shut the doors and headed back to the engine.  The EMT could be heard buckling himself into the driver's seat up front.  Korra dug into the cabinet and pulled out a 1000 mL bag of normal saline and started hooking it up to drip tubing.

"What's your name, sir?"  Bolin asked as he set up to start an IV.  He laid the patient's arm over his knee, pressed around the crook of his elbow to find a vein, and upon finding what he was looking for swabbed the area with an alcohol prep pad.

"Bato," the patient replied.  His voice was weak and difficult to hear.

"How's that chest pain doing, Bato?"  Bolin continued.  He positioned the IV catheter and carefully inserted it.  Korra could see a perfect flash.

"Not as bad as it was," Bato said, "but now my head hurts and I'm dizzy."

"Okay...if anything changes, I need you to speak up," Bolin said.  He hit the button on the monitor to take another blood pressure.  "Can you do that?"

"I'll try," Bato replied.

The monitor finished and showed a blood pressure of 83/40.  Korra quickly attached the drip tubing to the IV extension tubing that Bolin had just finished taping down, stood back up, threw the drip chamber wide open, and squeezed the bag.  "You don't have any rapid infuser sleeves?" She asked, casting Gansu an irritated look.

He looked up but didn't respond.  Korra bit her tongue; it wasn't something that could be fixed now, and arguing in front of the patient would only cause more problems.  She kept pressure on the bag and watched as Bolin put pacer pads on the patient.  "Take another BP," she said.

Bolin hit the button again.  A short time later the monitor read 85/41.  Not better by much, but not getting worse.  Bato's color still wasn't improving.  "You still with me, Bato?"

"Yeah," came the exhausted reply.

Korra could vaguely hear Iroh patching to the ER.  She was fixed on the goings-on in front of her: the bag of saline she was dumping into the patient's system to keep his blood pressure up, information on the monitor, the patient's appearance.  She rolled the top of the bag in on itself from the top down to maintain pressure.

She felt the familiar dip of the rescue as it was pulled into the ambulance entrance.  She extended the IV pole and hung the bag.  The instant the rescue stopped, she threw the doors open, jumped out...

It was a mistake.  Despite taking care not to land left foot first, she landed the wrong way.  A bolt of pain shot up from the center of her foot all the way to her shoulder.  Her whole body locked up momentarily and it was all she could do not to scream.  Bolin hopped out behind her and shot her a look as if to ask, what's wrong?

Korra simply shook her head and allowed Bolin to pull the gurney out. She stood ready to take anything Iroh handed out, and he started with the monitor.  She took it in her right hand and guided the head of the gurney with her left while Bolin steered at the foot.  She felt like she was repeatedly stepping on a nail but fought not to limp.  Every time her foot connected with the floor, Korra wanted to let loose a string of expletives.

They wheeled the patient straight to the red zone at the direction of the charge nurse.  Korra and Bolin sheeted the patient from the gurney to the bed as Iroh gave report.

"Sixty-one-year-old male with ten out of ten chest pain," Iroh began.  "The responding crew gave a dose of nitro before having a blood pressure or a twelve-lead and the patient's blood pressure began to crash.  EKG showed signs of right-sided MI.  18-gauge IV in the left AC, eight hundred milliliters of saline on board, last set of vitals...BP eighty-eight over forty-six, pulse ox ninety-seven, heart rate one-twenty-two, respers at nineteen per minute, blood sugar ninety-eight."

"Don't go anywhere," the doctor said.  "I want to talk to you guys."

"We'll be in the work room," Iroh promised.

The EMT from Rescue Two took the gurney outside while the rest of the group headed for the EMS work room.  Iroh punched the code into the keypad, tossed the door open, and everyone filed in.  Korra's foot no longer stung quite as badly, but it throbbed violently.  Now she was in a bad mood, and as she grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler she barely considered her words. 

"What in the Four Nations possessed you to give nitro before you so much as had a blood pressure?"  Korra began, flopping into one of the deep armchairs in the back of the small room.

"First day back and you think you know what I should have done?"  Gansu shot back.

"She's right and you know it," Iroh shut him down.  "You didn't have a blood pressure, didn't even set up a four-lead...it's a damn good thing you called us, because you almost killed your patient."

"You should have had a blood pressure, a twelve-lead, and an IV established before you gave that patient anything for his chest pain," Korra continued, voice rising.  She ignored Bolin's hand on her shoulder, a silent admonition to let Iroh handle it.  "I only had to look for a few seconds before I spotted the ST elevation in V3R.  He was having a right-sided MI."

Somewhere in the middle of Korra's anger, the door had opened.  Two doctors had entered - Doctor Chen, long known to the crew, and another doctor they'd never met before.  The new doctor spoke first.

"Well, I'm glad someone in this outfit has their head screwed on right," the newcomer snarked.

"Captain Iroh, this is Doctor Jeong," Dr. Chen introduced him.  "He's our new cardiac specialist in the ER."

Dr. Jeong continued as if Dr. Chen hadn't spoken.  "Which one of you hosemonkeys gave nitro?"

Nobody wanted to point out the culprit.  It wasn't something you did, even when someone seriously screwed up.  After a long, awkward silence, Gansu spoke up.  "I did, sir."

"I'm going to assume that you hadn't checked his blood pressure," Dr. Jeong said.  "And it sounds like you didn't have a line established, or any clue what his EKG looked like.  Did you get your medic cert from a Cracker Jacks box?"

Gansu stared at the floor.  Korra's foot continued to throb.  Her mood was not improving.

"No answer?"  Dr. Jeong all but jeered.  "I'm just curious, were you present for your classes on cardiac emergencies?  This is basic shit.  You do not give nitro until you know that you're not going to do the patient more harm than good.  Here's another basic lesson - YOU DON'T GIVE NITRO TO A PATIENT HAVING A RIGHT-SIDED MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION!!!"

His last words resounded in the confined space as he bellowed them.  He continued, "let me guess, there was a pretty girl at that coffee shop, right?  You just had to do something.  You're a firefighter, a hero!  You don't just stand there with your thumb up your ass, you have to DO something!"

Nobody responded.

"How long have you been a medic?"  Dr. Jeong asked, his tone eerily calmer than it had been.

"Two years," Gansu replied.

"Long enough to know better," Dr. Jeong said.  "I hope you learned something from this.  Right now, I'm hoping I don't have to tell this man's family that the firefighters who were supposed to help executed him."

Both doctors left as quietly as they came.  Korra felt Bolin's hand clamp harder on her shoulder and decided against speaking again.

"He's right, Gansu," Iroh said.  "You should have known better.  I think you need to spend a few days brushing up on your cardiac skills.  I'm going to suggest to your captain that you do a few rotations here."

Korra crossed her left leg over her right and removed her boot to massage her foot.  They were barely an hour into shift and it already hurt to the point that she wanted pills.  What the hell do I do now?

 

*     *     *

 

By the time shift ended, her foot had been throbbing for twenty-three hours.  Korra barely said a word to their relief, hurriedly packing her gear, locking it up, and heading for her truck.  She didn't even wait for Bolin - he came running out after her as she pressed the button on her key fob to unlock her doors.

"Hey, Korra!"  He called.  "You okay?  You never leave without saying something."

Korra turned to face him, schooling her expression as she did.  "I'm just tired.  I'm sorry, Bolin, I'm just...trying to adjust to being back."

"Hey, it's okay," Bolin replied, playfully tapping her shoulder.  "Wanna join us for breakfast?  We were talking about going to that new place down the street.  Everyone has been talking about it."

Korra's first internal reaction was a hard NO.  Her foot hurt.  She wanted to go home and take pills.  This was her other family, though.  She'd been gone for a long time and she missed them.  If she refused, she knew their feelings would be hurt.  She pulled out her phone and shot a quick text message to Asami to let her know she'd be late getting home.  "Okay.  Meet you there?"

Bolin broke out in a bright smile.  "Yep!"

Everyone jumped in their vehicles and took off, meeting up again in the rear parking lot of a breakfast-only cafe called Noni's.  There was a crowd when they walked in, but being in uniform had a benefit; the manager spotted them and recognized Korra immediately.  They were shown to a private area and the manager waited on them herself.

When she asked what they wanted to drink, Iroh replied, "we'll all take coffee...well, except Bumi.  He'll take milk."

"Orange juice," Bumi rumbled, shaking his head.  The group cackled with laughter.

"I gotta know," Korra chuckled, "why don't you drink coffee, Bumi?"

"Bumi's sensitive," Kai joked. 

"I just don't like it," Bumi sighed. 

"As long as you've been a firefighter, you don't drink the one beverage that everyone else drinks?"  Bolin remarked.

"If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you join them?"  Bumi retorted.

"It's coffee, though," Shaozu added.  "There are actually serious health benefits to drinking coffee."

Bumi rolled his eyes as a large glass of juice appeared in front of him.  "There are health benefits to running, too, but I only do that when chased."

Breakfast continued much the same.  Korra quickly understood all the hype about this new place - the food was amazing.  Conversation flowed effortlessly, almost as if she'd never left.  It felt good to be back, even if her foot continued to pester her.  Nearly two hours later, with full bellies and smiles on their faces, the crew paid their bill (the manager tried to refuse, but Iroh would hear none of it) and parted ways. 

Korra got home and finally gave in.  She toed off her boots and allowed herself to favor her foot, limping through the front door and into the kitchen.  She grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge, limped back to the bedroom, pulled a pill bottle from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and quickly downed two pills.  She knew Asami was sitting on the bed watching her.  She leaned on the counter and let her head sag, shutting her eyes and trying to control her breathing.  She heard Asami get up and walk over.  When Asami wrapped her arms around her midriff from behind, Korra melted into her.

"How bad is it?"  Asami asked, planting a kiss on the nape of Korra's neck.

Korra laid her arms over Asami's and sighed lightly.  "It's nothing I didn't expect."

"How 'bout you get out of that uniform and get some rest?"  Asami suggested.

"Sounds good."

Korra was out of her clothes and sitting on the bed in less than a minute.  Asami laid her back and examined her left foot.  "There's no swelling.  What's the pain like?  Sharp?  Dull?  Throbbing?"

"It started out sharp," Korra replied.  "I felt like I was impaling my foot on a rusty spike.  After that, it's throbbed non-stop."

Asami nodded and pulled the covers up to Korra's chest.  She leaned down and kissed Korra, brushing a stray lock of hair away as she did.  "I'll be back later," Asami said.  "I love you."

"I love you, too," Korra smiled.  She watched Asami leave, heard the front door open, shut, and lock, and laid in bed waiting for the pain meds to kick in.  As the pain slowly ebbed from her foot and warmth began to overtake her limbs, she fought tears.  She didn't know why she was fighting them; she was alone.  Nobody would see her crying right now.

I need to get used to this, she thought.  This is my new reality.  Eventually I won't be able to take those pills anymore.  Crying isn't going to help.

Suddenly, the thought of going through the next fifteen years in pain like this seemed overwhelming.

Chapter Text

Asami woke in a sleepy fog. It was still dark. She wasn't sure why she was awake at first, although she had a feeling that something wasn't right. The illuminated clock on her nightstand read 0223. As the haze began to clear, she realized what had disrupted her sleep.

Korra was asleep, but she was not resting.  Her breathing was shallow and uneven, and her limbs twitched involuntarily.  She was having a nightmare.  Asami sat up, hit the button to turn on her bedside lamp, and quickly turned back to Korra.

"Korra," Asami called softly, stroking her arm to get her attention.  "Korra, wake up..."

It took some prodding, but Korra finally snapped awake.  Her expression was terrified and she was hyperventilating.

"It's okay," Asami said, using a gentle tone to help calm her down.  "It's okay, baby.  You're safe."

Korra's heart was racing even as she visibly fought to control her breathing.  "Why is it so hot in here?" she asked, voice shaking.

"You're really warm," Asami agreed.  "Don't go anywhere...I'll be right back."

Asami got up and quickly moved out to the kitchen.  She filled a mixing bowl with ice and water, grabbed a hand towel out of a drawer, and went back to their room.  Korra's eyes were shut; she was engaged in a breathing exercise.  Asami set the bowl on her nightstand, soaked the towel, wrung it out somewhat, and sat back down next to Korra.

"This is going to be cold," Asami warned.  She pressed the cloth to Korra's forehead, eliciting a sigh of relief - hardly the reaction she'd expected.  Asami carefully swabbed Korra's face and neck, dipping the towel in the ice water once she was done and starting over.

"This isn't the first nightmare you've had, is it?"  Asami asked.

Korra shook her head slowly.  "No.  I'm sorry I woke you up."

"I've told you before not to apologize," Asami said, going back for a third pass.  "It doesn't upset me to wake up and help you.  It's upsetting that you haven't told me until now."

"I was hoping it wouldn't get to this point," Korra replied.

"Hey...look at me," Asami paused until Korra did as asked.  "You're not bothering me.  We've talked about this.  I'm here to support you.  I want to know what's going on.  I need you to tell me the truth, even if you think it's too much."

Korra nodded almost apologetically.

"You don't have to tell me what the dream was about if you don't want to," Asami continued, dropping the cloth in the bowl and turning back to Korra.  "I understand if you don't want to go over the details.  Just...talk to me?  Please?"

Korra looked like she was on the verge of tears.  Asami laid back down and gathered Korra into her arms.  She tucked Korra's head under her chin and stroked her hair, wishing with all her might there was something more she could do.  Korra had just finished her third rotation back at work.  Nine shifts.  Twenty-four days.  The later it got in a shift, Asami noticed, the more uncomfortable Korra looked.  It was becoming more obvious by the day that by the end of every shift, her limp was growing more pronounced.  Asami knew it would probably happen.  She knew Korra would eventually have nightmares, too.  She'd tried to prepare for it; Asami had read everything she could get her hands on about PTSD and what to expect.  Trying to navigate both the physical and mental was proving to be a challenge.

"Do you need anything?"  Asami whispered.

"No," Korra replied. 

"Do you want to try to go back to sleep?"

"Yeah."

Asami turned over to hit the button and shut her lamp off, then turned back to Korra.  She gently stroked Korra's back until her breathing evened out.

Asami had a difficult time going back to sleep.  Her mind would not shut off.  First she wracked her brain to remember the name of the psychologist Kya had suggested.  Korra needs professional help and I can only do so much.  Then she resolved to talk to Iroh.  She might get upset with me, but if she refuses to get help, I might need backup.

When she finally drifted into fitful sleep, Asami's final conscious thought was, she's going to push herself until she can't move.  I have to watch her.

 

*     *     *

 

"Engine One, Rescue One, channel three, Third Street and Wan Avenue," the dispatcher announced.  "Stove fire.  Children left unattended.  Engine One, Rescue One, channel three."

The crew had just finished dinner and were in the middle of cleaning the galley.  They left the dishwasher wide open and ran full-pelt for their apparatus, not giving a second thought to their cleaning duties.  This was a fire, not a medical call, and they were first due.  Every precious second mattered.  Everyone ran to their position, kicked off their trainers or flip-flops, and jumped into their heavy bunker boots.  They tossed their heavy coats on, jumped inside, and shut their doors, ready to go before the drivers were prepared to move.  Headsets were on before seat belts.

Korra had gotten into her heavy turnouts as gingerly as possible, but it was no use.  Her left foot was giving her grief well before now.  As she pulled her seat belt on, she gritted her teeth against the new - and very insistent - stabbing pain that radiated from her ankle all the way to her hip.  They hadn't run many calls, but every single one had been heavy on the footwork.  It was her tenth shift back.  This shouldn't be happening, Korra thought, stifling a groan at the pain that ran up her leg.  I thought I'd have more time!

It wasn't long before the Engine pulled up in front of a small, single-family home.  Three children stood in the driveway with a number of animals in tow, many of them in cages, some not.  Korra and Bolin got out and ran to the kids, still fastening their turnout coats as they went.

"Is there anyone else inside?"  Bolin asked of the oldest-looking child.

"No," the child replied, her eyes wide with fear, hair tousled as if she'd just gotten out of bed.  "I think we got all the animals!"

"What happened?"  Korra asked.

"Well, we were arguing," the oldest child replied, shifting the cat in her arms.  "Then we noticed the stove was on fire.  We have an animal rescue so we grabbed all the cages and came out here like the lady on the phone told us to."

Korra looked at the front door.  Smoke wasn't pouring out like she'd have expected, but there was enough to cause concern.  She cast a look at Bolin and they jogged back to the engine, took the hose from Iroh, and ran in with it, Kai on their heels, Shaozu staying behind with Iroh.  Everyone stopped at the front door, masked up, and walked inside.

They discovered more smoke than anticipated.  Korra pushed forward, following the orange glow and crackling sound.  She tripped over something - she had no idea what, but it caught her left foot and she almost pitched forward - before gathering her wits and heading forward again.  Within seconds, she froze.

She wasn't sure what it was.  Terror gripped her, vise-like, refusing to let go.  She could see the flames lapping at the ceiling, climbing the walls, heavy in the center of the compartment.  Heat lapped at the edges of her mask.  Sweat began to sprout around her hairline and under her turnouts.  What the fuck is wrong with me? she wondered, unable to move, feet stuck as if sunken in wet cement.

"Korra, what's up?"  Bolin said into his mic.

Korra shook her head.  She passed the nozzle to Bolin and stepped back, allowing him to take the lead.  He didn't hesitate; he pulled the lever, opening the floodgates and pouring a stream of water on the fire.  His experienced hands began at the ceiling and worked downward, sweeping back and forth to cover the wall of flame that had blossomed across the walls.  Korra watched as it shrank under the assault, controlling her breathing and feeling an intense sense of relief that Bolin was there to take over.  This shouldn't be a relief, she thought.  This is bad.  I shouldn't freeze like this on a minor fire that hasn't had time to get into the structure.  What in the name of the Spirits is wrong with me?

It didn't take long for the flames to subside.  Bolin stood back up, ready to engage at a moment's notice, watching for any evidence of re-ignition.  He only waited a short time before speaking into his mic again.  "Engine One, the fire is out.  Request overhaul."

The trio followed the hose line back out the front door.  To his credit, Bolin didn't say another word; he simply dragged the line back to the engine and helped Bumi re-pack it.  Korra turned to the kids and the animals.  The one they'd spoken to on arrival sat on the curb, crying into the fur of the cat she held.  Korra sat down next to her and pulled her helmet, mask, and hood off.  The girl had short, wavy, and very unruly chestnut hair sticking out in all directions.  The cat was gray and white - and, oddly, looked like his eyes were held shut.

"Hey there," Korra said, stretching her left foot out in front of her.  "What's the cat's name?"

"Toph," the girl replied.  "Because she's blind."

"Like Chief Lin Beifong's mom?"  Korra smiled.

"Yeah," the girl sniffled.

Korra removed her gloves and reached out to let the cat sniff her hands.  The cat sniffed thoroughly before rubbing her face all over Korra's skin.  Korra giggled, curling her fingers into the soft fur, scratching the cat's ears and head.  "Where are your parents?"

"They're gone for the weekend," the girl replied.  "They said I was in charge."

"What happened?" Korra asked.  "You said something about an argument."

"My little sister said they were watching a movie about a man who can talk to animals," the girl sniffed.  "I thought it was a show that I've seen before.  We started fighting about it.  I didn't know she had something on the stove.  It caught fire."

A newcomer swept in front of them - Xai Bau, on Engine Two, a ride he wasn't usually on.  Korra stiffened at the sight of him.  By this time, the two younger children had gathered around Korra, along with all of the caged animals they had taken out of the house.

Then the newcomer spoke.  "May I make a suggestion?" he asked.  Without waiting for a response, he said, "sandwiches."

The children all nodded, faces belying their intimidation.  Korra stared daggers at him as he stalked off, irons in hand.

Iroh then appeared, an apologetic look on his face.  It wasn't normal for him, but Korra remembered telling him about what had happened.  "We can't reach the parents right now.  I hate to say this, but is there someone who can take the animals?  We may need to take the kids to the hospital."

Korra looked at the older child. 

"The lady across the street helps when we can't be here," the child said.

As if in response, a female came running up to them.  "Oh, Spirits!  Are you alright?  I just got home!"

The kids all started crying at the sight of the neighbor.  Korra kept scratching the blind cat, happy for the break.  Her foot still bothered her but she could tune it out with the gentle animal at her fingertips.  She could hear the woman speaking to the children but wasn't paying much attention - until the cat disappeared.

"I can take the animals," the woman said.  "I'd take the kids, too, but it sounds like you need to have permission...?

Iroh nodded.  "Yes, ma'am.  Without permission I can't leave them in the custody of a non-relative."

Korra stood up and without another word, she walked back to her position on the engine.  Her foot screamed at her for all of her effort to avoid limping.  The sun was just beginning to set, the last vestiges of sunlight spilling across the neighborhood; Korra tossed her helmet into the engine, stripped her turnout coat off and hung it on the seatback, then stuffed her hood back in the pocket.  She half-expected either Bolin or Kai to appear and ask what happened, but neither was in sight.  Before she knew what was going on, they were piling all three kids into the rear bench between herself and Bolin, headed for Republic City Hospital.

The trip was a blur.  The kids all had questions about anything in sight - their headsets, the seats, the controls on the console in the front seat.  Korra didn't respond to any of them.  She wasn't sure why, but her lips were sealed.  Bolin chattered away at them, answering all of their questions and tickling them when he heard "why?" from one of them.

They pulled up to RCH and everyone piled out.  The youngest child grabbed Korra's hand without warning, but Korra smiled at him.  He was an adorable little boy with thick black hair, dimples, and eyes that disappeared when he smiled.  He clung to Korra as they walked inside even with his sisters hanging onto Bolin.  They walked into the grid and, at the charge nurse's instruction, walked to the green zone and deposited them in room one.

"Are you the one that got hurt in the fire?"  The little boy asked Korra, the question sudden, his eyebrows arching into his forehead.

"Um...yeah," Korra replied.  "Yeah, that was me."

"My daddy said you were really brave," the little boy smiled.

Korra was stunned at the boy's words.  She went down on her right knee and lifted him into a chair.  "Really?  Your daddy said that?"

The boy nodded enthusiastically.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

The boy smiled and replied, "I wanna be a firefighter, like you!"

Korra laughed and hugged him tightly.  "That is the coolest thing anyone has ever said, buddy."

"Can I come visit you?" the boy asked.

"Hmmm..." Korra thought aloud, looking over at his siblings.  "Only if you bring your sisters!"

"Okay!"  He nodded.

Korra moved to stand, but the movement almost sent her sprawling to the floor.  Bolin caught her and helped her up.  She looked at him in appreciation and turned to leave, heading for the horseshoe - and the one person she knew would understand.

Asami was sitting at the nurse's station.  It was almost as if she was waiting.  Korra dropped into a chair next to her and dropped her elbows to the counter, head on her forearms, trying desperately not to lose control and start crying.  It was only a brief moment before a hand began stroking her back, up and down, from between her shoulder blades to the space between her hips.

"I can take off shift if you need me to," Asami said softly.

"NO," Korra immediately replied.  "I have to finish my shift."

Asami didn't reply.  She simply kept rubbing her back, using the same long strokes that Korra had always found soothing.  They stayed like this for several minutes before Asami finally spoke.  "There's no shame in admitting you need help, Korra."

Korra sat back up, stock-straight, and squared her shoulders.  "I can't call off now," she said.  Her chin trembled despite all efforts to control it. 

"It might not be safe for you to continue like this," Asami whispered.

"Please," Korra begged.  "At least let me finish this shift."

Asami nodded in silence.  Korra thought she saw her lower lip quiver.  It nearly made her lose it, but she stood back up, resolute.  It can't possibly be this difficult, she thought.  She took Asami's hand and gave it a quick squeeze, grateful for the support, before stuffing her pain and walking back to her crew.  She could feel Asami's eyes boring into her back.  She knew what was coming, but she hoped against all hope that things would change in the next twelve hours.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami woke with the sun.  She'd gotten off work and needed herbal tea to help her get to sleep, but she'd managed to sleep through the night.  The clock read 0811.  She stretched, tossed the covers back, and sat up.  She knew it took Korra fourteen minutes to get home from the station, and in the absence of a text message, she fully expected her to walk through the door at 0814.

She stood the instant she heard the key in the lock - at 0813.  The door opened and Asami heard a sniffle.  She froze in place, listening for any clue.  She could hear Korra get in the door, shut it, and lock it.  What came next made her move.

It wasn't the typical sound of footsteps.  Asami rushed (without running) out to the kitchen.  She stopped short when she spotted Korra, still in her boots, trudging through the entryway.  She wasn't walking; she dragged her left foot behind her in what couldn't even be described as a limp.  She was dragging her foot behind her like dead weight, as if it wouldn't support her at all.  The pain was clearly outlined on her face.  Korra looked overwhelmed.

"Asami..." Korra nearly sobbed.  She grabbed the doorway to the kitchen for support, but it wasn't enough.  Asami could see that she couldn't remain upright.  She dove forward, catching Korra in her arms, lowering her to the floor as carefully as she could.  She wasn't as strong as Korra but there was no way she'd let her hit the floor without help.

Korra erupted in ugly, gut-wrenching sobs.  Asami pulled her into her lap, wrapping her arms around her, holding on as tightly as she could.  Korra wept openly.  Asami didn't know what else to do but join her.  She knew this was coming.  She knew long before now that it would happen.  Maybe, like Korra, she'd been hoping for a miracle.  In this moment, Asami knew it wasn't meant to be.  There was nothing to be said.  She held Korra close, weeping with her, feeling helpless.  She didn't want to think about what she knew she'd need to do next.  Right now, all she knew was that Korra was hurting, and she could do nothing to stop it.

Chapter Text

This is really happening.

The words burned across Asami's mind as she pulled one of Korra's RCFD polo shirts on.  Her fingers absentmindedly traced the logo embroidered on the left breast.  "Firefighter Cancer Awareness Fundraiser 2015" was stitched in gold lettering around the logo.  Truth be told, she had forgotten that they had it.  She'd pulled it from the dresser drawer with a smile, remembering how comfortable it was (and how, no matter how many times it was washed, it always smelled like Korra).  Then Korra turned and saw it.  Asami had moved to put it away but Korra told her not to.

At the moment, Korra was staring blankly at an open drawer.  Her preparation instructions called for a potential to spend two weeks in the hospital, and packing PT shorts and t-shirts was easy enough - but Korra was staring into her sock drawer.

"I was going to pack socks," Korra finally said, gaze still fixed on the drawer.  "It gets so cold in the hospital and I have these comfy wool socks, but...then I remembered that I won't need as many because..."

Her voice trailed off.  Asami's heart clenched.  She pulled Korra into her arms although neither of them cried.  The past week had been one prolonged emotional low; they'd both cried themselves to exhaustion more than once.  Now that Korra was preparing to check in for surgery they had no tears left and no energy to shed them.  Asami noticed the way Korra held onto her, arms around her waist, one hand on her back as if to pin Asami's chest against her head.  Korra's face was buried in Asami's shirt.

Asami pulled back only slightly, enough to reach into the drawer and grab four pairs of socks.  She took Korra's hand and led her out of their walk-in closet, over to their bed, and dropped the socks in Korra's open duffel bag.

"Is there anything else you need?"  Asami asked softly.

Korra shook her head.

Asami squeezed the hand she still held.  She picked up the still-open bag and led Korra out of their bedroom, through the dining room, past the living room to the foyer, and out the front door.  She let go of Korra to pull her keys from her pocket.  Asami locked the door and they got into Asami's sports car.  Asami zipped the bag shut and set it on the floor at Korra's feet, then turned the engine over and backed out of the driveway.  As soon as she had the car in drive, Asami reached over to take Korra's hand again.

Everything she did, from getting dressed to slowing down to turn right onto the main thoroughfare outside of their neighborhood, felt like a slow step toward something horrible.  Part of Asami was unspeakably grateful that Korra was still alive.  Another part mourned deeply with Korra for what was about to happen.  Korra had wanted so badly for this to be fixable.  She'd fought so hard and come so far...Asami loved her so much that she'd wanted it for her, the doctor in her be damned.  Now she navigated through early-morning traffic, back to Republic City Hospital, taking as much time as she dared to stave off the inevitable.

It was over all too soon.  Asami parked, shut the engine off, and let go of Korra's hand just long enough to get out of the car.

"Are you sure you can walk this distance?"  Asami asked.

"I need to," Korra replied, slinging the carry strap on her duffle bag across her body.

Asami nodded her understanding and took Korra's hand again, intertwining their fingers.  From where they were in the parking garage, it was about a half mile of walking to get to surgical check-in.  They walked slowly, in silence, neither really in any great rush to get inside.  With the city just barely waking up, there weren't many people around.  Those who were passed Asami and Korra at a speed bordering on rushed.  They walked through the automatic front doors and turned left, still taking their time getting to their destination.

Arrive they did, however, and after giving Korra's name, they were directed to room four.  They walked past the reception area, down the hall, and into the room with "4" on the tab above the door.

A medical technician smiled as they entered and sat down across the desk from him.  He verified Korra's name, personal information, and the procedure being performed before taking a complete set of vital signs.  Her blood pressure was higher than normal.  Her heart rate was slightly elevated.  Both were easily attributable to the stress of getting ready to go back into surgery.  Pre-op nerves were to be expected.  The tech put a patient band on her wrist and snapped it in place.  As he finished, another tech appeared with a wheelchair.

Asami's mouth went dry.  She had forgotten that this was an unbreakable hospital rule - if Korra tripped and fell, especially with her foot being in the shape it was, the hospital would be held responsible.  She looked at Korra and found a shocked look spreading across her face.

"No," Korra said flatly.  "I'm not ready for that."

"Ma'am, I know this isn't easy-" the newcomer began.

"No," Korra cut him off.  "I can walk."

"Korra," Asami interjected, being as gentle as possible.  "They have to."

"I can't..."

"You don't have a choice."

"Please..."

"I'm not ready, either," Asami whispered, reaching over to stroke Korra's shoulder.  "But it's hospital protocol.  You can't walk from here."

Korra's face went blank.  She stared into space for a long moment, giving Asami pause to wonder what was going through her mind.  It had already taken a great deal of effort just to reach this point.  Without another word or warning, Korra got up from her seat, shuffled over to the wheelchair, and lowered herself into it.  Asami followed closely as Korra was wheeled into pre-op.  Down the long, sterile white hallway, to the left, through a pair of familiar double doors was the rear entrance to the very same space Korra had gone through to have her last surgery.  The transport tech wheeled her all the way to the back, passing rows of beds to a somewhat secluded corner.  He set the brakes on the chair and Korra stood.  As the tech undid the brakes, Korra turned to him.

"I'm sorry if I was rude," she apologized.

"It's alright," he smiled genuinely.  "I understand, ma'am.  Take care."

Asami smiled, albeit sadly.  She was proud of Korra.  She was just about to pull her into a tight hug when a nurse appeared, a gown in her hands.

"I'm sure you know what needs to be done," the nurse said, handing the gown to Korra. "Take everything off, put the gown on.  We'll give you some privacy."

The nurse pulled the curtain all the way around to the wall and walked away.  Korra was about to toe her trainers off; she frowned, sat down on the bed, and carefully removed them by hand.  With that done, Asami unzipped her hoodie, held the sleeves out so Korra could pull her arms out, and neatly laid it across the back of a chair.  Next came her t-shirt, then her bra.  Both joined the hoodie on the chair.  Korra stood up to remove her jeans and boxers, also neatly folded and laid on the chair.  Asami held the gown up and Korra threaded her arms through the sleeves.  Asami turned her around and tied the top three straps, keeping the gown as closed as possible.  Korra sat down on the bed, letting her feet dangle.

Asami stroked the same arm she had earlier in reception.  "How do you feel?"

Korra shook her head.  "It doesn't hurt."

Asami's brow knit as if to ask, what doesn't hurt?

"My foot," Korra said.  "It doesn't hurt."

Asami was confused.  Korra's tone didn't convey any kind of hope.  She wasn't saying - in word or expression - that she didn't have to do this.  What would make Korra say this now?

"Of all days," Korra finally said, bottom lip trembling and eyes watering.  "Why can't it hurt today?"

Asami understood.  Her eyes watered, too, knowing exactly what Korra was saying.

"Why can't it hurt now, so I know what the fuck I'm doing here?"  Korra sobbed.

Asami positioned herself between Korra's knees and wrapped her arms around her.  She didn't weep the way Korra did but tears escaped nonetheless.  She heard the nurse shuffle over.  She knew the nurse was waiting to come in.  She even heard a sniffle from the other side of the curtain, as if she'd heard what was said and her heart was breaking, too.  It took several minutes for the nurse to finally come in, though she left the curtain shut.  Her eyes were red and puffy.

"I don't mean to intrude," the nurse said, holding out IV supplies.  "But, ah...this has to be done now."

Asami nodded.  She kept her arms around Korra, and Korra stuck out her right arm.  The nurse found a vein in seconds.  She swabbed the area, positioned the needle, and inserted it with no difficulty.  Once she had advanced the catheter, the nurse connected an extension tube and taped it down.

"The anesthesiologist is on her way," the nurse said quietly.  "She should be here in a few minutes."

Asami didn't have much time.  She heard the same soft, halting footsteps she'd heard the day of Korra's hip replacement stopped outside the curtain before a familiar dark ponytail appeared behind Korra.  It was Nuri.  She eased her way in and caught Asami's eye.

"I'm so sorry," Nuri said quietly.  "I'm sure you know what I'm here for."

Asami nodded.  She still didn't let go of Korra, and Korra didn't seem ready to let go of Asami.  Asami watched as Nuri hung a bag of normal saline from the IV pole on the opposite side of the bed; she had already attached drip tubing and ran it across the bed to where Korra sat.  Nuri flushed the line, making sure there were no bubbles in it, then attached it to the line in Korra's arm.

"Since the Demerol worked last time, we'll start with that again," Nuri said quietly. 

Asami was surprised that Nuri never once asked them to separate.  She brought the computer terminal over, scanned Korra's wristband, scanned the unused syringe in her hand, and set it down for a moment. 

"Are you ready, Korra?"  Nuri asked, very unlike last time.

Korra stared at her, tears still streaming down her face, before nodding.

Nuri swabbed the entry port with an alcohol prep pad before connecting the syringe.  She slowly pushed the Demerol, watching carefully as it disappeared from the syringe.  Asami watched as well, stomach twisting in knots the closer it came to emptying.  Once finished, Nuri twisted the syringe away from the line and tossed it in the nearby trash can. 

"I'll check on you shortly," Nuri promised.  She slipped out of the area and left the curtain in place.

Asami tucked Korra's head under her chin and gently rocked her, stroking her hair as she did so.  It would only be a short period of time before the drugs set in and Korra would not be able to hold herself up.  Asami held Korra tightly and spoke softly, wishing more than anything that this was all a dream - something she knew Korra wished as well.  She was totally unaware that she was gently rocking Korra for several minutes.  Asami stared at Korra's arm, draped off to the side, wondering where she was in the process.

As if in response, Korra slurred, "Asami?"

Asami pulled away and looked Korra in the eye.  Her pupils were pinpoint.  She blinked slowly, as if trying desperately to stay awake.  Asami planted a gentle kiss on her lips and then carefully laid her back on the bed, using her left arm to lift Korra's legs and lay her straight and centered.  She reached down and pulled the blanket up to Korra's mid-chest, wanting to make sure she was warm but not too warm.  Asami pressed her forehead to Korra's and her right hand stroked the top of Korra's head.

"Look at me," Asami said. 

Korra did as asked, as well as she could.

"I love you," Asami whispered.

"I love you, too," Korra replied, voice thick with exhaustion.

"I'm not going anywhere," Asami promised.  "Close your eyes."

Korra's eyes fluttered shut, though obviously not because she wanted them to.

"This isn't the end," Asami swore, her left hand reaching down to stroke Korra's relaxed stomach.  "It won't stop here, I promise.  We'll find a way."

Korra was out before Asami pulled away, before the transport tech came to take her back to the surgical theater.  Not for the first time, Asami stood in the hallway and watched as Korra was wheeled away, not knowing what the future held.  There was no way she was as terrified as Korra was, but she was afraid all the same.  She watched until she could watch no more, then hugged her own sides as she dragged herself back to the med-surg waiting area.  Every step echoed in the hallway.  Asami felt as though she were walking in quicksand.

The waiting room was populated with the people she expected.  Bolin, Opal, Kai, Shaozu, and Mako all sat together in a corner; they swiveled to face her as she walked out.  Asami knew that Iroh had gone to the airport to pick up Korra's parents - they'd had a hard time finding a flight to Republic City in less than a week.  She dragged herself to where they all sat and dropped herself into a sofa space next to Bolin.  Asami's hand clamped over her mouth and she let go, the floodgates open, sobs wracking her whole body.  She was barely aware of Bolin's arms around her, Opal kneeling in front of her, or Kai leaping over to her other side.  All she knew was that nothing had gone the way anyone had hoped and she was powerless in this moment.

 

*     *     *

 

Korra wasn't sure how long she'd been out.  All she did know was that she'd had a horrible dream that her foot was being amputated.  She felt as if she were moving; the air moved across her face and neck, cooling her off, and she wanted to ask where she was but her mouth wouldn't move.  She wasn't sure whether she was in danger but she did know that none of the voices she could hear sounded threatening. 

What she understood the least was why her body wouldn't obey her commands.

She wanted to move her right arm but it felt encased in ice.  Why is it so cold?  She thought.  I have wool socks...it shouldn't be this cold.  Where are my socks?

She heard a door open and whatever she was on rolled headfirst until it came to a stop, and a shadow swept across her face.  She wasn't sure what to think, exactly, but this was all too familiar.  Is the man with the glue-stick fingers going to come back?  Or the giant scorpion?

Korra almost wanted to try to take a deep breath, but her body wouldn't comply.  Where the hell am I?

 

*     *     *

 

"Asami..."

Asami turned to face the sound of Tonraq calling her quietly.  Doctor Gao stood there, a sympathetic smile on his face.  Asami stood and shook his hand.

"It went perfectly," Dr. Gao said.  "I got some good measurements before the procedure and we'll be able to come up with some sturdy prosthetics.  They're taking her to recovery now."

Asami nodded and quietly thanked him before turning back to everyone else.  "Surgery went well."

"Go see her," Tonraq said without hesitation.  "Come back when you can."

Asami gave Senna a quick hug, kissed Tonraq's temple, then turned and rushed off to the recovery area.  Korra had been awakened already and was out again.  Nuri stood at her side, waiting for Asami to arrive.

"She woke up exactly as I expected," Nuri said softly.  "She was disoriented and unhappy, but she went right back to sleep.  They'll keep her here until she's cognizant and then they'll take her to the med-surg floor."

Asami nodded.  "Thank you, Nuri.  For everything."

"Doctor Sato?"  Nuri said as she moved to leave. 

Asami turned to face her.

"I hope Korra gets to go back to work," Nuri said. 

Asami smiled.  "Thank you."

She looked closely at Korra, kissed her forehead, and sat down in the chair next to her bed.  She took Korra's hand again and waited.  Asami knew that it could take a couple of hours before Korra really woke, but there was nowhere else for her to go.  This was where she belonged.  Asami watched every movement, every twitch, noted every noise made; finally, Korra began to stir.  Asami sat up and stroked Korra's hair in an effort to ease her passage into the waking world.

Finally, Korra's eyes dragged open and recognition flashed in them.

"Hey," Korra breathed.

"Hey," Asami smiled.  "Korra, can you tell me where you are?"

"Hospital?"  Korra half-asked.

"Good," Asami nodded.  "What day is it?"

"I dunno," Korra slurred.

"That's okay," Asami replied.  "Can you tell me why you're in the hospital?"

Korra's eyelids fluttered a few times and her eyes rolled around in their sockets.  It was as though Korra fought to stay awake.  "My foot itches."

Asami immediately stood up, pulled the blanket back, and scratched the top of Korra's right foot.  Her only remaining foot.

"No," Korra sighed.  "The other one."

Asami stopped short.  Phantom pains and discomfort were totally normal, but she hadn't really prepared herself to hear Korra say that her missing foot itched.  She pulled the blanket further back and saw the stump, covered up to the space above the knee with a stocking, a drain left in place to avoid infection.  She looked back up at Korra and saw that she was out again.

The blanket pulled back down, Asami slowly lowered herself back into the chair and stroked Korra's hair.  Now the hard work began.

Chapter Text

"I am not 'tooling around' anywhere in that."

Korra sat on the edge of her hospital bed, eyeing the wheelchair in front of her with contempt.  She wasn't quite dressed yet, largely because she'd bristled at the very notion of needing help to do so.  After a week sitting in the hospital with Korra, Asami was trying to remember what Korra was going through.  Right now, Korra was being just this side of insufferable.

Kya flashed an understanding half-smile.  "It's only for a couple of months at most.  You won't always be able to use crutches, and the chair was made with ultralight materials, so Asami won't have to wrestle a heavy chair."

"There's no need for a chair," Korra emphatically replied.

Asami exchanged a look with Kya and bit her tongue.

"Unfortunately, there is," Kya replied, standing her proverbial ground.  "Remember what I said?  You won't always be able to use crutches.  Until you've fully healed, you should only use crutches at home."

"I am not going to be an invalid!"  Korra snapped.

Asami turned to Kya, apology written on her face.  "I'll get her up there.  Just give us a few minutes."

Kya nodded and walked out, shutting the door to give them privacy.

"Korra..." Asami began.

"This isn't up for discussion," Korra cut her off.

"Stop!"  Asami nearly yelled.  "I am not going to stand by while you attack everyone who's trying to help you!"

Korra's anger evaporated and was replaced by a wounded expression.  "Trying to help?"

"Yes.  Doctor Gao, Kya, me - we're all trying to help you."

"You want to put me in a -"

"A device that will make it easier for you to heal and get around!"

"You have no idea.."

"Do you think I haven't thought about it?  Dammit, Korra, I have thought about nothing else for months!"

"But you don't KNOW!"  Korra exploded.

"You're right, I don't!"  Asami shouted.  "I don't know, I never will know exactly what you're dealing with!  You know what I really can't understand?  You've finally taken a huge step like this and you still want to ignore every medical professional around you!"

By the time she stopped to take a breath, Asami was crying.  When Korra didn't respond, Asami continued, "nobody - not one person - is suggesting that you stay in a chair for the rest of your life, but you're acting like they are.  We are all trying to help you.  Healing after an amputation can get complicated, and the more you fight this, the longer it can take.  I don't want to watch you struggle any more than you already have."

Korra dropped her head into her hands.  Asami fought to compose herself; she stepped into the bathroom, grabbed a tissue, and wiped her eyes dry.  Once she believed herself to be presentable she emerged.

Korra was dressing herself.

Asami's first instinct was to help.  In light of their argument, she held back and watched.  Korra's stump was now in a cast.  While the cast added some weight, it still didn't equal the weight of her missing foot.  Her equilibrium was thrown off.  Something as simple as putting on a shirt made her sway as if she were drunk.  Asami stood ready to catch her if she fell, but otherwise allowed Korra to do this task on her own.

It took some trying, but once she was done Korra leaned against the bed and stared at the floor.  Her shoulders slumped.  She looked over at the wheelchair - light yet sturdy, it was a brand made for athletes.  The wheels were slightly angled and the back was low and had smaller handles.  Asami had looked at several that Kya had suggested before settling on this one.  It was expensive, meaning insurance would only cover a portion, but to Asami it would be well worth it.

Asami wordlessly pushed the chair over to where Korra stood, set the brake, and waited.  She knew Korra was aware that this was necessary.  Asami came around and offered her hands.  Korra accepted both, allowing Asami to provide stability while she carefully pivoted on her remaining foot and lowered into the chair.  She shifted herself backward to get comfortable.  Asami shot her a look and Korra nodded as if to say, it's alright.

Asami opened the brake and wheeled Korra out of the room.  She turned right down the hall, made her way to the elevator, and took them up to the seventh floor.  This time of day there was a lot of activity in the physical therapy wing, and Korra visibly stiffened at the sight of all of the people around her.  Kya waved them over to a back corner and Asami wheeled her around the edge of the room to avoid running into any of the other patients in various stages of exercise.

Kya knelt in front of Korra and laid a hand on Korra's good knee.  "It took a lot of courage for you to admit that you couldn't keep going the way you were.  I'm sorry I didn't talk to you about this sooner, but it's going to take a little more courage for you to get used to life as an amputee.  Once you've completely healed we'll be able to properly fit you for a prosthetic, but for right now I just want to show you how to safely use this contraption.  Are you ready?"

Korra nodded.  It was obvious that she was working to keep her emotions in check.  Asami could see the fight Korra was putting up, but it was also clear that she was worn out.  Pain medication had kept her calm since surgery and now she was fighting herself.  Asami sat and watched as Kya taught her basic wheelchair mechanics - forward, backward, turning, and the like.  Korra quickly mastered these concepts.  It took less than half an hour for Kya to stand back and smile.

"Well, that's it," Kya sighed.  "I declare you safe to pilot."

Korra chuckled slightly, although the smile didn't reach her eyes.  Asami stood and gave Kya a quick hug.  She was going to offer to push Korra's wheelchair, but Korra slowly rolled herself forward, picking up speed once Asami joined her.

From the seventh floor to the parking garage, neither spoke.  Words were not exchanged during the drive; Asami stopped at the pharmacy near their home to pick up the multiple medications that had been prescribed for Korra (including antibiotics and painkillers).  By the time she pulled into their driveway the silence hung heavy over both of them.  Asami wasn't sure what to think.  She knew Korra was probably angry, but she didn't have the energy to argue.  She killed the engine, got out, and began pulling the new wheelchair out of the trunk.

Korra never gave her time to unfold it.  She was on her crutches and halfway to the front door by the time Asami slammed the trunk shut.  The wheelchair didn't weigh much, but it was still enough in both size and weight to slow Asami down somewhat.  Korra had stepped aside when she reached the front door.  Asami unlocked it and let Korra in first; she set the wheelchair inside the front door then shut and locked it.

She turned to find the foyer, dining room, and kitchen empty.  Korra had already made her way back to their bedroom.  Asami trudged in and found her sitting on the edge of the bed, hands planted on the mattress, head between her shoulders.  She wasn't crying (or didn't seem to be).  Asami wanted to comfort her, wanted to hold her and remind her that she was still loved, but she wasn't sure what Korra wanted.  She was afraid of making her uncomfortable.  Finally, she spoke.

"Do you need anything?"

It was a simple, straightforward question.  She wasn't sure whether she even expected a response.  Korra simply shook her head, never looking up. 

Asami turned and walked out of the room.  She went out to the living room and dropped herself onto the sofa.  Some long-buried part of her mind wondered, is this it?  Is she finally giving up?  Hoping never to answer that question, Asami drove it from her mind.  She sank into the cushions and closed her eyes, allowing her exhaustion to overtake her.

 

*     *     *

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt your regular programming for an emergency alert," the voice of Shiro Shinobi cut through the background noise, getting everyone's attention.  Kai looked up from his food, his concentration on what Jinora had been telling him completely broken.  The crowd at the sports bar went silent as every TV in the place showed live footage of what looked like a war zone.

"Spirits," Jinora gasped.  "That's Ba Sing Se!"

"Months of calm and what appeared to be improving relations between the monarchy and the general population are at an end," Shiro announced, his voice more somber than anyone could remember it being.  "Riots broke out in the lower ring today and rapidly spread to the middle ring.  Moments ago, violence was reported in the upper ring.  Fires now burn inside the royal palace.  Recently-coronated King Wu was airlifted, along with his personal guard and 'some' of his advisors, out of the city just before fighting reached the upper gate."

"But...I thought they had everything under control!"  Kai exclaimed.

"A state of emergency has been declared," Shiro droned on, "and King Wu has officially requested the aid of the United Republic to quell the violence.  We are working to get more information on how and why the situation dissolved so quickly, but at the moment, the monarchy has declined to comment on the cause.  Once again..."

Kai shook his head.  "I guess this is where we get involved whether we like it or not."

"If we don't, this will never stop," Jinora said softly.  "It never should have gotten to this point."

"It probably still would have happened," Kai replied.  "Think about it.  How would we have reacted if the Fire Nation sent their army to snuff out a protest here in Republic City?"

Jinora picked aimlessly at her food and twitched her eyebrows.

"It wouldn't have been received well.  This sucks, but sometimes people have to figure out their own way."

"Say that to the innocent people who have already been killed," Jinora nearly whispered.

 

*     *     *

 

Mako woke to the sound of his cell phone ringing.  The clock read 0322.  Who the hell is calling me at this hour?  He swiped across the bottom of the screen and answered, hoping the grogginess in his voice evoked some guilt on the other end.

"Detective, I just got a call from that snake of a defense attorney," Chief Beifong's voice greeted him.

Mako snapped awake almost instantly.  "You mean Zaheer's attorney?"

"Yeah, Varrick, or whatever the hell his name is," Chief Beifong sighed.  "I don't know what possessed that scumbag to call me before the Spirits are awake, but Zaheer has apparently agreed to attend his new arraignment hearing tomorrow.  I need you to contact the victims and let them know.  The hearing is at ten o'clock sharp."

"Yes, ma'am," Mako replied, tossing the covers back.  He didn't have all of the phone numbers he needed at home and would need to go to his office.  "I'm on my way in right now.  I'll make sure to contact everyone by six."

 

*     *     *

 

Asami put the phone down and took a deep breath.  This was unexpected.  So far, Zaheer had refused to attend a single hearing.  That was his right, to a certain degree, but his official arraignment - his opportunity to declare his guilt or innocence - had been interrupted twice already, the third time pushed back due to his refusal to attend.  Now he was openly agreeing to appear and all of the victims were being given the right to attend the hearing in person.

"Hospital need you?"  Korra slurred, startling Asami.  She hadn't been aware Korra was awake.

Asami turned sideways so she could look at Korra.  "No, um...that was Mako."

"Mako?"  Korra's expression was confused, but she was waking up.  She raised herself up on her elbows and looked up at Asami.  "Did something happen?"

"Sort of," Asami looked all over the room, trying to come up with a way to word it.  Her sleepy mind finally realized that there was no way to put it except to come out and say it.  "Zaheer has agreed to appear for arraignment.  The hearing is in about four hours.  We'd have to leave within the next hour if we want to be there on time."

Korra froze.  If Asami couldn't see the faint movement at the base of her throat, she would have thought Korra had stopped breathing.  A growing look of terror started to build, and Korra almost sounded like she was choking when she opened her mouth to speak.

"It's okay," Asami said, turning fully to face her.  Korra was panicking, a response that was completely unexpected.  "It's okay...breathe, Korra.  Don't try to say anything, just take a breath..."

Korra sat upright and shook her head, still struggling to form words.

Asami reached up with both hands to brush her hair back, then guided Korra to look at her.  "I need you to take a breath, Korra.  You're trying too hard to talk, right now just breathe."

She finally stopped fighting and sucked in air.

"Good, Korra," Asami stroked her face and hair to try and soothe her.  "Don't breathe too fast...like you're meditating.  Slowly."

Her breathing slowed, but her heart was racing.  Asami slowed the movement of her hands to try to calm her down.  This had come completely out of nowhere.  No doubt the very idea of seeing Zaheer in person had been too much for Korra to comprehend, especially a scant twelve hours after getting home from having her foot amputated.

"I can't," Korra finally croaked, shaking her head.

"That's okay," Asami whispered.  "You don't have to go.  I'll go for you."

Korra's breathing slowly evened out and her heart rate began to slow.  Asami laid her back down and got up to get ready.  She didn't have much time, and Korra undoubtedly wanted a few minutes to gather herself without someone hovering.  She showered quickly, gave her hair a lick and a promise, and dressed before putting on some very light makeup. 

Asami sat down on the bed next to Korra and gently stroked her abdomen.  "Will you be okay while I'm gone?"

Korra nodded.  Asami leaned forward for a chaste kiss.  "I'll be back as soon as it's over."

 

*     *     *

 

The drive to the facility ate up more time than Asami would have liked.  Considering how he'd escaped before, nobody was willing to risk moving him to an outside court.  The hearing was to be held in an on-premises court and Zaheer would be there.

Security was understandably insane.  Before she'd even parked, signs announced that all purses, bags, and cell phones needed to be left in vehicles because they would not be allowed inside the facility.  There were two different checkpoints, each with standing metal detectors and officers with wands.  By the time Asami reached the courtroom, she only had a few minutes to spare.  Mako was waiting on her.

Asami was escorted to the front row on the left, behind the prosecutor's table.  Kai, Jinora, Bumi, Bolin, and Iroh were already there.  Only Jinora was in uniform; Asami wouldn't have been surprised to find that the rest of them didn't have clean class B's available at such short notice.  Mako sat down next to her, at the end of the row nearest the center aisle.  Seconds later, Zaheer was led into the courtroom from a door to the far right.  He was shackled hand and foot.  He still managed to stand upright, his gaze sweeping the gallery.  He locked eyes with Asami for the briefest of moments before turning and sitting down at his table, facing the bench.  Next to him sat a squirrelly beanpole of a man in an ornate, tailored suit - his defense attorney.

The time had been no joke.  They'd barely had time to breathe before the bailiff came out and called, "all rise!"  Silence fell and the sound of sixty-odd people, half of them journalists, standing up resounded.  The judge emerged from his chambers and took his place behind his desk.

"Be seated," the judge said.  Everyone obeyed.  "Mister Varrick, I understand your client has finally decided to enter a plea."

Varrick stood.  "My client pleads -"

"Guilty," Zaheer cut him off.

A shocked buzz rippled through the courtroom.  Asami's mouth dropped open.  The judge slammed his gavel once and growled, "order!"

The crowd silenced.

"Varrick, I think you and your client need to have a discussion," the judge rumbled.

"I think so, too, your honor," Varrick chuckled nervously.

"We don't need to talk any more," Zaheer calmly interrupted.  "I plead guilty."

The judge narrowed his gaze and stared Zaheer down.  "Are you aware of the consequences of pleading guilty?"

"I am," Zaheer replied.

"You are charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, nine counts of aggravated assault, and escape from secure custody," the judge rattled off the charges without looking at his notes.  "Are you aware that you are facing life in prison without the possibility of parole?"

"I am fully aware," Zaheer said.

The judge shook his head.  "You have one final opportunity to change your plea.  I'd suggest you take it."

"Guilty," Zaheer repeated.

"Very well.  Sentencing will take place in this courtroom two weeks from today.  At that time the victims will be allowed to give impact statements."  The judge slammed his gavel once.

"Did that really just happen?"  Kai asked aloud.

"I need to get back to Korra," Asami breathed.  She stood and nearly ran from the room, ignoring multiple people calling to her for a statement.

 

*     *     *

 

Asami's head was still spinning when she rushed through the front door.  She hadn't called Korra; this wasn't the kind of news she wanted to give over the phone.  She'd sent a text to let her know she was on her way home and rushed off, driving at near-criminal speeds to get there.  She had expected there to be more noise in the house and was surprised to be met with silence.  She shut and locked the door and headed back toward their bedroom.

She stopped cold halfway through the dining room.  Korra's crutches were on the floor.  A few steps further and she spotted Korra, looking for all the world as if she'd fallen, limbs in uncomfortable positions, hair splayed across her face.

"Shit," Asami remarked, diving to the floor.  She brushed Korra's hair out of her face and noticed that she was pale - and she'd been bleeding from a gash behind her right ear.  "Korra?  Sweetie?  Can you hear me?"

She was trying not to panic, but in the moment it was nearly impossible not to.  She managed to notice a bloody mark on the edge of the counter not far from where Korra lay along with too much blood splattered and pooled for Asami to believe she could handle this alone.  Korra had a pulse and was breathing, but she was unresponsive.  Asami ripped her phone out of her pocket and dialed 911.