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Unharmonic Convergence

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Unharmonic Convergence

By Archer83 and Vergil1989 the Crossover King

Summary: They've faced it all. Revolutionists, religious zealots, anarchists, ancient dark spirits, and a slightly unhinged military leader bent on world domination. The Normandy SR-2 and her crew almost smashing into Aang's face before unceremoniously crashing into the bay? That's a new one. The citizens of Republic City just can't seem to get a break.

Disclaimer: We do not own Mass Effect or Legend of Korra. There, now that that's done we can get to the fun stuff.

Author's Notes: Archer83; This time I basically just thought to myself, gee, how cool would it be if the Normandy and her crew just crashed into Korra's world. Literally.

Vergil1989; Basically it's another of Archer's mad fever dreams that can be blamed for this one lol. Even so, it was a good idea, and I think thus far it's turned out pretty well.


Important Update:  While it's been a while since this one has been updated, I'm thinking myself and Nomad will try to finish it despite the fact Archer83 has had to leave the internet some time ago.  We DO have a couple of other stories going right now, but once we either finish or let them go, we'll try to get this one going again.  As for the other stories we're doing, we have A New Age:  A Grey Beginning, (a Young Justice and Dragon Age story), The Eternal Effect, (a Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 story), and Alliance Criminal Investigative Service, (a Mass Effect and NCIS story), as well as Semper Ad Meliora, (a Persona 5 and Mass Effect story), that we're currently cycling through in a haphazard pattern/when the muse strikes us lol.  Still, we hope you enjoy guys and gals, but I'll be getting this on AO3 in the meantime, along with a couple of other stories I've been updating along the way.  Adios!


Chapter 1: There's Something You Don't See Every Day

It started out as a typical day in Republic City, right up until the spirit portal in the center of what was once downtown flared brighter than it had ever done since it had originally appeared nearly a month ago. The masses turned from their busy day to glance up at the now familiar fixture of daily life in Republic City. It was hard not to, not after everything that had occurred in the last three years and a half.

If it wasn't a power mad dictator threatening to demolish the city with a gigantic mecha suit, it was a dark spirit from ancient times. If it wasn't that, it was an equally crazy leader of an anti-bending revolution. Whatever new threat popped up, the average citizen was all too eager to head the other way. Today was no different as thousands of people, benders and non benders alike, ran as far as they were able as the portal flared blindingly bright before disgorging... something.

Meanwhile In The Spirit World, Five Minutes Earlier...

Korra gave a satisfied sigh, laying under a spirit tree, next to a languidly smiling Asami Sato. She returned the smile, running a hand through her raven black hair, meeting her gray-green eyes. "So, what are you thinking?" Korra asked, her smile turning into a playful smirk.

Asami chuckled warmly before taking Korra's hand and bringing it to her lips. "What a great idea this was... I haven't felt this relaxed in years."

"I know what you mean, and I can't tell you how happy I was finally able to share all of this..." Korra gestured to the peaceful, forested rolling green hills all around them. The spirits themselves had given them space, but Korra's blue eyes could still pick out a few curious eyes among the bushes and trees around them. She didn't mind since they were harmless, and were just curious, innocent observers at most. Ignoring them completely, Korra pushed herself up on her side, her gaze never leaving Asami's beautiful pale face. "...With someone special."

"Well, Mako and Bolin are pretty special too, and they already got to see all of this with you." Asami teased as she sat up as well.

"We were a little more busy with trying to save the world then. We didn't have much time for sightseeing Asami." Korra quipped in response even as a minute shudder passed through her muscular frame. Trying to stop Vaatu and her uncle, Unalaq, had not been an easy fight. She immediately forgot about it when Asami wrapped her arms around her waist and rested her head against her right shoulder.

"You do now. And you have me to protect you." Asami whispered, holding Korra tightly against her.

"I feel safer already..." Korra nervously squeaked, feeling a familiar warmth in her cheeks. Only Asami managed to unravel her so effortlessly, and she wouldn't have had it any other way.

Asami's gaze took on a predatory gleam as she slowly leaned in closer, feeling Korra's warm, rapid breaths against her neck. "You'll always be safe with me, you know that right?"

"Asami..." Korra managed to say, forcing herself to calm down as much as she could even as their eyes met once more. It was impossible not to get lost in the CEO's deep, green gaze. "I think I-"

Asami gently traced a finger over Korra's trembling lips. "Shh, we don't need to rush into anything. Just being here, with you, is enough for me. For now." She teased, but brushed a hand along Korra's caramel cheek before kissing her forehead. "I do...want us to be together, but only when you're ready."

"How did I get so lucky?" Korra asked herself in utter disbelief.

"I was going to ask the same thing." Asami replied. "But looking back now, I don't think it was luck at all..."

Korra's smile slowly turned into a small grin as she recalled how Asami had entered their lives in the first place. "What about almost running over Mako on your scooter?"

"Well, maybe there was a little luck was involved." Asami admitted with a giggle that sent pleasant shivers down Korra's spine. "Then there was that kiss between you and him-"

"He was the first guy I had met outside the compound." Korra shot back, flustered as her cheeks turned beet red. "I had no idea what I was doing in those days."

Asami decided to take pity on the flustered Avatar, and instead turned the conversation elsewhere. "So what did it feel like? Your first kiss I mean."

"It was... nice." Asami cocked an incredulous eyebrow. "Fine, it was amazing, everything I dreamed it would be. Although….looking back, I realize I really don't have a lot to compare it to." Mako had been her first and last person she'd kissed if she was being completely honest.

"Hmm, well there's an easy fix for that problem. You just need more experience... How would you like to find out what kissing a girl feels like?"

"Um... is that a question or an off-" Korra's eye widened, gleaming with a mixture of excitement and just a bit of terror as Asami gently pressed her lips against Korra's blushing face. After the moment had past Korra seemed to have lost her power of speech as she wordlessly gulped for air.

"So, how was it?" Asami asked quietly.

"Better than amazing..." Korra whispered, her big blue eyes shining intensely from what had just passed between them.

Suddenly a massive gust of air swept over the pair and Korra felt her natural instincts kicking in, momentarily wondering if perhaps another Airbender was attacking them, as she jumped to her feet. When her eyes saw nothing, even as she summoned fire to her hands, the Avatar breathed a little easier once she realized they weren't in danger before closing her hands and letting her powers sink back into her skin. "Guess it was a giant spirit passing overhead." A confused Korra stated before looking over her shoulder at Asami. "Guess that killed the mood huh?" She said, and let a heavy sigh escape her when the realization hit.

"It's alright, we'll pick it up later." Asami promised and smiled reassuringly up at Korra before standing to her feet. "We have all the time in the world."

Back In The Mortal World...

"Mama, what's that?!" A small girl cried out, gripping her mother's wrist as the woman turned from haggling with a greedy fish vender to stare in dumbstruck awe at the large metallic object racing over the rooftops of the city. The older woman followed the object's progress until it clipped part of a roof, her brown eyes wide with terror as it shredded the masonry and sent it crashing down to street level, scattering the civilians below like a flock of frightened turtle ducks.

Soon the entire city echoed with excited and terrified shouts of alarm, rising up around them like a audible firestorm as the populous stood and watched. Every man, woman, and child were utterly captivated by the sight of an enormous odd vessel, its swan-pelican like hull a mix of gray, blue and black. Belching flames and smoke from behind it, it plowed its way through a wharf at the edge of the docks, before regaining altitude and nearly clipping the Aang Memorial Island statue, finally crashing into the bay near Air Temple Island.

Not all who watched this strange event that day were numbly transfixed, instead acting without hesitation. Namely, the Air Nomads who called the nearby island home. They had dedicated their lives to assisting everyone in need of there help. A ship crashing into the sea barely a mile from their home certainly qualified.

"What was that noise?" Master Tenzin asked with a huff of irritation. How was anyone supposed to be able to teach a meditation class with constant interruptions?

"Sounded like a airship smashing into the bay to me..."

"Don't be ridiculous Bumi!" Kya retorted and crossed her arms over her chest. Her scowl disappeared however when she smelled something filtering through a nearby window. "Wait... is that smoke?"

"Outside!" Bumi shouted after he ran over to the window and pointed to the crash site. "I told you! Something crashed into the water and you didn't believe me, like usual!"

Tenzin was already on the move. "We don't have time for this! Tell the others what's happened, I'm going to see if I can give them any assistance." His gaze fell on a handful of his students before he gestured to them. "You four, with me. If meditation was too boring for you than maybe a hands on field trip is in order." They didn't need much encouragement to follow the master Airbender.

But one pair of Air Nomads were already on the move, having started towards the vessel the moment the portal disgorged it. "Did you see that?! Whoever was flying that thing is either really brave or really stupid. I'm going to see if I can help them!" Kai shouted out to his friend Jinora before the young pair of experienced Sky Rangers circled the downed vessel in their glider suits.

"We should really wait for the others!" Jinora cautioned, even as she followed after the former thief. There wasn't a lot of time for anyone that might still be alive, not if the vessel sunk beneath the waves and the ocean rushed in, drowning them all. Despite her words, Jinora had already decided to try and save as many as she could, her father would expect nothing less of her.

"There!" Thinking along the same lines, Kai pointed to a damaged hatch on the outside of the ship before he angled himself to land as close to it as possible. "Who purposely lands an airship in the middle of the ocean?!"

"Someone who didn't want to crash right into the downtown Spirit Wilds." Sighing, Jinora frowned and aimed for a gentle landing right behind Kai. Closing her eyes for a moment, Jinora took a breath before snapping her gaze up. "Just so you know, when dad asks what we were thinking, I'm blaming you."

"But you followed me! Sure, blame everything on the street rat, haven't heard that one before. Probably get blamed for crashing the ship somehow while I'm at it." Kai snarked before positioning himself on the other side of the damaged outer hatch. "Ready?"

"On three." Jinora replied with a determined nod before raising her hands. They started to manipulate the air around them, focusing it, bending it to their will as they moved as one in a precise and graceful dance before throwing their hands away from the hatch. When they did, a powerful gust of wind slammed into the damaged hatch, blowing it away and into the slowly calming water with a loud splash.

The moment they did, a voice came from a nearby speaker in the upper right corner of the inner chamber seemingly talking to itself. "Son of a bit- you gotta be kidding me?! Outer airlock hatch is, well, uh gone. Hey, look on the bright side, at least we don't have to worry about ten minute decon scans now. Always hated that damn thing." The two airbenders shared a look before the unseen speaker finally seemed to notice them. "Ya might want to identify yourselves immediately or my girlfriend will be forced to use lethal force. You have twenty seconds to comply. Then again, she might shoot you both anyway since you just tore the damn hatch off its track. She's finicky about her complexion that way."

"Th-that won't be necessary! We're here to help you….uh, whatever you are." Jinora stammered out. "My name is Jinora. And this is my friend Kai." She said slowly gesturing to him as not to alarm or anger whatever was threatening them further. "We're peaceful Air Nomads." Technically speaking, that was the truth since they were Sky Rangers second.

"Actually we're Sky Rangers." Kai said before Jinora could slam her elbow into his stomach to silence him.

"Sheesh, this kid full of himself or what? Uh huh. Good for you Mr. Sky Ranger. Crashed into a city of weird flying little people, that's just great..." The pair looked at each other in confusion as the voice gave an annoyed sigh. "Yes EDI, I know they're just kids... wait has the mic been on the whole time? Well why didn't you tell me?! ... Very funny. Just don't move you two..."

"Not gonna lie. I'd find this really strange before I joined up with you and your folks Jinora." Kai muttered under his breath, only to see that she had quietly sat down on the metal deck, her legs folded neatly under her and her hands clasped over her stomach. Kai knew what she was doing, but that didn't stop him from muttering a sarcastic retort. "And now I'm talking to myself."

Another voice filtered over the speaker, this one decidedly far more intimidating than the guy that had been speaking beforehand. "No Liara, I will not go lay down, give it a rest. Joker... ask him what his friend is doing, I don't like it..."

"Good one Commander. So what's wrong with your girlfriend Sky Guy? She just pass out on the spot or what?"

"She seems to be a practitioner of some form of belief in spiritual enlightenment and transcendence if I were to take a guess, given the meditative position she has settled into. The relaxed, slow even breathing is also indicative of this." This new calm voice sounded much more curious than suspicious, even if Kai suddenly felt like he and Jinora were being watched like a flea-mites under a magnifying glass.

"Uh….something like that." Kai stuttered, and did his best to appear as nonchalant as he could while Jinora was busy, doing more than simply meditating.

"I wonder if you would mind answering a few questions for me while my companions try to muscle the inner airlock door open with brute strength instead of anything remotely resembling logic."

"Breaking stuff is more fun than using a puny brain." A much deeper voice, that sounded like it was coming from two rocks rolling down a mountainside, said.

"Wait, did Grunt just admit he's not the smartest member of his very intellectual species?"

"Just stop talking Joker, and Liara, stop making the kid feel like a laboratory experiment." The first woman stated, amused despite her chastising tone.

Meanwhile, Jinora had decided to look around the inside ship by projecting her spirit out of her body. Only another spiritually aware person could hope to see her now, unless she chose to reveal herself. Either way, what she saw on the other side of the first door had her riveted to the spot.

"Raahh! Open stupid door!" Jinora's only response at seeing the massive talking reptile roaring in her face was about what anyone would expect. She screamed. And soon found Kai shaking her, his eyes full of worry.

"What the... I think you woke her up Grunt, and I think my ears are bleeding, great job buddy."

Kai hardly heard the assorted voices as he put a hand on Jinora's trembling shoulder. "Jinora! What happened, are you okay? What did you see?"

"Mm-monster. I told you we should have waited!" Jinora stammered out, her eyes as wide as saucers at what she'd seen on the other side of the door.

"Ah crap...he heard that didn't he?"

"Grunt, as your Battlemaster I order you to-"

"Monster?! MONSTER?!" The reptile roared after punching a hole through the door. Kai understood why Jinora was so scared when the giant creature tore the door to pieces, making the hole bigger in a matter of seconds, big enough to admit his wide girth. "I am KROGAN! I'll show you a monster!" Just as the scaley humpbacked behemoth took a step towards the cowering pair, arcs of blue energy spread over its armor, and the beast fell to the deck in a smoking heap.

"Or not... thanks for the save Kasumi. I wasn't really up to bending Grunt over my knee right now."

"You got it Shep. Nighty night Grunt." Kai could only stare in frightened awe as a woman appeared out of thin air and gently patted the loudly snoring reptile on the head. "Sorry if he frightened you, don't take it personally, he has that effect on everyone. But he's harmless, once you get on his good side. Name's Kasumi Goto, master thief, and if you're really here to help, well, I'd be pretty grateful, but that's just me talking." The hooded woman glanced from her smoking companion to the huddled pair. "And you aren't listening to a word I'm saying are you?"

"Can you blame them Kasumi? You're not exactly the type to inspire feelings of trust. That dark hood of yours makes you look like a Sith acrobat." They couldn't see the source of the voice, but they started to relax, albeit slightly, as the unseen speaker continued his playful tirade. "Just sayin', you could do with a wardrobe change. But then I guess you'd have to give up your chronic kleptomania. Maybe join an exrotic circus? Put that flexibility to good use."

"Enough Joker. Kasumi, why is Grunt smoking? Nevermind, he can sleep it off." Jinora and Kai couldn't help tensing up as a heavily armored woman exited the ship and stood next to her hooded friend in front of the damaged hatchway. "Kids? Shepard's just gonna love it when she hears Grunt scared a couple of kids."

"Grunt scares kids, it's what he does. But you're right Ash, I am going to have a talk with him, preferably when we aren't about to drown." The first female voice grunted from beyond the door before they saw her. Kai and Jinora had expected injured among the crash survivors, but this woman looked like she'd been through an octo-shark attack.

Supported by an exotic, blue skinned woman, Kai and Jinora could only stare at the battered woman. Her right arm was a mangled bloody mess, her strange armor was burned black and riddled full of holes, with whole sections missing, exposing her burnt and bleeding skin.

"I don't think you're helping Shep." The hooded woman quipped as she knelt on one knee in front of Kai and Jinora. "See, we're harmless….more or less." The thief said as she held up her hands and smiled warmly down at the pair. "You're kinda cute actually." The woman's half hidden almond eyes flicked to Jinora as she grasped at Kai's arm. "I can see why she likes you."

The armored woman nodded, smirking as Kai positioned himself between Jinora and the women. "He's a keeper kid. Just make sure you show him who's in charge once in a while."

"Ash, stop giving the teenagers free relationship advice. Not unless you stop screwing around with Vega and just seal the deal already." Kai was surprised to see a rosy blush on the otherwise formidable looking woman's face. But he didn't get to ponder it for long when a shadow fell over them above.

"Kai, Jinora! Thank heavens you're alright." Tenzin said with a sigh of relief as he and the four Sky Rangers behind him gracefully landed on the half submerged bow of the ship. His thoughts were derailed however when he caught sight of the occupants of the vessel. "Uh, hello..." He managed to say, his gaze sweeping over the growing group of strange and exotic people before lingering on a clearly injured woman and her companion, the blue skinned woman that was physically supporting her. " apologies. My name is Master Tenzin, and it's pretty clear you're in dire need of assistance. We came to render aid."

"I'm not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, not after what we just went through. I'm Commander Elizabeth Shepard, Systems Alliance. The sinking wreck you're standing on is my ship."

Tenzin glanced down at the side of the half submerged ship with a nod. While most of the white letters on the side were burned off, he was able to make out enough of it to get the gist of the vessel's name, or so he thought. "Mandy, a fine name for a fine vessel, but you can tell us more of how you arrived here once we've gotten you and your people to safety. How would you like us to proceed?" Tenzin asked as diplomatically as he could.

"A man of action, I can get behind that." Shepard, gritting her teeth in annoyance for some reason, replied with a nod of her head. "Alright, for starters you can get my people out of here. Then send word to whatever passes for medical help around here, and that'll be enough for now. The rest I'll worry about once I'm sure my people aren't in any immediate danger."

"Alright, Kai, head back to the island and round up everyone you can. If I know Bumi and Kya, they should be forming a rescue effort as I speak. Clear a space for wounded in the Temple healing chamber. Jinora, go help in rounding up the sky bisons. We're going to need every last one of them to transport these people quickly. And someone get my mother….have her to treat for the most critically injured. Starting with the Commander." Shepard looked ready to protest as Jinora and Kai immediately took off while his retinue of Sky Rangers remained. Tenzin held up a hand to forestall the injured woman before she could open her mouth. "Don't bother trying to argue with me, far more patient men and women have tried and failed. We'll do our best to keep the vessel from sinking as long as we can while my daughter brings back help."

Knowing a lost cause when she saw one, Shepard sighed but decided to play along, at least for the moment. "Ash, get everyone out of the lower decks and into the CIC. Tenzin, after seeing those two tear our front door off without laying a hand on it, I'm willing to suspend my doubts for a while. Do what you can. Oh, and if you don't mind, I'm gonna pass out now."

"Ah... feel free." Tenzin said with a concerned frown as Shepard nodded and promptly went slack in the blue woman's arms. "May my fellow Rangers and I assist with getting the wounded out of danger?" Despite having the Commander's blessing, Tenzin wasn't about to move before he was certain he and his fellow Nomads and Rangers wouldn't be impeded, or worse.

For the first time, the blue skinned woman, Liara, spoke, her voice oddly pleasant and soothing to the ears even if her gaze contained a hint of coldness that he had only seen a handful of times. "I know Elizabeth will never forgive me for giving you access to the Normandy, but losing anyone would be far worse. Very well, but be careful, the engineering and crew decks are badly damaged, and the shuttle bay is already flooding."

"Ghana, Naomi, start redirecting the incoming water from outside as best you can, keeping this ship above water until we've rescued her crew is now your number one priority. The moment the others arrive, get back in here and help us get these people out. Fenn and Jevon will help me assist the wounded." The four Rangers nodded before two made their way to the top of the vessel. Tenzin immediately followed in their wake, his hands going to the heavy bag on his hip where he kept a basic first aid kit handy. After the attack by Zaheer three years ago, he hadn't gone anywhere without it.

"What the... nice robe." A bearded man stationed at the front of the ship sarcastically muttered as Tenzin ignored him and proceeded aft with his rangers and the woman called Ash. He couldn't help noticing the strange metallic looking woman sitting next to him though, appearing to have some sort of injury to her neck, nor did he miss the fact that said injury was sparking with energy instead of bleeding. "Hey, cue ball, stop staring at my girlfriend or I'll give you a close up view of my fist." The man sighed as the woman gestured to a small screen in front of him. "Yes, I know that would break every bone in my hand... but you're totally worth it."

Choosing to move on instead of even attempting to figure the extremely odd couple, Tenzin turned his full attention on the heavily armored woman in front of him. For a moment, he couldn't shake the feeling he was looking at Lin Beifong, the way she carried herself. "How bad is the flooding, can you give me a rough idea of how much time we have?"

"An hour, two tops sir." Ash replied simply and to the point.

The impression he was dealing with someone very much like Lin only increased with that simple statement. "Oh, that's reasonable. How many people are aboard this….vessel?" Tenzin asked, not knowing what else to call the odd craft.

"Roughly three dozen at last count." She stated bluntly once more.

Tenzin also got the impression she wasn't someone he wanted to antagonize, not if he wanted to keep breathing. Still, there was a crisis at hand, and they didn't have much time. "I'd like to search the 'shuttle bay' first, we must save the trapped and injured before they drown.

"We're working on that. The crawl spaces are damaged, so that's a no go sir, but we're cutting through the elevator to use the shaft as an emergency evac point." It was the most she'd said yet, and it took Tenzin by surprise, even if he didn't understand everything she had fired off.

"Oh, I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like you have everything pretty well in hand then."

"It's what we do. Still, thanks for showing up as quickly as you did sir." She replied with a quick nod of thanks.

"Please, call me Tenzin. And you have no need to thank me or my people for going what is right. Umm, would you excuse me please?" Tenzin gently tapped on the shoulders of the workers frantically cutting out the bottom of a small chamber. With a nod from Ash, they quickly moved out of the way, staring at Tenzin's waving arms as air currents began to swirl around him. With a grinding screech of metal, the floor gave way and Tenzin gently floated it out of the way before he set it down with a quiet clang.

"What the hell!" Ash exclaimed as the cutting crew stumbled to get clear. "Never seen that trick before..."

"I live to serve." Tenzin said with a wry grin and cocked his head to the side as he heard the familiar sound of a tornado picking up outside. "Sounds like they've gotten the wind storm started. It should buy us some time. Fenn, Jevon, you search the deck below, Ash and I will take the lowest decks." With a nod of approval, he jumped down into the long narrow shaft without another word, slowing his descent until he landed in the waist high cold water at the bottom.

"This day just keeps getting stranger even for us." Ashley deadpanned, but shrugged it off as she jumped down and landed in a crouch next to the Airbender master. "This way si- Tenzin." She gestured and led the way forward through the deck. "So….I take it that's normal, the whole wavy arm thing?"

Tenzin's eye twitched, but he cleared his throat before he spoke anew. "Very. I take it you've never seen an Airbender in person?"

"Airbender?" Ash glanced towards the 'Airbender' with a cocked eyebrow.

"I'll take that as a no." Tenzin replied with an amused smirk, despite the bone chillingly cold water rushing in around them.

"Hey! Williams! Over here!" Tenzin waded after the woman as she dashed towards a man that had been caught under some sort of weighted bars. "My weight set turned loco and decided to try and kill me." Was his amused explanation, even though it looked all too true at that moment.

"I told you overdoing it on the biceps would kill you Vega." Ashley replied, smirking as she crossed her arms under her chest.

"Ha ha. Very funny, just get me loose would ya?" Vega muttered even as the corner of his mouth pulled up into a grin.

"I don't know, I might have to take a picture first." Tenzin rolled his eyes at Ash's poor sense of humor and quickly lifted the weights off of the huge, muscular man before she could do anything of the sort.

"There, are you injured my friend?" Tenzin asked as Vega shook his head and headed towards the other side of the bay.

"Other than my ego, no. Come on Viento, I'm pretty sure the others all made it out, but Steve's stuck in the shuttle. That and I'm pretty sure Tali's not budging out of engineering. Girl's crazier than Lola on a bad day." Vega said before falling in step with Ashley and Tenzin. It didn't take long for them to hear the rhythmic thudding against the hull of a small craft lodged against the side of the vessel. "Steve's omni-tool must be shot if he's desperate enough to use Morse. Clever bastard, gotta give him that. The hatch is jammed, we're gonna need to blow it from the outside."

"We've got this, explosives is sort of our thing." Ashley muttered as she saw Tenzin eyeing the sealed hatch.

"Very well, I take it engineering is above us? I'll go and find this Tali for you and get her to safety." Tenzin offered with a solemn nod, turning towards the elevator shaft. He had a suspicious feeling about the rapid flash of light behind him as he turned to leave, but merely sighed and let it go.

"Good luck, you're gonna need it Viento." Vega warned him with a grinning shake of his head.

"Right, I'm sure I'll be able to make her see reason." Both Vega and Ash shook their heads at that comment while Tenzin frowned and headed for the shaft. Quickly ascending to the next deck, he was distracted by the sight of a half clothed woman, utterly covered in tattoos, assisting an older armored man to the ladder in the shaft.

"What the hell are you lookin' at?" The tattooed woman growled before turning to her companion. "Come on Massani, I'm not carrying your damn ass up three decks."

"You certainly found my guddamn room easy enough." The armored man snarked with a massive grin.

Tenzin paused to get their attention, almost wishing he hadn't when they both turned to glare at him. "Um, excuse me, have either of you seen a woman named Tali?"

"The crazy quarian princess? Yeah, she's back there. Now get outta my way old man." The tattooed woman told him with a jerk of a thumb over her shoulder.

Tenkin nodded, wary of these two already. "Thank you for your assistance."

"Bugger off." Muttered the scarred and bleeding older man, his blue and yellow eyes reminding Tenzin of a particularly rude spirit spider.

Ignoring the crude pair as best he could, Tenzin focused his efforts on finding this 'crazy' woman everyone was talking about and headed towards the jammed open door. "Tali. Tali! My name is Tenzin, I'm here to help you!"

"She's back here." An older gray haired woman said when he came to the end of the hall. "I fear you've come at a bad time. So you're the dashing hero, Tenzin I presume?" Tenzin breathed a little easier when the gray haired woman held out her hand, which he shook. Finally, someone with some manners and a shred of common decency. "Doctor Karin Chakwas, I received word of your arrival some time ago from Lieutenant Commander Williams. Let me be the first to thank you for your assistance."

"What's wrong? Is she trapped, wounded?" Tenzin worriedly asked, mentally preparing himself to use his more fine tuned skills needed for such a situation.

Karin shook her head and waved his concerns aside. "I fear it's a bit worse than that. She thinks she can save the Normandy, but as you've no doubt seen for yourself, there's not much that can be done."

"Ah. I see. May I?" Tenzin gestured to the open area behind the woman.

"Be my guest, but I would advise caution. Tali is the most gifted, compassionate person I've ever known, but she can also be very dangerous if she feels threatened. And as you are no doubt unaware, to her this ship is her home, more so than it is for the rest of us. Call it a cornerstone of her people's culture, to make a very long story short."

"I see, so trying to remove her will no doubt earn her considerable wrath." Tenzin knowingly stated, feeling a pang of sympathy for this Tali. Losing one's home was never easy, no matter the situation involved.

Chakwas frowned and lightly grabbed Tenzin's shoulder before letting him go. "That very well may be the case I'm afraid."

"In that case, I will be as understanding and delicate as possible." With a nod, Tenzin headed into the compartment, only to see a small, suited woman with odd lower limbs frantically working on some kind of device attached to the wall. "Um, excuse me-"

He never got a chance to finish. "I heard you talking with Dr. Chakwas, whoever you are, and you can forget it. I'm not leaving until I get the Normandy back up and running, or at the very least on dry land."

Tenzin sighed, recognizing the tone in her voice since it was one he had heard three times over already for many years. It was the sound of a child refusing to listen to reason, something he was overly familiar with. "Then I'm sorry, but you leave me no choice." With that, Tenzin went through the motions of shaping a ball of air around the young woman, levitating her off the ground.

Flailing uselessly against the confines of her new prison, Tali did her best to glare at the master airbender through the sphere of moving air currents. "Keelah! What the- What are you doing?! Put me down right now you bosh'tet! I have to save the Normandy!"

Tenzin calmly levitated the ball out of the room and down the hall with Karin not two steps behind him. "Shh, shh, it's alright. I'm sure you tried your very best to help your friends. Absolutely none of this is your fault."

Tali was frantically pounding on the inside of the sphere of air now, desperate to get free. "Please! Just-just give me five more minutes, that's all I need! I swear! If I can't get the Normandy's thrusters online by then, I'll leave. I promise."

Tenzin wasn't surprised at her desperate, imploring tone, if anything he had expected it. "I'm sorry Tali. I promised I would see you to safety, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

"So much for being delicate." Karin mused quietly, her gaze riveted to the ball of air before remembering what she'd been trying to do. "The ship is going down Tali. I know, believe me, I know what you're going through, but there's nothing we can do. We have to take care of the crew first, and I'm not about to let you die here for nothing." Karin adamantly stated, even as she tried to reach through the sphere and put a comforting hand on Tali's arm, only to be stopped by the almost solid mass of air that separated her and the quarian. "Hmm, how interesting."

"Please don't do that, it's hard enough to concentrate as it is." Tenzin wasn't happy to see water already pouring into the engineering deck as they reached the elevator shaft. He was however happy to see that the tatooed woman and her crude friend had made it to the top of the shaft with Vega, Ash, and who he presumed to be 'Steve' right behind them. "Up you go young lady." With a powerful shove, Tenzin sent the suited girl into the waiting arms of her friends before the air bubble around her dissipated a moment later. Turning to Chakwas, Tenzin asked, "Is that everyone from this deck?"

"Yes, if your people have gotten everyone else out of the Normandy. I'll have to grab as many of my medical supplies as I can before we leave, but that shouldn't take too long with some help. And if I know Shepard, she'll want us to grab everything we can salvage now, in case we're here longer than anticipated."

Tenzin nodded at the woman's subtle understatement. "Of course. I'll ask my people to help you with that immediately."

"Hey! You guys better get movin'!" Vega yelled down from the top of the shaft as he kept a tight grip on Tali's shoulders for fear of her climbing back down the ladder into a now half flooded engineering deck. "And you Sparky, need to cool it." Vega stated before pinning her against the wall. "We'll get the old girl back, but we need to take care of our own first. Shepard was mincemeat last I saw, you want her givin' in, keelin' over because we let you get yourself killed because of stupid pride?" Tali gasped and immediately slumped in Vega's strong grasp. He wrapped an arm around her waist and gently patted the back of her covered head. "I don't want to abandon the Normandy any more than you do, but we don't have a choice right now. Don't worry, you know how Lola is, she'll find a way to get her back."

"If we're done with the guddamn love fest, I could use a hand with these bloody ammo crates." Zaeed growled, managing to drag a huge crate behind him with only one good arm.

Tenzin had since helped Karin up the ladder before flying up the shaft himself. "Just so you are all aware, even with my people's efforts, we don't have much time before this vessel sinks. I'd suggest food and medical supplies be a priority."

Zaeed gave Tenzin a strange gesture he didn't recognize, but the implication was clear enough. "And I suggest you fuck off. I don't go anywhere without enough ammo to level a small city. It's practically my guddamn motto, if I had a motto that is."

"We're a peaceful society of nomadic, spiritually attuned people. Violence is not our way." Tenzin countered, not liking the idea of allowing the man to bring such destructive items to the island.

"Well it's our bloody way baldy, now if you'll excuse me." Zaeed grumbled and roughly shoved Tenzin aside. "Guddamn monk tries to tell me what to do."

"You get used to him." Vega reassured him as he gently guided Tali behind the grumpy mercenary.

"Really? Because I still have this strong urge to knock him out every time he opens his mouth." Ash retorted as she watched Vega shepherding Tali towards the forward airlock.

"Wait!" Tali struggled for a moment before sighing and pointing towards a stack of emergency ration crates. "At least let me be useful!" She protested and shrugged out of Vega's grasp.

"Alright, but I'm not taking my eye off you." The gentle giant of a man told her as he hefted two of the large crates in both arms while she struggled to lift one on her own.

"Need a little help with that lass, or are you gonna sic your little she-demon drone on me again? Not that I minded that much, or this..." A man with a rather thick accent muttered as he pointed to his black eye. "But, I canna believe you zapped Gabby! You better watch yourself."

A petite redhead nearby took that moment to jab her elbow into the wincing man's side. "Ken, it barely stung, you got thrown across the deck. After she warned you for the fourth time. Adams was the smart one, he just frowned and backed away. Slowly."

"Well, I was nah gonna leave a fellow engineer behind, even if she happens to be a crazed killer woman with a bloody psychotic pet."

"I am right here you know." Tali stopped and looked at Tenzin for a moment before looking at Kenneth and Gabby, her glowing silver eyes behind her purple tinted visor downcast. "I...apologize for my behavior. Logically I already knew I couldn't save the Normandy, but-"

"We don't blame ya lass, but we coulda no just leave ya behind. Even if ya are crazier than a bag of cats in heat."

"You are a very, very strange man..." Returning his gaze to Tali, Tenzin merely held up a hand and smiled, stopping the 'quarian' in her tracks when she looked his way next. "You don't have to explain yourself, but time is of the essence. For now, let's help your friends Tali." With a nod, the younger woman quickly made her way to the front of the vessel after getting an encouraging nudge from Vega as he followed after her.

As Tenzin helped them gather anything that wasn't nailed down, levitating whatever crates and boxes the others hadn't already picked up, he noticed the tornado outside had since died down. That meant the others had arrived, and were no doubt offloading the crew. He just hoped everything would go smoothly from here on out.

"What the shit?!" Joker, the man he had seen on the way inside the vessel, shouted just as the master airbender approached behind Vega, Tali, and several other crew members.

"It's alright Jeff, I highly doubt they pose any danger." The metallic woman said before nodding towards the front window.

"I think they're rather beautiful." Liara said, even straining under Shepard's weight as she was. "Would someone- thank you Ash." The asari breathed a little easier after Ashley ran to her side, slinging one of Shepard's arms over her shoulders.

"I'm going to guess that since none of you have ever heard of Airbenders, sky bison might seem a bit strange." Tenzin quipped, spotting a large herd approaching through the viewports. He was amazed that Jinora and the others had managed to find that many in such a limited amount of time. "You don't seem to be taking this as well a your friends if you don't mind me saying so."

"Ya think?" The bearded man in front of him, predictably or so Tenzin was coming to figure out, had a sarcastic comment ready. "Well let's see, there's a giant herd of flying….furry things outside. I've seen someone fly around on a cushion of air and oh, weird kids that can rip a damn airlock off. Not to mention those freaky arrow tattoos of yours. You tell me."

"Freaky?" Tenzin asked, looking between the sarcastic pilot and his metallic friend with a slightly hurt and offended expression.

"Coming from Jeff, that is a compliment." The metal woman replied with a just noticeable amused look on her face.

"Let's just get everyone on the bison..." An exasperated Tenzin muttered as he focused on getting the hovering supplies out onto the open deck, where Jinora, Kai, and several Nomads and Rangers alike were waiting to receive them. The Metal Bending RCPD had also arrived, led by Lin Beifong as several airships hovered on the edge of the island. "Lin." Tenzin greeted the severe looking woman.

"Tenzin. Mind explaining what's going on? And why this ship almost took out half the city and Aang's statue?"

"Hey! It was in our way!" The ship's pilot growled defensively. "As for your stupid city, trust me, if I have wanted to give it a facelift by smashing a few of those butt ugly buildings, I could have."

Lin's left eye twitched but before she could do anything, Tenzin put himself between her and the pilot. "Once we get everyone out of here, I'm sure we'll get the whole story. For now... just don't arrest anyone yet. Please?"

"Don't tell me how to do my job." Lin said, snatching the front of Tenzin's robes before she noticed several pairs of eyes watching them.

"I smell trouble in paradise." Joker muttered into EDI's ear, not quite quiet enough when Lin turned her furious gaze on him. "Just sayin' scar face. Nice armor, how much did- yaaahhh! Not the hat!" Joker protested as a metal spike attached to a metallic cord shot out of Lin's left gauntlet, impaling his precious hat into the wall behind him. "That's it, you are so off the christmas present list lady!"

"Joker, shut up and get out of the way." Ashley growled, lifting a heavy crate once Vega took her place in helping Liara carry Shepard before locking gazes with the chief of police. "And you... nice shot. Thanks for not breaking every bone in his snarky ass, god knows I've been tempted once or twice."

"He opens his mouth again and I might be so nice. Let's get you out of here. Then you can explain to me what the Hell is going on." Lin said, looking between Tenzin and Ashley before looking to the top of the ship, where a flurry of activity was taking place.

The three of them walked out into the open air and sunlight only to see carefully controlled chaos all around them. The entire remaining unsubmerged surface of the vessel was now packed with crewmembers, supplies and hovering sky bison. Jinora, Kai, and many of the Nomads were on the backs of the bison, guiding them to and from the island with people and supplies. Lin and her metal benders aided the process, manipulating anything metallic with far more ease than Tenzin and his airbending could ever achieve.

"Now THIS is what I call a rescue mission!" Bumi exclaimed, throwing his arms up over his head from the back of Jinora's bison. "Alright ladies and gentlemen, and whatever that lizard thing is... form an orderly line and we'll get you folks off this ship in time for dinner!" Bumi loudly boasted as he hopped off the sky bison and 'took charge' of the situation.

"And I thought Shepard had a flair for the dramatic." Tenzin heard a tall, mandibled creature dryly comment in a strange, dual toned voice.

The Master Airbender turned to the strange man with a wary frown. " my annoying older brother. Just try to ignore him, if that's even possible. I apologize in advance for the multiple times he's going to somehow offend you and your friends."

"At least he's harmless." The mandibled creature asked, dripping dry sarcasm with every word.

"If only." Tenzin replied with a sigh.

"Hmm, and suddenly Sol doesn't seem that bad..."

Not bothering to ask who this 'Sol' person was, Tenzin kept a close eye on everything, taking pride in the organized chaos around him, and how well his students had fared under pressure. Even Bumi managed not to be an annoyance for once as he made a point of directing the ship's crew to the nearest landing bison and reassuring those waiting behind them. It made his heart swell to know they had come so far, but then again, they had all come a long way since Korra first arrived in Republic City.

Tenzin's eyes widened for a moment at the thought of having to explain the monumentally unique event to his star pupil. "Too bad Korra's still on her spirit walk with Asami. She would have loved this."

"Friend of yours?" He turned around and saw that Shepard had woken up from her impromptu nap.

"I think of Avatar Korra as more than just a mere friend. If you stay with us long enough, you'll likely meet her." Tenzin stated, unable to keep the pride from his voice.

"Given the pride in your voice, you helped shape her into who she is now." Tenzin stopped in mid step just as Lin gave the battered and bleeding woman an appraising look. "That answers that question."

"She's good." Lin stated, slightly impressed by the keen observation.

"Come Elizabeth, our crewmates are safe for the moment, we need to get you medical treatment immediately."

"Blue's right Lola. Let's get ya outta here on the...flying bison thing here." The muscular giant looked up to the girl on the back of said creature. "Yo kid, mind giving us a hand? First time flyer and all."

"Get on the damn thing James. I can wait." Shepard barely seemed to have the energy to give him a casual wave of indifference. "I'll just wait for Chakwas to get to me."

"Is she always so-" Jinora started to ask.

"Yes." Tenzin wasn't exactly surprised when the odd man with mandibles and James responded at the same time, as if this was nothing new.

"Elizabeth... get on the flying mammal. Now." Liara softly growled, with a dark look in her blue eyes that promised a number of unpleasant things if her Commander didn't obey.

"Yes ma'am." Shepard replied with a half hearted, sarcastic salute with her good arm.

"Smart woman." Tenzin said with a knowing nod as he helped Liara with Jinora's injured passenger.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Hands On Healing

Liara was grateful when Tenzin and the young boy she had seen earlier helped her get a semi conscious and irritated as hell Shepard into the saddle on the back of the hovering sky bison before climbing on behind her. "Thank you."

"No problem….ma'am." Kai said and rubbed the back of his head, unable to tear his eyes away from her. "Uh... mind if I sit next to you?"

Elizabeth chuckled only to groan and clutch at her right side, catching Jinora's jealous gaze just as it disappeared from her eyes. "Easy there kid, Liara has that effect on everyone. She's taken, so your boyfriend can stare all he likes, but that's it. Good instincts though." An amused Shepard told her with a pained smirk.

"Boyfriend?! ...I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear any of that and worry about evacuating the rest of your crew." Tenzin muttered before quickly walking off into the crowded metal deck.

Jinora's mortified response was to spur her bison into the sky and towards the island. "Yip yip, Juicy!"

"Oops... looks like someone was keeping a secret from her dad. Consider that your first interesting tidbit of info around here Liara." When the sky bison suddenly jerked mid flight, eliciting a pained groan from Shepard, the redhead blinked and stared at the back of Jinora's head in surprise. "And I don't think she likes me." Shepard said with a smirk, before a deep racking coughing fit silenced her.

"I can't imagine why Elizabeth." A very concerned Liara sighed, as she shook her head in mild annoyance while doing her best to ignore the globule of blood Shepard 'covertly' spat over Juicy's side.

"She's right here. Alright, so maybe Dad isn't exactly the easiest person to talk to about... certain things. And for the record, I trust Kai...mostly." Jinora replied, doing her best to maintain her calm while Kai did his best to appear as insignificant as possible.

Shepard leaned over to give Kai a pat on the shoulder, instantly regretting it as she clutched at her side. "Just not around... confident and beautiful asari archaeologists huh? I really don't blame you, kid. So can you please stop sweating bullets Kai?" She asked, looking towards the girl's partner who was directly behind Jinora.

Kai nodded his head so rapidly, an amused Shepard thought he might give himself a bad case of whiplash. The fact he was frantically wiping at his forehead only made it worse.

"You forgot brilliant." Liara quipped, arching one of her blue eye ridges before turning to address their other rescuer. "You have nothing to fear from me Jinora. Despite Shepard's attempts to antagonize you and embarrass your friend, I am only... interested in her." Liara reassured the girl in front of them, as she gently nudged Elizabeth, frowning at her smirk.

"Interested huh? You still taking notes for that 'in-depth... study'?" Liara nudged Elizabeth a littler harder, this time with her elbow. "Ow. Easy Liara, save the rough stuff for later. Like when I'm not coughing up blood." Shepard admitted, having known Liara would have seen her spitting blood over the sky bison's side despite her attempts to hide the more severe nature of her injuries from her. "Which I totally didn't try to hide from you on the ship. At all. Just started, I swear."

"I believe I'll have to find a proper way to motivate you to be more honest with me." Liara said darkly, her lips curling up into a mischievous grin. "And perhaps give you a bit more incentive to recover as quickly as possible at the same time."

It was impossible to miss Jinora's blushing glance and Kai's embarrassed cough. "M-Master Katara should be prepared by now. She's the best healer in the world. I promise, we'll make sure everyone gets proper treatment."

"Thank you, Jinora was it?" Liara asked, and when the girl nodded, the blue woman nodded in turn. "Then let's not waste anymore time."

"Yeah, better go faster kid, before she takes away the rest of your fragile innocence. Turns out asari are really good at that." Elizabeth chuckled weakly.

"Oh really? I don't remember you being very innocent to begin with." Liara retorted as she lovingly brushed a hand through Elizabeth's shoulder length red hair. "Or am I misremembering my first visit to your quarters on the original Normandy?"

"Juicy, yip yip!" A beet red Jinora and Kai shouted at the same time. Coaxing an extra burst of speed from her sky bison, Jinora soon had them at the giant stone temple's front courtyard, right in front of the main doors where several white garbed sentries were already present, carrying a simple stretcher between them. They only gave Liara a hesitant glance before Jinora had them helping Shepard down from the saddle. "Take her directly to Master Katara."

"Of course Master Jinora." The leader of the guards said while his men gently lowered Elizabeth onto the gurney.

"Master Jinora huh? I feel like I should be saluting you or something." Elizabeth quipped, snickering at the deep, appreciative blush on Jinora's cheeks. "And just as humble as Admiral Tali'Zorah to boot." Before the guards could take a step though, Shepard reached out and grasped Jinora's arm. "Thank you for what you did today kid. I owe you, your old man and your boyfriend, and so does my crew. I won't forget that. Just might have to give Kai some dating advice for starters."

"You don't have to thank us, or give me any advice, it was just the right thing to do." A blushing Kai said with a shrug of his shoulders, as if pulling people out of a sinking ship was a routine affair.

"We live to serve." Jinora replied as she smiled and watched them go.

"Sorry guys, my gratitude and advice tends to be on the mandatory side." A grinning Shepard said after waiting until the two young Airbenders were out of earshot. "Nice kids, even if Jinora does have those weird tattoos like her father. Kinda cute actually, but not my thing. Too pale looking."

"Because we all know you prefer a darker shade of blue. And I would posit that those 'weird tattoos' as you call them symbolize their rank in this monastic style order." Liara stated, and knew she was on the right track as the guards shared a slightly surprised look between them. "I gather from your reaction that I am correct?" All the while, the asari let her eyes wander the beautiful, graceful architecture all around them.

"Uh...yes, you are. Masters Tenzin and Jinora are master Airbenders, having found the spiritual and elemental balance that earned them the right to bear the arrow tattoos."

Liara's eyes lit up in understanding. "Ah, just like the battle scarring rituals among the krogan, or that N7 tattoo on your right-"

"Let's not embarrass the poor guards more than necessary. They're just doing their jobs." Elizabeth interrupted, even as she smirked up at Liara. "But I can see why you'd think so."

It was then that they entered a stone chamber, dominated by several large pools of water and lined with dozens of candles. Their eyes fell on an elderly, kindly smiling woman in blue robes standing by one of the pools of softly glowing water. "I prefer not to be rude to guests, but we should proceed quickly if what I heard was to be believed. You're not the only person I have to treat today you know." She stated, her smile widening a little as she gestured them forward. "I shall need your help dear, to remove as much of her damaged armor as we can."

Liara raised an eye ridge, her expression a mix of curiosity and annoyance. Despite what she'd seen for herself so far, she wasn't sure what the point of all this was. "I respect that your culture believes water to have healing properties but-"

Liara's frown deepened when Katara held up a hand, her smile never faltering. "You are strangers to our world, so I shall inform you that it is far more than mere belief my dear. I have saved more lives than you can imagine. But, I suppose a demonstration will be the only way that a highly intellectual person such as yourself will believe my claims, even after what you've no doubt seen thus far."

"Highly intellectual person... what a kiss ass." Shepard muttered softly when she saw the beaming glow in Liara's eyes.

When Liara continued to hesitate, one of the guards stepped forward. "You stand before Master Katara. A Waterbender and healer without equal, and the wife to Avatar Aang. She knows what she's doing." The frowning man informed them, making it clear he didn't approve of Liara's disbelief and doubt.

"It is quite alright. Without doubt, there can be no wonder in the world." Katara said and put a hand on the guard's arm before turning to face Elizabeth and Liara. "I promise, she is in good hands. Now please, help me assist her."

"Very well." Liara said before helping them peel away what remained of Shepard's armor, wincing anytime a piece came away covered in dried blood. Once she was down to her undergarments, Liara allowed the guards to gently lower Elizabeth into one of the pools of water, so that she was up to her neck with her head resting against the side of the pool.

"This is….sort of oddly soothing. What's in the water?" Elizabeth asked once she had gotten as comfortable as possible. No easy feat, since she was flush against cold stone in nothing but her simple black skivvies. Really need to start wearing something other than a damn sports bra.

Katara was happy to explain as she took up position by the side of the pool. "It is highly charged with spiritual energy, taken from one of our most spiritually enriched springs. Now, try and relax, let the water do its work." Katara stated, gracefully moving her hands from side to side, and the glow of the water moved with her, washing over Shepard's body.

Liara was transfixed as her lover's wounds slowly started to disappear right before her eyes. "By the goddess." She whispered, having never expected anything like this in her long life. At the slightly apprehensive expression on Elizabeth's face, Laira gently grasped her good hand. "Hang in there Liz. Whatever she's doing, it seems to be working."

"Is it... supposed to feel kinda... tingly?" Shepard asked, blushing a little at the strange, but not unpleasant, sensations running through her.

Katara smiled at her patient's nervous glance. "The healing waters affect everyone differently, but will cause no harmful effects I can assure you." Liara glanced up just when a thoughtful look passed over the elderly woman's face. "I must say, you are a strong woman to have endured so much pain without much complaint. You remind me of another strong willed woman I knew quite well. A fond childhood friend actually."

"I've had worse….but not by much." Shepard stated quietly, holding back a great deal from the older woman, a fact which Katara deemed not to comment on as she continued her graceful ministrations.

Liara frowned, gently cupping Shepard's cheek with her other hand. "Just rest now, I'll be here when you wake up. I promise." Softly kissing her forehead, Liara wasn't surprised that when she pulled away, Elizabeth's eyes had closed. Looking up to Master Katara, Liara couldn't meet her kind blue eyes. "I apologize for doubting your abilities."

"It's fine dear. You've come a long way and suffered greatly, of that I have little doubt. Though I must admit, you are the first new spirits we've seen in quite some time. But you obviously care a great deal for each other. That is more than enough to assure me of your heart." Katara quietly replied, her smile all but encompassing her face as she stopped moving her arms. The moving glow in the water stopped about the same time. "I have done what I can for her at the moment. I'll want to see her here again tomorrow afternoon." With a nod, the White Lotus guards gently helped carry her back to the gurney just as another arrival was guided into the chamber.

"Of course, and thank you, truly." Liara replied, her gaze full of gratitude for the kind old woman's aid, quietly filing her odd 'spirits' comment away for further research later as she closely watched the guards around Shepard, her right hand never far from her holstered heavy pistol.

"Hey Liara, how's Shep- Ow. Ow! OW! Watch the arm dumbass!" Joker yelped as he limped into the chamber with a glaring EDI by his side, forcefully removing a guard's hand from his arm. Liara merely smirked at the AI's ever protective attitude when it came to Jeff. "Oh boy, that can't be a good sign. I just know she still hasn't forgiven me for that 'And now the continuing adventures of Get In-Her-Undies Jones!' line."

Liara frowned darkly at Joker's comment. "What is he talking about?"

"It is a crude sexual pun based on the adventures of a fictional heroic archaeologist. I will elaborate further later Liara." EDI promised as Tali, ever the proficient engineer, had been able to fix EDI's vocal synthesiser, which she used to make her displeasure known even as the quarian finished her repairs. "I would advise against harming Jeff again if you would prefer to continue metabolizing oxygen."

"Huh?" The guard asked with a confused look.

"Why are guards always such idiotic bosh'tets?" Tali muttered to herself, glancing around the chamber in awe before quietly departing. There were still a thousand things to do before they could rest easily, and everyone knew the quarian would be one of the last to do so.

"I think she means that you will not continue to breathe if you try to 'help' her companion again." Katara stated, before turning her kind gaze on the metal woman. "And who might you be my dear?"

Smiling briefly at the welcoming woman, EDI introduced herself, much to Jeff's wary irritation. "My name is EDI, I am an Artificial-"

"Yeah... Why don't we skip that part for now? At least until we know how the weird magic using people feel about, you know..." Joker needn't have bothered.

"You are afraid of us discovering she is some sort of spirited mechanical construct? She is rather unique, but I do not think you have anything to be afraid of young man."

EDI and Joker shared a look before the pilot sighed. "Name's Joker, and uh...let's just say where we're from, she's not exactly a welcome sight for most people. Long story."

"A tale I will be happy to hear, but for now, let us see what can be done for you."

Jeff winced as he glanced over that various pools. "Ah, I'm good... no weird glowy water for me thanks. I think I'll stick with the probably-not-having-horrible-side-effects kind."

Liara was quick to speak up in Katara's defense. "EDI, as hard as it may be for you to believe, the combination of the water and her skills as a healer are surprisingly effective at treating injuries. Just look at how much has been done for Shepard already in such a short time." Liara explained, gesturing to a peacefully sleeping Elizabeth before nodding towards the guards as they carried her out of the chamber and no doubt to private quarters so she could rest comfortably.

One long, relieved gaze at a partially healed Shepard later, EDI narrowed her eyes and turned to stare at Jeff. "Please do not resist Jeff, I am going to remove your clothing now."

Jeff about jumped out of his boots at that declaration. "Whoa! Not in front of the old mystic lady! EDI, not funny, seriously, what are you-hey! Alright alright alright, I'm stripping down, sheesh. I can't believe I'm doing this. Certainly gives new meaning to 'resistance is futile.'"

Jeff's discomfort only increased when Katara chuckled and shook her head in open amusement. "Ah, to be young again. Young man, I have done this so many times that nothing surprises me anymore. If it makes you feel better, you can keep your undergarments on."

"Uh...right." Jeff muttered just as he began to hook his thumbs into the waistband of his pants and underwear at the same time. "Not that it'd matter, they're standard issue. Doesn't leave much to the imagination." He continued to mutter quietly even as he jerked away from EDI's nimble metallic fingers.

"As you wish." EDI replied with a nod, one of her hands slowly backing from the waistband of Jeff's briefs after helping to remove his uniform cargo pants.

"Please, help him to the healing pool." Katara said with a gesture towards the calm waters before her. Surprise willed her eyes when EDI gently lifted a protesting Jeff and carried him in her arms over to the pool. " must be a very lucky man. That must come in handy during various... situations."

"You have no idea." Joker agreed, a genuine smile flickering across his face even as he resisted the urge to protest against EDI picking him up like a newborn and slowly lowering him into the glowing water. "Whoa….okay, this isn't too bad actually. What's in this stuff? Happy feelings in a bottle?"

"Something like that. Try and relax. This shouldn't take long." Katara said as she began once again. "Just how many broken bones have you suffered through young man?" She asked after a few moments of bending the water to and fro, a mixture of curiosity and concern in her blue eyes.

"That's another long story." Jeff muttered darkly.

"He was born with a rare disease called Vrolik's Syndrome, brittle bone disease." EDI explained, much to Jeff's annoyance. Katara merely filed the information away, knowing when to let a topic drop, at least for the moment.

Suddenly, Ashley and Jack burst into the room, shoving the annoyed guards out of their way, a royally pissed off and bound Zaeed being dragged between them, trying to head butt the shorter, petite biotic in the face. Katara hardly batted an eyelash, having seen it all before in her many years. "Warriors, always the same... He is worse than Zuko ever was. You'll need to remove the armor, how you do that without injuring him even more severely, I leave up to you."

"Hmm. I like a challenge." Ashley taunted as the man struggled to free himself.

"I got this." Jack offered, grabbing Zaeed by the neck. "You gonna be good little grumpy bastard Massani, or am I gonna have to slap your old ass in Stasis?"

"Let go of me you crazy bitch! I've walked off worse than this in my sleep! Hey, what the hell do you-" Zaeed's enraged shout was cut off by a flaring dark blue aura surrounding his entire body.

"Stasis it is then." Jack stated with a satisfied grin, her right hand raised and glowing with biotic energy which had since encased the furious mercenary. "You got two minutes Williams, make 'em count."

"Gladly. Never thought having to bathe a beat up, frail, helpless old man... could be this satisfying." Ashley chuckled, even as her hands flew over the hard locks holding the man's armor together. Pieces were soon flying in every direction. Zaeed barely managed a quiet rage filled grumble as his multicolored eyes burned into the women.

"Awe, those murderous eyes of your's are just so goddamn adorable. I think I'll keep you." Jack said with a grin as she helped Ashley with the last of Zaeed's armor before pulling off his tattered under suit with a devilish wink.

Zaeed was less than pleased by all this if his barely moving lips were any indication. "Mmmuuhhmmm!"

"What was that? You want Williams to take lots of pics?" Jack asked, her grin widening to encompass her whole face. "Hell, take a vid while you're at it."

"You will do no such thing." Katara quietly warned, just as a tendril of water wrapped around Ashley's arm before she could take the picture with her omni-tool. "If you do not wish a more hands on demonstration, I suggest you desist in further embarrassing such a proud warrior."

"Aren't you even a little curious about us?" Ashley asked as she glanced at her omni-tool and deactivated it.

Katara dismissed her tendril with a thought before addressing her question. "Of course. But right now I just see injured and childish people with silly toys, wearing odd clothing."

"And now I feel like I just got browbeat by my grandmother." Ashley muttered, flexing her wrist once her arm was free from Katara's water tendril. "Neat trick by the way."

"You might wanna use that on Grumpy over here in a second." Jack advised as she unceremoniously dumped Zaeed into one of the unoccupied pools.

"I will deal with him after I have finished with your far more pleasant, if sarcastic friend."

"Hear that, I'm the pleasant one for a change." Jeff snarked with a shit eating grin as he watched Zaeed slowly start to reach out to try and choke the life out of Jack, but the biotic was too quick for him as she merely jumped back.

"Keep talkin' brittle britches. I'm gonna break off your arm and shove it right up your ass." Zaeed growled before turning his mismatched gaze on Jack. "And you, if you Stasis me again, I'll forget how we survived Hell together. And celebrated a few times. Actually, that last time wasn't all that bad... Before Joker crashed the damn ship….again."

Jack knelt down and ran her hand through the water Zaeed was swimming in. "Celebrated huh? That what you call a quick sloppy fuck when nobody's looking?"

"No, that first time was the worst, 'specially on my guddamn back. Didn't help any that you like to claw like a damn varren." Zaeed grumbled and looked away, the barest hint of a blush appearing on his scarred, wrinkled face.

"I really didn't need to know that." Ash grumbled as Katara merely shook her head at the pair before moving away from Joker's side, having finished her work on the pilot.

"I could stand to hear a little more." Joker offered, but a glare from EDI had him chuckling nervously. "What? I'm kidding."

Katara only shook her head and chuckled warmly at the bantering taking place around her before beginning to heal Zaeed next. "I had almost forgotten what it was to be so full of life. Despite your strange mannerisms, you truly are not so different from us. Though you my foul mouth friend, are truly brave to try and tame your little smitten dragon."

It was Zaeed's turn to laugh as he finally relaxed in the glowing water. "That's one way of describin' Jack I suppose. And yours truly."

Jack's good mood evaporated like smoke. The murderous glare in her brown eyes would have made most people run the other way, but Katara hardly blinked, not that the biotic cared much. "Smitten?! Do I look like a damn lovesick varren to you old bag?!"

"I have no idea what a varren is... but... yes. If it soothes your ego, know that he cares for you as deeply. You don't get to be my age without noticing a few things." Katara, having finished with Zaeed's treatment, stood to her feet only to stumble. Ashley and Jack both were at her side in an instant, just as one of the guards were. "Oh….I'm fine dears. Just tired from all the excitement. I must rest before more of your friends arrive in need of my skills. My daughter Kya can pick up where I left off if it's a pressing emergency, but I think I'm going to get some rest."

"Do you need a hand ma'am?" Ashley asked, even as the guard that had rushed in took most of Katara's weight from her shoulder.

"No need dear, but thank you for your concern." Katara said and patted Ashley's arm before starting away, the guard at her side staying within arm's reach in case she needed his help.

"Her abilities take more of a toll these days than she would like to admit." A far younger, yet still grey haired woman told them as she walked into the chamber while Katara walked out. Giving the elder woman a quick hug on her way by, the younger blue clothed woman crossed her arms as she closed the distance between the crew and herself. "But stubbornness seems to run in the family. I'm Kya, I take it you already met my brothers."

"We've noticed. And I still have to thank Tenzin and Bumi for their help with our people, with getting them out of the Normandy." Ashley said before holding out her hand to Kya. "Nice mom you've got by the way, did wonders for a few of our injured."

"She is pretty amazing, even if she still treats me like a little girl." Kya stated, and firmly shook Ashley's hand before nodding to the occupied pools, just as Zaeed started to climb out. EDI simply helped Joker to his feet and got him out with minimal effort. "Alright, how many more of your people can I expect?"

Ash opened her mouth to answer, but paused as a small group of injured crew entered the room, one being carried on a stretcher while the other was aided by a fellow crewmember. And two limping armored women arguing over, of all things, who bounced harder around the sealed compartment they had been in when the ship crashed.

"Come on Sarah! A broken leg beats a dislocated shoulder any day of the week!"

"Fine Beth, I'll see your leg and raise you a concussion, my head hurts like a mother. Or as Joker would say, I win, go pout."

"Oh shut up." The other armored woman muttered as she helped support her friend with her good arm.

In front of them, a concerned looking red head was doing her best to make sure the woman next to her didn't pass out. "Come on Sam, don't worry, we'll get you fixed up in no time."

"Kel, it's just a scratch, I'll be fine!" Samantha Traynor groaned in embarrassment as she held her right arm, a sizable gash running from her shoulder down to her forearm.

Kelly Chambers wasn't so easily mollified. "It must be a pretty deep scratch judging by how pale your skin is. Don't even try fooling me, I've already gone over all of the crew's personal files, including yours."

"That can't be legal!" Sam protested, her brown eyes wide with alarm at her new, overly protective girlfriend delving into her psych evals, among other things.

"Shepard 'officially' reinstated me when she took me back onboard. So yes, it is, technically."

"See if I ever come to your quarters for a late night game of chess now." Samantha growled defiantly even as she stumbled, Kelly catching her before she could fall flat on her face. "Alright… so maybe it's a bit more than a scratch."

It turned out Sam wasn't the only one trying to act stronger than they actually felt. "I told ya not to try resetting the drive core heat sink manually didn't I? But no... had to try and be the bloody big damn hero, didn't you?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time." Chief Engineer Adams muttered before thunking his head back down on the stretcher beneath him. His mistake had cost him. The heat sink conduit had blown up in his face, to put it kindly. Only a bit of quick thinking from Tali had spared him from taking the full force of the blast when she had hacked his personal shield generator and overloaded it, quadrupling its capacity for a few seconds but burning it out in the process. Light to moderate burns covered him from the neck down to the middle of his chest, his arms having taken the brunt of the blast when he had shielded himself as best as he'd been able at the time. Karin had done what she could before allowing the crew to take Adams to Katara.

"You're an idiot Greg." Gabby sternly informed him, as she smirked down at her groaning superior officer. "A brave idiot, but still an idiot."

"That's brave idiot, sir." Adams retorted, managing a weak grin despite his injuries.

"Guess that answers that question." Kya said with a sigh, much to Ashley's amusement. "Idiotic bravery doesn't seem to know any boundaries."

"Nope. It's pretty much universal." Ken told her with a grin as he and the others carefully lowered Adams onto the stone floor. "Uh, what's with the waterworks anyway?" He asked, his grin turning into a frown as Zaeed and Joker got themselves dried off and back in their clothes.

"You'll see. I might not be on my mother's level, but I learned all I know from her. Let's get him out of those tatters first." Kya said before nodding to Samantha. "You're next." Leveling her gaze on one of the guards, the healer was already on the move as she barked her next order. "You, get that arm wrapped. I don't want her bleeding out before I can get to her."

Air Temple Island

Guest Quarters

Four hours later...

Karin Chakwas was surprised, to say the least, as she did a quick examination of Shepard's injuries. "I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen it for myself, but whatever this Katara did seems to have greatly accelerated the healing process. Her daughter seems just as gifted, what I wouldn't give in order to be able to perform the near miraculous feats I observed today. Shepard still has a long way to go Liara, but if Katara and Kya are true to form, I think she'll be up and about in as little as a week, two at the most."

"Thank you Karin." Liara replied quietly, truly grateful for the good doctor's assessment.

Karin nodded, having cleaned and bound Shepard's remaining injuries as best she could with what she had on hand. Standing to her feet once she was done, Chakwas put a hand on Liara's shoulder, the asari having taken up a vigil by the Commander's bedside. "You have nothing to thank me for Liara. Even if we hadn't gone through as much as we have together, I'd still do all I can to ensure she has a decent chance of coming out of this in one piece. The Commander would do nothing less for any of us."

"I know…." It was here that the asari looked away. "But at least you remember who you are. I hardly recognize myself when I look in the mirror anymore." Now that they seemed to have come out the other side of the worst war in galactic history, everything they'd face was finally starting to catch up with her.

"I see the same thing Elizabeth does, Liara." Karin said as she turned back away from the door. She understood all too well what the asari was going through. "A compassionate, highly gifted woman, who still manages to hold onto that naive, young idealistic dreamer I met all those years ago. We all might have changed, in some ways for the worst, most of it for the better in the end, but I still see that young girl when I look at you Liara, no matter what you might have become along the way."

"I'll never be able to tell her everything... not without losing her." As the Shadow Broker, Liara had done some terrible things to keep the Reapers at bay for as long as she could. People had met with….unfortunate accidents, others had had their lives ruined, while others still had simply disappeared, never to be seen again. All of them had been either corrupted like Saren, or they had been unscrupulous bastards from the start. Either way, their blood was on her hands even if she had rarely pulled the trigger herself.

Chakwas walked back to Liara's chair and gently pushed her chin towards her so their gazes locked when she tried to look away. She could only guess what Liara had had to do, but Karin wasn't about to let her bear the weight alone. "You might be surprised Liara. What you two share, it's a bond that will never be broken. Tested perhaps, but never lost, not if you believe in it, not if you fight for it. Besides, you aren't the only one that's had to do things that keep them up at night Liara. But I don't have to tell you that."

"No...and you're right. It's just...after all this time, it's finally over. Even if we may be stranded on this strange place, it's still better than a galaxy in flames."

"We'll get through this like we have everything else. 'This too shall pass.', as Ashley would say. We might be lost, but we'll find our way home. And if not, we'll make one here." The younger, yet far wiser woman told her as she patted Liara's knee.

"Home is being with people you care about, not a perfect little house with a white picket fence and a dog... something Elizabeth told me." After a moment of thought though, Liara managed a weak, watery smile as she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Although a bunch of little blue babies and the house sound pretty nice right now. Maybe even a...I believe she called it a golden retriever."

Karin was about to say something more, but a flash of movement on the other side of the door had her smiling instead. "You can come out now. I imagine you have a thousand different questions for us young miss."

"How'd you know?" A young girl asked once she revealed herself, her hair held up with yellow spherical bows on either side of her head. Like most of the Sky Rangers they'd met already, she also wore the yellow and red wingsuit.

"I might be old enough to be your grandmother, but I'm not blind, nor am I deaf." Karin replied with a warm chuckle before looking at Liara, only to mentally breathe a sigh of relief when she hid away her sidearm underneath Shepard's bed. Whatever her thoughts about the young girl, Liara wasn't against company, the subtle gesture of her hiding her heavy pistol said as much.

"Hello, I'm Ikke. Dad said I'm not supposed to bother you, but I couldn't help myself." She fired off, hardly taking a breath between words, much to Karin and Liara's silent amusement.

"Hello Ikke." Liara smiled, finding it rather easy around the excitable girl in front of her. "My name is Liara T'Soni. Doctor Karin Chakwas, you've met."

Ikke nodded with a smile. "I think Uncle Bumi's scared of her, and he's never afraid. Nice to meet you Liara."

"I take it Bumi was in the military? That would certainly explain why he's so nervous around the good doctor." Liara stated rather than asked and nodded for Ikke to take the only seat that remained, which the girl eagerly accepted when she jumped down and beamed up at the alien. "You remind me of myself when I was your age."

"Really? How old are you? What are you? Where do you come from? Why is your skin so blue? Why do you have tentacles on your head? What did you hide under her bed? Oh, I know, it's some type of death ray... or a stunner like Asami's glove maybe?"

"Or something….but it's best if you don't touch it, ever." Liara stated, making it clear with a brief flash of her biotics she wouldn't take it well if Ikke got her mitts on it.

"Whoa! You're all glowy and stuff! How'd you do that? Can you teach me how to do that? Do you glow blue because you're blue? What else can you do?" Liara was stunned by the girl's reaction, even if she did her best to hide that fact. Usually unarmed people ran in the opposite direction when she flared her biotics instead of excitedly asking her even more questions.

"I, um... it's complicated. But I will answer what I can, if you give me a chance to do so that is."

"Okay!" Ikke leaned forward resting her chin on her hands, her gray eyes never leaving Liara's nervous blue gaze.

"It seems as if she thinks you'd make quite the fascinating research subject." Karin could only laugh before she started to leave the room, knowing Liara was in good hands. "I'm sure as a student of ancient xenoanthropology and archaeology you can understand her ravenous curiosity. Have fun you two."

Liara shot Karin an amused if annoyed glare for leaving her with the precocious young girl, but she couldn't blame the veteran Doctor for wanting to check on her various other patients. The fact Liara had become somewhat of a recluse after assuming the Shadow Broker's position was no doubt not lost on Karin, which the asari guessed was also part of the reason for her decision to leave Ikke alone with her. A rather clever 'treatment' the good doctor had prescribed for Liara's inner wounds, and yet another thing she'd have to thank Karin for when things weren't so hectic.

Meanwhile, Karin herself found herself with a tagalong the moment she left Liara, Ikke, and Elizabeth behind. The young boy at her side had his arms crossed over his chest, but despite his attempt to appear uncaring, Karin could see he clearly wanted to ask her something. "What's on your mind young man?"

"Who said anything was on my mind? Maybe I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about? You don't look like much to me. But maybe you're a spy in disguise!"

"I'm a doctor, not a soldier, let alone a spy young man." Karin replied, just able to keep a grin from spreading over her face. "And what about you? Are you a spy? Sent to steal all of my medical secrets no doubt."

"I'm Meelo! And one day, I'm going to be the best Master Airbender and eventually Emperor of the world! Mwuhaha!"

Karin couldn't keep her laughter contained any longer and threw her head back. She regained some semblance of control, even as Meelo stomped his foot and glowered up at her. "I'm sorry, but you are the cutest thing I've seen in a very long time. I'm sure you'll be a fine Airbender one day, but I'm not so sure about the Emperor part young man. Besides, ruling can get so boring and tedious, or so I've heard. You'd be left to plan and worry, sitting on a throne bored to death, while others seek glory and fame in your name."

"Hmmm… I like you old lady." Meelo said after giving Karin's words some consideration.

"That's Doctor to you, you little devil." Karin chuckled again, and left the would be emperor in the hallway to ponder her words. "Tenzin must be so proud." The seasoned woman mused, before turning down the hall just as the master Airbender himself and Lin Beifong, the chief of police, were coming the other way. "Ah, Master Tenzin, Chief Beifong."

"Doctor." Lin replied simply with a nod of her head.

"Did you happen to see my son Meelo?" Tenzin asked, cluing the doctor into his concern that he might have been bothering her or her companions.

Karin waved him off, having expected as much and merely smiled. "He's right around the corner. Don't worry, he hasn't yet managed to conquer the known world. He is quite the enthusiastic young boy though, and your daughter Ikke is the most curious girl I've ever seen. I left her with Liara and Commander Shepard. I can assure you, she couldn't be safer. And if you would, please give my personal thanks to your eldest Jinora. She acquitted herself quite well under pressure. You've done an amazing job of raising them."

"Thank you for your kind words Doctor Chakwas." Tenzin humbly replied with a slight bow.

"They aren't bad kids, even if they can be a handful at times. Especially the little wanna-be tyrant." Lin drawled, a barely visible smile on her face which disappeared when Tenzin glanced her way. "What? It's the truth and you know it."

"I take it this is more than a simple chance meeting." Karin stated rather than asked, sensing a history between the pair that she wisely didn't comment on.

"Your vessel did destroy city property and crashed in our sovereign territory. I was hoping to get a chance to talk with your leader, but I understand she's likely still unconscious. Even so, there's a lotta people demanding answers and the most incessant of them is President Raiko himself. I've been asked to get those answers."

"I understand, and I'll be happy to tell you what I'm able, but I won't risk the Commander's health on a whim just to satisfy someone's curiosity, no matter who they happen to be."

"I had a feeling you'd say that, and I honestly don't blame you Doctor. Still, it's my job. Think you can get your people together, those able to attend I mean? I'll excuse your wounded from questioning, for the time being that is."

Tenzin slammed a hand over his face at Lin's usual complete lack of tact. "Lin..."

"How gracious of you." Chakwas muttered, unable to keep the sarcastic bite out of her voice. "I'll pass your request along to XO Vakarian. Hopefully his omni-tool still works, as does our short range communication capabilities. Otherwise you'll find it rather hard to ask him much of anything."

"Right, I'll leave you to it then." Karin was just about to start walking to see her next patient again only to feel Lin's hand on her shoulder. "You have a pretty good crew behind you doc. I might not know what the hell's going on around here, but I can see that much."

"On that, we certainly can agree Chief Beifong." Which part she was agreeing with, Chakwas tactfully kept to herself. With a nod, Karin continued on her rounds, smirking as she passed by James doing his best to try and teach a few of their hosts Skyllian Five with an old beat up deck he always had hidden somewhere. "How goes it Mr. Vega?"

Having found a few guards that weren't quite as stiff, James had talked them into finding a quiet bench in the interior courtyard and sitting down for a couple hands. "Doin' alright Doc. Apparently nobody around here knows what a bluff is though, takes half the fun out of it."

"Well then, I suggest you do a better job of teaching your new students how." Karin made a point of glancing towards Vega's cards and smirking at the other players "The good Lieutenant always rubs at his jaw when he has a good hand, you might want to make a note of that." The white garbed guards perked up immediately while Vega winced at Karin's comment.

"Sheesh doc, thanks for letting them know. Guess I'm done for. I fold." James said with a sigh and set his hand down, face down on the table. It was just as well because the guy across from him had a hand better than he did. "Nice. That's a full house buddy, one of the better hands in the game. Beginner's luck."

"Whatever you say Mr. Vega." The man said, chuckling in retort before reaching for the small, primitive looking radio on the other end of the table. "Republic City's only good station, not counting the pro-bending broadcast station, but they play some good music."

"I could get used to living around here." James said when a jazzy number began to filter out of the small brown radio at the end of the table.

"Enjoy yourself James." Karin said, smirking widely as she left the men to their game. She needed to find Garrus, or try to use her omni-tool to contact the turian. Either way, she was coming to like the little island, even with the news that the outside world was waiting on answers. And they certainly weren't going to wait long. As for Vega, even if he was doing a good job appearing otherwise, Karin knew he was standing guard over Shepard's quarters by discreetly keeping an eye on who came and went down the hall. It was all the assurance Karin needed to continue on her search for their resident turian sharpshooter.

She didn't have to wait long when she found him talking to Jinora, who was busy feeding her sky bison. "He always had this runny nose problem miss?"

"Yes he has." Jinora replied, clear exasperation in her voice even as she lovingly patted the creature's big head. "And I didn't choose him, he chose me. That's just how it works. And once a sky bison chooses its partner, they're bound for life, trust me I checked."

"Awww, who could say no to this big fella?" Garrus cooed to the massive bison, patting him on the head. "Certainly better than the first pet I had when I was a kid, little varren pup chewed up everything. Never underestimate a loyal pet though. Variaxis got me out of trouble more than once."

Karin watched as Jinora looked up at the exceedingly tall alien, the question she knew was no doubt driving her crazy on the tip of her tongue, but she was too kind to ask it outright. Garrus didn't miss her curious glance and chuckled after handing one last armful of hay and grass to the bison. "You can ask you know. I promise I won't bite."

"Alright. You aren't a spirit, but you came from the Spirit Portal. Just...what are you?"

"What do you think I am?" Garrus asked and looked away from Juicy when it took off, a contented growl escaping the beast. "That's it boy, go on home. Try and annoy your little sister for me, if you happen to have one."

Jinora smiled, relaxing at the easy going, sarcastic humor that practically radiated off of Garrus, much to Karin's silent joy as she continued to observe them quietly. "Honestly? I have no idea." Jinora admitted after giving his question some thought.

"Guess you don't have a lot of science fiction in this little neck of the galaxy then. Come on, ask me some questions, I bet you can figure it out on your own with a little deductive reasoning. Or as a famous human detective once said, 'When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.'"

"Sounds like a smart man." Jinora replied, before putting a hand to her chin. "You have a bird like physiology, you're covered in hard plates, and have talons on each hand instead of fingers, just to go through the most obvious differences. You're clearly not human, yet you're not a spirit either, like I said. I would have sensed you if that were the case. The only logical conclusion is that you… came… from-" Jinora paused at the incredible nature of her personal realization, staring up towards the countless stars above before turning her gaze back at Garrus with newfound awe in her brown eyes.

"Another world?" Garrus finished for her when she trailed off. "You'd be on the right track kid. Mind blowing isn't it? I bet you suddenly feel a lot less lonely looking up at the sky."

"This is….beyond incredible! It changes everything we thought we ever knew about our stars! I mean….that-this-oh just wait until Korra hears about this!" Much to Karin's immense amusement, Jinora all but flew straight up towards the sky before seeming to remember herself. She stopped and while she couldn't stop the wide grin on her face, Jinora seemed to have regained some measure of her composure. "Sorry. But this is beyond life changing, the implications of your existence, of your friends' existence..."

"It's also a very dangerous thing to expose to the wrong people Jinora." Karin said, hating to burst Jinora's bubble, but it was the truth. "Can you imagine the unrest such a thing would cause if this wasn't handled delicately? You're a smart girl, I think you can figure that out as well."

"When Korra brought the spirits back to our world, there was some panic and unrest. This would be many times worse, but that doesn't change the fact it's still amazing." Jinora replied solemnly, much more sedately, but the wonder hadn't left the girl's eyes. "Most of the people here might just believe you're strange spirits, even if you show them proof to the contrary."

"Hmm. A real Archangel... I have always wanted to be worshipped as a living god..."

"And now you've given his already inflated ego a reason to get bigger." Karin deadpanned, earning a quiet chuckle from Jinora and a feigned look of pain from Garrus.

"Ouch. Can't a guy fantasize a little?" Garrus asked, his mock frown only seeming to deepen.

"And I'm sure Jack could use her biotics to convince the masses to bow and grovel before her." Karin drawled, just able to contain her laughter for the second time that day. "But that doesn't make it a very good idea, now does it?"

"Good point. And there goes my dream. You're a real mood killer Doc. The reign of Archangel would have been glorious. Not to mention really good looking."

"Is he always like this?" Jinora asked, her face locked in a perpetual smile at this point.

"You have no idea Jinora." Karin replied, grinning despite herself. "But despite his odd sense of humor, he is harmless to his good friends. And he seems to have grown attached to you already."

"I'm right here doc." Garrus pouted, but chuckled, knowing Chakwas had come looking for him for more than his witty banter and charming personality. "But the doc's got a point. I like ya kid, but my opinion's probably biased since you and your folks helped us out when we were in a bad way. You didn't waste time asking questions, you just went in and got the job done, I can respect that. And I owe you one. If your boyfriend ever gives you any trouble for instance, I'd be happy to have a nice little chat with him. Or say, if a well armed gang happens to be holding someone you'd rather not have to pay the ransom for, I'm your turian."

"Good to know." Jinora replied before hesitantly holding out her hand. "And as I've said before, it's our way to serve those in need."

"Selfless service and sacrifice huh? You and your Air Nomad friends would have made good turians." Garrus told her as he made a point of gently shaking her hand. "Now if you'll excuse us, me and the doc have rounds to make. I'll see ya around Jinora."

"Of course. It was nice talking with you Mr. Vakarian." Jinora said before turning to run off.

But Garrus chuckled and waved her formality off. "Just Garrus to you kid. Mr. Vakarian is my old man." Once she was out of earshot, Garrus turned to Karin, a thoughtful look on his mandibled face. "This place is truly the best we could have hoped for doc, even if you made a valid point. But I think she might have been onto something with all this talk of spirits and the like living among them. Saw a few floating around the kid's head while we were talking and feeding her giant pet. The fallout might not be so bad as it was for your people back in the day."

"Perhaps not, but that doesn't change the fact it's still something to consider. But that's not why I need to talk to you Garrus. We're already being asked to explain our arrival."

"And you want the crew gathered together, those still able to stand anyway." Garrus stated, needing no further explanation as he tapped at his omni-tool. "Short range comms are still functional. Should be able to get in touch with everyone at once. I'll get to work on that when I'm able to sit down for more than five seconds."

"Thank you Garrus. The crew is going to look to you and Ashley for the time being-"

"Hey, we're just keeping Shepard's seat warm. ...If she had a seat in the CIC that is. Turian ship architecture for you, better to look over your officers' shoulders anytime you walk by."

"It worked for us." Karin replied and chuckled before patting Garrus's back. "Even so, you aren't alone in this. This world might be strange, even by our standards, but the natives have been quite welcoming so far."

"And it's my job to plan for when they suddenly don't feel so welcoming anymore. Maybe I'm just getting paranoid... Shepard tends to have that effect on people if you haven't noticed."

"We're no longer in the middle of a war Garrus, we can finally relax. Why do you think I didn't intervene right away when I saw you were occupied with one of our new young friends?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if you left a 'friend' with Liara and Shepard with that reasoning." Garrus quipped, even if he was being completely serious.

"She did." Kasumi chortled, making herself visible to her old friends. Neither Garrus or Karin so much as batted an eyelash. "Charming little lady too, and I thought Liara was overly curious. Ikke's still going a mile a minute last I saw, but you chose well doc. Liara's warmed up to the little spitfire. I think she was originally destined to lecture a classroom full of wide eyed children instead of well, you know."

They both knew all too well what the master thief was hinting at. "I'm glad to hear it." And Karin was indeed very glad to hear that Liara had found someone to talk with, even if it was over something as inconsequential as her favorite food or her favored reading material. Karin didn't need Kelly to tell her they'd eventually need to reintegrate into normal society again. She just wasn't a big believer in taking baby steps, and so had taken her own steps to put Ikke in Liara's path. And Shepard's, if she had woken up at any time since leaving Ikke with the asari and the Commander. Besides, Karin hadn't needed Liara to tell her that they wanted a family together. This was as good a time as any to get a taste of what they'd be in for. And Tenzin's children certainly ran the gamut of what they could expect when expecting.

"How is Shep going to be Doc? Really?" Kasumi asked, her smile having disappeared by the time Karin was drawn out of her thoughts. "When I saw her last….she looked like she'd been put through a meat grinder. Before I became a part of this crew, I lost someone I cared about more than anything else, and now I'm afraid I'm going to lose a second."

"You have nothing to worry about Kasumi." Karin softly and put a hand on the thief's back while Garrus put a taloned hand on her shoulder. "Whatever these people are capable of, their elder Katara did near miraculous work for her physical injuries. Time will tend to the rest, time and our support."

"And Liara's tender loving care in Shepard's case." Garrus quipped, earning a choked laugh from the thief and a playful glare from Karin.

"I suppose I would know better than most... err, about how close they are." Kasumi sighed and waved her arm towards Chakwas, activating her omni-tool. "Erase that data packet for me would you? I don't trust Garrus to actually delete it."

"I'm hurt." Garrus chuckled dryly, doing his best impression of a human smirk. "But probably guilty as charged."

"I'm almost afraid to ask what it is." Karin replied as she put the packet in a secure corner of her own omni-tool's hard drive once it had been downloaded.

"Let me put it this way, Liara's got a surprising amount of reach, flexibility, and strength." Kasumi chortled again, smiling mischievously under her dark hood. "And she cheats with her biotics, poor Shep didn't have a chance of winning those 'battles'."

"So, trading war stories are we?" They all turned to see Bumi's smirking face on the other side of the open air courtyard. "And I missed it? Darn. Hey, you wanna hear how I saved Avatar Korra and her friends with nothing but a flute, a fire ferret, and a polar bear dog?!"

"Um... maybe later? I gotta get back to the proverbial grind." Garrus muttered, uncertain if Bumi was insane or just an outlandish liar. Either way, he was immensely glad he seemed to have missed the very...personal portion of their conversation. "Give me a minute to talk with the crew Doctor, I'm sure Commander Bumi can keep you entertained in the meantime." Garrus told her with a smirk, despite Karin's frigid stare as he walked off to speak in private.

"Have fun Karin." Kasumi chuckled as she disappeared before Bumi's astonished gaze, causing the man to jump as she brushed past him on her way to the island library. If she had her way, a few dusty old tomes would go missing for a short while, and replaced just where she found them. "Boo! Sorry, I couldn't resist."

Karin could only sigh and shake her head when her crewmates disappeared on her, literally or otherwise. "Deserted by my crewmates. I'll remember that the next time they get injured. Or if that nasty scale fungus comes back."

"And you're the Chief Medical Officer, fancy way of saying Master Healer, but probably just as...powerful when it come time to decide who gets to fight and who gets to retire. That makes them either very brave or very stupid." Bumi deadpanned, wilting under Karin's gaze when she directed it his way. "On second thought….I forgot I have some uh...stuff to do for Tenzin. See ya!"

"Wait." Karin called out, and relaxed a little when Bumi stopped. "I'd actually like to hear your story if you wouldn't mind, since, as unbelievable as it sounds, I believed every word." With what they'd been through, it didn't sound so outlandish.

"That'll be a first." Bumi drawled before brightening as if a switch had been flipped. "Still, I'll be happy to tell ya all about it!"

Before he could begin to tell his story, Karin felt rather than saw someone approaching them from the stone stairs behind them. "All about what Bumi?"

Karin only raised an eyebrow when the old military veteran and recent Airbender did a double take, only to relax and smirk wider still. "Oh, hey Korra, I was just telling this very discerning, beautiful woman about how I singlehandedly-"

"Still telling your outlandish stories Commander Bumi?" A second voice called out, an amused note in her voice as she caught up with the first. It only took Karin a moment to guess who these two lovely young women were from all she'd heard while tending to the crew alongside Kya and Katara. "Oh, hello. I didn't know Master Tenzin was entertaining guests. It's nice to meet you. I'm Asami Sato."

"And your friend must be Avatar Korra. We've heard a great deal about you both since our...unexpected arrival." Karin replied, smiling warmly towards the pair even as she debated what to tell them.

"Hey Doc, I've informed the crew. The sooner we get let the local authorities investigate, the sooner they'll be off our backs. I've got a good feeling about Chief Beifong but- Well hello there..." Rolling her gray-green eyes at the overconfident male voice behind her, Asami turned to give him a piece of her mind. And then she screamed at the top of her lungs.

Garrus had all of two seconds to realize his monumental mistake before he jerked back at the last second, a fist wreathed in fire nearly connecting with his jaw. "What the-" He never got a chance to finish when he was sent flying the next instant, a blast of wind slamming directly into his armored chest. "Ow." The turian groaned from his new position on the ground. "Okay, that was my fault."

"Get back Asami!" Korra shouted, shoving the taller woman behind her before she glared down at the groaning thing in front of her. "Whatever you are, you are one ugly-" Korra blinked in confusion. "Wait, did it just talk?"

"It has a name... which I might tell you when my damn head stops ringing." Garrus groaned as he put a hand to his head, feeling like he'd gotten hit by a skycar.

If not for the restraining hand on her shoulder, Korra would have followed up with an earth stomp, further sending the turian flying. "It's alright. I don't think it's... he's... dangerous. Is he dangerous?" Asami cautiously asked as she swept her gaze over the tall, dark plated alien in front of her.

"Far from it. He just looks terrifying, I can assure you." Karin said, hoping to reassure the two women before anything else happened. "Don't mind the scars, he's under the delusion women find them attractive."

"The heavily reduced gang population on Omega would disagree with you Doc." Garrus muttered, rubbing at his jaw. "And of course they find them attractive... I think... at least when they aren't trying to kill me."

"Okay….what exactly happened since we've been gone?" Korra demanded, making it clear she wanted answers right now and she wouldn't be content until she got them.

"Quite a lot kid." Bumi replied, grinning from ear to ear as he helped Garrus to his feet. "Sorry 'bout that. Korra here is just... awfully protective of Asami. Thick as thieves, these two."

"Yeah, I kinda got that impression. She has a hell of a fiery right hook too. Nice trick." Garrus deadpanned as he and the bright blue eyed, brown skinned human eyed each other warily. "You know, usually this is where I would have said 'scoped and dropped' by now... but in your case I'll make an exception."

"What?" Korra, clearly confused, muttered blinking at him owlishly.

"Garrus? Stop talking." Karin deadpanned before turning her gaze on the pair of women. "I know you both must have a lot of questions. I need to check on the crew, but I can work and talk at the same time."

"Sounds better than standing around here all day." Asami replied before looking towards Korra who only nodded her head in agreement.

Before Karin could lead the two away, Garrus decided to open his mouth again. "Mind if we start over? Hello, I'm Garrus Vakarian, I like long walks on the beach and not getting punched in the face. Just to go for the obvious ones on the list."

"Speaking of which, what happened to it... your face I mean?" Asami asked , her curiosity getting the better of her now that she had a moment to peer closer at the incredible strange... whatever he was, standing in front of her.

"Oh, these roguish scars?" Garrus asked, giving her his best impression of a turian smirk he was capable of.

"Um, okay...let's go with that." Korra bit her tongue at Asami's sudden shift from curiosity to amused uncertainty.

Garrus huffed, spreading his mandibles in the process and getting far more enjoyment out of the way Korra flinched then he should have. "Well will you look at that? I didn't think you'd be put on the defensive so quickly kid."

"Keep talking and I'll happily go another round Scarface." Korra grumbled, annoyance radiating off of her in waves.

Garrus waved her off with an annoyed growl, cracking his aching back as subtly as possible before flicking his raptor like gaze to Asami. "But to answer the question I know you're just dying to ask, myself and a few of the crew aren't exactly from around here. " Karin sighed in clear exasperation at Garrus's rare lack of tact. But when the two women only blinked in confusion, the turian struggled to find the words to explain exactly what they were staring at. "You know, as in not from this planet? I'm really starting to appreciate how much more difficult it is to explain certain concepts when none of the locals have heard of science fiction before."

"You... you're amazing!" A wide eyed Asami told him as she dared to lean a little closer.

"I get that alot." Garrus stated with his usual dry wit.

Before Korra could begin to protest, Bumi put a hand on the girl's shoulder before jerking his head towards another part of the temple grounds. "Come on, I'll do what I can to explain kiddo. But suffice it to say, our world just got a lot bigger."

"Alright, I'm listening." Korra replied simply as she fell in step with Bumi.

Asami meanwhile was still staring at Garrus like a particularly interesting schematic. "Tell me, how did someone like... you get here?"

"Here specifically? Well I'm sure it had something to do with the big light show when we were in FTL, trying to-"

"FTL?" Asami asked, her gray-green eyes brimming with curiosity.

"Faster than light trav-"

"Faster than light? How is that even possible?!"

"You'd be surprised how easy it is." Garrus replied before a thought occurred to him. "You know what, I think you and a friend of mine would get along well. Just gotta find her."

"Alright, but what type of airship do you use, I have so many questions... where to start. Is the engine powered with-"

"Well, first of all, it's a star ship. Second, I'm a sniper, not an engineer. I wouldn't know a shield coupling from a socket wrench. That's what Tali's for, she's one of the smartest people on the crew. And I take it you're the brains in your own little group." When Asami's eyes widened slightly at his astute observation, Garrus chuckled and nodded. "Figured as much."

"I want to, I have to meet her. Right now would be good if she isn't busy." Asami demanded, before blushing and remembering her manners.

Garrus chortled and waved her off before she could apologize. "For a fellow gearhead? Just me talking, but she's never that busy."

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Getting To Know The Neighbors

Tenzin gave a peaceful sigh as he quietly pondered the universe, which he would no doubt be doing far more often now that it seemed the universe had just gotten a whole lot bigger over night. "At least most of that woman's... crew are easy to get along with." He mused aloud, honestly surprised even the giant armored lizard had been reasonable, and had even been somewhat apologetic for scaring his daughter Jinora, although Tenzin suspected one of the others had gave him a stern talking to first. Whatever the reason, the morning had dawned bright and clear, and while most of the island's inhabitants were no doubt still asleep, Tenzin was oddly eager to see what the day brought.

"Okay you morons, who the hell told you you shouldn't be using your freak air powers for offense? No need to worry about defending yourselves if you knock the other guy on his ass first before he has a chance to start any shit!" Tenzin sighed and ran a hand down his face as he looked towards the brash, arrogant young woman. She was standing before several of his Air Nomads, on an upper terrace where he held some of his private classes.

Kai at least didn't seem all that intimidated by her as he stared defiantly up into the tattooed woman's snarling face. "I'm not against defending myself, but attacking first isn't our way. Violence tends to only cause more trouble than it's worth."

"Says you shrimp. Care to test that? Tell you what, you just stand right there and let me do whatever I want. Sound good?" Jack asked with a devilish smirk as her biotics flared to life. Kai immediately dropped into a defensive stance, much to the former convict's amusement. "At least you have a basic survival instinct kid. Let's see what you got!" Jack roared as she flung a pathetically weak Warp at the boy, mildly surprised to see he was smart enough to dart out of the way. "Not bad. Most idiots try and block their first biotic attack, they usually end up smears on the deck. Word of advice? Anyone comes at you with biotics, you hit them hard first, or get the f-hell outta the way."

"Um….what are biotics anyway Miss Nought?" Another of the Air Nomads asked, earning her a bemused glare for her trouble.

Jack shook her head but smirked and crossed her arms under her chest. "You want an answer? Get up and show me something interesting kid."

"Um, alright let's see, oh I know!" The Acolyte gave her a slight bow before waving her arms gracefully, but just as a controlled air pocket started to form between her hands, she paused mid stance as a light blue glow enveloped her.

"What the hell was that? For future reference, that means try hit me, not bore me to death with your stupid dance moves. I'm not looking for some pansy ass demonstration here." Turning her back, Jack let the Stasis field dissipate, letting young girl drop to the stone floor. "Who's next? And if any of you make me wait more than a split second, you'll get the same or worse." The biotic's lip curled up when her heard a frustrated growl behind her, turning just as a wall of air slammed into her and sent her flying. Jack rolled to her feet though, nimble as a cat, and grinned up at her attacker. "Better. Shoulda followed through though." She told the young doey eyed girl she had locked down with a Stasis field not two seconds ago. "You hit a target, you keep on hitting them until they don't get back up. Only way to be sure you live another day."

"Ahem. I see you've met my morning Ethics class. And managed to prove my entire argument for nonviolence in only a few minutes. Bravo." Tenzin muttered, not exactly surprised by what he'd seen already.

Jack snorted and shook her head in disgust. Shepard would want her to play nice with these people, but she sure as hell wasn't going to be polite. "Hate to break it to you baldy, but it's a load of crap. The only way you can get by in this galaxy is if you stand up for yourself before the other guy puts you in the ground. Trust me, I've been there."

"I suppose that is one school of thought, flawed as it is. Which will not be taught to my students as long as I am the one they seek for spiritual enlightenment."

"All that enlightenment crap won't do them any good if they're dead." Was Jack's less than subtle retort. She sighed and held up a hand before Tenzin could respond, her hard visage softening a little. "I get what you're trying to say Tenzie, but where I come from they'd be eaten alive. It's kill or be killed. It's the only way I survived for as long as I have."

Raising an eyebrow, the Master Airbender gestured towards his class. "I see. Well, if you are so concerned for their well being, which is quite noble of you if I may say so, why don't you prove me wrong? I'm always open to new ideas, so please, demonstrate your view on how best to engage an enemy." Tenzin deliberately turned his back on the petite biotic, and waited a beat. "Anytime you're ready."

Jack raised an eyebrow but nodded before taking her stance. "Your funeral Tenzie." The biotic said at last, and smirked, eager to see what a fully trained fighter was capable of around here. Without further hesitation, Jack ran in, hands raised and glowing with biotic energy. A graceful spin saw a Warp cast at the master Airbender, but to Jack's surprise, Tenzin was far from where he'd started a few seconds ago as the glowing dark energy sailed out over the ocean and dissipated.

"Airbending is all about freedom of movement." Tenzin explained as he nimbly dodged a second barrage, seeming to read her every movement even as she threw a Shockwave at him. A half dozen biotic eruptions sprang from the ground, sending stone and masonry flying in every direction, but Tenzin was nowhere near it, having all but flown over the attack. Before Jack knew what was happening, Tenzin was right behind her. "A Master Airbender can move with their opponent with one hand on their spine and continuously move with them, making it impossible for said opponent to land a hit until they simply fall from exhaustion." To that end, Tenzin smirked just a little as he laid a hand against Jack's back and moved with her, even as she spun rapidly from side to side, trying to land a hit to no avail.

"Hold still you smug prick." Jack snapped, unable to kick, punch, Throw or Pull Tenzin away from her before an unpleasant gleam filled her brown eyes as she went perfectly still. And then smashed the back of her head into Tenzin's face, or at least tried to. Except Tenzin countered when he gracefully dipped her back with an amused wink. "Oh you are so dead."

"Not today." Tenzin replied as he let her fall the rest of the way on her own and jumped backward when she lashed out with one of her feet. "Take a lesson from this everyone. Anger only serves to cloud the mind during a conflict. Focusing oneself, being at peace, and using your surroundings to your advantage, these are the best ways to ensure your success."

"Like this?" Jack asked as she Lifted a stone bench and promptly flung it at Tenzin, but as before, the Master Airbender jumped up and planted his feet firmly on the flying bench, his arms behind his back. "Son of a-"

"Exactly. Thank you for that fine demonstration." Tenzin replied and nimbly jumped down, but not before planting Jack on her back with a well placed blast of air. "You have great power within you and an equally strong will to survive, but you lack focus and discipline. You let your emotions blind you. You also could stand to learn a bit more patience as we-" Tenzin paused mid speech as Jack's Stasis field enveloped him.

"You move pretty well for an old guy Tenzin, but you talk too goddamn much." Jack snarled as she jabbed her finger into the motionless man's chest. "What? No witty comeback?" Jack released the field with a roll of her brown eyes before she noticed the class staring at her with a mix of awe and fear.

"There. Feel better now? Thank you for sharing that... unique technique with me, it was not an altogether unpleasant sensation. Not being able to move certainly makes proper meditative state much easier to achieve." Tenzin replied, straightened his red and yellow robes, and even bowed slightly to Jack in respect. The biotic could only blink, dumbfounded by the man's seemingly impossibly positive nature. Tenzin smiled and turned to his students. "So, what we learn from this experience?"

"That you totally owned our petite personal powerhouse comes to mind." An amused chortle was heard before Tenzin almost jumped when a woman appeared out of thin air, a blue shimmer the only warning he had that someone was standing behind him. "Sorry. I can't resist making a stylish entrance."

"Go bother someone else Kasumi." Jack grumbled.

"No can do Jack, not after that rather one sided showdown. I took the liberty of recording the whole thing, for posterity's sake." Kasumi emphasized her point when she pulled up the video file she was already in the process of saving to her omni-tool's hard drive. "I personally liked the part where Master Tenzin rode around on that bench you tried to brain him with."

"Kasumi, I swear to fu-"

"Oops. I always get Send and Send All confused." Kasumi said with a shrug as she closed her omni-tool. "Sorry about that." No one was fooled into believing the master thief was truly apologizing though. The mischievous gleam in her brown eyes alone made that point pretty clear.

Jack merely glared at the hooded thief before lowering her head in defeat. "Dammit... never gonna hear the end of this one." Her own omni-tool took all of five seconds to start beeping for her attention. "And Moreau is the first one, what a shock. The Psychotic Biotic Whisperer?! That brittle motherfu- ...nevermind."

Tenzin pretended not to hear the nearly uttered curse and simply focused on the glowing devices on their respective arms. "Oh? Would you care to share this wondrous communication device with the rest of the class?"

Kasumi didn't feel the need to tell Tenzin about the omni-blade that was embedded within the omni-tool, as well as its more offensive capabilities. "I can handle that Master Tenzin. Go on, I got this one Jack. Enjoy the new fame." Kasumi replied as she walked by, patted the growling biotic on the back, and smiled down at the class of eager students before her. She waited until Jack had stomped off, a string of muttered curses following in her wake the whole way. Kasumi ignored the departing tirade, always the best policy with Jack, and gave the class a jaunty wave. "Hello. It's nice to meet all of you. I never did thank your Master and his family for saving our lives yesterday, so sharing a bit about myself seems like a good start in repaying that kindness. Name's Kasumi Goto, master thief, hacker, and infiltration specialist. Don't worry, I'll explain those too if you'd like."

"You're really good at sneaking and using incredible technology we don't understand?" One of the younger boys offered with a hopeful look.

"Well aren't you the little intellectual. You're right, there's no magic involved with us, although I could see where there might be some confusion. I'm also fun to have at parties." Kasumi replied, before disappearing from sight. The boy slumped forward as Kasumi used him as a handy foot rest, revealing herself once she was comfortable. "Did I forget to mention I'm clearly the frontrunner for most likeable rogue out of our merry little band? For example, my practical jokes don't blow up in your face. Usually. Seeing Grunt covered in jam that one time was quite the sight though."

A fidgeting Kai had remained quiet long enough and smirked up at the thief. "You're making me jealous Kasumi. I used to be a pretty good thief before I wised up….for the most part." Kasumi yelped when a wind storm picked up around her, forcing her hood back and partially exposing her shadowed face as she struggled to keep it from flying off completely. It was enough of a distraction for Kai to slip in close to the belt pouch around the slender woman's waist. "Oh, would you like this back?" Kai held out a small metallic device he had managed to snatch out of a pocket when he had felt Kasumi brush past him. "You should be more-"

"Give me that." Kasumi's good cheer vanished for a moment as she snatched the device from his hand. She sighed and looked away as she tucked the small, gray machine away. "You have fast hands kiddo, not a lot of people can steal from me so easily." Kasumi said and managed a weak smile for Kai's benefit. "Let's just say what you lifted has a lot of sentimental value and leave it at that."

"Gotcha." Kai replied, and nodded in understanding. He didn't need her to elaborate, recognizing the pain in her shadowed brown eyes all too easily. He'd lost his family, and he had become a thief before Tenzin, Korra, and their family and friends had found him and turned his life around. He didn't need the master thief to tell him she'd lost someone important to her at some point. "So….mind if I ask about the hood?" He asked, changing the subject more for her benefit than anything.

"Well, come closer and I'll tell you..." Kasumi purred as she pressed her palms against the bench beneath her and gracefully backflipped into a standing position without so much as mussing her footrest's hair.

Having a good idea what he was getting himself into, Kai sighed and casually sauntered up to her. "So?"

"Well, the thing is... it's a secret." Kasumi said with a feigned sigh of resignation. "If I told you, then you'd tell your friends. Soon enough I'd have a line around the block, wanting to know the story about the hood and why I wear it. Then POOF, there goes my mysterious reputation. See you around handsome." With another jaunty wave, Kasumi disappeared, leaving Kai and the rest of the Air Nomads to scratch their heads.

It was only when Kai snapped his attention to his pouch on his belt that he realized Kasumi had lifted everything out of it. The fact that he didn't know when she'd gotten close enough to rifle through it only added to her impressive skill. "She's good." He admitted, even as he grumbled and looked around for the elusive woman.

"Nice picture by the way." Kai jumped and spun around, just as Kasumi threw the locket she'd stolen back towards him. "She's a lucky girl Kai. Tenzin might not approve though." He only just caught the object, the woman herself still invisible, but the damage was done when Kai sensed rather than saw the Master Airbender glowering down at him. "And that's my cue to leave."

"Um, ah... I forgot to ask Ms. Nought something, I should go... catch up with her." Before Tenzin could consider giving chase, Kai was gone, all but leaving air trails in his wake.

Tenzin whirled on his students. This was the second time he'd heard anything of the sort going on between Jinora and Kai, which meant he couldn't ignore it any longer. "Do any of you know what she was talking about?" When all of his students looked sheepishly between them, he sighed and ran a hand down his face in exasperation. "Pema probably knows and she didn't say a word." He groaned, more to himself than anyone in particular.

"Women are smart like that, especially the married ones." Tenzin hardly batted an eyelash when Kasumi appeared on his right side. "Personally I don't see a problem with a little harmless puppy love, or would that be polar bear puppy-cub love in their case?" Kasumi mused and put a hand to her chin in thought. "Huh. Might have to ask the locals for clarification."

"If you don't mind I still have a class to teach." Tenzin muttered, stunned as he turned around to see an empty balcony, and several students rapidly gliding towards their next 'task'. "What the-"

"Classic distraction and evade tactic Master Tenzin. All the great thieves know that one." Kasumi smirked, patted the man on the back, and nimbly jumped off the balcony in pursuit of the Air Nomads. "See you around!" Tenzin immediately jumped after her, but to his surprise, she grabbed the cliff face on her way down and slid to a stop, the underside of her glove sticking to the surface like a spider. "I think you overshot the mark a bit."

"I can't win today can I?" Tenzin sighed in defeat, and watched the master thief nimbly climb the rest of the way down as he gracefully floated down the cliff side after her.

"Awe, it's alright, I'm never one to complain when a dashing knight comes to my rescue. Well, tries to anyway. You get an A for effort." Kasumi told him with a grinning nod from the beach below as he gracefully landed next to her moments later.

"Not an A plus?" An irked Tenzin muttered as they took in the peaceful view of the bay.

"If you can catch me, I might consider it." Kasumi replied and smirked as she flickered out of sight. "But no one ever has. You don't get to be the best thief in the galaxy by being sloppy."

Guest Quarters.

Tali'Zorah was having a rather… strange morning as she glanced down at the incorrigible young girl that had attached herself to her like a thresher maw spore. To make matters worse, Garrus was doing a poor job of containing his laughter at the sight of the girl asking her a thousand questions a minute without taking a single breath between them. If not for Asami's presence, Tali had unsurprisingly taken an immediate liking to the raven haired woman, the genius quarian mechanic might have thrown Ikke out on her butt.

"Why do you only have three fingers? Must be hard for you to hold stuff. How come you wear that suit all the time? Does it get uncomfortable? Why is it so purple? Why are your eyes so silvery? How come they're so glowy? They're very pretty. How come your mask is tinted? I can't see your face. I'd like to see it. I bet you're really pretty, you should let people se-" A hand over her mouth was the only thing that stopped Ikke's seemingly limitless stream of questions.

"She is. Trust me." Garrus chimed in with as much sincerity as he could muster. "A face like hers you don't hide by choice." Tali briefly forgot her embarrassment and smiled towards the turian behind her tinted visor.

"Alright Ikke, I think you've pestered Tali enough for one day." Asami said at last, chuckling warmly down at the young girl as she gently but firmly shoved her out of the room, much to Ikke's disappointment.

"Awww….but she never answered my questions Asami! Oh, oh, I know, why does everyone say you like calibrating with Garrus all night long? At least I think that's what 'Talibrating' means. Wouldn't that get boring?"

"Oh keelah... not if Garrus knows what he's doing." Tali muttered, practically feeling the heat coming off her cheeks as she slammed a hand over her visor covered face in humiliation.

"I never miss my mark. Also, who told you that? I'd like to... tell them what a great joke that is." Garrus asked her with a cheery grin, even as he planned a little friendly payback. While standing on top of the local tower with them hanging upside down from a rope. Nah, too cliche. Maybe just shoot them with a concussion shot from a half mile away. Hmm, or point blank. That might be more satisfying.

"What does keelah mean? And it was the nice redheaded lady, Kelly? I think her name was Kelly. Why?" Ikke asked immediately as she struggled against Asami's attempt to push her out of the room. "Did I say something wrong, why is Tali so embarrassed? I can tell, she always starts wringing her fingers and-"

"When you're older I might tell you." Asami replied, her gray green eyes alight with amusement, even as she cast Tali an understanding look as she continued in her near impossible quest to shove Ikke out of the room. "Now go on, I think your dad might need your help with the Air Nomads." Ikke perked up and darted away, allowing Asami to slide the door shut with a sigh of relief. No sooner had the door slid into position than Garrus immediately bursted out into laughter, nearly falling over as he glanced between the two less than amused women. His laughter stopped just as quickly when Asami held up her shock glove covered hand, a dark look in her gray green eyes.

Garrus immediately fell silent and held up his taloned hands in a placating gesture. "Whoa. You're right, that wasn't funny at all. Did I say that somberly enough not to get electrocuted?"

"No, but it'd be a waste of a good charge." Asami replied nonchalantly.

"This might be the perfect time to demonstrate an Overload for you Ms. Sato." Tali offered, raising her glowing omni-tool menacingly as Garrus started to back away.

"I think I better...go check on something." Garrus said, and immediately ran out of the small, spartan room. He wasn't quite fast enough as Tali summoned her attack drone. "Oh Spirits." They heard him mutter before a bolt of orange lightning zapped him on his armored backside.

"Keep on him Chitika. Go for the sensitive spots." Tali ordered, a slightly menacing note in her slightly synthesized voice. A loud, dual flanged masculine yelp was all the encouragement Chitika seemed to need.

"Wow, and I thought I could hold a grudge." Asami stated, swearing she heard a giggle from the hall, slightly amazed at Tali's, albeit well deserved, ruthlessness.

"When you've lived with him for as long as I have, you'd get your revenge in whenever you could. I didn't fall in love with him for his sense of 'humor'. His body though..." Tali shivered as she let her mind wander to far more pleasant times with the cocky sharpshooter. "Let's just say my nerve stim program has nothing on him."

"I really didn't need to know that, but I can take a hint." Asami muttered before putting a hand to her chin and cocking her head a little to the side. "Although, I can see why you like him. He's confident, in an arrogant, charming sort of way. Kinda reminds me of Bolin actually, but I'll admit Garrus is smarter. Not to mention deadlier, less impatient, and he does have those manly scars."

"Don't tell him any of that. His head might explode if it gets any bigger." Tali replied and chuckled warmly, before regarding the human in front of her. "He is a good man, despite his many faults. We've been through a lot together."

"Like Korra and me." Asami replied, needing little explanation to see the same weight on the alien's shoulders that she was familiar with in her own way.

"Exactly! But, I get the feeling people aren't as... open minded about certain things as they are where I come from. Except quarians of course. Racist bosh'tets... In case you haven't noticed, I like your friends a lot more than the average people I bump into, sometimes literally."

"They're the best. Even if we hadn't faced what we have, I wouldn't trade them for anything." She agreed, smiling fondly as pleasant memories of the time she'd spent with Tenzin and his family flashed through her mind. Asami's smile faded though when she thought about the first part of Tali's statement. "As for me and Korra, other people's opinions won't stop me from keeping her close. I could honestly care less what they think about us."

"Good. I'm glad to hear it." Tali said before she decided to take mercy on Garrus and deactivate her attack drone. A few flicks of her omni-tool's keyboard later, the device on her arm stopped glowing before Tali looked up at Asami again. "If being around Shepard and the crew of the Normandy has taught me anything, it's that nothing is impossible, so long as you have the will to see it through to the bitter end."

"Korra certainly proved that a few times over." Asami replied before lowering her head a little. "But she never stood alone. I-we did our best to support her any way we could."

"Neither did Shepard, trust me, she'll be the first one to point that out every chance she gets. And I'd bet Korra is the same right?"

"There was a time she might have disagreed, but it was short lived." Asami agreed, an amused smirk tugging at her lips again. "I guess we've all changed a lot since then."

"I know the feeling." Tali agreed, before putting a hand on Asami's shoulder. "But change is inevitable, no matter where you come from. You seem to have done pretty well for yourself."

"Well, being born into a wealthy family certainly didn't hurt. But I like to think I've earned the trust and loyalty of my friends and employees."

"Born to privilege, yet you have a good, strong head on your shoulders. Not a lot of people in your position would have turned out half as well."

It was the wrong thing to say, and Tali knew it immediately when Asami looked away and started to turn on to face the door. "I had good parents…."

"Keelah...I'm sorry."

"It's alright... besides, running a company isn't half as adventurous as being an Admiral. Wait, doesn't that mean, technically speaking, Commander Shepard is under your command?"

"Different militaries, different rules." Tali replied, letting Asami change the topic without argument. It was a touchy one for herself anyway, having lost her own father not too long ago. "Besides, the rank of Admiral was bestowed on me given my first hand knowledge of the enemy we were up against, that and my own father was a highly respected member of our military. It was an honorary title at best." Tali explained, having told her most of the truth. She simply neglected to mention the experiments her father had ran on the geth, that had almost cost the quarians the entire Fleet when the machines began to slaughter everyone onboard the science vessel.

"Well, don't tell that to Bumi. It's hilarious seeing him stand at attention and salute everytime he sees you." They shared a much needed laugh before Asami visibly relaxed and leaned against the wall. "I never would have imagined meeting someone like you Tali. You might be different on the outside, but you're just like us as far as I've seen."

"Funny, I was thinking something similar. Your world is so….wondrous doesn't begin to cover it. Keelah... would you mind if I asked a personal question?"

"It's alright, go ahead." Asami replied and nodded her head, and did her best to ignore the shadow on the other side of the door. She knew who it was without needing to see her.

"Aren't you just a little worried about being with someone that powerful. I mean, I can barely wrap my mind around someone having one almost magical power, let alone four."

"Technically she has at least double that if you count the subsets of bending she has in her repertoire so far." Asami stated and felt her smile widen just a bit before she continued. "She might be powerful, but Korra being the Avatar is not who she is. It might be what she is, but I fell in love with Korra, not what she can do. She's a compassionate, beautiful, stubborn, strong willed woman, who loves those she cares about deeply, and fights to protect them harder than anyone I know. She also likes to eavesdrop." Asami smirked when Korra gasped, tripping over her boots before she hesitantly poked her head into the small room. "Yes I knew you were there the whole time." Asami answered her unspoken question, her gray green eyes gleaming in amusement. "Really Korra, laughing at poor Garrus... even if it was a little funny."

"Uh….oh….ah….there's no safe answer to that is there?" A blushing Korra asked with a meek wave as she grudgingly stepped into the room.

Tali couldn't help but giggle at the caramel skinned woman as she shut the door behind her. "I take it all back. She's not scary at all, more like adorable. I can see why you love her, she adores you."

"Adorable?! I am not-" Korra began to protest, but Asami cut her off.

"I think Tali's right. You are adorable, especially when you're very nervous." Asami stated, smiling fondly towards the Avatar next to her.

"Asami!" Korra groaned, her cheeks turning bright red as Asami gave her a wolfish grin.

Tali's silvery eyes gleamed with amusement behind her purple tinted visor, as she crossed her arms and cocked her hip to the side. "Should I give you two some privacy?"

"This is your room!" Korra sputtered, her big bright blue eyes widening into dinner plates.

"I don't mind." Tali giggled again before cocking her head to the side ever so slightly. "You know, in quarian tradition, it's actually considered an honor if a friend asks to use your quarters so they can... link suits with someone."

What's that supposed to- Oh. That. Mortified, Korra's only response was to turn a brighter shade of red as she did her best to turn and walk out of the room without looking like she was running for the hills. By some small miracle, she pulled it off. Mostly due to the fact Tali shook her helmeted head with a giggle when Asami had looked tempted to ruin Korra's less than subtle retreat.

"Oh Korra... That was painful to watch." Asami stated, and Tali nodded in agreement.

"I think I scared her off." Tali continued, chuckling again once the Avatar had disappeared.

"She'll hopefully get over it soon." Asami replied, grinning despite the fact she'd likely have to make it up to her later.

"So I take it you two haven't..." Tali began, having gotten the hint pretty loud and clear from Korra's reaction.

"Linked suits? That is what that means right?" Asami asked, having a feeling she knew the answer. It turned out, she was only partially right in this case.

"It doesn't have to be for intimacy exactly, but in most cases, yes. It can also be a great show of trust between friends or family given our virtually non-existent immune systems. For instance, I linked suits with Shepard once. She even insisted on wearing her armor to get the full experience. Helmet and all."

"Wow...that's...actually pretty incredible from what I understand of your species Tali."

"That's just how she's always been. There's a practical reason for linking suits with someone when in total vacuum in cases of extreme emergency where oxygen is limited, but in my case she understood the level of trust it symbolized."

"Wait. Wouldn't that make you sick?"

"It did. I had a nasty fever and mucus coming from places I don't even want to think about. It was totally worth it though."

"Now I have to meet her."

"Maybe you will... if she can ever get away from Liara." Tali said with a massive hidden smile.

Air Temple Island, healing chamber.

Despite being asked to come back later that day, Liara's concern for Shepard had spurred her to find Katara a fair bit sooner. The elderly woman had only smiled and bid the guards to collect her remaining patient before leading the way to the island's healing chamber. As before, Liara watched the White Lotus guards gently lower Elizabeth into the glowing water before Katara began her work once more.

"My my dear, I don't think I've had a patient in as much need of my skills for at least five decades. Not even Korra's poisoning by Zaheer and his Red Lotus followers was this much of a challenge for me." Katara observed as she moved the glowing water back and forth across Shepard's body without actually touching either. "I suppose I should thank you for the practice." Katara quipped, her eyes twinkling as Shepard gave her just a hint of a smile.

"Then I'll just have to take that as a compliment Katara. I tend to survive the odds." Elizabeth replied, a the ghost of a smile still plastered on her face. "Truth be told though, I should have been in a body bag a dozen times over by now. Only actually died once, but it didn't stick."

"She's being humble, in her own arrogant way. A hundred times over might be a far more accurate estimation Master Katara." Liara replied, and shot Shepard an amused smirk when she reached out and playfully shoved her hand away. "Careful, you might not get it back, I might even find a use for that hand." The asari purred, her smirk widening when Liz jerked her hand away. "That's odd, usually I get the opposite response..."

"Not in front of the good healer Liara." Elizabeth stage whispered, much to Katara's amusement. She wasn't ashamed to admit how she felt around Katara, not after getting to know her a little. The master waterbender was old enough to be her grandmother, and was just as wise and comforting to be around.

"Ah to be young and in love again... I think I know a young couple who could benefit from your vast experience." Katara stated knowingly, her wide blue eyes gleaming with her own brand of good meaning mischief even as ideas started to circulate around in her head.

"Let me guess. Asami and Korra? They still haven't 'embraced eternity' huh?" Shepard asked, having a feeling she knew the answer to her question already. "That's all the guards have been talking about. They even started a betting pool. My credits are on two weeks, give Asami some time to get under her clothes." Shepard told the pair with a snort of laughter."

"If by 'embrace eternity' you mean make passionate love, then yes." Katara agreed, having deciphered the unusual innuendo easily enough. Not that Shepard had made a great effort to hide it. "As for betting on when they….consummate their love, you might be right on the yuans."

"Ms. Sato's predicament with Avatar Korra reminds me of a certain younger Alliance officer whom I once knew. And how worried she was about... hmm, how did you put it?" Liara asked, feigning confusion as an intensely amused gleam entered her beautiful blue eyes.

"Liara... I really don't think-" Shepard began, but she never got a chance to finish.

"Oh yes, I remember now. 'Taking advantage of a young, innocent maiden like myself', although technically I am much older than you are. And I recall taking 'advantage' of you, multiple times, that night."

And we both enjoyed every second of it. Shepard mused, before sighing heavily at where the conversation had turned. "And to think there was a time that the mere mention of sex would turn you into a stuttering mess." Shepard thunked her head against the side of the pool with a grimace. "I really miss those days."

"No she doesn't." Katara whispered, knowing far better without needing the power of a Truth Seer to see Shepard was lying through her teeth. "If anything, she most likely preferred it."

"I-I am quite sorry if I have offended you in any way Commander." Liara said, mimicking her unsure tone of voice when she had first met Elizabeth. But the more she spoke, the more confident her words grew and her voice became all the huskier. "I can not help the fact that I find you so fascinating, the perfect subject for a thorough, intimate examination. I believe that is the exact way I would have phrased my words before throwing myself at you if I had had a fraction of the courage I possess now. Thanks to you."

"I'm pretty sure that is what you said the first time I brought up the topic." Liz agreed, before reaching out and grasping Liara's hand. "But I wouldn't know you any other way, then or now."

"Well then, maybe you'll find I've suddenly grow less courageous and outgoing when you're finished recovering. You'll have to rescue me from such a mundane, sheltered existence... again." Liara purred, and laughed quietly when Liz cleared her throat and did her best not to appear uncomfortable. It was a losing battle.

Shepard had squirmed exactly three times in her life since joining the Alliance Navy, all of them around Liara as the young asari maiden had rapidly become more adventurous in their love making. "Liara, you don't have to-"

"Actually, I believe she's quite taken with the idea." Katara offered as she focused on completing Shepard's second treatment.

"Not helping Kat." Liz muttered and sunk a little lower into the pool in an effort to conceal her burning cheeks.

"I know." Katara replied, and laughed warmly at the playful nickname as she looked at the pair, a contemplative gleam in her blue eyes. "Never be embarrassed for loving so deeply. Some could safely argue it is the greatest healing power in this world, or any other. I can heal the wounds of the body, but those of the mind and spirit... only love and time can hope to heal those."

Elizabeth was struck speechless momentarily, but when she recovered, the smile that pulled at her lips was genuine. She looked up at the elder woman in deep gratitude, for far more than what she'd done already. "I can see why everyone holds you in such high regard Master Katara, and I'm not talking about this." She nodded to the glowing water for emphasis. "Although it certainly helps."

"Thank you Elizabeth. The same can be said about you and the people you've brought together. I've seen and heard how they hold you in equal esteem. You truly are a rare individual." Katara stated, having spent time among Shepard's crew after she had gotten some rest. Ashley had insisted she stand by her door, much to Katara's gratitude even if it hadn't been required. The healer had learned a great deal just from the hardened soldier alone during that time.

Shepard seemed to hesitate for a moment, as if pondering her words carefully. Then she mentally said fuck it and pressed forward, head first as she normally did. "If you don't mind me asking, you mentioned that Korra was poisoned... did she ever make a full recovery? I'm sure Dr. Chakwas would-"

Katara waved her off, touched by Shepard's concern for a young woman that was almost a complete stranger to her. Is it any surprise those that stand beside her are so willingly to do nearly anything for her? "No need to worry yourself, Korra is quite well now, although the path she took to get there had more than its share of suffering and hardship. For some time, I truly worried she would never find her way back."

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be one of the hardest things to beat. I know that better than most."

"Is that what you call the mind's belief the body is still under attack even though the battle is long since won?" Katara asked, having gotten the meaning behind the strange word well enough.

"In a manner of speaking, yeah. I actually like your definition better oddly enough. PTSD and Shell Shock Syndrome sound...well cold and clinical." Shepard stated, surprised that she could be so open with Katara. There was a way about her that set Elizabeth at ease despite having only met her yesterday, briefly as it was.

Liara, having found her own ways of coping with loss, thought back to a certain document contained in her personal omni-tool. "I personally assembled a list of those who had harmed you, or any of the crew, including myself. Most of those names had been erased by the time it was over. As of our strange arrival here, there was only one name remaining, and I believe you encouraged Mr. Jack Harper to remove himself."

"Jack Harper huh? Good time for a terrible man. He deserved a lot worse, but at least I brought out the best in him, whatever was left by the time I found him. I seem to have that effect on people." Shepard deadpanned, but the minute shiver that passed through her didn't go unnoticed by either Liara, or Katara.

Sensing her patient's unease, Katara opted to end the session just a bit earlier then she had planned. "There. All done, at least for this session. I'll need to see you tomorrow, perhaps once more after."

"Alright. We'll be here Kat." Elizabeth promised.

"Also, as much as it pains me to discourage any of my patients from... living life to the fullest, I would ask that you rest and let your body heal for the next few nights." Katara replied, just able to keep her chuckle contained when Elizabeth shifted uncomfortably at what she was hinting at.

"Of course Master Katara." Liara replied, and made a mental note to ensure Elizabeth actually listened to Katara's advice. "Is there anything else we should be aware of?"

"No dear. She is recovering nicely, faster than I had hoped to be completely honest. Of course, I imagine the metal in her body is for more than increasing her considerable strength." At their surprised looks, Katara clucked her tongue in mock disapproval. "There aren't a lot of people that have blue glowing lines running just underneath their flesh. I'm sure a metal bender from Zaofu would have a heyday in trying to figure out how it all works. A word of advice, I'd avoid mentioning it to Varrick, or anyone else for that matter."

Varrick's unique personality was only matched by his genius, as well as his greed, and Katara wasn't sure how he'd react if he learned about Shepard's unique body modifications. She was certain he'd at least want to do a few tests to feed his own curiosity if nothing else, especially with Zhu Li around to rein him in.

So Katara wasn't surprised when Shepard didn't look comfortable with the idea. "Question. Who's this Varrick guy? And I am going to have to worry about him causing us trouble? Got that list handy Liara?" Shepard quipped as she glanced towards the concerned looking asari. To her mix of amusement and mild shock, Liara had already pulled up said list on her omni-tool. Oh boy. She wasn't kidding about her kill list. Might have to talk to her about that later.

"That's two questions." Katara chuckled before gesturing to the guards to aid Liara in getting Shepard out of the pool. "Iknik Blackstone Varrick... is, at least for the time being, Asami Sato's business partner and head inventor at Future Industries. He is a most… unique man, and there might have been a time I'd have said he wouldn't have been welcome anywhere near Republic City, let alone Korra and her friends. But he, like so many, has changed for the better. He helped defend the city against Kuvira and her army only a few weeks ago alongside his assistant, and now wife, Zhu Li Moon."

"So it's an even toss up at the moment." Shepard muttered as Liara carefully, grudgingly allowed her to get out of the pool under her own power with one of the White Lotus standing nearby in case she needed a hand. Much to her own surprise, Elizabeth didn't need that much help as she put weight on her feet and gingerly walked out of the pool with Liara's aid. "Should really start selling that stuff en mass. We'd make a fortune in the medical field." She mused, only half joking.

"Indeed." Katara agreed, far more to the former statement than the latter.

As Elizabeth started taking a few halting steps towards the exit, Liara biotic's flared ever so briefly as she shook her head and lightly grabbed Shepard's arm. "Don't even think about it Liz."

"Damn." Shepard finally admitted defeat, gingerly laying back in the simple gurney the guards used to transport her. "If it wasn't for the implants, I'd be as weak as your average civie by now. Hate missing all that PT."

"Stubborn as well I see." Katara chuckled, not surprised in the slightest by Elizabeth's reaction. "I have a feeling you and Korra will get along quite well Elizabeth."

"If they don't destroy the city between them first." Liara chuckled in response, and smirked down at the glare Liz was throwing her way. "Let's get you something to eat, then you can argue with me all you like while I'm working you over."

"Somehow I don't think I'll be doing a lot of actual arguing."

"No, you won't. And you'll be getting plenty of rest, even if I have to strap you to your bed."

"Hmm. Sounds fun." Shepard mused, chuckling when Liara returned her gaze with one of her own, promising quite a few pleasant, if sleepless, nights in her future.

Katara only laughed as she watched them leave the chamber, quietly musing to herself. "Aang certainly thought so."

"Geez, I'm right here mom! And I never, ever needed to know that!" Kya cried out, having made the mistake of entering the chamber just as Shepard and Liara left.

"Oh don't be such a prude Kya, you know what they say."

Kya only huffed and looked away in annoyance. "Parents never stop embarrassing their children?"

"True enough, but I was thinking more of the saying, variety is the spice of life. Especially when it comes to the bedroom."

"Wow mom, thanks for that image. Might have to get Bumi to hit me in the head with a rock just to knock it out of my mind."

"You do that. I guess I'll just have to tend to our next arrivals on my own." Katara chortled, earning a groan from Kya for her trouble.

"Fine, but do me a favor and keep the innuendos to a minimum alright?"

"Whatever you say dear."

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: A Polite Chat With A Captive Audience

Air Temple Island, main courtyard

"You're kidding me right? You're a bunch of leaf eaters? No meat? How can you survive without meat?!" Grunt bellowed at the top of his lungs, easily getting the attention of half the island.

"We do have supplies shipped in from the outside, but as a rule of our long and storied culture and traditions, Air Nomads and the Acolytes are all vegetarians." Jinora calmly replied, having gotten over her fear of Grunt the second she found out he was barely past puberty. It helped that Ashley Williams had verbally torn Grunt apart at Shepard's behest. "But if you insist on causing trouble, I could always go talk with your, I believe the term was Battlemaster. Although, I bet she'll be awfully... grumpy if I bother her while she's still healing. Hmm. Dr. T'soni probably wouldn't be very happy either."

Grunt's face twitched in disbelief that he was being intimidated by a mere girl not even a quarter his size, yet the truth was there right before him. When he recovered from the shock though, Grunt threw his head back and laughed before slapping a hand on Jinora's shoulder, almost sending her tumbling in the process. "You got a quad for such a small pyjak. Heh, I like you little human."

"Are you going to eat what we humbly have to offer or not Grunt?" Jinora asked, trying to mimic her father's tone of voice when he was less than pleased with her or one of his students. Grunt grumbled but crossed his arms before muttering a response. "I didn't catch that."

"Yes…." Grunt muttered just a little louder.

"Yes to what exactly?" Jinora asked, having paid attention to the way Ashley had questioned his honor as a krogan and a member of his clan.

"Yes I'll eat your..." Grunt grimaced at the very thought. "...Leaves."

"And you won't hunt our sky bison?" Jinora asked, ensuring the safety of the herds they had in their possession.

"And I won't go hunting your sky bison….but anything else is fair game!" Grunt growled in challenge, daring Jinora to say otherwise.

But she wasn't intimidated, not in the slightest. "Unless someone owns it, otherwise that'll be good enough for me." Jinora struggled to suppress a mischievous grin as a particularly evil idea occurred to her. "Actually, I take that back, if Ikke says you can hunt something, feel free."

"You got a deal." Grunt, unfortunately, had no idea Ikke would be horrified at the very idea of his harming an innocent animal. He had a greater chance of dying from starvation than getting her to agree to let him hunt, basically, anything if she were in his presence.

Jinora watched the krogan walk off and was about to tend to her duties when she was stopped by Kelly Chambers' amused chuckle. "Wonders never cease. I didn't think anyone but the Commander could control Grunt so effortlessly. And even then she usually had a big gun. A few big guns actually. So I'd say that makes you even braver than she is Jinora."

"It's not so much bravery as simply knowing my opponent's strengths and weaknesses." When Kelly merely smirked knowingly, Jinora blushed a little and brushed a stray hair behind her ear. "I saw how Ms. Williams handled him. He's basically an overgrown, scaley teenager. He might be very aggressive, but there is an honorable, strong heart underneath his tough exterior."

"And a ton of armor." Kelly quipped, but was soon smiling warmly down at the young girl. "You truly are a testament to your culture Jinora."

Jinora grinned and brushed aside the hair on her forehead, exposing more of the pale blue arrow tattoo. "Well, dad says these arrows aren't just for show. That you never stop earning them."

"A wise man, even if he is a bit stiff at times, as well as a little dense." Kelly stated, having long since seen the truth of Tenzin's slight hangups already, but she was relieved to see Jinora giggle a little in agreement. "You know, I'm free if you'd ever like to talk, I'm not just here to help the crew." Kelly said with a smile.

"I appreciate the offer Ms. Chamb-"

"Kelly." She corrected Jinora, unoffended in the slightest.

"Kelly. But, I'm fine, really." Jinora reassured her.

"Oh. Well, be sure to tell Kai about my offer too. I know how unpleasant certain facts of life can be for younger people to deal with."

Jinora glared at her less than subtle implication. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Well, if you ever change your mind. You'll know where to find me." Kelly replied and held up her hands in a placating gesture.

Jinora opened her mouth, seemed to think better of what she was about to say, and instead nodded in gratitude for what Kelly was trying to do. "I'm sorry. I guess I got my dad's habit of not being the best at expressing myself."

"Oh, don't worry, I think you're very good at letting people know how you feel." Kelly told her with a playful wink as she went to check on Sam.

"I hope Samantha's feeling better!" A blushing Jinora called out as she watched Kelly head for the healing temple.

When she arrived just as Shepard and Liara were leaving, she found Sam, Kya, and Katara talking just as Kya lifted a good sized orb of water and directed it right on the cut on Sam's arm. "I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing your power at work, it's like something out of a fairytale." Sam said, in awe of the woman's ability.

"It's not all that impressive compared to what my mom could do with water in her youth." Kya chuckled. "You should hear some of the stories involving her and Aang taking down the Fire Nation back during the Hundred Years War."

"See, right there, everything you need for an epic fantasy tale."

"It didn't seem like much of a fairytale at the time." Katara stated, smiling wistfully as memories, both pleasant and otherwise, flashed behind her blue eyes. "Those days were some of the best and worst of my long life, but I would never trade any of it for anything."

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to belittle any of your exper-"

Katara smiled and patted Sam's good arm. "It is quite alright my dear. It was a long time ago, and I had a good life with Aang. We shared many years of happiness, we raised three beautiful children together, and we were able to do so because we fought for our freedom against a tyrant of unimaginable power. Now the Fire Nation are our allies, because of what my late husband accomplished, bringing the world to its longest period of peace in years. But I remember him fondly as the goofy, fun loving boy I met when I was Ikke's age. Although I don't think I was so precocious." Katara chuckled as she turned and saw Kelly standing by the door.

"Well hello there Specialist Traynor." Kelly smirked as the dark skinned woman rolled her beautiful brown eyes and sighed. "How are you doing today?"

"I was doing quite nicely, until I compared this venerable woman's life to a child's story." Sam grumbled, feeling ashamed for her stupid comparison now.

"She tends to punish herself for sticking her foot in her mouth. You should ask what she thought about EDI's voice, she still blushes when anyone brings that up." Kelly giggled even as Sam did her best to hide her face with one hand and groan in abject embarrassment at the reminder.

"Hey, chin up Sammy. I've heard that metal friend of yours talk. Let's just say I'm still young enough to get a few ideas." Kya chortled before casting aside her glob of water into a nearby bucket once she was done. "That should take care of that. Not even a scar."

Sam pulled her hand away from her face and bent her arm, only to gasp quietly at the smooth, flawless skin that was staring her in the face. "Wow...I don't know what to say."

"Thanks tends to be the appropriate response." Kya teased, grinning as she crossed her arms and cocked her hip to the side.

"Right, sorry. Thank you for this. Well, for everything you people have done for us. If you ever have any strategic intelligence in need of analysis... no, probably not. Perhaps I could-"

Kya couldn't help grinning at the woman's lost expression. "Just try to not get hurt again and we'll call it even."

Meanwhile, on the beach below...

"Um... what about that one?" Grunt asked, pointing towards a tasty looking lizard frog... thing.

Ikke shook her head vigorously. "Nope. That's Vas, he likes to sun himself on that rock and chase sea pelican gulls."

Grunt was desperate enough to settle for a light snack at this point as he nodded towards another odd looking morsel. "Fine. How about that... monkey squirrel thing?"

"Felka?! She's foraging for her babies back home, they need to eat too you know!" Ikke informed him with a pout as she stomped her foot into the wet sand.

Grunt threw his massive arms in the air in exasperation. "Gah! Is there anything on this island you haven't named yet?!"

"Hmm. I haven't named him yet." Ikke admitted as she walked into the gently lapping waves along the shore and knelt by an equally curious crab tortoise. "I think I'll call him... Snappy."

"You're starting to annoy me human." Grunt grumbled and turned to head back to the stone causeway.

"Hey! You don't have to be so-" She didn't finish when a giant shadow fell over them both. She turned and felt all the blood drain out of her face when several tentacles shot out of the water, attached to a giant shark head. "OCTO-SHARK! Don't let him eat Snappy! Or me! Mostly me!" Ikke screamed as a tentacle wrapped around her ankle before she could get away.

Grunt slammed his hands together in eager anticipation. "Finally, a challenge! Stop whining, I'll deal with this." To that end, the krogan started to glow bright blue before he charged forward. The tentacle didn't get far before he got his hands wrapped around the sucker covered limb and pulled, digging his claws deep into the gray flesh. "You're no match for a krogan! Let go of the annoying little human!" Grunt roared as he pulled it apart, freeing Ikke in the process as he threw the severed end into the water at his feet.

Ikke immediately blasted off, a trail of wind slamming into another tentacle that tried to sneak up on the krogan. She landed lightly beside Grunt, and immediately glared at the writhing creature before them. "What the giant lizard said you oversized creep!"

The octo-shark seemed to give an irritated roar, clearly not used to its prey putting up this much of a fight as it tried to rip Grunt's arm off with row after row of razor sharp teeth when it dragged itself close enough to chomp down on the armor covered limb.

"Stupid weird creature that shouldn't exist!" Grunt shouted between smashing his fists against the animal's head. "Hehe, that tickled by the way. Let me show you how a true monster fights!" Slamming his fist back into the creature's mouth, Grunt growled and grabbed the shark's tongue in his fist. He viciously pulled back, hard, and took the creature's tongue with him.

The octo-shark was stunned and in agony, having never been beaten by something so formidable as Grunt tossed its tongue over his shoulder. It didn't get a chance to retreat into the water before the krogan ran at him and jumped, before bringing both fists down on top of its head, crushing the octo-shark's skull.

"Pitiful. Not even a challenge. Good workout though." Grunt rumbled his approval as he hopped down from the remains. Chuckling to himself, Grunt's eyes widened as he looked for the little human. His Battlemaster would probably rip off his quad and hand it to him if the irritating little human girl had gotten herself hurt. He didn't have to look long, finding her huddled into a ball a short distance away and frowned at the wide eyed look on Ikke's face. "Ah crap." Grunt groaned, realizing too late he had probably just terrified her with his less than subtle combat prowess.

"S-so much blood..." Ikke softly choked out as she rocked back and forth on the sand, clutching 'Snappy' to her side. "It's okay, it's okay..."

"Sorry… but I wasn't about to let you get eaten little one. Ikke right?" Grunt rumbled quietly as he slowly knelt down in the sand next to her. He'd certainly seen Shepard do the same thing often enough in an effort to calm down terrified useless non enemies, or as she called them, civvies. "It's what I was made for. My original purpose was to fight, not to defend those that stood beside me. My Battlemaster gave me a reason to exist instead of simply fighting for fighting's sake. So I chose to take that thing down to protect you, because it was the honorable thing to do. Even if you are an annoying little pyjak that won't stop talking, and talking and tal-"

Grunt didn't get a chance to finish as Ikke flung her arms around his neck as best she could, 'Snappy' forgotten as the small animal fell at her feet. It promptly ran off, never to be seen again.

"Um... good little human." Grunt muttered, having no idea what to say as he gently tucked his arm around her shaking shoulders.


"Huh?" Grunt muttered, confused as he stood and looked down at the human.

"Yes, you can eat that one." Ikke stated, smiling up at the armored lizard.

"Oh, right. Thanks." Grunt glanced towards his forgotten his catch, and had to run into the surf to keeping his dinner from drifting away. Grabbing hold of two of the octo-shark's tentacles in both of his hands, Grunt dragged the creature to the shore with relative ease. Scooping up the tongue, he tentatively held it out to Ikke. "You want this part?"

"Eww. No thank you."

"Oh right, I forgot, you're a veggie eater. More for me then." Grunt shrugged and casually tossed the tongue down his own throat, slurping it up like a giant, fleshy wet noodle. "Hmm, not bad. Could use a bit of flavor, maybe flash fried. Hehe."

Ikke did her best not to throw up as she slammed a hand over her mouth. "Yuck! And people wonder why we're vegetarians."

"Come on, gotta get you home. Sun's already up, all the daytime predators are out on the hunt." Grunt emphasized his point by slinging the tentacles of the octo-shark over his shoulders before starting forward up the nearby path that would lead back up to the main temple grounds.

"I can handle myself just fine!" Ikke retorted and stomped her foot in annoyance, getting it stuck in the wet sand.

"Right." Grunt said with a smirk, gently tugging her boot free as the tiny girl glared up at him before they started to walk up to the Temple path, the squishy remnants of the octo-shark being dragged behind him. "That's why I had to do all the dirty work. Hehe."

"I'm telling Dad."

Grunt stopped short, almost stumbling to the ground. "While you fought gloriously by my side."

"Better." Ikke's smiling nod said it all as she skipped along side the lumbering krogan, the incident seemingly forgotten.

Unbeknownst to either of them, Garrus and Ashley had watched the whole thing through their respective scopes from the temple's rooftop. Korra was sitting between them, staring through a pair of binoculars Ashley had tossed her, focused on the pair. "I'm not sure who I'm more afraid for at the moment. Grunt when your Commander finds out about this, or Ikke when Tenzin and Pema find out. The nightmares are gonna be a dead give away."

"I'd say it's an even toss up." Garrus chuckled dryly as he holstered his rifle, the sophisticated weapon collapsing somewhat as he clamped it down on the magnetic strip on his back.

"My credits are on Shepard." Ashley told them as she tucked away her assault rifle. "How come you didn't take the shot Garrus? Afraid of stealing Grunt's thunder?"

"Afraid of the pubescent krogan? No. Afraid of what Shepard might do to me? Spirits yes. Have you not seen what she does to people that piss her off? I'd rather stay on her good side thank you very much." Garrus replied shuddering at the thought of what Elizabeth would do if she found out he fired on a target within spitting distance of one of Tenzin's children.

"I don't see what the big deal is. She's only one woman." Korra said innocently enough. She knew Shepard had strength, there was no doubt of that, but she just didn't see why they all respected Elizabeth as much as they did. "I mean, yeah she sounds mildly intimidating, but even Tenzin can act tough when he wants to."

Ashley and Garrus looked at Korra as if she had grown a second head. "Shepard is a one woman army, and that's not an exaggeration kid. They don't hand out N7 spec ops designations for being mildly intimidating. Word of advice Ms. Avatar, you want to keep drawing breath, don't get on the Skipper's bad side. Ever." Ashley stated as she crossed her arms and leaned against the tiles of the temple's rooftop, the window next to her wide open. "You haven't seen what she's capable of when her life's on the line, let alone any of the crew. I'd rather be behind her in those situations, which is pretty much anytime we get off the ship."

"Remember that time those thugs were screwing with those duct rats on Zakera Ward?" Garrus asked, smirking as he remembered the incident quite clearly.

"How could I forget, I swear you could hear the bones breaking from the docks." Ashley shuddered, playing along even if said incident had actually happened. They were grossly exaggerating the affair, but the core event had occurred.

"Duct rats?" Korra asked, just glad that the bird like man had changed the subject after that last verbal nest of python vipers she had blindly stumbled into.

"Orphans and runaways. They make their living by running the vast network of the Citadel's ventilation shafts, carrying messages, stealing items, petty crime mostly." Garrus brought up an image of Shepard during a rare peaceful moment for her, kneeling next to a small boy and girl in the process of removing her helmet. "She might have singlehandedly lowered the crime rate in every city, colony, and outpost she ever visited, but she has a big heart underneath that ablative exterior of hers."

"What the- How did you even manage to get that without her finding out?" Ashley asked, giving the turian an incredulous look at the video that was playing out on Garrus's omni-tool.

"My visor is tied to my omni-tool. I can have it record anytime I like. Although it does help with the whole sharpshooting thing I do." Garrus explained, smirking in his fashion as he too got comfortable against the temple wall. "If you ask nicely, I might even let you take a peek at some of my 'gun cam' vids sometime."

"Hell yes! And here I just thought that visor was to cover half of your busted ass face, Vakarian." Ashley retorted, a smug smirk plastered on her face. Garrus chuckled but shrugged, not about to argue with the woman.

Korra could only smile at the banter between them. It reminded her of her close friendships with Mako, Bolin, and everyone else in her life. "Are you two always like this?"

"The entire crew is always like this kid." Ashley quipped as they climbed through the window and headed for the stairs, only to find James and Pema, Tenzin's wife, waiting for them.

"Hey Ash, Garrus, your Avatarness. Having fun?" James asked, giving a jerk of his head towards Pema before silently mouthing "No guns allowed."

Korra subtly handed the binoculars back to Ashley behind her back, the last one through the window, before facing Pema just as the woman glared up at the raven haired soldier. "Easy Pema, they were just showing me some of their fancy gear. It was my idea." Korra said before Pema could begin her well meaning tirade. The oath of non aggression aside, Korra understood Pema's desire to keep the visitors' influence to a bare minimum as much as possible around her children. If that meant keeping their strange weapons sealed away, all the better in her opinion.

Pema wasn't the only one that stared at Korra in surprise as Ashley and Garrus blinked. "Um, I hope you enjoyed the marksmanship lesson Avatar." Garrus quickly blurted out.

"Sorry we couldn't load any live ammunition, against Alliance regulations in a civilian area anyway." Ash lied through her teeth, although she was fairly sure there was a rule along the same lines in the Alliance regulations somewhere.

Pema sighed but crossed her arms under her chest. "Be it as it may, you know I don't want Rohan, Ikke, Meelo, or Jinora to get any ideas Korra. I'd appreciate it if you didn't go around my back like this again."

"Sorry Pema. It won't happen again." Korra promised and bowed her head to the woman.

"See that it doesn't. You set an example for all the Acolytes you know." With that, Pema spun on her heel and swiftly departed the temple's beacon tower.

"Damn. Reminds me of my old Gunny back in Basic." Ashley stated once Pema was out of earshot.

"I was gonna say my grandmother." Vega chimed in.

"I think she bares a striking resemblance to General Coralius." Garrus shrugged at their blank stares. "Personality wise I mean."

"She's a good woman though." Korra replied, smiling fondly as she led the way out of the temple attic, with James right behind her, Ashley following him with Garrus bringing up the rear. "Pema's as important to me as Master Tenzin during my time in Republic City. She's always there for me... when I needed some comfort food, or good advice, stuff like that." Korra said, nervously rubbing at the back of her neck. And a shoulder to cry on anytime I was too proud to find Tenzin or my friends.

All three of them didn't need Korra to elaborate, getting the hint easily enough. "She'd have to be pretty stubborn to put up with Viento on purpose." James chuckled when Korra cocked an eyebrow.

"He does that, comes up with nicknames I mean. He calls Shepard Lola all the time. Tali is Sparky. Ash is... maybe later." Garrus trailed off when James and Ashley none too subtly glared at him at the same time.

Korra let the question she wanted to ask sink back into her thoughts, and instead asked another, far safer one. "Guess that makes mine Your Avatarness? Since that's all he's called me since we've met."

"Nah, I can do better than that kid. It was just the first one that came to mind." James said and shrugged his shoulders. "You do kinda remind me of Lola though, way you go about your business. Less crazy though... and you got that huge list of awesome skills Scars got a personal demonstration of... I got it!" James smirked, snapping his fingers. "Manosa, that's you kid. Means handy to have around."

"You haven't been around long then." Korra chuckled and grinned up at the giant muscular man behind her, nodding her approval of James' nickname for her. "My close friends would probably argue the point."

"Scars? Really? That's very boring Vega. Why not... hmm let me open up the Spanish dictionary here..." Garrus muttered as his talons flicked over his omni-tool, absentmindedly flicking through various words and their translations. "No too flashy. Nope. Hmm that's not bad."

James chuckled but waved her off, and ignored Garrus altogether. "That's what friends are for kid. Makin' your life interesting, in more ways than one."

"You'd know all about interesting... Muscles." Ashley shot back, only to stop and sniff the air as they continued their way down to the ground floor. Someone was in the process of cooking a good meal if her nose was any judge.

"That's just weak Williams. You can do better." James told her with a grinning shake of his head. "Oh God, what's that smell... smells like a tire fire had a baby with a slaughter house." James gagged, covering his nose and mouth with a meaty hand as he turned to see a cackling Grunt throwing... something onto a large open fire cooking pit. Pema stood nearby with Ikke, looking more amused than anything. Asami on the other hand, was looking ready to puke as she held a gloved hand over her own mouth and nose.

"Water Tribe cuisine is an acquired taste." Korra chuckled again, smiling towards James as he did his best to hide his displeasure. "Personally I miss it, but if Pema and Asami are making it along with that octo-shark your friend brought back, they must think today was worth the effort. It's a rare treat on the island."

"I think my omni-tool UT must have shorted out, did she just call that horrible, blood curdling smell a treat?" James asked incredulously.

"Vega, don't insult the natives' choice of food. Besides, it doesn't smell that bad to me." Ashley retorted as she none too gently slammed her elbow into James' stomach on her way by.

Garrus experimentally sniffed the air and grinned. "Hmm, if I wasn't worried about your local cuisine putting me in the morgue, I might try a bite."

Korra glared at him in annoyance. "What did you say about my favorite-" Before cutting her own tirade off with a blushing grin. "Oh, I completely forgot. Asami told me Doctor Chakwas said you and Tali can't eat most of the same food we can."

"Yeah, we might be in trouble when our rations run out, but for now we should be alright." Garrus replied, and shrugged since he honestly expected them to be off planet before it became a serious problem. Or I could be being overly optimistic.

"Can you... I don't know, tell if food is safe for you to eat?"

"You mean scan it? Sure." Garrus replied, wondering where Korra was going with this.

"Easy then, we just get together everything that's poisonous." Korra offered with a cheerful smirk. "Maybe some of the weirder stuff will be alright for you to eat."

"Kid, I think I'm going to enjoy staying around here." The turian replied as they entered the main hall of the Air Temple, where most of the crew and the current inhabits were already gathered, a large array of food and drink already laid out before them.

"You might not after you see whatever we manage to find for you to eat."

Chatting with Asami at a nearby table, Tali caught enough of the conversation to add in her own two credits into it. "Can't be much worse than MREs and protein paste."

"Looks like this is a job for Team Avatar... or maybe I can talk Bolin into collecting all this nasty, poisonous stuff for me." Korra pondered as she rubbed at her chin.

"If you can get him away from Opal long enough." Asami replied from across the table. "Aren't they still trying to help Mako and Wu fix what Kuvira did to Zaofu and the rest of the Earth Kingdom?"

"Well, come on, once they hear about all this, how long do you think it's going to take them to get here?" Korra said with a massive grin as she gestured to the trio standing next to her and to the bay at large.

"Not long." Asami agreed and looked towards the far left of the table, where Shepard and Liara were just sitting down.

"Oh great, so we're tourist attractions now." Ashley scoffed as the various crew around the courtyard, along with curious Air Nomads alike, all gathered around the table the moment they spotted Shepard.

"I'd rather not be a tourist attraction personally, but it could be worse I suppose." Elizabeth replied and did her best to hide her lingering pain as she leaned forward to grab a glass of whatever had been put in front of her. Meeting Tenzin's gaze from the other end of the table, Shepard tapped her glass, making it ring loudly so everyone's attention was directed to her. "Excuse me. I realize we're the strangers here, but just wanted to get this outta the way now while everyone's at the same table."

Everyone fell silent, having turned to face Elizabeth as she waited a moment to ensure she had their undivided attention. What she had to say was meant for them all. "I don't think I've said this enough, but thanks to Tenzin and his Sky Rangers, not to mention Master Katara and everyone else here on the island, we all get to sit down and have a nice meal with you folks instead of figuring out how to turn a sunken Normandy into a half assed submarine. And for that, we owe you all a debt of gratitude we can never hope to repay. All of you have my sincerest thanks for saving the lives of my crew. And I'm pretty sure you have theirs too." The crew members all boisterously shouted their agreement in one way or another, even Grunt looked up from the fire pit and nodded his head as he took another chomp out of his roasted octo-shark. "Guess that answers that question."

"As I'm sure everyone here would tell you-" Jinora started, only to be interrupted.

"You're welcome! Do I get to fly the ship if we can bring it back up?!" Kai yelled, cupping his hands over his mouth with a snicker.

"No." Joker, EDI, and several others retorted at the same time with Jack laughing and muttering something that sounded vaguely like 'Gutsy little shit.'

Tenzin sighed and continued. "As nearly everyone here would tell you, no thanks are necessary Commander Shepard. We did only what any other decent minded people would have done."

Elizabeth wasn't so quick to agree with Tenzin's statement. "No, if you were merely decent, you would have saved my crew and demanded payment for your good deed, at the very least. Instead you've patched up my people, given us a place to rest and recover, fed us, and you've been nothing but understanding, despite a few hiccups along the way. ...No, you sir are a damn paragon of virtue, not to mention patience. Suffice it to say, I know I'm not the only one that's a little confused right now." Most of the crew got a good laugh out of that as Shepard waited for them to settle down before she continued. "I think it's fairly obvious we aren't exactly used to the five star treatment."

"We kinda got that impression." Korra's gaze twinkled as she sat next to Asami and glanced over the strangers around them. They were certainly a strange bunch. "If anything you're sort of like good hearted pirates out of some child's story book."

"They do have a charmingly roguish air about them don't they?" Asami agreed, chuckling when Tenzin sighed and shook his head.

"Ahem. What the Avatar and Ms. Sato were trying to say-" Tenzin began, but like Kai, didn't get a chance to finish.

"Relax Master Tenzin, diplomacy for me usually involves a firefight or two, so I think I can handle a little snark easily enough." Shepard replied, chuckling lightly as she nodded to Korra and her girlfriend in approval. She was starting to like the pair already, and they hadn't even officially met yet.

"I see. Well good, then I won't have to worry about anyone offending you and your people while you're our guests." Tenzin made it perfectly clear who that 'anyone' was as his gaze raked over Korra, Asami, and Kai alike before returning to Shepard. But just as he began to relax, Tenzin felt a familiar presence standing behind him. "Lin." He said in greeting without turning around.

"Oh good. I see you're letting them freely roam the entire island with no supervision whatsoever. Not like that's a horrible idea." Chief Beifong growled as she shoved her way into the seat next to a reluctant Tenzin. Pema only smirked even as she prepared herself for yet another awkward conversation with the very woman that had almost taken Tenzin as her own, if not for her stepping up when she had years ago.

"What crawled up her exhaust port and died?" Tali whispered to Asami, who only just managed not to choke on what she'd just taken a bite out of as she stifled the laughter that threatened to escape her.

"Long story." Asami replied once she could speak again.

"I don't suppose you'll mind if my officers and I ask you a few questions now?" Beifong asked, almost looking like she wanted Shepard to give her an excuse to do this the hard way.

"Considering you just invited yourself?" Tenzin muttered when Lin was out of earshot.

"Oh great, the local flat foots are back to give us shit. Now it's a party." Jeff muttered into his drink once Lin had passed his seat, only for EDI to nudge him with her elbow. "Ow. You could stand to put a little padding on those you know."

Internally wincing at Jeff's ever sarcastic commentary, Shepard merely held up a hand when Zaeed, James, and Ashley started to get up from their chairs, and nodded to Liara before turning to face Lin, who was all but breathing down her neck at this point. "I'm all ears Chief. Let's find a quiet corner to talk." With that, Shepard slowly stood to her feet and nodded towards a nearby stone bench, away from the main gathering.

"So... have you figured out just how boring living around Air Nomads can get yet?" Lin asked with a frown once Elizabeth was situated. She had to give her credit, Shepard was a lot tougher than Lin would have guessed when they first met the other day.

"After what we endured to get here, I vastly prefer the peace and quiet." Shepard replied with as much sincerity as she could muster. "As for your suspicions, I don't blame you in the slightest. I'd probably be doing the same thing even if I wasn't under orders from the city's leader. Your President Raiko in this case. Since he hasn't ordered you to try and take us prisoner, I'm guessing he's smarter than the average politician."

Lin gave her a derisive snort. "You obviously haven't been around long Commander. He gave the Avatar quite a bit of trouble when the Spirit Vines first popped up all over the city. Personally, he shoulda been glad he even had a city after Unavaatu showed up. Not to mention Kuvira and that platinum covered monstrosity of hers."

"I've heard more about this Kuvira than any other threat she's taken down. I take it she was a recent issue?" Shepard asked as she leaned back on her bench and crossed her arms under her chest while doing her best not to wince when she brushed up against one of her lingering injuries.

"Besides you and your crew?" Beifong cocked an eyebrow before continuing. "A few weeks ago, she damn near blasted Republic City off the face of the Earth Kingdom. She's in a ten by ten platinum cell, paying for her crimes against everyone she either pressed into service or all but enslaved in her quest to 'unite the world' under her rule. Rather poetic considering that they used her own platinum."

"I take it platinum can't be 'bent'." Shepard observed, and Lin gave her a suspicious nod of her head before Elizabeth spoke up again. "As for Kuvira herself, from what little I've heard, she sounds like she simply lost her way. I've run into more than a few people like that." Most of my crew could fall into that category. Shepard didn't feel the need to share that with Lin though. Lin was already giving her the stink eye as it was.

Lost her way?! Gimme a break, how gullible can this woman be? "Yeah, yeah road to hell and all that. I'm the Chief of Police, not a philosopher. Doesn't change the fact she still put a lot of people in harm's way. You ask me, she got better than she deserved."

Yep, she's a stickler for the rules alright. This ought to be fun. Despite her opinion, Shepard let Lin's paranoia slide since it was well meaning in this case. Even so, that didn't stop her from sharing her own opinion regarding Kuvira. "Maybe, but I can respect what she tried to do even if she went about it the wrong way." Shepard countered, having heard enough about Kuvira to get the idea of what the would be tyrant had tried to accomplish.

Lin stared at her with an amused smirk that didn't reach her wary green eyes. "You do realize I'm deciding if it's worth the risk to the citizens of the city to let you stay free, or the risk to my men's lives to try and arrest you. And you're telling me how much you sympathize with a woman who would have stopped at nothing to get what she wanted. Even if it meant killing tens of thousands of civilians to get it."

Elizabeth sighed and looked up, her gaze finding Lin's, and holding it. "I can sympathize with her, because I had to follow a similar path as she did to achieve my own goals. Protecting an entire galaxy against an enemy that was absolutely relentless and without mercy tends to make you take off the kid gloves. But, thankfully, I never became the very thing I wanted to destroy. I had good people around me to ensure I remained true to who and what I've always been."

"Wow. Your little speech was nearly as boring as any of Tenzin's. That's fairly impressive, in a useless sort of way." Lin held up a hand as Shepard's fiery green gaze narrowed. "Fine, so I've had a bad week. First the Triple Threats start firebombing local shops like it's going out of style, then you show up. It doesn't help that I've been running on crappy coffee and cold noodles, so I'll let that little death glare of yours slide."

"Sounds like you got a serious problem on your hands." Elizabeth stated, curiosity getting the better of her as she leaned forward. "I take it these Triple Threats are the local crime gang in the city?"

"Along with the Agni Kais and the Red Monsoons, the Threats are just the biggest of the bunch. But right now, I'm more interested in what my officers are going to tell me about your crew once they finish their questioning."

"If innocent people are in harm's way, I think you have bigger problems than us right now." Shepard countered, even if she agreed with Lin's assessment about them possibly being the bigger threat. They were the strangers to town after all, in the biggest sense of the word. The local gangs, while troublesome, were a known and grudgingly accepted part of life in this world.

"I tend to have a problem with people that crash into my city with giant war machines." Lin causally stated, never breaking eye contact. "Call it a personal quirk."

"You have a fair point." Elizabeth conceded and put a hand to her chin. "Alright. I know simply talking about ourselves won't do us any good, not if you value actions over words. What if I asked my people to help clean up the mess these Triple Threats are making of themselves? That should at least pave the way for us to get on friendlier terms if nothing else."

"Even if I agreed, I'd want them captured, not killed. I don't know what you're used to, but Republic City isn't some backwater village where the local thugs get to rule with an iron fist."

Shepard waved her concerns off, having figured Lin would say something like that anyway. "We have rubber ammo and concussive shots for live captures. We can tag any of these gang members for pickup by the RCPD once we clean house. How many gang members are we dealing with? Do they employ Benders of any kind?"

"Oh what the hell, as long as we're being hypothetical. All of the gangs do. It's practically a requirement, but they've also been taking in chi blockers lately, remnants from Amon's attempted takeover who have turned mercenary. They work for the highest bidder these days, and have been a real nuisance since they can block our ability to bend if they get close enough to land their attacks."

"So they have specialists and the average bender on their side. Might be tricky, but it's nothing my crew can't handle. With what I've seen, biotic enemies make your average Bender look like a piece of cake to take down."

"I'll be sure not to say 'I told you so' when you figure out just how foolishly arrogant that sounds."

"I'll be sure to remember that after we take down the first hideout." Shepard countered, grinning up at the intimidating chief. "Honestly though, you wouldn't be so quick to dismiss our ability if you'd seen what we have and lived to talk about it."

"Right. If none of your people are stupid enough to cross me, I might give it some thought. Once I know you aren't some sort of terrorist group or ...whatever." Beifong twirled a hand in the air, not knowing what the hell to make of the woman sitting in front of her and her equally confusing crew. But the more she spoke with their leader, the more she started to wonder if Shepard truly was a threat to Republic City. She was formidable, even weakened as she was, but Lin couldn't help but see a seasoned, hardened veteran that simply wanted to prove her innocence despite the strange situation she found herself in. If I didn't know any better, this Shepard could almost be what Korra could very well become one day. If she stopped listening to Tenzin's drivel that is.

"Trust me, any of my crew steps out of line with the locals, I'll be the first one shoving my boot up their ass. They know better than to cross me, so I think your men and the citizens of Republic City can rest a little easier."

"You'll forgive me if that charming little attempt to set my mind at ease didn't work." Lin scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest.

Huh, so that's what I look like when I'm pissed. Weird, but I've seen scarier looks on Grunt's face. "Oh don't worry, you'll start to like me soon enough Chief. Besides, actions have always been my go to negotiating tactic anyway. Just don't complain if your local gang bangers start surrendering in droves."

"Yeah right, I'll believe that when I see it Commander. Nice chatting with you." Lin muttered sarcastically, flicking Shepard an 'I'm watching you' gesture over her shoulder as she got up to confer with her fellow detectives and officers.

"Did you get all that Kasumi?" Shepard asked once Lin was out of earshot.

The thief flickered into vision not two seconds later and smirked as she tapped at her omni-tool. "You forget who you're talking to Shep?" Kasumi asked, smirking mischieviously as she helped Elizabeth to her feet. "So, she all but challenged us to take down the gangs of Republic City. I'm looking forward to the chance to test ourselves against these benders and the 'chi blockers' they've hired. Whatever those are."

"I'm guessing martial arts are involved. Not really a problem when you can hit them with bullets and biotics. But don't underestimate them, if they're able to keep up with benders, they might be tougher than we realize. Maybe once Liara stops worrying about me for five minutes we can get her and Traynor working on collecting some intel."

"I'm sure that I can handle both tasks quite efficiently." A rather soft, alluring voice said directly behind Kasumi and Elizabeth.

"Crap." Shepard muttered under her breath as she felt a familiar pair of hands grip her shoulders just a little too tightly for comfort.

Liara slowly walked around her so they were face to face just as Kasumi disappeared, leaving the asari to bear Shepard's weight alone. She helped her down onto the bench once more before she spoke anew. "Just so we're clear, you aren't going anywhere until you're fully healed, but I agree that we need to help this city's people against the rampaging gangs before they can hurt anyone else. That doesn't mean you can't still command from here, and organize our efforts."

"Great, you want me to sit behind a desk while the ground team takes all the risks."

"Yes. That would be most preferable for the foreseeable future, especially when we start that family you promised me."

"Oh, well in that case, I think I can be persuaded to sit on my butt and let the squad have all the fun." Shepard replied, unable to help the goofy grin on her face. The moment passed though when her thoughts turned elsewhere. "Liara…." Talking with Lin had brought up a lot of bad memories, and now that they weren't under constant threat of attack, she couldn't push them to the side like she used to.

Before she could begin to doubt herself, Liara gently pressed her lips against Shepard's and silenced her. It was an ample distraction, to say the least. "Don't. I know what you would say, but you are not the broken, shattered woman you fear you've become. We all have scars… and we all have a long road ahead of us, but Karin gave me some good advice just the other day. We can overcome all that we have endured, so long as we believe we can. I won't give up on you, if you'll do the same for me."

Shepard visibly relaxed and smiled even as a few rare tears fell down her face. "I guess I'm not the only one that's surprised we're still alive after all the shit we went through. Whether we can leave this place anytime soon or not. Whether we have that family here or back on Earth or Thesia. Leaving this city in better shape than we found it is the least we can do regardless of how long we end up sticking around."

"Good. Because we may be starting that family a little sooner than you had planned." Liara couldn't help giggling at Elizabeth's stunned expression. As her eyebrows reached into her feathery auburn hair, Liara gently rested her good hand on her stomach. "I have a gift for my Commander."

"W-wow… that's... wow... really? When did you find out?" Elizabeth hesitantly choked out once she was able to find her voice again.

"Shortly before we arrived here. I asked Karin to check after she had treated my own injuries, and the rest as you say is history." Liara replied and kissed her again, a bright, all encompassing smile plastered on her blue skinned face.

"I'm gonna be a dad… I take it all back, I can definitely get used to sitting on my ass. I can't believe it... I'm gonna to be a dad." Shepard giddily told herself as she got up from her seat, not even feeling the aches and pains of her injures, high on the best drug of all, pure unadulterated joy. Before Liara could stop her she climbed up on the table and cupped her hands over her mouth. "Hey, everybody, guess who's got two thumbs and is gonna be a daddy! This marine!" Shepard shouted before she pointed to herself. The applause from her crew was nearly instantaneous at the happy news as cheers of 'congratulations', 'about goddamn time', and 'it's a girl!' were heard among the crowd.

Tenzin was quiet but beamed at the news, while most of his Nomads were shouting their own cheer. Lin merely smirked and shook her head at the pair, needing no explanation even if she was curious how Shepard had pulled that trick off with her interesting blue girlfriend.

Liara was beyond mortified, yet still she couldn't wipe the smile of her face as she helped Elizabeth down, idly wondering what that odd tugging sensation was. When she glanced down, the asari saw Ikke pulling at her jacket. "Yes Ikke?" Liara asked, finding it easier to smile than it had been in years.

"Is it going to be a little blue baby?"

"Yes, she will be." Liara replied and chuckled warmly as she beckoned Ikke to sit on her lap while Shepard did her best not to chuckle at the cute girl. "My race… borrows the desirable genetic traits we find in-"

Ikke wasn't paying any attention to Liara xenobiology lecture as she continued to fire off yet another stream of questions. "Will she have hair or those pretty tentacle things? Oh, will she have bright blue eyes or green ones? Can I take care of her? I promise I'll be very careful. Oh, oh, what about-"

Shepard couldn't contain her laughter any longer as she gently put a hand over Ikke's mouth. "Yes you can babysit, no she won't have hair, and as for eye color, that'll be up to Liara. Personally I'll be happy either way."

"She'll have beautiful emerald eyes." Liara informed the awe struck young girl, getting nearly the same response from Ikke as Elizabeth.

"Really?" They both asked a beaming Liara before she nodded.

"I know Chakwas is going to want to kill me, but I need a cigar right now. Hey! Who's got a cigar, I'll trade my sniper rifle!" Shepard shouted to the area at large.

"Here. Last guddamn one anyhow. And keep your shitty rifle Shepard. I still got Jessie tucked away." Zaeed retorted before he threw the mentioned cigar her way, which Liara caught.

Elizabeth frowned when the asari crushed it in a biotic field before throwing the remains as far as they could go. "I won't have you blowing that trash anywhere near myself or our newborn Elizabeth."

"Yes ma'am." Shepard replied, not about to argue the point with a clearly overprotective asari.

"Son of a- Forget it." Zaeed muttered with a grin, knowing better than to piss off the former Shadow Broker.

"What does 'sheety' mean?" A confused Meelo called out, before a horrified Shepard snapped her gaze towards the boy and a curiously expectant Ikke.

It was a cold day in Hell when Shepard didn't have an easy answer, and she could only fumble for the words that just wouldn't form themselves into a coherent, safe, response. "Uh... uh." Screw it, tactical retreat plan A. "I should go."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Building Trust

Air Temple Island, Guest Quarters

The one time I don't have any other clothes and the only option available is to wear these….bright ass orange and red robes. I feel like a stiff breeze is going to rip this thing right off me just from looking at it. ... Damn, now I know why Liara wanted me to wear it. Clever blue goddess that she is. Shepard didn't let it bother her too much though as she picked up the outfit that Liara had laid out for her that morning. At this point, she was just grateful she was able to dress herself, let alone complain about anything at all. She was still weak in the knees from the last time Liara had 'assisted' her while the Normandy was still operational, vowing to get the beautiful asari back ten fold just as soon as a stiff breeze couldn't knock her over. As much as she wanted to jump Liara's biotic bones, Shepard was behaving herself as much as humanly possible and allowing her body a chance to heal per Katara's orders. It didn't help any that Chakwas had agreed with the master waterbender's recommendation. Pissing off one doctor was a bad idea, pissing off two was just suicidal, even if one said doctor used a form of strange elemental manipulation over science to achieve the same goal.

Still, that didn't stop Elizabeth from testing her recovering strength in other, far less vigorous ways. Walking around was probably a bad idea, but she'd been bedridden long enough in her not so humble opinion. Besides, Shepard didn't plan to run a mile or anything, not today at least, even if the weather outside was perfect for a little early morning calisthenics. Instead she stripped out of her loose fitting white and black shirt, as well as her similarly synthetic fibre black pants, and held up the orange and red robes up in front of the small, circular mirror on the wall across from her bed. It's not too bad actually. Elizabeth mused as she turned this way and that, getting a mental image in her head of herself in the Air Nomad attire. Certainly softer than I'd expected. Huh, wonder what's it made from?

Whatever the case, it took a little doing as her body protested the movements necessary to don the robes, especially with her previously torn up arm still very sensitive to touch, but before long Shepard nodded her approval of what she saw once she was properly dressed for the day. I look good. Real good. Long as I cover my entire body. She's more machine, bruises, and scars than marine now... twisted and oh so evil. And I rather like it. Shepard mused to herself with a slight grin. It helped that Liara would no doubt kiss each and every one of those scars the moment she thought Shepard could handle a little fun. Which was right now in Elizabeth's opinion, but doctors' orders were ironclad in this case, and Liara was also being rather observant of them, for once.

Elizabeth was drawn out of her thoughts when she sensed someone at the door before a gentle knock followed. Turning around quickly, her arms up in a defensive stance before she knew what she was doing, Shepard had to take a breath to calm her suddenly spring tight nerves, and remind herself that she wasn't in danger here. No surprise my mind thinks the battle isn't over yet, although consciously I know better. Still like how Katara explained PTSD better than whoever actually came up with that damn name. Quickly calming herself down, she opened the door and wasn't all that surprised to see Korra on the other side. "I was wondering when I'd get a visit from you. Korra right? Daughter to Senna and Tonraq, chieftain of the Southern Water Tribe."

"Wait, how did- is there anything you don't know?" The Avatar asked, her eyebrows shooting to her caramel skinned forehead in surprise.

"I know someone that likes to gather information on anyone and everyone. As for what I don't know, I'm sure there's plenty. We've only been in town a few days after all." Elizabeth replied with as much nonchalance as she could muster. The fact Liara had gotten around to talking with Pema after the gathering yesterday had certainly helped shore up their blooming friendship with the woman and her family, but Shepard didn't feel the need to share that with Korra. "So, what can I do for you?"

"Think you're up for a walk? I know from experience being cooped up can drive anyone insane." Korra offered and stepped aside to allow Shepard past if she wished.

"Sure, I was planning to head out anyway. That and I could use the company." While Elizabeth had made it sound casual, she was looking forward to a chance to talk with this rather unique young woman. Unique by her standards anyway, which had seen her run into quite the eclectic bunch since her own journey began to unite a galaxy against a common enemy.

"So... um..." Korra began as they walked out of the small room side by side. The few guards they passed on their way down the wooden and stone hallway only received a passing nod from Shepard. Korra was too focused on the woman at her side to notice much else.

Shepard smirked and waved her hand for Korra to ask whatever was on her mind. "Go ahead, I don't bite... usually."

"Yeah, I'm sure that's only reserved for a special blue someone." Korra muttered, desperately trying to sound snarky despite her rosey cheeks.

"Yep, but you can relax Korra. Would you be surprised to find out that I was like you once? All stutters and uncertainty. Unable to form two whole sentences together without wanting to turn beet red 'cause I was so damn shy. That was a long time ago now." Before Elysium. She kept that to herself for the moment, and instead focused on keeping pace with Korra's shorter stride. "I have the Alliance to thank for bending that out of me." Elizabeth quipped, enjoying the slight grin that got out of the younger woman. "You tend to stop worrying about that sort of thing when bullets are flying over your head and everyone is looking at you to save them." And the sad part is I'm not exaggerating in the slightest. Funny how I got thrust into the limelight almost as soon as I got out of the academy.

"I bet." Korra replied, finding it was becoming easier to talk to this exotic woman from beyond the Spirit Portal. "Sounds like you came from a place a lot rougher than anything I could imagine."

"You'd be right on that kid, but it wasn't all bad. You've met my people after all." Liz replied and shrugged, a small smile appearing on her face as far more pleasant memories flicked through her mind.

"I've seen enough of them to get that idea." Korra agreed. "They're pretty decent overall, even if Jack and Zaeed are a little….gung ho."

"That's one way of describing them I suppose." Shepard replied and chuckled warmly at her tag along. "They have their rough edges, but they're like anyone else at the end of the day."

"I kinda got that impression." Korra replied, remembering the way Tali and Asami had talked about her just the other day. It helped relax the Avatar further as they continued to walk through the temple grounds, listening to the comings and goings of the fellow inhabitants. "Tali and Asami certainly hit it off pretty quick, and I know Liara loves having Ikke and Jinora around. Your doctor, Karin, and Meelo certainly bonded too."

"Karin huh? She must like you already kid." Shepard couldn't help it and laughed, recalling what Chakwas had told her about the 'octo-shark incident' that had taken place just yesterday afternoon. "So I hear Ikke's got Grunt wrapped around her little finger. It's the damndest thing I've ever seen. He won't ever admit it, but he loves that little spitfire."

"You wouldn't know it to look at him though." Korra agreed, smirking now that she wasn't so utterly terrified of offending Shepard. "The way he growls and snarls at anyone that even looks at him funny. But from what I've heard, he's hardly older than Ikke is."

"It's...complicated, but yeah, that's the gist of it." Shepard replied hesitantly, having no idea how to explain why Grunt was technically the youngest of her ship's crew. How could you explain a genetically enhanced krogan super clone to a person that hadn't known aliens existed until a few days ago? Or faster than light starships for that matter. Instead, she turned the conversation towards other, less confusing topics as they came to the open courtyard that dominated the front of Air Temple Island. "So why did you come looking for me Korra?" Shepard asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

"Do I have to have a reason?" Korra grumbled and crossed her arms under her chest.

"I guess not. Besides curiosity's sake anyway, but you don't strike me as the type." Shepard replied without missing a beat as she turned to face Korra directly, unaware she had stopped just past the middle of the engraving in the center of the courtyard with Korra standing on the other side. "You're guided by something more, not flights of fancy like Ikke or a pursuit of knowledge and understanding like Jinora. Or... whatever dark and sinister motivations Meelo has in that big head of his. You, you're simple. You do what you think is right, like me. And woe to those that get in our way."

"Well, I like to think I'm a little more complicated than that..." Korra told her as she nervously rubbed at the back of her neck. "But I guess I'm not, really."

"Oh I'm sure Asami would disagree." Shepard replied offhandedly, and chuckled when Korra sputtered and started to protest. "Easy there, what I mean is that you don't give yourself enough credit." It was here that Shepard lost the playful look on her face. "I've heard enough of what everyone's said about you to get a pretty good picture of who you are, what you've done, since you first arrived in Republic City. You've grown a great deal in that time according to Tenzin, and I don't just mean this whole Avatar thing you've got going on. I mean as an actual person. A 'simple' person doesn't have the same capacity for growth."

"You really mean that?" Korra asked with just a hint of doubt in her voice.

"Trust me kid, when it matters, I mean every word." Shepard lost the somber look on her face and cracked a smile once again. "It's funny, you actually remind me of Liara when I first met her, with a little Jack thrown in for good measure."

"So blindingly naive and temperamental huh?" Korra asked, her voice once more full of confidence and self assurance even if the smirk on her face didn't quite reach her eyes.

"Pretty much. I see Katara likes to talk." So much for doctor patient confidentiality. Wait. Do they even have that here? Damn. Might have to ask around.

"Huh? Oh, Kya might have been listening a little too much for her own good." Korra replied, chuckling as she recalled the mortified look on Kya's face just the other day.

"Uh huh. Well I don't mind, just make sure she doesn't get on Liara's bad side. People tend to stay there permanently, if you get my drift."

"Drift? Oh, like ice?" Korra asked with a hopeful grin.

"Uh….not quite." Shepard replied, mentally slapping a hand over her face at Korra's mistake. Why oh why do I always get stuck with the socially inept ones? Oh right, because I used to be the same way. Must be karma.

"Sorry. If you're trying to tell me her enemies have a way of disappearing, well I can't say I'm that surprised. I mean, just the look on her face when Lin showed up yesterday... I could tell she was way more dangerous than she seems." That look had made Korra draw a few comparisons to her past enemies, and it had taken a considerable effort on her part not to shudder at the cold, icy glare the blue skinned woman had thrown Lin's way.

Glad to see she's not completely clueless then. Shepard nodded her head but waved off her concerns before Korra could give them voice. "Liara might be intimidating, but she's still got a heart of gold underneath the ice she's had to surround herself in. Being around your people is doing more good than you can imagine, for all of us if you want the honest truth. If I had any doubt regarding anyone's safety around here, I'd have packed us up and settled down far from the city the first chance I had, my personal injuries be damned."

"I believe you. Lin might have her doubts, but I'm not that bull headed. Not anymore at least." Korra added, almost as an afterthought. But the slight red tinge to her cheeks said it was a little more than that.

"So I've gathered, which just proves my point." Shepard replied before nodding towards the distant city across the bay. "As for Lin Beifong, she's just concerned for the city under her protection. I can handle her being paranoid, especially regarding my non human crewmates. From what I've been able to tell, we're the first off worlders you've ever seen. I'd be a bit jumpy too if our positions were reversed."

"Well, yes and no." Korra hesitantly replied before deciding to go for broke. "Spirits come in all shapes and sizes, so your friends don't seem that strange. Not compared to some of what you can find in the Spirit World. For instance, I once had a nice conversation with a talking mushroom. So Garrus doesn't seem weird at all, now that I've gotten to know him a little."

Shepard quirked an eyebrow in disbelief. "Talking mushroom?"

"Yes, it sounded crazy to me too at the time, but you get used to the very strange things that tend to happen around me." Korra conceded before she turned the conversation away from her before she gave Shepard more of a reason to think she was crazy. "On the other hand, you are definitely the first people we've ever met who claim to be-"

"Are." Shepard corrected her.

"Who are from another world entirely."

"Don't feel bad kid, we had trouble adjusting to the idea we weren't alone in the great beyond when we found our first aliens. We ended up going to war with each other, over a stupid misunderstanding no less. You at least avoided our mistakes with your chatty mushroom buddies."

Well that's not entirely true. Korra thought to herself, not quite ready to admit all of her failings to a complete stranger. Instead, she opted to focus on what Shepard had just told her regarding her own people's shortcomings. "That's terrible. As for what we endured to get this far, I guess it wasn't any easier. At least not to us." The fact my uncle was insane didn't help anything. Or that he and Vaatu were willing to kill me to ensure their twisted vision.

"Nothing worth doing ever is Korra." Truer words had never been spoken, and the fact she was being completely sincere didn't escape Korra's notice.

"So, who did you pick a fight with?" When Elizabeth frowned, Korra quickly elaborated. "Those first aliens you found."

"The turians. Garrus' people." Shepard replied with a shrug. "Ancient history for some, but there are still plenty that remember the start of it and haven't let humanity forget it. If it wasn't for the Council's intervention, people like Garrus and I might still have been trying to kill each other over some stupid mistake decades later. A mistake that could have been avoided if we had both been more willing to listen to reason instead of jumping to conclusions."

"Raiko certainly comes to mind." Korra muttered darkly before calming herself. "What is it with people who get a little too much power, and then POOF!, they instantly want to control everything and everyone around them."

"Was that a rhetorical question or did you want an answer?" Shepard asked, cracking a just visible grin even as she considered Korra's question. "Because I gotta tell ya, I'm still trying to figure out that one myself." It was here that her grin disappeared as she folded her arms over her chest again and cocked her hip to the side with a slight wince of pain. "Truthfully though, it really depends on the situation and the person involved. Some use the power they're given to try and forge a better life for themselves and those under their jurisdiction. Others for less selfless reasons. Whatever the case, it's real easy to lose yourself to the power you've been given, I think you know that better than anyone." I certainly do just from my own experiences.

"I do. There was a time I'd have given anything to feel like I was control again. Being powerless, helpless..."

"Really sucks?" Elizabeth asked, getting the gist of what she was saying all too clearly.

"Yeah. Exactly." Korra said with surprised laugh. "I think I'm starting to see why your people look up to you so much. Honestly, it sort of confused me at first, but talking to you... it's plain as day now. Also, it helps that you're easy to talk to." She added with a grin.

"That's because I've been through a lot of the same crap as anyone else. I can relate because I've been there, in some way or another. The highs, the lows, and everywhere in between."

"The queasy 'what the heck am I doing?' moments." Korra retorted, her smirk back in full force as she recalled trying to drive Asami's car on her own. That hadn't been a fun experience. "Still remember slamming on the brakes, everyone scattering like terrified sparrow pigeons..." Korra muttered to herself, jerking her wide blue gaze back to a smirking Shepard. "Please tell me I didn't say that out loud."

"You did. If it makes you feel better though, I'm terrified of driving." Shepard replied, just barely able to keep a straight face at the bald face lie she had just told. "I try to make up for it with a lots of cheering and laughing. You know, make my passengers feel like I'm confident."

"Don't believe a word she says kid." They turned and saw Ashley standing not ten feet away. "You never want her behind the wheel of anything that has more than one wheel. She's liable to jump a canyon if she thinks she can get away with it and live. And even if she doesn't, she'll still jump it anyway."

"Damn it Ash, you just had to spoil the surprise when I inevitably get behind the wheel of one of Asami's cars." Shepard grumbled, but the wide grin on her face hadn't faltered in the slightest.

"Wait, what?" Korra stammered out, uncertain if she was joking or not. Her gut said no.

"Nothing. What's up Ash? Kasumi steal some priceless ancient artifact? Just tell them it will be back in an hour, unharmed. Make her put the dust back if you have to. If Joker and EDI managed to steal a 'sky bison', well, I'll have to hand it to them for creativity."

"For once they're all being well behaved. Even Grunt, Jack and Zaeed, if you can believe it." Ashley huffed, almost as if she were disappointed. "As for why I'm here, I was just checking to see where you wandered off too. Turns out Liara is a real hard ass when it comes to someone having eyes on you at all times. Thought I'd take over for James, let him get some chow in the mess."

"Is that what he was doing this whole time?" Shepard asked, having had a feeling that had been the case for Vega trying to 'play poker' with the half asleep guards again earlier that morning. He was never one for poaching a few easy marks, he always likely to earn his credits. "As for Liara, can't say I blame her for worrying about me. I'd be doing the same thing if I was the one carrying our little blue baby."

"Speaking of which, how does that even….work?" Korra asked, before realizing just how rude that sounded.

Shepard only grinned and waved her off before she could open her mouth again.

"This ought to be good." Ashley muttered, and just grinned when Elizabeth shot her a glare for the comment.

"Very carefully." Shepard replied, and snorted when she realized she had just sounded like Tali. "Sorry, but I'm sure Liara would happily bore you with the details. But to put it as simply as possible, asari are able to reproduce with any species they come into contact with. It's….rather unique, how they go about it too." More like intense, joining your mind with someone as incredible as she is.

"Unique? How?" Korra couldn't stop herself from leaning closer to Shepard, completely baffled by how that 'little blue baby' could come into being.

"Well, for starters, asari don't actually have to engage in physical sex at all. Their physiology allows them to meld their nervous systems with that of their partners, sharing sensations, their minds, their very souls some could argue. It's... real hard to explain, even I wasn't prepared for just how deep that connection turned out to be for both of us." How do you explain what it's like to suddenly become one whole from two very different halves? To share each other in such a deep, intimate way? It's beyond words really.

"Wow. That must be amazing. And a little scary." Korra replied as she tried to imagine what Shepard had just described.

"Way I hear it, asari can select the genetic traits from their partner to pass along to their children. While they always bear asari children, it ensures their genetic diversity... or something like that. I don't know, I'm a marine, not a scientist. I shoot stuff for a living."

Korra nodded in false understanding, not able to wrap her mind around half of what Ash had just told her. Not that she had done a very good job in explaining it in the first place. "Wait, they can pick? As in actually choose exactly what their baby will be like?"

"Sort of. Better be careful... I heard Liara mentioning how pretty she thinks your bright baby blues are kid."

"Ash, please don't scare the poor girl." Shepard said, trying her best to sound reprimanding, but failed completely as her emerald eyes gleamed in poorly contained amusement. It wasn't helped any by the nervous look that had come over Korra's face yet again as she swallowed the lump in her throat. "Don't worry kid. She's mine, and I don't think she'd go out of her way to 'acquire' your genetic code just for your blue eyes, even if they are pretty. If she did though, she'd at least ask first. Gotta hand it to the asari, they're by and far the politest race out there, not counting the more criminal minded among them." Don't fuck with Aria. Good rule. Shepard mused, remembering the self proclaimed Queen of Omega in all her criminal glory. It'd be fun to introduce those two, see who comes out on top when the smoke clears.

"Are you okay?" Korra asked as she waved her hand in front of Shepard's thoughtful gaze. "You seemed a little lost there for a second. We can go back to your room if you-"

"Sounded like an invitation to me Skipper." Williams rapidly butted in, grinning from ear to ear as Korra turned beet red when she realized the trap she had just walked into. "Didn't know you and Liara were into that sort of thing, but whatever pops your heatsink I guess."

"Ash... what did I just say about scaring the poor girl for life?" Shepard asked, a just detectable edge filtering into her voice.

Ashley ignored the subtle warning and grinned wider still. "That it was rude, but very satisfying?"

"Well, you're half right at least." Shepard sighed as she shook her head before starting away from her grinning crew chief. The last thing she needed was for Korra to walk away from this with a permanent, burnt on blush. Thankfully the Avatar didn't need an invitation as she did her best not to appear like she was running for her life while following after Shepard. "Before you ask, Ash is always like that, but whatever helps keep you sane I guess."

"I like James and Garrus more than her." Korra stated once she was sure her face wasn't going to catch on fire. "A lot more."

Ash pretended to take a shot to her gut, cupping her armored stomach with a gloved hand. "Ouch. Kid has some real firepower." Williams snarked, unfazed by Korra's biting comment.

"Keep talkin' Ash, I'm sure Korra can demonstrate her own brand of actual fire power if you press her enough. Garrus can certainly testify to it from what I've heard."

"If you had met me three years ago I might have already introduced her to a few fireballs, maybe singed off that ugly unibrow for her." Korra said with a smug grin, and enjoyed the look of surprise on Ashley's face when she aimed her finger like a mock pistol before a small jet of flame appeared. Which was promptly snuffed out when she blew on the tip of her finger. I think I got that right, pretty sure that's what Garrus did when he was showing off anyway.

"Okay, that's a little creepy." Ashley muttered and jerked her hand away from her sidearm. "Try not to do that again kid."

"She is the Avatar. According to the locals, she's able to do that and a whole lot more. Try and keep up Ash, I've been bedridden for two days and I know more than you do."

"It helps you have the ex Shadow Broker feeding you intel at all hours of the night. When she's not actually feeding you that is." Ash's smirk faltered a split second later when she saw a familiar evil gleam in Shepard's eyes. Ah shit, I know that look. That's the 'time to jump the Mako off of a cliff' one.

"Ash, stand at attention until I say otherwise. That's an order. Korra, you have my permission to enjoy yourself. If that happens to freak Williams out, well, that's her problem."

"Oh I don't know, it's not like she deserves it..." Ashley gave a quiet sigh of relief at the Korra's sympathetic glance. "Oh right, she totally does." Korra quipped as a huge grin appeared on her face, and promptly spun on her heel, gracefully sending a fireball the size of a mortar shell right by Williams' head. Ashley only just managed to stay rooted to the spot out of fear of what might come at her next as she felt the heat of the flames brush by her left cheek, yet not a hair was touched.

"What the Hell was that?!" She spat out once she was sure she wasn't smoldering, while still somehow standing at attention.

"Firebending." Korra replied nonchalantly. "Each bending art has its roots in each of the four nations. The Avatar can learn them all, and since I'm the Avatar…." This time Ashley couldn't stop herself from jumping out of the way when Korra kicked up a small rock and sent it flying right over her head. Which was quickly followed by a controlled blast of air, causing Ash to stumble backwards onto her rear. "I have mastery over all four basic elements."

Damn, she's a one woman artillery unit. Shepard mused before shooting Williams' a smirk. "Two for flinching Ash. Hey Korra, don't you have water powers too?"

"For the big stuff I have to have water on hand to perform water bending, but yeah. I can condense the vapor in the air and create water that way, but it's a little tricky to do in a pinch. Like most bending arts, there's a few subsets. I only know ice and healing."

"Well that's good to know..." Ash said, warily taking a step back from the young woman. To say she had a newfound respect for Korra's abilities would have been an understatement. Just as she wiped at her brow, Ashley's brown eyes widened when she noticed several droplets of her own sweat hanging in mid air, before freezing and gently pelting her like pea sized hail. "Ow, dammit I get the point!"

Shepard was far from done though. She was enjoying herself too much. "Ash. I'm thirsty. Care to get us a couple glasses of water? No. Make that two buckets. Big ones."

"Screw you Skipper. I'm not being your target dummy."

"Damn, there goes that plan." Shepard sighed, just managing to keep her disappointed frown in place. "Oh well, maybe some other time then. Wanna join us for a nice walk on the beach?" Somehow she managed not to burst into laughter when Ashley did a confused double take and scowled at her.

"I'll remember this the next time your ass is in trouble Shepard." Ash grumbled before she stomped away. "Your new young little stray can babysit!" She called over her shoulder without breaking stride.

Korra's satisfied smirk fell a moment later, and she frowned at the retreating woman. "Do you think I overdid it? Maybe I should apologize."

Even Shepard winced a little at what she had just wrought, but she had enough frame of mind to stop Korra from giving chase. "She'll get over it, as for apologizing, I'd stay away and let her cool off first kid. Probably safer for both of us. But I guarantee she'll take you seriously from now on, which was kinda the point."

"Wait, you wanted me to scare her within an inch of her life?"

"She's a hard nosed marine, like yours truly. Only way she'll appreciate what you and others like you are capable of is if she sees it first hand. The fact it was kinda fun to see Ash so out of her element aside, she'll go into any future confrontations with benders knowing what to expect now. Same with Garrus when you decked him the other day."

"I keep forgetting you're not used to being around benders."

"We won't forget, and that'll keep us alive if we end up stuck here for the rest of our lives. Not that I'm complaining, this is a nice world, far quieter than anywhere we've ever visited, but we're still soldiers. Threat analysis is our bread and butter, and dealing with them effectively is just our way."

"So you're saying I'm like their instructor... who gets to throw stuff at them."

"Personally, I think you'd make a great drill sergeant. In fact, I'm thinking the whole crew could stand to learn a thing or two about bending from someone who can literally throw everything at them that they might encounter. In Republic City for instance."

Korra was starting to catch onto Shepard's line of thought as she recalled part of a conversation she had overheard yesterday. "Didn't you tell Lin you'd send your crew to help clean up the gangs?"

"Yep, exactly. Might as well get a bit of practice in now wouldn't you say? At least you won't 'shoot' to kill, I imagine the gangs in the city won't be so lenient."

"Mako would know more about them than me, since he ran numbers for one of the groups when he was Ikke's age. But from what I've heard since me and Asami got back, the gangs have gotten worse after Kuvira's attack. You might be right about them being more willing to take lives now. And if your people don't know what to look for and how to avoid- I have an idea." With that chilling thought in mind, Korra looked towards the air bending training yard. It would be a bit of a hike, but she was sure Shepard wouldn't mind if it meant giving her people an edge later. "Follow me, I think I might have an idea to help you get your friends into Bender fighting shape."

Look who's suddenly so sure of herself. Shepard mused, having caught the commanding note in her voice that was reminiscent of her own. Without a word, she fell in behind Korra, curious to see where her thoughts had gone. "What'd you have in mind kid?" Shepard asked as she followed the Avatar onto another part of the island.

All the while, she let her emerald gaze fall on anything of interest. Bumi chatting up Tali was one of the more hilarious sights as she saw Tali lean close to the man, as if sizing him up like an officer looking down her nose at a troublesome recruit. Apparently she had decided to play along and use her honorary title as Admiral for a bit of fun.

"I can't believe they made you a Commander." Tali informed him with a tone of disdain, flicking a bit of grass off his robe before waiting just long enough for his grin to vanish. "With bravery like that, you should have made Captain, at the very least."

"Really? Do you mean that Admiral, ma'am?" A bemused Bumi stated, thinking he was about to get a reprimand at best, instead of a compliment.

Shepard only shook her head and left them to their conversation, all the while she was doing her best to ignore the growing aches in her still healing body. Might have to see Katara sooner rather than later.

Korra looked over her shoulder and winced when she caught sight of Shepard trying to mask her pain behind an impassive frown. "It's just a little further." She promised, the corner of her mouth turning up as she flicked out a hand, catching a now hovering Shepard by surprise in a similar ball of air that Tenzin had used to get Tali off the Normandy. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."

"Not funny. Put me down kid." Shepard commanded, but if she had hoped to intimidate Korra, she was sorely disappointed.

"In a second. You're exhausted."

"Right. Now." There was no way she was about to admit weakness to a girl in her early twenties of all people, powers or not.

"Sorry, but I think I'm more afraid of what Liara would do to me if I let you get hurt. And it's not just her who needs you now." Korra sagely nodded at her own comment before holding up a finger and glancing over her shoulder with a smirk. "Yup, better safe than sorry."

Oh, you're going to pay for that. Way to play the guilt card kid. "Hmm, good point. Still don't like the idea of being two feet off the ground in a ball of air." Shepard experimentally poked the sphere before letting out a sigh of defeat. "You win this round kid."

"At least you're smarter than you look." Korra snarked as she gently set Shepard down on a nearby stone bench once they had reached their destination. It was another courtyard on the back side of the temple, but there was something in the center of this one. "Just between you and me, you're going to need the energy you have left not to pass out from laughing."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Shepard asked as she pulled up her omni-tool after following Korra's gaze to what looked like some sort of art covered panels on turnstiles. From what she could tell, it looked old, really old, carved from some kind of wood. Judging by the wind and clouds that covered most of the panels though, she was willing to guess it was airbending related. "I'll bite, is this some kind of obstacle course? Or just a really odd piece of outdoor art?"

"You'll see." Shepard shrugged at Korra's less than satisfactory explanation and made the call. Ten minutes later and a somewhat rested Shepard and her crew were gathered in front of the young woman. "Thank you all for coming." Korra began just as Jinora, Tenzin, Meelo, and Ikke landed behind her.

"Not like we had a choice. The Oscar Mike Foxtrot Golf channel is for emergencies only, last time I checked." Vega grunted, only to feel an invisible elbow slam into his stomach. Before he could get a hand on Kasumi, the master thief had already moved on.

"We're glad to be here, but...mind explaining what's with the wood panels kiddo?" Kasumi asked as she flickered into sight right next to Elizabeth. "I get the feeling they're here for more than fancy decoration. They look rather old, is this some type of outdoor art gallery?" Hmm, I wonder if they would miss a few?

"Not exactly." Jinora began and smiled, knowing where Korra was going with this as she stepped closer to the panels. "This is an ancient airbending training course. The goal is to get to the other side without touching any of the panels, while they're in motion." Jinora shot her hands forward at that moment, and sent a blast of wind through the panels, making them spin rapidly before she continued her explanation. "Airbending is all about freedom of movement, of finding the path of least resistance. When you meet resistance, simply move away from it and continue forward."

"Can't I just smash the spinny things?" Grunt asked, giving the puny looking wooden targets a glare. "Be a lot faster that way."

"Grunt…." Shepard warned, to which the krogan muttered a quick apology before she turned to look at Jinora, quite intrigued by what she had proposed. "Personally I think it's rather poetic, but can it be done?"

"Yes it can, watch and learn maggots! Um, you too Commander ma'am!" Meelo cheered before throwing a gust of air at the platforms and then charging into the spinning panels at full speed. Much to the group's collective amazement, they watched transfixed as Meelo darted between the panels light as a feather, flipping this way and that before coming to a stop on the other side, his arms held up high over his head. "Anyone else want to 'be the leaf'?!"

Garrus playfully nudged Jeff on the shoulder, shoving him forward. "No way am I running into that death trap... EDI can do it." When the synthetic raised a curious eyebrow, Jeff quickly elaborated. "Because I believe in you babe. No joke." That, and I don't want to be a human pinata.

"Very well. I accept your challenge Air Nomad Meelo." EDI replied with a polite nod to the boy before making her way to the beginning of the course. "I am curious about one variable before I proceed. How successful were all of you when you first attempted this evasive exercise course?"

"I broke my nose the first time." Tenzin muttered and rubbed at his face, remembering his own attempt when his father, Avatar Aang, was still around. "It was not a good day."

"I didn't have trouble with it." Jinora stated matter of factly.

"It was a piece of cake!" Meelo yelled annoyingly.

"I did really good, daddy was so proud!" Ikke beamed.

"I ended up flattening the entire course not a week after I'd been on the island. Took forever to put it back together again." Korra blushed and rubbed the back of her neck in embarrassment. "But I've gotten a lot better since." With that, Korra set the whole course spinning once more before nodding to EDI to begin. "Good luck in there."

"Thank you for your honesty Avatar Korra. I shall try to improve on your attempt." EDI said giving Korra a polite nod, with just a trace of wry humor in her voice. Walking up to a smiling Ikke, EDI gestured towards the panels. "Would you care to assist me?"

"Huh? Oh, right. Sure thing!" Sending another powerful blast of air to spin up the panels once again, Ikke gave the AI a little bow. "There you go, have fun, that's the important part!"

"I will endeavour to do so." A grinning EDI replied as she dashed into the panels, moving faster than any organic as she gracefully weaved and dodged around the spinning obstacles, appearing on the other side a few seconds later. "I trust that was a satisfactory performance? And thank you Ikke, that experience was indeed quite 'fun'."

"I'll say." Tenzin stated, his jaw all but hanging from his mouth.

"Yay! Glad you liked it!" Ikke cheered, ignoring the stupefied look on her father's face. "Alright, who's next?"

"Well, with an invitation like that, who am I to refuse?" Kasumi chuckled as she stepped forward. "Jinora, mind doing the honors?"

"Of course." Ikke pouted as Jinora took charge and sent her own gust of wind through the panels. "Remember, the goal is to find the path of least resistance."

"Oh I'm quite good at that already." Kasumi stated cheerfully before charging into the obstacle course. She didn't make it halfway before she hit her first roadblock, or rather it hit her square in the face. She hardly had time to breathe before her backside was similarly smacked only for the thief to stumble and be nailed a third time in as many seconds.

"Shall I grab the medi-gel for you Ms. Goto?" Karin asked when the thief was flung back out the way she went in by an errant panel corner.

Managing to land on her feet, Kasumi shook her head and held up a hand. "No...I'll be alright….as soon as the world stops spinning." She panted out, before slowly straightening herself to her full height. "I have a newfound respect for your unique discipline though Master Jinora. That was no cakewalk."

"Who's next!" Meelo shouted out to the crowd. Everyone seemed slightly more hesitant now after seeing Kasumi's cat like grace easily defeated by the deceptively simple obstacle course. "What a bunch of whimps. Watch how it's done." Jack called out when no one stepped forward.

"Jack. No biotics." Shepard cautioned, having no desire to spend the rest of the day putting the obstacle course back together after the biotic decimated it.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't get your panties in a tw... oh right, didn't you start going commando your nerd girlfriend? Liara must love easy access!" Jack shouted over her shoulder before she charged into the spinning panels. The trail of obscene curses that followed would have made a sailor blush when the biotic was sent tumbling back out head over heels right about the same place Kasumi had. On top of a few new bruises, she had a nasty black eye as well. "Did anyone get the licence plate of that aircar?" She slurred before falling face first onto the courtyard.

Tenzin was the first to reach the fallen woman, gently rolling her onto her back and grimacing at the blood freely flowing from her nose and cheek. "Can you hear me Ms. Nought?! Oh dear. Mother isn't going be to happy about this, not after she just talked her into letting her heal some of her scars."

"She'll be fine Master Tenzin." Chakwas assured him with a chuckle as she knelt down next to the unconscious biotic and did a quick examination, dabbing a bit of medi-gel on her wounds. "She might reconsider jumping into this rather exotic form of training when she wakes up though. And yes Shepard, I knew what you were up to the moment I saw the course. I must say, it's rather beautiful, and its simplistic nature hides its difficulty." Karin stated, standing to her feet and gesturing for a grinning Zaeed to assist her to get the slightly injured woman to a bench when she was sure Jack wasn't in any immediate danger.

"You really think so?" Ikke asked, beaming up at the good doctor who only chuckled.

"Of course. But I'm a bit old to try something like this. I'll let my shipmates foolishly get themselves injured instead. It's more entertaining that way, even if I have to clean up the mess afterwards."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence doc." Vega chuckled as he shrugged and started towards the obstacle course. "Yo Short Round! Do the thing!"

Meelo's right eyeball twitched at the nickname, but he did as James asked, getting the panels spinning once again. "This ought to be good. Get in there maggot!"

"Will do Comandante Irascible. See ya on the other side." James quipped with as much playful sarcasm as he could.

"Huh?" Meelo asked, confused as to James' comment.

"Commander Short Tempered, fits you like a glove." James muttered to himself before dashing into the course.

"Hey!" Meelo shouted after the giant man, who had since disappeared into midst of the spinning panels. Much to their surprise, Vega's included, he made it further than anyone else had, not counting EDI, before he finally got himself into trouble.

When he was spat out where he'd started, Vega was holding a hand against his back. "Ow. That actually wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be."

"I don't see you finishing the course marine." Shepard quipped with a raised eyebrow, daring the man on as he rubbed at his lower back. "Back home, that's what we like to call a half assed attempt." Shepard informed the crowd of Acolytes that had gathered to watch.

"I don't see you getting up ma'am." James retorted, smirking widely as he plopped down next to Liara and Elizabeth. "What about you Blue, want to give it a shot?"

"I think I'll pass this time James." Liara replied, but the gleam in her blue eyes said she was tempted to give it a shot.

"Chicken." Ashley muttered, earning her a glare from the asari.

"Fine, but you're next. I look forward to seeing the inevitable expression of utter humiliation on your face." Liara retorted as she get up, somehow managing to make even that simple act look elegant. Nodding to Ikke, the asari didn't bother going through the course at all. Instead, she used her biotics to levitate herself clear over the spinning panels before gracefully landing on the other side, light as the proverbial feather.

The moment her feet touched the ground, Liara was confronted with an upset Ikke. The girl pointed a finger in her face and stomped her foot. "Hey! That's cheating. You were supposed to go through the course, not over it."

"You said the path of least resistance. You failed to stipulate what that path was, so I merely avoided said resistance entirely." Liara replied calmly, although she had been fully aware of the rules regarding the obstacle course. Still, the asari smiled down at the young girl when all she could do was open and close her mouth, realizing Liara was right in her argument.

"Well, she certainly gets points for original thinking." Korra deadpanned.

"Why didn't I think of that... I ah, I mean, I have to agree with you Korra." Tenzin replied dryly, giving Liara a slightly jealous looking nod of approval. "But Ikke is right Dr. T'Soni, and I believe you were fully aware of the correct way to complete this trial. That said, I think we all can easily forgive any overabundance of caution on your part given your... unique circumstances." Tenzin gestured vaguely to Liara's waist, and instantly regretting it when he felt her searing blue glare on him a split second later.

The rest of Liara's face remained impassive as she rejoined the small crowd gathered before the obstacle course, but Elizabeth knew she was trying to contain the urge to rearrange Tenzin's face for that slight insult against her abilities. Pregnant or not, the asari had a proud streak a mile wide. She was a quarter krogan after all, no matter how much she always downplayed that part of her heritage. Having her abilities questioned was a good way to get on her very short 'kiss your ass goodbye' list as Elizabeth had jokingly named it.

So she wasn't all that surprised when Liara nodded her head briefly before addressing Tenzin himself. "Very well. Run it again." She stated simply, the temperature in the courtyard dropping like a stone from those five little words.

"On a completely unrelated note, if she gets hurt, I'm blaming you. Just sayin' kid." Shepard stated matter of factly as a gleefully snickering Meelo stepped up to start the course again. With a loud gulp, the boy sent a gentle wave of air towards the platform, allowing a smirking Laira to easily walk past the lazily spinning panels.

Shepard couldn't help chuckling as Liara 'triumphantly' exited the course less than a minute later. "Smart move kid."

A frowning Korra started to protest, only for Tenzin to loudly clear his throat when he caught her gaze. "I'm going to allow it. What? There's no rule on how fast they have to be moving."

"Now he tells us." Ash grumbled, to which Korra only huffed in agreement. With a shrug, she stepped forward as Liara settled down next to Elizabeth. "Might as well get this over with, and just so we're clear squirt, I'm not afraid of a little pain. Hit 'em with your best shot."

"Yes ma'am!" Meelo cheered, his evil 'megalomaniacal' grin firmly back in place as he spun up the panels to a ridiculous speed.

"Me and my big damn mouth." Ashley groaned before she charged the panels head on, only to be tossed back like a rag doll before she cleared the outer perimeter.

Garrus could only chuckle when Ashley finally pushed herself to her feet, a number of fresh bruises and bumps all over her body from being tossed around. "Look on the bright side Williams, you'd make a good turian. Never retreating, even in the face of suicidal, 'what the spirits are we thinking', odds is sort of our thing."

"You're up Garrus." Ashley told him, a deadly grin plastered on her freshly bruised face.

"Oh….I walked right into that one didn't I?" Garrus muttered, realizing too late he had walked head first into that particular minefield.

"Yep." Tali agreed, having stayed silent long enough. "But I wouldn't expect anything less from you my silly Garr-bear."

"Not sure if I should take that as a compliment or not." The turian retorted before hesitantly taking up position in front of the platforms just as Jinora set them spinning at a brisk pace. "Thanks, I'll remember this later Jin."

"You're welcome." The young master airbender replied before nodding her head to the course. "Anytime now would be good."

"Out snarked by a girl that doesn't even come up to my waist. What has the galaxy come to?" Garrus grumbled, slowly walking up to the platform and observing the motion of the spinning wooden stands. Without further hesitation, he decided to try what no one else had. Taking his time, he didn't blindly run forward into the chaos before him, he spun forward in a clockwise motion at a more sedate speed, easily clearing the first few panels. Alternating and reversing his surprisingly elegant spin, he sidestepped several more panels before taking a meandering, slow 'waltz' through the course, arriving on the other side unharmed several minutes later. "And that is why I'm the best." Garrus declared, not about to admit he had visualized himself dancing with Tali across a club floor. It had helped him stay calm and focused on the task at hand.

"Well I'll be a flying lemur's uncle." Bumi muttered, surprised that someone had gotten through the course with so little difficulty on their first try. "Not bad Scars! Way to stay light on your feet! There's no shame in being graceful as a snow tiger leopard in combat." The rest of the Air Nomads and Tenzin's family were shouting similar compliments, just as impressed as Bumi was by Garrus's success. Shepard and company could only stare, surprised that one of their own had finally succeeded.

"Keelah, that was incredible." Tali declared the moment Garrus got close. She immediately embraced him and smiled up at his smug face. "Just so you know, you didn't have to impress me, showing off your graceful sensitive side. But on the brightside, you did just manage to seduce me for the next week in advance."

Garrus chuckled, a playful gleam filling his gray eyes as he leaned in to plant a kiss on Tali's visored forehead. "I can deal with that."

"Geez, get a room you two!" Korra muttered.

"Sounds like a good idea to me. Coming Garrus?"

"I will be shortly." The turian quipped as Korra turned a bright shade of rosey pink.

"Uh… I... wow." Korra stammered out as she spun and sent a violent surge of air towards the platform, the panels nearly breaking off from their moorings. "Okay, who wants to go next?"

"Would that be to your local infirmary, or the morgue?" Jeff asked, pointing towards the torrent of air she had cast at the obstacle course. "'Cause it's kinda hard to tell at the moment."

"Don't be such a wuss Joker." Shepard retorted, smirking at the arrogant pilot.

"Okay then, by all means Commander Show Off." Jeff snarked as Shepard's emerald gaze narrowed before she started to get up.

Liara grabbed Elizabeth wrist before she could blink. "No, not until you're fully healed at the very least." And not even then, fathers aren't allowed to be so stupidly reckless. Liara mentally added, sparing Elizabeth the public shaming she so badly wanted to give her right now.

"Alright, alright, I won't go... today." Shepard promised and settled back on the bench. "Sorry folks, maybe next time. Thanks for showing us this thing though, we'll be sure to make good use of it if you'll allow it."

Having been uncharastically quiet this whole time, Grunt stepped forward, a wide, terrifying grin on his face. "I want to test my courage against this stupid thing."

Tenzin's eyes widened as he pictured destruction rivaling Korra's if the young krogan got anywhere near the ancient device. "Please don't."

"Please? What are you, a spineless welp?" Grunt asked, his grin only growing.

Shepard wasn't so amused and made her displeasure known when she glared at the prepubescent krogan. "Grunt….if Tenzin says no, then he means it."

"Fine, take all the fun out of it Battlemaster." The krogan grumbled and hung his head in defeat. "At least that octo-shark thing was fun to tear apart."

The healing chamber, later that day…

After their entertaining morning that had seen most of her crew battered by the airbending course, Shepard had been escorted back to the healing chamber by Liara, who hadn't taken no for an answer. Not that she had argued much against visiting the master healer, she just hadn't wanted to appear weak more out of a stubborn sense of pride than anything else. What had surprised her though was Korra's request to accompany them.

Some of her fellow 'inmates' gave Shepard half assed salutes or nods of recognition as they walked in, Elizabeth making a point of pausing to check on some of them before her treatment. "How ya feeling Adams? Still working on that escape plan?" She was relieved to see most of his burns had cleared up already.

"Not quite. Having a couple traitorous mutineers on my crew sort of put a monkey wrench into that idea." Adams replied before he sighed heavily in defeat. "Might have to consider a change on the duty roster."

"For the record sir, it was quite entertaining watching you get your arse politely handed to you by those... are they guards or nurses? It's a wee bit hard to tell." Ken said with a shit eating grin, comfortably resting with his feet up on a small stone statue.

"Or when you got to go skinny dipping in that glowy pool over there and your towel came off. That was down right hilarious. Sir." Gabby rapidly added as Adams quirked an eyebrow and glared at her.

"I did try to tell him that he didn't have to step out of his underwear." Kya stated, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as a smile slowly spread across her face. "But I certainly didn't mind the view."

"Oh God, somebody just shoot me now." Adams muttered as he thunked his head against the pillow behind him.

"I don't know Adams, older women are supposed to be more fun." Shepard stated, smirking slyly after meeting Kya's 'hurt' gaze. "Just look at me and Liara."

"You two aren't exactly… uh… nevermind." Adams trailed off, unsure how to phrase what he was thinking without offending anyone more than he had already.

"Normal?" Elizabeth asked, chuckling before she walked away just as Katara took up a position by the only empty pool in the stone chamber. "I'll give you that one Adams, but the point stands. Don't knock it until you give it a try."

"He's really good at digging himself in over his head isn't he?" Kya playfully asked with a smirk as she checked on the engineer's various bandages.

"Most definitely ma'am." Gabby told her with a knowing nod as she lightly 'punched' Adams on his good shoulder.

"Oh dear, I think you've gone and riled up both of them. Well, it was nice knowin' you Chief." Ken smirked as he gave his fellow engineer and carrier of 'foot in mouth' disease a conciliatory pat on the shoulder.

"So, what do you think of Air Temple Island now?" Korra asked as she settled in next to Katara. "Not exactly the height of excitement I imagine."

"As I told Chief Beifong, I prefer the quiet out here." Shepard replied as she gingerly stepped into the pool and sunk up to her neck in the glowing water. Relief from the day's events immediately followed as her aches and pains all but disappeared.

"There was a time I wouldn't have shared the same sentiment, but now? It's a welcome relief." Korra agreed, and watched as Katara started one of Shepard's last treatments if her progress continued as well as it had.

"We don't know how good we have it until our lives are turned upside down kid."

"Yeah, but sometimes the insanity is worth the headache."

End Notes; Vergil1989; This chapter was a bit delayed because my littlest brother had to go in for major back surgery, they had to put in metal rods to help straighten out his spine, but it looks like he's going to make a full recovery. As you can rightfully assume though, I was pretty stressed for some time. But this was a fun, light hearted bit of fun that I desperately needed, and I owe Archer83 quite a bit for that. Anyway, enjoy folks!

Chapter Text

Author's Notes / Heartfelt Apology: Archer83: To all of our readers and long standing fans, we'd just like to apologize for the original version of this chapter. We were both going through difficult situations in our lives at the time and we feel the quality of that chapter suffered, clearly not meeting the general standard we've set for this story.

Vergil1989: Yeah….we screwed up big time, but my good friend's right. We've both been through a lot these past few weeks. We got ahead of ourselves, and didn't give this the justice it rightfully deserves. After a lot of thought and deliberation on our parts, we decided to do this right. We hope that this returns Unharmonic Convergence to our usual high standards ladies and gentlemen.

Chapter 6: Making Amends

Air Temple Island

The next morning...

Shepard sighed as she made her own way to the healing chamber, half expecting Liara to be darting back around a corner if she'd dared to look behind her. Not that she could blame her. Last night had been...rough, and despite Liara's well meaning concern, she had insisted the asari go do her own thing that morning. The reason why was pretty simple.

Waking up in a cold, terrified, sweat was nothing new for Shepard, but she had certainly enjoyed the last few rare nights of uninterrupted sleep since crash landing on this world. She honestly couldn't remember the last time she'd gone that long without visiting the same heart pounding nightmares over and over again.

Last night though, having gone to bed relatively pain free after being weaned off of Doctor Chakwas' assorted pain meds, her mind had been allowed to run rampant. Running through an all too familiar burned out forest, with shadowy figures on all sides, and choking clouds of ash in the air was not her idea of a peaceful night sleep.

There had been a new twist on this old, horrible classic though. Instead of her dream ending as it normally did, with the boy she had failed to save bursting into flames, alongside a disappointed looking vision of herself, Shepard stumbled into the same burned out clearing only to find Liara sitting on an unmarked park bench. That wasn't the only change from the ordinary route this nightmare commonly took though. The asari wasn't alone, much to Shepard's growing horror when her emerald eyes fell on the little blue baby in her arms, wrapped lovingly in her black N7 hoodie. Just as Liara started to look up towards her, her deep blue eyes beaming with joy, Shepard saw them both burst into flames right before their ashes blew away on a stray breeze.

It had been enough to jar her from a deep sleep, only to find Liara pressed against her back, a hand on her shoulder. Nothing needed to be said as she had met the asari's worried deep blue gaze. "Shouldn't be surprised that one's back on constant replay." She quipped, in an effort to relieve the tension, and to calm the hammering in her chest, but a glance at Liara said she wasn't buying it.

"Shepard…." Liara said, needing to say little else to express just how concerned she was.

"It's alright, I-" Shepard's words rang hollow to her own ears, let alone Liara's, who, if Elizabeth was being honest, knew the hardened marine better than she knew herself. "That's a lie and we both know it huh?" She finally said as she sat up on the side of the bed and put her head in her hands. Liara was right there with her, her hands on her stomach and gently pressed against the center of her back as she pulled Shepard so the back of her head was pressed against her chest. "How are we supposed to come back from something like that Liara? We've seen entire worlds burn….how do we begin to come back from the horrors we've witnessed?"

"One day at a time Liz. That's all we can do, try to make a better future for ourselves now, no matter what happens." Liara whispered as she held Shepard against her body, her chin resting on the top of the marine's head. "It's how I've managed to come this far without falling apart... although it's been just as hard for all of us. We just never wanted to worry you, not with so much on your shoulders as it was."

"Each and every one of you are a part of why I was able to keep going Liara, but especially you. I don't know if I could have made it to the end….especially after what I experienced on the Crucible."

"You never told anyone what happened there Shepard." And she hadn't, not even Liara knew what had occurred up there, and any past attempts to ask had been met by stony silence. On the other hand, Liara hadn't really pressed for answers in the past few days, not with Shepard in such rough shape until recently. She couldn't keep the question from spilling from her lips anymore though. "Why won't you talk about what happened after-"

"TIM blew his brains out?" Shepard replied quietly as she pulled away from Liara's embrace. She tried to ignore the hurt look on the asari's face, but Elizabeth sighed and hung her head, her eyes unfocused as they fell on the stone floor at her feet.

"I was faced with a choice….two of which would have ensured I died up there in all but spirit. I could have became a fucking Reaper," she wasn't surprised by Liara's sharp intake of breath at that little revelation, "or I could have somehow started a chain reaction that would have fused synthetics and organics together to form a new race altogether. ...I didn't have the goddamn right to make that kind of choice for an entire galaxy." Shepard paused, deciding if she really wanted to tell Liara the truth, a glint of shame filled her emerald eyes.

"But that's not why I didn't choose either of them, or even refused to make such a sick, twisted choice in the first place. As horrible as it might have been to become a Reaper and maybe change them for the better from the inside, or to somehow change the face of the galaxy by fusing organics and synthetics, the truth's pretty damn simple." Shepard jerked back when Liara reached out to counsel her, a single, bitter tear falling down her cheek.

"I was selfish. After everything we fought for, everything we lost, all I could think about was how much I wanted to see you again. How much I wanted to give you all those little blue babies and the house you wanted, the quiet peaceful life we could share. But... I also wanted to see those bastards burn in Hell... for everything they took from us. So I chose to destroy them outright. It didn't matter that the geth would also be exterminated along with the Reapers and every other synthetic in the galaxy. No, I just had to have my petty fucking reven-"

Whatever remaining self loathing, torment fueled words Shepard might have spoken were silenced when Liara forcibly put her hands on her face and turned her head so they were eye to eye. Before she could pull away a second time, Liara's eyes had turned black. The darkened room, illuminated only by the light of the moon filtering through the closed window, blacked out completely as Shepard felt the asari's mind touching her own. A part of her wanted to rebuke Liara's meld, but the rest of her welcomed it as all of her strength seemed to bleed away as she fell against the beautiful asari, tears running down her face from the waves of love and compassion that washed over her. Her self doubt and anguish over her every action to stop the Reapers, whether she had had a choice in the matter or not, radiated violently from her as Liara's calming influence slowly began to sooth her guilt ridden conscience.

You made the only choice that you knew was right, no matter the motivation behind it. Elizabeth felt rather than heard the words echo in the deepest reaches of her battered psyche. You did everything you could, and far more than anyone ever had a right to ask of you Elizabeth. Selfish or not, the Reapers needed to be destroyed, their cycle finally broken, and our galaxy free of their neverending tyranny. Countless lives will never know the endless terror and suffering they brought to our galaxy, because of you. And I, for one, think you earned the right to be a little selfish after everything was said and done.

Shepard chuckled weakly in response as she pressed herself more firmly against Liara's warm, welcoming body, the meld creating a phantom sensation across her own chest as she inhaled and exhaled slowly by the asari's collarbone. Maybe you're right Liara….but the geth were as much to thank for our victory as anyone else, and I took everything from them just as much as the Reapers. No, what I did was worse than the Reapers, I summarily sentenced their species to extinction. They had a fighting chance to survive along with the rest of us, and I took that from them. Liara was buffeted by waves of remorse and then shame as Shepard continued baring her soul to her bondmate. The only reason EDI's here is because we escaped the blast wave... they didn't get that chance.

Liara had no ready answer for that. As much trouble as the Heretic geth had been at the start of their campaign against the Reapers, it hadn't taken the crew of the Normandy long to learn that the synthetics had been far more complex than appearances had suggested. Knowing their entire race was quite possibly now wiped from existence was a tragedy of epic proportions, but she couldn't help feeling that the geth would have agreed with Shepard's choice, given the same horrible options. As logic driven as they had been, the geth had grown far more than any other race, proving that given time, even a 'machine' could possess a soul. And Liara was certain their collective self awareness would have guided them along the same path, and she said as much to Elizabeth.

Shepard hadn't been able to find a hole in Liara's logic then, and with the sun beating down on her that morning, she still couldn't find a way to dispute her now. But that realization did nothing to lessen, in her own mind, the war crime, war crimes, that she had been forced to commit, culminating in one, final, horrific choice.

"Nice day for a stroll." Katara mused aloud, drawing Shepard out of her thoughts as she met her at the entrance to the healing chamber, a knowing gleam in her big blue eyes. She wasn't at all surprised when Elizabeth didn't say a word as she pushed the doors open and kept on going right by the master waterbender. "Running from your worries doesn't work child. Korra tried, for more than six months after she left the South Pole, abandoning her recuperation for... whatever she believed she needed to find to truly make herself whole again, and they only followed."

"I can damn well try." Shepard shot back, in no mood to talk about any of what she'd discussed with Liara last night.

"When they are metaphorically chained to your arm and trying to drag you under?" Katara asked without missing a beat as she fell in behind the marine. "Not every enemy can be met with brute force Shepard. Some, especially our own unique inner demons, require a gentler hand."

"I don't know, I can bludgeon pretty hard." Elizabeth muttered, giving the elder healer a less than subtle warning to drop the subject. Most people would have taken the hint, but she forgot one important fact about Master Katara. The old Waterbender feared no one, not after the trials and tribulations she had prevailed against over her many years. Shepard was bluntly reminded of this when she found herself in a solid block of ice from the neck down. "Son of a... that's just cheating." She grumbled and hung her head, only to jerk her chin away from the cold ice when it met the frigid surface.

"Now that I have your attention, I would suggest you listen well." Katara stated calmly as she came to a stop in front of the frigidly bound marine, her hands folded neatly behind her back. "You are far from the only one who has had to make a choice that keeps them up at night."

"Oh really? What have you done that would even come close to the horrific shit I've had to deal with on a daily basis?" Shepard asked, far sharper than she had intended. Damnit, I have no right to insult her like that after all she's done for us. "Katara I-"

Taking Elizabeth's frustrated verbal jab in stride, Katara merely held up a hand, having expected the outburst. She had dealt with far worse in her time. "Compared to the path you have walked? Most likely nothing I have achieved in my long life, but the point remains Elizabeth. I know what it is to feel shame and guilt for something I've done when I was much younger. There is not a man, woman, or child on this island, or in the great city beyond, who is free of that burden to some degree or another."

"I didn't break a window or steal from a fucking cookie jar! I obliterated hundreds of thousands of co-" Shepard barely managed to contain her anger enough to stop herself from saying anything else she knew she would instantly regret. Instead, she looked away as best she could and closed her eyes, the weight of the galaxy falling on her shoulders for the second time in the last twenty four hours. "I've done things, horrible things, things no one should ever be forgiven for Katara. I can try and rationalize it all I like, but that doesn't change the cold hard facts."

By this point, Shepard had simply hoped to drive Katara away with her damning confession, but was once again surprised by the wizened water tribe elder. Instead of damning her, condemning her, the master Waterbender merely reached out and gently cupped Elizabeth's cheek in her wrinkled hand. "You feel as if you have lost yourself, that you have forfeited your very soul, but the self inflicted torment you so clearly suffer from shows that isn't true. You fight for others without a second thought, but you are not willing to fight for yourself. You would forgive your friends and your lover of any wrong they might commit, but are not willing to do the same for yourself." Katara emphasized that point by letting her ice dissolve with a mere wave of her hand, freeing Shepard at the same time. The marine was currently focused on pondering her words, and wasn't prepared, ending up falling to her hands and knees. But, unsurprisingly, Katara was there to help her to her feet, her hand on her upper arm gentle and warm, a sharp contrast from the ice she had just encased her with. "It will take time, but all wounds heal, no matter how badly they ache now. I know this, and I think you do too despite what you might think you know at this moment."

Shepard could only stare at Katara for several seconds before a small, grateful smile started to form on her lips. "How do you do that so easily?"

"I'm old dear, I've been around." Katara replied and chuckled warmly, knowing Shepard hadn't meant the ice, before nodding to the closest pool. "Speaking of injuries, let's see if we can't ease the last of your physical ones shall we?"

"Gladly." Elizabeth stated as she stripped out of the ridiculously soft airbending robe she had worn since settling on the island. "I'll be happy to feel like my old self again, physically speaking anyway. Or as close as I can get at least." With that, Elizabeth couldn't help but let out a little sigh of relief when she submerged herself in the pool. She followed the glow of the water as it reached up to her neck before going back down to her feet, still amazed by what Katara had managed to do in such a short amount of time. "I have got to find out how you do that."

"I imagine you'd make an excellent waterbender, but unfortunately it's not a skill you can learn." Katara stated, but smiled encouragingly all the same. "The moves themselves however, those I can teach, as could anyone that has studied the ways of my tribe. Bending is all about movement, no matter what element is involved."

"I've noticed. A few of them I could easily compare to ancient forms of martial arts I've seen back home. During CQC training we learned quite a few different styles, mixing and matching the best moves from all of them to make a devastating one of our own." Shepard explained when she noted Katara's curious expression. "Military training is... very thorough where I come from."

"So you have a strong foundation to draw upon." Katara said, a gleam entering her big blue eyes as the beginning of a plan started to form.

"Damn straight. The Alliance might have skimped on armor, weapons, food and comfort, mainly decreasing in that order, but the training was the best in the galaxy. Why do you think I'm still alive?"

"Show me." Katara stated and stepped away from the pool, a mischievous little smile on her wrinkled face.

"What?" Shepard gulped, suddenly very eager to end their session early. Katara had already finished, but Elizabeth hardly noticed as she hesitantly stood to her feet. "Are you sure you want to go a few rounds Katara? No offense but you're a little-" She never got a chance to finish her sentence when Katara water smacked her across the mouth with a casual 'backhand'. Shepard frowned, unsure if she should feel offended or ashamed for offending a woman old enough to be her grandmother.

"Old I might be, but frail I am not. You don't give me the respect I deserve young lady." Katara retorted in chastisement, her mischevious smile never faltering.

"Alright." Shepard relented as she grabbed her robes and nodded to the door as she cinched the waist belt. "Let's take this outside then. If I'm gonna be humiliated, might as well have an audience."

"At least you understand your chances of winning. Very wise." Katara's smirk hinted at just how much Elizabeth was going to hate the next few minutes of her life.

Treating her own personal favorite, self conscious engineer, Kya's satisfied grin shifted to a knowing frown as she spotted Shepard walking after her mother like the condemned woman she was. "Excuse me Greg, I think I might have to save your commanding officer from my mother."

"Why?" Adams asked, confused by the sight of the kindly old woman leading Shepard away as if she had gotten caught sticking her hand in the cookie jar.

"Because the last person that was led away like that ended up with frostburns up to their neck. He was my first boyfriend. Let's just say he didn't come around again." Kya explained as she held out her hand to the engineer, before gently pulling him to his feet.

"Oh." The man replied, and gladly accepted the towel and fresh change of clothes the waterbender threw his way.

"Not that I'd let her get away with that again! I am a grown woman after all, and I'll choose to spend my time with whoever I want to." Kya continued, seemingly lost on her own little emotional tangent.

Oh God help me. And they say frost burns hurt even worse than electrical ones. "Good for you Kya, gotta go, thank you again for-" Adams found his desperate escape thwarted by the Kya sized object now latched onto his arm.

"Where do you think you're going? I promised to show you around today remember? And now that you're back on your feet, might as well start now… after we watch the show. You're not gonna want to miss this, trust me." Kya chuckled before her smile vanished. "My mother might be the best waterbender there is, but she's not going to leave any lasting injuries."

"Except to the Commander's ego maybe." Adams replied, relieved and, he had to admit, extremely curious to see what was about to unfold outside. Giving in to Kya despite his better judgement, Gregory let the graceful, smiling grey haired woman drag him towards the open courtyard. Not that he put up a lot of resistance, because as eccentric as Kya was, Adams couldn't help but smile a little wider anytime he was in her cheery, confident and quite knowledgeable presence.

"Psh, that woman could use a bit of humility if you ask me." Kya retorted, before her gaze darkened. "Maybe being laid out will knock some much needed sense into her thick skull. Even I can see she's troubled by what you've been through together, and I've hardly said more than two words to her."

The pair nearly bumped into an elated Korra, her blue eyes gleaming mischievously at the scene unfolding before her while a nearby Asami just shook her head and sighed. "This is a little too one sided if you ask me." The genius engineer said, disappointed Korra was taking so much delight out of Katara about to wipe the floor with one of the fascinating strangers.

"Oh lighten up Asami. Besides, I happen to recall you shouting pretty loud during my last pro-bending match." Korra replied, grinning when the woman blushed and sputtered in protest. "Bet you thought I didn't notice." Korra pointed to a small scar on her cheek. "Got that the first time I saw you cheering for me... I was a little distracted."

"Can't imagine why kiddo." Korra hardly batted an eyebrow while Asami jumped in her boots as Kasumi flickered into existence behind them. "I do have to ask, what's this pro-bending you're talking about? I take it it's a pretty big thing around here? Please tell me copious amounts of gambling are somehow involved."

"I'll tell ya later Kasumi." Korra promised and nodded to Katara and Shepard just as the latter took up an offensive stance.

"Right. I'll hold you to that Korra. Oh, wait a sec you two, I need to properly capture this moment for posterity." Elizabeth sighed when she heard Kasumi's snicker. Two seconds of fiddling with her omni-tool later had Kasumi grinning towards the pair. "Okay and we are live. You may proceed with the free lesson in humiliation Master Katara. And I informed the rest of the team Commander, just to share the love."

"I really hate you right now." Shepard deadpanned, her attention diverted away from her opponent just for a moment, but it was long enough. Katara had since moved, a tendril of water already formed and lashing out straight for her chest. Shepard moved to the side at the last second, but she still got wet as the water whip grazed her stomach. "Okay." She stated, determination filling her green eyes as she cracked her knuckles. "Let's dance."

"I thought you'd never ask. Consider this a bit of extreme physical therapy, you do need to stretch those tired muscles after all." Katara informed her, her voice full of mirth even as her gaze brightened at the prospect of getting some much needed exercise of her own. It had been a long time since she had used her bending for more than healing.

"In that case, throw everything you got at me then." Having gotten a taste of just what Katara was capable of, Shepard couldn't help but grin in anticipation as she charged forward.

Katara raised an eyebrow at Shepard's change of attitude, finding she much preferred the confident woman before her over the beaten warrior she had been treating not ten minutes ago. As for her words, it hadn't been a taunting challenge, Shepard was giving her permission to hold no punches for her benefit. "If you insist." Before Shepard could even respond with a overconfident one liner, Katara had formed a water slide underneath her own feet and moved to the side before sending another wave at Shepard's back when she moved in for the first strike. As expected, the Commander went head over heels, but she recovered far quicker than most she had gone up against.

"That all you got?" Shepard snarked with a raised eyebrow, not about to drop her guard. "I can do this all day grandma."

"I had a feeling you'd say that." Katara chuckled, grinning from ear to ear as she fired off several orbs of water that froze in mid air, intending to hammer Shepard with ice blocks. Even if they missed, the ice shards would explode upon hitting the ground would serve as an ample reminder not to mess with this particular grandma.

Imagine her surprise when Shepard nimbly dodged the vast majority of her attacks. Unbeknownst to her, Elizabeth hadn't gotten this far on her own skills alone, substantial as they were. The Cerberus implants laced throughout her body afforded her quite a few upgrades to her natural abilities. One of her more commonly used ones was her adrenaline amp, which allowed her to push herself harder and 'slow time' around her. Rather, her perception of it slowed down, allowing her greater time to react to incoming attacks, and it didn't fail her now as she weaved through the ice barrage with ease.

Just as she jumped into the air when Katara raised half a dozen spikes between them, her fist poised to knock the Waterbender down a peg, Katara waved her arms once again. Shepard saw the ice wall form between her and the master Waterbender, but could do nothing about it as she slammed into it, face first. Her first thought was that she had just become a bug on a windshield as she slid down before falling face first to the stone ground at Katara's feet when she dissolved the wall. "Ow." Elizabeth groaned as she rolled onto her back, unable to help but chuckle despite how badly Katara had just beaten her. "Lesson learned, don't mess with Grandma Katara." She mused aloud and flopped her arms out to her sides, ignoring the pool of water around her as she waited for her head to stop ringing.

"I'll say. Old lady's got a few nasty tricks up her sleeve." Vega stated, he and several of the crew having witnessed the whole thing. "I am definitely not gonna get on your bad side Abuela. Ever."

"Abuela?" Katara asked, amused by Vega's pet name for her.

"Grandma in Spanish, it's my native language." James explained with a grin.

Ignoring the hulking marine's beaming grin, Liara had to agree with his assessment of Katara. "That would seem to be the safest course of action James." Liara agreed, doing her best to ignore the loud snickers from the Avatar behind her as she slowly closed the distance between herself and Shepard. The frown on her face deepened when she stood over Shepard, who gave her a lopsided grin before pushing herself to her feet. "And what, if I might ask, spurred on this insanity?"

"I invited her to beat the shit outta me, in more ways than one." Shepard admitted, to which she shot Katara a grateful nod, which she returned with a knowing gleam in her blue eyes. "Figured if I can take a beating again, then I really am feeling bet-"

Elizabeth's beaming, satisfied smirk froze on her face as the blue aura of a Stasis field enveloped her from head to toe. Leaning closer to the stationary marine, her mildly concerned emerald gaze tracking Liara's every move, the young asari gently whispered into Shepard's ear. "Do I have your complete attention now Elizabeth? Blink twice for yes." Seeing little choice, Shepard blinked twice, not that she would have argued the point anyway even if she could. Satisfied she had her complete attention, Liara continued. "Good, because I'm only going to say this once Elizabeth. You were just nearly killed, yet again, only a few days ago. You're a father now, you are no longer allowed to recklessly endanger your health or your life if you can help it. Do I make myself perfectly clear? Blink twice."

Shepard would have sighed and nodded, knowing Liara was just concerned for her, but locked in Stasis as she was, she could only blink as instructed. It was enough for the asari as she let her go, making Shepard stumble forward, but she found herself caught in Liara's blue arms before she could fall over completely. "And I thought Karin knew how to wield guilt Liara." Shepard chuckled before putting a finger to her lips. "You're right though, but don't expect me to get fat and lazy. I plan to protect what's mine, you and our little blue babies."

"Babies, Shepard?" Liara asked, amusement filling her voice. "Aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself?"

"Nope. She'll need a little sister to pick on and protect, hmm maybe make that sisters." Ignoring the crowd they had gathered, Elizabeth gladly pulled Liara close and silenced whatever she had planned to say by planting her lips firmly against the asari's. Catching the bright red faces of both Korra and Asami out of the corner of her eyes, Shepard winked at the pair as she pulled away, admiring the glazed look in Liara's gaze. "So doc, what do you have to say about it?"

"I think I like it quite a bit, even if your attempt to embarrass our two young friends was a part of your plan. And don't think I'm letting you out of my sight so you can go enjoy blowing up some evil mastermind's base or single handedly end a war. Or start one."

"Does rescuing kittens out of trees and running down muggers count? A girl needs her hobbies."

"I thought putting together model space ships was your hobby?" Liara asked, her right eye ridge raised almost to her forehead.

"Oh, that too, I can fit it in between giving you another daughter." Shepard mused, grinning playfully at the beautiful asari before her.

"That's what she said." Joker coughed out with a hand over his mouth. One glance from Laira was enough to wipe the grin off his face. "Sorry, she made it too easy! Couldn't help it. And nice going with the bug on a windshield look Shepard. Maybe being a human squeegee could be one of your other hobbies. You just know Kasumi's taken a dozen pictures and sent them to the rest of the crew by now."

Kasumi chuckled and nodded as she appeared beside Joker. "I also recorded every second of Katara's little demonstration. It'll make for quite wonderful entertainment for the kids when they're old enough."

"We should throw in the combat cam blooper reel too." Garrus offered with a grinning nod. "I particularly liked that one time Jack threw you at those pirates... Hmm, what's the name of that human game where you have to toss the heavy solid ball down a lubricated-"

"She used me like a bowling ball." Shepard blurted out with a wince at that particular memory, not able to stand Vakarian's intentional fumbling anymore. Reluctantly pulling away from Liara's embrace, she faced Katara who had since joined their sides. "Thanks for everything you've done for me Master Katara, for us. It's just something else I have to add to the pile of debts I owe you and your family."

Katara reached up and put a hand on Shepard's shoulder and merely shook her head. "You owe me nothing in return Elizabeth. Simply getting a chance to use my bending for more than healing was payment enough. As much as I might enjoy my role in life now, I still remember my younger years, and the many adventures I was a part of, quite fondly. Feeling like that again was a welcome change, even if it was only for a few moments."

"If I had known that, I'd have challenged you to a friendly duel myself." Korra stated, her arms crossed and a friendly, challenging gleam in her blue eyes.

"Oh child, I never really felt the need to humiliate you, you have a tendency to run and hide yourself away whenever you are embarrassed as it is."

Korra frowned and held up a finger as she opened her mouth, only to glare at Katara for a moment before quietly walking away. Asami only shook her head and giggled into her gloved hand before looking towards the master Waterbender. "I think you scared her off Master Katara."

"Oh well. It seems you must work on building up our fragile Avatar's confidence. How, I leave entirely up to you Asami."

"Oh I have a few ideas." She mused aloud as she let her gaze fall on Liara and Shepard for a few seconds before turning to catch up with Korra.

"Why do I get the feeling Korra's in for a long night?" Shepard asked, unable to help but grin at whatever Asami had thought of from watching her and Liara.

"Actually, our resident Avatar has yet to... embrace eternity, if you get my drift." Kasumi tossed Shepard a sarcastic salute before once again winking out of sight.

"Kasumi, wait!" When the thief popped up next to Jeff with an annoyed frown, he beamed and pointed to her active omni-tool. "Be sure to take lots of pictures. Multiple angles never hurt."

"Joker…." The pilot held up his hands and grinned, to which Shepard only sighed and started away from the courtyard with Liara at her side. "I am surprised though. All that power and she's still a blushing virgin? Might have to help those two get past their little rut."

"Another hobby?" Liara asked when they stopped near the edge of the courtyard, and looked out at the beautiful ocean that disappeared into the horizon. Leaning her head against Shepard's shoulder, she smiled and wrapped an arm around her waist.

Elizabeth shrugged and smiled as she returned the favor, enjoying this simple contact as she held Liara against her side. "You wanted me to stay outta trouble, I figure this one at least has the low risk of being shot at if I screw up." She replied, before turning her head to kiss the asari's cheek. "It might be a long time before I get past everything we did up there….but being here, with you, and most of our friends and family, not to mention the new friends we've made here, it's helping more than I would have imagined."

"I'm glad to hear it Elizabeth. Goddess knows we deserve a happy ending after everything we endured."

James preemptively whacked Jeff on the back of his head before the pilot could even open his mouth. "Bad horny pilot. Seriously, how does EDI even put up with a hound dog like you?"

"I do not mind his personality quirks, James. He is quite charming when he wants to be." EDI told him, speaking up in Jeff's defense and smiled while Jeff just grinned. "I find I like him exactly as he is, but if he ever did stray, I could easily dispose of his mangled corpse in the ship's trash compactor."

"I don't know if I should be turned on or seriously freaked out right now EDI. That was a joke right? ... Right?" EDI's silence and the little smirk on her metallic face was answer enough to Joker's worried inquiry. "Right...okay, never looking at another woman except you, got it."

"You can look, I would not be offended." She reassured him. "I would also not be averse to a menage a trios, if you are capable of finding a sexual partner who is a bit open minded."

Jeff's jaw dropped faster than an Eclipse merc taking one of Jack's biotically assisted haymakers to the face. "Uh… uh… seriously? This isn't some type of weird test right?" He sputtered out, unsure if he wanted to dive right into EDI's proposition or hobble away for his life on the off chance he was sorely mistaken. "Because I only need you shnookums..."

"Schnookums?" Joker stiffened when he heard Ikke right behind him, one eyebrow just shy of reaching her hair. "Huh, nevermind, I don't think I want to know." She quickly said just when EDI started to open her mouth.

"Hey! What does 'manage a toy' mean anyway?" Meelo demanded, only for Joker to just shake his head and walk away, but not before subtly nudging EDI in her side to prevent her from elaborating. "Hey! It was just a question! Come back here metal lady!"

"Trust me kid, your mother would make us into stew if we explained what all our fancy space people words mean." Garrus was quick to butt in, drawing Meelo's attention away from the pilot and his overprotective synthetic companion. "Tell ya what, forget you heard a thing and I might be persuaded to show you Sol..."


"Oh, I name my rifles, it's a turian thing." Garrus replied and shrugged his shoulders in an effort to appear as nonchalant as possible.

"Not really." Vega quipped, just glad Zaeed wasn't around to get into a pissing match over who could turn the boy into a better killer first. Just when he started to say something else though, he felt a gentle tug on his shirt sleeve and found Ikke at his side. "And what can I do for you kiddo?"

As Ikke gestured for him to come closer, he bent down with a smile and let her whisper in his ear. "I just thought you'd like to know that Ms. Jack and Mr. Zaeed left the island on the last ferry. Don't worry though, my annoying big sister and Kai are with them." She explained and nodded her head rapidly. "They said something about going 'stir crazy', so Jinora and Kai decided to keep an eye on them."

James managed to keep a friendly smile on his face even as he completely freaked out on the inside. "Thanks kid. I'll be sure to let everyone know." As soon as I figure out how to break the news to Lola without her ripping my head off.

"Okay! See ya!" Ikke cheerfully called out as she ran towards the edge of the courtyard and flew away, her glider suit 'wings' catching the wind she generated.

If only I could fly away like that. It'd make my life a lot easier right now. James thought as he stared longingly at the ease with which Ikke had lifted off. Sighing heavily, James made his way to the dock, hoping there was another ferry so he could start searching for the pair of miscreants before they burned Republic City down to the ground. Lola would do more than rip his head off if they stirred up trouble, especially with that unfriendly politician, Riako, breathing down their collective necks from Liara's last intelligence briefing.

"Why so glum marine? I can think of a few ways to wipe that frown off your face. Only half of which involve wearing clothes."

James spun around to see Ashley casually leaning against a stone arch behind him. "As much as I'd love to Ash... I've gotta handle something. Quietly."

"What's going on James? You can tell me, right now. Or you can tell Shepard, right after I drag your ass off this dock."

Deciding he'd rather spend the next few minutes trying to find a way off this damn island instead of getting his ass handed to him, James gestured toward the distant shore line and shot it an irritated glare. "Jack and Zaeed have flown the coop. Hopped a ferry to the city."

Ash forgot all about her proposition and immediately fell in beside James, all business now that she knew the stakes. "Alright, then you're gonna want another pair of eyes. We can cover more ground that way." She stated, having gotten the subtle meaning in James' words loud and clear. 'Quietly' meant not bothering Shepard if they could help it, and despite her threat, even Ash wasn't crazy enough to bother her unless it was an Earth shattering emergency. ... Or whatever the hell they called this planet.

"You sure? I go it alone, you don't have to face the firing squad when I haul those two back here."

"Just find us something that floats Vega."

"Right, might as well add grand theft boat to the list of charges."

"That one looks fast..." Ashley said as she started towards what looked like a speedboat. It was small, with a sharply tapered 'nose' at its front, painted red and black.

James took one look at the speedboat and felt all the blood drain out of his face when he saw the paint job. Only one person on the island had a thing for red and black, and she wasn't someone he wanted angry with him. "Are you nuts?! I think that one's Asami's. You know, the one with a shock glove and an ultra powerful girlfriend with a hair trigger temper?" As desperate as he was, James was just as afraid of Korra as he was of Shepard, even if the former was actually pretty easy to get along with, most of the time. But he wasn't crazy enough to piss either of them off.

"You're right. I'll just go ask her if we can borrow it to hunt down a highly unstable biotic ex con and a trigger happy merc." Ashley deadpanned before she moved to hop into the driver's seat to what she took to be comparable to a 20th century speedboat back home.

"Fine. Just keep an eye out for one of those guards while I figure out how to start this thing." James grumbled as he jumped in beside Ashley, his gaze falling on the dashboard. The number of actual switches and dials was making his head hurt just looking at them.

Rolling her brown eyes, Ashley jabbed a finger towards the dashboard. "Gee, maybe it's the big red button?"

"Maybe big red buttons are a bad thing here, ever think of that? It could be the damn self destruct button for all we know." James winced when Ashley casually leaned over him to press it, the engine behind them humming to life a moment later. They didn't get far when they saw the rope tied to their back end, connecting the boat to the dock so it couldn't float away.

"Don't say it." Ashley growled, silencing James' comment before he could remark on the obvious mistake on their part. "I'll cast us off. Don't even think about ditching me."

"Who me?" James quipped, Ash's death glare enough for him to jerk his hand back from what he was pretty sure was the throttle. No sooner did Ashley nimbly clamber back into the driver's seat than two distinctive shadows fall over them. "Ah crap…. Hello ladies, beautiful day huh? We uh... this isn't as bad as it looks. Really."

"I don't know, it looks pretty bad to me." Asami mused, an amused gleam in her gray eyes as she looked at a guilty looking James and Ashley respectively before glancing at a similarly smirking Korra. "What do you think?"

"I think they were about to steal our ride, take a nice romantic trip around the bay probably. But what I find curious is why our boat and not say one of the White Lotus patrol boats."

"This one wasn't guarded." James hastily stated, hoping to stave off the ass kicking they were about to receive if they weren't careful.

"It looked fast." Ashley added with a shrug.

"You like it? It's a Future Industries custom job, made by yours truly in my own little workshop." Asami stated proudly before nudging Ashley and James into the back seats while she and Korra took the front. "So, who disappeared off the island?"

"Huh?!" James' eyebrows almost managed to reach his mohawk as he rapidly tried to come up with a believable lie. "I mean, nah, you caught us red handed. Korra's right, I was just trying to impress Ash is all."

"Psh, please, if you were trying to do that, you wouldn't have been trying to 'keep quiet' about it so Elizabeth doesn't find out." Korra retorted, and even made air quotes for emphasis just as Asami started them on their way. "You weren't exactly subtle while you were sneaking away."

"Just tell us what happened, your secret is safe with us." Asami promised and smiled reassuringly at the pair behind them before she pulled out a pair of goggles from her red and black suit and put them over her face. Only after they were secure did she push the throttle as far as it could go, sending the speedboat racing away from the dock while her three passengers held on for dear life.

"Well you maybe!" Korra shouted over the roaring engine with a smirk until Asami elbowed her in the ribs.

"Right." James sighed before he got comfortable as the ride began to smooth out, turning to face Ashley with his best charming grin. "So, I think, seeing as you're the higher ranking officer, not to mention a Spectre..."

"What has that has to do with- forget it. What the muscle bound wimp is too chicken shit to say is that a couple of our less reputable crew members hitched a ride off the island."

"Oh, and apparently Jinora and Kai are tailing them." James added, mentally facepalming before the words were out of his mouth.

"What?!" Asami and Korra simultaneously shouted, both giving James equally unpleasant glares as he shrunk into his seat.

"Why didn't you tell me that earlier?!" Ash fumed, slamming her fist into the man's beefy shoulder.

"You were too busy trying to steal Asami's boat!" James retorted hotly.

"Quiet! I'm trying to think!" Both marines stilled when Korra rounded on them, and they saw her eyes turn pale white for a split second. "You know what, forget it, I'll meet you there Asami. If you find them, do the thing."

"Alright. Be careful Korra." Asami said and received a quick nod from the Avatar as she jumped to her feet and blasted off, twin jets of flame sending her up and away from the speedboat before James and Ashley could begin to wonder what she was planning.

"Did she just take off like one very pissed off bottle rocket?" Ashley asked, still astounded by just what the young woman was capable of despite having received a very personal demonstration of her skills.

"Two questions. Were those rocket boots? Also, where can I get a pair?" James asked, having missed that little practical session in firebending.

"If I were you, I'd start hoping Jinora and Kai don't get into any trouble because of your friends." Asami stated before she jerked the wheel to the right and sent their speedboat spinning. She came to a graceful slide right up to the city docks, and cut the throttle about the same time. Two dock workers were already running their way, having seen Korra blast by not two minutes earlier.

The irritated expression on Asami's face told the pair all they needed to know as Ashley grabbed James by the collar and hauled him out of the speedboat after her. "Let's get moving!"

"Where would your friends..." Asami glanced over her shoulder, clearly waiting for Ash or James to fill her in.

"Jack and Zaeed, they make for an explosive combination." James informed them before Ash could.

Asami quirked an eyebrow, a worried frown pulling at her lips. "Where would Jack and Zaeed go first?"

"Hmm. Weapons dealer? Gambling?" Ashley listed off from the top of her head as she kept pace with the CEO as she made a beeline for the car that had just been pulled up for them. Apparently Future Industries rated as a priority client around the docks, if the harried look on the dock workers' faces were anything to go by, likely from the news that she and the Avatar were together and looking like the world was about to blow up again.

"Maybe, more likely anywhere with military grade explosives. Or an illegal fighting ring." James offered with a shrug.

Realisation of where Jack and Zaeed could most likely find both of those things dawned instantly on the pair of marines. "A military base!" They shouted together in badly suppressed horror.

"There's a United Forces base just outside the city limits. Hold on!" Asami ordered as she punched the accelerator to her car, making the tires squeal and sending up smoke behind them before they shot into the busy highway. Fiddling with the dashboard, the car's interior was soon filled with police chatter from the radio scanner. "Long story, but if there's an attack going on, the RCPD doesn't know about it yet." Asami explained when she saw the marines' curious glances directed at the police scanner.

No sooner had the words left her mouth did Ashley jerk in her seat and she immediately slapped a hand on the CEO's shoulder. "Asami... stop the car."

Frowning, Asami spared a quick glance to openly glare at the armored woman. "We don't have time for-"

"I just saw them outside some dinky corner little restaurant. Stop the car." Ashley stated and nodded towards the cafe in question.

James squinted at the pair of notorious badasses having a quiet lunch with a surprisingly unharmed Jinora and Kai. "Son of a bitch. Didn't see that one coming." The gentle giant said, amazed by the sight as Jack laughed at something Kai had just said while Jinora and Zaeed merely chuckled at the pair. "This is kinda weird if you ask me. Did we get dropped into the Twilight Zone or something?"

"As long as they aren't tearing up the city." Ash said with a shrug and was the first out of the car once Asami found a parking space a block away. She hardly batted an eyelash when the raven haired woman pulled out a flare gun and fired off a round in Korra's general direction, her fiery trail lighting up the mid day sky. Since she was still racing over the city, frantically searching for the pair, Ashley had to give an approving nod at Asami's quick thinking and ingenuity. Korra was just landing beside Asami as Ashley stood before Jack and Zaeed's table, a crooked grin on her face. "You have about ten seconds to explain what the Hell you're doing out here."

"Enjoying this Water Tribe grub? Have you tasted these seaweed noodles? I can see why Korra loves this sh-stuff." Jack replied before giving the second human Spectre a withering frown. "And why do you care anyway precious?! Where the fu-hell did you think we were?!"

"Don't be mad Jack, they were just worried about you and Zaeed." Jinora admonished the short tempered biotic with a glowing smile.

Zaeed jabbed a pair of chopsticks at the young pair sitting across from them. "Took us all of five minutes to spot these two brats following us, figured they would know the locale better than us. This shark squid pasta is pretty damn good actually. Better than asari cuisine by far."

"And you owe me twenty yuans old man." Kai proudly proclaimed, to which the mercenary chuckled and tossed a few coins the young man's way. "Pleasure doin' business with ya."

"Wiseass. So, what's got your panties in a twist?" The merc asked the pair of thoroughly confused marines, slurping up another spoonful of his side order of seaweed noodles. "Shepard find another war for us to fight already?" Zaeed asked with a hopeful gleam in his mismatched eyes.

"No, but it wouldn't surprise me if she's waiting to tear you two a couple of new... noodle holes for your disappearing act." James stated as he slid in next to Jinora and Kai while Ashley collapsed onto the bench next to Jack. "Got any more of that kid?" He asked, having taken a hesitant sniff of the rich aroma floating around the table. "Doesn't smell so bad this time." He mused aloud, much to Jinora's amusement as she waved down their waiter. The man nodded and walked into the nearby restaurant to grab another bowl of noodles.

Korra had since managed to concentrate on not letting out an, quite literally, explosive rant, and settled for slamming her fists on the table. "So, let me get this straight." She began once she was sure she had their undivided attention. "We rush out here, thinking you two were up to no good, only to find you're having lunch at my favorite Water Tribe restaurant?!"

"Yep, got a problem with that your Avatarness?" Jack sneered, grinning maliciously up at the frustrated Korra. Her devilish grin only widened when Korra's eyes started to flicker between their natural blue to their irisless, uniform glowing white as her anger got the better of her. Jack raised her right hand and conjured up an orb of biotic energy. "Go ahead, make your move girlie girl." She challenged, and ignored Jinora as she started to try and find a non violent solution to the confrontation that was about to play out.


A massive fireball erupted behind a fuming Korra, her huge blue eyes widening in shock just before the force of the blast reached their table. Everyone on the street fell to the ground, the fight forgotten as a nearby storefront exploded outward, flame and shrapnel shooting out in every direction. Instinct took over as Ash and James jumped to their feet, rifles drawn and pointing at the source of the explosion while Jack threw a Barrier over everyone at their table just before a piece of masonry slammed into the shimmering field.

"Everyone alright?!" The biotic shouted, and was relieved when Asami and the rest shouted back, shaken up but otherwise okay. "Good! Looks like we're back on the clock!" With that, Jack lowered her Barrier and dashed forward, not about to miss the action that was unfolding before her.

Ashley hadn't moved forward, instead she put a hand to the right side of her head and held it there against the comms device lodged in her ear. "Shepard we got trouble out here! Remember those firebombings you told us about? I think we just stumbled on one in the making. I'll tell you later, but it might be a good idea to send backup, just in case. Might have civvies trapped in the building, we're moving in now."

Shepard's familiar steely tone came over the comm a split second later. "We're coming Ash, save as many as you can."

"Already on it. Let's move!" Ash roared, but she needn't have bothered as Jinora, Kai, Korra, and Asami were already approaching the building while she, Zaeed, and James swept the street, looking for the possible source of the firebombing. They didn't have to look long as a car started to speed away, but it only got a dozen feet before Ashley snapped her rifle up and fired off a quick, controlled pair of bursts into its rear tires. "Gotcha. On me, move up! They resist, incapacitate only. We don't want to give Raiko or Beifong a reason to hate us more than they do already."

"Much as I hate to agree with ya Williams, fine, I won't waste the bastards." Jack growled as she stalked forward, wreathed in dark energy from head to toe. She did take some satisfaction from watching the escaping vehicle slam into a brick wall as it swerved to avoid her Warp blast, which smashed into a cabbage cart instead. "Oops. I think I just killed those cabbages. Gonna get shit for that one." With a casual shrug, Jack took off after the bombers as they crawled out of the wrecked car.

"Smoke her boys!" The leader shouted, a hand pressed against his forehead as his three compatriots lined up in front of him. They raised their fists and immediately started firing a literal barrage of fireballs in Jack's direction, to no avail as the biotic danced around their attacks with a gleeful cackle.

"Jack! Stop fucking showing off and just hit these snot nosed pricks!" Zaeed yelled to her as her swapped out his tungsten ammo for a damnable piece of rubber. "Can't believe this shit show, can't even kill the guddamned bastards." The mercenary grumbled before he raised 'Jessie' and took aim at the ringleader just as lightning started to dance between his fingers. "Say goodnight kid." One pull of the trigger, and the man's head snapped back just as the bolt of lightning was harmlessly fired off into the sky.

"Hey! That one was mine fucker!" Jack protested, only to see Ash and James had already taken down three of the other gangsters.

"Not our fault you're too damn slow Jack. Marines three, psychotic biotic... nought." James called out as he leaned his assault rifle against his shoulder, a smug smirk plastered on his face.

"If it makes ya feel better, you can still kick the shit outta them until RCPD show up." Ash shrugged and nodded to the four unconscious firebombers for emphasis.

"It's no fun if they can't fight back Williams! 'Sides, we still got stupid ass civvies to worry about in that building." Jack growled, twisting the finger finger salute she was casting Ashley and pointing it at the remnants of the smoking building.

"Looks to me like we missed that bit of action." Zaeed deadpanned and nodded to the building in question. Most of the fires were already out courtesy of Jinora and Kai, and Asami and Korra were currently carrying an elderly man between them out of the smoking building and into the arms of the arriving emergency services that were just showing up on the scene. He wasn't the only one, close to three dozen people had either ran out of the building under their own power or had been carried out by the benders and Asami.

"Fuck!" Jack shouted, stomping her boot on the ground in impotent rage as she silently seethed at being denied a good fight.

Seeing the biotic just standing in the middle of the street, Korra jabbed her thumb towards the burning building behind her. "Stop standing around and check the first floor, the others are clear!"

"Well shit, sure thing your Avatarness." Jack muttered, unable to keep the elated smirk off her face at being able to do something useful at least. Charging into the singed and smoking stucture, Jack skidded to a stop, kicking down doors left and right as she went. "Hey! Anybody in here?! Better yell for help now! I find anyone fucking hiding under a desk or something, it's gonna cost ya!" No sooner did the words leave her mouth did Jack kick down another door, and she had to jump back when a wall of fire sprung up between her and the next room. "Shit!" Cursing in surprise, Jack was glad she had raised a Barrier around herself, otherwise she might have gotten a little singed around the edges. Running through the fire unscathed, Jack was about to turn back in disgust until she heard quiet sobs deeper in one of the store rooms she had just entered. "Hello?! Anybody in here?!"

"I'm stuck! I can't move!" A small voice called out, and to Jack's dawning horror, it sounded like a girl no older than ten. "Help me! Please!"

"I'm comin' kid, just hold tight a little longer." Jack promised as she made her way through the rubble strewn hallway, blasting apart a beam that was blocking her way forward with a biotically enhanced punch.

"Okay, I'm not going anywhere." The girl replied, surprisingly calm now that she knew she was about to be rescued.

Jack had to give the kid credit for cracking a joke when most brats her age would have been balling their eyes out right about now. Navigating her way through stacks of boxes and food palettes, filled with canned fruit and soups and bags of grain, rice, potatoes and other assorted food staples, Jack had to shimmy her way through a narrow gap between two giant boxes before she found a somewhat clear space ahead of her. "I'm comin'. Alright let's get you... shit." Jack cursed when she saw the girl, pinned under a large pile of debris from a large hole in the ceiling above them. "This might be tricky."

"Oh take your time, I'll try not to be smashed into a fine paste in the meantime." The soot covered girl retorted, rolling her dark eyes.

Jack smirked at the kid's sarcasm. Aside from some cuts and bruises she seemed alright. "Alright short stuff, you've made your point. Now be quiet and don't move, okay?"

"No trouble there seeing as I'm the one who's stuck." The girl's mouth snapped shut as Jack gave her her best death glare.

"Jack! You in here?!" James dashed into the room a moment later, already digging his way towards the petite biotic and her smart mouthed friend.

Jack, having come up with a plan, had just started to slide under the debris pile. She stopped though when she heard James' voice. "Perfect timing Vega... get your ass out of here! Unless you like being impaled by shrapnel that is!" She called out before she continued to wiggle her way as close to the girl as she could get, ignoring the pieces of metal that dug into her bare skin as she moved deeper into the junk heap. When she couldn't go any further, Jack was reassured to see that, besides a thin piece of sheet metal jutting out of the wall, the girl was within spitting distance. "Alright kid, this is gonna be loud more than anything. Just hold as still as you can, I'm getting us both out of here."

"How?" She asked, her dark almond eyes fixated solely on the strange, tattooed woman. "Can you metal bend and you just forgot to mention it?"

"Not quite kid." Jack chuckled darkly just as dark energy radiated off of her body in waves. She'd only have one shot at this. "As soon as this junk gets blasted away, you're going to grab onto me, got it? You don't let go until I say so." For once, the kid only nodded and tensed up, ready to move the moment Jack acted. "On three squirt." Jack spared a second to turn towards the door and gave James a shout of warning. "VEGA YOU BETTER BE GONE! One, two, THREE!"

No sooner had the words left her mouth did a dense wave of blue energy erupted from Jack's hands. Not only was the debris blasted away, but most of the storeroom and its contents were also scattered like leaves on the wind in the chaotic torrent of energy that followed. Smashing a biotically assisted fist through the thin sheet metal and ripping it away, Jack rolled towards the pint sized girl and immediately erected a Barrier around them both just as the building came down on top of them.

Zaeed was the first to run into the ruins of the building when it came crashing down. The dust had barely settled as the grizzled mercenary dropped his rifle and immediately started digging through the rubble. "JACK! Talk to me! Don't you fuckin' do this to me you bitch! Come on! Jack!"

"What?!" Jack yelled back as she stood to her feet, pieces of concrete and metal beams sliding off of her shimmering Barrier. "Sheesh old man, calm down! I'm a fucking biotic goddess, remember?"

Zaeed stopped and stared up at the smug woman before remembering where he was. Quickly scooping up Jessie before dusting her off, he crossed his arms and glowered at Jack in annoyance at her nonchalance at what had just happened. "Oh right, my mistake. Just a bit worried when the guddamn building fell in on you is all. Who's the kid?"

No sooner had the words left his mouth did Jack look down, only to jump back when the 'kid' transformed before her stunned brown eyes. The strange, leaf covered thing smiled and cocked its head to the side. "Thank you for helping me, but I think you can guess it wasn't needed. We're just as curious about you as the humans are, and I wanted to see what you would do. If it makes you feel any better, I was nicely surprised for once. I thought you would leave me behind for sure. Your friends were so brave and heroic, saving those people, but you seemed more interested in hurting people than saving them. I'm glad you proved me wrong."

"What. The. Fuck?!" Was all Jack could say while Ashley, James, and Zaeed could only stare down at the strange little glowing being. Korra and her friends were a little surprised themselves, but shared knowing smirks as the strange glowing creature wrapped its 'arms' around Jack's bleeding waist. It was enough to snap Jack out of her mental shock as she forcibly removed the spirit off of her and held it at arm's length. "You little shit! Of course I was going to save your stupid ass! But now I think I'm going to enjoy rearranging your face for that bullshit trick! ... Just as soon as I figure out where your face is." Jack admitted with a confused look, peering closer at the weird... thing in front of her.

The spirit chuckled and disappeared before forming on top of Korra's head. "I don't think so. And you're welcome by the way. See ya in the Spirit World strangers!" With that cheerful exclamation, the leaf covered spirit waved and turned into a cloud of gold dust particles.

"Welcome for what?! Get back here you little asshole!" Jack screamed at the spirit until even its dust particles disappeared. "Son of a bitch, punked by a damn glowing leaf... thing! As if my life wasn't fucked up enough!"

"You stopped bleeding Jack." James deadpanned and nodded to her injuries, which had since disappeared thanks to whatever that spirit had done to her.

"Huh? Oh….kay."

"I need a sitrep now!" Shepard's irritated voice drew everyone's attention to the cautious looking marine, along with a watchful Chakwas running by her side, who had since joined in the bustling activety surrounding the burned out building.

"Well, we saved everyone." Korra stated simply, seeing no need to bother with much else as she playfully leaned against a soot covered Asami.

"Kai and I put out the fire." Jinora said, and shrugged.

"We got the bombers Skipper, Zaeed and James helped out with that one." Ashley stated and nodded to the bound gangsters that she and James had tied up to a nearby street post, the bulky marine guarding them until the RCPD showed up. Omni-cuffs were locked firmly around their respective wrists and feet, ensuring they weren't going anywhere or were able to bend their way out of this mess.

"You shoulda seen the look on the bastards' faces. Not a bad bit of fun actually. Finally have a decent story with some survivors for a change, not counting you and the crew anyway." Zaeed told her with a wry, satisfied grin.

Elizabeth gave the group an appreciative nod before her gaze fell on a deathly quiet Jack. "Alright, Jack... what's wrong with you? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"You got no idea Shepard." Was all Jack would say as she slowly walked past the confused Spectre, shaking her head and muttering to herself. "Ever see that little fucker again, I'm making a salad out of her, him, it, whatever the fuck it was."

Shepard held out her arm, catching the biotic's shoulder. "Um, Jack? You should probably have Chakwas check you out, just to be safe." Whatever else Shepard might have said died in her throat when said 'leaf' creature appeared on her head. "Okay... uh Korra, should I be worried?" Shepard asked as she hesitantly reached up to poke at the strange being who smiled and cocked its head to the side in amusement, even when Jack started to growl in the back of her throat.

"Not at all. Spirits are harmless unless you offend them, but they're far more helpful than anything. This one seems to be pretty curious about you and your friends though."

"Huh." Was all Shepard could think to say in response while Jack raised an eyebrow, her expression screaming 'I fucking told you so'. "Good to know."

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Unwanted Advice

Air Temple Island

Being interrogated by Lin Beifong for their involvement in the firebombing incident was one thing. Korra had expected that since they had rescued innocent bystanders and stopped the triad members before they could escape. What she hadn't expected was the irate expression on Shepard's face as she verbally flayed Ashley, Jack, Zaeed, and James the moment they'd been released from Lin's custody before grudgingly congratulating them on a job well done. That had confused Korra to no end. Apparently Elizabeth had a dim view of her people leaving without her permission, or as she had frequently referred to it, 'going AWOL'. The fact that dozens of lives had been saved because of this, apparently highly frowned upon, infraction seemed to be the only thing keeping Shepard from tossing them in a cell herself before Lin ever got the chance.

"You are a very confusing woman." Korra said as she joined the Commander on the docks overlooking the bay.

"It's not so confusing when you've been a soldier as long as I have kid." Elizabeth chuckled, no doubt aware of how it looked to an outsider like Korra. Nodding to the distant city skyline, Shepard crossed her arms and stared out across the water for a moment before turning her head to regard the dark skinned woman beside her. "I'm proud of the fact they saved those people, don't get me wrong, but they did so by disobeying a direct order from their superior officer. That my young friend is a pretty big deal where we're from." A wry grin pulled at her lips as she gave the Avatar a nudge. "That and I had to disobey a direct order from my wife to make sure they hadn't ended up dead or captured. You should be taking notes here."

Korra's eyebrows perked up as she gave Liz a devilish grin, far more interested in whatever reprimand Liara had had thrown the Commander's way. "So, what's the punishment for that? Being boiled in oil? Death of a thousand cuts?"

If only you knew kid. "Do you really want to know?" Shepard asked, grinning right back in challenge. "Let me put it this way, one day, you're going to piss off Asami despite your best intentions, and on that day you will find out what the worst punishment is for breaking your word to your girlfriend. It is not something I'd wish on my worst enemy." With that, Elizabeth patted Korra on the shoulder before starting towards the main temple grounds. The bright red glow on the Avatar's dark cheeks told the Commander she had figured it out on her own.

"I think you enjoy tormenting Korra a little too much." Asami stated when Shepard reached the top of the first flight of stairs. She merely grinned up at the raven haired woman who shook her head and chuckled. "I'm almost afraid to ask what you said to her to make her so tight lipped."

"Oh I was just giving her some advice regarding your future marital bliss." Elizabeth deadpanned, none too surprised when Asami nearly fell over in shock at the insinuation.

"What?! I ah, I mean we're very close but-" Asami began.

"Don't bullshit a bullshitter Asami." Shepard interrupted her futile attempts to say otherwise. "I know love when I see it, and personally I'm happy you and her are heading that way. You two are going to last, trust me, I'm a good judge of character."

"It's just that... we seem to be..." Asami racked her brain for the least embarrassing word possible to describe her current frustrating situation. "Stuck."

Elizabeth nodded her head in understanding before gesturing for Asami to sit down on the stairs next to her. "I actually had the same problem with Liara."

"If you don't mind me asking, how did you two um finally, you know...?"

"Desperate, near suicidal missions tend to put things in perspective. Funny thing about facing death on a regular basis, you tend to not really care what people think anymore since tomorrow could very well be your last day." Shepard explained before nodding her head towards the dock where Korra was only just starting to move. "For you though? You've got it easy. Just tell her. Tell her everything, don't hold anything back. I have the feeling she'll return the favor and then some. It's just finding the courage to get past that first hurdle."

"It's that easy huh? So who was the first one to find the courage in your case?"

"Liara strangely enough. You'd never know it to look at her now, but she used to be pretty shy and innocent. But, one night she came to my cabin and-"

"I get the idea." Asami retorted, grinning despite her moderate feelings of mortification at even asking in the first place. She frowned and looked away though before all but whispering her next words. "I'm just afraid that... and I'm just going to say it. I'll do something wrong. ...Please just let me slink away now." And with that Asami buried her blushing face in her hands.

Feeling like some sort of cosmic sex therapist with a gun, Elizabeth patted Asami on the back before nudging her in the side with her elbow. "That's the funny thing about sex Asami, there is no such thing as bad sex, only different levels of proficiency. The only real advice I can offer there is communicate and listen to each other. Talking about it without feeling embarrassed or ashamed, that takes practice I'll admit, but it's worth it. Take it from someone who's been there kid."

Asami's embarrassed gray green eyes brightened as she forced herself to glance at Shepard, not quite able to stare her in the eye yet. "Thank you, I think. I'll try and take your advice to heart."

"Wrong body part." Shepard quipped, which earned her an embarrassed snort from Asami before they stood to their feet. "But in all seriousness Asami, why are you asking me about this?"

"Well, it just that, you and Liara are the only… couple I know who make it work." Asami replied hesitantly, hoping she hadn't just said something wrong.

She needn't have worried as Shepard nodded in understanding. "Ah, gotcha. And I take it Liara's a bit too intimidating and... informative. She does believe in thoroughly researching everything, trust me I know."

"That's one way of putting it." Asami admitted as she tried to ignore the intense heat in her cheeks, shuddering as she recalled the last conversation she'd had with the asari. She had almost ran out of the room like her hair was on fire when the xenoarchaeologist had started to explain the finer points of asari intimacy with humans specifically, leaving very little to the imagination. "It's nice that she trusts you that much though, I don't think I could ever be quite that... adventurous with Korra."

"Give it time, you might change your mind, or she might." Shepard quipped before she patted Asami on her shoulder in an effort to reassure her. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're a bit like Liara. Regal, beautiful, intimidating as hell, elegant and deadly all in one package. I can see why, deep down, Korra is a bit scared of you, in an emotional sense."

"What?! Korra isn't scared of me!" Asami growled as she pierced Liz with her indignant gaze.

"Thank you for proving my point." Shepard held up a hand to stop Asami's next tirade, which threatened to get Korra's attention if she continued yelling. "Let me go through the list for ya kid, just from what I know about you despite our limited interactions thus far." Shepard began as she held up her left hand and started counting off on each of her fingers. "You're a self made woman, despite being born to a wealthy family. You've earned everything that's attached to your name, and made your own way in life. Korra was born to be this world's guiding light. She's incredibly strong and confident in battle, but she's fragile as finely cut glass outside of it. I think you know that already though. Your biggest problem though, as far as I can see, is that she probably doesn't think she's worthy of you. It's your job to show her otherwise."

"Oh no... she really is intimidated by me isn't she?" Asami admitted with a quiet gasp before she took a breath and put a hand to her temples. "Okay, you've made your point."

"And there's the light bulb. Avatar she might be, but she's still human. You know that, that's not what I'm saying, but it's easy to forget that underneath all that confidence and self assurance, she's been sheltered her whole life. She's not used to things like we are Asami. Flirting and dating, butterflies in your stomach and puppy love, they might as well be foreign languages to her."

"Actually, she went out with Mako for a while before we finally...clicked." Asami corrected her, her embarrassed veneer giving way to a slightly amused smirk.

"Oh. Well maybe she has had some normal experiences then. But, I think what's really bothering her doesn't have to do with feelings per se" Shepard sighed as she leaned closer, dropping her voice to a quiet whisper. "If you tell anyone I said this, especially Korra, I'll deny it and then shoot you in the foot." Asami rapidly nodded and leaned in close, her gray-green gaze expectant and slightly fearful. "I'd be willing to bet every credit I have that the people who took care of Korra her whole life, minus her parents of course, wouldn't have want her to be... distracted by certain urges."

"That thought had actually occurred to me before today." Asami whispered back before running a hand down her face. When she had started to truly realize and acknowledge her feelings for Korra, that particular topic had come up once before, and while Korra had tried to brush it off, Asami had figured out the truth on her own. Being reminded of her girlfriend's insular, sheltered upbringing though only served to make her feel like a giant fool. "With all the insanity we've been through, I guess I needed the reminder that we're from different worlds, metaphorically speaking, but that doesn't change how I feel about her Elizabeth."

Shepard grabbed Asami by the shoulders and spun her around to face a distant Korra as she whispered in her ear. "Then show her. Hell, make a total fool of yourself if you have to, that's what love is at the end of the day, a leap of faith. Be ridiculously, recklessly brave."

"Thanks Liz, for talking about all this with me." Before she got two steps towards Korra, Asami stopped and sheepishly turned around. "I almost forgot, must have been the blood rushing from my brain, I wanted to ask you and your friends if you wanted to move to the Sato Estate for a while. Mako and Bolin's family insisted on finding their own place, so the house is kind of lonely, I mean empty again. I know Tenzin doesn't mind having you around, or at the very least he would never admit otherwise, but you and your people probably wouldn't mind a little more room to breathe."

Shepard couldn't help herself as she grinned up at the elegant heiress. "Really? Won't all the noise keep my crew up at night? From all the much needed practicing that's hopefully going to be happening soon?"

"Sound proofing does wonders, wouldn't you agree?" Asami shot back, a mischievous gleam filling her gray green eyes as she swept her raven hair back over her shoulders in one fluid movement of her hands. "I can even double it around which ever bedroom Liara picks if you like."

Shepard snorted before letting a laugh escape her chest. "Clever girl. Alright, but I gotta ask, when did you soundproof your room?"

"I wasn't the one who had it put in." Shepard wanted to kick herself when Asami's grin disappeared in a flash. "I'm not particularly proud of this, but it was my father according to our butler. So he could talk with his Equalist contacts in secret. Luckily for Korra he didn't think to soundproof the doors, or shut them all the way for that matter. But that was my dad, he always did manage to forget the little things."

Elizabeth mentally kicked herself as she saw the pain in Asami's eyes. She didn't need a master thief or skillful information broker to tell her Amsai had lost her father. Fairly recently in fact if she were any judge. "I'm...sorry. Truly."

"It's alright. Right before he... was taken from me, well a part of him was still the man I remembered before we lost mom." Asami took a deep breath, emboldened by Elizabeth's less than subtle pep talk and the realization that either she could confess her feelings to Korra now, or wait and be subject to the fickle fate of an unknowable future. She'd already lost her father that way, she wouldn't risk Korra to a similar fate. "Thanks Elizabeth. I owe you one." She threw over her shoulder before running after Korra just as she reached the temple's main entrance.

"You're welcome kid." Shepard whispered after her before making her own way to the guest quarters. She couldn't help pondering Asami's generous offer as she made her way up the path. Maybe a change of scenery would do them all some good after all. It was certainly a peaceful, beautiful place here on Air Temple Island, but Shepard had already noticed the tell tale signs of cabin fever among her people. Not that she could blame them.

Asami's shouts of 'KORRA!' managed to drag a genuine smile out of Elizabeth as the raven haired girl raced to get the Avatar's undivided attention. Shepard took a moment to watch Korra stop and look up as Asami caught up to her. She wasn't disappointed when Asami grabbed the front of the Avatar's shirt and pulled her in for the biggest smooch of her life thus far. "Wow kid, a little too theatrical for my taste, but you were certainly listening."

"I'll say. Poor Korra looks ready to faint dead on the spot." Kasumi chortled as she flickered into sight. "You know Shep, you could have done without playing the part of Consort. I get the feeling you wouldn't make a very good one given your habit of shooting anyone that doesn't fall in line."

"Are you kidding? First customer that wanted more than my sage advice would find themselves tossed in the deepest, darkest pit Liara could find. Likely with both kneecaps shot out. I'm pretty mild by comparison."

"How romantic." Kasumi cooed as she leaned her head on Shepard's shoulder. "You always know how to sweep a woman off her feet."


"Yep." Kasumi agreed and jumped away from Shepard, nimble as a cat. "And before you ask, I already sent word to the others regarding our possible new living arrangements. Personally I wouldn't mind getting away from Master Stick in the Mud. Tenzin's a nice guy, but he could loosen up a bit."

"The man's got a three year old son and three precious kids to worry about, not to mention Korra and all of his students. He doesn't need a couple dozen people armed to the teeth roaming around his island and making his life a living hell."

"Awww, and you used to be so much fun Shepard." Kasumi mock pouted before jumping onto the nearby railing and walking along as easily as if she were still on the actual walkway. "Still, I suppose you have a point. But when did you turn so... fatherly? Oh right, that." Kasumi was smart enough to cloak herself before Elizabeth could spin around and grab her.

"If you steal any of Asami's things I expect you to put them back where you found them!" Shepard called over her shoulder as Kasumi winked back into sight with a jaunty salute before vanishing once again. "She's going to regret inviting us over, I can feel it already." Shepard grumbled as she continued on her way, rounding the corner just in time to see Karin and Bumi sitting at a table in one of the open air courtyards.

They hadn't seen her yet, so Elizabeth leaned against the wall and decided to listen in for a moment. It wasn't often Karin found someone to talk to outside of her fellow crewmates, and from the smile on the doctor's face, she was quite content right where she was. "Really? And just how did you manage all that with a polar bear-dog, a flute, and a fire ferret?"

Bumi seemed to have developed a bad case of love fever, and its symptoms apparently included violent spewing of the truth and nothing but the truth. "It wasn't easy. Luck mostly. You'd be surprised how lucky I've always been. I might exaggerate the truth for dramatic flair, but the core story is as I describe it. Most of the time."

"It just takes a skilled listener to sift through the bull." Karin chuckled to which Bumi grinned and nodded his head. "I like an honest man, it's so rare to find one these days." And if her eyes didn't deceive her, Elizabeth was fairly certain Bumi's 'illness' was contagious. "Isn't that right Commander?"

Elizabeth winced and hesitantly stuck her head around the corner, a sheepish grin on her face. "How long did you know I was there?"

"The moment you arrived Shepard, but you always were bad at being discreet when you were eavesdropping." Karin chuckled again as Bumi turned around on his side of the bench table and grinned. "Bumi was just telling me of his adventures during the Northern Water Tribe's attempted takeover of the South under Unalaq's rule. He also told me of his involvement during Kuvira's conquest of Republic City. I found it all quite fascinating."

Bumi let out a booming thunderclap of boisterous laughter. "What can I say? I spin a good yarn when I have a captive audience."

It was too easy to turn that comment around on its head as Shepard smirked and cocked her hip to the side. "Better be careful or the good Doctor might use it to make you her captive audience."

"You say that like it's a bad thing Commander." Bumi retorted before seeming to realize what he'd just said when his cheeks turned almost as bright as the airbending robes he had on. "Err, I mean, who in their right mind would complain about being in the company of such a beautiful specimen of medical skill and grace!"

When Karin leaned forward and put her hands under her chin, Bumi was immediately drawn to her long before she started to speak. It was all Shepard could do not to laugh at the sight of the lovestruck airbender eating up every word. "Well you know what they say about doctors."

"What do they say about doctors?" Bumi asked with a barely contained mix of excitement and curiosity.

"They have very skilled hands." Shepard blurted out before Karin got the chance, taking far more enjoyment out of stealing Karin's thunder than she should have.

Karin rolled her eyes but mentally shrugged since she was right. "What I was going to say was something else entirely. We've got quite a few stories of our own, especially those that have traveled as much as I have since i signed on with the Commander and her eclectic crew over three years ago now. Nearly four now that I think about it." Shepard knew it was time to leave when a mischievous gleam entered Karin's green eyes. "There's something else they say about doctors though…."

"Yes?" By this point Bumi was practically tittering on the edge of his seat in anticipation.

"You know, I do believe I'm dreadfully tired, I think I'll retire for the night." When Bumi comically fell over and out of his bench, Shepard found it incredibly hard not to burst into belly deep laughter as Karin stood to her feet, smug as you please. "Thank you for the stimulating conversation Bumi. Commander, give my regards to the two most important monogendered 'women' in your life would you?" Chakwas spun on her heel as if she had 'forgotten' something important. "Oh how silly of me, would you like to join me for a nightcap?"

"Who... me?" Bumi asked as he pointed to his chest after he jumped to his feet with surprising speed and grace.

Karin playfully cocked an eyebrow, glancing left and right before returning for questioning gaze back to the wily old veteran. "I don't see any other strapping retired military men around here, do you?"

"Don't stay up too late you two." Shepard chuckled, smiling warmly as Karin walked away with Bumi hot on her heels. Poor little dumbass. He has no idea what he's getting himself into. Despite her thought, Shepard was genuinely happy the good doctor had found someone to keep her company. Out of everyone on her crew, Karin was the sole reason any of them were still physically standing.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind did Shepard's emerald eyes fall on Chief Engineer Adams and Kya coming her way, a mischievous smirk on the older woman's lips. "Hey Liz, would it be too much to ask for Karin to return Bumi in one piece? He might be about as quiet as a raging sky bison, but he's still my idiotic big brother."

"Oh I'm pretty sure he's in good hands Kya." Shepard chuckled and crossed her arms as an amused grin pulled at her lips once again. "I'd be more worried about me hurting him if he breaks her heart."

"Not a chance. I've never seen him so smitten, it's like watching a grown man following Karin around like a lovestruck tiger-leopard kitten. It's rather disturbing now that I think about it."

"Right. Like you and my Chief Engineer there?" Shepard countered, her grin widening as Adams rubbed the back of his neck while Kya coughed in embarrassment. "Don't worry, I'm not against it in the slightest. But I am kinda partial to my people's well being."

"So I've heard. I won't make the near fatal mistake of hurting him. At least not too much."

"Good to know." Greg chuckled nervously even as he smiled and pulled Kya a little closer against his side. "Kya's been showing me their constellations Commander, beautiful sky around here."

"I'm amazed you noticed." Shepard said with a smirk as Kya hugged Adams tighter, only for him to let out a little yelp of pain. "Oops. Better be careful you two."

"Oh, we will be, and don't worry, I'll have him tucked in right after I check his bandages. And nothing more."

"Wait. Don't I get any say in this?" Greg asked, more than a little disappointed he apparently didn't have a voice in this particular argument.

"Not really. You're my patient, and you need your sleep. Afterwards though, well, we'll just see won't we?"

"I can totally handle that." Adams said and nodded his head, as if agreeing with his own comment.

"Is there something in the air tonight? Should I test the atmosphere just to be safe?" Shepard groused as she mockingly activated her omni-tool. As far as she could tell, she happened to be one of the few people not engaged in some kind of romantic encounter, courtesy of a royally pissed off Liara. Not that she could blame the asari in question, even if her heart had been in the right place. It probably didn't help that she had turned Liara's understandable complaint about her running into danger, not even a week after promising to do the exact opposite, into a sexual stamina joke.

Kya stopped mid step and put her free hand on her hip, a knowing gleam in her eyes. "Uh oh. I know that look. It's the same one dad always had on his face when he fought with mom over his duty to rebuild the Air Nation as well as his whole keeping the world in balance shtick. You're in the polar bear-dog house huh?"

"That's pretty much the story of my life right now." Shepard grumbled in agreement as she hung her head and stomped over to the courtyard's railing. "The funny thing is I know why she's being so...overprotective, but it's driving me nuts. It's kinda hard to talk to her when she's so….well, vindictive is too kind a word right now."

Kya sighed knowingly as she walked over and draped her arms over the railing next to Shepard. Greg stayed back for now, letting the two have their space. "You'd be surprised just how similar my mom and your Liara are from what Greg's told me about your 'bondmate' Liz."

"There's a lot of that going around." Elizabeth muttered with a quiet chuckle to herself. "Alright, I'll bite, what's your advice Kya?"

"I thought you'd never ask. Personally I'd charge right in there and demand to know what's eating at her. Once the obligatory punching and screaming is over, she'll open up, allowing you to actually talk about your shared problems."

"There's this one thing, namely her being an insanely powerful biotic." Visions of being mentally flayed quickly morphed into far more recreational bedroom activities. Great, I can't even feel guilty without turning it into a sex joke. Goddess help me, I've officially turned into Joker...

An annoyed Kya waved a hand in front of Elizabeth's glazed eyes, interrupting her thoughts. "What? You don't think bender couples ever get into fights? My dad might have been the Avatar, but he still lost to mom more times than I care to count. If that's the best excuse you've got, why aren't you marching right up to her door already?"

"Well, I just didn't want to put any extra stress on her with the baby..." Shepard replied lamely and mentally kicked herself again. Considering she had stared down rogue Spectres and insane matriarchs and come out relatively unscathed, even she thought that was a weak excuse.

Kya heartily agreed with her internal assessment, and made it known when she leaned in close. "Oh now you're really starting to annoy me." Before Shepard knew what was happening, Kya had wrapped a water tendril around her waist and had started to all but drag her towards the guest quarters. It was all Greg could do not to faint dead on the spot from the absurd sight of seeing Elizabeth frogmarched to her metaphorical death. "I thought you said she was this super soldier without equal? All I see is a sniveling poodle-pony with no legs to stand on Greg."

"First of all, I'm a marine, not a soldier. Second, why don't you put your money where your mouth is and let me go? Then I'll be perfectly happy to show you who's going to be sniveling on the ground in about ten seconds."

"You should really be careful what you say to a waterbender." Kya replied before using her water tendril to dangle Elizabeth over the side of the railing as she continued walking forward. "They tend to fight dirty."

"Adams, you have exactly five seconds to get your ass over here and defend your commanding officruuphhh-" Shepard could only glare at a smirking Kya from behind the water gag over her mouth.

"Sorry Commander, I uh... think I'm outclassed on this one."

Despite being held over the side of a rather large drop, Elizabeth's furious emerald gaze promised swift retribution the moment she was free of Kya's watery grasp.

Fearing for his life at this point, and rightly so, Adams leaned over and whispered into Kya's ear, desperately ignoring their captive audience member. "This had better work or I'm a dead man."

"You worry too much Greg. Now watch a master at work." Kya retorted as she held Elizabeth off the ground with her water tendril while she used her free hand to knock on Liara's door. "Excuse me Liara? Could I have a word?" She smiled a little wider when the door opened ever so slightly. It was more than enough as Kya all but slammed Elizabeth through the doorway and into Liara's surprised arms before using her water whip to shut the door in their stunned faces as Kya brushed off her hands. "There. Problem solved."

"You're a madwoman. And I really, really like that about you. I just wanted to tell you that before I end up in front of a firing squad." Adams admitted as he let Kya tug him back towards the courtyard, the pair slowly strolling under the starry sky.

Liara ripped the door open less than three minutes later and marched to the courtyard. Her biotics were on full display, flaring to life as she stalked closer to a smug Kya and a terrified Adams, a surprisingly soft whisper reaching their ears a moment later. "Whatever you said to her, thank you... NOW STAY OUT!" Liara yelled with a wink as she walked back over to her room and slammed the door behind her.

"I knew it would work." Kya stated, quite proud of her accomplishment of getting them back together.

"You're insane. Utterly insane, and I'm just as nuts for staying around you. I think I like you... even if being around you will probably get me killed, it's like some sort of drug."

"I have that effect on people." Kya stated matter of factly before she stopped mid step and blinked, only belatedly realizing what Greg was hinting at. "Wait what?"

"I like you?" Greg repeated himself hesitantly, unsure if that had been the right thing to say.

Kya smirked and crossed her arms about the same time she cocked her hip to the side. "I'll take it. For now." With that, she immediately latched onto Adams' arm and started to pull him away. "Come on, you've had enough excitement for one night."

Powerlessly captivated and unwilling to do anything else anyway, Greg simply grinned and gave his waterbending captor a cheerful salute. "Yes ma'am!"

Thirty minutes later…

Liara was idly running her hand through Elizabeth's hair, sprawled out comfortably on her chest with the heavy blanket the only thing covering them at that moment. "You always did know how to make me listen Elizabeth."

"Funny, I was going to say the same thing Liara. Although I don't remember much talking." She chuckled before gently taking the asari's hand in hers and kissing her knuckles tenderly. "I know you're worried about me, and I get why, I do, but-"

Liara put a finger to Liz's lips and smiled before kissing her forehead. "It's okay…. But you have to understand Liz, I lost you once….I almost lost you again when we crashed here. I don't think I could take that again. That's….why I tried, foolishly I might add, to make you into someone you aren't. You are our shield, the uniting force behind us all, and to ask you to be anything less is to diminish why I fell in love with you in the first place."

Shepard smiled as she cupped Liara's cheek and kissed her deeply on her wonderful lips while her free hand rested on the small of her back. "I don't blame ya for getting overprotective Liara." She whispered once they had come up for air. "But you're right about one thing, being caged up like an exotic bird is liable to drive me insane, even if you mean well by it. But I will be as careful as I possibly can, that I can still promise you Liara."

"That'll be enough for me Elizabeth." Liara replied before she embraced her, her head finding its place in the crook of Liz's neck. "Don't ever change, not for anyone. Even me. But I'm sure that next conversation will most likely be within a matter of hours or days at most knowing you."

As much as she might have teased her any other time, Elizabeth chose to remain serious for the moment. "That's a promise I can keep without any trouble." Shepard whispered, and wasn't all that surprised when she noticed Liara had started to drift off into a peaceful sleep. She ran a hand across the back of the asari's head, and smiled when Liara nuzzled up into her a little closer in response.

"You know, this world obviously has its own set of problems, but I can think of far worse places to raise a child." Liara mumbled sleepily into Shepard's ear.

Whether she had meant to make her feel guilty or not, Elizabeth still felt like a giant heel all the same. "Yeah, no Reapers, no crazy geth, no organized mercs, no batarians..."

"Don't be fooled..." Liara mumbled again, a little grin pulling at her lips as she rolled away so her back was to Shepard.

"I know, but a girl can dream right?" Shepard chuckled quietly before wrapping her arms around Liara's waist, her lips close to the back of Liara's head fringe. "Good night."

"Good night my Commander." Liara purred as she finally drifted off to sleep.

"Damn, why do you always have to call me that when you're almost asleep? I gotta be honest, it's a major turn on... Liara?" When light snoring met her inquiry, Shepard huffed in mild annoyance but could only smile as she pulled Liara closer against her body. "Sleep well my Shadow Broker." It wasn't long before Elizabeth followed suit, her emerald eyes slowly drifting close on their own accord.

Perhaps it was the events of the day with the firebombing still so fresh in her mind, perhaps it was just bad luck, but that night saw Shepard visiting the burned out forest once again in her dreams. As before, the voices whispered of her failings, tormented her as the ash and smoke threatened to choke the air from her lungs. But just as she reached the end of the path, where she expected any number of people to be waiting for her, a bright light appeared behind her. So bright in fact that even with her back turned to it, it was blinding, all consuming. When it disappeared just as quickly, the ash forest with its army of dark, shadowy figures and dark skies full of ash were gone. In its place was a field of verdant grass and bright yellow sunflowers on her right side. "Okay... this is new." Not that she was complaining, but this was downright strange for her.

Before she could begin to look around, a strong gust of wind pulled her attention to the left, where her eyes fell on a woman in heavy green robes. Her face was covered in pale white makeup, her head covered in an ornate headdress, but it was the eyes she recognised, as well as the angles of her face even if genetically speaking, they were as different from each other as night and day. While her eerily familiar emerald green eyes weren't that uncommon, it was what was within those eyes that drew Shepard's attention. They were the eyes of a soldier, a warrior, one who has seen the fires of war and come out the other side, scarred but stronger for it. She could have been looking in a funhouse mirror, where the image reflected back was just a bit off in some cases. Elizabeth's musings were cut short when the woman started to walk closer. "Do you know who I am?" The fact their voices sounded eerily similar as well didn't escape Elizabeth's notice.

The answer came unbidden to Shepard's lips, much to her surprise. "Avatar Kyoshi, the Avatar that created a group of all female warriors that were able to stand against benders from all four nations. You also separated your island home from the rest of the continent when Chin the Conqueror tried to throw the world out of balance during your life, essentially allowing your people to grow and prosper without outside interference." Kyoshi nodded her head in response, to Elizabeth's even greater surprise.

"Then you're ready to take the next step Elizabeth. You face your greatest challenge yet, and in order for you to succeed, you must be prepared to expand your considerable talents beyond what you already possess." Before Elizabeth could ask what she meant by that, or how she even knew her name in the first place, she woke up with Liara's arms wrapped around her waist. Ignoring the fact they had changed their positions at some point during the night, Elizabeth wondered what that dream had been about.

Her restlessness was just enough to stir Liara though, and she heard the asari mumble into the back of her neck. "Mmmm, too tired Liz, maybe in the morning."

Grasping Liara's hand that had found its way to the flat of her stomach, Shepard squeezed it gently. "Go back to sleep Liara." She wasn't able to follow her own advice though as her mind tried to make sense of what she'd seen. But the events of the day once again pulled Shepard into an uneasy sleep, where she kept seeing Kyoshi in the corner of her vision. Even when she found herself back in the burned out forest, the Avatar spirit followed, and prevented the dream from playing out to its fiery conclusion. "If you're going to insist following in my nightmares at least tell me why Kyoshi." Shepard demanded at last as she turned to face Kyoshi directly when she reached the clearing in the ash forest.

If she had hoped to get a straight answer out of her, Shepard was disappointed when Kyoshi uplifted one side of her lips in a lopsided smirk. "So intimidating and full of spirit, yet also so fragile. Like the last breath of winter before it gives way to spring. You too must allow yourself to let go of what you deem to be unforgivable actions in your quest to save your world if you wish to move forward. Master Katara opened the door for you, but you hesitate to step through it when all your life you have faced every challenge headlong. Perhaps not without fear, but you have always overcome and strove past it, and that takes far more strength than you might realize."

Elizabeth didn't even have to think about her answer, knowing that whatever she might accomplish in this world or any other, the darkness lurking inside her would always remain. "Because some actions should never be taken, no matter what the cost."

"Perhaps there is wisdom in those words, but they are moot because you dwell on what has been done, on what you have done. The past cannot be changed. You will be forever lost if you can never let go Elizabeth." With a wave of her arm, the forest around them seemed to break apart and fly away like so many autumn leaves. In its place stood a far more modern looking city, with aircars and starships zipping to and fro across the brightly lit night sky. "You did what you knew was necessary to save the many by sacrificing the few. Many would have not made the choice at all, preferring to bury their heads in the sand than do what needed to be done to ensure the rest survived. Some would have delighted in striking a blow at a hated foe. You did neither. While unjust for so much to ride upon your shoulders, you still tried to save those that were doomed by circumstance."

Shepard knew where they were long before the asteroid slammed into the Alpha relay. The bright light that swallowed Bahak, a batarian colony of over three hundred thousand men, women, and children, enveloped them both, giving Shepard a bird's eye view of the destruction her actions had wrought. Buildings didn't explode so much as vanish before her eyes as the supernova like explosion wiped away everything in its path. It had been one thing to witness the destruction of the Bahak system on the Normandy's sensors, it was something else entirely to see it from the ground. Instead of a simple icon blinking out of existence, she saw the vibrant city around her cease to exist in a matter of seconds before Kyoshi pulled them off world, only for Shepard to see the entire planet similarly disappear in the exploding relay's devastating shock wave.

She never thought she'd have said it before, but Shepard was missing the blackened forest at this point. She would have rather watched herself and the young boy she had failed to save burst into flame for an eternity rather than have witnessed those horrific few moments. "What do you want from me?!" Elizabeth growled even as giant tears fell from her emerald eyes. "You want me to apologize? Beg for forgiveness for something I can't change?"

Kyoshi stood serene and still as a statue only ten feet away, unaffected by Shepard's tirade. "I want you to be able to move past what you were forced to do. I want you to forgive yourself like I was able to, thanks to a young boy who once sought my advice. I foolishly told him the only path forward was to destroy the enemy before him in the name of justice and peace for the world, when there was another way unknown even to me." It was here that Kyoshi slowly closed the gap between them and knelt down before reaching out and cupping Shepard's tear stained cheeks. "You did not ask for the burden that was placed upon you, but you shouldered it better than anyone could have asked or had a right to do so. You made it your own, and only now that the war is over do you falter under its immense weight. I want you to shed that weight at last, to be free of the burden you have carried for so long. When you do, you will be able to soar as freely as the ship you have lost once again."

Kyoshi wasn't surprised when Shepard jerked away from her hands and stared daggers into her painted face, her eyes full of fury and shame in equal parts. "Enough with the riddles and zen bullshit, you tell me, how am I supposed to let go of killing children? I'm no better than the slavers who raided my home!"

"I would be disappointed if you found it so easy to shed your guilt Elizabeth. You wear it like a suit of armor, along with your protective shell of sarcasm and ferocity."

"Wow, well I'm cured. Excuse me while I go find a tall cliff to jump off of so I can wake up." Except there was nowhere to go since they were still within the white light of the relay explosion, much to Shepard's growing rage and frustration since that meant she couldn't escape Kyoshi. Not that she could have escaped her anyway even if there had been somewhere to go, but it would have made her feel better to try.

"Thank you for proving my point." A hint of a grin tugged at Kyoshi's lips as she stood to her feet. "While you are rightly and understandably upset over the loss of innocent life, you still did all that you could to save those on Bahak, Elizabeth." With another wave of her hand, Shepard was treated to herself trying to contact the colony before the Collector leader, Sovereign, cut her off mid transmission. "That powerful urge inside you to protect others has always been your guiding light. It never mattered if they were human or batarian, asari or turian, hanar or volus, all life has always been sacred to you." Another wave of her arm revealed something Shepard hadn't seen that terrible day. "And because of you, the casualties weren't as total as you believed them to be." In the black of space, Elizabeth could just barely make out a metallic fleck rushing out of Bahak's atmosphere seconds before the Relay detonated. "Close to two dozen batarians and their….companions escaped the fires that consumed their colony, two dozen batarians that remember what you tried to do for them despite the intense animosity between your two races."

"Companions... you mean slaves." Shepard spat out, making the word sound like a curse. "Even when they are running for damn their lives, they still need their goddamn property."

"They are no longer slaves." Kyoshi replied sharply, her eyes flashing brightly before she remembered herself and calmed down just as quickly. "The day those very slaves saved their batarian lords from their doomed world, was the day those same batarians started to see the error of their ways. A few slowly turned into many, thanks to the eventual efforts of one young child, a child your actions saved."

That certainly got Shepard's attention. "What do you mean? We've only been gone-"

"Time, like most elements of nature, is relative, Elizabeth. Besides, you forget the destruction of Bahak happened close to two years ago now. Or twenty, depending on your point of view. You also do not realize the power of an Avatar once he or she has crossed the threshold as I have. You have only seen the very surface of what such a being can do in young Korra. The reality is far more than even Aang ever realized was possible while he was part of the earthly plane, and he was far more attune with his spiritual side."

"Okay... assuming I understood what you just said, you're saying that you pretty much know everything that has happened or will happen. Which is impossible."

"I find your lack of faith disturbing, considering I am technically a part of you. But that is an accurate summarization, if lacking in depth." Kyoshi's grin lifted ever so slightly when Shepard could only stare at her in shock at that little revelation. "I thought that would get your attention. Really Elizabeth, are you so shallow that fond quotes hold more sway over you than the deepest wisdom?"

"Hey! I'm far from shallow lady. I listened to the Consort's advice didn't I? And I listen to Liara all the time."

"I know you did, and you do listen to Liara, quite often nuzzled next to her in bed. I also recall you slept with the Consort afterwards as well. She thought your performance was... unimpressive, most unimpressive."

"Okay that's just low." Elizabeth grumbled while Kyoshi chuckled at her outraged mutterings. "And here I thought you were supposed to be some kind of badass Avatar, who knew you had a sarcastic streak of your own."

"Even Avatars can be human every once in a while." Kyoshi stated as she folded her arms behind her back, her grin still firmly in place. "If I had been in your shoes, I likely wouldn't have passed up the opportunity if it was offered. Although, I'm sure I would have made better use of the time."

"How is this helping me get my head on straight again? And what's this about you being a part of me?" It was Shepard's turn to feel a little smug when Kyoshi's amused grin faltered at last.

"You have a right to know that at least." Kyoshi said before her smirk disappeared. "You know that the Avatar lives again and again, forever reincarnated across the ages, just as the seasons change on each of the countless worlds you have visited." Shepard nodded, having heard that much in her time on Korra's world. "Out of the countless Avatars that have come before, the Avatar spirit is always joined with the spirit of the reborn Avatar. Raava, the ancient, primordial spirit of light and hope, while essential to what we are, is still her own person. We have our own souls. With that in mind, I am the Avatar that most aligns with your own spirit, Elizabeth."

"Okay, so you're my what...spiritual guide?" Shepard asked as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"Yes. You were simply unable to hear my words until you reached your own lowest point." Kyoshi stated, and gently stepped on the 'ground' at her feet. Where her right foot connected with a just audible thud, the blackness of space gave way to a panoramic view of the entire Milky Way galaxy.

"Seriously? If you've been watching everything that happens as some sort of Force ghost, you'd know that this is far from my lowest point. Hell, this is a damn vacation in comparison to the war."

"Yet the war gave you a clear objective, something to focus on beyond your own demons. Now that it's over, you have nothing beyond those you have surrounded yourself with." Kyoshi replied without hesitation, and Shepard found she had no ready retort. "It is so easy to ignore the pain you've carried when so much rode upon your actions, your choices, but now that you have brought peace to the galaxy, you cannot help but focus on what you've done in the name of peace. And what you feel you could have done differently. Take it from someone who knows, that way only leads to grief and despair."

"The Dai Li? How the Hell do I-" When Kyoshi's lips quirked ever so slightly, Shepard threw her hands into the air and huffed. "Okay, you've made your point, we're connected." She sighed and ran her hand down her face before letting her head fall. "I...honestly didn't expect to make it to the end. Now that I have…" She trailed off, unable to finish the thought since Shepard herself didn't really know what she wanted to say.

Kyoshi was under no such restrictions however as she reached out and put a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. "You don't know what to do. There is no easy answer I can give you, except this. Live. Simply live and be the woman Liara sees in you, even if you do not see her in yourself. Let those you care about show you the way, instead of fretting over how best to lead them. Your role as the Commander is over for now. It is time to give Elizabeth Shepard her chance in the sun."

"But what if Elizabeth Shepard isn't strong enough-"

"I see this will be a hard habit for you to break. Thankfully, you aren't the only one that likes a challenge."

Elizabeth took a step back just out of Kyoshi's reach and once again started to glare daggers at the Avatar. "What the Hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means, that I will take matters into my own hands if I believe it is for your betterment."

"Great, my own spiritual drill sergeant. This ought to be fun..." Shepard muttered, slightly unnerved by the mischievous gleam in Kyoshi's eyes she had seen so many times in her own reflection. "You even have my damn stare down pat."

"Where do you think you originally acquired it?" Kyoshi asked before disappearing from Shepard's sight when a gentle breeze swept through the area. An impossible feat since they were still hovering just above the Milky Way galaxy, but dreams rarely followed the rules of reality.

The next moment, Shepard opened her eyes to see that the morning sun was streaming through a nearby window. Sitting up slowly so as not to disturb a still sleeping Liara, she wasn't all that surprised to find her cheeks were damp from her tears earlier. Looking towards the mirror across from their bed, Shepard blinked when she swore she saw Kyoshi staring back at her, but the moment she looked again, she could only see her own face in the surface of the glass. "Great, now I'm seeing shit. First it was that damn spirit that was hanging around Jack, now this. It was just a dream... a really weird, freaky dream."

No sooner had the words left her mouth than did the door slide open as an all too cheerful Ikke burst through on a gust of air. Before Shepard knew what was happening, she quickly jerked the blanket up to cover herself in time. The precocious girl hardly noticed as she started jumping up and down in front of her, a heavy, dusty tome clutched in her hands. "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Have you ever heard of Avatar Kyoshi?!" Ikke jumped up on the side of the bed, promptly sat down next to a stunned Shepard, and opened the book she was holding. "See, she even looks a little like you! Weird huh? I bet you would look silly in all that makeup too. She was the tallest Avatar too, way taller than-"

"Ikke?" Shepard asked once she was able to tear her stunned gaze away from the page the girl was all but shoving in her face.

"What? You don't like it?" As Ikke pouted, casting her grey eyes to the floor, Shepard was internally debating whether she'd rather shove the girl out of their room or bribe Liara into paying attention to her random rants. It wasn't helping that the picture on Ikke's page was like looking at a ghost, and Shepard was fairly sure her face was just as pale at that moment. Thankfully Ikke seemed oblivious to that fact.

"It's very pretty but… couldn't you have waited until I had gotten dressed first before barging in here?" By some miracle Shepard managed to keep her voice level even as she did her best to cover herself, a task made all the more difficult when a startled Liara yanked the blanket away to shield her own modesty, far more for Ikke's sake than her own.

"OH! Sorry, I should go, shouldn't I?" Ikke gasped before giggling into her hand as she zipped out of the room as quickly as she'd barged in.

Shepard sighed and flopped back with an embarrassed groan. "I am never going to live that one down." When she met Liara's gaze, Elizabeth had all of three seconds to see her growing concern before she felt the asari's mind touch her own. "Wha-"

She knew why Liara had forced the issue the moment the first thought passed between them, along with a heavy helping of concern and worry for her. You looked like you saw a ghost when Ikke showed you that picture.

Damn. I thought you were still asleep. Shepard winced, hoping despite the embarrassing situation that Liara had missed her looking so unsettled.

Don't change the subject. Also, it turns out it's fairly difficult to stay asleep when a young girl happens to be jumping on top me.

Think of it as a preview of things to come. Shepard stated as lightheartedly as she could and even managed a sly grin for added emphasis. But Liara's worried visage didn't change in the slightest. Letting out a defeated sigh, Shepard let her head drop. You're not going to let this drop are you?

That depends on how long you don't mind being trapped inside my mind.

I can think of worse places to be trapped. Shepard replied before letting her green eyes fall. Even when the asari gently cupped her cheeks in her hands, Shepard didn't move an inch. I honestly don't know where to start with this one Liara. It...started out the same...then someone interrupted it before I got to the end. Maybe I'm finally going cra-

No you are not. Liara stated with such conviction and strength that Elizabeth finally looked up, meeting her pale blue eyes. I've seen you doubt, I've seen you enraged, lost, confused, but crazy? No, that is not in your vocabulary.

I'm crazy for you aren't I?

A ghost of a smile tugged at Liara's lips as she pulled Shepard against her chest, her forehead resting just underneath her chin. That's different. You're one of the strongest, most selfless people I have ever met Elizabeth. But the war….it's done. We all have our scars, our wounds from what we endured. Mine is my mother….her madness before we ended her, seeing Thessia fall...what I did while I was the Shadow Broker. Yours was bearing the weight of so many. You still do. When Shepard mentally jerked away, Liara blinked owlishly in surprise, having no idea what she had just said to get such a strong reaction from her.

Sorry, it's complicated. When she felt an all too familiar sensation tentatively reaching deeper into her mind, Shepard let out a huff and threw her hand into the air in frustration, aimed more at herself for not being able to express herself than anything Liara was trying to do. Oh just look. I can feel you trying to peek into my memories as it is.

Elizabeth, I would never betray your trust in any w- The barrage of images that followed had Liara taking a sharp breath inward as her pupils dilated in shock. ... by the Goddess, is this true?!

Even in her emotional turmoil, Shepard just couldn't help herself as she looked up and let a ghost of a smirk pull at her lips this time. You know, that would have been believable if you had waited a few more seconds.

You're changing the subject again…

I don't know if any of that's true Liara…. Shepard retorted, sharper than she had intended to as she pulled away from the asari's embrace. I just know she was right... about me mostly. Everything I've done... you know better than most I can't just let that go. With a small jolt of awareness, Shepard belatedly realized Liara had broken the meld and grabbed her by the arm. "Um, what are you doing? I was just starting to enjoy being inside you."

Ignoring Shepard's defensive sarcasm and lustful gaze, Liara pulled her towards the door. "I'm taking you to Korra. If anyone can help you understand this, it's her."

"Okay but could we at least get dressed first?" Shepard asked, to which Liara stopped and blushed, her blue cheeks turning several shades of purple which Liz followed its progression down her neck with a mischievous leer on her face. "Or we could stay right he-" Liara slapped a hand over Elizabeth's mouth and made it clear in no uncertain terms she had better get moving when her beautiful face turned stone cold. It was enough incentive for Shepard to zip her lip and pull out the first outfit in the nearby closet her hand fell upon. "It was just a question." She muttered.

"You're stalling, a typical marine tactic when you've run out of ideas." Liara retorted as she pulled down a water bending robe that Kya had been kind enough to lend to her their first day on the island. The fact they were about the same size hadn't hurt at all.

Shepard shrugged into another airbending robe, having grown quite attached to them since putting on her first one. "It's called buying time until an opportunity presents itself."

"Same thing."

"Are you going to put that on or is this some sort of weird torture?"

"Yes." Liara told her with a smirk as she slipped into the robe, the light blue of the cloth almost matching her skin color on her as she tied it shut.

"Couldn't you just ask her about it without dragging me along? It was awkward enough just sharing this with you." Awkward was one way of putting it, but it was the kindest word she could think of given how efficiently Kyoshi had torn her down before trying to help her back up.

"No. And that's not the real reason you're hesitant to tell her about this anyway. You forget that I see you as you truly are Elizabeth."

"She already gets that damn hero worship look in her eyes around me as it is, how's she going to react when she finds out..."

"That you are a physical link to one of her lost past lives? And one of the more renown at that. I imagine you will seem almost god like to her."

"That's not helping." Shepard grumbled before going to the door before she could change her mind. Before she got it open though, she felt a hand on her shoulder. Meeting Liara's gaze, she found strength in the asari's pale blue eyes, strength she would have been lost without. Before she could stop herself, Shepard had pulled her to her chest and embraced her tightly against her body. "You're the only goddess I need Liara." The Spectre stared into Liara's eyes. Looking for something even if she herself wasn't sure what it was. She had often noticed how similar asari were to humans and even in her state she could see how Liara's pupils opened slightly. A show of happiness, affection, and while it wasn't what she was looking for, it was enough.

"Sometimes you talk too much for your own good." Liara quipped even as a single tear fell down her cheek and she let a warm, beautiful smile light up her face before her hands wrapped around Shepard's arm once more. She didn't fight this time as the asari dragged her out of their room.

Blinking as the warm mid morning sun washed over her, Shepard took a moment to look out over the railing at the beautiful island that laid before them before falling into step behind the asari's determined stride. Normally it was the other way around, with Elizabeth leading while everyone else followed behind her, but this time, it felt right to follow rather than be at the front of the line. That, a small part of her mind whispered, and it gives you an excuse to stare at Liara's perky blue ass.

Without any preamble, Liara took all of five minutes to find the groggy eyed Avatar leaning against the railing, watching the sun rise from the largest of the beautiful wooden gazebos that were scattered about the temple grounds. "I don't wish to interrupt, but we need your help Korra."

"Whaaa, you need something 'iara?" Korra slurred as she rubbed at her eyes, slightly relieved that it was Liara and not Asami hunting her down. Again. She had quickly figured out just how insatiable Asami could be after the three times she desperately tried pleading exhaustion and the two failed escape attempts. Not that she had complained at first, but Asami had been relentless. If any of her enemies would have shown any similar motivation, Korra was thoroughly convinced she would have been long dead by now. But none of that could wipe the tired smile from her face that had refused to disappear ever since the moment Asami had forcefully kissed her the night before.

Seeing just how tired Korra was, and having a pretty good idea why, Elizabeth took a step back but was stopped when Liara put a hand against her back. "Maybe we should come back after you've had your morning cup of tea or something?" Shepard winced when Liara none too gently pressed her elbow into her side for trying to stall, again.

"It's alright, I'm just not a morning person." Korra yawned into her closed fist before regarding the pair more intently. When she saw the matching looks of concern and something else in their faces, she looked between them, her own worry pushing her tiredness to the side. "What's going on?"

"Long story." Shepard stated lamely, in no hurry to talk about her crazy dream, especially with Korra despite the fact she was oddly enough the best person to talk about it with.

"Korra, may I ask you to make a rather odd promise?" Liara asked, cutting straight to the punch before Liz could think of another excuse.

"Um... sure. As long as you aren't asking me to do something wrong." Korra's blue gaze turned cautious as she raised an eyebrow. "You aren't are you?"

"What? No. Not today at least. Ow." Shepard grunted when Liara stepped on her foot this time. "Alright, you don't have to keep hitting me Liara." With a heavy sigh Shepard walked to the railing and leaned her arms over the side before she took a steadying breath. "I can't believe I'm even entertaining this insanity… but considering I've had prothean visions burned into my head, I guess this shouldn't be so weird."

Korra took a step closer to Shepard as she once again tried to back away, Liara's outstretched arm wrapping tightly around the small of her back. "Now I'm starting to get worried."

Before she could move away, Liara's hand on her shoulder stopped Korra in her tracks as surely as the pleading look in her eyes. "Korra, promise me you will not treat Elizabeth any differently after today, no matter what is said in private here."

Getting the impression this was far more important than anything else they could have ever asked, Korra nodded her head slowly. It was enough for Shepard as she rubbed a hand down her face before she found the courage to dive in. "Okay, it's like this. Apparently one of your past lives, Avatar Kyoshi, is me... sort of anyway and, in a way, I'm her. Wait that probably sounds weird, let me start over."

Korra bursting into gut wrenching laughter wasn't quite the reaction Shepard had been expecting. "That's a good one! And Zaeed must be Roku, I can't believe I never saw it until now..." Korra tapped at her chin mockingly before her eyes brightened and she doubled over in laughter. "No wait, let me guess, your whole crew is made up of past Avatars right?"

With a subtle look passed between her and Liara, the asari put a hand on Korra's shoulder before her eyes turned pitch black. The Avatar's laughter died in her throat when she saw Kyoshi standing before Shepard in the burned out forest. When she ended the meld, Korra had slumped against the railing, her big blue eyes widened further in surprised shock. "I did not do that lightly Korra, but I do not appreciate it when someone doubts Elizabeth's word, or mine."

"You... you're... how is that even possible?!"

"I've got no clue kid, but we were hoping you'd know."

"Well now the creepy promise at least makes sense... my Commander." Korra knelt on one knee, peeking up with one eye to see a rare tinge of red in Shepard's cheeks. Realizing what she was doing, Korra jumped to her feet and waved her hands in front of her. "Uh... this is... that wasn't intentional! I don't even-okay this is downright strange. Maybe there is something to this connection that Kyoshi was talking about….but I've never heard of something like this happening with the past Avatars. The only thing I can think of that comes close is when Roku, a former Fire Lord and the Avatar that came before Aang, saved him and his friends by possessing Aang long enough to clear the way out of his temple."

"No actual links like this though huh?" Shepard asked, having a feeling she already knew the answer.

"Not that I can think of no. I'm going to have to talk to Jinora, see if there might be something in the great Library ran by Master Wan Shi To-"

"No. Hell no. I didn't even want to tell you. The last thing I want is to have the people of your planet think I'm some sort a weird reincarnated Avat-" It took exactly half a second for what Liz had just said out aloud to sink in. "Oh. Right."

Liara wisely took a step back when Korra closed the gap between herself and Shepard, fire in her blue eyes while her hands clenched into tight fists. "First off, Wan Shi Tong's library is in the Spirit World, and he isn't in the habit of talking to outsiders save for a very few select people. And what's so bad about being linked to a past Avatar exactly?" She asked, her voice dripping with barely controlled fury. "Do you know what I would give to have that back?"

When two equally strong forces collided, it was never a pretty sight. That became all too apparent when Shepard's emerald eyes lit up in rage equal to Korra's own. "Well I didn't ask to be a part of your damn Avatar Cycle. You can keep it. I have enough trouble sleeping at night without one of your past lives trying to lecture me and interfering in my affairs."

Korra did a double take, unable to comprehend the words that had just come out of Shepard's mouth. "You should feel honored!"

"Would both of you please stop shouting? I'd prefer it if we didn't alert the entire island to this conversation."

"She started it." Elizabeth and Korra muttered simultaneously as they both crossed their arms over their chests, and if Liara hadn't been so irked with their childish behavior, she might have found their nearly identical pouts quite adorable.

"I'm going to finish it if you both do not stop this pointless bickering right now." Liara replied, her voice deceptively cool even as her biotics flared menacingly. Both Korra and Elizabeth swallowed nervously for different reasons, but it was enough as Liara nodded her approval of their respective reactions. "Good. Now I'm going to say this once, so pay attention. Elizabeth, we need answers. Korra, I would greatly appreciate it if you could find a way to get those answers. I do not wish for everyone to know about this for reasons of my own, but if Jinora is able to come and go from this library at will, then by all means talk to her if one of us doesn't get to her first."

"Alright. But can I just get a quick nap in first? Preferably somewhere Asami can't find me..." Korra couldn't help flicking her blue eyes over the path leading up to the cliffside gazebo, intent on avoiding anything black and red and coming her way until she could at least keep her eyes open for more than five minutes. "Oh no! You didn't see me!" Korra tersely whispered as she grabbed her nearby glider and put one foot up on cliffside railing.

"Wait wait! Korra!" Asami called out as she ran the last few feet before Korra could slip away. "I wanted to apologize... for overdoing it." She panted and put a hand on her arm. "And you're in no condition to fly." Asami's timid laugh only seemed to spur Korra on. "Wait! Come back to bed, you need to get some rest. I promise I'll be good."

"Alright…." Korra groaned before managing a weak smile as she hopped off the railing. "But only because I couldn't say no to you to save my life."

"Go get some rest kid, I'll wait." Shepard chuckled when the Avatar looked her way. Only after the pair had walked away did Elizabeth look to Liara, a sly smirk on her face. "Korra's not going to get any sleep is she?"

"I do not believe so. You fell for that very same lie more than once as I recall." Liara wrapped her arm around Shepard's waist and leaned her head against her shoulder. "Whatever comes from this Elizabeth, we'll get through it."

"I know Liara."

Authors' Notes: Vergil1989: Well, that took a decidedly dark turn after all the fun and laughs the team had before hand. At least it ended on a light hearted, if albeit horny, note lol. Joking aside though, we had fun doing this, and I hope you, the readers, also enjoy it. I know it seems we kinda made Shepard a bit whiny, but consider that they just came out of a war not too long ago, the worst in galactic history. She's lost her rudder, her reason for fighting, and in a way, that's all she has ever known. She met Liara that way, she met her closest friends during the war, everything she has or has become came from that. How do you go back to being normal? With that in mind, it's going to take a long time before she's back to some semblance of herself.

Archer83: I'd just like to give a little shout out to Nomad-117 for giving us some advice and helping us out with this chapter. As always, thank you to all of our readers and reviewers, be sure to tell us what you thought of this one. Don't worry action fans, we've got plenty of epic stuff lined up, we're just sorta happy with the slow burn we've got going as the story progresses. And we haven't forgotten about Samantha Traynor or Kelly Chambers, or the rest of our less active characters. We have plans for all of them. Sexy and/or violence related plans. See ya folks!

Chapter Text

Opening Notes; It's been a long time I realize, but I never forgot this story. A lot's happened, the biggest being Archer83's leaving FF for reasons even myself and Nomad-117 know, only that it was big we imagine. Little would keep him away from this place, so it felt wrong to continue any of his stuff despite a few messages asking us to do just that while he was gone. We don't know if he's coming back, only that we still get the occasional message telling us he's still breathing, so there's that. Whatever the case might be, like life itself, we must press on, and this story represents that in more ways than one. I hope I can keep this story going.

Chapter 8: A Peaceful Place

"That's...incredible." Jinora stammered, surprised by the revelation that Shepard had had such a vivid dream, centered around one of Korra's past lives no less. Standing in another of the wooden gazebos, the airbender master had been meditating when Liara found her, but she had just come out of her trance when the asari arrived. The next ten minutes had seen the young woman's brown eyes widen more and more as Liara explained why she had sought her out in the first place. "I don't know what to say." She finally blurted out, amazed by the story she'd just been told.

"An explanation beyond what this Avatar Kyoshi told Liz would be nice." Liara replied and sat down on one of the benches that were situated around the gazebo. Tugging the Water Tribe robe closer around herself, Liara let her hands fall to her lap, patientaly waiting for something from the girl at her side that might explain this latest, formerly impossibility that just became possible, a habit that had yet to be broken by the woman she loved.

"And since I'm one of the most spiritually aware people here, you logically assumed I might know something. If I didn't, I might be able to find the answers you're after." Jinora deduced accurately, and sat down next to the asari, putting the pieces together quickly. "I unfortunately don't have the answers, but I think I can find them for you. It might take some time though."

"I had hoped you might know something already, but I had expected it as well." Liara mused before she looked down at the stone between her feet, feeling far more tired than she had felt for some time. She looked up and smiled weakly when she felt Jinora's hand on her shoulder. "I'm alright, but this new problem makes me feel my one hundred and nine, going on ten, years at all once. It's...outside of my area of expertise, all this talk of spirits, past lives, and otherworldy connections. Things were so much simpler when there was a war to prepare for."

"Only by admitting our shortcomings, can we hope to get past them." Jinora replied and squeezed Liara's shoulder before letting her hand drop to her lap. Staring at the serene ocean that laid before them, Jinora nodded, as if having come to a silent realization. "I think I know what your real problem is Liara. Like Elizabeth, you had a goal, something to push you forward this whole time, but now that it's over, you're lost. You might have Shepard, her love, and the baby you're carrying, but beyond that and your close friends, what else do you have?"

Liara wasn't at all surprised by the woman's astute observation, only that it had come from one so young. On the other hand, the asari recalled that the arrow tattoos on Jinora's head and arms made it abundantly clear she was wiser and more in tune with the world around her than most. She had achieved a level of enlightenment and inner peace most never accomplished. Still, she was surprised by the fact Jinora had pointed out something that should have been obvious to her.

The smile that tugged at the asari's lips was equal parts gratitude and acceptance of the all too true observation from the human beside her. "You truly have earned the rank of airbending master from what little I know about your culture Jinora. It's….not so easy, going from what we went through to having all the time in the universe at our fingertips, no longer expecting tomorrow to be our last day. Despite the astronomical odds….we made it through, somehow."

Jinora nodded, not saying anything since other than snippets, she hadn't really heard much about the war the strangers so often talked about. But what she knew for certain was that it had taken a lot from them all, even Grunt, who made it no secret he enjoyed violence, had appeared haunted once or twice since she'd met him. But she understood the cost, having seen similar looks on Korra's face after Zaheer all but destroyed her on an emotional and spiritual level, if not a physical one. So it wasn't so different for these strangers that had come beyond the stars themselves, yet they had the same problems she was all too familiar with. With that in mind, Jinora stood to her feet and walked to the edge of the balcony before placing her hand on the railing, her arms outstretched before her. "I don't know if you've heard the story yet, but there was a man named Zaheer, who was once a part of the Red Lotus, a counter to the White Lotus's promise to protect and train the Avatar."

Knowing when to listen and observe, both during her time as a xenoarcheologist and as the Shadow Broker, Liara followed Jinora to the railing and said nothing as the young woman continued her tale. "He felt that the world deserved true freedom, freedom from dictatorships, monarchies, all of it. An anarchist in its purest form, and he wasn't alone in his beliefs. He had many followers, many that were willing to sacrifice everything to see this goal accomplished. But that wasn't enough for him and his Lotus."

"They wanted to destroy the Avatar as well." Liara stated, earning a grim nod from the airbender at her side. "But that can't be done….can it? Not if the Avatar's reborn anytime one falls." Jinora's silence as she stared across the water was answer enough as the asari's cheeks lost what color remained in them when the realization hit that not even the Avatar was eternal. While it didn't affect her as profoundly, having only learned of her recently, it still left Liara momentarily stunned after everything she'd seen and experienced for herself since coming to this world. "How?" She asked at last.

"While the Avatar State gives Korra an immense boost in every way, it's also its own greatest weakness." Jinora replied grimly, while somehow remaining cryptic to a degree.

But not cryptic enough since the answer was there for one willing to listen and see the truth before them. "Meaning if she's killed while channeling all that power, the Cycle is ended, for good." Liara stated and could only shake her head at that bit of news before speaking further, returning to the topic at hand. "And Zaheer knew this didn't he? If he's as dangerous and driven as you've hinted him to be, then it makes sense he'd have tried to do just that. Thus he poisoned her….Goddess."

"I see Gran Gran talked about what happened a few years ago." Jinora sighed, but nodded in reply. "Mercury poisoning, it forcibly induced the Avatar State. Untreated, it would have killed her by itself, but Zaheer wasn't going to wait around. Luckily, we were able to get to her in time, and she was able to fight off most of his followers herself as well as Zaheer himself, for a time, but the cost was high for her. She was paralyzed from the waist down for six months, but it took Korra three years to get past the emotional and spiritual wounds inflicted on her."

Liara didn't need Jinora to tell her the rest, having a pretty good idea of what the airbender was trying to say without saying it outright. One thing she had learned already from her time here was that self realization and personal experience were the best teachers, so long as someone was there to guide the way. Jinora was quickly becoming that person for her while Katara was becoming Shepard's guide. It was….a welcome feeling, to say the least, to have someone to help guide her out of the darkness she had willingly fallen into in order to save her home. But walking the path herself, that was the harder thing to do. As for what Jinora was saying, it would take time, to get through everything they had done, that she had done, but that was what they had now. What she was reluctant to let herself feel, to acknowledge.

Liara didn't know where the first tear came from, only that she was immensely grateful for what Jinora had said. "Thank you….Master Jinora. Just when I thought I had you figured out, you lead the way to something I needed to hear."

Jinora met Liara's tear stained face and nodded before reaching up to put a hand on her shoulder. "That's what happens when you live with someone like my dad and Gran Gran. Their wisdom tends to rub off." She offered a soft smile before pulling out a handkerchief from her robes, which Liara accepted without a word. "I might not know what you had to do to survive, but I can tell you still possess a good, gentle soul Liara. That cold, icy demeanor I've seen only a handful of times isn't you, it's just the person you created to shield yourself from the trials you faced."

"Sometimes I can't tell the difference anymore….but I'm starting to remember her." Liara agreed as she wiped at her eyes with the silk piece of cloth Jinora had handed her. When she went to hand it back, the young woman shook her head and held her back, to which the asari could only nod her thanks. "This world truly is everything we could have asked for." She whispered, her deep blue eyes still wet with tears yet the smile on her face told another tale.

Having done what needed to be done, Jinora walked away, leaving the asari to process what she had told her. She wasn't at all surprised though when a blue flicker appeared at her side as she left the gazebo. "I don't think I've ever heard something quite so profound from someone so young kiddo." Kasumi said, amazement more than audible in her voice as she fell in step with the master airbender, who only shrugged and blushed in response to the compliment. "And humble? No wonder that boyfriend of yours is so smitten with you." She teased, which earned a quiet giggle from Jinora.

Tucking a stray hair behind her ear, Jinora's cheeks returned to a far more normal shade as she stopped to look into Kasumi's face, having just the perfect angle to look passed the shadows of the hood and to the woman herself. "Thanks, but it doesn't take a genius to tell you're all troubled, and just need a peaceful place to recover, in mind, body, and spirit. Whether that's here or at Asami's estate is entirely up to you and your friends Kasumi, but you'll always have a place here, wherever the path before you leads."

Being able to peer underneath the hood, Jinora saw Kasumi's ever present mischievous visage disappear as the master thief's gaze became darker and less vibrant. Despite the emotions racing across her face, Kasumi managed to pull her lips into a grateful smile, even as a tear rolled down her right cheek. "Thank you Jinora….it'll be nice to have somewhere to set down roots again. The Normandy might have been our home, but it was still a warship, a place where we gathered to fight off enemies that crawled out of the stuff of nightmares. Being firmly rooted on the ground again, calling a place like this home? It would be a nice change…." As much as she enjoyed what she did, Kasumi had seen too much to want to keep doing it for the rest of her days.

"Then I hope you're able to do that and more Kasumi." Jinora replied and bowed at the waist, her hands folded neatly before her. Kasumi returned the gesture before disappearing, leaving Jinora to walk back to the main temple grounds alone. She had done what she could in her own way, it was up to the thief to do the rest, as it was for the rest of the woman's allies. Speaking of, Jinora stopped and had to do a double take when she saw Elizabeth and Gran Gran in the main temple courtyard, poised for another sparring match from their respective stances. "Gran Gran?"

Katera's smile and focus alike didn't falter while Shepard shot the young woman a lopsided grin. "Mornin' Jinora, just thought I'd get some much needed exercise in, and Master Katara was gracious enough to lend a hand."

"What she means is that she wanted someone to use her as a glorified pinata." Ashley shot back, leaning against a nearby pillar, her arms crossed under her chest, but even at this distance, Jinora could see the amused smirk on the raven haired woman's face. "Care to watch the show kid? Shoulda brought some popcorn now that I think about it Skipper."

"Laugh it up Ash, 'cause you're next." Jinora chuckled as Ashley's smirk disappeared about the same time Elizabeth and Katara began their morning match. As their last bout had proven already, Shepard was far outclassed against the master waterbender and healer, but Jinora was a little surprised when it became apparent that the last twenty four hours had done a great deal for the emerald eyed woman. She still couldn't get close to landing a hit on Gran Gran, who literally danced around the marine with the grace all waterbenders possessed, but Shepard got closer than she had the day before.

From observing the marine's stance, Jinora couldn't help but notice some similarities between both Earth and Air bending warriors in the way Shepard moved. She was light footed and agile like an airbender, ensuring she was able to keep pace with the master waterbender's defensive to offensive routine that was the trademark of any skilled waterbender, yet seemed to prefer to keep herself rooted to the ground, moving only as much as she needed to in order to avoid Katara's attacks. Jinora couldn't help but draw parallels to Kuvira and Zaheer respectively, having seen them both fight at least once if not more against other opponents, mainly Korra, and it was more than a little eerie to see the marine in action.

That said, she wasn't physically on par with either since the few agile leaps and dodges she employed were just as limited, but they were still there. Water whips went past the self proclaimed Spectre as she ducked and weaved around them, having seemed to have learned her lesson from when Kya threw her into Liara's arms the other night, while icicle blasts were either batted aside with her bare hands or avoided altogether. The determined, utterly focused look in Shepard's emerald eyes was also something to behold, and even more than a little surprising, Katara looked just as determined even as the smile on her wrinkled face never wavered or faltered as they traded blows. Or rather, Katara kept Shepard on the defensive throughout the match, but the point remained the same.

It was like looking at another person altogether, a distinction not lost on Ashley. Waving her hand towards the two sparring women, Ashley let her hand fall back across her arm, which still rested across her chest. "I don't think I've seen Shepard move so well in a while. Whatever that old woman said to her the other day, it seems to have struck a much needed nerve in her thick head. I don't know if it was something in that glowy water of yours or what kid, but personally, I don't care. It's nice to see her back to the woman I followed off of Eden Prime way back when."

"Eden Prime? Is that where you're from?" The idea of other worlds, where life was in abundance, was still an amazing idea to swallow for Jinora, but she had adjusted well to the concept. That said, this was the first time she had asked such a direct question of any of the strangers regarding their homes, where they had come from, and the like.

Ashley's answer was to shake her head and laugh. "No, but I was stationed there for a while. Eden Prime was the closest thing to paradise you could get, at least according to the locals anyway. They made it a point to keep city development down to a minimum, so that the countryside was untouched, left serene as we found it. Can't say I blamed them either since it was pretty on that planet. I was part of a standing army on the ground, security gig mostly, ran patrols with the rest of my squad, broke up a few civilian disputes, stuff like that, but beyond that nothing really exciting happened. Then we found something during an excavation when a team was sent out to make plans to expand one of the monorails running through the area. Once news got out of what we had discovered though, everything went to Hell in a handbasket, to put it lightly. But that's how I met Shepard, she came down there to pick up what we had found, and stuck around to save Eden Prime's people that were being attacked by a race of machines called the geth. Another long story, but after everything was said and done, Shepard decided to keep me around and asked that I be assigned to her team. The rest is history."

She finished with a nonchalant shrug, but Jinora could see the sheer gratitude and respect in the woman's eyes with ease. It was a look she had come to expect when any of Shepard's people talked about her and how she had effected them in some way or another. Someone so selfless was incredibly hard to come by. Most of the time, people had some sort of hidden agenda, in some cases even without being consciously being aware of it. Jinora didn't fault them for it, she didn't exactly like it but she understood it since it was simply the way the world worked. But she and the rest of the Air Nomads and Acolytes weren't so selfishly motivated, and it seemed they weren't alone if Shepard and her people were any example. True, some of them were a little….rough around the edges, Jack, Grunt, and Zaeed being the best examples, but the rest were overall decent people that would have done well as Nomads themselves to some degree or another. Whatever the case though, so long as there were at least one bright spot in the greater expanse of the cosmos where these people came from, it gave her hope that maybe, just maybe there was hope that they'd one day find peace and balance, a goal the Avatar had fought for since its inception thanks to Wan and Raava so long ago.

Jinora's thoughts were brought back to the present when she heard a grunt, and saw a water tendril wrapped around Shepard's right foot. It seemed Gran Gran had gotten the elusive marine at last, and promptly tossed her into the air before shooting her right hand out in front of her, another tendril forming around Shepard's waist before she brought her hand and the tendril she was controlling down onto the stone beneath Elizabeth. "Ow…." Shepard groaned as the wind was forced out of her from the impact with the unforgiving ground, Katara's water tendril falling apart as she let go her control over the liquid.

"I seem to recall you didn't wish for me to hold anything back." Katara chimed in, much to Ashley's amusement as the marine snorted none too quietly behind Jinora who had since started towards the old waterbender.

"Yeah, kinda regretting that now." The Spectre groaned and slowly stood up, one hand pressed against the small of her back until something popped and she gave a relieved groan. "Although, I have to admit that I'm unused to getting beaten up by water."

"It could always be worse." Katara replied and let her gaze fall on Jinora, who stopped and stared back at the old woman when she realized where her thoughts had went.

Shepard realized it about the same time as Ashley did. "You got a point there Kat. Water whipped seems better than being blasted by a cold breeze."

"Or burned alive, and don't forget, buried alive." Ashley supplied helpfully.

Jinora could only shake her head as she held up her hands. "If she doesn't want to spar against me, I'm not going to force the issue Gran Gran. And Ashley, you're not helping." Jinora shot over her shoulder just as the second human Spectre started to walk away, a sly grin all but splitting her head in half.

"I know, I hear that a lot." With that, Ash waved dismissively over her shoulder before heading off for the guest quarters.

A heavy sigh from Shepard caught Jinora's attention as she turned and saw the woman trying to shake off the water from Katara's whip. "On the topic of stiff breezes Jin, mind throwing one my way? It's gonna take forever to dry this thing out otherwise." Shepard went so far as to hold up her right sleeve, dripping with water that made the orange and red Airbending robes heavy and unwieldy to walk around in.

"I think I'll leave this in your capable hands Jinora. Thank you for the morning workout Elizabeth. I was honestly surprised when you offered to do so when you found me this morning."

"Well I seem to recall someone saying they liked to be reminded of the good ol days. And I needed the exercise, so we both got something out of it Master Katara." Shepard shot back, just as Jinora sent a concentrated blast of hot air across her. Nodding her thanks to her, Shepard held out her hand to the old waterbender. "Same time tomorrow then?"

"I think I would like that immensely." Jinora smiled silently as Katara grasped Elizabeth's hand firmly in her own. "Just don't complain too much when you wind up on your back again young one." Katara said, letting the playful challenge drop between them as their hands separated with the same ease.

"I'll get you one of these days grandma." Shepard shot back, more than happy to accept before she and Jinora watched her go, a noticeable spring in her step that hadn't been there before in some time. Jinora wasn't too surprised when Shepard didn't speak until Katara was out of earshot, having a feeling there was something on her mind. She wasn't wrong. "Your grandmother's a good woman Jinora. If someone had told me we'd crash land on this rock a few months ago, and that I'd have her to thank for my still being upright, let alone breathing, I would have probably asked if they were off their medication. Now? Even after all the crap we went through to get here, I'm still amazed by everything I've seen since coming to this world kid."

"Is that a good thing?" From the grin still plastered on Shepard's face, Jinora had a feeling she knew the answer to her question already.

"A very good thing, I always wanted to see all the galaxy had to offer and your planet is as unique as it can get." Jinora started to open her mouth once Shepard had spoken, but the sound of her stomach growling interrupted whatever else might have followed. With a self deprecating laugh, Shepard started away towards the dining hall. "I don't know if you've eaten yet today, but I know I could use a hot meal after getting thrown around by your surprisingly agile grandma this morning." While she left a lot unsaid, Jinora left that morning's events untouched since there was little point in bringing it up again, especially with other people starting to filter towards the dining hall.

Deciding to break the uneasy silence that had fallen between them, Jinora nudged Shepard in the side with her elbow once she had caught up with the older woman. "You obviously haven't fought against an airbender Shepard." Jinora shot back, unable to help the conspiratorial smirk on her face that had Shepard grinning right back. Whatever else might come that morning, on top of the strangeness that had begun the day, it seemed the rest of it would be interesting if nothing else.

Breakfast was a cheerful affair, even when Tenzin called for a moment of silence to offer thanks for the food, the company, and their overall good health, among other things. While most of Shepard's people weren't religious by nature, the few that were didn't hesitate to join in the little prayer, especially since they had quite a lot to be thankful for. Even Jack and Grunt remained silent, although it didn't last long since the moment Tenzin said they could eat, they were the first to dig into the food set before them. Zaeed insisted on eating standing up against the far wall, as if trying to appear as a grouchy, scar faced gargoyle, but no one said a word, not that a lot of people were brave enough to say anything to the mercenary in question, especially once word got out about his involvement in helping to neutralize the firebenders during their attempted escape.

Much to Shepard's surprise, Asami walked in alone, a knowing smirk on her face as she took a seat next to Tali and Garrus, who were across from James, Ashley, and Shepard. Grunt, Jack, and Zaeed, along with Samantha, Kelly, Jeff, EDI, and Chakwas, were scattered amongst the Air Nomads and Tenzin's family. "Sorry I'm late, it took a little longer than I thought to wriggle free of Korra's grasp once she fell asleep."

"I'm impressed, I thought you'd be...busy." Shepard mused, feigning innocence more for Ikke and Meelo's benefit, especially since Pema was giving her a knowing look from across the hall. Asami chuckled but said nothing as she was given a fresh plate just as she got comfortable on the wooden bench.

"I was tempted to stay." She admitted, which had the members of Shepard's team snickering into their respective plates or glasses. "But I figured I'd come here and ask about my offer to let you move into my estate, at least until you had a chance to decide on what you end up doing from there."

"Ever the business woman huh? I can respect that." James chimed in. "You sure you want all of us troublemakers under your roof Ms. Sato?"

"I think I can handle it. I am the CEO of a multi-billion yuan industry on the cutting edge of transportation and industrial technology." Asami shot back, a mischievous smile on her full lips for all to see.

"Out of curiosity… do you have a butler named Alfred?" Kasumi asked as she flickered into sight from nowhere, a mischievous smile on her face. Apparently she had taken Jinora's words to heart, and was the better for it as she casually swiped a few eating utensils for herself before settling down at a nearby table.

"Kasumi, let her catch up before throwing movie references at her." Shepard said, only to see a mock pout on Kasumi's face for her trouble.

"Party pooper. You used to be so much fun Shepard."

Garrus, much to Shepard's silent glee, was quick to get Asami's attention, and to get the conversation back to the topic on the table. "Getting back on track Ms. Sato, I for one wouldn't mind a change of scenery. No offense Master Tenzin, but I was never a fan of being trapped on an island temple. You do have a pretty nice home, but I think we can all agree we've overstayed our welcome."

"Agreed." Ashley stated, dropping her sarcastic tone from earlier. It didn't last, but for a few seconds she was all business. "I'm grateful of the fact you helped us out when we needed it, but like scarface said, I think it's time we moved on. 'Sides, I'm surprised you haven't pulled out what's left of your beard after that octo-shark fiasco." Ikke and Grunt had the decency to look elsewhere as the krogan grumbled something that sounded like 'annoying shark thing got me in trouble'.

"Yes, that was rather….interesting." Tenzin agreed hesitantly before coughing into his hand. "But no thanks is needed Miss Williams. There might have been a few….awkward moments between us, but overall it's been quite enlightening to have met your assorted people."

"That's a polite way of saying we've brought more excitement to your little corner of the galaxy than you likely wanted." Garrus butted in, to which Tenzin sighed but didn't argue the point either.

"I know we made a rather alarming entrance when our ship crash landed in the bay, but besides those few officers that investigated the crash along with Chief Beifong, no one outside this island really knows of our existence. If that's the case, then how do we get to Asami's estate without drawing more attention?" Liara was the first to point out the obvious flaw in everyone's plan. So far, they had gone out of their way to try and keep their presence as secretive as possible, and while Jack and Zaeed had flown the coop, which had resulted in James and Ashley going after them alongside Korra and Asami, none of their more exotic appearing allies had been seen outside the island.

"Oh I'm sure I can think of something." Asami offered, having already thought of a way to get Shepard's people off the island without drawing further attention.

"I'm likin' you already 'Sami. No wonder you're ban - err...sleeping with her Avatarness." Jack mused aloud, only correcting herself when Shepard shot her a withering glare from across the hall. Instead of addressing the look that could stop a raging krogan in its tracks, Jack shrugged nonchalantly as she tried to ignore the emerald glare being thrown her way, playing it off as something else entirely. "What? Someone had to be the brains between those two, and we already know who that is."

"Thanks, I think." Asami replied hesitantly, only to see Shepard chuckle and shake her head. "I take it that was a compliment from her?"

"Yeah, and the more amazing thing, she's being mostly nice." Shepard deadpanned before taking a sip from the glass that had been set before her. She raised an eyebrow in approval when sweet tasting juice of some kind hit her tongue, but didn't react further save to nod quietly as she set the glass down beside her own plate of food.

True to form, Jack didn't remain 'nice' for long as she turned and scowled darkly at Elizabeth. "Screw you Shepard, better yet, let Liara do that for ya."

"Like I said, Jack's being nice." Out of the corner of her eye, Shepard could see Tenzin slapping a hand over his face while Pema tried not to laugh while putting her hands over little Rohan's ears.

"I… see." Asami said slowly and looked a little uncertain at how to take the 'compliment'. She instead quickly returned to the topic of discussion, which was probably the safer option in any event. "A-anyway, as I said before, I'm willing to have you and your friends move in, if that's what you want to do. Just give me an answer when you've had a chance to talk things out."

Shepard put her fork down and leaned back, a weary if grateful gleam in her green eyes as she met Asami's gaze. "Thanks Asami, but there's a couple things holding me back from saying yes to your rather generous offer here and now, the biggest of which being the fact our ship is still in the bay. We can't leave the Normandy laying around, especially if there's a chance we can repair her. We have to at least get in contact with our people, let them know we're still alive if nothing else, and see what happens from there."

"Then there's the simple fact you might be getting in over your head by having us all move in, no matter how big your home might be kiddo." James stated, hating to shoot down the idea, but he knew it was what Shepard was working towards. "I mean, I know all those guys and girls who'd be running through your home, Ms. Sato, and since I'm one of those idiots, I can pretty much guarantee you it won't be pretty."

"I think I see what you're getting at." Shepard was the first to notice a mix of amusement and sorrow cross over Asami's face then, but before she could say anything, Asami set her own food down for a moment before seeming to try and compose herself as she set her hands on the edge of the table. "I don't know how much you might have heard, but when I first met Korra, Mako, and his brother Bolin, my father was still around, and unbeknownst to me, he had set up a weapons factory in the nearby mountains behind our estate for a group called the Equalists. The workshop's been emptied of any trace of their influence over my family, but the space itself is still there."

Shepard wasn't all that surprised when Tenzin started to protest, no doubt in an effort to spare the woman from having to endure going through that part of her life again. She had heard enough to understand why, and her already high respect for the man only went up further because of it. "Asami you don't have to-" Tenzin was cut off when Asami gave him a sad, little smile.

"It's alright. It's been….a couple months since I lost him, and he was the man I once knew as my father, before we lost mom all those years ago. That space isn't being used for anything, and if it helps them and gets them out of your hair Master Tenzin, I think I can go in there again."

No one knew just what to say as that little revelation was dropped in the middle of the hall, and while Shepard had heard a little of Asami's recent loss from the woman herself just the other day, even she was at a loss for words. Losing family was the hardest thing one could endure, even if said parent or sibling had lost their way at some point as Hiroshi Sato had from the sound of it. But not everyone was so tongue tied. True to form, despite her notably more aggressive sarcasm when compared to other members of the team, Ashley had a quote from one of her family's choices in old Earth literature.

"Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann'd:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad…..

Funny thing, I didn't appreciate Christina Rossetti when I first heard some of her stuff when I was your age Asami, but hearing some of what you just dropped on us brought her back. I don't know who these Equalists guys were, but I know the tragic villain story when I hear it. I take it someone got to your old man, turned him against the rest of the world?"

"That'd be a pretty close guess, yeah." Asami quietly agreed.

"Can't exactly say that I understand how it's like to have someone turn against the world like that… but I know how it is to have the world turn against your family. That's a whole other story, but loss? Yeah, I think you know we've all lost a lot by the time we landed here, so we know how that feels all too well." Ashley continued solemnly, before she perked up and crossed her arms across her chest. "But the fact you're willing to let us crash in your old man's workshop, where he created God knows what for these Equalists, says a lot about your strength Asami."

The compliment, sincere and heartfelt, was enough to return some of the cheer to Asami's face even if the smile on her lips didn't quite reach her eyes. "If you had asked me a few years ago when the sting of his well meaning betrayal was still fresh, I might not have been so open to the idea of visiting that place again."

"Time heals all wounds or some shit like that, right Ash?" Jack asked with a shrug and looked at the black haired soldier.

"Let's go with something like that." She replied with an annoyed eyeroll at Jack's antics.

"Well I for one am quite grateful and thankful you offered to put up with us at all Asami." Tali stated, and promptly perked up as an idea came to her. "Just out of curiosity Ms. Sato, but just how big is this workshop you mentioned? I do not mean to be rude, but I don't see us being able to hold the Normandy if we do somehow manage to drag it out of the bay. But simply holding us and our equipment and supplies? That would be another matter entirely."

"You and whatever you decide to bring along won't be a problem at all Tali, but yeah, I don't think fitting your starship will be possible, even if we expanded the old workshop to encompass more of the mountain it was built into. I do however have a number of airfields attached to my name, as part of Future Industries, where we test new airship designs, engines, things like that. It shouldn't be too difficult to move your ship there. If you have need of any materials, then I'll most likely able to provide them, as long as they can even be found on this planet. That's a sentence I never thought I'd say." Asami mused, unable to help but smile despite the words that had just passed her lips.

"Stick around kiddo, I'm sure we'll get you saying a lot more things along those lines." James was quick to chime in, a quick round of laughter following in its wake. Only after things had quieted down though did the smile on his own face fade away. "But seriously Asami, we appreciate whatever help you can throw our way."

"Agreed. While we will be forever grateful for what you've done for us Master Tenzin, Pema, Master Katara, everyone, I think it's time for us to move on." Liara intoned quietly, earning a silent nod from most everyone among the crew.

"Awww….you're leaving? Can we come visit at least?" Ikke was quick to ask, her emotions switching from sad at the fact they were preparing to leave Air Temple Island behind for greener pastures, to hopeful curiosity just as quickly. Not only that, but before anyone could stop her, Ikke had since blasted off and landed beside Liara, and wrapped her slender arms around the asari's waist.

Shepard chuckled but remained silent, letting Liara answer the question since it hadn't been directed at her. That and she was enjoying the playfully annoyed glare the woman in question was throwing her way for being left defenseless and outflanked in the face of Ikke's all too adorable, insatiable curiosity. Liara blew out a sigh and rolled her dark blue eyes before untangling herself from Ikke's grasp, and surprised Shepard to no end when she pulled the girl to her side with one arm. "I would like that a great deal Ikke. And we're only moving to Asami's estate, I'm sure she wouldn't mind the company either."

"Of course not. You guys are always welcome." Asami was quick to say, and shared a knowing look with Shepard. It was no secret to either woman that Ikke and Liara had bonded, and neither was about to deny their student/teacher relationship the pair seemed to have formed.

"Just keep away from Jack, Grunt, Joker, Garrus, Kasumi and most of the others, then I can at least pretend that nothing too unpredictable will happen."

"Hey! I'm not that bad with kids Commander." Joker was quick to protest to the contrary.

EDI however was all too happy to burst his bubble. "Jeff, you more often than not act as if you think that tact is something you eat, so yes you are that bad."

Joker sighed, went up to scratch beneath his hat, which he remembered had a hole in it thanks to Lin shooting it right off his head with one of her metallic grapple lines when they had first met, and flopped his hand back down into his lap with a groan. "Sold out by my robotic girlfriend. Thanks for the love and support EDI."

He perked up a little though when EDI left a quick kiss on his bushy cheek. "You're welcome."

"And that is still the weirdest thing I've ever seen." Ashley grunted into her cup after EDI had straightened in her seat next to the perpetually sarcastic pilot.

"You should have seen what I've seen." Kasumi chimed in from the side, "Some of it I have trouble believing myself."

Ashley shuddered at the images Kasumi had conjured up just with that less than ominously cheerful comment. "I'd rather not know, I might want to eat later today."

"It's not that bad, what kind of creep do you take me for? Besides, I got the vids to prove it." No sooner had the words left his mouth did Joker's omni-tool flash a warning, saying that someone was hacking their way past his firewall. One look at EDI's face as an orange visor appeared over her synthetic eyes and he knew who the culprit was. "Destroying evidence now? Really? That's not helping my case at all babe."

"Just because I see and hear everything that happens on the Normandy doesn't mean I wish to share it with everyone else Jeff."

"Eh, good point." Joker said with a casual shrug of his shoulders.

"And this is the part where I throw up in my mouth a little bit." Tali muttered under her breath.

"Don't do that, babe. You'll only regret it later when you have to clean out your suit." Garrus told her cheekily. "Or is that the idea, give you an excuse to...step out of it for a bit?"

"For you Garr-bear? In your dreams." Tali playfully shot him down, which had Garrus clutching at his chest in mock pain as he flailed about, acting as if she had mortally wounded him.

"Last chance to back out Asami." Shepard said once the recent round of laughter had died down.

Asami wasn't hearing it though, and shook her head vigorously in reply, her pale green eyes gleaming as laughter continued to escape her. "And miss all of this? Not on your life Liz." There was little chance of persuading her otherwise Shepard realized, and if she were being honest, she didn't want to. There hadn't been enough reason to laugh so freely like this in too damn long.

It took a couple days to pack everything up and get it ready to move to Asami's home up in the Dragon Flats Boroughs, but between Shepard's team, the Air Nomads, and some of Asami's own dedicated workforce, the job was done in short order. As for how they were getting to the Boroughs without drawing any more unwanted attention to themselves, Asami had thought of that as well. The sound of an airship coming to a stop above the island was hard to miss, and under the pretense of overseeing a shipment of new wing suits for the newest batch of Sky Rangers trained by Master Tenzin and the rest of the veteran rangers, they were able to board the vessel with all of their gear and personal effects in tow. As far as plans went, it was pretty good in Shepard's opinion, even the crotchety Zaeed muttered something to the effect of 'clever girl that Asami', although he made it a point to say it when said woman wasn't in earshot.

Which found Elizabeth leaning over the railing on the top deck of the black ship as it ascended and began its journey back to Asami's estate. The reason why was pretty simple, given the incredible view of the sun just rising over the horizon and the mountains in the distance. But the moment ended, albeit on a pleasant note, when she and Liara heard someone approaching them from behind. "For being a few centuries out of date compared to what we're used to, it's a pretty well put together craft." She said aloud when she sensed rather than saw Asami and Korra walking across the wooden deck towards her. "You truly are a genius Asami."

"Indeed, it's most impressive what they are able to achieve despite their rather primitive technology." Liara agreed with a small smile.

"Not everyone can zip around in fancy space ships." Korra pointed out with an annoyed huff.

Liara blanched as she turned and put her back to the metallic railing, an apologetic look on her face. "My apologies, it seems my race's rather well hidden arrogance slipped through for a moment. It's not commonly stated, but my people are known for….at least in certain circles, believing themselves the best of the three Council races that govern the rest of the galaxy at large. Some could safely argue it's genetic, that and as much as I try to downplay it, I am one quarter krogan."

"You mean somewhere in your ancestry you have someone like Grunt in your family tree? I'm not even going to try and figure that one out." Korra breathed out in disbelief, unable to process that bit of news even after receiving an explanation on how asari reproduced.

Ignoring the two, and waving off Liara's apology in any event, Asami crossed her arms and jerked her head towards the ship at large. "So, this is first time by airship. You're doing better than I thought you would Shepard. Some people I've taken up for the first time tend to get airsick. Bolin threw up the first time if I recall."

"He is an Earthbender, Asami. They tend to like to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground." Korra was quick to point out.

Shepard chuckled as she too stood with her back to the railing, the wind running through her short, red locks. "Meh, a ship's a ship at the end of the day. Granted, I'm not used to feeling the wind on my face, but it's not that much different from what I'm used to. That and the view from up here is pretty amazing without a six inch sheet of safety glass and an atmospheric barrier, just in case the glass were to give out in the vacuum of space for some reason."

"Glad to hear it." Asami said with a small chuckle of her own. "Now all that's left is to get your own ship to one of my airfields and we'll be set, but let's get you settled in first."

"Agreed, besides, we have all the time in the world to get back to work. I'm rather liking this extended vacation I seem to have found myself on."

"I can't imagine why that might be." Liara deadpanned, her blue eyes alight as she mentally recalled last night's activities. Shepard could only shake her head and cough in an effort to spare Korra's far more delicate nature. Catching the hint, Liara was quick to change the subject. "That aside, I have to admit that it is nice to travel without getting shot at the whole time, and the beds are rather comfortable too."

"I don't know how you could sleep on those beds in the Air Temple personally. Are they supposed to be that….stiff?" Shepard asked, which earned a knowing smirk from Korra.

"According to Master Tenzin, they're supposed to be good on your back, but I kinda have to agree with you Liz, especially after living with Asami off and on for the past couple months."

Shepard nodded in agreement to Korra's assessment, and rubbed at the small of her back with her left hand, grimacing as something popped in her spine. "Well, no offense to the guy that saved our asses, but he can keep his beds. Even Alliance standard issue wasn't that rough."

"I don't know, it depends on who you're sharing the bed with." Liara was quick to point out, which earned a conspiratorial wink from Asami while Korra and Elizabeth groaned in equal parts exasperation and embarrassment.

"I think you've been hanging around Joker too much Liara, but you're right too." Shepard admitted, smiling despite the fact she believed what she had just said about Liara being affected by Joker's idea of 'humor'.

"I usually am." Liara teased and left a quick, chaste kiss on Shepard's cheek before wrapping a hand around the human's waist. "But again, thank you for this Ms. Sato."

"Will you stop that already? It's really no trouble at all. Besides, I wasn't kidding when I said that the house had gotten rather lonely after Bolin and Mako's family moved out to find their own place." Asami was about to say something more, but the sound of a radio being turned on had her and the others on deck turning to the source of the sound, which was surprisingly coming from Tali's arm.

"Sorry, but I was curious and wanted to see if I could tune my omni-tool to pick up the local station. They have some catchy songs. I can see why James likes it so much." She explained, her omni-tool's interface pulled up and displaying a signal strength bar, along with the name of the station, inputted by the quarian. Through the integrated speakers in the glowing device, a woman's voice could be heard, singing about how she had left her heart in the city they were even then flying over. Sending the program to the rest of the crew with a few precise taps on her personal holographic keyboard, Tali walked off, merrily humming the song that was currently playing on her arm.

"I was wondering if Tali would figure that out." Samantha stated, positively beaming as she and Kelly sauntered over to the four women just as Tali disappeared below decks. "Now we don't have to be chained to one of those little radios anymore, although they are kinda cute I'll admit."

"Cute?" Kelly asked, a mock pout on her face. "You tend to throw that word around a bit much Sam, along with husky, sexy, and-" Whatever else she was going to say was cut off by the hand over her mouth.

"Uh….right." Sam blushed, her dark skinned cheeks turning several shades darker until she looked down at her arm, and frowned. "That's odd." She mused aloud, and started tapping at her omni-tool. Shepard and Liara gave her curious glances, but the data analysis specialist was lost in her own little world as her fingers danced across the keyboard. "There seems to be another signal piggybacking on the main broadcast. Let me try and clear it up a bit."

"It's probably just the Pro-Bending station. They tend to do stats, recaps, and infomercials for Republic City businesses." Asami supplied, but blinked when Sam didn't respond to her at all. "Uh, she did hear me didn't she?"

"Yeah she heard you, but once she gets caught up in something she tends to tune out everything else." Kelly helpfully explained, and lightly tapped Samantha on the arm.

Jerking her head up, Sam blinked in confusion before she realized what she had done. "Oh I'm so sorry! Kelly's right, I do tend to zone out when I'm in the middle of something interesting, or important. But no, I don't think it's the Pro-bending station Ms. Sato." Blushing profusely at this point, Sam deactivated her omni-tool, but left the radio on before rubbing the back of her neck in embarrassment. "Sorry."

"Meh, don't worry about it. But I seem to notice that's a thing with geniuses." Korra stated and flicked her blue eyes towards Asami for emphasis. "Getting wrapped up in your work to the point you tend to miss the world around you."

"Oh no, I'd hardly classify myself as a genius Miss Korra." Sam was quick to protest, smiling sheepishly in response to the praise while Kelly and Asami shared a light hearted laugh.

"I don't know, your IQ test scores would say otherwise." Liara quietly stated, earning a sharp, surprised gasp from Samantha.

"You didn't!" Sam shouted, far more flummoxed than outraged by the fact the asari had pried into her background. It was all Shepard could do not to slap a hand over her face, an impulse that became harder to fight against at the almost smug, amused look on Liara's face.

"I was the Shadow Broker, Miss Traynor. Getting into other people's business was part of the job, although I had a perfectly good reason to investigate you and the rest of our new crewmembers at the time."

"I guess you would," Sam relented before perking up almost as quickly, "just out of curiousity what did you think of me?"

Liara merely patted Sam on the arm in reassurance before walking away from the group at large. "I think that was her way of saying if she thought you had been a threat to the safety of the crew in any way, we wouldn't be having this conversation." Shepard answered for her, breaking the silence that had fallen as everyone watched her go. "Or she would have made you an offer you couldn't refuse."

Korra shuddered at what little of their conversation she'd been able to follow. "And the trend of you scaring me to death continues Elizabeth."

"Oh believe me Korra, that was nothing." Shepard replied, but secretly, she was glad Korra, Asami, and the rest of their friends and family would never find out just how deep terror could go.

The short flight to Asami's estate was otherwise cheerful and uneventful. Once the ship had landed outside her home, the process of unpacking began, but more importantly, Shepard realized as Asami coordinated their efforts in getting situated in her father's old workshop, they were settling down somewhere they could call home. Watching the light and life return to everyone that she called family was its own reward, only proving once more that they couldn't have gotten luckier in their places to crash land. Even when Korra's giant polar bear dog, Naga, almost jumped on her and the Avatar upon them disembarking Asami's airship, Shepard's smile never wavered.

Staring off into the distance as the sun began to set over the mountains surrounding part of the Sato estate, Elizabeth couldn't help but marvel at what they had found here. "This truly is a peaceful place."

End Notes; I owe Nomad-117 a great deal in helping me get this one squared away. While we might have set up a few things for future chapters, (bonus points for anyone that comments on them in the reviews ; D), this chapter was about moving forward. They'll still have a long way to go, some longer than others, but overall, the crew of the Normandy are in a pretty good place right now thanks in no small part to Tenzin and his crazy family. At any rate, I hope you guys agree and we'll see you, hopefully, a lot sooner.

Also, wanted to give a quick shoutout to a fan song I found on Youtube by a rather awesome singer called Adrisaurus. She has a lot of Last Airbender and LoK related fan songs she's done, along with a lot of other shows and movies, and it was her rendition of "Left My Heart In Republic City" that was playing on Tali's omni-tool earlier. Anyway, see ya folks!

Chapter Text

Opening Notes; This chapter was partly inspired by Iroh and Zuko's father/son relationship that can be seen plain as day throughout their journey in ATLA. Let's just say he isn't the only one that can make the feels come alive, if we have anything to say about it anyway. Hopefully we can get the same result with what we plan to put together here. At any rate, enjoy folks.

Chapter 9: Remnants of the Past

It was a cold day in Hell when EDi didn't know where her better half was, and while she wasn't his keeper by any means, the synthetic was still deeply protective of the sarcastic pilot, and rarely felt comfortable in letting him out of her sight. So one of the few times she had been away, helping Shepard and the others get things situated in the surprisingly large underground workshop that had once belonged to Asami's father, she came back to their quarters in the estate to find Jeff had left. Thankfully it didn't take her long to find him, but when she did, EDI couldn't help but wonder if she should have left him be when her eyes fell on a rose covered marker of some kind a little ways away from the main house. "Jeff? What are you doing?" EDI's soft voiced asked gently from behind. Without turning around, Joker merely stepped to the side to reveal the tombstone in front of him.

"I-I don't know myself." He said quietly and stared at the grave. "It's just… seeing this, it brought back some things, and… I don't know what to do."

EDI's thoughts raced at that since it was obvious that he was in distress, no doubt due to the fact that the grave of Asami's father, upon closer inspection now that she could see the name engraved in the stone, reminded him of his own family. A family that wasn't there any longer. The AI really wished that Shepard were with her, she herself still hadn't mastered the art of dealing with organic emotions, and she was afraid that she would cause Jeff further pain. Instead she remained silent, the ever vigilant guardian.

It was probably for the best as Jeff gave her a sidelong glance, his cheeks damp from the tears that had started to fall. "I always thought that I would die before them you know? Flying a warship isn't exactly safe, especially with following Shepard around for as long as we did. They were back home, no Collectors or heretic Geth were trying to kill them, and life was good… and now? Now I'm the only one left, how the hell is that fair?"

"It's not…." EDI stated softly, and gently wrapped one metallic arm around Jeff's waist, which he accepted gladly as he leaned into her side.

"'s not, but that's life, huh?" He muttered softly before giving a derisive scoff. "We just have to move on or something like that, tch, as if it were that simple."

"Jeff…" EDI began to say, but was ignored.

"I was supposed to protect them you know? I always told them not to worry, 'If you're ever in trouble I'll be coming to get you, promise.', shows how much faith you can put in my promises." He said with disgust evident in his voice. "They probably cursed me with their last breath, not that I would blame them. Great son and older brother I turned out to be."

"I doubt that flyboy." Both EDI and Jeff looked up to see Ashley standing a few feet away, a stray breeze tugging at her shoulder length raven hair as she crossed her arms under her chest. "We've all lost people jackass, but if they loved you at all, they'd know you did your best to do all you could to give them a chance, just like we all did."

"It just wasn't enough." Jeff replied glumly.

The scowl that had been on her face softened as Ash closed the distance between them and put a hand on Jeff's shaking shoulder. It was the first time she'd ever seen him so shaken up, but honestly, in her opinion, it was well past time he finally broke down. It was no secret among the crew that he hadn't allowed himself a chance to grieve when news came of the attack on Tiptree, his home colony. "It never is… or at least it feels that way. I can't say it gets better Jeff, but it does get easier to live with. I'm one of the lucky ones, most of my family's still around, but there's a lot of people out there who can't say the same thing." A simple nod to the grave marker in front of them said the rest. Even if Hiroshi Sato hadn't been a victim of the Reapers, the message was the same.

While it wasn't lost on Jeff what Ashley was trying to tell him, he couldn't bring himself to care past the gaping maw in his chest. "You remember the reports...colonies overrun… outposts destroyed, there are a lot more dead people out there… far too many."

"We're still around though Joker. We can rebuild, we can come out of this the stronger for it. It'll just take time." Turning to EDI, Ashley met the synthetic's gaze. "Take care of him. He's gonna need you more than ever EDI."

"I will do my best Ashley." EDI vowed, her tone making it clear she had no intention of letting Joker out of her sight again, not until he had gotten back some of his former, perpetual sarcastic self at least.

Leaving the two be, Ashley walked away, towards the estate proper, her own thoughts turned to her family and loved ones that were probably wondering what had happened to her. If they ever made it back to Alliance and Council space, she'd make it a point to find them as soon as she could, just so she could tell them everything she hadn't been able to since the last time she'd seen them. Seeing her one of her sisters on the Citadel had been one thing, but she missed the rest of her family just as much if not more so because of it.

"Is he going to be alright?" Snapping her gaze up, Ashley relaxed when she saw it was only Asami standing by the front doors, looking strangely apologetic for some reason. "If I had known seeing my father's grave would do that, I would have had it cordoned off or something."

"No, he needed to let it out Ms. Sato. This was a long time in coming Asami." Ashley replied softly before letting out a heavy sigh. "We've all been through Hell, but some of us hasn't let it hit. Shepard and Liara have, but Jack, Tali, Garrus? It's not going to be long before you need to invest in waterproofing if I'm any judge." A weak smile flickered across the CEO's face before it disappeared just as quickly as she turned her head to look towards the grave marker, Ashley following her gaze. "Who was he, before those Equalists you mentioned got to him?" She hesitantly asked.

"I think you mean before my mother died, since it wasn't just Amon and his followers that got to him. It was firebenders, Agni Kais, that really destroyed who he was, Amon simply used his hatred for benders to twist him to his purposes." Asami corrected her softly, and let a tired, weary sigh escape her as the memories began to come back at the reminder. The days and weeks that followed as Hiroshi Sato slowly fell apart, before he started to come back, or so Asami had thought. In reality he had simply bottled up his grief, got lost in his work, and had slowly let all that pent up rage and grief consume him. It hadn't likely been that difficult for Amon to do the rest, turning his thoughts to ridding the world of all benders.

"Thus they got their weapons supplier." Ashley stated, putting the tragic history of Asami's family together.

"Yes… but he was a good man once, he was my father and that is how I choose to remember him." Asami said quietly, and lowered her eyes uncomfortably. "I saw him as he used to be when Kuvira was preparing to attack Republic City. He was alive in a way I hadn't seen since mom passed, and it was….nice, to have that again, even if it was brief."

"Sorry." Ashley said with a grimace. "I shouldn't have brought back bad memories."

"It's alright, it's just heartbreaking in a way that he'll forever be remembered as the criminal and villain instead of the man he once was." Asami replied with a hint of bitterness. "He wasn't perfect, but he deserves better."

"Yeah, I get that part at least." Ashley said, her own bitterness present in her voice. But just as quickly it was gone and she reached out and put a hand on Asami's shoulder just as she started to walk away. "But who gives a damn what other people think about him? You know who he was, and that he loved you like he used to in the end. Hold onto that Asami."

"I have been." Asami replied simply, the briefest, hopeful gleams filling her gray eyes before she pulled from Ashley's grasp, leading the way into the main foyer of her home. "It's not always easy, but I've been taking things a day at a time, oddly enough similar advice Elizabeth threw my way not so long ago."

"She tends to have something helpful to say to everyone she meets. You'd be stupid not to listen to her," Ashley stopped and shuddered as a thought occurred to her, just as the glass door softly clicked shut behind her. "…..unless she's trying to tell you how good of a driver she is. I'd run the other way if she's ever behind the wheel of anything here."

"That bad huh?" Asami asked, her earlier sorrow, not forgotten, but pushed to the side enough that she was able to smile again.

"Not so much she's bad at driving, only that she's used to evading enemy fire at high speeds, so naturally she doesn't know how to apply a brake pedal save to take a sharp turn going ninety or higher." Ashley corrected her, and couldn't help but mentally shiver as she recalled all the times Shepard had driven the old Mako off the sides of steep cliffs or had jumped over rivers of lava, only using the jump jets in the last second before they would have otherwise landed in a sea of molten rock. Granted, most of those times they had been under fire by rogue geth or mercenaries looking to make a lot of credits for taking out the first human Spectre, but the point remained the same.

"Well….if I'm being honest here… I sometimes drive like that as well, but normally that's because I've being chased by enemy benders or something." Asami admitted sheepishly.

"Oh god, now there's two of them." Ashley deadpanned, a smirk plastered on her face.

"They're multiplying!" Garrus voice chimed in about that time as the turian walked by. "Hide your women and children! Get them to safety!"

"I'll tell the others!" Tali said in mock panic. "We must evacuate the city."

"Hey, I'm not that bad." Shepard shouted at them, peering over the second floor balcony before shooting her friends an eyeroll.

"Shepard, I was with you in the Mako… you are that bad and then some." Garrus shot back without missing a beat, and was unusually serious. "Jumping over a canyon does not constitute good driving behavior."

"We were being shot at by geth colossusi, what did you want me to do exactly? Let them blow us up? That would have put a damper on things, wouldn't you say?" Shepard shot back in turn, her emerald eyes gleaming in amusement despite the fact the situation in question had indeed happened more or less as she had shouted back.

"She does have a point Garr-Bear. But I'd rather not have thrown up in my visor that time you thought it was a good idea to drive the Hammerhead off a cliff while we were trying to shut down Project Overlord." Tali countered, and vaguely recalled the taste of regurgitated protein paste that morning, having made the mistake of eating before a mission when she remembered too late who would be driving.

"Giant geth cannon taking pot shots at us, or cliff jumping. I'd take cliff jumping." Shepard deadpanned in retort, making it clear she wasn't about to back down.

Asami had heard enough and couldn't contain her laughter any longer as she listened to them argue back and forth. "I get the point." She got out, waving her hands in an effort to get them to stop for a moment so she could get her breath back. "Do you always attract so much trouble Shepard?"

"Does a bear shit in the woods kiddo?" Garrus deadpanned, his mandibles pulled up into a turian's equivalent of a grin as he and Tali moved onto another part of the house, although the quarian did slap him lightly due to his inappropriate language. "What? We're all adults here."

"Until Pema's kids invade Asami's home you mean." Tali was quick to point out.

"Oh….but they aren't here right now." Whatever else the two might have said was cut off as they walked out of earshot, leaving the rest of the group to share a much needed laugh between them, at least in Asami's case it was as she met Ashley's gaze. The marine only nodded and patted the young woman on the back on her way by.

Which left her and Shepard alone, with the Spectre slowly coming down the stairs on her way to the workshop to check on the rest of her people. "Everything alright Asami?" She asked, having seen the strange look pass between the heiress and Ashley, cluing her into the fact something had happened.

"Yeah….just had a bit of a rough morning. It's nothing." Asami nodded and looked away.

"Right, because I believe that when I hear it." Shepard deadpanned, her tone making it clear she didn't buy Asami's response for a moment as she crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her hip to the side.

"Good." Asami remarked a bit more sharply than she had intended, but she didn't apologize for her reaction either.

"I was being sarcastic." Shepard droned in response, stating the obvious.

With a low growl, Asami put a hand over her face and lowered her head. "Ugh, I know, I had just hoped that I could avoid this conversation if I pretended to be ignorant."

"Rule number 1 when dealing with me Asami, I don't let my friends and assorted 'family' suffer if I can do something to help them. And you and Korra and the rest are quickly becoming nearly as important as my 'family' for all that you've done for me and mine." Shepard didn't get a response right away, but when she did in the form of Asami looking towards where she knew her father's grave was located, and a pair of shadows walking away from the site, she figured out what was on her mind. "Shit….now I'm sorry I asked."

"No….it's not your fault, but like your pilot Joker, I've been trying not to think about it too much." Asami admitted as she let out a heavy sigh.

"A piece of advice, even though you won't like it. You'll have to deal with it sooner or later, such is the way of things." Looking down at her own right hand, where her eyes could just see the cybernetics glowing beneath her skin, Shepard slowly closed her hand before looking back up. "I had to, when my home planet of Mindoir was attacked years ago. I lost a brother, my parents, and a lot of friends that day. It took time, and finally letting it hit after trying to keep it all contained, but I was able to put the worst of it behind me. It still hurts, but I remember the good times we had, the love and joy those days so far behind me they feel like a genuine other life at times."

"How did you?" Asami asked, and hesitantly met Shepard's intense gaze.

"I joined the military. Not out of a sense of vengeance though, I wasn't that shortsighted even in those early days. I wanted to make sure no one else had to suffer such loss as I had." Shepard replied softly before letting her hands fall to her sides. "It wasn't long after that that I met someone that shared my drive and ideas, his were just better thought out since he was more experienced and wiser than me by far. He was a good man, one that I've lost fairly recently. Captain David Anderson. He was my mentor, teacher, friend, and in a way, a father figure to me in his own right when I needed one the most."

"The way you talk about him kind of reminds me of Fire Lord Zuko and his uncle, General Iroh of the Fire Nation, during the Hundred Year War." When Shepard cocked her head to the side in curiosity, her interest having been piqued, Asami elaborated. "Zuko was part of the old Team Avatar, a disgraced prince who, at first, had been utterly driven to capture Aang, Korra's past life, in order to restore his lost honor and earn his place back by his father's side. But over time, and with Iroh, his uncle, trying to steer him towards a better path since Fire Lord Ozai would never see Zuko as more than a tool to win his war against the rest of the world, Zuko changed. He became Aang's closest friend and confidant over the years after the war was over. Zuko even went so far as to defeat Azula, his sister, in an Agni Kai, although she cheated and would have killed Master Katara, if not for Zuko getting in the way of the attack."

Shepard's lips curled in disgust. "To use his own children like that, I'm glad to hear that he got 'removed' from his position."

"Having spent enough time around Katara and Tenzin, I could probably tell you the whole story, but while Ozai might have been power mad, he left behind at least one good thing in the form of Fire Lord Zuko. I met him once actually, and it's not often the tales match up with the reality."

"Sounds like someone I wouldn't mind meeting then." Shepard stated before the thoughtful smile disappeared from her face. "But getting back to my earlier point Asami, my door's always open."

"Thanks….but I'll be alright." Deciding to let the matter drop, Shepard didn't stop Asami from leaving as a door opened upstairs, and it didn't take long for her enhanced ears to hear Korra yawning sleepily before perking up just as Asami no doubt caught up with the current Avatar. Despite her brief misgivings about leaving Asami to carry her own weight, Shepard couldn't help but smile as she realized that the young heiress would be just fine, so long as Korra was in her life.

Turning away from the stairwell where Asami had just gone up, Shepard sighed contently, and returned to her quarters, where Liara was still asleep in the middle of the guest bedroom they'd been given. With half the crew tucked away in the underground workshop, along with most of their gear, the other half had been invited to stay in the estate with Korra and Asami. The arrangement was a necessary evil since while they were all welcome in the giant mansion, Shepard had made it clear that having all of them in the same place was just asking for trouble. That and Jack and Zaeed had made it clear the fancy, upscale estate, situated deep in the Dragons Flat Borough was too ritzy for their liking, but Elizabeth just thought they wanted their privacy.

"-Ugh, you're such a kid sometimes Bolin." Cocking her head towards the door, Shepard raised a hand just as she caught Liara coming out of a nearby hallway.

"Hey, I know you're just as excited as I am to see these guys even if you try to pretend otherwise Mako." Smiling to herself, Shepard lowered her arm and shook her head just as the front doors burst open, and they got their first look at the rest of the current, appropriately named, Team Avatar. Even more amusing, the bigger of the two young men that came through the front door could only stop and stare when his green eyes fell on Liara first. "Uh….uh….huh."

"What's your problem Bolin, they can't be th-okay, that's….different." Mako stammered out, equally stunned while Shepard tried to keep her snickering under wraps while Liara shook her head at the scene playing out before her. The brothers were as Korra and the others had described them, one tall, slender, and focused like a hawk, while the younger was more muscular, compact, and far more easily excitable. Shepard couldn't help but notice that Mako, his amber eyes locked on Liara's face, kept most of his right arm covered, yet she could see part of an angry burn scar across what skin she could see. It seemed the story of him staying behind to take out Kuvira's mech were true.

That said, she wasn't given long to dwell on that story when the firebender recovered from his dumbfoundment. "Ooookay, so the rumors we've been hearing up in the Earth Kingdom were true after all." Mako said once he'd been able to recover his composure, and promptly slapped the back of his brother's head to snap him out of his confusion. Ignoring his frown, Mako pushed past his little brother and rubbed the back of his neck before holding out his left hand, only silently proving Shepard's suspicion about his arm and the reason behind it. "My name's Mako, you've met my brother Bolin."

Recovering her composure, Shepard coughed and cleared her throat before grasping the offered limb, and gave it a firm shake. "Nice to meet you boys, we've heard a great deal about you two. I'm Commander Elizabeth Shepard, my bondmate and future wife that your brother can't keep his eyes off is Doctor Liara T'Soni. She has that effect on people." She stage whispered out of the side of her mouth.

"Sometimes I wonder why I agreed to the idea." Liara mock grumbled in turn before shaking Mako's hand, having also seen the way he favored his left over his right, and coming to a similar conclusion. "It's nice to finally meet the rest of Korra and Asami's closest friends. I take it President Wu is doing well with his cleanup efforts of the Earth Kingdom?"

"Along with Suyin Beifong and the rest of her family, yeah. Wait, how do you know about all that?" Mako asked, shaking his head as his amber eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion.

Liara's lips pulled up into a knowing smile that had both boys feeling suddenly very uncomfortable. "You used to be a detective for Republic City, a good one I've heard. Information however, is my area of expertise. I understand its value and how to use it to its full advantage."

"Translation, she keeps her ear to the ground, just in a slightly different capacity." Shepard explained, although she had a feeling Mako didn't need the clarification.

"Uh...what ears? Not to be rude, but I don't see any ears." Bolin finally managed to say, and none too subtly twisted this way and that in an effort to get a better look at Liara's head. Another slap from Mako made the Earthbender stop as he rubbed the back of his head. "Okay, I get the point Mako, yeesh."

"Sorry, my brother's always had the habit of opening his mouth without thinking." Mako grumbled as he put his hand on his hip. Despite his heavy sigh of exasperation, Mako nodded his head, as if having come to some kind of decision. "So, you're living here in Asami's place now. I heard your ship almost took out Aang's memorial statue, I would have thought Chief Biefong would've thrown you into a very small cell."

"She thought about it." Shepard chuckled as she crossed her arms over her chest. "But she's a good woman, just trying to keep her city safe. I don't blame her for being a bit pissed off with how we showed up. If we'd have a choice, we wouldn't have almost crashed and burned."

"I imagine not Commander." Mako replied, and looked up just as Bolin gave an excited cheer. Following their gaze, Shepard saw Korra jumping over the second floor railing with Asami hot on her heels, although she ran down the stairs rather than following Korra's example and jumping over the railing. Bolin and Mako gave a satisfied grunt as Korra all but crushed the air out of their lungs before setting them down. "Glad to see you too Korra." Mako wheezed out once he was able to breathe again.

"Sorry, but it's just good to see you again Mako, Bolin." Korra replied, before noticing Liara and Shepard standing a few feet back. "Oh, I see you've met some of our newest uh….neighbors." Shepard's quiet chuckle and Liara's amused expression didn't help Korra's fumbling about for the right words to describe the Spectre and her team.

"Aliens, the word you're looking for is aliens." Elizabeth was quick to correct her, and promptly tapped Bolin on the bottom of his chin so his open mouth closed shut. Mako took the news a fair bit better, save for a slight widening of his rather pretty amber eyes. "Yes, we came from beyond the stars, and no, we didn't plan to come here as I think I've said before with the whole 'crash and burn' speech."

"If I didn't believe my eyes, I'd almost say you were a part of one of Varrick's stupid science fiction based movers, but I can see that's not the case." Mako replied, unable to keep his amazement from his voice despite his naturally apathetic tone of voice.

"What makes you a believer Mako?" Shepard asked, genuinely curious as to why he was so quick to believe in the possibility of life beyond his world, the presence of Liara notwithstanding of course. The few workers that had helped them offload Asami's airship the other day had indeed believed them to be strange spirits, giving credence to some of Katara and Jinora's comments about them being mistaken for more exotic spirits from the Spirit World.

Mako crossed his arms and nodded, accepting the challenge to explain his reasoning. "Well for one I've been to the Spirit World, so I know what they are and aren't capable of. Your friend there is a little too solid looking, that and she's humanoid in appearance. Most of the entities within the Spirit World are all animal based in some way. And then there's the fact spirits don't need giant warships to fly, so there's that." Mako finished with a casual shrug of his shoulders.

"Hah, guess you got us there Mako." Shepard replied and shot the detective an approving grin.

"It would seem your reputation is well deserved after all detective." Liara quietly agreed, her deep blue eyes shining in approval at how quick Mako had dissected the clues laid out before him, and how he had come to the right conclusion.

Asami grinned, all too happy to sing one of her closest friend's praises to her newest friends. "Heh, you should have seen him when he helped me figure out the truth of who was stealing my shipments from Future Industries. He saved my company, and busted the real culprits, while clearing his own name no less."

"And inadvertently helped prove my uncle was a homicidal madman bent on becoming the Dark Avatar." Korra chimed in, happily adding her two yuans to the conversation, and to try and embarrass the normally stone faced firebender.

"He is pretty amazing huh?" Bolin added, slapping a hand on his brother's shoulder, a cheeky grin splitting his face almost in half. "But that's my big bro for ya, pro-bender, detective, and former bodyguard to now President Wu of Ba Sing Se. Me, I was a-"

"Also a pro-bender, a member of the Fire Ferrets, as well as a mover star, formerly employed to Iknik Blackstone Varrick, an eccentric but genius businessman that held a monopoly on global shipping until he was arrested due to his part in trying to instigate a war between the Northern and Southern Water Tribes, but was caught thanks in no small part to Mako, stopping Varrick's plan to kidnap the President of Republic City in an attempt to draw the United Forces into the war." Bolin was once more slack jawed as Liara listed off his more notable accomplishments before changing gears just as quickly. "In recent years, you were able to find your family when you and the rest of Team Avatar went to Ba Sing Se in an effort to find more airbenders after the events of Harmonic Convergence, and that you were formerly a part of the rising Earth Empire under the command of Kuvira, dictator and tyrant until Avatar Korra and yourselves put an end to her regime." Even Asami had to blink and stare as Liara revealed just how well informed she was, to which the asari merely shrugged in response. "I believe I said that information is my trade."

"I think we're in trouble bro." Mako breathed out.

"I'll say, it's like she's psychic!" Bolin stage whispered, only to jump back when Liara's eyes had turned black and a dark blue glow started to radiate off of her. "Whoa! What's with the creepy light show lady?"

Unable to keep up the act, Liara laughed softly into her hand about the same time her biotic aura faded away. "My apologies, but it was too tempting an opportunity to pass up."

"All asari are naturally gifted with a power the rest of us simply refer to as biotics. Let's just say it's not unlike your bending kid, just without the fancy moves to go with it is all." Shepard helpfully explained, smirking just as widely as Liara was after her display of power and the reaction it had gotten out of Bolin. Mako had remained perfectly still, save to summon up a dagger made of fire, but once he saw the truth of the matter, he dismissed it just as quickly, a good choice on his part since no one was sure what mixing the two might do, that and Shepard would have stepped in if Mako had made a move to defend his brother. Instead she nodded her approval, just as Mako followed her gaze to his right hand. "Good instincts Mako, keep that edge sharp. It'll keep you alive, trust me." Mako nodded silently, grateful that he hadn't crossed a line by preparing himself to protect his brother.

"Well, now that we've all gotten past the awkward first meeting, what does everyone think about getting something to eat?" Korra asked, she too having almost jumped into the fray, but only to break it up as fast as possible to avoid any needless bloodshed.

Seemingly forgetting his earlier discomfort, Bolin perked up immediately and nodded vigorously in approval. "Food sounds good to me!"

Slapping a hand over his forehead, Mako sighed. "Your bottomless stomach is going to be the end of me one of these days bro." A quick round of laughter preceded them heading to Asami's dining hall, where most of the crew had already gathered, with Naga resting comfortably against the far wall. The moment she saw Mako and Bolin though, Shepard had to blink and do a double take when she saw a strange, small, red and white furry rat thing crawl out of Bolin's shirt and scamper over to the giant polar bear dog.

"Pabu and Naga are old friends." Bolin explained, his ear splitting grin back in place when he noticed Shepard's slightly surprised look. "I'm guessing you haven't seen a fire ferret before."

"That'd be right kid, nice pet though." Shepard noted as she saw Naga playfully, if gently, swat at the agile little fire ferret before Pabu ran back to Bolin's side, scampered up onto his shoulder, and promptly jump onto her back before leaving a little lick across her cheek. Shepard chuckled and scratched behind the animal's ears, earning a pleased squeak from the ferret. "Heh, he's got a good judge of character too. I like him."

"He's saved our hides a few times in the past. Pabu and I go almost as far back as me and Mako." Bolin cheerfully replied, and cooed playfully at the animal once it had jumped back to the Earthbender's lap. He fell silent though when he saw Grunt lumber past his chair, and swallowed nervously when the imposing krogan stopped and gave him a withering glare before muttering something under his breath and walking away. Only once he was sure the armored lizard wasn't within earshot did Bolin whisper nervously to Shepard. "Uh….Commander ma'am, what is that?!"

"Dude, shut up. Do you want the giant armored….lizard thing to hear you?" Mako hissed back, only to roll his eyes when Shepard, Liara, Korra, and Asami snickered in equal measure. "Ha ha, scare the natives, where have I heard that one before?"

"You get used to it after a while." Korra reassured Mako before turning her gaze on Shepard. "I did, although I'm still being amazed by them." Shepard only smirked in response at the praise, even if she secretly grimaced at the hero worship vibe she was getting from the Avatar.

Beyond getting a brief update from EDI regarding Jeff's less than cheerful mood, the rest of that morning and afternoon went off without anything of note happening, beyond Mako and Bolin being introduced to the rest of Shepard's team. It didn't take long for the firebender to get used to the diverse group, and while Bolin still gave some of the more exotic or violently prone members of the group a wide berth at first, it wasn't long before he was sharing in the good times as he and Mako joined in the effort of helping get the old workshop set up as a living space for her people. With his proficient Earthbending, what little work there was in cleaning up the debris left over from the fighting, beyond setting up an appropriately clean space for Tali to move about without her suit as she desired, was quickly finished since most of what they needed was already there thanks to Hiroshi and his Equalist allies. Say what you wanted about the formerly mad engineer, he had made his secret lair to last, and had made it a point to provide adequate, if spartan, arrangements for himself and those he had allied himself with.

The old mecha tank holding areas for example had been turned into makeshift bunk areas for Shepard's crew, those that were staying in the lair anyway. As for the wide expanse itself, part of it had been turned into a gym for the crew as a whole, Vega's weight set having been situated near the main 'secret' entrance into the place, while a simple target range was set up at the other end. Garrus and Tali already had plans to upgrade it to a much more modern, holographic shooting range when time permitted, but for the moment it was enough. Ashley already had a workbench set up, along with the crew's assorted gear and weaponry. Chakwas's medical supplies and an infirmary had been set up deeper in the mountain complex, allowing the doctor a sterile place to work on the off chance someone got injured or crew checkups were in order, which reminded Shepard that the doc would probably be running the periodic scan on Liara and their unborn child.

"Everything alright Commander?" Jerking her head towards the noise, Elizabeth smiled and nodded towards Sam, who had her omni-tool opened again. At her curious look, Sam blushed but kept tapping at the device on her arm. "I can't seem to get this strange interference locked down. Despite Asami's assurances to the contrary, I don't think it's random interference caused by the other stations, it's too orderly, too neat. The bursts comes in regular intervals, like clockwork."

That had Shepard raising a red, smooth eyebrow as her mind immediately jumped to several reasons, few of them good news for them or the city at large. "Are you sure Sam? I don't want to jump to conclusions, but-"

"Got it!" Sam proudly declared, and immediately paled as the intercepted transmission began. All activity in the underground base ceased as the data analyst sent the transmission feed to the rest of the crew so they all knew what she had come across. It wasn't good, needless to say.

"-progress continues. The gangs continue to sow chaos, covering our movements by amping up the body count and the structural damage wherever they go under the pretense of collecting money owed them. They're expendable but useful for our cause." A woman's voice, cold and emotionless, stated, instantly sending chills down more than a few spines in the process.

"Good, inform our lieutenants that the Remnant is almost ready to move forward. Republic City, the Avatar, and any resistance that follows will be crushed if they get in our way. The Earth Kingdom will be united, just as she envisioned it." The other voice, distorted and impossible to identify, declared before the woman began again.

"And what of the warship that crashed into the bay? Perhaps these strangers can be...persuaded to help us?" The use of the word 'persuaded' didn't invoke any friendly feelings in Shepard, let alone the rest of her people.

"No, I get the feeling this….Commander Shepard, can't be bought or intimidated, that and we know so little about these strangers to make any informed decisions in any event. Until we know more it is best if we avoid them, but if they stand in our way, then we eliminate them as well. For the future glory of the Earth Empire."

"For the Earth Empire." And just as suddenly as it had began, the intercepted transmission ended, filling the void with the soft melodies of Republic City's premier choice in musical entertainment, yet no one said a word for several seconds.

"Guess we're back on the clock Commander." Kasumi finally said, breaking the silence as she flickered into sight, yet despite her cheerful comment, the dead serious look in her brown eyes told another tale. "How do you want to play this?"

None of her crew were surprised by the determined set of her jaw or the gleam in her emerald eyes as Shepard brought her right fist into her open left hand, cracking her knuckles as she made a beeline for the makeshift armory across the workshop. "We start by informing Chief Beifong of what we've just stumbled across, and then, we prepare for war. Leave has officially ended people, and I'm not about to leave Republic City defenseless, not after everything Tenzin and his people have done for us."

"Hoo-rah! 'Bout time we get back into the thick of things Lola. Just point us in the right direction Commander." James declared, making his own intentions plain as day, a sentiment shared by the rest of her little family.

"I'll get to work in cross-referencing pertinent information on the local gangs, group strength, hideout locations, anything I can get my hands on. Hopefully we can gather more information on this Remnant as we take out their 'expendable assets'." Liara stated as she followed after Shepard with James and Ashley hot on her heels.

"Me and Scarface will coordinate with the locals, see if we can't work together in bringing this Remnant down. If not, we'll go it alone, but I agree with you Skipper, we can't sit by and let these assholes run amok." Ashley agreed as she grabbed the first rifle on its rack and tossed it to Shepard, who promptly primed it and set it aside for now on the table before her.

"Good, do it." Pausing mid stride, Shepard looked to those gathering around her, realizing that she had automatically fallen back into old habits. "You all know how best to get the job done and you've proven time and again to be invaluable members of my team, but you don't have to get involved. We aren't-"

Zaeed's answer was to bump into her side none too gently in order to silence her before she could try and convince them not to get involved. While the gesture was appreciated, the mercenary was the first to state what everyone else was thinking. "Shepard, shut your guddamn mouth and pass the grenades. We're with ya, come hell or highwater. Bad guys need killin', and it's been awhile since I've had something to shoot at beyond those firebendin' bastards, and I couldn't even kill those idiots."

"'Bout time we got into it again if ya ask me Shepard. This little vacation's been nice and all, but this is what you brought us together for Commander." Jack piped up and held up her SMG for emphasis before tucking it into her belt along with her side arm. 'Sides, Vega and grouchy ass stole my fun the other day and I've been itching for some real action."

"Don't pretend you care or anything Jack." Tali dared to say, earning her an annoyed grunt from the psychotic biotic, but everyone noticed she didn't argue with the quarian either. By then the engineer had since put a hand on Shepard's shoulder, her silvery eyes all but glowing in determination behind her visor. "Shepard, we're with you to the end. And I agree with you, these people have done too much for us to ignore a threat like this."

"Hehehe….finally, a challenge!" Grunt bellowed.

"You already know my answer Commander, so I won't bore you with a grandiose speech of my own." Garrus chuckled even as he hefted his sniper rifle up to eye level before tinkering with the heavily modded weapon on the table before him. "But if this Remnant is as bad as they sound, then we'll be back in business, just like old times now that I think about it."

"A little too much like old times, but thank you, all of you." Shepard replied with as much sincerity she could muster, earning a collection of grim but determined nods from everyone.

It didn't take long to bring Korra and company up to speed in what they had found out. Needless to say, Chief Beifong was not happy if the pulsating vein in her forehead was anything to go by. "I am seriously starting to hate you Shepard. First you crash your ship into my city, then you bring me this?! I miss the days when the worst thing I had to worry about were the Triple Threat Triads busting up a few shops."

"I know it's been rough these past few months, but we can't just ignore this Lin." Drawing the Chief's gaze to her in Asami's living room, where most of their respective teams had gathered, Korra took a breath before continuing forward, a task made easier when Asami's hand fell on her own on the couch they were sharing. "We have a chance to step in before things get out of hand. And I for one am not going to sit idly by while these Remnants stir up trouble."

"Easy kid, I wasn't saying we should, and I'm not arguing with you about needing to do something, but we need more information if we're going to handle this new group effectively. We don't even know if they're here in the city." Lin sighed but nodded, making it clear, albeit reluctantly, that she was on board with this latest twist in her already crazy life.

"She's right," Sam stated as she pulled up the broadcast signal she had accidentally stumbled across, "I might have been able to intercept the message, but I haven't been able to pinpoint a point of origin. Not yet anyway. I might be able to with my old equipment on the Normandy, but right now it's beyond my capability."

"Which means we have even more of a reason to get our ship back on dry land." Shepard mused aloud, her hands folded neatly beneath her chin as she thought of how to go about getting the stealth frigate out of the bay before she looked towards Korra and Lin in equal measure. "Unless we can come up with another way to track this...Remnant down, outside of hunting down the gangs they've been using to cover their tracks and sow chaos across the city, we'll be forced to secure our ship. I'd rather scuttle her than run the chance of someone else getting their hands on her, especially if they know about us."

"And since the Earth Kingdom is probably the most technologically advanced nation on this world, these guys would have a field day with your vessel, Commander." Lin agreed, catching onto Shepard's line of thought before she ran a hand down her face and let a frustrated growl escape her. "Fine, I'll help you get your ship out of the bay. Korra?"

Korra stood to her feet right alongside Asami, before slamming her right fist into her left hand. "You don't have to ask me twice. Just point the way."

Moving to the nearest phone, Asami's own mind was abuzz with ideas on how to keep themselves and the Normandy as safe as possible. With the vast network of allies and connections she had, both as the CEO of Future Industries and as a close friend to the Avatar, she had a lot of chips she could cash in if the need became great enough. "I'll make arrangements to have extra security stationed at the airfield. Hopefully we won't find out just how organized this Remnant is if they do make a play to get at your ship Elizabeth."

"Well, so much for our vacation, huh buddy?" Bolin sighed, but perked up almost immediately as he ran a hand across Pabu's furry head. "But it wouldn't be normal if things didn't get exciting!" Mako sighed but smiled, sharing the sentiment even if he was loath to admit it out loud. That was life with the Avatar though, moments of peace before things got crazy again.

Wrapped in Liara's comforting embrace, Shepard drifted off, content despite the brewing threat they had done what little they could to prepare for. They simply didn't have the time to do more, not yet, but at least they knew something was happening, and they could take steps to mitigate the chaos that was coming. That said, she wasn't all that surprised when she found herself standing in the ash forest again, but the voices and the shades of those she had failed to save were absent. Fearing some new, terrible twist on an old classic, Shepard was taken aback when someone stepped out of the darkness of the blackened trees that was neither shade nor damning specter of her own still recovering mind.

"Let me guess, Avatar Kyoshi sent you?" At this point, nothing would surprise her as Elizabeth crossed her arms and met the old man's unusually cheerful gaze, at least unusual in her opinion given their current surroundings. Even more annoyingly, the heavily bearded man, his stomach rather large and rotund, his wrinkled face uplifted into a cheerful visage, only grinned a little wider as he nodded his head. "Well you can tell her that she can talk to me herself if she wants to impart more of her Avatar wisdom." Under any other circumstances, she might have a fair bit nicer, but Elizabeth was in no mood for cryptic riddles and having her emotions twisted about as Kyoshi had done to her the last time they'd talked.

Unbothered by the sarcasm and the almost audible growl in her voice, the old man laughed warmly as he folded his hands before him, his robe's voluminous sleeves keeping them from view. "For someone that is spiritually connected to such a powerful and quite the beautiful woman, your method of greeting reminds me quite a bit of my nephew Zuko." That got Shepard's attention as she realized too late who she was talking to. The old man merely held up a hand, and nodded when he saw the realization dawn in her emerald eyes. "I thought that would get your attention, Commander. Yes, I am Iroh, the same Iroh that guided my nephew Zuko to a better path, one that made him into the man he is today. I believe you heard part of our shared tale this very day, and on the heels of impending chaos no less. How strange, that history repeats itself, eh?"

"How so?" Shepard asked, unable to stop herself even if she'd tried as Iroh started away with a beckoning wave for her to follow him. She would have done so even if he hadn't invited her, having no desire to remain in the ash forest any longer.

"The last time I made myself known, our greatly respected and cherished friend, Avatar Korra, was about to face Zaheer and his Red Lotus followers. I was quite proud when she and the then recently restored Air Nomad culture, were able to defeat him at last, and my heart soared when she once again amazed me by making Kuvira, quite possibly her greatest opponent to date, see the error of her ways. In a way, she is not so different from you, Elizabeth Shepard. Both of you have overcome a great deal in your lives, and both of you have gathered a group of friends, some would say family, around you, which you draw strength from as they too draw strength from you in turn." Iroh explained, and looked over one broad shoulder to give her a knowing smile before gesturing for Shepard to go first. "On that note, I think it's time you stopped searching for the dark, and found your way to the light again, don't you?"

Stopping before the barrier of trees in her path, Shepard hesitantly reached up to the nearest of the entangling branches before looking towards her right, where Iroh stood not five feet away. "If you had said that a few days ago, I might have told you I didn't deserve to find the light again, but….time on your world, among Korra's family and friends, has done a lot for my peace of mind, let alone those that follow me. I still feel that way to an extent, but-"

"But it is a burden that is becoming easier to bear as you shed the weight of your self inflicted guilt. Like the caterpillar that cocoons itself before winter sets in, you have began a metamorphosis of your own. You would not be the first I have seen undergo such a beautiful transformation, Commander, nor I suspect, will you be the last. I gave up my mortal body once I was certain my work on the physical plane was completed, and one day, I will likely fade away from this one, but that I think won't be for many years yet. Besides, I got to meet such an interesting person as yourself, and I imagine my tale is not yet over." Seeming to remember his part here, Iroh chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck in mild embarrassment. "Haha, listen to this old fool ramble on. Go on, let us leave this rather dreary place behind. I have much to show you, and I am sure you have questions."

Unable to help the smile on her face, Shepard gladly pushed her way through the dark, skeletal, ash covered branches in her path, and had to blink her eyes as bright, warmth giving sunlight nearly blinded her as she literally cut through the darkness encompassing her own soul. When she was able to see again though, her gaze fell on rolling, pristine green meadows, and a field of bright, vibrant sunflowers on her right side. While the ash forest remained behind her, it didn't feel the same now she had left it of her own volition, as if its hold on her and what it represented had lost some of its terrifying strength on her mind and spirit. As for where they were, that was all too easy for her to put a name to when she saw the twin moons in the brightening morning sky as the sun continued to rise over the distant mountains just visible on the horizon. "Mindoir." She whispered, having never imagined she'd remember her home with such vivid clarity, or walk through its fields again. The one time she had returned home just hadn't felt the same, but what she saw now didn't make her think of the day the batarians came. This was Mindoir as she had remembered it growing up, not the Mindoir after the skies had turned black from the raging fires that had consumed almost as much as the slavers had in their madness.

"Yes, like the ash forest you have just put behind you, this place is a memory of your childhood home if what Kyoshi told me is true." Iroh explained as he took the lead once more, surprisingly light on his feet for such a large, jolly looking old man. "I have seen many wondrous things over the course of my life, both as a man, and as a spirit, but imagine my surprise when I discovered the truth of life beyond both worlds. But, despite having one of life's greatest mysteries answered at last, I soon realized that you were just as lost and afraid as we were, that you had the same problems many of us often struggle with, only proving what I have known for many long years. That we are all connected."

Where the table and two wooden chairs had come from, Shepard didn't know, nor was she about to question it since despite the strangeness of the situation, this was still a dream, that much she knew for certain. So she went with the flow as Iroh, like the gentleman he'd already proven to be, pulled out her chair and held it steady before sitting across from her. The tea set laid out between them was just another odd yet somehow fitting touch to the rest of the scene playing out before her as Iroh poured the sweet smelling liquid into two simple white matching cups. "Tell me Commander, what do you think of all that you have seen since coming upon my former home?"

Taking a moment to savor the tea he'd been nice enough to prepare for her and himself, that and she needed a moment to compose herself after walking out of a nightmare and into a place she never thought she'd see again, except in dreams not unlike this one, Shepard had to nod at the taste that hit her tongue once she was able to think with any clarity again. "Mmm, not bad. And to answer your question, it's been pretty amazing."

"Hah, I thought you might say that." Whether he meant her approval of the tea or the fact she had found herself liking his world, Shepard couldn't say, but didn't ask either as Iroh continued. "As for your answer, I am sure it goes without saying that many would consider your world amazing in quite the number of ways as well Commander. While you do not have the same level of spiritual enlightenment by any means, you possess a spirit of adventure and exploration that goes far beyond anything many back home could begin to imagine. And while you have fought and won against the darkness at the edge of your galaxy, you have also seen the beauty and wonder that your world holds. What you told Ms. Sato, was only a partial truth, but one fitting for the conversation at the time."

"Yeah, but it was what she had needed to hear." Shepard agreed before taking another sip from the tea cup Iroh had set before her.

Iroh only nodded and stroked his long white beard with his right hand before taking a sip from his own cup. "Mmm, indeed, and that is part of why so many are willing to follow you. You possess a strength and spirit, as well as a passion and drive, few could begin to comprehend, yet you also possess vast amounts of humility and wisdom, despite your youth. That said, you have a tendency to weigh yourself down and shoulder so much on your own. Still, nobody is perfect." He finished lightly, yet the smile on his face no longer reached his eyes, which had also darkened somewhat.

"And you were doing so well too." Despite her sarcastic remark, Shepard couldn't help but agree with everything Iroh had so far said. "You already know why that is." She replied softly, and finally set her tea down, her hands wrapped loosely around the simple porcelain object, her green eyes downcast.

"Indeed I do, and I am glad you are the way you are, but as Avatar Kyoshi has said already, you need to let go of the guilt as well as those you believe you have failed. The only way that you could fail them is if you gave up, and you let the weight finally crush you Commander. Instead, I suggest you smile, and be joyful for all that you have! Your lovely bondmate is carrying the seeds of new life, created by the unbreakable love you share for each other! And you have most of your friends and family still with you, even if they are not the ones that gave you life. They would still be beyond proud of all that you have achieved, even if you did not do it for personal glory or fame. Too many heroes fall prey to their own legends, and become the villains of their own stories, but that is not something I see happening with you."

Looking up at last, Shepard once again found it difficult not to smile at the expressive, almost perpetually cheerful general as he finished his impassioned speech by throwing his hands into the air before seeming to remember himself and chuckled sheepishly at his exuberance. There was just something about him that made it impossible to keep a frown in his presence. "I'm starting to get why Zuko became the man I've heard he is these days. If you were like this in life, it's little wonder he became such a respected and wise leader of his people."

"I like to think he was born with the potential to become the great man he has, and that I simply steered him towards the man I always knew he could be, even as he tried to deny that part of himself in order to please my brother, Phoenix King Ozai, a name ill suited for him if you ask me. No, Zuko was the true pheonix of the family, tearing himself down, only to be reborn in the light of a new day." Iroh said, the pride in his voice all too clear even as he wiped a stray tear from his left eye with a seemingly casual flick of his wrist.

Cracking a smirk even as she nodded respectively at the gesture she ignored more for Iroh's benefit, Shepard held out her right hand to the wise old man before her as she stood to her feet in one fluid motion. "Guess I'm not the only one that's got a humble streak a mile wide Iroh. And please, call me Elizabeth, I'm only the Commander when I'm on duty."

"I shall endeavor to do so Elizabeth. It has been a true honor and pleasure to meet you in person at last, eh, spiritually speaking of course." He chuckled and grasped the offered limb firmly in his own, his hand unusually warm and strong despite his apparent age, but comforting in its own way. "Good luck, and tell Korra I said hello."

"I will."

Deep beneath Republic City….

The sound of heavy machinery above their heads masked the sounds of their vehicles as the Remnant used the old tunnels and secret passageways set up by Amon and his Equalists to move about the city undetected. What they were transporting was too vital to be discovered by the people in the city above, oblivious to what was taking root beneath their feet. The longer they remained undetected, the better their chances would be. That was the thought that were running through the masked men and women on the transport convoy anyway as two of their number kept a close eye on one particular container in the center of the armored convoy. On either side, mecha tanks, stolen from Kuvira's old armories across the Earth Empire, kept pace with the armored trucks that carried weapons, supplies, and their assorted soldiers to their new homes throughout the city underground.

"How's our sleeping beauty doing?" One man asked, his face covered in a jade dragon mask, dressed in long black robes with an Earth Empire emblem emblazoned on his chest. His hands were folded before his chest, hidden within the confines of his robes, yet those around him knew just how deadly those hands were.

"Still on ice. Our waterbending….friends, have been keeping her perfectly preserved, per your orders sir." Another of the black robed warriors replied, her head bowed respectively to the jade masked man. Turning their respective gazes on the two waterbenders on either side of the platinum container, they shared a small smile at the hollow eyed gaze each of the blue clad women bore, their faces utterly blank and neutral as they kept the ice within the container fully formed around the woman inside. They would keep it up for as long as they had the strength to stand, or their replacements were sent in to pick up where they left off. Either way, they were utterly without free will of their own, yet they kept all of their skills, which were formidable in their own right, making the waterbending thralls quite useful for any number of tasks.

The masked man, his voice distorted and impossible to identify, nodded before turning the jewel like eyes of his jade dragon face towards the platinum container at his side and ran his left hand over the surface of the metallic, unnaturally cold, container. "Good, I do not want her waking up until I am sure her...conditioning is as strong as my predecessors believed it to be. She is the last remnant of an age when our Kingdom was at its peak ladies and gentlemen. The Earth Queen brought our ancestors back from the brink after Avatar Aang revealed the truth of our order, and we failed her when Zaheer destroyed her. Then Kuvira, far stronger than any ruler before her, came out of literally nothing, and pulled us out of the ashes. We prospered under her firm guidance, united under her unbending will, but once again we were forced back into the shadows when she gave up, when she could have had it all. This has proven only one thing to me. We must stand on our own, for it is our own strength that will pave the way to the future she envisioned. The Great Uniter might have given up at the finish line, but she planted the seeds for our rise. Now, we pick up where she left off, for the glory of the Earth Empire."

"For the glory of the Earth Empire!" Those around the masked man echoed, to which the man nodded before turning his gaze back on the container at his side.

To think, you of all people would survive the years, just like he did so long ago, although he had a choice in the matter. You however, did not, but that is all the better for us, isn't it, my little fire blossom? The man thought with no small amount of satisfaction as he walked away from the container, and the brainwashed waterbenders that were keeping his prized weapon in check. Very soon, the world would bend the knee to the Earth Empire, and they would no longer be required to scuttle about the shadows. No, the Remnants would rise, and the world would fall.

End Notes: Yep, that happened, and yes, Iroh will be making another appearance before this is over. He'll probably make several if you want my honest opinion. As for Jeff and his recent meltdown, that'll be something we plan to stretch out for a bit since his delayed shock, while understandable, will still have consequences in its own way until he too finds his way out of his personal ash forest. So as much as I hate to say it, expect to see our perpetually sarcastic, wiseass, awesome pilot be less than he is meant to be under any other circumstances. Translation, he's going to be quite depressing for a while.

For anyone that asks though, I haven't read any of the ATLA related comics that follow the show in any way, so I don't know what happens to any of the characters beyond what I can find in the wiki or on the show that I've seen thus far, now that I'm on season three of ATLA. I just saw the Combustion Man chase after the Gaang when they were on Ember Island, so I'm getting to the end. That said, this is fanfiction anyway, so canon can go suck an egg if it doesn't follow with what myself and Nomad have in mind. : P Lol but that said, we'll try not to be TOO offensive regarding our mistreatment of anything that's been set in stone. Anyway, if you guys can guess who's in the box, (WHAT'S IN THE BOX?!) lol, bonus points to you folks, as well as anything else we might have in mind along the way. One of our reviewers pretty much called most of it already in the last round of reviews we got in the past twenty four hours or so, so hooray to Nhobdy for getting most of it right, although we did kinda make it easy in most respects. There is a couple of things you didn't think of though, so enjoy the surprises when they hit in later chapters. 'Evil grins'.

Lol anyway, I also wanted to take a moment to thank everyone that's been sending us so many well wishes for our lost partner. May he too find his way out of the dark and back into the light and back to our side one day soon. Archer, if you see this, we're still thinking about you buddy, and hope you're able to come back soon. Anyway folks, may we all find peace and balance in the days to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: Marching Forward

Sato Estate, Dragon Flats Boroughs

Team Shepard's new base.

"It truly is a fascinating thing, to see the physiology of another being laid out so plainly for these old eyes." Katara mused as she examined the diagram that Karin had pulled up for her perusal of the typical asari. Reaching out to wave her hand through the holographic image before her, Katara made a curious noise when the image shifted, and zoomed into what it took to be her desired location, that being the upper sternum. "Quite a marvel indeed, I am sure there is a perfectly logical, if lengthy, explanation as to how this all works, but I am content to let the mystery remain just that."

Karin chuckled and leaned back in her new infirmary chair as she let Katara examine the detailed medical data she had on hand about their mutual asari friend. The reason had been simple and to the point, Liara had asked the master waterbender to attend the birth of her and Shepard's first child, alongside Karin of course. To that end, Karin had happily invited the older woman to brush up on Liara's physical makeup, which had led to them discussing the marvels of their vastly superior technology. "I'm sure there is, but even I don't know exactly how the device before you works, only its purpose. That being said, I am quite thankful I don't have to remember every little detail I picked up in Alliance medical school many years ago. Besides, seeing you so enraptured reminds me of my own bright eyed, joyful curiosity when I was quite a bit younger, and a bit more naive."

"I imagine you were quite the student however," Katara replied as she leaned away from the hologram before her, and met Karin's gaze from across the desk that separated them, the old woman situated in another of the infirmary's rather comfortable chairs. "But every wise student and teacher alike knows that we never stop growing, so long as we continue to seek new knowledge and broaden our horizons for the betterment of those around us and ourselves."

"Indeed." Karin agreed softly, and leaned down to reach into a cabinet beneath the desk's surface. When she came back up, there were two glasses and a bottle of brandy in hand, which she summarily poured into the glasses before handing one to Katara. The master waterbender nodded her thanks before she took a measured sip. The approval in Katara's eyes upon getting a taste of the dark brown liquid made Karin smile. "I had hoped you would approve. Serrice Ice Brandy is a personal weakness of mine, but with all you've done for us, both literally and otherwise, I thought it was past time that I shared a drink with you."

"Your thanks is all the reward I need, but I have never been one to turn down a chance to share a friendly conversation with a good friend. Sharing a drink however, usually meant tea in my experience rather than brandy, but I am not about to split hairs." She chuckled warmly before taking another sip, both hands wrapped firmly around the glass before she set it down on the metallic desk between them. Karin's wistful gaze had clued Katara into the fact there was something on the good doctor's mind.

Karin cleared her throat, tossed back the rest of her glass's contents, and poured herself a fresh cup before finding the courage to ask the question that had been bothering her for some time. Bothering might have been a strong word, but she hoped Katara would answer the question she wanted to ask. "I know we haven't known each other long Master Katara, but I can't help but be curious about something ever since I heard you were married to Avatar Aang."

"You wish to know more about him." Katara replied, her smile never wavering even as her gaze became distant and unfocused as her mind wandered back to some of the best and worst moments of her life. She had gotten used to the questions regarding her life with Aang, but unlike some that had asked such things of her, Katara knew Karin was genuinely curious about her and the man that had affected so many people in the time she had known him.

"If you don't mind." Karin stated softly, and set her own glass down, the rest of her drink forgotten for the moment. Unbeknownst to Katara however, Karin hesitantly activated her terminal's record function, normally reserved for dictation and taking notes for future input into her computer's massive memory, and got comfortable for the long haul, drink in hand once again. Shepard and Liara both had expressed interest in learning more of the tale right from the horse's mouth, but it was Liara that had insisted they get a recording of it, for posterity's sake if nothing else. Karin hadn't liked it then and she didn't like it now, but she understood, at least partially, why Liara hadn't simply asked Katara directly. She just hoped Katara would understand when she no doubt found out the truth.

"It is no trouble at all Karin, and please, call me Katara. I might be a master waterbender, but like Korra, I am but a humble woman who has experienced far more than most people I could name." Katara stated, and folded her hands in her lap, and let her mind wander, gathering her thoughts in an effort to satisfy her more scientifically minded counterpart. Karin remained silent, not about to interrupt her effort. When Katara began to speak, Karin was enraptured by the tale she began to weave for her, telling her of the Hundred Year War and how she had found Aang with her brother Sokka. While the story was far from complete when Katara finished, having spent two hours straight of simply talking of her days traveling with Aang, Sokka, Toph, and eventually Zuko, as well as their animal companions, Momo and Appa, Karin had a much better grasp of just how far Katara had come in those days, and it gave her a better picture of just who the woman truly was.

Karin remained quiet for some time, just trying to process the tale, and made it a note to deactivate the recording program she had opened up against her better judgment. When she met Katara's gaze however, she sighed when she saw the knowing look on the healing woman's face. "I see my suspicions were correct, but if they wanted to know, all they had to do was ask."

"When did you figure it out?" Karin asked, while she made a note to give Liara a stern talking to once she got out of this mess of her own creation.

Katara chuckled softly as she stood to her feet and folded her hands neatly behind her back. "Toph taught me much, just as she taught us all a great deal. She was quite adept at sleight of hand despite her blindness, or because of it, and scamming those that were, at least in her opinion, far worse than she was during our youth. You almost succeeded in pulling one over on me, but these old eyes aren't that bad just yet." She held up a hand as she turned to face Karin directly, to stop her from speaking for a moment longer. "Considering the bond shared by Liara and Elizabeth, it would not surprise me if they were the ones that truly wished to know about my adventures with Aang, and the time we shared after the war. That and considering the strange dreams the latter has been having of late, it makes sense they are desperately searching for answers to that particular mystery."

"It might be a far stretch to say they're desperate, not yet at least, but yes, that did guide Liara in asking me to record your tale from the beginning, for which I apologize sincerely." Karin replied, feeling the greater fool for having tried to deceive someone that was turning out to be infinitely more wise and experienced in ways she was only then beginning to understand. "But if it makes you feel better, I was also quite curious about you and the man that built the city we're only a short drive away from."

"No apology is needed, although I would have appreciated honesty from the beginning Karin." Katara gently reprimanded the doctor before taking her seat again. "Still, from what I understand, Liara has gotten used to leading a secretive life with this Shadow Broker mentality I've heard so little about, so I can understand why she felt hesitant to ask me directly. From what I have heard however, she grew used to peering into shadows that were better left alone, and almost became as corrupt as her predecessor, considering she felt it necessary to replace him."

"It's not just that, but it does play a part in her current attitude." Karin admitted, her drink forgotten as she went on to explain more about Liara's mental state, and what her role as the new Shadow Broker had cost her, or so she believed at any rate. "It might be a far stretch to say that she would have become as twisted and corrupt as the being she replaced, because of Shepard's guiding light to keep her balanced, but that might have very well been true if not for Elizabeth's help, and the fact the resources the old Shadow Broker possessed, which she gained after taking over the position, she used to help in our own war effort. A network of informants, spies, and more were suddenly at Liara's fingertips, and to use her own words, she could have started a war in ten minutes by letting certain information slip to the right people, but as you said, she had someone to keep her head straight. But….it came with a cost."

"Power such as you describe always does. I know this better than most, and not just because I was with Aang for so long." Katara softly agreed, earning a curious glance from Karin, but when she didn't elaborate further, Karin let it go for the moment. There were far more important matters to discuss.

"To have the galaxy's secrets laid bare, Liara learned just how far the former Broker's reach extended, and how he had gathered so much of his intelligence. But that wasn't the only thing, which was disturbing in its own right considering just how many people he had under his employ who willingly sold secrets to him for the right price. He had a large number of soldiers and assassins under his control, and since he had so much information on everyone of importance, company secrets that could destroy so many people without firing a shot, scandals that could topple governments, in order to use her new network to help our cause, she had to make decisions that affected far more people than some of our battles we fought in the open ever did. Hers was a secret war, fought in the shadows, through agents that never knew her real face, or the toll it took on her soul."

"I take it she was forced to ruin more lives with the information she suddenly had at her fingertips than she actually took through these agents you mention." Katara stated rather than asked, and when Karin nodded sadly, the old woman returned the gesture. "I'll admit, this is a little beyond my expertise, but not the scars she now bears on her spirit. But I have a feeling she'll be fine, and the ice she had to form around herself to protect her soul from the horrors she committed to save those she loved, will thaw in time." Karin was able to meet Katara's gaze once more, which gladdened the waterbender more than she could say as she finished her brandy at last before setting the empty glass before the good doctor. "War leaves no clear victors." Katara began, curious as to what Karin would say in response.

She wasn't disappointed. "Only survivors, something we can no doubt agree on." Karin responded in kind, before she too tossed back the rest of her drink, and promptly slammed the glass, open end down, onto her desk with an ease that told Katara far more than anything the doctor had said thus far. Late nights, no doubt wracked with concealed worry for her eclectic family that she had surrounded herself with in her own way, with only her brandy for any real company beyond the ever vigilant EDI perhaps. Katara made a mental note to keep an eye on the good doctor, but made no mention of Karin's possible dependency on her poison of choice.

The soft smile that had just started to waver grew stronger than before despite her concern, and Katara nodded, albeit sadly, in agreement. "Indeed, and while the argument could be made that death would be the preferred choice for many over disgrace and a loss of their honor, life is so full of possibilities. If one tries hard enough, even the most jaded, cynical individual can change for the better."

"I sincerely hope you're right Katara." Despite her doubts, Karin couldn't help but match the old waterbender's warm, comforting smile as an easy, comfortable silence fell between the pair. She broke it after several minutes, a thought having occurred to her. "Hmm, I wonder how the recovery efforts of the Normandy is going?"

"About as well as can be expected I imagine." Katara replied cryptically, earning an inquisitive glance from Karin. The waterbender only smiled and turned her empty glass over so that it was bottom up on the desk between them.

Future Industries Airfield, outside Republic City

(For added effect, play Greatest Change from LoK. Trust me.)

Dragging the Normandy SR-2 out of the bay had, for some reason, been the easy part, despite both the extensive damage it had suffered and the fact that Korra and the metalbending officers that had come to help in the operation, hadn't been able to bend the ship directly. The metal used in its construction, while not pure like platinum, was nearly as strong if not stronger than the metal in question, thus making it impossible for it to be manipulated in such a fashion. While it complicated things slightly, it did reassure Shepard and company with the knowledge that it couldn't be stolen easily, not without a sufficient group of strong Earthbenders around at least. Instead, the metalbending police, along with Bolin and Korra, had raised the earth underneath the once proud vessel, holding it together as they raised it out of the depths. For those unable to do more than watch on the edge of Air Temple Island, it was a sight to behold as the ship was revealed as it was slowly dragged out of its watery grave.

Water cascaded off of the scarred, dented, and battered hull, and pieces of dirt and seaweed clung to its gunmetal gray hide, but it was still undeniably….home, to more than a few of them, and it was being returned to them. With the midmorning sun casting its light upon the area, a couple of the crew would swear later they saw small rainbows amidst the water and debris that fell off of the Normandy, only enhancing the image that would forever be engraved in their respective memories. "It's good to see you again girl." Shepard heard Joker mutter softly under his breath, while EDI pulled the pilot a little closer into her side. Shepard found the small smile on the man's bearded face far more reassuring than even seeing the Normandy again as a piece of Jeff's very being was restored to him. Hope was in the air again, both literally and otherwise, and that was what truly mattered to the Spectre.

Getting the vessel out of the depths had been the easy part, but finding a way to transport the vessel to the far side of the city was another matter. Secrecy was out of the question given the sheer size of the Systems Alliance super frigate, and with the number of officers Lin had called in to help drag her out of the water in the first place, it would have been a moot point anyway. Thankfully, between Lin, Bolin, and Korra, a plan was already in place as RCPD airships swooped down into the area, and dozens of metallic wires were wrapped around the vessel from end to end before the island of rock and dirt it had been resting on was allowed to sink back into the depths from which it came.

Currently, they were heading to the airfield, the ships and the Normandy having already gone on ahead of the rest of the group. Which found Shepard and Liara riding in the back of Asami's car, with Korra and the heiress in the front seat, the feel of the wind rushing through her neatly trimmed red hair. Shepard couldn't help the almost all encompassing smirk on her face as they drew closer to their destination. "I don't think I've seen in you in such a good mood Elizabeth."

Shepard met Asami's gray eyes in the rearview mirror and chuckled in response. "You'd be surprised how many good memories most of my team have of that ship you and your extensive list of friends just pulled out of the bay, Asami. Having her, even battered and broken as she is right now, back on dry land again means more than I could ever say."

"Necessity might have demanded we do something to protect or destroy the Normandy in case the Remnant made a move to acquire it, I agree with Shepard on this Ms. Sato, Avatar Korra. You have done truly amazing work, and have asked so little in return." Liara intoned softly in turn.

Both women blushed a little at the quiet yet sincere praise in the asari's voice. Even if they couldn't see her gaze, Liara having donned a low riding dark cloak over her face and arms as they drove through the city, both were pretty sure her blue eyes were bright in her own version of renewed hope at having her home returned to her as well. Korra was the first to say what Asami and herself were thinking. "It really wasn't that big a deal Liara. Although, I thought Jeff was going to break down into tears by the time it was over and we had the ship secured to the RCPD's fleet. And really, who would have blamed him? Even I know your ship represented everything he fought so hard for, even if I don't know the story of how he became your pilot in the first place, Elizabeth."

"It's actually kinda interesting if you want to know how he got the job originally, but as for what it means to him? You wouldn't be far off the mark Korra." Shepard leaned forward, her arm, having been resting on the edge of the open window on her side of Asami's car, now rested in her lap as she met Korra's gaze, the Avatar having turned around to listen to her. "To Joker, the Normandy was more than a vessel, or a place he, like the rest of us, called home after a while. It was his dreams given reality, even if we took the ship into some pretty dark places over the years. He always wanted to fly, and he had the drive and passion to succeed in achieving that goal. He had top marks in all his classes, and could outfly everyone that studied with him, even the instructors were second rate compared to him. I've seen his file, the awards, the commendations, and I've seen what he can do behind the helm, so I know for a fact he's just as good as he claimed when I first asked all those years ago, despite the fact he has brittle bones that would have otherwise held him back in any other career. To say flying is what makes him who he is wouldn't be wrong to say either."

"Well, let's hope that at least getting it on the ground will help him in some small way." Korra replied softly as she turned back toward the front only to lower her eyes to her lap. She perked up though when both Shepard and Asami put a hand on her shoulder and leg respectively, sensing a bit of her old scars she still bore in the tone of her voice. She squeezed Asami's hand and gave Shepard a smile for their efforts.

The rest of the ride proceeded without any more pained looks, brought on by memories of their respective traumas for one reason or another. And by the time they reached the airfield, the group were laughing, smiling, and having a good time. Passing through a security checkpoint, Shepard couldn't help but raise an eyebrow when she saw the metallic poles stuck into the ground at regular intervals, but she didn't see anything connecting the black metallic poles themselves. The soft hum of some kind of energy as they drove past the checkpoint clued her into the truth however. "Clever. You have some kind of forcefield around the perimeter?"

"It was one of my father's old designs, I improved on it." Asami replied softly, and shot Shepard a respectful glance in the mirror at having guessed the nature of the 'fence' even as a pang of sorrow hit her in the gut at the reminder. Shepard wanted to kick herself for ruining the mood with the seemingly innocent question, but a subtle shake of Korra's head stopped her from saying anything. Nor did she complain when Asami slammed on the brakes once they had pulled up in front of the massive hangar that had been constructed to house the Alliance vessel while it went in for repairs.

Knowing when to issue a tactical retreat, Shepard and Liara quietly left the car, leaving Korra and Asami alone. Only her enhanced hearing detected the quiet sobs that followed them, which were quickly muffled when Korra pulled a trembling Asami into her arms, cradling her head in the crook of her neck, but Elizabeth pretended not to notice a thing as she and Liara entered the metallic structure before them. A look towards the asari at her side when she pulled down her hood however, said she knew what was happening behind them. "She's going to be alright Liz."

"I know….but I still feel like a giant ass for bringing it up in the first place." Shepard muttered glumly, but was stopped mid stride when she felt Liara's soft fingers against her cheek. She leaned into the blue hand on her cheek and grabbed Liara's wrist, and brought her fingers to her lips before leaving a gentle kiss on the asari's knuckles. "I also know what you're going to say, and you're right."

Liara only smiled as Shepard let her hand go and walked deeper into the bustling hangar, completely oblivious or ignoring the few curious glances they got from the work crews already hard at work in trying to figure out how best to tackle the problem before them as she trailed after the human that had become so important to her. Her thoughts were derailed however when someone stopped right in front of her and immediately leaned forward, his gaze intense and focused. When she tried to step to the side, the man moved with her, his ilps pulled into a thoughtful frown as his right hand moved to stroke at his black, pencil thin moustache. "Excuse me." Liara said, only to lean back further when the man moved closer. She frowned and narrowed her blue eyes, a sign of danger for anyone else, yet the man before her only seemed to grow more confident.

"Hmm, you my little lady are amazing!" Liara felt a sweat drop roll down the back of her crested head when she realized who this man was as he threw his hands out wide over his head. "Proof of alien life just walks right through the front door, and let me tell you it looks pretty good." Shepard had since taken notice and had already started back to Liara's side, but a subtle glance over the man's shoulder had the Spectre stopping mid stride, a curious look on her face but Liara's sight was soon blocked once more. "So, got a name I can actually pronounce, or should I make one up for you?"

When she was able to see Shepard again, she made a mental note to tie her to the bed and leave her begging when the asari noted the snickers she was trying to hide before she turned her gaze back on Asami's….exuberant business partner. "My name is Doctor Liara T'Soni, and you must be Iknik Blackstone Varrick."

"I see my fame precedes me! But most people just call me Varrick." Varrick proudly announced, and raised his equally thin eyebrows in what he likely thought was his being sauve and charming. Liara could see the appeal, if she were even vaguely interested in the man in that sense, but only felt annoyance over anything else as she once again tried to step around him, only to be blocked once more. "You know, you'd look good in one of my movers. We'd make a fortune selling the lost traveler angle! Or better yet, a romantic tale!"

Just as Liara was about to tell him exactly what she thought of that idea, Varrick turned white as a sheet when his light blue eyes fell on something behind the asari. When she turned, she put the pieces together when she noted the annoyed gleam in an otherwise almost bored looking woman's face that was zeroed fully in on Varrick. Liara instantly started to like the smartly dressed woman as she stomped over to them and jabbed a finger in Varrick's face. "I thought we agreed we wouldn't pester the offworlders with such a proposal? You take one look at them and try to reel one of them in?"

"Hey, it's part of my nature! Besides, I married you didn't I? I might be a self absorbed businessman and genius inventor on a good day, but I do have my moments. I was just being charitable to our new neighbors." He countered before sliding up to his female counterpart and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close just as quickly. 'Sides Zhu Li, you can't pretend you aren't curious about them yourself, am I right?"

Zhu Li sighed but couldn't help to let a flicker of a smile dance across her lips in agreement before jabbing her finger into his face again. "Fine, but if one of them decides to push you off a cliff, I won't stop them."

"Alright, you made your point. Yeesh!" Varrick shot back and held his hands up before in an effort to placate his wife. "I'll try to be on my best behavior….that's gonna be a challenge now that I think about it. Hmm." He mused, and went back to stroking his chin this time until Zhu Li pushed him towards the ship. Varrick flailed his arms around, almost fell over, but managed to right himself before he hit the ground. Having gotten the hint, Varrick straightened his blue suit and tie before all but strutting towards the vessel, where the last of the catwalks and various equipment was being set up around it.

Ignoring the amused gleam in Shepard's gaze when she came over to stand beside her, Liara was the first to be addressed by Zhu Li directly. "I'm sorry you had to deal with that, but he's not as troublesome as he used to be. My name is Zhu Li Moon, it's a pleasure to meet you Doctor."

"Thank you Mrs. Moon. We've heard a great deal about yourself and Varrick from Asami and Korra." Liara responded, and wasn't all that surprised when Zhu Li let out a weary sigh. Their history was indeed quite spotty, and while Varrick had been the brains behind most of the schemes in question, Zhu Li had indulged him throughout most of those same events. But that didn't matter to Liara since if Asami and the rest of her friends trusted the man, then she'd reserve judgment until and if he gave her a reason to doubt him.

"Unfortunately all those stories are true, but as Varrick has already said, he's done a lot of good as well." Zhu Li admitted, confirming the asari's line of thought, but the tilt of her lips said she loved the man he was now, and that was enough for Shepard.

"Meh, he seems like a nice guy to me, if a little off his rocker." Shepard said with a shrug of her shoulders. Zhu Li only smirked in response and bowed her head towards them before running off to catch up with Varrick, no doubt in the hopes to keep him out of further trouble. Elizabeth only shook her head and smiled after the pair before meeting Liara's amused if annoyed look. "What? I thought it was nice he offered you a job myself."

"I'll be sure to remember that the next time you get into an uncomfortable situation." Liara shot back, but left a kiss on Shepard's cheek despite her mixed feelings regarding the man. It was probably just as well as both women saw Korra and Asami coming their way. They said nothing to the pair, but they relaxed a little when Asami looked up towards them and nodded silently before she took a deep breath and marched towards the nearest of her workers and promptly began to issue orders. Korra remained behind though, and watched as Asami busied herself with the monumental task before them. "You're concerned."

"Wouldn't you be?" Korra asked, and let out a heavy sigh as Liara and Shepard shared a look. "I'm trying to be there for her like she was there for me, but I'm afraid she might be slipping away from me."

"Sometimes all we can do is keep moving forward. She'll come around when she can't run away from it anymore. When that happens, be sure you're there to catch her when she can't keep going alone." Liara emphasized those softly spoken words when she directed her gaze on Elizabeth.

"That said, while I wouldn't pester her about it, be there for her kid. Support her, be someone she can lean on, although I doubt I have to tell you that. You two are pretty inseparable as it is." Shepard patted Korra on the shoulder as the Avatar chuckled weakly but nodded her thanks for their own support. "As I told Asami just yesterday, my door's always open….just uh, knock first. I probably should have told Asami that too now that I think about it."

"Uh...right." With that less than subtle innuendo between them, Korra made a hasty retreat before she spontaneously burst into flames from the rampant embarrassment when she caught onto the punchline. Still, Korra stopped mid step before she spun around to face the two. "Thank you, for trying to help in your own way."

"I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't." Shepard replied, and nodded her head ever so slightly when Korra bowed at the waist, her fists touching at midway between her chest and stomach before Korra turned and walked the rest of the way towards Asami, Varrick, and Mako and Bolin.

Shepard turned to her bondmate and said quietly. "Make sure that we get the Normandy ready as soon as possible, I don't know who these Remnants are, but they sure as hell won't catch us with our pants down."

"Let me guess, you want it done quickly, and yet quietly, no matter how contradicting these two things often seem to be?"

"You got it."

"Why am I not surprised?"

"Because you know me too well." Shepard shot back without missing a beat before a sly smile appeared on her face. "However, I can offer some… compensation for your efforts."

"You're incorrigible. Or would that be insatiable?" Liara asked, a mischievous smirk pulling at her own lips as she casually draped her arms over Shepard's shoulders. "Of course, I expect to be paid….many, many times for all those missed opportunities up until now, my Commander."

"Oh I think I can manage that." Before she could move in for a kiss that would have likely left them both a bit dizzy and ready for more, Shepard remembered where they were and coughed in mild embarrassment herself this time. Liara meanwhile quickly backed away and smirked despite her own cheeks turning a couple shades darker about the same time. "Later then?"

"Yes, later, preferably without so many prying eyes around." Not that they cared what other people thought about them, since they had been through far too much to let the opinion of others sway them, but they still abided by some measure of common decency for those not so ready to see how they felt for each other. Whatever else they might have said on the matter was interrupted though when Kasumi flickered into sight, beating a curiously worried looking EDI by about ten seconds. "What's happened?"

"Jeff has disappeared." EDI informed them.

"What?!" Both Liara and Shepard shouted at the same time.

"For a guy with brittle bones, he can get around pretty quick when he wants to, and according to our metal friend here, she went to help one of the workers with moving some equipment, and when she came back, Jeff had flown the coop. One of the vehicles outside are missing, so he isn't traveling by foot." Kasumi explained quickly, bringing them up to speed as quickly as possible.

No one was all that surprised when Elizabeth slammed her fist into the nearest hard surface at her side. "Dammit, he really should know better than to simply run off."

"I believe Jeff wishes to be alone to grieve for his family in solitary." EDI said sadly, her synthetic, brown eyes full of concern. "He knew that we would try to help if we knew where he went." To further prove her point, EDI held up an omni-tool, Jeff's omni-tool, which earned a collection of rather colorful curses from Shepard before she regained a measure of her composure.

"That's not the point EDI. He's one of our friends, family." Shepard sighed and forced herself to take a breath, then another, in order to calm down before she did anything stupid. It helped, if only a little, before she met their respective gazes. "And with how big Republic City is, let alone the surrounding area, it's gonna take hours just to pick up his trail again."

"And with the gangs acting up as they have, he might be in even greater danger." Liara stated, echoing what most of them had already been thinking.

"The thought had already crossed my mind Liara." EDI replied glumly, or she did a pretty good impression of the emotion at any rate.

"I imagine it had EDI, but we'll find him." Kasumi reassured the group at large before flickering out of sight. "Besides, he isn't stupid, he won't do anything too stupid, will he?"

"In his current emotional state, it would be hard to predict just what he might be capable of Ms. Goto. But….I will hope we find him unharmed." EDI replied immediately, and ignored the few strange looks they were receiving for the simple fact she was apparently talking to thin air. "Where should we start Shepard?"

"You probably know him best at this point EDI, since you spent a lot more time with him than any of us. But if I were a betting woman, I'd say we start with the bars. Anywhere where they serve alcohol, or what passes for it on this rock at least."

"That's going to still take a lot of time, but it's a start." Liara said before turning to look towards Asami, Korra, and the rest of their close friends. "Let's….leave them out of this. They have enough to worry about as it is, and besides, they've done a great deal for us already."

"I agree, but the moment it looks like we have to engage one of the gangs here, we should inform them at least. I mean it probably would be better if they heard it from us than from the locals about how the strangers decided to shoot up their streets and the surrounding neighbourhood." Shepard replied and patted her concealed sidearm on her right hip. Liara only nodded in response, but they both knew she had at least one concealed weapon on her, as well as an alloy blade tucked away somewhere on her person. It had been silently agreed upon by everyone on the crew that they have at least one weapon on them at all times, especially if they went into the city for any reason. And while some of them hadn't been happy about with the order to use only non lethal means as much as they could without putting their own lives at risk, Shepard had compromised with her more violently prone friends by allowing them to carry both a rubber ammo block as well as the standard tungsten block they normally used during such engagements.

It didn't take long for the rest of the team to be silently informed, keeping Korra and company out of the loop in the process. Those not vital or necessary for the reconstruction efforts on the Normandy quietly slipped away from the airfield, and joined in the search for their wayward pilot. If someone wanted to complain about it later, they could get in line as far as Shepard was concerned as she, Kasumi, Garrus, Liara, Jack, Zaeed, and Grunt made for Republic City.

As they left the hangar and the airfield however, a pair of unfriendly eyes marked their passage, and whispered a message into the collar of his Future Industries uniform. "The Commander has left the hangar. She and several others are moving out to find their missing pilot."

"Good. We'll have them tailed in an effort to learn more about them. Continue your assigned task, but do not engage." The emotionless woman heard in the intercepted transmission replied.

"Understood." Having made his report, the young man ran a hand through his closely cropped brown hair before picking up the toolbox at his side. Waving sheepishly with his free hand, he bowed his head and offered an apology for not getting there sooner before meeting Tali Zorah's amused gaze behind her tinted visor. "I've heard a great deal about your genius ma'am. It'll be an honor to work beside you during this endeavor."

Republic City, on the edge of the Downtown Spirit Wilds….

He had thought about finding himself a dingy little dive and drowning his sorrows until he couldn't see straight, but then he remembered the first and last time he had gotten that wasted right after graduation. Ending up in the local campus hospital for multiple fractures after falling down a partial flight of stairs in a drunken stupor had really put a damper on any further drinking like that, even when he had had plenty of reason to get that wasted over the past three years going on four. No, as much as his life sucked right then, he wasn't so far gone in his depression that he was ready to slip away into an alcohol induced coma and not come back. Besides, Ashley was right, even if they didn't really know how the war had ended. He had to believe that the Reapers were gone though. The Normandy had crashed because of the red wave of energy that had chased them through FTL. Somehow, because of all that energy, and their FTL tunnel going crazy because of it, they had wound up here, where people manipulate the very elements of nature with a few hand gestures and a couple foot stomps.

If a place like this was possible, then he was willing to hold out a little hope, but that wouldn't bring his family back. Letting out a tired, bone weary sigh, Joker stumbled to a stone building that looked about as old and fragile as he felt, and slowly slid down so his back was to the wall and his legs drawn up close to his chest. He didn't have it in him to cry, having already done that once today before the Normandy had been dragged out of the bay, and while the sight of his ship, his home, his hope, being brought back had done a lot for him, it hadn't chased away the voices of his sister and father damning him for being too slow to save them. The Normandy, much like his soul, was still in pieces, and seeing everyone else slowly putting the pieces back together of their respective lives hadn't helped him, so he had ran, in an effort to find his own way out of the dark, or to sink further into it, he hadn't really decided yet.

Pulling off his battered and admittedly smelly black and gray hat, Joker ran his hand over the synthetic material and sighed again, his finger brushing over the hole Lin had put in it when she'd shot it off his head. "Hilary..." He whispered, and slowly put the hat back on his head before pulling his legs closer to his chest and buried his head in his knees. "I'm sorry your big brother wasn't there to save you….like I promised I would." It hadn't taken long to figure out an asari commando that Shepard had ran into in Huerto Memorial Hospital about the same time Ashley had been admitted, having had her head bashed into the side of a shuttle by the very body EDI now inhabited, had ran into his sister on Tiptree. It had taken time for the Commander to overhear the entire story on her way to see Thane and Ashley respectively anytime she and the team were able to stop by the Citadel to resupply, but the truth had come out about what had happened to them both. Hilary hadn't made it, the asari commando did, it was that simple. Joker had held it together until stumbling across Hiroshi Sato's grave, but now he could do nothing but face it all head on.

"Give it back!" The shout of a young girl not too far away had Joker looking up and to the left, down a dirty, debris strewn street where he could see one of the many spirit vines poking out of the dirt and into a nearby stone building, but that wasn't what had his attention. It was the sight of a girl, no older than fourteen, fifteen tops, trying to grab something a bigger kid was holding just out of her reach. The fact she was outnumbered three to one didn't seem to matter to the girl since she was far more pissed off than afraid at that moment. "I said give it back!"

"Whaddya gonna do, cry? I think I'll sell it, make a nice chunk of change off this old necklace of yours." The apparent leader of the group of ruffians cackled as he pushed the girl back, sending her tumbling into the dirt, where she landed with a muffled grunt. His cronies laughed and jeered, and started to walk away, but a well thrown rock against the side of the leader's head stopped them dead in their tracks.

Joker merely crossed his arms and shot them a cocksure grin, appearing far more confident than he actually felt. "I think that belongs to the girl tough guy. Of course, you can't be that tough if you pick on little girls." When the leader growled and summoned a fireball the size of Joker's head, the pilot paled and started backing away. "Oh shit….that's just my damn luck."

"Ain't so tough now are you pal? Throw a rock, start talking smack, and you expect to get away do ya? You've got guts, but you're stupid, and someone needs to put you down pretty boy. Guess me and my boys are gonna have to break your face, pretty boy, for sticking your nose where it don't belong." Despite being seriously outclassed, even if he didn't have brittle bone disease, Joker stood his ground since there was little point in running. Besides, he'd run long enough.

Pulling his arm back, the leader shot his right hand forward, and the fireball in his hand became bigger, becoming a sustained bloom of orange flame. Just when the heat became almost unbearable long before it had hit the halfway mark between them, the girl jumped between Joker and the wall of fire coming right for him. "I won't let you hurt him!" She shouted, and much to everyone's surprise, save the girl's, a concentrated blast of air shot out of the girl's right fist before she followed it up with a spin kick to the left, sweeping all three men off their feet or into the sides of the street. Before they could get up, the girl was standing over the leader, her hands balled into bloodless fists, which she promptly used to smash into his face before throwing her hands out to the side just as his two cronies started to get to their feet again. Once more they were sent flying, except they hit the buildings on either side of the road, and didn't get back up again.

Grabbing the leader by the front of his dirty tunic, the girl stared him right in the eye, and held up her free hand, wreathed in a swirling tornado of elemental energy for added effect. "Don't ever come after me again." She hissed once she was sure they were safe, and pushed him back to the dirt hard enough so that his head bounced off the ground. Rifling through his pockets, she gave a strangled cheer when she found her necklace that the guy had taken from her in the first place, before slowly turning to Joker, tears running down her face. "I-I'm sorry you got involved and almost got barbecued,…..but thank you...for trying."

"Hey, it wasn't a big deal kid." Joker replied, and was able to get his first good look at the girl now that his heart wasn't in his throat, and that he had forgotten about his desire to face his impending doom with some dignity. She was barely fifteen if he was any judge, her face streaked with dirt and fresh tears as she clutched at the necklace with its simple green cloth band that was surprisingly clean and well taken care of. It obviously meant a great deal to her, otherwise it wouldn't have looked better than the girl holding it close to her chest, her gray eyes closed and her head of dirty, silver gray hair hung low as if she were offering a prayer to some deity he didn't know the name of. She was nothing but skin and bones, her ribs all but see through underneath her tight green shirt and brown work pants that were held up by a simple blue cord around her waist.

Having finished doing, whatever it was she'd been doing, the girl started to turn around, but seemed to think better of it when she looked over her shoulder towards him. "You shouldn't be down here, this place is dangerous, more so now for some reason. The gangs have been cracking down on anyone that doesn't pay their 'protection fees', and people have been disappearing. Street kids mostly, but some of the adults that can fight have also gone missing. Benders and non-benders, it doesn't seem to matter. I've been lucky so far, but….a lot of people haven't been." The way she looked at the necklace still clutched tightly in her right hand suggested someone she knew had gone missing fairly recently.

Joker could only blink, having not heard anything like this was going on in the city, but with what he knew of the situation, it also didn't surprise him all that much. From what he remembered of history class, along with his assorted favorite films and comics from his own childhood, as well as listening to Liara talk about the Reapers' assorted twisted tactics, it sounded like someone was recruiting, big time, and they were targeting people that wouldn't be missed. "Sounds like things are pretty rough down here, why hasn't anyone done something?"

"Psh, please, no one cares about people like us! We have to look out for ourselves!" The girl shouted back and threw her left arm out behind her before she calmed and looked away, her gray eyes downcast. "You wouldn't understand, you live in some fancy house I bet, surrounded by your friends who are equally loaded, eating a hot meal every night, with servants bowing to your every need. Your clothes practically scream money to me, so don't pretend you care."

Before either knew what was happening, Joker closed the distance between them and grabbed the girl by the front of her dirty top and leaned down so that the brim of his hat was all but poking her in the right eye. "Listen here kid, you got no idea the shit I've been through! My whole family's dead, and my home's gone! I'm stranded out here in the boonies, and I have no idea if I'm ever going to be able to go back, or if I even want to, so don't give me your sob story and then throw all that shit in my face!" Letting her drop, Joker spun on his heel and started to walk away, rigid with anger and trying to hold back the tears. "You're welcome by the way for helpin' you get your raggedy ass necklace back! Not that I almost got toasted for my trouble or anything!"

Joker stopped when his hat was knocked off of his head by a directed gust of wind, and muttered a string of curses as he rounded on the girl, her left hand outstretched and her own face contorted into an angry scowl. "And you have no right to come down here, stick your nose in my business, and then walk away after yelling in my face! I didn't ask for your help! I didn't need it!"

"That's not what my eyes told me you little airbending pipsqueak! God, you're just like my sister!" Before he could stop himself, Joker punched the wall of the building on his right, and instantly regretted it when something gave way in his hand. The crack of bone was audible, but it was quickly drowned out by Joker's growled, pained scream as he clenched his teeth and knelt down, clutching at his broken hand. The girl instantly forgot her anger and rushed to his side before kneeling down so they were at eye level. "Damn….karma just kicked my ass….had that coming."

"I know a healer, he's just down the street." Helping him to his feet as best she could, without further injuring him since he hadn't hit the wall that hard in her opinion, which puzzled her to no end as to why he had so easily broken a bone in his hand, she led the way with him leaning on her for support. It was a little bit of a walk, so in an effort to distract him, the girl started talking. "So….stranded here?" She asked dumbly and slapped her free hand over her face for the lame question.

Despite the pain radiating up his arm and through his hand, Joker managed a weak, humorless laugh. "Yeah, got in town a little over a week and a half ago. You couldn't have missed us."

"A week and a half ago? Wait, you were in that giant metal bird thing?!" The girl asked, amazement in her voice as she jerked her head up to look at the bearded man's face. The pained grimace she got in return gave way to a wry grin before it switched back to his earlier expression.

"Yeah, that was us. I was the unlucky SOB behind the wheel when we crashed in the bay. Somehow I managed to get us out of the way of Aang's thick head on our way down." Joker replied, and was suddenly reconsidering his decision to leave his omni-tool behind as the pain in his hand and arm, having broken more than one bone with his stupid, emotion driven punch, grew steadily worse with every step they took.

"Impressive, even if you still crashed like a sky bison stuck in a tornado." The girl replied, and breathed a little easier when Joker rolled his eyes but grinned despite the pain he was in. Nodding to the simple, bare faced brownstone building in front of them, faded green paint clinging to the roof and the few window shutters that remained, the girl threw her free hand forward and knocked the door out of their way. "We're about there."

"Nice trick. Where'd you learn to do that anyway?"

"...I learned on my own." Joker wanted to kick himself when those gray eyes started to fill with tears again. "My parents were going to take me to the Air Temple, to train with Master Tenzin and his growing ranks of Air Nomads, but we got into an accident. There was a fight on the bridge as we were going into the city, and our car was hit by a stray shot by someone with fire coming out of her head. A third eye freak!" The girl hissed between her teeth, before her angry energy seemed to just bleed out of her all at once. "She wasn't even aiming at us, but the police vehicle she was firing at dodged out of the way at the last second. The resulting explosion still knocked the car off its wheels and sent it careening off the road and into the water below, but we….we weren't so lucky."

Joker didn't know what to say, his pain forgotten as he stood without the girl's assistance, not that he had needed it in the first place. He had simply went with the flow, that and he hadn't wanted to risk further injury should the agony racing up his arm made him trip and fall or something. But all that was a distant thought as he placed his good hand on trembling girl's shoulder. She looked up at him, and for a moment, he thought she was going to jerk out of his grasp and even go as far as to throw him through the nearest wall with her air powers, but instead she put a hand over his and let the tears fall. "It sucks kid….but a good friend of mine told me it gets better. The pain might not get any better, but it gets easier to carry around, you just gotta take it a day at a time or whatever. Look, I'm not good at this touchy feely stuff."

"Y-you coulda fooled me flyboy." The girl chuckled weakly, before slowly pulling herself free of Joker's grasp and turned her gaze towards the slowly darkening sky, the sun having started to set at last. "You said you flew the ship that crashed? I...I wanted to fly, to see what was out there….but after my parents died….and trying to find my way to the Air Temple? Forget it. There was no longer any point-"

"There's always a point kid." Joker interrupted her, and was surprised by the strength that had returned to his voice as the girl jumped away from him. He held up his good hand to show he didn't mean her any harm, and hesitantly knelt down so they were at least on the same level. While she was physically taller than him at that moment, Joker didn't notice as he began to speak. "The one thing I learned at a young age is to never give up on your dreams, no matter how much life tries to kick you in the crotch. And before you ask, the reason why half the bones in my hand and probably my arm broke when I hit the wall is because I was born with brittle bone disease, yet I didn't let that stop me. My dad believed in me, and my sister wanted to follow behind me, to become a pilot just like her big brother. And I did it, despite being about as fragile as glass, because….it was worth it seeing their smiling faces, but also because I wanted to prove to myself that I could."

Shaking off her amazement a few seconds later, the girl wiped at her eyes with the back of one dirty sleeve before leading the way to the open door, where an older looking man was waiting for them. "Saria." The old man offered in greeting, feigning having heard a thing, but Joker could see the approval in his gaze when their eyes met.

"Kyto. He needs help." Saria replied simply, still overcome by Joker's impassioned speech, although it was a bit more colorful than had been necessary to get his point across.

Kyto nodded and beckoned Saria inside before slinging Jeff's arm over his shoulders, taking the burden the slender blonde had carried thus far. Joker made no move to protest as Kyto took charge. "Let's get you two inside, warmed up, and we'll see what we can do for your friend." Their eyes met once Saria was out of sight, and out of earshot, and Kyto nodded once more. "What you said to her friend, she needed to hear."

"I needed to say it, so I guess we owe each other a favor on that front Kyto. Thanks….for lending a hand."

"No matter our origins, we must help each other and stand together, or we will fall alone. Helping another in need is simply the right thing to do." Something in Kyto's voice suggested he was talking about more than his physical injuries, but Joker wasn't about to argue the point as he was soon situated in a simple wooden chair in front of a rust covered heater in the corner while the man raised a tendril of water from a nearby metal bucket, and submerged Joker's arm up to his elbow in the glowing liquid. Relief immediately followed, and despite being in a strange place, surrounded by strange people, he nodded off.

A soft touch on his shoulder, and Joker immediately jerked awake, only to find himself covered up in a thin blanket that offered little in the way of warmth, yet the gesture meant a great deal to him. Kyto's apology was waved off as Joker grimaced when he moved his left arm, but it was vastly improved from what it had been. "It still needs some work, but I was able to do a great deal before I needed a break, no pun intended." Joker smirked weakly at the old man as he sat down across from the pilot, and silently nodded his head over his right shoulder. Turning, Joker saw Saria was wrapped up in a similarly thin blanket, her right hand clutched tightly around the necklace in her grip. Sensing his curiosity, Kyto spoke before he could ask the question no doubt plaguing him. "She's been out here for almost three years, living with the rest of us as a refugee of sorts. When Harmonic Convergence occurred, her parents, her mother being an earthbender from Omashu, got her family out of the Earth Kingdom when her daughter started showing signs of airbending. Rumors started quickly of other airbenders disappearing, and given the history of the Earth Kingdom, rumors are often truth hidden in the dark."

"I think I heard something about that. The Earth Queen was trying to make an airbending regiment to augment her Dai Li or something." Joker said, remembering part of a story he had heard from Kai, Jinora's boyfriend, and someone that had been inside the Dai Li's hideout at the time. Kyto nodded, but Joker hardly noticed, his eyes falling on Saria once more. "Damn kid goes from one shitty situation to another. It's no wonder she didn't try to make it to Air Temple Island."

"To be so close to one's goals, to see a better future, a better path stretching out before you, only to lose it all in a cruel twist of fate, would shatter anyone." Once more Joker got the impression he was talking about more than one person, mainly himself, but he didn't get to respond before Kyto continued his line of thought. "You too have had a similar experience." Joker only nodded as his brown eyes fell to his lap. Kyto nodded, having expected as much, and was about to say something else, when a soft cry caught both men's attention. Joker jerked towards the source of the noise, and instantly knew what was happening when Saria tossed her head of silver hair to the right before going back to the left.

Kyto stood and swiftly made his way to her side before kneeling down. Joker could only watch as the old healer put a hand on her dirt streaked cheek and started to softly sing. His voice was deep and sounded like a rich baritone as it filled the dark living space, and it had an immediate effect on the girl who had started to say something about fire, intermixed with cries to her parents.

"Silver light

She turned her face up to the starlit sky

And on this night began to wonder why

She knew that soon the day would come


Born to be

An heir of beauty and serenity

Into this world she entered quietly

To her surprise she was the one

Destiny was close behind her

Phantom of borrowed life

And the sea was a reminder

Mirror of given light


Then one day

The sign she'd waited for in skies of grey

Traversed a winding road and came her way

She found the love she hoped she would


But she knew

That she had promises to stay true to

The dormant daughter of the silver moon

Then all at once she understood

Destiny was close behind her

Phantom of borrowed life

And the sea was a reminder

Mirror of given light


From the sky

She watched the life

She'd known she would leave behind

Said goodbye

And gave her people

Life through her sacrifice."


Saria had stilled by the time the third verse had rolled off of Kyto's tongue, and her cries to her parents had stopped almost immediately. Kyto pulled the blanket up to her chin before running a hand tenderly through her silver locks. Once he was sure she was sound asleep, only then did he stand and make his way back to Joker's side. "Her father was from the Northern Water Tribe, and they had a tale about the moon, of how a princess who lived during the Hundred Year War, gave her life so that the moon spirit would live, thus ensuring our world would continue to exist in balance, rather than the chaos a Fire Nation admiral tried to create by mortally wounding the physical body of the moon spirit. Zhao the Moonslayer his name was. His obsession to destroy the last of the Fire Nation's enemies led him to such a drastic, earth shattering action. If not for her brave, selfless sacrifice, we would not be having this conversation I imagine. Or things would have been far worse here than any of us could have possibly imagined if the princess hadn't given her life so we could continue to exist, despite living in a world consumed by fear, hatred, destruction, and merciless war and all that it brought with it. Either way, that song never fails to give Saria comfort when the nightmares return."

For a man that always had a ready, sharp, sarcastic if not outright dirty joke ready to fire off at the drop of a hat, Joker was finding it increasingly difficult to find anything to say. Kyto only patted Joker on his good shoulder on his way by, and gestured to the only bed in a back room. "You may stay here for the night friend, and I'll even offer to show you the way back to your friends if you wish. I only ask one thing in return." When he looked up towards the kind old man's face and nodded in acknowledgment to his request, Kyto smiled warmly as Joker stood to his feet. "Your name. I would know the name of the man that tried to help one of our own down here."

"Jeff 'Joker' Moreau. And really, it's me that should be thanking you, well...for everything Kyto." Kyto merely shook his head before gently guiding Jeff to the spare room, which really was no more than a closet with a bed in one corner, yet to the pilot, it was more than he had expected to receive from a couple of complete strangers. It wasn't just the bed though that had him sleeping soundly for the first time in what felt like an eternity. It was everything he had nearly walked away from, and what he still had to be grateful for to be alive when so many had it just as bad if not worse than he did. Yet to look at Kyto and his little home here on the edge of a jungle infested swamp, he had something the pilot had almost lost. Hope, and he gave it freely to everyone around him when he had so little to offer.

Sure, life sucked, but with people like Asami, Korra, and everyone else he'd met since crashing on this rock, Joker was starting to realize he had a lot to live for despite everything he had lost, and there was something else that occupied his thoughts as sleep took hold.

He had a lot he could give back.

End Notes; After watching the whole of ATLA over the course of a couple weeks, (the finale about made me cry lol,) and learning how it all ended gave me more than enough ammunition to make this chapter a reality, but one thought kept playing over and over again through my head. Princess Yue, of the Northern Tribe, and her selfless, brave sacrifice. Thus, this bit with Joker and Saria, who, despite how I wrote her appearance, won't be making the same sacrifice before anyone jumps to that conclusion, was born. As for the song lyrics used, it was from Adrisaurus's Original Song, appropriately named Daughter of the Moon

More is revealed about the Remnants' movements in the city, and while Asami is starting to lose her battle with her own grief and sorrow over the loss of her father, Joker has started to win his own in the most unlikely of places. There's plenty more where this comes from, but for now, I want to take a moment to again thank everyone that's offered their support to myself and Nomad-117 regarding Archer83's disappearance, as well as the many reviews we've received since we started writing this story again. Keep them coming everyone. As for everyone that's thanked us for continuing this story, you're more than welcome my friends. It has been a joy and an honor to write this again. May you find peace and balance in the days to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Semper Fidelis

Republic City

Avatar Korra Park

James and Ashley, despite having been out for most of the night already, were still going strong in their search for Joker. Most everyone else, except for EDI of course, had gone back to Asami's place to rest up for a few hours before heading out again. They had since returned to the search, but Ashley and James had decided to stay out, which had led them to the park. They had found the car their wayward pilot had used to get out this far, abandoned near the edge of the park dedicated to Korra and her heroic deeds, and since it was the first lead they had found so far, they had started to sweep the area. "If he is out here, at least he has good taste in hideouts." James said as he crossed his arms over his barrel chest and let his gaze fall on the statue off in the distance alongside Ash, who had been the first to stop for a moment to admire the scenery. "'Course, I imagine the kid isn't all that thrilled about having an entire park named after her."

"Shepard probably has the same problem waiting for her back home." Ashley replied before cocking her head to the side to get a better look at the statue off in the distance. "Hmm….seems a little small if you ask me."

"You think? What makes ya say that Ash?"

"Considerin' how much shit she's been through, the least the locals could have done is make a statue to match." Ash shrugged before walking deeper into the park grounds. "Come on, we've wasted enough time taking in the sights."

"Says the woman that stopped to look in the first place." Vega muttered under his breath.

"Don't push it Vega, I can still kick your ass if you give me the right motivation." Ashley shot back with a small scowl.

"And back talking qualifies?"

"Most definitely."

"Noted." James muttered with a small eyeroll. Damn this woman can be bossy! On the other hand, it's part of her sexy appeal, and the view's pretty good too. He grinned, having purposely fallen behind so he could stare at her rear end as she walked onward, seemingly oblivious to his ogling. Having had enough, for the moment, James just started to pick up the pace to catch up, when he heard a shout off in the distance a fair bit off the white stone pathway. "Ash." He whispered as loudly as he dared, and started towards the source of the shout.

Standing on one end of a stone bridge, with a crescent moon hanging overhead in the night sky, were several individuals, five of which were trying to appear more menacing than either James or Ash believed them to be capable of. On the other hand their opinion was biased, but that didn't stop them from pulling their sidearms from their respective holsters. They didn't unload just yet though, curious to see what was going on before making any call on who they needed to shoot first.

Of the seven, the two men that were surrounded seemed the more threatening of the bunch for some reason. It became clear why that was when one man ducked a fist covered in ice and promptly retaliated, his fingers bunched together in a point before he found his mark in his attacker's shoulder, numbing the arm and causing the ice over the man's fingers to dissolve. "Chi blockers?! No one said we'd be working with a chi blocker!" One of the other men shouted and took a hesitant step back, suddenly unsure of their chances.

"You should have done your homework Red, before some of your cronies went after our friends." The chi blocker replied, and pulled up a black mask over his face from beneath his collar, a red emblem of some kind covering the center of the cloth mask before he took a stance, his gaze having already settled on his next opponent if Ash and James were any judge.

"This may be fun." The other man said and cracked his knuckles and grinned at the gang members. "It's been quite some time since my last fight, so I'm itchy to get all this energy out of my system, hope you can keep up. Be grateful we're on the same side these days, otherwise this little tussle would end with you in the nearest morgue."

"H-hey now, there's no need to-" Whatever else the Red Monsoon member was about to say was cut off when a fist slammed into his gut before it was followed by a barehanded upppercut into the bottom of his jaw, sending him flying back into two of his companions. Their trouble was only beginning though as the chi blocker's partner dived into the mix, using his companion as a springboard to gain a little more altitude and momentum. It became quickly apparent these two had a long history together as they seemed to move together as one whole. When one fell back, the other was there to pick up the slack without missing a beat, seeming to read the other's mind as they dismantled the five gang members on both sides of the bridge.

"Pathetic." The second man spat out and looked at the beaten Monsoons in disgust. "Why we are allied with scum and weaklings such as yourselves is beyond me, but perhaps this will be enough to ensure that you take your training more seriously in the future. If not… I can always kill you later."

"Easy brother, as you said yourself, we're supposed to be on the same side. That said." The smaller of the two, now that the two marines had a better angle on the chi blockers, said and put a restraining arm on his brother's shoulder before kicking a gang member that had just started to get to his feet across his face, putting him back down to the stone pathway. "If we hear of you harassing any of our friend again, I'll personally snap your necks myself, alliance between our respective groups, or not."

Having heard enough, Ash and James nodded silently and rose to their full height just as the two brothers started to walk away from the five man pileup they had created in a manner of seconds. "For being on the same side, you have a funny way of showing it." Ash deadpanned, her N7 Eagle pointed towards the smaller of the two chi blockers. "Nice moves by the way, but I wouldn't count on them helping you twice in one night."

"Girl, you have no idea who you're messing with." The big guy said as he turned on his heel and made a show of cracking his knuckles, his face obscured by a similar black mask with its red emblem in the center. Before he could charge forward though, his brother once again held him back with a hand outstretched across his chest.

"You….you're not from around here, are you?" The slender man asked, calm and collected where his brother was brash and arrogant. "Who are you, and why do you interfere in matters that do not concern you?"

"We honestly weren't even looking for you guys, but since we're here, we're doing a public service by bringing you in to the Chief of Police. Call it a debt owed if you like." Ash replied just as calmly, her aim unwavering as her steely gaze.

"The ship then. That was you." The smaller of the two replied and nodded his head in respect to the two before his red eyes narrowed to slits. "I admire your determination, but that alone won't be enough this time."

"Like my brother said, you can try to take us." The bigger one said with a mocking laugh. "Even if you were to beat us, which isn't gonna happen, you'll have started something you can't hope to stop."

"I don't know big guy, I've fought bigger, but they weren't quite so...ugly." James retorted, and cracked a shit eating grin as he cracked his own knuckles before crossing his arms over his chest. "You really take the cake on that one pal. No wonder you wear a mask, you got a face only your mother could love."

"NO ONE BRINGS OUR MOTHER INTO THIS!" Before his brother could stop him, the giant chi blocker charged forward, blinded by his rage, which had been James' intent from the beginning. With a motion that looked almost lazy, Vega lifted his sidearm and fired a round into the charging man's leg. The loud boom of his pistol was quickly drowned out by the howl of the man as he fell like a ton of bricks, clutching at his leg where the mass accelerated round had hit with the force of a truck focused on a point no bigger than a grain of sand. The snap of a bone breaking had also been audible for a moment, but that too had been drowned out by the giant's howling.

"Ah ah, stay put skinny, or you can end up like your brother with a new hole in your neck." Ash snapped just as the other chi blocker started to move to check on his brother. "You even breathe funny, and I'll happily put you down where you stand." Once she was sure that she had his attention, Ashley nodded to James, who produced a pair of omni-cuffs from his omni-tool with a few practiced taps at the holographic keyboard on his arm once he had holstered his sidearm with a flick of his wrist. "You're going to cooperate, or a broken leg is going to be the least of your brother's worries, or yours for that matter."

"What do you want?" The man growled behind his mask, and remained perfectly still as James slowly approached while Ashley kept him covered with her pistol. A plan had started to form however, and the skinnier of the two was determined not to go down without a fight.

"Information for a start, but something tells me a grunt like you wouldn't know what I'm after." Ash deadpanned, and stepped to the side so she had a better angle on the man as James quickly finished binding the giant's hands behind his back with the glowing pair of cuffs before he started towards the other one, wary and watchful for any sudden movements.

"I might surprise you." The smaller of the chi blockers retorted.

"I doubt it." Ash droned, and couldn't help but feel disappointed at how easy this had been considering all that they had heard about the chi blockers.

"Then I guess we have nothing more to discuss." Just as James started to reach out towards the smaller chi blocker, omni-cuffs in his free hand, he had all of two seconds to realize his feet were being swept out from under him while his pistol was yanked from its holster on his belt. Ashley shouted a curse, but the chi blocker was already diving towards a nearby park bench, firing wildly as he regained his feet before jumping behind the bench all in one fluid motion.

Fortunately for Ashley, her opponent wasn't used to such a weapon, which caused his shots to go wide, although they were still precise enough for her to have to duck and run towards the nearest cover she could find. Ducking behind a fence that lined the stone path, Ash jerked her head to the side when a shot ripped right through the small obstruction. "Shit! James, tell me you're still conscious so I can kick your ass for this!"

"I'm fine, thanks for asking!" Vega shouted back as he too quickly ran for a nearby tree. "Damn, I can't believe I lost my sidearm to a punk in a mask! Lola's gonna have a field day with this one!"

"Quit bitching and let's take him down." Ashley shouted as she tried to come up with a plan to fix this mess. "I'll pin him down and you get close and beat the hell out of him."

"Got it! On three?" James asked as he prepared himself to take off the moment the signal was given.

"Three!" The marine agreed, and wasted no time in leaning over the fence and firing off a barrage of shots towards the park bench, hoping to either A, flush out their attacker, or B, force him to take cover so he couldn't shoot at them anymore. She didn't anticipate him rolling over the bench and charging towards her position, until she saw the smoke bomb he had begun to toss in her direction as he ran towards her. Instinct kicked in as she instead aimed for the projectile, and green, thick smoke filled the immediate area when one of her shots hit the grenade midflight, obscuring everything within a twenty foot radius. By the time the smoke cleared and both marines weren't coughing up a lung, both chi blockers were long gone. "They couldn't have gotten far." Ash growled out as she waved her hand in front of her face, clearing up the last of the smoke before her as James ran to her side.

"Especially since big, dumb, and fugly took a shot to the leg. His bro's gonna have a hell of a time getting him anywhere." James said, and nodded to Ash when she flashed off a series of hand gestures, on the off chance their opponents were still within earshot. Getting the hint, James kept talking, but he signaled back, saying he had 'heard her loud and clear' before he tapped off a quick message to Shepard, saying they had found a couple chi blockers and that they were in pursuit. "As much as it normally turns out to be a bad idea, we'll cover more ground if we split up."

"I'll take the water front, think you can handle the pathways around here?" Ash asked aloud, to which James cracked a smile at her before they went their separate ways. The plan was simple, but if it worked, it would ensure their opponent made the mistake of thinking they were too far away to help each other. By 'splitting up', they gave the illusion that they would be too far away to help each other, but Ashley had coordinated their efforts so that they were within eyesight of each other, if not earshot, as much as possible as they moved deeper into the park. Even separate, they worked together as one, and it was the hope their enemy would underestimate them as they had already underestimated the chi blocker. That and they were banking on the hope that the skinny blocker wasn't about to abandon his brother, and would make another attempt to take them down in order to ensure their escape.

Despite the fact James had injured the bigger of their opponents, he was a little impressed by how quickly they had disappeared. He was starting to have a newfound respect for these chi blockers, and what they were capable of if these two were any example of the rest. Whatever the case might be, Vega spun around when he heard a twig snap, and relaxed when a strange….frog squirrel thing gave him a curious look before giving a 'ribbit' and hopping away. "Right….animal hybrid things are the norm here." James mused before proceeding further down the path he was on.

Ashley was having similar luck as she kept one eye on the water on her left and the other on the grassy hills and tree lined paths on her right. Even though she was in the middle of trying to get James' gun back and take that skinny asshole chi blocker down a couple pegs, her mind couldn't help but wander over what had brought them there in the first place. She was going to have a lot of harsh words with Joker when they found him, but as much as she would no doubt threaten to snap every bone in his body, Ashley knew it'd be an empty threat. He was just going through some difficult shit and needed time to clear his head, and for whatever reason he had felt the need to do it alone. On the other hand, she couldn't blame him either since he had probably felt smothered by everyone trying to get him to open up and talk. Joker was many things, but talking about his feelings? At least without a few sarcastic comments through into the mix, just wasn't his thing. He was worse than Liz in that sense, which was hard to imagine since Shepard had been pretty bad about talking to anyone about….well anything, but again Ash could understand even if she personally couldn't relate. Losing your entire family in batarian raids would do that to anyone, or they'd end up like Talitha….

No, that was in the past, and Shepard had gotten the poor girl to drop her gun before she could hurt herself or anyone else, and got her some much needed help. That had been a major step in both their recoveries honestly, and Ash had been there to see it happen. It was the first time she had seen Shepard without her 'mask', and while it wasn't the last, it had revealed a great deal about the woman she had long since sworn to follow to Hell and back. And while the subsequent years had changed them all, this place had given back so much to them, making it all worth fighting for.

Ash was jerked out of her thoughts when the skinny chi blocker jumped out of the water at her side, a reed pipe locked firmly in his mouth. Instinct and her N7 training kicked in once more as she grabbed the chi blocker by the front of his shirt and his simple cloth belt and threw him over her shoulder with a defiant shout. While he rolled to his feet and was ready to fight in about as many seconds, it was long enough for Ashley to activate her omni-blade, the omni-tool on her arm flash forging an orange, diamond hard dagger in the time it took her to close the distance between them, giving her a slight advantage in reach even as the chi blocker kicked her gun out of her hand in the next heartbeat.

Bending back as he continued his spin kick, Ashley felt the wind of his strike, but she only grinned as she blocked his punch with her blade covered arm before using her now empty hand to counter, attempting to strike him in his shoulder. He was forced back, his shoulder numb but not dead numb, but he didn't have time to work out the kink since Ashley was right on top of him. Moving his injured shoulder and the arm attached was more difficult, but not impossible, but even that much of a slight disadvantage was enough for Ashley to press forward as she rained lightning fast blows down on him. "You fight like a chi blocker." He grunted as he did his best to keep up with the woman, and jumped back when she attempted to sweep his legs out from under him.

"I'll take that as a compliment." She shot back, her bladed arm leading, only to pull back at the last second, her real attack coming from her other hand which found a new home in her enemy's nose. Despite the stars that exploded behind his red eyes, the chi blocker had enough sense of mind to keep moving rather than put a hand over his injured nose, which started to ooze blood seconds later.

Proving his cleverness and resourcefulness once more, the chi blocker threw one of his smoke bombs into the path of her omni-blade when Ashley moved to slash at him, and the contents promptly exploded in both their faces. While it was disorienting for them both, he had experience fighting blind, and used it to his advantage to draw the gun he had stolen from his cloth belt.

Time slowed down to a crawl when she realized what was about to happen when she saw a dark silhouette through the smoke, the unmistakable shape of a gun being pointed at her, and Ashley froze when a single shot rang out. A tiny pinprick of sensation was all she felt in the center of her chest, and then….nothing as the world went black.

James saw it happen as he ran through the bushes that blocked his path, only to trip and tumble over the giant chi blocker he had shot in the leg at the start of the confrontation. Ignoring the grunt of pain his counterpart let out, the marine had eyes only for the bastard that had shot his girlfriend. "Ash! You better run right now you son of a bitch." His opponent didn't need James to tell him that, and wasted little time in running past to no doubt collect his brother. That said, their eyes met as they ran past each other, a silent promise passing between them that if their paths ever crossed again, only one of them would be getting out alive, especially if Ash didn't get out of this alive.

Central Station

"Ya know Grunt, I never thought I'd appreciate the peace and quiet until I got myself involved in a good ol fashion street brawl." Kasumi chuckled dryly even as she nimbly ran up a wall before springing off of it just as a fireball slammed into the spot where she had just been moments ago. "Who knew meeting the locals would be so exciting." She shot off mid dodge as a young man in a red, almost respectable looking suit lashed out with his left foot, a covering of red flame following in the attack's wake. The master thief smiled darkly however, as her right hand began to crackle and spark with electricity as she activated a custom made program on her omni-tool with a deft flick of her wrist. She made contact with the gangster's face, and he was sprawled out on his back, twitching like a fish on a hook.

"Hehehehe! I know right?! This is far more fun if you ask me!" Unlike Kasumi, Grunt was all too happy to charge right through the fireballs being thrown his way. His barriers and powerful regeneration were more than enough to withstand the heat as he ran down his opponents left, right, and center.

"Bear in mind," Kasumi began before she was interrupted, forced to cartwheel back when another firebender slammed his fist into the ground where she had just been a second ago, "that Shepard said not to kill," only to counter in the next instant by latching her knee around the bender's neck before twisting her leg just so, and threw him to the side so that he too was sprawled out on his back, "anyone we ran into, right?" She finished, and used the firebender she had just tossed as a springboard by jumping off of his chest, driving the air out of his lungs in the process as she led with her electrified hand, having long since found another target to take down.

Grunt growled in annoyance, having remembered his Battlemaster's orders the moment they had ran into the Agni Kais they were even now fighting, but he grinned wickedly when his head was jerked to the side by a flame enhanced punch to the side of his jaw. "Doesn't mean I can't have fun with them though now does it?" He grabbed the stunned offender by the front of his shirt and used him as a makeshift shield as two more fireballs were thrown at him. His living shield was able to frantically kick one of the attacks away, but the other still hit him in the side, but that was the least of his worries as Grunt proceeded to turn his 'shield' into a battering ram, scattering the firebenders that had shot at him like a pack of pyjaks.

The krogan was on top of the three sprawled out Kais just as quickly as he kicked one in the side hard enough to send him flying into the side of a building before he grabbed the other two by the tops of their heads, and smashed them together just hard enough to knock them out cold. As much as he had wanted to split their skulls open, he wasn't about to go against his Battlemaster's wishes. That said, the adrenaline rush of a fight long overdue was enough to put the krogan super soldier in a very good mood as he ran off to find more opponents. "Come on! Come on! You thought you could take on a member of Clan Urdnot?! Whelps! I!" Grunt pushed one woman by the front of her face with such force she went head over heels like a rock being skipped off the surface of a lake. "AM!" A second was punched in the chest before Grunt threw him by the front of his neck into a cabbage cart, shattering the wooden cart like kindling while sending its contents in every direction. "KROGAN!"

"Grunt look out!" Kasumi shouted, just as a bolt of lightning hit Grunt square in the middle of his back. Even the krogan, fueled by adrenaline and his joy of having found halfway decent opponents, wasn't immune to the power that raced through his nervous system, which was just as robust as the rest of his physiology. Grunt fell, smoke rising off of his massive frame from head to foot, but the slow, if uneven rise and fall of his chest assured Kasumi he was still alive. Her worries were turned inward however as the firebender turned his gaze on her next. "You're going to pay for that." She growled between her teeth, the fun loving, playful Kasumi having disappeared as she gave way to the woman she had become after the love of her life had perished at Donovan Hawk's hands.

"Come get me then." The Agni Kai growled back, his outstretched fingers sparking with lightning. The tension mounted as they circled each other, their attention fully focused on each other at the expense of everything around them. The few Agni Kais that were still conscious if not standing weren't about to get in the middle of the two combatants as, at some invisible, unheard signal, they charged each other.

Even in her rage at seeing another ally fall, even if he was merely injured, Kasumi wasn't so far gone that she wasn't able to keep her head in the fight as she nimbly dodged the first fireball thrown at her before sliding under the second. Springing to her feet with the nimbleness of a cat, Kasumi disappeared, just as her opponent began to charge up a second lightning blast. He let out a soft gasp of surprise, and was forced to shoot the bolt of lightning into the side of a building before it overloaded him. Even a rookie firebender who had just learned to bend lightning knew better than to keep that much raw power contained for long.

Even so, the bright flashes of light that followed the release of all that energy were just enough to force Kasumi to misstep, and while she regained her balance just as quickly, it was enough of a pause for her opponent to get a read on her location. Spinning like a top, the Agni Kai led with a flame kick, and Kasumi was forced back as her cloak failed from the intense heat, but not quite quick enough as her hood was torn from her head and shoulders. The dark material caught flame, and she was forced to throw it off before the rest of her clothes burst into flames as well. It was all the distraction her opponent needed as he charged up one last bolt of lightning, and this time, he couldn't miss, and the horrified gasp that escaped Kasumi said she knew it as well.

Neither Kasumi or the Agni Kai saw Grunt until the krogan's hand fell on his wrist before the krogan yanked his arm up with such force the gangster was sure his shoulder was dislocated. He fired harmlessly into the sky as a cry of agony escaped him, but the menacing growl that was blown in his face had the firebender's full attention. "No one hurts my friends." Grunt growled low in his throat, sounding far more menacing now that he wasn't yelling at the top of his lungs, before slamming his head down onto his opponent's own. The impact of hard, unyielding scales drowned out the wet sounding squish of the human's skull as the Agni Kai dropped like a sack of rotten cabbages. "He'll live, he'll have a headache that'll likely make him wish I had killed him, but he'll live." Grunt stated when he felt Kasumi's hand on his arm and offered her a cheeky grin that revealed more teeth than a mouth had a right to hold. "Puny lightning thrower couldn't take me down if a nest full of rachni Reapers couldn't."

Kasumi chuckled, and breathed a massive sigh of relief now that the worst was over. Even though she was already lamenting the loss of her favorite hood, she was just glad Grunt was alright and as seemingly invincible as ever as she tapped the giant krogan on his chin before beckoning him down the road. "Come on big guy, let's hope Shepard, Garrus, and Liara are having better luck than we are. And thanks for the assist, Grunt, you quite possibly saved my life back there."

"No problem Kasumi. You're not bad for a squishy human." Grunt replied, and even as he stumbled from the lightning blast he had absorbed, the grin on his face never faltered.

Outside the pro-bending arena

Jack and Zaeed were having trouble of their own, having ran into unexpected resistance in the form of several earthbenders who had taken it upon themselves to put them six feet under. That had been their intent at least, but like the Agni Kais before them, these gangsters weren't prepared for who they were trying to take down. Jack was, and always would be, appropriately named a biotic badass by those that knew her or her reputation as being one of the most powerful human biotics in existence, and she proved it yet again as she stormed through a concentrated barrage of rock shards and giant boulders. The intense aura of dark energy around her acted as a shield, stonewalling everything that was thrown her way, or allowing her to barrel right through it as she closed the distance between her and the first of the earthbenders arrayed against them. "Rock?! You expect fucking rocks to stop me?! I'm a biotic fucking goddess!" Just as the defiant challenge left her lips, the ground opened up beneath her feet, but Jack channeled her raw ability into a powerful Charge that propelled her over the gap, and when she came out of it, a wave of biotic energy emanated from her in a ninety degree cone, which reached the closest of the earthbenders, which in turn sent him flying to crash back first into the side of a wall of a nearby building.

Zaeed cackled and shook his head, even as he was forced to duck around the side of another building before the arena when another boulder was thrown his way. He rolled his eyes before firing back, a concentrated barrage of rounds slamming into the nearest of their opponents, sending him falling off of the earth platform he had raised in an effort to gain a tactical advantage. In Zaeed's mind though, it had simply made the idiot a target, but he didn't relish his minor victory long as he turned his old rifle on another of the benders. "Just like old guddamn times huh Jack?!" The grouchy mercenary growled out as he ran out from his hiding place, firing with every step.

"Tsk, yeah, if our opponents were mud slingers instead of machines hellbent on trying to wipe us out old man!" Jack growled back in return, and let out a roar as she threw her hands out about the same time a series of dark energy eruptions sprung out of the ground before her. Three more earthbenders were thrown across the open space before the arena, their feeble defensive measures shattered like glass as rock and concrete they had raised as walls or ammo were crushed equally. Once the smoke cleared, at least for the moment, Jack soon Charged back to Zaeed's side just as another boulder the size of a Satomobile hit the place she had been standing a few seconds ago. "Why they attacking us anyway?! We didn't do shit to them!"

"Beats me, I just know some arsehole's gonna have a bad day before we're done with 'em." The mercenary emphasized his frustrated mutterings by hefting his rifle to his shoulder and unleashing a withering fusillade of bullets on everything in front of him. While his use of ammunition might have been overzealous, his shots weren't wild or imprecise, and he wasn't alone in his efforts as Jack raised a Barrier around them both. Having mastered the use of her powers at a young age, and having earned a lot of experience alongside the rest of the crew, Jack was able to allow Zaeed to stick the end of his rifle's barrel through the blue field of dark energy, while keeping everything the benders threw at them out. Together, they made the perfect team as Jack played defense, and Zaeed kept the earthbenders either pinned or took them out of the fight altogether.

It wasn't until Jack spotted another raised platform behind them, that things got interesting. There wasn't an earthbender standing on it this time around she realized too late as the first of a half dozen fireballs rained down on them from the elevated platform. While they didn't get through, the fire washed over her Barrier like a wave, blinding them to anything happening beyond the fire that cascaded over her dome of dark energy. "I can't see! These fuckers are starting to piss me off Zaeed!"

"Quit bitching and keep that dome up!" Zaeed growled, only to let out a string of curses himself when a concentrated stream of water soon joined in the mix, and when it hit the fire already slamming into Jack's Barrier, a thick cloud of steam rolled over them. Because it was a gas, the dome of protective energy had nothing to block, so it was able to slip through without hindrance, further blinding them to everything beyond their own faces. Once the immediate area was covered in the cloud of steam, the two pronged barrage stopped, but both the biotic and mercenary knew it was a lull in the storm. They weren't disappointed when the ground started to rumble, and they were swept off their feet by a shockwave that began just on the edge of the Barrier. Between the rumbling and the shaking ground, Zaeed felt his foot slip into the ground when the concrete fractured and cracked from the attack. Pinned and unable to free himself, and since Jack had also lost her footing, the Barrier went down about the same time, Zaeed could only stare as a fresh barrage of stones began to rain down on them.

"Got ya!" The earthbender yelled in triumph as he threw a series of small, sharp rock shards towards the pinned mercenary, while the water and firebenders that had blinded the two in the first place rained down ice and fire respectively on the downed biotic.

But Jack was far from done as she jumped to her feet. Throwing her hands out to either side, the biotic screamed in defiance, rage, and fear for her long time ally and friend as a blue shockwave of dark energy erupted from her body in all directions. The fireball was snuffed out, the water that would have turned into ice upon touching flesh was scattered, and it shook up the ground just enough that it opened up the crack where Zaeed's foot was trapped, allowing the mercenary to dive out of the way before the first of the razor sharp spikes could shred him to pieces. While that much power used in one shot left her winded and a little dizzy, Jack's display of such force had left their opponents stunned into inaction. Zaeed was under no such restrictions however, having seen it all before and more many times.

Snapping his gun up to the firebender that had began the attack on them, Zaeed shot him off of the earthen platform before spinning to face the waterbender next, who had since started to back away from the edge of the building he had taken up position on. "Oh no you don't you little shit." Zaeed growled, primed a concussive shot, and pulled the trigger. The gangster, expecting a barrage of blue, sand sized particles, raised a wall of ice only to have it shattered by a concussive blast that tore into his front, leaving him a bloodied mess as ice shards rained down on him on all sides.

Having since recovered from her literal explosion of dark energy, Jack rushed the earthbender that had tripped them up in the first place. With a growl, she tackled the man to the ground and promptly slammed her right fist into his face hard enough to bounce his head off the pavement. "That's for trying to bury us!" Another punch, and his nose gave way underneath her ferocious assault. "That's for trying to kill Zaeed with your asshole friends!" Dragging him to his feet, Jack held him up with one hand while the other glowed blue, her fingers outstretched and twisted into a claw, as if she were seriously considering sticking her hand into his chest and ripping his heart out. "Now you're going to tell us why, or I'm going to rip your spine out your ass and beat you to death with it!" The terror on the earthbender's face only increased when Zaeed shoved his gun in the young man's face, his mismatched eyes promising he'd help her do that and more if he didn't spill his guts in about ten seconds.

At the base of Harmony Tower

Having received reports of the rest of her team being jumped by the respective gangs across the city, Shepard, Liara, and Garrus weren't all that surprised when they ran into trouble of their own. But unlike the rest, they were ready. Garrus, ever the vigilant sniper and sharpshooter, had taken one look at the golden, elegant tower with its bright lights and almost majestic appearance, and decided it'd make the perfect roost for himself and his sniper rifle. While that left herself and Liara on the ground to fend for themselves, they trusted the turian to watch their backs as they spotted the enemy combatants coming down the road and out of almost every alleyway that led into the main street, which led towards Harmony Tower and the surrounding area. "Why do I get the feeling they aren't here for our autographs?" Liara asked, and ducked as a six inch spear of ice sailed over her head. She didn't let it hit the ground though as dark energy trapped the projectile, and with an almost contemptuous twist of her wrist, Liara threw it back at the source. Stunned by the simple fact his ice spear was not only avoided, but thrown back at his face, the waterbender was just able to get out of its way, leaving him wide open for Liara to pull her sidearm and shoot several rubber rounds into his chest and stomach. He was unconscious by shot four, while the other three had him skidding a few feet across the pavement before he came to a stop just shy of his companions.

"Oh I don't know, the fact they seem intent to kill us seems pretty obvious to me." Shepard replied humorlessly as she charged down the closest of the benders that had come out to play, having taken to Katara's lessons like a fish to water as she nimbly dodged around the barrage thrown her way before her right fist found its mark in the man's stomach. He barely had time to gasp for breath before her free arm wrapped around his neck and she promptly choked him into submission before tossing his unconscious body towards two of his charging allies.

"Ever the pessimist." Liara replied as she rolled her eyes at her bondmate's back. Once more she caught a spear of ice that was thrown her way, but instead of throwing it back, Liara used it as a makeshift shield as two more were thrown in her direction. Batting them aside, the asari fired back with her pistol, knocking both benders down hard before casting aside her 'shield' with the same contemptuous flick of her wrist.

"Realistic I think is the word you're searching for." Shepard shot back, and was about to take down another when her target went down without her putting a hand on him.

Garrus's dual flanged voice over their short range comms answered the mystery as to why about the same time they heard the crack of his rifle. "Not to interrupt you two lovebirds, but we do have a bit of a problem on our hands."

"What's the matter, no time for friendly banter Garrus?" Liara asked, even though she and Shepard both knew he was right to be concerned given the numbers and their unique abilities arrayed against them.

"Ha, as if you could even hope to compare to my banter." Garrus shot back boastfully. "I could give you a retort that would seal your lips shut in awe, caused by hearing the greatness of my banter."

Even in the midst of a brawl with empowered individuals, Shepard couldn't help but chuckle at Garrus's ever present voice in her ear as he laid down covering fire for them from his tower perch. "Right, whatever you say 'Archangel'." Rolling over one man's back when Liara shot him in the stomach, Shepard clotheslined the one immediately behind the first before grabbing him by the front of his shirt while he was still falling. Turning all that momentum the other way was simple for the cybernetically enhanced Spectre as she tossed him at the man Liara had shot moments ago, leaving them in a tangle of limbs. Two cracks from Garrus's rifle later, and the two benders went still, but Shepard had long since moved onto other targets.

Garrus gave a mock pout of annoyance even as he finished off the two enemies Shepard and Liara had laid out so nicely for him. "The gangs on Omega respected the name far more than you have Commander. Am I not serving from on high right now?" As if proving his words were all too accurate, Garrus turned his scope on a group of three waterbenders that were near the water's edge, and in as many seconds, stopped them from dragging up a massive amount of water from the bay to deluge the entire area in one fell swoop. "I have to hand it to these guys in one respect though, when they band together, they're capable of some pretty impressive feats."

"Thinking about changing sides on me Garrus?" Shepard teased and snap drew her own pistol at last before activating her adrenaline mod. Time slowed down to a crawl, and the ice barrage coming her way was quickly blasted out of the air before she turned her gun on the two offenders that had made the mistake of aiming at her in the first place. Thirty seconds of dilated time seemed like a small eternity, but it was enough to get her point across as the rest of the group made it a point to avoid her like the plague after that impressive display of combat prowess.

"Not on your life Commander." The turian shot back and sighed wistfully. "A pity, I could probably break my old record had I live ammunition to use. They were so nicely lined up too, oh well."

"They'd have to rename the tower after you were done Garrus." Shepard chuckled, and nodded her thanks when Liara biotically lifted another group, and promptly slammed them down onto the pavement at near terminal velocity. They groaned weakly and twitched, but didn't get back up, which was probably just as well.

"Would that have been so bad? Would have given the whole town more class if you ask me. Vakarian Tower, has a nice ring to it." Garrus droned, and was about to say something more when James's voice came over their short range comms.

"Ash needs evac Commander. I repeat, we need medical evac ASAP, as in she needed it yesterday. She's alive but one of those fucking chi blockers jumped us. She's hurtin' pretty bad Lola." The good mood evaporated like smoke the moment they registered what James had just said.

Temporarily forgetting the remaining forces arrayed against them, Shepard put a hand to her right ear and immediately started issuing orders. "Shit! I'm gonna want to know what happened later Vega. Chakwas!"

"I heard. Help is already enroute Commander. James, keep her stable and still, she's going to be fine." Karin, ever the proficient, efficient doctor, was on top of the situation.

It would have to be enough. "You heard the doc, no more playing around. We finish this now." Emerald eyes zeroed in on the remaining gangsters that had started to back away from them, but it was far too late for that as Shepard jerked her right arm out and an omni-blade sprung to life over her wrist. "I just have one question for you boys, who's going down first?" Normally when she made such a threat in her infamous 'Commander voice', most people that weren't so driven by their baser impulses at least considered trying to talk things out before their guts wound up on the floor. But these guys didn't know her reputation or the things she'd done over the past three years, and despite how easily they had dismantled the others in their group, at least one of them looked a little too confident for Shepard's liking. Nodding towards the man in question, Liara and Garrus got the silent message as she took point. "Well, looks like we have a volunteer."

"That's what you think! Thrash 'em boys!" Surprisingly to Garrus, he wasn't a waterbender, as he found out the hard way when the man in charge pulled off his heavy cloak and revealed a coating of metallic armor that moved and bent along with him. Not only that, but when Garrus went to take a shot, his bullet bounced off the gunmetal gray armor the man was wearing about the same time a metallic face mask formed over his head and neck.

"That could be a problem." Garrus deadpanned, and while his rifle's shots slowed down the metalbender, it didn't stop him outright as he used the metal from the lampposts and park benches that were scattered about the arena's perimeters to reinforce any dents that the turian's sniper rifle created. "That is definitely going to be problem."

"Switch to tungsten!" Shepard shouted, and was about to charge forward when her feet were iced over. She only just kept her balance, but the waterbender who was responsible was already charging forward, a dagger made of ice over his right arm. She met the thrust with her own blade, and hers was the superior by far as the diamond edged blade tore through the ice like a hot knife through butter. It was just as well since she couldn't move, even her enhanced strength wasn't enough to free herself quickly, but the bender's charge put him within reach of her other hand which she promptly used to grab him by his throat. "Bad move pal." She hissed, and slammed her forehead into his just as Liara threw her left hand outward, a biotic ball of energy leaving her outstretched palm.

She was rather grateful for the ice over her feet when the Singularity went off, pulling everything in the immediate area that wasn't nailed down into the event horizon. While harmless, the Singularity was meant to expose enemy combatants rather than destroy them outright, making them easy pickings for someone with even half an iota of marksmanship ability. Three of the five remaining benders were immediately pulled into the miniature black hole of dark energy, making them easy targets for Liara and Shepard's withering fire. The metalbender however, wasn't caught off guard, proving he was more resourceful than his counterparts when he fired off four metallic wires into the concrete, securing himself to the ground. And with Garrus still switching ammo blocks, the turian couldn't take advantage of the bastard's inability to move.

Knocking away the ice on her feet with her blade, Shepard soon had herself free just as the Singularity disappeared, dropping the unconscious benders to the ground. The metalbender and the remaining waterbender were ready as well however, and wasted no time in picking up where they had left off. "Focus on the blue woman! I got this one!" The waterbender shouted an affirmative before launching a fresh barrage on Liara while the metalbender turned his full attention on Shepard.

She slashed at the first wire, cutting right through it as she charged forward, her enhanced speed and agility aiding her here as it had against Katara, just in a different way. Jumping over the second as it was whipped at her feet, she grabbed it out of the air when her opponent twirled and tried to lash her across the face. Giving it a powerful yank, the metalbender was pulled off his feet, giving her a free shot at last. Except movement out of the corner of her eye stopped her cold when she saw Liara being picked up by a tendril of water. She missed it when Garrus put a round in the metalbender's shoulder when he produced a plated sword over his left arm, the tungsten round ripping right through the man's armor, her emerald eyes opened wide in horror as the asari was thrown into the air and into the bay. Just as she hit the water, the bender froze it over, trapping her in a block of ice six feet in diameter.

The last three years had seen them go through Hell in every way one could possibly imagine. They had been shot at, survived explosions, being stabbed, thrown by biotics, attacked by a weird plant thing with its army of zombie like creatures, and they had survived a war with a machine like race born out of some insane nightmare. They had found the Leviathans, the creators of the Reapers, had united the geth and quarians after centuries of war, cured the genophage, and so much more. But most importantly of all, Shepard had lost friends along the way, close friends, and each one of them had hurt for one reason or another. But seeing Liara, trapped in a block of ice, the woman she had given a piece of her very being to, put everything else she had suffered through in a far flung corner of her mind as her reality came crashing down.

That shock turned to unbridled rage as she turned her emerald eyes on the waterbender just as Garrus tried to put a round through his skull, only to have to duck when a barrage of icicles were thrown at him. To make matters worse, she saw Garrus grab at his left arm and give a pained grunt over the comms, having been tagged by one of those samed ice blasts.

This is not happening! I am not going to lose everyone again! Her mind screamed as she charged the waterbender. The adrenaline mod came online, further fueling her mad, blind charge forward, bladed arm at her side as she prepared to end the bastard that had just hurt the woman she loved. I WILL NOT LOSE HER!

Something snapped, and a floodgate was opened as all that raw emotion and pain became something more. A distant part of Shepard's rational mind saw a flash of light as two glowing orbs appeared behind her vision, but it wasn't her memory, not exactly. How she knew that she couldn't say, nor did she care as a face began to take shape around those eyes, one that was pale as a ghost. She knew who it was when she got a good look at the rest of her self proclaimed spirit guide, and she heard the woman's eerily similar voice echo through her mind. It is time. You know what you must do.

Guided by something more than instinct or memory, Shepard let out a feral roar as her left hand shot forward, and a ball of fire erupted from her clenched fist, smashing apart the waterbender's feeble defenses in the process, which opened the way for her omni-blade to find a new home in his chest. He gave a soft grunt, but when she twisted her wrist, whatever he might have said died on his lips. Shepard had since moved on though, withdrawing her omni-blade from the bender's chest before running to the edge of the bay. Her sole focus was on freeing Liara from her icy prison before she and their unborn baby died of hyperthermia. Except whatever frantic, kinetic energy that had been running rampant through her system decided to leave her just as she reached the bay's edge. Exhaustion hit her like a biotic freight train, and Shepard desperately tried to cling to consciousness, but the fight was over before it began.

Garrus couldn't remember going down the ladder, only that he had started moving as fast as his injured arm allowed him to go the moment Liara had been thrown into the water and promptly frozen. Of course, that was only the beginning of his nightmare that was becoming all too real as Shepard charged the waterbender responsible for the deed. Not that he could blame her, but he fully expected her to lose in a straight fight, no matter how skilled she was. Then the impossible happened, and somehow, some way, fire raced out of her hand and blasted aside the bender's wall of water he would have then normally used to do the same to the Commander as he'd done to Liara already. His shock was mirrored by Garrus's own as Shepard's omni-blade slipped between the bender's ribs and out his back, but she didn't stick around to admire her handiwork.

It was only when she fell, beyond exhausted, that the turian got his own ass in gear and got on the horn with Chakwas. All vestige of his earlier humor and dry wit had long since flown as he slid to a stop by Shepard's prone body, her hand outstretched towards the water. "We need evac for Liara, she's been frozen! Get Mako, Korra, anyone that can help get her out, now!"

End Notes; Before anyone says it, no, Shepard is NOT going to become an Avatar or anything like that. Yes, she did just unlock firebending, but that'll be the extent of it. There might be lightning bending later, much later, but for now it'll just be the occasional fireball. Our rationale for why it happened at all is simple however. Since Harmonic Convergence happened, and the Air Nomads came back big time during Season 3 of LoK, we figure all that spiritual energy is acting like a kind of harmless planetwide background radiation, affecting people the longer they're around. Considering how many times she was soaked in healing water at Katara's, and the extent of her injuries at the time of arrival, not to mention the close proximity of the spirit portal in Republic City, it makes sense she'd be the first to exhibit any bending potential. As for the rest of the crew, it's likely they'll also start unlocking bending powers as well, but it'll be one a person as it is with everyone on that planet that has the ability already, save for the Avatar of course, but that's a given lol.

Anyway, feel free to spam us with hateful remarks now that we've left the fate of Liara, their unborn child, and Ashley unknown overall. Will they live, die, or something else altogether happen? While this might be crossed with Legend of Korra, this is still Mass Effect as well, so bad shit happens on the regular to these people. 'Evil grin'. Lol but seriously, we love to hear from you guys and gals, and we hope we haven't scared anyone away by leaving it open ended like this. I hate cliffhangers as much as the next guy, but they keep things interesting. D At any rate, take care, good luck on your own endeavors, and may all of you find peace and balance in the days to come.

Semper Fidelis by the way, means 'Always faithful' or 'Always Loyal'. It's the core motto of the marine corp, but it also seemed fitting to use it to describe Shepard's family and friends and how they view each other. Some fun trivia for you folks. ; D See ya!

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Consequences of Their Actions

Remnant Base

The morning hours of a new day were just beginning, and the sun had just started to show its face over the horizon, but they were too far underground to notice. And one man in particular was too deep in his morning meditations to care about anything beyond his own center, his efforts to calm and ready his mind for the day ahead. There was so much yet left to do, and while he was confident they would succeed where so many had failed, he was not one to break away from his established routine even now. A routine that had started the day he could understand the need for order over the chaos of one's daily life.

"Sir…." Looking up from the jade dragon mask that was situated on a pedestal before him, the man didn't look over his shoulder to address the woman who was currently knelt down behind him. The subtlest of nods was all he gave her, but it was enough. "W-we've received reports that our tails have returned from observing the offworlders' combat capabilities. They say that the strangers were quite formidable. They suffered minor injuries at best despite being ambushed at every turn by the gangs, and even captured one of the Terra Triad members for interrogation by the Chief of Police. One man is reported dead, stabbed through the chest by a blade as of yet identified, but not before he was able to throw one of the offworlders into the bay before promptly freezing the woman in question."

"They are human then." The man mused aloud, none too surprised by this revelation, but it was also reassuring to know they were prone to the same mistakes as they were, and thus shared the same vulnerabilities.

Despite having his meditation interrupted, the smile on his face was reassurance enough for the woman behind him since the few people who had dared to do so before hadn't been seen again. Reassurance enough that she found the courage to speak further, confusion lacing her voice as the words spilled from her lips. "Uh….the one he froze was reported to have had blue skin." She replied, not understanding his meaning.

The man chuckled but shook his head at her understandable mistake. "I mean they are not unstoppable, despite their advanced capabilities Ju Zhang. No, this is good news indeed. It means that despite their strange powers and technology, they are just as susceptible to making mistakes, and now we've hurt one of them. That means that if they act as I think they will, they will be driven by their need to avenge their fallen. This presents the perfect opportunity to begin the next phase of our plan." The smile on his face was soon mirrored by Ju Zhang when he turned his gaze to that morning's paper. On its front was a photograph of President Raiko, the headline reading 'End of Raiko's Second Term Imminent.'

"The Earth Empire will be realized soon enough Ju Zhang." The man stated further, and was about to dismiss his loyal second when there was a knock on the door behind them. Another simple nod was all he gave her, before Ju Zhang opened the door with a casual wave of her hand as she used her metal bending to unlock it without getting close.

A quick conversation followed, which saw the door shut and Ju Zhang coming back to kneel behind him once more, yet he could sense something different as she held out her right hand. Looking over his shoulder at last, the masked man raised an eyebrow when he saw what it was she was holding. "Well, this changes things." He said, allowing a hint of his pleasant surprise to filter into his voice when his eyes fell on the weapon that was resting in Ju Zhang's outstretched hand. The red stripe, with its accompanying N7 along the barrel, were what drew his eye first, but it was the simple fact they had acquired one of the offworlders' weapons at all that truly intrigued him. "Have our scientists begin work on analyzing that immediately."

Katara Memorial Hospital

Katara wasn't at all surprised to see Grunt standing outside the room where Ashley and Liara had been put into after the fighting last night. The krogan nodded at the old woman, his rather imposing weapon held across his chest, but he didn't make any further move. He didn't say it, didn't need to, but Katara could see the worry in the massive alien's gaze, the concern for two of his own despite having been hit by lightning himself only a few hours ago. As for the simple fact the krogan was in full armor, holding his giant shotgun in plain view of anyone that came down the hall, no one had been brave enough to say a word against him. After word got out of last night's all out assault, Katara couldn't blame any of Shepard's crew for walking around with every tool of their assorted trades on their person.

Katara merely patted the imposing warrior on his armored shoulder on her way past, and once more wasn't surprised when she saw Shepard sitting with her elbows resting on her knees, her chair pulled close by the asari's bedside. She was the only one that wasn't in full armor, but the sidearm on her hip told its own story. As for Liara herself, it had been a simple matter to melt the ice that had formed around the woman once Korra, Mako, and Jinora had flown in on Juicy, but despite assurances to the contrary, Shepard had refused to leave Liara's side until she woke up. Katara didn't blame her in the slightest as she cleared her throat, loudly, in an effort to get Elizabeth's attention before getting any closer. While she was far from worried for her personal safety, it was probably just as well she made her presence known before getting any closer when Shepard jerked in her seat and her hand immediately went for the sidearm on her hip before she relaxed just as quickly. "Sorry…." Elizabeth muttered softly when she realized who was standing at the end of Liara's bed.

"It's quite alright Elizabeth." Katara reassured her before turning her blue eyes on the asari between them. She appeared to be resting comfortably, but the worry in the room was thick enough to dull a knife. Pulling up the only other chair, Katara sat down next to the redhead, and let the soft sound of the asari's breathing be the only noise between them for several moments, knowing Shepard would start talking when she was ready.

She wasn't disappointed as Elizabeth let her green eyes fall before she opened her mouth, her voice barely above a whisper. "It should have been me." She said simply, but that sentence held a lot more than the casual observer would have detected. Katara was anything but ordinary however, having seen war in all of its ugly truths, and knew what Shepard was truly saying.

"And if it was, Liara would be doing exactly what you're doing now." Katara replied softly, and met Shepard's gaze when she looked away from the asari at last. "None of this is your fault Elizabeth."

"Things changed when I put my budding family in harm's way to look for someone that clearly didn't want to be found." She snapped back before looking away, unable to hold Katara's calm, unwavering gaze. "...No, I can't pin this on Joker, even if it was our looking for him that put us in the crosshairs a fair bit sooner than we anticipated. I should have just stayed behind with Liara….I knew she was holding our child, that she was taking care of two people, not just herself anymore, but neither of us stopped to think. We just-"

"Did what you have always done. You ran into danger, guided by concern for one of your own. You did what you thought was right." Katara said, interrupting the guilt induced tirade Shepard had been directing at herself. "She chose just as you chose Elizabeth." Before she could register what was going on, Katara had since stood to her feet and put a hand over Liara's stomach before closing her eyes. Elizabeth watched as the healer's hand started to glow for a moment before a soft smile appeared on the wrinkled woman's face. "And to set your mind at ease, your child's life is not at risk. If anything, I would say she is just as strong as her parents despite being so early into her development."

"How could you possibly know that?" Shepard asked, not in doubt, but rather disbelief since she had seen too much of the locals' abilities not to believe in what they were capable of.

Katara's smile widened as she sat down and put a hand on Shepard's shoulder. "I have been a midwife to many of my tribe before I and my brother Sokka found Aang in the ice, and I still assist in such a capacity every now and again. I helped Pema during each of her own children, except for her last, Rohan. Korra, Mako, and Bolin were there for his, and they acquitted themselves well even though Amon and his Equalists were preparing to attack Air Temple Island at the time. Lin stayed behind to give the others time to escape, although the cost was her bending, and some could argue, a piece of her very soul."

"I had no idea she had done that." Shepard replied, more than a little amazed the grouchy Chief of Police had sacrificed so much for Tenzin's family. While it was clear Korra had likely undid whatever Amon had done to her, it was still amazing to hear the story, truncated as it was, of the woman's willingness to sacrifice what made her who she was so that they had had a chance. Her respect for Lin shot up considerably in any event, but it didn't chase away her own guilt at having brought Liara into a dangerous situation despite what Katara was trying to tell her. "I get what you're saying Katara, but it's not that easy for me to forgive my own part in what's happened. Ashley, Liara, and our unborn child were put in harm's way, and I can't so easily separate myself from what they might have willingly walked into. They're still my responsibility, no matter how you look at it."

Katara only nodded, having come to expect such an answer from the woman beside her, but it was also reassuring to see she so deeply cared for those under her command and for those around her. Katara was able to relax comfortably however upon seeing the grateful nod and the flicker of a smile appear on Shepard's face, no doubt brought on by her personal confirmation of their child's continued well being. The fact she so trusted Katara's judgment was reassuring in its own way, and the old waterbender felt a certain kinship with the Spectre at her side, even if they had come from two entirely different worlds, in more ways than one. They had both lost their families at a young age, had both seen the ravages of war about the same time, and had both been instrumental in their respective ways in saving everything around them in no small capacity. And while Shepard had undoubtedly been the greater of the heroes in their individual tales, the fact remained they had quite a bit in common despite the glaring differences between them.

Although, there was one slightly unexpected similarity between them, one that manifested itself when Shepard blew out a long breath as she held her right hand up and revealed the flame that had appeared in her hand without her consciously calling it forth. Katara didn't visibly react save to raise a gray eyebrow when Shepard shook her hand vigorously in an effort to snuff the flame out, only to let out a frustrated groan when it refused to obey her. "Then there's this I have to worry about." She grumbled, more annoyed than frightened over its appearance. "So, any ideas on how to get a handle on this Katara?" She asked as she clenched her hand, opened it again, and muttered a curse when the blue flame, that strangely enough matched the softly glowing blue lines underneath her skin, appeared the moment the skin of her palm was exposed to the air. "Because short of sticking my hand in a bucket of ice water, I have no idea how else to keep from bursting into flames."

Gently squeezing Shepard's shoulder in an effort to reassure her, Katara grasped the woman's wrist and brought her hand up to eye level, mindful of the heat that emanated from her hand along with the fire itself. Taking a moment to examine the blue flame and the unmarked skin around it, Katara rubbed at her chin with her free hand before a thoughtful noise escaped her. "If I hadn't seen it for myself, I would not believe this possible since our world has already balanced itself out upon the return of the Air Nomads several weeks after Harmonic Convergence. But, perhaps the spiritual energy still thick around our world has affected you much in the same way it affected those that developed the ability to airbend."

"Great, so now I'm stuck like this?" Shepard grumbled before mentally kicking herself for her choice of words.

Katara ignored the comment, knowing she was just worried, and rightfully so, given the circumstances. She was far from the first to go through this change, and Katara had heard the stories of the Air Nomads handling it just as well as Shepard was handling it. Honestly, some of those same Nomads hadn't handled it well at all, but time and circumstances had united them, and had helped them accept what they had become. "Not necessarily since there are ways to remove a person's bending, but I strongly doubt Korra would agree to do so."

Shepard grimaced at the thought of asking Korra to do anything of the sort. As worrying and frustrating as this latest change was, she wasn't about to drag Korra into such an uncomfortable situation as to ask her to use her unique powers to take away whatever this was. "Guess I have to learn to live with it then." She finally said, and sighed heavily before gently pulling her hand free of Katara's grasp. She did offer Katara a brief smirk though and shrugged her shoulders as she folded her hands underneath her chin once more. "It could be worse I suppose. If I'm able to get control of this, I imagine there's a few uses I could come up with that would make Liara very happy."

Katara chuckled and nodded, a mischievous if wistful gaze filling her blue eyes. "You would be surprised how fun waterbending can be when it comes to the bedroom."

"Oh I don't know, I can imagine quite a bit." Shepard shot back, smirking wider than before while Katara chuckled softly in response. A thoughtful look appeared on Shepard's face then, and she unfolded her right hand before slowly opening her fingers so that the flame appeared as it had so far when allowed to. Katara watched as Shepard slowly twisted her hand this way and that, her green eyes reflecting the fire's soft glow. "I used to hate fire when I was a lot younger. It reminded me too much of what happened on my homeworld. Now? Well, it's still not my most favorite thing in the world, but I can look at it and admire its simple beauty."

"It was believed for the longest time by the Fire Nation that fire was power, their passion and drive given form, and that in order to fuel their flames, they needed to draw it from their rage and hatred. But like so many things, Fire Lord Ozai and Sozin both corrupted what fire truly was, until Zuko discovered the truth and spread it to the rest of his country." Katara replied, drawing Shepard's gaze once more as her curiosity was piqued at the same time. She smiled and leaned back in her chair, remembering when Aang and Zuko had returned from their journey to see the long forgotten Sun Warriors, and their master firebenders, two of the last dragons in existence at that time. "Fire is more than destruction and hatred. It is warmth, life, and light in moderation, like all of the elements, and most aspects of our very existences for that matter. The sun is the embodiment of flame, yet what can destroy can also provide."

"Just as water can both heal and be used as a weapon." Shepard stated in turn, to which Katara nodded sagely in agreement. "And now I suddenly feel foolish." She mused, and with the realization she had been thinking too much on her bad memories associated with the element literally in her hand, the blue flames in her hand slowly shrunk down until it disappeared, leaving no trace of its existence behind to say it had ever been there. The knowing smile on Katara's face was matched by Shepard's own as she gave a sigh of relief at having reigned in her new found ability. "I imagine I still have a long way to go before I'm able to do anything with it beyond make a handy torch, but it's reassuring to know I'm able to control it at all."

"As I told Korra when she was recovering from her injuries after her battle with Zaheer, the mind can be your greatest ally, but it can also be your greatest enemy. The same principle applies to one's bending, as you have already discovered."

"Me as a bender….that's gonna take some getting used to." Shepard replied with a weary sigh as she ran her hand through her short red hair. A part of her mind warned her she'd pull back barbecued red locks if she wasn't careful, but she ignored it, confident in her budding control of this new aspect of her life not to burn her own hair off. "But if Tenzin's rangers could do it, an old soldier like me should have no problem in getting a handle on this. That does raise a question though."

"Who would be a suitable teacher?" Katara asked, yet she somehow made the question sound like a statement at the same time.

"Well...yeah actually. No offense to you Katara, but fire and water don't mix from what I've always heard." Shepard stated, her tone light and playful even if they both knew she was being completely serious at the same time.

Katara chuckled but nodded, taking no offense from the comment, and besides, Elizabeth was correct in her logic, at least as far as teaching how to control one's bending element anyway. She was indeed unsuited for the task, beyond the lessons that were universal to every bending form. The deeper lessons one needed however, were beyond her if it didn't deal with water itself. "It is not commonly known, but as a high ranking member of the White Lotus, I have some sway with them. I could ask, and see if I can't have someone come down to teach you to gain control of your newfound abilities."

Shepard wasn't surprised by the revelation that Katara was White Lotus herself. If anything, she expected it given the waterbender's association with Aang and the rest of her old friends, but Shepard was surprised by the old woman's generous offer to help her find a teacher to help her in gaining control of what she had been given just by being on the planet. She shouldn't have been, she realized almost as quickly given Katara's ever present generous nature, but it still made the Spectre smile in gratitude for the offer. "This is normally the part where I say you don't have to trouble yourself, especially with everything you've done already Katara."

Katara smiled warmly even as she finished the thought that Shepard had begun. "But you've finally learned that I don't take no for an answer, about as well as you do I might add, and insist that it's no trouble at all."

"Pretty much, so I'll shut up and let you be….well you Katara."

"Good, I'm glad we got that settled." Katara replied, chuckling again as Shepard rolled her eyes with a playful snort escaping her about the same time.

"If you two are going to kiss, get it over with." Ashley groaned from the bed on the other end of the room, just as James jerked upright in the chair he'd been dozing in up until that moment. "Ma'am….permission to kick my own ass for the FUBARed situation we got ourselves in?"

Too relieved to react to the kissing comment thrown between them, Shepard chuckled and shook her head as Ashley peeled the sheet away from her upper waist to get a look at her injuries. "Sorry LT, not today. If anything, we all learned a harsh lesson last night." The approving nod she saw out of the corner of her eye from Katara had Shepard giving the master waterbender a subtle nod in return. While she still held herself responsible for the mess to an extent, the weight wasn't so crippling as it'd been before.

Ashley grunted and let the sheet drop back over her upper waist, having gotten a good look at the ugly bruise that covered most of her chest. "No shit Skipper. I didn't think being shot in the chest with rubber rounds would hurt this much. Feels like Grunt decided to dance on me. I ain't going anywhere without my armor after this, I can tell you that right now."

"Just so you know, you scared the Hell outta me when you went down Ash." James said as he got to his feet and automatically went about pouring himself and her a couple glasses of water from a pitcher that had been left by one of the attending nurses earlier that morning.

Ash blanched and looked away even as she accepted the glass James had poured for her before taking a hesitant sip. "Sorry Vega….next time we run into those assholes, I'm gutting tall, dark, and skinny."

Far more relieved in his own way Ash was still as crotchety and ready for a fight as ever, James nodded as his jaw clenched up at the memory of the chi blockers slipping through their fingers. "Not if I get to him first. No one hurts my girl and gets away with it." Whatever anger and guilt he felt over everything that had occurred turned to ash when he saw Liara and Shepard not ten feet away, with Katara watching silently from Elizabeth's side. "Abuela, uh...Katara, I mean. How's she doin'?"

"She and the baby will make it James, do not worry. As for Ashley, you had a number of broken ribs from the close proximity of the blast you sustained, but the healers here were able to mend the bones with ease. The bruising will be slow to fade, but you will make a full recovery in a couple of days." Katara explained, answering Ashley's unspoken question as well as laying James's concerns to rest at the same time.

"Good to know ma'am." Whether she meant her own health or that of Liara and her baby was unclear, nor did it matter. What mattered was that they were going to be alright.

"Now if we can just get our hands on Joker's brittle ass, I'll be happy. We wouldn't have even been out there if we weren't looking for him." James growled out before catching Shepard's disapproving gaze. The marine sighed and nodded before looking away. "I know it ain't his fault, not the way I made it sound just now, but you have to agree Lola, we wouldn't have been out there if not for him."

"You're right in that, but he didn't know we'd be targeted like that James. He's just trying to find his way back." Shepard was quick to point out, earning a glum nod from the giant man. The thought had occurred to her though, that Joker's going AWOL might have needlessly put them all in danger, but Shepard had since dismissed it. The attack, and it had been an attack since it had been too well coordinated, too precise for it to have been a random occurrence, was planned, and that meant someone had been keeping tabs on them. "What happened last night was a well executed strike against us, and only us. They could have hit anyone that was out last night, but they chose to come after us. That means we're being watched."

"Or they have spies among us already." Ashley chimed in, putting to voice the thought no one was willing to state out loud. "Hey, you weren't going to say it, but you were thinking it."

"I am hesitant to agree, but I too have come to the same conclusion. These Remnants were testing you all." Katara agreed gravely, drawing everyone's gaze to her wrinkled face. "I might not have the same military training and experience as you have, but I can still see the writing on the wall."

"Which means they're more dangerous than we initially thought." Shepard let out a drawn out sigh of relief as Liara added her voice to the conversation at large. How long she'd been awake and listening to them was hard to say, but she answered that mystery when she met Katara's gaze and offered her a grateful nod. "Thank you, for confirming the health of our child, master Katara. But getting back to the matter at hand, we have a lot of work ahead of us if we're to drive them out of Republic City, or bury them in shallow graves. Right now I'm not feeling particularly merciful."

"You're going to get some rest before you do anything Liara, and even then-" Shepard started to say, but the cold, icy glare the asari fixed on her silenced the Spectre on the spot.

"If you suggest I sit this fight out after just talking about this very thing with you not so long ago, I will slap you in Stasis faster than you can get out of that chair." If the way the temperature in the room dropped like a stone wasn't warning enough, the soft, underlying threat in Liara's voice certainly clued Shepard into her chances of getting out of this with her dignity intact if she pursued her original line of thought.

"-I'd take a few days off just to be sure you're alright." She wisely said instead, not about to push the issue further, even if she had indeed wanted to dissuade the headstrong asari from getting involved more than she had already. As hypocritical as it might have made her sound, she was understandably concerned for Liara's well being, and not just her own any longer. Last night had scared her though, more than she could ever being scared in her life. She would have rather faced Harbinger again than watch Liara be frozen in ice.

Katara wisely stayed out of the fight that had, for the moment, been avoided between Elizabeth and Liara. She knew though, from her own years of marriage with Aang, that the conversation was far from over, but for the moment it was put on hold in the face of a greater, more present threat.

It was probably just as well though because the grumbling, gravely voice of Grunt telling someone to piss off outside the shared room was met with a voice Katara knew all too well. "I don't care who you are human, you aren't welcome here."

"Grunt. Let them pass." Shepard called out, and mentally prepared herself for the political shitstorm that was about to fall on her head since she had a pretty good feeling she knew who was in the hallway just from the look on Katara's face she had caught out of the corner of her eye. The scoff Ashley let out along with James's scoff said enough as to their own thoughts on the matter, but no one made a move to stop Shepard from allowing their 'guest' into the room. Liara only nodded, silently accepting the fact they had to face up to what happened, even if they hadn't been looking for a fight, unlike those that had attacked them in the first place.

Having seen his picture in the papers, Shepard knew Raiko on sight as he and Lin walked right past Grunt, although the metalbender Chief of Police at least had the decency to shoot them an apologetic look for what was about to occur. Raiko though was understandably pissed if the way his face hardened upon locking eyes with Shepard, but she'd seen similar looks on Udina and the Citadel Council's faces, and they were far from intimidating. "You're Commander Elizabeth Shepard?"

"You sound surprised." Elizabeth deadpanned, unimpressed so far by what she'd seen and heard for herself regarding the soon to be retired president before her now. Seeing him up close wasn't doing much for her opinion of him.

"I thought you'd be taller with all the talk I've heard about you Commander." Shepard raised an eyebrow but said nothing in response to that. There wasn't a lot to say, but he didn't let her dwell on it long in any event. "Do you know how much damage you and your people caused in your scuffle with the gangs of Republic City? How many people were put in harm's way? You're lucky I don't have you arrested for the cold blooded murder of one individual found by the water's edge, within the shadow of Harmony Tower no less, one of Republic City's historical landmarks. Of the two, your so called team could be the greater danger to the continued wellbeing of Republic City and its people. As such, I hope you know this won't be happening again, because if it does, I will bring the full might of my administration down on you and have you declared enemies of the state. I won't have people like you gallivanting about, doing as they please."

"Let me stop you right there President Raiko." Shepard said as she stood to her feet and crossed her arms as her eyes narrowed to slits. Even Raiko, who had yet to speak with any of them, couldn't help but swallow the nervous lump that had formed in his throat when he saw the way her face shifted from neutral to quiet fury in the time it took for her to stand to her feet. "That individual in question put my wife and our unborn child in a six foot block of ice. My people were attacked without provocation in every corner of your city. And let's not forget that of the damage done, the gangs did most of it when they tried to kill us. So please, get off your damned soap box. Don't come down here, pointing the finger at me Raiko, because you won't like my response. This is me being nice. Keep pushing me though, and I'll ensure the rest of your tenure is marked in the history books with allegations of corruption. Since you're so quick to defend the gangs, it wouldn't surprise me if it's true."

Ashley was more than happy to pick up Shepard's line of thought. "As for us 'gallivanting about', we didn't start the fight sir. There's writing on the wall that says you have a serious problem you're choosing to ignore, but go ahead and try and pin this on us. We've taken down a lot bigger threats than you buddy."

"Indeed." Liara intoned softly, and ignored the surprised look Raiko shot her way. "I also happen to agree with Elizabeth completely, President Raiko. We were within our full right to defend ourselves, which we did. The use of lethal force only came near the end of our respective confrontations, once it became clear they were there to do more than rough us up. We did only what was necessary to ensure our personal safety, which is more than can be said for those that engaged us. Do what you feel you must, but we will continue to act as we deem necessary. If we must turn our energies into tearing what power you have left down around your ears, so be it."

"Hey, don't look at me, because I happen to agree with them." Lin said when Raiko turned to her next, no doubt in an effort to try and get her support. Except Lin had never liked Raiko in the first place, and her opinion of him had only deteriorated the longer she had been forced to work with him, which thankfully hadn't been often outside of some earth shattering emergency. "You might have done your fair share for Republic City, but I'm not going to shed any tears when your time's up, which is coming soon Raiko. For all the trouble you've caused Korra over the years, let alone the handpicked dung beetle rat you were prepared to drop on the Earth Kingdom, I'm honestly surprised you were even elected for a second term."

"Be it as it may, President Wu has stepped up into his role in the newly established government, and has done much in the restoration efforts after Kuvira's surrender."

"Again because Korra was there to stop her." Katara chimed in at last. Surprising everyone to varying degrees. She held up a hand to stop Raiko from speaking, before folding her hands behind her back. "I am however, not your enemy here President Raiko, because you have indeed done your fair share of good deeds for the city and for the people that inhabit it. I am simply stating a fact that is well known by many. I simply advise you to do something you have not done enough. See with more than your eyes, and know the truth of those you accuse without thought. They are simply lost souls, trying to find their way. The reason why they were even out among the population was to find one of their missing friends, an admirable pursuit if you were to ask me. I understand your concern, and that you simply wish to keep the city and its inhabitants safe as you have always done, but this is a fight you want no part of."

Raiko sighed, knowing when he was outnumbered, outflanked, and outmaneuvered at every turn and nodded his head in defeat ever so slightly. That and Master Katara was a well respected member of society, and if she vouched for them, there was little he could do against her on a good day. "Very well Master Katara, but this isn't over." Raiko warned, but it was all but hollow air at this point as he walked out of the room with his head held high despite having been defeated at every turn.

"And this is why I hate politicians." Ashley said aloud, ensuring Raiko heard her before the door shut behind him. The soft growl the man let out said he had heard her just fine, but the deep, menacing laugh Grunt boomed out drowned out whatever response he might have thrown over his shoulder before he walked away.

"As much as I might not like him, I am still stuck with him Commander." Lin stated once the room had fallen quiet.

"Which means if he orders our heads on the chopping block, you won't be able to say no." James replied, which earned an aggravated huff from the Chief of Police. "It's cool Lin, you at least we respect since you've been alright, even if you are a bit crotchety and hard to deal with at times."

"I'll take that as a compliment. But that still leaves the matter of the attack. Even my rookie cops can see that you were followed and attacked with precision. This was no random occurrence. Too many players were involved and they knew exactly where to pounce. And while I shouldn't tell you this, CSI came back with the same result, that they fired the first volley and you responded in kind as anybody with half a functional survival instinct would have done, so your alibi checks out. Even if Raiko ordered your arrest, I wouldn't follow through since there's no real case to be made against you."

"It's good to know in any event Chief Beifong." Liara replied before crossing her arms over her chest and looking towards the ceiling. "As for the Remnant and their lackies, we'll stick with our original plan, except this time, I have a feeling they aren't going to get off nearly so lightly as before."

"What gave you that idea Liara?" James droned, knowing full well what Shepard would do now that she was sure everyone was going to be alright. "The fact they tried to kill us or the fact they tried to kill us?"

"Either or James."

"Well, after last night's blatant attack, you have my full support, but my last demand still stands. I won't have this turn into a bloodbath." Lin stated, her tone making it clear she wasn't about to back down from this.

"You won't have to worry on that point Lin. We'll get the job done on your terms, but it will be done." Shepard reassured her while making sure she understood that they'd follow through with their goal to see the Remnant destroyed before they had a chance to hurt anyone else.

"That's good enough for me. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a mountain of paperwork that I've put off long enough." Lin turned to leave but stopped when she reached the door, before looking over her shoulder. "Despite my misgivings about you when we first met Shepard, I'm starting to get why you're so respected among your crew. Just don't make me regret trusting you." With that, Lin made her way out of the hospital room, but not before giving Grunt an acknowledging nod on her way out, which the krogan returned, much to Shepard's slight surprise.

"What? I like her, which is more than I can say for that pyjak you sent running with his tail between his legs." Grunt offered in way of explanation when he saw Elizabeth's curious glance in his direction.

No sooner had the words left his mouth did a gust of wind blow past him, and Ikke made herself visible just as her wind tunnel shot past her. Shepard had to bite her tongue when she saw the super soldier give her an uncomfortable glance out of the corner of his blue eyes, as if silently pleading for her to save him from the little airbender. She wasn't alone as Jinora, Meelo, Tenzin, Korra, Mako, and Bolin ran down the hall to catch up with her. While it wasn't surprising that they had come to the hospital to check up on her and the others, Shepard was touched by their concern, and it didn't take a mind reader to see the rest of her people were just as thankful for the gesture as Tenzin's family soon filled the hospital room.

"My apologies for the invasion, but when we heard what happened, Ikke insisted we come down immediately. Mother." Tenzin offered in way of explanation before nodding to Katara.

The old waterbender only chuckled warmly in response while Shepard smiled and waved off the master airbender's apology. "Hey, I'm just glad not everyone hates us right now."

"Let me guess, Raiko came down here and all but threatened you?" Korra grumbled knowingly.

"Oh he wasn't that subtle with us kid." James chimed in, and shot the group an appreciative grin despite the harsh meeting they had had with the president. "But after last night's mess, we're just happy to have friends lookin' out for us."

"Well duh! You're one of us now Mr. Vega, sir." Bolin cheerfully replied. "Besides, Raiko's just blowing hot air anymore these days."

"Even hot air can be a danger under the right circumstances Bolin." Liara intoned gravely, before perking up when Ikke plopped down on the edge of the bed. "But it's indeed nice to know we have allies when we need them the most."

"You plan to go after them then? Despite what just happened?" Mako asked, more than a little stunned they'd be so eager to go back out there after last night's near miss.

"It's who we are Detective Clueless. We got hit, but we're gonna hit them harder. A good marine can take a hit, a better one can take a hit and come back the stronger for it." Ashley shot back.

Korra made her displeasure known when she turned her gaze on Shepard directly. "If you're going after the Triads, you're gonna need help. Help you should have asked for last night in the first place when you went off to look for Joker."

"It was my decision not to drag you into our mess because Jeff's one of ours." Shepard replied softly, and sighed before looking up to meet Korra's intense gaze with one of her own. "But you're right, we should have asked, but I didn't want to because you have enough of your own problems to deal with. That and you had done a lot for us already."

"What's done is done." Jinora stepped in before Korra and Elizabeth could get into a shouting match, as well meaning as it might have been. "But instead of dwelling in the past we should direct our focus to the future. And I have to agree with Korra, you don't have to stand alone anymore Elizabeth." Shepard sighed heavily, but offered the young airbender master a grateful smile as Ikke nodded vigorously in agreement.

"Yep! You have friends now! 'Sides, this was our home long before it became yours you know!" Ikke pouted, and jumped once next to Liara before flopping back across the asari's lap, throwing her arms over her head as she did. Liara chuckled and ruffled the girl's hair but nodded, not about to argue with the people around them further as she met Shepard's eyes. As much as they might not agree with each other continuing to put themselves in harm's way, no matter the reasoning behind it, this at least they could agree on. Having allies like these, people that had accepted them almost immediately despite their otherworldly origins, was the best thing they could have asked for.

Kyto's home.

Joker couldn't help but stare at the horizon as the sun rose over the mountains in the distance. That morning had seen him walking up to the roof of Kyto's home, to get some air, but he had gotten lost in the view that stretched out before him. He'd seen a thousand skies on a thousand different worlds, had seen their cities and the people that inhabited them, but by and large, he hadn't walked through their streets. His world had consisted of the Normandy's helm for the longest time, outside of the times he had gone on shore leave with the rest of the crew anyway, so he had missed a lot of the excitement most of his friends had been a part of. But that wasn't the only thing really. He hadn't really stopped to enjoy the simple things. Just being alive was a gift of its own he hadn't appreciated until everything had transpired. And running away from the people that had been through the thick of it right alongside him? How stupid could he be to have done that?

Without looking over his shoulder, Joker acknowledged the kind old waterbender that had taken him in the night before with a nod and a weary smile. "Sorry, was just admiring the view from up here Kyto. Kinda ironic really, since I spent a lot of time flying over places like this, but I never really stopped to just look at what was right in front of me."

"You saw without seeing." Kyto stated, earning an amused but agreeing snort from the pilot as he soon stood by Joker's side, his hands folded neatly before his chest. "Far more people do that than we realize. They don't stop to appreciate the simple majesty that is life, not until it's gone and the twilight falls upon them."

"Yeah….idiots like me tend to just keep going, never lookin' behind us since there's little point to it. We on by, hoping to leave our troubles behind us ya know? Yeah, that doesn't work so well when your ship's in pieces, so I got it in my head to just walk away instead, hoping to outrun what's been chasing me since my home was trashed." Joker let out a tired sigh and let his gaze fall to the cracked, stone roof they were standing on. "Hilary, my old man, I wanted to believe they died hating my guts for not being there for 'em when they needed me the most, but that's just another excuse ain't it? Another way for me to keep running." Picking up a piece of the roof at his feet, Joker casually tossed the rock off the edge before dusting his hands off on his pants. "What do you do when you run out of runway? That's really what I'm trying to figure out."

Unbeknownst to Joker, Kyto subtly waved his hand towards the synthetic that had since found him, and shot the metallic woman a knowing smile. EDI, having finally caught up with Joker that morning, more out of dumb luck than anything else, cocked her head to the side but nodded before falling back into the shadows of the roof they were on. Her enhanced, superior senses were enough to hear everything that was said, so there was no need to get any closer. Kyto, once he was sure the man's friend wouldn't interfere, stepped a little closer and knelt down beside the pilot, his gaze falling on the Downtown Spirit Portal in the distance. For the longest time he said nothing, but he broke the silence after tapping Jeff on the shoulder and nodding towards the softly glowing lights off in the distance. "I was here when Kuvira decimated the city. I saw the might of her army, the power she had accumulated in so little time. People loved her, were drawn to her cause, and while her methods went too far, her core reasons were just and geared towards making the Earth Kingdom something to be proud of after decades of corruption and worse. But not everyone were so driven to follow her." Joker raised an eyebrow when Kyto pulled up his right sleeve and revealed a tattooed like brand on his upper bicep. "I escaped the 'reeducation camps', along with several others, after I saw how far she was willing to go. I had believed in her, I would have lain down my life for her vision, but after I saw the truth, I was without a cause. I was lost, and my friends, those I had fought beside despite not being an earthbender myself, I lost them along the way. Some because they refused to give up Kuvira's misguided dream, others because they followed me, but didn't make the journey here. I was the only one to make it, but Kuvira got here about the same time with her army. Then the Avatar came, and her friends did the impossible. Yet my problem remained. The guilt, the loss, and my inability to do anything to stop her or help those she still had imprisoned. Then….I found this place. I found Saria, and other lost souls like her that had had everything taken away from them."

"And you made them a home." Jeff mused, and couldn't help but see Kyto in a new light as the old man rolled down his sleeve once more, covering up the tattoo that had been engraved in his skin, not out of shame as he might have believed, but more acceptance of a past he was even then doing his small part in trying to redeem himself of.

"It's not the answer you require perhaps Jeff, but you and I are not so different. I'm a healer, as well as an old soldier, I could have signed on with the United Forces or taken a prestigious position at any of the hospitals in the city, but instead I stay down here in the poorest section of Republic City. I choose to remain, because these people need me. I'm able to sleep at night again because I offer them something they can't find anywhere else. Hope. Even if it's something as simple as a warm place to sleep, that's enough for me after all I had done before, under a woman that had simply wanted to secure a place for her people, yet had become lost herself along the way. Your true problem, is that you're afraid of forgetting those you've lost once it stops hurting, so you continue to carry the guilt with you. You continue to run away, but you don't have to, Jeff." Having said his piece, Kyto patted Jeff on the back before standing to his feet and started away.

He wasn't at all surprised when Jeff called out to him. "Thanks….Kyto." The old man only smiled at the pilot before continuing on his way, but not before giving EDI a nod on his way by.

"Who are you?" She asked, softly enough that Jeff wouldn't hear her, not yet. Even so, the subtle amazement in her voice wasn't lost on the healer.

"Just a man trying to find his way in the world, as I suspect, you are as well in your own way. You have a good heart for being mechanical yourself, that much I could see when I saw you at my door. As for why you're here, I can guess easily enough." They both turned to look at Jeff who was only then starting to stand to his own feet, albeit far more carefully than either of them, before Kyto held out his right hand to the synthetic. "He's a good man, and he is far more lucky to have you than he might ever realize."

"You have it backwards. I am the fortunate one in our mutual relationship, but I thank you for looking out for him as you have." EDI replied and firmly grasped the offered limb. Kyto smiled warmly and nodded deeply before leaving them to get reacquainted. EDI watched him go, lost in her own thoughts, which, while naturally far quicker due to her nature, still took long enough that when she turned back around, Jeff had since reached her side.

"EDI….I guess I screwed up huh?" He started and rubbed the back of his head, unable to meet the woman's brown eyes that even he had noticed had become increasingly expressive since having taken possession of the body she inhabited now. He looked up just as she closed the distance between them and pulled him flush against her metallic shell. The pilot could only lean into her embrace, and closed his eyes as he simply went along for the ride. "I'm sorry….for running from you most of all babe." He managed to get past the lump in his throat after a pregnant pause had fallen between them.

EDI remained unusually quiet as she slowly pulled away just enough so that their faces were mere centimeters apart. "I am just glad I was able to find you again, Jeff." Joker chuckled weakly while she felt her lips pull up ever so slightly in response. The not so hidden meaning behind her words weren't lost on either of them.

"So am I EDI." Joker replied softly before reluctantly pulling away so that he could stand with his hands planted firmly on the edge of the roof, his gaze on the horizon again although he wasn't seeing it this time. "I was in a pretty bad place, although I don't think I have to tell you huh? I'm still not out of the woods yet, but I'm getting there. And the funny thing is, I didn't even do it alone, which I thought I could until I ran into some old guy and his little home for refugees. Guess it goes to show you even badass ace pilots need a helping hand every now and again." Looking over his shoulder, Joker sighed but the soft smile on his bearded face never faltered as he turned around and crossed his arms over his chest. "He was right….about me, why I ran off like a total tool. It was easier than trying to face my losses head on and risk forgetting their faces….what they meant to me."

EDI said nothing, not because she couldn't think of anything, but because she knew he needed to get this off his chest. "Hilary would probably laugh and poke me in the gut, saying I need to get my head out of my butt for thinkin' like that. And my dad? He'd just smile in that way he always did and put a hand on my shoulder, knowing me better than I know myself. He was always like that, saying nothing until he had something worth listening to, and man could he get your attention. Me, I talked enough for all three of us, especially after mom passed."

"They sound like people I would have enjoyed meeting, Jeff." EDI said at last.

"Yeah, they'd have loved you. My badass robo babe, guardian to me and the rest of the Normandy's crew, but they'd have loved ya just for the simple fact you're you. Cerberus built, yet you grew into something more than you were intended for. They'd have seen that, just like I do now." Joker didn't react when tears started to run down his cheeks as he slowly slid down to the ground, his back to the edge of the roof. EDi sat next to him and slowly let her arm fall over his shoulders. "Yeah….just like that babe." He said as he reached up and grasped the fingers of her hand that was hanging over his shoulder. "Anyone says you don't have a soul can kiss my brittle ass."

Some time passed as Jeff slowly let go of the guilt that had been weighing him down, time EDI spent to send off a message to the rest of the crew she had found their wayward pilot. She didn't say if they were coming back just yet though, and they didn't ask. A part of her was grateful that they didn't, but she kept that to herself as she let Jeff have his time to process what had driven him away in the first place. It took time, but EDI had nothing but time, her synthetic nature notwithstanding of course. And despite the impending war they were preparing to unleash on the gangs, and eventually the Remnant, EDi was willing to stay right there on that roof however long Jeff needed her to. And he knew that she was sure when he leaned against her side and gave a contented sigh.

When he moved to stand to his feet at last, EDI was there to help him up. "Thanks for always being there for me EDI. How'd I get so lucky I'll never figure out babe."

"As I told Kyto, you have it backwards, but the sentiment is still appreciated immensely, Jeff." Digging into a hidden compartment on her hip, EDi produced his omni-tool, and held it out between them. He stared at it for a moment before making his decision, and slipped it back onto his arm where it rightfully belonged, but it went beyond that. By taking it back, he was silently confirming his rightful place with the family he had now, and the one he'd never leave again as newfound determination filled his brown eyes. Before they left though, Jeff made it a point to take a slight detour on their way down to the ground floor. There was someone he planned to take with them, provided she even agreed to the idea in the first place.

End Notes; While I'm not entirely happy with the last few sections of this, mainly after Korra and company rushed into the hospital room and this stuff with Joker, overall I think me and Nomad did a pretty good job. But as you can see, their actions will have consequences, and we've set down more than a few seeds for future chapters as this little war that's brewing between Team Avatar and Shepard's crew against the Remnant and their allies slowly builds to a bloody head. And blood will be spilt before this is over, you can be sure of that. As for Raiko, despite the good things he's done throughout the series, and he has done his part in keeping the city together, I could never bring myself to like him. He was almost as useless as Udina from Mass Effect, and those that have played ME know how that ended between Shepard and Udina, so it shouldn't be a surprise why they don't see eye to eye despite having only just met each other.

At any rate, Kyto has kind of taken on a life of his own in a good way. I had honestly meant to keep him as a faceless healer that Joker ran into, yet because I was having so much trouble getting this chapter to cooperate for the past couple of days, my muse decided to take over and added more character to the guy than I had originally intended by making him an escapee of Kuvira's reeducation camps. I was pleasantly surprised by it, and the rest of the chapter kind of fell into place from there, although I'm still not a hundred percent happy with how some of it came out. Meh, oh well, nobody's perfect lol. Anyway, see ya folks, and I hope this continues to be well received. Thank you for all the reviews, faves, follows, and the well wishes regarding Archer83's unfortunate disappearance from FF. May you all find peace and balance in the days to come. Adios!

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Leaves From the Vine

Asami's Estate

After what had happened the other day, Liara wasn't at all surprised to find Shepard sitting on the side of their bed, her emerald eyes fixated solely on her face. "How long were you awake?" The asari asked sleepily, and smiled when Elizabeth leaned down and kissed her cheek.

"Not long." She replied, a soft smile tugging at her lips.

"Mmm. Long enough to have brought me breakfast in bed I see." The asari said as she sat up and saw the tray on the dresser across the room, which Shepard soon had resting on her lap. "Bribery Shepard, really?" Even as the words left her mouth, Liara couldn't help but chuckle as she picked up the french toast, or at least this place's equivalent of it, and took a hefty bite out of it.

"I had hoped you wouldn't notice, but then again, nothing ever escaped your notice before." Shepard chuckled softly as she nestled up behind Liara's back and wrapped her arms around her so that her hands fell over the asari's still flat stomach.

Liara closed her eyes and let a contented hum escape her as she continued to eat what had been set before her even as her mind wandered back to the conversation they had yet to have since being allowed out of the hospital yesterday afternoon, with Katara's blessing. It showed just how much sway the old woman had if the doctors gave way to her opinion without a fight, although the fact that same hospital had a giant statue of her in front of its front facade probably had something to do with it. Whatever the case, despite her exotic appearance among them, Liara had been allowed to leave, with the recommendation she take it easy for a couple days.

"Shepard….Elizabeth." Liara whispered and turned, just as Shepard had started to lean down to kiss along her neck. She paused and met Liara's gaze, and knew their much needed talk was about to happen whether she liked it or not.

"Before you say anything, I just want to get this out of the way, Liara." Nodding her head, Elizabeth sighed and rubbed her forehead with the back of one hand before putting it back over the asari's stomach. "Seeing you frozen like that the other night, was like Mindoir and Talitha and Hell, even dying, all rolled up into one terrible moment for me. I know we're in this together, that we've been through so much together, but….that was before I knew our little family had officially begun. It didn't change how much I feel about you, if anything I feel even more strongly for you Liara, and the life you have inside you now. But….that's also why I-" She was silenced when Liara pulled her in by the back of her head and kissed her, blasting side any coherent thought and her speech she had prepared.

When they finally came up for air, Liara ran a tender hand across Shepard's cheek and nodded. "I know, my Commander. I….wasn't thinking, we both weren't, but now that I've had time to reconsider, you're right. Things changed when I decided to allow this to progress, to carry your child as much as mine. I'm not helpless, we both know that, but I hate being unable to fight beside you any longer my love. While it is indeed hypocritical to ask me to stay behind while you still put your life in danger, I know, or rather realized, again, that this is who you are. You can never leave well enough alone when people are in harm's way and you're able to do something about it, Shepard. Just promise me you will come home anytime you walk out that door. I...don't think I could raise her alone, not without you." Liara whispered as a tear slid down her face and she looked down at the sheets over her lap and the tray on top of it, but she was seeing neither.

Shepard's response was simple and to the point. She cupped Liara's chin and brushed her lips over the tear track running down the asari's face as she tightened her grip around her waist. "I promise." She whispered, holding as much conviction and strength as she could muster, far more for Liara's benefit than her own. "I won't let you be alone, not again. I left you once, but that won't happen twice." She continued, and left a tender kiss on the back of Liara's head crest before she nestled her head into the crook of her shoulder. "Now no more tears."

"Is that an order, my Commander?" Liara asked, a playful edge filtering into her soft voice as she wiped away the last of her tears from her eyes before going back to the tray of food before her.

"Ordering you around? I'd rather keep my skin where it is thanks." The quiet laugh that followed had both women relaxing contently, the mood lightening at last. A thoughtful look crossed Elizabeth's face then, and Liara rolled her eyes as a smirk pulled at her lips since she had a feeling she knew what Shepard was about to ask. "Is that even possible, flaying someone alive with your mind?"

"I don't know honestly, I never had a chance to find out." Liara replied, a dark gleam appearing in her eyes as she flared her biotics, enveloping them both in a cascade of dark energy particles, but her bluff was destroyed when Shepard chuckled and shook her head at the display. "Spoilsport, the least you could have done was flinch away in mild discomfort."

"Oh was that what I was supposed to do? You can try again if it makes you feel better." Shepard shot back and grinned just as she heard someone approach the door. She groaned as she pulled away from Liara just as there was a knock, and soon made her way across the floor, but not before grabbing the robe she had slipped out of the night before, before slipping into bed next to Liara. "I'm coming I'm coming." She grumbled, and did her best to ignore the quiet chuckle she could hear behind her. Shooting Liara a mock glare, Shepard opened the door and stepped aside when she saw Asami standing there. "Asami, what can we do for ya?"

Looking about as put together as they were in a similar red, satin robe, Asami smiled warmly at the two as Shepard shut the door behind her. "I just wanted to apologize for not making it to the hospital yesterday after what happened. I was stuck in meetings all day. Apparently taking a couple weeks off in the Spirit World doesn't mean this one stops going." She grumbled, but it was halfhearted at best since it didn't take a mind reader to know she'd do it all again, so long as Korra was beside her anyway.

"Don't worry about it. Korra told us as much once things settled down a bit."

"I figured she would. But that's not why I'm here this morning."

"Ah, we kept you two up all night. Yeah, sorry, Liara has that effect on me." Liara snorted softly and shook her head as Asami turned beet red at that less than subtle innuendo.

"Uh….no, that is not what I was going to say at all." Asami stammered out and pulled at the hem of her robe in an effort to divert some of the heat from her cheeks.

"Let the poor girl speak before she faints from all that blood going to her head Elizabeth." Liara reprimanded from the bed, perfectly content to stay right where she was even as Shepard laughed at the flustered Asami.

"You two are no fun at all in the morning." Shepard mock grumbled before stepping out back into the hall with Asami in tow. Leaning on the second floor railing, she waited until the heiress had recovered somewhat before letting her smile fade somewhat. "What's really on your mind Asami?" She asked once the raven haired woman had also let her hands dangle over the edge of the railing before them.

"Other than I really need to get that soundproofing installed, sooner rather than later?" She replied, a smirk tugging at her lips before it faded just as quickly. Shepard waited, just as Katara had waited for her, and wasn't disappointed when Asami sighed and looked down at the floor some ways away from them. "I was able to get what you wanted, but it got me thinking about….a lot of things." Asami began softly, and if not for her close proximity, Shepard wasn't sure even her enhanced hearing could have picked up on the woman's softly spoken words. "I get why you wanted it, and honestly it's a good idea, touching even, but it almost feels like you're saying goodbye before you even get started."

"No….that's not it at all Asami. It's more for peace of mind than anything else." Shepard replied and smiled sadly as she ran a hand through her red locks before hanging her head with an embarrassed huff. "When you've been in the military as long as I have, you...plan for the day you might not be around anymore. It's grim and downright depressing to think about, I know, but I'd rather leave something behind than nothing at all but painful memories and unspoken words. Besides….I want our girls to know who I was, not as the galaxy at large will paint me as. And trust me, those two people are as different from each other as night is to day Asami. No….I want her to know her father, as you've seen me, as you've gotten to know me, not the larger than life heroine of an entire galaxy. I never wanted the fame, the glory, I did what I had to do so we had a chance out there. But our children won't hear that story, they'll hear of the famous, or infamous, first human Spectre. The Lioness of Elysium, the Butcher of Bahak, the great uniter of a disparate galaxy, and so many other titles that it would take a month to get through them all. I just want them to know the woman, not the legend. It sounds so simple when said aloud, but it's not. Not for people like me, or Ash, or James, or even Liara not twenty feet behind us. She wasn't even a soldier when I found her and she became entangled in all this, yet she'd tell you the same thing I am now, just with tiny variations."

Asami nodded and sighed knowingly, having understood better than Shepard immediately realized, up until she began to speak. While she didn't raise her voice above a whisper, Shepard was still able to hear just how much effort it took for the heiress to get it out into the open between them. "I know better than you think Elizabeth. It….when Korra was injured, I started to understand just how much it truly costs to be in that kind of life and mindset all the time. She might have been born to it, but she's still a person, something a lot of people tend to forget when talking about their heroes. I never forgot, and I've seen her tears, her fears, her doubts more times than I can count. I've shared in them. And she's seen me the same way, with all of my defenses down, yet she chooses to remain by my side. But I'm afraid one of these days she's not going to come back….maybe having something like this would make it easier, I don't know. I just know I don't want to lose her….like everyone else."

Shepard nodded and looked over her shoulder just as she caught a flicker movement from the master bedroom, of Korra looking out of the crack between the door and its frame. She subtly waved her back, wanting her to stay right where she was before she turned her full attention to Asami once more, one hand falling over her shoulders. "You're far from the only one with those thoughts running through your head Asami, and you won't be anywhere near the last. All I can tell you is you have a pretty good thing going here, with her. Sure, she's the Avatar, but you told me yourself you didn't care about all that. You care about Korra, not what she can do or what she is, only who she is Not a lot of people could say that about their super powerful girlfriends." Asami couldn't help the weak laugh that escaped her even as tears started to roll from her gray eyes. Shepard rubbed at the girl's back, letting her cry without interruption or judgment since she needed this. She'd run away in her own way for far too long by what Korra had said just the other day. Looking back over her shoulder, Shepard silently beckoned said super powerful girlfriend to take her place, which Korra wasted no time in doing as Shepard silently slipped away to allow them time to talk.

She went back to her room with Liara, only to find the asari looking at her knowingly as she gently shut the door behind her. "She's finally grieving for her losses."

"Yeah, she is." Shepard agreed with a sigh as she slowly walked back to their bed and slid in next to her bondmate.

"And your 'letter in a boot' contingency plan?" Liara asked, and wrapped an arm around Shepard's waist once she was within arm's reach.

"Were you listening at the door this whole time Liara?" She asked and leaned her head into Liara's shoulder, a heavy sigh escaping her.

"I don't have to. I know you too well Elizabeth." Liara replied and started to run a hand through Shepard's red locks before letting her hand cup her cheek. "I just wish you would have talked to me about it first."

"I wasn't even sure if I would go through with it myself Liara….but some of that meticulous planning you do so well seems to have rubbed off on me." Shepard replied and placed her hand over Liara's that was still on her cheek, simply enjoying the feeling of her warm, soft skin against her own.

"Because we both know you tend to fly by the seat of your pants." Liara deadpanned, yet couldn't help the glimmer of sad amusement in her blue eyes that came and went so quickly it could have been a trick of the light.

"It worked didn't it?" Shepard said with a smile before it faded. "It's just… I want my children to know that I loved them, even if I don't get the chance to tell them that personally. And...I wanted you to have something of me too, if something happened and I didn't come home, despite promising to do just that."

"I know….my Commander." Liara whispered as she pulled her hand free of Shepard's grasp. "This isn't much different from the time I asked you for your opinion regarding that time capsule message I created, on the chance we didn't win and the Reapers….consumed everything we had ever known and loved. Yet it's….so much more this time since it's so much more personal. This isn't meant for a galaxy, rebuilding from the last cycle of destruction. This is meant for our family, that we might not see if the worst happens to one of us." Shepard remained silent as Liara let that hang between them, but she was a little surprised when the asari looked into her face and softly smiled, her lips slowly pulling upward before she left a kiss on the human's cheek. "But that's why I fell in love with you. You're always thinking of everyone else before yourself. You've always been so selfless, Elizabeth, so strong when anyone else would have crumbled. But save some film for me, because there is plenty I would say as well." Shepard nodded, left one last kiss on her asari's forehead, and climbed out of bed. Liara watched her grab a change of clothes before stepping into the bathroom to change before coming out in her N7 hoodie and a simple pair of gray pants and a gray gym shirt underneath, but that wasn't what had her attention.

It was the almost serene calm that emanated off of Shepard as she left that had Liara's attention. Despite preparing to leave a message for their unborn children, and Liara was sure they wouldn't stop at one, Shepard looked far more at ease than she would have expected given what they had been through. But when she thought about it, the strange dreams from Avatar Kyoshi notwithstanding, Liara couldn't help but shake her head when she realized it was the people they had found themselves among that had truly helped her, helped them honestly. It was this place, this most wondrous, miraculous place, that had done the work of years in only a couple weeks, and while Liara was sure they weren't quite out of the woods yet, they were fast leaving them behind. Despite the looming threat of the Remnant, and the close calls they had endured since getting involved, this world with its rather….colorful inhabitants, were the reason why they were doing so well, herself included. As such, Liara was able to relax in the knowledge they were safe here, in a way they couldn't have been on the Citadel or a thousand other worlds.

Shepard meanwhile made her way downstairs and down a hallway before coming to stop at a door that was partially open. Taking a steadying breath when she spotted what she was looking for just beyond the door, she pushed it open before gently shutting it behind her before facing the camera and its reel of pristine film already loaded and prepared for her use. While it was admittedly old fashioned, a quick examination of the bulky device reassured her that she'd be able to use it with minimum difficulty. "Right, better get this over with before I lose my nerve." She reprimanded herself, but her nervousness remained since as Liara had said already, this was something else entirely than leaving a time capsule for whoever was left after the Reapers were done with their cycle. That eventuality had been set into motion on the very likely possibility they didn't win, but they had won, against every conceivable odd stacked against them, so now their job was to pick up the pieces and continue pushing for a better tomorrow.

As such, the idea of being a father, of being there in spirit if not in body, was hitting Elizabeth in the worst and best ways one could imagine. But she, like so many of the things she'd done before, was determined to see it through to the end. So she took one last, deep, calming breath in through her nose before blowing it out through her mouth, and went to work in finishing up preparations for her recording to their better future.

Standing in front of a curtain covered window, save for a thin sliver between the soft green fabric that hung over the glass, Shepard stood with her arms crossed and her back against a desk, trying her best to appear as relaxed as possible despite internally feeling anything but. Rubbing the back of her head for a moment, Shepard blew out a sigh before finding her train of thought. "I- damn, I'd never thought that I would do this one day, but here we are. This is gonna probably sound real cliche no matter how I try and phrase it, but here it is, right from the hip. My name is Elizabeth Shepard, and I'm your father. This first recording, and now that I think about it I might be doing a few of these, is to give you, and your sisters, an idea of who I was if I'm not able to be there in person. It's funny, but I always thought I'd stay with the Alliance till it killed me. And if you want to get technical, it did kill me, once, but that's a whole other story. But all my expectations and goals started to change when I met your mother. And now my greatest fear is not being there for you. I know what that's like, when I lost my parents on Mindoir... there was no pain I've felt that could compare. I don't want you to go through the same pain I did, so here we are, having a one sided conversation, but one I need to get off my chest and one I hope you never have to hear from this recording."

Shepard let her hands fall to her sides before putting them on the desk behind her. "I don't know when Liara, your beautiful, loving mother, might show you this, but I hope you're old enough to understand when she does. You probably heard the tales by now about the first human Spectre, of the indomitable woman that held the line against an otherwise overwhelming, uncompromising foe, but that's not who I was. That's not how I want you and your sisters to remember me. I was just like you, once upon a time, young, bright eyed, full of hope and a drive to see all the horrors and wonders of this galaxy we call home. But things changed, and while I was still that young, willful explorer at heart, after the infamous Mindoir raids, I was never quite the same. But that's where many will say I started on the path that was suddenly forced upon me, and in some ways they'd be right, but I chose to keep going even though it hurt, likely in ways not so dissimilar to what you're feeling now if you're watching this. I won't bore you with a retelling of what you've likely heard by now, but my point is this." Shepard sighed as a single tear rolled down the right side of her face as she stepped away from the desk, her hands hanging loosely at her sides. "My parents...Nihlus...Anderson... Everyone who propelled me along this path met an early end, perhaps the cost for greatness is too high, but as your mother has likely told you, I never wanted to be famous or great. I just wanted to ensure the galaxy had a future, that you had a future. I tell you this, because it's important to know that it's better to be happy, than great, or famous. All the fame, wealth, or glory in the galaxy won't give you what you truly want out of life. In the end, you have to decide what makes you happy, regardless of the expectations of others, or, because of them. Only you can make that call in the end."

Stopping so that her face was fully in frame, Shepard took a second to wipe away the tear from her eye before looking directly into the camera's lense, as if she were trying to peer through a window into the future rather than a black hole. "And please, whatever you do, don't let yourselves be blinded by illusions of grandeur. Too many have already lost their lives seeking glory and fortune that could never hope to compare to the greatest treasure one can posses upon being brought into this world, and that's family. When said that way you'll probably think that I couldn't be more cliche, but it's a fact of life that we never know how fortunate we are until we lose something which we have taken for granted. So hold onto your mother, your sisters if we ever made it that far, with every ounce of your being, and don't ever let them go. For they are the most precious treasures you could ever receive." She was about to say more, but a loud noise in the hallway pulled Shepard away and she immediately went to look. Seeing someone had knocked over a vase, Shepard slapped a hand over her face, realizing too late what was happening just as she felt a strong breeze from the window behind her. Her suspicions were correct when she turned around and saw the camera, along with the tripod it'd been standing on, was missing, and the giant window that had been at her back was wide open. "Kasumi." Despite the fact she'd been robbed blind, she had a sneaking suspicion the master thief was going to get the whole crew in on the video. In more ways than one, it was fitting since her crew was her family, and Shepard made a mental note to pat Kasumi on the back…..after using her for some firebending practice.

Hiroshi Sato's workshop

"You know she's going to be very grumpy when she catches up with you Kasumi." Garrus stated when Kasumi told him and the rest of the crew what Elizabeth had been up to. Despite that though, the turian could only offer the incorrigible thief the turian equivalent of a smirk as he set aside his rifle that he'd been calibrating for the tenth time that day, as Tali had jokingly said, and nodded. "Since we're doing this, I guess I have some time to talk about our glorious leader."

"Happy to hear it Garrus. Now, just act natural." Kasumi encouraged even as she tried to hide the moisture in her brown eyes from having overheard most of Shepard's message to her future children. Garrus didn't comment on it as he leaned against the workbench behind him, one hand casually draped over a knee while his other leg was stretched out before him. All the while Kasumi made a few quick adjustments before signaling Garrus to start talking.

"Like your old man likely said already, you've probably heard a lot about me as well by now, whoever you are. But let me back up a bit and introduce myself. My name is Garrus Vakarian, formerly a C-Sec officer on the Citadel, before I found myself drawn to the woman the galaxy rightfully calls a hero. I fought alongside Shepard, I shared her victories and her defeats, but most importantly, I got to know the woman behind the tales that were already being sung about her, well before we found those pesky, mechanical squid things we called the Reapers. As such, I know that, wherever she is, she is looking out for you. It's just what she did. It's what she always did, no matter who you were. She had a tendency to draw out the best in people, and you wanted it to happen. You wanted to make her proud without realizing it, at least at first, to be the best you could be whenever you were in her presence, and one day, it just clicks, and you can't help but thank her for just….being her."

Whatever playful, arrogant bravado Garrus had started with had since disappeared as he put his thoughts out there for everyone to hear. Upon realizing this, the sharpshooter rubbed the back of his plated head and coughed sheepishly before looking into the lense once more. "I know hearing this is going to get old real quick, but she was the most selfless person I have ever met, and my people practically wrote the book on selfless duty and sacrifice. She had every reason not to be after Mindoir, after her family was taken from her and her home colony burned to ash, yet she chose to be a damn near perfect paragon of virtue everywhere she went. Even while we went from one end of the galaxy to the other, chasing after a rogue Spectre, she somehow found the time to help almost everyone that had a problem along the way. Everything from turian generals suffering from heartbreak to quarians on their pilgrimages, to her fellow human being, it didn't matter. Everyone was on equal footing with her, until those few foolish enough made the mistake of crossing her. My point being, you couldn't have asked for a better father, and I couldn't have asked for a better friend."

Once she was sure Garrus was done, Kasumi moved on to Tali next, but not before panning the camera across a live video feed of the battered hull of the Normandy SR-2, pulled up on her omni-tool and broadcasted by Sam who was helping Tali with repairs. "That my dears is where the magic happened for three years, going on four. While I wasn't a part of the original crew, it didn't take me long to find a place among Shepard's little band of misfits. Speaking of the original crew though, here's our very own Admiral and genius engineer. Say hello to Shepard and Liara's future rugrats Tali."

Tali snorted as she pulled away from a section of the hull she'd been working on before nodding ever so subtly towards the omni-tool on her end as Kasumi focused her own in front of the camera's lense so they could see the quarian clearly. "I don't know what's more surprising Kasumi, the fact you stole this project right out from under Shepard, or the fact she's letting you continue."

"I like to think it was my charming personality that won her over." Kasumi replied, cheerful as ever now that she had regained her composure.

"She's not that charming." Samantha chimed in, and turned her arm so her omni-tool's feed was directed on herself before returning to Tali just as the quarian put aside a rag she had been using to wipe her gloved hands off with.

Taking a moment to gather her thoughts, Sam and Kasumi both fell silent. Even those not versed in quarian customs and visual cues could see how nervous she felt as she started to wring her hands together before she pulled them apart with a jerk and folded them neatly behind her back. "The one thing I will always remember about your father, isn't all the fighting we did, or the insane driving she seemed to enjoy a little too much. It was her ability to see people for who they were, not what others expected them to be. When we first met, I was a scared, young girl just beginning her pilgrimage, only to stumble across something far bigger than I was able to handle alone. I wasn't helpless, but the enemies I had made without trying would have killed me if not for her coming to my rescue when she did. After the smoke cleared, I expected her to take what I had discovered about our mutual enemy and leave me behind, since I was a quarian, a 'suit rat' as some of our galaxy called my people if not worse things, but that didn't happen. Instead, she invited me to come with her, and when questions were raised about allowing so many aliens on her ship so much freedom, she was the first to defend us, defend me, from those that would have seen us removed. We had only just met and already she was sticking her neck out for Garrus, Wrex, a grumpy old krogan you'll likely call grandpa, your mother, and me."

The sound of Samantha clearing her throat was the only thing heard for several seconds as Tali gathered her thoughts. "I don't know who you are, what you'll become, but I do know this. Your father, and your mother both, were the most amazing people I have ever met, and it was a true honor and privilege to have served alongside them. And while the galaxy will sing your parents' praises for years to come, long after we have returned to the dust, take this to heart. She might not have gotten a chance to know you, she might not have gotten a chance to hold you, to share in your joys and your sorrows, but she loved you. Keelah se'lai, nar Shepard. Keelah se'lai, nar T'Soni. Be as free as the dust in the solar winds."

While Ashley was still in the hospital recuperating, more because James hadn't wanted to risk it and had insisted she stay put, she was more than happy to add her two credits into the vid montage, even if she was more than a little annoyed at being left behind with an overprotective James at her side. Even so, she couldn't help but smile despite wanting to strangle the man in question, and crossed her arms over her lap as she addressed James's omni-tool. "I made it no secret I was a bit of an idiotic xenophobe. Guess that's the price you pay when you're part of a long line of Alliance marines, we were too bullheaded to admit we needed to rely on everyone, no matter where they came from, when the shit hit the fan. Your dad knew that though, she always knew it, and made me realize it somewhere along the way, but I didn't make it easy on her. I even went so far as to point a gun at her, over a scumbag by the name of Councilor Udina, but that was for something else altogether. Point is though kids, I was a stubborn ass marine, through and through, yet she somehow managed to pull my head out of my ass and show me a better way. As for your mom? Well, for being a creepy recluse with a knack for digging up everyone's dirty laundry, she was a pretty amazing person. You couldn't have asked for better folks, take my word on it." And so it went, each of the crew, no matter how long they'd been a part of the team that had changed the face of the galaxy for the better, offered their own bits of wisdom. Even Jack was surprisingly decent despite making a show of cleaning one of her SMGs in full view of the camera as she talked. Eventually the camera found its way back to Liara, and like Elizabeth, she wished to stand alone before the lense.

Having donned her old uniform aboard the Normandy, the white short sleeve skin tight shirt with its blue highlights along the arms and collar, as well as the matching white pants, Liara looked as she did when she had originally came aboard so long ago. Standing with her arms at her sides, Liara blew out a breath, at a rare loss for words until she came upon the idea to pull up the picture of the entire crew they had taken in Shepard's apartment. She suddenly found she knew exactly what to say as she closed the picture. "Hello, my name is Doctor Liara T'Soni, and I am….or was, your mother, little wing. I don't know when your father might show you this, or if you'll ever see this video, if that's the case then I can only hope our preparations were for nothing and we're both still in your life, but know that we prepared for the eventuality one of us might not have made it to the end to see you grow up. I know that sounds cold and detached, but nothing could be further from the truth. We made this recording, because of how strongly we felt for you and your potential siblings. We didn't want you to enter this world without knowing something of us both, something you'd be able to carry with you for as long as you lived."

Taking a deep breath, Liara blew it out slowly before stepping closer to the camera, her gaze never leaving the lense focused on her and her alone. "When I first met your beloved father, I was on a dig, exploring ancient prothean ruins. I had gotten into some trouble, trapped behind a security field, and I had to put a barrier around myself. I was there for several days, unable to move, and before long, mercenaries sent to find me and seize my research reached me first. But thank the goddess they weren't able to breach the security field or find a way around it to get to me. Just when I started to believe this would be the end, when I had begun to give up hope, Shepard came, and the rest is history as the humans are fond of saying. An idiom that doesn't lack a sense of irony, given the work we would continue, uncovering secrets buried for over fifty thousand years, some far older than that. Yet that is not why I treasure her so dearly, why I joined my consciousness to hers time and time again."

Pulling up the photo once more, Liara ran her fingertips across the image without touching it as tears started to fall from her pale blue eyes. "I fell in love with the woman, not the things she would do. Hers was a soul of compassion, of strength unending, of will unbending, and despite the dark things she had to endure at a young age, her light, that shone so strongly even as the galaxy burned around us, was never extinguished by the darkness we fought so hard against for so long. She might have bent, but she never broke, she might have stumbled, but she never fell, and even as hope fled and there was nothing but the abyss stretching out before us like an open maw, she found a way to push past it. All this, and she never lost sight of who she was at her core. But she will be the first to say she couldn't have done it alone, and I believe her. No one, no matter how strong or capable they might be or think they might be, can do what she did for the countless lives that have a future now, on their own. She trusted those that stood beside her, that risked everything so that the future could shed the darkness and shine all the brighter amidst the void. And that trust was rewarded many times over. Remember these words….little wing, when you are tested and pushed to the breaking point. You….are never alone."

Already on the verge of tears, Liara found she couldn't remain in the room any longer, and promptly ran in an effort to preserve some shred of her dignity. That one quarter krogan part of her genetic makeup wouldn't allow it to be any other way. But the most peculiar thing happened as the door clicked shut behind her, and Shepard would soon find her before all but being crushed in the asari's embrace. A shadow would appear by the window, their hands folded neatly behind his back, which was covered in a dark blue dress shirt and equally dark gunmetal gray pants, a black hat on their head that had a short, neatly trimmed bill to keep the sun out of the wearer's eyes.

"I remember meeting them both as if it were yesterday," the mysterious figure began, his voice definitely male, but he didn't turn around, not yet, "Shepard I had met years before, during the batarian raids on Mindoir. I saw something special in her, even though she was sixteen and in a pretty bad way. Who wouldn't be though after losing everyone in one fell swoop? Friends, family, neighbors, the batarians spared no one, and those they couldn't capture and implant with their control chips, they gunned down in full view of our marines who couldn't get close. It was the worst kind of hell, for both those the batarians got their hands on, and for us, who couldn't do a damn thing to stop them. Yet despite all that, your father managed to hold onto some shred of her humanity, and eventually forgave them their transgressions where so many others would have sworn bloody vengeance, and many did. Shepard though had wanted no part in perpetuating the cycle of violence when asked if she wanted to be a part of the Torfan raids."

The man pulled something out of the front of his navy dress blues and held it before his face for a moment before letting it drop, the sound of some kind of necklace or chain just audible in the background. "It was just how she was. She could see the potential in everyone and draw it out just by being her. So I wasn't at all surprised when she joined the Systems Alliance military, and soon enough found herself in the front lines of Elysium. If it had been anyone else, there wouldn't have been a colony left, but Shepard, your father, rallied everyone that was left after the first wave hit, civilian and soldier, human or alien, to protect their homes, their families, against the pirates and slavers that were determined to take everything from them. All were equal in her eyes, a mentality that served her well as you've no doubt realized by now. Needless to say, I was damned proud to officially take her under my wing. We'd been in contact off an on before Elysium, while she was still an FNG in basic, since I was the man that pulled her ass out of the fire on her home world."

Putting the pendant back underneath his uniform, the man once more stood with his back straight and his hands behind his back, his gaze unwavering as he stared into the window before him. "As for your mother. She was a wet behind the ears xenoarchaeologist that had gotten in way over her head. Her own mother, who I'm sure you'd have heard about by now, was lost to Saren and the Reaper, Sovereign. Yet when it came time to...face what had been left behind by the indoctrination used by the Reaper, Liara….set her free. That takes strength, strength few could manage to accumulate in so short a time, and while it sounds horrible, believe me when I say that being trapped within your own mind as your body is used to hurt those you had once sworn to protect is the far greater nightmare. It almost destroyed Liara, despite the fact they had been estranged for many years, but she persevered. She might have had help along the way, but the fact remains the same. Liara is made of something far stronger than anything I've ever seen, and while I know there's not a day that goes by she doesn't regret….what happened, freeing her mother and seeing her as she used to be one last time was enough to help your mother push forward. That's the woman I came to know, and one you're damn lucky to have as your own.."

It was here that the old soldier finally turned to face the camera at last, his face full of pride and something akin to fatherly love. "I don't know what kind of person you'll be when you're old enough to look back on these old vids and take the lessons left behind to heart. But if you're anything like your parents, I know you'll do this galaxy proud, whatever path you decide to follow, child. And also know, that despite what some people will say about them, that they shouldn't have cured the genophage or that unleashing the rachni back on the galaxy was a mistake of epic proportions, that your parents undid so many wrongs that you should never feel ashamed, no matter what those same naysayers might try to convince you of to the contrary. They don't know them as I did, they never could. What the people here have said, the family both of your loved ones have gathered, that is the only truth you should believe. They aren't perfect, I'll be the first to admit it, but they are two of the most amazing people I have ever had the honor to serve besides. Godspeed child, and good luck wherever you go from here."

It was here that the soldier's impassioned tone of voice dropped to an almost inaudible whisper, his entire demeanor changing as he began to address Shepard and Liara directly. "Liara, I know we didn't get to know each other better, but I know you'll be an excellent mother, no matter what you might believe to the contrary. You're everything I said and more, if anything, it wouldn't surprise me if you spoiled them rotten." He laughed lightly before his voice fell again, and tears began to shine in his dark brown eyes. "Commander, Elizabeth, you have made this old man proud, prouder than I can ever say. You've done good child….you've done real good. Don't ever forget that." Looking to his right, to someone only he could see, David sighed but nodded before he turned back to the camera. "Alright. Sorry Elizabeth, but it's time this old man left. Godspeed to you as well Commander. Take care of yourself, and don't ever look go of what you have."

And just like that, Admiral, Captain, Councilor, father, friend, mentor, soldier, marine, David Anderson disappeared. The only evidence he left behind of his being there, beyond his words left on the video, were his old dog tags that fell on the desk, waiting to be discovered by two of the most important people he had ever known in life.

End Notes: I'll admit it freely. Writing Liara's monologue to their future children, I found myself having to stop as tears formed in my eyes. Rarely has something I've written personally affected me so deeply as this did. Then I got to the end, and I finally lost it. This has got to be the most emotional piece of literature I've ever written, and I say that proudly and gladly even though all the damn tears running down my face made it hard to type lol. That and it didn't help that I was listening to a youtube vid labeled Mass Effect Trilogy Best Soundtrack, a collaboration of what the uploader believed to be the best music from the series, and songs like A Future For the Krogan and An End Once and For All pop up as I was typing this, only adding to the emotional impact. Whatever the case might be, this is Vergil1989 the Crossover King saying once more, may you all find peace and balance in the days to come, and this is my favorite fanfic to write on this site.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: If You Want Peace…

Republic City

RCPD Headquarters

Leaning against a table, which was covered in a large, detailed map of Republic City, Shepard stroked her chin before she turned her gaze to the rest of her team that were gathered around the room. Several areas of the map were highlighted and engraved with the last known locations of each of the gangs that controlled the city's criminal underworld, but it was the businesses and hideouts each controlled that had Shepard's attention. "Garrus, this is more your speed than mine, so I'll let you take the lead on this, where would be a good place to start?" She asked once she had committed most of the map before her to memory.

Garrus wasn't at all surprised by Shepard's question, given his activities on Omega against the gangs that still ruled the space station. But as much as a leadership role didn't sit well with him given his inability to keep his old team safe, he wasn't about to let that stop him as he let his gaze sweep over the map before settling on the Terra Triad, the smallest of the gangs from what Lin's sources had been able to provide. "Here. We're not used to fighting benders, the attack the other night proved that, so I suggest we go with the smallest of them and work our way up the food chain. We hit them hard and fast, go after their shipments, their money making schemes, and anything else that might keep them in the running. We could go after some of the nearby businesses and such belonging to the other gangs while we're at it, but that would be a good way to ensure they band together more than they have already. On the other hand, if we leave the other gangs be, they'd be able to prepare for our eventual arrival, making them that much more difficult to deal with later."

"And we all know how that went for you Garrus." Ashley chuckled grimly before tapping at the section of the map that had no color to it at all, just a simple border highlighting a known chi blocker base. "While these guys aren't benders like the rest, we already learned the hard way they're not to be underestimated. My chest still hurts if I lean the right way, but my point is we might be starting with the wrong people. I'd rather go after the blockers first since at least most of the benders we've faced so far haven't exactly been the subtle type. You can hear them coming a mile off, but these ninja freaks? If the Tweedle Brothers are any example, they'd give some Spec Ops units back home a run for their credits."

"They seem to be operating more in an enforcer role than anything else these days." Lin supplied, having liked what she had heard so far even if an actual plan hadn't been agreed on yet. Simply watching these people talk was revealing a great deal about them. "I've underestimated them before when they first came onto the public scene. They have a tendency to adapt remarkably well, and while most of their advantage came from Hiroshi Sato's mad genius, they still retain much of the technology he developed for them. It might be smart to go after them first along with the Terra Triads."

"A two pronged assault would throw the other gangs into disarray, at least for a time." Liara mused as she too examined the map before her, her mind hard at work at finding possible weaknesses to exploit with what she'd been able to gather thanks in no small part to Lin Beifong and her intelligence network, as limited as it was compared to her old one. "I think the key strategy we should pursue is to target two groups at any one time, forcing them to choose where to send reinforcements if they are indeed working together at all. We could also try and sow chaos among their ranks, force them to turn on each other. That would make their uneasy alliance crumble if we play our cards right, but it would likely cause them to put civilian lives at risk as well, something we're trying to avoid as much as possible. In any event, we'd need to find where they're weakest, and apply the right pressure on precise locations."

"You sure you weren't an earthbender in a past life doc, because that sounded suspiciously like Earth Kingdom logic regarding combat tactics." Mako said, unable to help the small grin on his face as he addressed Liara.

Liara chuckled but shook her head in response. "I'm afraid not Detective. It's just simple deductive reasoning coupled with hard learned experience during my tenure as a powerful information broker. A house divided on itself cannot stand. Their strength right now is their alliance, forged in no small part by the Remnant, even though this same group is more interested in something bigger than the gangs, and they aren't afraid to throw away the criminal groups if it means their plans succeed, whatever those are in the long term. We can speculate, but how they plan to go about creating this Earth Empire we've heard about is still unknown at the present time. We will simply cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I think I have to agree with Ashley on this. They might not have power like the other gangs, but I think it's safe to say that doesn't mean the chi blockers aren't dangerous, especially if they still have their hands on weapons technology from when Amon was still in power."

"Technology Kuvira's scientists improved on quite a bit." Asami added as she unrolled a detailed schematic of the powered suits the dictator had been using during her hostile takeover of Earth Kingdom territory, of which Republic City was once a part of. As for her presence in the strategy meeting, her technical expertise was not to be underestimated, despite the more knowledgeable Tali'Zorah standing at her side. "The powered mechs my father employed during the Equalists movement were crude and bulky by comparison, but they were still formidable since they employed magnetic grapples, electrified bolas, and a number of other anti-bending weaponry, most of which were non lethal but still dangerous. Kuvira's mech suits however, were more geared towards completely destroying anything in their path. They were stronger, faster, and didn't have the design flaws my father's units had, such as open exhaust pipes coming out of the back. I once saw Korra overwhelm one of my father's units by sending water right into the pipes, forcing the mecha-tank to explode from the unexpected added pressure to its inner workings. That same strategy though wouldn't work against one of Kuvira's suits since there's no access to be had.

"Impressive, sure but nothing we can't handle." Ashley replied with a frown. "Still not sure if I want to do this quick and quiet or with overwhelming force, but I am sure if we all work together, we could amass quite the destructive force."

"As much as I might like making a big bang LT, we agreed not to leave the city in ruins." Garrus chimed in, but held up a taloned hand before Ash could respond. "That said, we might have to cause a bit of a mess if we want this to stick for any length of time. We need to put the fear of God into these gangs, ensure they don't simply pop back up in a few months time and come after us with a vengeance. That's why I'm suggesting we go after one at a time, and completely overwhelm them at every turn. And when it comes time to take out their main bases of operation, we leave nothing but a burned out husk with hopefully minimal casualties. Dead men tell no tales after all, believe me I would know."

"Alright Batman, I like it, but that still leaves us without a clear place to start. We've talked about hitting the Terra Triad and the chi blockers, but which one do we concentrate on first and foremost?" Shepard asked, chuckling when Garrus shook his head with an amused roll of his eyes. "As much as I want to take on the benders first, just so we get some much needed experience right from the get go against them, I think I'm with Ash. Their technological advantage might be the better thing to go after first. Benders we know about, even if we haven't faced a lot of them personally. And while our tech is literally light years ahead of anything they could hope to come up with, at least for now, we've only seen a small sample of what they're capable of putting together, and if reports about Kuvira's giant colossus are to be believed at face value, then they might surprise us. And I don't like surprises."

"When you put it like that Battlemaster, I can't blame ya." Grunt agreed before slamming his right fist into his left hand. "Hehe….personally I wouldn't mind going toe to toe against one of these mecha-tanks sooner rather than later."

"You would big boy." Kasumi said as she flickered into sight next to Lin, her hands in full view of the Chief when the metalbender gave her the stink eye. "But I find I have to agree with our overeager krogan friend here. I vote we go after the chi blockers first. They sound like the more dangerous of the groups as things stand now." When she noticed Asami's subtle grimace at where the conversation had turned, Kasumi made it a point to walk over and put a hand on the young woman's shoulder. "Chin up kiddo, we're not going after them because of what your father created for them. Think of it like we're going after them to restore the Sato family honor by removing those that would abuse what you've fought so hard to create for this world."

Asami smiled and nodded her thanks for the thief's words before turning to the map and schematics laid out across the table with renewed determination. It helped that Kasumi's sentiment was easily seen on nearly everyone's faces around her. "Thanks, and on that note, I'll do my part in trying to give any help I can to ensure this goes down without too many problems."

"That is all anyone could or should ever ask Ms. Sato." Liara replied softly before setting her gaze on one of the few known chi blocker training areas they knew about at the present time. "From what I've been able to gather, the blockers are also the most secretive of the gangs still working within the city, and as such they're the hardest to track down."

"Just tell me where to go, Blue." Kasumi said with a smirk. "I will take care of the rest."

"You cannot simply kill-" Lin started, but was promptly cut off.

"Whoa, easy there chief. I never said that I would kill them." The thief said and held up her hands in a placating gesture. "Do you really think so little of me? On second thought, don't answer that."

"Then what do you propose?" Lin demanded to know with a frown on her face.

"Simple, I sneak in, tag as many as I can, let them run around, we follow them with the Normandy's sensor arrays, and they'll mark all targets of interest for us." Kasumi declared with a victorious smirk. "You may now shower me with praise."

"That's...actually not bad. You can do that? Would have made my job a lot easier a few years ago." Lin mused, before she shook off her amazement and crossed her arms over her armored chest. "Alright, we'll try it your way Commander, just be warned Raiko is looking for any reason to get you tossed out of the city at the very least. He might be heading out the door, but he still has his share of friends that could cause all kinds of trouble for you, not to mention me."

"We'll do our best not to step on any toes." Elizabeth reassured her before turning her emerald gaze on the rest of her people. The round of silent nods and confirmations said they had heard and understood as well. "Alright, let's get underway then. Liara will coordinate from here with the Chief, keep in radio contact at all times and report anything of interest you find out there. Weapon schematics, blueprints, notes, I don't care. We need whatever we can get our hands on to learn more about this Remnant, and something tells me we don't have a lot of time. Dismissed." That one word changed the mood in the air from direct and focused to a much more relaxed, easy atmosphere as her people scattered to prepare for the missions that laid ahead of them.

Tali remained with Asami to talk about the plans she had left on the table, no doubt looking for structural weaknesses they could exploit if they ran into any of her father's or Kuvira's vastly improved war machines. Considering how many times this world had proven time and time again just how dangerous it could be, even to them, Shepard didn't blame Tali for wanting to go over every aspect of their tech with Asami while they had a chance. None of them would be surprised if they would need heavy weaponry to take out their mechanical suits, despite their lack of shields and modern armor plating. Their ablative hard suits and kinetic barriers were powerful, but it hadn't helped Grunt when he was hit by a firebender's lightning, further proving that for every advantage they had, the people of this planet seemed to have an equally powerful countermeasure. So Shepard wasn't about to argue against Tali, and by extension, the rest of her team's, well founded paranoia in what they planned to do before this was over.

With that thought in mind, she wasn't surprised to see Liara and Lin poring over the maps and schematics right alongside Asami and Tali, although their attention was more devoted to the people they were going after rather than the equipment and resources they possessed, at least not in such detail. Liara was one of the smartest people she knew, and given her meticulous, orderly mind, and her tenacity to understand people, at least now anyway, she could find the weaknesses and strengths in everyone if given enough information. And Lin's resources, with the backing of the RCPD, were quite extensive and detailed given her years on the force. Mako was soon roped into the conversation, given his past association with the Triple Threats, and by extension their enemies despite being a bookkeeper, and it wasn't long before new marks and shorthand notes were added to the map laid out between them.

Deciding to check on the rest of her people once she was sure Liara was too invested on the conversation at hand to notice her absence, Shepard smiled as she left, all too clearly remembering many times she had found the asari passed out at her computer terminals on the Normandy after another long night of data crunching. They had all gone through a lot of sleepless nights, but those days were behind them, at least to an extent.

Finding herself down in what looked to be some kind of obstacle course for the RCPD recruits she wagered, having climbed down a couple flights of stairs and exiting into an enclosed courtyard within the police headquarters, Shepard couldn't help but admire the set up. It was obviously geared towards the metalbenders if she were any judge, given the large amount of metal sheets and pedestals that held samples of different kinds of metal on them, but she could also see areas for the rest of the bending community going by the pools of water and target dummies for both fire and more earth related benders as well. The only training area that was missing, from what she could tell at least, were for airbenders, but that wasn't so surprising given their oaths of non aggression. Joining a police force would be in direct violation of their entire belief system, even if it would have been for a good cause in regards to protecting the people of the city. Whatever the case, Shepard blew out a breath as she held up her right hand, covered in her hard suit's protective layers, and was relieved and surprised in equal measure when a blue fireball appeared just above the material without burning away the armored glove in the process. "Guess it doesn't matter if there's clothing in the way, good to know."

Dismissing the flame with greater ease than before, Elizabeth decided to take a chance and went towards the target range, ignoring the metal shards that were situated on a nearby table. She was no earthbender, so she wouldn't need the ammunition left out for someone of the same, the same being true for the water bowl that had been left out for the few waterbenders on the force that actively fought crime out on the streets. Taking a moment to study the metallic covered targets further down range, Shepard put her hands up before her face in one of the many N7 training forms she had learned during basic and took a deep, calming breath inward before blowing it out through her nose. While in an active combat situation she wouldn't be able to do so, here it helped since this was no normal sparring match. This was….something else entirely, at least in her experience it was anyway.

Having seen the way Korra and the other benders of their respective elements moved about, as well as the combat footage Kasumi and the others had been able to get during their encounters with the gangs, Shepard was relatively sure she could copy those same movements with ease. That said, she also suspected it went beyond simply knowing the movements and stances required to pull off anything of note. Since firing off her first fireball, she hadn't dared try anything more strenuous than a few stretches on the off chance she threw a fireball by accident. The last thing she needed was to burn someone's face off in the middle of a fight, practice or otherwise. So here she was, staring down target dummies as if she were back in Boot Camp. The thought had a smile forming on her lips as she took another breath before focusing her emerald eyes on the closest of the metal covered targets.

When she threw her first punch, Shepard felt a bead of sweat roll down the back of her neck when she didn't even summon a puff of smoke, let alone a fireball. "Hmm…." She hummed aloud, before trying again only for a small explosion to go off in her face, blasting her off her feet. "Son of a-" She grunted, wondering what in the Hell had gone wrong as she dusted her backside off with an annoyed huff once she had picked herself off the ground. "I made this look so easy the first time, so what's the deal now?"

"Your life isn't in danger for one." Spinning on her heel, Shepard instinctively threw a punch and blinked when a fireball left her hand. Mako casually batted it aside before crossing his arms over his chest. "Not bad Commander. As for why it's not going so well now, it's because you haven't figured out a way to channel your new power without relying on instinct. It took me a while to figure out how to get my own power to work properly, until someone spelled it out for me."

"Alright I'll bite, how'd you do it?" Shepard asked and crossed her arms, her curiosity piqued as she looked the detective in the face.

"Bolin." Was Mako's answer.

It took Elizabeth only a moment to figure out what the firebender meant. "Ah….you have a reason to fight, and that's protecting your brother. So….it somehow translates into your ability to bend properly?"

"It's a little more than that, but that's the basics. Fire is the only element that comes from within. All the rest you can find just in the world around you, but fire is different in that a bender has to believe in themselves. There's a reason why it's defined as passion and drive given physical form." Mako emphasized his point by taking up a traditional boxer's stance and throwing a quick one two punch into the air before him. Except two fireballs raced out from his fists, and struck the furthest of the metal targets behind Shepard. "There's not a lot I wouldn't do to protect Bolin, let alone the rest of our friends and family. That's why I'm able to bend, and why I'm able to control what I was born with. The training I got along the way helped sure, but it all starts with that simple commitment and belief in myself."

"It also explains why you seem so apathetic, and cold at times. You have the mentality of a prison inmate who's done hard time." Mako grunted but made no other move to show he disagreed with her. Shepard shrugged since it wasn't any of her business either way, but she couldn't keep quiet about it either. "I get you had a pretty rough childhood from what we've heard from Asami and Korra, so you've learned to keep everything behind a wall you've built around yourself Mako."

"Yeah, but if you want the truth, it used to be a lot worse." Mako replied and instinctively pulled at the hem of his collar, as if remembering something important. Shepard thought she had heard he used to have a scarf given to him by his folks before they were killed when he and Bolin were kids, but it wasn't there now. He had probably given it to his grandmother, who last she'd heard, lived somewhere in Republic City along with a rather large collection of cousins, uncles, and aunts.

Whatever the case might have been, she nodded and let her hands fall to her sides. "I figured you'd say that. And I'm not saying you should change Mako, just don't let that wall get any higher."

"I'll try, but who knows what the future might throw at us next?"

"Can't argue with you there." Deciding to let the matter drop for now, Shepard turned around and faced the target range once more. She grinned when she was able to throw a fireball the next time she punched outward without it blowing up in her face. "Heh."

"Not bad." Mako agreed with a nod of his head. "I don't think I've seen blue flames before, not even Lightning Bolt Zolt could pull that off, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised either. You and your friends are some of the most-"

"Strange, exotic, insanity inducing?" Shepard fired off, and chuckled when she saw Mako grimace and rub the back of his head as he fumbled for the word he was looking for. All the while she experimentally continued to fire off more attacks, growing slightly more confident as she produced more flames without blowing herself up.

"I was going to say unique." Mako finally stammered out before he shook his head and regained some measure of his cool demeanor. "Chief Beifong must really like you if she's letting your people assist in reclaiming Republic City from the gangs like this. I worked with her for several months, and she doesn't trust people easily. Beifong family trait I suppose. They're as stubborn as the metal they bend, but she's a good woman."

"Some of the best COs I've worked under were the same way. That's probably why we get along so well, now anyway." Shepard chuckled in retort as she decided to try something new and kicked out with her left foot. She miscalculated the force behind her new power however, and ended up doing half a cartwheel only to land heavily on her back with a groan. "If this gets out, I am hunting you down Mako."

Mako chuckled and shot Shepard a teasing grin as he helped her to her feet. "The stories I could tell you about my own training would make you laugh until you cried Commander."

"Elizabeth, although everyone tends to call me Shepard. I'm only the Commander when I'm on duty, and the raids haven't started yet Mako." Shepard replied, correcting the former detective while giving him a shit eating grin of her own as she took up her former stance again. Firing off a two shot combo much in the same way Mako had, Shepard continued to speak. "So, how does a former bookkeeper for the Triple Threats get into the pro-bending circuit, and then find himself a part of the RCPD before finally settling into a bodyguard job for the now President Wu of the former Earth Kingdom?"

"Honestly? My life was pretty boring until I was almost ran over by Asami on her moped, although I had met the Avatar about a week before that." Mako replied and rubbed the back of his neck again as he did. "I was stupid, got lost in the glamour and fame from being a pro-bender. It got old pretty quick, especially since we were stuck with a no good waterbender as our third guy. Korra's the only reason we made it to the finals when our waterbender decided not to even show up, although Asami's father sponsoring us, despite hating benders, didn't hurt either."

"Basically you had some pretty good luck, mixed in with a bit of crap just to balance things out." Shepard stated as a pang of sympathy went through her. "I know the feeling. Some of the stuff that happened to me was just a little too crazy for my liking. Still, I managed alright, guess that's all that matters." Trying a kick again, Shepard grinned when she didn't end up kissing the dirt for the second time as a blue flame shot out of the heel of her boot and found a new home in her chosen target. Feeling more confident, Shepard spun to the right, foot leading, and followed that with a jump kick in the same direction. Every move was successfully followed by a fireball, and each found their mark on the target down range.

Mako was honestly impressed as he rubbed at his chin, amazement filling his brown eyes. "Not bad, you're a quick study Shepard."

"I've been around the block a few times. Alliance training was the best there is. It's not that hard to translate what I learned back in Basic to this." Shepard replied and nodded her thanks when Mako tossed her a fresh towel just as she started to move to pick one up from a nearby rack. Wiping at her face and the back of her neck, she nodded her thanks before tossing the towel back into a laundry basket. "Been awhile since I've worked up a sweat like that. Firebending's hot work."

Mako rolled his eyes but chuckled at the bad joke. "Haha. Are you always like this?"

"Pretty much." Shepard replied, her grin speaking volumes as she nodded her approval of the detective, her respect for the young man shooting up considerably after having a chance to talk to him in far more detail. Looking up as a shadow flew overhead, Shepard watched as Jinora and Kai landed in front of them. "Kai, Jinora, what brings you two out here?"

"Uh, I think I'll let Jinora handle this one." Kai said and gestured towards his girlfriend with an uneasy glance towards Elizabeth. "It's...big, that much I know for sure."

"I don't like the sound of this." Mako muttered quietly.

"What's up Jinora?"

Jinora blew out a breath and sighed as she leaned against the side of the target range outer wall. "I found what you were looking for Elizabeth. It wasn't easy, especially given the size of Wa Shi Tong's library, but I was able to find something that explains what's going on with you and Avatar Kyoshi."

"Alright." Shepard stated and crossed her arms over her chest. "You have my attention."

"What has me so worked up isn't what I found, since it's rather simple once I discovered it, but how I found the information in the first place. I think you might want to come with me back to the Spirit World, because I can't explain it. But as for your link with the Avatar, from what I was able to gather, it goes like this. There's documented proof, at least according to what I found, of people that look remarkably similar to each other without having any relation with each other whatsoever."

Shepard nodded, so far following what Jinora was saying. "Genetic diversity can only go so far until you start getting repeats. There's only so many shades of green eyes for example, the same thing with jaw structure, skin tone, height, weight. I could go on but I get what you're saying." Shepard paused as a thought occurred to her, and she had to blink as what Jinora was saying hit home. "So wait, are you saying Kyoshi and I are like….on a spiritual level at least, genetically similar?"

"In a manner of speaking, that seems to be the case." Jinora said as she pushed away from the wall and let her hands fall to her sides. "You might have been born in two different life times, and have experienced far different things in your lives, but at your core, you're both very much the same. So much so that it has built a kind of bridge between you two."

"Huh….interesting theory Jinora." Shepard mused, but honestly, she had kind of figured that out already. The revelation didn't feel all that surprising to her, most likely because a part of her had always known the truth of the matter. It was nice to have someone confirm it though, to have someone take something she said on faith, for once, outside of her friends anyway. "It's a bit surprising, but I think I already knew the truth. If this bridge between us is as strong as you say, then it's not that much of a stretch for me to believe it Jinora. What does puzzle me is what you want me to see in this library you mentioned."

"As I said, it's better if you see for yourself, but I get that you're busy with what's coming. I might not be able to take an as active a role as you, but I'm willing to help protect our home just as you are." Jinora replied firmly, and Shepard couldn't deny the strength behind her eyes and the way she carried herself.

"I know, you and the rest of the Air Nomads would be a valued part of any team, but I also get why you don't want to take a more active role than you have already. Yours is a different path than mine, and honestly, I respect your way of life more than I thought I would when I was first introduced to the cultural ideas of the Air Nomads. I have a feeling you'll make your grandfather proud Jinora. If anything, it might be safe to say you've done that already many times over" The young airbending master blushed scarlet, but she accepted the high praise with grace as she bowed deeply at the waist. Elizabeth returned the gesture with a nod of her head and a smile. "Yep, you're gonna go far kid."

Kai decided to step in, a grin on his face as he casually leaned against Shepard. "You do realize you're flirting with my girlfriend right Commander?"

Shepard chuckled and grabbed Kai by the hand just as it started to go into one of her armor suit's pockets. "I'm just passing along honest praise Kai, although you try digging through my pockets again, I might have to give you a free CQC lesson. One that ends with your face in the dirt." She shot back, and grinned darkly for effect. Kai swallowed, jumped back, and grinned sheepishly as he proceeded to back away slowly. Meeting Jinora's amused gaze, Shepard held up her hands and laughed lightly before slapping a hand on Kai's shoulder before he could fly off. "Easy kid, Kasumi goes through my underwear drawer often enough, so I'm used to harmless thievery. I would however avoid stealing anything from Jack, Grunt, Zaeed, and Ashley, in that order."

"Got it." Kai said as he nodded his head vigorously. It wasn't long after that that he and Jinora took off, leaving Mako and her behind in the training yard.

Once she was sure they were alone, Shepard nodded her head towards the main building, where the strategy meeting was still being held. "I get the feeling you didn't find me by mere happenstance detective. Liara told you where to go."

Mako looked up a little too quickly before hanging his head. "Yeah, she had a feeling you'd find your way down here. I have no idea how she knew, but she was right. She even said you'd likely be practicing in gaining control of your new bending ability, and that's exactly what you were doing. Is she always like that?"

"Smart, cunning, and able to read people like an open book? Yep, that she is Mako. But there's few people I trust more, and fewer still I love as much as I do her. I trust everyone on my team, don't get me wrong, but she's one of the few that's been with the crew since we first began traveling the stars together."

"They're your own 'Team Avatar'." Mako replied, earning a nod from Shepard for the astute observation.

"That about sums it up detective. Not a bad comparison, although the name doesn't quite have the same ring to it. Hmm." Rubbing at her chin, Shepard smirked before she started towards the stairwell that had allowed her into the courtyard in the first place, Mako not far behind. "Team Normandy sounds good. What do you think?"

"Why ask me? It's your team Co- err Elizabeth, but it sounds kind of pretentious."

"To you maybe, but you haven't been around long enough to appreciate what it'll mean to the rest of my little family." Mako couldn't find anything to say to argue her point, so he shrugged and watched her go. The more he thought about it though, the more he found he had to agree with her.

Air Temple Island

"Relax kid, you look like you're gonna fall out of your dress if a stiff breeze hits ya." Joker said as he and EDI watched Saria pace the length of the boat they were taking back to the island. The silver haired young woman shot the pilot a withering glare before she began pacing again. Joker huffed and crossed his arms for a moment before he walked over and put his hands on her shoulders. "Saria, take a breath, you're gonna be fine. Tenzin might be a tight ass but he's a good guy."

Saria hung her head and blew out a long, drawn out breath in an effort to calm herself down, but it did little good since she still fidgeted nervously. "I hid out in the slums for two years Jeff, after….the accident. I couldn't bring myself to get this close to Air Temple Island, not after what happened. Now I'm going and I couldn't be more scared."

"Scared of screwing up or scared of trying, kid?" Joker asked, and smirked knowingly when Saria jerked her head up at the question. "If it's the former, I can understand, but you have nothing to worry about since Tenzin is a pretty good guy. He looks out for the Avatar and her friends as if they're a part of his family, although he has one of his own already. Little Rohan's the youngest, so beyond maybe getting stuck babysitting, you likely won't have to worry about him so much. Meelo might be a bit crazy, a wannabe tyrant with delusions of grandeur, but he's harmless, mostly. Ikke will talk your ear off but she's cute, provided you can get a word in edgewise between her constant rants. Jinora is the oldest, and she's also pretty smart. She's some airbending master or whatever, so if you ever need to talk to anyone, I'd go after her first. My point is kid, you couldn't be in a better place."

"Talking from experience flyboy?" Saria muttered, just as a flicker of a smile appeared on her face before it bloomed into something more.

"Maybe I am silvertop." Joker retorted and promptly slapped an arm over Saria's shoulders about the same time the small transport ship they'd hitched a ride on came to a stop at the docks. "Pema's also someone I'd go to if I needed a shoulder to cry on, but that's just me talking."

"You do that extremely well too."

"Someone's gotta." Joker quipped before he pulled away from the girl he'd found outside of Kyto's place. "Look, I get it, life sucked after that firebending freak went all sparky sparky boom boom on you and your folks even if you weren't the ones she was aiming at, and you were afraid to do anything once you felt safe with old man Kyto. He's a good guy too, but you and I both know we can't hide forever kid. I about made that mistake, and you know how that turned out." EDI offered the two a small smile when Jeff and Saria looked over their shoulder to the synthetic not five feet away. "Do yourself a favor Saria, don't stress out, but don't give up either before giving this a shot. You'll be kicking yourself forever if you don't at least try."

"Yeah…." Saria agreed quietly before perking up and wrapping her arms around the pilot just shy of crushing his ribs. "Thanks, for agreeing to stick around flyboy."

"Hey, thank EDI, she's the one that got my brittle butt in gear kid." Joker said and returned the hug as best he could. Once they broke apart, he grinned and nodded towards the main temple grounds. "Now go on, make some new friends Saria. I ain't going anywhere so don't expect to get rid of me that easily."

"I don't know, the way you hobble around I could knock you over with a stiff breeze."

"I would advise against such a tactic." EDI warned playfully.

"Translation? Go pout, I win." Saria's answer to that was to stick her tongue out at him before running up the stairs to the central complex in the center of the island. Joker and EDI watched her go, before the pilot gave a contented sigh. "It's good to be back babe."

"Indeed it is Jeff." EDI replied softly before a curious gleam filled the synthetic's eyes, or at least as close as she was able to. "Does this mean she is now adopted into our strange little group?"

Joker chuckled but shrugged since he honestly didn't know just yet. "I think it's a little too early to tell one way or the other EDI, but it wouldn't be that bad if that became the case. She's a good kid, and I can't help but think of my own sister Hilary whenever I'm around her. Maybe it's the galaxy's way of giving me a second chance, who knows. I just know I didn't feel right letting her out of my sight, not without at least trying to convince her to give her dreams a second chance."

"Just when I thought I had organics figured out, you continue to surprise me."

"Heh, we'll do that. Who knows, we might get you singing Kumbaya yet and roasting marshmallows." Before EDI could respond to that, Joker began tapping at his omni-tool while hobbling towards the main building. "Come on, we gotta get a hold of Shepard and tell her those Remnant assholes are kidnapping people right outta the slums. If they're doin' what I think they're doing, we might have a bigger problem than the gangs to worry about."

"Then why are we heading to the main temple area Jeff? You're already in the process of sending a message to the Commander." She knew the answer already, but she wanted Jeff to say it since it only further proved what she had already seen from the human at her side.

"Because EDI, Tenzin and the people here are just as much a part of this as we are now. If anything, they have a right to know first since this is their world, we're just the lucky SOBs that crashed in their backyard."

"Technically we almost smashed the ship into Avatar Aang's memorial statue before crashing into the bay at sub terminal velocity." EDI was quick to clarify as she helped Joker up the long flight of stairs as much as he required.

"Bah, details." Joker shot back without missing a beat. To EDI's mind though, it was good to see the pilot back to his old self again.

Despite being just about to gather his newest batch of students for that afternoon's class, Tenzin handed the reigns over to Ikke and Meelo. While it would probably bite him in the butt later, he wasn't about to ignore a threat to the city, no matter where it happened to be focused on at that particular moment. "And are you sure this information is accurate Mr. Moreau?"

"Positive. We did some digging on our way back, and it turns out a lot of people have been disappearing, except no one notices since they've been careful about who they take. No one will miss a few refugees from the Earth Kingdom, people who are just trying to start over, and given what Kuvira did on her little rampage, I'm willing to bet no one would shed any tears either if they all up and vanished." Joker couldn't help but mentally shudder at the idea of someone snatching up Kyto, or Saria for that matter. While he had been genuine in pushing the girl to train under Tenzin and his rangers, his reasons hadn't been entirely without an ulterior motive. By convincing her to come here and hopefully stay, he was making it impossible for the Remnant to get their hands on her.

Unaware of where Joker's mind had turned, Tenzin sighed wearily since he was right in what he said. "Unfortunately you'd be correct, especially if they were former soldiers in Kuvira's army. But you were also right in coming to me with this because it's our duty to ensure the safety of everyone within Republic City and beyond. If the Remnant truly is forcibly recruiting, this could become a disaster if left unchecked. I'll try and get the city council to act on this, hopefully Elizabeth hasn't angered Raiko enough that he won't listen to reason."

"I wouldn't hold my breath on that Tenzie. The little I've heard about the guy doesn't give me the warm fuzzies. But knock yourself out if it makes ya feel better." Tenzin started to open his mouth but seemed to think better of it when he saw the gleam in the pilot's eyes. Instead the master airbender straightened his robes and went to make preparations for an emergency meeting with the president and his staff.

The rest of that afternoon was spent getting a hot meal and a well received hot shower before Joker found himself staring up at the sky where he could just make out Saria's silver hair flying behind her as she kept pace with the rest of the new Air Nomads. The look of joy on her face that he could just make out as she maneuvered the new air glider she'd been given, along with the Air Nomad garb, was enough for Jeff. "You did a brave and noble thing, bringing her to my son, Jeff." Joker chuckled and looked towards Katara as she walked up to his side. "I think she'll do just fine here."

"Can't imagine why that might be Kat. The fact she's surrounded by the same people that kept us from falling to pieces, or the fact she now has a chance to fly?" Joker retorted and gestured to the skies above them, where Saria and the rest of them were just starting to turn back to the island now that the sun had started to set. Apparently Ikke had the good sense not to do night flying just yet, or her old man had strictly forbade it for their safety. Whatever the case, although Jeff was willing to hedge his bets towards the latter being true, he watched Saria and the other Air Nomads file into the nearby dorms. He only smiled and waved the girl off just when she started to head his way, and instead Saria continued on with the new friends she had already made.

"Why not both?" Katara quietly chuckled in response, and put a hand on the pilot's shoulder. "Despite the humor and sharp sarcasm you use to shield yourself, you possess a strong, kind heart. Your family would have been proud of what you did here today."

"Yeah, I know that now that I can see past my own idiot face. Turns out you don't need a giant ass warship to be a big damn hero, or some weird ass bendy powers for that matter." Katara laughed but nodded, not about to argue the point even if his explanation was a little colorful. Joker smirked before he let out another contented sigh. "She just needs the people that call the ship a home. Turns out I'm part of the best damn crew there is, and I almost gave that up to bury my head in the dirt."

"Sometimes you just need a simple, if sincere, reminder of what you have, to truly appreciate what you've been blessed with."

"Or someone to kick you in the butt, whatever works."

"Haha, you might have a point there, but I tend to offer a gentler hand in guiding people back from the darkness they tend to inflict upon themselves."

"And that's why people love you around here." Joker replied and squeezed Katara's hand before she could pull it away from his shoulder. "Thanks, for everything you did for Shepard and the team, Katara. Lot of people wouldn't have taken us in like you guys did. Just wanted to let you know personally that I'm grateful."

"That was never in doubt, but it's still nice to hear you say it aloud Jeff." Just as the sun fully descended over the horizon, the unmistakable sight of some kind of explosion on the edge of the city. Katara looked on the plume of smoke that followed and couldn't help but recall the numerous battles she had seen during her youth. "It looks like history can't help but repeat itself again." The audible sorrow in her voice told both Joker and EDI that she wasn't enjoying the experience as she recalled the tension, the worry, and anxiety of waiting for news of her loved ones.

Joker shared her concerns, but he knew what Shepard was capable of. He'd seen her come back from the dead, destroy Reapers, and take down every obstacle in her path thus far. He was pretty confident she'd succeed, and made sure Katara knew it too. "Yeah, but this time Shepard's in town. She'll put an end to whatever's going on here. And don't forget about your all powerful Avatar. With those two together, I doubt anything could stand in their way." Katara couldn't help but smile in response, silently grateful for Jeff's confidence in his friends.

Future Industries Airfield

Kennoth shouted a curse when a conduit shot sparks in his face. "Damn it! I'm startin' to get really annoyed with this." He growled, only to flinch when Gabby slapped the back of his head. "Devil woman, I cannae decide what might kill me first, you or the darned ship." Despite his annoyance, he shot his female counterpart a teasingly sexy smirk over his shoulder. "Of course, death by yer hands wouldn't be so bad I suppose."

Gabby sighed and shook her head but couldn't help the smile on her face even if she tried. With a bundle of wires laid out before her, Gabby had her hands full anyway as she tried to sort out those that were still operational from those that had been shorted out when the energy wave hit. "You might not say that if I decided to drag it out Ken."

"Eh, true, but you're not that cruel Gabby." Kennoth shrugged in response before pausing in running a diagnostic in the hopes of finding out what had went wrong. "Right?"

Gabby snickered and waved him off without taking her eyes off the pile of wires in front of her. "You got nothin' to worry about Ken. We made it this far after all, and I haven't killed you yet." She did stop to look to her right when Zhu Li knelt down beside her to lend a hand. "Thanks ma'am, you and Varrick have been pretty helpful, even if your husband is a bit eccentric."

The woman smiled knowingly as she turned and looked over what the people aboard had called the CIC. It was easy to see where she was looking as parts flew in every direction before Varrick gave a cheer before diving right back into whatever he was doing. "Yes he is, but he's mine." Zhu Li replied before nudging Gabby and nodding to Kennoth for emphasis. "Kind of like yourself and Donnelly."

"Can't argue with you there ma'am, but we've known each other about as long as you and Varrick if what we've heard is true." Gabby stated, and chuckled good naturedly when she saw the contented look on her new friend's face. The fact Zhu Li was able to help her at all with minimal questions about what went where didn't escape their notice, but so long as she and her husband were helping at all, Kennoth and Gabby didn't care. That didn't stop her from remarking on Zhu Li's skills though. "You seem pretty capable with a socket wrench and a circuit board ma'am, you sure you aren't related to Tali?"

Zhu Li chuckled softly, knowing it was a trick question after seeing the quarian engineer. "I'm afraid not Ms. Daniels. I've just been a part of Varrick's rise almost since the beginning, and while he didn't appreciate my abilities at first, I didn't let them get rusty either. I might not be on the same level, but I'm more than capable in my own way. I tried to sabotage Kuvira's spirit cannon twice, and nearly succeeded both times."

"Kuvira, as in that mad woman that tried to blow up Republic City?" Kennoth asked as he jerked his head towards Zhu Li, surprise etched all over his face.

"Kennoth, if you'd been paying attention, you'd know Kuvira wasn't all bad. She was just trying to reclaim what had once belonged to her home. That and from what I've heard, she was just lost."

Zhu Li raised an eyebrow, surprised by how quickly a complete stranger was ready to defend a known dictator, and she wasn't wrong. That said, Zhu Li knew Kuvira better from personal experience, and she hadn't had a good experience with the metalbending prodigy. "I was willing to sacrifice my own life to see Kuvira's regime ended. That should tell you how far she was willing to go, and while she was indeed lost as you say Ms. Daniels, she was also extremely dangerous. I wouldn't feel sympathy for such a monster."

Kennoth paused in what he was doing and turned fully to address Zhu Li and Gabby, his jaw set in a thin line. "Even monsters can be redeemed. Commander Shepard's proven that many times over. Saren, our former boss, didn't matter, she found a way to make them return to who they were before the end, and in some ways they were far worse than this metalbendin' tyrant you seem to have a hate-on fer."

Zhu Li wouldn't be swayed though, not so easily, not after facing Kuvira and her madness head on. "You'll see for yourself when the trial comes up in a few weeks Mr. Donnelly, provided you attend of course. Either way, I won't be so easily persuaded to see her as anything but the monster she truly is."

"Can't win everyone over I suppose, yet the Commander makes it seem so bloody easy." Kennoth said with a sigh before turning back to the power conduit he'd been working on.

Varrick meanwhile, having...borrowed an omni-tool that had been just sitting in a box, kept a running commentary with Chief Engineer Adams down in Engineering. Having overheard most of his wife's conversation with the two engineers she was working with, Varrick couldn't blame her for the way she felt about Kuvira. He didn't exactly have the best memories about the woman himself, but he wasn't so single minded in his personal dislike for her either. "Funny thing about Kuvira, she might have been crazier than a bag of wolfbats, but she had a way about her that from what I hear, wouldn't have been so far removed from your Commander."

"That's the story we've heard as well Mr. Varrick." Greg replied, his image hovering a couple inches above the genius's left arm as he dived back into the mess of wires and burned out circuits laid out before him. "And I have to agree with what most of the crew seems to think about her. Kuvira might have been unstable, driven to succeed at any cost, but she's not the worst kind of person we've run into during our travels. Kennoth isn't wrong, even monsters can be redeemed, and the Commander seems to have a knack for finding our better angels."

"Woulda been nice to have her around during the whole kitten caboodle then!" Varrick exclaimed before calming just as quickly. "I don't blame Zhu Li for having a problem with Kuvira, she did some pretty wicked stuff to a lot of people, but as your Mr. Donnelly, nice guy by the way, said already, she wasn't all bad. She might have held me out of a moving train with nothing but metalbent cuffs on my wrists, but I had some time to get over it."

"Eh….right. You're an unusual man Varrick, but at least you're able to forgive and forget."

"Oh I don't know about that, I certainly forgave her, but I doubt I'll ever forget. After all, she took Zhu Li away from me for a while, and I was all but helpless without her!" Varrick cried out before immediately putting a hand to his chin to stroke his budding beard. "Speaking of, Bolin was pretty helpful during that time. He might be dumber than a box of rocks, but as an assistant, and as an escape artist, he did quite well for the time we were stuck on that train. 'Course, I might have gave him a push by wiring up a bomb to go off, set both on a timer and a remote. Fun times!"

Greg was pretty sure they had very different ideas of fun, but he wasn't about to argue the fact that Zhu Li and Varrick were still alive to tell the tale. The sound of a distant explosion had all eyes turning towards the nearest bulkhead or airlock, depending on the person's location. Greg knew what was going on, having heard enough of the plan to take down the gangs, and it seemed they were off to a literal bang. "Sounds like the attack has started."

"Wish I was there, just to see your Commander in action, but on the other hand, I think I've had enough excitement for a while. Now I just want to settle down." The wistful note in Varrick's voice was emphasized by the lovestruck look he threw towards Zhu Li. Greg chuckled, knowing all too well what the man was alluding to. "You understand don't ya Adams?"

"I do." Greg replied as he thought of Kya and the time they'd spent together so far. "I do indeed."

Hiroshi Sato's workshop, the infirmary

"You have quite the setup here Doctor Chakwas." Kya said as she swept her eyes over the technological marvels spread out across the infirmary the doc had been able to set up, with some help from her team and Korra's friends. "Everything has a place, meticulously arranged. Makes Bumi's bedroom seem like a warzone by comparison, and believe me I know. I can't count the number of dirty socks I've tripped over when we were growing up."

"I can't imagine why that might be." Karin chuckled in response but sighed wistfully as she recalled her time spent with the airbender, outlandish storyteller that he was. Kya grinned knowingly, earning an amused but agreeing glance from the Alliance doctor. "Yes, I'll admit it, Bumi might be a man child in some regards, but he's a good man. He makes me laugh, something I've found I needed more than I realized. My calling as a doctor has led to many sleepless nights as you can imagine."

Kya understood, all too well and sighed knowingly in response. "I've seen enough war in the past few months, let alone the past few years. The Equalists, the Red Lotus, and now Kuvira's army and her giant colossus. A lot of good people were lost, some of them on my watch. It never gets easier."

"Indeed it does not Kya." Karin agreed solemnly as her mind went over the many men and women she had served beside. Some of them had come out of surgery, healed in body if not in spirit, while others hadn't come out of her infirmary at all, save to be transferred to a metal coffin which was never seen again, by her at least. Jenkins had been sent home after he foolishly ran ahead of the Commander during their first mission together on Eden Prime. Kaidan….he had been lost on Virmire, killed by a nuclear detonation that had wiped out Saren's cloning facility. Mordin, Thane, and several others had also fallen in the fight against the Reapers, and Karin knew their names, each and every one of them. "Our methods might be vastly different, but the consequences of our failures remains the same. Even so, there are just some things that are beyond our ability to heal. All we can do is press forward and do all we can to ensure as many people survive as we can."

"Wiser words haven't been spoken to me in a long while, not since dad passed at least." Kya replied and gladly accepted the brandy Karin had poured for her. Like Katara before her, the healer nodded her approval but didn't toss it back, which didn't surprise Karin. It seemed Katara had raised her kids quite well despite their eccentric personalities. Having taken a moment to compose herself, Kya soon enough sat down in front of Karin's desk, glass in hand. "Dad would have liked you and your friends Karin, I can call you Karin right?"

Karin smiled warmly as she held up her glass, a gesture Kya understood since it wasn't so unusual to have a toast with a friend. "Kya, you've helped patch up my friends, my family, I think that more than qualifies you to call me by my first name. And that more than makes you a friend." Kya needed no further prompting to clink her glass softly against Karin's before they both drank. The explosion in the distance had both women looking towards the ceiling as a couple of dust trails fell. "Speaking of my own family, it seems the fighting has begun in earnest."

"And duty calls for people like us if they return beaten black and blue." Kya groaned in agreement, but perked up when Karin chuckled but nodded in weary acknowledgment.

"An unfortunate but necessary evil in our professions Kya."

End Notes; I saw an episode of Dr. Phil a long time ago, that talked about a rare phenomenon where two people that looked remarkably similar, like looking into a mirror, just without the mirror, yet they had no relation to each other whatsoever. As such, they had a woman on the show that told everyone how there was someone in the town she lived in that looked just like her, and a few of her friends thought it strange she was seemingly in two places at once when questions started to be raised about where she'd been. After taking a moment to look at Kyoshi and Shepard's pictures, and watching enough LOK and ATLA to get the ideas of past lives and all the things they talk about stuck in my head, it wasn't hard to make the jump as I tried to explain it through Jinora in this chapter. If a person's outer appearance can be the same to the point they look like doppelgangers to each other, why not their very souls as well? Avatar or not, who Kyoshi was as a person, that and it helps she and Shepard shared the same voice actor, isn't so far removed from the hero of ME. Hence, this idea, this story, began to take shape, and the result is as you've seen thus far. Next chapter, we get underway, and begin to see where the Remnant plan to take things. Also, expect Grunt to have a field day, taking down a mecha-tank and one of Kuvira's mechs most likely lol. Anyway, see ya!

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Prepare for War

Republic City Business District

It made sense to have a secret base in plain sight of everyone. Some of the best ways to hide something you didn't want found was to put it where it could be seen, and standing in front of the former Cabbage Corp headquarters, Shepard couldn't help but admire the chi blockers' ingenuity and daring. The RCPD police tape and warning signs that clung to the sides of the empty warehouses and main buildings weren't hard to miss, and at a glance, it looked like no one had been here for some time. But upon closer inspection, she and the others could see fresh tire tracks, footprints, and more to suggest there had been some pretty extensive traffic through this area. "They probably know we're here." Shepard observed as she turned to Tali and Grunt. "What do you two think?"

"I'm not picking up any electronic devices of any kind, but that doesn't mean they don't have eyes on us." Tali said as she ran a scan of the area with her omni-tool, sweeping for cameras, electronic monitoring devices, and anything of the same that might give away their position. When her scan came up with nothing, she shook her head and deactivated her omni-tool. "Unless Kasumi's already deactivated whatever passes for security here, I'd still advise caution Commander."

"We'll give her ten minutes, then we go in either way." Shepard said, her face hidden by her suit's helmet, but the tone of her voice said enough. They were going to wait, and give Kasumi time to complete her objective. After that, they'd go in, guns blazing, so to speak.

"More waiting. At least we get to do something though." Grunt rumbled softly, and looked towards what was left of the statue that was in front of the building. Three years of bad business, since Asami had made it no secret that while Cabbage Corp was Future Industries biggest competitor, it didn't have the best reputation for producing quality products, had ensured that the company slowly sank deeper into debt. The state of the building and the statue of its founder said that much alone, even though part of their fall had been because Hiroshi Sato had set false evidence within one of their warehouses, tying them to the Equalists. "What's with the guy's obsession with cabbages anyway?" Grunt grumbled, and nodded towards the oversized vegetable in the statue's uplifted hand.

"I got no idea." Shepard replied, finding it just as strange as Grunt, but it didn't matter regardless. Their attention was drawn away from the statue as Korra and Mako rode in on Naga. Giving the two a nod, Shepard crossed her arms over her armored chest as both jumped off of the polar bear dog's back. "You're late. I had hoped you'd be in the strategy meeting at police headquarters."

"Sorry, we were held up at the pro-bending arena." Korra apologized and hung her head as a huff of annoyance escaped her. "Ugh, we were trying to get a charity event organized to help with repairs to the city, but the lady at the front desk just would not listen to reason."

"Asami wanted us to get things started while she was busy with you guys." Bolin explained, rubbing the back of his neck as he did. "The lady at the desk though was so by the book I'm surprised she didn't throw the book at us."

"Gave you all kinds of trouble huh? Well, since it's for a good cause, I guess I'll let it slide this time." Shepard said, a teasing smile audible in her voice before she nodded her head to the building behind them. "That said, once this thing gets started, I have a feeling we'll need all hands on deck. I know you've done this before a few times, but we haven't, at least not on this planet. I'd feel a lot better, as would Liara, if we had you at our back when we need you."

"That's Shepard talk for, don't be late to the next mission briefing." Tali was quick to clarify.

"You take this kind of stuff pretty seriously huh?" Bolin asked, only to flinch away when Shepard turned to face him. Even without seeing her face, he got the distinct impression she was giving him a death glare that would have turned him into a pile of ash.

"Only when people's lives are at stake." Grunt growled out before Shepard could do so personally. "Which is gonna be yours if you don't get your head out of your ass, whelp."

"Easy Grunt, but he's also right." Shepard replied before taking a breath. "This is war Bolin. It might not have been officially declared, but we got hit pretty hard just a few nights ago, you know that. And I don't take kindly to people targeting my friends, just so they could test us and our capabilities. That kind of action only leads to one inevitable outcome in my experience. They plan to do a lot more than that in the not so distant future. With that in mind, I don't plan to wait around for them to spread to the rest of the city." No sooner had the words left her mouth than a shot ring out from Garrus's rifle, before a man dressed all in black fell off of a nearby roof. There was a gash in what Shepard identified as a balaclava, a fully covering cloth mask, in the back of the man's head, where a lump was fast forming from the sniper's shot. "That's why I had Garrus set up shop on the chance we were followed, or you were in this case." Shepard elaborated, all business as both Korra and Bolin stared at the unconscious lookout with mouths agape.

"You're welcome by the way." Garrus replied as his face appeared over Shepard's right arm, his own face hidden by his combat helmet's tinted visor. "Poor bastard didn't even know what hit him."

"Except now if they didn't know we were here before, they certainly know it now, but I'd rather no one got back to wherever they call home to report to whoever's in charge of the Remnant." Shepard stated and started to the fenced off front gate before turning around to face her companions.

"Agreed Shepard." Tali replied before turning to Korra and Bolin, as well as the unusually observant Naga. "If we're charging in, we better do it soon."

Shepard was already on the move, her hand reaching to her back where her assault rifle was already unfolding, the magnetic strip releasing its hold on the weapon which fell into her hand just as it began to move to grab its stock. Bringing it before her, the rifle finished unfolding completely, all of this in one continuous stream of motion, and when it finished, Shepard was already kicking the lock off the front gates. "Garrus, keep the tails off us if you can. We're going in. Kasumi, if you can hear us, we're heading your way." It was all the incentive the Avatar needed as she soon fell in beside Shepard and Tali, Naga and Bolin soon bringing up the rear. "Ash, you got the other side covered?"

"Aye aye ma'am. We'll see ya soon." Leading a second insertion team that consisted of Mako, Zaeed, Jack, and Grunt, it was the hope that between the two of them, they'd be able to deal with any unwelcome surprises between here and wherever Kasumi had wound up. James meanwhile was with Lin and Liara, guarding the RCPD headquarters, and one of the most important people in Shepard's life in the process. He hadn't liked the arrangement, but it set her mind at ease to know someone was keeping an eye on things while they did the heavy lifting out here. And as much as a part of her had wanted to rip the ignorant Bolin a new blowhole for his offhand remark, Shepard had bitten back the impulse since it had been an innocent enough question. He just didn't have a clue the kind of things they had gone through to get this far, and honestly, the more rational part of her mind hoped he never did. The same thing went for Korra, although she had a feeling she knew better than she let on, at least in public if what Asami had told her the other day, and what little she'd heard from Katara, was to be believed.

In any event, such thoughts were put on hold as she and Korra barged into Cabbage's Corp main lobby, and saw nothing to say there was a chi blocker base set up within the immediate area. Yet Shepard trusted Lin's intel, and Liara had since confirmed it in her own way. Something was happening here, that much they knew for sure. It wasn't until Ash shouted from further in the building that they found what they were looking for. Kasumi had marked the entrance to a secret passageway that led into the sewers below the building. "She definitely came through here alright." Shepard said as she groaned in exasperation at the red rose Kasumi had tagged on the wall above the door in question. "She used to leave red roses at the crime scenes of places she had broken into and stolen something."

"A calling card." Mako confirmed, and raised an eyebrow towards Shepard. "You weren't kidding about her being a thief." When a phantom hand passed over his back pocket, the detective spun around, flame dagger in hand, only to see a snickering Kasumi appear before him.

"Sorry." She giggled into her hand as Mako relaxed, albeit briefly. "It was just too tempting to pass up though." Pushing past the silently fuming Mako, while Bolin coughed into his hand to stiffle his laughter at seeing his brother scared by the playful thief, Kasumi soon stood before Korra and Shepard. "They're down there alright, and they probably heard that shot which means they're likely scattering by now. Trackers were placed though so we should be able to follow them easily enough."

"Right. Tali?"

Tali nodded and did a sweep for the tracking beacons Kasumi had placed, and soon had positive readings on all of them. "It seems to have worked Commander. It's a good thing we got power restored to most of the ship when we did. Signals are coming back loud and clear and they're on the move, just as we thought. Not all of them are moving though, perhaps they didn't hear the shot and are just moving cargo around?"

"If that's the case then we need to go down there anyway. Let's move." No one argued the point as Shepard took point. The rest of the team soon followed, Mako and Korra providing ample light between them as they summoned small fireballs to their hands, while Shepard and her team either employed the headlamps on their helmets or used their visors' built in vision modes, most of them having switched to thermal or night vision. Whatever the case, there was little chance of them being ambushed as they traversed the dark tunnels ahead of them. Looking behind her, Shepard saw a ramp off in the distance that led up to the surface, which confirmed the presence of vehicle traffic from the tracks they had seen earlier. There was probably some kind of switch that would reveal the entrance into the tunnels beneath the complex, but they weren't interesting in that at the moment. There was plenty of tunnel in front of them to keep them busy, with a lot of places to duck into for cover, either to avoid detection from a passing enemy patrol, or to avoid having their heads removed on the chance the enemy found them.

Holding up a hand when a noise ahead caught her ear, everyone stopped as Shepard motioned them to get into hiding. The rumble of a motorbike was unmistakable, and soon enough, a darkly clad chi blocker rode past, and into a nearby wall that moved out of his way to reveal another tunnel they would have otherwise walked right past. "Clever bastards." Shepard heard Zaeed whisper under his breath.

"Their vehicles tend to have buttons on the dash to allow activation of their secret passageways." Mako whispered, confirming what the rest of them had been thinking. "There's also usually a switch on the walls, on the off chance they're moving on foot." Shepard nodded and soon enough, led the way across the passageway to look for a way to open the door they had seen their chi blocker friend ride through just a few seconds ago.

"Alright, get ready. I want flashbangs in there before we charge, use non-lethal methods if possible, but I'd rather have a few of them dead then one of you guys hurt." Shepard told them with a stern look and checked her own equipment one last time, reminded of her N7 training and her stern instructor.

The grizzled man had taught her a lot, among these things was a statement that most certainly fit the situation. "It is good to hit hard, but it is better to hit hard and with superior technology. That said, your best weapon will, and will forever be, your mind. All the tech in the world won't save your ass if you don't have the wits to use it to its optimum advantage. And when all else fails, get creative." Well, that lesson, and many others like it, had saved her ass more times than she could count, and it wasn't about to fail her now as she waved Jack forward so she was up front with Korra and Bolin.

"Mako, Korra, kill the fire." They obeyed without a word, and soon the passageway was blanketed in darkness. "Alright, this is how it's gonna play. Far as I can tell, there's a lot of movement up ahead, making it hard to know just how many of these guys there are, what they're packing, and if there's any inactive mecha-tanks in the next chamber. Unfortunately we don't have the time to figure it out, so we're gonna have to do this fast and hard. That means when we charge in, we hit them with as much firepower as we can, and cause as much chaos as we can in as little time as possible. We'll lead with flashbangs, you're gonna wait to stay back and shield yourselves as much as possible when they go off. Afterwards though, throw anything that isn't nailed down into their ranks and keep moving forward. If you see empty mecha-tanks, hit those first, otherwise concentrate on vehicles. We'll do the same. Got it?"

"Got it." Korra replied firmly while Mako nodded solemnly in response.

"Hehehe, I am enjoy eating their entrails." Grunt said with a menacing grin on his face.

"Grunt, you really shouldn't listen to everything Wrex says." Shepard told him with a small eyeroll. "Eating people, that's nasty. You have no idea where they've been." Bolin paled considerably even though the rest of them knew it was an empty threat.

Grunt pouted but sighed in agreement. "Fine. Take all the fun out of it. Clan leader Wrex had the right idea if you ask me." He grumbled but said nothing else on the matter, save to draw his shotgun and prime it with an ominous crack as he 'chambered' a round into the massive weapon.

"If we're done fucking around Shepard, let's get this shit done." Jack cracked her neck to the side before drawing her awesome biotic power to the front, a palpable aura of dark energy crackling off of her tattooed skin as she held her hands out before her and proceeded to crack her knuckles. "After you Shepard."

"Thought you'd never ask." Grabbing a flashbang, she gave Ashley a silent nod before both Spectres charged into the next room and tossed their grenades into both sides of the loading area they had ran into. Two loud, concussive blasts followed by bright flashes of light soon had the chi blockers in disarray as many fell, grabbing at their ringing ears or falling to the deck where they stood as the sensory assault overwhelmed them. Even those in full gear, masks and goggles over their faces, couldn't withstand the grenades' effect on their senses as they too fell to the dirt, but they were also the least affected because of their combat readiness. They were the first to be hit as they began to regain their feet as Korra and Mako soon added their literal firepower to Shepard and Ashley's withering assault fire, which in turn was soon joined by Zaeed and the rest of the team.

One of the more coherent chi blockers tried to jump Ashley from the side only for Grunt to grab his extended arm before he could get close. With a dark glare, the krogan drew his head back and smashed it into the man's face. Needless to say, he didn't get up after that, and promptly crumbled to the ground in a boneless heap, already forgotten as they pressed forward amidst the withering assault they were laying down as they went.

Although they hadn't fought alongside benders of any kind yet, Shepard couldn't help but admire the way Korra and her allies worked together nearly as effectively as her own people. Bolin's earthbending was both useful for defense and offensive measures, the young man raising walls of rock to slow down the chi blockers that were still able to fight while Korra and Mako blasted them aside or knocked them down, providing ample opportunity for Bolin to trap them in rock up to their necks or for Naga to swat at them with her massive paws, knocking them out cold in the process. Either way, they were an effective team in their own right, and it was little surprise that they had been able to take down so many of this world's enemies together. Further driving the point home, Bolin blasted aside one of the chi blockers with a small rock to the chest when he moved to make a grab at Kasumi. The thief turned just as the man was hit, only to see the earthbender shoot her a wink before finding someone else to take down.

Kasumi smirked and nodded her thanks to the bender. "I think I'm starting to like him." Shepard heard her say as she followed that up with a strike with her electrified omni-tool. The chi blocker she hit twitched and writhed on the spot before falling still, smoke rising off of his uniform.

"You can rip his clothes off later!" Jack hissed between clenched teeth as she steamrolled a closely packed group of blockers with a biotic shockwave that left the area around it broken and dented. As for the people she'd hit, they weren't dead, but with the number of broken bones she had likely given them from the explosive attack, they likely wished they were as they groaned softly from where they'd fallen.

"Will do." Kasumi shouted back playfully and disappeared from sight only to reappear a moment later to deliver a crushing hit to the solar plexus of one of the few enemies left standing. When he started to get back up, Kasumi rolled her eyes and casually kicked him across the face. "Stay down, good boy. I think that's a wrap Shepard."

"Uh, I wouldn't be too sure on that guys!" Bolin shouted as he pointed to another tunnel that led deeper into the chi blocker's training area. Out of the darkness, three sets of tank like treads, supporting a metallic chassis of imposing size, rolled out of the tunnel. "Mecha-tanks! We might be in trouble!"

"We've fought worse!" Korra shouted back, and shared a quick nod with Shepard as they charged forward without hesitation. Thanks to Tali and Asami's detailed analysis of the two mechanical units, Shepard and her people knew how to handle the tanks before them, while Korra and her allies knew how to do so from personal experience.

Discarding her rubber ammo block for a tungsten variant, Shepard's hands moved in a blur as she continued her charge, easily ducking under an electrified bola that was fired at her before kicking off of the floor when a second one came at her feet. By the time she hit the floor, her charge hardly slowed, she was ready and took aim at the joints of the far left mecha tank's right arm. "Let's see how that armor plating holds up." Wasting no time, she squeezed the trigger and unloaded. Despite being made of platinum, one of the few metals that couldn't be bent, her concentrated barrage soon rendered the tank's arm useless as the sand particles cut deep into the joint, one of the few viable weaknesses Tali and Asami had both agreed on being a good place to start if they ran into the mechanical units in question. Their research had paid off as the tank's arm soon fell limp and useless, the hydraulics shredded and the delicate circuitry holding it together useless.

Having long since caught on to Shepard's plan, Tali and Ashley had since done the same to the left arm before Tali turned her shotgun on the mecha-tank's treads. It wasn't long before it was unable to do more than spin around in circles, one 'leg' useless and dead beneath it while the pilot frantically tried to get his ride to cooperate. Flash forging her combat drone, Tali sent her drone to the bubble headed cockpit with an accusatory finger pointed at the cockpit. "Go for the pilot, Chitika!" The orb zoomed away, electricity crackling off of its outer shell before it got within range and promptly zapped the dented and battered machine. It soon stilled as the pilot behind the glass fell unconscious.

The second mecha-tank had since met with a similar fate as Jack lifted the machine from the floor with her biotics, leaving it utterly vulnerable to Zaeed and Grunt who promptly riddled it with holes. It wasn't even a fair fight, and by the time Jack let it drop to the ground, the metallic chassis was all but unrecognizable save for where the man behind the controls resided, too stunned and terrified to move a muscle after the resounding beating he'd just received. He shouted in terror when Grunt dug his claws into the hatch and promptly ripped it open. "Hehehehehe. Come here whelp! Hey Bolin, pull!" Tossing the pilot into the air, Bolin kicked up a boulder and hit the man square in the chest, silencing his scream mid air before he and the rock hit the ground several feet away. "Heheh, nice."

Kasumi, Mako, and Korra had since finished off the third between them, the master thief sitting on the remains of the last as the rest of the group turned to face them. ""Bout time you noticed us. We had ours down before you Shepard." The ice ramp Korra had created so that Kasumi could jump onto the mecha-tank's back dissolved and the water soon flew back into the canteen on the Avatar's side. "Gotta hand it to you Korra, you're pretty creative when you put your mind to it."

"Yeah, especially since you used me as bait." Mako grumbled, but couldn't help the smile on his face as he dusted off his shoulder.

"Oh you enjoyed it detective. Besides, it worked didn't it? We barely had to scratch the paint job, unlike the rest of the gang." Kasumi patted the largely undamaged mecha-tank, save where she had shot a hole through the glass to get at the pilot, where she had promptly used her electrified omni-tool to knock him out cold. From there it had been a simple matter to unlock the hatch and toss him out, allowing Korra and Mako to tie him up with the rest of their prisoners. Hopping off of the mecha-tank, Kasumi cheerfully walked over to the rest of the group as Shepard pulled up the tracking data. "Looks like our plan's working beautifully Shepard, but it was my idea, so that's not surprising."

"Don't get cocky yet Kasumi, we've only just gotten started." Shepard replied, but couldn't help but shoot the master thief a shit eating grin behind her helmet's faceplate. Looking over the map of Republic City they'd been able to scan into their respective omni-tools, Shepard zoomed into one section of the city where several beacons were currently located. "Looks like there's a base on the northern edge of the city, just shy of the mountains or underneath them. Think you're up for more?"

"Hell yeah Skipper." Ashley cheered, high on adrenaline yet composed enough to keep her head in the game.

"I'm with you Shepard." Tali stated firmly, while Kasumi, Jack, and Zaeed nodded in agreement to the question.

Unsurprisingly, Grunt grinned wide and slammed his hands together in open glee. "Hehehe, I'm in."

"You don't have to ask me Elizabeth." Korra stated and nodded. "This place was my home long before it was yours."

"What she said Commander err ma'am, uh...Shepard ma'am." Bolin stammered out in response.

"Relax, keep focused on the job at hand. And Korra, I get it. You don't have to explain your reasoning to me, just keep it in mind so you have something to keep you going when things get tough, and they will before this is over." Looking at the largely undamaged mecha-tank, Shepard started towards the imposing piece of equipment. "Jack, think you can get this thing upright? I have an idea, provided Tali can remote pilot this thing."

"Do you know who you're talking to?" Tali shot back, a sliver of outrage in her voice at having her abilities questioned.

It took a little creative machine work, but Tali was able to cobble together a rudimentary transmitter and tie it into the controls of the mecha-tank which in turn was linked to her omni-tool. Hitching a ride on its right arm, the quarian guided the weaponized fork lift, which it did bear a strange resemblance to thanks to its claw like hands, the engineer made quick progress down the tunnel it and its two companions had originally come out of. The rest of the team meanwhile followed the tank once Tali was able to get it rolling, doing their best to keep up in their respective ways. Bolin was able to make a platform of rock which he promptly sent barreling after the mecha-tank, which most of the team was able to ride on while Korra rode on Naga's back, bringing up the rear as she did.

"Kinda wishing we had you during some of our more dangerous missions back in the day kid." Shepard mused aloud to the earthbender. "Would have made getting around a lot easier."

"That and having cover spring up as we went along would have saved us a lot of injuries." Ashley chimed in.

"Awww, you guys are too much." Bolin blushed, but never lost his concentration as his rock platform kept moving along behind Tali's hijacked mecha-tank.

"Your ego is too big as it is Bolin." Mako chuckled, bursting his brother's bubble while he was at it.

"Says the guy that had to prove how awesome he was by blowing up Kuvira's giant mech." Bolin shot back over his shoulder, but the pride in his voice told another story. Mako smiled and rubbed the back of his head with his left arm, while unconsciously hiding his right, scarred arm behind his back without realizing it.

Kasumi noticed though, and slapped a hand on Mako's back. "Awww, the big hero suddenly goes all quiet and humble. You know, some women find scars very attractive. Although, I believe most of those women are krogan." One look at Grunt and Mako, unsurprisingly, grimaced at the image the thief had conjured up for him. She chuckled and patted the former detective on his shoulder. "I believe I made it clear not all of them were krogan. I happen to like men with scars, and a handsome face to go with a measure of intelligence. And what do you know, you have all three."

"Thanks….I think." The look on the firebender's face said he wasn't so sure he was ready to handle someone as playfully clever as Kasumi Goto though.

Deciding to step in before the master thief could embarrass him further, Shepard pulled Mako free of Kasumi's grasp with a light hearted chuckle. "Ease up Kasumi, I'd rather you didn't break one of our new friends before we had a chance to get out of these tunnels at least."

"Party pooper. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted." With that, Kasumi disappeared with her trademark flash of blue light as her tactical cloak engaged. "It just gives me a reason to stare at his backside some more." The thief's quiet laughter and Mako's exaggerated groan was soon drowned out by a round of chuckles from the rest of them.

"Keelah, you guys are hopeless." Tali said before pointing towards the distant passageway that was fast approaching. What was before them resembled a bunker door, making it abundantly clear that trying to brute force their way through the platinum barrier was out of the question. "That's going to slow us down." Tali hopped off of the mecha-tank's arm just as her ride and Bolin's platform came to a stop several feet away from the massive door before them. "Any ideas on how to get past this one?"

"We won't have to." Shepard said as the door opened of its own accord. "It looks like we're expected."

"Trap." Jack, Zaeed, Ashley, and Kasumi said at the same time.

"Yep. Let's not disappoint them shall we?" Shepard said and started forward even as Bolin cleared his throat to get her attention.

"Yeah but what about it you know, being a trap?" Bolin stammered out. "'Cause I'm in no hurry to end up dragged off to another cell. I can lavabend, not metalbend, kinda puts a damper on escape plans when I try melting a way out of a cell only to end up melting my own feet off."

"I think we'll be fine so long as we stick together." Korra said as she rode by Bolin on Naga's back. "Besides, you saw how easily we decimated that last group. I get the feeling we'll be fine even if this is a trap."

"That and we sent a message back to the Chief to have her people pick up that same group. If we're gone for too long they'll come looking for us." Ashley reassured the earthbender even as she grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him behind her for several steps until he started walking on his own. "So buck up or shut up rockboy."

Having been flailing his arms about until Ashley let him go, Bolin about fell on his face before Naga pushed him upright with her snout. Letting a sigh of relief escaped him, the earthbender groaned but followed like an obedient puppy. "Fine, you win. But remember I said this was a bad idea."

"Quit being a pussy." Jack grunted over her shoulder before letting her gaze sweep over the room they had since entered. To call it a 'room' would require it to be much, much smaller than the chamber they had walked into. No, the space they had entered was large enough to be able to contain an aircraft carrier. "Whatever's here they want us to see must be freaking huge Shepard."

"Or in very large numbers." Shepard said as she pointed to the center of the massive, hexagonal chamber and everyone followed where she was pointing, to see a freight elevator just coming up to greet them. She sucked in a breath through clenched teeth when she saw the hollow, blank stares of dozens of people looking right at them, yet not seeing them at the same time. "I think we just found our missing refugees and slum dwellers."

"Very perceptive of you Commander." Jerking her gun upward to the source of the voice, Shepard and the rest of her team did the same as a man in a dragon mask stepped into a glass box higher up the wall on the far side of the chamber. On his right was a woman, also masked except hers was a plain black, unmarked face covering. Not that it mattered since it was the jade dragon mask that had her full attention. "But I would expect nothing less from someone of your caliber. The reports I've heard of you and your fellows has made for interesting reading. Until you came, I wouldn't have dreamed there was life beyond our very skies, but I think a part of me suspected there had to be more out there. Still, such talk is for another time. I must thank you for bringing the Avatar with you. You've saved me a lot of trouble trying to track her down personally."

"Why do the bad guys always feel the need to monologue?" Kasumi whispered as she disappeared from sight when Shepard shot her a subtle glance over her shoulder.

"Comes with the territory since they're likely missing a few screws." Tali said with a quiet snort. Even as she spoke though, the quarian engineer called forth a fresh combat drone to her side, knowing the fight that was coming would be unavoidable.

"If you are hoping to provoke me into some foolish endeavor you will have to do better than that." The man shot back condescendingly. "Even though your understanding of technology is quite impressive, Ms. Tali'zorah vas Rannoch, Admiral to the Migrant Fleet. Yes, I know who you are, who all of you are. Our spies have been quite informative, not that you've made that much of an effort to hide. Your entrance into Republic City wasn't exactly subtle."

"Yeah, I guess it would have been hard to miss. But how about we skip the pleasantries and just get to the important parts." Shepard rather demanded than asked. "I doubt that you're here to tell us how you felt when you saw our ship crashing."

"Indeed. While stunning and most...upsetting for many, I saw you more as a curiosity, then as a threat when you made your intentions known to come after the gangs, which you have." The man agreed, before folding his hands neatly behind his long dark green robes. "You have since become a thorn in my side after the ambush that you have correctly surmised was a test of your abilities, which you passed far better than anticipated. While the gangs are expendable, we cannot allow you to interfere further. As for you Korra," he continued and pointed a finger directly at the dark skinned woman, "your next life will be as an Earth Empire resident if I am to understand the Cycle of Rebirth. Which means when you manifest yourself again, you'll be under our control. Ergo, killing you here will be the fastest way to ensure your loyalty to our cause in the future."

"Not on your life pal! Come down here and say that to my face!" Korra shouted back with a defiant wave of her hand from atop Naga's back. The polar bear dog growled menacingly in abject agreement, making it clear she wouldn't let anyone get close enough to try.

"I won't have to. Come out and say hello to our guests, your highness." All eyes fell on the crowd of blankly staring people in front of them as they parted, forming a long open space between their ranks upon the man's declaration. Underneath the man's glass box, a single metallic door slid into the ceiling, and there stood a woman with long, raven black hair tied neatly around several wooden sticks, holding the long locks secure in a tight bun on the back of her head. The black armored plating, with its dull gold highlights, were accompanied by shoulder plating that didn't seem to hinder the woman's freedom of movement in the slightest. The black robes underneath were equally loose enough to allow her excellent freedom of movement, which told the hardened marines and their companions pinning her down was going to be a pain in the ass.

"Greetings, Commander." She said with a disturbing smile, her eyes alight with something that was not quite insane but too far removed from sanity to count as either one, if Shepard were to guess she would say that it was something in between. "It is so lovely that you could join us. I've heard a great deal about you from my new friends in this day and age."

"Azula….the Azula?!" Korra gaped, her blue eyes dilating to the point they became almost wide as saucers. "There's no way….how is this possible?!"

"Funny what being frozen in a block of ice for the better part of seventy years will do for your life expectancy. Of course, you'd know that, wouldn't you miss Avatar? Aang did it for a century." Azula replied with a shrug of her shoulders.

"Wait… she's something like an evil Captain America?" Kasumi quietly questioned and turned to look at the rest of her team, maintaining her stealth field since even she could tell something was different about this particular opponent. "You did just hear that, right?"

"We heard, now shut up." Ashley hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

"If you want Korra you're gonna have to go through us, little pyjak!" Grunt roared and slammed his hands together before aiming his shotgun at the slender Fire Nation princess.

Most people would have taken one look at Grunt and reconsidered their options. Most people would have at least taken a step back if nothing else at having such a large, heavily armored alien staring them down. Azula was not however, most people, and smiled wickedly as she took a stance, right foot planted before her with one hand held before her and the other outstretched behind her. "That's the idea." Even Shepard couldn't completely follow what happened next as the biggest wall of fire she had ever seen from a bender to date suddenly shot out of Azula's right hand, cutting a path between the crowd of brainwashed people that had wisely split when they had. Grunt stood his ground, but even the krogan couldn't stand the heat as his barriers failed him in short order and he was soon blasted off of his feet. Everyone could only stare in dumb shock as one of their heavy hitters was so easily swatted away like a bug on a windshield.

"As you can see, you're outmatched here Commander." The man and his second soon disappeared, but not before one last order left his lips. "You've all been invited by the Earth Empire to Lake Laogai."

The crowd of about four dozen mindless people, slum dwellers from across the age spectrum, replied in a creepy monotone that echoed across the walls. "We gladly accept the invitation." Whatever pre-programmed orders had been left behind were activated upon the response's completion, and the four dozen lost souls were soon rushing the two team's with wild abandon. Azula's laughter accompanying their charge.

"Remember I said this was a bad idea?!" Bolin shouted as he pulled three rocks from his back pocket, only for them to fuse together to form a razor sharp disk that radiated with orange light, molten magma coating the blades. The reason for his creating it became apparent when one of the brainwashed people tossed a boulder at him, only for Bolin to cut it in half before it could reach him. He didn't stop there though, and returned half of the attack back at the bender in question, knocking him and three others down with the return fire.

"You can tell us 'I told you so' if we make it out of here!" Mako shouted back as he and Korra stood back to back, both of them throwing everything they had into keeping the brainwashed masses at bay without actually hurting them too badly. Naga weaved in and out of their barrages, her paws and teeth doing their own share of the work, having picked up on her long time companion's desire to only knock the enemy before them out rather than taking them out of the fight completely.

"Keep Grunt covered until he recovers!" Shepard shouted over the noise, not all that surprised Azula didn't join in the fray personally. If half the tales she had heard about the mad princess were to be believed, and if Korra's reaction was anything to go by, she was watching them, observing their tactics, their styles, and finding ways to dismantle them as she did. Not that they had a lot of choice in the matter as they did their best to form a circle around the downed krogan, keeping the brainwashed slaves around them at bay as they did.

"You have yet to impress me, Commander." Azula called down mockingly and with a wide smile. "It seems the tales of your abilities have been greatly… exaggerated."

Shepard ignored her as she and Ashley followed Korra and Mako's idea. Zaeed soon joined them, and together, they took down all oncomers, bender and non bender alike, although they were largely successful because most of their combatants hadn't received any formal training in any form of combat. Even so, their numbers, while quickly dwindling, were still posing a problem as fireballs fell on them, boulders were thrown, and even gusts of wind from a couple of airbenders slammed into the group.

Jack was able to fend off most of the attacks, save for the large boulders, simply by wading through them with her biotics, a wreath of dark energy taking the brunt of their attacks like a skintight barrier. This allowed her to bash heads together, and throw out attacks of her own that left more than a few enemies either floating helplessly in the air, allowing them to be picked off by anyone that had a clear line of sight on them, or Jack simply finished them off herself by throwing them either into the ground at her feet or so far across the chamber that they couldn't help but crumble helplessly once they hit the ground. One such enemy Jack threw towards Azula herself, which she casually stepped to the side to avoid.

While Tali was no slouch when it came to fighting, having survived many an insane situation before, but it became quickly apparent she was the weak link in this engagement. If not for Bolin and Naga supporting her, the quarian would have been quickly overwhelmed as her shotgun, while powerful, was slow to fire and even slower to cool down. Not only that, her specialty was geared towards supporting her companions through the use of tech attacks and hacking machinery, not straight up firefights like this. Even Chitika, her combat drone, wasn't able to keep up with the tide of mind controlled slaves as the floating orb was quickly smashed apart even as it fired off powerful electrical shocks in every direction. Its combat effectiveness was greatly reduced, before it was broken apart shortly after the fighting began, due to the simple fact Tali had turned down its power output in the hopes of preventing any unnecessary deaths of those the Remnant had turned against them. It wasn't their fault, so why should they pay for something that was clearly beyond their control?

"That boshtet is crazy." Tali mumbled, but not quiet enough not to be heard by the female firebender.

Azula merely laughed loudly in reply before she calmed down, her amber eyes becoming cold and unforgiving. "You try ruling an entire Nation, have your friends betray you, and see how sane you remain!"

Decking another enemy across the face with her rifle's butt, Shepard rolled her eyes as she fired a barrage into three more. She had switched back to her rubber rounds, so the shots were non lethal, but damaging enough to put them down hard. "Quit your bitching Azula. You have no idea what stress is. No idea whatsoever." She knew what the woman was trying to do, but she wouldn't give her the satisfaction of provoking a response that easily.

"We'll see about that." Azula replied with a cruel smirk, having since grown bored with the way the fight was going. "My loyal servants! Bring me the still beating heart of the masked woman! I want to hear her scream!" The order was heard loud and clear, and all eyes turned to Tali.

It was exactly the nightmare scenario Shepard had hoped to avoid at all costs as she unconsciously ducked a boulder thrown in her direction before firing back at her attacker. Whatever rational thought remained in Shepard's mind turned to ash as the remaining forces arrayed against them completely ignored the rest of the group even as they continued to lay into them. It also had the desired effect as Shepard tossed her overheated gun and charged towards Azula, omni-tool producing its blade as she ran, hellbent on putting the mad princess down then and there, in the hopes that by cutting off the head of the snake, the rest of her 'servants' would fall in quick succession.

Azula's face nearly split in two since she had seen how deeply Shepard cared for her allies, and had ensured the exact response she was getting by ordering the rest of her soldiers to go after what she rightfully guessed was the 'little sister' of the group, let alone the weakest of them. So, with a practiced motion of her hands outstretched to either side, Azula began to channel lightning in one hand before feeling it churn and roil in her stomach before feeling it flow to her other, which was pointed, two fingers straightforward, on the charging Spectre. "You're mine!"

Feeling the fool for her blind charge as she saw the buildup of energy, Shepard had just enough time to look behind her to see that if she tried to dodge, one of her friends would be hit instead, but staying in the lightning bolt's path was no option either. Not one Liara would be happy with anyway, but Shepard couldn't allow one of her family to take a hit for her. That wasn't how it worked, not for her. And with everyone still engaged, there was no time to shout out a warning. So, there was only one thing she could do.

Coming to her decision, time slowed down as she accepted what was about to happen. I'm sorry Liara…. Shepard sighed as she stood her ground, and was soon pitched backwards as the raw power behind the attack blasted into her chest, blinding everyone in the chamber as the lightning crashed over her like a wave. Shepard screamed as the electricity ran through her body, seizing up her muscles, burning her skin even through the layers of hardsuit and ablative padding. After a few seconds of pure agony, the lightning receded, and Shepard fell to her knees and had to stop herself from falling face first into the ground. Breathing heavily, she slowly looked up, shapes unclear and colors almost muted after the brightness and pain that still wracked her from head to toe.

"I'm impressed, not even little ZuZu was able to stand after taking one to the chest in order to save his little waterbending peasant friend." Azula smirked evilly, a fire attack charging up in her left hand. "I learned a lot today, Commander. Let's do this again soon."

With that, she released a great explosion of blue fire that scorched everything that wasn't protected by benders or armor. That included more than a few of her 'servants' as they were burned to cinders by the blue flames. After the inferno had died out, in no small part assisted by Korra's efforts, Shepard could see that the mad princess had vanished as well. "Skipper!" Ashley's voice was distant, whatever adrenaline that was left in her system bleeding out of her as Shepard started to fall now that the danger seemed to have passed. Funny thing though, the ground never reached her before she lost consciousness.

Panting and sweating heavily from the fight, Kasumi and Ashley were the first to reach Elizabeth's side just as she hit the ground. "Hardsuit's sensors are fried, I can't get a reading on her vitals! Dammit! Don't you do this to us again Commander!" Ashley yelled as she and Kasumi ripped Shepard's helmet off before the thief backed away to send a message to Steve Cortez and Karin. Checking for a pulse, whatever color remained in Ashley's face drained away when she looked up. "There's no pulse." She ignored the sharp intakes of breath around her, instead focusing on trying to save Elizabeth's life as she pressed down hard into the center of Shepard's chest. "Starting CPR! Kasumi, Korra, keep everyone back!"

End Notes: I hate cliffhangers as much as the next person, but as I think I said once before, they're necessary at times. Feel free to send us the hatemail and reviews when you get to the end. I will say this though, someone rightfully called the fact we had Azula in that box this whole time, and boy does she make quite the entrance. The first thing she does is blast Grunt off his feet before going after Tali. Yeah, is it little wonder that Shepard went after the mad princess like that, only to be blasted aside like a fly? As always, thank you for reading, reviewing, favoriting, following, and staying with us so far. We're nearing the final act, so keep your fingers crossed we don't do anything too heartbreaking between now and then lol. See ya!

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Shadow Show

RCPD Headquarters

When news reached Lin of what happened down in the chi blocker base, she wasn't at all surprised to see Ashley, Liara, and Garrus heading for the prison block. She sent word to her officers to get out of their way as they made for the Terra Triad member's cell. Her own interrogation had turned up nothing, the guy wouldn't talk to her, and as much as it went against her better judgment and adherence to the law, things had changed once the Remnant brought a literal ghost from Aang's life into the present day. They needed answers, and they needed them now. And she was pretty sure the earthbender knew something, especially since he'd been giving her a knowing, smug look the entire time she had tried to question him over the past few days when she hadn't been busy organizing the raids that had led the current situation.

Now, Lin was allowing Liara and her people a chance to crack him open. She just hoped the guy was still breathing afterwards, but with the revelation Azula herself was running around, she was feeling desperate enough to risk it. It didn't help any that the tales she had heard from her mother about her adventures, as truncated as they were, had been unusually detailed when she talked about Azula, and one in particular had stuck with the Chief to this day. That being the day the mad fire princess had nearly killed Aang with a lightning bolt to the back. If she was powerful enough to take on an Avatar, as he was entering the Avatar State no less, then she didn't like their chances even if Korra wasn't nearly so hesitant to go all out as her past life had been.

"You sure that was a good idea Chief?" Mako asked, and while he was no longer an officer under her command, Lin still appreciated having him around. He had been a damned good officer, and a good friend. As such, he was one of the few people who could ask a question like that and not get the third degree for daring to speak against her, especially during such a crisis as this was turning out to be.

"Honestly kid I don't know, what I do know is that I wasn't about to get in their way, not after what happened down in that base almost two weeks ago." Lin replied, having seen the burned and broken woman when they had dragged her out of that place. It was little wonder Liara had started to shake with barely suppressed rage, and had looked ready to go on a killing spree then and there. Shepard was alive, but beyond that, no one knew since she hadn't woken up yet. Her physical injuries, as extensive as they'd been after the remains of her armor had been removed despite some of it having fused to her skin, had since been healed, but she still refused to respond to the world around her. The days that followed had seen the rest of Elizabeth's crew throwing everything they had into crippling the gangs since the Remnant had gone to ground, disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. Nothing of their presence had been found since the survivors were taken in to be cured of whatever brainwashing they'd been put through. So, the offworlders had devoted their collective frustrations and anger into doing what they had talked about, and the gangs were paying for it in droves.

Lin couldn't remember the last time the cells had been so full. They hadn't exaggerated about making the gangs surrender once Shepard's team had picked up steam. Once word got out about the Angi Kais being all but annihilated in a lightning raid by both the remainder of the Normandy's crew and Team Avatar four days after the attack on the chi blocker base, the rest of the gangs had started to reconsider their chances. The Terra Triads folded like a Pai Sho board soon after when Grunt, Garrus, and James hit them, alone. It wasn't long after that the rest of the members of the remaining gangs had started to surrender of their own accord.

There were still a lot of holdouts in the city, mainly the Red Monsoons, the chi blockers, and the Triple Threats, but the number of gang related crimes had dropped like a stone. Republic City had become unusually quiet, and despite Raiko's complaints about Shepard's team and their excessive, destructive measures, everyone else was celebrating the peace the Normandy's crew had brought about, so his hands were tied on that front. But the number of bad guys were becoming scarce, so here they were, with Liara going to interrogate the Terra Triad member they had captured during the ambush. In her gut Lin knew she shouldn't allow this, but at the same time, she also knew they couldn't just sit around and wait for the Remnant to reappear. They needed to take action, now.

Ashley and Garrus meanwhile followed Liara down the corridor, ignoring the scared mutterings of the gang members they had either put away personally, or those that had surrendered once news got out of their actions against their brethren. It turned out calling on turian scorch earth tactics had a remarkable effect on the morale of those unhardened by the brutalities of full on warfare. The Agni Kais hadn't known what hit them, or the Terra Traids, or the last chi blocker base they had hit before the rest of that group had disappeared with the Remnant. As for their presence here though, they were following the Shadow Broker, to call her Liara at that point in time would have been a far stretch given her mindset, understandable as it was, to keep her from killing the prisoner they were going to interrogate. The occasional wisp of dark energy that emanated from the asari stopped her and Garrus from attempting to talk to Liara since neither of them had seen her so livid before.

Stopping before the cell door in question, Liara stepped into the cell once the door had slid away. The man behind the bars didn't get a chance to back away before Liara grabbed him by the front of his prison grays and lifted him off the ground. The cold ice in her voice was far more terrifying than any amount of rage she could have mustered. "You're going to tell me everything you know. The amount of damage I do to you before that is entirely up to you." Ashley and Garrus shared a worried look behind the asari's back, but remained silent as Liara dropped the prisoner to the hard, unforgiving floor at her feet. "Get him to an interrogation room. I'll be there in a few minutes. I have a couple things to prepare first." Not about to argue with the asari, Ashley and Garrus wasted little time in marching the guy down to an empty interrogation room, where a metalbending officer was waiting to move the door out of the way.

"This can't be legal." They heard him say, but they ignored him. Ashley wasn't sure what they could say to get Liara to see reason, she just knew she was worried for the woman.

Ashley and Garrus left the man tied to the table, his cuffs linked to a chain, which they promptly locked to a metallic ring on the table. Once that was done they left the room, not about to get in Liara's way more than they had to. "He's right you know." The turian said, and looked towards Ashley once they had walked down the hall a little so they weren't overheard by anyone. "This isn't right, but not for the reasons he's thinking. Liara's not in her right mind, not that I can blame her. Shepard's taken a hit, and we got no clue if she'll get back up."

"She's died before and it didn't slow her down, it just pissed her off." Despite that, Ashley couldn't find it in herself to argue with the sharpshooter. "Hopefully doing this will help, but I'm not getting in her way unless she's getting ready to rip the guy's head off his shoulders. Even then I might not since he's part of the reason Shepard's down in the first place."

"You know what Shepard would say to that LC. She wouldn't want Liara to go down this path." Ashley sighed and nodded, knowing exactly what Garrus was saying. Shepard wouldn't want Liara to become the Shadow Broker in more than name, which was exactly what was happening now. Going to any lengths to get the information they required was straying dangerously close to her predecessor's mindset, and it was scary to watch the transition as Liara willingly fell back into the cold, terrifying woman they'd found on Illium before Shepard had pulled her back out of her cold, icy shell.

Liara ignored the glare she received from the metalbending officer as he opened the door for her to the interrogation cell. She also ignored the worried looks Ashley and Garrus were giving her as she walked past them. She knew what she was doing, she wasn't so lost to her pain that she couldn't see the writing on the wall, but they needed the information this man possessed. To that end, she was willing to do what no one else would. Tapping at her omni-tool as she sat down across the chained prisoner before her, she ignored him too as she finished her preparations. She knew how to get him to talk without laying a finger on him.

"You think you're gonna scare me blue babe? Your psycho friend couldn't get me to talk, so what do you think you're going to do?"

"I'm just going to talk. I won't threaten you with bodily harm more than I have already, although I want to do just that and more." Liara replied softly before looking up at last to meet the earthbender's green eyes. "I imagine a man like you hasn't cared about much of anything beyond his own selfish ambitions. No family to hold you back, no loved ones."

"Tsk, that's about right lady. They just slow you down." Smug, arrogant, and stupid as predicted, Liara mentally rolled her eyes when he crossed his arms over his chest as best he could and gave her a cheesy grin. Appearing far more confident and in control than he was, typical mentality of most gang members she'd encountered during her tenure as the Shadow Broker.

"I had gathered as much. I also imagine you're not entirely loyal to what's left of the Terra Triad at this point." It was Liara's turn to smile, albeit briefly, when she pulled up a picture of the former leader of the Terra Triad. What was left of his face after taking a shot from Jack's shotgun, still made it possible to identify the man for who he'd been. "I feel I must apologize for the mess we made of your main stronghold, but then I'd be lying since we went there with the full intention of leaving few survivors in our wake."

"Ha, and here I thought you were cops. Too afraid to actually do anything permanent." Despite his bravado, Liara could hear the slightest tremor in the man's voice. Seeing his leader's head opened up like a melon smashed on the concrete had begun the work Lin had so far been unable to begin.

It was time to keep applying pressure to the cracks she had created. "On the contrary, where we're from, the weak perish so that the strong thrive. We simply wanted to see if your little band could stand up to us… you disappointed us, rather severely." Liara told him coldly, as if she was more angered by the lack of a true challenge than anything else.

"Maybe you should try a fair fight next time, we may surprise you than."

"I doubt that. Those that whine about things being unfair are just too pathetic to actually achieve anything." Liara scoffed as she pulled up another series of pictures, this one of a young woman from Omega. The man gulped when he laid eyes on the hollowed out, almost soulless look on the girl's face, her nose bleeding as if she'd suffered a fatal brain aneurysm. That wasn't too far off the mark either given the way she'd died. "I won't bore you with the science of how she died, but the short version is simple. Members of my species, born of two asari parents, tend to develop a rather nasty ability to drain the memories and experiences from those we meld with. It's fatal for the victim, while creating a narcotic high for us, compelling us to keep seeking out new….partners. I've never tried it myself, but I am a pureblood asari. I'm sure you can figure out the rest."

Ashley shuddered, she and Garrus watching the entire proceeding from the room next door, behind the two way mirror that looked into the interrogation room. "Sheesh Liara, I'm surprised he hasn't pissed himself. Going for the Ardat Yakshi angle? Even I'd be terrified, and I know you're bluffing."

"Is she? I wonder." Garrus mused, knowing that while Liara wasn't afflicted with the mutation the AY among her people were, he had to wonder if she wouldn't try to dive into the man's mind anyway if he didn't start talking. Even so, violating the meld in such a way, violating another person's mind, was against every asari code they had as far as he knew, but he wasn't sure if Liara would care given her present mindset.

The Triad member before her had started to sweat, but he wasn't on the breaking point, not yet. "Y-you'd have done that if you could. You're bluffing. There's no way the Chief would allow you to kill me, freak!"

"Am I? Maybe I just don't want to sully myself with the trash that's in your mind? As for the Chief of Police, she stepped away for an hour. What happens here is between you and me." Liara replied, a cold smirk pulling at her lips. "Besides, I've told you before, the strong rule over the weak, you think she could stop me? No, you're alone now, so how is it going to be? Will you tell me what I want to know, or will I finally get the chance to have some fun?" Letting that sink in for a moment, Liara tapped at her omni-tool again for a few seconds, before pulling up another image, this one a time lapse video. She watched the man's face as the color, what there was left by this point, slowly drain away as the video played itself out to the very end.

She had chosen her attack routine well since the coup de grace in her plan was a time lapse vid of someone being turned into a husk. Her Shadow Broker network had monitored the transformation process for research purposes by those trying to find a way to reverse it, or to at least terminate the transformation before it could be completed. As such, she had gotten her share of video of someone going through the stages of transformation once they'd been impaled on a Dragon's Tooth. "What you just saw was the process the strongest of our enemies used to make what we called husks, out of a regular, average day human you have likely walked into, bullied, or otherwise threatened for your former gang. The process is slow, and not everyone that undergoes the change is dead when it begins, meaning they are in extreme agony as their bodies are corrupted from the inside out. As you saw, there's very little left of what they used to be once they've been changed completely. I wonder what kind of monster would be created if I were to have you impaled? It would make for an interesting scientific study, using a bender as the Reapers used humans for their twisted purposes."

"You wouldn't…"

"No? I think it would be amusing, watching you slaughter your old friends. There is a certain irony to all of it that really makes me want to implant you and unleash your husk upon them. We'd put you down, eventually, but not before letting you wade through your few friends we've left alive in the cells in this very building." When he didn't immediately respond, Liara started to stand to her feet.

"Wait! Wait….I'll tell you what you want to know!" The man babbled, borderline incoherently from how badly he was shaking. "K-Kuvira knows, who these Remnants were, where they came from. I heard one of the guys talking about her, they visited her in her cell. Tried to talk her into walking out with them, but she refused, said she wouldn't go down that path again. So they left her to rot, but they still act in her name, saying how her vision is what gives them the strength to keep going. That's all I know!"

Liara felt her lips curl up into a smile as she turned to face the trembling earthbender. "Thank you for your cooperation." Leaving him to sweat out the remainder of his stay in jail, Liara blew out a long, ragged breath as whatever cold fury that had kept her going started to fade away just as Ashley and Garrus ran to her side. "We...we need to talk to Kuvira."

"What you need is to get some rack time Liara, you've been going nonstop for days." Ashley reprimanded her as she put a hand on the asari's shoulder to help keep her upright. "I'll handle this one. I'll get what we need, you just be there for Shepard when she wakes up."

"I'll….alright, just promise me you'll get her to talk. We can't let this continue." Liara replied, desperate to end this nightmare before someone else got hurt, or worse. The solemn nods from Ash and Garrus reassured her, but whatever she might have said was cut off as Mako and Lin ran down the hallway. She held up her hand and nodded to the door. "The prisoner's fine Chief Beifong, I didn't lay a hand on him. He might need a new pair of pants though. We...need a favor, however."

"I'm still debating if I shouldn't throw you in a cell for terrorizing one of my prisoners, and now you want a favor?" Lin retorted, but relented almost as quickly. "Fine, but this had better be good doc."

Liara gently pushed Ashley back, once she was sure she was able to stand on her own feet again, and sighed. The worry lines on her forehead and the bags under her eyes made her appear her hundred and ten years of age as she pressed onward. "You're not going to like it, it involves Kuvira."

No one was all that surprised by the answer Lin gave Liara's statement, given her family's history with the former dictator. "Absolutely not."

"I had a feeling that would be the case." Liara sighed heavily in response.

Ashley patted Liara on the back before nudging Garrus to take her back to Chakwas. The turian nodded and gently pushed her along, leaving Ash and the two cops to talk things out. "She might have vital information regarding the Remnant, something we could use to stop them from further terrorizing Republic City and the people here. I don't know about you two, but I'm willing to take the chance Chief. I get it though, she's made your life Hell, but from what I hear, she's been nothing but cooperative after Korra beat her ass and Mako here turned her mech into scrap metal."

"She does have a point Chief." Even under Lin's withering glare, Mako shrugged. "I was in the Earth Kingdom, helping to clean up the mess, and we heard plenty of rumors of how Kuvira has been a model prisoner. Suyin even visited her once, and they talked. I don't know what about, but she seemed oddly happy afterwards, so I assume they parted on better terms."

"What? What could she be-nevermind." Lin growled before regarding Ashley silently for several moments. "If you know what she did to my family, what she was willing to do, then you know why I'm not happy about this idea at all. It was all we could do to hold her at bay, even with our mother lending a hand, and she invented metalbending. There's a reason why she's considered the strongest earthbender to ever exist, despite her blindness, and if not for Kuvira's hesitation, we might not have made it out."

"I also heard that mess wouldn't have gotten as bad as it did if your sister hadn't tried to assassinate Kuvira." Ashley retorted, her face hardening as Lin tried to tower over her. It wasn't working, she'd seen far scarier looks on Grunt's face, let alone Shepard's.

"Can you blame her? Kuvira was threatening Zao Fu and everyone that lived there." Lin retorted hotly while Mako wisely took a step back to give the two women some space.

"No, but don't try and pull the sympathy card with me when there was fault on both sides Lin." Ashley said and shrugged her shoulders before crossing her arms over her chest. "Look, I'm just doing what I was asked, and honestly, I want to know what these guys are after. If the only way to get that info is to talk to Kuvira, then I'll talk to her, with or without your permission, but I'd rather have it Lin. You've been good to us, better than we deserved considering how we got here. We've done our best to repay that kindness, and now the heart of our team is in a coma."

"I'm not blind to what's going on Ms. Williams," Lin began as she sighed, feeling suddenly very tired and weighed down the by the entire ordeal they had all been through in the past month, "and….as much as I hate the idea of putting you in a room anywhere near her, you're right that we need to figure out what's going on. I'll...try to get a meeting arranged, talk to my sister about all this. She might want to come down here personally to meet you if she hasn't already started to make preparations, but she's a good woman despite our differences. But this affects her just as much as me since Kuvira threatened Suyin's family and nearly killed one of her sons in the process, Bataar Jr, Kuvira's former fiancee no less."

Ashley nodded and let her hands fall to her sides. "Thank you Chief. I know we're asking a lot, but I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important." Lin sighed but waved her off as she walked away, leaving a much relieved Mako behind to fall in step with the Council Spectre.

It took a couple days to get everything arranged, but Ashley, James, and Jack were on their way to Omashu, or rather, the mountains on the eastern borders of the city. The only way to get there was by airship, since even earthbenders found it hard to traverse the terrain because most of it had been hollowed out to prevent them from bending their way through without causing a massive rockslide that they couldn't control. It was the perfect prison for someone who could move the very ground they walked on, since there wasn't a lot of ground to move. But they had gone a step further, as Ashley and her friends soon learned when they saw the main prison complex. Allowed inside the building once they showed the guards their credentials, given to them by Suyin Beifong herself, an easy acquisition for the current head of the metalbending clan, especially since she was a personal friend to President Wu of the recently established Earth Republic, they soon saw the platinum cell Kuvira was being held in. "Damn, they aren't fucking around with her are they?"

"Can't say I blame them if she's as dangerous as everyone says." James muttered quietly as they walked down the hall.

"I could bust out of here if I had half a mind, but I ain't a pansy ass rock thrower either." Jack muttered under her breath and shrugged when James and Ash shot her a dirty look between them. "What? Just sayin'. Have fun, I'll be back here on the off chance things go to shit. Wouldn't surprise me if these Remnant assholes hit us again at the rate they've been going, provided they come out of hiding."

"Wouldn't surprise me if they actually tried to kill her, for 'abandoning' them. Those guys aren't exactly mentally stable." James grumbled in agreement before nodding to Ash. "I'm with Jack on this one, we'll keep an eye out, you sure you're gonna be alright to talk to her babe?"

"Yeah, far as we know they can't metalbend our gear, so that advantage is out the window. That and she's supposed to be better anyway." Ash said before taking a breath and started down the rest of the hall alone. Despite the repeated assurances that Kuvira was not the same woman she'd been when she had hit Republic City with her army, Ash couldn't help but respect someone that had stood toe to toe against Korra, and survived. The last few raids against the gangs had revealed just how strong the girl was when she let loose. She hadn't killed anyone, but Korra hadn't held back much beyond that, and it had left a lasting impression on the second human Spectre. So to know the person she was about to meet had been able to nearly kill Korra, alone, was nothing to sneeze at.

Ashley waited as the guards moved the large platinum cell door by hand, the locks giving way as they turned a wheel attached to the front of the door. To make it even more apparent Kuvira wasn't going anywhere, there was a cell bar barrier between her and the former dictator, also made of platinum, and a switch on the right hand wall. The seam in the floor revealed the presence of a trap door that no doubt led into a very large hole of some kind, either filled with magma or spikes or something equally deadly if she made the mistake of trying to escape. They sure as shit weren't taking any chances with the woman, and Ashley again couldn't blame them.

Kuvira herself though seemed perfectly at ease with it all, standing ramrod straight with her hands folded neatly behind her back. Giving the air of military discipline and control, Ashley's already high respect for the metalbender shot up further since she seemed at peace with her situation. "I have heard a number of strange tales over the past two months. Of people coming from beyond the Spirit Portal, of strange beings that are not human, causing all kinds of chaos for the gangs of Republic City. I wondered, when I would be visited by one of your number, it seems I need not wonder any longer."

"Glad to know you've been kept in the loop." Ash deadpanned, her arms crossed over her chest as she took a step closer to the cell bars.

Kuvira turned and nodded, giving Ash her first look at the woman's face. She had expected….something more honestly with all the stories she'd heard about her, yet she appeared just like any other human she'd ever ran into. "Not deliberately, but the guards talk, and I have little else to do but listen. Even so, there are those that still believe in what I tried to accomplish. A goal I have since relinquished after the Avatar saved my life when she had no reason to."

"The Remnant."

"That is what they call themselves now, yes. But I knew them as something else. They were the head 're-educators' among the camps I had established for political dissidents and prisoners that were too dangerous to my regime."

"That was easy, I expected us to dance around, throwing barbs at each other for the better part of an hour first."

"I do not blame you for your disbelief, you have no doubt heard a great deal about my...deeds. However, I have never been one to dance around the issue, especially one where lives are at stake." Ashley believed her, the sincerity and repentant gleam in her green eyes was too eerily similar to Shepard's that it was impossible not to see the similarities between them. "I do have one question however."

"I'll answer it if I can."

Kuvira nodded, having expected nothing less. "You're from a military background, so I can thereby assume you know the cost of war. You hold yourself with the same confidence and discipline as any soldier that served beneath me. So, would it be safe to assume, if pressed into a situation with few options, you would do what you must to succeed?"

"Depends on the situation, but I get what you're asking. You aren't asking me anything I haven't asked myself before ma'am. But there's such a thing as going too far to achieve one's mission objective."

"A distinction I did not appreciate, or understand, before I began my quest to unite my homeland once the Earth Queen was killed by Zaheer and his Red Lotus Society." Letting that hang between them for a moment, Kuvira let her gaze drop to the floor between them and just visibly started to slump a little as the weight of her crimes fell on her shoulders, yet she didn't let it crush her either. "I will answer whatever questions you have about the enemies you now face. I ask nothing in return for my cooperation, only that you end this threat before anyone else is hurt."

"You said these guys were part of your reeducation camps. What were they before that?"

"The Dai Li, or what was left of them after Avatar Korra and her allies dismantled them. Ironically, Avatar Aang and his allies during the Hundred Year War also ran into them, and they were the reason the Dai Li were forced underground in the first place. They had been controlling Ba Sing Se and the rest of the Earth Kingdom from behind the shadows, using the Earth King as a figurehead, and he wasn't even aware of it until the Avatar revealed the truth. It wasn't until the Earth Queen came into power seventy years later or so, that they were able to come out of hiding, but once she was dead, they attached themselves to the strongest person they could find. That person, ended up being me. At the time that I found them, they were lost, like so many of my people, so I gave them a purpose. I used their methods of control to make prisoners taken by my forces into productive members of the Empire I was trying to create."

"Indoctrinated slaves you mean." Ash deadpanned in retort, reading between the lines the truth of what had really been going on.

"Call them what you will, but the Dai Li were turned from the corrupted past they had held onto and given a cause to use their unique….abilities for something better, if misguided by my own actions." Kuvira replied, calm as ever despite the sarcastic barb Ashley had thrown between them. "I don't ask you to agree with my methods, I can understand your reservations, but they got me the results I needed."

"Okay, so the Remnants are literally remnants of this Dai Li group. What's their endgame, or did they not mention that when they paid you a visit?"

"They didn't, but I can guess. If they really are doing all this in my name, then chances are they are trying to forcibly unite the Earth Kingdom under one banner once more, by starting where I failed. The Dai Li work from the shadows, it's how they've always operated, and they are very skilled at what they do. But when they are ready to strike, they will do so with a fury and vengeance that will be impossible to fight against. Your best chance is to find them, before they can enact their plans, because by then it'll be too late."

"Right. And Azula? Where'd they dig her up?"

"That...I honestly do not know, but I can again speculate." Kuvira replied and turned around once more so that she was facing the wall. "I only know bits and pieces of what happened immediately after the end of the Hundred Year War, but one thing I know for sure is that Azula disappeared from the hospital she was put into for her mental instability. I saw her, while she was still frozen, in a Dai Li compound shortly after I began my campaign. I refused to unleash her on the world however, knowing her history quite well, her part in nearly destroying the Avatar. That is one weapon, no matter how well the Dai Li thought they had her controlled, I would ever use on my enemies. If they've freed her, then you will need to act swiftly to have any chance to save the world from her madness. If she doesn't break free of the Dai Li, the Remnant as they call themselves now, she will at least burn down everything they point her towards."

"We've… met." Ashley hesitantly admitted and rubbed the back of her neck as Kuvira turned to address her once more.

"Then you understand the danger she represents, that you must never underestimate her. Even in her madness, she is capable of brilliant tactical decisions, and furthermore, she cannot be controlled. Sooner or later she will burn those she is fighting with now. Her propensity for betrayal and chaos is only matched by her mad genius."

Ashley nodded and felt her hands tighten up on her arms, which were still crossed over her chest. "We learned that the hard way already. She took down one of our own, she's barely holding on as it is."

"I see. Then you have a personal stake in this fight. I sincerely hope Azula doesn't realize this, or she will come after those you care about, just to spur you into action." Kuvira's words rang ominously in the cell, but by then Ashley had gotten everything she needed. Walking out, she tried to block out the concern she had seen in the former dictator's green eyes, but it was an exercise in futility.

Hiroshi Sato's workshop, the infirmary

Karin silently watched, ever the vigilant caretaker, as Korra hesitantly approached Shepard's bedside. Liara had come in hours earlier that day, having left for a while to tend to some business in the city, only to pass out next to Elizabeth. Despite having tried to reassure the girl that she wasn't at fault for what had occurred during the fight with Azula, Korra hadn't quite been the same as much as anyone among Shepard's crew, Karin included. So she didn't blame the Avatar for looking towards the sleeping Liara, torn between wanting to avoid her as she had since the attack, and apologizing for something that had been beyond even her ability to prevent. No one blamed her, and Karin had tried to tell her that, but like Shepard, Korra had trouble accepting it. She blamed herself, and little would change her mind, except for one person perhaps, and Liara had been….very unapproachable for the past two weeks.

Deciding enough was enough, Karin got from up from her desk and silently moved to Korra's side. Before she knew what was happening, the good doctor had since put a hand on her back and started to none too gently guide her to Liara's side. Just as she started to protest, Karin shook her head once they were standing over the asari before far more gently shaking the asari by her shoulder. "You two need to talk." She stated once Liara had sat upright, her blue eyes bleary from only just waking up, but she quickly became aware of what was going on as Karin shut the door behind her, locking them inside the infirmary until they sorted out their differences. And since it was platinum, like most of the walls within Hiroshi's former hideout for his Equalist allies, there was little chance Korra would be getting out anytime soon.

"Did that just happen?" Liara asked an equally stunned Korra.

"Yeah….yeah it did." Korra stuttered out before slapping a hand over her face. "This was not what I saw happening today when I woke up this morning."

Liara smiled sadly before standing up and putting a hand on Korra's shoulder. The Avatar froze until she was gently pulled around to face Liara head on, and relaxed, albeit slightly, when she didn't see the cold rage in the alien's face but rather, sorrow. "I'm sorry, for how I've been acting the past couple of weeks Korra. In my concern and grief for Elizabeth, the state she is in now, I allowed my blind rage to force everyone around me at arm's length. Karin was right to lock us in here together, because we do need to talk about what happened."

"Hey, I get it," Korra began as she pulled away only to sit down on the bed right behind her, her head hung low even though she kept her eyes on Liara, who sat down next on the edge of the bed Shepard lay, peacefully oblivious to everything around her, "I was a mess after Zaheer nearly killed me, and that was even before he poisoned me because I thought he had killed my father. Then….everything happened, and I ran, in an effort to figure out who I was beyond my role as the Avatar once I was able to walk again. It was some of the loneliest moments of my life, and while it doesn't compare to what you've been through, I have an idea what you're going through."

Liara nodded before turning her head to look at Elizabeth's face. "It's a comfort to know you have an idea, although I wish you didn't have to endure such hardships in the first place. As for what I've been through, don't compare because it's unfair to you. We've both had to overcome trials and tribulations that would have broken a lesser person, that should be enough. You don't have to try to be as strong as me, or Elizabeth. Who you are is exactly who you were meant to be."

"It doesn't make me feel better regarding this, but thanks anyway." Korra said and gestured to the comatose Shepard not ten feet away, anger and self loathing entering her blue eyes as she clenched her hands into bloodless fists. "Azula was a part of Aang's life, and I didn't see her coming. If I had had my connection to my past lives, I could have done more. I could have stopped this."

"Maybe, or things might have gone worse, but it's pointless to ponder what might have been. We need to figure out what to do now." Liara countered calmly, softly, and crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye. Korra almost fell backwards in surprise, but Liara stopped her with a hand on her shoulder once more. "You couldn't have stopped this, Korra. Elizabeth did what she does best, she sacrificed herself so that everyone around her could fight on. It is who she is, who she has always been. She carries everyone else's burden with no thought of herself, because that is who she has been since the day she was born. I should know, because I have seen her mind, her heart, her very soul, anytime we've melded. I know her, and she knows me just as intimately, just as completely, because some doors swing both ways, and the asari meld is one such door."

Korra couldn't help but look into Liara's tear stained face until the asari looked away, and tried to process what she had just told her. To have that kind of connection, that window into someone else's very being was...amazing, and terrifying in equal measure. Even so, it also intrigued her to no end, just as it had Asami when she had been given a similar glimpse of just what Liara and Elizabeth shared by Shepard herself. That had translated into the heiress giving Korra a night neither one would ever forget, but those thoughts were quickly dispelled when Liara sat back down next to Elizabeth and gently grasped her right hand between her own. Korra could only look on in silence, at a loss for words as the message hidden between the asari's words hit her. "Wait….are you offering to-"

"The offer was to maybe, just maybe, reestablish your link with your past lives." Liara clarified so there was no confusion between them, and met Korra's stunned expression with a sad but warm gleam in her tear stained eyes, which she quickly wiped away with the back of her outfit's sleeve. "I don't know if it'll work, or if we'd have to meld repeatedly to get anywhere, but as you said yourself, maybe we would have seen Azula coming if you had at least Aang's connection restored. If nothing else, he might be able to offer some insight into what she'll do next, and we can hopefully come up with a way to counter her. Because like Elizabeth, I cannot and will not let Azula's reign of terror continue, nor those she follows for that matter. This might be your world, but this is quickly becoming our home as well Korra. And goddess be damned if I stand by and let it burn if I can do something to help."

Neither noticed Karin had since unlocked the door to the infirmary as Korra slowly crossed the short distance between them and nodded firmly, newfound strength and determination filling her blue eyes. "Alright, I'm in. Any chance is better than nothing at all."

Liara nodded silently in response before slowly lowering Shepard's hand so that it rested on her stomach. "I'll be back Liz. Please, come back to me soon." She whispered and left a tender, whisper soft kiss on the woman's forehead before brushing a red lock of her hair out of her face. "Let's...see if we can find a quiet spot to do this." Liara said as she reluctantly left Shepard's side and started for the door.

"I think I know where we can go." Korra replied as she fell in step with the asari.

Only once the door had shut softly behind them, and Karin had since taken up residence behind her desk once more before sleep caught up with her, did something happen. Shepard's eyelids began to flutter….

The Sato Estate

Liara had a fairly good idea why Korra had decided to come here, given her history with Asami, and the memories she likely had with the successful businesswoman. The mansion and the grounds around it were beautiful, serene, and isolated, much like Air Temple Island, and it was a place of safety for Korra and the love of her life. The same could be said for herself and Shepard's cabin aboard the Normandy, despite the bad memories associated with the ship as well. But life was both happiness and sorrow, so it only seemed reasonable places like Asami's mansion and the captain's quarters followed the same rules. If this place was more comfortable for Korra as she no doubt mentally prepared herself for what they were about to undertake, then Liara wasn't about to argue with her reasoning.

"I like the fact your people have turned Hiroshi's old workshop to your purposes and made it your own, but considering what happened down there when I first came to the city, I didn't feel right in trying something so...monumental down there." Korra said, confirming Liara's suspicions in one fell swoop.

"I understand. It was the place where Asami learned the truth of her father's hatred for benders, and where she made the choice to stand with you, against the last member of her family. Here, in her home at least, there's not so many uncomfortable memories attached." Liara replied, to which Korra nodded as they walked through the front doors and proceeded upstairs. From there Liara cocked her head to the side when Korra hesitated at the door to her and Asami's room, to which Liara smiled and cleared her throat to get the woman's attention. "It's alright. A meld doesn't require physical contact at all."

"Huh? Oh it's not that." Korra was quick to say and shook her head rapidly from side to side. "I just didn't want to uh….ugh-"

"Give Asami the wrong idea if she happened to walk in?" Liara couldn't help but smile endearingly as Korra's cheeks turned bright red in embarrassed agreement. "She would understand, but I can see why this would cause you to hesitate. Do you know if she's busy at this moment?"

"I think she said she had a lot of paperwork to take care of at Future Industries, but beyond that, no." Catching onto Liara's line of thought, Korra darted off, leaving the asari to stand alone on the second floor balcony.

Liara waited patiently as Korra informed Asami about what they were going to attempt. It gave her time to think about what they had learned about the Remnant, unaware of what Ashley had discovered since they were too far out range to send a message via omni-tool, and given their silent agreement that they didn't trust the local encryption protocols, or their low tech communication capabilities, they weren't about to chance it if they discovered anything of value and it was intercepted by their enemy. It hadn't taken Sam much effort to discover the original message after all that had begun them on the path of trying to learn more about their opponents, and she hadn't even been actively trying at that particular point in time. It was enough for Liara not to take the chance, but more importantly, it made gathering the intel they had since used to take out most of the gangs all that easier.

It had also been far too easy to slip back into her old mindset as the Shadow Broker. She knew that, now that she wasn't looking for a fight any longer, or threatening someone with Reaperization. Goddess, what would Shepard think of her when she found out about her latest actions in police headquarters that very morning? She would forgive you and let you cry on her shoulder. Liara smiled sadly at the thought since it was all too true. They still hadn't had the talk regarding her role as the Shadow Broker, the things she had done during that time, but she knew, now that she was at least on the path to clear, rational thought once more, that Shepard would forgive her anything, just as Karin had none too subtly suggested while they had been on Air Temple Island. It didn't make it right, or entitle her in any way, but it was reassuring to know all the same.

Liara looked up, drawn from her thoughts, as she heard a nearby door open and Korra standing there. Masking where her mind had gone, Liara pushed away from the railing just as Korra began to speak. "I was lucky, Asami was just about to head out the door when I called. She'll be home soon, and asked if we'd hold off until she got here. I said yes since….I want her to be here, even if we don't succeed. Just having her support would mean a lot to me."

"I understand, and honestly, I think I'd appreciate having someone nearby. I've never attempted to meld with anyone like you before, so I have no idea if there would be….complications, with trying to do this. But it's a risk I'm willing to take." Liara stated adamantly, only to feel a frown tug at her lips when Korra groaned in response.

"You really shouldn't have told me that because I already feel bad enough as it is, inconveniencing you like this just so we might be able to find a way to take down Azula. This isn't even your fight, yet you're still willing to put your neck on the line for us."

Liara shook her head and gingerly ran her hand across Korra's bare arm, before letting her hand fall to her side. "If it makes you feel better, I'm nervous about this as well, but if there's even a slim chance this pans out, then that's enough incentive for me to take the risk, whatever they happen to be. We've done far more on far less." Liara replied before pulling up an image of the Crucible on her omni-tool, and let Korra's stunned, amazed eyes sweep over the image for several seconds before telling her what it was, or why it was so integral to her story. "You know information is my trade, and I'm very good at using what I learn to my full advantage. In our fight against the Reapers, I came across information regarding blueprints to some kind of super weapon, capable of utterly destroying the enemy that would have otherwise swept over us like a plague. I dived deep it a library, a vast archive on a planet called Mars, which the ancient humans of Earth believed was constantly at war with itself. The irony wasn't lost on me, but I was able to find what we needed despite the monumental odds stacked against us, and eventually, those plans became a reality as I did what I could to organize the construction efforts. My point however, is that we were grasping at straws, and any thread, any chance we could find to win over the Reapers, we took. So long odds are nothing new to me. And this, is worth the risk."

"Alright you've made your point." Korra grumbled before perking up, and nodded gratefully for what Liara had said. "I still don't like it, especially if this somehow ends up hurting you or your baby Liara, but if you're absolutely sure, I won't argue anymore."

"You're learning." Both Korra and Liara looked down and saw Elizabeth standing in the doorway, her arms crossed and a smug grin on her face which quickly morphed into something far more profound and heartfelt as Liara all but flew down the stairs before crashing into her. She grunted but wasted no time in embracing the asari tightly in her arms. "It's okay, it's okay." She whispered into Liara's neck, before cupping her cheeks and gently forcing her to look her in the eyes. "I'm sorry….for worrying you Liara."

"Shepard." She whispered and shook her head before taking Elizabeth's breath away with a heated, prolonged kiss that had wisps of dark energy pouring off of the asari to tickle across the Spectre's skin, completely oblivious and uncaring about anyone that might be watching. A small eternity later forced them to come up for air, soft gasps escaping them both, but Liara only shook her head once the world stopped spinning. "You have nothing to apologize for….even if you scared me half to death, again."

"Uh….not to interrupt," Both turned to see Asami standing directly behind them, "but could you move out of the way so I can get into my own house?" She asked, her green gray eyes alight with joy at the happy reunion she had walked into. Shepard laughed while Liara blushed but nodded before they stepped aside. "Thanks, and it's good to see you back on your feet Elizabeth." She said as Korra soon joined her at the front door. "You had us all pretty worried."

"I know, and as I was just telling Liara, I'm sorry for that, but I wasn't about to let one of my family take a hit." Liara shared a knowing look with Korra, who only nodded in understanding, an exchange that didn't go unnoticed by Shepard but she chose to ignore it for now. "Now, would someone like to clue me in as to what's been going on since I was put out of action by that crazy pyromaniac? And what's this I hear about you wanting to meld with my bondmate?" Shepard asked, chuckling as Korra's cheeks once again turned bright red at the teasing note in her voice, a blush that only became more pronounced as Asami turned to look at the blushing Avatar.

Liara was too happy to reprimand Shepard for tormenting the poor girl, but she didn't let it continue for long before she nudged Elizabeth in the stomach with her elbow. Shepard grunted and laughed once more as Liara stepped forward. "It was my idea, Liz, I proposed melding with Korra in the hopes together, we might find a way to reconnect with her past lives. While the idea was driven by our lack of knowledge about Azula, other than the tales we've heard about her, the offer is not entirely without selfish motivation. I think it is the right call, especially if it helps her in the long run."

"That and that ever present curiosity of yours just can't leave it alone." Shepard replied, smiling knowingly even as she pulled Liara against her side. "It's part of why I love you though Liara. I'm alright with it if you two are, since this is as much your decision as it is ours."

"I don't know, it doesn't seem fair to me if Liara's the only one that gets to see the inside of Korra's head." Asami mused aloud, only to do the same and pull the caramel skinned woman to her side and plant a kiss on her cheek. Just as quickly, the mischievous smile on her full lips disappeared as she looked up into Liara's face. "I'm alright with you trying, but it's ultimately Korra's decision. If you want my honest opinion though, I think having that connection back would do her a lot of good. When it was severed initially…."

Liara nodded, not needing to hear the rest since it was easy to see what it had cost Korra going by the uncomfortable, pained look on the woman's face as her mind no doubt went over the event in question in vivid detail. Something like that wasn't easily forgotten, even if she had gotten past the worst of the trauma it had caused her. "As I said before, I'm willing to do go through with this." Korra finally said and nodded, gently disentangling herself from Asami's grasp as she did.

"Good, because I'm here. I can promise you that I won't go digging around anywhere you'd rather I not be, so you don't have to worry about your privacy. That said, I have no idea what I'll be walking into since I've never melded with a bender, let alone anyone that has actual past lives, so if I can't find what we hope to locate on the surface, we might have to go deeper." Liara explained, and mentally held her breath since few people were comfortable with the idea of having someone else in their skulls for any reason.

"What she means kid is that Liara and you will be literally mind to mind, sharing thoughts, emotions, and whatever else might be in your heads. Melding nervous systems is funny like that. It took me a little time to get used to it, and I only had one life to live." Shepard elaborated, and wasn't all that surprised by the determined set of Korra's jaw.

"If you're trying to talk me out of it, it's too late since Liara already convinced me before you walked in Shepard. I...want my past lives back, even if the threat of Azula hanging over our heads wasn't spurring things along, I'd still say yes." Turning to Asami, Korra was about to say something more, but the raven haired woman simply put a finger over Korra's lips before pressing her lips against her forehead.

"Go, we'll keep an eye on things out here." She assured Korra before turning to Liara and Shepard once more. "So, what happens now?"

She had her answer soon enough as Liara asked Korra to go to wherever she felt the most relaxed. Asami and Shepard followed as, unsurprisingly to either of them, they wound up in their bedroom, where Liara and Korra were soon sitting with their legs drawn up underneath them in what would have passed for meditation poses, except they knew this wouldn't be anything like meditation. Despite her reassuring words to Korra, Asami couldn't help but look on with concern, but before she could speak up, Shepard put a hand on her shoulder and shook her head. "I wouldn't allow this if I thought there were any danger. I trust Liara's judgment on this, and besides, do you really want to get between those two?" She asked, and chuckled softly when Asami fidgeted nervously once she thought about it. "Yeah, me either."

Liara and Korra had since tuned them out, having begun to sync their breathing per the asari's instruction. "This is going to feel a little strange, but it's completely normal. Deep, steady breaths, and relax. Let go your physical shell. Reach out and grasp the threads that bind us, one to another. Every action sends ripples across the galaxy. Every idea must touch another mind to live. Each emotion must mark another's spirit." Liara softly stated, further drawing Korra deeper into the proper mindset, for what she was preparing to do as dark energy wisps began to manifest themselves like dark blue motes of light. To Shepard, it was nothing new, having experienced it many times before, but to Asami, it was stunningly beautiful, seeing Liara in this light as she continued to speak, her eyes closed. "We are all connected. Every living being united in a single, glorious existence. Now, open yourself to the universe, Avatar Korra. Embrace eternity!" Upon that declaration, Liara's eyes snapped open, revealing bottomless, black pools with a pale gray iris in its center. Korra didn't see that however, having since been linked to the asari sitting just in front of her.

End Notes: And thus it begins. Some of you asked, and now we begin the journey of possibly reconnecting Korra with her past lives. We had planned to have an all out assault on Air Temple Island, but I realized a few things needed to happen first, so unfortunately I had to spend the better part of today rewriting the second half of this chapter. As for the first half though, Nomad and I had quite a bit of fun, presenting Liara as her far more terrifying self, actively messing with that prisoner Jack and Zaeed took into custody. We also had fun giving a quick overview of what the team had been up to since Shepard was taken out by Azula, but that's not the end of that particular story. We plan to throw in something more from her side of things, so expect that in later chapters. For now folks, enjoy and hope you all had a safe and enjoyable Easter. Adios!

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Truth Within the Myth

Xai Bau's Grove

The last thing Shepard expected after she took that lightning bolt to the chest was to wake up in the middle of a forest, the leaves heavy on the branches a bright, vibrant orange. The sky burned with the light of dusk, the sun hidden behind thick, white clouds, only increasing the beauty of the place around her rather than taking away from it. Even so, to go from an underground chamber large enough to hold a couple dozen Kodiaks, to wind up in the middle of a forest as the sun was setting was more than a little disorienting. "Where in the Hell am I?" Shepard said aloud as she pushed off the ground and stood to her full height, turning her head towards a gently flowing stream some distance away. "Am I dead?"

"Not today." Spinning on her heel, Shepard relaxed, if only slightly, when she saw an old man with a mane of gray hair that was wild and unkempt, yet seemed to have a strange….orderliness to it at the same time. Brown, focused eyes like a hawk set in an almost perfect oval shaped face, a just noticeable X shaped scar on the right side of his head where no hair grew underneath the otherwise shaggy mane of gray. "But I imagine if you're here and it wasn't under your own volition, you are very close to crossing the threshold." When Shepard didn't react save to cross her arms and nod, as if saying to get on with it, the man chuckled dryly in response. "I see this isn't your first time staring the grim reaper in the face."

"You'd be right on that." She deadpanned and leaned her back against the tree she had woke up beneath, her gaze never falling from the man's face. "So, where are we, and more importantly, who are you?"

Instead of answering her, the mysterious man crossed the short distance between them and promptly sat down in front of her, folding his legs in such a way that made Shepard think of Tenzin and his Air Nomads. The man noted the recognition in her emerald eyes and smiled knowingly. "You're no stranger then to the ways of the Air Nomads. I imagine then you've spent time with Master Tenzin and his pupils, of which I've had extensive run ins in the past."

Shepard tensed up when she realized who she was talking to, and her hand immediately went for her sidearm, only to realize that it wasn't there. Looking at her empty holster, Shepard wanted to slap herself upside the head when she saw she wasn't even in her armor anymore. She was dressed in her N7 black hoodie and the gray pants she tended to wear with it, as well as the gray gym shirt underneath. She relaxed once more against the tree at her back, but her emerald eyes hardened as she put two and two together. "Zaheer. So this makes this the-"

"Spirit World, yes." Zaheer replied, and remained perfectly still as Shepard made her move to draw a weapon that wasn't there anymore. "I knew who you were the moment I laid eyes on you Commander Elizabeth Shepard. It's all the spirits of this world can talk about, how you and your team arrived through the portal before your vessel crashed into Republic City. And if you're concerned about your safety, don't be. I have no reason to harm you, even though you have allied yourself with the Avatar."

"With enemies like you haunting her, can you blame me for wanting to keep her world safe?" Shepard shot back, and waved her hand dismissively towards the airbending assassin and the former leader of the Red Lotus. "It's guys like you that give Air Nomads a bad name."

"Perhaps, but that is not what matters here." Zaheer said as he smiled ever so slightly, the look on his face doing nothing for Shepard's already razor thin nerves. "I think you're here for a reason, and that my being here when you appeared, was no accident. The fact you're here as you teeter on the edge of life and death means you have a choice to make."

"It's no choice." Shepard retorted in open defiance to what Zaheer was insinuating.

He merely chuckled, shrugging off the death glare that was being leveled his way. "I beg to differ, or you wouldn't be here now. If you were so sure of your desire to live as you say, then why are you here at all? Surely it's not the weight of your actions, forcing your subconscious mind to seek release from your mortal coil."

"Right, as if I'm going to take life lessons from a known psychopath and anarchist." Shepard scoffed in reply, but made no further move since something he had said had rung true for her. Doing her best to push that to the side for the moment, Shepard pushed away from the tree and walked forward so that she was standing over the man before her. "And besides, what could you possibly know about me that would make you say that?"

"I know a great deal." Zaheer replied, a little too smugly for Shepard's liking as he gestured for her to sit down, a motion she ignored. Taking the hint when her hard visage only hardened further, Zaheer continued. "I might be bound by chains in the physical world, but my spirit has never been freer. Like the great General Iroh, formerly a Grand Lotus to the White Lotus Society, I have learned to let go of my earthly tether, and my spirit now walks free in this place. As such, like all spirits, we're not bound to this world alone, although I think you already know that from your talks with Avatar Kyoshi."

"Is there no such thing as confidentiality among you people?" Shepard asked in disbelief since it was becoming quickly apparent everyone seemed to know about that particular set of problems. While she hadn't been visited by Kyoshi for a while, it didn't seem to matter.

"Does it matter? I offer you a way back to the physical world."

"And why would you help me?" Shepard asked, her tone making it clear she found it hard to believe Zaheer would help her of his free volition. Not without asking for something in return anyway, yet so far he had not made any demands of her.

Gesturing for her to sit down once more, Shepard mentally cursed but finally did what he asked, perfectly copying his meditative position on the grass. Once she was comfortable, Zaheer nodded his thanks now that he didn't have to crane his neck to look her in the face to gauge her reactions. "Even here, deep underground and chained to the floor, the guards talk about the group that calls itself the Remnant, and how they have caused chaos among the citizens of Republic City. I've only heard rumors, but I've heard enough to know one thing. Letting them win would invite something far worse than Kuvira could ever conceive."

As ridiculous as the idea sounded coming from the guy before her, Elizabeth could appreciate his logic, even if he didn't come out and say it. "So the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

"Exactly." Zaheer said, confirming her suspicions with that one word. "I can understand your hesitation given my reputation you've no doubt been informed of by Korra and her allies, but like Kuvira, I've had time to reflect upon the path that brought me here." It was here that Zaheer's gaze, focused and unwavering, finally fell to the grass between them for only a moment, but it was enough to clue Shepard into his sincerity. "I learned how to fly, but I am bound in chains. You're here, trapped between a state of life and death, yet you've been brought back once before. That achievement is rarer than my having unlocked the ancient secrets of flight, which hadn't been seen since the time of Guru Laghima four thousand years ago."

"I got better, but it makes me wonder why you're so ready to believe."

Zaheer's face remained impassive save for the slightest twitch of his left eyebrow. Instead, he concentrated on the slim opening he had created, finding it rather enjoyable to have an opponent to test his wits against that was willing to listen even as she stubbornly tried not to. "When you base your expectations on only what you can see, you blind yourself to the possibility of a new reality. My mind has always been open to the possibilities others would deem impossible, and the existence of life beyond this world is something I can accept without complaint. Who am I to disbelieve the proof that is before my eyes, or the tales that have reached my ears? That said, not many people can say they have softly glowing blue lines beneath their skin, which I assume is part of why you're able to exist at all." Zaheer made no move when Shepard looked towards her right hand before looking back into his face, but it was enough to tell him he had her attention now. "Guru Laghima once wrote that new growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old, this became the basis for the Red Lotus, and what I was brought into when I joined their ranks."

"And thus you became an anarchist. Tell me how this gets me back home, I'm starting to get bored." Despite her tone, Zaheer knew better as she made no move to get up from her spot on the grass.

"Patience Commander, I'm getting there." He reassured her. "My point is that while you're an agent of order and justice, having done all you can to ensure your home continued to exist, I tried to tear down the oppressive governments of mine. Our beliefs might differ, but our goals are not so different. We both have tried to do what we believe we needed to do. Now our fights are over, but while I'm at peace with my choices, you have no more enemy to contend with that threatens all life as you know it. So you found someone else to fight, something else to keep you going, although you have all that you need waiting for you back home."

Shepard had no ready reply for that since it he had hit a little too close to home. Instead of giving him the satisfaction of seeing her shaken up though, Elizabeth scoffed and rolled her eyes. "We're done here." Standing to her feet, she started away only to about stumble when Zaheer disappeared and reappeared right in front of her. "Neat trick." She hissed between her teeth, her hands clenched tightly at her sides.

"As I said, my spirit is unbound by earthly tethers. Here, I can come and go as I please. And our conversation isn't over." Zaheer intoned, making it apparent he wasn't taking no for an answer. Given what she'd heard about the man, and the situation she found herself in, Shepard didn't like her odds in trying to fight him in this place. That said, she didn't immediately back down either, her pride as a marine wouldn't allow her to bend so easily as they stared each other down for several long seconds.

Getting into a staring contest with her usually ended one of two ways, especially when guns were drawn, which was usually when she stared down opponents anyway. One, shots were fired and she and her team walked away, or two, she and whoever she was trying to get to back down or step aside talked things out and came to a non violent if not peaceful resolution. Zaheer however was in his element, he held all the cards here, and he knew it, so he felt no such compulsion to do anything except smile. Unarmed, and seriously outclassed, Shepard was more than a little unnerved as she put all this together in a few seconds of frenzied thought. "You're no doubt wondering what happens now, that is entirely up to you Commander. If I had wanted to, I could have already thrown you into the Fog of Lost Souls, leaving you in a prison you couldn't hope to escape, but as I said, I have no reason or desire to harm you, despite our obvious differences."

"That's reassuring." She deadpanned, and shook her head as Zaheer once more gestured for her to sit down. Seeing no other choice, she did what he asked, all the while mentally using every curse word she could think of for having gotten herself in this mess as the airbending assassin soon took up his original position on the grass before her.

"I thought it might be." Zaheer replied, that almost smug smile fading to one that was downright thoughtful. Despite her better judgment and feeling like she was backed into a corner, Shepard sighed but did her best to relax as her….host, began to talk once more. "You have no reason to trust me, and given all I've done to Korra and the people of her world, I can't blame you, but my offer of assistance is genuine. Will you at least listen to what I have to say?"

"Just answer me one question, how do you know so much about me?"

Zaheer nodded, accepting the terms of Shepard's deal. "I suspect you've heard of Wan Shi Tong's library, located here in the Spirit World."

"I might have heard about it." She wasn't about to tell him Jinora had told her about it, or the fact she had found something inside its walls that had upset her greatly.

Zaheer let it go since it didn't matter who might have told her about the place, only that she knew about it. "The collection the great spirit of wisdom and knowledge has accumulated over the ages is as vast as you'd expect, and it is constantly growing as Wan Shi Tong continues to send his foxes to gather more. What few people know however, is that he hasn't just collected knowledge on this world and its nations. He has collected far more than anyone could ever imagine, but because the world we both inhabit now hadn't been exposed to life beyond its skies until your ship arrived, he has kept that secret to himself and his fox spirit assistants."

Shepard had to do a double take as Zaheer's words sunk in. "This spirit knows about the galaxy and its inhabitants? No wonder Jinora seemed so freaked out when she came back with what she'd found about my link with Kyoshi." She grimaced, realizing too late she had just dropped Jinora's name before she could stop herself.

Zaheer waved her off though, having seen the subtle but still visible sign of worry in her emerald eyes. "I have nothing but respect for Master Jinora and her father, the great airbending Master Tenzin of the Air Nomads. They might have played a part in my capture, but I hold them no ill will, because like you, they simply did what they believed was right."

"You'll forgive me if I don't take you at your word."

Zaheer shrugged, having expected nothing less. "I'd be disappointed if you did, but to answer your question, Wan Shi Tong doesn't discriminate against who visits his library, his only rule is that whatever knowledge one finds is not used to overpower another. Most commonly people had sought out his vast stores of books to wage war on their fellow man, so he took his library back to the Spirit World, where it has remained since. When I heard your name and those of your team Commander, I took it upon myself to learn what I could about you, suspecting we might meet one day, and it seems I was right. What I found was quite extensive, as you might expect, if a bit biased."

"Can't imagine why that might be." Shepard grumbled and rubbed the back of her neck before nodding her head ever so slightly.

It was enough for Zaheer to get the hint she was still interested, and she was starting to truly listen now. It was a step in the right direction if nothing else. "Despite the colored opinion of the author of the biography that detailed your life up to that point, there was truth within the myth, just as there was truth behind the stories of Guru Laghima."

"So what was the truth you found about me?"

"That your accomplishments, while great, were not possible without those that still stand beside you, but also, you have been at war for so long that you do not know any other way to exist."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Shepard growled out her patience running thin with the man, though that was probably due to the fact that she didn't trust him at all.

"Isn't it obvious? You have fought for so long that you don't know how to live without something to fight. War has become a part of you, whether you like it or not. If you wish to change that, then it will only be possible through great effort."

"Or as you said before, burning down the old growth to give way to new life." Shepard sighed back in response as they came back around to what had made her consider getting up and leaving not so long ago, only to realize that she couldn't outrun Zaheer.

"Close enough." Zaheer replied, while Shepard couldn't help but notice that smug, knowing smile that had been on his face finally faded at last. "Once I was the same, believing so strongly in what the Red Lotus stood for that I would have done anything to see our goals accomplished. Taking out the Earth Queen, as corrupt and inept as she was, was a mistake, or rather what I unleashed upon Ba Sing Se was the true mistake. Freedom without purpose is just as dangerous as the oppressive government I sought to destroy there, which paved the way for Kuvira's ascension. By killing her, I opened the door to something far worse, and it seems my actions has allowed something else to follow in her wake."

"Yeah, no shit Sherlock."

"Your sarcasm has no doubt served you well before, but it doesn't change the facts Commander. We're the victims of our own beliefs, our own causes, you at least are still free to choose your own path, provided you survive your injuries of course."

"I've walked off worse."

"But that still leaves you with the unresolved matter of what happens when you have no more enemies to fight." Shepard said nothing for the longest time as she finally let her eyes fall to the ground between them. Zaheer sat perfectly still, knowing he was finally getting through to her at last. "Through our actions, we have learned that change is possible only with conviction, and great personal sacrifice. You however, do not have to give up everything despite where your life has taken you. You can still find something else to live for." Looking over his shoulder, Zaheer seemed to take notice of something only he could see before turning his attention fully on Shepard once more. "I'm afraid our time is up for now. I might be free in this place, but my body still requires food, and I'm not quite ready to give up my mortal shell. We'll talk again soon." Even if she had wanted to stop him, she couldn't as Zaheer disappeared, leaving her alone to ponder everything he'd said.

The Sato Estate

Present day

Having decided to grab something to eat and a new change of clothes, among other things while Korra and Liara were busy, Shepard had shared part of her time in the Spirit World with Asami while they waited for them to return from wherever they had gone. With the asari mind meld, and what they were trying to accomplish, even Shepard didn't know if they were in the Spirit World or somewhere else altogether. Whatever the case, Asami had been riveted as she told her enough of her time with Zaheer to give her an idea of what they had talked about, if not the specifics. "You were right not to trust him, even if he did simply try to help you Elizabeth." Asami said once there was a lull in the conversation as they made their way back upstairs, where Korra and Liara had yet to move despite having been at it for two hours thus far.

"Yeah, you aren't telling me anything I hadn't already considered Asami. That guy is nuts, but he's also….I don't know, there's something different about him from anyone else I've ever met, and I've met a lot of people." And killed most of them. A cynical part of her mind spat out, but Shepard largely ignored it as she crossed her arms and leaned against the wall by the door. "Point is kid, Zaheer might be an insane anarchist, but his time in prison seems to have mellowed him out a bit. I still wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, provided he ever hit the ground again, but overall he wasn't bad company to have during that strange, out of body thing I had going for me. Although I'm willing to bet part of his attitude change probably had something to do with Korra kicking his ass."

"Technically she didn't." Shepard looked to her side in mild surprise at that revelation. "The victory really belongs to Jinora. She mobilized the rest of the Air Nomads, and they were able to pull Zaheer out of the sky with a tornado they created together, before he could get away with Korra." And before the poison could finish her off. Shepard didn't need to hear Asami say that part aloud to know it was on her mind, it was all too easy to read on her beautiful face.

"And now I feel like an ass for bringing that up." Shepard sighed, her mouth having gotten away from her, again, before she could stop herself. "How you put up with me and my people is beyond me Asami."

Despite the dour mood that had began to settle, in no small part thanks to Shepard's big mouth, Asami looked up and chuckled just as her frown turned upside down. "It's fine Elizabeth, besides, I knew what I was getting into when I invited you to stay in the first place." She looked towards Liara and Korra with some concern however, no doubt feeling rather helpless yet again, if for another reason altogether. "I just hope everything is going alright."

"Kid, never say that. You're practically inviting bad luck with stuff like that."

"Was that supposed to make me feel worse, because it worked." Asami replied with a roll of her gray green eyes.

"Haha, nah, just silly marine superstition at work. All jarheads like me tend to be a bit paranoid about that kind of thing." Shepard offered in way of explanation before her goofy grin faded somewhat. "But if it makes you feel better, I'm a little worried too. Normally a meld doesn't take nearly this long…..unless clothes have since flown off." When Asami blushed almost as red as her dress, Shepard couldn't help but laugh in response. "You made it too easy Asami."

"I can't say anything around you without you finding a way to turn it into a joke can I?" Despite the annoyance in her voice, the sparkle in Asami's eyes said she was far from angry. If anything, despite the fact her cheeks were still bright with color, the heiress couldn't help but smile even as her eyes kept drifting to the pair on the floor before them.

"Don't feel bad Asami, I do that with Liara all the time." Shepard chuckled, but like Asami, she couldn't help but worry that something had gone wrong. Really starting to wonder if I shouldn't try to wake them up. Shepard mused, but held off on doing anything, at least for now. She'd give them another ten minutes, then all bets were off the table.

The Meld

While her experience was limited to sharing Elizabeth's mind, both to examine the prothean visions that had been burned into her brain, and for….other activities, she thought she would have been ready for what she had volunteered herself for when she had made her proposal to help reestablish Korra's connection to her past lives. But expectations, even based on experience, were rarely the same to the reality, especially when dealing with an unknown situation such of this magnitude. Yes, Korra was unmistakably human, despite her unique abilities, and while her mind wasn't so dissimilar from Shepard's, at least in a physical aspect of having a similar, if younger central nervous system, that was where the similarities ended. Some of the differences stemmed from their vastly different lives, true, but when Liara had made the connection, she hadn't expected to appear within a vast, gray fog with no end in any direction.

Everything was gray and lifeless, devoid of anything save a single door off in the distance marked with a blue glowing sigil, that upon closer inspection, was that of the Southern Water Tribe. "Korra's memories are likely behind this door." Liara mused aloud, and ran her hand across the simple, ice covered portal that was shut fast against any unwanted intrusions, such as overly inquisitive asari for instance.

"It's been awhile since I've been here." Turning around, Liara wasn't surprised to see Korra standing behind her, her arms crossed over her chest while she looked around the empty space. "This used to be where all of my past lives were located. As you can see though, it's kinda empty."

"I've noticed. Only your life is here now, and you've taken my door analogy to heart." She said and nodded to the frozen door at her side.

"Well, better safe than sorry right?" The Avatar said with a shrug of her shoulders.

"True, but I can't help but wonder if there is a door only within your mind since you are the Avatar, or if every human on this world posses something similar."

"What are you gonna do? Meld with random people on the street to find out if that's the case?"

"Certainly not, Elizabeth would have my head. And anyway, I do have some restraint, unlike her." She reprimanded Korra, albeit gently before a mischievous grin pulled at her lips. "Besides I have grown rather fond of her mind."

"R-right, moving on." Korra stammered out before looking past Liara. Straining her eyes, she took a few steps past her before her face brightened somewhat. "Raava! I think I found her in here!" Liara needed no further prompting as Korra took off, and soon enough, they found another door, this one marked with the kite like spirit's image. The fact it gave off its own light wasn't all that surprising, given what the powerful entity represented for the people of this world.

Before Korra could try and push on the door however, Liara gently but firmly grabbed her hand. "I know you and she has a bond that stretches back to the time of Avatar Wan, but I would rather not pry into her life unless we absolutely must do so. Even I, with my limited understanding of her history, would not wish to anger her even if our intentions are noble."

"R-right. That's actually probably a good idea now that you mention it. We're tied to each other true, but I don't think anyone's ever attempted something like this before."

"There's never been a need to either I imagine." Liara replied before turning her attention back to Korra's door, and the life she had led that lay just behind it. "If we don't find what we're looking for in your memories, then, and only then, will I risk opening Raava's passage. Until then, let's focus on you."

"Alright. As I said before, I trust you, but I can't help but be curious about you too." Korra said as they made their way back to her iced over passageway, which promptly began to lose its icy covering before swinging open once the way forward was clear.

Liara smiled sadly and nodded in response. "I'll leave a way open for you. As before, if you'd rather not show me anything while we're here, just put it behind another door and I'll avoid the temptation to take a peek."

No sooner had the words left Liara's mouth did another door appear beside Korra's own, this one a dark blue, with a small patch of green grass and flowers the likes of which Korra had never seen surrounding it. Taking a peek inside, Korra was more than a little surprised to see every passage beyond the first was slightly ajar. "What about you? Aren't you going to lock your own doors?"

"No, you are free to explore as you wish. But you should consider that you may see things that would be better off forgotten. My life is….one that has had far more trials than you could ever imagine." Before Korra could respond to that less than happy thought, Liara had since disappeared inside the corridors of her mind, leaving the Avatar torn between waiting for her to come back or take a peek at the asari's own memories. Eventually curiosity won out, and Korra took a deep breath before she found herself inside Liara's head.

Given what she knew about the asari, the orderly, neat spacing between each passageway wasn't surprising to the Avatar. She had made it no secret she was meticulous, detail oriented, and she was extremely intelligent, much like Asam, just in a different capacity. That said, there was something decidedly, cold and lifeless about the metallic walls and ceiling of the corridor she found herself in, even though more of those same flowers she had seen outside were scattered about at certain points, always around doors that seemed to radiate a certain….warmth the others lacked. It didn't take Korra long to notice there seemed to be three different kinds of 'doors' inside this labyrinthine space. The cold, almost dark as black doors that emanated a kind of, calculating terror directed at everything around it when she got too close, then there were those that seemed more attune to a young child exploring the world for the first time. The last, she soon realized upon seeing the N7 emblazoned on the front, were those memories she shared with Elizabeth, or her thoughts had been heavy with the woman in question for one reason or another.

Korra gently pushed open the first door she came upon that had flowers at its feet, and soon found herself in front of some kind of estate on an entirely different world. "Okay….this" She let out in a hushed whisper, beyond amazed by the sight that was now stretching out before her. Looking over her shoulder once she had crossed the threshold, she breathed a little easier when she saw that the door was still there, before letting her gaze roam over the scenery before her.

The estate, to call it a house would have been a massive understatement, was slightly larger than Asami's mansion, and just as expansive if Korra was any judge. There were a huge garden covering the east side, and while the building itself was metallic and gray with huge, glass facades facing her, it seemed almost lifeless at first glance, there was something comforting about the ancient grounds. And the place did feel old to her, as if a thousand years had come and gone here yet the memories attached to the place were calm, cool, and just as old yet full of a life of their own, a warmth and comfort of their own. And the land itself was vibrant, full of life just as alien as the architecture, yet possessing a kind of beauty of its own. This place was safe, a sanctuary in the storm that Liara had so far hinted at as to where her life had led since.

It wasn't until she saw an older, almost gray skinned woman in a yellow dress, leading a much paler, and smaller, asari child by the hand that Korra realized what part of Liara's life she had walked in on. Liara as a child, a girl no older than Ikke, probably younger if she were any judge, was happily humming a tune to herself as the older woman led the way to a nearby park that was practically a hop, skip, and jump away. To see the reserved, and sometimes cold woman in such a light made Korra smile warmly at the pair. It brought many a pleasant memory of her own childhood to the forefront of Korra's mind as she silently followed them on their sojourn for two. A thought occurred to her though, and she couldn't help but wonder why Liara never talked about her mother much at all, since she figured that was who the older woman was that was still leading her off into the distance. Having seen enough, especially after Liara soon got herself into trouble for digging about in the grass, Korra parted from the pair with a laugh and a smile despite the scolding the girl was then receiving from her mother by the time she entered the labyrinth of memories once more.

Her curiosity seemed to have an effect on the landscape, because the next door she came to changed just as walked through it, and instead of another, happy memory, marked by flowers at the threshold, she realized too late the door she stepped through had been the first of many black ones. The cold hit her first, and although she had come from the South Pole, this wasn't a cold she was used to. It was oppressive, all consuming, despite being inside some kind of building, a glass tank dominating the center of the massive, rectangular chamber. Metal and stone were all around, the corpses of leather clad asari littered the ground alongside some kind of mechsuit, just without the pilot. Not only that, but they were vaguely reminiscent of EDI, yet where their heads should have been was a series of lights situated in a strange, metallic parody of a head.

Within the tank was a giant insect, cramped into a room that barely sufficed for its large frame. And in front of the tank… was Liara's mother, but she seemed changed somehow. She wore a dark dress with an elaborate headdress, her eyes were empty and cold, staring with contempt at her own daughter and Shepard beside her, alongside an old, battle scarred krogan she wasn't familiar with. Blue energies that she recognized as biotics were coming from her hands as she put them up in defence to create a barrier as Elizabeth shot at her.

One shot passed right through Korra, yet it didn't leave so much as a scratch as she saw another wave of asari clad in their black, skin tight suits, storm the room in an attempt to overwhelm Liara, Shepard, and the krogan. The fight….didn't end in their favor, and Korra got a first hand look at how truly deadly Shepard was when pushed into a corner. Her hands had been tied, of her own free will no less, since coming to her planet, but here? Here she was under no such restraint, and it was just as well given the relentless onslaught of their opponents, of which Liara's own mother seemed the most dangerous of the bunch, a thought that didn't make sense to Korra at all given what she had just seen of her not two minutes ago.

The Avatar was still shocked at seeing Shepard shooting at Liara's mother in front of her no less, and even worse. Liara did nothing to stop her, she didn't understand. What was going on? What could have happened for Liara to try to kill her own mother? She soon had her answer when Benezia, she found out when Shepard tried to catch her before she fell against the tank once she'd been wounded, told them what had befallen her. That and it helped that whatever cold, merciless power had driven her faded away about the same time, further adding credibility to how far Liara's mother had fallen under Saren's control, whoever or whatever he was. She didn't know what was more amazing, the fact Shepard offered to patch up Benezia even after she had just been shooting at her, or the fact that Benezia refused the offer, stating her mind was no longer her own, that it would never be again.

The young woman's heart almost shattered when she saw that Benezia's remains of free will were finally overwhelmed, and the cold, merciless look returned to her eyes as she lifted her glowing hand to kill Shepard. Wrex beat her to the punch as a thunderous boom filled the room, and Benezia once more fell to the deck, and it was obvious even to Korra she wasn't getting back up this time. She had seen and heard enough by this point, and was just a few seconds too late to shut the door behind her before Liara's sobs of anguish reached her ears.

Meanwhile, Liara was having about as much luck, having made the mistake of entering the memory of Korra's near death experience at Zaheer's hands. The mercury poisoning, the fight that followed, and the attempt to pull the air from the Avatar's lungs had played out in vivid detail for the asari. Anyone else and they would have died from just one of those things happening, although Shepard had survived the impossible time and time again. Whatever the case, Liara had a new, profound respect for Korra's tenacity, even if the experience had left her broken, rudderless for the longest time. The few doors she had opened before had been of far happier times, times she was quick to notice usually revolved around Asami, but Liara didn't blame Korra for finding such things a comfort given her own love for Elizabeth. The few before her presence in Korra's life though had involved her training under the White Lotus, although she couldn't help but notice that even then, Korra had felt alone, isolated, so it was little surprise she had ran off, with Katara's blessing no less. That fact had surprised the asari slightly, but it also made sense, given the nature of the old woman in question.

"Even then, you remained the same kind, wise old woman." Liara mused, finding it appropriate Katara had been the one to spur Korra to run to Republic City.

Stepping out into the main corridor once more, which was unsurprisingly bright, vibrant, and a mixture of the serene, ice fields of her native homeland, and Republic City itself, a fitting contradiction if there was ever one, Liara smiled as she left that particular memory behind only to stop when she felt someone, or rather something, fast approaching. Turning on her heel, Liara froze when she saw the pale blue and white kite spirit hovering a foot off the ground before her. "Raava." Liara breathed out, too stunned to do much more since this was something she had hoped to avoid in the first place.

She relaxed, albeit slightly, when she sensed rather than felt no ill will directed towards her or her invasion, as well meaning as it had been intended. Even so, the asari found it incredibly difficult to look Raava in her...what passed for a face anyway. It wasn't until the spirit started to speak, her voice soft yet all encompassing as her very presence, that Liara was able to do more than stare. Not that she had much of a choice in the matter because Raava gently but firmly pressed one of her 'tails' to the bottom of her chin and forced her to look up into what she assumed was Raava's face. "Do not be alarmed. I knew of your presence here the moment you joined minds with us both. You cannot enter one without the other, for we are bound as tightly as you and Elizabeth are, if in a different matter."

"My apologies for the intrusion in any event, Raava. But if you know of our intentions, then surely you can help me find what we seek." Liara pleaded, hoping that if anyone had the answers they were after, then it'd be Raava herself, the other half of the coin to what the Avatar was. To see the great spirit of light and hope personally, Liara couldn't help but think of a time when she had truly believed the galaxy was a beautiful place, devoid of the darkness she had peered into of her own accord.

"I'm afraid I do not know myself." Raava replied softly, and hung her head slightly, an odd gesture given her unique shape, but one that wasn't lost on Liara. "When Korra's uncle, Unalag, separated us with, Vaatu's aid, he utterly destroyed me, thus severing our connection to the past Avatars as you well know. As such, I do not know if what you seek can even be found, or if you did, if it can be restored. But," Raava said and her voice gained strength as did Liara's hope there might be a way, "if anyone can find a way, I believe it is you."

More than a little amazed that this world's very embodiment of light and hope believed her capable of such a thing, Liara could only stammer incoherently before she regained some small sliver of her composure. Even then it took a considerable effort for her to remain levelheaded. "Your hope in me might not be wisely placed, but I will do what I can to live up to it."

"You already have simply by being there for Korra in this lifetime. Even if need did not drive you, I would still offer what help I could as I am doing now, for Korra is not the only one that seeks to find what was taken from us both." Raava stated, and let her tail fall from Liara's chin before turning her gaze, for lack of a better word, towards the rest of the memories before them. "If you have questions, I'll do my best to answer during your time here."

"Very well." Liara replied, her mind, now that she wasn't paralyzed in a state of amazement and a healthy amount of fearful respect for the entity at her side, abuzz with countless questions about Raava and her connection to the Avatar. And that was just the most pressing of her inquiries she wanted answers to. Remembering their purpose here though, and the fact time was short, Liara kept her head on the task at hand. "You were bound to every Avatar that ever existed, you knew them in a way others never could. Where would you begin to look for them if you had to find them?"

Raava cocked her head to the side, doing her best imitation of momentary amazement as she thought over the question posed to her, before coming to a solution that should have been obvious to her already. "Where this all began, for both myself, and the Avatar, during Harmonic Convergence. Within the Spirit World. The time of the Convergence might have passed, and Unavaatu defeated, but the place where our battle played itself out once more is still there. I had not even considered to look there for answers."

Liara allowed herself a self congratulatory smile at having thought of even that much before turning back the way they had come. "It happens even to the best of us. Sometimes the most obvious answer is also the hardest to come by Raava, until someone new points us in the right direction."

"That is true, even though it is likely I cannot guarantee that we will find what we seek there."

"Long odds are my specialty, haven't you been paying attention?" Liara asked, and immediately wanted to kick herself for playing coy with Raava of all people.

"Indeed." Raava agreed, although whether she was commenting on the former or the latter was hard to tell, but the amused note in her otherworldly voice was impossible not to hear in either event. It was a great relief to Liara she hadn't offended her, but she was still taken aback when the light spirit chuckled softly upon noticing her discomfort. "I have existed since the people of this world were still a speck in the eye of the cosmos. I might not have had the best relationship with humanity at first, but I have grown immensely since those days, as has my relationship with the Avatars across the ages. You will have to try much harder to offend me."

"That's...comforting." Liara breathed out in abject relief just as they exited Korra's mental corridors. Looking towards where her own labyrinth began, she was a little surprised Korra hadn't returned yet, but she could still feel her looking around inside her own mind. "I just hope I didn't make a mistake by allowing her free reign."

Liara almost jumped when she felt one of Raava's 'tails' on her shoulder, but managed to reign in the impulse as her comforting words soon reverberated through the empty fog around them. "You saw how strong she has become Liara. She will endure, albeit with guidance, whatever horrors you fear she might discover."

"I hope so, I have seen many who couldn't handle such horrors, their minds… never recovered." Liara stated morosely, and couldn't help but remember those that had been shattered by what the Reapers had brought with them. She didn't get to dwell on it long as Korra exited her section of their shared mental landscape, but Liara knew what she had seen just going by what was written on her face. That and unlike Korra, she had been keeping mental tabs of where she had wandered, a 'safeguard' of sorts Liara had built into her subconscious mind on the off chance another asari, sent either by the Shadow Broker or the Reapers, tried to get into her head by force. So she knew Korra had seen her mother's last day.

Korra, for her part, had had time to process some of what she'd seen, but it had still left a lasting impression. But not the one Liara expected as she walked over to her and Raava, her face unreadable. "I don't know what I could possibly say." She began before her voice trailed off, and grimaced since it had sounded pathetic even to her own ears.

Liara sadly shook her head even as a grateful smile tugged at her lips for the effort Korra was trying to make, for her benefit no less. In that sense, she and Shepard weren't so different, but it wasn't necessary here. "You don't have to say anything. In fact it would probably better for both of us if you didn't. What happened, happened, and there's no point in dwelling over what can't be changed." She held up a hand to stop Korra from speaking just as she started to open her mouth. "Don't misunderstand, I do appreciate the effort Korra, but it's not necessary. She was not at fault for her actions, and the enemy that was has since been destroyed. Does it still hurt? Yes, and it always will, but I can endure it, just as you endure your own hardships, of which I have a newfound respect for now that I've seen a few for myself."

"Still… I wish things could have been different."

"Me too, believe me, me too." Liara replied quietly before perking up. "On the other hand, we got a possible lead to your past lives."

"How did you manage to do that, in that short time?"

"I had an illuminating conversation with Raava, since she is the expert on the subject." Liara chuckled softly as Korra took note of the amused spirit in question before Raava disappeared. The flabbergasted look on her face morphed into a small grin just as quickly as she put two and two together. Chuckling once more, Liara held out her hand to Korra before nodding to the 'exit' she had just created for them both. "Let's put this place behind us."

"Gladly. No offense, but your side of this whole meld was downright depressing."

"You just didn't look in the right places." Liara teased, and just managed to see Korra's dark cheeks turn several shades brighter before she severed the connection between them.

The Sato Estate

She was still blushing as the dark energy particles disappeared, signaling an end to the meld just as Liara's eyes snapped open. Shepard she saw had just been about to try and shake her 'awake', as it were, but it wasn't necessary. When she tried to stand however, Liara grimaced as she realized her legs had fallen asleep from the awkard, at least for her, position she'd been in. "Need a hand Li?"

"If you don't mind. My legs have gone numb, and not in the pleasant sense either."

"Still right here." Korra groaned in exasperation, but neither Asami or Shepard missed the sympathetic look that passed between her and the asari.

Shepard had a pretty good idea why Korra was giving Liara such a glance, but didn't comment on it as she helped Liara to her feet. Letting her lean against her until the feeling returned to her extremities, Elizabeth cocked an eyebrow and asked. "So….find anything useful during your two hour sojourn?"

"Two hours? Goddess, I didn't know we'd been gone so long." Shaking off her momentary shock, Liara nodded and went over what she had talked about with Raava herself. "It was, amazing, to be before such a powerful figure that is so intrinsically tied to the Avatar Cycle. Somehow, I managed not to offend her while trying to remember our original reason for seeking answers. She suggested we try and search the Spirit World for any trace of Korra's past lives, which in hindsight makes sense."

It was Asami and Elizabeth's turn to share a knowing look between them given what Shepard had talked about while Liara and Korra had been busy. All this was starting to be a little too coincidental for her liking, but all signs seemed to be pointing for them to take a little trip to the Spirit World the first chance they had. First Wan Shi Tong's library, Zaheer, and now this? Yeah, Shepard didn't like coincidences stacking up like that, but it was the best lead they had if they wanted to take down Azula and the Remnant. "Well, guess we better start making preparations then."

"Just like that?" Korra asked, a little surprised Shepard was already thinking about making the trip despite, or because of, her only having just woken up not so long ago.

"You have a better idea kid? Besides, the more time we waste, the more time the Remnant and that little pyromaniac has to cause us no end of grief. And I don't know about you, but I'm kinda tired of being on the defensive." No one could fault Shepard for saying so as she rolled her right shoulder until something popped, and she let out a soft groan of contentment just as Liara was able to support her own weight. "But we can't leave the city completely undefended either, although we shouldn't have to since this is your thing Korra, we're just the lucky tag alongs."

"Or unlucky." Asami chimed in, earning a short burst of laughter from everyone that did a great deal to relieve the uneasy tension in the air.

That evening….

Shepard groaned as she tried to move as little as possible, her stomach full and fit to burst after that day's dinner. Unsurprisingly, everyone had been quite happy to see that she was back on her feet, and Asami had gotten her private staff to put together a little party to celebrate the happy reunion. Thankfully no one had felt the need, at least not yet, to rig Asami's estate with all manner of traps, but short of that, all bets had been off. Shepard had tried to warn her it would be a bad idea if she wanted her home to still be in one piece, but Asami had waved off her concerns, saying that it was good to see everyone loosen up a bit. And loosen up they had.

That said, despite a rowdy Jack getting into a drunken fist fight with an all too eager Grunt over something immature in retrospect, which unfortunately ended up claiming at least two expensive looking vases, one antique painting, and part of a wall before it was over, most of her team had been more or less on their best behavior even after the alcohol had started flowing a little more freely than had probably been wise.

Shepard though was happy, and was resting comfortably despite feeling ready to burst at the seams at the slightest misstep, against Liara, the asari's hands resting lightly over her stomach. Say what you wanted about Zaheer, he had, in his way, gotten her head on straight during her two week long nap, but she hadn't told Liara that just yet. Mainly because she wasn't sure how to start that admittedly very strange conversation.

Hey, remember that madman that tried to kill Korra by sucking the air out of her lungs? Yeah….turns out he gives pretty good advice once you get past the whole, airbending assassin schtick. Weird right? Yeah, that would go over real well if she didn't choose her words carefully, but the soft chuckle that escaped her lips had Liara arching an eye ridge inquisitively. "It's nothing Liara, just thinking about something."

"Now I'm even more curious." But Liara let it go, equally content to simply bask in Shepard's presence as their respective gazes drifted to the nearby window. The view outside was filled with the lights of Republic City in the distance, while the sky above had a multitude of twinkling points of light, making the scene quite picture perfect in their less than humble opinion. Having taken her fill, Liara nuzzled closer into Shepard's back and let a soft, contented sound escape her. "Mmmm….the view outside is nice, but this, right here, is all I need."

"Yeah, that we can agree on Liara." Shepard replied and turned to capture her lips with her own while doing her best not to leave her spot, cocooned in Liara's warm embrace. Still, there was a nagging thought that wouldn't leave her alone as she broke away, an apologetic gleam in her emerald eyes. "Liara-"

Before she could even begin to say anything, Liara put a finger to her lips and smiled sadly, but knowingly. "Shepard, with how many times we've shared each other's minds, our very souls, I know what you would say, and why. You have nothing to apologize for, you never have. If anyone should apologize, it's me for not realizing what was going on. I figured you would talk to me when you were ready, but you nearly didn't get that chance after Azula…." She took a breath and shook her head, but held Shepard's gaze as her left hand glided over her cheek. "And you're not the only one that's terrified of failing, Elizabeth, or thinking that there's no place for us in any world outside of our respective….areas of expertise."

While it was far kinder to put it like that, Shepard still heard the true meaning behind Liara's words. Translation: Marine and information broker, both of us without a cause any longer. We're just made for each other aren't we? Cynical as the thought was, there was a silver lining there since Liara having given voice to what had been tormenting her made it a lot easier to talk about what had occurred in the Spirit World during her two week long coma. It also helped that she wasn't alone in her worry, although that should have been obvious to her now that Shepard thought about it. "And now I feel like an ass for not realizing it sooner Liara."

Liara smiled sadly and shook her head before leaving a kiss just below her hairline. "How could you know? I didn't say anything either, figuring you would talk to me first and we would move on from there. In a way, Azula did us a favor. I still want to snap her neck like a twig beneath my boot for hurting you as she did, although I can't decide if that's before I flay her alive. In either event, I do want to know one thing Shepard."

"Anything." Elizabeth whispered as she turned about so she was now fully facing the beautiful asari that was currently trapped comfortably beneath her.

Liara's eyes gleamed in the dark as she wrapped her in her arms anew, perfectly content to hold her close no matter which way they laid. "Where were you that whole time?"

Shepard, having expected such a question, answered it simply by directing Liara's gaze to the window. It didn't take Liara long to figure it out when she followed where Shepard's eyes had fallen, to the dancing, twisting lights in the distance, situated dead center within the Downtown Spirit Wilds. "The Spirit World? Goddess, then what Ashley said about your heart stopping….it truly was that close this time."

"Yeah, that should probably surprise me more than it does. But given where I woke up after I took that bolt to the chest, it doesn't." Shepard casually shrugged, having had time to get over the worst of the shock associated with the incident in question, no pun intended. "And you wouldn't believe who I met there."


"You sure you want to know?"

"Do you want me to go searching for the answer? Because you know I will." Liara threatened playfully, and grinned as a snort escaped her bondmate.

"Oh I could think of worse things than having my mind invaded by you Liara." Shepard replied before her own grin started to fade. "I'll tell you, but do me a favor and don't freak out too badly eh? It was a bit of a surprise for me too." Liara nodded, silently acknowledging her request even as a part of her tensed up in fearful anticipation. Shepard mentally groaned at the unease she could feel emanating from the asari in her arms, but there was nothing for it now as she went for broke. "Zaheer."

Liara blinked once, before letting out a long, drawn out breath through her mouth upon hearing the name. Given her recent experience of watching Korra's fight against the madman, it took a considerable effort on her part not to do something far more….drastic. "I don't know whether to thank him for his aid or kill him for contacting you at all." She said after an uncomfortable silence had fallen between them.

"Well, he didn't outright threaten me, so there's that working for him." Shepard deadpanned in response.

"Lucky for him then." Was Liara's less than happy response. Shepard went to sleep that night wondering if she'd been disappointed she didn't have an excuse to hunt him down. Then she wondered if she really wanted to know the answer.

End Notes; If not for Nomad-117's help, I doubt I could have finished this chapter at all. I got held up several times, trying to find a viable way to make all this make some kind of sense lol. So, the next order of business, outside of dealing with the Remnant, is to find a way for Korra to get her past lives back, but I think I have an idea on that front, but feel free to throw your own thoughts into the mix. That said, I hope our little flashback to Liara's last moments with her mother, as well as the inverse with Korra and Zaheer, wasn't too dark and grim. Been trying to get back to the more fun loving side of this story lol.

That said, the lengthy conversation with Zaheer, as well as a few more snippets of what happened during those two weeks, will be explained as this continues to progress. For now, just know that you can't go from what they did out there in the galaxy, and expect it all to be forgotten in two weeks or two months. Their road to even partial recovery is going to be long and horrendous for some, but we won't be focusing on that so much, just the important bits like what we did here. At any rate, see ya folks!

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: The Spectre vs the Dragon

Xai Bau's Grove

Having nothing better to do after her talk with Zaheer, Elizabeth found herself wandering her, hopefully, temporary home in the Spirit World. The grove was beautiful sure, especially after all the times she had visited the ash forest of her nightmare plagued mind, but she had never been able to sit still for long. That and walking through this world, until either A, she became a permanent resident herself, or B, she woke up where she belonged, was a good way to pass the time while her mind went over what she had talked about with Zaheer. There was something else that bothered her as well, on top of what she had discussed with the airbending assassin.

Yes, she was scared, terrified even of somehow not being able to live up to the expectations of being a father in the not so distant future, but that wasn't the only thing holding her up, as Zaheer had rightly guessed. It was her inability to see a future for herself, despite being with the love of her life, and to describe Liara as anything less was to dishonor what they had, outside of war and the destruction it brought, that really bothered her. How Zaheer had gotten that from a biased biography written about her and her achievements wasn't too hard to figure out, but it still shook her up a great deal to realize a guy like him knew her better than she knew herself.

Was it little wonder he'd been so dangerous to Korra and her friends, her family? Not really, since a mind like his, let alone his drive and willingness to achieve his goals at any cost, weren't so dissimilar from her own, the only difference being she wasn't an insane psychopath. That was being unfair, but her foul mood wouldn't allow her to describe the man in any other light at that particular time. To make matters worse, the dusk, cloud covered sky began to darken, before it began to unleash a steady drizzle that quickly became a heavy deluge that made visibility nearly impossible past her own nose. "I hate my life." Shepard deadpanned in irritation, and swept her green eyes over the quickly muddening ground for any sign of shelter as she ran forward, her right arm pulled across her forehead in a makeshift umbrella. It didn't help much, but anything was better than nothing at that point.

Coming across a building in the center of a half circle of trees, Shepard wasted no time or questioned her good fortune as she ran through the batwing doors, only to do a double take when she saw the biggest toad sipping a teacup far too small for its mouth, that she had ever seen. "Huh." Was all she said, before rubbing at her eyes just to be sure she wasn't hallucinating. When the toad, its skin purple and covered in rather pretty yellow swirls across its back, gave her a sidelong glance, and made no move to disappear for that matter, Shepard remembered Korra had mentioned talking to a mushroom in this place, as well as the simple fact most of the spirits here were animalistic in nature, and started to relax upon remembering this. "Sorry, first timer to this place." She offered in way of apology.

"Ah, don't worry about it!" The toad croaked in greeting, and gave her what she assumed was supposed to be a happy grin, his yellow, bulbous eyes gleaming in good cheer, seemingly unoffended by her staring a moment ago. "I'm a regular here! The Jasmine Dragon serves the best tea in all the Spirit World."

"Indeed it does," Shepard wasn't all that surprised when Iroh stepped out of a backroom, his arms laden with a tray full of tea cups that emanated sweet smelling scents of the contents within, which he quickly passed out to the other….spirits in the rather richly appointed establishment. "And I am fortunate to have such wonderful friends to share it with." Shepard couldn't help but smile upon seeing his familiar face once more, having taken up position by the door, both to give herself a chance to dry off, and to observe the former General in his true native environment. Despite his own legendary status among those that knew his history, the man painted in those tales, the greatest being his conquest of the outer wall of Ba Sing Se, as well as being named the slayer of the last dragons, and the one presented here, were the very definition of contradiction. The two just didn't seem compatible to Shepard, yet something about the way he moved with such joyous efficiency as he doled out his exquisitely smelling tea to everyone suggested something more was at work here.

She was drawn out of her thoughts when Iroh approached, and smiled broadly as he held out a cup of what she identified as ginseng tea. "For you Elizabeth, to stave off the cold."

"Thanks." Shepard replied coolly, and accepted the cup with a nod. She didn't take a sip right away as Iroh walked away, and a part of her even considered, briefly, dumping the cup's contents into a nearby potted plant since tea wasn't to her liking, even after sharing a cup with Iroh on her imagined version of Mindoir. Still, something about the way he had said his little comment made her wonder if he hadn't meant something else entirely, but she didn't ponder it for long as she took an experimental sip. To her pleasant surprise, the tea was indeed as good as advertised by the...toad spirit thing, and while she'd never been a big tea drinker before, she was finding it hard to argue with Iroh's obvious passion. It didn't take her long to forget her troubles, at least for a time, as she relaxed her guard and simply enjoyed the friendly, welcome atmosphere of her surroundings.

Unbeknownst to her, Iroh was watching her, and smiled secretly in joy as she let her guard down. Despite his appearance, something he kept up in order to throw off his opponents in life, Iroh had always been far more observant and clever than most people realized. It hadn't taken him but a glance to see the worry and consternation in Shepard's eyes, the set of her jaw, and he had already begun to take steps in trying to lighten her burdens while she was stuck here. And she was stuck here, that much he knew already since, as he had made it no secret, he had many friends among the spirits, and at times like these, they kept their eyes open for the unusual and strange, and a once dead woman on the brink once more, appearing in the Spirit World, certainly qualified.

Shepard, unaware of any of this, looked down at her cup when she realized she had drained it, and frowned in disappointment. Having gotten lost in the moment, she hadn't realized that the time had passed until she looked down to see she had finished off her drink. Just as she was about to start looking for Iroh to get a refill, the old man himself chuckled and winked knowingly. "I had a feeling you'd want more Elizabeth. My ginseng brew is quite appealing to those who have not tasted much tea before."

"Heh, guess I am a bit of an amatuer when it comes to tea." She replied and nodded her thanks without hesitation this time when Iroh refilled her little porcelain cup from a teapot that looked very well taken care of, unaware she was looking at the same teapot that had once carried Raava in the time of the first Avatar, Wan. She made it a mental note to savor this one though as Iroh walked away, a pleasant sounding tune following in his wake.

Despite the very exotic looking clientele, the spirits of this place were just like the people back home in many respects she came to learn as time passed in Iroh's little slice of paradise. The toad was the least bizarre looking of the bunch, to be sure, but they probably thought the same thing about her, the few that noticed her leaning against the wall anyway. But she didn't mind the occasional odd glance that was far more curious than malicious, so it was easy for Shepard to sip her glass and listen for the sheer enjoyment of it, something she hadn't thought she'd be doing again. People watching was something she hadn't done since she was a kid, and the few time she'd done so since hadn't been to enjoy the simple ebb and flow of a crowd. It had been to observe patterns, analyze and assess potential dangers, things of that nature during her days in Basic and later, during N7 training.

For being a woman of action, something about this place made her want to stop and enjoy what was around her. But eventually the crowd started to disperse, and it looked to be near closing time as Iroh cleaned up after his customers. Deciding she had sat around long enough for one day, Shepard set her glass down on a nearby tray and started to head out, the rain having stopped at some point. While curious, she wasn't about to question her good fortune, and besides, who knew what was natural for this world where toads sipped at teacups and giant birds conversed as equals with something that had looked like a mole. Whatever the case, Elizabeth left Iroh's teashop, oblivious to the smile on the old man's face.

The Jasmine Dragon

The next morning saw her returning to Iroh's teashop, after taking a little time to explore the area around his home. Besides a hot spring some distance away from the lovingly constructed wooden structure, there wasn't anything of note beyond some trees that bore jewel like fruits upon their heavy branches. It had taken Shepard several moments to pull her gaze away from them as the morning sun was refracted and reflected countless times, creating a mesmerizing scene that was hard to pull away from. Liara would love this place. That single, stray thought, pleasant as it began, brought to mind the fact she was stuck here, until and if she found a way back home. It was enough to make her find her way back to Iroh's shop, in the hopes his company and those he called friends would offer some peace from her otherwise troubled mind. That, and she had something she wanted to ask Iroh.

Unfortunately she never got around to it, her mind turned to the life she was currently being denied. Even another taste of Iroh's tea couldn't dispel her dark mood, and as if summoned by her negative emotions, (and in truth it was,) rain began to pour on the otherwise cheerful establishment. As before, the crowd began to disperse once it came time to close up shop, but as she began to head out, Iroh called her name. "Stay a while and indulge an old man would you? Besides, the weather outside seems to be determined to drown out the last vestiges of dawn." Cocking her head to the side, and finding it once more strange that he seemed to hint at more than he was outright saying, Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders in silent agreement. Iroh perked up immediately at the gesture. "I am glad to see you're agreeable Elizabeth. Come, sit down, I shall prepare my best table for you."

"You don't have to do that Iroh." But he wouldn't hear of it, and was soon pushing Shepard forward, a hearty laugh escaping him as she flailed about. "Hey!"

"Life happens whether we will it or not Elizabeth. For now, I insist you take a moment to enjoy yourself!" He declared happily before guiding her to a chair at the back of the teashop, where she had a pretty good view of the rest of the establishment. If the shop had been full of customers, she would have had people at her back and to her right side within reaching distance, ensuring she was, from a social standpoint, in the center of the action, so to speak. So in that sense, Iroh was right.

Before she could figure out what Iroh's intentions were, she was once more taken aback when the old man sat down with a contented groan, a tray of fresh tea laid out on the left side of the table. It didn't take her long to guess why when he produced a Pai Sho board, and his reason for dragging her to the table became clear. "Fancy a game Elizabeth? I used to be quite the expert back in my day."

For all his hidden cleverness and noble intentions, and they were clear to see now that she knew what to look for, Shepard could only scratch the back of her head in response. "Uh...I would, but I don't know how to play." Admitting that led to her silently admitting far more, such as the simple fact that since landing on their world, everything she had done had been geared to finding ways to protect herself and her people. Outside of a few lovemaking sessions with Liara, every waking moment had been geared towards learning everything she could about the people of the world they had become a part of for that same reason.

Iroh had suspected as much and only smiled warmly. "I am not surprised, why do you think I wanted you to stay?"

"I think we both know you're more than a simple old man." Shepard mused, the beginning of a lopsided grin tugging at her lips, before helping herself to some of the tea he had brought out for them. "You know a lot more than you say, and Korra told me how you helped her, twice, when she needed it the most. You tend to pop up when you're needed, and now here you are. Coincidence? I think not." While if it had been anyone else that had been spying on her, keeping tabs on her, she wouldn't have stuck around. But Iroh had so far proven himself time and again to be a good friend to have. Until he did something, if he did something, to prove himself otherwise, Shepard was willing to let this, whatever it was, play out, and the guarded but still visible smile on her face said as much as she soon had a fresh cup of tea in her hands.

"Haha, very perceptive of you Elizabeth." Iroh chuckled and nodded before running his left hand through his long white beard. "I'll admit I have had my good friends, the spirits, keep an eye out for unusual happenings, especially with rumors of the Remnant moving in my old home. I might not be able to do much from here, but I can still offer what aid I can for those willing to listen." Shepard remained silent as Iroh pulled out a simple wooden box from his person before setting it on the table, by the tray of tea he had set out between them already. Opening it revealed a number of small tiles, each marked by a different emblem belonging to each of the four nations. There was one however that looked like a white lotus, which didn't surprise her all that much from what Zaheer had said about Iroh. Seeing her recognition as Iroh set the board, the old man laughed once more. "Yes, I used to be a Grand Lotus, as a mutual….acquaintance of ours has told you. Well, rather a mutual acquaintance to a friend of ours, but the truth remains the same."

"I'm guessing that tile was used in some kind of passcode for when you needed to call the rest together?" Shepard asked, and smiled a little wider when Iroh nodded his head sagely in response.

"Indeed, but even now I cannot divulge all of the secrets of the White Lotus." Shepard let the matter drop since he had every right to his secrets. Iroh accepted her silence as permission to continue, having since finished setting the board for both of them, the white lotus tile left in the box since it wasn't needed here. "I can however share another of my passions with you my friend."

"Alright, I'm game." It wasn't like she had another choice in the matter, but that cynical thought gave way to something else. She wanted to just take a breath and do something for the sheer enjoyment of it. Sure, she was on the cliff, so to speak, between being stuck here forever and going home, but it was out of her control. She knew that, although how she did she couldn't say, but whatever the case, this whole bizarre situation was turning out to be a much needed reprieve for her.

"Did you know the game of Pai Sho was created over ten thousand years ago?" Iroh stated, making his comment sound both like a statement and a question as he made the first move, having explained the rules the way he had learned them. "As such, there are many ways people have adapted the game, making their own rules depending on the nation they came from, but one thing remains the same."

"The fact every nation has this game within their culture?" Shepard asked, to which Iroh's lips pulled up into a broad smile at the answer. Moving a piece across the board, Elizabeth couldn't help but chuckle, feeling a little pride at having gotten the question correct.

"Indeed! The pieces themselves tell us as much, since each is marked by the four elements, representing the four nations of the world. But like any game, to beat your opponent, you must understand your opponent, and Pai Sho is the best way to do just that since there are those that say this game is a game of chance and quick thinking, while others say it is a game of strategy and methodical movements. I wonder, what kind of person, are you?"

Elizabeth's answer was to take a sip of her tea and smile over the rim of her cup in challenge. "You're just gonna have to wait and find out General."

"Haha, very good!" Iroh cheered before moving another piece. Elizabeth took a few minutes to decide on her own, in which time Iroh had a chance to enjoy his tea before he began speaking once more when she moved a tile marked by the earth nation's sigil. "I'm sure you have likely heard this before in some way, but did you know that earth is the element of substance?" Elizabeth flicked her green eyes up to Iroh's face but remained silent, her curiosity getting the better of her. That and she had already figured out he didn't say anything without there being some kind of meaning behind it. "The people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong, as well as persistent and enduring."

There was a message there, but she couldn't immediately decipher it. That said, she kept her ears open as Iroh moved another of his own pieces. So she wasn't all that surprised that when she moved a tile with an air sigil proudly displayed on its front, Iroh had more to say. "This one I know you've learned a great deal about." He chuckled warmly before continuing his lesson. "Air as you know is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads of old, detached themselves from worldly concerns, and found peace and freedom within themselves."

"I think Master Tenzin forgot that part somewhere along the line though." Elizabeth replied, a hint of a smile tugging at her lips as she watched Iroh carefully, looking for some sign of his strategy, as well as what he was getting at. "He's a good man, but he adheres too strictly to his discipline, which kinda keeps him grounded in more ways than one."

"Meh, nobody's perfect." Iroh replied and shrugged in response. "And you have to remember he was the son of the late Avatar Aang. He might not have meant to, but Aang left quite the responsibility on Tenzin's shoulders."

Elizabeth nodded in agreement, before something dawned on her. "That would explain why he's so driven to succeed in every aspect of his life, even if he's not consciously aware of it." She mused, having never really given it a lot of thought until now. There were parallels to be drawn between herself and Master Tenzin, and she could only stare up at Iroh as she started to put the pieces together. "Son of a bitch, this whole time you were talking about me weren't you?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes." Iroh admitted, and once more waited until she had moved another piece on the board before continuing the lesson, one that Elizabeth was truly listening to now. "Pai Sho is more than a game for the White Lotus. While the movements are the same as any other, there is deep wisdom to be had for those willing to seek it out. Just as the pieces are marked, connecting every nation in a common idea, so too are the elements within ourselves. You however, have focused far too much on one over the others. Take water for instance." Iroh said, gesturing to the piece she had moved not moments ago. "Water is the element of change. The people of the Water Tribes are capable of adapting to many things. They have a deep sense of community and love, that holds them together through almost anything."

Memories of Liara dressed in a Water Tribe robe shortly after their arrival on this world flashed through Shepard's mind, and she couldn't help but agree that the statement fit the asari quite well. The death of her mother right in front of her, the destruction of Thessia, her dying, so many things should have left her a hollowed out ruin of herself, yet she had endured. Not without almost losing herself perhaps, but Shepard couldn't help but apply what Iroh had said to Liara's overall personality and strength. Not only that, but the asari culture itself was based on such ties as community and understanding, at least for other asari in most respects, barring their criminal elements of course, but that applied to all of the races.

As for her more 'earth' minded crew members, Shepard couldn't help but think of James, Jack, and Garrus first and foremost. They had endured a great deal to get to where they were now, overcoming many obstacles long before they had ran into her, and many more since joining her team. If anyone fit the definition of an earthbender, it was those three, although Jack could also be safely classified as a firebender as well, given her passion and drive to utterly destroy anything that made the mistake of slowing her down or getting in her way.

Air was easy, if one took into account Kasumi's joyful, playful nature, and while she was a thief, she didn't do it for the material gain, she did it for the sheer love of loving what she did. She used her skills not for herself, but instead for helping those around her, having told Shepard many tales of her having freed slaves, robbed the corrupt and wicked, as well as taking down men and women both that that had been monstrous to their fellow sapient being. While she wasn't exactly detached of worldly concerns, she could almost be considered heading in that direction, but it was her boundless capacity for fun and enjoying life to the fullest that really did that. Kelly Chambers and Thane Krios, goddess give him peace, weren't so different from the Air Nomads themselves, albeit for different reasons. There were other examples she was sure she could come up with, but Shepard's gaze was drawn to the last element she had yet to use in their game since it made her the most uncomfortable for a number of reasons.

Iroh didn't wait for her to complete her move with one of the fire tile marked tokens she had on her side of the board before he began to speak once more. Sensing her discomfort, his voice became grave but it still radiated the warmth she had come to associate with him. "As you have no doubt surmised by now, both from your having manifested fire yourself, and what you've learned from studying my nation's history, fire is the element of power. The people of the Fire Nation have desire and will, and the energy and drive to achieve what they want. Is it any surprise you are also a firebender with the energy and drive that drove you to achieve all that you have, despite necessity demanding someone take up the very mantle you have been hard pressed to let go as of late?" Her silence was answer alone, as was the evident turmoil in her emerald eyes. "You remind me a great deal of Zuko in that respect, even if your goals were vastly different from each other. The question you must ask yourself now is, who are you, and what do you want?"

Iroh would have been disappointed if she had answered that question then and there. He instead watched silently as she left the table, her tea forgotten, and soon enough left his teashop altogether. He sighed and looked towards the backroom, where he kept his few personal possessions from a life long behind him. He'd attend to that matter soon enough, but for now he had a shop to clean up for tomorrow.

Shepard meanwhile was lost to her thoughts once more, having been unable to answer those simple yet very pointed questions. Who was she indeed, and what did she want? It should have been easy to answer, yet when asked, she froze, unable to find the words that should have been so easy to find. It took her a lot of soul searching, an irony not lost on her given her state of being at that time, but it wasn't until she went back to Iroh's teashop and saw a closed sign on the front door almost a week later that she was pulled out of her self reflection. "Iroh?" She called out, surprised that he wasn't open for business since she thought he'd always be open. There was a schedule on the front door that pretty much said that he was open nearly 24/7, yet the proof before her told another story. Something didn't add up here.

Seeing the toad spirit from the other day sitting in the grass on the edge of the half circle of trees, which in turn surrounded the back of Iroh's shop, Elizabeth walked over to the toad. "Excuse me? Do you know where Iroh is by chance?"

"Ah, it's you! Elizabeth yes?" The toad exclaimed happily before remembering his manners, and gave a sheepish sounding ribbit when he realized his mistake. "Oh, yes yes, sorry. Today is his son's birthday. He celebrates the occasion alone in a clearing not so far from his shop."

"His son? I didn't know he had one." Elizabeth mused, while the toad did his best to shrug since he didn't know the specifics either. "Thanks for your help." She said shortly afterwards.

"You're most welcome Elizabeth. Take care!" The toad called out to her back.

It took a little time, but she soon caught up with the former General. What she saw though prevented her from calling out to him. The simple marker he had set up in the center of a flower covered clearing, fire lilies if she wasn't mistaken, their red, vibrant petals reaching towards the sun giving them the illusion of being wreathed in gently glowing flames, and the way he looked sadly down at a black and white, hand drawn picture of his son, told her all she needed to know. Calling this a birthday celebration, as that toad had wrongfully assumed, was just insulting, but like so many things with Iroh, there was a reason behind his actions.

As much as she felt like she was intruding on a private moment, she couldn't find it in herself to leave as Iroh soon had two incense sticks lit and placed before the small grave and the picture he had set up against the rock. "Happy birthday my son." He whispered before folding his legs underneath him, his hands on his knees as he bowed his head. "If only I could have helped you."

Regret had never sounded so heartbreaking to the marine as Iroh began to sing, tears thick in his voice, yet he pressed onward. Persisted, might have been a better word, but however one chose to describe the scene playing out for her, one thing became painfully clear for Shepard. Untethered and free to explore the Spirit World as he was, Iroh still paid homage to the son he had lost. It was what made him who he was now, and who he had been to Zuko if she were any judge. The pain of losing his son had shaped him into the wise, caring, compassionate man he was now, constantly trying to guide people like Korra, Aang, Zuko, and now, her if his little Pai Sho game almost a week ago was anything to go by.

Elizabeth slipped away without a word, having seen enough. More importantly though, she had a newfound, deep respect for the Dragon of the West. The contradiction she had noted between who he'd been and who he was now was starting to make a lot of sense, but it was also answering questions she had had no answer to before regarding herself. She didn't return to the tea shop that day, both because he probably wasn't up for company, but also because she had needed the time to ponder what she had learned about him, and herself no less.

That didn't stop her from returning the next morning, only to see Iroh waiting for her at the front door, a sad, knowing smile on his face. "I never knew you were there, until I saw your tracks on my way home yesterday." He explained, answering her unspoken question as he opened the door and held it open for her.

Despite her shame and embarrassment at having spied on him during such a private affair, Shepard accepted the invitation without complaint. "I didn't mean to intrude, but when I saw the closed sign on the door, I got a little worried."

"It is fine, and it is greatly appreciated that you were worried for me, although I can handle myself just fine." Iroh replied softly, some of his earlier cheer returning as he started for the kitchen area behind the counter. "The fact you have returned is cause for celebration. I was worried for you, when you left without finishing our game."

Shepard smiled sadly in turn and rubbed the back of her neck, apparently forgiven her transgression, if he had even considered an apology was even needed in the first place. "You were just trying to help, but I couldn't answer the questions you posed to me. So I did the only thing I could think of, instead of facing it head on."

"Hmm, but you have the wisdom to admit your failings, that takes far more strength than most people ever realize." Iroh replied and reached up to put a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. "Too many go through life, without ever asking themselves what makes them truly happy. Some people, like us, do not realize we have all that we could ever desire, until it is no longer at our side."

"What was his name?" Elizabeth asked once Iroh had turned around and started walking to grab more tea for them to share. Instead he paused mid step, and looked over his shoulder. "What was your son's name?" She asked again, needing to know so she had a name to go with the face.

"Lu Ten, he died fighting a foolish war that was not our own." Iroh answered simply, only to turn around just as quickly so he was facing her fully. "And what of you?"

The obvious answer was not the right one. No, the true answer, the one she had come to terms with, albeit in her own way, was the right way to go. But it went beyond that, what he was truly asking was what had started her on the path to becoming who she was now. Or rather, who she had lost in her own life. "Hannah and Daniel Shepard." She replied softly, her voice barely above a whisper, at least at first. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Shepard pressed on. "They died defending our home from beings that didn't know any better, molded by those that had come before in much the same way as the Fire Nation once was."

Iroh nodded sagely, more than satisfied by the answer she had given. His simple gesture reminded her of their first conversation together, on how they were not so different from each other, that they were all connected in some fundamental way. The Batarian Hegemony, along with the budding Krogan Empire, and the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes and asari society, the Earth Kingdom turned Republic and the Systems Alliance? Even the Air Nomads and many of the old, monastic religions such as the Justicars or the religion Thane had practiced up until his death, had more than a few similarities between them that went beyond mere coincidence, even if they were vastly different in many respects as well.

But such thoughts and revelations were for another time as she heard Iroh humming softly to himself while he mixed up a fresh pot of tea. Deciding she had felt sorry for herself and all the things she was afraid of long enough, she went behind the counter to lend a hand. Iroh looked up from his work and smiled, before happily beginning an explanation on how to properly brew a good pot of tea.

Once they were sitting on either side of a Pai Sho board once more did Iroh ask his questions once again. Shepard nodded and set her cup of tea down, but kept her hands around the small cup, her emerald eyes downcast as she once more tried to find the words that had failed her the first time around. "With no more war to fight, yet having found a new threat to contend with, I didn't allow myself time to consider what comes once there are no more enemies to take down. Sure, in the place I came from, the place we came from, there will always be crime and organizations that need to be put out of business, but those moments of peace between confrontations? What do I do then? That's the kind of question I didn't allow myself to think about, too afraid to give those questions the time of day because that would require me thinking about all the things we had to do just to ensure we had a future."

"And now Elizabeth?" Iroh asked, gently nudging her to where she needed to go. Whether she resisted still or finally gave voice to a hope that she'd see the end of the fighting she had nearly lost herself to, was entirely up to her. "Who are you, what do you want?"

"I'm a marine, I've been a marine ever since the attack on Mindoir, even if I didn't have the training and the uniform to go with it." Shepard finally looked up to Iroh's face, just as a sad smile started to appear on her lips. "But….I'm also a person, just as Korra is more than the Avatar. I'm Elizabeth Shepard, a human, born on a small colony on another planet perhaps, but that's who I've been running away from. For the longest time I had to separate those two people, because I believed Elizabeth wouldn't have been strong enough to fight what had crawled out of dark space. In reality, they were always the same."

"And you've been out of balance because of your belief you could not be both at once. Yet it is this very person, fractured in two as you wrongfully believed, that has drawn so many to your side." His choice of words would have sounded strange under any other context, but they were appropriate here as Iroh nodded his approval upon seeing the realization dawn behind her eyes, that had since begun to clear up upon accepting the truth of herself. "She has always been there Elizabeth, Commander, Spectre, uniter, father. The title does not matter, only how you view yourself."

"And I say again, Zuko was damn lucky to have you in his life." Shepard stated and wiped her sleeve across her eyes before clearing her throat. Taking a moment to savor the tea before her, Shepard felt better than she could remember feeling in a long time as she looked to the board between them. Even when customers began to arrive, along with the few spirits that regularly helped Iroh behind the counter, no one interfered in the Pai Sho game they were seen playing well into the evening. It didn't matter she lost every game, only that she had someone to share the time with, someone that had taught her the most valuable lesson of all without even trying.

When it came time to leave, for good, Shepard was able to look Iroh in the eye as she answered the questions without hesitation. "Who am I, what do I want. When you first asked me that, I ran. Now however, I know." Iroh only smiled as Shepard turned her back to him and started to walk away. Her answer was her own, and to the unobservant it would appear she was still running, but Iroh knew better. When she started to disappear, drawn back to the physical realm, the Dragon of the West watched on with pride, as well as a little sadness since it had felt good to have someone at his side again.

"Be well on your journey, Commander Elizabeth Shepard." He whispered to the wind as Shepard faded completely from view.

The Sato Estate

Present day

"What answers did you find?" Liara asked, having shared the experience through the asari meld since some things words simply couldn't express, and besides, Elizabeth had wanted to show her rather than simply try to explain it that morning. Last night they had been too tired and happy to talk things out in the depth they had needed to, an excuse that hadn't applied when they had woken up several hours later.

Leaning on her side facing the beautiful asari in their bed, Elizabeth smiled languidly as she idly traced patterns across her cheek with her fingertips. "That I want to be here, with you, and our family, despite how scared I am of screwing things up. That I don't ever want to let you go, even if we're both shattered and broken from our years fighting the Reapers." She whispered and left a tender kiss on Liara's forehead before she wrapped her arms around her and pulled the asari close. "I might be a marine and a Council Spectre, just as you're the Shadow Broker, but we're both more than our titles. That one day soon we'll have to start asking ourselves what we truly want out of life when we're not busy saving the galaxy or a single planet." She sighed heavily then, and closed her eyes as she nestled her head in the crook of Liara's shoulder. "I feel stupid almost giving this up."

"I'm just glad you're back." Liara whispered in turn and smiled, her face hidden against Shepard's neck.

"Thank Iroh. He made me realize what I had right in front of me." Shepard stated and pulled away a little so they were face to face once more. "Zaheer might have started me in the right direction, but Iroh was the one that did the rest."

"I might just do that when we visit the Spirit World in the next couple days. We'll need to visit this Library ran by Wan Shi Tong as well, to confirm what Zaheer and Jinora discovered there." Shepard chuckled as Liara blushed upon realizing she was already planning their trip down to the last detail, and they had only just decided to go yesterday afternoon upon discovering there might be a way to restore Korra's past lives there. "Goddess, I don't know how you put up with me sometimes."

"Heh, it's part of your charm Liara. Come on, we've wasted enough time here." Shepard teased, left one last kiss on Liara's cheek, and promptly got out of bed before moving to collect her clothes for the day.

Going downstairs revealed a small gathering of her closest friends and family in various states of suffering from hangovers brought on from last night's party. Tali looked especially quessy as she groaned softly from a couch situated against the wall in the main foyer. "Ugh….I am never getting drunk again."

"That's what you get for trying to drink Traynor under the table." Garrus chuckled softly, mindful of his girlfriend's no doubt pounding head. "Who knew our resident comms geek could hold her liquor."

"Ngh….don't talk so loudly Garrus." Sam groaned, an ice pack held against her head. "I might have won our little drinking contest, but I don't know how I got this knot on my head, and it's killing me as we speak."

Garrus chuckled again, taking a little too much enjoyment from the situation before him. "Your headbutting Grunt might have had something to do with it."

"I what?!" Sam spluttered, the pain in her head forgotten.

"He's right Traynor, I was impressed. I didn't think you had it in you personally." Elizabeth said as she and Liara decided to interrupt before Garrus could dig himself a bigger hole with Tali so close at hand. Instead of letting them linger on their assorted woes brought on by last night's much needed festivities, Shepard decided to get them moving for the day. "I know we're all a little worn out from last night's fun, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to prepare for the trip in a couple days. Obviously it'd be stupid and dangerous to take everyone, so I'm trusting you guys to keep the city safe while the away team gets some answers, and hopefully get Korra's past lives back while we're at it."

"I'll pass the word along, Skipper." Ashley said as she and James wandered downstairs themselves. "And I didn't say it before, but it's damn good to have you back ma'am."

"It's good to be back." Shepard said, and while her words were heard by all those present, Liara knew they were meant for her alone.

Having decided to wait until things had settled down to get caught up regarding what had happened during her two week absence, Shepard was soon brought up to speed. She nodded her approval as she looked over the revised map of the gangs and their former locations, and couldn't help the whistle of approval that escaped her. "I think I can safely take back all those jokes about you being useless without me."

"Very funny Lola." James chuckled and waved one meaty hand dismissively. "I think it's safer to say you'd be lost without us Shepard."

"Eh, true. It's still good to know you kept busy, I bet Beifong's wondering what to do with all her new prisoners." Letting her eyes sweep over the map they had rolled out on Asami's table, Elizabeth rubbed at her chin as she wondered, as the rest of her team did no doubt, as to where they had all gone. "Any news or leads as to where the rest of the Red Monsoons, Triple Threats, and the chi blockers disappeared to?"

"Unfortunately no, and the Remnant has also been pretty quiet as well since we took out the Agni Kais and the Terra Triad." Tali informed her just as Kasumi appeared at her side, a frown just visible underneath her hood.

"The tracers I planted were discovered and smashed apart as well, but we were able to raid a couple of their hideouts before they caught onto how we were tracking them." Kasumi said and gave a weary sigh. "Wish we could have finished the job though. It feels like we've left the mess for you and Liara to clean up." A frustrated grunt escaped her, and she slapped a hand on the table. When she did, everyone stopped and stared when a small but strong gust of wind escaped her upon impact with Asami's table. Asami had seen it before, as had Korra, when Bumi and more than a few people across the city and the Earth Kingdom began to manifest airbending, but most of Shepard's people were caught completely by surprise, as was Kasumi herself. "Huh. That'" She muttered, her eyes wide underneath her hood as the air stilled, and the few loose papers she had blasted aside began to fall around them, unnoticed by all.

"I guess I'm not the only one now. That's both reassuring and a little terrifying." Shepard stated, as everyone else wondered the same thing she was. While not necessarily a bad thing for them, the thought any of them could develop the power to bend, unless biotics like Liara and Jack couldn't, wasn't an immediately cheerful thought. Still, she supposed there were worse things this world could do to them. With all the talk of forces trying to balance themselves out they had heard since crashing on this planet, maybe it was the universe's way of spreading this back to the rest of the galaxy, by starting with them? It was useless to speculate, but whatever the case was, Shepard regained her composure about the same time Liara did. "You gonna be alright Kasumi?"

"Huh?" Kasumi asked, and blinked in confusion before a mischievous smile started to pull at her lips. "I'll admit it's a little surprising to find out like that, but I think I'll be just fine. I might follow Joker and EDI's example and move out to Air Temple Island for a while, if only to learn from the best airbenders around, but yeah, I think I'll be alright. In the meantime though, what do you want us to do while you, our lovely duo, and Liara are gone?"

Shepard nodded, smiled broadly at one of her long time friends, and relaxed as the tension in the room disappeared about the same time. "For now, just keep your ear to the ground. If the Remnant pop up, or you find any of the gangs that have since disappeared, do what you can to cripple their efforts as you deem fit. We tried to play by their rules and it nearly got us killed more than once. And while I'd still prefer to avoid a bloodbath, I'm not holding anyone back any longer."

"So basically do what we do best eh Shepard?" Jack asked, her arms crossed and a cocky grin plastered on her face.

"Pretty much." Shepard replied.

"Good, I was getting tired of sitting on my damn hands." Despite her words, the knowing, accepting gleam in Jack's eyes told Elizabeth, as did the rest of the looks aimed her way, that they'd do their best to live up to her expectations while she did what she could to help Korra rediscover her very long past. To see those looks made Shepard very happy and proud to have assembled such a steadfast group, and she added that to her growing, sincere list of reasons to be thankful to still be breathing.

Her ship's crew had been with her during her darkest moments. When it looked like galactic civilization was about to be destroyed, they remained steadfast by her side, giving her the strength she needed to do what had to be done. They were with her now, during these very strange times with the same resolve, and if she had any say in this then they would always be part of her family. No matter how many years would pass.

Air Temple Island

Joker only shook his head when news reached him regarding Kasumi having discovered she was an airbender. "Stick in the mud Tenzin's just gonna love having her around as a student." Joker said into his omni-tool, the grin on his face saying it all.

Shepard chuckled but nodded, knowing exactly what Jeff was getting at. "I already gave her the talk about keeping her kleptomania under control, but we'll see how long that lasts. If anything though, it might do Tenzin some good to have a little harmless fun forced on him." Hesitating only a moment, Shepard rubbed the back of her hand with her free hand before asking a question she should have asked a long time ago. "How are you holding up Jeff?"

Jeff, to her surprise, smiled softly before nodding his head to the side as he aimed his omni-tool towards the sky. From there, Shepard could see more of Tenzin's Air Nomads doing maneuvers, and among them, a silver haired young girl stuck out like a sore thumb. "I'm doin' alright Shep. Turns out having someone to try and help on a regular basis does wonder for your own troubles. Saria's a good kid, she just needed a brittle boot up her ass."

Shepard smirked and nodded her head in response, more than happy to see the light having returned to Jeff's face. "Glad to hear it Joker. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to do more for you."

"Not your fault Shepard, you had a lot on your plate already. 'Sides, I still got EDI, although having Saria around as that annoying parasitic sister figure doesn't hurt." Joker said with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Joker…." Shepard reprimanded, even as she tried to keep her amusement off her face.

"Alright alright, so she's not that annoying." He backpedaled quickly in an effort to placate her as he turned his omni-tool back on his face. Looking up, Joker grinned as he met Shepard's gaze once more. "Anyway Shep, glad to see you're back. I gotta go, Saria's about to land. She wanted a chance to show off or something."

"Now where have I heard that before?" Shepard asked and grinned as Joker rolled his eyes in retort. "Take care of yourself Joker."

"You too Shepard." Joker deactivated his omni-tool just as Saria landed and folded her air glider shut with an almost practiced flick of her wrist. "Well what do ya know, you almost look like an Air Nomad kid instead of a drowned cat."

"Yeah yeah, you don't have to pretend you're impressed or anything flyboy." Saria shot back before happily hugging Joker around his midriff. EDI watched it all with a smile as they soon broke apart before Saria nodded her head to the synthetic. "I don't know how you put up with him."

"I manage.