After saying her farewells to Blackstone Isle and to the station she'd called home until today, the once Great Uniter for the Earth Empire Kuvira boarded the vessel destined to Harbor City and towards the next chapter on her path towards redemption. About an hour ago, as she busied herself packing her few belongings, her mind had wandered back to the memories of the people and the places that left an indelible mark in her life. Kuvira could still remember how stunned she had been when she had been informed of the decision to transfer her from an isolated maximum security cell in Republic City’s penitentiary to a frozen and remote island off the coast of the South Pole. She knew her life was bound for a significant change but she would have never anticipated just how much of a change it would be. Or that she was destined to fight for her own existence.
That is why and much to her astonishment, when the moment to leave finally arrived with Chief Beifong, Bumi, and the White Lotus guards flanking her on their way towards the ship, it became hard for her to part from this harsh yet rewarding place and its inhabitants. The veteran mentor Sammi with his walrus mustache and steadfast friendship. The patient and skilled technician Eda. The stern yet amiable captain Jin. They had not only welcomed her and since day one refused to treat her as a prisoner, they’d accepted her as one of their own. During the time she worked alongside the crew of the surveillance station, Kuvira had become part of a team and in hard work and camaraderie, she found a renewed purpose for her existence. Her brush with a frozen death reaffirmed her will to live. The experiences shared with the new friends she made kindled the spark of hope back into her heart. As she waved goodbye from the ship’s stern, she secretly thanked the spirits for the darkness of the night shrouding the tears she was shedding as the vessel swiftly moved away leaving the isle behind. The weight of Sammi’s parting gift inside her pocket made her smile inwardly despite the cool crisp wind gusts buffeting her face. She let out a chuckle at the prospect of sharing the gift with Korra in the near future and her memory served to lift the blues of the farewell to friends. At the other side of the world, the Avatar was waiting for her. But new challenges also awaited her.
The journey towards Harbor City had been a smooth, uneventful one and soon she found herself back at the Southern Water Tribe capital greeted by familiar sights. Now, as she rested inside the splendid guest room in Chief Tonraq’s palace, sitting down on a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace with a snoring Naga at her feet and guards outside her door, a sense of déjà vu overcame Kuvira. It was all so familiar and yet, the purpose of her temporary stay was completely different this time around. In a blink of an eye, her immediate future took a 180 degree turn. Instead of completing her sentence in exile on a snowy island detached from the most part from the troubles of the world, she was returning once again to an imperiled Earth Kingdom. Once more, she was about to join a collective effort to stabilize the fragile order of a country in the midst of a political renewal. But this time, she was not going to have sharp uniforms or grandiloquent speeches or the might of an army behind for support. She was returning as a paroled prisoner, a defeated leader, a humbled woman. Despite all of this, she had been called back perhaps in the long yet still possible odd she could repeat the feat of spreading order where disorder once staked its claim. Kuvira sincerely hoped that the cumulative wealth of experiences, genuine repentance and maturity acquired during the past three years that followed her surrender could aid her where power and strength could not. The daunting challenge weighting on her mind stirred a familiar restlessness that made her abandon the comfort of her chair to seek the solace of the Spirit Lights visible from her room’s balcony.
The South Pole had left permanent marks on Kuvira. It had stirred from its deep slumber her sense of wonder with its breathtaking natural sights and its harsh beauty. She had almost perished when she underestimated the raw and unpredictable power of nature. After that, she came to respect that power and those who endeavored to work in harmony with it. The South Pole was also the home country of the person who mattered the most to her now. The one who saved her life countless times and was the sole owner of her heart. The last time she stood at this balcony she had been surrounded by the strong arms of the extraordinary woman who had saved the world and protected the second chance of a nation deemed extinct to exist again. For some unknown reason, this woman was doggedly determined to save Kuvira from herself. Even more unwavering was her determination for Kuvira to believe in her own worthiness. The metalbender hugged herself as she pictured the blue eyes that had aided her in keeping her sanity in check and the smile that reassured her she was worthy of happiness despite her dark deeds. The restlessness she felt now wasn't triggered by worries stemmed from her new challenge. Instead, she grew impatient to encounter the owner of the sapphire eyes she had lost herself into so many times one more time.
Kuvira had been so engrossed in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice when Chief Lin Beifong crossed her room until she reached the balcony and stood beside her, her green gaze lost amidst the bright colors of the Spirit Lights shimmering from afar.
“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” Lin offered in a quiet tone.
“It is” Kuvira breathed.
“It is very peaceful here, No wonder you didn’t even flinch when I came in.”
“To be honest, I didn’t register you were here until you spoke. As you said, this place is beautiful. It soothes my mind.”
“That’s good to know. Perhaps I should take my next leave of absence here and see if I can finally relax a bit. Spirits know I’m in dire need of a break.”
Kuvira offered the Chief of Police a sympathetic glance. “I really hope you do once we deal with whatever’s happening in the Earth Kingdom.”
“Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“My things are packed and ready but I’m not sure if I’m truly prepared to return. I don’t know if that’s even possible given my circumstances.”
Lin chuckled at the honest response. “I guess we will all find out when we make it there. Anyway, I didn’t come to watch the pretty lights. I came to relay a message. There’s a radio call waiting for you at the communications room but don’t take too long. Tomorrow we have to meet Tenzin inside the Spirit Portal at noon and from what I’ve been told, we have to leave early in order to make it.”
Kuvira nodded. It was been quite ingenious the shortcut they had devised to reach Republic City faster: through the portals and for a second time in her life, Kuvira would emerge from the Spirit Portal created by Korra and her own Spirit Weapon.
“Don’t worry Lin, I’ll be there on time. Chief Tonraq himself will be guiding us, right?”
“That is correct. Now go and get your call. I’ll see you tomorrow”
“Good night Lin!” And upon saying this, Kuvira left her room and quickly sprinted behind a guard that led her towards a narrow room packed with communications equipment. After her stay at the isle and the experience acquired repairing antenna arrays, she had become quite familiarized with the gadgets. In fact, she remembered contacting Jin on a daily basis from this very same room the last time she had been here. Kuvira heard the crackling sound of an open transmission and noticed the single red light at the panel. She sat down on the chair in front of the panel and picked up the microphone excitedly.
“Hey!” A familiar voice from the speaker greeted her enthusiastically.
“Hey yourself” the former captain greeted back happily. “Shouldn’t you be resting? I believe you have a busy schedule ahead of you.”
“Yeah, I do, but look at you. You aren’t sleeping either.”
“Because someone is keeping me awake right now” Kuvira replied with a mock accusatory tone.
“Not the way that I would like, mind you” the Avatar replied mischievously.
“I hope you don’t have a lot of people around you right now.” The former captain felt color gathering on her cheeks. As she had come to learn during their relationship, Korra knew exactly how to incite certain responses from her even from a distance.
Korra chuckled. “Don’t worry, I’m at the airship’s comm room alone and you should be my last call for the night” she replied reassuringly. “So how’s my mom and dad and Naga?”
“Chief Tonraq has been very welcoming as well as your mom. They received us with dinner and they even prepared my old room and got me some clothes for the trip tomorrow. Naga pinned me to a wall with her front paws and licked my face so I guess that means she remembered me.”
“Awww, she does. She really likes you.”
“That’s what I thought too. She’s sleeping at my room right now.” Kuvira paused for a moment, taking the opportunity to organize her thoughts. There had been a subject that had weighted over her throughout her travel to Harbor City. Lin’s words back at Blackstone Isle were still echoing inside her head and she knew she had to sincere herself with Korra if she wanted their relationship to thrive.
“Kuvira, are you still there?” The Avatar sounded concerned.
“Yes, I’m here. I’m glad you called because there’s something that I would like to talk to you about since we have the chance.”
“Well, you’ve got my undivided attention. Go ahead.”
The former captain inhaled deeply. Opening her heart and soul to another person had never been her forte and very few had reached her core, Bataar being among the few who could truly claim they did. Eventually, even her fiancée was eventually kept at a distance as the Empire became her priority and the only face she offered to him was the one she had available to everybody else. That of the ambitious, unyielding tyrant unwilling to make herself accountable to anyone. That side of her was the one that led her to her ruin.
“Before I begin, I want you to know that I believe everything you said before you left but I still need to tell you this. This is not easy for me. When it comes to addressing masses of people, I can be great at speech making but when it comes to my emotions, it’s another story. I just don’t feel that comfortable opening up about my feelings with others.”
“I think I’ve noticed that” retorted Korra.
“So, I’ve decided I needed to be honest with you about today. Truth is, I almost escaped and probably I would have succeeded hadn’t been for Lin stopping me.”
Korra gasped audibly. “Wait what? But why?”
“Let me explain. I know you are aware that I overhead your conversation with Ms. Sato and before you interrupt, no, I’m not upset by the fact that you two kissed. She’s your ex and you will always have some feelings for her.”
Korra felt heat suddenly rising to her cheeks as she wondered how it might have seemed from Kuvira’s point of view to see her kissing Asami. “You saw that? Kuvira I didn’t mean…” Korra stammered nervously.
“I know and as I told you, I’m not upset about that but the conversation reminded me of many realities of our current situation. You’ve done so much for me. You’ve supported me when I was despairing and broken. You have nursed me back to health, both physically and mentally when you visited me in prison and when you rescued me from a freezing death. You’ve saved my life but more than that, you’ve helped me to recover my own sanity and self-esteem. I feel I have worth as a human being again despite all the wrongs I’ve committed and most of that it has been because of you. I owe you so much I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay you.”
“Then why you tried to escape?” Even through the radio transmission, Kuvira could sense the pain and the incredulity seeping through Korra’s voice.
“Because I don’t want to be a burden to you. I don’t want to ruin your life. You are the Avatar and you love what you do and who you are. That’s why you approached me, because that’s who you are. You want to make things right. You want to bring balance and harmony to the world as it has been tasked to you. You helped somebody who was despairing and it didn’t matter that I used to be your enemy because you saw an opportunity for me to become a better person regardless of what the world said or thought.”
“I still don’t get it…” Korra sounded hurt which made Kuvira’s stomach twist into knots.
“I wanted to set you free so you could find happiness without being weighed down by all the risks you take associating with me. I don’t want to ruin your life or your reputation. You are a public figure and I don’t want to put you in a difficult position publicly because you don’t deserve it. The world needs their Avatar, they need you and they should love and admire you after all you’ve done to protect it. I…I wanted for you to have all the happiness you truly deserve openly. Ms. Sato is all that I’m not and she wants to make you happy in ways I can’t. That would have been my gift to you.”
After a long pause, Korra’s voice broke the silence of the comm room.
“That’s why you wanted to run away? Because you believe what I feel for you burdens me?”
“Yes.” Admitting it out loud felt like a lash across her heart. She loathed feeling like ballast weighting down all the good that Korra did.
The Avatar retorted brusquely. “Don’t you think I should have a say in this? I believe I’ve stated my choice clearly. Have you realized how hurt I’ve would felt when I realized you were gone?”
The tone of her voice twisted even more the knots inside her belly. “I know but I just couldn’t stand not being able to do something for you. I wanted to believe that the pain would be momentarily...that you would have eventually found comfort with Ms. Sato. Korra, you’re always sticking your neck out for me and is frustrating being in this situation…being…”
“Yes…it just drives me insane.” Kuvira's low voice sounded almost ragged, visceral.
Korra let out a long exhale. “Perhaps you are supposed to feel that way now. To be in a position to accept that there are things that you cannot control and you can’t fix. Maybe you should learn to accept help, to even accept love from the most unexpected places.”
“But isn’t that unfair?”
“Life isn’t what’s fair and what’s unfair. Perhaps a big injustice was done to me when I became the reincarnation of the Avatar. I will never live a normal life. I didn’t get to choose my destiny, it was already decided the instant I bended a second element. What the Red Lotus did to me certainly wasn’t fair. They sought to destroy an 18 year old girl just because she represented the ideals they abhorred.” Korra’s voice broke down for a moment, the suffering she experimented flashing momentarily through her mind’s eye.
“Korra…?” It was now Kuvira’s turn to be concerned.
“I’m here… “
“You don’t have to continue if you want…this is stirring painful memories for you.”
“No, hear me out now. Was it fair for you to have been abandoned by your parents? To be forgotten when you lost everything? No, but this has nothing to do with fairness. It is what we can do to make the most of what we’ve been given.”
“But you don’t get it. I still want to do something…” Kuvira interjected, her voice drowned in emotion. “I want to protect you from beasts like Zaheer, from people like the one I used to be. I don’t want to pull you down with the load of my mistakes. What happiness can you really derive from our love if it drags you down spoiling all the good that you do?”
“I’m not perfect and the world cannot expect me to be perfect. I’m not doing anything improper in my relationship with you. You are just as worthy as anybody else to deserve a second chance, and if the world can’t accept my decision, that’s their loss, not mine.”
“People’s judgements can be cruel.”
“Oooh, I know that all too well. If it had been for the judgement of the world during my three year absence, I should have sacrificed myself to allow the Avatar cycle to continue and have a new Avatar, one that wasn’t damaged.”
“Spirits Korra…” Kuvira wasn’t able to continue. The mere thought of an existence with Korra pained her too much.
“You have realized that you are a consequence of what was done to me, right? That my absence meant you had to step in and do something about the Earth Kingdom.”
“I...I had thought about it once but I didn’t dwell on the subject for too long. Remember that I was there when they tried to kidnap you. I know they took the airbenders to force you to give yourself, and I was there when your father tried to rescue you. I understand how brutal the whole ordeal was.” The former captain paused for a moment trying to measure her next words. “I admit that I was very frustrated with the whole situation. The instability that Zaheer triggered when he murdered Queen Hou-Ting. Su’s refusal to take the reins of the country. And yes, I might have been upset by the fact that you weren’t around to help us stabilize the Earth Kingdom, but I just pressed on. We weren't aware of what you were really going through at the time. I gained nothing skulking in your absence when there was so much to be done.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’ve been wanting to tell you this because sometimes I feel I’m responsible for the burden you inherited.”
Korra’s response astounded Kuvira. “You have nothing to apologize for Korra. You were hurt…they tried to kill you!”
“But that didn’t change the fact I was still the Avatar and I had a duty to fulfill. And I was helpless, I was incapable of fulfilling it because I was broken. And because I was broken you were called to do something about your nation. And here we are now. You are suffering the consequences of your own ill decisions but also of what others did to me that prevented me from doing my duty. Don’t you think that we both deserve to enjoy what little happiness we get to find after all of this?”
“I…I guess so…”
“Your path keeps crossing with mine and mine with yours and now it has taken us here. I’ve told you before. I love you, the woman who you are now and that keeps showing me the resolve to become a better person. I want you to accept me even if might be frustrating and it doesn’t make any sense. I need you by my side when the world chastises me for choosing you because if you’re with me then I won’t care about what they say about me. And I want you to allow yourself to love because you have changed and you deserve it.”
The conviction in Korra’s words all but obliterated any remaining resistance Kuvira kept to deny herself this chance at happiness.
“Damnit Korra, why you have to make this so hard? Why don’t you make things easy for yourself? Asami loves you and she wants you back.” Kuvira voice was breaking now, the sobs colliding inside her throat.
Korra felt her own tears escaping the corners of her eyes, her voice thick with emotion. “Because I want you. Don’t you know that the Avatar gets what she wants? And the fact that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for my happiness makes me want you even more.”
Kuvira chuckled despite the tears. “You are stubborn and hopeless.”
“Face it commander, you’re not going to win this one.”
“No, I guess not.”
“So, what are you going to do?” Korra queried expectantly.
Kuvira smiled, her voice through the speaker transmitting firmly and clearly her wish. “I want you too, if you would have me.”
“Of course I will have you! And don’t even think about leaving me like that, okay?”
“No. I won’t run away from you anymore. I’m so sorry for trying. I don’t think I can anymore.”
“Admit it, I’m irresistible. Seriously though, thank you for this. For being honest and for staying.”
The warmth in the Avatar’s voice melted the knots that had clustered inside her stomach. “I believe I owed you this conversation for a long time. These thoughts have assaulted me for a while but I have never stopped loving you even if I have felt I don’t deserve you.”
“You have no idea how happy I feel right now. You’re lucky I’m miles away from you because I would give you plenty reasons to stay awake right now.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad. I miss you, you know. I miss my personal heater.”
Korra chuckled remembering how she heated the mulled wine cup for Kuvira and the reward she received for the gesture. “I miss you too and if I start saying all the things I miss then I really won’t be able to sleep.”
“Can you tell me just one thing you miss? Something nice?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, anything you really like about us...besides sex" Kuvira added almost to herself.
Korra guffawed at that. “Okay but you gotta admit things are really good in that department.”
“They’re amazing but there’s more to us than that, I hope.”
“Of course you dork but I enjoy messing with you.”
“You sure do.”
Korra allowed for a dramatic pause before uttering in a most sensual, playful tone: “Soooo you think our sex is amazing, hmm? Have I told you how I really like it how you whisper my name with that sexy voice of yours when I make you…”
Kuvira sounded between mortified and attempting to contain laughter from bursting out. “Didn’t we just agree to talk about other things beside sex? It’s not that I don’t like…”
The metalbender didn't finish the sentence because Korra literally exploded in laughter through the radio. “You know what I really miss? It’s the expression that I know you are making right now. I bet your eyebrows are burrowed and your mouth is twitching. You look simply adorable when you try to remain serious but you’re trying hard not to laugh.”
“Why you…you are terrible, you know!” Kuvira squealed flabbergasted as she searched for a reflective surface. Her expression was exactly as Korra had just described.
“I know it. That’s what makes me so lovable. Now seriously, what about you. What do you miss?”
Kuvira hummed before replying. “I miss your warmth and I don’t mean that you heat things with your bending. I mean you. I like having your arms surrounding me, keeping me warm and protected. You’ve spoiled me and now is hard not having you beside me.”
“Yup. I can’t believe I’m telling you this.”
“You know what? I’m glad you are. You shouldn’t be afraid of telling me what you think. When you are at most vulnerable is when I want to hold on to you tight and never let go. I feel so privileged when you share that with me because I understand it’s not easy for you to admit it.”
“It is not but it is getting easier with you.”
“Nobody would believe it with that tough girl reputation of yours.”
“Shush, that’s our secret. Let the world keep believing I’m tough as nails, I need to maintain my reputation.”
Korra let out a chuckle that turned into a long yawn. “I would love to continue this but I should listen to your original advice and get some rest. You too. You should be traveling to Republic City with Bumi, Lin and Tenzin tomorrow but I warn you, don’t expect a riveting conversation on the way back with that company.”
It was Kuvira’s turn to laugh. “I’ll bring a book with me then. And I’m glad I’m getting some sense to get through you.
“See? I can listen. And we should do this again, just talk like this when we meet in Zaofu, okay?”
“I’ll look forward to it. And Korra, I’m sorry for being so selfish. I didn’t even consider how you are faring now that you have to deal with Ms. Sato. It must be really hard for you.”
“I knew this would happen sooner or later but you shouldn’t worry about that, okay? As you said, ‘Sami and I love each other and I’m sure we’ll manage somehow. But don’t get jealous please! I didn’t choose to be stuck in an airship with my ex!”
“You seem to forget that my ex will be in Zaofu.”
“Spirits, you’re right! And Suyin and the rest of the family. And you’ll be stuck with Lin. I’m afraid drama will be all but unavoidable.”
“Drama follows you Korra, but let’s call it a day.”
“Okay. Good night commander. I love you. And by the way, what I said about your voice is true, you know” Korra added playfully as a grin plastered across her face.
Kuvira arched an eyebrow. “Really? Then I hope you dream about it tonight.” Korra’s grin grew impossibly wider. The suggestive cadence Kuvira used to utter that last phrase all but guaranteed she would indeed dream about the subject.
“Now look who’s being terrible.”
“I might have picked it up from a certain someone. Good night Avatar. I love you.”
Moments later, as Kuvira walked towards her room she wondered if the dreamy mood she felt could be seen in her expression judging by the very amused glance Chief Beifong offered her when they crossed paths across the hall. The same joyful disposition kept her company for the rest of the night and in her dreams, she was sure she could feel strong loving arms engulfing her in a soothing warmth that dispelled any remaining insecurities away.