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when the cracks have all filled

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When news of Tenzin’s death reaches her, Asami is shopping, a basket of fresh greens and ripe melons on her arm. The messenger is an Air Nomad, her robes vibrant against the greens and browns of the Earth Kingdom, and after offering a dozen apologies for bringing such ill news, she asks if she might be taken to Korra to pass along the news.

Asami takes a steadying breath and smiles sadly, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “No, that’s alright. I’ll tell her. The trip back will be a long one, won’t it? Here, take this with you; they’re delicious at this time of year.”

She sets a melon between the Air Nomad’s hands and asks her to send her condolences back to Pema and the children, and then Asami hugs her and watches her open her glider and take off, her eyes glassy by the time she’s nothing more than a speck on the horizon. She wipes at her eyes and touches the greens when she finally turns away, remembering the first time she’d visited the Air Temple in Republic City. Pema had cooked something similar, and Tenzin had caught her in the hallway after dinner, apologizing for her father like it was his fault and telling her she could stay at the temple for as long as she liked.

She’d fallen asleep to the sound of wind chimes and the bay, the salt of the air and the salt of her tears. Tenzin made good on his promise, and she stayed long after he’d moved on with the rest of the Nomads.

Asami turns from the market, the evening sun warm on her shoulders and the back of her neck, and begins the hike back to the air ship. They landed above the town, nestled in the mountains where the spirits made their home, thick vines wrapped around the trunks of trees, hanging from branches. Korra couldn’t make the hike down for supplies, and so Asami comes and goes alone, and by the time she’s scaled the slopes, the sun has nearly set.

Smaller spirits skitter across the vines, but only the bigger one venture as far as the airship walkway. She passes one the looks like some kind of gecko-bat, but as she reaches to touch it, it gives a little scream and takes off into the brush, disappearing among the vines. She’s sure Korra will be hearing about that later.

Their airship is smaller than their last few models. This one was made custom by Asami and some of her best engineers, with an emphasis on speed and durability. There’s not so much need for space with just the two of them, and it makes finding landing zones in remote areas like this easier. When Mako and Bolin return—and they will, they promised—they might need to invest in more space so they aren’t all on top of each other, but for now, it’s nether too cramped nor too big for either of them.

“Korra?” Asami calls when she enters, pulling up the walkway behind her. The lobby of the ship is empty, and Asami wanders into the kitchen and sets her basket down to be washed and prepared later, but Korra is nowhere to be seen.

She tries the bedroom and the control room, but once she checks the work room and sees that Korra isn’t among the weights and targets, she knows there’s only one place left to look. Asami climbs to the top of the airship, and when she opens the hatch, she finds Korra among the hanging vines, the trunks of the great sentinel trees closing in around them.

Asami doesn’t speak immediately. Korra’s eyes are closed, her legs are crossed, and three spirits have taken up residence on her lap and shoulders. She looks peaceful in meditation, even if the dark circles beneath her eyes remain, and so Asami slips out onto the airship’s roof, sitting down nearby, her legs pulled in to her chest. The spirits eye her warily as she does, but she doesn’t mind. She pulls the tie from her hair and lets it fall about her shoulders, the streaks of silver prominent in the sun’s final rays. She might have brought reports on her corporation with her to study while she waits, but she knows the numbers would just swim before her, not sinking in, and so she closes her eyes and thinks about how Jinora must be holding vigil for her father still, accompanied by the other masters.

The air grows colder around her, and by the time she hears movement and opens her eyes, the sun has been down for some time.

“Asami?” Korra asks, her voice rasping. The spirits on her scatter, darting off into the vines in surprise. She blinks once, twice, and then rubs her eyes, rolling her shoulders carefully. She must have been meditating long before Asami returned.

“How was it?” Asami asks, standing and brushing herself off. She offers Korra a hand, and she takes it, pulling herself up with a grunt.

“I’m starving. You wouldn’t believe how hungry dealing with spirits can make you, and there were so many of them this time. Some gator-lion wanted me to convince the locals to stay out of his lake, but I told him they used that water for their plants, and if he didn’t toe the line, I’d make sure they started fishing there too. I think he got the point.”

She laughs, slipping her arm in Asami’s and leaning against her as they walk, her strides short and limping.

“You didn’t happen to grab some of those melons while you were down there, did you? I could eat a barrel of them right now.”

Asami smiles at her weakly in the pale light of the moon, a thin sliver hanging in the sky above them. “I did,” she tells her, touching her arm. She’s wiry, but Asami can still feel the echo of her old strength beneath her skin. The poison took much, but Korra remains, her back as straight as ever. It’s how Asami knows she won’t break her.

“There was a Nomad in the market,” she says. “They were looking for you.”

“All the way out here? I thought Tenzin was taking them south,” Korra says, frowning as Asami bends to open the hatch to the airship.

Asami straightens and takes Korra’s arm in her own again, pressing close to her. Her voice drops, and she touches Korra’s face, smoothing her thumb across her cheek. “Tenzin passed a few days ago, Korra. The Air Nomad came to tell you. I’m so sorry.”

Korra stop abruptly, the lines of her face making a picture of surprise. “He’s gone?”

Asami nods.

“How?”

“They found him meditating,” Asami says. They knew it was coming. News of Katara and Lord Zuko came first, and when Bumi followed, Asami knew it was only a matter of time before Kya and Tenzin did as well, but still, it was hard to imagine Tenzin—strong, sturdy Tenzin who commented on the quality of the air after a ten mile hike—gone.

The leaves of the great sentinel trees rustle with the wind, the forest around them coming alive with the sounds of spirits and animals both, and Korra—Korra breathes deep, closing her eyes and tipping her head back like she might find traces of Tenzin in the air. He’d always been a gust, a tornado, a cool draft from the bay. He was the one who taught Korra how to bend the air, and maybe he’d always been destined to find her again on the breeze.

“Are you going back?” she whispers.

“No,” Korra says, opening her eyes. “I’ll find him tomorrow. The Air Nomads hold vigils for their masters.”

Korra pulls her arm from Asami’s gently, and for a moment Asami thinks Korra intends to carry her own vigil here among the trees, but she does not sit. Korra limps toward the hatch, taking the first step back into the airship with leaden feet. She takes the second and then the third, and when she ducks into the airship on the fourth step, she glances over her shoulder at Asami, who stands in the darkness still.

“Come on,” she says. “I’ll need your help.”

In the light of the airship, she sees Korra clearly for the first time since she learned of Tenzin. Her mouth is a slant of pressed lips, but she is smiling, her jaw set, her brow a line of determination. Asami is at her side, but she walks on her own, her strides sure. Once she’d doubted she’d ever walk again, but Asami saw that fade with each step she could manage. Now she marches, to what ends, Asami knows not.

It doesn’t matter, she tells herself. She’s always been there with her. The ends don’t matter.

Together, they deploy the walkway and find themselves among the nocturnal spirits, the airship at their backs. The night glows ethereal with the presence of the spirits, and Korra wiggles out of her boots with Asami’s arm to steady her, digging her toes into the dirt. She breathes deep, widens her stance, and huffs, raising her arms and pulling the very earth up. It groans and fights against her, and the smaller spirits scatter, frightened by the noise, but Korra bends the rock to her will, erecting a slab of stone taller even than her and nearly twice her width.

She shakes with the strain of it, but as soon as she’s done it, she falls into another stance, jabbing a straight palm toward the stone and cleaving a chunk off before beginning to circle it, whittling away the rock one bit at a time.

Korra doesn’t pause for breath though she sweats and pants, and even when her arms tremble with exertion, she sucks in a deep breath and bends another piece away from the slab, narrowing the top so it sits upon a base. She cuts small chunks away from it, circling, circling, and Asami watches, her feet growing sore just from standing for so long.

The spirits which fled return as the night passes, and soon, there are even more than there were before, their eyes following Korra as she makes each cut, carving away at the rock until a shape begins to emerge.

Asami’s eyes widen in the darkness as she realizes, and for the first time since she began, Korra looks up from her work.

“Asami,” she calls, and she doesn’t even need to say another word.

Asami is at her back in an instant, her hands sliding down along Korra’s sweat slicked arms. She touches the mottled skin of her forearms, where the poison slipped in and sought her life. It’s sensitive she knows, so she turns her palms up and holds up Korra’s arms at her wrists. Asami presses in close at Korra’s back, face buried in her still dark hair, spreading her feet and getting ready.

“Slowly,” Asami says, and Korra nods, tense and focused.

They move together through the stances and around the stone until they’re cutting chunks away, sculpting the familiar line of a jaw with Asami’s strength supporting Korra through every motion. She can feel her heart against the back of her ribcage, a familiar thrum set to double time. No one else could do this, Asami knows, because no one else is this strong.

“The head now. And the shoulders,” Korra says.

Once, Korra told Asami if she was a bender, she would have been an earth bender. Asami had thought of Bolin and Chief Beifong, of wide shoulders and the unyielding nature of rock, and decided that the Avatar, for all she knew about bending, was dead wrong. She would have been a water bender, lithe and swift and powerful as the ocean. Now, helping Korra through her stances, the same she’s seen her practice day after day for years, she thinks she understands better: earth bending is about being solid. Solid enough to bend the most stubborn of elements. Solid enough to help her friends. She pushes through each motion until it feels like the earth is bending to them both, until the cut of robes and arrows are just as much from her as they are from Korra.

Spirits gather in flocks, some big, many small, but Asami has eyes only for the stone.

“Breathe through your nose and out your mouth,” Korra tells her, never faltering, never stopping.

The statue glows in the first rays of dawn, but still they work, forming the ears and then the hands. Asami’s muscles ache, but she can feel Korra trembling against her, falling out of step every so often. She presses her lips to a line and works harder, supporting Korra as she always has until finally, finally Korra stops.

She pants and nearly sways, but Asami is there—solid—behind her. She wraps her arms around Korra’s waist, letting her lean into her, and when Korra touches one of Asami’s hands, Asami says, “You’re amazing.”

In the light of the sun, her testament sits, his face drawn, his hands folded in his lap. Tenzin meditates before them, eyes gazing into the twining branches and vines, stone smile peaceful. He looks every bit the man he did when Asami first met him, warm and full of life.

“I don’t think he’d like it much,” Korra puffs, laughing weakly.

Asami feels her sag against her, and asks, “Korra?”

“Just tired,” she says.

Asami brings them both to the ground, Korra slumped against her front, her hair plastered to her forehead with sweat, her eyes weary as the rest of her. Asami presses her lips to Korra’s hair and runs her fingers along her shoulders.

“I think he’d be very proud,” she says. “Of you. And the Avatar you’ve become.”

Korra laughs lightly, closing her eyes. “Yeah, well, someone’s gotta play referee for the spirits.”

At that, Asami finally looks up, noticing the spirits watching them. They gather in the trees and on the ground, and the gecko-bat from last night sits atop Tenzin’s great, bald head, looking curiously at what they made. They were right to do this here: the spirits will be his only company, too far from the town for any people to see.

“Is your vigil over now, Avatar Korra?” she asks.

“Are you asking to take me to bed, Miss Sato?” Korra smiles, tilting her head back so Asami can kiss her brow. After a moment, she takes Asami’s hand in her own. “It’s our vigil. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Asami blinks, remembering what they’ve done to get here, what they’ve both suffered through for this. “I know,” she says, and really, she does.

They sit there, Asami with her chin set on Korra’s head, and Asami nearly drifts off like that, curled around Korra, their hands intertwined. She only rouses when Korra says, “We need to pick up Bolin and Mako.”

“I thought you’d want to meet up with the rest of the Air Nomads,” Asami says, stifling a yawn.

“After we pick them up.”

Fair enough. They should be given the news as well, and Pema and her children will all be relieved to see the four of them. Perhaps they will see Kya there as well.

“Do you still want to take me to bed?” Korra asks, waving a blob of a spirit away from her bare feet.

“Perhaps. If I can manage to get up,” Asami says, laughing.

Korra turns to her, pushing herself up to kiss her quickly on the lips, and then grins and begins to rise of her own accord. She’s wiry and the scars from the poison will remain with her until the end of her days, but she rises, slowly, and offers a hand to Asami. It trembles in her grasp, but Korra helps her to her feet anyway. Then, winding an arm around her, Asami leads Korra away from Tenzin’s statue, each step stronger than the one before.